Fun and games in the British Museum Reading Room

Posted on 25th October 2017 by simonbeattie

I’m just putting together my list for the forthcoming Boston Book Fair, as my books will be leaving early next week.  It’s always nice to be able to show new stock, freshly catalogued, and I shall have quite a bit with me.  As a taster, here’s one little item which caught my eye over the summer:

It’s the first (and seemingly only) edition of some satirical ‘fables’ sending up life in the British Museum, the Reading Room in particular.  Privately printed, in what must have been small numbers, it was presumably only distributed to a small circle of colleagues at the Museum.

Most of the fables represent the vagaries of life in the Museum Reading Room.  For example, from ‘The Reader and the Pigeons’, in which the prospective reader feeds museum pigeons and is castigated by the Principal Librarian, ‘we learn that Kindness of Heart is not always sufficient to obtain admission to the Reading Room’.  Other pieces include ‘The Mudie Calf and the incredulous Book-Worm’; ‘The Comforted Colophon’; and ‘To an Undated Incunabulum. A Sonnet. By a Lazy Cataloguer’:

‘These Fables are part of a series of moral tales, initiated some five or six years ago.  The series died in its prime’, states the Editorial Note.  I have not been able to find any more in the series, if indeed there were any; the only other copy I was able to locate, at the British Library, has an additional paper wrapper, upon which is printed: ‘To save them from unmerited oblivion, these are offered to his colleagues with all seasonable greetings by the editor.  Xmas, 1897’.

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4 responses to “Fun and games in the British Museum Reading Room”

  1. Eric White says:

    Love it!

  2. John P. Chalmers says:

    The spirit of Robert Proctor haunts us still.

  3. Cynthy Buffington says:

    Alas that not to *this* was signature! And “With all seasonable greetings” shall be my own merrie wish and sign-off, these upcoming months . . .

  4. Carl Sandler Berkowitz says:

    Perhaps someone has studied, or should, such printed “season’s greetings”. I recently offered one to my customers (the author and title escape right now). It would be an interesting cross-disciplinary endeavor, since it would include varying subject matters.

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