In 1914 James Thayer Ger­ould was hired for a book- pur­chas­ing mis­sion in Europe on be­half of UBC’s Li­brary, but his trip would not go ac­cord­ing to plan.

Trek Magazine - - Message From The President - By Vanessa Clarke

Dr. Frank Wes­brook was faced with many com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties on be­ing hired as UBC’s first pres­i­dent, but one of the most press­ing was the estab­lish­ment of an ad­e­quate cen­tral li­brary.

For ad­vice, he turned to a former col­league from the Univer­sity of Min­ne­sota, the in­sti­tu­tion from which he had re­cently been re­cruited. James Thayer Ger­ould was li­brar­ian there. He agreed to help stock UBC’s Li­brary in time for the univer­sity’s open­ing in 1915.

“My dear Doc­tor Wes­brook,” he wrote in a let­ter dated March 14, 1914. “At your sug­ges­tion, I am send­ing for your con­sid­er­a­tion a plan by which, at a min­i­mum of cost, your Univer­sity may have, when it opens its doors, a li­brary ad­e­quate to its needs at the out­set and which will be the nu­cleus of a later and greater col­lec­tion.”

The plan in­volved trav­el­ling to Europe, where Ger­ould be­lieved he would be able to se­cure a bet­ter price – as much as 20-30 per cent less – by go­ing di­rectly to deal­ers and bar­gain­ing on the spot.

“My sug­ges­tion is, there­fore... that you ap­pro­pri­ate the sum of $50,000 for the im­me­di­ate pur­chase of books for your li­brary and that I be given a com­mis­sion as your agent to visit Eng­land, France and Ger­many to buy the books.”

Since Wes­brook had yet to hire a li­brar­ian, Ger­ould also of­fered to over­see clas­si­fi­ca­tion and cat­a­logu­ing. He asked for a salary of $250 per month plus trav­el­ling ex­penses and re­quested a swift de­ci­sion, be­cause he thought it best to leave as soon as pos­si­ble.

By the fol­low­ing month, an agree­ment was in place. The li­brar­ian set sail from Bos­ton on May 5 on the S. S. Cym­ric of the White Star Line. “I am ea­ger to get at the job and to make good on your gamble,” he wrote to Wes­brook the day be­fore.

Later that month another let­ter ar­rived in Van­cou­ver, writ­ten on notepa­per from the Im­pe­rial Ho­tel in Lon­don’s Rus­sell Square. Ger­ould re­ported that he had se­cured the ser­vices of ex­port book­sellers Messrs. Edw. G. Allen

and Son, Ltd. Allen was one of only two sell­ers Ger­ould trusted to do the job, which was to in­clude bind­ing or re­bind­ing books be­fore they were shipped, via Blue Fun­nel Line, on a 72-day jour­ney across the Pacific. Ger­ould and Wes­brook had ini­tially dis­cussed ship­ping the books in in tin-lined cases, but in­stead – be­cause it weighed less and was cheaper – Ger­ould rec­om­mended us­ing heavy wa­ter­proof pa­per.

For the next few weeks, Ger­ould went about his busi­ness. A let­ter from Wes­brook dated June 16 in­di­cates that they had in­ad­ver­tently over­looked a sub­ject: “It is strange that we missed math­e­mat­ics,” he wrote, in­struct­ing Ger­ould to cut $1,500 pro­por­tion­ately from other sub­ject ar­eas and put it to­wards math books. Another time, a ca­ble ar­rived ask­ing Ger­ould to dis­con­tinue pur­chas­ing be­cause of ex­ces­sive ex­change rates. In July, af­ter mak­ing large pur­chases in Ox­ford and Cam­bridge, Ger­ould made his way to Paris. Af­ter that, the plan was to go to Leipzig in Ger­many.

He found con­di­tions in France less favourable. “I am not so well sat­is­fied with what I have done here as I was in Eng­land,” he ad­mit­ted to Wes­brook to­wards the end of his stay there, “but... I don’t sup­pose I can hold my­self re­spon­si­ble for the dis­or­derly con­di­tion of the Paris book trade.”

He found most books un­bound and stock to be poorly clas­si­fied. It also rained a lot and he worked long hours. “I shall be glad to get out of it my­self for the twelve and four­teen hours work which I am do­ing here is be­gin­ning to tell on me,” he con­fided.

Although Ger­ould was ea­ger to leave Paris, he would find things far more dis­agree­able in Leipzig. The as­sas­si­na­tion of Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand had oc­curred a few days ear­lier, and war in Europe was im­mi­nent. In a let­ter to Wes­brook dated July 31, three days be­fore Ger­many de­clared war on France, Ger­ould doc­u­mented the sit­u­a­tion in Paris.

“On the sur­face, per­haps the most strik­ing thing is the scarcity of money,” he wrote. “A week ago one al­most al­ways re­ceived gold in ex­change for a note of the Bank of France but on Monday of this week it all dis­ap­peared...”

He ob­served that the streets were crowded yet or­derly, with a strong po­lice pres­ence. But chaos would not be held in check for long. A trial in­volv­ing a Madame Cail­laux was un­der­way in France at the time. She was the wife of politi­cian Joseph Cail­laux and had shot dead the edi­tor of Le Fi­garo news­pa­per, which had been pub­lish­ing let­ters her hus­band was writ­ing to another woman as part of a me­dia cam­paign against him by po­lit­i­cal enemies. It was judged a crime of pas­sion and she was ac­quit­ted. When the ver­dict was an­nounced, the Paris streets erupted.

“In the ten­sity of the mo­ment it was enough to fur­nish the spark,” de­scribed Ger­ould. “In a few mo­ments, bands of largely young men were parad­ing up and down chant­ing al­most in the man­ner of an Amer­i­can univer­sity yell. As-sas-in, Cail-laux, As­sas­sin Cail­laux, As­sas­sin Cail­laux. Then the po­lice would charge, drive the bands down the boule­vard for some dis­tance and then turn­ing would drive the fol­low­ing crowd back again.” Ger­ould took refuge in a café. Things calmed down be­fore long: “The man who swal­lows fire was per­form­ing be­fore the ter­race of the café, the post­card seller and the rag man had reap­peared and it was as usual.”

Ger­ould still had a job to do. Would it be safe to go to Ger­many? “All sorts of ad­vice has been given me but yes­ter­day I wired my cor­re­spon­dent in Leipzig and as he ad­vised me to come I am go­ing to take a chance,” he in­formed Wes­brook. “The books are there and I hope that mo­bi­liza­tion if it comes will leave some­one with whom I can do busi­ness. In any event I can only do my damnedest.”

The let­ter was likely de­layed by wartime con­di­tions, and Wes­brook would not re­ceive it for a few weeks. Days went by with no word from Ger­ould.

“We are won­der­ing what in the world you are do­ing in these times of war and des­o­la­tion and shall be ex­pect­ing to hear from you by ca­ble or oth­er­wise if it seems un­wise to go on with your work,” the univer­sity pres­i­dent wrote to him on Au­gust 3. “If Europe is em­broiled in war, it may be bet­ter to stop pur­chas­ing and ship­ping at this time...” And on the bot­tom of the typed let­ter, scrib­bled in pen­cil: How will you be get­ting back again?

On Au­gust 8, another let­ter from Wes­brook ex­pressed anx­i­ety about the fate of the books:

“I have been won­der­ing whether they are cov­ered by in­sur­ance which would pro­tect us against loss in case of seizure by Ger­many. These are things how­ever, which per­haps we can­not help at this time.”

By Au­gust 11, his anx­i­ety was about the fate of Ger­ould:

“I was not at all dis­turbed about you un­til now. I do hope that ev­ery­thing has gone all right with you. We have not re­ceived an an­swer to the ca­ble sent the other day...”

Then a let­ter ar­rived that could only have added to the pres­i­dent’s un­ease. It was from Miss S. L. Ste­wart, Ger­ould’s sec­re­tary.

“Here at the Univer­sity of Min­ne­sota we are con­sid­er­ably ex­er­cised about the where-abouts of Mr. Ger­ould,” she wrote. “... It is only in the hope that you may have a lit­tle more def­i­nite in­for­ma­tion about him that I am trou­bling you. If you can let us know where he is, I shall be much obliged to you.”

Mean­while, as con­cern mounted among his friends and col­leagues back home, Ger­ould had fallen into a predica­ment that caused his reg­u­lar stream of let­ters and ca­bles to be abruptly cut off. Although he wrote to Wes­brook as soon as he was able, on Septem­ber 2, with a de­tailed ac­count of what had hap­pened to him, the pres­i­dent would not re­ceive that let­ter, nor any other news about the li­brar­ian’s where­abouts and well-be­ing, un­til much later that month.

Ger­ould had ar­rived in Leipzig in the small hours of Au­gust 3. Later that morn­ing he tele­phoned his cor­re­spon­dent, who now ad­vised him to leave Ger­many as quickly as pos­si­ble. Ger­ould boarded the last sched­uled train for Basel, Switzer­land, but the train was stopped at Mannheim and pas­sen­gers were in­structed to take a ferry across the river to catch another train at Lud­wigshafen. The crowds were so great that Ger­ould failed to catch the train and had to find lodg­ing for the night. The next day he stayed in his room. On Au­gust 5, he con­tin­ued on his jour­ney to­wards Basel. He was de­layed by po­lice for four hours at Lan­dau, then al­lowed to carry on. But not for long.

“About three sta­tions fur­ther on I was ar­rested and taken to the jail at Kan­del* where I was ex­am­ined, my lug­gage mauled, and I was stripped in the hope of dis­cov­er­ing that I was an English spy. I had, of course, a good many busi­ness pa­pers with me and let­ters from deal­ers in Lon­don and Paris. Most damnable of all I had the cabin plan of the Cym­ric and the ground­plan of the Univ. of BC. For­tu­nately there was in town a gro­cer who had for a num­ber of years lived in the States and he was able to go through my pa­pers and pro­nounce them ‘alles harm­los.’”

The li­brar­ian spent the night in a cell and the next morn­ing ap­peared be­fore some judges: “... though when they left they as­sured me that I could not be re­leased for two or three days,” he wrote, “I was in point of fact freed at about two o’clock and com­mit­ted to the care of the former Amer­i­can Mr. Stripf. He kept me at his house for three weeks and was very kind.”

Ger­ould had lit­tle cash. He was aided by the Amer­i­can Con­sul in Mannheim and friends in Leipzig, even­tu­ally mak­ing his way to Vevey, Switzer­land. With the em­bassy ad­vis­ing against Amer­i­cans com­ing to Paris, he would need to find another route home.

“I am in rather poor shape phys­i­cally,” he told Wes­brook in his Septem­ber 2 let­ter, “but it looks now as if I should have time enough to re­cu­per­ate but I as­sure you that even Switzer­land is far from be­ing a good place to be at the mo­ment.” The rest of Ger­ould’s let­ter dealt with the com­par­a­tively mun­dane busi­ness of book-buy­ing and the out­stand­ing trans­ac­tions from Paris.

Even­tu­ally, on Septem­ber 17, Ger­oud was able to se­cure a route out of Europe, via Genoa, on a ship that was “large and com­fort­able, tho dirty.” A few days be­fore the sail­ing, he sent Wes­brook a let­ter from Le Grand Ho­tel in Nervi, eight miles from Genoa. “It is a lovely place over­look­ing the Mediter­ranean and I spend most of the day sit­ting un­der palm trees… It is rather hot in the mid­dle of the day but the nights are cool and it is al­to­gether de­light­ful. The ho­tel is one of the best on the Ital­ian Riviera...”

By this time, Wes­brook had fi­nally learned, via a third party, that Ger­ould was safe and on his way back to the States – but he had yet to re­ceive the li­brar­ian’s let­ter con­tain­ing the de­tails of his en­counter with the Ger­man au­thor­i­ties.

“My dear Ger­ould,” he wrote on hear­ing the good news, “I have not the least idea how many let­ters and ca­bles of mine reached you, but we have been very much ex­er­cised about you... The first con­sign­ment of thir­teen cases of books ar­rived and I re­ceived the no­tice yes­ter­day and or­dered the cases taken to the stor­age ware­house... I shall be glad to see you some­time in the near fu­ture and to hear your ad­ven­tures. As I wrote to Miss Ste­wart, I hope they will have been in­ter­est­ing, but not too in­ter­est­ing.” * Please note that Ger­ould’s hand­writ­ten let­ters are dif­fi­cult to de­ci­pher in parts. The place names de­scribed above are, in our best judg­ment, cor­rect. Thanks to UBC Archives for pro­vid­ing ac­cess to cor­re­spon­dence be­tween Wes­brook and Ger­ould.

The read­ing room at UBC’s orig­i­nal Fairview li­brary (1919).

James Thayer Ger­ould.

On the bot­tom sent of a let­ter

to Ger­ould on Ger­many the day

de­clared war Wes­brook on France,

scrib­bled: How you be get­ting will

back again? To­day’s li­brary: the Chap­man Learn­ing Com­mons in the Ike Bar­ber Learn­ing Cen­tre. Photo cour­tesy UBC Li­brary.

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