July 20

“It is hoped that this humble attempt to bring to the knowledge of American readers, a quaint wad. beautiful little treatise upon a subject so interesting, written so many centuries ago, and by a man who played so distinguished a part in his time, as prelate, a statesman, and a scholar, will commend itself to our reading men, and that the faults of the editor may not have so far marred the author, as to preclude the former from at least toleration if not pardon, and the latter from a just appreciation. I shall have accomplished my highest wish in regard to the book, if I in any degree succeed in rescuing from comparative forgetfulness in these modern times, a performance so truly excellent and in its day so wonderful.”

So wrote Samuel Hand in his preface to his translation of Philobiblon by Richard de Bury,in its first American edition, printed by Joel Munsell of Albany, New York on this day in 1861. The Hand translation is no longer considered to be a good one, although the fault is not primarily his but the corrupt Latin of his original source.

De Bury, born Richard Aungerville in 1287, had been tutor to the Prince of Wales, who later became Edward III, Noted for his learning, he became Bishop of Durham, and in 1334 was appointed Lord High Chancellor and Treasurer of England. It is said that a purchase of books from the library of the Abbot of St. Alban’s so moved him that he wrote a treatise about books in 1344, the year before his death. This work, Philobiblon, or the Love of Books, is the earliest known essay on the subject, making its author the first bibliomaniac of record.

Philobiblon received its initial printing in Cologne in 1473 and has subsequently gone through numerous editions. The premier English translation was made by Thomas James, Bodley’s first librarian at Oxford University in 1509 and printed by Joseph Barnes, who was the first Oxford printer to have the title of University Printer.

“In libras mortuos quasi vivos invenio: in libris futura praevideo,” wrote de Bury. “In books we find the dead as it were living: in books we foresee things to come. . . . Towers are razed to the earth, cities overthrown, triumphal arches mouldered to dust; nor can the king or pope be found, upon whom the privilege of a lasting name can be conferred more easily than by books.”

Munsell’s edition contains the original Latin, printed on verso pages, with the translation on recto pages. It is quite typical of 19th century bookmaking, composed in a modern roman cleanly and neatly printed.

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