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Wharton, Edith (1862-1937); Codman Jr., Ogden (1863-1951) / The decoration of houses
(1898)

XII: the library, smoking-room, and "den",   pp. 145-154


Page 146

146          The Decoration of Houses
cept in the hands of the scholar, continued to be a kind of curios-
ity, like other objects of art: less an intellectual need than a treasure
upon which rich men prided themselves.        It was not until the
middle of the seventeenth century that the taste for books became
a taste for reading.  France led the way in this new fashion, which
was assiduously cultivated in those Parisian salons of which Ma-
dame de Ramboujllet's is the recognized type.   The possession of
a library, hitherto the privilege of kings, of wealthy monasteries,
or of some distinguished patron of letters like Grolier, Majoli, or
de Thou, now came to be regarded as a necessity of every gentle-
man's establishment.     Beautiful bindings were still highly valued,
and some of the most wonderful work produced in France belongs
to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; but as people began
to buy books for the sake of what they contained, less exaggerated
importance was attached to their exterior, so that bindings,
though perfect as taste and skill could make them, were seldom
as extravagantly enriched as in the two preceding centuries.  Up
to a certain point this change was not to be regretted: the me-
di~val book, with its gold or ivory bas-reliefs bordered with pre-
cious stones, and its massive jewelled clasps, was more like a ~mon-
strance or reliquary than anything meant for less ceremonious use.
It remained for the Italian printers and binders of the sixteenth
century, and for their French imitators, to adapt the form of the
book to its purpose, changing, as it were, a jewelled idol to a
human companion.
 The substitution of the octavo for the folio, and certain modi-
fications in binding which made it possible to stand books upright
instead of laying one above the other with edges outward, gradu-
ally gave to the library a more modern aspect.  In France, by the
middle of the seventeenth century, the library had come to be a


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