4.4.1: 1830 - 1910 - Introduction

The consumption of printed matter increased in the nineteenth century, although little is known about the extent, speed and social spread of this phenomenon. The geographical integration of the Netherlands became stronger due to the increase of transport facilities and in their wake the distribution of books improved. Together with the drop in book prices, as a result of technical innovations, this meant a stimulus to the book-buying public. A more important factor was the increased purchasing power of especially the middle classes. It is still unclear to what extent this resulted in the growth of private ownership of books, but an increase is very likely.

The climate for reading societies remained favourable until the end of the century. The countless reading circles and reading museums flourished: private possession and borrowing of books supplemented one another. Whether the members of these circles were inspired by the literature education in the secondary schools has not been examined in great detail, but the steady growth in the number of students in the grammar and secondary modern schools, the improvement in education and the increasing supply of literary series for educational purposes justify the assumption that in this respect as well an increase of the consumption of reading material was stimulated.

It is an established fact that illiteracy was strongly reduced in the nineteenth century, but its effect on the consumption of reading matter is far less certain. The civilising offensive, which manifested itself in initiatives such as those of the Maatschappij tot Nut van 't Algemeen (Society for Public Welfare), throughout the nineteenth century, aimed at increasing the population's hunger for reading. However, circumstances did not improve until the end of the nineteenth century when the prosperity of the lowest social layers rose and people had a little more spare time. With the growth of the number of precursors of the public library, such as the commercial library and the circulating library, the opportunities to read increased for everyone. The growth in the number of libraries, both institutional and private ones, drastically improved the chances of survival of printed matter.

author: B. de Vries