>In Which I Take a Look at the Folger Library

>The Folger Library has a particularly interesting exhibit on right now, accompanied by a lecture series. Originally posted here.

The Sea’s the thing at the Folger Library

By: Jeremy Skog
Special to The Examiner
06/30/10 1:43 PM EDT

Summer is a particularly nautical season. The idea waves and of cool breezes is particularly appealing during the muggy months of metro delays and broken air conditioners but even those of us who can’t make it to the marina or beach can experience some of the sea’s mystery with the Folger Library’s new exhibit “Lost at Sea: The Ocean in the English Imagination 1550-1750.”

This exhibit will be of particular interest to bibliophiles with the large collection of historical books on display, including Captain John Smith’s “Seaman’s Grammar and Dictionary” a how-to guide for sailing covering everything from the names of the parts of the ship to instructions for fighting at sea. Captain Smith later came to regret his work as, in a first flush of Yankee thrift, English settlers in Massachusetts found it cheaper to buy the book than to hire the author as an advisor. One “book” is a model of a 21 pound atlas which bears the sign “please touch,” allowing visitors to feel the weight of the subject. Such sparks of humor sprinkle the entire showing, the exhibit’s pamphlet folds out with details of the exhibit on one side and a reproduction nautical map on the other.

The exhibit is accented by a series of free lectures. The first of the three was by Alden Vaughn who covered the tales of three English writers and the role of the Island of Bermuda which symbolized the sea in the English mind. Few Englishmen of the time actually went to sea – most got their information from literature and tales.

Before 1609 the island of Bermuda, then the “Isle of Devils,” was uninhabited and to approach it was to invite having ones ship smashed on the reefs. The crew of one such unlucky ship, the Sea Venture, managed to survive on the island for a year before being rescued and making their way back to England in 1610. Their tales of the idyllic life and the island’s strategic location prompted a move for settlement and soon it became one of the most successful colonies in the English empire. Allegedly, the story of the shipwrecked passengers provided the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.”

Those whose summer expeditions are distinctly landlocked will find plenty at the Folger to fuel their dreams of pink sandy beaches. The Folger Library is open between 10 am and 5 pm from Monday to Saturday through September 4th. Admission is free and cell-phone audio tours enhance many of the items on display.

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