HL Deb 02 July 1858 vol 151 cc793-7

was understood to say that he hoped the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government would furnish the House with some information as to the course they intended to pursue with regard to the monument about to be erected to the memory of the late Duke of Wellington in St. Paul's Cathedral. Their Lordships would recollect that a large number of competitive designs had been sent in by various artists for this monument. These models had all been, as he understood, rejected, so far at least as those designs had been considered in reference to the original site fixed upon; but he believed that it was the intention of the Government to select one of the models, and adjust it to a new site which had been placed at the disposal of the Commissioners. This new site was to be prepared by the architect, who was to be assisted in his labours by some of the sculptors who had exhibited their designs. He thought that this plan of associating several artists with an architect in the construction of the monument was not likely to be attended by any satisfactory results, and he therefore begged the noble Earl to state what were the intentions of the Government on the subject.


said, it was the desire of the Government and of the country to raise a monument which should, if possible, be worthy of the services of the illustrious man to whose memory it would be erected. He thought the noble Duke on the cross benches had, to a certain extent, misapprehended the state of the case, both with regard to what had already taken place and what was contemplated by his noble Friend at the head of the Board of Works. In the first place the noble Duke was in error in stating that the whole of the designs which had been sent in to the Commissioners had been rejected. With the view to obtain a fit monument, a very extensive competition was invited from artists, not only of this but other countries, and no less than eighty-three designs were exhibited. The Judges, of whom the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Lansdowne) was one, deemed eight of those designs worthy of substantial marks of approbation; but they distinctly laid down in their award that as to Mr. Marshall's, the premium was conferred merely for the intrinsic merit of the composition, and by no means with regard to the situation it was to occupy in St. Paul's. It was the opinion of his noble Friend at the head of the Board of Works (Lord John Manners) and upon consultation with the Dean and Mr. Penrose, the architect of St. Paul's, it was agreed that there would be more propriety in choosing as the site the old Consistory Court of St. Paul's, which was given by the Dean and Chapter for the purpose of constituting a Wellington Chapel, rather than the site originally fixed upon between two of the arches. Having selected the site—and he believed selected it with the approval of the noble Duke on the cross benches, who visited St. Paul's in company with his noble Friend at the head of the Board of Works—it was then for his noble Friend to select from the works exhibited one which, from its intrinsic merit, was best suited to the site prepared for its reception. He admitted that it was not absolutely imperative on his noble Friend to have selected any one of those designs, but at the same time he must say that when they invited competition from all parts of the world in the formation of a great national monument; when they called upon a number of artists—from eighty to a hundred—to spend their time, labour, and talents in preparing designs for the purpose, it was ungracious, to say the least of it, to throw over the artists who had competed, and capriciously, upon the authority of a single Member of the Government, select the work of an artist who had never competed at all. In point of fact unless the designs were absolutely devoid of merit, it was obligatory on the Government not to pass over the whole, but to select one for the monument. His noble Friend, acting upon that principle, did select one by Mr. Stephens, which was one of those selected by the judges as worthy of approbation. Mr. Penrose concurred in thinking that No. 18 was the best design, and he had since been told that the selection both of the design and the site had among artists created general satisfaction. The noble Duke had spoken of the combined work of several artists. There would be no combination further than this—that, having agreed upon the site on which the monument was to be erected, Mr. Penrose, as surveyor of St. Paul's, had undertaken to make such alterations as were necessary in the old Consistory Court for its conversion into the Wellington Chapel. That was the only combination which had taken place, with this exception, that his noble Friend at the head of the Board of Works, although nothing further had been yet arranged, had been in communication with the artist to whom the first prize was adjudged, and if it should be found that there was sufficient space, and that consistently and subordinate to the monument itself other statues could be erected which would harmonize with the monument, and suit the internal arrangements of the chapel, the gentleman who obtained the first prize was to send in proposals for certain objects of statuary which would be erected within the chapel. That was the present state of things, and he confessed he thought that unless some discretion was left to the officer of the Government who was specially charged with the administration of that department, they would never come to a satisfactory conclusion with regard to this or any other great public work. The real difficulty under which they laboured was, that when a great work was to be undertaken no one would trust any one else with the performance of any portion of it. Inquiries by Commissions were succeeded by Committees, and there were fresh Committees and fresh investigations reopening the whole question, until after years and years had elapsed it generally resulted in nothing being done. He need only allude to the very savoury river in their immediate neighbourhood, with regard to which there had been no end of designs and no end of schemes. For the last twenty-five or thirty years every one agreed that there ought to be a new Foreign Office. Then came a number of plans for the erection of a mass of buildings without purchasing land. This was followed by the discovery of the impossibility of obtaining the land and purchasing such a mass of buildings. Then came the necessity of a new plan, and the complaints of competing architects that their plans had been set aside. The consequence was that for many years the great public offices had been, so to speak, kept in abeyance, because no one could decide who was the proper authority to carry into effect that which ought to be done. The proper person to make the decision in the present case was the First Commissioner of the Board of Works, who, taking the best advice, had selected out of these designs for a monument one which had been marked by the approval of the judges. His noble Friend had, he thought, done right in selecting one of the designs of the artists who had expended their talent and labour upon this work in the hope that one of them would be charged with its execution.


, having been one of the Commissioners to whom the task of making a selection from the great number of designs sent in was intrusted, begged to say that the feelings of the Commissioners were naturally engaged in obtaining a suitable monument for the Duke of Wellington. The Commissioners who were associated with him were highly competent to fulfil the duty confided to them. The prizes they were authorized to give were divided into three classes. It might seem an ungracious act not to accept one of the designs, but it was clearly and distinctly understood on the part of the artists that at the end of the competition the Government were not in the least compromised or bound to carry into execution any one of the designs sent in. He believed that a more judicious site had been chosen in St. Paul's than was originally indicated. With regard to the designs sent in, there was not one of such commanding merit as to induce the Commissioners to recommend it for public adoption. The object of the monument was to perpetuate the memory of one of the greatest men who ever lived, either in this or any other country, and not only to preserve the merits of that individual, but to do so in a manner worthy of the glory and the taste of the country. This was a national, and not a departmental object, for they had to consider, not only what was due to the merits of the Great Commander, but also the reputation of the country for artistic taste. Every effort ought, therefore, to be made without delay to perfect and complete a monument in which the reputation of the country was concerned. A little while ago it was said, that our constitutional system was on its trial. It might be said now, with the same truth, that our national taste was on its trial in this matter. He, for one, would not be satisfied that the work to be adopted and executed should possess some degree of merit. It ought to possess merit of a very high and commanding character, and he was not content that one individual should be intrusted with the sole decision on this subject. He inclined to think that a more limited competition would be desirable. He had no great faith in this system of unlimited competition which was now so much the rage, and it had not been very successful in the present instance, because some of the most eminent sculptors had refused to send in designs.