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SKETCHES

OF

ENGLISH LITERATURE.

INTRODUCTION.

THERE is no sight that more powerfully carries back the thoughts to the olden time than an old library. I do not mean merely an old building, nor a collection of old books, — not a show-place, nor an elaborate modern antique, - but a veritable library of the olden time. There is a sight of this kind at the little town of Wimborne, in Dorsetshire. The old Minster of that place, bearing witness to the architectural skill and taste both of the Saxon and the Norman era, has much to delight the antiquarian in its structure, its ornaments, its traces of successive enlargements, marked by obvious changes of style, its monuments, and its historical associations. But nothing to my mind was so interesting as a chamber in one of the

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towers that was called “ The Library.” The room was square and well proportioned, though by no means large; two windows, of a sort of casement form, more suited to an old house than a church tower, and evidently very much more modern than the walls, admitted plenty of light; and round the three other sides of the room were rough-looking massive shelves, containing tarnished dilapidated books of all sorts, sizes, and colours, in clumsy but strong bindings, now sadly tattered, and in many cases dropping to pieces with age.

Here were black-letter tomes — still older beautifully written manuscripts ; specimens of early printing in the Roman character, that so soon triumphed over the black letter; a fine old polyglott Bible, in many volumes ; and separate copies of the Scriptures — some in the original tongues, and some Latin, and early English, translations.

The greatest peculiarity, however, was not the books, but the way they were secured. An iron rod went along the edge of each shelf, and was fastened at the end by a huge padlock. Each book had a chain screwed on to one of the covers (as we often see the Bible fastened to the desk in very old churches), and at the other end of the chain was a ring that ran on the locked iron rod. For the convenience of reading any of these venerable volumes thus guarded from removal, there

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