During this week at the London Rare Books School I have felt privileged to be taught by Professor Michelle Brown, second from the left here. What an awesome fund of knowledge she has, seemingly knowing absolutely everything that happened to everyone before about 1500 AD. Like being taught physics by Richard Fenynman, and the sort of experience that you just ain’t gonna get through Zoom, sorry.
The page of text you see here was enscribed some 1,150 years ago, in the later part of the 9th century AD. This is a page from the MacDurnan Gospels, created in Ireland and now held in the library of Lambeth Palace in London. What you see here are the originators of the idea of a cross-reference: this must be a passage from the gospel of John, because here, the scribe has noted that the same events are also recounted in Matthew, Mark and Luke (listed from the top down).
It’s to look at, and be taught about, beautiful things like this that I am in London this week and this was certainly a good place to start the day. Michelle Brown, whose fingers you see here, is such an expert on this time and subject that listening to her is like being immersed in a river of learning: we’re coming up every so often for breath but it’s no hardship to get back in afterwards, and I was actually disappointed when the day ended at 5pm. And it’s been a while since I could say that about certain other aspects of my job.
Joe and I were supposed to be going to see The Who tonight — live in Leeds no less — first postponed from just under a year ago, but now cancelled altogether. Another little pleasure denied us. So in the absence of anything actually happening, here’s some abandoned furniture, on a slope. UPDATE; Clare informs me that this is not a lost object; in fact a number of them have been set up in various places in the Calder Valley, as another place for book-swapping. Lift up the top of the seat, and the books are inside, it seems.
Misty and cold at home, but sunny and mild in Manchester all day, sun which filled the public spaces of campus with students, at least compared to how it’s been for the last two months. ‘Without making a political point out of it, the idea of ‘lockdown’ is just no longer being confirmed by observation. Small businesses are still being shafted, but otherwise, many people have obviously just returned to living their lives.
As Our Glorious Leader mumbles, fumbles and bumbles, people with lives to live get on with their jobs. For the first time since 8th March, I got to be in a room with other people, and taught. As it happens, I was teaching other teachers, the good folk of Manchester Grammar School, a venerable establishment that has been around in some form or other since 1515. In the grim year 2020, this felt like an explosion of humanity.
Back to work after a ten-day break, the sort of day where drastic measures must be taken to crank the brain into gear. Like concealing oneself in a very secluded but studiously decorated spot and pretending not to be on campus.
Now that’s a proper library. And I was here for scholarly purposes, too. Occasionally it is still possible to feel that in my profession, things are as they were a couple of centuries ago. I mean, in a good way.
A visit to Hereford today, and its cathedral, mainly to see the very famous and superb Mappa Mundi, or medieval map of the world, created in about 1300. A wonderful object but though I got many photos of the details, none of those would be my own art — so here’s a shot from the adjacent Chained Library. Hereford has long been a seat of learning and with books so valuable in olden times, they were chained to the shelves to prevent theft. We take knowledge and education for granted these days — although if Donald Trump keeps going with present policy, perhaps that will change soon.