City of Books – ha!
|St Giles at Dusk by Francis Hamel. |
For more of his Oxford views click here.
Sometimes, on a winter evening when the yellow lights in the buildings that line St. Giles cast a glow on the frozen street, I like to to imagine that I can see through the walls of stone. And behind the skeletons of the plane trees, in the high-ceilinged rooms, I know there are rows and rows of books.
Oxford is lined with books. There are millions and millions of them here. Every college has its own library – many of them extensive, many very beautiful. I think of Christ Church and All Souls in particular. There are 38 colleges.
Books are the city’s life blood and the heart of Oxford is the Bodleian, the great library founded by Thomas Bodley in the reign of Elizabeth I, which has continuously grown since 1598. Today this library houses 11 million items. It’s the second biggest library in Britain and one of the largest in the world.
|Medieval Arab astrologer |
in a manuscript from the Bod.
For the astrologer, there’s a particularly fine collection of books and manuscripts. Much of Renaissance court astrologer John Dee’s famous book collection ended up here; and together with the collection of Elias Ashmole, founder of our Ashmolean Museum that makes a remarkable bunch of very old astrology tomes. Since then more work has been gathered from India, China and the Arab world as well as Europe.
You do have to be affiliated with the university or a scholar of some kind to use this library though. In fact, most of these millions of books in Oxford are in private hands – unavailable to the general public. So it’s kind of ironic in this city of scholars that the local council is planning to close all but two of the city’s public libraries.
And what does astrology have to contribute to this?
Well, knowledge is the domain of Jupiter, but librarianship is under the meticulous and orderly earth sign, Virgo. So it’s satisfying to note that when the Public Libraries Act was passed in 1850, Jupiter was transiting Virgo.
Right now, of course, Jupiter is passing through the fish’s tail, Virgo’s opposite sign; I hope we are not seeing the dissolution of our public library system, which would work with the Piscean symbolism. These cuts will be taking place all over the country, I expect. Obviously, this transit happens every 12 years, so it can’t be that crucial a turning point – except that I notice some notable symmetries with the year 1850.
1850 was the last time Neptune was in Pisces as it will be next year. Uranus was in Aries as it will be next year and was this summer. Outer planet returns sometimes act like New Moons — you revisit the same place but with a different emphasis or a new start, which means also an ending. Events that took place in 1850 may have a resonance with today, indeed the decade of the 1850s may resonate – however indistinctly with the 2010s.
I shall be investigating the 1850s in later posts.