Archive Advent calendar: 19 December

Today we open another window on the Library’s archival advent calendar to find four poets laureate closely clustered in the membership records.

Alfred Lord Tennyson was the Library’s President between 1885 and 1892 and was poet laureate from 1850 until his death.  He became laureate in the year In Memoriam was published anonymously: it rapidly became one of the most spectacular publishing successes of the Victorian era.

The poet Alfred Austin joined the Library in 1866 and became poet laureate after Tennyson holding the position from 1896 to 1913.

The poet and novelist John Masefield joined the Library in 1909 and became poet laureate in 1930 holding the position until 1967 when he was succeeded by Cecil Day Lewis who held the position until 1972.

© Helen O’Neill        Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian

Cecil Day Lewis

The poet and novelist Cecil Day Lewis joined the Library in 1945. He was nominated by the art critic and reviewer Raymond Mortimer and became poet laureate in 1968

Christmas Eve

Something festive from the Library’s Special Collections: Christmas Eve by Cecil Day Lewis was published in London by Faber in 1954. It is inscribed in ink on the second flyleaf “Betsy and Keith with love from Cecil Christmas /54”.

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We join Helen O’Neill for today’s posting from the Library’s archive and open another small window onto the Library’s literary past with the joining form of the writer Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966).

This is the second of Evelyn Waugh’s joining forms to the Library and dates from 1944. Waugh’s Library membership was suspended in 1941 – a common occurrence in the archival membership records for men on active service during times of war.

The date of the form in which Waugh resumes his membership is richly revealing. In December 1943 Waugh broke his leg in parachute training and was given leave without pay – he resumed membership of the Library on January 18th 1944.  The following  year Brideshead Revisted was published in London by Chapman and Hall.  It was well received at home and an almost immediate best seller in America.  Lauded during his lifetime it was filmed to great acclaim after his death. The ITV eleven part adaptation of the novel in 1981 starred Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Diana Quick, John Giulgud and Laurence Olivier and was nominated for a raft of awards scooping up both BAFTA and Golden Globe accolades.

Join me tomorrow for another archival peek into the Library’s literary past.

© Helen O’Neill        Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian


Evelyn Waugh resumed his London Library membership in 1944 giving his occupation as Lt R.H.G. (Lieutenant Royal Horse Guards). Within a year Brideshead Revisted was published.

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Archive Advent Calendar 17 December 2013

The iconic fin de siècle illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) joined the Library in 1896 when he was 23 years old. Closely linked in the popular consciousness with Oscar Wilde, Beardsley’s iconic and risqué illustrations for Wilde’s illustrated edition of Salome were commissioned when he was just twenty-one and caused a scandal when published.

Beardsley’s art and public persona are indelibly stamped on the short-lived but hugely influential avant-garde magazine The Yellow Bookpublished by John Lane at the Bodley Head between 1894 and 1897. The first volume appeared with a cover illustration by Beardsley and included four additional drawings. Beardsley’s artistic vision was key to the impact and profile of the magazine.

The Yellow Book and Beardsley’s association with it became inextricably, if inaccurately linked with the arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel in 1895 as the Press reported that Oscar had a copy under his arm. It resulted ultimately in Beardsley’s dismissal from the Bodley Press as John Lane withdrew Wilde’s plays from further publication.

Note the address Beardsley gives on his form – 10 St James’s Street.  When Beardsley joined the Library he was occupying rooms Wilde had Geneux’s Hotel 10-11 St James’s Place. Beardsley died when he was twenty-five years old but left a lasting mark on fin de siècle art and illustration.

The publisher John Lane (1854-1925) joined t he Library in 1895.  He was an innovative entrepreneur who turned a second-hand bookshop called the Bodley Head at 6B Vigo St in London into a distinctive publishing house with a stellar list of new literary talent. Like Beardsley he was introduced to membership of the Library by the scholar and writer Arthur William Symons (1865-1945) whose major work The Symbolist Movement in Literature was hugely influential on early modernist writers including W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot.

The Library’s membership records are impossible to view in isolation: in combination they reveal rich interlinked literary, social and artistic networks which intersect with literary and cultural life in unique and compelling ways. Building on the work completed for my MRes the Library’s membership records, in their historical entirety, are one of the building blocks in my PhD research which will apply big data text mining and network visualization technologies to examine the relationships between the Library’s membership, book collections and the nation’s published oeuvre.

© Helen O’Neill        Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian


The innovative publisher John Lane turned Bodley Head from a small second-hand bookshop into a thriving and innovative publishing business. Like Beardsley he was introduced to the Library by Arthur Symons but dropped both Beardsley and Wilde during the tumult of Oscar’s arrest and trial


Aubrey Beardsley nominated by the writer and scholar Arthur Symons joined the Library in 1896 resident in the rooms at 10 St James’s Place previously used by Oscar Wilde.

Yellow Book

The cover of the first volume of The Yellow Book published in 1894 was illustrated by Beardsley and included a further four of his drawings.

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Archive Advent Calendar: 16 December 2013

We continue our archival countdown to Christmas by opening another window on the Library’s literary past with the joining form to the Library of the master mariner and master novelist Josef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (1857-1924) – better known as Joseph Conrad. Conrad is without question one of the greatest writers of Fiction in the canon and “probably the greatest political novelist”[i] in the English language.

Conrad joined the Library in 1897 two years before The Heart of Darkness (as it was called in serial form) appeared in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.  Blackwood’s was a leading Victorian periodical which had early established itself under the talented editor and publisher John Blackwood (1818-1879). Over thirty years Blackwood both established the periodical as a market leader and published the works of George Eliot, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Lever, Charles Reade, George Henry Lewes and Margaret Oliphant to name a few – all  of whom are also present in the Victorian membership ledgers of the Library.

The date of Conrad’s joining form is revealing:  1897 marks the beginning of the major phase of his literary career.  His milieu included Ford Madox Ford, John Galsworthy, H.G. Wells and R.B. Cunninghame Graham amongst others who were all also subscribing members.

Many of Conrad’s seminal works made a staggeringly successful transition to film. Lord JimVictoryThe Secret Agent, and Heart of Darkness are just a few that made the leap – Heart of Darkness was the inspiration behind Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterpieceApocalypse Now.

[i] Cedric Watts, ‘Conrad, Joseph (1857–1924)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011

© Helen O’Neill        Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian

Heart of Darkness

Two years after joining the Library The Heart of Darkness appeared in serial form in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.


Joseph Conrad’s joined the Library on March 13th 1897 as he enters the major phase of his literary career.


John Blackwood established Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine as a leading periodical of the Victorian era. His name appears in the Victorian membership ledgers in 1867.

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Archive Advent Calendar: 13 December 2013

It could only be Virginia Woolf who wrote the piece on George Eliot which appeared in the Times Literary Supplement on November 20, 1919.  Woolf reconfigured Eliot’s reputation in the piece viewing Eliot and her literary reputation from a distinctly female perspective and concluding in her final sentence:

“We must lay upon her grave whatever we have it in our power to bestow of laurel and rose”.

Woolf’s own joining form to the London Library dates from 1904 when she was 22 years old.  It is richly revealing.  Note her self-described occupation or position “Spinster”.  The £40 she paid for life membership at the age of twenty-two makes a clear statement about her future career direction and the date is significant too.  Virginia took out life membership of the London Library four days after the death of her father, Leslie Stephen who had been President of the London Library from 1892 until his death. Within three years of Virginia signing her joining form she was writing Melymbrosia later published as her ground breaking novel The Voyage Out”.

© Helen O’Neill        Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian


The joining for to the Library of Virginia Woolf dating from 1904 the year in which her father died. She gives her occupation as “Spinster”.


From the Library’s Special Collections, Sissinghurst by Vita Sackville West dedicated “To V.W.” Printed by hand by Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press in 1931, it is signed by Vita and is one of only 500 copies printed.

Sackville West (1)

From the Library’s Special Collections, Sissinghurst by Vita Sackville West dedicated “To V.W.” Printed by hand by Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press in 1931, it is signed by Vita and is one of only 500 copies printed.

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