I no sooner come into the library but I bolt the door to me, excluding lust, ambition, avarice, and melancholy herself, and in the very lap of eternity, amongst so many divine souls, I take my seat with so lofty a spirit and sweet content that I pity all our great ones, and rich men, that know not this happiness.
Heinsius, Keeper of the Library at Leyden: Epist. Prim.
If I were not a King, I would be a University man; and if it were so that I must be a prisoner, if I might have my wish, I would desire to have no other prison than that library, and to be chained together with so many good authors, et mortuis magister.
James I.: Speech on Visit to the Bodleian Library, 1605.
No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a public library; for who can see the wall crowded on every side by mighty volumes, the works of laborious meditation and accurate inquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue, and preserved only to increase the pomp of learning, without considering how many hours have been wasted in vain endeavours, how often imagination has anticipated the pages of futurity, how many statues have risen to the eye of vanity, how many ideal converts have elevated zeal, how often wit has exulted in the eternal infamy of his antagonists, and dogmatism has delighted in the gradual advances of his authority, the immutability of his decrees, and the perpetuity of his power . Nothing is more common than to find men whose works are now totally neglected mentioned with praises by their contemporaries as the oracles of their age, and the legislators of science.
What a place to be in is an old library! It seems as though all the souls of all the writers that have bequeathed their labours to these Bodleians were reposing here, as in some dormitory, or middle state. I do not want to handle, to profane the leaves, their winding-sheets. I could as soon dislodge a shade. I seem to inhale learning, walking amid their foliage; and the odour of their old moth-scented coverings is fragrant as the first bloom of those sciential apples which grew amid the happy orchard.
In fact, I have a plan for a library that, instead of heading its compartments Philology, Natural Science, Poetry, etc., one shall head them according to the diseases for which they are severally good, bodily and mental,up from a dire calamity, or the pangs of the gout, down to a fit of the spleen, or a slight catarrh; for which last your light reading comes in with a whey posset and barley water.