But we must glance at other departments, so back to the Entrance Hall (noting for present or future reference that the refreshment room is down the stairs beyond the Mausoleum Room). All that I have space to do is to look briefly at Books, Manuscripts, and then at the King Edward VII Gallery, which serves as joint display for some of the finest smaller objects from other departments.
For Books a look first at the Reading Room, directly opposite the main entrance door visitors arc normally allowed to look in, and it is a sight for the seeing, in its seemingly inconsequential vast ncss, its huge welling up of silent space into the dome. The explanation is that it was the ccntral courtyard of old Montague House, and was originally left as open court in the new building until in 1857 the librarian, Panizzi, had Sydney Smirke roof it in with that admirable dome140 feet in diameter (second only by two feet to the Pantheon at Rome) and toC feet high. It has a very odd sort of outdoor indoor aura of hush, but if you listen you will hear the Reading Room; it absorbs sound marvellously, and whispered conversations seem to loose themselves, undisturbing, like faint smoke up into the dome, but a low chuntering sibilancc is about as though minds were ticking over, over four hundred of them at the desks, into which the occasional harder though still remote thud, is the noise of the metal bound catalogue volumes against the leather tops of their ccntral shelves. Here books in active brains are breeding books as countless books have bred here for the last hundred years, books by no means always by scholars for scholars. Over there, scat No. G7, is where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapilal.
Books and manuscripts show selections from their treasures in the group of rooms to the right, as you enter the Museum, of the entrance hall, from the Lindisfame gospels, or Magna Carta, to Nelson’s last letter to Emma Hamilton.
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