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New York Libraries by Charles Burr Todd


New York has been accused of being purely commercial in tone, and there was a period in her history when she must have pleaded guilty to the indictment. That day, however, is past: she has now many interests—scientific, artistic, literary, musical—as influential as that mentioned, though not perhaps numerically so important. Of the fine arts the city is the acknowledged New World centre, and it is fast forming a literary circle as noteworthy as that of any other capital. The latter owes its existence in part, no doubt, to the great publishing-houses, but has been attracted chiefly by the facilities for research afforded by those great storehouses of learning, the city libraries. Few old residents are aware of the literary wealth stored in these depositories, or of the extent to which they are consulted by scholars and by writers generally.

There are four large libraries in the city whose interest is almost purely literary,—the Society, the Astor, the Lenox, and the Historical Society's,—one both literary and popular,—the Mercantile,—one interesting as being the outcome of a great trades' guild,—the Apprentices',—and one purely popular,—the Free Circulating Library. There are others, of course, but the above are such as from their character and history seem best calculated for treatment in a magazine paper. The oldest of these is the Society Library, which is located in its own commodious fire-proof building at No. 67 University Place. This library is perhaps the oldest in the United States: its origin dates back to the year 1700, when, Lord Bellamont being governor and New York a police-precinct of five thousand inhabitants, the worthy burghers founded the Public Library. For many years it seems to have flourished in the slow, dignified way peculiar to Knickerbocker institutions. In 1729 it received an accession in the library of the Rev. Dr. Millington, rector of Newington, England, which was bequeathed to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and by it transferred to the New York Public Library. The institution remained under the care of the city until 1754, when a company of gentlemen formed an association to enhance its usefulness by bringing it under private control. They collected a number of books, and on application the Public Library was incorporated with these, and the whole placed under the care of trustees chosen by the shareholders. Believing that "a public library would be very useful as well as ornamental to the city," and also advantageous to "our intended college," the shareholders agreed to pay "five pounds each on the first day of May, and ten shillings each on every first of May forever thereafter." Subscribers had the right to take out one book at a time by depositing one-third more than the value of it with the library-keeper. Rights could be alienated or bequeathed "like any other chattel." No person, even if he owned several shares, could have more than one vote, nor could a part of a subscription-right entitle the holder to any privileges. By 1772 the Society had increased to such an extent that it was thought best to incorporate it, and a charter was secured from the crown. In its preamble seven "esquires," two "merchants," two "gentlemen," and one "physician" appear as petitioners, and fifty-six gentlemen, with one lady, Mrs. Anne Waddel, are named members of the corporation. The style of the latter was changed to the "New York Society Library," and the usual corporate privileges were granted, including the right to purchase and hold real estate of the yearly value of one thousand pounds sterling. The Society is practically working under this charter to-day, the legislature of New York having confirmed it in 1789. The earliest printed catalogue known to be in existence was issued about 1758: it gives the titles of nine hundred and twenty-two volumes, with a list of members, one hundred and eighteen in all. A second catalogue followed in 1761. During the Revolution many of the volumes were scattered or destroyed. The first catalogue printed after the war enumerates five thousand volumes; these had increased in 1813 to thirteen thousand, in 1838 to twenty-five thousand, and the present number is estimated at seventy-five thousand. Down to 1795 the library was housed in the City Hall, and during the sessions of Congress was used by that body as a Congressional Library. Its first building was erected in 1795, in Nassau Street, opposite the Middle Dutch Church, and here the library remained until 1836, when, its premises becoming in demand for business purposes, it was sold, and the Society purchased a lot on the corner of Broadway and Leonard Street. A building was completed on this lot in 1840, and the library removed thither from the rooms of the Mechanics' Society in Chambers Street, where it had been placed on the sale of its property in 1836. In 1853 a third removal was made, to the Bible House, its property on Broadway being again swallowed up by the advancing tide of business. In the same year its present property on University Place was purchased, on which, two years later, in 1855, the commodious building which it now occupies was erected, the Society taking possession in May, 1856. Many features of the Society Library are unique, to be met with, perhaps, in no other organization of the kind in the world. Many of its members hold shares that have descended to them from father to son from the time of the first founders. The annual dues are placed at such a figure (ten dollars) as practically to debar people with slender purses. The scholar, however, may have the range of its treasures on paying a fee of twenty-five cents, and the stranger may enjoy the use of the library for one month on being introduced by a member. The market value of a share is now one hundred and fifty dollars, with the annual dues of ten dollars commuted, but shares may be purchased for twenty-five dollars, subject to the annual dues. The library proper occupies the whole of the second floor. On the first floor, besides the large hall, is a well-lighted drawing-room, filled with periodicals in all languages, a ladies' parlor, and a conversation-room. The library-room is a large, airy, well-lighted apartment, with a series of artistic alcoves ranged about two of its sides. Here are to be found the Winthrop Collection, comprising some three hundred curious and ancient tomes, chiefly in Latin, which formed a part of the library of John Winthrop, "the founder of Connecticut," the De Peyster Alcove, containing one thousand volumes, very full in special subjects, the Hammond Library, collected by a Newport scholar, comprising some eighteen hundred quaint and curious volumes, and a collection of over six hundred rare and costly works on art contained in the John C. Green Alcove. This last alcove, which was fitted up and presented to the library by Mr. Robert Lenox Kennedy as a memorial of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Green, benefactors of the Society, is an artistic gem. The sides and ceilings are finished in hard woods by Marcotte, after designs by the architect, Sidney Stratton. Opposite the entrance is a memorial window, its centre-pin representing two female figures,—Knowledge and Prudence,—with the four great poets, Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Chaucer, in the corners. On the east wall is a portrait of Mr. Green by Madrazo, and on the west a tablet with an inscription informing the visitor that, the library having received a donation of fifty thousand dollars from the estate of John Cleve Green, the trustees had placed the tablet as a memento of this munificence. There are books in this alcove not to be duplicated in European libraries. A work on Russian antiquities, for instance, containing beautifully-colored lithographs of the Russian crown-jewels, royal robes, ecclesiastical vestments, and the like, cannot be found, it is said, either in Paris or London. The scope of the collection may be seen by a glance at the catalogue, whose departments embrace architecture, art-study, anatomy, biography, book-illustration, cathedrals and churches, costumes, decorative, domestic, and industrial art, heraldry, painting, and picturesque art.

It is a coincidence merely, but nearly all the great libraries of the city are grouped within a block or two of Astor Place, making that short thoroughfare the scholarly centre of the town. In its immediate vicinity, on the corner of Second Avenue and Eleventh Street, stands the fire-proof building of the New York Historical Society, whose library and collection of paintings and relics form one of the features of the city. This Society dates back to the year 1804, when Egbert Benson, De Witt Clinton, Rev. William Linn, Rev. Samuel Miller, Rev. John N. Abeel, Rev. John M. Mason, Dr. David Hosack, Anthony Bleecker, Samuel Bayard, Peter G. Stuyvesant, and John Pintard, met by appointment at the City Hall and agreed to form a society "the principal design of which should be to collect and preserve whatever might relate to the natural, civil, or ecclesiastical history of the United States in general and of the State of New York in particular." Active measures were at once taken for the formation of a library and museum, special committees being appointed for the purpose. The range of the collection embraced books, manuscripts, statistics, newspapers, pictures, antiquities, medals, coins, and specimens in natural history. The Society made the usual number of removals before being finally established as a householder. From 1804 to 1809 it met in the old City Hall, from 1809 to 1816 in the Government House, from 1816 to 1832 in the New York Institution, from 1832 to 1837 in Remsen's Building, Broadway, from 1837 to 1841 in the Stuyvesant Institute, from 1841 to 1857 in the New York University, and at length, after surmounting many pecuniary obstacles, celebrated its fifty-third anniversary by taking possession of its present structure. Meantime, the efforts of the library committees had resulted in a collection of Americana of exceeding interest and value, the nucleus of the present library. In its one specialty this library is believed to be unrivalled. The Society has issued some twenty-four volumes of its own publications, in addition to numerous essays and addresses. Besides these, its library contains some seventy-three thousand volumes of printed works, chiefly Americana, many of them relating to the Indians and obscure early colonial history. Eight hundred and eleven genealogies of American families—the fountain-head of the national history—are a feature of the collection. The library also possesses one of the best sets of Congressional documents extant, also complete sets of State and city documents. There are four thousand volumes of newspapers, beginning with the first journal published in America,—the "Boston News-Letter" of 1704,—and comprising a complete record to the present day. There are also tons of pamphlets and "broadsides," and several hundred copies of the inflammatory hand-bills posted on the trees and fences of New York during the Revolution. The library is also rich in old family letters and documents containing much curious and interesting history. The Society is very conservative in its ways,—more so than most institutions of the kind. Theoretically, its stores of information can be drawn on by members only, but, as a general thing, properly accredited scholars, non-residents, have little difficulty in gaining access to them, provided the material sought is not elsewhere accessible.

Lafayette Place is a wide, quiet thoroughfare, a few blocks in extent, opening into Astor Place on the north. On the left, a few doors from the latter street, stands the Astor Library, in some respects one of the noteworthy libraries of the world. John Jacob Astor died March 29, 1848, leaving a will which contained a codicil in these words: "Desiring to render a public benefit to the city of New York, and to contribute to the advancement of useful knowledge and the general good of society, I do by this codicil appoint four hundred thousand dollars out of my residuary estate to the establishment of a public library in the city of New York." The instrument then proceeded to give specific directions as to how the money was to be applied: first, in the erection of a suitable building; second, in supplying the same with books, maps, charts, models, drawings, paintings, engravings, casts, statues, furniture, and other things appropriate to a library upon the most ample scale and liberal character; and, third, in maintaining and upholding the buildings and other property, and in paying the necessary expenses of the care of the same, and the salaries of the persons connected with the library, said library to be accessible at all reasonable hours and times for general use, free of expense, and subject only to such conditions as the trustees may exact. It was further provided that its affairs should be managed by eleven trustees, "selected from the different liberal professions and employments of life and the classes of educated men." The mayor was also to be a trustee by virtue of his office. The entire fund was vested in this board, with power to expend and invest moneys, and to appoint, direct, control, and remove the superintendent, librarian, and others employed about the library. The first trustees were named in the will, and Washington Irving was chosen president.

Dr. Joseph G. Cogswell, who it is said first suggested the idea of a library to Mr. Astor, was appointed first superintendent and despatched to Europe to purchase books, which he succeeded in doing to the best advantage, the political disturbances of 1848 having thrown many valuable libraries on the market. Meantime, a building had been commenced on the east side of Lafayette Place, on a lot sixty-five feet front by one hundred and twenty deep; but as the books arrived before this was completed they were placed temporarily in a hired house in Bond Street. The new building, which was opened January 9, 1854, was in the Byzantine style, after the design by Alexander Saeltzer, the lower story being of brownstone and the two upper stories of red brick. The main hall or library-room, beginning on the second floor, was carried up through two stories and lighted by a large skylight in the roof. Around the sides of this room were built two tiers of alcoves capable of holding about one hundred thousand books. The library opened on the date mentioned with about eighty thousand volumes, devoted chiefly to science, history, art, and kindred topics, the trustees agreeing with the superintendent that the design of the founder could only be carried out and the "advancement of knowledge" and "general good of society" be best secured by making the new library one of reference only.

In October, 1855, Mr. William B. Astor, son of the founder, conveyed to the trustees the lot, eighty feet front by one hundred and twenty deep, adjoining the library on the north, and proceeded to erect upon it an addition similar in all respects to the existing structure, the library thus enlarged being opened September 1, 1859, with one hundred and ten thousand volumes on its shelves. The addition led to a rearrangement of the material, the old hall being devoted to science and the industrial arts, and the new to history and general literature. In 1866 Mr. Astor further signified his interest in the library by a gift of fifty thousand dollars, twenty thousand dollars of it to be expended in the purchase of books, and on his death in 1875 left it a bequest of two hundred and forty-nine thousand dollars. In 1879 Mr. John Jacob Astor, grandson of the founder, added to this enduring monument of his family by building a second addition, seventy-five feet front and one hundred and twenty feet deep, on the lot adjoining on the north, making the entire building two hundred feet front by one hundred deep. At the same time an additional story was placed on the Middle Hall, and a new entrance and stairway constructed. The enlarged building, the present Astor Library, was opened in October, 1881, with two hundred thousand volumes and a shelf-capacity of three hundred thousand. Its present contents are estimated at two hundred and twenty thousand volumes, exclusive of pamphlets. The shelves are ranged in alcoves extending around the sides of the three main halls and subdivided into sections of six shelves each, each section being designated by a numeral. Each shelf is designated by a letter of the alphabet, beginning at the bottom with A. The alcoves have no distinguishing mark, the books being arranged therein by subjects which the distributing librarian is expected to carry in his mind. The first catalogue, in four volumes, was compiled by Dr. Cogswell and printed in 1861. This was followed in 1866 by an index of subjects from the same hand. Recently a catalogue in continuation of Dr. Cogswell's, bringing the work down to the end of 1880, has been prepared, and is being printed at the Riverside Press, Boston. The current card catalogue is arranged on the dictionary plan, giving author and subject under one alphabet. Opposite each title is written the number of the alcove and the letter designating the shelf. By the regulations the reader is required to find the title of the book desired in the catalogue, write it with the number and letter on a slip of paper provided for the purpose, and give it to the distributing librarian, who despatches one of his boy Mercuries to the shelf designated for the work. More often than not, however, the reader asks directly for the book desired, without consulting the catalogue, and it is rarely that the librarian cannot from memory direct his messenger to the section and shelf containing it. In the matter of theft and mutilation of books the library depends largely on the honor of readers, although some safeguards are provided. All readers are required to enter their names and addresses in a book, and the volume on being given out is charged to them, to be checked off on its return: it would be difficult, too, for a thief to purloin books without being detected by the employees or the porter in the vestibule. Yet books are stolen occasionally. In June, 1881, a four-volume work by Bentley on "Medicinal Plants," valued at sixty dollars, was taken from the library. It was soon missed, and search made for it without avail. A few weeks later, however, it was discovered by the principal librarian in a Broadway book-stall and recovered.

Few strangers in the city depart without paying a visit to the Astor Library, and it is one of the few lions of the city that do not disappoint. The main entrance is approached by two flights of stone steps, from the north and south, leading to a brownstone platform enclosed by the same material. From this, broad door-ways give entrance to the vestibule, sixty feet by forty, paved in black and white marble, and wainscoted four feet above the floor with beautifully variegated marble from Vermont. The panelled ceiling is elaborately frescoed, as well as the upper part of the walls. Busts of the sages and heroes of antiquity adorn the hall. From the vestibule a stairway of white marble, with massive newels of variegated marble, leads up to the library proper. The visitor enters this in the centre of Middle Hall. Before him, separated by a balustrade, are the desks and tables of the distributing librarian and his assistants. The ladies' reading-room is in the rear. On the left and right arched passages give access to the North and South Halls, in which the main reading-rooms are situated. The ceiling above is the skylight of the roof, and the alcoves, filled with the wealth of learning of all ages and peoples, rise on either hand quite to the ceiling. At long, green-covered tables, ranged in two parallel lines through the halls, are seated the readers, in themselves an interesting study. Scientists, artists, literary men, special students, inventors, and dilettante loungers make up the company. They come with the opening of the doors at nine in the morning, and remain, some of them, until they close at five in the evening. There are daily desertions from their ranks, but always new-comers enough to fill the gaps. Their wants are as various as their conditions. This well-dressed, self-respectful mechanic wishes to consult the patent-office reports of various countries, in which the library is rich. His long-haired Saxon neighbor is poring over a Chinese manuscript, German scholars being the only ones so far who have attacked the fine collection of Chinese and Japanese works in the library. Next him is a dilettante reader languidly poring over "Lothair:" were the trustees to fill their shelves with trashy fiction, readers of his class would soon crowd out the more earnest workers. Here is a student with the thirty or more volumes of the "New England Historic Genealogical Register" piled before him, flanked on one side by the huge volumes of Burke's "Peerage" and on the other by Walford's "County Families." There are many readers of this class, the library's department of Genealogy and Heraldry being well filled. There is a lady here and there at the tables working with a male companion, but, as a rule, they are to be found at the ladies' tables in the Middle Hall. There seem to be but two classes of readers here,—the lady in silken attire, engaged in looking out some item of family history or question of decorative art, and the brisk business-like literary lady, seeking material for story or sketch. Any student or literary worker who can show to the satisfaction of one of the trustees that he is engaged in work requiring free access to the library receives a card from the superintendent which admits him to the alcoves and places all the treasures of the library at his command. A register is placed near the distributing librarian's desk, in which on entering each visitor to the alcove is required to sign his name, and in this register each year is accumulated a roll of autographs of which any institution might be proud. Famous scholars, scientists, authors, journalists, poets, artists, and divines, both of this country and of Europe, are included in the lists.

Of its treasures of literary and artistic interest it is impossible to give categorical details. Perhaps the library prizes most the magnificent elephant folio edition, in four volumes, of Audubon's "Birds and Quadrupeds of North America," with its colored plates, heavy paper, and general air of sumptuousness. The work is rare as well as magnificent, and, though the library does not set a price upon its books, it is known that three thousand dollars would not replace a missing copy. In an adjoining alcove is an equally sumptuous but more ancient volume, the Antiphonale, or mammoth manuscript of the chants for the Christian year. This volume was used at the coronation of Charles X., King of France. The covers of this huge folio are bound with brass, beautiful illuminations by Le Brun adorn its title-pages, and then follows, in huge black characters, the music of the chants. In its immediate vicinity are many of the treasures of the library,—Zahn's great work on Pompeii, three volumes of very large folios, containing splendidly-colored frescos from the walls of the dead city; Sylvester's elaborate work of "Fac-Similes of the Illuminated Manuscripts of the Middle Ages," in four large folios; and also Count Bastard's great work on the same, seeming more sumptuous in gold, silver, and colors. Another notable work is Count Littar's "Genealogies of Celebrated Italian Families," in ten folio volumes, emblazoned in gold, and illustrated with richly-colored portraits finished like ivory miniatures. There are whole galleries of European art,—Versailles, Florence, Spain, the Vatican, Nash's Portfolio of Colored Pictures of Windsor Castle and Palace, the Royal Pitti Gallery, Munich, Dresden, and others. A work on the "Archæology of the Bosphorus," presented by the Emperor of Russia to the library, is in three folio volumes, printed on thick vellum paper, with two folding maps and ninety-four illuminated plates: but two hundred copies of the book were printed, for presentation solely. Other notable gifts are the publications of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences, in seventeen volumes, catalogue of antiquities, chiefly British, at Alnwick Castle, and one of Egyptian antiquities at the same, from the Duke of Northumberland, a complete file of the "Liberator," from Mr. Wendell Phillips, numerous works on Oriental art, from the imperial governments of Japan and China, and many thousand folio volumes of Parliamentary papers and British patents, from the British government. Of its Orientalia and its department of Egyptology the library is especially proud. The latter so good an authority as Professor Seyffarth pronounces second only to that of the British Museum.

In addition to the large collection of costly books of art with which this library is enriched, there are some of the rarest manuscripts and earliest printed books to be seen kept in glass cases in the Middle Hall. Among these may be mentioned the superbly illuminated manuscript of the ninth century entitled "Evangelistarium,"—one of the finest existing productions of the revival of learning under Charlemagne; the "Sarum Missal," a richly-emblazoned manuscript of the tenth century; some choice Greek and Latin codices once belonging to the library of Pope Pius VI.; and the Persian manuscripts recently acquired, which formerly were in the library of the Mogul emperors at Delhi, bearing the stamp of Shah Akbar and Shah Jehan. The writing is by the famous calligrapher Sultan Alee Meshedee (896 a.h., or 1518 a.d.).

There is as great a popular misconception of the character and purpose of the Lenox Library as of the Astor. The two are like and yet unlike,—alike in the rich treasures which they contain, but quite unlike in their scope and purposes. In reality the Lenox is a museum of art rather than a library: its books are, with few exceptions, rarities, "first editions," illuminated manuscripts, specimens showing the advance of the typographic art from the beginning, books of artistic interest, and works not to be found in this country, and sometimes not in Europe. Its collection of paintings and sculpture is important as well as its literary treasures. It is not a library of general reference, though many of its works will be sought by scholars for the value of their contents: it is, in short, a private art-gallery and library thrown open at stated times and under certain restrictions to the public. The library owes its existence to the munificence of Mr. James Lenox, a wealthy and educated gentleman of New York, who determined to establish permanently in his native city his fine collection of manuscripts, printed books, engravings and maps, statuary, paintings, drawings, and other works of art, by giving the land and money necessary to provide a building and a permanent fund for the maintenance of the same. In January, 1870, the legislature of New York passed an act "creating a body corporate by the name and style of 'The Trustees of the Lenox Library.'" Nine trustees were named, and these gentlemen organized by electing Mr. Lenox president and Mr. A.B. Belknap secretary. In the succeeding March Mr. Lenox conveyed to the trustees three hundred thousand dollars in stocks of the county of New York and bonds and mortgage securities, and also the ten lots of land fronting on Fifth Avenue on which the library-building now stands. One hundred thousand dollars were set apart for the formation of a permanent fund, and two hundred thousand dollars for a building-fund. Contracts for a library-building were made early In 1872, and work on it was begun in May of the same year,—the structure being finished in 1875. It has a frontage of one hundred and ninety-two feet on Fifth Avenue, overlooking the Park, and a depth of one hundred and fourteen feet on both Seventieth and Seventy-first Streets. The general plan is that of a central structure connecting two turreted wings which enclose a spacious entrance-court. From the court the visitor enters a grand hall or vestibule, from which every part of the building is reached. At either end is a spacious library-room. Stone stairways lead from each end of the vestibule to the mezzanine, or half-story, and the second-story landings. From the latter one enters the principal gallery, ninety-six by twenty-four, devoted to sculpture, and opening on the east into the picture-gallery. At either end of the hall of sculpture are library- and reading-rooms similar to those on the first floor. The stairway on the north continues the ascent to an attic or third-floor gallery. The building throughout is fitted up in a style befitting a shrine of the arts. The first-floor library-rooms are one hundred and eight feet long by thirty feet wide and twenty-four feet high, with level ceilings, beautifully panelled and corniced. The sides of the hall of sculpture are divided by five arcades, resting on piers decorated with niches, pilasters, and other architectural ornaments; the ceiling has deep panels resting on and supported by the pilasters; the walls are wainscoted in oak to the height of the niches. The picture-gallery is forty by fifty-six, well lighted from above by three large skylights. Iron book-cases, with a capacity for eighty thousand volumes, are arranged in two tiers on the sides of the galleries. The whole structure is as nearly fire-proof as it could possibly be made, and its massive walls and stone towers make it one of the prominent architectural features of the avenue. While the building was in progress, several benefactions of interest had accrued to the library. Mr. Lenox had given an additional one hundred thousand dollars, and in 1872 one hundred thousand dollars more, and Mr. Felix Astoin had promised to bestow his fine collection of some five thousand rare French works. On the 15th of January, 1877, the first exhibition of paintings and sculptures was opened to the public, and continued on two days of the week to the end of the year, and on the 1st of the following December an apartment for the exhibition of rare works and manuscripts was also opened to the public. Fifteen thousand people visited the library during this first year, thus indicating the popular appreciation of a collection of this kind. In 1881 nineteen thousand eight hundred and thirty-three admission-tickets were issued,—the largest number of visitors on any one day being eleven hundred, on the anniversary of Washington's birthday.

The scope and objects of this unique institution are so admirably set forth by the trustees in their report to the legislature for 1881 that we append an extract. "The library," they observe, "differs from most public libraries. It is not a great general library intended in its endowment and present equipment for the use of readers in all or most of the departments of human knowledge.... Beyond its special collections it should be regarded as supplementary to others more general and numerous and directly adapted to popular use. It is not like the British Museum, but rather like the Grenville collection in the British Museum, or perhaps still more like the house and museum of Sir John Soane in Lincoln's Inn's Fields, in London, both lasting monuments of the learning and liberality of their honored founders. Thus, while the library does not profess to be a general or universal collection of all the knowledge stored up in the world of books, it is absolutely without a peer or a rival here in the special collections to which the generous taste and liberal scholarship of its founder devoted his best gifts of intellectual ability and ample resources of fortune. It represents the favorite studies of a lifetime consecrated after due offices of religion and charity to the choicest pursuits of literature and art. It would be difficult to estimate the value or importance of these marvellous treasures, whose exhibition hitherto only in part has challenged the admiration of all scholars and given a new impulse to those studies for which they furnish an apparatus before unseen in America.... The countless myriads of volumes produced in the past four centuries of printing with movable types have left in all the libraries of all the nations comparatively few monuments, or even memorials, of so many eager, patient, or weary generations of men whose works have followed them when they have rested from their labors. The Lenox Library was established for the public exhibition and scholarly use of some of the most rare and precious of such monuments and memorials of the typographic art and the historic past as have escaped the wreck and been preserved to this day. That exhibition and use must be governed by regulations which will insure to the fullest extent the security and preservation of the treasures intrusted to our care, in the enforcement of which the trustees anticipate the sympathy and co-operation of all scholars and men of letters, through whose use and labors alone the public at large must chiefly derive real and permanent benefit from this and all similar institutions." The "regulations" adopted by the trustees for the preservation of their treasures do not seem unreasonable. Admission is by ticket, which may be procured of the librarian by addressing him by mail. We have space for but the briefest possible glimpses at these treasures. The chief rarities in typography are found in the north and south libraries on the first floor. In "first editions" it would be difficult to say whether the library prides itself most on its Bibles, its Miltoniana, or its Shakesperiana. In Bibles the whole art of printing with movable types is fully portrayed, the series beginning with the "Mazarin," or Gutenberg, Bible, the first book ever printed with movable types. There are Bibles in all languages. There is the first complete edition of the New Testament in Greek ever published, its title-page dated Basle, 1516. In a glass case in the north library are the four huge "Polyglot" Bibles, marvels of typography, known as the Complutensian, Antwerp, Paris, and English Polyglots. In the same case repose the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Vaticanus,—three great folios, in the original Greek and Hebrew, sacred to scholars as the works on which all authority for the Scriptures rests. Tyndale's New Testament, the first ever printed on English ground, dated London, 1536, is here, and that rare copy of the King James version known as the "Wicked Bible." In this copy the printer, as a satire on the age, omitted the word "not" from the seventh commandment, and for this piece of waggery was heavily fined, the money going, it is said, to establish the first Greek press ever erected at Oxford. Among its "first editions" the library has that of Homer, 1488, and that of Dante, 1472. The Milton collection deserves special notice: in addition to the first editions of the poet's various works, it contains a folio volume of letters and documents pertaining to Milton and his family, with autograph manuscripts giving exceedingly interesting details of the poet's private life and fortunes. One of these is a long original letter from Milton himself to his friend Carlo Dati, the Florentine, with the latter's reply; there are also three receipts or releases signed by Milton's three daughters, Anne Milton, Mary Milton, and Deborah Clarke, a bond from Elizabeth Milton, his widow, to one Randle Timmis, and several other agreements and assignments, with the autographs of attesting witnesses. In folio editions of Shakespeare, and in commentaries, glossaries, and dissertations, the library is also exceedingly rich. Its collection of Americana is the wonder and delight of scholars. We must mention the first publication of the printed letter of Columbus, one in each of its four editions, giving the first account of his discoveries in the West, with three autograph letters of Diego Columbus, his son; the "Cosmographia Introductio," printed at St. Dié, 1507,—the first book in which a suggestion of the name "America" occurs; and also the first map, printed in 1520, in which the name appears. Here is the first American book printed,—a Mexican work, dated 1543-44; the Bay Psalm-Book, 1640, the first work printed in New England; and the first book printed in New York,—the Laws of the Province, by Bradford, issued in 1691: the Puritan evidently placing the gospel first, and the Knickerbocker the law.

Leaving the typographical treasures of the library, we ascend the broad marble stairway to the floor above, for a brief glance at the paintings and statuary. In the hall devoted to sculpture are many noble and beautiful works of art in marble, the most noticeable perhaps being Powers's "Il Penseroso," the bust of Washington and the "Babes in the Wood" by Crawford, and the statue of Lincoln by Ball. In the picture-gallery on the east are a hundred and fifty subjects. On the south wall hangs a canvas which is at once recognized as the masterpiece. It is Munkácsy's "Blind Milton dictating 'Paradise Lost' to his Daughters." This painting is fitly supported on one side by a portrait of Milton owned for many years by Charles Lamb, and on the other by a copy of Lely's fine portrait of Cromwell.

The Mercantile is the popular library of the city; in no sense a public library, however, for the student or stranger must advance a pretty liberal entrance-fee before he can avail himself of its benefits. This institution is a pleasing example of what can be done by many hands, even though there be little in them: it has reached its present proportions without endowment or State aid, chiefly through the steady, continuous efforts of the merchants' clerks of the city. They have always managed it, one generation succeeding another, and they have in it to-day the largest circulating library in America. Mr. William Wood, a benevolent gentleman who devoted many of his later years to improving the condition of clerks, apprentices, and sailors, is regarded as the founder. Mr. Wood was a native of Boston, and in business there during early life, but later removed to London. After distributing much dole to the poor of that city, he founded a library for clerks in Liverpool, and subsequently one in Boston, the latter being the first of its kind in this country. The various mercantile libraries at Albany, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and other places are said to have been founded on the plan of this. In 1820 Mr. Wood began interesting the merchants' clerks of New York in the project of a library for themselves. The first meeting to consider it was held at the Tontine Coffee-House, in Wall Street, on November 9 of that year; and at an adjourned meeting on the 27th of the same month a constitution was formed and officers elected. The young men contributed a little money for the purchase of books, the merchants more, many books were begged or purchased by Mr. Wood, and on the 12th of February, 1821, the library was formally opened, with seven hundred volumes, in an upper room at No. 49 Fulton Street. The first librarian was Mr. John Thompson, who received, it is remembered, one hundred and fifty dollars a year as salary. It was not long before the library, like its fellows, began its migrations up town, Harpers' Building, on Cliff Street, being its second abode. This removal occurred in 1826, and the association had then become so strong that it was able to open a reading-room in connection with its library. Old readers remember that there were four weekly newspapers and seven magazines in this first reading-room. Its membership at that time numbered twelve hundred, there were four thousand four hundred volumes on its shelves, and its annual income amounted to seventeen hundred and fifty dollars.

In 1828 the library was desirous of building: many of the merchants and substantial men of the city were willing to aid it, but doubted the wisdom of trusting such large property interests to the management of young men. They formed, therefore, the Clinton Hall Association, to hold and control real estate for the benefit of the library, with fund shares of one hundred dollars each. The first year thirty-three thousand five hundred dollars had been subscribed, and the corporation began erecting the first Clinton Hall, at the corner of Nassau and Beekman Streets. Here the library remained for nearly a score of years, or until 1853, when a brisk agitation was begun for its removal up-town. A small but determined party favored its removal. The more conservative objected. At length, in January, 1853, the question was put to the vote, and lost by a large majority. But while the excitement was still at its height it was learned that the association had sold Clinton Hall and had purchased the old Italian Opera-House in Astor Place. Here, in May, 1855, the library opened, and here it has since remained, although for several years past the question of a farther removal up-town has been agitated. The constitution of this excellent institution provides that it shall be composed of three classes of members,—active, subscribing, and honorary. Any person engaged on a salary as clerk may become an active member, if approved by the board of directors, on subscribing to the constitution and paying an initiation-fee of one dollar, and two dollars for the first six months, his regular dues thereafter being two dollars semi-annually, in advance. Active members only may vote or hold office. Subscribing members may become such by a payment of five dollars annually or three dollars semi-annually. Persons of distinction may be elected honorary members by a vote of three-fourths of the members of the board of direction. The board of direction is composed of a president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, and eight directors, the former elected annually, the directors four for one year and four for two years. There is also a book committee, which reports one month previous to each annual meeting. From the last annual report of the board it appears that in April, 1883, there were 198,858 books in the library. The total number of members at the same time was 3136, and the honorary members (71), the editors using the library (54), and the Clinton Hall stockholders (1701) swelled the total number of those availing themselves of its privileges to 4962. The total circulation for the year was 112,375 volumes, of which 27,549 were distributed from the branch office, No. 2 Liberty Place, and 1695 books were delivered by messengers at members' residences. In 1870 the circulation was 234,120, the large falling off—over one-half—being due to the era of cheap books. The department of fiction, of course, suffers most. This in 1870 formed about seventy per cent. of the circulation. In 1883 the number of works of fiction circulated was 53,937,—not quite fifty per cent.

To gain a fair idea of the popularity of the library one should spend a mid-winter Saturday afternoon and evening with the librarian and his busy assistants. Early in the afternoon numbers of young ladies leave the shopping and fashionable thoroughfares up-town and throng the library-room. The attendants, all young men, work with increased animation under the stimulus. Books fly from counter to alcoves and return, messenger-boys dart hither and thither, the fair patrons thumb the catalogues and chatter in sad defiance of the rules. They are long in making their selections, and appeal for aid to the librarians. But the last of this class of visitors departs before the six-o'clock dinner or tea, and the attendants have a respite for an hour. At seven the real rush begins, with the advent of the clerks and other patrons employed in store or office during the day, each intent on supplying himself with reading-matter for the next day. From this hour until the closing at nine the librarians are as busy as bees: there is a continual running from counter to alcove and from gallery to gallery. In some of the reports of the librarian interesting data are given of the tastes of readers and the popularity of books. Fiction, as we have seen, leads; but there is a growing taste for scientific and historical works. Buckle, Mill, and Macaulay are favorites, and Tyndall, Huxley, and Lubbock have many readers. The theft of its books is a serious drain on the library each year, but the destruction of its rare and valuable works of reference is still more provoking. Common gratitude, it might seem, would deter persons admitted to the privileges of its alcoves from injuring its property. What shall we think, then, of the vandals who during the past year twice cut out the article on political economy in "Appletons' Cyclopædia," so mutilated Thomson's "Cyclopædia of the Useful Arts" as to render it valueless, and bore off bodily Storer's "Dictionary of the Solubilities," the second volume of the new edition of the "Encyclopædia Britannica," Andrews's "Latin Dictionary," and several other valuable works?

There is a library in the city, the Apprentices', on Sixteenth Street, whose existence is hardly known even to New-Yorkers, which is exceedingly interesting to the student as an instance of the good a trades' union may accomplish when its energies are rightly directed. Here is a library of about sixty thousand volumes, with a supplementary reference library of forty thousand seven hundred and fifty works, and a well-equipped reading-room, free of debt, and free to its patrons, and all the result of the well-directed efforts of the "Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen." This society first organized for charitable purposes in 1792, receiving its first charter on the 14th of March of that year. In January, 1821, its charter was amended, the society being empowered to support a school for the education of the children of its deceased and indigent members and for the establishment of an "Apprentices' Library for the use of the apprentices of mechanics in the City of New York." A small library had been opened the year before at 12 Chambers Street, and there the library remained, constantly growing in number of volumes and patrons, till 1835, when it was removed to the old High-School Building, at 472 Broadway, which the society about that time purchased. It remained there until 1878, when it followed the march of population up-town, removing to its present spacious and convenient rooms in Mechanics' Hall, in Sixteenth Street. Strange as it may seem, the Apprentices' is the nearest approach to a public library on a large scale that the city can boast. It is absolutely free to males up to the age of eighteen; after that age it is required of the beneficiaries that they be engaged in some mechanical employment. Ladies who are engaged in any legitimate occupation may partake of its benefits. Books are loaned, the applicants, besides meeting the above conditions, being only required to furnish a guarantor. The total circulation of this excellent institution for 1881-82 was 164,100 volumes, and its beneficial influence on the class reached may be imagined. It is nevertheless a class library; and the fact still remains that New York, with her vast wealth and her splendid public and private charities, has yet to endow the great public library which will place within reach of her citizens the literary wealth of the ages. There is scarcely a disease, it is said, but has its richly-endowed hospital in the city, the number of eleemosynary institutions is legion, but the establishment of a public library, which is usually the first care of a free, rich, intelligent community, has been unaccountably neglected. The subject is now receiving the earnest thought of the best people of the city. Considerable difference of opinion exists as to the best method of founding and supporting such an institution. Some argue that this should be done by the city alone, holding that the self-respecting workingman and workingwoman will never patronize a free library instituted solely by private charity. Others urge that such an institution to be successful should be free from city control and entirely the result of private munificence. The latter gentlemen have added to the cogency of their arguments by a practical demonstration. Early in 1880 they organized on a small scale a free circulating library which should exist solely by the benefactions of the public, with the object of furnishing free reading at their homes to the people. The general plan adopted was a central library, with branches in the various wards, by this means bringing the centres of distribution within easy reach of the city's homes. The success of the institution has been such that its development should be carefully followed. It began operations by leasing two rooms of the old mansion, No. 36 Bond Street, and in March, 1880, "moved in," opening with a few hundred volumes donated chiefly from the libraries of its projectors. The first month—March—1044 volumes were circulated. By October this had grown to 4212. The next year—1881-82—the circulation reached 69,280, and it continued to increase until in 1883 it reached 81,233,—an increase of nearly 10,000 over the preceding year. In May, 1883, the library was removed to the comfortable and roomy building, No. 49 Bond Street, which had been purchased and fitted up for it by the trustees. Early in December, 1884, the Ottendorfer Library, at 135 Second Avenue, the first of the projected branch libraries, was opened with 8819 volumes, 4784 of which were in English and 4035 in German, the whole, with the library building, being the gift of Mr. Oswald Ottendorfer, of New York. The branch proved equally popular, having circulated during the past year—1885—97,000 volumes, while the circulation of the main library has increased to 104,000 volumes, the combined circulation of both libraries exceeding that of any other in the city. The percentage of loss has been only one book for 31,768 circulated. The report of the treasurer shows that the annual expenses of the library—about twelve thousand dollars—have been met by voluntary contributions, and that it has a permanent fund of about thirty-two thousand dollars besides its books. These figures prove that libraries of this character will be appreciated, and used by the people. The library committee say, in their last report, that after four years' experience they feel competent to begin the establishment of branch libraries, and observe that at least six of these centres of light and intelligence should be opened in various quarters of the city. It is understood that lack of funds alone prevents the institution from entering on this wider field. When one considers the liberal and too often indiscriminate charities of the metropolis, and reflects that the need and utility of this excellent enterprise have been demonstrated, it seems impossible that pecuniary obstacles will long be allowed to stand in the way of its legitimate development.