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The British Library — Online

Friday, January 12, 2007

No, not Steve Gutenberg…

 I have a soft spot for the British Library in London. It was one of the first ‘touristy’ places that Sarah and I visited in England. While the British Museum has endless rooms and rooms of ‘stuff’, including my favourite,  the ancient Greek vase room (okay, so I lied about that, it wasn’t really my favourite), the British Library has only one very large room where it keeps a permanent display of documents from the past.

I say ‘only’ one room, but in that room you can find the Magna Carta, pieces from Leonardo’s notebooks, a Gutenberg Bible, Handel’s Messiah, beautifully illustrated Qur’ans, ancient Chinese manuscripts, bits scribbled by Beethoven, Mozart and Oscar Wilde – just to name a few. I suppose it’s not such a big deal if you live in London, when you can pop into any of the museums or galleries and see these things at any time, but coming from white-bread Port Perry, and standing only inches away from Captain Cook’s journal, or the last letter by Thomas More to Henry VIII, written before his excution, or sections of Shakepeare’s first folio, is truly a memorable experience.

The BL also has an extensive online gallery, and this is what I wanted to draw your attention to today. Go to and you flip through pages of their most recent addition – William Blake’s journal. Or, you can look at some Mozart scores, some Leonardo sketches, read the original Alice in Wonderland, or gaze at old maps, art or religious works. The site allows you to magnify sections, or you can listen/read the information about each specific page.

It’s a great site, especially for the desk chair historian. Not quite as exciting as the real thing, but certainly the closest most of us will ever get. llewopemearg

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