The Irish Times yesterday ran an article on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the London Library. This is being celebrated this week with a festival in St James’s Square opposite the library entrance. The article, by Denis Staunton, quotes a letter from Evelyn Waugh to Mary Lygon in which he congratulates her on being elected a member of the library and provides joking advice on how she should behave:
Writing to his friend Lady Mary Lygon in November 1946, Evelyn Waugh urged her to behave with suitable decorum in the “grave precincts” of the library.
“Never write ‘balls’ with an indelible pencil on the margins of the books provided. Do not solicit the female librarians to acts of unnatural vice. When very drunk it is permissible to fall into a light doze but not to sing… By observing a few simple rules such as the foregoing you will find yourself perfectly acceptable to the more amorous scholars who abound in the darkened bays,” he wrote.
There were other pieces of advice in the letter that have been omitted from the quote:
Always go to the closet appointed for the purpose if you wish to make water. Far too many female members have lately taken to squatting behind the Genealogy section…Fireworks are always welcome in the reading-room but they should be of a kind likely to divert the older members rather than to cause permanent damage to the structure… There is a beautiful character called Mr Cox at the London Library. You must not make jokes about his name (Letters, p. 240).
A footnote explains that Frederick Cox (1865-1955) worked at the library for seventy years.