TC TO WILLIAM DOUGAL CHRISTIE ; 28 April 1840; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18400428-TC-WDC-01; CL 12: 123-126
TC TO WILLIAM DOUGAL CHRISTIE
Chelsea, 28 April, 1840—
My dear Sir,
I have forwarded your Letter to Craik, who, I doubt not, will respond directly. His Address, should he forget it again, is “Vine Cottage, Old Brompton.”
I am so busy I can hardly get a word uttered to anybody! Be content with the following semi-articulations.
The Advocates' Library is understood to have been instituted under the guidance of Sir George Mackenzie, a Lord Advocate celebrated in the time of Charles II and afterwards.1 It contains now somewhat between 100 and 150 thousand volumes; probably the 5th part (these are all statements that need verification, or else problematic wording, on my part) of the number in the British Museum: it is infinitely poorer in regard to all sorts of Curiosa, Ms. old pamphlets, especially old English Pamphlets; but I should say for learning out of, in regard to any subject of general or perennial interest, one would find it very probably much superior to that of the B. Museum. It has had the advantage of a series of guiding minds at the centre of it; Ruddiman, David Hume &c have been successive Librarians of it (Lessing was Librarian of Wolfenbüttel, Heyne of Göttingen,—very different from Sir Henrys these men!); under the guidance of such men, it has created itself,—instead of merely agglomerating itself under no guidance but that of Stupidity and Chance.2 Its funds are the £200 which each new-made Advocate (called to the Bar as you say) is bound to pay towards it,—the principal part of his expense in that process: I should guess the income annually might be some 3 or 4 thousand pounds, hardly more than that. They have a splendid edifice &c of many rooms. Dr Irving,3 a man known in Literary Biography, Bibliography and the like, is chief Librarian; three or four assistants are also skilled in books; none but the very porters who go about with dust-brushes and leather shoulder-straps are as thoroughly uncommunicative ignorant as the very Librarians in the B. Museum seem to be. You ask the Librarian, What books exist on the subject in hand?—he is expected to answer you better or worse. All literary men, all respectable reading men, are considered by courtesy as having a privilege to sit and read and inquire there; you need to be “introduced” once by an Advocate: everybody is civil &c; yet you feel that you are there by sufferance (not as you would wish to be); the noise too is fully more distractive than in the British Museum, for the place is close on the Courts, and Advocates dive thither to lounge, to talk nonsense and read newspapers in the chief rooms.— Each Advocate, however, has the privilege of borrowing 24 volumes; of these he can lend to any one (‘within seven miles of Edinburgh’ I think the Law says, but that Law is not heeded very strictly) what portion he pleases; the Books are called in, rigorously mustered and counted, once a year: a man failing to bring his books to muster, or do other bounden duty the Law may have appointed for him in that respect,—forfeits his right of reading; as a good many of my friends, the busier sort of Advocates, have accordingly done.— The Advocates have long had, and even still have the privilege of a Copy of each Book from Stationers' Hall,4 a privilege they have well merited by their courteous treatment of all studious men,—to which indeed they consider this privilege as partly binding them in honour; as indeed it now reciprocally does. Were it not for the courtesy of the Advocates, Edinburgh were indeed better than London, yet still but a very poor place for books. Compared with Germany and France I believe it too, Advocates Library and all, to be very poor.
Besides the Advocates, there is another Law Corporation the next to them in dignity called Writers to the Signet, who within the last 20 years or so are fast getting together, by their own resources and subscriptions, a very respectable Library (already excellent in comparison with what exists here) under precisely similar conditions: they too admit literary men, lend books to literary men,—tho' they have no Stationers Hall privilege as yet. I should have excepted this Library too when I compared Edinr with London for books. London is incomparable; the world cannot match it, not Reikiavik in Iceland can!5—
There then it is on paper! God knows what I have written for you. You must not print a word of it in my name; print it in nobody's name till it be combed, cleared of its crudities; above all either verified into accuracy or else expressed with due modesty and roominess. If you liked to take so much trouble, Dr Irving, “Advocates' Library, Edinr,” on your stating the case to him, and mentioning my name, would answer every question, I think, with due accuracy and decisiveness.— But is it worth while? Not at all, I should say.
This morning along with your Letter came that Spectator, and the Paper in it,—by Webbe, I dare say. He has gone upon the old Prospectus, unluckily.6 His Address is “E. Webbe Esq, 11. Beak Street Regent Street”; pray, when you come back, see to have him a right Prospectus and Circular sent, or more than one. He is terribly deaf; one cannot speak to him: but he is in earnest about the thing. Darwin wants 12 more Prosps & Circs; Craik wants more:—in short, you are much warned! Fraser has the white pasteboard affair, very conspicuous, announcing itself to all Regt Street the last time I was there. Nothing or little will be done till you come! It seems doubtful to me whether we shall be able to get up a meeting at all on Saturday.7 I am obliged to go riding every day; I can see nobody, except those that will charitably come to see me. Few sons of Adam are in a greater tumble than I in these days,—a chaos in little; what they call tornado in tea pot, or the parturition of the mountains!— This day four weeks taliter qualiter [one way or another] I shall have it over,—God grant it might be for the last time under such conditions. But it does end; all ends: that is the comfort of it.
In boundless (semi-articulate) haste
Your always truly /
Pray communicate with Webbe, in the Prospectus way; and do not forget Darwin's twelve. Tell him where or how to send, or to call; and he will do it. I have never got to Hooper's yet! I can get nowhere
I bethink me before this is sealed, that Fraser has Prospectuses; that I can get Webbe one of those, and a circular too by calling at Hooper's! Do you however send him back his Newspaper; he will perhaps ask me for it, some day, otherwise.