service before show

The travails and perils of finding a home. In the case of the Duke of Wellington, it took on palatial magnitude. Poor chap. All he really wanted was a little place in the country to relax and hunt. But to find a ducal home commensurate with Wellington’s public status was almost as trying as Napoleon. It took eight years and refusing about twenty-five possible palaces before Wellington finally decided. ….

…Is it possible then, to imagine this man, of all people, associating himself with Fonthill, that farrago of the sublime and the ridiculous? Or to believe that the Iron Duke, who slept at Walmer Castle on a soldier’s traveling bed, should have longed to raise his eyes to tassels and swags and gilded cupolas? It is tempting to conclude that the Duke never really wanted a palace. That the place was the dream of his countrymen, his friends, his architect. That his native austerity saw in all private palaces, a touch of ” the Palace of Beezlebub”; he wanted foxes and friends, a fine library, fine trees. Not a pocket borough for his son Douro. Not a dome but a home.

—Wellington and Copenhagen have been immortalized as a pair in various art mediums. The statue of Wellington astride Copenhagen now at Aldershot was first destined to stand at Hyde Park Corner. Wellington himself sat for the sculptor, Wyatt. Fittingly, much of the bronze in the statue is derived from French cannon captured at Waterloo and remelted in Wyatt’s foundry. Copenhagen, however, had died and a substitute horse, a mare called Rosemary was used as a model, offending many at the time who saw a poor likeness to Copenhagen in the statue.—Read More:

This view carries us into mythology. Popular imagination has seized upon the hero’s amp bed at Walmer, forgetting that at Aspley House he slept in a splendid French affair of mahogany and bronze. At Aspley House his new Waterloo gallery was a declaration of sheer magnificence. The hero could take grandeur in his stride. He might well have lived in a palace. The fact remains that he never did. Precisely why we do not know.

Certain events in his life may have had something to do with it. His ailing wife Kitty, lived until 1831, passionately fond of the old Stratfield Saye, pathetically unfitted to manage a Wyatt palace. As she lay dead inside Apsley House, its windows were broken by the mob. In Hampshire as elsewhere in rural Britain, there was to be rick burning by the landless poor. With all the social and economic unrest of those dangerous years Wellington may have felt that this was not the moment to start a long-postponed project, both costly and ostentatious. The expense of Apsley House probably made him think twice about a large agricultural estate, and with the death of Mrs. Arbuthnot in 1834, one of the most persuasive  voices in the buy or build a palace advocacy group died.

—A opportunity a few years later to purchase the complete library of Edward Gibbon gave Beckford the basis for his own library, and James Wyatt built Fonthill Abbey (above) in which to house this and the owner’s art collection. The abbey was of some reputer and Nelson himself in fact visited the Hamiltons in 1800, just seven years before its completion.
Becford lived most of his life in seclusion, spending much of his father’s wealth without adding to it, so that the great house he had built became a ruin. In 1822 he sold Fonthill to John Farquhar for £30,000 and moved to Bath where he bought No 20 Lansdown Crescent and No.1 Lansdown Place West, joining them with a one-storey arch thrown across a driveway. In 1836 he also bought Nos. 18 and 19 Lansdown Crescent (leaving No 18 empty to ensure peace and quiet).—Read More:

And so it all ended happily, except perhaps for the architect Wyatt and Fonthill Abbey. Wyatt never built his Blenheim. After erecting the Duke of York’s column in London under Wellington’s chairmanship, he quarreled and eventually broke with his most celebrated patron over a petty theft from he Apsley House of articles belonging to the Duke’s groom. Fonthill was liquidated of its fantastic contents within a week of purchase by the miserly Farquhar and two lyears later is soaring octagon tower collapsed, and the building was twice swept by fire.

Stratfield Saye, on the contrary, stands today as much as it stood when the Great Duke first set eyes on it in 1817, with the lovely river Loddon flowing through rushes and water crowfoot between its rising deer park and sloping green lawns. True, much valuable buhl furniture arrved from Paris in 1818, to be followed by marble columns from Italy, a continual stream of books and pictures to take their places beside Stratfield Saye’s original rococo chimney pieces and Chippendale mirrors, and the construction of two new outer wings for the west front.

—Here the first Duke, a spirited and independent widower, overcame his political unpopularity, held grand balls and was idolised.
He befriended some very peculiar ladies, including a Mrs Jenkins, whose appeal baffles Jane Wellesley, and Mrs Jones of Pantglas. Angela Burdett-Coutts proposed to him, and Queen Victoria had a lock of his hair made into a bracelet.
Read more:

But the “capabilities” of Stratfield Saye on which the Duke really concentrated were of a different order: windows with double glazing copied from Russia; nine water closets attached to bedrooms for his guests; patent Arnott stoves to warm his new conservatory; and a powerful central -heating system with indestructible iron pipes, to remind visitors, both then and now, that the Great Duke always put service before show.

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(see link at end)…April 1806 was a busy month for Arthur Wellesley: he was elected as MP for the borough of Rye on 1 April; on 10th he married Catherine Pakenham in Dublin. She was the daughter of Baron Longford, also one of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. In 1791, Wellington was in debt and Lord Longford refused to allow him to marry Kitty; it seems that Wellington felt obliged to keep his promise to marry her even though he found her very trying. Kitty was over-emotional, self-critical, and easily depressed. She was incompetent as a housekeeper and continually found herself in debt, which infuriated Wellington, whom she hero-worshipped. She was described by contemporaries as unaffected and simple-minded. Kitty died on 24 April 1831, but the couple had been estranged for a long time prior to that. Read More:


( see link at end)…. John Ruskin: Too many of our English victories (we are in the extremely bad habit of forgetting our defeats) have been of this accidental character, their blunders redeemed by hard fighting and cruel loss. On the other hand, all Friedrich’s battles are composed with the precision of a musical arrangement. When he fails, it is either because his orders have been disobeyed, or because difficulties occur in their execution which no foresight could have anticipated. . . . It is especially also to be noticed that Friedrich’s battles are all passionate. He loses his head in defeat, rides away out of the first sight of it at Mollwitz, protracts the ruin of Kolin in desperation, and would fain have fallen by a chance bullet at Kunersdorf. The Duke of Wellington is totally the contrary of him in this particular. His battles are the severe application of perfect military science, with perfect coolness of nerve, absolutely conquered passion (such passion as he had to conquer), a certain quantity always of the best soldier material in the world to work with (Irish and Scotch), with admirable staff officers for friends, and usually second- or third-rate ones for his enemies. Until 1815, he had never met one good general except Maséna; — over whom he gained no advantage. But he never makes a mistake, never neglects a detail, never falls ino a trap, and never misses an opportunity. Also, when he sees that a thing can be done, he does it, without asking how many men it will cost. It will for ever remain a question between the two nations whether Waterloo was lost by Napoleon’s misuse of his cavalry, or Wellington’s discipline of his infantry. But there is no question at all that a general of the highest quality, — Friedrich, Black Edward, or Castruccio de’ Castracani, — with the entire force of Prussia and England at his command, would have crushed Napoleon without losing ten thousand men in a single day.

Wellington, in other words, has many soldierly virtues, to be sure, but he turns out to be second-rate, rather uninspired general who needlessly sacrificed his men. Such a judgment might appear a change of heart from Ruskin’s earlier mention of him in “Pre-Raphaelitism” (1853) in the context of criticizing modern sculpture:

You have a portrait, for instance, of the Duke of Wellington at the end of the North Bridge — one of the thousand equestrian statues of Modernism — studied from the show-riders of the amphitheatre, with their horses on their hind-legs in the saw-dust. Do you suppose that was the way the Duke sat when your destinies depended on him? when the foam hung from the lips of his tired horse, and its wet limbs were dashed with the bloody slime of the battle-field, and he himself sat anxious in his quietness, grieved in his fearlessness, as he watched, scythe-stroke by scythe-stroke, the gathering in of the harvest of death? You would have done something had you thus left his image in the enduring iron, but nothing now.

Ruskin certainly seems closer to the adulation of the Iron Duke in the years immediately after his death than he does in his more substantial later estimate, but one must note that the critic here characteristically writes polemically and therefore he uses his quasi-biblical description of Wellington largely to point out the differences between Wellington’s reputation and the poor sculptural representation of him. Read More:

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