“Priceless and incredibly precious” is how curator Jamie Andrews describes the British Library’s archive of manuscripts in his trailer to the new series The Secret Life of Books on BBC Four. You can find the trailer at this link. Unfortunately you cannot watch this series at the BBC site if you do not live in the UK, but maybe they’ll make a deal and bring it over some day. It began on 2 September. The series aims “to uncover the stories behind the creation of six classic books”, Great Expectations, Shakespeare’s First Folio, Mrs Dalloway, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, and The Mabinogion.

001The British Library website is a treasure trove and you can spend hours digging around it. There are tabs at the top which take you all over. The Discover tab will take you to two copies of Gutenberg’s Bible, one on paper, one on vellum. The paper one is more elaborately illuminated (by hand after printing). The aim in the early days of printing was to make the product as much like the hand written work of a scribe, and obviously illumination after printing was a prime way of doing this.

This section is worth a visit: Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. There are essays and videos about a wide range of fascinating subjects.