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The Bibliomania.



Pers. Sat. 1. l 108.

WHAT WILD DESIRES, WHAT restless torments seize
The hapless man, who feels the book-disease,
If niggard Fortune cramp his gen’rous mind,
And Prudence quench the Spark by heaven assign’d!
With wistful glance his aching eyes behold
The Princeps-copy, clad in blue and gold,
Where the tall Book-case, with partition thin,
Displays, yet guards the tempting charms within:
So great Facardin view’d, as sages1 tell,
Fair Crystalline immur’d in lucid cell. [10]

Not thus the few, by happier fortune grac’d,
And blest, like you, with talents, wealth and taste,
Who gather nobly, with judicious hand,
The Muse’s treasures from each letter’d strand.
For you the Monk illumin’d his pictur’d page, [15]
For you the press defies the Spoils of age;
FAUSTUS for you infernal tortures bore,
For you ERASMUS2 starv’d on Adria’s shore.
The FOLIO-ALDUS loads your happy Shelves,
And dapper ELZEVIRS, like fairy elves, [20]
Shew their light forms amidst the well-gilt Twelves:
In slender type the GIOLITOS shine,
And bold BODONI stamps his Roman line.
For you the LOUVRE opes its regal doors,
And either DIDOT lends his brilliant stores: [25]
With faultless types, and costly sculptures bright,
IBARRA’S Quixote charms your ravish’d sight:
LABORDE in splendid tablets shall explain
Thy beauties, glorious, tho’ unhappy SPAIN!
O, hallowed name, the theme of future years, [30]
Embalm’d in Patriot-blood, and England’s tears,
Be thine fresh honours from the tuneful tongue,
By Isis’ streams which mourning Zion sung!

But devious oft’ from ev’ry classic Muse,
The keen Collector meaner paths will choose: [35]
And first the Margin’s breadth his soul employs,
Pure, snowy, broad, the type of nobler joys.
In vain might HOMER roll the tide of song,
Or HORACE smile, or TULLY charm the throng;
If crost by Pallas’ ire, the trenchant blade [40]
Or too oblique, or near, the edge invade,
The Bibliomane exclaims, with haggard eye,
‘No Margin!’ turns in haste, and scorns to buy.
He turns where PYBUS rears his Atlas-head,
Or MADOC’s mass conceals it veins of lead. [45]
The glossy lines in polish’d order stand,
While the vast margin spreads on either hand,
Like Russian wastes, that edge the frozen deep,
Chill with pale glare, and lull to mortal sleep. 3

Or English books, neglected and forgot, [50]
Excite his wish in many a dusty lot:
Whatever trash Midwinter gave to day,
Or Harper’s rhiming sons, in paper gray,
At ev’ry auction, bent on fresh supplies,
He cons his Catalogue with anxious eyes: [55]
Where’er the slim Italics mark the page,
Curious and rare his ardent mind engage.
Unlike the Swans, in Tuscan Song display’d,
He hovers eager o’er Oblivion’s Shade,
To snatch obscurest names from endless night, [60]
To give COKAIN or FLETCHER 4 back to light.
In red morocco drest he loves to boast
The bloody murder, or the yelling ghost;
Or dismal ballads, sung to crouds of old,
Now cheaply bought for thrice their weight in gold. [65]
Yet to th’unhonoured dead be Satire just;
Some flow’rs5 ‘smell sweet, and blossom in their dust.’
‘Tis thus ev’n SHIRLEY boasts a golden line,
And LOVELACE strikes, by fits, a note divine.
Th’unequal gleams like midnight-lightnings play, [70]
And deepen’d gloom succeeds, in place of day.

But human bliss still meets some envious storm;
He droops to view his PAYNTER’s mangled form:
Presumptuous grief, while pensive Taste repines
O’er the frail relics of her Attic Shrines!
O for that power, for which magicians vye,
To look through earth, and secret hoards descry!
I’d spurn such gems as Marinel6 beheld,
And all the wealth Aladdin’s cavern held,
Might I divine in what mysterious gloom [80]
The rolls of sacred bards have found their tomb:
Beneath what mould’ring tower, or waste champain,
Is his MENANDER, sweetest of the train;
Where rests ANTIMACHUS’ forgotten lyre,
Where gently SAPPHO’s still seductive fire; [85]
Or he,7 whom chief the laughing Muses own,
Yet skill’d with softest accents to bemoan
Sweet Philomel,8 in strains so like her own.

The menial train has prov’d the Scourge of wit,
Ev’n OMAR burnt less Science than the spit. [90]
Earthquakes and wars remit their deadly rage,
But ev’ry feast demands some fated page.
Ye towers of Julius,9 ye alone remain
Of all the piles that saw our nation’s stain.
When HARRY’s sway opprest the groaning realm, [95]
And Lust and Rapine seiz’d the wav’ring helm.
Then ruffian-hands defaced the sacred fanes,
Their saintly statues, and their storied panes;
Then from the chest, with ancient art embost,
The Penman’s pious scrolls were rudely tost; [100]
Then richest manuscripts, profusely spread,
The brawnt Churl’s devouring Oven fed:
And thence Collectors date the heav’nly ire,
That wrapt Augusta’s domes in sheets of fire.10

Taste, tho’ misled, may yet some purpose gain, [105]
But fashion guides a book-compelling train.11
Once, far apart from Learning’s moping crew,
The travell’d beau display’d his red-heel’d shoe,
Till ORFORD rose, and told of rhiming Peers,
Repeating noble words to polish’d ears;12
Taught the gay croud to prize a flutt’ring name,
In trifling toil’d, nor ‘blush’d to find it fame.’
The letter’d fop now takes a larger scope,
With classic furniture, design’d by HOPE,
(HOPE, whom Upholst’rers eye with mute despair, [115]
The doughty pedant of an elbow-chair;)
Now warm’d by ORFORD and by GRANGER school’d,
In Paper-books, superbly gilt and tool’d,
He pastes, from injur’d volumes snipt away,
His English Heads, in chronicled array. [120]
Torn from their destin’d page, (unworthy meed
Of knightly counsel, and heroic deed)
Not FAITHORNE’s stroke, nor FIELD’s own types can save
The gallant VERES, and one-eyed OGLE brave.13
Indignant readers seek the image fled, [125]
And curse the busy fool, who wants a head.

Proudly he shews, with many a smile elate,
The scrambling subjects of the private plate;
While Time their actions and their names bereaves,
They grin forever in the guarded leaves. [130]

Like Poets, born, in vain Collectors strive
To cross their Fate, and learn the art to thrive.
Like Cacus, bent to tame their struggling will,
The tyrant-passion drags them backward still:
Ev’n I, debarr’d of ease, and studious hours, [135]
Confess, mid’ anxious toil, its lurking pow’rs.
How pure the joy, when first my hands unfold
The small, rare volume, black with tarnish’d gold!
The Eye skims restless, like the roving bee,
O’er flowers of wit, or song, or repartee, [140]
While sweet as Springs, new-bubbling from the stone,
Glides through the breast some pleasing theme unknown.
Now dipt in14 ROSSI’s terse and classic style,
His harmless tales awake a transient smile.
Now BOUCHET’s motley stores my thoughts arrest, [145]
With wond’rous reading, and with learned jest.
Bouchet,15 whose tomes a grateful line demand,
The valued gift of STANLEY’s lib’ral hand.
Now sadly pleased, through faded Rome I stray,
And mix regrets with gently DU BELLAY;16 [150]
Or turn, with keen delight, the curious page,
Where hardy17 Pasquin braves the Pontiff’s rage.

But D______n’s strains should tell the sad reverse,
When Business calls, invet’rate foe to verse!
Tell how ‘the Demon claps his iron hands,’ [155]
‘Waves his lank locks, and scours along the lands.’
Though wintry blasts, or summer’s fire I go,
To scenes of danger, and to sights of woe.
Ev’n when to Margate ev’ry Cockney roves,
And brainsick poets long for shelt’ring groves, [160]
Whose lofty shades exclude the noontide glow,
While Zephyrs breathe, and waters trill below,18
Me rigid Fate averts, by tasks like these,
From heav’nly musings, and from letter’d ease.

Such wholesome checks the better Genius sends, [165]
From dire rehearsals to protect our friends:
Else when the social rites our joys renew,
The stuff’d Portfolio would alarm your view,
Whence volleying rhimes your patience would o’ercome,
And, spite of kindness, drive you early home. [170]
So when the traveller’s hasty footsteps glide
Near smoaking lava, on Vesuvio’s side,
Hoarse-mutt’ring thunders from the depths proceed,
And spouting fires incite his eager speed.
Appall’d he flies, while rattling show’rs invade, [175]
Invoking ev’ry Saint for instant aid:
Breathless, amaz’d, he seeks the distant shore,
And vows to tempt the dang’rous gulph no more.


APRIL, 1809.

John Ferriar (1761-1815) was a poet and physician who worked with mental patients at the Manchester Infirmary. “The Bibliomania” appeared in The Bibliomania, or Book Madness by Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, published in 1809. The modern reprint, published by Tiger of the Stripe (see our link above), is engagingly annotated by Peter Danckwerts. The poem appears in The Fortnightly Review‘s New Series to accompany Alan Wall’s essay, ‘Ruin, the collector, and “sad mortality”.


  1. Sages. Count Hamilton in Quatre Facardins, and Mr. M. Lewis, in his Tales of Romance
  2. See the Opulentia Sordida, in his Colloquies, where he complains so feelingly of the spare Venetian diet.
  3. It may be said that Quintilian recommends margins; but it is still with a view to their being occasionally occupied: Debet vacare etiam locus, in quo notentur quae scribentibus solent extra ordinem, id est ex alliis quam qui sunt in manibus loci, occurrere. Irrumpunt enim optimi nonnumquam Sensus, quos neque inserere oportet, neque differre tutum est. – Inst. Lib. x. C. 3.
    He was therefore no Margin-man, in the modern sense.
  4. Fletcher. A translator of Martial. A very bad poet, but exceedingly scarce.
  5. Only the actions of the just
    Smell sweet, and blossom in the dust.
    Perhaps Shirley had in view this passage of Persius:
    Nunc non é tumulo, fortunataque favilla
    Nascentur Violae?
    Sat. I. l. 37
  6. Faërie Queen.
  7. Aristophanes.
  8. See his exquisite hymn to the Nightingale, in his Ορνιθες.
  9. Gray.
  10. The fire of London.
  11. Cloud-compelling Jove. ———–Pope’s Iliad.
  12. ———————- gaudent praenomine molles
  13. The gallant Veres, and one-eyed Ogle. Three fine heads, for the sake of which, the beautiful and interesting Commentaries of Sir Francis Vere have been mutilated by Collectors of English portraits.
  14. Generally known by the name of Janus Nicius Erythraeus. The allusion is to his Pinacotheca.
  15. Les Serées de Guillaume Bouchet, a book of uncommon rarity. I posses a handsome copy by the kindness of Colonel Stanley.
  16. Les Regrets, by Joachim du Bellay, contain a most amusing and instructive Account of Rome, in the 16th Century.
  17. Pasquillorum Tomi duo.
  18. Errare per lucos, amoenae,
    Quos et aquae subeunt et aurae.

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