OUR MARBLE TRIBUTE
Dr Ann Saunders
Within three days, we are going to be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. What I’m going to try to talk about is a long term permanent memorial, not just of the Battle of Trafalgar, though that certainly comes into the story, but of the whole of those long wars fought against France and Napoleon.
Those are the monuments in St Paul’s Cathedral – large, white, massive, solid stone monuments. I got emotionally involved almost with them a good 40 years ago. I’d known St Paul’s of course as a child. One was taken there. But it was immediately after the war, I was Deputy Librarian, which sounds a very grand title but it wasn’t. What I was mostly doing was washing the floors and cleaning the shelves, and then frantically trying to re-title books that were having to be re-bound, and I’d got to get my Latin correct because people who knew far, far more than I did were on the Committee and were going to inspect the backs of the books, and woe betide me if I’d got anything not agreeing with anything else. I had to go to and fro and to and fro to St Paul’s. I began to notice that visitors to the Cathedral looked at these huge stone monuments, a good many of which we shall be looking at as soon as I get round to the lantern slides, and giggling and laughing and sniggering and pointing, and thinking that they were terribly funny. Well, when you really look at them, some of them are a bit funny. I will entirely grant that.
But I began to feel very, very strongly that they deserved more respect than they were getting, and then some years later, when I’d turned into the Borough Archivist at St Marylebone, I received a stash of documents. This was the 1950s, and lawyers were turning out their offices energetically, and floods of documents and deeds and letters and things were coming into our local archive centres. I realised that some of them related to a sculptor called John Bacon who lived and worked in Newman Street, near the Tottenham Court Road, off Oxford Street. I realised that he had done three of the four first monuments to come into the Cathedral, and that his son had done others. I continued to look harder and harder, and I started to collect. I had a little box that I dropped notes into, and I wrote myself down references, and it began to build up, and I got to a point where I almost thought I’d like to write a book about them, but I never have. What I have written is the relevant half of a chapter in the great big book on St Paul’s which came out last year for the 1400th anniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral.
If we’re going to talk about sculpture in St Paul’s, we have to go back to Wren. Wren did not put any sculpture in St Paul’s. There were a few small memorials down in the crypt, but there was nothing upstairs in the nave. I think that he was far too busy designing the Cathedral to worry about a little thing like commemorating anyone who might happen to be buried there or to deserve commemoration there. After they’d got the Cathedral finished, nobody talked about memorials for quite a while.
In the middle of the 18 th Century, there was a suggestion that a particular Lord Mayor should be commemorated, but the then-Dean said very firmly indeed, “No, if Sir Christopher had meant to have memorials, he would have designed some.” Then it was discovered that the Lord Mayor had been a slightly dodgy character, so the matter was dropped.
But it was raised again towards at almost the end of the 18th Century, because there was a man called John Howard. He was the man who was concerned with prison reform, and even in his own lifetime, they came to him and said, “Oh, we must put a statue up to you. We’ve really got to say what you’re doing and pay you tribute somewhere or other, and show how much we appreciate what you’re doing.” Like Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, he simply said, “No, don’t waste your money on anything of the sort! Spend it on something that really matters.” Prince Albert said, “I would be thoroughly embarrassed if I had to ride past a statue of myself in Hyde Park or anywhere else in London.” I don’t know if Howard said exactly that, but he said something rather similar. He didn’t want a statue.
However, when he died, far away in the Ukraine, still intent on his investigations into prisons and prison conditions, he couldn’t really object to them raising memorial, and immediately there was a suggestion. Alderman Boydell, who is worth a lecture in himself if you’ve never had one, who ran the Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall, was the chairman of the committee, and it was whispered that if proper application were made, then they would be quite willing to have a memorial to John Howard in St Paul’s itself. He had done so much for the wellbeing of people in general, even though he was a non-conformist. The Church of England felt very strongly that that was immaterial. So proper application was made and the committee was got together, with quite a lot of Royal Academicians on it, a lot of the clergy of the Cathedral, and money was raised. They decided that they were going to erect to Howard a monument seven feet, eight inches high on a seven foot pedestal, and they chose John Bacon, an eminent sculptor, to do it.
Bacon was very happy at the idea. He was a strong non-conformist himself, he approved of Howard, he was a person with a very strong social conscience, and I think, though I can’t prove this, that what he wanted to do was a larger version of a sculpture that he had done, completed, a year or two before which he had carved in memory of Thomas Guy, the founder of the hospital. You can still see it today if you go to the chapel in Guy’s Hospital and look at the memorial that’s there.
Thomas Guy was wearing Aldermanic robes, but otherwise, he’s in perfectly conventional dress, is raising up a sick man by the hand, and the head and neck and shoulders of the sick man I think are a very impressive piece of sculpture. In fact, Bacon repeated them for his gift piece when they elected him an Academician. He’s taking a poor wretch by the hand in order to lead him into the hospital, which is in the background in very low relief. You can see the steps into the hospital, and somebody else is being carried in on a stretcher. Bacon was a master of carving the real essence of a scene in low relief in the background, and I think Bacon always felt this was one of the best things he had ever done, and it’s a tribute to a good man.
However, not long after, the committee met again, the sculptors and the clergy, and Bacon himself was meant to be there, but he arrived late for the committee meeting, which is a reminder to all of us that we should never go late to a committee meeting, because when he got there, he found that the plans were changed. He was told he had got to make a single figure, that it would be quite adequate if it just said “John Howard, reformer of prisons”. It didn’t need a scene, a second figure to describe what Howard did, just a single figure would be perfectly adequate. Bacon protested. He was never reconciled to it, but he had to put up with it.
I think that probably Howard would not have been very happy if he had seen how he was represented. I think that the change in plan may have been because of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Sir Joshua Reynolds had a great friend, Dr Johnson, the man who did the dictionary and wrote so much. Johnson had died back in 1784 and he’d been buried in St Paul’s and there was a memorial to him there, but as soon as Reynolds realised that there were going to be memorials in St Paul’s Cathedral, that was enough for him. He could not bear that his dear friend Johnson shouldn’t be commemorated there too. He was obviously convinced that if Howard was represented by two figures, then if Johnson only had one figure, it would be less impressive, and so he swung the committee, and since everybody was terribly respectful of Sir Joshua Reynolds, he got his way.
However, in spite of the fact that Howard is not at all the sculptor’s original idea – he is in a sort of Greek tunic, kicking Fetters aside and stepping forward with a large key in his hands to unlock the prisons, and under his arm, a whole sheaf of plans for prison reform and better architecture and so on and so forth. Yet at least he managed to convey what he wanted to convey in the low relief at the bottom. If you go down, bend a bit, or even go on your knees and look at it when you’re in St Paul’s, you can see Howard coming into the prison. He’s still in classical garb, but he’s gesticulating in a kindly manner towards a prisoner. A helper is coming in with a huge tray of at least bread and water to feed the poor wretches, some of whom will not have done anything very dreadful, and here, and there is a warder with a key, opening the door to let everybody out, or at any rate, those who are lettable out.
Poor wretched Bacon was being driven at by two different committees. Hurry up! Get it done! We want ours in first! The Howardian Committee got a guarantee from him that theirs would be unveiled first, but the two statues were unveiled within a couple of weeks of each other.
Dr Johnson is represented by a single figure. He would never have looked in the least like that in his life. He did not go around in a Roman toga. But he’s being represented as an ancient philosopher, and the rather curious, ungainly pose – he’s resting his head on his hand, and stretching across himself to open a scroll – I think it’s not Bacon’s idea at all. I think we’ve got Sir Joshua Reynolds here again.
Bacon got hold of this bust in order to get a good likeness of Johnson. I think he was looking at first some sculptures in the British Museum, which had already opened, but I think that what Reynolds was going on, was a painting from Raphael’s enormous school of Athens painting in Rome. Bacon was satisfied with his work on Johnson. He published a letter about it, saying that he had managed to convey, he hoped, something of the firmness, the solidity, of Johnson’s principles.
He was never happy about the single figure of Howard. There’s a very nice 19th Century story of an Italian visitor to St Paul’s deciding that he’d better do obeisance to the two figures because he thought that Howard with the key was St Peter and that Johnson on the other side was St Paul.
Then Bacon got another commission, which I’m only just going to touch on, which was a memorial to a jurist, Sir William Jones, who had been judge of the High Court out in Calcutta in India. He had gone out there and he had codified Indian law. Once again, it’s an unlikely classical pose figure, but in the relief, you’ve got two figures representing knowledge and enlightenment coming to India and, the impertinence of it, bringing enlightenment, but in the centre, you’ve got a dear little Indian goddess, holding reverently a figure of Rama, and in behind her is a seven-headed horse. Bacon had obviously got hold of somebody who knew something about India, and he was trying to convey it. Do go in and look at that lower part of the sculpture.
The fourth figure, under the dome, went to Sir Joshua Reynolds himself, a very plain and solid and very sober and not baroque at all figure by John Flaxman, but by that time, before the Reynolds figure was completed, war with France had broken out.
Revolutionary France declared war on England, the 1st of February 1793, and things were in heavy war mode after that. Those wars with France and with Napoleon continued with very scant intermission for 22 years. The conflict would be fought not only across the European land mass, from Portugal to the steps of Russia, but north to south, from Copenhagen down to Italy, and across the oceans, to Egypt, the West Indies, America, Canada, Ceylon and Nepal.
During those wars, the government voted and paid for 33 marble memorials to the nation’s heroes. All but two, and those are in Westminster Abbey, came to St Paul’s, and expenditure totalled, and I take it from the official papers, £110,575. Well, I looked up the historians’ reckoning of inflation. To get back to what something was worth in 1805, you’ve got to multiply by roughly 30. Personally, I don’t think you can ever make guesses like that, because values vary so much, and over two centuries, unimaginably, but it gives you some idea that this was the government really laying out on works of art, because these were felt to be the right way in which to appreciate and commemorate and honour somebody.
The first three memorials were to Captain Robert Faulkner, Major General Thomas Dundas, and Captain Richard Rundell-Burgess. The sculptors commissioned were John Charles Felix Russey, the younger John Bacon, and Thomas Banks, and the election of sculptors was made by the Royal Academy. Faulkner was an amazing, intensely popular hero. He was in the command of the Blanche in an engagement with the French off the West Indies right at the beginning of the war, the 5 th of January 1795. The bow sprit of La Pique, a fair sized French vessel, swung across Faulkner’s vessel, the Blanche, and he seized it, lashed it to the capstan, thereby bringing the two vessels up close, side by side with each other, converting the side of his ship into an amazingly solid appalling battery, full scale battery. His intrepidity caught the imagination of the nation. This happened in January, and by summer, there was a one act opera being given commemorating him with his action in the battle, lashing the bit of the French ship to his own capstan. The absolute climax of it was the thunder of the guns – I’m not quite sure how they organised it all, but it was given a lot of times, so it must have been pretty popular.
Dundas’ end was less heroic. Dundas was less heroic. He was a brave soldier, a capable governor of Guadeloupe, which had been captured from the French, and he died of fever. When the French re-took the island, his body had been exhumed and exposed to wild animals. Parliament answered the insult with a marble memorial, but Burgess, Captain of the Argent, October 1797; he died breaking the enemy line in action off the Dutch coast.
Reaction to these memorials when they were finally installed was mixed, to say the least of it. Banks, who had been supported by the Academy for 7 years, had got the commission, and he gave us Burgess. He’s represented by a portrait head on an idealised, heroic body. I don’t think he would ever have appeared on the quarter deck stark naked, excepting for a cloak flung neglectfully over one’s shoulder. There’s a beautiful coil of rope and across it a winged Victory hands him a sword. There was a certain amount of reaction to it. One journalist at the time said that, “The statute of Burgess cannot fail to command praise. The attitude is fine and the air brave.” But another paper said, “It brought the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty.” So there was a lot of feeling that this was not what the government should be spending its money on.
Similarly, Rossi’s group for Faulkner, the one who’d got the opera at Covent Garden, was even less successful. Neptune, seated, twists himself to receive the dying hero in his arms, while Victory doesn’t place the wreath on his head, she pops it there. There was quite a strong reaction to that, and there is today. A watercolour of the period showed the fatally wounded Faulkner collapsing on to the capstan, and surrounded by his sorrowing sailors and brother officers. It was obviously something that really caught the imagination. It isn’t until you stand yourself quietly in the south nave, in St Paul’s and take the time to read the inscription, the detail of the action, that you see why people were so excited about it.
The government felt worried. Were artists the right people to be choosing the sculptors? Wouldn’t it be better to have a government committee? Wouldn’t it be better to have people who really knew something seriously about art, not just people who practised it? So they appointed a government committee. If the actions of the heroes as reported in dispatches and published in newspapers are one strand of the story, and their representations by the sculptors another, and these are the obvious threads, there is a third, almost invisible, thread in this rope of a story, and that is the deliberations of the committee.
It was first known as the Committee for the Erection of Monuments, but very soon began to be spoken of half-respectfully, but half-mockingly, as the Committee of Taste. It had very great influence in the art world of the day. Joseph Faringdon was one of the first Academicians, and he kept an amazing detailed diary, I think it’s 14 volumes. He records every scrap of gossip that you can think of, and it’s the sort of thing you find in reference libraries, if you’re lucky. I think they’ve got a set in the Guildhall Library. I’m not going to bother you with a list of names of those who sat on it at various times. I’ll just mention two or three of them to give you a flavour of it.
Charles Long, the Chairman, was Artistic Advisor to both George III and George IV, and they called him the Vitruvius of the age. As backup, he had Sir George Beaumont, who was a very generous man, and it was his collection of paintings that in effect started off the National Gallery. There were a lot of other connoisseurs. One was Charles Townley. His collection of antique marbles is now in the British Museum, and I think gives you an idea of what they admired and liked and collected and housed very expensively in their own sculpture and painting galleries.
There was also Richard Payne-Knight, a very sharp-tongued man whom we’re going to meet again in the course of this lecture, and who most generously gave his enormous private collection, coins and gems and drawings, to the British Museum and a lot of others, including Sir Uvdale Price, who wrote a very celebrated essay on the picturesque.
All these men had had a classical education, they had most of them made the Grand Tour, a lot of them had been several times to Italy and even further, they were Fellows of the Society and of the Royal Society, and most of the, as I say, had their own collections. The only trouble was that they weren’t artists, and I don’t think any of them would have had a clue of how to carve a piece of stone.
I don’t know how St Paul’s clergy reacted to this. So far, I have not been able to trace any minutes at all for the Committee of Taste, though they must have had one as they had Robert Gillman, who was the Secretary to the British Institution, something formed to encourage art in Britain, he was also Secretary to the Committee of Taste, but I’ve never found any minutes. There is no mention of any of the monuments in the chapter records. Either matters were settled by word of mouth, or the Cathedral clergy, aware of the national emergency, simply accepted that if the government had voted the funds, then it was their patriotic duty to accept the monuments. Perhaps they were proud to become a national Valhalla. The floor plan of the Cathedral given in the 1818 edition of Dugdale shows the position of each one executed by then, and firmly lists those that were still to come. The Rev. Sidney Smith, speaking a generation later, clearly had no taste for the monuments. He was very snappy. The mood was very different in the harshest of the wartime years.
To this committee fell the commissioning of the next four monuments, tributes to Admiral Lord Howell, Captain Moss, Captain George Westcott, and General Sir Ralph Abercrombie. They went through an enormous choosing process. The sculptors concerned were very fretful about it.
John Flaxman, the one who did Sir Joshua Reynolds, got the Howells monument. He had been in command of the fleet at the very beginning of the war, the glorious 1st of June 1794, and he had died five years later after a long and distinguished career. Horace Walpole described him as “undaunted as a rock and as silent”. The Navy called him Black Dick. He was beloved by the sailors, and it was he who had calmed a mutiny in the middle of the war. Flaxman shows him in uniform. He’s leaning up against the prow of his ship, The Queen. Britannia sits enthroned on the deck, and History supported by Victory – you can tell it’s Victory because she’s got wings – History is busy inscribing his naval victories, and his relief of Gibraltar and his success. The memorial was not achieved without difficulty. Flaxman designed it, but the cutting was done by his assistants, and they made Howell’s figure disproportionately large, and months of work were spent chipping away to reduce the size and then re-polish the marble. Afterwards, Flaxman always insisted on making a full size model before he began work on the stone.
Westcott’s monument went to Banks. He’s got a lion down in the corner, and if you ever find you have to take children round St Paul’s Cathedral, you can have a wonderful time having a lion hunt with them. Some of the lions are very docile, like this one, he’s a pussy cat lion. Some of them are roaring and savage. You’ll see a really savage one on Nelson’s memorial. But you can keep a child going for a long time with the lions!
Westcott’s memorial by Banks is something you’ve got to look at very carefully, because it was found, understandably, if you look at the main figures on top, to be rather ridiculous. George Westcott was the son of a Devonshire baker. The story goes that one day the boy had gone to the mill to collect some flour, and the mill wasn’t working because one of the ropes had become snapped and the miller couldn’t grind the flour and there was a lot of distress over this. The boy, who was around 12 years old, said, “Oh, I can splice that for you!” The miller let him have a go because there was no other suggestion. Even though this was the 18th Century, you were still a child when you were 12, even if people did grow up much earlier in some ways. He spliced that rope so that it was as good as new. He got his flour. The miller knew someone in the Navy, and he said, “Well, if you can splice a rope like that, you ought to be in the Navy.” Young George got a place as a cabin boy, aged 13. By the time he was 46, he was in command of the Majestic. He was killed at the Battle of the Nile, one of Nelson’s victories, on the 1st of August 1798. One wonders what he would have thought of his memorial, which represents him too as semi-naked, a tunic slipping off one shoulder. He slumps into the arms of a winged Victory, who literally staggers, struggling to crown him with a laurel wreath. It was not the happiest of compositions.
But the relief on the pedestal deserves examination. On the front, you’ve got a river god, with lots of little tributaries. The river god is the Nile with its tributaries. It’s handsomely carved, and it’s conventional enough, but on the sides, in very low relief, the sculptor has done something rather remarkable. To the right hand, you’ve got a ship going aground, but on the left hand, and you’ve got to look carefully you’ve got an explosion, you’ve got the French flagship, The Orient. There was fire. Obviously, the powder was in the hold, and somehow or other, the fire reached the powder and exploded it, and you’ve got billowing smoke going up and up and up. You think of the task of recording in stone the destruction done by an Exorcet missile.
Another casualty of the landing after the Battle of the Nile was Sir Ralph Abercrombie. He died of his wounds from sword and bullet in the ensuring battle, and the commission for his memorial, was worth 6,500, which was a lot of money – multiply by 30 and add quite a bit. Iy went to Richard Westmacott. It is, I think, one of the most individual and spirited in the entire pantheon that we have in St Paul’s. The general, having received the fatal sword thrust, falls from his horse into the arms of a kilted highlander. The horse rears up, about to crush beneath its hooves the naked figure representing the enemy. Flaxman and Rossi, both said that Westmacott had never yet achieved a nude figure and he was determined to show what he could do. The drama of Abercrombie’s death was recorded in paintings and engravings, which provide the inspiration for the sculpture, executed years later, but the hero is not in classical garb, he’s there in uniform. He’s not a classical demi-god. But you’ve got sphinxes on either side to show you that it’s all happening in Egypt.
The next round of commissions came a few years later, after the Battle of Trafalgar, 21st of October 1805. In addition to Nelson’s, memorials were devoted to Captain George Duff and Captain John Cook. The younger John Bacon provided Duff’s tablet, with a magnificently muscled sailor. He’s been shifted down to the crypt – you’ll have to go and look for him there. Duff had run away to sea at the age of nine, and he was truly beloved by his crews. His was one of the few ships that remained unaffected by the Nor Mutiny. Cook’s was given to Westmacott, and here is Cook. He’s a companion piece to Duff, and Britannia crouches, overwhelmed by sorrow at the loss of so noble a man. One little cherub tries to comfort her solicitously; the other, I’m afraid, is trying on Minerva’s helmet in a slightly naughty manner.
The honour of carving Nelson’s memorial, a profitable one at another 6,500, went to John Flaxman. He was not allowed to follow his own designs. Farington has a nice piece: “Mr Knight [that’s Richard Payne-Knight, the very scratchy one], he mentioned the liberality of Westmacott, who had permitted that Flaxman should adopt some part of his design that he made to Nelson.” Flaxman, patient soul, took it very calmly. A week later, he told Rossi he would indeed adapt the sentiment of Westmacott for Lord Nelson’s monument, but the composition of the figures would be all his own. He eschewed both the neo-classicism of Banks and the realism of Westmacott’s Abercrombie. His Nelson stands calmly beside a coil of rope. He’s in uniform, with all the decorations. You need binoculars, but he’s got all his decorations, which were what the French marksman spotted when he got the Admiral. Over his shoulder is a fur which was given to him by the Senor of Turkey, and this conceals the lack of his right arm. The absence of the other eye is indicated. It’s a lonely figure. I think it conveys the burden of responsibility on the commander, and his dedication to his task. Nelson’s chief victories are recorded around the pedestal on which we’ve got Britannia instructing two midshipmen that they should follow the hero’s example, and on the pedestal is the list of his victories, and this time, you’ve got a really growly lion.
Long before Flaxman had completed his work, indeed even before he’d been commissioned to do it, Nelson’s body arrived back in a barrel, pickled in rum, but later they gave him a coffin made from the main mast of the Orient. You know, there’s always a ghastly story – do you know it? That they brought the body back, pickled in rum, and obviously they drained it. You don’t want the rum to spill all over the floor and make a mess. They drained it into a bath or something, and extricated Nelson, got him into a tidy coffin, and then the sailors who had delivered it said, “Well, what are you going to do with the rum? Oh, we’ll drink it!” That is why rum is always called Nelson’s blood in the Navy. I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but I’ve heard it from several sources. It’s a good legend anyway.
They put him in a magnificent coffin, and he rests down in the crypt in a superb sarcophagus, originally wrought by Bernadetto de Ravetzano for Cardinal Woolsey. Henry VIII had bagged it, but he had never used it. He was buried in something rather less dramatic and he’s under the crypt, under the floor in Westminster Abbey, but at any rate, Nelson got it, and there he is to this day.
When he fell fatally wounded at Trafalgar, the command of the fleet passed to his friend Cuthbert Collingwood. Having won the victory, the Admiral remained at sea, despite failing health, for the next five years, and died at last in his ship, the Ville de Paris, on the 7th March 1810. His body was brought back to England, given a state funeral, and buried close to Nelson’s sarcophagus. Westmacott got that commission too, the price set at £4,200. It shows the Admiral lying on the deck of a man of war, clasping a sword, his body draped in colours taken from the enemy. Fame kneels over him, and Nelson is surrounded by some rather mockish little river gods. There are four tiny roundels carved along the line of the ship, showing the genius of man learning to sail the oceans and forge the instruments of war. It’s worth looking at these things carefully.
Nelson’s was the last monument, bar one, to a naval hero, but by this time, a new factor had entered the game. The marbles, rescued from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin, reached England in January 1804. Since Elgin was then a prisoner of war in France, they remained in 50 huge packing cases for three years, until their owner was freed. Half the collection was unpacked and put on display in June 1807. The artists and sculptors were awestruck, overwhelmed by what they saw. Benjamin Robert Haydn, that not very successful artist but incorrigible and incomparable diarist, brought his friend Henry Fusilli, the Swiss artist, to see them, and he recorded in his diary: “Never shall I forget his uncompromising enthusiasm! He strode about saying, “Oh the Greeks were Gods! The Greeks were Gods!”.”
However, the members of the Committee of Taste were less impressed. Several of them were members of the Society of Dilettante. Their preference was for the smooth elegance of the Apollo Belvedere. The vigorous roughness, the naturalism, the spontaneity of the Parthenon marbles were alien to them. Even before the sculptures were unpacked, the most vocal of the committee, Richard Payne-Knight, was taunting Lord Elgin in public, declaring, without of course ever having seen any of the marbles because he didn’t go to the exhibition, that they were of little value. He sneered: “You have lost your labour, my Lord Elgin. Your marbles are overrated. They are not Greek. They are Roman, of the time of Hadrian.” It was going to take the resolute support of the artists, a visit from Canover himself, the deliberations of a special select committee, to win for the marbles the proper appreciation of their true worth and a home in the British Museum. This isn’t the place to tell you that rather long story, and its subsequent developments.
But by this time, marble supplies in England were running low. The artists were getting extremely worn out by all the competitions. Haydn felt very strongly that too much was being spent on sculpture and not nearly enough on painting, and there’s a long, long section in his diary about this.
The war went on and on. British military activity now concentrated on the invasion of Europe via the Iberian Peninsula. The first attempt ended in defeat at Coruna, the death of Sir John Moore on the 16th of January 1809. though as at Dunkirk nearly a century and a half later, the greater part of the army was successfully evacuated. A memorial to the hero was demanded. Parliament voted for it. The sculptors were ready to compete. At the same time, and this gives us some quite useful information, a committee of subscribers for an additional monument was set up in Glasgow, and to it James Moore, Sir John Moore’s brother, reported that there were models on display and he said which he liked best, which was not the winning one, which went to the younger John Bacon. The sculpture shows the hero being lowered into the tomb, supported by Valour and Victory. He didn’t win, but he had died fairly gloriously, and the genius of Spain holds the colours aloft.
A long harsh campaign to recover the Peninsula began in the summer of 1809. I’m not going to give you a list of all the memorials Scott put up because it would be very trying indeed. Parliament voted memorials to all of them, and added some more. The one they added particularly was Cornwallis, who had not died in battle, but who had been Governor General in India and very important during the war. This was the one that caught the eye of James Moore. “There is monument by Mr Rossi about to be erected in St Paul’s. I’ve been to see it, and though it is still unfinished, there is a small model of it in the exhibition. It’s in memory of the Marquis Cornwallis. A statue of the Marquis in the robes of the garter is placed on a lofty pedestal, and below, there are three allegorical figures. One is a beautiful female Hindu, looking up at the Marquis. The robes of the garter which the Marquis wears give a cumbrous effect to the principal figure, but on the whole, it has a magnificent effect.” The very beautiful Indian lady represents the River Ganges, and beside her is a semi-naked turbaned figure who is meant to be the River Begareth, while Britannia, holding her trident aloft, has an unusually oriental air. This monument, with that to Nelson, was originally placed dominantly at the entrance to the choir.
To spell out details of the Britannias, Victories, Valours, laurel wreaths and lions on each memorial might be individually intriguing if we were walking round, but I don’t think it’s a good idea in the lecture room. Now remember, marble is running short. We don’t grow marble in England. It has to be imported, and it wasn’t coming in. He’s obviously looked very, very carefully at the Parthenon marbles, and each gives a panel with a low relief scene of the action, with the hero’s death standing out in front in higher relief. They’re all to young men – cheering on his men to advance uphill with fixed bayonets. The completely appalling Battle produced the 9th Middlesex diehard, and that’s where you get the phrase, he or she is a good old diehard. Bowes falls as his troops reach the walls of Salamanca, and the dying Cadugen is supported as his men press on to victory at Vitoria. Sir Isaac Brock’s tablet by Westmacott is conventional enough, save for one of the mourners – a magnificently, accoutred North American Indian, and it was through him that the defenders of Canada had the support of the Sixth Nation Indians.
Finally, from Waterloo, we’re going ten years beyond Trafalgar. Sir William Punsen’s memorial was designed by William Thebe and carved by Edward Hodges-Bailey. He had died at Waterloo. He was riding a horse that he knew wasn’t really up to it, but it was the only one he could get, so he ignored the fragility of the animal, still led his men, his horse stumbled, threw him, and he was speared by a French lancer. The dying soldier lies naked, supported by the horse who had failed him. He reaches up to take a wreath from Victory but the horse’s head is an absolute direct quote from the Parthenon sculptures.
It takes years to carve a large marble memorial. The final examples were not installed until the 1830s. I’m afraid the Cathedral promptly started charging to come in and look at them. It took Parliament, acting promptly for once, to say this is a disgrace. They said old soldiers and old sailors should be able to go and look at these memorials and they forced the clergy to accept that they had to let people in without charging, I am happy to say.
Sidney Smith was very tart. He said that the public had thought fit to erect St Paul’s into a receptacle for public monuments, so why shouldn’t they pay? But he had to give way, and the old soldiers and sailors came in.
Now, all that may seem very remote from this year, 2005. What I want you to do is to go and look at those memorials and then go down to the crypt of St Paul’s and look at the Falklands War memorial. This is far more broad, far juster if you like. It gives the names of all of those who fell, but if you look at it carefully and at the surface, you will notice that the name of Colonel Jones has got a patina because people have reached out to touch it. Even in this century, people need heroes. I want you to think about that when you go upstairs again in the Cathedral and look at the other memorials to people who died a couple of centuries ago.
© Dr Ann Saunders, Gresham College, 18 October 2005