19 MAY 1900, Page 16



SrE,—I had intended to have written to you on this subject, which is of the gravest importance to all literary men, present and future; but as you have already discussed it in the Spectator of May 12th, perhaps you will permit me to add a few comments. The most obvious illustration of the danger of destruction, however carefully supervised, may be drawn from the history of the dodo in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. In the catalogue published in 1684 we find a dodo (No. 29), derived from Tradescant's collection; but on January 8th, 1755, Nos. 5-46, being decayed, were ordered to be removed by a majority of the Visitors ; but fortunately there was a regulation extant that when specimens were destroyed as useless the head and feet were to be preserved. This was done; and they remain almost the only relics of the bird in any museum in Europe, except mere bones! Even in a private library, it frequently happens that pamphlets or papers are thrown away as useless, or as taking up more valuable space, which are afterwards much regretted by the owner. Even old book-catalogues become useful and impor- tant after a sufficient lapae of time, and may clear up disputed points of dates or editions. You suggest that the antiquities of the British Museum might be removed elsewhere, and I am not sure that this possibility has not been in many men's minds for years; but it would involve much consideration and a large outlay. You suggest South Kensington; but the capacity of South Kensington is limited, and whether it would be advisable, if even possible, to find accommodation for another large museum there without trenching on accommodation which may soon be required for the expansion of collections already on the spot, seems to me very doubtful. If decentralisation of the library ever becomes inevitable, I imagine it would have to be followed on specialist lines. Even if local libraries were willing and able to accept sets of their local archives from the Trustees of the British Museum, who could be made responsible for their being kept in fire-proof and damp-proof rooms, and easily accessible at all times to any serious students ? Special libraries might ultimately be formed, under special conditions, such as that of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, now, I believe, one of the best in the world in some, at least, of its divisions ; and though wanting a few books of great rarity, which are to be found at Bloomsbury, I believe it almost, if not quite, equals it in most respects as a reference library for systematic natural history. Similarly, though no private library can compete with Bloomsbury, any one who makes a specialty of some restricted branch of literature is likely, sooner or later, to find that he possesses a few of even English books which are not at Bloomsbury. Absolute perfection is unattainable, but unless we can decentralise the library by forming special collections of books as absolutely perfect as they can be made (e.g., zoological books at South Kensington, botanical books at Kew, Oriental books at the Royal Asiatic Society, books relating to Oxford at the Bodleian, &c., &c.), by all means let us keep our great library together, and above all things set our faces firmly against any destruction of "valueless printed matter," authorised or unauthorised. One great difficulty in the formation of special libraries, even if attempted, would be the impossibility of providing accommodation for books, &c., bearing on the subject in a secondary manner, and much less for those connected only incidentally with it, more especially in the case of periodical publications.—I am, Sir, &c., W. F. KIRBY.