May 1857

Literary maze

The very fine reading room that has been constructed in the quadrangle of the British Museum, under the direction of Mr Sydney Smirke ARA, by Messrs Baker and Fielder, is now nearly completed. It will be open to public inspection for a week, commencing on the 8th of May, after which readers will be admitted under the usual regulations.

In this new room, probably for some centuries, numbers of studious men and women will have an opportunity amongst the enormous mass of printed matter that is accumulated within the walls of the national museum, and condensing from it what may be useful in various ways.

It is not easy, in words, to convey an idea of the fine effect of the circular building; the vast space cannot fail to create feelings of pleasure and surprise. The seats and tables radiate from the centre round which are the catalogues and the superintendent ’s department.

Round the circular reading room there is another circle that radiates various puzzling galleries, all ready for the reception of books. In order that every portion of space may be made available the bookshelves are constructed double, with a passage for air between. By this contrivance double the number of books may be placed. A stranger might easily lose himself in this literary maze.

The written recommendation of a clergyman, or member of the medical profession, or anyone of note in art or literature, is sufficient to obtain the use of this great library for six months, and at the end of that time the admission can be renewed on presentation of the original ticket.