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The Victorians & The London Library: Harriet Martineau – Forthright, Formidable & Feisty

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As part of a new series of blogs on Victorian members of The London Library, Helen O’Neill looks at Harriet Martineau (12 June 1802 – 27 June 1876), a prolific author of her day and one of the founder members of The London Library as it opened 175 years ago.

 

Harriet Martineau at 32 in 1833 after the publication of the bestselling series Illustrations of Political Economy.  She was profoundly deaf from childhood.

Harriet Martineau at 32 in 1833 after the publication of the bestselling series Illustrations of Political Economy. She was profoundly deaf from childhood.

The Victorians are big business. They left a cultural legacy which is remarkably buoyant today. In London the homes and museums of Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, Frederic Leighton, Thomas Carlyle, the Punch cartoonist Linley Sambourne and Florence Nightingale are all popular with visitors. The Royal Albert Hall, the V&A, the Science and Natural History Museums, Highgate Cemetery in all its Gothic splendour, and the atmospheric grilled stacks of The London Library are all cultural survivors of the Victorian age. From the bling of the Albert Memorial to the eerie quiet of the Old Operating Theatre in Southwark, the Victorians are ever-present in our cultural landscape.

The Victorian age and its literary fiction, much written by Victorian members of the Library, have been re-booted and re-imagined in every generation and for every medium from Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt’s 21st century Sherlock. From Sky’s Penny Dreadful to the latest BBC boxset offering The Living and The Dead (via Ripper Street and Dickensian) we are awash with all things Victorian. Jeremy Paxman looked at the Victorians through their art; Ian Hislop looked at Victorian do-gooders and what they could teach us; Suzannah Lipscomb has shown us the hidden killers of the Victorian home and the Great British Sewing Bee lately asked contestants to re-fashion a staple of the Victorian wardrobe: the corset. If you Google the Victorians 2,210,000 results rise up to meet you. Is there anything, one might ask, we still don’t know about the Victorians?

In a series of monthly blogs over the next 12 months I will be looking at underrated, overlooked, surprising or compelling Victorian members of The London Library as we celebrate the Library in its 175th year. We start today, 140 years since her death, with the forthright, formidable and half-forgotten Victorian woman of letters, Harriet Martineau.

The work of this founder member of the Library was internationally influential during her lifetime. Today, however, she is more likely to be known for her novel Deerbrook, than for her work in the field of comparative sociology; her progressive politics; or feminist sociological perspectives on marriage, children and domestic life.

Harriet Martineau’s status as a writer can be seen in this illustration from a series of literary figures which appeared in Fraser’s Magazine in 1833.

Harriet Martineau’s status as a writer can be seen in this illustration from a series of literary figures which appeared in Fraser’s Magazine in 1833.

Martineau’s absence from the mainstream today belies her 19th century profile. Caroline Darwin sent her brother a copy of  Martineau’s Illustrations of Political Economy while he was aboard HMS Beagle: in her letter she described Martineau as “a great Lion in London”. George Eliot referred to her as “the only English woman that possesses thoroughly the art of writing.” Illustrations was a ground-breaking, bestselling series which catapulted Martineau to national fame in 1832. Her innovative use of popular fiction to address economic issues such as strikes and taxation paved the way for the medium to take hold as a vehicle of social reform.  She may have written novels and children’s stories but she is also responsible for the first systematic methodological treatise in sociology and conducted detailed international comparative studies of social institutions. Her international influence was recognised by the American Wendell Phillips who, in 1877, called this slightly built, profoundly deaf, outspoken woman from Norwich “the greatest American abolitionist.” Harriet Martineau was a trailblazing polymath.

In addition to 50 books, Martineau penned over 1600 leader articles on the issue of slavery. She was considered an expert on America at home, having spent two years travelling the country in 1834. On her outward journey Martineau wrote How to Observe Morals and Manners, a landmark work in the field of sociology.  In America, from the slave market to the House of Congress, she travelled extensively – visiting prisons, schools, plantations, factories and universities – and she talked to an astonishing array of people, from prison inmates to Congressmen. Well known for her opposition to slavery, which she said was “indefensible, economically, socially, and morally”, she arrived in America during pro-slavery riots and was quick to lend the weight of her name to the abolitionist cause – which was seen as a wildly radical move at the time.

Over a decade before Uncle Tom’s Cabin Martineau’s novel The Hour and the Man was published to support the abolition of slavery in America. This edition, published in 1904, is from the Routledge series “Half Forgotten Books”.

Over a decade before Uncle Tom’s Cabin Martineau’s novel The Hour and the Man was published to support the abolition of slavery in America. This edition, published in 1904, is from the Routledge series “Half Forgotten Books”.

When she returned to Britain there was a Molière-type farce as three publishers simultaneously bid for her work from separate rooms in her house. Society in America resulted in 1837, followed in 1838 by Retrospect of Western Travel and by The Martyr Age of the United States in 1839: the first account of the history of American abolitionism. Published over a decade before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, her novel The Hour and the Man was written to support the abolition of slavery. She was foreign correspondent for the Anti-Slavery Standard in America and kept the issue prominent at home in articles in The Daily News.

Martineau was successful and controversial, acknowledging in her autobiography that at least five of her books could potentially have ended her career. She can often be seen, however, head above the parapet when controversial Victorian storms raged. At an unveiling of a statue of her in Boston in 1877 Wendell Phillips, in his last public address, said:

Wendell Phillips acknowledged Martineau’s anti-slavery stance in his last public address in 1877.

Wendell Phillips acknowledged Martineau’s anti-slavery stance in his last public address in 1877.

“It is easy to be independent when all behind you agree with you, but the difficulty comes when nine hundred and ninety-nine of your friends think you are wrong.  Then it is the brave soul that stands up, one among a thousand…This was Harriet Martineau.”

Helen O’Neill

Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

Making Their Mark: Reynolds Stone and 175 Years of London Library Iconography

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On 13 March it will be 107 years since the birth of the designer, engraver and master letter cutter Reynolds Stone (1909-1979) who is responsible for one of the Library’s most distinctive pieces of branding: the London Library book label. Stone’s distinctive label (image 1) has graced all the books acquired by the Library since 1951. The use of engraved or printed paper labels to mark the ownership of a book is almost as old as printing itself and Stone’s label is indicative of the Library’s rich cultural heritage.

A retrospective exhibition of Stone’s work at the V&A in 1982 showed just how prolific and exquisite his output was. He designed bookplates for writers, publishers and national institutions including the National Trust, the British Council and the Royal family. He engraved the Royal Arms for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II and provided engravings for numerous presses including the High House, Nonesuch, Gregynog and Golden Cockerell Press. His engravings were commissioned by Faber & Faber and the Folio Society and during the course of his career Stone illustrated works by Swinburne, Evelyn Waugh, Rupert Hart Davis, Herman Melville, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Kenneth Clark, Benjamin Britten and Alfred Lord Tennyson. The quality of his work is neatly underscored in a telling collaboration with Iris Murdoch [The Year of Birds, 1978] in which Murdoch provided the poems in response to Stone’s original engravings. Stone’s work also included engraved devices for The Times in 1951; the Royal Coat of Arms for HMSO in 1955 and designs for the £5 and £10 notes for the Bank of England in the early 1960s. He taught himself to cut letters in stone and his mastery of the medium led to several nationally significant commissions including the memorials to Winston Churchill in 1965 and T.S. Eliot in 1966, both in Westminster Abbey. His astonishing body of work also includes the creation of two typefaces: Minerva for Linotype in 1954 and Janet in 1968. Stone and his wife Janet Clemence (1912-1998) were well networked in literary circles and entertained in their Dorset home, leading writers, painters and intellectuals including John Betjeman, J.B. Priestley, Benjamin Britten, Kenneth Clark, Henry Moore, Iris Murdoch and John Bayley – many of whom had close associations to the Library.

Stone’s London Library label is the latest in a continuum which began during the Victorian era. When viewed in their totality the Library’s highly crafted book labels pack a powerful historical punch. They not only mark ownership but transmit messages about the character of the Library and illuminate particular parts of the Library’s 175 year history. The oldest surviving labels date from 1845 (see image 2) when the Library made the move from temporary rooms at 49 Pall Mall to what was then 12 (not 14) St James’s Square. The red label gives the name and address of the Library within an architectural embellishment – a design feature which underlined the move to new premises. The label came in two sizes the larger more ornate for folio volumes, the smaller for 8vo and 4to volumes (Image 3). The design of the smaller label remained in use (without a door number) until 1934. A much rarer green Victorian book label (Image 4) also survives which was used specifically for new books which could be borrowed for a fortnight only. This short loan label speaks strongly about the demand for new books during the era and the concomitant need to keep them circulating swiftly. At this time members were allowed one new book only at any one time.

The red Victorian book label remained in use until 1934 when a new oval shaped label was introduced (Image 5). Designed by a member of staff and printed in March 1934 it is perhaps not coincidental that the new oval label was printed just before the grand extension to the Library building was proudly unveiled in 1934. The new extension, designed by Mewes and Davis (architects of the nearby Ritz Hotel) included elegant statement rooms including the Art Room and 5 floors of book stacks. 1934 was also the year in which Hagberg Wright received a New Year Knighthood in recognition of his work as Librarian so the Library had a lot to celebrate. The oval 1930s label remained in use throughout the Second World War and its aftermath until it was replaced by Stone’s label in 1951, the year the Festival of Britain celebrated British contributions to science, technology, architecture and the arts. Printed in the Library’s Victorian colour palate of red and green Stone’s label gave absolute priority to the letter forms which stretch back beyond the Library’s Victorian roots to the Renaissance. In addition to these major book labels the Library occasionally produced ad hoc labels in recognition of specific gifts. A peacock blue label acknowledging a gift of 1400 books by Queen Mary in 1954 being one of the most eye catching.

In tandem with its book labels the Library also employed ownership devices in the form of gilt spine stamps which it used from 1841 right up until the mid-1970s. The Victorian circular design (Image 6) was superseded only once by an oval 20th century design by Peter Waters (1930-2003) which referenced the grilled metal floors of the Victorian stacks in its centrally placed horizontal lines (Image 7).

That the Library’s iconography resonates in the modern consciousness is demonstrated in the English translation of Haruki Murakhami’s The Strange Library translated from the Japanese by Ted Goosen in 2014. The London Library is thanked in the picture acknowledgements for the rich treasury of illustrative matter it provided. From marbled end papers, mottled flyleaves, and even a London Library date label, the iconography of the Library is unmistakably present in this highly illustrated volume. Stone’s label received its own acknowledgement from the illustrator Charlotte Voake in one of his London Library Christmas card designs (Image 8) and this year, to mark the Library’s 175th anniversary, Stone’s label has been printed in teal and orange to distinguish books acquired by the Library during this landmark year (Image 9).

The London Library has outlived the great circulating libraries of the 19th century. Its book labels and spine stamps are distinctive and remarkably enduring features that connect the Library to its Victorian past. In their totality these small marks of institutional ownership tell the story of a library of subscribing members that has kept the book as its sole focus over three consecutive centuries.

Helen O’Neill
Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

1. Designed in 1951 Reynolds Stone’s London Library label is a timeless classic.

1. Designed in 1951 Reynolds Stone’s London Library label is a timeless classic.

One of the Library’s oldest Victorian book labels dates from 1845 and was used on folio volumes

2. One of the Library’s oldest Victorian book labels dates from 1845 and was used on folio volumes

Designed for 8vo and 4to volumes this book label was used between 1845 and 1934.  The design was also blind embossed on bound periodicals.

3. Designed for 8vo and 4to volumes this book label was used between 1845 and 1934. The design was also blind embossed on bound periodicals.

A rare surviving Victorian short loan label for new books.

4. A rare surviving Victorian short loan label for new books.

5. Designed by a member of staff in 1934 the introduction of this label coincided with the opening of a major extension to the Library and the knighthood of the Librarian Charles Hagberg Wright.

5. Designed by a member of staff in 1934 the introduction of this label coincided with the opening of a major extension to the Library and the knighthood of the Librarian Charles Hagberg Wright.

6. An example of an early ornate gilt spine stamp which dates from the Library’s Victorian heyday.

6. An example of an early ornate gilt spine stamp which dates from the Library’s Victorian heyday.

7. Peter Waters’ 20th century redesign of the Library’s spine stamp references the grilled floors of the Victorian Back Stacks in its central horizontal lines.

7. Peter Waters’ 20th century redesign of the Library’s spine stamp references the grilled floors of the Victorian Back Stacks in its central horizontal lines.

8. Reynolds Stone’s label illustrated by Quentin Blake on a Christmas card design for the Library

8. Reynolds Stone’s label illustrated by Charlotte Voake on a Christmas card design for the Library

9. To mark the Library’s 175th anniversary Stone’s label has been printed in teal and orange and will be used on all books acquired in 2016.

9. To mark the Library’s 175th anniversary Stone’s label has been printed in teal and orange and will be used on all books acquired in 2016.

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For creatures who are trying to be human: Stefan Zweig, E.M. Forster and The London Library

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Stefan Zweig’s joining form to the Library

Stefan Zweig’s joining form to the Library

74 years ago, on the 22 February 1942 Stefan Zweig, a celebrated Austrian writer and inspiration behind Wes Anderson’s 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel, committed suicide. He had been a member of The London Library joining in 1936 after fleeing his home in Salzburg. He gave his occupation on his joining form as “Author” and in 1938 he gifted 90 books to the Library in French, Spanish, German and English. His death in 1942 was widely reported across Europe, not least by a stalwart of the Library’s wartime committee E.M. Forster, who knew Zweig personally through their membership of PEN. Forster said the death of Stefan Zweig “was something I could not ignore” and spoke of him during one of his regular wartime BBC Radio broadcasts:

In 1938 Zweig gifted 90 books in English, French, Spanish and German to the Library

In 1938 Zweig gifted 90 books in English, French, Spanish and German to the Library

“Last week there died in Brazil an exiled German author, called Stefan Zweig, about whom I want to talk. Zweig was a man of letters and a novelist and he not only had talent but he was typical of our age and its troubles. He was sensitive and humane, he could see both sides of a question, he had a detailed analytical intelligence, he was cultured and loathed violence.  Such a man is bound to have a rough time. He is not the Happy Warrior type because his heart is not in the fight, and he is not the Saint, who can see beyond the fight.  He is the humanist who hopes for the continuance of civilisation, and civilisation today is a far from encouraging spectacle….”

Forster marked Zweig’s passing again at the beginning of 1943 in another BBC Radio broadcast: Zweig , Forster said,

“ was a humanist. He belonged to the cosmopolitan European civilisation which is at present broken, he hated fanaticism, he believed in reason, in tolerance and the production of beauty.  Being fair minded, he saw that humanism has its dangers; the humanist shirks responsibility, dislikes making decisions, and is sometimes a coward. He notes this in the case of Erasmus, and I think he felt difficulties himself, that the world of 1942 became too much for him, and perhaps that was why, to the grief of his many friends, he committed suicide over in Brazil. Zweig is a great loss.  Not only was he an excellent historian and readable novelist, but he stated very clearly and fairly a problem which confronts us all.  Do we in these terrible times want to be humanists or fanatics? I have no doubt as to my own wish, I would rather be a humanist with all his faults than a fanatic with all his virtues.”

In a rare archival letter from Zweig to the Librarian Charles Hagberg Wright Zweig mentions meeting with Wright and Julian Cain. Julian Cain was the Librarian of Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Arrested by the Vichy government after the Nazi occupation of France Cain survived Buchenwald and returned to his post after the war.

The words Forster used when talking about Zweig: humane, sensitive, intelligent, civilised, tolerant are also present in an essay he published in 1941 in The New Statesman and Nation to commemorate the centenary of the London Library. He wrote:

Taken in October 1939 this photograph shows the criss-crossed tape on the windows.

Taken in October 1939 this photograph shows the criss-crossed tape on the windows as the Library geared up for war

“In May 1941 the London Library was launched on the swelling tides of Victorian prosperity.  It celebrates its centenary today among the rocks. It is unharmed at the moment of writing – not a volume out of action-but the area in which it stands is cloven by the impacts of the imbecile storm. All around it are the signs of the progress of science and the retrogression of man.  Buildings are in heaps, the earth is in holes.  Safe among the reefs of rubbish, it seems to be something more than a collection of books.  It is a symbol of civilisation.  It is a reminder of sanity and a promise of sanity to come. Perhaps the Nazis will hit it, and it is an obvious target, for it represents the tolerance and the disinterested erudition which they so detest.  But they have missed it so far.”

"They have missed it so far" On 22rd February 1944 the Library suffered a direct hit from a high explosive bomb

Forster’s concerns that the Library was “an obvious target” proved prescient. On 23rd February 1944 the Library suffered a direct hit from a high explosive bomb

The London Library Forster said “caters for creatures who are trying to be human. The desire to know more, to feel more and accompanying these but not strangling them, the desire to help others: here briefly is the human aim and the Library exists to further it.”

Forster’s association with the Library spans an astonishing 66 years from the age of 25 until his death.  He was a member of the committee during the Second World War and in regular attendance at committee meetings both before and after the bomb that hit the building on 23 February 1944. His wartime article about the Library is as relevant today as it was in 1941. “Knowledge” he said “will perish if we do not stand up for it, and testify. It is never safe, never harvested.”

In the months before Zweig’s death he wrote his autobiography The World of Yesterday which he said told the story of

“an entire generation of our time…Each one of us, even the smallest and most insignificant, has been shaken in the depths of his being by the almost unceasing volcanic eruptions of our European earth. I know of no pre-eminence that I can claim, in the midst of the multitude, except this: that as an Austrian, a Jew, an author, a humanist and a pacifist, I have always stood at the exact point where these earthquakes were the most violent.

Stefan Zweig’s joining form to the Library and a copy of his astonishing little letter will be on display in the Library’s main Reading Room later this week.

The fascinating story of London and the Blitz will also be featuring at our forthcoming Words In The Square literary celebration in May.  On Sunday 8th May, leading historian David Kynaston will chair a session with  Lara Feigel (The Love-charm of Bombs;The Bitter Taste of Victory); Juliet Gardiner (The Blitz;Wartime;The Thirties) and Max Hastings (The Secret War; All Hell Let Loose; Armageddon) looking at the Blitz, its impact and its unique hold on our collective memory. Tickets are on sale now and throughout the Words In The Square celebration tours will be available to give visitors the chance to see the inside of the Library and some of its fascinating collections – including the celebrated shrapnel-damaged books that provide such a powerful record of this unique time in the Library’s history.

Helen O’Neill,

Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

 

 

Conserving Carlyle’s Book Collection

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Thomas Carlyle was the founder of The London Library and this year, the Library’s Collection Care team have been involved in an exciting conservation project to help restore and protect some of the books from his collection.

The books are on display at Carlyle’s House in Cheyne Row, Chelsea which is owned by the National Trust and open to visitors between March and November. Carlyle and his wife Jane moved to Cheyne Row in 1834. They had been married for 8 years, and Thomas was embarking on his career as a writer and had been searching for a suitable London base. With rent at just £35 per year, the new house suited a writer whose reputation was not yet firmly established. Within three years, however, he had published one of the works that brought him lasting fame – The French Revolution: A History.

The foundation of The London Library stems from this time. Researching The French Revolution and later works such as On Heroes, Thomas Carlyle had become disdainful of the services provided by the British Museum and bemoaned the fact that their books could only be studied in situ among the “wheezers, sneezers and snorers” of the reading room. His solution was to set up an independent lending library and in 1840 he began a campaign to raise subscriptions to help fund it. The result was The London Library established in 1841.

Nearly a century later, Carlyle’s central role was recognised by a generous gift from Professor P.E. Newberry. Newberry had acquired a number of books from the collection of Thomas Carlyle and in 1940 he donated 59 volumes (comprising 31 separate titles) to The London Library. These include works by Homer, Aeschylus, Byron, Sophocles, Tacitus, Sir Walter Scott, Virgil and some of Thomas and Jane Carlyle’s own works.

In recent years, these books have been on loan to the National Trust so they can be displayed – along with many other of Jane and Thomas’s possessions – in the drawing room of the Carlyle House at Cheyne Row.

Our Collection Care team have recently carried out a condition survey on the books and discovered that 28 of the volumes are in need of conservation work. Many are showing signs of their earlier use, with tears across their front endpapers or title pages, or even detached front boards.

With work likely to take several weeks we decided to wait until Carlyle’s House closes to the public for its annual conservation and building maintenance before collecting the books and taking them back to our conservation studio in St James’s Square. A few days ago, the books – bubble-wrapped and boxed – were carefully transported and are now safe and sound in the hands of our Collection Care team.

Over the coming months the team shall be actively carrying out conservation work. Tears will be repaired with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Japanese papers do not discolour or become brittle over time, and they have long, strong, flexible fibres; the lighter-weight papers also benefit from being translucent and unobtrusive, producing repairs that do not obscure the text.  Wheat starch paste is also very suitable for repairs – our Collection Care team cook batches of it every week and store it in their fridge!  Starch based pastes have been used for centuries and are known not to yellow or darken with age; they are also reversible and it is possible to remove the repair paper at a later date, if need be, without damaging the object, even after many years.

The other main area of conservation work will involve making special bookshoes for books that have detached boards. Bookshoes are a form of bespoke box with only 4 sides which hold the book together but are practically invisible from the front, which is an important point for a National Trust library.  We will use a solid colour archival-quality boxboard made in a warm brown colour – these will be free from acids and from any agents which could stain or change the nature of our books’ bindings and pages.

Once the Collection Care team have finished, the books will be returned to Carlyle’s House in time for the House re-opening to the public in March. With the London Library celebrating its 175th anniversary on 3rd May 2016, we’re delighted that the personal possessions from our founder are being given a new lease of life in time for the big day!

 

Carlyle's House

Thomas and Jane Carlyle’s House in Cheyne Row. They moved there in 1834, three years before the publication of The History of the French Revolution.

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The book collection is housed in the Drawing Room which is open to the public between March and November

28 books will be undergoing conservation work, and were carefully bubble wrapped for their journey back to our conservation studio.

28 books will be undergoing conservation work, and were carefully bubble wrapped for their journey back to our conservation studio.

The journey from Cheyne Walk to St James's Square begins. The books will be returned ready for Carlyle's House re-opening in March 2016.

The journey from Cheyne Walk to St James’s Square begins. The books will be returned ready for Carlyle’s House re-opening in March 2016.

Conservation work is expected to take several weeks and will range from repairing tears to text blocks to making new supports and housings

Conservation work is expected to take several weeks and will range from repairing tears to text blocks to making new supports and housings

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Punching above their weight: small and miniature books at The London Library

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Little Red Books have been in the news recently with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell raising eyebrows in the House of Commons by reading passages from Chairman Mao during the Autumn Statement. Radio 4’s Broadcasting House decided to find out more about the appeal of miniature books and presenter Paddy O’Connell came into The London Library to explore a selection of some of The London Library’s collection of small and miniature books. In a fascinating interview, Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian, introduced some of its highlights.

The collection contains nearly 350 small books printed between the 16th and the 20th centuries, and measuring up to five inches tall. This includes several early Bibles, the beautifully illustrated A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbold (published in 1840), 1927 collections of James Joyce’s poems; and one of our earliest small books printed in 1515 by Aldus Manutius, the originator of the printed pocket book and the inventor of the space-saving italic typeface.

Even smaller, but equally eye-catching, are seven miniatures (defined as books under three inches tall), printed mostly in the 19th century, the golden age of miniature printing. Among these is the smallest version of Dante’s Divina Commedia in the world, the legendary ‘fly’s eye Dante’ of 1878. The Library also holds the smallest Authorized Version of the Bible, printed by David Bryce of Glasgow in 1896 which comes complete with its own magnifying glass. Among the childrens’ books in this collection a miniature edition of Kate Greenaway’s Alphabet from the 1880s stands out.

Small books often presented a showcase for the latest technology of each era where masters of printing and typography sought to display their skills and some of the craftsmanship on display on the small and miniature books collection is breathtaking. But the collection also casts an interesting light on the history of the print industry; particularly how mass manufacture and consumption led to the use of cheap materials in many small books.  Chapbooks, for example, were disposable and so extant copies of these single sheet, paper wrapped ephemera are few. The Library holds a number of rare survivals of this type – for example Louis Janet’s Le Petit Sorcier, (part of  a set of ‘almanachs microscopiques’ used as promotional materials for 18th century Paris shops); or the scandalous Friponniana, Gascogniana, and Grivoisiana which Simon Blocquet published from Lille in the early 19th century. A significant 20th century volume is Sali͡ut, a unique set of 18 children’s booklets printed in Moscow by Detgiz in 1944. Bound together they have survived the instability of the paper and prove a rare insight into Stalin era propaganda.

Much of our small and miniature book collection is housed in the familiar cabinet adjacent to the Reading Room. They reward further examination and as Broadcasting House presenter Paddy O’Connell describes are “a feast for the eyes” – even if you need a magnifying glass to appreciate them fully!

The smallest authorised Bible in the English language containing the Old and New Testaments was published in Glasgow by David Bryce& son in 1896. A feat of printing and binding craftsmanship it came with its own magnifying glass.

The smallest authorised Bible in the English language containing the Old and New Testaments was published in Glasgow by David Bryce & Son in 1896. A feat of printing and binding craftsmanship, it came with its own magnifying glass.

Known as the "Fly's Eye Dante" or "Dantino" this is the smallest edition of the La divina commedia. It as published in Milan by Ulrico Hoepli in 1878. It is thought to be the smallest type at the time of printing which injured the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector in its production. It took one month to print 30 pages.

Known as the “Fly’s Eye Dante” or “Dantino” this is the smallest edition of the La divina commedia. It was published in Milan by Ulrico Hoepli in 1878. It is thought to be the smallest type at the time of printing which injured the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector in its production. It took one month to print 30 pages.

Small sizes lend themselves to small hands as Kate Greenaway's Alphabet shows. Published in London by Routledge in 1885 it is in remarkably fine condition for a children's book.

Small sizes lend themselves to small hands as Kate Greenaway’s Alphabet shows. Published in London by Routledge in 1885 it is in remarkably fine condition for a children’s book.

Theodore Botrel's Chansons et Poesies was published in Paris by Paysan in 1917. It measures 10cm in height and is bound in fabric. Botrel was a singer, songwriter and playwright who visited French troops at the Front during the First World War to sing and read poetry.

Theodore Botrel’s Chansons et Poesies was published in Paris by Paysan in 1917. It measures 10cm in height and is bound in fabric. Botrel was a singer, songwriter and playwright who visited French troops at the Front during the First World War to sing and read poetry.

This highly decorative edition of Elizabeth Inchbold's A Simple Story was published in London by Charles Daly in 1840. Inchbold was a famous actress, playwright and novelist and this edition of her Simple Story, though highly decorative, had a female central character that challenged authority.

This highly decorative edition of Elizabeth Inchbold’s A Simple Story was published in London by Charles Daly in 1840. Inchbold was a famous actress, playwright and novelist and this edition of her Simple Story, though highly decorative, had a female central character that challenged authority.

In 1927, five years after the appearance of Joyce's modernist masterpiece Ulysses, his publisher, Shakespeare and Co issued this small collection of Joyce's poems in Paris. The volumes measure just 13cm in height and the Library acquired two editions in the year it was published.

In 1927, five years after the appearance of Joyce’s modernist masterpiece Ulysses, his publisher, Shakespeare and Co issued this small collection of Joyce’s poems in Paris. The volumes measure just 13cm in height and the Library acquired two editions in the year it was published.

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A historian is only as good as his sources

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Simon Fowler: a frequent writer on how to use Britain's amazing wealth of archives

Simon Fowler: a frequent writer on how to use Britain’s amazing wealth of archives

For our guest blog slot, history researcher and writer Simon Fowler explores the theme of the recent talk he gave to London Library members on “How to… Use the Archives” (part of our series of regular Member Events). Simon provides essential advice to anyone looking to navigate the unparalleled wealth of Britain’s archive collections.

“David Kynaston’s excellent piece in the Autumn 2015 issue of the Library’s Magazine reminds us of the treasures to be discovered in Britain’s archives.  Britain’s archival heritage is second to none with immense riches spanning the centuries. And their holdings cover almost every aspect of human endeavour and every corner of the globe. In short if you are writing on historical subjects, however tangentially, then you really should visit the archives.

Some archival material has already been digitised and online. That’s the good news; the bad news is that it can be hard to find. Certainly there isn’t a central list of what has been copied and where it is to be found. In addition many digitised records just contain the lists of names so beloved by genealogists.

There are over 4500 archives scattered across the British Isles. Some are immense like the UK’s National Archives at Kew, where they look after millions of historic records created by the British government.

But many are tiny. Researchers at the Baring Bank’s archives literally share a desk with the archivists. Woe-betide you if you come back from lunch smelling of garlic!

It’s important to stress that, although there is some overlap, libraries and archives are fundamentally different. Basically all archive holdings are unique and irreplaceable. They are arranged differently too – not by subject, but by collection (such as the records of a church, company or individual), and often further divided by type of record such as minute books, correspondence or diaries.

Even if the records are not yet all online, there are many indexes to be found on the internet. The best place to start is with The National Archives (TNA) website www.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Here you will find details of almost all British archives, short videos on using archives, and guides to using many of the records at Kew. But pride of place goes to the Discovery Catalogue that describes all eleven million records held by the Archives together with many records at other archives. However, it is easy to assume that if what you are looking for isn’t listed here, then it doesn’t exist. This is definitely not the case. You still need to look elsewhere.

There are two other consortia of record offices that offer descriptions of the holdings of a wide range of archives: AIM25 (www.aim25.ac.uk) covers many repositories across London, and the Archives Hub (archiveshub.ac.uk) provides links to archives at universities. You can do a search across all the member archives, say looking for all entries relating to Thomas Carlyle or St James’s Square.

All but the smallest archives now have online catalogues. They may not be complete, nor will they necessarily be easy to use, but they are definitely better than nothing.  If you get stuck remember to put all search terms, such as “Thomas Carlyle” in double quotes. And read the help pages: sometimes they are useful!

The national and copyright libraries all have major collections of archives. Every English and Welsh county, as well as many towns and cities, also have their own record offices, mainly covering the history of their local areas.  Google will take you to them.

If you haven’t got time – or feel nervous about doing research – there are many professional researchers who can help you find what you want. The best are the members of the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (www.agra.org.uk).

British archives are the most complete and easy  to use in the world. Like the London Library they offer a wealth of resources to anybody who visits them. What are you waiting for!”

Simon Fowler is a professional researcher and historian and has published many works on archival research. He has been a member of the London Library since 2000. For more information visit www.history-man.co.uk

 

 

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Archives Guest Blog

Churchill’s secret war – his battle to stay solvent

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David Lough in the London Library Times room. Catch his interview on how he unearthed the perilous state of Churchill's finances

David Lough in the London Library Times room. Catch his interview on how he unearthed the perilous state of Churchill’s finances

Churchill's bank statements provide a detailed record of a lifetime of overspending and financial risk taking

Churchill’s bank statements provide a detailed record of a lifetime of overspending and financial risk taking

Churchill was virtually bankrupt when he became Prime Minister in 1940

Churchill was virtually bankrupt when he became Prime Minister in 1940

Following the recent lecture he gave to The London Library Founders’ Circle, David Lough – Historian and Trustee of The London Library – takes the guest slot for our blog. His new book, No More Champagne, reveals the financial highs and lows of Sir Winston Churchill – who joined the Library in his wilderness years and became vice-President in 1948.

As David describes in his blog and in a fascinating interview filmed in The London Library Times room, Churchill was a profligate spender and teetered on the brink of bankruptcy before wartime fame, friends and film rights restored his position as a multi-millionaire.

“As I come off the back of a seven year mission to lift the lid on Churchill’s finances I confess to a lifelong fascination with the man. But my interest has always had an appetite for revisionism, originally sparked by an excellent history teacher at school who excited my curiosity by describing Churchill as a “romantic old windbag”. Keen to demonstrate my new found independence of thought, I offered this view to my family, outraging my grandmother who was appalled that I could so much as dare impugn the reputation of one of the greatest of Englishmen. I retreated.

“But the questions kept coming, and for ages I have been puzzled by the odd bits of information, often contradictory, that have emerged about Churchill’s money problems. There was clearly a story to be unearthed and I was surprised to find that no one had written about the subject properly before.

“In pulling together the history of Churchill’s finances I have perhaps drawn a lesson from the clash with my grandmother – to expose any foibles and failings of a supremely talented national hero it’s essential to build a very well-researched case. Fortunately, the access that I have been given to the Churchill archive, along with the wealth of published material touching on different aspects of Churchill’s life and times – a good deal of which I have been able to borrow from The London Library – has provided an astonishingly intact record of his financial affairs. Churchill left his own bank statements, bills, investment records and tax demands in his archive, despite the evidence of debt and profligate gambling they reveal. And the story that emerges from my research is richer than I had originally dared hope.

“Churchill lived for most of his life on a financial cliff edge. The popular image may be of champagne and cigars but, behind the scenes, his friends and family came to the rescue several times to prevent his financial problems from engulfing his political career. For the qualities that were to make Churchill a great war leader came very close to destroying him time and again during his career, as manic optimism and risk-taking plunged him repeatedly into colossal debt. In contrast to his well-documented periods of anxiety and depression, when the ‘black dog’ struck him, there were phases when he gambled or traded shares and currencies with such intensity that he appeared to be on a ‘high’ — devoid of inhibition, brimming with self-confidence and energy.

“In my own career, advising families on tax affairs and investments, I have never encountered addiction to risk on such a scale as his. This was never more clearly on display than in the 1930s, when he was a married man in his fifties with four dependent children and already borrowing today’s equivalent of more than £2.5 million. Yet, during the decade, he gambled heavily enough during his holidays to lose an average of £40,000 each year in today’s money.

“Churchill’s financial trials also had an impact on his politics. When his father Lord Randolph Churchill died aged forty-five, he left no immediate allowance for his children in his will and the twenty-year-old Churchill had to rely on his own talents. ‘The only thing that worries me in life is — money,’ he wrote to his brother, Jack. ‘Extravagant tastes, an expensive style of living, small and diminished resources — these are fertile sources of trouble’. Within five years, however, he had built up a capital sum equivalent to a million pounds today. This meant that he could make an early start in politics, but it also gave him a greater affinity with the attitudes of ‘new’ money rather than ‘old’ and may well help explain his willingness to defect from the Tory Party of his aristocratic friends to the Liberal Party of enterprise.

“Some twenty years later, he rejoined the Conservative benches. Again, it is perhaps no coincidence that he had recently inherited his great-grandmother’s Irish estate, transforming the erstwhile entrepreneur into a propertied landlord for the first time in his life – a rentier, as his wife Clementine put it.

“To her intense disappointment, however, Churchill consumed the entire inheritance within a decade – by underestimating the cost of converting his new country home at Chartwell, by gambling more than he ever let on and by losing heavily in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, an episode curiously omitted from his official biography.

“These losses had their own impact on his political career in the 1930s: Churchill resigned from the Conservative front bench not just because he was out of sympathy with the party’s policy on future independence for India, but also to enable him to devote sufficient time to the more lucrative work of writing books and churning out newspaper columns to keep the bank at bay.

“The financial difficulties that accompanied his wilderness years meant that it was only through the intervention of Sir Henry Strakosh – who wrote two cheques for well over £1 million to clear Churchill’s debts – that he wasn’t made bankrupt in 1940 instead of being made Prime Minister.

“Throughout the Second World War many of those around Churchill worked hard to tame his risk-taking (their success ultimately evidenced by his willingness to delay the Allied invasion of Normandy until the summer of 1944). Churchill’s attitude to his own finances underwent a similar conversion over the course of the war, during which he devoted more time to his private affairs than is often realised.

“What finally rescued Churchill’s finances, however, and put him on a stable footing for the rest of his life, was Hollywood. In 1943, an Italian immigrant film producer paid him £50,000 (£2.5 million) for the movie rights to his biography of his ancestor, the military genius Lord Marlborough. The death of Sir Henry Strakosch in October 1943 brought a legacy of £20,000 (£1 million) as well as cancelling a loan.

“As D-Day approached, Churchill was solvent for the first time in 20 years. By the end of the war, he had collected another £50,000 (£2.5 million) for the film rights to his History Of The English-Speaking Peoples. And a further colossal bonus came when he was unexpectedly ousted from Downing Street by the voters in July 1945: on the day of his resignation, offers began to flood in from publishers around the world for his war memoirs.

“The remarkable story of Churchill and his money only makes the man himself more fascinating. In an age when we demand that our politicians are paragons of financial virtue it is salutary to discover that one of the most successful political figures of the twentieth century ran up huge personal debts, gambled heavily, lost large amounts on the stock exchange, paid his bills reluctantly and avoided tax in a way that would cause a scandal today.

“When he died aged 90 on January 24, 1965, the world mourned. But some had a particular reason to regret his passing. In France, Madame Odette Pol-Roger instructed that a black band of mourning should be placed around the label of every bottle of her family’s champagne – recognition perhaps that they would never see such a customer again.”

© 2015 David Lough.

A Mystery Solved

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Last year I wrote a piece for this blog about a mysterious Russian manuscript held in the Library’s Special Collections, the origins and provenance of which were completely unknown to us. The original manuscript of the dramatic poem Pugachov, written by the Russian Silver Age lyrical poet Sergei Esenin (sometimes spelt “Yesenin”), was acquired by the London Library in 1934 and was accessioned without a donation label or any other clues that would point to its provenance. In my blog post I speculated that our Russophile Librarian of the time, Sir Charles Hagberg Wright, may have bought it from an antiquarian bookseller in Berlin, and that it had probably been abandoned by Esenin after its publication there in 1922 (Esenin was touring Western Europe with his new wife, the American dancer Isadora Duncan and had visited Berlin).

The manuscript has since been examined by researchers from The Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow, who have declared it a magnificent gem, the missing piece in the jigsaw of Esenin’s biography and definitely an authentic document.

However, the real turning point in this story did not come from Moscow, but from the back offices of 14 St James’s Square – home of The London Library. In October 2014 our Librarian, Inez Lynn, stumbled across an unassuming announcement while perusing the Library’s Annual report for 1935. It was a list of donations that the Library had received in the previous year and Mr C.E. Bechhofer-Roberts was being thanked for a typed and autographed copy of Esenin’s Pugachov.

I set about discovering more about the life and works of Carl Eric Bechhofer-Roberts (1894-1949). The Library holds at least 25 titles penned by this prolific and eclectic British author. They range from travelogues of his journeys to Russia as a correspondent during the 1917 Revolution and the ensuing Civil War to biographies of British statesmen (including one of the very earliest of Winston Churchill), through fiction and plays written under the pseudonym “Ephesian”, to accounts of famous trials. Bechhofer-Roberts started his career as editor and translator of Russian contemporary literature and his Five Russian plays: with one from the Ukrainian was published in the same year that he joined the London Library, 1916.

I was particularly attracted to his accounts of travels in Russia before 1921, as I hoped that they would provide valuable clues as to his meetings with Sergei Esenin or other members of his literary circle. Russia at the Cross-roads is set in 1916 and did not provide any useful leads, and in his second work, In Denikin’s Russia and the Caucasus, 1919-1920 (1921), Bechhofer-Roberts only describes his meetings with Georgi Gurdjieff in Tiflis in 1919. Gurdjieff was the philosopher and mystic who founded the “Institute for the Harmonic Development of Man” at Fountainebleau, a spiritual guru for our traveller in Russia, but of little meaning to my research.

The Library did not have a copy of his third travelogue, Through Starving Russia (1921). I ordered a reprint for our collections and started reading it with a great sense of urgency. In the book Bechhofer-Roberts gives an eyewitness account of the terrible famine that was affecting the Southern Volga region and the relief operation organised by the Red Cross. Arriving in Moscow in late August 1921 he writes about the utter dilapidation of the capital and its inhabitants.

In Moscow, Bechhofer-Roberts aimed to discover what had happened to the local literary intelligentsia. He tells us that one day he walked into a bookshop in Tver Street and engaged in conversation with the writers, who have turned booksellers. They tell him that the Bolsheviks have suppressed the publication of most literary works, many writers have emigrated and several others have been incarcerated, including Nikolai Gumilev, the husband of Anna Akhmatova, who was a friend of Bechhofer-Roberts and had been his guest in London in 1916. “In fact, Russian prose has practically ceased to appear. Only poetry and a few plays have been published [since the Revolution]”. Bechhofer-Roberts describes  buying some books from the shop, including the works of the Imaginists (Esenin’s own literary movement) and those of Gumilev and Alexander Blok, of whom he had published a famous translation the previous year (The Twelve, illustrated by Mikhail Larionov). Sensing that I was coming closer to the kernel of my story I turned the page and came across the following paragraphs:

“One evening, a little later, I discovered a café in the town called “The Café of the Imaginists”, where I met … Yessenin and Mariengof …. Yessenin gave me the manuscript of the new play Pugachov, which deals with the adventures of the famous Cossack bandit…”

The solution to our mystery was staring me in the face. It certainly explains how the manuscript made its way to London and eventually ended up in our Russian collections. But it also raises many questions as to the reasons why Bechhofer-Roberts did not translate the text into English, as Esenin undoubtedly had hoped and perhaps asked him to do, since he knew of Bechhofer-Roberts’ translations and editions of Russian plays. And why did he stop writing about Russia altogether? We will probably have to wait until a brave soul undertakes to write a biography of our mysterious benefactor, Carl Eric Bechhofer-Roberts. Meanwhile, our colleagues in Moscow are busy rewriting the history and chronicle of Pugachov, which had to be completed by Esenin in a hurry so that it could travel to England, where a future of hope and success could be awaiting far from the bleak reality of civil-war-torn Moscow.

Claudia Ricci, Russian Acquisitions and Cataloguing

Claudia Ricci will be speaking at the conference “Sergei Esenin: his personality, work and times: commemorating the 120th anniversary of his birth”, organised by The Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow (Russian Academy of Sciences), Sep. 23-26, 2015. http://www.imli.ru/events/show/_2017/Sergej-Esenin-Lichnost-Tvorchestvo-Epoha-K-120-letiyu/

 

The original manuscript of Esenin's Pugachov - donated to The London Library in 1934 and recently declared a gem by the Gorky Institute of World Literature

The original manuscript of Esenin’s Pugachov – donated to The London Library in 1934 and recently declared a gem by the Gorky Institute of World Literature

The London Library Annual Report for 1935 records Bechofer-Roberts' donation of the Pugachov manuscript

The London Library Annual Report for 1935 records Bechofer-Roberts’ donation of the Pugachov manuscript

Bechofer-Roberts' joined The London Library in 1916 - a year later he was witnessing the Bolshevik Revolution at first hand

Bechofer-Roberts’ joined The London Library in 1916 – a year later he was witnessing the Bolshevik Revolution at first hand

The man who made Edith Sitwell wait in line

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Born 11th November 1865; died 19th August 1952

“The presiding genius of the Issue Desk always made me shake in my shoes”, JW Lambert

 

The London Library is more than fortunate to boast some of the most helpful and courteous Issues Desk staff that one could hope for. For the first half of the twentieth century, however, members would have experienced a rather more ambiguous welcome as they entered the Library under the terrifying gaze of the legendary Frederick James Cox who manned the Issue Desk for several decades until his retirement in 1951.

Cox joined the Library as a messenger boy in 1882 – a year after Thomas Carlyle its founder and President had died and at a time when a number of members, including the Duchess of Cleveland (Prime Minister Lord Rosebery’s mother), were still arriving on horseback. He continued working until the age of 86 – a career spanning nearly 70 years, during which he came into contact with an extraordinary range of public figures, from Gladstone to Somerset Maugham; Randolph Churchill to Evelyn Waugh; Thomas Huxley to Rose Macaulay.

Dressed in wing collar and studs and fronting the Issue Desk like an imperious bank manager, Cox became a London landmark, sketched by Punch and frequently remarked upon by members amazed by his encyclopaedic knowledge, intimidated by his overbearing manner, and all too frequently patronised by his sharp sense of humour.

JW Lambert, Editor of the New English Dramatists series, recalled how “the presiding genius of the Issue Desk always made me shake in my shoes, riven by the conviction that I should not be taking out whatever I was taking out, or that I was transgressing some unwritten law or another”.

Cox rounded on those he disapproved of. He refused to acknowledge JB Priestley’s success, asking Priestley to repeat his surname more loudly in front of everyone at the Issue Desk so that Cox could fill in the borrowing form properly. When an embarrassed Priestley obliged, Cox barked: “Initial?”

Lady Galway – daughter of Sir Rowland Blennerhassett, one of the leaders of the English liberal Catholic movement - found herself searching for an interpretation of a passage in the Book of Revelation. Cox instantly identified the appropriate authority: “Sir Rowland would have known” he said, frowning at her.

Edith Sitwell was snubbed altogether. JW Lambert recalled, “There appeared through the entrance doors a startling vision: a tall thin woman with an ivory profile and imperious carriage, followed at a respectable distance by a chauffeur with his cap tucked under his arm and carrying a pile of books. She addressed him (Mr Cox) with all the confidence of birth and fame. He broke off what he was saying to me, paused and without turning his head uttered … ‘One moment, Miss Sitwell, if you please’, before carrying on, for several minutes whatever it was that he was telling me”.

Cox's lair - the Issue Desk 1935

Cox at work  - the Issue Desk 1935

Concerned at the treatment of books by some members, Cox remonstrated with Frank Pakenham (later Lord Longford) who was returning several books, one of which had a page turned down. Cox bellowed, “Right, you just wait there!” Moments later he returned, and slammed a pile of books onto the desk, all of them with pages turned down. He roared, “I’ve been lookin’ for the culprit for some time!”

Cox was no less able to hide his disdain for Virginia Woolf when a friend of hers asked for a copy of The Voyage Out. “By Virginia Woolf?” he asked. “Let me see; she was a Miss Stephen, daughter of Sir Leslie” (Leslie Stephen was a former Library President). “Her sister is Mrs Clive Bell I think. Ah, strange to see what’s become of those two girls. Brought up in such a nice home too. But then, they were never baptised”.

Yet for all his idiosyncracies and inverted snobbery, this man – who spent nearly three quarters of a century serving, sometimes insulting, and often intimidating some of the greatest names in literature – was revered for his vast knowledge of the Library and its collection. Nicholas Henderson, ambassador to Washington and Paris, commented: “He knew everything. You asked him anything you wanted to know and he knew where you would find it, he’d get you the book”. JW Lambert concurred: “I don’t know why this remarkable figure, portly, wheezing, wing-collared Mr Cox should have inspired such anxieties; I cannot remember any occasion when I received anything but benign, not to say patronizing, treatment at his hands – hands which had entered books for half the famous authors I had ever heard of.”

Cox died on 19th August 1952, and three days later the Times published a lengthy obituary. The newspaper described him as “a much loved and respected figure… a survivor of a bygone age of leisurely good manners…he needed little encouragement to draw on his memories of St James’s Square. It is not too much to say he became a sort of Remembrancer to all the members of the Library”.

Cox’s anecdotes – from fetching novels for Gladstone, gossiping about Thackeray’s mistress or dealing with the aftermath of Second World War bomb damage at the Library (“it wasn’t what we were used to”) – spanned a unique period in The Library’s growth and development. By his death he had established himself as one of London’s great characters, and if he had amassed a full store of memories, they were matched by those of countless Library members who had equally vivid memories of him!

Julian Lloyd, The London Library

 

 For further information:

The London Library edited by Miron Grindea, The Boydall Press, Adam Books, London 1978

Rude Words: A Discursive History of the London Library, John Wells, Macmillan, London 1991

Founders & Followers – Literary Lectures Given on the 150th Anniversary of The London Library, Sinclair-Stevenson, London, 1992

“Mr. F.J. Cox.” The Times (London, England), Monday, Aug 22, 1955; pg. 9; Issue 53305.

 

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Biography Staff

How to Get Published

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Following the inspiring talk she gave to London Library members last week, Emma Herdman, literary agent at Curtis Brown, joins The London Library blog to give her insights on how to get your words in print.

“When I do any event billed as ‘How to Get Published’, or a variation on this title, I always feel a bit of a fraud. If it was that simple to get published, then we wouldn’t have JK Rowling’s ‘rags to riches’ story, William Golding’s rejection letter for The Lord of the Flies which reads, ‘An absurd and uninteresting fantasy’, or TS Eliot’s rejection of Orwell’s ‘Trotskyite’ Animal Farm. However, what I think I can do – indeed, what I hope I do do – in these sessions, is to arm the aspiring author with the tools to make the best possible submission they can, and give them a broad understanding of how publishing works. With that in mind, and following on from some of the questions I was asked at the event last week, I’ve picked a few questions that come up regularly to answer…

1. Do you need an agent?

You’re forgiven for thinking that I say yes because I’m biased, working as I do at one of Europe’s oldest literary agencies. However, I say yes not (just) because of that, but for several objective reasons. First off, many publishers don’t accept unsolicited submissions; second, an agent has a broad overview of which editors are looking for what, so can do a targeted approach when it comes to sending out your manuscript; third, they know the industry standards when it comes to publishing contracts so are in a much stronger position to ensure you get a good deal.

They’re also a great sounding board – that objective, commercial eye who can help you with your ideas and writing. As much as some people submitting work to us may insist, I’m not convinced that your family member is ever going to be totally objective about your work…

2. How do you get an agent?

You submit a sample of your work to them – usually the first three chapters, or equivalent, with a cover letter and synopsis. The best place to find who to submit to is to look in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which is an invaluable tool. The other method I’m quite fond of is looking on the acknowledgements page of the books you feel are similar to yours and crossing your fingers that the author’s thanked their agent.

You then need to write your cover letter – an infamously tricky task – and all I’ll say here, briefly, is to keep it succinct, friendly but formal. Be sure to include any relevant information (writing courses, prizes, previous publications) if you have any, why you’re submitting to that agent specifically, a short pitch of the book (akin to what you’d find on the back of a book) and a very short bio of yourself.

3. What about self-publishing?

Self-publishing works really well if you’re willing to put the work in. I was at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival last weekend and heard author James Oswald – who originally self-published, and is now published by Penguin – talking about the trials of doing it all yourself. He clarified what I’ve always said about self-publishing: that you need to be your own editor, designer, marketing, publicity and sales person. It’s a huge amount of work to make a success of a self-published book, but there are of course key examples of where this has worked, from Oswald, to Hugh Howey to (dare I say it) EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey.

Those are broadly speaking the three questions I get asked the most, but if they don’t answer yours then there are huge numbers of resources out there on the internet, from blogs to official websites, and any number of writers groups across the country where you can swap tips. The road to publication is rarely a breeze, so arming yourself with as much information as you can will – one hopes – make it ever so slightly more navigable.”

Emma Herdman

 

Emma Herdman, Curtis Brown

Emma Herdman, Curtis Brown

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