S&SWM PR papers P125

P125 [handwritten] and P135, P136a [2 printed versions] all identical

19 Penywern Road, S.W. | April 14th 1880

Dear Mr Thompson [1]

Having already explained to you privately the circumstances which have led to this communication I now proceed by your suggestion to put the subject of our conversation into writing with a view to action upon it.

I propose, if I live, to extend much more rapidly than hitherto the Ethnological Collection now exhibited at the South Kensington to which as you know I have devoted much attention during the last twenty five years and I am anxious to know whether in view of such extension the Museum Authorities will undertake the housing [insert] and exhibition [end insert] of it or whether it will be necessary for me to seek accommodation [insert] for it [end insert] elsewhere.

The collection now occupies the rooms "L" and "K" West Galleries [insert] Exhibition Buildings [end insert] on the ground floor and it is intimated that there are 14,000 objects in it, but the space is insufficient to exhibit even the present collection properly and the arrangement on which the value of the series [insert] mainly depends [end insert] cannot be fully carried out by [insert] with [end insert] the present arrangement [insert] accommodation [end insert] I shall want nearly double the space at once and if my intentions are fulfilled more room with be required ultimately.

It may be usefull [sic] that I may [insert] should [end insert] state briefly the plan on which the objects have been brought together in order that it may be understood why a collection of this kind should exist side by side with other Ethnological or Colonial exhibitions. My collection differs from others in this that the arrangement is psychological rather than geographical, that is to say, objects from different countries appertaining to like arts or phases of the human mind have been classed together, the intention being to shew how far one nation has borrowed from another and for [insert] or [end insert] on the other hand to what extent the phases of art have arisen spontaneously in different Countries and to trace the development of each branch. I do not affirm that the [insert] all [end insert] Museums should be arranged upon this plan but having been in constant communication with men of science on the subject, anthropologists and others, I find that the utility of this arrangement is recognized as a means of shewing connections which could not be brought to light otherwise. Dr Meyer writes to me that he is arranging the Dresden Museum upon the same plan which he has adopted after examining my collection at South Kensington and amongst those who have spoken on the subject I may mention Professors Huxley and Rolleston to whose opinion I attach much value.

If the Museum Authorities decide to give me the space I require with any prospect of permanence there is one point to which I would invite attention viz that the arrangements for superintendence which are satisfactory in the case of other collections which having been once handed over to the Museum remain constantly in the same cases, without change or addition are not satisfactory in the case of my collection to which additions are being made daily, and which must be subject to constant arrangement as the things accumulate. The objects are collected with a view of demonstrating certain principles of evolution and it is quite necessary that the superintendent should understand what those principles are and enter into the spirit of the arrangement. Either it will be necessary to have an officer in the position of a Curator who has special qualifications for the post or the person superintending must be a subordinate officer of intelligence whose time is devoted exclusively to the Collection and who will act under my guidance, I shall be most happy to provide and pay the Superintendent myself, if that arrangement meets the views of the authorities, but I think I need not dilate upon a point so obvious further than to say that to carry out [insert] the extension of [end insert] my Museum in the manner proposed [insert] with [end insert] the system of superintendence which has been in vogue hitherto would be impracticable.

If it should be decided not to entertain the proposal which I now make with respect to the collection generally, I hope that sufficient time may be given me either to make other arrangements or to build a Museum of my own.

I may add that my intention is if I am able to increase the Museum in such a way as to make it worthy of the purpose for which it has been commenced, either to leave it to the nation or to some other Nation or to some Institution which would [insert] will [end insert] carry it on.

Believe me
yours truly
A Lane Fox
Major General

R. Thompson Esq | Assistant Director | South Kensington Museum


[1] Richard Anthony Thompson (1819-1908)

Transcribed by AP for Relational Museum project and checked and revised August 2011 for Rethinking Pitt-Rivers project

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