HL Deb 13 June 1817 vol 36 cc956-9

On the order of the day for the reading of this bill,

Lord Erskine,

pursuant to notice, moved the second leading of this bill, which he offered to the most favourable consideration of the House, but not, he said, in that imperative manner which a circular paper of some friend of Mr. Tomkins, sent to many of their lordships, had laughably enough represented, viz. that he (lord Erskine) as a great patron of the arts, was to command the second reading of the bill now before them; all he could say of so amusing a communication was, that if the pictures which were to compose the lottery, if sanctioned by the House, were no more like their originals than this description was like himself, the prizes would be of small value indeed. He had no particular skill in pictures, and was only an admirer of the celebrated masters in common with every other man who was not born blind: and as to becoming a patron of the fine arts, if he were to think of assuming such a character, he must soon be coming down to the House for a lottery for himself [a laugh]. Nevertheless, he took a strong interest in the success of this undertaking, because the arts had ever gone hand in hand with the prosperity and reputation of nations; nor was it possible to support the dignity and character of a great state without the most liberal encouragement to genius in all its useful varieties.—But, putting aside the value of this Corinthian capital of a highly civilized country, its benefits to many ingenious and industrious classes of the people should be taken into the account. The collection was not confined to prints and drawings, but comprehended highly finished letter press to a great extent, which employed the manufactures of paper, workers in steel and brass, type makers, engravers, book-binders, and printers, &c. &c. Little more needed to be said, as the whole case appeared in the preamble to the bill, which must of course be proved in the committee, to entitle it to ultimate support. It appeared by it, that Mr. Tomkins, at an immense expense, had employed the most eminent artists to make copies of some of the finest pictures in England, comprehending the principal part of lord Stafford's splendid collection, and of many others of great value and beauty, amounting in the whole to 163. Now, it did not require to be a connoisseur in pictures to know that their composition was often as valuable as the colouring or execution, which the prints in question would certainly secure against all the assaults of accident or time.—He had also illustrated the Seasons of Thomson by most beautiful engravings which gave him a full title to his support, and to that of every countryman of the great poet of their land. Some of the prints might besides be great curiosities hereafter, as they faithfully represented what might never be seen again Yellow Sheaves in the beginning of August, and Reapers almost sinking under the Sun. The same merit attended Dr. Thornton's collection, for which there had been a similar lottery, as without a little more sun-shine we should soon know very little of flowers in all their beauties without referring to his book. But, to treat the subject gravely, the undertaking was of a high national description. He was by no means a candidate for bolstering up every wild and fruitless speculation with an act of this description; but Mr. Tomkins' adventure was rational and laudable, failing only from the peculiar circumstances of the times which had depressed many other useful objects of skill and industry, all of which it was the duty of the legislature by all possible means to restore. He could not, therefore, anticipate any possible exception to the principle of the bill, the only subject of their present consideration, more especially as nothing new had been introduced; it being precisely the same with those of Mr. Boydell's and Dr. Thornton's, which had before received the sanction of parliament. It had been somewhere thrown out as an objection, that the work was not finished; but that was the very case in the two instances he had just mentioned, and those lotteries, like the present, were to enable the authors to finish them. For this purpose trustees were, as by the present bill, appointed to receive the money from the subscribers, and to return it to them unless by their certificates the whole was completed in the same perfect style of execution with those already under their view. It might be said that sir James Burges named in the act was not an artist, but he was associated with one, and it would, besides, be an unfounded and absurd presumption that men of character and honour would accept such an arbitration without praying the aid of competent skill to assist them in their awards. Neither lord Ellenborough, nor the juries in the court of Kings'-bench, were artists; but did not questions on the originality and value of pictures occur very often, which were decided so as to give universal satisfaction? Lord E. said he was as little a friend to lotteries in general as any noble lord in the House. When the drawings continued for many days together they were nuisances of the most dangerous description, as it was impossible to prevent a destructive system of gaming, which descending to the lowest orders of the people, was the parent of robberies and thefts and frauds without number: but, in the present instance, not one of these objections could possibly attach—no lures of great property were held out to small adventurers as in the lotteries of the state, nor any that could invite any persons to become purchasers of the tickets except to obtain some work of genius at a lower price than the very same persons would probably have bought them if the lottery had never taken place. None of those indeed whom other lotteries had ruined, or might ruin, would probably ever hear of its existence. For these reasons he moved the second reading.

The Earl of Lauderdale

opposed the bill rather upon general principles than on any reference to the merits of the particular case. He deprecated the frequency of applications of the kind, and adverted to the circumstance of several of the pictures in question being in an unfinished state, which he regarded as an unfavourable consideration in the case before their lordships.

The bill was read a second time.