On a bitter cold day, I walked from Grand Central down Madison Avenue to The Morgan Library & Museum. I used to live in the neighborhood and would visit The Morgan on a routine basis. It is a marvelous place and I am especially drawn to it these days as The Morgan family figures prominently in the research that I am doing for a new project, hopefully to be a book.
Three Morgan brothers came from Wales in the 17th century--Miles, James, and John. The first two settled in Connecticut and their families are quite extraordinary. Of course, one of Miles's descendants, John Pierpont Morgan, is the most remembered. It is his fortune and imagination that has given us The Library. It is the descendants of James that I am most involved with--they were the men who brought us our insurance industry during the Gilded Age.
On this cold December day, I met my dear friend, Margaret (affectionately called "Tuny") at The Morgan for tea and then a delicious tour of the discrete Jane Austen exhibit. This event was our Christmas gift to each other. We decided a few years ago that to spend time with each other doing things we love was the best way of gifting for us. Tuny traveled down from Boston this year; I have made the reverse commute in times past.
You can go online to see many of the items in the exhibit (what a joy!) and there is also a film online you can spend a few minutes with. I didn't love the film because the people they asked to comment on Austen seemed a bit out of character to me, with several exceptions. But all of them reminded us again and again why we love Jane Austen so much. If I had to sum, I think it would be that she was able to see and understand the drop of water in the ocean. She dealt with a world close at hand, but it reflected the whole wide world in an incredible way that has never gone out of style. Times change--human hearts don't seem to. (Foolish people remain so, too.)
I was also intrigued by her letters--written both vertically and horizontally. I struggled with this practice in the Civil War letters I have been working with. Paper was precious in both these time periods. And I almost want to write all my own correspondence with brown ink on cream paper--so lovely. Of course, I do not have that restrained penmanship that makes Jane Austen's writing so appealing. I suspect if she wrote a laundry list we would all be in awe.
So, it's a gift to view the exhibit--and if you plan to go, do the homework on the site first. It will be so much more informative and thus enjoyable.
For a lovely biography of Jane Austen, I recommend Carol Shields Jane Austen: a Life. We lost Carol's voice far too early, but her writing is not unlike Austen's in the sense of her delft touch. She must have really enjoyed doing this book. I gave this as a Christmas gift to another friend a few years ago.
Tuny hurried off in a cab to escape the wind, and I wandered back toward the train station, still basking in the wit and wisdom of Jane Austen.