. . . books
Barry Raftery tells of Rathgall and Irish Hillfort problems.
Technically the book is awkward, with all the illustrations collected together at the back, while the photographs have reproduced badly. There are some obvious omissions, such as Danebury and Cadbury, and one might regret that Professor Harding himself did not add a summary to tell us what he thinks hillforts mean. But the aim is empirical, to provide a collection of essays from which students can draw their own conclusions and make up their own minds, and in this it is entirely successful.
THE establishment of British Museum Publications
Ltd. as a high powered publishing company in order to publish the British Museum's publications, was inevitably a matter of controversy. How have they settled down? Perhaps we could look at a few of their many publications.
Their best seller will obviously be the new British Museum Guide (£5.50 hardback, though a paperback edition is available only at the Museum for £1.95). This is a very professional production, lavishly illustrated, with the Keeper of each department contributing a chapter on his own department. Yet just how much use will it be to the average visitor to the Museum? The chapters all give the impression of being written by dry scholars, trying hard to unbend, and be lucid and simple and objective. But what is needed, surely, is far more a 'Baedeker' approach, with three stars for the top objects in each department and one star for lesser objects. The visitor needs to be told which are the best objects, why they are important and why he should admire them, even if these assessments will be essentially subjective. It is only when we have absorbed the conventional wisdom that we can begin to build up our own judgment. Still, if I may adopt a pompous schoolmasterly tone, I would say this is a good effort on the whole, and mark it Beta +.
The Guide is clearly on target. I am less happy, however about Early Celtic Masterpieces from Britain in the British Museum, by John Brailsford, price £4.50. This is a large format volume with numerous illustrations, several of them in superb colour. It is clearly packaged to attract the casual visitor. The text, however, is a very scholarly account of various items of Celtic metalwork, which would look very well in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, but how far will it be comprehensible to the ordinary visitor? John Brailsford, though now officially retired as Keeper, has recently provided us with several major contributions to Celtic metalwork, of which this is one of the most important, but British Museum Publications are really very naughty to have packaged it in such a misleading way.
Two very similar guides can perhaps illustrate the advantage of the subjective over the objective approach. On the one hand, Greek and Roman Portrait Sculpture, by R. P. Hinks (£1.95) is a reprint of a book that first appeared in 1935. One can see why it has become a classic: Hinks was one of those scholars who was overwhelmed by Germanic art history in the early part of this century, and he is agog to trace the evolution of portrait sculpture from examples in the British Museum. It is a pity that the illustrations are so wretchedly reproduced.
Greek and Roman Art in the British Museum (£2.75) by B. F. Cook, the newly appointed Keeper of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities is, by contrast very objective and very factual, but it gives the impression that it has been written to order with no clear reader in view, and thus the overall result is bitty and dull.
Finally, the book that everyone is talking about I have not yet seen. I refer, of course, to the first volume of the Sutton Hoo report, which costs, apparently, no less than £45. They do not appear to have sent out many review copies, and I certainly cannot afford to buy a copy myself, and I have not even seen a copy yet in libraries. One cannot help feeling that this type of scholarly publication simply should not be published by a commercial-type organisation. It should be published by the Department itself, thereby cutting out the publisher's overheads, and it should be sold by the Museum, or by direct mail, thereby cutting out the booksellers' discount, which in this case would be £15. Even if the postage costs a pound, there is still an immense scope for cost cutting here. Above all, of course, they should have sought a big fat subsidy, equivalent at least to the standard DoE subsidy of 75 per cent of the printing costs. The British Museum were given the objects from Sutton Hoo by Mrs. Pretty and they have therefore not only a duty to publish them, but to publish them at a price that those who wish, and indeed need, to purchase them can afford to do so. By publishing it at £45 the British Museum has surely failed in its duty.