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This report is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.

The Rylands Affair Michael Schmidt
I Althorp and After

Lord Charles William Brudenell-Bruce, Lord Spencer's librarian, wrote to the earl in January, 1889, lamenting the proposal to sell the famous Althorp Library. Undeniably, there were pressing financial problems: rents and land values in Northamptonshire did not improve, the Irish estates looked increasingly undependable, and Lord Spencer's affairs were soon to be affected by the collapse of the merchant bank Barings, with which he had connections.

There were aristocratic precedents for selling books: the Earl of Jersey and the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres had recently sold great libraries. Spencer sought a valuation of his books. For Lord Bruce this persistence suggested intent, and was 'a blow'.


To think of such an unrivalled private collection being broken up and scattered throughout the world, no one can tell where, fills me, as it will many a man who has far greater pretensions to literary knowledge than I have, with dismay. They will regard such an event as I do in the light of a national disaster.


Certainly Althorp possessed one of the great libraries in Europe, though it was a very private collection and its loss could not be construed as a national disaster since it was not a national possession. If it was sold the nation might benefit: lesser public libraries might acquire distinction by judicious purchases, the rare books might become available to scholars. Lord Bruce naturally did not see it this way. Better, ...


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