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INTRODUCTION TO BOOK m(C^»W):-GROWTH,
'Whatever be the judgment formed on [certain con-
'In consideration of the long and very valuable services of Mr. Panizzi, including not only his indefatigable labours as Principal-Librarian, but also the service which he rendered as architect of the new Reading-Room, the Trustees recommended that he should be allowed to retire on full ■alary after a discharge of his duties for thirty- four years.' Hansard's Parliamentary Debate* (27 July, I860).
The Museum Buildings.—The New Heading-Room and its History.—The House of Commons' Committee of I860: —Further Reorganization of the Departments—Summary of the Growth of the Collections in the years 185G-18GG, and of their increased Use and Enjoyment by the Public.
No Question connected with the improvement of the Book in, British Museum has, from time to time, more largely en- mm** grossed the attention, either of Parliament or of the Public Museum at large, than has the question of the Buildings. On none
H"nK in, have the divergences of opinion been greater, or the exHiwom' pressions of dissatisfaction with the plans—or with the
Mi Skum want of plan—louder or more general.
Yet there is no doubt (amongst those, at least, who have had occasion to examine the subject closely) that the architects of the new British Museum—first Sir Robert Smirke, and then Mr. Sydney Smirke—have been conspicuous for professional ability. Nor is there any doubt, anywhere, that the Trustees of the Museum have bestowed diligent attention on the plans submitted to them. They have been most anxious to discharge that part of their duty to the Public with the same faithfulness which, on the whole, has characterised their general fulfilment of the trust committed to them. Why, it is natural to ask, has their success been so unequal?
Without presuming upon the possession of competence T'if^ctori. to answer the question with fulness, there is no undue conMov'paiits fidence m offering a partial reply. Part of their failure to ofTHtNtw satisfy the public expectations has arisen from a laches in Buildings. Parliament itself. At the critical time when the character of the new buildings had practically to be decided, parsimoniousness led, not only to construction piecemeal, but to the piecemeal preparation of the designs themselves. Temporary makeshifts took the place of foreseeing plans. And what may have sounded like economy in 1830 has, in its necessary results, proved to be very much like waste, long before 1870.
Had a comprehensive scheme of reconstruction been looked fully in the face when, forty years ago, the new buildings began to be erected, three fourths at most of the money which has been actually expended would have sufficed for the erection of a Museum, far more satisfactory in its architectural character, and affording at least one fourth more of accommodation for the National Collections, Book Hi, The British Museum buildings have afforded a salient 111- History stance of the truth of Burke's words: 'Great expense may £uTM« be an essential part in true economy. Mere parsimony is »»TM8^ not economy.' But, in this instance, the fault is plainly in Parliament, not in the Trustees of the establishment which has suffered.
The one happy exception to the general unsatisfactoriness of the new buildings—as regards, not merely architectural beauty, but fitness of plan, sufficiency of light, and adaptedness to purpose—is seen in the new Reading-Room. And the new Reading-Room is, virtually, the production of Room. an amateur architect. The chief merits of its design belong, indubitably, to Sir Antonio Panizzi. The story of that part of the new building is worth the telling.
That some good result should be eventually dei'ived from the large space of ground within the inner quadrangle had been many times suggested. The suggestion offered, in 1837, by Mr. Thomas Watts was thus expressed in his letter to the Editor of the Mechanics Magazine:—
Mr. Watts began by criticising, somewhat incisively, TTM the architectural skill which had constructed a vast quadrangle without providing it even with the means of a free circulation of air. He pinned Sir Robert Smirke on the O^iwsttnd horns of a dilemma. If, he argued, the architect looked to orm7a sanitary result, he had, in fact, provided a well of malaria. If he contemplated a display of art, he had, by consenting to the abolition of his northern portico, spoiled and destroyed all architectural effect. 'The space,' he proceeded to say, which has thus been wasted, 'would have afforded accommodation for the whole Library,much superior to what is now proposed to afford it. A Reading-Room of ample dimensions might have stood in the centre, and
8UGQESTIONS JOE BUILDING ADDITIONAL
Book Hi, been surrounded, on all four sides, with galleries for the Histoh books.' Afterwards, when adverting to the great expense which had been incurred upon the facades of the quadrangle, he went on to say: 'It might now seem barbarous to propose the filling up of the square—as ought originally to aw'-roi ^ave ^een done. Perhaps the best plan would be to «vi,pp. 295, design another range of building entirely [new ?], enclosing the present building on the eastern and northern sides as the Elgin and other galleries do on the western. To do this, it would be necessary to purchase and pull down one side of two streets,—Montagu Street and Montagu lbid- Place.'
As I have intimated already, this alternative project was unconsciously reproduced, by the present writer, ten years theaccom. later, without any idea that it had been anticipated. But
panying . t 1
fac-aimue. neither to the mind of the writer of 1837, nor to that of the writer of 1847, did the grand feature of construction which, within another decade, has given to London a splendid building as well as a most admirable ReadingRoom, present itself. The substantial merit, both of originally suggesting, and of (in the main) eventually realising the actual building of 1857, belongs to Antonio Panizzi.
As to the claims on that score advanced by Mr. Hosking, formerly Professor of Architecture at King's College, they apply to a plan wholly different from the plan which was carried into execution.
Mr. Hosking's scheme was drawn up, for private circulation, in February, 1848 (thirteen months after the writing of my own pamphlet entitled Public Libraries in London and in Paris, and more than six months after its circulation in print), when it was first submitted to Lord EllksMeke's Commission of Inquiry. It was first published (in The Builder) in June, 1850. His object was to provide a grand central hall for the Department of Antiquities.
When Mr. Hosking called public attention to his design of 184S—in a pamphlet entitled Some Remarks upon the recent Addition of a Beading-Room to the British Museum —Mr. Sydney Smirke wrote to him thus :—' I recollect seeing your plans at a meeting of the Trustees, . . . shortly after you sent them [to Lord Ellesmere] . When, long subsequently, Mr. Panizzi showed me his sketch for a plan of a new Keading-Room, I confess it did not remind me of yours, the purposes of.the two plans and the treatment and construction were so different.'* Whilst to Mr. Smirke himself belongs the merit of practical execution, that of design belongs no less unquestionably to Panizzi.
* If the question of mere hints and analogies in construction were to be followed out to its issues, the result, I feel assured, would in no degree tend to strengthen the contention of Mr. Hosking's pamphlet. Something like a first genu of the mere ground-plan of the new ReadingRoom may, perhaps, be found in M. Benjamin Delessert's Projet d'une Bibliotheque circulaire, printed, at Paris, as far back as the year 1835, when the question of reconstructing the then 'Royal,' now 'Imperial Library,' was under discussion in the French Chambers. 'I propose,' says Delessert, 'to place the officers and the readers in the centre of a vaBt rotunda, whence branch off eight principal galleries, the walls of which form diverging radii . . . and have book-cases on both sides' &c. His plan may be thus shown, in small. The differences, it
will be seen, between this sketch and Mr. Panizzi's sketch of 1854, are greater than are the resemblances.