Littell's Living Age/Volume 126/Issue 1632/Bishop Thirlwall's Study

From The Guardian.


Past the large, low dining-room, where preparations are being made for a dinner-party, up a short passage lined with bookshelves, an open doorway admits you to a room — large certainly, but so choked with contents that it rather reminds one of the inside of a disorderly portmanteau. It is square, but for a bay-window in which stands a library table piled with books and papers, an old black velvet sermon-case, a battered travelling writing-case, and a desk, with a wineglass of water on the ledge, and a tattered sheet of blotting-paper, on which lies a bright blue book — "Artist and Craftsman" — the last study of the owner of the room, to judge from the paper-cutter between the leaves. It is flanked by "Lectures on Casuistry," and "Geschichte des Alten Bund." A portentous waste-paper basket stands beneath: both this and the paper-cutter seem fitted by their unusual proportions to cope with their daily work. A hard horse-hair chair, without arms, springs, or cushions, turns its back resolutely to the garden, and its face to the army of papers.

Three tables and a whatnot dispersed over the room serve as foundations for a pyramid of books, reports, periodicals — Cornhills, Macmillans, Revues des Deux Mondes — thatched with the Times, Pall Mall, Saturday, Guardian, and other papers unnumbered. Two wandering book-cases, with double faces and no backs, are stocked with motley rows of volumes, at which we will look closer. Saint Anselm de Canterbury, Artemus Ward, "Science de l'Histoire," a long range of Dumas, Comte's "Système," "Ingoldsby Legends." Are the contents of the shelves which line the walls less miscellaneous? Hardly less surprising. Here is a favourite shelf, apparently, where the books stand loosely, and unevenly, as if ready for immediate action — Lettish Bible, Biblj Swata, Wendish Bible, "Zwingli's Werke" (pushed in hastily and upside down), a little Hindustani and incomprehensible "Jolowicz Polyglotte der Oriental Poesie," "Rabbinische Blumenlese." Nor, if you walk round the room with speed and caution that you may not be surprised too far from the two modes of escape, — the door and window — are the other shelves less bewildering to a merely human understanding. Bopp: "Sanskritsprache," "Koptische Grammatik," "Miverian Archæology;" Arabic, Armenian, Celtic, Persian dictionaries; grammars of Icelandic, Erse, Ægyptische. Seventy-eight volumes of "Memoires relatives à l'Histoire de France;" Dallas, the "Gay Science" (what may that be? — whist? fencing? dancing? Not at all — criticism!). Dante, Shakespeare, Bunsen, Milton, Hallam, Sévigné, Luther. But a complete list would take days to write and hours to read. Besides these, the library steps are crushed under a haystack of unbound books, mostly Dutch, and two open portmanteaus are overflowing with papers and correspondence.

The floor is covered with no luxuriant recluse Turkey carpet, but a common crimson and drab drugget, worn and faded. The paper, if there be any, is hidden behind the books. No, there is a strip over the mantelpiece, Indian red, with a creeping pattern of dull gold. On the mantlepiece stand three wax candles, a marble clock, and a heap of pennies, on which no unscrupulous housemaid will take compassion.

Searching curiously for traces of human presence, we notice a crab-stick leaning against the corner of the window, and on the centre table, erect and dignified, a black velvet skull-cap, very much — yes, uncommonly like in shape to Cowper's well-known nightcap. Its counterpart in black silk, tumbled, frayed, but evidently the more familiar friend, lies near the desk. A feather brush, worn out in hopeless attempts to fight the dust, droops over the edge of a century of Quarterly Reviews. Not many visitors are expected here, for all the chairs (horsehair and uncompromising, like the one at the desk) are built up with books. There are two deep leathern arm-chairs, though, on either side of the wide fireplace, but they are served in the same fashion. Over all, on a tall pedestal, the bust of Julius Hare gazes with bland, blank eyes.

Who is the master of the room? the hermit-crab of the shell? Hush, there are voices at the door; one grating with the huskiness of old age, slow and emphatic, giving, it would seem, some order, which is responded to with a ready "Yes, my lord" — and heavy, plodding steps come with frightful distinctness up the oilcloth-covered passage. Jump out of the window, if you are not prepared for instant annihilation, but wait behind that juniper and peep through the heavy, dark branches that rob the window of half the rays of a watery autumn sun, and you may note the entrance of an old man with stooping shoulders and scanty grey hair, and watchful, light-blue eyes, which need the warming effect of a smile on the quaint, rugged, but not unkindly face. He passes across to the chair in the window, and sitting down, he reluctantly pushes aside the book and paper-cutter, and breaks open the topmost of a pile of letters addressed to " The Bishop of St. David's."