chapter  1
42 Pages

The Formation of the Museum

In 1849, James Silk Buckingham, a prominent English social reformer, published a plan for a model town. In extolling the virtues of his proposals he drew attention to the ir capacity to prepare all members of the community for 'a higher state of existence, instead of merely vegetating like millions in the present state of society, who are far less cared for, and far less happy, than the brutes that perish' (Buckingham 1849: 224). Buckingham was insistent, however, that such a transformation could be wrought solely by the application of, as he called them, 'practical remedies '. It is worth quoting in full the passage in which he argues with hirnself on this question :

It is constantly contended that mankind are not to be improved by mere mechanical arrangements, and that their reformation must first begin within. But there is surely no reason why both should not be called into operation. A person who is weil fed, weil clad, cheerfully because agreeably occupied, living in a clean house, in an open and weil ventilated Town, free from the intemperate, dissolute , and vicious associations of our existing cities and villages - with ready access to Libraries, Lectures, Galleries of Art, Public Worship, with many objects of architectural beauty, fountains, statues, and colonnades, around hirn , inst ead of rags, filth, drunkenness, and prostitution, with blasphemous oaths or dissolute conversation defiling his ears, would at least be more likely to be accessible to moral sentiments, generous feelings, and religious and devout convictions and conduct, than in the teeming hives of iniquity, with which most of our large cities and towns abound. Inward regeneration will sometimes occur in spite of all these obstacles , and burst through every barrier, but these are the exceptions, and not the rules; and the conduct pursued by all good parents towards their children, in keeping them away as much as possible from evil associations, and surrounding them by the best examples and incentives to virtue, is sufficient proof of the almost universal conviction, that the circumstances in which individuals are placed, and the kind of training and education they receive, have a great inftuence in the formation of

their character, and materially assist at least the development of the noblest faculties of the mind and heart.