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gold and silver on purple), exquisitely executed, are found in abundance, but of a later date. Still they appear to have been familiar with the practice at a much more remote period; and it is probable that the Greeks acquired this art from Egypt or India. From the Greeks it would naturally pass to the Latins, who appear to have been acquainted with it early in the second century. The earliest specimen of purple or rose-coloured vellum is recorded in the life of the Emperor Maximinus the younger, to whom, in the commencement of the third century, his mother made a present of the poems of Homer, written on purple vellum in gold letters. Such productions were, however, at this time very rare. The celebrated Codex Argenteus of Ulphilas, written in silver and gold letters on a purple ground, about 360, is probably the most ancient existing specimen of this magnificent mode of calligraphy. In the fourth century it had become more common: many ecclesiastical writers allude to it, and St. Jerome especially does so; and the following spirited dialogue has reference to his somewhat condemnatory allusions.
<f Purple vellum Greek MSS." says Breitinger, "if I remember rightly, are scarcer than white crows!" Belinda. "Pray tell us ' all about them,' as the children say."
Philemon. "Well, then, at your next court visit, let your gown rival the emblazoned aspect of these old purple vellums, and let stars of silver, thickly "powdered'* thereupon, emulate, if they dare, the silver capital Greek letters upon the purple membranaceous fragments which have survived the desolations of time! You see, I do not speak coldly upon this picturesque subject!"
A Li Mains A, "Nor do I feel precisely as if I were in the frigid zone! But proceed and expatiate."
Philemon. "The field for expatiating is unluckily very limited. The fact of the more ancient MSS. before noticed, the Pentateuch at Vienna, the fragment of the Gospels in the British Museum, with a Psalter or two in a few libraries abroad, are all the MSS. which just now occur to me as being distinguished by a purple tint, for I apprehend little more than a tint remains. Whether the white or the purple vellum be the more ancient, I cannot take upon me to determine; but it is right you should be informed that St. Jerom denounces as coxcombs, all those who, in his own time, were so violently attached to your favourite purple colour.''
Lisardo. "I have a great respect for the literary attainments of St. Jerom; and although in the absence of the old Italic version of the Greek Bible, I am willing to subscribe to the excellence of his own, or what is now called the Vulgate, yet in matters of taste, connected with the harmony of colour, you must excuse me if I choose to enter my protest against that venerable father's decision."
Philemon. " You appear to mistake the matter St. Jerom imagined that this appetite for purple MSS. was rather artificial and voluptuous; requiring regulation and correction—and that, in the end, men would prefer the former colour to the intrinsic worth of their vellum treasures."
We must not omit the note appended to this colloquy.
"The general idea seems to be that Purple VelLum MSS. were intended only for" choice blades," let us rather say, tasteful bibliomaniacs—in book collecting. St. Jerom, as Philemon above observes, is very biting in his sarcasm upon these " purple leaves covered with letters of gold and silver."—" For myself and my friends (adds that father), let us have lower priced books, and distinguished not so much for beauty as for accuracy.'1
"Mabillon remarks that these purple treasures were for the 'princes' and 'noblemen' of the times.
"And we learn from the twelfth volume of the Specileginum of Theonas, that it is rather somewhat unseemly 'to write upon purple vellum in letters of gold and silver, unless at the particular desire of a prince.'"
"The subject also of MSS. frequently regulated the mode of executing it. Thus we learn from the 28th Epistle of Boniface (Bishop and Martyr) to the abbess Eadburga, that this latter is entreated 'to write the Epistles of St. Peter, the master and Apostle of Boniface, in letters of gold, for the greater reverence to be paid towards the Sacred Scriptures, when the Abbess preaches before her carnallyminded auditors.'"
About the close of the seventh century the Archbishop of York procured for his church a copy of the Gospels thus adorned; and that this magnificent calligraphy was then new in England may be inferred from a remark made on it that "inauditam ante seculis nostris quoddam miraculam."
This art, however, shortly after declined every- where; and in England the art of writing in gold letters, even without the rich addition of the purpletinted material, seems to have been but imperfectly understood. The only remarkable instance of it is said to be the charter of King Edgar, in the new Minster at Winchester, in 966. In the fourteenth century it seems to have been more customary than in those immediately preceding it.
But we have been beguiled too long from that which alone is connected with our subject, viz., the binding of books. Probably this was originally a plain and unadorned oaken cover; though as books were found only in monastic establishments, or in the mansions of the rich, even the cover soon became emblematic of its valuable contents.
The early ornaments of the back were chiefly of a religious character—a representation of the Virgin, of the infant Saviour, of the Crucifixion. Dibdin mentions a Latin Psalter of the ninth century in this primitive and substantial binding, and on the oaken board was riveted a large brass crucifix, originally, probably, washed with silver; and also a MS. of the Latin Gospels of the twelfth or thirteenth century, in oaken covers, inlaid with pieces of carved ivory, representing our Saviour with an angel above him, and the Virgin and Child.
The carved ivory may probably be a subsequent interpolation, but it does not the less exemplify the practice. But as the taste for luxury and ornament increased, and the bindings, even the clumsy wooden ones, became more gorgeously decorated—the most costly gems and precious stones being frequently inlaid with the golden ornaments—the shape and form of them was altogether altered. With a view to the preservation and the safety of the riches lavished on them, the bindings were made double, each side being perhaps two inches thick; and on a spring being touched, or a secret lock opened, it divided, almost like the opening of a cupboard-door, and displayed the rich ornament and treasure within; whilst, when closed, the outside had only the appearance of a plain, somewhat clumsy binding.
At that time, too, books were ranged on shelves with the leaves in front; therefore great pains were taken, both in the decoration of the edges, and also in the rich and ornamental clasps and strings which united the wooden sides. These clasps were frequently of gold, inlaid with jewels.
The wooden sides were afterwards covered with leather, with vellum, with velvet,—though probably there is no specimen of velvet binding before the fourteenth century; and, indeed, as time advanced, there is scarcely any substance which was not applied to this purpose. Queen Elizabeth had a little volume of prayers bound in solid gold, which at prayer-time she suspended by a gold chain at her side; and we saw, a few years ago, a small devotional book which belonged to the MartyrKing, Charles, and which was given by him to the ancestress of the friend who showed it to us, beautifully bound in tortoise-shell and finely-carved silver.
But it was not to gold and precious stones alone that the bindings of former days were indebted for their beauty. The richest and rarest devices of the needlewoman were often wrought on the velvet, or