Pitt-Rivers to A.W. Franks

Please note that these have been transcribed and not edited, all misspellings or mis-punctations are in the original and are not sic'd. Warning: these letters have not been proofread except by the transcriber

1. PRM Box 1, 1-33: 1-4

Letter 1

19 Penywern Road | South Kensington | June 27 1880

My Dear Franks [1]

It is as well to consider the future in relation to any action that is taken now about my Museum. Of course having collected for 28 years and being as much interested as ever in the subject I am not likely to give it up now that my means of collecting are greater. My wish is to serve a useful purpose if I am permitted to do so and as continuity has been the object of my collection all along. I have confined myself mainly to the commoner forms in which chiefly continuity can be traced, and have avoided giving large sums for rare things because such things do not fit into my series generally. for the same reason I have nor purchased entire collections as a rule because [1 word illegible] specimens spoil the series. I mean to go on upon the same plan if space is given me. So far from its being antagonistic to the B.M. it will be a most useful adjunct, the very wealth of the national collections precludes the possibility of their being arranged in subordination to Educational purposes. As a means of Education for the public the B.M. is useless. I shall supply that want. If you could give me the space I require with a life interest in the management of it I should be very glad, but you cannot and South Kensington can.

If I cant get more space at South Kensington to enable me to develop my museum on the plan I have adopted hitherto then the course I shall take will be this. I shall build a museum in or close to London about the size of the room I have at present. Keep the bulk of the collection in trays & drawers & exhibit only a few things in cases but I shall not have space enough to continue the series and I must make the Museum valuable in other ways I shall become a collector of ethnological gems and when I die. I shall have received no encouragement to leave anything to the nation. If the nation will not accept my offer now on account of a dog in the manger rivalry between the two departments I shall take good care it never gets anything from me. Science is cosmopolitan and I had rather leave everything to the United States. Meanwhile I am waiting for the decision of the Authorities to know whether I build a house at Queens Gate or elsewhere and if I lose the summer season I lose a year which I cannot afford to do at the age of 53. I hope you will change your mind and support my plan it is clearly the best thing you can do under the circumstances

Yrs ever

A Pitt Rivers

Letter 2

July 1 '80

My dear Franks

I am very glad you are going to be on the committee. there are one or two points I might as well mention! I see there is a suggestion that my museum, remaining at South Kensington, should be attached to the British Museum rather than to the science & art department. Of course to me it is a matter of indifference what the department is called if the conditions remain the same. I should prefer the B.M. in this way that I should be associated with officials who have a thoroughly scientific knowledge of the subject whereas South Kensington is more artistic than scientific. I have experienced the inconvenience of this and have expected it. On the other hand will the British Museum adapt itself to the peculiar conditions and accept the museum subject to my having the control of it during my life. I consider this a sine qua non. It would not be possible to carry out my view in any other way. My object is, more space with a view to increase the collection, and as the accommodations will be made with a view to a special arrangement the management in so far as the arrangement of the objects is concerned must be in my hands. Moreover the advantage I have over all government [1 word illegible] is that, having only one head, I can do as I please. Whilst in a museum under government fifty different views and interests would have to be reconciled before any step could be taken. I should never think of giving up that advantage. I am most anxious that my collection should be carried on in harmony with the British Museum and I consider that the utility of my museum would depend in a great measure upon its being in harmony. I have no doubt that I should receive a good deal of valuable assistance from the officers of the Museum if [4 words crossed out by Pitt-Rivers] my collection were attached to there and that it might very likely become desirable to modify my system in some measure to meet their views. but it would be essential that freedom of action should be retained. Hazelius's Museum at Stockholm is a case in point, what he has done is quite marvellous, but if he had been fettered by the government he could never have carried it out. I should not propose in leaving my collection to the Nation at my death to make any special stipulations. If my system were accepted by men of science it would be continued if it was not, there would be no object in continuing it. Moreover, views become so much changed as knowledge accumulates that it would be mischievous to hamper the future with the ideas of the present.

I should prefer the upper galleries at South Kensington to the lower ones as they suit my arrangement better. some of the cases I have now are not suitable they do very well as show cases for beautiful things but are, not adapted to a continuous series

Yours ever

A Pitt Rivers



[1] Augustus Wollaston Franks, (1826-1897), collector and museum keeper, British Museum. See here for more information about him.


Transcribed by AP July 2010 as part of the Rethinking Pitt-Rivers project.

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