HC Deb 18 March 1823 vol 8 cc600-3
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said:—In pursuance, Sir, of my notice, I am now about to submit to House a motion respecting the noble and munificent gift which his majesty has, with so much liberality, presented to the nation; and I feel that if, in doing so, I were to enter into any length of detail, I should do but little credit to the grace and dignity with which the present has been made. It is a donation which, I am satisfied, every man in this House, and in the country, will feel to be of the highest importance. If, indeed, there be any person—and I do not consider it possible that there can be—who may think that there is no connection between the literature of the country and its general wellbeing—to that person, undoubtedly, the grant, or the possession, of so valuable a library as that to which my motion will refer, will be a matter of no sort of interest. But by those who take a more enlarged view of the subject—by those who think that there is an intimate connexion between the literature and the morals of the country—by those who think that there is an analogy between a love of letters and a love of freedom—it is impossible that this transaction should not be regarded with feelings of the deepest interest. This library, Sir, which it has been his majesty's pleasure to give to the nation, was collected by his late venerated father, during the course of a long and exemplary life; and although, perhaps, the circumstances which attended his youthful education, and the fact of his having been at so early a period oppressed with the cares of royalty, might reasonably seem to have precluded him from applying himself to objects of this kind; yet it is, I think, on these very accounts, the more honourable to the character of his late majesty, that, from his accession to the throne, down to the unhappy moment in which, by one of the most calamitous visitations of Providence, he was deprived of the means of pursuing any object relating to his own benefit or to the good of his people, he employed himself actively, zealously, and carefully in forming this collection. But, if it is surprising that his late majesty, under such circumstances, should so have occupied himself, it is not surprising, I conceive, that his present majesty, influenced by that finished taste, that love of science, that enlarged and liberal spirit, that disinterested generosity which belong to him, should have applied himself, upon becoming possessed of this most valuable treasure, to consider in what way his people would be likely to derive from it the greatest benefit. If his majesty had chosen to consult merely his own gratification, or his own taste, he would obviously have retained this admirable collection in his own hands: and it would have constituted in his palace, or in that of his successors, one of the most distinguished ornaments. But his majesty has considered, that a much more noble object would be attained, if this library, instead of being confined to his own palace, should be placed at the disposal of parliament, for the benefit of his people. His majesty, therefore, has proposed, that this library should be placed at the disposal of parliament; and it now becomes necessary for me to suggest to parliament the best means for its disposal. I think, then, that under all the circumstances of the case, we cannot do better than confide the custody of this most important collection to the British Museum. At all events, it would be a very desirable object: and I believe it to be an object, also, which his majesty has very much at heart, that it should be kept distinct and separate from any other. Such an arrangement, indeed, we owe it to his majesty's father who collected, and to his majesty himself who has given these books, to make. I think it would be unjust, if we were to suffer the collection to be mixed with any other of the same kind; while it seems to me most desirable, both on general considerations and in a pecuniary point of view, that it should be deposited in the British Museum; for this library of the late king's, though possibly not the most valuable in existence, is unquestionably the most valuable, as the collection of a single individual, that ever did exist; and I believe that, if to this library be added that which is already possessed by the British Museum, increased as it will very shortly be, by the library of the late sir Joseph Banks, there will be contained under one and the same roof, a library, without all question, the finest in the world. It will be most advisable, therefore, I imagine, to intrust the collection in question to the guardianship of the British Museum. At the same time, it is possible, that if we should appoint a committee for the better consideration of this subject, some suggestion which it may be more expedient to adopt than the one I now throw out, may be proposed. I therefore move, "That the Papers relating to the Library which his Majesty has been graciously pleased to present to the British nation, be referred to a Committee, to consider the matter thereof, and to report their observations thereupon to the House."

Sir C. Long

said, that the donation was unquestionably of the greatest value to the country, because, for its extent, it was the most complete library ever collected. It had been accumulated by his late majesty, during the whole course of his reign, and without any regard to expense. It had been collected under the direction of Dr. Johnson, who had laid down the plan for its formation, and which plan had been followed as closely as possible. Having had communications with his majesty on the subject, he was enabled to say, that his majesty earnestly wished that the public might have the freest access possible to this library, limited only by such regulations as were necessary for the safety and preservation of the collection. His majesty had also another and a very natural wish, that as the collection had been entirely made by his late father, it should be kept separate and distinct. Having had frequent opportunities of inspecting this library, he was bound to say, that he believed there never was a library so complete in its arrangements, with catalogues so admirably framed, and in every respect so well calculated to afford the means of ready reference. He thought it right to mention this fact, because it did the greatest credit to the persons under whose care it had been placed. He was perfectly sure, that the union of this library with that of the British Museum and the library of the late sir Joseph Banks (which, although small, was perfect in one branch of literature), would constitute the finest library that existed in Europe. He had the gratification also to say, that it was his majesty's intention to add to the donation a most valuable collection of medals, formed under the superintendance of himself and of his late majesty. To his knowledge, his majesty had been a most liberal patron to the fine arts. By the present splendid gift he would show himself an equally zealous friend to science and literature. He was sure, therefore, that all who heard him would agree, that by his conduct on this occasion, his majesty had entitled himself to the thanks and gratitude of the country.

The motion was then agreed to.