HC Deb 23 April 1863 vol 170 cc601-12

SUPPLY considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


Sir. I rise to move the Resolution of which I have given notice for the grant of £50,000 to Her Majesty towards the expense of erecting a suitable memorial to the late Prince Consort. We all recollect the effect, the stunning effect produced on the public mind about a year and a half ago by the announcement that the country had lost the late Prince Consort. The event struck a gloom into every household — it inspired with deep grief the heart of every subject of Her Majesty. There was no one who was I not sensible that the nation had sustained a loss, a great and irreparable loss, and indeed all felt the same as if they had themselves lost some dear friend or near relation. On what that loss was to Her Gracious Majesty I shall not presume to dilate. There are truths which are only weakened by any attempt to enforce them; there are feelings too sacred to allow of any attempt to explain them. It would be a kind of sacrilege to draw aside the veil by which the depth and intensity of those feelings are shrouded from the public gaze. But, Sir, everybody felt—the whole nation felt—that it was an occasion on which it was becoming, that both for the satisfaction of the national sentiment and as a tribute of respect to the Sovereign, some permanent and substantial memorial should be erected to perpetuate the virtues of the great man who had been taken from us. A public subscription was accordingly raised. The late Lord Mayor placed himself at the head of the Committee by which the management of its detail was conducted, and contributions poured in from every part of the country according to the means of those who desired to testify their feelings on the subject. It was from the beginning the intention of Her Majesty's Government not to leave the commemoration of a great national loss simply and entirely to the result of private subscription. It appeared to them fitting, that in addition to anything which might proceed from private impulse, there should be something which, coming from a Vote of Parliament, would be a more completely national tribute to the memory of the Prince whom we had lost. What should be the amount to be proposed to Parliament had evidently to depend upon two things:—First, upon what might be the result of the private contributions; and next, upon what might be the probable cost of such a memorial as might be deemed suitable for the occasion. But no sooner was the subscription begun than the Committee who undertook its management made it publicly known that the selection of the kind and character of the memorial should, as was fitting, be left to the feelings and judgment of the Queen. Well, Sir, various circumstances occurred which diverted into other channels those means which, perhaps, might otherwise have flown into this subscription. That great and magnificent, act of public generosity by which the distressed workpeople of Lancashire have been in a great degree supported took away, probably, much which might otherwise have been devoted to this object. The amount at present contributed, I believe, I may state at something between £50,000 and £60,000. With a view of determining what should be the nature and character of the memorial, Her Majesty requested four eminent persons to undertake the task of inviting designs, and considering and reporting upon them; and the Commissioners appointed for this purpose were the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Clarendon, Sir Charles Eastlake, and the late Lord Mayor. The Commissioners invited a certain number of architects to send in plans of that which they thought fitting for the occasion. Those plans consisted of two parts. The idea which each of the architects endeavoured to work out comprised, in the first place, what may be more particularly called a personal memorial; and, in the next place, a building devoted to those pursuits of science and art in which the late lamented Prince himself took so great an interest. It was found, however, that those plans would have involved an expenditure considerably larger than could be met either by the subscriptions raised or by that addition to them which Her Majesty's Government thought might be fairly asked from and fairly granted by this House; and therefore, upon further and mature consideration, the Commissioners have reported that they would recommend to Her Majesty the abandonment of that portion of the proposed memorial which was to consist of a hall of science and art, and to confine it to that personal part which was to have formed, as it were, the balance or complement to the other. The place which has been recommended by the Commissioners to Her Majesty is that part of Hyde Park which lies between the public road to Kensington and the carriage drive through the Park, and that portion of it which lies opposite to the ground belonging to the Commissioners of the Exhibition for 1851. That site is one which, in all respects, is suited to the purpose. It will not interfere with any other arrangement, and, from its position, is calculated to display anything erected upon it. Now, Sir, in regard to the practice of raising monuments as memorials to great and distinguished men, I will only say that it is a practice which has prevailed in all countries and in all nations. In this country there are many examples of such memorials, and it has often and well been said that such memorials answer a double purpose—they not only gratify and satisfy the feelings of those who are contemporaries with the great man whose merits are to be recorded; they not only gratify the feelings of admiration, love, and affection which are felt by those who raise the memorials, but they stand as an example to future generations, to stimulate them to emulate those virtues and high qualities which were possessed by the person in whose honour the memorials are erected. Now, there never was, perhaps, a person who, in that double capacity, was more fitted to have his memory recorded than the late Prince Consort. When a memorial is erected to some great naval or military commander, who has lost his life in winning a great victory, conducive to the safety and dignity of his country, or when it is erected to a more fortunate commander, whom Providence has led uninjured through a hundred battles, and who has the happiness to finish his days in honour and repose, in the midst of a grateful and admiring country—in either case the example can be followed but by few, because the occasions which present themselves, even in those services, to men to display these great qualities, which have rendered illustrious the name of a hero, happen but seldom. They can only happen in war, and it is to be hoped such occasions, in any country, and at any time, may be few. But the high qualities and virtues displayed by the late Prince Consort were virtues that belong to every class of society, from the highest to the lowest, which come into operation every day of every man's life, and which no man can soy the position in which he is placed does not afford him ample and honourable opportunity of carrying into action. His Royal Highness had qualities of the highest order. He would have been a distinguished man in whatever position of life it might have been his fortune to be placed. He contributed as much as it was possible for any man to do, in the performance of those various and extensive duties which fell to his lot, to the welfare, happiness, and prosperity of the country. Well, then, I say that upon every principle, whether it be to gratify and satisfy the feelings of the country, or whether it be to hold out an example to every man of the exercise of those eminent qualities, those forbearing qualities which accompanied the highest talents and the loftiest and most honourable ambition on the part of the late Prince Consort, and which may be practised by any man, and when practised constitute the surest means by which to reach the respect and honour of our countrymen — I say whichever be the object to be gained, I am sure hon. Members must feel that they are accomplishing an object worthy of this House. And then, when we consider the deep affection which is felt by the whole nation for our gracious Sovereign, when we recollect what a deep and irreparable loss she has sustained by the death of one who was the foundation of the happiness of the happiest possible life—when we consider how the feelings of the country sympathize with Her Majesty in that great and irreparable loss, I am persuaded I am not wrong in saying that this House can never be and never has been a more true exponent and organ of the feelings of the country than when they tender, as I trust they will do this evening, respectfully to Her Majesty a token of the deep sympathy which they feel for her misfortune, and of their heartfelt attachment to her person. It may, indeed, be said of the people of this country that they feel they have a Sovereign of whom, without any disparagement to Her Majesty, it may be said they consider her as one of themselves—her joys are considered by them as their joys, her sorrows are partaken by them as sorrows of their own; and I am persuaded, therefore, I am not appealing in vain to the good feelings and loyalty of this House in proposing that we should this evening vote that sum which would be necessary to complete the amount of the subscription raised to the sum which has been estimated as the probable cost of such a memorial as Her Majesty will select for erection to the memory of the late Prince Consort. The Commissioners have made their Report, and they recommend, as I have stated, a single and personal memorial. I believe the calculated expense of it will be something like £110,000. The subscription reaches nearly to £60,000; and if to that we add £50,000, which we think it our duty to propose to Parliament, I believe the amount will be amply sufficient to erect a memorial which shall be worthy of the country by whom it is raised, and, at the same time, do adequate honour to the late Prince Consort, and be soothing to the feelings of the Sovereign to whom this House and country are so dutifully and loyally attached.


said, he wished to say a few words on the question, in reply to the many inquiries made by hon. Members. The extent of the public subscription had been greatly modified by the fact that many towns and localities had determined to have memorials of their own. The city, for instance, that he had the honour to represent (Bath) instead of sending the large amount which had been subscribed to London, had erected a wing to an hospital and called it the Albert wing. With reference to the drawings now exhibited for the testimonial itself, they were works of much commendation, and were the best he (Mr. Tite) had ever seen. The suggestion of the site was due to Mr. Pennethorne; and as to the designs, the Commission appointed by Her Majesty had applied to certain architects to advise them: he was one of that body, who recommended a limited competition, and the designs now exhibited were the result of that recommendation. The designs displayed a great variety of architectural talent. That which had received the greatest amount of approbation was the cross, designed by Mr. Gilbert Scott, and it had accordingly been recommended for adoption. The House probably knew that he (Mr. Tite) differed from many other persons with regard to the use of Gothic architecture for secular buildings; but for a building of the kind in question nothing could be more appropriate, and nothing more elegant. It was of a sacred character, and would be associated with some of our best recollections, as it was designed in imitation of the monuments erected by King Edward I. to his Queen Eleanor. With regard to the character of public monuments generally, the best examples were to be found at Berlin—as that of Frederick I., by Ranch; the iron cross on the Kreuzberg, and the monument to the Queen of Prussia at Charlottenburg. The designs that were sent in were various in character, but, as he had said, upon the whole were highly creditable to their authors. He wished, however, to correct one mistake. It had been supposed that the monumental cross was to be 300ft. in height, whereas in fact it would only be 150ft.; and the work would, he believed, be one that would be satisfactory to the nation, creditable to the architect, and a worthy memorial of the illustrious Prince.


said, he believed that the reason why the public fund had been found insufficient was because the public did not approve the plans that had been submitted for carrying out the memorial. If anything of a useful character had been proposed, calculated to benefit posterity, the public subscriptions would have been doubled and even trebled. The monuments in the metropolis in the form of statues had been so unsatisfactory that any sensible man would desire that any memorial raised to him should be of a nature calculated to benefit posterity. He hoped it was not too late to reconsider the matter. At first a monstrous monolith was proposed, and now it was a still more monstrous Eleanor cross. It was difficult to say which was least calculated for the purpose. The Times newspaper had taken up the question in a most dogmatic spirit. At first it had endeavoured to force the monolith upon the public by publishing minatory letters threatening a grant from Parliament if subscriptions were not given to a sufficient amount; and now it defended the Eleanor cross, and professed to know better than the architect himself, for nothing less would suit the venerable ladies of Printing-house Square, as the hon. Member for Bridgewater called them, than 300 feet in height. Mere size and costliness were no recommendations, and he hoped it was not too late for the Committee to reconsider the question, and to recommend to Her Majesty, who, as far as he knew, had no fixed or definite opinion upon the subject, a memorial which should not only perpetuate the memory of the deceased Prince, but should prove a lasting benefit to future generations.


Sir, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Coningham) as to the causes he has assigned for the inadequacy of the public contributions for this object; nor as to the principle upon which this monument should be elevated. I think Her Majesty's Government have, upon the whole, taken a well-considered and judicious course in this matter, which was not one altogether free from embarrassment. The object, indeed, of the memorial is simple, and one of which all approve; but no doubt, from the manner in which it was originally proposed, it had become involved with some circumstances which rendered the course of the Government rather difficult. Sir, I have always felt confident that the common sense of the House would extricate us from that difficulty, and I am gratified to see that Her Majesty's Government are of the same temper, and that by appealing to the House with a proposition which is clear and comprehensible, they have terminated a state of affairs not altogether satisfactory. No one can doubt the real sympathy that pervaded the country when the great calamity occurred. Indeed, that is scarcely an adequate expression to describe the emotion—it was a feeling rather of anguish—anguish for the loss of the Prince who was departed, and equally so for those who wore left lone and desolate. Sir, I think there was upon that occasion every desire in the country to express, as far as its contributions could do so, the feelings of the nation. But it is to be observed that at the moment the sympathy of the country was of a personal character. The loss was go sudden, so unexpected, that the natural emotions of the community were all directed to the personal character of him who had passed away. The peerless husband, the perfect father, the master whose yoke was gentleness—the wise and faithful counsellor of the Sovereign, who was his consort—these were the traits in the character of the Prince that attached and appealed to all hearts; and while there was a general desire, by public contributions, to show a sense of those qualities, every community felt that it was equally a judge of those virtues with the metropolis; and there was an immense amount of local subscriptions, which, although inconveniently, were naturally, dedicated to the ornament or utility of the district in which the subscriptions were raised. For example, every person who had a benevolent scheme for raising an hospital or founding a school seized that opportunity of general sympathy and sorrow, and upon the merits of the Prince whom we had lost made a successful appeal for funds which they would not otherwise have obtained. That is the reason why the public contributions were not directed to one centre, and why, with no definite object sufficiently held before the observation of the country, the public contributions were not of an amount adequate to carry out the object now desired. But as time drew on, something of the influence of posterity was exercised upon the opinion of the country, and it became conscious that it had lost, not merely a man of virtuous and benignant character, who had exercised the fine qualities he possessed for the advantage of the community of which he was a prominent member, but it felt that it had lost a man of a very original and peculiar character, who had exercised a great influence upon the age, and which it felt as time advanced would have been still more sensibly experienced. The character of Prince Albert was peculiar in this respect, that he combined two great qualities which are generally considered to be incompatible, and combined those qualities in a high degree. He united the faculty of contemplation with the talent of action, and was equally remarkable for profundity of thought and promptitude of organization. Add to these qualities all the virtues of the heart, and the House will see that the character thus composed was a very remarkable one. He brought this peculiar temperament to act upon the public mind for purposes of great moment, but of great difficulty. The task which the Prince proposed to himself was to extend the knowledge, refine the taste, and enlarge the sympathies of a proud and ancient people. Had he not been gifted with deep thought and a singular facility and happiness of applying and mastering details, be could not have succeeded so fully as he did in those efforts, the results of which we shall find so much the greater as time goes on. Such being now the impression of the country—that we have lost not simply an accomplished and benignant Prince, but one of those minds which influence their age and mould the character of a people—a strong feeling prevails that a memorial should be raised in the metropolis of the Empire. I believe that that desire is very general, and therefore the Government has taken a course which the country is not only perfectly prepared for, but expected and required. For my own part, I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Coningham), that the public contributions should be devoted to what is called some purpose of utility. That appears to me to be a fallacious and narrow-minded principle. A purpose of utility means that you should endow some charity or erect some building which may illustrate some isolated feeling and feature in the Prince's life. But a public memorial, such as the country requires, should be of a universal and complete description. It should apply to the general sentiments of the country, and should represent, as far as art can represent, the full career of the man, be that future generations may, as the noble Lord observed, behold a monument which may serve for their instruction and encouragement. It should, as it were, represent the character of the Prince himself; in the harmony of its proportions, in the beauty of its ornament, and in its enduring nature. It should be something direct, significant, and choice; so that those who come after us may say, this is the typo and testimony of a sublime life and a transcendent career, and thus they were recognised by a grateful and admiring people!


said, he was disposed to agree with the hon. Member for I Brighton (Mr. Coningham) as to the reason why the subscription did not amount to a sufficient sum to effect its object. It arose from an apprehension that the plans adopted were not likely to do credit to the illustrious person whose loss the nation deplored. He regretted that the plans had not been, in the first instance, submitted to the House, and the necessary Vote asked for, because he was afraid lest an impression should have been created, that because there had been a deficiency in the subscriptions, there had been a lack of public zeal to do honour to the Prince. As an Irish Member, he was perfectly certain that the Vote would be well received in his country. So accurately balanced was the mind of the illustrious Prince, so just was he in his thoughts as in all his actions, that he never, throughout his whole career, made use of an expression calculated to give offence to any man in Ireland, of whatever politics or whatever religion. He therefore rejoiced that the Government had determined to aid in erecting a monument, and he hoped it would be of such a character as to do honour to the memory of the great Prince whose loss they deplored.


said, he felt assured that the House would readily grant the money for a monument, provided they were satisfied that it would be worthy of the object it was intended to commemorate. Although the architects recognised elegance of form and beauty of proportion as characteristic of the Eleanor Cross, it might be doubted whether those characteristics would be preserved if the proportions were multiplied in one of gigantic dimensions, he should like, therefore, to know whether it was definitively settled that an Eleanor Cross of three hundred feet high should be erected.


said, the cross was to be one hundred and fifty feet high, Mr. Scott himself did not desire greater dimensions.


said, he hoped, at least, that the Government would submit definite plans to the House.


said, he also trusted that the Government would acquaint the House with the exact design of the monument which was proposed. It appeared to him to be a matter of serious question whether an Eleanor Cross was the fittest memorial for the Prince who had been taken from them.


The subscriptions were raised on the distinct understanding that the style and character of the monument should be left entirely to Her Majesty. It is obvious, that unless the subscribers were to meet for the purpose of determining what should be the form of the memorial, their opinion on the subject could not be taken. It is now proposed to add to the fund on precisely the same conditions as those on which it was originally raised. We are tendering this grant to Her Majesty as a token of our sympathy with her in the hour of bereavement, and in order to enable her to gratify her natural feelings. We ought not therefore to impose our notions upon Her Majesty, but ought to leave it to herself to choose the monument which she may deem most suitable.


said, he had seen the design of the proposed monument, and in his opinion it was impossible to conceive anything more beautiful and more appropriate. But he doubted whether £110,000 would be sufficient to have it executed in the style which they should desire to see it. If Mr. Scott was to be allowed that latitude which he ought to have in a matter of the kind, with respect to the choice of stone, and other points, he doubted whether the addition of £50,000 would be sufficient; but the House would not hesitate, if necessary, to double that sum, to enable Her Majesty to carry out the design in a manner worthy of the House and the country.


said, he hoped that the grant would be quite unconditional. Should it happen that £50,000 was insufficient to complete the design, there would be no difficulty in obtaining the assent of the House to a supplementary grant.


said, he fully agreed that the House ought not to interfere with the mode in which the grant was to be expended. Besides, he never knew any public work carried on under the direction of the House which turned out satisfactorily. The best wav to insure the failure of the monument was by leaving its erection to the House of Commons.


said, that he had not wished to interfere in any way with the wishes of Her Majesty; he had quite understood that he was discussing and criticising the recommendations of the Commissioners.


said, he would suggest that the words "not exceeding" should be expunged from the Resolution.

(1.) Resolved, Nemine Contradicente, That a sum, not exceeding £50,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1864, towards the Expense of a National Memorial for His late Royal Highness the Prince Consort.