THE success which has accompanied the Public Library Act in Massachusetts encourages the friends of science to believe that the time is propitious for establishing public museums in the smaller towns of the Commonwealth. It certainly is time to direct public attention to the importance of the museum as an adjunct to the public library. The tendencies of modern public-school education which introduce Sloyd as part of its work, and ask for pictures and casts to decorate the barren walls of the schoolroom, are indications that the time is ripe to found, in a modest way, museums of science, art, and history in our smaller towns and villages. A few devoted students have, in past times, endeavored to establish institutions of this kind, but in most instances their efforts have been abortive. A few larger cities in the country have managed to keep alive the interest manifested, and their museums are now permanently established. The failures, however, have outnumbered the successes ten to one, and for this there must be a reason.
The founding of a museum is far more difficult than that of a library. People are trained to the latter in the development of a private library: any one capable of cataloguing books can establish a small library. The furniture is reduced to the simplest expression in the form of a case of shelves. The material to be put upon them can readily be ordered from the nearest book mart. On the other hand, the building of a museum requires special gifts and special training. Besides, one thoroughly imbued with the spirit of a collector should have charge of a museum, though this is equally true in regard to libraries of any magnitude. The absence of a public demand for museums in the past has arisen from the methods of public instruction. Lessons from books, and not from nature, have been the tiresome lot of school children. Questions and answers, cut and dried, have tended to deaden the inquiring spirit. That portion of a child’s brain which is involved in observation has been reduced to atrophy by the usual public-school methods. A distinguished English authority suggests to school boards, high and low, “that the teaching is out of all proportion in excess of the training, the latter being with difficulty weighed in the scales of school examination.” Agassiz said: “The pupil studies Nature in the schoolroom, and when he goes out of doors he cannot find her.” I shall never forget the bitter disappointment I felt as a boy, on my first journey, when the stage driver pointed out to me with his whip the dividing line between the States of Maine and New Hampshire. There was no colored line! There was no change in the color surfaces of the two sides! I felt grieved and rebellious at the imposition which had been practiced upon me. Nor can I ever forget the surprise—my delight was distracted by the novelty of my ignorance—when my father, in one of the periodic family drives, chanced to remark, on a shore road near Portland, that the water expanse before us was the Atlantic Ocean. Had he said that one of the islands in sight was Madagascar, I should not have been more astonished. Every one can recall experiences of a similar nature, and I venture to believe that these two truthful incidents are pertinent examples of the results of pernicious educational methods universal forty years ago, and by no means uncommon to-day,—book-cramming, with no reference to the objects or illustrations in sight from the windows, or within stone’s throw of the school door. This undeniable condition of many schools in the land emphasizes the necessity of museums where the objects may verify some of the lessons learned at school. The book method of education has almost paralyzed public desire for museums, and the result has been that the museum, when instituted, has been in the interest of specialists, and mainly through their efforts. The whole animal kingdom may be epitomized, in a manner, between the covers of a single book; the specimens properly to illustrate such a book would require a good-sized hall in which to be displayed.