Art Everywhere, All the Time


Image courtesy of Elena Chapman. Licensed under CC BY SA 2.0.

I spent the past week and some change in London, my first visit there. It was, as you might imagine, an excellent trip for my flavor of nerd. So many museums! Free museums! With type specimens! So many type specimens.

I mean really. Y’all, on a whim, I visited the British Library. In their “treasures room,” I saw—in no particular order—the notated manuscript draft for Jane Eyre, a Gutenberg Bible, Austen’s hand-written draft of Persuasion, a letter by Darwin, a hand-written Sylvia Plath poem, and two (two!) of the original copies of the Magna Carta. This was in a single room, and doesn’t even include the section of books that were included just as art objects (they were, as you might imagine, covered in gilt and beautiful). In the room downstairs, I got to see one of Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman scripts.

I wandered into the Natural History Museum and saw mounts of Darwin’s pigeons and the type specimen for archaeopteryx. (That building, by the way, has dinosaurs and monkeys and beetles carved into the walls.) Halfway down the block I popped in the science museum and, after seeing a display of the sculpture that James Watt apparently took up after inventing steam engines, wandered upstairs, where I promptly lost my shit in front of Babbage’s reconstructed difference engine.

(Such a nerd am I that not only was I aware of Babbage’s part of things, but I had actually read a book about building that particular reconstruction of the difference engine, written by one of the people who spearheaded the project. Did you know that Babbage intentionally put half of the parts backwards in his plans, to confuse would-be copyright infringers?)

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