Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sutherland and Coward

In moments of melancholy, when, for whatever reason, the heart requires a little balm, or the spirits need lifting, I reach for my deeply unfashionable recording of songs by Noël Coward that was made in London in 1966 by Dame Joan Sutherland and the National Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Richard Bonynge, with a cameo appearance by Coward himself—now happily available once more on CD (Decca 450 0142). The combination may sound counter-intuitive, that of the soigné playwright, cabaret artist, show-business all-rounder, and intimate friend of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on the one hand, and, on the other, one of the most brilliant and technically dazzling coloratura sopranos of our time, a no-nonsense Sydney-sider. Yet it worked then, and I think it still works today. I gather they were neighbors in Switzerland, and were clearly fond of each other. Handled any differently, Coward’s light musical comedy might have been to Joan Sutherland as tap-dancing is to Peter Grimes. Yet the orchestration is lush but not heavy, and even occasionally ironic, so the chemistry is good. True, there are exquisitely unintended moments when certain lyrics mesh somewhat curiously with circumstance, such as the passage at the beginning of “Dearest Love,” from Operette (1938), when, with emphasis, Noël Coward speaks the lines “I saw you turn away, and, for a while, my poor heart drooped and faltered / And then I saw your strange, elusive smile, and all my life was altered.” Generally radiant, and full of warmth, generosity, good humor and common sense, Dame Joan’s smile could hardly be described as strange, or even, for that matter, elusive, even when certain of her roles required such a thing. Still, I think this simply adds to the charm of the piece. Meanwhile Sutherland’s rendition of “This is a Changing World” from Bitter Sweet (1929) combines the full grandeur of her voice, in its absolute prime, with an evidently instinctive lightness of touch, and lifts the whole thing onto an altogether different plane, in other words it sails over the high hurdle labeled art. I find it impossible to come away from all this without a spring in my step, or a sparkle. I suppose other people get the same thing from Beyoncé, Adele, or Lady Gaga, but I rather doubt it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mrs. Sage

Mrs. Sage is something of a mystery, although Highfill, Burnim & Langhans correctly described her as “actress, aeronaut, wardrobe-keeper.” She was born Letitia Ann Hoare, and followed two of her sisters into the acting profession: Katherine (Mrs. Sparks Powell), and Sarah (Mrs. Thomas Achurch Ward). All three were said to have been “nearly related” to the Fleet Street banker Henry Hoare, one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society, but this is impossible to verify. What we do know is that by 1773 Letitia Hoare was living as the common-law wife of Mr. Sage, a haberdasher in Cheapside. As far as we can tell, she made her debut on April 24, 1773, as Lady Townly in Vanbrugh’s The Provok’d Husband at the Covent Garden Theatre, and seven years later, April 27, 1780, appeared on the same stage, perhaps for the last time, as Lady Macbeth. She may also have worked in the provinces but, unlike her more celebrated sisters, Mrs. Sage’s stage career never really took off. Soon after 1780, it seems she exchanged acting for publicity and the more enterprising aspects of production, and maybe by this route came into contact with Messrs. Lunardi and Biggin. After her sensational ascent in Mr. Lunardi’s balloon she was for many years afterwards almost entirely fugitive. She is said to have lived for a while with the purser of an East Indiaman, and other sources claim that she accompanied an actor named Collins on a tour to America. This may or may not be true. Certainly by 1804, Letitia Anne had swapped the name of Sage for “Mrs. Robinson,” and appears to have made a decent living as a dresser and wardrobe mistress for the younger Charles Dibdin, in due course moving in essentially the same capacity to the Crow Street Theatre, Dublin. She was back in London by 1812, working in the wardrobe department at Drury Lane for a weekly salary of 9s. Mrs. Sage would have been an almost completely silent member of the late Georgian and Regency London theatre worlds had she lost no time in writing a garrulous but lively account of her ascent with Mr. Biggin, the very next day, which was in due course published through several editions in London as A Letter, Addressed to a Female Friend, by Mrs. Sage, The First English Female Aerial Traveller; describing the general appearance and effects of her expedition with Mr. Lunardi’s Balloon, Which Ascended from St. George’s Fields on Wednesday, 29th June, 1785, accompanied by George Biggin, Esq. (Printed for the writer, and sold by J. Bell, British Library, Strand).

There is much of interest here, including but not by any means restricted to, the various powerful hints towards the commercial end of show business; Mrs. Sage’s willingness to admit to a considerable weight of 200 pounds, indeed her unapologetic, even flamboyant and rather endearing reference to her own considerable embonpoint; the various objects (empty bottles, rolls, unwanted “eatables,” and slips of paper) cheerfully jettisoned from the balloon; the use by Mr. Biggin of his speaking-trumpet as a sort of paddle (the oars having been left behind, an oversight); Mrs. Sage’s unfortunate destruction, early on, of the barometer; their al fresco dinner of ham, chicken, and a bottle of Florence wine; Mr. Biggin’s putative inamorata; his slightly comical and, I daresay, inconclusive experiment at high altitude with the little bell; his liberal use of the Union flag and megaphone; the invasion of the field near Harrow by a crowd of excited schoolboys; the adventurers somewhat dismissive attitude to the damage they did to it, and to the not unreasonable vexation aroused among the locals; and the author’s momentary swoon right in the middle of her account, propped up in bed and nursing her foot, while ignoring a ceaseless procession of callers. There is also a definite suggestion that the lady in Liverpool to whom Mrs. Sage addressed her account was just then enceinte. Above all, it is delightful to note the sheer number of good-humored strangers whose combined efforts managed to retrieve Mrs. Sage from the field near Harrow-on-the-Hill, entertain her to dinner, bid her farewell with rustic compliments, and convey her thence, at considerable expense and huge inconvenience, to her house in Covent Garden. Having caused an uproar, yet I find it impossible not to like Mrs. Sage. Here is her account:

At length, my dear Friend, I have accomplished my favorite experiment; our aerial flight took place on Wednesday. All is now over, and I feel myself more happy, and infinitely better pleased with my excursion than I ever was at any former event of my life.

To any other of my female friends I might think it necessary to make an excuse, for not acquainting her with my intention previous to its taking place; but your understanding is more elevated, and your conceptions better arranged than most other women: yet I am sensible of the strength of your attachment to me, and know that, at the distance of more than three hundred miles from the place of action, not being able to learn the event for so many days, you must have been miserable.

I considered the delicacy of your situation, and felt it highly improper to distract your mind with any fears upon my account. [It seems likely that this is a reference to pregnancy.] I was more strengthened in this determination, by recollecting that my resolution was so firmly fixed, and my mind so strongly made up on the event, that not a human argument could have had power to dissuade me from what you may, perhaps, call an infatuation.

I had, besides, a stronger obligation to perform my engagement, than even my own inclination for the voyage. Mr. Lunardi had put himself to great expence, in order to gratify my wish to be of the party with him and Mr. Biggin, upon the 13th of May. The failure of that business brought upon him many illiberal reflections, respecting his intention of carrying me with him; and there being a general disposition to take up matters in the most unfavourable point of view, many persons were of opinion it was never his intention to do it; others attributed my not going at that time to cowardice in me. I, who knew the natural honesty of Lunardi’s sentiments, was perfectly convinced that this reflection upon his character was unjust and cruel in the highest degree. I was piqued, also, that I should be suspected of a weakness, which is not in any degree a trait in my character, if I am to judge of myself. To remove both these suspicions, (if Lunardi made a further experiment), each of the parties were bound in honour to be ready to fulfil their engagement.

You have heard a thousand opinions on the cause of his disappointing the public at that time, and have yourself inclined to think it must have arisen from the coat of oil-colour on the Balloon, and not from any mistake in the process of filling it. I never thought myself competent to judge how the matter did happen; he failed: and the only way to extricate him from the imputation of ignorance, was to make an attempt gratis, to prove that he was right in his estimate, and that the Balloon, properly filled, was equal to carry up the proposed weight. To accomplish this, he went to work immediately, but found infinite difficulty in procuring a place of ascension. That being at last settled, he perceived it was not in his power to procure a sufficient quantity of iron; that article being very scarce in consequence of the repeated aerostatic experiments which have been made here within a short time.

This occasioned his visit to Birmingham; and the little tour he made in consequence of it. I thank you for your attention to him when at Liverpool. He speaks of you and yours with great friendship, and I find it will not be long before he pays you a second visit. I most sincerely hope his ascension from Liverpool and Lancaster will turn out to the satisfaction of those towns, and give him an opportunity of shewing the goodness of his heart; as it is his intention to dispose of the surplus of his exhibition receipts, after his expences are paid, to charitable uses. On his return from you, he found his orders at Birmingham executed, as far as the scarcity of the commodity he wanted would admit. But, through some mistake, the iron he purchased did not reach town till Monday night, the 27th. On Tuesday all things were in regular arrangement.

I passed the day with some of our friends whose entreaties were all exhausted, to prevail on me to relinquish my scheme; you who saw the cool determination of my conduct when it was intended I should accompany Mr. Lunardi and Mr. Biggin, on a former occasion, will not be surprised I could withstand their persuasions.

The auspicious morning came I went, in company with Mr. Down and Mr. Bell, about ten o’clock, to the Rotunda, in St George’s Fields; a place built by Mr. Arnold, for the purpose of launching his Montgolfier [balloon], called the Royal George.

I am truly sorry this is not likely to happen so soon as I could wish; the subscriptions not coming in so fast as is necessary for carrying on a plan of such expence. It surely is a great misfortune to have an expanded heart, when the power to indulge it is so circumscribed. I should feel great pleasure, in the ability to encourage every description of merit, and particularly in the instance I am speaking of, as Mr. Arnold has spared no expence or trouble to bring to perfection an object, which, if completed, would be beautiful and magnificent in the highest degree.

On our getting to the Rotunda, we found the Balloon about one-fourth inflated ,and the business going on in a very regular manner, under the joint direction of Mr. Lunardi and Mr. Biggin; and here, I must observe, how much it is to be regretted, that they did not take this part of the business under their own care on the 13th of May.

The expence of filling that Balloon, I understand, amounted to nearly four hundred pounds, and yet it was unequal to its task. It involved poor Lunardi in a great number of very unpleasant matters; and, in one particular instance, has thrown a reflection on him, which he may, perhaps, be never able to do away, in the idea of many of his former friends; that is, ingratitude to a gentleman, by whose friendship he had been much obliged, and for whom, I know, he has always entertained a most particular regard.

Various have been the opinions, respecting the failure of this experiment. I think it could have arisen from no other cause than some unforeseen accident in the process of filling it. Let the cause be what it may, it has been the occasion of those great expences which Mr. Lunardi has been at, to remove the reflections of ignorance, and of the mortification we all experienced, at being obliged to disappoint the most brilliant assemblage of fashionable people that ever were collected on a similar occasion.

But to return to the occurrences of Wednesday. They began filling the balloon about nine o’clock; and, in order to make the process an object of gratification to the whole neighbourhood of St. George’s Fields, Mr. Lunardi had raised a stage, upon which the balloon was suspended, so that every thing was distinctly seen by each anxious and curious individual.

By eleven o’clock, they had exhausted the whole of their iron, and found a difficulty in getting water, so that business was suspended for a full hour; they at length got a fresh supply, and went on at an astonishing rate. At this time the company began to assemble, and, before one, there were more than a hundred thousand persons within the circle of St. George’s Fields. As I did not like to be seen, until the very moment of getting into the gallery, I sat in the coach, where I escaped those remarks which I knew would naturally be made, had the multitude once got an idea of the woman who was about to make so bold an attempt.

The Balloon being as much inflated as was thought necessary to carry up three, if not four persons, at ten minutes after one o’clock (the time specified by Mr. Lunardi for his ascension) I was conducted into the Rotunda, and placed myself in the gallery, in which were Mr. Lunardi, Mr. Biggin, Colonel Hastings (a gentleman to whom Mr. Lunardi had given a promise, that should the Balloon be capable of carrying up more than the intended three, he should have a place in it) and another lady whose name I do not know.

They then began to try the rising power of the Balloon, before they took in either the ballast or Mr. Biggin’s apparatus for observation; and I really believe the Balloon, properly filled, would be fully sufficient to the taking up four, if not five persons; I will not tell you that they shall all be so much en-bon-point as your friend.

The other Lady was the first to quit the gallery, which was merely an act of justice, yielding to my prior claim. It then could not stir. The neck of the Balloon was tied with the string of the Valve. When Mr. Biggin perceived it, he desired it might be set free. Some person officiously tied it to the cords of the net. Mr. Biggin was then under the necessity of desiring it to be cut. In short, so great was the crowd and hurry on the scaffolding, that while Mr. Lunardi and Mr. Biggin were arranging matters on one side, others were deranging them on the other. From these circumstances, we lost so great a quantity of inflammable air, that the Balloon could not take up three.

We were then four in the gallery. Lunardi, with a polite liberality that did him credit, gave up his place to Colonel Hastings. Conceive what must have been my feeling at the moment, and judge how alarming my apprehensions! Uncertain, in the hurry and confusion of the instant, whether I should not a second time meet with a disappointment in my favourite pursuit. I however kept my resolution, and although some of the papers have said, I was agitated almost “to fainting,” I never was more mistress of my reason. Mr. Lunardi said delays were dangerous, and immediately prepared for our departure. Colonel Hastings very reluctantly quitted the gallery, for he appeared to have set his whole soul upon the voyage; but in the hurry, as I have said before, which is almost inevitable on such occasions, several articles which Mr Biggin intended to have carried with him, were taken from us; even the oars which he repeatedly called for, were not brought.

At five and twenty minutes after one, Mr. Biggin gave the signal for cutting the cords, and your happy sister found herself secure from disappointment, and floating in the boundless regions of the air. We arose in a slow and majestic manner, forming a most beautiful object, amidst the acclammations of thousands, whose hearts at that moment appeared to feel but one sentiment, and that for the safety of two adventurers; who, notwithstanding the discouragement so recently given by the bursting of that identical Balloon, and the more melancholy fate of poor Pilatre de Rozier, had fortitude enough to banish from their minds every idea of fear or even doubt. [The previous June, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and his companion Pierre Romain became the first known victims of an air crash].

This I religiously declare to have been my situation. Mr. Biggin’s character is too well known to stand in need of any compliment from my pen; but as he is the principal link of the great chain by which I now hang, and I am an enthusiastic admirer of the principles on which he appears to think and act, I cannot let this moment pass without giving you some faint idea of what I felt respecting his manly and becoming fortitude, and that at a moment which bears the strongest affinity to the last awful breathing of this transitory existence. You’ll say I begin to prose, and indeed the present turn of my mind, shut up by myself, and reflecting, every line I write, upon the idea that I was daring enough to push myself, as I may say, before my time, into the presence of the Deity, inclines me to a species of terror; but I will lay down my pen, till I can reason myself out of my melancholy, and then go on with my narrative.

I take up my employment again with great pleasure, my dear friend, and am determined to complete my letter this day, knowing that you are too affectionately attached to me to wait the arrival of the next post, for a conclusion of a matter, in which I have been so much interested. Though the retrospection gave me a little gloom just now, assure yourself that I never had, since I first took up the idea, the least apprehension of danger. My mind was so perfectly made up as to the event, that I really felt no other sensation than a most pure and perfect tranquillity of soul, during the whole time we had withdrawn ourselves from every earthly connection, where not a murmur was heard to break in upon our peace, but all was sweet tranquility.

I have already told you, that we were launched about five-and-twenty minutes after one. My first attention was taken up in contemplating the extensive plain of countenance which were up-turned to us, in fixed and extatic attention. The pleasure and surprize I felt, was so great, that I was lost in admiration, and expressed my satisfaction by repeated salutations. At this juncture, Mr. Biggin made me remark, that we were descending fast: he looked down perpendicularly over the side of the gallery, and threw out a small bag of ballast, by which he made me observe that we were nearly restored to an equilibrium, although we were still descending. Mr. Biggin, with a bag of ballast in his hand, watched with attention our progress towards the earth, determined to descend as near the surface as safety would permit, and threw out the ballast by degrees, as the descent continued. He waited till we got so near the ground, that the people could hear him speak to them distinctly; he desired them to make way, as he was about to drop the remainder of the bag; they opened, and he flung the bag and contents among them. He made me observe, that the equilibrium was passed in our favour; and we began to ascend gradually.

Having secured the ascension, Mr. Biggin began to examine the direction in which we moved. We were crossing the Thames, above Westminster Bridge; it was then Mr. Biggin began to lace the apperture of the gallery which served to let us in, and which had been left open by mistake at our ascension. Some other matter at that moment requiring his attention, he desired I would stoop down and finish it; and thinking it better to go upon my knees to do so, gave rise to the report that I had fainted. I continued most of the time in this situation, having no table or seat; and being determined to pay attention to every minute circumstance that should occur; for which purpose I had taken a book with me; and Mr. Biggin seeing my anxiety was very great, at the same time thinking it no degradation to communicate his observations to a woman, of whose understanding, I am proud to think, he had not a contemptible opinion, gave me the most pleasing and unaffected explanations you can conceive. It is from his conversation that I am enabled to entertain you with some remarks, which would have been, perhaps, beyond the compass of my own observations. Female education does not usually leave the mind capable of drawing accurate conclusions from events, which may arise in the peculiar situation I am describing; where particular effects are produced from a variety of concurrent circumstances, every one of which would appear plausible to the reasoning of the moment.

Indeed, I am convinced, that any useful observations which may hereafter take place from aerostatic experiments, will be the result of impressions on a mind well versed in the general principles of philosophy. The observer, who is only equal to the narration of facts, will probably be wide of the mark in judging of causes.

When I knelt down to lace the gallery, I unfortunately put my knees upon the barometer, and broke it, so that we were entirely without a barometer; and of course Mr. Biggin could form no perfect opinion respecting our altitude. In crossing over Westminster, we distinctly viewed each part of it; we hung some time over St James’s Park, and particularized almost every house we knew in Piccadilly. The appearance the two parks were beautiful to a great degree: we remarked a number of persons collected, but not individually. Mr. Biggin here waved his flag; perhaps in compliment to some fair inamorata, who might just at that crisis be sending up her prayers for his safe return.

The objects of my affection or esteem were, at that time, (and are still indeed) so very distant from me, and so perfectly unacquainted with my situation, that I seemed to exist but for myself.

12 Minutes before 2.

Mr. Biggin began to arrange his instruments of observation; and desired me to fasten a cord to the grapple. At this time there was only one bag of ballast left, which weighed ten pounds, and which, he said, he would preserve for our descent. It appeared to me, that we kept very near the direction of the Thames: hung immediately over Ranelagh [Gardens, in Chelsea], which I remarked, appeared to resemble a tea caddy. Mr. Biggin made me observe the beautiful appearance of Battersea Bridge. At this time we could perceive a great number of people collected in different situations; each of these parties Mr. Biggin saluted with his flag.

6 Minutes before 2, Ther[mometer]. 59 hyg[rometer]. 3 direction West.

The balloon turned round its axis in about 15 seconds, three several times: I complained to Mr. Biggin that I had lost sight of some particular objects which I was contemplating with great pleasure: he told me that he would endeavour to stop, and with the speaking trumpet rowed against the motion; it stopped instantaneously, and then took a motion on its axis, in the same direction that he moved the trumpet, which he again changed, and we proceeded in a direct line.

4 Minutes before 2, t. 52. h. 6, W.

The balloon now began to dilate, and we sensibly ascended. Mr. Biggin bid me throw out small bits of paper, which ascertained our motion exactly.

4 Min. after 2, t. 45, h. 13, W.

The Balloon dilated, and we ascended rapidly: we now very comfortably sat down, ate some ham and chicken, and drank a glass of Florence wine [Chianti]; threw out the bottle, and Mr. Biggin saw it above twenty seconds in falling. Vapours began to appear under us.

6 after 2. t. 40. h. 12, W.

Balloon completely dilated. Inflammable air began to escape fast from the aperture. Mr. Biggin said we should soon pass some clouds, and that I was to expect some wet. I was very cold for above five minutes, and felt a little difficulty in respiration; but it was not an unpleasant sensation.

The cold had not the same effect upon Mr. Biggin; but his ears were affected with an unusual sensation; this he seemed to think proceeded from the rarefaction of the air contained in the cellular organs, which extended the tympanum, particularly, as on the descent he found himself a little deaf, which seemed to indicate that the condensation of the air, and consequently the relaxation of the tympanum, had taken place. The Balloon frequently turned on its axis, which pleased us very much, as it presented the whole face of the country, in various points of view.

15 after 2, t. 37, h. 10, W.

Inflammable air ceased to escape: that was then the time of our highest altitude. Paper flung out descended with nearly its usual force on earth; that is, gently. Mr. Biggin tried the magnet frequently, but it had no variation. We here passed through a good deal of small sleety snow, which did not appear to descend but floated about us, and that pretty thick. We had some white clouds under us in lines, and we saw the objects on earth through them as if through gauze. We kept close to the direct line of the Thames, and consequently crossed its meanders frequently. Apparently we were here stationary for three minutes. Mr. Biggen flung out a roll, and saw it falling about a minute, and a bottle empty about the same time, which his sight lost whilst falling.

Mr. Biggin tried a small bell, with an intention of observing any local difference of sound; but the effect was as usual. He then prepared an electrical experiment, with an electrometer, armed, as he expressed it, at the bottom with silver wire, terminating in a great number of points, by which he meant to form a conductor. On applying a stick of sealing wax, which he had previously rubbed on his coat, the pith balls in the electrometer visibly separated; and on exposing it as far as the arm could extend, to a cloud we were then passing, the separation increased, and the balls diverged to the side of the glass: he then dried a glass, and after some friction applied it to the ball, which, immediately on the application, united. From this observation he told me his conclusion; which was, that the electricity of that cloud was negative.

24 after 2, t. 39, h. 13, N.N.W.

The Balloon began to colapse and descend. From this time, Mr. Biggin was employed in preparing for our descent, which the papers gave us notice we were doing rapidly. Mr. Biggin threw out the anchor and line, leaving only about five yards in the gallery, in order that he might ease off the check, threw out our eatables, and other useless things; as we still descended rapidly, he kept the ballast in one hand and the anchor line in the other. He spoke with the trumpet to some hay-makers in a field.

When the grapple was within a hundred yards of the earth, he threw out the ballast; the grapple soon after reached the ground, and on the balloon’s touching the earth, he rolled off the check with the cord. The instant the grapple felt the force of the Balloon it slipt; and we continued skimming and grazing the earth. It was then I hurt one of the tendons of my foot, by its striking against a piece of broken iron, which was not to be avoided from the astonishing power the wind had upon the Balloon at our descent.

The first assistance that presented itself to us, was a single man, who got hold of the gallery; but he was of no service, as he was laid flat on his face. The people soon collected to the number of six, but the wind was so high, as to pull them all after the Balloon: by the addition of two or three more we were completely stopped. I got out.

After a delivery of two hundred pounds of human weight, Mr. Biggin intended furnishing himself with almost an equal weight of ballast, and after leaving me in the care of some of the hospitable people of the neighbourhood, he meant to ascend again, and continue his voyage as long as the Balloon would carry him. It was then that a little trait of female weakness, I confess to you, crept into my heart. I wished him not to proceed further than I could accompany him. I envied him a lenghthened journey; but as sentiments which are not natural make but slight impressions, I soon recovered my own; and as it appeared to be so much wished by Mr. Biggin to proceed, I bade him adieu with infinite pleasure; and only looked forward to his safe return. A number of concurrent circumstances willed it might not be so. The place where he descended is a large common field, near Harrow on the hill: the crop upon it was nearly got in, some beans only remaining. The master of the fields is one of those beings, who, though they bear the external marks of humanity, have very little of the real character in their soul. And so you’ll say when I tell you, that upon seeing a trifling injury done to his property, he was abusive, and savage to a great degree. The greater part of his companions were silent; and had it not been for some genteel persons who came up to us, I make not a doubt but the Balloon would have been sacrificed by these unfeeling people.

Much time was not wasted, and no ballast could be got, for we had not a spade with us, nor could we procure one. To make the matter worse, some of the gentlemen who had surrounded me seeing that I could not walk, went to Mr. Biggin, and told him that I was greatly hurt. Supposing this to be the case, he immediately determined to give up the idea of going further; (and when after having accepted a very polite invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Wilson of Henwell Green and a large circle of their friends, to dine with them at their beautiful little retirement), I went to take my leave of Mr. Biggin, he had begun to let out the gas.

About this time the kind master of Harrow School, and almost the whole of his charge, had got up to Mr. Biggin. The attention they paid, to assist Mr. Biggin, is not easily to be described to you; and he tells me it was principally owing to them that the Balloon was saved from destruction.

After Mr. Biggin had sent off the Balloon in a cart to town, he accompanied Mr. [Joseph] Drury [1750–1834] and his family to Harrow, where he was received with that polite attention which is due to amiable merit. One circumstance, which I will not suffer to pass unnoticed, as it shews the charming ingenuousness of well educated young minds: The young gentlemen conceiving that the damage which the farmer complained of had been occasioned by them, when they were assisting Mr. Biggin, very handsomely made a subscription purse, and sent it in to Mr. Drury, with their request that they might be suffered to consider themselves the properest persons to pay the man for the trespass which had been committed upon his property! Was not this a very handsome compliment? Mr. Biggin felt it with great pleasure.

I was conducted by the family I have mentioned to their house, which was nearly a mile from the spot I have been speaking of. There was a large party there, and were I to tell you the many flattering attentions that were shewn me, you would think me vain indeed. It is enough to say, that I did then, and ever I hope shall, feel the strongest sense of their politeness.

Here I left behind me a bottle of harts-horn [ammonia carbonate],which I had taken with me for fear of fainting; but as I never had the least idea of doing so, it had not been opened. Several other trifling things I distributed amongst the young girls who came to pay me their rustic compliments.

There were several gentlemen upon a dinner visit to Mr. Wilson, whose names I do not recollect, except a Captain Thomson of Dulwich, and a Mr. Brook, who were the two most particularly attentive in assisting me to Mr. Wilson’s.

Mr. Biggin, in parting with me, intended to come to me immediately after dinner; but it was impossible he could get from them; he therefore sent a chaise for me at eight o’clock. Captain Thomson would not set off for town until he knew my fate. I left this amiable family about nine o’clock, and reached Harrow about ten, where I was received by some friends who had rode after us; but from our changing our course so often, they had little idea of the place where we descended, and less of the abode of Mr. Wilson. We left Harrow about half after ten o’clock.

No words can describe the expressions of joy, and the acclamations of applause that we were saluted with at parting with these fine young men. Not satisfied with giving us repeated cheers at Mr. Drury’s door, they followed us out of the village, and placing themselves at certain distances on the road, reiterated their good wishes for our safety, until we lost the sound.

We arrived about twelve o’clock in perfect health and spirits, and I was received by a numerous party of friends with sincere marks of joy. The pain of my foot has confined me to my bed all day, and I have had sufficient leisure to write you this long letter.

The door is never quiet a single instant, and I suppose when I go out I shall be as much looked at as if a native of the aerial regions had come down to pay an earthly visit.

Remember me to all you value most; and believe me, whether in heaven or earth, I shall be always,

Most affectionately yours,

L. A. Sage

No. 10, Charles-Street , Covent Garden.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Captain Lunardi, Mr. Biggin, and Mrs. Sage

We art museum curators are often asked which of the many paintings for the time being in our care is our favorite. It really is an impossible question to answer, though from time to time you do think of pictures for which you have a particular affection that usually bears little or no relation to their importance to the collection as a whole, but which nevertheless make some personal appeal. So it is with this charming little painting on copper by John Francis Rigaud (1742–1810), Captain Vincenzo Lunardi with his Assistant George Biggin, and Letitia Anne, Mrs. Sage, in a Balloon, 1785. It is, in fact, one of two versions of the same subject by Rigaud. This one was sold by Otto Gutekunst, a partner of the old firm of Colnaghi, at Christie’s in London on April 6, 1916, and then again, in the same rooms, on November 27, 1936, by Kathleen, Countess of Drogheda. It was acquired by Mr. Mellon in November 1968.

In 1784, Captain Lunardi—a protégé of Cavaliere Gherardo Compagni, in turn secretary to Francesco Maria Venanzio d’Aquino, Prince of Caramànico, a favourite of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, and presumably for that reason Neapolitan ambassador to the Court of St. James—made his first ascent in a hydrogen-filled balloon. The event recorded here took place the following year, on June 29, 1785, or, to be exact, was an anticipation of an almost identical event planned for May 13. This, or the other version of the picture, was engraved by Bartolozzi, published by Mr. Bovi, and circulated widely the day before that projected ascent, which failed to raise all three adventurers, so at length Mr. Lunardi went alone. Bartolozzi’s print was then reissued by E. Wyatt in a slightly revised and better form to coincide with a repeat performance scheduled for June 29, in which, this time, Lunardi hoped to take with him as many as four companions—including Mr. Biggin, “a young gentleman distin­guished by birth, education, and fortune, of improved and elegant accomplishments, a strong lover of sci­ence, and of a liberal and affectionate heart,” and Letitia Anne, Mrs. Sage—who on this second occasion succeeded in becoming the very first Englishman and Englishwoman to fly. In Rigaud’s version of both events aboard Lunardi’s splendid craft, the so-called “eagle’s nest,” Captain Lunardi waves his hat, Mr. Biggin checks his watch, and Mrs. Sage, seated on an upholstered stool, ges­tures with wonder and delight. This is not, however, what actually happened on June 29. After several aborted attempts to take off, it became clear that the balloon could not even carry three passengers, much less five, so this time Lunardi gallantly remained on the ground, presumably holding his breath, allowing Mr. Biggin and Mrs. Sage to take off from St. George’s Fields (at Newington Butts in the Borough of Southwark) and drift west and north to Harrow. Huge crowds of people watched, including the King and Queen (each using a spy glass). According to the New London Magazine I:4 (October 1785), p. 178:
It is perhaps a true observation, that there is no enterprise, however dangerous or difficult it may be, but the female mind can summons courage enough to undertake it. An instance of this we have in Mrs. Sage, who unites to the tenderness peculiar to her sex, that manly fortitude which constitutes the heroine. Mr. Lunardi having engaged to ascend the atmosphere, accompanied by a lady and gentleman, on Wednesday, June 29th, 1785, about 150,000 people, of all ages and descriptions, were assembled in St. George’s-Fields. The day was clear, and the sun shone with uncommon splendor; but Lunardi did not ascend. That natural politeness which all foreigners possess, in acts of obliging their friends, induced him to give way to the pressing solicitations of Mrs. Sage and Mr. Biggin, when it was found that the balloon would not mount aloft with the three adventurers: the master of the ceremonies therefore mortified himself by staying behind, and permitting his friends to make their visit in a duet to the clouds. It was about a quarter past one when the firing of two guns, within the circuitous space, gave notice that the balloon was going to ascend; and, in about two minutes afterwards, it rose gradually, at about fifteen or twenty yards from the earth, making its direction towards Astley’s Amphitheatre, against which it would probably have struck, if Mr. Biggin had not thrown out a considerable quantity of ballast. Being lessened of its burthen, it mounted with velocity, and got to an amazing height in space of half an hour, making its way towards the west, as if proceeding towards Oxfordshire. After continuing about half an hour in this direction, it veered something to the northward. The appearance it made was really beautiful, and its easy ascent gave the public such an opportunity of viewing the whole distinctly, that every spectator seemed to be perfectly satisfied. Mrs. Sage at first seemed a little agitated when the cords were loosened; but collecting herself, she bid adieu to her earthly friends, and mounted on a pinnacle of height which no woman ever before visited. They descended safely at half past two, in a common field, a little beyond Harrow on the Hill, about thirteen miles from the place of their ascension.
Mr. Biggin is a young gentleman of good family, and takes a peculiar delight in scientific experiments. When Mr. Lunardi first ascended with his balloon from the Artillery Ground, it was the desire of Mr. Biggin to accompany him; but the balloon was found incapable of carrying them both. He was a second time disappointed on the 13th of May, 1785, by reason of some mis-management and confusion that took place in the operation of filling Mr. Lunardi’s balloon with inflammable air; the consequence of which was, that Mr. Lunardi ascended alone, but soon after made a rapid descent, occasioned by the bursting of the balloon. On Wednesday the 29th of June, 1785, Mr. Biggin, in company with Mrs. Sage, ascended from Mr. Arnold’s Rotunda in St. George’s-Fields. The sight was uncommonly grand, and afforded ample satisfaction to the numerous spectators. He had a pair of oars with him, but did not use them whilst he was visible to the people of the earth. As there was no valve to let out the rarified air, the only method of forcing a descent was by cutting the balloon. After a very agreeable journey they alighted a little beyond Harrow on the Hill, and were received by the young gentlemen and neighbors with the utmost politeness and friendly attention. It was the intention of Mr. Biggin, in the true spirit of enterprise, to have proceeded farther, after having parted with his companion; but he was prevented by the people about him.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

“Jumbo” Delacombe

I was fortunate during my brief tenure in the late 1980s as an aide at Government House, Melbourne, to have been assigned for a few days the responsibility of being in attendance upon Major-General Sir Rohan Delacombe, K.C.M.G., K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., one of Davis’s predecessors as Governor of Victoria, and from 1959 to 1962, at the very height of the Cold War, commander of the British military forces in Berlin. He and Lady Delacombe were by 1989 very elderly, but utterly charming, and absolutely undeterred by having at their disposal as youthful and inexperienced a civilian attendant as me. Their visit, which I think was a great success, coincided with the running of the Melbourne Cup, and one of my tasks on that exciting day was discreetly to seek for Sir Rohan reliable “information” in advance of placing for him extremely modest bets. Alas, I do not think I came up trumps, because, somewhat counter-intuitively, reliable information is hard to come by in the Committee Room of the Victoria Racing Club, especially from wily old punters such as Sir Henry Bolte, whom I vividly recall propping up the bar on that occasion. Nevertheless the General thoroughly enjoyed himself that day.

Sir Rohan was known affectionately to his staff as “Jumbo,” and to many other people besides. This appears to have been in conformity with the widespread practice of British troops during World War II, namely to confer upon their commanding officers affectionate, indeed sometimes baffling nicknames. A certain number of these originated among relatively junior comrades-at-arms during the previous World War, but plenty did not. Jumbo Delacombe was therefore a relative late-comer to the tight-knit constituency that included (but was not by any means restricted to) “Squeaker” Curtis, “Bubbles” Barker, “Pip” Roberts, “Strafer” Gott, “Twinkletoes” Essame, “Monkey” Morgan, “Dolly” de Fonblanque, “Windy” Gale, “Pug” Ismay, “Jorrocks” Horrocks, “Poppy” Flanders, “Fairy” Fairhurst, not to mention “Pickles” Sodhi of the 61st. Cavalry, “Binny” Shergill, “Rusty” Rockingham, “Tiger” Urquhart, and others known simply as “Loony,” “Tripe,” “Oxo,” “The Oat,” “Spud,” “Dog-face,” “Pumpkin,” “Bimbo,” and “The Hawk.” I am not quite sure how Sir Rohan Delacombe came by the nickname Jumbo. He was never, I think, a conspicuously large man, though his military bearing and meticulously-maintained moustaches were still mightily evident, even in his nineties. How very lucky I was to have been given the privilege of serving him, even only for a few precious days.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tumbrel time?

This blog began its life, and acquired its name, after the onset of the financial crisis of 2008, and that gloomy backdrop has since periodically waxed and waned. However, according to an article in this morning’s New York Times, based on a careful analysis of federal tax return data for 2010, 93 percent of the growth in income generated in the United States—$288 billion—went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in annual income, delivering to each household so defined an average single-year increase of 11.6 percent. However, a staggering 37 percent of that same income growth went to the top 0.01 percent, a hundredth portion of that uppermost 1 percent, in other words a mere handful of about 15,000 households that enjoy, one might better say feast upon, engorge themselves with, an average income of $23.8 million, which constitutes a rise of 21.5 percent. Let us assume that this is the constituency to which a pair of what Christian Louboutin dares to describe as “simple pumps” that cost $4,645 is currently marketed. Meanwhile, the bottom 99 percent, in other words the rest of us, received an average $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. And, of course, if you descend far enough, you will come to that sizeable eschelon below which the incomes (such as they are) of the poorest Americans drained inexorably away due to the impact of continuing and widespread unemployment. These figures are simply shameful, and point to the astonishing inequity that appears to be built into the current “recovery,” and an enormous failure of nerve among our leaders, legislators, and policy-makers. For, so long as we refrain from visiting real pain upon the super-rich, the better to improve the lot of ordinary working people, the battlers and the strugglers down to the truly desperate, or merely decline to adjust upwards by even a single percentage point the uppermost rate of federal income tax—while at the same time being sure to close loopholes and make sure that the colossally wealthy actually pay—the more likely it is that the pain will be visited upon them anyway, and to an unpredictable degree, by those masses for whom this state of affairs is as unacceptable and insulting as the suffering will eventually be unendurable. We would be foolish to believe that our society enjoys the protection or the guarantee of as much civil order as ministers of the ancien régime depended upon 250 years ago; indeed I would wager that the actual distance between the richest and the poorest then was a good deal shorter than it is in the United States of America today. What, then, is to be done, and why should the center hold unless something really substantial is done?

Further Daubuz

John Theophilus Daubuz, the bachelor brother of Lewis Charles Daubuz, is a fascinating but fugitive figure. He was described in contemporaneous London directories as “a merchant of New Broad Street” or “Finsbury-circus.” In 1818, he was listed as a sheriff in the counties of London and Middlesex (“Incidents, Promotions, Births, marriages, Deaths, &c., in London and Middlesex,” The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register, March 1, 1818, p. 166.) From its establishment in 1824, he was a director of the Indemnity Mutual Marine Assurance Society, one of the first insurance companies set up in direct competition with Lloyd’s upon the breaking of their monopoly in the City of London. And in the same year, only months before its liquidation, he was “Treasurer to the Levant Company,” in which capacity he handled charitable subscriptions for the relief of sufferers from the Syrian Earthquake on August 13, 1822, in which 20,000 people lost their lives. (John Barker, Syria and Egypt Under the Last Five Sultans of Turkey: Being Experiences, During the Fifty Years, of Mr. Consul-General Barker…, London: Tinsley, 1876, Vol. I, pp. 329–330.)

Although he appears to have been inactive in the Regency art market we know that John Theophilus Daubuz was a distinguished book-collector. He was listed among the subscribers to John Rutter’s de luxe Delineations of Fonthill and Its Abbey (London: Charles Knight & Co., etc., 1823) and was remembered as recently as 1908 in William Carew Hazlitt’s Roll of Honour: A Calendar of the Names of Over 17,000 Men and Women Who Throughout the British Isles and in Our Early Colonies Have Collected Mss. and Printed Books from the XIVth to the XIXth Century (London: Barnard Quaritch, 1908, p. 57).

However, Mr. Daubuz is conspicuous for having consigned to an auction sale at Christie’s in Pall Mall, on March 30, 1805, a group of “Italian Pictures, of the very distinguished class, recently consigned from Italy,” more specifically, it seems, acquired indirectly and rather mysteriously from the Palazzo Barberini in Rome (lots 6–38). At this date Prince Carlo Barberini-Colonna, Prince of Palestrina and Duke of Montelibretti (1735–1819), was inclined to seize any opportunity to sell anything to anyone, but Mr. Daubuz probably got this stash of paintings through an intermediary, almost certainly in Paris, during the brief period following the Peace of Amiens when Britain and France were not at war (1802–03). Travel from England to the continent before and after this brief spell was impossible, and, during it, travel beyond Paris was more or less practically so.

Despite this spectacular provenance, and the wildly ambitious attributions of almost every picture, all but a very few were left unsold. It may well be that the London trade conspired to lock out this newcomer to the art market, and punish him.

According to the Getty Provenance Index, it seems likely that after this debacle Mr. Daubuz either off-loaded his Barberini pictures somewhere on the continent, or else put them in the attic or a box room at Leyton. A few may well have passed with the rest of his chattels to Brother Charles.

In any case, Mr. Daubuz’s lots at that sale purported to include (1) a portrait of Abramo Federici by Francesco Apollodoro; (2) a Madonna and child by Federico Barocci; (3) an italianate landscape by Jan Both; (3) a Madonna and child by Guido Cagnacci (£31 10s); (4) and (5) a St. John the Evangelist and a companion St. Matthew by Simone Cantarini (Simone da Pesaro); (6) a wooded landscape by Claude; (7) and (8) “a pair of pleasing landscapes and figures” by Adriaen van Diest (£6 15s); (9) a St. Jerome by Carlo Dolci; (10) a portrait of “an abbess” by Sir Anthony van Dyck; (11) a portrait of a woman by Lavinia Fontana; (12) and (13) two portraits, a man and a woman by Giorgione; (14) a landscape with cattle by Johannes Glauber (£6 6s); (15) an estuarine landscape by Jan van Goyen (£8); (16) (17) (18) and (19) a St. Joseph and a companion Madonna, an infant St. John the Baptist, and a St. Anthony of Padua—all by Guercino; (20) a portrait by Bartholomaeus van der Helst, and the pièce de résistance, (21) Salome, the Daughter of Herodias, with the Head of St. John the Baptist, by Leonardo da Vinci. None of these painting may now be indentified with any degree of certainty.

The date of Mr. Daubuz’s unfortunate, possibly damaging entrée to Christie’s coincides almost exactly with his purchase of “The Great House” at Leyton. According to the Reverend John Kennedy:

This house was built by Sir Fisher Tench, Bart., who lived in it till he died—October 31st, 1736, aged 63. The Rev. John Strype describes it thus:—“Of more modern erection are the Magnificent and beautiful seat & habitation of the late Sir Fisher Tench, Bart., adorned with large and most delightful gardens, plantations, walks, groves, mounts, summerhouses & pleasant canals stored with fish and fowl, and curious vistoes & prospect, which upon the death of Sir Nathaniel Tench, son of Sir Fisher, came to his sister Jane Tench, who married Mr. Sowerby; and his children have very lately sold it to Mr. John Stanniland of London, Harberdasher; as also the fair & pleasant tho’ lowly situated Manor House of Leyton.”
This house originally had two wings, from one of which the cupola now on the tower of the parish Church was taken. The present front of the house was originally the back; the present High Road and the County Cricket Ground being fields attached thereto. The High Road then followed nearly the line of the present Scott’s Road, the estate on that side extending as far as the Philli-Brook, which divided it from the Phillibrook estate.
In 175o it was purchased by Thomas Oliver, Esq., a West Indian Merchant, and Alderman of London…In 18o5 John Theophilus Daubuz bought the Great House Estate from the heirs of Alderman Oliver for £5,8oo. Mr. Daubuz was of French extraction, his ancestors having come to this country at the time of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes…Mr. Daubuz died in 1831 [sic], leaving his estate to his elder daughter [sic], Ann Hand Mary Daubuz, with the exception of the present Grove House, and two fields adjoining it, which he left to his younger sister, Magdalen Daubuz. Ann Hand Mary Daubuz died in 1836, leaving her estate to her married brother, Lewis Charles Daubuz, of Truro; he lived with his daughter at the Great House till he died in 1839. His two sons, Charles Lewis and William, now inherited it, and by them it was let first in 184o to Stephen Cattley, a Russian Merchant, who with his family lived in it till about 1845, when it was let to Mr. Kennard, and after him it was let as a school to Mr. Arnold, a relative of Dr. Arnold, of Rugby. In 1855 it was a boarding house, under the management of Mr. Dovey. From 1858 to 186o it was inhabited by James Daubuz, the eldest son of Lewis Charles Daubuz; soon after this date it was rented by Mrs. Davey (then Woods), and a few years after she purchased it; and now it is used by her as a private lunatic asylum. (A History of the Parish of Leyton, Essex, Leyton: Phelp Brothers, High Road, 1894, pp. 327–329.)
This passage was neatly plagiarized a few years later by the author of a privately circulated pamphlet, with carefully barbed embellishments, as follows:

John Theophilus Daubuz bought the house and lands from the heirs of Thomas Oliver for £5,800, and it is probable that about this date [1805] the extensive alterations carried out in the style of the Brothers Adam, were made. Mr. Daubuz was of French extraction, his ancestors having come to this country at the time of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). Apparently something of a Philistine he (among other alterations) converted the two fine panelled rooms for use as domestic offices, had much of the panelling in other rooms stripped from the walls, which were canvassed and papered, and the remainder of the woodwork including the staircase and hall, painted stone colour! He is also credited in the Parish Records with blocking church improvements which threatened encroachment on his family pew…[Soon after 1860] the house now became a Private Lunatic Asylum (a fate which has helped to preserve many a fine mansion in districts which have seen better days) and as such it continued to be used until 1896. After remaining in the market for some time it has now been acquired by Mr. Miles and seems likely to share the fate of the Manor House, Leyton Grange, and other fine houses destroyed long since to furnish accommodation for the housing of the ever-increasing population of London. Should a purchaser be found there is a chance of reprieve, as although the greater part of the extensive grounds are already built over, having in fact furnished space for the formation of several new roads, the house still stands and is offered for sale as a club or institution, for which purpose it is well adapted. It is to be hoped that it may yet be spared—Greater London can ill afford to lose such relics of times that are past. (The Great House, Leyton, by Edward Gunn, Architect. Being the Fourth Monograph of the Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London, London: E. Arnold, S. Buckley, 1903, pp. 15–16.)
Like many other landowners, in 1830 Mr. Daubuz was directly affected at Leyton by the so-called Swing Riots. Several of his haystacks at Leyton were set on fire. The following notice duly appeared in the London Gazette:

Whitehall, January 25, 1831. Whereas a reward of one thousand pounds was offered in the London Gazette, of the 21st of December last, to be paid by John Theophilus Daubuz…to any person giving such information as should cause the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons who, on the night of the 14th of the said month of December, set fire to a stack or stacks on the premises of the said John Theophilus Daubuz, at Low Leyton, in the county of Essex; and whereas no information hath been obtained tending to the discovery of such offenders; notice is hereby given, that the said John Theophilus Daubuz hath withdrawn, and doth hereby withdraw, the aforesaid offer of reward, and that the same will not be paid after the date hereof. (No. 18772, February 1, 1831, p. 196.)
Since Leyton eventually passed from John Theophilus Daubuz to Lewis Charles Daubuz, and thence to the elder brothers of John Claude Daubuz, sometime Rector of Creed in the Diocese of Truro, it is impossible to know whether many of the chattels found their way to Cornwall. It seems likely that the replica of Gainsborough’s The Cottage Door came into Mr. Daubuz’s possession by that route, because this is the only even remotely plausible context in which he came to own it.

In 1836, John Theophilus Daubuz was listed as a Justice for the Peace in the County of Essex.

More Daubuz

The Daubuz family were Huguenot refugees from France. According to Susan E. Gay (Old Falmouth: The Story of the Town from the Days of the Killigrews to the Earliest Part of the 19th Century, London: Headley Brothers, 1903, p. 74):

Theophilus Daubuz, of Huguenot descent, came to Falmouth about 1730–1, and lived in a house belonging to Dr. Russell, of Truro, (presumably one of the Russells of Falmouth), situated, I believe, at or near the Market Strand. In 1763 he obtained land near Arwenack, with a view of building a “handsome house, and stable, with a small garden,” but possibly changed his plans, as no house of that date seems to have been erected there. Among other things Mr. Daubuz started in 1744 a privateer, but after a two months cruise, “in which she took only two Prizes and pillaged a little Town on ye Coast of Spain, ye whole booty not worth a £1,000,” she returned. This remark shows the profitable nature of privateering, and the reason why it was so much indulged in by all nations, the old raiding instincts of our forefathers not having wholly died out in the greater enlightenment of our own days. In the same year Mr. Daubuz married a “Miss Greene, a Grand-daughter of Mr. Jones, about half his age,” who died eight weeks after the wedding. He projected a Distillery Company, the distiller being a friend or relation, but I do not know if it succeeded. One of the Daubuz family lived in Falmouth as late as 1788.
Evidently the distillery did succeed, thanks to Miss Greene’s usefully unspent dowry; the proceeds of that brief visit to that little town on the coast of Spain, and the shrewd investment in land at Arwenack. Subsequent generations were comfortably prosperous.

The first generation of Daubuzes that concerns us is that of Lewis Charles Daubuz, whose delightful obituary appeared in 1840 in the Gentleman’s Magazine:

Lewis Charles Daubuz, Esq.
Dec. 15. At his seat, Leyton, in Essex, in the
85th year of his age, Lewis Charles Daubuz, Esq.

The greater part of his long and useful life was spent in Truro [Cornwall], where he must have resided not less than half a century; but his birth-place we believe was Falmouth. Not many years since he succeeded to a large property, by the will of his younger brother, John [Theophilus] Daubuz, esq. who, dying a bachelor, bequeathed his mansion and estate of Leyton, to his second sister, the late Miss Anne Daubuz, for her life; a large freehold property, with a handsome country residence in Sussex, to his eldest nephew, James Daubuz, esq. and the great bulk of his chattel property, with the reversion of Leyton, to the gentleman now deceased. When Mr. Daubuz quitted Truro for Leyton, some time after the death of his sister Miss Anne Daubuz, the most sincere and general regret was expressed by the inhabitants,—for at the age of more than fourscore years he retained no small remains of the energy and sprightliness of youth; and all classes were fully sensible of the great loss they were about to sustain. In person he so remarkably resembled the Duke of Wellington, that he was often, when among strangers, mistaken for His Grace, whom he likewise, in a different sphere, no less resembled in loyalty and devotion to his country. Connected extensively in business, from early life, with distant quarters of the globe, he possessed the means of better information than most men; and few have brought a sounder judgment to bear upon the various interests, whether political or commercial, of the British Empire. In his intercourse with the private circle of his friends, he was uniformly cheerful and communicative: he was the active promoter of every Institution which he deemed for the benefit of society, particularly of those established for the propagation of sound religion; and, in addition to his liberal subscription to public charities, he was the never-failing friend, privately and unostentatiously, of the fatherless and widows in their affliction; he was worthy, in short, of the stock from whence he sprang, which was that of a French Protestant family of great respectability, who were cruelly compelled, with thousands of sufferers in the same religious cause, to quit their native country, on the perfidious revocation of the Edict of Nantes, by that haughty and bigoted tyrant, Louis the Fourteenth. The Rev. Charles Daubuz, Vicar of Brotherton, Cheshire, and author of a learned dissertation on the Prophecies [Caroli Daubuz presbyteri & A.M. Pro testimonio Flavii Josephi de Jesu Christo libri duo: quorum priore de variâ ejus fortunò usuque, necnon auctoris consilio in eo conscribendo pertractatur, posteriore verò ex stylo ac dicendi modo & sensu, ejus veritas comprobatur / cum præfatione Johannis Ernesti Grabe. Londini [London]: Typis W. B. impensis verò R. Sare in Porticu Hospitii Grayensis Australi, 1706.], was, we believe, Mr. Daubuz’s grandfather; his great work is still appealed to as of the highest authority, and he is quoted by D’Oyley [sic] and Mant, as among the most eminent commentators on the Bible [Holy Bible...arranged by George D’Oyly and Richard Mant. London: 1813]. Mr. Daubuz married Wilmot, the youngest but one of the five extraordinarily beautiful daughters of William Arundell Harris, esq., of Keneggie, near Penzance, grandfather of the present Mr. [W. A. H.] Arundell, of Lifton Park,—this most charitable and amiable lady died at Truro many years since. His eldest sister, Mrs. Magdalen Daubuz, is still living in the neighbourhood of Leyton, full of years and good deeds. Mr. Daubuz has also left behind him four sons and two daughters, with several grandchildren.

I find it heartening, even touching, to know that the Reverend John Claude Daubuz, sometime Rector of Creed in the Diocese of Truro was the third son of Wilmot, that “most charitable and amiable” second-youngest daughter of Mr. Harris, and that in her prime, like her four sisters, she was extraordinarily beautiful.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mr. Daubuz

A good proportion of my working life is spent immersed in what we in art museums call “provenance research,” in other words the history of the ownership of individual works of art, usually but not always those in our care. Lately, this work has assumed considerable importance owing to the grim legacy of the Nazis who (apart from the obvious) also systematically stole enormous quantities of cultural property from Jewish families, in due course propelling much of it thence to the postwar international art market, and effectively thus bequeathing to future generations the task of tracing, correctly identifying, and, with luck, restoring it to their surviving descendants. Alas, contrary to certain impressions created by the media, we do not often succeed in bringing about such happy reunions, but in the course of our inquiries we do encounter intriguing people and stories somewhat arbitrarily joined by the common thread of custody and stewardship, sometimes over the course of several centuries.

Unlike people, objects travel light. Today we leave in our wake a ridiculous confetti of telephone records, flight bookings, receipts, tax returns, correspondence, and every conceivable kind of documentation with which our path through life may be plotted with surprising accuracy, often these days for the benefit of British tabloid newspapers. By contrast, it can be exceedingly difficult to establish that such-and-such a picture listed in an old inventory as Portrait of a Woman is one and the same as the painting we are just now attempting to pin on a particular mid-eighteenth-century sale or owner. At times we can be more fortunate, as for example when the line in that old inventory expands helpfully into Portrait of a Woman Wearing Yellow Shoes, and Caressing With Her Left Hand the Wing of a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo. If not exactly a smoking gun, this at least confines our search to a mercifully small subgroup of pictures in which, say, a Restoration beauty poses with a readily identifiable species of parrot, such that the likelihood of more than one such sitter wearing yellow shoes is no higher than being struck by an asteroid on New Haven Green. In other words I suppose it could happen, but it seems unlikely.

Such random thoughts were this morning prompted by this good replica of The Cottage Door by Thomas Gainsborough, which for about 100 years in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries passed through three generations of the naturalized Huguenot family of Daubuz in Cornwall, in the west country of England: in particular the Reverend John Claude Daubuz, sometime Rector of Creed in the Diocese of Truro, who sits squarely in the middle. The original painting is in the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif.

Mr. Daubuz was the third son of Lewis Charles Daubuz, a mercantile gentleman of ample but not limitless means. John Claude matriculated on May 2, 1821, aged seventeen, and duly went up to Exeter College, Oxford, almost certainly predestined for Holy Orders—having presumably shown no early aptitude for deployment in the Royal Navy, or suitability for an articled clerkship, which at this date were the two other useful trajectories for relatively impecunious younger sons.

After four years, rather longer than usual, and only by the skin of his teeth, young Mr. Daubuz took out his degree, and was in 1828 ordained priest by the Right Reverend George Henry Law, Bishop of Bath and Wells.

In 1836, Mr. Daubuz married Mary Uzella, the daughter of a wealthy banker, William Foster, of Lanwithan Manor, Lostwithiel. On their wedding day Mr. and Mrs. Daubuz signed a deed according to which they became the beneficiaries of a substantial trust established for her benefit by Mr. Foster. That trust was still in a robust state of health almost fifty years later—earning nearly exactly the same modest but rock-solid rate of interest; there were few if any financial bubbles in Victorian Britain. The healthy state of Mrs. Daubuzs finances, as indeed the robust state of their physical health also, made it possible for Mr. Daubuz to live undisturbed as Rector of Creed from 1829 to 1857, presumably for most of that nearly thirty-year period occupying a tranquil, plain, unpretentious whitewashed Cornish country house—the ne plus ultra of a comfortable Georgian rectory. It is set on a slight rise, surrounded by a mature park and garden. I have seen it.

At this date the Oxford Movement made little impact on the life of the parish of Creed, or the local deanery. Indeed I daresay word of it only occasionally reached the Lord Bishop’s palace in Truro, creating uneasiness. Evidently Mr. Daubuz took the trouble to preach every few years, and at roughly the same intervals presided over what was at that time known as “the Lord’s Supper”—in other words only when successive curates either went missing, died, or were incapacitated by shingles, or the flux.

In between times Mr. Daubuz published nothing; filled no other public office; served on no jury; managed to avoid any obligation arising from a justiceship of the peace or any minor magistracy that might otherwise have required the attention of the local squire and/or parson; scrupulously refrained from becoming directly involved in the affairs of his rapidly multiplying tribe of children, and otherwise lived quietly as a normal English country clergyman of means—from time to time dispensing appropriately modest sums in charity to old soldiers, destitute widows, and the poorest of his tenants, perhaps stimulated in that direction by this very picture.

“St. Creed” (or St. Crida) is a beautiful old parish church, with a distinguished set of seventeenth-century bronze bells.

At great length, after he relinquished the living of Creed, Mr. and Mrs. Daubuz retired to Killiow House, near Truro. Killiow is now a golf club, but by all accounts it was an exceedingly ancient manor, and the pretty old Georgian house that survives today was wholly transformed during the Regency by Mr. Daubuz’s father. John Claude Daubuz made a plucky effort to introduce pike into one of the artificial ponds he built at Killiow, but they died out soon afterwards. This is a valuable hint towards what was probably Mr. Daubuz’s preferred occupation: fishing. Certainly his only institutional affiliation, apart from the Church of England, seems to have been with the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, and joining it as an ordinary member may have been a shrewd method of preparing to build his ponds.

Having successfully avoided any form of intellectual stimulus for upwards of fifty years, in peaceful retirement Mr. Daubuz discovered the pleasures of controversialism. His first tract was published locally in Truro by Netherton and Worth in 1879, and was entitled The Origin and Nature of Man: His Fallen State: His Redemption: How Effected, and By Whom. This attracted some attention in the press, specifically a bold response by some bright spark, perhaps an ambitious young clergyman, a self-appointed new broom, to which, after two years of rumination, Mr. Daubuz cautiously replied with A Defence and Explanation of a Treatise on the “Origin and Nature of Man, that is, “A reply by J. Daubuz to a critique in the newspaper the Rock of his The Origin and Nature of Man,” and, at length adding to these, within only a few months of his death on September 24, 1883, some final Thoughts on the Creation of the World, and the Fall of Man. There was nothing surprising, new, flamboyant, or even particularly scholarly here, except a Mr. Septimus Harding-like goodness, dependability, and a dutiful determination, perhaps, to tow the Lord Bishop’s line.

Old Mrs. Daubuz was still going strong in 1885, when, recently widowed, she appeared in her own right as an entry in Edward Walford’s The County Families of the United Kingdom, though hers is one of many marked with a cross, apparently indicating “that the family to whose name it is prefixed have failed to supply the editor with full and satisfactory information in time for publication.” This is a typical Walford put-down, but may also suggest that Mrs. Daubuz and her family were in fact admirably un-preoccupied by aspirational matters of pedigree.

Now I should hasten to underline that no rational person would hold up Mr. Daubuz as a plausible model for ordained ministry today. His little world is as distant from ours as the county town of Truro is as far from New Haven, Conn. Yet I confess I have grown to like him. He wore no mask, and carried no mantle of high office. He wrote little, most probably said even less, and kept himself to himself. He was certainly not a flashy art collector. He merely inherited this replica of the painting by Gainsborough that led me to Mr. Daubuz in the first place, and in the end, when he expired peacefully at the great age of 78 or 79, he bequeathed it to his eldest son and namesake, along with much of the rest of his estate.

However, in between, Mr. Daubuz lent his picture, together with A Portrait of the Artist as a Beggar by Jan Steen, to the Royal Academy Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters at Burlington House in Piccadilly, presumably leaving for a period of four or five months two rather conspicuous holes on the flocked walls of his dining room. Having passed into his care unsought, evidently he made sure that the painting was properly looked after—it is today in good if not pristine state—and generously agreed to share his picture with an interested public when, to his infinite surprise, the Royal Academy begged leave to borrow it. Mr. Daubuz rarely traveled up to London, and one can only imagine the bemusement with which he watched his pictures being loaded into the cart, then rattle alarmingly down his drive en route for Falmouth and an insubstantial cutter bound for Gravesend.

By any measure Mr. Daubuz’s footprint was exceedingly light. His achievements were modest; indeed his impact upon his parish, his diocese, and his county were, as far as one can tell, practically zero. Yet it is also true that he did no discernible damage, acquired no enemies, raised no eyebrows, shook no foundations, left his peaceful world essentially as he found it, and passed out of the sight of men without reproach. He maintained his wife’s estate, and did not exploit it other than for the benefit of her heirs, their posterity. It was said that Mr. Daubuz bore a striking physical resemblance to the Duke of Wellington, but unlike His Grace he never had anybody flogged for insubordination, tempting though it may have been to resort to that radical measure when an under-gardener at Killiow was caught swiping one of his beloved pike.

Lately I have observed in quite a different context how ordinary people who lived and died in the distant past have, at times, the knack of swimming from faintness into vivid focus—thanks in this instance to a red beeswax seal bearing the arms of the family of Lewis Charles Daubuz, and a fragile brown scrap of paper with an explanatory note in pen and black ink that is still firmly glued to the back of the stretcher. By and by, despite their obscurity, such men and women may even strike one as extraordinary. Of course, it helps mightily if, once upon a time, you were lucky enough to be guided through the first few decades of your own life by a gentleman as dutiful and unostentatious as the Reverend Mr. Daubuz. Such are the emotional roots of any practicing historian, and, as this Eastertide rapidly approaches, I suspect they help to point us in the right direction.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The weeping cherry

In my garden there is a weeping cherry (Prunus subhirtella pendula), which, only for the second time in my stewardship, erupted into flower overnight. The delicacy of the long, swaying fronds of blossom, the paleness of the pinkalmost white reallynot to mention the suddenness of the phenomenon are all breathtaking, and, despite my best efforts to crane and position myself at different angles, are almost impossible to photograph, as these miserable efforts amply demonstrate. Certainly the sumptuousness of the whole effect is beyond capture; it requires instead an Erté. The surrounding trees and the hillside opposite are still almost bare, and, but for a scattering of daffodils and crocuses along the marge, my lissome cherry now assumes the role of solitary but flamboyant harbinger of spring. It is as if some strikingly tall, kimono-wearing lyric actress has wandered up the drive, taken up a suitably prominent position, and is now magnificently soliloquizing. Evidently my owl is dumbstruck, but maybe he has found a mate. Judging from what I recall of last spring, her performance will not last for more than a few days. My weeping cherry’s moment is now, and despite rapturous applause there is never an encore. Just a carpet of fading petals, either dissolved into mush by April showers or simply blown away.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Diamond Jubilee

Watching The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee address to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall the day before yesterday, I was struck by the extraordinary constitutional gulf that separates the present sovereign, in her stoical conscientiousness, from Queen Victoria, with whom she alone now shares the distinction of having reigned over the United Kingdom for more than sixty years. It was Queen Victoria, after all, who, towards the end of her life, facing the gloomy prospect of yet another (final) dose of Mr. Gladstone, confided to her daughter, the Empress Frederick: “These are trying moments, and it seems to me a defect in our much-famed constitution to have to part with an admirable gov[ernmen]t like L[or]d Salisbury’s for no question of any importance or any particular reason but merely on account of the number of votes.” To her credit, Queen Victoria did part with governments on these grounds, if only reluctantly, and one would be naïve to suppose that Queen Elizabeth II did not from time to time privately like some governments better than others—though we are never likely to learn which ones they were. Yet it is an awesome exercise of imagination to attempt to grasp the magnitude of the changes to her peoples and realms that have taken place during this remarkable reign, and to appreciate the calm resolution and strength with which, at the age of eighty-four, Her Majesty now publicly re-dedicates herself to their service.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pope Shenouda III

His late Holiness Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria came to lunch at Government House in November or December 1989 accompanied by a large entourage of Coptic clerics. I cannot now recall why the Pope was in Melbourne, but it was evidently a visit of some importance—maybe having to do with the inauguration of a new Coptic diocese. When their enormous motorcade came up the drive and the party alighted at the front steps most of the Governor’s staff was assembled for presentation, in strict order of seniority. None of us quite knew what to expect, and certainly the sight of so many bearded Orthodox prelates wearing their long black robes and distinctive bun-shaped headdresses was impressive indeed. The Governor and Mrs. McCaughey stepped forward to greet His Holiness. Now, Sandy, the Governor’s golden retriever, was mostly a very placid and well-behaved dog, but on this occasion, faced with such an intriguing gathering, she became very excited. Sandy broke ranks, and leaped forward before anyone could stop her. Perhaps sensing with canine shrewdness the correct identity of the ranking visitor, Sandy made a bee-line for the Pope, jumped up and greeted him with much friendliness and panting, her front paws planted squarely on His Holiness’s shoulders—he was not a tall man, and Sandy McCaughey was quite a long and silky dog. There was a collective sigh of relief as the Pope greeted Sandy with equal enthusiasm, laughter, patting, and other signs of affectionate good humor. My recollection is that the ensuing luncheon was a tremendous success.

I shudder to recall my total ignorance of any and everything to do with Coptic Christianity. I was seated next to one of His Holiness’s assistant private secretaries, a relatively young but, even so, grizzled-looking Coptic cleric. Pluckily, by way of an opening gambit, I asked him with considerable deference by what path of faith and learning, say, he had eventually become a member of Pope Shenouda’s staff in Alexandria—thinking that this must have entailed years of asceticism, prayer, even privation in some lonely desert hermitage; upwards of a decade immured in a fortified monastery, muttering prayers six times a day, and enduring four-, five-, six-hour liturgies—for which the relentless droning of stunted, hirsute nuns provided a suitably Oriental backdrop; perhaps also a period of arduous formation involving subsistence farming, goat dung, relentless toil in the mucky irrigation channels of the Nile Delta, etc., etc. But, no. His Holiness’s assistant private secretary told me, with perfect candor, that he did a degree in electrical engineering at Cairo University, and then an MBA.

The King of Tonga

There is more than a hint of condescension in most of the obituaries that have appeared this morning following the death yesterday of His Majesty King George Tupou V of Tonga. As I have mentioned before, this appears to build on depressingly persistent attitudes that were first prompted by the appearance at the Coronation of the King’s grandmother, Queen Sālote Mafile‘o Pilolevu Tupou III. Today’s press dwells in some detail and apparently with some surprise on the King’s habits of dress, always elegant. A taste for spats hardly seems objectionable in a monarch, and pith-helmets are simply practical in the tropics. There is also much emphasis upon on His Majesty’s use in and around the capital, Nuku’alofa, of a customized London taxicab. “An English taxi,” His Majesty once explained, “is extremely easy to get in and out of wearing a sword, a spiked helmet, and spurs. I realize these are not primary considerations for most people buying a car, but they are for me.” What ought to be underlined, however, is that through his relatively brief reign this gentle King voluntarily relinquished most of his executive powers, and introduced to Tonga for the first time in her history a measure of functioning parliamentary democracy—something that his father, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, resisted for more than forty years. This was no small achievement, and promises to be the King’s proudest legacy. He is succeeded by his younger brother.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Holding hands

Texting from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, my friend asks me whether it is uncommon for sitters in seventeenth-century Dutch portraits such as this one by Aelbert Cuyp, A Chief Merchant of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, Probably Jacob Mathieusen and His Wife, to be shown holding hands. My instinct was to respond straight away and assure him that this convention was widespread, especially in betrothal or marriage portraits—I suppose one need only think of The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck in the National Gallery in London, but now I wonder if we can adequately describe that proprietorial gesture as “holding hands” in the familiar sense of genuinely mutual attachment. That is, after all, more a case of Signor Arnolfini holding hers, and definitely not vice versa. A quick search online soon yielded the Berlin Double Portrait of the Painter Frans Snyders and His Wife by Anthony van Dyck, but again I doubt if we could ever describe that tender conjunction of hands as “holding” in the current sense, and the same certainly applies to the Self-Portrait with Isabella Brant by Peter Paul Rubens in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. As usual, when you come to grips with a deceptively simple question, the answer can become slightly more elusive and complicated than one anticipated at first. Maybe holding hands in public—than which I think, I know, there is no more heartening nor intimate gesture of tenderness short of the kiss—is a profoundly modern practice. And we are not talking about the formal handclasp or handshake that has been much in evidence since antiquity as the public demonstration of agreement and, at times, reconciliation: commercial, political, social. No doubt more intimate hand-holding was no more scarce in the seventeenth century than it is now, but it seems to have been far more restricted to the domestic environment and not nearly as often permitted to stray into portraiture and other formal spheres. Things evidently began to loosen up in England in the first half of the eighteenth century, and I can think of a few good examples among the conversation pieces in our collection: the Lovers in a Landscape by Pieter Jan van Reysschoot (formerly attributed to Francis Hayman), for example. Yet, as before, such gestures can more often than not be geared towards a gentleman taking the hand of a lady or a child, or else the lady taking the arm of her husband, and not so much the mutual holding of hands that these days we recognize as a sign of truly mutual attachment (except, of course, when presidents of the United States are obliged to greet in person the King of Saudi Arabia). So, for example, Mrs. Oliver’s eldest son takes the hand of his soon-to-be-married sister on the right margin of The Oliver and Ward Families by Francis Wheatley, or Mr. Drummond gives his youngest son a helping hand in The Drummond Family by Johan Zoffany. Yet even in a scene as lively and mysterious as The Portrait of a Family by William Hogarth, there are plenty of signs of intimacy, some of them highly suggestive, but no hand-holding. Curious. Incidentally, when we hold hands my friend has the limitlessly appealing habit of lightly stroking with his thumb-tip the proximal knuckle of my second digit!