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Chronological Epoclus in the Formation of the British
In two particulars, more especially, our great National Museum stands distinguished among institutions of its kind. The collections which compose it extend over a wider range than that covered by any other public establishment having a like purpose. And, if we take them as a whole, those collections are also far more conspicuously indebted to the liberality of individual benefactors. In a The Public degree of which there is elsewhere no example, the British pTM^TM Museum has been gradually built up by the munificence CoIU!C10R» of open-handed Collectors, rather than by the public means of the Nation, as administered by Parliament, or by the Governments of the day.
The real founders of our British Museum have been neither our British monarchs nor our British legislators, as such. They have been, commonly, individual and private British subjects; men loyal both to the Crown and to the People. Often, they have been men standing in direct lineal descent from the great Barons who dictated the Charter of our liberties, in the meadow near Windsor, and from those who led English knights and English bowmen to victory, on the wooded slopes near Poitiers. Sometimes, they have been men of very lowly birth; such as could point to no ca.°PKi.' ancestral names appended to Magna Charta, or to the iiOT."1'"0" famous letter written from Lincoln to Boniface the Eighth;
such as may, indeed, very well have had ancestors who gave their lives, or their limbs, for England at Poitiers or at Cressy, but who certainly could point to no heraldic memorials of feats of arms done on those bloody fields of France. Not a few of them, perhaps, would have been vainly asked to tell the names of their grandfathers. One boast, however, is common to both of these groups of our public benefactors. They were men who had alike a strong sense of gratitude to those who had gone before them, and a strong sense of duty to those who were to come after them. To nearly all of the men whose lives will be told in this volume are applicable, in a special sense, some words of Julius Hare :—' They wrought in a magnanimous spirit of rivalry with Nature, or in kindly fellowship with her. . . . When they planted, they chose out the trees of longest life—the Oak, the Chestnut, the i. fc A. Hare Yew, the Elm,—trees which it does us good to behold, T^it°o\ a WD^e we muse on the many generations of our Forefathers, p is- whose eyes have reposed within the same leafy bays.' They were men whose large impulses and deep insight led them to work, less for themselves than for their successors. It is by dint of what men of that stamp did—and did, not under the leading of the Gospel according to Adam Smith, but of a Gospel very much older than it—that upon us, whose day is now passing, Posterity, so to speak, 'has cast her shadow before; and we are, at this moment, reposing beneath it.' Of Public Benefactions, such as those which this volume very inadequately commemorates, it is true, with more than ordinary truth, that we owe them, mainly, to a generous conviction in the hearts of certain worthies of old days that they owed suit and service to
Posterity. This may, indeed, be said of public foresight,
when evidenced in material works and in provisions to I*tm>duc
smooth some of the asperities of common life and of manual toil. But it may be said, more appropriately still, of another and a higher kind of public foresight;—of that evidenced in educational institutions, and in the various appliances for raising and vivifying the common intellect; for enlarging its faculties; diffusing its enjoyments; and broadening its public domain. As it has been said (by the same acute thinker who has just been quoted) in better words than any of mine:—' The great works that were wrought by men of former times; the great fabrics that were raised by them; their mounds and embankments against the powers of evil; their drains to carry off mischief; the wide fields they redeetned from the overflowings of barbarism; the countless fields they enclosed and husbanded for good to grow and thrive in; ... all this they [mainly] achieved for Posterity .... Except for Posterity; except for the vital magnetic consciousness that while men perish, Man j.&A.Hare, survives, the only principle of prudent conduct must ^"'^ „ have been, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow toe p13die."'
The pages which follow have been written in the belief that they afford—whatever the defects of their Writer— useful illustrations of this great and pregnant truth. To him it has not been given to work 'for Posterity,' otherwise than as a Chronicler of some of the workings of other men. But he owns to a special delight in that humble function. Its charm,—to his mind,—is enhanced, on the present occasion, by the very fact that so much of the work now about to be narrated is the work of men who only rarely have been labouring with other means, or with other imple
chap i merits, than those which were personal to themselves, as Intboduc- individuals.
In the chief countries of the Continent of Europe—on the other hand—great national Museums have, commonly, had their origin in the liberality and wise foresight either of some sovereign or other, or of some powerful minister whose mind was large enough to combine with the cares of State a care for Learning. In Britain, our chief public collection of literature and of science originated simply in the public spirit of private persons.
The British Museum was founded precisely at that period of our history when the distinctively national, or governmental, care for the interests of literature and of science was at its lowest, or almost its lowest, point. As regards the monarchs, it would be hard to fix on any, since the dawn of the Revival of Learning, who evinced less concern for the progress and diffusion of learning than did the first and second princes of the House of Hanover. As regards Parliament, the tardy and languid acceptance of the boon proffered, posthumously, by Sir Hans Sloane, constitutes just the one exceptional act of encouragement that serves to give saliency to the utter indifference which formed the ordinary rule.
Long before Sloane's time (as we shall see hereafter), there had been zealous and repeated efforts to arouse the attention of the Government as well to the political importance as to the educational value of public museums. Many thinkers had already perceived that such collections were a positive increase of public wealth and of national greatness, as well as a powerful instrument of popular education. It had been shewn, over and over again, that for lack of public care precious monuments and treasures
of learning had been lost; sometimes by their removal to c: ] ,
But Sir Hans Sloane cannot claim to be regarded, individually or very specially, as the Founder of the British J! Museum. His last Will, indeed, gave an opportunity for °rHiTMEH the foundation. Strictly speaking, he was not even the Mo»«u«. Founder of his own Collection, as it stood in his lifetime. The Founder of the Sloane Museum was William Courten, the last of a line of wealthy Flemish refugees, whose history, in their adopted country, is a series of romantic adventures.
Parliament had previously accepted the gift of the
Cottonian Library, at the hands of Sir John Cotton, third ,"^bi
The Nation, or THE
in descent from its Founder, and its acceptance of that gift had been followed by almost unbroken neglect, although CoTI°"
... . . LlBRAEI.
the gift was a noble one. Sir John, when conversing, on
one occasion, with Thomas Carte, told the historian that cr.curteto
he had been offered £60,000 of English money, together Hanmer, with a carte blanche for some honorary mark of royal the Houae of favour, on the part of Lewis The Fourteenth, for the g^Zrc'orLibrary which he afterwards "settled upon the British P-8M> nation. It has been estimated that Sloane expended (from first to last) upon his various collections about £50,000; so that, even from the mercantile point of view, the Cotton family may be said to have been larger voluntary contributors towards our eventual National Museum than was Sir Hans Sloane himself. That point of view, however, would be a very false, because very narrow, one.
Whether estimated by mere money value, or by a truer standard, the third, in order of time, of the Foundation