Today was my first ever visit to The Bodleian Library at The University of Oxford. Special Collections has recently moved from what is known as The ‘Old’ Bodleian to The Weston Library aka The ‘New’ Bodleian, which I am assuming is a building much better suited for our modern needs and modern conservation. However, while The Weston Library is architecturally very beautiful, I didn’t quite get that magical feeling as I might have walking into an ancient space, housing the world’s knowledge, which is represented in The ‘Old’ Bodleian. Then again, the new space is open and light, making it feel quite inviting for first time visitors.
Despite being very organised with all of my documentation and even emailing ahead with details about the music I wanted to see as well as the time, date and double checking the documentation I needed (the admissions officer commended me on my organisation – something I very proud of, I must say!), the admission process did take some time. Each document I provided was carefully checked and logged, making sure that I had the right access for everything I needed, and the admissions officer took time to tell me how to navigate the building and get through all the security doors. This is something I am quite grateful for, but on average this takes about 15-20 minutes and if there are people ahead of you in the queue, it is worth remembering that you could be waiting for a while to be seen. I had arrived in the morning and planned to be in Oxford for the whole day, so it wasn’t a problem for me, but it is something worth knowing if you are on a tight schedule or a short research trip.
Just as I was about to receive my card, I was given something to read aloud – a promise that I would not harm any of the wonderful collections in the library. I had heard rumours about this, but didn’t believe it to be true until I was confronted with the paragraph. For all of you budding Bodleian visitors, I won’t spoil it by retyping what needs to be said, but a smile did appear on my face as all the rumours I once heard suddenly came to mind and I realised this was not just an urban legend.
Possessions safely stored in a locker, I made my way up to the reading room to examine the items I already had put on hold. These were more copies of The Songs Sung by Mrs Billington in The Duenna and Artaxerxes. I hope you can forgive me for not posting pictures of these, as The Bodleian have strict ‘no publishing without permission’ and I stated the images were for personal research. However, what I will say is that these two volumes were quite different in their binding to what I found at The British Library (BL). In the BL, all of the editions I looked at were bound with copious amounts of other music. Some music from the same period, some seemed to have been bound and then rebound at a later date and some collected and bound volumes seemed to have no reasoning behind the order of music at all. At The Bodleian, I was presented with the two sets of songs, one that was individually bound and the other that was sewn together and looked as if it had been punched at tied at one point in its lifetime.
There were no clues as to who the previous owners were or indeed why these were individually bound and not bound with other music. But, even this initial examination gives me important information. The Artaxerxes volume appears in a different order to one of the editions I found in the BL, but the same as another, which gives me a little more concrete evidence for how the song set was originally laid out. Furthermore, the printing in the BL copies were not the best and some of the lyrics and music were faded, but these copies were clean and I can clearly make out notes. The next step will be to carefully compare the sets
, in particular any note discrepancies or changes between years of publication.
Also on my trip, I paid my respects to one of my favourite authors, who is buried not too far from the city centre. So to round things off I will leave you with a quote from one of his beloved novels: ‘The road goes ever on and on…’ (JRR Tolkien).