After five years of wandering I’m back in the warm embrace of the Gladstone Library. Cosy leather arm-chairs, wall to ceiling books, a personal collection of a Victorian gentleman. I feel like the character in Paolo Cohelo’s ‘The Alchemist’ who has been venturing ‘abroad’ in search of a new truth, a new meaning, when all along the truth is right in front of my eyes.
The truth is that the Gladstone Library is a unique place. It’s a library with rooms, a residential library where you can stay for the weekend or a week. There’s a large sitting room, a bit like the drawing room in a large country house, filled with sofas, chairs and a fire place (with a real fire in winter). There’s a restaurant serving home-cooked food. Then upstairs there’s a couple of dozen bedrooms.
On a peaceful Sunday morning it is positively delicious to trot along the polished wooden floors of the building from the resident’s lounge to the library. To open the door to this wonderful room, filled with carved wooden beams, and spiral staircases leading to a mezzanine floor, it is like entering a wonderland for book lovers. Gladstone’s collection is typical of a high quality gentleman’s library of the 19th century. Books on philosophy and history, law and sciences, geography and adventure. As an old man William Gladstone, Victorian politician, leading Liberal and many times Prime Minister of the British Isles gave his personal collection of books to his local village of Hawarden in North Wales. The story goes that he and his valet moved the books from Hawarden Castle (Gladstone’s residence) to the village by wheel barrow.
There’s an extensive section on theology and a special reading room poetically named The House of Wisdom which contains a relatively new collection of books relating to the east and to Islam.