The Victorians & The London Library: The George Gilbert Scotts

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This chalk portrait of Sir George Gilbert Scott by G. Richmond appeared on the flyleaf of his autobiographical work Personal and Professional Recollections in 1879.

This chalk portrait of Sir George Gilbert Scott by G. Richmond appeared on the flyleaf of his autobiographical work Personal and Professional Recollections in 1879.


The leader of the Gothic architectural revival Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) joined the Library in 1873. He was knighted in 1872 and styled himself Sir Gilbert Scott. He was introduced to the Library by his son, George Gilbert Scott Jr.

The leader of the Gothic architectural revival Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) joined the Library in 1873. He was knighted in 1872 and styled himself Sir Gilbert Scott. He was introduced to the Library by his son, George Gilbert Scott Jr.


George Gilbert Scott Jr (1839-1897) an architect and scholar joined the Library in 1872.  He was introduced by fellow member, architect Thomas Garner.

George Gilbert Scott Jr (1839-1897) an architect and scholar joined the Library in 1872. He was introduced by fellow member, architect Thomas Garner.


This portrait of William Morris by George Frederick Watts appears in The Life of William Morris by J.W. Mackail published in 1899.

This portrait of William Morris by George Frederick Watts appears in The Life of William Morris by J.W. Mackail published in 1899.

In the third instalment of her series on The London Library and The Victorians, Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian, takes a look at the links between The London Library and a distinguished architectural dynasty founded by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the leading proponent of the Gothic Revival.

In London’s swinging sixties, the poet, broadcaster and co-founder of The Victorian Society, John Betjeman, took a stand against the destruction of Britain’s Victorian architectural heritage. After the demolition of Euston Station’s Doric arch, he campaigned to save another iconic Victorian landmark: the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras station, as it too tottered on the edge of demolition. It was a building, he said, Londoners enjoyed: a “sudden burst of exuberant Gothic … seen from gloomy Judd Street.”[i]

The hotel was the creation of Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), the founder of a dynasty of architects which continues today and which stretches from The Midland Hotel “the grandest single monument of the Gothic Revival in Britain”[ii] to the power stations at Battersea “one of the first examples in England of frankly contemporary industrial architecture”[iii] and Bankside (now Tate Modern) taking in the Albert Memorial, Waterloo Bridge, the red telephone box and a staggering number of churches and cathedrals en route.

Sir George Gilbert Scott and his son, George Gilbert Scott Jr (1839-1897) both appear in the Victorian membership records of the Library. George Gilbert Scott Jr joined in 1872 and introduced his father (who was knighted in 1872 and President of RIBA 1873-76) to membership in 1873. Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Personal and Professional Recollections, edited by his son, appeared in 1879: one of the first autobiographies of an architect to be published.

While Sir George Gilbert Scott was an acclaimed Victorian architect, who ran one of the largest architectural practices in Europe, he was not without critics – several of whom are also to be found among the membership records of the Library.  The Rev W.J.L. Loftie, the architect J.J. Stevenson and one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, William Morris, all articulated a growing unease about architectural restoration, which John Ruskin condemned as a lie declining a RIBA gold medal during Scott’s presidency.

George Gilbert Scott Jr struggled throughout his life with mental health issues and alcoholism.  He was confined to Bethlehem Hospital in 1883 and spent several years in and out of hospital. He died of cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease in1897. He was living at the time in his father’s famous secular creation: the Midland Grand Hotel (now renamed the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel). While his professional life was less prolific than his father, his own son, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) an influential 20th century architect, considered that “Grandfather was the successful practical man, and a phenomenal scholar in Gothic precedent, but Father was the artist”.

Neither Sir George Gilbert Scott nor his son lived long enough to see the unveiling of the London Library’s Victorian steel grilled book stacks, circulating hall or spacious 50 ft long Reading Room in 1898.  These Victorian spaces however remain at the heart of the Library’s activities today.  Architectural heritage is easy to spot, it connects our physical environment and our daily lives to the past. Betjeman was right about the Midland Grand Hotel which was given Grade 1 listing in 1967. The Victorian Back Stacks of the London Library are also a listed structure, like the Midland Grand Hotel they too exert a powerful burst of Victorian Gothic in the hustle and bustle of 21st century London Library life.

Helen O’Neill
Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian



[i] John Betjeman, London’s Historic Railway Stations. London: John Murray, 1972.
[ii] Simon Bradley, St Pancras Station. London, Profile Books, 2007.
[iii] Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England. London: 2 South. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1983.

A Woman's Walks

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Reprinted from 1903 - the latest in our "Found on the Shelves" series

Reprinted from 1903 – the latest in our “Found on the Shelves” series

Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – blogs on Lady Colin Campbell and her 1903 book “A Woman’s Walks”, extracts from which are featured in the latest Found on The Shelves series published by Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary.

As a woman who had to reinvent herself and become self-sufficient after being at the centre of the most notorious divorce scandal of the 1880s, Lady Colin Campbell (1857-1911), was the embodiment of the independent, intrepid and outspoken author.

Following the separation from her husband she was largely exiled from society but became a prolific author, art and literary critic, playwright, novelist, essayist, translator, newspaper editor and journalist, contributing to the Saturday Review and the Pall Mall Gazette.  She was also an artist, a talented singer and an accomplished sportswoman who could speak and write authoritatively on a broad range of subjects and enjoyed the friendship and patronage of George Bernard Shaw (who described her writing as “impudently amusing”). Her formidable spirit was actually set free by her fall from grace and nowhere is this seen more clearly than in A Woman’s Walks: Studies in Colour Abroad and at Home (1903).

Originally published in issues of The World, from 1889 onwards under the pseudonym Vera Tsaritsyn, it is a collection of short pieces on her travels in Italy, France, Switzerland, Austro-Hungary, London, and the English countryside. Vera, as she was known to her friends, revisits some of the places where she spent her childhood, such as Venice, but also ventures into locations new to her. The pieces, from which we have reprinted only a selection, vary widely in tone and subject matter. There are beautiful mountain landscapes, sun-bathed lagoons, candle-lit churches and quiet gardens but there are also busy railway signal-boxes, noisy and dangerous workshops, the smells of the fish market and the squalor of dirty little back gardens in south London. The author is often accompanied by friends (to whom she dedicates the book) and who are sketchily described and sometimes affectionately mocked:

 “The Expert, wishing to note whether his gear-chain is all right, walks a little distance, and can hardly keep his feet at all on the slippery surface.  With relief he finds himself once more in the saddle, and, catching us up, is explaining the matter to me, when, as the words “These tyres really seem to hold better on this road than shoes” leave his lips, the demon that invariably lurks in a bike seizes the opportunity. Before he can enunciate the word “shoes” the wheels slip as if mowed down by a scythe, and I have just time to spurt violently ahead to avoid being  bowled over by h

Lady Colin Campbell's independent voice comes through loud and clear in her 1903 original

Lady Colin Campbell’s independent voice comes through loud and clear in her 1903 original

is downfall. I grieve to say that the Gemini and I are so shaking with laughter at the psychological moment chosen for the mishap that we can only just make friendly inquiry over our shoulders.” (p. 125-126)

The characters she encounters are not usually treated with quite as much kindness:

“ … these fat female Teutons, with red, perspiring faces, surrounded by straggling wisps of sandy hair, clothed in men’s shirts and boots and much-abbreviated skirts hitched up with straps round their middles (one could not give the name of waist to such equatorial lines !) and their Falstaffian companions, entirely spoil the beauty of the scene for me.” (p. 60-61)

 But it is this uncensored voice that makes the book come alive. Lady Colin Campbell shares her exhilaration with us:

 “Dogged determination not to be beaten, however, makes victory but a question of time, and, once conquered, the bicycle becomes a friend, an ally to be depended

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

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

upon at all times and seasons, an endless delight. To it one owes not only the feeling of absolute independence, of self-sufficiency in the truest and best sense of that much ill-used term, but the knowledge of the sensation of flying.” (p. 82)

Her dread:

“I have visited many graveyards, but always with horror and reluctance, as my mind persistently dwelt upon and realised the unspeakable abominations of physical corruption. Besides, the idea of being hidden in a hole in the  ground, away from the light and heat of the sun, has always oppressed me like an evil dream; but as I leave the crematorium of Milan I am conscious of nothing but a radiant vision – a chariot of flame to close my earthly record … “ (p. 56)

And her joy at venturing outside again after a long illness:

“ … seeing a door open in the wall on the left, we pass through it, and find ourselves in a delightful garden, a great stretching space of velvety  green turf, with glorious trees. After my imprisonment, such a place is like a glimpse of paradise. “ (p. 243)

But what really shines through is her love of freedom and adventure:

“I ought, by all the  rules that  should govern the mind of a sensitive, proper-minded  female, to be overcome with dismay at finding myself friendless, soap-less, comb-less, curling-tong-less, alone and unprotected in a strange city “as the clocks are chiming the hour” of mid­night!  But I am not; or rather, when I realise the entire novelty of the situation, I am so overcome with a sense of exhilaration at being for once in my life absolutely free, with no more responsibility than a bird on the wing, that I very nearly dance a rigadoon of delight on the dusty metals of the line before an advancing engine! … I hum to myself as I stand looking up at the sky, filled to overflowing with the joy of liberty, and swaying to the lilt of the seguidilla [a Spanish dance].  Nobody knows where I am; nobody (here in  Milan) cares what I do” (p. 50)

“No! A companion is not always either a thing of beauty or a joy for ever; he or she is often a stopper in a vial of perfume, a discordant note in the otherwise perfect harmony, an ever-present weight. Like trout fishing, bicycling has joys that are unknown to those who seek them not in solitude”(p. 84)

And her wicked sense of humour:

“I am awakened by the connubial warblings of an unmistakably American couple in the next room.  Dear me! what strange forms of expression Yankee matrimony takes upon itself in privacy, or at least what it is pleased to suppose is privacy!” (p. 51-52)

“We are not lucky, or else we possess some unknown and undesired attraction for fat Germans; for four of the fattest specimens tumble into our compartment  …   Jokes born of wine nearly produce apoplexy in my opposite neighbour, an individual whose face might be taken for that of” The Man in  the Moon”; when, mercifully, one of the four starts humming a tune, another produces a well-thumbed  book  of Yolks-Lieder out  of his pocket, and the four launch into part-songs with undeniably sweet voices, which is  a distinct improvement on their guttural conversation and loud guffaws …  They continue to warble softly and pleasantly, like four fat red bullfinches; and the blue gooseberry eyes of my opposite neighbour are full of tears as he ecstatically sings what will happen  “Wenn ich komm,  wenn  ich  komm,  wenn   ich  wieder   urn  komm” (his vision will probably materialise into chastisement with a broomstick by the wife of his bosom if he returns to her in his present condition!) as we draw up at Caux, and leave the bullfinches to warble alone.” (p. 61)

It is terribly sad to think that only three years after the book was published trout-fishing, fencing, cycling, globe-trotting Vera was confined to a wheelchair because of what the press called rheumatoid arthritis but in fact was syphilis, which she had accused her husband of infecting her with deliberately during her divorce case. It is even sadder to know that a person so full of life should spend the following five years withdrawing from the world until her premature death at the age of 53. Having read about her fear of being buried one can only feel relief at finding out she was cremated.

The Right to Fly

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Ballooning and photography pioneer Félix Nadar argues the case for aviation in his 1866 The Right to Fly

Ballooning and photography pioneer Félix Nadar argues the case for aviation in his 1866 The Right to Fly


The 1866 original carries a preface by George Sandis. Nadar dedicated the English translation published that March to the Society for the Study of Aerial Navigation led by James Glaisher

The 1866 original carries a preface by George Sand. Nadar dedicated the English translation published that March to the Society for the Study of Aerial Navigation led by James Glaisher


Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – blogs on aeronautical pioneer Félix Nadar whose 1866 book “The Right to Fly” is one of the latest titles in our Found on The Shelves series, published by Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary.

A successful pioneer needs to have three qualities: vision, courage, and a nervous energy. Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820-1910), known as Félix Nadar, had them in abundance.  He successfully pioneered new approaches in the fields of photography and marketing but when it came to achieving his dream of being in control when travelling across the skies success eluded him. The Right to Fly is a manifesto borne of this frustration, an angry cry against those who ridiculed his aeronautic vision.

Félix was the unconventional eldest son of unconventional parents: Tournachon senior was a Lyonnaise liberal publisher who did not marry the mother of his children until his first-born was six years old.

The child who walked with a slight limp due to complications at birth grew into a tall young man with long limbs and a wild mane of bright red hair. He began medical training but the Tournachons’ shaky finances took a turn for the worse when the father died and the family publishing busine

ss went bankrupt. The outspoken 16 year old with a penchant for whimsical humour had to abandon his studies in Lyon and find the means to support his widowed mother and his younger brother, Adrien. He moved to Paris, where he made a valiant attempt to resume his medical training while earning a living as a journalist and cartoonist.  It seems that his interest in medicine, though genuine, was more romantic than practical and in the end the lure of the publishing world proved stronger than the pull of the anatomy lessons.

During this period he began to sign his work “Nadar” and the explanations for this pseudonym vary. It may have originated in the literary circles that he was moving in where he rubbed shoulders with Gérard de Nerval and Charles Baudelaire and where it seems it was the fashion for bohemian young writers to add the ending ‘dar’ to many words, thus Tournachon became Tournadar and was later abbreviated to Nadar. Another version of the story is that his satirical accuracy earned him the nickname “tourne à dard” (the one who stings or, literally, twists the dart) which he first shortened to “n à dard” and finally to “Nadar.”

Aged only 19 this enterprising youth started a magazine called Le Livre d’Or. Despite including contributions from friends like Gérard de Nerval, Honoré de Balzac and Alexandre Dumas publication ceased after only three issues. He then focussed on his caricatures which were proving much more successful and profitable but in 1848 he joined a French legion made up mainly of Polish émigrés and their sons. Under the name “Nadarsky” he marched off with 500 other men to fight Prussian rule in Poland. After a few misadventures culminating in a failure to even reach Poland he returned to France where he had a date with the medium that would make him a household name.

In an effort to make his fairly useless brother financially independent Nadar paid for him to train as a photographer and set up a studio for him. Adrien lacked both talent and business acumen and the venture was a failure until Nadar himself took it over. When Nadar said “photography is a marvellous discovery, a science that has attracted the greatest intellects, an art that excites the most astute minds — and one that can be practiced by any imbecile” was he referring to Adrien?

At first he was only interested in photography as a quick means of capturing a likeness that he could later use as the basis for a caricature but he soon discovered a real passion and flair for it and among his wide artistic circle he found a wealth of charismatic subjects. He took a medium that was in its infancy and understood its potential to create intimate portraits that showed the true nature of the sitter, without flattery or unnecessary props. He took definitive portraits of the most famous politicians, musicians, writers, artists and intellectuals of 1850s Paris.  Among the celebrities who passed through his little studio were George Sand, Jules Verne, Berlioz, Rossini, Delcroix and Sarah Bernhardt.

By 1860 his commercial success was such that he moved to a much larger studio with his name in enormous bright lights emblazoned across the façade and all of fashionable Paris flocked to this new landmark. Nadar took advantage of the move from the Daguerrotype to the collodion process, which made it possible to make multiple prints easily and had his assistants take most of the portraits. This freed him up to explore more interesting possibilities.

He was the first to use artificial light in photography and armed with lamps which he designed and patented in 1861 he took his camera into the catacombs and sewers of Paris. These eerie underground photographs are all the stranger because they required very long exposures and Nadar, ever the creative problem-solver, chose to populate them with mannequins instead of real people.  His precursor of the modern flash was in fact the second photographic patent he filed. In 1858 he had ascended in a hot-air balloon, camera in hand, to photograph Paris from above. Soon after he patented aerial photography and began what would prove to be a ruinous obsession.

His experiments in aerial photography convinced him that the future of flight lay in heavier-than-air machines: being lighter than air, hot air balloons were at the mercy of the lightest breeze and impossible to control in strong winds. He founded the Society for the Encouragement of Aerial Navigation by Heavier-than-air Machines, with himself as President and Jules Verne as Secretary. Although it quickly attracted many members, Nadar understood that to achieve his dream of a sky “studded with barques travelling with such rapidity as to humiliate the Ocean and all the locomotives of the Earth!” he would need an enormous amount of funding. He decided that a series of publicity stunts using the largest hot-air balloon the world had ever seen would be the perfect way of raising money for the development of aviation. He invested his fortune in creating “Le Géant“ (the Giant), which had a volume of nearly 212,000 cubic feet (6000 m³) and carried a two-storey wicker cottage with capacity for 25 passengers.  On 4 October 1863 Nadar’s Giant took to the air from the Champ-de-Mars among enormous crowds that were kept under control by specially designed barriers (another of Nadar’s inventions). The plan was to travel across Europe but a malfunctioning valve brought the balloon down after a disappointing 25 miles.  The second (and nearly fatal) ascent took place a fortnight later. This time Nadar, his wife and his passengers, reached Hannover where a strong wind pulled them down and dragged them helplessly for miles during which the balloon had a very close shave with a moving railway train. The Giant was repaired, brought to Britain, and put on display for paying crowds in Crystal Palace later that year, while Nadar and his fellow aeronauts were still recovering from their injuries.   In 1866 Nadar wrote Le Droit au Vol (The Right to Fly) where he challenged the scientific establishment and made his case for heavier-than-air flight. It contains a preface by his friend George Sand and was published by Jules Hetzel, who in 1848 had hired Nadar as secret agent, persuading him to make a second attempt to reach Poland and report back on the movements of Russian troops.

Nadar took to the air in his titanic balloon several more times before selling it in 1867 but despite risking life and limb and attracting huge crowds and international press coverage the whole enterprise was a financial failure. His ballooning expertise however was put to very good use in 1870 when, at Nadar’s suggestion, a besieged Paris relied on a fleet of balloons to fly over the Prussian lines and re-establish contact with the outside world.

Today Nadar is remembered as one of the early masters of photography, the icon behind the Prix Nadar, awarded annually to outstanding books of photography edited in France. He is also remembered as the man who lent his by then empty photographic studio to the historic first exhibition of Impressionist paintings in 1874. Sadly, he did not live to see his dream of flying machines realised although in 1909, only a year before his death he was delighted to learn that his compatriot, Louis Blériot had flown across the English Channel in a monoplane and sent him a cable thanking him “for the joy with which your triumph fills this antediluvian of the heavier-than-air machine.”

The man who provided the inspiration for Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon and for the character of the French adventurer Michel Ardan (an anagram of Nadar) in From the Earth to the Moon could arguably be said not to have had much direct impact or influence on the development of flying machines.  Yet, as George Sand wrote in her preface to The Right to Fly, “Every light has its precursory dawn, and he who perceives the one may predict the other.” Nadar was not only aviation’s precursory dawn, he was also one of the few who could predict the coming light when many still groped in the dark.

Hints on Etiquette

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Latest in the line of gems From the Shelves of The London Library published by Pushkin Press

Latest in the line of gems From the Shelves of The London Library published by Pushkin Press


With latest Found on The Shelves series now out we begin a series of blogs on the writers behind the quirky and humorous titles that have been out of print for decades and have now been re-published by Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary.  Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – takes a look at the fascinating Hints on Etiquette written by Charles William Day in 1842 as “a shield against the vulgar”.

Should one wear coloured gloves to a ball? What is the correct way to pour sauce? Should a letter of introduction be sealed? What does it mean when the corner of a visiting card has been turned down? These were the sorts of questions social climbers were tormented by in 1840s Britain. Fortunately for them countless little books were published to guide them through the baffling codes and rituals of polite society.

Charles William Day was one of the authors who met the growing demand of the industrial nouveau riche who would otherwise have been hopelessly lost given that “…fashions are continually changing … and what is considered the height of good taste one year, is declared vulgar the next … “. Then again, perhaps Day exaggerated the speed of these changes to guarantee sales of the many editions he produced.

Very little is known about Day, who wrote his etiquette books under the pseudonym Agogos. In his time he was a well-known miniature painter and a fairly regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy. Hints on Etiquette: a Shield against the Vulgar contains the text of his 19th edition, which was originally published in 1842. In it he acknowledges the help in preparing the book of a mysterious “Lady of Rank” but this may also have been a marketing ploy. If it was, it certainly worked; Day’s little book ran to 28 editions!

Day’s main reason for helping a newly-prosperous and bewildered class may have been financial but he claimed to have been moved by a genuine desire to help:

“If these ‘hints’ save the blush upon one cheek, or smooth the path into ‘society’ of only one honest family , the object of the author will be attained.”

Those aspiring to rise in society would have needed all the help they could get because not only were the rules of the social game extremely complex, subtle and ever-changing, to make matters worse they often found additional obstacles in their way:

“The English are the most aristocratic democrats in the world; always endeavouring to squeeze through the portals of rank and fashion, and then slamming the door in the face of any unfortunate devil who may happen to be behind them.”

Without meaning to, Day reveals something of his himself in his book. He warns the aspiring middle classes to remember their place and at every turn remain inconspicuous and show the proper respect to persons of higher rank. He also appears to have had a very narrow idea of the reading habits in the humbler orders of society:

“ …the literary acquirements of a man of business are necessarily confined to reading the newspaper”

Yet he was not a complete snob. He did not subscribe to the notion that all people of higher rank are innately superior:

“There is no more common or absurd mistake than supposing that, because people are of high rank, they cannot be vulgar; – or that, if people be in an obscure station, they cannot be well bred.”

“Gentility is neither in birth, manner, nor fashion – but in the MIND.”

To a 21st century reader this little book will seem not just dated but almost completely alien and much of its advice is today nothing short of hilariously ridiculous yet precisely because society has changed so much it provides a rare view of a world we would otherwise not be able to understand. Books on etiquette, of which this is a fine and at times very witty example, have captured the social protocol and attitudes of their times in a way that help us imagine and understand the past. Day is still decoding for us just as he decoded for his humbler contemporaries. His books on etiquette are not only revealing, today they are also extremely amusing. But to the right, or perhaps the wrong, reader they were always a great source of amusement.

A famous reader was so struck by these social manuals that he was moved to write a little parody. A 17 year old Lewis Carroll wrote his own Hints for Etiquette; or, Dining Out Made Easy in 1849 and it is included in our volume. In just nine brief rules he manages to poke fun at the absurdity and faddishness of some rules:

“To use a fork with your soup, intimating at the same time to your hostess that you are reserving the spoon for the beefstakes, is a practice wholly exploded.”

However well-intentioned Day and his fellow writers on etiquette may have been their books made easy targets for the pen of the author who would later invent a world where those hosting tea parties had appalling table manners!

The final ingredient in our little book is a selection of illustrations by John Leech originally drawn for Albert Smith’s The Natural History of Evening Parties (London, 1849). Albert Richard Smith trained as doctor and even practised for a while before becoming an author, traveller and showman. His one-man show based on his drunken ascent of Mont Blanc ran to two thousand performances involving live dogs and a slide show and made him hugely successful but not universally popular: Ruskin hated to see his beloved Alps popularised by a corpulent bon-viveur who, to make matters worse, was  a cockney. Smith and Leech met when they were both medical students and the two friends went on to contribute to Punch. Smith was actually one of a team of medically qualified writers drawn together by the magazine’s founding editor, Henry Mayhew. These authors specialised in the satirical application of natural history terminology to the portrayal of English customs and habits. Although Ruskin despised Smith he was a great fan of Leech’s and must have had very mixed feelings regarding his illustrations for The natural history of evening parties. He may have enjoyed them more if he could have seen them accompanying Day’s Hints on Etiquette instead. Day himself would probably not have approved but Lewis Carroll would probably have enjoyed the irreverent juxtaposition.

Illustrations from Smith's Natural History of the Dinner Party 1849

Illustrations from Smith’s Natural History of the Dinner Party 1849

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 Victorians & The London Library: 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