25 October 2018

Noli Me Tangere

"The Groans of the Museum," The London Mercury, Vol. XIX, No. 114 (April 1929), pp. 228-229:
An MP has been suggesting, by means of a question, that the British Museum should be given powers to destroy such of its printed rubbish as nobody, in the future, can conceivably wish to consult. It certainly is terrifying to contemplate the great daily inflow into Bloomsbury, and Hendon via Bloomsbury, of books, pamphlets, leaflets, magazines, newspapers, and music: and to imagine how elaborate the system of classification and storage will have to be in the future if the student of 2129 is to be entitled to expect, at brief notice, to be brought this year’s file of the Bulletins of the Large Black Pig Society or a complete collection of the published opuscula of Clapham and Dwyer.

Surely, surely, exclaims the rebellious heart in us, something can be spared : surely there must be  at least a portion of the "literature" which pours into the Museum which might be quietly put into the furnace at once, in the certainty that from now until Doomsday not one single human being, however eccentric  or erudite, could possibly ask for any of it. Yet the difficulties leap to the  eye the moment one observes the categories which the Hon. Member suggests contain material suitable for destruction. One that he specifies is "old comic songs." Yet one man’s "old comic song" is another man’s meat. We ourselves are intimately acquainted with an anthologist who spent precious days at the Museum searching through the yellowing backnumbers of Messrs. Francis, Day, and Hunter’s publications and those of their predecessors; finding in them certain things he thought worth reprinting as well as a good deal of light upon the tastes and manners of our fathers and grandfathers. Skip a century or two. Imagine that music-halls had flourished in Chaucer’s day or Shakespeare’s, and that a few volumes of the ditties they provided were suddenly brought to light by those relentless excavators, the Death Duties! What a to-do! What excitement! What competition! What eagerness to study and to edit on the part of all the gravest and greyest Professors in England, America and Germany, a host of persons to whom the strains and words of I Wanna Go Back to the Gobi and My Sweetie Is So Blue are completely unknown! The Museum is not yet bursting, and the bowels of the earth are deep. Let us leave "Noli me Tangere" above its portals and pass this risky job of selection on to our successors.