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Giles Milton unveils the wartime exploits of the covert sabotage unit – the Special Operations Executive

Last night, historian Giles Milton treated a packed audience in the Library’s Reading Room to a captivating talk from his book Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat. Helen O’Neill, Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian takes the opportunity to dip into life at the Library during the Second World War.

The Library started preparing for the Second World War in April 1939 by purchasing tarpaulins, blankets, black paint and sand “in readiness in case of necessity”. By October 1939 skylights had been protected with sandbags and the Library was closing earlier than normal to ensure the building was cleared by Blackout time. By 1940 the Librarian Christopher Purnell (1940-1950) and other staff were sleeping overnight in the Library basement so that they could, as The Times put it, “protect the books by night, that they cherished by day.”




Christopher Purnell, Librarian from 1940-1950, was awarded the CBE in 1950.

“I spend my nights here as well as days” Purnell wrote in a letter to the Boston Athenaeum in 1940, “sleeping in the basement.  Guns crash out and bombs fall.  One holds one’s breath when the whistling variety is coming, wondering where it will fall… The staff struggle home as best they can.  I wonder how the girls can stand it after six or seven hours in underground “Anderson” shelters in their gardens in the night, but they are very brave.”

The Library survived in a state of ready watchfulness experiencing several near misses that involved putting out fires on the roof with buckets of sand and extracting splinters of glass from books after one hundred panes of glass were shattered during the Blitz.

In May 1941 the Library reached its centenary. Celebrations were muted, but E.M. Forster, an active member of the Library’s wartime committee, marked the occasion with an article  in the New Statesman and Nation:

“In May 1841 the London Library was launched on the swelling tides of Victorian prosperity.  It celebrates its centenary among the rocks.  It is unharmed at the moment of writing …but the area in which it stands is cloven with the impacts of the imbecile storm. Buildings are in heaps, the earth is in holes.  Safe among the reefs of rubbish, it seems to be something more than a collection of books.  It is a symbol of civilisation…Perhaps the Nazis will hit it, and it is an obvious target, for it represents the tolerance and disinterested erudition which they so detest.  But they have missed it so far”

The Central stacks – five floors were severely damaged by the bomb strike in February 1944

The Library’s good fortune ran out at 10.30pm on February 23rd 1944 when it took a direct hit from a high explosive bomb to its north-east corner.  The blast caused severe structural damage to five floors of book stacks, two reading rooms and the “exhibition room” (now the Art Room), designed in the 1930s by Mewes and Davis, architects of the Ritz Hotel.

Christopher Purnell and a long serving member of staff, David William Kelly, a veteran of the First World War, were on night watch duty when the bomb hit. Both were unhurt in the blast, but 16,600 volumes of biography, theology, periodicals and fiction were damaged or destroyed and a mass of masonry crashed through the roof of the Back Stacks, which damaged books in the science and history collections.

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The aftermath of the bomb was witnessed the following morning by French writer, Madeleine Henrey, a refugee in London during the War. In 坚果加速器官网下载 (1946), she gives a first-hand account of the scenes of devastation in the Library.  Her testimony records the attempts of twenty female members of staff to salvage the books amidst twisted girders, broken glass and debris:

“What had happened to the Library? … I pushed the door open and found myself in a terrible mess of broken glass and torn volumes.  The girls who had just arrived were standing around, too awed to speak.  Some of them looked like weeping …  When I returned later in the day I found nearly twenty of the girls already at work.  Eleanor Rendell, her hair clogged with brick dust, and her arms black with dirt, was climbing over the debris with no thought for her own safety. ‘For thirteen years I have put the biographies away,’ she said. ‘I must save what I can.’”

Purnell paid tribute to the volunteers who helped the staff sort and salvage books.  The volunteers included Library members calling into the Library to exchange books, passing Allied soldiers and a squad of schoolboys sent by the Headmaster of Marylebone Grammar School. Book loans to members were suspended for four months while the demolition squad removed debris and cut through broken girders, causing a fire in the Art Room in the process. Many books were temporarily housed in the basement of the National Portrait Gallery, who also provided a room for the Library’s Committee to meet, while the Library got back on its feet.

The Library was exceptionally busy during the War. 153,280 volumes were issued in a single year between 1942 and 1943 when the membership reached 5000: the largest number in its history up to that point.

E.M. Forster’s wartime article on the Library remains as pertinent today as it was in 1941. “Knowledge” he wrote in 1941 “will perish if we do not stand up for it, and testify.  It is never safe, never harvested. It needs to be protected.”


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This week was the centenary of the 1918 Representation of People Act.  To mark the occasion, our Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian Helen O’Neill takes a look at some of the material in the Library’s collections, which tell the suffrage story.

This week, one hundred years ago, propertied British women over the age of thirty, and all men over the age of twenty-one, were granted the right to vote. On the run up to the anniversary, Radio 4 Today’s programme ran a series of interviews and a public vote to find the country’s “most influential woman”. Millicent Fawcett, President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and leader of the constitutional women’s suffrage movement, won the vote.

Mary Wollstonecraft author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

In her essay The Electoral Disabilities of Women (1872) Fawcett noted that opponents of woman’s suffrage looked upon “a woman’s rights woman as the incarnation of all that is repulsive; and a woman’s rights man… as bereft of his senses.”

Horace Walpole famously referred to Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the ground-breaking treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), as “a hyena in petticoats”. The philosopher John Stuart Mill (a founder member of The London Library and the first MP to stand on a platform that included votes for women) fared no better, being ridiculed in images, that depicted him in full female dress.

“Miss Mill Joins the Ladies” Judy 25 November 1868

In her history of the women’s suffrage movement, Women’s Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement (1912), Fawcett identified texts of importance, at the outset of the suffrage movement. The most significant being Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, from whose publication,  Fawcett dated women’s demand for political equality in Britain.  She also highlighted the 1851 essay, The Enfranchisement of Women by Harriet Taylor and several works by John Stuart Mill, notably, Representative Government which, “with great force and vigour” made the case for women’s political rights.

Mill, who credited the influence Helen Taylor on his thinking on women’s rights, was elected MP for Westminster in 1865. On 7 June 1866, he presented the first mass petition for Votes for Women to Parliament, gathered by prominent women’s rights campaigners including Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett. During the Second Reform Bill in 1867, he called for an amendment to the bill to replace the word “man” with the word “person” and thus extend the franchise to women. Mill’s speech in the House of Commons was reprinted in The Westminster Review and, according to Fawcett, was “masterly … grave and high toned, [and] made a deep impression.” The amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73. As Fawcett and Mill both noted however, the support for the amendment, greatly surpassed their expectations.

Perhaps the most striking image of Mill was published in 坚果加速器vip破解 on 25 November 1868.  It depicts him in full female attire, being (literally) shown the door after his defeat in the Westminster by-election. Undeterred, he published The Subjection of Women (1869) the following year.

The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst with the motto “Deeds not Words.” In its Special Collections, the Library has volumes of both 坚果加速器客户端 and The Suffragette which were issued by the WSPU between 1907 and 1918 and 1912-1915 respectively. The full page illustrative front covers of 坚果加速器安卓下载, are as eye catching, and challenging today, as they must have been when first published.


The Suffragette – edited by Christabel Pankhurst – October 1913


The Suffragette – December 1913

The Library’s lending collections are rich in suffrage material and the nature of some of the Library’s historic shelfmarks testify to the evolution of thought and writing on suffrage and women’s rights. Material can be found across the collections, in newspapers and periodicals, pamphlets, biography and biographical collections, drama, literature, art and in several shelfmarks in Science & Miscellaneous, including Political Economy, Suffrage and Women.

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In search for Millicent Fawcett in the London Library shelfmark S. Women, I was distracted by A Dictionary of Employments Open to Women (1898). A slight volume it is not only an alphabetical list of occupations open to women in 1898 but gives a specific picture of the challenge at hand by detailing the qualifications, salary and level within professions, women had, or were able to rise to. Thus the occupation of “Taxidermist, Bird Stuffer (See also Insect Setter)” held no barriers to entry apart from the need for “neat fingers” but there was only one women employed as a Labour Correspondent at the Board of Trade; no woman had yet passed all three sections of an examination to qualify as a chief librarian; and an Act of Parliament was required for women to practice as solicitors.  But if proof were needed that women, vote or no vote, were aiming for the stars, four women were employed as astronomical assistants in 1898, three at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich and one at the Cambridge observatory.

Cartoon from Votes for Women 1911

On 2 July 1928 when women finally got the vote on equal terms with men, Millicent Fawcett wrote in her diary “It is almost exactly 61 years ago since I heard John Stuart Mill introduce his suffrage amendment to the Reform Bill on May 20th, 1867. So I have had extraordinary good luck in having seen the struggle from the beginning.”

One hundred years after the Representation of People Act and ninety after the Equal Franchise Act Millicent Fawcett will become the first woman to be commemorated with a statue in Parliament Square.


Helen O’Neill


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Portrait of Mary Shelley from Mrs Shelley by Lucy Madox Rossetti. London. W.H. Allen, 1890.

Last night, novelist and biographer, Miranda Seymour, gave a fascinating lecture in The London Library’s Reading Room on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus – one of the most extraordinary novels of the 19th century. Here in honour of Frankenstein’s bicentenary, Helen O’Neill, Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian, takes a quick peek at 200 years of writing by and about Mary Shelley, all available from the shelves at the London Library.

“Most of the substances belonging to our globe are constantly undergoing alterations in sensible qualities and one variety of matter becomes as it were transmuted into another…The object of Chemical Philosophy is to ascertain the causes of all phenomena of this kind, and to discover the laws by which they are governed.”

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So opens Elements of Chemical Philosophy as Regards the Laws of Chemical Changes: Undecompounded Bodies and their Primary Combinations, by Humphrey Davy, published in 1812, and read by Mary Shelley as she worked on the manuscript of Frankenstein in October 1817. Davy, a British chemist, known for his experiments in electro-chemistry, was a chemistry lecturer at the Royal Institution, where his lectures attracted fashionable London society. The text provides a tantalising glimpse of the cutting-edge scientific thought Mary Shelley was digesting, as she worked on her extraordinary manuscript. Illustrated with thirty figures, Davy’s book depicts scientific apparatus used for conducting experiments with electricity, to isolate, detonate, fuse or distill chemical compounds and gases. One of the plates depicts “a gasometer by which a stream of oxygen may be thrown upon ignited charcoal, for the purpose of fusing or burning bodies.”

Illustration of dog drawn sledges in Siberia from Evert Ysbrant Ides, Three Years Travels from Moscow to China. London: W. Freeman, 1705.

Currently on display in the Library’s Reading Room, Davy’s book is joined by a travel account by Evert Ysbrant Ides: Three Years Travels from Moscow Over-Land to China, also read by Mary Shelley as she worked on her Gothic masterpiece, The Library’s 1705 edition of Ides’ work includes woodcut illustrations of the many countries, peoples and cultures encountered en route, including the use of dog-pulled sledges in Siberia.  It is a mode of transport Shelley deployed in the novel as Frankenstein pursues his creation across the deserts of the frozen north:

“As I still pursued my journey to the northward, the snows thickened and the cold increased to a degree almost too severe to support…The rivers were covered with ice…I continued with unabated fervor to traverse immense deserts until the ocean appeared at a distance…Covered with ice, it was only to be distinguished from land by its superior wildness and ruggedness … I had procured a sledge and dogs and thus traversed the snow with inconceivable speed.”

The Library’s periodicals collection is a rich source of material for reviews of works published during the 19th century. Reactions to Frankenstein, on its publication in 1818, were mixed. Issued in weekly, monthly or quarterly parts, reviews rolled off the periodical presses, with unstoppable regularity and both praise and sneering condemnation of Shelley’s novel, can be traced through their pages. Walter Scott reviewed the novel positively in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, in March 1818. “There never was a wilder story imagined, yet”, he wrote “it has an air of reality attached to it, by being connected with the projects and passions of the time.” Scott correctly identified the literary family at the root of the tale, even pinpointing the influence of William Godwin’s St Leon, on the work, but famously attributed Frankenstein to Mary’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, “who we believe” Scott confided, “is the son-in-law of William Godwin”.


Frontispiece portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley from Memoir of Percy Bysshe Shelley by William Michael Rosetti. London: John Slark, 1896.

The Gentleman’s Magazine also recognised that “this tale is evidently the production of no ordinary Writer” (note the capital “W”).  Their good opinion was not, however, universally shared. The vituperative John Wilson Croker in The Quarterly Review, claimed the novel, left the reader “in doubt about whether the head or the heart of the author be the most diseased” and in a stinging condemnation (that could only have served to increase sales) went further: “Frankenstein has passages which appal the mind and make the flesh creep …. Our taste and our judgement alike revolt at this kind of writing, and the greater the ability with which it may be executed, the worse it is – it inculcates no lesson of conduct, manners or morality; it cannot mend, and will not even amuse its readers, unless their taste have been deplorably vitiated.”

The British Critic in April 1818, begrudgingly acknowledged “the considerable power” of the author, but also dismissed the novel out of hand, commenting that: “the writer is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel …We feel ourselves as much harassed, after rising from the perusal of these three spirit-wearing volumes, as if we had been overdosed with laudanum.”

Showing all the signs of being well read, the Library’s 1839 edition of Frankenstein was published by Richard Bentley, an early member of the London Library.

Condemnation did nothing however, to stop the novel’s success. In her Preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley, took the opportunity to situate her work, within the context of her talented literary family, stating:

“It is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing … My husband … was from the very first, very anxious that I should prove myself worthy of my parentage, and enrol myself on the page of fame.”

The collections at the London Library allow one to reflect widely on Mary Shelley’s life and work – and on the changing nature of their reception over time. From reviews of Frankenstein published in 1818, to biographies of Mary Shelley published in 2018, material by or about Mary Shelley, spanning 200 years of publishing, scholarship and public opinion, can be found in the Library’s Fiction, Literature, Drama, Topography, Biography, Bibliography, and Periodicals collections, and in a range of online resources accessible to members from the Library’s website. Editions of her travel writing, novels, short stories, poems, letters and correspondence, her journal and plays, are all available for browsing and loan from the Library’s open access stacks.  Her hand can be seen too, in the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, which she edited after his death.  If one wanted to step a generation further back and consider the impact of her parents on her work, there are worse places to start than with Mary Wollstonecraft’s, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and William Godwin’s An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice.

With her ground-breaking Gothic page-turner, Mary Shelley enrolled herself on the page of fame. 200 years on, Frankenstein remains one of the most iconic and influential novels in the history of the medium.


Helen O’Neill

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As the Beveridge Report reaches its 75th anniversary Helen O’Neill, Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian takes a look at this landmark report.

The economist and social reformer, William Henry Beveridge (1879-1963) entered Whitehall as a civil servant in July 1908 and became a member of the Library in 1912 when he was thirty-three years old. During the Liberal government of 1906 – 1914 he advised David Lloyd George on old age pensions and national insurance. In 1941 Churchill’s wartime government commissioned a report into the ways Britain should be rebuilt after World War Two and Beveridge was appointed chair. Between 1941 and 1942, in his role as chair of the Inter-departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services, Beveridge wrote a landmark report which was laid on the table of the House of Commons at 3pm on 1 December 1942 and was presented to Parliament the following day. Known as the Beveridge Report it laid the foundations for the welfare state.

The report identified five ‘Giant Evils’ that the government needed to address: ‘Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness’ and made recommendations for tackling them which included the establishment of a free national health service and government policies to maintain full employment.  The Beveridge Report proposed a system of social insurance which protected citizens ‘from cradle to grave’ funded by all working people paying a weekly contribution to the state. Beveridge aimed to ensure that there was an acceptable minimum standard of living in Britain below which nobody fell.

The Library has an original copy of the Beveridge Report, currently on display in the main Reading Room. The report garnered enormous popular support both at home and abroad when it was published in 1942.  It was seen as the light at the end of the tunnel of war and a promise of social justice once hostilities had ended.  It was translated into several languages and it circulated amongst Allied forces. It even caught the attention of Goebbels who realised its importance to Allied moral.

At home Beveridge characterized the Government’s response to the report in 1942 as one of “marked reserve” and felt himself increasingly ignored. After the landslide Labour victory in the 1945 general election, the welfare state proposals recommended in the Beveridge Report were introduced.

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ed, translated, emulated, contested, embattled and defended, its influence continues today. As Jane Beveridge wrote in Beveridge and His Plan in 1954, it marked a new beginning in the relation between citizens and state:

“Whether you like it or not, whether you are glad or sorry, the Beveridge Report was the inauguration of a new relation within the State of man to man, and of man to the State, not only in this country but throughout the world.  The ethic of the universal brotherhood of man was here enshrined in a plan to be carried out by every individual member of the community on his own behalf and on behalf of his fellows.”

Helen O’Neill

Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

William Henry Beveridge, economist and social reformer joined the Library in 1912 when he was thirty-three. Thirty years later he wrote the Beveridge Report which laid the foundations for the welfare state.

The Beveridge Report was presented to Parliament on 2 Dec 1942. Its recommendations were adopted by the Labour government after their general election victory in 1945.

Beveridge spoke to capacity crowds about the report. In his autobiography he described the huge public support for the report as “the Boom” and the government’s reaction to it as “the Boycott”.


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As the second of a new four-part adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End airs on the BBC on Sunday evening, Helen O’Neill, Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian considers E.M. Forster’s long association and lasting legacy to the London Library.

The works of E.M. Forster are part of our shared cultural heritage. When I re-read A Room With a View, Howards End or Maurice I see the Merchant Ivory films of the 1990s but Forster’s works continue to surface as cultural touchstones, as this new adaptation shows, because they are written on the fault lines of class, gender, sexuality and empire. Less well known than his novels and the Merchant Ivory films is Forster’s long association with The London Library. His connection to the Library lasted an astonishing 66 years and followed the trajectory of his writing life. He joined as a life member in 1904 at the age of 25; became a committee member over 30 years later, serving in the post for thirteen years and then lent the weight of his name to the Library by accepting an honorary position as Vice-President in 1960: a post he held for a decade until his death in 1970.

Forster was a dedicated committee member serving during the height of the London Blitz. He was in attendance at committee meetings directly after the devastation caused by a German bomb, which hit the Library in 1944, decimating five floors of book stacks and destroying 16,500 books. After the blast the committee met hurriedly in a room in the basement of the National Portrait Gallery to take stock and plan for a speedy return to normal service. Forster’s support of the Library never wavered. When the Library found itself in choppy financial waters in 1960 he donated his only manuscript of A Passage to India to a fundraising auction of manuscripts, books and art work held at Christie’s to raise funds for the Library. His manuscript realized £7,500: the highest price at that time, for any manuscript by a living author. Before the auction his voluminous manuscript was busily collated by a member of London Library staff, Oliver Stallybrass. A note to Stallybrass from Forster while he was attempting to collate the manuscript survives and is currently on display in the Library’s Reading Room. It opens with the words “I don’t envy you” and closes with a postscript “P.S. A last search has revealed masses more …”

Forster even paid for two life membership subscriptions as a way of shoring up his support of the Library. The Library turns up casually in his letters and diaries and in 1941 he penned a landmark article on the Library to mark its centenary. First published in The New Statesman and Nation in 1941 it was included in his post-war collection of essays Two Cheers for Democracy a decade later and contains some of the most eloquent writing on the Library’s purpose and character and more broadly on the role of libraries as knowledge repositories. Penned during the London Blitz, Forster’s wartime essay is as relevant and as potent today as it was in 1941. As bombs fell on London, Forster claimed the Library was a promise of sanity, a symbol of civilization which catered “for creatures who are trying to be human.” His essay was more than an endorsement of the Library; it was a reflection on the destructibility of knowledge. “Knowledge” he wrote “will perish if we do not stand up for it and testify. It is never safe, never harvested. It has to be protected.”

E.M. Forster’s joining form to the Library dating from 1904.

The flyleaf of a 1939 edition of Howards End inscribed by E.M. Forster to Rose Macaulay in June 1941 which was bequeathed by Rose Macaulay to the Library in 1959.

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To mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Jane Haslam looks at the story behind one of the most remarkable items in The London Library’s collection – an original, and extremely rare, copy of one of the three editions of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses known to have been printed in 1517. 

Exactly five hundred years ago, during Vespers on All Hallows’ Eve in 1517, a notice appeared, nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg (an emerging Saxon town in North-East Germany), inviting discussion over the sale of Papal indulgences in the neighbouring provinces of Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt. It was usual practice to advertise topics for academic debate on the church doors of University towns – a notice board for a captive audience. This particular disputation was authored by Fr. Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar, doctor of theology and University lecturer. The text ran to a total of ninety-five items for discussion and, as every school child knows, Luther’s action is considered to pin-point the exact moment when the Reformation began. Within months the German Church was in ferment and Christendom torn asunder. The repercussions have reverberated throughout half a millennium.

The process of affixing notices to church doors was so familiar, so ordinary, that no-one thought to make record of the moment. We are left in the dark as to whether Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses were printed or hand written, whether they were nailed solely to the Castle Church door or onto every other church door in Wittenberg and, most significantly, whether they were nailed or posted anywhere at all. Academics have been, and remain, divided as to the veracity of the story.

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The question remains how a pedestrian call for debate became the spark from which the Reformation took light. Luther maintained his innocent intentions, but there can be no doubt that once he realised what was happening, and saw how eagerly and quickly his Theses were shared and re-printed, he undertook to mobilise one of the greatest populist movements in history.

Over the centuries, many words have been written about the Reformation, millions of which have been published over the past year or so alone. A quick scan of the London Library Catalogue turns up dozens of monographs and articles, and in this quincentenary year prominent religious and academic institutions are holding conferences and symposia and mounting real and virtual exhibitions.

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Three editions are known to have been printed at the time and it is thought that each were printed within a fortnight of the nailing of the disputations to the church door. There are two broadsheet or placard editions – attributed to printers Joseph Thanner of Leipzig and Hieronymus Höltzel of Nürnberg – and one quarto or pamphlet edition attributed to Adam Petri of Basel. The Library holds an original from the Petri print run.

The three editions show us how swiftly the word was spreading in late 1517. The Thanner broadsheet is set with haste, untidy and full of mistakes. The compositor, clearly under pressure, numbers each thesis in sequence using Arabic numerals but becomes muddled as item 24 becomes 42; 27 becomes 17; and 46 hovers in the middle of item 45, 75 in the middle of 74 leaving a nominal tally of 87. The Höltzel impression is neater and cleaner; an experienced compositor uses Arabic numbers in three sets of twenty-five and one of twenty, a pilcrow marks the beginning of each.The Petri pamphlet uses lower case Roman numerals in sets of twenty-five and twenty, each piece of text is indented. Not as cleanly set as the Höltzel impress, the Petri has a standard print-shop woodcut capital ‘D’ as decoration but the composition is a little loose. During the printing of the Library copy, it appears an enthusiastic or possibly harassed apprentice over inked the type face prior to the paper being laid upon it and the printed sheet was not pulled cleanly from the press. Once the paper had dried our copy was folded twice to make the quarto pamphlet, sent from Petri’s print shop, and distributed from Basel.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to ascertain where our Petri edition went from there: the provenance of the London Library copy is sketchy and open to conjecture. What we know for certain is that The London Library acquired it in 1921. It was delivered to St. James’ Square from the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster which was acting as a temporary repository of The Allan Library. Thomas Allan was a 19th century bibliophile and his passion drove him to scour Northern Europe for any and every book of a religious theme. Charles Theodore Hagberg Wright, Librarian, was eager to acquire this substantial collection in order to supplement The London Library’s German Collections in which he had a specific interest. Thanks to a lack of commitment by the Methodist Conference, and canny manoeuvring by The London Library, a huge resource of 21,500 volumes packed with historically significant gems was had for a song and the Ninety-Five Theses came to The London Library as part of that collection. Today, Allan’s acquisitions not only supplement and enhance the Library’s enviable German Collection but they also form the substantial core of the Library’s Special Collections.

One can only guess where this copy of the Ninety-Five Theses was during the three hundred and fifty years prior to Thomas Allan acquiring it in the early 1860s. Unfortunately, his acquisition records and invoices have not survived, so it is impossible to pin down where any of the collection originated or how much it cost.   Thomas Allan stored his collection in packing cases in Baker Street until he gifted it to the Methodist Conference in 1886 where the majority remained packed away, firstly on City Road and then at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. On transferring to St James’s Square the Ninety-Five Theses was catalogued on 28th October 1921, bound between plain boards and shelved in the recently constructed new glass floored stacks. This seemingly insignificant four-page pamphlet then survived nearly eighty years on the open shelves. When the Anstruther Wing opened in 1999 to house the Special Collections, Allan’s Reformation books were transferred there and it is where our pamphlet now resides in a dust-free, temperature-controlled environment.

It doesn’t matter whether Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg or not, the story survives, as does one of only a handful of copies of the only contemporary quarto printing. Half a millennium after it was pulled from the press, now newly bound and about to be digitised, the London Library copy of the Petri edition of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses reaches its quincentenary both treasured and preserved.


Jane Haslam

The Library’s copy of one of the three editions of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses known to have been printed in 1517

The Thanner broadsheet –
printed by Joseph Thanner of Leipzig – is set with haste and contains numerous setting errors.


The Höltzel edition: attributed to printer Hieronymus Höltzel of Nürnberg and the second of the two broadsheet or placard editions

The London Library’s copy of the Petri pamphlet edition. The type face was over-inked prior to the paper being laid upon it and the printed sheet was not pulled cleanly from the press

The Ninety-Five theses formed part of the 21,500 strong collection of Thomas Allan acquired by The London Library in 1921.

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On 19 May 1897, exactly 120 years ago today Oscar Wilde was released from Reading jail. As part of her series of blogs on the London Library and the Victorians and to mark this Wildean anniversary Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian, reveals some of the Library’s connections to Oscar Wilde’s life and work and takes a look at some special editions from the Library’s collections.

There was no more sensational trial or public fall from grace in the Victorian era than that of the writer, playwright and cultural icon, Oscar Wilde. Secreted in the Library’s Victorian membership ledgers are the names of Oscar Wilde’s wife, Constance; his publishers John Lane and Algernon Marshall Methuen; and his illustrator Aubrey Beardsley.  Constance appears in the Library’s membership records in 1894 giving her occupation or position as “Wife of Oscar Wilde Esq”.  Within a year of joining the Library her husband was serving a two year prison sentence with hard labour and the family home at Tite Street, along with all its contents, had been auctioned off.

Wilde’s iconic fin-de-siècle illustrator Aubrey Beardsley joined the Library in 1896 when he was twenty-three. His risqué illustrations for Wilde’s illustrated edition of Salome were commissioned when Beardsley was just twenty-one and caused a scandal on publication. Wilde dedicated Salome to “My Friend Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas” and the play was published by another London Library member, John Lane with his business partner Elkin Matthews. Beardsley’s art is stamped on the short-lived but influential avant-garde magazine The Yellow Book, which was also published by John Lane at the Bodley Head between 1894 and 1897. The Yellow Book became inaccurately but fatally associated with the scandal that surrounded Wilde when the press reported that he had a “yellow” book under his arm when he was arrested at the Cadogan Hotel in 1895. In a bid to distance Bodley Head from the furore John Lane swiftly ceased publication of the magazine, withdrew Wilde’s plays from publication and sacked Beardsley.

It was another London Library member, Algernon Methuen Marshall Methuen, who first published part of De Profundis in 1905: it was a book which triggered the start of Wilde’s literary rehabilitation. A first edition was quickly acquired by the Library in February 1905. In the form of a letter to Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, it is a composition of some 55,000 words written during Wilde’s incarceration. It became, on first publication an instant best seller. 10,000 copies were sold within a few weeks and 14 editions followed over the next three years. In 1962 while he was Chair of the Library’s committee, the writer and publisher, Rupert Hart Davis published an authoritative edition of 坚果加速器官网下载免费 which included, what is considered to be, the first true text of De Profundis.

Alongside a first English edition of De Profundis, the Library has a very rare German edition of the work which was published in Berlin in 1905 by S. Fischer.  Bound in vellum on handmade paper with gilt lettering on the spine, it is one of only twenty such copies made. What makes it noteworthy is not only the quality of its production but the speed at which the Library acquired it.  Published in Germany in 1905 it was available for loan from the Library’s shelves by July the following year – and there it has remained ever since.

Wilde’s vulnerability is present in an exceptional first edition in the Library’s collections of The Ballad of Reading Goal by C.3.3. Written after Wilde’s release from prison, it was published in London by Leonard Smithers in 1898.  It is lightly inscribed in ink manuscript on the front flyleaf by Wilde, at that point an exile in Paris.  It is addressed to his publisher Leonard Smithers “in gratitude and wonder”. Tipped in at the back of the book is a letter from Smithers explaining Wilde’s inscription.  Dated 27 January 1898 it reads:

‘This copy of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (No 1 of thirty copies on Japanese vellum) was given to me by the author.  The inscription “In gratitude and wonder” I presume means, in gratitude for my having produced his book; and wonder at my having done so, when other London publishers refused.’

After his release from prison Wilde wrote two letters to the editor of the Daily Chronicle about the need for prison reform.  The letters were reproduced in pamphlet form in 1898 by Murdoch and Co. and sold for a penny.  In Children in Prison and Other Cruelties of Prison Life Wilde describes the dehumanizing effect of the prison system on all who came into contact with it.  He made a direct request for the case of prisoner A.2.11 (a young soldier whose inhumane treatment Wilde witnessed at first hand) to be looked into as a matter of urgency.  He also praised the kindness of a prison warder named Martin, whom he knew from his time in Reading, who had been sacked for acts of humanity–in particular for giving sweet biscuits to a tiny, hungry child.

As Wilde prepared to leave prison he wrote “I know that on the day of my release I shall be merely passing from one prison into another…Still I do see a sort of possible goal towards which, through art, I may progress … On the other side of the prison wall there are some poor black soot-besmirched trees which are just breaking out into buds of an almost shrill green. I know quite well what they are going through.  They are finding expression.”

Helen O’Neill

Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian

Constance Wilde’s joining form to the London Library in 1898.

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The Ballad of Reading Goal inscribed by Oscar Wilde to his publisher Leonard Smithers “in gratitude and wonder.”

A penny pamphlet written by Wilde on the need for prison reform was published in 1898.

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To mark the anniversary of Bram Stoker’s death today (he died on 20th April 1912) and continuing her series on the Library’s Victorian membership, Helen O’Neill, our Archive, Heritage & Development brings a few hidden gems out into the light…

The London Library membership records of Henry Irving (1838-1905) and Bram Stoker (1847-1912) both date from 1890.  Irving is Britain’s most acclaimed Victorian actor theatre manager who, against considerable odds, made it to the top of his profession and changed the perception and status of that profession in the process.  Five years after joining the Library he became the first actor to be knighted for services to the stage.  Irving’s wingman, Bram Stoker joined the Library in the year he began work on Dracula.  Within seven years he published his most famous literary work which has never since been out of print, and which made the most breath-taking transition onto the global stage with the advent of film. Dracula without a doubt is one of the 19th century’s most iconic and enduring works.

Stoker’s handwriting is a good example of the challenges involved in deciphering Victorian manuscript records. His occupation, if you are struggling with the handwriting reads “Acting Manager Lyceum Theatre” where he was Irving’s right-hand-man for 27 years.   It is no coincidence perhaps that someone working at close quarters with an actor of Irving’s magnetism, would create a character that would enthrall in a visual medium. Stoker dedicated Dracula to the novelist that introduced him to the Library, Hall Caine and in the year Dracula was published Hall Caine became the first novelist in Britain to sell a million copies with his novel The Christian.

It is hard to imagine looking at these documents that either Irving or Stoker could have imagined when they wrote them, that over a century later they would have the power to arrest and captivate in quite the way they do.  Look at Irving’s description of his occupation: verve, wit, humility and pride all wrapped up in that playful, telling word “Comedian”.

Irving’s status as a national treasure is captured in an evocative piece in The Times on October 20 1905, the day before his funeral.  The piece describes the traffic being stopped locally, at the junction of Stratton Street and Piccadilly as a large number of “humble admirers” assembled to pay their respects as the hearse carrying Irving’s flower covered coffin made its way, at walking pace, to Westminster Abbey.   In the Library’s Special Collections there is a copy of Tennyson’s play Becket.  Irving died in a hotel lobby after performing in the title role of this play.  His praise for the play appears on the title page, which is signed and dated by Bram Stoker. The play, annotated throughout, was donated to the Library in 1937 by Bram Stoker’s son, Noel Thornley Stoker.  It is an eloquent example of how the Library’s collections have been shaped and enriched by past members and it demonstrates how a connection to the library, once made, can spread across generations within the same family.  Viewed in conjunction with the Irving and Stoker’s joining forms to the Library it reflects the relationship between the membership and the Library’s book collection, and also between the Library and the cultural life of 19th century literary London.

© Helen O’Neill

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Bram Stoker joined the Library in 1890, the year he started his began his research for Dracula.

Henry Irving joined the Library in 1890, the year he sold his own personal library to replace his theatre sets lost in a warehouse fire.

The novelist Hall Caine joined the Library in 1886. He nominated Bram Stoker to membership in 1890.

This copy of Tennyson’s play Becket from the Library’s special collections, was annotated by Irving and inscribed by both Irving and Stoker.

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Each year around 4,500 books pass through the binding division of the Library’s Collection Care department.  Around half of these are new acquisitions – paperbacks and journals – in need of brand new bindings, while the others have been pulled out of our existing stock because their dilapidated bindings are due some TLC or an entire overhaul. When commissioning new bindings for a book already in the collection, we take care to preserve as many of its original features as we can: evidences of provenance such as bookplates; illustrated, or simply distinctive, cloth covers. Even when dealing with brand new books, we are conscious that we are working within a tradition of binding commissioning at the Library that stretches back 175 years.

Binding tradition

The majority of our books are sent to small binding companies with expert craftspeople, who have all the hand-sewing and letter-blocking skills to turn out new bindings with flair. We have long-standing relationships with our binders, and have developed a good understanding of the way they work. This allows us to match the binding needs of our book stock to the strengths and skills of each binding company.

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The Library’s handwritten binding instruction slips have changed little with the passing of time. We chanced upon one from 1909 a few years ago, and were amazed to find that the layout and content were almost exactly the same as those we use today. There have been a few minor tweaks along the way. One small change relates to the placement of lettering on books that are too thin for title information to be blocked across the spine.  Up until the early 1980s British Standards recommended the lettering to run up the spine in the belief that this would help readers when scanning the shelves; a suggestion that The London Library dutifully adopted.  Since then new thinking has prevailed and as a general rule we now ask for the print to run down the spine. It’s a relatively rare example of the Library breaking with decades of in-house binding tradition.

The birth of buckram

Another area of continuity is our use of buckram. Virtually all the rebinding work commissioned by the Library is done in buckram, a linen cloth made tough and washable through chemical strengthening.  Buckram was adopted by British binders in the mid-nineteenth century as a replacement for traditional cover materials that had been most popular until then: cloth, which could be prone to fraying, fading and tears, and leather, which was expensive.

Cost wasn’t the only problem with leather. As the Industrial Revolution continued to transform the nation’s towns, libraries, museums and private collectors in urban areas discovered that their leather bindings were being degraded by the acidic pollution of gas lighting and factory fumes. Victorian librarians in the metropolis sought an alternative that would prove durable under these changing conditions, and the result of their investigations was buckram. Though 25% dearer than ordinary book-cloth, buckram was still considerably cheaper than leather and could be procured in several different colours.  These included a brilliant yellow and a dirty white, but also, black, brown, green, red, purple, slate and dark blue.

Applying colour with care

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Respect for history and respect for books

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“The individual reader in a spacious, well-proportioned, amply ventilated apartment, with the temperature regulated according to the season, takes more care of a book and feels more interest in the subject of his study if the volume be handsomely bound, than if in boards which soon break up or in a common cloth cover, which imbibes damp, retains dust, warps and shrinks, or if enveloped in a paper wrapper which – especially with those of large size – makes the book unsightly to the eye and unwieldy to the hand.

The idea that a well-bound book will be a better-loved book still inspires us today. Our binding work not only affords vital protection to many millions of pages within the London Library’s collections, but also enhances readers’ enjoyment of our books. Respect for binding traditions, from lettering conventions to the choice of book-cloths, lends our bookstacks their distinctive appearance and transforms a book into a London Library book.


The number of damaged books that can be rebound every year is limited by the Library’s rebinding budget. Donations from individuals or trusts & foundations can enable the rebinding of damaged books that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. If you are interested in making a donation, or to find out more, please contact the Development Office (, tel. 020 7766 4734).

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Binders’ swatch books offer a wide range of buckram colours


The Library’s Religion collection has traditionally been bound in black buckram


Books with their new buckram bindings and London Library labels


Finished books get ready to go back out onto The Library’s shelves


Good binding on the agenda at this conference 140 years ago


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In her next instalment on the Library’s Victorian past Helen O’Neill takes a look at the double literary life of William Sharp, a Victorian London Library member who had two successful literary careers:  one as the author and critic William Sharp and the second as the pre-eminent Scottish writer of the 19th century Celtic Renaissance, Fiona Macleod.

Over Christmas the Victorians did well in the TV ratings. A Christmas Carol was brought up to date by ITV and the BBC showed the literary biopic To Walk Invisible which traced the story of the Brontë family, up to the point that the sisters disclosed their true identities.  It was Anne Brontë’s birthday this week (born 17th January 1820) and to mark the moment I thought I’d take a look at another Victorian literary figure who walked invisible, the Scottish novelist and mystic William Sharp (1855-1904).

Sharp had a distinguished literary career as a poet, novelist, biographer, essayist, and dramatist. Between 1884 and 1894 he wrote or edited almost forty books in his own name, including several literary biographies on Rossetti, Shelley, Browning and Heinrich Heine.  He also published several literary geographies considering the impact of place on the works of Charles Dickens, George Meredith, George Eliot, the Brontë sisters and Thomas Carlyle. He was the London art critic of the Glasgow Herald and the Art Journal and was a familiar figure in London’s literary and artistic circles.

The emergence of his second literary life as Fiona Macleod was triggered in the early 1890s by meeting Edith Wingate Rinder, with whom Sharp had an intense relationship.  According to Sharp’s wife, Elizabeth Amelia Sharp (1856-1932), a writer and critic in her own right, “the life of William Sharp divides itself naturally into two halves … the second begins with Pharais, the first book signed by Fiona Macleod.”  Pharais, a Celtic romance set in the western isles of Scotland, was first published in 1894 and was the inaugural work by Sharp’s female alter ego.  He went on to write many other works in this name (some 20 titles still available in the Library’s collections) establishing a successful career for his female pseudonym, whose literary reputation eclipsed his own. Fiona Macleod attracted fame for her mystical Celtic legends, folklore, and mythological writings which first appeared in print the year after William Sharp joined the Library.

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Some have claimed that Fiona Macleod was a vehicle for Sharp to write creatively without damaging his established literary reputation; others that Sharp capitalised on the mystery surrounding Macleod’s identity as an effective marketing strategy; and yet others that writing as a woman allowed Sharp to express an inner life which the social mores of the time made difficult under his own name. There is some evidence to support this.  In a letter to Catherine Janvier in September 1894 Sharp claimed ownership of Pharais and asked that his identity be kept secret:

“Yes, 坚果加速器下载. It is a book out of my heart, out of the core of my heart … I can write out my heart in a way I could not do as William Sharp … This rapt sense of oneness with nature, this cosmic ecstasy and elation, this wayfaring along the extreme verges of the common world, all this is so wrought up with the romance of life that I could not bring myself to expression by my outer self, insistent and tyrannical as that need is. . . . My truest self, the self who is below all other selves, and my most intimate life and joys and sufferings, thoughts, emotions and dreams, must find expression, yet I cannot save in this hidden way… Sometimes I am tempted to believe I am half a woman.”

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Opportunist, mystic or free spirit William Sharp’s life provides a fascinating glimpse into the Victorian world. W.B. Yeats, who had been duped by Sharp before 1897 about the identity of Fiona Macleod, retained his respect for Sharp writing to his widow in 1906:

“….Your husband was a man of great genius, who brought something wholly new into letters….To me he was that, & a strange mystery too & also a dear friend. To talk with him was to feel the presence of that mystery, he was very near always to the world where he now is…”

Helen O’Neill

Archive, Heritage & Development Librarian


William Sharp was striking in appearance. This photograph, by Frederick Hollyer was taken the year after Sharp joined The London Library. It appeared in The Chap-book on September 15, 1894.

This photograph of “Fiona Macleod” appeared in Heinemann’s 1910 re-issue of Sharp’s first work as Fiona Macleod, Pharais.

On his joining form to the Library William Sharp alludes to his biography of Rossetti. He became a member of the Library the year before his first work as Fiona Macleod was published.

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