« ZurückWeiter »
SCHEMES FOR A NATIONAL MONUMENT 215
only a specious success. George the Fourth readily gave his "high sanction" to a London memorial. Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Tom Moore, and Washington Irving were among the men of letters; Sir Thomas Lawrence, [Sir] Francis Chantrey, and John Nash, the architect, were among the artists, who approved the general conception. For three or four years ink was spilt and breath was spent in the advocacy of the scheme. But nothing came of all the letters and speeches.
In 1847 the topic was again broached. A committee, which was hardly less influential than that of 1821, revived the proposal. Again no result followed.
Seventeen years passed away, and then, in 1864, the arrival of the tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth seemed to many men of eminence in public life, in letters or in art, an appropriate moment at which to carry the design into effect. A third failure has to be recorded.
The notion, indeed, was no child of the nineteenth century which fathered it so ineffectually. It was familiar to the eighteenth. One eighteenthcentury effort was fortunate enough to yield a little permanent fruit. To an eighteenth-century endeavour to offer Shakespeare a national memorial in London was due the cenotaph in Westminster Abbey.
The suggestion of commemorating Shakespeare by means of a monument in London has thus something more than a "smack of age" about it, something more than a "relish of the saltness of time";
there are points of view from which it might appear to be already "blasted with antiquity." On only one of the previous occasions that the question was raised was the stage of discussion passed, and that was in the eighteenth century when the monument was placed in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The issue was not felicitous. The memorial in the Abbey failed to satisfy the commemorative aspirations of the nation; it left it open to succeeding generations to reconsider the question, if it did not impose on them the obligation. Most of the poets, actors, scholars, and patrons of polite learning, who in 1741 subscribed their guineas to the fund for placing a monument in Westminster Abbey, resented the sculpturesque caricature to which their subscriptions were applied. Pope, an original leader of the movement, declined to write an inscription for this national memorial, but scribbled some ironical verses beginning:
Thus Britons love me and preserve my fame.
A later critic imagined Shakespeare's wraith pausing in horror by the familiar monument in the Abbey, and lightly misquoting Shelley's familiar lines:—
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph, . . .
One of the most regrettable effects of the Abbey memorial, with its mawkish and irrelevant sentimentality, has been to set a bad pattern for statues of Shakespeare. Posterity came to invest the design with some measure of sanctity.
The nineteenth-century efforts were mere abortions. In 1821, in spite of George the Fourth's benevolent patronage, which included an unfulfilled
CAUSES OF PAST FAILURE
promise to pay the sum of 100 guineas, the total amount which was collected after six years' agitation was so small that it was returned to the subscribers. The accounts are extant in the Library of Shakespeare's Birthplace at Stratford-on-Avon. In 1847 the subscriptions were more abundant, but all was then absorbed in the purchase of Shakespeare's Birthplace at Stratford; no money was available for a London memorial. In 1864 the expenses of organising the tercentenary celebration in London by way of banquets, concerts, and theatrical performances, seem to have left no surplus for the purpose which the movement set out to fulfil.
The causes of the sweeping failure of the proposal when it came before the public during the nineteenth century are worthy of study. There was no lack of enthusiasm among the promoters. Nor were their high hopes wrecked solely by public apathy. The public interest was never altogether dormant. More efficient causes of ruin were, firstly, the active hostility of some prominent writers and actors who declaimed against all outward and visible commemoration of Shakespeare; and secondly, divisions in the ranks of supporters in regard to the precise form that the memorial ought to take. The censorious refusal of one section of the literary public to countenance any memorial at all, and the inability of another section, while promoting the endeavour, to concentrate its energies on a single acceptable form of commemoration had, as might be expected, a paralysing effect.
"England," it was somewhat casuistically argued
in 1864, "has never been ungrateful to her poet; but the very depth and fervour of the reverence in which he is held have hitherto made it difficult for his scholars to agree upon any common proceeding in his name." Neither in 1864 nor at earlier and later epochs have Shakespearean scholars always formed among themselves a very happy family. That amiable sentiment which would treat the realisation of the commemorative aim as a patriotic obligation -as an obligation which no good citizen could honourably repudiate-has often produced discord rather than harmony among the Shakespearean scholars who cherish it. One school of these has argued in the past for a work of sculpture, and has been opposed by a cry for a college for actors, or a Shakespearean theatre. "We do not like the idea of a monument at all," wrote The Times on the 20th of January 1864. "Shakespeare," wrote Punch on the 6th of February following, "needs no statue." In old days it was frequently insisted that, even if the erection of a London monument were desirable, active effort ought to be postponed until an adequate memorial had been placed in Stratford-on-Avon where the poet's memory had been hitherto inadequately honoured. At the same time a band of students was always prepared to urge the chilling plea that the payment of any outward honour to Shakespeare was laboursome futility, was "wasteful and ridiculous excess." Milton's query: "What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones?" has always been quoted to satiety by a vociferous section of the critics whenever the commemoration of Shakespeare has come under discussion.
THE NEW PROPOSALS
Once again the question of a national memorial of Shakespeare in London has been revived in conditions not wholly unlike those that have gone before. Mr Richard Badger, a veteran enthusiast for Shakespeare, who was educated in the poet's native place, has offered the people of London the sum of £3500 as the nucleus of a great Shakespeare Memorial Fund. The Lord Mayor of London has presided over a public meeting at the Mansion House, which has empowered an influential committee to proceed with the work. The London County Council has promised to provide a site. With regard to the form that the memorial ought to take, a variety of irresponsible suggestions has been made. It has now been authoritatively determined to erect a sculptured monument on the banks of the Thames.1
The propriety of visibly and outwardly commemorating Shakespeare in the capital city of the Empire has consequently become once more an urgent public question. The public is invited anew to form an opinion on the various points at issue. No expression of opinion should carry weight which omits to take into account past experience as well as present conditions and possibilities. If regard for
1 The proceedings of the committee which was formed in the spring of 1905 have been dilatory. Mr Badger informs me that he paid the organisers, nearly two years ago, the sum of £500 for preliminary expenses, and deposited bonds to the value of £3,000 with Lord Avebury, the treasurer of the committee. The delay is assigned to the circumstance that the London County Council, which is supporting the proposal, is desirous of associating it with the great Council Hall which it is preparing to erect on the south side of the Thames, and that it has not yet been found practicable to invite designs for that work (Oct. 1, 1906).