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at length, he made himself master of a very considerable library, wherein the choicest collection was Greek.”
The mention of his brother's love of book-collecting, leads the biographer to lament over the changes in the booksellers' trade, which contains some curious information relative to that important and all-necessary craft.
“ It may not be amiss to step a little aside to reflect on the vast change in the trade of books between that time and ours. Then, Little Britain was a plentiful and perpetual emporium of learned authors; and men went thither as a market. This drew to the place a mighty trade; the rather because the shops were spacious, and the learned gladly resorted to them, where they seldom failed to meet with agreeable conversation. And the booksellers themselves were knowing and conversible men, with whom, for the sake of bookish knowledge, the greatest wits were pleased to converse. And we may judge the time as well spent there, as (in latter days) either in tavern or coffee-house; though the latter hath carried off the spare hours of most people. But now this emporium is vanished, and the trade contracted into the hands of two or three persons, who, to make good their monopoly, ransack, not only their neighbours of the trade that are scattered about town, but all over England, aye, and beyond the sea too, and send abroad their circulators, and in that manner get into their hands all that is valuable. The rest of the trade are content to take their refuse, with which, and the fresh scum of the press, they furnish one side of a shop, which serves the sign of a bookseller, rather than a real one; but, instead of selling, deal as factors, and procure what the country divines and gentry send for, of whom each hath his book-factor; and, when wanting any thing, writes to his bookseller, and pays his bill. And it is wretched to consider what pick-pocket work, with help of the press, these demi-booksellers make. They crack their brains to find out selling subjects, and keep hirelings in garrets, at hard meat, to write and correct by the groat; and so puff up an octavo to a sufficient thickness, and there's six shillings current for an hour and an half's reading, and perhaps never to be read or looked upon after. One that would go higher, must take his fortune at blank walls, and corners of streets, or repair to the sign of Bateman, Ianys, and one or two more, where are best choice and better pennyworths. I might touch other abuses, as bad paper, incorrect printing, and false advertising, all which, and worse, is to be expected, if a careful author is not at the heels of them. But I fear I am led by these too far out of my way.”
It was not the Doctor's practice, like too many collectors, to purchase books for the purpose of adorning his shelves; for he appears to have mastered and commented on their contents, with no ordinary ability and industry. For every author whom he made the subject of his book, he kept a book which be filled
with annotations, until he had a considerable body of them. To the study of Greek he appears to have paid his chief attention, and so qualified himself to fill the chair of the Greek professor, to which he was afterwards elected. He seems, however, scarcely to have neglected any department of literature, and was enabled to attend to all by the admirable economy of his time.
“ Greek became almost vernacular to him, and he took no small pains to make himself master of the Hebrew language, and seldom failed carrying an Hebrew bible (but pointed) to chapel with him. He was a notable husband of his time, and contrived to make his very scraps and intercalary minutes profitable; and, accordingly, during those short intervals between dressing and dinner, and such like attendances, when he could not engage in the texture of his study, he used to get the best penned English books, and read them aloud; which he said he did to form and improve his English style and pronunciation. And on such occasions he used to say it was pity to lose any of his time. And for the advantage of his Latin he used to keep his accounts in that language, and as near the classic as he could.”
His relaxations from study were few and simple. Society, late in the evening, after a hard day's work, he loved. Music, too, was also a favourite resource, and he began to indulge himself on the organ, till “ his under neighbour, a morose and importune Master of Arts,” took to playing at bowls in his room, in order to show his sense of the disturbance, and retaliate on the musician. His morbid sensibilities appear to have found an innocent and amiable amusement in cultivating spiders, and observing their habits and modes of life. Roger North had either a similar taste himself, or had got his information from his brother, for he enlarges upon the subject.
- The Doctor had found out one petit entertainment in his study, besides books; and that was keeping of great house-spiders, in widemouthed glasses, such as men keep tobacco in. When he had them safe in hold, he supplied them with crumbs of bread, which they ate, rather than starve." But their regale was flies, which he sometimes caught and put to them. When their imprisonment appeared inevitable, they fell to their trade of making webs, and made large expansions and more private recesses. It pleased him to observe the animals manage their interests in the great work of taking their prey. If it was a small fly given to them, no more ceremony, but take and eat him; but if a great master-flesh fly, then to work, twenty courses round, and perhaps not come near him, for he had claws sharp as cats, and, after divers starts to and fro, a web was with an hind leg dexterously clapt over two or three of his legs : after all his claws were in that manner secured, then, at a running pull, a broad web was brought over him, which bound him hand and foot, and, by being fixed to the spider's tail, the fly was carried off into one of his inmost recesses, there to be feasted upon at leisure.”
His love of society, and his manner in it, are thus mentioned.
“When the Doctor was abroad, and absent from his studies, either by visits, friendly meetings, or attendances, his chief delight was in discourse. And he would apply himself to all sorts of company in a brisk and smart manner; for he was very just and ready in his speech, facetious, and fluent, and his wit was never at a nonplus. I have known him at act, keep suppers as merry as the best, and, though he drank little or nothing, he sparkled and reparteed, not only saving himself harmless, (for the sober man is commonly the mark), but returning bite. His sobriety was so extraordinary, that, with entire assurance, I can affirm, that never in all his life did he know what a cup too much (as they term it) was. And this continence was more singular in him, who was really a wit in conversation, and his company desired by all people that knew him; and it is well known how much such qualifications induce men to come under the jurisdiction of the bottle. But this abstemiousness in extremity proved of ill consequence to his health, as will be showed in fit place.”
It appears, however, that he did not relish the society of his college. “ He did not love morosity and sour looks," which caused him to look out for another residence in the university, more agreeable to his taste. He accordingly resigned his fellowship, and took up his abode in Trinity, where, it seems, he perceived more of the humane and the polite, than in the lesser colleges; and, above all, his inducement was his value for the more than thrice excellent master, Dr. Barrow.
“ He had long ago contracted a familiar acquaintance, I may say friendship, with him, and they used each other in a most delightful communication of thoughts. The good Dr. Barrow ended his days in London, in a Prebend's house that had a little stair to it, out of the cloisters, that made him call it a man's nest, and I presume it is so called to this day. The master's disease was an high fever. It had been his custom, contracted when (upon the fund of a travelling fellowship) he was at Constautinople, in all his maladies to cure himself with opium; and, being very ill, probably he augmented his dose, and so inflamed his fever, and at the same time obstructed the crisis ; for he was a man knocked down, and had the eyes as of one distracted. Our Doctor seeing him so, was struck with horror; for he, that knew him so well in his best health, could best distinguish; and when he left him, he concluded he should see him no more alive, and so it
The Biographer, in describing the college habits of his brother, introduces some observations on the manners of the university in his time, which are interesting to those who have an opportunity of comparing them with their own very different experience.
“ The Doctor conformed to all the orders of the college, seldom ate out of the hall, and then upon a fish-day only, being told it was for his health. He was constantly at the chapel-prayers, so much, as one may say, that, being in town, he never failed. This, in the morning, secured his time, for he went from thence directly to his study, without any sizing or breakfast at all. Whilst he was at Jesus College, coffee was not in such common use as afterwards, and coffeehouses but young. At that time, and long after, there was but one, and that kept by one Kirk. The trade of news also was scarce set up; for they had only the Public Gazette, till Kirk got a written news letter circulated by one Muddiman. But now the case is much altered; for it is become a custom, after chapel, to repair to one or the other of the coffee-houses, for there are divers, where hours are spent in talking; and less profitable reading of newspapers, of which swarms are continually supplied from London. And the scholars are so greedy after news, (which is none of their business), that they neglect all for it, and it is become very rare for any of them to go directly to his chamber after prayers, without doing his suit at the coffee-house; which is a vast loss of time, grown out of a pure novelty; for who can apply close to a subject, with his head full of the din of a coffee-house. I cannot but think, that since coffee, with the most, is become a morning refreshment, the order, which I knew once established at Lambethhouse, or somewhat like it, might be introduced into the colleges, which was for the chaplains and gentlemen officers to meet every morning in a sort of still house, where a good woman provided them with liquors, as they liked best; and this they called their coffeehouse.”
But, to return to the Doctor himself. Soon after he took orders, it fell to his lot to preach before the king, (Charles II.) at Newmarket. “ This was a great trial of his spirits, and he went with great reluctance of mind; but reason and resolution prevailed. He said, that he made it a law to himself to confine his view, above the people, to a certain space, which he was not to exceed; and in speaking to a multitude, it is a good rule to mind none of them.” Mr. North managed to succeed both with the king and the ladies.
“ The king was pleased to signify his approval of it by saying, as he came out of the church, that the preacher would soon be a bishop; and if his Majesty had lived a little longer, he might have proved himself a prophet; but his, as well as the Doctor's untimely death, fell in the way of that event. The ladies also were pleased to accept the Doctor's discourse. One of them, being asked how she liked Mr. North's sermon, said, that he was a handsome man, and had pretty doctrine.”
Of the Doctor's person, which the lady admired, there is a very minute description, drawn in a manner not much unlike the style of Defoe, which indeed that of the Biographer frequently resembles.
“ As to his person and constitution, excepting only the agreeable air of his countenance, and florid head of flaxen hair, I have little to produce that may be commended. His temperature of body, and his austere course of life, were ill matched, and his complexion agreed with neither; for his face was always tincted with a fresh colour, and his looks vegete and sanguine, and, as some used to jest, his features were scandalous, as shewing rather a madam entravestrie, than a bookworm. But his flesh was strangely flaccid and soft, his going weak and shuffling, often crossing his legs, as if he were tipsey, his sleep, seldom or never, easy, but interrupted with unquiet and painful dreams, the reposes he had were short and by snatches,-his active spirit had rarely any perfect settlement or rest."
His mind seems always to have been in a state of fermentation, which fretted “his pigmy body to decay.”
“ It is certain he was overmuch addicted to thinking, or else he performed it with more labour and intenseness than other men ordiparily do ; for, in the end, it will appear he was a martyr to study. He scarce ever allowed himself any vacation; what he had, was forced upon him. There was no undertaking, no occurrence, how trivial soever, whereof all the circumstances or emergencies that possibly might concern him, were not valued and revolved in his mind, lest he should be so unhappy as to oversee any, as if mere trifles had been cardinal to the interests of his whole life. If he was to ride to his father's house, walk to church, or make any visit in town, he was in pain about the contigents, and so low as to fret at the fancy he had, that the people in the street looked on him. He was, in a word, the most intense and passionate thinker that ever lived and was in his right mind.”
He shared with the fastidious Gray, to whose character the Doctor's bears a striking resemblance, a great dissatisfaction with his own works, together with a morbid longing after perfection in his productions; and what brings the comparison more home, he had, like the poet, an utter dislike to have his likeness taken. To such a pitch indeed had this disgust risen, -such unnatural importance did it occupy in his mind,—that he seems to have been haunted with the idea, that the mere impression of his person was laid in wait for; as he actually, every morning, designedly obliterated the print in the bed where he had lain.
“ He was always exceeding thoughtful and full of notions. He could not rest from working upon his designs, and, at the same time, so diffident of the event, that, between impulse and despair, he was like Mahomet in his tomb, or, as they say, Erasmus, hung. Despair had the greatest influence; and it sat so hard upon his spirits, that he desired rather to be utterly forgot, than that any memorial of his dealings in literature should remain, to shew that such a one as he exist