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 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 ( covers many repositories across London, and the Archives Hub ( 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 (

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



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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.


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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Guest Blog How to

T. S. Eliot Prized

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London Library member and T.S. Eliot biographer Professor Robert Crawford gives the London Library Lecture at Hay on Sunday 31 May and will be looking at T.S. Eliot and his relationship with the Library as well as exploring the links between poets and libraries more generally. Miranda Richardson is opening proceedings with readings from some of Eliot’s poems.


Eliot joined the London Library in 1918, four years after The Waste Land was published, and became its President in 1952, serving until his death in 1965. The Waste Land first appeared in the inaugural issue of The Criterion, a quarterly journal Eliot launched in October 1922 in the wake of the First World War and which he edited for 17 years. Fellow London Library members appeared in the first issue. Virginia Woolf appears as a translator of Dostoyevsky’s “Plan of a Novel” and May Sinclair was commissioned by Eliot for her short story “The Victim”. The Criterion was published by R. Cobden-Sanderson, also a London Library member of long-standing, who donated over thirty Doves Press books to the Library with the phrase “as to an old friend, from an old member.”


Twenty six years after The Waste Land, Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for Four Quartets. Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding were published by Faber and Faber as individual works between 1936 and 1942 and then collectively as Four Quartets in 1943. The Library has first editions of East Coker, The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding, all published during the course of the Second World War.


Helen O’Neill,  Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

East Coker, the second poem in Eliot’s Nobel Prize winning work Four Quartets was published in 1940. This copy is a first edition and was acquired by the Library on 19 March 1941.

East Coker, the second poem in Eliot’s Nobel Prize winning work Four Quartets was published in 1940. This copy is a first edition and was acquired by the Library on 19 March 1941.

In the wake of the First World War T.S. Eliot founded The Criterion. The Waste Land appeared in its first issue.

In the wake of the First World War T.S. Eliot founded The Criterion. The Waste Land appeared in its first issue.

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T.S. Eliot

The Last Laugh: Groucho Marx, T.S. Eliot and the London Library

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On Saturday evening at 10pm on Radio 3 the wistful dramatisation Dear Mr Eliot: When Groucho Met Tom by Jakko Jakszyk gets another well-deserved airing and if you missed it last year, it is well worth a listen.  It tells the story of the surprising friendship between T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx using their private correspondence and a single, much anticipated meeting. Lenny Henry’s understated Groucho is particularly good and this subtle work is a timely tribute to Eliot’s 50th anniversary this year.


There is a hidden postscript to the story.  A gem, not mentioned in the radio play, but preserved on an EMI recording of a theatrical event, billed as “A Homage to T.S. Eliot” which took place at the Globe Theatre on June 13 1965, five months after Eliot’s death.  It is on the stage, fittingly enough, that Groucho gave his final and wonderfully vaudevillian tribute to the poet – and it brought the house down.


A plush twelve page programme remains of the event. Poems selected by W.H. Auden were read by iconic actors. Laurence Olivier read Little Gidding and Peter O’Toole, The Love Song of J. Afred Prufrock. Introitus, Stravinsky’s musical memorial to Eliot, opened proceedings; a Henry Moore sculpture graced the stage and Bridget Riley provided stage projections for the event. Sandwiched on the programme between The Waste Land and Sweeney Agonistes is Groucho reading from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. It was not Groucho’s rendition of the poem that stole the show but his impeccably-timed preamble which punctured proceedings with peals of laughter from the audience:


“There’s an old vaudeville story about a man who was about to be hanged and they had brought him out on the scaffold there, and put the rope about his neck and the minister in the prison said ‘Have you any last words before we spring the trap?’ and the thing was kind of shaky, and he looked up and said ‘Yes I don’t think this damned thing is safe’. That’s precisely how I feel coming out here tonight surrounded by all these great actors.”


With self-deprecating wit Groucho went on: “You see I never knew what an anachronism was until I was invited to appear on this show” and on the crest of applause before starting to read Gus: The Theatre Cat he warned with deadpan relish: “After I recite this you will realise what Mr Eliot meant by Murder in the Cathedral.”


In capitals on the front of the programme is the statement “THIS PERFORMANCE IS FOR THE LONDON LIBRARY”. T.S. Eliot joined the Library in 1918, four years before he published The Wasteland.  He became the Library’s President in 1952, four years after he received the Nobel Prize in Literature for Four Quartets. He served as President until his death in 1965 and was at the helm during a particularly precarious financial period for the Library after a change in its tax status left it grappling for survival. For me Groucho’s is the standout performance on the EMI recording: it is easy to see why he was so revered by the 20th century’s most influential poet.


Helen O’Neill
Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian


The programme included several photographs of T.S. Eliot including one as a dashing young poet taken with fellow London Library member Virginia Woolf.

The programme included several photographs of T.S. Eliot including one as a dashing young poet taken with fellow London Library member Virginia Woolf.

With music by Stravinsky, sculpture by Henry Moore, and poems selected by W.H. Auden and read by Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole, the Homage to T.S. Eliot which took place on June 13, 1965 was an impressive affair. Note at the bottom of the programme that the performance was “for the London Library”.

With music by Stravinsky, sculpture by Henry Moore, and poems selected by W.H. Auden and read by Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole, the Homage to T.S. Eliot which took place on June 13, 1965 was an impressive affair. Note at the bottom of the programme that the performance was “for the London Library”.

Opening the second part of the performance was Groucho Marx reading from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

Opening the second part of the performance was Groucho Marx reading from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

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T.S. Eliot

Celebrating Married Love: The London Library Collection of Per Nozze

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by Andrea Del Cornò

In amongst the riches of the Italian material held at The London Library, the collection of Per Nozze (literally “for a wedding”) deserves a special mention. Outside Italy this collection of epithalamia – writings published on the occasion of marriage – is a unique resource with a significance comparing only to those collections of Nozze or Per Nozze held at the Central National Library of Florence and the State Library of Berlin.

The origins of nuptialia – literary compositions in verse or prose written and printed to celebrate a wedding – might be traced back to classical times. As poetic compositions, nuptialia were popular in Latin literature, continuing the Italic tradition of rustic verses and poems, like the fescennini, the contents of which could be bawdy or openly licentious. The tradition of Per Nozze, publications presented as gifts and mementos to the spouses – for reasons which have yet to be properly investigated – would appear to have been an almost exclusively Italian custom. Usually printed in limited editions and for private circulation, these volumes or pamphlets of congratulatory verses, were often made without any expense being spared in their delightfully decorated appearance. Whilst some have been preserved in libraries on account of their importance or fine bindings, a great number were printed on poor quality paper, even on loose sheets, and by amateur printers. These works, due to their ephemeral and transitory nature, are now very scarce or no longer extant.

Eminent writers and scholars composed writings Per Nozze, amongst them: Carlo Goldoni, Giuseppe Parini, Giacomo Leopardi and Giosuè Carducci.

Written or compiled to mark the occasion of a wedding, epithalamia are not simply celebratory poems about married love. Compositions Per Nozze, often in prose, cover a remarkable and highly miscellaneous variety of subjects – from history and philosophy, to art, architecture and even scientific fields. These can represent serious contributions to their respective discipline, of lasting merit. Additionally, writings Per Nozze and their contents, can provide invaluable material in the analysis of cultural and social history and life of Italian society, with particular relevance to local events.

The eighteenth-century witnessed a plethoric production of Per Nozze, especially driven by the literary output of the numerous learned academies at the time popular throughout the Italian peninsula. Members of the Accademia degli Arcadi, founded in Rome in 1690, for example, were particularly prolific, as were the so-called frugoniani poets. Writings Per Nozze were printed by the thousand during the nineteenth-century. This sizeable production – which had already generated the veiled irony of Parini in his well-known Ode per nozze – prompted severe criticism. Venetian polymath Francesco Algarotti complained of an “incredible dysentery of sonnets”. French novelist Stendhal, having observed that Italy had faltered in its march towards progress, sarcastically posed the question: “l’Italie se remettra-t-elle à faire des sonnets imprimés sur du satin rose pour les jours de noces?” Several writers, nevertheless, encouraged this tradition. In 1899, man of letters, Luigi Settembrini wrote: “… the custom persists to the present day in every Italian city, this is laudable, and we hope it will last forever”.

The so-called Nozze collection at The London Library – the only UK-based institution to hold this material in such quantity – amounts to over 2,500 pamphlets, bound together in 144 volumes and boxes numbered in sequence and divided into “Poetry”, “Prose” and “Miscellanea”, according to their content. This discrete collection was put together patiently by former Librarian Charles Hagberg Wright and some of the works held would appear to be lacking in Italian libraries. The earliest work held is the fascinating Feste delle nozze del Serenissimo Don Francesco Medici Gran Duca di Toscana et della Sereniss. Sua consorte la Sig. Bianca Cappello, by Raffaello Gualteretto printed at Florence, and dated 1579. Several items feature fine engravings and printers’ devices, and, in some cases, the original highly decorative publisher’s bindings or paper wrappers have been preserved. Some are decorated with elaborate woodcuts or stencil-printed armorial design or embossed patterns. Conspicuously, in a few cases, the text is printed on charming pale blue leaves of paper. Within the collection, a number of publications were not intended to celebrate marriage but rather different occasions, such as all kinds of anniversaries, the taking of vows and promotion to high office. These, more correctly, are often referred to as ingressi, gratulatorie, or monacazioni, also known as Nozze in Cristo.

The Library’s holdings would seem to originate mainly from the northern regions of Italy, Venice and the Veneto area in particular. However there are a number of eighteenth-century Per Nozze publications from Lucca as well as a rare compilation from southern Italy, which includes a composition by the Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico, written to celebrate the wedding, in Naples, of Charles II and Maria Amalia of Saxony in 1738.
Amongst the many gems, there are several rare Nozze of historical interest and others relating to Italian travellers to Elizabethan England, England in the Cromwellian years and those of William and Mary of Orange. To this category belongs the diary of Anton Maria Ragona, a merchant from Vicenza, who travelled to England in the company of Filippo Pigafetta, the renowned traveller, in 1582. In his diary, Ragona recalls his meeting with Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State “who like all great men in England speaks Italian excellently”. Whilst Queen Elizabeth is described as “thin, with a long face, and not unpleasing in appearance”. Additionally, Ragona noticed that “Italians were well received in this court, especially if they had changed their religion”.

Another outstanding example is the rare Giornale del viaggio nella Svizzera, an elegant edition dated 1834, of which only twelve copies were made. The Giornale represents a primary example of the cultural and scientific cosmopolitanism which inspired the European Enlightenment. A noteworthy association of the journal – indeed its claim to fame – lies in its recording a meeting, on 16th September 1777, in the Swiss town of Ferney, between the author, Venetian senator Angelo Querini, and the French philosopher Voltaire, by this time of advanced years.

Furthermore, the Library possesses a set of rare Nozze relating exclusively to the Medici Family of Florence. These include reproductions of documents and letters drafted or composed by Gian Giorgio Trissino, papal legate to Venice and Vienna during the first half of the sixteenth century, and author of the once famous tragedy of Sofonisba. Other pieces of some rarity feature poetic writings of Fogazzaro, Zanella, and Cabianca.

From the early decades of the twentieth century the tradition of writings Per Nozze started to decline. In a pamphlet published in 1928 the scholar Augusto Campana wrote “today the custom of Per Nozze publications appears to have passed, almost not approved of. Per Nozze were the charm of a bygone era”. The golden age of publications Per Nozze, has undoubtedly waned away. In a 1915 article, however, The Times describes the London Library’s Nozze holdings through the words of Dante, Messo t’ho innanzi: omai per te ti ciba. The marvelous London Library Collection bears testimony to the popularity and significance of a literary genre which deserves indeed to be better known.


Per le felici Nozze del nobile Signore Francesco Cortelazis colla Signora Contessa Marina Arnaldi Padova, 1857    [London Library Nozze 114].

Per le felici Nozze del nobile Signore Francesco Cortelazis colla Signora Contessa Marina Arnaldi
Padova, 1857 [London Library Nozze 114].

I riti nuziali de' Greci per le faustissime Nozze dell' illustrissimo Sionor Marchese Vincenzio Riccardi con l'illustrissima Signora Ortenzia dei Vernaccia. [by Francesco Fontani followed by poems by various authors.] Firenze 1789 [London Library Nozze 104]

I riti nuziali de’ Greci per le faustissime Nozze dell’ illustrissimo Sionor Marchese Vincenzio Riccardi con l’illustrissima Signora Ortenzia dei Vernaccia. [by Francesco Fontani followed by poems by various authors.] Firenze 1789 [London Library Nozze 104]

Nelle faustissime Nozze de' nobili signori Alessandro Ottolini Conti e Luisa Santini patrizj lucchesi Rime. Lucca 1784.  [London Library Nozze 72]

Nelle faustissime Nozze de’ nobili signori Alessandro Ottolini Conti e Luisa Santini patrizj lucchesi Rime. Lucca 1784. [London Library Nozze 72]

Poesie per le felicissime Nozze del nobile Signor Conte Marcantonio Trissino di Vicenza con la nobile Signora Contessa Cecilia Emilii di Verona  In Vicenza 1764  [London Library Nozze 60].

Poesie per le felicissime Nozze del nobile Signor Conte Marcantonio Trissino di Vicenza con la nobile Signora Contessa Cecilia Emilii di Verona
In Vicenza 1764 [London Library Nozze 60].

A charming white cover with a relief motifs of coloured flowers.

A charming white cover with a relief motifs of coloured flowers.

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Italian Collections

Russian acquisitions in the UK-Russian Year of Culture 2014

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As the UK-Russian Year of Culture 2014 is over, our Russian Specialist Claudia Ricci provides a brief round-up of recent acquisitions that have been added to our Russian shelves.

Last year’s acquisitions started with some publications linked to anniversaries that had taken place during the previous year.

One such event was the discovery of Severnaya Zemlya (Northern Land) in the Arctic Sea in 1913, which is narrated by the explorer and head of the North Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition (1910-1915), Nikolay Evgenov (1888-1964). The author was a victim of Stalin’s purges between 1938 and 1943 and his work was completed and edited by a younger colleague, V.N. Kupetsky, who only managed to publish some chapters in a Soviet scientific journal in the 1980s. Now it has been published unabridged for the first time in book form:

- Poli͡arnai͡a ėkspedit͡sii͡a na ledokolakh “Taĭmyr” i “Vaĭgach” v 1910-1915 godakh (Geograf, 2013) [The Polar expeditions on board the ice-breakers Taimyr and Vaigach in 1910-1915] Shelved in: T. Arctic & Antarctic, under Evgenov.

Another important event that took place in 2013 was the discovery of a manuscript from 1921, the almanack “Serapionovy brat’ia”, a collaborative work by the members of a literary group, who met at the Petrograd House of Arts and had taken their name from E.T.A. Hoffman’s German movement. The anthology was due to be published in 1921, but was lost during the Civil War, then only found in Finland in recent years and published for the first time in 2013. It includes contributions by Maxim Gorky, Lev Lunts, Mikhail Zoshchenko and Viktor Shklovsky :

- Serapionovy bratʹi͡a 1921 : alʹmanakh (Limbus Press, 2013) [The Serapion Brothers, 1921: almanack] Shelved in L. Russian Lit. under its title.

One major event in 2013 was the 400th anniversary of the ascent to the throne of the Romanov dynasty. In 1613 Mikhail Romanov was offered the Russian crown following years of unrest and fighting known as the Time of Troubles, and the House of Romanov ruled over the country until the abdication of Nicholas II in February 1917. Various publications appeared on this occasion including two exhibition catalogues:

- Romanovy – portret dinastii : t͡sarskiĭ i velikokni͡azheskiĭ portret v sobranii Istoricheskogo muzei͡a / [The Romanovs – portrait of a dynasty : portraits of tsars and Grand Dukes from the collections of the State Historical Museum]. Shelved in A. Portraits, 4to. under Gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii muzei

- Romanovy – nachalo dinastii : k 400-letii͡u izbranii͡a na t͡sarstvo Mikhaila Fedorovicha Romanova = [The Romanovs - the beginning of the dynasty : on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the ascent to the throne of Mikhail Fedorovich Romanov] Shelved in H. Russia, 4to. under title.

A topic that has attracted renewed attention in recent times, inspiring works both in English and Italian, is the controversial award of the Nobel Prize to the novelist Boris Pasternak in 1958, now reinterpreted in the light of new archival discoveries:

- Fleishman, Lazar. Boris Pasternak i Nobelevskai͡a premii͡a (Azbukovnik, 2013) [Boris Pasternak and the Nobel prize]

- Mancosu, Paolo. Inside the Zhivago storm : the editorial adventures of Pasternak’s masterpiece (Feltrinelli, 2013 – the original publisher of the 1st Russian edition of Doctor Zhivago).

- Finn, Peter and Couvée, Petra. The Zhivago affair : the Kremlin, the CIA, and the battle over a forbidden book (Harvill Secker, 2014)

- B.L. Pasternak : pro et contra : B.L. Pasternak v sovetskoĭ, ėmigrantskoĭ, rossiĭskoĭ literaturnoĭ kritike : antologii͡a / sostavlenie, kommentarii: El.V. Pasternak et al. (RKhGA, 2012-13) [B.L. Pasternak- pros and cons : Pasternak in Soviet, émigré and Russian literary criticism : an anthology]

All the above are to be found in L. Russian Lit., Pasternak.

However, the event that has had the greatest impact on Russian publishing in 2014 is, without any doubt, the anniversary of the First World War. In Russia WWI has never been perceived on the same level of importance as the other two great Patriotic wars (the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 and WWII respectively), and one gets the impression that it was often neglected as a topic of research in Soviet times. Several publications have been acquired for our History, Reading Room and Art collections with the aim to fill existing gaps and enrich our WWI section with a Russian perspective. Among them:

- Rossii͡a v Pervoĭ mirovoĭ voĭne, 1914-1918 : ėnt͡siklopedii͡a v trekh tomakh / red. A.K. Sorokin et al. (Rosspen, 2014) [Russia during WWI, 1914-1918: encyclopaedia] in R.R. Dicts., History

- Pervai͡a mirovai͡a voĭna, 1914-1918. Catalogue of an art exhibition held in Saint Petersburg in 2014. (Palace editions, 2014) [First World War, 1914-1918] shelved in A. Art, 4to.

- Rossiĭskai͡a monarkhicheskai͡a gosudarstvennostʹ na poslednem ėtape svoeĭ istorii, 1894-1917 : sbornik dokumentov (IRI RAN, 2014) [ The Russian monarchical state in the last stage of its history : collection of documents] shelved in H. Russia.

- Aǐrapetov, O. Uchastie Rossiĭskoi imperii v Pervoĭ mirovoĭ voĭne (Kuchkogo pole, 2014) [The participation of the Russian empire in the First World War] shelved in H. European War I.Stepanov, Evgeniĭ. Poėt na voĭne : Nikolaĭ Gumilev, 1914-1918 (Progress-Pleiada, 2014) [A poet at war : Nikolay Gumilev, 1914-1918] A detailed chronicle of Gumilev’s life as a soldier in 1914-1918, including his missions to London and Paris. N. Gumilev is better known for his acmeist poetry, his relationship with Anna Akhmatova and his execution by the Cheka in 1921. Shelved in Biog. Gumilev.Li͡etopisʹ Velikoĭ voĭny in 6 v. [Chronicle of the Great War] Complete reprint of the homonymous Russian periodical (1914-1917), which aimed for a comprehensive coverage of articles from the national press and official documents about the Great War published at the time. Shelved in H. European War I, 4to.

Finally, a couple of items that honour the memory of other victims of Russian and Soviet events:

- Kniga russkoĭ skorbi : pami͡atnik russkim patriotam, pogibshim v borʹbe s vnutrennim vragom / sost. V.M. Erchak (Institut russkoi tsivilizatsii, 2013) [Book of Russian sorrow : memory to Russian patriots, who died in the fight against internal enemies]. Shelved in Biographical Colls., this is a very comprehensive list of names of victims of domestic terror and terrorism in tsarist Russia up until 1914, previously published in 14 vols. between 1908 and 1914, but banned after 1917.

- Chistiakov, Ivan. Sibirskoĭ dalʹneĭ storonoĭ : dnevnik okhrannika BAMa : 1935-1936 (AST, Corpus, 2014) [ From the Siberian far side : dairy of a prison guard at the Baikal-Amur Lager, 1935-1936] Shelved in Biog. Chistiakov, it is a unique historical testimony, being the diary of a GULAG guard, who was sent to the prison camp where the BAM railway line was being built in the 1930s.

The Library also aims to acquire works about current events affecting Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union, although possibly more in English than in Russian. On our shelves you will find recent publications about the “Pussy riot” phenomenon, the Khodorkovsky case, the Ukrainian crisis and annexation of Crimea, and biographies of politicians, intellectuals and other distinguished contemporary Russians. Look out for them in our New Books shelves and don’t hesitate to ask at the Enquiry desk or contact the Russian Specialist (


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Russian collections

Search The London Library’s Catalogue with Catalyst

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The London Library’s new catalogue search tool, Catalyst is now live.  This is an exciting development for the Library, allowing members to search our print and online resources simultaneously.

What does Catalyst contain?

Books and Journals – All of the Library’s books and journals acquired since 1950 are now on Catalyst, as well as a substantial and growing number of titles from our earlier catalogues.

eJournals – All the eJournals the Library subscribes to can be found by title in Catalyst and the content of 95% of our subscription eJournals can also be retrieved by Catalyst.

Databases – All of our subscription online databases can be found by title in Catalyst and the content of a number of databases including the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Who’s Who, and the Oxford Dictionary of Art can also be retrieved by Catalyst.  We expect to be able to add the content of more databases in the future. Catalyst has a mobile friendly view which allows you to search on your mobile device. The site is responsive and adapts automatically to the mobile view when the screen size reduces to under 500 pixels.

How to use Catalyst – Members wishing to use Catalyst should select the Sign in option from the top right hand corner on any Catalyst screen and you will be taken to a login screen.  You will need your membership number or the barcode from your London Library membership card and your PIN.  If you have forgotten your PIN please contact the Membership Office and they will be pleased to help.

For members who would like to know more, The London Library will be holding demonstration sessions at the Library for members.

Tuesday 27th January 10.15am – 11am or 11.15am – 12pm
Wednesday 28th January 2.15pm – 3pm or 3.15pm – 4pm
Thursday 29th January 2.15pm – 3pm or 3.15pm – 4pm
Friday 30th January 10.15am – 11am or 11.15am – 12pm 

Numbers at each session will be limited, to reserve a place please contact Amanda Stebbings.