**** 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 [?]

We may be curious to inquire where our literary antiquary deposited the discoveries and curiosities which he was so incessantly acquiring. They were dispersed, on many a fly-leaf, in occasional memorandum-books; in ample marginal notes on his authors–they were sometimes thrown into what he calls his “parchment budgets,” or “Bags of Biography–of Botany–of Obituary”–of “Books relative to London,” and other titles and bags, which he was every day filling.[10] Sometimes his collections seem to have been intended for a series of volumes, for he refers to “My first Volume of Tables of the eminent Persons celebrated by English Poets”–to another of “Poetical Characteristics.” Among those manuscripts which I have seen, I find one mentioned, apparently of a wide circuit, under the reference of “My Biographical Institutions. Part third; containing a Catalogue of all the English Lives, with Historical and Critical Observations on them.” But will our curious or our whimsical collectors of the present day endure without impatience the loss of a quarto manuscript, which bears this rich condiment for its title–“Of London Libraries; with Anecdotes of Collectors of Books; Remarks on Booksellers; and on the first Publishers of Catalogues?” Oldys left ample annotations on “Fuller’s Worthies,” and “Winstanley’s Lives of the Poets,” and on “Langbaine’s Dramatic Poets.” The late Mr. Boswell showed me a Fuller in the Malone collection, with Steevens’s transcriptions of Oldys’s notes, which Malone purchased for 43 l. at Steevens’s sale; but where is the original copy of Oldys? The “Winstanley,” I think, also reposes in the same collection. The “Langbaine” is far-famed, and is preserved in the British Museum, the gift of Dr. Birch; it has been considered so precious, that several of our eminent writers have cheerfully passed through the labour of a minute transcription of its numberless notes. In the history of the fate and fortune of books, that of Oldys’s Langbaine is too curious to omit. Oldys may tell his own story, which I find in the Museum copy, p. 336, and which copy appears to be a second attempt; for of the first Langbaine we have this account:–

When I left London in 1724, to reside in

, I left in the care of the Rev. Mr. Burridge’s family, with whom I had several years lodged, among many other books, goods, etc., a copy of this “Langbaine,” in which I had wrote several notes and references to further knowledge of these poets. When I returned to London, 1730, I understood my books had been dispersed; and afterwards becoming acquainted with Mr. T. Coxeter, I found that he had bought my “Langbaine” of a bookseller who was a great collector of plays and poetical books: this must have been of service to him, and he has kept it so carefully from my sight, that I never could have the opportunity of transcribing into this I am now writing in the notes I had collected in that.

This first Langbaine, with additions by Coxeter, was bought, at the sale of his books, by Theophilus Cibber: on the strength of these notes he prefixed his name to the first collection of the “Lives of our Poets,” which appeared in weekly numbers, and now form five volumes, written chiefly by Shiels, an amanuensis of Dr. Johnson. Shiels has been recently castigated by Mr. Gifford.

These literary jobbers nowhere distinguished Coxeter’s and Oldys’s curious matter from their own. Such was the fate of the first copy of Langbaine, with Oldys’s notes; but the second is more important. At an auction of some of Oldys’s books and manuscripts, of which I have seen a printed catalogue, Dr. Birch purchased this invaluable copy for three shillings and sixpence.[12] Such was the value attached to these original researches concerning our poets, and of which, to obtain only a transcript, very large sums have since been cheerfully given. The Museum copy of Langbaine is in Oldys’s handwriting, not interleaved, but overflowing with notes, written in a very small hand about the margins, and inserted between the lines; nor may the transcriber pass negligently even its corners, otherwise he is here assured that he will lose some useful date, or the hint of some curious reference. The enthusiasm and diligence of Oldys, in undertaking a repetition of his first lost labour, proved to be infinitely greater than the sense of his unrequited labours. Such is the history of the escapes, the changes, and the fate of a volume which forms the groundwork of the most curious information concerning our elder poets, and to which we must still frequently refer.