« PreviousContinue »
he undertook he would execute; and I dare say, that the branch in question has not been the only specimen of excellence in this museum that he has found serviceable.
Having looked over the extended collection of wood models, and architectural drawings, as well as the other works of art in the students' room, I have entered the picture-room, and am agreeably surprised both at the extent and costliness of the paintings it contains. That a chamber, only about thirteen or fourteen feet long, something less than this in breadth, and between nineteen and twenty feet high, should, by any contrivance, be made to exhibit such a collection, cannot but call forth the admiration of the spectator. The room has cabinets on the north and west sides, and moveable planes on the south, with spaces between for pictures.
I was not aware, before I entered the place, that the museum was so rich in the works of Hogarth. Why, here are twelve of his best paintings. The Rake's Progress, consisting of eight; and the Election, of four! By the kindness of the curator, I have been lingering here a long time. A good painting is a feast to me; and a feast is never relished the less because it is spread before us unexpectedly. It is saying but little, to acknowledge that I have been abundantly gratified.
So general a thing it is, when speaking of Hogarth, to allude to the excellent moral of his pictures, that I really wish to believe the morality of his paintings was a thing near his heart. The occasional freedoms of his pencil are, it is true, not a little at variance with this position ; but it will not become us to comment thereon with severity. We know that he was a great painter, and that the works of his hands have afforded much pleasure, and called forth deserved admiration ; and knowing this, let us hope that, while he sought reputation, he wished not only to give pleasure, but also to do good.
Besides the paintings of Hogarth, which are splendid works of art—1650 guineas having been given for four of them alone—there are excellent pictures here by Canaletti, and other great masters.
So long have I lingered in the picture-room, that a glance is all that I have given to the monk's parlour and oratory, corridor, ante-room, and catacombs. Casts, carvings, and painted glass, architectural drawings, Peru vases from the burial-places of the aboriginal Indians, busts, medallions, plasters, and bas-reliefs, would afford occupation for hours to a visitor of leisure. The model of Stonehenge, in cork, will be interesting to those who have not seen the original.
In the ante-room is a bas-relief, by T. Banks, of the angel opening the door of St. Peter's prison. It affords us a subject of serious thought, and forces on the mind the power and goodness
of God exercised in behalf of those who trust in him.
The Egyptian sarcophagus, discovered by Belzoni, in a tomb in the valley of Beban el Malook, near Gournou, is a splendid specimen of art. It is now before me, standing as I am in the sepulchral chamber; and here I could stand for hours, without wishing to quit the spot. The living can never go where there is nothing to remind them of death. This sarcophagus speaks of solemn things. Others more mighty than thou have died; art thou prepared ? What is the hope set before thee?
Before I came to the museum, I pored, for an hour, over the Phonetic alphabet, and the newly discovered mode of reading hieroglyphics; and picked up just sufficient information to confuse me, and to excite my wonder and curiosity : but, really, this sarcophagus is a magnificent affair. It is thus described by Belzoni :
“What we found in the centre of the saloon merits the most particular attention, not having its equal in the world, and being such as we had no idea could exist. It is a sarcophagus of the finest alabaster, and is transparent when a light is placed in the inside of it. It is minutely sculptured, within and without, with several hundred figures, which do not exceed two inches in height; and represent, as I suppose, the whole of the funeral procession and ceremonies relating to the deceased, united with several emblems, etc. I cannot give an adequate idea of this beautiful and invaluable piece of antiquity ; and can only say, that nothing has been brought into Europe from Egypt that can be compared with it. The cover was not there : it had been taken out, and broken into several pieces, which we found in digging before the first entrance.”
The cost of this unequalled sarcophagus was two thousand pounds; but though it is so elaborately covered with hieroglyphics, containing, no doubt, the whole history of its use, and some particulars of the monarch whose mouldering dust found therein à resting-place, yet there is a doubt on both these points. Dr. Young, when it was first discovered, considered it to be the tomb of Psammis ; Champollion assigned it to Mandonei, or Ousirei ; Rossellini to Menephtah, who reigned 1580 years before the Christian era ; while Sir Gardner Wilkinson believes that it never contained a body, being the cenotaph, or monument, of one buried elsewhere—of Osirea, or Oei, the father of Rameses the Great, whose victories are duly chronicled on the walls of the great temple of Ammon, at Thebes. We gaze with more astonishment on a work of art which existed before Moses the lawgiver, and Aaron the highpriest were at the head of the Jewish nation, than we do at the sun, moon, and stars, which have shone in the heavens ever since their creation. The sarcophagus, or cenotaph of a monarch, be it which it may, could not preserve from ruin the royal dust it contained, or commemorated :
“ Earth's highest station ends in .Here he lies !'
The crypt, with its cork models of ancient tombs, and sepulchral chambers, the ground-floor of the museum under the students' room, and the gallery under the dome, as well as the lobby and breakfast-room, with their endless groups, statues, models, casts, busts, marble fragments, capitals, and architectural ornaments, deserve much more attention than I have bestowed on them. One of the disadvantages of profusion, even in works of excellence, is satiety. After gazing on diamonds for an hour, we should find it a relief to look on pebble stones.
I have seen the winged Victory, by Flaxman, the sulphur-casts, the drawings of ancient ceilings, and the richly-mounted pistol, said to have been taken by Peter the Great from the Bey, commander of the Turkish army, at Azof, 1695, and presented by Alexander 1., Emperor of Russia, to the Emperor Napoleon, at the Treaty of Tilsit, in 1807. It is—whoever took it, or whoever presented it-a most costly piece of workmanship; though its appearance is far too modern for a careful observer not to call in question the ancient date assigned to it.