While some Americans were still moaning the spread in the Super Bowl and many more were glum about the space shuttle, others were contemplating The Book, and its role in the social and political history during the 18th and 19th centuries in America and Britain.
The British Institute, a small organization in which members subscribe moderate sums to bring scholars and others to lecture here, held forth during the weekend to learn (for example) that Shakespeare became common in country-house libraries only in the 18th century, and that Disraeli (for example) was not a very good classical scholar. He did not attend either of the universities because his father did not convert the nominally Jewish family into Anglicans in time for Disraeli to enter Oxford or Cambridge -- the elder Disraeli was not a religious enthusiast (the lecturer, Lord Blake, said) but concluded that Anglicans had fewer restrictions placed upon them than others.
Blake discussed the influence upon Disraeli of the Encyclopaedists, the classics (Cicero, but not Virgil), Burke and so forth, and touched on the great prime minister's long association with Queen Victoria. Prince Albert, he said, loathed Disraeli, who had not an atom of the gentleman in him, in the prince's view; but after Albert's death the queen and Disraeli developed first a relationship of necessity and then one of mutual respect and amity.
Earlier, Sir John Plum, a primary force in establishing the institute, had spoken on the contents of country-house libraries -- scarcely any representation of imaginative literature (novels, plays, verse) but very heavy on politics, religion, natural philosophy and history.
Sir John has been a consultant for the Treasure Houses show at the National Gallery here, and with Lord Norwich turned out the public television series on those houses.
American columnist Garry Wills spoke on Jefferson's important library at Charlottesville, the nucleus of which was sold to establish the Library of Congress.
Perhaps 65 enlightened auditors adjourned to the Bristol Hotel upon completion of the two-day seminar for high tea, which Sir John said was more like a feast for hearty laborers -- sandwiches heavy on mayonnaise and shrimp, endless cakes, some robed in hazelnuts, others in great leaves of chocolate, plus fresh raspberries and clotted cream, etc., the heritage of England, which now, alas, may be vanishing for no reason at all, never having had at any time more than 14,000 calories per tea.