As our society becomes increasingly atomised it becomes ever more important to find a community; a place where we can not only be but be with other people. Pubs and football grounds are available for those who like beer and balls; for the thinking man there is the London Library.
The London Library was founded in 1841 by, among others, Thomas Carlyle; early members include Charles Dickens. Membership is not free but the subscription costs are very affordable, and definitely worth the price – the library has over a million books in its care.
You may be thinking, ‘that’s all very well, but one does not go to a library to be with other people’. This is true, and is highlighted by the lack of talking in the L.L. outside its Members’ Room. The community I meant, though, is a community of minds. People who, like you, have come to wonder (and wander – it is very easy to get lost in the Library’s six floors, among the many books, old journals and ancient editions of The Times), consider, silently debate, marvel, discover and learn.
Our society is not only atomising but becoming an ever faster one for the sake of instant gratification and no more. To walk among and delve into the London Library’s array of books – one minute in Ancient Greece, the next in modern science, to write at tables used by other keen minds, is to receive an intellectual vaccination against this speedy selfishness. It is, in effect, an act of rebellion.
Pubs and football have their place but are ultimately about conformity. Thanks to Carlyle, Dickens, T. S. Eliot and others the London Library is not only a hidden gem but a silent hotbed of revolution. Viva la books!
- The Library puts on free tours every Monday. I’ve been on one and recommend it.