01-05-1773

Richard Heber portrait by John Singleton Copley

RICHARD HEBER, British bibliophile, born (d: 1833); Anyone who has been privileged to attend a meeting of a certain famous bibliophilic club on the East Coast, realizes in a flash that a majority of the tuxedo clad gentleman gathered to discuss their common passion – book collecting – is  rich, recondite, Republican and remarkably Gay. Their ancestor of ancestors was English book collector Richard Heber, who made a habit of attending continental book sales, sometimes purchasing a single book, sometimes entire libraries.

As an undergraduate at Brasenose College, Oxford, Richard Heber began to collect a purely classical library, but his taste broadening, he became interested in early English drama and literature, and began his wonderful collection of rare books in these departments. He attended continental book sales, purchasing sometimes single volumes, sometimes whole libraries. Sir Walter Scott, whose intimate friend he was, and who dedicated to him the sixth canto of Martnion, classed Heber’s library as “superior to all others in the world”; Campbell described him as “the fiercest and strongest of all the “bibliomaniacs.”

He did not confine himself to the purchase of a single copy of a work which took his fancy. “No gentleman,” he famously remarked, “can be without three copies of a book, one for show, one for use, and one for borrowers.”

To such a size did his library grow that it over-ran eight houses, some in England, some on the Continent. It is estimated to have cost over £100,000, and after his death the sale of that part of his collection stored in England realized more than £56,000.

He is known to have owned 150,000 volumes, and probably many more. He possessed extensive landed property in Shropshire and Yorkshire, and was sheriff of the former county in 1821. He was member of Parliament for Oxford University from 1821-1826, and in 1822 was made a D.C.L. of that University. He was one of the founders of the Athenaeum Club, London. He was forced to leave England in exile after public disclosure of his “unnatural acts.”