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The Lure of the North

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In the last of our set of blogs on the works  featured in our Found on The Shelves series (published with Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary)  Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – delves into the tales of the intrepid nineteenth century travellers to Norway whose adventures can be found in The Lure of the North

Young people backpacking across remote parts of the world and writing about the experience for the benefit of those back home is not as new a phenomenon as we might think. The Lure of North contains three travelogues written by two young men and one woman respectively, who turned their backs on the hustle and bustle of 19th century Britain to answer the call of the wild.

Our adventurous trio chose to spend their summer holidays in Norway, far away from the crowds, the “English catch-a-train principles” and the tedium of “hearing the street organs play ‘La donna è mobile’ for the six-thousandth time!”.  With its beautiful scenery, friendly people, and affordable prices Norway was the favourite destination of many a Victorian literary traveller. The shelves of The London Library bear the evidence of how many were seduced by its charms and could not wait to write about their trips: Wild Life on the Fjelds of Norway (1861), Three in Norway by Two of Them (1882), Tracks in Norway of Four Pairs of Feet delineated by Four Hands, with Notes on the Handiwork of Each by the Ohers (1884) and One and a Half in Norway: a Chronicle of Small Beer, by Either and Both (1885) are just a few examples.

Our first intrepid traveller is William Dawson Hooker, author of Notes on Norway, or, A Brief Journal of a Tour Made to the Northern Parts of Norway in the Summer of 1836. The son of the first full-time director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, when he set off for his Norwegian holiday he was only twenty and studying medicine at Glasgow University. The beauty of Norway touched him deeply and he was not ashamed to share his bitter disappointment at not being able to capture it in his sketches:

“My most sanguine expectations were surpassed by the loveliness of the scenery. I sat down to attempt a delineation of its highly picturesque beauties, but the more I tried, the further did I feel from attaining my object; for, after finishing my sketch, and comparing it with the lovely original, I felt utterly disheartened at observing how it failed in conveying the least idea of the brilliant and living reality.”

His artistic zeal almost proved fatal when on one occasion the riverbank he sat on to sketch collapsed and he fell into the icy waters of the Alten river. He managed to pull himself out and happily bumped into his guide, Prakopken who only spoke “a very little Norske and Russ, some Quānish and about twenty words of English” but was by some lucky coincidence carrying a provisions basket, complete with schnapps. Hooker survived this episode but would sadly die of yellow fever only three years later in Jamaica.

Miss Emmeline Lowe found the Norwegians’ custom of asking a lady’s age much more trying than their habit of expressing their opinions freely and while she gave an answer to those who asked her she certainly did not include the number in her book, Unprotected females in Norway, or, The Pleasantest Way of Travelling There, passing through Denmark and Sweden, with Scandinavian Sketches from Nature. However, we do know that only two years after her holiday of 1857 she married Colonel Spencer Clifford, who was soon after appointed the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod. More importantly, our unprotected female’s travelling companion was her mother, who was perfectly happy to speed across Norway with Emmeline in a cariole, procure her own breakfast with a fishing rod and live the whole summer out of a carpet bag. It seems unlikely that the pair would have been much advanced “on the journey of life” given that they opted for the ‘no frills’ holiday package in Norway “leaving the crochet and scandal to the watering-places”.   Mother and daughter also ventured unprotected to Sicily and if their Italian excursions were anything like those in Norway they must have had a wonderful time there too. Nothing short of a pack of wolves, which gave them a “disagreeably zoological sensation”, deters the pair and Emmeline delights in the scenery, the people and the food. The only criticisms she makes are of the fellow Britons she encounters, whose arrogant and ignorant behaviour contrasts with the “dignified, unselfish manner of the Norwegian peasant”.

In the summer of 1881 a twenty five year old Edward Stanford, son of the founder of the great travel bookshop, sailed around Norway with five companions in the ‘Snark’, a small boat designed by them and helpfully named after Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark:

“The word has such a distinctly Norse flavour about it that the very name of our beautiful little craft added something to our popularity on the Hardanger Fiord.”

The short pamphlet, A cruise on the Hardanger Fiord, or, Six in Norway with a “Snark”, by One of Them, is not as complimentary as Emmeline Lowe’s account. The man who would later take over the family business and be appointed Geographer to Her Majesty the Queen was not impressed by some aspects of the journey. Yet he encounters the first unpleasantness before reaching Norway:

“I pass over the horrors of Hull and the details of our life on board the Wilson steamship “Domino”.  Suffice it that the passengers took much interest in our movements, and the crew of the “Snark” began to exhibit a certain easy unconventionality which developed itself alarmingly before our return.”

Of the flad-bröd that Emmeline thought “charming light waffle-kacker” he writes that they are a “wafer-like substance resembling crisp brown paper intermingled with blotting, sawdust, and straw.” He also takes exception to

“a sort of Caliban who lives at the farm, and acts as boatman and interpreter. The Norwegian Tourist Club has done so much for the path that I would suggest its doing a little more. A small pension conditional on Caliban’s removal elsewhere would be money well spent.”

Still, he evidently enjoyed his jolly boating trip and the many excursions inland to visit beauty spots which by the 1880s had become well known.

In these three accounts we see a profound change in our attitude to foreign travel from previous centuries. Venturing abroad for pleasure is no longer the final stage of a young aristocratic man’s education. By the 19th century we see that different classes of persons are heading off in search of fun and adventure, much as they do today, and their ‘warts and all’ advice to fellow travellers is refreshingly modern.

Lure of the North cover

A View of Hammerfest from William Dawson Hooker's Notes on Norway

A View of Hammerfest from William Dawson Hooker’s Notes on Norway

Dawson Hooker with guide in the Alten Forest

Dawson Hooker with guide in the Alten Forest

Emmeline Lowe & her mother venture out in their cariole in Gulbrandsdahl

Emmeline Lowe & her mother venture out in their cariole in Gulbrandsdahl

The intrepid unprotected females experience a "disagreeably zoological sensation" as they encounter a pack of wolves

The intrepid unprotected females experience a “disagreeably zoological sensation” as they encounter a pack of wolves

Edward Stanford travels through Hardanger Fjord in his boat The Snark

Edward Stanford travels through Hardanger Fjord in his boat The Snark

 

The London Library and the Victorians – Julia Margaret Cameron

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In the second installment of her series of monthly blogs on the London Library and the Victorians, Helen O’Neill our Archive, Heritage and Development Librarian looks at the fascinating connections between the pioneer of photography, Julia Margaret Cameron and the Library.

 

Between 1864 and 1875 an artist working in a new medium from a converted hen house on the Isle of Wight unleashed a distinctive female aesthetic on the visual arts in Britain. Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879) was a pioneer of photography and a master of portraiture. She was an experimental innovator who pushed at the boundaries of the medium.  She exhibited nationally and internationally; took advantage of new copyright law to protect 500 of her images; sought avenues for mainstream review to expand her audience and critical reputation; approached high profile sitters and sought payment and recognition for her work.  She had a clear artistic vision for her work, which she adhered to and defended in the face of criticism. When Cameron began her photographic career she was 48; had lived on three continents; raised 11 children; been a society hostess alongside her Benthamite jurist husband Charles Hay Cameron; was accustomed to socialising with the Victorian intelligentsia and counted, as a personal friend, the scientist who coined the term “photography”.  She had the mettle and the means not to be easily swayed by criticism. Cameron’s intense psychological portraits of what her great niece, Virginia Woolf called “great men and beautiful women” are considered some of the most significant photographic work in the history of the medium.

Cameron joined the Library in 1856, being nominated by her son-in-law Henry Thoby Prinsep. The association between the Cameron family and the London Library travels through several generations, from her sister Sara’s influential Kensington salon at Little Holland House, to the Bloomsbury circle.  At Little Holland House Cameron socialised and formed friendships with many of the scientists, writers, poets and painters she later photographed. Charles Darwin, John Herschel, Henry Taylor, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Anthony Trollope, W.E.H. Lecky, Robert Browning, John Ruskin, Alfred Tennyson and the Prinseps’ artist in residence, George Frederick Watts all sat for portraits by her. Her work reflects the richness of 19th century culture and the diverse circle amongst whom she moved. Like her son-in-law Leslie Stephen, in his editorship of the Dictionary of National Biography and the “Hall of Fame” portraits of George Frederick Watts, Cameron chronicled the influential men of her day. In little more than a decade she produced some of the most compelling portraits of the Victorian age and her work has subsequently fuelled more exhibitions and publications than any other 19th century photographer.

Thomas Carlyle, social critic and founder of the Library said “Portraits are the candle by which we read history.” He sat for his portrait in the studio of George Frederic Watts in Little Holland House during a London downpour. Her soft focus, long exposure lens captures both the force and vulnerability of his character. Cameron noted on Carlyle’s portrait: “like a rough block of Michel Angelo’s sculpture”.  In  Annals of my Glass House she explained: ‘When I have had such men before my camera, my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man’. Carlyle considered the portrait, which was taken after the death of his wife, “worth a dozen biographies”.

In addition to her portraits of notable men, Cameron took a range of portraits of women which exhibit an intensity rarely displayed in Victorian society.  These portraits, often have a pre-Raphaelite feel but Cameron allocated her subjects a much more varied and complex palette of visual representations than the pre-Raphaelite painters. Melancholy and sensual, they are also surprisingly forthright and defiant. Drawn from literary, religious and classical sources Cameron’s combination of soft focus, dramatic lighting and extreme close-up produced strong and arresting profiles.

In 1864 she was elected to the Photographic Society of London, and submitted 5 prints to the 10th annual photographic Society of London Exhibition in the same year. Her work polarised opinion.  The Society recommended that Cameron “should not let herself be misled by the indiscriminate praise bestowed upon her by the non-photographic press and should do much better when she has learnt the proper use of her apparatus.” What the Society saw as technical incompetence was for Cameron, artistic choice.  She sought to capture the moment “when focusing and coming to something which to my eye was very beautiful“; she wrote “I stopped there instead of screwing on the lens to the more definite focus which all other photographers insist upon.”  She defended her stylistic choices in a letter to John Herschel after the exhibition: “What is focus and who has the right to say what focus is the legitimate focus….My aspirations are to ennoble photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High art by combining the real and Ideal and sacrificing nothing of the Truth by all possible devotion to Poetry and beauty…your eye can best detect and your imagination conceive all that is to be done.”

Though criticised by the photographic establishment, Cameron was praised by artists and writers including Tennyson and George Frederick Watts. Victor Hugo was similarly impressed, writing to Cameron: “No one has ever captured the rays of sun as you have: I throw myself at your feet.”  Sir John Herschel, who coined the term “photography” acknowledged how far she had exceeded the medium and Rossetti, writing towards the end of his life, referred to Cameron’s “unrivalled” work in “sun-portraiture.” While not adhering to standards of realism Cameron’s portraits reflected in their use of light and shade the painters of the Renaissance art. A letter written in 1867 offers an insight into her working practices and drive:  “I work with more zeal and rapidity than can be supposed…I took last week 35 life sized portraits and printed 62 in 5 days time and I work without any assistance printing on my own prints – varnishing my own glasses – continuing till 2am and recommencing at 7am.” She drew from a reservoir of artistic, literary and religious sources in her work, using many literary sources including the Bible, Greek mythology, the classics of English literature, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, and Tennyson.

Virginia Woolf, Cameron’s great niece, parodied Cameron’s Victorian circle in her 1923 play Freshwater but with the art critic, Roger Fry, was responsible for the first major monograph on Cameron’s work, published by the Hogarth Press in 1926. Today Cameron, photographer and London Library member, is considered one of the most important figures in the history of photography.

Helen O’Neill

Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

Mrs Charles Hay Cameron, more commonly known today as the pioneer of photography, Julia Margaret Cameron joined the Library in 1856.  She was nominated by her nephew the painter and poet Val Prinsep.

Mrs Charles Hay Cameron, more commonly known today as the pioneer of photography, Julia Margaret Cameron joined the Library in 1856. She was nominated by her nephew the painter and poet Val Prinsep.

Thomas Carlyle sat for his portrait in the studio of George Frederic Watts at Little Holland House. Cameron’s resulting portrait he said was worth a dozen biographies.

Thomas Carlyle sat for his portrait in the studio of George Frederic Watts at Little Holland House. Cameron’s resulting portrait he said was worth a dozen biographies.

Julia Jackson was Cameron’s niece and favourite and much photographed model. She later became the wife of Leslie Stephen and mother of the Bloomsbury sisters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.

Julia Jackson was Cameron’s niece and favourite and much photographed model. She later became the wife of Leslie Stephen and mother of the Bloomsbury sisters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.

Direct and defiant: Cameron took this photograph of Alice Liddell in 1872.

Direct and defiant: Cameron took this photograph of Alice Liddell in 1872.

Life in a Bustle: Advice to Youth

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Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – continues our series of blogs looking at the works that we have featured in The London Library’s  Found on The Shelves series, published with Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary. Here she looks at three works aimed at advising the young, that have been collected together in  Life in a Bustle: Advice to Youth

At The London Library we firmly believe in keeping the vast majority of our books on the open shelves for our members to discover and enjoy. However, a few treasures are kept under lock and key. One of these is the collection of ca. 5,000 pamphlets bequeathed by Sir Claude Montefiore and the three titles contained in Life in a Bustle come from this collection.

Sir Claude Joseph Goldsmid Montefiore (1858-1938) is mainly remembered as the founder of Liberal Judaism in Britain and for his contribution to Biblical studies but there was another side to him. Montefiore was a true philanthropist; he was born to wealth and like so many other men and women in 19th and early 20th century Britain he believed that privilege came with a responsibility to give something back. He devoted some of his time and considerable wealth to furthering causes close to his heart, such as education and social welfare. He served briefly as a co-opted member of the London School Board, was president of Hartley College (a precursor of Southampton University) and he played a crucial role in the establishment of the Froebel Educational Institute, a teacher training college in Roehampton.

It was at the Froebel Institute that Sir Alfred Milner (1854–1925) gave a talk on 21 January 1897 at Montefiore’s request and this address to the Institute’s students is the first of our pamphlets. The title of his talk was simply Bustle and he was certainly better qualified than most to talk on the subject of trying to do too much in a rush. He began his career by being called to the Bar and writing for the Pall Mall Gazette but soon moved into politics and the civil service. Milner was self-disciplined, energetic and, like his friend Montefiore, believed in the importance of ‘public usefulness’. At the time of warning his audience about the dangers of ‘Hurry’ he was Chairman of the Board of the Inland Revenue and on the brink of leaving for Africa to take up first the Governorship of the Cape of Good Hope, later that of Transvaal and Orange River Colony and finally becoming High Commissioner for South Africa. When he says:

“Life is infinitely fuller, more varied, more interesting than it ever was. But on the other hand it requires more judgement, more balance of mind, more strength of character to make the best of it.”

We are hearing the words of one who knows what it is like to have many demands on his time but has mastered the art of managing them:

“Economy of time, in the sense of always having some time to spare, some time in hand, is essential to the successful conduct of life in a society like that in which we live, so busy, so hurrying, so full of unexpected calls upon its members”

and knows how precious this limited resource is:

“Of all luxuries I know few equal to the unexpected collapse of a business engagement through no fault of one’s own. A present of time!”

The next piece of timeless advice comes from Percy Arthur Barnett (1858-1942). His is The Little Book of Health and Courtesy, written to give boys and girls essential guidance on personal hygiene, table manners and how to show consideration for others. Just as Milner was an expert on the subject of bustling, Barnett was eminently well qualified to give advice to young people on how to conduct themselves. He was an authority on education having been a college professor, school inspector and principal of a teacher training college in Britain as well as Superintendent of Education in Natal by the time he wrote the book in 1905. Upon his return home he was appointed Chief Inspector of Teacher Training for the Board of Education and later Civil Advisor to the War Office on army education. But there was something else in Barnett’s history that perhaps compelled him to write the book: he spent part of his childhood in the Jews’ Hospital and Orphan Asylum in Norwood. The man who was once an orphan wrote a little book to help other children who maybe didn’t have parents to guide them either. Although some of his advice may seem a little dated “If  strangers or  elderly persons come into a room where  a boy chances to be wearing his hat or cap, he should  at once take it off…”,  most of it will never cease to be true “The real root of all good manners is good feeling. Teach yourself to be kind.”

The last piece in the book is another address to students of the Froebel Institute, this time delivered by Montefiore himself in December of 1915. The title On Keeping Young and Growing Old, contains the substance of Montefiore’s address, in which he advised the trainee teachers to “achieve the wisdom of age, and also retain the heart of youth”. The same playfulness in the character of this serious scholar that would sometimes move him to surprise his friends by spontaneously reciting a fragment of Alice in Wonderland inspired him to tell the trainee teachers on that cold December day that “It keeps us young to continue to feel pleasure in croquet or chocolate”.

The advice contained in this little book on slowing down, being kind to others and remembering to savour and enjoy life is as relevant today as it was more than a hundred years ago.

Front cover of Life in a Bustle: part of our series published with Pushkin Press

Front cover of Life in a Bustle: part of our series published with Pushkin Press

The Montefiore Collection: 5,000 pamphlets held in special storage at The London Library

The Montefiore Collection: 5,000 pamphlets held in special storage at The London Library

Bustle: Alfred Milner's 1897 address to the students at the Froebel Institute

Bustle: Alfred Milner’s 1897 address to the students at the Froebel Institute

Lord Milner in a bustle: disembarking at Waterloo Station 1906

Lord Milner in a bustle: disembarking at Waterloo Station 1906

Percy Arthur Barnett's 1905 book on Health and Courtesy for youth

Percy Arthur Barnett’s 1905 book on Health and Courtesy for youth

Montefiore's 1915 address on Keeping Young and Growing Old

Montefiore’s 1915 address on Keeping Young and Growing Old

On Reading, Writing And Living With Books

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 Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – continues our series of blogs looking at the works that we have featured in The London Library’s  Found on The Shelves series, published with Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary. Here she looks at the essays and letters that can be found in one of Found on the Shelves most popular works – On Reading, Writing and Living with Books.

What better way to celebrate 175 years of life at The London Library than to bring together a selection of texts written by Library members and who better to select these than the Librarian herself, Inez Lynn? The pieces Inez has chosen for On Reading, Writing and Living with Books are by five authors who need no introduction. They were all members of the Library and they represent the thousands of writers and readers whose work and lives have been enriched through their association with The London Library since its foundation in 1841. As the Library’s founder, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), put it when he was trying to get his scheme off the ground:

“A good book is the purest essence of the human soul. …The good of a book is not the facts that can be got out of it, but the kind of resonance that it awakes in our own minds. A book may strike out a thousand things, may make us know a thousand things which it does not know itself. … The founding of a Library is one of the greatest things we can do with regard to results. It is one of the quietest of things; but there is nothing that I know of at bottom more important. Everyone able to read a good book becomes a wiser man.”

The selection begins with How Should One Read a Book? by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), whose connection with The London Library began in childhood. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen (1832-1904) was a critic and scholar, closely involved with the Library and who served as a very active and committed President from 1892 until his death. Virginia joined the Library in her own right at the age of 22 on February 26 1904, just 4 days after her father’s death, paying £40 for life membership and declaring “Spinster” as her “Occupation or Position” although her correspondence reveals that she used the Library before then and lived in horror of losing one of its books.

The marvellous essay chosen for our little book started life as a paper the author read to pupils at a private girls’ school at Hayes Court in Kent in 1926 and its title has a note of interrogation because she admits straight away that

“The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions.”

She later adds that

“To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries.”

On that basis she agrees to give the reader, or listener, a few ideas and suggestions as long as they “will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality that a reader can possess.”  Independence is certainly the most important quality The London Library possesses!

Two letters by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) on writing follow the essay on reading. Dickens is listed among the founder members of The London Library and its influence on him was considerable, not least in the writing of A Tale of Two Cities. The story goes that Dickens asked Thomas Carlyle for advice as to what he should read on the French Revolution (being a great admirer of Carlyle’s The French Revolution) and Carlyle sent round to him two cartloads of books on the topic from the Library’s collections. The letters in our volume date from the 1850s and are to two fellow writers, his friend Wilkie Collins (1824-1889), and a new and mysterious author who called herself George Eliot (1819-1880). The letters are full of encouragement, advice and praise and he displays great sagacity when he writes to George Eliot:

“I have observed what seem to me to be such womanly touches, in those moving fictions, that the assurance on the title-page is insufficient to satisfy me, even now. If they originated with no woman, I believe that no man ever before had the art of making himself, mentally, so like a woman, since the world began.”

George Eliot, who was so moved by this letter that she wished she could remove “the iron mask of my incognito” in order to tell Dickens how much she appreciated his words, read so widely and extensively that her membership of The London Library was something of a necessity. Her essay, Authorship, completes the section on writing. Unlike Virginia Woolf, who offered only gentle advice, George Eliot is unequivocal in her declaration that writers have an obligation to produce works of the best quality that will benefit others. She states that a writer of merely entertaining and profitable works

“is on a level with the manufacturer who gets rich by fancy-wares coloured with arsenic green. He really cares for nothing but his income. He carries on authorship on the principle of the gin-palace. And bad literature of the sort called amusing is spiritual gin.”

The poet, critic and journalist Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) was a friend of Carlyle and Dickens,  as well as other early members of The London Library such as Thackeray and Harriet Martineau. He joined the Library himself in 1845 becoming the 877th person to do so. In his essay, My Books (also published under the title Among My Books) he examines the book from every angle. He discusses the book as an object and reflects on its content and power:

“To a shape like this, so small yet so comprehensive, so slight yet so lasting, so insignificant yet so venerable, turns the mighty activity of Homer, and so turning, is enabled to live and warm us for ever.”

But he also shares his views on the atmospheres of different kinds of libraries, the ideal bookcases and furniture, his habits when it comes to buying and borrowing books, and the changing character of literature through the ages. The essay is in essence a love letter to the most important objects in his life:

“I entrench myself in my books equally against sorrow and the weather.”

In a similar way, The London Library, by E.M. Forster (1879-1970) is a love letter to an institution he cherished. Forster joined the Library in 1904 as a life member, served on the Committee from 1933 to 1948 and was Vice-President from 1961 until his death. At a time of financial crisis, he donated his draft material and manuscript of A Passage to India to the Library for its fund-raising auction at Christie’s on 22 June 1960 where it made £6,500 – then a record price for a manuscript by a living writer. He wrote the last essay in our selection to mark the Library’s centenary in 1941 as enemy bombs were falling on London during the “imbecile storm” that was the Second World War:

“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 still 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.”

The Library was under an immediate threat then and was indeed hit by a bomb in 1944.

Libraries are under a different, but still very serious, kind of threat now and Forster’s words are just as relevant today as they were 75 years ago:

“Knowledge will perish if we do not stand up for it, and testify. It is never safe, never harvested. It has to be protected not only against the gangster but against a much more charming and seductive foe: the crowd. ‘I know what I like and I know what I want,’ says the crowd, ‘and I don’t want all these shelves and shelves of books. Scrap them.’”

On reading cover

Published with Pushkin Press: fascinating thoughts on books and writing from 5 great authors

Woolf montage

Virginia Woolf explores the question: How Should One Read a Book?

Dickens montags

We look at Dickens’ letters to Wilkie Collins and George Eliot

George Eliot essays montags

George Eliot’s Essays includes an essay on “Authorship”

Leigh Hunt

Poet, critic and journalist Leigh Hunt writes a love letter on books

EM Forster montage

And EM Forster writes a love letter on The London Library in his essay from 1939

 

 

On Corpulence: Feeding the Body & Feeding the Mind

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Early this year we launched a series of books with Pushkin Press reprinting remarkable and quirky works still to be found on the Shelves at The London Library. Here, Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – looks at Lewis Carroll and Dr William Banting, the two authors whose work features in On Corpulence.

On Corpulence: Feeding the Body and Feeding the Mind contains two pieces which could not be more different yet, oddly, seem to have been made for each other. One is a well-intentioned self-help book by an overweight Victorian undertaker while the other is a typically witty and surreal bit of advice by the creator of one of the most famous children’s stories of all times.

William Banting (1796/7–1878) does not fit the Dickensian stereotype of a funeral director. Far from being tall, gaunt and hypocritically melancholy, he was a small, stout man with a truly charitable spirit. He was at the top of his profession, having been entrusted with the funerals of the Duke of Wellington and Prince Albert, had a large family and kind friends but he suffered terribly:

“Of all the parasites that affect humanity I do not know of, nor can imagine, any more distressing than that of Obesity …”.

The excess weight that had plagued him since his thirties had become unbearable by the time he reached his sixties: “The word ‘parasite’ has been much commented upon, as inappropriate to any but a living creeping thing (of course I use the word in a figurative sense, as a burden to the flesh), but if fat is not an insidious creeping enemy, I do not know what is.” He sought medical advice and tried various forms of exercise, visited the Turkish baths, starved himself and consumed different remedies. Nothing really worked and, in fact, the exercise only increased his appetite and made things worse:

“Yet the evil still increased, and, like the parasite of barnacles on a ship, if it did not destroy the structure, it obstructed its fair, comfortable progress in the path of life.”

When his hearing began to fail him the specialist he consulted, believing this to be caused by the excess weight, recommended a low fat, low sugar and low carb diet (although copious amounts of alcohol were allowed). It worked! What is most remarkable about Banting’s story is that rather than rejoice quietly and jealously guard the secret of his weight loss, his immediate thought was to help relieve the misery of his fellow sufferers. To do so would require him to share many embarrassing details about the extent to which his condition had affected him and the very personal ways in which slimming had helped:

“ … I have been able safely to leave off knee bandages, which I had worn necessarily for twenty past years, and given up a truss almost entirely …”.

This level of disclosure was nothing to Banting who wanted his readers to know how profoundly their lives could be improved:

“I am … so perfectly satisfied of the great unerring benefits of this system of diet, that I shall spare no trouble to circulate my humble experience.”

His pamphlet, Letter on Corpulence, became an instant success in 1864 and ‘to bant’ and ‘banting’ literally became bywords for dieting in Britain and beyond. After printing two editions at his own cost and spending no small amount of money in replying to his many correspondents he was forced to sell the edition at cost price but donated all the profits of his book to charity.

Having found out about the correct way to feed the body we can turn to the next piece to learn about the correct way to nourish the intellect in Lewis Carroll’s Feeding the Mind.

The writer of the preface to the original publication, William H. Draper, tells us that in 1884 Lewis Carroll did something very unusual: he agreed to a friend’s request to give a lecture to a public audience while staying in a vicarage in Derbyshire.  Draper narrates that Lewis Carroll’s nerves were not helped by being exposed as the author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by another visitor who did not realise what he was doing. The shaken Carroll nevertheless proceeded to deliver his lecture and afterwards gave the manuscript to Draper who did not publish it till 1907. In the preface Draper illustrates Carroll’s character further with extracts from his Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing. They contain wonderful advice, in language one would expect from a mathematician, about being kind and considerate to one’s correspondents, defusing quarrels, and “taking out a lot of the vinegar and pepper and putting in honey instead”  when drafting a difficult letter:

“If, in picking a quarrel, each party declined to go more than three-eighths of the way, and if in making friends, each  was  ready  to  go  five-eighths of the way – why, there would be more reconciliations than quarrels!”

Feeding the Mind is a curious piece. It offers advice on the correct way to ‘consume’ books, without overwhelming the mind with too much information, feeding it the wrong kind of literature, which will have a detrimental effect, or starving it and allowing it to become lazy. Choosing the right ‘food’ is as important as the digestive process, which he advises requires pauses or intervals for the “arranging and ticketing, so to speak, of the subjects in our minds, so that we can readily refer to them when we want them.” The message is serious enough and the brilliant author’s frustration with the owners of what he calls ‘fat minds’ is evident but the whimsy of Alice’s creator is present too:

“ … and it might  be well  for some if the mind were equally visible and  tangible – if we could  take  it, say, to the doctor, and have its pulse felt.

‘Why, what have you been doing with this mind lately?  How have you fed it? It looks pale, and the pulse is very slow.’

‘Well, doctor, it has not had much regular food lately.  I gave it a lot of sugar-plums yesterday.’

‘Sugar-plums! What kind?’

‘Well, they were a parcel of conundrums, sir.’

‘Ah, I thought so.  Now just mind this: if you go on playing tricks like that, you’ll spoil all its teeth, and get laid up with mental indigestion. You must have nothing but the plainest reading for the next few days. Take care now!  No novels on any account!’”

On Corpulence: part of our new series with Pushkin Press reprinting works found On The Shelves at The London Library

On Corpulence: part of our new series with Pushkin Press reprinting works found On The Shelves at The London Library

Dr William Banting: undertaker and a byword for successful dieting or "banting" in Victorian England

Dr William Banting: undertaker and a byword for successful dieting or “banting” in Victorian England

Banting's 1864 pamphlet "On Corpulence", describing his successful introduction of a low carb regime

Banting’s 1864 pamphlet “On Corpulence”, describing his successful introduction of a low carb regime

1907 reprint of Lewis Carroll's humorous 1884 lecture on a work out for the mind

1907 reprint of Lewis Carroll’s humorous 1884 lecture on a work out for the mind

The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sports

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As part of a series of blogs Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – explores the books and essays that have been the inspiration for The London Library’s Found on The Shelves series, published with Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary. Here she looks at the individuals whose works feature in The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sports

The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sports is a selection of our favourite chapters from the book of the same title edited by Lady Violet Greville (1842-1932) and originally published in 1892. Lady Greville, who joined The London Library in 1897, was the daughter of the 4th Duke of Montrose and the formidable Caroline Agnes Horsley-Beresford.  Caroline Agnes did not allow social convention to stand in the way of her happiness. Her passion for horseracing drove her to breed her own racehorses, albeit under the name ‘Mr Manton’ in a vain attempt at keeping her unsuitable activities a secret. The true identity of Mr Manton was well known and because of her racing colours, together with the colour of her hair, she was thereafter known as Carrie Red. When the Duke of Montrose died Carrie Red re-married and at the age of seventy she then married her third husband who was forty-six years her junior.

Lady Greville was not as free-spirited as her mother. She married the 2nd Baron Greville in 1863 and settled into the role of a dutiful, aristocratic, Victorian wife and mother for many years, giving birth to four children and living quietly while her husband pursued his political career. By the 1880s, however, this sharp observer of human nature had found a voice of her own. She wrote a ladies column in The Graphic as well as essays, novels, memoirs and even a one act comedy at a time when women in polite society were expected to live quietly. More importantly, she was not afraid to associate herself with other ‘transgressors’ and attend the dinners of the Literary Ladies, a fledgling dining club for women authors which had received many attacks in the press.

In her preface to The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sports she makes it clear that she firmly believes that sport and outdoor pursuits are beneficial for the mind and the body alike and she hopes that women will be encouraged by the book to take the plunge and shake off the ‘morbid self-analysis and diseased introspection’ of the fin de siècle.

Each chapter (and among those not included in our selection are further essays on fishing and on sailing, swimming, skating and lawn tennis) is devoted to a different sport and is written by a different expert or enthusiast, with one exception. Both the 1892 original and our selection begin and end with essays by the notorious Lady Colin Campbell (1857–1911).  It is to Lady Greville’s credit that she was not only happy to attach her name to Lady Colin Campbell’s but that she conferred on her the unique honour of including two of her essays in the book. Despite being a gifted and prolific author as well as an accomplished artist and singer Lady Colin Campbell is mainly remembered for the scandal surrounding her failed divorce case. Fortunately, having her character publicly destroyed by her enemies was not enough to force her to retire to a life of lonely seclusion. Indeed, far from withdrawing from the world she continued to travel widely and worked as an art critic, book reviewer, travel writer and journalist. She counted George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde among her loyal friends and until her rheumatoid arthritis confined her to a wheelchair she was a keen sportswoman. In addition to cycling she loved to clamber up waterfalls in the Scottish highlands in search of trout and was an expert rider and swordswoman.  Her indomitable and independent character is evident everywhere in her writing, particularly in the concluding line of her chapter on trout fishing:

“If you want to derive the utmost enjoyment in fishing a promising mountain stream, fish alone. A companion is a useless encumbrance to the true worshipper of the noble art of trout-fishing.”

Lady Colin Campbell’s passionate nature also shines through in her chapter on fencing:

“Every faculty of your brain, every muscle of your body, every nerve of eye and hand, are all on the alert; and you live more intensely, more vividly, in an ‘assault’ of a quarter of an hour than most people do in a week.”

Our next author, Miss A.D. Mackenzie, differs from Lady Colin Campbell in every respect. So little information about her has survived that we do not even know what her given names were. All that we know is that she grew up in Henley-on-Thames and that her family had a strong connection to the annual regatta. Her father, William Dalziel Mackenzie, served as a steward of the Henley Regatta for over 60 years and the family’s luncheon parties during the boat races made it into the papers more than once.  Miss Mackenzie’s life on the riverbank seems idyllic

“ … river picnics are undoubtedly great fun, and damp sticks for the fire and spiders in tea-cups only add to the amusement”

and her chapter on boating and sculling is more entertaining than stirring but she isn’t afraid to share her views:

 “It is essential for every English girl to learn to row, and no one can say anything against a lady rowing – though, of course, there are ‘some folks’ who would run down anything that a lady does in the way of athletic exercises, more for the sake of argument than anything else.”

The chapter on cricket was written by Lady Adeline Milner (1859-1902), who was a founding member of the White Heather Club, the first women’s cricket club in England. As such, hers is a serious essay, which aims to introduce the novice to the rules of the sport she loved so much and to warn anyone thinking of taking it up against the wearing of impractical attire, such as corsets and voluminous hats:

“In your pursuit of a ball let there be no ominous creakings of whalebone and splitting of side seams to delay your onward flight. Neither should you ever forget to fasten your hat on securely. So many ladies omit to do this, and it is no uncommon thing to see a lady holding her hat on with one hand, striving to catch a ball with the other, and succeeding in doing neither.”

Our expert and writer on archery is none other than Mrs C Bowly, whose personal life remains a mystery but whose triumphs as an archery championess are well documented. Her chapter contains advice on setting up archery clubs and participating in championships and she concludes with an anecdote to illustrate the instant addictive charm of her sport:

“I never saw a more striking instance than that of a gentleman visiting at our house, who had never been known to care for games, sports, or athletic exercises of any kind, but who, when we induced him just to take a few shots, suddenly became so enamoured of it that, leaving his beloved books and papers, he was detected gliding off to the archery ground, bow in hand, to indulge, as he thought, in a little private practice. Only let the neophyte experience the charm of hearing the thud on the target of her own well-placed arrow, and she is generally taken captive at once.”

Our final author is Miss Alice M. Stewart, about whose life we know nothing. All we can deduce from her wonderful chapter on golf is that she was a very serious player, that she must have been associated with the Ladies’ Golf Club in St. Andrews and that she had a marvellous sense of humour:

“It is impossible for a non-player to believe that there is as much excitement in a good close match at golf, even to an interested spectator, as there is in a game of lawn-tennis, cricket, or any other popular pastime … To the uninitiated it appears that the game consists in hitting a small ball as hard as possible, not at your opponent’s head, which might cause some excitement, but anywhere out of sight.”

This glimpse into the past at first seems charmingly and hopelessly dated until one realizes how little some things have changed. There is still much debate over whether women should practice the more dangerous sports, such as boxing, and in July 2015 the BBC reported that more than 40% of elite sportswomen in Britain had suffered sexism. Many golf clubs still refuse to accept women members, Wimbledon’s Centre Court is mainly reserved for male tennis players and women’s football receives only a fraction of the publicity and financial sponsorship of male football. To say nothing of the sexist chanting and trolling female athletes endure in person and online… So all praise to the doughty ladies of 1892 willing to stand up and be counted in the name of advancing sporting endeavours.

The Gentlewoman's Book of Sport. Originally published 1892; reprinted extracts are now available as part of our Found On the Shelves series

The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sport. Originally published 1892; reprinted extracts are now available as part of our Found On the Shelves series

Lady Violet Greveill - a sharp observer of human nature and editor of The Gentlewoman's Book of Sport

Lady Violet Greville – a sharp observer of human nature and editor of The Gentlewoman’s Book of Sport

Lady Colin Campbell: An indomitable and independent character and a passionate sportswoman

Lady Colin Campbell: An indomitable and independent character and a passionate sportswoman

Miss AD Mackenzie - connected through her father with the Henley Regatta but lost to history

Miss AD Mackenzie – connected through her father with the Henley Regatta but lost to history

Lady Adeline Milner - founder of The White Heather Club, the first women’s cricket club in England

Lady Adeline Milner – founder of The White Heather Club, the first women’s cricket club in England

Mrs C Bowly - the book's archery expert

Mrs C Bowly – the book’s archery expert

Miss Alice M Stewart - a serious golfer connected with the Ladies’ Golf Club in St. Andrews

Miss Alice M Stewart – a serious golfer connected with the Ladies’ Golf Club in St. Andrews

 

Cycling: The Craze of the Hour

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In the first of a series of blogs, Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – explores the books that have been the inspiration for The London Library’s  Found on The Shelves series, published with Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary. Here she reveals the story behind four works – all written between 1877 and 1905 – that have provided the extracts for Cycling: The Craze of the Hour,  a fascinating and humourous insight into the cycling boom of the late nineteenth century.

 

Cycling: The Craze of the Hour. Part of our new Found on the Shelves series

Cycling: The Craze of the Hour. Part of our new Found on the Shelves series

Spencer gave a series of handy tips on mastering  this "useful form of locomotion"

Spencer gave a series of handy tips on mastering this “means of locomotion”

"The most useful feat of all": balancing the bicycle in a stationary position to enable one to read or write

“The most useful feat of all”: balancing the bicycle in a stationary position to enable one to read or write

Herschell's dire warnings from 1896 that cycling would produce "degenerative changes in our heart and in our arteries"

Herschell’s dire warnings from 1896 that cycling would produce “degenerative changes in our heart and in our arteries”

A lighthearted take on where the cycling craze is heading. Punch, July1889

A lighthearted take on where the cycling craze is heading. Punch, July 1889

The arrival of the bicycle caused quite a stir in the 19th century. There were those who fell in love with it at once and those who saw its comedic potential. There were some who eyed it with amused suspicion, particularly when women had the audacity to slip on a pair of trousers and take cycling lessons. There were even a few who tried to warn others of the health risks of over-enthusiastic pedalling. Cycling: The Craze of the Hour is a compilation of texts written from each of these perspectives.

The first in the selection is an extract from The Modern Bicycle (1877), written by Charles Spencer (active 1866-1913), an ardent devotee and tireless promoter of the new invention:

“[the bicycle] has now gone successfully through the various stages of being laughed at as a toy, and tolerated as an amusement, so I am firmly of the opinion that it will eventually become generally useful as a means of locomotion.”

Spencer began his career as a supplier of sporting equipment for gymnasia from his shop in London’s Old Street. Not much is known about him but he appears to have been a professor of gymnastics and in 1866 he began his writing career with The Modern Gymnast. However, he spotted his first iron steed and it was love at first sight. From that moment onwards all of his writing is devoted to the subject of cycling and he may even have worked on his books whilst sitting on one of his machines:

“We are now come to the last and best, or, I may say, the most useful feat of all, and this is to stop the bicycle and sit quite still upon it … sooner or later, you achieve a correct equilibrium, when you may take out your pocket-book and read or even write letters, &c., without difficulty.”

In The Modern Bicycle he claims to have had ‘the principal share’ in its first introduction and he sets out to give clear instructions for beginners, with numerous and very helpful illustrations. When he wasn’t writing about bicycles he was riding across the country and organising races for the Middlesex Bicycle Club.

No doubt Dr George Herschell (1856-1914) would have considered Spencer to be setting a very dangerous example. The Harley Street physician specialised in digestive disorders but he was part of a small group of medical men who became convinced that cycling posed a great threat to cardiovascular health. Our second extract is from his essay Cycling as a Cause of Heart Disease (1896) where he sounds a warning to all cyclists who, in his opinion, are merrily pedalling themselves to an early grave:

“We fall in love with the machine, with its easy and agreeable motion: we give as much of our time to it as we can afford: we get rid of our dyspepsia, and in its place produce chronic degenerative changes in our heart and in our arteries”.

He shares a wealth of case studies with the reader as well as his particular concerns when it comes to children and cycling:

“When we allow a child to ride long distances upon a cycle we are carrying out a physiological experiment which, although possibly of interest from a scientific standpoint, must be utterly unjustifiable.”

After such a gloomy outlook we get some much-needed light relief from the pen of Barry Pain (1864-1928). This unconventional author’s career did not follow a direct path: after making some successful contributions to Granta while studying at Cambridge he began his working life as an army coach in Guildford. It seems the military discipline was not for him after all and four years later he left for London to become a professional author. Pain was a prolific and versatile writer but he is best remembered for his humorous Eliza stories. His modern style divided his audience but he had a talent for exposing the absurdities of life. In His Last Pupil, from Humours of Cycling (1905), he gives us a special take on the pressure some felt to take on cycling during the height of the craze:

“In fact, wherever I went I was met by bicyclists who longed to make others bicycle. It was not for health, nor for fashion, nor for exercise that I finally took to the machine; it was simply from the pressure of public opinion.”

And at the end of his tale, Pain introduces us to a cycling instructor who hides a terrible secret.

Our selection concludes with a very short piece by Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927). Like many of the best humourists he was at heart a melancholy man who could see the funny side of any situation. He married his wife Georgina, who already had a daughter from a previous marriage, in 1888 and in 1897 their daughter Rowena was born. Perhaps only a man with a strong female influence in his life could have written Women and Wheels, also from Humours of Cycling (1905). It is a funny and affectionate look at how the craze of the hour is gripping women:

“The New Woman is difficult to fathom. You have to be prepared for everything. I could understand her running away from a loving husband after a few months of wedded bliss, but why to Battersea Park! It seemed an inadequate place as a refuge for a disappointed woman.”

It seems unthinkable to us today the benefits of cycling could ever have been in doubt but as Schopenhauer said “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Our book captures all three.

FURTHER READING SUGGESTIONS [London Library shelfmarks in square brackets]
If you would care to explore these works more fully, do try the full versions from which we have extracted these samples:

Spencer, Charles. The Modern Bicycle: Containing Instructions for Beginners: Choice of a Machine: Hints on Training: Road Book for England and Wales. London: F. Warne, 1877. [S. Cycling]
Herschell, George. Cycling as a Cause of Heart Disease. London: Baillière, Tindall and Cox, 1896. [S. Cycling]
Humours of Cycling. London: Chatto & Windus, 1905. [Fiction, Colls.]

If you would like to explore the works of Charles Spencer, here is a complete list of his other titles:

The Modern Gymnast: Being Practical Instructions on the Horizontal Bar, Parallel Bars, Vaulting Horse, Flying Trapeze, etc. …; With a Description of the Apparatus, and Hints on Somersault-Throwing. London: F. Warne, 1866 (reprinted in 1869)
The Bicycle: its Use and Action. London: F. Warne, 1870 – According to its author this contained the first instructions for learners ever published.
Bicycles and Tricycles, Past and Present: a Complete History of the Machines from their Infancy to the Present Time, etc. London: Griffith & Farran, 1882 or 1883.
The Cycle Directory: Containing an Alphabetical List of all Cycling Clubs & Unions, and the Touring Club. London, 1884
The Bicycle Road Book : Compiled for the Use of Bicyclists and Pedestrians : Being a Complete Guide to the Roads and Cross Roads of England, Scotland, and Wales (irregular periodical) – continued by:
The Cyclist’s Road Book : Compiled for the Use of Bicyclists, Tricyclists and Pedestrians ; a Complete Guide to the Main and Cross Roads of England, Scotland And Wales ; Giving the Best Hotels, Population of the Towns, etc. and an Index to Over Five Thousand Towns. London: H. Grube, 1890.
The Cyclist’s & Automobilist’s Road Book … A Complete Guide to the Main and Cross Roads of England, Scotland and Wales, With Numerous Notes … A List of the Best Hotels and an Index To … Towns … New and Revised Edition, With Map, etc. Londo : H. Grube, 1904.

Laurel and Rose: Anita Brookner and the London Library

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July 16 was the anniversary of the birth of the art historian and Booker Prize winning novelist Anita Brookner, who died in March this year at the age of 87.

Anita Brookner joined the Library in 1968 and became a member of the Library Committee 19 years later

Anita Brookner joined the Library in 1968 and became a member of the Library Committee 19 years later

Brookner admired Elizabeth Taylor, a female novelist in the English tradition who was one of the most highly rated but overlooked novelists of the 20th century.

Brookner admired Elizabeth Taylor, a female novelist in the English tradition who was one of the most highly rated but overlooked novelists of the 20th century.

Prolific but forgotten Storm Jameson was absent from the Guardian’s list of “1000 novels everyone should read” in 2009.  35 of her novels however are available for loan from the London Library’s Fiction shelves.

Prolific but forgotten Storm Jameson was absent from the Guardian’s list of “1000 novels everyone should read” in 2009. 35 of her novels however are available for loan from the London Library’s Fiction shelves.

Anita Brookner joined the Library in August 1968 giving her occupation on her joining form as “Art Historian.”  She was 40 and a highly respected academic specialising in 18th and 19th century art. She started her academic career as visiting lecturer at the University of Reading 1959-1964, followed by a post as Lecturer (then Reader) at the Courtauld Institute of Art 1964-1988.  She was the first female Slade Professor at the University of Cambridge 1967-68 and published her first book Watteau in the year she joined the Library. Her membership of the Library pre-dates her subsequent books in the field of art history: The Genius of the Future (1971); Greuze: the Rise and Fall of an 18th Century Phenomenon (1972); Jacques-Louis David (1980); Soundings (1997) and Romanticism and its Discontents (2000). It also pre-dates, by 13 years, the launch of her second and very successful career as a novelist which began with the publication of A Start in Life in 1981, when Brookner was 53. She went on to write 24 novels winning the Booker Prize for her fourth novel, Hotel du Lac, in 1985. She was appointed CBE in 1990 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 2010.

Almost 20 years after joining the Library Brookner served on its Committee (1987-91). She was in good company. I don’t know if she knew that she had followed in the footsteps of one of her great literary heroes, Charles Dickens, who had been on the Commitee 140 years before her. Brookner’s fellow Committee members included the historian Cecily Veronica Wedgwood; the writer, journalist and biographer, Claire Tomalin and the historian, biographer and Professor of Modern History, Jane Ridley.  Wedgwood’s obituary in The Independent in 1997 noted that “Being a woman did not help in a discipline dominated by men” but she was not the first female historian on the Library Committee. That accolade goes to the historian and Irish nationalist, Alice Stopford Green in 1898.

In an interview in The Paris Review in 1987 Brookner talked about her literary influences. She credited Isaiah Berlin (Vice President of the Library at the time Brookner joined the Committee) for igniting her interest in 19th century Romanticism: “It was hearing him lecture on the subject that impressed me and made me decide to take it up and teach it myself.” She praised the works of the novelists Zola, Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust, Henry James and Tolstoy. Alongside these European, Russian and American influences, Brookner also pointed to three women novelists in the English tradition: Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Taylor and Storm Jameson. Between 1932 and 1953 Rosamond Lehmann wrote four novels which secured her literary reputation: Invitation to the Waltz (1932), The Weather in the Streets (1936), The Ballad and the Source (1944), and The Echoing Grove (1953). Created CBE in 1982, she was President of the English Centre of International PEN 1961-1966. The first novel of Elizabeth Taylor, At Mrs Lippincote’s, was published in 1945. Her last Dangerous Calm, appeared fifty years later. Philip Hensher has described Taylor as “one of the hidden treasures of the English novel”.Storm Jameson, author of forty-five novels and numerous essays was an active President of the English section of PEN during the Second World War, who worked tirelessly on behalf of exiled European writers.

The works of Lehmann, Taylor and Jameson were reprinted by Virago Press in the 1980s and the fiction stacks at the London Library played a part in their rediscovery. Carmen Callil, the founder of Virago, wrote in The Guardian in 2008 that: “Those days spent in the London Library were some of the happiest of my life. One author led to another … forgotten novels and neglected writers bloomed like a watered desert.”

In her last interview in 2009 Brookner, with trademark candour, said praise was irrelevant. I finish however with a fitting line written by Virginia Woolf about George Eliot in 1919: “we must lay upon her grave whatever we have it in our power to bestow of laurel and rose.”

Anita Brookner. 1928-2016. Art Historian. Novelist. London Library Member.

 

Helen O’Neill

Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

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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