I came to the love of rare books by a circuitous path, as I do almost everything. Struggling to reconcile my love of Latin & the literature of the ancient world with my affinity for the cold, hard material, I discovered that ideas are, after all, made material in books—and I embarked on a career working with early printed texts. In my personal collecting, however, I’ve managed another reversal: one of my major interests is the Renaissance expressions of the ars memorativa—the ancient theories and techniques by which we turn our minds themselves into a sort of book, and which reached their zenith with Giulio Camillo’s fabulous Platonic-esoteric memory theater. More broadly, I am deeply interested in the afterlives of ancient texts: the way everyone in between us and them has read these works, their notes and elaborations on them and how they live on in our memories and our lives. I seek out books with personal relevance in which other readers have left their marks. What is more pleasurable than reading with a friend?
De oratore [and other rhetorical works, including the pseudonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium].
Marcus Tullius Cicero. Venice: Paulus Manutius, 1559. Provenance: Walter Dennison.
The art of memory—and the memory technique now known as the memory palace—was commonplace in the oratorical schools of the ancient world. Cicero’s collected rhetorical works, here printed by the son of Aldus Manutius, contain some of the earliest descriptions of this art. According to legend, the poet Simonides was able to identify the bodies of dinner guests crushed by a falling roof by recalling their places around the table. An early annotator of this book was also interested in this subject, copying out rerum omnium t[h]esaurus memoria: “the memory is the treasury of all things.”
Certain miscellany tracts.
Thomas Browne. London: Charles Mearne, 1684.
The pleasures of Thomas Browne are well known, but his Biblioteca Abscondita—a list of “rare and generally unknown” books lost from antiquity is a special one for me. It includes the lost Getic poem of Ovid (on whose work I wrote my master’s thesis) as well as “Noble Head of Franciscus Gonzaga” bearing the inscription O nox quam longa est quae facit una senem, which an annotator has noted is a line from Martial’s Epigrams.