Let’s begin with a brief quiz. Have you ever arrived home, triumphant with glee over your latest bookshop find, only to discover that you already have the book you just purchased? Have you ever attempted to bring home unobserved a stack of newly purchased books, and thus avoid the censorious lift of the eyebrows of loved ones which so often greets your latest acquisitions? Have you ever begun reading a book you’ve been looking forward to for years, even decades, only to discover your own notes in the margins? (If so, you are a bibliolathas.) Are you on first-name terms with the staff of three bookshops or more? Have you ever had to reinforce a sagging floor because of the weight of your books? Have you ever had to add a room on to your home or move to a larger one to accommodate them?
If you can answer yes to at least three of these questions you will understand why book collecting is the only hobby to have a disease named after it: bibliomania. You will also appreciate the allure of a title like The Anatomy of Bibliomania.
My discovery of this treatise by Holbrook Jackson was not serendipitous, for in a bookshop, as every bibliophile knows, there are no accidents. There is only Destiny. It sat on the dusty shelf at eye-level: a siren song in two glorious volumes, bound in red buckram, the 1931 Soncino Press first edition, number 537 from a limited edition of 1,000 copies (alas, not one of the 48 copies on hand-made paper), 8vo, gilt top edges, minor fading to spines, no foxing, tanning or bumping to extremities, text block clean and tight, hinges strong, no previous owner’s inscription or bookplate.
Modelled on Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, both in format and in its deliciously pedantic early-seventeenth-century turn of phrase, it is an exhaustive pastiche of everything ever written that’s worth saying (as well as a few things that might have been better left unsaid) about the nature and allure of books and t
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