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Helen O’Neill’s journey into the Library’s archive continues. In this second instalment, Helen discovers the Victorian membership records of some leading writers and thinkers – members who reflect social and cultural themes of the era…

We started our archival journey last month with four 20th century membership records. Over the last couple of weeks I have been getting to grips with the Victorian membership records and so here are eight records which date from 1841 and 1875 which reference some of the major scientific, literary, social and political themes of the 19th century.

The early membership records are a simple numerical list of the names and addresses of subscribers as shown in the entries for Charles Darwin and William Makepeace Thackeray.

Occasionally the early records include additional information as in the 1844 entry for Henry James, theologian and father of the American novelist.

In the bottom left of the entry is the name of the Library’s instigating force Thomas Carlyle.  This practice of including the name of the person introducing, nominating or vouching for the applicant rapidly becomes a standard inclusion in the records as can be seen in the entry of Miss Lynn in 1857.

Suffrage and the position of women were hotly contested issues in the Victorian era and no-one contested them more vociferously in the mainstream press than Miss Lynn. She is a contradiction and a conundrum: a woman with a ground-breaking career as a salaried journalist she popularised debate about the changing role of women through her articles in the Saturday Review. Her “Girl of the Period”piece became a catchphrase which passed into common parlance, even shortened to G.O.P in the mainstream Press, but she was adamantly opposed to those she termed the “screeching sisterhood”.  In 1854 Dickens published her article “Rights and Wrongs of Women” inHousehold Words and in 1856 he purchased Gads Hill Place from her, realising a childhood aspiration.

A number of Dickens’ close friends appear in the early records including the painter Daniel Maclise; the theatre actor and manager W.C. Macready; and his confidant and biographer John Forster. Dickens himself appears on the Library Committee in 1847 alongside John Forster, who remains on the Committee into the 1870s.

In 1862 Darwin nominates George Drysdale, an early advocate of contraception and promoter of women doctors.  He also introduces his eldest son William who was the infant object of detailed observational study by Darwin which was referenced in his 1872 work The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

For good measure I have included the membership records of Alfred Russel Wallace because he is an interesting mix of social reformer, scientist and spiritualist; and Mrs Oliphant because she is introduced by the publisher John Blackwood – and the mix of publishers, editors, literary agents, writers, illustrators and reviewers in the records is of interest not least because this is the time of the ascendancy of the novel in the literary marketplace and the huge expansion of writing opportunities through the periodical press.

It is no surprise to find that the women’s rights campaigner, Helen Taylor (1831-1907) was introduced to the Library by her step-father John Stuart Mill. This record dates from 10 March 1873, a month before Mill died.

Mill credits both his wife Harriet and his step-daughter in hisAutobiography (1873) asking all who consider his work to see it as “the product not of one intellect and conscience but of three”. Helen Taylor had an active political life and edited all of Mill’s posthumous publications and Mill left almost half his estate on his death to women’s education.

Crowe had illustrated several of Thackeray’s novels before he accompanied him on his American lecture tour (1852-1853) and it is the work he produced at this time which depicted scenes of slave auctions which appeared in the Illustrated London News. Crowe is introduced to the Library by John Forster whose literary connections, longevity on the Library committee, and small stash of letters in the archive make him a person of particular interest in the Library’s early history.

I am currently capturing the information the membership records contain in electronic format so that we will be able to search, extrapolate and analyse the content they contain rigorously. I want to find out not merely who the members of the Library were, but when they joined, who introduced them, what occupation they held at the time.  I want to look at the literary, cultural and intellectual networks sitting beneath the entries using the people who nominate, propose or vouch for new members, and I want to map that network against the published work of members.

I have been struck, even in the sample of records I’ve examined so far, by the variety of occupations represented in the Victorian membership. In a single year the following occupations, among others, appear: academic, actor, advertising agent, army surgeon, authoress, barrister, civil engineer, governess, Head of a Ladies College, journalist, newspaper editor, MP, manufacturer, merchant, navy surgeon, periodical publisher, physician, spinster, stationer, student and Catholic, Wesleyan and Protestant clergy.

Capturing membership information electronically may allow us to look at the relationship between the Library and the literary life of the nation in greater detail, but it might also bring out into the light a unique and absorbing piece of social history.

Next time – Between 1857 and 1893 the Librarian, Robert Harrison scribbled snippets and anecdotes in a commonplace book of personal reminiscences. He described a particular member as “one of the most massive intellects of our times” and another as “morbidly sensitive about strangers noticing him in any way” To whom was he referring?

© Helen O’Neill

19th century ledgers containing the Library’s Victorian membership records.

18 years before the publication ofOrigin of Species, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) joins The London Library. He is the 593rd person to join in 1841.

London Library member W.M. Thackeray (1811-1863), contactable at the Reform Club in 1844.

Henry James (1811-1862) vouched for by Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

Proposed by Charles Dickens, the feisty and formidable journalist and novelist Miss Lynn (Mrs Eliza Lynn Linton after her marriage in 1858) joins the Library.

In 1863 Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) becomes a member. It was his independently deduced evolutionary findings which finally pushed Darwin into publication. Both presented findings in 1858 at the Linnean Society. By 1870 Wallace is on the Library Committee, alongside John Forster and G.H. Lewes.

Mrs Oliphant becomes a member in 1868, nominated by her publisher John Blackwood.

In 1875 the artist Eyre Crowe (1824-1910) is nominated by London Library Committee member John Forster (1812-1876). Eyre’s depictions of slavery in America were published in the Illustrated London News and displayed in exhibitions in the 1850s and 1860s.

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Posted by on in The London Library Archive

Helen O’Neill, Head of Reader Services, is about to spend a year examining the Library’s archive, including its remarkable membership records tracing 171 years in the literary life of the nation. Who and what will she find? She’s going to tell us on The London Library Blog.

In this first instalment, coinciding with the BBC’s adaptation of Parade’s End (screenplay written by our President, Tom Stoppard) we catch an archival glimpse of Ford Madox Ford and some of his illustrious London Library contemporaries.

At the end of the month I will be away from my post as Head of Reader Services for a year while I undertake a masters of research degree at UCL on the Library’s institutional archive.  Over the course of the year I will be sharing with you research findings which extend our understanding about the Library’s relationship to the literary life of the nation.  To get the ball rolling I am going to jump into the world ofParade’s End and show you in four archival documents why the archive so richly deserves focused research attention.  The joining forms of Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)T.S.  Eliot (1888-1965)Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) and Violet Hunt (1862-1942) are in turn arresting, illuminating and intensely moving, and for what are basic administrative records they are also credibly rich in detail.

So let’s do this in date order. All three men joined the Library in their thirties.  Ford, or more exactly F.M. Hueffer, is first through the door in 1907 and the date I think is significant.  The following year he foundedThe English Review which ushered in the writers that would dominate modern 20th century literature, and number 84 Holland Park became open house to an extraordinary number of them. The date on the document allows us to pinpoint exactly where Ford is in his literary, as well as his personal life.  He published three books in 1907, includingThe Spirit of the People: An Analysis of the English Mind, all still available on the Library’s shelves.

The 30 year old Eliot is up next. He joins in 1918, a year afterPrufrock; four before The Waste Land. Eliot provided a list of sources forThe Waste Land in The Criterion and we are currently investigating how many of them were available on the Library’s shelves in 1918. This document captures Eliot still at Lloyd’s bank before his move to Faber & Faber.

In the same year as The Waste Land appeared in The Criterion (1922) Siegfried Sassoon arrived in the Issue Hall, and it is difficult not to be moved by his joining form. The word “none” never fails to register. A single word that could signify defiance, honesty or a complete shift in meaning attached to notions of “position” and “occupation” brought about by the First World War.  It is such a powerful word in fact, that it is possible to miss the second signature on the form.  It was E.M. Forster who introduced Sassoon to the Library.

If you have been captivated by Sylvia Tietjens and the complex sexual politics at play in Ford’s Parade’s End, you’ll understand why the joining form of the writer, literary hostess and socialite Violet Hunt is so meaningful in this thematic archival slice. In the 1890’s Violet was what was referred to as a “New Woman” or as D.H. Lawrence put it, in admiration, “a real assassin”.   A successful novelist in her own right, Violet founded the Women Writers’ Suffrage League; was in at the outset of The English Review (she appeared in its first issue); and embarked on a long, complicated, messy relationship with Ford just after The Review set out its stall. It was a relationship that had enormous repercussions for them both.  Violet’s identity as “Mrs F. Madox Hueffer” (still evident in the Library’s printed catalogue from 1920 onwards), had no legal basis and was challenged successfully and publicly through the courts by Hueffer’s first (and very un-divorced) wife Elsie. Just look at Hunt’s use of the double apostrophe on her form in 1916.  A story entire, told in punctuation marks.

The Library’s remarkably intact membership records, which date from 1841, are not only a record of the writers and thinkers who have used, enriched and shaped the Library, they are documents which reflect the nation’s literary heritage.  Showing the intersection of world events and social change with the personal biographies and intellectual endeavour of some of the most significant (and some of the most forgotten) writers in the English language, they reveal a host of literary and intellectual connections in the process. When the Library’s archival material is viewed within the wider Library collections things really start to spark and fly. The English Review and The Criterion, for instance, grace the periodical shelves in the Basement, and as the Library has never weeded or judged its collections on the grounds of popularity, fashion or taste, the works of Ford, Eliot, Sassoon and Hunt are to be found on the Library’s shelves, amassed from the point of publication. The subtitle of Violet’s novel Of Human Interest – A Study in Incompatibilities (1899) could be strikingly good shorthand for the push and pull of Christopher and Sylvia’s relationship in Parade’s End.

What is happening on Friday evenings at 9pm on BBC2 demonstrates a very simple literary truth and it is this: good books never become obsolete, they simply bide their time and wait for their moment.  That the baton of this particular literary relay race was picked up and taken across the primetime finishing line by the Library’s current President, 105 years after Ford first crossed the threshold, is particularly poignant when you look at the library through a long-angled lens; and archival documents have provided the key to unlocking that story.

Before the last installment of Parade’s End, you might like to read the poems To Any Dead Officer by Siegfried Sassoon, and Antwerp by Ford Madox Ford.

© Helen O’Neill

The joining form of FM Hueffer – better known to us as Ford Madox Ford.

When TS Eliot joined The London Library in 1918 he was still working for Lloyd’s Bank.

Siegfried Sassoon was introduced to the Library by EM Forster, whose signature appears here on Sassoon’s joining form.

“Violet Hunt”, as she styled herself on this form, joined The London Library in 1916.

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Posted by on in Bibles

The London Library’s vast collection of Russian material covers a wide range of printed works. The Russian element of the collections was first introduced by Robert Harrison, Librarian from 1857 to 1893. His successor, Sir Charles Hagberg Wright (Librarian from 1894 to 1940) had an even stronger interest in Russia, its culture, literature and currents affairs, having received part of his education in that country and being personally acquainted with Gorky and Tolstoy among others.

Our present-day Russian cataloguing and acquisitions specialist, Anna Vlasova, tells the story of one particularly fascinating treasure, The Ostrog Bible…

The London Library houses an extensive collection of Russian material, among which some gems of the early Slavonic printing can be found. Certainly the most treasured one is the first printed edition of the entire Bible in Old Church Slavonic. It was printed by the pioneer of Russian printing Ivan Fedorov in Ostroh (modern territory of Ukraine) in 1581 and is thus known as the Ostrog Bible. This monumental publication lavishly decorated with woodcut panels and initials that were cut by Fedorov himself presents a marvellous example of the 16th century Cyrillic type. The Ostrog Bible was the first Bible printed in Cyrillic, and it became a model for printing later Russian editions of the Bible.

The story behind the printing of the Ostrog Bible is fascinating and shows how the printing press could help advance one’s interests. From the outset, the printing of the first Bible in Old Church Slavonic was not a commercial endeavour, but rather a political move by Prince Constantine of Ostrog. Constantine was an ardent supporter, promoter and protector of the Eastern Orthodox Church, in spite of his domains being a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth where Catholicism was dominant. To help him fight for his cause the prince decided to establish a printing press in Ostrog with the intention to publish the first complete Bible in Old Church Slavonic.

The greatest challenge of printing the biggest and the most authoritative book in the Christian world was to obtain the correct text of the Scriptures, therefore the hunt for manuscripts began much earlier than the actual press was established. Handwritten notes by a previous owner found pasted in the London Library copy of the Ostrog Bible shed some light on Constantine’s efforts to procure accurate manuscripts. ‘In order to obtain a correct text, The Duke [sic] assiduously collected all the M.SS. he could find’, read the notes, ‘but … he was not able to procure any codex containing the whole of the Scriptures in the Slavonic language.’ Luckily, in 1572 Constantine received a manuscript of the full Bible (the so-called Gennady’s Bible) in Old Church Slavonic from the Tsar Ivan IV (also known as Ivan the Terrible). However, many discrepancies and faults were detected by the collation, and therefore Constantine continued to gather and collate as many other manuscripts as he could lay his hands on. Constantine ‘wrote letters, and sent messengers to many distant parts, to Italy, The Islands of the Archipelago, to many Greek, Serbian, and Bulgarian monasteries, and even to the head of the Oriental Church, earnestly requesting that persons might be sent him who were skilled in the Greek and Slavonic languages, and that they might bring with them corrected and authenticated copies of the Sacred Text’. As we read further in the notes: ‘His application was not without success. Both labourers and M.SS. were forwarded to Ostrog, and by mutual consultation and aid, they prepared, in the course of some years, a copy of the whole Bible for the press’.

Two printing dates, 1580 and 1581, are found in the colophons of the surviving copies, which has caused some confusion as to the number of editions of the Ostrog Bible. However, it is now considered that there is only one edition, as the date on the title page is invariably 1581. As the collation and editing of the procured manuscripts took time, the printing of the Bible was delayed, and thus was finished in 1581, almost a year later than expected. To fill in the downtime of the printing press, parts of the Bible that didn’t need corrections, namely the Psalms and the New Testament, were printed separately in 1580.

At great expense and despite the difficulties and delays, Constantine succeeded in publishing the first Bible in Old Church Slavonic language, which became the authorised version of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Constantine immortalised his patronage in the form of his coat of arms printed at the back of the title page and in the introductory text where he declares that he ‘was made worthy to lay the foundation and to see the accomplishment of this most venerable, and superior to every thing work ’. Acting as a defender of the Eastern Orthodox faith Constantine distributed copies of the Bible in Bulgria, Serbia, Montenegro and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He also sent a number of copies to Ivan IV, who was so impressed by the Bible that he offered a copy to the English ambassador Jerome Horsey (c. 1550 – 1626). Horsey left Russia in 1591 and that was probably when the first copy of the Ostrog Bible travelled to the British soil. Horsey’s copy of the Ostrog Bible is now at the British Library.

Almost a hundred years after its printing, the Ostrog Bible remained the only Bible printed in Cyrillic characters, and only in 1663 a reprint, revised by Arsenios the Greek and Zakharii Afanasev, was published in Moscow. The London Library copy of the Moscow Bible, like the Ostrog Bible, came to us from the Allan Library. Around 350 copies of the Ostrog Bible are still in existence today, 13 of which are found in British institutions. It is known that Fedorov took 400 copies of the Bible with him when he left Ostrog, after falling out with the prince. The number of surviving copies suggests that the edition was quite substantial for the time, by some estimates of 1000 to 1500 copies.

The earliest ownership mark found on the London Library copy of the Ostrog Bible is a bookplate of Franz Gregor, Graf von Giannini (1688-1758), canon of Olomouc. As Constantine distributed the Bible all over Eastern and Southern Europe, it is not surprising to learn that it once was on the territory of Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic, and in the possession of a priest. Later the Ostrog Bible came in the collection of Thomas Robinson Allan (1799-1886) who formed a library to provide a resource for Wesleyan Methodist ministers. Allan travelled widely and was always on the lookout for rare and valuable books, so it is possible that he acquired his copy of the Ostrog Bible outside Britain. Finally, the Allan Library was acquired by the London Library in 1921 and Allan’s copy of the Ostrog Bible has been residing here ever since.

Anna Vlasova, Aug 2012

Woodcut decorations

Bookplate of Franz Gregor Graf von Giannini

First page of the Bible

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Posted by on in Olympics

In celebration of the Olympics our Head of Bibliographic Services, Dunia explores the Library’s Sports section, including the first book ever published on the modern games! The perfect way to celebrate Team GB’s first Gold medal win!

Members of the Library who want to browse the sports section need to climb up to the 6th floor of the back stacks. Upon arrival the intrepid reader will face dark metal shelves that in the gloom appear to float between aisles of green glass lit from below.  A quick scan of the stack board signs will show that S. Sports &c. (the ‘&c.’ in this case stands for pastimes) naturally lies between S. Spies &c. and S. Stamps.  Where else?! After musing on the possible connections between secret agents, philately and international sporting events he or she can finally take a closer a look at what S. Sports &c. has to offer.

Almost 400 books occupying thirteen and a half shelves (plus a few more volumes in the quarto sequence, which is one floor below) will satisfy the reader’s curiosity on everything from playground games to kite flying, darts, surfing, Scrabble, Olympic Games, snooker, croquet, backgammon, table tennis and even rat-catching! The reader may well wonder at the person who decided to shelve the Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-catcher, after 25 Years’ Experience under sports and pastimes. In fact, the book’s presence in this section illustrates the challenges London Library cataloguers face every day when trying to classify a book on a subject for which Sir Charles Hagberg Wright, Librarian from 1893 to 1940 and the genius behind the Library’s unique scheme,  did not create a shelfmark!

Oddities aside this section is typically comprehensive, in true London Library fashion, in its treatment of the subject of sports and pastimes.  The earliest book one can borrow from these shelves is a 1730 edition of Académie Universelle des Jeux, a compendium of instructions on all the fashionable games played at the court of Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour while one of the most recent ones is the Cambridge Companion to Baseball.

Some members may be surprised by the absence of books on cricket, particularly after seeing at least three other books on baseball in this section. This is far from being an unforgivable oversight, quite the opposite.  As many members would agree, cricket is far too important to sit among other works in S. Sports &c and as such it has a section of its very own, S. Cricket, boasting some 260 books.

Going back to S. Sport &c. we can see that while the books shelved here were published over 300 years the period they cover is much, much broader. There are books on gladiatorial combats in ancient Rome, on sports and games in ancient Egypt, on Aztec competitions, and on chariot racing in the Byzantine Empire alongside works on French games from the 16th to the 18th centuries, on the ‘accomplishments and pastimes of the English gentleman’ from 1580 to 1630, on ‘gamesters of the Restoration’, on sport in Georgian England and on the Edwardians at play. The evolution of the subject is brought up-to-date with books on sport in the USSR and other countries behind the Iron Curtain as well as a book on the role of commercial giants like Adidas and Puma in ‘the making of modern sport’.

The geographical coverage of the section is no less impressive: in addition to books with a global coverage of the subject there are monographs on the Japanese game of “Go” and on the sports and games of the inhabitants of Abyssinia, Korea, New Zealand,  Scandinavia, South Africa, the Scottish Highlands, South Carolina, Crimea and the Caucasus.

As well as covering every period and location the books in our collection deal with every possible aspect of the subject.  There are sports histories as well as many narratives describing the unusual games observed by travellers journeying through foreign lands but there are studies dealing with the psychological, social, political and even erotic aspects of sports and pastimes.

The social historian will also find plenty of source material here with books on street games and pub games on the one hand; titles such as The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sport,  Sport at Oxford, Cambridge and the Great Public Schools on the other and a work entitled Sport and the English Middle Classes, 1870-1914 falling somewhere in between.

Of course, this is not all that the Library has to offer on the subject of sports and pastimes. We have already seen that books on cricket merit a shelfmark of their own and the same applies to books on archery, athletics, ballooning, billiards, boxing, canoeing, chess, cycling, fencing (under S. Duelling &c.), fishing, football, gaming, golf, hockey, hunting, mountaineering, polo, racing, riding, rowing, shooting, skating & skiing, swimming, tennis, wrestling, yachting!

Still, if we want to find our books on the Olympics we need to return once more to S. Sports &c. This is where we’ll find both official reports of the modern games as well as studies on their political significance, particularly when it comes to Hitler’s manipulation of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Other books deal with the horrific events that took place in Munich in 1972 and the tension between the Communist and Olympic ideals of Beijing 2008.

Perhaps the most fascinating of all is the first book ever published on the modern games: The Olympic Games, B.C. 776-A.D. 1896. The work in two volumes is in itself a perfect example of international cooperation. With parallel text in German and English the book was co-published in Athens, Leipzig and London over 1896 and 1897 to coincide with the first modern Olympic Games. The first volume is a history of the games in ancient times written by Spyridōn Paulou Lampros and Nikolaos Politēs with the second volume being an account by Pierre de Coubertin and Timoleon Philemon of the 1896 games celebrated in Athens.  A view of the host city, including the ‘stadion’ purposely rebuilt over the ruins of the ancient arena decorates the cover and inside there are many portraits of victorious athletes, such as Aristides Constantinidhis, winner of the cycling race from Athens to Marathon and back. The image shows him balancing on his bike and sporting the obligatory handlebar moustache.  The facing page is taken up by a panoramic view of the ‘stadion’ filled with spectators cheering the triumphal arrival of Marathon runner Spyridon (“Spyros”) Louis, flanked by Princes Constantine and George, who overcome by joy rushed onto the track to join the him for the last few metres. The illustration captures the moment a Greek national hero was born. Because this quite a rare work (only three others are listed on Copac at the time of writing) it now lives in one of the Library’s safes but can still be consulted under supervision.

A commemorative volume that can be borrowed is the Olympic Games London, 1948 :  Official Souvenir. This was London’s second turn in hosting the games and once again there was little time for making the necessary preparations. The 1908 Games had been allocated to Rome but the plans changed at the last minute leaving London only two years to get ready for the friendly invasion. When preparing for 1948, things again had to be done in a hurry: on page 19 the booklet explains the absence of a great, specially built arena in London as ‘such a building would take many years’ planning and building and this country was, until 1945, otherwise occupied.’  The booklet, which opens with an essay on the ancient games, followed by brief histories of previous modern games includes a colour map of London showing which events will take place where.  Despite being known as the ‘Austerity Games’ the colourful booklet oozes post-war optimism and a desire to let bygones be bygones: the description of the 1936 Berlin Olympics is full of gallant praise for the organisers of the German Games.  Each of the events or sports included in the 1948 Games is then explained and blank tables have been printed where the owner of the booklet can write the names and scores of winning competitors. A great portion of the little volume is made up of adverts for all kinds of products, from support underwear to cigarettes, brandy, fountain pens and luxury cruises.

Near the end of the souvenir there is an explanation of what the closing ceremony will be like. It describes how the Olympic Banner will be lowered and the flame extinguished. This is the final line:

Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros - Head of Bibliographic Services

The Olympic Games, B.C. 776-A.D. 1896

Cover – The Olympic Games, B.C. 776-A.D. 1896

Olympic Games London, 1948

“That the flag may fly and the flame may burn at many Olympic Games in future must surely be the wish of the peace-loving world.”

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Posted by on in Guest Blogger

Former London Library member Richard Conyngham on seeking refuge from cocker spaniels and finding his own special literary sanctuary at The London Library…

The following article was published in the Summer issue of Slightly Foxed:  The Real Reader’s Quarterly - 96 pages of lively personal recommendations for books of lasting interest. It’s an eclectic mix, covering all the main categories of fiction and non-fiction, and contributors are an eclectic bunch too! Visit the Slightly Foxed website for a trial issue.

Who are they, I wonder, these elderly gentlemen fast asleep in the red leather armchairs? Retired brigadiers whiling away their autumn years in a room full of books, or eminent scholars dreaming of literary pursuits? That young woman with the windswept hair, foraging in Fiction S–Z, is she a lost and lonely bibliophile or the next Rebecca West? And how can that dandyish fellow in the crimson sports jacket afford to scoff and snort through the periodicals all day?

When the editors of Slightly Foxed first suggested I take my editorial work to the London Library, I confess I knew very little about the place. From afar, it seemed a refuge for posh authors and a pitstop for peersen route to their clubs, not a place for an unkempt youth like me. And yet, at the Slightly Foxed office, the situation was becoming urgent. With the cocker spaniels growing increasingly distracting and the phones always ringing, how was the editorial assistant ever to do his work? The London Library was the obvious solution, but then there was the issue of the membership fee.

In the end, it was a customer at the Slightly Foxed bookshop on Gloucester Road who had the final word. Overhearing my doubts, he leant across a shelf of battered green Penguins and boomed: ‘My boy, at £1.20 a day, it’s a steal. You won’t look back.’ And so it was that two weeks later, on a frosty January morning, I set out for 14 St James’s Square with a list of titles to take out on loan, a catalogue to write, and a newly acquired membership card to guard with my life.

Having twice missed its entrance, I eventually found the Library tucked away in the west corner of the square, between the Cypriot Embassy and the East India Club. Abandoning my coat and umbrella in the Issue Hall, I bounded up the red-carpeted staircase, past the Reading Room and the portraits of the Library’s former presidents, among them Tennyson, Eliot and Leslie Stephen, to the lowest floor of the Literature stacks. It was barely 10 o’clock but the narrow, book-lined passages, with their low ceilings and softly puttering fluorescent lights, gave the illusion of night. Squinting at the jacketless spines around me, I saw that I’d arrived at French fiction – Coulevain to Dumas. Some of the volumes were crisp, sturdy, yet-to-be-taken-out; others carried the marks of time: scuffed edges on brittle, ornate bindings. Wandering further, fishing out books at random, I paused in astonishment at those that were centuries older than the Library itself.

After a few minutes I realized there were two further floors above me, both partially visible through the iron-grille ceilings. With this sudden, dreamlike shift in perspective, the stacks seemed to become extended versions of themselves – towers of books rising up over three storeys. For a moment, it was as though I’d become weightless, suspended, enveloped in literature. Breathing in the scents of dust and old leather, and bewitched by the dim light and the faded russet bindings, I had fallen under the Library’s spell. Much later I discovered that, from the same vantage point, Raymond Mortimer had remarked: ‘I feel inside the brain of mankind.’ That morning I experienced a similar epiphany. Across the chasm of each passageway, it was as if the volumes were communicating silently, with me and one another.

With fifteen miles of books, a history spanning 171 years, and a seemingly endless list of distinguished past and present members, the London Library has, unsurprisingly, developed a folklore of its own. Everywhere you look you encounter the shades of the great. In idle moments I’ve watched Edith Sitwell stare down her nose at the staff behind the Issue Desk. On the carpeted stairway, I’ve passed Eliot and Forster. I’ve held the door to the Gents’ for Dickens. In the Reading Room, I’ve watched a tiptoeing librarian ask the Woolfs to lower their voices. And while researching subjects for the Slightly Foxed catalogue, I’ve even rubbed shoulders with Vita Sackville-West in Topography and Darwin in Science & Miscellaneous.

Since 1841, when Goethe’s Theory of Colours became the first of its books to be borrowed, the Library has been a remarkably generous lender. Even some of its rarest antiquarian volumes can be taken home, and ‘country members’ who live out of town can borrow and return theirs by post. One can only begin to imagine the unlikely corners of the world these books have visited – colonial forts, alpine cabins, farmhouses in the Outback, trading posts on the veld – and that’s before considering the volumes whose globe-trottings preceded their acquisition, such as a collection of medical essays that, in 1790, travelled all the way to Pitcairn on HMS Bounty.

Yet with such literary generosity, of course, there come risks. During the Great War, for example, books were routinely dispatched from St James’s Square to members at the Front. Most were returned in fine condition, but among those lost forever was one struck by a shell, together with its borrower, the poet and critic T. E. Hulme, in a trench in West Flanders. Other casualties include a selection of the Library’s Conrad and Conan Doyle novels that went down with Kitchener on HMS Hampshire and a copy of Mein Kampf flung into the Atlantic by an outraged reader.

The most exceptional provenance, however, must go to G. Fraser Melbourn’s The Planter’s Manual: An English, Dutch, Malay and KehChinese Vocabulary (1894): it sank with SS Halcyon off Folkestone Pier in 1916, was rescued from the depths of the Channel six months later, watermarked but intact, and donated to the London Library. The collection is indeed a wonder, but no more so than the daily stream of readers for whom 14 St James’s Square is a second home. There are some I admire, like the toiling men and women, all curiously alike in their overcoats and sensible shoes, who arrive within a minute of opening time and leave as the doors are being locked for the night. Some I loathe, like the muttering readers, the heavy breathers and the emphatic, two-fingered typists. And some I even recognize – the blonde film star whose presence draws the attention of every youth in the room, and the portly actor, familiar to me from an evening at the Cottesloe, who eyes me through a chink in his armful of books.

Initially, there were members who frustrated me with their seemingly aimless wanderings. But, over time, I grew to appreciate a rare state, exemplified by these blithe spirits, which the Library’s former president Lord Annan described as ‘creative laziness’: that is, ‘reading the books one ought not to be reading, and becoming so absorbed in them and following the trails along which they lead you, so that at the end of the day you still have most of the reading to do that you had before that morning’. This tradition, in itself a tribute to the joys of reading, is alive and well at 14 St James’s Square. And, whether they know it or not, it is the likes of the elderly gentlemen dreaming in the red leather armchairs, the young Rebecca West foraging in Fiction S–Z, and the dandyish fellow scoffing over the periodicals, who are among its custodians.

Now that my year as a member has come to an end, I salute this extraordinary cast of characters and the enchanted labyrinth they inhabit. In any library, as in any book, there are many trails: long may they be followed.

© Richard Conyngham 2012

RICHARD CONYNGHAM is about to cycle from Mexico to Patagonia on a shoestring. In his pannier bags he’ll be carrying a Spanish phrasebook, an abridged Lonely Planet, and a handful of battered Penguins.

From Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly issue 34, Summer 2012 – www.foxedquarterly.com

Illustration by www.the-pen-and-ink.co.uk

Illustration by Quentin Blake

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Posted by on in Diamond Jubilee

British heroism and humour in The London Library’s Diamond Jubilee gift

We’ve chosen an original and suitably bookish gift for our Patron, Her Majesty the Queen, in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.

In addition to being the year of the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, 2012 marks the centenary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s team from the British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition reaching the South Pole. While the outcome of Scott’s expedition was ultimately tragic, the story of his endeavour resonates still as an exemplar of British vision, courage and heroism.

A little-known aspect of the Scott polar story is that he and his men produced a magazine, the South Polar Times, to entertain themselves through the Antarctic winter, until warmer weather made further exploration possible. Typed and illustrated with paintings, sketches and photographs, just one copy of each issue was produced before being passed from hand to hand and read aloud. With content ranging from weather reports to cartoons and songs, the South Polar Times gives an extraordinarily moving sense of the community created among expedition members during these dark winter months.

The Library has chosen to present to Her Majesty a copy of The Folio Society’s facsimile edition of the South Polar Times: a Diamond Jubilee gift encapsulating British patriotism, heritage and character, and the importance of the year 2012. Limited to 1,000 copies, this first ever complete facsimile edition adheres to the handmade nature of the originals, with each South Polar Times issue bound separately. The volumes will be presented to Her Majesty with a specially designed London Library book plate.

We are very grateful to The Folio Society for helping to arrange this special gift. If you’d like to read more about the South Polar Times please visit The Folio Society’s website.



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Posted by on in Angels


Our Head of Bibliographic Services, Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros, explores the fascinating history of the book Angelographia – one of the Library’s many treasures.

Angelographia sive Pneumata Leityrgika Pneumatologia, or, A Discourse of Angels, their Nature and Office or Ministry, published in London in 1701, was according to Rodney M. Baine “the last thorough treatise [on angels] published in England in the tradition of the previous century”[1]. Baines is referring to the growing scepticism, where angels are concerned, found in 17th and early 18th century England and referred to by the book’s editor, George Hamond, who blames it partly on the ‘irreligiousness of materialists.’

The obscure minister Richard Saunders, author of Angelographia, was apparently the last author willing to proclaim his belief in the existence of angels and show “what excellent Creatures they are …”, albeit anonymously.  The book, published nine years after Saunders’ death, appears at first glance to have been written by someone who had intimate, first-hand knowledge of God’s messengers. In fact, Saunders doesn’t claim to have had any personal encounters and cites the Scriptures as his only source. Furthermore, he criticises “the Presumption of the Schoolmen and Papists … who undertake to give the World so particular account of this [the order of angels], as if they had lived among them, and seen their Manners and Government.”

Saunders begins his book by discussing the various appellations given to angels, such as Messengers, Elohim, Morning Stars, Seraphim, Cherubim, Watchers, Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers, Intelligences, Abstract and Separate Forms, Dæmons, and Genii and explains how the names “express somewhat of their nature and properties”.  He also writes that there are three kinds of spirit: intellectual, sensitive and vegetative and he states that God and His creations, that is, angels and ‘humane souls’ all belong to the first category. He then goes on to ponder more practical matters, such as whether angels are incorporeal or appear in physical form, the date of their creation, and the extent of their powers. Saunders claims that they cannot work miracles themselves even though they are enormously agile and as swift as the winds, which is why, the author explains, they are often represented with wings. However, the author does list the sorts of missions angels are sent to perform, from making men prosperous, to warning them of danger and even discovering and restraining enemies, providing comfort and easing the pains of death.  Wanting to avoid popish presumption Saunders does not offer any information on angelic hierarchy but when it comes to estimating the number of angels in existence he writes that ‘there are very great Multitudes of them. In all likelihood, as there is a World of Men, so there is a World of Spirits, and they inhabit the Regions above us’. As to the name of their ‘Habitation’, the author tells us that it is the ‘Empereal Heaven or the Heaven of the Blessed’.

Saunders is in awe of these instruments of God but to him their most important quality is their ‘great love to Mankind’ and he urges men to return that love and not offend these benevolent spirits. His attitude is clearly at odds with that of other Protestant theologians busy attacking the Catholic scholars who wrote on angelology for spending time on ‘nice and idle’ questions. Thomas Aquinas was particularly ridiculed with the question “How many angels can sit on the head of a pin?” after he wondered whether several angels could be in the same place. Surprisingly, given the unpopularity of the subject at the time the book appears to have been something of a success. Quite a few copies have survived and The London Library volume has had at least three famous former owners, two of which who have left their bookplates pasted on the volume’s endpapers.

The first was Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847), hymn writer and author of ‘Praise, my soul, the king of heaven’ and ‘Abide with me’. Lyte suffered from asthma and his delicate health prevented him from having a stable and profitable career in the Church.  He spent much of his life moving from one curacy to another and in his later life he went abroad for long periods of time for the sake of his health. He died at the age of fifty while he was staying in Nice and the following year his extensive library was sold in London.

The man who bought Lyte’s copy of Angelographia was none other than Richard Monckton-Milnes, first Baron Houghton (1809-1885), author and politician and President of the London Library after Thomas Carlyle’s death in 1881. ‘Dickie Milnes’ collected books on many subjects, including theological curiosities and he must have been quite pleased to find Saunders’ treatise on sale among Lyte’s books complete with Lyte’s bookplate depicting a coat of arms with four swans (representing music and poetry).

When Monckton-Milnes died the book passed into the possession of his son, Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes, marquess of Crewe (1858-1945). A poor orator, described as being ‘slow of thought and slower of speech’, Crewe allegedly caused one of his listeners to lose her sanity. He preferred reading to public speaking and he certainly had plenty of to choose from among the many books he inherited from his father, even after he disposed of his progenitor’s erotica collection. It is Crewe’s elaborate armorial bookplate that we find on the endpaper facing Lyte’s much plainer ‘ex libris’. Crewe was a reliable public administrator but had an intense dislike of financial matters. This, coupled with extravagant behaviour saw his inherited fortune greatly diminished by the time he died, which may explain why the book did not remain in his family’s possession.

A pencil inscription above Crewe’s bookplate shows us that the book was owned by Maggs at some point and a stamp on the verso of the title page represents the final chapter in the book’s history when it is accessioned by the London Library on 12 March 2002.

To the sceptics who may wonder why apparitions are so rare in modern times Saunders explains that these are no longer as necessary as they once were when the Church was in its infancy and the Scripture was not yet written so that people needed constant ‘sensible entercourse [sic]’ with angels in order to believe in God, whereas now we only need ‘insensible communion’ with them, often in the form of dreams. Saunders finishes his book by exhorting readers to imitate the example given by angels to live a better life ‘in humility, patience and long suffering, in charity, in integrity, universality, punctualness of obedience, in zeal and diligence and in constancy and unwearidness’.  This last quality would seem the hardest to attain, particularly for those working long hours and travelling great distances every day to earn a living. Still, as Saunders says: “If we be weary in our bodies, yet we should not in our Spirits. Some services will unavoidably tire the body, but such weariness is none of our Sin, if our Spirits be not tired, but we continue patient in well-doing”

[1] Baine, Rodney M. Defoe and the Angels. Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 9., No. 3 (Autumn 1967), pp. 345-369

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Posted by on in Hay Festival

For the third year running, we’re delighted to be partnering with the Hay Festival, where we now host our annual lecture.  With a stand at the festival for the full 10-day run, it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet festival-goers and take part in the celebration of ideas and imagination that is Hay.

This year, to mark the 25 year anniversary of the festival, a panel of writers and thinkers who have taken part in the festival over the years have devised a list of 25 questions for audiences to answer, asking us all to consider ‘the way we live now’.

Inspired, as ever, by The London Library collections, we have selected books that may help shape a response to the thought-provoking questions asked. We encourage you to join in and put forward your ideas and opinions. You can register on the Hay Festival website and respond to the questions online, as well as read hand-picked answers from contributors. The questionnaire will be open all year, at festivals across the world.

From smells and seasons to economics, equality and happiness – share your thoughts and read and consider the thoughts of others… The project offers a fascinating insight into the perspectives of a truly global audience.

the way we live now  #twwln


1. Why do we read novels?

2. 25 years ago, the whole world lived in fear of an aids pandemic, the Berlin wall divided east and Western Europe, China and Latin America were considered part of the developing world and less than 1% of the world’s population used mobile phones or computers. What changes will we see to the way we live now in 25 years time?

3. What was the last thing you made with your hands?

4. Which smell makes you happiest?

5. Do you think we are reaching a point at which technological ‘progress’ kills the spirit and what we are or will it liberate us all?

6. Which freedoms are you prepared to trade for greater security?

7. How can we see the ratio of women to men reach equality in every walk of life, from birth to death, in education, work and play?

8. What would you do if you knew you would never be caught?

9. What piece of writing has most changed your heart and mind? Phrase, lyric, letter, book, poem, inscription.

10. Would you like the United States of America to a) grow stronger? b) stay more or less the same? c) grow weaker? Why?

11. 25 years from now climate change will have created over 100 million refugees. Where should they go?

12. Are you happy? If yes, why? If not, is there something you can do about it?

13. How will the world benefit from a realignment of economic superpower in the 21st century?

14. Are religion and democracy incompatible?

15. Half the world’s languages are so seriously endangered that they are likely to die out during the course of this century. Does it matter?

Ancient Welsh Poetry: Specimens of the Poetry of the Ancient Welsh Bards (1862)

16. What determines what food you buy?

17. Will genetically modified crops and lab meat save the world from famine?

18. What can the country and the city learn from each other?

19. If you became the leader of your country what would you fix first?

20. Which season matters most to you and why?

21. Mental health problems afflict 25% of us every year. Do we need to treat the perception of mental illness in the sufferer or in society?

22. Is it possible to truly care about events that will happen after the death of one’s great grandchildren?

23. Teach us something important that you know.

24. Which living leaders, writers, scientists, and artists, are opening the doors of the future for humankind?

25. We’re building a library of literature, music and cinema. Which one book, film and album would you contribute to it?

Histoire de la Ceramique by Ed Garnier

From S. Perfume - Rose Recipes by Eleanour Sinclair Rohde (1939)

The Book of Perfumes by Eugene Rimmel (1867)

The Library's S. Women collections

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Posted by on in Acquisitions

Our busy Acquisitions Assistant, Rhiannon highlights some new books on sport and the city of London arriving on The London Library shelves this month, just in time for the Olympic celebrations…

There has been a huge amount of book ordering recently, including 225 new English titles on order this week alone! I suspect that I may well be able to build a small fort with all of the books that I am expecting to arrive next week. The life of an Acquisitions Assistant is never dull, or quiet!

There are now fewer than 100 days until the start of the London 2012 Olympics, so I have been keeping an eye out for sporting and London based books in particular, as well as the usual smattering of more bizarre titles.
Recent sporting titles entering the library include:

  • “Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat: the science behind drugs in sport” Cooper, Chris (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • “CMJ: a cricketing life” Martin-Jenkins, Christopher (Simon & Schuster, 2012)
  • “The Palgrave handbook of Olympic Studies” Lenskyj, Helen Jefferson – editor (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • “Sport under Communism: behind the East German ‘miracle’” Grix, Mike – editor (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • “Five ring circus: myths and realities of the Olympic Games” Shaw, Christopher A. (New Society Publishers, 2007)

To combine with the sporting books, I have also been keeping an eye out for London titles. These are:

  • “London: a history in verse” Ford, Mark – editor (Harvard University Press, 2012) – this is on order, though is not due to be published until June
  • “Lusting for London: Australian expatriate writers at the hub of Empire, 1870-1950” Morton, Peter (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) – this is currently on order
  • “Underground, Overground: a passenger’s history of the tube” Martin, Andrew (Profile, 2012) – this is on order, though not due to be published until May
  • “Royal River: power, pageantry and the Thames” Starkey, David (Scala, 2012)
  • “The London Square: gardens in the midst of town” Longstaffe-Gowan, David (Yale University Press, 2012)
  • “Edwardian London through Japanese eyes: the art and writings of Yoshio Markino, 1897-1915” Rodner, William (Brill, 2011) – this is currently on order.

The bizarre and amusing titles that I have spotted this month are:

  • “Bastards: politics, family, and law in Early Modern France” Gerber, Matthew (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • “The Ashgate research companion to monsters and the monstrous” Mittman, Asa Simon – editor (Ashgate, 2012)
  • “Shame and honor: a vulgar history of the order of the garter” Trigg, Stephanie (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012)
  • “Manure matters: historical, archaeological and ethnographic perspectives” Jones, Richard – editor (Ashgate, 2012) – this is currently on order
  • “Testicles: balls in cooking and culture” Blandie, Vie (Prospect Books, 2011) – This arrived this morning, and I can confirm that it does indeed contain some recipes!

Towers of books in the Acquisitions office

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Posted by on in Conservation

In this, our latest blog instalment, we highlight the work of our Preservation and Stack Management team and their tremendous efforts to save thousands of books following a flood in the Topography stacks last year…

With well over a million books, the sight of an empty shelf in The London Library is a rare thing. Yet members and visitors browsing the1890s back stacks – home to our History, Science & Miscellaneous and Topography collections – will have noticed that at basement level, the bottom shelves have been bare for several months. Here we tell the story behind these lonely shelves and the great efforts of our Preservation and Stack Management (PSM) team to reunite them with their books.

It is often said that water, rather than fire, poses the greatest threat to books. In the early hours of 22nd August 2011, a burst pipe caused flooding at basement level in the 1890s stacks, and we witnessed the devastating damage water can cause. The PSM and Support teams’ response was immediate and their efforts fantastic, using specialist water extractor machines and good old-fashioned buckets, wellingtons and hard-graft to rescue the books from the lower shelves – the first step in a long-process to restore, rebind or replace thousands of volumes.

Staff had to work very quickly to ensure damage limitation; it takes only 72 hours for mould growth to set in. A total of 3211 books were affected, the majority of which were sent to the document restoration service Harwell Document Restoration Service to be professionally frozen and dried. (The Library lacks the space and resources to properly dry more than about 100 books at a time.) Rapid freezing of wet materials has a stabilizing effect, preventing further damage and mould growth. They are then thawed and dried, either by vacuum freeze-drying or air-drying.

It was not only the books that needed to dry: it took five months before the wooden shelves that hold the collections, and the walls, were fully dry and suitable for use.

Books are now being returned to the Library in large crates – around 30 every two weeks – keeping our PSM team very busy! Members of the team, surrounded by crates and boxes and armed with expert knowledge of book conservation, assesses the damage to each book, deciding whether it will be re-shelved in its current condition, restored in-house by our Conservation team, sent away to be re-bound, or replaced.

It has been a cross-departmental effort, with Acquisitions ordering replacements, PSM repairing and re-shelving books, arranging for rebinding, and ensuring the shelves are ready for the return of the collection.

We are currently fundraising for Phase Three of the Library’s redevelopment programme, which will see the full refurbishment of the 1890s stacks – work that is vital to the long-term survival of the collections.

Topography stacks

Cockled paper under raking light

Lower ground floor, 1890s stacks

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Posted by on in Biography

In the latest blog installment from our Graduate Trainees, Rosie describes the unexpected pleasure of communing in Biography with the likes of Thatcher, Pepys and Rousseau.

Xavier and Alice have already written about some of the tasks expected of us as graduate trainees, and I’m sure London Library regulars have become used to having us around the place on a day-to-day basis. A crucial part of our daily routine involves managing our own section of the shelves – in fact, each member of staff takes care of a particular section of the library to ensure the books are always in the right place. However, this is not merely a case of haphazardly putting books on shelves! As well as making sure the books are in the correct places for library members to find, we’re in charge of sending any damaged books to be repaired, ensuring that there is enough space on the shelves for returned books and generally making sure that the library is neat and tidy.

I’m in charge of part of third floor Biography, from Nei to T to be exact, and I have discovered that a daily shelving session can prove to be rather therapeutic. The London Library boasts an impressive Biography collection and one thing I love about my shelving section is the sheer amount of knowledge and the experiences that are held on the shelves. George Orwell’s diaries sit in the same aisle as Florence Nightingale’sSuggestions for thought, there are over fifty different editions of Samuel Pepys’ letters and diaries and Sir Walter Scott has a number of shelves all to himself. The list of well-known names includes the likes of Thomas Paine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dylan Thomas, Margaret Thatcher, Wilfred Owen; the list could go on and on. The volumes housed in the Biography section consist of works by the people themselves such as memoirs and journals, letters and correspondence and are often accompanied by biographies written by others.

The excellent thing about this section of the library is the very personal nature of the sources housed there. Could Pepys have predicted that people would still be reading his diaries over 300 years after they were written? Many of the decisions and actions taken by the people in Biography shaped the world we live in today, so I am pleased that the London Library takes great care to ensure that these books are preserved and the experiences of others continue to be documented and remembered.

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Posted by on in Uncategorized

The London Library has long been associated with the literary life of the nation, and it is to our past members – authors, poets and philosophers – that we look for romantic inspiration, words of wisdom and stories of love, both passionate and unrequited.

An 1842 edition of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Poems (originally published in 1830, when Tennyson was just 20 years old) from the Library’s English Literature collection, contains the enchanting poem Mariana – a melancholic exploration of isolation and rejection. Tennyson wasappointed President of the Library in 1855, a post he served until his death in 1892.

The philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes and Mary Ann Evans (better known as George Eliot) were living in what the writer John Wells called “high-minded adultery” at the time of their membership of the Library. An 1872 edition of Middlemarch, discovered in the Library’s Fiction collection, explores with a critical eye the concept of marriage…

Many new members first discover The London Library via member A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession – the plot of which centres around the discovery of secret letters by the character Roland Michell in the Library’s Reading Room – certainly a romantic setting for such a discovery.

T. S. Eliot – appointed President of the Library in 1952, serving until his death in 1965 – made a rare public declaration of the deep affection he felt for his second wife Esmé Valerie Fletcher in “A Dedication to My Wife”.

Beyond the works of our past and present members, you’re sure to be romantically inspired when browsing the tomes shelved under ‘S. Love’ in the Library’s 1890s stacks. Reflections, musings, collected love letters and words of advice for the heartbroken await discovery, nestled between shelfmarks ‘S. Lotteries’ and ‘S. Machinery’, with the charms of ‘S. Laughter’ nearby.

In Love and the English, Nina Epton explores the history of love, lust and marriage in England from the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Ages to the 20th century, questioning as she does the “cliché that Englishmen make poor lovers”. (Love and the English by Nina Epton, 1960)

Finally, the intriguing dialogues in Doris Langley Moore’s The Techniques of a Love Affair - including “advice for the confession of former gallantries” – are worthy of consideration!

Marriage is so unlike everything else. There is something even awful in the nearness it brings. Even if we loved someone else better than – than those we were married to, it would be no use. I mean, marriage drinks up all our power of giving or getting any blessedness in that sort of love. I know it may be very dear, but it murders our marriage, and then the marriage stays with us like a murder, and everything else is gone. George Eliot, Middlemarch

Arnold Haultain’s Hints for Lovers, 1909, offers words of wisdom for Lovers, Courtship, Men, Women and Kissing…

… and Girard de Propiac’s Dictionnaire D’Amour, published in Paris in 1808, guides us through the language of love

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Posted by on in Acquisitions

Rhiannon, our busy Acquisitions Assistant, kicks off 2012 with an update on all the lovely new books crossing her desk on their way to the stacks.

I’m also spending what seems like a vast amount of time tracking and chasing un-received books, the majority of which have had their publication dates changed. Some of these are now due in 2013, though one I have come across has had its publication date changed from 2009 to 2021! We won’t be holding our breath for that one, then.

As we’ve just celebrated the 200th birthday of founding Library member Charles Dickens, we have purchased “Charles Dickens and the blacking factory” by Michael Allen, as well as a second copy of Claire Tomalin’s hugely popular biography, “Charles Dickens: a life.” The Tomalin currently has 12 members waiting to borrow it, so a second copy will help ensure their wait is a little bit shorter.

With Dickens in mind, I have kept an eye on the fiction that the Library has been ordering recently, of which there seems to be quite a bit. Those that have either arrived of late or are on order include:

“The Art of Fielding” Harbach, Chad (a debut novel)
“Landfall” Gordon, Helen
“In the Orchard, the Swallows” Hobbs, Peter
“An Honourable Man” Slavo, Gillian
“Parallel Stories” Nadas, Peter
“It’s Fine by Me” Petterson, Per
“Jack Holmes and his friend” White, Edmund
“The Afrika Reich” Saville, Guy
“Married Love” Hadley, Tessa
“The Third Reich” Bolano, Roberto
“Pure” Miller, Andrew (winner of the Costa Prize)
“Mountains of the Moon” Kay, I. J
“Pacazo” Kesey, Roy
“All is Song” Harvey, Samantha

Plenty of fresh and exciting reading to keep fiction fans occupied until my next update! And now, back to dealing with yet another parcel of wonderful new books…

Now that the Christmas and New Year break are firmly behind us, here in Acquisitions we have pretty much caught up with all of our book ordering. This means I’m drowning in piles of new books on an almost daily basis, all wanting to go out on the New Books shelves and be borrowed by keen Libary members.

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Posted by on in Christmas

A very early London Library blog post explored the Library’s 1890’s stacks (or ‘back stacks’ as they affectionately known!). Home to our Science & Miscellaneous, History and Topography collections, the clanking floors, unusual architecture and magical atmosphere certainly create one of the most intriguing spaces in the Library. The Science & Miscellaneous collection is particularly well-suited to serendipitous browsing and carries with it some quirks of the Victorian cataloguing system developed by Librarian Sir Charles Hagberg Wright in 1894.

Highlights of the Science & Miscellaneous stacks include Love, Imaginary Histories, Birdcatching and Conjuring! As a special festive treat, we have been browsing S. Christmas and are delighted to bring you a selection of highlights from our yuletide collections! From ‘The History of The Christmas Card’ to ‘Christmas and Christmas Lore’, there’s plenty of festive-themed reading to be done!

Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan by Clement A Miles, 1913

Christmas Eve - The Romance of Christmas by Kenneth Ingram, 1924

Christmastide by W. Sandys, 1852

The Christmas Festivities - from Christmastide by W. Sandys, 1852

A Book of Christmas Verse - Selected by H. C. Beeching, 1926

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Posted by on in Christmas

The final installment for 2011 from our new intake of Graduate Trainees… After a busy November, settling in to the Library, learning to navigate the collections and looking ahead to the next step on the Librarian career ladder, our trainees are certainly deserving of a restful Christmas break.

Here, Alice looks to the wonderful Science & Miscellaneous stacks for festive inspiration and enlightens readers on ‘how to make a dish of snow!’

D Day. D for dreadful, devastating, defining, daunting Deadline Day. Dramatic? Perhaps. But the application for UCL’s Library School is the first of many within our Graduate Trainee year, and has therefore monopolised most of November with its pressing insistence. Complete me! Perfect me! The application itself is fairly straightforward: histories of employment and education, references. The bit that is most taxing is, as always, the personal statement, or why do I want to be a librarian? Why indeed?

Libraries have always been an integral part of my life; from a young age, I would visit and take advantage of the facilities on offer: story times, homework help, and later, academic resources. The unwavering support and enthusiasm of the librarians I encountered, not to mention their ability to seek out answers and deliver information has always inspired me… I believe in the importance of libraries, their ability to transform lives and open up opportunities. I want to become a librarian in order to share these doors and windows with future generations.

Though if truth be told fully, I actually enjoy helping people and the challenge of information searching. Oh, and I love books, but as every applicant loves books, that statement would be horrifically redundant. Wish us luck…


Now for something slightly more seasonal, shelfmark S. Christmas(honestly, you’d think that the Trainees do nothing else bar rummage around the stacks looking for oddities the way we go on!). Let us hark back to the days when Christmas did come “suddenly and without warning” (Ingram 1924), instead of appearing the moment the Hallowe’en moon wanes in the garish form of foil and flashing Father Christmases. Advent nights at the London Library would be perfect with Howell’s A Spotless Rose haunting through the stacks in the cold, dark winter, the wind whistling through the windows, curled up in a Reading Room chair completely lost in a good book.

I thought I’d share with you a recipe taken from A Christmas Book(Original recipe from A Book of Cookerie, 1594). If any readers would like to test it, please share your opinions and photographs (I would myself, but lactose intolerance makes it somewhat restrictive). It won’t poison you… I hope!

To Make a Dish of Snow

Take a pottle of sweet thick Cream, and the white of eyght Egs, and beate them into your cream with a dishfull of Rosewater, and a dishfull of Sugar withal, then take a sticke and make it clene, and then cut it in the end foursquare, and make therewith beat all the aforesaid things together, and ever as it ariseth take it off, and put it in to a Cullender, this done, take a platter and sette an Apple in the midst of it, stick a thicke bush of Rosemary in the Apple. Then cast your Snow upon the Rosemary and fill your platter therewith, and if you have wafers cast some withal, and so serve them forthe.

Ingram, K. 1924 The Romance of Christmas, Society of SS. Peter and Paul Ltd, London
Lewis, W. and Heseltine G. C. 1931 A Christmas Book, J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd, London

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Posted by on in Christmas

With fewer than 3 weeks until Christmas – how on earth has it arrived so swiftly? – we’re sure we’re not the only ones having a last-minute panic about certain people who are hard to buy for!

While we won’t ordinarily be using the blog to talk about things we have for sale, we thought now was a good time to share some ideas that might help with those festive gift quandaries. With everything from stocking fillers to the exceptionally generous gift of Library membership, we have something for most budgets. Book lovers will be thrilled with a London Library gift, and you will have the satisfaction of having purchased from a registered charity.

Here are our top Christmas ideas for the bibliophiles in your life:

  • Canvas bags – strong, sturdy, stylish and perfect for heavy books! 100% cotton, available with short or long handles.
  • Pencils and notebooks – our A4 soft-cover notebooks and black pencils (featuring quotes by 5 distinguished past London Library members) make excellent stocking fillers.
  • Membership Gift vouchers – The perfect way to help someone purchase London Library membership, Gift Vouchers can be used as full or part payment towards the cost of an annual or life membership. Available in denominations of £50 or £100.
  • Gift membership – the ultimate treat for any bibliophile, London Library Gift Membership provides access to 1 million books on 15 miles of open shelving, electronic resources and much more. A very special gift indeed!

You can purchase London Library merchandise and Gift Membershiponline or in person at the Library – just ask at Reception.

Merry Christmas and happy shopping!

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Posted by on in Graduate Trainees

Time to introduce Rosie, the third of this year’s Graduate Trainees here at the Library. In her first post for us, she finds a particularly intriguing shelfmark in the History stacks…

The posts by Carley, Alice and Xavier have already provided London Library blog readers with a great introduction into the world of a Graduate Trainee at The London Library. So much so that I was struggling to find inspiration for my first post!

As the job title suggests, the three of us current trainees are recent graduates from different universities across the country, and the subjects we studied provided us with an excellent foundation to complement the large arts and humanities collection housed here in the library. Alice studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Manchester University, Xavier studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and I thoroughly enjoyed my three years at Teesside University studying for a History degree. My love of history has resulted in me developing a particular soft spot for the Library’s History section, spread across Levels 2, 3 and 4 in the famous ‘Back Stacks’. This section boasts a wide variety of shelfmarks such as: H. England, Kings and Queen; H. Goths (not the kind wearing PVC and black lipstick); right through to exotic locations such as H. Schleswig-Holstein and H. Zululand.

Whilst exploring the History section, I came across the shelfmark: H. Imaginary Hist. and was suddenly hit with inspiration. I realise that many historians would balk the concept of counterfactual history, and I must admit I would probably be of the same mindset. Is it productive to spend time musing over what would have happened if the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded? Or if the Brighton bomb had killed Margaret Thatcher in 1984? (See What might have been: leading historians on twelve ‘what ifs’ of history, edited with an introduction by Andrew Roberts; who is himself a Library member, appropriately enough.) Personally, I would disagree with this school of thought, but as human beings we can’t help but rely on hindsight and wonder if certain decisions or chains of events would have resulted in things turning out differently.

The notion of ‘what might have been’ also made me wonder what would happen if there was no London Library. What if Thomas Carlyle had never decided to create an alternative to the British Library with an extraordinary emphasis on making the collection available on open shelves? Or, worse still, what if the London Library had been reduced to rubble when it was hit by the Blitz during the Second World War?  What if there hadn’t been a team of staff dedicated to the preservation of the London Library’s collection over the last 170 years? As a relative newcomer to the library profession, and as someone who wishes to pursue a long and hopefully fruitful career in this field, my traineeship here has made me consider the importance of places like The London Library, and libraries in general, to assist in the preservation of the printed word. We hear horror stories about the closure of public libraries and the ‘Google Generation’ relying on the internet to find the answers they need. However, the optimist in me firmly believes that the digital age will only serve to enhance the provision of our libraries, and that books and periodicals can survive in harmony alongside a growing number of e-resources and new technologies. I’m positive that The London Library has at least another 170 years left in it, if not longer!

The Imaginary History shelfmark, tucked away in our lovely Back Stacks

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When we started The London Library blog, we had in mind the idea of asking some of our members and supporters to act as ‘guest bloggers’ from time to time, giving their thoughts and insights on all things London Library. But who would be our first special guest?

Never was the adage ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’ more apt than when applied to Stephen Fry. Novelist, journalist, actor, director, television presenter, technology buff, comedian – or, as he chose to describe his occupation on his London Library application form in 1993, ‘Writer/Actor/Nuisance’ – Stephen must be one of the busiest men in Britain. He is also a true London Library devotee, and when asked to find time in his hectic schedule for a spot of extra blog writing, he agreed with typical alacrity and kindness.

Nuisance? Never.

The resulting blog is classic Fry: a discursive journey through why he loves London, why the area around St James’s Square is so fascinating and charming, and why The London Library is such a glorious London secret.  He sums the Library up beautifully when he says that ‘what gyms can do for your body, this magical place can do for your mind.’

We may be a secret now, but we want everyone to know about The London Library and to think about becoming a member. Stephen has not only blown our cover in the loveliest possible way, he has posted the entire piece on his website where his many fans and followers can read all about us.

He is a hard act to follow, but we look forward to bringing you more guest bloggers very soon.

In the meantime: enjoy reading this brilliant first instalment, and thank you so very much, Mr Fry. We’ll see you in the book stacks again soon!

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On this day one hundred and fifty-two years ago, the first edition of a truly extraordinary book become available to the public. The book was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selectionor the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Its short title was later changed to The Origin of Species - and it is frequently and erroneously referred to as Origin of the Species – but by any name, we understand this book to be one that forever changed our understanding of the world around us.

Charles Darwin was among the first members of The London Library when it was created by Thomas Carlyle in 1841. In fact, we know that Darwin was London Library Member No. 593, because we can see his name and address in our original register of Library members:

Among the many treasures the Library possesses, our first edition of On the Origin of Species is among the most thrilling. Together with our 1611 King James Bible, rightly celebrated in this, its quincentenary year, we have two volumes which trace centuries of human belief and knowledge.

In addition to its first edition of On the Origin of Species, the Library has many other editions, including three of the six editions which appeared in Darwin’s lifetime. We also have first and later editions of many of Darwin’s other works, including The Descent of Man, The Power of Movement in Plants and The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms. While The London Library is primarily a Humanities library, we have plenty of treats for Science buffs; though, for obvious reasons, we can’t let you take this particular edition of On the Origin of Species home!

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Posted by on in Graduate Trainees

We continue our series of blog entries by this year’s intake of new Graduate Trainees with news from Xavier. Here he tells of the delight in re-discovering ‘AWOL books’ and getting to grips with the Library’s one million titles!

During a recent training session in the Acquisitions department, the two other trainees and I were shown a book which had been out on loan for over a hundred years, recently returned by an unknown bearer. Perhaps this book had been stuffed away in an attic somewhere, found hidden behind a beam or in a dusty forgotten box. Could it have been, however, that its time spent ‘AWOL’ was much more exciting? One can only speculate, but maybe the book accompanied several non-paying borrowers during its absence, until it finally reached one honest enough to return it? Anyhow, encounters like these make me feel extremely new to the London Library, so I should probably introduce myself. My name is Xavier and I am one of three Graduate Trainees here at the London Library. If you didn’t know, the London Library employs up to three of us each year. The traineeship is designed to ready us for the Masters degree in ‘Information and Library Management’, whilst giving us an insight and a part to play in the daily running of a library.

The competition for these placements is fierce (who wouldn’t want to work here!?) and so I feel privileged to have been offered a position following interview. The training that the London Library provides us has, thus far, exceeded my expectations and goes beyond the experience I gained from working part-time in my university library. In return for our training (and salary!), we play a crucial role in the daily running of the library by being put to work in various departments, my favourite of which has been the enquiries desk.

I enjoy the preliminary research we carry out for members and have been impressed by the vast array of resources The London Library owns to draw upon for them. What with over a million titles as well as all the digital information we have access to, I have, on occasion, found it difficult to know where to begin. Those who have worked here for a number of years have acquired this kind of instinctual ability to seek out information and always seem to know where to look, even when faced with the most obscure kinds of requests. Some enquiries (particularly those related to foreign languages) are extremely difficult, yet the Enquiries Staff almost always manage to conjure up exactly what it is the member was looking for, as well as suggesting other resources that might be useful.

Despite having been here for nearly two months, I am often faced with questions concerning resources I know little or nothing about. Perhaps by the time I’ve written my second blog post nine weeks from now, I’ll feel much more confident answering questions about the library’s collections. Until then, I’ll continue pestering everyone with questions…

Do look out for Xavier’s next entry and for news from our other Graduate Trainees, as well as other Library departments, in the next few weeks…

The London Library - Issue Hall

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