Spurgeon fell in love with the volumes of Puritan divinity by the time he was six years old and reveled in their racy writings for half a century. His was a virtuoso's passion running the whole scale from the ponderous duodecimos of his grandfather's manse to the royal octavos in the Old Curiosity Shop. Early in life he started a collection. He ransacked bookstalls and kept an eagle eye on booksellers' catalogs for any he did not possess.
His discernment in these books became as delicate as a china-collector's "It is easy to tell a Puritan book by even its shape, and the type." He hunted originals, not cut reprints "I harbor a prejudice against all new editions, and a preference for the originals, even though they wander about in sheepskins and goatskins, and are shut up in the heaviest of board."
So great was his love for his Puritans that he had Susannah read them to him while they were engaged! Susannah said "I heard his dear voice explain what I couldn't understand, condensing into short sentences whole pages of these discursive old divines, and pressing from them all the richest nectar of their hidden sweetness." The two of them in courtship days actually issued a book of Puritan anthology, Smooth Stones Taken From Ancient Brooks [recently re-published in 1996 by Soli Deo Gloria, available from Pilgrim]. So assiduously did he collect, that at his death in 1892 nearly seven thousand Puritan volumes were in his library.
We stop to note some interesting facts about this collection. It was offered for sale in 1905 for $2,500! England was napping. Dr. J. T. M. Johnson, John E Franklin, President John Priest Greene, and Dr. J. E. Cook, of Missouri, swiftly raised three thousand dollars (price was ante-ed) and bought the entire lot fifty cents a volume! Dr. J. W. Thirtle of London supervised the packing, in thirty-eight cases lined with water-proof canvas. He shipped them on the S.S. CUBA, Saturday December 16, 1905, billed to New Orleans, thence by the Illinois Central to Kansas City, and fifteen miles farther to a little country town called Liberty, where they arrived in January, 1906.
There they are today, in William Jewel College, undivided and almost unknown! A priceless collection of rare volumes, stately folios, duodecimos, quartos; all marked with Spurgeon's own hand; a set never to be duplicated and never rivaled. Strange! if any one now wishes to drink from the wells of Puritan divinity, he will need to go to this quiet little Missouri village. Who would ever have thought of finding Spurgeon's well-thumbed books "west of the Mississippi River"? In that collection there is a priceless copy of his Commenting and Commentators, annotated in his own hand for the improvement of later editions. There is also the Comprehensive Bible which he used in New Park Street by any standard of rare book appraisals its present value should be five thousand dollars (1934).
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