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Morgan Library and Museum p1

Readersvoice.com aims to collect a few interesting reading tips. This issue features a visit to the Morgan Library and Museum, in Manhattan, where I attended the re-opening of the Morgan Library on October 30. The Library was beautifully restored this year. In 1903, the building which houses the current Morgan Library and Museum was commissioned by financier J.P. Morgan (1837-1913) to house his collection of rare manuscripts and books. He was quite the bibliophile, and I’ve listed a few of the titles of books in his Library and Study here. It's a modest little collection.

I must read Ron Chernow’s biography of John Pierpont Morgan, The House of Morgan. I liked Titan, his biography of John D. Rockefeller, and a recent visit to the Morgan Library and Museum piqued my interest in Pierpont Morgan. I’m not interested in banking so much, but I’ve since read a fascinating account of how he managed to pull the U.S. economy out of a serious fiscal crisis in 1907. I’d especially like to know more about J.P. Morgan’s book and manuscript collecting.
As far as book collections go, Pierpont Morgan really takes the cake. This is the big league. As well as an amazing collection of books, accumulated by Morgan and others subsequently, the Morgan Library and Museum features rare manuscripts which are open in glass cases for the public to read. It’s a strange feeling reading these hand-written diaries and letters by people like Jack Kerouac, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Queen Elizabeth 1, Mozart and Thomas Jefferson. It’s like reading over the shoulder of some of the most gifted people who ever lived.
The building housing the current Morgan Library and Museum was commissioned in 1903 by financier John Pierpont Morgan to be built next to his house which stood on the corner of Madison Avenue and 36th Street. He hired architect James Follen McKim (1847-1909) to create a library for his collection of rare books and manuscripts. It’s built in the classical style based on the villas of the Italian Renaissance, and the exterior is made of Tennessee pink marble. It was called Mr Morgan’s Library when completed in 1906.
I visited three main rooms full of interesting books. The Original Library, in the East Room is awe inspiring. It has three levels of books, with secret stairways to the upper levels. As well as visiting the Library, I checked out the Rotunda to the Library and the Study, which also had fascinating old books including many first editions from hundreds of years ago.
And the Museum had a couple of other displays I visited, too. One room featured a room full of drawings by Degas. These pictures, some in lead pencil including portraits, were almost supernaturally good, particularly the faces of the sitters. It’s a pity he never created comics…
I also caught an exhibition of Mark Twain’s manuscripts at the Museum. It was interesting reading his hand writing, seeing where he’d made corrections. The thing that I liked about Mark Twain was his productivity. Anyone that prolific would have little chance of procrastination.
Re Mark Twain, there was a fascinating book hand-written in pencil by Jack Kerouac. He talked about how artists should have two lives: the artistic life and the normal everyday life. He mentioned how Mark Twain divided the two successfully: how he was a family man on the one hand but also a committed writer. He said some writers like Joseph Conrad were just writers and that they were missing out on a lot with this attitude.
To read about the Rotunda of Pierpont Morgan’s Library, and the books and manuscripts in the Library and Pierpont Morgan’s Study see the following pages.

-copyright Simon Sandall.