Cartoon portraits and biographical sketches of men of the day/C. E. Mudie


Charles Edward Mudie, the subject of our cartoon, was born October 18, 1818, at Cheyne-walk, Chelsea, where his father kept a small library, old-fashioned, but good of its kind, and well frequented by the literary dwellers in that then fashionable suburb. Some of our older readers may, perhaps, still remember the little lad attending at his father's counter, too young in the business to do more than fetch and carry, but already a diligent reader of all the books within his reach.

The elder Mudie relinquished the Cheyne-walk library in 1828, and removed with his family to Coventry-street, where he commenced a stationery business, still carried on by one of his sons. There young Charles Edward remained for a few years, spending most of his time in reading what works of philosophy and history he could manage to procure. In those days it was difficult to find a library from which it was possible, at a moderate cost, to obtain any books better worth reading than the ordinary novels of the period; and there was, therefore, nothing for it in his case but to buy the books he could not borrow. In this way he, in the course of time, accumulated a considerable collection of standard works.

One morning, in the spring of 1840, the idea occurred to young Mudie that there were many readers who, like himself, experienced this difficulty in procuring the higher class of books, and who would gladly patronise an undertaking which would place the better literature within their reach. Acting upon this idea, he commenced business in Southampton-row—then Upper King-street, Bloomsbury—by placing the whole of his collection in a window, with a printed intimation of his purpose, under the now familiar title of 'Mudie's Select Library.' The 'select' library soon attracted a select circle of readers, and as this circle enlarged the supply of books increased; until, in the course of a few years, the success of the enterprise was so well assured that the proprietor ventured to advance from tens to


hundreds, and finally to thousands, of copies of works of high repute and worth; of Livingstone's travels, for example, 3250 copies were taken on the day of publication.

In 1852, the library was removed to New Oxford-street, and year by year, as the business grew, house after house was added. These, with the great hall in their rear—one of the largest and best-proportioned rooms in London—hardly suffice to contain the vast accumulation of books which has been provided for the instruction and amusement of the multitude.

At the commencement of his enterprise, Mr. Mudie did not contemplate the circulation of works of fiction; but very soon afterwards it was quite clear to him that, as some of the best philosophy of the day came clothed in that attractive garb, it was not desirable to exclude them; and a considerable number of copies were taken of 'Margaret Maitland of Sunnyside,' 'Alton Locke,' 'Mary Barton,' 'Jane Eyre,' 'Vanity Fair,' and the earlier novels of the author of John Halifax;' and through the door, once open, a hundred other of the choicer novels found their way, and others followed the difficulty—of drawing any line, save for obvious reasons, having been frankly admitted.

It is almost a pity that the stricter rule and higher standard adopted in the first instance were not rigorously maintained throughout; but the principle of an index expurgatorius could never have commended itself to a man of Mr. Mudie's liberal views, and would never have been tolerated by the great multitude of his patrons.

Whether the library has accomplished all that might have been hoped for by the more sanguine of its early patrons, and whether, while offering the means of intellectual improvement and innocent enjoyment to many readers, it has not at the same time incidentally, and it may be injuriously, disturbed to some extent the old order of things, may be a matter of question; but as far as the founder is concerned, there can be no doubt that he has worked assiduously and effectually in the interests of literature.

Mr. Mudie is one of the members for Westminster of the London School Board; a director of the London Missionary Society; a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society; and is, we believe, the author of a volume of poems called 'Stray Leaves,' of which some of the reviews speak in the highest terms.