HC Deb 26 May 1820 vol 1 cc626-8

The House being in a committee of supply, Mr. Bankes moved, that 10,009l. 16s. 16d. be granted to his majesty, to be applied towards the expenses to be incurred in the management of the British Museum for the year 1820.

Mr. Colborne

said, that although the country had every reason to expect that a system of economy should, as much as possible, be adopted, still he would not, on an occasion of this kind, be too rigid in pursuing that system. He should be sorry that so important an establishment as the British Museum, which was indeed a national one, should be cramped for want of proper funds. He suggested the propriety of an easier and more general access to the library, which ought also to be put in better order than it was at present. Considerable public advantage had been derived from the readiness with which admission to the other parts of the Museum was allowed, and many individuals had greatly benefitted by it. He could not help regretting that the same liberality was not acted on with respect to other public buildings. He knew not why those who visited Westminster-abbey, St. Paul's, &c., should be obliged to pay for their admission.

Mr. Bankes

said, as the trustees of the Museum had some time since purchased a very large library, which cost a considerable sum, they were determined, oh this occasion, to ask for such an aid as would not bear too hard on the public funds. With respect to placing the books in a more eligible situation, he was afraid it would require a large sum, because the present building was not in a secure state. On a survey made by one of the most respectable architects in this country, it was declared to be in a state that did not promise durability. But, as to the situation in which the books were, the hon. member might go to the library, and call for any work he pleased, and he pledged himself that, within five minutes, the identical book would be brought to him. He was of opinion with the hon. member, that greater facilities should be given to the public in visiting their national buildings. With respect to the beautiful pile which was in the immediate vicinity of the House, he recollected the time when greater facilities were given to those visiting it than were afforded at present. Why it was so he could not tell. In France public buildings were open to every visitor; but there no person attempted to deface any of the objects shown to them: here, however, a sort of mischievous feeling, which induced individuals to deface works of art, was sometimes observable. With respect to the library, he did not think it was possible, with safety, to allow a greater degree of access to it than was now permitted. It contained many manuscripts and prints, which curious individuals might damage in the course of their examination. In the course of the last year 63,000 persons had visited the Museum, and during the present a great number of individuals had been admitted. That noble collection, (the Elgin marbles) which had been added to the rich stores of the Museum, had tended greatly to the encouragement of the fine arts.

Mr. W. Smith

thought there never was an instance in which the trustees of any institution had more completely seconded the views of parliament than the trustees of the British Musuem had done. The improvements introduced by them, in the last 10 or 15 years, must strike every man who had visited the Museum before and since that time. He conceived it was discreditable to the country, that other public works were not equally open to inspection. Whosoever went to St. Paul's, at the present moment, must pay for admission, as if they visited an exhibition. The only point in which it differed from an exhibition was, that the public convenience was never once thought of by the persons who showed the place. They thought of nothing but the collection of a trifling tax from those who visited the building from a laudable curiosity or otherwise. There was not to be found in Europe any one building of the importance of St. Paul's, in such a state of filth, and presenting so much of every thing reprehensible as might be observed there. Little attention was paid to the cleanliness or even permanence of that fine structure; and to its beauty none whatever. All that was considered was, the paltry profit of some equally paltry individual.

Sir R. Wilson

observed, that the doors of St. Paul's were almost constantly closed. In fact, it was neither ventilated by the air, nor visited by the rays of the sun.

The resolution was agreed to.