Theodore Wesley Koch.

Some old-time old-world librarians online

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in your connection with us." To-day the only existing in-
dications of his tenure of office are the acquisition during
his time of some Greek and Latin classics, and some manu-
script notes in a few volumes in the library. He made no
attempt to catalogue the books. The managers of the In-
stitution wrote him to the effect that ^' they only knew him
to be their librarian by seeing his name attached to the
receipts for his salary." He reciprocated by characterizing
the managers as ' ' mercantile and mean beyond merchandise
and meanness." While Porson had three essentials of
librarianship — a good memory, a knowledge of books, and
imagination, and was always willing to dispense information
to such as called upon him for it — yet he was lacking in
methodical attention to work. Dr. Parr once remarked that
" if the Duke of Brunswick at the head of his Huns and
Vandals were to burn every book of every library in Cam-


bridge, Porson, being as Longiuus was said to be, a living
library, would make the University hear without books more
than they are likely to read with books."

Li 1752 David Hume was appointed librarian of the
Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. Hume described it
as " a petty office of forty or fifty guineas a year," and
again as a ^' genteel office." He accepted it because it gave
him ** the command of a large library." A member of the
Faculty was a candidate at the same time, but Hume got
the majority of votes. ** Then," says Hume, *' came the
violent cry of Deism, atheism, and skepticism. 'Twas rep-
resented that my election would be giving the sanction of
the greatest and most learned body in this country to my
profane and irreligious principles." The ladies sided with
Hume, and one of them broke with her lover because he
voted against the philosopher-historian. After he had been
in office two years, Hume was censured by three of the
curators of the library for buying the Contes of La Fon-
taine, Bussy-Rabutin 's Hisfoire amoureuse des Gaules, and
Crebillon's L'ecimioire, deemed indecent and '' unworthy
of a place in a learned library." The absurdity of the
resolution of censure is shown by the fact that these works
are now in almost every library which makes any pretension
of being classed among the learned. Hume wrote to Lord
Advocate Dundas, claiming that in his opinion the impro-
priety did not matter if it were executed with decency and
ingenuity! '' Being equally unwilling to lose the use of the
books, and to bear an indignity, I retain the office, but have
given Blacklock, our blind poet, a bond of annuity for the
salary. I have now put it out of these malicious fellows'
power to offer me any indignity, while my motive for re-
maining in this office is so apparent." The assistant libra-
rian, Goodall, who was seldom sober, was busied with his
Vindicafion of Mary, Queen of Scots, while Hume was writ-
ing his history of England, and the library was left to run

The director of the British Museum formerly had only
the title of Principal Librarian, which was, to a certain ex-
tent, a misnomer, as he has always had as much to do with
the antiquities as wnth the books. To him is intrusted the
custody of the entire museum, his duty being to look after
the welfare of the whole institution and to see that the re-
spective duties of the various officers and subordinates are


properly performed. The Principal Librarian, as house-
keeper, had also the nomination of the housemaids, until
the doubtful privilege passed, in Sir Henry Ellis's day, to
the principal trustees.

The head of each department is called its " Keeper, '^
and in most departments there is also an Assistant Keeper.
These titles are reminiscent of the prime duty of the old-
time librarian. One of them once consulted the trustees on
the question of the acceptance by the Museum of a certain
anti- Christian manuscript by a learned Jew — which he
argued would not be pernicious, as the ignorant would not
read it, and the souls of the learned were of little importance.

Dr. Templeman, the first superintendent of the Reading
Room, seems to have found his duties rather onerous. After
occupying the position eight months he asks to be relieved
from what he considers the excessive attendance of six hours
each day, as this *' is more than he is able to bear." Under
date of March 18, 1760, it is recorded that ** last Tuesday,
no company coming to the reading-room, Dr. Templeman
ventured to go away about two o'clock." Twenty readers
per month during the first few months was a high average,
and after the novelty had worn off the average dropped to
ten or twelve.

The early librarians at the British Museum were little
more than guides appointed to show visitors around the in-
stitution. In 1802, three attendants were appointed to re-
lieve the " Under and Assistant Librarians from the daily
duty of showing the Museum," and they were given an in-
crease in pay. As late as 1837 no less a person than the
Rev. Henry Francis Oary, Keeper of Printed Books, gave
poor health as an argument for his promotion to the Prin-
cipal Librarianship, which, as he said, would give him less
to do.

Sir Henry Ellis, when he was Principal Librarian, de-
fended the closing of the Museum for three weeks each
autumn, and argued that if that were not done the place
would become '' unwholesome," and that to open it during
the Easter holidays would be dangerous, as " the most mis-
chievous portion of the population is abroad and about at
such a time." He further argued for the closing of the in-
stitution on public holidays, on the ground that " people of
a higher grade would hardly wish to come to the Museum
at the same time with sailors from the dockyards and the


girls whom they might bring with them. ' ' From this it can
be clearly seen that he was not in touch with the growing
liberality in the administration of public institutions and
the influx of democratic ideas.

In the opinion of many, modem librarianship begins with
Sir Anthony Panizzi^s administration of the British Mu-
seum. An Italian carbonaro, under indictment for the pub-
lication of a pamphlet' attacking the judicial system of
Modena, he escaped to London, where, in 1831, he had an
opportunity to enter the service of the Museum. The ad-
ministration was then at its lowest ebb. The Elgin marbles
and the King's Library had just been acquired, but the
regime was antiquated and the policy very narrow. Panizzi
was put to work at cataloguing the pamphlets in the King's
Library. Owing to dissatisfaction with the progress of the
subject catalogue, the trustees, in 1834, outlined a plan for an
alphabetical catalogue. The plan was an unsatisfactory
one, but Panizzi was put in charge of the work. As he did
more work than any two of his colleagues, the trustees
raised his salary, and when there was an investigation of
the administration of the British Museum it was Panizzi
who contributed the most important evidence. Valuable
reforms were introduced, and Panizzi became Keeper of
Printed Books in 1837. This appointment brought out a
certain British anti-foreign prejudice against Panizzi which
pursued him throughout his official career. There were
meetings held to arouse sentiment against the promotion of
this " foreigner," and a speaker on one of these occasions
made an open statement that Panizzi had been seen on the
streets of London selling white mice! At the time of his
appointment, the collections were just being removed from
Montague House to the new quarters, serious attempts were
being made to fill the gaps in the collections, and the cata-
logue was being attacked in real earnest. The transfer of
the collection was accomplished with remarkable expedi-
tion, but the progress of the catalogue was less satisfactory.
The responsibility for accepting or rejecting the supervision
of this work was left by the trustees to Panizzi, and with
his usual courage he decided to undertake the task. With
the assistance of Jones, Watts, and others, he framed a set
of catalogue rules which in many respects have never been
superseded. An insufficient statf and an unfortunate de-
cision of the trustees (overruling Panizzi 's ad^dce) to pro-


ceed in strict alphabetical order, occasioned a good deal of
trouble and criticism. The attempt to print one portion of
the catalogue wliile another part was in preparation, before
it had been definitely decided as to what the main entry for
many items would be, was responsible for the breakdown
of the scheme. After the publication of one volume in 1841,
the decision to print the catalogue was abandoned, and
Panizzi persuaded the trustees to engage an efficient staff
of transcribers to copy the titles on slips, and he was thus
enabled to put before the public a plan for a comprehensive
catalogue. He failed to see the advantage of a printed
catalogue over the slip catalogue, and was more concerned
in supplying the deficiencies of the library, a task in which
he had no rivals. By submitting a list of the needs in near-
ly every branch of literature, he procured, in 1845, an an-
nual grant of ten thousand pounds, and through the judi-
cious administration of this fund the Museum rose in rank
from the sixth or seventh to the second, if not the first, place
among the libraries of the world. In 1848 dissatisfaction
with conditions in the Museum, due to lack of space, was so
great that a royal commission of inquiry was instituted,
and as a result of Panizzi 's success, the administration of
the Museum was put into his hands.

In temperament Panizzi was strong and masterful, but
his nature was warm and generous. " He governed his
library as his friend Cavour governed his country," said
Dr. Garnett, '' perfecting its internal organization with one
hand while he extended its frontiers with the other." When
traveling abroad he always rushed to visit the chief libraries
first. At Bologna he found a manuscript catalogue so care-
fully made that he at once asked whose work it was, and
when told that it had all been done by one man who had
written every title with his own hand, Panizzi insisted upon
seeing him. A tall, thin-faced, threadbare individual ap-
peared whom Panizzi plied with questions, and then, to the
astonishment of the attendants, Panizzi in an outburst of
Italian enthusiasm hugged and kissed the timid cataloguer
on both cheeks.

Panizzi was one of the most conscientious of officials and
was rarely absent from his post. Sydney Smith wrote him
several times inviting him to dinner on a certain date.
'* Receiving no answer," the wit wrote later, " I concluded
you were dead, and I invited your executors. News, how-

voL. CO.— NO. 705 17


ever, came that you were out of town. I should as soon have
thought of St. Paul's or the Monument being out of town,
but as it was positively asserted, I have filled up your place."

Next to Panizzi, the most attractive personality in the
annals of the British Museum, to us at least, is Richard
Garnett. Like another native of Lichfield, Dr. Samuel
Johnson, Garnett will be remembered more for what he
was than for what he wrote. To carry the comparison still
further, both were interpreters and left volumes of critical
biography, both were poets of no mean order, both were
story-tellers and entertainers of repute, famed alike for
their friendships, their love of learning, and their erudition.
While Dr. Johnson's most enduring monument is his famous
dictionary. Dr. Garnett left behind a printed catalogue of
the British Museum containing four and a half million
entries, thereby earning the gratitude of scholars throughout
the world. The British public never quite forgave Panizzi
for claiming that a printed catalogue of their national library
was too big a task to undertake.

Richard Garnett may be said to have spent his whole
life in the British Museum. His father was an assistant
keeper, and at the age of sixteen the young man was made
an assistant in the Printed Book Department. Promotions
came rapidly until in 1875 he was made Assistant Keeper
and superintendent of the reading-room. Garnett 's work
as '' placer " or classifier, combined with his rare memory,
gave him a remarkable command of the resources of the
library. There seemed to be nothing that he had not read
and few subjects that he had not studied intimately. Few
men of his time knew both the inside and outside of books
as he did. Whatever the subject, he gave the impression
that his knowledge of it was fresh and waiting for use.
Only one fall from grace is recorded. Mrs. Garnett had
brought home, after a country holiday, what she believed
to be a squirrel's nest which she placed on the drawing-
room table to show her friends. A dispute arose as to
whether squirrels made nests. Mrs. Garnett appealed to
her husband. '' Richard, do squirrels build nests?" He
hesitated, then replied : ' * I really do not know ; I do not
think so. I must look it up."

Dr. Garnett was so endowed with a sense of good humor
that he was never perturbed by the chronic fussers who
frequented the place. A blank-book in which the public can


jot clown suggestions for the improvement of the service
or of titles recommended for purchase has for years been
found to ease the public mind. The authorities make a
practice of entering in the margin a reply to each sugges-
tion made. When a reader entered a request that some-
body's life of Satan be obtained, the official comment read:
*' Purchase not thought necessary." Another suggestion
was: ^* Best sixpenny cookery by Josiah Oldfield does not
appear in the catalogue, but should, I think, be procured,
as it is a useful vegetarian work." This was applied for
on December 26th — note the date — and was promptly
ordered. There is a class of beings to whom it is a great
joy to discover a book title that is not in the British Mu-
seum, or, if there, cannot be found for the time being, or is
wrongly described, as they think, in the catalogue. " So you
see, sir," said Dr. Johnson on an occasion of this kind,
*' when it was lost it was of immense consequence, and when
found it was no matter at all."

Garnett's administration of the reading-room was char-
acterized by a large increase in the ijumber of readers, the
placing of special bibliographie^s in the room to supply as
far as possible the want of a subject catalogue, the forma-
tion of a second library of reference in the gallery in the
reading-room, and the introduction of electric light. The
mere mention of electric light shows that we have come
down to our own day, and we must take leave of the old-
time librarian. Naturally the atmosphere of the modern
public library, with its rush and hustle, proved uncongenial
to the old-fashioned librarian. The less rapidly changing
college and university libraries harbored him much longer,
but with modern efficiency tests I suppose that he, too, is to
be driven even from that last resort. The following has
been suggested as an appropriate epitaph for him :

" He loved his library and his books more than the ser-
vice of his fellow-men."

L^pon the librarian of to-day devolves many problems not
dreamed of by his forerunners. But the success of the
library and its utility always have been and always must
be measured, to quote Lord Goschen, largely by the " af-
fability and competence of the librarian." What is wanted,
according to this wise old statesman, is a librarian who will
suffer fools gladly and who, when asked foolish questions,
will guide the questioners aright. Theodore W. Koch.

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Online LibraryTheodore Wesley KochSome old-time old-world librarians → online text (page 2 of 2)