§ House in Committee of Supply.
§ On the question that 37,987l. be granted for the British Museum,
called the attention of the right hon. Baronet to the case of Mr. José, who was intrusted with the management of the engraving and print department of the Museum, and had a salary of only 350l. 1662 per annum, and no apartment in the building.
§ Sir R. Peel
was well aware of the merits and qualifications of Mr. José, but recommended the House to leave the appropriation of the salaries to the Trustees of the Museum who fully understood the matter and were responsible for their proceedings.
§ Mr. Hume
objected to the constitution of the Board of Trustees, and wished to know to whom they were responsible? He objected to the exclusion of the public from the different collections. He observed among the Votes, "salaries of officers of the ordinary establishment, 5,900l.; salaries of assistants, 3,500l.; and salaries and wages of attendants and servants, 5,400l." He thought the Committee should have a detailed list of the salaries of individuals. He recommended that the British Museum should be thrown open to the public on Sunday, in order that the many trades people and others who could not visit it during the week might be able to avail themselves of the instruction which it afforded. He complained that facilities were not afforded to the thousands who visited the Museum, and deprecated the practice of requiring persons to sign their names in a book on entering, as causing unnecessary delay. Children were not excluded from Hampton Court or the National Gallery, and he saw no necessity for excluding them from the Museum. He did not think the Trustees would adopt these regulations if they were responsible to the public.
§ Sir R. Peel
questioned whether the hon. Member's complaints were well-founded or reasonable. The Trustees were not responsible for the Estimates, but the Treasury was, and instituted the closest inquiry into each particular item, and into the merits of the several officers connected with the Museum. The Government did not wish to encumber the House with information, but to give it that which was really useful; if, however, the hon. Member desired to have more information respecting every officer in the Institution, he was most welcome to it. He gave the hon. Member credit for thinking that no public money was better expended than that which was voted for this Institution; but he would ask him, was there an Institution in Great Britain so accessible? [Mr. Hume: You may make it more so.] Make it more so, if you like, but that was at least a primâ facie case in 1663 its favour; and the Returns of the number of visitors confirmed it. The number who visited the Museum in the year ending Christmas, 1840, was 247,000; and in 1843, 517,000. He really wished to give the public every possible opportunity of acquiring information: but there must be a limit as regarded age, for if children of too tender an age were admitted, incapable of deriving instruction themselves, they would greatly impede others in endeavouring to obtain it. There was a time when infant schools were admitted, and when 300 young children were at once ushered into the King's Library, but he could assure the hon. Member that the necessities which they relieved were not the necessities of acquiring knowledge. Respecting additional facilities and conveniences which the hon. Member recommended, he had only to observe that this subject had not escaped the attention of the Trustees, but of course the details could not be discussed in that House.
§ Mr. Protheroe
hoped the right hon. Baronet still bore in mind an observation which he made in a former year, that he looked forward to the time when a noble palace of art would be erected in one of the parks of the metropolis. He did not agree with his hon. Friend respecting the admission of very young children to the Museum, for in Hampton Court, where they were admitted, they rather detracted from the pleasure of others, without benefiting themselves.
expressed his regret at the total want of anything like a national museum in this country. It was, perhaps, the only country that had not a museum of the history and arts of the Middle Ages. The British Museum abounded in Egyptian mummies and South Sea Island curiosities, but everything appertaining to the early history of Europe and England was wanting.
§ Sir R. Peel
had to state with the greatest pleasure that only last week the Treasury had authorized the expenditure of 2,000l.; one-half in the purchase of the zoological collection of the Antarctic voyage, and the other in completing a botanical collection, after communicating with a gentleman whose unobtrusive merits were not sufficiently known—he meant Mr. Brown, who was the companion of Sir Joseph Banks, and whose exertions entitled him to the highest commendation.
§ Mr. Hume
insisted on the necessity of 1664 additional public conveniences at the Museum. He also thought that the admission of young persons might be permitted under the care of their parents. He had heard no good reason assigned why the Museum should not be opened after morning service on Sundays. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), himself, he believe visited the Museum on Sunday, and why should not the public as well?
§ Mr. Borthwick
thought the hon. Member for Montrose somewhat unreasonable in complaining of the answers which he had received from the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government to the questions put in the former part of his speech. He thought those answers had been abundantly explicit and satisfactory. With reference to the latter observations of the hon. Member, those, namely, which referred to the opening of the British Museum on Sundays, he wished to observe that he agreed in principle with the hon. Gentleman, though he doubted whether the feelings of the people themselves were in unison with his upon the subject. If the public mind was not ripe for this change, however desirable in itself, more evil than good might possibly result from its adoption. There were buildings which ought to be open for the reception of the people, both on Sundays and on other days, which it was most painful to find shut against them, or open only upon payment of money. He referred to the cathedrals and other churches of the metropolis. St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey were on Sundays even less accessible than on week days—for, with the exception of of the short hours of public worship, they could not on Sundays be entered even by payment of money. This ought to be reformed altogether. He believed if the Church had the control of its own affairs, these abuses would cease to exist. The hon. Member for Weymouth had very judiciously recommended the preservation of the monuments of the Middle Ages. Since modern habits and innovations had shut the cathedrals against the people, they had become the receptacles of monuments of no age at all. You might see sprawling over and defacing their graceful and splendid proportions, figures which might be worshipped without any breach of the commandment; for they were like nothing "that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth." And indeed, if hon. 1665 Members were to read, as he had done, the legends appended to those things they would find, that the persons in whose memory they had been erected must have been as great monsters of virtue as these figures were of art. Those indecencies should not be allowed to desecrate walls so holy, and he hoped the day was approaching when those noble buildings would be appropriated to their right use.
§ Vote agreed to.