The Library of E. M. Forster

Found in the archives at Jot HQ, this catalogue from Heffers in Cambridge of a large portion of E. M. Forster’s library.

In the introduction by King’s College Librarian, A.N.L. Munby, who knew Forster well, we learn something of Forster’s ancestors, who included his grandfather, Charles Forster, friend and Chaplain of John Jebb ( 1755 – 1833), Bishop of Limerick. Of the books bequeathed by Jebb to  Forster, by far the most valuable was a ‘superb’  copy of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, which came down to E. M. Forster in 1904. He in turn donated it to Kings College Library on his eightieth birthday. One book from Jebb that Forster owned at his death was a piece of incunabula dating from 1494. Sacrii Eloquii Celeberrimi Preconis Venerablis dni Alberti Magni Epi Ratisponess Sermones Aurei de Sacrosancto Eucharistie Sacramento had covers bound from a vellum manuscript. 

When Forster left the family home at West Hackhurst, Surrey, for King’s College, Cambridge in 1946, he had to downsize his library. Many books were sold and in his new accommodation on A staircase in the College Forster was obliged to settle on a library totalling 2,500 volumes. So, as new acquisitions were made, other volumes had to be given away to friends or to the College library.

On Forster’s death in 1970 Professor W. H. Sprott, one of his executors, inherited the contents of his rooms, including the library. After King’s College was allowed to purchase five hundred significant items from the library and friends were invited to choose books in memory of the writer, the rest was retained by Sprott. On the latter’s death in 1971 Heffer’s bought this remaining portion of Forster’s library.

The first section of the catalogue, which was devoted to ‘ family and association items and books signed or annotated’ by Forster shows just how eclectic the writer’s tastes were and how seemingly keen he was to retain books he had owned as a child, works from the library of his father, Rev Charles Forster, and books bearing his mother’s name. 

It would be presumptuous to believe that Forster shared his father’s literary interests. Most of the ‘ family ‘ books were probably retained for sentimental reasons. He gave an insight into his personal tastes in a broadcast talk which was republished in Two Cheers for Democracy ( 1951) :

‘ I have never been a collector, and as for the first edition craze, I place it next door to stamp collecting—I can say no less. It is non-adult and exposes the book-lover to all sorts of nonsense at the hands of the book-dealer. One should never tempt book-dealers.’

If this is true, one must assume that the many first editions that feature in the catalogue were bought by Forster when they first appeared, such as poems by Auden and Roy Campbell, and novels by Virginia Woolf. Certainly, many of the examples of Victorian fiction in his library were later editions bought for the text—such as works by Charlotte M. Yonge. Having said that, there are also firsts of Dickens which perhaps had a greater appeal for Forster than the rather boring later editions, but which were not that much more expensive.


To be continued.

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