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Let’s visit the British Library

The British Library entrance Source: samfrecchiero.wordpress.com

Gloomy, dark, dusty, boring, full of strange silent people with unfashionable glasses become bent because of the huge amount of time spent on the books.

This has been the usual picture of a library – a place reserved for a small niche of intellectuals concentrated in reading, thinking, and meditating about every written work existing on the Earth…

But there is a place in London where this idea is completely overturned – the British Library.

This has not the usual image described before; further the books archive, the visitors can find an exhibition room where the entire history of England– but not only – combines with the original literature, poetry and religion writings.

The room was – yes, it is – gloomy and dark, and the lights are low and suffused, but this measure was taken to avoid the deterioration of the precious exhibits.

Geoffrey Chaucer and his masterpiece “The Canterbury Tales” welcomed to whom get in – considered the oldest example of British literature, it contained a set of stories which a group of pilgrims was telling during their travel from Southwark to Saint Thomas Beckett tomb

In Seventeenth century writers were not only writers, but a numerous part of them were politician – John Milton, the author of the poem ‘Paradise Lost’, wrote and addressed to the Parliament the dialogue ‘Areopagitica’, in order to defend the freedom of speech and expression.

The window contained ‘Commonplace Book’, a small notebook in which Milton took down his thoughts about politics, marriage, divorce, censorship, and education.

Turning our back on this section of the display, the collection of another amazing writer loomed in front of us: William Shakespeare.

The original pages of the most famous, mysterious and enigmatic playwright – his real identity is nowadays unknown – were located close the works of other famous rival dramatists, such as Marlowe, Beamount, Fletcher, and Middleton, who competed with the Elizabethan master all their lifetime.

In the library, it was possible to discover new sides of well-known masterpieces authors embedded in never-published pages, for instance Arthur Conan Doyle.

The first exhibit of Sherlock Holmes’ creatos was his first novel “The Narrative of John Smith” – an autobiographical story which through the main character, John Smith exactly, told the thoughts of the writer about politics, war, science, religion, literature, and education.

Italy was present as well with one of its most enlightened artist and inventor: Leornardo Da Vinci, which in these hand-written notebooks voiced all his scientific criticism against the theory of colleagues, such as Leon Battista Alberti.

Since the beginning of the world, the Man was intrigued in understanding the functioning of human being and the relative ways to solve diseases and malfunctions.

Joannes de Ketham has been the first physician to create a detailed medical book – “Fasciculus Medicinae” (1491) – where he has explained his theory of ‘four humours’, consisting of the principle that four kind of bile (black, yellow, blood and phlegm) filled the human body by being balanced perfectly.

While two century later, the Chinese naturalist Li Shizhen listed and studied 1000 kind of animals and 1000 kind of plants having extreme medical value, enclosing them with more then 8000 prescriptions and use.

The most historically relevant part of the exhibition appeared suddenly at our eyes: the Gutemberg Bible (1454) – more than 180 copies were printed with the financial partnership of Johann Fust.

Unfortunately the great discovery brought no fortune to its inventor, which in 1457 failed for debt, and in 1465 he could get a small pension for the benevolence of the Archbishop of Mainz.

Nearby the curators of the museum had arranged the display of the King James’ Bible (1611) – which its 400th Anniversary was celebrated the past year.

This was the first official English translation, but considered by the clergy heretical because it undermined the duty of the Church to be the only one interpreter and preacher of the Scriptures.

Wandering around these windows, it is possible to taste the extraordinary historical spirit of the new technology, which also helped to diminish the illiteracy, but the densest atmosphere came from a small room aside them.

This small, half-hidden room contained the original copies of the Magna Carta, the document considered the first parliamentary treaty.

Its birth was during the reign of King John, characterized by big defeats with France and the Church, which caused the exploitation of the feudal rights in order to finance them.

The dissent of the noble increased until they thought a way to limit King’s powers by finding it in the Charta – the negotiations started on 19th June in Runnymede, near theThamesRiver.

In this way started the origin of our western parliamentary, which then spread – in different kinds – in all European countries after centuries.

The British Library is a good way to compare history and books not only by using stacks and stacks of books, but observing physically them, and connecting with their historical period.

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