The Folger Shakespeare Library

Near the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.,  stands the Folger Library, repository of 82 Shakespeare First Folios — the largest collection in the world by far of these precious volumes.

The Folger Library, 201 Capitol St. SE, was the gift to the United States of  Henry Clay Folger (1857-1930) and his wife, Emily Jordan Folger (1858-1936).  Mr. Folger and his wife were lifelong lovers of Shakespeare and collectors of his works, including First Folios, Quartos, artwork, mementos of performances, and additional material related to the Elizabethan Era and the theatre.

They planned the library as a repository of their collections and as a permanent institution in the U.S. for the scholarly study of Shakespeare and his era and the continuing appreciation of reading and performing his works.  Built at a cost of $2 million, the library opened in 1932 with an original endowment of $10 million. The Folger is administered by the Trustees of Amherst College in Massachusetts, alma mater of H. C. Folger.
On the day I visited in March, students were performing snippets of the Bard’s plays and having a hilarious time doing so, under the direction of a professional actress in Elizabethan costume, and before an audience of fellow students, parents and teachers.
Below, a view of the Folger’s theatre, without the gleeful group, but showing all its timbered glory.  The theatre is also used for fully staged productions, literary and theatrical awards ceremonies, performances of the Folger Consort, and other activities.
Folger Shakespeare Library, Elizabethan Theatre

The Folger presents many special exhibitions.  The one I visited, Shakespeare’s Sisters, was enlightening. I will blog about it soon.

Central to the Folger’s mission is scholarship.  Imagine how privileged one would be to receive a reader’s card and be able to conduct research here in the Reading Room.  When I visited, we were allowed only a peek at the premises, which are reserved for serious studies.  At the end of the room is the immense window depicting the Seven Ages of Man (from As You Like It).
The window, designed especially for the Folger, was executed by the Philadelphia stained glass studio of Nicola D’Ascenzo (1871-1954) in 1932.
Emily Jordan Folger by Frank O. Salisbury, 1927
Henry Clay Folger, by Frank O. Salisbury, 1927
On the exterior of the building, scenes from Shakespeare’s favorite plays are captured in white marble bas relief sculptures.  Above, a Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Below, Richard III.
Though the Folger’s mission focuses on a writer from hundreds of yeara go and his world, the library’s resources and  techniques are decidedly up-to-date.  Their website (here) is excellent, worth hours of browsing.  Many parts of the collection are available digitally, as described here.  Hamnet is their free on-line catalogue.   The Folger has blogs, facebook pages, and can be found on itunes, youtube and twitter, among other sites.  The Conservation Lab is in the forefront of preserving fragile and delicate materials.
First Folio, Folger Shakespeare Library
In 2011, the Folger sponsored an exhibition “Fame, Fortune, and Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio,”   which told many stories of the creation, acquisition, sales and losses of these precious documents. Since the Folger has the world’s largest collection of First Folios (82 at present), it was the perfect venue to explore the topic.  First Folios, in case you have forgotten your college Shakespeare facts, are editions of the Bard’s plays published in 1623, which contained many plays never before published. In the world today, just over 230 First Folios are known to exist. 
One of many representations of Shakespeare at the Folger
 The Founder’s Room
Portrait of Elizabeth I, the “Sieve” portrait
by George Gower, 1579
in the Folger Collection
The above costume replicating the Elizabethan gown in the portrait was worn by actress Michael Learned in the 2003 Folger Theatre production of Elizabeth the Queen by Maxwell Adnerson (1888-1959).  Ms. Learned required the assistance of a dresser to put on the costume which weighed more than twenty pounds.
Washington’s warm March weather favored growth in the library’s Elizabethan Garden
Watch for our report on Shakespeare’s Sisters:
Voices of English and European Women Writers,
1500-1700, on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library to May 20, 2012

The Civil War Connection: Lord Palmerston and the Battle of Antietam

I recently visited the Antietam National Battleground in Maryland where the bloodiest day in U.S. military history took place on September 17, 1862. And it has a direct connection to our usual British topics.

Antietam National Battleground, Maryland
On a warm and sunny March day, we drove into the foothills of the Maryland mountains to visit Antietam, well run by the National Park Service.  Like many U.S. Civil War battlegrounds, this one is so quiet and peaceful today that it is difficult to envision the carnage that took place almost 150 years ago. 
The grounds are marked with many cannons and memorials to the various regiments which fought here on the side of the Union and for the Confederacy (in the south, it is known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, a nearby village).
Maryland State Monument, the only one dedicated
 to troops from that state who served on both sides

The calm beauty of the area belies it bloody past.  After viewing a film presentation on the battle and its aftermath, we purchased a CD for our car which took us on a driving  tour of the principal sites. At each one, we could park and listen to the description, then walk around the locale and talk with the very knowledgeable volunteer guides — who  spend their weekends telling visitors about the people who fought here and what happened to many of them.  Special thanks to Jim, Marty and Dave  who told us so many facts and personal stories.

A future U.S President was among the Union troops. William McKinley (1843-1901), 25th President, was later promoted to the officer corps.  His mentor in the 23rd Ohio Infantry, Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893), to become the 19th U.S. President, had been recently wounded and did not fight at Antietam.

Monument to the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
Skipping ahead to the outcome of the battle, the Union troops prevailed although the losses on both sides were horrendous and crippling.  The appearance of a strategic Union victory, however, was said to have caused Lord Palmerston, British Prime Minister at the time, to abandon his inclination to support the Confederacy.  Both the British and the French governments declined to take part in mediating the conflict.  Some observers — many as a matter of fact — believe that Palmerston was hoping to teach the upstart United States a lesson.

Lord Palmerston (1784-1865) by Francis Cruikshank, 1855
In addition, the success of the Union troops spurred President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in September, 1862, which freed all slaves living in Confederate states and further contributed to the British decision not to support the Confederacy.

The self-supporting (nail-less) fences
Another noteworthy matter is the role that photography played in popular views of war.  For the first time, photographers, foremost among them Matthew Brady, set up their equipment and took photos of the battleground littered with the dead and dying.  When these scenes were published, the public was horrified. People were used to seeing engravings (think Currier and Ives) of gallant charges with flags flying, not piles of grotesquely twisted bodies.


Ironically, much of the fighting was done around the Dunker Church, which belonged to a German Christian sect advocating peaceful resolution of all conflicts.

Dunker Church
A Napoleon cannon
The American Civil War was fought with weapons very similar to those used in the Napoleonic Wars. The armies had more rifles, thus more accurate shots. And some of the canons, such as the first ones in the second picture of this post, were rifled as well, which improved their accuracy too. Those just above and below were almost exact duplicates of the cannons used in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.

 A “Napoleon” cannon
Monument to the 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

All day the battle raged back and forth among the cornfields, hills and hollows of the area, with each side moving forward and then retreating as the advantage changed from side to side.
Burnside’s Bridge
In the afternoon, at the beautiful old stone bridge over Antietam Creek now known as Burnside’s Bridge, northern troops led by Major General Ambrose Burnside, gained the upper hand, causing the southerners to withdraw.  But more fighting followed as fresh troops arrived on both sides.
Late in the day, there was an undeclared truce as both armies tried to comprehend the extent of their losses.  Some units had only a handful of their men remaining unhurt.

But wait, it was not only men that fought.  As the above ladies who volunteer at the site told us, there were some women among the troops.  They managed to pass as men throughout the war, an amazing  feat in itself.   No one can come up with the exact number but we have the personal accounts of some who recorded their experiences for posterity.

Fittingly, the final stop on the battlefield tour is at the Union Cemetery where many thousands are buried, including a number still unidentified. The cemetery is watched over by the monumental statue of an infantry private, called Old Simon
And as a final comment, the guides told us that President Lincoln was most unhappy that his commander, General George McClellan was so cautious. McClellan did not pursue Lee’s army back across the Potomac and into Virginia.  Perhaps, if he had followed up quickly, the war would have been over in weeks or months instead of three more years of fighting.
More than 3,600 died that day, and many more of the additional 20,000 casualties never recovered.  Though the result of the battle was a tactical draw, the South failed to defeat the North in the first battle on Northern territory.  The North managed to reverse its previous record of mostly losses.  Less than a year later, at Gettysburg, the tide of the
war would change in favor of the North.
New York State Monument
For more details on the battle and the upcoming 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, click here. 

Christmas Ideas from the National Trust

When you are making up your Christmas list for yourself or for lucky giftees, you might want to take a look at the National Trust’s gift shop.

The historic Blewcoat School on Caxton Street in London is a to-die-for shop you won’t want to miss next time you are in London.  But if you can’t quite make it to London this holiday season, shop on line here.  There is something for everyone.

If you live in the US and travel to Britain, you should join the Royal Oak, the US support group for the National Trust. It will give you free admission to Trust properties, newsletters and magazines from both organizations, discounts on purchases, and a great deal of satisfaction.  I have often shown my Royal Oak membership card at a Trust stately home and received a big cheer from the volunteers.  “We love our Royal Oak members,” they always say.  Additional perks are invitations to special programs in major US cities by traveling lecturers and authors sponsored by the Trust and the Royal Oak — and some travel tours that sound brilliant. Or if you are in Britain or elsewhere, join the Trust. And memberships make great gifts too.

As you will see on their website, the Trust’s shops have a wide variety of books. The Christmas recipe collection above is on my list, for sure.

A few more selections… of 100’s.

Or you could choose a photo album and fill it with your own snapshots.

As seen in the examples above, the Trust sells magnificent prints, many by renowned photographers, suitable for framing.

The National Trust runs many shops both in cities and on their properties. They are always good for a browse.

Many popular items such as ceramic mugs and pieces of china compete with wonderful lotions and soaps, silk scarves and shawls, umbrellas and even hiking shoes.  Here are two more books I covet:

Could someone please contact Santa and give him my list?

Photos from the National Trust.

Travels with Victoria: The Windsor Museum

I was delighted to spend my last full day in England, June 15, 2011, with Hester Davenport in Windsor.

Here is Hester with members of the Irish guard with their canine mascot at the opening of the museum.

Hester generously planned our day beginning by meeting me at the train station in Slough, pronounced I believe to rhyme with plow (or plough).  Our first stop was a new park, formed from an old one which had fallen into disrepair. 
 The Herschel Park, 2011
The park is named after the famed German-born astronomer and musician-composer Sir William Herschel (1738-1822) who died in Slough after a distinguished career in which he discovered the planet Uranus and its moons, invented a number of telescopes, named the “asteroids”, and composed more than twenty symphonies. His sister Caroline was a significant partner in many of his scientific studies.

In the mid-nineteenth century, this area was part of a housing development which included large open spaces, and was known as Upton Park. It borders the M-4 and most of it was badly in need of renewal when a group, with money partially from the Heritage Lottery Fund, redesigned the park with nature trails and a Victorian band shell, a real asset for the neighborhood.Below, an old view of the Victorian park.

Our next stop was the Windsor Farm Shop where one can buy the Queen’s own beef, poultry and vegetables, straight from the Royal Estates. The goods were very enticing, I must say.

 Outside, there was a wide array of herbs, vegetables and flowers for one’s own gardens.  But I couldn’t quite figure out how I would get them home across the pond!

After a quick sandwich, we walked over to the Windsor Great Park to see the Queen and the royal family pass by on their way to the Ascot Races. I completely failed to get a photo here, but I found one in a newspaper that shows the Queen in what I believe is her loveliest hat. We got a very good glimpse of her and I was so impressed, I forgot my camera altogether.  Isn’t this the prettiest chapeau EVER?


Above, Queen Anne on the Windsor Guildhall,  home of the new museum.

View of the Guildhall from the south, showing the original Wren building completed in 1689 and the extension at the rear, constructed about 1829.

In March of 2011, the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum opened on the ground floor of the Guildhall. The doll above is one of thousands of artifacts to be exhibited, covering prehistoric to recent days.

Hester Davenport blogged here about some of the most fascinating items in the collection, the miniature d
ioramas created in the 1950’s by Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards.  Below, a detail of Windsor during George II’s Golden Jubilee in 1809, showing the princesses dancing at the local celebration.

 Since the town council was not in session, I had the opportunity to go upstairs and view the council chamber, the mayor’s office and  the Ascot Room up close.

 You will be pleased to know that I did not dissolve the town while I sat in the mayor’s chair under the portraits of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

This recent picture of Queen Elizabeth II hangs in the Council Chamber, but I have to admit I preferred the earlier one below, which is not currently hanging but can be seen in the Ascot Room underneath a portrait of Queen Victoria, her great-great grandmother.

The Ascot Room, next to the Council Chamber, is often used for wedding ceremonies, most notably the 2005 marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, and later that year, the civil partnership of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Hester and I finished with a delicious dinner.  I thank her ever so much for showing my around.   Hester is a very busy lady, with many boards and committees having to do with local history and the 18th /19th C. history. She is currently, for example, the chariman of The Burney Society and is a frequent speaker and writer on literary figures.  Thank you, Hester!!!

The next day I was off to Heathrow for the return trip, already planning for my next visit.

Travels with Victoria for 2011 concludes with this post. I hope you have enjoyed vicariously accompanying me on my jaunts.  And I hope you did not catch my pesky cold — which followed me back home but is now, thankfully, only a memory.

Travels with Victoria: British Museum, Part Two

The King’s Library in the British Museum has a new function. The oldest room in the museum, it was built in 1827 to house the collection of books amassed by King George III. This collection of 60,000 volumes was moved to the new British Library, St. Pancras, in 1997.

In the British Library

George IV donated his father’s book collection to the British people in 1823, necessitating a new building on the site of the original British Museum in Montagu House, Bloomsbury, one of many expansions and re-modelings over the years. Since George III’s book collection was moved a few years ago, the King’s Library Gallery has been restored, conserved and adapted for a new purpose: a permanent exhibition devoted to The Enlightenment.

ancient statues in front of cases filled with books on loan from the House of Commons Library

From the introduction to the exhibition:  “The Enlightenment is the name given to the age of reason, discovery and learning that flourished from about 1680 to 1820 and changed the way that people viewed the world. Enlightened men and women believed that the key to unlocking the past and the mysteries of the universe lay in directly observing and studying the natural and the man-made world. Their passion for collecting objects, from fossils and flints to Greek vases and ancient scripts, was matched by their desire to impose order on them, to catalogue and to classify.”

Bust of Hercules: Roman copy of  original by Greek sculptor Lysippos,
said to have been found at the foot of Mount Vesuvius and
presented to the British Museum by Sir William Hamilton in 1776. 

Continuing with the introduction: “The objects displayed in this room were collected during the early years of the British Museum, which was founded in 1753. They help us explore the passions and ideas of collectors and scholars at this time. When the British Museum was founded, it was a place not only of learning but also of wonder. This gallery focuses on the Museum’s early collectors, recreating that first sense of amazement and exploring some of the ways that people in Britain viewed their world and its past.”

Sir Joseph Banks, 1743-1820, Botanist, Trustee and benefactor of the British Museum; bust by the Hon. Anne Seymour Damer, 1813.

After spending quite a bit of time wandering in this fascinating room — much larger than it appears in these pictures — I decided to take another quick look at some of the other British Museums earliest treasures. 

The Elgin Marbles were collected by the 7th Earl of Elgin from the ruins of the Parthenon in Athens between 1799 and 1812.  He had them shipped to London and after considerable Parliamentary controversy, the nation purchased them and placed them in the British Museum in 1816.  It’s a long, convoluted story, interesting on many levels from the personal travails of Lord and Lady Elgin to the continuing arguments over their ownership. I don’t  have the time or space to condense any of these stories at the moment.  I just enjoyed joining the hundreds of people studying the brilliant examples of ancient sculpture.

The Rosetta Stone was taken from its original location in Egypt by French troops in 1799; British troops defeated the French and took the stone in 1801. It was brought to London and has been in the British Museum since 1802.  On the surface of the stone, a government decree is inscribed in three languages: ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic script and ancient Greek.  Thus it was possible to translate and read hieroglyphs for the first time.  Though almost all the above photographs are mine, I literally could not get close enough to the Rosetta Stone to take a photo on Sunday, June 12, 2011.  There were constant crowds around it, exclaiming in a multitude of languages about this great treasure of civilization — I thought that was a good thing!!

And now, another of those absurd wrenches from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Having had enough exploring in the British Museum, I started walking back to my hotel. When what should appear but another version of the world naked
bike ride. In June of 2010, Kristine and I were surprised to stand in the doorway of Apsley House in front of a street full of hundreds of nude riders. All we could do was wonder what the 1st Duke of  Wellington would have thought?

And here I was, almost a year to the day later, again confronted by the same spectacle. This time, however, I had my camera handy.  The most amusing part of it was to watch the reactions of drivers, bus riders and passers-by as the huge number of bikes (accompanied by a police escort) rode down Kingsway.  Believe me, dear readers, it was not easy to take a non-X-rated snapshot.  I assume that these riders — who can be found in similar events around the world — have a mission of some kind.  But for me, it was again such a peculiar juxtaposition of the enlightenment and “not a pretty sight” that the point of it all (so to speak) was lost on me.

But it is certainly another confirmation of the idea that in London, you can find a little of almost everything! And maybe even too much of some things?

The last stop on Travels with Victoria will be Windsor, where I had a lovely day’s visit with Hester Davenport, coming soon.