Thursday, July 15, 2010

The British Library-07/08/10

What a day! Unbelievable. I came on this program with the hopes of seeing maybe one or two illuminated manuscripts (hopefully) and with the illusory dream of seeing the Pearl manuscript (pretty sure it wasn't going to happen). On this tour I got to see a massive number of illuminated manuscripts on display in the treasure room at the library. The little gem pictured above is from the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and although not the Pearl poem, it is the very manuscript (of the Pearl poet) that I had hoped to see. The manuscript Cotton Nero A.x actually contains Sir Gawain as well as three religious poems: Pearl, Cleanness, and Patience. I was awestruck and still cannot believe I was staring at this manuscript. It is unknown who the "Pearl" or "Gawain" poet was, but the manuscript became part of the Cotton collection. It is Sir Robert Cotton and the history of his collection of illuminated manuscripts that I will be doing my research paper on for class.

And then there was the rest of the treasure room...where do I begin? I saw the oldest and only known surviving copy of Beowulf; Common Place Book of John Milton; Jane Austen's "Volume the Third"; Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"; a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (1454-55); Wordsworth's "Poem of Childhood"; many missals, psalters, and book of hours; the Codex Sinaiticus from the middle of the 4th Century which contains the Christian Bible in Greek and is the oldest complete version of the new testament; copy of the Revelation of St. John; a manuscript notebook of Leonardo da Vinci including studies of mechanics, notes on arithmetic, and notes on architecture; the original Alice in Wonderland (plus a Russian version, Walt Disney version, Salvador Dali version--interesting); Mendellsohn's "Wedding March" , Schubert's "An Die Musik"! This list could go on and on! (See more at: ). The exhibitions rotate and some items are at locations other than the British Library.

The library opened in 1998, it basically broke off of the growing Reading Room of the British Museum. It was amazingly built as part of St. Pancreas tube station and the Northern line actually goes through the middle of lower levels of the library and can be heard down in the basement. You still must apply for a reading card as you did back in T.S. Eliot's day (see previous post on British Museum), but once excepted you pretty much have access to anything you want, this fact I find astonishing. There is a mechanized system that brings items selected and delivers them to various reading rooms, depending where you are or which reading room you are using. Although no books have ever been lost on this massive belt system, rare books are not placed on these but are rather delivered by hand to the desired room.

Outside in front of the library are many sculptures including one of Blake and Newton that represents art and science. There is also a tree dedicated to Anne Frank.

(Image available at: )

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