Whether you have a normal interest in books or an extreme addiction then I can recommend the most perfect place to have coffee in central London is the British Library cafe. Forming the nucleus of the British Library’s original collection, the library of King George III is housed in a magnificent glass tower that spans 6 floors. You can sit right next to the precious glassed tomes sipping your coffee, and just imagine what it must be like to own even one such leather bound treasure.
The current Georgians Revealed exhibition runs until 11th March 2014 and should appeal to anyone interested in garden design, fashion history, social history, architecture and oh books. What I particularly like was the display of miniature children’s books from the Infants Library (in 17 parts 1800) next to the giant botanical folio The Temple of Flora 1799-1807, as the Georgians appreciated books for Show. The other favourite were the cross sections of the Designs for the Pavilion at Brighton 1822 by Humphry Repton (prior to the work being commissioned by Nash) showing the extravagant Music Room once populated by the Prince Regent.
The modern visitor could easily consider the chinoiserie completely over the top in terms of ornateness. It certainly is, but what I love about the illustration is the Georgians depicted in all their finery within it, the pastels of the gowns and reds of the jackets blending it all into a glittering occasion. It reinforces that this was a politically incorrect era, when the contrasts between rich and poor were at their most extreme; the average annual disposable income of a peer was £2800 and the average annual wages of a maid were £3. (note 1)
Two Featured Books from the Weston Library.
And so onto two special books from the late Georgian period I wish were mine. The first is “A Dictionary of Natural History, Or Complete Summary of Zoology etc printed by Charles Whittingham in 1802. With two columns of tiny text that you need your reading glasses for, there are 35 hand coloured plates, each with three animals. Includes the now extinct Dodo, described as “a large unwieldy bird, a helpless and unresisting creature incapable of of defence of flight. Its body is large and heavy, covered all over in large grey feathers.” What makes the illustrations all the more remarkable is that this book is more then 50 years before the first photo was taken, all the images taken originally from line drawings.
When I first saw “Scenes in Africa for the Amusement and Instruction of Little Tarry-At-Home Travellers” by the Rev Isaac Taylor I did a double take. Surely a book depicting a slave chained to a palm tree is meant for adults? Wrong. The clue is in the word Little.
The map facing the title simply describes South Africa as “Regions Unexplored” and is pinned to the first blank end paper, signed by the original owner “Calcott Stokes the gift of his Mama 1822; James Calcott Stokes given to him by his brother Calcott on his birthday 1831. ”
There are many images of slaved being led away ; the description for the above reads ” men, women and children are thus led to market to be sold as cattle. A few long leaves about the middle, or on the shoulders is thought clothing enough for wretches reduced so low in society” The picture beneath it is titled “crocodile seizing a bullock” it is likely the artist has never seen a crocodile which is the size of a gigantic sea onster many times the size of a cow!There are similar giant serpents and a hawk the size of a plane. It makes a pretty scary geography book for a young reader, but nonetheless does condemn slavery. Sweet dreams !
Note 1. “The Beau Monde” by Hannah Grieg, Oxford University Press 2013.
To view more Georgian books please click here Garden City Books Weston Library
To view more on The Georgians Revealed Exhibition click here Georgians Revealed Exhibition