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Who knew that Beethoven was a scribbler? Or that Charles Dickens was short on cash and had to hurry to write “A Christmas Carol” in time for the holiday shopping season?
These are among the discoveries you’ll find in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. The Library houses the collection of Pierpont Morgan, the most influential financier in American history. Morgan was so rich, the media called him a robber baron, and the United States set up the Federal Reserve because of concern that he had too much control over the economy.
In his spare time, Morgan collected stuff. Not just any stuff, he collected original artistic, literary and musical works by famous people like Mozart, Strauss, Jane Austen, Voltaire and Einstein, to name a few.
And he built a stunning library to store his collection. This complex, which covers half a city block, looks fairly unassuming from the outside, giving away few hints about the treasures inside.
You know the building is going to be good on the inside when the entrance way alone is this amazing. The Rotunda is a vaulted entrance foyer that leads to the library on one side and Morgan’s study on the other. The floor is marble, the columns made of lapis lazuli, and the ceiling is a painted tribute to Raphael.
I love books and libraries, a veritable library geek, you might say. For me, a library like this has its own brand of bliss. With 30- foot high walls lined with bookcases of bronze and walnut, this is a house of worship to books.
Original Manuscripts and Letters
A few of my favourite examples of the Library’s treasure trove of manuscripts and letters:
- The original manuscript of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. The handwriting shows that the book was written with some urgency. The manuscript goes on display every holiday season.
- Letters by Jane Austen. She wrote to her niece with all of the words spelled backwards. In a number of other letters, she wrote across the paper’s width, then turned it sideways and continued writing in the spaces at a right angle. This checkered approach was all about saving paper.
- The sole surviving manuscript of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which had to be written and revised under the direction of the blind poet.
- Three copies of the Gutenberg Bible, out of the 50 remaining in the world.. This is the first book in the western world to be printed from moveable metal type. Before that, books were either copied by hand or printed from engraved wooden blocks. The invention of the printing press around 1455 was the start of the information age, as we know it today. Talk about a first edition!
The collection of original musical compositions is equally impressive, but I was especially fascinated with this autographed work by Beethoven, his last violin and piano sonata. The score may not look like it, but this sonata is quite calm and lovely.
Before you leave the library, don’t forget to look up at the impressive ceiling which, interestingly enough, is lined with depictions of the signs of the zodiac.
This room, with its red damask wall covering and renaissance-style desk, is said to most reflect Morgan’s personal taste. I thought his style was a little different from most bankers I know.
The Morgan Library also has an excellent web site, with much of the collection online. It is truly a legacy of art, music and words that is beyond words.