London, Day Two – British Museum, British Library

Tuesday, May 14

Our itinerary today called for a trip to the British Museum.  I was very excited to see their collection of Egyptian artifacts, the Roman Mildenhall Treasure, Sutton Hoo Burial Relics and, most notably, the Rosetta Stone.

I did get to see some of these incredible pieces of history but was only able to stay an hour or two.  I wanted to learn about Egypt and Rome but instead I learned that my brain can get just as tired as my feet.

Even though it was early in the day, I was exhausted and my head felt heavy. It was a strange experience. There just didn’t seem to be any more room for amazing or significant or beautiful or important. It was sensory and information overload combined with a little bit of guilt for walking away from an opportunity that so many people would never have.

I was sorry that I came to this point while at this museum. This was going to be one of the highlights of our trip but I just couldn’t stay. I remembered my “we’re going to miss stuff” mantra and reminded myself that this was a vacation not work. I decided to just sit and try to relax. Jim wandered around a little more and then we went outside and sat in the sun while I collected myself.

We went back into the museum for lunch at their café and then decided to head towards the British Library. Their Treasures of the British Library holds over 200 old manuscripts, maps, sheet music and historical documents. I was tired but I had to at least try to spend some time there and see some of the items in their collection.

It turned out to be a good, low-key activity. Since it’s a library, people are more subdued to begin with and the lighting is dimmed to protect the artifacts.

We saw the 1225 reissue of the Magna Carta, some of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, a Gutenberg Bible from 1455, an eleventh century copy of Beowulf, many illuminated manuscripts and even the Lindisfarne Gospels! I’d listened to a series of lectures about Geoffrey Chaucer earlier this year and it was great to see some of his writings. It’s hard to believe that materials as delicate as papyrus, vellum and paper could survive hundreds of years, let alone wars, fires and weather.

One surprise was seeing Lady Jane Grey’s prayer book with her own writing in it. The British Library believes this was the book she held on the scaffold before she was executed. We’d seen the painting of her execution at the National Gallery the day before and it was beautiful but felt like just another history lesson – interesting but impersonal. After seeing farewell messages written in her tiny, graceful handwriting, she became much more real. I’m glad we took the time to go the library. It added depth to the paintings we were seeing and history we were learning.

We had an early night and relaxed at home watching fabulous British television – including a game show about math.

Next up, Henry the VIII and Hampton Court Palace.


3 thoughts on “London, Day Two – British Museum, British Library

  1. Barbara

    Too bad you felt overloaded at the museum, but I’d go for the Treasures of the British Library anyway. Can’t wait to follow some of the links!

  2. Bluetick runner/Trella

    Shoot Kate, I get the sensory overload thing at a good sized museum here in the states, I think you held up rather well. Jerry observed that HE has that problem in a good sized candy store.
    I *can* however, work my way through Neimans, Bloomingdales, and several boutiques, calculate sale prices, and factor in matchability to my current wardrobe without hitting any wall whatsoever. Probably should stick to museums. ;-D

  3. Anonymous

    Interesting to hear about brain overload, and about your reaction to Lady Grey’s prayer book. I remember getting that impersonal history lesson feeling, too, interestingly from the places where the artifacts were so well-preserved and presented in glass cases with good lighting. The experience I treasure was the one where I really understood and felt the presence of the actual people who lived so long ago, (in my case, an old, crumbling castle on the Rhine river). Lovely to hear about your adventures.


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