My son’s doing a study abroad program in London, where he just visited the British Museum and saw (among, I’m sure, many other wonders) two of the four original manuscripts of Magna Carta and handwritten original Beatles lyrics including “Yesterday” by Sir Paul McCartney.
The “Yesterday” lyrics are 40-something years old. The Magna Carta’s a little less poetic but was already, what, 750 years old or so when McCartney got this melody stuck in his head — a melody he originally titled “Scrambled Eggs” as a sort of placeholder until he came up with a song (written by a rich young man in his early 20s, mind you, in which he bemoaned bygone days when he was young and innocent and carefree.
One thing that “Yesterday” has over Magna Carta: It’s a little punchier, a little more poetic, a little more evocative, and a lot easier to hum along with. But Magna Carta is actually interesting reading, with stuff like “No sheriff of bailiff of ours or of anyone else is to take anyone’s horses or carts to make carriage unless he renders the payment customarily due, namely for a two-horse cart ten pence a day, and for a three-horse cart fourteen pence a day…”
And it’s probably will prove to be a little more important in the long term than the lyrics of the Beatles, although I do expect they will still be listened to and revered hundreds of years from now, just like Betthoven and Bach.
But the Magna Carta…I might not have the freedom to write this blog, to express myself freely, if not for that little declaration by the British King John, who in 1215 basically succumbed to public pressure agreed that even monarch were obliged to follow and respect the rule of law. Without the Magna Carta there probably would not have been an American Revolution — in which the colonists basically reminded King George that he was forgetting where he came from…
In any event, seeing the Magna Carta and Beatles lyrics on the very same day seems to me almost more than the human eye can stare at safely in the course of one day of seeing. I’d say there’s a decent chance that my son — who has also seen some other amazing sights in Paris (including Notre Dame cathedral) and elsewhere in England (including Stonehenge and St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Parliament building and, most significant of them all, the crosswalk at Abbey Road) will need a stronger prescription for his glasses when he gets back home in about two weeks.