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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
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East India Museum (S226: 1873)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 5 of the Nature issue of 1 May 1873. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S226.htm

     Allow me to make yet another suggestion (in addition to those of P. L. S. and Prof. Newton), with regard to the disposal of the natural history collections at the India House. It seems to me to be one of the greatest popular delusions, that specimens of natural history necessarily require lofty halls and spacious galleries for their preservation and exhibition in a useful manner. I hold, on the contrary, that, with few exceptions, they far better serve educational and scientific purposes when arranged in ordinary apartments. All the scientific work in the British Museum is done in small rooms; and the palatial galleries with their crowded myriads of specimens and miles of glass cases, however instructive they may be (or might be made) to the public, are a positive hindrance to scientific work. I am very much mistaken if all the India House natural history collections might not be suitably placed in two or three ordinary sitting rooms, and so arranged in cabinets and boxes as to be far more convenient for reference and study than they have ever been. The rent of a moderate-sized house in an airy situation, say 250l. with an equal sum for the salary of an efficient Curator, and a small grant for cabinets and the necessary books of reference, is all the expense required to make this interesting collection completely accessible to all who wish to consult it. Every one interested in Indian natural history would then visit it. It would again receive gifts of collections from travellers, Indian Officers, and other persons interested in the natural history of the East; and its increase in value from this source alone might go far towards furnishing a tangible equivalent for the expense incurred, while it would certainly render the collection a better representation of the Indian fauna than it is at present, and more worthy of a place, at some future time, in the proposed grand Indian Museum.

     Such a modest establishment would also, I believe, do much good by showing at how small an expense a really useful scientific museum may be kept up, and would thus encourage the formation of local museums in cases where 20,000l. or 30,000l. cannot be raised for a building. It would not, of course, be a show museum for the uneducated public to wander and gaze in;--the British Museum serves that purpose. But it would prove greatly superior to any such mere exhibition, as a means of furnishing definite information on Indian zoology, and enabling any intelligent inquirer to obtain some idea of the many wonderful and beautiful forms of life which characterise, what is at once the smallest and the richest in proportion to its extent, of the great zoological regions of the globe.

Alfred R. Wallace

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