Primary sources

Read James Lackington’s Memoirs at Google Books.

Read James Lackington’s Confessions at also at Google Books. (Despite the name, it’s far less entertaining than the Memoirs.)

Other sources:

Charles Knight recalls a childhood visit to London and the Temple of the Muses in Shadows of the Old Booksellers:

When I was about ten years old, my father took me to London for a short holiday. He had business to transact with booksellers, of whom I remember Messrs. Robinson, of Paternoster Row, and Mr. Wingrave, of the Strand, for whom he printed the ‘French Grammar,’ and other works of M. Porny. The dingy warehouses of the great marts of literature did not attract much of my curiosity. But my father had a sight in reserve for me, almost as remarkable as Saint Paul’s or Mrs. Salmon’s waxwork. I went with him to the “The Temple of the Muses.” The building was burned down some years ago, but I have engravings which assist my recollection of what I saw in 1801.

At one of the corners of Finsbury Square, which was built in 1789, there was a block of houses which had been adapted to the purposes of a great shop or warehouse, and presented an imposing frontage. A dome rises from the centre, on the top of which a flag is flying. This royal manifestation (now become common to suburban public-houses), proclaims that this is no ordinary commercial establishment. Over the principal entrance is inscribed, “Cheapest Booksellers in the World.” It is the famous shop of Lackington, Allen, and Co., “where Half a Million of Volumes are constantly on Sale.” We enter the vast area, whose dimensions are to be measured by the assertion that a coach and six might be driven around it. In the centre is an enormous circular counter, within which stand the dispensers of knowledge, ready to wait upon the country clergyman, in his wig and shovel-hat; upon the fine ladies, in feathers and trains; or upon the bookseller’s collector with his dirty bag. If there is any chaffering about the cost of a work, the shopman points to the following inscription: ‘The lowest price is marked on every Book, and no abatement made on any article.” We ascend a broad staircase , which leads to “The Lounging Rooms,” and to the first of a series of circular galleries, lighted from the lantern of the dome, which also lights the ground floor. Hundreds, even thousands, of volumes are displayed on the shelves running around their walls. As we mount higher and higher, we find commoner books, in shabbier bindings; but there is still the same order preserved, each book being numbered according to a printed catalogue. This is larger than that of any bookseller’s, and it comes out yearly. The formation of such an establishment as this assumes a remarkable power of organization, as well as a large command of capital. I daresay I wearied my father with questions about this wonderful Mr. Lackington, marveling how rich he must have been; how learned! He might have answered my enquiries by showing me a very common print with this inscription: ‘J. Lackington, who a few years since began Bookselling with five pounds, now sells one hundred thousand volumes yearly; of, the Cobbler turned Bookseller.” ((1865) 282-3)


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