Magazine article The Spectator

The Brutal Ruthlessness of the Police Is Typical of Modern Britain

Magazine article The Spectator

The Brutal Ruthlessness of the Police Is Typical of Modern Britain

Article excerpt

I was on my way to dinner in London last week in the company of a bookseller friend of mine when I saw something happen that bodes deservedly ill for these wretched islands. I was in exceptionally good mood, for my friend had just sold me a delightful little work published in 1880, entitled The Enemies of Books, for £6. As soon as I saw the frontispiece, an engraving of John Bagford, Shoemaker and Biblioclast, I knew I should have to buy the book, for a thing of humour is a joy for ever. (Bagford, a founder of the Society of Antiquaries, tore out and collected the title pages of very rare works and put them in a folio, now in the British Library.)

How could I possibly resist the large fold-out reproduction of Robert Hooke's engraving of the bookworm, an engraving of a furtive charwoman (looking uncommonly like the devil) using pages torn from a Caxton to kindle a fire, as well as one of 'rain-water conducted by ivy into a library'? Would this book not serve to prove the justice of the sentiments of the author (himself the printer of the book), that 'the man . . . with a taste for books, who through the day has struggled in the battle of life with all its irritating rebuffs and anxieties, what a blessed season of pleasurable repose opens upon him as he enters his sanctum, where every article wafts to him a welcome, and every book is a personal friend'? Indeed, the little volume wafted that strange and characteristic smell of dust and mould that so excites the habitue of second-hand bookshops such as I. And I noted with pleasure in the table of contents the evolutionary ascent of the enemies of books: Fire, Water, Gas and Heat, Dust and Neglect, Ignorance, the Bookworm, Other Vermin, Bookbinders, and Collectors. Alas, the book had been rebound by a member of one of the highest classes of the enemies of books, namely bookbinders. Only the crassness of his efforts reduced slightly my pleasure in my purchase.

What man of even moderate cultivation could resist the story of William Blades's 'first visit to the Bodleian Library in the year 1858, Dr Badinel being the librarian'? In the course of Blades's bibliographical researches in the Bodleian, he 'came across a small grub, which, without a thought, I threw under foot and trod under foot. Soon after I found another, a fat glossy fellow . . . that I carefully preserved in a little paper box, intending to observe his habits and development. Seeing Dr Badinel near, I asked him to look at my curiosity. Hardly, however, had I turned the wriggling little victim out upon the leather-covered table, when down came the doctor's thumb-nail upon him, and an inch-long smear proved the tomb of all my hopes, while the great bibliographer, wiping his thumb upon his coat sleeve, passed on with the remark, "Oh, yes! They have black heads sometimes." That was something to know - another fact for the entomologist; for my little gentleman had a hard, shiny, white head, and I never heard of a black-headed bookworm before or since.' I am also deeply indebted to Blades for my knowledge of Dr Sib's (in the margins pedantically corrected in pencil to Dr Sibbes' by a previous owner of the book) great work of 1650, Bowels Opened in Diverse Sermons. It is the accumulation of such knowledge that makes life - at least, my life - worth living. …

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