Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Everett to Panizzi in 1848

A seemingly innocuous letter mailed in 1848 from Edward Everett to A. Panizzi has provided me with an opportunity to do some entertaining historical digging. Here is a transcript of the letter: "Cambridge U.S.A., 14 Nov. 1848. My dear Sir, I beg leave to commend to your good offices my much valued friend Mr. Cogswell of New York. Mr. C. is the librarian of the library founded by the will of the late Mr. Astor of that city, who bequeathed the sum of four hundred thousand dollars for this purpose. Mr. C. goes to Europe on business connected with the formation of the library, and I am desirous that he should enjoy every necessary facility for becoming acquainted with the library of the museum. May I beg you kindly to aid his researches. You must have lamented the death of our admirable & honored old friend of Hamilton Place, though it gave the museum his noble library. What a Providence that it was saved from the catastrophe at Stowe! I beg to assure you, that it would at all times afford me pleasure to be useful to you, in this country & I remain Dear Sir, with great respect, very faithfully Yours, Edward Everett. A. Panizzi, Esq."

Edward Everett served as President of Harvard University from 1846 to 1849. James Green Cogswell (1786-1871), as the letter indicates, was tasked with building the great library bequeathed by John Jacob Astor upon his death in March, 1848. Everett and Cogswell were longtime friends and had studied together at Gottingen University in Germany as young men. I have written a previous post about Cogswell and his work at the Astor Library. Cogswell's trip to Europe in 1848 resulted in the purchase of 20,000 volumes for the Astor Library. The Astor Library which became a part of the New York Public Library did not actually open until 1854. In 1848 Anthony Panizzi was keeper of the Books at the British Museum. In 1856 he became Principal Librarian at the Museum. In the letter, Everett refers to "our admirable & honored old friend of Hamilton Place" and to his noble library. This refers to the Grenville Library of Thomas Grenville who died in 1846 (thanks to those on the LIS-LIBHIST listserv for this clarification). It consisted of over 20,000 books valued at 50,000 pounds which was a very large sum in 1846. The "catastrophe at Stowe" refers to the sale of the outstanding library at Stowe House in Buckinghamshire, England. This sale took place over a period of years starting in 1848. Cogswell, although not overly impressed with the library, purchased a number of volumes from the collection for the Astor Library.

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