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Bibliomania in the Middle Ages   By: (1827-1900)

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With an Introduction by CHARLES ORR Librarian of Case Library


Copyright, 1900 By Meyer Bros. & Co.

Louis Weiss & Co. Printers.... 118 Fulton Street ... New York

Bibliomania in the Middle Ages



From the Anglo Saxon and Norman Periods to the Introduction of Printing into England, with Anecdotes Illustrating the History of the Monastic Libraries of Great Britain in the Olden Time by F. Somner Merryweather, with an Introduction by Charles Orr, Librarian of Case Library.


In every century for more than two thousand years, many men have owed their chief enjoyment of life to books. The bibliomaniac of today had his prototype in ancient Rome, where book collecting was fashionable as early as the first century of the Christian era. Four centuries earlier there was an active trade in books at Athens, then the center of the book production of the world. This center of literary activity shifted to Alexandria during the third century B. C. through the patronage of Ptolemy Soter, the founder of the Alexandrian Museum, and of his son, Ptolemy Philadelphus; and later to Rome, where it remained for many centuries, and where bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs were gradually evolved, and from whence in time other countries were invaded.

For the purposes of the present work the middle ages cover the period beginning with the seventh century and ending with the time of the invention of printing, or about seven hundred years, though they are more accurately bounded by the years 500 and 1500 A. D. It matters little, however, since there is no attempt at chronological arrangement.

About the middle of the present century there began to be a disposition to grant to mediæval times their proper place in the history of the preservation and dissemination of books, and Merryweather's Bibliomania in the Middle Ages was one of the earliest works in English devoted to the subject. Previous to that time, those ten centuries lying between the fall of the Roman Empire and the revival of learning were generally referred to as the Dark Ages, and historians and other writers were wont to treat them as having been without learning or scholarship of any kind.

Even Mr. Hallam,[1] with all that judicial temperament and patient research to which we owe so much, could find no good to say of the Church or its institutions, characterizing the early university as the abode of "indigent vagabonds withdrawn from usual labor," and all monks as positive enemies of learning.

The gloomy survey of Mr. Hallam, clouded no doubt by his antipathy to all things ecclesiastical, served, however, to arouse the interest of the period, which led to other studies with different results, and later writers were able to discern below the surface of religious fanaticism and superstition so characteristic of those centuries, much of interest in the history of literature; to show that every age produced learned and inquisitive men by whom books were highly prized and industriously collected for their own sakes; in short, to rescue the period from the stigma of absolute illiteracy.

If the reader cares to pursue the subject further, after going through the fervid defense of the love of books in the middle ages, of which this is the introduction, he will find outside of its chapters abundant evidence that the production and care of books was a matter of great concern. In the pages of Mores Catholici; or Ages of Faith , by Mr. Kenelm Digby,[2] or of The Dark Ages , by Dr. S. R. Maitland,[3] or of that great work of recent years, Books and their Makers during the Middle Ages , by Mr. George Haven Putnam,[4] he will see vivid and interesting portraits of a great multitude of mediæval worthies who were almost lifelong lovers of learning and books, and zealous laborers in preserving, increasing and transmitting them... Continue reading book >>

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