Old and New London, A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places. Illustrated with Numerous Engravings from the Most Authentic Sources. vol 4

Thornbury, Walter
1872-78

Construction of Reading RoomThe British Museum.

Construction of Reading RoomThe British Museum.

 

Aedes Musis et Apolline dignae.--Juvenal.

 

This institution, which occupies the northern side of the eastern portion of , is far removed from all the other departments under the control of the Government, and is by far the most interesting of all to the people at large, though it can boast of no very great antiquity.

It owes its origin to Sir Hans Sloane, a man of high scientific attainments, who, during a long period of practice as a physician, had accumulated at his house at , in addition to a considerable library of books and manuscripts, a vast collection of objects of natural history and works of art. These treasures he directed to be offered to the nation at a certain price after his death, which took place in the year . The offer was accepted, and an Act was passed directing the purchase, not only of Sir Hans Sloane's collection, but also of the Harleian Library of Manuscripts, which we have already mentioned in a previous chapter; and at the same time enacting that the Cottonian Library, which had been presented to the nation by Sir John Cotton, during the reign of William III., and was deposited in Ashburnham House, , , should, with those, form general collection. To these George III. added a large library, collected by the preceding sovereigns since Henry VII. To accommodate the national property thus accumulated, the Government raised, by lottery, the sum of , of which was devoted to the purchase of the above collections; and in Montagu House, in , was bought from the heiresses of the Montagu family, as a repository for the then infant establishment. This mansion, however, was not the that stood upon the same site. Before proceeding with our description of the Museum it would be well to speak of these houses.

The and short-lived Montagu House, erected in by Robert Hooke, is thus described by John Evelyn, under date :--

To see Mr. Montagu's new palace, near Bloomsberry, built by our (

i.e

., the Royal Society's) curator, Mr. Hooke, somewhat after the French [style]; it is most nobly furnished, and a fine but too much exposed garden.

He also records, in his

Diary,

a visit which he paid to the house, :--

Visited the Duchess of Grafton, not yet brought to bed, and dining with my Lord Chamberlain (her father); went with them to see Montagu House, a palace lately built by Lord Montagu, who had married the most beautiful Countess of Northumberland. It is a stately and ample palace. Signor Verrio's fresco paintings, especially the funeral pile of Dido, on the staircase, the

Labours of Hercules,

Fight with the Centaurs,

his effeminacy with Dejanira, and

Apotheosis,

or reception among the gods, on the walls and roof of the great room above, I think exceeds anything he has yet done, both for design, colouring, and exuberance of invention, comparable to the greatest of the old masters, or what they so celebrate at Rome. In the rest of the chambers are some excellent paintings of Holbein and other masters. The garden is large, and in good air, but the fronts of the house not answerable to the inside. The court at entry and wings for offices seem too near the street, and that so very narrow and meanly built, that the corridor is not in proportion to the rest, to hide the court from being overlooked by neighbours, all which might have been prevented had they placed the house further into the ground, of which there was enough to spare. But on the whole it is a fine palace, built after the French pavilion way.

But the mansion was not destined to live long.

This night,

thus writes Evelyn, in his

Diary,

under date ,

was burnt to the ground, my Lord Montagu's Palace, in Bloomsbury, than which for paintings and furniture there was nothing more glorious in England. This happened by the negligence of a servant in airing, as they call it, some of the goods by the fire.

It seems the house was at this time occupied by the Earl of Devonshire as a tenant, as we learn from Ellis's

Letters :

--

Whitehall, the

21st January, 1685

-

6

--On Wednesday, at

one

in the morning, a sad fire happened at Montagu House, in Bloomsbury,

occasioned by the steward airing some hangings, &c., in expectation of my Lord Montagu's return home, and sending afterwards a woman to see that the fire-pans with charcoal were removed, which she told him she had done, though she never came there. The loss that my Lord Montagu has sustained by this accident is estimated at

£ 40,000

, besides

£ 6,000

in plate; and my Lord Devonshire's loss in, pictures, hangings, and other furniture is very considerable.

The fire is described by Lady Rachel Russell, who was living close by, at Southampton House, in a letter dated the following day to Dr. Fitzwilliam :--

It burnt with so great violence that the whole house was consumed by

five

o'clock. The wind blew strong this way, so that we lay under fire a great part of the time, the sparks and flames continually covering the house and filling the court.

She adds, with a womanly attention to details, that her little boy was almost stifled by the smoke, but would get up to see the fire, and that Lady Devonshire and her youngest child were glad to take refuge for the night with her, the child being carried by his nurse, wrapped up in a blanket.

If the Montagu House was

somewhat after the French,

the , with its high roofs and dormer windows, was scarcely less foreign in its general design. Nor is that to be wondered at, for it is said to have been designed by a French architect, M. Pougey (or Puget), of Marseilles, eminent as a sculptor, painter, and both civil and naval architect, and that he was sent from Paris expressly to superintend it; but in the

English Encyclopaedia

it is stated that the building bore no trace of the peculiar style which induced some to call him the

French Michael Angelo;

and, moreover, in the

Biographie Universelle

no mention is made of his having come to England.

There is a good view of the house in the heyday of its prime in Wilkinson's

Londinia Illustrata,

another in Strype's

Survey of London

for , and another curious bird's-eye view may be seen in Stowe's

Survey.

This mansion is described in the

New View of London,

in , as

an extraordinary, noble, and beautiful palace, in the occupation of the Duke of Montagu. It (

i.e

., the shell) was erected in

1677

. The building constitutes

three

sides of a quadrangle, and,

the writer quaintly adds,

is composed of fine Brick and Stone Rustick-work, the Roof covered with Slate, and there is an Acroterio (

sic

) of

four

Figures in the Front, being the

four

Cardinal Virtues. From the House

the Gardens

lie northwards, where is a Fountain, a noble Tarrass (

sic

), a Gladiator, and several other statues. The Inside is richly furnished and beautifully finished; the Floors of most Rooms finnier'd (

sic);

there are great variety of noble paintings, the Staircase and the Cupulo Room particularly curious, being architecture done in Perspective, &c.; and there are many other notable things too numerous to insert here. On the

South side

of the Court, opposite to the

Mansion House

is a spacious Piazza, adorned with columns of the Ionic Order, as is the Portal in the middle of a regular and large Frontispiece toward the Street.

Montagu House,

writes the author of the

New Critical Review of the Public Buildings of London,

in ,

has been long, though ridiculously, esteemed

one

of the most beautiful buildings about the town. I must own it is grand and expensive, will admit of very noble ranges of apartments within, and fully answers all the dignity of a British nobleman of the

first

rank; but after I have allowed this, I must add that the entrance into the court-yard is mean and Gothic (!), more like the portal of a monastery than the gate of a palace. . . . I am ready to confess the area (to be) spacious and grand, and the colonnade to the wings graceful and harmonious; but the wings themselves are no way equal to it, and the body of the house has no other recommendation than merely its bulk and the quantity of space that it fills.

And then he proceeds to discuss in detail its roofs,

garrets,

windows, and the cupola with which it was surmounted, as all open to adverse criticism.

The building was erected on the plan of a firstclass French hotel, of red brick, with stone dressings, a lofty domed centre, and pavilion-like wings. In front of the house was a spacious court-yard, enclosed with a high wall, within which was an Ionic colonnade, extending the whole length of the building. The principal entrance, in , was known as the

Montagu Great Gate;

over it rose an octangular lantern, with clock and cupola; and at each extremity of the wall was a square turret. On each side of the quadrangle were the lodgings of the different officers, by which the colonnade was connected with the main building.

From the pages of the () we condense the following particulars of the Montagu House :--

It was erected by Ralph,

first

Duke of Montagu, who was a great favourite of Charles II., under whom he was twice Ambassador at the Court of Louis XIV. Though constantly in disgrace with James II., he was honoured by William and Anne. It appears that he expended the greater part of his income in erecting this pile after the French taste; on its

erection and embellishments a variety of French architects, painters, &c., were engaged to design and embellish it. We are told,

adds the writer,

that

the architecture was conducted by Mons. Pouget, in 1678,

but nothing occurs as to the period when it was brought to a conclusion; yet from the various combination of features pervading the whole mass, we are induced to fix its main point of execution towards the close of James's reign.

The plan of the entire premises was nearly a square, upwards of feet each way. On either side of the principal entrance were porters' lodges, and at each end of the colonnade were entrances to the offices in the wings of the building. The principal or state apartments were divided into lines, facing both the court-yard and the
gardens in the rear. In the former, on the groundfloor, were the hall, grand staircase, and staterooms; and in the latter, a grand central saloon, and state-rooms, right and left. The upper floor was laid out in a similar manner, excepting that the portion over the hall served as a vestibule. The principal doorway in the south front was richly carved with scrolls, &c., and had an elaborate frieze, the centre consisting of a wreath of flowers and fruit, inclosing the initial letter

M,

after the quaint fashion of the time, richly ornamented. The roof was lofty, with a high pitch; the centre portion dome-fashion, with rustic quoins and pedimented, dormer windows. On the breaks at the springing of the roof to the centre portion were originally statues, and urns on the apex of the dome.

p.493

 

A full description of the decoration of the interior of the mansion is likewise given in the of the above year; but it will be sufficient for our purpose to state that the principal rooms, and all, were alike enriched with painted walls and ceilings; the subjects generally were the pagan gods and goddesses, including several of the stories in Ovid's

Metamorphoses,

landscapes, fruit and flowers, the execution of which was entrusted to La Fosse, Rousseau, and Jean Baptiste Monnoyer. The stately hall, together with the grand staircase, were the most striking features of the interior architecture, a representation of which is given in Ackermann's

Microcosm of London.

There were in all show-rooms on the ground-floor and as many on the -floor, and these were in general stately and well lighted. On coming into the possession of the nation, prior to the establishment of the [extra_illustrations.4.493.1] , Montagu House underwent some trifling alterations in a few of its details; but, on the whole, it remained much in its original condition down to the time when it was demolished, between the years and .

On the west side of the house was a flowergarden and a terrace, disposed with much taste,

and shaded by numbers of trees and shrubs. This communicated with a lawn on the north side. On the west side of the lawn was a double avenue of lime-trees; but the garden on this side of the mansion was tasteless and formal. They are stated to have been laid out

after the French manner;

and John Timbs tells us, though we know not on what authority, that the gardens of the houses in its front in were noted for their fragrance. Strype and Stow add that

the place is esteemed the most healthful in London.

Montagu House and gardens occupied in all about acres of ground. In the gardens were encamped, in the year , the troops stationed to quell the Gordon Riots, of the centres of which was in Bloomsbury. A print of the period, by Paul Sandby, shows the ground in the rear of the mansion laid out with grass, terraces, flowerborders, lawns, and gravel-walks, where the gay world resorted on summer evenings. In the print here referred to, the white tents of the troops are shown, and in front is a grave-looking old gentleman, walking alone with an air of consequence along a path in the direction where now stands , with his wig, and a sword-cane on

p.494

his shoulders-probably intended for the king. In the foreground is a soldier, conversing with a welldressed woman, who is seated by his side.

Ralph, Duke of Montagu, mentioned above, married the proud heiress of Henry, Duke of Newcastle, to whom we have before alluded in our account of Clerkenwell. The duke, who died in the year , was succeeded by his only surviving son by his marriage, John Montagu, duke. His grace officiated as Lord High Constable of England at the coronation of George I., and during that reign filled several public situations of the highest importance. At the accession of George II. he was continued in favour, and at his coronation he carried the sceptre with the cross. He died in , when all his honours became extinct. If we may judge from the following anecdote, his grace would seem to have been of a somewhat eccentric turn of mind, for he appears to have made codicils to his will, in favour of his servants, and the other of his dogs, cats, &c. Whilst writing the latter of his cats jumped on his knee.

What!

says he,

have you a mind to be a witness, too? You can't, for you are a party concerned and interested.

A few years after the death of this noblemannamely, in , as stated above--an Act was passed for vesting Montagu House in trustees, and for enabling them to convey it to the Trustees of the for a general repository. We have already stated that this national institution originated in the purchase by Government of Sir Hans Sloane's accumulation of objects of natural history, &c. This splendid collection-at which, by the way, Pope sneered at as mere

butterflies

--was fortunately preserved entire after Sloane's death. He generously bequeathed to the public his books, manuscripts, medals, and

butterflies,

on certain conditions. The terms were accepted. The valuable manuscripts of Harley, Earl of Oxford --known as the Harleian Library--were added to it; and these collections, afterwards increased by the Cottonian manuscripts, together formed, as we have said, the nucleus of our great national Museum.

It may not be out of place here to say a few words about Sir Hans Sloane, and of his public benefactions. He was a native of Ireland, but of Scotch extraction, the son of a gentleman who had settled in Ireland in the reign of James I. He was a governor of almost every hospital about London; to each he gave a in his lifetime, and at his death a sum more considerable. He formed the plan of a dispensatory, where the poor might be furnished with proper medicines at prime cost; which, with the assistance of the , was afterwards carried into execution. For a quarter of a century he was President of the , as well as physician to the king, and succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as President of the Royal Society. He gave the Company of Apothecaries the entire freehold of their botanical garden at ; in the centre of which is erected a marble statue of him, admirably executed, by Rysbrack.. He helped largely in founding the colony in Georgia, , and also the , in , and formed the plan for bringing up the children of the latter. He was the in England who introduced into general practice the use of bark, not only in fevers, but in a variety of other cases, particularly in nervous disorders, in mortifications, and in violent haemorrhages. His cabinet of curiosities, which he had taken so much pains to collect, he bequeathed to the public, as above stated, on condition that the sum of should be paid to his family; which sum, though large, was not the original cost, and scarce more than the intrinsic value of the gold and silver medals, the ores and precious stones, that were found in it. Besides these, there was his library, consisting of more than volumes, many of which were illustrated with cuts, finely engraven, and coloured from nature; manuscripts; and an infinite number of rare and curious books. Thus Sir Hans Sloane became the founder of of the noblest collections in the world. But the wits, who never spare a character, however eminently great and useful, more than once took occasion to ridicule this good man for a taste, the utility of which they did not comprehend, but which was honoured with the unanimous approbation of the British Legislature. Thus Young, in his

Love of Fame:

--

But what address can be more sublime

Than Sloane--the foremost toyman of his time?

His nice ambition lies in curious fancies,

His daughter's portion a rich shell enhances,

And Ashmole's baby-house is, in his view,

Britannia's golden mine--a rich Peru!

How his eyes languish! how his thoughts adore

That painted coat which Joseph never wore!

He shows, on holidays, a sacred pin,

That touch'd the ruff that touch'd Queen Bess's chin.

Then again, in

Hone's Year Book,

there is a skit on the formation of Sir Hans Sloane's collection, which we here quote. It is from a printed tract entitled

An Epistolary Letter from T--H--to Sir H-- S--, who saved his life

and desired him to send over all the curiosities he could find in his travels

:

Since you, dear doctor, saved my life, To bless by turns and plague my wife, In conscience I'm obliged to do Whatever is enjoined by you. According then, to your command, That I should search the western land. For curious things of every kind, And send you all that I could find, I've ravaged air, earth, seas, and caverns, Men, women, children, towns, and taverns, And greater rarities can show Than Gresham's children ever knew; Which carrier Dick shall bring you down Next time his wagon comes to town. I've got three drops of the same shower Which Jove in Danae's lap did pour; From Carthage brought, the sword I'll send Which brought Queen Dido to her end; The stone whereby Goliath died, Which cures the headache when applied; A whetstone, worn exceeding small, Time used to whet his scythe withal; St. Dunstan's tongs, which story shows, Did pinch the Devil by the nose; The very shaft, as all may see, Which Cupid shot at Anthony; And what above the rest I prize A glance from Cleopatra's eyes. I've got a ray of Phoebus' shine, Found in the bottom of a mine; A lawyer's conscience, large and fair, Fit for a judge himself to wear In a thumb-vial you shall see, Close cork'd, some drops of honesty, Which, after searching kingdoms round, At last were in a cottage found, An antidote, if such there be, Against the charms of flattery. I ha'nt collected any Care, Of that there's plenty everywhere; But, after wond'rous labour spent, I've got one grain of rich content. It is my wish, it is my glory, To furnish your Nicknackatory; I only wish, whene'er you show 'em, You'll tell your friends to whom you owe 'em; Which may your other patients teach To do as has done yours,T. H.

But to proceed. On the completion of the purchase of the various collections above mentioned, Governors and Trustees, consisting of the most eminent persons in the kingdom, were at once appointed; among them were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Chancellor, and Secretaries of State, who were declared Trustees for the public. To these were added Lord Cadogan and Mr. Hans Stanley, who had married Sir Hans Sloane's daughters. After their decease, others were to be chosen in their stead, either by themselves, or by the family of Sir Hans Sloane, from time to time, as their perpetual representatives in the trust.

On the purchase of the Cottonian Library it was settled that Mr. Samuel Burrows and Mr. Thomas Hart, the then trustees, and their successors, should be nominated by the Cotton family, as perpetual representatives, in the same manner as those of Sir Hans Sloane. The same arrangement was entered into with respect to the trusteeship of the Harleian collection of manuscripts; and the Earl of Oxford, the Duke of Portland, and their successors, to be chosen by themselves, or by the Harley family, were made perpetual trustees for the same. These trustees were made a body corporate, by the name of the

Trustees of the

British Museum

,

with power to make statutes, rules, and ordinances; to choose librarians, officers, and servants, and to appoint their several salaries; upon this special trust and confidence,

that a free access to the said general repository, and to the collections therein contained, shall be given to all studious and curious persons, at such times and in such manner, and under such regulations, for inspecting and consulting the said collections, as by the said trustees, or the major part of them, in any general meeting assembled, shall be limited for that purpose.

The trustees at the present time are in number. Of these, is nominated by the Sovereign; are official, among whom the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, and the Speaker of the are always included; are

family

trustees-the Sloane, Cotton, and Harley families being represented by each, and the Towneley, Elgin, and Knight families by each; whilst the remaining are chosen by the former . Of the Towneley, Elgin, and Knight collections we shall speak in due course.

Lord Macaulay was of the trustees, and was anxious to improve the administration, but found it apparently a hopeless task. He writes, in his diary, under date :--

After breakfast I went to the Museum. I was in the chair. It was a stupid, useless way of doing business. All boards are bad, and this is the worst of boards. If I live, I will see whether I cannot work a reform here.

The nomination of the subordinate officers rests with the trustees, the candidates being subjected to a test examination before the Civil Service Commissioners. There are grades, and in each grade promotion goes by seniority; occasionally an officer is promoted from a lower to a higher grade, but only in a case of singular merit.

p.496

 

After coming into possession of Montagu House, the trustees immediately laid out between and on necessary repairs and alterations.

The Museum was opened to the public for the time on . The establishment then consisted of departments only, devoted respectively to printed books, manuscripts, and natural history. That the Museum was highly appreciated, even in the earliest stages of its existence, may be easily imagined when we say that Northouck (), describing it when founded, styles it

the wonder of all that beheld it, and confessed, all things considered, to be superior to any other Museum in the world!!

The regulations for the admission of the public at bore some resemblance to those which are still observed at the Soane Museum, in --namely, it was provided that

admission

to such

studious and curious persons

as are desirous to see the Museum should be obtained by means of printed tickets, to be delivered by the porter, upon their application in writing, which writing shall contain their names, condition, and places of abode, also the day and hour at which they desire to be admitted. This list was to be submitted every night to the principal Librarian, or in his absence, to another officer of the Museum, who, if he considered the parties admissible, was to

direct the porter to deliver tickets to them according to their said request, on their applying a

second

time for the said tickets,

observing, however, that

not more than

ten

tickets were delivered for each time of admission.

The parties who produced these tickets were to be allowed hours for their inspection of the Museum, spending hour in each department, and being taken in charge by a different officer for each. How these regulations operated in some instances may be learned from the account of a visit which was paid to the Museum by Mr. William Hutton, the historian of Birmingham, on the , which he described in his

Journey from Birmingham to London,

published in the following year. He says,

The

British Museum

justly stands in the

first

class of rarities. I was unwilling to quit London without seeing what I had many years wished to see, but how to accomplish it was the question. I had not

one

relation in that vast metropolis to direct me, and only

one

acquaintance; but assistance was not with him. I was given to understand that the door, contrary to other doors, would not open with a silver key; that interest must be made some time before, and admission granted by a ticket, on a future day. This mode seemed totally to exclude me. As I did not know a right way, I determined to pursue a wrong, which probably might lead me into a right. Assiduity will accomplish weighty matters, or how could Obadiah Roberts count the grains in a bushel of wheat? By good fortune I stumbled upon a person possessed of a ticket for the next day, which he valued at less than

two shillings

; we struck a bargain in a moment, and were both pleased. And now I feasted upon my future felicity. I was not likely to forget

Tuesday at eleven, December 7, 1784.

We assembled on the spot, about

ten

in number, all strangers to me, perhaps to each other. We began to move pretty fast, when I asked with some surprise, whether there were none to inform us what the curiosities were as we went on? A tail, genteel young man in person, who seemed to be our conductor, replied with some warmth,

What! would you have me tell you everything in the Museum? How is it possible? Besides, are not the names written upon many of them?

I was too much humbled by this reply to utter another word. The company seemed influenced; they made haste, and were silent. No voice was heard but in whispers. The history and the object must go together; if

one

is wanting, the other is of little value. I considered myself in the midst of a rich entertainment, consisting of

ten thousand

rarities, but, like Tantalus, I could not taste

one

. It grieved me to think how much I lost for want of a little information. In about

thirty

minutes we finished our silent journey through this princely mansion, which would well have taken

thirty

days. I went out much about as wise as I went in, but with this severe reflection, that for fear of losing my chance, I had that morning abruptly torn myself from

three

gentlemen, with whom I was engaged in an interesting conversation, had lost my breakfast, got wet to the skin, spent half-a-crown in coach hire, paid

two shillings

for a ticket, been hackneyed through the rooms with violence, had lost the little share of good humour I brought in, and came away quite disappointed. Hope is the most active of all the human passions. It is also the most delusive. I had laid more stress on the

British Museum

than on anything I should see in London. It was the only sight that disgusted me.

The system which Hutton has thus described continued for many years longer, probably till , when several alterations in the management were effected. In , when the

Synopsis,

or official guide, was printed, the regulations stated

p.497

that

on the

first

four

days of the week,

120

persons may be admitted to view the Museum, in

eight

companies of

fifteen

each ;

but no mention is made of the necessity of their previously obtaining tickets. years later a greater advance appears to have been made, for we then find that

the Museum is open for public inspection on the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in every week (the usual vacations excepted), from

ten

till

four

o'clock; and all persons of decent appearance who apply between the hours of

ten

and

two

are immediately admitted, and may tarry in the apartments or the

Gallery

of Antiquities without any limitation of time, except the shutting of the house at

four

o'clock.

From that time the regulations have been constantly growing more liberal, and the corresponding increase in the number of persons admitted, as years have rolled along, has been very striking.

In the year the numbers were just above a million; and in the following, or

Exhibition year,

when multitudes flocked to London from all quarters of the globe, the astonishing total of visitors was registered--a number at that time surpassing the entire population of the metropolis.

With the commencement of the present century the character of the [extra_illustrations.4.497.2]  began to improve, and, gradually, from a stationary, it became an eminently progressive institution. A more liberal system of admission to its treasures, as we have shown, was adopted. The Government annual votes for purchases was increased considerably towards the close of the reign of George IV., and again after the passing of the Reform Bill.

The acquisition of sundry Egyptian antiquities, for the most part discovered by Belzoni, led to the establishment of a separate Department of Antiquities in the Museum; and in order to provide suitable rooms for their accommodation, a new edifice was erected in the gardens and completed in . This building, which communicated by means of a passage with old Montagu House, was of an entirely different architectural character from it, and comprised a series of classical saloons. The subsequent addition of the Elgin marbles, for which a grant of had been made by Government, and which were for some years exhibited in a wooden shed, rendered necessary a further extension of the building; and lastly, the presentation of the library of George III., in , to the nation, made it imperative to provide a suitable room for its reception, which was of the conditions of the gift.

Lord Elgin commenced the work of collecting the

marbles

which bear his name during his mission to the Ottoman Porte in the year ; but his right to carry them off as spoils, and also his judgment in selecting these particular specimens, was much discussed at the, time. When the question of voting a sum of money for them was brought forward in Parliament, the opinions of eminent artists as to his spoils from the Temple of Minerva were sought and collected. It is curious to compare the manner in which each artist expresses his admiration of them. Benjamin West, the then President of the Royal Academy, declared that if he had seen these emanations of genius in his youth, the feeling which he entertained of their perfection would have animated all his labours, and would have led him to infuse more character, expression, and life into his historical compositions. His successor in the President's chair, Sir Thomas Lawrence, expressed his opinion that the statues brought to England by Lord Elgin were superior even to the well-known

Apollo Belvidere,

because they united beauty of composition and grandeur of form with a more perfect and correct imitation of nature than is to be found in the

Apollo.

He particularly admired in the Elgin Marbles the correct representation of the harmonious variety produced in the human form by the alternate motion and repose of the muscles. Canova declared that Lord Elgin deserved to have altars erected to him as the saviour of the arts, and considered himself fortunate in having visited London, were it only for the opportunity of seeing those masterpieces. In the opinion of Nollekens, the

Theseus

is equalled only by the

Apollo.

Flaxman and Chantrey were not quite so decided as to the object of their preference; while Rossi and Westmacott declared that they knew of nothing superior to these

admirable fragments of antiquity.

The gift of the Royal Library to the by George IV. was certainly a munificent present; but when it is described as a gift

greater than has been bestowed by any sovereign on any nation since the library of the Ptolemies was founded at Alexandria,

cannot help smiling at the loyal exaggeration. The following is the text of the letter by which the gift was accompanied, addressed by the King to Lord Liverpool, then Prime Minister:

Pavilion, Brighton, Jan. 15, 1823.

Dear Lord Liverpool,--The King, my late revered and excellent father, having formed, during a long series of years, a most valuable and extensive library, consisting of about 120,000 volumes, I have resolved to present this collection to the British nation.

Whilst I have the satisfaction by this means of advancing the literature of my country, I also feel that I am paying a just tribute to the memory of a parent whose life was adorned with every public and private virtue.

I desire to add, that I have great pleasure, my lord, in making this communication through you. Believe me, with great regard, your sincere friend.

This letter was communicated to the Houses of Parliament in the following month, and the cheering with which it was received in the House of Commons showed that the people appreciated the king's generosity. The royal library was handed over to the trustees of the Museum, who ordered Sir Hans Sloane. (From A Print Published In 1793.) a separate building to be erected to receive the treasure. In a lecture entitled Brief Personal Reminiscences of Forty Years in the National Library, delivered in 1875 by Mr. Robert Cowtan, author of Memories of the British Museum, &c., the fact of the King's Library being a gift to the nation is somewhat negatived. Mr. Cowtan observes that The books in the King's Library, a kingly room for a kingly collection, were all purchased at the private expense of George III., at the instigation of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who was consulted by Sir Francis Barnard, the king's librarian. These books, which were all large paper copies, included a Bible, which was the first book printed with movable type. There were inscriptions over the door of The King's Library this room, one in English and one in Latin, stating that the collection was presented to the nation by George IV.; but it was said in the Quarterly Review that George IV., not caring much about books (he found books in ladies' faces), was about to sell this collection to a foreign purchaser, when, on the fact becoming known, they were bought of him out of some Admiralty funds, and so secured for the nation. So the inscription was like that other bully, which, as Pope said, lifted up its head and lied.

The design for the King's Library, which was prepared on that occasion by Sir Robert Smirke, the architect of the Museum, formed part of a general plan for rebuilding the whole institution, involving the demolition not only of Montagu House, but of the saloons erected, as we have already mentioned, for the department of antiquities. Sir Robert's proposals were adopted by the trustees, and in the course of twenty-five years were gradually carried into execution.

On the donation, or, at all events, the acquisition of this library, the Government ordered drawings to be prepared for the erection of an entirely new Museum, a portion of one wing of which was to be occupied by the recently-acquired library. This wing, on the eastern side of the Museum garden, was finished in 1828; the northern, southern, and western sides of the quadrangle have since been progressively added.

It may be observed here that in 1827 Charles Lamb, speaking of poor condemned Montagu House, anticipates the speedy erecting of another and handsomer building in its place; but, as we have Just seen, the work of rebuilding had then already commenced. The author of the Essays of Elia speaks, however, with great satisfaction of the excellent collection of old plays bequeathed to the Museum by David Garrick.

The Towneley collection of antiquities, comprising a quantity of marble sculptures bought at Rome, Naples, &c., were purchased by the nation at the commencement of the present century. They were collected by Charles Towneley, Esq., who died in 1805, as we have stated in a previous chapter, at his house in Park Street, Westminster. His collection of bronzes, coins, and gems were added to the Museum in 1814. Mr. Richard Payne Knight, the classical scholar, whom we have already mentioned as residing in Soho Square, bequeathed to the Museum his matchless collection of drawings, bronzes, and medals, worth at least £ 30,000. The collection includes a single volume of drawings by the inimitable Claude, which was purchased by Mr. Knight for £ 1,600 from a private individual, who a short time before had bought it for £ 3.

The Museum, as a building, is described in a work published in 1830, as a large and imposing, rather than a grand or graceful edifice; entered by a simple, if not mean, portal, which opens into a quadrangle, formed on. three sides by a long and lofty front and wings, and on the fourth side by a dilapidated Ionic colonnade, never handsome, with the gate in the centre;

The hall, which was approached from the courtyard by a broad flight of steps, was of the Ionic order, and decorated with pilasters, in pairs, with the entablature supporting a horizontal and plain ceiling. Over the great door was a coarse painting of Vesuvius in eruption. From the hall the vestibule was entered through two tall arches, filled with fanciful iron-work and gates. A passage from the vestibule led to the western apartments. The ante-room was comparatively small, with nothing remarkable in its architecture, but the ceiling was richly ornamented with paintings by Rousseau and La Fosse, the subjects by the latter being the Apotheosis of Iris and the Assembly of the Gods.

The staircase was painted with representations of Caesar and his military retinue; the feasts and sacrifices of Bacchus, and gigantic figures, emblematical of the Nile and the Tiber, with various views of landscapes and pieces of architecture.

The room adjoining the ante-room northward was, till the winter of 1803, the reading-room; but, having only two windows, which were insufficient to illuminate the most remote parts of the table, another room, both larger and better lighted, was substituted. This apartment had a vaulted ceiling; it was surrounded by shelves of books, and above the cases hung several portraits on the walls. There was a large marble chimney-piece, and the room was lighted by three windows on the north side and one on the west. All the rooms on the north side of the house partook of the same character with the reading-room; they were very spacious, and each was entirely filled with shelves of printed books.

In the Act of Parliament already referred to, it is particularly set forth, that the collections and libraries are to be reposited, and remain in the Museum, for the public use; and further, that free access shall be given to this repository to all studious and curious persons, at such time, and in such manner, and under such regulations for inspecting and consulting the collections, as the trustees shall think fit. We have already seen in what manner and number the curious portion of the public was admitted in obedience to the above law; and it will doubtless be equally interesting to know what facilities were afforded, at that early period, to the studious and the man of letters.

In the Statutes and Rules relating to the inspection and use of the British Museum, published in 1757, it is ordered, That no one be admitted to make use of the Museum for study, but by leave of the trustees, in a general meeting, or the standing committee; and that the said leave be not granted for a longer term than half a year, without a fresh application. It is further ordered, That a particular room be allotted for the persons so admitted, in which they may sit, and read, or write, without interruption, during the time the Museum is kept open; that a proper officer do constantly attend in the said room, so long as any such person or persons shall be there; and for the greater ease and convenience of the said persons, as well as security of the collection, it is expected that notice be given in writing the day before, by each person, to the said officer, what book or manuscript he will be desirous of perusing the following day; which book or manuscript on such request will be lodged in some convenient place in the said room, and will thence be delivered to him by the officer of the said room, &c.

Since the above period some alterations have been made in the mode of admission, which, at the same time that they have increased the facility of access, have in no wise lessened the precautions so necessary for the safety of the collection.

In Weale's London and its Vicinity Exhibited (1851), it is stated that the library contained about 500,000 volumes, and that it was visited by about 70,000 readers during each year, and that every accommodation was afforded in the pursuit of their studies. With regard to the application for admission as a reader being backed by a proper recommendation, the editor of the above work considers it so very indefinite, as to require, in behalf of the public, some revision on the part of the trustees. It is left too much to the will of the librarian, he adds, as to whom he may, in his temper, think a proper person to recommend. My own case may not be singular. In the course of my career as publisher I have contributed to the Museum books not far from a thousand pounds in value; yet this public servant negatived my recommendation of Mr. Robert Armstrong, an engineer who, as a scientific man, was desirous of a readingticket; remarking to that gentleman, We don't like the recommendations of booksellers.

The first apartment specially appropriated for the use of a reading-room was opened towards the close of the year 1757. It was situated in the basement of the old mansion, at the west corner of the building, and here the readers apparently continued to assemble until the year 1810, when they were transferred to a larger and much more commodious apartment, upon the second storey, at that time forming part of the manuscript department. This state of things continued for nearly twenty years, when another transfer took place, two rooms situated at the southern extremity of the east wing of the new building being temporarily devoted to the service of the then rapidly increasing body of readers. In 1838 the erection of the north front of the present structure was brought to a completion, when another change in the situation of the reading-room was effected. The rooms then brought into use were two in number, at the north-east corner of the building, adjoining to Russell Square. Passing, or slinking in almost surreptitiously, through an iron gate near the lower end of Montagu Place, the readers were directed by a porter, seated in a kind of sentry-box, to a narrow door in the lower part of the building. Here a short flight of stone steps, ending in a glass door, led to the rooms placed at their disposal, which were narrow and quite inadequate. The tables, twenty-six in number, were arranged in such a manner as to leave a free passage down the centre and round the sides of the room; chairs were placed for the accommodation of eight readers at each table, and, as is the case at the present time, book-stands, pens, ink, and blotting-paper were gratuitously furnished.

For a long time the library and reading-room were used by a very few individuals-scholars, historians, antiquaries of the Dryasdust class, and collectors of literary curiosities. The attendants at the reading-room enjoyed quite a sinecure in those good old days, when perhaps they had not halfa-dozen individuals daily to supply with books. In fact, there was no provision made for a large number of visitors. Indeed, in the rooms of which we are now speaking, accommodation was provided for only 170 persons. The presses round the rooms were filled with books of reference, encyclopedias, dictionaries, lexicons, topographical and geographical works, &c. The rooms themselves, which still form part of the library, have little architectural decoration, beyond what they derive from their ceilings, in each compartment or panel of which there is a rose or flower, which serves as a ventilator, as well as for ornament. The floors are of oak, and have a slip of marble along the centre, and underneath the book-cases; and the rooms are warmed by hot-water apparatus.

 
 
Footnotes:

[extra_illustrations.4.493.1] Museum

[] See Vol. II., pp. 331-2.

[] See Vol. III., p. 48.

[extra_illustrations.4.497.2] Museum

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 Title Page
 Chapter I: Westminster: A Survey of the City: Millbank, and its Neighbourhood
 Chapter II: Westminster.-Tothill Fields and Neighbourhood
 Chapter III: Westminster.-King Street, Great George Street, and the Broad Sanctuary
 Chapter IV: Modern Westminster
 Chapter V: St. James's Park
 Chapter VI: Buckingham Palace
 Chapter VII: The Mall and Spring Gardens
 Chapter VIII: Carlton House
 Chapter IX: St. James's Palace
 Chapter X: St. James's Palace (continued)
 Chapter XI: Pall Mall
 Chapter XII: Pall-Mall.-Club-Land
 Chapter XIII: St. James's Street.-Club-Land (continued)
 Chapter XIV: St. James's Street and its Neighbourhood
 Chapter XV: St. James's Square and its Distinguished Residents
 Chapter XVI: The Neighbourhood of St. James's Square
 Chapter XVII: Waterloo Place and Her Majesty's Theatre
 Chapter XVIII: The Haymarket
 Chapter XIX: Pall Mall East, Suffolk Street, &c.
 Chapter XX: Golden Square and its Neighbourhood
 Chapter XXI: Regent Street and Piccadilly
 Chapter XXII: Piccadilly.-Burlington House
 Chapter XXIII: Noble Mansions in Piccadilly
 Chapter XXIV: Piccadilly: Northern Tributaries
 Chapter XXV: Hanover Square and its Neighbourhood
 Chapter XXVI: Berkeley Square, and its Neighbourhood
 Chapter XXVII: Grosvenor Square, and its Neighbourhood
 Chapter XXVIII: May Fair
 Chapter XXIX: Apsley House and Park Lane
 Chapter XXX: Hyde Park
 Chapter XXXI: Hyde Park (continued)
 Chapter XXXII: Oxford Street, and its Northern Tributaries
 Chapter XXXIII: Oxford Street.-Northern Tributaries (continued)
 Chapter XXXIV: Oxford Street, and its Northern Tributaries (continued)
 Chapter XXXV: Oxford Street East.-Northern Tributaries
 Chapter XXXVI: Oxford Street: Northern Tributaries.-Tottenham Court Road
 Chapter XXXVII: Bloomsbury.-General Remarks
 Chapter XXXVIII: The British Museum
 Chapter XXXIX: The British Museum (continued)
 Chapter XL: The British Museum (continued)
 Chapter XLI: Bloomsbury Square and its Neighbourhood
 Chapter XLII: Red Lion Square, and its Neighbourhood
 Chapter XLIII: Queen Square, Great Ormond Street, &c.
 Chapter XLIV: Russell and Bedford Squares, &c.
 Chapter XLV: Gordon and Tavistock Squares, &c.
This object is in collection:
Edwin C. Bolles papers
Subjects
London (England)--Description and Travel
London --England
Permanent URL
http://hdl.handle.net/10427/14824
ID: tufts:UA069.005.DO.00063
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