Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Gladstone's Library

Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Gladstone's Library

Article excerpt

Gladstone’s Library began as that most English of things: a great man’s visionary idea. William Gladstone, at the age of 85, decided that he had amassed too many books, and wanted to share them with the less fortunate. As his daughter Mary put it: ‘He wished to bring together books who had no readers with readers who had no books.’ He duly spent £40,000 of his own money on founding and building the library that bore his name, carrying 32,000 of his own volumes three-quarters of a mile between his home, Hawarden Castle in Flintshire, Wales, and the temporary structure that housed them, aided only by his valet and the long-suffering Mary.

He did not live to see the library built, but the John Douglas-designed building was completed in 1902, intended both as a permanent memorial to Gladstone and as a residential establishment where readers might come and take intellectual solace amidst books — 250,000 of them, to be exact. This includes a good many of Gladstone’s own collection. It’s well worth spending an afternoon in the splendidly appointed library annexe rummaging through the Grand Old Man’s volumes, as many of them are annotated with suitably splenetic exclamations at their writers’ idiocy. (‘Untrue, untrue, untrue’ in a Disraeli biography, for instance.)

The residential side of the library has a comforting sense of institutional solidity; half-clerical retreat, half-boarding school. The 26 rooms are reassuringly basic, with Roberts radios and good reading lamps replacing flat-screen TVs and power showers. …

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