What can you see at the British Museum?

by Instant Noodle

You will see it, and nothing but it; deuce a bit of anything it contains. You will be surrounded by a dense crowd of people, who will make the place too hot to hold you in any comfort. Besides being squeezed and jostled, you will be stewed in a close reeking atmosphere. That atmosphere will contain a large quantity of carbonic acid gas and steam, which the multitude of men, women, and children that you are jammed in have breathed out of their lungs. The carbonic acid gas will stupify you, and render you incapable of attending to the objects of art and natural, history by which you are surrounded, even if now and then you succeed in forcing your way through the crowd so as to catch a glimpse of them.

[…] Nobody can make any intellectual exertion when he is half-stifled. You, in that condition, will be unable to tell a lion from a leopard, or to distinguish the bones of an Ichthyosaurus from the skeleton of a Mammoth. What delight, or instruction either, will you derive from the Greek and Roman sculptures, and the Egyptian and Assyrian remains, you being in a state of semi-suffocation?

I’m being unfair and quoting this out of context. This is, in fact, “A working man’s guide to the British Museum”, and Punch recommends not visiting during the weekdays. As Punch explains,

THE British Museum is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays gratuitously ; however, you will practically be unable to avail yourself of its advantages without money. Its doors may be open to you three times a-week, but they cannot admit you more than twice in twelve months. Except on Easter Monday and Whit Monday, you are hard at work on every working day throughout the year; tinkering, tailoring, shoemaking, hammering, sawing, planing, chiselling, centre-bit-driving, rasping, filing, bricklaying, painting, plumbing-and glazing, and so on, as the case may be. Therefore, if you want to see the British Museum you must, as Iago tells Roderiffo, put money in your purse.

So, Punch’s advice is,

As aforesaid, then, put money in your purse. If you want to see the British Museum, make money. Put by your wages. ‘Under the system of limited liability, perhaps you will be able to invest them so advantageously as to realise, in some years’ time, an income sufficient for you to live upon without working. Then, it will be in your power to see the British Museum. You must not expect to see it before then. You might, to be sure, see it on Sundays, if you had a different sort of superior classes to legislate for you. You might inspect the leopards and the lions, the Ichthyosauri and the Mammoths, the Elgin marbles, the Egyptian antiquities, MR. LAVARD’S bulls, and all the other wonderful works of art and nature contained in the Museum, if the inspection of such objects on a Sunday were not a heinous sin, and if you were not blessed with pious and holy betters, who prevent you from committing that sin ; a sin first discovered by the Puritans of CROMWELL’S time, whose doctrine on this point we follow!

The French have a rather more enlightened attitude to getting access to their museums on weekends. Which is, frankly, pretty embarrassing.

How much happier you are than the French! They have no kind Peers and Members of the House of Commons to restrain them from committing spiritual suicide by walking over the Louvre on a Sunday. On the contrary, their Government is so regardless of their true welfare, so indifferent to their highest interests, as to give them by an act of despotic power, admittance to the Paris Industrial Exhibition on that day, which your more benevolent and enlightened rulers, by constitutional means, endeavour to oblige you to devote to the serious contemplation of brick walls. How tender your superiors are for your souls! Witness the carriages to be seen on Sundays at the gate of the Zoological Gardens, and at the Star and Garter at Richmond. It is their determination that the working man shall never see the British Museum but on a working day. Of course that determination must be submitted to. Therefore, again, put money in your purse, in order that you may see the British Museum before you die on a working day, or you will never see it.