“Go to King’s Church later,” my instructor suggests. “The Wren Library is only open until two.” With one last look at Cambridge’s Gothic church, which I’d been assigned to write about, I joined the group headed down a cobblestone street. I could always go to Evensong later and gather material for my post.
I was happy to join this group, because I hadn’t wanted to miss the Wren Library at Cambridge, and it would have been hard to find on my own. Our instructor led us to the entrance. We were told to turn off our phones. Only 15 people can tour the library at a time, but luckily there was room for our group of five.
The others headed up one floor to the main room. I paused halfway up the first staircase, already enchanted by a concave doorway with its doorknob set in its tea-green center. It reminded me of simpler times when doors were carved by hand, and if opened, a friendly yellow bear greeted you with warm bread and honey.
My first experience with A. A. Milne’s writing was not the red “House at Pooh Corner” book my sister gave me when I was seven. Rather, it was the poem “Halfway Down”. In it a boy sits on a step and ponders where he is and where he isn’t. I learned later that the boy was Christopher Robin, friend of Pooh. This poem was part of the reason I love my home. It has old wooden steps that stop midway up to split in two directions.
Slowed by the interesting door, I gazed at the molding, the windows, and admired a marble bust of Alfred Lord Tennyson. At the entryway to the library, I gazed down the narrow hall at the far-off stained glass depicting Sir Isaac Newton’s presentation to King George III, circa 1990. Along each side of the room are alcoves of books and covered display cases.
The Wren Library, designed by Christopher Wren in 1676, and completed in 1695, houses 1,250 medieval manuscripts, 750 incunabula, and a growing collection of modern works. Some of my favorites were Charles Darwin’s “Origins of the Species”, with geologist Adam Sedwick’s dissenting notes in the margins, myriad hand-lettered Bibles, some with their ornate designs snipped out, an intriguing mathematical design from philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notes, Shakespeare, Milton, and of course, toward the end, Milne’s “House at Pooh Corner”, its prose elegant in its simplicity.
I never made it to King’s Church. It was closed by the time I arrived at the gate, and the students were still on holiday, so there was no Evensong. Still I’m grateful to have chosen the path I did.
That day, as I left the Wren Library, descending the same staircase that had given me pause earlier, I was that child on that hard-to-find staircase, “And all sorts of funny thoughts Run round my head. It isn’t really Anywhere! It’s somewhere else Instead!”