I no longer find roaming around NYC of much interest. The city I grew up in no longer exists and I am old. It is now someone else's city now. I now find myself lost and disoriented when I am there. But since we are still there often enough, I have begun to spend more time in Brooklyn, and making surgical strikes to visit places I never had time for in the past. One such place is the Morgan Library. I can only attribute my prior avoidance to the place to the jumble of conflicting feelings surrounding my distain for the blind grasping power of vast wealth that Morgan represented, my love of books and my ignorance of what was there, or maybe just not being able to fit it in. My loss!!!
But now, I finally got to the J.P. Morgan Library and Museum on Lexington Avenue and 36th Street in Manhattan. It is indeed a monument to the insatiable, grasping power of vast wealth that allowed for pillage, plunder and the capacity to buy antiquities by the boat load, but in Morgan's case it is so much more. In his minds eye, he had vision of how it would be, and like everything else he did, he succeeded. He created a transcendent work of art in its own right, having the very good sense to know what he wanted and admired and hiring buying agents with the taste and intelligence to intuit their employers intent and to collect well. The result, shown in part below was the creation of a Renaissance palazzo dedicated to the accumulatation of knowledge, art and history housed in the most spectacular surroundings and bequeathed to the people of New York. The man was a glutinous omnivore, but you've got to love him. He loved books and with them, built something transcendent. He created an object of art worthy of Michaelangelo and shared it with the world; money well spent.
J.P.Morgan was not a scholar or a reader of books to any degree, but distinct from other robber barons of the era who just bought lots of stuff, he amassed a vast collection of books and manuscripts which speak to his deep UCS longing for the scholarship and the academic life that eluded him in lieu of his worldly pursuits, but which he was able to acquire in the only way he knew how, to buy it. It's a fact that you can't do it all, but he loved books and loved what they represented. Somewhere in his soul he longed to be a scholar, and he created a spiritual experience, a temple to knowledge housed in an inspiring setting that he obviously worshipped in and then left it to the world. The library has three Gutenberg Bibles, this is the one on display and the only worthwhile picture I took that morning.
An interesting counterpoint to this breathtakingly grand display of wealth and power, was the special exhibit on display during my visit there on the life and works of Emily Dickinson, whose physical existence was as small, understated and unadorned as a cloistered nun, whose needs appear to have been minimal, and whose mark on the world were little more than a few scrawled poems on scraps of paper that filled the draws of her room. Barely enough physical evidence of her existence to fill the small room housing the exhibit. Unlike the Morgan Library which overwhelms and engulfs, forcing itself on you and commanding your attention and indeed reverence, Dickinson's presence is barely felt at all, forcing you to squint to seek her out and struggle to connect the dots of the shards of evidence testifying that this small, introspectively rich inner life even occurred. Interestingly the exhibit is named for the first line of a poem that displays a sense of self that is the anthisis of the ego of Mr. J.P. Morgan:
I'm Nobody! Who are You?
Are you - Nobody - Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise - you know!
How dreary - to be - Somebody!
How public - like a Frog-
To tell one's name - the livelong June-
To an admiring Bog!
Was Emily's reference to the Frog, a veiled jab at the puffed up Mr. Morgan? We'll never know.