Thursday, November 22, 2007

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

To the Editor

Books by the Yard-

any of your readers have heard of books bought and sold by weight,-in fact it is questionable whether the number of books sold in that way is not greater than those sold "over the counter,"-but few have probably heard of books sold "by the yard." Having purchased at St. Petersburg, the library left by an old Russian nobleman of high rank, I was quite astonished to find a copy of Oeuvres de Frederic II originally published in 15 vols., divided into 60, to each of which a new title had been printed; and several hundred volumes lettered outside Oeuvres de Miss Burney, Oeuvres de Swift &c., but containing, in fact all sorts of French waste paper books. These, as well as three editions of Oeuvres de Voltaire, were all very neatly bound in calf, gilt, and with red morocco backs. My curiosity being roused, I inquired into the origin of these circumstances, and learnt that during the reign of Catherine, every courtier who had hopes of being honoured by a visit from the Empress, was expected to have a library, the greater or smaller extent of which was to be regulated by the fortune of its possessor, and that, after Voltaire had won the favour of the Autocrat by his servile flattery, one or two copies of his works were considered indispensable. Every courtier was thus forced to have a room fitted up with mahogany shelves and filled with books, by far the greater number of which he never read or even opened. A bookseller of the name of Klostermann, who being of an athletic stature, was one of the innumerable favourites of the lady "who loved all things save her lord," was usually employed, not to select a library, but to fill a certain given space of so many yards, with books, at so much per volume, and Mr. Klostermann, the "Libraire de la Cour Imperiale," died worth a plum, having sold many thousand yards of books (among which I understood there were several hundred copies of Voltaire), at from 50 to 100 roubles a yard, "according to the binding."

A. Asher

Berlin. Dec. 1849

-from Notes and Queries Vol. 1 (11) Jan. 12, 1850, p. 166.

No comments: