Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 15.djvu/13

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of the most valuable private libraries in the country. Lord Spencer proved his patron through life, made him at one time his librarian, obtained church patronage for him, and made the Althorp library the wonderful collection it since became, very much under his direction. The ‘Introduction to the Classics’ was reprinted in 1804, 1808, and 1827, each time with great enlargements, but its intrinsic value is very small. In 1809 appeared the first edition of the ‘Bibliomania,’ which caught the taste of the time, and the second edition of which in 1811 had considerable influence in exciting the interest for rare books and early editions, which rose to such a height at the Roxburghe sale in 1812. Soon afterwards he undertook a new edition of Ames's and Herbert's ‘Typographical Antiquities.’ The first volume, which is confined to Caxton, appeared in 1810; the fourth, which goes down to Thomas Hacket, in 1819; the work was never finished.

At the Roxburghe sale the edition of Boccaccio printed by Valdarfer sold for the enormous sum of 2,260l., and to commemorate this Dibdin proposed that several of the leading bibliophiles should dine together on the day. Eighteen met at the St. Alban's Tavern, in St. Alban's Street (now Waterloo Place), on 17 June 1812, with Lord Spencer as president, and Dibdin as vice-president. This was the beginning of the existence of the Roxburghe Club. The number of members was ultimately increased to thirty-one, and each member was expected to produce a reprint of some rare volume of English literature. In spite of the worthless character of some of the early publications (of which it was said that when they were unique there was already one copy too many in existence), and of the ridicule thrown on the club by the publication of Haslewood's ‘Roxburghe Revels,’ this was the parent of the publishing societies established in this country, which have done so much for English history and antiquities, to say nothing of other branches of literature; and Dibdin must be credited with being the originator of the proposal.

Soon after this he undertook an elaborate catalogue of the chief rarities of Lord Spencer's library, and here his lamentable ignorance and unfitness for such a work are sadly conspicuous. He could not even read the characters of the Greek books he describes; and his descriptions are so full of errors that it may be doubted if a single one is really accurate. On the other hand, the descriptions were taken bonâ fide from the books themselves, and thus the errors are not such as those of many of his predecessors in bibliography, who copied the accounts of others, and wrote at second hand without having seen the books. The ‘Bibliotheca Spenceriana,’ which is a very fine specimen of the printing of the time, has had the effect of making Lord Spencer's library better known out of England than any other library, and certainly led many scholars to make a study of its rarities. In 1817 appeared the most amusing and the most successful (from a pecuniary point of view) of his works, the ‘Bibliographical Decameron,’ on which a great sum was spent for engravings and woodcuts. The reader will find a great deal of gossip about books and printers, about book collectors and sales by auction; but for accurate information of any kind he will seek in vain. In 1818 Dibdin spent some time in France and Germany, and in his ‘Bibliographical, Antiquarian, and Picturesque Tour,’ a very costly work from its engravings, which appeared in 1821, he gives an amusing account of his travels, with descriptions of the contents of several of the chief libraries of Europe. But the style is flippant, and at times childish, and the book abounds with follies and errors. It would have been (it has been said) ‘a capital volume, if there had been no letterpress.’ In 1824 appeared his ‘Library Companion,’ the only one of his works which was fully (and very severely) reviewed at the time of its publication. In 1836 he published his ‘Reminiscences of a Literary Life,’ which gives a full account of his previous publications, and the amount spent on them for engravings and woodcuts; and in 1838 his ‘Bibliographical, Antiquarian, and Picturesque Tour in the Northern Counties of England and Scotland,’ amusing, as all his books are, but full of verbiage and follies, and abounding with errors. Some time before this he had projected a ‘History of the University of Oxford’ on a large scale (three folio volumes), with especially elaborate illustrations; but this never was carried out, those who would have been inclined to patronise it knowing how unfit he was for such an undertaking. It must be confessed that Mr. Dyce's words afford only a too just character of Dibdin: ‘an ignorant pretender, without the learning of a schoolboy, who published a quantity of books swarming with errors of every description.’ He is said to have been of pleasant manners and good-tempered, and had a fund of anecdote. His preferments were the preachership of Archbishop Tenison's chapel in Swallow Street, the evening lectureship of Brompton Chapel, preacherships at Quebec and Fitzroy chapels, the vicarage of Exning, near Newmarket (1823), the rectory of St. Mary's, Bryanston Square (1824), and a royal chaplaincy (1831 till death). He was unsuccessful candidate for