By Helen Mathers
You may call almost any room a library that has books in it, and the more it is a study and smoking-room combined the pleasanter it is. The simplest way of making an ordinary room look like a study is to put up two shelves, a good way apart, above the floor, and let these run right round the room, with a shelf on top on which to place china, small pictures, etc., the shelves to be bordered with a dark stamped leather border, and filled, more or less, with books. Some easy-chairs, a couch, a writing-table, and another for general use, complete a room made all the pleasanter for some masculine litter about and smoking paraphernalia - a man should be allowed to smoke all over his house if he pleases.
This, of course, is the plainest possible way of making a library; but Chippendale bureaux, with bookcases above, are a joy to behold, and keep safely one's most cherished volumes. A long Sheraton book-case filling a recess, or placed against the wall, is the making of almost any room.
For those who can afford it, the Adams bookcase is the most beautiful of all, with its open metalwork, through which you Mo and almost handle the books.
Plain high mahogany bookcases, with ledges below glass doors, and sliding panels underneath for paper, books, and so on, look extremely well, filling two sides of a room. Flowers and china on the ledge contrast well with such a background, and you can afford to be a little frivolous with your colours. One of the most charming libraries I ever saw was a "chrysanthemum" one. The carpet, subdued in effect, was shaded from brown up to orange; there were orange satin curtains; all woodwork and the overmantels were white; the latter had dishes of old yellow Worcester on the top, and yellow and orange flowers on the brack and shelf. A looped Liberty curtain partly divided the room, and a Dutch marqueterie bureau and couch showed beyond with a gleam of chrysanthemum gold leather walls behind. Of course, the better the bindings. the more convenable the room, but a bookshelf filled with the dapper little sevenpenny and comfortable chairs, and of an indefinable restfulness volumes that make such fascinating reading is to be seen everywhere, and the depredations made on it are viewed by most folks with greater equanimity than those on their bookcases. People punctilious on other matters are extraordinarily dishonest about books. My son used to write on his the old threat:
A charming library, filled with that atmosphere which a scholar alone can create, and yet a homely room, filled with flowers
"This book is one thing, My fist is another. Touch not the one,
For fear of the other!"
For filling a corner in any library that is not mainly composed of bookcases, I don't think the value of a Chippendale corner cupboard can be over-estimated; it gives a grace, a finish, to a room that no other piece of furniture does. Nature abhors a vacuum. and it is just that ugly corner vacuum which the cupboard fills.
I confess to being fond of furniture that has legs - otherwise, stands clear of the floor, and does not harbour dust. It is also more elegant, and this fact is now so well understood that old Sheraton and Chippendale cabinets, available for either books or china, are now frequently mounted in that way, usually on the lower part of some old piece of furniture, so that it really is all old together, if not of one piece. Some of the modern bookcases with glass doors, imitated from old models, with arch in centre and with legs, are a delight to the eye. Indeed, there is hardly any model of old furniture that is not closely copied and in the market to-day.
If it is not exactly cheap, it is moderate in comparison to the work of those great designers, Chippendale, Sheraton, and Hepplewhite, who, if they had glorious names - where are such names now ? - thoroughly lived up to them. One knows their work at a glance, first by its beauty of line, then by the workmanship that makes its use the very perfection of comfort. It is said that Chippendale produced his results by using nothing but seasoned wood, Then in those leisured days workmen took time. It is because work is done with such haste nowadays that drawers will not open or shut properly, locks will not work, and when our temper gives way, it is the modern craftsman, not we, who are to blame.
The lighting of a library or study is simple
- the less light there is on the walls, the more on the writing and other tables, and by the fireplace, the better. The latter lights should be placed low, so that. sitting in an easy-chair by the fire, one is able to read comfortably; and lamps, electric or otherwise, should be arranged according to the number of people making use of them, and the size of the room. I do not believe in a central light for a library, or, indeed any room, if it can be avoided. To select the middle of a room in which to read is ridiculous. A library that has irregular walls and corners is twice as nice as a square room, and now that, with modern building, the alcove is coming more and more into use, the sinful parsimony in taste and material that made windows straight instead of rounding and projecting them, so that they made practically another room, is a thing of the past. Some of the most charming rooms owe their beauty, not to furnishing, but to breaking up into all sorts of unexpected nooks and corners. No inspiration is wanted in arranging these - merely to look after your carpet and curtains; and a library of this kind, where . an easy-chair, a bookshelf, or even a revolving book-case, invite several persons at once to surrender themselves to recreation, is something to be thankful for in these restless days.
Sheraton cabinet mounted on legs for books or china
The first illustration, showing a library in an ancient Cornish house, represents something very different from the informal one just described. Here is the indescribable atmosphere that the great scholar, the bibliophilist, alone can create, here are costly first editions by the score, writings on parchment, everywhere the rare, intangible fragrance of old, old leather bindings, breathing strange secrets, and you understand why the savant values his books before all else, understand also that books furnish more richly even than pictures ever can a room. Yet this one is homely, too, with its couches, easy-chairs, and flowers and birds, and the spirit of kindness that is so frequently found with true enlightenment.
I think the same rule applies to magnificent libraries as to humble sanctums which hold only a bookshelf or two. You were meant to be happy in them, and certain it is that books refuse to lend themselves to vulgarity, and with people of flagrantly bad taste the library is usually the least offensive room in the house. I confess to a sneaking sympathy with the nouveau riche, who complacently remarked on showing his walls panelled to the ceiling with splendidly bound books, "and not a page of one of them cut!"
The very fact that he had not time to read them proved that he was doing things. The love of reading may be indulged in till it becomes a disease, and has ruined more promising careers than the world will ever know of. It is emphatically a recreation, not a man's object in life, but, as such, should be provided for, and a room without books in it is ghastly beyond telling. I once paid my first call at a house where the double drawing-rooms were furnished in duplicate, in rose-coloured brocade; glasses there were, but not a flower, not a book, not a photograph, save of the hostess in Court dress at one end of the room, of the host in ditto at the other! A servant left me there. I looked, I shuddered, I fled ! When my hostess descended she searched for me in vain in that wilderness of rose-colour. One book with the page turned down, one scrap of needlework would have appeased and kept me there.
So books let us have by all means with which to pass a suffering or idle hour in every room you occupy, but when we have collected and arranged a good many in one place, whether we call it library, study, or smoking-room matters little, so long as we make it thoroughly comfortable.