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Sir Hans Sloane was easy and engaging in his manners; his conversation cheerful and obliging. Nothing could exceed his courtesy to foreigners; he was always ready, at the shortest notice, to exhibit and explain to them such objects in his museum as they wished to examine. Once a week he kept open house for persons of all ranks, particularly for his brethren of the Royal Society. His death was a severe loss to the poor, to whom he was, in every sense of the word, a liberal benefactor. He was a governor of every hospital in and near London; to each he gave £100. in his life-time, and considerable sums at his death. Whatever proposal had for its object the "public good," commanded his most zealous exertions. He promoted, as much as possible, the establishment of a colony in Georgia, in 1732: seven years afterwards, he was instrumental in establishing the Foundling Hospital, and formed the plan for bringing up the children, which proved the best that could be devised. Sir Hans Sloane was the first who introduced into England the general use of bark, which he applied, successfully, to the cure of many diseases: he also gave a sanction to the practice of inoculation. But the share he had in the foundation of the British Museum will most effectually preserve his name from oblivion. Having, with great labour and expense, during the course of a long life, collected a rich cabinet of medals, objects of natural history, &c., and a valua ble library of printed books and MSS., he bequeathed the whole to the public, on condition that the sum of £20,000. should be paid to his executors for the benefit of his family; but which, according to his own declaration in a codicil to his will, made a short time before he died, was not a fourth part of the then intrinsic value of his museum. In the year 1753, an act of parliament was passed, for the purchase of this and other collections, and the museum was opened to the public on the 15th of January, 1759.
The persons appointed to conduct the affairs of this national institution, were styled official, family, and elected trustees. The latter, fifteen in number, chosen by the two former classes of trustees, (composed of the great officers of state and other distinguished individuals), were then selected for their eminence in literature, science, and art. But this laudable custom, with some exceptions, gradually fell into desuetude, and rank and wealth appear to have taken the place of literature and science. To remedy the evils supposed to have resulted from this practice, with a view to extend the public utility of the museum and to adapt it to the present advanced state of science and learning, an inquiry was instituted by Parliament, during the last session; and the committee have but
very recently concluded their valuable labours. A most important volume of evidence has been already printed; and another, equal, if not superior, in interest, may be expected in the course of three or four months. In the mean time, we have much gratification in laying before our readers the following valuable Parliamentary Paper, presented to the House on the 2nd of August, by Sir Robert Peel:
"At a Committee of the Trustees of the British Museum, July 20th, 1836, the resolutions passed by the select committee of the House of Commons, appointed to inquire into the affairs of the Museum, as printed in the Votes of the 14th instant, were read to the following effect:
"I. That the great accessions which have been made of late to the collections of the British Museum, and the increasing interest taken in them by the public, render it expedient to revise the Establishment of the Institution, with a view to place it upon a scale more commensurate with, and better adapted to, the present state and future prospects of the Museum.
"2. That this committee do not recommend any interference with the family trustees, who hold their offices under Acts of Parliament, being of the nature of national compacts.
3. That though the number of official trustees may appear unnecessarily large, and though practically most of them rarely, if ever, attend, yet no inconvenience has been alleged to have risen from the number; and the committee are aware that there may be some advantage in retaining in the hands of Government, a certain influence over the affairs of the Museum, which may be exercised on special occasions; yet if any Act of the Legislature should ultimately be found necessary, a reduction in the number of this class of trustees might not be unadvisable.
4. That with regard to the existing elected trustees, the committee think it very desirable that the trustees should take steps to ascertain whether some of those whose attendance has been the most infrequent, might not be willing to resign their trusteeships; that, in future, it be understood, that any trustee hereafter to be elected, not giving personal attendance at the Museum, for a period to be fixed, is expected to resign his trusteeship; being, however, re-eligible upon any future vacancy.
5. That in filling up vacancies, it would be desirable that the electing trustees should not in future lose sight of the fact, that an opportunity is thus afforded them of occasionally conferring a mark of distinction upon men of eminence in literature, science, and art.
6. That the extension of the collections which has taken place, and the still greater extension which may be looked for, render a further division of departments necessary; and that at the head of each department there be placed a keeper, who shall be responsible for the arrangement, proper condition, and safe custody of the collection committed to his care.
7. That it is desirable that the heads of each department shall meet once in three months, for the purpose of consulting with reference to any matters of detail relating to the internal arrangements of the Museum, which they may desire jointly to submit to the trustees in writing.
VOL. V.-NO. XVII.
8. That whenever there may be a vacancy in the office of principal librarian, or in that of secretary, it is desirable that the distribution of the duties now discharged by those officers respectively, including the expenditorship, be reconsidered, and that the office of secretary be not combined with the keepership of any department.
"9. That it is desirable that the hours during which the Museum shall be open on public days, be hereafter from ten o'clock until seven throughout the months of May, June, July, and August; and that the reading-room be opened throughout the year at nine o'clock in the morning.
10. That it is desirable that the Museum be hereafter opened during the Easter, Whitsun, and Christmas weeks, except Sundays and Christmas day. "11. That it is expedient that the trustees should revise the salaries of the establishment, with the view of ascertaining what increase may be required for carrying into effect the foregoing resolutions, as well as of obtaining the whole time and services of the ablest men, independently of any remuneration from other sources; and that, when such scale of salary shall have been fixed, it shall not be competent to any officer of the Museum paid thereunder to hold any other situation conferring emolument or entailing duties.
"12. That it is desirable that the heads of departments do consult toge ther as to the best method of preparing, on a combined system, an improved edition of the Synopsis of the Museum; that each officer be responsible for that part which is under his immediate control, and attach his signature to such part; and that the work be prepared in such a manner as to enable each part to be sold separately, which should be done at the lowest price which will cover the expenses of the publication.
"13. That it is expedient that every exertion should be made to complete, within the shortest time consistent with the due execution of the work, full and accurate catalogues of all the collections in the Museum, with a view to print and publish such portions of them as would hold out expectations of even a partial sale.
"14. That it be recommended to the trustees that every new accession to the Museum be forthwith registered in detail, by the officer at the head of the department, in a book to be kept for that purpose; and that each head of a department do make an annual report to the trustees of the accessions within the year, vouched by the signature of the principal librarian, of desiderata, and of the state and condition of his own department.
"15. That it be recommended to the trustees to take into consideration the best means of giving to the public a facility of obtaining casts from the statues, bronzes, and coins, under competent superintendence, and at as low a price as possible.
"16. That the committee are well aware that many of the alterations which they have suggested cannot be carried into effect except by increased liberality on the part of Parliament, both with respect to the establishment of the Museum, and also, to a much greater extent, for the augmentation of the collections in the different departments; but they confidently rely on the readiness of the representatives of the people to make full and ample provision for the improvement of an establishment which already enjoys a high reputation in the world of science, and is an object of daily increasing interest to the people of this country.
"17. That the committee, in the alterations which they have suggested, do not mean to convey a charge against the trustees, or against the officers of the museum, whose talents, good conduct, and general and scientific acquirements are universally admitted; and they are aware, that where imperfections exist in the collections, those imperfections are mainly attributable to the very inadequate space hitherto available for their exhibition, and to the limited pecuniary means at the disposal of the trustees; and they are of opinion that the present state of the British Museum, compared with the increasing interest taken in it by all classes of the people, justifies them in the recommendations contained in the above resolutions.
"18. That the committee having taken into consideration the Petition presented to The House by Mr. Charles Tilt, and referred to the Committee, which Petition prayed for public assistance in the preparation of a work from the medals in the British Museum, and having taken evidence on the said subject, consider that in no way can they more satisfactorily discharge the duty confided to them by the reference in question, than by simply laying before the House the minutes of evidence so taken, and ordering the Petition of Mr. Charles Tilt to be placed as an appendix to that evidence, and to these resolutions."
The trustees proceeded to consider these resolutions, and having adverted to each of them in order, resolved as follows:-
"1. With respect to such matters in the first five resolutions as appear to call for the intervention of the trustees, this committee recommends the several points to the serious consideration of the general board of trustees, whenever the occasions arrive for giving practical effect to these resolutions.
2. With respect to the 6th resolution, this committee advises the immediate appointment of a sub-committee of trustees to make a personal survey of the Museum, and in conjunction with the beads of the existing departments and with such other gentlemen employed in the Museum as it may be thought expedient to consult, to take into consideration and report to the. general board the best mode of giving effect to the said resolution.
"3. With respect to the 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, and 14th resolutions, the subjects matter of which appear to be connected together, and have reference to new internal arrangements which may be immediately necessary, this committee is of opinion that the consideration of these resolutions, and of the best practical mode of giving effect to the recommendations which they involve, should be referred to the same sub-committee to which the 6th resolution is referred.
“4. That a special memorandum be made of the recommendations contained in the 8th resolution with a view of ensuring the attention of the trustees to them on the first opportunity of vacancies.
"5. With respect to the 12th resolution, this committee understands that measures have been already taken for giving effect to the recommendation contained therein.
"6. This committee is further of opinion that a general meeting of the trustees should be convened at the earliest practicable period, for the purpose of deliberating upon the recommendations contained in the 15th resolu
tion, and of entering into such communication with the Chancellor of the Exchequer as may appear advisable, with reference to the financial considerations connected with the report of the select committee, and particularly with the 16th resolution of that report.
"Extracted from the minutes.
“J. FORSHALL, Secretary."
Such are the various improvements recommended by the committee, and, if these suggestions are properly followed out, and acted upon by the trustees, much public good may be expected from the recent inquiry. We regret to find, however, that neither the committee, nor the trustees of the Museum allude to the necessity of a classed catalogue of the literary treasures contained in the British Museum, consisting of about 220,000 printed books, 24,000 volumes of the most rare and curious manuscripts, and of more than 19,000 charters, which, without such aid, may be considered as little better than sealed books to the public. The British nation ought not to be satisfied with a comparatively worthless alphabetical catalogue, whilst the libraries of minor institutions are accurately classed; more particularly since that public-spirited bookseller, Mr. Murray, of Albemarle-street, has offered to print and publish a classed catalogue at his own risk, without any expense to the government.
The annual grant, amounting to £21,974., about £4000. more than that for 1835, passed the House on the 8th of August; and we lament to add that, notwithstanding several petitions had been presented to Parliament, signed by the most distinguished scholars and scientific persons of the day, praying for classed catalogues of the books and MSS., no notice whatever was taken of them in the debate on the grant, it being merely stated that a more perfect catalogue (alphabetical) would be ready by the end of the year. And this catalogue, it is understood, will be printed to the exclusion of a Catalogue Raisonné, the only useful aid to the literary treasures of the British Museum.