British Museum

British Museum .—This is a great national establishment, containing a vast and constantly-increasing collection of books, maps, drawings, prints, sculptures, antiquities, and natural curiosities.  It occupies a most extensive suite of buildings in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, commenced in 1823, and not even now finished.  The sum spent on them is little less than £1,000,000.  Sir Richard Smirke was the architect.  The principal, or south front, 370 feet long, presents a range of 44 columns, the centre being a majestic portico, with sculptures in the pediment.  Since its commencement, in 1755, the collection has been prodigiously increased by gifts, bequests, and purchases; and now it is, perhaps, the largest of the kind in the world.  The library contains more than eight hundred thousand  volumes, and is increasing enormously in extent every year.  The Reading-Room is open only to persons who proceed thither for study, or for consulting authorities.  A reading order is readily procured on written application, enclosing the recommendation of two respectable householders, to “the Principal Librarian.”  It is open nearly 300 days in the year, and for an average of eight hours each day.  No general inspection of this room by strangers is allowed, except by a written order from the secretary, which can, however, readily be obtained on three days in the week.  The porters in the hall will direct to the secretary's office; and strangers must be careful to observe the conditions on which the order is given.  The present reading-room, opened in 1857, and built at a cost of £150,000, is one of the finest apartments in the world; it is circular, 140 feet in diameter, and open to a dome-roof 106 feet high, supported without pillars.  This beautiful room, and the fireproof galleries for books which surround it, were planned by Mr. Panizzi, the late chief librarian.

The portions of the British Museum open to ordinary visitors consist of an extensive series of galleries and saloons on the ground and upper floors, each devoted to the exhibition of a distinct class of objects.  Among others are—terracottas, Roman sculptures and sepulchral antiquities, Sir T. Lawrence's collection of casts, British antiquities, ethnological specimens, Egyptian antiquities, several saloons containing the Elgin and Phigalian Marbles, Nineveh and Lycian sculptures, &c.  The rooms containing objects in natural history and artificial curiosities are handsomely fitted up with glass-cases on the walls and tables.  Days may be spent in examining this vast assemblage of objects; and to assist in the inspection, catalogues for the entire Museum may be purchased at the door at a cheap price. Reading Room, British MuseumThe following will convey an idea of the order in which the general contents of the Museum meet the eye.  Outside the building, in unsightly glass sheds under the porticos and colonnades, are ancient Greek sculptures from Asia Minor, chiefly from the famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus; they are temporarily so placed until room can be found for them elsewhere.  On entering the hall or vestibule, and ascending the staircase, the galleries of natural history are reached—stuffed quadrupeds, including a gorilla  purchased from M. Chaillu; stuffed birds; birds' eggs; shells in immense variety and of surpassing beauty; minerals; and fossils.  These occupy the eastern, northern, and part of the southern galleries.  The western, and the rest of the southern galleries, are occupied by numerous antiquarian and ethnological collections—including Egyptian mummies and ornaments, Greek and Etruscan vases, Greek and Roman bronzes, ancient and mediæval porcelain, ivory carvings, and specimens of the dresses, weapons, instruments, &c., of various nations.  On the ground-floor, to the right of the hall, visitors are admitted to a room containing a curious collection of manuscripts, autographs, and early printed books; and to the King's Library, a beautiful apartment, containing the books presented by George IV.  This room also possesses a small but extremely choice display of Italian, German, and Flemish drawings and engravings; together with a few nielli, (black engravings on silver plates.)  The west side of the ground-floor is occupied by the ancient sculptures—Egyptian, Greek, Assyrian, Lycian, Roman, &c.—A refreshment-room for visitors was opened in 1866, and is situated in the western basement.

The British Museum is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and the whole of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun weeks.  It is closed on the first week in January, May, and September, and on Christmas-day, Good-Friday, and Ash-Wednesday.  The hour of opening is 10 o'clock; that of closing varies from 4 till 6 o'clock, according to the season of the year.  During many years past there have been newspaper controversies and parliamentary debates touching the disposal of the rich contents of the Museum.  Almost every part is filled to overflowing; but much diversity of opinion exists as to which portion, if any, shall be removed to another locality.  Burlington House and the South Kensington Museum, each has its advocates.  Immediate removal of part of the contents has been decided on.