Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Chapters From A Booksellers Life

Cecil Rhodes and His Library by A.L. Humphreys (Head of Hatchards the Piccadilly bookshop) written in 1924 for John O'London's Weekly.

I was sitting at my usual place at Hatchards one afternoon in 1893 when Mr. J.R. Maguire came in, accompanied by a rather unusual and remarkable looking man, who at first said but little and conveyed to me the instant impression that he was a man none too robust. I already knew Mr. Maguire, and he at once told me that he had brought with him Mr. Cecil Rhodes, whose idea in coming to see me was to discuss a scheme for a library in his private residence in South Africa, and that to begin with he proposed that I should obtain for him a collection of books representing all the authorities which Gibbon must have made use of in writing his "Decline and Fall." After Mr. Maguire had been talking for some time, detailing on behalf of Mr. Rhodes what he had in mind, Rhodes himself began to talk freely, and in a voice which seemed now and again to touch a high falsetto note. All the Rhodes brothers had the same peculiarity of voice, as I found out afterwards. In a few moments I found myself engaged in a very animated talk with Mr. Rhodes over the scheme which he had suggested. It struck me at once, as it would have struck anybody, as being a most original idea, and one of the greatest interest and value.
In the course of that afternoon's talk Mr. Rhodes made certain things very clear to me, and the first was his love for Gibbon's great book, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," and how it had become his companion every time he went to and from London and Cape Town. The second thing he emphasized was his determination to secure in English translations all the authorities used by Gibbon, very many of which had never been translated; and a third matter which remains very clear in my memory is his saying that he realized the magnitude of the undertaking, and he knew that I must get together a body of classical scholars to co-operate. He added that he specially wished that they should be paid for all they did on a liberal scale. He then took out his cheque-book, and although this was the first time I ever had seen him, he left me a large sum of money with which to make a start......

More Chapters From A Booksellers Life.