Magazine article Melville Society Extracts

The Wellington Statue in Horsford's Journals: A Correction

Magazine article Melville Society Extracts

The Wellington Statue in Horsford's Journals: A Correction

Article excerpt

Howard Horsford's Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's journals ranks with Jay Leyda's Log as one of the finest reference works on Melville. (1) Its detailed notes, helpful cross-references, thorough index, and numerous maps and illustrations provide a panoramic picture of Melville's experiences in Europe and the Levant, fleshing out his obscure and elliptical comments with scholarly commentary of unusual breadth. Because Melville scholars have become accustomed to Horsford's reliability, however, I feel pressed to correct a small error in the English journals, a correction that could lead to a fuller appreciation of Melville's developing taste in statuary and public monuments.

On his fourth day in London, November 9, 1849, Melville took a "delightful" stroll through the city which included a look at the "cast iron Duke," an enormous equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington atop the arch at the southeast entrance to Hyde Park, just opposite the Duke's residence, Apsley House (14). Horsford's note identifies the statue correctly, but adds an erroneous sentence about its history and appearance: "Subscribed by the 'ladies of England' in 1822, it was cast from cannon captured in Wellington's victories over Napoleon, more or less modeled on one of the two colossal Dioscuri (or Horse-Tamers) before the Quirinal Palace in Rome (see the 1856-57 journal, 107.26-27), and miscalled 'Achilles'" (268). Had Horsford obtained illustrations of these two allegedly similar statues, he would have immediately seen that they look nothing alike (figures 1 and 2).


Somehow, Horsford confused a third statue with the one Melville notes. The "Achilles," an earlier statue dedicated to Wellington in Hyde Park, was a well known imitation of the Dioscuri, a resemblance immediately evident (fig. 3). Its original inscription notes that the monument is "cast in French Brass," dedicated to Wellington and his comrades, and "Is inscribed by their Countrywomen!!," all characteristics Horsford assigns to the "cast iron Duke." (2) While the inscription was apparently modified by 1852, (3) its substance remained the same, and if Melville saw the Achilles (he makes no note of it), he would have known exactly what he was seeing.


As the first nude statue in London, the Achilles generated considerable controversy when it was erected in 1822. According to F. Darrell Munsell, Wellington's well-placed friends in the House of Lords sought a more suitable and properly Victorian monument to their distinguished hero, and commissioned Matthew Cotes Wyatt to design an equestrian statue. The result was the even more controversial statue Melville mentions, a thirty-foot high monstrosity completed in 1846 and inappropriately placed atop the existing triumphal arch at the southeast entrance to Hyde Park, a work in place since 1826. Decimus Burton, the arch's architect, had intended to top it off with a quadriga, or horse-drawn chariot, representing "Victory." When the Wellington statue went up, Munsell recounts, palpable outrage inundated London, and the Royal Institute of British Architects passed a resolution condemning the statue's placement. Even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert let their displeasure be known, and for years the statue remained an object of ridicule, humor, embarrassment, and scorn. …

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