Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/47

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NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUMS

museum that consists mainly of collections, and of simple caretakers of these, has a speaking resemblance to a graveyard; dead specimens and gravestones betoken the past, and a mere conservator, like a sexton, has little to add to the future. It is as sad and melancholy a state as that of a university whose professors are nothing but teachers and committee men. There were magnificent collections in Pompeii, but so long as they remained buried beneath the soil they were of absolutely no use; they became of interest only when experts examined and interpreted them. I recall well a certain museum, founded out of piety, full of dead bones, where for years the only persons of any useful activity were the janitors and mechanicians; and it had an honorable board of directors too. Museums may become stagnant quite as well as other institutions. When the preparator and mounted rhinoceros are considered above the curator, and the exhibition collection above published research, then a museum is becoming senile. The strength of an institution lies wholly in its men. Past achievements are honorable possessions, but like an old family name entail the greater responsibility on the bearer. Any one who lives in the past will be treated like the past, and drop out from the race. For what museums do we call the great ones? Those with the staffs of prominent investigators, where there are many curators and all active in research. It is just the same with universities; international reputation is not based on buildings and number of students, but upon the number of original thinkers who publish. A dictionary is a museum of words, but it has no particular use until some one comes along and uses these words for a writing that people will read.

Very frequently a museum expends a sum for a single specimen or for a collecting expedition, sufficient to maintain several good men for a year. Often again it has a chance to secure an investigator, and hesitates because the expenditure would have to be drawn from some library or janitorial fund. Too often it is apt to consider the exhibition series to be its main purpose, and to regard men valuable only as arrangers of the exhibition. The saddest trait of all is self complacence, satisfaction in conditions as they are for this marks decay.

New timber must be planted, or any institution will soon lose its prestige. Worthy collections should be housed in suitable buildings, but the crown of the whole is the strength of the staff of curators. They come first in the judgment of the world as opposed to local opinion. When one names the great museums of Paris one forgets the specimens in the revered memory of Lamarck, Cuvier, Humboldt, the Saint-Hilaires and the Milne-Edwards. Such names constitute greatness, their writings have vivified the collections. America is too young to have many great names in natural history, but what reputation would our museums have without Horn, Say, Dana, Cope, the Agassiz's, Leidy, Baird and Gray?