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FORM NO 174 

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With second thoughts, 
reforming what was old ! 

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REFLECTIONS on the Centennial Anniversary of 
the Boston Public Library BY DAVID McCoRD 



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P U b I. 


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Often I sat up in my room reading the greater part of the night, 
when the book was borrowed in the evening and to be returned 
early in the morning, lest it should be missed or wanted. 


There were no books in Eden, and there will be none in heaven; 
but between times . . . 

AUGUSTINE BIRRELL: Gossip in a Library 

It was an age of science, of philology, of historical learning, and 
the laurels of Germany would not let Boston sleep. As it had a 
great public library, and hoped to have a great art museum, might 
it not have a great university? 

GEORGE SANTAYANA: Character and Opinion 

in the United States 

The major arts (poetry, painting, architecture, sculpture, music) 
have a pedigree all their own. They did not come into being as a 
means of increasing the game supply or promoting tribal security. 
They sprang from an unaccountable predilection of the one un- 
accountable thing in man. 


So the time was passed between work and play, interspersed 
with visits to his Boston friends with Fitz at Beverlv, with Bow- 

/ * 

ditch in the "new Public Library which is a paradise." 

HARVEY GUSHING: The Life of Sir William Osier 

Highly as the founders valued the institution of public libra- 
ries ... it did not occur to them, I think, that public libraries play 
a vital part in preserving that intellectual freedom without which 
any form of government is a blighting tyranny. It was only in the 
lurid light from the book-burning auto-da-fe in Germany, that the 
Library took on its true shape of protecting fortress, that we saw it 
as the very stronghold of freedom. 

DOROTHY CANFIELD FISHER: The Stronghold of Freedom 


11,19.53. tOM. 

To the Reader 

A great institution like the Boston Public Library conies to its one 
hundredth birthday (actually a composite celebration of 1852- 
1854) with more honor in some ways than it knows what to do 
with. There is nothing amiss in that, for any library is of neces- 
sity as noiseless an entity as that mythical sign of Silence sup- 
posed to dominate its reading rooms and grave unworldly interior. 
History could well have shown, after the passing of a century, 
that the beautiful Italian R.enaissance building whicli dominates 
Copley Square "rich in the right places," as Charles 'Pollen 
McKim explained is today no more than an exquisite archi- 
tectural shell with a third-rate installation behind the great bronze 
doors. Were such the case, the ivitticism attributed to Andrew 
Keogh, late Librarian of Yale University, when the Gothic tower 
building at New Haven ivas nearing completion in 1931, might 
seem appropriate here. He suggested that the intelligent inscrip- 
tion ought to be: "This is not the library; the Yale Library is in- 
side." That the Boston Public Library is not only inside but also 
very much outside through its 35 branches, tiro of them on 
wheels reverses any notion that the building comes first. It 
does not. The building and the living library are inseparable and, 
as Clare Sheridan wrote in 1922, "emblematical of all that Bos- 
ton stands for." Each in a way has sustained and enlivened the 
other. What did Herman Melville say? "You cannot hide the 

This little essay on the occasion of the Centennial is, 1 liope, 
a blend of useful fact and reasonably sensible observation. 1 have 
meant to pay homage to a great institution, but 1 am not a libra- 
rian though I have used libraries all my life. As a writer, I know 
perhaps better than a director or trustee exactly what libraries 


mean to authors, and 1 think I understand a little of what they 
mean to the general reader young and old. If these pages deal 
with hut one library, they could not deal with a "better one; yet 1 
should like the subject to stand as a symbol for all. If anything is 
worth remembering, 1 trust it will be some 'phrase which does do 
honor and does due honor to an exemplary achievement 
not alone in our city hut in a vast democracy. For what in the end 
can be more democratic than the first and ultimate wellspring of 
intellectual and spiritual freedom? 

For the invitation to undertake this congenial task, 1 am deep- 
ly grateful to the Trustees of the Boston Public Library; and 
among them in particular to Frank W. Buxton for his sustaining 
counsel and his special brand of enthusiasm; and to Milton E. 
Lord, Director and Librarian, for inspired suggestions at every 
turn, and especially for his editorial gift in the revision and re- 
arrangement of certain sections. 1 have also to thank Rudolph Ru- 
zicka who designed this book, which is set in his own Fairfield 
Medium type, and whose genius has given it a most remarkable 
title page; Walter M. Whitehill for the benefit of his critical 
opinion, Keyes D. Metcalf for helpful information; Russell A. 
Scully for background material, Elizabeth B. Brockunier for sym- 
pathetic supervision, William B. Gallagher for a vigilant eye upon 
the pressivork; Sylvia L. Reynolds for preparing the manuscript 
for the printer, and Marion L. Anderson for reading it in proof. 

A complete list of the staff members of the Central Library 
and the several Branch Libraries, to whom 1 am centrally and 
severally indebted for guidance and safe delivery through the 
labyrinth of stacks and volumes and secret passages, is too long 
for inclusion here. And rather than select the names of a feiv 
(an easy matter) at the risk of seeming ungrateful to many others, 
1 should like to acknowledge simply my collective debt which 
in a small way is immense. The Boston Public Library is success- 
ful, efficient, and respected largely because the dozens of men 
and hundreds of women responsible for its many services are 
dedicated workers "on the side of life" as Henry Beston would 
say. They care for the good name of the first great public library 
in the country and the good will of the citizens who use it and 


whose property it remains. Hilaire Belloc once wrote a memorable 
and even famous poem about courtesy. This 1 dare to extend by 
adding that courtesy is something like an old Greek coin: it wears 
well, and our delight in it never changes over the centuries. If 
courtesy is no less real in the careless present world ivhen unex- 
pected, it is more delightful as a natural quality ingrained. 

One word leads to three others. The reputation of the Library, 
for honest, efficient, and imaginative operation was naturally 
come by through inheritance from the founders themselves. All 
three adjectives above are of equal importance, though my text 
derives largely from the third. But it should be mentioned here 
in the beginning that only a few years ago the Finance Com- 
mission of the City of Boston conducted, with the aid of experi- 
enced surveyors from Chicago, an administrative analysis of all 
operations in the control of the City of Boston. The Boston Public 
Library, its friends and supporters may like to know, ranked very 
high among city departments in the complimentary terms in 
which it was reported. In this connection it should be remembered 
that where imaginative operation can be strictly honest, it is 
sometimes a hazard to efficiency. This is a calculated risk which 
the Library has not hesitated to take. Some of the imaginative 
and efficient extension of its work has to do with labor unions, 
library service at the Boston City Hospital, and a Never Too Late 
Group venture into the undeveloped field of geriatrics. 

I have not attempted a recital of executive achievement, neither 
have I catalogued collections or included detail irrelevant to the 
human story as 1 see it. 

The title is a most appropriate centennial line from Milton's 
Paradise Lost, ix, 100101: 

. . . as built 
With second thoughts, reforming what was old! 

D. T. W. McC 






JLF "all great cities have the gift of anonymity," as a great Scots 
Londoner has said, then surely a library has it in microcosmic de- 
gree. A library in any of its waking hours is a fair cross-section of 
the nation. People go there to read for information, inspiration, 
and recreation; out of despair and solitude, to strengthen belief, 
to brighten the rusty armor of courage and hope. The very old go 
there; the children use it; the scholar, musician, artist, teacher, 
writer, editor; the professional man and the businessman the 
fellow far from home, the man in the next block: all turn to the 
library every working hour of the day. The serendipitist may 
suddenly discover that the door to poetry swings open of itself. 
The anxious youth and the happy octogenarian rub elbows at the 
reading table. The escapist is there, escaping from Hardy's 

Window, door; window, door; 
Every house like the one before. 

The lonely wife and the ambitious secretary scan the open shelves 
for what will do them the most immediate good. Courage crosses 
the path of anxiety, and hope is neighbor to success. The phrase 
hunter, like the face hunter in Trivia, is there. The man from 
East Boston asks a question of the visitor from Oklahoma; the 
curious investigate what the incurious are unaware of. The nov- 
elist is on the prowl in search of "a new language to enwomb 
new thoughts/' as George Moore put it. Gibbon is there in the 
sadness of that hour at Lausanne in 1787 when he took an 
everlasting leave of his life's rewarding work. Boswell is there 
with Johnson, and Parkman in the prairie grass, Prescott on the 
trail of the conquistador. Purchas and Hakluyt are never far from 
Conrad and Tomlinson; Jeff cries is next to Hudson; Blake is with- 
in sight, if not insight, of Auden. Athens, Rome, Paris, and Jeru- 
salem are in Boston. Manuscript and incunabula, the Bowditch 
collection of books on mathematics, astronomy, and navigation, 
the Barton collection of Shakespeariana and Jacobean drama, the 
Benton collection of books of Common Prayer, the several collec- 
tions of American and English literature all have their readers, 
researchers, and appreciators. The list is endless fabulous. 
Some 50,000 volumes of the Fine Arts Department are balanced 
by some 46,000 books in the great Music Department. Wealth 
and splendor of reading, and all the animation, conflict, and 
serenity of civilization such as we know it. Even the man in 
homesick search of his home-town newspaper and the high school 
girl in quest of light in a terrible mid-year darkness are essential- 
ly on the same fond errand. Wait! There is someone passing 
through the door hoping to find what J. B. Priestley described in 
one of the briefest chapters of Delight: 

And now at last I can please myself what I read, and it is 
delightful. Piers Plowman: A Study no, sir. Metternich and 

- no, no. Hidden Ryivays in Ancient Tuscany and The Charm 
of Ceylon - never. Life and Times of Lord Dreary keep it. 
More Problems of Configuration in the Gestalt Theory you 
try them. Aftermath of Potsdam - cannot touch an Aftermath. 
Consequences of no, none of them. In the Rhythm of Blue 

certainly not. The Case of the Vanishing Cockatoo cer- 
tainly delighted! 



1 CANNOT remember my first impression of the Boston Public Li- 
brary. I entered Boston from the West, and I think I must have 
assumed that it was always here like the rest of the old brick 
city above the Common. Certainly I was unaware that it was 
built on ground which did not exist 100 years ago a site where 
the founding fathers would have foundered. No doubt there are 
many others like myself; and perhaps we may presume to be mys- 
tics, believing with Mark Van Doren that "the true mystic does 
not see easily what at last he sees." Long since, the master- 
piece of Charles Pollen McKim has become for me a landmark 
of nobility as it must be a symbol of some sort in the mind of 
many an adopted son. Whoever called it simply "an aristocrat 
among buildings" said the final and inevitable word. 

Boston traffic today does not give the pedestrian as good a close- ~~ 
up view of the east, north, and south fagades as he would like. 
The red tiles from the roof are gone for the moment, but the in- 
terim black paper at least serves to deflect the eye to the quality 
of stone and metal facing the invisible sea. The great trinity of 
doors accented by those massive branched candelabra, a quartet 
of wrought iron matching the color of the gates and bearing clus- 
ters of six lanterns each, are dominant in ageless dominion. Thir- 
teen magnificent arched windows with proper grillwork at the 
second-story level are as of the gods. A long sequence of exquisite 
medallions have weathered like Roman coins in each of the 
spandrels of the window arches for three points of the compass: 
thirty-three in all. They are the work of Domingo Mora and re- 
peat the marks or trade devices of early printers and booksellers: 
Caxton, Plantin, Froben, Woodcock, Aldus, Martini more 
appropriate here than in Manhattan. A tribute to our time is one 
based on Vedder's design for the Riverside Press (originally to 
accompany his illustrations for The Piubaiyat') with the motto 
Tout luien ou rien. 

Of the triple inscriptions in full-length proclamation (Dart- 
mouth, Blagden, and Boylston Street sides) I prefer the one on 

Boylston: "The Commonwealth requires the education of the 
people as the safeguard of order and liberty," which was later 
echoed in the less urgent words inscribed at the right of the en- 
trance to the New York Public Library : "On the diffusion of edu- 
cation among the people rests the preservation and perpetuation 
of our free institutions." But better than either in simplicity are 
the three words in nine letters over the central door of the Boston 


On tablets which fill the lower part of twenty-seven of the 
thirty great windows are inscribed the names of the world's ac- 
knowledged masters in art, science, religion, statesmanship, and 
conflict. And the joyful meander of these names, from Aesop to 
Zeno, is a perpetual reminder of Santayana's "Those who cannot 
remember the past are condemned to repeat it." How little in life 
can one know of the contribution to mankind which these names 
represent. What queer memories some of them awake in us! They 
read in mixed, unalphabetical procession like one of the deep, 
sonorous passages in Sir Thomas Browne. I look up at Theocritus 
between Hesiod and Menander. I recall that I once put Hesiod 
into a poem, and I fumble for a line somewhere in the author of 
Memory Hold-the-Door : "I remember hearing Andrew Lang say 
r that some of Theocritus could best be rendered in Lowland 
Scots." Lang, I think, is not there. But Thoreau is there. And then 
I remember again that in the main aisle of the Entrance Hall in 
the penetrations of the arches between the piers are the names of 
these famous Bostonians: Peirce, Adams, Franklin, Emerson, 
Hawthorne, Longfellow. I check them off. No Thoreau.* In the 
pendentives of the domes on either side are the names of 24 
more Bostonians, four to a dome: the theologians Channing, 
Parker, Mather, and Eliot; the reformers, the scientists, the art- 

*Thoreau was simply a man of letters. He died of tuberculosis in 1862, 
and these names went up more than thirty years later. What would Em- 
erson think, whose little masterpiece was his farewell to a younger friend? 
A curious business. "His soul," said Emerson, "was made for the noblest 
society; he had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; 
wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is 
beauty, he will find a home." 

ists, the historians, the jurists six famous quartets. Thoreau 
is not enough of a naturalist to qualify in science, too much of a 
cosmologist to qualify as a theologian, too much of a bachelor to 
qualify as a reformer, too much the dreamer to qualify as a his- 
torian, too disobedient to qualify as a jurist. 

One wanders, as we all wander, up the branching staircase 
"with its amplitude of wing and its splendor of tawny marble, a 
high and luxurious beauty." We take our first look our hun- 
dredth look at Bates Hall named for the man who gave the 
Library $100,000 as a double act of simple faith. Bates Hall is 
generally considered the most perfect feature of the building, and 
the old handbook of the Library will tell you that "good judges 
have not hesitated to pronounce it architecturally one of the most 
important rooms in the world." Indeed, "one stands here on the 
edge of abysses." The little vestibule by way of entrance is a 
classic study, among other things, in Echaillon, Verona, and 
Istrian marbles. Bates Hall is 218 feet long, 42^/2 feet wide, and 
50 feet high. (No functional library would sanction such alti- 
tude.) The thirteen arched windows to the east, if they yield in- 
sufficient light, make of it the penetralia which the author of The 
Bostonians through his continental eyes seemed to find solely in 
the inner court. The book cases are of English oak, ten feet high, 
raised on a base of red Verona marble rich with fossils from the 
first chapter of the earliest book of earth. Some 250 to 300 read- 
ers can sit at the 33 heavy tables of American oak at one time 
though (fortunately or unfortunately) it is seldom so crowded. 
At the south end of the hall is the Public Card Catalog which, 
in a functional library, would be at the heart of the building. 
The busts over which Mr. Bates (as we shall see) was some- 
what concerned are not many: they include the likeness of a 
donor (Appleton), a trustee (Greenough), a mayor (O'Brien), 
a poet (Whittier), a suffragist (Stone), and George Ticknor and 
Joshua Bates, the most important of the founders. 

Out through the adjoining Abbey Room, with its splendid mural 
paintings of the search for the Holy Grail, a passage leads to the 
Librarian's attractive room; and up a staircase (watch your head) 
in the mezzanine story above is the Trustees' room, the wood- 

work of which was originally part of the interior furnishing of a 
Paris hotel of the First Empire. "London is inexhaustible in sur- 
prises," says James Bone in The London Perambulator. So is the 
B.P.L. If parts of it are like a cloister, parts are like the interior 
of a great ship. It is a world in itself. 

Up on the third floor, Sargent Hall opens on the south into an 
art gallery which offers to the public almost continuous exhibi- 
tions of prints of importance and general excellence. The great re- 
trospective show of the late Frank W. Benson was held there in 
1952; and, since the Library has a complete collection of his etch- 
ings, it was able through generous loans of the large wash draw- 
ings to represent the full range of his work in black and white. As 
these pages go to press, a stunning exhibition of lithographs of 
Stow Wengenroth, N.A., has been attracting many visitors. 

Most sightseers in the Library are drawn at once to the noble 
interior court, as quiet and withdrawn as the lovely close of Salis- 
bury Cathedral, beloved of W. H. Hudson. This beautiful retreat 
is flanked on three sides by a promenade the inner walls of which 
are granite, the ceilings of plaster and vaulted. The floor is red 
brick edged by a wide border of white marble. At the center is a 
fountain in which MacMonnies' Bacchante poised herself on one 
foot in flight, for a few days only, in 1896. On the ground is 
the "competent loam, the probable grass."* Vines and ailanthus 
trees contribute notes of green and of something like shade 
even in the absence of sun and four small trees (arbor vitae 
nigra') lend a Roman accent to the corners of the shallow pool. 
Young and old gather on the seats along the promenade, where 
smoking is permitted on the south side. Before another summer 
has come, an extension of open-shelf service will offer current 
books for those who wish, through some curious impulse, to read. 
There is nothing in all Boston quite like this interior court, and 
for some strange reason one feels that it is better known across 
the country than it is to implanted inhabitants. It was known to 
and loved by Henry James, who wrote of it in reflective magnifi- 
cence, and especially "in charmed perception of the character of 
the deep court and inner arcade of the palace, where a wealth of 

* Louis Untenneyerjn quite another connection. 

, ' 6 

science [it really wasn't science] and taste has gone to producing 
a sense, when the afternoon light sadly slants, of one of the my- 
riad gold-coloured courts of the Vatican." To James, incidentally, 
the Library as a whole was a Florentine palace "more delicate- 
ly elegant ... if less sublimely rugged." 

As to reading there, if you remember your Lytton Strachey: 
"Pope is doubtless at his best in the midst of a formal garden, 
Herrick in an orchard, and Shelley in a boat at sea. Sir Thomas 
Browne demands, perhaps, a more exotic atmosphere. One could 
read him floating down the Euphrates, or past the shores of Ara- 
bia; and it would be pleasant to open the Vulgar Errors in Con- 
stantinople, or to get by heart a chapter of the Christian Morals 
between the paws of a sphinx." For my part, the inner court is 
the place to read Miss Jewett, Sally Carrighar, Freya Stark, or 
Cecil Torr's Small Talk at Wreyland; Hudson's A Traveller in 
Little Things, or a Bohn edition of The Complete Angler , or a 
quiet essay on London or on carp. For there, with "your own 
footsteps meeting you," is a kind of central peace of which Ros- 
setti made much more than Aldous Huxley: 

The drip of water night and day 
Giving a tongue to solitude. 



JL HE CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY is not, of course, the cen- 
tennial of this magnificent building which was contracted for in 
1887 and formally opened in 1895. Yet the architectural great- 
ness of the monument which sent Henry James into raptures of 
long periodic sentences must of necessity be the focal point on 
which this essay turns. "The story of the beautiful is already com- 
plete, hewn in the marbles of the Parthenon and broidered with 
the birds upon the fan of Hokusai."* Only a part of it needs to 
be retold. 

*From the Augustus Saint-Gaudens tablet to James McNeill Whistler at 
West Point. 

Inside the bronze doors with their modeling in low relief by 
Daniel Chester French, the white Georgia marble floor widens 
and then narrows to the superb staircase of yellow Siena marble 
toward which the eye is immediately directed. It is a smooth 
floor, perceptibly worn and cross-worn by the passage of millions 
of visitors. Not every eye, however, travels first to the staircase, 
since there are some of us for whom the inlaid brass intarsia 
gleams as brightly from the floor as Kipling's star in the forehead 
of the forest. These are the smooth brass symbols of the signs of 
the zodiac, thinner and smoother from their ceaseless contact 
with leather. Nor can I escape beyond them as I write without 
paying grateful tribute to one George Maynard, designer of the 
ceiling of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, and 
Librarian of the National Academy of Design. It was he who 
supplied the drawings to John Williams, a metal worker for Tif- 
fany, who in turn presented the figures at the World's Columbian 
Exposition of 1893. Originally placed in the floor of the entrance 
hall of the New York State building at Chicago designed by 
McKim, Mead, and White, I assume they were brought by 
McKim to Boston. Just beyond Aries and Cancer* and a little 
nearer the stairs is a special inlaid constellation of the names of 
the men most prominently connected with the founding and 
early history of our subject: Bates, Bigelow, Everett, Ticknor, 
Quincy, Winthrop, Jewett, and Vattemare. A wreath quite prop- 
erly surrounds them. Good Boston names, until we come to Vat- 
temare. And who was he? 

Alexandre Vattemare was a Frenchman born in 1797. His 
photograph shows the sharp features of a man who looks exactly 
like a ventriloquist and an impersonator. Astonishingly enough, 
he -was a ventriloquist and an impersonator, but he was also the 
impetuous visitor to America who first conceived the idea of an 
exchange of books, prints, and documents among French and 
American libraries and museums. He arrived in this country in 
1839, after having devoted twelve years to the establishment of 
such an exchange system in Europe, and his travels and eager- 

*Some of the signs have been shifted recently to make room for the new 
charging desks on the ground floor. 


ness took him not only to New England and Washington but to 
the West. There is no doubt that it was his power of persuasion 
which first turned a group of Bostonians, including Dr. Walter 
Channing, Josiah Quincy, Jr., Charles Francis Adams, and the 
Reverends Ezra F. Gannett and George W. Blagden, to attempt 
to form "a great Literary and Scientific Institution in the city/'* 
The project failed, and on his return to America in 1847 Vatte- 
mare was obliged to begin anew. This time he brought with him 
a handsome collection of books, maps, medals, and engravings 
of which about 100 volumes were presented to Boston. Josiah 
Quincy, Jr., was now the Mayor, and on his initiative the matter 
of a suitable acknowledgment and return to the City of Paris was 
considered in camera. A committee representing the City Council 
decided to give their neighbor across the Atlantic a collection of 
books illustrating the then present state of literature, arts, science, 
and government in this country. The committee, however, closed 
its report by recommending to the Council "consideration of the 
propriety of commencing a public library." 

A beginning had been made. The books from Paris were de- 
posited on the third floor of City Hall. Months rolled by, and on 
December 6 the committee reported to the Mayor that in their 
opinion "the establishment of the public library is recommended 
by many considerations." These considerations were good ones 
("it may be the means of developing minds that will make their 
possessors an honor and blessing to their race"); and the com- 
mittee further endorsed M. Vattemare's plan of national exchange 
some pretty dull pamphlets, tracts, civic and literary bouilla- 
baisse had actually shifted shelf-room as "worthy the atten- 
tion and patronage of the city." 

On January 3, 1848 Mayor Quincy in his New Year's address 
again pressed the proposal for the formation of a public library 
"under as few restrictions as were consistent with the preserva- 
tion of the property." On March 1 8 following, the Legislature of 
the Commonwealth passed an act authorizing the City of Boston 

*The free town library of Peterborough, N. H., the first free public libra- 
ry among English-speaking people to be supported by public funds derived 
from a special state tax, dates from 1833. 

"to establish and maintain a Public Library for the use of the in- 
habitants of the said City/' A proviso enjoined "that no appro- 
priation for the said Library shall exceed the sum of five thous- 
and dollars in any one year." The act was approved by the Gov- 
ernor and became a statute on April 3: "the first statute ever 
passed authorizing the establishment and maintenance of a public 
library as a municipal institution supported by taxation." 

The next step, which met with a rebuff, was a proposal to the 
Trustees of the Boston Athenaeum that they should make their 
library accessible to the public in return for some $5,000 to be 
given by the city and the promise of $100,000 in addition to be 
raised by subscription from among citizens not shareholders of 
the Athenaeum, which sum could be used to complete the Athe- 
naeum's present building on Beacon Street. The shareholders, 
however, refused to authorize such an arrangement: under all 
circumstances a most creditable decision. In 1850 the first con- 
tribution of money to the Library was made by Mayor John P. 
Bigelow: $1,000 out of a larger testimonial which had been 
given him.* 

Edward Everett likewise offered his collection of public docu- 
ments and state papers: nearly a thousand volumes. He also 
urged the need of a building capable of holding 15 or 20,000 
volumes and adaptable to future expansion. By January i, 1852 
the young library had some 4,000 volumes^ In ' February of that 
year Mayor Benjamin Seaver asked the City Council to find a 
better room for the Library than the small one on the third floor 
of City Hall. Some three years earlier, Mr. John Jacob Astor had 
given the City of New York a sum of $400,000 to establish and 
maintain a public library. Mayor Seaver made an unveiled but 
modest reference to this in saying that "Boston ought not long to 
be far behind her sister City of New York in the establishment of 
a Public Library; and, while we can scarcely hope to rival her 
princely Astor, it cannot be doubted that we have many citizens 

*I have been paraphrasing both Horace G. Wadlin's history of the B.P.L. 
and "A Hundred Years Ago" by Zoltan Haraszti, Keeper of Rare Books 
and Editor of Publications for B.P.L. Mr. Haraszti's article appeared in 
The Boston Public Library Quarterly for July 1952. 


who would be ready to bestow upon it large sums in money and 
in books, if they can be fully satisfied of its permanent founda- 
tion and ultimate success." The Mayor recommended the appoint- 
ment of a Librarian and the formation of a Board of Trustees, 
and on May 13 the City Council selected Edward Capen as Li- 
brarian, and eleven days later chose Edward Everett, George 
Ticknor, John P. Bigelow, Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, and Thomas 
G. Appleton to serve with its committee on the library as mem- 
bers of the Board of Trustees. It was Edward Everett and George 
Ticknor who drew the first report: a most important document, 
now part of American history, and significant not only for what 
it says about a public library but for what it says about public 
education. The passing of the ordinance of October 14, 1852 
assured the beginning of the Boston Public Library in the Adams 
schoolhouse in Mason Street. 

The rather long report of the Trustees of the Public Library 
of the City of Boston under date of July 6, 1852 came largely 
from the pen of George Ticknor, a graduate of Dartmouth Col- 
lege in the Class of 1807, lawyer and author, sometime Smith 
Professor of the French and Spanish Languages and Literatures 
and Professor of Belles Lettres at Harvard. Adhering to the prin- 
ciple that "if it can be done anywhere, it can be done here in 
Boston," the following passage from the report is illuminating: 

Why should not this prosperous and liberal city extend some 
reasonable amount of aid to the foundation and support of a 
noble public library, to which the young people of both sexes, 
when they leave the schools, can resort for those works which 
pertain to general culture, or which are needful for research in- 
to any branch of useful knowledge? At present, if the young 
machinist, engineer, architect, chemist, engraver, painter, in- 
strument-maker, musician (or student of any branch of science 
or literature) wishes to consult a valuable and especially a rare 
and costly w r ork, he must buy it, often import it at an expense 
he can ill afford, or he must be indebted for its use to the liber- 
ality of private corporations or individuals. The trustees submit, 
that all the reasons which exist for furnishing the means of ele- 
mentary education, at the public expense, apply in an equal 
degree to a reasonable provision to aid and encourage the ac- 


quisition or the knowledge required to complete a preparation 
for active life or to perform its duties. . . . 

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, in his second lecture on children's 
reading at Cambridge University, February 21, 1917, quotes 
from the log of a Scots dominie what seems appropriate to re- 
quote here in vehement Amen: 

Robert Campbell (a favourite pupil) left the school to-day. He 
had reached the age-limit . . . Truly it is like death: I stand 
by a new-made grave, and I have no hope of a resurrection. 
Robert is dead. 

The permanent significance of the Trustees' report is nowhere 
better shown than in the larger context of Living Ideas in Amer- 
ica, one of the best American anthologies ever put together, edited 
with commentary by Henry Steele Commager.* Professor Com- 
mager quotes a large segment of it, and here is what he has to 
say by way of introduction: 

The public library is as characteristically American as the 
public school, and as important a part of the educational sys- 
tem. Although there were semipublic libraries even in the colo- 
nial period, and some small public libraries in various New 
England towns in the early national era, the real history of the 
public library begins with the foundation of the Boston Public 
Library in the early 1850'$ . . . The same soil that produced 
Horace Mann and school reform produced George Ticknor and 
the pubb'c library movement. It was all part of that faith in 
democracy and the perfectibility of man that was associated 
with the great reform movement of the 1840'$ and the i85o's. 
From these small beginnings the Massachusetts and New 
Hampshire laws permitting towns to establish public libraries, 
and the foundation of the Boston Public came the library 
movement which is one of the glories of American civilization: 
more and larger public libraries than any other nation can count, 
the combination of private philanthropy and public largess to 
make possible libraries in towns throughout the country, the 
development of a library science which has contributed much 
to making American libraries more useful than any others on 
the globe. 

* Harper, 1951. 



o <==;? o 

VJooo FORTUNE smiled on the venture almost immediately. 
Joshua Bates, born in Weymouth in 1788, was at that time a 
member of the famous firm of Baring Brothers & Company in 
London. He had entered a counting house in Boston at fifteen 
and, on reaching his majority, proceeded to form a business of 
his own with a former shipmaster. The enterprise failed, but his 
original employer sent him to London as general agent for Europe. 
His ability, manners, and integrity (he was a very handsome 
man) brought him the friendship of M. Peter Caesar Labouchere 
of Hope Company in Amsterdam. A large loan from M. La- 
bouchere assisted Mr. Bates farther up the ladder; and in the end 
he became the senior member of Baring Brothers. In 1852 Mayor 
Seaver of Boston forwarded to the London firm some city docu- 
ments (including the first report of the Trustees of the Library) 
in connection with a proposed water loan. Mr. Bates read the re- 
port of the Library (another tribute to Mr. Ticknor's skill in pre- 
paring it) and on October i dispatched a letter to his friend, Mr. 
T. W. Ward of Boston, enclosing another letter addressed to the 
Mayor. To Mr. Ward, Mr. Bates recalled his own penurious cir- 
cumstances in youth when his single access to books was an 
obliging book store which permitted him to read there in the 
evening. To the Mayor he offered, with no skirmishing of words, 
to purchase the books required for the new Library, "leaving to 
the city to provide the building and take care of the expenses." 
Mr. Bates estimated the books, "counting additions during my 
life time," at $50,000 a rather handsome sum for those days, 
or any day. The city government was quick to accept the gift, and 
Mr. Bates on request permitted the 850,000 to be invested with 
only the interest expendable for books of permanent value. 

The Library was now secure. Jonathan Phillips of Boston gave 
an additional $10,000 in 1853, subsequently increased to 
$30,000; books continued to be offered by interested citizens; 
and across the sea in London Mr. Bates had premonitions as to 
what kind of building the Library should have. In his original 

letter to the Mayor he had anticipated the great monument which 
was to become a reality in 1895 when he said, "The only condi- 
tion that I ask is, that the building shall be such as to be an orna- 
ment to the City." Since Mr. Bates was the first great benefactor 
of the Library, and since he foresaw the wisdom of elevating the 
spirit of the reader by the nobility of his surroundings, it seems 
proper to quote his letter to Mr. Ward (November 1852) in full. 
Note, for example, his anticipation of the library lavatory which 
today unfortunately makes almost any sizable city library, in the 
eyes of some citizens, simply a generous convenience. Note also, 
in the heyday of the marble bust, the mausoleum thought of an- 
ticipatory niches: 

My dear Ward: 

I have received your valued letter with the newspaper ac- 
count of the proceedings of the Board of Aldermen on my letter 
offering to furnish the books for the City Library. These pro- 
ceedings are very gratifying to me personally and give me confi- 
dence that the library will be established on a footing that will 
make it extensively useful, and that it will grow into one of the 
most important institutions in the United States. My ideas are 
that the building should contain lofty apartments to serve for 
placing the books and also for reading tables, as the holding of 
books in the hand damages them very soon. The architecture 
should be such that the student on entering it will be impressed 
and elevated, and feel a pride that such a place is free to him. 
There should be niches and places for a few marble statues, as 
these will from time to time be contributed by those who may 
be benefited by the institution. When on their travels in Italy 
they see the originals they will be pretty sure to order some- 
thing. By these means the reading rooms will be made more at- 
tractive, and the rising generation will be able to contemplate 
familiarity with the best works of the celebrated masters. There 
should be an entrance hall, a room for cloaks and umbrellas, 
and a room for washing hands, with soap, hot water and towels 
provided. The rooms should be well-warmed in winter, and 
well-lighted. If you will only provide the building, and you 
can hardly have it too large, - I can assure the Committee that 
all the rest will come as a matter of course. These reading ar- 
rangements will not prevent parties who may find it more con- 
venient to read at home from taking books, giving proper 

My experience convinces me that there are a large number 
of young men who make a decent appearance, but living in 
boarding houses or with poor parents, cannot afford to have fire 
in their rooms. Such persons in past times having no place of re- 
sort have often loitered about the streets in the evenings and got 
into bad company, w r hich would have been avoided, had such a 
library as is now proposed been in existence. The moral and in- 
tellectual improvement such a library would produce is incal- 
culable. I wish to see the Institution a model for other towns 
and cities. There should be a book of directions for reading in 
every branch of knowledge, that the young men may know 
where to begin. In future times when it is desired to know some- 
thing of a young man, the question will be asked, "Does he fre- 
quent the Library?" I have no doubt the Committee understand 
the matter much better than I do, or that it w r ill be carried out 
in the best possible manner. 

The reading room in the Adams schoolhouse in Mason Street 
opened in March 1854, and the circulating department in May. 
Except for moving, and brief periods of examination in the nine- 
teenth century, the Library has been steadily open ever since. 



NLY two rooms were available for the Library in Mason 
Street: small, badly ventilated, and poorly lighted as well as in- 
sufficiently heated (although it is not known what Mr. Bates 
thought about that). From the beginning there was an official 
card catalog; and it is interesting to observe that, during the five 
and one half months following the opening, some 6,590 persons 
registered, several thousand used the reading room, 35,389 vol- 
umes were borrowed for home use. Only one book was lost, and 
that one was paid for.* The reading room was open from 9 to 
9.30 "on all secular days except holidays." To use the Library as 
an adult, a citizen had to be more than sixteen years old. 

* Anthony Trollope, after his mid-century visit, reported with great enthu- 
siasm on the Library as he found it. But he was skeptical when the Libra- 
rians told him "that there were no losses, no thefts, and no destruction." 

At some point in the next two years, after tentative explora- 
tion, the Board of Commissioners for the construction of a build- 
ing for the Public Library, whose election by the City Council 
dated from an ordinance of November 27, 1854, determined on 
a new library building to be erected on Boylston Street on the 
ground now occupied by the Colonial Theater. Twenty-four de- 
signs for the new building were submitted by Boston architects, 
and that of Charles K. Kirby was chosen. The cornerstone was 
laid in 1855 on the 225th anniversary of the naming of the City 
of Boston. Mr. Joshua Bates, in his continuing generosity, offered 
a further gift of money to purchase books in trust, the selection 
of which was made under the advice of Charles C. Jewett, for- 
merly Librarian and Professor of Modern Languages at Brown 
University, and later Librarian of the Smithsonian Institution. 
The 11,000 new volumes, together with those from the Mason 
Street rooms and some others on deposit at the Quincy school- 
house, by now totaled nearly 40,000 volumes. Thus out of small 
beginnings greater things developed almost over night. In 1856 
Mr. Ticknor went abroad and made important purchases for the 
Library. While there he saw M. Vattemare - - who declined to be- 
come the Library's European agent for exchanges and visited 
the cities of London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Leipzig, Vienna, 
Florence, and Rome, among others. 

The year 1857 found the Trustees concerned to provide a 
definite policy of organization for the Library. They said among 
other things: The place of a Librarian in a great public library 
nearly resembles that of a professor in a seminar of learning," 
and they deplored the then current practice of annual renewal 
of appointment. Under an amended ordinance, Charles C. Jewett 
was accordingly elected Superintendent of the Library and served 
for ten years until 1868. Mr. Capen, the Librarian, assumed the 
duties of a staff officer similar to that of the chief of an issue de- 
partment. The Boylston Street building was dedicated early in 
1858 but did not open until September. From the birth of the 
Library in the Mason Street quarters in 1854 until June 30, 
1858, a total of 364,324 volumes had been charged out, and 
more than one thousand people on an average were using the Li- 


brary daily. In all, the Library contained 70,851 volumes and 
17,938 pamphlets. The volumes received through Mr. Bates dur- 
ing die period 18551858 numbered 26,618. Two years later, 
or eight years after the founding, the Library contained more 
than 100,000 volumes, and in science and literature it was 
larger than any other library in the United States except the Astor 
in New York. 

: o : 

[USTIN WINSOR, whose generous view of M. Yattemare's small 
J but important part in the founding of the Library must not be 
overlooked, was Superintendent of the Boston Public Library 
from 1868 to 1877, when he resigned, in the wake of political 
economies imposed in a national and local period of financial dis- 
tress, to become Librarian of the Harvard College Library, which 
post he filled with distinction for twenty years. In losing him the 
Boston Public Library lost by far its greatest and wisest adminis- 
trator in the nineteenth century. But it required, perhaps, the 
resignation of so excellent a man as Mr. Winsor to redefine the 
position of the Public Library with relation to the city govern- 
ment. Accordingly, on April 4, 1878 the Trustees of the Public 
Library of the City of Boston were incorporated. Their member- 
ship under Section 3 was fixed as seven in number (now five) and 
the Board had, and still has, the power to appoint a Superinten- 
dent or Librarian now a Director and Librarian in one person. 
Meanwhile the Library had fresh building troubles, momen- 
tarily offset by nervous expansion, such as the addition of a tower 
in the rear in 1874. The Massachusetts Legislature was peti- 
tioned in 1880 for a grant of land at the southwesterly corner of 

cj > 

Dartmouth and Boylston Streets, upon condition that a new li- 
brary building should be erected there before the lapse of three 
years. By 1882 the grant of land appeared already to be inade- 
quate in size, and by special act, which voided the original three- 
year limitation, the City was authorized to purchase within two 


years additional property on the Dartmouth-Boylston site. By 
1883 there was talk of a building estimated to cost $450,000, 
and still more additional land was acquired. By August 1884, 
plans had progressed to a point where twenty sets of designs were 
received for the proposed building, though not one of them as a 
whole proved acceptable. The Trustees, who by now were devel- 
oping a superior psyche, declared that the proposed building was 
to "have a consistent elegance of its own ... in sufficient har- 
mony with the other noble structures in the finest square of 
which our City can at present boast." These words, in effect, may 
be taken as the genesis of the architectural triumph which was 
to come, for a special act of the Legislature (March 10, 1887) 
now gave the Trustees of the Library sole responsibility 7 in the 
employment of an architect or architects to design the building, 
supervise construction, and so on. Like the door before which 
enormous Alice waited in natural anxiety, the whole project as- 
sumed larger and larger proportions each time it was reexamined. 
The original estimate of $450,000 maximum swelled by osmotic 
processes to more than $2,000,000. It was a pragmatic under- 
taking from the first. The six years during which ciphers had 
been added to the right of the dollar sign saw the collective 
strengthening of desire for "a temple worthy of the treasures it*, 
contains, and worthy of the citizens of Boston who own it." Al- 
though the Trustees went on record in 1891 as saying that they 
had "never lost sight of the practical side of the question," the 
new building was, well in advance of the laying of the corner- 
stone on November 28, 1888, quite clearly committed to be an 
architectural monument rather than a practical building. Shortly 
after completion in 1895, Richard M. Hunt, in an address be- 
fore the Architectural League of New York, referred to it as "the 
noble edifice ... a landmark to which future generations will 
point with pride; an enduring proof of the cultivated taste of our 
time, and a glorious monument to the well-deserved fame of its 
designers." The fact is, of course, that there was a vacancy in the 
office of Librarian of the Boston Public Library when the build- 
ing was in the state of blueprints, and again when actually in the 
process of erection. In the light of modern library construction 


when the Librarian is the first man consulted (as recently at 
Princeton and Harvard, for example), it is little short of incred- 
ible that the Copley Square building has, even through a long 
series of changes and internal alterations, been able to function 
so efficiently. But it should be remembered above all that, had it 
been built primarily as a functional building, it might never have 
achieved the true stature of a major work of art. All in all, rising 
as it did in the close of the reign of Queen Victoria and under 
the Presidency of Cleveland, it was too early for functional de- 
sign of a scientific standard useful, or even recognizable, today. 
Let us be grateful that the present monument was timed in Ameri- 
can history to a building period which yielded in Charles Pollen 
McKim an architect not unworthy of Bulfinch and Jefferson. 



JL HE story of the central building is a small chapter in the ar- 
chives of American genius. "The Bostonian," says Charles Moore 
in his life of McKim, "is still fundamentally a Puritan, who re- 
gards pleasure and beauty with suspicion." If this opinion should 
be revised in 1953, it was certainly still true when Mr. Moore 
was writing in 1929, and much more so in the close of the nine- 
teenth century. McKim was something of a pagan. Nothing he 
did was pedestrian. He considered Bulfinch the greatest Ameri- 
can architect; he was himself another perfectionist; and within 
the limits of the classic tradition he was an experimenter. He 
moved in the front rank of his peers, for many of the great artists 
of his time were his personal friends. If Stanford White was the 
Benvenuto Cellini of the famous firm, McKim was certainly the 
Bramante.* Each building he produced "was an architectural 
event .... He saw beauty wherever he was," and he often saw it 
requiring the modification of blueprints even after the contrac- 
tors' bills were paid. Like Havelock Ellis who postponed the sad- 
ness of finishing Herodotus, McKim was never anxious to complete 

*An observation recorded by William A. Boring. 


a given task. He was a combination of inspiration and near disas- 
ter to those who worked with him, but his courage and serenity of 
outlook always seemed to prevail and never more so than in 
the formative period of the plans for the Library. Here is what 
William A. Boring, sometime Director of the School of Architec- 
ture at Columbia University, said of him: 

His appreciation for sculpture and painting and artistry in 
buildings, and his ready willingness to listen to the views of 
artists in other lines had much to do with the success of his 
work. He knew the value of unity in the art of building and 
decoration; and he was always endeavoring to get an expression 
of beauty in every phase of his work. He it was who started the 
idea of appropriate monumental decoration of buildings; to him 
we must give the credit for appreciation of sculpture in the 
building programme. 

Henrv Bacon, "an earlv and alwavs trusted associate in McKim's 

.' j * 

work," testified that 

Mr. McKim constitutionally on some occasions took the longest 
way to reach the goal, and this sometimes misled others as to his 
motives. He was seldom direct in speech or action, but he always 
had only one end in view, and that was to give the best pos- 
sible results. This unquestionably cost him time and money [it 
cost the Trustees of the B.P.L. time and money!] but time 
and money were nothing to him. His eyes were constantly fixed 
on the best efforts of his hand and brain, and the long and te- 
dious method of arriving at results was amply justified by what 
he attained. 

Any study of the central building today leads one to agree 
with Mr. Moore that in the years of its making "the spirit was not 
unlike that which moved communities in days of old to build the 
great cathedrals as the manifestation of civic opulence and emu- 
lation no less than to the glory of God." At any rate, Mr. McKim 
came uninhibited and unrestrained to the task of creating his 
first really monumental building. His initial impulse was to hasten 
to Paris where, in the proper atmosphere, and with enduring ex- 
amples of architecture about him, he might set to work. His part- 
ner, William R. Mead, in a little masterpiece of transferred sug- 
gestion, stopped him in his tracks. It was in Boston and not in 


Paris, or even more appropriately in Rome, that McKim deter- 
mined that the windows of the central building should have "the 
same simple, direct character as the arches in the Colosseum." 
(His teacher, Henry H. Richardson, incidentally, had been a 
great hand at fenestration.) In general, McKim's building bears 
strong resemblances to the Bibliotheque Sainte Genevieve in 
Paris. But most critics will probably agree that the Boston Libra- 
ry is the superior building. In any case, there was no slavish imi- 
tation at any point, "but from the four winds came the breath he 
breathed upon the dry bones of archaeology that they might live 
and stand up upon their feet." As there was no competition, there 
were likewise no compromises. The Trustees' experiment with 
local architects had cleared the way for a single confidence ex- 
tended and upheld. And it is no small tribute to those Trustees 
of the crucial hour that this confidence was upheld in the face of 
almost geometric progression in the column of expenditure. 

First of all, it was a matter of fitting the Library into the land- 
scape (or cityscape) as you plant trees. The important buildings 
in Copley Square at that time, of course, were the two imposing 
churches: Trinitv, the monument of Richardson and a studv in 

* j 

brown like the somber mind of Job and the New Old 
South, the beautiful tower of which is shown almost as a part of 
the original design of the central building, so closely was it allied 
in distance and even in spirit. There was undoubtedly in McKim's 
mind also the fact that a building such as he imagined would im- 
pose the final obligation upon the city of the future to build in 
kind, much as the Arc de Triomphe has controlled the elements 
of beauty along one of the great avenues of the world. It is no 
fault of his that Boston has failed thus far to live up to its obliga- 
tion; but the westward trend of progress, so characteristic of most 
American cities, has not yet passed this milestone, and the immi- 
nent reclaiming of the great railroad yards to the rear of the Li- 
brary and extending out toward Massachusetts Avenue mav vet 

J O j j 

produce some architectural renascence. 



JL HE layman, I think, has no way of knowing whether the ex- 
terior or the interior of the building posed the greater problem. 
From such evidence as I have, I should guess that the exterior 
proportions, as perfect as the golden polygon of the Greeks, was 
a small matter compared with the rich and even fabulous interior 
and the exquisite quality of detail and ornamentation which im- 
presses the visitor today as vividly as it did in 1895. It is certain 
that McKim's friendship with Augustus Saint-Gaudens and his 
admiration of the sculptor's work were the controlling factors in 
McKim's determination to make the fullest use of the visual arts 
to enrich the building in every possible way. Saint-Gaudens knew 
Stanford White when the latter was studying with Richardson 
and helping with the design of Trinity Church. He met McKim 
a little later: "A devouring love for ice cream brought us to- 
gether." Unfortunately, Saint-Gaudens was to fail him in the end 
with his own contribution (not entirely through his own fault); 
but he was of untold inspiration to McKim in various other ways. 
It was he who arranged for Edwin Austin Abbey, R.A., to con- 
tribute his murals for the Delivery Room "the Abbey Room, 
as it is henceforth to be called."* 

In colour like the fingers of a hand 

Before a burning taper, the sweet Grail .... 

John Singer Sargent was drawn into the plan through a meeting 
with Saint-Gaudens and McKim after attending a baseball match 


it had not yet become a game. 

Saint-Gaudens, McKim, and Sargent met in Boston to wel- 
come Abbey in 1890. Abbey returned to Europe with a commis- 
sion to paint for the Delivery Room a frieze 180 feet long by 8 
feet high, for a fee of $15,000. The subject was left to him. He 
first planned to depict the literature of a country possibly 
Greece? Second thought, however, led him to select the legend 

* Letter from McKim to Mrs. Abbey, 1892. 

of the Holy Grail, certainly the inspiration of one of the great 
spiritual murals anywhere in the United States. Sargent was se- 
lected to decorate the gallery facing the door to the Treasure 
Room on the third floor, now known as Sargent Hall. He debated 
between scenes from the pictorial literature of Spain, but ulti- 
mately turned to religion. Moore thinks, perhaps rightly, that 
"probably no mural decorations in America are so much studied 
as these conceptions of Sargent's that require a strenuous climb 
to look upon. The frieze of the Prophets is as familiar as Saint- 
Gaudens' 'Lincoln'; and the single figure of Hosea, clad in a 
spiritual whiteness, has become an idol of the household." At a 
guess, one would say that Sargent's Hosea, until Van Gogh stepped 
through the modern picture window and supplanted both, was 
a fair popular rival in American parlors to the romantic Sir Gala- 
had of George Frederick Watts. From the public point of view, 
and the testimony of man's mute vertebral structure, the lofty 
Sargent murals are the one misplaced element in the building: 
too high and too remote. 

It was Louis Saint-Gaudens who executed the lions* in Siena 
marble that monitor the stairway and requite the triple murals of 
Puvis de Chavannes. Louis was a temperamental man to deal 
with, and at one point was for withdrawing in favor of Mac- 
Monnies. But McKim handled him as though he were an un- 
caged lion himself, and the completed animal (for it was, of 
course, in part reversed to make a pair) is handsome enough, 
though not as mysteriously entrancing as its twin library counter- 
part on Fifth Avenue just below 42nd Street. Augustus, inci- 
dentally, had some small hand on the critical side: but just how 
much, one can only surmise. 

Puvis de Chavannes was approached along with James McNeill 
Whistler, each to contribute certain mural decorative panels. 
Chavannes at the time was engaged in painting the walls of the 
Hotel de Ville in the City of Paris, but in the end (1892) his 
contribution was agreed on. It was during the Paris meeting in 
the previous summer of 1891, that Mr. Wallace Wood recorded 

*The tail of the south lion has acquired a kind of patina where generations 
of children have touched it on their way up and down stairs. 


Chavannes' fine epigram in response to some questions: "I must 
wait till it comes. My genius lies in the unconscious." The Cha- 
vannes decorations which flank the double stairway and face to- 
ward the inner court from the east wall of the second floor land- 
ing are both quiet and modest: floating angels and solemn sages.* 
Whistler's proposed decorations for the northerly end of Bates 
Hall, the great reading room, were never executed, partly be- 
cause he delayed, partly for lack of money. Whistler was angry 
about it, and the Library undoubtedly lost a valuable work of art. 

Daniel Chester French was invited to contribute on two counts: 
Mr. McKim admired his work, and he was the leading sculptor 
of New England antecedents. The vestibule, tympanum, and 
bronze doors, as McKim wrote to Samuel A. B. Abbott, "some- 
what resemble those from the Baths of Caracalla which, you re- 
member, we saw in the Baptistry of St. John Lateran. I have 
tried hard, and the result promises to be fairly classic, and I hope 
they will be simple enough to suit you." French decorated the 
doors in low relief: Music and Poetry, Knowledge and Wisdom, 
Truth and Romance. 

Like Whistler's, Augustus Saint-Gaudens' idea for groups of 
seated figures at either side of the front doors failed of execution. 
On one pedestal Labor was to be represented by a man seated be- 
tween two female figures Science and Art; #n the other pedes- 
tal Religion and Force or Power would sit at the left and right of 
Law. Unfortunately, Labor and Law in the end lost out. From 
Paris, Saint-Gaudens sent what Mr. Moore calls "two superb 
groups, as fine as anything he ever did" in models, but they were 
ruined in transit. Saint-Gaudens worked over a new pair but 
never completed them, though they were cast in bronze in their 
unfinished state and are now in the Freer Art Gallery in Wash- 
ington. Bela Pratt executed the seated female figures of Science 
and Art which flank the doorway today; but they lack the strength 
and dynamism which the greater sculptor envisioned. 

*It is queer what can date a work of art; but certainly the telegraph wires 
and insulators vanishing into the hills beneath a drifting angel on the 
northwest panel are today as absurdly out of place as a 1906 Maxwell in 
the foreground of a photograph of the house of Paul Revere. 

Augustus Saint-Gaudens did, however, lend a hand with the 
main facade of the building, which looks east over Copley Square. 
On the keystone of the center arch over the middle doorway is 
raised the helmeted head of the Roman Minerva, the work of 
Saint-Gaudens and Domingo Mora. The three window arches 
over the front entrance bear the seals of the Library, the City, 
and the Commonwealth. These are of American pink marble 
from Knoxville, and the sculpture is by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. 
In the seal of the Library, originally designed by Kenyon Cox, 
the artist has made his adaptation with generous freedom. One 
or two Boston papers in 1894 observed that the pair of youths 
on the seal of the city are naked, but no general alarm was sound- 
ed. The two more innocent dolphins remind us that we are living 
in a seaport town. 

The other major American artist approached by McKim was 
John La Farge, whose brush would have enlivened the dim vast- 
ness of Bates Hall. Perhaps Mr. La Farge's plans were too ambi- 
tious: "The story of Alexander placing the manuscript of Homer 
in the safety of the golden box taken from the Persian spoils . . . 
plenty of Greece and Rome, Socrates and the philosophers, 
Pythagoras consulting the Wisdom of the East, Demosthenes and 
Cicero defending the cause of intelligence . . . Pliny in the dangers 
of Vesuvius, Ovid in exile, the house of Pindar saved. . . ." In 
retrospect it seems a large order for anything short of the Grand 
Central Station. But again one cannot deny that something pos- 
sibly majestic was lost. Whistler and La Farge are still names to 
conjure with. 

who knows anything about Boston will remember the 

* o 

statue called "Bacchante with Infant Faun," the work of Freder- 
ick W. MacMonnies, and first shown by him in the Paris Salon 
of 1894. Its brief connection with the Boston Public Library is 
now but a legend. The episode itself was a minor though unhappy 
little chapter in the story of the central building. 


Mr. MacMonnies, working under commission, had executed 
the lively and romantic statue of Sir Henry Vane now in the 
main vestibule. His Nathan Hale in New York and his great 
fountain at the head of the Court of Honor at the Chicago Fair 
in 1893 had already secured his fame as an American sculptor. 
Both McKim and White had known him since he was a boy in 
the Saint-Gaudens studio, and from time to time had engaged 
him for various projects. In recognition of this, MacMonnies 
presented McKim with the original bronze of his Bacchante 
group. The French Government later tried to buy it for the Lux- 
embourg, and MacMonnies had a replica made for that small and 
distinguished Paris museum. With MacMonnies' approval, McKim 
determined to add the Bacchante to his own personal gift of a 
basin and fountain in the library court. The Bacchante was gay 
and full of motion and would, as he thought, add vivacity to re- 
lieve austerity. 

The Trustees accepted the gift, as Charles Moore recalls in his 
life of McKim; and "after some hesitation, the Boston Art Com- 
mission unanimously approved it." So the Bacchante with Infant 
Faun was placed on an Irish marble pedestal in the library court 
one evening in November 1896. Emerson's Concord is celebrated 
for a certain grape, but the clusters which dangle from the up- 
raised hand of the blithesome young lady are the original 
American grapes of wrath. Debauchery! The protests were im- 
mediate. Professor Charles Eliot Norton "looked down upon the 
exhibition of joy without 'ethos'/' and President Eliot of Harvard 
led the signers of the Cambridge dissent. Over the teapot-tempest 
w 7 as heard the laughter of New York and elsewhere. Charles 
Moore records that the donor kept his temper, at least outwardly, 
and "sought for the group adequate setting in the court and quiet 
consideration by people capable of judging a work of art." He 
wrote to Saint-Gaudens about it; he wrote to Dr. H. P. Bowditch, 
President of the Library Trustees. To Dr. Bowditch he said in 
part: "As yet, the Fountain has never had a fair trial, nor have 
the people by whom and for whom the building was built been 
given a fair opportunity to judge for themselves in a matter 
which concerns all." In other words, the signers of any petition 


for removal should not be mistaken for the representatives of the 
whole community. Mr. McKim, having given the Trustees a clear 
way out of their embarrassment, was likely not surprised when 
they acted accordingly (though not happily) by permitting the 
donor to withdraw his gift. The Bacchante was then offered to 
and accepted by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. 

The whole affair was a foolish blunder in judgment from be- 
ginning to end not unallied to Barrett Wendell's complaint 
against Whitman in A Literary History of America (1900) that 
"in an inextricable hodgepodge [of his poetry] you find at once 
beautiful phrases and silly gabble, tender imagination and in- 
solent commonplace pretty much everything, in short, but 
humor." The critics of Bacchante were certainly humorless. It 
seems a pity now that the supporters of art in general were un- 
aware at the time that in duplicating by error four of the names 
of the greatest writers, artists, and scientists in history on the 
memorial tablets * on the outside of the building. Puritan Boston, 
which refused a naked Bacchante, had written twice the name 
of Rabelais. 



I N| o visitor to the Boston Public Library has ever learned it all 
by heart. The wealth of detail, the hidden niche, the unobserved 
inscription, the flourish in wrought iron or stone, the new vista, 
are all like unexpected music. Make no mistake: a library is a 
house of books, but it is not books alone in the central building 
that draw the stranger and the old inhabitant. It is in part the 
magic of environment, as if the architect had worked on a great 
canvas with a lively palette. 

To McKim building materials were what pigments are to the 
painter [said Royal Cortissoz]; he handled them with the same 

*It is odd that for a Library which promotes the card catalog system no 
one apparently thought to put the names of the world's great on individual 
cards to prevent such repetition in stone! 

intensely personal feeling for their essential qualities that a 
great technician of the brush brings to the manipulation of his 
colors, and he left upon his productions the same autographic 
stamp .... During the building of the Boston Library certain 
sheets of marble were to be put in the entrance hall Numi- 
dian, I think they were and their dimensions were deter- 
mined by McKim with the utmost care. He regarded those 
dimensions as essential to the ensemble, but when the marble 
was delivered it was found that they had not been rigidly fol- 
lowed. Forthwith the sheets were rejected. The contractor ar- 
gued at tremendous length and almost wept, but McKim was 
harder than the Numidian itself. He was dealing in marble as 
an artist deals in paint, and he \vould no more submit to a 
change in the appearance of the surfaces he had planned than 
a painter would allow his color-man to dictate the final condi- 
tion of his picture. 

Into this inner world of perfection and grace the modern hand 
has made its first appearance with the taking over of the entire 
southeast corner of the ground floor of the central building and 
converting it into an Open Shelf Department for Home Reading, 
similar to any one of the thirty-two general branches which the 
Library operates throughout the city. Turning off from the lobby 
to the left, past the elevator and the public telephone booths, one 
enters the Children's Section: modern with low-ceiling, brilliant- 
ly lighted, efficient though at startling variance with what we 
have just left. One thinks again of Henry James: 

Was it not splendid, for example, to see, in Boston, such 
large provision made for the amusement of children on rainy 
afternoons? so many little heads bent over their story-books 
that the edifice took on at moments the appearance worn, one 
was to observe later on, by most other American edifices of the 
same character, that of a lively distributing-house of the new 
fiction for the young. The note was bewildering yet would 
one, snatching the bread-and-molasses from their lips, cruelly 
deprive the young of rights in which they have been installed 
with a majesty nowhere else approaching that of their American 

Now there is not majesty in this room, but there is more ra- 
diant cheerfulness than in the old room on the second floor. The 
little heads are still bent over their story-books, though these 


books are not with few exceptions the ones which Henry James 
observed. And as for being a distributing-house of the new fiction 
for the young, the novelist who once told the youthful Rupert 
Brooke not to be afraid to be happy had little notion that the 
making of books for children would ever assume the proportions 
of an industry. No visitor to the Library should fail to investigate 
this fascinating corner. It is surprise itself in the child's sense of 
the word. Only the presence in it of the diorama of Alice and 
Through the Looking Glass by Miss Louise Stimson seems to ra- 
tionalize the passage from the Florentine Palace to a world of 
plastics and indirect light. 

East of the Children's Section the visitor steps into the main 
area of the Open Shelf Department,* facing left and right at the 
south into the Adults and Young Adults Sections, with additional 
open shelves in the basement space immediately below. One of 
the many features of these contemporary open-shelf areas is the 
visibility of the well-posted divisions of books: not simply into 
fiction, history, biography, poetry, and so on, as in the past, but 
into useful and tempting categories such as social and domestic 
interests, hobbies, sports, travel, and the like. 

Perhaps an interested outsider might suggest a further refine- 
ment of these divisions into categories titled whenever possible 
from the names of, or chapters out of, accepted or famous books. 
For example: Multitude and Solitude, Utopias, Landfalls and 
Departures, The Sea and tlie Jungle, O Pioneers, Islands, Certain 
Cities, The Kindred of the Wild, The Small Years .... The best 
of the older books which would fall into these divisions are al- 
most obvious. The Small Years would include various studies of 
childhood such as Earlham, Kim, The Golden Age, Period Piece, 
Far Away and Long Ago, and Edmund Gosse's immortal Father 
and So//. There should be a shelf on Walking, on Fisliino, and 

O' cV 

another on Collecting, and so on. 

Loneliness is a part of everyone's life. People forget that lone- 
liness can be creative. How we condition ourselves to this uni- 

*The largest circulation in the new Open Shelf Department at Central 
since it was opened on January 2, 1952 was October 28, 1953 when 3040 
volumes were charged out. The peak hours are 12-2; 5 ~ 5:30. 


versal mood is one of the ways in which each of us will inevitably 
test our character. There should be a little shelf of Loneliness, to 
include such books as The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, The 
Outermost House, Lonely Americans, and Richard Jefferies' The 
Story of My Heart. In the Young Adults Section, of course, there 
ought to be a shelf on Schools and Colleges, and my first candi- 
date for it would be Carroll Perry's emerging classic, A Professor 
of Life. The point is that the invitation to reading is everything. 
The closed stacks of any library are necessarily against this. The 
modern open shelf is not. 

On the main floor, just short of the entrance to the Children's 
Section, is a stairway leading down to a little theater constructed 
out of waste space in the basement, where a small group of un- 
related people are listening to a recorded program of music. Ad- 
jacent to the little theatre are two or three sound booths for 
record-playing. Here you catch a glimpse of concentration: a pair 
of tiny Negro girls, perhaps, sitting bolt upright as though elec- 
trified in some seventh heaven of melodic and childish rapture. 

: ii : 

ART of the pleasure of an essay is discursion. We left the 
Library without a Librarian in office when it was building. The 
Hon. Mellen Chamberlain, appointed Librarian in 1878 in suc- 
cession to Justin Winsor, following the brief interim during 
which Dr. Samuel A. Green was in charge, resigned in 1890. 
He had no successor until the spring of 1892 when Theodore F. 
D wight became Librarian, only to resign in April 1894. It was 
not until February 1895 that the Trustees appointed Herbert 
Putnam, who served until 1899, when he left Boston to become 
Librarian of Congress for a long span of forty years. So for a time 
the tenure was spotty. James L. Whitney followed Mr. Putnam, 
serving for four years; and he in turn was succeeded by Horace 
G. W T adlin, who (as already noted) wrote the first history of the 
Library in 1911. After Wadlin's retirement in 1917 came 

Charles F. D. Belden, who served until late 1931. Since 1932 
Milton E. Lord has been Director, and (since 1934) Director 
and Librarian. 

Of the Library's ten chief executive officers over the century, 
one served for two years (Dwight), three for four years (Capen, 
Putnam, and Whitney), two for ten years (Jewett and Winsor), 
one for twelve years ( Chamberlain), and more recently two for 
fourteen years (Wadlin and Belden) and one for twenty-one 
years (Lord, to date). 

In retrospect, Jewett and Winsor appear to have made the ma- 
jor contributions which set the Library on its course as the great 
pioneering institution of the country. Jewett, abetted and aided 
respectively by Ticknor's zeal and Bates' money, initiated early 
in the Library's history the solid development of the book collec- 
tions w r hich long ago made the Boston Public Library one of 
the great scholarly research institutions of the world, and one of 
the only two public libraries (the New York is the other) admit- 
ted into membership in the Association of Research Libraries. In 
his turn Justin Winsor, by gift of insight and capable manage- 
ment reform, carried the Library proudly to its dominating posi- 
tion in the Golden Age of nineteenth century library administra- 

But Librarians alone do not make a public library. The Trus- 
tees, if they are wise, patient, and occasionally daring, have much 
to do with it. The B.P.L. has been fortunate in a long line of 
Trustees fifty-five of them over the one hundred years with 
an average incumbency of nine years each. The longest term of 
service was that of William W. Greenough (32 years); the next 
longest is that of Frank W. Buxton (25 years to date). 

The Trustees who have made the big contributions have been 
the ones with substantial periods of sendee. Most able among the 
founding fathers were John P. Bigelow (16 years), Edward Ev- 
erett (12 years), and George Ticknor (14 years). The Chair- 
man of the Trustees responsible for the new Central Library 
building in Copley Square was Samuel A. B. Abbott (16 years). 
The Trustees who were either great donors themselves or other- 
wise connected with important benefactions to the Library were 

Josiah H. Benton (23 years), Louis E. Kirstein (23 years), John 
L. Hall (15 years), and Dr. Samuel A. Green (10 years). 



JLN its century of operation the Boston Public Library has had 
countless gifts of money, books, and other library materials. The 
original boxes of books from Vattemare and Edward Everett 
marked but the beginning of a continuing stream of rich and im- 
portant collections. The initial gifts of money for the support of 
the new library which came from Mayor Bigelow and Joshua 
Bates were the first of a succession of trust funds which now 
total over seventy, and range in amount from a few hundred dol- 
lars each to such rounded sums as two million dollars. 

Important among the many gifts are six in particular: those of 
Joshua Bates (1852), Josiah H. Benton (1917), Louis E. Kir- 
stein (1929), Albert H . Wiggin (1941), John Def errari (1947), 
and Mrs. H. Sylvia A. H. G. Wilks (1952). Of the six the earli- 
est came from one of the founders, Joshua Bates. Two represent 
the generosity of Trustees of the Library Josiah H. Benton and 
Louis E. Kirstein. One was made in honor of a Trustee the 
Wilks bequest in memory of Dr. Samuel A. Green. One came 
through the influence of a Trustee from Albert H. Wiggin out 
of his friendship with John L. Hall. And the sixth from a patron 
of the Library John Deferrari entirely and enormously cut 

J J * J 

of the blue. 

Three of the gifts were either books and other library materi- 
als or cash for their purchase. Joshua Bates early provided for the 
buying of books a brace of gifts which eventually ran in excess 
of $100,000. Later, Josiah H. Benton bequeathed well over 
$1,000,000 to provide a fund for the acquisition of books "for 
scholarly research and use." Albert H. Wiggin gave his notable 
collection of books, prints, and drawings valued at $2,000,000. 

Three were gifts either of or for buildings. Louis E. Kirstein 
built the Edward Kirstein Memorial Library at a cost of $100,000 


to house the Kirstein Business Branch. John Deferrari made pro- 
vision for the eventual erection of a Deferrari Wing in extension 
of the Central Library to cost $1,000,000. Josiah H. Benton 
created, in addition to his Benton Book Fund, the Benton Build- 
ing Fund, in the sum of $2,000,000, for the enlargement of the 
Central Library. 

Two of the gifts were for entirely unrestricted purposes: Mrs. 
Wilks' bequest of $600,000 to establish the Dr. Samuel Abbott 
Green Memorial Fund and the John Deferrari Fund which will 
eventually be $2,000,000. 

The story of the first of these great gifts that of Joshua 
Bates has already been told. The poor boy who made his mark 
wanted to be certain that the benefits of a public library denied 
to him as a youth in Boston should be available to the promising 
boys and young men of Boston in the future. Young women, of 
course, had not yet been recognized as "promising." 

The second was the gift under the will of Josiah H. Benton. 
Mr. Benton was a corporation lawyer, and Trustee and President 
of the Board of the Boston Public Librarv for manv years. His be- 

* J J 

quest fell into two distinct parts: i) the Benton Book Fund of 
$1,000,000 plus, the income to be used for the purchase of 
books, maps, and other library material of permanent value and 
benefit with emphasis on scholarly research and use; 2) a 
building fund in seven figures, to be allowed to accumulate 
through investment until the total should reach $2,000,000 
(which it has already done), to be expended for the "enlarge- 
ment of the present central library building in Boston, or to the 
construction of another central library building in such part of 
the City as may be most desirable for the accommodation of the 
people of said City." An important proviso to No. 2 is that the 
new building shall be constructed "under the advice of the Libra- 
rian of the Library at that time in such manner as may be most 
desirable for efficient practical working of a Library therein." 
That the Director of the Library may therefore legally undertake 
this most important supervision of new construction, the title of 
the Director was changed in 1934 to Director, and Librarian. 
The third gift came from Louis E. Kirstein, a Trustee of the 


Library from 1919 until his death in 1942. This philanthropic 
merchant honored the business career of his father by erecting a 
building for a Business Branch at a cost of $100,000. Boston 
had never had a separate library for business right in the heart 
of the business community itself. Mr. Kirstein had faith that 
such a library could be made indispensable to Boston business. 
This was library pioneering in the truest sense. What memorial 
does Boston have today more useful and more appropriate? 

The fourth of these great benefactions came from a distin- 
guished son of New England. The early business career of Al- 
bert H. Wiggin had been pursued in Boston, though he eventual- 
ly moved on to larger opportunity elsewhere, becoming the Presi- 
dent of the Chase National Bank of New York City. At the same 
time that he was developing what was to become the then largest 
bank in the world, he was using his spare time does a man mov- 
ing on so large a stage really have spare time? to assemble a 
ranking collection of books, prints, and drawings. Every item 
that went into his collection is there because Albert H. Wiggin 
was himself so much the connoisseur that he knew its value and 
exactly why it belonged. The collection thus brought into being 
far transcended its great monetary value (it was appraised at 
$2,000,000). In 1941 he had the satisfaction of seeing it in- 
stalled in appropriate quarters as the heart of the newly estab- 
lished Print Department of the Boston Public Library. From then 
until his death in 1951 he followed its development with a never 
failing generosity both in time and continuing gifts. 

The most recent of the great gifts came in 1952 as the bequest 
of Mrs. H. Sylvia A. H. G. Wilks, daughter of the fabulously 
wealthy Hetty Green. Her father's cousin had been Dr. Samuel 
A. Green, the first physician commissioned to accompany the 
Union troops to the Civil War, a former Mayor of Boston, and a 
Trustee of the Boston Public Library from 1868 to 1878. One 
unit (i/i4oth) of her vast estate of over $90,000,000, be- 
queathed by her in memory of Dr. Green, has now become the 
Dr. Samuel A. Green Memorial Fund of slightly over $600,000. 

But the most astonishing and unexpected of all six of these 
gifts was the establishment of the John Deferrari Foundation. 


This was created with the following provisions: The Foundation 
contemplates the accumulation of the income of the initial gift 
of approximately $1,000,000 until it amounts to $2,000,000. 
At that time the amount of $1,000,000 is to be paid to the Trus- 
tees of the Boston Public Library for the construction of an addi- 


tional wing to the present Central Library building, to be named 
the John Deferrari Wing. Thereupon the remaining $1,000,000 
will once again accumulate till it reaches the sum of $2,000,000. 
At this point the Foundation is to pay the income of the principal 
amount quarterly to the Trustees of the Public Library to be used 
in whatever manner the Trustees shall see fit for the purpose of 
carrying on the work of the Library. The Foundation further 
provides that when the principal of the Foundation initially 
reaches the sum of $2,000,000, and, if the Library is not then 
in need of an additional wing, the Trustees wiU establish in the 
Central Library building a John Deferrari Room. Thus Mr. De- 
ferrari's gift will eventually bring the Library a total sum of 
$3,000,000, of which amount $2,000,000 will be in the nature 
of a principal funded sum from which the income will be avail- 
able without restriction for general use. 

And who was Mr. Deferrari? He was Demos among us, and 
his story would be only less astonishing if it had not occurred in 
our own time. Let us look at the Boston Herald of September 7, 
1947 for a thumbnail portrait of which Horatio Alger himself 
would be suspicious. 

A little old man, slim, bald and Roman-nosed, he is, even 
though he does not look it, the epitome of the American saga of 
the rise from poverty to riches. 

He wore a new suit of gray-blue worsted for yesterday's cere- 
mony, arriving at the Trustees' room of the Library with the 
flaps on the bulging pockets of the jacket securely fastened down 
with large, shiny safety pins. 

From those pockets, which are the "office" of this humble 
multi-millionaire, he drew out certificates of the trust fund for 
presentation to Francis B. Masterson, President of the Library 
Trustees. . . . 

He was born 84 years ago in Ferry Street, in the crowded 
North End, eldest of the eight children of Giovanni Baptista 


Deferrari, a fruit peddler, who came here as an immigrant from 
a suburb of Genoa, Italy. 

As the other children came along, increasing the cost of rais- 
ing the family, the eldest boy was forced to quit the Eliot School 
in the eighth grade. His father gave him a basket of fruit and 
the boy established for himself a route through offices in the 
financial district. 

"I always brought home an empty basket," he recalled yester- 
day. "There was no money in bringing home fruit. I always 
gave the money to my father." 

While making his rounds with the penny fruit he first saw r 
the vision of American success. He saw men who, he was told 
by reliable persons, earned $5,000 and even $10,000 a year. 
He decided then that he would, too. 

The old man uttered a slow, almost sing-song: "Ah, no," 
when asked if there had been tips or windfalls to catapult him 
into wealth. His was not a sudden rise to riches but, rather, a 
steady, persistent, plodding climb up to the top of the financial 

"I was careful," he said. "I always planned everything very 
carefully." He may be aged, but his memory is green. He can re- 
call in surprising detail the various deals that evolved into big- 
ger and better things for him. 

The rise was direct and sure. Mr. Deferrari passed from ped- 
dling fruit on foot to using a horse and cart. He then emerged as 
a small-time merchant, developing his trade into a wholesale 
business, and from there moved on to open a small shop on 
Boylston Street near the then Boylston Street building of the Li- 

By now, having money to invest, he turned to the Library for 
study and counseL Although he regretted that he was never able 
to read history and great literature, he made full use of many 
volumes on law particularly real estate law and books on 
economics and statistics. Regard for detail became a passion. 
Thus began his affectionate and useful association with the 
B.P.L. Before making any investment, he looked into the com- 
pany, its earnings, its likelihood of future expansion and success. 
"It was all there in the Library." 

When the Kirstein Business Branch was opened in 1930 he 
turned to it as offering additional advantages in his field. 


He never made a bad investment. It was not just luck, he as- 
serted emphatically. "It was good planning." He bought out- 
right and held on to his purchases. He announced with some 
pride that he "became a millionaire without benefit of a banker, 
a secretary, a bookkeeper, an automobile, or a telephone." 

If he made a mistake, he made up his mind not to make it 
again. Finally, since he had learned how to make a million dol- 
lars through intelligent use of the Library, he felt that he ought to 
return it to the source of inspiration. He did so, in what will 
eventually be threefold measure. 


The importance of all of these gifts does not, of course, lie 
in their impressive size. The Library has had and welcomes 
them warmly gifts limited to even a few dollars. Witness the 
Chinese-American who, in gratitude for all that he had received 
from the United States, came to his nearby (and much ad- 
mired) Jamaica Plain Branch Library and left surreptitiously 
an envelope containing $5 in loose change, followed at intervals 
by additional odd amounts. Or the Italian-American employee of 
the Boston City Hospital who thought it was time that he did some- 
thing for the Public Library and arrived at the Director's Office 
with cupped hands bearing $78.59 in dollar bills, halves, quar- 
ters, dimes, nickels, and pennies! The importance of such gifts 
is that they have come directly from the hearts and earnings of 
individuals who have made good through their own efforts. Like 
the offering of these foreign-born Americans, each of the hand- 
some gifts described above, with the single exception of Mrs. 
Wilks' bequest, has come not from inherited wealth but from the 
savings of the donor himself. In warm and open tribute to the 
Library the individual revealed by his selfless act what he be- 
lieved die Library could be to, and do for, his fellow men 
just as it apparently had done in turn for him. 

The total trust funds of the Library as of 1953 are $6,193,408. 
In addition to this, the annual appropriation of the City of Bos- 
ton for the support of the Boston Public Library is today some- 
thing in excess of $3,000,000. In weighing such a sum of public 
money, it is worth observing that the Library as an agency of the 
City of Boston has pursued its way independent of municipal 


politics. The triple relationship between Mayors and City Coun- 
cils and the Library has been marked by mutual understanding 
and respect. Membership on the Board of Trustees has long been 
one of the most sought-after honors in this New England city by 
the sea. 

J 3 


JL o many people the words Boston Public Library apparently 
mean the Central Library in Copley Square. Any account of the 
Library at the time of its Centennial, or at any other time, would 
be far from complete, however, without adequate consideration 
of the 33 efficient Branch Libraries now in operation, and the 
two Bookmobiles which perform a kind of interstitial service 
a service very much needed and greatly appreciated by the ro- 
tating groups of citizens of greater Boston who make daily use of 
it. The 32 general branch libraries run alphabetically from the 
Adams Street Branch in Dorchester to the one in West Roxbury. 
They cover an area from Charlestown and Orient Heights in the 
north to Hyde Park and Readville, fifteen miles to the south, 
and to Allston and Brighton on the west. Their combined circu- 
lation is more than 2,500,000 books a year. Boston not only had 
the first branch library * of any American city, but has added 
new branches at the rate of about one every two and one-half 
years - - sure and ample proof of the public use which is made of 
them. Many of the branch libraries have their own buildings on 
their own ground, a few of them operate in rented quarters, some 
of them have inadequate and physically not too attractive rooms, 
and a few of them are new or modernized- The branch at Adams 
Street, Dorchester! is a one-story building of cinder block and 
glass, and has a lecture hall for 100, staff work room, and office 

*The East Boston Branch was opened in 1871. 

tThis excellent building was completed in 1951 at a total cost (including 
land and books) of $132,500. Total cost of the Egleston Square Branch 
(i953) was $154,941. 

space; and the newest one of all, at Egleston Square, is not only 
of single-story modern design but is also air-conditioned a 
blessing which ought to be extended to some of the others. 

All of the branch libraries arrange their book service, their 
reading space, and their general staff supervision for three levels: 
adults, young adults, and children. For all three categories the 
staff of each branch library carries on a work program. For the 
adults this includes book talks, discussion groups, film showings, 
the distribution of special book lists, periodic exhibits, and per- 
sonal consultation. For the young adults (the age group of 14 to 
21) the program includes book reviews and panel discussions, 
parents meetings, film forums, and recently even a fashion show 
led by the young adults themselves. Much of the best work in 
this area is with high school students, and the Library's Examin- 
ing Committee has urged "the closest possible correlation of ef- 
forts between high school English teachers and the library staff 
working with high school students." Pioneering with children has 
been traditionally one of the great success departments of library 
work. It has been closely connected with parent-teacher groups 
and with the grade schools of each area. Summer reading is 
planned for children of all age levels, with an average of eight 
books to be read by each child. Upon the completion of this read- 
ing course, the Library awards a certificate. Story-telling and 
music appreciation, under library direction, are a basic part of 
the program. Children are also taught the art of finger painting, 
the making and dressing of puppets, and the writing and present- 
ing of puppet plays all through the aid of books. 

But above all, the work with children is characterized by the 
quality of story-telling. Boston has been signally fortunate in the 
dramatic ability of its children's librarians, and particularly in 
the contribution of two remarkable professional story-tellers 
Mr. and Mrs. John J. Cronan. One has only to experience "how 
hard listening is on the eyes" to understand the magical influence 
which the Cronans have exerted on generation after generation 
of Boston's school children. Men and women across the nation, 
whose childhood was lived in Boston, have often in returning 
taken the time to visit their former branch libraries simply to re- 


capture the undiminished thrill of listening to the Cronans. 

The casual visitor, I think, would be impressed by the general 
excellence and the obvious success of this hour of come hither 
for surely Mr. Walter de la Mare, O.M., must be spiritually a part 
of it. These are the important hours that bring the primary books 
to life so that other books may live. 

'Something has gone, and ink and print 

Will never bring it back; 
I long for the green fields again, 

I'm tired of books/ said Jack. 

Four or five generations ago story-telling of one sort or another 
was part of the training which a great many young Americans en- 
joyed at home. I can think of nothing more important to a small 
child than to hear a sensitive, cultivated voice interpret the un- 
wearied classics of childhood both in prose and verse especial- 
ly not omitting nonsense and true poetry. In a world in which 
the poet appears to play so small a part, it is important that along 
with teaching the very young how to eat, walk, talk, and assume 
the rudiments of manners, we also teach them out of a reasonably 
ancient heritage a variety of nursery rhymes. We do this when 
the mind is plastic and as yet unimpressed by the needle of life. 
Without thinking about it, we rely on the average child's instinc- 
tive delight in rhythm, and his almost universal interest in the 
pleasant sound of such as "Hark, hark, the dogs do bark," "Snips 
and snails and puppy-dog tails," "One, two, buckle my shoe," 
"Betty Better bought some butter," "Little Boy Blue, come blow 
your horn," and all such. Some of these merry words and rhymes 
fasten in the brain long before the meaning is understood. If a 
child shows even the faintest gift for learning verse, a surprising 
quantity may be stored away. Even if the listener shrugs it off, it 
is unlikely in later years that at least a fragment or two will not 
be remembered. The tragedy is that as yet, when the curtain goes 
down on the story-telling period of childhood, there is likely to 
be nothing to take its place. As life is largely a sorry substitution 
of lesser values for greater, it is in the power of community libra- 
ries to find some way beyond the useful and important programs 
of book reviewing, discussion, and so on, whereby a fundamental 


appreciation of style is perpetuated in the young adult and in the 
citizen that he or she will become. This is what, perhaps uncon- 
sciously, is begun in the best of the story-telling hours. This is 
what is so necessary for us to continue if the American language 
is to grow and enrich itself and not become simply one vast com- 
mercial and a handle for the worn cliche. 

The first-line choice of the books which comprise the roughly 
12,000 volumes (on the average) for each of the branch libra- 
ries rests with special book committees, one for adults, one for 
young adults, and one for children. After these committees have 
winnowed out the less likely volumes, each branch library then 
chooses its own books. No two branch libraries have clienteles of 
similar American backgrounds. The North End Branch, for ex- 
ample, which serves in large part the new Italian-American gen- 
eration, faces different problems than the Lower Mills Branch 
where the clientele is for the most part the American-born of 
English and Irish extraction. Similarly, the Mattapan Branch 
with a Jewish clientele differs greatly from the Charlestown 
Branch where the population is largely of Irish or Canadian ex- 
traction together with a growing Italian group: a branch which 
also caters to a floating population of navy men and their families. 
The Memorial Branch in Roxbury reaches a population com- 
prised (approximately) of 50% Jewish readers and 50% Ne- 
groes. The West Roxbury Branch has in its American-born clien- 
tele a large segment of citizens of German extraction. For these 
special reasons the branch libraries are allotted an additional sum 
each year ($10,000 in 1953) above their normal quotas for 
books on a contingent basis for particular needs. Each library re- 
ceives a certain allotment of this amount. 

The branch libraries have no "closed shelves" everything is 
"open shelf." Actually everything is in the open in a branch li- 
brary. Every book is visible for inspection. Every book is edgewise 
in transparent plastic cover* which gives it a longer life, pre- 
serves the freshness of the dust wrapper or jacket, keeps the 

*Not all books are yet in the transparent plastic covers; budgetary condi- 
tions do not permit. But the ideal is to have them all in plastic covers as 
early as possible. 


finger prints on the outside looking in, and psychologically must 
produce a certain respect for a book as a commodity quite apart 
from what it contains in its pages. 

Even with no children about, it is easy to see where the chil- 
dren's section is: the chairs are low, the tables are low, and the 
book shelves run right to the floor where, indeed, the youthful 
borrower this moment sits or kneels or lies like some young Midas 
counting his gold. His books will not include "the midnight dar- 
lings of Elia," but they are the friends of his opening world, and 
they hold the key to H. G. Wells's Garden, to The Wind in the 
Willows, and to the Listener's Thrae. The spurious is sometimes 
tossed aside with a low deprecatory remark particularly when 
an older sister does the suggesting. There is surprisingly little 
noise, though the librarians may tell you otherwise. And the 
reason that no one entering a branch library in Boston can fail 
to cast his first glance at the children's department is the sight of 
some young librarian in earnest consultation with her clients, and 
the inescapable proud evidence that a good librarian, like a fine 
teacher, is one of the better gifts to civilization. 

The young adults section, on the other hand, may assume at 
times something of the look of a whispering gallery, yet the ob- 
vious eagerness with which books are examined (they seem so 
often to be examined by two or three young adults at once) is 
some small indication that the critical age has been reached, and 
that it is no longer just "a book" that is wanted, but rather what 

The youthful housewife may appear to dominate the adults 
section in the branch libraries at least during the hours of the 
forenoon. But the readers at the tables are apt to be the older 
ones more often men than women. It is a curious anomaly in 
human conduct that silence is imposed in a library at the very 
time when people's thoughts are most likely at their best. "To be 
wise, and overwise, and weary wise; and to catch your salvation 
in hope." Here, if anywhere, is salvation caught in hope. I some- 
times wish that these words of O might be engraved over the 
doorway of a reading room. 

The inquiring citizen may wonder what the Library's public 


is reading what titles are popular with the young and old, 
what books enjoy a wide and steady circulation year in, year out. 
Unfortunately it would take a careful survey over a period of 
time to determine the answers; and for the Branch Libraries the 
factor of race-background and culture-level among the borrowers 
would necessarily weight the localized evidence. But even a most 
casual sampling of the records of many Branch Library charging 
desks has shown me that beyond the current popular novels and 
non-fiction tides, like The Caine Mutiny and The Sea Around 
Us, there is an unremitting call for old favorites, if not for the 
old favorites one might guess. The Confessions of St. Augustine, 
for example, was recently far more popular than The Pickivick 
Papers, Pinocchio is in constant demand, but not Alice; Looking 
Backward is well w r orn, but not Huckleberry Finn; The Virginian, 
but not The Oregon Trail; Thomas Wolfe, but not Hemingway; 
Lives of the Saints, but not Of Human Bondage; War and Peace, 
but not My Antonia; The Wizard of Oz, but not the equally good 
sequels by L. Frank Baum. I could multiply the list by ten. It all 
proves nothing, but as a writer it interests me. 

O A O 

O JL. ash 9 

JL HERE is no general portrait of a branch library, but let us 
look at the essentials of two or three of them. The one in West 
Roxbury had humble beginnings. The first library in the pud- 
dingstone town for general use was started by the Reverend John 
Flagg, a minister of the First Parish Church. It was known to the 
small community as the Spring Street Social Library. Anyone be- 
came a proprietor by paying $3 as an annual assessment so 
in a sense it was not originally public. The first catalog was 
printed in Boston in 1841 and represented about 475 volumes 
on the shelves. In the beginning the library occupied some space 
in Mrs. Benjamin Corey's house and was later removed to Miss 
Betsy Draper's store on Centre Street near Beech Street. When 
the store was vacated, the books were removed to Westerly Hall, 


now the American Legion building. In 1863 an association known 
as the West Roxbury Free Library was formed, an enterprise des- 
tined to flourish for thirteen years and expand the available vol- 
umes to 3,000. In 1876 the books were taken over by the Boston 
Public Library, which at once established a Delivery Station, and 
in 1 896 this Station became a Branch. When the present building 
on Centre Street was opened in April 1922, there were over 
11,000 volumes as compared with today's more than 20,000. 

Entering the front door, the visitor observes a well-ordered in- 
terior divided into thirds, with the children's books to the left, 
the adults' to the right, and the young adults' at the center. The 
building is not air-conditioned : the neat storage cellar is the cool- 
est place, and the little garden in the back is a kind of pleasant 
arriere-boutique, with trees and flowers. It is a warm day in Au- 
gust. Though the staff has few readers or borrowers, it gives one 
die instant impression that they would be glad to have more. 
Four little girls are in earnest conversation with a young librarian 
who obviously has, or shortly will have, die solution to their read- 
ing problems. An old gentleman in the adults section is lost in the 
contemplation of anodier world. A survey of the cool and wel- 
come cellar discloses an excellent small auditorium, available to 
various West Roxbury organizations which make good use of it. 
(Several of the branches have auditoriums: always an important 
addition.) Upstairs again, inspection of the shelves indicates a 
catholic variety of good books of our day and other days. A litde 
old man with a German accent has entered to inquire about 
Eckermann. He wants a German book which will have to come 
from Central. He makes a note and turns to greet another mem- 
ber of the staff, looks again at die slip of paper, and goes out the 
door. In that moment when 'lie held the tiny conversation in his 
hand," like Aziz in A Passage to India, he too must have felt that 
"it epitomized his problem." And it was not a door, incidentally, 
diat closed behind him it was something more like a gate 
without a latch. 


O =* 9 

O ^V 

IN many respects the one and one-half story brick Georgian 
building which houses the Mattapan Branch on Hazleton Street 
out toward the Blue Hills is the ideal, practical small library, de- 
signed for a maximum balance between staff convenience and 
the reader's comfort. It was built in 1931 when prices were down 
and building materials were good. The Branch itself was origi- 
nally opened as a delivery station in 1881. It is located in a resi- 
dential district and largely serves a Jewish clientele, but it also 
reaches a cosmopolitan community, mainly Catholic, which has 
been on the increase since 1939 when defense industries in 
Hyde Park and Quincy brought in many new-comers. Housing 
projects since World War II have added additional families. The 
clientele in general leans toward business and professional men 
and women, clerical workers, salesmen and saleswomen, small 
business proprietors, government workers, artisans, and factory 
employees. The population includes a large proportion of college 
students, and many of them use the library for study and for 
supplementary reading. Since there is no high school in the Mat- 
tapan district, it might be deduced that the young adults room 
would be the least used. Actually it is the oldest of all the young 
adults rooms in any of the branches and is patronized by the Mat- 
tapan youth who attend high schools as far away as Dorchester 
and Hyde Park. 

Mattapan, with its Indian name and a history as a settled com- 
munity running back to 1800, was from the beginning a section 
of Dorchester. Prior to 1800, as a "hay scale and drinking 
trough," it was an outpost of Dorchester and Milton. At the be- 
ginning of the nineteenth century the Morton Street area was de- 
veloped for business and for middle-class homes; but as late as 
1848 no more than ninety families lived in Mattapan, and the 
total population was 461. In 1849 the residents of the Mattapan 
district founded the Mattapan Library Association located at 


Harrison Square and this lasted for more than a decade. The 
delivery station of 1881 added a reading room in 1890, when 
the book collection numbered 98 volumes contributed by resi- 
dents through public subscription. In 1907 the reading room 
moved to larger quarters in a rented store. The store was enlarged 
in 1927, and the library circulation increased from 20,000 per 
year in 1924 to 75,000 in 1926. It was this startling growth 
which led the citizens to request a new library building, and the 
result was the present structure now generally considered to be a 
model of its kind. Like the branch at West Roxbury and the new- 
est one of all in Egleston Square, there is a pleasant garden with 
flowers, a lilac bush and a climbing rose, and a wealth of shade 
from the trees in neighboring front and back yards. 

The Mattapan Branch has long been an experimental testing 
ground for the branch libraries when a new system, such as a 
refinement in cataloging or a novel charging process (like the 
currently used Recordak photographic method), is to be tested. 
The present staff of five professional assistants and two sub-pro- 
fessional assistants is proud of the fact that the library is often on 
occasion a laboratory. The librarians feel that, while it is more of 
a responsibility to be singled out as a model, the reward of ac- 
complishment is worth the additional effort involved. 

At the Mattapan Branch the supplying of books for term 
papers, for girl and boy scout leaders, Sunday school teachers, 
officers of synagogues and churches, and grade school teachers is 
part of the almost daily routine- Nor is this help with what Whit- 
man called "the sunshine of the light of letters" confined solely 
to the district. Last year the Children's Librarian, for example, 
gave advice and assistance in school projects to teachers from out 
of town, and the adult department has helped Sunday school 
teachers in other towns in connection with programs for Jewish 
holidays. On the children's side, the medley run of daily ques- 
tions are : What information is there on the history of the dance? 
on English mediaeval castles? the care of tropical fish? how to 
build a bird house? on causes of the Korean War? on pre-Civil 
War folk songs? on the Lorelei in English? Since registration of 
the pupils in the first and second grades each spring is a part of 

the regular work of the Children's Librarian, youngsters are in- 
structed early on the use of the library. During Art Week, Book 
Week, and other stated times in the year, the Children's Libra- 
rian gives a talk at the Branch to school classes accompanied by 
their teachers. There is a close relationship between Hecht Neigh- 
borhood House and the Mattapan Branch. In fact, both staffs 
collaborate so well that when a member of either leaves the ser- 
vice or is transferred each institution feels the loss. 

Of the books themselves, Mattapan has more than 13,000 in 
the adult collection and about 9,000 in the juvenile. The prin- 
cipal collections of the Branch are in the field of the social sci- 
ences and the fine arts; but there are also three special collections: 
Yiddish (800), Hebrew (25), and Judaica (400). The Branch 
laments the fact that, for lack of more adequate space, the Judaica 
(the most popular) cannot be expanded for the benefit of the 
community. The Yiddish collection is also felt to be numerically 
inadequate, and more money is needed for foreign books and 
other special collections. 

: i 



JLN May, 1930, the Kirstein Business Branch of the Boston 
Public Library was opened at 20 City Hall Avenue near the re- 
tail and financial districts, City Hall, the Court House, and the 
State House. The building itself is in the Bulfinch tradition. As 
the name implies, it was designed to serve the businessmen of 
Boston and does so from 9 to 5:30 weekdays except Saturdays; 
Saturdays from 9 to i. An average of 1,000 persons a day use the 
Kirstein, and most of them come for definite information for 
practical use: business addresses, city directories, telephone di- 
rectories, business services such as Moody 's and 59 others; busi- 
ness statistics; business, financial, trade, and statistical magazines 
(about 400); and so on. Both books and magazines with few ex- 
ceptions may be borrowed for use outside of the Library. The 
Business Branch also has a selection of books of a more general 


and popular type: volumes dealing with world changes, the re- 
lation of the businessman to government, and all that concerns 
what John Buchan inferentially exalted as "the noble merchantry 
of civilization." Many large business houses today have their own 
libraries for consultation, but the Kirstein Business Branch makes 
available to the small businessman as well as to the large firm a 
unique service which reflects directly on the financial and eco- 
nomic health of the city. 

: 17 : 

JL HE mobile branches of the Boston Public Library are two in 
number, and these are the attractive so-called Bookmobiles. Their 
routes are wide and varying, and they are on the go five days a 
week, summer and winter, from 9 to 7:30 for three days, 9 to 
5 : 30 for two days. They are staffed by Bookmobile Librarians, but 
driven by special drivers. The flexible operating schedules are re- 
vised at times: to cover a new housing project, to meet a par- 
ticular school appointment, to avoid traffic congestion, even to 
protect youngsters crossing streets. Bookmobile No. i, which has 
been in operation since February 1950, circulated 171,977 books 
in 1952 from a reservoir of 13,844 volumes. Bookmobile No. 2 
(launched in February 1952) circulated 107,744 books in a 
somewhat briefer period from a reservoir of 10,811. When one 
reflects that these Bookmobiles are no larger than medium-sized 
trucks, that they each contain about 3,000 books, the circulation 
is astonishing. Undoubtedly other Bookmobiles will be added to 
the fleet from time to time. 

One enters a Bookmobile at the rear and passes down a very 
narrow passage (not unlike the inside of a submarine) with 
book shelves to the ceiling on either side. The children's books 
are thoughtfully arranged on the lowest shelves, and the smallest 
customers are happy to sit or squat on the floor for the serious 
moment of making their choice. Librarians in charge stand ready 
(frequently they sit) to give advice to all levels; their charging 

desk is at the front. It is a common sight to see a young mother 
with a baby on one arm and a copy of Love for Lydia or Icebound 
Summer in the other hand. The average customer is in the Book- 
mobile not more than five or ten minutes as a rule : there is often 
a waiting line, and the passage is too narrow to permit dallying. 
For all that, however, the books are remarkably accessible; and, 
where handling is continuous, the new plastic covers prove their 
worth. The Bookmobile parked on Boston Common may be re- 
garded by some simply as a curiosity. It is, however, a logical de- 
velopment from Christopher Morley's Parnassus on Wheels, and 
the ghost of Roger Mifflin must rejoice that his Mayflower voyage 
was not in vain. For of course both Bookmobiles carry Parnassus 
on Wheels; and one of them has it bound with The Haunted 




-ZL. \^r 

JL HE Boston Public Library News (nine issues a year) lists 
such things as the films scheduled for showing at the Branches, 
the story-hour series, the branch telephone numbers, the routes 
and stops of the Bookmobiles, and all kinds of information about 
events at both the central library and the branch libraries. For 
example, it reported film showings in the branch Libraries during 
1953 of such educational and holiday titles as "Grandma Moses", 
"Growth of Flowers", "Road to Gaspe", "Sadler's Wells Baller- 
ina", "Crawl Stroke", 'The Robin", "Louisa May Alcott", "Life 
Along the Waterways", 'Thomas Jefferson", "Family Outing", 
"First Architects", "Wonders in Your Own Back Yard", "Rivers of 
Ice", "Hansel and Gretel", "Norwegian Children", "Horsemen of 
the Pampa", "Finger Painting Techniques", "Daredevils of the 
Alps", "Nature's Engineers", ^umpelstiltskin", and "Seaside 
Holiday". In addition, the BPL News reports "the broadcast do- 
ings of the day and night," to quote the famous preface to the 
Leaves of Grass, whose author was gifted in the prophetic phrase. 
The Phillips Brooks Branch, for example, announced in the 


middle of 1953 its summer reading club activities, a wild flower 
contest, programs of recordings, and puppetry classes. The Wash- 
ington Village Branch listed summer exhibitions of wooden toys 
and decorative objects made by Mr. Norbert Friedl, a patron; 
Mexican and South American travel books; a special exhibition 
of selected books on child care, problems of adolescence, family 
outings and enterprises, and other phases of home relationships. 
At the Tyler Street reading room the Merry Marionetters carried 
through a busy summer schedule of a monthly puppet show as 
well as a program of constructing furniture and other properties 
for the marionette theater. Marionette plays presented were 
"Hansel and Cretel" and "Beauty and the Beast". The West End 
Branch had an exhibition of photographs and background books 
relating to the Coronation. The Jeffries Point Branch in East Bos- 
ton held a circus party on the occasion of the closing meeting of 
the Circus Reading Club, an activity begun in April. In other and 
fewer words: the 32 general Branch Libraries are more than 
book dispensaries. They are natural (not artificial) community 

IT S~\ 

. JLQ o 

JL HERE is no way of knowing exactly what the parent build- 
ing in Copley Square means to those Boston citizens who use only 
the branch libraries. Much as Thoreau thought that the best club 
in Boston was the one that gathered in the old Fitchburg Station 
in Causeway Street to take the five o'clock train to Concord, there 
must be those who, as Charles Moore suggests, consider Bates 
Hah 1 to be "the best club room in a city of clubs." As Bates Hall 
is the heart of the central building, so the central building is the 
heart of the whole Boston Public Library system. 

Henry Adams said that Boston is a "perplexing amalgam." The 
same words describe the McKim building in Copley Square. It cost 
$2,700,000, roughly, to complete though the architects, in- 
cidentally, after eight years of work were no more than $22,000 


to the good. The problem of adapting this great building to the 
present-day pressures, with the periodic need for more space, is 
not easy of solution. It is no mere matter of installing machinery 
to charge out the books photographically (that is now done) and 
of establishing quite literally the equivalent of a branch library in 
the new Open Shelf Department quarters on the ground floor (an 
accomplished fact). There are many other considerations and 
most of them are complex. 

The central building was built on made land; it was therefore 
necessary to erect it on top of a forest of 4,500 wood piles, sunk 
into the ground, much as with Trinity Church just across the 
square. In 1929, the same year in which the financial foundation 
of the United States cracked open, there appeared the first cracks 
in the foundation blocks of the Library. These blocks are 5' x 4' 
x 4' of granite. Now the height of ground water under any build- 
ing is the main factor in keeping wood piles in sound condition. 
If they lose contact with water, they soon disintegrate. It was 
quickly discovered, when the cracks had been examined, that the 
level of the ground water under the foundation blocks was fast 
changing. In great anxiety, and for more than a year, the depth 
of water under the building was read daily at twelve different 
points. At considerable expense ($250,000), some 40% of the 
piles were treated at the upper end, lally columns added, and the 
whole encased in cement. Then in 1933 there was another crack 
or two, and it was found again that the water was falling off, 
though not at a level rate: there was more in the direction of the 
Sheraton Plaza than toward the Lenox Hotel on Exeter Street. 
Temporary expedients were devised to right the water level. They 
worked, and they have been working ever since. The necessary 
supply of ground water comes largely from Parker Hih 1 as a water- 
shed, flowing underground through the area between it and Cop- 
ley Square. When a substantial portion of this locale - - the Boston 
and Albany Railroad yards becomes the site of the impressive 
proposed Back Bay Center with its buildings, paved areas, and 
sewers, what will happen to the ground water needed for Copley 
Square? Securing the foundations of the Central Library building 
has already cost the Library and the City a fair amount of money. 

5 1 

Well, "Bacon observes," said the omniscient Dr. Johnson, "that a 
stout, healthy old man is like a tower undermined." 

For those more deeply interested, it should be added that the 
most recent building in the Christian Science group at Massa- 
chusetts Avenue was built inside a coffer dam. The New England 
Mutual building on Boylston Street floats like a tall ship in the 
space formerly occupied by its own weight in clay. When the 
huge John Hancock skyscraper was undertaken a few years ago, 
its steel foundations were sunk clear to bedrock, 120 feet below 
street level. 

Top side there has been further water trouble. In the begin- 
ning and until fifteen years ago, the Library had a beautiful red 
tile roof, but no solid under-roof excellent for a southern cli- 
mate, but not for Boston, though our average temperature of 
49.6 degrees is very close to the average optimum of climate 
(51 degrees) for physical and mental efficiency. Apparently the 
health of man and the health of tiles are not the same thing. At 
any rate, the original red tiles, being porous, absorbed rain water, 
and fractured under the first good freeze. New tiles were tried in 
patches, but the application of these had to be managed in rigid 
fashion and many of them broke. Under a war economy a solid 
under-roof was added in 1942. Since there was not then avail- 
able the necessary copper for the flashings to go under the tiles, 
these were omitted, and the new under-roof was covered tem- 
porarily with black tar paper. The capital budget of the City now 
contains an item for the restoration of the tiles in 1955. A good 
tile, with the top narrower than the bottom, makes the roof sing 
in die sense that a tall building soars. I remember that the old 
tiles sang in imbrication because of my personal feeling of sad- 
ness when they were taken down. Incidentally, a new member 
of the Board of Trustees back in the thirties, after attending his 
first meetings, said dryly that he had expected to talk about books, 
not about a leaky roof and sewers. But "one should take one's 
ruins carefully," as Freya Stark says of Baalbek. 


: 2,0 : 

JL HE roof and foundation problems are basic, but others even 
now would seem more urgent. Today it is obvious that the central 
building will have to be enlarged and enlarged to double its 
present cubic capacity. Meanwhile, a series of interim changes 
are in progress, which involve the shifting of various depart- 
ments from one room to another in a kind of musical-chairs se- 
quence. Yet each move is quite logical, even to the layman, and 
the severest critic and die-hard must agree that on the whole this 
is the most sensible renovation since the building was first opened. 
I have already spoken of the new Open Shelf Department on 
the ground floor in the southeast corner. Bostonians and others 
familiar with the old interior arrangement of the Library could 
probably follow the full course of the overall plan, but I shall 
mention simply what is happening at a few salient points. The 
Periodical Room, for example, is moving from the north side of 
the ground floor to the area back of the inner court. Just under 
the new Periodical Room will be the Newspaper Room; and just 
above it will be the new Parent-Teachers Room. The Social Sci- 
ences will come into their own where the newspapers used to 
dwell; and a part of this room to the south will be assigned to 
Sports, a new section altogether. Government Documents and 
Maps will occupy the rooms, in that order, leading out of Social 
Sciences along the Boylston Street side. Science and Technology, 
together with Patents, will be still farther along to the west. The 
staff quarters in general will converge at the southwest corner 
of the ground floor. Most important of all perhaps: the main 
charging desk, as I have said, has already been relocated in the 
lobby, using the Recordak photographic system which has proved 
itself so great a time-saver. 

Under the proposed shift, Bates Hall will lose the Public Card 
Catalog section in its south hemisphere, and a new Public Card 
Catalog room will be made of the old Delivery Room in the so- 
called "Abbey Room." The essential beauty of the Abbey Room, 


I think, will not be lost. This shift will give the Library the first 
opportunity it has ever had to divide the books for History from 
those for Literature and Languages the one moving to the 
southern end of Bates Hall, the other to the north, with the Gen- 
eral Reference Department concentrated in the central position. 
The Music Department will occupy, on the second floor, the two 
rooms opening sequentially from Bates Hall on the Boylston 
Street side. 

The high ceiling of the old Lecture Hall* will readily permit the 
building of a mezzanine floor to utilize the upper reaches of its 
needless height; and in this area new floor space will be provided 
for a long and much desired group of meeting and conference 
rooms. All this will alleviate to a certain extent the lack of cor- 
ridor space which the Library has long been short on. One has 
had to go literally from room to room to get anywhere. 

Prints will remain for the present where they are, immediately 
off the Sargent Gallery on the third floor. Fine Arts in general 
will move in to occupy not only the third floor space at the back 
of the inner court, but also about half the corresponding area on 
the south side. 

: 2,1 : 

WEST of the present building the Library now has acquired 
nearly all the land bounded by Blagden, Exeter, and Boylston 
Streets. It is here that the authorities propose to erect the new 
addition not just a wing, but an extension of the central build- 
ing in outward harmony and inner functional design, to utilize 
the stack wing already built in order to give the Library as a whole 
both unity without and mobility within. The Florentine Palace, 
as Henry James thought of it, will of course control the style, 
however modified, of the new facade. 

The new addition will also suggest a completed look to all four 

* Where, incidentally, the famous Lowell Lectures, free to the public, have 
been given since 1939. 


sides of the Library, for at present the west end of the old build- 
ing is walled in brick, not stone, in anticipation of the day of ex- 
pansion now at hand, Furthermore, the new west fagade of the 
central building will front toward that coming business develop- 
ment to rise within a very few years (as already suggested) over 
ground now utilized by the neighboring railroad yards. There is 
a nice question, of course, as to what kind of elevation will be ap- 
propriate to face a modern civic development of the second half 
of the twentieth century. The dangers are obvious but, from what 
I have seen of the library side of it, I should say that the integrity 
of Mr. McKim's masterpiece will be upheld. The upholding and 
the addition will likely cost from $7,000,000 to $8,000,000. 

Inside, by an ingenious use of vertical supports in uniform in- 
tervals, the new building will have the maximum of lateral flexi- 
bility for halls and reading rooms as well as for stack room. The 
old stacks in the McKim building have but little lateral flexibility. 
The immediate plan is to make the new building the dynamic 
working part of the Library and gradually surrender the old 
building to the housing of treasures, exhibition halls and galleries, 
and the like. What an opportunity! The present exhibition cases, 
though put to excellent use, are still pathetically inadequate. 
People never tire of being shown. And if anyone thinks that ex- 
pansion on this scale is not needed, let him reflect on the sobering 
fact that a Library of 2,000,000 volumes is literally and later- 
ally expanding at the rate of thousands a year. Like the flow of 
sap in a vital tree, such health is lethal to the tyranny of dust and 

* * 

SOMEWHERE among us there must be the new George Ticknors, 
the Joshua Bateses, and the unsuspected John Deferraris. They 
and the Vattemares who know their Moby Dick know also that, 
as "those old astronomers were wont to mount to the apex, and 


sing out for new stars," new supporters will come forward and 
better things will be done. 

Vision has a way of renewing itself in the eyes of others. On 
the steps of the Boston Public Library sits Mary Antin who emi- 
grated from the old world of Russia into the twentieth century of 
America. She has been sitting there a long time and her words of 
many years ago in The Promised Land are still the right words : 

This is my latest home, and it invites me to a glad new life. 
The endless ages have indeed throbbed through my blood, but 
a new rhythm dances in my veins. My spirit is not tied to the 
monumental past, any more than my feet were bound to my 
grandfather's house below the hill. The past was only my cradle, 
and now it cannot hold me, because I am grown too big; just 
as the little house in Polotzk, once my home, has now become 
a toy of memory, as I move about at will in the wide spaces of 
this splendid palace, whose shadow covers acres. No! it is not I 
that belong to the past, but the past that belongs to me. America 
is the youngest of the nations, and inherits all that went before 
in history. And I am the youngest of America's children, and 
into my hands is given all her priceless heritage, to the last 
white star espied through the telescope, to the last great thought 
of the philosopher. Mine is the whole majestic past, and mine 
is the shining future. 

For us in 1954 may these truths and imperatives not fail their 
permissive glory simply because we lack the second thoughts of 
first-rate men! 



Design by Rudolph Ruzicka