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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

Experience of Sunday Openings

Experience of Sunday Openings.

Does anyone doubt whether such exhibitions as we speak of would be appreciated by the class we speak of? Appreciated as by those already privileged with education,—no: but visited, enjoyed, studied, made to serve page 89 as educators,—yes. Even this, however, would depend largely on the degree in which the "working-man" felt himself at home when there. He is not going where he believes, mistakenly or not, that he will be looked at curiously by strangers in soft raiment. In America we have but small Sunday experience in such matters. But in Philadelphia the new Academy of Arts is open on that day at the week-day price; the attendance is larger than on week-days, and of about the same character;" many in humble life, who could not come through the week, enjoying the exhibition to their heart's content, some even carrying babies rather than not come." The Zoological Gardens there are also open; and, at the usual price, the attendance on Sundays is "at least three times greater than on week-days; the class of visitors averages about the same, and it is always orderly."

Abroad the thing is past experiment. In the German city Sunday is the people's free day at the Galleries. In Berlin it is Monday that sees them closed and their custodians resting. In Paris it is said that the book most applied for at the lending libraries, on Saturdays, is the guide-book to the Museum for the next day's treat. That next day the Louvre opens its departments exceptionally wide. Going there, you find the rooms possessed by working-men and peasants, whole families down to the awed children, each one dressed and mannered at his best, enjoying it together. In English Birmingham they dared the experiment three or four years ago with good success*. In Dublin both the Botanical and the Zoolog! page 90 cal Gardens are opened Sundays, and have three times as many visitors on that one clay as on all the other six together. One-third of the yearly receipts by the animals are the people's pennies. The National Gallery is also open, and nearly ten times as many visit it that day as on the other six together.

In London, Hampton Court and Kew Gardens have long been open; but the Crystal Palace was closed against great petitions, and stay closed until now. The South Kensington Museum, the British Museum, and the National Gallery are also shut; and only last year the Court of Queen's Bench closed the Brighton Aquarium. By those in trust of the four noble museums just named, it is felt that "any departure from the existing practice must come from the country at large." Accordingly, four societies in England are now trying to free the day for the people. One has been trying some twenty years,—since 1855,—and has done much to educate public opinion. It works for Sunday excursions, Sunday music, and "Sunday evenings for the people." One (since 1869) works for Sunday lectures on science,—physical, intellectual, and moral,—history, literature, and art, especially in their bearing upon the social well-being. (Seats at one penny, sixpence, and one shilling.) Another (1874) would fain increase the Sunday study of Shakespeare. And the fourth, formed last year (1875), With central and provincial committees, is devoted to the single purpose of "opening museums, art galleries, libraries, aquariums, and gardens, as such, on Sundays," while earnestly "deprecating any attempt to make Sunday an ordinary working day." Such men as Huxley, Darwin, Bain, Lecky, Spencer, Seely, Amos, Stopford Brooke, are leading it. The society has established a little quarterly journal (" The Sunday Review," Messrs. Tr—bner & Co., London, Ludgate Hill, E. C.) through which to push the page 91 appeal to the country. Twice the Sunday question has been brought forward in the British Social Science Congress. It is one of the live and growing questions of the day, and the public is going to hear more and more about it, until the friends who go to church are converted to the wisdom and the justice of extending to the whole of the community educational advantages now enjoyed only by a section of it,—only by a section because the usual "closing" falls on the single day on which great masses of the people can enjoy their share. The present government last year introduced a temporary measure favoring legislation in the direction of the society's aims. To such "openings" there is always opposition previously. The "entering wedge" is the great bugbear. And when the thing is dared and done, the opposition seems, to vanish before the innocence and goodness of the fact.

* An item, not of Sunday fact, but whose bearing lies in our direction, may be added: The Liverpool Free Library and Museum opened a picture exhibition for three months in the fall of 1873. During the three months the day admissions, at one shilling each, were 13,318. During only the last half of the time it was also opened in the evening at a three-pence admission, and 18,361 persons pressed in. In all, over 30,000, besides some 10,000 pupils, &c., admitted free.