At first sight this seems to be rather dull, but worthy. The more one reads on however some of the wording weaves between barking mad and rather sinister “selecting such books as were free from danger to faith and morals”,….. “their suitability to different kinds of readers”… “all would agree with him that the increase of infidel and harmful literature was unprecedented.”.. “Such literature was abhorrent to every Christian soul”… Still at least it gave great great granny something to do.
The General Meeting of this Society was held on Wednesday afternoon, at Archbishop’s House, Westminster. His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop presided, and amongst those present were the Bishop of Emmaus, the Marquis of Ripon, Lord Herries, the Very Rev. W. Lockhart, Inst. Char., the Revv. J. Bagshawe, D.D., G. Akers, H. Bittleston, J. Biemans, E. Lescher, S. McDaniel, H. Arden, Sir John and Lady Marshall, Colonel Prendergast, Mrs. Roper Parkington, Mrs. and Miss Clerke, Mr. Wegg-Prosser, Mr. Allies, Mr. Lyall, Miss Pownall, Mr. Bell, Mr. Britten, Mr. George Blount, Dr. Laing, Mr. Bellasis, &c.
The REV. CANON WENHAM, the Hon. Secretary, read the Report.
Its First Establishment.—St. Anselm’s Society was first set up in the year 1860. The original design of it was mainly due to the late Father Formby, who did not, however, continue long in connection with it, but left it to others to carry the design into execution. Those who were most instrumental in this were the late Lord Petre and the late Father Knox, of the Oratory, the present Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, with the Very Rev. Father Morris, the Very Rev. Father William Eyre, Mr. Lloyd, the secretary, and the present secretary. The Society continued for several years in its work, collecting subscriptions and making grants of good books free, or at half price, and was in this way the means of putting several thousands of pounds’ worth of such books into circulation. But after a time the support given to it fell off, and the applications made to it became fewer and fewer. One cause of this was that the Society was expected to make a reduction to subscribers on all its books to an extent which, especially under the altered conditions of the book trade, it was not possible to make. That it did not entirely fall to the ground has been due to the support given to it by the President of the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul, Mr. Blount, who undertook the office of secretary, and kept it going during many years of discouragement.
A Fresh Start.—It may be well to explain briefly the circumstances that have led to its making a fresh start. It was partly because during the last two or three years the mischief done by indiscriminate reading of the books of the day has become more apparent and more frightful. Those who watch over us, as they that must give account of our souls, do not cease in pastorals and sermons and synodical letters to insist and enlarge on this danger. And the Holy See has repeatedly spoken on this subject in the strongest terms. With this conviction on their minds, the spirit of some who were well acquainted with our schools and colleges was stirred within them on seeing how little was being done to form in our young people a taste for wholesome literature and a conscience about indiscriminate reading, and that even the few books that were lent to the pupils to read or given them as prizes were often not of the kind that would be likely to cultivate their taste or excite their intelligence. It appeared on investigation that those who had to select the books oftentimes did not know what to order. They could not tell the character of books from their titles, and were at the mercy of booksellers and publishers, who, if not without knowledge of the books, were without knowledge of their suitability to the classes for whom they were ordered, and who were under special temptations to supply their own books, whether suitable or not. Here, then, it was thought, was a useful work for a Society like that of St. Anselm. If it could do little with the world at large to check unwholesome literature, yet at least it might give a helping hand to the hundreds and hundreds of our own convent schools and colleges throughout the country, that the money they laid out—and it must amount to a large sum each year —in books for prizes and school libraries, might be well laid out in books of the best sort for each class of readers It might be useful not only in selecting such books as were free from danger to faith and morals, but were the best of their kind, the most elevating and invigorating. And further, it might classify them according to their subject and character, and their suitability to different kinds of readers. With this view, then, the Council of St. Anselm’s Society set to work about a year ago to make a fresh start. It began by seeking for a local habitation in a central position, and had the good fortune to find, after some little search, its present premises, which, though not large, are sufficient for the purpose, and are in the neighbourhood of nearly all the similar institutions of London, and only five doors from the Strand at Charing Cross. And it has also been fortunate in finding a competent person, and experienced in bookselling, in the present manager. Busi; ness was thus commenced in a quiet way last June. The premises were fitted up sufficiently to make a beginning, and the Depository furnished with the books set down on its first lists.
Lists of Books.—These lists consist of the names of books selected from the catalogues of different publishers for their suitability to particular classes of readers. Nine such lists have now been issued ; the first was a list marked (C), of books suitable for libraries in elementary schools, with a second part (D), for the more advanced classes. For now that the education department recommends the establishment of such libraries, and takes them into account in awarding the mark of merit to the school, it seemed important to furnish lists of books that could be recommended for such libraries in Catholic schools. The next lists were (K), prize books for colleges, and (L), for convent schools, for it seemed deplorable that the large sums of money that are spent in this way should be laid out in books taken by chance or as the interest of the bookseller might direct, and not rather books such as we should really desire the pupils to make a study of. Two more lists (E and F), were next got out, the first for parochial libraries, and the second for more general and advanced readers. A short list (H) was printed of the best books of spiritual reading, with a supplement (G) of books of religious ‘instruction. But this last, at the suggestion of a high authority, has been expanded into a list of books of doctrine and controversy on the subjects of the day. This list is intended to answer, as far as may be, the questions so often asked as to what book is the best to explain particular doctrines and difficulties, to answer particular questions on religion, or to lend to people in particular states of mind or stages of advance towards faith and submission to the Church. The last list just published (M) requires a little special notice, as it differs from all the others in consisting, not of books selected and recommended as good books, but of books that may he read. People, it was urged, do not now buy the books they read, but hire them. If you wish, it was said, to direct their reading, you must look over the lists of books in the subscription libraries and tell them which they may read, and you must remember that if you attempt to restrain their reading too much about the subjects of the day, because these are dangerous, the most weak and least virtuous will only seek to emancipate themselves from a control which leaves them, as they think, behind the rest of the world. This was the argument, and the Society thought that at all events it would be doing a good work in forming a list selected from the subscription libraries of books which were the most safe and the least objectionable, while of course there are a large number of these books which are not only unexceptionable, but excellent.
Advantages.—The question is sometimes put to us, What advantage do we get by going to St. Anselm’s Society for books? Do you give a greater reduction than we can get elsewhere ? The answer is that we do not want to oppose or undersell the trade, but help to encourage it by making known the best works of all publishers. Nor could we undersell booksellers if we would, for the reduction made on cash sales is already as large as can be borne. While, therefore, St. Anselm’s Society invites readers to come to it for knowledge and choice of books, it does not ask that other booksellers should be left, and all orders should be sent to itself. Yet while it makes no profession—as at the time of its first establishment— of reducing the price of books below that of the trade, yet it is quite ready to reduce it as much, and in fact it makes a reduction of 25 per cent. all round, including those hooks which are dealt with exceptionally by the trade. Any one may take one of St. Anselm’s lists of selected books and tick off those he desires to have, and may send the list and a cheque for three-fourths of the whole sum to which the marked prices amount, and the Manager will send him the books, carriage free. There are publishers who will do as much with regard to their own books ; but St. Anselm’s Society will do this about the books of other publishers—about all good books—taking upon itself all the incidental expenses that may be the result of so doing. So far as this, then, the Society does offer some special advantages to those who order parcels of selected books.
Reprinting and Publishing,.—Lastly, the Society is ready to under-take the publication of books. There are not a few very good works which are out of print and cannot be obtained, and there are books indifferently translated and edited of which new editions are much wanted. The Society will readily enter into terms for reprinting such books, or publishing new works, so long as they are of a kind that falls within its scope, And as its great aim and end is not to make money, but to encourage and spread good books, it can afford perhaps more than others to be ” sweetly reasonable “ in dealing with editors and authors.
Officers and Associates.—Since the re-establishment of the Society it has had the misfortune to lose its President, Lord Petre. The members of the Society have reason to cherish his memory, of one who always endeavoured to attend its meetings, and showed great interest in its work, which he did his best to promote. The Council at their last meeting in January elected Lord Herries to fill his place, which he has kindly consented to do. At the same time the Council elected as permanent members of i is body a number of distinguished literary men, in order that it may have the benefit of their guidance, as well as their support, in any important questions of their. policy or work. The Council also elected eight members to manage the ordinary business of the Society, half of whom are to retire each year by rotation and their places to be filled up by election. Besides the permanent Council of authors, the Society has been able to obtain a valuable addition to its influence and working power in its Associates. When it began its fresh start a certain number of ladies, who felt the great importance of its work, engaged to give it their help, and united in an Association for Promoting the Reading of Good Books in Mission and School Libraries and Charitable Institutions. The Society now numbers forty of such associates, and is grateful to them for the valuable assistance they have given, especially in the selection of books. It has no better hope of success in its work than through the co-operation of these ladies, who will use their personal influence in their own localities to prevail on those about them to feed on good and wholesome literature, instead of what is poisonous.
Finance.—And now, in conclusion, something must be said as to the condition of the Society’s finances. And here we regret to have to make an admission which will have the tendency to set every right-minded Englishman against us. But the truth must be told—we have no balance at our bankers. The Society’s expenditure, indeed, during the past year, has, notwithstanding great economy, been fairly respectable. It has had the rent of the depository to pay for, to fit it up and furnish it with a decent amount of books ; it has had to pay for the printing of lists and circulars; to keep a manager and his assistant; to meet the expenses of advertising, petty cash, and sundries. We fear to injure our character in the world’s estimation by saying for how little all this was done. But it has not been done fur nothing; and—this is the disgraceful part of the story—it has not been done on our income. Our income is not respectable. We are surrounded by Societies like the Christian Knowledge Society, the Pure Literature Society, and others, whose income is counted by thousands. But St. Anselm’s Society set out last year with the modest sum of £86 13s. 8d., handed over by the late secretary. It has now about one hundred subscribers. Its total receipts from them during the past year and a quarter have amounted to £300. If St. Anselm in those old days, when he used to come to Mortlake to keep the feast of Easter, could have had a vision of the financial position which the Society bearing his name would hold in comparison with the non-Catholic Societies, he might have perhaps prophesied worse days for the Church in England than even those of William Rufus.
And now what is to be said in extenuation of the offence of having allowed expenditure to outrun income? This much. First, that no one need be under any apprehension for the Society, as care has been taken that the liability for this extra expenditure should fall entirely on those that are responsible for it. Secondly, a large portion of the expenses are incidental to the setting up of the Society’s business, and will not recur. Like every business it has to make a venture, but a reasonable venture, in order to get into working order and make itself known. Thirdly, the standing expense of the Depository is ono that may be expected to be met by the business done, and this though small as yet is increasing, and has begun to contribute towards current expenses. There is no reason why the business of St. Anselm’s Society in bookselling should not pay its expenses as well as any other bookselling business if it succeeds ; and it is beginning to succeed. But no doubt it must, at least in the first instance, depend on the support it receives from subscriptions. At the outset it must appeal for help towards its working expenses. And it appeals earnestly also for assistance to furnish the Depository with specimen copies of books, to make grants of books to charitable institutions, and to enable it to reprint and publish books that are called for. Other institutions of this kind are liberally supported by their own adherents, and the Society of St. Anselm appeals to the Catholic body to give it liberal aid for one or more of these objects, that it may be able worthily to represent Catholic interests in the literary world.
The MARQUIS OF RIPON, in moving the adoption of the Report, said his task was a very easy one, because he was sure that those who had listened to it while it was being read—giving as it did so clear a history of the objects and proceedings of this Society—would feel that the Society was well worthy of the support of English Catholics. The main object of the Society, as set forth in the Report was this : ” If it could do little with the world at large to check unwholesome literature, yet at least it might give a helping hand to the hundreds and hundreds of our own convent schools and colleges throughout the country, that the money they laid out—and it must amount to a large sum each year—in books for prizes and school libraries, might be well laid out in books of the best sort for each class of readers.” Any one who had had to select prizes for schools and colleges, especially in the country, must have felt the difficulty of making anything like a good selection. What happened generally was this—they went to the nearest bookseller, and chose those books which were nicely bound, and at the same time within the amount they had to spend. Generally there was very considerable difficulty, and the result was that the prizes were not always of the character they ought to be. The selection depended upon the extent of the bookseller’s stock, and this was particularly the case when they wanted books suitable to Catholic societies. Not only was the value of the prizes diminished, but there was the risk that no small amount of mischief might be done. It must always be remembered that prize books were not only to be admired for their bindings, but they were to be read and studied, and they came into the hands of the students with all the authority of the school to recommend them.
It seemed to him, therefore, that the work this Society was doing in issuing the lists of which the Report spoke, was very useful and valuable work indeed. It performed for Catholics a work which was done for Anglicans by the wealthy societies like the Christian Know-ledge Society and others. It was most important that those who have the management of the education of the young, should have a ready means of obtaining suitable books for children. Another important branch of the work was the list of books in circulating libraries and looking over that list, he could not help remarking that it was drawn up in no narrow or restricted spirit. He did not think he need detain them any longer. He moved the adoption of the Report, and in doing so he commended St. Anselm’s Society to the continued support of its friends and of Catholics at large, confident that it was doing a very valuable work, while the state of its funds was not creditable to those who ought to sustain it with liberality.
The REV. G. AKERS, in seconding the motion, said : No one could mix as the clergy and many of the laity did with the people, and especially with the poor, without seeing the taint cast into their lives and their faith by reading books, not actually bad, but which contained the suggestion of what was evil. Many books were based upon false principles, and, although admired by all for their artistic merit, yet were as a snake in the grass. Who was to help them in the selection of books ? To make a right selection one had to look into the books, and for each of them to do that separately for themselves was rather a waste of good labour, while the result was, after all, unsatisfactory. That being so, these lists became very valuable to those who felt keenly the curse of this bad literature, and yet who found the work of selection a great difficulty. They wanted some one to help them in that matter, and to tell them which books were safe from the insidious danger of hidden wrong. The British spirit was inclined to resent any interference in matters of this kind, so that this work must be done very gently. It was impossible to have it done more gently than it was by this Society. They had to protect their people and children in their words as well as in their acts, and he did not see how any one could find fault with so excellent a Society as this. He hoped that they would not forget that the work of the St. Anselm’s Society was not merely the keeping of a store—its aim and ends was the diffusion of good books. They had to make a new start, and new work must be carried out. He hoped that fresh ways would be found by which good books might he diffused amongst the people, and he was certain that the work would grow immensely. They must take it up in a solid and earnest way worthy of the Church, and so check the spreading of the curse and poison of bad literature. The motion to was then agreed to nem. con.
LORD HERRIES, in moving the second resolution, said he must preface the few remarks he was about to make by saying how honoured he felt some months ago when he was elected President of this Society. He had taken great interest in the Society, and was attracted to it at first by the name of St. Anselm. He thought he ought, as President, to tender his thanks to his Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop for allowing them to come there for the meeting, and for his kindness in taking the chair on this occasion. The resolution he had to propose was really one to inform the public what the Society was. He proposed : ” That while the diffusion of good books is at all times a useful_and desirable object, it becomes especially important at the present time when immoral, heretical, and infidel publications are circulated to an unprecedented extent amongst all classes.” When the Society was founded some twenty years ago, the circumstances were not so bad as they were at present, and all would agree with him that the increase of infidel and harmful literature was unprecedented. Such literature was abhorrent to every Christian soul, and it was time for a Society like this to spread in Catholic society books which had a healthy tone ; the spread of healthy literature not only would prevent people reading bad books, but it would have a still greater effect in keeping the seeds of faith in the minds of our countrymen. They wanted the support of the clergy in this matter, and he believed that if the clergy took an interest in the formation of parish libraries they would be doing a great deal of good. In Yorkshire there was a mechanics’ union of village libraries, including 180 villages with 200, ow books. He did not see why they should not have Catholic village libraries, with this Society as the headquarters of such a movement.
The REV. DR. BAGSHAWE seconded the resolution. There was, he said, no doubt about the increased power of the press in these days, but while its power was increasing its tone was growing worse. The only way to meet this state of things was to descend into the field, and by producing and circulating good books use the same weapons as their enemies, provide good sound literature for the poor, not only for their own people, but for the masses of the population generally.
The motion was agreed to.
COLONEL PRENDERGAST next moved : ” That since the tendency of the popular literature of the day has become a subject of earnest solicitude to the Holy See ; and since the Bishops of England, in a Synodical Letter, have called on the Catholic laity to aid in counteracting the evil agencies at work through the medium of cheap publications, it becomes an urgent duty on the part of the faithful at large to take measures for responding to their appeal.” He confessed that he had been very much struck by the Report that had been read to the meeting, and he congratulated the Secretary, Canon Wenham, upon its production. It opened up so large a scope for this Society, that he could only venture to make a few remarks upon one or two points in it. He could not conceive how any class could be excluded from the operations of the Society, and he would therefore put in a claim for young persons of the higher classes. In middle and higher class schools there was a great disposition to reading, such as hardly existed some years ago. He remembered the formation of a school library at Eton, which at the time was regarded as an extraordinary thing, but now all large schools had their libraries. They were creating amongst the youth of the country a great appetite for reading, and with that came a certain responsibility upon those interested in young people to see that when they left school they would know how to choose the good and leave the evil books. He thought the circulating library list was especially valuable, and he said that more particularly as the father of a family.
In this country they had a wonderfully good literature, they had a mass of good books, and he was delighted to find that Canon Wenham had been at the trouble of preparing these useful lists. They wanted to know in some accessible way what to order from the circulating libraries which in modern days were powerful organisations. He believed that Mudie’s Library first came into existence to supply a clientele of evangelical proclivities, and that that was the making of that celebrated library. He was not sure that they could not get some lending libraries to order books to suit Catholics. He was delighted to find that general literature was not to be discouraged, because every now and then a book would appear—a book perhaps trifling apparently, but which would effect a revolution. They all knew that some years ago the places of worship in the Established Church were not what they ought to be, but now it was frequently difficult to know at once whether they were in a Catholic or an Anglican Church. He believed that the change was to be attributed, in a great measure, to a little book published some years ago called St. Autholicus. It was not, he thought, beyond the scope of this Society to encourage some kinds of ephemeral literature which would have a powerful effect for good. One word more : there was a slight note of despondency which perhaps was not to be wondered at, in the concluding sentences of the Report, but he did not think that they could always judge of the work of a Society, or of its true value, by the state of its funds. The officials no doubt were apt to take that view, but work like that of this Society had means of touching people of which the Society itself had no conception. A general effect was produced even by small means. He could only hope that the words of his resolution would find a response in the hearts of Catholics, and that the laity of the Church would rouse themselves and put themselves in contact with this Society to their own advantage and for the promotion of education in this country.
The VERY REV. W. LOCKHART, in seconding the motion, said he should confine his remarks for the most part to cheap literature. Colonel Prendergast very properly pointed out the importance of wholesome literature for the educated classes, but there was one thing which must be weighing on every Catholic who comes into contact with the masses of the people. He was sure it weighed on the heart of his Eminence and on the hearts of many priests who have to do with the people. That was that they were being ruined in thousands by cheap and bad literature. It was clearly one of the objects of this Society to do what could be done for all classes. It was the one Society they had for promoting Christian knowledge—the one Society which had the right to that high title. They had heard what it had been able to do in the course of its twenty years’ existence, and while they gave all credit and praise to those who had been foremost in the work of the Society, yet he thought they must all feel a tingling of shame when they considered that it bad done no more. Twenty years or more of life and that was all that it had been able to do. How was it that Catholics could do no more ? He spoke of the laity, for the clergy were so full of work. The Church of England and the dissenting bodies were examples in this respect which they ought to imitate. They were put to shame by what the Protestants—the Samaritans—were doing. He heard it said by Mr. Spurgeon that when a man went to him reproach-ing himself with his wasted life and neglected opportunities, that eloquent preacher would say : ” What are you going to do for other people, if you turn to God you must love your neighbour, for how can you love God, whom you have not seen, if you love not your neighbour whom you have seen.” Mr. Spurgeon puts his people into harness, and those who knew what was being done at Newington amongst a debased population, know the immense amount of good that was being done by the laity—both men and women—gathered round that preacher. There were many other instances to be found to show what the Samaritans were doing to shame the true Church. The country was being ruined and souls were being destroyed in thousands by bad literature. What were the Catholics doing to prevent this circulation of garbage, and to give better books in its stead ? His experience was this, that the laity did not sufficiently co-operate with the clergy. The Church of England laity and others supported their large societies for promoting Christian knowledge, &c., by large subscriptions and donations. He would be pleased if this meeting put into their hearts a practical and persevering zeal to imitate what was being done by others outside the true Church.
The resolution was agreed to unanimously.
The CARDINAL ARCHBISHOP said be had listened with great interest to the Report of this Society, which was founded nearly twenty-five years ago. There was, however, one great omission in the Report, and that was the name of Canon Wenham amongst those who have been associated with the Society from the beginning. The importance of this Society was immense, and he felt that to be so when twenty-five years ago he was asked to support it. He was very glad to be reminded of a fact he had quite forgotten. Four years after the foundation of this Society—in 1864—it fell to his lot to obtain the sanction of the Holy Father Pope Pius IX. to this Society. He had forgotten the fact. He was afraid that he had done very little but sympathise with this work. Lord Herries had been kind enough to thank him for receiving them that day and for presiding. He hoped that this Society from this day would meet there—this house would always be open to It seemed to him that a Society of this sort could not be under a better roof than his house. So many things had been touched upon that he would confine what he had to say to the importance of a society for the dissemination of good books. He was very often asked questions which perplexed him as to whether this or that book would be on the Index or not. He could not answer such questions, but it was perfectly certain that in this country all they could do was to sail at the Index without any hope of ever reaching it, just as a sailor sailed for the North Pole. Although it was impossible to lay down definite rules in this matter, yet they should keep the rules of the Index before their minds, and that was what this Society had done. He was glad to find that there was a large amount, of innocent and instructive literature before them, and Canon Wenham had exercised a wise discretion in issuing these lists of books. He could recollect the history of the Christian Knowledge Society. It was originally in the hands of a Protestant firm, but it was found that that firm were deriving a very large profit. It was determined to take it out of their hands, and to create a Society to carry on the whole machinery of a large trade. The effect of that was to enormously increase the circulation of the books, and good authors were attracted to the Society. The books the Christian Knowledge Society published were most beautiful and instructive, and they were written by some of the best men of the day. Books they could get for eightpence were valuable beyond anything they possessed in other ways. It fell to his lot to go into this subject, and he had received a proposal upon this subject which possibly might be accepted with advantage. When he saw that the St. Anselm Society had discernment and discretion in the selection of books—when he saw that they lacked nothing but capital, it struck him that the Society might make terms with some large firm of publishers, and so enormously increase the operations of the Society. They did not want to make a profit, but only to multiply good books. The proposal before him which he thought the Society would accept, might enable them to begin a Catholic Literary Society something like the Christian Knowledge Society. He would ask Canon Wenham to confer with him on the subject.
The BISHOP OF EMMAUS in moving a vote of thanks to the Cardinal Archbishop, said that the meeting had gladdened his heart. The work of the Society might have been a small work, but it was good work. The work of selecting books was indeed most important. With regard to the Christian Evidence Society, when he recently went into that Society’s shop he was amazed with what he saw. He had noticed with regret the death of Mrs. Ewing, whose little book called Jack-a-Napes, he regarded as an admirable work, and he had recently given no fewer than twenty copies of it away.
The vote of thanks having been seconded by CANON WENHAM, it was briefly acknowledged by his Eminence, and the proceedings then terminated.
The above text was found on p.26, 23rd May 1885 in “The Tablet: The International Catholic News Weekly.” Reproduced with kind permission of the Publisher. The Tablet can be found at http://www.thetablet.co.uk .