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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 18, No. 106, August, 1866

Elzevir Virgils are common enough


Side

by side with this Virgil is another, the rare Elzevir Virgil, and a gem, if ever there was one. It is the corrected text of Heinsius, and thus has a fair claim to rank as the earliest of the modern critical editions of Maro. The elegance of this little book in size and shape, the clearness and beauty of the type, and the truly classical taste and finish of the whole design, can never be surpassed in Virgilian bibliography, unless by Didot's matchless little copies. Elzevir Virgils are common enough; but mine is, as I have said, the rare Elzevir, known by the pages introductory to the Eclogues and AEneid being printed in rubric, while the ordinary Elzevirs have them in black. It dates 1637,--the year when John Harvard left his money to the College at Newtowne, and the first printing-press in the United States was set up hard by.

The books, then, that I have described so far all date within the two hundred and thirty years of our collegiate history. But I have behind three of an earlier--a much earlier date; books which John Cotton and Charles Chauncy might have gazed upon as old in Emmanuel College Library.

First, I show you a pair of Aldines, and, what is better, a pair _editionum principum_,--the first Sophocles and the first Thucydides. Both have the proper attestation at the end that they come from the Aldi in Venice in the year 1502,--the Thucydides in May, and the Sophocles in August; hence the former has

not the Aldine anchor at the extreme end. Both are in exquisitely clean condition; but the Sophocles, though taller than other known copies of the same edition, has suffered from the knife of a modern binder, who otherwise has done his work with the greatest elegance and judgment. The Thucydides has a grand page, over twelve inches by eight; the Sophocles is about seven by four. The type of both is small, and, though distinct, especially the Thucydides, not at all what we should call elegant. In fact, elegant Greek type is a very late invention. There is, I believe, no claim to textual criticism in these early Aldines; the publishers printed from such manuscripts as they could get. The Thucydides has a long dedicatory address by Aldus to a Roman patrician; the Sophocles has no such introduction. But it is, at any rate, most curious to consider that these two writers, who stand at the very head of Greek, or at least Attic, prose and verse, both for matter and style, should not have found a printer till the fifteenth century was long past, and then in a style which, for the Sophocles, can only be called neat. The Thucydides is handsome, but far inferior to the glory of the _princeps_ Homer. And to own them--for a maniac--O, it is glorious!

Last comes my special treasure,--my fifteener,--my book as old as America,--my darling copy of my darling author. Here, at the culmination of my madness, my friends, especially my brother Henry, are all ready to say at once what author I mean. For it has been my special mania for twenty years--thereby causing the deepest distress to nearly all my friends, even those who have been thought fellow-lunatics, except one,[D] who is for me about the only sane man alive--to prefer VIRGIL to all authors, living or dead, and to seek to accumulate


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