Letter 66 To Th Huxley

(66/1. The memorial referred to in the following letter was addressed on November 18th to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was signed by Huxley, Bentham, W.H. Harvey, Henfrey, Henslow, Lindley, Busk, Carpenter, and Darwin. The memorial, which is accessible, as published in the "Gardeners' Chronicle," November 27th, 1858, page 861, recommended, speaking generally, the consolidation of the National Botanical collections at Kew.

In February, 1900, a Committee was appointed by the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury "to consider the present arrangements under which botanical work is done and collections maintained by the Trustees of the British Museum, and under the First Commissioner of Works at Kew, respectively; and to report what changes (if any) in those arrangements are necessary or desirable in order to avoid duplication of work and collections at the two institutions." The Committee published their report in March, 1901, recommending an arrangement similar to that proposed in 1858.)

Down, October 23rd [1858].

The names which you give as supporting your memorial make me quite distrust my own judgment; but, as I must say yea or nay, I am forced to say that I doubt the wisdom of the movement, and am not willing at present to sign. My reasons, perhaps of very little value, are as follows. The governing classes are thoroughly unscientific, and the men of art and of archaeology have much greater weight with Government than we have. If we make a move to separate from the British Museum, I cannot but fear that we may go to the dogs. I think we owe our position in large part to the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the British Museum, attracted by the heterogeneous mixture of objects. If we lost this support, as I think we should--for a mere collection of animals does not seem very attractive to the masses (judging from the Museum of the Zoological Society, formerly in Leicester Square)--then I do not think we should get nearly so much aid from Government. Therefore I should be inclined to stick to the mummies and Assyrian gods as long as we could. If we knew that Government was going to turn us out, then, and not till then, I should be inclined to make an energetic move. If we were to separate, I do not believe that we should have funds granted for the many books required for occasional reference: each man must speak from his own experience. I have so repeatedly required to see old Transactions and old Travels, etc., that I should regret extremely, when at work at the British Museum, to be separated from the entire library. The facilities for working at certain great classes--as birds, large fossils, etc.--are no doubt as bad as possible, or rather impossible, on the open days; but I have found the working rooms of the Assistants very convenient for all other classes on all days.

In regard to the botanical collections, I am too ignorant to express any opinion. The point seems to be how far botanists would object to travel to Kew; but there are evidently many great advantages in the transportation.

If I had my own way, I would make the British Museum collection only a typical one for display, which would be quite as amusing and far more instructive to the populace (and I think to naturalists) than the present enormous display of birds and mammals. I would save expense of stuffing, and would keep all skins, except a few "typicals," in drawers. Thus much room would be saved, and a little more space could be given to real workers, who could work all day. Rooms fitted up with thousands of drawers would cost very little. With this I should be contented. Until I had pretty sure information that we were going to be turned out, I would not stir in the matter. With such opponents as you name, I daresay I am quite wrong; but this is my best, though doubtful, present judgment...

It seems to me dangerous even to hint at a new Scientific Museum--a popular Museum, and to subsidise the Zoological Gardens; it would, I think, frighten any Government.

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