Throughout Victoria's reign, Lord Lindsay and his son Ludovic, respectively twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth earls of Crawford, created one of the largest private libraries ever assembled in Britain. The Bibliotheca Lindesiana included some six thousand manuscripts, which Ludovic sold to Enriqueta Rylands in 1901 for £155,000. The principal problematic that I address in this thesis is: Why did the earls of Crawford invest vast amounts of financial and cultural capital in this endeavour? In other words, what factors - both structural and specific - led to the formation of the library, what purposes did it serve, and what roles did its manuscript components in particular perform? Other questions include: How - and how successfully - did Lindsay and Ludovic maintain physical and intellectual control over the rapidly growing library? How did they position themselves within networks of connoisseurship and collecting in Victorian Britain? How was the formation of the Oriental manuscript collections connected with Lindsay's interest in racial classification and with wider racial discourses? And how did the library reflect and reinforce Lindsay's identity as a gentleman-scholar? Previous studies of this and other manuscript collections have adhered to an antiquarian, bio-bibliographical model, focusing on the detailed matter and mechanisms of collecting, rather than exploring the socio-cultural and epistemological contexts of their development. This thesis, by contrast, constitutes the first extended application of cultural theory to a manuscript collection, or indeed to any private library, in the nineteenth century. I combine close archival work with Bourdieu's concepts of field, capital and habitus to reveal the complex structuration and signification of the library, and to investigate the imbrication between the earls' personal agency and wider forces operating upon the library. My examination of the Bibliotheca Lindesiana has uncovered several key issues and themes hitherto unexplored in this or any other major private library of the nineteenth century. First, I argue that the reasons for the library's development reside principally in various forms of classification, which preoccupied Lindsay and reflected wider societal trends and taxonomies: the classification of libraries and the ramification of knowledge; Lindsay's deployment of the library to corroborate his and his family's social and cultural distinction (i.e. social classification); and an interest in racial classification, which reflected Orientalist discourses associated with imperialism. Secondly, while the dispersal of aristocratic collections in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is a familiar trope, this study is the first to contextualize the decline of a private library within the struggle between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Finally, this is the first examination of the impact of professionalization upon private as opposed to public libraries, revealing the tensions between amateur traditions and growing professionalism and specialization in the nineteenth century. I thus 'read' through the library some of the wider socio-economic and cultural issues operating in Victorian Britain and its empire.