The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.
Chapter XXXVIII. — The Grey Library
The Grey Library
"For his bounty There was no winter in't; an autumn 'twas
That grew the more by reaping."
Although Sir George Grey did not present his magnificent library to the Cape during his residence there, yet an account of it will occur more appropriately here than in any other division of this work. A few months after the Governor had gone to his new duties, one of the members of the Ministry at the Cape of Good Hope received an interesting letter from him. Sir George Grey began by stating that throughout his life he had delighted in collecting manuscripts and early-printed books, with the idea of publishing fresh editions of many of them in the leisure of advancing age. This hope, he now found, was an illusion. Instead of lessening, the claims on his time grew more numerous and pressing each year: and his self-imposed task had now grown to such dimensions that it would require a lifetime to accomplish, however imperfectly. Anxious lest the collection, which had been made with so much care should be dispersed in private hands, he had formed the design of bestowing it on the people of South Africa, not after his own death, but making the gift immediately to the colony, for which he felt much affection. A few cases of books accompanied this letter. The main part of the library was, however, in England. It was not till April, 1864, that the whole collection page 298was housed in the building which Prince Alfred had opened four years earlier.
At the first annual meeting of subscribers to the Cape Town Public Library after Sir George Grey had made his noble present, the chairman, Mr. J. Fairbairn, M.L.A., in the course of an eloquent address, said:
This institution has been favoured with a gift of great value by our late excellent Governor, Sir George Grey. It consists partly of manuscript copies taken before the art of printing was known in Europe, and early printed editions of work that have shone like stars in the firmament of literature for many generations, and which, in their youthful dress with decorations significant of manners and fancies long vanished from life, are much esteemed by the philosophic historian as well as by the curious antiquary. …
The venerahle libraries in the most famous abodes of learning would have acknowledged such a gift with gratitude as a priceless addition to their stores …
But highly as we prize this rich gift as a possession and a trust for future ages, we experience a more profound and pleasing sentiment of regard towards the giver, who has selected us from all the world to be recipients And guardians of this treasure. …
In many of its aspects the Government of Sit' George Grey in South Africa will be regarded as a remarkable era in our history. …
This considerable collection of books with free access to all who may wish to consult or peruse them, has ever had the praise of strangers. In their new abode, in union and communion with a Museum already rich and arranged with science and taste; in a sweet and quiet garden, terminated in prospect by a college expanding into a university, this institution has now every quality to fix the affections of a man like Sir George Grey-—one endowed with large discourse, looking before and after, discovering the fruit in the bud, and disposed by habit to view with complacency the early developments of society, to which a single mind may sometimes give a permanent direction towards truth and virtue.
After speaking of the foundation of the Library, exactly one hundred years previous to the date of Sir George Grey's trust, by a bequest of books, manuscripts, paintings, and a sum of £200 by Joachim Nicholas Dessin, the chairman pointed out that it was founded by private liberality, that private individuals had since contributed largely to its stores and convenience, that Sir George Grey had now enriched it with a gift worth more than all the previous collection, and that the Government and the people as a whole had hitherto done very little towards its support.page 299
When Sir George Grey first landed in South Africa, the Public Library at Cape Town was of considerable size and importance, but was very inadequately lodged in a side room of the Exchange Buildings. It was owing to the Governor's persistence and personal influence that the Cape Parliament voted the large sum of money spent in building the present handsome edifice. Afterwards the Cape people erected a statue of Sir G. Grey immediately in front of the Library.
The possession of Sir George's literary treasures (one of the finest private collections in the world) made the South African Library take a very high position. Mr. F. S. Lewis, M.A., Chief Librarian of the South African Public Library, who had long been connected with the "Bodleian," at Oxford, referring to the position which the South African Library occupies with regard to others, said it was the third in point of size of colonial libraries, but it was first in point of importance. If the Grey Collection were burnt or destroyed, the fact would be known all over the world and regretted by every man who loved learning. Other libraries might be destroyed and the loss would only be local, but if this collection, or indeed some particular books in it, were lost, there would be a cry throughout the whole world.
Glancing at the contents of the bookshelves, the visitor is first struck by the. prominence given to philological works. Brought much into contact with the natives in all his governments, and holding very decidedly the opinion that to successfully govern uncivilised races an intimate knowledge of their characters, traditions, and manner of thought was necessary, Sir George diligently studied the languages of the various coloured populations under his rule.
The estimation in which leading authorities on philology held the service rendered to science by Sir George Grey's researches and collections is gathered from many letters. Space will only permit of quotations from two or three.
Professor Max Muller wrote in 1860, thanking Sir George Grey for a present of books, and particularly mentioning the catalogue of the Library at the Cape, about which he said: "I have but little doubt that it might form the subject of an article in the Quarterly, which would interest many readers in England and abroad. If the page 300editor of the Quarterly would offer the article to me I should do my best to make it interesting, though one could hardly avoid entering into some questions connected with the science of language, which would necessarily require a somewhat minute treatment. However, an account of your own services and of the services rendered by missionaries to the cause of philology and ethnology, might give to the article a certain variety and relief, and I should hope to be able to turn it into an appeal to the public for granting a more active and permanent support to a science which I believe will rise in time to be the most important of all sciences, the science of language and of man."
Another interesting letter is from Baron de Bunseti. It is dated the 2nd of October, 1860, and runs thus: "You have heaped upon all scholars of African ethnology, and upon all friends of comparative philology such rich treasures of new and of true, facts that we are really, all of us, and particularly those of the school to which I glory to belong, the historical, forced by you to make the first step in knowledge, which is that of knowing the full extent of our ignorance as to what we wish to know and to understand. As to myself. I hope to have made, and most willingly, at the head of those precious linguistic documents, the second step, viz., that of convincing myself of the abundance of matter which is in store for us, thanks to your enlightened and indefatigable researches and collections. They have surpassed my fondest expectations."
The letter goes on to say that what Sir George Grey had already done in the cause of science had raised everywhere the expectation that he would succeed in his project of establishing a permanent African University, or, at least, a South African Ethnological Museum, thus leading to more complete and certain knowledge concerning the origin and descent of the various native tribes by the collection of facts concerning their languages, dialects, and idioms.
Remarkably similar to Bunsen's expression is the following passage from one of Ch. Lassen's letters, written from Bonn in August, 1859:—"All students of general philology will for ever remain deeply grateful to your Excellency for making known to them such a rare and complete collection of works on the languages and ethnology of "Africa and Polynesia."page 301
In the collection thus alluded to, now in the South African Public Library, there are publications and manuscripts in, or relating to, seventy-eight African languages and dialects, comprising 815 books in all. There are specimens of over twenty Australian dialects given in forty books. Sir G. Grey's researches, as published in his "Journal of Two Expeditions," first proved that all South Australian languages were related to each other. Many works on the structure and grammar of these dialects were written by Captain Grey himself, whilst a large proportion of the others were prepared at his request or published at his expense.
Nearly 40 books and manuscripts relate to the Papuan languages.
In the Fijian language, the different dialects of five islands, there are 42 works.
Rotuma or Granville Island contributes 4 works.
In the Maori language, spoken by the native inhabitants of New Zealand, the Chatham and Auckland Islands, there arc 524 books and manuscripts. Many of these volumes contain a great collection of different poems, legends, letters, vocabularies, etc., each complete in itself. The entire number of leaves represented by the 524 Maori books is 13,216. There are also 8 books in the Dayak language spoken in Borneo.
As soon as Sir George Grey presented his library to Cape Town, Dr. Bleek was engaged to classify, arrange, translate, compare, and comment on the vast collection of manuscripts and printed works in the various African dialects. His heart was in the work, and his letters for several years to Sir George Grey show how efficient his services were.
On the death of Dr. Bleek, Professor Max Müller and Mr. A. H. Sayce wrote to Sir Bartlc Frere. High Commissioner for the Cape Colony, testifying to the great importance of the work that had been done by Dr. Bleek, and hoping that a fit successor would be found to carry on his devoted labours, "who, besides being entrusted by Government with the continuation of Dr. Bleek's philological labours, should have charge of the valuable collection of philological books and manuscripts entrusted by Sir George Grey to the safe keeping of the Cape Colony, and maintain it, if possible, in that state of completeness and efficiency in which it was left by its munificent donor."page 302
Of more general interest to the visiting public than these books, in strange tongues, from barbarous lands, are the costly illuminated manuscripts and missals, and early black letter printed works. They are in many languages indeed, but the history of the times from which they date is, at least in part, known to us.
The manuscripts number 120, and range from the tenth to the fifteenth centuries. Many of them are on vellum, and most of them are magnificently illuminated. They are written, not in Latin alone, but also in French, German, Italian, Dutch, English, Greek, and Hebrew.
Amongst them are two valuable Dante manuscripts, several of Petrarch's, one of the earliest manuscript copies of the "Roman de la Rose," and an old Flemish manuscript of Sir John Mandeville's travels.
The early printed books are classed under two heads, continental and English. There are a great number in the first division, of which no less than one hundred were published within fifty years of the invention of printing. In the second class there are 316 books, whose quaint titles, peculiar spelling, strange expressions, and old-world beliefs are irresistibly attractive. Many of these are priceless, some so rare that they could not possibly be replaced, while in the case of others the loss of a leaf might detract £100 or £200 from their value.
It would be impossible to enumerate these books. It is equally impossible to pass them over without special mention of any. To begin with, there is a very valuable English translation of Polychronicon, dated 1482, printed by Caxton, the only production of his press bearing the date of that year. This is a complete copy. Latterly an incomplete copy, with at least two leaves missing, was sold for £500.
The historical books range from the creation, through Roman history to the affairs of England, Ireland, and Scotland at the time of their publication. The contemporary history and political literature are treated of in books with such titles as the following:—
What a contrast to the short titles of modern books is the following, but what modern title could so whet our curiosity, or prove so suggestive of interest and amusement?—" The discoverie of Witch-craft, Wherein the lewde dealing of witches and witch-mongers is notablie detected, the knarrie of conjurors, the impietie of inehantors, the follie of soothsaiers, the impudent falshood of consenors. the infidelitie of atheists, the pestilent practices of Pythonists, the page 304curiositie of figure casters, the vanitie of dreamers, the beggerlic art of Alcumystrie, The abhomination of idolatrie, the horrible art of poisoning, the vertue and power of naturall magike, and all the connivances of Legierdemaine and iuggling are deciphered. … Hereunto is added a treatise upon the nature and substance of spirits and divels, etc." First edition. Many copies of this edition were burnt by order of James I. This copy is in fine preservation, and bears date 1584.
The true story of a rich man's avarice and its tragic requital, attended with much blue name and other suggestive and unnatural appearance in broad daylight, is contained in The Mowing Devil; or, Strange News Out of Hartfordshire, published in 1678.
Delightful reading, too, are many of those "most famous, pleasant, and delectable" adventures of heroes, knights, and paladins. Fifty chap-books deal with the sorrows, the joys, the loves and hates, the virtues, and the vices of the forerunners of the heroes and heroines found in modern fiction.
Forty-two volumes represent original editions of works published by Daniel Defoe, or attributed to him. In this collection also may be found the first complete edition of Chaucer's works, dated 1532, "Probably the only book with a printed date issued from the press of Godfray. It is also the First Edition of the Entire. Works of Chancer, with the exception of the Ploughman's Tale, which latter was first printed by Bonham or Reynes in 1542." *
The only complete copy of the First Folio Edition of Shakespeare's plays existing out of Europe is in the South African Library. It is dated 1623. There is also a copy of the Second Edition of the same work. One copy of this edition was sold in 1864 for £148.
Amongst other valuable early editions are Paradise Lost, printed in 1669, which is precisely the same as the first edition of 1667, with the exception of the prefixes; the first original edition of Young's Night Thoughts, 1743, a very rare book; and the first edition of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621, a complete copy.
A copy of a work which is regarded by some of the highest authorities as "the most curious and elaborate of all the books printed in England in the fifteenth century" is found in the Grey page 305Collection. It bears the title Bartholomew Glanvile de Proprietatibus Rerum, and was printed by Wynkyn de Wirde, in 1494. It is a complete compendium of; mediaeval science, and the copy in the South African Library is in excellent preservation.
The bestowal of such a princely gift upon the people of South Africa fitly crowned the noble work performed during eight years by Sir George Grey. If his achievements in New Zealand entitled him to the unbounded praise bestowed by Earl Grey, Sir Frederick Peel, and the Duke of Newcastle, those which he accomplished in South Africa may fairly challenge comparison with the record of any Government in any age during the historv of the world.
Description is unnecessary, for the simple records of history are themselves a vivid description. Comparison is impossible, for no such scene of chaos in every department of a State was ever before reduced into such perfect order. The most unerring evidence which can possibly be given as to the merit and value of Grey's work in South Africa is found in the unanimous and concurrent testimony of all classes and diverse races of its people, and the universal affection yet borne to his memory.