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THE CHARLESTON LIBRARY SOCIETY owes its origin to seventeen
young gentlemen who in the year 1748, associated for the purpose of raising a small fund to "collect such new pamphlets" and magazines as should occasionally be published in Great Britain. They advanced and remitted to London ten pounds sterling as a fund to purchase such pamphlets as had appeared during the current year, acting at first under a mere verbal agreement and without a name Before the close of the year their views became more extensive, and on the 28th December, rules for the organization of the Society were ratified and signed, when they assumed the name of a Library Society, and made arrangements for the acquisition of Books as well as of pamphlets.
Officers were first elected on the 1st April, 1749, and a few members were added during the spring and summer of that year. But as soon as the benefits of such an association were distinctly understood, the Society became popular, and before the close of the year 1750 numbered more than 160 members.
Efforts were made at an early period to obtain an act of incoporation. In the spring of 1651, through the influence of some of its members, a bill for incorporating the Society was passed through both Houses of Assembly, but was defeated by the Governor, who refused his assent and signature. In the spring of 1752, another. bill was passed through the Legislature, which shared the same fate; and in 1753 the agent of the Colony in London was requested to make every exertion in his power to obtain from the Privy Council in Great Britain a charter for the Society, or instructions to the Governor to ratify the act which both Houses of the Colonial Assembly had passed. Upon an application to the Board of Trade by the agent and some gentlemen who interested themselves on behalf of the Society, they were informed that the measure was not considered as contrary to his Majesty's instructions, but that it was unprecedented to ratify in England a Bill to which the Governor of a Province had refused his assent.
It is difficult now to ascertain the causes which created these obstructions to the incorporation of a Literary Society. But the effect was injurious, and had nearly produced a dissolution of the association. The members finally resolved to place their funds at interest, and make no further purchases until a charter could be obtained. A third Bill however was passed in 1754, to which Governor Glen finally gave his assent, and on the 24th June, 1755, it was confirmed by the Crown.
From this time the progress of the Society was rapid and satisfactory. The members continued to invest a portion of their income in bonds, and soon began to embrace in their views the establishment of an institution for education in connection with their Library. As early as the 4th July, 1759, the Society directed the Standing Committee "to inform themselves as nearly as possible of the expense of an Academy, that the Society may inspect their funds and see if from them and the subscriptions offered they may have it in their power to encourage one or more professors of the different branches of learning to settle amongst them." The Committee made no report until May, 1762, wheu they briefly stated that the outfits of such an academy as the Society wish to establish would be £24,500 ($15,000) and its annual expense about £3,500 ($2140) of the then current money of the province. No measures were adopted in consequence of this report, finding perhaps that the charges of the academy would exceed their present income. But the object was not abandoned. In the rules of the Society adopted on the 4th April, 1759, it was enacted that a sum not exceeding £100 sterling should be annually laid out in books and philosophical instruments, and the remainder of their funds put out at interest for endowing and supporting a future academy. And in the rules and by-laws adopted on the 4th October, 1769, the same provision is again inserted. And such was the increase of their funds, that in January, 1775, the amount in Bonds was £18,000, and between two and three thousand pounds were added to this sum between this period and the 1st January, 1778.
The Library of the Society, at the same time, was receiving regular additions from annual purchases and the donations of individuals which were then frequent. Great attention appears from the minutes of the Society to have been paid at this period to classical literature, and many discussions took place as to the portion of the funds which should be annually applied to this department of literature. The collection of classical authors and of commentators on the classics, was not only respectable from its number, but valuable for the selec tion, for some excellent scholars then superintended this portion of its labours.
It was in all probability this steady adherence of the Society to the future establishment of an academy or college, (for the professors indicated in the report of the Committee were adapted to a collegiate course of studies,) and the complexion of the Library, that inducer Mr. JOHN M'KENZIE, a lawyer of eminence in Charleston, who died in the summer of 1771, to bequeath a valuable library to the Society
for the use of a college when erected in this province. These books were received, distinctly marked, and always kept apart from the books of the Society.
The commencement of our revolutionary struggle suspended all schemes of improvement. It soon became difficult for the Society to collect its funds-it became more difficult to invest them; a large sum was placed in the Treasury of the State, and the certificates of this debt were for a long time unproductive memorandums. But a heavier calamity awaited the Society. The fire of the 15th January, 1778, which destroyed nearly one half of Charleston, broke out a little after midnight in the immediate vicinity of the Library. From the hour, the violence of a north wind which unfortunately blew, and the combustible materials with which our houses were usually built, the neighbourhood was enveloped in flames before any effectual assistance could be rendered. The Library, which then contained, according to the statement of Dr. RAMSAY, who was a member at the time, between five and six thousand volumes, almost totally perished. Á melancholy record on the journals states that only 185 volumes were saved, and many of these were volumes of mutilated setts.
M'KENZIE'S Library, from some circumstance probably accidental, fared better than that of the Society, about two thirds of the books were saved, though many of the setts were broken.
This loss could not at that time be repaired. The war closed our communication with England, and the British maritime force intercepted our intercourse with Europe. A few books were procured in the city, but Charleston itself fell into the possession of the British in the spring of 1780.
From a report made to the Society in October, 1786, it appears that FR. J. FARIAU, who had been elected Librarian in January, 1780, remained in Charleston during the time that this city was occupied by the British troops; that he took charge of the Library, removing it with him from place to place as circumstances compelled him to change his habitation, and that it was owing to his assiduous care that the remnant of these Libraries were saved from entire destruction.
Immediately after the peace the Society was reorganized-officers were appointed, and its meetings regularly resumed. But its funds were in a ruinous condition. Its members had been widely scattered by the accidents of war Some had perished, many left the country,
and those that remained could render but little effectual aid to its Treasury. The country had been rendered desolate. The fortunes of individuals were prostrated, and where the bonds remaining to the Society were eventually good, it was difficult to collect either the principal or the interest. For several years, although some few purchases of books were made, the Society seemed to exist rather as a social club than as a literary association.
If a catalogue entered on the books on the 3d November, 1790, is faithful, and there seems no reason to doubt its correctness, the Library of the Society then contained only 342 volumes, and M'Kenzie's books were reduced to 403 volumes. The Librarian's minutes
corroborate this statement, for they show that in 1790 and 91, it was uncommon for more than three persons to take out books in the course of a month, and in some months none were borrowed.
At length in 1790 some debts due the Society were put in a train for payment, and the indents which had been received for the money deposited at the commencent of the war in the Treasury of the State, amounting to about $11,000, which, though frequently urged, it had wisely declined to sell, were funded and rendered valuable. It was then ordered that this stock should be sold; that $6,400 should be subscribed to the Bank of the United States, and that the remainder, with whatever sum should be received from their bonds or notes, should be applied to the purchase of books. The resolutions for the establishment of an academy were at this time finally repealed. The books which were imported in consequence of these orders, and which, from many circumstances, were delayed until the close of the year 1792, may be considered as the foundation of our present collection. From this time the increase of the Library has been regular though moderate, and the early misfortunes of the Society will account for its deficiency in ancient literature, and even in the political writings which preceded our revolutionary contest. In 1898 the books in the Library amounted to 4500 volumes; by the Catalogue of 1811 to 7000: and the number now probably exceeds 12,000.
If this Library should be found small, it must be remembered that it has been formed within a few years from the very moderate contribution of its members. It has had no patron to boast of-no act of public munificence to record If we except a few donations of single volumes or setts of books,* and one legacy from BENJ. SMITH, in 1770 of about $600, (£1000 currency,) we find no memorial of other assistance. It is singular that the inhabitants of South-Carolina, who have been so remarkable for their liberality to foreign establishments, should until within a very few years have so strangely neglected their own. It is no exaggeration to say, that if the sums which have been contributed by the citizens of this State since the peace of 1783 to literary and religious establishments in the Northern States had been applied to domestic institutions, we should long since have been furnished with all that our situation required; our children would not have been obliged to look abroad for the means of instruction, nor would those who wish to engage in literary pursuits be compelled to feel and lament their inability to prosecute successfully any research, from the want of those means which in the present state of science can alone render any research successful. The knowledge of the age is recorded in the writings of the learned, and
* It deserves to be noticed that the individual to whom this Society has been most frequently and perhaps most extensively indebted, is an inhabitant of Paris. Passing some time in Carolina with his father, many years ago, they received from some of its inhabitants those hospitable attentions which the citizens of this country take so much pleasure in paying to strangers, and the courtesy has never been forgotten Scarcely a year for some time past has elapsed without our receiving from him some volume or work as a testimonial of his remembrance. I allude to ANDRE MICHAUX the younger, the author of the splendid work on the Forest Trees of North America: