Page images
PDF
EPUB

the pacing of the court and thronging of the hall, at least, of this ancient Inn, by the worthies of bygone ages. What a variety of costume and manner must its precincts have witnessed, even since its becoming a place of legal education ! Possibly the memorable cloak, which became a foot-cloth for the “Virgin Queen”-more probably its prototype—may have figured within its boundaries; and after an endless variety of fashion in wigs, and cut of coat and beard, the costume of many of its members seems at present to approximate, the hose excepted, to that of Elizabethan times.

Altogether, the library of the Middle Temple may be safely pronounced a fine, though, for the reasons already given, a somewhat anomalous collection; containing undoubtedly some rubbish amongst its heaps of literary gold. We have sometimes heard it complained of as not being a perfect library ; but this is unreasonable, for

Who hopes a perfect library to see,
Seeks what nor is, nor was, nor e'er shall be.

Such a "faultless monster” is certainly not that of the British Museum ; for, although that vast storehouse of literature is maintained by coercive measures, as well as by purchase and voluntary contributions, we have frequently inquired in it for works, not always of foreign publication, or of a very recondite character, or very scarce in number, and have not discovered them. We say this not as reflecting in the remotest degree upon the librarian or trustees of the museum, but simply to show that imperfection in libraries is a part of their very nature. Indeed, unless all new publications were suppressed, or confined to one country, this could not be otherwise. Moreover, the funds of the honourable society, though great, are not, we presume, inexhaustible. And their library, in its first foundation, appears to have approached perfection for the time. With a very few exceptions, to be mentioned presently, no branch of knowledge seems to have been altogether overlooked. There are very few showy books in the Middle Temple Library. What the late Mr. Lockhart calls “ the toy-shop of literature,” has no place here. Sumptuous

bindings, too, have been judiciously and judicially held unnecessary. The books

“ Are but volumes for the working day,

Their gayness and their gilt are all besmirch'd ”

with “painful” and frequent handling, and a long endurance of the smoky atmosphere of the heart of the metropolis.

But if the binding be generally plain in one sense, it is, or till lately was, not always so in another. Some of the backs of the thousands of old books rebound, displayed eccentricities of lettering singular for their intrepid defiance of meaning. We some years ago found a volume, lettered Idem Liber!What could this denote? We at length discovered that it was the duplicate of another work in the library, and marked in the “Worsley Catalogue” as above; and the person intrusted with preparing books for binding, during the dark period already referred to, had taken this for the veritable title of the publication in question. Other instances, scarcely less ridiculous, we could give. Grammatical inaccuracies, such as “Sennerti de Chymicorum," abound, and seem to have been held of no importance.

We will now request our readers’ attention to separate classes of works composing the collection, with reference to their comparative strength and weakness.

The manuscripts in the Middle Temple library are very few; and of those few, the subjects of several are to be found in print, and some appear to be merely copies of books already published.

The reports of cases before Lord Nottingham are supposed to be the most valuable possession, in this way, of which the library can boast. These it was once in contemplation to publish, and, indeed, they were actually placed for tip rpose in the hands of a gentleman, who would doubtless have ably ischarged the task ; but, for what reason we know not, the dosis n was ultimately abandoned.

Another volume of Reports-Maybara's in the time of the two Charles's, appears to be less authentic. Then there are the voluminous pleadings of the late Godfrey Sykes, an old member,

of the Society, and a most worthy man, whom we well knew. Several of his pupils attained high professional honours.

There is also a very large collection of manuseripts by the late Mr. Fearne, numbering no less than fifty volumes, of various dimensions. It is probable that, amongst such copious relics of so distinguished a lawyer, a skilful eye and hand might detect and select valuable professional gems; but, at present, they are altogether without arrangement, and therefore, it is to be presumed, of little practical use.

Of printed books upon English law, the reports are probably as complete as in any other collection; but, until lately, the library was somewhat weak in modern text-books and treatises, although it has been gradually much augmented in this department. Till within the last twenty years, there was what we must consider an illiberal standing-order against the purchase by the Society of any legal periodicals. They are now, however, duly supplied. It may, however, be observed, that much difference of opinion will always exist amongst readers as to what a library ought to contain, upon this as well as other subjects; but as this article is designed to be descriptive, and not suggestive or didactic, we refrain from expressing the thoughts which we, in common with others, may entertain upon the question.

The collection of Scotch and Irish Reports is, we believe, complete;

and there is a fair collection of text-books relating to professional matters in these sister kingdoms. Of American reports, and other legal works, there is also a tolerably strong force, principally due to the care and liberality of a barrister of the Society, to whom we have already alluded.

In civil, canon, and international law, the library is very strong. Nevertheless, there are many works of continental celebrity upon these subjects which, as yet, it does not include. The class of books of divinity and ecclesiastical history is

very large, occupying no less than 190 pages in a catalogue containing 656. It should, however, be remembered, that the title of a very brief tract (and of such this portion of the library in a great measure consists) may occupy as much space as that of an elaborate work comprising an indefinite number of folios.

By far the greater part of this valuable collection (much of which might be coveted by Sion College) dates from the foundation of the library, few additions having been made to it of late years; the exceptions being works of some of our old standard divines, few of which appeared previously, amidst a crowd of theological writings comparatively unknown, yet many of which might have been useful weapons in the recent ecclesiastico-legal disputes, when Tractarians and anti-Tractarians contended as fiercely as did the Jesuits and anti-Jesuits in earlier days, of which the monuments exist plentifully here in many a closelyprinted tome, and still more abundantly in briefer tracts and pamphlets, with “conceited” titles. For in this, as in other sections of the library, works there are not a few, anonymous, or by illustrious authors little known, but often interesting to those who, like ourselves, are sometimes inclined for "such reading as was never read.” “The Doleful Knell of Thomas Bell” (a Protestant); “A Currycomb for a Coxcomb,” and Hercynianus' “Rhabarbarum Domandæ bili Camerarii"--are specimens of the delight of some of our ancestors in this description of wit.

The oldest English Bible in the collection, is the Cambridge edition of 1660 ; but the Holy Scriptures are to be found entirely, or in part, in about fifty different languages, some of them rarely studied in this country.

There is no complete collection of the Fathers of the church, but ecclesiastical writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries abound. The missionary letters of the Jesuits are to be found in considerable numbers.

Amongst the few English writers on Divinity of a more recent date, added to the library before 1826, may be mentioned Professor John Hey, of whose work a mutilated copy (one volume out of four being missing), whether by purchase or presentation is unknown, is to be found on the shelves. This writer, much less celebrated than he deserves to be, is invaluable to students of the articles of the Church of England. His work, which has received, amongst those of other able persons, the warm praise of Dr. Arnold and the late Bishop of Lincoln (Kaye)- very different

;

men-is clear, forcible, and attractive; and is not to be met with in many important libraries.

The Middle Temple Library contains several choice and curious works on Witchcraft and Demonology, tending to show that our ancestors were nearly as foolish and credulous as (not more so than) ourselves. The chief of these in the vernacular are Scott's “Discovery of Witchcraft," Cotta's “Trial of Witchcraft," and Deacon and Walker's “Discourse of Spirits and Devils." Several others have been abstracted.

The library is altogether tolerably strong in English history, with its adjuncts and concomitants in the shape of pamphlets and treatises. But this branch of knowledge-after law proper, probably the most important in an English legal library—formed no exception to the general rule of neglect, affecting the Middle Temple collection, during so long a period. Amongst the many quaint old tracts with quainter titles which this class includes, such as "Worthies and Unworthies of the Age described,” “Grievous Groans for the Poor," &c., one entitled, “Some Wiser than Some," a most undeniable proposition, recurs to us as applicable to the judgment and public spirit which especially influenced the late Lord Colchester and Mr. Robert Casberd (who were chiefly instrumental in the resuscitation of the library), as contrasted with the strange apathy upon this subject, which appears to have characterized many of their predecessors of the bench.

Amongst memoirs connected with English History, we have here some which are scarce as well as curious. " Robert Monro's Expedition with the Scotch regiment called Mackay’s” (fol. 1637), is known to have furnished large draughts of inspiration to Sir Walter Scott, before introducing to the world his “Dugald Dalgetty.” Thomas Carve's “Itinerarium in Legione Colonelli Devereux” (8vo, Mog. 1639), a somewhat similar work, is also not every where to be met with,

The Society possesses, though not a complete, yet a very voluminous, collection of chronicles of English (and other) history, from that of Geoffrey of Monmouth, to a very unique and interesting “Chapter from Froissart,recording events of a somewhat

« PreviousContinue »