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The London Library

Address. 14 St James's Square, London SW1Y 4LG [Map]
Telephone. (020) 7930-7705 or (020) 7930-8873
Fax. (020) 7930-0436
email.' inquiries@londonlibrary.co.uk (book inquiries)
Internet. http://webpac.londonlibrary.co.uk/HOME.HTM

Governing body or responsible institution. Board of Trustees.
Function. Subscription library.
Subjects. Humanities.

Access. Open to applicants on payment of an annual subscription. Members and prospective members who are unable to meet the full fees may be eligible for help by the London Library Trust. Corporate membership is available to institutions. Short-term Reading Room membership and overseas membership are also available. - Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 9.30 a.m. - 5.30 p.m., Thursdays until 7.30 p.m.
Special facilities. Photocopiers, microform readers, CD-ROM, Internet access.
Travel directions. Nearest underground stations: Piccadilly Circus and Green Park; on several bus routes. - Parking in St. James's Square.


1.1 The library was founded in 1841 on the proposal of Thomas Carlyle as a reference and lending library for the use of scholars and maintained by private subscription. ``The London Library was founded by men and women of letters for men and women of letters in order that the literature of all ages and countries might be easily accessible to members in their own home' (see below 4, W. D. Christie, 1841).

1.2 In the past the library acquired a certain number of rare and valuable works, and gifts were gratefully accepted. In addition complete private libraries such as the library of Thomas Robinson Allan (c. 1800-1884), acquired in 1925 and consisting of several thousand mostly theological works in Latin and German printed to a large extent in Germany in the 17th and 18th century, were bought and absorbed into the book stock, which therefore grew quite rapidly. Allan's collection formed the nucleus of a central library on Methodism incorporating book collections by the Rev. Paul Orchard and the Rev. Richard Brown. In 1966, all the incunabula of the London Library were sold (see below 5, Book Collector 16, 1967) most being from the Allan Library. Apart from this, there are only scant records of early acquisitions and donations, but one can deduce from the tries listed in the first printed catalogue what was acquired in the early years.

1.3 The German literature section has traditionally been the largest of the foreign sections. One can assume that Carlyle's interest in German literature and history, the patronage of Prince Albert (1819-1861) and possibly also the involvement of Christian von Bunsen (1791-1860), Prussian Ambassador in London (1842-1854) and prolific writer on theological and archaeological subjects, contributed towards a comparatively strong German collection from the beginning. The Prince made generous donations of German books from his library on various occasions. However books in French and Italian were also acquired from the start, Russian following later under Sir Charles Hagberg Wright (1862-1940) who was Librarian for almost fifty years.

1.4 The initial acquisition policy, ``to buy standard books in all languages', to a large extent still stands, but the emphasis is now on books in European languages. ``The Committee have avoided buying books on purely technical and professional subjects ...When, however, these subjects have been treated historically or scientifically in a manner comprehensible to the layman, purchase has been sanctioned' (Memorandum relating to the principles guiding the Committee in the purchase of books, 1928). This guideline still applies. As the Library was founded for ``men and women of letters', the policy has always been to buy only fiction that has been deemed suitable.

1.5 By 1842, when the first catalogue was printed, the Library possessed approximately 13,000 vols, by 1913 250,000 vols, by 1920 300,000 vols, by 1928 over 400,000 vols and by 1950 over 550,000 vols. Today the library houses well over a million vols. In 1900 the library had 2,725 members, and this figure has now risen to over 8,400. As books are as a rule not discarded, and those that have been lost are replaced if possible, space problems have arisen from time to time. The various extensions to the building have resulted in a complicated layout.


2.1 The Library has never adopted a classification system, the books being arranged by broad subject areas, and within those by author or title as the case may be. Rare and valuable books are kept in safe rooms and made available on request, but all other books are on open access.

2.2 The German literature section, which is the largest of the foreign sections, now comprises approximately 16,000 vols and possibly 6,000 of them are 19th-century editions. No figures are available for the number of German books in other sections, but there are substantial holdings of 19th-century German titles in the archaeology, history and art sections. The total holdings of periodicals in German or of German interest amount to 104 titles (22 being current periodicals in German), some of which go back to the 17th century. Complete runs of periodicals were acquired in the early years of the library. Examples of early periodicals are Acta [Nova acta] eruditorum (Leipzig, 1-93, 1682-1782), Der baierische Landbot (München, 1-12, 1791), Bragur (Leipzig, 2-3, 1792-1793), Nachrichten von einer Hallischen Bibliothek (Halle, 1-8, 1748-1751), Nachrichten von merkwürdigen Büchern (Halle, 1-12, 1752-1758) and Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, Geschichte und griechische Philosophie (Bonn, 1-3, 1827-1829).

2.3 Most of the early German books or books with German imprints are from the Allan collection. Although Allan's library was especially strong in English theological literature (mainly Puritan), it also comprised continental theology, Roman Catholic as well as Protestant. A number of editions of the Early Fathers are to be noted as well as standard works of the Reformers (including a number of early editions by Johannes Bugenhagen, e.g. Annotationes in decem epistolas Pauli, Nuremberg 1524). An example of anti-Lutheran propaganda is Laurentius Forer, Manuale Lutheranorum (Dillingen [1628]). The collection also includes a number of works of Catholic theology, e.g. Hermann Busenbaum, Medulla theologiae moralis (Passau 1729) or several items of Johann Eck, e.g. Confessiones fidei christianae (Frankfurt a. M. 1553), Christenliche Erhaltung der stell der geschrifft für das Fegfeür wider Luthers lasterbüchlein ([Augsburg] 1530) or Enchiridion locorum communium adversus Lutherum (Cologne 1573).

2.4 The library holds several Bible editions, e.g. the Lutheran version of the New Testament (Nuremberg 1768) and various examples of biblical scholarship, e.g. Elijah ben Asher, Grammatica Hebreae (Basel 1543) or Hieronymus Emser's annotations on Luther's version of the New Testament (Dresden 1524). There are examples of church history, e.g. Andreas David Carolus's commentary on Gottfried Arnold's Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie (Ulm 1708) or Johann Georg Hering's Compendieuses Kirchen- und Ketzer-Lexikon (Schneeberg 1744), works on dogmatic theology (e.g. Martin Gerbert, Principae theologiae dogmaticae (St. Blasien 1758) or examples of Pietism (e.g. August Hermann Francke, Manuductio ad lectionem Scripturae Sanctae, Halle 1700). All in all, the Allan collection presents a broad spectrum of German theology during three centuries.

2.5 In the Bibliography section various catalogues of theological libraries and booksellers' catalogues can be found, e.g. Johann Christoph Köcher, Bibliothecae theologiae symbolicae et catecheticae (Wolfenbüttel and Jena 1751-1769) or Bibliotheca Cypriana, sive catalogus librorum historico-theologicorum (Leipzig 1733). The library also possesses the Catalogus dissertationum theologico-exegetico-philologicarum, published by Johann Christian Langenheim (36 parts, Leipzig 1739-1759). Among the dictionaries Christian Gottlob Halthaus's Glossarium Germanicum medii aevi (Leipzig 1758) should be noted.

2.6 The library is rich in German classical literature, among which are Goethe's Werke (55 vols, Stuttgart 1828-1834) and Schiller's Werke (12 vols, Stuttgart 1836). There are also a number of 18th and early 19th-century authors, e.g. (in alphabetical order) Ernst Moritz Arndt, Schriften für und an seine lieben Deutschen (Leipzig 1845) and Gedichte (Leipzig 1843), Johann Georg Hamann, Schriften (Berlin 1821-1843), Theodor Körner, Sämmtliche Werke (Stuttgart 1838), Johann David Michaelis, Vermischte Schriften (Frankfurt a. M. 1766), August von Platen, Gesammelte Werke (Stuttgart and Tübingen 1853), August Wilhelm Schlegel, Ueber dramatische Kunst und Litteratur: Vorlesungen (Heidelberg 1809-1817), Friedrich Schlegel, Sämmtliche Werke (Wien 1822-1825), Ludwig Tieck, Vittoria Accorombona (Breslau 1841) or Heinrich Zschokke, Ausgewählte Novellen (Aarau and Frankfurt a. M. 1838-1839). The history section includes 19th-century standard historical works such as Ranke's or Raumer's writings, already listed in the 1842 catalogue. The library also owns the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (1826 ff.).

Special collections

2.7 The Montefiore Pamphlets, 664 bound vols of pamphlets, were bequeathed in 1939 by the heirs of Claude Joseph Goldsmid Montefiore (1858-1938), the Jewish philanthropist. The late 19th and early 20th-century pamphlets are mostly in German and are concerned with Old Testament studies and Jewish-Christian relations. A General collection of pamphlets is still growing, but there are very few German titles amongst them. At present it contains c. 3,500 pamphlets, some going back to the 18th century.


3.1 Modern catalogues


[Available on the Internet (see address above); contains all titles acquired after 1984 and for 1968-1983 increasingly significant numbers]

A Catalogue of the London Library, ed. by C. T. Hagberg Wright and C. J. Purnell. 2 vols. London 1913-14. Supplements 1920, 1929 and (to 1950) 1953

[continued as card catalogue to 1983; since then computerised]

Subject-Index of the London Library. London 1909. Supplements 1923, 1938 and (to 1953) 1955

[continued on cards for 1945-83; since then computerised]

3.2 Special catalogues

A catalogue of books chiefly theological collected by Thomas Robinson Allan in usum amicorum. Leipzig

[C. 1875; the library holds 2 copies with complementary additions, one with printed continuation.]

A catalogue of a collection of Bibles ...formed by Thomas Robinson Allan ...[London ?] 1881 [with MS additions]

Montefiore pamphlets [bound typescript list in numerical order]

General collection of pamphlets [bound typescript list in numerical order]

3.3 Historic catalogues

Catalogue of the London Library, ed. by George Cochrane. London 1842-44, 1847, 1865, 1875-81, 1888

[comprises complete catalogues and annual additions]

A Catalogue of the London Library. London 1903. 8 annual supplements, London 1904-11


Christie, W. D.: An explanation of the scheme of the London Library, in a letter to the Earl of Clarendon. London 1841

Harrison, Frederic (ed.): Carlyle and The London Library. London 1907

Wright, C. T. Hagberg: The soul's dispensary. The early years of The London Library. In: Nineteenth Century and after (March 1922) pp. 533-544 [also separately issued as a pamphlet]

Wright, C. T. Hagberg: The London Library. A sketch of its history and administration. London 1926

Wright, C. T. Hagberg: The London Library. A survey, 1913-1940. London 1941

Nowell-Smith, Simon: Carlyle and The London Library. In: English libraries 1800-1850. London 1950, pp. 59-78

Gillam, Stanley: 125 years of The London Library. In: R. L. Collison (ed.): Progress in library science. London 1961, pp. 162-173

Hill, Roland: Irgendein Lord genügt: Die London Library, ein Stück englischer Kultur. In: Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, 15.-16. April 1972 (Wochenbeilage)

Grindea, Miron: The London Library. Ipswich 1978 [repr. from Adam International Review, nos 397-400 (1976-77)]

Till, Ernest Redmond: Eine Bücherkollektion ist die beste Universität. Seit 1841 größte (selbstfinanzierte) Leihbibliothek der Erde. In: Börsenblatt für den deutschen Buchhandel. Frankfurt 1984, pp. 726-729

Mockert, Barbara: The London Library. In: David Paisey (ed.): German studies: British resources. Papers presented at a colloquium at the British Library, 25-27 September 1985. London 1986, pp. 177-179

Wells, John: Rude words. A discursive history of The London Library. London 1991

Baker, William: The early history of The London Library. Lampeter 1992

Founders and followers. Literary lectures given on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the founding of The London Library. London 1992


Book Collector 16, no. 2 (1967) pp. 211-215

[on the Allan Library]

See also: A directory of rare book and special collections ...2nd ed. London 1997, pp. 287-289

September 1998

Barbara Mockert

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