« AnteriorContinua »
CHAPTER THE TENTH.
British Museum-Museum of College of Surgeons Museum of Practical
Geology–United Service Museum-India Museum–Missionary
THE BRITISH MUSEUM,
Sir Hans Sloane, who had collected a considerable number of curious and valuable objects at ar tlay of £50,000, directed by his will that they should be offered to Government for the sum of £20,000, and in 1753 an Act of Parliament was passed to authorize the acceptance of the offer, and to vest that collection as well as the Cottonian and Harleian collections of MSS., in certain persons, to be styled the Trustees of the British Museum ; in this way our great national establishment originated. In the year following the trustees purchased: Montague House from Lord Halifax for the reception of these collections, and on the 15th January 1759 the Museum was opened to the public.
The contents of the Museum are now divided into eight departments, viz. :Printed Books.
Mineralogy. Each department is under the immediate care of an underlibrarian as keeper, over whom is the principal librarian, an office now held by Signor Antonio Panizzi. There is also a superintendent of the Natural History departments, a situation now held by Mr. Richard Owen, the English Cuvier. The appointment of officers, and the management of the affairs, are in the hands of the trustees, a rather numerous body, some of whom are appointed by Government and others by certain families, to whose ancestors the nation is indebted for important gifts.
Seven acres of ground are occupied by the Museum buildings and their court-yards. Their cost, including that of the new reading-room, has been nearly a million sterling. Extensive as they are, more room is urgently required, and many plans have been brought forward, but nothing has been definitely determined
At one time the separation of the collections of antiquities and art, and their removal to South Kensington, was a plan that found favour.
The grand entrance is from Great Russell Street, from which the principal court-yard is separated by a massive iron railing. Entering at the great gates, we pass buildings occupied as residences by the chief officers, and approach a splendid portico, supported by columns 45 feet high, and having at their bases a diameter of 5 feet. The entire front is 370 feet in length, and is
of elegant proportions. The pediment of the portico is enriched with a group of figures in Portland stone by Sir R. Westmacott, representing the progress of civilization. The whole of the exterior of the buildings is in the Grecian-Ionic style. If the visitor will take the trouble to consult the plans, he will more easily understand our directions. Entering the great hall (Grecian-Doric), we may either cross it to the door leading to the new reading-room (not accessible without a special ticket), or turn to the right and enter the Grenville and Royal libraries, or tum to the left and enter the galleries of antiquities, or ascend the staircase to the zoological, botanical, palæontological, and mineralogical collections. To those who desire more detailed information than our space enables us to give, we may recommend the official guide to the departments of Natural History and Antiquities, sold in the ball, price 6d.
ANTIQUITIES.—Turning to the left, out of the entrance hall, we enter a long narrow gallery, where a collection of Roman antiquities found in this country is preserved, as well as some ancient statues and busts of several Roman Emperors, and others of that nation. The greater part of the Roman sculpture in this gallery and the succeeding saloons was collected by Charles Townley, Esq., from whose representatives they were purchased by Government for £20,000 in 1805.
In 1824 a valuable addition was acquired by the bequest of R. Payne Knight, Esq. In the Græco-Roman saloons are to be seen works found in Italy, but by artists who were either Greeks, or who imitated Greek sculpture. In the first saloon is a portion of the mythological series, representing gods and goddesses. Amongst these the Townley Venus, in the middle of the room—a half-draped figure with restored extremities, deserves close attention as a very fine work of art; as well as the torso of another Venus, stooping. Here is a head of Apollo, remarkable for its beauty. In the second Græco-Roman saloon is a statue of a Discobolus (quoit-thrower), life size, supposed to be a copy of the celebrated bronze statue by Myron ; and busts of personages distinguished in Greek history or literature—Homer (a noble bust), Epicurus, Pericles, Sophocles, and others. In the third Græco-Roman saloon is a female bust with the lower part enclosed in a flower. This is usually called Clytie ; it is undoubtedly one of the most equisite heads of all antiquity. At the end of this saloon a staircase leads down to the Græco