By Kenneth Hudson
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Extra info for A Social History of Museums: What the Visitors Thought
They had been established, as Sir John expressed it, 'as studies for my own mind' and he hoped 'the Artists of future generations' would find the arrangement helpful. It is important to notice that he was making no attempt to tell visitors what they should see or think. They were free agents, capable of forming their own opinions on what was set before them. A good painting or a good piece of music must communicate, if it communicated at all, personally. Sir John knew, and believed each visitor to the Museum would know, too, that 'every work of Art which awakens his ideas, stimulates his industry, purifies his taste or gives solidity to his judgment, is to him a valuable instructor'.
The floorboards are left bare and there is no evidence of any heating or artificial lighting. Everything is, however, very orderly, although no form of labelling is apparent, and the visitor who was already well briefed and who knew what to look for would probably have found a great deal to interest him. The general public would certainly have received an overall impression of grandeur and riches, but how meaningful the collections would have been beyond that it is very difficult to say. At Marlborough House no seats were provided and no refreshment room.
In America, public museums were in being many years before the great private collections began to be formed. It is true that during the present century many of the private collections have either been bequeathed to existing museums or transformed into public institutions, so reproducing a process which had been in evidence more than a century before in Europe; but by then the American idea of a museum established for the benefit of the whole community had struck deep roots. The Charleston Museum, South Carolina, is usually reckoned to be the oldest in America/ but the date claimed for its foundation, I 773, has to be interpreted with some discretion, since, although plans were made in that year, the museum itself did not come into being until rather later.