**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Life And Habits Of A Literary Antiquary.–Oldys And His Manuscripts
by [?]

All this was nothing to Oldys; his literary curiosity anticipated by half a century the fervour of the present day. This energetic direction of all his thoughts was sustained by that life of discovery which in literary researches is starting novelties among old and unremembered things; contemplating some ancient tract as precious as a manuscript, or revelling in the volume of a poet whose passport of fame was yet delayed in its way; or disinterring the treasure of some secluded manuscript, whence he drew a virgin extract; or raising up a sort of domestic intimacy with the eminent in arms, in politics, and in literature in this visionary life, life itself with Oldys was insensibly gliding away–its cares almost unfelt!

The life of a literary antiquary partakes of the nature of those who, having no concerns of their own, busy themselves with those of others. Oldys lived in the back ages of England; he had crept among the dark passages of Time, till, like an old gentleman usher, he seemed to be reporting the secret history of the courts which he had lived in. He had been charmed among their masques and revels, had eyed with astonishment their cumbrous magnificence, when knights and ladies carried on their mantles and their cloth of gold ten thousand pounds’ worth of ropes of pearls, and buttons of diamonds; or, descending to the gay court of the second Charles, he tattled merry tales, as in that of the first he had painfully watched, like a patriot or a loyalist, a distempered era. He had lived so constantly with these people of another age, and had so deeply interested himself in their affairs, and so loved the wit and the learning which are often bright under the rust of antiquity, that his own uncourtly style is embrowned with the tint of a century old. But it was this taste and curiosity which alone could have produced the extraordinary volume of Sir Walter Rawleigh’s life–a work richly inlaid with the most curious facts and the juxtaposition of the most remote knowledge; to judge by its fulness of narrative, it would seem rather to have been the work of a contemporary.[8]

It was an advantage in this primaeval era of literary curiosity, that those volumes which are now not even to be found in our national library, where certainly they are perpetually wanted, and which are now so excessively appreciated, were exposed on stalls, through the reigns of Anne and the two Georges.[9] Oldys encountered no competitor, cased in the invulnerable mail of his purse, to dispute his possession of the rarest volume. On the other hand, our early collector did not possess our advantages; he could not fly for instant aid to a “Biographia Britannica,” he had no history of our poetry, nor even of our drama. Oldys could tread in no man’s path, for every soil about him was unbroken ground. He had to create everything for his own purposes. We gather fruit from trees which others have planted, and too often we but “pluck and eat.”

Nulla dies sine linea, was his sole hope while he was accumulating masses of notes; and as Oldys never used his pen from the weak passion of scribbling, but from the urgency of preserving some substantial knowledge, or planning some future inquiry, he amassed nothing but what he wished to remember. Even the minuter pleasures of settling a date, or classifying a title-page, were enjoyments to his incessant pen. Everything was acquisition. This never-ending business of research appears to have absorbed his powers, and sometimes to have dulled his conceptions. No one more aptly exercised the tact of discovery; he knew where to feel in the dark: but he was not of the race–that race indeed had not yet appeared among us–who could melt into their Corinthian brass the mingled treasures of Research, Imagination, and Philosophy!