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Book III, Chap. III.
PARLIAMENTARY INQUIRY INTO PRO
Of course, the improvements thus effected did but solve HISTORY a portion of the difficulty felt, long before 1857, in accom
modating the National Collections upon any adequate scale, which should provide alike for present claims and for future extension. This more effectual provision became one of the most pressing questions with which both the Trustees and their officers had now to deal. During the whole term of Sir A. Panizzi's Principal-Librarianship this building question increased in gravity and urgency, from year to year. Both the Trustees and the PrincipalLibrarian were intent upon its solution. But the latter was enforced, by failing health, to quit office, leaving the matter still unsolved.
Most of the little information on this part of the subject
which, within my present limits, it will be practicable for POSXD En- me to offer to the reader, belongs, properly, to a subsequent
1 chapter. But some brief notice must be given here of the
important inquiries, ‘how far, and in what way, it may be desirable to find increased space for the extension and arrangement of the various Collections of the British Museum, and the best means of rendering them available for the promotion of Science and Art,' which were made, between the months of May and August of 1860, by a Select Committee of the House of Commons.
The first question to be answered by the Committee of 1860 was this : Is it expedient, or not, that the NaturalHistory Collections should be removed from Bloomsbury, to make room for the inevitable growth of the Collections of Antiquities?
After an elaborate inquiry, spreading over three months, the Committee reported thus:— The witnesses examined have, almost unanimously, testified to the preference over the other Collections, with which the Natural-His
THE SELECT COMMITTEE OF THE
tory Collections are viewed by the ordinary and most Book III, numerous frequenters of the Museum. This preference is HISTORY easily accounted for; the objects exhibited, especially the ques birds, from the beauty of their plumage, are calculated to UNDER SIR attract and amuse the spectators. The eye has been accustomed in many instances to the living specimens in the 5 Zoological Gardens, and cheap publications and prints have co rendered their forms more or less familiar. It is, indeed, House of easily intelligible that, while for the full appreciation of 1860. works of archæological interest and artistic excellence a special education must be necessary, the works of Nature may be studied with interest and instruction by all persons of ordinary intelligence. It appears, from evidence, that many of the middle classes are in the habit of forming collections in various branches of Natural History, and that many, even the working classes, employ their holidays in the study of botany or geology, or in the collection of insects obtained in the neighbourhood of London; that they refer to the British Museum, in order to ascertain the proper classification of the specimens thus obtained, and that want of leisure alone restrains the further increase of this class of visitors. Your Committee, in order to confirm their view of the peculiar popularity of the Natural History Collections, beg to refer to a return from the PrincipalLibrarian, which shows the number of visitors in the several public portions of the Museum, at the same hour of the day, during fifteen open days, from the fifteenth of June to the eleventh of July, 1860. From this it appears that two thousand five hundred and fifty-seven persons were in the Galleries of Antiquities at the given hour, and one thousand and fifty-six in the King's Library and MSS. Rooms, while three thousand three hundred and seventy-eight were in the Natural-History Galleries ; showing an excess of two
hundred and twenty per cent. in the Natural-History
tment over the King's Library and MSS. Rooms, and of thirty-three per cent. over the Galleries of Antiquities, notwithstanding that the latter are of considerably greater extent than the Galleries of Natural History. The evidence received by your Committee induces the belief that the removal of these most popular collections from their present central position to one less generally accessible would excite much dissatisfaction, not merely among a large portion of the inhabitants of the metropolis, but among the numerous inhabitants of the country, who from time to time visit London by railway, and to whom the proximity of the British Museum to most of the railway termini, as compared with the distance of the localities to which it has been proposed to transport such collections, is of great practical importance. Similar evidence shows that the proposed removal of those collections from the British Museum has excited grave and general disapprobation in the scientific world. Your Committee cannot here employ more forcible language than that made use of in a memorial signed by one hundred and fourteen persons, including many eminent promoters and cultivators of science in England, and presented to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1848. The following are their words :—“We beg to add the expression of our opinion that the removal of the Natural History Collections from the site where they have been established for upwards of a century, in the centre of London, particularly if to any situation distant from that centre, would be viewed by the mass of the inhabitants with extreme disfavour, it being a well-known fact that by far the greater number of visitors to the Museum consists of those who frequent the halls containing the Natural-History Collections, while it is obvious that many of
COMMITTEE of 1860.
those persons who come from the densely peopled districts of Book III, the eastern, northern, and southern parts of London, would History feel it very inconvenient to resort to any distant locality.”
After an elaborate examination into the nature and under Sir. extent of those enlargements which the present growth and Recom probable increase of the several Collections of Antiquities MENDAT and of Natural History render necessary, the Committee Commons' proceed thus :
The ground immediately surrounding the Museum, says the reporter, speaking of the adjacent streets to the east, west, and north, 'comprises altogether about five and a half acres, valued by Mr. SMIRKE at about two hundred and forty thousand pounds. As the proprietary interest in all this ground belongs to a single owner, your Committee are of opinion that it would be convenient, and possibly even a profitable arrangement, for the State at once to purchase that interest, and to receive the rents of the lessees in return for the capital invested. The State would then have the power, whenever any further extension of the Museum became necessary, to obtain possession of such houses as might best suit the purpose in view.
'Independently, however, of this larger suggestion, your Committee are fully convinced, both from the uniform purport of the papers printed at different times by the House of Commons, and from the statements of the various witnesses whom they have now examined, that it is indispensable, not merely to the appropriate exhibition of our unequalled National Collections, but even to the avoidance of greater ultimate expense, through alterations and rearrangements, that sufficient space should be immediately acquired in connexion with the British Museum, to meet the requirements of the several departments which have been enumerated under the last head, and that such space
should throughout be adapted, by its position, extent, and facilities of application, to the arrangement of the collections on a comprehensive, and, therefore, probably permanent system. They will now proceed to point out several sites, either on or adjoining the present ground of the Museum, which seem to them to present the greatest advantages for the accommodation of the respective departments.'
Although, the Committee proceed to say, the amount of space which, on the foregoing estimate, would be requisite for the Natural-History Collections is not so great as to involve the necessity of their removal from the British Museum on that ground alone, your Committee, nevertheless, attach so much weight to the arguments in favour of preserving the various departments of the Museum from the risk of collision with each other, that, should it be determined to provide new space for Natural History in connexion with the Museum, they would make it a primary object to isolate its collections, as far as possible, from all others in the same locality. The chief part of the Natural-History Collections is now on the upper floor, where they occupy, according to the return of Mr. SMIRKE, in November, 1857, forty-eight thousand four hundred and forty-two superficial feet. The remainder of that floor, containing, exclusively of a small space not reckoned by Mr. SMIRKE, twenty-one thousand five hundred and thirty-two feet, is occupied by Antiquities. It appears to your Committee that if, by any adaptation of ground to be acquired adjoining the Museum, adequate space should be provided elsewhere for the Antiquities now on the upper floor, the most expedient arrangement would be to appropriate the whole of that floor to the Natural History Collections. If this space proved insufficient for all such collections, your Committee would then recommend that the newly acquired portion should be