A light-hearted literary 12 days of Christmas
Amusing anecdotes from the world of books
At the beginning of the First World War the London Library was forbidden by the Home Office to import books from Germany. After two years of lobbying the officials relented, but only on the condition that any books bought would be kept in a locked room, and none of the members of the library would be allowed to see them. This condition was relaxed only after the end of the war.
J. Wells, Rude Words (London 1991) p 141
7. Books that sting us
“I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, at a pinch, write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banaished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.”
Kafka to his friend Oskar Pollak (Pawel’s life of Kafka)
8. The sad demise of a library
In 1791 the Dublin Library Society was founded “to procure those great and expensive books usually beyond the reach of private individuals”. Thias was considerably before the more famous London Library. It finally ended up in D’Olier Street.
By 1825 there were about 3,000 members, but this had fallen to 400 by the 1850s. In 1848 the library was declared to be “full” and a committee was established to sell some of the books, supposedly to finance new acquisitions.
In 1854 Rev MacDonnell, Provost of Trinity, was elected president of the society. The standard history of the society says “MacDonnell loved billiards. Under the guise of expanding both literature and amusements, he turned one of the first floor rooms into a billiard room. A second was quickly added. Dinners were provided.” The upper room became a billiard club.
At this time an internal report revealed financial irregularities in the library’s operations, and noted that only 60 members had bothered to pay the 10s lending deposit. A new set of bylaws was written for the society, firmly expunging the title “librarian” for the senior employee and replacing it with “secretary”.
After 1870 there were no more “literary evenings”. By 1880 the society’s entry in Thom’s read “D’Olier Street Club, late Dublin Library Society”. The books were sold the following year. Despite the 1854 act enabling councils to levy a rate for the establishment of libraries, there were at this time no public libraries in Dublin that carried current books.