15 MAY 1915, Page 8


IN a letter which will be found in another column Sir Alfred Hopkinson draws attention to a very important step towards repairing one of the ravages of that barbaric fury to which the Germans have given the name of %sake. In comparison with the other outrages by which they have made the present war stand alone in history the wreck of the University of Louvain may seem but a secondary matter. The. deliberate infliction of death and suffering in new and hideous shapes and to an unexampled extent necessarily makes a greater impression than the destruction of a treasure-house of learning which it has taken nearly three centuries to bring together. But the lesser loss has the advantage over the greater that it is capable of being in some measure made good. No retribution that can be exacted from the enemy can restore the lives that have been taken or repair those °thee lives that have been wrecked. But the wanton destruction of a famous library is not beyond remedy in part. Some at least of the missing volumes and the missing manuscripts may most righteously be replaced, when the war is over, from the stores of the great German libraries; and Sir Alfred Hopkinson describes a plan which has the merit that it may be put in hand at once. The Governors of the John Rylands Library at Manchester hope to start a movement which may grow to greater-things. The Council of this famous institution determined early in lest December to give practical expression to their sympathy with the University of Louvain in the, loss of its famous library, and in the new number of their Bulletin they print a trustworthy account of the manuscripts, books, and other collections which perished when the building that held them was wantonly set on fire. The preparation of this account was entreated to Dr. Van der Essen, the Professor of History st Louvain University, and in the compass of half-a-dozen pages he gives us some notion of the loss which learning has suffered at the hands of the German armies. Though the University was founded in 1425, it possessed no library of its own till 1627. In that year Laurent BBeeyyerlinck, one of the Chapter of Antwerp, left his collection of books on history and theology to the University ; and eight years later Jacques Romania, the Professor of Medicine, made a similar disposition of his own medical books and his father's mathematical books. Cornelius Jansen was then Rector of the University, and be fitted up the ancient Cloth Hall as a library, and the Archbishop of Mechlin assigned en annual sum for its maintenance and increase. Jansen became Bishop of Ypres in 1635, and from that time the library was neglected. In 1719 the gift of three thousand five hundred volumes by another Canon of Antwerp made it necessary to add to the building, and in 1752 the librarian obtained an order from the Government that a copy of every book printed in Belgium should be pre- 'anted to the library. During the remainder of the century the contents of the library were greatly increased by the male of the Jesuit libraries after the suppression of the Order. The French Republic seized about five thousand of the books, including some of the most valuable manu- scripts, and Napoleon banded over the library to the numicipality, which retained it till the reopening of the University in 1835. From that time the collection grew with great rapidity, and at the date of its destruction it was estimated to contain over two hundred and thirty thousand volumes. In the course of a recent revision of the catalogue unknown books and pamphlets, many of them dating from the first days of the Reformation, were found covered with the dust of two centuries. In this way the already large collection of incunabula was added

toalmost daily. The collection of Jesuit literature, as well as of publications bearing on the history of the JAnsenist controversy, was perhaps unique. Among the manuscripts were several of the twelfth century, and the archives of the University, a small part of which—the official correspondence of the University from 1583 to 1637— escaped destruction by the accident of its having been borrowed by Dr. Van der Essen, in whose possession it still remains. " C'est pent-etre la tout as quo rests en ea moment dee magnifiques trgsors de in bibliotheque de l'Uni- versite de Louvain," though a few half-consumed loaves of books and manuscripts are occasionally found among the ruins of the University buildings and the neighbouring streets.

The Governors of the John Rylands Library began their work in a practical spirit well worthy of Manchester. The librarian was directed to examine the duplicates in his possession. These have gradually accumulated "through the purchase em bloc from time to time of large and special collections." A list of the first instal- ment of the proposed gift has been drawn up, and the University authorities at Louvain have accepted the books as " one of the very first acts which tend to the preparation of our revival." As the books cannot at present be sent to Louvain, the Governors have undertaken to house the volumes until the new buildings are ready to receive them. The necessary limitation of the gift to books of which the John Rylands Library has other copies has somewhat lessened the scope of these additions, but the authorities have wisely remembered that their Action may be imitated as well as admired. There must, they think, "be other libraries and similar institutions, as well as private individuals, who would welcome the opportunity of sharing in this expres- sion of practical sympathy by taking part in the proposed reconstruction of the devastated library," end they are ready to take charge of any books entrusted to them for this purpose. The names of the donors and the titles of the books presented will be carefully kept, and the register thus formed "will serve as a permanent record of this modest attempt to demonstrate to the people of Belgium our grateful and heartfelt appreciation of the heroic sacrifices which they have made in their honourable deter- mination to remain true to their pledges of neutrality." The action of the Library authorities is invested with a further practical value by their decision to supplement their gift of books by the preparation of a carefully classified catalogue, so that when the time comes for the transference of the gift to Louvain " it may be placed upon the shelves prepared for its reception and be forthwith ready for use."

The principle of parting with duplicates may well be followed in the first instance by other public libraries in Great Britain and Ireland. Even when all allowance has been made for the necessity of retaining editions which contain new matter, the conditions of purchase which have multiplied copies of the same book in the John Rylands Library must be reproduced in many others. Besides the libraries of the British Museum and of the Universities of the three kingdoms, there are probably many smaller institutions which may well be subjected to similar weed- ing. There may, indeed, be librarians who glory in the possession of every edition of an important book, although, so far as the substance goes, many of them are merely reprints. But a fancy which is harmless in itself may wear a different aspect when it is found to stand in the way of relieving a friend who has undergone unmerited losses. The pride of possessing every edition of a particular author may wisely be mortified when a great library which has been wilfully destroyed in the course of a deliberate attack upon the freedom and civilization of Europe is left without any edition at all. Tnrger additions may perhaps be looked for from private libraries. Here the possessor is under no obligation to any one, except in a very few cases to his heir. Great as the shock of parting with important books may be, it is, if we may judge from the announcements of sales at Sotheby's and elsewhere, very frequently submitted to. If the possessor of a good library can so often be willing to part with a book merely to put the price of it in his pocket, the pleasure of helping to re-create a famous library after it has been brutally destroyed ought to be at least as powerful a motive. Moreover, in many cases the possession of books is only a very secondary pleasure. The owner may know little or nothing about them except the price that he paid for them. Indeed, he may not even know that, since they may have come to him by inheritance, and represent a kind of expenditure which, loft to himself, he would never have incurred. Or be may have bought them less from the wish to possess them than for the glory of paying a record price for them. This kind of fame may be enjoyed in a far higher degree if these exceptionally costly purchases are lodged in the new Louvain Library. The giver will thus have a double pleasure—the pleasure of paying more than any one else for a particular book, and the pleasure of associating his name with a great effort towards remedying one at least of the wrongs done to Belgium. The glory of calling this or that rare book your own when you know nothing of its history or importance is not comparable with the glory of giving it to a famous University which has lost every book that it once possessed. The destruction that has swept over Belgium has given famous collectors a new opportunity. The pleasure of seeing these rare volumes in their own cabinets or bookcases ought to grow pale before the pleasure of helping towards the resurrection of a famous collection which has been destroyed in order to place beyond suspicion the superior cultivation of those who set it on firo. Here the American nation may find a moans of intervening in the present war which can in no way interfere with the most ample recognition of the duties of a neutral Power. Of late years the citizens of the United States have been great buyers of the contents of English libraries and English picture galleries. We have heard of some of their purchases with that natural regret which accompanies the news of a national loss, be it a picture of Rembrandt or a First Folio of Shakespeare. But that regret would altogether disappear when we learned that England's loss had proved to be Belgian's gain. None of the Allies owes more to Belgium than we do, if as much. Every day that passes, every fresh piece of news from either the western or the eastern front, makes it clearer what our fate would have been if we had waited till Germany had defeated or seriously weakened France or Russia. That is a thought that may well make every gift to Louvain seem a reward for a service done to each one of us, and looked at in this light every contribu- tion to the restoration of the Louvain Library, whether from ourselves or from others, takes the nature of a relief from what would otherwise be almost too weighty an obligation.