Academic journal article Parergon

Invidious Comparisons: Manuscripts and Incunabula in the Libraries Donated by Sir George Grey to Cape Town and Auckland

Academic journal article Parergon

Invidious Comparisons: Manuscripts and Incunabula in the Libraries Donated by Sir George Grey to Cape Town and Auckland

Article excerpt

I may mention that on my [way] back to England I visited the Cape [and] inspected with great interest the library you had given to the People there --I shall look forward with interest to the news that Auckland has received what I am inclined to think will be a still more appreciated, if not more valuable gift. (1)

The difference in the number and value of the manuscripts and incunabula in the two libraries collected and donated by Sir George Grey (1812-98) during his long career as an army officer, explorer, governor of three colonies, New Zealand Prime Minister, and then parliamentary representative, seems already in 1886 to have obtruded itself on the notice of Clifford W Holgate, chronicler of the Free Public Library movement. This movement underlies both of Greys benefactions and reflects nineteenth-century reformers' belief in the power of education (especially when combined with immigration) to transform the lives of the lower classes. Grey was an upper-class representative of British imperial power and a Gladstonian Liberal in whom the Christian egalitarian strain ran deep. The tensions between the values characteristic of these two mind-sets are, in my view, at the heart of the different motives underlying Grey's two collections of manuscripts and incunabula. Whereas, for example, his acquisition of medieval manuscripts and classical incunabula epitomised his belief in the elite cultural value of Latin and Greek, in the 1883 public address that formally marked the donation of his library to the citizens of Auckland, he asserted emphatically that education in Latin and Greek should not be required for social advancement. (2) It is worth noting, however, that Grey's own education helped prepare the way for this development. Having run away from school because he was 'angry at boys having been put over [him] for their knowledge of the classics, who were perfectly ignorant of the higher branches of knowledge at which [he] had been working', he was educated at Sandhurst, where he gained familiarity with modern languages and literature (Italian, French, and German). (3)

Grey s ringing endorsement of the study of English language and literature from its 'earliest' (late medieval) burgeoning, both as a source of joy and inspiration and as a source of improved employment opportunities, is what makes him, in my view, worth claiming as a champion for our own time. If, finally, he had no fully developed idea of how a public library might differ from a private gentleman's, neither had Holgate, who was largely content to share Grey's vision of the new world order that would ensue from his benefactions. Grey also had a broader conception of it than Bernard Quaritch, the 'Napoleon' of London booksellers, who, with transparently ulterior motives, explained to Grey that the distinguishing feature of a public library was that it contained important works of the kind that private gentlemen or learned scholars could not afford to buy. (4)

I. Grey: Portrait of a Collector

The library Grey donated to Cape Town in 1861 had for the most part been purchased during his term as governor there (1854-61), but included books from his first library, largely destroyed by fire in 1848. (5) Consisting of 5,200 books, it contained 114 manuscripts and 119 incunabula. (6) Manuscripts and incunabula form a much smaller proportion of the library of approximately 14,000 books Grey handed over to Auckland in 1887, and to which he continued to add after he retired to London in 1894. In addition to the twenty-seven manuscripts described in the 1989 catalogue, (7) Grey donated a late sixteenth-century Spanish antiphonary, (8) and a fifteenth-century copy of English laws, erroneously assigned to the Henry Shaw collection. (9) Thirty-eight incunabula are attributed to Grey at Auckland. (10)

The difference in the number and overall quality of the manuscripts in Grey s two benefactions was drawn attention to by Christopher de Hamel in the 1989 catalogue. …

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