When walk through the streets of London I think of the wise people who once walked down these streets as well. Although they all saw London in different stages of its maturity, I imagine that when they lived in this city something about London’s compression of humanity inspired and facilitated their innovation. I am happy for the brief moment that I can share this city, which once hosted people of such genius.
In Philadelphia, we take pride that our city raised some Americans to greatness. Of course, Benjamin Franklin and William Smith are our children of honor. However, when I compare the caliber of minds that were inspired in London and the minds that were inspired in Philadelphia, Philadelphia although quite a fine city in its own rite, doesn’t compare well to London on its contribution to the world with notable people.
The second most read book in the world, The Communist Manifesto was written in London. The room where Marx wrote the book is still open to the public. You can enter the same room and read the same dirty books that Marx read. They even have the chair he sat in on display in the reading room of the British Museum just where he left it.
I know that Dickens and Darwin roamed the streets of London once long ago. Wherever they went a plaque bears their name. Mozart’s house is on display. I have walked past Shakespeare’s (renovated) Globe Theater. I saw the prime minister of India driving in a caravan. Van Gogh painted here; Ernest Shackleton lived here before he went to the South Pole. Gandhi studied law here. George Orwell and James Joyce wrote about the human nature. Even the darker side of London inspired Hitchcock to reinvent the modern thriller.
One of the many factors that made London the site of such innovation is the diversity that was brought to London via the Empire. Historically Britain with its “more or less” benevolent empire had made London the welcome home for intellectuals. The British have been open to absorbing foreigners into their culture. They nurtured Marx and the Chinese Communists. They educated Gandhi and they welcomed Van Gogh and Mozart. During the Imperial era, compared to the other European powers, the Britons were generous to the people of their former colonies and allowed some of their brightest minds to come to Britain. It was the education and inspiration that these people received in Britain that that allowed them to go and achieve that notability. Nowhere in the British was Britain’s fusion and cultural sharing more present than in London.