The British Museum: Part 1 of 2

Old and New London: Volume 4. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'The British Museum: Part 1 of 2', in Old and New London: Volume 4, (London, 1878) pp. 490-519. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2024]

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"Ædes Musis et Apolline dignæ."—Fuvenal.

Origin of the Museum—Purchase of Montagu House by the Government—Evelyn's Description of the First Montagu House—Destruction of the Mansion by Fire—Description of the Second Building—Ralph, First Duke of Montagu—The Gardens of Montagu House—The Troops stationed there at the Time of the Gordon Riots—Singular Anecdote of John, Second Duke of Montagu—Sir Hans Sloane and his Public Benefactions—A Skit on the Formation of Sir Hans Sloane's Collection—Appointment of Governors and Trustees of the British Museum—Lord Macaulay's Opinion of the Board of Governors—Original Regulations for the Admission of the Public, and Mr. Hutton's Opinion thereon—More Liberal Arrangements made for Admission—Gradual Extension of the Old Building—The Elgin Marbles—The Royal Library of George III.—The King's Library—The Towneley and Payne-Knight Collections—The Old Museum described—Regulations for Admission—The Old Reading-room.

This institution, which occupies the northern side of the eastern portion of Great Russell Street, is far removed from all the other departments under the control of the Government, and is by far the most interesting of all to the people at large, though it can boast of no very great antiquity.

It owes its origin to Sir Hans Sloane, a man of high scientific attainments, who, during a long period of practice as a physician, had accumulated at his house at Chelsea, in addition to a considerable library of books and manuscripts, a vast collection of objects of natural history and works of art. These treasures he directed to be offered to the nation at a certain price after his death, which took place in the year 1753. The offer was accepted, and an Act was passed directing the purchase, not only of Sir Hans Sloane's collection, but also of the Harleian Library of Manuscripts, which we have already mentioned in a previous chapter; and at the same time enacting that the Cottonian Library, which had been presented to the nation by Sir John Cotton, during the reign of William III., and was deposited in Ashburnham House, Dean's Yard, Westminster, should, with those, form one general collection. To these George III. added a large library, collected by the preceding sovereigns since Henry VII. To accommodate the national property thus accumulated, the Government raised, by lottery, the sum of £100,000, of which £20,000 was devoted to the purchase of the above collections; and in 1754 Montagu House, in Great Russell Street, was bought from the two heiresses of the Montagu family, as a repository for the then infant establishment. This mansion, however, was not the first that stood upon the same site. Before proceeding with our description of the Museum it would be well to speak of these two houses.

The first and short-lived Montagu House, erected in 1678 by Robert Hooke, is thus described by John Evelyn, under date November 5, 1679:—"To see Mr. Montagu's new palace, near Bloomsberry, built by our (i.e., the Royal Society's) curator, Mr. Hooke, somewhat after the French [style]; it is most nobly furnished, and a fine but too much exposed garden." He also records, in his "Diary," a second visit which he paid to the house, October 10, 1683:—"Visited the Duchess of Grafton, not yet brought to bed, and dining with my Lord Chamberlain (her father); went with them to see Montagu House, a palace lately built by Lord Montagu, who had married the most beautiful Countess of Northumberland. It is a stately and ample palace. Signor Verrio's fresco paintings, especially the funeral pile of Dido, on the staircase, the 'Labours of Hercules,' 'Fight with the Centaurs,' his effeminacy with Dejanira, and 'Apotheosis,' or reception among the gods, on the walls and roof of the great room above, I think exceeds anything he has yet done, both for design, colouring, and exuberance of invention, comparable to the greatest of the old masters, or what they so celebrate at Rome. In the rest of the chambers are some excellent paintings of Holbein and other masters. The garden is large, and in good air, but the fronts of the house not answerable to the inside. The court at entry and wings for offices seem too near the street, and that so very narrow and meanly built, that the corridor is not in proportion to the rest, to hide the court from being overlooked by neighbours, all which might have been prevented had they placed the house further into the ground, of which there was enough to spare. But on the whole it is a fine palace, built after the French pavilion way."

But the mansion was not destined to live long. "This night," thus writes Evelyn, in his "Diary," under date January 19, 1686, "was burnt to the ground, my Lord Montagu's Palace, in Bloomsbury, than which for paintings and furniture there was nothing more glorious in England. This happened by the negligence of a servant in airing, as they call it, some of the goods by the fire." It seems the house was at this time occupied by the Earl of Devonshire as a tenant, as we learn from Ellis's "Letters:"—"Whitehall, the 21st January, 1685–6—" On Wednesday, at one in the morning, a sad fire happened at Montagu House, in Bloomsbury, occasioned by the steward airing some hangings, &c., in expectation of my Lord Montagu's return home, and sending afterwards a woman to see that the fire-pans with charcoal were removed, which she told him she had done, though she never came there. The loss that my Lord Montagu has sustained by this accident is estimated at £40,000, besides £6,000 in plate; and my Lord Devonshire's loss in pictures, hangings, and other furniture is very considerable." The fire is described by Lady Rachel Russell, who was living close by, at Southampton House, in a letter dated the following day to Dr. Fitzwilliam:—"It burnt with so great violence that the whole house was consumed by five o'clock. The wind blew strong this way, so that we lay under fire a great part of the time, the sparks and flames continually covering the house and filling the court." She adds, with a womanly attention to details, that her little boy was almost stifled by the smoke, but would get up to see the fire, and that Lady Devonshire and her youngest child were glad to take refuge for the night with her, the child being carried by his nurse, wrapped up in a blanket.

If the first Montagu House was "somewhat after the French," the second, with its high roofs and dormer windows, was scarcely less foreign in its general design. Nor is that to be wondered at, for it is said to have been designed by a French architect, M. Pougey (or Puget), of Marseilles, eminent as a sculptor, painter, and both civil and naval architect, and that he was sent from Paris expressly to superintend it; but in the "English Encyclopædia" it is stated that the building bore no trace of the peculiar style which induced some to call him the "French Michael Angelo;" and, moreover, in the "Biographie Universelle" no mention is made of his having come to England.

There is a good view of the house in the heyday of its prime in Wilkinson's "Londinia Illustrata," another in Strype's "Survey of London" for 1754, and another curious bird's-eye view may be seen in Stowe's "Survey."

This mansion is described in the "New View of London," in 1708, as "an extraordinary, noble, and beautiful palace, in the occupation of the Duke of Montagu. It (i.e., the shell) was erected in 1677. The building constitutes three sides of a quadrangle, and," the writer quaintly adds, "is composed of fine Brick and Stone Rustick-work, the Roof covered with Slate, and there is an Acroterio (sic) of four Figures in the Front, being the four Cardinal Virtues. From the House the Gardens lie northwards, where is a Fountain, a noble Tarrass (sic), a Gladiator, and several other statues. The Inside is richly furnished and beautifully finished; the Floors of most Rooms finnier'd (sic); there are great variety of noble paintings, the Staircase and the Cupulo Room particularly curious, being architecture done in Perspective, &c.; and there are many other notable things too numerous to insert here. On the South side of the Court, opposite to the Mansion House is a spacious Piazza, adorned with columns of the Ionic Order, as is the Portal in the middle of a regular and large Frontispiece toward the Street."

"Montagu House," writes the author of the "New Critical Review of the Public Buildings of London," in 1736, "has been long, though ridiculously, esteemed one of the most beautiful buildings about the town. I must own it is grand and expensive, will admit of very noble ranges of apartments within, and fully answers all the dignity of a British nobleman of the first rank; but after I have allowed this, I must add that the entrance into the court-yard is mean and Gothic (!), more like the portal of a monastery than the gate of a palace. … I am ready to confess the area (to be) spacious and grand, and the colonnade to the wings graceful and harmonious; but the wings themselves are no way equal to it, and the body of the house has no other recommendation than merely its bulk and the quantity of space that it fills." And then he proceeds to discuss in detail its roofs, "garrets," windows, and the cupola with which it was surmounted, as all open to adverse criticism.

The building was erected on the plan of a firstclass French hotel, of red brick, with stone dressings, a lofty domed centre, and pavilion-like wings. In front of the house was a spacious court-yard, enclosed with a high wall, within which was an Ionic colonnade, extending the whole length of the building. The principal entrance, in Great Russell Street, was known as the "Montagu Great Gate;" over it rose an octangular lantern, with clock and cupola; and at each extremity of the wall was a square turret. On each side of the quadrangle were the lodgings of the different officers, by which the colonnade was connected with the main building.

From the pages of the Gentleman's Magazine (May, 1814) we condense the following particulars of the second Montagu House:— "It was erected by Ralph, first Duke of Montagu, who was a great favourite of Charles II., under whom he was twice Ambassador at the Court of Louis XIV. Though constantly in disgrace with James II., he was honoured by William and Anne. It appears that he expended the greater part of his income in erecting this pile after the French taste; on its erection and embellishments a variety of French architects, painters, &c., were engaged to design and embellish it. We are told," adds the writer, "that 'the architecture was conducted by Mons. Pouget, in 1678,' but nothing occurs as to the period when it was brought to a conclusion; yet from the various combination of features pervading the whole mass, we are induced to fix its main point of execution towards the close of James's reign." The plan of the entire premises was nearly a square, upwards of 200 feet each way. On either side of the principal entrance were porters' lodges, and at each end of the colonnade were entrances to the offices in the wings of the building. The principal or state apartments were divided into two lines, facing both the court-yard and the gardens in the rear. In the former, on the groundfloor, were the hall, grand staircase, and two staterooms; and in the latter, a grand central saloon, and three state-rooms, right and left. The upper floor was laid out in a similar manner, excepting that the portion over the hall served as a vestibule. The principal doorway in the south front was richly carved with scrolls, &c., and had an elaborate frieze, the centre consisting of a wreath of flowers and fruit, inclosing the initial letter "M," after the quaint fashion of the time, richly ornamented. The roof was lofty, with a high pitch; the centre portion dome-fashion, with rustic quoins and pedimented, dormer windows. On the breaks at the springing of the roof to the centre portion were originally statues, and urns on the apex of the dome.


A full description of the decoration of the interior of the mansion is likewise given in the Gentleman's Magazine of the above year; but it will be sufficient for our purpose to state that the principal rooms, one and all, were alike enriched with painted walls and ceilings; the subjects generally were the pagan gods and goddesses, including several of the stories in Ovid's "Metamorphoses," landscapes, fruit and flowers, the execution of which was entrusted to La Fosse, Rousseau, and Jean Baptiste Monnoyer. The stately hall, together with the grand staircase, were the most striking features of the interior architecture, a representation of which is given in Ackermann's "Microcosm of London." There were in all twelve show-rooms on the ground-floor and as many on the first-floor, and these were in general stately and well lighted. On coming into the possession of the nation, prior to the establishment of the Museum, Montagu House underwent some trifling alterations in a few of its details; but, on the whole, it remained much in its original condition down to the time when it was demolished, between the years 1845 and 1849.


On the west side of the house was a flowergarden and a terrace, disposed with much taste, and shaded by numbers of trees and shrubs. This communicated with a lawn on the north side. On the west side of the lawn was a double avenue of lime-trees; but the garden on this side of the mansion was tasteless and formal. They are stated to have been laid out "after the French manner;" and John Timbs tells us, though we know not on what authority, that the gardens of the houses in its front in Great Russell Street were noted for their fragrance. Strype and Stow add that "the place is esteemed the most healthful in London."

Montagu House and gardens occupied in all about seven acres of ground. In the gardens were encamped, in the year 1780, the troops stationed to quell the Gordon Riots, one of the centres of which was in Bloomsbury. A print of the period, by Paul Sandby, shows the ground in the rear of the mansion laid out with grass, terraces, flowerborders, lawns, and gravel-walks, where the gay world resorted on summer evenings. In the print here referred to, the white tents of the troops are shown, and in front is a grave-looking old gentleman, walking alone with an air of consequence along a path in the direction where now stands Montagu Place, with his wig, and a sword-cane on his shoulders—probably intended for the king. In the foreground is a soldier, conversing with a welldressed woman, who is seated by his side.

Ralph, Duke of Montagu, mentioned above, married the proud heiress of Henry, Duke of Newcastle, to whom we have before alluded in our account of Clerkenwell. (fn. 1) The duke, who died in the year 1709, was succeeded by his only surviving son by his first marriage, John Montagu, second duke. His grace officiated as Lord High Constable of England at the coronation of George I., and during that reign filled several public situations of the highest importance. At the accession of George II. he was continued in favour, and at his coronation he carried the sceptre with the cross. He died in 1749, when all his honours became extinct. If we may judge from the following anecdote, his grace would seem to have been of a somewhat eccentric turn of mind, for he appears to have made two codicils to his will, one in favour of his servants, and the other of his dogs, cats, &c. Whilst writing the latter one of his cats jumped on his knee. "What!" says he, "have you a mind to be a witness, too? You can't, for you are a party concerned and interested."

A few years after the death of this nobleman—namely, in 1754, as stated above—an Act was passed for vesting Montagu House in trustees, and for enabling them to convey it to the Trustees of the British Museum for a general repository. We have already stated that this national institution originated in the purchase by Government of Sir Hans Sloane's accumulation of objects of natural history, &c. This splendid collection—at which, by the way, Pope sneered at as mere "butterflies"—was fortunately preserved entire after Sloane's death. He generously bequeathed to the public his books, manuscripts, medals, and "butterflies," on certain conditions. The terms were accepted. The valuable manuscripts of Harley, Earl of Oxford—known as the Harleian Library—were added to it; and these two collections, afterwards increased by the Cottonian manuscripts, together formed, as we have said, the nucleus of our great national Museum.

It may not be out of place here to say a few words about Sir Hans Sloane, and of his public benefactions. He was a native of Ireland, but of Scotch extraction, the son of a gentleman who had settled in Ireland in the reign of James I. He was a governor of almost every hospital about London; to each he gave a hundred pounds in his lifetime, and at his death a sum more considerable. He formed the plan of a dispensatory, where the poor might be furnished with proper medicines at prime cost; which, with the assistance of the College of Physicians, was afterwards carried into execution. For a quarter of a century he was President of the College of Physicians, as well as physician to the king, and succeeded Sir Isaac Newton as President of the Royal Society. He gave the Company of Apothecaries the entire freehold of their botanical garden at Chelsea; in the centre of which is erected a marble statue of him, admirably executed, by Rysbrack. He helped largely in founding the colony in Georgia, 1732, and also the Foundling Hospital, in 1739, and formed the plan for bringing up the children of the latter. He was the first in England who introduced into general practice the use of bark, not only in fevers, but in a variety of other cases, particularly in nervous disorders, in mortifications, and in violent hæmorrhages. His cabinet of curiosities, which he had taken so much pains to collect, he bequeathed to the public, as above stated, on condition that the sum of £20,000 should be paid to his family; which sum, though large, was not the original cost, and scarce more than the intrinsic value of the gold and silver medals, the ores and precious stones, that were found in it. Besides these, there was his library, consisting of more than 50,000 volumes, many of which were illustrated with cuts, finely engraven, and coloured from nature; 3,500 manuscripts; and an infinite number of rare and curious books. Thus Sir Hans Sloane became the founder of one of the noblest collections in the world. But the wits, who never spare a character, however eminently great and useful, more than once took occasion to ridicule this good man for a taste, the utility of which they did not comprehend, but which was honoured with the unanimous approbation of the British Legislature. Thus Young, in his "Love of Fame:"—
"But what address can be more sublime
Than Sloane—the foremost toyman of his time?
His nice ambition lies in curious fancies,
His daughter's portion a rich shell enhances,
And Ashmole's baby-house is, in his view,
Britannia's golden mine—a rich Peru!
How his eyes languish! how his thoughts adore
That painted coat which Joseph never wore!
He shows, on holidays, a sacred pin,
That touch'd the ruff that touch'd Queen Bess's chin."

Then again, in "Hone's Year Book," there is a skit on the formation of Sir Hans Sloane's collection, which we here quote. It is from a printed tract entitled "An Epistolary Letter from T—H— to Sir H— S—, who saved his life and desired him to send over all the curiosities he could find in his travels:—
"Since you, dear doctor, saved my life,
To bless by turns and plague my wife,
In conscience I'm obliged to do
Whatever is enjoined by you.
According then, to your command,
That I should search the western land,
For curious things of every kind,
And send you all that I could find,
I've ravaged air, earth, seas, and caverns,
Men, women, children, towns, and taverns,
And greater rarities can show
Than Gresham's children ever knew;
Which carrier Dick shall bring you down
Next time his wagon comes to town.
I've got three drops of the same shower
Which Jove in Dana[e]'s lap did pour;
From Carthage brought, the sword I'll send
Which brought Queen Dido to her end;
The stone whereby Goliath died,
Which cures the headache when applied;
A whetstone, worn exceeding small,
Time used to whet his scythe withal;
St. Dunstan's tongs, which story shows,
Did pinch the Devil by the nose;
The very shaft, as all may see,
Which Cupid shot at Anthony;
And what above the rest I prize
A glance from Cleopatra's eyes.
I've got a ray of Phœbus' shine,
Found in the bottom of a mine;
A lawyer's conscience, large and fair,
Fit for a judge himself to wear
In a thumb-vial you shall see,
Close cork'd, some drops of honesty,
Which, after searching kingdoms round,
At last were in a cottage found,
An antidote, if such there be,
Against the charms of flattery.
I ha 'nt collected any Care,
Of that there's plenty everywhere;
But, after wond'ronus labour spent,
I've got one grain of rich content.
It is my wish, it is my glory,
To furnish your Nicknackatory;
I only wish, whene'er you show 'em,
You'll tell your friends to whom you owe 'em;
Which may your other patients teach
To do as has done yours, "T. H."

But to proceed. On the completion of the purchase of the various collections above mentioned, Governors and Trustees, consisting of the most eminent persons in the kingdom, were at once appointed; among them were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Chancellor, and Secretaries of State, who were declared Trustees for the public. To these were added Lord Cadogan and Mr. Hans Stanley, who had married Sir Hans Sloane's daughters. After their decease, others were to be chosen in their stead, either by themselves, or by the family of Sir Hans Sloane, from time to time, as their perpetual representatives in the trust.

On the purchase of the Cottonian Library it was settled that Mr. Samuel Burrows and Mr. Thomas Hart, the then trustees, and their successors, should be nominated by the Cotton family, as perpetual representatives, in the same manner as those of Sir Hans Sloane. The same arrangement was entered into with respect to the trusteeship of the Harleian collection of manuscripts; and the Earl of Oxford, the Duke of Portland, and their successors, to be chosen by themselves, or by the Harley family, were made perpetual trustees for the same. These trustees were made a body corporate, by the name of the "Trustees of the British Museum," with power to make statutes, rules, and ordinances; to choose librarians, officers, and servants, and to appoint their several salaries; upon this special trust and confidence, "that a free access to the said general repository, and to the collections therein contained, shall be given to all studious and curious persons, at such times and in such manner, and under such regulations, for inspecting and consulting the said collections, as by the said trustees, or the major part of them, in any general meeting assembled, shall be limited for that purpose."

The trustees at the present time are fifty in number. Of these, one is nominated by the Sovereign; twenty-five are official, among whom the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, and the Speaker of the House of Commons are always included; nine are "family" trustees—the Sloane, Cotton, and Harley families being represented by two each, and the Towneley, Elgin, and Knight families by one each; whilst the remaining fifteen are chosen by the former thirty-five. Of the Towneley, Elgin, and Knight collections we shall speak in due course.

Lord Macaulay was one of the trustees, and was anxious to improve the administration, but found it apparently a hopeless task. He writes, in his diary, under date November 25, 1848:— "After breakfast I went to the Museum. I was in the chair. It was a stupid, useless way of doing business. All boards are bad, and this is the worst of boards. If I live, I will see whether I cannot work a reform here."

The nomination of the subordinate officers rests with the trustees, the candidates being subjected to a test examination before the Civil Service Commissioners. There are three grades, and in each grade promotion goes by seniority; occasionally an officer is promoted from a lower to a higher grade, but only in a case of singular merit.

After coming into possession of Montagu House, the trustees immediately laid out between twenty and thirty thousand pounds on necessary repairs and alterations.

The Museum was opened to the public for the first time on January 15th, 1759. The establishment then consisted of three departments only, devoted respectively to printed books, manuscripts, and natural history. That the Museum was highly appreciated, even in the earliest stages of its existence, may be easily imagined when we say that Northouck(1772), describing it when first founded, styles it "the wonder of all that beheld it, and confessed, all things considered, to be superior to any other Museum in the world!!"

The regulations for the admission of the public at first bore some resemblance to those which are still observed at the Soane Museum, in Lincoln's Inn Fields (fn. 2) —namely, it was provided that "admission" to such "studious and curious persons" as are desirous to see the Museum should be obtained by means of printed tickets, to be delivered by the porter, upon their application in writing, which writing shall contain their names, condition, and places of abode, also the day and hour at which they desire to be admitted. This list was to be submitted every night to the principal Librarian, or in his absence, to another officer of the Museum, who, if he considered the parties admissible, was to "direct the porter to deliver tickets to them according to their said request, on their applying a second time for the said tickets," observing, however, that not more than ten tickets were delivered for each time of admission." The parties who produced these tickets were to be allowed three hours for their inspection of the Museum, spending one hour in each department, and being taken in charge by a different officer for each. How these regulations operated in some instances may be learned from the account of a visit which was paid to the Museum by Mr. William Hutton, the historian of Birmingham, on the 7th of December, 1784, which he described in his "Journey from Birmingham to London," published in the following year. He says, "The British Museum justly stands in the first class of rarities. I was unwilling to quit London without seeing what I had many years wished to see, but how to accomplish it was the question. I had not one relation in that vast metropolis to direct me, and only one acquaintance; but assistance was not with him. I was given to understand that the door, contrary to other doors, would not open with a silver key; that interest must be made some time before, and admission granted by a ticket, on a future day. This mode seemed totally to exclude me. As I did not know a right way, I determined to pursue a wrong, which probably might lead me into a right. Assiduity will accomplish weighty matters, or how could Obadiah Roberts count the grains in a bushel of wheat ? By good fortune I stumbled upon a person possessed of a ticket for the next day, which he valued at less than two shillings; we struck a bargain in a moment, and were both pleased. And now I feasted upon my future felicity. I was not likely to forget 'Tuesday at eleven, December 7, 1784.' We assembled on the spot, about ten in number, all strangers to me, perhaps to each other. We began to move pretty fast, when I asked with some surprise, whether there were none to inform us what the curiosities were as we went on? A tall, genteel young man in person, who seemed to be our conductor, replied with some warmth, 'What! would you have me tell you everything in the Museum? How is it possible? Besides, are not the names written upon many of them?' I was too much humbled by this reply to utter another word. The company seemed influenced; they made haste, and were silent. No voice was heard but in whispers. The history and the object must go together; if one is wanting, the other is of little value. I considered myself in the midst of a rich entertainment, consisting of ten thousand rarities, but, like Tantalus, I could not taste one. It grieved me to think how much I lost for want of a little information. In about thirty minutes we finished our silent journey through this princely mansion, which would well have taken thirty days. I went out much about as wise as I went in, but with this severe reflection, that for fear of losing my chance, I had that morning abruptly torn myself from three gentlemen, with whom I was engaged in an interesting conversation, had lost my breakfast, got wet to the skin, spent half-a-crown in coach hire, paid two shillings for a ticket, been hackneyed through the rooms with violence, had lost the little share of good humour I brought in, and came away quite disappointed. Hope is the most active of all the human passions. It is also the most delusive. I had laid more stress on the British Museum than on anything I should see in London. It was the only sight that disgusted me."

The system which Hutton has thus described continued for many years longer, probably till 1803, when several alterations in the management were effected. In 1808, when the first "Synopsis," or official guide, was printed, the regulations stated that "on the first four days of the week, 120 persons may be admitted to view the Museum, in eight companies of fifteen each;" but no mention is made of the necessity of their previously obtaining tickets. Two years later a greater advance appears to have been made, for we then find that "the Museum is open for public inspection on the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in every week (the usual vacations excepted), from ten till four o'clock; and all persons of decent appearance who apply between the hours of ten and two are immediately admitted, and may tarry in the apartments or the Gallery of Antiquities without any limitation of time, except the shutting of the house at four o'clock." From that time the regulations have been constantly growing more liberal, and the corresponding increase in the number of persons admitted, as years have rolled along, has been very striking.

In the year 1850 the numbers were just above a million; and in the following, or "Exhibition year," when multitudes flocked to London from all quarters of the globe, the astonishing total of 2,527,216 visitors was registered—a number at that time surpassing the entire population of the metropolis.

With the commencement of the present century the character of the Museum began to improve, and, gradually, from a stationary, it became an eminently progressive institution. A more liberal system of admission to its treasures, as we have shown, was adopted. The Government annual votes for purchases was increased considerably towards the close of the reign of George IV., and again after the passing of the first Reform Bill.

The acquisition of sundry Egyptian antiquities, for the most part discovered by Belzoni, led to the establishment of a separate Department of Antiquities in the Museum; and in order to provide suitable rooms for their accommodation, a new edifice was erected in the gardens and completed in 1807. This building, which communicated by means of a passage with old Montagu House, was of an entirely different architectural character from it, and comprised a series of thirteen classical saloons. The subsequent addition of the Elgin marbles, for which a grant of £35,000 had been made by Government, and which were for some years exhibited in a wooden shed, rendered necessary a further extension of the building; and lastly, the presentation of the library of George III., in 1821, to the nation, made it imperative to provide a suitable room for its reception, which was one of the conditions of the gift.

Lord Elgin commenced the work of collecting the "marbles" which bear his name during his mission to the Ottoman Porte in the year 1802; but his right to carry them off as spoils, and also his judgment in selecting these particular specimens, was much discussed at the time. When the question of voting a sum of money for them was brought forward in Parliament, the opinions of eminent artists as to his spoils from the Temple of Minerva were sought and collected. It is curious to compare the manner in which each artist expresses his admiration of them. Benjamin West, the then President of the Royal Academy, declared that if he had seen these emanations of genius in his youth, the feeling which he entertained of their perfection would have animated all his labours, and would have led him to infuse more character, expression, and life into his historical compositions. His successor in the President's chair, Sir Thomas Lawrence, expressed his opinion that the statues brought to England by Lord Elgin were superior even to the well-known "Apollo Belvidere," because they united beauty of composition and grandeur of form with a more perfect and correct imitation of nature than is to be found in the "Apollo." He particularly admired in the Elgin Marbles the correct representation of the harmonious variety produced in the human form by the alternate motion and repose of the muscles. Canova declared that Lord Elgin deserved to have altars erected to him as the saviour of the arts, and considered himself fortunate in having visited London, were it only for the opportunity of seeing those masterpieces. In the opinion of Nollekens, the "Theseus" is equalled only by the "Apollo." Flaxman and Chantrey were not quite so decided as to the object of their preference; while Rossi and Westmacott declared that they knew of nothing superior to these "admirable fragments of antiquity."

The gift of the Royal Library to the British Museum by George IV. was certainly a munificent present; but when it is described as a gift "greater than has been bestowed by any sovereign on any nation since the library of the Ptolemies was founded at Alexandria," one cannot help smiling at the loyal exaggeration. The following is the text of the letter by which the gift was accompanied, addressed by the King to Lord Liverpool, then Prime Minister:—
"Pavilion, Brighton, Jan. 15, 1823.

"Dear Lord Liverpool,—The King, my late revered and excellent father, having formed, during a long series of years, a most valuable and extensive library, consisting of about 120,000 volumes, I have resolved to present this collection to the British nation.

"Whilst I have the satisfaction by this means of advancing the literature of my country, I also feel that I am paying a just tribute to the memory of a parent whose life was adorned with every public and private virtue.

SIR HANS SLOANE. (From a Print published in 1793.)

"I desire to add, that I have great pleasure, my lord, in making this communication through you. Believe me, with great regard, your sincere friend, "G. R.

"To the Earl of Liverpool, K.G., &c."

This letter was communicated to the Houses of Parliament in the following month, and the cheering with which it was received in the House of Commons showed that the people appreciated the king's generosity. The royal library was handed over to the trustees of the Museum, who ordered a separate building to be erected to receive the treasure.

In a lecture entitled "Brief Personal Reminiscences of Forty Years in the National Library," delivered in 1875 by Mr. Robert Cowtan, author of "Memories of the British Museum," &c., the fact of the King's Library being a gift to the nation is somewhat negatived. Mr. Cowtan observes that "The books in the 'King's Library,' a kingly room for a kingly collection, were all purchased at the private expense of George III., at the instigation of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who was consulted by Sir Francis Barnard, the king's librarian. These books, which were all large paper copies, included a Bible, which was the first book printed with movable type. There were inscriptions over the door of this room, one in English and one in Latin, stating that the collection was presented to the nation by George IV.; but it was said in the Quarterly Review that George IV., not caring much about books (he found books in ladies' faces), was about to sell this collection to a foreign purchaser, when, on the fact becoming known, they were bought of him out of some Admiralty funds, and so secured for the nation. So the inscription was like that other 'bully,' which, as Pope said, 'lifted up its head and lied.'"


The design for the King's Library, which was prepared on that occasion by Sir Robert Smirke, the architect of the Museum, formed part of a general plan for rebuilding the whole institution, involving the demolition not only of Montagu House, but of the saloons erected, as we have already mentioned, for the department of antiquities. Sir Robert's proposals were adopted by the trustees, and in the course of twenty-five years were gradually carried into execution.

On the donation, or, at all events, the acquisition of this library, the Government ordered drawings to be prepared for the erection of an entirely new Museum, a portion of one wing of which was to be occupied by the recently-acquired library. This wing, on the eastern side of the Museum garden, was finished in 1828; the northern, southern, and western sides of the quadrangle have since been progressively added.

It may be observed here that in 1827 Charles Lamb, speaking of "poor condemned Montagu House," anticipates the speedy erecting of another and handsomer building in its place; but, as we have just seen, the work of rebuilding had then already commenced. The author of the "Essays of Elia" speaks, however, with great satisfaction of the excellent collection of old plays bequeathed to the Museum by David Garrick.

The Towneley collection of antiquities, comprising a quantity of marble sculptures bought at Rome, Naples, &c., were purchased by the nation at the commencement of the present century. They were collected by Charles Towneley, Esq., who died in 1805, as we have stated in a previous chapter, at his house in Park Street, Westminster. His collection of bronzes, coins, and gems were added to the Museum in 1814. Mr. Richard Payne Knight, the classical scholar, whom we have already mentioned as residing in Soho Square, bequeathed to the Museum his matchless collection of drawings, bronzes, and medals, worth at least £30,000. The collection includes a single volume of drawings by the inimitable Claude, which was purchased by Mr. Knight for £1,600 from a private individual, who a short time before had bought it for £3.

The Museum, as a building, is described in a work published in 1830, as "a large and imposing, rather than a grand or graceful edifice; entered by a simple, if not mean, portal, which opens into a quadrangle, formed on three sides by a long and lofty front and wings, and on the fourth side by a dilapidated Ionic colonnade, never handsome, with the gate in the centre."

The hall, which was approached from the courtyard by a broad flight of steps, was of the Ionic order, and decorated with pilasters, in pairs, with the entablature supporting a horizontal and plain ceiling. Over the great door was a coarse painting of Vesuvius in eruption. From the hall the vestibule was entered through two tall arches, filled with fanciful iron-work and gates. A passage from the vestibule led to the western apartments. The ante-room was comparatively small, with nothing remarkable in its architecture, but the ceiling was richly ornamented with paintings by Rousseau and La Fosse, the subjects by the latter being the "Apotheosis of Iris" and the "Assembly of the Gods."

The staircase was painted with representations of Cæsar and his military retinue; the feasts and sacrifices of Bacchus, and gigantic figures, emblematical of the Nile and the Tiber, with various views of landscapes and pieces of architecture.

The room adjoining the ante-room northward was, till the winter of 1803, the reading-room; but, "having only two windows, which were insufficient to illuminate the most remote parts of the table," another room, both larger and better lighted, was substituted. This apartment had a vaulted ceiling; it was surrounded by shelves of books, and above the cases hung several portraits on the walls. There was a large marble chimney-piece, and the room was lighted by three windows on the north side and one on the west. All the rooms on the north side of the house partook of the same character with the reading-room; they were very spacious, and each was entirely filled with shelves of printed books.

In the Act of Parliament already referred to, it is particularly set forth, that "the collections and libraries are to be reposited, and remain in the Museum, for the public use;" and further, "that free access shall be given to this repository to all studious and curious persons, at such time, and in such manner, and under such regulations for inspecting and consulting the collections, as the trustees shall think fit." We have already seen in what manner and number the curious portion of the public was admitted in obedience to the above law; and it will doubtless be equally interesting to know what facilities were afforded, at that early period, to the studious and the man of letters.

In the "Statutes and Rules relating to the inspection and use of the British Museum," published in 1757, it is ordered, "That no one be admitted to make use of the Museum for study, but by leave of the trustees, in a general meeting, or the standing committee; and that the said leave be not granted for a longer term than half a year, without a fresh application." It is further ordered, "That a particular room be allotted for the persons so admitted, in which they may sit, and read, or write, without interruption, during the time the Museum is kept open; that a proper officer do constantly attend in the said room, so long as any such person or persons shall be there; and for the greater ease and convenience of the said persons, as well as security of the collection, it is expected that notice be given in writing the day before, by each person, to the said officer, what book or manuscript he will be desirous of perusing the following day; which book or manuscript on such request will be lodged in some convenient place in the said room, and will thence be delivered to him by the officer of the said room," &c.

Since the above period some alterations have been made in the mode of admission, which, at the same time that they have increased the facility of access, have in no wise lessened the precautions so necessary for the safety of the collection.

In Weale's "London and its Vicinity Exhibited" (1851), it is stated that the library contained about 500,000 volumes, and that it was visited by about 70,000 readers during each year, and that every accommodation was afforded in the pursuit of their studies. With regard to the application for admission as a reader being backed "by a proper recommendation," the editor of the above work considers it so very indefinite, as to require, in behalf of the public, some revision on the part of the trustees. "It is left too much to the will of the librarian," he adds, "as to whom he may, in his temper, think a proper person to recommend. My own case may not be singular. In the course of my career as publisher I have contributed to the Museum books not far from a thousand pounds in value; yet this public servant negatived my recommendation of Mr. Robert Armstrong, an engineer, who, as a scientific man, was desirous of a readingticket; remarking to that gentleman, 'We don't like the recommendations of booksellers.'"

The first apartment specially appropriated for the use of a reading-room was opened towards the close of the year 1757. It was situated in the basement of the old mansion, at the west corner of the building, and here the readers apparently continued to assemble until the year 1810, when they were transferred to a larger and much more commodious apartment, upon the second storey, at that time forming part of the manuscript department. This state of things continued for nearly twenty years, when another transfer took place, two rooms situated at the southern extremity of the east wing of the new building being temporarily devoted to the service of the then rapidly increasing body of readers. In 1838 the erection of the north front of the present structure was brought to a completion, when another change in the situation of the "reading-room" was effected. The rooms then brought into use were two in number, at the north-east corner of the building, adjoining to Russell Square. Passing, or slinking in almost surreptitiously, through an iron gate near the lower end of Montagu Place, the "readers" were directed by a porter, seated in a kind of sentry-box, to a narrow door in the lower part of the building. Here a short flight of stone steps, ending in a glass door, led to the rooms placed at their disposal, which were narrow and quite inadequate. The tables, twenty-six in number, were arranged in such a manner as to leave a free passage down the centre and round the sides of the room; chairs were placed for the accommodation of eight readers at each table, and, as is the case at the present time, book-stands, pens, ink, and blotting-paper were gratuitously furnished.

For a long time the library and reading-room were used by a very few individuals—scholars, historians, antiquaries of the Dryasdust class, and collectors of literary curiosities. The attendants at the reading-room enjoyed quite a sinecure in those "good old days," when perhaps they had not halfa-dozen individuals daily to supply with books. In fact, there was no provision made for a large number of visitors. Indeed, in the rooms of which we are now speaking, accommodation was provided for only 170 persons. The presses round the rooms were filled with books of reference, encyclopædias, dictionaries, lexicons, topographical and geographical works, &c. The rooms themselves, which still form part of the library, have little architectural decoration, beyond what they derive from their ceilings, in each compartment or panel of which there is a rose or flower, which serves as a ventilator, as well as for ornament. The floors are of oak, and have a slip of marble along the centre, and underneath the book-cases; and the rooms are warmed by hot-water apparatus.



"Scripta Palatinus quacunque recepit Apollo."—Horace.

Commencement of the New Buildings—The Edifice described—The New Reading-room—Rules and Regulations for "Readers"—The Catalogue—Presses and Press-marks—The Chief Books of Reference—A Classic Picture of the Reading-room—Offences for which Readers are expelled—The Printed Book Department—The Grenville Library—Specimens of Early Printed Books—Autographs—Magna Charta, and other Historical Documents—Manuscripts—Newspapers—Acquisition of Books by the Museum under the Copyright Act—The Department of Prints and Drawings—Principal Librarians of the Museum—Mr. J. T. Smith—Celebrated Frequenters of the Reading-room.

The difference of the appearance of Montagu House from that of the Museum of the present day is very striking, not only with regard to the building in itself, but also as to its situation, relatively to the country and the town. The old house, as we have shown, remained down almost to the close of the last century quite open on the north side, and commanded views of the surrounding fields; whilst the present edifice, although occupying the same site, and indeed covering a much larger space of ground, is almost completely shut in on three sides by streets and squares which are built up close to its walls, so that the only view of the edifice that can be obtained is that of the principal, or southern, front in Great Russell Street.

The new buildings, which were commenced by Sir Robert Smirke, were continued in 1846 by his brother, Mr. Sydney Smirke; the walls of old Montagu House being removed piecemeal as the new edifice progressed; the last portion of it disappeared in 1845. In place of the dull brick wall which separated the old house from Great Russell Street, there was erected a handsome iron railing, partly gilt. Through this the magnificently enriched front of the new building can be surveyed by the passer-by in all its entire length; it presents a recessed portico and two projecting wings; and as the edifice fronts the south, the play of light and shade caused by the forest of Ionic columns with which the whole is faced, is such as no other portico in London possesses. At either extremity of the court-yard is a range of houses for the resident officials of the Museum. In the centre of the iron railing—which is raised upon a granite curb, and is formed of spears painted of a dark copper-colour, with the heads gilt, and an ornamental band—is the principal carriage-gate and foot entrance, strengthened by fluted columns with composite capitals, richly gilt, and surmounted by vases.

The style of architecture adopted throughout the exterior of the new building is the Grecian-Ionic. The southern facade consists of the great entrance portico, eight columns in width, and two intercolumniations in projection. This is approached by a broad flight of steps. On either side is an advancing wing, giving to the entire front an extent of 370 feet; the whole surrounded by a colonnade of forty-four columns, raised upon a stylobate five feet and a half high. The columns are five feet at their lower diameter, and forty-five feet high; the height from the pavement of the front court-yard to the top of the entablature of the colonnade, upwards of sixty-six feet. Professor Cockerell, in a lecture delivered in 1850, remarked that "since the days of Trajan or Hadrian, no such stones have been used as those recently employed at the British Museum, the front of which is formed by 800 stones, each from five to nine tons weight. Even St. Paul's contains no approach to these magnitudes." In the tympanum of the pediment there is a group of allegorical figures, representing the "Progress of Civilisation," which has been thus described by Sir Richard Westmacott, R.A.:—"Commencing at the western end or angle of the pediment, man is represented as emerging from a rude savage state through the influence of religion. He is next personified as a hunter and tiller of the earth, and labouring for his subsistence. Patriarchal simplicity then becomes invaded, and the worship of the true God defiled. Next, Paganism prevails, and becomes diffused by means of the Arts. The worship of the heavenly bodies, and their supposed influence, led the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, and other nations to study astronomy, typified by the central statue, the key-stone to the composition. Civilisation is now presumed to have made considerable progress. Descending towards the eastern angle of the pediment is the genius of Mathematics, in allusion to science being now pursued on known sound principles. The Drama, Poetry, and Music balance the group of Fine Arts on the western side; the whole composition terminating with Natural History, in which such objects or specimens only are represented as could be made most effective in sculpture."

The building erected by Sir Robert Smirke consists of four ranges of apartments—east, west, north, and south; and these formerly enclosed a hollow square, forming a large open quadrangle. The eastern range, which was completed in 1828, was in use some years previous to the gradual erection of the others. It contains the apartments appropriated to the manuscript collection, and also the Royal Library, of which we have spoken above; a magnificent series of corridors 300 feet in length, and forty wide, with inlaid floors and coffered ceilings. The ground-floor of the northern range of apartments is allotted to the general library, and is less ornate in appearance than the eastern range; but it nevertheless contains one or two rooms of a striking character. The western range was erected. partly on the site of the old Gallery of Antiquities, which was opened in 1807, and presents one large apartment, corresponding in length with the Royal Library; this is appropriated to Egyptian and other sculpture. The southern range, the last completed, occupies the exact site of old Montagu House. This range contains the great hall and staircase; on the east of which is a room containing the Grenville library, and on the west a saloon containing sculptured antiquities. The increasing collections of the Museum had rendered it necessary to make various additions to the original design of Sir Robert Smirke, some of them even before that design had been carried out. Of these may be mentioned a gallery or saloon for the Elgin marbles, which was erected on the western side of the western range. The most extensive addition, however, is that erected in the inner quadrangle, under the superintendence of Mr. Sydney Smirke, who had some time previously succeeded his brother, Sir Robert, as architect to the Museum. This new building contains the reading-room and the accommodation prospectively necessary for the annual increase of the collection of printed books. It is one of the principal architectural features of the Museum, and the only one that is visible at a distance, the dome that crowns it forming part of the view of London as seen from Hampstead Heath, and from the Norwood and Sydenham hills near the Crystal Palace. The approach to the room is by a long passage, which is adorned with a bust of Sir Anthony Panizzi, who was some time principal librarian, and at whose suggestion the new reading-room was built. The subject had indeed been under consideration many years previously, and some discussion has arisen as to the real author of the original suggestion. Mr. Hawkins, an architect, who published a pamphlet of "Observations on the Reading-room," in 1858, assigns the earliest notion of building in the above-mentioned quadrangle to Mr. Edward Hawkins, in 1842; but the idea seems to have been ventilated even as early as the years 1836 and 1837, when it was introduced in a series of letters on the Museum, published at that time anonymously in the Mechanics' Magazine, but which were subsequently acknowledged by Mr. Watts, one of the officers of the Printed Book Department. "The space thus unfortunately wasted," says Mr. Watts, speaking of the quadrangle, "would have provided accommodation for the whole library. A reading-room of ample dimensions might have stood in the centre, and have been surrounded on all four sides by galleries for the books, communicating with each other, and lighted from the top."

On crossing the threshold of the reading-room, the visitor finds himself in a large circular apartment crowned with a dome of the most magnificent dimensions, 140 feet in diameter, and 106 feet high. It is the largest dome in the world, with one exception, the Pantheon at Rome. The cylinder or drum which sustains the dome, presents a continuous circular wall of books, which are accessible from the floor, or from low galleries running round the apartment; it comprises in the part open to the "readers" about 20,000 volumes of books of reference and standard works, and in the part round the galleries more than 50,000 volumes of the principal sets of periodical publications, old and new, and in various languages.

"In the decoration of the interior dome"—we use the words of the authorised "Guide to the Museum"—"light colours and the purest gilding have been used. The great room, therefore, has an illuminated and elegant aspect. The decorative work may be shortly described. The inner surface of the dome is divided into twenty compartments by moulded ribs, which are gilded with leaf prepared from unalloyed gold, the soffites being in ornamental patterns, and the edges touching the adjoining margins fringed with a leaf-pattern scalloped edge. Each compartment contains a large circular-headed window, with three panels above, the central one being medallion-shaped, the whole bordered with gilt mouldings and lines, and the field of the panels finished in encaustic azure blue, the surrounding margins being of a warm creamcolour. The details of the windows are treated in like manner—the spandril panels being blue; the enriched column and pilaster caps, the central flowers, the border moulding and lines being all gilded; the margins cream-colour throughout. The moulded rim of the lantern light, which is painted and gilded to correspond, is forty feet diameter. The sash is formed of gilt moulded ribs radiating from a central medallion, in which the royal monogram is alternated with the imperial crown. The cornice, from which the dome springs, is massive and almost wholly gilded, the frieze being formed into panels bounded by lines terminating at the ends with a gilt fret ornament."

The floor of the room is occupied with nineteen large and sixteen smaller tables, fitted up with ample accommodation for more than 300 readers; two of these are reserved for the exclusive use of ladies, who have been admitted as "readers" since about the year 1854; ladies, however, are always at liberty to take a seat at any other table which they prefer. By the simple expedient of raising the partition down the middle of each of the larger tables so high that a reader cannot see his opposite neigh bour, privacy is secured to the literary workingbees, and on entering the room when it is quite full, a stranger might at first suppose that it was nearly empty. The tables are all arranged so as to converge towards the centre of the room, near which are two circular ranges of stands for the gigantic Catalogue, the entries of which—all in manuscript—fill upwards of 300 large folio volumes, and a portion of which is thus, if not at the reader's fingers' ends, yet actually at the end of every table. In the centre is the "quarter-deck" of the chief superintendent, whose position commands a general view of all the tables and their occupants, often between 200 and 300 in number, and comprising among them some of the best known names in the world of literature and learning—" names that are familiar now," says a writer in the "English Encyclopaedia," "to all the readers of Europe and America, and will be familiar, in all probability, centuries hence, from the very labours in which they are aided by the Museum reading-room… From the nature of the library around them, not only such men as Carlyle and Thackeray, Kossuth and Montalembert, but the humblest labourer in the literary vineyard, from the most distant corners of the world, may be certain that on the walls around them there exists some record of his labours, or the copy of some lines traced by his hand."


What a difference exists between the readingroom of to-day and that of a century ago! Not only is its whole aspect changed with regard to the building, the accommodation provided, and the regulations respecting its management and rules for admission, but the increase in the number of its "readers" has kept equal pace with the increase in the thousands who visit the other parts of the Museum. The regulations for its management at the outset, in 1759, were, as we have shown in the previous chapter, of the same cautious and restrictive character with those for the general establishment. Gray, the poet, was one of the first to avail himself of the opening of the room; and some mention of it will be found in two or three of his letters. Thus, in one, dated August, 1759, he writes, "I often pass four hours in the day in the stillness and solitude of the reading-room;" and in another letter he describes the company, which at that time consisted of only four other readers, two of whom were Prussians, while Dr. Stukeley, the antiquary, and a copyist made up the number. In like manner, Mr. D'Israeli tells us that when his late father, the author of "Curiosities of Literature," &c., first frequented the reading-room, at the end of the last century, his companions never numbered half a dozen. In 1836, after the removal of the readers' quarters to more spacious rooms, the numbers rose to nearly 200 daily; and on the opening of the present reading-room the number was instantaneously doubled, the daily average in the year 1858 being 424. Those who obtain admission have at their command, arranged on the walls around them, a library of 20,000 volumes, comprising books of reference of all kinds. They may at pleasure, by merely writing for what they want, obtain as many volumes as they please of a printed and manuscript library of above 600,000 volumes, one of the best and largest general collections in Europe. Their seats are furnished with every accommodation for writing and reading, and they are met on all sides with attention and civility; indeed, a nobleman in his private library may often miss facilities to be found in the readingroom of the Museum. The following are the most important directions respecting it, taken from a printed paper which is given to every reader:—


"The reading-room of the Museum is open every day, except Sundays, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Christmas Day, and any Fast or Thanksgiving days appointed by authority; except also from the 1st to the 7th of January, the 1st to the 7th of May, and the 1st to the 7th of September, inclusive.

"The hours are from nine till four in the months of November, December, January, and February; from nine till five in the months of September, October, March, and April; and from nine till six in the months of May, June, July, and August.

"Any person desiring to be admitted into the reading-room is to apply in writing—addressed 'To the Principal Librarian'—specifying his (or her) profession or business, and place of abode, and accompanying his letter with a written recommendation, satisfactory to an officer of the Museum; and thereupon the principal librarian may grant him or her admission for a term not exceeding six months, or refer the application to the trustees at their next meeting. Any reader, once admitted, may apply at the close of his term for the renewal of his ticket, without a fresh recommendation, but producing his last ticket of admission.

"The tickets of admission given to readers are not transferable, and each person must, if required, produce his ticket.

"Persons under twenty-one years of age are not admissible, except under a special order from the trustees.

"Readers, before leaving the room, are to return the books, manuscripts, or maps which they have received to an attendant, and are to obtain the corresponding ticket; the reader being responsible for such books, manuscripts, or maps so long as the ticket remains uncancelled.

"It may be sufficient merely to suggest, that silence is absolutely requisite in a place dedicated to the purposes of study."

There are various printed catalogues of portions of the collection, such as the King's Library, the Grenville Library, &c., and subsidiary catalogues to the magazines, newspapers, and serial publications, as well as to the Bibles and works illustrative of the Holy Scriptures. But the magnum opus is the General Catalogue, to which reference has been already made. The entries are all made in manuscript by an army of scribes, whose daily work it is to add to it the names of all the new books which reach the Museum. These are entered under their author's name, or, where published anonymously, according to the subjects of which they treat. To the title of each book is affixed a "press-mark," which, by certain figures and letters familiar to the practised eyes of the officials, though unintelligible to the outer world, gives a clue to its whereabouts on the shelves of the Leviathan Collection. Every reader who wants a book must give in writing its full title and "press-mark," in order to enable the attendants to bring it to him when seated at his table. It is to be much wished that there were another classified catalogue as well, in order to help the literary explorer when he knows the subject of a book, but is at a loss for the name of the author whom he wishes to consult.

The New General Catalogue, having the Old Catalogue and the Supplemental Catalogue embodied in it, was begun in May, 1849, and is completed to the end of letter R, the number of volumes thus far amounting to 140, each containing about 210 pages. After letter R, at the present time (1876) we have only the Old and the Supplemental Catalogues to guide us; but, in course of time, this portion will be swallowed up by the Leviathan, which is of such slow growth. The following curious and interesting information on this subject we quote from the "English Encyclopaedia:"—The catalogue of the British Museum has been a subject of frequent discussion in the public press, since the committee of the House of Commons in 1835. Before that time, in 1824, the Rev. Thomas Hartwell Horne had been appointed to superintend the preparation of a classed catalogue; but in 1834, his labours, and those of his colleagues, had been suspended, and the Rev. Mr. Baber had been directed to draw up plans for an alphabetical catalogue. A long correspondence on the subject will be found in the Appendices to the Reports of the Commons' Committee, and of the Royal Commission. When, after Mr. Panizzi's appointment to the keepership, the library had been removed from the old to the new building, the question of cataloguing and of printing the catalogue again came up, and a small committee of the Printed Book Department, presided over by Mr. Panizzi, drew up, in 1839, a series of rules for that purpose, which amounted, when they finally received the sanction of the trustees, who re-discussed them, to the number of ninety-one. Objection has been made to their number; but it must be remembered that it was requisite to provide beforehand for all the contingencies to be foreseen in operating on a large library for several hands; and experience shows that the variety in the notions of catalogues is wonderful. In the King's Library Catalogue, for instance, though it is professedly alphabetical, all the novels and tales by anonymous authors, from Amadis de Gaul to Waverley, are entered in a mass, under the singular heading of 'Fabulæ Romanenses.' In such a title as the 'Second Report of the Auxiliary Trinitarian Bible Society, of St. James's, Clerkenwell,' there is hardly a word, except the particles, which has not been selected by some cataloguers as a heading, many taking even the word 'Second'; though it is evident that, on that principle, a set of twenty of these reports would figure in twenty different parts of the same list. It is evident that difficulties of this kind do not diminish when foreign languages are to be treated, which, in the case of the Museum Library, are not few in number. A commencement was made of printing the catalogue compiled on the new principles, and in 1841 the first volume, containing the letter A, appeared under the superintendence of Mr. Panizzi; but immediately afterwards the printing was suspended, and one of the objects of the Royal Commission of 1847 was to inquire into the cause of this suspension. The commission approved of the step which had been taken, for the reasons assigned by Mr. Panizzi, that it was evidently unadvisable to print any portion of an alphabetical catalogue before the whole was ready for the press. Since this decision has been arrived at, the revision of the old catalogues has continued in manuscript, while all the fresh books added have been dealt with on the same principles; but, as has already been stated, the number of volumes in the Museum before the year 1839 was about 235,000, while the number since added exceeds 335,000, so that the bulk of the supplements, had the catalogue been printed, would in 1859 have already exceeded that of the principal. The immense labour expended on this gigantic work would, perhaps, have been more highly appreciated by the public, had some of its results been embodied in print. The knowledge and care required in settling the items of an extensive catalogue might often win a reputation if exerted in some other direction, but apparently will never in England win a reputation in this.

"When a new book has been catalogued, the next step to be taken with it is to place it on one of the shelves in a press, or book-case, that it may receive its appropriate 'press-mark,' that is, the indication of its locality. At the Museum each press or book-case has a certain number, and the different shelves are indicated by the letters of the alphabet. Thus the press-mark '1,340 a' indicates that the book is placed on the 'a,' or topmost shelf of press or book-case 1,340. Nothing can be more simple, yet this simplicity is rare. In another library in London, for instance, the system is exactly reversed: the presses are marked with the letters of the alphabet, and the shelves with numbers; the consequence is, that as the letters of the alphabet are soon exhausted, the librarians have to commence a second series by repeating them thus, AA, BB, &c.; then a third and a fourth on some other principle, and long before they have arrived at as high a number as 1,340, the system will be found involved in inextricable entanglement. As the shelves in any book-case never amount to the number of the letters of the alphabet, no difficulty of the kind can occur with them. Yet the system of numbering the presses appears to have been slow in suggesting itself to librarians in general. Sir Robert Cotton named his book-cases after the Twelve Cæsars, and in order to find a book it was necessary to remember the succession of Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian. When his bookcases outgrew the number of twelve, he abandoned even this system for a worse, and instead of proceeding in succession with the 'five good Emperors,' arbitrarily introduced Cleopatra and Faustina. At the Advocates' Library in Scotland, the presses were patriotically named after the succession of the Scottish kings, then the additional presses after the signs of the zodiac, &c., till necessity drove them to the adoption of numbers, lest they should be compelled to make every new attendant go through a course of the sciences before he could find a book. The great problem in the arrangement of a library, which is increasing, is so to place every book as it comes in, that it may receive a press-mark which will never have to be altered, and yet to provide that the classes of books shall be kept together; that a new book of travels in Australia, for instance, shall stand with other books of travels in Australia, and not with Spanish plays or Acts of Parliament. A system of this kind would seem to be peculiarly difficult to establish in a library which is increasing at the rate of 20,000 volumes a year, and yet at the Museum a plan of extreme simplicity has been adopted, which is found to answer its purpose. Let us suppose that a room has been built which contains 100 bookcases, each capable of containing 150 volumes, and therefore that the room will contain 15,000 volumes in all, but that the possessor has 1,000 volumes only to place in it at the outset, intending to purchase for the next fourteen years 1,000 volumes a year. It is evident that if he numbers his presses from 1 to 100, and proceeds to place his several books, the very first few volumes that he marks with a press-mark hamper him in a certain degree as to the places of all the others. If he assumes that his purchases of books in English history will finally occupy a single press, and therefore places an edition of Hume in press 77, and occupies press 76 on one side of it with ancient history, and press 78 with the history of France; he may find a year after that his purchases in English history have filled press 77, and in French history press 78, and that he requires more room for both, but that the only space he has left is in press 2, among the Bibles, or in press 99, which is entirely vacant, but stands next to the works of Shakespeare. The order which he has endeavoured to preserve is therefore spoiled: he must either fill up the vacant spaces with incongruous books, or shift the position of a number of them and alter the press-marks. The problem will be certain to recur over and over again before the room is filled, and each time the remedy will be more hard to effect and more wearisome. One simple change of feature in the arrangements adopted at the outset will obviate all the difficulty. We have supposed that he has marked his presses with fixed consecutive numbers from 1 to 100; let us suppose that he marks them instead with movable numbers not consecutive, leaving gaps between, and the whole trouble is got over. Assume, for instance, that he places his Hume just in the same position, but marks the press 283, and places the French history still in the next press, but marks that press 315. When, in the course of a year or two, he finds that he wants additional room for English history, and that the last press but one in the room is vacant, he removes the contents of the last press but two into the last press but one, removing the number with it, and by repeating the process obtains a vacant press immediately after his press of English history, which is exactly what is required. Each new press between 283 and 315 he marks with some intermediate number. The process can be repeated as often as requisite, and the gain is obvious; the press-marks remain the same, and, though not consecutive, they stand in sequence, and serve as a ready and easy guide. The books are movable, and yet the press-marks are permanent. The processes we have supposed are precisely those which have actually occurred at the British Museum. When, in 1838, the old library was moved from Montagu House to the new apartments in the northern range, the press-mark of every book, and of every tract in a book (and there are sometimes more than a hundred tracts in a volume), was altered. The task of arranging the library in its new position was entrusted to Mr. Watts, who, in the course of that and the eighteen following years, during which every book that entered the Museum passed through his hands, must have examined and classed upwards of 400,000 volumes. The rapid augmentation of the collection, and the system of marking the presses with consecutive numbers, made it necessary that the accumulations should be arranged in three successive sets or series. The idea of the plan of inconsecutive numbers occurred to Mr. Watts long before it could be carried into effect, as, in order to carry it out practically, it was required that all, or nearly all, the presses should be of similar height and size, and the presses in the new building often varied considerably. The new scheme, on receiving the sanction of Mr. Panizzi, was finally commenced in the long room by the side of the King's Library. The presses in that room amounted to about 600, but in the numbering a range of numbers was assumed from 3,000 to 12,000. The numbers from the beginning of 3,000 to the end of 4,000 were assigned to Theology; from 5,000 to 6,000, to Jurisprudence; from 7,000 to 8,000, to Philosophy, Science, and Art; from 9,000 to 10,000, to History; from 11,000 to 12,000, to Literature. A particular sub-division was assigned to each century of numbers; it was assumed, for instance, that dramatic literature would occupy a hundred presses, from 11,700 to 11,799, and thus every drama which has been placed on the new system bears in its press-mark 117 for the first three figures of the five. This system, which is known by the name of the elastic system, appears to promise several advantages besides those which have been already derived from it. It is evident, for instance, that if one copy of the title-slips of the books thus placed and marked were arranged in the order of the press-marks instead of that of the author's names, it would ipso facto produce a rough classed catalogue; and thus a problem, which has been thought insoluble, would be solved in the simplest manner.

"When the title-slip of a new book has received the press-mark of its locality, it is ready to be entered in the manuscript catalogue, and passes therefore into the hands of the 'Transcribers.' The present catalogues of the Museum are as novel as many other of its arrangements. Formerly, the titles were simply written into an interleaved copy of the printed catalogue, a copy of which was kept in the reading-room. As it could not be calculated beforehand what the insertions were to be, the same difficulty was perpetually recurring with the alphabetical order of the entries as with the classified arrangement of the books, and the only remedy in use was to cancel a sheet whenever required, and re-write the entries over a larger space. The system was not found adequate to the requirements of the Museum, when the augmentations rose to the rate of 20,000 volumes a year. The present system is that of using prepared paper and a kind of stylus, so that four copies of each entry are produced at once. These copies, which are necessarily on thin paper, are mounted on thicker paper by the bookbinder, so as to be equal to considerable wear and tear, and are then fastened on the pages in the volumes of the catalogue, in such a way that, if required, they can be readily taken up again and removed to another page. By this means the exact alphabetical arrangement of the catalogue is continally kept up, to the great advantage of the readers who consult it."

The chief books of reference in the readingroom, as we have already shown, are arranged on shelves round the floor of the building, and are available for readers without the necessity of writing an order for them. They are divided into Theology; Law; Philosophy; Fine Arts; Biography; Belles Lettres; Poets; Bibliography; Ancient Classics; Geography; Voyages and Travels; Topography; History; Literary Journals and Libraries; Encyclopaedias; Dictionaries of Languages; and lastly, Peerages and Genealogical works. To each of these subjects a separate department of the shelves is assigned; and there hangs up on every table in the room a "ground-plan" which will show their order and distribution, so as to save the searcher's time.

Of the scene to be daily witnessed in the readingroom, a classic picture is presented to us by a writer in the "Comprehensive History of England," which we here take the liberty of quoting:—

"So immense an accumulation in every language, of every period, and upon every department of human study, is adequately furnished for the purpose it was designed to serve, and the accommodation of those who use it. An ample readingroom, properly lighted and heated, well served by a numerous staff of attendants, and provided with all the apparatus for reading and writing, leaves the student no cause to regret that by the rules of the institution he can only use the books within the premises, instead of carrying them to his own home. Equally liberal, also, are the terms of admission, so that with a simple recommendation from some literary person or even known respectable householder, an applicant is at once admitted to the full use and range of the collection, let his rank, station, or country be what it may. Here, then, the chief amount of British authorship is daily, weekly, and yearly to be found collected, the veritable living men and women whose names only are known in the provinces, and regarded with veneration and wonderment; and here those works are elaborated which swarm from the press with an abundance and facility at which our ancestors would have been astonished. As intellect also is of no sex, here may be found among the hundreds who regularly assemble within that crystal dome, ladies mingled with gentlemen, but each pursuing his or her separate task apparently unconscious of the presence of another. One is extracting notes from a pile of volumes, or carrying on a hunt of hours or days after a stray fact, date, or name. Another is transcribing from an old smoke-dried or half-burned MS., which none can read but himself. Another is dashing on with pen in full career, and against time, in the lighter departments of literature, where imagination is half the game, and where the work of research is confined to an occasional glance at two or three volumes lying before him. What strange varieties of country, of station, of physiognomy, of intellectual occupation meet daily within these walls; and what results are there produced, from the ponderous folio to the fugitive essay or tale! No conversation the while—no whispering—nothing is heard but the slight rustle of the pen upon paper, or the occasional roll of the truck-wheels along the oaken floor, conveying volumes too heavy to be carried, while foreigners, astonished at such silence among so great a multitude, cannot comprehend how mind can possibly live in such an atmosphere. But it is a true British characteristic; and, like the awful silence of a British battle-charge, it is the expression of confirmed and concentrated resolve."

It may be as well to add here a list of a few of the offences against the code of rules and regulations for which "readers" have at various times been excluded from the reading-room. Writing (or making marks) in pencil as well as ink, in Museum books, manuscripts, &c., even corrections of the press and the author; damaging book-bindings, &c.; tracing and colouring without permission; leaving the library-books on the tables, instead of returning them, and obtaining the vouchers, or book-tickets; transferring reading-tickets to other persons for their use; taking books out of the reading-room; annoying lady-readers; insulting the officials; disturbing students; carrying lighted cigars into the room; uncleanly habits; conveying away the property of the trustees (for which offence, we need hardly say, a term of imprisonment has followed the exclusion); and also for employing fictitious names and initials in order to gain admission, or for passing under fictitious names and titles after admission gained. For this offence a "reader" of some standing, a foreigner, who had fraudulently assumed a sham title of nobility, in 1874, had his reading-ticket stopped.

Passing from the reading-room to the "printed book department," we will proceed to note down a few of the many interesting works that are here preserved. At the time when the British Museum was first opened, towards the close of the reign of George II., the library of printed books, as we have shown above, had already received a donation which emphatically marked it as the national library of England. This was the royal library, which had been presented to it by the king. The collection, although not large, being estimated only at about 10,500 volumes, was nevertheless rich in interest, from its numerous memorials of the Tudors and the Stuarts. The volumes brought together by Henry VII. comprised a remarkable series of illuminated books on vellum, from the press of the early French printer, Anthony Verard. One of them, a French Boethius, has a dedication addressed to the King of England, while in another copy in the library, the dedication is to the King of France; but on examination it will be found that, in the King of England's copy, the word "Engleterre" has been inserted with a pen. A splendid vellum copy of the Bible of 1540 is interesting, as containing in the title-page, said to be from a design by Holbein, a figure of Henry giving the Bible to his subjects. It is something to know that " bluff King Hal" possessed a Bible; but the sacred work does not, it is true, bear marks of having been much used by its royal owner. We will not pretend to say that this is the identical copy of the Bible which was placed upon the floor by a companion of the youthful and pious Edward VI., in order that, by standing upon it, he might reach something from a shelf in the room in which they were amusing themselves. At all events, such an anecdote is told; and it is added that the young offender was warmly reproved by his royal playmate for his want of reverence for the Scriptures. In the same press is a copy of the New Testament which belonged to Anne Boleyn. There is also King Henry's copy of his "Assertion of the Seven Sacraments," the book which procured for him, from Pope Leo X., the title of " Defender of the Faith," ever since borne by the British sovereigns. Of the three children of Henry who successively came to the throne, there are likewise interesting memorials to be found here—in the Greek Grammar of Edward VI.; in Queen Mary's copy of Bandello's novels, which, it is asserted, supplied many of the plots for Shakespeare's plays; and in the volume of the "Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury," the first book privately printed in England; the last-named work is handsomely bound in embroidered velvet, and was presented to Queen Elizabeth by its author, Archbishop Parker. Another volume, which must once have belonged to the royal collection, but which came to the Museum through the bequest of a private gentleman, is Queen Elizabeth's copy of the first book printed in Anglo-Saxon, the edition of the Gospels superintended by John Fox, who, as a memorandum in the title-page assures us, personally presented it to the queen. There are numerous memorials of James I., in books offered to him by the universities, the synod of Dort, &c.; and of his unfortunate successor, Charles I., there are the volumes of almanacks in which he scribbled his name when Prince of Wales; then there is Bacon's "Advancement of Learning," printed at Oxford in 1640, which contains twenty-three apophthegms inserted by King Charles with his own hand. Here, too, are some beautifully-bound volumes of the Protestant nuns of Huntingdonshire, the illustrated "Harmony of the Evangelists;" this work was brought to the king by Nicholas Ferrar, 1635, and a minute account of the delightful reception of it by his Majesty will be found in the "Life of Ferrar." Among the books which belonged to Charles II. is a fine copy of the second edition of the "Pilgrim's Progress." The collection of pamphlets and publications bearing on the state of public affairs during the time of the Civil War, is one of great interest. It was commenced in 1641, at the very outbreak of the rupture between the King and the Parliament, by George Thomason, a bookseller of St. Paul's Churchyard, who, observing the direction which public affairs were taking, and the extraordinary activity of the press, conceived the idea of collecting all the pamphlets and publications on either side, from folios to broadsides, as they made their appearance. "For the twenty years following," says the author of the article in the "Encyclopædia" already quoted, " though we are told it was a heavy burden to himself and his servants, and though at one time it was thought advisable to effect a colourable sale of the collection to the University of Oxford to save it from the Commonwealth, the design appears to have been never relinquished for a day. On one occasion, the king himself sent to borrow a pamphlet, and chancing to drop it in the dirt, sent a courteous apology to Mr. Thomason, who made a memorandum of the circumstance in the volume (one which contains Shawe's 'Broken Heart') on which the dirt remains to this day to attest the fact. The whole collection at last amounted to about 30,000 pamphlets, bound up in chronological order, in 2,220 volumes. Ill, indeed, was the collector requited. In a statement bound up with his catalogue, and written apparently by his son, we are told that in his lifetime, which lasted till 1666, he refused £4,000 for the collection, supposing that sum not sufficient to reimburse him. His heirs offered it to Charles II. for purchase, and he appears to have directed the royal stationer, Mearne, to buy it on his account, it is not known for what sum, and afterwards to have granted as a favour permission to re-sell it, which the heirs of the Mearne family did not succeed in doing till they disposed of it in 1762 to George III., for £300. The collection, when presented to the Museum, was known there by the name of the 'King's Pamphlets,' the name and merits of the collector who had displayed such sagacity, energy, and perseverance, having sunk into total oblivion."



That portion of the library which passed to the national repository from George III. was originally collected in Buckingham House. There, as we have shown in a previous chapter, (fn. 3) Dr. Johnson frequently consulted its books. "It is curious," writes Mr. John Timbs, in his "Autobiography," "that the royal collector (George III.) and his venerable librarian (Mr. Barnard) should have survived almost sixty years after commencing the formation of this, the most complete private library in Europe, steadily appropriating £2,000 per annum towards this object, and adhering with scrupulous attention to the instructions of Dr. Johnson, contained in the admirable letter (see Quarterly Review, June, 1826), printed by order of the House of Commons."

As to the formation of the King's Library, Sir Henry Ellis informs us in his "evidence" on the subject of the Museum collections, that it was commenced in the year 1765, by the purchase of the library of an "eminent character" at Venice, and subsequently enriched by the spoils of the libraries of the Jesuits, consequent on the suppression of that Order on the Continent, when many fine and rare books were to be bought at low prices. It is worthy of remark that the King's Books are kept separate from the rest, and that there is also, as we have already stated, a separate catalogue. In the centre of the King's Library are several upright glazed show-cases, in which are displayed for a time such prints and engravings as may be bequeathed to the Museum, before their final consign ment to the room set apart to the Department of Prints, &c.

Of smaller collections which have found their way, either by bequest or by purchase, on to the shelves of the Museum, may be mentioned a large and choice collection of Bibles belonging to Dr. Charles Combe, bought in 1817 as a nucleus; a large group of books on the topography of Italy, presented by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, in 1825, and four distinct batches of tracts on the French Revolution, acquired by purchase, and amounting to about 50,000 articles, which form a sort of pendant to the Thomason collection spoken of above. In 1846 a most valuable addition was made to the library by a bequest of the Right Hon. Thomas Grenville. Mr. Grenville, who had signed the treaty of American Independence in 1783, died in the full possession of his faculties in the last named year, upwards of ninety years of age. In a codicil to his will, dated in October, 1845, he thus expresses himself:—"A great part of my library has been purchased from the profits of a sinecure office given me by the public, and I feel it to be a debt and a duty that I should acknowledge this obligation by giving that library, so acquired, to the British Museum, for the use of the public." It is devoutly to be wished that other holders of sinecures had been equally conscientious. The collection comprised upwards of 20,000 volumes, and is said to have cost more than £54,000. This library is kept in a room entirely set apart for it, on the east side of the entrance-hall. In both the Royal Library and the Grenville Library are a number of tables with show-cases, in which some of the choicest literary treasures are displayed. In the case devoted to the earliest production of the printing-press of Germany, there is a copy of the Latin Bible, known as the "Mazarine Bible," because the copy which first attracted notice in modern times was discovered in the library of Cardinal Mazarine. It is supposed to have been issued from the press of Guttenburg about the year 1455. This book, according to general belief the earliest that was ever printed, is here in company with the Latin Psalter of 1457, printed by Faust and Scheffer; this is said to be the earliest book bearing a date, and it is renowned for the splendour of its initial letter, printed in colours.

Of the specimens of the earliest productions of the printing-press in England, which are here preserved, are, of course, several from the press set up by Caxton in Westminster Abbey, towards the close of the fifteenth century. These include "The Game and Playe of the Chesse"—the first book printed in England—"The Book of the Tales of Cauntyrburye," and the English version of Æsop's Fables. Then there are some real treasures in the various old copies of the Scriptures that have found a safe keeping; and among them are the Elector of Saxony's copy of Martin Luther's translation of the Bible; Myles Coverdale's Bible, bearing the date of 1530, the first printed in England; and Martin Luther's own copy of the German Bible, which is dated 1542. The collection of autographs is very large and valuable, and full of interest, being limited not to those of persons who belong to modern history, but to "all time." Among them are the signatures of W. Shakspere (sic), on a copy of Montaigne's "Essays" translated by Florio, printed in 1603; of Milton, on a copy of Aratus, printed at Paris; of Ben Jonson, on the presentation copy of his "Volpone" to John Florio; of Lord Bacon, on a copy of the works of Fulgentius; of Bentley, and of Martin Luther, 1542, in the copy of the Bible mentioned above. The same copy was afterwards in the possession of Melancthon, who, in 1557, wrote a long note, still preserved, on the fly-leaf of the second volume. Handwritings and letters of Edward IV., V., and VI.; Richard III. (application to the Duke of Gloucester for the loan of a hundred pounds); Richard II. (document concerning the surrender of Brest), Henry VII., Queen Anne Boleyn, Knox, Calvin, Erasmus, Ridley, Cranmer, Latimer, Queen Mary, Bonner, Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Isaac Newton, Cardinal Wolsey, Galileo, Hampden, Sidney, Burghley, Tasso, Drake, Hawkins, Oliver Cromwell, Queen Elizabeth, Lady Jane Grey, Addison, Leibnitz, Dryden, Franklin, Charles I. and II., James II., Voltaire, George I., II., and III., William III., Queen Anne, Pope, Sully, Marlborough, Gustavus Adolphus, Emperor Charles V., Henry IV. of France, Francis I. of France, Peter the Great, Emperor of Russia, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Napoleon Bonaparte, Catherine de Medici, Mary Queen of Scots (part of her will in her own handwriting in French), Louis XIV. of France, pen-and-ink sketch of Battle of Aboukir by Nelson, Condé, Turenne, Washington, Wellington, Sir Walter Scott, T. B. Macaulay, and Charles Dickens. Some of the autograph stores in the Museum are exhibited under glass cases in the Manuscript Department; many of those which are not so exhibited are published in Sir Henry Ellis's "Original and Royal Letters."

Two documents, which form part and parcel of the history of England, will be found among the historical treasures of the Museum. One of these is superscribed—"Bull of Pope Innocent III., whereby he receives in fee the Kingdom of England, given to the Roman Church by virtue of a Charter confirmed by the Golden Seal of King John, and takes it into his apostolical protection. Given at St. Peter's, 11 Kalends of May, A.D. 1214, and of the Pontificate of Pope Innocent the 17th year." The rupture between King John and the Pope, as all readers of history know, had lasted for several years. How that in the end the Pope declared that John had forfeited his crown, released his subjects from their allegiance, proclaimed a crusade against England, and commissioned the French king to execute it; and how that John eventually surrendered to the Pontiff, acknowledged his appointment to the primacy of the English Church, consented to do homage to the Pope, and finally drew up the charter cited in the Bull now before us, in which he formally "resigned England and Ireland to God, to St. Peter and St. Paul, and to Pope Innocent and his successors in the apostolical chair, agreeing to hold his dominions as feudatory of the Roman Church, by paying a thousand marks yearly"—all these things are matters of history; and fortunately the actual voucher for the transaction is here to convince the most sceptical.

The other historical deed is a time-worn and highly-valued piece of parchment, bearing the signatures (or copy of the signature) of King John and several of the Barons—the famous Magna Charta. This is enclosed within a glass frame, and has a fragment of the seal, totally defaced, depending from it. After the injury sustained by this unfortunate document, when the library in which it was formerly kept (the Cottonian) was nearly all destroyed by an accidental fire, at Ashburnham House, in 1731, it was carefully extended upon coarse canvas; but through the effects of time and other circumstances, the ink has become very pale, and the writing is now nearly illegible. Many years ago, however, an admirable fac-simile of the deed, in its original state, was made by permission of the trustees; this is surrounded by the arms of the twenty-five barons who witnessed the king's act, and is placed side by side with the original.

Mr. John Timbs, in his " Curiosities of London," says that this copy of Magna Charta is "traditionally stated to have been bought for fourpence, by Sir Robert Cotton, of a tailor, who was about to cut up the parchment into measures ! But this anecdote, if true, may refer to another copy of the charter, also preserved at the British Museum in a portfolio of royal and ecclesiastical instruments, marked 'Augustus II., art. 106;' for the original charter is believed to have been presented to Sir Robert Cotton by Sir Edward Dering, Lieutenant-Governor of Dover Castle; and to be that referred to in a letter dated as far back as May 10, 1630, still extant in the Museum Library, in a volume of correspondence. But it would appear that the original Magna Charta is still a matter of dispute."

Mr. Richard Thomson, the author of "An Historical Essay on the Magna Charta of King John," published in 1829, observes that "The Commissioners on the Public Records regarded the original of Magna Charta, preserved at Lincoln, to be of superior authority to either of those in the British Museum, on account of several words and sentences being inserted in the body of that charta, which in the latter are added at the foot, with reference-marks to the four places where they were to be added. These notes, however, possibly may prove that one of the Museum charters was really the first written, to which those important additions were made immediately previous to the sealing on Runnymede, and therefore the actual original whence the more perfect transcripts were taken."

We have space to notice only two or three other ancient charters in this part of the collection. One of these is the Bull of Pope Leo X., conferring on Henry VIII. the title of " Defender of the Faith." This document was also injured by the fire which partly destroyed the Cottonian Collection. One of the oldest English charters is the title to Battle Abbey, in Sussex, granted by William the Conqueror. This once famous ecclesiastical foundation owed its origin to the battle of Hastings, which decided the Norman conquest, in 1066. The abbey was commenced by the Conqueror the year after.

Another of the treasures of the Cottonian Collection is what antiquaries supposed to be the oldest royal letter in existence—a short note from King Henry V. to the Bishop of Durham, dated 10th of February, 1418.

The history of the Manuscript Department, of which the Harleian, Sloanean, and Cottonian manuscripts formed the nucleus, is in its general outline similar to that of the Printed Book Department, but its development has, of course, not been so immense. It was formed at the outset by the union of four great collections, the three above mentioned, to which shortly afterwards were added the manuscripts of the ancient royal library of England. Old scholastic divinity abounds in this department; but " the great ornament of the collection," says Sir Henry Ellis, "is the 'Codex Alexandrinus,' an ancient Greek copy of the Scriptures, supposed to have been executed by Thecla, a lady of Alexandria, in the fourth or sixth century, and presented by Cyril Lucar, the Patriarch of Constantinople, to King Charles I. It is generally acknowledged by critics to be one of the two most ancient copies of the Scriptures in existence, and an elaborate edition of the New Testament portion of it was executed by Dr. Woide, and of the Old Testament portion, at the public expense, by the Rev. H. H. Baber, from 1822 to 1837 keeper of the printed books." The department contains also many volumes enriched by the finest illuminators of different countries, in a succession of periods to the sixteenth century; a numerous assemblage of the domestic music-books of Henry VIII.; and the "Basilicon Doron" of King James I., in his own handwriting. This latter work is a treatise on the art of government, addressed by the king to his promising son, Prince Henry, who died young, and "showing how much easier it is to speculate plausibly than to rule well." Among the other literary treasures of the Museum is a copy of the earliest newspaper, so-called the English Mercurie, which, by authority, was imprinted at London by her Highness's printer, in 1588; in fact, there are several such papers, printed while the Spanish fleet was hovering about in the English Channel in that year. "These, however," observes D'Israeli, in his "Curiosities of Literature," "were but extraordinary gazettes, and not published regularly. In this obscure origin they were skilfully directed by the policy of that great statesman, Burleigh, who, to inflame the national feeling, gives an extract from a letter from Madrid, which speaks of putting the queen to death, and of the instruments of torture on board of the Spanish fleet." The first newspaper in the collection is printed in Roman type, not in black letter, and contains the usual articles of news like the London Gazette of the present day. Under the date of July 26th in that year, for instance, there is a notice of the Scots' Ambassador being introduced to Sir F. Walsingham, and having an audience of her Majesty, to whom he gave a letter from the King, his master, assuring her of his firm adhesion to her interests, and those of the Protestant faith.

The English Mercurie came into the possession of the Museum in 1766, through a bequest of Dr. Birch; and from 1796, when George Chalmers first called attention to it, it had been looked on not merely as the first English newspaper, but the first in the world—"an honour," says Sir Henry Ellis; "which it was destined to lose in 1839, when Mr. Thomas Watts, in his letter to Antonio Panizzi, on the reputed earliest newspaper, proved beyond dispute that it was a fabrication, which was subsequently shown to have originated, probably in a frolic, with one of the sons of Lord Hardwicke, the Chancellor, and with Dr. Birch, who was the friend of the family." Many of the genuine early newspapers were acquired by the Museum in the purchase of the library and collections of Dr. Burney; one of the oldest is dated in 1616, and it is mainly occupied with "News out of Holland." Till long after this period occasional pamphlets and tracts served the purpose of the newspaper, which did not assume anything like its present character till after the Revolution of 1688. Macaulay, in his "History of England," describes the earlier efforts of our countrymen at newspaper literature. He mentions that in 1685 nothing like the London daily paper of our time existed, or could exist, for want of capital, skill, and freedom. The political conflicts which preceded the Civil War gave rise to a number of publications, which are thus described: "None exceeded in size a single small leaf. The quantity of matter which one of them contained in a year was not more than is often found in two numbers of the Times." With reference to the London Gazette, writes Macaulay, "the contents generally were a royal proclamation, two or three Tory addresses, notices of two or three promotions, an account of a skirmish between the Imperial troops and the Janissaries on the Danube, a description of a highwayman, an announcement of a grand cock-fight between two persons of honour, and an advertisement offering a reward for a stray dog. The whole made up two pages of moderate size. Whatever was communicated respecting matters of the highest moment, was communicated in the most meagre and formal style. The most important parliamentary debates, the most important state trials recorded in our history, were passed over in profound silence. In the capital the coffee-houses supplied in some measure the place of a journal. Thither the Londoners flocked, as the Athenians of old flocked to the market-place, to hear whether there was any news. There men might learn how brutally a Whig had been treated the day before in Westminster Hall, or what horrible accounts the letters from Edinburgh gave of the torturing of Covenanters." In 1690 there were nine London newspapers published weekly. In Queen Anne's reign, in 1709, they had increased to eighteen, including one daily paper. In the reign of George I. there were three daily, six weekly, and ten three times a week. The collection of newspapers in the Museum was commenced by Sir Hans Sloane. The Burney Collection was added to these in 1818, at the cost of £1,000

From 1818 the Stamp Office was directed to supply to the Museum its copies of London newspapers after the lapse of two years, a lapse which had previously converted them into a "perquisite," and consigned them to destruction as waste paper to be sent to the mill. The English country newspapers were not regularly added to the library till about 1820; the Scotch in 1844, and the Irish not until even some years later. Numerous files of Continental and American newspapers have been added at different times. On the ground floor of the library, surrounding the reading-room, large shelves of newspapers occupy the two sides of a circular passage about 600 feet in length. The newspapers here are not confined to particular languages or dialects, countries, provinces, or cities; they are in every language, and come from places situated in all parts of the world. But while there are numerous foreign and colonial series of papers complete or nearly so, those of Great Britain generally, and those of London especially, are the most extensive, and probably the most perfect.


For the augmentation of the collection of English books, reliance had been placed, in the earlier stages of the Museum, on its legal rights. We learn from the "English Encyclopædia" that the donation of the Royal Library to the Museum by George II., in 1757, was accompanied by that of the royal privilege of claiming from the publishers a gratuitous copy of every work printed in the English dominions. This had first been granted to the Crown by an Act of Parliament of the 14th of Charles II., and subsequently renewed after its expiry by the famous Copyright Act of the 8th of Queen Anne. This does not include privatelyprinted books, in which department our national collection is not so rich as it should be; neither does it extend to the printed papers of the House of Commons, one consequence of which is that in our great National Library there is no complete set of Parliamentary Blue-books to be found, and that there never is a specimen less than two or three years old. Dr. Bentley, when keeper of the Royal Library, complained of the constant evasion of the above-mentioned Act by the booksellers; and the complaints were often renewed by the librarians of the Museum, though from about the year 1818, when Mr. Barber, then keeper of the printed books, gave some curious evidence on the subject before the Copyright Committee, there was certainly a great improvement. The new Copyright Act of 1842 gave a pre-eminence to the Museum among other libraries to which the privilege was conceded, and provided that, in case of non-compliance with the Act, the negligent publisher might be taken before a magistrate and fined. In 1850, the superintendence of this part of the Museum business was transferred to Mr. Panizzi, as keeper of the Printed Book Department, and the strictness with which he enforced the Act led to a great augmentation in the number of books received. At present, all is collected that issues from the English press down to the most insignificant work on crochet, a Child's Missionary Magazine, the directory of a country town, or a circulating library novel; and everything that is collected finds its place on the shelves and in the catalogue, in the conviction that it may often be a point of importance to preserve one copy of even a worthless work in a repository where it may instantly be referred to in case of need. A different system prevailed in former days, when it does not seem to have struck a single individual that it might probably be of advantage to preserve a set of the "London Directory" or the "Navy List," and a complete collection of either is, in consequence, not to be found in the British Museum, or apparently anywhere else.


As to whether this library or that of the Louvre in Paris has the most books, is a disputed point; probably we are below the Louvre in manuscripts, and about equal to it in the number of printed books. Owing, however, to the regulation already mentioned referring only to books published in the three kingdoms, it is not every foreign work that will be found here. Books published in India and the colonies ought to be sent to the British Museum, but there seems to be some difficulty in the way of enforcing this right. Also with regard to foreign books, a few are sent in order to comply with the regulations for securing the rights of international copyright; but here, too, the rule is not carried out very strictly.

The author of the "Cities and Principal Towns in the World," in 1830, thus speaks of the library: "Regarded as a source of reference, it is deficient in the selection of editions and also in extent, lamentably in arrear of foreign works, and most unmethodically arranged." As we have notified above, the statement here regarding the arrears of foreign works may perhaps hold good even at the present time; but with reference to the general arrangement and selection of books of reference, considerable improvement has been made since the erection of the present reading-room, and the consequent increase in the space devoted to the purposes of the library. At the close of the year 1875 the entire number of volumes in the library amounted to about 800,000, besides which there was a much larger number of parts of volumes.

Although there is a very large number of prints, drawings, and photographs kept with the collection of printed books and manuscripts, and accessible to students in the reading-room and the apartment attached to the manuscript-room, the most extensive and valuable works of these descriptions are preserved in a separate division of the Museum, called the Department of Prints and Drawings, and are open to the inspection only of persons who hold cards of admission to that department. Members of the Royal Academy are admitted to this room without any recommendation or letter of introduction; they have merely to make a written application, addressed to the principal librarian of the Museum. Other persons are admitted upon applying by letter to the same individual—very much as in the case of readers—and forwarding a written recommendation from some person of standing, either as an artist or otherwise. Drawing and sketching are very freely allowed in this department; and every facility is given for copying; but as the drawings are irreplaceable, and the whole collection intended for "all time," it is scarcely necessary to add that the greatest care of the works entrusted to students is earnestly enjoined. The entrance to this department is in the western range of the building, at the north end of the main gallery of Egyptian antiquities.

For the most part, the Civil Service of the Crown is officered by natives of the United Kingdom; but to this rule the Museum appears to form an exception, as the names of several foreigners figure among its employés, and out of its chief librarians, half have been of foreign extraction. None of its earlier heads are men who have left any deep marks behind them, though Mr. Joseph Planta, of Swiss extraction, who held that post in the reign of George III. and George IV., became Secretary of the Treasury, a member of Parliament, and a Privy Councillor. His successor, Sir Henry Ellis, who died in 1869, at the age of upwards of ninety, was, however, a man of deep and varied learning, and is widely known as the editor of the best complete edition of Dugdale's "Monasticon." Sir Antonio Panizzi, to whom, as already stated, is due the erection of the great central reading-room, is a native of Brescello, in Italy. He came to England as a refugee, and, obtaining the patronage of Lord Brougham, was nominated to an assistant-librarianship in the Museum; and, on a vacancy occurring in the keepership of printed books, he received that appointment. Some twenty years later he was promoted to the principal librarianship. On his retirement, in 1866, he was succeeded by Mr. J. Winter Jones, whose knowledge of books and manuscripts is probably unrivalled in England.

Mr. Thomas Watts entered the Museum in 1838, and very soon afterwards distinguished himself by the prominence he gave to this national collection among the libraries of the world for the thoroughness with which Sclavonic literature and the literature of Hungary were represented in it. During the interval between the years 1838 and 1857 the arrangement of the books in the library was under the management of Mr. Watts, and every volume in the library thus passed through his hands. When the new reading-room was opened in 1857, it was placed under the direction of Mr. Watts, and he presided there until the retirement of Sir A. Panizzi, in 1866, when he became keeper of the Department of Printed Books, an office which he held down to the time of his death, in 1869.

One of the former keepers of the Department of Prints and Drawings was Mr. John T. Smith, the author of the "Antiquities of London and Westminster," "Vagabondiana," and other antiquarian works of high merit. He was the son of Mr. Nathaniel Smith, a sculptor, and afterwards a wellknown printseller of St. Martin's Lane, and, as we have stated in a previous chapter, was literally born in a hackney-coach in the year 1766, whilst his mother was proceeding to her residence in Great Portland Street. At an early age, young Smith commenced studying drawing at the Royal Academy, and he was for many years a drawingmaster, and at one time resided at Edmonton. His name, however, has been handed down to us as the author of some useful and entertaining topographical works on the metropolis, and also of the "Book for a Rainy Day," &c. Mr. Smith died in 1833, having held his post nearly half a century. In the album of a friend, the late Mr. W. Upcott, he wrote a playful account of himself, in which he observed: "I can boast of seven events, some of which great men would be proud of. When a boy I received a kiss from the beautiful Mrs. Robinson, was patted on the head by Dr. Johnson, have frequently held Sir Joshua Reynolds's spectacles, partook of a pot of porter with an elephant (at Exeter Change), saved Lady Hamilton from falling when the melancholy news of Lord Nelson's death arrived, three times conversed with George III., and was shut up in a room with Mr. Kean's lion."

It may interest the curious reader to learn the names of some, at least, of the more celebrated literary men of the last two or three generations who have made the library and reading-room the frequent scene of their researches. Among them have been Sir James Mackintosh, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Lamb, Washington Irving, William Godwin, Dean Milman, Leigh Hunt, Hallam, Macaulay, Grote, Tom Campbell, Sir E. BulwerLytton, Edward Jesse, Charles Dickens, Douglas Jerrold, Thackeray, Shirley Brooks, Mark Lemon, and Count Stuart d'Albany. Lord Macaulay, it may be added, when at work upon his "History," used to sit day after day, not in the large readingroom, but in the King's Library, where, in virtue of being a trustee, he had the right of taking down with his own hands from the shelves the numerous pamphlets which he desired to consult and search, without the attendance and aid of an assistant. We are told, in his "Life" by Mr. Trevelyan, that the place where he used to sit was a little desk near the centre of the room, and away from the wall, in order to obtain better light.

Her Majesty the Queen and the Prince Consort on one occasion visited the library. The only object for which Her Majesty asked in the MS. department was the paper signed at the foot by the prince who afterwards became Charles II. This was the piece of paper which, when his father's life was in the balance, he sent to Cromwell with the message, " Fill it up in any way you like, but spare my father."

Among the foreigners of note who have frequented the library and reading-room, either as visitors or as "readers," may be mentioned the names of Guizot, Thiers, Louis Napoleon (who, after his escape from the fortress of Ham, was introduced to the library by Count D'Orsay and the Countess of Blessington, in order to glean materials for his book upon artillery practice), Louis Philippe, when he came to England as an exile, Count Cavour, and Garibaldi.


  • 1. See Vol. II., pp. 331-2.
  • 2. See Vol. III., p. 48.
  • 3. See ante, p. 64.