In the Name of the Bodleian and Other Essays

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With what feelings, I wonder, ought one to approach in a famous University an already venerable foundation, devoted by the last will and indented deed of a pious benefactor to the collection and housing of books and the promotion of learning? The Bodleian at this moment harbours within its walls well-nigh half a million of printed volumes, some scores of precious manuscripts in all the tongues, and has become a name famous throughout the whole civilized world. What sort of a poor scholar would he be whose heart did not beat within him when, for the first time, he found himself, to quote the words of 'Elia,' 'in the heart of learning, under the shadow of the mighty Bodley'?

Grave questions these! 'The following episode occurred during one of Calverley's (then Blayds) appearances at "Collections," the Master (Dr. Jenkyns) officiating. Question: "And with what feelings, Mr. Blayds, ought we to regard the decalogue?" Calverley who had no very clear idea of what was meant by the decalogue, but who had a due sense of the importance both of the occasion and of the question, made the following reply: "Master, with feelings of devotion, mingled with awe!" "Quite right, young man; a very proper answer," exclaimed the Master.'

'Devotion mingled with awe' might be a very proper answer for me to make to my own questions, but possessing that acquaintance with the history of the most picturesque of all libraries which anybody can have who loves books enough to devote a dozen quiet hours of rumination to the pages of Mr. Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, second edition, Oxford, 'at the Clarendon Press, 1890,' I cannot honestly profess to entertain in my breast, with regard to it, the precise emotions which C.S.C. declared took possession of him when he regarded the decalogue. A great library easily begets affection, which may deepen into love; but devotion and awe are plants hard to rear in our harsh climate; besides, can it be well denied that there is something in a huge collection of the ancient learning, of mediaeval folios, of controversial pamphlets, and in the thick black dust these things so woefully collect, provocative of listlessness and enervation and of a certain Solomonic dissatisfaction? The two writers of modern times, both pre-eminently sympathetic towards the past, who have best described this somewhat melancholy and disillusioned frame of mind are both Americans: Washington Irving, in two essays in The Sketch-Book, 'The Art of Bookmaking' and 'The Mutability of Literature'; and Nathaniel Hawthorne, in many places, but notably in that famous chapter on 'The Emptiness of Picture Galleries,' in The Marble Faun.

It is perhaps best not to make too great demands upon our slender stock of deep emotions, not to rhapsodize too much, or vainly to pretend, as some travellers have done, that to them the collections of the Bodleian, its laden shelves and precious cases, are more attractive than wealth, fame, or family, and that it was stern Fate that alone compelled them to leave Oxford by train after a visit rarely exceeding twenty-four hours in duration....