HC Deb 27 March 1868 vol 191 cc388-405

said, he wished to make one more effort to induce the Government to remedy what was a great discredit to this country—the present condition of the British Museum. In proportion, as the collections in that institution accumulated, and in proportion also to the intelligence and ability of those who had charge of it, must be the regret which was felt to see how vain and futile were their efforts to render this collection available, either for the study of scientific men, or for the amusement and instruction of general visitors. It was impossible, by any verbal description, to give an idea of the present state of the collection; the only way was for hon. Members to go and judge for themselves. If they examined the Collection of Natural History upstairs, they would find the specimens so closely packed together that it was impossible to distinguish the hoofs and the horns, the heads and the tails which belonged to the different animals; and the gentlemen connected with that department had not the means of prosecuting their scientific studies. If they went downstairs to the room where the Insects were deposited, they would find that they had descended at once into the realms of Nox and Erebus, and of eternal night. A writer in The Times on this subject stated that Englishmen were obliged to hunt in their minds for apologies whenever they took foreigners to visit that department; for the Insects were shut up in drawers unarranged—many of them unset, and some of them undistinguishable, being covered with an accumulation of London dust. If they visited the department of Antiquities, Mr. Newton would show them that unseemly penthouse where the interesting specimens of sculpture from Halicarnassus, Cyrene, and Cnidus were huddled together. Matters were still worse if he took them to the basement regions, where inscriptions, Etruscan monuments, and an immense mass of interesting objects were concealed in impenetrable darkness. Such was the present condition of the British Museum—unrivalled in its Collection of Natural History—and, though it might be excelled in some particular branches, still justly claiming to be one of the greatest collections in the world for originality, variety, and completeness. The objections he had to make to it were as to its structure, its arrangement, and its administration. First among the structural defects of the building was the manner in which the halls were lighted. If there was one thing necessary in works of art, it was that a full and clear light should fall upon the objects. That was more particularly necessary in so dark and cloudy a city as ours; but the light was so strained and contracted, that it seemed to be made obscure by some pernicious ingenuity. Then, what could be worse than the miserable and unseemly cistern in which the Assyrian antiquities were exposed? The next defect was want of space, which forbade all attempt at chronological and systematic arrangement—the very essence of a properly constructed museum. In former days a museum was a mere curiosity shop, in which the most incongruous objects were thrown carelessly together—South Sea implements of war, Greek and Roman busts, Hindoo idols, wasps' nests, stuffed kangaroos, shells, the hat and gloves of some celebrity, all mixed up together—all these things arranged without system formerly constituted a museum. But we have advanced to different ideas. A museum is now the symbol of the intelligence and learning of a nation; while it ministers to the amusement of the many it should convey instruction to all. If there were sermons in stones—and he knew no sermons more impressive than those that were preached in some of those stones, which told the tale of the structure of the earth, or of the religions, the politics of races over which the flood of time has passed, or the lineaments of those famous men who once swayed the world—then let them tell their sermons clearly and distinctly, not in the confused and chaotic manner they were made to do in the Museum. He would illustrate what he meant. At the British Museum, the visitor entered a hall filled with Roman busts, sculptures and tesselated pavement, and then passed to a room filled with Greek and Roman sculpture. Turning to the right, he came to the Nineveh bulls; then to the sculptures of Egypt; then back to Assyria; or, if he went straight on he would find himself again among works of Greek and Roman art—from them he would pass into barbaric Lycian tombs and inscriptions, and out of them straight into the highest efforts of Greek art, the works of Phidias. Nothing could be more incongruous or less instructive than such a miserable jumble, A proposition for a state of things equally incongruous had been made—namely, to stow away all the lighter antiquities upstairs, and keep the heavier articles downstairs: a sort of avoirdupois arrangement. Nothing could be worse than such a classification as that. He trusted that, even if the Natural History Collection were removed, the Government would be induced to buy sufficient land to the west of the Musuem to permit of a chronological arrangement of the various objects in parallel halls. They ought to begin their classification with the oldest periods of art—with the works of Egypt—then those of Assyria, and so on, till they arrived at the perfection of art in the works of Phidias, and then to proceed downwards to the decline. Professor Owen took substantially this view. He said that the British Museum was a place both for observation and recreation; but that neither could be carried out until there was a complete and classified arrangement of all the works of nature and art. He would now come to the question of administration. Some years ago a memorial, signed by 120 scientific men, was presented to Lord Palmerston, praying that the British Museum might be preserved intact; that ground should be bought, and that the collections of science and art should be kept within the same building. Shortly afterwards, another memorial was presented to the Government, taking another and different view. These memorialists made the following statement:— We are of opinion that it is of fundamental importance to the progress of the Natural Sciences in this country, that the administration of the National Natural History Collections should be separated from that of the Library and Art Collections, and placed under one Officer, who should be immediately responsible to one of the Queen's Ministers. We regard the exact locality of the National Museum of Natural History as a question of comparatively minor importance, provided that it be conveniently accessible and within the Metropolitan district. The memorial was signed by Mr. Darwin, Mr. Huxley, Dr. Hooker, and other men of distinction; so that it appeared as if a large portion of the scientific world attached more importance to the question of administration than to the question of locality. He would not say one word derogatory to the trustees, he gave them much credit for having gathered a collection universal in its extent, and for selecting in every instance, stance to preside over the departments men whose fame was not confined to the walls of the British Museum. He should indeed be insensible to the influence which great names exercised in British society if he considered that the eminent men now connected with the Trust of the British Museum did not add lustre to the institution and inspire confidence in the management, Such was the confidence that he did not recollect a single instance in which the Estimates for the Museum had been challenged. The character of the trustees stood so high that the most entire and implicit reliance was placed in them. But his objection was, that there was no responsible management; no Minister of the Crown was responsible; and, if any objection or comment was made, there was no one to answer the comment or the objection. At one moment the Government might be blamed for what was really the obstructiveness of the trustees; at another, the trustees might be blamed for what was the obstructiveness of the Government. Now, how was the Trust composed? It was composed of forty-eight trustees, twenty-three official, one royal, nine family, and fifteen elected. Such a body of trustees was confessedly unwieldy, and one proof of its cumbrous nature was, that it was divided into a standing committee, which again was divided into sub-committees. The three principal trustees were the Speaker, the Lord Chancellor, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. In their hands all the appointments were placed. It was impossible to praise too highly the appointments they had made; but still it did seem strange that to the three men who had of all men, perhaps, in the United Kingdom, the heaviest amount of business on their hand?, should be entrusted the selection of the most fitting persons to fill vacancies in the British Museum. The ex officio trustees, with the exception of the Presidents of the Royal Academy, of the Royal Society, and of the Royal Society of Antiquaries were, mainly gentlemen connected with politics or with the Bar, whose pursuits must leave little time for the concerns of the British Museum. In fact, the ex officio trustees rarely attended unless there was some scheme under consideration in which the Government were interested. A memorable instance of this occurred under Lord Palmerston's Government in 1860. The trustees had, since 1848, been imploring each Government for more space. The opinion of the Standing Committee of the trustees was in favour of retaining all the collections on the present site, and of purchasing the block of buildings round the Museum. Lord Palmerston's Government was, however, of a different opinion. It had become the proprietor of land at South Kensington, and it was necessary to justify the purchase of this land by erecting some kind of public building on it. There were two things to be done: to over-ride the decision of the Standing Committee; but at the same time to impress on the country the belief that the removal of the Natural History Collection was in accordance with the views of the trustees. Whereupon, in January 1860, there came down a body of ex officios, they voted en masse as they were told to do, and thus the removal to Kensington was decided by a majority of 1. This, then, went forth as the true expression of the trustees; whereas it was the expression of men who had probably not visited the Museum twice in their lives, and who cared as little as they knew about its condition and requirements. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day justified the action of the Government, on the ground that they must be responsible to the country for any measures that were actually adopted, and hence, that it was impossible for them to submit to the dictation of a certain number of gentlemen assembled in a back parlour at Bloomsbury. As a matter of fact, on that occasion, the gentlemen sitting in Bloomsbury were truer representatives of the feeling of the nation than the gentlemen sitting in Downing Street, to judge from the division in 1862, when the House of Commons rejected the Bill for separating the collections, and from that of June, 1863, when it refused to buy the Exhibition Building to house the Natural History Collection. But the question remained, why go through the farce of consulting the trustees at all? Next came the family trustees. Their trusts, he admitted, should be continued in reference to the bequests in which they were trustees; but it certainly was an anomaly that a number of gentlemen should interfere in the management of a great library, or of natural history and antiquarian collections, solely upon the ground that their great grandfathers might have presented a statue or a bust to the institution. He came next to the office of the manager and director of this great establishment. The office of principal librarian had of late years been continually growing in magnitude and multifariousness of functions. The popular idea of a principal librarian was that he was a man with a great many sub-librarians under him. But the fact was that he had the charge of three great collections—Library, Antiquities, and Natural History—any of which was almost too much for the powers of a single individual. Professor Owen himself, though he had been made Superintendent of Natural History, still remained under the direction of the principal librarian. Mr. Panizzi was a man of singular administrative power, of iron will, and indomitable activity, and he succeeded in preserving unity of administration in the British Museum; but anyone well acquainted with that institution could not fail to have become acquainted with the heartburnings, jealousies, and inconveniences attendant upon the control being vested in a single hand. Upon a comparatively small scale, eighty years ago, this system of individual administration might have done very well; but in the present day there was no one man capable of holding the reins of this great establishment; under a weaker man than Mr. Panizzi collisions must inevitably ensue, and difficulties be multiplied. He had entered into the system of management, because it was generally understood that the Government was about to introduce a Bill to transfer the Natural History Collection to Kensington; and he could not too strongly express his hope that, if that transfer were carried out, the present cumbrous system would not be perpetuated. One of the chief recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1850 had been to diminish the executive functions of the trustees, and to convert them, if possible, more into a supervising and visiting body than they were at present. But the result which the Commission looked for had not been attained; and the heads of departments had been rendered more powerless than before, through an increased conscientiousness on the part of the trustees in the discharge of their duties, in short from their entering into minutiae of management which was by no means calculated to increase the efficiency of the officers of the establishment. For instance, if a coin or object of natural history were offered for sale at the Museum, beyond the very small pecuniary limit allowed, the officials had no power to make a purchase, and the matter was referred to the trustees. But the elements of a right judgment resided not with them, so much as in the coin-room, or in the study of Professor Owen, where the value of the specimen, its novelty, its connection with other objects could be tested. Hence the transfer of such a question from the department to the trustees was not a gain, but a loss, involving as it did a reference from persons who knew more to persons who knew less, from a more competent to a less competent tribunal. He (Mr. Gregory) considered also that it was of vital importance to the good working of the institution that the keepers of the different departments should be present at the board when their Reports were read, instead of any explanations which were requisite being asked for and tendered in writing. Such a system was cumbrous, offensive and pedantic. Were the keeper present he could in five minutes explain his views, instead of having them, perhaps, inadequately set forth by a principal librarian, who might be adverse to them. Let them ask Professor Owen what he thought of having the business of the Natural History Department conducted by a chief librarian, who never scrupled to express the most thorough contempt for men of science, and Sir Benjamin Brodie never hesitated to stigmatize this mode of doing business as fraught with confusion, delay, and discontent. With regard to the way of improving the administration, he would point to the constitution of the National Gallery. In that case, there was a Minister directly responsible to Parliament, the Estimate was moved by a responsible Minister, and the director who had the spending of the Annual Grant, was not hampered by the trustees. He was a member of the board, and attended its meetings. The trustees aided him on questions of administration, on communications with the Government in regard to new buildings, or special grants for purchases; in short, on those points in which a board was a valuable aid rather than a fetter to a director. He (Mr. Gregory) would recommend this mode of government. He would therefore advise that all that was unnecessary should be eliminated from the Trust. This would include the ex officio and family trustees, reserving to the latter the right of intervention, when the bequests with which they were connected were concerned. There would then remain the fifteen elected trustees, and he would suggest that they should be divided into three boards, with each of which should be associated one of the heads of the three departments, and he should be the medium of communication with the official who was directly responsible to Parliament. The great Library would thus be represented by literary men, the Antiquities by scholars, and the Natural History by men of science. Vacancies should be filled up by the Crown. He would give the head of the department supreme authority with regard to the spending of the Annual Grant. The functions of each of these small and compact boards should extend over the framing of: all statutes and regulations. It should be consultative and visitatorial rather than executive. Consultative as regards special grants, increased accommodation, salaries, and such-like objects; visitatorial, so far as annually inspecting the condition and arrangement of the collections in company with their respective keepers. It should also form a final court of appeal to which any officer of the Museum who considered himself aggrieved might apply. Such a court as this could not fail to give confidence; and inasmuch as it would assist and not fetter the director, was far preferable to the autocratic government of one man. Into the wider question, whether there should be an Education Minister in Parliament, or one man of eminence out of Parliament to supervise the art and science institutions of the country he could not now enter. He hoped, too, that distinct rules would be laid down regarding the future boundaries and scope of the Museum. The drawings of the great masters should be removed, in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee of 1860, to the National Gallery, as soon as that building was fit to receive them. He thought everything relating to British history should be kept at Bloomsbury; but the Foreign Mediæval Collection—the Majolica for instance—should be sent to Kensington, for it was not desirable that two institutions should buy and exhibit the same objects, even though it might be done for different purposes. As to Ethnography, it was recommended that this portion of, the collections should be removed whenever a suitable place could be obtained for it. He was sorry to say that was his recommendation in 1860, but he was ready to do penance for it. His excuse was that eight years ago the spirit of inquiry as to the condition, mode of life, and similarities of primitive races was faint, in comparison with the deep interest which has sprung op everywhere on these subjects. Instead of lessening these collections, he thought they should be strengthened and increased. If it was determined that the Natural History Collection be removed to Kensington, there would, he hoped, be a thorough overhauling of the contents of the whole establishment, for a large number of works of art and scientific objects might be distributed throughout the country. Indeed, Professor Owen informed the Committee of 1860 that a sufficient number to set up five museums could then be spared. In conclusion, his recommendations were these, that, as regards the collections which were to be retained on the present site, an effort should be made to obtain additional space at Bloomsbury, so as to carry out a systematic and chronological arrangement, and the Government should avoid the introduction of the present cumbrous system of trust into the new establishment at Kensington. He had ventured to submit these recommendations because he understood the Government were about to take action in the matter.


wished to confine what he had to say to the single question, why South Kensington should not be absorbed in the British Museum? He did not mean by this that the contents of the former institution should be transferred to Bloomsbury; but, as the nation had committed itself to a great collection of objects of art and antiquity, he could not see how an arbitrary line could be maintained between the institutions, except at a disadvantage to both. No doubt there was a considerable difference between the characters of the objects collected, and the administration of the two museums was very different. But if they looked at the original character of the South Kensington Museum, and considered the manner in which it had grown up, the cause of the anomaly would become manifest. That institution came into existence as a consequence of the increased attention to technical excellence, of which the Exhibition of 1851 was the symbol; and it was originally only a scholastic collection of models, for the purposes of actual teaching and copying, and was accordingly placed under the care of the Board of Trade, until transferred to the new Department of Science and Art, as it may hereafter be to that of a future Secretary of State. The means, however, at its disposal were so ample, that it soon outstripped its merely utilitarian functions, and grew up into taking rank among the greatest and most complete collections of mediæval art in the world, In this same course, however, the older museum was not idle, and it also continued accumulating its stores. These were chiefly, no doubt, collected from the fields of ancient art; but still even the British Museum was not insensible to the growing perception of the merits of the art of post-Christian ages, and it formed collections of Majolica and other classes of vertu, not equal to those at South Kensington; but still good enough to rob the latter of its pre-eminence as the special national exhibition of those ages of art. Accordingly in neither place was there to be found a complete history of art. We all knew from our books how Greek art developed itself and degenerated, and how Roman art developed itself out of Greek, and then was transmuted by slow degrees into Romanesque and Byzantine, and then again was doubly transmuted, or, as many people—he among them—said, was raised into the Gothic, and again how the latter was succeeded by the Renaissance, or revival of the classical, and that again gave way to general eclecticism. But when we sought to study this wonderful profession with our eyes, we found no school to go to which would teach us our whole lesson. The British Museum was all but exclusively ancient, and the South Kensington modern. Now it was against this arbitrary distinction that he protested. He desired to see the whole great national museum combined in one institution, and under one great central management, with separate departments for the different schools. In a word, he would have the capital art museums of the country catholic and not sectional. He did not mean that we could expect to have the entirety of the national collections in one building. We were living in England and not in Utopia, and there was an Abyssinian war to be paid for. The South Kensington building, with its contents, was an existing and material fact with which he had no wish to meddle. All that he suggested was that it should be incorporated with the management of the British Museum, under regulations which might combine the respective advantages of the two organizations. The advantage possessed by the British Museum consisted in its solidity and dignity, as a trust existing by itself and for itself, but in direct relation with the administration of the country and with Parliament. On the other hand, the advantage possessed by South Kensington was that of a certain elasticity and pliability—a recognition of the spirit of the age in its arrangements. For example, the plan of procuring the best fac similes of works of art of which we could not obtain the originals was very desirable, and constant recourse was had to this expedient in the younger institution. He need only quote the very successful cast of the great portal of the Church of Compostella. Well then, he would allow of fac similes at the regenerated British Museum. Again, the system of receiving on loan and of exhibiting works of art belonging to private persons, already in operation in connection with South Kensington, and the habit of sending certain of their own objects round the country were advantageous features which he would incorporate into the constitution of the enlarged institution. The plan was as good for every school of art as for that of the middle ages or the sixteenth century. Of course, if there was to be a fusion of the British Museum and of the collection side of the South Kensington one, there must be a concurrent divorce between the latter and the art schools which were now an integral portion of the institution. But this divorce might be made a positive gain to those schools. At present they had great advantages in the way of using the South Kensington treasures as objects of study. These advantages might still be preserved to them, although there had ensued a separation of administration; and not only so, but they might be extended to the use, under due regulations, of all the collections of the enlarged British Museum. Running powers, so to speak, might be given to the pupils of the central Rational School of Art, presumably retained at South Kensington, to study and draw at the National Museum wherever, situated. On these grounds he ventured to ask, if it was not worthy of consideration, whether the Government should not face the possible benefit of transferring the strictly museum portion of the South Kensington institution to the custody of the British Museum, with a responsibility to some Minister of the Crown for the united collection?


Sir, the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory), in introducing this subject, always interesting to the House—with that effect which a Gentleman does who has a thorough knowledge of the matter in hand — said, he wished to know, whether the Government seriously intended to effect a separation of the collections in the British Museum? As for the inquiry whether the Government seriously intended to propose a separation of the collections now under the superintendence of the trustees of the British Museum, I can only say that we have prepared a Bill — for some time it has been 2)repared—and the only reason why it has not been introduced to the House is that we thought it expedient that it should be first submitted to the trustees of the British Museum, in order that we might avail ourselves of any suggestions they might make on the various subjects brought under their consideration, and that, having been put in possession of those suggestions, we might bring the subject before the House with that maturity of consideration which otherwise could not be enjoyed. This fact shows there ought not to be any doubt of our sincerity in regard to bringing about this change. We have resolved upon this change, because we think no one can doubt that so far as the opinion of Parliament — certainly so far as the opinion of the House of Commons has been expressed—the tendency is to a decision that this question, with all its difficulties, should be brought to a solution, and that no solution would be satisfactory that did not embrace a separation of those collections. The hon. Gentleman, who always takes so honourable and useful a part in these discussions, has intimated that though he himself at first hesitated, in consequence of the difficulties which presented themselves, he has arrived at the conclusion that in separation alone can we find a satisfactory solution. The state of things which now exists in the British Museum is a necessary consequence of the foundation of that institution. It was intended to be a museum of every variety of those articles which could interest society — whether of a literary kind, whether of an artistic nature, or whether of a scientific character—and which might form a great national collection. The library necessarily increased, and the collection of art, even of ancient art, every year increased by the discoveries that are made, However, there are, perhaps, limits to the collections which literature and art can furnish; but there are no limits to the collection which science — and science in the age in which we live — can produce. It having been now more than a century ago considered highly desirable that there should be in this country great collections of art, learning, and science, which should be a sort of gage or security for the possession of knowledge, we have found that it would be utterly impossible to keep up these collections in a first-rate condition, and equal to the discoveries of the age, without either separating them or finding an amount of space which is absolutely impossible and inconsistent with the social circumstances under which we live. The late Prince Consort, who was a man always meditating upon these subjects, and who had so keen a sympathy with the highest pursuits of intellect and taste, expressed that opinion in a single word — or at all events in a single sentence — when he said that what we wanted in order to do justice to the requirements of the public mind in knowledge and art was space. Well, that is the whole truth. It is quite impossible that you can maintain your national collections, as represented by the British Museum, unless you have a command of space which circumstances rende wholly impossible. At the time when the Duke of Bedford pulled down his beautiful mansion at Bloomsbury, had we purchased his park and gardens, we should have had a territory at our disposal which would have admitted of the erection of a series of buildings that would have done justice to the collections which the nation, I think, is determined to possess. At that time that part was as remote from the centre of business in London as Kensington is at present, and when Montague House was purchased the same objection was made about the British Museum. But that opportunity was lost, and we may think ourselves fortunate in having gained even what we did at that time. It became necessary, therefore, to make some arrangements by which we might have at the same time a first-rate library, first-rate galleries of art, and first-rate scientific museums. They could no longer be in the same building and under the same roof, so after great investigation, much controversy, and much change of opinion, there seems to be now a general concurrence that we must submit to what, at first sight, appears a rude process—namely, the separation of our national collections. Now, the hon. Member for Galway, who at first was opposed, and naturally opposed, to this separation, wants some security that we should at least gain one great result in the appropriate arrangement of those collections of art which the country possesses, and which are certainly unrivalled. Well, I must say that Her Majesty's Government have impressed on the trustees the necessity of providing, if possible—and I believe it is possible—in the impending alterations, for a series of chronological and continued exhibitions of the progress of human invention as displayed in the great results of art in the different periods to which the hon. Gentle man has referred. The trustees, on their part, have sympathized with the Government; and I do trust that the visitor of our galleries may be able to trace, from the first dawn of the progress of human invention in works of art up to the days of the Romans, a continuous series of those great products of human ingenuity. I believe, in the plans which will be agreed on, that great result will be attained. There are, no doubt, upon the western Bide of the building additional means of obtaining that result, and they shall not be neglected. I trust the plans to be laid Wore Parliament will be such as to give satisfaction, and to effect the objects which the hon. Member has so properly insisted upon. Another point to which the hon. Gentleman has adverted, is the management of the institution. That is a subject that has been constantly before the House, and before Committees of both Houses. The hon. Gentleman has dilated upon the unwieldly character of the constitution of the British Museum. No doubt there are anomalies apparent in the arrangements; and it is a very curious thing that no constitution does appear to work in this world that has not some anomalies. But I do not think when you come to practice, that they are of so striking a character as the statement of the hon. Gentleman would induce the House to believe. The hon. Gentleman has very properly reminded us that the trustees of the British Museum consist of a variety of bodies. There are the principal trustees—persons occupying the most important positions that can be filled by Her Majesty's subjects — the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, and the Speaker — and the hon. Member asked, "How can these persons who are necessarily occupied with the fulfilment of the most important duties, have time to attend to the patronage of the British Museum, which is entirely in their hands?" The answer to that is that I believe no complaint as to the exercise of the patronage of the British Museum has ever been heard, and the individuals appointed by the principal trustees are generally acknowledged in all departments to be most competent. The hon. Gentleman has also said there are official trustees who, being high in public office, can hardly attend to the duties of the British Museum. And then there are the family trustees, and it is observed that it seems absurd that the representatives of families who might have given statues—I think we might place it higher, and say galleries or libraries—to the nation, should necessarily be managers of the national collections. And then the hon. Gentleman went on to the office of the principal librarian, omitting, I am sure, from a mere inadvertence of the moment, the elected trustees. But there exist, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, elected trustees. Now, before I touch upon the office of the principal librarian, let me remind the House that there are the principal trustees, the official trustees, the family trustees, and the elected trustees—that is to say, trustees elected by the whole body I have previously mentioned, I believe to the number of fifteen. 3n bringing the subject before the House it would apparently be easy to show that this is an anomalous constitution. But, practically, what happens? All this variety of trustees, making one body, elect a standing committee, on whom really devolves, subject to the control of the principal trustees, the complete administration of the British Museum. Therefore, there is a powerful and vigorous administration, with an unity of purpose certainly not excelled, and rarely equalled, by any body that administers public affairs. The conclusions, therefore, which the hon. Gentleman would draw from the fact of there being family trustees and official trustees with clashing powers and influence do not really apply to the existing state of things. The British Museum is administered by an elected standing committee, chosen by the great body of the trustees—it is, in fact, a cabinet of trustees, who have complete authority, subject to a control to which it is desirable all bodies should have to submit, but with a power of appeal, if necessary. And when we consider the value of the collections which they have accumulated, the able persons they have appointed to manage those collections, and the general result in every respect, we must all agree that they have efficiently performed their duly. Therefore, the administration is by no means, as the hon. Gentleman wished the House to assume, a cumbrous administration, or one that does not act efficiently. The hon. Gentleman seemed to convey to the House that the administration was of a cumbrous character; because, if a collection of books or manuscripts, for example, was to be purchased, the heads of the department would have to correspond with the trustees, and the trustees with the heads of the department, considerable time would be wasted, and perhaps opportunities lost. But really nothing of the kind occurs. The communications are direct, the decisions are prompt. If the head of the manuscript department hears that there are certain valuable manuscripts for sale which ought to be purchased for the nation, he immediately communicates with the trustees, whose meetings are frequent, and the moment the application is before them they decide without having any correspondence with the head of the department. If they wish to see him they summon him to their board and communicate with him there. If, as is often the case, his statement is sufficient, they decide on it at once, and the manuscripts are purchased. Therefore, the House would be under a completely erroneous impression if they were to think that there is a cumbrous administration, whose work is marked by procrastination and delay. On the contrary, the administration is simple in its character and very prompt in its decisions, and no correspondence of any kind takes place between the acting committee and the heads of departments. Then, the hon. Gentleman would convey to the House that the principal librarian exercises an extraordinary power, and that, in fact, he is the principal manager of the British Museum. That also is an erroneous impression. There is no doubt that the librarian, occupying a very responsible post, filled always by a gentleman of considerable intelligence, exercises an adequate influence in the management of the British Museum; and he ought to exercise such an influence. Moreover, when a post of that kind is filled by a man of a very remarkable character, he will, of course, have greater weight than that usually possessed by persons filling that department. Mr. Panizzi, who is no longer the principal librarian, is a man of most eminent ability, who has, I believe, done great and good service to this country, and probably we shall not easily find a man of equal vigour and variety of mind again in that position. The gentleman who now occupies it has obtained that post by proofs of eminent talent and by most sedulous and praiseworthy fulfilment of his duties. He is perfectly competent to perform the duties of principal librarian, and is worthy of all confidence. But to contend for a moment that the principal librarian at the British Museum is, under any circumstances, and even in the time of Mr. Panizzi, a sort of despot, is an exaggeration which ought not to be imported into Parliamentary debate. The trustees of the British Museum elect their acting committee, and there is no body of men in this country who take a more direct part in the affairs which they have to administer. It was necessary to make these observations because the hon. Gentleman is very anxious to know whether, when this separation takes place, the separated collections will be under the superintendence and control of the trustees. Now, that is a point which it is for the House of Commons, when they get into Committee upon the Bill, to decide. It is not at all a principle of the measure which we are going to bring forward; the principle of that measure is the separation of the collections. If the House agrees to separate the collections, under the circumstances which the Bill will provide, then in Committee we will fairly and candidly discuss with the House what is the best course which ought to be taken. At present, I do not think that we ought to pledge ourselves upon that subject in any way whatever. If, when the plan is placed before them, the House should be of opinion that it is inconsistent with the present constitution of the trustees that they should exercise any control over that port of the collection which will be established at Kensington, it will be perfectly open to the House to make proposals in Committee accordingly. But it would be premature to express any opinion upon that subject until the House has before them the proposals of the Government, which I hope may soon be made, and until the House see the arrangements for the separation of the collections and the duties which will then devolve upon those who have the administration of affairs. I am not sorry that the hon. Gentleman has brought this subject under the consideration of the House. The separation of collections, which we have now for upwards of a century been gradually forming in one particular portion of the metropolis, which by their great richness and variety command a more than European reputation, and which, I believe I may say without exaggeration, are quite unequalled in any country—this is a subject upon which it is highly important that the House should form an accurate and just view. The hon. Gentleman himself has now for a series of years devoted a great deal of his intelligence to this subject, and there is no one who can speak upon it with greater authority. He has acted upon several Committees of great importance. As one of the trustees of the National Gallery he has personal experience of the mode in which public collections can be managed, and I know well that in that department he has shown singular ability and efficiency. But while I admit it is well that our attention should be called to this subject, the House for the present will allow me to impress upon them that it is unwise that we should, in the present state of our information, enter into any engagements. It is better to wait until the Bill of the Government is fairly before the House. At present, I will only say that, so far as regards the collection to which the hon. Gentleman has particularly adverted, it is the strong wish of the Government, and I believe it is also the wish of the trustees, that that chronological arrangement which has been well described by the hon. Member for Galway should be obtained. That is one of the great objects of separating the collections; and with regard to the control which may be exercised over that portion of the collection which may be transferred to Kensington, we shall, on the part of the Government, consider it a question which it is perfectly open to the House to discuss when the time comes for deciding in what manner this collection should be administered.


wished to say, in explanation, thad he had never represented the principal librarian as "a despot." What he had said was, that it was impossible that any one man could be found capable of understanding and managing three great departments, such as the library, the natural history, and the antiquities.