I swim through London traffic, swooping swerving and cycling, from Hackney, to Angel, passing Holborn, The Strand, The Savoy and The Penguin Offices (it’s where the penguins stay overnight) and finally I arrive at The Royal Society of the Arts.
I’ve timed the journey to perfection. It’s an advantage of cycling. I call Vicky Long from Cape Farewell team whom along with others from Southbank centre is attending this special introduction to The Royal Society of Arts. “Lemn” she says “it’s not the Royal Society of the Arts. It’s The Royal Society.” Oh Shit.
Fortunately it is not too far away. I take a short walk along the strand, cross Trafalgar square under admiral arch up the steps by the institute of contemporary arts and arrive at
The Royal Society three minutes late. Fortunately “insert name here” is personable organised and enthused to introduce the five of us to this institution of insitutions. I am here to research for future writings.
Until the word scientist was invented by a member The Royal Society, the oldest of its kind in the world, was known as The Royal Society of Natural Philosophy. To give their work more gravitas the term scientist was invented taking its inspiration from the term artist. I take a look at the plaque of all the presidents of The Royal Society since its beginnings. Christopher Wren, Charles Darwin…
Philosophical transactions is the earliest record, the oldest scientific journal known to man. So this is where it all started. The record. The society is not without its quirks and idiosyncracies . “Insert name here” enthused “Charles 2nd offered Kensington and Chelsea to The Royal Society.” He paused for effect “ They turned it down.” Soon we are shuffled off the beaten track, past the original Dali and down a spiralled staircase into the bowels. His whisper echoes “ you can smell the library” he watches our precarious steps down the single person stairwell. It was all getting a bit Da Vinci Code.
A librarian attentively awaits as we enter archives. He is of the librarian type, bookish, clear and enthusiastic. I am aware of being an uneducated novice myself but they are skilled. Information is their business. And without ego they share information.
The introduction began in part with this table. Working from the left front of the table
first is the memoir of Isaac Newton where I read the hand written words documenting the apple falling upon his head. Next is a piece of wood cut from that actual apple
tree. I held it. On the right in the centre of the table is The Minute book of the first meeting of The Royal Society including Charles 2nd’s written enthusiasm of the society.
On the right is the divider, I think made of brass and owned by Christopher wren and no doubt used in the making of London . The grey box at the back there says DEATH
MASK on the front. It is Isaac Newton’s Death mask, of which there are only two in existence and just to the right in the wooden box – a lock of his hair.
As we are leaving sun pours through a stained glass window adorned with the Royal Society’s insignia and beneath, the motto in latin Nullius In Verbe. I ask insert name here what it means. He raises an eyebrow with a rueful smile and knowing that I am a poet says “it means take nobodies word for it”. Outside I scribble down the words “Who to believe and why believe them… What is fact and what is fiction….”