Oldalképek
PDF

Book III,
Chap. II.
HISTORY
OF THE
MUSEUM
UNDER SIR
H. ELLIS.

LABOURS OF
SIR. H. ELLIS
AT THE
BRITISH
MUSEUM.

STATE OF
THE BRITISH
MUSEUM
STAFF AT
THE TIME OF
THE DEATH
oF MR.
PLANTA.

At the British Museum he had a considerable advantage over his predecessor in the Principal Librarianship. He enjoyed the assistance, almost from the first, of an abler staff, in more than one of the departments, than Mr. PLANTA had commanded during the earlier years of his administration. And an improved order of service had been established before Mr. ELLls's rule began. In this way appliances lay already under his hand which facilitated the work of progress, when—more especially—a strong demand for improvement came from without, as well as from the action of the Trustees themselves within.

At that date the Department of Printed Books was under the charge of the Rev. Henry Hervey BABER (the eminent editor of the ‘Alexandrian MS. of the Septuagint). He was assisted by Mr. Henry Francis CARY, the translator of DANTE, and also by Mr. WALTER, who had been one of the Librarians of King GEORGE THE THIRD, and who, in 1831, was succeeded by Mr. Antonio PANIZZI. In the Department of MSS. Mr. ELLIs's Assistant-Keeper, the Rev. Josiah FoRSHALL, had succeeded to the charge, and the new Keeper had the able assistance of Sir Frederick MADDEN, whose labours for the improvement of his department are well known to scholars. The Antiquities were confided to Mr. Edward HAWKINs; the various Natural History Collections to Messrs. KöNIG and CHILDREN. The Botanical Department was, as I have shown at the close of the preceding Book, just about to be re-organized (almost to be created) by the transfer of the Collections of Sir Joseph BANKs, and with them of the services of their distinguished Keeper. Taken altogether, such a staff as this was of threefold efficiency to that with which Mr. PLANTA had started at the beginning of the century.

Mr. ELLIs enjoyed an additional advantage from the

great familiarity with the whole service of the Museum Book in, which he had acquired during his labours as Secretary Hhtom from the year 1814. The secretarial duty had been com

H. Ellis.

OF THE

Museum

bined with the functions of keepership during thirteen «ndersib

The CandiDature OF

years. Great punctuality, a conspicuous faculty for method and memory, and very courteous manners, were qualifications which are not always, or necessarily, found in union with conspicuous industry. In him they were combined. Nevertheless, he narrowly escaped losing the merited reward of long and assiduous labours. For he had a formidable competitor.

At this time, a most accomplished scholar, who deservedly possessed large influence, both social and political, had Ms Hobtained the virtual promise of almost the highest per- Climtox. sonage in the realm that whenever Mr. Planta died he should receive the offer of successorship. Mr. Henry Fynes Clinton, in those quiet ante-reform days, had been able, for twenty years, to unite the functions of a Member of Parliament with the assiduous pursuits of scholarship in one of its highest forms. Learning had higher charms for him than Politics, and he had no turn for debate, but he had steadily attended the House of Commons while giving to the world his Fasti Hellenici and Fasti Bomani. Six months before Mr. Planta's decease, the Archbishop of Canterbury had, in effect, promised Mr. Fynes Clinton that he would nominate him to be Principal Librarian, and the Archbishop well knew that, as far as learning went, such an appointment would be applauded throughout Europe. The Archbishop (Dr. Charles Manners Sutton), did not forget his promise, and his vote carried that of the then Speaker of the House of Commons, who was the Archbishop's son. Their joint communication with the Lord Chancellor procured his assent also. * We have made,'

Book III,
Chap. II.
History

Of THE

Muski-m Vndkr Sis H. Ellis.

Letters and
Journ. of H.
Fynes
Clinton,
in the Lite-
rary Remains
(1854), pus.

Lord Lansdowne to Archbishop of Canterbury; 20 December, 1827.

Services

AM)

CHARACTER

oy Sir H. Ellis.

the Archbishop told Mr. Fynes Clinton, 'your recommendation to the King as strong as possible.' The practice, as the reader will perhaps remember, was that the then Principal Trustees should in all such cases recommend to the Sovereign (wo names, with such observations upon them as to those Trustees might seem appropriate.

As Mr. Ellis was now the senior officer; had had the care successively of two several departments (MSS. and Printed Books); had also served as Secretary, and, in all these employments, had acquitted himself with diligence and credit, there could, of course, be no difficulty as to the name which should be submitted to George The Fourth in company with that of Mr. Fynes Clinton. Other Trustees interested themselves in supporting, indirectly but efficiently, the claims of one who had served the Board so long. And the King was pleased to prefer the second name which had been placed before him by the Principal Trustees rather than the first. Lord Lansdowne received His Majesty's commands to signify to the Archbishop that it was upon the ground of 'long service in the Museum' that the King had made his choice.

Those who had (like the writer) opportunity to watch, during most of the succeeding thirty years, the continuance of that service, know that the King's selection was justified. Sir Henry Ellis was not gifted with any of those salient abilities which dazzle the eyes of men; but he had great power of labour, the strictest integrity of purpose, and a very kind heart. He was ever, to the Trustees, a faithful servant, up to the full measure of his ability. To those who worked under him he was always courteous, considerate, and very often he was generous. He would sometimes expose himself to misconstruction, in order to appease discords. He would at times rather seem wanting in firmness of will than, by pressing his authority, wound the Book III,

feelings of well-intentioned but irritable subordinates. No Hwtohy

one could receive from him a merited reproof—I speak y0TM"H

from personal experience—without perceiving that the duty Ondkesib

a H. Ellis.

of giving it was felt to be a painful duty. The Commissioners of 1850 had ample warrant for hinting, in their Report to the Crown—when alluding to certain internal disputes—that the qualities least abounding in Sir Henry Ellis's composition were those which equip a man 'for xeportasm) such harsher duties of his office, as cannot be accomplished by the aid of conciliatory manners, the index of a benevolent disposition.'

A man of that temper will now and then, in his own despite, get forced into a somewhat bitter controversy. One sharp attack on Sir Henry's administration of his Principal-Librarianship had a close connection with discords of an anterior date which had broken out in the Society of the 5T0EI Antiquaries, The late Sir Harris Nicolas would scarcely ofthemss

1 •'at Pomakd.

have criticised, with so much vehemence, what he thought to have been a careless indifference on Ellis's part to the acquisition for the British Museum of an important body of historical manuscripts, preserved in a chateau in a distant corner of France (and offered to the Trustees in 1829), but for the circumstance that Sir Henry's kindly unwillingness, evinced a little while before, to desert a very weak colleague at Somerset-House had stood in the way of some much-needed reforms in that quarter. Without in the least intending beforehand to represent things unfairly, Sir H. Nicolas acted under the influence of an unconscious bias or pre-judgment. The Joursanvault story is still worth telling, although it has now become an old story, and one portion of the historical treasures it relates to are now past wishing for, as an English possession.

Book in, In the course of the revolutionary convulsions in France, Hirroii a great body of historical documents had been abstracted MuTMx from the famous old Castle of Blois. Eventually, as years Ukdse Sik passed on, they found their way into the country-seat, at Pomard, of the Baron de Joursanvault, and with them were amalgamated an extensive collection of old family papers, many books on genealogy, and some choice illuminated missals.

An English gentleman long resident in France had formed the acquaintance of the Baron de Joursanvault, and in the course of conversation came to hear of the existence of these historical treasures. He also perceived that their owner had little taste for them, or ability to profit by their contents. Sir Thomas Elmsley Croft probed his French friend on the subject of parting with them. The Baron lent a willing ear, and, to whet his interlocutor's appetite, told him that a great many of the manuscripts related to the history of the English rule in France. Sir Thomas then apprised an English friend, famous for his love of old MSS., of the existence of the hoards, and of the certainty that the Baron who owned them would greatly prefer a few rouleaux of English gold to a whole castle-full of the most precious parchments that ever charmed the longing eyes of a Jonathan Oldbuck—or a Harris Nicolas.

Sir Harris, directly he received this piece of news from Paris, passed it on to his friend the late Lord Canterbury, then Speaker, who, in turn, communicated the information to Sir H. Ellis, for the use of the Trustees. Ellis was sent to France—whither indeed he had, just at that moment, arranged to go, in order to spend part of his holidays in Paris, according to his frequent custom.

He reached Pomard (two hundred and fifty miles from

« ElőzőTovább »