Thursday, July 13, 2006
The best TBR pile ever
What’s better than a book store? A book museum! I just spent two hours in the newly renovated Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City and what a blissful two hours it was!
Mr. Morgan was a man who knew how to treat a book; he built an Italianate marble villa (designed by the famous architect Charles McKim) on the corner of Madison Avenue and 36th St. just to house his magnificent collection of books, prints, and manuscripts.
The building alone is worth the trip. Morgan’s study looks just as it did when he worked there. It breathes wealth from the sixteenth-century coffered ceiling shipped in pieces from Tuscany to the red silk damask covering the acres of wall.
The East Room is breathtaking with three levels of glass fronted book cases decorated with inlaid wood and bronze latticework. A tapestry that would cover the entire front of my house hangs over the fireplace. The ceiling has leaded glass skylights which illuminate the brilliantly painted vaults and corbels and cornices.
Of course it’s the books that matter. The Library owns not one, not two, but three Gutenberg Bibles, the first book printed with moveable type. Two were on display and it was awe-inspiring to see where the whole modern publishing business started back in 1455.
What I really love though are the hand-written manuscripts. Seeing the paper and ink touched by Thoreau, Galileo, and Mozart is beyond wonderful (although Lord Byron complained that copying over Don Juan was an intolerable bore). The teenaged Brontës wrote in such tiny letters that I couldn’t read their words at all. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese were also illegible because she wrote in a scratchy scribble in faint brown ink. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, had handwriting that was beautiful and easy to read, even though it’s in French.
Did you know that Edgar Allan Poe wrote on little sheets of paper and then stuck them together with sealing wax? A Tale of the Ragged Mountain makes a scroll twelve feet long. My daughter commented that he must have driven his publisher insane.
I was amazed to discover that Jane Austen wrote an epistolary novel titled Lady Susan when she was nineteen years old which wasn’t published until well after her death and then only as an appendix to a memoir. As one might expect, she had very elegant and legible handwriting.
Oscar Wilde was one of the first major authors to compose on a typewriter (which came into wide use in the late 1880s). Yet it’s fascinating to see his handwritten revisions on the typed manuscript.
I could go on and on but this is a blog after all and not supposed to take your entire morning to read. So I’ll just close with a comment by Charles Dickens which proves that writers and writing have not changed a bit over time. On display were his notes for Our Mutual Friend, including a chapter by chapter outline of the plot. At the end he had written simply, “Wind up the Book as skillfully and completely as I can.”
Isn’t that what we all try to do?
Posted by Nancy Herkness at 7:00 AM