This week at Illinois we had the pleasure of hosting Michael Leff as the final speaker in the Lincoln's Rhetorical Worlds speaker series; Oratorical Animal has a great summary of our reading group conversation yesterday. Before that meeting, I took Mike on a little field trip. His visit happily coincided with the campus exhibition of the Morrill Land Grant Act, signed by Abe himself. It only seemed right to bring Mike to see it at the Krannert Art Museum.
On the way back from the Krannert, we swung by the Rare Book Room at our library to see the recently-acquired 11 millionth volume: Ben Franklin's 1744 printing of Cicero's Discourse on Old Age. It's the first English-language translation of a Latin text printed in the new world, and according to those who know, a fine example of book printing for the period. Franklin printed it in extra big type to help those with aging eyes. Leff was pleased to see it; he said it was the first text he read all the way through in Latin.
As we readied to leave, the Rare Books curator wandered over. "I just finished with a Shakespeare class in there," he said, gesturing toward a glass-walled, locked room. "Shakespeare's First Folio and some other things are in there, if you want to check them out." Um, yeah.
And so we wandered over the checked out the First Folio - one of about 200 copies still in existence, worth somewhere in the realm of 6 million bucks (hence the locked room). The curator had also pulled various other books from the period to give the students a sense of what book publishing looked like in the 1600s. Stuff like Hooke's 1665 Micrographia, a compendium of illustrations of the natural world as seen through the new technology of the microscope. It features an unbelievably cool, foot-long pull-out image of a flea (see above). And Topsell's History of Four-Footed Beasts, which, among many other things, discusses medicinal uses for the fur and flesh of cats. Here, kitty, kitty...
What a joy it was to play tourist in my own backyard and be reminded, yet again, of the amazing, amazing stuff you can find just lying around in our library.