HC Deb 25 March 1833 vol 16 cc1003-5
Mr. Bernal

brought up the Report of the Committee of Supply, voting 16,000l. to the British Museum for the ensuing year.

Mr. Cobbett

rose to oppose receiving the Report, and to object the grant of 16,000l. to defray the annual expenses of what was called the British Museum. He remembered the time when a far smaller grant was sufficient. Under the management of Mr. Banks 10,000l. a-year was considered fully sufficient. He would ask of what use, in the wide world, was this British Museum, and to whom, to what class of persons, it was useful? He found that 1,000l. had been laid out in insects; and surely hon. Members would not assert that these insects were of any use to the ploughboys of Hampshire and of Surrey, and to the weavers of Lancashire! It did a great deal of good to the majority of those who went to it, but to nobody else. The ploughmen and the weavers—the shopkeepers and the farmers—never went near it; they paid for it though, whilst the idle loungers enjoyed it, and scarcely paid anything. Let those who lounged in it, and made it a place of amusement, contribute to its support. Why should tradesmen and farmers be called upon to pay for the support of a place which was intended only for the amusement of the curious and the rich, and not for the benefit or for the instruction of the poor? If the aristocracy wanted the Museum as a lounging place, let them pay for it. For his own part he did not know where this British Museum was, nor did he know much of the contents of it, but from the little he had heard of it, even if he knew where it was, he would not take the trouble of going to see it. Sixteen thousand pounds granted for the support of such a place, were 16,000l. thrown away—given for the amusement of loungers who paid little or nothing towards the taxes from which this 16,000l. was taken. Ten thousand out of this 16,000l was paid away in salaries. He should like to have a list of the salaried persons: he should like to know who they were; he should like, above all things, to see whether they were not some dependents of Government—some of the aristocratic fry. He wanted their names—who they were—the names of the maids who swept out the rooms, to see whose daughters they were; whether they were the daughters of the heads of the establishment, or what other relation they bore to them. He concluded, by declaring that this British Museum job was one of the most scandalous that disgraced the Government, and when he said that, he thought that he could not make it more disgraceful. He would, therefore, move, "that the Report be re-committed."

Lord Althorp

said, that he would second the hon. Member's motion, as he was sure that there was no other Gentleman of education and understanding in that House who would consent to do so. He seconded the motion, in order to be able to say a few words upon it. He was not at all surprised at the motion of the hon. member for Oldham, nor at the statements he had just made, since a few days ago, he declared that education was of no use, and that he was completely opposed to the higher branches of science. Happily there were no class of persons in the country, no matter what their circumstances might be, who agreed with the hon. Member on this point, and who could make up their minds to say that the first principles of science were of no use. The expense for promoting them should not be injudiciously squandered, he allowed, in fact not a single pound should be wasted, but this was very far from saving that no allowance at all should be made for the promotion of education and science. Institutions similar to the British Museum existed in every country. On this head England had always been accused of avarice, and in all civilized countries she was blamed, not for running into extremes for the encouragement of science, but for being over cautious in money-matters on this point. No one in that House could agree with the opinions expressed by the hon. Member.

Mr. Warburton

said, that he did not know whether every portion of the 16,000l. was judiciously expended; but with respect to the general principle of supporting an institution of this kind, be had no doubt. In evidence given before the silk Committee, it was stated, as a reason why foreign countries had the start of us, that, by museums, every opportunity was given to the poorer classes to improve their taste. The object of this institution was to collect all the wonders of nature and art, and its benefits were not confined to visitors alone, for, by means of cheap publications, the contents of the Museum were made known throughout the country. There could not be a doubt but that ultimately the advantages of such an institution would be extensively felt by the humbler classes themselves.

The Report received.