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Establishment Of The Athenaeum At Liverpool

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

The gentleman who claims the merit of being the projector of this institution is Mr. Thomas Taylor, a native of Norwich, and grandson to the late learned Dr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor has been an inhabitant of Liverpool nearly thirty years, and has frequently distinguished himself in the promotion of many public matters. But, at the same time, it must be acknowledged that the whole has been fostered, matured, and perfected under the patronage of its present active president, Alderman George Case, Esq., the celebrated Mr. Roscoe, Dr. Currie, the author of the "Life of Burns" and the editor of the last splendid edition of his works, and Dr. Rutter.

The institution began with 350 subscribers, who each paid ten guineas admission, and two guineas in advance for the first year's annual subscription, making together a capital of £4,410. The building erected consists of a news-room on the ground-floor, containing 2,100 square feet, and a library and committee-room of the same dimensions above, with accommodations for the librarian and master of the news-room. This building was contracted for and erected by Mr. Taylor, jun., architect, for £3,050. It is universally admired for its elegance, simplicity, and convenience. The news-room opened on the first day of the new year, 1799, according to contract made for that purpose.

As many persons that had not subscribed were yet desirous of becoming members, and on trial it having been found that a greater number might be accommodated, another subscription was opened for the admission of twenty-five members more, but at the advanced sum of twenty guineas each share ; and again, in the present year 1800, July 1, a farther augmentation of members was admitted at thirty guineas each share ; and on both these occasions the additional number of subscribers was filled up with the greatest avidity. With this fund arising from the additional subscriptions the committee have been enabled to provide a well-chosen collection of rare books, and with the proportion of income appropriated to the purchase of hooks will additions be continually made. The number of subscribers at this time being 500, who each pay two guineas per annum, the annual receipts are therefore I,000 guineas; and these have been appropriated, alter the payment of all incidental expenses, one-third to the purchase of newspapers, commercial, political, and periodical publications (these for the use of the news-room) , the other two-thirds for the purchase of books, in which are included books both in the learned and foreign languages.

Of such works as the committee may judge proper for circulation duplicates are to be provided, there being a positive law that one copy of every book purchased shall remain in the library, it being a principal object of the institution to provide scarce, rare, and valuable works, for the special purpose of reference or consultation. Upon this ground handsome presents of books, maps, prints, etc., have already been made to the library, which probably would not have been the case had such valuable gifts been liable to the injuries which are incident to circulation. The Corporation of Liverpool, too, with a becoming liberality that does the body credit, besides a valuable collection of charts, have presented the trustees of the Athenæum with the reversion of the lease of the site of the ground on which the building, yard, and offices stand, a donation of not less value than £5c0. Both the news-room and library are open every day in the year from seven in the morning till ten at night. The library is constantly attended by one librarian, there being two appointed, who relieve each other at intervals. And it is with plea-sure observed how well the library is attended in an evening by young people. Under this view this institution, by its good effects produced upon the rising generation, may prove a blessing to so populous a place. Nay, more, if true what some have asserted, that the frequent meetings and conversation in the news-rooms, of which this town had, previous to this last establishment, numbers, has promoted that sociability for which the town is remarkable. Whatever may have been the cause—and what so likely as that before noticed ? —the fact is certain that the inhabitants of the town of Liverpool are noted for their social intercourse. Whatever difference of opinion, religious or political, they all meet together; nay, after the most severe contest for the election of representatives in Parliament, than which nothing in general more embitters the minds of individuals, nor leaves longer and more lasting impressions in other places ; yet so it is, that here—and that, too, the day after the conflict--the different partizans are seen to meet, to converse, and transact business, as if no contrariety of opinion had previously existed. This liberality of sentiment has been frequently remarked as a striking characteristic in the inhabitants of Liverpool.

Notwithstanding what has just above been stated, unanimity can seldom be obtained in small matters; no wonder that so novel a scheme of so great magnitude did not meet the support of the whole town. But the motives of men are different, and various are the stimulatives that urge to action. But who can foresee or foretell the different effects produced by the same causes ? Perceiving the ample funds, the high estimation, and increasing reputation of the new institution, with the advance of the price of shares, those who had hitherto afforded no encouragement towards its support, seeing what had been in so short time achieved, turned their thoughts towards an old and respectable institution in Lord Street, a circulating subscription library, which had been established more than half a century, first in Prince's Street, afterwards in John Street, and lastly removed to Lord Street, into a building erected by a tontine subscription. This old library became the basis of another institution, for which a new building upon a magnificent plan is to be erected in Bold Street, and which, like the Atheneum, will consist of a news-room below and a library on the floor above. There are 892 subscribers to this, who have each advanced twelve guineas on admission, and who are to contribute one guinea per annum each towards the support of the news-room. In order to unite the news-room with the library, no one has been admitted to be a proprietor of the former who was not previously a subscriber to the latter. The consequence of this regulation has been that 398 members have on this occasion purchased shares in the library, at five guineas each, in order to enable them to become proprietors of the institution. Many of the members of this new institution are also members of the Atheneum, who wished to support so spirited a work.

The library of this new institution has now a fund ready for the purchase of books to the amount of £2,089 10s., with an annual income of £468 6s. to be laid out yearly. Although this last subscription was filled almost instantaneously, and that, too, with persons of the highest respectability, yet the value of shares in the Athenaeum has in the meanwhile risen to the amount of forty guineas each.

A third scheme is under contemplation, a prospectus of which is drawn up for public inspection, the establishment of a Botanic Garden and Library of Natural History, and which is likely to meet with a suitable degree of encouragement, a sketch of which is as follows : The society to consist of an indefinite number of members, each to pay twelve guineas admission and two guineas per annum. Ground is to be purchased, enclosed, and planted ; suitable buildings, stoves, and glass-houses erected, with rooms for the books. A gardener to reside on the spot, to superintend the whole and explain and answer questions. Every subscriber to have the privilege of cuttings, seeds, and specimens of the different plants, under certain regulations, and to have the liberty of introducing strangers, both ladies and gentlemen, at any time, into the garden, buildings, etc. As a beginning, the proprietors of this work have already purchased the herbarium of the late Professor Foster, consisting of a very valuable collection of plants from many distant parts of the globe, and which is lately arrived from the Continent. This is no trifling first acquisition, as a foundation to raise a splendid establishment. The amount of the whole soins already raised and under contemplation for these three institutions will not in all probability be much less than 30,000.

To conclude this account, it may to some appear a striking circumstance that whilst many institutions, the work of ages, and which owed their beginnings to the bequests and donations of different benefactors, and who left permanent funds for the support of their establishments in the town of Liverpool (styled a village in the Act passed for making it a distinct parish from Walton so late as the year 1699), we have seen a work, begun by a few individuals, encouraged, supported, and carried through its different stages, and completed, in the small space of a couple of years from its first origin.

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