The British Museum is a collection of curiosities, antiquities and books that are the envy of the civilized world.
Many 18th Century gentlemen collecters exhibited a "cabinet of curiosities" to friends and rivals. Competition for the most noteworthy and prestigious items soon meant that "cabinets" were often whole rooms or suites set aside for this expensive hobby. Studying the curiosities themselves also became a respectable field of scholarly endeavour by antiquarians, a strange collection themselves of dusty, rum coves with limited social skills.
The British Museum began as one of these collections, but George II donated the Old Royal Library, thus guaranteeing that every book ever published in Britain would end up on its library shelves. Further equally generous gifts, such as Garrick's library of plays, and shrewd purchases made sure that the collection of antiquities grew at a prodigious rate. Sir William Hamilton (the husband of Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Admiral Horatio Nelson) profited quite handsomely when he sold his collection of Roman and Greek items to the Museum. He had collected them, as a hobby, for next to nothing while the ambassador of Naples, Italy. It probably took his mind off being cuckolded.
The Museum also became home to spoils of exploration and conquests: objects collected during Captain Cook's expedition to the South Seas were exhibited at the museum for a time. The Rosetta Stone also ended up in the Museum, having been captured from the French after Napoleon's abortive attempt to conquer Egypt.
- Level 4
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