Wednesday, 4 October 2017

October: John Evelyn - home thoughts from abroad

Friday 1st October 1943

"A taxi motored me to Wotton House where I lunched and spent the afternoon.  Today it belongs to John Evelyn, just as it belonged to the diarist John Evelyn in the seventeenth century.

  Pen drawing of Wotton House, by Evelyn 1640.  © British Library, Evelyn Archive

It is a long rambling, untidy house.  The nucleus of it is Jacobean, and a few rich doorways of that period survive upstairs.  But the present Evelyn's grandfather spoilt the house in every conceivable way in the 1870s. In the hideous Ruskin-style library are many rare books, including some 200 of Evelyn's own; also royal seals, miniatures and nineteenth-century busts.  There are innumerable family portraits , including three of John Evelyn, of which the Kneller is the most remarkable.


John Evelyn, c.1687  by Sir Godfrey Kneller  © The Royal Society 

There is a table carved by Grinling Gibbons, whom Evelyn discovered, and an Italian ebony cabinet* in which Evelyn's manuscript diaries were found.  The army have occupied most of the house during the war.  They allowed a fire to blacken the original door cases, walls and ceiling of the dining-room.  Could Evelyn have called in Wren to design this room?.  The garden, now a wilderness, has a mound cut into terraces by Evelyn, and below it a temple on Doric columns, which he built.  All the trees are magnificent, and the beeches are said to have been planted by him."

Ancestral Voices   James Lees-Milne 

John Evelyn travelled extensively in France and Italy as a young man during the Civil War.  In his Diary he records (exhaustively) all the palaces, gardens, churches and art treasures he saw in France and the great cities of Italy:  visiting Genoa, Pisa, Lucca, Florence, Leghorn, Rome and Naples. Full of interesting insights, describing the people and customs,  he only occasionally mentions the food and weather, unless it affected his progress. He travelled by coach, on horse-back, and felucca (subject to storms) and by horse-drawn barge and boat from Bologna and Ferrara along the Po marshes to embark for Venice.  From Venice he journeyed home via Switzerland (he was ill with smallpox in Geneva) and France, where he married the English ambassador's young daughter, Mary Browne, in June 1647.  He left Paris for Calais at the end of September 1647, where he had first arrived four years before, and reached London late on 2nd October.


John Evelyn in 1648  by Robert Walker  © National Portrait Gallery


Having only just returned myself from Bologna airport, after several long days of amazing sightseeing in the Emilia-Romagna, I was struck by this poem Evelyn wrote in Naples in February 1645, well before his travels were ended.  Was he remembering the tranquil family home and its gardens at Wotton? 

"I left this Ode, …as the Non ultra of my Travells; sufficiently sated with rolling up and downe, and resolving with my selfe to be no longer an Individuum vagum, if ever I got home againe;...

Happy the man who lives content
With his own Home, & Contintent:
Those chiding streames his banks do curb
Esteemes the Ocean to his Orb;
Round which when he a Walke dos take,
Thinks t'have perform'd as much as Drake:
For other tongues he takes no thought
Then what his Nurse or Mother taught:
He's not disturb'd with the Rude Cries
Of the Procaccio's Up & Rise;
But being of his Faire possess'd
From Travelling sets up his rest:
In her soft armes no sooner hurl'd
But he enjoys another World,
Scornes Us who Travell Lands & Seas,
Thinkes there's no countries like to his:
If then at Home, such Joyes be had,
Oh, how un-wise are We, how Mad!"

Diary of  John Evelyn  edited E.S. De Beer

*I wrote about Evelyn's Italian ebony cabinet in an earlier blog (Jan 2016): see  "A Collector's Cabinet"

Sunday, 17 September 2017

"The Farthing Poet", a Victorian individualist



Charles Dickens is known for the many remarkable characters in his novels, but among his large circle of acquaintances there was one person that he might have hesitated to create as fictional, best known as 'Orion Horne'.

Widely travelled, a poet, playwright, journalist and social reformer, unsuccessfully married, self- invented and enterprising, young Richard Henry Horne had left Sandhurst in 1820, aged just 18. Inspired by Shelley to become a poet in 1823, just two years later he sailed with the Mexican Navy and fought at Vera Cruz. Chambers' Dictionary describes this early career somewhat breathlessly:

"having survived yellow fever, sharks, broken ribs, shipwreck, mutiny and fire, he returned to England and took up writing."

Horne was known for his Spanish guitar playing, his cape and his theatrical whiskers and moustache, among his interconnecting circles of friends and colleagues in London.


Richard Henry Horne, c. 1840    Margaret Gillies*   © National Portrait Gallery London 

These poets, editors and publishers included Leigh Hunt, Charles Lamb, and the Quaker writers William and Mary Howitt, William Macready the Drury Lane impresario, Charles Dickens (whom he met in Macready's dressing room) and Dickens' biographer John Forster.   



William and Mary Howitt,  miniature by Margaret Gillies 
© Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

Horne wrote for their new topical journals on many subjects and styles, often using exotic pseudonyms, through the 1830s, but his real ambition lay in his Jacobean-style verse dramas, (e.g. The Death of Marlowe, 1837).    He campaigned for a Society for English Literature and Art, to support "men of superior ability" against "the False Medium and Barriers excluding Men of Genius from the Public" and felt that "all departments of human genius and knowledge" should combine for the good of man.

In 1839 he began writing to Elizabeth Barrett (Browning) who contributed to his edition of Chaucer's Poems, Modernised.  This was published in 1841, when Horne was working in Wolverhampton as a government Assistant Commissioner reporting on child labour in mines and factories.  His detailed report  inspired Elizabeth Barrett to write The Cry of the Children in 1843.  He compares a rich child practising the piano, with a poor factory child striking a wrong key on a machine and losing its fingers, and reveals that when these neglected children pray "Our Father", they think that is the whole prayer.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Italy, 1858   Michele Giordiani

1843 also saw the publication of his major epic poem Orion, to general praise, and for which he is best known, as 'Orion Horne', partly through his own publicity.  It was to be sold for one farthing exactly, and only to those who pronounced its title correctly; this was his riposte to the public neglect of poetry.
He was also successful with his critical biographies (helped by Elizabeth Barrett), A New Spirit of the Age in 1844 and his popular children's book Memoirs of a London Doll in 1846.  Unwisely marrying  Kate Foggo in 1847, he began working on Dickens' new monthly journal Household Words in 1850. 

By 1852, abandoning his marriage, his old wanderlust and unsatisfied ambition sent him sailing to the Australian goldfields with fellow writer William Howitt, where he commanded Melbourne's Private Gold Escort in the outback.

One of many books written by Howitt, based on his and Horne's early years in the outback.

During a chequered career as writer and administrator,  he was ousted from his position as area magistrate in a controversy over illegal liquor sales, and in the 1860s produced a lyrical drama Prometheus, and other epic poems which he felt were unappreciated. Disillusioned, he sailed for England in 1869,  still writing poems, articles, plays and romances for periodicals, now under the name of Richard Hengist Horne, possibly (or not) appropriating the name from someone he met in the  outback. He survived on a government pension,  as "a literary doyen, producing many new works all artistically worthless"** until his death in 1884.

A chameleon figure in the Victorian literary world, he pioneered new styles and new ideas in his writing:  Dickens' symbolic dust heaps in Our Mutual Friend were partly inspired by one of Horne's articles.  But perhaps his greatest legacy was his detailed report for the Child Labour Commission in 1841, contributing to the 1847 Ten Hour Act and Lord Shaftesbury's successful campaigning.

The Cry of the Children 
" Do you hear the children weeping,…
For, all day, we drag our burden tiring
Through the coal-dark, underground --
Or, all day, we drive the wheels of iron
In the factories, round and round,…"

E. Barrett Browning, 1843

*Margaret Gillies made a successful career for herself as a rare independent woman artist, known for her portraits of many public figures.  She was also one of Horne's friends, illustrating his children's  books.
 ** according to Ann Blainey, Horne's biographer: "The Farthing Poet," 1968 

Monday, 4 September 2017

September: a visit to Constable country


Willy Lott's Cottage, Dedham Vale;  watercolour, grey ink   John Constable 1832  © British Museum 

Friday, 1st September
"A crisp, chilly morning, with that whiff of melancholy in the air.  Autumn is well on the way.  I would not mind if only I felt well, clear-headed and un-drugged.  Sisson* took me to Flatford Mill which the N.T. has acquired.  I love Constable, but I do not love this place.  It has been made a travesty of the totally unpretentious, rural, domestic scene of one of England's greatest painters.  Today the manor house is too picture postcardy for words.  Willy Lott's Cottage is abominably whimsy inside.  Sisson favours whitewashing or white painting all interior beams, I am glad to say. I concur with nearly all his ideas.  The Mill itself is still relatively unspoilt, and the island garden, with fat box hedges and old apple trees is full of charm.

We drove to Thorington Hall.  It has a rather neglected look, and the furniture inside -- well!  The house has had evacuees, and not been inhabited as a private house since the war, which explains much.

Thorington Hall's landmark octagonal, star-topped chimneys at Stoke-by-Nayland


Paycocke's House  elaborate carved frontage 

I left the Sissons after luncheon, and drove to Paycocke's, that hideously over-restored house in Coggeshall.  The tenants' bogus French furniture most inappropriate.  Sisson and I would like to whitewash all the harsh new brick nogging on the street elevation."

Prophesying Peace  James Lees-Milne 1944

Dedham Vale and Dedham Church  John Constable 1828 
© National Gallery of Scotland

Flatford Mill, Thorington Hall, and Paycocke's House in Coggeshall, near Colchester  were all acquired by the National Trust.  They represent the prosperity of the Stour and other  East Anglian river valleys where, like the medieval monks before them, Tudor butchers progressed from keeping  flocks of sheep to becoming wealthy cloth merchants, with river transport to major ports like Ipswich (where Cardinal Wolsey's father was a butcher-cum-grazier and merchant). By the eighteenth century cloth manufacture moved north and the cloth-fulling mills were converted to grain mills, like Flatford, where the Constable family farmed, and shipped their flour down to Pin Mill near Ipswich.


Dedham Lock and Mill   John Constable 1820  ©V&A Museum


*Marshall Sisson was an architect who lived in Shermans House in Dedham; in August the next year Lees-Milne stayed with the Sissons for the weekend:  "Sisson and I walked to Flatford Mill, where we watched the milling crowds bathing, running, jumping and enjoying themselves".  Prophesying Peace  1945  James Lees-Milne

Maybe they walked along Fen Lane, which was Constable's boyhood path from East Bergholt to school in Dedham?

Fen Lane, East Bergholt  John Constable 1817  © Tate Britain

Thursday, 24 August 2017

West End shopping (with footman), in 1846

Where does a young Victorian lady go shopping for things for her new doll?  Why to the Pantheon in Oxford Street, as related by 'Maria Poppet', a painted wooden London doll, in her Memoirs of a London Doll:


"At four o'clock my new mama went out for a drive in her carriage with her governess, and chiefly to buy several things for me.  Of course I went too…..we drove to a toyshop in Oxford Street and there the little Lady Flora bought me a cradle of delicate white basket work,  with a mattress and pillow covered with cotton of pale pink and lilac stripes.  She wanted a featherbed, but they had not got one..."

Illustration to George Sala's Twice round the Clock  1859

The Pantheon began life as a fashionable winter Ranelagh, or assembly rooms in in 1772, then became variously a concert hall and a failing theatre until it was reopened in May 1834 as the Pantheon Bazaar.  Marks and Spencer's Oxford Street store now stands on the site. 

But 'Maria Poppet' still lacks a feather bed:

"We next went down Regent Street, and sent the very tall footman with the gold-headed cane and powdered hair into every shop that seemed likely, to ask if they had a doll's feather-bed. But none of them had.  We passed the Regent's quadrant, and then turned up Piccadilly, and got out at the Burlington Arcade. But no such thing as a doll's feather-bed could be found.The little lady, however, bought me a small gold watch and chain, which cost a shilling.  We then drove down Waterloo place ...[without success] ...so we turned round and drove up Bond Street, and [again sending the very tall footman] tried at several shops with no better success; then we passed again down Oxford Street and went to the Soho Bazaar."

The Soho Bazaar stretched from Dean Street to Oxford Street, and was opened in 1816 by John Trotter.  He had grown rich supplying the army during the Napoleonic wars, but after Wellington's victory at Waterloo in 1815 he converted his vast Soho Square warehouse into a fashionable 'Bazaar', initially a place where army wives and widows could sell their handicrafts.   It was 'conveniently and comfortably fitted up with mahogany counters,  having at proper distance flaps or falling counters... the walls are hung with red cloth and at the end are large mirrors.  The principal sale is jewellery, toys, books, prints, millinery &c. ' 

And there the very tall footman has his moment of glory: 
"There, at the top of a long room -- on the lefthand side--in a corner -- there, at last, we did find a doll's feather-bed, and of a very superior quality.  No doll in the world, and particularly a wooden doll, could have wished for anything softer.  At the same place were also many articles of furniture, such as dolls of the higher class are accustomed to have, and some of these were bought for me.  That which I was most pleased with was a doll's wardrobe made of cedar wood, with drawers for clothes in the middle, and pegs to hang dresses upon at each side, and all enclosed with folding doors, and smelling so sweet.  All of these things being carefully packed up in silver paper, were given to the very tall footman with powdered hair, who receiving them with a serious face, and carrying them balanced on the palm of one hand,  and holding up his long gold-headed cane in the other, slowly walked behind us, with his chin raised high out of his white neckcloth, to the admiration of everybody in the bazaar, as we returned to our carriage."

Memoirs of a London Doll, Written by Herself
Edited by Mrs Fairstar (otherwise Mr Richard Henry Horne)  1846



'Maria Poppet', our narrator and heroine, begins life at a doll-maker's in Holborn,  and describes many London scenes as she passes from 'mamma' to mamma', in homes rich and poor. She has a narrow escape at the Opera when she is dropped from the box into the pit and falls into a gentleman's top hat, or when she is lost in the crowd and bundled up with Mr Punch's puppets, but later in her adventures she sees a Drury Lane pantomime and the Lord Mayor's Show, described in colourful detail:  "We had an excellent view of the Lord Mayor in his robe of scarlet, with gold and coloured stripes over it, and wearing a beautiful necklace hanging down upon his breast.  He gave a sigh as he passed us, and laid a hand upon his fine stomach, and then he gave a smile".

This forgotten Victorian doll's story was read to us at primary school, and long remembered, so I was delighted in 1967 when it was edited by Margery Fisher, the widely respected writer on children's literature and republished by Andre Deutsch.   Maria Poppet's creator merits a blog of his own, as do the various London bazaars (there was even a Crystal Palace Bazaar of iron and glass designed by Owen Jones in 1858), but for now, I give the last word to Punch describing the Soho bazaar in 1842:

"the Soho Bazaar, chiefly remarkable for the diverting and expert manner in which the young ladies who keep the stalls run about backwards and forwards through certain apertures, under the counter, like rabbits in a warren. It is generally presumed that this degree of perfection is obtained by much practice, at home, under a shutter placed on the backs of two chairs; but this appears to be a popular error."

(and see victorian london.org or british-history.ac.uk/survey-london and others)





Monday, 14 August 2017

The Crystal Palace resurrected -' a paradise for children, and a world full of sound'

The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park,  from the north east  ( pub. Dickinson Bros 1852)

Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace - a pioneering wonder of prefabricated iron and cast glass - was taken down after the 1851 Great Exhibition and re-erected in the former grounds of Penge Place in Sydenham, opening in June 1854.

1886 engraving from Cornelius Brown's book, True Stories of the Reign of Queen Victoria


It was a fairytale place surrounded by gardens, fountains,  amusements, a maze, and many statues, including 33 life-size images of prehistoric dinosaurs and extinct creatures, and flanked by two giant water towers to supply the  many fountains.  There were concerts and exhibitions, a menagerie and firework displays, and popular entertainments.



The dinosaurs survive today and are very popular. They were moulded in concrete by Benjamin Waterhouse  Hawkins, a natural history artist who had worked on the 1851 Exhibition, and were based on scientific knowledge of the time.  They are now Grade I listed and undergoing a full conservation programme (and see cpdinosaurs.org)

One late Victorian writer remembers the Park's glories from his childhood, including the living animals on display:

" Several following years of early childhood were spent at Norwood, with the Crystal Palace an entrancing playground.  In the early 'seventies the place was rich with the scent of the beds for tropical vegetation, stale buns, and new paint; and in the more rapturous end - where the parrots were kept - came unmistakable gusts and shrieks from the monkey-house, entrancing to the infantile mind, but deemed unhealthy and too exciting by parents and governess alike. "


Pop-up Christmas card,  Benjamin Sulman 1873 © the Crystal Palace Foundation


" The Crystal Palace was at that time a paradise for children and one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world (this I knew later); it was also the home of music in England of that decade, with daily concerts, a small local opera, crashing brass bands, great Saturday classical concerts, and huge Handel Festivals.  The place was not only an appeal to the imagination, from the toy stalls to great intimidating groups of statuary, it was a world full of sound.  The loud strains of a symphony might burst from the closed concert-room, interrupting the musical whiz and purring of a top spun by a toy-stall assistant; simultaneously would come the scarlet cries of a cockatoo and the persistent cadences of a popular valse played by a mechanical piano, and, most delightful of all, the tinny sounds of clockwork toys,  which moved if a penny were dropped into them by an indulgent elder.  Thereupon glass waterfalls would trickle in landscapes of Virginian cork;  whilst a train, with cotton-wool smoke, darted over a Lilliputian bridge, and small Swiss peasants valsed, all too briefly, to the sound of a tired musical box."

Self Portrait  Charles Ricketts, 1866-1931



The grand May opening by Queen Victoria was delayed
until June, but this Stevens' silk commemorative
bookmark  is part of the Crystal Palace Foundation's
museum collection.  © Crystal Palace Foundation

Monday, 7 August 2017

John Bacon: carving an epitaph

If there was a category on the BBC show "Pointless" on famous eighteenth century sculptors in Britain,  I would be able to name John Flaxman, and on a very good day perhaps another,  but who was  John Bacon the elder,  RA.?  He would surely come up as a "pointless" answer,  for even though his many statues and sculptural monuments can be seen around us -- in St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, at Somerset House, or Guy's Hospital, in churches and in  Oxbridge Colleges, in the provinces and in the colonies, yet his name is not widely known.

Memorial to Lord Chatham, William Pitt the elder, by  John Bacon 1782,  Guildhall, London

He died on 7th August 1799, aged 58, and was buried in Whitfield's Tabernacle off Tottenham Court Road, composing his own epitaph:

"What I was as an Artist
Seemed to me of some importance
While I lived;
But
What I really was as a Believer
In Christ Jesus,
Is the only thing of importance
To me now."

It was while looking for information on the anonymous writers of those elegantly-expressed Georgian epitaphs that you find in our churches and churchyards, that I stumbled across his name:

"for sensible of religion himself, [John Bacon] composed a variety of epitaphs for churchyards, and wrote sermons and fables, which do not appear to have been printed."

He is said to have had a hand in composing the inscription on his other monument to Lord Chatham in Westminster Abbey, having  "waited a considerable time for the inscription, which had undergone so many alterations, that at last he was bold enough to venture on its completion himself, which, with his usual diffidence, he submitted to the consideration of his employers, and his proposed completion meeting their entire approbation, it was accordingly ordered to be cut upon the tablet."

Clearly a practical as well as a creative man, but it his resilience I admire.

Born in November 1740 to a Southwark clothworker, as a boy, according to one chronicler, "after having fallen into the pit of a soap boiler, and been run over by a loaded cart, he recovered health enough to assist in his father's business".
At fourteen he was apprenticed to a porcelain factory, where he developed his modelling skills, and began to imitate the established sculptors' clay models, which were sent to be fired in the potters'  kilns.  His models won prizes from the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, and from 1769 he was employed by Mrs Coade in her artificial stone works at Lambeth (approximately where the National Theatre now stands), where he became chief modeller and director.


This large figure of Father Thames is made of Coade stone, catalogued in 1784 as  "A River God, 9 feet high, with an Urn through which a stream of water may be carried (100 gns)".  Like countless visitors entering Ham House in Richmond I have admired it in passing, but never knew it was the work of John Bacon.   There is a large collection of other surviving Coade stone sculptures at  Croome Court in the care of the National Trust.


Head of River God, in Coade Stone   John Bacon


He used this Father Thames figure again for the base of his statue of George III in the courtyard at Somerset House - but how many also look up at Bacon's sculptures decorating the facade? 

Facade of Somerset House, London

….Or know that this is also his work up above our heads?

Figure of Atlas by John Bacon the elder    Radcliffe Observatory, Oxford

He had a very successful career and two sons followed him into the business,  with an extensive works in Newman Street;  and he was elected RA in 1778.  Maybe his name is less famous because his work is mainly around us on public view everyday, more than in private and museum collections; in his early career he would be seen as something of an outsider, who was largely self taught, and although he won medals,  not academically trained in sculpting marble.  He would also be linked with trade, producing replicated figures in artificial stone.


 But he overcame his background, literally carving his way out of Southwark, to become a leading public figure in the arts:

"There touch'd by Reynolds, a dull blank becomes
A lucid mirror, in which Nature sees
All her reflected features, Bacon there
Gives more than female beauty to a stone,
And Chatham's eloquence to marble lips."

Poetical Works, William Cowper

Bacon was also fittingly commemorated by the Victorians, beside other renowned artists, in a portrait statue by W. Frith, which can be clearly seen on  the exterior of the V&A Museum today.

John Bacon the elder  © V&A Museum 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

August: a heatwave in Lugano

In summer 1946 James Lees-Milne went on holiday to Lugano in Switzerland, travelling across Europe by train via Berne and Interlaken.

 View of Lake Lugano   Robert Kiener  1846-1945
Thursday, 1st August

"Although I have passed my time this week as I have intended and hoped, yet I shall be glad to leave on Sunday.  Ten, or rather eleven days of complete solitude are enough.  Besides, I am anxious about that accumulating pile of work at home.
Today there is some sort of festa and the shops are all shut. I went to church next door (Saint' Angioli) at 9.45.  Mass was in progress. I stayed till the end then studied very closely the Bernardo Luini 'Passion', a splendid thing, in excellent preservation.


Santa Maria degli Angeli,  Passion and Crucifixion fresco, Bernardo Luini 1529
(from: web gallery of art)

Visited the Museum in the Villa Cacci, a good late classical building of c. 1840, but the internal decoration poor: stucco and painted ceilings of feeble quality.  Museum itself awful, neglected and absolutely lifeless, as I should hate any of mine to be.  After luncheon took the steamer to Morcote. Extremely hot and muggy, there being high clouds behind which the sun is sheltering.  Climbed the steep eighteenth century stairs to the S. Sassa church, with splendid square Romanesque campanile, which I photographed."



Santa Maria del Sasso, Morcote   (wikimedia commons)

During this trip, filled with sightseeing, Lees-Milne encountered all the common mishaps of foreign travel: an upset tummy, fears of sunstroke, delays with money not arriving when expected, dirty trains and expensive hotel bills. "It is terribly hot in Berne and we wander about disconsolately.  Cannot even afford to buy postcards."  And arriving in Lugano, "The Grand Palace Hotel stiflingly hot".

He was comforted by his holiday reading:  Shakespeare's Sonnets --  "Poetry and architecture are my two great loves" -- and The Last Chronicle of Barset.     On the homeward  journey he stopped for lunch and sightseeing in Lucerne,  where he admired the famous bridge and the  "Marvellous .. exhibition of paintings and tapestries from the Ambrosiana, Milan.  Bought a catalogue to give to Ben Nicolson", but then he had to rush for the Basle train without time to buy food. 

He had one book left to sustain him on the long journey home between Basle and the Dunkirk-Calais crossing: "two days and one night without a sleeper and without food on the [filthiest, indescribable] French train, in this torrid heat.…I have never been dirtier….I arrived home tired out at 10 p.m. Read Jane Eyre on the journey. "

Caves of Ice  James Lees-Milne 1946

One English visitor to Lugano the previous summer took a more relaxed view:


At Lake Lugano    Winston Churchill, 1945
© The Churchill Heritage Ltd