Popular Science Monthly/Volume 75/September 1909/Peale's Museum
By HAROLD SELLERS COLTON, Ph.D.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
AN almost neglected chapter in the history of the natural sciences in this country is that dealing with Peale's Museum. Of the accounts of the museum that have appeared from time to time, one alone is worthy of consideration, being written from a scientific point of view. The work referred to is by Mr. Witmer Stone and considers the ornithological collections alone.
Through the great kindness of Mr. Horace Wells Sellers, access has been had to the diaries, letter books and unpublished autobiography of Charles Willson Peale. With the material thus furnished by Mr. Sellers, to whom the writer is deeply indebted, and much other material from the Pennsylvania Historical Society and the Philadelphia Library, very little of which has been referred to by biographers, many clouds enveloping the history of Peale's Museum have been cleared away. As this history is so intimately connected with the life of the founder, a better beginning can not be made than by reviewing briefly his career.
His life was a long one—eighty-six years. It divides itself very naturally into four periods—of about equal length—twenty to twenty-four years: the period of youth, the period of the prime of life, the period of middle age, and the period of old age. The first period begins with his birth in Queen Anne County, Maryland, April 15, 1741. His progenitors were English. In the paternal line, they were for several generations rectors of the parish of Edith Weston in Rutlandshire. Charles Peale, his father, although educated in turn for the church at Cambridge, did not take a degree, but came to this country and became headmaster of the Kent County Free School in Maryland. Although the school was popular and patronized by the best families of Kent County, yet he, at times, had great difficulty in making both ends meet; and died when his eldest son Charles Willson Peale was nine years old. His widow, being left with very little to provide for a large family, removed to Annapolis, and, by dressmaking, maintained herself and her children. Charles was now put to school; but, after he had learned writing and arithmetic, etc., he was apprenticed, at the age of thirteen, to a saddler. Working out his apprenticeship, when he was twenty-one he married into an influential family; and, with the assistance of a lifelong friend of his father, James Tilghman, set up in business for himself.
The saddlery business did not prove a success; and it was about this time that he, on seeing a poorly executed painting and having had from childhood a taste for drawing, thought that he could paint as well. With some borrowed colors and by the aid of a looking glass, he painted a portrait of himself with such good results that some of his friends advised him to study painting seriously. Thus, at the age of twenty-four, he began the second period of his life—that of a painter.
Peale, the Portrait Painter
After studying under the best available talent in Maryland and in Virginia, he went to Boston and took a few lessons under Copley and shortly afterward was engaged to paint several portraits. Returning to Annapolis, his work soon became noticed. John Beale Bordley and several of his fellow members of the Governor's Council of Maryland made up a purse and sent Peale to London to study under Benjamin West. Returning to Maryland two years later, his ability was soon recognized and for the next twenty years he was the leading portrait painter of Pennsylvania and the south.
His many engagements in Philadelphia caused him to move to that city in 1774 and to make it his permanent home. Being an ardent patriot, he offered his services to the American cause at the beginning of the Revolution, being made lieutenant and later captain in a company of Philadelphia militia. He was in action in the battles of Germantown, Trenton and Princeton. At Valley Forge in the winter of 1777 he found occupation in painting portraits of his fellow officers. Many of his portraits painted during the war were subsequently placed in his "painting room" to form a nucleus of what he hoped would become a national portrait gallery. During this period, his interest in public affairs led him into various activities and public positions in connection with the British evacuation of Philadelphia.
As soon as opportunity offered, he established himself in a house at Third and Lombard streets and resumed with his former energy the practise of his portrait painting. In connection with this house he built a long room to hold his pictures and to use as a studio. As curiosities Dr. Morgan gave him some bones of a mammoth from Ohio; Professor Robt. Patterson, of the College of Philadelphia, presented him with a paddle fish from the Allegheny River; Dr. Franklin gave him an Angora cat from France, which was soon lost for want of proper means to preserve it; with these as a nucleus, it was suggested to Peale that he start a museum of natural history.
At the age of forty-four the third period of Peale's life may be said to begin. Acting on the suggestion that he form a museum of natural history, he at once referred to books to discover the means to preserve reptiles, quadrupeds and birds. At the end of the second summer those preserved were all eaten up by dermestes and moths. After a great deal of experimenting, a method was devised that fills many pages of his autobiography. The basis of this method was the use of arsenic and alum. Although it had a very serious effect on his health for awhile, yet he was obliged to use it. "The many difficulties I had encountered in this new business," said he in his autobiography, "had made me often repent that I had undertaken so arduous a task, yet. . . the idea of handing down to posterity a work, that if judiciously managed might become equal to any undertaking of the like kind in, Europe"—this was a stimulus to his exertions. Although, by the neglect of his portrait painting, he found it difficult, at times, to meet the expenses not only of his family, but of taxes, ground rents and other unavoidable expenses of his establishment, yet his enthusiasm, perseverance and ingenuity enabled him to conquer the difficulties, but not without the aid of his talents as a painter. Finally, after placing his museum on a self-supporting basis he retired in 1808 to his country place, "Belfield," in Germantown.
In the midst of the active period of museum development he made trips when his funds were low into all the neighboring states to paint. During his trips he never lost an opportunity to gather specimens or further the interests of his museum. On a trip to Maryland he met a Rev. Mr. Kerby who was a collector of beetles. His account, in his diary, of the effect of this meeting shows the enthusiasm that was instilled into his collecting. Said he:
Some collectors, like myself, have only looked for subjects large and striking to the sight, but now I declare that I find equal pleasure in seeking for an acquaintance with those little animals whose life, perhaps, is spent on a single leaf, or at most on a single bush. It is diverting to watch a flower as you approach and see the little being watching you. It turns around a twig or part of a flower to avoid your sight, and in an instant drawing in its legs rolls off, sometimes falling from leaf to leaf to get a passage to the ground. Yesterday morning I set out to walk several miles before dinner. . . . But in the first meadow I found myself examining the bushes attentively and there I found so much amusement that several hours passed away before I could think of leaving those bewitching animals. Looking at my watch, I found it was almost dinner time, when I scarcely thought I had begun my pursuit.
The museum grew rapidly and soon he was obliged to seek for other quarters. Being a member of the Philosophical Society, some of his friends suggested that he rent Philosophical Hall. This the society allowed him to do, making him curator and librarian. In describing the moving of the collection he writes:
To take advantage of public curiosity, I contrived to make a very considerable parade of the articles, especially those which were large. As boys are generally very fond of parade, I collected all the boys of the neighborhood. At the head of the parade was carried on men's shoulder's, the American buffalo, the panthers, tiger cats; and a long string of animals carried by the boys. The parade from Lombard Street to the Hall brought all the inhabitants to their doors and windows to see the cavalcade. It was fine fun for the boys. They were willing to work in such a novel removal and saved me some expense in moving the delicate articles.
Governor Mifflin allowed Peale to fence in part of the State House Garden so as to make a place to keep living animals. Speaking of this, Peale said:
The cages and animals kept in the yard amused the public much, but was supported with some expense; yet it was a necessary appendage to the museum, as animals that had not come to their full growth are not fit subjects to be preserved, except when some of the young are to be placed with their parents to form family groups, as pictures of the manners of animals.
Notwithstanding legends to the contrary, this was the only zoological garden that Peale ever attempted to form, it being but a temporary expedient.
It was not Peale's practise to sell his duplicate specimens; but wherever opportunity offered he would exchange. In this way he was soon in communication with the various museums of Europe and from his letters I find that he sent many specimens to the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, to the British Museum, to the Royal Society of Sweden, and many others scattered over Europe.It must be remembered that during much of this time Europe was at war. Privateers scoured the seas, which made many letters go astray and caused many cases of specimens to be lost. Notwithstanding these troubles he mentions receiving an orang-outang and a "Platipus," and many other beasts from all over the world. "Now to show all these things to advantage," said Peale, "required judgment as well as a tasteful disposition of them to be pleasing to the eye as well as useful to enquiring visitors." In classifying animals he followed Linnæus. In fact he was such an admirer of Linnæus that he named one of his children after the great Swede. He used Button's work to identify the specimens. However, as one would expect in a new country that had been visited by but few naturalists, much of the material gathered by Peale would be classed as "non-descripts." To these Peale gave a common name but did not describe. It fell to the labors of Wilson, Say and other Philadelphia naturalists who followed to describe those animals. As arranged in the cases each animal had on it a label that gave the English, French and (when one had been given to it) Latin name.
With respect to the arrangement of the specimens on the shelves Peale says:
This idea is interesting because it is the one that is growing in favor in the museums of Europe and America at the present time.
Peale and His Contemporaries
In 1792 Peale writes:
The decades 1790-1810, during which Peale was most active, composed part of the period of American zoology called by Brown Goode the period of Jefferson. The influence that the great statesman exerted Goode compared to that of Agassiz in a later period. Among the medical profession of the country were a few men interested in natural history. These centered about the newly founded medical school of the University of Pennsylvania. The ones only that might be placed in a class with Jefferson were Caspar Wistar and Benjamin Smith Barton. Later may be mentioned the names of Wilson, Ord and Rafinesque.
At this time the pure sciences centered around the American Philosophical Society. The minute books of the society show that from the time that Peale was elected a member in 1786, he was rarely absent from a meeting. Renting, as he did, a large part of the hall and being librarian and curator, he was for many years closely identified with it.
In 1804, Baron Humboldt, Bompland, the botanist, and a Peruvian gentleman, Montrefar, arrived in Philadelphia from the famous trip to South America. Peale was a member of an informal committee from the Philosophical Society to see to their reception. The committee went with the travelers to Washington, where they were entertained by President Jefferson. Of this journey Peale writes to his brotherin-law in New York:
However, I have been richly repaid for the expense and trouble of a journey, by the agreeable conversation of Baron Humboldt, who is, without exception, the most extraordinary traveler I have ever met with; he is a fountain of knowledge that flows in copious streams; to drop this metaphore, he is a great luminary diffusing light in every branch of science, I say diffusing because he is so communicative of his knowledge, which has been treasured up in his travels of upward of nineteen years.
The Baron sat before Peale for his portrait and on sailing for France Peale presented him with a mounted specimen of an alligator. This later was presented on the Baron's return to France to the National Museum.
With the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, Peale had more intercourse than with any other institution in Europe. This began when the museum in Philadelphia was very young, by the arrival in Philadelphia of the naturalist, Baron Palisot de Beauvois, a refugee from the terrible massacre at St. Domingo. For the short time that he was in Philadelphia, Beauvois aided Peale in many ways. Not only did he help Peale in identifying the specimens, but he also wrote the French edition of the catalogue; and Peale in turn aided him by furnishing him with many letters of introduction whenever he went on collecting trips into other states. A personal friendship sprang up which lasted till Beauvois' death in 1820, and it is in Peak's letters to Beauvois after the latter^ return to France that one finds the best account of what was going on in Philadelphia. With respect to the museum, Peale was in correspondence with Geffroy St. Hilaire and with Cuvier, also receiving letters from Lamarck. With all these connections joining the museum to France it was not strange that the French influence was strong.
The feat which was Peale's greatest achievement in connection with the museum was the recovery and reconstruction of the skeleton of a mastodon. In the spring of 1801, receiving information from a scientific correspondent in the state of New York that the bones of a mammoth had been found in digging a marl pit near Newburg, Peale hastened to the spot; and, after bargaining with Mr. Masten, who owned the farm on which the bones were found, he finally paid $300 for those bones that had already been procured and the right to drain and excavate the morass to recover if possible the rest of the skeleton. On Mr. Masten showing Peale the spot where the bones were found, which was a spacious hole filled with water, he wrote in his autobiography:
The pleasure which I felt at seeing the place, where I supposed my great treasure lay, almost tempted me to strip off my clothes and dive to the bottom and try to feel for bones. The hope, however, of returning soon with the means of emptying the pond satisfied me.
He went at once to New York. Through President Jefferson he was able to borrow pumps from the Navy Department and other things from the War Office. The Philosophical Society advanced him $500 without interest, with his house in Philadelphia as security. He then returned to the scene of operation with his son Rembrandt. After
hard work they were rewarded with grand success and were able to ship to Philadelphia one skeleton that lacked principally the lower jaw and the top of the head. What was lacking in this skeleton was found in another from a nearby bog. The bones of the two animals were not mixed. When the skeletons were set up the missing parts were carved out of wood, so that there were finished two complete skeletons. "Although putting these skeletons together" to return again to the autobiography, "was a long and arduous work; yet the novelty of the subject, the producing the form, and, as it would seem a second creation, was delightful; and every day's work brought forth its pleasure."
Up to this time many scattered bones and teeth of the mastodon had been found in this country. They had been described as belonging to a race of gigantic man, to the fathers of cattle, to hippopotomi, etc. In a letter to Geffroy Saint-Hilaire describing his find Peale states that this animal should be called the carnivorous elephant of the north, but should not be confounded with the Siberian mammoth. Cuvier in his memoir "Le Grand Mastodonte" writes:
The Museum in the State House
In 1802 the state legislature moved to Lancaster. This left the State House (Independence Hall) vacant. Peale petitioned the legislature and was allowed to occupy the building as long as he allowed persons to pass through the hall into the State House Garden. His son Rembrandt used the east room on the first floor as his studio, while the entire second floor and tower was given up to the use of the museum.
The best picture that we have of the museum in Independence Hall is found in a letter written by the late George Escol Sellers, of Chattanooga, Tenn., a grandson of Peale, who as a boy and a young man spent much of his time in the museum, and who subsequently became one of its trustees. The period referred to in this letter is about 18201824, twelve years or more after Charles Willson Peale ceased to take an active part in the management, Mr. Rubens Peale being in control. There is very little evidence that much of scientific value was added after the father retired, except, perhaps, the collections of Major Long's expedition to the Rocky Mountains, and Dr. Harlan's anatomical and craniological preparations.
Mr. Sellers, in describing the arrangement of the hall writes:
Of the Long Room Peale himself has perhaps given us the best account. He writes:
Over the center window is a neat well tuned organ for the use of such visitors that understand music. Under the orchestra are microscopes for showing Insects and other subjects to advantage.Over the Bird cases are two rows of portraits of Distinguished Personages in gilt frames extending almost the whole length of the room. They are original portraits painted from life by C. W. Peale and his son Remb1 At each end of the room are also some portraits. The most conspicuous being those of General Washington and his lady, which are the last they sat for C. W. Peale.
To complete the description of the museum we return to Mr. Sellers' letter:
On entering this room in the corner case was a wax figure of Col. Lewis or Clark, I do not remember which, in a complete Indian costume. The cases of Indians and their dresses and implements were very attractive. Back of the skeleton of the Mammoth at the end of the room was a large, what might be called, historical painting showing the tread wheels and other appliances that were used to pump out the morass while the bones were being exhumed. In fact this and a smaller painting gave a graphic history.
The marine room, up the lobby stairs, better known as the anatomical room was really a gruesome room in spite of its end cases of Monkeys at work. There was shown the smith, the carpenter, the cooper and even the shoe maker, a shoe between his knees, his arms akimbo as if drawing tight his waxed ends, a grin from ear to ear. The side cases were shallow and filled with snakes long and coiled. One snake was charming a stuffed bird with its bead eyes. One was in the act of swallowing a toad or frog with the hind quarters projecting from the mouth. There were also lizards big and little. Among the various cases was one filled with real anatomical preparations, including a ghastly tatooed head, a manufactured South American Mermaid—half fish and half hairless dried monkey—, innumerable alcoholic preparations, also an embryo shelf with animal and human fœtuses.
In 1805 Peale started to write a book called "A Walk with a Friend to the Philadelphia Museum." This seems never to have been finished and was never published. A comparison of the above account of Mr. Sellers with that of Peale shows that on the whole the same specimens were on exhibition as in the days that Mr. Sellers recorded; nevertheless there was a lack of sensational attractions in 1805. As an instance of this may be mentioned the fact that the monkeys at work were not added until 1809, a year after Peale retired to his Germantown farm. The two-headed calf was not added for some years after that.
In "A Walk with a Friend" Peale writes about the quadruped room, and it is of interest in relation to modern methods of taxidermy:
The muscles of this as well as many of these quadrupeds are so well represented that painters might take them for models and all is so well preserved that no insects can destroy them; a thing too generally the case in other museums.
The Proprietor has invented a mode of mounting them which I believe was never practised before. As the muscles can not be preserved to keep their natural plumpness nor can it be expected that the most careful operator can stuff skins in the common way to preserve perfectly the true form more especially of animals that have not an abundance of hair or fur—the limbs of these have been carved in wood; closely imitating the form after the skins had been taken off; giving swell to the muscles proportional to their action so that, in fact, they are statues of animals with the real skin to cover them—a stupendous labour originating from and effected by an enthusiastic desire of exhibiting a series of real forms as they exist in nature. . . .
Besides the methods of taxidermy as practised by Peale, there was another equally striking innovation. We have seen that there was a large frame illustrating Linnaeus's classification of birds. To aid the inquiring visitor much information of general interest was contained in similar frames. In the Mammoth Room on the wall beside the skeleton of the Mastodon, Rembrandt Peale's "Historical Disquisition on the Mammoth" was framed page by page. By reading this account and by referring to the skeleton and to the paintings Peale intended that his visitors should have the opportunity of becoming well informed. These were points the importance ©f which were emphasized by Brown Goode many years afterward. As an attraction, one winter when the attendance was lbw, Peale installed in one corner of the hall a man to cut silhouettes by a new method. In one year 8,880 people carried away likenesses of themselves. After he retired, but particularly after his death, under the direction of his sons this precedent that Peale himself established of having attractions was increased, so that in its last years the institution became little more than a dime museum.
In the library of the Pennsylvania Historical Society there is a large blank book bound in whole calf entitled "Memoranda of the Philadelphia Museum/' This book contains a record of the donations, accessions and exchanges between the years 1803 and 1837. An impression that one gets from reviewing its pages is that of the enormous amount of valueless material presented by travelers from Europe and from farmers up in the state. This, however, is a common feature of all museums; nothing offered must be refused, but, if of no value, will find its way to the official rubbish heap.
The library of the museum must have been of exceeding value. Every page records books bought or books received in exchange. As an exchange for specimens sent to France the museum received Buffon's works in five volumes. The following is a sample page showing the type of entry:
|1806||A Tropic Bird, 2 Frigates, 3 Eels which are said to wound very severe|
|Feb. 17.||and to attack people. Ship Geo. c Washington by Capt. B Farris.|
|The natural history of British Insects with colored plates Vol. 1st—octavo,—John Armond.|
|19.||Fossil shell from Kentucky, they are found from I foot to 50 feet below the surface of the earth in limestone. W. Chambers.|
|2 pieces hog skin, one inch and 1 in thickness, from the shoulder.|
|It was shot on the banks of the Ohio, in the spring of 1793—William Chambers.|
|21.||The head of the Petrel F. V. Riviere.|
|21.||Phæton Athireus or tropic bird, female, F. V. Riviere.|
|Lacerta Chamæon, Chameleon, Isle of France—Caps Farris.|
|21.||Skeleton of a Porcellaria Petrel. Samuel Coates.|
|22.||The Trumpet Fish from S. America—Peter Solee|
|An Experimental Dissertation on the Rhus Vernix, Rhus Rodicans and Rhus Globrum commonly known in Penns by the names Poison ash, Poison-vine, and common Sumach by Thos Horsfield.|
|An Inaugural Dissertation on the warm Bath by Hen. Wilm Lockette.|
|24.||Viverra nasua Coata Mondi (alive) from South America Joseph Baker.|
His Last Years
Peale's early training and natural ingenuity enabled him to turn his hand to anything; this quality has been exaggerated by his biographers and mere incidents pointed to as periods in his career.
Peale's period of senescence may be said to date from the time he resigned the active management of the museum and moved to his "Belfield" place, at Germantown. With him old age was robbed of its infirmities. Temperate habits, outdoor exercise and constant employment of mind and body, were responsible, according to his own theories, for the vigor that he enjoyed at eighty. He was eighty-three when he painted without his glasses a full-length portrait of himself by order of the trustees of the museum. This is the portrait that now hangs in the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, an institution of which he was the chief founder. These latter years of his life were not marked by reduced activities, but by more varied occupations. His attempts to make porcelain teeth and similar undertakings have been emphasized. Undoubtedly it is the memory of this period that has led many of his biographers to refer to him as a "jack of all trades."
Later History of Museum
It may be interesting to outline briefly the later history of the museum and the fate of its collections.
In the first decade of the nineteenth century the value of the collections was from an educational point of view equal to those of the famous museums of Europe. At this time, with a view to its preservation and to carry out a cherished hope, Peale offered it to the government at Washington to form the nucleus of a National Museum. According to Jeffersonian simplicity it was not in the province of the government to father institutions not directly connected with government, so the offer was refused.
In 1816 the city purchased the State House from the state; and, at once, raised the rent on Peale from $400 to $2,000. As Peale could not pay so much, a compromise was made for $1,200. The museum was run at a loss for three years, at the end of which time Peale induced councils to lower the rent to $600. About this time Peale offered the museum to the city on condition that they would agree to house, add to it, and promise not to sell any part of it except duplications. The city refused to accept the gift.
In 1821 the museum took another lease of life, and its aged proprietor, still fearing that it would become divided on his death, had it incorporated with five trustees, all, except one, members of his family. As organized, four professors were appointed to give lectures in Natural History, viz.:
|In mineralogy,||Dr. Gerard Troost.|
|In zoology,||Thomas Say.|
|In comparative anatomy,||Dr. Richard Harlan.|
|In physiology,||Dr. John Godman.|
|Conservator in zoology,||Titian Peale.|
In 1827 Charles Willson Peale died and the next year the museum moved into the Arcade on Chestnut Street above Sixth Street., on the north side. In 1835, the stock of the company was increased from $100,000 to $400,000 and a magnificent building was started at Ninth and Sansom on the site of the present Continental Hotel. Three years later the collections were moved from the Arcade into their new home.
Up to this time the museum had been very prosperous financially and had become largely a money-making concern. In 1841 the failure of the United States Bank carried down the Museum Company. The receivers of the bank foreclosed on the building, which was soon sold at auction. By paying rent the Museum Company was allowed by the new owner to occupy the building. In the hard times that followed, the Museum Company attempted to keep its head above water by vaudeville attractions and concerts. Thus the museum was thrown into direct competition with the dime museum as typified by Barnum's Museums. The directors of the company were not equal to competition with the trained showman. When, in 1846, the end came, the collections were sold at auction, the pictures going all over the country; yet one third subsequently came back to Independence Hall.
An attempt was made to keep the Natural History collections together; and until 1850 they were exhibited at Masonic Hall, but not by the Peales. At that time they were sold by the sheriff and bought for five or six thousand dollars by P. T. Barnum and his associate, Moses Kimball. They were divided, half going to the Boston Museum and half going to Barnum's American Museum, in New York. Legend has it that the mastodon went to this latter place and was destroyed when, in 1865, the American Museum burned. Since its whereabouts was not known in 1852 when Warren wrote his monograph, it is possible that it was burned in the fire that destroyed, in 1851, Barnum's Philadelphia Museum. If this be the case it would seem to indicate that Barnum did not take all his share of the specimens to New York as he said he did. In either case it was destroyed.
In 1900 the Boston Museum broke up, and the specimens were presented to the Boston Society of Natural History, where about 1,300 of the birds now are. There is nothing to indicate that any specimens were added to the collections after they were removed from the Philadelphia Museum. The second mastodon found in 1801 has had a more varied history. In 1803 Rembrandt Peale and his brother Rubens carried it to England. It was exhibited before the Royal Society. While in London, Rembrandt Peale wrote his "Historical Disquisition on the Mammoth." An attempt to sell the skeleton to Napoleon was undertaken, but war broke out with England which prevented the deal being completed. Peak's sons brought it back to this country and they made a southern trip, exhibiting the mastodon as far south as Charleston. Later, in 1813, Rembrandt started a museum in Baltimore on similar lines to that of his father's in Philadelphia. In this museum the mastodon found a home. This became later the Baltimore Museum, from which in 1846 it was purchased by Dr. Warren and taken to Boston for comparison with his very perfect skeleton and placed in the Warren Museum on Beacon Hill. With Warren's mastodon it was bought from the Warren estate by J. P. Morgan and is now in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and is called the Baltimore mastodon. This is all. that is known of the fate of the collections of Peale's Museum.
A point that has been particularly confusing to historians is the fact that Peale's Museums were located in both New York and Baltimore. In this connection it will become necessary to refer briefly to Peale's sons.
In the last decade of the eighteenth century Rubens Peale and his brother Rembrandt attempted to found in Baltimore a museum with some duplicate specimens given them by their father. This museum was discontinued after one year.
In 1813, however, Rembrandt Peale, who was a better artist than his father, but was less of a naturalist, moved to Baltimore and in the following year opened a museum and art gallery on Holliday Street in a building that afterward became the Baltimore City Hall. The museum finally passed out of his hands, becoming the Baltimore Museum, which was bought by Barnum in 1845. In the early twenties Rembrandt opened a museum in New York, on Broadway, opposite the City Hall. This museum passed out of his hands into that of a stock company, which, after trying to compete with Barnum's American Museum, was obliged to sell out to the great showman in 1842.
When Charles Willson Peale retired, he placed his son Rubens in his place as director of the Philadelphia Museum with the secret hope that with the opportunities at his disposal he would become a naturalist of world-wide reputation. However, Reubens was apparently not much of a naturalist, but during the years that he was director he devoted himself to making the museum self-supporting rather than increasing the value of its collections. For a while, it would seem about 1841, at the call of the directors of the New York Museum, he became manager of it.
The sons of Peale who had real tastes in zoology were both of the name of Titian. Titian Peale, by Charles Willson's first wife, was becoming a naturalist of great promise and of great help to his father, when he died at the age of eighteen. In memory of this son Peale named a child by his second wife Titian. This Titian became an ornithologist of some distinction, and was conservator of the collections of the Philadelphia Museum for many years.
Peale as a Museum Director
As we have seen, Charles Willson Peale was an enthusiastic collector. The object of these collections was the education of the public. Peale's ideas as to the function of museums are best illustrated by some extracts from a lecture introductory to a series of forty that he delivered in the winter of 1800-1801. He wrote that a museum should teach the economic use of animals and plants. Says Peale:
A farmer ought to know what reptiles best aid and protect the fruit of his labors, and not through ignorance destroy such as feed on animals more destructive to his grain and fruits; nor possess antipathies to those that he ought to cherish.
A museum should exert a moral influence in the community. Said the lecturer:
An instance of this is in the memory of many of my hearers. The chiefs of several nations of Indians who had an hereditary enmity, happened to meet unexpectedly in the museum in 1796; they regarded themselves with considerable emotion which in some degree subsided when, by their interpreters, they were informed, that each party, ignorant of the intention of the other, had come merely to view the museum. Never having met before, but in the field of battle,. . . now for the first time finding themselves at peace surrounded by a scene calculated to inspire the most perfect harmony, the first suggestion was that as men, they were of the same species and ought forever to bury the hatchet of war. After leaving the museum they formed a treaty. At the request of the Secretary of War, I supplied them with a room. They heard a speech written by General Washington recommending peace. Their orators spoke, and they departed friends.
After giving a brief account of the history of the museums in the world, from the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, he describes his ideal museum. Says he:
Parts of this lecture and the one delivered in the previous winter in "the hall of the University of Pennsylvania," as an introduction to a course of twenty-seven, remind one amazingly of certain portions of the addresses of Sir William Flower and Brown Goode.
Some of the characteristic features of Peale's Museum might be summarized as follows:
1. Its collections were educational rather than scientific.
2. The idea of indicating the natural environment with the mounted specimen, the idea of framing the pages of books (recommended also by Brown Goode), the idea of having diagrams and popular descriptions of the specimens beside the specimens themselves, and the idea of placing those of the 4,000 insects that were too small to be easily observed by the naked eye under permanent simple and compound microscopes, and his methods of taxidermy, all of which approach ihe arrangement of modern museums of natural history.
3. Although Peale was not the first to give lectures in natural history in this country, yet he was the first to give lectures illustrated by specimens.
The Influence of the Museum
The influence of the museum was wide-spread, but lay not in the direction that the founder had hoped. A perusal of the newspapers of the first decade of the nineteenth century will show that by this time there were a number of museums in every city. They show also that these museums were copied from Peale's Museum, in that they nearly always had a gallery of portraits of heroes in connection with a collection of curiosities. By the first quarter of the century, all had added concerts as an additional attraction. It was not long before the concert developed into a variety theater, although in the case of the Boston Museum legitimate drama was given. In the middle of the century these museums reached their greatest development, such as it was, while Peale's Museum became but a memory. Barnum's American Museum marked the climax. When in 1902 the Boston Museum ceased to exist, this event marked the end of the last museum that obviously was suggested by the Peale Museum, although there are a few dime museums of later date that have managed to survive.
The cause of the fall of these museums lies in the fact that their place has been filled by natural history museums and zoological gardens which teach true natural history in place of the fake natural history of the dime museum. Although Peale's Museum seems to us to-day a very primitive affair, yet, considering the time when it was founded, the institution must be looked upon in a different light. Then there was no other collection of any kind in the country that could be called a museum. Not having any precedent of museum arrangement, the whole evolution was independent.
The museums of Europe exerted some influence, of course, on its development, but they were so far away that the problems that cropped up from time to time had to be solved independently. This accounts of course, for the many original features that were presented.
The importance of Peale's Museum has been largely discredited, owing to the impression left of its latter days, long after its founder's death. One forgets its positive value and influence when it was directed by his energy and intelligent effort. In the decade of 1800-1810 travelers compare the quality of its collections with the museums on the other side of the ocean. After Peale's retirement from its active direction, the museum ceased practically to grow, while those founded much later began their wonderful development.
Although Peale helped but little to advance our scientific knowledge by the collection of facts, yet to him should be given the credit of organizing what was for awhile a great museum and enabling thousands of people to become acquainted with the appearance and the habits of many animals of this and other countries.
- The official name was "The Philadelphia Museum," but must not be confused with the now existing "Philadelphia Museum," which was founded forty-five years after the former ceased to exist.
- Awk, April, 1899, Vol. XVI., pp. 166-177.
- Brown Goode, "Beginnings of American Science," Proc. Bio. Sci. Wash., Vol. IV. . 85.
- Hamy, E. T., "Alexandre de Humboldt et le Museum D'Histoire Naturelle," Nou. Achhis. Du Mus., 4e series, Vol. VIII., p. 10.
- Cuvier, "Eloge de M. de Beauvois," Mem. Paris Acad. Sci., IV., 1819-20, p. 318.
- See footnote, p. 231.
- Manuscript in the Pennsylvania Historical Society.
- See Brown Goode, "Museum History and Museums of History," 1889, p. 267.
- "An Epistle to a Friend on the Means of Preserving Health, Promoting Happiness, etc.," 8vo, Philadelphia, 1803, 48 pp., by C. W. Peale.
- P. T. Barnum, "How I Made Millions"; the life of P. T. Barnum, written by himself.
- "The bones mentioned by Warren as being exhibited in Paris belong, I judge, to a mass of bones of several animals which were found at Big Bone Lick. An attempt was made to sell them to Peale. As they were from several animals he refused to buy them. Cf. "The Navigator," Pittsburg, 1811, 7th edition, p. 117.
- Scharf, "History of Baltimore."
- "See Stone, Witmer. Awk, 1899, Vol. XVI., pp. 100-177.
- See "Discourse Introductory to a Course of Lectures, etc.," 1800, C. W. Peale.
- "Introduction to a Course of Lectures in Natural History," Philadelphia, 1800.
- Flower, William Henry, "Essays on Museums," 1898.
- Brown Goode. "Museum History and the Museums of History," American Historical Association, 1888, p. 63.