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coming in and going out, wandering into the libraries, or gathering in groups to gaze furtively down the passage leading to the reading room, kept by two officials, who are as civil and obliging as men can be. One cannot help noticing how strongly and how oddly the curiosity inherent to our race, is shewn by those who visit any public place. What there is to be seen is comparatively uninteresting to what is hidden. Mark any door " private," and the heart of the stranger yearns to open that door and look inside; run up a barrier of planks, and the strangers seek by all sorts of means to peer behind; "no admission except on business," is provocative of the most intolerable curiosity. There is something comical in seeing an individual, careless about the marvels and beauties presented to his gaze, straining his eyes at a crevice, to find, perhaps, a few shavings, a basket of tools and a workman taking his dinner. But it is an instinct of nature within us all, a desire to know, to find out, what is hidden.
The thousands and tens of thousands of visitors who come to Blooinsbury enter that palace of antiquities as their own house; if not admitted every day and everywhere, they are disposed to resent it; but how different was all this a century ago, and less. Then if you wished to see the Museum, it was necessary to make known that wish to the porter, stating your name, condition, abode, in writing, and naming the hour and the day when you would be glad to be let in. Your application was duly registered, and laid before the secretary or librarian. Supposing one or other of these gentlemen, or both, were satisfied that the applicant, from his position in society, might safely be allowed to see the sight, the porter was directed to give him a ticket if he called again. The applicant presenting himself again, receives tho joyful news that a ticket-ofIcavc to see tho exhibition i^has been granted. On the appointed morning applicant arrives, according to the hour on the card—say nine in the morning—and is shewn or ordered into a room to wait until other fortunate ticket-holders arrive. Ten is the number, and the tenth man having made his appearance, the party is marshalled into two divisions, each under the charge of an official, who is excessively sharp in his attention, as if he suspected that one of the visitors would surreptitiously pocket, or otherwise dispose of a Hans Sloano curiosity. Under such rigid regulations very few people of tho common sort, if any, ever crossed the threshold of Montague House; the building was virtually closed against tho public, and the only book-worms admitted wero the literal representatives of the insect world, who were allowed to devour the books without a ticket! To watch the busy cheerful wondering tlirong now freely visiting the Museum, is a gratifying token of the improved state of public feeling, and the conduct of the visitors is very creditable and assuring.
Here are the holiday groups of modern England among the sarcophagi, column statues, sepulchral urns and funeral tablets of ancient Egypt, stone coffins, hewn from the solid rock, polished and engraved with hieroglyphics which tell how great and mighty were those for whom they were prepared; there are the coffins of royal ladies and scribes and priests, some of them huge boxes, others fashioned into the form of a mummy, all, or nearly all, inscribed with names—the door-plates of the dead !—an allusion to a faith as dead as those who trusted in it. The urns are scarcely less interesting; in these were stored the intestines of the embalmed Egyptian, and the figures sculptured on the vases are those of the genii, who were supposed to preside over the interior of the body. But most conspicuous of all, are the colossal figures in granite; heroes, sages, kings, dedicated to Osiris, Isis, and Orus, but serving only to illustrate the manners of an ancient to a modern race, to add external testimony to the truth of the faith held by the enslaved people who groaned under the rod of the task-master on the banks of the Nile. The people of the modern race who know the story of that slavery and emancipation, from their childhood, are here brought face to face with the material evidences of the Bible narrative. Memnon still resounds, the carved tablets, the sphynxes, the colossal statues, the urns and frescoes, are all eloquent of the truth. Hero is the painter and the sculptor commenting on the Pentateuch—artists contemporary with Moses, whose illustrative criticism must be more valuable than that of a modern sceptical prelate! Slabs, statues, marbles, bearing witness to the truth of other parts of Old Testament history; and Assyrian chisels, sculptors of Nimroud, Kuyunjik, Khorsabad, telling how Sennacherib came up against Lachish, and how the Jewish captives were brought before his throne. The prophets and the historians are alike verified by the cold dumb stone, made warmly eloquent in defence of Bible truth.
But to me there is something very awful in the whole contents of the Bloomsbury Exhibition. There is so much that tells of death—of the vanity of all human things; death everywhere; death in the glittering beetles transfixed in cases, in the giraffes of North and South Africa, craning their long necks at the top of the grand staircase; death in the long avenues of wild beasts, of tame animals, of all the birds of heaven, of all tlio fishes of the sea; monkeys that stare at us out of their glass eyes with a fixed gibber ; dogs that can give no response to a friendly touch; larks that shall no more "Sing at heaven's gate," nor "build their nests upon the ground." Death in the vogetable world in the tdead fossils; sea-weed and ferns that shall never again put forth their branches, or wave their singularly formed foliage; death in the pictures, the pictures of dead faces looking down upon us from the canvas, great and mighty men, but of the "earth earthy," are gathered to the great gamer house centuries agone. Deadliest of all, here are the Egyptian dead, the mummies, swathed and bandaged corpses that once were men and women, and now lie amid a curious collection of their household goods, chairs, stools, head-rests, iron keys, bronze hinges, models of houses, a workman's apron, a palm leaf basket, hair studs, cord sandals, toilet services, mirrors, and a state wig, beautiful and lustrous as though it had left the barber's block but yesterday,—everything round it speaking of death and decay; bottles which shall hold no more liquors, cups to which no lips shall come, lamps whose light is extinguished for ever, and viands ready dressed that shall never be eaten; musical instruments that shall give forth no sound, and toys with which no childish hand shall play.
And yet it is not all dead. Turn into the libraries, and the books of the dead, many of them written in dead languages, attract the eye at every turn; in the glass cases rare volumes of the dead and gone are laid open for inspection, and solemn acts of State signed and sealed by dead hands; and letters breathing of life and love penned by skeleton fingers centuries ago. But the books are not dead; the solemn deeds and charters are still to all intents and purposes alive; here is the Magna Charta, won from the crafty Lackland nearly six hundred and fifty years ago, but still the basis of our English Constitution; it is curious to stand and look upon this parchment deed, which once upon a timo was fair as the new vellum in the law stationers, but dark and dingy as it now is, has become the very corner stone of English liberty; the eyes that saw it when the ink was wet, looked differently on it to what we do now; triumphant glances met the baffled gaze of the king checkmated in his island of Runnymede. Checkmated—here is the specimen of one of the earliest printed books, the book of chess, printed by good Master Caxton; this book and its brothers have founded a mighty family and revolutionized society. Dead! these are not dead at all events, the seeds of truth—vital truth—have been broadcast by the press; the light of truth has been everywhere shed abroad, relieved of that encumbering bushel under which it lay when the monkish Scribe was the only teacher. It is well to look thankfully at this rudely illustrated block book, and to remember what a mighty work has been wrought by the printers' art. There are manuscript portions of the Bible here, richly illuminated with saints in gold and colours in all impossible attitudes; what a blessed thing it is to know that the illuminating art is now confined to a ladylike pastime, or an antiquary's hobby—and that the illumination which lights up the darkened intellect with truth and goodness, has burst upon the world tlirough cheaply printed Bibles.
Dead! there is nothing dead in the books; when I pass into the Reading-room and look round on the book-covered walls, it seems to me that I stand in the presence of a living host, in the Pantheon of Genius—that wit, wisdom, worth, are treasured here, not dead but living—so far as they are true and good—with a life that fears no death. That Reading-room is the most spacious and beautiful in Europe; a circular chamber, with a dome 106 feet high, and with a span exceeding that of St. Peter's at Rome; there are twenty windows and a circular light at the top 120 feet in circumference; there are two gilded galleries, one above the other, sweeping round the room, which, in its first effect upon the visitor and in all its details, is graceful and elegant; blue, white and gold are the prevailing colours; looking up into the immense concave, there is a sense of sublimity that is never produced by meretricious ornaments—grandeur and simplicity are always impressive.
There is under the first gallery, within reach of the readers, a very large collection of reference volumes. There are coloured and varnished plans freely scattered over the room, which the uninitiated reader will find most useful, as they indicate the locality of each section of books. For example, turning to the left as you enter, you find yourself in company with the topographers, writers of town and country history, historians of parishes and civil recorders of London and elsewhere; national historians, registrars, calendars and the rest follow: scores of volumes of the "Gentleman's Magazine," of the old " Penny," of the monthlies and the quarterlies, and so on; then encylopsedias of all kinds, and books of miscellaneous information; then dictionaries and lexicons in all the tongues of Babel, with Bishop "Wilkin's quaint old book on the "Universal Language!" After this, guide books and directories, and lists of all the dignitaries of Church and State; and lastly, butting up against the attendant's passage, where the perambulators laden with books in demand, are wheeling every day, and all day long—in heraldry, in modest modem type, stating its principles, and in bold antique emblazonry illustrating family history, and suspending, as it were, from the bough of every genealogical growth, such gay and lively ornaments as might fancifully decorate a Christmas tree.
Turn to the right when you enter, and you are among maps and gazetteers, then farther on, among the lives of great men, then a very army of essayists and poets, and novelists; then you are among the gardeners and the geologists, and the chemists and the doctors; among books of surgery and cookery, and domestic medicine and household recipes. Then among the lawyers; statutes and records, and state trials, and commentaries and cases, and precedents. And then among the divines—the two Butlers very close together: one shewing how rational is religion; the other how superstitious and how vain religion may be made, when priestcraft only lets the light of heaven be seen through stained glass windows! Lastly, Bibles—Bibles speaking in the ancient tongues; Bibles speaking plain English—Bibles that are but the representatives of an immense storehouse of Bibles, to which the biblical student may have access, if he will.
Need I say, that the arrangements are very convenient, and exceedingly comfortable. I think it is unnecessary to expatiate on these matters. Everything is as it should be—except, and surely this a fault on the right side—that reading cards are too easily obtainable, and that advantage is sometimes taken of this by novel readers, who ought to belong to a circulating library, and young students, " coaching" themselves from "cribs" not easily obtainable elsewhere.
Honour to the British Museum! it is one of the noblest institutions of the country, and nowhere can better information be obtained, nor more instructive lessons elicited, than on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at the Great Exhibition in Bloomsbury.
"THERE WAS A GREAT CALM."