All year I've meant to tell you about a great present I got from Dave and Joe: the 2012 Forgotten English Calendar. They sent me a lovely box of things last December and this calendar was tucked into a corner, next to a bunch of gigantic Lindt bars and some books. Every day I peel off a new sheet, and find a funny, interesting bit of trivia regarding an old word or phrase, many of which I have read in old books.
Today's is "bibliomaniac", which is actually quite a current term in some circles. James Donald's Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, 1877 says "One affected by bibliomania, book-madness, or the rage for possession." I realise guiltily that I have been infected with bibliomania in the past. I sometimes - only sometimes, mind you; I am a dedicated reader from way back - feel a restless need to acquire books utterly without regard to their actual reading value.
Here is today's entry from my Forgotten English calendar:
On December 1, 1834, a public auction was begun at Sotheby's in London to sell off about a half-million books from the estate of English bibliomaniac and Member of Parliament Richard Heber (1774-1833). It required more than 200 working days over two years. After stockpiling enormous numbers of English books, his family fortune enabled him to buy up many books in French, Italian, and even Portuguese -- languages he was quite unable to understand -- as well as in Greek and Latin, languages he had learned in childhood.
Surprisingly, Heber's last will never mentioned his collection, although most of his waking hours were devoted not to reading but to the passionate acquisition of private libraries, which were first housed in London and Oxford, then in Paris, Antwerp, Brussels, and Ghent. Henry Peacham's Complete Gentleman (1622) included the counsel, "To desire to have many books, and never to use them, is like a child that will have a candle burning by him all the while he is sleeping."
Still - I can understand Crazy Rick's obsession with book ownership. Imagine being able to afford to not only buy up private libraries, but house them in four European cities? What a marvellous thing.
And hey - there are worse things he could have been collecting!
(I have just spent twenty minutes Googling "weird collections" for examples, but now I'm too depressed to link you to any of them.)