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Books

WithJoseph Rykwert

What fed my antiquarianism was the greed for books I mentioned earlier; it was not as peremptory or compulsive as Canetti’s, but almost equally omnivorous. Alberti demanded my grubbing in old texts and I discovered that London bookshops were littered with the detritus of country house dispersals. The libraries that cultivated patricians had put together during their grand tours were being carelessly scattered – almost dumped – by their more philistine descendants. Nor had these riches yet been discovered by French and Italian dealers, so it was cheaper to buy a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century edition of a classical text, usually with elaborate indices and learned notes, than to invest in a modern scholarly version. Almost by accident, I formed the nucleus of my book collection: having seen some desirable texts in a large lot at Christie’s, I attended the sale hoping to buy the two or three I specially wanted from any dealer who would bid for the lot: some of them, I knew, appreciated quick disposal. I was interested in the last item of that sale, and the dealers were all getting their coats on – to leave for lunch – so I got all 15 volumes for 30 shillings, Marsilio Ficino’s Latin-Greek Plato (Lyons, 1590 – which I still have) among them. I could eke out my thin resources by letting go, however reluctantly, of some of my treasures – but enough remained to allow me to work from home much of the time.