The kings are dead, the castle walls they built
Thrown down, their deeds confined to histories.
And yet in books, ablaze with gleaming gilt,
Their world endures. Seven centuries
Have not reduced their lustre: serf and saint
Still work and pray; fair flowers and bright birds
Leap from the vellum; poetry in paint
Illuminating vanished lives, lost words.
What gracious days were these, when books became
The currency of princes! In our age
Of email, text and momentary fame
Shall we condemn to death the printed page?
And when the last e-reader battery’s dead
Will anyone remember what we read?
On Tuesday, we played truant and went up to the British Library in London to see its exhibition of illuminated manuscripts from the Royal Collection. Apart from their remarkable age – most were medieval, but some dated from Anglo-Saxon times – and extraordinary beauty, I was struck by the fact that books were once luxury items, commissioned by the nobility as signs of their wealth and status. Seems to me we have a great deal to thank William Caxton for.
I think the e-book is a wonderful thing (although I’ve yet to succumb to the Kindle’s undoubted charms) but I still hope that reports of the printed book’s death have been greatly exaggerated.