Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Burr, Anna Robeson. The Jessop Bequest (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1907) 401 p.
Although a librarian is not named the local public library provides the setting for the meeting of two protagonists.

The Chillingworth Library had successfully resisted all attempts at modernization. From the building itself, a gray, palladian structure standing back from the street in a weedy waste of garden, to the old-fashioned stands and tables within, everything about it marked a slumbering defiance of progressive methods. Books were still its main furnishing, contrary to that modern custom which provides a library interior only with desks, chairs, tablets, green lampshades, and frescoes. Here, instead of filling out a slip asking your age, name, income, creed, weight, and degree of myopia, which you deposit in a pneumatic tube, to receive in return a predigested tabloid volume such as library authorities consider befits your case, – here, persons of ripe age and established morals were permitted to browse undisturbed over the shelves. It is true you might or might not find the book of which you were in search; but at least you spent a desultory and agreeable half-hour.
The catalogue methods of the Chillingworth library were such as to discourage culture. There was a catalogue, a time-worn volume in microscopic print, wherein “The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt” was listed under “Anonymous,” and Swedenborg's “Heaven and Hell” under “Works of Imagination and Fancy.” This superannuated authority was backed up by a few drawers of cards, in which the letter K stood represented by “Keats, John, Life & Works of, 61,107,590 AB, 2.” If you could remember this number and send it in, you might be quite sure of receiving a copy of “Elsie Dinsmore.” Repeated trials destroyed your confidence in catalogics, if there is such a science, so you usually preferred to hunt your book yourself. Such a hunt brought other game besides your quarry. You wondered who it was kept out “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” that prodigious monument of dullness, or why “The Anatomy of Melancholy” was placed in the medical section.
It was only the really busy, however, who complained, and it is conceded a library is no place for them. The society in its walls is the only leisure class in the world; its inmates have all time at their backs; and we have no business to affront them by our hurried counting of moments. One grew attached to the very faults of this place, to its dusty, dusky, dingy interior. The main room was not large, with twisted iron staircases running up to the book galleries. There were battered, old-fashioned tables and book stands; dingy plaster busts of Shakespeare and Sophocles, fly-specked water-colors of revolutionary battles. Behind the counter presided an exhausted librarian, who seemed tacitly to echo the weary cry of King Solomon. (p. 59-60).

This is where young Diana Jessop, who has aspirations beyond small town life, comes to refresh her mind.

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