Book I, set on foot in railway shares by a clever promoter of our T'hb own day. He wrote circular letters instructing his corresO°thbe°s pondents how most effectually to evade the Act. He sold Si.oan« nearly three hundred tickets to a single dealer by furnishing him with'a list of ' Roes' and 'Does/ * Gileses ' and 'Stileses/ at discretion. He supplied himself, with equal liberality; and contrived to close the subscription, after an actual publicity of exactly six hours—for the issue of one hundred thousand tickets. In a few days, of course, tickets in abundance were to be had, at sixteen shillings premium upon each, and in what looked to be a still rising market. The trap proved to be brilliantly 'successful.'

The subsequent explosion of parliamentary anger was rather increased than lessened by an attempt of Henry Fox (afterwards the first Lord Holland) to extenuate Lehecp's offence by some arguments of the ' Tu quoque' sort. By a great majority, the House of Commons sent up an address praying the King to direct his Attorney General to prosecute the chief offender, who was accordingly convicted and fined a thousand pounds. It is not uninstructive to note that Horace Walpole—himself one of the Sloane Trustees —treats the matter in one of his letters exactly in the offhand man-of-the-world style in which Henry Fox had treated it in the House of Commons.*

By this unfortunate episode, the name of one of the best of Englishmen was brought into a sort of momentary connection with the name of one of the worst. But the chief discredit of the story does not really rest upon Leheup. A private citizen, of moderate means, had been willing to expend seventy or eighty thousand pounds—besides an in

* 'Our House of Commons—mere poachers—are piddling with the torture of Leheup, who extracted so much money out of the Lottery.'— Horace Walpole to Richard Bentley, 111 December, 1753.

estimable amount of labour and research—upon an object U""" essentially and largely public. Yet a British Parliament Th» could not summon up enough of public spirit to tax its own f,,^"" members, in common with their tax-paying fellow subjects throughout the realm, to the extent of a hundred thousand pounds, in order to meet an obvious public want, to redeem an actual parliamentary pledge, and to secure a conspicuous national honour for all time to come. That want of public spirit did not exhaust its results with the ruin of the poor families, scattered here and there, whose scanty means had been hazarded and lost by gambling, under a parliamentary temptation. It impressed itself, so to speak, on the subsequent history of the institution for more than forty years. The Museum had been founded grudgingly. It was kept up parsimoniously.

Had that fact been otherwise, the story of the knavery of Peter Lkheup would have little merited recital a century after it, and he, had passed into oblivion.

The value of so small an incident in the crowded story of our National Museum lies simply in the fact that it forms a just and salient illustration of the narrowness of spirit with which the then representatives of the people received the liberal gift of public benefactors. It serves to show why it was that, from the year 1753 down to some years after 1800, the History of the British Museum casts very little honour on Britain as a nation, whereas the precedent history of its integral parts, as separate and infant collections, casts, and will long continue to cast, great honour on the memory of the Cottons, the Harleys, and the Sloanks, by whom they were painfully gathered and most liberally dispensed.

Happily, as the course of this narrative—whatever its

Book I, shortcomings—cannot fail to show, the literary and scientific Tht treasures which men of that stamp had collected, came, in 17TM%** a subsequent generation (and, in a chief measure, by dint Sioank Qf ^ne exertions of the Trustees and Officers to whom they had been, in course of time, confided) to be more adequately estimated by Ministers and by Parliament in their public capacity, as well as by the more cultivated portion of the people generally. For more than a half-century past the History of the British Museum has been one that any Briton may take delight and pride in telling. And such it promises to be, preeminently, in the time yet to come. In a conspicuous sense, the men by whom it was first founded, and the men by whom, for what is now a long time past, it has been administered and governed, have alike been true workers for Posterity.




Chapter I. Introductory.Early History or The British Museum.

II. A Group Of Archaeologists And Classical ExPlorers.

III. The Collectors Of The Cracherode, Lansdowne,

Burney, And Egerton Libraries, And Of The
Appendant Collections.

IV. The Kino's Library—Its Collector And Its Donor.
V. The Founder Of The Banksian Museum And


« ElőzőTovább »