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On the Objects and Management of Provincial Museums*

Nature volume 5, pages 3536 | Download Citation



ALTHOUGH every intelligent person knows more or less what these institutions are, and what they ought to be, there is probably no subject, connected with the modern means of education in natural science, concerning which so much, misconception or ignorance is manifested and tolerated as in the Management and Objects of our Provincial Museums. The majority of them throughout England present such examples of helpless misdirection and incapacity as could not be paralleled elsewhere in Europe. Some noteworthy exceptions there are. But generally the managers or guardians of local museums are precisely of this unfit class, and seem to have no more notion of their charge than as mere curiosity-shops, and even display less intelligence than is shown in such shops, where the cupidity or shrewdness of the dealer induces him at least to take due care of, and give a local habitation and a name to, his wares. But in the provincial museums even this care and tittle of information is pertinaciously withheld, and the visitors are left to do the best they can amid the surrounding bewilderment. This is commonly made up of a most puzzling jumble of heterogeneous miscellanies, arranged, or rather scattered, with an equally sovereign contempt for the convenience or instruction of the public, and indeed all in such admired disorder as may most plainly show how Chaos is come again and Confusion can make his masterpiece, and how every specimen added to the heap only tends to increase or perpetuate the miserable derangement. It looks as if the presiding local genius had set his wits to work in order to prove how much time and money might be most effectually expended with the least profit to a knowledge of the natural history, or any history, of the neighbourhood; and indeed for exemplifications of the solution of this knotty point we have too commonly only to appeal to the museum of he place. Instead methodical illustrations of the natural history and antiquities or the district, we are likely to find a few good things overlaid by such a rabble-rout, such a multifarious and disorderly medley of outlandish and queer odds and ends, as are rather fitted for a laughing-stock than a sober exposition of science. Thus we are met at once in the hall and saloons by such incongruous lots as effigies of double women, elephants' teeth, nose-rings, brain-stones, tomahawks, stuffed alligators, moccasins, New Zealanders' heads, cockatoos, canoes, Babylonish bricks, cocoa nuts, boas, javelins, lions and tigers, calumets, matchlocks, palm-branches, shields, monkey stones, sugar-canes, Roman cement, Oliver Cromwell's watches, Panama hats, fabricated elephants, walking-stick insects, and numberless other eccentric things of this motley and confounded order. The garniture of Romeo's apothecary's shop, or the countryman's museum on the barn door, would be more instructive or intelligible and less ridiculous or perplexing.

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