No. 950: William Henry Walk, SW8
William Henry Walk, London, SW8. Photo © Roger Dean 2013
A Wanderer in London – E.V. Lucas, 1906:
The National [sic] History Museum is a Museum in the fullest sense of the word: almost everything in it is stuffed. But its interest cannot be exaggerated. Life was never so tactfully, prettily and successfully counterfeited as it is in the galleries on the ground floor, just to the left of the entrance, which contain the cases of British birds with their nests. It needs no learning in ornithology, no scientific taste, to appreciate these beautiful cases, where everything that can be done has been done to ensure realism – even to the sawing down of a tree to obtain a titmouse’s nest in one of its branches. Here you may see how sand martins arrange their colonies, and here peep into the nest of the swallows beneath the eaves; but as to whether Mr. Barrie is right in thinking that they build there in order to hear fairy stories, or Hans Andersen is right in holding that their intention is to tell them, the catalogue says nothing. The Museum takes all nature for its province – from whales to humming birds, a case of which occurs charmingly at every turn: from extinct mammoths to gnats, which it enlarges in wax twenty-eight times – to the size of a creature in one of Mr. Wells’ terrible books – in order that the student may make no mistake.
Perhaps the most interesting gallery in the whole building is that on the third floor devoted to men and apes, which illustrates not only the Darwinian theory (there is a statue of Darwin on the stairs) but also the indecency of science, for surely it is something worse than bad manners thus to expose the skulls of gentlemen and monkeys. The gentlemen it is true are for the most part foreigners and heathen; but none the less I came away with a disagreeable feeling that the godhead had been tarnished. The most interesting single case in the Museum is perhaps that in the great hall illustrating “Mimicry,” where you may see butterflies so like leaves that you do not see them: caterpillars like twigs: and moths like lichen.