We went to the Huntington Library this weekend to marvel at its world famous collection of rare books. Of course we pocketed our Spy Cam so we could enliven our verbal report with images.
When our eyes had adjusted from the San Marino sun to the twilight of the high-ceilinged hall we saw a vast array of dimly lit display cases, each housing dimly lit books — books ranging from Medieval illuminated manuscripts to one of W. H. Auden‘s notebooks.
We saw and exclaimed, but — our apologies, bibliophiles — we did not photograph. Stern signs forbade the taking of those photos which we so ached to share with you. Nor did we dare a surreptitious spysnap, for steely-eyed guards stalked, ready to pounce.
But we did not come away imageless: We have drawings! All the pencils on this page were done from memory, set down immediately after we exited the library while the details were yet fresh in our mind.
Figure A. The Gutenberg Bible. Not a patch on those individually illuminated Bibles we admired recently at the Getty. But the mechanically printed version, we admit, is nice and neat; all those heavy metal letters lined up in tidy rows; also it is more affordable for us commoners. And just in time for the Reformation!
Figure B. An actual First Folio, the volume of Shakespeare’s plays assembled by his theater friends seven years after he shuffled off. The Folio is much bigger than we had imagined– also prettier; gilt edges and everything. His chums did right by him.
Figure C. The Ellesmere Canterbury Tales, so named because… ah, well, actually we don’t know why it’s called Ellesmere. Maybe Ellesmere drew the pictures. We were so focussed on fixing a mental image of the large vellum pages that we neglected to read the museum info card. Sorry.
Figure D. John Milton’s Paradise Lost. A first edition, too! Bedtime reading for the nostalgic Roundhead.
Figure E. Another first edition, this one from the 18th century: James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, open to the intro page. You can almost sense the original owner of the book already chuckling in anticipation of the zingers gotten off by the “Great Cham” in his cups.
We’d entertain you with a Johnsonian anecdote right now — we have in mind the one about Doctor Johnson’s correcting the imprecise vocabulary of a woman who had complained that he “smelled” — but our little battered Penguin edition seems so sad and tawdry next to these grand old tomes and we are abashed. It stays shelved.
You must leave now. The dog will see you out.