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2002 articles 1979 articles

Department of Printed Books: German popular literature as seen in some recent antiquarian acquisitions

D. L. Paisey

Abstract

Systematic acquisition of foreign literature for the British Museum library began in 1834 with regular Government funding, and, particularly under Panizzi, the attention paid to current material was extended also to supplementing the existing holdings of older books on as wide a scale as possible. His declared aim to make this the best library for foreign literature outside the countries concerned was to an extent achieved as an intellectual manifestation of British imperial dominance at its Victorian zenith. Under his direction, antiquarian purchasing, limited only by what came on to the market, was vigorously pursued, and so-called 'popular' literature was acquired as readily as the products of high culture, a necessary development in view of the fact that the foundation collections had represented overwhelmingly establishment interests. For literature, though mostly only for the literate, has from the beginnings of printing catered for various audiences, not merely for the ruling class and its clerical and scholarly servants. The other classes, as they joined and scaled the ladder of literacy, have had books directed at them, in accordance with what society at any time has seen as their needs, more particularly when they became a substantial market, and they also produced their own authors.

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