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3-170 (Raw)

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author,male,Deniehy, Daniel Henry,31 addressee
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Deniehy, 1884
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Intimation has been made, we are glad to see, that a sum will be placed on the Estimates for the ensuing year for the establishment of a Public Library in Sydney. The institution will, we trust, be founded in such a spirit of wise munificence as to make it really a national undertaking, and one that will reflect credit on the Colony. We earnestly hope to see, at no distant period, grants made to enable the municipalities of the larger rural towns to establish local libraries. But the metropolitan collection, quite irrespective of the large number of readers whose wants it is to meet, must obviously be built, so to speak, on far broader foundations and be far and away a vaster affair than any other library in the territory need be. A good average collection of standard works in literature and philosophy, and such an array of the latest scientific publications as will keep the student and the inquirer posted up in the yearly progress of discovery and invention, will be sufficient for years to come for the majority of country libraries in Australia. But the metropolitan library should be the storehouse and armoury of learning and knowledge for the whole colony, - the place whither youth and adult, learner and teacher, statesman and artizan, may alike repair, with a certainty of finding, as far as the public means will allow, whatever human intelligence has achieved and presented in his particular field of investigation. A good edition of Gibbon's "Rome," for instance, as regards the special object it proposes to itself, the history of the decadence and overthrow of the Roman power, is sufficient for any prominent public library in a colony like ours; but the National Library in the capital should have the Byzantine historians, as well as the other fontal sources at which they drew. Sismondi's literature of the South of Europe would perhaps be sufficient in the country; but the cycle of historians of Italian letters, Tiraboschi, Muratori, Ginguene, nay, the great works of Bouterwek and the learned Germans, the man of letters would look for, as a matter of course, in the National Library. A fair Greek text of Plato, Sydenham's version, and the translation of the contributor to Bohn's Series, and possibly, by way of luxurious addenda, Victor Cousin's performances in French, would make a tolerable rural item for Platonic philosophy, quite as much as for all practical purposes would be requisite; but in the metropolitan library there should be fairly accessible the files of the Neo-Platonists, the Italian Platonic thinkers, and as much as might be of the literature in later days of this most influential of all purely secular philosophies on the mind of man. In the natural sciences, it is obvious that books of net results are those which must and ought mainly to be on the shelves of libraries for general use; but somewhere in the Colony, and most appropriately in the institution now about to be provided, should be kept available for society at large the books, weighty, voluminous, and expensive as they are, in which all scientific advances are originally and accurately registered - monographs, for instance, transactions of learned societies, publications made by commissioners and under the auspices of Government, and those frequently rare and gorgeous contributions to science which are actually only printed for princes and communities. Scarcely one man in twenty thousand in a community like ours is likely to have, or likely to want, a copy of the noble volumes which represent the labours of Agassiz; but the country at large, if it pretends in its public capacity to care about science at all, should have one. And hence one of the practical suggestions we would very respectfully tender to those likely to have superintendence of the promised Public Library, is to early possess themselves of such. The foundation, and much of the whole structure of the collection, should consist always, of course, of works valuable on further and other grounds than those of mere bibliographical rarity, - of those works the costliness of which puts them beyond the reach of the majority of readers. Books that anybody may buy anywhere at any time, inasmuch as such works are luckily amongst the very best, the highest literature being happily, like the highest beauty in the natural world, for the most part that most easily found, should be, of course, on the shelves. But it should be always kept in mind that the main object is to supply what the colonists at large cannot individually supply themselves with. [80] [81]
The Library must, if there be any force in the preceding remarks, be one in which the books are not allowed off the premises. Ample accommodation for reading and study must be made for ladies as well as gentlemen, as at the Queen's Room of the Public Library at Melbourne; and those wishing to avail themselves of the advantages, must go to the building and do so. This is the fundamental rule at the British Museum, and at the Bibliotheque Imperiale, and the public libraries of Paris and the other continental cities. Those latter were public libraries in the truest sense of the word, whose leaves of books were alike turned by the jewelled finger of the peer of France and the hoary hand of the artizan long before anything of the kind was thought of in England. There the national repository at the British Museum was for years practically as much a sealed treasure to the people at large as the private collection of the Duke of Devonshire or Earl Spencer or of Mr. Heber before its dispersal. Quite irrespective of individual dishonesties - in which, as concerns matters of this kind, we are, by the way, no great believers - and the drawback of unconscionable retention of favourite volumes by somewhat selfishly enthusiastic readers, it is plain that various casualties will in the nature of things connect themselves with the removal of books from the premises. To accumulate a great, essentially valuable, and complete collection will therefore be a work at some point or other continually exposed to defect. For other reasons besides those of pecuniary economy, care must be taken on this head. It must be borne in mind that really fine editions of the books mainly worthy of national attention are not to be picked up every day even in London or Paris. There are always anxious and active persons, men of taste, wealth, and leisure, in those capitals, to pick up not only bibliographic gems and rarities, but the finer, the better edited, and more carefully selected impressions of scarce works. The United States of America are in this walk keen and active competitors, and it is a well-known fact amongst book buyers and booksellers in England, that very large sums of money are yearly sent to Europe from the Union, for the acquisition of all first-class property of the kind for sale. The library of Neander, by no means of extraordinary extent, but of rare value for patristic literature and ecclesiastical history, was purchased for and removed en masse from Germany to the University of Rochester, recently founded by wealthy residents of New York. It is painfully mortifying to think that one of the objections made for years in the mother Country to the opening of the public collections was the risk of loss to which the property was exposed. [82]
At the Public Library at Melbourne, in a capital with perhaps, in the ratio of its size, the largest floating and unsettled population in the world, and at an institution frequented by crowds in the freest manner conceivable, only one instance, we believe, has ever occurred; and the experience extends over a sufficiently long period to afford a criticism, of a book having been abstracted, and it was then an ordinary sixpenny song-book. 
Whatever be the period at which the Government will find themselves in a position to commence operations, the recurrence of an evil is to be guarded against, which has unfortunately vitiated and crippled the activity and the progress of public institutions of the kind in this country heretofore. We refer to the constitution of the governing body. Hitherto the administration of cognate establishments has been selected on grounds altogether connected with mere social position and wealth, in point of fact from cliques who look upon the whole thing as an additional symbol of local dignity and importance to those already in their possession, much as a K.C.B. [83] would contemplate the addition to his chivalric style and honour of the initials G.C.H.,, K.H., or the dilettante of F.L.S., or F.S.A., supplementing the cardinal distinction already acquired of F.R.S. Individuals thus originally forming the governing bodies of these institutions have had the power amongst themselves of filling vacancies. Experience has shown, and a very slight knowledge of human nature might have anticipated it, how a régime of this kind eventually partakes of the worst qualities of a close corporation. A gentleman was some time since elected a Fellow of the University here upon no other ground than that of his enormous wealth; and vacated seats of another institution of scientific character have been filled, as far as human intelligence judging of things by ordinary means can find out, simply because the individuals chosen belonged to a particular set. If the Public Library is really to be the great success it may and ought, this kind of thing must not obtain. Fitness for this special office should be the only test; and the odious principle of close election in the administrative body be done away with. There are plenty of high places and to spare for sheer wealth and mere political and social influence. 
For the sake of the country's best interests let those establishments sacred to learning and science be in the hands of men whose lives and faculties have been devoted to qualifying themselves to minister in them, and discharge intelligently and adequately the duties they demand. At least half of the board or committee should consist of men of letters, purely on the grounds that they are such, the poor schoolmaster to be as eligible as the Member of Parliament; for this would, while by no means a costly, yet nevertheless be a graceful mode, and one sure of appreciation, of recognition by the higher authorities of lettered worth in humble circumstances, - a species of worth in this bank-note-worshipping and pre-emptive-right-purchasing community getting generally more kicks than kindness. The other half might be composed of men noted for their business qualifications, but always, of course, of fair education. As the establishment will be a national one, and there is no constituency of persons specially interested in the matter, we would place the appointment of the Committee in the Government for the time being, holding it responsible for the fitness of those appointed. The utter absurdity of the old system of making Ministers members of such boards, already busy enough as they must be, is obvious. [84]
Carlyle says, "The true university of these days is a library;" true anyhow, true ten thousand times over in a youthful democratic country like ours, whose young men who will govern the land and make the laws ten years hence are, perhaps, serving behind the counter to-day. Let those now entrusted with the affairs of the country and the interests of society look to this. Let them give those young men the only practical means of qualifying themselves for great and solemn trust - fraught either with benefit or danger, according to the discharge of them, to the community at large. Let them place the appliances ready for those whose circumstances and fortune in life debar them from the privileges of a university, nearer at hand, in more senses than one, than the big toy in carved stone that, as in mockery and derision of its lofty object, is perched away at Grose Farm, away from everybody but those who, like Thurtell's "respectable man," can drive thither in "a gig," or can spare the hours snatched from earning daily bread to trudge backwards and forwards from the main quarter of the city to the embouchure of the Parramatta Road.