Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library
The Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library stands on the western side of the Ostrovsky Square. The library’s first building (architect Yegor Sokolov, 1796-1801) is situated on the corner of Nevsky Avenue and Garden Street. In 1828-1832, Carlo Rossi built an extension onto it overlooking Ostrovsky Square. The walls of the new building are decorated with bas-reliefs and sculptures of scholars, orators, philosophers, and writers of ancient times.
A statue of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, the patroness of the sciences, crowns the building. The helmet of the goddess is embellished with a tiny sculpture of the sphinx, the smallest sphinx in Saint Petersburg. The sculptures on the façade of the building testify to the tremendous wealth of human knowledge and wisdom stored within its walls.
From Sadovaya Street to the Fontanka Canal the right side of the Nevski is occupied by the Imperial Public Library, Alexander Square, and the Anitchkoff Palace. The Imperatorskaya Publichnaya Biblioteka is one of the largest and most valuable libraries in Europe, enriched, as it has been, with the spoils of Russian wars in Europe and Asia. Many of the most precious of the State archives of France, dispersed during the great Revolution, and picked up by the collector Peter Dubrovski for a small price, now repose here. The collection of ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Oriental, and Slavonic manuscripts is unsurpassed, and comprises many of earlier date than can be found elsewhere. Of special interest to British visitors are the letters from Mary Queen of Scots to the King of France, and a missal with manuscript notes and reflections on her fate by the same unhappy lady.
Alexander Scott, Through Finland to St. Petersburg
The Saint Petersburg Public Library, opened in 1814, is one of the largest in the world. In the year the library was opened its one and only reading room could seat just forty-six people. At that time, its depositories held 238,000 volumes (among them only eight were in Russian or Church Slavonic). By 1917 the library stocks had reached 3 million volumes.
In the years of the Soviet rule the stocks had grown to over 30 million volumes.
The stock of Russian books is the most complete collection of printed editions in Russian from the beginning of book printing in Russia. Of special interest are the early printed books. In the manuscripts section there is a very large collection of old Slavonic and Russian hand written books and manuscripts, among them the Ostromirovo Gospel (11th century), 15th century chronicles, papers and autographs of Peter the Great and Alexander Suvorov, and also the only copy in the world of Chasovnik (Breviary) published by the first printer in Russia, Ivan Fyodorov, in 1565 on the order of Ivan the Terrible. This is the second Russian dated printed book after the Apostle.
Among the rare books is the personal library of Voltaire. Another unique acquisition is a collection of Krylov’s fables printed in 1865, the smallest book in the world. The size of a postage stamp, it has approximately 500 characters on each of its 104 pages, and the microscopic print is so clear that the text can be read with the naked eye.
In the stocks of literature of the peoples of the Orient there are books, journals, and newspapers in more than 20 languages, including works dating back to the 3rd century B.C. A xylographic publication of the famous Chinese Tusu Tsi Ch’en encyclopedia (more than 1300 volumes) as well as the encyclopedia of the Tsin dynasty (more than 1000 volumes) are kept here.
In the manuscripts section, of considerable interest are the extant parts of the archives of the Bastilles, the police dossier of Voltaire, the letters of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Leibniz, Rousseau, Diderot, the autographs of Rossini, Mirabeau, Robespierre, Napoleon, Byron, Beranger, Heine, and other valuable materials.