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INTRODUCTION TO BOOK in (Oontmuet):-GROWTH,
'It is expedient that the Trustees should revise the
Report Ieom Select Committee Oh British
Internal Economy of the Museum at the time of the death
When Sir Henry Ellis was appointed to be the successor Histom
of Mr. Planta (20th December, 1827), the British Museum Museum was still composed of but four departments, in conformity Htm",tm
Book in, with the organization of 1809. It was publicly open on
insTOEi three days in each week, but only during forty weeks of
Mus"nii every year. This was a great improvement of the previous
Uhdebsi. arrangements, as we have seen, under Maty and Morton.
H.ellis. > • • •
But Mr. Planta S most conspicuous improvements lay m Cokditioms t]ie (admittedly more important) direction of access to the
or Museum » 1 m ..... .
AccKssi- Medal, Print, and Reading Rooms. To Ins administration, students in all these departments were much indebted. Sir Henry Ellis was to witness and to carry out, very efficiently as Principal Librarian, some more extensive modifications of the old system of things; but he, in his turn, was to be quite eclipsed (so to speak) in the character of Museum improver, by his successor in office. And it was, in fact, to the latter that such among the conspicuous improvements of the last twenty years of Sir Henry's official administration as related to the Department of Printed Books—and in no department were the improvements more striking—were pre-eminently due.
Sir Henry Ellis (who has but so recently departed from amongst us) entered the service of the Trustees, as a temporary assistant in the Library, in the year 1800, having had already three years' experience in Bodley's Library at Oxford. When coming occasionally to London during his employment at Oxford he would see Dr. Charles Morton, who had helped to organize the Museum almost fifty years before. The public life of those two acquaintances spread, conjointly, over a period of a hundred and twenty years.*
* Morton died at eighty-three; Planta, at eighty-four; Ellis, at ninety-two. Morton, as we have seen, was known to Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane was already a noted man in the days of Charles the Second; and he also lived to be ninety-two. The joint lives of Sloane, Morton, and Ellis extended over nearly two hundred and ten years.
Had it never fallen to the lot of Henry Ellis to render Book in, to the Public any service at all, in the way of administering History and improving the National Museum, he would still have Museum earned an honourable niche in our literary history. His g^**®1" contributions to literature are, indeed, very unequal in their character. Some of them are fragmentary; some might be ^0UES ra thought trivial. But very many of them have sterling "teratube value. And his archaeological labours, in particular, were Ems. zealous and unremitting. He began them in 1798. He had not entirely ceased to add to them in 1868. In the closing year of the eighteenth century he was giving furtherance to the labours on British history of Richard Gough. In the sixty-eighth year of the nineteenth century he was still taking an intelligent and critical interest in the large undertakings of Lord Romilly and of Mr. Duffus Hardy, for affording to future historians the means of basing the reconstruction of our national history upon the one firm foundation of an exhaustive search of our national records.
The fourth Principal Librarian of the British Museum was born at Shoreditch, in London, on the 29th of November, 1777. He was of a Yorkshire family long settled (and still flourishing) at Dewsbury. Henry Ellis was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, and at St. John's College, Oxford, where he graduated B.C.L. in 1802. His first book (but not, perhaps, his first publication) was the History of the Parish of St. Leonard, Shoreditch, printed in 1798. He became F.S.A. in 1800; one of its Secretaries in 1813; and its Director in 1854. To the Archaologia he was a contributor for more than fifty years. In 1800, he sent to the first Record Commission a Report on the Historical Manuscripts at St. John's. For the same Commission he wrote, in the year 1813, and the three following years, an Introduction to Domesday Book.
Book in, Of this he would speak very modestly in after-days,
Hi8To»T saying: 'I have worked on Domesday for years; but only
M'utmum m making an opening into the mine. Other men will
Indbrsh nave yej jQ brmor out the metal.' For the second Record
H. Ellis. ....
Commission he re-edited his Introduction and considerably improved it. This was done in 1832 ; and, to say the least, it brought some very good ore to the surface. When both these Commissions had given way to the better organization recently framed by Lord Romilly, he edited, for the series of Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain, the Latin Chronicle of John of Oxenedes, from a MS. belonging to Sir Robert Cotton's Library. When Oxenedes was published, just sixty years had passed from the publication of Sir Henry's first Record labour, undertaken at the instance of Lord Colchester.
In the interval, he had had a great opportunity, the first glimpse of which needs must have dilated the heart of so genuine a lover of antiquity. The publication of an improved edition of the Monasticon Anglicanum of Dodsworth and Dugdale ought to have made a new epoch in British archaeology. But the opportunity was lost. In those days, there was no encouragement for such labours at the Treasury; no enlightened promoter of them at the Rolls House. The control of the new Monasticon passed into the hands of mere tradesmen. Neither of Mr. Ellis's co-editors ever buckled to the work. Ellis himself became simply the servant of the associated publishers, who had no aim whatever beyond turning a golden penny out of the traditional prestige of Sir William Dtjgdale's name, and out of the standing advertisement that the Monasticon was indubitably one of those books ' which no gentleman's library ought to be without.' Heaps of crude, untranslated, and unelucidated information were thrust into the book, against the editor's own clear conviction of his duty, and in spite of his Bookiii, remonstrance. 'We must retrench/ was the one answer Histom to all editorial recommendations of real improvement. And 0ITHE meanwhile the publishers were actually netting fair profits Tmdf.r Stm from -a long list of confiding subscribers. What might well have been a 'broadstone of honour' to English literature became its glaring disgrace.* No one would more gladly have striven for a better result—had the power lain with him—than would Sir Henry Ellis. As to his nominal co-editors, they did almost nothing, from first to last.
To far better result did Ellis labour upon his successive editions of Hall, Hardyng, Fabyan, and Polydore Vergil, among our chroniclers, and of Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities, of Dcgdale's History of Saint Paul's Cathedral, and of Norden's Essex, among the standard illustrations of our archaeology and topography. But his most enduring contribution to historical literature is, beyond doubt, his Original Letters, illustrative of English History, the publication of which began in 1824, and was completed in 1846. That work alone would suffice to keep his name in honourable memory for a long time to come.
* I do not make this statement without ample warrant. When preparing, under Lord Romilly's direction, my humble contribution of the lost Liber de Hyda to the series of Chronicles and Memorials, I had competent occasion to test the Monasticon of 1813-1824, and found it to teem with errors and oversights in that part of it which I had then to do with. I had had other occasions to study it somewhat closely twenty years before, and with like result. At the interval of twenty years, one could hardly stumble twice upon exceptionally ill-edited portions of such a book. For the new 'Dugdale,' thus truthfully characterised, subscribers paid a hundred and thirty pounds for small paper, two hundred and sixty pounds for large paper, copies; and the number of subscribers was considerable. So much for the' 'We must retrench' of the publishers.