By Edward Edwards

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In two particulars, more especially, our great National Museum stands distinguished among institutions of its kind. The collections which compose it extend over a wider range than that covered by any other public establishment having a like purpose. And, if we take them as a whole, those collections are also far more conspicuously indebted to the liberality of individual benefactors. In a degree of which there is elsewhere no example, the British Museum has been gradually built up by the munificence of open-handed Collectors, rather than by the public means of the Nation, as administered by Parliament, or by the Governments of the day.


The real founders of our British Museum have been neither our British monarchs nor our British legislators, as such. They have been, commonly, individual and private British subjects; men loyal both to the Crown and to the People. Often, they have been men standing in direct lineal descent from the great Barons who dictated the Charter of our liberties, in the meadow near Windsor, and from those who led English knights and English bowmen to victory, on the wooded slopes near Poitiers. Sometimes, they have been men of very lowly birth; such as could point to no ancestral names appended to Magna Charta, or to the famous letter written from Lincoln to Boniface the Eighth; such as may, indeed, very well have had ancestors who gave their lives, or their limbs, for England at Poitiers or at Cressy, but who certainly could point to no heraldic memorials of feats of arms done on those bloody fields of France.

Lives of the Founders of the British Museum Volume 2

Edward Edwards

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