Subscribe to our newsletter

Please note – we’re closed over the August Bank Holiday weekend


Posted by on in Uncategorized

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum."

b2ap3_thumbnail_1-225x300.jpg b2ap3_thumbnail_Image-1.jpg 

Hits: 1634


On Saturday evening at 10pm on Radio 3 the wistful dramatisationDear Mr Eliot: When Groucho Met Tom by Jakko Jakszyk gets another well-deserved airing and if you missed it last year, it is well worth a listen.  It tells the story of the surprising friendship between T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx using their private correspondence and a single, much anticipated meeting. Lenny Henry’s understated Groucho is particularly good and this subtle work is a timely tribute to Eliot’s 50thanniversary this year.

There is a hidden postscript to the story.  A gem, not mentioned in the radio play, but preserved on an EMI recording of a theatrical event, billed as “A Homage to T.S. Eliot” which took place at the Globe Theatre on June 13 1965, five months after Eliot’s death.  It is on the stage, fittingly enough, that Groucho gave his final and wonderfully vaudevillian tribute to the poet – and it brought the house down.

A plush twelve page programme remains of the event. Poems selected by W.H. Auden were read by iconic actors. Laurence Olivier read Little Gidding and Peter O’Toole, The Love Song of J. Afred Prufrock. Introitus, Stravinsky’s musical memorial to Eliot, opened proceedings; a Henry Moore sculpture graced the stage and Bridget Riley provided stage projections for the event. Sandwiched on the programme betweenThe Waste Land and Sweeney Agonistes is Groucho reading from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. It was not Groucho’s rendition of the poem that stole the show but his impeccably-timed preamble which punctured proceedings with peals of laughter from the audience:

“There’s an old vaudeville story about a man who was about to be hanged and they had brought him out on the scaffold there, and put the rope about his neck and the minister in the prison said ‘Have you any last words before we spring the trap?’ and the thing was kind of shaky, and he looked up and said ‘Yes I don’t think this damned thing is safe’. That’s precisely how I feel coming out here tonight surrounded by all these great actors.”

With self-deprecating wit Groucho went on: “You see I never knew what an anachronism was until I was invited to appear on this show” and on the crest of applause before starting to read Gus: The Theatre Cat he warned with deadpan relish: “After I recite this you will realise what Mr Eliot meant by Murder in the Cathedral.”

In capitals on the front of the programme is the statement “THIS PERFORMANCE IS FOR THE LONDON LIBRARY”. T.S. Eliot joined the Library in 1918, four years before he published The Wasteland.  He became the Library’s President in 1952, four years after he received the Nobel Prize in Literature for Four Quartets. He served as President until his death in 1965 and was at the helm during a particularly precarious financial period for the Library after a change in its tax status left it grappling for survival. For me Groucho’s is the standout performance on the EMI recording: it is easy to see why he was so revered by the 20thcentury’s most influential poet.

Helen O’Neill
Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian
The programme included several photographs of T.S. Eliot including one as a dashing young poet taken with fellow London Library member Virginia Woolf.

The programme included several photographs of T.S. Eliot including one as a dashing young poet taken with fellow London Library member Virginia Woolf.

With music by Stravinsky, sculpture by Henry Moore, and poems selected by W.H. Auden and read by Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole, the Homage to T.S. Eliot which took place on June 13, 1965 was an impressive affair. Note at the bottom of the programme that the performance was “for the London Library”.

With music by Stravinsky, sculpture by Henry Moore, and poems selected by W.H. Auden and read by Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole, the Homage to T.S. Eliot which took place on June 13, 1965 was an impressive affair. Note at the bottom of the programme that the performance was “for the London Library”.

Opening the second part of the performance was Groucho Marx reading from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Opening the second part of the performance was Groucho Marx reading from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Hits: 3487

Posted by on in Uncategorized

For Remembrance Day 2014 Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian delves into the the Library’s history to consider the impact of the Great War on both staff and members of the Library.

On July 30 1916 The Times reported that fifteen members of London Library staff were on active service. Arthur Edwin Davis was one of those men He described his war service in a letter which survives in the Soldiers’ Records at the National Archives:

“I was attested on 17 November 1915 and called up for service on 3rd May 1916. Wounded at Ypres 3rd July 1917. Sent to England August 1917. Transferred to R.A.M.C. September 1918. Demobilised on 28th September 1919.”

Arthur’s injury, a gunshot wound to the right thigh, resulted in treatment in two military hospitals before his transfer to the Royal Army Medical Corps [R.A.M.C.]. His colleague David William Kelly was 22 when he was called up and saw action as a rifleman in France, Salonica and Egypt serving from May 1916 to March 1919. In September 1918 he too was wounded during his second stint in France. David joined the Library at fourteen, his school reference testifying to his character as “one of our best boys.”

Junior library assistant A.S. White became a sergeant during the war with the 6th London R.A.M.C. – a first line territorial division which spent 1916 to 1918 on the Somme with stints in Ypres and Arras, ferrying the wounded from the field of battle. Sergeant White had something very particular in common with Siegfried Sassoon, who joined the Library in 1922. Both men were awarded the Military Medal: Sassoon for “conspicuous gallantry” in the field saving men under heavy fire and A.S. White for his work with the R.A.M.C. Sergeant White was awarded the medal in September 1917 when almost 33,000 admissions had been handled by his division. Three months earlier Sassoon made one of the most public criticisms of the war in an open letter to his commanding officer. Intended for public consumption the controversial letter appeared under the title “Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration” in the local press, was read out and discussed in the House of Commons and thereafter published in the pages of The Times. Tautly argued, Sassoon’s letter was a calculated counter-attack to Establishment complacency about the human cost of the War made all the more difficult to handle because of his considerable reputation for bravery:

“I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers.”

The human cost of the war was felt at the Library as the deaths of Charles Kennelly, Ernest Newman and J. Miller who were all killed in action were announced. Charles Kennelly who died on the Western Front in 1917, had been singled out for singular praise by Librarian Hagberg Wright in a restructuring document of 1909: “No praise” he wrote “is too high for Kennelly. He is the best read and most intelligent Assistant in the Library.”

The death of his colleague Lance Corporal Ernest Newman of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles was announced with sadness at the Library’s AGM in 1917.

In the year following the deaths of Kennelly and Newman an American poet joined the Library. Within four years he captured the literary after-shock of the Great War in his modernist poetic masterpiece: The Waste Land. T.S. Eliot’s poem appeared in Britain in the Criterion in October 1922, in America in The Dial the following month and was published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press in 1923.

In 1925 Virginia fired off her own modernist riposte to the War in the shape of Mrs Dalloway, in which the mental disintegration of a shell-shocked soldier culminates in his impalement on the doorstep of respectable society. Mrs Dalloway appeared in the same year as No More Parades the second novel in Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy Parade’s End. Ford’s work was re-interpreted in an award winning television series in 2012 written by the Library’s President, Tom Stoppard.

The story of the Great War was told through soldiers’ songs by London Library member Charles Chilton in a ground-breaking Radio 4 radio documentary in 1961 called the Long, Long Trail. Chilton’s work triggered both the stage musical Oh! What A Lovely War and Richard Attenborough’s film of the same title in 1969.

Above the Library’s Reception Desk in the Issue Hall hangs an oil painting of Hagbery Wright by William Orpen. The blank canvas was bought at a Red Cross sale at Christie’s during the War by an anonymous donor who requested that Wright sit for his portrait. I wonder if the portrait may, in part have been an acknowledgement of Wright’s role as Honorary Secretary and Trustee of the Red Cross War Library. His appeals for books for wounded servicemen appeared in the press during the War and the Library was as a drop off point for books for distribution to soldiers through the Red Cross. A large basket was placed prominently in the Issue hall for this purpose and advertisements instructed those sending books to the Library for distribution to label them clearly “For Wounded”. A large notice affixed to the front of the basket read “Books For Wounded Soldiers and Sailors.”

I continue to search for the stories of the London Library soldiers of the Great War not least for that of Library Assistant J. Miller who was killed in action in 1918 and whose first name, regiment and place of burial are currently unknown.

For more on the London Library during the Great War see the winter edition of the London Library magazine 2014.

To listen to the songs soldiers’ sang in the trenches or to hear more about the work of Charles Chilton see the following on BBC iplayer and
To read Sassoon’s controversial letter in full see’s-Public-Statement-Of-Defiance

The London Library - Advert

During the Great War the Library was a drop off point for books for distribution to soldiers and sailors through the Red Cross War Library. Adverts instructed those sending books to mark them clearly “For Wounded”.

During the war the Library was a drop off point for books for dispersal through the Red Cross War Library. A large basket, centrally placed in the Issue Hall, was set aside for this purpose and labelled

During the war the Library was a drop off point for books for dispersal through the Red Cross War Library. A large basket, centrally placed in the Issue Hall, was set aside for this purpose and labelled “Books for wounded soldiers and sailors”

From the Cataloguing Room to the Front:  Charles Kennelly and Ernest Newman both died in action in 1917.  Before the war they had catalogued  books in this room.

From the Cataloguing Room to the Front: Charles Kennelly and Ernest Newman both died in action in 1917. Before the war they had catalogued books in this room.



Hits: 1741

Posted by on in Uncategorized
In 16th century Europe nothing was more vitally important, controversial or dangerous than religion. And yet as some of the books in The London Library show, at a time when wars, plague and religious persecution were part of everyday life, in the search for answers and reassurance there were some who turned away from the Church. Adapted from an article originally written for History Today by the Library’s Head of Bibliographic Services, Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros.

The first of these books is Jean de Meun’s Le dodechedron de fortune : livre non moins plaisant & recreatif, que subtil & ingenieux entre tous les jeux & passetemps de fortune, printed in Paris in 1556.

Jean Clopinel or Chopinel (ca. 1240-ca. 1305), named de Meun after his birthplace, was the French poet best known for writing a continuation to the Roman de la Rose. In his poem he famously satirizes the Pope, monastic orders, marriage, love, and women and his playful and irreverent attitude towards life is also evident in theDodechedron. It is an instruction manual for telling fortunes using dice and it includes a table of numbers to provide answers to a list of set questions. The reader only needs to roll a twelve-sided die to get answers to questions such as whether a horse one is thinking of buying will prove a good investment, whether a prisoner of our acquaintance will be released soon or whether a particular person will come to bad end.

The author warns in his preface that the book should only be used for fun and is not to be taken seriously but the fact that it was printed more than two hundred years after his death suggests that it may have been more than just something to bring out at the end of a boring dinner party.  Rather than diminishing over time its popularity appears to have grown so much that after a further five French editions were produced over the following three decades by various printers in both Paris and Lyon. It then travelled to London where an English translation was published  in 1613 as The dodechedron of fortune, or, The exercise of a quick wit A booke so rarely and strangely composed, that it giveth(after a most admirable manner) a pleasant and ingenious answer to every demaund; the like whereof hath not heretofore beene published in our English tongue. Being first composed in French by Iohn de Meum, one of the most worthie and famous poets of his time; and dedicated to the French King, Charles the fift, and by him, for the worth and raritie thereof, verie much countenanced, vsed, and priviledged: and now, for the content of our countrey-men, Englished by Sr. W.B. Knight.

Jean de Meun seems to have delved into unorthodox territory driven by his mischievous and subversive character, but our next two authors were drawn into astrology and occultism out of a profound belief in their power.

Claude Dariot (1533-1594) was a French physician and astrologer who was sensible enough to also be a Calvinist rather than a Catholic since astrology was considered heretical by the Catholic Church. His key work, A briefe and most easie introduction to the astrologicall judgement of the stares, printed in London in 1598, was first published in Lyon in 1557 as Ad astrorum iudicia facilis introductio and in it Dariot blurs the lines between science and magic by discussing the effect the movements of the planets and stars have on some illnesses and asserting his belief in astrologically propitious days for preparing remedies and carrying out certain surgical procedures.

Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486?-1535) was secretary and counsellor to Charles V, Emperor of Germany. He was also a Catholic theologian, a royal physician, a philosopher and a soldier but he is defined by being the most important early modern writer on magic and the occult. He completed his most important work,De occulta philosophia, in 1510 and an enlarged version was published in Cologne in 1533. This is the work that earned him the title of “founder of occultism” and while he had a most eventful life travelling around Europe, being banished from Germany after a theological clash, and being imprisoned in France for his unwise remarks regarding the royal family he was never persecuted for his writings on magic, which in his later life he qualified as the product of misguided youthful curiosity.

Jean de Meun: Do you want to know the outcome of a trial or whether a besieged fortress will yield? Just roll the dice...

Jean de Meun: Do you want to know the outcome of a trial or whether a besieged fortress will yield? Just roll the dice…

Dariot: Should we operate today? The answer is in the stars...

Dariot: Should we operate today? The answer is in the stars…

Agrippa: A kind of magical geometry can be found in the human body.

Agrippa: A kind of magical geometry can be found in the human body.

Hits: 2339
Without Palmerston’s assistance, Naples would still be under the Bourbons, without Admiral Mundy I should not have been able to pass the Straits of Messina» – with these words, Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882), during his April 1864 visit to London, commended British support to the Italian national cause and the role unofficially played by the Royal Navy on the occasion of the Expedition of the Thousand. Our latest blog post by Italian Specialist Cataloguer Andrea Del Corno explores one of the most dramatic events of the Italian Risorgimento.

2014 marks the 150th anniversary of that visit and the enthusiastic reception the Italian General received during his three-week stay in England. Having left Malta on board the PS Ripon, an English paddle-steamer, Garibaldi landed at Southampton on 3rd April. He visited Tennyson on the Isle of Wight, then in London, he was guest of the Duke of Sutherland at Stafford House in St. James’s (we know to-day as Lancaster House – this is in walking distance of The London Library). On his arrival, on 11th April, having travelled by a train draped with the Italian tricolore flag, Garibaldi was greeted and cheered by a crowd so large that he required six hours to complete the short route from Vauxhall to the Mall. During his London sojourn Garibaldi – the warrior of Caprera, the liberal hero who had opposed Napoleon III, defeated the French Army and fought against the temporal power of the Pontiff – was introduced to Gladstone, Palmerston and Lord Russell. He met Florence Nightingale, the Archbishop of Canterbury and called on the Provost of Eton. At a private dinner in Teddington – attended by various socialist and radical foreign refugees – he shared his table with former companion and Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872). Socialist Henry Hyndam later observed: «a wave of Republicanism swept our country».

Mazzini had arrived in London in January 1837. To the Italian patriot, England offered an opportunity to leave behind a life spent in hiding, whilst still remaining actively involved in revolutionary activities. Although he died at Pisa in 1874, Mazzini, for most of his adult life, lived in London, moving from one cheap boarding house to another and secretly making plans for revolutionary attempts.

Mazzini’s association with Thomas Carlyle is well-documented. Only recently, however, have the Library’s Archives revealed that the Genoese was a member of the Library, which he joined through the Scottish historian’s good offices. The two men had been introduced in 1837 and, between 1839 and 1841, Mazzini became a frequent caller at 24 Cheyne Row in Chelsea, where the Carlyles lived, growing particularly closer to Jane. Mazzini most likely provided Carlyle with a list of books on Italian art, history and literature to be acquired by the newly established London Library. In a letter to the British diplomat William Dougal Christie, dated 5 February 1841, Carlyle wrote: «[h]ere is a kind of Italian list furnished by a very gifted native of that country, not entirely unacquainted with ours. It will require great sifting». The books selected came to represent the Library’s core holdings in the Italian language.

The depth of the Italian history collection and more explicitly its section on the Italian Risorgimento received praise indeed in a letter by the historian G.M. Trevelyan now preserved in the Library’s Archives. Among the holdings is a rare copy of Ricordi dei fratelli Bandiera e dei loro compagni di martirio in Cosenza, il 25 luglio 1844 [Memoires of the Bandiera Brothers and their companions of martyrdom in Cosenza, 25th July 1844] printed in Paris in 1844 and edited by Mazzini which includes the memoirs and correspondence of the two Bandiera Brothers, Attilio and Emilio, both officers in the Austrian Navy. The Bandiera Brothers were the key figures and leaders of an ill-fated expedition aimed at stirring up a revolt in Southern Italy. Pasted in the book is an autograph letter written by Mazzini and addressed to Carlyle – Mazzini’s minute handwriting is clearly recognisable. Poignantly, the Italian patriot dedicated the work to Jacopo Ruffini (1805-1833) one of his most valued companions. In 1833, Ruffini had taken his own life in prison – in the Palazzo Ducale at Genoa – to avoid betraying his fellow conspirators. The tragic death of Ruffini literally haunted Mazzini for the remainder of his life.

In London the failure of the Bandiera Brothers expedition had serious repercussions too. The British Government was accused of spying upon Mazzini and of having intercepted and opened his private correspondence. It followed a great scandal – the so-called Post Office letter opening scandal – which abated only when the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, offered a public apology to the Genoese exile. An indignant Carlyle wrote a robust letter of complaint to The Times in support of Mazzini. The British public was roused too. Ordinary people – for want of a better word – started posting letters with writing across the front: NOT TO BE GRAHAMED – in clear reference to the Home Secretary’s action – or sketching small padlocks and chains at the front of the envelopes.

Once more it was in London that Mazzini was responsible for an ambitious editorial project: the printing of a Divine Comedy with commentary by another celebrated exile who had preceded him: Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827). To Mazzini’s eyes Dante and Foscolo represented the two pre-eminent Italian poets, both political exiles and both precursors of the Italian nationhood idea. The edition was published with the financial support of Pietro Rolandi, owner of an Italian bookshop in Berners Street, London Soho. The preface had been carefully signed using only the rather discreet and unassuming nom de plume «An Italian». A copy of the second tome of this two volume work is available within the strong section in Italian literature dedicated to theSommo Poeta. Additionally, other books and printed materials in Italian were obtained through the Rolandi Libraria Italiana – which had become a circulating library, a gabinetto di lettura (inspired by the Gabinetto Vieusseux of Florence) and a rendez-vous point for Italian political émigrés – as it can be inferred from the Rolandi Foreign Bookseller trademark still visible in a few occurrences, usually to the verso of a book’s front cover. In his private correspondence, Carlyle refers to Rolandi several times and it is evident that he relied on the Italian bookseller to procure works hard to obtain elsewhere, even by the British Museum.

In his study of the 1849 Roman Republic G.M. Trevelyan wrote: «That there should ever have been a time when Mazzini ruled Rome and Garibaldi defended her walls, sound like a poet’s dream». The two Italian patriots met again in England in 1864 but despite keeping up a display of unity in public they were divided by deep disagreements, clinging on almost irreconcilable positions. For reasons which remain unclear, Garibaldi’s visit was cut short. Poor health – the general was still suffering from a wound received in the Aspromonte Mountains – and fatigue were blamed. If truth be told, Garibaldi’s presence in England had became a political embarrassment. Mazzini uncomplimentary compared him to Rossini’s Don Basilio, the character in the Barber of Seville, whom, at great efforts, is persuaded to be too unwell to remain on the scene.

An exhibition to mark the anniversary of Garibaldi’s visit to London was recently held at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry. On display were several books on loan from The London Library’s Italian Collections and a digital facsimile of Mazzini’s record taken from the Library’s Victorian membership ledger.

A forthcoming piece will explore and describe the riches of The London Library’s Nozze Collection. A Collection comprising over 2,500 pamphlets and ephemera printed on the occasion of weddings, a custom almost exclusively Italian.

A biography of Giuseppe Garibaldi (Shelfmark - Biog. Garibaldi G)

A biography of Giuseppe Garibaldi (Shelfmark – Biog. Garibaldi)

Illustrations from this piece from the Library Collections

Illustrations from this piece from the Library Collections


Portrait of General Giuseppe Garibaldi


“Roma Redenta” – A watchful Bersagliere (Italian soldier) looking over a “freed Rome”


Pietro Rolandi foreign book seller trademark


Hits: 2068

Become a member of The London Library

Members have access to over a million books and periodicals, a superb online offering and an unforgettable building in beautiful St. James's Square. 7,500 members, including some of the most familiar names in the literary world, find the Library’s resources invaluable. We would love you to join them...

Join Online

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for London Library updates, information on upcoming events, membership offers and more.