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Letter 2347

Darwin, C. R. to Huxley, T. H.

23 Oct [1858]

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    CD's reasons for not signing the memorial requesting removal of natural history exhibits from British Museum. Less sure about moving botanical specimens to Kew. His notion of museum organisation.

Transcription

Down Bromley Kent

Oct. 23rd

My dear Huxley

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, & am not willing at present to sign. My reasons, perhaps of very little value, are as follows. The governing classes are thoroughily unscientific, & the men of art & of archæology have much greater weight with government than we have. If we make a move to separate from Brit. 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 B. Mus. attracted by the heteregeous 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 Museum of Zoolog. Soc. formerly in Leicester Square &c) then I do not think we shd get nearly so much aid from government. Therefore I shd be inclined to stick to the mummies & Assyrian Gods, as long as we could. If we knew that Government was going to turn us out, then, & not till then, I shd be inclined to make an energetic move.—

If we were to separate, I do not believe that we shd 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 & old Travels &c, that I shd regret extremely, when at work at Brit. Mus, to be separated from the entire Library. The facilities for working at certain great classes, as Birds, larger fossils &c 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 journey to Kew; but there are evidently many great advantages in the transposition.

If I had my own way, I would make the B. Mus. collection only a typical one for display, which would be quite as amusing & far more instructive to the populace (& I think to naturalists) than the present enormous display of Birds & Mammals. I would save expence of stuffing & would keep all skins, except a few “typicals”, in drawers. Thus much room would be saved, & a little more space could be given to real workers, who could work all days. Rooms fitted up with thousands of drawers would cost but little. With this I shd 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.—

My dear Huxley | Yours very sincerely | Ch Darwin

P.S. | The memorial does not strike me as very lucid. The number of Divisions & Sub-divisions seem to me rather bothersome, & destructive of force of the whole.—

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

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 2347.f1
    Dated by the reference to a memorial presented to the British government concerning the natural history collections of the British Museum. A previous memorial had been circulated in June 1858 (see letters to R. I. Murchison, 19 June [1858] and 24 [June 1858]); the second memorial was presented in November 1858 (see Appendix VI).
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    f2 2347.f2
    A preliminary draft of this memorial to the chancellor of the exchequer is in the Huxley papers, Imperial College Archives. The final version (transcribed in Appendix VI) was signed by CD, Huxley, George Bentham, George Busk, William Benjamin Carpenter, William Henry Harvey, Arthur Henfrey, John Stevens Henslow, and John Lindley.
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    f3 2347.f3
    CD had previously signed the memorial circulated by Roderick Impey Murchison in June 1858, protesting against the proposal that the natural history collections should be moved from the British Museum (see Appendix VI). The new memorial maintained that the collections could be re- arranged to best effect if they were removed from the British Museum site. CD presumably felt that having endorsed the need to keep the collections within the British Museum, he should not support alternative plans.
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    f4 2347.f4
    The museum collections of the Zoological Society of London had been closed in 1855 and sold to the British Museum (Scherren 1905, p. 123).
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    f5 2347.f5
    The second memorial proposed that a new museum be established, comprising a ‘Typical or popular museum’ of zoology and a ‘Scientific zoological museum and library’. All the botanical collections, it suggested, could be sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the ensuing repository turned into an equivalent ‘Scientific botanical museum and library’. See Appendix VI.
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    f6 2347.f6
    The first paragraph of the postscript (‘The memorial … force of the whole.—’) has been deleted.
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