Page:Essays in librarianship and bibliography.djvu/161

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[Bibliographica, vol. i. pt. 3, published by Messrs.
Kegan Paul & Co.]

There are few inquiries more interesting than one into the character and tendencies of an epoch, as ascertained by their reflection in its literature. Such an investigation, if referring to modern times and extended beyond a single country, must generally be incomplete on account of the great mass of the materials, which defies any exhibition of the literary tendencies prevailing at any given period over the whole of Europe. In the first age of printing alone the number of books is not absolutely unmanageable, and their bibliographical interest has ensured their accurate description in catalogues. It would not be beyond the power of industry to make a digest of the incunabula of the fifteenth century, so far as to show the number of books printed in each country, their respective subjects, the frequency of reprints, the ratio of the various classes to each other, the proportion of Latin to vernacular books, and other particulars of this nature by which the intellectual currents of the age might be mapped out.

The present essay is to be regarded as no more than a very imperfect indication of the feasibility of such an undertaking. Observations, sufficiently