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O solicit a subscription for a Catalogue of
Books exposed to sale, is an attempt for which some apology cannot but be necessary; for few would willingly contribute to the expense of volumes, by which neither instruction nor entertainment could be afforded, from which only the bookseller could expect advantage, and of which the only use must cease, at the dispersion of the library.
Nor could the reasonableness of an universal rejection of our proposal be denied, if this catalogue were to be compiled with no other view, than that of promoting the sale of the books which it enumeratęs, and drawn up with that inaccuracy and confusion which may be found in those that are daily published.
But our design, like our proposal, is uncommon, and to be prosecuted at a very uncommon expense: it being intended, that the books shall be distri. buted into their distinct classes, and every class ranged with some regard to the age of the writers;
that every book shall be accurately described ; that the peculiarities of editions shall be remarked, and observations from the authors of literary history occasionally interspersed; that, by this catalogue, we may inform posterity of the excellence and value of this great collection, and promote the knowledge of scarce books, and elegant editions, For this purpose men of letters are engaged, who cannot even be supplied with amanuenses, but at an expense above that of a common catalogue.
To shew that this collection deserves a particular degree of regard from the learned and the studious, that it excels any library that was ever yet offered to public sale in the value as well as number of the volumes which it contains; and that therefore this catalogue will not be of less use to men of letters, than those of the Thuanian, Heinsian, or Barberinian libraries, it may not be improper to exhibit a general account of the different classes, as they are naturally divided by the several sciences.
By this method we can indeed exhibit only a geperal idea, at once magnificent and confused; an idea of the writings of many nations, collected from distant parts of the world, discovered sometimes by chance, and sometimes by curiosity, amidst the rubbish of forsaken monasteries, and the reposi. tories of ancient families, and brought hither from every part, as to the universal receptacle of learning. : It will be no unpleasing effect of this account, if those that shall happen to peruse it, should be inclined by it to reflect on the character of the late proprietors, and to pay some tribute of veneration to their ardour for literature, to that
exalted curiosity which they gratified with incesi sant searches and immense expense, and to which they dedicated that time, and that superfluity of fortune, which many others of their rank employ in the pursuit of contemptible amusements, or the gratification of guilty passions. And, surely, every man, who considers learning as ornamental and adyantageous to the community, must allow them the honour of publick benefactors, who have introduced amongst us authors not hitherto well known, and added to the literary treasures of their native country.
That our catalogue will excite any other man to emulate the collectors of this library, to prefer books and manuscripts to equipage and luxury, and to forsake noise and diversion for the conversation of the learned, and the satisfaction of extensive: knowledge, we are very far from presuming to hope; but shall make no scruple to assert, that, if any man should happen to be seized with such laudable ambition, he may find in this catalogue hints and informations, which are not easily to be met with; he will discover, that the boasted Bodleian li. brary is very far from a perfect model, and that even the learned Fabricius cannot completely instruct him in the early.editions of the classic writers.
But the collectors of libraries cannot be numerous; and, therefore, catalogues cannot very properly be recommended to the publick, if they had not a more general and frequent use, an use which every student has experienced, or neglected to his loss. By the means of catalogues only can it be known, what has been written on every part of learning, and the hazard avoided of encountering difficulties which have already been cleared, discussing questions which have already been decided, and digging in mines of literature which former ages have exhausted.
How often this has been the fate of students, every man of letters can declare; and, perhaps, there are very few who have not sometimes valued as new discoveries, made by themselves, those observations, which have long since been published, and of which the world therefore will refuse them the praise; nor can the refusal be censured as any enormous violation of justice ; for, .why should they not forfeit by their ignorance, what they might claim by their sagacity?
To illustrate this remark, by the mention of ob. scure names, would not much confirm it; and to vilify for this purpose the memory of men truly great, would be to deny them the reverence which they may justly claim from those whom their wrie tings have instructed. May the shade at least, of one great English critick rest without disturbance; and may no man presume to insult his memory, who wants his learning, his reason, or his wit.
From the vexatious disappointment of meeting reproach, where praise is expected, every man will certainly desire to be secured; and therefore that book will have some claim to his regard, from which he may receive informations of the labours of his predecessors, such as a catalogue of the Harleian library will copiously afford him.
Nor is the use of catalogues of less importance to those whom curiosity has engaged in the study of literary history, and who think the intellectual rea volutions of the world more worthy of their attention, than the ravages of tyrants, the desolation of kingdoms, the rout of armies, and the fall of empires. Those who are pleased with observing the first birth of new opinions, their struggles against opposition, their silent progress under persecution, their general reception, and their gradual decline, or sudden extinction; those that amuse themselves with remarking the different periods of human knowledge, and observe how darkness and light succeed each other; by what accident the most gloomy nights of ignorance have given way in the dawn of science, and how learning has languished and decayed, for want of patronage and regard, or been overborne by the prevalence of fashionable ignorance, or lost amidst the tumults of invasion, and the storms of violence. All those who desire any knowledge of theliterary transactions of pastages may find in catalogues, like this at least, such an account as is given byannalists, and chronologers of civil history.
How the knowledge of the sacred writings has been diffused, will be observed from the catalogue of the various editions of the Bible, from the first impression by Fust, in 1462, to the present time; in which will be contained the polyglot editions of Spain, France, and England, those of the original Hebrew, the Greek Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate; with the versions which are now used in the remotest parts of Europe, in the country of the Grisons, in Lithuania, Bohemia, Finland, and Iceland.
With regard to the attempts of the same kind made in our own country, there are few whose expectations will not be exceeded by the number