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The Leeds Library

Address. 18 Commercial Street, Leeds LS1 6AL [Map]
Telephone. (0113) 2 45 3071
e-mail. [enquiries@theleeslibrary.org.uk]
Internet. http://www.theleedslibrary.org.uk

Governing body or responsible institution. The Leeds Library is an independent institution.
Function. Subscription library.
Subjects. Currently collecting fiction and humanities non-fiction in English with special emphasis on the period 1750-1900. Historic collections include literary periodicals, science, travel, foreign language material.

Access. Open to subscribers and to bona fide researchers (requiring an appointment and reference but subject to no charge). - Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Special facilities. Photocopiers; colour electronic scanner and printer.
Printed information. Prospectus in preparation.
Travel directions. The library is within five minutes' walk from Leeds main line railway station.


1.1 The Leeds Library was founded in 1768 and is a proprietary subscription library whose members each own a share in the property of the library and who pay an annual subscription in order to retain their membership. It is the oldest surviving of a type of institution which first appeared in England at Liverpool in 1758. A few other proprietary libraries still survive including those in Manchester (The Portico, founded 1806) and Nottingham (Bromley House, founded 1816). The Association of Independent Libraries was founded in 1989 in order to bring together these proprietary libraries and the still flourishing libraries from the 19th-century ``philosophical and literary' and ``mechanics' institute' movements. The Leeds Library's proprietors are limited in number to 500 (plus spouses and children) though those on the waiting list to be proprietors are admitted up to a maximum of 150 as ``associate' members paying a subscription but having no rights in the property.

1.2 The Leeds Library was until the end of the 19th century the most important library in Leeds in terms of the books held. It drew its members from the leading families and from the leading members of the professional and trading classes. Only those with suitable social connections and the available wealth to purchase a share and to pay the annual subscription could join. The collection developed in response to the tastes of these members and is strong in travel literature, novels, literary periodicals and history. It has some holdings on science and natural history, too.

1.3 It also owns a good deal of material in the modern European languages - French, Italian, Spanish and German - collected between 1778 and the 1930s. The date of commencement coincides with the foundation of a separate Foreign Subscription Library founded in the year 1778 which shared premises with the ``English' library though it had separate membership, shares and subscription. The interest in this library perhaps reflected the amount of travelling on the continent undertaken by Leeds merchants towards the end of the 18th century. The ``Foreign' library continued a separate existence until 1814 when it was faced with incorporation within the ``English' library whose new purpose-built premises it now occupied, or with finding a home of its own. It chose the former course though with the proviso that £20 would be spent each year on books for the foreign collection.


2.1 The collections contain approximately 130,000 books of which about 6,000 are books in the modern European languages. In the section of the library devoted to German language material there are currently 293 works containing 1,034 vols (17 per cent) compared with 4,213 vols in French (70 per cent), 483 vols in Italian (8 per cent) and 210 vols in Spanish (4 per cent). Of the works in German, 12 per cent date from the 18th century, 60 per cent from the 19th century and 28 per cent from the 20th century. Of the 297 foreign language works (in 868 vols) listed in the last full catalogue of the independent Foreign Library published in 1811, 42 were in German (14 per cent), 190 in French (64 per cent) and 65 in Italian and Spanish (22 per cent).

2.2 There are other books in German held in other collections such as the German-language dictionaries, e.g. Johann Christoph Adelung's Grammatisch-Kritisches Wörterbuch (1793) and Johann Christian A. Heyse's Allgemeines ...Fremdwörterbuch (1829) and a beautifully coloured copy of August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof's Insecten Belustigung (Nuremberg 1746-1761). However, the most prized of the additional items are contained within a collection of 128 pamphlets dating from the Reformation period which include 85 items in German. This collection was acquired by the Belgian academic and cleric Jean-François Van de Velde (1733-1823) from the Dresden bookseller Walther during Van de Velde's exile in Germany (1797-1802). It was included in the Ghent sale of Van de Velde's collection in 1833 and was found in the Leeds Library by 1836. The earliest pamphlet in the collection is Johann Eck's Orationes quatuor (Augsburg 1513). The remainder all date from the period 1513-1557 apart from seven manuscript copies of pamphlets from that period and two 18th-century reprints of early Reformation pamphlets.

2.3 The main collection in German comprises both fiction and non-fiction, often in collected editions. Long sets of such major authors as Goethe, Friedrich Heinrich K. Fouqué, Hegel, Heine, Schiller and Schlegel are still present and it is not unusual to discover that works originally acquired in separate editions have been discarded in favour of copies in such collected editions. Though few authors were acquired comprehensively as they appeared, it is remarkable that Goethe was not acquired at all until after the 1814 incorporation of the Foreign Library with the much larger English Library. Wieland, on the other hand, was acquired at an early stage of the Foreign Library's development well before the period of his greatest popularity in Britain (see 5, Hamilton, p. 31). His Agathon (Leipzig 1773) and Die Abentheuer des Don Sylvio von Rosalva (Reutlingen 1781) were both present at the time of the amalgamation with the English Library as were the edition of his Sämmtliche Werke (Leipzig 1794-1805) and the edition of the Supplemente (Leipzig 1797-1798). Other notable early acquisitions included works by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert and Gottlieb Wilhelm Rabener, though it is also of note that few examples of ``imaginative literature' were present in the original German by the end of the 18th century (see 5, Morrish, p. 85). However, some were available in translation in the main ``English' library.

2.4 Fiction is well-represented in the surviving collection comprising about one half of the surviving volumes. Well-represented novelists include Berthold Auerbach, Paul von Heyse, August Heinrich J. Lafontaine, Jean Paul Friedrich Richter (i.e. Jean Paul), Karl Spindler and Hermann Sudermann. There are examples from noteworthy important movements and genres including the romantic novellen by Tieck, ``Professorenromane' by Felix Dahn and Georg Ebers and the religious legends of Keller. There are also lighter, picaresque novels such as those by Eugenie Marlitt. Some novelists of the early 20th century are only represented by one or two important works, such as Franz Adam Beyerlein (Jena oder Sedan?, 1903) and, surprisingly, Thomas Mann (Der Zauberberg, 1925). This may be explained by the fact that a good deal of fiction in German was acquired temporarily by means of the Leeds Library's account with the commercial circulating library, Rolandi's, of London. Novels were hired for use by the Leeds Library's subscribers and were then returned: popular English novels were hired on a much larger scale in a similar way. 2.4

2.5 As well as fiction, poetry and drama have a strong presence. Early examples are long poems by Salomon Gessner (Der Tod Abels, Zürich 1800) and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (Messias, Leipzig 1800) though it has been suggested that only poems long available in English translation were being acquired at this stage (see 5, Hamilton, p. 31). Klopstock's historical play, Die Hermanns Schlacht (Karlsruhe 1776) also still survives together with August von Kotzebue's Auswahl dramatischer Werke (1867-1868). Other collected editions of poetry and drama include those of Körner and Lessing. Perhaps folk stories and songs may also be included in this category, such as Franz Magnus Böhme's Altdeutsches Liederbuch (1877).

2.6 The non-fiction reflects some but not all of the interests of the main English library. A good deal of philosophy survives such as in Kant's Sämmtliche Werke (1867-1868) and Schopenhauer's Schriften zur Naturphilosophie und zur Ethik (1874). There are several works of history including Swen Lagerbring's Schwedische Reichshistorie (Greifswald 1776), Felix Liebermann's Quadripartitus, ein englisches Rechtsbuch von 1114 (1892) and Friedrich von Raumer's Geschichte der Hohenstaufen und ihrer Zeit (1828-1829). Philological works include Grimm's Deutsche Grammatik (1822-1837) and Conversations-Lexikon (1833-1837). Literary criticism is represented by works such as Herrmann Julius Theodor Hettne's Italienische Studien: zur Geschichte der Renaissance (Braunschweig 1879) and Wolfgang Menzel's Die deutsche Literatur (1836) and theology by Wilhelm Moeller's Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte (1889-1894). Christian Leiste's Beschreibung des Brittischen Amerika (Braunschweig 1778) and Marx's Das Kapital (1883-1894), acquired soon after publication, must have been of more immediate interest to readers. There were also works of practical value to Leeds manufacturers such as Johann Beckmann's Beytrage zur Oekonomie (Göttingen 1779-1791) and Johann C. May's Versuch einer allgemeinen Einleitung in die Handlungswissenschaft (Altona 1780). It is perhaps surprising that there is so little travel literature in German when one considers its presence in the Leeds Library as a whole. One rare example is Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's Reisebriefe aus den Jahren 1830 bis 1832 (Leipzig 1862).

2.7 Of course, the library also contains English translations of German works and the occasional French translation from German. There is also a large number of accounts of travels to Germany by British visitors and of travels to Britain by German visitors as well as numerous studies of German history, social life, language and literature.


3.1 Modern catalogues

A handlist to the Leeds Library's German collection [in preparation]

A handlist to the Leeds Library's collection of Reformation pamphlets [in preparation]

3.2 Historic catalogues

A compleat catalogue of the books in the circulating-library at Leeds. Leeds 1782

A compleat catalogue of the books in the circulating-library at Leeds. Leeds 1785

A catalogue of the books in the foreign circulating-library at Leeds. Leeds 1795

A complete catalogue of the books in the foreign circulating-library at Leeds. Leeds 1811

Catalogue of the Leeds Library. Leeds 1889


4.1 Archival sources

Minute books, accounts, accessions' books, printed catalogues and other archives relating to the library's administration, 1768 to the present day.

4.2 Publication

Beckwith, Frank: The Leeds Library 1768-1968. A new edition with a preface by Dennis Cox. Leeds 1994


Hamilton, Alice: The Leeds Foreign Circulating-Library, c. 1779-1814. Unpublished MA dissertation. University of Leeds 1995

Morrish, Peter S.: Foreign-language books in some Yorkshire subscription libraries 1785-1805. In: Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 53 (1981) pp. 85-86 [essentially a comparison of Leeds and Hull]

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, p. 575

July 1998

Geoffrey Forster

Quelle: Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Digitalisiert von Günter Kükenshöner.
Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien 2003.