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Old Public Libraries ; Book Catalogues ; And Special Libraries.

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

The working out of the recent Acts of Parliament for the establishment of new Public Libraries has drawn attention to our old ones, the ruins of which are scattered over the whole country. These striking proofs of the intelligence of our forefathers are intrinsically valuable ; often containing, as they do, early editions of rare books. But they are invaluable as the nuclei of improved institutions adapted to the wants and taste of modern times. Scarcely a year has passed since the Gentleman's Magazine first appeared without its pages presenting some notices, more or less in detail, upon these libraries, and John Bagford's report of those of London has been twice published by Mr. Urban. [Ante, p. 98.] But the subject deserves a more elaborate discussion, with the express object of directing the Charity Trust Commissioners to abuses which seem to set common exposure at defiance. It is in these stores that the retrospective learning is accumulated, lately shown by Admiral Smyth, in his " History of the Mediterranean," to be of great nautical importance. Old charts are to be found there which exhibit rocks and shoals correctly marked by navigators in the Middle Ages, but which the modern Admiralty draftsmen carefully remove from the face of their official charts. This is proved from a detail of authentic facts recorded by Admiral Smyth to have occurred, at the cost of millions of money and hundreds of lives in the last thirty years, in the Mediterranean alone. The modern charts of the Black Sea, now so interesting to us, are remarkably incorrect in this respect.

Mr. Leicester Buckingham* has done ample justice to the more ancient collections throughout Europe; and he has shown by a pro-fusion of details that to the Church in the Middle Ages Europe was largely indebted for preserving books of which the mere ruins are the pride and grief of collectors of all opinions. But Mr. Leicester Buckingham has established what seems to be a new point as to the monastic libraries of the Middle Ages. He shows that they were lending libraries. They belonged, he says, " not to the monks alone, but to the people ;" in support of which view of the case he adduces curious proof in the solemn rebuke issued by the Council of Paris in 1212 against certain abbots who had discontinued loans from their libraries on pretence of injuries done to the books. "The lending of books," said the Council, " may justly be reckoned among the most eminent of the works of mercy."

The important fact of the share enjoyed by the people in the educational institutions of Roman Catholic times is illustrated by another to which Mr. Buckingham, in his wish to do honour to the ecclesiastics, has not paid sufficient attention. The laity, as well as the churchmen, contributed largely to the public libraries then as since. The will of the Lord Mayor William of Walworth shows he possessed books. Richard Whittington, the other famous Lord Mayor, left his library to the Grey Friars, now the Blue Coat School. Part of the building remained till lately, and even his books might be traced. So good Duke Humfrey had a noble collection at Greenwich ; and sent some of it to Oxford, where it is not lost sight of. So Judge Littleton, in the fifteenth century, gave a fine MS. to a village in Worcestershire, to be read by all in the open church at their pleasure; and the examples might be much extended. The British have never been a people of castes and classes. All of us have a common interest in the commonweal; and the only thing now needed is to make all capable by fitting intelligence to share it.

The Reformers committed a sad error in destroying enormous collections of books in the monasteries, so justly eulogised by Mr. Buckingham. But Protestants since the sixteenth century have done much to repair the damage by founding newer public libraries. As if, however, it were the destiny of all human institutions to be sapped by the undercurrent of selfishness, these have again been exposed to enormous dilapidations.

A sketch of the ruined condition of a few of them will suffice to show what the Charity Trust Commissioners have upon their hands in this department of their work.

Close to London, at Lewisham in Kent, is a public library attached to the Grammar School. The founder's will, 1657, is express as to his intentions to appropriate " all the upper rooms over the Grammar School for a public library," to which he gave his own books, and for its increase in " divinity, history, and other matters," he appropriated 20S. a year out of his estate, with 5s. per quarter for its keeper." The schoolmaster and the incumbent of Lewisham were to appoint the keeper of the library, to which free admission was to be allowed for " all well-known ministers, for the gentlemen of the Hundred of Lewisham, and for all other godly students that would frequent it."

The will of the founder contains other provisions for the increase of the books, and the perpetuity of the benefaction as a public library.

The governors of the charity are a powerful London company, the Leather-sellers, who, twenty years ago, caused a very clever catalogue of the books to be compiled by an able antiquary, Mr. Black; and among them are many valuable volumes.

Here seem to be all the conditions of success to an important institution—a prudent foundation ; a populous neighbourhood; and independent supervisors. Nevertheless, the public character of the library is utterly gone. There is no keeper of it, as carefully arranged by the founder ; and the most intelligent inhabitants of Lewis-ham do not even know of its existence. The schoolmaster has got it into his own hands, and refuses the best qualified student admission to its stores. It is his private property as master

In Shoreditch, according to Sir H. Ellis in his history of that place, one Dawson gave B00 or 900 volumes in 1763 to the Church; and the will exists. Mr. Ware, in his account of Shoreditch charities, gives the catalogue of this library. But after being carried from pillar to post in the last sixty years, it has at last got back into the church, verifying, as is believed, the proverb, that two removes are worse than a fire. The catalogue has entries of valuable works not, it may be hoped, lost.

At Guildford, in Surrey, things are in a worse condition. A library attached to the Grammar School for more than two centuries has been liberally increased by the most distinguished men of the day. Hales of Eton is among the benefactors ; and the Onslows of the seventeenth arid eighteenth centuries contributed to it. Tradition says, like the Lewisham library, it is by right public. But a former master turned the room, fitted up originally from the oaks of a neighbouring park, into a dormitory for his boarders, and piled the books up in bales out of the way. Here once might be seen rare black-letter volumes, and among them was a Caxton of great price, which is believed to he now deposited in safer hands in a neighbouring private collection. So at Lewes, in Sussex, the incumbent of St. Anne's parish in 1707 gave some hundred volumes, also to the Grammar School, but in trust for public use. The original catalogue exists ; but the books have disappeared. The late master turned them over to the town constables ; and they were at last sold for J 57, to buy a fire-engine.

At Steyning, in Sussex, the late master of the Grammar School was himself allowed to appropriate the old books, which were sold at the disposal of his effects by public auction. Some competition took place on this occasion for an Isaac Walton, given by the sage angler himself to that school some 200 years ago.

In Sussex, this whole subject is understood to have been zealously taken up by the Archæological Society, whose efforts will doubtless be successful in bringing many more of these institutions to light in that county.

In Hereford, there is quite a group of them in the worst condition possible. The Vicars Choral are the keepers of one founded early in the seventeenth century by numerous subscribers, at the head of whom was Lord Scudamore, distinguished in his day as a scholar and a statesman. Not long ago this collection was rotting in a deserted chapel. So in the vestryroom of the chief church in this city, another collection of a later date, and chained—a circumstance which seems to imply the miscellaneous admission of readers, amounting to the public use of the books, whenever the library is open. Here, however, as in the Vicars Choral- Chapel, the books had, when seen by the writer, melancholy marks of neglect. In the Cathedral at Hereford is to be seen one of the maps of the middle ages traceable to remote antiquity, on which the acute observations of Admiral Smyth may be justified.

But perhaps the worst case is that of Aldrich public lending library of Henley on Thames, founded in 1727. Dr. Charles Aldrich, nephew to the celebrated Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, was rector of Henley, and the author of some good books recorded in the catalogues under the better known name of his uncle. He gave his own library to the inhabitants of his parish and to the ministers of the adjacent parishes, to be read in the repository and also to be lent. Not long ago this collection was in the worst possible state ; and nearly unknown.

To accumulate the like cases everywhere would fill a volume; and it is a gross error to suppose these libraries are mere collections of "musty divinity." They abound in good books in all branches of learning and science.

It is also quite an error to suppose that our hands are tied by the founders to a superstitious observance of their rules so as to be unable to improve the constitution of these libraries. Sir Thomas Bodley, when he founded the noble institution in Oxford which is graced with his name, wrote to the trustees that the scheme of regulations he sent them was not meant to be binding on their judgments, like a law of the Medes and Persians. He was fully conscious of his own infirmity, he said, and only wished to contribute something towards a structure which others must complete according to the wants of posterity.

So in the former case, the excellent public lending library of Dr. Charles Aldrich ; the founder did not pretend that his collection of 1727 would suit posterity. He accordingly, like all other founders of such libraries, anticipated it would be increased and improved in after times.

The statute of 7 and 8 Anne provides in the same spirit for the improvement of public libraries under the visitation of the bishops and clergy ; although it may be questioned whether that statute has not been a dead letter these eighty years.

The Committee of the House of Commons, whose reports led to the passing of Mr. Ewart's Public Libraries Act, produced valuable details on the subject; but it left the great mass of cases untouched; and the Charity Trust Commissioners will fail to take proper measures for the reform of the abuses which at present destroy the usefulness of our old libraries unless the subject be sturdily discussed.

Since the publication in the Gentleman's Magazine, in 1788, of the complaint that " public libraries are wanting in England " [see Note 471, many have been founded by societies, by individuals, and by the State. It only remains to take a suitable survey of our stock in this kind, and to complete it according to the public wants.

The proper steps for these ends are, first, to make out a list of all our public libraries; and then to prepare catalogues of them all.

Upon the much-debated question of catalogues, permit me to offer a few remarks.

In the United States, a Convention of librarians last year undertook to settle the form of a good catalogue, and a committee was appointed to produce a model. The labours of that committee are waited for impatiently. An expression has been repeatedly used on the subject in the Gentleman's Magazine, which seems to point sensibly at what is wanted in this matter. A good catalogue ought to be a finding catalogue. To find a book in a library it is surely enough to use in the catalogue only just the words which point it out. To give the whole title, as is often done, is waste of space, and sheer loss of time. If this single point be properly attended to, the extent of a catalogue will be much reduced, and the facility of consulting it augmented. The name of the author and the subject, or distinctive signs of an anonymous work, the size, date, edition, and place where printed, are all the facts wanted. Most long titles might be reduced in the works themselves ; and certainly ought not to swell a catalogue.

The reduction of quantity to be secured by attention to this capital point will lessen the objection to the increase of the bulk of a catalogue by adding chapters of subjects to the chapters of names of authors. The ablest scholar is unaware of all that has been published on some subjects ; and the most diligent student must depend solely upon the information of others respecting the books which have appeared upon many. To both, the catalogue of authors will be a meagre help ; whilst that of the contents of the library, according to subjects, will be a most instructive and acceptable guide.

It would not be difficult by actual trial to test the facility of constructing finding catalogues of this character. Lord Seymour and other members of the House of Commons have proposed to make catalogues for all the libraries in London, i.e., all the public libraries, not including doubtless the joint-stock collections, such as the London Institution, the London Library, and the like ; the corporation libraries, such as that at Guildhall; and as the companies' halls, the scientific libraries, the professional libraries, the missionary libraries, the parochial libraries, the tract libraries, the Bray libraries, the mechanics' libraries, and even the libraries of individuals for use and sale. Even excluding all these, the labour and expense of the general catalogue asked for would be enormous upon any plan yet settled.

But an actual trial may be made of an improved plan on a moderate scale by taking the collections of the great public offices, including those of the two Houses of Parliament, as the subjects of experiment. Printed books and MSS. of the most valuable sort are to be found in the Treasury, the Home and Colonial Offices, the Admiralty, the Horse Guards, Ordnance, and Woolwich, in both Houses of Parliament, at the Privy Council, in the State Paper Office, at the Board of Control, and elsewhere, concerning legislation, administration, and statistics. At present, each department probably is quite ignorant of stores next door, most urgently needed by it. A general finding catalogue of the authors and subjects of the books in these public departments would have the best effect, and its supplement would show the deficiencies of each department in what could be obtained from its neighbours or might be supplied by purchases.

The form of this catalogue of official collections might become a model for others, and lead to the general catalogues so much desired.

The Public Libraries Acts of Parliament seem to be defective in not providing for the combination of several small towns into one body.

Under the title of a " Special Library of Trade and Finance," it has been proposed to revive the Institution of Industrial Literature and Science, founded one hundred and fifty years ago in Westminster by one of the ablest and most enlightened men of his time—William Paterson of Dumfriesshire.

The Committee of the House of Commons on Public Libraries recommended the formation of " special " libraries in our great commercial towns ; and supported the wise recommendation by the example of Hamburgh, where a commercial library, opened in 1735, now contains 40,000 volumes. Our far-seeing Scottish countryman, Paterson, gave an older and better example of this good thing; and he of all men was entitled to counsel studies which had enabled him to lead both English and Scotch, with various success, to the accomplishment of the greatest designs. An eminent merchant, a sagacious banker, an enterprising colonist, no mean engineer and navigator, he might well recommend the sciences he was perfectly versed in as the fittest instruments of success to the man of business. His views combined landed with trading interests; and his estimate of the value of all the branches of knowledge that ensure the due development of national industry and wealth, public and private, is the best vindication of such knowledge. He has expressed that estimate in a few golden words prefixed to the catalogue of his own library, when he dedicated it in his life-time to the public use.

His library was limited to works on "trade, revenue, and navigation," and to whatever illustrates those subjects, of which he observes as follows :

" This catalogue has been extracted from a collection upon those subjects to give some better idea than is commonly conceived of the books necessary to the knowledge of matters so deep and extensive as trade and revenue; the which, notwithstanding the noise of many pretenders, may well be said not yet to be truly methodised—nay, nor perhaps to have been tolerably considered by any.

"Trade and revenue are here put together; since the public, and indeed any other, revenue, are only branches of the increase from the industry of the people, whether in pasture, agriculture, manufactures, navigation, extraordinary productions or inventions, or by all of these.

" So that to this necessary, and it is to be hoped now rising study of trade, there is requisite not only as complete a collection as possible of all books, pamphlets, and schemes relating to trade, revenues, navigation, inventions or improvements, ancient or modern ; but likewise of the best histories, voyages, and accounts of the states, laws, and customs of countries. From these collections it will be more clearly understood how the various effects of wars, conquests, fires, inundations, plenty, want, good or bad management, or influence of government, and such like, have more immediately affected the rise and decline of the industry of a people.

"The friends of this study are desired to contribute what they can towards rendering this small collection more complete, and fit for public use ; and for this purpose to communicate the titles of such books or papers as they have heard to be extant on these and the like subjects.

"Some of the MSS. belonging to this collection being at present dispersed, and others not yet brought into order, the catalogue thereof is deferred.

" Westminster, August 23, 1703."

All that is yet known of the result of this remarkable invitation is, that the catalogue of Paterson's own books so given to the public is in the British Museum, Hari. MSS., No. 4564. It affords an interesting view of the donor's acquirements; his extensive acquaintance with modern languages ; and the enlarged idea he had of the intelligence to be expected in an accomplished merchant.

William Paterson is well known as the founder of the Bank of England ; and of the great Scottish enterprise in Darien, after the disasters in which he is generally thought to have entirely retired from the world—to Scotland, " pitied and neglected."

The fact is quite otherwise. These disasters occurred in 1698-1700. But after the latter year he was elected member for Dumfries.

He resided in Westminster from 1701 to his death in 1718 ; consulted by the most eminent ministers—Godolphin, Harley, and Walpole ; as can be proved by positive evidence. As a writer he was classed with Defoe ; and it is extremely probable that he was the type of "Sir Andrew Freeport" in the Spectator. It is certain that William III. had held him in high esteem, and that Paterson's en-lightened views were adopted for the guidance of our commercial policy when the King suddenly died.

What an incomparable man he was may be inferred from the two last events of his life. After a long struggle, carried on indeed with the support of many zealous friends, he compelled a reluctant Ad-ministration to pay him a large indemnity for his losses in the Darien colony. The proofs of the fact are found in the Journals of Parliament, in the Statute Book, and in the warrants for the formation of the Royal Bank of Scotland. This tardy justice enabled him to pay his own debts; to provide liberally for his numerous relatives; and, what must have been a source of deep satisfaction, to make a munificent acknowledgment of the friendship of the generous Daranda, his executor. The probate of his will establishes these facts.

It was a far more important event, that in 1717, the year before his decease, his advice led Walpole to bring forward the great measure of paying off the National Debt, then fifty millions sterling only. He defended that measure by his " Wednesday's Club Conferences." It was attacked by Broome in the " Wednesday's Club-Law ;" to which " Paterson or Defoe," says the contemporary authority from whom these curious facts are derived, wrote a rejoinder, entitled, " Fair Payment, no Sponge."

Paterson's writings, however little known, are still valuable historic-ally, and for their bearing on the most important questions of trade and finance. [See Note 49•]

It is proposed to establish a Paterson Public Library upon the basis of his collection, as a fitting monument to a great man, and as calculated at no distant time to provide the means of public instruction on matters of national interest.

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