Page images
PDF
EPUB

season.

librarian), the collection of the Inner Temple surpasses that of the Middle Temple, which Mr. Edwards over-estimates as containing 20,000 volumes, but it falls far short of that of its gigantic rival at Lincoln's Inn.

As a general rule, the books of the Inner Temple library are later in publication, and more showy in appearance, than those of its neighbour; nor does it appear to have suffered the same losses, and experienced the same neglect, during the last century. The writer whom we have just mentioned, considers it “not so well furnished with printed books;" but we question the general accuracy of this statement. With regard to special branches of literature, we find accordingly that in Divinity, in which it is strong, there are a greater number of solid standard works, and a lesser of old and curious tracts. In like manner, the supply of modern Law treatises is considerably more copious, including, however, some that are probably of little value, at least beyond a brief

In civil, canon, ecclesiastical, and “ foreign law,” it might be difficult properly to adjust the balance between the two honourable societies. Each, however, possesses many important works upon these subjects, which are wanting in the other.

In English history, the Inner Temple has, we think, the advantage; but its rooms are perhaps somewhat overloaded with bluebooks, and other bulky documents, proceeding from the two Houses of Parliament. Many of them, we know, notwithstanding the neglect with which, after their first appearance, they seem to be almost invariably treated by those august assemblies, are really valuable and important; but this is by no means the case with all of them; and, in libraries of limited extent, a moderate selection appears to be sufficient, since, upon emergencies, the complete collections at the British Museum and the Parliamentary libraries may be consulted.

In Foreign history, the Inner Temple is superior; and of French chronicles and memoirs, in particular, a very large assemblage has recently been added to its strength. In Geographical works, and especially in modern voyages and travels, no comparison can be instituted between the riches of these twin societies. Upon these

branches of human knowledge, the greater written wisdom, as far as the Temple is concerned, is most decidedly in the East. Again, in the class of Biography, there is a marked inferiority in the collection of the Middle Temple, although it perhaps possesses the scarcer and more curious specimens in this way. In Heraldic works it must also decidedly yield the palm.

To Scientific books, and treatises on art of all descriptions, the remark made upon the subject of divinity will apply. But in curious pseudo-scientific lore in divers tongues, and in tales of witches, and uncanny, unchancy beings of various denominations, the Middle Temple makes the greater display, by reason principally, we opine, of its earlier foundation ; for records of the credulity of modern times find no place upon its shelves.

There is not, as it appears to us, much to choose, as regards the remaining branches of literature, between the two societies' collections, which, if combined, would undoubtedly form a very strong library, the deficiencies of the one being often supplied by the wealth of the other.

We will now pause for a moment, to consider a question which we have often heard mooted—viz., of what description of books should the libraries of our great law societies consist; and under what regulations should they be consulted ?

There are some who would render them circulating libraries of law-books of all denominations and descriptions. There are others who would purchase no books but those upon law, and sell all upon other branches of like nature which may be already upon the shelves. Some, again, would form a very strong collection of professional works, and admit only a few others, nearly connected therewith. And others would consider them magazines of general literature, buying every able work that appears, or is obtainable

The objection to the last-mentioned view of the subject is, that law societies, although rich, have not funds which are inexhaustible. Even the nation cannot maintain the vast National library, except, in a great measure, by compulsory means. Unless the same privilege be extended to the Inns of Court, which is

[ocr errors]

most improbable, they cannot rival that collection. Our own opinion is, that the libraries of the Inns of Court (for we see no objection to the establishment of independent law circulating libraries, or libraries especially dedicated to students) should include all really valuable professional publications the newest, if they bear the stamp of professional approval--and the best standard works upon an almost unlimited range of subjects, and in the four or five principal languages of Europe. But we would not purchase books valuable only for rarity, however precious in the eyes of bibliomaniacs.

Should such libraries include newspapers? We think that they should. The admission of such publications has been objected to, as tending to promote idleness in places devoted to study; but it is not to be forgotten that the earliest legal intelligence is invariably contained therein; and unless these repositories of learning be intended, not for regular daily use, but for occasional consultation and reference only, we are inclined to believe that, whether preserved or not, the benefits of the presence of some few of the leading daily papers would outweigh the objections which may be raised against it.

There are many plausible reasons for promoting a general circulation of books in these libraries amongst students and barristers, no less than amongst masters of the bench; but nevertheless we think, upon due consideration of the question, that the plan could not be adopted without producing more inconvenience than benefit. We could say a good deal more upon this subject, but it is one of considerable delicacy.

It has been sometimes proposed to admit all members of the Inns of Court indiscriminately to each library-to render them, in fact, the common resort of the legal profession. There is, certainly, much to be said in favour of this arrangement; but we nevertheless doubt whether it would be found to work well. We

1 It is one of the privileges of the Benchers of some of these societies to abstract from the libraries, and to retain, for an indefinite period, any volumes they may need to the great inconvenience and disgust of those who resort to the libraries. We have known Blackstone, Chitty on Contracts, and volumes of the Statutes and Reports, thus selfishly borrowed.--Ed.

would have every one of these libraries easily accessible to members of other Inns who had sufficient reasons for using them, and not rigidly closed against literary men in general; but we think that to make such admission a matter of course, would be discovered upon trial to be an experiment fraught with no inconsiderable disadvantages, inconveniences, and annoyances, alike to readers, librarians, and the legal profession at large. The societies can respectively maintain a firm grasp of their own property, and yet be liberal in its application.

i

The subject of public libraries in general is handled by Mr. Edwards in the work, the title of which is placed first at the head of this article, at very considerable length, and with much ability. The author is retrospective as well as universal in bis view, carrying it backwards to “The Libraries of the Ancients," and around to every corner of the globe in wbich such institutions are known to be established; but it is not our purpose to follow him over this vast field. We shall confine ourselves to the consideration of a few particulars respecting the management of the library and reading-room of the British Museum, as being the national model of English public libraries.

Of the literary management of this great library we make but one complaint. Bygone parsimony may have rendered a comprehensive catalogue impossible, and such a catalogue therefore we ought not to be too sanguine in expecting; but we may observe that the cross references in the new catalogue, in which completeness is attempted, are far too many and perplexing to the sight, and practically defeat by their multiplicity the objects which they were intended to effect, and which a greater economy in their use might really achieve.

Of the general management of the reading-room, there are however more grounds than one for complaint. In the room itself there is a sad deficiency of fresh air in hot or rainy weather, and no ingenious system of ventilation, under such circumstances, will atone for the want of open windows and open grates. Again, the very essential rule of “ silence” is not enforced with sufficient

strictness. It is true that we, in common with Mr. Carlyle, are “thin-skinned students;" but numbers of persons with duller ears, and more fixed and dogged habits of attention, are nevertheless liable to be annoyed by the chatter which is frequently to be heard in the reading-room.

We never knew a public library-and we have read in manythe regulations of which did not call forth more or less of grumbling; yet we are by no means convinced that those wherein the rules were the most stringent and apparently irksome, were not in the long run the most convenient; and it is assuredly the convenience of a majority of readers, rather than that of favoured individuals, that should in the first place be considered. Take, for instance, the necessity of waiting for those books in the British Museum which are not kept in the reading-room, itself a library of excellent quality, and no contemptible dimensions. This is an annoyance, undoubtedly; we have felt it frequently and as keenly probably as others; patience (of which we have now an inexhaustible share) being with us quite an acquired virtue. But although, upon waiting three-quarters of an hour, and sometimes more, for a book, owing to pressure of work on the attendants, we have occasionally been obliged to depart without it, we have never complained of this arrangement. “How much better," some say, “would it be for the public, were every admitted reader to have the run of the whole library, and help himself !” Without a reference to much dishonesty (a little we know has been detected there occasionally), how long could such a collection be well kept together under such lax regulations ? This, it may be said, is an extreme case; but it applies more or less to most of the unpleasant restrictions imposed upon readers, in almost all public libraries, of whatsoever character or dimensions.

Mr. Edwards devotes a chapter of his work to the destruction of the Alexandrian and other ancient libraries, and doubts, with Sir Thomas Browne, whether the real amount of the loss to learning be much affected by the number of works that were burnt. No doubt a very considerable quantity of rubbish would be consumed in any such general conflagration ; but whether or not the

« PreviousContinue »