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William Cowper

(26 November 1731 – 25 April 1800 / Hertfordshire)

A Manual, More Ancient Than The Art Of Printing, And Not To Be Found In Any Catalogue


There is a book, which we may call
(Its excellence is such)
Alone a library, though small;
The ladies thumb it much.

Words none, things numerous it contains:
And thing with words compared,
Who needs be told, that has his brains,
Which merits most regard?

Ofttimes its leaves of scarlet hue
A golden edging boast;
And open’d, it displays to view
Twelve pages at the most.

Nor name, nor title, stamp’d behind,
Adorns its outer part;
But all within ‘tis richly lined,
A magazine of art.

The whitest hands that secret hoard
Oft visit: and the fair
Preserve it in their bosoms stored,
As with a miser’s care.

Thence implements of every size,
And form’d for various use
(They need but to consult their eyes),
They readily produce.

The largest and the longest kind
Possess the foremost page;
A sort most needed by the blind,
Or nearly such, from age.

The full charged leaf which next ensues,
Presents in bright array
The smaller sort, which matrons use,
Not quite so blind as they.

The third, the fourth, the fifth supply
What their occasions ask,
Who with a more discerning eye
Perform a nicer task.

But still with regular decrease,
From size to size they fall,
In every leaf grow less and less;
The last are least of all.

Oh! what a fund of genius, pent
In narrow space is here!
This volume’s method and intent
How luminous and clear!

It leaves no reader at a loss
Or posed, whoever reads:
No commentator’s tedious gloss,
Nor even index needs.

Search Bodley’s many thousands o’er!
No book is treasured there,
Nor yet in Granta’s numerous store,
That may with this compare.

No!—rival none in either host
Of this was ever seen,
Or, that contents could justly boast,
So brilliant and so keen.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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