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‘The compages, the bonds and rivets of the race’: W. E. Gladstone on the keeping of books

Scarre, Geoffrey

‘The compages, the bonds and rivets of the race’: W. E. Gladstone on the keeping of books Thumbnail


Geoffrey Scarre


For the great Victorian Liberal statesman and Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone, books were the ‘voices of the dead’ and ‘a main instrument of communication with the vast human procession of the other world’. Gladstone's 1890 article ‘On Books and the Housing of Them’ combines a celebration of the value and civilizing influence of books with practical suggestions for the organization of an academic library. Unlike such contemporaries as Sir Thomas Phillipps and the Earls of Crawford, Gladstone was a book-lover rather than a bibliomane, who bought books for their contents rather than their rarity or beauty. The residential library of St. Deiniol's, North Wales (now renamed Gladstone's Library), which he established towards the end of his life primarily to serve the needs of Anglican clergymen, follows the spirit of his 1890 paper and adopts many of its practical suggestions. Like Antonio Panizzi of the British Museum, his friend of many years, Gladstone was particularly concerned with the problem of how libraries could accommodate the ever-increasing number of books without becoming mere book warehouses. Gladstone's solution was to shelve books according to their ‘sociability’, so that less sociable items could be relegated to mobile shelving or other maximum-density storage areas. Libraries, for Gladstone, should be not only well-organized and efficiently run repositories of research material but friendly and welcoming centres of scholarship and meeting places for readers. In a well-run library, scholars should be able to enjoy the society of books and of one another. Gladstone's Library continues to this day to realize the high ideals set by its founder, providing to researchers the opportunity for scholarly collaboration which Gladstone though essential in the evening of the age of the solitary scholar.


Scarre, G. (2017). ‘The compages, the bonds and rivets of the race’: W. E. Gladstone on the keeping of books. Library and Information History, 33(3), 182-194.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 18, 2017
Online Publication Date Jul 19, 2017
Publication Date Jul 19, 2017
Deposit Date May 18, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jan 19, 2019
Journal Library and Information History
Print ISSN 1758-3489
Electronic ISSN 1758-3497
Publisher Edinburgh University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 33
Issue 3
Pages 182-194


Accepted Journal Article (367 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Library and information history on 19/07/2017, available online:

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