In books, not authors, curious is my Lord

From Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Burlington (131-138):

And when up ten steep slopes you’ve dragg’d your thighs,
Just at his study door he’ll bless your eyes.
His study! with what authors is it stor’d?
In books, not authors, curious is my Lord;
To all their dated backs he turns you round:
These Aldus printed, those Du Sueil has bound.
Lo, some are vellum, and the rest as good
For all his Lordship knows, but they are wood.

Aldus Manutius was the famed early publisher of classic and humanist texts (an aside for the curious – his prefaces to the Latin and Greek classics he printed are now translated and in print). Du Seuil is Augustin du Seuil (1673-1746) whose entry in Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books informs me was “a celebrated Parisian bookbinder who held the position of royal binder to Louis XV of France” and adds, quoting the above passage, that “he is the only French binder written of in English literature.”

The Twickenham editor (Bateson) suggests that Pope may have been inspired by a passage from La Bruyère (translation is mine but I lost my citation, apologies):

…. je vais trouver cet homme, qui me reçoit dans une maison où dès l’escalier je tombe en faiblesse d’une odeur de maroquin noir dont ses livres sont tous couverts. Il a beau me crier aux oreilles, pour me ranimer, qu’ils sont dorés sur tranche, ornés de filets d’or, et de la bonne édition, me nommer les meilleurs l’un après l’autre, dire que sa galerie est remplie à quelques endroits près, qui sont peints de manière qu’on les prend pour de vrais livres arrangés sur des tablettes, et que l’oeil s’y trompe, ajouter qu’il ne lit jamais, qu’il ne met pas le pied dans cette galerie, qu’il y viendra pour me faire plaisir; je le remercie de sa complaisance, et ne veux, non plus que lui, voir sa tannerie, qu’il appelle bibliothèque.

I go visit this man, who receives me in a house where in the stairwell I fall faint from the smell of the leather in which the books are covered. Trying to resuscitate me in vain he shouts in my ears that their spines are gilded, they’re ornamented with gold tooling, and they’re all the right editions. He names the best ones, one after another. He tells me the room is filled, except in some places which are painted so that everyone – taking them for books arranged on shelves – is deceived. He adds that he never reads, that he never sets foot in the room, that he came there as a favor to me. I thank him for his kindness and wish, no more than he, to see his tannery that he terms a library.

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