cha°PKi.' Collections,—that of the 'Harleian Manuscripts/—was a Intkoduc- much less important acquisition for the Nation than was

HON. 1 1

the Museum of Sloane, or the Library of Cotton; but its literary value, as all students of our history and literature know, is, nevertheless, considerable. Its first Collector, Robert Harley, the Minister of Queen Anne and the first of the Harleian Earls of Oxford, is fairly entitled to rank, after Cotton, Courten, and Sloane, among the virtual or eventual co-founders of the British Museum.

Chronologically, then, Sir Robert Cotton, William Courten, Hans Sloane, and Robert Harley, rank first as Founders; so long as we estimate their relative position in accordance with the successive steps by which the British Museum was eventually organized. But there is another synchronism by which greater accuracy is attainable. Although four years had elapsed between the passing—in 1753—of 'An Act for the purchase of the Museum or Collection of Sir Hans Sloane, and of the Harleian Collection of Manuscripts, and for providing one general repository for the better reception and more convenient use of the said Collections, and of the Cottonian Library and of the additions thereto,' and the gift—in 1757 —to the Trustees of those already united Collections by This Old King George The Second, of the Old Royal Library of the Kings his predecessors, yet that royal collection itself had been (in a restricted sense of the words) a Public and rfja"«T National possession soon after the days of the first real and atst. James-, central Founder of the present Museum, Sir Robert Cotton. But, despite its title, that Royal Library, also, was—in the main—the creation of subjects, not of Sovereigns or Governments. Its virtual founder was Henry, Prince of Wales. It was acquired, out of his privy purse, as a

formed by

subject, not as a Prince. He, therefore, has a title to be Bo«i,

rn Chap. I.

placed among the individual Collectors whose united efforts Introducresulted—after long intervals of time — in the creation, eventually, of a public institution second to none, of its kind, in the world.

Prince Henry's story is not the least curious of the many life-stories which these pages have to tell. That small span of barely eighteen years was eventful, as well as full of promise. And it may very fitly be told next, in order, after that of Cotton, who was not only his contemporary but his friend.

As the Royal Library was, in a certain degree, a Public The Mss. Collection before the foundation of the Museum, so also Aeuhukl. was the Arundelian Library of Manuscripts. It did not become part of the British Museum until nearly eighty years after the amalgamation of the Cottonian, Harleian, Sloanian, and Royal Collections into one integral body. But the munificent Earl who formed it had often made it public, for the use of scholars, in his own lifetime. One or two of his descendants allowed it to fall into neglect. Before it left old Arundel House, in the Strand, it was exposed, more than once, to loss by petty thefts. But when, by another descendant, the injury was repaired, and the still choice collection given—at the earnest entreaty of another of our English worthies, Jdhn Evelyn—to the Royal Society, the Arundelian MSS., like the Library at Saint James' Palace, became (so far as a circle of literary men and of the cultivators of scientific inquiry were concerned) a public possession. Many of the Arundelian marbles had also become—by other acts of munificence worthy of the time-honoured name of Howard—to the Public at large, and without restriction, 'things of beauty,' and 'joys for ever.' Others of them, indeed, are—even in

c°°* L these days—shut up at Wilton with somewhat of a narrow Ijiihoduc- jeai0USy 0f undistinguished multitude. But, by the liberality of the Dukes of Marlborough, the choice gems gathered by the Earl of Arundel during his long travels on the Continent, and his widespread researches throughout the world, have long been made available to public enjoyment, in more ways than one. The varied narrative of that famous Collector's life may, perhaps, not unfitly be placed next after that of the best of the Stuart princes. Arundel, like Henry, was the friend of Sir Robert Cotton, and was proud of that distinction.

Undoubtedly, there is more than one point of view from which we may regard the preponderating share borne by private collectors in the ultimate creation of our national repository as matter of satisfaction, rather than matter of shame. It testifies to the strength amongst us—even at times deeply tinged with civil discord—of public and patriotic feeling. Nor is this all. It testifies, negatively, but not less strongly, to a conscientious sense of responsibility, on the part of those who have administered British rule in conquered countries, and in remote dependencies of the Crown. Few readers of such a book as this are likely to be altogether unacquainted with national museums and national libraries which have been largely enriched by the strong hand of the spoiler. Into some such collections it is impossible for portions of the people at whose aggregate expense they are maintained to enter, without occasional feelings of disgust and humiliation. There are, it is true, a few trophies of successful war in our own Museum. But there is nothing in its vast stores which, to any visitor of any nationality whatever, can bring back memories of ruthless and insolent spoliation.

That narrowness of conception, however, which has made ch°^i. some publicists to regard the slenderness of the contributions ^TMODUC" of the Nation at large, when contrasted with the extent of those of individuals, as if it were a cause for boasting, is visibly, and very happily, on the decline. It is coming to be recognised, more implicitly with every year that passes, that whatever can be done by the action of Parliament, or of the Government, for the real promotion of public civilisation,—in the amplest and deepest meaning of that word,—is but the doing of the People themselves, by the use of the most effective machinery they have at hand; rather than the acceptance of a boon conferred upon them, extraneously and from above.

If that salient characteristic in the past history of our British Museum is very far from affording any legitimate cause of boasting to the publicist, it affords an undeniable advantage to the narrator of the history itself. It not only broadens the range of his subject, by placing at its threshold the narrative of several careers which will be found to combine, at times, romantic adventure and political intrigue with public service of a high order; but it binds up, inseparably, the story of the quiet growth of an institution in London with occasional glimpses at the progress, from age to age, of geographical and scientific discovery, of archaeological exploration, and of the most varied labours for the growth of human learning, throughout the world.

As an organized establishment, the British Museum is but little more than a century old. The history of its component parts extends over three centuries. That history embraces a series of systematic researches,—scientific, literary, and archaeological,—the account of which (whatsoever the needful brevity of its treatment in these ctaPKi' PaSes) must be told clumsily, indeed, if it be found to Intkoduc lack a very wide and general interest for all classes of readers—one class only excepted.

Even the least thoughtful among those visitors who can Thedivxk- be said to frequent the Museum—as distinguished from


Museum the mere holiday guests, who come only in crowds, little rim"0 favourable to vision; to say nothing of thought—will occasionally have had some faint impression or other of the great diversity and wonderful combination of effort which must have been employed in bringing together the Collections they look upon. Every part and almost every age of the world has contributed something; and that something includes the most characteristic productions and choicest possessions of every part. Almost every man of British birth who,—during many centuries,—has won conspicuous fame as a traveller, as an archaeologist, or as a discoverer, has helped, in one way or other, to enrich those collections. They bear their own peculiar testimony to nearly every step which has been taken either in the maritime and colonial enterprise, or in the political growth, of the British empire. Nor is their testimony a whit less cogent to the power of that feeling of international brotherhood, in matters of learning and science, which grows with their growth, and waxes stronger with their strength.

To the remarkable career of the first of those four primary Collectors, whose lifelong pursuits converged, eventually, in the foundation of an institution, of the full scope of which only one of the four had even a mental glimpse — and Sloane's glimpse was obviously but a very dim one—the attention of the reader has now to be turned. Sir Robert Cotton's employments in political

« ElőzőTovább »