HC Deb 18 May 1835 vol 27 cc1186-7
Sir Robert Peel

did not mean to detain the House by entering into any details with respect to the vote which he meant to propose. Such a course, under existing circumstances was wholly unnecessary, and, as a Select Committee had been appointed and were now sitting, for the purpose of inquiring into every matter connected with the expense of keeping up the British Museum, that was an additional reason why he should not detain them by unnecessary statements on the present occasion. The House, however, would hear with satisfaction, he had no doubt, that the public advantage derived from this institution was on the increase, and this would be apparent from a comparison of the two last years. In 1833, the number of visitors was 210,000, and in 1834, 237,000. The readers were in the former year 58,800, and in the latter 70,266, while the students in sculpture, during the interval he had mentioned, had increased from 4,490 to 5,645. The right hon. Baronet concluded by moving that a sum not less than 17,796l. be granted to his Majesty for defraying the expense of the British Museum.

Mr. Hume

did not mean to object to the vote, but he thought the public institutions of this country should be more accessible to visitors than they were. In this respect this country was behind the nations of the Continent, and for his part he would not only extend the days, but the hours, during which the British Museum was kept open for the reception of the public.

Mr. Cobbett

could not consistently with justice to his constituents, who derived no benefit from this institution, concur in this vote.

Dr. Bowring

assured the House that it was impossible to estimate the progress which had been made by the industry of foreign nations, in consequence of the manner in which works of art were exhibited. He could not look without satisfaction upon those cheap works of art which were now made accessible to the people, so that copies of some of the most exquisite busts of Canova, and other foreign artists, could now be obtained for a few pence. He augured much good from an attention to that matter, and earnestly trusted that means would be found to make everything connected with the art belonging to the nation accessible to the public, and that everything would be done which was likely to refine the public taste, or augment the knowledge of the lower classes. He must confess that he regretted the hours at which the British Museum was open were precisely those in which many workmen could not attend. He should rejoice if means could be found (and he hoped they would be found) of inducing hundreds and thousands to study those works of art, from which he was convinced great improvement would follow to the manufactures of the country. He could have said more, but his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool intended to call the attention of the House to that subject particularly; he (Dr. Bowring) watched with great interest the cause of science in this country, because, though great industry and activity, and mechanical perfection, had given great Britain a superiority over other nations, yet other nations had their superiorities too, which were principally to be traced to the great attention that had been paid in them to the accessibleness of works of art, and to the fact that if there were anything beautiful or good it could be visited without the payment of a fee; while in this country a very great proportion of the works of art, though they belonged to the nation could not be reached by the people in consequence of the sum demanded as a fee; the facilities which had been given in the British Museum had done much, and he (Dr. Bowring) hoped those facilities would be greatly increased.

Motion agreed to.