The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49
2. Art Exhibitions, &c
2. Art Exhibitions, &c.
But, after all is done that can be done, the reading-rooms will hold but a few hundreds, or, at most, small thousands, of the idlers. Where else, then, can our clerk go on his winter Sunday? To some Museum, some Art Exhibition? Alas, no. That, indeed, would win him; but that is still among things tabu in New England. Moreover, the State has none to open. But private citizens have: will they not soon be moved to organize the "loan collection" as the next new instrument of education in the cities,—to generously resolve together that what their wealth and their refinement open to themselves all days and months shall be also opened, regularly opened, for a winter month or two, to those less fortunate? And opened most freely on the Sundays, when it could be used by the thousands who have no other day of the month on which, with fresh minds and clean clothes and the feeling of leisure, they can use it,—the day on which it would perhaps do as much good as-during the whole week besides? Will not the directors of the Natural History collections, of the new Art Museums now forming, of the recurring Mechanics' Exhibitions, consider earnestly whether it lie not in their power and within their privilege to help the idle population to keep their Sunday better ?
Think of that great educator in Philadelphia standing-dumb through the Sundays of six months,—dumb to the very class who most needed teachings such as hers,— page 88 dumb to the petition of sixty-seven thousand, mostly "working-men !" It is hard to speak a single word save words of gratitude and admiration, of the men who gave their country such an educator: but for one speaking on my subject it seems disloyal not to speak right on. So long as the Centennial Commissioners were faithful to their ground for enforcing the dumbness,—that American public opinion ought not to be shocked by what it deemed a Sabbath desecration,—the loss was to be regretted as sad waste of opportunity. But when the privileged few began to be admitted on that day, the public conscience felt a shock, not only as of Sabbath desecration, but of something worse. Under the circumstances, this wicket-gate opening achieved a real success of harm to the public conscience, offset only by the pleasure made more pleasurable to the few, while whatever pain the general opening would have given Sabbatarian feeling would have had the good done to many thousands to offset it. Of foreign precedents, the good was left, the bad was chosen. In East London the Bethnal Green Museum is freely opened to the public on Monday, Tuesday, Saturday; on Sunday it is "closed," but fine carriages and footmen, it is said, may be seen waiting at the gates through all the afternoon. Somewhat so, back in the fourteenth century in France, at a time when the Sabbath rest laws were so strict that even bakers were forbidden to bake that day, the goldsmiths and the armorers were exempted from the statute on the ground that their work concerned the nobility!