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It is to deny to the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey a rational title to existence.
To commemorate a great man by a statue in a public place in the central sphere of his influence is, indeed, a custom inseparable from civilised life. The theoretic moralist's reminder that monuments of human greatness sooner or later come to dust is a doctrine too discouraging of all human effort to exert much practical effect. Monuments are, in the eyes of the intelligent, tributes for services rendered by great men to posterity. But incidentally they have an educational value. They help to fix the attention of the thoughtless on facts which may, in the absence of outward symbols, escape notice. They may act as incentives to thought. They may convert the thoughtless into the thoughtful. Wide as are the ranks of Shakespeare's readers, they are not, in England at any rate, incapable of extension; and, whatever is likely to call the attention of those who are as yet outside the pale of knowledge of Shakespeare to what lies within it, deserves respectful consideration.
It is never inconsistent with a nation's dignity for it to give conspicuous expression of gratitude to its benefactors, among whom great writers take first rank. Monuments of fitting character give that conspicuous expression. Bacon, the most enlightened of English thinkers, argued, within a few years of Shakespeare's death, that no self-respecting people could safely omit to erect statues of those who had contributed to the genuine advance of their knowledge or prestige. The visitors to Bacon's imaginary island of New Atlantis saw statues erected at the public expense in memory
SYMBOLISATION OF SHAKESPEARE'S GENIUS 235
of all who had won great distinction in the arts or sciences. The richness of the memorial varied according to the value of the achievement. "These statues," the observer noted, "are some of brass, some of marble and touchstone, some of cedar and other special woods, gilt and adorned, some of iron, some of silver, some of gold." No other external recognition of great intellectual service was deemed, in Bacon's Utopia, of equal appropriateness. Bacon's mature judgment deserves greater regard than the splendid imagery of Milton's budding
In order to satisfy the commemorative instinct in a people, it is necessary, as Bacon pointed out, strictly to adapt the means to the end. The essential object of a national monument to a great man is to pay tribute to his greatness, to express his fellowmen's sense of his service. No blunder could be graver than to confuse the issue by seeking to make the commemoration serve any secondary or collateral purpose. It may be very useful to erect hospitals or schools. It may help in the dissemination of knowledge and appreciation of Shakespearean drama for the public to endow a theatre, which should be devoted to the performance of Shakespeare's plays. The public interest calls loudly for a playhouse that shall be under public control. Promoters of such a commendable endeavour might find their labours facilitated by associating their project with Shakespeare's name-with the proposed commemoration of Shakespeare. But the true aim of the commemoration will be frustrated if it be linked with
any purpose of utility, however commendable, with anything beyond a symbolisation of Shakespeare's mighty genius and influence. To attempt aught else is "wrenching the true cause the false way." A worthy memorial to Shakespeare will not satisfy the just working of the commemorative instinct, unless it take the sculpturesque and monumental shape which the great tradition of antiquity has sanctioned. A monument to Shakespeare should be a monument and nothing besides.
Bacon's doctrine that the greater the achievement that is commemorated the richer must be the outward symbol, implies that a memorial to Shakespeare must be a work of art of the loftiest merit conceivable. Unless those who promote the movement concentrate their energies on an object of beauty, unless they free the movement of all suspicion that the satisfaction of the commemorative instinct is to be a secondary and not the primary aim, unless they resolve that the Shakespeare memorial in London is to be a monument pure and simple, and one as perfect as art can make it, then the effort is undeserving of national support.
This conclusion suggests the inevitable objection that sculpture in England is not in a condition favourable to the execution of a great piece of monumental art. Past experience in London does not make one very sanguine that it is possible to realise in statuary a worthy conception of a Shakespearean memorial. The various stages through which recent efforts to promote sculptured memorials in London have passed
suggest the mock turtle's definition in Alice in Wonderland of the four branches of arithmetic-Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision. Save the old statue of James the Second, at Whitehall, and the new statue of Oliver Cromwell, which stands at a disadvantage on its present site beneath Westminster Hall, there is scarcely a sculptured portrait in the public places of London which is not
A fixèd figure for the time of scorn
To point his slow unmoving finger at.
London does not lack statues of men of letters. There are statues of Burns and John Stuart Mill on the Thames Embankment, of Byron in Hamilton Place, and of Carlyle on Chelsea Embankment. But all convey an impression of insignificance, and thereby fail to satisfy the nation's commemorative instinct.
The taste of the British nation needs rigorous control when it seeks to pay tribute to benefactors by means of sculptured monuments. During the last forty years a vast addition has been made throughout Great Britain-with most depressing effect-to the number of sculptured memorials in the open air. The people have certainly shown far too enthusiastic and too inconsiderate a liberality in commemorating by means of sculptured monuments the virtues of Prince Albert and the noble character and career of the late Queen Victoria. The deduction to be drawn from the numberless statues of Queen Victoria and her consort is not exhilarating. British taste never showed itself to worse effect. The general impression produced by the most ambitious of all these memorials, the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, is especially deplorable. The gilt figure of
the Prince seems to defy every principle that fine art should respect. The endeavour to produce imposing effect by dint of hugeness is, in all but inspired hands, certain to issue in ugliness.
It would, however, be a mistake to take too gloomy a view of the situation. The prospect may easily be painted in too dismal colours. It is a commonplace with foreign historians of art to assert that English sculpture ceased to flourish when the building of the old Gothic cathedrals came to an end. But Stevens's monument of the Duke of Wellington in St. Paul's Cathedral, despite the imperfect execution of the sculptor's design, shows that the monumental art of England has proved itself, at a recent date, capable of realising a great commemorative conception. There are signs, too, that at least three living sculptors might in favourable conditions prove worthy competitors of Stevens. At least one literary memorial in the British Isles, the Scott monument in Edinburgh, which cost no more than £16,000, satisfies a nation's commemorative aspiration. There the natural environment and an architectural setting of fine conception reinforce the effect of sculpture. The whole typifies with fitting dignity the admiring affection which gathers about Scott's name. This successful realisation of a commemorative aimnot wholly dissimilar from that which should inspire a Shakespeare memorial-must check forebodings of despair.
There are obviously greater difficulties in erecting a monument to Shakespeare in London than in erecting a monument to Scott in Edinburgh. There is no site in London that will compare with the gardens of Princes Street in Edinburgh. It is