HL Deb 26 July 1867 vol 189 cc147-56

My Lords, in rising to move the Address of which I have given notice, to restore to its original position, or one not more remote from both Houses of Parliament, the statue of the late Mr. Canning, I am anxious at the outset to disclaim all reflection upon Mr. William Cowper, as having been responsible for this extraordinary measure. Nothing in his career, and nothing in his character could lead me to view him as its author. Neither do I wish to cast reproach on Lord John Manners, who succeeded him in the office of Woods and Works, and who a short time ago—as I see by the report of Hansard—described the removal of the statue as temporary in its nature, when, in the other House of Parliament, requested to explain it. Having taken much pains to inquire into the origin of a proceeding so invidious, I am led to the belief—although it may be an erroneous one—that the removal of the statue entered into the ideas of the late Sir Charles Barry as to the further changes which were requisite in order to give full effect to the architectural arrangements by which we are surrounded. It would be unbecoming and uncalled for to hold up to obloquy a man whose talents we have lost; but Sir Charles Barry is alleged, and possibly with truth, to have had remarkable impressions with regard to the best mode of placing colossal statues. He appears to have held that they ought to be as far as possible beyond the range of vision, on the same principle, perhaps, which led him to conclude that windows ought to exclude the light, and that legislative halls should be impossible to hear in. My Lords, the quickest way of bringing what has taken place before your Lordships, would be, perhaps, to cite a question which many noble Lords and others out of doors have put to me since the Notice stood upon the Paper. They have said, "Where is the statue gone to?" When the frequenters of this House enquire, "Where is the statue gone to?" it is safe to infer that the new site is not altogether equal to the old one. I will just remind the House of what passed among your Lordships a few weeks ago upon the subject. A noble Baron (Lord Lyveden) pointed to the sudden disappearance of the statue from the place in which it had been for forty years—a place in which it caught the eye of everyone who went to Parliament or from it, and which, as the noble Lord explained, had been chosen in order that the figure of Mr. Canning might appear to command and contemplate the scene in which his triumphs had been gained and in which his genius had exulted. The noble Lord inquired on what grounds so violent and strange a course had been adopted, and was told by the First Lord of the Treasury that the removal was essential to a project the late Government had formed for the improvement of the open space behind the statue; that certain maps would be put in the Library, and that the judgment of the House ought to be suspended. The judgment of the House has been suspended. The project of improving the open space has been substantially completed; and every Member of the House who ever came to Westminster is now in a condition to decide how far the pretext given for the removal of the statue was a valid one. It is now clear to every passer-by that the removal is essentially uncalled for. The new thoroughfare might have been made; the green transformed into a pavement, with a footpath over it; the trees destroyed: all these changes, good or bad, might have been perpetrated, while the statue stood in its original position. A stone path now leads from the old site to the new one; but as it serves no kind of purpose, except that of taking the pedestrian from where the statue was to where it is, by bringing it to the former site, the function of the path is superseded, and no argument can be raised against the restoration from any possible obstruction it would lead to. But if the statue is not replaced on the exact spot from which it was taken, it may at least be fixed on the alignment on which it was visible before, and which had so much to do with any grandeur or propriety attaching to it. My Lords, I need not touch on the indignity to Mr. Canning involved in the privation of an honour formerly bestowed upon him; but I may remind the House, perhaps, of a circumstance which does in some degree enhance it. Mr. Canning died a few months after he had readied the power for which his past career so eminently fitted him. A mourning nation was compellod to heap upon his tomb the marks of gratitude with which they were not able to illustrate his existence. A peerage was conferred upon his family; his remains were buried in the Abbey; and his statue was so placed as to make him live for ever in the memory of Parliament. Such gifts are too sacred to be tampered with. But let me say a word on the injustice to the original subscribers at whose expense the monument was formed. I am indebted to the researches of Mr. Milnes Gaskell, and a noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde) for the fact that the site was given by the Crown, who therefore acted for the public. The statue was conferred upon the public by the friends of Mr. Canning. According to the new arrangement the public would be forced to take away what it accorded, and to retain what it acquired. A kind of fraud would be accomplished, unless, indeed, the original subscribers thought proper to defeat it by withdrawing the statue, since they had lost the site; and if they came to this conclusion no doubt many capitals on either side of the Atlantic would be prepared at once to welcome and to honour it. But the principle involved goes a good deal beyond the proceeding I have brought before your Lordships. If one Government, on some fantastic theory of taste, may move the statue from a thoroughfare which every one passes, to a thoroughfare which no one passes, on his way to Westminster, another Government may take it to Storey's Gate, another to the Palace, another further to the West, until it reaches Hampton Court, and becomes an object rather for the enlightened foreigner to seek than for the Members of the two Houses to have habitually presented to them. So, too, the well-known statue of Mr. Pitt may be removed from its majestic situation on the southern side of Hanover Square, and put into the midst of the enclosure. Even the figure of Achilles, consecrated by the ladies of Great Britain to a name yet more illustrious, might be removed from the neighbourhood of Apsley House and from the monument, combined with which it does so much to keep the Duke of Wellington amongst us. My Lords, the powers, virtues, and achievements of Mr. Canning do not bear upon the question. It is not proposed to devote new structures to his fame, or to confer new privileges on his descendants. It is only sought to guard the honour he obtained; and it devolves on those who have reduced it, to point out on what grounds it was extravagant, or by what events it has been forfeited. I have endeavoured to consider, not how much, but how little, could be said upon the subject. Topics will occur to every one, which others are entitled to approach: "non majoræ veto;" could I presume to add, my Lords, "sed et his placabilis celebræ est?"

Moved, That an bumble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to give Directions that the Statue of Mr. Canning may be restored to its original Position or to a Site not more remote from the Houses of Parliament than that on which it used to stand.—(The Lord Stratheden.)


, as a near relative of the late Mr. Canning, wished to be allowed to say a few words upon the subject brought under their Lordships' notice. Though forty years had elapsed since Mr. Canning's death, his affectionate respect for the memory of that illustrious statesman had not undergone the slightest abatement, nor had anything happened to diminish the popular regret at the loss of that eloquent voice and commanding ability. It was not, however, his intention to allow any private feelings to sway his judgment in dealing with a subject of this nature. Whatever those feelings might be, they were satisfied by the recollection that whether the statues erected to Mr. Canning remained, or whether they perished with other perishable materials, it might be said of him, as a great historian had said of an illustrious man of old— Quidquid ex illo amavimus, quidquid mirati sumus, manet, mansurum est, in animis hominum, in æternitate temporum, fama rerum. Among the statesmen of modern times he knew no one to whom that eulogy might be more justly applied than to Mr. Canning. The statue in question, being a memorial of his merits as a Statesman, was erected, not by Parliament, for Parliament was not sitting at the time of Mr. Canning's decease, but by his numerous friends and admirers, who desired thus to perpetuate the memory of his public services. Permission was given either by the Crown or by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster—perhaps by both—to place the statue where till recently it stood, although it had been raised by public subscription; and that spot had been selected because it was near to the House where his fame had grown up, where his eloquence was so often heard, and where his public principles were best known. If there had been any necessity founded on reasons of public convenience, for its removal from this spot, Mr. Canning himself, if alive, would be the first to recognize this necessity. But it appeared from the speech of the noble Lord, who no doubt had carefully ascertained all the circumstances connected with the case, that no such necessity existed, and that the statue had been removed without sufficient reasons. He (Viscount Stratford dc Redcliffe) could say nothing on this point, knowing no more than what had been stated to their Lordships. He had no right to attribute blame to any one, but if the statue had really been removed without sufficient reasons, he should hope that the Resolution proposed by the noble Lord would have the effect of securing its return to the original site or at least to a more conspicuous one than it now occupied. The practice had in all times been to place memorials of that kind near the places where the subjects of them had attained their distinction, and to place them so that the attention of the passer-by might be attracted to the memorial. They should at all events be placed in conspicuous positions, because, among the advantages which they produced, the sight of them might possibly inflame many youthful breasts to strive after the same eminence and achieve the same distinction in the service of their country. The position which the statue had occupied for many years was eminently calculated to answer all these purposes. It was now, however, thrown back upon a site where it could hardly attract any attention. It was, in fact, erected at some distance from the principal roadway, so that passers-by could not read the inscription, without going out of their way to inspect it. So completely was it in the shade, among the trees, that persons who had not considerable quickness of sight might easily pass by without observing that there was any statue there at all. To read the name on the pedestal would require an unusual exertion, and future statues might be so placed as completely to screen that memorial which had first occupied the ground. The circumstances of the case were undoubtedly such as to justify the noble Lord in bringing forward his Resolution, and therefore he confidently hoped that their Lordships would consider it with favour, and take their share in causing the statue to be restored to its old site, or at least put in another place where it would be equally conspicuous as at first.


rose to give his most cordial support to the Resolution, and he was glad that it was concurred in by the noble Lord who had just sat down, who was a near relative of the lamented statesman whose merits the statue commemorated. That statue was subscribed for by a number of the admirers of Mr. Canning and it was placed in the position it had so long occupied, because it was felt that it would best commemorate his great public services by being near the scene where he had reaped his laurels. It had recently been removed to a place where, buried among trees, it was very difficult to distinguish it at all. The practice had always been to erect statues near the spot where those whose memory they preserved had earned their distinction. Thus they found that a memorial to the lamented Sidney Herbert had appropriately been placed in front of the War Office, in which he so long laboured for the welfare of the soldier. In Trafalgar Square—a sort of out-of-door Westminster Abbey—were the statues of great Admirals and Generals who had distinguished themselves in their country's service; and when the statue of an ingenious and philanthropic doctor was lately placed there it was generally felt to be out of place in the company in which it was put, and was very properly removed to a site near St. George's Hospital—a much fitter position for Dr. Jenner. The statues in honour of the Duke of Wellington at Hyde Park and Constitution Hill had been placed upon those sites to remind the spectator that he was in the immediate vicinity of the house where that great Commander resided. In the same way the statues of illustrious Statesmen should be placed, if possible, near to the scene of their labours, and he believed it was in contemplation to erect statues to Lord Palmerston and to Sir Robert Peel in the neighbourhood of the Houses of Parliament. He trusted that the question now raised by the noble Lord opposite would receive the attention of the Government, and that the statue might be so placed that in coming to their Parliamentary duties all might see it and remember the great public services of Mr. Canning, and the loss which the country had sustained in his death. Their Lordships should remember that he was the illustrious father of a scarcely less illustrious son, and that both father and son might be said to have sacrificed their lives in the performance of their public duties.


said, he had been one of the first to complain of the alterations in the neighbourhood of Palace Yard, because he thought the whole of the arrangements were bad; but he did not know whether any imputation rested upon the present or upon the late Government. It behoved the public to watch narrowly the removal of statues: there should be a sacredness about them, and they ought not to be carried off for slight and trivial reasons. The statue of Canning had been appropriately placed near the House of Commons, on account of the foremost place he occupied in that Assembly; and now it was to be removed to a comparatively obscure position, in order that it might be grouped with others, including, as he understood, the statues of some railway engineers, while a site nearest the one that had been devoted to Canning's statue was to be occupied by one of Sir Robert Peel. He should never think of entering into a comparison of the merits of the two Statesmen in reference to such a question as this; but when the statue of Canning had occupied a site for forty years, and had been there saluted by every passer-by it seemed strange that it should be placed where it would not be seen by one in twenty of those who would have seen it if it had remained in its original position. The country had a right to ask why such a change was made. If these things were done with Statesmen now deceased, they might be done with any of their Lordships, for whom he supposed some of these places were reserved, when they came to have statues. Their Lordships might be fairly called upon to vote in favour of the Resolution unless the Government would undertake the re-consideration of the matter with a view to placing the statue of Mr. Canning in a position not inferior to that which, it had so long occupied.


said, he was sure the relatives of the late Mr. Canning must feel satisfied, from what had passed in the House that evening, that their Lordships and the whole country were really anxious that every possible respect should be paid to his memory. There was not the slightest reason to suppose that any disrespect to the memory of Mr. Canning was intended by the removal of his statue. That step had been taken by the late Government and he was sure it had not been taken without due consideration. They were the proper persons to explain what their views were. The present Government had only followed in the footsteps of the late Government, and it had never until that moment struck any one of them that the occurrence would cause any displeasure to Mr. Canning's relatives. He was quite ready to admit that there was something displeasing and invidious in the removal of any statue when it was once erected. He remembered that when the late Duke of Wellington was spoken to about the removal of the equestrian statue of himself at Hyde Park Corner he expressed the extremest displeasure at the idea, and declared that if it were removed he would not allow it to be erected in any other place. Such, no doubt, were the feelings of those to whom statues had been erected during their lives, and similar feelings pervaded the breasts of the near relatives of those who were dead. In a great measure this question must be looked upon as one of taste. Whether in this case the new position of the statue was more or less honourable than the old one, what other statues were to be grouped with it, and whether they were those of engineers or politicians, he could not say; but if the statue of Mr. Canning were restored to the position it once occupied it would still be at the end of the row. He had heard it said that one of the statues to be placed near that of Canning was to be that of his own son, and there could be no objection to such an arrangement if the position were properly chosen. Entertaining feelings of the profoundest admiration for the late Mr. Canning, he would recommend the noble Lord to withdraw the Motion, and to be satisfied with the assurance given to himself, the House, and the relatives of Mr. Canning, that the Government would take the matter into their consideration, with a full sense of the interest which their Lordships felt in the permanent position of the statue.


said, that the object of the House evidently was to bring about the restoration of the statue and he felt sure that the statue was more likely to be restored if the Address was carried, than if it was withdrawn. He should not therefore feel inclined to withdraw it.


said, he hoped that a portion of St. Margaret's Churchyard from which the bodies had been removed and which was now enclosed, would be added to the street when the works were finished.


said, he hoped that no further arrangements would be made without due notice being given to their Lordships. It might be well if the matter were considered by a Committee of this House, or of both Houses, for it was a public question as well as one of private feeling. He understood the statue of Canning was to be put back under a tree, on a different road from that it formerly stood in, that Sir Robert Peel's statue was to be placed opposite with the back to the Houses of Parliament, and that a statue of Lord Palmerston was to be put in a corner looking in a slanting direction towards Westminster Abbey. From the plans it appeared that the statues were grouped without any regard to congruity and taste. He had heard it stated that the removal of the statue of Mr. Canning was originally suggested by the late Sir Charles Barry, who believed that any fine statue placed in the immediate neighbourhood of the Houses of Parliament would have the effect of dwarfing his own work. Their Lordships would be glad to learn that the Government would take the matter into their consideration. He hoped that Her Majesty's Government would re-consider the matter.


said he hoped that, after the statement of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Malmesbury), the Motion would not be pressed. He was not in a position to say to whom the plan for the removal of the statue was originally to be attributed, but he was perfectly certain that his right hon. Friend the late First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Cowper) entertained the same feelings of respect for the memory of Mr. Canning which had been so gracefully expressed by so many of their Lordships.


said, that whatever his own opinion, he could not hesitate to yield to the wishes of the noble Marquess, as the representative, in that House, of Mr. Canning, on the subject.

Motion, by Leave of the House, withdrawn.