Sunday, 22 July 2007

University Parks

This bench is dedicated to the memory of Tolkien and is located on the beautiful grounds of the University Parks. Seminar Director Dr. John King is joined by Drs. Terri Borus, Mark Rankin, Lee Piepho, and Pablo Alvarez.

At the Sign of the Red Pale

Armed with a map from 1755 and information from books on William Caxton's printing press at Westminster Abbey, I walked around the Abbey in an effort to locate where the two sites of his shops might have been. The top photo is on the back side of the Abbey and is, as near as I can figure, close to the site of Caxton's later print shop, at the sign of the Red Pale. It is now a religious bookstore; I think Caxton would approve. The bottom photo is the site of Caxton's first press at the Abbey. It is tucked between the Abbey church and the Chapter house. I never quite understood how this would work as a location for a print shop, but this wedge of space between the two buildings forms a protected space.

Tolkien's Oxford

Mark walked many miles to visit the many sites in Oxford associated with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Here, Mark and Pablo are at the famed Eagle and Child Pub where Tolkien, Lewis and other members of the writing group, the Inklings, met to share their writing. The photo of Mark standing is in the room where the Inklings typically met.

Young Scholars

I met this friendly group of scholars on Queens Lane. They kindly explained to me something that I had been wondering about since we came to Oxford: when did school let out for summer holidays? These young men were spending a week at the university before enjoying a six-week summer holiday. Thanks lads!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Land of Arthur--the Cornish Sea

Tintagel is the legendary site of Arthur's birth at the castle of the Duke of Cornwall. Merlin, of course, is said to have transformed Uther Pendragon to appear in the guise of the Duke so as to seduce the lovely Igraine. Merlin claimed the infant Arthur as the payment for his service to Uther.
We did not make it all the way down the coast to Tintagel but we did make it to the sea where the mysticism of the land really "struck" home. We walked along the sea in a light rain only to notice that our hair was standing on end!

Land of Arthur--Glastonbury Abbey

The Abbot's kitchen is the only structure to remain standing.

Land of Arthur--Glastonbury Abbey

Established in the 7th century, the great cathedral and cloister are in ruins, but the gardens evoke a sense of those earlier centuries.

land of Arthur--Glastonbury Abbey

The magnificent Glastonbury Abbey was once the largest cathedral in the nation. The grounds are still beautiful with lavender, hollyhock and all manner of herbs. Ruins of the cathedral remain but what was once a flourishing center is now a shadow of its former self. Our favorite villain, Henry VIII, was the cause of the destruction of Glastonbury. We learned that not only was the Abbey sacked and the wealth of the Abbey transported to London, but that the local town and townspeople experienced great poverty as many of the townspeople depended on the economic engine of the Abbey for their livelihood. In 1536 there were 800 monasteries in England; in 1541 they had all been closed or dismantled.

For readers of the Arthurian legend, the grave of Arthur is said to be at Glastonbury Abbey. The grave is just to the right in this photo. There are remains of a king that were found on the Abbey grounds and transferred to this site. Malory gives us the great epitaph that is said to be on Arthur's grave stone: Rex Quondam, Rex Futurus--the once and future king. But as readers of Malory know, Malory writes that he is not saying this is so, but what others believe.

Land of Arthur--Glastonbury Tor

This night-time photo is not the best quality, but it captures our late night walk up to view the incredible Glastonbury Tor. The Tor is the fabled Isle of Avalon as the area around Glastonbury was once subject to flooding or perhaps even part of the shallow sea the comes in near the Severn River on the nearby west coast of England. The night was a sapphire blue and then as the dark settled, Jupiter aligned with Mars (and peace --perhaps for a moment--guided our planet). We walked up a dark, tree-shrouded narrow road and then came out at a clearing for a beautiful night view of the Tor.
Remains of a fifth century fort have been found on the Tor and much work has been done by local Arthurian historian, the venerable Geoffrey Ashe, to prove the historical basis of a 5th century Briton war leader. A chapel once stood at the top of the hill but was destroyed by earthquake and rebuilt only to crumble before that other earthquake of English culture: Henry VIII, whose dissolution of the monasteries brought about the ruin of this chapel as well. It is said that the abbot of Glastonbury Abbey was hanged up on this hill along with two other monks for his refusal to turn over the monastery to Henry.

The hills of the Tor are terraced and while there are all manner of speculation on some mystical reason for this, the likely answer is that the early monks farmed the hillside. It is a powerful site rich in history--Malory's great tale seemed to shimmer in the evening.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

We interrupt this Arthurian quest for a bit of comic relief

The parking lot of our "swanky" B and B. Note the mud ditches, the camper packed with debris, the motorcycles. Not shown in the picture is the freezer that marked the sink hole in the parking lot--a handy marker of a hazard to be avoided by those on a quest.


Land of Arthur--Stonehenge

Land of Arthur--The Round Table

Winchester also holds great interest for Malory readers as a 14th century version of Arthur's Round Table resides in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle, a structure that dates back to the time of William the Conqueror (1066-1087). The famed green and beige table is a massive piece of wood joinery that now hangs on the wall of the Great Hall. The historical Arthur is said to have ruled around the 5th or 6th century BC but this table is dated to the 14th century and painted in its current color scheme by Henry the VIII in the early 16th century. In Malory' s great tale, the table is a wedding gift to Arthur from Guinevere's father, Leodegrance.

Land of Arthur--Winchester College

The College is not a university-aged school, but a school for boys up through what we would call high school. Winchester College Library was the site of the spectacular discovery in 1934 of the scribally written manuscript--the only known copy--of Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur. It is not certain how the book came to be in the Winchester College library but one theory is that books from the Cathedral were taken to London for safe keeping during the reign of Henry VIII when he ransacked and closed the monasteries. Eventually, some of the books were returned to Winchester but went to the College rather than the Cathedral.

Land of Arthur--WInchester Cathedral

While not related to Arthuriana, this stained glass window in the Cathedral is an amazingly beautiful work of art. But look closely: the stained glass was destroyed during the English Civil War; the legend is that Cromwell's soldiers destroyed the massive window. But parishioners picked up the shards of glass that formerly depicted saints and, during the restoration, restored the great window as a mosaic. It is startlingly modern looking--with an occasional partial figure of a saint. Now it is a beautiful abstract mosaic of glass and an incredible testament to the parishioners who literally "picked up the pieces" and made new art from the shards of the old.

Land of Arthur--Winchester Cathedral

The city of Winchester is the site of the great Winchester Cathedral. The soaring Gothic cathedral also has a sizeable section from its earliest Roman-style structure, from around the year 1000. For readers of Malory, of course, Winchester was the site of Arthur's administrative capital and, in the Roman War account and in many other places in the text, it is to Winchester that Arthur goes to when he is to hold a holiday feast (such as Pentecost) and to consult his advisors. In fact, Winchester preceded London as the capital of England and the Bishop of Winchester was a very powerful figures. One such bishop was William of Wykham who founded Winchester College.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Judith's 50th birthday

"Dutch" treat at the Angel and Greyhound. Many happy returns of the day Judith!

St. John's Library

Completed in 1598, St. John's College library was the first college library to innovate with the placement of desks and pew-like seats in between the stacks of the books. The library ceiling harkens back to its Tudor origins. On display during our visit was the 2nd edition of Caxton's Canterbury Tales. This printed book is rare in that it is the only surviving copy with colored woodcuts from the second edition.

Behind the College is a lovely garden. We didn't let the constant rain keep us from a brief walk.

Queen's College Library

The Queen's College library is one of the largest libraries of the Oxford colleges in terms of the number of volumes held in the library. Located on the second floor, the library design was influenced by the great English architect, Christopher Wren. Wren designed the famed library at Trinity College at the "other" English university, Cambridge. The college displays here a terrestrial and a celestial globe from the 17th century. Queen's College was one of the wealthier colleges and thus tore down the "old" medieval buildings and erected neo-classical buildings in the 18th century. In the quad of the college are our fearless leaders: Jim Bracken, John King, and Mark Rankin.

Teddy Hall Chefs

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Evensong at Christ Church

The boys' choir of Christ Church and congregation sang this hymn by Jan Struther (1901 - 1953) set to a traditional Irish ballad tune.
  • Here is the last stanza, a favorite of my family's:
Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment, whose presence in balm,
Be there at our sleeping, and give us we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.
  • To hear the tune (missing the soaring voices of the boys' choir) click here.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Duke Humphrey's Library at the Bodleian Library

Many of the seminar members spend a good part of our day in the justly famous Duke Humphrey's Library, the rare book and manuscript library of the Bodleian. Today I will be working with the 1527 edition of Caxton's Myrrour of the World as well as availing myself of the incredible number of catalogues of collections that are held in the reference section of the Duke Humphrey Library. As Dr. Vaisey, Director Emeritus of the Bodley, said on our tour, "Great libraries should collect things beyond the needs or understanding of current scholarship." Many of the manuscripts and books in Duke Humphrey's library are available to scholars because of this philosophy.

Monday, 2 July 2007

The Sculler's Travels

It seems appropriate here to include a text I have been interested in for a while. A perfect confluence of interests: early printed books and rowing. The complete title: Taylors vvater-vvorke: or the scullers trauels, from Tiber to Thames: with his boat laden with a hotch-potch, or gallimawfrey of sonnets, satyres, and epigrams. With an inkhorne disputation betwixt a lawyer and a poet: and a quarterne of new catcht epigrames, caught the last fishing-tide: together with an addition of pastorall equiuocques, or the complaint of a shepheard.

An earlier edition was printed at London by Edward Allde with the announcement that copies "are to be solde [by Nathaniel Butter] at the Pide-bull neere St. Austins gate, 1612." This particular edition, at the Bodleian Library, was printed in 1614.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Rowing on the Thames

Every rower's dream. Erica invited me along to her class with the Oxford Rowing Club. It was a great group of eight beginners; we experienced the classic British teaching technique of ironic humiliation laced with good humor at the end. The other rowers are local Oxfordians. A beautiful workout on the river.