Sunday 12 December 2021

From Johnson to James – and Richard Cockle Lucas

 For reasons unknown, my recent post showing the statue of Dr Johnson under the Christmas lights in Lichfield's market place attracted more views than anything I have put up in a long time – is the good Doctor popular in Sweden perhaps, where an increasingly large number of my readers are to be found, according to Blogger stats (Norway, recently so dominant, seems to have lost interest)? 
  The statue gets a mention from an unimpressed Henry James in English Hours (1905). He describes it as 'a huge effigy of Dr Johnson, the genius loci, who was constructed, humanly, with very nearly as large an architecture as the great abbey [i.e. cathedral]'. James describes the statue as made of 'some inexpensive composite painted a shiny brown, and of no great merit of design'. This is a harsh judgment indeed, but if the statue was covered with shiny brown paint when James saw it, he would hardly have formed a good impression of it. The paint has long gone, revealing what certainly looks more like real stone than any cheap composite.
  The Johnson statue was carved by a sculptor who rejoiced in the name Richard Cockle Lucas, and whose other works included a wax bust of Flora that was bought for a very large sum by Wilhelm von Bode, general manager of the Prussian Art Collections, for the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. This gentleman was convinced the bust was by Leonardo, and continued to believe this even after Lucas's son, the ambitiously named Albert Dürer Lucas, testified under oath that his father had made it from old candle ends and stuffed it with various bits of rubbish, including newspapers. When staff at the Berlin museum examined the bust, they did indeed find crumpled newspapers from the 1840s stuffed inside it, but that too failed to shake Bode's belief that it was a Leonardo. 
  Richard Cockle Lucas became increasingly eccentric as he grew older, becoming a firm believer in fairies, and riding around Southampton in a Roman chariot. His visiting cards show him posing in a variety of character costumes. This one shows him 'as a necromancer' –

But to return to Lichfield (as I am doing tomorrow), James goes on to be duly impressed by the cathedral and its close, and rightly praises the work of George Gilbert Scott in 'undoing the misdeeds of the last century. This extraordinary period expended an incalculable amount of imagination in proving that it had none.' Falling under the spell of the great East windows (the glass of which was rescued from a ruined Belgian abbey and sold to the cathedral at cost by Brooke Boothby), James begins to sound almost like Ruskin. 'The great choir window of Lichfield is the noblest glass-work before the spell of which one's soul has become simple. I remember nowhere colours so chaste and grave, and yet so rich and true, or a cluster of designs so piously decorated and yet so vivified. Such a window as this seems to me the most sacred ornament of a great church; to be, not like vault and screen and altar, the dim contingent promise to the spirit, but the very redemption of the whole vow.' No photograph can ever do justice to stained glass, but this gives a general impression of the glories of the East end of Lichfield cathedral...

No comments:

Post a Comment