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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

Characteristics of a Good Library

Characteristics of a Good Library.

What do I hold then to be the first characteristic of this Library? If it is a proper one it should be such as to compel persons to resort to Auckland who wish for information on a great variety of subjects. (Hear.) If we can accomplish that; if in our isolated position, separated far from other nations, we can compel the learned of those nations to come here for information, then that knowledge which the ocean puts far from us we shall, by what we offer, bring to our very doors. Already you may see the spread that learning has taken in this country. You have now an important Grammar School; you have now a University established amongst you; you now bring the learned from Europe here to instruct your youth, and you may soon have the command of all the best intellect in Europe for the purpose of instruction if you follow on in the course in which you have entered. But by the choice of the materials which we place in this Library, we can page 9 bring persons from every part of the earth to drink at sources of knowledge which they can obtain in no other place. (Applause.) Let us see, therefore, what we should do. First of all I would say that people of all nations who may assemble here respect antiquity. There is no nation that has not a reverence for past ages. We should tie them, therefore, to us by taking care that all the knowledge which past ages afford should, if possible, be collected in the various institutions which we are about to found. (Applause.) Above all, I hold that as the Anglo-Saxon language is to be our great medium of communication with all the countries which lie beyond us, we should take care that there is a complete collection of Anglo-Saxon literature, a complete library of the English tongue from the very earliest periods, collected within the walls of the institutions we are to have. (Applause.) What efforts have been made to accomplish this? Let me tell you. As soon as your libraries are opened you will have placed at your disposal the very best and choicest works of the English language. (Applause.) Those who desire to do so may pore over the very earliest producductions in the English tongue. They may take the works printed by Caxton, now of such excessive rarity in the world, examine them, ascertain what was then the spelling of the English language, understand what was then the form of the grammar of the English language, for that has very much altered. They may with delight handle the volumes and pages which were handled by the first printer of the English tongue, and read how he sat in his study poring over books and pamphlets, and thinking what new work he should produce, and at last resolving to produce the very work which the citizen of Auckland holds in his hands, not fresh from the hands of Caxton, but still coming handed down through four centuries, as it were from the first master of printing in the English language. (Applause.) Then, if they please, they may read with the contemporaries of Shakespeare the first edition of his poems, and handle the volumes which undoubtedly the learned of England in that day handled and perused with delight; may take Spencer's "Fairy Queen," and see the exact form in which the poet chose his work to appear, a form beautiful in itself; see its dedication to the great Queen—to the Empress Elizabeth, as he calls her; as we now have the Empress Victoria— (cheers)—applying this term of Empress to a great Queen, and showing that it was not first implied to the Queen who now sits upon the Throne. They may delight themselves by reading the old English writers whose works are very rarely to be obtained at the present time—masters of the English language, which has progressed until it has attained its present perfection—and I think in that manner experience an enjoyment which few people of a young country have ever had the pleasure of experiencing before. (Applause.) But, passing from the English language, let us recollect that a still more remote page 10 series of literature should be open to us all. Let them remember that in the Middle Ages, when printing was unknown, the industrious monks within their monasteries—institutions of which we now think but little—laboured for a lifetime to produce some single magnificent volume— (applause); and they may take in their hands some such work as that, one of which will be at their disposal, an enormous folio, most beautifully executed, and find the humble man who had completed that work saying, " Inutilis servus Dei," unworthy servant of God that I am to have done so little. Let them look at the manuscript Bibles which this city may possess, written also by patient monks in the scriptorium, by which a perfect knowledge of the Scriptures was through those dark ages brought down to the present generation. (Applause.) Let them look at the manuscripts in Greek, which, in the very earliest periods of Christianity, were painfully compiled, written in a minute but exquisite handwriting. Let them look at the beautiful missals which you will be possessed of, in which artist and writer alike did their best to hand down to future times the prayers in the liturgies of most of the Christian races. Let them consider how much we owe to the men who devoted their lives to industry of this kind. (Applause.) Then, again, let them look—and this, I hope, all of you will have the pleasure of doing before long—let them look at the manuscripts of the classical authors, which in the same manner were copied and re-copied in those monasteries that future generations might be in possession of the masterpieces of elocution and literature of that great nation called the Roman people. (Applause.)