The prospects of art in the future parliament house (title printed within thick black ruled border).
Chiswick, printed by Charles Whittingham 1836 (”for private distribution”).
8vo. 66pp. Recent cloth.
An exceptionally rare pamphlet, not held in the British Library and known to the compilers of the BAL Catalogue only from the copy in the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum. As the BAL Catalogue records, a pamphlet had appeared in 1835 (BAL Cat 4066), just before the announcement that there would be a competition to design the new Houses of Parliament building, entitled “The Prospects of Art in the future Parliament House, with notices of some of the recent Buildings of the Metropolis”, in which the pamphlet’s anonymous author had vigorously criticised the rumoured decision that the government had already selected Sir Robert Smirke as the architect for the new building. The author of the pamphlet of 1835 was identified by John Britton as early as 1840 as George Vivian, a Somerset landowner, amateur artist, and architectural critic, but the compilers of the BAL Catalogue have made the plausible suggestion that the pamphlet might in reality have been written by the architect Thomas Hopper (see item in the present catalogue), who had fallen out with Smirke as far back as 1820, and Vivian’s authorship seems in any case improbable, in that the author of the pamphlet favoured a “Grecian” design, whereas Vivian had already written an article for the Quarterly Review in which he had suggested that the design of the building should be in a classical Roman style.Our present pamphlet, dated 1836 and carrying the imprint of a different printer, has been described by the compilers of the BAL Catalogue as appearing to be “a second edition” of the pamphlet of 1835, but this is manifestly not the case. All that it has in common with the pamphlet of 1835 is its title, or, more accurately, the first nine words of its title, and it is silently but nonetheless explicitly differentiated from the pamphlet of 1835 by the fact that the title is surrounded by a thick black printed border such as is found during the Victorian period on publications or printed stationery issued during periods of mourning (which chimes in with the author’s very low expectations of any probable good emerging from the Houses of Parliament architectural competition, by then under way). Moreover, internal evidence clearly shows that it was not written by Vivian, since Vivian had by the time of its publication become a member of the committee that would adjudicate on the competition, and the author roundly attacks all the committee’s proceedings. Nor was the pamphlet of 1836 written by Hopper, since the internal evidence of its text shows that its author had had an extensive classical education and had visited Paris, Rome and Venice, as Hopper had not, and a passage on p.30 of the pamphlet quotes an anonymous member of parliament as describing Hopper’s design for the Houses of Parliament as looking like “an old fashioned case of knives and forks”.The pamphlet of 1836, strikingly phrased, vigorously critical of the competition arrangements and deeply pessimistic about any probable outcome, starts from the assumption that architecture “has its true and parallel model in Greek principles” (p.25), and its author must thus be looked for among Greek Revival enthusiasts. In this context, one possibility is that the author was the architectural journalist W.H.Leeds, thought of by A.T.Bolton as a possible author of the pamphlet of 1835 (see our Cat 15, item 56), but the author’s evident familiarity with classical literature and his use in his text both of Latin quotations and of Italian phrases points, in the present cataloguer’s view, elsewhere. It so happens that Charles Kelsall (1782-1857), Cambridge-educated classical scholar, enthusiast for neo-classicism in all its forms, and widely travelled in all the principal European countries, whose career is discussed at length by David Watkin in his 1968 book on Thomas Hope, was employing Charles Whittingham, the printer of the present pamphlet, to print for him in this same year, 1836, Horae Viaticae, a volume of miscellaneous essays for private distribution, and it would have been a small enough step for Kelsall to have commissioned Whittingham to print for him this pamphlet also.Kelsall’s publications, mostly privately printed and issued under a variety of pseudonyms, were habitually printed in small numbers of copies, and it would be unsurprising if the pamphlet were to turn out to be an addition to them. The only minor reservation about an attribution to Kelsall that this cataloguer has is that the pamphlet is not quite as finished a production in terms of literary style as some of his other writings, but maybe, as is often the case with pamphlets, it was written in haste and printed in haste.