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King's Library In The British Museum

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

No monarch of England is known to have been an extensive col-lector of books (in the modern acceptation of the term) except George III., or, if the name of Charles I. should be added, it must be in a secondary rank, and with some uncertainty, because we have not the same evidence of his collection of books as we have of his pictures, in the catalogue which exists of them.

A royal library had, indeed, been established in the reign of Henry VII. ; it was increased, as noticed by Walpole, by many presents from abroad, made to our monarchs after the restoration of learning and the invention of printing ; and naturally received accessions in every subsequent reign, if it were only from the various presents by which authors desired to show their respect or to solicit patronage, as well as from the custom of making new year's gifts, which were often books. There were also added to it the entire libraries of Lord Lumley (including those of Henry, Earl of Arundel, and Archbishop Cranmer), of the celebrated Casaubon, of Sir John Morris, and the Oriental MSS. of Sir Thomas Roe.

Whilst this collection remained at St. James's Palace, the number of books amassed in each reign could have been easily distinguished, as they were classed and arranged under the names of the respective sovereigns. In 1759 King George II.* transferred the whole, by letters patent, to the then newly-formed establishment of the British Museum ; the arrangement under reigns was some time after departed from, and the several royal collections interspersed with the other books obtained from Sir Hans Sloane, Major Edwards, and various other sources.

The valuable collection of manuscripts which accompanied the same royal donation may still be regarded as distinct, as they are now known by the numbers they bore when in the royal possession, and are described in a catalogue of their own, compiled by David Casley, and printed in quarto, 1734. They had, however, been kept separately from the printed books, and were at that date, together with the Cottonian MSS., deposited in the old dormitory of Westminster School.

George III., on his accession to the crown, thus found the apartments which had formerly contained the library of the Kings of England vacated by their ancient tenants. We are not informed whether he had, whilst Prince of Wales, commenced the formation of any private collection, or whether any such had been formed by his father Prince Frederick ; but Sir F. A. Barnard states* that " to create an establishment so necessary and important, and to attach it to the royal residence, was one of the earliest objects which engaged his majesty's attention at the commencement, of his reign ;" and he adds that the library of Joseph Smith, Esq., the British Consul at Venice, which was purchased in 1762, " became the foundation of the present Royal Library." Consul Smith's collection was already well known, from a catalogue which had been printed at Venice in 1755, to be eminently rich in the earliest editions of the classics, and in Italian literature. t Its purchase was effected for about 10,000 pounds, and it was brought direct to some apartments at the Queen's Palace, commonly called Buckingham House. Here the subsequent collections were amassed ; and here, after they had outgrown the rooms at first appropriated to them, the King erected two large additional libraries, one of which was a handsome octagon. Latterly the books occupied no less than seven apartments.

At an early period his majesty appears to have placed the control of the library under the superintendence of the late Sir Frederick Augusta Barnard, who is well known to have been his natural brother. This gentleman, who survived the King,§ continued to hold the appointment of librarian until the collection was presented to the public by his late majesty ; and he was the writer of the preface to the catalogue which was printed in 182o. He states therein that one of the earliest and most zealous promoters of his majesty's views was Dr. Samuel Johnson. " His visits to the library were frequent ; during which he appeared to take pleasure in instructing youth and inexperience, by friendly advice and useful information. At one of these visits he was surprised by the sudden and unexpected appearance of the King ; and his majesty was pleased to enter into a long conversation with him upon the library, and various other subjects, which from recollection has been so frequently and even minutely detailed,* that it is only necessary to add that the forcible impression which such a distinguished attention left upon his mind, disposed him readily to embrace any opportunity of manifesting his zeal for the accomplishment of the plan."

However, the formation of the library does not appear to have been included among the several topics discussed at this much-celebrated interview, which it may be remarked was so highly appreciated by Johnson that it fairly lasted him his life. He did not himself seek another audience; and the King's curiosity was satisfied.

The first great opportunity for acquiring a large number of early-printed English books was the sale of the library of James West, Esq., President R.S., in the spring of 1773. One of the agents employed on this occasion was the late George Nicol, Esq., who continued his Majesty's bookseller to the last. Mr. Nicol told Dr. Dibdin, " with his usual pleasantry and point, that he got abused in the public papers, by Almon and others, for having purchased nearly the whole of the Caxtonian volumes in this collection for his majesty's library. It was said abroad, that a Scotchman had lavished away the King's money in buying old .black-letter books." It need not be remarked that this "lavishing" was infinitely below the prices attained by the same article in the subsequent days of Roxburgh bibliomania. Dr. Dibdin adds, as a circumstance highly honourable to the King, that " his majesty, in his directions to Mr. Nicol, forbade any competition with those purchasers who wanted books of science and belles lettres for their own professional or literary pursuits ; thus using the powers of his purse in a manner at once merciful and wise."

There seems, however, some latitude required in crediting the particulars of Mr. Nicol's services at the West sale, as here stated. A priced copy of Mr. West's catalogue is in the possession of Mr. Nichols; in which the names of the purchasers are marked, it is true in very few instances, but often enough to show, that whilst Mr. Nicol certainly purchased so much as to attract notice, he by no means monopolized all the Caxtonian books, nor, if the written memoranda are to be trusted, was he the only party by whom some of the most important articles were purchased for the royal collection. The following are the lots against which the King's name is written :

1868. Catholicon, Moguntiae. Joannis Bali, de Janua, 1460. It contains the following note by Mr. West : " This book was sold at Dr. Mead's auction for £25 and purchased for the French King, who had given commission to bid £150 for the same—J. W." Mr. West's copy was purchased by the King for £J5 3S. 6d. (The Willett copy sold for £60 ,8s.)

1909. Lewis's Life of Caxton, 1737, Minshull's proposals for an account of Caxton's books, and a manuscript list of the same. £ I I s.

1915. Various fragments of old Black Letter books, among which are many of the early essays in the Art of Printing. 18s.

2274. Chaucer's Works, first edition, stated in the catalogue to be "the only perfect copy known." One wanting three leaves is in Merton College ; the Hon. T. Grenville has one nearly perfect, and Lord Spencer has another in the same condition.

It was purchased for the King at £47 15s. 6d. ; and a manuscript note is added, that " Mr. West gave £15 for it in 1771."

2281. Chaucer's Troylus and Creseyde, printed by Caxton, £10 10s. Towneley wanting one leaf £252 ; resold, Duke of Marlborough, £162 155.

2288. The Dictes and Sayings of the Phylosophers, translated by Earl Rivers. Caxton, 1477, £21 (Hibbert £46 4S., Towneley, Z189).

2296. The Game and Playe of Chesse. Caxton, 1474. " Mr. Elmsley for the King, £32 0s. 6d." Duke of Marlborough's sale, two leaves MS., £42.

2297. Gower de Confessione Amantis. Caxton, 1483 [1493]. Mr. Elmsley for the King, £9 9S. (The Roxburgh copy sold in 1812 for £336 ; and the Willet £315.)

3394. Dictionary of Decisions of the Court of Session of Scot-land, 1741, L.

3420. Actis and Constitutionnis of Scotland, 1566, £2 2S.

3514 Madox's Formulare Anglicanum, 1. p. 1702. " With MS. notes by a curious and diligent man," says Mr. West. £I Is.

4090. Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. Caxton, 1471. "£32 I Is. Payne, for the King." (Mr. Payne made this book perfect from a copy which, though many leaves deficient, afterwards sold for Z116 1Is. at the Roxburgh sale in 1812, when a perfect copy sold for £I068 18s.)

Two years after, at the sale of the library of Dr. Anthony Askew, some of its finest specimens were transferred to the royal collection, among which were " Il Teseide,"* and Il Forze de Hercole," of Boccaccio, both printed at Ferrara in 1475, and both purchased together for £85 ; and the Editio Princeps of Florence for £17 6s. 6d. A newspaper of the day stated,* that the King had previously offered the sum of £5,000 for Dr. Askew's entire library; but it was refused. It sold for about £4,000 ; and the cost of his majesty's purchases at the sale did not exceed £300.

In 1768, Mr. Barnard was sent to the Continent by the King, in order to make more speedy progress in the collection by personal research. On this occasion, Dr. Johnson addressed to him a letter of instructions, the rules laid down in which were subsequently " pursued with unremitting attention." This letter (which had been refused to Boswell) was first printed in 1820, in the Preface to the Catalogue, and perhaps might not improperly be inserted in this place, had it not been frequently reprinted since that date. It will be found in the Gentleman's Magazine for April, 1823, or in the late edition of " Boswell," by Mr. Croker.

The dispersion of an unusual number of great libraries, both in this country and on the Continent, including the literary stores of the Jesuits, afforded frequent and advantageous opportunities of increasing the royal collection ; which was done without the purchase of any other entire library, at the moderate expense of about £2.000 annually, but continued during the period of sixty years ; for after the King's illness the allowance was not stopped, but latterly increased, on account of the Catalogue. It was no trifling encouragement for extensive works, that his majesty might always be reckoned as a subscriber for a superior copy.

" Considerable also," says Sir Frederick Barnard, were " the accessions to the library, from many who were desirous, not only of em-bracing an opportunity of showing their attention and zeal to pro-mote his majesty's views, but who were also anxious to secure for the articles they highly valued, a safe and permanent asylum ; amongst whom, the venerable and learned Jacob Bryant is justly entitled to a particular distinction, as some of the books presented by him are the most rare specimens of the art of printing at its commencement in this country."

Some of the greatest curiosities (157 in number) are enumerated in Clarke's " Repertorium Bibliographicum," pp. 180-190.

Shortly after the collection was presented to the nation by King George IV., the books were counted (for the first time), when their number was found to be about 65,250, exclusive of a very large quantity of pamphlets, principally contained in 868 cases, and requiring about 140 more to contain the whole. Of these, there was a classed catalogue (now at the British Museum), consisting of thirteen large folio volumes, and arranged under the different heads of Theology, Law, Arts and Sciences, Belles Lettres, and History.

An alphabetical catalogue had also been prepared, and was then partly printed. This was completed in the year 1829, in five volumes folio.

The size of these volumes and the style of printing are adapted to the splendour of a royal library. The number of copies printed was not large. Of these, a considerable portion were sent as presents to the greater public libraries and crowned heads of Europe, others to the chief public libraries of our own country, and many to such eminent noble and private individuals as Sir F. A. Barnard, in a list presented to his majesty, had recommended, including some of his majesty's particular friends. A few sets were reserved for use at the Museum ; but none were suffered to be sold.*

The collections of Geography and Topography in the Royal Library, particularly in whatever relates to this country, were carried to an unprecedented extent; and the assemblage of military plans belonging to it was of the greatest value and importance, comprising the principal military operations from an early period to the present time. A curious and extensive collection of the same nature, which had belonged to William, Duke of Cumberland, was incorporated with them. The catalogue of the maps, prints, and topographical drawings (exclusive of the military plans which did not come to the Museum) forms a sixth volume, printed in 1829, in a size corresponding with that of the books ; and presents of it were sent where-ever the Royal Catalogue had gone : a few copies also were allowed to be sold ; but the opportunity was very judiciously taken to employ the same types for an octavo edition, which was accordingly formed in two volumes, and are attainable at a moderate price. The index to this catalogue of maps affords the best model for the arrangement of a general topographical collection with which we are acquainted.

Early in the year 1823, it was made known to the public that King George IV. had presented the Royal Library to the British nation, as signified in the following letter to his Prime Minister :

" Dear Lord Liverpool,

" The King, my late revered and excellent father, having formed, during a long series of years, a most valuable and extensive library consisting of about 120,000 volumes, I have resolved to present this collection to the British nation.

"Whilst I have the satisfaction, by this means, of advancing the literature of my country, I also feel that I am paying a just tribute to the memory of a parent, whose life was adorned with every public and private virtue.

" I desire to add that I have great pleasure, my Lord, in making this communication through you. Believe me, with great regard, your sincere Friend, G. R.

"Pavilion, Brighton, Jan. 15, 1823.

" The Earl of Liverpool, K.G., etc., etc."

Shortly after, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated in the House of Commons that it was his majesty's wish that the library should be placed in the British Museum, but in a separate apartment from the Museum Library, and that it should be made as easily accessible to all persons as was consistent with its safe preservation. A Committee of the House, in correspondence with these suggestions, re-commended that, from respect to the memory of the royal founder, the collection should be kept distinct and entire ; that whatever duplicates there were in the two libraries* should be taken from the books then in the Museum ; and above all, that a new building should be erected on the ground belonging to the Museum, to receive the royal gift, as well as to accommodate more suitably the already crowded stores of other departments of the national collections.

The architect to whom this important task was committed was Sir Robert Smirke. The building in which the King's Library is now deposited forms the eastern side of a new quadrangle, erected on the site of the Museum Gardens, formerly a favourite resort of the neighbouring residents, and open forty years ago to a view of Highgate and Hampstead Hills. The building has only one front; the side next the east having substituted a lofty brick wall to the view of the houses in Montagu Place, in lieu of the pleasant gardens just noticed.

The western front is faced with stone ; and is ornamented in the centre with four columns and a pediment of the Grecian Ionic order, but without any portico or door. The remainder is unusually plain, presenting a range of eighteen long windows, three of which are between the columns.

The grand apartment, occupied by the Royal Library, is in length from north to south 300 feet; its general breadth is 41 feet, and in the centre division 55 feet 4 inches. The bookcases occupy about 2 feet on each side. The height is 31 feet; of which the bookcases below the galleries occupy 12 feet 10 inches, and those on the gallery floors, 9 feet 8 inches. The bookcases are of oak, and the locks of a new and singular construction by Barron. The key which locks each case, shoots at the same time bolts above and below the door; the rails in front of the galleries are of handsome brass-work. The floor is oak beautifully inlaid with mahogany ; and the ceiling is handsomely relieved with sunk panels. Down the sides of the room are placed at intervals large tables, in which the maps are kept, some in rolls the length of the table, and others as long as the table's breadth ; and also other atlases, charts, and plans preserved in a hundred and twenty-five immense portfolios.

The view given in our plate comprehends the perspective of about two-thirds of the range of the library. The open door near the spectator leads to one of the apartments of the librarians ;* and near the foreground appears the centre division of the library—the portion upon which the greatest ornament has been disposed. Here stand on either side, east and west, two columns of Aberdeen granite, each shaft being a single piece, in height, including base and capital, 25 feet. They are finely polished, and have Corinthian capitals formed of Derbyshire alabaster. The projections of the walls at this part are of very beautiful Scagliola marble. It was originally intended to have had eight more columns, which would have been placed next the projections, and thus have divided more decidedly the range of the library into three apartments, in the same manner which has so excellent an effect in the gallery of the Louvre. This intention was abandoned in consequence of the great expense of polishing the granite. t It would also have added to the effect if the centre division had possessed greater elevation ; but this was inconsistent with the arrangements of the floor above, which forms an extensive gallery for subjects of natural history, of an adequate and handsome height, lighted from the roof. The roof is of iron, covered with copper, and nearly flat; and the whole building is fire-proof.

At the north end of the building is the great staircase leading to the upper apartments. Adjoining to the library on the south are three other handsome rooms, intended for the Library of Manuscripts; two of them are now used as the public reading rooms. In the upper floor, the rooms corresponding with the two former of these are occupied with stuffed birds, etc., and that farthest to the south is the new Print Room. The grants of public money hitherto made for the new buildings at the British Museum have been three of £40,000 and one of £20,000.

In concluding this article we may affirm, in • the words of Sir Frederick Barnard, " that this library will be a perpetual monument of the munificence, judgment, and liberal taste of the Royal Founder, and will, so long as it continues together, remain a splendid orna-ment," if no longer "to the Throne," yet to the National Museum, "and a perpetual benefit to learning." It has indeed been suggested. and we think with great reason, that it shall bear some more defined name than the King's or Royal Library, a name that should point out more directly its origin ; and when we consider that it was the creation of one, and the gift of another George, what title could be more appropriate than "THE GEORGIAN LIBRARY?"

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