Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Well, I'll Be A Monkey's Uncle-

Here's an interesting little piece of Victorian Architecturalia (no, I'm not sure if that's a word either) -

"The Oxford Museum" By John Ruskin & Henry W. Acland. Published in London by Smith, Elder and Co.: 1859.

An interesting discourse touching on the principles of the Gothic Revival, handwork and the dignity of workmen, and the proper decoration of buildings, as they were related to the architecture of Oxford’s famous Museum of Natural History, popularly known as the Oxford Museum. Championed in the 1850s by Sir Henry Acland, who felt that Oxford was ignoring the natural sciences, the Museum brought all those disciplines, including geology, astronomy, geometry, chemistry, and zoology under one roof. And quite a neo-Gothic roof it was... The building was designed by Deane and Woodward of Dublin, with assistance of one sort or another from Ruskin, who notes here-

“In the competition [for the design] scarce any limitation was imposed, and to style none. Thirty-two designs by anonymous contributors were sent in; the majority of the judges, after a thoroughly English battle, in which some professed advocates of Gothic architecture deprecated the application of Gothic Art to secular purposes, -thereby denying to their own style that malleability which is, perhaps, its highest prerogative, -the design, ‘Nisi Dominus oedificaverit domum,’ was accepted”.

The Museum was the scene of the famous 1860 debate during which Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, asked Thomas Huxley whether he was descended from a monkey on his grandfather’s or grandmother’s side, to which Huxley replied that he had-

"no need to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather, but that he would be ashamed of having for an ancestor a man of restless and versatile interest who distracts the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digression and skilled appeals to religious prejudice."

Hardcover. 4.75”x7.5”, 111 pages plus a 4-page list of other titles by the authors; steel-engraved frontispiece of a pillar with fern carvings; a full-page woodblock plate of decorative tracery; a folding plan of the museum; publisher’s pebbled & embossed cloth with gilt titles; spine slightly faded, minor soil and a little wear, but overall a very nice, fresh copy.

This copy has the handsome engraved bookplate of Herbert John Gladstone [1854-1930] on the front pastedown. Lord Gladstone was the son of Prime Minister William Gladstone, and after lecturing on history at Keble College, Oxford, he embarked on a long political career which culminated in his appointment as Home Secretary under Asquith from whence, after some controversy over domestic policy, he was booted “upstairs” and sent to South Africa as the first Governor-General and High Commissioner of the Union of South Africa.


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