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Posts Tagged ‘Circulating libraries’

Inquiring readers,

Happy New Year! Are U.S. Austen fans ready for the countdown to Sanditon on PBS? Only 11 days remain until this eight-episode mini-series based on Jane Austen’s final novel fragment airs on Sunday nights. You can also stream each episode. The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. On February 23, you can binge watch the entire series. The DVD is also on sale.

Now, on to the poem, written by Robert Bloomfield “In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack.” It’s a lovely early 19th century description from a beast of burden to her brother about her “work” in a seaside resort.

Image of Robert Bloomfield's Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack, 1807, along with an image by I. Cruikshank ?

Brother Jack I am going to inform you
Of things that ne’er enter’d your head,
And I hope the narration will charm you
Wherever you’re driven or led;

For it grieves me to think of your hampers,
And the cudgel that thumps you behind;
To have none of my frolics and scampers,
My labour’s as light as the wind.

On a fine level form’d by the tide,
The beach and the ocean between,
Fashion here tells young lasses to ride
On the best walk that ever was seen,

The sands, brother Jack, that’s the spot
Where the ladies exhibit their graces;
There they push me along till I trot,
‘Midst a circle of giggling faces.

Not one of the party stands idle,
For, when I move just like a snail,
One half of them pull at my bridle,
And t’other half push at my tail.

Then up, full of frolic and glee,
One will mount, and will scold, and will strike,
And ride me knee-deep in the sea,
Where I stop—just as long as I like.

For what are their tricks and manoevres?
They may pull me, and haul me, and teize,
But I plague them as they plague their lovers,
O, I like to do just as I please!

Don’t be envious—Hark what I tell—
You would never do her for a prude,
Because Jack, you know very well,
You were always inclin’d to be rude;

And if you should set up your braying,
And give them but two or three staves,(willow sticks?)
You would stop all the children from playing,
Or frighten them into the waves!

Sometimes a sick lady will ride me,
More tender and delicate still,
And employ a poor boy just to guide me,
Where I cannot go wrong if I will;

Then back through the town gently creeping,
We stop at some library-door,
Where, nonsense preferring to sleeping,
She loads me with novels a score.

And, dear Jack, by the bye, I’ve long guest,
Tho’ good ladies I’ve no wish to spite ‘em;
That ‘tis we bring these book in request,
And that some of our family write ‘em.

But who’d go to boast about that?
No, I’ll finish by telling you true,
That at Worthing we all might grow fat,
And keep the best company too.

So love to you Jack till next season,
I’ll be happy as long as I can;
For an ass that complains without reason,
Becomes—just as bad as a man!”

Published 25th May, 1807.
By Laurie and Whittle,
No. 53, Fleet Street, London

Detail of the illustration by I. Cruikshank (?) News from Worthingo In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack By Robert Bloomfield, 1807

Image detail. One can see the chaos in the background with asses that were uncooperative. The maid on the ass is obviously stuck and unhappy.  Chaos reigns, which the onlookers love. Notice the woman at the middle, who is about to be bounced off her ass. Cruikshank (?) shows her bare legs with high stockings. Women in that era did not wear underpants. Ooh la la! The muslin cloth of the woman’s white dress front and center indicates how thin it is as evidenced by her nipples. She is trapped in her position until the ass decides to move. Hah!

I especially like the reference to circulating libraries, which abounded in resort cities.

Many scholars think that Worthing, a seaside resort Jane Austen visited in 1805, could have been the inspiration for the town of Sanditon twelve years later.

  • This interesting article, “Could Worthing have been the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Sanditon?,” by Donna Fletcher Crow, Jane Austen UK, July 24, 2019, and downloaded 12/31/2019, is reproduced on the site by the author’s permission.

About the author: “Donna is a novelist of British history, and a traveling researcher who engages people and places from Britain’s past and present – drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today’s reader. “

Sources:

  • Bloomfield, Robert. “News from Worthing. In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack,” Published 25th May, 1807, by Laurie and Whittle, No. 53, Fleet Street, London. Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Cartoon Prints, British. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ds.03595/. Rights Advisory:  No known restrictions on publication. (Color cartoon)

The rich and wealthy collected color cartoons. People not as flush in the pocket as purchased black and white cartoons, as shown in the following print from Yale University:

  • Bloomfield, Robert,  “News from Worthing: in a letter from a beast of burden to her brother Jack (from the Monthly mirror for April, 1807). Cruikshank, Isaac printmaker., Laurie, Robert and Whittle, James, publisher, 1807. Digital collection: Lewis Walpole Library. Downloaded 12/31/2019 at this link.

In addition: Jane Austen’s World links to

 

 

 

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Circulating libraries in the 18th and 19th century were associated with leisure, and were found  in cities and towns with a population of 2,000 and upward. They were as much of an attraction in wealthy resorts, where people came to relax and look after their health, as in cities and small towns, like Basingstoke, where Jane Austen subscribed to Mrs. Martin’s circulating library.

In 1801, it was said that there were 1,000 circulating libraries in Britain. Book shops abounded as well, but in 1815 a 3-volume novel cost the equivalent of $100 today. Such a price placed a novel beyond the reach of most people. Worried about a second edition for Mansfield Park, Jane Austen wrote in 1814:

“People are more ready to borrow and praise, than to buy –which I cannot wonder at.”

Circulating libraries made books accessible to many more people at an affordable price.  For two guineas a year, a patron could check out two volumes. Which meant that for the price of one book, a patron could read up to 26 volumes per year.

By 1800, most copies of a novel’s edition were sold to the libraries, which were flourishing businesses to be found in every major English city and town, and which promoted the sale of books during a period when their price rose relative to the cost of living. The libraries created a market for the publishers’ product and encouraged readers to read more by charging them an annual subscription fee that would entitle them to check out a specified number of volumes at one time. – Lee Ericson, The Economy of Novel Reading

The leisurely classes had plenty of time for reading, late 18th c.

The practice of borrowing books was not a new concept in the Regency era. Records from the 17th century show that people were borrowing books from booksellers. As early as 1735, Samuel Fancourt advertised a circulating library in Salisbury for his religious books and pamphlets.

Circulating libraries attracted many patrons, even those who did not necessarily come to borrow or book or read, for they were also places for fashionable people to “hang out” and meet others.

In the resorts the circulating libraries became fashionable daytime lounges where ladies could see others and be seen, where raffles were held and games were played, and where expensive merchandise could be purchased.  – Lee Ericson, The Economy of Novel Reading

Jane Austen well knew the attractions of libraries at sea side resorts. Mrs. Whitby’s Circulating Library operated in Sanditon, and Lydia visited one in Brighton.  In her letters to Cassandra, Jane frequently mentioned circulating libraries, in particular visiting one in Southampton.

Circulating Library and Reading Room, Milsom Street, Bath. Image, Tony Grant

Circulating libraries tended to be located in a convenient location in the center of a resort. Newcomers would find out about them from guide books, such as the one in Brighton. The Royal Colonade Library advertised itself as thus:

MESSRS. WRIGHT AND SON’S ROYAL COLONADE LIBRARY, MUSIC SALOON, AND READING ROOMS.

This establishment is situated in North-street, at the corner of the New Road, and contains between seven and eight thousand volumes of History, Biography, Novels, French and Italian, and all the best Modern Publications. The Reading Room is frequented both by Ladies and Gentlemen, and is daily supplied with a profusion of London morning and evening papers, besides the French and weekly English journals, magazines, reviews, and general popular periodicals. – Brighton As It Is, 1836

In 1836, Cassandra Austen would have been familiar with the costs associated with the Royal Colonade Library’s terms of subscriptions:

Terms of subscription

By the end of the 18th century, Scarborough, a resortt located in the county of North Yorkshire, boasted several circulating libraries. The town’s population had risen to 7,067 by 1811, and one can imagine that, with the many leisurely hours available to tourists and visitors, these libraries managed a booming business.


A circulating library in Scarborough around 1818, from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough

The Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, first published in 1813, features twenty-one illustrations of humorous subjects about the many features available in the resort, including a satiric poem about the Circulating Library:

As in life’s tide by careful fate
The mind is made to circulate
Just so each watering place supplies
It’s CIRCULATING LIBRARIES:

Where charming volumes may be had
Of good indifferent and bad
And some small towns on Britain’s shore
Can boast of book shops half a score
Scarbro and with much truth may boast
Her’s good as any on our coast
AINSWORTH’S or SCAUM’S no matter which
Or WHITING’S all in learning rich
Afford a more than common measure
Of pleasant intellectual treasure

One wonders if the following publication could be checked out a Scarborough circulating library at the turn of the 19th century, for the book was written by a local schoolmaster:

A Short Grammar of The English Language. In Two Parts By John Hornsey. Schoolmaster, Scarborough.

THE publick are much indebted to Mr Hornsey for this able and excellent compendium of English grammar. We acknowledge that we perused it with singular satisfaction; and are well persuaded that a more useful introduction to the English language cannot be placed in the hands of our youth. That this work should reach a second edition, did not excite our wonder; may it pass through many succeeding ones!- The Nichols, John.Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 86, 1799, p 1144.

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