Philobiblon: Bibliophile heaven

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Bibliophile heaven

Back in January I posted a request for info about the London Library and received a most helpful response. So I've now joined, and the description "bibliophile heaven" hardly does the place justice.

I haven't really checked it out fully yet, but a quick dash around before I came down with the lurgy showed that I could happily spend the rest of my life in there: there are some 1 million books, mostly on the humanities, nearly all on open access - in fact the back of the building is just a metal frame filled with books, with grilled floors, I assume for air circulation. If, like me, you suffer from vertigo, you can't look down, but then you don't want to because there are so many books in front of you to open.

It has a classification system that might be best described as eccentric - I love the fact that "witchcraft" comes under "science" (and conveniently right beside "women"), but I'm sure it is an arrangement that will produce lots of glorious juxtapositions and links.

Yesterday's post on melancholy cats was my first from a London Library book, and I'm sure they'll be many, many more.

The same book made a link back to an earlier post this week, on the classic Romans' attitude towards pity and compassion:

"Calvin, in his commentary on De clementia, counters Seneca's attack on the feeling of mercy by asserting that a man who does not feel pity is 'certainly not human'.
This attack upon the Stoic notion of clemency ... is a common theme in early modern writings on the passions, whether Protestant or Catholic ...
Although Christian writers frequently admire Seneca's moral teachings and even his advice on when it is wise to remit punishment, they cannot accept his dismissal of a passionate mercy ... since that passion is at the heart of their conception of Christ's incarnation and sacrifice." (p.99)

This from the chapter "Compassion in the Public Sphere of Milton and King Charles", which focuses on the Earl of Monmouth's translation of Senault's The Use of Passions, 1649, Charles's (ghost-written - really!) Eikon Basilike and Milton's response, Eikonoklastes to discuss "the political roles the passions played in the 17th century".

It argues, broadly, that despite the frontpiece of Monmouth's work, which had reason enslaving the passions, each side accepted that passion and reason were interlinked, and that passion - and compassion - did have a proper role in public life. Perhaps they should be republished in America now.


Blogger Rob said...

I'm yet to join, but a very good friend of mine starts working there in a couple of months. What's the interior like?

3/05/2005 11:57:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

The entry hall and reading room are gorgeous, the rest has the inevitable feel of overcrowding of something that grew like topsy, and the staff offices that I saw seem pretty cramped. But I'd imagine you get a really high class of customer and staff (and probably also a few real difficult types).

3/06/2005 12:50:00 pm  

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