King Georges leave the University Library
I have been in the University Library for the first time in weeks - and, when you have a day there (cuts or no cuts) you do still feel wonderfully grateful for the books they have -- mad though some of them may be. In fact I have spent a very happy day reading some really loony and interesting stuff on Cicero's De Haruspicum Responso, none of it available on line -- so thank you, book librarians one and all.
But it was only on the way out that I noticed that something was going on in the front hall. There were barriers round one of the King Georges -- the statues that stand in the entrance way, and look down upon you as you return your books. These guys have become my very favourite statues in Cambridge, George the first and the second (one by Rysbrack, the other by Wilton): not just because they have observed me payimg my library fines for many a year -- but also because they are some of the best "English monarchs as Roman emperors" statues that there are. And they got walk on parts in my Washington DC lectures last year.
Anyway, I soon discovered that the barrier were not there because these things were about to be cleaned (first assumption), but because they were about to be moved out.
No longer will the Georges survey my library fines. They are, I am told, going to the Fitzwilliam Museum.
And I am bloody sad.
OK, I know the official reasons. More people will see them there (but actually anyone who wants can come and look at them in the UL hall); and they will be better conserved in the Museum (but actually they have done alright for a few hundred years without being in climatically controlled conditions.. and will they be climatically controlled in the Fitz? Doubt it.). But overall I guess that's fair enough.
But it's hard not to think that there is a modern agenda behind all this.. that somehow a pair of English kings dressed up as Roman emperors doesn't quite match the image that the new "post book" (and certainly "post-print-periodical") University Library wants to project to its "readers".
And, even on a less cynical interpretation, it's hard not to feel sad that we wont be greeted into the Library with a couple of great in-your-face works of art. (Isn't part of the PLEASURE of working in a place like Cambridge that you do actually meet antiques and antiquities in your day to day life, not just in museums).
OK, it 's probably true, as I think, that these statues were only transferred to the UL in the 1990s from the "Old University Library" (what was the Squire, and is now part of Caius), but that's not quite the point -- or at least it's only the very end of a long story.
Before the Fitzwilliam opened, the major repository for the University's works of art was the old UL. Almost all the stuff (including E. D. Clarke's great Eleusis caryatid) ended up eventually in the Fitz. These were a nice remembrance of the time when works of art were part of the culture of Cambridge, when you coud think of English kings as Roman emperors, and when statues belonged in the UL as much as computers.
And I shall miss them every time I walk in.