Though he was best known as a world-renowned author, preacher, and philanthropist, the bookshops of London knew Charles Spurgeon as a voracious reader and an avid collector. He was the most famous preacher in the world for most of the nineteenth century. In 1854, just four years after his conversion, Charles Spurgeon, then just barely twenty years old, became pastor of London’s famed New Park Street Church—formerly pastored by the famous Puritan’s John Gill and John Rippon. The young preacher was an immediate success. The congregation quickly outgrew their building, moved to Exeter Hall, then to Surrey Music Hall. In these venues Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering in the tens of thousands—all in the days before electronic amplification. In 1861 the congregation moved permanently to the newly constructed Metropolitan Tabernacle. It quickly became the largest congregation in the world.
In addition to pastoring that remarkable church, he was also the founder of more than sixty philanthropic institutions including orphanages, colporterage societies, schools, colleges, clinics, and hospitals. In addition he established more than twenty mission churches and dozens of Sunday and Ragged Schools throughout England.
But in the midst of the busyness of his life and ministry, he always found time to read. Books were his most constant companions and bookstores were his most regular haunts. He was born in the little Essex village of Kelvedon in 1834. Both his father and grandfather were pastors and so he was raised around books, reading, and piety. As a youngster, he began a life long habit of diligent and unending reading—typically he read six books per week, and was able to remember what he had read and where he had read it many years later. He particularly loved old books. He claimed in his autobiography that before he was ten years old, he preferred to go into his grandfather's study and pull down an old Puritan classic and read rather than go outside and play with friends.
As he grew older, his passion for books, and the little shops that sold them, remained unabated. Each day Spurgeon would scour the newspapers to find when an antiquarian book shop might be selling certain books. He would then beat a hasty path to the shop to purchase the treasure—or if he was too busy that day with appointments, he would send his secretary to buy the book. In time, his personal library numbered more than twelve thousand volumes.
The books were all shelved in Spurgeon’s study at Westwood, his family home. Of course, Spurgeon was not merely a collector. He was utilitarian, if anything. He viewed his books as the tools of his trade. And the shops where he found them were essentially his hardware stores. As a result, the books were used. They were hardly museum pieces, despite their scarcity or value. They were the natural extensions of his work and ministry. He once wrote, “My books are my tools. They also serve as my counsel, my consolation, and my comfort. They are my source of wisdom and the font of my education. They are my friends and my delights. They are my surety, when all else is awry, that I have set my confidence in the substantial things of truth and right.”