LHSQ is “selling our heritage”

Dr. Peter Sabor, FRSC Canada Research Chair in 18th-Century Studies McGill University

Thomas Feininger’s eloquent letter in the August 6 Chronicle-Telegraph, “LHSQ’s Patrimony for Sale,” has now been answered in the August 20 QCT by David F. Blair, President of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec.

Entitled “The Caring Gardener,” Blair’s response at first might seem persuasive. We all agree, after all, that weeds must be uprooted before they overrun our gardens. The problem here is that the 1,500 books being disposed of are far from being weeds. They are, on the contrary, of extraordinary historical interest.

I am glad to learn that the Canadiana collection and the Quebec Library Association book collection are still considered “a relevant cultural resource.” But the books being discarded also form a key part of our patrimony. They are not weeds but the garden itself.

Many of them are classics of English, French and American literature, in rare and valuable 18th-and-19th-century editions. They constitute a precious part of our heritage, which a responsible gardener would be tending, not throwing away.

Just as shocking as the plan to discard these volumes is the way in which it is being done.

The books have been consigned to over 100 boxes, with little attempt to keep related items together. Thus should someone wish, for example, to purchase the 1857, nine-volume edition of Horace Walpole’s correspondence, he or she would have to make “silent” bids on several different boxes—with little likelihood of obtaining the whole set.

But Horace Walpole’s correspondence, as well as the collected works of Swift, Scott, Dickens, Dumas, and many other major authors, should be staying where they have long remained: on the LHSQ’s shelves.

The fact that certain books were bought, read, and annotated over the ages tells us a great deal about the history of our city, and being able to see and examine these books affords us a rich and tangible contact with our past.

To auction off the library of the LHSQ makes no more sense than selling the building itself—or is that coming next?

Dr. Peter Sabor, FRSC
Canada Research Chair in 18th-Century Studies
McGill University