HC Deb 16 February 1821 vol 4 cc723-6
Mr. Lennard

rose to make his promised motion upon this subject. In this establishment, he said, supported as it was at the public expence, the utmost possible facility should be afforded to the access of the public, but especially to those individuals who were devoted to literary and scientific pursuits. He was aware that of late years, a great freedom of ingress was allowed to those who visited the Museum merely for the gratification of curiosity, no less than 50,000 having been admitted within the last year; but what he had to complain of was the difficulty of admission on the part of those who for literary and scientific purposes were desirous to examine the library, to have access to the reading-room, or to see the several collections of minerals, prints, drawings, and coins. In France and the other continental nations, the utmost freedom of access was allowed to strangers who desired to see similar collections, and he could not think it honourable to the character of this country, that a different practice prevailed here. If it were said, that from the value of these collections at the Museum to which he referred, it would be imprudent to expose them to the access of strangers, he should say in answer, that an additional number of officers ought to be appointed to take care of them. This certainly would be a much less exceptionable arrangement than the existing restriction upon the admission of strangers. But the appointment of additional officers would be unnecessary, if it should appear that the Museum had already several officers receiving salaries without any corresponding duty to perform. With a view to ascertain that, he proposed to move for a return of the salaries and extra-service money paid to the several officers of the Museum. At present the admissions to which he referred could not be obtained by any one who did not procure the certificate of the trustees, or who was not known to one of the officers of the Museum; and considering the large sums which had been paid from the public purse for the establishment and maintenance of this institution, he must say, that those grants were very improvidently made, should it turn out, that instead of being found available for a public purpose, it was merely an establishment for the gratification of private favour or individual patronage. The hon. member concluded with moving for an account, 1. Of the number of applications made to the trustees of the British Museum, for the purpose of being admitted to inspect that part of the collection of minerals not generally shown; and the collection of medals and coins; and the collection of prints and drawings; and of the number of similar applications for the purpose of being admitted to the reading-room; such accounts to extend to the last five years past, and to contain the number of admissions in consequence of such applications; and the number of applications and admissions in each of the five years to be stated: 2. Of the amount of the annual salaries, and of the monies paid to each of the present under and assistant librarians, officers, and attendants employed in the care and arrangement of the manuscripts, printed books, minerals, medals, coins, prints and drawings, for extra-service money, or any other sums or gratuities paid to them beyond their stated salaries, and stating the nature and extent of the service and attendance of each officer; and also, the nature and extent of the services for which extra-service money may have been paid; such account to extend to all services and payments within the last ten years.

Sir C. Long

said, that his object in rising was not to oppose the motion, but to assure the House that it was not less the wish than the duty of the trustees of the Museum to give every facility to the public. There were two classes of persons who required admission: the first consisted of those who came for the purposes of general inspection, and to that class very great facilities had been afforded within the last few years; and the number of such visitants was not less than 50,000 in the year. The other class who required admission was the much more important one; it consisted of literary men and artists who came for the inspection of the drawings, medals, &c. It must be obvious that it would be dangerous to admit strangers indiscriminately to such places; and that therefore some restrictions on admission were necessary. He happened to know, that, by the general admission to the valuable library in France, very considerable losses had been sustained. The question then was, whether the restraint adopted at the Museum was too great? It was said by the hon. member, that no person was admitted to certain parts but by the recommendation of one of the trustees; but it should be recollected that there were 43 trustees, and several of the principal officers of the place, to any of whom an application might be made. The officers were all disposed to afford every facility in their power, and if any complaint of neglect on this head were to be made, it would meet with immediate attention.

Mr. Gurney

said, he should not discharge his duty if he did not bear testimony to the general facility given to the public by the trustees and the attending officers of the British Museum. By application to the proper officers, admission might be had to the coins, manuscripts, &c. on other days besides those on which the public were admitted. The officers employed were men of high literary attainments, and none could be found more fitted for the employments which they enjoyed. The French government expended more money in the care of their library than was given by us for the support of the British Museum altogether; and he was surprised how well the duty was discharged at so small an expense.

Mr. Bright

concurred in what had been said respecting the facilities given to the public.

Mr. Colborne

agreed in the encomiums passed upon the trustees and officers, and suggested the propriety of erecting an edifice, which should be at once a commemoration of our victories, and a depot for the contents of the Museum.

Mr. Bankes

spoke of the decayed state of part of the Museum, and expressed his wish that a committee should be appointed to inquire into the condition of the Museum, in order to its improvement.

The motion was agreed to.