Friday, August 21, 2020

A Library for London

It’s no surprise that I love reading, and libraries have always been one of my favorite places to hang out. So, when I was reading this week and came across a story about the origin of the London Library, I was intrigued. Especially about this statement:

“The London Library was established in 1841 at a time when there were no lending libraries in London.”

Scratches head.

Hatchard’s has been around since 1797 and had a subscription-based lending program that has featured in many a Regency romance. But that apparently wasn’t what Thomas Carlyle was looking for. A historian and author, he convinced literary friends that more was needed. (I am sad to report that he was also a racist—supporting slavery even though friends tried to argue him out of it.) On the literary front, he was joined by luminaries such as Charles Dickens to raise funds from more than 350 founding members for a subscription-based library of books about “all departments of knowledge.” They considered books held in the typical circulating libraries to be in the “lighter departments of literature” and vowed to be “more discriminating” in developing a serious library.

They started out with 2,000 books and the patronage of Prince Albert. Within a year, they were up to 13,000 books. While their first address had been associated with a gambling hell, they moved on to better digs on St. James’s Square and soon attracted the likes of Charles Darwin and William Thackeray. By 1855, Alfred Lord Tennyson had been appointed President.

And Carlyle? According to the London Encyclopedia, he was a terrible patron of the library he’d envisioned. He returned books late and wrote scathing comments in the margins! Maybe that’s why he had to found his own library?

And I will be hiding out in my own library over the next 2 weeks—stepping out to celebrate my wedding anniversary and Labor Day. See you September 11!

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