Happy Birthday, Will

This is the day we celebrate both the birth and death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

No lover of England or the English language can ignore the primacy of Shakespeare for the beauty of his language, the brilliance of his plots, or the emotion his work engenders.

Most beloved, most admired, most quoted: “To be, or not to be. That is the question.”
Just one of the many from Hamlet.

Here is Victoria’s favorite from the Sonnets, Number 29.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

 Shakespeare’s Statue in Leicester Square, London

London and Waterloo Tour – Apsley House

One of the very first stops Victoria and I will be making together is a visit to Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s London home.  Apsley House is, of course, the place from which we took the name for this blog. The house became familiarly known as Number One, London as it was the first house after the Knightsbridge toll gates that travelers passed upon entering London.

Apsley House, originally a red brick building, was built between 1781-1787 by neo-classical architect Robert Adam for Baron Apsley, later the second Earl Bathurst. It was purchased by Marquess Wellesley, elder brother to Arthur Wellesley, in 1807, with financial difficulties following soon after. Needing a base of operations and residence in London, and seeking to ease his brother’s financial burdens, the ever practical Duke purchased the house in 1817.
Wellington settled upon architect Benjamin Wyatt to carry out restorations to Apsley House. Wyatt  expanded Apsley by two bays, and built the Waterloo Gallery for the Duke’s paintings and refaced the house with Bath stone. Wellington presided over the redecoration of Apsley House’s interiors in Regency fashion and hosted annual Waterloo Banquets to commemorate his victory of 1815, entertaining fellow officers from his campaigns in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.

The house was used for entertaining on a grand scale, and Wellington’s great dinner and dessert services are on display. The Sèvres Egyptian Service was commissioned by Napoleon for his Empress Josephine. The vast silver Portuguese Service, with an 8 metre long centrepiece, adorned the table at the annual Waterloo Banquet, a great event at which the Duke entertained officers who had served under him at Waterloo and in the Peninsular War.

From 1992-1995 Apsley House was restored to its former glory as the private palace of the ‘Iron Duke’. Apsley House is the last great London town-house with collections largely intact and family still in residence.

The first Duke of Wellington possessed a collection of art and fine furnishings perhaps unrivalled by any contemporary.  After the Duke’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, grateful nations and private citizens showered Wellington with gifts of thanks, including a fine Sevres porcelain service from Louis XVIII of France, and superlative Portuguese silver.

There are also 200 paintings from the royal collection of the Kings of Spain that Wellington recovered from Joseph Bonaparte after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. After King Ferdinand VII was reinstated as monarch, he asked Wellington to keep the paintings as a gift of thanks. The Duke, no fool he, agreed. Among these paintings are works by Goya, Velasquez, Correggio, and Rubens.

Front and centre upon entering Apsley is Antonio Canova’s huge statue of Napoleon, portrayed as an ancient Greek athlete. The sword carried by Wellington at Waterloo is on display in the Plate and china Room, as well as the sword of his great foe Napoleon.

I suppose I should come clean and confess that the last time I was at Apsley House I set off the alarms. Really. It was in the Waterloo Chamber. I was looking at the 8 metre long silver centerpiece on the table and simply could not believe my eyes. The entire thing was coated in a layer of dust. My eyes must be deceiving me, thought I, as I wiped a fingertip across one of the figures. Well, not only was there, indeed, dust on my finger, but the alarms began sounding and by the time a guard entered the room, I’d turned my back and was studying the full length portrait of George IV. No matter that I was the only person in the room, I simply acted as though nothing at all had happened. And as far as I’m concerned, it hadn’t. Hopefully, they feel the same and will let me back in this June.   Kristine

Happy Birthday to Our Queen

Happy Birthday, Queen Elizabeth II,
age 84 today.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Victoria here. As long as I can remember, I’ve looked at pictures of the Queen and her sister Princess Margaret, probably in Life magazines. I was convinced that they were my cousins, though they were much better dressed than the cousins I played with in Illinois and Wisconsin. Funny how I must have been spirited away from my REAL family in the Palace and dropped into the American Midwest.

Well, a writer needs a vivid imagination and I certainly have one! Nevertheless, this perceived connection between Elizabeth R and me has never been driven out of my system. I am sure we are related somehow.
 

The only time I saw the Queen up close and in person was in Toronto in 2002 while she was on her Golden Jubilee tour. There was a small crowd around her hotel when she came out to begin her royal duties for the day. She was wearing a lovely purple (aubergine!) suit with matching hat and shoes. She is TINY.
 
 


The Queen has ruled since 1952, so for most of us, her reign covers our entire lives or darn close to it. She has had more than her share of family problems, hasn’t she? Every time I go to London, I find she has many reasonable excuses for not having her cousins over to tea.

I was almost afraid to see the film The Queen with Helen Mirren a couple of years ago. Luckily. I enjoyed it, because I thought it treated my royal pseudo-relative with dignity and sympathy. In our family, we are not afraid to re-evaluate and change our minds when the situation requires. Or perhaps is it just that I also might be related to Oscar-award winner Helen Mirren?

The official British celebration of the Queen’s birthday will be on Saturday, June 12, 2010, at Trooping the Colour, a traditional pageant at Horse Guards.

Above photos from 2009 Trooping the Colour
The Queen used to review the troops on horseback. Below, a view of her as Princess at Trooping the Colour, an old postcard
         So many happy returns of the day, dear lady. God save the Queen.
The official site of the British Monarchy here.

Serendipity, Horace Walpole, and Me

By Victoria Hinshaw

I love the word – and the concept of – Serendipity. The word was invented by one of the 18th century’s most interesting characters, Horace Walpole (1717-97), whose life neatly spanned the century and, to my mind, rather defined the times.

Serendipity means discovering connections between thoughts or objects by happy accident. I first learned the word when I had a most pleasant meal on E. 60th Street in New York City at a charming restaurant named Serendipity. It was a serendipitous event! The discovery of a new concept while in the act of enjoying a new place (this was a very long time ago).

Recently, while working on a piece for this blog (see posts of March 29 and 31) on William Petty-FitzMaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne (1737 – 1805), who was The Earl of Shelburne and Prime Minister 1782-1783, I learned that Walpole, himself an opinionated and eccentric character, did not like Shelburne, also famously opinionated and eccentric. How serendipitous, I thought, for I was also planning to do a piece on Walpole and the upcoming exhibitions of his treasures at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Which reminded me of the restaurant in New York; when I Googled it, I happily found it still prospering. Then I read that Walpole had coined the word Serendipity.

Amazing.

All of which is a long and involved introduction to my little essay on Horace Walpole, architect, author, collector, raconteur, bon vivant, and writer of 48 printed volumes of correspondence.

Horace was a younger son of Sir Robert Walpole, first Earl of Orford, and England’s first Prime Minister during the reign of the first two Georges. Horace received an ideal gentleman’s education at Eton and Cambridge followed by a Grand Tour. He had wide ranging interests and made many friends, devoting himself to arts and culture. Though he served as a member of the House of Commons, he had an independent income which enabled him to pursue his eclectic interests by collecting and carefully developing his tastes. Widely considered a superb connoisseur, he and his friends spent years converting his villa in Twickenham into a neo-Gothic structure.

Strawberry Hill
 
My immediate interest is in the exhibition which, according to reports, recreates the ambience of the actual house: Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill. Kristine has already seen the entire show when it was at the Yale Center for British Art, in New Haven, Connecticut. Her report: “I loved it. Many dark gothic-looking pieces he’d collected.” I can’t wait to see it in June in London.
In her review of the V and A Exhibition, Amanda Vickery quotes Michael Snodin, curator of the exhibition. He writes: Walpole “as a lively and incisive commentator shaped the way we see 18th-century politics and society. As the most important collector of his time he created a form of thematised historical display which prefigured modern museums. And Strawberry Hill was the most influential building of the early Gothic revival.” Her full review here.
The house itself, along with its collections, was developed over a period of years, adding or redoing a room from time to time, between 1747 and 1790. Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill is published by Yale University Press in association with the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University; the Yale Center for British Art; and the V and A. The catalogue is edited by the exhibition curators, Michael Snodin of the V and A and Cynthia Roman of the Lewis Walpole Library.
It was at Strawberry Hill that Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, the prototype for the Gothick novel boom that consumed popular literature for several succeeding decades.

Here is another aside: Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothick novels that always featured an innocent young lady at peril in an old castle or ruined religious structure, fearing at every moment the mysterious rattle of chains, the gloomy wailing of the winds and the sinister dark males that threaten A Fate Worse Than Death. Rather reminds me of the current crazes for vampires, werewolves and zombies.

Walpole, or his housekeeper for the less exalted tourists, often gave tours to visitors. He created and printed a guidebook to the house and its collections. After he died in 1797, the house was left to his friend and relative Lady Anne Seymour Damer, a renowned scupltor in her own right. She died without issue and their mutual relatives, the Waldegraves, took over. In 1842, the contents of the house were auctioned. The exhibition brings together for the first time since then almost 300 items from Walpole’s collections and furnishings. The Strawberry Hill house is being renovated and will reopen soon.
One of the highlights is a suit of gilded parade armour. Walpole
believed it belonged to King Francis I of France but the V and A curators date it about 1600.
Horace Walpole’s intimate personal life has fascinated fellow dilettantes as well as scholars and literary analysts. He never married and was known for effeminate behavior. He numbered many man and also many women among his closest and most intimate friends. But no one has proven anything; perhaps the best answer is that he was asexual, turning his energies to his collections and other artistic interests. 
Among Horace Walpole’s greatest achievements are the many insights his letters and other writings give into the society politics and culture of 18th Century Britain.
He was witty, erudite and voluble. Just reading a few letters makes one long for just an hour of his time to enjoy the conversation in person rather than on the page. Some have called him pretentious, effete, arrogant and peculiar. Perhaps those qualities only added to his charm.
Right,  Strawberry Hill interior
To conclude, where did Horace Walpole come up with that word SERENDIPITY? He found it in a Persian story, once the name for Sri Lanka. Here is a quotation from a letter he wrote in 1754 to Horace Mann, an English friend who lived in Florence:
“It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a camel blind of the right eye had traveled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table.”
If you are fortunate enough to be in London in the next few months (6 March-4 July, 2010), I hope you will join the V and A and me in celebrating the fascinating, serendipitous Horace Walpole.

Living With the Duke of Wellington

I’ve been living with the Duke of Wellington for nigh on thirty years now – reading about him, researching him and, perhaps most fun, collecting items associated with him. The first portrait of the Duke I ever bought is pictured at right. If you can believe it, I stumbled upon it in a thrift store in Florida and paid just $99 for it. Afterwards, I brought a photo of it with me to London and took it to Grosvenor Prints in Seven Dials and asked the gentleman there what he thought it was worth. He hemmed and hawed on giving me an appraisal without actually seeing the piece, but did tell me that mine was one of a series of eight engravings done shortly after the Duke’s death to commemorate the high points thereof. My engraving shows the Duke being installed as Chancellor of Oxford University and the frame is rosewood. When I told the man how much, or how little, I’d paid for the piece, he peered at me over the top of his glasses and said, “Madam, you got yourself a bargain.”

The next portrait I bought was this reproduction of Thomas Phillips’s 1814 painting of the Duke. Unfortunately, there isn’t an amusing story attached to this purchase, just ordered it through the mail, took it to be framed and matted and hung it above my fireplace. I must say, though, Artie looks tres festive when wreathed in garland at the holidays! My father bought the pheasant at an auction decades ago and when he returned home with it, both my mother and myself thought he was crazy. However, now I’m ever so glad he found it, as it’s so veddy Victorian in appearance and goes quite well on the mantle, non?

On a subsequent trip to London, I returned to Grosvenor Prints and spent quite a few hours perusing their Duke of Wellington stock, finally choosing this engraving because it seemed to match the first engraving in size and subject composition. It’s a contemporary engraving of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s 1821 portrait of the Duke, with Copenhagen’s head visible in the lower left corner. I had it matted and framed to match the first engraving.

On that same visit, I also bought this engraving of Elizabeth Hay, 2nd Duchess of Wellington and favorite daughter-in-law of the Duke. I also have an engraving of the Duke showing Elizabeth over the field of Waterloo on horseback. My husband tries to make me understand that these pictures should all be hung together, museum-like in a large room or gallery and not ranged over every conceivable bit of wall space in a smallish family home in which current day people actually live. I told him that I agreed. The collection as a whole would look infinitely better in a townhouse in Bath’s Royal Crescent or a Grade II listed period home in, say, Gloucestershire. I further told him that as soon as he bought me one or the other I would move each and every picture and knick knack to our new house. No need to tell you that I’m still waiting for word that our Georgian manor home has been purchased.  
One wall in my office is taken up with various prints and here hangs Sir Thomas Lawrence’s most iconic image of the Duke, as well as the engraving on the field of Waterloo I mentioned earlier at bottom left. The framed document in the middle is a land indenture and the document at top right is an edition of the London Chronicle from 1771. Prince Leopold (or Leopold, King of the Belgians) is matted in red top left. Can I tell you how much enjoyment my passion for the past has afforded me over the years, giving me the excuse to visit bookshops, printsellers, antique shops and stalls and the like?  While I love each find, I think my favorite piece of Wellington memorabilia is one of his handwritten envelopes, seal still intact, that I found on Ebay!
And, of course, all the book finds, whether associated with the Duke or not. Here are but a few. It always makes me chuckle when people ask me whether I’ve actually read them all. Obviously, these people are a breed apart from you and I. So, that’s a quick tour of my Wellington collection. When we go to London in June, Victoria and I plan to visit Grosvenor Prints and the bookstores in Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court. No doubt we’ll be coming home with more finds.

I can hear my husband groaning now.