« PreviousContinue »
the British museum recommend it as the site of a great public library, but the convenience also of a large class of students is consulted by the facilities afforded of referring at the same time to the collections and to publications on natural history and science. The models, forming as they do a most valuable part of the treasures assembled here, are considered as so intimately connected with the library as naturally to belong to the same place.
The library at this Museum claims only, in point of extent, a fifth or sixth rank in Europe, and is not even the principal library in Great Britain. It contains at present only 165,000 printed volumes and 20,000 volumes of MSS. In the King's library, which will be added to the Museum, there are 65,000 volumes; and in that of Sir J. Banks, which will also eventually become the property of the Museum by bequest, 16,000 volumes, making a total of 246,000 volumes, exclusive of the MSS. It is computed that the Bodleian library at Oxford contains above 200,000 volumes; and besides the occasional additions of new libraries by purchase, a much larger sum is annually expended there on new works than at the British Museum, which it also surpasses in the value of its MSS. particularly those relating to classical literature and those in the Hebrew and Arabic languages, of which an admirable catalogue raisonnée has been nearly completed by the present learned professor, Dr. Nicol. The library of the Vatican is the most considerable in the world. The King's Library at Paris, so accessible to the public, and where the attendance of librarians is excellent, contains 350,000 printed volumes, besides an equal number of pamphlets, and 50,000 MSS. In addition to this splendid collection, the number of printed volumes in the libraries of the Arsenal, of St. Genevieve, and of the Mazarine palace, make together a total scarcely, if at all, inferior to that of the Bibliothèque du Roi.' The estimated number of volumes in the library at Munich is nearly 400,000, at Vienna 300,000, at Gottingen 200,000; besides these, Stutgard, Milan, Florence, Madrid, and other cities, possess large collections. The comparative value of libraries, it is true, depends not on the number of volumes which they contain; and the libraries of London (as having been more recently formed) are furnished chiefly with useful works, whilst many of the older collections are crowded with ponderous tomes on subjects now obsolete, the canon law, the ancient medicine, astrology, alchemy, and so forth. But the object of large public libraries is not merely to provide such works as are most useful, but publications which, from their costliness or their scarcity, are placed beyond the reach of ordinary students. The activity and perseverance requisite for deep research are not least to be expected from those whose circumstances render it difficult for them, either by favour or by purchase, to obtain access to rare and expensive publications. For these reasons, extensive libraries ought not to be regarded as objects of splendour alone, but as capable of affecting the literary and scientific character of a whole people. To accomplish this end great facility of access is indispensable. We rejoice, therefore, that a more accommodating spirit has of late years been shown in affording admission to the reading-room of the British Museum, and that the public have not failed to avail themselves of this liberality,—the number of admission tickets ordinarily in circulation having increased since 1816 from 300 to 2000. A new reading-room, on a larger scale, is now in
progress. The number of visitors to the collections of natural history amounted in the year 1810 to 15,000. The year following, upon the mode of admission being changed, the number was doubled; and it has since that time constantly increased, amounting in 1818 to above 50,000, and in 1824 considerably exceeding 100,000.
Soon after the foundation of the British Museum, and at different periods of the last century, considerable collections of natural history were formed in this country with a view to public exhibitions. These contributed much to diffuse a taste for such studies, and would have been permanently useful to science had they been purchased for the museums of scientific societies, but having been formed merely with a view to pecuniary profit, they of course were broken up whenever the proprietors ceased to derive from them sufficient remuneration. Private collections were also formed with purely scientific views, such as the Herbarium of Sir Joseph Banks, remarkable not only for its extent but its utility, as containing the original collections of many celebrated botanists, and consequently affording the means of identifying many doubtful specimens, by comparing them with those described by authors. This herbarium and the splendid library of natural history and science before mentioned, were open both to foreigners and Sir Joseph's own countrymen during the long period intervening between his return from his voyage with Captain Cooke, to the hour of his death. We may take this opportunity of briefly mentioning some other private collections of a similar kind. The herbarium of Mr. Lambert, to which every English and foreign botanist has been allowed access in the most liberal manner, is second only to the Bankesian in value. It contains the collection of Pallas and other celebrated foreign botanists, and is rich in undescribed plants. The collection of Linnæus forms the foundation of the museum of Sir J. E. Smith at Norwich, and deservedly places it in the highest rank. The herbarium of Dr. Hooker, the present professor of botany at Glasgow, is very extensive, and, as it is constantly receiving additions from the liberality of the enterprizing and intelligent merchants of that city, promises soon to rival any in Great Britain. We have enumerated these the more willingly, because the English have shown greater zeal in providing materials for the advancement of botanical knowledge than of any other branches of natural history. We shall have occasion again to allude to this topic, and shall only observe that the total number of species preserved in the herbariams of British collectors is estimated at not less than 40,000.
From the institution of the Royal Society in 1663, to the year 1788, when the Linnean Society was founded, no subdivision of scientific labour was attempted in our metropolis. The Royal Society continued, without assistance, to embrace within its aim the cultivation of every department of natural philosophy; but a farther subdivision of labour, as inseparable a consequence of the progress of the sciences as of the arts, was at length effected with the concurrence and co-operation of the Royal Society itself; and the prosecution of the studies of zoology and botany in all their details was the chief object of the institution of the Linnean Society, which received a royal charter in 1802, and has now published fourteen volumes of Transactions, containing a variety of most valuable memoirs. It possesses also a library of natural history, and a museum, in which are found a large proportion of the quadrupeds of New Holland, and a collection of the birds of that remarkable country, more complete than any other in Europe. Those who are acquainted with the history and progress of this society will not attribute the slow advancement of zoological knowledge in Great Britain to any want of zeal and energy in its leading members, but to the general deficiency of funds indispensable for the formation of collections, and for the publication of illustrative plates.
The Royal Institution, the next in order of date, was founded in 1799. This establishment has conduced to the progress of science by the lectures delivered there on various subjects, particularly on chemistry, by its excellent laboratory, and by a library containing nearly 30,000 volumes. So much sound instruction has been afforded to the public by the lectures given in this establishment, that we should be sorry if any diminution of patronage were to circumscribe its utility.
The College of Surgeons was founded in 1800, and in the same year the museum of the celebrated John Hunter was purchased by parliament and given to the Institution, upon condition that twenty-four lectures should be delivered annually to members of the profession of surgery, and that the museum should be open to the public, under certain regulations. The collections of John
Hunter remain a lasting and memorable example of what may be achieved by the talents and perseverance of one man; and while they would in every case be of value from their extent and variety, they are rendered far beyond all price as being explanatory of the original and comprehensive views of nature which that great philosopher entertained. Besides the numerous specimens now exhibited, he left behind him nearly one thousand drawings, with a view either of illustrating the preparations now in the collection, or of supplying deficiencies. In these the external forms of many animals, as well as their anatomical structure, are delineated, and particularly those delicate and evanescent peculiarities in the organization of some plants and animals which are discernible only in living subjects. These most curious and valuable materials have long been suffered to remain in obscurity; the knowledge or their existence even has been till lately concealed from the public; but we rejoice, no less for the honour of the College of Surgeons than for the interests of science, that the publication of a selection from the drawings is now in contemplation as soon as a descriptive catalogue of the collection can be completed. Such a catalogue has long been wanted, and the Board of Curators could not have chosen a person more eminently qualified for the task than Mr. Clift. But notwithstanding his profound anatomical knowledge and industry, we foresee with regret the inevitable delay that must attend such an undertaking, imposed as it is on an individual. The present state of the collection is such that the public may, we fear, regard the accomplishment of the desirable objects above mentioned as almost indefinitely postponed.
For illustrating the internal organization both of animals and plants, and the manner in which, under different circumstances, the same functions are carried on in different genera and species, we may pronounce this superb collection to be unrivalled. But in its osteological department it is far excelled by the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy in Paris; that of the College of Surgeons being deficient in some of the genera, while the museum at Paris contains nearly all the species of at least the higher order of animals. Publications of the highest merit in comparative anatomy have lately appeared in France, for which the very materials might have been long wanting, had not their national museum been enriched under the active superintendance of M. Cuvier with such noble accessions. It is humiliating to acknowledge, that no Englishman could even now be the author of similar works, without access to museums such as exist not in his own country. As there is not sufficient space in the College of Surgeons for the display and arrangement of a great portion of such osteological treasures as are at present deposited there, and as these are consequently referred to with great inconvenience, it is a subject well deserving serious consideration, whether an osteological collection should not find a place in some of the new apartments to be erected in the British Museum. That such a collection should be wanting, in a country enjoying in so pre-eminent a degree every facility for obtaining materials, reflects discredit on the nation. Even the private collection of Mr. Brookes, a spirited and meritorious individual in our metropolis, surpasses that of the College of Surgeons in this noble department of anatomy. An acquaintance with the structure of the inferior animals enlarges our knowledge of the human frame ;--a complete gallery of comparative anatomy is therefore peculiarly desirable in England, where our students procure human subjects with so much difficulty and expense. Osteology has also recently acquired an additional source of interest from its intimate connexion with geologya connexion supplying a new and striking illustration of the mutual dependance of the sciences on each other.
In 180 1 a library was commenced by the court of directors at the India House, which contains a large collection of Oriental MSS., maps, and books on general literature and science. A museum has since been added, in which are assembled both Oriental antiquities and objects of natural history: the most remarkable among the latter are many quadrupeds, birds, insects, &c. from the islands of the Eastern Archipelago, and an herbarium of Indian and Javanese plants. We feel a stronger interest in this museum than its present magnitude may seem to warrant, for we cannot but thipk of the facility with which the East India directors might call forth, from the vast territories over which their influence extends, such treasures as would soon raise it to a pre-eminent rank in Europe, and display the prodigious power of commerce, when animated with a liberal and enlightened spirit, in affording patronage to science.*
Not only have our countrymen in general been remiss in cultivating natural history in our eastern possessions, but so many instances have occurred in which they have even permitted their own discoveries to be first given to the world in the works of foreigners, that we cannot refrain from citing some of the most remarkable. Binturong of Sumatra, (Ictides ater) though mentioned in the Transactions of the Linnean Society,a was first defined as a genus by M. Valenciennes, and a figure was afterwards given by M. F. Cuvier : it was discovered by Sir Stamford Raffles, of whom it is but justice to say, that his conduct ever formed a splendid exception to the want of zeal displayed in our colonies in the encouragement of investigations in natural history, and who, in addition to the able discharge of most important political duties, · rendered invaluable assistance to zoology.
2. Bos Silhetanus, (the Jungle Cow of Bengal,) after having been long disregarded by the British in their own territory, was first described and engraved by M. F. Cuvier from a communication of M. Duvaucel.
:3. Ursus. a Vol. xiii. b Histoire des Mammifères, Livraison 44. Histoire des Mammifères. Livraison 42. VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVII.