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Anthony Magliabechi, who died at the age of eighty, was celebrated for his great knowledge of books. He has been called the Helluo, or the Glutton of Literature, as Peter Comestor received his nickname from his amazing voracity for food he could never digest; which appeared when having fallen sick of so much false learning, he threw it all up in his “Sea of Histories,” which proved to be the history of all things, and a bad history of everything. Magliabechi’s character is singular; for though his life was wholly passed in libraries, being librarian to the Duke of Tuscany, he never wrote himself. There is a medal which represents him sitting, with a book in one hand, and a great number of books scattered on the ground. The candid inscription signifies, that “it is not sufficient to become learned to have read much, if we read without reflection.” This is the only remains we have of his own composition that can be of service to posterity. A simple truth, which may, however, be inscribed in the study of every man of letters.

His habits of life were uniform. Ever among his books, he troubled himself with no other concern whatever; and the only interest he appeared to take for any living thing was his spiders. While sitting among his literary piles, he affected great sympathy for these weavers of webs, and perhaps in contempt of those whose curiosity appeared impertinent, he frequently cried out, “to take care not to hurt his spiders!” Although he lost no time in writing himself, he gave considerable assistance to authors who consulted him. He was himself an universal index to all authors; the late literary antiquary, Isaac Reed, resembled him.[1] He had one book, among many others, dedicated to him, and this dedication consisted of a collection of titles of works which he had had at different times dedicated to him, with all the eulogiums addressed to him in prose and verse. When he died, he left his vast collection for the public use; they now compose the public library of Florence.

Heyman, a celebrated Dutch professor, visited this erudite librarian, who was considered as the ornament of Florence. He found him amongst his books, of which the number was prodigious. Two or three rooms in the first story were crowded with them, not only along their sides, but piled in heaps on the floor; so that it was difficult to sit, and more so to walk. A narrow space was contrived, indeed, so that by walking sideways you might extricate yourself from one room to another. This was not all; the passage below stairs was full of books, and the staircase from the top to the bottom was lined with them. When you reached the second story, you saw with astonishment three rooms, similar to those below, equally so crowded, that two good beds in these chambers were also crammed with books.

This apparent confusion did not, however, hinder Magliabechi from immediately finding the books he wanted. He knew them all so well, that even to the least of them it was sufficient to see its outside, to say what it was; he knew his flock, as shepherds are said, by their faces; and indeed he read them day and night, and never lost sight of any.[2] He ate on his books, he slept on his books, and quitted them as rarely as possible. During his whole life he only went twice from Florence; once to see Fiesoli, which is not above two leagues distant, and once ten miles further by order of the Grand Duke. Nothing could be more simple than his mode of life; a few eggs, a little bread, and some water, were his ordinary food. A drawer of his desk being open, Mr. Heyman saw there several eggs, and some money which Magliabechi had placed there for his daily use. But as this drawer was generally open, it frequently happened that the servants of his friends, or strangers who came to see him, pilfered some of these things; the money or the eggs.