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:
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, 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
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 ; 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:
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:
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:
“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.”
In a similar way, , 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 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:
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 .
“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.”
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 . 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 ) 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:
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 , 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 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”.
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 come from this collection.