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British Library

So today I was two minutes late— late meaning that I was not standing at the door when the guard opened it. You may think that is nothing, but you'd be wrong.The British Library Manuscript Reading Room is dimly lit, with only four skylights in the ceiling. This means that those of us looking at manuscripts with small or faint writing are forced to sprint from the check point at the door for the few spots at the tables under the skylights. (Woe unto me if it is a cloudy day.)

So we all dive down the stairs to the lockers, throw our stuff in, and lock it up. We take our clear plastic "British Library" bags of "approved" materials (laptop, pencil, etc), and then run up the three flights of stairs to the manuscript room. I got one of the last two "good" spots. Whew! Such is life in July at the British Library. (That's when all the American researchers hit.)

Old Friend

So the person next to me asked if I'd been at Leeds and was fishing around trying to figure out where he knew me from. As it turned out, it was A.G. the professor from Cornell that I had met when I was looking at PhD programs. He wrote me the sweetest rejection letter. It was so nice I kept it. He said they'd kept my application after they'd sent out their rejection letters, while they tried to find the funding to accept me, but they just couldn't. Now isn't that the nicest rejection? Anyway, he'd really struck me at the time as a warm, generous person, and it's been on my mind that I would want to know him. So lovely to bump into an old friend (so to speak), and talk a little whispered shop- talk over our manuscripts.

Flesh or Hide?

The manuscript that I'm looking at is Harley 913. That's the one I did my master's thesis on. I'm verifying details about it, so that I could write a codicology article about it. It is a disordered manuscript (someone has taken it apart and not put the pages back in the right order at some point), and so it is an interesting puzzle to figure out what the original order might have been.

When medieval bookmakers folded vellum, which is made from an animal's hide, they knew that the hide side would be a little darker, but would take the ink better; while the flesh side would be a little whiter, but that's the side that had fat on it originally, so it will be a little greasier and not take ink quite as nicely. They tended to fold the pages so that two hide sides faced each other, then you turn the page and you get two flesh sides facing each other. Stay with me here, I'm summing up pretty quickly. So the places in the little Harley manuscript where the pages are disordered will likely be places where the pattern breaks. Hence why I'm looking.

There's a good article that proposes a reconstruction that I mostly agree with. (My contribution is to add some details and tweak a bit). But then there's an article that must have some typos in it, as it's just not physically possible for that reconstruction to be true— but nonetheless, I have to look at all the stuff that person brings up, so I can talk about it.

Big Bus Tour

This afternoon Shelly and I made another sally out to get the good out of the Big Bus Tour tickets. This is the tour bus that stranded us out in London yesterday and we had to take a cab, subway, and walk part of the way, to get back to the hotel. Alas, we seem to be slow-learners—They stranded us again this evening. However, prior to that we did get to ride around for four hours in the bus and see the sites. The views as we went over the Thames (and amusingly, they map the route so that you just go back and forth over the Thames multiple times), were my favorites. It's also interesting to get a sense of the different sections of town. For instance, Soho, one of the sections of town known to be kind of Bohemian, was originally Henry VIII's hunting park. The name comes from a hunting cry, "So-ho!" And dealing with the Big Bus Tour company has certainly spurred us to learn the city bus system. (We successfully got back to the Library and that's right next to our hotel.)

Most of the nifty pics for the day are from the bus tour.

Pretty Pics:

Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version and enter a slideshow of the larger versions.

Round View from MS Stairs
Round View from MS Stairs
From the front door of the British Library, you look up on the left and there is a little round window on the third floor-- the manuscript room is just behind that.
Stopping to look.
Stopping to look.
A nice bit of whimsey to stop and look down from the heights of the manuscript room stair landing.
The King's Library
The King's Library
George the Third collected an impressive library for himself during his life, and after his death, his son, George IV, gifted it to the British people. The "strings" on the gif are that it must be maintained as its own collection. Hence the library has this five-story glass tower with rotating book shelves (so that no books face outward to the sun all the time).
St. Paul's Drive By
St. Paul's Drive By
St. Paul's Cathedral is the "big" one in London. It's newish, having only been open for services since 1697. It replaced the cathedral on this site that was destroyed in the great fire of London in 1666.
Shelly early in the big bus tour.
Shelly early in the big bus tour.
Crossing Tower Bridge
Crossing Tower Bridge
The views as the bus goes over the Thames on the bridges was pretty spectacular.
Busy River
Busy River
The London Eye
The London Eye
The London Eye is the giant ferris wheel on the horizon.
Boadicea Driving a Chariot
Boadicea Driving a Chariot
Boadicea and her two daughters-- apparently driving away a souvenir vendor.
Lambeth Palace
Lambeth Palace