HC Deb 06 March 1845 vol 78 cc381-94
Mr. Ewart

rose for the purpose of moving for leave to bring in a Bill to enable town-councils to establish Museums of Art in corporate towns. The merit of the measure was almost entirely due to the hon. Member for Taunton, who had acted with him on the Committee which sat upon the subject. That Committee recommended the establishment of Schools of Design, and, first of all, it recommended the establishment of a central school in the metropolis. It also recommended the establishment of Schools in the various manufacturing towns in connexion with the central school. Only one thing was wanted now; and that was, that the central school should be devoted rather to the purposes of a normal school for making masters, than for the purpose of elementary education in art. That was the original design of the school, as his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, to whom the country was greatly indebted for his exertions with regard to this subject, would well remember. But that design had not been fully carried out. As yet the central school in London was not a normal school of art; but he trusted that they were making advances towards that more perfect system which existed in foreign countries. Another recommendation of the Committee was, that exhibitions or galleries of art should be established in the various manufacturing and other large towns of the country. It was not intended that those exhibitions should be limited to the temporary purposes of mere ephemeral exhibitions. The Committee were anxious that those museums should contain specimens of antique art, of mediaeval art, and of modern art. That recommendation had not been carried into effect, and it was to remedy this omission that the present Bill was proposed. The Committee had hoped that the Government would have assisted, at least by lending its co-operation to those who were willing to form these provincial museums, by obtaining perfect casts of the best specimens of antique and modern works, and distributing them to the various manufacturing towns, to be deposited in their museums. In London such a gallery had been established, but it was by no means perfect. He understood it would be necessary to procure for that gallery new casts of the various works of antiquity. But the object of the present measure was to diffuse these various specimens of art throughout the country; to send them to the museums of Manchester, of Glasgow, of Birmingham, of Coventry, and of all the large manufacturing towns. He asked them to pass this Bill, in order to enable the town-councils to defray the expenses necessary for these museums by the imposition of a small borough rate, so as to admit the population upon the easiest possible terms. Many persons were ready to aid in the formation of these museums, either by the subscription of money, or by presenting them with works of art. It was to encourage these exertions that he ventured to propose the present measure to Parliament. There were peculiar circumstances at the present time which allowed a facility for the diffusion of works throughout the country which had never been enjoyed in times past. By means of their railways they could send casts of improved specimens of works of art to the different manufacturing towns; and it would be the fault of the Government if there was a single manufacturing or large town in the country deficient of a museum of such a character as might give a sound taste in art to the population of that town; and thus enable them to apply the skill they would obtain in the arts to manufactures. He trusted, therefore, that they should see before long the system of schools of design perfected throughout the country, and that the central school in the metropolis would become what the Committee recommended it should be. It was well known that, until the Romans had such an abundance of statues in Rome, that the mind of the people was improved through the eye, they never became aware of the value of the arts; and it was the same with the people of this country. It had been said that England would not make any great advance in the arts, because it was a commercial nation; but he believed, if they adopted the recommendation of the Committee, that, like Venice, the large manufacturing towns of this country would be quite capable of appreciating the value of the fine arts: with this view he called on the Government to assist in promoting this object, and to wipe away the stain that hung upon the artistic reputation of the country. It was indeed a stigma, and he (Mr. Ewart) thought that, in reference to such a reproach, he might employ the words of the poet— Non obtusa adeò gestamus pectora Pœni: Nee tam aversus equos Tyriâ Sol jungit ab urbe; He had now shortly stated the principles of the subject he intended to bring before the House. He did not think it necessary further to dilate upon it, but would conclude by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to enable town-councils to establish Museums of Art in corporate towns.

Mr. Wyse

adverted to purposes he had in view when originally advocating the formation of a School of Design in London. He complained that the Government of the day had unfortunately limited itself to that sole object, which for some time continued a merely elementary establishment. Every day more strongly proved the necessity of corresponding institutions in the provinces. Hitherto provincial schools had met with difficulties from want of sufficient contributions; and the Bill of his hon. Friend was intended as far as possible to overcome this obstruction to the final attainment of the object. The managers of the School of Design had not been able, from their limited funds, to do as much as they wished to do; and they thought it might be necessary to call upon the public for contributions; but those who were not acquainted with the fact had no idea of the number of contingencies to which voluntary contributions were liable, and how difficult it was to guarantee the existence of institutions which depended on voluntary support. There were institutions to which individuals were willing to contribute works of art, valuable books, or specimens of natural history; but from the circumstance of there being no building in the locality capable of holding them, those who would have so contributed were obliged to retain, on their own premises, those articles which they would otherwise have given to the public, and thus an impediment was created to the advance of the fine arts in this country. He was anxious with his hon. Friend to provide a remedy for this evil, and he had some years ago introduced a Bill for a similar purpose. In every country in the world, wherever municipal institutions existed, the power sought to be obtained by the Bill which was proposed by his hon. Friend existed, as well as the power of imposing taxation for the physical wants of the community. It was merely a power which enabled the town-councils to act—which invested them with authority—in case the inhabitants were not disposed, by voluntary contributions to adopt the necessary means for the erection of museums, and other similar institutions for the advancement of knowledge and the promotion of art. He had from time to time had communications with scientific and mechanics' institutions, both in this country and in Ireland; and he had found that in all cases they would willingly accept such a boon as that proposed by the Bill of his hon. Friend. He did not expect any opposition to the introduction of this Bill, and he would defer any further remarks upon the subject to a future stage. He would second, with great pleasure, the Motion of his hon. Friend.

Sir W. James

thought the object which the hon. Member for Dumfries had in view was worthy of the highest praise and the cordial support of all parties in the House. He had visited a mechanics' institution amongst his constituents at Hull, and had been surprised at the taste which the members had exhibited for works of art His hon. Colleague (Sir J. Hanmer) had presented the institution to which he had alluded with a large collection of classical casts, and their value was fully appreciated. With respect to corporations, as remodelled by the Municipal Reform Bill, he was glad to see that they were becoming anxious to possess collections of works of art. But he remembered that when they were first reformed, most valuable works of art, some of them the pictures of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and others of high eminence, which had been presented to the old corporations, and also antique plate, which had been, in some instances, in possession of the old corporations since the time of Elizabeth, were disgracefully brought to the hammer, and sold by auction. He was happy to see symptoms of a better taste, and, if the improvement went on, perhaps the reformed corporations would send their children to classical schools, where they would become acquainted with the old verse— Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes Emollit moves, nee sinit esse feros, And perhaps in course of time they would recover the reputation for hospitality of which the old corporations ought to have been proud. He thought the country was much indebted to the hon. Member for Dumfries for the trouble he had taken on this subject.

Mr. M. Philips

said, the hon. Member seemed to think that some of the town councillors would have no objection to sell their ancestors. As the borough with which he (Mr. Philips) stood connected never had any property, it was not in their power to sell it. He was one of those who advocated everything calculated to promote the taste of the operative classes of the community. After all it should be recollected that it was to them the country was indebted for the carrying out of every design. The great master mind must be called into exercise to produce the design, but it was the operative who carried these designs into execution. It was, therefore, of vast importance that a taste for the fine arts should be developed among the manufacturing community. He thought it was of the utmost importance that a taste for literature and the arts should be encouraged in the rising generation; and that some such proposition as that which had been made by his hon. Friend should be adopted by the House. He hoped, however, that his hon. Friend would give sufficient time for the discussion of the merits of this Bill in the country, to prevent any hasty expression of opinion upon that which was intrinsically good in itself. He hoped, too, that, when the Bill would be carried into operation in large towns, the museums would be opened at such hours and under such regulations as would be advantageous to the working classes. The great drawback on the improvement of the operative classes was, that there was no public institution in existence which they could call their own. They enjoyed no such advantages as operatives on the Continent. Those institutions which were open to the public, the British Museum for example, were open during such hours that the operatives could not take advantage of them. He had great pleasure in supporting the Motion for the introduction of the Bill.

Mr. Hume

said, there could be no doubt of the importance of the subject; but he hoped that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman would be enlarged, so that power might be given to town-councils, not only to provide museums fit and proper for the purpose, but also playgrounds and public walks for the recreation of the populace. He was glad to find that the efforts which of late years had been made to promote a taste for the fine arts among the people of this country had proved more successful than many persons in that House and out of it had expected. He believed, that as compared with the French, German, and Italian people, the English had embraced and profited by every opportunity afforded them, as far as it was possible for them, of visiting and inspecting works of art; nay, that they had even gone beyond other nations in doing so. At the same time it ought to be observed, to their credit, that they had shown themselves most careful not to injure any of the valuable exhibitions submitted to their view. Should his hon. Friend succeed in getting his Bill introduced, of which he had no doubt, he hoped it would be made to embrace those other objects. In some towns museums were already established, and the town-councils should be empowered to apply any means they might have to the formation of public walks and playgrounds; and the Government could not do better than encourage those things, and thus give the labouring classes employment and occupation, so that they might spend both their time and money in a proper manner. The result of similar experiments in London was, that the people had deserted the public houses, preferring to visit places where they could improve their minds, and refresh and strengthen their bodies. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government would pay due attention to this subject; it would reflect great honour upon them. He cordially supported the Motion for bringing in the Bill.

Mr. Bernal

said, the manner in which the hon. Member for Dumfries had brought forward the subject did him great credit; but he trusted the hon. Member would not dovetail his plan, but confine himself to one proposition. He thought it was highly gratifying to notice the admirable way in which the people conducted themselves on these occasions; and that, so far as they could learn, the one or two outrages which had been committed in public museums were not perpetrated by any of the labouring classes of the country. No operative, that he was aware of, had been convicted of an offence of this nature; but he believed the outrages which had been committed were perpetrated by persons moving in a superior walk of life. This was the only capital in Europe, he believed, that was without a Museum of Art; and when they saw what was done in a neighbouring country, and the impulse that had been given to a love of the Fine Arts by the King of the French, he thought that they should stir themselves to form a Museum of Art and Antiquities in this metropolis which would be worthy of the English nation. Many of the works of art of the middle ages were going to decay. They all knew the money, the taste, and the activity that were bestowed by the King of the French in the encouragement of the formation of a Museum of Antiquities. Notwithstanding what he had stated that evening of the works of art of the Middle Ages going to decay, still there existed sufficient materials in the country to form a collection of this kind. It was the opinion of all men interested in works of art in this country, that there should be a collection formed of the kind which he alluded to. There existed in the country sufficient materials to form a collection that would be worthy of the country. He would take the opportunity of urging upon the right hon. Baronet opposite the expediency of his bestowing his attention on this subject. The right hon. Baronet was one of the trustees of the British Museum, and the subject was in every way worthy of consideration.

Sir R. Peel

said: I perfectly well remember the observations which the hon. Member made upon this subject on a former occasion, and I trust that I may say that the matter has not escaped my attention and the attention of the other trustees of the British Museum. We have, of course, received many other suggestions, and it is absolutely necessary that some selection should be made out of the many objects which are worthy of public favour; and however much each of those objects may be worthy of support, of course we can only select those that we conceive of the greatest importance. Now, we have during the recess applied ourselves to the improvement of the Geological Museum, which promises to become of considerable importance; and we hope that we will, during the present Session, obtain the consent of the House to our carrying into effect some arrangement for the purpose of affording the public access to this improved Geological Museum. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in the advantage which the cultivation of the arts is likely to receive from the establishment of these exhibitions; but, at the same time, I advise the House that it is important that they should exercise caution as to how they confer too extensive powers of taxation upon town-councils, for the purpose of establishing these museums. The hon. Member for Dumfries proposes to confer considerable powers of taxation upon town-councils, for the purpose of encouraging the formation of collections of works of art. The hon. Member for Montrose, actuated, no doubt, by the most benevolent purposes, suggests that a portion of this taxation should be applied to the formation of places of recreation for the working classes, and for other desirable objects. But it is necessary to consider what an amount of local taxation this might lead to. Besides, it will be necessary for us, during the present Session, to call upon the House to confer powers of local taxation for the purposes of ventilation, and improving the salubrity of the dwellings of the population. What I would advise is, not to increase to too great an extent the demand on the inhabitants of towns for the purposes of these local improvements. We ought to take care not to raise a prejudice against them by increasing too much the burdens of local taxation. I believe that there would be found a great disposition amongst those who owe their prosperity to manufactures, to remember the obligations which they owe to that branch of the national industry, and to contribute to the formation of those museums. I hope that the hon. Member will not check this disposition by giving too considerable powers of taxation for those purposes. At least, I think that it would be the most advisable course to endeavour in the first instance to raise as much as possible by private subscription. If the town-councils were to tax the inhabitants of the locality for the purpose of carrying into effect the building arrangements, they must in many cases throw the money away. What the town-council should do, therefore, would be to call upon the public for subscriptions to establish the museum, and to say when it was established they would provide, by local taxation, for its continuance. Such a plan would insure the permanency of the museum, and afford a guarantee and an encouragement to the rich and liberal to come forward in order to establish the museum. The same experiment had been tried successfully in respect to the endowment of new churches. Many persons contributed funds for the purpose of raising the sacred edifices when they received an assurance that means would be found for their permanent maintenance. In the same way the town-councils should endeavour to provide by subscriptions for the erection of those buildings, and provide for their permanent maintenance by local taxation. I think, especially at periods when trade and manufactures are in a flourishing state, that there will be many persons willing to make presents for the purpose of carrying into effect those valuable objects. I hope, on these grounds, that the hon. Member will see how desirable it is that these town-councils should not have too large powers of taxation, but that they should endeavour to carry the proposed objects into effect partly by subscriptions.

Lord J. Manners

said, when he recollected the constitution of town-councils, and their annual elections, he did not think that they would be likely to take any very unpopular course. He approved of the suggestions of the hon. Member for Montrose, and thought it desirable that there should be places provided for the recreation of the people. He would very much wish that the Government could be induced to undertake the proposition, and bring in a Bill for that purpose, and he was sure that every Member in that House would support it. He believed that the people were very grateful for any opportunity given them of visiting public exhibitions, and their conduct in every respect proved it. He was very desirous to see the working classes afforded the fullest opportunity of recreation in the enjoyment of manly and athletic sports; and he believed that every medical authority on the subject concurred in the advantage that was derived from those amusements. He hoped that the time would soon come when in every large town, as well as agricultural districts, means would be taken to afford to the people the opportunity of manly and healthy amusement and recreation. He wished to take this opportunity of adding his testimony to the decorous conduct of the people on every occasion when they were admitted to witness objects of art and curiosity. He was in the habit of living in a large house, in which there was a collection of works of art. He had seen as many as a hundred persons at a time pass through those galleries. He had never seen any injury or mischief attempted, and nothing could on all occasions have been more cheering than the conduct of the people. He was desirous to give his hearty support to the Motion, and he felt convinced that the more facilities that were given to the people in the large towns, and throughout the country, to observe works of art, the more would be done to work out the true civilisation of the country. Before he sat down he wished to thank the Government for the pains they had lately bestowed on this subject. He alluded especially to the works proceeding at Elgin and Glasgow.

Mr. Brotherton

defended the national character of the people of this country from the imputation that they were not able properly to appreciate works of art, and urged that the experiments made had shown that they both possessed and could acquire a taste for them. He was of opinion, that however useful schools of design were, they were not, in themselves, enough; museums of art should also be established. By a calculation he had made with regard to a large town with which he was connected, it appeared that a tax of one halfpenny in the pound would be sufficient to raise a building which should cost 50,000l. The only object of this Bill would be to enable the town-council to erect a proper building; and then it must be left to the voluntary contributions of the people to provide models, statues, machines, and other works of art. In the town of Manchester upwards of 33,000l. had been already contributed, and the right hon. Baronet himself had subscribed 1,000l. for the establishment of public parks in that neighbourhood. It was much better to cultivate a taste for the arts at the public expense than to raise a large amount of taxation for the prevention and punishment of crime. In Manchester and Salford it cost 40,000l. a-year for the support of the police and for other arrangements to check crime and bring criminals to justice. The establishment of institutions of the kind proposed, would withdraw the people from places and habits of dissipation. He was in favour of leaving these proposed museums in charge of the town-councils, they being corporations, and therefore perpetual, not, like trustees, liable to change; the public, therefore, would have more confidence in them.

Mr. M. Gore

had listened with pleasure to this debate, because it was on a subject of great importance, involving the well-being or the community. It was a wise and sound policy to promote such objects as those which had been suggested; they were calculated to improve the social system, and to render the artisan and the labourer sober and industrious, cheerful and intellectual. With regard to a geological museum, nothing could be productive of more public advantage. The conduct of the people had been noble when advantages of this kind had been offered to them; and this step would tend not only to raise science to a loftier eminence, but at the same time, while improving the morals and purifying the spirits of the people, to extend the basis on which rested the foundation of peace, security and national prosperity.

Mr. Hutt

, after observing that a misapprehension had gone abroad with respect to the Corporation of Hull, who had not (as was supposed) disposed of any works of art, proceeded to observe, that in the instance of the School of Design at Newcastle nothing could be said to have more completely succeeded. Many hon. Members, perhaps, had seen some of the beautiful works in stained glass produced in that town, chiefly by the pupils in Mr. Wade's establishment. Let the Englishman have an opportunity of disciplining his mind in any art, and he would be found in no respect behind any competitor; indeed, in works of pure art, English productions were, perhaps, at the head of those of Europe. In the school established by Mr. Wedgwood many years ago, articles were produced which were the admiration of every capital in Europe. Articles, also, in steel and bronze had been produced at the establishment of Messrs. Smith, in Sheffield, which were admired by every one who had any taste for the art, from whatever part of Europe he might come. No object ought to be more precious in the estimation of the House than to withdraw the labourer from gross and sensual pursuits, and give him some relish for more refined intellectual enjoyment.

Mr. Labouchere

said, there had been so little difference of opinion among hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House who had spoken upon the subject of the proposed Bill, and his own views so much coincided with those that had been put forward by others, that he felt it would be inexcusable in him to detain the House for more than a single moment. But having taken a warm interest in the success of the School of Design, which had been established by his lamented Friend the late Lord Sydenham, who, he should be permitted to add, had conferred a lasting benefit upon the country by its foundation; he felt that the present subject was one which he could not allow to pass altogether in silence. He wished to observe that he considered the measure proposed by his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries one of the utmost possible importance; and he thought it would be materially promoted by the institution to which he had just alluded, and which was calculated to supply the country with well-trained teachers in the arts. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend that it was most important the inhabitants of the principal manufacturing towns should have an opportunity of seeing models of works of art of the highest class, for without them all attempts at imparting a correct taste must fail. Another argument in support of the feasibility of the Motion could be derived from the fact that all the very best models, consisting of casts from antique statues and vases, happened to be supplied at extremely cheap rates. An instance of the value of having easy access to such models was afforded in the case of Chantry. That great artist, who, it was well known, had sprung from the lower ranks of society, frequently complained of the inconvenience which he had found in early life from the want of any opportunity of educating his eye by the inspection of superior models; and the advantage to the youth of the country of having models of the great works of the ancient masters constantly before them might, therefore, be easily appreciated. No Englishman could travel on the Continent without being struck by the circumstance of finding in every considerable town that he came to a museum, in which the inhabitants took pride, and in which any object of antiquity, which might exist near the locality, was almost sure to be preserved. The consequence of having such an institution in a place was, that if any of the inhabitants happened to prosper in the world, and to become possessed of some valuable work of art, he almost invariably bequeathed it to the museum of the town in which he and his ancestors resided, and where he expected that his children would continue to live after his death. He trusted that the proposed museums of art would not be confined to the great manufacturing towns, but that they would spread through all the more considerable county towns in the kingdom. He, for one, did not, he should confess, dread, that if a power of taxation for such purposes were given to town-councils, they would spend the money of their constituents in any very wanton manner. He believed that municipal corporations, like all other bodies having the expenditure of the public money, required to be very closely watched, or else that they would be found to spend it extravagantly; but the subject then before the House was not one in which he dreaded that any such wasteful expenditure would take place. The filling of such museums would, even in a commercial point of view, not be found to be a wasteful employment of money, as the contents would at any time be found to repay the cost of their purchase. When they recollected the advantages which France had derived from the admirable schools of design existing at Lyons and other large towns, and which dated as far back as the days of Colbert, there could be no second opinion entertained of the extreme importance to a great manufacturing country like England of encouraging similar institutions. He trusted, therefore, that the subject would be carried out in a proper spirit, and he felt great pleasure in giving his support to the Motion of his hon. Friend.

Mr. Sheil

wished to call the attention of the hon. Gentleman to the propriety of introducing in his Bill a provision for having the proposed institutions open on Sundays. It was quite manifest that a very large portion of the population of the country could not avail themselves of the advantages which such institutions would hold out to them except on Sundays, and the only objection which he anticipated could be urged against his suggestion was, that there would be many persons employed in the care of the establishments who would require a day of rest as well as the rest of the community; but that might be given them on any other day of the week. Unless that arrangement were adopted, he did not think the measure would produce half the benefit which it might be made to confer.

Motion then agreed to.