« ElőzőTovább »
the Museum walls continues, as of old, to be ‘the King's Tracts.’
That name is the less appropriate from its tendency to give an inaccurate idea of the contents of the King’s gift, as well as from its disregard of the origin of the Collection. The ‘ tracts’ include the most ponderous theological quartos that ever came from an English press as well as the tiniest handbill, or the fugitive circular which called together a ‘ Committee of Sequestrators’ at Wallingford House.
George Tnouason, its collector, was an eminent London bookseller, of royalist sympathies, who watched intensely the progress of the great struggle between King and Parliament, Cavalier and Roundhead, and who had noted with professional keenness how strikingly the printing press was made to mirror, almost from day to day, the strife of senators in council, as well as that of soldiers in the field. He had seized, in 1641, the idea of helping posterity the better to realize every phase of the great conflict, the oncoming of which many men had long foreseen, by gathering everything which came out in print—as far as vigilant industry could do so—whether belonging to literature, and to the obvious materials of history, or merely subserving the most trivial need of the passing moment. He failed, of course, to secure everything ; but his endeavour was wonderfully successful, on the whole. He also gathered many manuscripts which no printer in England dared to put into type. And he obtained a large number. of political and historical pieces, bearing on English affairs, which had issued from foreign presses; their authors being sometimes foreign observers of the struggle, but more frequently British refugees.
Cusanas 'rns Fras'r congratulated THOMABON on the utility of his idea. More than once the King was able to
Boom, gratify his curiosity by borrowing some tract or other which
Chap. 1. .
him only our collector was known to possess. The Parliament,
2:22;; meanwhile, was far from exhibiting any literary sympathies
mm" in the undertaking. Some of its leaders loved freedom of the press when it was seen to be a channel for urging forward their peculiar doctrines and aims, but had the gravest doubts about its policy when it manifestly helped their opponents and gave back blow for blow. The ‘ Thomason Collection' came to be viewed, at length, much in the light in which soldiers view an enemy’s battery. If it could be captured and carried off, some of the pieces might be turned against the enemy. If the attempt at complete capture should miscarry, a sudden sally might at least enable the assailants to destroy what they had failed to secure.
Hence it was that the poor Collector came to be in such alarm about the possible fate of his treasures that he had them repeatedly packed into cases, and, as the successes of the war veered to and fro, sent them, at one time, far to the south of London; at another time, as far to the east; now, smuggled them, concealed between the real and false tops of tables, into a city warehouse; and anon made a colourable sale of them to the University of Oxford.
When the King enjoyed his own again, the Collection was offered, as fit to be made a royal one. It contained more than thirty-three thousand separate publications— bound in about 2,200 volumes—issued between 1640 and 1662 inclusive. But CHARLES THE SECOND was busied with pursuits having little to do with any kind of learning, and was ill inclined, as we have seen already, to burden his Treasury for the enrichment of his Library Sir Thomas BonLEr’s Trustees at Oxford refused the offer, in their turn, under a very different but scarcely less obstructive pressure. Their excellent founder had formed peculiar and stringent views about the literature worthy of a great University. He had warned them against stuffing his library with ‘mere baggage books.’ And so future Bodleian curators had, in another age, to buy with large bank notes many things which their predecessors could have bought with small silver coins ;—just as in the ancient story.
The unfortunate Collection went a-begging. The books passed from hand to hand, somewhat, it would seem, by way of pledge or mortgage. They had cost a large sum of money, and a larger amount of toil. When his expectations were at their best the first owner, it is said, refused several thousands of pounds for them. His ultimate successors in the possession were glad, in 1762, to accept, at the hands of King Gzoaon THE Tnmn, three hundred pounds. The purchase was recommended to him by Thomas Hours, and also by Lord Burn, as a serviceable addition to the newly founded Museum. As all readers now know, it has largely subserved our history already. It is not less certain that the ‘ Thomason Collection ’ embodies a store of information yet unused.
The next augmentor of the Museum was one of its Trustees, Gustavus BRANDER, distinguished as a promoter of natural science, and more especially of mineralogy and palzeontology in the early stages of their study in England. A remarkable collection of fossils found in Hampshire, in the London Clay, was given by Mr. BRANDEB. to the Public, after having been, at his cost, carefully examined and described by Dr. SOLANDER. It was the first notable contribution to the grand series of specimens in palaeontology which, in their combination, have made the British Museum
Tar. Bax:an Fossils.
the most important of all repositories in that department of science.
To the Zoological Collections, the additions made, whether by gift or by purchase—save as the result, more or less direct, of ‘Voyages of Discovery,’ which will be noticed presently—were for many years very unimportant. The first purchase worthy of record was a collection of stuffed birds, formed in Holland, and acquired, in 1769, for four hundred and sixty pounds. This purchase was made by the Trust.
The reign of GEORGE THE THIRD is marked by very few characteristics which are more honourable, both to King and people, than is its long series of expeditions to remote countries made expressly, or mainly, for purposes of geographical and scientific discovery, and extending over almost the whole of the reign.
Scarcely one voyage of the long series failed to bring, directly or indirectly, some valuable accession or other to the Collection of Natural History. Sometimes such accessions came to the Museum as the gifts of the navigators and explorers themselves. In this class of donors the name of Captain James COOK,* and that of Archibald MENZIEs, occur both early and frequently. Sometimes they came as the gifts of the Board of Admiralty. Sometimes, again,— and not infrequently—as those of the King, who, in his best days, took a keen interest in enterprise of this kind, and delighted in talking with the captains of the discovery ships about their adventures, and about the marvels of the far-off lands they had been among the first to see. Nor did the King stand alone in his active encouragement of remote ex
" One of Cook’s many individual gifts was the first Kangaroo ever brought into Europe.
plorations. Many of the great and wealthy nobles gave generous furtherance to them, and were equally ready to make available for scientific study the new specimens which the ships brought home. In this way, for example, the Marquess of ROCKINGHAM gave to the Museum a curious collection of reptiles gathered in Surinam.
In the same manner was furnished that minor, but very popular and instructive, collection illustrating the rude arts and modes of life of the newly explored countries, which some yet among us can remember as occupying the ‘ South Sea Room’ of the old house. In the course of years it came to be eclipsed by much better collections of the same kind elsewhere, and so to wear a meagre and somewhat obsolete aspect. But it had rendered good service in its day, and was the germ of what will become, it may be hoped, in due time, an ethnological collection worthy of a seafaring people.
As regards the Natural History Collections, the growth of the Museum may be said to have been mainly dependent on the Voyages of Discovery for more than forty years. That source of improvement seems to mark, distinctively, the first epoch in the history of those collections. Then came a second epoch, marked by some approach to systematic improvement, in all branches, by means of the purchase of entire private collections as opportunity ofi‘ered. A third period may be dated from the acquisition of the botanical and other gatherings of Sir Joseph BANKS in 1827. Sir Joseph’s splendid gift was soon followed by so many other gifts—sometimes as donations, more frequently as bequests—that for many years the liberality of benefactors quite eclipsed the liberality of Parliament. Only of late years can it be said that the public support of the Natural History Collections has been worthy, either of the Nation or of their