There are plenty of biographical anecdotes concerning the experiences of writers using the facilities of the old British Museum Library —from Washington Irving through Karl Marx up to David Lodge and beyond. When the famous round Reading Room was built many incorporated into their fiction memories of studying there. However, we have little idea today of the process by which books were ordered in the very early years of the Library.
So when an actual ordering slip from this period turns up —and one signed by a well known author—it is a rare event. Surely such ephemera are scarcer even than Shillibeer omnibus tickets and must rank among other celebrity souvenirs, such as non-presented cheques signed by Hollywood film stars and the like.
This particular ordering slip was made out by the poet Thomas Campbell (1777 – 1844), whose Pleasures of Hope was a minor success in 1799, and who remained a well known, though hardly revered, figure of the Romantic period. The book he ordered was The History of Edward the Second by Sir Francis Hubert, which first appeared in 1629. We know the book was asked for on August 23rd , but with no year date present we must examine the style of the vestigial remnant of the printed part of the form and guess that the order was made sometime between 1803, when Campbell settled in London, and 1819, when he brought out his Specimens of the British Poets.
If the order was made before 1810 it would be interesting to know if Campbell had problems obtaining a ticket to the Museum, or whether his celebrity as an author removed any barriers to entry. After this date the ticket system was abolished, which made it much easier to access the Library, although readers often had to wait for many hours, sometimes days, for their books to arrive. [RMH]