« PreviousContinue »
WE paid a visit to the British Museum, in Montague House, Great Russell Street, near Russell Square, it was opened to the public in 1759. It appears that a celebrated physician, Sir Hans Sloane, had collected an immense quantity of books, manuscripts, and objects of curiosity, and in his will after his death, it was directed, that all these things should be offered to the British government for £20,000 to form a public Museum. This offer was acceded to, and thus was commenced this grand collection of books, specimens of minerals of all descriptions, of stuffed animals and curiosities from all parts of the world. There was soon added a large library, called the Cottonian manuscripts collected by Sir Robert Cotton, and then a library belonging to Major Edwards. George the Second presented a library of books, which the kings of England, from Henry the Seventh, had collected; and King George the Fourth, in 1823, gave all the books belonging to
his late father George the Third, supposed to have cost £200,000. There are also the Lansdowne, and the Burney, and the Macintosh manuscripts, and by the law of publishing, a copy of every new book is obliged to be given ; so, that, as a library, there never was in the world any place where so much information was collected together.
And any person may obtain admission, either to read or to copy out anything he may
wish. Any individual wishing to become a reader has to apply in writing to the chief librarian, and must have his application signed by some known person.
If the person recommending the party is known, immediate admission is granted, otherwise they have to wait a few days until enquiries are made, and this is done to prevent disreputable persons from getting in. When the person is admitted he receives a ticket for six months, and at the end of that time it must be renewed. General visitors to the Museum are not admitted to the library or reading rooms as they would merely see the outsides of an immense number of books, and would only disturb those persons who come to study or to copy out such matters as they may require.
In the Museum, there is every thing that is curious; there are several Mummies, specimens of Hindoo sculpture, Burmese Idols, several Arabic inscriptions on columns, there are large Egyptian statues brought home by Belzoni the
traveller, particularly Memnon's head. There are Obelisks from Cairo, covered with Hieroglyphic characters. There are also fine specimens of stuffed animals, there are two Giraffes or Cameleopards of immense size being eighteen feet high, and a Musk Ox; there are also a collection of the Marble sculptures from Athens, brought home by Lord Elgin and bought for £35,000, in 1816. One of the most beautiful things is the beautiful Portland or Barberini Vase, its height is ten, and its diameter six inches, the material is a dark but transparent blue substance, upon this the figures are formed of a white substance; it is difficult to say how they are united; it was discovered about the middle of the sixteenth century enclosed in a marble sarcophagus, supposed to have held the remains of the Emperor Alexander Severus, near Rome. The Duke of Portland bought it of Sir William Hamilton.
On the first floor the room is surrounded with glass cases, with curiosities from the South Sea Islands, and the dresses of the Esquimaux who live near the North Pole. Here are rude
spears, arrows, and harpoons; in the centre of the room are glass cases with magnificent shells, beautiful, and arranged in nice order.
In another room collections of dried plants of nearly all known sorts, and then a collection of English fossils, and in another room, carefully preserved in cabinets, are specimens of nearly all
known sorts of insects; then there is a large collection of Seals, Vases, and Hindoo Bonzes, then there are several rooms full of all sorts of animals, birds, beasts, fishes, stuffed so as to look just as if they were alive, very large Bats, Monkeys of all sorts; there is a curious animal called Ornithorhyncus paradoxus, which has the bill of a Duck upon the hairy body of a fourfooted animal, it is half beast, half bird, from New Holland; where things are quite unlike any other place, they have animals, half bird and half beast, and they have timber half Fir and half Beach, called Cowdie.
There are beautiful specimens of Goats, Deer, Antelopes, immense Serpents called Boa Constrictors, Eagles and Hawks of all sorts and sizes, and then all the British Birds, the Lark, Bulfinch, Thrush, Goldfinch, Titmouse, and great numbers of other Birds of England. It is neither our wish or intention to offer a catalogue description of any of the sights of London, we only wish to inform our countrymen of what is to be seen in this mighty city, and if we had seen nothing else but the British Museum, we should have said how happy is the country possessing such an establishment ; for here poor as well as rich are constantly admitted. Every thing is so well described, there is no charge allowed to be made for seeing it, and here are to be found books treating upon every possible subject, shells and
geological specimens of every description, ores and stones from all parts of the world, dresses and costumes of all the rude natives, and their implements of war, &c. &c., birds and beasts stuffed so as to resemble life, and we could have spent whole days in examining the several objects contained herein. The English may well pride themselves in possessing this magnificent Institution ; it reflects great credit on them for here is laid open a most extensive field of learning, where every lover of knowledge has access without any expense, and thousands of books before him, to store his mind with information-in fact he can here satisfy his curiosity in every natural, and artificial object.