Hand-coloured engraved caricature titled, 'A Parliamentary Examination touching certain Curiosities in the British Museum', showing Sir Henry Ellis before a parliamentary committee, answering William Cobbett's charge of nepotism.

[McLean's Monthly Sheet of Caricatures [Sir Henry Ellis (1777-1869), Principal Librarian at the British Museum, William Cobbett (1763-1835), writer and Radical MP for Oldham]
Publication details: 
London: McLean's Monthly Sheet of Caricatures No. 41 [June 1833].
SKU: 12944

Placed within a 35 x 45.5 cm frame, with 25 x 35.5 cm window. In good condition, with unobtrusive 2.5cm closed tear at head. Dimensions of image 34 x 22 cm, with engraved caption beneath: 'A PARLIAMENTARY EXAMINATION TOUCHING CERTAIN CURIOSITIES IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM', and 'MC.LEANS MONTHLY SHEET OF CARICATURES NO. 41' running up the left-hand side of the border. A spirited print, showing a chubby Ellis, with round spectacles, standing soberly before an amused parliamentary committee, with the celebrated William Cobbett standing at a table with pink tablecloth, on which are boxes, books and a 'List of Housemaids attached to the British Museum.' Behind Ellis is a group of startled old maids, and Cobbett gesticulates as he pronounces: 'Gentlemen I have brought these maidens thus prominently forward on the floor of your Honorable House, to confirm my assertion of the Museum being a complete boy of parental patronage, where the Governors & directors fill the under offices with their sons & daughters, even down to the Housemaids, I say there stands a daughter of the Lord Chancellor and next to her a daughter of our honorable speaker's, now witness, can you of your own positive knowledge and without the shadow of a doubt remaining on your mind affirm this not [last word underlined] to be the fact?' A scarce print reflecting the tensions within the British Museum and wider British society around the time of the Reform Act. Ellis's entry in the Oxford DNB states that 'The radical MP and essayist William Cobbett denounced [the British Museum] as ‘a place intended only for the amusement of the curious and the rich’, officered by ‘clergymen, who employed poor curates to perform their duty … whilst they were living in indolence and affluence here in London’ (Miller, 136, 138). An agitation got up by John Millard, a museum employee dismissed for incompetence, and supported by the radical MP Benjamin Hawes, occasioned the appointment of a House of Commons select committee in 1835, ostensibly to investigate his grievance. Its real agenda, however, was a broad attack on the museum, particularly on the exclusively aristocratic composition of the trustee body, and the museum's reluctance to address the needs of a wider public.' (The British Museum website erroneously describes the speaker in this print as 'Richard Cobbett, Member of Parliament for Oldham in Lancashire', but it is William Cobbett who was Radical MP for Oldham from 1832 to his death.)