C.-The Reading Room of the British Museum. by James M'Turk, Esq.
|Most of our readers are familiar with the saloons of the which are opened to the public. They are at present requested to accompany us into a corner of the building frequented by more constant but less numerous visitors. From , a short lane, entered by a gate, conducts to the north-east angle of the building. Let us pause a moment in the vestibule, and moralise on the contagious influence of a scientific atmosphere. The very doorkeepers, who take your umbrella and great-coat, evince a taste for reading. That freshlooking young man, who sits behind the gate in a wooden box that looks like a dog-house, made for a Newfoundland dog accustomed to walk on his hinder legs, has his newspaper; and our stout friend within doors here, has his magazine or review. Those cabalistic strokes which he is drawing upon the piece of paper before him, with a pencil, are for the edification of our legislators. In this age all kinds of information are brought to the test of figures. The average number of daily visitors to the Museum is multiplied by the number of days it is open in a year, and the product is the amount of learning the institution diffuses through the nation. The calculation is laid before Parliament, in order that members may be able to estimate the intelligence of their constituents. But we are obstructing the entrance: move on. An ascent of pair of stairs brings us into a short passage, or wide doorway, which connects spacious, lofty rooms,|
|which, notwithstanding the party-wall, may be described as hall, contracted in the middle, and bulging out at both ends like a square hour-glass, or a dandy, when dandies existed, and wore stays.|
A lane, if we may be allowed to use so bold a figure of speech, runs from end of this apartment to the other, and on each side of it are rows of parallel tables. The tables are capacious,-- in the western room, and in the eastern. The walls are clad with presses containing books; a gallery runs round each room at mid-height of the wall. The windows are in the north side, and extend from the gallery to the roof. At the west end of the western apartment is a door, with a kind of low counter across it, through which a glimpse is obtained into a suite of apartments with similar book-clad walls. At the opposite end of the same apartment is, on your right hand as you look to the west, a low table; on the left, a tall double desk, with double rows of folios, like ledgers, ranged along the top of it.
At each of the parallel tables above-mentioned is accommodation for persons; and they are generally occupied by their complement of individuals, surrounded by piles of books, writing away busily and in solemn silence. Within the doorway, across which the low counter stretches, is seated an intelligent, civillooking person, of middle age; at the low table, on the right hand, at the opposite end of that apartment, is seated a venerable, portly gentleman, with hair of silvery white. Ever and anon of the busy writers at the tables may be seen to rise, approach the double desk, reach down of the folios, transcribe something from it on a small scrap of paper, and, after handing the note to the gentleman within the doorway, resume his seat. Another may be seen approaching the venerable gentleman, who, after a short whispered conversation, rises, and, proceeding to the double desk, hands down of the folios, and appears to explain something. A betakes himself to a single desk against the wall in the twin apartment, transcribes from a range of folios standing there, and hands his note to a burly senior seated at the end of the table from the desk. Meanwhile or more persons, similar in age and appearance to him who sits within the doorway, are passing incessantly backwards and forwards from that receipt of custom, where they receive books, to the tables, where they deposit them. The occupants of the tables are both male and female, the ruder sex predominating. A solemn silence pervades the hall; there is no conversation to be heard passing between the studious apparitions immersed among their books and papers, seemingly unconscious of the existence of the neighbours with whom they are rubbing shoulders; those who have occasion to move about flit with tiptoe, slipshod silence, from place to place; you might at any time hear a pin drop from extremity of the space to the other.
The suite of apartments into which it has been said a glimpse is obtained over the head of the taker of receipts and giver-out of books must not be passed over in silence. There is something extremely imposing in the idea it impresses of an endless succession of book-walled aisles. Once, in days long gone, we were heralded by a meagre slipshod candidate for some of the lower orders of the priesthood through the vaults of Churches in Cologne, lined, with the skulls of St. Ursula and her virgins, the other with the skulls
|of a whole legion of Roman soldiers, martyred at once for their faith. It was a grisly sight, all those grim grinning receptacles of busy and working intellects which had long deserted them. These book-clad walls, radiant in the light of day, are the very converse of the picture: here are all the intellects, and more numerous and better intellects, shelled out of their skulls like prawns when beat up into fish-sauce. It is, when on some rare occasion, and by special favour, gets admitted into this , an impressive and elevating feeling to pace those wide and lofty galleries, and imagine that you are breathing an atmosphere impregnated with book-learning. Nor is it unedifying, in the pauses of 's scribbling toils, to look up and catch a glimpse of their inmates--for inmates they have, both permanent and occasional. The permanent are those ministering spirits who convey the books from their snug resting-places to the whose office it is to distribute them to the neophytes in the double apartment above described--the makers of catalogues and indexes-and the who control and regulate their motions. The occasional are bright visions of fairy faces-looking at this season radiantly from amid thickets of flowers--whom the ever gallant T-- may be seen squiring through the Library, and who, as they pass the opening through which we espy them, steal furtive looks of wonderment at the strange assemblage congregated in the apartment to which the reader has just been introduced, and to which we now recall our wandering thoughts.|
. Those little billets, hastily scrawled at the double desk, are receipts upon the credit of which any of the innumerable volumes which crowd the walls of the mile-long galleries of the Library of this great national institution are delivered to the drawer of that bill on the bank of knowledge, that he may study them. Spells they are of power, these little scraps of scrawled paper, to wake the spirits of the wise, and learned, and imaginative, and fantastic of all ages, and force them to converse with the writer--to pour out to him all their varied stores of racy, instructive, or elevating observation. This is the great national school, to which any can, on the recommendation of some person known to the curators of the precious depot, obtain access day after day, there to pursue his studies free of expense. This is the great national manufactory of books, in which intellectual machines are engaged week after week, month after month throughout the year, and from year to another, grinding down the matter of old books in order to make new ones. This is the task in which by far the greater part of the busy, silent occupants of the tables are engaged; and those who move about are the ministering servants of this intellectual refectory, who bring to them the raw or manufactured material upon which they are to operate. No disparagement to our industrious brethren --those indefatigable
--we never behold them taking their places of a morning, and waiting till their books are brought to them, but we think of so many chickens in a coop waiting to have their corn thrown down to them.
says Lenze, in while the Imperial troops are beleaguering his master's castle,
When Lord Montagu laid the foundation of his princely abode in the fields now crowded with streets and squares, little did he imagine that the halls upon which the best artists of the day had lavished their powers of adornment should become the abode of a museum and library, and that these lifeless tenants, swelling in bulk and variety, should as it were in time burst the narrow walls, and render it necessary to build a wider crust around them. Nay, little did the founder or founders of the Museum foresee the appending to it of the Port Esquiline we have been describing, through which its digested stores of intellectual food were to be conveyed backwards, to be spread over the surface of the national mind in order to enrich it.
London has at no time-at least, at no time since the art of printing was fairly established within its walls-been without its literary factories. In earlier times they were private establishments : each enterprising printer or publisher had his own establishment. Fielding, after his graceless fashion, has left us a sketch of of these book-mills:
From of the publications of the immaculate Leetitia Pilkington, we learn that Curll sat for the portrait of Bookwright; and the lady gives an account of an interview in which he attempted to recruit her for
Fielding was in a savage humour when he wrote the scenes of which the dialogues just quoted are a part. He has scarcely done justice to the garreteers of his day: neither the men nor their books were so contemptible as he represents them. Ralph was of these garreteers. To many he may only be known by Pope's distich:--
But Ralph was no fool. In Franklin's Memoirs we read how he came to England with the printer's boy, who was to be the founder of a republic, to push his way as a wit and poet.
and in Bubb Doddington's Memoirs we read how he had made himself necessary to the political leaders of his time by his pamphleteering skill. Ralph's though lightly spoken of by the wits and witlings of his day, has risen in estimation as time effaced the personal prejudice against the author; and it was a
production. Nay, a greater than Ralph--Samuel Johnson-belonged, for long after his arrival in town (and, indeed, during the whole of his active literary career), to the
school. His Dictionary is of that class of works which the and school of literature look down upon as incompatible with . His were undertaken for a bookseller's speculation--a collective edition of English poets. He was in great request for prefaces and dedications. What Curll was to Quibble and Scarecrow, Cave was at time to Samuel Johnson. If our recollection deceive us not, it was Richardson who told how, having praised a paper of the day while dining with Cave, that publisher said to him
| next morning, |
cries the fat Knight, indignant that his play should be broken off by such a trifle as the Sheriff coming to apprehend him for a robbery. And I have much to say in behalf of that respectable body of book-makers of which it is my boast to be an unworthy member. The history of science and literature has been ingeneral written too much in the spirit in which Sergeant Kite relates the military annals of his country to raw recruits. The distinguished heroes, the drawers of the great prizes, alone are commemorated. The generals are spoken of as if they had fought and won their battles single-handed: the privates and subaltern officers are passed over in solemn silence. Richard Steele understood true worth better, and immortalised in his the heroic letter of a sergeant in the British army in Flanders-where, according to my Uncle Toby's account of it, they swore terribly. When will another Steele arise, to do justice to the toils and destinies obscure of scholars unknown to fame?
Aristotle, Euclid, Homer, Ptolemy, Gibbon, Voltaire, even Shakspere, are the names not so much of individual men, as of encyclopaediacal minds which comprehended and uttered the collective thoughts of themselves, their contemporaries, and predecessors. No man's strength could have raised them to the pinnacles they attained: the intercommunication of thoughts, by books or oral converse, was necessary to develop their powers. There must be a literary. public before a great genius can arise: his works may overshadow all others, but they can only be produced when others have been produced before them, or are producing at the same time. The veriest index-maker has his share in maturing thoughts, the common property of thinkers, in order that they may in time take their places in the masterpieces which genius alone can put together. The co-operative thinking of society is incessantly going on: the little labours of our contributors to reviews and magazines-our compilers of papers for societies literary and scientific-our travellers, experimenters with blowpipes and crucibles, and peepers through telescopes-all who fancy they are doing something very great, while in reality, like Berkeley's
their labours belong to the category of the infinitely little-are, however trivially, yet honourably, and even usefully, employed. All their small doings will be turned to good account the next time a Newton or a D'Alembert is born. This was the case with the book-vampers of the days of Curll and Lintot; and it is much more true of their successors in our own.
For a wider public, and an improved literary machinery, have elevated the professional book-maker in the scale of society. He is less tied down to employer; there is a steadier and wider market for his wares. So late as the days of Fielding andJohnson, the poor scholar was found in books by the bookseller for whom he compiled; he was bound to work in the shop of the person who provided him with tools. But now we find our tools in the public libraries, and bargain with the dealers who pay us best. There is steady work for those who will work; there
|is competition among employers; and, with patience, industry, and prudence, there is certainty of success for any of fair average intellect. And even when the boy's dream of rising to the distinctions of science or poetry has fadedwhen the ripe man has learned to estimate his real powers and position--there is something humanising and ennobling in the very humblest walks of literary labour. The intellect is cultivated; and wherever that is the case, the spirit of the gentleman is more or less developed.|
This is nowhere more strikingly displayed than in the hall into which we have now led the reader. Bating some waifs and strays who occasionally resort hither (of whom more anon), the inmates of the apartment are professional of all grades. Some
there are among them, God knows; for literature is not like the legalised and formalised professions of divinity, law, and medicine, to which men are regularly inducted; it is a trade which any man may take up at his own hand. Among the
that professional decorum and etiquette which is required at the hands of the high-priests of the black graces cannot well be exacted. They are many of them, like Falstaff's recruits, picked up in strange out-of-the-way corners. Hitherward drift in our days great part of those who
The briefless barrister, the clergyman who cannot get a living, the doctor whom no patient will trust, the half-pay midshipman, all betake themselves to some branch of book-making; and many yet more eccentric adventurers, who have been strangely kicked and buffeted about this rude world, may be seen seeking in this workshop of letters a haven of repose.
Here may be seen intelligent and ambitious individuals, who, without the advantages of a regular education, have become ambitious of writing as well as reading, or perhaps (for the disease often takes that form) have learned to suspect that mechanical pursuits are beneath them. such we remember to have had under our eyes many years ago. Bred a bookbinder, he had a soul above calf-skin. He played the fiddle, had picked up a smattering of French, and aspired to indite
By means of the undefinably ramified connections between all the mechanical coadjutors of literature, he scraped acquaintance with of the respectable class of penny-a-liners, and some of his prose, if not of his verse, found its way into print. After reaching this point, he set up at once as a man of letters or artist, it is impossible to say precisely which. He taught himself grammar and composition, in both of which he was utterly deficient, by comparing his published effusions with the original drafts, which he kept for himself. He eked out the scanty returns of his literary labours by playing on the fiddle, and by giving foreigners instructions in English. At last he fought his way to the editorship of a cheap of tales and essays, undertook to print for himself, and having with all his eccentricities an eye to the main chance, saved some little money and got above the world. As he became prosperous, he learned to calculate more soberly upon appearances. His -hand frock-coat with frogs, his long greasy locks, and feeble attempt at a moustache, gave way to a plain, tidy, unpretending suit and appearance. The dirty minor-theatrical dandy ripened into an irreproachable commonplace man'of business. He minds the shop, and has deserted the reading-room.
Not so who might often be seen seated beside him, although they did not appear to be acquaintances-at least, did not recognise each other in public. This lorn turtle-bereft of him who in outward show balanced him as admirably as cabinet picture of Berghem could another-cannot be said to be regular in his attendance. On the contrary, his
are as incalculable as those of a comet. Long and shambling, with redundant carroty locks which might put to the blush those brought to London by Roderick Random, and the whole outer man oscillating between shabby and particularly shabby, he seems only to appear among us when he cannot help it. He stumbles up and down as if the daylight were too strong for him, and he sought to contract himself into invisibility-making more noise than ail the rest put together, precisely because he wishes to make less. He is a mystery--no has been able to trace or conjecture his haunts. But there are rumours that he only comes here when hard pushed. in order to make as much money by copying MSS. as will enable him to start again in his favourite occupation of a night-cabman.
But much more alarming and portentous wild-fowl than these home-grown caricatures, are some foreign birds which have strayed into this grove of the Muses. They aspire to be taken for gentlemen who do business in the patriot line-
as we once heard a high-spirited Polish emigrant call them, with a most unequivocal curl of his upper lip. Well might he be indignant, for
is the name assumed by many among them, who, if ever they left Poland, left it only because they thought their itinerant traffic in goose-quills might be carried on to more advantage elsewhere. This class of visitors are birds of passage, and only appear within these precincts during the winter season. In summer, probably, they are akin to the chosen associates of Amiens :
but in winter the reading-room of the Museum is an economical , in which they have coals for nothing; and if they have not succeeded in picking up a stray newspaper (each of them generally brings in his pocket), why then they can have the fashionable novels to while away their time with; and, with a humane attention to the wants of these unfortunates, which is beyond praise, there has lately been compiled a special catalogue of the more modern novels and romances.
We would not for the world be churlish-far from us be the thought of debarring any student, even of novels and newspapers, from access to the treasures of their favourite lore contained in the Library of the . But seeing that the hard-working portion of us who haunt the room often find little enough space at the tables, and find difficulty in getting a peep at the catalogues, there is a suggestion to which we would with all due deference and respect implore the attention of the trustees. Could not an apartment--there appear to be some unoccupied in the basement story-be set apart for the exclusive use of the newspaper and novel readers, foreign and domestic, and the space they now occupy in the Reading-room be left free to the professional ? If this hint were acted upon, there are others who might be beneficially relegated
| to the new ward--the juvenile students in the Greek and Latin classes of University College, who are in the habit of frequenting the Reading-room in order to con their tasks. Perhaps it were too much to expect that each young collegian should be at the expense of purchasing a Schrevelius's Lexicon, and using it at home; but if the Musedum Library is to be accessible to schoolboys of the lower form, as well as to students |
it would be desirable to have a separate class-room for them.
It is in no spirit of wanton or ill-natured merriment that we have made some of the grotesques of the Reading-room thus prominent, but for the sake of enforcing the remark with which we introduced them on the humanising influence of literary pursuits. The admission to the Library is, as it ought to be, all but indiscriminate; and many who haunt it, it may be conjectured from what has been said, are not: exactly the most polished or tractable members of society. [Even young walkers of the hospitals are to be found here.] Yet we have never seen among this motley multitude anything but the most guarded politeness. The poorest, threadbare, ungainly scholar (if he be indeed a scholar) is a gentleman in his feelings: Dominie Sampson had a noble and fine spirit of chivalry in him, and the preponderance of this class in the Reading-room rebukes and keeps in check all contrary dispositions among the rest. If we had a son or ward, whom we wished to make a perfect gentleman- who combined the noiseless courtesy of the diplomatist with the genuine feeling of which his is too often a mere counterfeit-we know of no better school to which we could send him than the Reading-room of .he . The
--a designation which, in this land of politicians, has come to be synonymous with reporter-are sometimes, we grieve to say it, anything but gentlemen: the custom of poking and prying into every body's business, and of fighting and scuffling for the best seats on public occasions, gives them unamiable habits; but the purely literary drudge is always a gentleman.
Were we inclined to laugh--as has been the custom since the days of Juvenal --at the loutish manners, threadbare cloak, and clouted shoe of the mere man of letters, nowhere could more excellent subjects be found than here. But the joke is stale,, and worse, if it be treated merely as a joke--it is heartless. The emotion we feel, on looking at the most uncouth among them, is rarely the light inclination to laugh. That tall, emaciated figure, wrapt in a half-worn greatcoat, with unfathomable skirts--with shoulders destitute of breadth, and boots rivalling those of a Dutch fisherman, each wide enough to contain his narrow shoulders--a human obelisk, tapering upwards from his base--has yet, in his voluminous grey hair and whiskers, in the hat pulled deep over his determined brows, and the grim intentness with which he pores upon the enormous folio before him, a homely dignity which commands respect, and repels levity. On the other hand, that little man, with a remarkably commonplace countenance, who seems incapable of sitting still or fixing his attention for minutes consecutively, who is now beckoning with
to an acquaintance he has recognised for the time to-day, anon slipping to the farthest end of the apartment to proffer a pinch to of the assistants in the library, and again bending over a friend's shoulder to communicate some important nothing to hirm in a whisper--there is a
|about him that can only be liked. He is, with all his fidgetiness, in no man's way: for he moves about noiselessly, he never intrudes when you are busy, nor approaches till he has asked and obtained leave by looks; and his restlessness is the pure effusion of an excessive craving for friendly, social intercourse.|
These are our bookmen, a modest, unpretending race. We know that our place is
at the great table of literature, and demean ourselves accordingly. Not so the dealers with MSS. The mere copyists--an indefatigable class--are well enough; but they who take upon them to blazon forth what has been passed over with neglect by all the world are more aspiring. could almost fancy that, on the strength of the compositions which they from time to time usher into the world having never been printed before, they believed themselves entitled to the full honours of original authorship. So have we seen a portly chaperon at a rout as proud of a young debutante, nowise related to her, as if the pretty creature had been her own flesh and blood: thus have we seen the hen which had hatched a brood of ducklings, puff out her feathers, and cluck and strut, as if she had laid every egg from which the broad-footed waddlers had emerged. They are a strange set, these discoverers and editors of old MSS.; testy and wayward with all-continually squabbling among themselves--the
of our otherwise peaceable establishment, not of them can by any chance see the slightest merit in another's discoveries, and yet they critically inspect them all, and watch with fidgety eagerness the process of extracting them from musty and mouldering rolls. If a controversy chance to get up between of them, it is odds but each can tell how many days each has had in hand the volume which contains the MS. about which they are debating, and how many hours and minutes of each day.
If we were to go farther, and attempt to penetrate below the mere surface-if we were, in fancy, as Sterne has taken a captive in his dungeon--to follow some of the more striking of these figures to their humble homes, what revelations of the secret workings of human nature might we not receive! The diversity of the haunts from which so many repair daily to this place as to a common centre of activity can scarcely be less than that which characterises the frequenters of any other of busy London's marts. The chapters of accidents, of which many have been the heroes before they settled here, might be called the romance of real life, had not that word got into the Annuals, and become hackneyed and unmeaning. The high-minded exile, from less-favoured lands, may be seen here, drawing as much upon his own observation of real life as upon the books piled up before him, while he narrates the revolutionary struggles of the last half-century. He who has in vain sought to better his condition in our colonies may be seen seated beside him who has rambled without definite purpose through many lands,
The ardent boy, fresh from the University, who yet dreams that all the honours of society may be earned by a bold and aspiring spirit, and who regards the
| drudgery of literature as a rough but brief apprenticeship through which he must pass to fame, is here beside him who has already passed the culminating point of his life, whose day-dreams have faded, and who, if. he would not feel his heart wither up, must anchor it upon the young, who are starting on the same career of glad and Vague delusion which he has run through. From every clime, from all professions, you will find some who have drifted down here. Were they, in confidence, to exchange confessions, the scenes through which they have passed would be found varied in the extreme, the characters of those who have passed through them uniform to monotony. |
--there is but cause that brings a man to become an of the Reading-room-his unfitness for any active profession. The ballad-singer is the type of the whole literary tribe: they amuse the holders of the world's wealth, and have some of the superfluity flung to them for their pains. No man will betake himself to such a trade unless he has an irresistible propensity to dream away good part of his time. Such a may make convulsive efforts and desperate resolves to settle to some honest trade, but nature proves too strong for him, and he is sure to come here, or to some similar resort at last. Burns's picture of the musings of his class is exaggerated, but founded in fact :--
the allusion reminds us of an omission--the fair visitants of the Reading-room. They are not numerous, but they are ominous of a social revolution. It has been the fashion with women of genius to complain of their sex being held in subjection--to assert their right to an entire fellowship and equality with the male monsters. It may be questioned whether they would gain by the exchange. The graceful courtesy and deference paid to woman has its root in the belief of her weakness and necessarily subject condition. If, by any change in the opinions and arrangements of society, women were able to assert an entire.equality, it is difficult to see how this gallantry could maintain its ground. If women are to co-operate with and rival men in the schools, in the senate, and on the mart, they will be treated like men. The Britomarts of chivalry received the homage due to their sex, after they had just been thwacking their worshippers, because they were exceptions; but the Amazons of classical time got buffet for buffet, because they were the rule. But be this as it may, it cannot be denied that the tendency of society is towards a greater independence in the position of women, and that the change has its advantages. We have that confidence in human nature, and its Creator, that we believe the transition will be effected by degrees, to the benefit of all parties, without sacrifice of what is beautiful and amiable in the relations of the sexes. And it is in the pursuits of art and literature that we think we recognise of the means for asserting the independence of woman, without any sacrifice of the gentler graces of her sex. It is beyond
|question that the habit of seeing ladies publicly engaged in literary pursuits is familiarising the minds of a portion of society to the coming revolution, as the independent habits of thought and action, produced in them by a remunerative profession, is bringing it about. And there can be little doubt that the general polished tone that pervades the inmates of the room is heightened by their presence. It would savour of the school-boy style of composition to attach a romantic or sentimental story to every owner of a pretty face (and pretty faces, and modest ones too, are to be met here as well as elsewhere) that may be seen reading or drawing in the Museum. And our allegiance and fair fealty to all womankind forbids us to take the liberty of smiling at some, with respect to whom less Quixotic persons than ourselves might not be so scrupulous. In the shadowy piece of antiquated virginity, immersed amid Greek MSS. in the corner, we respect the romantic young lady of years ago: she is the incarnation of Narcissa's aunt in who was a genuine lady, with all her foibles. In her more ancient neighbour, whose cap is even yet worn under an air of pretension, and whose clear carnated complexion is, to say the least, very suspicious, we admire the triumph of imagination over reality. It is any odds that the folio before her is Sidney's or of Scudoni's romances, and that she is reading it with all the faith, interest, and self-application of .|
Casting a look backwards to see if no other omissions have been made, it appears that we have unpardonably overlooked a class of monomaniacs who occasionally stray hitherward. There is a comely gentleman sitting opposite us, with a smooth open brow: somewhat bald he is, and what hair he has is white. His blue coat and clear metal buttons, and, in short, all his attire, is irreproachably neat and clean. There is a deferential civility in all his movements. His complexion is clear to boyishness; the only symptom of the encroaching feebleness of age is a slight, barely perceptible paralytic tremour in his hands. He sits amid a pile of parchments-volumes and rolls-all heraldic. He has spent his life in a government office, and might have retired upon a pension years ago, but he could not live without his accustomed occupation, and it would be difficult to supply his place with so completely fitted for it by nature and experience. He has but taste beyond the range of his official duties, and that is heraldic genealogy. He has long practised as an amateur, for the gratification of others, dressing up pedigrees for such of his friends as were ambitious of them. But the disease rarely stops at that stage: he imagines that he has stumbled upon a discovery which will lead to the revival of a dormant peerage in the person of a distant relation, and establish a claim to a landed estate in an English county in his own. With much solicitation he has obtained a fortnight's leave of absence from his office, to pursue his search among the MSS. of the Museum-with much solicitation, for his superiors had a difficult card to play: the old man's heart would have broke had leave been refused, and it is odds but too ready compliance with his request, seeming to imply his services might be dispensed with, would have produced the same effect. And there he sits placid and happy, buoyed up with the consciousness that he is indispensable in his office, inspired with the anticipation of some unimaginable happiness he is to derive from becoming rich, and escaping from the routine of an office out of which he
|could not live; shaping out visions of the future, as if he were just starting in life, instead of drawing near its close.|
There are many as arrant dreamers among us: some shaping out colonial constitutions, others squaring the circle. Sometimes a speculative ex-landowner may be detected, who; having improved away his own acres, is devising methods by which others may follow his example. But for none of these do we entertain such an entire affection-do we contemplate with such unmixed pleasure as our heraldic friend.
It is difficult to decide how we ought to classify another sort of gentlemen who may sometimes be found labouring among us. On the eve of an important parliamentary debate, some of the
may occasionally be seen gathering here like gulls on an inland meadow before a coming storm. That dapper personage, half hidden behind a colossal pile of folios, is not only a Member of the Lower House, but the lucky holder of of the non-Cabinet appointments. He is busy
for the great debate on India affairs which is to come on in a week or so, and has been emancipated from his desk, where he does no harm, to prepare for the Senate, where the satirically-minded might say he will do no good. He is not the only getter up of a display
by a goodly many, though, in general, the cramming practice is gone through in private. May Providence endow the doomed listeners (when the rival wits come to vomit their undigested facts, figures, and arguments against each other) with patience and powers of endurance adequate to the arduous occasion! That is no concern of ours, for he will be clever who can catch us hazarding the trial. Our only concern with the
is, whether to class them with the dreamers above described (and their airy visions of their own importance would almost entitle us to do so), or with the
who secure their share of the good things of life-and that, after all, is their proper place.
A few words are due to the magnificent collection of books--the honeyed hive which attracts so many busy bees. It is easy to cavil, and objections have sometimes been urged, both to the Library and its management, but it is more easy to find fault than improve. Access can easily be obtained to it by all who really wish to use it; and a library is no attractive lounge for sight-seers, and ought not to be wasted upon them if it were. After a considerable experience, we can bear testimony to the unwearying activity and unvarying civility of the officials who attend upon the readers. If any thing remains to be wished for, it is that some in the collection might be filled up, and arrangements made for the progressive addition of all new continental works of merit as they appear. The Library, though valuable from its immense extent, has the appearance of having accumulated by accident rather than of having been systematically collected. There are in it some departments of literature unrivalled for completeness; there are others which are pitiably deficient. The department of Mathematical Science, for example, is very incomplete; so is that of History. Jurisprudence---both domestic and foreign, both civil and international--is below contempt. But for these defects--not the managers of the Museum or Library--the nation, or the statesmen who take upon them to speak and act in its name, are responsible. An outlay which to this nation would be trifling would suffice to put the Library
|in a condition of completeness, and to keep it advancing with the advances of literature and science. It is the noblest intellectual monument a great State can erect of its own power and worth. A great national library is the most efficient of universities. The Library of the has been improved to a degree that will stamp both the people and their rulers with childish vacillation and inconsequence of purpose, if it be not yet further improved. It is the fashion among our public men to talk about national education, and the diffusion of knowledge; the neglect which this institution has experienced at the hands both of ministers and members of Parliament is little calculated to make such professions regarded as anything more than empty words. Once a year during the sitting of Parliament, a minister may take occasion, when the annual estimate for the Museum is submitted to the House, to brag about the Library, or an opposition member to cavil at the management of it. Both speak with equally imperfect knowledge of the subject; and after they have said their little say, the theme is shelved again till the same time next year. There is no minister to whose department the Museum and Library properly belong. Had we in this country a Minister of Public Instruction, something might be hoped; but there is little prospect of John Bull either asking for or consenting to such an un- English novelty.|
: this is a flight beyond our commission-we return to the little things of our own familiar sphere. It may seem a monotonous life, repairing hither day after day, reading and writing, preparing
and correcting proofs. But nothing in this world is smooth, philosophers will tell you, unless looked at from a distance or without a microscope. A proper magnifying glass will show a roughnesses on our smooth-seeming surface. A book is wanted in order to complete an article, and the gentleman or (more hopeless case still) the lady, your , has got hold of it: or a fact ,or a date is wanting to complete a paper upon which you have been long labouring, and you can neither find nor conjecture any book which contains the information you want; and all the while some merciless publisher, or editor, or sub-editor, or printer's devil is dunning you for copy with imperturbable civility, but unintermitting pertinacity. And, worst of all, a treacherous conscience takes occasion to remind you that if you had been an immaculate steady-going piece of clock-work, you need never have got into the dilemma. Oh how at such a moment the
opens and shuts catalogues, and collects around him books he has no time to consuit, and sweats intellectual sweat!-Job was no labourer in the Reading-room of the , or Satan would soon have had him at his mercy!
There are trials worse than these in reality, though, perhaps, not so hard to bear, seeing that when they beset a man he can throw the blame off his own shoulders and sit in the conscious dignity of a martyr to an unkind fate. In all countries, we believe, of the habitable globe, the word mist or fog is more or less understood; but nowhere, except perhaps in Amsterdam, does the dark fog-king so love to take up his abode as in London. He swathes this his own regal seat in winter in his very
Now when he has thickened the air the city merchant can shut his shutters and light his lamp, the cabman can lead his horse with hand and hold a link with the other; but no lights can be allowed in the
| rich library of the for fear of untoward accidents. Almost every other branch of industry can make a shift in these dark days, but the luckless author is extinguished-fog-bound. There may be some still alive who remember the great annular eclipse which was visible over great part of these islands or years ago; and they can scarcely have forgotten the consternation and annoyance excited among the feathered creation by that phenomenon-how rooks, pigeons, poultry, and skylarks, as the day grew darker and darker, hurried to their roosts, like Cinderella belated at the ball, wondering in their little hearts what could have made the day appear so short. Such and more melancholy yet is the aspect of the Reading-room when fog sheds its |
over and through it. , as the darkness begins to grow palpable, there is a general uneasy flutter, a looking upwards to the windows, an occasional lifting up of a volume closer to the eye: then some of those whose visions require most sunlight stop, fold their arms, and appear to consider what is now to be done: then, after an interval, some hasty spirits collect and return their books and take their departure. The more hopeful flatter themselves that the dark hour may soon pass over; unwilling to lose a whole day, they linger on. As the room thins the lingerers gather into knots, and a rustling sound of whispered conversations is heard from many quarters. This and the appearance of clustering masses dimly seen through the embrowned air is soon the only indication of life in the room. By and by, all have departed, and the library assistants are left to solitude and their own meditations. Much sympathy has been thrown away upon poor gardeners and watermen
they have, at least, what Ajax prayed for when Jupiter sent a fog over the Greeks--they have broad daylight whereby to see their coming fate. But whoever would witness the extreme of human dejectedness, let him contemplate unfortunate authors .
It is a strange thing, Conscience. As we write with a goodly collection of folios most hypocritically gathered around us, not of our neighbours can suspect that
and yet it seems as if the writers at the same table were edging away their chairs-and as if that black-eyed brunette, copying a flower, were drawing her bonnet deeper over her brow-and the gallant Assistant, whose habitual attentions to the fair frequenters of the Reading-room qualify him to be called
were more than half inclined to step this way, and ask us
So, in good time, the-hand of the clock points to the last minute on the dial at which readers are allowed to remain. For some quarter of an hour or more, or another of our fellow-labourers has been throwing down his pen, gathering his manuscript together, returning his books, and taking his departure. The assistants in the interior--the fetchers and carriers of books--have been gathering round the opening, through which we catch a glimpse of that region, like sailors in the galley, when their task is completed. In the centre of their front line is a tall figure, slightly bent with a gentle touch of years, clad in a courtly suit of black, the leader and controller of the band. They are gazing listlessly at the scribblers, wi yet linger, scrawling with redoubled speed as the last minute of their
| limited stay approaches. It, has come, and the tall senior giving the signal to him who sits behind the counter within the doorway, that Lablache of the establishment sings aloud, in his deep, mellow bass, with the cadence of a nightwatchman of the old school, |
Whereat most of the loitering writers start and hurriedly scramble their books together. or attempt to finish another line, but the repetition of
in quicker time and with a sharper accent, forces even them to pause, and in a minute the room is empty: all its busy occupants
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|CHAPTER LXXVI: Beer|
|CHAPTER LXXVII: Banks|
|CHAPTER LXXVIII: The Fleet Prison|
|CHAPTER LXXIX: Fleet Marriages|
|CHAPTER LXXX: Westminster Abbey. No. 1, General History|
|CHAPTER LXXXI: Westminster Abbey. No. 2, The Coronation Chair|
|CHAPTER LXXXII: Westminster Abbey. No. 3, The Regal Mausoleums|
|CHAPTER LXXXIII: Westminster Abbey. No. 4, Poets' Corner|
|CHAPTER LXXXIV: Westminster Abbey. No. 5, A Walk Through the Edifice|
|CHAPTER LXXXV: Old London Rogueries|
|CHAPTER LXXXVI: London Burials|
|CHAPTER LXXXVII: London Fires|
|CHAPTER LXXXVIII: Billingsgate|
|CHAPTER LXXXIX: Something about London Churches at the Close of the Fourteenth Century|
|CHAPTER XC: Sketches of the history of Crime and Police in London|
|CHAPTER XCI: Old St. Paul's|
|CHAPTER XCII: Old St. Paul's, No. 2|
|CHAPTER XCIII: Somerset House|
|CHAPTER XCIV: The Old Bailey|
|CHAPTER XCV: Public Refreshment|
|CHAPTER XCVI: New St. Paul's, No. 1|
|CHAPTER XCVII: New St. Paul's, No. 2|
|CHAPTER XCVIII: Inns of Court: the Inner and Middle Temple|
|CHAPTER XCIX: Innos of Court. No. 2, Lincoln's Inn-Gray's Inn|
|CHAPTER C: The Reading Room of the British Museum, by James M'Turk, Esq.|