Covid has made me realise how vitally important libraries are in my life. The day after lockdown ended when I was at last able to stand inside a library again, and see around me so many books from which I could choose, was the day I finally felt normal again. Total bliss!
Last year I offered you a selection of book addicts, ardent collectors whose passion for books had become famous. This year, I’d like to take you to some of my favourite libraries around the world.
So, I will start with my favourite library of all – the Pepys Library in Cambridge. When diarist Samuel Pepys died in 1703, he left his collection of books to his old university college. His bequest included the original bookcases that had been made to his design by a naval carpenter – they are themselves works of art. He had over 3,000 books, including the diary which was not then transcribed or known.
The building housing this library is gorgeous, and the collection is extraordinary. It holds Pepys’ own copy of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, lots of music (Pepys adored music and was a talented amateur musician), prints, naval records, ballads, medieval manuscripts and plays. Pepys felt that a personal library should have in it no more than the mind of one man could encompass, but his mind was remarkable and his library is a testament to his wide-ranging interests and many skills.
Of course, the jewel in this library is the diary, which is in six volumes, written in the shorthand he used. I find it so moving to see this book and to recall all the pleasure it has given me.
Visiting hours at the library are limited, so do plan your next visit to Cambridge when it is open. It’s an absolute treasure!