§ LORD ELCHO
said, he had given Notice of his intention, on going into Committee of Supply, to move the following Amendment—That, in the opinion of this House, the Avenue in Kensington Gardens planted by the late Prince Consort should be immediately restored to its former state prior to the recent alterations, thus bringing back the Gardens to their original symmetrical plan; and that Her Majesty's Government should forthwith take such steps as may be necessary to guard in future against the possibility of big trees being cut down or important alterations being made in the public Parks and Gardens of the Metropolis, which are in charge of Her Majesty's Office of Works, without the previous knowledge of Parliament, and without plans and Estimates having previously been laid upon the Table of the House.At that late period of the Session, however, it would be hopeless to expect to carry it, and it was therefore his intention not to bring it forward on the present occasion, but to postpone it to the next Session of Parliament, hoping that during the interval of the Recess, hon. Members, the Press, and the public might be induced to visit the spot, and judge for themselves whether the Park had been improved by what had been done by the right hon. Gentleman the present First Commissioner of Works. He would not now express an opinion whether the cutting down of many of the largest trees in these Gardens was or was not a justifiable act, and one tending to improve the appearance of the Gardens; but he maintained, however, that great changes such as had been made in Kensington Gardens, ought not to be carried out without the knowledge and sanction of Parliament, and that would be the purport of the Motion which he intended to bring forward next year. Referring to what occurred in the House last Friday, he 1604 (Lord Elcho) would express a hope that in the coming Session the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would cast his shield over hon. Members who took an interest in art and subjects connected with the Royal Parks, so as to save them from being sneered at and having their questions answered in an unsatisfactory manner by the right hon. Gentleman. Although, it happened, as he should show next year, that the appointment of the present First Commissioner of Works was made solely in order that he might check the expenditure of the Department; yet, in point of fact, the right hon. Gentleman was the only Member of the Government who was nominally responsible in matters relating to art. He was induced to make these remarks in consequence of what occurred last Friday.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he must remind the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire that he was out of Order in referring to a past debate.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he was referring not to a debate, but to an answer which was given from the Treasury bench; he, however, thought he should, at any rate, be in Order in alluding to what he feared was going to happen. He had himself put to the First Commissioner of Works plain questions requiring simple answers, which, however, he had in vain endeavoured to obtain, and he thought it right now to bring the matter under the attention of the House, although at the time the questions were put he had sedulously avoided what he might call a catechumenical wrangle with the right hon. Gentleman. There had been certain "condemned" statues, which, after being exhibited on their pedestals in the neighbourhood of the Palace of Westminster, had been so strongly condemned by public opinion that they were withdrawn from the public gaze. This happened in regard to the statues of Lord Palmerston and the late Sir Robert Peel. Public rumour now affirmed, however, that those statues were to be resuscitated, and placed on one of the grass-plats or inclosures at the entrance to New Palace Yard. Public rumour likewise said that not only were these statues to be placed there, but that four, six, or even eight condemned statues were to be crowded into each inclosure like sheep in a pen. When questions on subjects of this kind were asked, the right hon. Gentleman 1605 at the head of the Government ought to take care that they were answered in a civil and satisfactory manner. Moreover, the public ought to be informed through their Representatives, whether there was any truth in those rumours; to have an opportunity of forming a judgment respecting the merits of the statues as works of art; and the system under which they were about to be grouped in the neighbourhood of the Houses of Parliament. He did not deny that the right hon. Gentleman possessed great ability and had had considerable experience in financial matters; but, regarded from an artistic point of view, his appointment to the post of First Commissioner of Works was most incongruous and astounding. All he wanted now was an assurance that before those statues were erected the public would have an opportunity of judging not only of their merits but of the positions in which it was proposed to place them, and he would conclude by repeating that he should most certainly bring forward the Motion early next Session.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had just made a touching appeal to his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government to throw his shield over hon. Gentlemen who professed to have a very great knowledge of art when they put questions to him on the subject. That shield he could assure the noble Lord would not be in the least degree required if those who professed to have such a profound knowledge of art would, in putting questions to him, draw them up in language—he would not merely say of courtesy, but in language not studiedly used for the purpose of giving offence. When questions were put in such a way he could easily imagine the disappointment of his interrogators at finding that the blows aimed at him recoiled upon themselves. No protection whatever was required for any hon. Gentleman who treated him with due courtesy and politeness. The noble Lord, however, had a peculiar mode of asking questions, and he did not think any other hon. Member would like to follow the noble Lord's example. With regard to the subject of his Motion, he must remind the noble Lord that it was brought forward in Committee of Supply during the noble Lord's absence, and at his request, by an hon. Member sitting on the Government 1606 side of the House. The whole subject was then gone into, and a full explanation given which the Committee accepted as being quite satisfactory. Therefore he hoped the noble Lord had ceased to mourn over the trees that were cut down. As to the statues, he gave the noble Lord a most clear and precise answer the other day.
§ MR. AYRTON
proceeded to say that he gave a precise answer to the question, which was framed in the peculiar manner of which, perhaps, the noble Lord was himself not quite conscious. After having received a distinct answer to his question, the noble Lord now made a statement, in which he said in a polite way that the reply was wholly untrue. That, of course, was a point on which anyone who was a judge of politeness could form his own opinion. There was no question of eight, or ten, or twelve statues under consideration at all. The only question under consideration related to three statues—those of Lord Palmerston, the late Lord Derby, and the late Sir Robert Peel. Before talking about statues being condemned, and using language which was extremely offensive to the committees appointed to superintend those statues, the noble Lord ought to make himself acquainted with the facts; and here he might remark that the noble Lord thought nothing of describing works by the most eminent sculptors as rubbish which ought to be carted away. The noble Lord thought nothing of wounding the feelings of distinguished artists, because if he used more moderate terms he would not place himself on the pinnacle from which he looked down upon all matters of art as an infallible judge. According to the noble Lord, he (Mr. Ayrton) was chosen to fill his present office on financial considerations only. Well, he admitted that he did not profess in a loud tone to have a profound knowledge of every question relating to art. His pretensions were, indeed, of the most humble and moderate kind, and he would therefore confine himself to the assertion that he perhaps knew as much of these subjects as the noble Lord did. The principle on which he proceeded had, however, given great satisfaction to some of the most eminent sculptors, painters, and architects, and 1607 not a few had used the phrase that the fine arts were beginning to look up, because he had not followed the example of certain persons, and assumed to possess an extraordinary knowledge of art. He had thought if they had to deal with matters of architecture, painting, or sculpture, the true mode of dealing with it was to place it in the hands of those who made the particular pursuit their profession; for a gentleman who had devoted all his life to a profession must know more about it than some dilettante gentleman who fancied he knew something about it, although only in a very loose and general way. Though a man in the expenditure of his own money might give expression to his own ideas and fancies, the Government had no right, when expending the money of the public, to give themselves up to caprices. If they were dealing with sculpture, it was not their duty to go about the town asking Mr. This and Mr. That what he thought about it; but they should go to sculptors, and if they found amongst them conflicting opinions they were enabled, by inviting them to meet together, to arrive at a sound conclusion. Thus, the course he had adopted in reference to the statues was essentially practical. He requested the two sculptors who were engaged on the statues of Lord Derby and Lord Palmerston to meet together and arrange the technical details, in which task they were assisted by the Director of the National Gallery. A meeting of that sort was, he thought, more likely to lead to a satisfactory solution of all questions that might arise than if he had gathered together half-a-dozen gentlemen who professed to be great connoisseurs or judges of art.
§ MR. AYRTON
replied in the negative, as the statue would not be of the same size as that model. This matter, however, was placed in the hands of the committee. The sculptor who had received the order from the committee would do what was necessary for the erection of the statue. He certainly should not attempt to control either him or the committee. In the same way, the 1608 committee appointed to erect the statue of Sir Robert Peel would take their own course. He had no right to say to them—"You shall not put up a statue of Sir Robert Peel," because they were perfectly well able to form an opinion on the subject. If the statue were considered objectionable, the opinion of this House might be taken on the point after it was erected, and in the event of that opinion being unfavourable the requisite steps would, of course, be taken for the removal of the statue. But to override the opinion of an intelligent committee would be an assumption he was not disposed to admit, although it might be in accordance with the tone generally adopted by the noble Lord.
§ MR. J. GOLDSMID
considered that the noble Lord, and one or two other hon. Gentlemen, had been rather unfair during that Session to the First Commissioner of Works, who had a very difficult duty to perform. It often happened that what were usually called the rights of the Crown clashed with what he believed to be the rights of the people, and the general opinion out-of-doors was that the right hon. Gentleman had always stood up for the rights of the public. And, therefore, quite apart from all those personal observations which had been introduced into the debate that night, the House and the country were indebted to the First Commissioner of Works for the marked improvement effected in the Parks during his administration; and it was felt that the general conduct of the business of his Department had been satisfactory.