At the centre of the British Library there is a tall glass tower full of thousands of precious books. The tower contains the book collection of King George III, who reigned from 1760-1820. It is known as The King's Library.
The King's library was designed to be a 'universal' library; one that represented all the world's knowledge. The collection covered a vast range of subjects, from early printing and philosophy to architecture, topography and painting; from astrology and biology to agriculture and ancient languages. It included books by Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants.
George III collected these books during a period now known as The Age of Enlightenment, a time of great collectors, explorers and classifiers. This was a period in which learned men ventured to gather together all knowledge, and to create a complete, rational picture of the universe. It was an age in which astrologers, historians, philosophers and scientists were making all kinds of new discoveries. And importantly, it was an age obsessed with collecting, naming, classifying and organising.
Scholars loved to display their knowledge in neatly contained forms - libraries, encyclopaedias, cabinets of curiosity - each of which would be packed with examples of human discovery. It was believed that a collection of objects could encapsulate the meaning of the world – that all knowledge could be collected, and that the treasures in the cabinets of the wealthy could become a microcosm of the meaning of life.
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