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Pierpont Morgan’s Study p2

A visit to the Rotunda of J.P. Morgan's Library. And the West Room: J.P. Morgan's Study: A quiet little space for a spot of reading.

The Rotunda of Pierpont Morgan’s Library is all white marble and light, and looks like the interior of a chapel, complete with a dome and ceiling paintings. There are glass cases around the room. They contain highlights of Morgan’s Americana collection: things like a hand-written letter by Thomas Jefferson to his daughter; notes written by Abraham Lincoln in preparation for a debate with a Democratic Party rival; and a copy of the American Declaration of Independence.
I particularly liked reading Thomas Jefferson’s letter to his daughter, telling her to persevere with her Latin studies. In the process he talks about the American character: how nothing is desperate, and how resolution and contrivance triumph over difficulty; and how Americans find means within themselves rather than depending on others. It’s an inspiring piece of writing. I hope the kid passed her Latin.
Next I ventured into Pierpont Morgan’s Study, which had a warm red color scheme, with red rugs, a massive fireplace, and heavy Renaissance-style dark wooden chairs and an imposing desk. There were two large portraits on the walls, one of Pierpont Morgan and one of his son, J.P. Morgan Jnr. And there were precious art works around the room, like a 1345 Polyptych with scenes from the life of Christ, the Virgin and the Saints. The room made Bruce Wayne’s study look like a dentist’s waiting room.
High overhead was a 16th century coffered wooden ceiling brought from Florence in 1905, and there were red silk damask wall coverings, and 15th to 17th century stained glass panels he’d collected from Switzerland churches and monasteries. I hope they weren’t using them at the time. Maybe they’ve got sliding windows there now.
Then I examined the books on the low shelves around the room: beautiful old hardbacks and first editions. This is a fraction of the books on the shelves, but it should give an idea of the tone: Original Illustrations to Captain R. F. Burton’s Arabian Nights. 1897; Men of Character. Volumes 1, 2 and 3, by Jerrold; Adventures of Ullyses by Lamb, 1808; The Caxtons, by Lytton; Rosetti, Early Italian Poets. 1861.
There were many books by Goldsmith, including copies of Citizen of the World, 1762; Vicar of Wakefield, 1766. And there were Lectures on the English Poets by William Hazlitt; The Keepsake. To Be Read at Dusk, by Dickens, 1852; and also Dickens’ Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, and Master Humphrey’s Clock. One book was called The Germ, 1859. And there was a copy of Remarks on Italy by Addison, 1705, which was a large black hard covered book with hoops along the spine. Then there were Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, 1811; The Professor, 1857, and Villette by Charlotte Bronte; Froissart, Chronicles of England, 1525; The Wessex Tales by Thomas Hardy, not to mention his The Well-Beloved and A Laodicean, all in nice green volumes; Johnson’s Dictionary, 1755; Pliny, The History of the World; A Shakespeare edition from 1632; Harris’s Lexicon from 1704; Chronicles of the Kings of England by S. R. Baker, 1643.
There was even a West Room vault lined with solid steel, that used to house his manuscript collection. Its heavy metal door was open, but you couldn’t step inside it. I could read the spines of some of the books on the shelves, though: Venetian Embroidered Binding; The Kildare Book of Hours; Livy, Decades; and English Female Artists.
Then I continued around the Study examining the shelves of books behind glass and metal. Gascoine, Posies, 1575; Gosson, The Ephemerides; Pope, Dunciad, 1728; Heylyn, History of St George; Heywood, History of Women; Donne’s Poems; Divine Fancies, Quarles, 1635. Not a bad little collection. And I hadn’t even got to the Library yet.

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-copyright Simon Sandall.