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Recovery Of Manuscripts
by [?]

It sometimes happened that manuscripts were discovered in the last agonies of existence. Papirius Masson found, in the house of a bookbinder of Lyons, the works of Agobard; the mechanic was on the point of using the manuscripts to line the covers of his books.[15] A page of the second decade of Livy, it is said, was found by a man of letters in the parchment of his battledore, while he was amusing himself in the country. He hastened to the maker of the battledore–but arrived too late! The man had finished the last page of Livy–about a week before.

Many works have undoubtedly perished in this manuscript state. By a petition of Dr. Dee to Queen Mary, in the Cotton library, it appears that Cicero’s treatise De Republica was once extant in this country. Huet observes that Petronius was probably entire in the days of John of Salisbury, who quotes fragments, not now to be found in the remains of the Roman bard. Raimond Soranzo, a lawyer in the papal court, possessed two books of Cicero “on Glory,” which he presented to Petrarch, who lent them to a poor aged man of letters, formerly his preceptor. Urged by extreme want, the old man pawned them, and returning home died suddenly without having revealed where he had left them. They have never been recovered. Petrarch speaks of them with ecstasy, and tells us that he had studied them perpetually. Two centuries afterwards, this treatise on Glory by Cicero was mentioned in a catalogue of books bequeathed to a monastery of nuns, but when inquired after was missing. It was supposed that Petrus Alcyonius, physician to that household, purloined it, and after transcribing as much of it as he could into his own writings, had destroyed the original. Alcyonius, in his book De Exilio, the critics observed, had many splendid passages which stood isolated in his work, and were quite above his genius. The beggar, or in this case the thief, was detected by mending his rags with patches of purple and gold.

In this age of manuscript, there is reason to believe, that when a man of letters accidentally obtained an unknown work, he did not make the fairest use of it, but cautiously concealed it from his contemporaries. Leonard Aretino, a distinguished scholar at the dawn of modern literature, having found a Greek manuscript of Procopius De Bello Gothico, translated it into Latin, and published the work; but concealing the author’s name, it passed as his own, till another manuscript of the same work being dug out of its grave, the fraud of Aretino was apparent. Barbosa, a bishop of Ugento, in 1649, has printed among his works a treatise, obtained by one of his domestics bringing in a fish rolled in a leaf of written paper, which his curiosity led him to examine. He was sufficiently interested to run out and search the fish market, till he found the manuscript out of which it had been torn. He published it, under the title De Officio Episcopi. Machiavelli acted more adroitly in a similar case; a manuscript of the Apophthegms of the Ancients by Plutarch having fallen into his hands, he selected those which pleased him, and put them into the mouth of his hero Castrucio Castricani.

In more recent times, we might collect many curious anecdotes concerning manuscripts. Sir Robert Cotton one day at his tailor’s discovered that the man was holding in his hand, ready to cut up for measures–an original Magna Charta, with all its appendages of seals and signatures. This anecdote is told by Colomies, who long resided in this country; and an original Magna Charta is preserved in the Cottonian library exhibiting marks of dilapidation.

Cardinal Granvelle[16] left behind him several chests filled with a prodigious quantity of letters written in different languages, commented, noted, and underlined by his own hand. These curious manuscripts, after his death, were left in a garret to the mercy of the rain and the rats. Five or six of these chests the steward sold to the grocers. It was then that a discovery was made of this treasure. Several learned men occupied themselves in collecting sufficient of these literary relics to form eighty thick folios, consisting of original letters by all the crowned heads in Europe, with instructions for ambassadors, and other state-papers.