Alfred Brown’s library – Te Papa, Tauranga

I recently spent a couple of days in the library of this important Church Missionary Society missionary in New Zealand.

What I was struck by:

  • the striking aesthetic of this nineteenth century missionary’s book collection;
  • the way in which prayer books, hymnals, and bibles – including Maori language versions of these – were given as gifts between close friends and colleagues; to the extent where these particular types of books seem invested with significant Christian sentiment;
  • the obvious importance of history and historical knowledge – especially of England and Britain itself – to Brown and his contemporaries. A selection of history titles from the library includes histories of England by Oliver Goldsmith (1823), F. Guizot (1846), J. L. De Lolme (1822), S. Turner (1828, 1835), along with memoirs and biographies of stars in the Evangelical firmament, including Sir T. F. Buxton (leader of the House of Commons Select Committee on Aborigines 1836-37), William Wilberforce and Rev H. Venn (Clapham group);
  • there are also quite a few ‘political’ works, including a volume of the Protestant Magazine (1841), Henry Lytton Bulwer’s France, Social, Literary, Political (1834), and two volumes of Charles Dickens’ Household Words;
  • some curious items, including an 1803 edition of Francis Bacon’s works with an inscription ‘The Gift of Miss Georgiana Harriett Bridge’; and an 1807 edition of Hugo Grotius’ De Veritate Religionis Christianae, which is entirely in Latin and is extensively marked-up. In fact, this is about the only book that I came across that was marked-up. Unfortunately, Alfred Brown was not an annotator, however, this does not diminish the value of this collection in painting a picture of late Georgian and Victorian print culture – of course, with a strong Evangelical emphasis.

Thomas Carlyle on … Democracy

The enigmatic Victorian writer, Thomas Carlyle, who was inspired by German Romanticism, wrote some pretty fascinating lines on ‘democracy’ and ‘government’ in his Past and Present (1843):

Democracy, which means despair of finding any Heroes to govern you, and contented putting-up with the want of them, alas, thou too, mein Lieber [German: my dear], seest well how close it is of kin to Atheism, and other sad Isms: he who discovers no God whatever, how shall he discover Heroes, the visible Temples of God? Strange enough meanwhile it is to observe with what thoughtlessness, here in our rigidly Conservative Country, men rush into Democracy with full cry…

The notion that a man’s liberty consists in giving his vote at election-hustings, and saying, “Behold, now I too have my twenty-thousandth part of a Talker in our National Palaver; will not all the gods be good to me?” is one of the pleansantest! Nature nevertheless is kind at present, and puts it into the heads of many, almost of all…

Government can do much, but it can in no wise do all. Government, as the most conspicuous object in Society, is called upon to give signal of what shall be done; and, in many ways, to preside over, further, and command the doing of it. But the Government cannot do, by all its signaling and commanding, what the Society is radically indisposed to do. In the long-run every Government is the exact symbol of its People, with their wisdom and unwisdom; we have to say, Like People like Government.