Thursday, September 28, 2006

One book or many?

I found myself the other day outside the Boston Public Library, admiring once again the splendid original building designed by Charles Follen McKim and opened in 1895.

On the Copley Square facade is inscribed in tall letters: "The public library of the city of Boston built by the people and dedicated to the advancement of learning." On the Boylston Street side is enblazoned: "The commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty."

On both facades are engraved many dozens of names from the sciences, arts, statesmanship and religion -- a grand roll call of civilization. Greats from the sciences include Galileo, Newton, Lister, Pasteur, Helmholtz, Faraday, and almost everyone else you can think of. Yes, religion too, not to be neglected by the public-spirited men and women who built this monument to learning and enlightenment. In the neighborhood of the library are many churches distinguished by traditions of Emersonian liberality.

So hopeful, so liberal, was the generous spirit evinced by the embellishments of the building that I was almost moved to tears. How proud to be part of that tradition, even as a spectator.