Illustration from Portuguese periodical O Panorama showing the railroad between London and Greenwich, 1840

Illustration from Portuguese periodical O Panorama showing the railroad between London and Greenwich,1840

Contributor: Jorge Bastos da Silva

Location: Author’s own collection

Description: O Panorama (The Panorama) was one of the most ambitious cultural magazines of the Romantic period in Portugal, considered to be the years between ca. 1825 and 1865. This illustration reflects an increasing tendency among Romantic period Portuguese intellectuals to see England as a nation at the forefront of progress, and the railroad as the means of ensuring the spread of progressive ideas, objects and people across Europe. It thus serves as a corrective to other more celebrated, and more pessimistic, accounts by Romantic artists of modern technology, its clarity and optimism standing in stark contrast with Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, which the Romantic painter J. M. W. Turner was to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1844.

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Erasmus Darwin’s Artificial Bird

Erasmus Darwin's Artificial Bird. Pen sketch of a mechanical bird.

Contributor: Alice Rhodes

Location: Erasmus Darwin House, Lichfield, UK

Description: Although best known for his careers as poet and doctor (or perhaps for his grandson Charles, who would go on to lay claim to the Darwin name in the public consciousness) Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) was also a prolific inventor proposing apparatuses of every kind from systems of canal locks to a steam powered chariot. Many of these, like the “Artificial Bird” pictured above, can be found in the commonplace book which Darwin kept between 1776 and 1787, now housed at Erasmus Darwin House in Lichfield. There is no record of the bird leaving the pages of the commonplace book until its reconstruction by Erasmus Darwin House in 2013, yet Darwin’s bird is more than a flight of fancy. Nor was it a mere toy or curiosity. It can be read as an instrument or experiment through which Darwin gained knowledge of both physics and avian physiology, and it hatched from a long European history of creating such mechanisms.

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The Eudiometer at Tintern

The Cavendish Eudiometer

Contributor: Tim Fulford

Location: The Wye Valley/The Royal Institution

Description: In 1800 a man inspired by Wordsworth’s visionary poetry made a trip to Tintern Abbey. Based in Bristol, he was a friend of Coleridge and Southey and was in the midst of editing Lyrical Ballads for the press; he also wrote nature verse in his own right. He was employed, however, not as a poet but as a scientific enquirer, and on his excursion to the river Wye he was armed with an improved eudiometer—the best instrument for measuring the proportion of oxygen, the gas first isolated by Joseph Priestley, in the atmosphere. ‘The Eudiometer’, he wrote, ‘that I have lately used is a very simple & commodious one – It consists of a tube about 5 inches long containing 200 grains of water – The space between the 140 & 180 grains is graduated. – This tube is emptied of water in an atmosphere when you wish to know its composition & plunged into a solution of muriate or sulphate of iron impregnated with Nitrous gas.’(1) He was Humphry Davy…

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