The Arcadian Library is an anthology, but the world it evokes sounds like so much more: a hidden library containing “one of the finest dedicated collections of books ever made about Western entanglement with the Middle East.”
The earliest items are medieval manuscripts, but there are also many incunables, translations of Avicenna and Arabic originals, printed in Venice and Padua; the more recent items include de luxe editions of the Arabian Nights, such as the white vellum, gold-tooled presentation volumes illustrated in luscious colour by Edmund Dulac. The books rise floor to ceiling in two lofty rooms, with a custom-made emerald carpet woven with lily-of-the-valley posies, the colophon of the Library, and a tribute to the flower that grew under the cedars of Lebanon.
The volumes’ beautiful bindings glow in the penumbra protecting them from light damage; a panorama of Cairo, printed in Venice in 1549, and one of the two impressions still extant, is hung off the main reading room (it is the subject of Nicholas Warner’s fascinating study The True Description of Cairo, published in three volumes earlier in the same series, “Studies in the Arcadian Library”).
Visiting the Library is by introduction; it is free. Its location is not advertised and indeed, can’t be discovered from the publication details of this book or of any others in the series (the most recent is Robert Irwin’s treasure trove about the illustrators of the Arabian Nights, “Visions of the Jinn,” 2010); it does not reveal its whereabouts on the internet.