Today I’m going to combine two things, the British Museum and the British Library, because I don’t have pictures from the latter. But I want to talk about what I saw there, because it was one of the most important parts of my trip to London. Here is the picture I took going up to the second floor of the British Museum.
And here’s an example of the sort of thing I found there. Once again, the collection was so incredibly rich. These were documents from the Royal Library of Nineveh.
One of my favorite items was this relief of either Inanna or Ereshkigal. I’d seen pictures of it before, but of course it was quite different to see the real thing. It was smaller, but also more powerful, than I had expected.
This is the last picture I’ll include from the museum, but you can imagine what a treasure-house it was. I must have walked through the rooms of that upper floor for two or three hours.
Later that week, I went to the British Library, specifically to see an exhibit called Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands. The only way I can give you a sense for what the exhibit included is to list some of the items I saw there:
1. The oldest copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in existence.
2. Marked proofs of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.
3. Oscar Wilde’s manuscript version of The Importance of Being Earnest.
4. An audio of an interview with Stella Gibbons about why she wrote Cold Comfort Farm. (Which I listened to rather than saw, of course.)
5. A copy of A.E. Houseman’s diary from 1891 recording the temperature and what was blooming. (It snowed on May 14th, even though the cherries were in bloom.)
6. A watercolor painting by J.R.R. Tolkien of The Hill and Hobbiton-across-the-Water.
7. George Eliot’s manuscript version of Middlemarch.
8. A copy of Household Words containing the serialized first chapter of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South.
9. George Orwell’s hand-drawn map of his trip while researching The Road to Wigan Pier.
10. A letter by William Wordsworth describing how he had composed Tintern Abbey.
11. Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal.
12. A letter John Keats wrote to his brother while on a walking tour of Scotland.
13. Emily Brontë’s Gondal Poems in manuscript.
14. Charlotte Brontë’s manuscript version of Jane Eyre, open to the page where Jane first meets Rochester.
15. William Blake’s notebook with a draft of “The Tyger.”
16. Robert Louis Stevenson’s manuscript version of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
17. J.K. Rowling’s manuscript version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
18. Angela Carter’s manuscript version of Wise Children. It was open to the first page, which begins, “Why is London like Budapest? Because it is two cities divided by a river.”
19. Jane Austen’s manuscript version of Persuasion.
20. A newspaper produced by Virginia Woolf and her siblings when they were children. (They reported on going to a lighthouse.)
21. Lewis Carroll’s manuscript verison of Alice in Wonderland, the one presented to Alice Liddell, with a drawing of the Red Queen and Alice.
22. Kenneth Graham’s manuscript version of The Wind in the Willows.
And that is a very partial list. You can imagine how slowly I walked around that room, how in places that exhibit almost brought me to tears. I’m going to end this blog post with two pictures of something I saw at the British Museum that amused me very much. It was an exhibit just outside the museum, in the garden area. It was called North American Landscape, and it included all sorts of native North American plants.
Except that they were planted very much as they would have been in an English garden. I can’t imagine any collection of native North American plants looking less like an actual North American landscape than this:
But my trips to the British Museum and Library were both wonderful beyond words. They were experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life.