The Conversazione

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The Conversazione
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THE CONVERSAZIONE. Beautifully Decorated Rooms and a Crowded Meeting. THE ADDRESSES OF THE MAYOR, COLLECTOR RUEL, DR.MACRAE AND MR. ELDER. Fine Musical Programme Artistically Carried Out. Liberal Donations by Ladies – A Valuable Impetus Given to the Free Public Library. One of the most enjoyable of re-unions took place last evening in the Natural History Society rooms, in behalf of the Public Library. The decorations of the rooms set apart for the Conversazione were very elaborate, and the ladies are deserving of the greatest meed of praise for the thoroughness of their labor of love. The passage leading to the second story, where the library room is located, was lined with evergreens, giving one the impression of passing through an avenue in a forest. The visitors were first ushered into the library where the books of what is known as the Domville collection and others since purchased of a more popular class, intended to be the nucleus to the library, were arranged in a systematic manner, neatly labelled and numbered. At the head of the room the two windows are draped with maroon curtains having lace between. A square, plate mirror, with frame to match the outside curtains, hangs in the centre of the space dividing the windows and above a small plaque with painted rose in the centre. At the foot of the room the silken colors of the City Light Infantry droop over a drapery of lace. The space in the centre between the windows is occupied at the top with Japanese decorations in fans, while in the centre is a plaque having a velvet frame, the face having roses painted on it – the work of a Boston artist. In the corners are Japanese vases in black and gold, with reeds rising from them, each standing on a pedestal. The walls are covered with Japanese decorations, relieved at intervals by oil paintings – one of the Martello tower, by Miss Turnbull, attracting much attention. The arch across the centre of the room is dressed handsomely. A curtain is formed of an elegant lace pattern, and above are ferns and fans of various patterns, alternately. Fancy Japanese lanterns, of a globular shape, depend from the opposite side of the arch. Over the shelves containing the books are flowering plants (in handsome pots) and pieces of statuary, a mounted owl standing guardian at each end nearest the entrance. On the floor between the windows at each end of the room is an urn with foliage plants. The floor is covered with crimson tapestry and goat rugs, while there are easy chairs of a handsome pattern arranged in an attractive manner about the apartment. Bouquets were supplied in this room to the visitors by attentive young ladies. The railing of the stairs leading to the next floor was concealed by a large flag and the walls by evergreens. Up stairs, the room of the Sons of Temperance was fitted up for the intellectual part to be provided during the evening. The four corners of the apartment are occupied with spruce trees, while the gas chandeliers are trimmed with the same. The walls are relieved with the charts of the Temple of Honor and Sons of Temperance, the banner of Gurney Division, Japanese panels (one on either side wall) and flags. The window at the head of the room is covered with a colored curtain partly concealed beneath a lace covering. This is located at the right of the building, entering from South Market street. This entrance was closed, however, and admission was gained through the smaller room of the Natural History Society, which contains many of the society’s mineral specimens in cabinets. Flags are used as curtains for the windows and the ornamentation is suggestive of “decorative arts,” sunflowers being a conspicuous feature over one case; a pretty group over another is formed of peacock’s plumes overhanging two miniature musical instruments. Over another cabinet is a liberal supply of spruce and the walls are covered with highly painted Japanese panels. At the foot of these are three bannerets – the Union Jack and Starry Banner extended, while another Union Jack hangs in the centre. The ladies’ committee room was at the head of the stairs. On the other side of the hall was the refreshment room, which revelled in beauty. At the head of the room stood the table, an epergne in the centre, flanked on either side by bouquets of flowers, large and small, sending forth delicious odors. The five o’clock tables, upon which refreshments were served, are located in the western end of the room, and extended into the archway in the centre, being curtained with beautiful figured repp and lace. Close to the walls are the cabinets containing the birds and other mounted specimens of the society. The three windows are concealed by lace curtains arched with spruce, that at the foot of the room having autumn leaves descending from the top. The windows facing Charlotte street are adorned with spruce in like manner to the others and between them the case containing an assortment of minerals is curtained with a flag, the centre, along the top, having a geranium in pot, a miniature tambourine painted in an ӕsthetic hue, and, where the curtain divides, is a triple mirror. The tops of the cases along the northern wall of this room are ornamented with articles of vertu, majolica and plain roots containing ivy and other green plants. A piece of statuary representing Faust and Marguerite stands upon one of the cases, almost facing the entrance. On the same wall is a bracket with drapery in a heliotrope shade worked in various colors; upon the bracket are two panel pictures and several parlor ornaments. On the south wall are three steel engravings representing The English Farm Yard, The Fight for the Standard and A Glimpse of our English Homestead. There is a deer’s head over the door, and the whole decoration reflects much credit upon the ladies who had the work in charge. They wish their thanks to be returned to Mr. Jordan, (Sheffield House), Mr. James. A. Gauld, Messrs. Green Bros. (for the use of their room) and Mr. Kane, deputy clerk of the market. The evening being very wet and disagreeable, a few minutes’ delay occurred before the meeting was called to order. The attendance, however, was first-class, the rooms being crowded by a large and deeply interested gathering. His Worship the Mayor, on taking the chair, made a brief, pleasant and appropriate speech. He said he was extremely glad to take part in a movement in aid of the Free Public Library of St. John; it had his heartiest sympathy, and he hoped it would be crowned with success. He scarcely expected to be in time for the meeting, but he hastened home in order to have that privilege. As there was an interesting programme, embracing music, speeches, etc., he would not detain the meeting, but would call on Mr. Peiler and his associate the favor the audience with a duett. Mr. Peiler and Miss DeVine responded, doing so with exquisite skill. Mr. Peiler played the accompaniments subsequently, while Mr. Gubb and Miss DeVine greatly delighted the audience, near the close, with another duett played in the most mannerly manner. Everyone in St. John already knows Mr. Gubb’s attainments, but there were probably some in the audience who were not prepared for Miss DeVine’s perfect rendition of her part of the piece. As we have said so much about the instrumental music, we may as well add, in this place, that the solos of Mr. Mayes, Miss Thompson, and Father Davenport, and the quartette of Messrs. Harrington, Binning, Stewart and Drake, given, at intervals, between the addresses, formed a most interesting feature of the meeting, added much to the pleasure of all present, and were much appreciated. After the first piece of music was played, the Mayor said that the chairman of the commissioners, J. R. Ruel, Esq., would give a statement of what had been done, point out what was required, and go generally into the affairs of the Library. Mr. Ruel, who was received with applause, read the following sketch of the history and position of the Library: -- The Commissioners of the Free Public Library desire to submit a statement of the financial condition of the library and at the same time to offer a few remarks for general consideration. They have received the following sums on behalf of the library, viz: -- From G. F. Smith, Esq……………………………$50 00 From Manchester, Robertson & Allison………….. 75 00 From J. Murray Kay, Esq………………………....100 00 From Dr. James Walker………………………….. 100 00 From W. F. Hatheway, Esq…………………………50 00 From Thomas Furlong, Esq……………………….100 00 From Simeon Jones, Esq., Mayor…………………600 00 From J. R. Ruel, Esq………………………………..25 00 From W. Elder, Esq…………………………………25 00 $1, 125 00 They have expended – For fitting up room……………………………….$119 15 For insurance………………………………………..40 00 For books…………………………………………..870 88 For freight and other incidental charges…………...115 20 $1, 145 23 Balance due the treasurer, Oct.23, 1882……………$20 23 It will thus be seen that they have so far been entrusted with a very small sum to establish a Library. They have exercised their best judgement and done all that was in their power with the very limited means at their command. The number of books now on the shelves, exclusive of official reports, is about 1,500. They form together a mere nucleus for a Library and include those collected by Mr. James Domville from state and other institutions. In making a selection they were careful to obtain only such works as were of a popular character, and were compelled to exclude one whole department of literature, namely, that of poetry. For the same reason of want of funds, hundreds, nay thousands of volumes which they earnestly desired to possess, were set aside with great reluctance and regret but in the hope that at some time in the near future they might be secured. In seeking for aid among the citizens, they were frequently told that a public library was not required at present – it was in advance of the times. This may be, perhaps, a general sentiment, but it is formed very clearly without reflection. To assert that a city which is on the eve of celebrating the centennial of its formation is too young to support or appreciate an institution of this kind is scarcely reasonable. It is surely time for it to cast off its swaddling clothes and discharge some of the functions of maturity among which they place in the front rank the establishment of a well selected public library, free and open to all, to furnish recreation as well as practical information and the means of culture. Culture, says Matthew Arnold, is indispensably necessary – the poor require it as much as the rich -- and culture is reading, but reading with a purpose to guide it and with system. He does a good work who does anything to help this; indeed it is the one essential service now to be rendered to education. But the value of books as a means of culture is at this day generally recognised. “The chief allies and instruments of teachers, they are the best substitute for teachers; and, next to a good college, a good Library may well be chosen as a means of education. Indeed, a book is a voiceless teacher and a good Library a virtual university. A literary taste is at once the most efficient instrument of self-education and the purest source of enjoyment the world affords.” And to foster and encourage this taste is also the mission or object of the Free Library and that necessary adjunct to it, a well-arranged and commodious Free Reading Room, in which the periodical literature of the day may be within the reach of all. Libraries were formed in very ancient times. The small clay tablets and cylinders, some of which are now in the British Museum, which have been disinterred from the ruins of Nineveh, attest the fact, and afford at the same time, most deeply interesting glimpses into the history and civilization of the inhabitants of the Euphrates Valley in that far distant period. No vestige remains of the great library in Alexandria, but sufficient is recorded of it to enable us to judge of its vast extent, and of the enlightened spirit of its founder. But to come to modern times, the United States may be said to be the home now of Public Libraries. They form a true index to the character of that great nation, noted, universally as they are, for industry, intelligence, inventions and enterprise. In addition to school, college, law, historical, scientific, state and national libraries, they have Free Public Libraries, established and maintained by taxation under State law in innumerable cities, towns and villages throughout the whole Republic. New Hampshire claims the honor of leadership in this noble legislation, by enacting a law, in 1849, authorizing towns to grant money and assess for the same, to establish and maintain Public Libraries. Massachusetts followed in 1851; then Maine, Vermont, Ohio, Wisconsin, Connecticut and other States in due order, with similar liberal and enlightened enactments. The result of this legislation, and other efforts in the same direction, is that the number of libraries in the United States in 1876 was 3,647, containing 12,276,964 volumes. As the average increase has been about 1,000,000 volumes per year, the numbers in 1881 would probably be about 16,000,000 volumes, to which add the number in the district school libraries not enumerated above of 1,367,407, and the grand total would be 18,000,000 volumes. The benefactions in the several States, that is, gifts of money, lands and buildings, in aid of libraries, which have been specially reported to the Washington authorities, amount to the enormous sum of $14,920,657; but it is stated that in a majority of instances where lands and buildings have been given they have simply been so reported unaccompanied by estimates of their value, so that the real amount of the benefactions of individuals is considered to be $30,000,000, and this, it must be remembered, rigorously excludes all grants or other Government, State or Municipal aid. It is a truly noble record, of which the nation may well be proud. In England an Act has been passed by the Imperial Parliament to empower districts to establish Libraries and to tax the inhabitants for that purpose. It is applicable to any Burgh district or Parish, whatever may be the number of the population; a meeting of the rate-payers may be obtained by the requisition of ten of their number addressed to the Town Council or other local board, and the adoption of the Act is decided by a simple majority of those present at the meeting. The rate to be levied in all such cases is not to exceed one penny in the pound. The Act has been adopted by ninety-six towns in England, ten in Scotland, and one in Ireland, and the Libraries established in them are in a very flourishing condition. The largest Library in England is that contained in the British Museum, with shelves filled with books extending for forty miles; but the Paris Library is probably the largest in the world, containing, as it does, 1,500,000 volumes of books. There are also numerous Libraries quite recently formed in England by the generous liberality of private individuals. Witness, for instance, the splendid Library established in Liverpool by a public spirited citizen, Mr. Brown; in Preston, by Mr. Duncan Harris; in Evesham, by Mr. R. L. Harris; in Leek, Staffordshire, by Mr. Joshua Nicholson; in Paisley, by Sir Peter Coats; in Newcastle-on Tyne, Manchester, and other places. It is unnecessary as it would be wearisome to note what has been done in other European countries in this direction. Magnificent libraries have been formed in most of the large cities, from which scholars and others have derived inestimable advantages, but the fact should be recorded that the latest member of the great family of nations, Japan, has commenced the formation of Free Libraries by establishing one in the city of Tokio. It is a public library, open to all persons, native or foreign, who may desire to consult it. In general the books are not to be taken from the building, but certain specified classes may, under the sanction of the Minister of Education, be permitted to borrow from it. It is kept in the most beautiful building in Tokio, the ancient Temple of Confucius, and this secures at once the attention of the people. With this vivid illustration of the progress and enlightened ideas in the far East before us, with the example of what has been done in England and the United States, and especially in the neighboring town of Portland – can it be said with any degree of propriety that it is yet too soon to establish a Free Library in St. John? It is quite true that a section of the city has, to the great surprise of many both here and elsewhere, voted against the introduction of one of the usual adornments or necessities of a well ordered community, but they regard this incident as no criterion of the principles which govern the great mass of the citizens of St. John. On the contrary, they believe that the general desire is to advance the city step by step with other cities of equal size and importance, and to emulate them, incited by their example, in the support of all those institutions which are deemed necessary for the public welfare in this enlightened age. It may perhaps be said that in looking for a continuous public support to the Library private aid is discouraged. But this is far from their intention. A very large sum is required now to gather together a suitable collection of books, and for this purpose they appeal to the private liberality of the citizens. Here lies the field for their exertions, and all due honor awaits those who will now link their names with this enterprise by generously aiding it in its incipient stage. The public support they look for, in the absence of any endowment, is to continue it, to recognize it, to carry it onward, so that with ever-increasing force and power it becomes a real, vital benefit to the whole community. They desire now, in this closing statement, to express their grateful thanks to those gentlemen, and especially His Worship the Mayor, who have aided them by their generous gifts of money on behalf of the Library; and also to those ladies who have so kindly undertaken and completed the task of arranging the books and preparing them for distribution. St. John, Oct. 24, 1882. The Mayor, on calling on the next speaker, said he was one who never addressed an audience without making good points, and while he instructed men’s intellects, he did not forget their higher spiritual interests. He must announce first, however, that slips put into his hand showed that a few ladies had just subscribed some $250 or upwards. (Applause.) He called on the Rev. Dr. Macrae. (Applause.) Dr. Macrae said he looked upon the present movement, in favor of a Free Public Library, as one of the most important upward steps that had ever been taken by the city since its foundations were laid. It was time that such a step were taken, for we were in danger of being behind the age. Why, many a small town in Ontario had its Free Public Library. In the United States, Great Britain, even in Japan, Free Public Libraries dotted the country, while our neighbor Portland, that aspiring town, which hoped at no distant day by its progress, to distance St. John and leave it out in the cold – Portland through the liberality of one of its public spirited citizens had its Free Public Library. It was certainly high time for St. John to move. There was much to be said in extenuation of the backward position of St. John in this respect. Its losses by the great fire were enormous; they included many valuable private libraries and rendered people unable to provide others. But the people of St. John were a reading people, and the persistent manner in which they uphold the Lecture course, in the Institute, proved that they were an intelligent people. He spoke of the pride experienced by lecturers who felt that they had won the approval of Institute audiences, and remarked that an agent had mentioned to him that some 250 copies of that costly work, the Encyclopedia Britannica, had been subscribed for in this city, while a comparatively small number were taken in the more wealthy city of Halifax. Dr. Macrae, in continuing his speech, said that there were three topics suggested in connexion with the proceedings of the evening: -- 1st. What should be the contents of the Library? 2nd. How should access to it be obtained? 3rd. By what means should the Library be enlarged and kept abreast of the times, and the expenses connected with it be met? Dr.Macrae discussed each of these points at length, but we can only notice a few of the principal points. On the first point he would have the managers of the Library to begin systematically, and give prominence to a few lines of most necessary books, more especially History, and especially the noble History of our own nation and race, on which Mr. Green had recently cast so much fresh and interesting light. In a Library like this he would collect all the works of our own citizens, all that illustrated our History, and let them have an honored place in the Library. He would have Stewart’s History of the Fire, Hannay’s History of Acadia, the Rev Dr. Bennet’s Wisdom of the King, and so on as to other authors. He would also collect all works that tended to throw light on the resources of the Province, to whose beautiful scenery and rich, fertile and well watered fields, he paid a warm tribute. Giving these the preference, he would add other works in all departments of literature, in fiction, in poetry, in travels, etc. Nor would he exclude theology or political economy. He would have representative works on all these subjects as far as the means placed at the disposal of the commissioners would admit. On the second head, he pointed out that every Library should consist of two general classes of books. One for reference, the other for lending out. The latter involved most risk and difficulty in the diffusion of the books, but the experience of Manchester, Liverpool, etc., showed that a certificate of character given by two respectable citizens, as the basis of an application for access to the Library, or for books, was rarely abused. Comparatively, few books had been lost or destroyed. On the third head (the enlargement of the Library), he spoke of the manifestation of interest evident at the meeting, as a hopeful sign; he spoke also of that generous offer of an unknown gentleman – it might be a lady – to give $200 on certain conditions. He thought there would be several to imitate that example, not, it might be, as to the precise amount, but in a general way. Some of our wealthy citizens of Loyalist descent were desirous of doing honor to the founders of St. John, and in no way could they better do so than by giving the city a Library in this Centennial period and lodging it in a suitable hall. The founding of Libraries conferred honor on Kings and caused them to be remembered. Away back in Egyptian history they found evidence of the existence of Libraries, and one of the oldest Greek names for a Library was that of “Dispensary for the Soul.” He touched on the literature of the great Libraries of the world, and the interesting circumstances in which some of them originated. In all civilized countries, the need of Libraries was felt, but in modern times, they were the complement of our free political and educational institutions, and necessary to their preservation. They were an outgrowth of Christianity, and helped, by their enfranchising influences, to promote the ideal of the Christian faith, in conferring universal benefits. Such a Library was a far more fitting monument in honor of any great event, or any illustrious names than any mere granite shaft or Druidic pillar. The ancient Jews could far surpass us in any mere monumental work of that kind, as could many of the heathen nations of old. He wished to see monuments that would aid the development of people’s minds, and advance their knowledge and culture. He could not but feel, though others might think differently, that as the citizens of St. John lost so many libraries by the fire, a fair grant might be made from the relief fund to help, to some small extent, to make up for that loss. The interest taken by the ladies in the Library was beyond all praise, and it would have its reward. They were not to despise the day of small things, for they might feel assured that the Library would grow under the fostering interest now excited in its behalf. It would be his fervent prayer that it might be so and that the effort might be crowned with success. It would be a great satisfaction to him to be able, at any time, to do anything to aid that desirable consummation. (Loud cheers.) The Mayor next called on Willam Elder, Esq., M. P. P., and on introducing him spoke of his warm interest in the Library, and in every movement which could benefit the city or province. He had often come to him in regard to such matters, more especially after having been visiting other cities, asking “Why cannot we have this in St. John?” Mr. Elder, in a short speech, expressed the pleasure he experienced in participating in this movement in aid of the Free Public Library. He did not wonder that the Mayor had hastened home to take the chair, although had he been Recorder, he would just as soon His Worship had not made a forced march. The Mayor was one of the few persons who tendered a large subscription to the Library unasked, and they felt proportionate gratitude to him for so doing. Gratitude had been defined as “a lively perception of future favors”; the Mayor would see the point, (laughter, in which His Worship joined). It seemed to be the law of giving that donors always advanced on their original benefactions. This was seen constantly in the United States, whose noble people excelled all others in gifts of this kind, not confining them even to their own country, as witness the case of George Peabody. The Mayor had referred to the labor bestowed on the decoration of the rooms, and regretted it could not be permanent; but whether or not, it would do its work. Sacrifice was never lost, and few things were accomplished without it – sacrifice was good seed. After referring to the valuable services rendered by Mr. Frank Hatheway, as secretary, and to the new life infused into the movement by the great and persistent efforts of the ladies, Mr. Elder said that as the ladies were anxious to do a stroke of business in connexion with their refreshments, he would cut short his remarks, promising that the Library would, he believed, be opened very shortly to the public, and inviting all present to come individually, if not collectively, to participate in its benefits. (Applause.) There was a grand rush to the refreshment rooms, in which every attention was paid to guests by the ladies and their friends. The ice cream and cake were well patronized, so was a flower stand of which some young ladies had charge from the outset; it was a great acquisition to the conversazione, which was an extremely pleasant and successful gathering.