Our trip to the Portico Library was a wonderful unique experience. Books of varying ages surrounded us, in an interior that had stayed almost the same as it had been hundred of years ago, which gave a grand, mystical and ornate aura to the setting.
In this atmosphere we immersed ourselves even more in the literary culture of the Romantic and Victorian periods. We were able to read and hold many first edition texts, including collections of poetry from these periods. Along with the expert historical knowledge of our guide, this gave us the opportunity to learn not only about the poetry itself, but the evolution of how poetry and writing has changed over the years.
In the Portico we were in the presence of many first edition texts, such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Captain Cooke’s journals, and other texts by authors such as Coleridge and Tennyson. Our fascination and enthusiasm were clear on our faces as we had the unique chance to ask questions about these texts as we held editions of the books in our hands that would have been held by some of their first readers. We learnt that the size of books has changed as printing became easier and cheaper. One collection of poetry we saw was in the form of a pocket book – these books were so small and the text was so tiny that people had to use magnifying glasses to read them. Some books also came ‘uncut’ – the pages were grouped together in batches of about four that had to be cut with a special paper knife, much like letter opening knives we might use today. So you needed a lot more equipment to read a book than you do today! Our guide told us that if you ever come across any old books from the 17-1800’s, the edges of their pages might be very rough, and this is where they will have been cut.
We also learnt about the lives of many of the United Kingdom’s most famous authors, including Mary Shelley and her husband Percy Byshhe Shelley. In the Year 7 English curriculum at St Paul’s, we students study Percy Byshhe Shelley’s poem ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, which is about The Peterloo Massacre. This battle happened only a few minutes away from The Portico Library, where St Peter’s Square now is. It was amazing to feel the connection between the books we held in our hands and our own city.
All the information was presented with such detail and knowledge, which has given us the chance to develop our own poetry skills via this insight into the history of some of our great poets. Mrs Evans even spotted a first edition book which had been ‘adopted’ (sponsored to ensure its upkeep and restoration) by a close family friend of hers! Thank you so much to The Portico Library for this opportunity.
By Kira and Miss Burrell