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Chapter 15:

  • Boston Public Library.
  • -- its History and Mr. Ticknors connection with it. -- his great purpose to make it a free Library. -- his perseverance on this Point. -- his labors. -- popular division first provided. -- Mr. Ticknor's visit to Europe for the interests of the Library, -- subsequent attention and personal liberality to the higher departments of the collection.

For some time after the publication of his ‘History of Spanish Literature,’ Mr. Ticknor did not take up any new or absorbing occupation, but, at the end of a little more than two years, he was asked—unexpectedly to him—to take part in a work which connected itself with plans and desires that had long been among his favorite speculations, and he soon became profoundly interested, and zealously active in promoting the organization of the Boston Public Library.

In the early period of his life, when he returned from Europe in 1819, after enjoying great advantages from the public libraries of the large cities and universities which he visited, the idea of a grand, free library, to supply similar resources in this country, was talked of by him with a few of his friends, and was for a time uppermost in his thoughts. Some movement was made to increase the Library of Harvard College, and that of the Athenaeum, in which he co-operated; but the improvements then gained seemed to satisfy the immediate wants of the community, and the desire for anything larger and freer, though it still survived in the minds of a few, did not spread widely or fast. During Mr. Ticknor's second visit to Europe, in 1835-38, he felt more than ever the inestimable resources furnished by the great libraries to men of intellectual pursuits like himself, especially in Dresden, where he had often twenty or thirty volumes from the Royal Library at his hotel. He therefore watched with [300] interest every symptom of the awakening of public attention in America to this subject, and every promise of opportunity for creating similar institutions. The endowment of a great library in New York, given by Mr. John Jacob Astor, at his death, in 1848, was much talked about; and men of forecast began to say openly that, unless something of a like character were done in Boston, the scientific and literary culture of this part of the country would follow trade and capital to the metropolis, which was thus taking the lead. Still, nothing effectual was done. Among the persons with whom Mr. Ticknor had, of late years, most frequently talked of the matter, Dr. Channing was dead, Mr. Abbott Lawrence had become Minister to England, and Mr. Jonathan Phillips was growing too infirm to take part in public affairs. The subject, however, kept its hold on Mr. Ticknor's mind.

His idea was that which he felt lay at the foundation of all our public institutions, namely, that in order to form and maintain our character as a great nation, the mass of the people must be intelligent enough to manage their own government with wisdom; and he came, though not at once, to the conclusion that a very free use of books, furnished by an institution supported at the expense of the community, would be one of the effective means for obtaining this result of general culture.

He had reached this conclusion before he saw any probability of its being practically carried out, as is proved by the following letter, which he wrote to Mr. Everett, in the summer of 1851. A few months before this date Mr. Everett had presented to the city—after offering it in vain more than once—a collection of about a thousand volumes of Public Documents, and books of similar character, accompanied by a letter, urging the establishment of a public library.

To Hon. Edward Everett.

Bellows Falls, Vermont, July 14, 1851.
my dear Everett,—I have seen with much gratification from time to time, within the last year, and particularly in your last letter on the subject, that you interest yourself in the establishment of a [301] public library in Boston;—I mean a library open to all the citizens, and from which all, under proper restrictions, can take out books. Such, at least, I understand to be your plan; and I have thought, more than once, that I would talk with you about it, but accident has prevented it. However, perhaps a letter is as good on all accounts, and better as a distinct memorandum of what I mean.

It has seemed to me, for many years, that such a free public library, if adapted to the wants of our people, would be the crowning glory of our public schools. But I think it important that it should be adapted to our peculiar character; that is, that it should come in at the end of our system of free instruction, and be fitted to continue and increase the effects of that system by the self-culture that results from reading.

The great obstacle to this with us is not—as it is in Prussia and elsewhere—a low condition of the mass of the people, condemning them, as soon as they escape from school, and often before it, to such severe labor, in order to procure the coarsest means of physical subsistence, that they have no leisure for intellectual culture, and soon lose all taste for it. Our difficulty is, to furnish means specially fitted to encourage a love for reading, to create an appetite for it, which the schools often fail to do, and then to adapt these means to its gratification. That an appetite for reading can be very widely excited is plain, from what the cheap publications of the last twenty years have accomplished, gradually raising the taste from such poor trash as the novels with which they began, up to the excellent and valuable works of all sorts which now flood the country, and are read by the middling classes everywhere, and in New England, I think, even by a majority of the people.1

Now what seems to me to be wanted in Boston is, an apparatus that shall carry this taste for reading as deep as possible into society, assuming, what I believe to be true, that it can be carried deeper in our society than in any other in the world, because we are better fitted for it. To do this I would establish a library which, in its main department and purpose, should differ from all free libraries yet attempted; I mean one in which any popular books, tending to moral [302] and intellectual improvement, should be furnished in such numbers of copies that many persons, if they desired it, could be reading the same work at the same time; in short, that not only the best books of all sorts, but the pleasant literature of the day, should be made accessible to the whole people at the only time when they care for it, i e. when it is fresh and new. I would, therefore, continue to buy additional copies of any book of this class, almost as long as they should continue to be asked for, and thus, by following the popular taste,—unless it should demand something injurious,—create a real appetite for healthy general reading. This appetite, once formed, will take care of itself. It will, in the great majority of cases, demand better and better books; and can, I believe, by a little judicious help, rather than by any direct control or restraint, be carried much higher than is generally thought possible.

After some details, of no present consequence, developing this idea, the letter goes on:—

Nor would I, on this plan, neglect the establishment of a department for consultation, and for all the common purposes of public libraries, some of whose books, like encyclopedias and dictionaries, should never be lent out, while others could be permitted to circulate; all on the shelves being accessible for reference as many hours in the day as possible, and always in the evening. This part of the library, I should hope, would be much increased by donations from public-spirited individuals, and individuals interested in the progress of knowledge, while, I think, the public treasury should provide for the more popular department. . . . .

Intimations of the want of such public facilities for reading are, I think, beginning to be given. In London I notice advertisements of some of the larger circulating libraries, that they purchase one and two hundred copies of all new and popular works; and in Boston, I am told, some of our own circulating libraries will purchase almost any new book, if the person asking for it will agree to pay double the usual fee for reading it; while in all, I think, several, and sometimes many copies of new and popular works are kept on hand for a time, and then sold, as the demand for them dies away.

Omitting other details, now of no importance, the letter ends as follows:—

Several years ago I proposed to Mr. Abbott Lawrence to move in favor of such a library in Boston; and, since that time, I have occasionally [303] suggested it to other persons. In every case the idea has been well received; and the more I have thought of it and talked about it, the more I have been persuaded, that it is a plan easy to be reduced to practice, and one that would be followed by valuable results. I wish, therefore, that you would consider it, and see what objections there are to it. I have no purpose to do anything more about it myself than to write you this letter, and continue to speak of it, as I have done heretofore, to persons who, like yourself, are interested in such matters. But I should be well pleased to know how it strikes you.

To this letter Mr. Everett replied as follows:—

Cambridge, July 26, 1851.
my dear Ticknor,—I duly received your letter of the 14th from Bellows Falls, and read it with great interest

The extensive circulation of new and popular works is a feature of a public library which I have not hitherto much contemplated. It deserves to be well weighed, and I shall be happy hereafter to confer with you on the subject. I cannot deny that my views have, since my younger days, undergone some change as to the practicability of freely loaning books at home from large public libraries. Those who have been connected with the administration of such libraries are apt to get discouraged, by the loss and damage resulting from the loan of books. My present impressions are in favor of making the amplest provision in the library for the use of books there.

Your plan, however, is intended to apply only to a particular class of books, and does not contemplate the unrestrained circulation of those of which the loss could not be easily replaced.

That Boston must have a great public library, or yield to New York in letters as well as in commerce, will, I think, be made quite apparent in a few years. But on this and other similar subjects I hope to have many opportunities of conferring with you next winter.

The difference of opinion, here made evident, as to the possibility or safety of allowing books to circulate freely, was not removed by many subsequent conversations, nor were the hopes of either of the gentlemen, with regard to the establishment of a great library, raised even when, in the early part of 1852, the mayor, Mr. Seaver, recommended that steps be taken for such [304] an object, and the Common Council, presided over by Mr. James Lawrence, proposed that a board of trustees for such an institution should be appointed. When, therefore, both Mr. Everett and Mr. Ticknor—the latter greatly to his surprise—were invited to become members of this board, they conferred together anew on the project; and, although the mayor, on hearing Mr. Ticknor's views, was much pleased with them, and urged him to take the place, yet he at one time determined to decline the office, certainly unless the library were to be open for the free circulation of most of its books, and unless it were to be dedicated, in the first instance, rather to satisfying the wants of the less favored classes of the community, than—like all public libraries then in existence—to satisfying the wants of scholars, men of science, and cultivated men generally.2

Mr. Everett's opinion was not changed; but seeing Mr. Ticknor's determination to co-operate in no other plan, and perhaps feeling himself the difficulties of beginning with any other, he agreed at last—though not convinced—that the experiment of a popular institution of the freest sort should be tried, and the two friends accepted their appointments as trustees of a prospective library. From that moment their co-operation in its affairs was cordial and complete; and although Mr. Everett never fully believed in the practical benefits of Mr. Ticknor's plan, he was perfectly faithful to his promise, that it should have a fair chance.3

But the library did not yet exist. In an attic of the City Hall—in the old building, of which no part was spacious, or [305] well appointed-four or five thousand volumes were stored, consisting of documents given by the city of Paris, by Mr. Winthrop, Mr. Everett, and others,—books entirely unsuited to stimulate either the popular taste for reading, or the disposition of the Common Council to make appropriations. In the city treasury was the sum of one thousand dollars, given about two years before by the then mayor, Mr. J. P. Bigelow, ‘in aid of the establishment of a Free Public Library,’ from the income of which some of the books had been bought. Clearly the library was yet to be founded.

The newly formed Board of Trustees appointed a committee of four to consider their work, and Mr. Everett and Mr. Ticknor were made a sub-committee to draw up a report. Mr. Ticknor prepared for this purpose a paper, expounding the principles and plan on which the institution was to be founded,—these being his own,—and Mr. Everett left this entirely untouched, adding some pages, at the beginning and end, on the general import of the project.4 From this moment Mr. Ticknor felt that he had assumed a great responsibility, and, while he never met with obstacles raised by Mr. Everett, who was loyal throughout, yet he was led, thenceforward, to make many exertions, and to do much laborious, disinterested work, both here and in Europe, which would not otherwise have been incumbent on him.5

When Mr. Bates's munificence came, like a great light shining in upon their faint hopes, it came in consequence of the effect produced on his mind by this report,—drawn up by Mr. Ticknor and Mr. Everett,—because he saw the importance to his native town of such a library as is there recommended.6 Here, then, was the founding of a library, a gift of $50,000, with the condition annexed, that the city should erect a suitable building [306] for the use of the institution.7 And now began the practical labors of organizing the scheme, collecting the books, and perfecting the details of a system as yet entirely new and untried.

To follow Mr. Ticknor minutely and closely through all the steps of the development of this work would require more space than belongs to the subject here, but at certain points his influence and his exertions may be described. The whole was in harmony with his life-long purpose, to make his own intellectual attainments useful by promoting culture in others.

That much labor fell upon him it is needless to say to any one who, with any knowledge of what had to be accomplished, regards certain facts,—his fitness for the work; his responsibility for the plan; the general ignorance about such institutions, which could not fail to be represented in the Board of Trustees; and the absence of Mr. Everett during a very important part of the time, he being in Washington, as Secretary of State of the United States, from November, 1852, till May, 1854.

Before Mr. Bates's offer of his first great donation was received, the City Government had granted the use of two small rooms in a school-house in Mason Street for the purposes of the library, and although the scale on which even the preliminaries were to be designed was, of course, altered by this gift, it was in those small rooms, and with about twelve thousand volumes, —only seven thousand of which could be called attractive or popular,—that the institution opened, in 1854.

Mr. Ticknor's first step was to induce Mr. Bates to have his gift funded, and to have this done in such a way that the income only should be expended by the Trustees, and also to prevail on the Trustees to agree that this should be done.8 This he brought to pass, and during the year and a half that elapsed between the first news of Mr. Bates's intentions and the opening of the little library, an immense amount of detail work was done [307] by several persons, and a catalogue, corrected by Mr. Ticknor as it went through the press, was ready to be sold cheaply, so that what books were there might be easily accessible to all.9 On the day when books were first given out Mr. Ticknor passed many hours in watching the process, and recorded the fact that the first taken out was the first volume of Southey's ‘Commonplace Book.’

In developing his predominant wish and idea, one of the first points he put forward—and he did it in the first report, July, 1852—was that of connecting the Library with the public schools, by granting the privileges of it to those boys and girls who had won the Franklin medal prizes. On his suggestion, the Trustees in their ‘Rules’ made this to bear a still wider construction, and to admit in addition an equal number of the pupils selected for good conduct by the teachers. Thus the use of the Library was made an object of ambition in the schools.

Another and a favorite proposal of his was much discussed and somewhat opposed among the Trustees,—that of allowing frequenters of the Library to ask for books to be purchased, and for that purpose to supply cards or blanks for such applications. He gained this point, also, and persevered in having it not only offered but urged, although for ten years this great and useful privilege was not appreciated. Until 1865 the public could not be induced to understand or avail itself of this opportunity, and, before that time, the Trustees had come fully to apprehend the value to them of such requests, in pointing out what was desirable to purchase, and would be immediately useful.

In the matter of furnishing duplicates of books most asked for, it was not easy, under the system first adopted, to discover what were the most sought, and a good deal of extra work had to be done, in the course of which Mr. Ticknor had a report, of the facts ascertained during the day, brought to him every evening, sometimes as late as eleven o'clock. A new and unexpected [308] reason for confidence appeared now, in the evidence that most people resorting to the Library desired very much to obtain some book, but were not so anxious to get one particular book that they would complain of missing it, if they got something to read. This was unlooked for and reassuring.

Although after 1855 Mr. C. C. Jewett, an accomplished bibliographer and librarian, was much employed in the practical labors of the new Library, yet, until the office of superintendent was created and Mr. Jewett established in it, in 1858, Mr. Ticknor continued very constantly and often absorbingly occupied with its duties.

Mr. Everett was unable to give much time to the interests of the Library, and repeatedly wished to resign, calling himself only ‘a parade officer’; but at Mr. Ticknor's constant urgency he remained, and, faithfully giving his name and influence to the institution, he enabled Mr. Ticknor to go on with the work, which he often told his friend he should be obliged to abandon if he resigned, for the annoyances and difficulties he encountered were certainly not less than are usual in such cases.

When the city set about fulfilling the condition Mr. Bates had annexed to his gift, by erecting a suitable building, Mr. Ticknor was placed on the Commission of seven, appointed for that purpose, but it was expressly against his wish that this was done. He found himself always in a minority, more and more dissatisfied with all that was doing, and at last withdrew from the board entirely, feeling that the building was costing too much, and was much less well adapted to its purpose than it should be.10

It was, perhaps, fortunate that he could withdraw from those unpleasant duties, leaving his vacant seat to be filled by Mr. Everett; and yet, instead of doing less, be actually employed in doing more and better work for the institution, which had by this time become a cherished favorite with him.

When once the work of preparing a proper building had been taken in hand, Mr. Bates began to give cautious intimations of [309] further generous purposes in relation to the Library. He kept up a frequent correspondence with Mr. Everett and Mr. Ticknor, and in July, 1855, he finally expressed, to both of them, a distinct intention of giving a large quantity of books to fill the shelves of the new edifice as soon as it should be ready.

Mr. Ticknor was passing the summer at Lake George, and there received two letters to this effect from Mr. Bates, and one from Mr. Everett enclosing what he had received. Immediately each of these gentlemen expressed the conviction, that some one should go soon to England to confer with this liberal benefactor, and each proposed that the other should go. Mr. Ticknor urged Mr. Everett, as far as he thought he properly might, to undertake this mission, and Mr. Everett answered him in the following terms, both feeling that this was a turning-point in the history of the Library:—

July 25, 1855.
Mr. Bates's letter to you shows, still more clearly than his letter to me, the necessity, not of sending an agent, but an Envoy Extraordinary to Europe. His purposes are liberal,—munificent, but he does not know, on the present occasion, what he ought to do to carry his own views into effect. No doubt, when he gave his first fifty thousand dollars he thought that would do all that was necessary. Now, nothing but full and free conversation with some person who does fully understand the matter, and who possesses his confidence, will raise his views to the proper elevation.

I must say, candidly, that I know nobody but you or myself competent to this; I mean, of course, who could be thought of for the errand. I would go if I could. I thought over that point before I wrote my other letter. But I really cannot. You have stated some of the obstacles,—my wife's health, my own, and Will's education (now my chief thought and duty); but there are others . . . . . But if I could go, it is no affected diffidence which makes me say that you would accomplish the object much better. I have no particular aptitude for the kind of executive operations which this errand requires, —I mean purchasing books with discrimination in large masses. Perhaps I am rather deficient in it. You possess it in an uncommon degree. I think you would buy as many books for thirty thousand dollars as I should for fifty thousand dollars,—certainly, for forty thousand dollars. . . . . [310]

I hope I am not selfish in urging you to do what I decline doing myself. I will only add, that if you will go, I will do more for the Library at home than I have hitherto done, in order that your absence may be less severely felt.

While this question remained unsettled, no time was lost with regard to Mr. Bates's new donations. Mr. Ticknor immediately began personally to collect, from men distinguished in special departments, lists of works on their several subjects, which ought to be on the shelves of a great library, thus getting contributions of much consequence from such men as Professors Agassiz, Bond, Cooke, Felton, Hayward, Holmes, Lovering, Pierce, and Dr. John Ware; from Professor W. B. Rogers and Judge Curtis; from Colonel Thayer of the Army and Captain Goldsborough of the Navy; from engineers and architects, clergymen and men of letters. With these, and with all the bibliographical resources they could command, Mr. Ticknor and Mr. Jewett worked, in Mr. Ticknor's library, for more than two months, Mr. Jewett remaining there eight hours a day, preparing the lists that were to be sent to Mr. Bates. These lists, embracing above forty thousand volumes, were successively forwarded, and were approved by Mr. Bates, who had in these matters the invaluable advice of his distinguished son-in-law, M. Silvain Van De Weyer, Belgian Minister in England, a scholar eminent for his practical knowledge of bibliography and letters.

All this, however, did not silence the conviction that some one should go abroad, for the interests of the Library; and although at one time Mr. Ticknor decided—in February, 1856— that he could not make the exertion, he afterwards reversed this decision, and prepared to leave home that summer. His dislike and reluctance to going were very positive. He had already passed seven years in Europe, and anticipated no great pleasure from going again, and at his age it was disagreeable to him to break up his habits and pursuits; but he was much urged, and in consequence of an illness of Mr. Bates, and circumstances connected with a book agency in London, he saw sufficient grounds for acquiescing. He still felt responsible for the success [311] of the Library, for which his fundamental plan had been adopted, and at this moment he had some fears of failure.

The account of this trip to Europe, in its other aspects, will appear in the next chapter, but, so far as concerns its main object, and the essential work done in the course of it, this is the place for its story. He took his family with him, and was absent fifteen months, travelling entirely at his own expense.

Going first to London, he remained there three weeks, seeing Mr. Bates constantly, and conferring with him and M. Van De Weyer on the interests of the Library. He saw and investigated the merits of the bookseller who had become the agent of the Library, and he, personally, purchased some hundreds of volumes for its shelves. But, after having come to a full understanding with Mr. Bates, he hastened to the Continent, and stopped first at Brussels, once an important book-mart, but not at this time of consequence enough, in this respect, for establishing an agency.

In a letter to Mr. Everett he gives an account of some of these earlier experiences.

To Hon. E. Everett.

Brussels, July 30, 1856, and Bonn, August 4.
my dear Everett,—I was able to write you only once from London, and then a very short and unsatisfactory note . . . . . With Mr. Bates everything was done in the promptest and easiest manner; —quiet, after his fashion, and as decisive as quiet.11 He agrees to take charge of all purchases under our past orders in London and Paris, and thinks it would be well to make out other lists,—though [312] I suppose others can hardly be sent until the results of my purchases are known; because, as you will see, I am buying right and left, outside of all the lists we have yet prepared, and must, therefore, be buying books which you would indicate on new lists. Still, these fresh lists cannot be put too soon in preparation. . . .

For everything relating to Germany, including the North of Europe, and for all that relates to Italy, Mr. Bates looks to me and to the arrangements I shall make. For this purpose, I took a credit from him of £ 2,000, a sum larger than I shall probably use, and certainly enough to purchase such books, not on any of our lists, as I may find cheap and tempting, and to establish agencies in Leipzig, Florence, and perhaps elsewhere; beginning the purchases, and putting the agents in communication with Mr. Bates for subsequent directions and resources . . . .

I began in London, buying, perhaps, four hundred volumes, which you will easily recognize. . . . . To this city-Brussels—I took a letter from M. Van De Weyer for Mons. Alvin, Conservateur of the Royal Library, who at once placed entirely at my disposition Mons. Charles Ruelens, a scholar full of bibliographical and literary knowledge, who is on the staff of the Library to purchase its books all over Europe. Under his guidance I have bought about seven hundred and fifty volumes . . . . . I have not bought a book here or in London, and shall not, I suppose, buy one anywhere, that I would sell in Boston for twice its cost.

The books I have bought of the booksellers here are all sent to the Bibliotheque Royale, where M. Ruelens has charge of them. He will have them collated; will cause such of them as may need it to be bound, under the roof of the Library, at the prices the Library pays for its own binding, and will then despatch them . . . . . But I have obtained from the Bibliotheque Royale about one hundred and fifty volumes more, which they can let us have, under the rules imposed on them by their government, only in the way of exchange for other books . . . .

After leaving here, unless I find Bunsen at Heidelberg, which I hardly expect, we shall go to Leipzig without much stopping. There I have already begun to make arrangements for the purchase of books, and for an agency. . . . .

Yours always,

Six weeks later he gives a further account of his work. [313]

To Hon. E. Everett.

Berlin, September 20, 1856.
my dear Everett,—. . . I have been in Leipzig three times, and established an agency there. Dr. Felix Flugel, Vice-Consul of the United States, is our agent and Mr. Bates's, and he has associated with himself Dr. Piltz, editor of the last edition of the ‘Conversations-Lexicon,’ and Mr. Paul Fromel, who is connected with Brockhaus's great establishment. The two first are known to Mr. Jewett, but I was not aware of this fact till after we were nearly through with our arrangements, for I took Dr. Flugel, who alone is responsible to us, on the advice of Dr. Pertz, the admirable head of the great library here in Berlin . . . .

On Mr. Bates's account I have myself bought, in Brussels and Berlin, a little short of two thousand volumes, and I enclose you a list of them, which I have roughly copied from the bills. . . . . I have, however, bought none but by the advice and in the presence of Mr. Ruelens in Brussels, of whom I wrote you amply, and in the presence of Dr. Karl Brandes, Custos of the library here, who, like Mr. Ruelens, buys books for his library all over Europe . . . . . I am now in Berlin for the second time, on the affairs of the Library, and the purchases I have made here are, I think, quite as good as those I made at Brussels . . . . Dr. Pertz was a student in Gottingen when we were studying there, and knew all about us through Rufstein, who wrote to you lately, and who is now one of the first men in the Kingdom of Hanover, being the head of its ecclesiastical establishment, and every way a most respectable person. Dr. Pertz was made librarian of the King's library, Hanover, (which is his native place,) after the death of our old friend Feder. . . . . . English is as much the language of his family as German, and being, besides, a true, sympathizing, faithful German of the old sort, there is nothing he has not been willing to do for me, out of regard for America12 and the Lyells, and nothing in reason that he will not do for our Library hereafter, or cause to be done by his assistants, two or three of whom have been at my disposition for the last week.. . . .

I beg you to commend me to the Trustees, when you meet, and tell them that I hope their zeal for the interests of the Library will not abate. I do not intend that mine shall.

Yours always sincerely,


The feeling which inspired this message to the Trustees appears frequently in his letters. At one time, when Mr. Everett had been under a mistaken impression that Mr. Ticknor had felt annoyed about some want of information, he answers: ‘In any event, you will understand that I make no complaint of anybody that has done as much for the Library as you and Mr. Jewett have. Let me add that I am much gratified with the account you give me of Mr. Greenough's important services, and of the “very assiduous and disinterested manner” in which he has rendered them. I expected no less from him, and thank him as heartily for what he has done as if I were to be personally benefited by it. I feel, too, under similar obligations to you and to Mr. Jewett, and to all who work for the Library in earnest and disinterestedly.’

During these visits in Berlin Mr. Ticknor worked with Dr. Karl Brandes indefatigably, staying sometimes so late in the evening in the booksellers' shops that they were obliged to obtain special permission from the police to remain and to go home without molestation. Prague and Vienna proved unproductive, though in the latter place he had efficient aid from old friends. He writes: ‘The trade is low in Austria; and the collections of the booksellers are either of the commonest books, or of those that are old, but of little value. I went round with Dr. Senoner, librarian of the principal scientific library in the city, and I had help from Count Thun,13 Minister of State, who has charge of the public libraries throughout the Empire, and Baron Bellinghausen and Dr. F. Wolf, the principal persons in the Imperial Library: all these are old friends and correspondents; but they all told me that I should do little, and it so turned out.’

‘At Venice,’ he says in the same letter, ‘I found a first-rate bookseller, H. F. Minster, a German. He was anxious to purchase for us, and Dr. Namias, Secretary of the Institute there, urged me to employ him. But Venice is so out of the way of trade that I did not like to venture. We shall, however, I hope, profit by the good — will of both these persons, if we should have any occasion hereafter to appeal to it.’ [315]

In the North of Italy, therefore, he accomplished little beyond obtaining the transactions of learned societies. Meantime, his correspondence became laborious, for he was obliged to keep up active communication with many points in Europe, as well as with many persons at home, merely on the business of the Library. Consequently, he did not, as before, keep a journal of his daily experiences, and his more private correspondence also suffered in consequence of his constant occupation.

In Florence he established an agency in the autumn, and attended again to its affairs in the spring. He determined, after some preliminary correspondence with an old acquaintance in Florence, Mr. Sloane, ‘to go to the Baron von Reumont, Prussian Minister in Tuscany, whom Humboldt at Berlin had described to me as a historical writer, whose works he valued very highly, and whom he advised me strongly to visit as a person who would receive me kindly, and give me the best of literary help about Italian affairs and books, as he has lived in Italy above twenty years.’ Mr. Ticknor had known Baron von Reumont in Rome twenty years before, when he was attache to the legation of Baron Bunsen, and he says of him, ‘in all sorts of ways he has turned out an invaluable friend.’ On his recommendation, he selected Professor Eugenio Alberi as the agent of the Library, ‘after hearing much good of him from many persons, and among the rest from the Grand Duke and the Marquis Gino Capponi.’ Thus Mr. Ticknor's former associations with literary and distinguished persons gave him valuable aid in his present undertakings.

In Rome, where he passed the winter, he had no need, of course, to search for agents; but he busied himself in buying books, keeping a young man constantly employed in seeking out whatever was curious and cheap, receiving daily reports from him, and paying him day by day; also going himself much to libraries and bookshops, superintending the packing of books at his own lodgings, and really working hard as a collector for the Library at home. He says: ‘The best places I have yet found for buying books are Florence and Rome. The books that have been thus far bought by me in Brussels, Berlin, and Rome, or [316] under my directions in Leipzig and Florence, have been bought at above forty per cent under the fair, regular prices.’ To this should be added the fact, that on Mr. Ticknor's purchases the Library was saved all commissions. On the 2d of February he closed his ‘third box of books bought in Rome; making in the three boxes seven hundred and eighty-nine volumes, chiefly Italian, but a good many French, and some English, etc., which have cost, binding inclusive (but not emballage), five hundred and five dollars.’

In one of his letters to Mr. Everett, from Rome, he refers to the fact that five sixths of the books then in the Library were in the English language, and to intimations he had received of a feeling among some persons in favor of making the Library exclusively English. After alluding to his original anxiety to have a popular circulating library, with many copies of many popular books, he goes on:—

I do not, indeed, want for my personal convenience any library at all, except my own, but I should be ashamed of myself, if, in working for such an institution as our Public Library, I could overlook the claims of the poor young men, and others who are not able to buy valuable, costly, and even rare books, in foreign languages, which they need in studies important to them and the public. I never did neglect their claims in relation to my own inconsiderable library, and why should I do it in relation to a large public library? Nor do I see how anybody who may have a collection of rare and valuable books in a foreign language,—Sanscrit, if you please, like the late Mr. Wales's, or little collections in Spanish or Portuguese, like mine, —can find a proper place for them in any such almost wholly English library, with whose general plan such collections would be quite out of keeping, as well as with the common course of its purchase and administration. I have never apprehended that we were making such a library, nor do I suppose so now; but I see from your letter that there are persons who would prefer it,—I mean persons who would prefer to keep our Public Library almost wholly an English one.

In Paris he devoted a considerable part of every day to the affairs of the Library, and in London he passed a month in the summer of 1857, during which he completed the adjustment of [317] everything with Mr. Bates to his satisfaction. Finally, he concluded, by correspondence, the settlements with agents on the Continent, and finished the last of this work on the day before embarking for home, having remained two months after his wife and daughter had returned, in order that he might leave nothing incomplete, or unsatisfactorily adjusted.

For all his exertions abroad he received very gratifying testimonials from the Trustees, on his arrival at home, the votes and reports on the subject being contained in the Fifth Annual Report.

After his return Mr. Ticknor wished if possible to avoid entering again into the active operations of the Library, hoping that his friends Mr. Everett and Mr. Greenough, with the assistance of Mr. Jewett, could secure the well-being of the institution without more than his presence and support in the Board; but he could not be released, and therefore accepted the position of chairman of the committee for the removal of the books to the new Library building.

This might, at first sight, seem to imply only a supervision of mechanical work, but it involved much more. It involved, at one point, the assertion of the principle which, in Mr. Ticknor's mind, lay at the bottom of the whole special character of the institution. A separate and accessible hall and library-room had been prepared, on the lower floor of the new building, for the popular part of the collection of books, by Mr. Ticknor's suggestion when he was on the Commission for the building. He now urged the preparation of a separate index to the books of this department, to be furnished before a complete catalogue of the whole mass of books could be got ready. This interfered with the more striking idea of a large and imposing volume, exhibiting to the public the whole wealth of the Library in one catalogue. Mr. Ticknor, however, prevailed, and the popular collection, with its separate rooms and its separate index, being ready and open to the public more than a year before the rest could be opened,14 was very welcome, and so eagerly used that the [318] question of the success of the Free Lending Library, for the less favored classes, was settled in a way never to be shaken again.

Mr. Ticknor felt that a great deal of good had been done in the humble rooms in Mason Street; for the principles on which a public library might be made to co-operate in the education of a city had been substantially settled. He now induced the Trustees to make the Lower-Hall collection as attractive as possible, by adding to the books brought from Mason Street such English and American books as were still desirable, so as to open with about fourteen thousand agreeable and useful volumes in the English language, and a thousand more in the other modern languages; and then, with some little anxiety, he watched the operations on the day of opening. The practical results justified the theory of the institution in the most gratifying manner, and Mr. Ticknor said that, after witnessing the giving out of the books till eight in the evening, without seeing a moment's trouble or confusion, he went home feeling as if he had nothing more to do so far as this, in his view the most important, part of the institution was concerned.

Troubles there were still, but of other kinds; and, although he was a trifle disappointed by the result of an experiment he tried in 1860, to test the popular disposition for reading useful books,15 he did not lose faith in his theory that, the taste for reading once formed, the standard of that taste would rise. He would have rejoiced in the absolute proof produced, since 1873, of the steady gain in the proportion of useful books taken from the Library, after increased facilities had been afforded for their selection, by the admirable annotated Catalogue of works of the higher class prepared by Mr. Winsor.16 [319]

Being now at ease about that which he considered as not only the first, but, in our social condition, the most valuable part of the Library, Mr. Ticknor began to give proof that his instincts as a scholar were only held in abeyance by his judgment as a citizen.

In April, 1860, he gave to the Library 2,400 volumes of works of such a high character that he made it a condition that two thousand of them should not circulate, and in October of the same year he presented to it one hundred and forty-three volumes, forming a special collection on Moliere, with similar restrictions; while in October, 1864, he gave one hundred and sixty volumes of Provencal literature, under still more stringent conditions. In 1861, also, being consulted as to the conditions to be attached to a bequest of money to the Library, he reverted to an idea, entertained by him long before, which was adopted, and the income was required to be expended for books, none of which should have been published less than five years.

Finally, by his last will he gave to this institution, which he had cherished and had done all in his power to perfect, the invaluable collection of Spanish books, to the formation of which he had devoted so much of his time and his fortune. Of these, by his own direction, not a volume is to be allowed to leave the Library building.

His desire to put culture within the reach of those who are least apt to seek it and least able to acquire it, and his belief that they could be trusted to use carefully what was bestowed generously, this desire and this belief inspired his action for the Library for the first six or eight years of its development; but when the principles he thus contended for were vindicated by experience, and put beyond danger, he turned to work for the more scholarly and studious class, of which he himself was a member.

He hoped that the principle of funding donations of money, and the example of giving collections of works on special subjects, would lead to further gifts of both kinds; and he trusted that the disinterested and broad views for the administration of the Library, which had been established and continued during [320] the fourteen years of his connection with it, would prevail in future, so that public confidence might in every way be secured. That this institution should be administered for the good of the whole community, earnestly inviting the less favored, yet remembering that the researches in learning and science made by the less numerous may spread widest, and do most good in the end; that its officers and employes might always be selected for their efficiency and fidelity; and that its Trustees might always be men who know what such a library should be and do, uninfluenced by politics or sectarian views,—these were his earnest wishes in all his latter years. He felt that if the affairs of the Library were ever administered in any other spirit, or for any other purpose, than to promote the best culture of the whole mass of our people, it would decay and fail, ceasing to accomplish its true object.

On the death of Mr. Everett he was elected by the Trustees President of their Board; but a year afterwards he resigned that place, leaving it to be filled by his friend, Mr. Greenough, who for ten years had co-operated with him and Mr. Everett in every effort for the wise advancement of the Library.17 Mr. Ticknor also declined to be re-elected Trustee, and thus retired, after fourteen years of zealous labor, having carefully, during the last months, brought to completion those portions of the work to which he had been more especially pledged.

1 Mr. Ticknor was much struck by the publication of a cheap edition of Johns' Translation of Froissart, by the Harpers, of which he found a copy in a small inn of a retired village of southern New York, in 1844; and he always watched the signs of popular taste, both in publishers' lists and in the bookshelves of the houses which he entered, in his summer journeys, or in his errands of business and charity in the winter.

2 See letter to Trustees, April 16, 1860, printed in the Eighth Annual Report, pp. 34, 35.

3 In a note of May 15, 1867, from Mr. Jewett, the first Superintendent of the Public Library, to Mr. Ticknor, he says:

Few persons alive know as well as you and I do, that with regard to the great features of the plan,—the free circulation of the books, and the paramount importance attached to the popular department,—Mr. Everett had, from the beginning, serious misgivings, and that he yielded his own doubts only to your urgency. He repeated to me within, I think, a week previous to his death, the doubts which he said he had always entertained on these points, and said that he did not think that he should have yielded his assent, but for your determination not to put your hand to the work unless these features of the plan were adopted in all their prominence.

4 City document, No. 37, 1852. Mr. Ticknor's part, p. 9 to p. 21.

5 He spent more than a year abroad, in 1856-57, at his own expense, for the express purpose of conferring with Mr. Bates, establishing agencies, and purchasing books for the Library.

6 In his letter to Mr. Seaver, October 1, 1852, Mr. Bates says, he is ‘impressed with the importance to rising and future generations of such a library as is recommended.’

7 See vote of Trustees, October 18, 1864, in ‘Memorial of Joshua Bates,’ pp. 14, 15.

8 His reason for this was that it would promote other donations, from citizens who would feel secure of the permanence of their gifts.

9 An unobtrusive form of occupation which—having already been habitual with Mr. Ticknor on account of his own private purchases—now became incessant, was the reading of trade catalogues of books, for sale at auctions and by booksellers or publishers, piles of which catalogues always lay on his table.

10 He always approved of the site for the building in Boylston Street, which was the subject of much discussion, another piece of land having once been actually purchased by the city.

11 In a letter written after Mr. Bates's death, Mr. Ticknor says of him: ‘To me he was a peculiar man. I knew him familiarly several years when we were both young; and if, after he established himself in Europe, I saw him rarely, still, whenever we met, as we did at seven or eight different periods on one or the other side of the Atlantic, I always found him, in what goes to make up the elements of personal character, substantially the same. Indeed, during almost sixty years that I thus knew him, he was less changed than almost anybody I have ever been acquainted with . . . . . The reason, I suppose, is, that he was a true man, faithful always to his own convictions, and therefore little liable to fluctuations in his ways and character.’ (From a rough draft corrected and kept by Mr. Ticknor.)

12 Dr. Pertz's first wife was from Virginia, his second wife a sister of Lady Lyell.

13 Count Leo von Thun-Hohenstein. See Vol. I. p. 505.

14 December 20, 1858. The reading-room, with periodicals, had been opened September 17.

15 He gave the Library fifty copies of Miss Nightingale's ‘Notes on Nursing’; twenty copies of Smiles's ‘Self Help’; twenty copies of Everett's ‘Life of Washington’; ten copies of the ‘Life of Amos Lawrence,’ a merchant of Boston; twelve copies of the ‘Teacher's Assistant,’ and some others. For a time many of these kept well in circulation, especially Miss Nightingale's excellent little book; but at the end of six months the demand for them had substantially ceased.

16 The percentage of increased demand for works of travel, biography, etc., over the increase of general circulation, has continued to be quite remarkable for more than two years, since the publication of this valuable Catalogue.

17 Mr. William W. Greenough is still President of the Trustees of the Library.

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