Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Wag more, bark less

Isle of Thanet Gazette
"I have often found that the most interesting original records of Magna Carta, as of much else, have gone unnoticed precisely because they are assumed either to be copies rather than originals or because they travel with other less famous documents.  Cataloguers, assuming that Magna Carta is much too important to have been overlooked, have very frequently assumed that originals are copies, not from any physical evidence but simply because the idea of possessing an unknown Magna Carta has appeared to the cataloguer as unlikely as suddenly stumbling upon an unknown play by Shakespeare or an unknown canvas by Vermeer.  The most famous documents are often the documents that, in their natural habitat, have been least studied.  Edgar Allen Poe sums up this situation perfectly in his story 'The Purloined Letter', which turns on the fact that, if you wish to hide something that everybody else assumes to be hidden, the best place to hide it is in plain view.
     "I can claim to have found, long before last December, at least three Magna Cartas.  All were in plain view.  None of them was 'unknown', in the sense that they had all previously been listed, albeit in obscure places.  They were nonetheless 'unknown' in the sense that they were either assumed to be 'copies' or 'duplicates' rather than originals. . . ."

     Nicholas Vincent, "In plain view:  the Sandwich Magna Cartaand others," Times literary supplement no. 5838 (February 20, 2015):  14 (14-15).

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