HL Deb 23 August 1883 vol 283 cc1714-8

in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government, What course it is intended to adopt with reference to the equestrian statue of the late Duke of Wellington, said My Lords, I have put this Notice on the Paper not only with a view to ascertain the mode in which Her Majesty's Government propose to deal with the equestrian statue of the late Duke of Wellington, but to indicate the course which I think may recommend itself to this House and to the public. I have long intended to offer some remarks upon the question, and am not impelled to do so by the correspondence in the journals it has recently elicited, although that correspondence is entitled to attention from your Lordships. The whole change by which the statue has been displaced seems to me erroneous. With no authority from Parliament, a large and intricate derangement has occurred. The Green Park, which concerns the masses of the people, has been seriously limited. Constitution Hill, which is associated with a memorable era, has been wantonly encroached upon. The ordinary passenger on foot, who comes on the right hand side from Kensington to London, when he reaches Hyde Park Corner is exposed to the necessity of walking among carriages about 300 yards, or else of crossing Piccadilly. Last of all, the statue of the late Duke of Wellington has been removed from a site which, if at first it led to hesitation and to criticism, has during many years enjoyed the favourable suffrage of the millions who habitually looked up to it. There was another and a stronger ground for leaving it inviolate. The late Duke of Wellington was known to value, known to approve, and known to be tenacious of it. This circumstance is rendered clear by a passage in the recent Life of Bishop Wilberforce, which bears upon it. I have myself particularly ascertained it during the present year from a well-known member of society whose name I will not mention, but who bad uncommon access to the late Duke of Wellington. The statement does not, therefore, merely rest upon a general impression or a general tradition. Now, the principle might safely be advanced that such men as the late Duke of Wellington are better qualified than others to detect the point from which their statues may convey a useful lesson to posterity. The choice of a position was the very matter to which his eye had been habitually directed. But, putting that aside, to hold his wishes sacred would be no exaggerated tribute, if any tribute was desirable. Should critics still maintain that such a want on his part was imaginary, the true answer will burst to many lips—as a great poet has supplied it— O reason not the need, the basest beggar Is in the meanest things superfluous; Allow to nature but what nature needs, Man's life is cheap as beast's. However, I will only add a word as to the course which may be taken to approximate as far as possible to an instruction so authoritative, and to reduce to the lowest point the wanton deviation from it. The figure may be placed upon the arches in line with Apsley House, which are not yet enveloped in the ruin the Board of Works has fancifully organized. In the artistic world this counsel has been urged already. There is one decisive reason in its favour. The locality of Hyde Park Corner for many years has concentrated the memorials of the late Duke of Wellington, such as Apsley House, the statue of Achilles, the statue which engages us. That concentration ought not to be tampered with. It is the reward and the attraction of innumerable travellers. We must remember that, although we are familiar with it London does not belong only to ourselves, but to the world, the Colonies, the Empire. We ought not to disturb a scene which has become the property of Europe, India, or Australia. But if we only think of what is near, the concentration I allude to keeps the Duke of Wellington more vividly among us, and thus retards, at least, the period of national decline, which the Board of Works, no doubt, would joyfully accelerate. I put the Question on the Paper.


said, he ventured to ask the Government to take into consideration the fact that the statue, ugly as it was, was from a portrait of the Duke and the horse he rode, and, therefore, was of great historical value. If it were destroyed, it could never be replaced. Although it was impossible that any horse could have had such a head, still it was taken from the celebrated "Copenhagen."


said, that if the statue were destroyed, it would give general dissatisfaction, and would be regrettable, because it had been viewed with some satisfaction by the Duke himself, who being free from personal vanity, in his characteristic manner, said that "it would do as well as anything else;" and he trusted the Government would have it replaced in its former position as far as was now practicable.


asked whether the Government would consider the expediency of replacing the statue on the arch? That would save great expense; and he thought that many people would be glad to find an old friend back very much as they had been accustomed to see him.


begged to inform the noble Lord, in reply to his Question, that the Committee to whom the First Commissioner of Works referred that subject, had unanimously expressed their opinion that the statue should be recast, that a smaller statue more or less of the same character should be made, and that it should be erected on the site where it now stood. Her Majesty's Government would submit a Vote to Parliament early next Session on that subject, and until that time no action of any kind on the matter would be taken by the Government. He thought, perhaps, that reply might be satisfactory to the noble Lord opposite who had joined in the discussion. He was afraid that he could not hold out any hope that the statue would be replaced on the arch.


said, he regretted extremely the decision which had been come to, and thought it was a great mistake. To break up the statue was a very barbarous idea. There was no doubt that it was not a wonderful work of art; but let those who complained of it on that score look at the equestrian statues in Trafalgar Square and the City. As a portrait of the Duke and his horse the statue was excellent, and he did not think it could be repeated and made so good. Everything about it was good except the feathers in the cocked hat, which could easily be removed. There were other parts of the country which would be glad to have the statue, and why not let them have the opportunity of accepting it? An artistic horse was not necessarily like a real horse; generally it was not. He believed that the public would be disappointed if the statue were destroyed, and an imaginary man and an imaginary horse, highly artistic, perhaps, in character, were put in its place.


said, he thought that the statue, with all its demerits, which, in his opinion, were much exaggerated, presented a bonâ fide portrait of the man and the horse; and it would be well to pause before incurring a great waste of public money and substitute another statue with a very doubtful prospect of effecting any real improvement.


said, there was no doubt the statue was identified in a great degree with the Duke himself, who took an interest in its execution and also in the likeness of the horse. It might not be a perfect work; but who could guarantee that any now work would be perfect or good?


said, he considered that the First Commissioner of Works had followed the most sensible course in regard to that matter. He had taken the advice of some of the most recognized good judges on the question—architects, painters, sculptors, and gentlemen who had devoted all their lives to such subjects, and he had also put on the Committee the nearest Representative of the Great Duke himself. Those Gentlemen had come to an unanimous decision, and he was surprised that their Lordships should seek to override it. Whatever might be the opinion of some individual critics, he thought it would be very inadvisable to insist on that statue being replaced where it was before. The Great Duke's feelings had been referred to. Now he understood from high authority that when the Duke was appealed to on the matter, his answer was that he did not wish the statue to go up there, but being up there, there would be something ridiculous in taking it down. That action having, however, been taken, it would surely add to the ridiculous, which ought to be wholly disconnected from the Duke's name, if that statue were to be put up again in the same place.