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fourth more of accommodation for the National Collections, Book in, The British Museum buildings have afforded a salient 111- HlSTOBY stance of the truth of Burke's words: 'Great expense may be an essential part in true economy. Mere parsimony is TMTM*®IzKi 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. *J 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 derived 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, the architectural skill which had constructed a vast quad- »oebuiu>rangle without providing it even with the means of a free Hokal circulation of air. He pinned Sir Robert Smirke on the o"ws7Tmd horns of a dilemma. If, he argued, the architect looked to OTl8t7a 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
Book in, been surrounded, on all four sides, with galleries for the
Histort books.' Afterwards, when adverting to the great expense
MusEuit which had been incurred upon the facades of the quadrangle,
Under Sir he went on t0 say . «it might now seem barbarous to pro
A. Panizzi. JO r
Mechanic* Pose the filling up of the square—as ought originally to aw'Toi nave ^een done. Perhaps the best plan would be to xxvi,pp.295, design another range of building entirely [new ?], enclosing 1' 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 Place.'
see chap, ii As I have intimated already, this alternative project was Mcs'and1' unconsciously reproduced, by the present writer, ten years theaccom. later, without any idea that it had been anticipated. But
panying , . .
fac-simile. 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 ReadingRo jm, 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 EllesMere'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 An- Bookiil
tiquities. Histoht When Mr. Hosking called public attention to his design °rDTM'K of 1848—in a pamphlet entitled Some Remarks upon the Kndersir
1 1 . . 7 A. Panizzi.
recent Addition of a Beading-Boom 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 Reading-Room, I confess it did not remind me of yours, the purposes of the two plans and the treatment and Sydney construction were so different/* WTiilst to Mr. Smirke wmiam himself belongs the merit of practical execution, that of f^Zts, design belongs no less unquestionably to Panizzi. &c0
* 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 germ of the mere ground-plan of the new ReadingRoom may, perhaps, be found in M. Benjamin Delessert's Projet d'tine 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 Delessort, 'to place the officers and the readers in the centre of a vast 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.
Mr. Panizzi himself preferred, at first, the plan of extending the building on the eastern and northern sides. His suggestions had the approval of the Commissioners of 1850. But the Government was slow to give power to the Trustees to carry out the plan of their officer and the recommendation of the Commissioners of Inquiry, by proposing the needful vote in a Committee of Supply. Plan and Report alike lay dormant from the year 1850 to 1854. It was then that, as a last resort, and as a measure of economy, by avoiding all present necessity to buy more ground of the Duke of Bedford, Mr. Panizzi recommended the Trustees to build within the quadrangle, and drew a sketch-plan, on which their architect reported favourably. Sixty-one thousand pounds, by way of a first instalment, was voted on the third of July, 1854. The present noble structure was completed within three years from that day, and its total cost—including the extensive series of book-galleries and rooms of various kinds, subserving almost innumerable purposes—amounted in round numbers to a hundred and fifty thousand pounds. It was thus only a little more than the cost of the King's Library, which accommodates eighty thousand volumes of books and a Collection of Birds. The new Reading-Room and its appendages can be made to accommodate, in addition to its three hundred and more of readers, some million, or near it, of volumes, without impediment to their fullest accessibility.
To describe by words a room which, in 1870, has become more or less familiar, I suppose, to hundreds of thousands of Britons, and to a good many thousands of foreigners, would now be superfluous. But it will not be without advantage, perhaps, to show its character and appearance with the simple brevity of woodcuts.
The following illustrative block-plan shows the general arrangement of the Museum building at large, at the date of the erection of the new Reading-Room.
Block-plan Of Museum
(1857), DISTINGUISHING 1HE
Galleries Of AntiQuities, &c.
GREAT RUSSELL STREET.
I. General Block-plan Of The British Museum,
AS IT WAS IN 1857.
The shaded part of the building itself shows the portions allotted to the Library. The unshaded part is assigned, on the ground floor, to the Department of Antiquities, and (speaking generally) on the floor above—in common with