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Recovery Of Manuscripts
by [?]

At the restoration of letters, the researches of literary men were chiefly directed to this point; every part of Europe and Greece was ransacked; and, the glorious end considered, there was something sublime in this humble industry, which often recovered a lost author of antiquity, and gave one more classic to the world. This occupation was carried on with enthusiasm, and a kind of mania possessed many, who exhausted their fortunes in distant voyages and profuse prices. In reading the correspondence of the learned Italians of these times, their adventures of manuscript-hunting are very amusing; and their raptures, their congratulations, or at times their condolence, and even their censures, are all immoderate. The acquisition of a province would not have given so much satisfaction as the discovery or an author little known, or not known at all. “Oh, great gain! Oh, unexpected felicity! I intreat you, my Poggio, send me the manuscript as soon as possible, that I may see it before I die!” exclaims Aretino, in a letter overflowing with enthusiasm, on Poggio’s discovery of a copy of Quintilian. Some of the half-witted, who joined in this great hunt, were often thrown out, and some paid high for manuscripts not authentic; the knave played on the bungling amateur of manuscripts, whose credulity exceeded his purse. But even among the learned, much ill-blood was inflamed; he who had been most successful in acquiring manuscripts was envied by the less fortunate, and the glory of possessing a manuscript of Cicero seemed to approximate to that of being its author. It is curious to observe that in these vast importations into Italy of manuscripts from Asia, John Aurispa, who brought many hundreds of Greek manuscripts, laments that he had chosen more profane than sacred writers; which circumstance he tells us was owing to the Greeks, who would not so easily part with theological works, but did not highly value profane writers!

These manuscripts were discovered in the obscurest recesses of monasteries; they were not always imprisoned in libraries, but rotting in dark unfrequented corners with rubbish. It required not less ingenuity to find out places where to grope in, than to understand the value of the acquisition. An universal ignorance then prevailed in the knowledge of ancient writers. A scholar of those times gave the first rank among the Latin writers to one Valerius, whether he meant Martial or Maximus is uncertain; he placed Plato and Tully among the poets, and imagined that Ennius and Statius were contemporaries. A library of six hundred volumes was then considered as an extraordinary collection.

Among those whose lives were devoted to this purpose, Poggio the Florentine stands distinguished; but he complains that his zeal was not assisted by the great. He found under a heap of rubbish in a decayed coffer, in a tower belonging to the monastery of St. Gallo, the work of Quintilian. He is indignant at its forlorn situation; at least, he cries, it should have been preserved in the library of the monks; but I found it in teterrimo quodam et obscuro carcere–and to his great joy drew it out of its grave! The monks have been complimented as the preservers of literature, but by facts, like the present, their real affection may be doubted.

The most valuable copy of Tacitus, of whom so much is wanting, was likewise discovered in a monastery of Westphalia. It is a curious circumstance in literary history, that we should owe Tacitus to this single copy; for the Roman emperor of that name had copies of the works of his illustrious ancestor placed in all the libraries of the empire, and every year had ten copies transcribed; but the Roman libraries seem to have been all destroyed, and the imperial protection availed nothing against the teeth of time.

The original manuscript of Justinian’s Pandects was discovered by the Pisans, when they took a city in Calabria; that vast code of laws had been in a manner unknown from the time of that emperor. This curious book was brought to Pisa; and when Pisa was taken by the Florentines, was transferred to Florence, where it is still preserved.