HC Deb 28 July 1845 vol 82 cc1149-60

On the Question that the Speaker do now leave the Chair,

Mr. W. Williams

said, if the right hon. Baronet would consent to the appointment of the Committee for which he had given notice of his intention to move, he would not detain the House with a single observation.

Sir R. Peel

believed his hon. Friend would be able to show that there was no ground whatever for the allegations in the petition upon which the hon. Member had founded his case for a Committee. If so, and considering that it would be most objectionable to do any thing that might tend to encourage insubordination in the school, he must refuse his assent to the Motion.

Mr. W. Williams

would then proceed to call the attention of the House to the circumstances under which he brought forward the Motion. He believed he was in a condition to prove that great mismanagement existed in regard to this institution. That it had proved a complete failure for the objects for which it was instituted was proved by the Report of the Committee which had been just presented to the House. The Committee say— It is to be regretted that manufacturers are not more generally disposed to meet the views of such candidates for their service, and to afford them such facilities and liberal encouragement as would serve to secure, for the purposes of ornamental manufactures, much available talent, which, in default of such encouragement, is often withdrawn from the further study of ornament, and directed exclusively to the pursuit of fine art. But the very next paragraph contradicted this, and showed that the school had excited the highest expectations amongst the manufacturers, for it stated— In the course of the last year, numerous applications have been received for the execution of designs in various departments of ornamental art, and every endeavour has been made to comply with these requests, as far as the execution of such commissions has been consistent with, and could be made to form a part of, the prescribed exercises and course of study in the school. Designs for different purposes have thus been furnished to manufacturers in London, and in several provincial towns, and from time to time manufacturers and others have purchased of students various designs which have been produced in the performance of the exercises of the school. In the number of such commissions, and in the extent to which the productions of the students are applied to commercial purposes, a constant increase is evident; and the numerous communications which come before the Council at each monthly meeting of the committee on correspondence, as well as the frequent visits and inquiries of persons connected with ornamental manufactures, may be noticed in proof of increasing relations between the school and those commercial parties whose interests this institution was especially designed to promote. The failure of the school was attributed as he believed, to the constitution of its managing body. The whole management was confided to twenty-four gentlemen, who were called the Council of the School; and when was there an instance of any institution having a governing body of this nature, consisting of twenty-four persons, being successful? Some time after the commencement of the school, Mr. Dyce, a distinguished artist and very talented man, was appointed to conduct it, and he performed that duty with great ability and perfect satisfaction to all parties. He was, however, removed, in consequence of some dispute with the directors. A Mr. Wilson was then appointed director, a gentleman unlike Mr. Dyce, for he was neither artist nor workman. Subsequently, a gentleman most distinguished for his talent, an associate Royal Academician, and one of the most rising men of the day, Mr. Herbert, was appointed to teach the school. That gentleman, believing that the school was capable of producing great national advantages, undertook for a salary, which could be of no object to him, the duties of master. The great ability of Mr. Herbert was admitted by the Council themselves in their Report; he was, however, dismissed. And he understood that on the occasion of that gentleman's dismissal, four only of the twenty-four members of the Council were present. No doubt there were many highly talented men amongst the members of the Council; but the great misfortune was that they seldom or never attended. One great difficulty in carrying out the objects of such an institution as the School of Design was the getting together a class of talented young men advanced in the arts. That difficulty had, in this case, been got over, and a class was formed, consisting of thirty-nine young men efficient as artists, that efficiency being proved by the fact, that five of the prizes given in 1843 were obtained by members of this class; and last year the same class carried away thirteen of the highest out of twenty prizes. The young men composing this senior class wrote a letter to the Council, complaining that the director was not capable of affording them the instruction they required; and the Council for this, without any inquiry, ordered their expulsion. The right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) said they should not encourage a rebellious spirit amongst the pupils; and no doubt he thought that the thirty-seven scholars who had made these representations to the Council were mere boys, or the sons of poor men. They were neither. There were amongst them the sons of gentlemen as respectable as many of those he was now addressing; and instead of being mere boys, they were for the most part men between twenty-one and thirty years of age, many of whom had evinced considerable talent. The Council had since offered to permit the return of those young men upon terms contained in a letter drawn up by this very Mr. Wilson, in language as offensive as could well be imagined. They were required to make a special application to the director, acknowledging the impropriety of their previous conduct, and expressing their intention to conform themselves in every respect, for the future, to all the regulations of the school, as laid down by the directors. This might be a proper way to treat boys of fourteen or fifteen years of age; but it was not the way to treat men who had left the school not from any rebellious spirit, but because they found they were wasting their time there for want of sufficient means of instruction. These pupils had offered to Mr. Herbert, their former master, the same salary he had been allowed at the school, namely, 100l. a year, if he would undertake their instruction, devoting only one-half of the time to that duty which he had been required to give at the school; but that gentleman refused, for he could make five times as much by applying the same time to his profession. In consequence of the young men who gained the prizes last year being expelled, there was now nobody in the school to compete for them. And here he must say that the Council had acted with less fairness than he expected, in declining to mention in their Report the names of those students who gained prizes last year, and were afterwards expelled. He was informed that the exhibition this year exhibited a miserable lack of talent, and the prizes were chiefly obtained by persons who could not be said to belong to the school—certainly by persons who had not been educated therein. One person, who had gained two prizes, had been seven years a designer in some of the manufacturing districts of Scotland, and had obtained a respectable living there by his talents as a designer. Another person, who had gained three prizes, had only been three months at the school, having been educated elsewhere. Two or three other old designers had obtained prizes. Let the House look at the falling-off in the number of pupils this year, as compared with the last. In April, 1844, the number of pupils attending the evening classes was 196; in July it was 189, showing a falling-off of seven. This year, the number in April was 186, and in July, as he was told, it was only 111, being a failing off of seventy-five. This was to be attributed to the proceedings of the Council in expelling thirty-seven of the most advanced and most able young men in the school. What was the present state of the school? Mr. Pugin, one of the most able men in this or any other country, stated that there were but two Englishmen of any talent in his service as decorators in the Gothic department, and these were two of the pupils who had been expelled from the School of Design. In a letter which Mr. Pugin had made public, he gave it as his opinion that there was no hope of seeing any real good effected by the School of Design, as at at present managed; though under a different system it might have been made the means of creating a school of national artists. Should his Motion for a Committee be not granted, he would entreat, for the sake of the public good, that, at all events, the right hon. Gentleman would dismiss the Council, and, instead of having twenty-four members, assemble a smaller body who would attend. He attached great importance to the subject. Owing so much as he did to manufactures, he felt the greatest possible interest in their advancement in every way. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that— A Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the allegations contained in the Petition of the Senior Students, of the School of Design in Somerset House, and into the general management and present state of that School.

Sir G. Clerk

was unable, upon the part of the Government, to comply with the proposition of the hon. Member, as he thought that nothing could be more calculated to destroy the prospect of public benefit arising from the School of Design, than for the House to accede to the prayer of a small number of students for a Committee of Inquiry into their allegations. The hon. Member's complaints seemed to resolve themselves into two classes, the one founded upon gross partiality alleged to have been shown to Mr. Wilson, the other on gross injustice alleged to have been perpetrated towards Mr. Herbert. Mr. Wilson was chosen by the directors to succeed to Mr. Dyce, upon that gentleman's withdrawal from the establishment. He was an artist of very high talent, and one for whose works considerable prices had been given by the best judges. Besides his qualifications as an artist, Mr. Wilson was a man of fine taste and extensive knowledge of the history of the fine arts. Now, the duties of director of the School of Design were different from those of a mere teacher of painting. He did not wish to say a word in disparagement of Mr. Herbert; but he was employed in the school merely to teach drawing from the figure—not a primary or principal object of the School of Design, but one of an entirely subsidiary nature. Mr. Herbert was not a teacher of ornamental design; but unfortunately, because the pursuit of drawing from the figure was one more likely to be attractive to young men of artistic talent, than the mechanical work of designing patterns, there was a tendency on the part of many of the young persons frequenting the School of Design, to go there with the view rather of studying in order to become artists, than mere designers of patterns for manufactures. To this fact, might be traced the late unfortunate disturbances in the school. By far the larger numbers of the alleged "senior students" were under nineteen years of age; four of them were only fifteen, another four were only sixteen, and only five or six were above the age of twenty. An unfortunate difference, in which the petitioners had taken part, had arisen between Mr. Herbert and Mr. Wilson, the former having applied disparaging epithets to the latter, for which there could be no justification. According to the rules of the school, notices had been affixed to the doors of the class rooms, stating that certain students had incurred punishments for inattention. One of them had been attached to the door of Mr. Herbert's class room, and he and his pupils took up the matter as a personal insult. An unseemly altercation took place in the class room, Mr. Herbert appealing to the students against the character of Mr. Wilson. It was then found necessary, in order to preserve discipline, to suspend the class. Let them examine some of the statements of the students implicated; and then let them say whether such representations, coming from boys, many of them under fifteen years of age, to the effect that Mr. Wilson was incapable of giving them instruction, could be for a moment entertained by the House. The grievances of the students had been put into a printed shape, under the title of their "depositions." Now, among the students, there was one person, twenty-nine years of age, named Hearn; and in order to show the animus by which these lads were inspired, he would direct attention to some of his statements. This gentleman then stated, that Mr. Wilson took him into his private room to show him some of his (Mr. Wilson's) original drawings; and that on being left to copy one of these, he discovered in a corner of the canvass the name of an Italian artist. The inference was obvious. Now, the fact was this, Mr. Wilson had given this young man to copy some characteristic drawings of his own early Italian architecture, upon which he had written in the corner the name of the place at which the several drawings were made, and which this learned critic mistook—never having heard of the town of Orvieto—for the name of some great unknown and unappreciated Italian artist. After this specimen of the talents and acquirements of the leader of the dissatisfied students, he put it to the House whether, on the ground of such complaints, the hon. Member had made out his case for inquiry? However, if the hon. Member was right in his statement that the School of Design was making no progress, that would be an important point in his favour. He hoped that he would go to the exhibition now open at Somerset-house, and perhaps he would there see what would make him change his opinion. That exhibition was one of the best which had yet been opened to the public, and it had been got up without any particular ostentation or straining after effect. But the best proof of the excellence of the patterns consisted in the fact that no sooner were they exhibited than the greater number were purchased at high prices by eminent manufacturers. There was a test of the progress which the school had made. He believed, too, that applications had been made by various manufacturers to the Council to recommend them to young men as designers in various branches of industrial production. Many persons, too, who had formerly received their patterns from France, found it unnecessary now to do so, as they were enabled to get patterns here drawn with just as much skill and taste as any received from abroad. Another proof of the success of the school would be found in the progressive increase of the students. Considering, indeed, the shortness of the time during which the school had been founded, it was surprising how so much had been effected by it; and although these students had complained of Mr. Wilson not being able to impart instruction to them, yet that gentleman had received the most flattering testimonials from those who were really the senior students of the school, thanking him for the instruction and information which he had communicated to them, both as regarded the history and the style of art in all ages and all countries. Under these circumstances, looking to the progress which the school had made, to the satisfactory nature of the present exhibition, knowing that the situation of Mr. Herbert had been filled up by an artist of quite as great reputation; knowing all this, and being of opinion that the recent attack on Mr. Wilson had been dictated by a bad heart, he trusted that he had said enough to show the House the propriety of refusing the Committee moved for by the hon. Member.

Mr. Ewart

thought the time of the House ought not to be taken up by mere personal disputes; but on that portion of the question which was not personal a Member was justified in making a few remarks. What was the aspect of the case before them? Did the hon. Baronet deny that the school was disorganized? Thirty-seven of the senior pupils had seceded; he called the school disorganized, for it was thus torn and rent asunder. Mr. Herbert, the master, had left; the complaints were general; the manufacturers complained that they could not get good designs; Mr. Pugin, one of the most eminent judges of art in the country, declared the state of the school to be highly unsatisfactory, and said he was obliged to seek out artists to work his ornaments on the Continent. Had they not a right then to ask for inquiry? For what purpose was the school originally established? It was established by Lord Sydenham, in consequence of the Report of a Committee of which the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Hawes) and other hon. Gentlemen were Members. He was asked by Lord Sydenham to be a member of the Council, but, disapproving of the constitution of the school, he refused; the school, he believed, would have gone on well had it been properly conducted, and he believed it would hereafter produce excellent effects. But the hon. Baronet (Sir G. Clerk) seemed to consider that the object of the school was to make workmen, not artists. That was the fatal error; in that consisted the error of the whole system. A school of design ought to rest upon two things—the study of the human figure, and copying from nature. This was the course of study pursued by the most eminent artists, like Raffaelle, or those who had wrought practically in the art of ornament, like Benvenuto Cellini. The great school of Napoleon at Lyons was based on the study of the figure; and the school at Somerset-house would attain greater eminence, if the same course of study were adopted. In Paris, in the Ecole Royale de Dessein and the Ecole Communale, study from nature and life was rigidly enforced. In the school at Manchester the study of the figure was introduced under Mr. Bell; a dispute arose with Lord Sydenham on the subject; the study was discontinued, and to that might be attributed the decline of the school. As to the constitution of the school at Somerset-house, he agreed with the hon. Member for Coventry that it was doubtful whether its government should be intrusted to a board. He had no faith in the divided government that existed under boards, and he believed the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary would incline to the same opinion. He would rather see some one person responsible to that House. In a council of many members there would be sure to be parties, or, the greater number absenting themselves from idleness, the real authority fell into the hands of five or six. He had no wish to use such a word as "job:" but in this case things had a tendency to become such in the hands of a junta. He thought there ought to be an inquiry, and if the hon. Member divided, he should support him.

Mr. Wakley

had hoped that one of the Council would have offered his opinion to the House, and was surprised the hon. Member for Lambeth had not done so. No answer had been given to the statement of the hon. Member for Coventry; the hon. Baronet (Sir G. Clerk) had undertaken the task, but the hon. Baronet must feel he had not discharged it to his own satisfaction. He could scarcely have weighed the case duly when he told the House it was a trumpery one. The public money was asked for to be expended on the school, and it was alleged to be in a stale of disorganization; he was also informed, by persons fully competent to judge, that it was conferring little or no benefit on the community. Was this state of things to last? The Committee was asked for at a late period of the Session, and it was almost impossible then to go into an inquiry; but, would the Government grant a Committee at the commencement of the next Session? Were the allegations made by the students to be passed over unregarded? Where was their insubordination, or allegations of misconduct on their part? Was any charge ever made against them till they complained to the Council? For making that complaint they were expelled the establishment, and all their expectations and prospects blasted. Was the institution made for the masters or the students? The Report made by the Council to the House of Commons passed over the differences in silence; only the slightest reference was made to them in a portion of one paragraph. There was not a word about the dismission of Mr. Herbert; the Report was an attempt to deceive and practise a delusion on the House. The facts most material to the utility of the establishment were entirely concealed. Mr. Herbert's dismissal was an insult to that gentleman, and an injustice to the students; a gentleman of higher attainments and capability could not be found in the country—he was universally respected in the school, and was dismissed on account of a difference with the director. He thought there ought to be a fair inquiry. He understood, out of the twenty-four members of the Council, only four were present when Mr. Herbert was dismissed; and, besides this, he had heard that when a reconciliation was talked of between Mr. Herbert and the director, one of the four said, they must put a stop to this! The students merely complained of Mr. Wilson's incompetency, and he thought they would not have risked such a complaint without cause. The Council never inquired into the justice of their complaint, but dismissed them at once: was it to go forth to all the schools in the country, that the students must not complain of their masters, under pain of dismissal? The constitution of the school was generally defective. It was governed by a sort of piebald board; and with such a board it was perfectly impossible that the school would ever be well governed, neither would it ever be well conducted, while the favoured director was continued in an office to which he was incompetent. His incompetency laid the foundation of the insubordination of the pupils, and the influence of intellect, as a controlling power, was necessarily lost, or at least weakened.

Mr. Hawes

said, the hon. Member for Coventry had received most incorrect information on this subject. He had also made use of language as regarded the Council of which they had a just right to complain. The conduct of the Council by no means laid them open to the charge of jobbing, or of being a clique, or of having "cooked up" their Report. The Council laid their Report upon the Table of the House, but they had not dared even to allude to the fact that they had dismissed Mr. Herbert, nor would the House have been aware of the fact had it not been for the Motion of his hon. Friend. He said it was not dealing fairly with the House. He trusted that the right hon. Baronet would take the whole case into his serious attention before the next Session; because, in regard to the fine arts and the position of the working classes in respect of them, there could be no more important question. He understood that from Manchester alone upwards of 20,000l. was sent abroad for designs. It was true that the Report did not allude to the dismissal of Mr. Herbert, and he thought the Council would not have well discharged their duty to the public, had they filled it with a detailed account of the unfortunate squabbling which had broken out in the school. The Council deeply regretted the fact; but Mr. Wilson and Mr. Herbert could not agree—the Council failed in effecting a reconciliation between them; and as both gentlemen could not remain in the school, the Council, after deep and very anxious consideration, determined that it would be for the interests of the school that Mr. Wilson should remain director; consequently Mr. Herbert was compelled to retire. Mr. Wilson was well known to be an eminent artist. He had been sent abroad to report on works of ancient art; he made his Report, which was laid on the Table of that House, and it was one which had never been surpassed. The hon. Member passed a high eulogium on the talents and fitness of Mr. Wilson for his situation as director, and observed that that gentleman had furnished a Report on ancient art which was confessedly the best that had been made, and which had been considered sufficiently good to be printed by order of that House. The hon. Member for Coventry said the school had declined; but the amount of fees received in each year showed that it had gone on progressively. In 1838, the fees received amounted to 183l.; in 1839, to 167l.; in 1840, to 103l.; in 1841, to 133l.; in 1842, to 164l. in 1843, to 238l.; and in 1844, to 326l. The increase in the number of students was, of course, in the same proportion. The manufacturers regarded this school with so much interest, that they applied for and received several of the students as apprentices to ornamental work. There was not one of the directors that would not be glad to see any alteration made that could promote the interest of the school; but when inquiry was sought on the ground that they were a set of jobbers, he (Mr. Hawes) would not consent to an inquiry on such terms.

Mr. Wyse

could also bear testimony to the fulness and fairness of the inquiry instituted by the Council into what he must designate as this unfortunate quarrel. He should feel it his duty to oppose the Motion as it then stood.

Mr. Hume

would advise his hon. Friend not to press his Motion. The fact of the dismissal of a man of so much talent as Mr. Herbert, indicated that there was something wrong in the present system. There must be in the Report, he thought, a suppression of some important facts, and he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would consent to lay additional information on the Table, in order to enable the House to form a correct judgment.

Amendment negatived.