Tuesday, 31 January 2017

31st January - British library treasures

In London the other day, I went to the British Library to look at the wonderfully named "Treasures".

Despite the fact they're not, sadly, in a chest covered in sand having just been dug up where X marked the spot, they really are treasures.

A wealth of literary manuscripts and priceless documents - not just monetary value, but in terms of their importance to the world. As I went around the room, I was astounded at what I was seeing. From the musical sections - Mozart, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams' handwritten compositions. Original Beatles lyrics scribbled down on bits of paper. To the classics - Thomas Hardy's rough drafts, his writing incredibly awkward to decipher. Jane Austen's letters and early stories; Beowulf, George Elliot.

Just as I saw one and was agog, the next popped up in the next display cabinet, expanding my mind's wonderment onto galaxy levels. My eyes felt like they coming out of their sockets on stalks.

It wasn't even just necessarily literary greats but documents of scientific (even cultural) importance - Captain Scott's Diary (for me, personally, particularly poignant  - I have long been fascinated with Scott and his expedition), Alexander Flemings notes from when he discovered Penicillin.

There is something special about seeing these documents, writings and items in the person's own hand. My stomach fluttered as I looked at the Handel's Messiah written out in the composer's own hand. Thomas Hardy's writing, although difficult to actually read, was fascinating - the crossing out, the editing. It was seeing the processes, the thought, of the literature being created. These were papers the person touched and marked. And ever the romantic, I feel a sense of wonder at this.

What will future generations have that will equal this? I am writing this now on my computer. Edits are made and lost instantly as the software auto saves and replaces. My own thought stepping stones and processes, my workings out are often lost into the ether.
Not that I am comparing myself to literary greats, but it does make me wonder as we write physically less, and type digitally more, what trails we as humans and the future literary greats will be leaving for our children's children to enjoy. They will lose that personal connection to an object, to a drab of ink, and will miss the beauty in the errors - as well as that safe knowledge that even geniuses get it wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment