I was at King’s Cross Station and I had some time so I popped over to the British Library to see its treasures. (I’ve done this, and blogged about this, before.) It’s rich.
- The Codex Siniaticus, in its fading capital Greek letters, mother lode of all the Bibles in the world:
- A Gutenburg Bible, all beautifully neat and Germanic.
- Some decorated gospels, astonishingly intricate, every page a painting.
- St Cuthbert’s pocket Bible, the oldest bound book in Europe, c. ad 700, handwritten, carried by the saint in his travels and placed with him in his grave.
There’s a folio from Mozart, hand-scribbled, his crochets little dots:
You can run your eye over Jane Austen’s portable writing desk…
or a letter from Gandhi from prison or a suffragette appeal to the Prime Minister. All in one place…
Just to be greedy, the British Library has two copies of the Magna Carta, one illegible. It also displays its full text, and tells about its chequered history, revoked, altered, reissued, but still a foundation stone because it anchored in English law the Biblical idea: not rex lex (the king is the law) but lex rex (the law is king).
One historian (I think it was Neall Ferguson) has discussed what he calls ‘apps’ that when set to run in a nation, make it prosper and its peoples thrive. Here’s one that has survived down the years in English law from the Magna Carta, enshrined there still despite all the revocations and revisions:
To no-one will we sell, to no-one will we delay or deny right or justice.
Plenty of people in the UK could perhaps argue that justice for them has been delayed or denied. Nevertheless. I’ve had the privilege of knowing many justice workers over the years and, articulated or not, attributed to the Magna Carta or not, I think the fire still burns and is the motive force behind those who serve.
Slow, inconvenient, annoying to some in power. May it be so always.