The British Library


The British Library is one of the wonders of the world, second in England only to The British Museum. In my book, so to speak, anyway.

The first time I visited The British Museum was in 1979, with a humanities group from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. At that time, a portion of what would become The British Library was housed in the Reading Room of the Museum. This is the very room in which, famously, Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, and when I was there it was on display, under glass, together with two other seminal volumes of the 19th Century: Darwin's Origin of Species and Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams.

I was greatly disappointed to find, when I returned in 2005, that the Museum collection was no longer housed here. It had been relocated to the new British Library, just a short 1.2 miles away. An easy afternoon stroll. This statue is evidently modeled on a sketch of Isaac Newton by William Blake. I remember feeling vaguely disappointed that there was not a similar shrine to British Literature, but I plodded on up the steps and went inside. They did not, I was told, have a display similar to the one I remembered from the Museum, but there were many, many exhibits I would enjoy just up the stairs. My feet did not appreciate the suggestion but they obeyed my instructions nevertheless.

There, laid out under glass, were such precious items as a copy of the Magna Carta, illustrated manuscripts, a few original copies of Shakespeare's plays, and so much more than I can remember now. But the best thing I found (and my weary feet enjoyed - my memory supplies the banks with little stools upon which one could sit and listen, but I may be misremembering) were the audio recordings of people reading original works. I listened to Virginia Woolf reading from something I don't remember now - maybe A Room of One's Own? And Churchill's We shall fight on beaches speech. My favorite, however, was W.B. Yeats reading The Lake Isle of Innisfree. That, alone, made the entire days' walk worth while.