EEK!

Surface cleaning an entire book can evoke a range of emotions, from mind numbingly boring, to mind numbingly repetitive, to mind numbingly tedious. The problem is that you have to remain acutely aware of tiny changes in the paper surface, dirt composition, tears, soiling, stains, etc. to avoid damaging the pages. After hundreds of pages (hours of cleaning) of back and white text, I almost fell over when I suddenly saw colored fur.

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Certaine Sermons or Homilies appointed to be read in Churches…. London: Printed by John Bill, 1623. Collection David Kastan. Top: Hair on mouse skin. Bottom: detail of the flesh side. Why did someone put it in this book?

In section 3, on page 123, I found the remains of a very cute mouse.  When I inspected it, it appeared tanned with the hair on, the tail and legs removed.  Even more oddly, it was not causing any staining or damage, so I left it in place. The homilie where the mouse was found is titled “Concerning Prayer”, and for the curious, there are no textual rodent references on the adjacent pages. It is difficult to believe that this was an accident, and there were half a dozen other more usual items put into this book: leaves, ferns, seeds, scraps paper with notes.  It is tempting to concoct a story why the mouse was put there: possibly as an alert from a teacher to see if the student was actually reading these dry sermons?  A wake up call? A reminder of the inevitability of death for living things, as compared to the longevity of the written word?