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University of Oxford
Director of University Library Services and Bodley's Librarian


Exeter College, 13 March 2004

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I think you will all understand why I want to start my speech today by giving a particularly warm welcome to our new Chancellor, the Right Honourable Chris Patten. Those of you who are members of Congregation will surely remember the frisson of excitement exactly twelve months ago as we awaited the outcome of the vote to choose a successor to the late Roy Jenkins, whose loss we were still mourning, and to whom, in last year's speech, I paid the warmest possible tribute as a longstanding friend and supporter of the Bodleian Library. You may imagine how pleased I was personally that, within a very short time of his election, our new Chancellor should ask to visit me in the Bodleian, when he graciously undertook to do whatever he possibly could to help the Library in its ongoing development.

Chancellor: you are right welcome here. And if you should ever be indiscreet enough to ask me how I voted this time last year (which I cannot imagine you would ever be), I might just be discreet enough to tell you that, like so many others, I made the right choice!

So here we now are, enjoying the great good fortune of having our distinguished Chancellor honouring us with his presence today. And my only regret is that I did not have the presence of mind, or perhaps the gall, to invite him to speak to you today instead of me. I can assure you that I regret that failure even more than you!

But that brings me onto my speech.

And those of you who give public speeches like this will know from personal experience that, apart from the polite applause when you sit down - which may be more or less warm depending on how interesting or entertaining your speech may have been - and beyond the kind pat on the back, or the mumbled 'Well done', that you may get from your nearest neighbour at table, or from a colleague or acquaintance who may speak to you afterwards - you don't routinely receive a high level of feedback from most of your audience. That may not, of course, be the experience of those exceptions among you who, like our respected Chancellor, are outstandingly gifted public speakers. But I'm realistic enough not to put myself in that exalted class: I am, after all, only a librarian!

But, lest you should think me guilty of excessive modesty, or of being too diffident about my place as the Librarian of such a great institution, I will readily admit that Bodley's Librarianship is no ordinary librarianship. There is, after all, a certain cachet attached to holding such a privileged historic office. In fact, you may be interested to know that a Bodley's Librarian is required by Sir Thomas Bodley's own direction to be (and I quote): "one that is noted and known for a diligent student, and in all his conversation to be trusty, active, and discreet: a graduate also, and a linguist". These ancient requirements may not exactly conform to the terminology of today's 'Human Resources' jargon, but you will notice that Sir Thomas Bodley did not require his Librarian to be an accomplished public speaker! So in that respect at least, you perhaps have no right to expect me to be any more than just an ordinary mortal...

But I mention all of this at the beginning of my speech not so much as an apology for any ordinariness that may characterise what follows, but rather as what the Americans call a segue - you can look it up in Webster's afterwards! - a segue into a reflection on the unusually positive response which I received to my speech at last year's Founder's Lunch. Memorable my speech may not have been - I don't flatter myself that any of you who were here twelve months ago will have remembered a single syllable of what I said then! - but you may just possibly remember that its principal feature was its brevity; and I certainly remember being complimented much more than usual on that occasion, if only for being brief!

And so, taking that hint, this year's speech will be as short as I can decently make it. And it will be an interesting experiment to see if there is any truth in the proposition that the warmth of the applause is in any way proportionate to the brevity of the remarks. For if it is, then I shall clearly have been justified in taking as my mantra for today those wise words of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 5 verse 2: "God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few"!

So, what do I want to say in these relatively "few words" today? What basic message do I want to leave ringing in your ears as you sally forth into the remains of this mid-March day, in the warm afterglow of this excellent feast that we've all enjoyed in the ever-hospitable surroundings of Exeter College?

Well, before I reveal the overall theme of my remarks, let me just keep you on tenterhooks for a few more moments, while I ask you to acknowledge the great debt of gratitude which we all owe to two people in particular, for the essential part which they have played in making this annual celebration possible. They are both with me on the high table, and I want to single them out now for our special thanks. I refer to Philip Blackwell, the Managing Director of Oxford's world-famous booksellers, and Professor Marilyn Butler, the Rector of Exeter.

To Professor Butler, not only do we owe our warm thanks for allowing us to make this splendid Hall the now traditional venue for this annual festivity, but also, in this year of her retirement from the chains and cares of college office, I'm sure that you would want me to offer, both to her and to her husband David, our very sincere good wishes for their future success and happiness.

And our warm thanks go also to Philip Blackwell and his colleagues, for their firm's longstanding and generous sponsorship of this occasion, which sits so proudly as the highspot of the Bodleian's annual calendar of events. As many of you will know, 2004 is also the year in which Blackwell's itself is celebrating 125 years of successful bookselling in the Broad Street shop. It's a celebration in which the Bodleian has recently been proud to play its part; and I'm sure that you will all want to join me both in congratulating Blackwell's on reaching this notable landmark, and in thanking Philip Blackwell personally for the part which he plays in maintaining the harmonious relations that we enjoy with his remarkable bookselling enterprise. Philip, we are deeply indebted to you!

Which brings me back, almost seamlessly, to the overall theme of my speech: and that's the important subject of philanthropy. And philanthropy is not only a subject dear to the heart of the University of Oxford, as it learns to rely less and less, year by year, on the ever-tightening strings of the public purse, and more and more upon the generosity of personal and private benefaction; but it's also a highly appropriate theme on which to dwell in a speech which, after all, commemorates one of the University's greatest ever benefactors, and one whose outstanding 17th-century philanthropy set standards which have rarely, if ever, been equalled in the 400 years which separate Sir Thomas Bodley from us. "In piam memoriam" hardly does justice to such extraordinary generosity...

Philanthropy, of course, comes from the Greek - a language beloved of our Founder, but now, sadly, not widely appreciated today. And it means, as you will know, 'a love of one's fellow-man', or of mankind in general. Its direct opposite - misanthropy - is, to this day, still firmly etched in my memory as the principal characteristic of Alceste, the leading dramatis persona of Molière's Le Misanthrope, a classic play over which I pored for many long hours as a student more years ago than I now care to remember. But you will therefore understand how pleasing it is for me, in present company, to feel confident that not one of you here today takes Moliere's misanthropist as your personal role model. Instead, I feel immensely grateful that I can acknowledge you all, in your many and varied ways, as philanthropists and, especially, as 'lovers' of the Bodleian Library.

That's not to say, of course, that the Bodleian doesn't have its critics - which major institution does not? We have no right to expect only praise, and we have never claimed perfection in any case, even if we continue to aspire to it. After all, as the Apostle Paul once said: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels"! But our gratitude to you all, and to the very many other Bodley-lovers who support our work, knows no bounds, and I'm heartily glad to be able to express my thanks today for all that we receive by way of philanthropy, in all its many forms.

And the philanthropy that we receive does indeed take many forms. We experience it as outright, unrestricted, donations of funds - which are, after all, the most beneficial way to be helped, since the absence of strings lends the added value of flexibility to the use of the gift. And this year, as always, we have once again been the grateful recipients of this particular form of altruistic philanthropy - and some of it from a number of you. We have also received some small but welcome unrestricted legacies this last year; but the successful launch, last autumn, of the Bodley Circle, masterminded by Jonathan Taylor and David Vaisey, has led to a pleasing increase in the number of those very generous individuals who have named the Bodleian in their wills and who have been willing to give us their added encouragement by telling us that they have done so. And I can assure you that knowing about the future philanthropic intentions of living friends is very helpful to us now, as well as being all-important for what may lie beyond.

We continue to be strongly supported, too, by the philanthropy which helps us to purchase those 'heritage' materials which are the particular hallmark of a very great library. The Friends of the Bodleian, as always; the Friends of the National Libraries, in support of a range of important materials; and the Heritage Lottery Fund - with two very significant contributions this last year - have all made it possible for us to continue to strengthen our collections of primary research materials. And, in connection with our efforts to acquire the hugely important part of the Shelley Papers belonging to Lord Abinger, we have received truly remarkable help in the form of very substantial donations, totalling almost £3.5 million, from both the National Heritage Memorial Fund and from the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation. Not only that, but we also gratefully acknowledge the help of University College (Shelley's own Oxford college) in our fundraising effort, as well as the crucial willingness of Lord Abinger himself, in giving us first refusal on the papers and also the necessary time to raise the funds to keep them in perpetuity in the Bodleian.

Other Oxford colleges, too, have been generous in their support for the acquisition of important materials, with more Philip Larkin papers coming in, for example, thanks to the generosity of St John's College in particular. The Trustees of the Conservative Party Archives have continued to give us their strong support, and we are especially delighted to welcome the Trustees' Chairman, Lord Parkinson, among us today.

A substantial legacy for the endowed purchase of antiquarian materials was also received from the late John Fuggles, a long-time Bodley-lover whose untimely death we mourned during the year; and, as usual, our collections have continued to be strengthened by a steady stream of welcome books and manuscripts. Baroness Nicholson, whose interest in our work has been such a refreshing stimulus in recent years, has made an outstanding addition to our Modern Political materials through her gift of the Nicholson and Caine Papers. We continue to be honoured by contemporary writers, too, many of whom show their faith in us as custodians of their materials. Alan Garner's archive came in during the year, and the ever-popular Brian Aldiss (who is with us today) has generously indicated his intention of adding substantially to the papers of his which we already hold. The ever-generous Dr Juel-Jensen, too, whose name has already been on the Benefactors' Panel for almost 30 years, has donated yet another fine collection of printed books to augment his earlier gifts. Still others have kindly allowed the Bodleian to benefit from income received from royalties or reproduction rights in connection with materials housed in the Library, and these include the Tolkien Trust, which has generously made over to us the substantial proceeds from the Post Office's recent splendid issue of Tolkien stamps, based on materials deposited in our care.

But the primary focus of our reliance on the spirit of philanthropy this last year has inevitably been on the challenging target of our £40 million Libraries Capital Campaign, with the most major gifts coming from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and from the estate of the late John Musgrave, through the kind auspices of Jane Vaughan and of Tony Parker, both of whom we are delighted to welcome among us today.

Restricted and unrestricted donations to the Campaign have also come in from many of you, as well as from a gratifyingly diverse range of North Americans who responded to our call, last November, to share with us a further glittering gala dinner in San Francisco. That was a wonderful occasion, with Bodley Medals being presented by the Vice-Chancellor to yet another trio of distinguished honorees. The event was accompanied by a staggering display of some 50 Bodleian treasures, and it was staged in the San Francisco salerooms of Bonhams and Butterfields, made generously available to us at no cost. And, quite apart from the PR value of raising the Bodleian's profile on the West Coast, the success of the event can also be judged from the highly promising follow-up which, if we play all our cards right, will almost certainly result in the funding of Campaign-related projects to the value of many millions of dollars. Flying Drake's Chair back to the Californian coast after an absence of over 400 years, and taking the precious Codex Mendoza back to the Americas for the first time in many centuries looks like being an investment which will pay handsome dividends!

With about 35% of our Campaign target already achieved in less than two fifths of the five-year fundraising effort, we remain hopeful of ultimate success, even though we do not by any means underestimate the size of the challenge that still confronts us. And while we have very much yet to achieve, we can at least now see the long-overdue upgrade of the New Bodleian Library, and the much-needed refurbishment of the Clarendon Building, coming almost within touching distance.

But there is very much more to the philanthropy that we've enjoyed this past year than the all-important gifts of money and materials. We've continued to be helped also by the quite extraordinary gifts of time and effort, advice and encouragement, that so many generous supporters have been willing to lavish upon us. The members of our volunteer Development Board, chaired by the tireless Sir Robert Horton, have again been prominent among this ever-widening circle of active friends. Many more University and Library staff have become directly involved in supporting our fundraising, too. And while you may think, perhaps, that they're only doing what they're paid to do, I can assure you that very many of our salaried staff go far beyond even that all-important 'extra mile'. And quite literally, too, as for example when the Vice-Chancellor flew all the way out to San Francisco just to attend our gala dinner. And that's only the tip of a very large iceberg...

It may, therefore, be somewhat invidious of me to single out just one member of Library staff by name. But in this year of her retirement, I think it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to Penny Sturgis, whose unremitting labours for the Friends of the Bodleian are due to come to an end next month. Penny will be known to very many of you as the organising genius of many enjoyable Library-related events; but only she, and perhaps her husband, knows the real cost of all the extra work she has shouldered unselfishly for us over the years. And I doubt if even she knows how much her efforts have brought into the Library in terms of funds raised and valuable contacts made. We shall greatly miss her considerable contribution to the life and welfare of the Bodleian; and she has certainly set an example of generous service to us all.

But I promised to be brief - or at least briefer than usual! And, in passing over all the other personal tributes that I could easily make to so many other Bodley-lovers, I want to bring my remarks to a close by singling out just two more individuals who have philanthropically supported the Library's cause over a long number of years, albeit in very different ways.

And the first of these remarkable people is Lady Mary Eccles, whose death last year has robbed the library world in general of a very great benefactor. Remembered as a scholar, a philanthropist, and a lifelong supporter of great libraries, the name of Lady Eccles is gratefully memorialised in marble near the entrance to our own Duke Humfrey's Library. But if, along with her two husbands, Donald Hyde and David, Lord Eccles, she shares with Sir Thomas Bodley himself that place of honour and perpetual recognition as a great philanthropist, it is as a very gracious lady and a true friend that those of us who were privileged to know her will honour her memory for as long as we live.

But no less significant for us is the very different form of philanthropy that we have received at the hands of our outgoing Vice-Chancellor, Sir Colin Lucas. Although, thankfully, Sir Colin will not be entirely lost to us as he moves in September to become the Warden of Rhodes House, this is in fact the last occasion when he will sit at Founder's Lunch as our Vice-Chancellor; and this is therefore a highly appropriate moment for me, as Bodley's Librarian, to thank him publicly for all that he has done to further our Library's cause. I could not possibly be brief if I were to recount all the detail of his unwavering support for the Library over the years; but it will have to suffice for me to say right now that in this, as in so many other respects, Sir Colin will be a very hard act indeed to follow.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to ask you to raise your glasses in a combined toast to Sir Thomas Bodley, and to our extraordinary Vice-Chancellor, Sir Colin Lucas...

Ladies and gentlemen: thank you all, very much, for being here, and for all the wonderful support you give us in so many ways.

Reg Carr
13 March 2004