Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Recommended Reading

Recommended Reading

Visitors to the Library at Innerpeffray often ask how or why individual books made it into our collections. This month, to coincide with Book Week Scotland, we’ve sifted through the archives at Innerpeffray to see whether we can find out how some of our earlier books came to be available for borrowing.

The Library at Innerpeffray was founded by David Drummond, Lord Madertie, in the 1680s. His will states that “I have lately begun a library” in the top room of the family chapel, and that its books are to be available for borrowing for the benefit of all. We can identify some 400 books from the original collection due to his helpful habit of marking his books “Madertie” on the top left corner of one of the first few pages (as above). None of our archival material goes back far enough to tell us where his books were coming from, or what he was choosing, but the books themselves show us that it was not always a matter of choice. For example, the image below shows the signature of Patrick Lord Drummond dated 1582, taken from the bottom of a “Madertie” book, Cosmographie. This shows that material was being passed down through the family, and that the collection Madertie was making available to the public contained some books which he had inherited. We have no evidence to show that he was choosing any books for a public readership, rather, it seems that he was making public his own collections, whatever they happened to be.

 Lord Madertie had left money in his will with the express intention that the library “be augmented by my successors yearly in time comeing”. While information on the library in the years after Madertie’s death is sparse, it is evident from the lack of books from that period that little had been done by way of increasing the collections. The Mortification Book, a document held in a private collection but to which the library has been given access, contains minutes from the meetings of the Innerpeffray Mortification (the trustees of the library) from 1741-1773, and includes some transaction records. Of the historic transactions, only 2 references to book buying are recorded up to 1741, in 1709 “for the buying of books to augment the library … 333-05-08”, and, in 1723/4, 500 merks scots. Though the sums are large, book buying does not occur with any frequency, and we have no means by which to test whether what was being bought reflected the whims of the purchaser (always a trustee, never the keeper) or the wants of the borrowers.

In the 1740s, however, the archives at Innerpeffray do give us something to go on. Robert Hay, an Englishman who had recently begun a career in the church, inherited the estates of Innerpeffray and Cromlix in 1739, and took up the family name of Drummond as part of his inheritance. Already a man of the church, he eventually ascended to the role of Archbishop of York in 1761. In 1744 he dictated to a secretary a list of “books proposed to be brought into the Library at Innerpeffray, as occasion offers”, a list which remarkably remains within the archives today. The list comprises four categories: divinity, classics, history & politic and miscellanea. It ranges from giving extensive details on particular volumes (date, format, number of volumes, and place of publication) to recommended authors in general. Whilst divinity takes pride of place on page one (though the list is unpaged, Divinity is given immediately below the title), it is classics which is the largest, closely followed by politics and history. There is a stark lack of philosophy, even among the classics. Miscellanea contains many literary works in English (Swift, Chaucer, Congreve, Shakespeare) and French too (Racine, Molière). This list does not identify gaps Hay Drummond knew of in the Innerpeffray collection. In fact, it shows us that he did not know the collection that well, since several of the titles he listed had been in the collection a long time, displaying the “Madertie” signature associated with our founder. It does, however, give us a rare insight into what a man like Hay Drummond would recommend for the shelves of a lending library.

Only around a third of the recommended titles from this list appear in the collection today, which is far less than can be accounted for by mere attrition. Further entries in the Mortification Book show that there was a ban on purchasing items from the list until a space for them, in the form of a new building commissioned by Hay Drummond (in which the collection remains today) had been completed. While book buying did not start again until 1765, the list was not forgotten about in the intervening years. A letter to the librarian from a trustee in January 1772 still refers to the “Archibishop’s list”, but goes on to discuss financial dealings with the bookseller, a Mr Drummond, who it seems had sent across various books mentioned on the list before the library had secured funds to pay for them.  The casual “as occasion offers” from the header of the 1744 list reminds us that, as even the future Archbishop knew, books cost a significant amount of money, money which could not be guaranteed always to be available to the library.

Now that the archives have taken us some way towards knowing what the patron of the library thought the public should be reading in the mid eighteenth century, it would be fascinating to see whether the borrowing habits of Innerpeffray readers match the books intended for them. While we have seen that a direct comparison is not possible (people cannot borrow items that never made it to the shelves) the uniquely fulsome borrower records at Innerpeffray can, with future analysis, show us whether the type of items they were borrowing (genre, size, modernity, language) reflect what was recommended for them.