The life of a literary antiquary is seldom sufficiently diversified to afford to a biographer many materials for his pen, so as to give interest and vivacity to the historic page. From the noiseless tenor of his daily pursuits, and the habit he has acquired of holding communion with the past rather than with the present, his existence is, generally speaking, subject to fewer vicissitudes than those which mark the mortal progress of persons belonging to the more active professions:—
Allow him but his plaything of a pen,
He ne'er cabals or plots like other men.
Respecting the parentage of William Oldys there is some obscurity. Mr. John Taylor, the son of Oldys's intimate friend, informs us that "Mr. Oldys was, I understood, the natural son of a gentleman named Harris, who lived in a respectable style in Kensington Square. How he came to adopt the name of Oldys, or where he received his education, I never heard." All his biographers, however, speak of him as the natural son of Dr. William Oldys, Chancellor of Lincoln (from 1683 till his death in 1708), Commissary of St. Catharine's, official of St. Alban's, and Advocate of the Admiralty. That even grave civilians will sometimes deviate from moral purity, is deplored by Dr. Coote, who had been informed that Dr. Oldys "maintained a mistress in a very penurious and private manner."
The civilian died early in the year 1708, and in his will he "devises to his loving cozen Mrs. Ann Oldys his two houses at Kensington, with the residue of his property," and "appoints the said Ann Oldys whole and sole executrix of his Will." It has been conjectured, with some degree of probability, that under the cognomen of cozen is meant the mother of our literary antiquary; more especially as we find from the will of the said Ann Oldys, that after two or three trifling bequests, she "gives all her estate, real and personal, to her loving friend, Benjamin Jackman of the said Kensington, upon trust, for the benefit of her son William Oldys, and she leaves the tuition and guardianship of her son William Oldys, during his minority, to the said Benjamin Jackman." The Will is dated March 21, 1710; and proved by Benjamin Jackman on April 10, 1711, when our antiquary was in the fifteenth year of his age.
At the end of a pedigree of the Oldys family in the handwriting of William Oldys, now in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 4240, p. 14), is the following entry: "Dr. William Oldys, Advocate General, born at Addesbury 1636; died at Kensington, 1708; Duxit Theodosia Lovet, Fil. Dom. Jo: Halsey: [Issue] William, nat. July 14, 1696." That the Doctor married Theodosia Lovett there can be no doubt; for not only is it stated by Burke, that "Robert Lovett, of Liscombe in Bucks, married Theodosia, daughter of Sir John Halsey, Knt., of Great Gaddesden, Herts; he died s. p. in 1683, aet. 26," (Extinct Baronetage, ed. 1844, p. 325), but in a pedigree in the College of Arms, dated 1700, and subscribed by Dr. Oldys, his marriage with Theodosia Lovett is duly recorded. While as the Doctor there describes himself as "sine prole," and omits all mention of William Oldys in his will, but leaves to Oldys's mother the property which he eventually inherited, there can be little doubt that the bend sinister ought properly to have figured in the arms of the future Norroy. That Oldys always claimed the civilian for his father, apears from the following note in his annotated Langbaine, p. 131: "To search the old papers in one of my large deal boxes for Mr. Dryden's letter of thanks to my father for some communications relating to Plutarch, when they and others were publishing a translation of all Plutarch's Lives in 5 vols. 8vo, 1683. It is copied in the yellow book for Dryden's Life, in which there are about 150 transcriptions, in prose and verse, relating to the life, character, and writings of Mr. Dryden." Pompey the Great was the Life translated by Dr. William Oldys.
William Oldys, the son, was born July 14, 1696, and by the death of his parents was left to make his way in life by his own natural abilities. From his Autobiography we learn that he was one of the sufferers in the South Sea Bubble, which exploded in 1720, and involved him in a long, and expensive lawsuit. From the year 1724 to 1730 he resided in Yorkshire, and spent most of his time at the seat of the first Earl of Malton, with whom he had been intimate in his youth. In 1725, Oldys, being at Leeds, soon after the death of Ralph Thoresby, the antiquary, paid a visit to his celebrated Museum. As he remained in Yorkshire for about six years, it is not improbable that he assisted Dr. Knowler in the editorship of the Earl of Strafforde's Letters, &c. 2 vols. fol. published in 1739. In 1729, he wrote an "Essay on Epistolary Writings, with respect to the Grand Collection of Thomas Earl of Strafford. Inscribed to the Lord Malton." The MS. was probably of some utility to his Lordship, and his Chaplain, Dr. Knowler.
It was during Oldys's visit to Wentworth House that he became an eye-witness to the destruction of the collections of the antiquary Richard Gascoyne, consisting of seven great chests of manuscripts. Of this remorseless act of vandalism our worthy antiquary has left on record some severe strictures. Here is his account of this literary holocaust:—
"Richard Gascoyne, Esq., was of kin to the Wentworth family, which he highly honoured by the elaborate genealogies be drew thereof, and improved abundance of other pedigrees in most of our ancient historians, and particularly our topographical writers and antiquaries in personal history, as Brooks, Vincent, Dugdale, and many others, out of his vast and most valuable collection of deeds, evidences, and ancient records, &c., which after his death, about the time of the Restoration, when he was about eighty years of age, fell with great part of his library to the possession of William, the son of Thomas the first Earl of Stratford, who preserved the books in his library at Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire, and the said MSS. in the stone tower there among the family writings, where they continued safe and untouched till 1728, when Sir Tho. Watson Wentworth , newly made or about to be made Earl of Malton, and to whose father the said William Earl of Strafford left his estate, burnt them all wilfully in one morning. I saw the lamentable fire feed upon six or seven great chests full of the said deeds, &c., some of them as old as the Conquest, and even the ignorant servants repining at the mischievous and destructive obedience they were compelled to. There was nobody present who could venture to speak but myself, but the infatuation was insuperable. I urged that Mr. Dodsworth had also spent his life in making such collections, and they are preserved to this day with reverence to their collector, and that it was out of such that Sir Wm. Dugdale collected the work which had done so much honour to the Peerage. I did prevail to the preservation of some few old rolls and publick grants and charters, a few extracts of escheats, and a few original letters of some eminent persons and pedigrees of others, but not the hundredth part of much better things that were destroyed. The external motive for this destruction seemed to be some fear infused by his attorney, Sam. Buck of Rotheram (since a justice of peace) a man who could not read one of those records any more than his lordship, that something or other might be found out one time or other by somebody or other — the descendants perhaps of the late Earl of Strafford, who had been at war with him for the said estate — which might shake his title and change its owner. Though it was thought he had no stronger motive for it than his impatience to pull down the old tower in which they were reposited, to make way for his undertaker Ralph Tunnicliffe to pile up that monstrous and ostentatious heap of a house which is so unproportionable to the body and soul of the possessor, so these antiquities, as useless lumber, were destroyed too. Of that Richard Gascoyne see more in Thoresby's Topography of Leeds, fol. 1715; in Sir Wm. Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire, where he is applauded for the revival of the Wentworth family, as he ought to have been respected by it for the honour which he, and the profit his kindred, brought to it (p. 554), how gratefully repaid appears above. Also in Dugdale's Memoirs of his own Life, in the note I have made upon Burton's Leicestershire (throughout enriched with his notes), in the Harleian Catalogue, vol. iii. p. 23, 8vo, 1714. Some men have no better way to make themselves the most conspicuous persons in their family than by destroying the monuments of their ancestors, and raising themselves trophies out of their ruins."
We get a glimpse of Oldys's literary habits at this time from the following note:—
"When I left London in 1724 to reside in Yorkshire, I left in the care of Mr. Burridge's family, with whom I had several years lodged, among many other books, goods, &c. a copy of this Langbaine, in which I had written several notes and references to farther knowledge of these poets. When I returned to London in 1730, I understood my books had been dispersed; and afterwards becoming acquainted with Mr. Thomas Coxeter, I found that he had bought my Langbaine of a bookseller, who was a great collector of plays and poetical books: this must have been of service to him, and he has kept it so carefully from my sight, that I never could have the opportunity of transcribing into this I am now writing in, the notes I had collected in that."...
In October, 1728, Mr. Henry Baker, the naturalist, under the assumed name of Henry Stonecastle, projected The Universal Spectator, to which periodical Oldys, in 1731, had contributed about twenty papers. On his return to London, in 1730, he found Samuel Burroughs, Esq. and others engaged in a project for printing The Negotiations of Sir Thomas Roe. To assist in so desirable an undertaking, Oldys drew up "Some Considerations upon the Publication of Sir Thomas Roe's Epistolary Collections."
It was about the year 1731 that Oldys became acquainted with that noble patron of literature and learned men, Edward Harley, the second Earl of Oxford. It has been wisely and beautifully said, that "those who befriend genius when it is struggling for distinction, befriend the world, and their names should be held in remembrance." We learn from his Autobiography, that Oldys must already have become, to some extent, a collector of literary curiosities. He says,
"The Earl invited me to show him my collections of manuscripts, historical and political, which had been the Earl of Clarendon's; my collections of Royal Letters, and other papers of State; together with a very large collection of English beads in sculpture, which alone had taken me some years to collect, at the expense of at least threescore pounds. All these, with the catalogues I drew up of them, at his Lordship's request, I parted with to him for £40; and the frequent intimations he gave me of a more substantial recompense hereafter, which intimations induced me to continue my historical researches, as what would render me most acceptable to him." — Autobiography.
Oldys likewise informs us, in a note on Langbaine, that he had bought two hundred volumes at the auction of the Earl of Stamford's library in St. Paul's Coffee-house, where formerly most of the celebrated libraries were sold.
That Oldys has already become a diligent student at the Harleian Library is evident from the publication at this time of his very curious work on Pamphlets. It first appeared with the following title: A Dissertation upon Pamphlets. In a Letter to a Nobleman [probably the Earl of Oxford]. London: Printed in the year 1731, 4to. In the following year it re-appeared in Morgan's Phoenix Britannicus, Lond. 1732, 4to; and has since been reprinted in Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, iv. 98-111. Oldys also contributed to the Phoenix Britannicus, p. 65, a bibliographical history of "A Short View of the long Life and Raige of Henry the Third, King of England presented to King James by Sir Robert Cotton, but not printed till 1627."
It is stated by Dr. Ducarel that Oldys was one of the writers in The Scarborough Miscellany, 1732-34. This appears probable, as John Taylor, the author of Monsieur Tonson, informed Mr. Isaac D'Israeli that "Oldys always asserted that he was the author of the well-known song — 'Busy, curious, thirsty fly!' And as he was a rigid lover of truth, I doubt not that he wrote it." The earliest version of it discovered by Mr. D'Israeli was in a collection printed in 1740; but it had appeared in The Scarborough Miscellany for 1732, eight years earlier. As it slightly varies from the version quoted by D'Israeli, we give it as originally printed:—
Busy, curious, thirsty Fly,
Gently drink, and drink as I;
Freely welcome to my Cup,
Could'st thou sip, and sip it up;
Make the most of Life you may,
Life is short and wears away.
Just alike, both mine and thine,
Hasten quick to their Decline;
Thine's a Summer, mine's no more,
Though repeated to threescore;
Threescore Summers when they're gone,
Will appear as short as one.
The London booksellers, having decided on publishing a new edition of Sir Walter Ralegh's History of the World, enlisted the services of Oldys to see it through the press. To this edition is prefixed "The Life of the Author, newly compil'd, from Materials more ample and authentick than have yet been publish'd, by Mr. Oldys." The Life makes 282 pages, and from the authorities quoted in the numerous notes must have been a task of considerable labour and research. The complete work is in two volumes, fol. 1736, and contains a very copious Index. Gibbon meditated a Life of Raleigh; but after reading Oldys's, he relinquished his design, from a conviction that "he could add nothing new to the subject, except the uncertain merit of style and sentiment."
While engaged on this great work, Oldys was permitted to consult the valuable library of Sir Hans Sloane, as we learn from the following letter to the worthy baronet, dated Sept. 29, 1735:—
"MOST HONOURED SIR,
When I was last favoured, through your noble courtesy, with a sight of some curious Memorials relating to Sir Walter Ralegh, I said there would be one or two little printed pieces which I should have occasion to make more use of than I could take the liberty of doing in your house. One of them, however, which is the Life of Mahomet, I have been since provided with; but the other, called News of Sir Walter Ralegh, &c., printed 4to, 1618, and marked among the MSS. B. 1288, is now, that I am arrived (through above forty sheets) at the last two years of his Life, immediately wanting.
"As a troublesome cold confines me a little at present, I shall take it as the greater favour if you will let me have it, when it may be most convenient, by the bearer; and I shall, in two or three weeks, wait on you with it again; as also, with an entire copy from the press, of that Narrative which it will help to illustrate. If it may not be too ambitious in me to make so much addition to your library, it may exalt the fame of my Worthy, or extend the date of it, to have his Life preserved in such a magnificent repositary, notwithstanding the defects of
Your most obliged and obedient Servant,
Soon after the publication of the Life of Sir Walter Ralegh, some booksellers thinking Oldys's name would tend to sell a work then in the course of publication, offered him a considerable sum of money if they would allow him to affix it; but he rejected the proposal with the greatest indignation, though at the time he was in the greatest pecuniary distress.
At the commencement of the last century Bibliography as a science had not been cultivated in England. Sale-catalogues and lists of books, especially when interspersed with remarks of their rarity and value, were collected and prized by bibliographers; but Oldys was among the first in this country to make an attempt to divert the public taste from an exclusive attention to new books, by making the merit of old ones the subject of critical discussion. His Life of Ralegh had not only brought him into closer ties of friendship with the Earl of Oxford; but the knowledge of our earliest English literature displayed in that work had so increased his fame, that he was now frequently consulted at his chambers in Gray's Inn on obscure and obsolete writers by the most eminent literary characters of the time. It redounds to the honour and memory of William Oldys that he was ever easy of access to all who sought or desired his assistance, and free, open, and communicative in answering the inquiries submitted to him. His friendly aid and counsel were not only cheerfully rendered to Thomas Hayward for his British Muse, and to Mrs. Cooper for The Muses' Library, but even his jottings for a Life of Nell Gwyn were freely given to the notorious Edmund Curll, whose fame will never die, gibbeted as he has been to immortality in the full blazon of his literary knavery.
In 1737 Oldys published anonymously his celebrated work, entitled "The British Librarian: exhibiting a Compendious Review or Abstract of our most scarce, useful, and valuable Books in all Sciences, as well in Manuscript as in Print: with many Characters, Historical and Critical, of the Authors, their Antagonists, &c., in a manner never before attempted, and useful to all readers. With a Complete Index to the volume. London: Printed for T. Osborne, in Gray's-Inn, 1738, 8vo."
It was published as a serial in six numbers; No. I. is dated for January, 1737; and the last, No. VI. for June, 1737; but yet the Postscript at the end of it is signed "Gray's Inn, Feb. 18, 1737 [1737-8]. Some copies have separate titles to the six numbers. The work is highly valuable as containing many curious details of works now excessively rare. Had it been continued, it would, in all probability, have contained an accurate account of a very curious and valuable collection of English books: it ceased, however, at the end of the sixth monthly number, when Mr. Oldys could neither be persuaded by the entreaty of his friends, nor the demands of the public, to continue the labour. Dr. John Campbell, in his Rational Amusement, 8vo, 1754, says, that no work of the kind was so well received; and adds, "If its author, who is of all men living the most capable, would pursue and perfect this plan, he would do equal justice to the living and to the dead."
It may seem to many a very meagre and unsatisfactory labour to compile a chronological Catalogue of standard works, intermixed with remarks and characters. But (as Oldys cites from Lord Bacon) "learned men want such inventories of every thing in art and nature, as rich men have of their estates." When we first enter on any branch of study, it is palpably useful to have the authors to whom we should resort pointed out to us. "Through the defect of such intelligence, in its proper extent," says Oldys, "how many authors have we, who are consuming their time, their quiet, and their wits, in searching after either what is past finding, or already found? In admiring at the penetrations themselves have made, though to the rind only, in those very branches of science which their fore-fathers have pierced to the pith? And how many who would be authors as excellent as ever appeared, had they but such plans or models laid before them as might induce them to marshal their thoughts into a regular order; or did they but know where to meet with concurrence of opinion, with arguments, authorities, or examples, to corroborate and ripen their teeming conceptions?"
In the Postscript to this valuable work Oldys thus acknowledges his obligations to his literary friends for the loan of manuscripts and other rare books:—
"Among the books conducive to this purpose, those for which gratitude here demands chiefly the publication of our thanks, are the manuscripts. Such, in the first place, is that here called Sir Thomas Wriothesly's Collections; containing the arms and characters of the Knights of the Garter, and views of the ancient ceremonies used in creating the Knights of the Bath, &c. For that sketch which the Librarian has here given the publick of it, they are both beholden to the permission of his Grace the Duke of Montagu, the noble owner of that valuable volume; and to some explanations thereof, which were also courteously imparted by John Anstis, Esq., Garter, Principal King of Arms, whose extensive knowledge in these subjects, his own elaborate publications, in honour of both those Orders, have sufficiently confirm'd. Nor will it be thought a repetition unnecessary, by grateful minds, that the Librarian here renews his acknowledgments to Nathaniel Booth, Esq. of Gray's Inn, for his repeated communications; having been favour'd not only with that curious miscellany, containing many of the old Earl of Derby's papers, which, in one of the foregoing numbers is abridg'd; but others out of his choice collections, which may enrich some future numbers, when opportunity shall permit the contents thereof to appear. Other manuscripts herein described, were partly the collection of Mr. Charles Grimes, late also of Gray's Inn, and in the bookseller's possession for whom this work is printed; except one ancient relique of the famous Wicklife, for the use of which, many thanks are here return'd to Mr. Joseph Ames, Member of the Society of Antiquaries. The author of this work is moreover obliged to the library of this last worthy preserver of antiquities, as also to that of his ingenious friend Mr. Peter Thompson, for the use of several printed books which are more scarce than many manuscripts; particularly some, set forth by our first printer in England; and others, which will rise, among the curious, in value, as, by the depredations of accident or ignorance, they decrease in number. We must take some further opportunity to express our obligations to other gentlemen who have favour'd us with such like literary curiosities; and to some hundreds unknown, who have shwen a relish for the usefulness of this performance, by encouraging the sale of it."...
Humphrey Wanley, the learned librarian of the first two Earls of Oxford, had now been dead more than ten years, and Oldys was probably expecting to be nominated his successor. Such an appointment, with a fixed salary, would relieve him from all perplexity in domestic matters, and would be therefore infinitely more congenial to his retired habits of life, than the precarious, and in some cases, paltry remuneration received from the booksellers. He thus expresses his own feelings at this time:—
"In the latter end of the year 1737 I published my British Librarian; and when his Lordship understood how unproportionate the advantages it produced were to the time and labour bestowed upon it, he said he would find me employment better worth my while. Also, when he heard that I was making interest with Sir Robert Walpole, through the means of Commissioner Hill, to present him with an abstract of some ancient deeds I had relating to his ancestors, and which I have still, his Lordship induced me to decline that application, saying, though he could not do as grand things as Sir Robert, he would do that which might be as agreeable to me, if I would disengage myself from all other persons and pursuits." — Autobiography.
In the following year the Earl of Oxford appointed him his literary secretary, which afforded him an opportunity of consulting his extensive collections, and thus gratifying his predilection for bibliographical researches. During his brief connection with this "Ark of Literature," he frequently met at the Earl's table George Vertue, Alexander Pope, and other eminent literary characters. These three short years may be regarded as among the most happy of his chequered existence. We have from his own pen the following plaintive record of his daily pursuits at this time:
"I had then also had, for several years, some dependence upon a nobleman, who might have served me in the government, and had, upon certain motives, settled an annuity upon me of twenty pounds a year. This I resigned to the said nobleman for an incompetent consideration, and signed a general release to him, in May, 1738, that I might be wholly independent, and absolutely at my Lord Oxford's command. I was likewise then under an engagement with the undertakers of the Supplement to Bayle's Dictionary. I refused to digest the materials I then had for this work under an hundred pounds a year, till it was finished; but complied to take forty shillings a sheet for what I should write, at such intervals as my business would permit: for this clause I was obliged to insert in the articles then executed between them and myself, in March the year aforesaid; whereby I reserved myself free for his lordship's service. And though I proposed, their said offer would be more profitable to me than my own, yet my lord's employment of me, from that time, grew so constant, that I never finished above three or four lives for that work, to the time of his death. All these advantages did I thus relinquish, and all other dependence, to serve his lordship. And now was I employed at auctions, sales, and in writing at home, in transcribing my own collections or others for his lordship, till the latter part of the year 1739; for which services I received of him about 150 pounds. In November the same year I first entered his library of manuscripts, whereunto I came daily, sorted and methodised his vast collection of letters, to be bound in many volumes; made abstracts of them, and tables to each volume; besides working at home, mornings and evenings, for the said library. Then, indeed, his lordship, considering what beneficial prospects and possessions I had given up, to serve him, and what communications I voluntarily made to his library almost every day, by purchases which I never charged, and presents out of whatever was most worthy of publication among my own collections, of which he also chose what he pleased, whenever he came to my chambers, which I have since greatly wanted, I did thenceforward receive of him two hundred pounds a-year, for the short remainder of his life. Notwithstanding this allowance, he would often declare in company before me, and in the hearing of those now alive, that he wished I had been some years sooner known to him than I was; because I should have saved him many hundred pounds.
"The sum of this case is, that for the profit of about £500 I devoted the best part of ten years' service to, and in his lordship's library; impoverished my own stores to enrich the same; disabled myself in my studies, and the advantages they might have produced from the publick; deserted the pursuits which might have obtained me a permanent accommodation; and procured the prejudice and misconceit of his lordship's surviving relations. But the profits I received were certainly too inconsiderable to raise any envy or ill will; tho' they might probably be conceived much greater then they were. No, it was what his lordship made me more happy in, than his money, which has been the cause of my greatest unhappiness with them; his favour, his friendly reception and treatment of me; his many visits at my chambers; his many invitations by letters, and otherwise, to dine with him and pass whole evenings with him; for no other end, but such intelligence and communications, as might answer the inquiries wherein he wanted to be satisfied, in relation to matters of literature, all for the benefit of his library. Had I declined those invitations, I must, with great ingratitude, have created his displeasure; and my acceptance of them has displeased others."
It is painful to record, that the Earl of Oxford, when Oldys entered his service, had involved himself in pecuniary difficulties whilst collecting one of the choicest and most magnificent private libraries in this kingdom. Vertue, in one of his Commonplace-books, under the date of June 2, 1741, thus feelingly laments the embarrassed circumstances of the Earl:—
"My good Lord, lately growing heavy and pensive on his affairs, which for some years has mortified his mind. It lately manifestly appeared in his change of complexion; his face fallen; his colour and eyes turned yellow to a great degree; his stomach wasted and gone; and a dead weight presses continually, without sign of relief, on his mind. Yet through all his affliction I am, from many reasons and circumstances, sensible of his goodness and generosity to those about him that deserved his favour. I pray God restore his health and preserve him: it will be a great comfort to his good lady, her Grace his daughter, and all his relations and obliged friends."
A fortnight afterwards Vertue thus pathetically laments his loss:—
"The Creator of all has put an end to his life. The true, noble, and beneficent Edward Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, Baron of Wigmore, born 2nd of June, 1688, and died the 16th of June, 1741. A friend noble, generous, good, and amiable; to me, above all men, a true friend: the loss not to be expressed."
We have seen that Oldys's salary as librarian was £200 per annum. At the death of the Earl he received what was due to him, amounting to about three quarters of a year's exhibition, on which he lived so long as it lasted. His prospects at this time must have been gloomy indeed, for he was again compelled to renew his connection with the metropolitan publishers. For the next fourteen years, until he received an appointment in the Heralds' Office, he continued to earn his bread by literary drudgery for the booksellers. His scattered fragments of ancient lore that have escaped the ravages of time are a proof of his laborious application in literary researches: his pen was continually at work either in writing pamphlets, prefaces, essays, or in his favourite pursuit, biographical memoirs. "Some men," says Dean Swift, "know books as they do lords; learn their titles exactly, and then brag of their acquaintance:" Not so William Oldys. His abstracts and critical notices of works of out early English literature in the British Librarian, as well as his other numerous productions, afford a remarkable proof of his rare industry, intelligence, and wit.
In 1742, Mr. Thomas Osborne the bookseller having purchased for the sum of £13,000 the collection of printed books that had belonged to the late Earl of Oxford, and intending to dispose of them by sale, projected a Catalogue in which it was proposed, "that the books shall be distributed into distinct classes, and every class arranged with some regard to the age of the writers; that every book shall be accurately described; that the peculiarities of editions shall be remarked, and observations from the authors of Literary History occasionally interspersed, that, by this Catalogue, posterity may be informed of the excellence and value of this great Collection, and thus promote the knowledge of scarce books and elegant editions." The learned Michael Maittaire was prevailed upon to draw out the scheme of arrangement, and to write a Latin Dedication to Lord Carteret, then Secretary of State. The editors selected by Osborne were Dr. Johnson and William, Oldys, men eminently qualified to carry out the undertaking.
In this painful drudgery both editors were day-labourers for immediate subsistence, not unlike Gustavus Vasa, working in the mines of Dalecarlia. What Wilcox, a bookseller of eminence in the Strand, said to Johnson, on his first arrival in town, was now almost confirmed. He lent him five guineas, and then asked him, "How do you mean to earn your livelihood in this town?" "By my literary labours," was the answer. Wilcox, staring at him, shook his head: "By your literary labours! You had better buy a porter's knot." In fact, Johnson, while employed by Osborne in Gray's Inn, may be said to have carried a porter's knot. He paused occasionally to peruse the book that came to his hand. Osborne thought that such curiosity tended to nothing but delay, and objected to it with all the pride and insolence of a man who knew that he paid daily wages. Ralph Bigland, Bluemantle, related to John Charles Brooke, Somerset Herald, that "Osborne had informed him, that he would have given Oldys 10s. 6d. per diem if he would have written for him; but his indolence (!) would not let him accept it." If this offer was made during the compilation of the catalogue, it is evident that the publisher exacted from his editors more work than could possibly be accomplished in a specified time, for the number of books to be read and digested amounted to no less than 20,748 volumes. Hence the failure of the original scheme as judiciously propounded by Maittaire. Our two unfortunate editors, in their joint and seemingly interminable labour, whilst grappling with this solid battalion of printed books, gained little more for their pains than the dust with which (so long as their drudgery lasted) they were daily covered.
As literary curiosities, it is now difficult to discriminate between the notes of Dr. Johnson and those of Oldys. The "Proposals" for printing the Bibliotheca Harleiana are clearly from the pen of the Doctor, as we are informed by Boswell, who adds, that "his account of that celebrated collection of books, in which he displays the importance to literature of what the French call a catalogue raisonne, when the subjects of it are extensive and various, and it is executed with ability, cannot fail to impress all his readers with admiration of his philological attainments. It was afterwards prefixed to the first volume of the Catalogue, in which the Latin accounts of books were written by him." We incline to the conjecture that the bibliographical and biographical remarks in Vols. I. and II. are by Dr. Johnson: and those in Vols. III. and IV. by Oldys. The fifth volume, 1745, is nothing more than a Catalogue of Osborne's unsold stock.
Osborne's original project of an annotated Catalogue, as we have said, proved a failure. In the Preface to Vol. III. he informs the public of its cause:—
"My original design was, as I have already explained, to publish a methodical and exact Catalogue of this library, upon the plan which has been laid down, as I am informed, by several men of the first rank among the learned. It was intended by those who undertook the work, to make a very, exact disposition of all the subjects and to give an account of the remarkable differences of the editions, and other peculiarities, which make any book eminently valuable; and it was imagined, that some improvements might, by pursuing this scheme, be made in Literary History. With this view was the Catalogue begun, when the price [5s. per volume] was fixed upon it in public advertisements; and it cannot be denied, that such a Catalogue would have been willingly purchased by those who understood its use. But, when a few sheets had been printed, it was discovered that the scheme was impracticable without more hands than could be procured, or more time than the necessity of a speedy sale would allow. The Catalogue was therefore continued without Notes, at least in the greatest part; and, though it was still performed better than those which are daily offered to the public, fell much below the original design."
Whilst the Catalogue was progressing, Osborne issued Proposals for printing by subscription The Harleian Miscellany: or, a Collection of scarce, curious, and entertaining Tracts and Pamphlets found in the late Earl of Oxford's library, interspersed with Historical, Political, and Critical Notes. It was proposed to publish six sheets of this work every Saturday morning, at the price of one shilling, to commence on the 24th of March, 1743-4. The "Proposals," or "An Account of this Undertaking," as well as the Preface to this voluminous work, were from the pen of Dr. Johnson: the selection of the Pamphlets and its editorial superintendence devolved upon Oldys. This valuable political, historical, and antiquarian record, and indispensable auxiliary in the illustration of British history, included a catalogue of 539 pamphlets, describing the contents of each, and this alone occupied 164 quarto pages. It was published in eight volumes, 4to, 1744-46, and republished by Thomas Park. with two supplemental volumes, in 1808-13. Park, in a letter to Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges, dated June 15, 1807, bears the following honourable testimony to the labours of his predecessor: — "My additions to the notes of Oldys in the Harleian Miscellany will not be very numerous; for no editor could ever have been more competent to the undertaking than he was; but a successive editor must seem at least to have done something more than his predecessor."
It was the original intention of the publishers to print three additional volumes to this edition, though motives afterwards occurred which induced them to depart, from it. Park, writing to Sir S. E. Brydges on Jan. 28, 1813, says, "I presume you have heard from our friend Haslewood that my projected course in the Harleian Supplement has been suddenly arrested, and that the work is to stop with vol. X., half of which will be occupied with Indices. This has painfully disconcerted my views, and rendered a considerable portion of my preparations useless."
"Next in point of merit to the contributions of Oldys to British biography," writes our valued correspondent, MR. BOLTON CORNEY, "must be placed his publications in bibliography. Those which are best known are much esteemed, but there is one which has never received its due share of commendation. It is entitled A copious and exact catalogue of pamphlets in the Harleian Library, etc. 4to, pp. 168. This catalogue was issued in fragments with the Harleian Miscellany, in order to gratify the subscribers with an opportunity of being their own choosers with regard to the content; of that important collection; but as the signatures and numerals are consecutive, it forms a separate volume. The pamphlets described amount to 548. The dates extend from 1511 to 1712, but about two-thirds of the number were printed before 1661. The titles are given with unusual fulness, and the imprints with sufficient minuteness. The number of sheets or leaves of each pamphlet is also stated. The subjects embraced are divinity, voyages and travels, history, biography, polite literature, etc. etc. — A catalogue of books or pamphlets, if it requires a sharp eye, is mere transcription, but in this instance we have about 440 notes, of which many are summaries of the contents of the articles in question, drawn up with remarkable intelligence and clearness, and interspersed with curious anecdotes. It is a choice specimen of recreative bibliography. Chalmers has omitted to notice this volume, and too has Lowndes. The copy which I possess was formerly in the library of Mr. Isaac Reed, and at the sale of his books in 1807 it was purchased by Mr. Heber for £2 3s. It cost me no more than 8s. 6d."
A copy of this valuable Catalogue in the library of the Corporation of London formerly belonged to Dr. Michael Lort, who has written the following note in it: "This account was drawn up by the very intelligent Mr. Oldys. It is very seldom to be found compleat in this manner. Many curious particulars of literary and biographical history are to be found in it. I paid 5s. for it, Feb. 18, 1772." This Catalogue has been reprinted by Mr. Park in the last edition of the Harleian Miscellany, vol. x. pp. 357-471....
After the completion of The Harleian Miscellany, it does not appear that Oldys continued much longer in the employ of Thomas Osborne; at that time the most celebrated publisher in the metropolis. If we may judge from the series of catalogues issued by this bookseller from the year 1738 to 1766, he must have carried on a successful and lucrative trade. These catalogues may now be reckoned among the curiosities of literature; for nowhere do we meet with similar information respecting the prices of books at that time, or more amusement than in his quaint notes, and still more quaint prefaces. For how many of these curious bibliographical memoranda he was indebted to his neighbour, William Oldys, cannot now be ascertained. Osborne's exploits are thus celebrated in the Dunciad:—
Osborne and Curll accept the glorious strife,
Though this his Son dissuades, and that his Wife.
Again, at the conclusion of the contest:—
Osborne, through perfect modesty o'ercome,
Crown'd with the jordan, walks contented home.
Osborne was so impassively dull and ignorant in what form or language Milton's Paradise Lost was written, that he employed one of his garretteers to render it from a French translation into English prose. He is now best known as the bookseller whom Johnson knocked down with a folio. "Sir, " said the Doctor to Boswell, "he was impertinent to me, and I beat him; but it was not in his shop, it was in my own chamber." On August 27,1767, this bibliopole was buried in the churchyard of St. Mary, Islington, leaving behind him the comfortable assets of £40,000. So true is it what Walcot said rather strongly, "That publishers drink their claret out of authors' skulls." But, as Thomas Park shrewdly observed, "Some might say, that authors must have paper skulls to suffer it."
In 1746 was published anew edition of Health's Improvement, by Dr. Moffet, corrected and enlarged by Christopher Bennet, M.D. Prefixed is a view of the author's life and writings from the pen of William Oldys. No copy of this work is to be found in our national library, and it is omitted in both editions of Lowndes. With its publication terminated Oldys's connexion with Osborne.
The editorship of Michael Drayton's Works, fol. 1748, has been attributed to Oldys by a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lvii. pt. ii. p. 1081, as well as by Mr. Octavius Gilchrist in Aikin's Atheaeum, ii. 347, who adds, "It is not generally known that these collections [of Drayton's Works] were made by Oldys, with less than his usual accuracy." But from the article DRAYTON, in the Biographia Britannica, ed. 1750, written by Oldys himself, it appears that he only furnished the "Historical Essay" prefixed to the edition of Drayton's Works, 1748, as well as to that of 1763. Speaking of the Barons' Wars, Oldys remarks, "In this edition  these Barons' Wars in the reign of Edward II. are illustrated with marginal notes by the author, which have been all since omitted by his late editor, though the author of the Preliminary Discourse was desirous of a more ample commentary." (Biog. Brit. iii. 1745, ed. 1750, and Kippis's edition, v. 360.)
Oldys now resolved to devote his exclusive attention to his own peculiar department of literature, that of Biography. Hence we find him, for the next ten years, employed in the desperate and weary process of excavation, among the overwhelming piles of documents preserved in the public and private libraries of the metropolis. The facilities afforded to biographers and annalists of modern times, by the catalogues of the British Museum and the Calendars of the State Paper Office, were unknown to the literary adventurer a century ago. To collect materials for any biographical or historical work required then some sinew and hardihood to encounter the enormous and almost unmanageable mass of documents from which truth was to be dug out. Between the years 1747 and 1760, it appears that Oldys furnished twenty-two articles to the first edition of the Biographia Britannica, which may rank with some of the most perfect specimens of biography in the English language. For the following tabular view of his labours on this important work, we are indebted to Bolton Corney's Curiosities of Literature Illustrated, Second Edition, 1838, p. 177:—
Contributions of W. Oldys to the Biographia Britannica, London, 1747-66. Folio, 7 Vols. [table omitted. Oldys contributed lives of George Abbot, Robert Abbot, Sir Thomas Adams, William Alexander, Charles Aleyn, Edward Alleyn, William Ames, John Atherto, Peter Bales, John Bradford, William Bulleyn, William Caxton, Michael Drayton, Sir George Etherege, George Farquahar, Sir John Folstolff, Thomas Fuller, Sir William Gascoigne, Fulke Greville, Richard Hakluyt, Wenceslas Hollar, and Thomas May.]
"On the execution of the articles," remarks Mr. Corney, "I submit some short remarks. The life of Archbishop Abbot is especially commended by the author of the preface to the work; and was reprinted in 1777, 8vo. The life of Edward Alleyn is also justly characterised by the same writer as 'very curious.' The article on Peter Bales, if rather discursive, is rich in information; and contains, in the notes, a history of writing-masters. Bulleyn, whose works were formerly popular, receives due attention. As Gough remarks, Oldys has 'rescued him almost from oblivion.' Master William Caxton occupies more than twenty-six pages. Oldys had carefully examined the chief portion of his rare volumes; and Dr. Dibdin admits that his 'performance is in every respect superior to that of Lewis.' The account of Drayton and his works is an interesting specimen. Oldys points out the numerous deficiencies of the splendid edition of 1748; and his information seems to have led to the completion of it. The life of Sir John Fastolff, of which the first sketch was contributed to the General Dictionary in 1737, is the result of extraordinary research. The Fastolff of history and the Falstaff of fiction are ingeniously contrasted.' The account of Fuller is compiled with peculiar care; and affords a remarkable proof of the extent to which the writings of an author may be made contributive to his biography. The History of the Worthies of England, which Oldys frequently consulted, is characterised with much candour; and he has very appropriately introduced the substance of a MS. essay on the toleration of wit on grave subjects. Sir William Gascoigne is copiously historised. Oldys, with his usual ardour in search of truth, obtained the use of some Memoirs of the Family of Gascoigne from one of the descendants of Sir William, and a communication from the Rev. R. Knight, Vicar of Harwood, where he was buried. The life of the patriotic Hakluyt claims especial notice. Oldys had pointed out his merit more than twenty years before; and seems never to have lost sight of him. He has left an admirable memorial of the 'surpassing knowledge and learning, diligence and fidelity, of this naval historian' — and it well deserves to be separately re-published. The account of Hollar and his works is written with the animation and tact of a connoisseur. Oldys justly describes him as ever making art a rival to nature, and as a prodigy of industry. He also reviews the graphic collections of his admirers, from Evelyn to the Duchess of Portland. The article on May was his last contribution. He vindicates the History of the Parliament from the aspersions cast on it — in which he is supported by Bishop Warburton, Lord Chatham, &c.
"It may be safely asserted that no one of the contributors to the Biographia Britannica has produced a richer proportion of inedited facts than William Oldys; and he seems to have consulted every species of the more accessible authorities, from the Foedera of Rymer to the inscription on a print. His united articles, set up as the text of Chalmers, would occupy about a thousand octavo pages."
Oldys's coadjutors on the Biographia Britannica were the Rev. Philip Morant, of Colchester; Rev. Thomas Broughton, of the Temple Church; Dr. John Campbell, of Exeter Change; Henry Brougham, of Took's Court, Cursitor Street, Holborn; Rev. Mr. Hinton, of Red Lion Square; Dr. Philip Nicols, Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge; and Mr. Harris of Dublin.
In 1778, when Dr. Kippis undertook the editorship of the second edition of the Biographia Britannica, he became the fortunate possessor of a portion of Oldys's manuscript biographical collections, purchased for this work by Mr. Thomas Cadell, one of the publishers. In his Preface (vol. 1. p. xx.) he states, that "To Dr. Percy, besides his own valuable assistances, we are indebted for directing us to the purchase of a large and useful body of biographical materials, left by Mr. Oldys." These biographical materials were quoted in the articles Arabella Stuart, John Barclay, Mary Beale, W. Browne, Sam. Butler, &c. Dr. Kippis found also among Oldys's papers, some notes principally tending to illustrate several of ButIer's allusions in his Hudibras to both ancient and modern authors. (Vide vol. iii. p. 9l.)
From the years 1751 to 1753, it would seem that Oldys was involved in pecuniary difficulties; and being unable to discharge the rent due for his chambers in Gray's Inn, was compelled to reside for a lengthened period in the quiet obscurity of the Fleet prison. It was probably during his confinement that the following letters were written to his friend Dr. Thomas Birch:—
"July 22, 1751.
SIR, — I received last night two guineas by the hand of my worthy and honourable friend Mr. Southwell; for which favour, and much more for the polite and engaging manner of conferring it, besides this incompetent return of my sincere thanks, I have beg'd him to make my acknowledgments more acceptable than in my present confused and disabled state I am capable myself of doing. I have also desired him to intimate how much more I might be obliged to you, if, at your leisure, and where you shall perceive it convenient, you would so represent me to such Honorable friends among your numerous acquaintance, that they may help me towards a removal into some condition, wherein I may no longer remain altogether unuseful to mankind; which would lay an obligation inexpressible upon, Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant,
"August 23d, 1751.
SIR, — That favour I before received of you, was beyond whatever the sense of my own deficiencies could suffer me to expect; but much more this, by which, through your favourable representation of me, or my misfortunes, to the Hon. Mr. Yorke, I received five guineas of him, through the hands of the candid and cordial Mr. Southwell. You may justly believe, that my hearty thanks for this benefit are hereby unfeignedly returned to you, and I have endeavoured to return the like to that noble benefactor. But as I cannot make my gratitude so satisfactory to him, as his goodness has been to me, I still want the assistance of a friend, to convey my acknowledgments, more expressively than I can myself: and I think, by what I have already tasted, I may depend upon that friendship from you.
"The happiness I have lately received in perusing your life of Spenser has greatly restored my desire, in this loitering, lingering useless condition, to such studies. There are very observable passages in it, both ancient and modern, which I had not before met with; for which, and many other memorable incidents, in our most illustrious ancestors, recovered and rectified by your reviving hand, if present readers shall he silent in your praise, those who are unborn will stigmatise their ingratitude, in the celebration of your industry.
I remain, Sir,
Your most obliged and obedient servant,
In 1753, Oldys in conjunction with Mr. John Taylor, the oculist in Hatton Garden, published Observations on the Cure of William Taylor, the Blind Boy of Ightham, in Kent, containing also an address to the Publick for a foundation of an Hospital for the Blind. Prefixed are two letters from Oldys to Dr. Monsey of Chelsea Hospital, and one in reply from the Doctor.
Oldys remained in confinement till Mr. Southwell of Cockermouth (brother of the second Lord Southwell) and his other friends obtained his liberty. John Taylor, however, has given the following account of his release: "Oldys, as my father informed me, lived many years in quiet obscurity in the Fleet prison, but at last was spirited up to make his situation known to the Duke of Norfolk of that time, who received Oldys's letter while he was at dinner with some friends. The Duke immediately communicated the contents to the company, observing that he had long been anxious to know what had become of an old, though an humble friend, and was happy, by that letter, to find that he was still alive. He then called for his gentleman (a kind of humble friend whom noblemen used to retain under that name in former days), and desired him to go immediately to the Fleet prison with money for the immediate need of Oldys, to procure an account of his debts, and to discharge them."
Soon after the Duke of Norfolk had released Oldys from his pecuniary difficulties, he procured for him the situation of Norroy King-at-Arms — a post peculiarly suited to his love of genealogy. He was created Norfolk Herald Extraordinary at the College of Arms by the Earl of Effingham, Deputy Earl Marshal, on 15th April, 1755, to qualify him for the office of Norroy, to which he was appointed by patent the 5th May following. His noble patron generously defrayed the fees for passing his patent. The Duke had frequently met Oldys in the library of the late Earl of Oxford, and had perused with much pleasure his Life of Sir Walter Ralegh and his other works, and considered him sufficiently qualified, from his literary acquirements, to restore the drooping reputation of the office of Norroy. Oldys appointed as his deputy Edward Orme of Chester, better known as the compiler of pedigrees for families of that county. "The heralds," says Noble, "had reason to be displeased with Oldys's promotion to a provincial kingship. The College, however, will always be pleased with ranking so good a writer amongst their body."
John Taylor, author of Monsieur Tonson, relates the following anecdote of our Norroy whilst performing one of his official duties. "On some occasion, when the King-at-Arms was obliged to ride on horseback in a public procession, the predecessor of Mr. Oldys in the cavalcade had a proclamation to read, but, confused by the noise of the surrounding multitude, he made many mistakes, and, anxious to be accurate, he turned back to every passage to correct himself, and therefore appeared to the people to be an ignorant blunderer. When Mr. Oldys had to recite the same proclamation, though he made, he said, more mistakes than his predecessor, he read on through thick and thin, never stopping a moment to correct his errors, and thereby excited the applause of the people; though he declared that the other gentleman had been much better qualified for the duty than himself."
We ought to apologise for noticing what Mr. Bolton Corney justly styles "the most contemptible of books," The Olio, published from the refuse papers of the redoubtable Captain Grose by his eager executor, who happened to be his bookseller. Even Mr. Isaac D'Israeli acknowledges, that in it "the delineation of Oldys is sufficiently overcharged for the nonce." Grose, as every one knows, exceedingly enjoyed a joke; but probably he never conceived that some officious hand would gather up and publish the debris of his library for his own mercenary advantage. This despicable production has been quoted as an authority by nearly every one who has undertaken to give an account of the life of Oldys.
Grose was appointed Richmond Herald by patent 12th June, 1755, which he resigned in 1763. He was therefore contemporary with Oldys during the whole period of his connexion with the Heralds' College, excepting that Oldys was appointed Norroy in the May preceding. Oldys, however, with all his alleged "deep potations in ale," was a well-informed literary antiquary — or, as Grose himself confesses, "in the knowledge of scarce English books and editions he had no equal;" but unhappily our facetious Richmond Herald, "who cared more for rusty armour than for rusty volumes," as D'Israeli remarks, "would turn over these flams and quips to some confidential friend, to enjoy together a secret laugh at their literary intimates." Even the story told by Grose of the intoxication of Oldys at the funeral of the Princess Caroline, and the jeopardy of the crown, is not accurate; for Mr. Noble assures us, that the crown, when borne at the funeral of the king or queen, or the coronet at the burial of a prince or princess, is always carried by Clarenceux, not Norroy. It is also stated in the ceremonial of the Princess Caroline's funeral As printed in The London Chronicle of Jan. 5, 1758, and Reed's Weekly Journal of Jan. 7, 1758, that "Clarenceux, bearing the coronet upon a black velvet cushion, preceded the body of the princess."...
Oldys was connected with the College of Arms for nearly five years. His library was the large room up one pair of stairs in Norroy's apartments, in the west wing of the college, where he chiefly resided, and which was furnished with little else than books. His notes were written on slips of paper, which he afterwards classified and reposited in small bags suspended about his room. It was in this way that he covered several quires of paper with laborious collections for a complete Life of Shakspeare; and from these notes Isaac Reed made several extracts in the Additional Anecdotes to Rowe's Life of the Bard.
Oldys at this time frequently passed his evenings at the house of John Taylor, the celebrated oculist of Hatton Garden, where he always preferred the fireside in the kitchen, that he might not be obliged to mingle with the other visitors. He was so particular in his habits, that he could not smoke his pipe with ease till his chair was fixed close to a particular crack in the floor. "The shyness of Mr. Oldys's disposition," says John Taylor, jun., "and the simplicity of his manners, had induced him to decline an introduction to my grandfather, the Chevalier Taylor, who was always splendid in attire, and had been used to the chief societies in every court of Europe; but my grandfather had heard so much of Mr. Oldys, that he resolved to be acquainted with him, and therefore one evening when Oldys was enjoying his philosophical pipe by the kitchen fire, the Chevalier invaded his retreat, and without ceremony addressed him in the Latin language. Oldys, surprised and gratified to find a scholar in a fine gentleman, threw off his reserve, answered him in the same language, and the colloquy continued for at least two hours; my father, not so good a scholar, only occasionally interposing an illustrative remark."
Oldys's literary labours were now drawing to a close, his life having extended to nearly threescore years and ten. His last production was the Life of Charles Cotton, piscator and poet, prefixed to Hawkins's edition of Walton's Compleat Angler, edit. 1760, which made forty-eight pages. It was abridged in the later editions. As we have elsewhere noticed ("N. & Q." 2nd S. xi. 205), Dr. Towers, who compiled the Life Of COTTON for Kippis's Biog. Britannica, has erroneously attributed Oldys's Life of this poet to our musical knight. Grose informs us (Olio, p. 139), that "among Oldys's works is a Preface to Izaak Walton's Angling." This Preface was probably no other than his "Collections" for a Life of Walton. In his biographical sketch of Charles Cotton he reminds Sir John Hawkins, that "as Izaak Walton did oblige the public with the lives of several eminent men, it is much that some little historical monument has not, in grateful retaliation, been raised and devoted to his memory. The few materials I, long since, with much search, gathered up concerning him, you have seen, and extracted I hope, what you found necessary for the purpose I intended them." (Page iv. See also Hawkins's Life of Walton in the same volume, p. xlviii.)
William Oldys died at his apartments in the Heralds' College on April 15, 1761, and was buried on the 19th of the same month in the north aisle of St. Benet, Paul's Wharf, towards the upper end. His friend, John Taylor of Hatton Garden, on the 20th of June, 1761, administered as principal creditor, defrayed the funeral expenses, and obtained possession of his official regalia, books, and valuable manuscripts. The original painting of William Oldys, formerly belonging to Mr. Taylor, is now, we believe, in the possession of Mr. J. H. Burn of Bow Street; an engraving from it by Balston will be found in The European Magazine for November, 1796. He is drawn in a full-dress suit and bag-wig, and has the complete air of a venerable patrician. The following punning anagram on his own name, and made by himself, occurs in one of his manuscripts in the British Museum:—
In word and Will I am a friend to you,
And one friend Old is worth a hundred new.
The printed books found in the library of Oldys, some of them copiously annotated, together with a portion of his manuscripts, were sold by Thomas Davies, the bookseller, on April 12, 1762. Mr. John Taylor, jun., has given the following account of the dispersion of some of his manuscripts. He says, "Mr. Oldys had engaged to furnish a bookseller in the Strand, whose name was Walker, with ten years of the life of Shakspeare unknown to the biographers and commentators, but he died, and 'made no sign' of the projected work. The bookseller made a demand or twenty guineas on my father, alleging that he had advanced that sum to Mr. Oldys, who had promised to provide the matter in question. My father paid this sum to the bookseller soon after he had attended the remains of his departed friend to the grave. The manuscripts of Oldys, consisting of a few books written in a small hand, and abundantly interlined, remained long in my father's possession, but by desire of Dr. Percy, afterwards Bishop of Dromore, were submitted to his inspection, through the medium of Dr. Monsey, who was an intimate friend of Dr. Percy. They continued in Dr. Percy's hands some years. He had known Mr. Oldys in the early part of his life, and spoke respectfully of his character. The last volume of Oldys's manuscripts that I ever saw, was at my friend the late Mr. William Gifford's house, in James Street, Westminster, while he was preparing a new edition of the works of Shirley; and I learned from him that it was lent to him by Mr. Heber.... My friend Mr. D'Israeli is mistaken in saying that on 'the death of Oldys, Dr. Kippis, editor of the Biographia Britannica, looked over the manuscripts.' It was not until near thirty years' after the death of Oldys, that they were submitted to his inspection, and at his recommendation were purchased by the late Mr. Cadell."
Oldys was the fortunate possessor of a large collection of Italian Proverbs, entitled Giardino di Recreatione, in manuscript, by John Florio, the editor of a Dictionarie in Italian and English, containing commendatory verses prefixed by Matthew Gwinne, Samuel Daniel, and two other friends. This volume afterwards belonged to Sir Isaac Heard, from whom it passed to Mr. B. H. Bright, and was sold in the sale of his manuscripts, on June 18, 1844. (Hunter's Illustrations of Shakspeare, i. 275.)
Among other books enriched with notes by Oldys is that of England's Parnassus, 8vo, 1600. It was owing to his bibliographical erudition that the name of the compiler of these "Choysest Flowers" became known. Wood, misapprehending the information given by Phillips in his Theatrum Poetarum, 1675, designated Fitz-Geffry as the compiler; but Oldys had discovered in one or two copies that the initials R. A. to the dedicatory Sonnet to Sir Thomas Mounson were signed R. Allot. To the signature R. A. Oldys has added the following note:—
"Mr. Edmund Bolton, in his Hypercritica, mentions Robert Allott and Henry Constable as two good poets in his days. So I conclude upon the whole, that the said Robert Allott, the poet, was the Collector of this book. John Weever, in his little book of Epigrams, printed in 12mo, 1600 (or the year before), yet, I think, quoted in this work, has the following lines.—
Ad Ro: Allot, and Chr: Middleton.
Quick are your wits, sharp your conceits,
Short and more sweet your lays;
Quick, but no wit; sharp, no conceit,
Short and less sweet my praise."
A censure passed upon England's Parnassus by Oldys, in his Preface to Hayward's British Muse, 1738, though tinctured with too much severity, is certainly not unfounded in its general reprehension. He shrewdly and sarcastically concludes that the book, "bad as it is, suggests one good observation upon the use and advantage of such collections, which is, that they may prove more successful in preserving the best parts of some authors, than their works themselves." Mr. Warton , however, considers the extracts as made "with a degree of taste:" and Sir S. Egerton Brydges as "very curious and valuable." The last mentioned remarks (Cens. Liter. ii. 318), that the state of our knowledge on these subjects is materially altered since the time of Oldys; who, though his bibliographical erudition was very eminent, could add, that "most of the authors were now so obsolete, that not knowing what they wrote, we can have no recourse to their works, if still extant."
Oldys's annotated copy of England's Parnassus passed into the hands of Thomas Warton, and subsequently came into the possession of Colonel Stanley, at whose sale in April and May, 1813 (lot 378), it was purchased by Mr. R. Triphook as his own speculation for £13 13s.
The most valuable and curious work left by Oldys is an annotated copy of Gerard Langbaine's Account of the early Dramatick Poets, Oxford, 1691, 8vo. It has already been stated (ante, p. 3), that the first copy of this work with his notes had passed into the hands of Mr. Coxeter. After Mr. Coxeter's death his books and manuscripts were purchased by Osborne, and were offered for sale in 1748. The book in question, No. 10,131 in Osborne's Catalogue for that year, was purchased either by Theophilus Cibber, or by some bookseller who afterwards put it into his hands; and from the notes of Oldys and Coxeter, the principal part of the additional matter furnished by Cibber (or rather by Shiels) for the Lives of the Poets, 5 vols. 12mo. 1753, was unquestionably derived. Mr. Coxeter's manuscripts are mentioned in the title-page, to whom, therefore, the exclusive credit of the work is assigned, but which really belongs as much, if not more, to Oldys.
Oldys purchased a second Langbaine in 1727, and continued to annotate it till the latest period of his life. This copy was purchased by Dr. Birch, who bequeathed it to the British Museum. It is not interleaved, but filled with notes written in the margins and between the lines in an extremely small hand. Birch granted the loan of it to Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore, who made a transcript of the notes into an interleaved copy of Langbaine in four vols. 8vo. It was from Bishop Percy's copy that Mr. Joseph Haslewood annotated his Lanabaine. He says, "His Lordship was so kind as to favour me with the loan of this book, with a generous permission to make what use of it I might think proper; and when he went to Ireland, he left it with Mr. Nichols, for the benefit of the new edition of The Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, with Notes and Illustrations, to which work his Lordship was by his other valuable communications a very beneficial contributor."
George Steevens likewise made a transcript of Oldys's notes into a copy of Langbaine, which at the sale of his library in 1800, was purchased by Richardson the bookseller for £9, who resold it to Sir S. Egerton Brydges in the same year for fourteen guineas. At the sale of the Lee Priory library in 1834, it fell into the hands of Thorpe of Bedford-street, Covent Garden, from whom the late Dr. Bliss purchased it on Feb. 7, 1835, for nine guineas. It is now in the British Museum.
Malone, Isaac Reed, and the Rev. Rogers Ruding, also made transcripts of Oldys's notes. The Malone transcript is now at Oxford; but Ruding's has not been traced. In a cutting from one of Thorpe's catalogues, preserved by Dr. Bliss, it is stated to be in two volumes, the price £5 5s.; that Ruding transcribed them in 1784, and that his additions are very numerous. In Heber's Catalogue (Pt. iv. No. 1215) is another copy of Langbaine, with many important additions by Oldys, Steevens, and Reed. This was purchased by Rodd for £4 4s. In 1845, Edward Vernon Utterson had an interleaved Langbaine. What has become of it?
It is scarcely possible to take up any work on the History of the Stage, or which treats of the biographies of Dramatic Writers, without finding these curious colleclanea of Oldys quoted to illustrate some or other obscure point. "The Biogragraphical Memoirs I have inserted in Censura Literaria," remarks Sir S. E. Brydges, "have been principally drawn from the minute and intelligent inquiries, and indefatigable labours of Oldys, preserved in the interleaved copy of Langbaine. Many of them are curious, and though parts have already been given to the public in the Biographia Dramatica, yet as they are in the originals from whence that work borrowed them, it became not only amusing but useful to record them in their own form and words."
In the British Museum (Addit. MS. 12,523) is a manuscript volume, in Oldys's hand writing, of miscellaneous extracts for a work with the following title: "The Patron; or a Portraiture of Patronage and Dependency, more especially as they appear in their Domestick Light and Attitudes. A Capital Piece drawn to the Life by the Hands of several Eminent Masters in the great School of Experience, and addressed to a Gentleman, who upon the loss of Friends, was about to settle in a great Family."
The subjoined catalogue [author's note: From Fry's Bibliographical Memorials, 4to. Bristol, 1816, p. 33] of the books found in Oldys's library at the time of his death, cannot fall to interest every one curious in bibliography.
OLDYS'S LIBRARY AND MANUSCRIPT WORKS.
The collection of books formed by this accurate and laborious antiquary, through whose exertions English literature and bibliography have been so essentially improved, was purchased by Thomas Davies, author of The Life of Garrick, and offered for sale in "A Catalogue of the Libraries of the late William Oldys, Esq. Norroy King-at-Arms (author of The Life of Sir Walter Raleigh); the Rev. Mr. Emms of Yarmouth, and Mr. Wm. Rush, which will begin to be sold on Monday, April 12 , by Thomas Davies."
The trifling prices which were asked for some books that are now esteemed amongst the scarcest in the language, will amuse the bibliomaniac of the present day, who, if his wishes tend towards the collection of early literature, not so much on the score of its rarity as from its utility, will assuredly lament that he did not live at a period when his taste and desires could have been so readily gratified.
The charge for that invaluably illustrated copy of Langbaine must astonish those who are acquainted with the large sums which have been required for transcripts only of those important additions to our dramatic biography.
227. Nicolson's Historical Libraries, with a great number of MS. additions, references, &c. by the late Wm. Oldys, very fair £2 2s. 1736. [Now in the British Museum.]
230. Fuller's Worthies of England, with MS. corrections, &c. by Mr. Oldys. A price had originally been attached to this article, but is obliterated, apparently by the publisher.
268. Linschoten's Voyages to the East Indies, with a great many cuts, black-letter, 12s. 6d.
593. A Collection of scarce and valuable Old Plays, most of them in small quarto, amounting in all to above 450, with a written catalogue [no price.]
705. Virgil, translated into Scottish Meter, by Gawin Douglas. Black-letter, Lond. 1553. 5s.
717. Complaints, containing Sundry Poems of the World's Vanity, by Ed. Spenser, the Author's own edition, 1591. 2s. 6d.
719. The Book which is called the Body of Polycye, black-letter, very fair, 1521. 5s.
720. The Book of Falconrie and Hawking, with Cuts, black-letter, 1611. The Noble Art of Hunting, with Cats, black-letter, 1611, very fair. 6s.
725. Cooper's Chronicle, black-letter, neat, 1660. 3s.
728. Milton's Paradise Lost, in Ten Books, first edition, very fair, 1669. 5s.
736. Whetstone's English Mirror. 1586. Crowley's Answer to Powndes Six Reasons, 1581: black-letter. 3s.
788. Goulart's Admirable and Memorable History of the Times, Englished by Grimeston, 1607. 2s.
832. Enemy to Unthryftiness, a perfect Mirrour for Magistrates, by Whetstone, and six other Curious Tracts. 7s. 6d.
836. Lavaterus of Ghosts and Spirits walking by Night; of straunge Noises, Crackes, &c., black-letter, 1596. A Thousand Notable Things of Sundry Sortes, by Lupton; black-letter, no date, and three others. 6s.
852. Hyperius's Practice of Preaching, translated by Ludham, black-letter, 1577. Tragical History of the Troubles and Civill Warres of the Low Countries, black-letter, 1581. 4s.
1511. Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets, by Langbaine and Gildon, with MS. additions by Oldys, 1699. 3s. 6d.
1683. The British Librarian, six numbers in boards, 1738. 1s. 6d.
1684. The same, bound. 2s.
2449. A Manifest Detection of the most vyle and detestable Use of Dice Play black-letter, sewed, 1552. 1s. 6d.
2450. Vaughan's Golden Grove, 1600. 1s.
2554. Wit and Drollery, 1682. 1s.
2569. Stevenson's Norfolk Drollery, 1673. 1s.
2570. Shakespeare's Poems, 1640. 1s.
2572. Vilvain's Epitome of Essays, 1654. 1s. 6d.
2573. Collop's Poesie Reviv'd, 1656. 1s.
2574. Wit Restor'd, 1658. 1s. 6d.
2575. Wits' Recreation, 1640. 1s.
2579. Palingenius's Zodiake of Life, Englished by Googe, black-letter, 1565. 2s. 6d.
2580. Dunton's Maggots, 1685. 1s. 6d.
2581. The Muses' Recreation, 1656. 1s.
2633. Lingua: or the Combat of the Tongue, 1657. 1s. 6d.
2634. Lilly's Six Court Comedies, 1632. 2s.
The last twelve articles are in verse.
William Oldys's Manuscripts.
3612. Catalogue of Books and Pamphlets relating to the City of London, its Laws, Customs, Magistrates; its Diversions, Public Buildings, its Misfortunes, viz. Plagues, Fires, &c., and of every thing that has happened remarkable in London from 1521 to 1759, with some occasional remarks. Folio.
3613. Of London Libraries; with Anecdotes of Collectors of Books, Remarks on Booksellers, and of the first publishers of Catalogues. [Printed in "N. & Q." 2nd S. vol. xi.]
3614. Epistolae G. Morley ad Jan. Ulitium.
3615. Catalogue of graved Prints of our most eminent countrymen, belonging to Mr. Oldys.
3616. Orationes habitae in N. C. 1655: English verses.
31617. Memoirs relating to the Family of Oldys. [In British Museum, Addit. MS. 4240.]
3618. Barcelona: or the Spanish Expedition under the Conduct of the Right Hon. the Earl of Peterborough; a Poem by Mr. Farquhar, never before published. [This seems to have been copied from the printed edition. — Bolton Corney.]
3619. The Life of Augustus, digested into fifty-nine Schemes, by James Robey.
Octavo et infra.
3620. The Apophthegms of the English Nation, containing above 500 memorable sayings of noted Persons, being a Collection of Extempore Wit, more copious than any hitherto published. [It was probably founded on a MS. collection of earlier date. — Life of Sir Walter Raleigh. — Bolton Corney.]
3621. Description of all Kinds of Fish.
3622. The British Arborist; being a Natural, Philological, Theological, Poetical. Mythological, Medicinal, and Mechanical History of Trees, principally, native to this Island, with some Select Exoticks, &c. Not finished.
3623. Description of Trees, Plants, &c. [Addit. MS. 20,724.]
3624. Collection of Poems written above one hundred years since.
3625. Trinarchodia: the several Raignes of Richard ll., Henry IV., and Henry V. in verse, supposed to be written 1650. [This volume became the property of J. P. Andrews: Park describes it, Restituta, iv. 166. — Bolton Corney.]
3626. Collection of Poems by Mr. Oldys.
3627. Mr. Oldys's Diary, containing several Observations relating to Books, Characters, &c. [Printed in "N. & Q." 2nd S. Vol. xi.]
3628. Collections of Observations and Notes on various subjects.
3629. Memorandum Book, containing as above.
3630. Table of Persons celebrated by the English Poets.
3631. Catalogue of MSS. written by Lord Clarendon.
3632. Names of English Writers, and Places of their Burial, &c.
3633. Description of Flowers, Plants, Roots, &c.
3633. Description of all Kinds of Birds. [See Addit. MS. 20,725.]
"So end," says Mr. Fry, "the minutiae of this curious Catalogue, which I have thought it not incurious to record, more especially as Mr. Dibdin, whilst noticing the interleaved Langbaine, in his Bibliomania, does not seem to have been aware of its passing through the hands of the humble friend of Dr. Johnson."
Here we must terminate our notice of this distinguished writer and indefatigable antiquary, whose extended life was entirely devoted to literary pursuits, and whose copious and characteristic accounts of men and books, have endeared his memory to every lover of English literature. If Oldys possessed not the erudition of Johnson or of Maittaire, he had at least equal patience of investigation, soundness of judgment, and accuracy of criticism, with the most eminent of his contemporaries. One remarkable trait in his character was the entire absence of literary and posthumous fame, whilst he never begrudged his labour or considered his toil unproductive, so long as his researches substantiated Truth, or promoted the study of the History of Literature, which in other words is the history of the mind of man. Hence the very sweepings of his library have since been industriously collected, and enrich the works of Ritson, Reed, Douce, Brydges, and others, and will always serve, as it were, for landmarks to those following in his wake. In his own peculiar departments of literature — history and biography — he has literally exhausted all the ordinary sources of information; and when he lacked the opportunity to labour himself, or to fill up the circle of his knowledge, he has nevertheless pointed out to his successors new or unexplored mines, whence additional facts may be gleaned, and the object of his life — the development of Truth — be secured.