Monday, April 9, 2012

When we last left our intrepid young assistant professor, she had just discovered that the two books she thought she needed to consult were indeed owned by her friendly, local world-class public library...

... In this installment we learn of the conclusion to her research emergency.


Today I spent the day up at the main branch of the New York Public Library. It houses its collection in a gorgeous beaux-arts building, which made it feel rather like I was on some fantastic European research trip rather than a mere two miles from my office:

Upon my arrival, I discovered that there is currently an exhibition on loan from the Bodleian about Percy Bysshe Shelley, an Oxford man who was sent down (which I knew) for promoting atheism (which I didn't know). Since I was there to track down the sole printed edition of a manuscript contained at the Bodley, I took this as a positive omen.

The marble lions guard the outside of the building, and the Lego lions guard the door from the other side.

I set up shop in the sun-drenched Judaica reading room.

It is so sun-drenched, in fact, around 11am, that I had to move away from the windows because I was starting to feel snow-blind because of all the glare from the pages.

But what could be bad about sitting next to this guy for the remainder of the day?

I was thrilled to discover that both the edition of the main text as well as the catalogue that accounts for the second manuscript to which the translator's note is appended contained the full text of that note. The books were both in really bad shape, though, so I wasn't allowed to photocopy the pages I needed. 

I copied out the translator's note by hand (it was less than two pages in a 12mo-sized book). And then I decided that, just in case and in the interest of fiddling with technology, I'd try to photograph the pages of the volume as well. I had managed to leave the battery for my fixed-lens digital camera with macro mode in the charger at home, but I decided I'd try it with my iPhone camera to see how it would work. All the photos in this entry were taken with my iPhone camera, which, photographically speaking isn't very good at all. But it was definitely sufficient for taking very legible photos of pages. They're not publication quality, but without a tripod (prohibited) and studio lighting (impractical) I wouldn't have gotten publication quality images with my camera, either. All things considered, I was really impressed with the results and now have a photographic copy of the whole volume. The edition is a little problematic, so I'm definitely going to have to look at the two manuscripts before my book appears in print, but this is definitely enough to get me through the workshop respectably.

Once I finished my work, I took some time to look at the special exhibitions. Photography wasn't allowed in the Shelley exhibition, but there is an online version. The best thing by far was the first edition of Frankenstein signed by the author to Lord Byron. Well, actually, maybe that was second-best to the autograph draft pages of same. The exhibition also features also the only surviving copy of an 1811 pamphlet that PBS had published anonymously in support of an Irish dissident who had run afoul of the libel laws. It's only been recently re-disovered; it had previously been thought to have been completely lost to posterity. There were also some fragments of Shelley's skull (apparently Shelley-relic keeping was common in the wake of his death). I was also really interested to learn that there is actually a reason why Mary Shelley's middle name is Wollstonecraft. I'd always assumed that it was an homage, but in fact it was a family name; her mother was the Mary Wollstonecraft.

The library had letter-press printed cards with quotations from PBS's poetry. They were placed in old-fashioned file drawers around the exhibition, with encouragements to take them.

I also went to see the Rose Family Haggadah, which was on display for passover. The mix of iconography is quite interesting.

And I finished off the day by stopping in on Christopher Robin Milne's friends.

All in all, a total success and a very enjoyable day: the best of all worlds! To celebrate, I think I shall watch the marvelous Shelley episode of Lewis tonight before getting back to work first thing tomorrow.

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