« PreviousContinue »
pleasure of knowing his Lordship, I think for about fifty-six years, when he was a little boy, and I was grown up tolerably well to what is called manhood. I remember, at that early period, his activity at Bowood, his devotedness to study, and particularly to the improvement of Bowood, which at that time was a very different place to what it is now. It is now not only an honour to the county, but to all England—(cheers)—and its noble and magnanimous possessor is not only entitled to gratitude for his past services in connection with this county, but additionally for what he has done to benefit this glorious country. (Cheers.) God bless his Lordship! may he live to my own age, and be as happy as I am at the age of eighty-two, and for many years may he come before you, or your successors, to celebrate the establishment of this Society, which will, and must redound to the honour of Wiltshire, and to the advancement of topographical and archæological pursuits in general. (Cheers.)
The resolution having been carried by acclamation, the noble MARQUIS said—I hope you will allow me to return my most sincere thanks for the unexpected honour you have conferred upon me just now, in addition to that paid me before, when you requested me to become your Patron. I can only say the Society has my most sincere good wishes, as I trust it will have the good wishes of every gentleman in the county, for its success. And if I have the good fortune to live as long as my friend Mr. Britton has stated that he has lived, doing good all the time, and exerting himself for the benefit of his native county, I hope I shall be in as good condition at the wholesome age of eighty-two as he appears to be in now. (Cheers.)
(His Lordship then resumed his seat, but did not leave the meeting until the conclusion of Mr. Scrope's address.)
Mr. ŠCROPE then rose and delivered the following
My Lord, ladies and gentlemen,-In obeying your command that I should take the chair as President of the Society, which we meet to day to inaugurate, I feel that I am undertaking duties which I shall be unable to fulfil with the efficiency necessary to justify your confidence. I can only plead in apology the interest I take in the studies which it is the object of the Society to encourage, and my desire to do anything within my power to promote their more general cultivation.
The title of our Association sufficiently indicates the purposes it has in view. And the means by which it is proposed to carry them out have been already explained to you in detail.
It may, however, be not inappropriate for me, on the occasion of this our first meeting, to make a few general remarks upon
oble cere just e to nost Еery Food that
advantages that we may reasonably expect to gather from the Institution of which we are to-day laying the foundation.
It is scarcely necessary for me to state that Archæology, the pursuit of which we are uniting to promote, is the study of antiquities, not for the gratification of an unreasoning curiosity, but with the view of bringing them to bear upon and illustrate history—and especially local history, or topography; which indeed, may be said to be included in the term. The investigation of the ancient monuments of a country, of its buildings, military, civil, and ecclesiastical, of the weapons, implements, furniture, dress, and ornaments of its inhabitants, from the earliest period to the day, is as indispensable towards the due comprehension of its history as the examination of its written records, which are, in part, themselves, likewise, the subjects of archæological research. So understood (and in these days it is always so understood) Archæology remains no longer open to the good humoured ridicule which has so often been levelled against antiquaries—the Jonathan Oldbucks of other times—as a sort of learned triflers over things of no real value or interest
“Nought but a world of old nick-nackets,
Of rusty swords and fusty jackets.” On the contrary, this pursuit has assumed a position of honour and respect in popular estimation, and has been elevated to the rank of a science.
Such researches, indeed, could only have been undervalued, at any time, by those who shut their eyes to the remarkable influence exercised over the human mind by every object that can claim an association with interesting characters, or important events. There is an eager desire, of which all mankind, perhaps, are sensible, to attain some tangible, or visible memorial of the great men of other days, to visit the spots which they frequented, to linger in the ruins of their habitations, the scenes in which their great deeds were performed, the tombs in which their ashes repose. Proofs of the universality of this feeling pervade all ages, and are obvious to all eyes. It is seen most conspicuously perhaps, in the “Pilgrimages” of ancient and modern days, or still more in the contests carried on between entire nations, and through centuries, even up to the present hour, for the possession of what are called the “Holy Places” of Judea—that is to say, of the material objects most closely associated with what to every Christian must always be the most intensely interesting event and personage in history.
This feeling, like all other powerful instincts of our nature, is liable to abuse, and apt to run into extravagance, as witness the absurdities of relic-worship. And some may consider it beneath the dignity of history to avail herself of it. But no sentiment so universal, and so powerful in its influence, can be wisely disregarded
or contemned. The true course to pursue is to direct it into wholesome and legitimate, in lieu of morbid and unworthy channels; and this is the province of Archæology rightly understood.
No doubt some antiquarian, and even historical relics, are of a trivial character, and some as apocryphal as any monkish reliquary; yet a real dignity, and a true interest attaches to objects which are authentically associated with noble characters, and deeds of high emprise. Who could view without a thrill of interest—in the armoury lately formed in Windsor Castle—the identical weapons worn and used in their heroic encounters by Charlemagne, Edward the Black Prince, Cromwell, and Napoleon ? Who can look unmoved upon the original copy of Magna Charta in the British Museum ? or raise his eyes to the window in Whitehall where the Royal Charles was beheaded ? or tread the pavement of Westminster Hall, the scene of so many stately pageants of the middle ages? or of the adjacent Abbey, where lie so many of the illustrious dead ? or who can walk unconcerned over the field of Flodden, or of Waterloo ?
It is, then, to this universal sentiment, this yearning after some material evidences of the great facts of history, that the archæologist appeals when he points, with almost reverential regard, to the camps, the battle-fields, the castles, the monuments, that witnessed the occurrence of splendid actions or important events, or when he offers to the curious eye medals impressed with the likeness of some heroic sovereign, the armour of a Roman warrior, or the ornaments of an Egyptian beauty. A collection of antiquities is, indeed, history itself made palpable to the senses. It is by these means that the personages, places, and facts with which history deals are brought, as it were, bodily before us, to illustrate what otherwise would be but a dry narrative and nomenclature. Archæology presents, moreover, to us, in vivid forms and colors, the actual life and manners of our ancestors, and the scenes and memorials of their less distinguished actions—affixing the stamp of reality to what would else be scarcely distinguishable from the fictions of romance.
Nor is the study of the works of former generations less important, as affording lessons in ART, of the highest practical utility. It is well known that the most perfect examples of the beautiful, in almost every department of art, in architecture, sculpture, and design, are derived from antiquity. And, even in this utilitarian age, the quality of beauty is found to possess an intrinsic mercantile value, and its study to be indispensable to the prosperity of a commercial, and manufacturing nation, wholly beyond, and besides, the genuine pleasure it is calculated to afford, and its elevating and civilizing influence on our tastes and habits.
I may give as one instance the great development that has taken place of late years in the ceramic art, entirely through the attention paid to the beautiful forms and ornaments of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan pottery preserved in our Archæological Museums. But a yet more striking example may be noted in the improvement observable on all sides in our ecclesiastical edifices, owing to the increased study of the mediæval models. It is not much more than half a century back since Gothic Architecture was still regarded by the many as the rude work of barbarians devoid of taste. Now we have the gratification of seeing those stately and magnificent piles, upon which the piety of our ancestors lavished untold wealth, and their architects the resources of unexampled skill, taste, and genius, preserved, or restored, with a judgment and devotion parallel to that by which they were originally raised. We see, too, new churches, of almost equal beauty and grandeur, rising to meet the wants of an increasing population-some of them fully comparable to the work of the best ages, such as that superb Basilica which the munificence of one of our county members has reared in the town from which the county derives its name. All this improvement in the style of our sacred buildings is the result, be it remembered, of the greater attention now paid to Archæological pursuits, and the judicious investigation of the works of antiquity.
It is possible that some persons may fail at first sight to discern the connection between the two studies which are conjoined in the title of our Society-Archæology and Natural History. But, as has been said by others, “The student of nature is a student of antiquities, quite as truly as the explorer of ancient art.” An inquirer into God's works is as much an antiquary and historian as he who examines the early works of man. The rocks and minerals of a country are the materials of its construction, and the monuments of the vicissitudes through which its surface has passed, both before and since its occupation by man. Fossils have been aptly termed the “medals of creation," and the geologist, indeed, like the coin collector, learns from them to distinguish the successive ages of the earth's history. Ethnology is as much a natural science as a branch of history, to which Archæology supplies the means of comparing the various races of mankind. In truth, to complete the history of a country, there is required a thorough knowledge of its physical geography, its mineral structure, and of the plants and animals, no less than of the human beings, which from first to last have inhabited it.
So much (too much I fear you will think) in vindication of the general character and aim of societies such as this which you are today sanctioning with your approval.
But we have a further and special purpose in view, to which I must now ask your attention. It is suggested in the words of the printed circular proposing the formation of the Society; namely " the collecting and concentrating information on the Natural and Civil History, Topography and Antiquities of our county” in particular. Societies have been formed for a similar end in several other counties-for example, in Somerset, Sussex, and Northamptonshire, and they have proved eminently successful, and popular. It is, indeed, obviously desirable that some such means should be employed for bringing into union and coöperation those among the inhabitants of a provincial district who are already engaged, or are willing to engage, in the prosecution of these researches; and who, for want of encouragement and sympathy from others, may either wholly desist from them, or waste their powers in imperfect efforts, which often terminate without leaving a trace behind for the assistance or instruction of others.
No doubt it may be said that there exist already several National Societies of the kind to which they may resort. But the place of meeting of these, generally in the metropolis, is probably distant from their residences. And the interest felt by each person in researches, extended over so wide a field as the whole island, is proportionably diluted. Just as the history of England is a matter of deeper interest to Englishmen than the history of Europe, or of the world, so to a Wiltshireman the antiquities and history of his own County, and especially of his immediate neighbourhood, must offer an object of much stronger regard than those of remote places. Few persons, perhaps, are to be found insensible to the former, while it requires the peculiar constitution of a professed antiquary to feel much zeal in the pursuit of the latter.
Mr. Hunter in the preface to his admirable work on the Deanery of Doncaster, puts this generally prevailing sentiment in a strong light.
," he asks, "of taste and feeling, or of a cultivated mind–or, even, who is not utterly devoid of a natural curiosity, but feels the difference between living in a district which has been well described by topographers, and one which is a blank in these respects? In the former there is not an edifice of any antiquity, a church, a castle, a manor house, a cross, or a fragment of ruin, in his neighbourhood, that is not connected with some incident or character that makes it a matter of interest." “Topography,” he goes on to say, "calls up the spirits of past generations. We see them gliding among the trees planted by them, or through the ruins of the buildings they inhabited. We see them in their proper apparel, and with all the rank and port that belonged to them. Where there is no written recovery of the past, we can live only in the present generation. In the ages that are gone by all is indistinctness; and the want of knowledge of the events that formerly occurred around us, in the spots that we frequent, deprives us of a source of great intellectual enjoyment, and of information often of much practical value.”
It is this local interest and attachment that has occasioned the compilation and publication of many county histories—a matter in respect to which Wiltshire is unfortunately much in arrear of
- What person,