Researchers to uncover secrets of Gladstone's library

11/09/05

Researchers at the University of Liverpool are undertaking a major study at the library of the former Prime Minister, William Gladstone, which will provide new insights into the mind of the famous Liverpool-born politician.

Dr Juliet John from the University's School of English is leading a three-year initiative to identify Gladstone's own books at St Deiniol's Library in North Wales and complete an online electronic catalogue of the Library's general holdings.

St Deiniol's Library in Hawarden, was founded by Gladstone in 1889 to allow the public to enjoy his vast collection of some 32,000 books. Following his death in 1898, the present building, designed by John Douglas, was constructed as a permanent home for his library.

The collection, which is a valuable resource for Victorian Studies, continues to grow and now contains over 250,000 volumes of history, theology, philosophy, classics, art, literature and periodicals. Many personal letters and manuscripts written by Gladstone and his family are also housed at the library.

The son of a wealthy Liverpool merchant, William Ewart Gladstone's passion for books began at an early age when he was presented with a copy of Sacred Dramas by the book's author, Hannah More. His collection grew rapidly whilst studying at Christ Church, Oxford, where he developed a habit of annotating texts a habit which continued throughout his 63-year career in politics. Among his annotated books are rare copies of works by Shakespeare, Dante, Newman and Tennyson.

Gladstone's books form part of the general collection at St Deiniol's but have never been systematically identified and listed as belonging to him. The researchers will be able to examine annotations, bookplates and handwriting to ascertain which volumes were owned and read by Gladstone himself. The information will be catalogued on an online database, which will provide major insights into his mind and his political, cultural and social attitudes.

Cataloguing his collections electronically will allow researchers across a range of disciplines to carry out studies that are currently impossible because most of the academic community does not know books in the collection exist. It will benefit those interested in Gladstone's reading, the nineteenth-century 'reading experience' and libraries as cultural institutions all of which are relatively unexplored areas.

Dr John said: "Gladstone is a major political, historical and cultural figure, yet no separate catalogue of his personal library exists. The compilation of a virtual descriptive database of his books will be invaluable to scholars and book enthusiasts alike.

A special conference will be held to mark the end of the project, 'Reading in the Age of Gladstone', in 2009, the bicentenary of Gladstone's birth.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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