Old and New London: Volume 4. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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THE BRITISH MUSEUM (continued).
Rescue of a Discarded Art Treasure—Acquisition of the Natural History Collections—Dr. Gray's Report on the Collection of Mammalia—A Stroll through the Zoological Galleries—Collection of Portraits—Nests of Foreign Birds—Minerals and Fossils—A Gigantic Tortoise—A Fossil Human Skeleton—The Botanical Collection—The Department of Antiquities—Historical Relics—The Portland Vase—Queen Anne's Farthings—The Pulteney Guinea—Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Bronzes—The Slade Collection of Ancient and Modern Glass—Egyptian Mummies—Egyptian Sculptured Antiquities—The Famous Rosetta Stone—Belzoni—Mr. Layard's Assyrian Collections—The Hellenic and Elgin Rooms—Fragments of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus—The Lycian Gallery—The Temple of Diana at Ephesus—The Graeco-Roman Rooms—Mr. Townley's Choicest Gem—Concluding Remarks.
Returning to the entrance-hall, we find ourselves once more at the foot of the principal staircase. Against the wall, near the foot of the stairs, is a statue, executed by Westmacott, of the Hon. Mrs. Damer, holding in her hands a small allegorical figure, sculptured by herself, representing the "Genius of the Thames." On the opposite, or eastern, side of the hall, on each side of the doorway to the Grenville Library, are two marble statues—Shakespeare, by Roubilliac, and Sir Joseph Banks, by Chantrey. In the centre of the hall is a gigantic vase, standing upon a pedestal. It was purchased by the Museum authorities about the year 1859, from a resident of Croydon, in whose garden it had been discovered, broken to fragments. It is of Italian workmanship, and is elaborately ornamented with raised figures of a classical design, illustrative of Bacchanalian subjects. At the top of the staircase commences the suite of rooms appropriated to natural history, mineralogy, zoology, and botany. The department of antiquities occupies the whole of the western part of the ground-floor, several rooms connected therewith on the basement, and the western side of the upper floor. We do not pretend in these pages to act the part of cicerone in pointing out to our readers all the wonders of the Museum, together with the exact spot in which they are to be found: all that we can do is to ask the reader to accompany us in imagination through the various corridors whilst we endeavour to set before him a few of the most important and interesting objects that are here brought together.
Before, however, commencing our stroll through the galleries, we may simply remark that in the year 1876 extensive alterations were commenced in various parts of the building. Instead of the approach to the reading-room which we have described in the previous chapter, a lobby of half the length is substituted, entered through a new gallery of antiquities. New apartments in the basement are set apart for the display of some of those sculptures which have been for some time stored away and never yet exhibited. A new room above, which is to supersede half of the long approach to the reading-room, will serve for the exhibition of marbles. This alteration will involve the replacing of the ladies'-room in another part of the building. Another alteration will consist of an additional apartment on the upper floor of the building, intended also to be devoted to antiquities. Although the construction of these new rooms will place a large space at the disposal of the trustees, it is believed that this will soon be found insufficient, in consequence of the large additions which are constantly being made.
Sir Hans Sloane's natural history collection, which, however limited it may now appear, was doubtless considered one of the greatest importance at the time it was formed, served as the nucleus of the present extensive departments of zoology, paleontology, mineralogy, and botany. In the infancy of the Museum all miscellaneous artificial curiosities, and even antiquities and anatomical preparations, were consigned to the natural history departments; but all of these have since been separated from it. In 1769 the trustees purchased a fine collection of stuffed birds, which had been brought over from Holland, and many additions to it were afterwards made by purchase and donation. The voyages of discovery by Captain Cook and others, early in the reign of George III., brought numerous acquisitions, and in 1816 the valuable collection of British zoology, which had belonged to Colonel Montague, of Knowle, in Devonshire, and included a very large number of birds, was purchased. General Hardwicke's collection of stuffed birds was bequeathed to the Museum in 1835, since which time still larger acquisitions have been made by presents and purchase, particularly in the case of ornithology, so that the aggregate now forms a collection probably as extensive as any in Europe.
With reference to the collection of mammalia, fishes, reptiles, insects, and crustacea in the British Museum, the late Dr. J. E. Gray, in the year 1849, submitted the following statement to the Commissioners of Inquiry into the constitution and management of the British Museum:—"In 1836 Mr. Gray gave some account of the state of the Museum collections, compared with those on the Continent. Since that period he has had the opportunity of again inspecting those collections, and others in the south and eastern parts of Germany, and the south of France, which he had not then seen, and he considers the statements made at that time to require no corrections; but the comparison is now much more favourable for the British Museum, that collection having been increasing very rapidly—indeed, in a most unexampled manner—while most of the Continental collections have, for the last six or seven years, for some political reason, been nearly stationary; or, at most, increasing a single part of their collections, or receiving specimens from a single locality where they happened to have a collector staying. To enter into a few details, Mr. Gray believes that the Museum collections of mammalia, birds, shells, and lepidopterous insects are much more extensive than any other public collection, and superior to all the public collections together. This is certainly the case with the first and last mentioned groups, and he believes also with the other two. The collections of reptiles, fish, and crustacea are second only to those at Paris, if at all below them, in spite of all the assistance of Baron Cuvier. Our collection in each of these classes contains many species which the Paris collection wants, and our collection of insects, taken as a whole, is much larger and better arranged than that of Paris. In some parts the Berlin collections exceed it. The collections of corals, sea-eggs, and star-fishes are very large, far larger than those of all the other European collections together." Since the above period the collections have continued to increase both in number and importance.
But it is time for us to proceed. Arrived at the top of the grand staircase, we find ourselves in the central saloon, the first of three large rooms devoted to the exhibition of specimens selected from the existing classes of animals. The collection here is extremely varied. Arranged round the walls, in glass cases, are a number of antelopes, sheep, goats, and bats; and above the cases are horns of various kinds of oxen, some of them of gigantic dimensions; whilst in the centre of the room are the towering giraffes, the morse or walrus from the Arctic regions, the rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and the Indian elephant. In two large glass cases are shown stuffed specimens and skeletons of those apes or monkeys which, on the whole, are most like man, and therefore are named "anthropoid apes;" however, it will be perceived that their similarity to man is much greater during their early youth than at an advanced age. To this group of monkeys belong the gorilla and chimpanzee, inhabitants of the forests of Western and Central Africa; and the two kinds of orangoutang from Borneo and Sumatra, brutes possessing an extraordinary strength, which they well know how to use when attacked. Here are numerous specimens of antelopes; they are generally of a sandy colour, and specially fitted to inhabit extensive plains, with tracts of desert. A few of the species live among rocks, where they are as surefooted as the goat. They are most abundant in Africa, especially in the southern districts. A few are found in India. Among the more interesting species may be pointed out the water-buck and sable antelope; the oryx, which, when seen in profile, probably suggested the unicorn mentioned by the ancients; the sassaybe of South Africa; the large-eyed gazelle, so often referred to by Eastern poets; the springbok, so called from its springing bounds, when the white fur of its back opens out like a sheet; the gnu, which at first seems a compound of horse, buffalo, and antelope; the Indian antelope, with its curious cheek-pores; the wood antelopes, with short horns often concealed amongst a brush of hairs; and the chickara of India, with its four little horns. North America and Europe have each a single species, namely, the prong-buck of the United States, and the chamois which frequents the Alps.
Of the varieties of wild sheep from the mountains of Asia, North America, and North Africa, one of the most remarkable is the bearded sheep of Morocco, which has enormous strength in its neck and horns; it sometimes reaches a great size, one specimen exhibited measuring fifty-six inches in a straight line from tip to tip. That these wild sheep are good climbers may be inferred from the fact that one of them was discovered by the Venetian traveller, Marco Polo, in the thirteenth century, on the great Pamir Mountains, at an altitude of 16,000 feet. In three or four cases we find the various kinds of ibex and wild goats of Siberia, India, and Europe, together with some of their domestic varieties; and also the Cashmere and Angora goats, celebrated for the delicate wool growing among their hair, and manufactured into the finest shawls. Several of the larger bats, of which we here see specimens before us, are to be found in Africa, in the islands of the Indian Archipelago, the Pacific, and in Australia; they are called fox-bats, or flying foxes, have blunt, grinding teeth, and eat fruit only. Though bats in general are sombrecoloured, some of these fox-bats have brilliantlycoloured furs. The blood-sucking bats, commonly called vampires, are, we are told, confined to South America, and perhaps it is as well that it should be so, seeing that they delight in attacking animals and "sometimes even men, while sleeping, fanning the victims with their wings." These bats are of small size, have a long tongue, and a deep notch in the lower lip; and the wounds which they inflict, it is stated, often continue to flow after the animals are satiated, and do not readily heal.
In the next room are exhibited the continuation of the collection of hoofed quadrupeds, such as oxen, elands, deer, camels, llamas, horses, as well as the various species of swine. Here also are placed the species of armadillo, manis, and sloth. The four corners of this room are occupied by various specimens of the wild cattle and buffaloes of Europe, Africa, and Asia; by the eland, the largest kind of antelopes acclimatised in England and Ireland; and by the elk, the most bulky species of deer inhabiting North America and some districts of North-eastern Europe. In the centre of this gallery there is a magnificent specimen of the basking shark, captured in March, 1875, near Shanklin, in the Isle of Wight. It is about twenty-eight feet in length, and thirteen feet in its greatest circumference. This shark is an inhabitant of the northern parts of the Atlantic Ocean, and approaches annually the west coast of Ireland, rarely straying to the coasts of England and Scotland. It is of a harmless disposition, its food consisting of small fishes and other marine animals swimming in shoals. On the west coast of Ireland it is chased for the sake of the oil which is extracted from the liver, one fish yielding from a ton to a ton and a half. However, its capture, we are told, is attended with great danger, as one blow from its enormously strong tail is sufficient to stave in the sides of a large boat.
The llamas, of which there are some fine stuffed specimens here, are used as beasts of burden in the Andes of South America, one species furnishing an excellent wool. The wild species are brown, while the domesticated ones are black, white, or brown, and often variegated.
Among the animals in this gallery, classed under the heading of "oxen," may be specified the Lithuanian bison, or aurochs, which in ancient times inhabited the European forests, but is now nearly extinct, a few only having been preserved by the care of the Russian Emperors; the American bison, or "buffalo," which still wanders in gradually diminishing herds over the prairies of North America; the musk-ox, limited to Arctic America, where, with its peculiar head and feet, it manages to find food even during the long winter of those regions; and the yak of Thibet, the tail of which is used as a fly-flap by the Asiatics.
Then we have a continuation of the series of antelopes, such as the bontebok, with its inscribed sides; the fine striped strepsiceros, with spiral horns; the nylghau, often called the horned horse of India; and the anoa of the Celebes. In these cases are also contained some others of the thickskinned beasts, as Baird's tapir of Central America; the African swine, with warts on the head, and formidable tusks; the babyrussa, with recurved horn-like tusks; the social South American peccaries, with a gland on their back emitting a foetid odour. All these animals have muscular and callous noses, which fit them well for grubbing in the ground. The curious hyrax, one of the species of which is the "coney" of Scripture: in structure it resembles a diminutive rhinoceros. The "shielded beasts," as the manis, or scaly ant-eaters of India and Africa, with very long claws, which are turned in when they walk; the burrowing armadilloes of South America, which, if danger threatens, can roll themselves into a ball, covered with jointed mail, whence they have derived their name. The ant-eaters of South America, which are covered with hair, and have a very long worm-like tongue which they exert into ant-hills, and, when covered with ants, draw into their mouths.
The next room eastward is called the Saloon of Mammalia. Here there is a very extraordinary collection, which includes the various species of monkeys. One of the most remarkable is the proboscis monkey of Borneo, with its singular long nose. Here also may be noticed the sacred monkey of the Hindoos, which is religiously preserved about their sacred enclosures. Other notable "specimens" in this group are the "colobi," so called from their fore-hands wanting the thumb. Of these the most handsome is the Abyssinian guereza, with long white hairs flowing over its sides, and with the white tail contrasting strongly with the deep black fur. The skin of this monkey is used to ornament the shields of the Abyssinian chiefs. In this saloon are also animals of the feline tribe, such as lions, tigers, leopards, bears, &c. The collection of corals, too, is very perfect. Suspended from the ceiling of this saloon is the skeleton of a whale from New Zealand, a species as important to commerce as the whale of the northern hemisphere. It is stated to be a young individual, not quite half grown. Near it is the skeleton of the bottle-nosed dolphin, of which a large shoal was taken near Holyhead in 1866. Here is also the skeleton of the narwhal, one of the most singular animals of the whale tribe, distinguished by a long spirally twisted tusk, which projects from the snout in the line of the animal's body. This tusk is developed on one side of the snout only (the left), very rarely on both sides. In the adult male it reaches a length of six or eight feet, but is seldom developed in the female; hence it is probable that its use is the same as that of the antlers in the stag. The ivory of the tusk commands a high price in the market, and was still more valued in former times, when it was believed to be the horn of the unicorn. The narwhal is an inhabitant of the Arctic seas, and rarely strays to more temperate regions.
The eastern zoological gallery corresponds in length and general arrangement with the King's Library, above which it is situated. The wall-cases of this gallery contain the general collection of birds, and in the table-cases are displayed the shells of molluscous animals arranged according to their peculiar characteristics. In the limited space at our command it would be a difficult task to make a selection here for special mention. Suffice it to say that the system observed in the arrangement of the different specimens is that of Temminck, whose generic names are in most cases adopted, with the specific names of Linnæus, and the English synonyms of Latham. Thus we have, in Cases 1 to 35, the diurnal birds of prey, such as the condor, or great vulture of the Andes, which soars higher than any other bird; the Turkey buzzards, or carrion vultures, which clear away putrifying carcases, and are the most useful scavengers in the warmer parts of America; the eagles, falcons, hawks, and owls. In Cases 36 to 83 we have the perching birds, subdivided into the widegaped, as the goatsuckers, the swallows, kingfishers, and the like. Among the tenuirostral birds may be noticed the hoopoes and sun-birds of Africa and Asia. The brilliant-plumaged humming-birds come next in order; and then follow the honey-eaters, nuthatches, wrens, wood-warblers, thrushes, and chatterers of the American forests, &c. Further on we find cases filled with conirostral birds, including the crows and finches; the scansorial, including the parrots and cuckoos; the gallinaceous birds, as pigeons, turtles, pheasants, and partridges. Lastly, we have the wading and web-footed birds, which comprise the ostriches, trumpeters, storks, cranes, flamingoes, swans, and ducks. An extensive series of cases of eggs of birds, ranged to correspond with the cases of the birds themselves, and placed opposite them, gives completeness to the whole.
In 1874 an important addition was made to the Natural History Department by the acquisition of Mrs. J. E. Craig's collection of shells, comprising some 12,000 specimens, and representing about 4,000 different species. In the same year the collection of beetles formed by Mr. Edward Saunders, and numbering upwards of 7,000 specimens, was purchased for its use.
Above the cases which line the walls of this gallery is a series of portraits, one hundred and thirteen in number, among which are a few of particular interest, notably those of Oliver Cromwell, painted by Walker, and bequeathed to the Museum in the year 1784 by Sir Robert Rich, to whose great-grandfather, Nathaniel Rich, Esq., then serving as a Colonel of Horse in the Parliamentary Army, it was presented by the great "Lord Protector" himself; one of Mary Queen of Scots, by Jansen; and one of Queen Elizabeth, by Zucchero. Here, too, may be seen portraits of Charles II. (by Sir Peter Lely), Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloane, and Sir Robert Cotton; Sir William Dugdale, William Camden, and John Speed, the historians; Shakespeare, Algernon Sidney, and Alexander Pope; Philip Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield, and Thomas Britton (the "Musical small-coal man"). But still the British Museum does not even claim, or pretend to contain, a National Portrait Gallery of Eminent Englishmen: we shall find such a gallery, and shall have much to say about it, when we reach South Kensington.
The first room in the northern zoological gallery contains an interesting display of the nests of birds and insects from various countries. "In one group of cases are nests of wasps and bees; some are constructed of clay, or of sand, while others are of paper, made of an admixture of the scrapings of wood and vegetable fibre. Specimens of the various insect fabricators of these structures are, in many instances, attached to the nests. In another case we find the remains of the square lintel of a door of one of the government offices in St. Helena, showing the destruction caused by a species of white ant. Then there are a series of the different stages of development, and of the products, of the Japanese silk-moths, prepared and set up in Japan. Among the more noticeable of the nests of birds are the playing avenues of the Australian bower-birds, the pendulous nests of the American orioles, and the gelatinous nests of the esculent swallow; and that of the San Geronimo swallow, which is a long pendulous tube formed entirely of the seed of a plant, secured together by the saliva of the bird; the hollow for the eggs is at the top, inside the tube; the bird has placed a false entrance on the side to deceive its enemies. Various nests of humming-birds, honey-eaters, tailor-bird, and lyre-tailed menuras are also shown. Another group of cases contains specimens illustrative of the various changes of insects, their nests and structures; the cocoon of the gigantic goliath beetle of Western Africa, the clay nests of various species of white ants, the various vegetable galls, and a series of the nests of spiders; among these the nests of the trap-door spider, and a remarkable flat web, constructed by an Australian species, are shown here. On the walls are suspended some specimens of the large gigantic land-tortoises, which once inhabited in large numbers the Galapagos and the islands of Mauritius, Rodriguez, and Aldabra. They formed a very important article of food to navigators in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries during the protracted and tedious voyages across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but are now almost extinct."
The succeeding rooms devoted to zoology, five in number, contain chiefly the various specimens of reptiles, such as serpents, tortoises, crocodiles, and lizards; toads, frogs, and efts; and the various species of marine products, such as star-fishes and sea-wigs. Here, too, are the spiny-rayed and anomalous fishes; insects; crustacea, including such varieties as the crab and lobster; and also sturgeons and pikes, &c.; whilst over the wallcases, or suspended from the roof, are ranged the larger fish which could not be accommodated within, such as the famous flying sword-fish, sharks, and congers.
On the north side, running parallel with the above-mentioned rooms, is the gallery of minerals and fossils. In no department, probably, is the Museum richer than in its minerals. These occupy the table-cases of four large rooms; the fossil remains of the invertebrate animals being displayed on the floor of the fifth and sixth rooms, and in the wall-cases throughout the entire gallery. In the lobby, at the eastern end of this gallery, is a restored model of the shell of an extinct fossil tortoise, of gigantic size, from the Siwalik Hills, in India. Portions of the shell, and of other parts of the skeleton of several different individuals of this species of tortoise, are deposited in the third room of the gallery, and it is of casts from some of these portions that the restored model is, in a great measure, composed. In this gallery will be found the fossil remains of those gigantic antediluvian animals and reptiles, which for so many years have excited the curiosity and stimulated the energies of men learned in geological science—such as the mastodon, the megatherium, the iguanodon, and the megalosaurus; then there are fossil plants, fishes, mammalia, insects, and shells; and perhaps the most extraordinary of all, a fossil human skeleton. This last-named "specimen" was brought from Guadaloupe by Sir Alexander Cochrane, and presented to the Museum by the Lords of the Admiralty. It was found embedded in the solid limestone rock, and much discussion has arisen as to its antiquity; "but," writes Sir Henry Ellis, "the most probable conjecture is that it is not more than a few centuries old." This skeleton (which is described in the "Philosophical Transactions" of the Royal Society) wants the skull, and it is a curious fact, mentioned by Sir Charles Lyell, in his "Travels in North America," that in the Museum at Charleston, South Carolina, he was shown a fossil human skull from Guadaloupe, embedded in solid limestone, "which they say belongs to the same skeleton of a female as that now preserved in the British Museum, where the skull is wanting." Dr. Moultrie, of the Medical College of that State, has described the bones, together with the entire skeleton disentombed from the limestone deposit at Guadaloupe, and is of opinion—taking for granted the relation of the skull at Charleston to the headless trunk in London—that the latter is not the skeleton of a Carib, as has been generally supposed, but that of one of the Peruvians, or of a tribe possessing a similar craniological development."
Before proceeding to describe the antiquities, we may say a few words about the botanical collection. This is very extensive, and is exhibited in two rooms, which are entered by a doorway on the eastern side of the central zoological saloon. The collection consists of dried plants, and other botanical specimens, and had its origin in the collection of herbaria formed from time to time by Sir Hans Sloane during his long life, or, at all events, from the year 1687, when he went out to Jamaica as physician to the Duke of Albemarle, "his chief inducement being the opportunity that it would afford him of studying his favourite science." On his return to England, he brought with him a collection of 800 species of West India plants. These, together with various others presented to or purchased by Sir Hans Sloane, are contained in about 300 volumes. To these have been added the herbarium of Baron von Moll, of Munich; and also that of Sir Joseph Banks. The latter alone formed at one time, it is said, the most valuable assemblage of dried plants in Europe, and is still one of the most important, not only on account of its extent, but as containing the original and authentic specimens of many published species. Besides the above, we learn that additions have since been made from various other sources, which make the entire number of species amount to about 50,000—"sufficient to entitle the Museum collection to rank among the finest in the world."
The department of antiquities is divided into two series: the first, consisting of sculpture, including inscriptions and architectural remains, occupies the ground-floor of the south-western and western portions of the building, besides some rooms in the basement, not originally designed for exhibition, but now supplying the only space which the extensive acquisitions recently made from Assyria and other countries have left available for that purpose. The second series, placed in a suite of rooms on the upper floor, comprises all the smaller remains, of whatever nation or period, such as vases, terracottas, bronzes, coins, and medals, and articles of personal or domestic use. To the latter division is attached the collection of ethnographical specimens. In the infancy of the Museum, the antiquities being few in number, and of comparatively little value, were considered, with other artificial curiosities, as an appendage to the natural history; the coins, medals, and drawings were at that time appended to the department of manuscripts; and the prints and engravings to the library of printed books. On the purchase of Sir William Hamilton's collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, in 1772, for the sum of £8,400, the augmentations even then were not considered sufficient to require an increase of the establishment; but on the acquisition of the Egyptian monuments at the capitulation of Alexandria, in the year 1801, and the purchase of the Towneley marbles shortly afterwards, additional accommodation was needed, and several new buildings were erected, as we have already shown. It was then that a new department was created, by the name of the Department of Antiquities; and thus, as Sir Henry Ellis writes, "the magnificent collection of ancient sculpture was at length opened for the inspection of strangers and the improvement of artists, an advantage which the students of the Fine Arts had never before enjoyed in this country."
On leaving the rooms containing the botanical specimens, and crossing the central saloon, the visitor enters the Ethnographical room, where will be found a curious and interesting collection of antiquities, and the objects in modern use, belonging to all nations, not of European race. In one table-case are antiquities discovered during excavations in India; in another, a group of Peruvian and Mexican antiquities; whilst others contain dresses and implements in use among the Esquimaux tribes, as well as objects illustrative of the late Arctic expeditions, chiefly collected by Sir John Barrow. With reference to the contents of the wall-cases in this room, we can only remark that they comprise a very miscellaneous assortment of articles, including specimens of wearing apparel, warlike implements, idols, musical instruments, sepulchral vases, pottery, domestic utensils, &c.
The British and Mediæval room contains three collections—namely, the British, consisting of antiquities found in Great Britain and Ireland, extending from the earliest period to the Norman Conquest; the Early Christian; and the Mediæval, comprising all remains of the Middle Ages, both English and foreign. Here we have in abundance such relics of the past as urns and other funeral remains found in tumuli; flint implements of a peculiar pear-shaped form, believed to be the oldest objects of human industry hitherto discovered; stone hammers and axe-heads; implements and weapons made of bronze; also vases and lamps. Among the historical relics in the mediæval collection we may mention the casket made out of Shakespeare's mulberry-tree, at one time in the possession of David Garrick; the punchbowl of Robert Burns; and portions of the frescoes in St. Stephen's Chapel, Westminster, executed in the latter half of the fourteenth century.
Between the two rooms above mentioned is a doorway leading to a small ante-room containing the collection of gold ornaments and gems. Here we find specimens of mediæval and modern jewellery, Greek, Roman, and Etruscan ornaments of an early period. And here also are exhibited the unrivalled collection of cameos and intaglios, formed chiefly by the bequests of the Payne Knight and Cracherode collections, and by the purchase of those of Towneley, Hamilton, Blacas, and Castellani. On one of the cases in this room is placed the celebrated glass vase, placed here in 1810 by its owner, the Duke of Portland, and thence popularly known as the Portland Vase. It was found in a marble sarcophagus in the Monte del Grano, near Rome, about the middle of the sixteenth century, and was afterwards deposited in the Barberini Palace, where it remained until 1770, when it was purchased by Byres, the antiquary, who sold it to Sir William Hamilton, of whom it was bought, for 1,800 guineas, by the Duchess of Portland, at the sale of whose property it was bought in by the family for £1,029. The ground of the vase is of dark-blue glass, and the design is cut in a layer of opaque white glass, the figures standing out in bold relief. The composition is classical; it is supposed by some to represent the meeting of Peleus and Thetis on Mount Pelion, and Thetis consenting to be the bride of Peleus, in the presence of Poseidon and Eros. On the bottom of the vase, which is detached, is a bust of Atys. This vase is considered one of the principal ornaments of the Museum, and till 1845 it was as perfect as when it was first fashioned. In that year a drunken mechanic, named William Lloyd, found his way into the Museum, and appears to have taken a dislike to the vase, a feeling which he gave vent to by deliberately hurling at it a stone which was lying close at hand; the result was that this peerless vase, as well as the glass case which contained it, was smashed to pieces. The man was at once taken before the magistrate, who sentenced him to pay the cost of damage to the case, but had no power to commit him for breaking the vase, except at the instigation of its ducal owner, who happened at the time to be out of town. In the meantime the money was paid, and the fellow was accordingly discharged. Although the vase was literally smashed into a thousand pieces, the fragments were carefully collected, and a drawing made of them, which is preserved. The fractured pieces were afterwards replaced and cemented together by Mr. Doubleday, a gentleman who had for a long time been engaged at the Museum in repairing pottery and sculpture; and the manner in which he accomplished his task was so far successful that the exquisite form and proportions of the vase have been restored in such a way that scarcely a blemish can be detected. The vase is ten inches high, and its diameter seven inches at the broadest part near the centre, and it has two handles. It diminishes gradually towards the base, and more rapidly upwards into the narrow neck, which again opens towards the lip by a graceful flower-like expansion. Copies of the vase were executed by Wedgwood, and sold at fifty guineas each; the model is said to have cost 500 guineas.
Among the miscellaneous curiosities which are preserved in this room are the gold snuff-box, set with diamonds, and ornamented with a miniature portrait of Napoleon, who, in 1815, presented it to the Hon. Mrs. Damer, the sculptress, by whom it was bequeathed to the Museum; a gold snuffbox, with a cameo lid, presented by Pope Pius VI. to Napoleon, and by him bequeathed to Lady Holland, with a card in Napoleon's handwriting; and also a cast taken from the face of Oliver Cromwell after death.
The medal-room contains a collection of coins
and medals superior to almost that of any other
country. Sir Hans Sloane's collection, which formed
the nucleus, was worth about £7,000 as bullion.
To these were added those of Sir Robert Cotton,
the Hamilton and Cracherode, valued at several
thousand guineas; Roberts's collection of coins
from the Conquest to George III.; a series of
Papal medals; a collection of Greek coins; a vast
collection of foreign coins, presented by Miss
Banks; and many others, both by bequest and
purchase. Of Queen Anne's farthings here are
seven varieties, one only of which was circulated,
the others being pattern pieces. Mr. John Timbs,
in his "Curiosities," remarks that "the real Queen
Anne's farthing, with the figure of Britannia on the
reverse, and below it, in the exergue, the date 1714,
brings from 7s. to a guinea; but at Baron Bolland's
sale, in 1841, a pattern piece fetched £9 9s. The
idea that there is but one Queen Anne's farthing in
existence, and that only three were struck, is a
popular error, several hundreds having been struck.
This erroneous belief has caused the British Museum
authorities almost as many annoyances as the
rarity of a 'tortoiseshell tom-cat.'" In this room
are preserved a few coins which have acquired an
interest from their former owners or from other circumstances, rather than from their own intrinsic
value; and of these we may mention the "Pulteney
Guinea," respecting which the following story is
told:—"William Pulteney, afterwards Earl of Bath,
was remarkable alike for his oratorical talents and
his long and consistent opposition to the measures
of Sir Robert Walpole, the great Whig minister.
On the 11th of February, 1741, a time when party
feeling was at its height, Walpole received an intimation in the House of Commons that it was the
intention of the Opposition to impeach him. To
this menace he replied with his usual composure
and self-complacence, merely requesting a fair and
candid hearing, and winding up his speech with the
'Nil conscire sibi, nulli pallescere culpæ.'
With his usual tact Pulteney immediately rose, and observed 'that the right honourable gentleman's logic and Latin were alike inaccurate, and that Horace, whom he had just misquoted, had written 'nullâ pallescere culpâ.' Walpole maintained that his quotation was correct, and a bet was offered. The matter was referred to Nicholas Hardinge, Clerk of the House, an excellent classical scholar, who decided against Sir Robert. The minister accordingly took a guinea from his pocket, and flung it across the house to Pulteney. The latter caught it, and holding it up, exclaimed, 'It's the only money I have received from the Treasury for many years, and it shall be the last.' This guinea having been carefully preserved, finally came into the hands of Sir John Murray, by whom it was presented, in 1828, to the British Museum. The following memorandum, in the handwriting of Pulteney, is attached to it:—'This guinea I desire may be kept as an heirloom. It was won of Sir Robert Walpole in the House of Commons; he asserting the verse in Horace to be "nulli pallescere culpæ," whereas I laid the wager of a guinea that it was "nullâ pallescere culpâ." He sent for the book, and being convinced that he had lost, gave me this guinea. I told him I could take the money without any blush on my side, but believed it was the only money he ever gave in the house where the giver and the receiver ought not equally to blush. This guinea, I hope, will prove to my posterity the use of knowing Latin, and encourage them in their learning.'"
The bronze-room, which we now enter, contains the collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan bronzes, with the exception of such as have been found in Great Britain, which are placed in the British and Mediæval room. It was originally composed of the Sloane, Hamilton, Towneley, and Payne Knight collections, to which have been added, in recent years, the bronzes bequeathed by Sir William Temple, and many other interesting objects acquired by purchase or donation, including figures of divinities, furniture, mirrors, lamps and vases, personal ornaments, tripods, candelabra, &c. Several of the objects here exhibited were discovered by Mr. Layard in Assyria; whilst others are from the sepulchres of ancient Etruria, and the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Here, too, are the exquisite bronzes bequeathed by Mr. R. Payne Knight and Mr. Felix Slade. Among the most recent additions to the contents of this room may be noticed John Milton's watch. This curious timepiece, made by W. Bunting, and worn and used by the poet, was bequeathed to the nation by the late Sir C. Fellows, in 1860; the rest of his collection was added by his widow in 1874.
The two vase-rooms, through which we now pass, contain a large number of Græco-Italian vases painted from the myths or popular poetry of the day; and in the next room (Egyptian room) is dis played the collections of ancient and more recent glass, including the very valuable bequest made to the Museum in 1868 by Mr. Felix Slade, numbering about 960 specimens, to which additions have been made since his death out of a fund bequeathed for the purpose, making a total of 1,750 specimens. This room and also the next in order should be carefully inspected, not merely for its own intrinsic interest, but as furnishing a valuable preparative for the due appreciation of the first series of sculptures (the Egyptian) which we shall find on the groundfloor. The smaller antiquities of Egypt which are here exhibited comprise divinities, royal personages, and sacred animals; sepulchral remains; and miscellaneous objects illustrative of the domestic manners of the Egyptians. They were acquired mainly by purchase from private collections, and by donations from the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Northumberland, the late Sir Gardner Wilkinson, and other travellers in Egypt. Charles Knight, in his "London," remarks that "ancient Egypt here revives before us—Osiris and Isis are no longer mere names; we behold them face to face, as their worshippers beheld them, who are here also represented, and that so numerously, in their mummies and mummy-cases, and who look so life-like from out their portraits upon us that one is half tempted to question them, and many a knotty riddle could no doubt be solved if the humblest of them would but speak. Yes, here are the very people of Egypt themselves; we see the expression of their faces, the colour of their hair, the outlines of their form; we know their very names, and their professions; this, for instance, is Otaineb, no Egyptian born, but one, no doubt, by naturalisation, as the gods of the country are exhibited on the case, taking especial care of him; Thoth, the Egyptian Mercury, is there seen introducing him to the many deities to whom the different parts of his body are respectively dedicated. This, again, is Hor, or Horus, incense-bearer to the abode of Noum-ra; this, Onkhhapê, a sacred musician; this Khonsaouonkh, a sacerdotal functionary and scribe; this Kotbi, a priestess of the Theban temple of Amoun; that, Har-sont-ioft, a priest of the same building."
"The preparations for embalming the dead, and ceremonies at funerals," as we learn from Herodotus in the words of the 'Guide to the Museum,' "were looked on as matters of importance by the Egyptians, and large sums were spent upon the sepulchral rites. There were several modes of preparing the mummies, varying not only at different periods, but also with the rank and wealth of the person to be interred. The more costly process was as follows:—The brain having been extracted, and the viscera removed through an opening cut in the left side with a stone, the body was, in earlier times, prepared with salt and wax—in later times, steeped or boiled in bitumen; then wrapped round with bands of linen, sometimes 700 yards in length; various amulets being placed in different parts, and the whole covered with a linen shroud and sometimes decorated with a network of porcelain bugles. It was then enclosed in a thin case formed of canvas, thickened with a coating of stucco, on which were painted figures of divinities and emblems of various kinds, as well as the name and titles of the deceased, and portions of the ritual of the dead. The whole was then enclosed in a wooden coffin, and sometimes deposited in a stone sarcophagus."
One of the most remarkable objects in the Egyptian collection is part of the mummy-shaped coffin of King Menkara, the Mycerinus of the Greeks, builder of the Third Pyramid. This is not only the oldest coffin in the collection, but one of the earliest inscribed monuments of Egypt. Near it is part of a body, supposed to be that of the king, found in the same pyramid. There is also a small Græco-Egyptian mummy of a child from Thebes; on the external wrapper is painted a representation of the deceased.
In the Egyptian ante-room, at the top of the staircase by which we descend to the ground-floor, the walls are partly covered with casts from sculptured and coloured bas-reliefs in Egypt, painted in imitation of the originals.
Upon the walls of the staircase are placed Egyptian papyri—documents of various character, inscribed on rolls, formed of thin layers or slices of the papyrus plant. The characters presented comprise "chiefly portions or extracts from the 'Ritual of the Dead,' the small pictures in them referring to the subjects of the various chapters; others are solar litanies and magical tracts. Among them is a caricature, and a treatise on arithmetic and geometry, one on medicine, with recipes of the age of Cheops, the romantic tale of a doomed prince, songs, dirges, criminal reports, and several contracts or deeds of sale in the demotic character."
In the vestibule at the foot of the stairs are placed monuments of the first twelve dynasties of Egyptian monarchs. Though small in size, they have considerable interest, being the most ancient sculptures in the Museum. The plaster cast from the head of the colossal statue of Rameses II., at Ibsamboul, placed over the east doorway of the vestibule, seems to keep watch and ward over the assembled treasures.
By a doorway at the foot of the stairs we enter the series of galleries devoted to Egyptian monuments and sculptured antiquities. The collection embraces a wide range of antiquity, commencing as far back as 2,000 years before the Christian era, and closing with the Mohammedan invasion of Egypt, A.D. 640. "The earlier sepulchral monuments," as we learn from the report of Dr. Birch, the keeper of this department, "are chiefly from Memphis, the capital of the most important of the more ancient dynasties, and the ruins of which are on the left bank of the Nile, opposite Cairo. Other early remains are derived from the great burialplace of Abydos. The main portion of the collection, including most of the monuments belonging to the kings of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties, was obtained from the ancient city of Thebes, which became the capital of Egypt under those monarchs." In the first gallery the larger sculptures belong to the 18th dynasty. It commenced with the expulsion of the "Shepherd Kings" from Lower Egypt, and its monarchs extended their conquests into Æthiopia and Asia, and built great edifices at Thebes. In the centre of the gallery towers aloft the colossal head of King Thothmes III., discovered by Belzoni near the granite sanctuary at Karnak, and near it is the arm of the same figure. Close by is a monument sculptured on four sides, representing in bas-relief the abovenamed king, supported by the god Muntra and the goddess Athor. In the central recess, on the east side of the gallery, is fixed the tablet of Abydos, said to be an inscription of great value in determining the names and succession of the kings of the various dynasties. It appears originally to have commemorated an offering made by Rameses II. to his predecessors on the throne of Egypt; and it was discovered by Mr. W. Bankes in a chamber of the temple of Abydos, in 1818. Among the curious objects here brought together are several statues of the cat-headed goddess Sekhet (Bubastis), inscribed with the name of the same monarch; the head of a colossal ram, from an avenue of ramheaded sphinxes, which led to a gateway built by King Horus, at Karnak. The king himself is also represented by two statues in black marble, one of which represents him under the protection of the god Amen-ra. The central saloon, through which we now pass, is chiefly occupied by monuments of the age of King Rameses II. Between the columns on the right is a colossal fist, in red granite, from one of the statues which stood before the great temple at Memphis, and close by are three colossal heads; one of these is a cast from a statue of Rameses, at Mitraheny; the next, a head and shoulders from the building called the Memnonium, at Thebes; and the other that of a queen. The principal objects in the southern gallery are the granite sarcophagus of Hapimen, a royal scribe; the elaborately-worked sarcophagus of the Queen of Amasis II., and another of King Nectanebo I., dating some three or four centuries before the Christian era; on the exterior are representations of the sun passing through the heavens in his boat, and on the interior various divinities; then there is a finely-sculptured group, in sandstone, of a male and female figure seated; and also a statue of King Menephtah II., on a throne, with a ram's head on his knees. One of the most interesting and valuable of the objects exhibited in this department is the famous Rosetta Stone. This stone, a black basalt, is inscribed in hieroglyphics, the ancient spoken language of Egypt, and in Greek, with the services of Ptolemy V. Tradition tells us that Professor Porson used to visit the Museum in order to read and decipher this stone, whence he got from the officials the name of "Judge Black-stone."
Several of the most important relics in the Egyptian Galleries were discovered by Belzoni, and came into the possession of the Museum through the bequest of a Mr. Salt, to whom Belzoni had engaged himself. Belzoni was a native of Padua, and came to England early in the present century. He was called "the strong man," a name which he no doubt merited, seeing that he stood nearly seven feet in height, and was well formed and stout in proportion. He exhibited his feats of strength in the minor theatres in the metropolis, and at Edinburgh. It was at Cairo that he became engaged to Mr. Salt, and from that time he was regularly employed in making discoveries, all of which are fully described in Belzoni's "Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs, and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia; and of a Journey to the Coast of the Red Sea, in search of the ancient Berenice, and another to the Oasis of Jupiter Ammon;" this great work was published shortly after his return to England. In 1823, Belzoni, accompanied by his wife, again left England, on another journey of discovery into Africa; but he died at Benin, on his way thither, from an attack of dysentery, in the same year.
The south end of the Egyptian Galleries opens into the Assyrian transept, which, together with a long and narrow gallery connected with it, running north and south, contain the collection of sculptures excavated, chiefly by Mr. Layard, in the years 1847–50, on the site, or in the vicinity, of ancient Nineveh. To these has been added a further collection, from the same region, excavated in 1853–55 by Mr. Hormuzd Rassam and Mr. W. K. Loftus, under the direction of Sir H. C. Rawlinson, who was at that time Her Majesty's Consul-General at Bagdad. Many of the objects here brought together are covered with pictorial representations of historical events, and inscribed with cuneiform characters. In 1873–4 valuable additions were made to this collection in the shape of a large number of burnt clay tablets, excavated at Kouyunjik, by Mr. George Smith. These tablets have been in part deciphered by Mr. Smith, who has found them to contain Chaldean legends of the creation, fall, deluge, building of the Tower of Babel, &c. The tablets were presented to the Museum by the proprietors of the Daily Telegraph, at whose expense Mr. Smith's labours in Assyria were conducted.
Mr. Layard's discoveries, as we learn from his "Nineveh and its Remains," were, for the most part, made in extensive mounds formed by the natural accumulation of the soil over the débris of ruined edifices, in the three following localities:—1. Nimroud, believed to be the ancient Calah of Scripture, on the banks of the Tigris, about twenty miles below the modern Mosul. 2. Khorsabad, a site about ten miles to the north-east of Mosul, which was excavated for the French Government by M. Botta, and from which was procured the greater part of the valuable collection now in the Louvre, though a few specimens of sculpture have also been obtained for the British Museum. 3. Kouyunjik, still indicated by local tradition as the site of Nineveh, nearly opposite Mosul, on the Tigris.
There is monumental evidence that of the various buildings which Mr. Layard excavated, that of the palace of Nimroud was older by several centuries than the edifices of Khorsabad and Kouyunjik. To this palace, the son of a founder added a second; subsequent additions are recorded in the inscriptions, and the place at last attained the dimensions ascribed to it by Jonah. "If (says Mr. Layard) we take the four great mounds of Nimroud, Kouyunjik, Khorsabad, and Karamles, as the angle of a square, it will be found that its four sides corresponded pretty accurately with the 480 stadia, or sixty miles of the geographer, which makes the three days' journey of the prophet." Within this space there are many mounds, ruins of edifices, vestiges of streets and gardens; and the face of the country is strewed with fragments of pottery and bricks. As to the number of inhabitants, mentioned in the book of Jonah (chap. iv. 11) to be above 120,000, a number which seems apparently incommensurate with a city of such vast dimensions, Mr. Layard remarks that cities in the East are not like those in Europe; for such places as London or Paris would not contain above a third of the number of their inhabitants. The women have separate apartments from the men; there is a separate house for each family; and gardens and arable land are inclosed by the city walls. Hence it is mentioned in the book of Jonah that there was "much cattle" within the walls of the city, and, of course, there was pasture for them. The existing ruins, Mr. Layard tells us, "show that Nineveh acquired its greatest extent in the time of the kings of the second dynasty, that is, of the kings mentioned in Scripture; it was then that Jonah visited it, and that reports of its magnificence were carried to the west, and gave rise to the traditions from which the Greek authors mainly derived the information which has been handed down to us."
The monuments obtained by Mr. Layard from Kouyunjik are stated to date from the supposed era of the destruction of Nineveh, and were procured from the remains of a very extensive Assyrian edifice, which appears, from the inscriptions remaining on many of its sculptures, to have been the palace of Sennacherib, who is presumed to have commenced his reign about B.C. 700. For the most part, these remains consist of large slabs of alabaster or limestone, covered with carved figures and inscriptions, which occupied the place of panels in the walls of the palace. One group of slabs, six in number, formed originally part of a series illustrating the architectural works of King Sennacherib, including, probably, the construction of the very edifice from which the slabs were obtained. On two of them is seen the conveyance of a colossal human-headed bull, lying sideways on a sledge, which is propelled, over wooden rollers, partly by ropes in front, partly by a lever behind. On one side is a lofty mound, which labourers are erecting with stones or earth, and which is, perhaps, designed for the platform of the future palace. The workmen are guarded by soldiers, and superintended by Sennacherib himself, in a chariot drawn by two men. A similar mound is represented on the next slab, with an adjoining stone-quarry or clay-pit, where the materials of construction are prepared; whilst on the succeeding one is a portion of a group moving some weighty object. On the next slab is another colossal bull, represented as before; and on the last is depicted the monarch, in his chariot, directing some operation sculptured on a lost portion of the series. The background of the slabs exhibits men carrying axes, saws, ropes, and other implements; and along the top are representations of the natural scenery of the country, water filled with fish, anglers floating on inflated skins, boats, banks lined with trees, and a jungle of reeds, in which are deer, and a wild sow with her young.
By a doorway on the west side of the Nimroud Central Saloon, we pass into the Hellenic Room. Among the marbles here exhibited, the first in importance is a collection discovered by Professor Cockerell, in 1812, among the ruins of the Temple of Apollo, near the ancient Phigalia, in Arcadia. This edifice was erected by Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon, at Athens, in commemoration of the delivery of the Phigalians from the plague, B.C. 430. The chief part of these treasures consists of twenty-three sculptured slabs, originally belonging to a frieze in the interior of the cella of the temple. Eleven of them represent in high relief the contest between the Centaurs and Greeks, and the remaining twelve the invasion of Greece by the Amazons.
The Elgin Room, which is next entered, forms the western side of the Museum. Here are arranged the noble sculptures from the Parthenon, a portion of the frieze of the Temple of the Wingless Victory, at Athens, some architectural remains from the Erectheum, together with a number of fragments and casts, all from Athens. The sculptures from the Parthenon, and nearly all the marbles in this room, were obtained by the Earl of Elgin, when Ambassador at Constantinople, in the years 1801–3, by virtue of a firman from the Sublime Porte. We have already spoken of the purchase of the Elgin collection by the Government in a previous chapter.
A doorway at the southern end of the Elgin Room leads into the Mausoleum Room, where are arranged the fragments of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, erected by Artemisia, about B.C. 352, over the remains of her husband, Mausolus, Prince of Caria, and discovered by Mr. Newton, in 1857. The structure, we are told, when perfect, "consisted of a lofty basement, on which stood an oblong Ionic edifice, surrounded by columns, and surmounted by a pyramid, on the summit of which was a chariot group in white marble. The edifice which supported the pyramid was encircled by a frieze richly sculptured in high relief, and representing the battle of Greeks and Amazons. The material of the sculptures was Parian marble, and the whole structure was richly ornamented with colour. The tomb of Mausolus was of the class called by the Greeks heröon, and so greatly excelled all other sepulchral monuments in size, beauty of design, and richness of decoration, that it was reckoned one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, and the name Mausoleum came to be applied to all similar monuments."
Passing through the Greek ante-room, we enter the Lycian Gallery. The antiquities exhibited in this room comprise architectural and sculptural remains obtained from ancient cities in Lycia, one of the south-western provinces of Asia Minor. They were removed from that country in two expeditions, undertaken by Her Majesty's Government in the years 1842–6, under the direction of Sir C. Fellows, by whom the greater part of the marbles in this room were discovered. The building, of which the sculptures and various architectural members here brought together formed a part, has, by some, been considered a trophy in memory of the conquest of Lycia by the Persians, under Harpagos, B.C. 545.
In 1874, an addition was made to the collection in this gallery, in the shape of fragments of columns, bases and capitals, &c., from the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, which had been discovered by Mr. Wood, in explorations made during the two or three previous years. Among the fragments sent hither by Mr. Wood were "the lower drum of a column, nearly entire, with figures sculptured on it in relief, and large fragments of two or more drums, similarly sculptured; also the base of a pilaster, sculptured in relief, on the same scale as the drums." These sculptured drums, it is considered, "are evidently portions of the thirty-six columns of the temple, which Pliny describes as cæatæ, or 'sculptured in relief.'" The architectural marbles present many interesting features; some of the smaller fragments, for instance, "retain traces of red colour; while the calcined surface of other marbles, and their charcoal smears, tell the sad story of some ancient conflagration, in which, probably, perished the beautiful timber roof and the staircase, cunningly wrought in vine-wood."
A staircase in the south-west corner of the building leads into the Græco-Roman basement room, to which the basement of the Lycian Room is annexed. In this room are shown figures and reliefs of the Græco-Roman period, miscellaneous objects in marble and other material, and the collection of tessellated pavements and mosaics, which has been formed chiefly from the discoveries at Carthage and Halicarnassus in 1856–8.
The next three rooms, extending along the southern front of the building, are known as the Græco-Roman Rooms, and are appropriated to statues, busts, and bas-reliefs, of quite a mixed class, and mostly of a classic character. Here we find several statues and busts of gods and goddesses, such as Hercules, Venus, Bacchus, Pan, and the like; but we can here notice only a few of them. In an alcove in the centre room is the Towneley Venus, found at Ostia, in 1776; and in the alcove on the opposite side is the celebrated Discobolus, or Quoit-thrower, presumed to be a copy of the famous bronze statue made by the sculptor Myron. In the western room is the beautiful female bust commonly called "Clytie." The bust is represented as emerging from the petals of a flower, and it was esteemed by Mr. Towneley as the gem of his collection. It was bought at Naples, from the Lorrenzano Palace, in 1772. The following curious anecdote connected with this piece of sculpture we quote from Charles Knight's "London:"—"During the Gordon riots, Mr. Towneley, as a Catholic, was marked out by the mob, who intended to attack the house in Park Street, where all his darling treasures were collected. He secured his cabinet of gems, and casting a long and lingering look behind at his marbles, was about to leave them to their fate, when, moved by some irrepressible impulse of affection, he took the bust in question into his arms and hurried off with it to his carriage. Fortunately the attack did not take place, and his 'wife,' as he called the lady represented, returned to her companions."
Passing on through the Roman Gallery, the last of the series of rooms devoted to the department of sculptured antiquities, we arrive once more in the entrance-hall, and so end our perambulation of this great national storehouse. There is, however, one more object which we should mention, and that is the skeleton of, we believe, the largest whale ever captured. This monster of the deep, measuring some hundred feet in length, was for many years an attraction at country fairs throughout the kingdom, a large number of caravans being used for its conveyance and exhibition; and it has at last found a resting-place in the basement of the Museum, under the Grenville Library, where it can be seen on application to the attendants.
It will be evident that the expenses of such an establishment as the British Museum must be very considerable, and that many persons must be occupied in fulfilling the duties attached to it. We have already spoken of the principal librarian as being head and chief, under the trustees, of the whole working body of the establishment. Besides this officer, there are upwards of one hundred persons engaged in the various departments, either as "keepers," or "senior assistants," or "junior assistants;" and in addition, there is a little army of assistants dispersed through the libraries and saloons, perhaps upwards of another hundred strong. Then there are a few "fumatori," or castmakers, and a regular corps of index-makers and bookbinders, constantly employed, as well as a goodly number of household servants. It may, perhaps, be almost needless to remark here that every precaution is taken to ensure the safety of the collection. Like the Bank of England, this building has a detachment of the Guards nightly sent to keep watch and ward against intruders from without; whilst the destruction of the edifice by fire is a thing well nigh impossible, seeing that no light is allowed to be carried about whatever, either by night or by day, and that, through the same fear of fire, all night studies are forbidden.
We conclude this subject with a few general remarks. If we compare it with similar institutions abroad, such as the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Louvre, at Paris, the Royal Libraries of Munich and Berlin, and the Vatican Library at Rome, we may safely claim for our national Museum a very high place. Viewed with reference to its collection of books, both as to quality and in quantity, it stands among the first in the world, combining as it does some 900,000 volumes, including nearly all the rarest specimens. Its manuscripts, also, are certainly first-rate in number, being fully equal to those of the Bibliothèque Nationale, though, per haps, in intrinsic value, they fall short of the treasures of the Vatican. Our statues from the antique, Greek and Roman, are the finest in the world, and our vases and bronzes are very good, though in modern statuary, just as in pictures, we do not pretend to make a show. Passing on to the other part of our art treasures, a very high rank may be claimed for our prints from the works of the ancient masters, though in topography, both English and foreign, the collection is poor, and our stores of portraits can be hardly said to be more than mediocre. Our coins are acknowledged to be very fine indeed; in Roman gold coins the Museum is superior even to the Bibliothèeque Nationale, though inferior to it in Greek coins, and also in medallions. Our collection of gems comprises the Blacas, the Towneley, the Payne-Knight, the Crackerode, and the Castellani cabinets, all of which are now incorporated together, and arranged in a mythological series. As a whole the collection ranks with that of Berlin, and though inferior to that of St. Petersburg, especially in respect of gold ornaments, it can hardly acknowledge any other rivals. Then, as to antiquities of a miscellaneous character, thanks, mainly, to Belzoni, who commenced the Egyptian collection, we stand at the head of all; Lord Elgin robbed the Parthenon at Athens to enrich our stores of Greek statuary, as already mentioned; thanks to Mr. Layard, we are extremely rich, far richer than our rivals, in respect of treasures dug up in Assyria and at Nineveh; Sir Charles Fellows has given us a very beautiful collection of Carian and Lycian specimens; Mr. C. T. Newton has brought hither nearly all that was grand from Halicarnassus, including a large part of its celebrated Mausoleum; and more recently, as we have shown, Mr. Wood has contributed some most interesting relics from ancient Ephesus, including a large part of the famous Temple of Diana of that city, familiar to every reader of the Acts of the Apostles.