A visit to the Priaulx Library

7th July 2023

A report from the Guernsey Evening Press of 12 December 1935 of a visit to the Priaulx Library by the Société Guernesiaise. 'A sudden enthusiasm is always interesting, and this was seen at the Priaulx Library, Candie, when, following the reading of a most fascinating paper on the history and contents to La Société Guernesiase by Mr Ralph Durand, the learned Librarian, some 30 of the members of the Society went browsing among that 15,000 books and notable editions found on the shelves.'

La Société Guernesiase were represented by Dr A N Symons (President) and Mrs Symons; MIss Vera Carey (Hon. Secretary); Colonel Cyril de Putron (Jurat); Mrs and Miss de Putron; Mesdames T M W de Guérin; C E Agnew, Hichens, Carthew, Peyton Jones, Reid, Lenox-Simpson, the Misses Turney, de la Chapelle, Cotton, Peyton Jones, Brock, Von Berg, Mr Ernest Collas (Tertre) and Mr J Collas (Bailloterie).

Mr Raph Durand welcomed the Society, and explained some of the rare books to the early comers. In the northern room of the Library, chairs were placed, and here Mr Durand read his paper to them.

The scholar who gave the Library

Mr Durand observed that the Library was given by Mr Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx to the Island of Guernsey in 1887, four years before his death. He also gave with it some 15,000 books, the house to keep them in, and to afford quarters for the Librarian, and an endowment for its upkeep. And he sold the gardens attached to the house to the States for a nominal sum, to become public gardens forever, and this - as no doubt he hoped - to secure an atmosphere of dignity and peace of people reading in the Library.

Magnificent gift - not fully appreciated

It was a magnificent gift, never really appreciated by his fellow islanders, explained Mr Durand, with some feeling. "As public libraries go," he added, "this library is small, but everyone of the 15,000 books is a notable work." Here Mr Durand observed that his first work was to find room for the collections of books bequeathed by the late Colonel T W M de Guerin and Mr Wilfred Carey. He had surveyed the books, to remove any second-rate ones to make room for these valuable additions, but it spoke for the quality of the content of the shelves that not one in a hundred could be removed under such a plea. And now there was a bequest from Miss Edith Carey which called for much more room.

The Priaulx Library could be used by any reader as he would his own study. He could take any book off the shelves, choose the most comfortable chair, and get down to it. It might well be that in browsing he would find many literary treasures. 

"Why has this Library never been fully appreciated in Guernsey?" asked Mr Durand. Probably, he answered, the explanation was to be found in the Biblical maxim that a prophet had no hoour in his own country. Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx was a great oriental shcolar and author. ONe summer morning a visitor waws attracted by teh naem PRiaulx lIbrary, and asked whether it had any connectin with the famous orientalist, and if so, was there a certain book of his in the collection, The book was found forthwith, to eht dlght of hte connoisseur, who had long wished to see a copy of the work.

Another case was that of a lady who was a designer of theatrical costumes, and got her information usually from the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. [She found so much useful information in the rare books her that] she and a relative took a house in Upland Road to pursue her studies here.

Still another case: two students on holiday, wanting to study, found all their text-books in the Library, and worked solidly from 9.30 to 1 daily, the charlady being advised to allow them in half-an-hour before the public hours for entering. These men remained here because of the Library, and so it was a proved asset to the island, though one was inclined to think that many Guernsey people didi not understand the value of their inheritance. Indeed, the Priaulx Library was better known in Oxford than it was in Guernsey!

Many visited it thinking they would find newspapers there. "We don't have them," said Mr Durand. [We do now!, ed.]

Five years ago, continued the Librarian, the Société Guernesiaise had visited the Library. A mistake was made; the tables were filled with rare books and manuscripts. And so the idea was spread that it was a place containting only such works. But a glance at the shelves would show that the books were those calculated to be of real use. Of course there were many rare books. Such, for instance, was the 16th-century edition of Luther - " a museum piece, really".

"There is never a day without a visitor," he continued, "and as for work - I have more than a lifetime of work here." He then explained his card index system. At a glance one could tell, for example, that "Ceremonies on crossing the Equator" were mentioned in five books. Subjects selected at random included 'The Jackdaw of Rheims', 'Scottish Tartans', and 'Signs of the Zodiac". Cards at present numbered about 2,000.

The Library was the testimony to a great scholar, and one other who ranked as such from Guernsey was Sir Peter Le Page Renouf. But in these days there were a few young Guernsey men showing signs of being notable scholars, and perhaps in time Guernsey woudl awaken to an appreciation of the treasures these found in the Priaulx Library. 

A difficulty

Then Mr Durand conculded on a serious note. A problem was confronting the Library and its future welfare. The income from the endowment left by the founder was diminishing of recent years, and the structure could not be kept in proper repair. A large collection of valuable books had been bequeathed to the Library. But there was no place available for them, for two rooms which could be used were so damp that nothing could be placed there. So it was that these books must needs go into a warehouse until such time as by private munificence or by aid of the States, the money required woudl be provided for the necessary repairs.

"Public opinion mut be aroused," exclaimed Mr Durand, and he appealed to the Société Guernesiaise to make known the desperate need of the Priaulx Library. 

A hearty vote of thanks to Mr Durand was proposed by Dr Symons, seconded by Miss Vera Carey, and carried by warm applause. "We can assure Mr Durand that we shall do what we can to help," observed Dr Symons.