New light on the Bibliothèque Cardinal

In his entry for cabinet de lecture in volume 1 of the Grand Dictionnaire universel (1867), Pierre Larousse  described the Bibliothèque Cardinal  as a “veritable annexe de la Bibliothèque imperial.” He was not exaggerating. When sold by the founder’s grand-daughter to a new owner in 1888, the famous lending library had nearly 90,000 volumes; by 1921, finally acquired by the Catholic University of Louvain, the holdings had risen to 160,000. Drawing on the previously unknown requests to open a library in the fonds F18 of the Archives Nationales--by Madame Cardinal in 1821 and her successor in 1858--this paper sheds new light on the origins of the cabinet; and then, from a wider perspective, goes on to question the notion of the decline of the cabinets de lecture in the second half of the nineteenth century, an idea popularized by Françoise Parent-Lardeur’s Lire à Paris au temps de Balzac (1981, revised edition 1999)

Graham Falconer
Volume 2013 (41.3-4)