November 10, 2009

The Morgan Library

Because Tuesdays are my free afternoon days, today I decided to venture to the Morgan Library to see the Jane Austen exhibit I had heard about. Amazingly, I’ve never been to the Library before – it is certainly an overlooked gem. It began as J.P. Morgan’s personal collection of rare books, manuscripts, drawings, and artwork, and was given to the public by his son in the 1920s. The reading rooms that make up Morgan’s personal wing of the museum – with their massive collections of old books, dark wood shelves, plush couches, and beautifully frescoed ceilings – are a literary dream. The permanent collection boasts a Gutenberg Bible and a number of great pieces of art (I spotted a few Hans Memlings), in addition to all the rare books and illuminated manuscripts it contains. It was the special exhibit I came to see, however, and was excited to find that not only was there and exhibit on Jane Austen, but one on William Blake as well.

The Jane Austen exhibit was wonderful, featuring lots of Jane’s original letters, manuscripts, and first editions. It is always so exciting to me to see something originally from a writer or artist I admire up close, so I loved seeing her own handwriting in her copious and exhaustive letters. There was also a short documentary featuring well-known writers and artists discussing Jane and her effects on them – I especially enjoyed Colm Toibin’s (a writer I love) wish to invite Jane, Sigmund Freud, and Carl Jung to dinner, feed them lots of alcohol, and see what they made of each other. All the while, of course, I thought of my favorite Austen novel (Persuasion), and my favorite part of the novel (Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne). To avoid the risk of ruining the experience of the book for any unacquainted readers, I will refrain from saying more – just know that you must read Persuasion and savor your
first reading of said letter. Gosh, I love Persuasion.

The William Blake exhibit featured his many etchings and engravings – I often forget he was as much an artist as he was a poet. Engravings fascinate me. The great ones are so intricate and detailed, and to me evoke a certain kind of beauty I automatically associate with literature and poetry. I suppose it is people like Blake that are the causes of such associations – his etchings are beautiful, and of course literary. Here are the first few lines of “The Echoing Green,” from Blake’s Songs of Innocence (and his frontispiece):

The sun does arise,

And make happy the skies;

The merry bells ring

To welcome the spring;

The skylark and thrush,

The birds of the bush,

Sing louder around

To the bell's cheerful sound,

While our sports shall be seen

On the Echoing Green.

I was also happy to learn of Blake’s love for John Milton, and Blake’s poems and engravings inspired by Milton. This illustration, “The Wandering Moon,” was done by Blake to accompany Milton’s L’Allegro and Il Penseroso, and features Milton in his Cambridge robes observing the moon, personified as a young woman. I just love his artwork (and poetry).

The Blake exhibit runs to January, while the Austen exhibit is until March. Go!

1 comment:

  1. That sounds fantastic! I have to go soon (especially the Jane Austen exhibit and that glorious reading room). Which reminds me I need to read Persuasion.