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The interior of the New York Society Library at University Place.
The interior of the New York Society Library at University Place.

A Lecture on the Past, the Present and the Future of the New York Society Library

John MacMullen (1856)

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I have taken the liberty of inviting you, to listen to a lecture this evening on the subject of our Library, in order that we might be better acquainted.

There is a story told of two Londoners, who met at a watering-place, and found each other particularly agreeable. While expressing their mutual regret at parting, they found, on exchanging their addresses, that they had been living next door to one another for the previous twenty years, without either of them being at all aware of the other's existence.

I am very much afraid that something of the same kind might be said of us. For myself, I know that, although I have been a shareholder from boyhood, I have never heard of the members of our Society being brought together in any way except at our annual meeting, where the shareholders were usually represented by from three to six individuals; and I have thought it might, perhaps, be as well for us to come together, even if it were only to exchange a friendly greeting, and have a quiet talk about our own affairs.

I propose, therefore, this evening, with your permission, to take a brief review of the history of our Library, to state its present condition, and then to consider what might be done if there exists the will to do it.

In the year 1700, while William Prince of Orange sat upon the English throne, Richard, Earl of Bellamont, was Governor of the Province of New York, and the Rev. John Sharp was with him as chaplain of His Majesty's forces in that Colony. This latter gentleman, it appears, besides discharging his sacred duties while alive, had a kindly care for those who should come after him, and, at his death, left those books which had been his solace and his strength, for the use of the public, to whisper words of wisdom and of warning to those who might turn for a moment from the pursuits of trade to listen to their teachings.

* "Although the storm of the Revolution nearly destroyed this early collection, a portion of it is still preserved in our Library, and bears witness to the learning of its founder. Such volumes as remain consist mostly of the writings of the Fathers and standard authors of the Church, with a few classics and histories." In 1729 another worthy clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Millington, Rector of Newington, in England, taking thought for his brethren across the seas, "bequeathed his library to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and they presented it to the City of New York 'for the use of the Clergy and Gentry of New York and the neighboring provinces.' These books were received by the authorities with grateful formality, and deposited in the Public Library already founded."

"Occasional reference is made to this library in the proceedings of the Common Council; but it appears to have been mismanage and neglected until 1754, when, as Smith's History of New York tells us,'a set of gentlemen undertook to carry about a subscription towards raising a Public Library, and in a few days collected near £600, which were laid out in purchasing 700 volumes of new, well-chosen books.'"

These gentlemen also offered to take charge of the City Library, and deposit their own collection with it in the City Hall.

This proposal was acceded to, and the entire collection was called "The City Library."

"In 1772, a charter was granted to it under the title of 'The New York Society Library', by which name it has continued to be known down to the present day." Thus from 1754, twenty-one years of peaceful increase and of quiet usefulness had passed by when the war of the Revolution began.

"This war threw the country into a state of confusion not easily realized at the present day, and New York being peculiarly exposed, suffered severely. The Library was left as a spoil to the invading army. An eye-witness (Mr. John Pintard) has affirmed, that the British soldiers were in the habit of carrying away the books in their knapsacks, and bartering them for grog." Six hundred volumes were found, after the war, in a room in St. Paul's Church, but no one could tell how they came there.

"No meeting of the Trustees was held, from the last Tuesday in April, 1774, until Saturday, Dec. 21st, 1788, when twelve Trustees were chosen. These were: Hon. Robert R. Livingston, Robert Watts, Brockholst Livingston, Samuel Jones, Peter Kettletas, Walter Rutherford, Matthew Clarkson, Samuel Bard, Hugh Gaine, Daniel C. Verplanck, Edward Greswold, and Henry Remsen."

The fragments of the Library were gathered together, new subscriptions were obtained, and thus the institution resumed its quiet course.

In the fall of 1784, the Federal Congress met in New York. They held their sessions in the old City Hall, at the corner of Nassau and Broad streets, where the Custom House now stands; and their deliberations were, no doubt, materially assisted by this collection, which constituted at that time the only library of Congress.

In 1789, the first Congress under the Constitution met in the same place, and George Washington was there sworn in as first President of the United States. An additional value is thus lent to many of the volumes in our Library, from the fact that they have been in the hands of those Heroes and Sages who built up this goodly frame of government, under which we have now lived so many years in happiness and peace.

In 1793 a separate building for the Library was commenced in Nassau street, and the first Catalogue was printed. The Library then contained five thousand volumes.

In 1795 the books were removed from the City Hall to the new building. The Society numbered at this time 900 members.

In 1813 the second Catalogue was published, and comprised 13,000 volumes. In 1825 a supplement was printed, showing a total of 16,000 volumes.

In 1836 the property in Nassau street was sold for $44,200 dollars, and a lot purchased on the corner of Broadway and Leonard street, 60 feet wide and 100 feet deep, for the sum of $47,500.

In 1838 The New York Athenæum was finally merged in the New York Society Library.

In 1840 the new building on Broadway was completed at a cost of about $74,000, and the Library removed from the rooms of The Mechanics' Society in Chambers street, where it had been since the sale of the Nassau street property in 1836.

In 1849 a bequest of $5000 was received from Miss Jane Demilt.

In 1850 the last Catalogue was published, showing a total of 35,000 volumes.

In 1853 the property in Broadway was sold for $110,000, from which the net amount, after paying off all mortgages and debts, was about $55,000.

In the same year the Library was removed to the Bible House, where it now is. At this time, also, the property in University Place, 70 feet front, by 104 deep, was bought for $18,650, leaving in the hands of the present Board of Trustees the sum of $43,799.

The building was commenced in the spring of 1855, and is to be finished by contract on the 15th of April, 1856.

Such is the past; let us now consider the present.

We have a valuable Library of about 40,000 volumes. We have a piece of ground of 70 feet front by 104 feet deep, in an excellent situation, with a fine building upon it, whose plan certainly reflects great credit upon the last Board of Trustees. The contracts made by them, however, for the mason's and carpenter's work, swallowed up all the money in the treasury; yet there was nothing left for the present Board but to make other contracts fcr furnaces, plumber's work, gas fixtures, &c., for without these the building would be useless. According to a report made by the Building Committee at the last meeting of the Board of Trustees, $12,000 will be required to finish and furnish the new Library, and it is but safe to allow $3,000 for contingencies. This makes in all $15,000. To put the Library in a proper condition, that is, to bind what is unbound, and supply deficiencies, more money will be required, and the requisite sum for all these purposes, so as to put the building and the books in a proper condition, may be fixed at $20,000.

I have it from the best authority, that the Mercantile Library, in the year 1832, raised the sum of $32,000. In the winter of 1853-4, they raised $62,000, and they are now trying to raise $86,000. Where they raise $180,000, cannot we raise $20,000?

But why should we raise it? What does our Library do? It is a very quiet place to go and read in, but nothing more. So I thought also, but my views have changed. Six months passed behind the Librarian's desk have given me a far higher idea of the usefulness of a great Public Library.

Let us for a moment trace its benefits. You pay your six dollars a year, and you have at your command 40,000 volumes. This is very cheap, even as a mere Circulating Library; but besides this, you have the reading-room well supplied with newspapers and periodicals.

Does a friend come to see you from the country, or from some distant quarter of the world? You have the right to give him the run of the Library and reading-rooim for a month. Are you a lawyer? The very next cause you have to plead may render some of our books invaluable to you. Are you a physician? We have some of the most complete collections of the transactions of Scientific Societies in the country. Are you a clergyman? Our theological collection is respectable, and pretty certainly contains some books which you have not. Are you a mechanic, a civil engineer, an architect? We have valuable works in all these departments. Are you a merchant? We have books on commercial law, on the principles of life insurance, on banking, on raw materials, on manufactures, on currency, on commerce. In short, there is scarcely any class in the community that will not find something positively and directly useful in a great Public Library.

But do they ever really make use of them? To answer this, I must quote facts and descend to details.

The work that has been the oftenest consulted of any since I have been in the Library, is a work called The Repertory of Patent Inventions. It appears that we have the only complete set in the country, with the exception, perhaps, of one in the Patent Office at Washington; and I think it may be safely asserted, that not a week passes without some one's coming to consult it. One man offered to deposit $100 as security, if the Library Committee would allow him to take a volume of it to Boston, to produce as evidence in a court of law. The Committee very properly refused, but gave him leave to take a certified extract, for the loss of that one volume would have ruined the set. The Consul of Venezuela came in to consult the embargo law. -A man who had a patent for a portable furnace, came in to see if a certain principle had been previously made use of. -Another came to see if Mr. Maillefer's patent forblasting rocks under water could not be overthrown. -A merchant inquired for information about certain islands which contained guano. -Another came to get information about foreign coins, &c., &c. -A gentleman from the country wished to have his house supplied with water, and came to compare the merits of undershot, and overshot water wheels, and the Hydraulic Ram. -Another came to get a correct representation of the Indigo Plant for a friend who was largely concerned in the Indigo trade. -One of our largest Sugar Refiners came several times to look over our scientific periodicals, to see if he could find any improvement in Sugar Refining that might be turned to account. A large printing establishment was burned down, and, when it rose again from its ashes, the Publishers sent to the Library to beg the loan of one of their own books from which to print another edition.

As for Editors, a great Public Library is, of course, for them a great resource. Does an Editor wish to write an article on the Yellow Fever? He comes to the Library. Does a Celebrity die? His Biography must be looked up, so as to prepare a decent Obituary. Does Rachel come over here? The Rachel-fever must be soothed and allayed by a series of articles. -Does Thackeray come to lecture? His works must be looked over again, and his mind and morals properly dissected - and so on ad infinitum.

The case of Authors or Lecturers, of course, I need not dwell upon. Its usefulness to them is a self-evident proposition. It puts ideas into their heads and money into their pockets. Yet, self-evident as it is, an attempt has lately been made, in a left-handed way, to lessen the importance of all Libraries, by quoting the case of Humboldt, who, it is said, never had a Library. -Let us examine the case. Humboldt lives with the king of Prussia. The large Library of the palace is therefore at his command; so that he has 500,000 volumes always in the house he lives in. Thus it may be safely asserted that this very man, who has been quoted as a proof that Libraries are useless, because he never had one, has had within his reach, except while he was travelling, more books and a better Library than any man on this continent can command. But has he made use of it? To decide this, it is only necessary to open one of his works, and look at the quotations. In the second volume of his Cosmos, p. 632, there are altogether forty-nine lines, and on this page, twelve separate works are quoted, that is, one book to every four lines. If he had not access to books, how could he quote them?

Our books penetrate also to the sick man's chamber, where, with their gentle and soothing influences, they while away his thoughts from aches and pains, and medicine his mind while the skilful physician heals his body. -For instance, a gentleman said one day: -"I should like very much to get this book to show to an invalid daughter that I have at home." He obtained the book, and his sick daughter no So far I have spoken only of plain, direct, palpable profit, which can be measured directly in dollars and cents; now let me speak of the indirect advantages.

You take up a newspaper in the morning, and read some article with peculiar interest. It is quite possible that all the pith of that article came from our Library. You see a new book in a book-store. It pleases you, and you buy it. A large part of the text and the illustrations were, perhaps, drawn from your own books in the Library. You go to hear a lecture, and enjoy it; unconscious that the lecturer has drawn largely from your own resources. You listen to a good sermon; some of the most striking parts were perhaps culled from your own books. Is this fancy, or is it fact? Does a great Public Library thus pervade every thing? To answer this, I must again give you details.

A reporter attached to a morning paper, whose circulation ranks among the highest, was directed to go with the party that went to lay the telegraph-wire from New Brunswick to Newfoundland. He came to the Library, and asked for some work giving the statistics of the British Provinces. We gave him a stout octavo. He went on the excursion, and wrote letters constantly for his paper. Many of you no doubt read them, but not one had the faintest idea that a part of the statistics came from one of your own books.

He kept the book somewhat too long. A note was sent to him, and he returned the volume with many apologies, stating as his excuse, that he had made an arrangement with a publisher to publish a small volume about the excursion, and had therefore kept the book a little longer. This volume has since appeared, and a copy of it, presented by the publisher, is now upon your shelves.

On returning the book he had borrowed, the reporter stated that his sister wished to prepare an article for the paper to which he was attached, about the furs likely to become fashionable this winter; telling whence they came, their comparative cost, and the best way of distinguishing the good from the bad, and asked the use of our Library for her to prepare the article. This article was duly prepared and printed, and no doubt many of our fair shareholders read, and some perhaps profited by it, without being at all aware that it was a judicious condensation of encyclopedias, books of travel, and works on natural history from their own Library. I have quoted this case at length, because several points that I wished to present to your notice are united in it.

A short time before last Thanksgiving day, one of our most eloquent divines entered the Library, and asked for some of the latest agricultural statistics. He was preparing his Thanksgiving sermon, and wished to show how grateful we ought to be for the abundant crops vouchsafed to us. We did our best for him, and I went to hear the sermon. It was indeed a fervent and excellent discourse; but the most striking parts to me were the very statistics he had so carefully collected.

As for lecturers- it is safe to assert that Mr. Thackeray is a distinguished lecturer. Mr. Thackeray did us the honor to borrow, at two different times, books relating to his lectures.

A gentleman came to the Library, and showed a letter from "the Harpers," agreeing to publish his books. He came to consult a large folio by Humboldt, containing views of the Cordilleras of South America, and asked permaission to copy some of them as illustrations to his new book.

I have thus shown, that you not only profit directly, by theuse of the Library and reading-room, but indirectly through newspapers, lectures, sermons, and books.

There is, however, another way in which you draw profit from your Library, and I must ask your indulgence if I seem to begin very far off to show you how this works. Before going to Paris, I knew it only as the seat of pleasure; when I got there I found it the seat of learning. Its immense Libraries are thrown wide open to the stranger as to the citizen. In its schools and colleges almost every thing may be learned without cost, and from some of the ablest men of the age. In the lecture room of the Observatory I found myself one day sitting beside a workman out of employment, whose laborsoiled clothing told of his daily toil; and who do you suppose was teaching us? That very Arago whose renown was worldwide as one of the firmest towers of science, and whose recent death is still so much deplored. With a piece of chalk and a blackboard, he commenced explaining to us the mechanism of the heavens, with a delightful clearness that interested even the ignorant, and would have charmed the ripest scholar. He was paid, and the Observatory was supported, by the State.

I found, among other things, that I could study eleven languages at the expense of the French Government. I chose to study Modern Greek, and went to the place appointed. It was a large and comfortable room in the largest Library in Paris. There was a Professor ready to teach us. All that was asked of us was to write our names in a book, so that he might make his report to the Government. He did not merely give us a lecture- he explained the structure of the language, and corrected our exercises, teaching us how to translate from Greek into French, and from French into Greek. On looking around, one might see the representatives of half a dozen different nations gathered around the table. No questions were asked about birth or creed. The door was open alike to all, and the French Government paid for all.

But was not this a mere prodigal expenditure dictated by egregious vanity? Not so. It was a wise generosity. Nay more, it was a shrewd investment. Paris is thus made not the mere resort of transient pleasure seekers, but the home for years, and sometimes for life, of studious thousands, who must eat and drink, and pay for lodging and for clothing, and who return this money to the public purse increased a thousand fold; and when the students leave her colleges and her libraries, they spread wider and wider her literary renown, and wake in other souls the deep desire to profit by such wise generosity.

To set forth the proposition in more general terms, it may be safely stated, that whatever makes a city more attractive increases the prosperity of all its inhabitants.

Let us take an individual case.

A gentleman came to our Library and asked anxiously for a certain book. It was not in our collection. I expressed my regret, and made a note of the title of the work. An hour or so afterwards, I had occasion to go to the Astor Library to get some information from Mr. Cogswell. This same gentleman was there. He said, I have found that book I was looking for, and am very glad to get it, for I have come a hundred miles to see it. Are you interested in rail-road stock? That man helped to pay your dividends. Are you interested in real estate? He helped to pay your rents. Are you a merchant? Even if he bought nothing himself, he will trumpet your goods on his return, and others will be thus induced to come. Inasmuch, also, as those up town depend upon those down town, since our several prosperities are all bound up together, we have all profited by the fact that that book was to be seen in one of our Public Libraries.

I have shown you that our Library radiates its genial and quickening warmth upon you, your family, your friends, and your city. I will now show you that its beams penetrate as far as Washington, and that the Government of the country and the nation at large, is interested in its preservation and improvement.

In the year 1817, Capt. Biddle of the navy, was ordered to take command of the sloop-of-war Ontario, and proceed to the South Seas. Part of his business was to obtain more accurate information about the islands, the rocks, and the shoals of those seas, and of the character, wants, and disposition of the inhabitants of the islands, for the information of our sea-captains and shipping merchants.

The Government, through the Navy Agent here, made a formal request to the Trustees of the Society Library to hand over to Captain Biddle their fine copies of Cook's and Vancouver's Voyages, so that he might have the most thorough information about the field of his labors; promising to replace these works by other copies of the same, ordered from England, a process which occupied then a much longer time than now. The Trustees consented, and the Ontario sailed. The Government did send for other copies, and they were handed over to the Library; but Mr. Forbes certifies that the copies given to us were decidedly inferior to those we gave the Government. Here are the documents.

Extract from the Minutes. - At a stated meeting of the Trustees of the New York Society Library, held at the Library on Wednesday, the 5th day of Nov, 1817, * * * The Library Committee reported that an application having been made to them by Capt. Biddle, of the United States sloop-of-war Ontario, for the loan of Cook's and Vancouver's Voyages, for the use of the United States, they had, with the written consent of a majority of the Trustees, loaned the said books accordingly, after having received from the United States Navy Agent an engagement to have a new set of said works procured immediately from England, to replace those loaned as aforesaid. Ordered that the report be approved.

N. B. The books loaned, as above mentioned, were in due time replaced by new copies from London, at the expense of the United States.


I hereby certify that in the year 1817, at the request of the Government of the United States, copies of the Voyages of Cook and Vancouver were granted by the Trustees of the New York Society Library, for the use of the expedition fitted out by Government under Capt. Biddle, of the U. S. Navy; and I further certify that, some time after, certain copies of said works were returned to the Library by Government, and that said copies were inferior to those given up by the Library, in paper, typography, and especially in the execution of the plates; and, to the best of my knowledge and belief, no compensation has ever been made to the New York Society Library by the Government for the loss and damage sustained by such exchange. In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, this twenty-second day of January, 1856.

Late Librarian N. Y. Society Library.

When the difficulties about the North Eastern Boundary arose, the Government again had need of our Library. The following documents will speak for themselves:-


New York, Oct. 16th, 1828: -Received from the New York Society Library seven maps, viz., Nos. 2, 5, 7, 8, 14 and 18 of Jeffery's American Atlas, which are for the United States, and intended to be laid before the Friendly Sovereign to whom the differences respecting their North Eastern Boundary, between the said States and Great Britain, may be referred; and which will be returned by the Government of the United States to the said Library Society, the accidents of a double transmission across the Atlantic excepted, or for which in the latter case compensation will be made.


Oct. 25th, 1828, received from the New York Society Library, on the same terms as above, the map No. 6 of Jeffery's Atlas, and also Sautier's large map of the Province of New York.

U. S. Agent on the North Eastern Boundary.

I hereby certify that these maps were never returned to the Library. Sept. 11th, 1855.

(Signed.) P. J. FORBES.

These maps it appears still remain at Ghent, and we have never received any compensation for the maps taken, or the mutilation of the atlases from which they were cut.

This last summer, a commission, consisting of two gentlemen, was sent to this city by the Treasury Department at Washington to consult old records and get as many statistics as possible about products and manufactures in the early days of the Republic before the idea of taking the census was carried out. These gentlemen visited our Library and profited by its contents. The result of their labors was published by the Department under the title of "a Report on Commerce and Navigation," a copy of which was lately sent to us, and now reposes on our shelves.

The officers and artists employed upon the government work about The Japan Expedition, have also had free access to our Library. They have often availed themselves of it, and we are thus helping the Government again in the preparation of another work.

Thus twice within six months the Government has profited by our books. In the case of Capt. Biddle both our shipping merchants and the Government profited by them, and in the case of the North Eastern Boundary, a grave question of national frontier, apparently involving in its issues peace or war, was in part dependent upon them for its elucidation.

Such then are the practical, material, and profitable uses of a great Public Library; and down to the year 1820, that is, for 120 years, our Library stood alone to bear the brunt of all these demands made by all classes including our merchants and manufacturers, the chief moneyed classes in the community.

I have shown you what the Library has done for the wealth of the city, let us now examine what the wealth of the city has done for it.

In the year 1754, when the City Library was merged in the Society Library, some gentlemen raised by subscription £600 New York Currency, that is, $1,500, and in the year 1849 Miss Demilt gave $5,000. $6,500 in 105 years, and all but $1,500 of this from the hands of a woman? Is this to the credit of the men? The Mercantile Library has worked 35 years and has received $94,000. The Society Library has worked for 150 years and has received less than $7,000.

From 1754 to 1849, a period of 95 years, the Library worked steadily on and received no money from any one. From 1700 to 1854, that is, for 150 years, it has received from the moneyed men of New York $1,500, that is, at the rate of $10 a year, and this while it was working for them and bringing hundreds of dollars into their pockets. For I have shown you how directly and immediately profitable it has been to the city for a period of only six months, and that at a time when there are other Libraries to help it. Think then how indispensable it must have been during those many years when it stood alone to bide the brunt of all demands, and the accumulated wealth of the moneyed men of New York for whom it was laboring gaave it the enormous amount of $10 a year to preserve its treasures and increase its usefulness; yet these same men in 35 years have given to the Mercantile Library $94,000. Is this fair? Is this reasonable? Is this just?

Do I object then to their giving money to the Mercantile Library? Far from it. That institution is an honor to our city, our country, and our age. It reflects credit upon every one connected with it. Every dollar given to it shall be a diamond to beam with purest ray long after the giver shall have mouldered into dust. It has robbed the gambling house, the brothel, and the bar-room of their victims, and made them the support and ornament of their families and of our city.

But, while you care for your sons, shall you not care for your daughters also? Young men can make their way through a throng as they must make their way through life; but your old men and your maidens, the mother and the daughter, in short all quiet readers need a more quiet place, apart from the rush of the multitude, where they may enjoy in calmness that pleasant communion, which is so profitable for us all, with the witty and the wise of old.

Is our city too poor to support two large Libraries? No. There is here abundant wealth to do a thousand times more than has been done. If only one of our citizens at his death could leave $400,000 to found an Astor Library, it is not surprising that all our merchants together should have given $94,000, less than a fourth part of the other, to the Mercantile Library, which returns it to them a thousand-fold in many other ways, as well as in the intelligence and sobriety of their clerks; but it is surprising that they should have given to an institution which did this for them for one hundred and twenty years, unaided and alone, the paltry sum of $1,500 dollars.

We might say to them, "Gentlemen, merchants of New York, here is a fair debtor and creditor account. We worked for you for 54 years, and you gave us $1,500. We have worked for you since that one hundred years putting hundreds of dollars into your pockets, and you have given us - nothing.

There seems a touch of penuriousness, nay, even of meanness about all this that would speak but ill for the character of the merchants of New York to one who did not know them.

But the men who fed the famished Greeks when they fought for and won their freedom; the men who filled the starving Irish with sweet and wholesome food; the men who sent their thousands to the sick at New Orleans and at Norfolk; the men who never yet closed their ears against the claims of any well-vouched-for charity, but handed out their hard-earned dollars with an overflowing hand; and lastly, the men who have given so much to the Mercantile Library; these men are not penurious or mean, especially when an honest claim for work performed is presented to them. Only let it be clearly set forth and properly vouched for, and I am very much mistaken if they do not step forward and pay it on the instant.

So far I have spoken to you only of material interests. I have taken the dollars and cents view of the subject, and have shown you that an enlightened regard for your own interests should induce you to cherish, strengthen, and enlarge in every way this Library, because it is your own property; that every additional dollar invested in it is making your property more and more valuable, and is returned to you in various ways increased a thousand-fold. In this connection I may mention a remark made by a former Trustee, Mr. Joshua Coit, which contains a striking truth.

He said: "Before the land was bought for the new Library, we might have let all the books burn up, and yet have handed over to the shareholders the value of their shares with interest from the time of purchase." This statement shows with what slender means our Library has contrived to do so much. What might it then have done, had you but put your shoulders to the wheel and laid out your strength upon it. If the $15,000 required to complete the building should be raised by bond and mortgage, the payment of the interest will swallow up all the surplus revenue, and leave nothing for the purchase of books; so that the Library must linger on, half dead and half alive, perhaps to die of gradual decay. Yet it is our own property; it is a valuable property; every dollar given to it is an investment that brings a dividend. Shall we then be such fools as to let the tree that bears this golden fruit die before our eyes from sheer neglect?

So far I have spoken to your heads, or rather to your pockets; let me now speak to your hearts. Come back with me then to the origin of our Library, while I speak again of its founders and its benefactors. Let us draw aside the curtain, and look in for a moment upon the past.

I see before me a goodly banquet. My Lord and my Lady Bellamont are seated there in state, in their silks and their satins, their gold and their jewelry, and in all the pomp and pride of the festal hour. Gay uniforms are glittering about them, and bright eyes flash around the board. At some little distance down, I see the plain black dress of the Rev. John Sharp, the humble chaplain of my lord. He wears no sword beside him, as the dashing soldier or the gay courtier does, and silks and satins suit not the gravity of his profession. He is plainly dressed, he eats and drinks like a plain man. My lord and my lady may perhaps occasionally smile condescendingly upon him, but for the most part he is lost sight of amid the ruffling of gay gallants and the splendor of the banquet.

But how is it now?

My Lord and my Lady Bellamont were parts of a proud pageant which has passed away. No man of all the gay guests gave of his gold to found a public benefit. No woman of all that shone around the board took thought for others, or gave the price of a single jewel to purchase pleasure, improvement, and happiness for those that should come after them. However cultivated or refined they may have been, it was all centred in, and ended with, themselves -and verily they have their reward. Their silks and their satins have long since been soiled and worn; their worn-out bodies have been put away in those long boxes, that so easily at last contain all that remains of the most full-blown pomp and pride; and their memories serve but to point such a moral as this that I now read to you.

The memory of the plain chaplain, who was but a foil to all their glitter, now as far outshines theirs as the evening star outshines the feebler host of heaven, and helps to guide our wandering steps, although so far removed. He planted an acorn, and we now sit beneath the spreading oak, and carve his name upon its bark in grateful memory of his kindness. He cast his bread upon the waters, and both he and we have found it after many days; he, in the pleasure with which his happy spirit must look down on this institution, and in the approving \smile of God; and we, in the sweet food that satisfies, and yet gives appetite for more; while from the goodly banquet many basketsful shall be gathered to feed many a multitude beside. Five generations of men have lived and died since he stood on the earth, and their thanks must have gone up to heaven like a sweet incense, heightening even the joys of the blest. "So shines a good deed in a wicked world."

The only printed work of the Rev. John Sharp that I know of, is a sermon that he preached on the death of Lady Bellamont. A copy of it was recently sold at auction in our city, and I was very sorry that our Library could not afford to buy it.

Let me point out to you another scene twenty-nine years after this. The Rev. Dr. Millington is dying in his quiet parsonage in the small town of Newington. As he lies upon his death-bed, and looks upon his book-shelves, he thinks perhaps of the account he is to render of his stewardship, and as the best of men find it difficult to do too much, he would fain have his books do good for him even after death. Reflecting then upon the wants of those across the ocean, who speak the same language that he does, the borderers who live upon the edge of civilization, between the savages and the sea, he leaves his library by his will to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, who present it to the City Library here among us. The worthy Dr. Millington has now been sleeping the sleep of death for more than a hundred years, but his books are living yet, and are likely to live long after we are laid in the earth. His account with Heaven is not yet closed, nor will it be while a single volume from his hand remains to teach, to warn, to counsel, or to cheer. The savages have receded, leaving a broad belt of cultivated land dotted with thriving villages, and towns, and cities, and peopled with swarming millions; while the sea, that helped to hem the borderers in, has become a pathway for them to profit and to power. Some at least of their descendants thank him as their grateful eyes occasionally meet the record of his deeds, and many an appreciating spirit among the generations yet unborn shall rise up and call him blessed.

Is it not worth while to plant a few seeds if one can gather fruit like this?

The men, too, who went about a hundred years ago with a subscription paper, and raised the $1,500, shall we not thank them also? Their names are not upon our registers; we know not who they were. But there is a register above where all such acts are entered. There the good deeds done here in secret are written in characters of shining light. We shall all know them at the last day, and these, our now unknown benefactors, who gave their time and money for the good of others, shall point to us and say, "These also are some that came to drink at our fountain in the desert, our fountain of sweet knowledge, and went away refreshed."S hall not He that is the source of all our knowledge, shall not the Omniscient, smile benignantly on them?

There is another, -a woman, -Miss Jane Demilt, who, a few short years ago bequeathed $5,000 dollars to our Library. She left money to other libraries also, and founded a Dispensary, providing thus for the sick and for the healthy, medicine for the body as well as medicine for the mind- and so she passed away.

We read of the Roman matron who thought her boys her brightest jewels. Think you the brow of Miss Demilt will shine less brightly where she is now for the good deeds she has done? Has she not, even in this little circle here, won a name that will last longer, and be far dearer to her woman's heart, than the haughtiest beauty that ever queened it in the proudest court?

When came the passing hour, her spirit rose not clogged with curses, but swift-winged with thanks and praises, that must have borne it upward to the highest heaven, and onward till it rested very near the throne of God; and her memory will be cherished here below, age after age, by the kind and good, for her kindness and her goodness to her brothers and her sisters of the great family of man. Is not such remembrance worth exertion?

Such things have been done by others in the past, and we have profited therefrom. We owe the past a debt, but we can never pay it back to them. It is as the debt which a man owes to his father and his mother, that cared for him in helpless infancy and through the perils of his childhood. All his care and tenderness in after life can never do away the debt. He can only pay it to the great human race, by taking the same care of his own helpless infants that his parents showed towards him. So is it with us also. Shall we then continue to do nothing, and rest contented in our shame? Is there not a touch of meanness in our apathy? Shall we take all from the dead past, and provide nothing for the quickening future? Or are there hearts among you that can be moved to action, and who wait but the trumpet's blast to call you to the field? Let my voice then be that trumpet to stir you from your sleep. - Shake off your slumber. There is much to do. The standing grain is ripe and ready for the harvest. Let each put in his sickle, and gather the golden wheat into our granary.

As others have fed you, see that you feed others. There are those among you whose families, even to the third and fourth generation, have here in our Library enjoyed the softening and refining influences of this calm converse with the wise and good of old. The manly wisdom of your father was drawn in part from here. Hither also came your mild-eyed mother, and as you stood beside her knee, she told you from our books those little stories by which she sought to mould your infant mind to virtue, and fill your heart with horror for all vice. Her hands have held these books,her sacred touch has hallowed them, and she herself stood, even as you, beside her mother's knee, and drank from her lips also those little draughts of wisdom. From the time when she could first comprehend her mother's words until her kind eyes closed in death, in short, from the cradle to the grave, these books were her companions and her solace, her amusement and her resource; in sickness and in health the mute participants of her sorrows and her joys. And will you neglect this Library, and let it drag on a lingering life until, perhaps, at length, these very books pass into the hands of strangers, and are scattered to the four winds of heaven?

Do you ask what you can do? Every thing. If you have money to spare, give money, and I do hope, for the honor of our sex, that some man who can afford to give $5,000, will not any longer leave the name of Miss Demilt alone upon the record.

You can purchase shares, and present them to those who will appreciate and enjoy them.

You can club with others to purchase costly works, too costly for a single individual, yet which all can enjoy.

But money is not every thing. You can take an interest in the institution, and you can interest your friends.

You can exert yourself to make our Library a central point for science and literature in our city.

See how unfavorably we compare with Boston and Philadelphia in this respect. Is it because we have not as many scientific or literary men among us? I do not believe it. It is because there is no concentration, no consolidation, no nucleus around which they may quietly crystallize. You can now, if you choose to exert yourselves, make your new Library such a nucleus, and by so doing you will increase your own pleasure a s well as that of others.

You can look among your books at home, and see if there are not some that would add to the value of our Library. They will not be lost to you, you will simply share your enjoyment of them with others.

Look at our Catalogue. You can there read the names of those who have already taken thought for this. Mr. Winthrop, for example, presented us with nearly three hundred volumes in the year 1812, and a most curious and valuable collection it is, for which the memory of the donor well deserves to be held in grateful remembrance by us all. The list of contributors in this way is, I am happy to say, too long for me to quote to you at present!

There is, however, one man who is still living and working among us, whose name I cannot pass by in silence. I recollect, while still a student in our college here, noticing his name in the Catalogue of the New York Society Library as the giver of book after book, and all of them valuable ones, and, with the warmth of a young student, I exclaimed: "If ever I get a chance in after life, I'll thank this Gulian C. Verplanck at least for my share of his books." That chance has, unexpectedly, arrived, and I am certain that I express the feelings of hundreds when I thank, as I now do most sincerely, the Hon. Gulian C. Verplanck for his continued kindness to us and to others. I would fain wish him some good wish, but, as far as I can see, he has all that any one could wish him. "His age is as a lusty winter, frosty but kindly;" he has "troops of friends," and he has won his crown of honor which he wears with the easy gravity of some Greek sage of old. The only wish that I can think of, is one in which we are at least as much interested as he; and that is -May he still live many years in health and usefulness among us. When at length the parting hour does come, may death deal gently with him, and dismiss his soul without a pang. He may rest assured that the sincerest grief will cloud men's brows around his tomb.

I trust he will pardon me this somewhat unceremonious mention of his name, but I do not admire that coldness which induces men to defer the acknowledgment of a kindness until the grave has closed over him that did it. I much prefer the warm thanks of the living to the living,-the warm and friendly grasp of the grateful hand.

I have thus shown you what you can do, and have pointed you to bright examples among the living and the dead.

You yourselves must see that the humblest and the weakest can do something, while there is enough to task all the energies of the most talented and the most wealthy men among you.

In conclusion, I hope it will not be deemed indelicate, or out of place, if I attempt to speak a good word for my predecessor in the office of Librarian. Whatever may be our individual feelings or opinions, we should all remember that he has spent his whole life in our service. His days "have fallen into the sere and yellow-leaf." He has a wife and five children clinging to him for support, and he is trying hard to keep his head above water. Will you let him drown, or will you throw him a rope?

He has a small piece of property on Staten Island. You hold a mortgage on this of $900. Could not this be paid off by subscription? Pardon me if I seem to any of you to have spoken too boldly, or too bluntly in this matter; but I have thought it would perhaps be not very agreeable to us hereafter to have him also quoted as one more instance of "disregarded age in corners thrown."

My task is now ended, my duty in this matter is now done. I can forge no stronger phrases than those I have employed. You have a young and energetic Board of Trustees, and the names upon your books are those of families and of men that have the intellect and the means to do any thing they choose. You can, if you so will it, build up a glorious monument for yourselves, your city, your country, and your age. The golden door of opportunity is now open to you. Do not, I beseech you, let it be open in vain; for, if it shut before you enter the palace of light to which it leads, when it does close, it will leave you without to your darkness and your shame.

Through the dim haze that veils the future, I see the interior of a noble Library with all its manifold enjoyments - an ample Reading-Room, whither the Telegraph, on lightning wings, concentrates intelligence from all quarters of the world- a Conversation-Room, where brilliant wit and profound remark cheer the heart, and excite the intellect: in short, a place, from whose heaven all those influences that refine and ennoble our race lend each the soft ray of its star. The busy investigator, the educated citizen, the intelligent stranger, throng thither to enjoy and profit by "the feast of reason and the flow of soul."

It rests with you to transform this ideal to the actual. I have reviewed the past. I have stated the present; I have sketched the future; whether that sketch shall become a finished painting, must now depend on you.

I know not what effect my words may have had upon you, but this I do know, that, if they have been as powerful as my will, I shall have lighted in all your souls no transient flame "like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume," but a lasting and intense desire to do all that in you lies for the preservation, improvement, and development of our Library.


* This and the following extracts are from the different publications of the late Librarian, P. J. Forbes, Esq.


** Here are some letters to prove the truth of what has been said:

To the Library Committee of the N. Y. Society Library, Nov. 7th, 1835.

GENTLEMEN-There is a volume in the Library under your care, of great value to the Lutheran Church. Its title is' Reformator Germanise Martinus Luther, a Septem Characteribus Laurentii Foreri Vindicatus.' That is, Martin Luther the Reformer of Germany Vindicated, &c. I had the honor of drawing the attention of that distinguished body of Christians to this book. In its present dress, namely, Latin and German, it is locked up; nobody looks at it; nobody calls for it; nobody reads it. The very learned professors and ministers of the Lutheran church of Maryland and Pennsylvania are anxious to have it translated and published, and they have laid on me, gentlemen, the pleasant commission to beg you to give them the loan of said book, in order that they may translate and publish it. Enclosed is the petition to you, gentlemen. It is signed by the President of their college and their learned professors; by Professor Dr. Schumaker, one of the finest scholars in our country; also by some of their leading ministers. I am aware that I am commissioned by these very distinguished scholars to ask rather an unusual favor. But I am confident that your disposition to give every facility to the progress of letters, will move you to grant their request at once. As the book in its present dress is really of no use to almost every member of your association; and as the book will be restored to you, together with a copy of it in its English dress (if published), I feel a confidence that you will, at once, be kind enough to place the book at our service. If you want any farther explanations, I will cheerfully wait on you at your meeting, at any hour you shall name to me. I am very respectfully, gentlemen, Your most obed't servant,


(Signed.) W. C. BROWNLEE, 121 Fulton street.
New York, 71 Nassau street, July 11th, 1854.

Dear Sir - Harper & Bros. wish to get out a new edition of their illustrated Robinson Crusoe, but have no copy from which to re-engrave the pictures, the originals having been destroyed by fire. I have been unable to find a copy in private hands, and it occurred to me that you doubtless have a copy, which you would spare for the purpose from the Library. It shall be replaced as soon as they can get out a new edition, and you will doubtless have a better printed copy than you now possess. If you will thus oblige them and me! please let the bearer have it. On another page is a receipt for the book, which you may wish to have as a memorandum and voucher. * * *

Very truly yours,
P. J. FORBEs, Esq., Society Library.

My Dear Sir - You have Nichols' edition of the Tatler, 1786. Nobody else has. We want to copy from it some notes. Can you oblige us so far as to let the bearer, Prof. Greene, have it for a day or two? I will be responsible for its safe return.

(Signed.) Yours, G. P. PUTNAM.
N. Y. October 6th, 1853.

No. 50 Wall street, April 4th, 1849,
P. J. Forbes,"Esq., Librarian.

My Dear Sir - Mr. Ewbank wishes to make some investigations in your Library for my use in a patent cause about to be tried. Please permit him to have full access to the books, and oblige Your obd't serv't

WM. CURTIS NOYES, 50 Wall street.