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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
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Housman's "The Story of Our Museum" (S349: 1882)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A book review printed in the 2 March 1882 issue of Nature. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S349.htm

[[p. 407]] The Story of our Museum, showing how we Formed it, and what it Taught us. By the Rev. Henry Housman, A.K.C., &c., &c. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1881.)

      This is a most excellent book for a boy with a taste for natural history. It describes in a pleasing and natural way how two boys living in a country village in Gloucestershire began to make a museum. It narrates all their difficulties, their failures, and their successes; and how, by perseverance, and with very little expense, they gradually formed a collection illustrating the whole range of the natural history and antiquities of their district, including, besides, postage-stamps and autographs. How much pleasure and how much knowledge are to be obtained while forming such a collection is very well shown; and though there is little novelty in the book, occasional diffuseness in the treatment, and hardly any passages that will bear separate quotation, these trifling deficiencies do not at all detract from its merit as a book for boys, which is all that it pretends to be.

     The one decided innovation on the almost universal practice of collectors is, the strong recommendation of a natural system of mounting butterflies and moths. The usual mode of exhibiting the lepidoptera, all set out with expanded wings on one horizontal plane, is objected to as being monotonous and completely false to nature. Of course in an extensive systematic collection this method is absolutely necessary, for classification, easy reference, comparison, and critical examination; but in forming a purely local collection, the superior advantage of the natural system of mounting are strongly advocated, at least for the butterflies and all the larger moths. These should be exhibited sitting or flying, with the wings elevated or depressed, as if alive, and the legs and antennæ placed in natural positions. Of course this requires glass cases for these insects as for birds; but when the collection is restricted this is no objection; and by exhibiting the preserved larvæ; eggs, and pupæ, along with the perfect insects in all their different natural attitudes, it is maintained that much more instruction will be afforded, while the effect will be far more picturesque and pleasing than the straight rows of unnaturally expanded insects can ever be.

     The only other part of this volume calling for further notice here, is an appendix, "On the Arrangement of Natural History Collections," in which the more natural and attractive arrangement of the galleries of public museums is strongly advocated. As regards the higher animals, there is nothing fresh in these recommendations; but the author also urges the exhibition of complete series of such fossil species as illustrate the persistence of types or the development of forms throughout considerable geological periods. This, however, is never done in our great public museums. In the case of living animals the species are exhibited in systematic groups, while no attempt is made to show the equally interesting geographical grouping; while with extinct animals an opposite [[p. 408]] mode is followed, and all are arranged stratigraphically, without any attempt to show the more interesting developmental or time-series. Thus, in both cases the most interesting and instructive methods of arrangement are entirely neglected in favour of systems which are adapted solely to facilitate study by specialists, but which are comparatively unimportant and uninteresting to the public. Even to this day it does not seem to be realised by curators of museums, that the collections for study and those for public exhibition require to be arranged upon totally distinct plans; and that the method which is the very best in the one case may be, and usually is the very worst in the other.

Alfred R. Wallace

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