Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Notes about Ernst Lotichius

Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 1907–50, Vol. XXIII, p. 407: “Lotichius, Ernst, Tier-, Genre- u. Landschaftsmaler aus Wiesbaden, ausgebildet in Düsseldorf; seit 1841 in München tätig.” The bibliographical reference to Nagler, vol. VIII is wrong. It is Vol. IX, p. 58. There’s also a reference to “Kat. Ausst. Rhein. Kstver. Mainz 1839 u. 1846.”

Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon: Bio-Bibliographischer Index A–Z, Munich: K. G. Saur, Vol. 6 (2000), p. 352. There’s not much more there than was given in Thieme–Becker, except they have 1841 as Lotichius’s earliest appearance, and 1858 as his last. They also give D[eutschland] and U.S.A. as his nationalities, and references to Groce & Wallace, and Ludwig.

Georg Kaspar Nagler, Neues allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon, Leipzig: Schwarzenberg and Schumann, 1872–85, Vol. IX, p. 58, where “Lotichius, Ernst, Maler von Wiesbaden, bildete sich auf der Akademie zu Düsseldorf, doch kennen wir seine Lebensverhältnisse nicht. Er malt Genrestücke,” which doesn’t get us very much further, but let us presume that Ernst did not shine auf der Akademie, which is why they couldn’t furnish the Lebensverhältnisse.

H. Ludwig, ed., Münchner Maler im 19. Jahrhundert, Munich: Bruckmann, 1981–94, Vol. 3, p. 77. In her entry for Ernst Lotichius, Christiane Sternsdorf-Hauck writes: “Ab 1841 war er in München ausässig und betätigte sich dort als Tier-, Genre- und Landschaftsmaler.” There’s a B&W illustration of a horrible Rast am Paß, which looks not dissimilar to the description of what is in this painting. It’s 32 x 39.5 cm, signed with a monogram u.l., and dated 1838 “(München: Galerie Gebhardt).” The monogram consists of a regular capital L, with a back-to-front capital E using the same vertical stroke.

George C. Groce and David H. Wallace, The New York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564–1860, New Haven and New York: The Society, 1957, p. 404, meanwhile, gives “Lotichius, Ernest. Animal, landscape, and genre painter. He was working in Düsseldorf and Munich about 1841, but by 1858 had settled in N.Y.C., exhibiting in that year a hunting scene and a view in the Catskills.” The references are back to Thieme–Becker, but also, usefully, to “Cowdrey, NAD.”

Mary Bartlett Cowdrey, National Academy of Design Exhibition Record, 1826–1860, New York: The Academy, 1943, Vol. 1, p. 299, states: “Lotichius, Ernest (active 1858) / 1858: Address 347 Broadway. / 183. A Pointer and Setter Pointing Quails. / 202. Catskill Mountains Near Palenville. For sale.” Just to be certain, I double-checked Maria Naylor, ed., National Academy of Design Exhibition Record, 1861–1900, New York: Kennedy Galleries, 1973, Vol. 1, p. 575, which is obviously a continuation of Cowdrey, and made a satisfactory breakthrough: “LOTESHIUS (or LOTISHIUS), Ernest, 1866 No address given. / 400. Danger in the Rear. The Artist.” The form of the name sounds very much like a vague but plucky reading of unclear longhand, and not an Ellis Island special.

There’s a picture by him in the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at the State University of New York at New Paltz: “Ernest Lotichius (1840–1874), Deer in the Morning Mist, 1858,” but I am not sure where they are getting those dates. And there are only three pictures showing up on artnet.com, and only one with a photo (the first). The details:

(1) Ernst Lotichius, Farmstead with a River View, 1857, oil on canvas, 12 x 18 inches (30.5 x 45.7 cm) “Signed and inscribed [presumably with date?].” Fine American and European Paintings, Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers, Milford, Conn., Thursday, October 26, 2000, lot 207, est. $1,500–2,000, sold for $2,875 with premium.

(2) Ernst Lotichius, An Early View of New York with Figures and Cattle by a Mill, 1821 [sic], possibly 1871? Oil on canvas, 26 x 36 inches (66 x 91.4 cm) Fine English and Continental Furniture, Decorations and Paintings, Doyle, New York, Auctioneers and Appraisers, Wednesday, February 23, 1994, lot 56, est. $2,000–3,000, sold for $3,220.

(3) Ernst Lotichius, Gebirgsbauernhof, im Vordergrund links Wegkreuz, dahinter Kornfeld, no date, oil on canvas, 9.4 x 11.8 inches (23.9 x 30 cm) “signed”. Hugo Ruef Kunstauktionen, Munich, Thursday, March 25, 1993, lot 664, est 1,800 DM, bought in.

View in the Catskills with Deer by “Ernest” Lotichius was reproduced in Magazine Antiques, Vol. 95, February 1969, p. 205.

The family appeared to have been distinguished. According to J. G. E. Bernstein, “Biographie des Lotichius Secundus,” Zeitschrift für die Provinz Hanau, Vol. 1, 1839, p. 182: “Gedachter Entel, Johann Abraham Lotichius hinterließ drei Sonne: der eine, Johann Philipp, lebte als Pfarrer in Frankfurt; der leßte, Johann Ludwig, war daselbst Kaufmann, sein Sohn zog als solcher nach England; von dem mittlesten Sohn des Magisters stammt die Lotichius’sche familie in Wiesbaden, deren jeßiger Absömmling Ernst Lotichius sich der Malerei mit entschiedenem Talent gewidmet hat.”

But according to Gustav Toepke’s Die Matrikel der Universität Heidelberg, Heidelberg: Carl Winter’s Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1904, Vol. 5, p. 477, Ernst Lotichius of Wiesbaden matriculated at Heidelberg on November 26, 1831, aged 18. He was Protestant, but is this our man?

Finally, there is German wiki—to be approached with extreme caution, but new flecks of detail emerge:

Ernst Lotichius (*1787 in Wiesbaden [can this be the right man?]; †1876 in Wiesbaden) war ein deutscher Künstler. Lotichius studierte an der Düsseldorfer Akademie Malerei. Er war der Sohn des in Wiesbaden-Clarenthal ansässigen Johann Friedrich Lotichius, der Herzoglich Nassauischer Domänenrath war. Von ihm ist bekannt, dass er 1839 und 1846 im damals berühmten Rheinischen Kunstverein zu Mainz ausgestellt hat. Längere Zeit arbeitete Lotichius in Kronberg im Taunus, in München und in Amerika. Den Kontakt zu seiner Heimatstadt hat der Künstler stets gepflegt. Seinen Lebensabend verbrachte er in Wiesbaden.

They list another picture in the Museum Wiesbaden, Frachtführer auf einer Alpenstraße, 1838, Öl/Leinw. 32 x 39.5 cm, Inv. Nr.: M 942.

But according to AskART („The Artists Blue Book“
www.askart.com/AskART/artists/ biography.aspx? artist=10033353) Lotichius‘s dates are Wiesbaden 1840–1876 Wiesbaden. No sources are given, but they remark: „An animal, landscape, and genre painter, Ernest Lotichius received his initial art instruction in Germany, working in Dusseldorf and Munich until 1841. He emigrated to the United States, settling in New York City by 1858. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design under the name of Loteshius, and also exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Association, Zanesville Industrial Exposition, Philadelphia Sketch Club, and the Cosmopolitan Art Association.

According to the Art Sales Index a picture entitled The Hudson Valley, 1860 (signed and dated), o/c, 30 x 25 in (76.2 x 63.5) was sold by William J. Jenack Fine Art Appraisers and Auctioneers are at 62 Kings Highway Bypass, Chester, N.Y., November 14, 2004, lot 174, est. $1,000–1,500, hammer: $7,250.

Manfred Grosskinsky et al. (Kunstlandschaft Rhein-Main: Malerei im 19. Jahrhundert, 1806–1866, Frankfurt am Main: Haus Giersch-Museum Regionaler Kunst, 2000, p. 83) give “Ernst Lotichius (1813–1876),” presumably based on that record of matriculation in Heidelberg.

So, in nuce: Born Wiesbaden 1813, the son of Johann Friedrich L., a senior Protestant official of the ducal province of Hesse-Nassau. Metriculated at U. Heidelberg aged 18 in November 1831, but evidently drops out. Studies at the Akademie zu Düsseldorf, with mixed results. Was well enough known by 1838 to rate a mention in the local Hanau provincial family history, by which time (1839) he was also exhibiting pictures at the Rheinischen Kunstverein in Mainz (then again in 1846). He worked “for a long time” in Kronberg im Taunus, and (maybe from 1841) in Munich and maybe also Düsseldorf. He was presumably in Australia by 1855—hitherto completely undocumented. But did he actually go there? The evidence of this picture suggests to me that he did, even if only briefly. If indeed he went, presumably he got a nasty sort of surprise and fairly soon decided to sail onward across the Pacific to the United States of America. By 1858 he lived at 347 Broadway in New York. (The present site is near the corner of Broadway and Leonard Street in Tribeca.) He is documented showing at the National Academy of Design (1858 and 1866), the Brooklyn Art Association, the Zanesville Industrial Exposition (Zanesville, Ohio, 1873), the Philadelphia Sketch Club, and the Cosmopolitan Art Association in New York. He is said to have spent his Lebensabend in Wiesbaden (wiki), and apparently died there in 1876, but I wonder if this is true.

Millais in Melbourne

The National Gallery of Victoria’s recent survey, Australian Impressionism, drew attention to the strong impact upon local portraiture in the 1880s and 1890s of the work of John Everett Millais, G. F. Watts, and James McNeill Whistler, especially upon Tom Roberts. (See my “Colony and Capital in Australian Impressionist Portraiture,” in Terence Lane, ed., Australian Impressionism, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2007, pp. 181–99.) Although none of these comes as a surprise, it has not previously been demonstrated that the avenue of communication between London and Melbourne was sustained so directly by the long residence in Victoria of Millais’s older half-brother Clement Hodgkinson. (Ibid., pp. 182–4, and n. 17, p. 305.) In 1881, both brothers replied angrily in print to a long, meandering review of Millais’s exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery in New Bond Street by the London correspondent of the Argus, who claimed, somewhat perversely, that Millais was the son of “a small shopkeeper in Jersey.” (April 23, 1881, p. 13. The same exhibition was referred to in Punch as “The Millais-Nium in New Bond Street,” March 26, 1881.) Millais objected:

To the Editor of the Argus


Some good natured friend…has sent me a most offensive article on my exhibition in Bond Street. He commences with “Mr. Millais was as most people are aware the son of a small shopkeeper in Jersey” and goes on to say that Mr. Millais said to Mr. Hunt, “Now I am going to paint a picture in your way” and continues to the end to misrepresent and falsify everything in connection with my work and myself. Neither my father, grandfather or great-great-grandfather ever kept a shop, large or small, I never made such an observation to Mr. Hunt as he himself will tell you if you care to ask. I would not have taken the trouble to write thus but your paper has a reputation here as well as in Australia and I think it right you should be advised of the carelessness (to use the mildest term) of your London correspondent. I will only add, I was not born in Jersey, that the “child” in “The Order of Release” was not one of my wife’s brothers and that my father was of no occupation having…independent means.

John Everett Millais

Writing separately on the spot in Melbourne, Clement Hodgkinson took care to underline the fact that those independent means were acquired as a consequence of their mother’s first marriage to the Southampton brewer Enoch Hodgkinson (April 25, 1881, p. 5). If the episode caused tension between the brothers, no evidence of it survives; at least two of Millais’s eight children later went to Melbourne and stayed with their Uncle Clement: Everett in 1881 or 1882 (Trumble, n. 23, p. 305), and one of his four daughters (see no. 4, below).

A sequence of eighteen gossipy and in most cases wildly inaccurate notes about Millais published anonymously between its establishment in 1885 and 1896 by Maurice Brodzky (1847–1919) in the weekly Melbourne society paper
Table Talk further underscores the otherwise sparsely documented imminence in Melbourne of Millais’s enormous reputation. In conformity with the detailed coverage of imperial and international affairs in the wider colonial press, as well as thorough reporting of events in the London art world, these disparate notes about Millais suggest that in the last quarter of the nineteenth century the psychic distance between imperial capital and colonial outpost was considered far less enormous in Melbourne than in London, and that it was actually later generations of Australian artists, who, in the mid-twentieth century, felt more keenly what Geoffrey Blainey so deftly described in the phrase “tyranny of distance.”


1. December 11, p. 1: “Have you seen Millais’s portrait of Mr. Simon Fraser [private collection, Queensland]? Don’t miss it. Millais was in ecstasy over painting such a Cromwell-like head, and said he didn’t like to take the money—a paltry hundred guineas per sitting, of an hour each, and eighteen sittings…Mr. à Beckett, the artist, pleased me greatly with his portrait of Bishop [Charles] Perry, at the [Melbourne International] Exhibition, five years ago. I expect to be equally gratified with his Mr. Justice [Robert] Molesworth. Like [George Frederick] Folingsby—and indeed like Millais—à Beckett seizes the characteristic traits which invariably elude a photograph.”


2. March 11, p. 3: “Any day may be seen opposite Sir John Millais’s house an artist who illustrates the pavement with designs in coloured chalks. Under the designs which this humble individual offers to public criticism is written—‘Here lies the poor artist, there (with hand pointing) resides the rich one.’”
Punch (March 19, 1881, “London paved with gold”) had suggested that Whistler and Burne-Jones collaborate to produce pavement drawings in chalk.

3. March 18, p. 16 “Personal”: “Lady Millais, wife of the artist Sir John Millais, was formerly the wife of John Ruskin, from whom she was procured.”

4. May 21, p. 11: “Amongst the festivities now being given in Melbourne in honor of Miss Millais, daughter of Sir John Everett Millais, R.A., were an afternoon tea party by Mrs. Godfrey Mackinnon of Hawthorn, and another tea party on Saturday afternoon, May 15, by [Thomas Ann,] Mrs. Ward-Cole at Brighton. Amongst those who were invited to meet Miss Millais at Mrs. Ward-Cole’s residence were:—[Major-]General and Mrs. [Francis] Downes, Colonel and Mrs. Walker. Colonel and Mrs. Brownrigg, Major and Mrs. Fellowes, Mr. [George Frederick], [Julia,] Mrs., and the Misses [Sophia and Elfrida] Bartropp, Mr. and Mrs. A[?gar]. E. Wynne, Mr. and Mrs. Godfrey Mackinnon, Miss Smith (Wellington-street, St. Kilda), and Miss Thomas.”

5. May 28, p. 2: “Messrs. A. and F. Pears, the well-known soap makers, have purchased Sir John Millais’ painting ‘Bubbles’ for £2,200.”

6. September 10, p. 2: “A draft for two thousand guineas has just been forwarded to Sir John Millais, by the bereft parents of a little boy who died in Melbourne of inflammation of the brain a few weeks ago. The draft was accompanied by a photograph of the child, and a commission to paint his portrait for the afore named [
sic]…The trustees of the Melbourne National Gallery have declined to purchase the ‘Love Bird,’ which was sent out from London in the expectation of being thus disposed of.”


7. April 1, p. 3: “Sir John Millais, who is painting Lord Hartington’s portrait, is likely to be overwhelmed with commissions for the likenesses of political celebrities, as a recent sale has shown what profit can be realized over such art.”


8. June 22, p. 3 “Personal”: “Sir John Millais, the eminent portrait painter, was, like Sir Henry Loch [
sic], long ago, an Australian gold-digger [sic].”

9. August 10, p. 3: “Looking at Sir. J. E. Millais’ portrait of the daughter of Baron Rothschild, mounted on a horse, painted by Sir Edwin Landseer—it is just on the right-hand side as you enter the British gallery in the Exhibition—I could not help thinking of the words of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. ‘Money kept for two or three generations,’ he writes, ‘transforms a race. I don’t mean merely in manners and hereditary culture, but in blood and bone. Money buys air and sunshine, in which children grow up more kindly, than in close dark streets. It buys country-places to give them happy and healthy summers, good nursing, good doctoring, and the best cuts of beef and mutton. When the young chickens come to market,—I beg your pardon, that is not what I was going to speak of. As the young females of each successive season come on, the best specimens among them, other things being equal, expect to attract those who can afford the expensive finery of beauty. The physical character of the next generation rises in consequence.’ So fine a specimen of womankind could never have been reared amidst the squalid surroundings of the Judengasse, at Frankfort, but at Mentone or Ferrarières there are all the conditions spoken of by Dr. Holmes, and the third generation of the Rothschilds has produced the finest fruit on the ancestral tree.”


10. January 11: “It appears that not only was the Marquis of Salisbury in Australasia in the early days, but Sir John Millais [
sic], the eminent painter, and Mr. [Thomas] Woolner, the well-known sculptor, were also in Victoria. Mr. Woolner did not take to the diggings [sic], but Sir George [sic] Millais tried his luck at Bendigo; and as he and the marquis of Salisbury (then Mr. [sic] Robert Cecil) were contemporaries on the Bendigo goldfield some 35 years ago, they must have occasionally brushed against each other, both being probably attired in the regulation cabbage-tree hat, red shirt, and moleskin trousers—the orthodox digger’s working costume.”

11. April 18, p. 7: “A Competitive Prize Exhibition open to art amateurs and students only, will be instituted by Messrs. Raphael Tuck, in January, 1890, at the galleries of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-color, Piccadilly, London. The judges will be Sir John Everett Millais, R.A., Mr. Marcus Stone, R.A., Mr. G. H. Broughton, A.R.A., and Mr. Solomon J. Solomon, R.A. There will be one hundred prizes, three of which will be first prizes of fifty guineas each, and others in different grades. The exhibition is restricted to art amateurs and students alone—and professional work will in no case be admitted. Copies of the rules and regulations may be had from the Melbourne agents.


12. June 19, p. 3 “Australian Purchases in London”: “Australians crowded to the Royal Academy Exhibition during the last month. The small picture by Mr. Samuel Bigg, entitled ‘In Front of the Grand Stand at the Finish of the Melbourne Cup,’ naturally attracted considerable attention. Of the pictures marked ‘sold,’ Mr. Frank Dicksee’s ‘The Crisis,’ Mr. J. W. Waterhouse’s ‘Ulysses and the Sirens,’ [both National Gallery of Victoria] and a watercolor by [Friedrich Edouard] Meyerheime [
sic], were specially criticized by Australians, these three having been selected by Mr. [Hubert von] Herkomer, R.A., as most desirable additions for the Victorian National Gallery, and they will be sent to Melbourne at the close of the Academy Exhibition in August. In addition to disposing of ‘The Crisis’ to the trustees of the Victorian National Gallery, Mr. Dicksee has sold his allegorical picture, ‘Mountain of the Winds,’ to Mr. W[illiam]. Knox D’Arcy, the Mount Morgan millionaire, formerly a solicitor at Rockhampton, who, by the way, is having a magnificent drawing-room, 50 feet in length, added to his mansion in Middlesex—Stanmore Hall—which he purchased recently from John Holland, late M.P. for Brighton. Mr. [George] McCulloch, another wealthy Australian, has purchased Mr. Stanhope Forbes’s ‘Soldiers and Sailors,’ and one of Mrs. Stanhope Forbes’ quaint bits of Cornish child-life. His gallery will also shortly be enriched by the addition of a new canvas by Sir John Everett Millais, and an excellent subject from the brush of Mr. David Murray.”

13. June 26, p. 4: “Art and Artists: Mr. George McCulloch”: Mr. George McCulloch, the Broken Hill ‘Silver King,’ has lately been making some further heavy purchases in the London picture market. The latest additions to his collection include Sir John Millais’ ‘Lingering Autumn;’ ‘The Salvation Army, 1891,’ by Stanhope Forbes;’ ‘A Highland Glen,’ by Peter Graham; ‘High, Low, Jack, and the Game,’ by Hamilton Macallum; ‘The Judgment of Paris,’ by Solomon J. Solomon; and ‘Lay Thy Sweet Hand in Mine and Trust in Me,’ by E. Blair Leighton.”


14. May 8, p. 2 “Personal”: Sir John Millais’ first picture was purchased by Charles Reade, the novelist. Ruskin said that it was not a failure, but a fiasco, and kicked a hole in the picture.”

15. May 15, p. 1: “Sir John Millais, the new president of the Royal Academy, has been down to the Queen to have his appointment confirmed. He is a modest man, fond of telling stories that turn the laugh against himself—for instance, the little encounter he had with a compatriot. He was down by the banks of the Tay, painting in the rushes in his famous landscape, ‘Chill October.’ He worked on so steadily that he failed to observe a watcher, until a voice said: ‘Eh, mon, did ye ever try photography?’ ‘No,’ said the artist, ‘I never have.’ ‘It’s a deal quicker,’ quoth his friendly critic, eyeing the picture doubtfully. Millais was not flattered, so he waited a minute before replying, ‘I daresay it is.’ His lack of enthusiasm displeased the Scot, who took another good look, then marched off with this Parthian shot: ‘Ay, and photography’s muckle sight mair like the place, too!’ Lady Millais is received at Court notwithstanding the rather peculiar circumstances of her marriage, which has resulted in nine children. She was the divorced [
sic] wife of Ruskin.”

16. June 12, p. 2: “Millais’s portrait of the Marchioness of Tweeddale, reproduced in Pictures of the Royal Academy of 1896, would pass for that of [Gertrude,] Mrs. Mæsmore Morris, of Melbourne. It is the very image of Dr. Wilmott’s pretty daughter.”

17. December 11, p. 2: “Sir John Millais, the value of whose personalty has just been declared at £97,119 4s 5d. died a richer man by far than any of his predecessors in the presidential chair of the Royal Academy. Lord Leighton, who died worth £47,000, was probably, after Sir John Millais, the richest of the presidents, while the poorest of them was undoubtedly Sir Thomas Lawrence, for although his pictures and other property realized £16,000, when sold soon after his death, the whole sum was required to meet the demands made upon his estate. Other English painters have left far greater fortunes than these behind them, notably Turner and Landseer. The famous landscape painter left £140,000, while the value of Sir Edwin Landseer’s personalty was £160,000. Mr. Edward Armitage, who died a few months ago, was still wealthier than either Landseer or Turner, but his fortune of £318,000 was not derived from the sale of his pictures. He was a man of large private means, but his professional income was comparatively small. Mr. Edward Long, who died in 1891, left £74,000 to his legatees, and Sir Joseph Boehm, whose death took place a few months earlier, £47,276. Another rich sculptor was Sir Francis Chantry [
sic], who bequeathed £100,000 to the Royal Academy for the purchase of modern works of art.”

18. December 18, p. 2: “Without Prejudice, by ‘The Idler’”: “Millais’ most valuable painting is the ‘Order of Release,’ because the woman in it is a portrait of Lady Millais, formerly Mrs. Ruskin.”

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Piccadilly goat

In a broadcast that went to air on Sunday, December 29, 1935, Max Beerbohm reminisced about the streets of Edwardian London. The original broadcast survives in a rare gramophone recording in the Historic Sound Recordings collection of the Sterling Memorial Library here at Yale, and I have lately listened to the whole thing. Here is a sampling:
Mayfair and Westminster and St. James’s were grand, of course, very urban, in a proudly unostentatious way...They were places of leisure—of leesure, one might almost have said in the old-fashioned way. And, very urban though they were, they were not incongruous with rusticity. St. James’s Park seemed a natural appendage to St. James’s Street; and the two milkmaids who milked two cows there, and sold the milk, did not seem strangely romantic. The Green Park seemed not out of keeping with the houses of Piccadilly. Nor did the Piccadilly goat strike one as more than a little odd in Piccadilly.
I don’t know much about him, though I often saw him and liked him so much. He lived in a large mews in a side street, opposite to Gloucester House, the home of the venerable Duke of Cambridge. At about ten o’clock in the morning he would come treading forth with a delicately clumsy gait down the side-street—come very slowly, as though not quite sure there mightn’t be some grass for him to nibble at between the paving-stones. Then he would pause at the corner of Piccadilly and flop down against the railings of the nearest house. He would remain there till luncheon-time and return in the early afternoon. He was a large, handsome creature, with great intelligence in his amber eyes. He never slept. He was always interested in the passing scene. I think nothing escaped him. I wish he could have written his memoirs when he finally retired. He had seen, day by day, much that was worth seeing.
He had seen a constant procession of the best-built vehicles in the world, drawn by very beautifully bred and beautifully groomed and beautifully harnessed horses, and containing very ornate people. Vehicles of the most diverse kinds. High-swung barouches, with immense armorial bearings on their panels, driven by fat white-wigged coachmen, and having powdered footmen up behind them; seigniorial phaetons; daring tandems; discreet little broughams, brown or yellow; flippant high dog-carts; low but flippant Ralli-carts; very frivolous private hansoms shaming the more serious public ones. And all these vehicles went by with a cheerful briskness; there was hardly ever a block for them in the traffic. And their occupants were very visible and were looking their best. The occupants of those low-roofed machines which are so pitifully blocked nowadays all along Piccadilly may, for aught one knows, be looking their best. But they aren’t on view. The students of humanity must be content to observe the pedestrians. These, I fear, would pain my old friend the goat…
All memory is suspect. Much more so is any form of nostalgia carefully calibrated for widespread public consumption. Yet Max Beerbohm’s blasé, somewhat self-conscious goat’s-eye view effectively retrieved part of the mood and much of the appearance of Edwardian Piccadilly, in particular its free-flowing traffic, while nodding respectfully toward the purely private accommodations of Queen Victoria’s elderly Hanoverian first cousin. (Field Marshal H.R.H. The Duke of Cambridge, K.G., K.T., K.P., P.C., G.C.B., G.C.S.I., G.C.M.G., G.C.H., G.C.I.E., G.C.V.O., died on March 17, 1904.) Note, above all, Beerbohm’s entirely unsympathetic attitude towards the motor car, such a pitiful substitute for high-swung barouches.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Some thoughts about yellow

The associations of the fascinating color of yellow, which before the 1960s suffered from curiously widespread twentieth-century unpopularity, are decidedly mixed. The English word yellow comes from “gall,” the yellow liquid once thought to be secreted by the liver. Yellow fever is an infectious disease of the tropics so named because of the dreadful jaundice it causes, along with black vomit and tremors.

Jaundice—the English name comes from the French
jaune (yellow)—was once believed to cause the sufferer actually to see yellow, a belief that in due course gave rise to the expression “a jaundiced eye,” that is an eye which sees only faults. According to Sir James Frazer, ancient Hindus performed an elaborate ceremony invoking homeopathic magic to cure people of jaundice, banishing the yellow color from the sufferer’s body and sending it back to creatures like thrushes, parrots or the yellow wagtail, or to yellow things like the sun.

The quarantine flags that fly from vessels as a warning against infectious diseases are always yellow.

In September 1895, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany coined the racist term “Yellow peril!” (
die gelbe Gefahr!) to describe the people of Japan, following their swift, decisive, and, he thought, portentous military victory over China. He was so pleased with the idea that he conceived a graphic illustration, which he had drawn, engraved, and distributed to foreign embassies and governments, much to the dismay of professional German diplomats. This bizarre image, the product of a deeply philistine imagination, showed a menacing, airborne Buddha riding a dragon across Asia towards Europe, carving a path of destruction and trailing thunder clouds. Female figures represent the courageous but overshadowed powers of Europe, led by bold Germania who, wearing an eagle helmet, strides out, her sword drawn in readiness. This absurd pictorial fantasy was eventually reproduced in Harper’s Weekly (22 January 1898) and, incredibly, the term “yellow peril” began to gain widespread currency in Europe and America.

The Kaiser found this public relations exercise deeply exciting.

Up to the Great Depression, individual agreements entered between employers and their employees were known as “yellow” or “yellow-dog” contracts because they were intended to prevent working people from joining labor unions. A law of 1898 prohibited the disruptive use of such contracts on the railroads, but was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1908, when the justices decided it was an unconstitutional infringement upon the freedom of entering a contract.

Yellow-dog contracts were widely imitated in other countries, and in Belgium between the Wars employers attempted to destroy the power of labor unions by setting up their own employees’ associations which soon became known as “yellow unions.” At the nadir of the Great Depression, by the so-called Norris–La Guardia Act of 1932, yellow-dog contracts were finally made unenforceable in U.S. federal courts. The practice has since then returned to the modern workplace, though cleansed of its sinister name. The usage presumably stems from the association between the color yellow and cowardice.

Judas Iscariot was traditionally represented wearing yellow. In Giotto’s famous fresco
The Kiss of Judas (Padua: Arena Chapel), Jesus is almost entirely enveloped by his treacherous disciple’s vividly yellow cloak. In France, the doors of traitors were daubed with yellow. Elsewhere, bankrupts were also forced to wear yellow hats. In some countries anti-semitic laws forced Jews to wear yellow clothes, a vestigial mark of their alleged betrayal of Jesus. Disc-shaped badges of yellow were made compulsory and, in Rome, yellow hats as well.

The Nazis revived the practice, as is well known, forcing Jews to wear a yellow Magen David inscribed with the letter
J or the whole word Jude (or the equivalent). Victims of the Spanish Inquisition were burned at the stake wearing yellow, to indicate heresy and treason. The connection between sulphur, the color yellow, and hell fire was well established in the early church.

Moreover, the confusion between yellow and green, long thought to be “two species of the same genus of hue,” extends back to Democritus (Athens, fifth century B.C.), and for centuries, particularly in the Middle Ages, suggested further grim associations with green men, the Green Knight, and other primitive manifestations of those dark forces that resided in the forest and the wilderness, beyond the reach of human society. The monster of envy was green-eyed, but for centuries to be jealous was “to wear yellow hose.”

Lately, one of the oxides of uranium produced from basic ore became known in about 1950 as “yellowcake,” the object of much protest from opponents of uranium mining and nuclear energy from the 1960s onward.

For all these frightful connotations, yellow has another, parallel history as the color of gold, of the sun, of daffodils, butter, bananas, wheat, and egg yolks, as the color of the jersey worn by the victor of the previous day’s leg in the
Tour de France, as a key to understanding various optical phenomena and, latterly, from about 1600, when modern color theorists arrived at a consensus, as one of the three primaries. Greek medicine associated yellow with the “four humors,” blood (red), phlegm (white), yellow bile and black bile, which substances, held in perfect balance, constituted a healthy man.

Hippocrates and his followers referred to the same hues as the “diagnostic colors” of the tongue. Yellow enjoyed a senior place in the hierarchy of medieval heraldic colors, though it was not thought to be as noble as white because it was not as close to the color of light—a surprisingly acute observation, later confirmed by the fifteenth-century Humanist Lorenzo Valla, who argued that silvery white, not yellow, was the real color of the sun. Another fifteenth-century scholar, a gloss writer called Bernardino de’ Busti, thought that yellow was expressive of the balance between the red of justice and the white of compassion.

In ancient China, yellow enjoyed an esteemed place in the hierarchy of colors, far superior to green. Huangdi (Huang-ti), the legendary Yellow Emperor of remote antiquity (ca. early third millennium B.C.), a paragon of wisdom and virtue, was considered the common ancestor of the Chinese people. A second-century A.D. commentary upon a poem in the
Book of Odes (Shijing), refers to the robe of a neglected wife as green, but with a yellow lining. Green carried the connotation of shame, notoriety, ill-repute, while the yellow told of the wife’s concealed integrity, a truth which her husband’s ill-treatment could hide but not erase.

Meanwhile in ancient Indian aesthetics, and elsewhere in Southeast and East Asia, yellow was invariably associated with the richness and sumptuousness of gold. Each rasa of Indian esthetics, that is each flavor, sentiment, or delight, corresponded with a particular color. Vira, the heroic, was yellow. Chinese connoisseurs occasionally struck a note of caution, however, since they were perfectly aware that yellow gold was not as pure as the softest, heaviest, most refined gold, which was reddish. Moreover, that yellow could be forged. The recipe, according to one handbook, the
Ko Ku Yao Lun, required salt-petre, salt, and copperas (ferrous sulfate, FeSO4) rinsed in goose fat and applied to a copper base by firing in a kiln.

In the second half of the nineteenth century
yellow was enormously fashionable, saturating the distinctive paper covers of books published in France by Hachette and others, and in due course providing the title of a famous publishing venture of the 1890s for which the young draughtsman Aubrey Beardsley produced some of his best work: The Yellow Book (1894–97). The Pre-Raphaelites used a lot of yellow, as did their follower Edward Burne-Jones. James McNeill Whistler’s famous “yellow breakfasts,” in which goldfish, buttercups, and bowls of nasturtiums were prominent ornaments, became smart and were widely imitated.

Undergraduates were infatuated by what Oscar Wilde called the “leonine beauty of the sunflower” and, incongruously perhaps, numerous men of Harvard brought large single stems to a lecture Wilde delivered in Cambridge, Mass. (They must have been artificial because this occurred in the middle of winter.) In his
Prose Fancies, Richard Le Gallienne celebrated the nineties boom in yellow: “Let us dream of this: A maid with yellow hair, clad in a yellow gown, seated in a yellow room, at the window a yellow sunset, in the grate a yellow fire, at her side a yellow lamplight, on her knee a Yellow Book.”

What would later become known as “paperback” books were in the 1870s and 1880s called “yellow-backs.” There is no evidence to suggest that commercial telephone directories, arranged by subject, printed on tinted paper and commonly known all over the world by the title of the original American directory, Yellow Pages, grew out of advertisements printed on the covers of yellow-backs. The color and title are probably more closely related to the modern use of yellow as the color of maximum visibility, for traffic and other warning signs, for protective clothing, helmets and temporary barriers.

That usage appears to follow nature. Studies of insectivorous birds have demonstrated that among 5,000 insects belonging to 200 species the least palatable were colored yellow, orange or red. As for yellow and black, this distinctive combination appears and reappears in nature as a protective, “false” warning of all sorts of unrelated animals, including salamanders (
Salamandra maculosa), tree snakes (Dipsadomorphus dendrophilus), sea snakes (Pelamydrus platurus), sawflies (Athalia cordata), wasps (Vespa vulgaris), bees (Nomada alternata), caterpillars (Hipocrita jacobææ and Zygæna filipendulæ), some varieties of butterfly (e.g. Abraxas grossulariata and Acræa horta), some varieties of beetle (e.g. Clytus arietis and Chilomenes lunata), some varieties of fly (e.g. Syrphus ribesii and Volucella bombylans), moths (Trochilium crabroniformis) and weevils (Alcides ruptus).

It is similarly deployed by those charged with providing good signage for motorists and pedestrians on modern roads.

The inherent ambiguity of yellow in nature—frequently the caustic-looking armature of an otherwise defenceless creature—was not lost on the Romantic poets. They qualified the adjective yellow with complementary words such as golden, flaxen, sunny, tawny, amber, tortoise, ardent, and fallow (a rather weird coupling in Walter Scott, although Wordsworth beat him to sallow—viz. “sallow yellow,” a truly hideous formulation). However, they also deployed more vigorous terms, such as lurid (Coleridge), sulphurous (Byron), brimstone (Shelley) and volcaneous (Keats).

Today this ambiguity is given perfect expression on the streets of our cities since the transition between the green and red traffic signals is mediated by yellow, which sits in between.

Lately, modern minds have cast about for other meanings of yellow. The German doctor Wilhelm Wundt, for example, saw the psychological transition from yellow to blue as expressive of the transition from liveliness to rest. The German artist Franz Marc thought the same colors corresponded to the two genders. Blue, he argued, was male; yellow female.

The evolution of pigments both natural and synthetic that produced the range and boldness of modern yellows is equally remarkable, and may be traced in the work of painters as distinguished as J. M. W. Turner, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Wassily Kandinsky, who, like his friend and Blaue Reiter associate Marc, was so interested in the psychic effects of color. In his
Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911), Kandinsky inquired whether the visual sharpness he observed in yellow was due to some primitive, subconscious association with the bitter taste of lemons.

On the whole Kandinsky thought yellow better suited the severe, pointed form of a triangle than to softer shapes like ovals and circles, with which the more contemplative color of blue made better sense. Yellow tended to disturb the senses due to its capacity for aggression, its insistence, its shrillness. Corresponding sensations might be sought in perfume or sound; Kandinsky regarded as perfectly plausible the sound of yellow music, or a sour yellow fragrance. Yet he felt that, depending on the intensity and hue, yellow could also stimulate sensations of warmth and movement, recalling a remark attributed to Eugène Delacroix: “Everyone knows that yellow, orange, and red suggest ideas of joy and plenty.”

During the nineteenth century there was a tremendous expansion in the number and variety of yellow pigments developed for commercial manufacture.

Previously that section of the artist’s palette was confined mainly to yellow ochre, an earth pigment derived from hydrated iron oxide, and orpiment, also known as King’s yellow or arsenic sulfide (As2S3), which was known to occur naturally as early as the fifteenth-century B.C., when they were used in paintings at Tel el-Amarna in Egypt. The universal, ancient link between yellow and ochres is most eloquently expressed in the name of the Yellow River (Huang He or Huang Ho), the second longest river in China (after the Yangtze) and the muddiest in the world, discharging vast quantities of silt into what is therefore known as the Yellow Sea.

There were also natural yellow dyes, mostly extracted from plants and other organic sources of which piuri or Indian yellow, has the most intriguing provenance, being a paste made from the urine of cows fed on the leaves of the mango tree. This unlikely commodity made its way to Europe in the form of dried patties. Other yellow dyes have at various times been extracted from unripe buckthorn berries, the leaves and stems of
Reseda luteola L., saffron, fustic, dyer’s broom (Genista tinctoria), and the bark of the American oak tree. (This last pigment is known as quercitron.) Gamboge, meanwhile, is a yellow gum resin extracted from varieties of the Garcinia tree which are to be found throughout the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia.

A number of European yellows were derived from lead compounds, including lead-tin oxide (Pb2SnO4), lead monoxide (PbO), lead antimony-oxide (Naples yellow), and lead oxychloride. These pigments must have contributed to the premature death of generations of painters, due to their extreme toxicity.

Lead-tin yellow has the most interesting history. It is thought to correspond with the color called giallorino or giallolino, for which Cennino Cennini gave a recipe in his
Libro dell’arte as early as c. 1390. The same pigment was called masticot north of the Alps, and was used widely between that date and the end of the seventeenth century when, for some mysterious reason the recipe was lost. From that date it suddenly ceases to be detectable in eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth-century paint films. A chemist at the Doerner Institute in Munich rediscovered the recipe in 1940 and, in due course, lead-tin yellow was brought back into commercial production. A number of modern fakes have been exposed thanks to this remarkable rediscovery. Lead-tin oxide has no business finding its way into an eighteenth-century picture, and since such an object was evidently for stylistic, historical or iconographical reasons not made in the seventeenth century, it must therefore have been made after 1940.

In the nineteenth century, brighter, more powerful yellows went into production: Chrome yellow (lead chromate, PbCrO4), Cadmium yellow (cadmium sulfide, CdS) and Cobalt yellow (potassium cobaltnitrate), all of which may be found in the work of famous painters, especially in the Post-Impressionist and Modernist circles. Naples yellow, meanwhile, the lead-antimony yellow that has been commercially manufactured for longer than almost any other synthetic pigment, enjoyed a revival of popularity towards the end of the nineteenth century. Renoir liked to use it a lot. So did Matisse.

I am very fond of yellow.

Vale Earl and Countess of Hopetoun

It was a consequence of accession of King Edward VII in 1901 that for the first time in several generations a king and queen consort, crowned together, provided a more compelling, even refreshing model than that of the long-widowed Queen Victoria for the routine performance of vice-regal duties in all British colonies, but especially in the wealthy dominions. While the Duke of Cornwall and York (the future King George V) personally represented King Edward at the opening of the first federal Parliament of Australia in Melbourne in May 1901, the king’s reserve powers (which were still considerable) routinely devolved to a new governor-general, the ailing Earl of Hopetoun, whose great personal wealth enabled him and the Countess to fulfill their social and political functions in what were perceived to be the wholly changed circumstances, indeed the reflected light of a new reign.

In fact, Lord Hopetoun made a succession of bad constitutional mistakes, not the least of which was the decision upon his own responsibility to appoint the wrong man (Sir Edmund Barton) to be first prime minister of Australia, and, coinciding almost exactly with the date on which the coronation was supposed to take place, the governor-general submitted his resignation to the king, stepped down, departed, and was soon afterwards promoted in the peerage as first Marquess of Linlithgow, the title his son carried with him much later into the viceroyalty of India.

A cartoon by the young Melbourne artist and illustrator Norman Lindsay (1879–1969) entitled “Frozen Out: Design for a Historical Frieze,” originally published in the unapologetically impertinent Sydney
Bulletin, presents a vision of the splendor of Lord Hopetoun’s departure in an open landau, attended by liveried footmen and a large mounted escort. He clatters across a symbolical Japanese bridge, silhouetted by an immensely hot, rising antipodean sun à la Kuniyoshi. Trotting along behind is the quixotic governor-general’s Sancho Panza and successor for the time being, Hallam Tennyson, the son and successor in the peerage of the Poet Laureate, hitherto governor of South Australia. “Observe a future plain, brown Governor-General,” runs the caption, “with dog-outrider.”

This biting satire, which incidentally exploits the racist suspicion of Meiji ambitions in the Pacific, would have generated merely local interest and amusement, but its publication under license in the August issue of the
London Review of Reviews—and as the culminating finale in a round-up feature of world cartoons entitled “Current History in Caricature”—brings the drawing into startling alignment with the events of coronation day, upon portions of which it might almost function as a direct and subversive commentary. Indeed, the text accompanying the London publication explicitly acknowledges that “The illness of the King caused a remarkable slump in cartoons on the Coronation. Excepting an occasional cartoon, such as that representing Death in the guise of a ‘monarch-murdered’ soldier from South Africa visiting the sick-bed of the King, the Continental press has been singularly free from anything to which a loyal subject could take offence.” Lindsay’s “Frozen Out” is the more conspicuous for its blunt reference to imperial display. The text commenting on it further implies that, Icarus-like, the Earl of Hopetoun had ascended too far into a sphere more properly occupied by the king alone:
The complaint of Lord Hopetoun that he could not support the dignity of Governor-General of the Australian Commonwealth upon his own salary and allowances has given a good opening to the Australian wits for contrasting the royal state of the retiring Governor-General with the modest equipage of his successor.
Quite so.


THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE RIGHT PLACE” is the title of a vicious cartoon, one of the very first that was published in Melbourne Punch (Vol. 1, 1855, p. 5). The subject is Captain Sir Charles Hotham, K.C.B., R.N. (1806–1855), Governor of Victoria from June 22, 1854, to December 31, 1855, whose disastrous administration ended when His Excellency died from a chill contracted whilst lighting the first fire at the Melbourne Gas and Coke Works.

Hotham’s cack-handed policy over the enforcement of prospecting licences on the Victorian goldfields led directly to the armed confrontation between diggers and troopers at Ballarat on December 3, 1854, an event of proto-national significance long since remembered as the “Eureka Stockade.” Despite his attempts to lay blame for the resulting loss of life at the feet of his officials, as well as blame for the swift and alarming radicalization of local politics, Hotham’s hold over the colony was permanently weakened.

THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE RIGHT PLACE” was the work of an apparently self-taught artist who signed himself “Quiz,” and collaborated in Melbourne with the workmanlike wood engraver Frederick Grosse (1828–1894). According to an entry in the diary of the critic James Smith (1820–1866), who edited Melbourne
Punch for seven years from 1859, the first issue of the paper was entirely illustrated by “Mr. Gill,” i.e. certainly not the more talented watercolorist and lithographer S[amuel]. T[homas]. Gill (1819–1880), so in the absence of any other even remotely likely candidate “Quiz” may be identified as the well-connected Melbourne architect and roué John Gill (ca. 1797–1866). Such was the very reasonable conclusion reached by Joan Kerr.

Here Sir Charles and Lady Hotham are shown embarking for England—the direction in which popular sentiment was by the middle of 1855 raucously urging them to go. Punch himself and one of the liveried coachmen are dumping the Hothams’ luggage onto the quay, including His Excellency’s hat-boxes (both naval and civilian), as well as a caged parrot. A label on the trunk reads “Sir C. Hotham/ England/ Not Wanted”—certainly a crude reference to his unpopularity, but possibly also recalling the debacle in 1854, when before his arrival and without his approval Toorak (Government House) was so expensively furnished on the Governor’s account that to pay for it he and Lady Hotham were soon afterwards obliged to sell their own furniture at public auction because “they were no longer wanted,” so said the chilly press announcement of that embarrassing public sale.

The Governor carries a small cash box—an allusion to his relentless official economies—while a figure incorrectly identified by Kerr as Sir Charles’s private secretary, Commander Joseph Kay, R.N., carries a basket of eggs from the government farm, and a beer keg inscribed “K.C.B.” Judging from his uniform, this figure almost certainly represents instead the Governor’s aide-de-camp and cousin, Lieutenant Richard Hotham.

The keg of beer is an especially biting allusion to the Queen’s Birthday Ball held on May 24, 1855, at Toorak. Those notoriously “meager hospitalities,” further marred by the provision by James Murphy the Melbourne brewer of cheap sour beer “of only the second quality!!!”—so Emily Childers confided to her diary on May 27, were pilloried in the press for at least six months, as this cartoon attests.

On the right, the dog growls at a rotund figure who, though he clasps one of the leather straps on the rear of the carriage, is actually fast asleep, and lolling precariously on the footboard. He was no doubt instantly recognizable to the readers of Melbourne
Punch, but for safe measure his identity is inscribed on the bundle that lies at his feet: “Haines/ Col. Sec./ Melbourne”—presumably he has dropped it. This is William Clark Haines, Hotham’s hand-picked senior civil servant or “colonial secretary,” who succeeded John Foster in December 1854, and in November 1855 took office as the first elected chief minister under the newly established constitution of Victoria.

Lady Hotham’s black veil is portentous but apparently coincidental: The Governor’s death on the last day of 1855 was sudden, unexpected, and postdated the publication of Melbourne
Punch by at least a month, possibly a little more.

Certainly the title “THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE RIGHT PLACE” was meant to drip with sarcasm. At least two inter-colonial newpapers, the
Colonial Times of Hobart (October 6, 1855) and the Daily Southern Cross in New Zealand (November 6, 1855) reprinted a long attack on the Governor in which the phrase reappears in quotation marks. According to both sources that article was originally printed in The Age, but curiously no trace of it has yet been found. “We want a Governor,” the quoted text concludes,

with the ability and experience of a Metcalfe, or with the suavity and submissiveness of an Elgin—one who could either govern himself, or who place himself in the hands of his advisers. Were Sir Charles Hotham a man of either character, he might still be popular; but he has not the capacity of the former of these statesmen, and he has too much self-conceit to retire into the position of “dignified neutrality” so respectably occupied by the other. In short, if we are to have “the right man for the right place,” the sooner he ceases to be Governor of Victoria, the better for himself, and the better for the colony.

(Lord Elgin succeeded Lord Metcalfe first as Governor of Jamaica in 1842, and then as Governor-General of Canada in 1847.)

Now, in 1855 the phrase “the right man for the right place” achieved widespread currency as the slogan of the Administrative Reform Association. In that context it was first coined in a speech to the House of Commons on January 15, 1855, by the archaeologist and Liberal member for Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire Austen Henry Layard (1817–1894).

Referring specifically to the appalling mismanagement of the Crimean War, which he had witnessed at first hand late the previous year, Layard said, “I have always believed that success would be the inevitable result if the two services, the army and the navy, had fair play, and if we sent the right man to fill the right place.” Sensing that he had successfully stumbled upon a memorable catch-phrase, as shrewd politicians generally do, Layard went on to repeat it endlessly—in speeches to his constituents, everywhere.

While this crisis over the conduct of the war led to the demise of the government of Lord Aberdeen, Layard was one of numerous Liberals voicing their dismay that the new ministry, that of Lord Palmerston, should in so many respects resemble the old one, and accommodate around the cabinet table so many of its former ministers.

Indeed, attempting batter back Layard’s attack upon the performance of the previous government, Lord Grey was forced to engage directly. In the North British Review (No. 45, May 1855, p. 162), His Lordship was reported as saying, “But in the midst of all our suffering and indignation let us endeavour to be just in our apportionment of blame, and let us take our own fair share—far the largest, as will presently appear. ‘The right man for the right place,’ is the cry of the hour; and a very good cry it is.”

Thus, in the midst of Sir Charles Hotham’s troubles in far-off Victoria, the clarion-call of “the right man for the right place” cropped up conspicuously in long-delayed press reports arriving from England by ship, generally in connection with bad news from the Crimea and as a sharp criticism of the composition of Lord Palmerston’s new administration, as well as the lack of any suitable, substantive change in Whitehall and Westminster. Citing
Lloyd’s Newspaper, for example, the Melbourne Argus (Thursday, May 24, 1855, p. 7), published the following digest of English news, in which the claims of merit as against aristocracy found ample resonance with colonial affairs:

ENGLISH EXTRACTS. / RIGHT MEN IN RIGHT PLACES—Mr. Layard, in his manly and instructive speech to the electors of Aylesbury,—they may be truly proud of such a representative, for he is marked, it is our belief, for the highest destiny,—Mr. Layard hit, in a few simple words, upon the simple want of the country,—right men in right places. Well, have we men so bestowed, in Lord Palmerston’s [new] cabinet? Assuredly not. All is there exclusive; all is almost lordly; all the old, old names at which the gorge of the country rises. Lord Russell returns to the cabinet; taking, with exemplary humility, a lieutenant’s place, under his own late lieutenant, now promoted. Very singular has been the fate of Lord John. The fabulous man of luck, who was pitched naked into the Thames on one side of Westminster bridge, and came up on the other arrayed in court suit with sword and diamond buckles,—such traditional naked, bedizened man is the very type of Lord John. He had all but stripped himself of his reputation; and presto! he is arrayed in all the solemn courtly character of a plenipotentiary extraordinary. The war settled one way or the other, either the Czar’s cannon spiked or the charge drawn,—Lord John returns, and, the city consenting, sits again the city’s member, with statesman eye watching those small outlying estates of Queen Victoria—her Majesty’s colonies. We are, therefore, to accept Lord John Russell as the right man in the right place. The Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland is very like the Lord Mayor’s coach; a piece of useless gilt lumber. The Earl of Carlisle is appointed to fill it. The Earl of Carlisle may be called the Amiable Weakness of the Lords: therefore we are also to accept him, when located in Phoenix Park, Viceroy of all Ireland, as the right man in the right place. We can hardly say as much for the remainder of Lord Palmerston’s cabinet. It wants new blood; it needs an infusion of the popular element; there are not the men of the people in it, but the men of the few families consecrated to the loaf and fish. Lord Palmerston has, we are convinced, disappointed the country; and, however his Ministry may be permitted to have a trial, it will not work well or long. Take his Lordship’s treatment of Mr. Layard as an instance of his Lordship’s liberality; for, strange to say, and by one of the contrarieties of human things, Lord Palmerston has had the character of a liberal forcibly fixed upon him, although his whole political life has shown him to be at heart rigidly conservative. Let Lord John Russell—events favoring him—bring in his Reform Bill to-morrow, and to-morrow Lord Palmerston would vote against it. And thus Lord Palmerston clings to the old Downing-street superstition that only admits to the priesthood a certain sacred set. He is evidently perplexed when dealing with a man of genius, whose best heraldry is in his doings, and not, as in the famous Stowe lanthorn, quartered in glass. Strangely, indeed, both by Lord Russell and Lord Palmerston, has Mr. Layard been treated. Lord John offers office, and then, on second thoughts, recalls the offer. Lord Palmerston does the same; but to make amends, proposes to Mr. Layard that he shall go into the Ordnance. “I know nothing of the ordnance,” said the guileless Mr. Layard; and, with strange conscientiousness, he refused the profitable compliment paid to his ignorance. He was then offered a secretaryship of the colonies; and again he refused the offer from a sense of unfitness. Had he been born a Grey, he would assuredly have been born with other instincts. However, Mr. Layard is only set aside for a time. The country will not suffer him to pass away from their watchfulness. Full soon, we are convinced of it, he will in himself illustrate his own words—the right man in the right place and that is, as Minister of War.

Among the many reform-minded men who took up Layard’s refrain was Thomas Carlyle, who, in an unsigned, excessively longwinded article in
Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country (Vol. 51, June 1855, p. 719), applied a rather more velvety texture to it:

Nobody pretends to say that the aristocracy is incompetent for public business; but what all persons, except the class immediately concerned, do maintain is, that there can be no hereditary aptitude for the affairs of State. They say that monopoly is the parent of incompetence, sloth, and corruption; that the market of public employment should be open to public competition; and, arguing from analogy, they are persuaded that until the avenues to office are practically free, the public has no chance of being well served.
It is more especially with reference to the heads of departments that the evil effects of monopoly are visible. If there are energy and intelligence in the direction of affairs, it is pretty certain that the same qualities will be found in the subordinate agents. But when the graduates for high office are chosen almost wholly from a particular class, it is manifest that the selection of the right man for the right place must depend upon the accident of the right man being found in the class to which the selection is confined.

Layard’s authorship of the slogan was implicitly acknowledged in many other places throughout 1855. For instance, according to the Lancet (Saturday, June 16, 1855, p. 616), “When a modern politician distinguished alike by his antiquarian researches and his disinterested patriotism, propounded the important doctrine of ‘The right man for the right place’ he might have added if legislating for hospitals ‘and at the right age.’” (The reference here was to Layard’s hugely popular publication of the excavations at Nineveh.)

However, over the ensuing decades the Layard provenance was gradually forgotten, perhaps because it was more and more thoroughly subsumed into the language—much assisted by its slightly bumptious, even colloquial air, in which the inverted commas might easily seem to stand for something far more vague than actual quotation marks, such as for example “so they say.” Certainly, as a political slogan with real bite “the right man for the right place” was endlessly, even comically misattributed in later decades, as it has been in successive editions of the
Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (including the latest).

However, among the few meticulous collectors of saws and sayings who actually got it right were Samuel Arthur Bent (
Short Sayings of Great Men, Boston: James Osgood and Company, 1882, p. 327) and William S. Walsh (Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, Philadelphia: J. B.Lippincott Company, 1909, p. 976), according to whom:

McMaster’s “History of the People of the United States” (ii. 586) seems to credit this saying to Thomas Jefferson: “Jefferson’s reply was a discussion of the tenure of office, and soon forgotten. But one sentence will undoubtedly be remembered till our republic ceases to exist. No duty the Executive had to perform was so trying, he observed, as to put the right man in the right place. Mr. McMaster is using a dubious trick he learned from Macaulay,—that of substituting a paraphrase or an epigrammatic resume for a quotation. What Jefferson really said was as follows: “Of the various executive abilities no one excited more anxious concern than that of placing the interests of our fellow-citizens in the hands of honest men, with understanding sufficient for their station.” Letter to Elias Shipman, July 12, 1801,

which, it seems to me, is an excellent example of how to correct an especially egregious error.

Yet neither Bent nor Walsh ruled out another theory with equally respectable late eighteenth-century liberal provenance, which was that the meet and quotable wording is attributed to Talleyrand, who observed that “the art of putting the right man in the right place is perhaps the first in the science of government, but the art of finding a satisfactory position for the discontented is the most difficult.”

However, what Talleyrand actually said, and in due course published in the
Mémoires de la Classe des Sciences Morales et Politiques de l’Institut National, was this:

L’art de mettre les homines à leur place est le premier, peut-être, dans la science du gouvernement: mais celui de trouver la place des mécontents est, a coup sur, le plus difficile.

Not, I think, the same thing at all. Ever prudent, Walsh was careful to append to his article about “the right man for the right place” what he saw as a viable alternative, a curious passage from the
Memoirs of Sydney Smith:

If you choose to represent the various parts in life by holes upon a table of different shapes,—some circular, some triangular, some square, some oblong,—and the persons acting these parts by bits of wood of similar shapes, we shall generally find that the triangular person has got into the square hole, the oblong into the triangular, and a square person has squeezed himself into the round hole. The officer and the office, the doer and the thing done, seldom fit so exactly that we can say they were almost made for each other.

On this point, and probably no other, the melancholy Sir Charles and Lady Hotham, their staff, and the Governor’s numerous political enemies in the distant colony of Victoria might have been surprised to find each other in perfect agreement.

The reputation of the Duchess of Kent

Until recently the incidence of haemophilia among descendants of Queen Victoria raised a most delicate medico-historical question. Queen Victoria was a carrier of the disease, but from which of her parents did she inherit it? Her father, the Duke of Kent, was the fourth son of King George III and Queen Charlotte. The duke was not a haemophiliac. So Victoria’s mother, a German princess of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, must have been a carrier. Yet there is no sign of any incidence of haemophilia among any of the Duchess of Kent’s proximate or even distant relations. Neither her father nor her grandfather were sufferers, and nor were any of her siblings, nor any of their non-British descendants, including the entire Belgian royal family, nor any known members of the duchess’s mother’s family of Reuss-Ebersdorf, nor indeed any known descendant of theirs. The duchess had another child by a previous marriage, and none of the descendants of Queen Victoria’s half-sister Princess Feodora of Hohenlohe-Langenburg ever developed the disease.

Naturally the task of historical diagnosis is much harder at this distance, because certain early nineteenth-century infant deaths could have been the result of severe haemophiliac haemorrhaging. But one would expect to see the kind of cluster of obvious cases that occurred among the families of Queen Victoria’s daughters Princess Alice and Princess Beatrice, and of her youngest son Prince Leopold, who was himself a sufferer. This was never the case in any branch of the Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld or Reuss-Ebersdorf or Hohenlohe-Langenburg families. Up to the end of the nineteenth century it was the custom for at least one British cabinet minister to witness royal births and certify that any additions to the line of succession to the throne were legitimate. This was certainly the case when Princess Victoria was born at Kensington Palace at 4.15 a.m. on May 24, 1819, so we can safely assume that the Duchess of Kent really was the future queen’s mother. But she was almost certainly not a carrier of haemophilia. Therefore for a long time the only medical conclusions to be reached appeared to be either that (a) Queen Victoria’s haemophiliac gene was the result of a “de novo” or spontaneous mutation, of which the chance was thought to be very slight—or (b) Queen Victoria’s biological father was someone other than the Duke of Kent, presumably a man with so mild a case of haemophilia that he survived into adulthood and may never have been diagnosed at all.

It all depends on whether Queen Victoria carried haemophilia A or B. Hitherto it was presumed that Queen Victoria carried haemophilia A, and it is apparently true, or was once thought to be true, that spontaneous mutations are far rarer in that event than in cases of haemophilia B. But new information is to hand. The task of positively identifying the mortal remains of members of the family of Tsar Nicholas II was lately accomplished in Russia, partly thanks to the willingness of the present Duke of Edinburgh to donate genetic material—the Duke’s mother’s mother’s mother (Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Alice) was also the mother of the Tsarina, and so his mitochondrial DNA provided a reliable benchmark. An unexpected consequence of this grisly task, however, was to gain an opportunity to study genetic material from the remains of the Tsar’s haemophiliac son and heir, and the results of that analysis were lately published in
Science by a team led by Evgeny I. Rogaev. Inter alia, they conclude that the form of haemophilia that descended from Queen Victoria was haemophilia B, not A, and “was likely caused by a point mutation in F9, a gene on the X chromosome that encodes blood coagulation factor IX,” that is to say Queen Victoria’s own X chromosome. This may well have been the one and only spontaneous thing that ever happened to Queen Victoria, and it is a happy consequence of these findings that any lingering doubt about this aspect of the honour of Her Majesty’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, may now safely be dispelled.

Monday, April 18, 2011


I am old enough to remember the giddy pleasure of receiving a telegram. Countless millions under thirty probably have no idea what a telegram is, or was. On my tenth birthday, from Cambridge University my beloved elder brother Hamish sent me my first telegram. It read: “CONGRATULATIONS STOP DOUBLE FIGURES STOP MANY HAPPY RETURNS STOP HAMISH.” I still have it. The point of those STOPs was for clarity, and to assist whoever conveyed the original message by telephone trunk call between post offices. And of course the charge was calculated according to the exact number of words. When the trans-Atlantic and other trans-continental cables were first laid, and the telegraph was up and running, essentially the same system of fees applied, so to reduce the cost of lengthy communications between, say, a company director in London, and his agent or lawyer in New York, various codes were published whose purpose was not so much to clothe those communications in secrecy, but to control the relatively high cost of sending them. True, many other correspondents did employ codes, from the highly complex to the laughably simple—even words spelled backwards or crudely rearranged according to an elementary formula—but these were mostly confined to the personal columns in the cheaper weeklies, a litany of doomed liaisons, missed rendezvous, and opportunities of happiness forever sacrificed on the altars of obligation and duty. That story has been told most recently by H. G. Cocks in his Classified: The Secret History of the Personal Column, but I also have an anthology that was lovingly compiled from The Times, the Morning Chronicle, and other newpapers by Jean Palmer (The Agony Column Codes and Ciphers). Instead, whilst sorting through some books last evening, I came across my copy of The Anglo-American Telegraphic Code (1901), which, according to the title page, was “adapted to use in general correspondence, including business, social, political, and all other subjects.” The anonymous New York-based authors must have ransacked Webster’s Dictionary in search of thousands of suitable terms, but the truly creative part was that they also dreamed up many more roughly cognate nonsense words for clusters of apparently related terms and phrases. Language with truly personal application is scarce: there no words for love, marriage, family relations, domestic arrangements. It is mostly about banking, bonds, shipments, bankruptcy, mining, buying, selling. Yet as I leafed and pondered I found myself imagining the private secretary of a newly appointed Governor of Newfoundland about to set sail from Southampton, cabling ahead to Government House, St. John’s, in the following terms: Bandicoot Wapentakes Shadow Dorn Foolify Elision Hoyman Renownful Lady Sutherland Sagging Notices Stamper Pipkin Manship Private Secretary. This unravels as BANDICOOT = With what bank do you transact business? WAPENTAKES = I want if possible to; SHADOW = send at once; DORN = draft for; FOOLIFY = 58 pounds; ELISION = to engage; HOYMAN = housemaid; RENOWNFUL = with good references; LADY SUTHERLAND; SAGGING = Expect to sail on the; NOTICES = first of November; STAMPER = Can I rely on you to take the proper steps? PIPKIN = Please reply; MANSHIP, PRIVATE SECRETARY: seventeen words instead of forty-five. At the Post Office rate of a farthing per word, that adds up to 4¼d, instead of 11¼d, a saving of slightly more than 62%. It is hard to know why The Anglo-American Telegraphic Code took the trouble to provide tens of thousands of consecutively arranged numerical equivalents, since anyone could buy a copy and decode them just as easily as they could decipher the words, but it may have appealed to those Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen who assumed that Post Office clerks and errand boys were incapable of figuring out the system. Certain of those same gentlemen, incidentally, adopted the sinister practice of sending each other telegrams, the sole purpose of which was to provide an exciting opportunity to engage in sexual intercourse with the Post Office boys who delivered them, in return for a hefty pourbois. That infinitely sordid practice came to light in the so-called Cleveland Street scandal of 1889. At any rate, Colonel Manship’s telegram, made necessary by the sudden death from a chill of Dora the housemaid, and too little time left to fill her berth in England prior to setting sail, might also have read: “2768 24168 20995 8374 26617 8916 11864 19167 LADY SUTHERLAND 20352 15752 21896 17319 MANSHIP, PRIVATE SECRETARY.” Personal servants were the individual responsibility of colonial governors and their wives, so a communication of this kind was not generally sent using the Colonial Office or Royal Navy ciphers, nor indeed by official dispatch. Hence there was an even greater incentive to keep an eye on the cost, unless you happened to be as stupendously wealthy or under-employed as the Earl and Countess of Hopetoun. But the vast majority of British colonial administrators were not, so The Anglo-American Telegraphic Code was one of those ingenious tools of thrift with which Edwardians on both sides of the Atlantic maintained the thrumming engine of international trade. Besides, browsing in it these days is an extremely effective remedy for insomnia.