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History—to that very limited extent to which the monuments and memorials of our history are to be found in print. Virtually, the grants on behalf of the Manuscript Department, not those on behalf of the Printed Book Department, were, in 1812, as they still are in 1870, the grants which mainly tend to make the British Museum what, most obviously, it ought to become, the main storehouse Of British History and Archwology, both in literature and in art.
The magnificent additions made by private donors to every‘section of the British Museum during the administration of PLANTA, have been sufficiently passed under review in the closing chapters of Book II. Several of them, it has been seen, were the fruits of the public spirit of individual Trustees. Such gifts amply vindicated the wisdom both Of Sir Hans SLOANE and of Parliament, when both Founder and Legislature gave to men of exalted position a preference as peculiarly fit, in the judgment of each, for the general guardianship of the Museum.
But private gifts—muuificeut as they were—left large gaps in the National Collections. It is one of Mr. PLANTA’S distinctive merits that his tastes and sympathies embraced the Natural History Department, as well as those literary departments with which, as a man of letters, he had a more direct personal connection. He supported, with his influence, the wise recommendation to Parliament—made in 1810—for the purchase of the GREVILLE Collection of Minerals. He recommended, in 1822, the purchase, from the representatives of the naturalist MONTICELLI, of a like, though minor Collection, which had been formed at Naples. The Cavaliero MONTICELLI’s Collection was, in the main, one that had been undertaken in imitation of an earlier assemblage Of volcanic products which had been also gathered at
Naples by Sir William HAMILTON, and by the Collector given (as I have already recorded) to the Trustees. In a similar spirit he promoted the‘ acquisitions which were made from time to time, by the instrumentality of Claudius RICH, of Henry SALT, and of several other workers in the fruitful field of Classical, Assyrian, and Egyptian archaeological exploration. Both in the literary and scientific departments of the Museum he also gave some special attention to the due continuance and completion of the various collections bestowed on the Public by the munifieence of Sir Joseph BANKS.
Another conspicuous merit belongs to Joseph PLANTA. He supported the Trustees in that wise and large-minded policy which induced them to regard publica/z'on, as well as accumulation, to be one of the chief duties of their Trust for the Nation. He thought it not enough, for example, to show to groups of Londoners, from time to time, and to occasional foreign visitants, in almost solitary state, the wealth of Nature and of Art in the Museum Collections. He saw it to be no less the duty of the faithful trustees of such treasures to show them to the world at large by the combined labours of the painter, the draughtsman, the engraver, and the printer. It will ever be an honourable distinction—in the briefest record of his Museum labours—that be promoted the publication of the beautiful volumes entitled Decompz'z'on of flu: Ancient [liar-6168 in file Britt's/L rlfuseum; of the Cafalogue of file AnyloFGallic Coins; of the Alamo/cum and Cinerary Urns ,- of the Description of Terra Cot/as ,and other like works. The first-named work in particular is an especial honour to the Trustees of the Museum, and to all who were concerned in its production. Beautifully engraved, and ably edited, it made the archaeological treasures of the Nation widely known even to such foreigners, interested in the study of antiquity, as circumstances precluded from ever seeing the marbles themselves. When watching—in the bygone years—the late Henry CORBOULD busy at the work into which he threw so much of his love, as well as of his skill in drawing, 1 have been tempted, now and then, to envy the craft which, in its results, made our national possessions familiarly known, in the far parts of the world, to students who could never hope to see the wonderful handicraft of the old Greek sculptors, otherwise than as it is reflected and transmitted ‘by the handicraft of the skilled modern draughtsman. CORBOULD had the eye to see artistic beauty and the soul to enjoy it. He was not one of the artists who are artisans, in everything but the name. In the ‘Ancient rllaréles in Me Britis/z Maseum,’ published under the active encouragement of the Trustees and of their Principal Librarians, during a long series of years, CORBOULD, as draughtsman, had just the work for which Nature had pre-eminently fitted him.
Joseph PLANTA also took his share in the compilation of the Catalogues both of Printed Books and of Manuscripts. In this department, as in the archaeological one, be extended the benefits of his zealous labour to the scholar abroad as well as to the scholar at home. What was carefully prepared was liberally printed and liberally circulated. PLANTA wrote with his own hand part of the published Cataloyue qf l/ze Printed Books, and much of the Calaloyue qf t/ze Cottonian rllanuscrgpls. To the latter he prefixed a brief life of the Founder, by which I have gladly and thankfully profited in my own more extended labour at the beginning of this volume.
One incidental employment which Mr. PLANTA’s oflice entailed upon him—as Principal Librarian—was of a less grateful kind. It merits notice on more than one account,
menu. very trivial as is the incident of Museum history that occaChap. 1. . . . . . nmm Sioned it, when looked at intrinsically.
3,113, In 1821, the then Duke of Banrono (John, ninth Duke) 332% filed in Chancery an injunction against the Trustees to
T“ restrain them from building on the garden-ground of the
Museum. To build was—at that time—an undoubted injury
Mum to the Bloomsburians, and,consequently, a not less undoubted
depreciation of the Duke’s estate. It is hard, nowadays,
mm“ to realise to one’s fancy what the former Museum gardens were in the olden time. They not only adorned every house that looked over them, but were—in practice, and by the indulgence of the Trustees and officers—a sort of small public park for the refreshment of the vicinity at large. Their neighbourhood made houses more valuable in the market.
Almost seventy years before the filing of the Chancery injunctions of 1820-21, a predecessor of the Duke (John, seventh Duke) had compelled Parliament—and with great reason—to enact that the ‘ New Road ’ should be made a broad road ; not a narrow lane. He had carried a proviso for the construction of gardens in front of all the houses along the road. Were public property,and public enjoyments,protected by English law with one tenth part of the efficiency with which private property and private enjoyincnts are protected, that clause in the ‘New Road Act ’ of 1750 would have proved, in our own present day, a measure advantageous to public health. But public easements are unknown, or nearly unknown, to English law. And the Duke’s clause has come, in course of time, to teem with public nuisance, instead of public benefit. Englishmen build at the national cost magnificent cathedrals, and then permit railway-jobbers to defile them, at pleasure, with railway ‘architeeture.’ They construct, by dint of large taxation, magnificent
river-embankments, and permit every sort of smoke-belching chimney and eye-killing corrugated-iron-monstrosity to spoil the view. What the old Duke of BEDFORD intended to make a metropolitan improvement, as well as a defence to his own property, has come to be a cause of public detriment,—simply because our legislation, in the year of Grace 1870, affords protection to no kind of public property that is insusceptible, by its nature, of direct valuation in pounds and pence.
The action of the ninth Duke of Banronn was in contrast with that of his predecessor. It was not altogether selfish, since there was an actual abatement of public enjoyment in that step which he was opposing. The Trustees of the British Museum were really compelled to take something from the Public with one hand ;—-but, with the other, they gave a tenfold equivalent. Their contention, of course, prevailed against the Duke’s opposition.
It may not be intrusive here to mention that it is known that by the present Duke of Banronn very generous and liberal furtherance would be given to new schemes of extension for the Museum, were Parliament, on full consideration, to think enlargement at Bloomsbury the right course to be taken in pending matters. But this subject will demand a few words hereafter.
PLANTA’s energies seem for several years to have been given, almost exclusively, to his Museum duties, in combination (as was perfectly practicable and befitting, under the then circumstances) with his Exchequer Paymastership. But in the closing years of his Under-Librarianship many months were (not less fitly) given to a worthy literary undertaking. He wrote his History qf t/ie Helvetz'c Confederacy towards the end of the last century, and published