Monday, 13 July 2009

Petrarch collected coins but John Donne apparently did not

By a sheer coincidence in April this year, at the time the plane landed at Baltimore airport containing the package with the ACCG’s illegally imported coins , a document was found tucked into an old volume earlier bequeathed to the Baltimore Public Library. It seems to be an earlier draft of John Donne’s Meditation 17, from "Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions" revealing that concern about the finite and fragile historical resource goes back well before the founding of Baltimore, and even Maryland. It seems appropriate that it is published for the first time here on this day, when the early morning bells announce the start of the day after ninety days have passed. The author wrote:

No antiquity is an island, entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own, or of thine friend's were,
Each context's death diminishes me,
Like I, it is involved in the story of mankind.
Therefore, unconcern’d relicke collector,
Send not to know for whom today the bell tolls,
For it tolls for thee.

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