J. E. (John Evan) Hodgson.

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for Bonomi as an Associate against Sawrey Gilpin at the
election on 2nd November 1789; the suffrages being ten for
Bonomi and ten for Gilpin. He had for some time been urging
the Academicians to fill up the professorship of Perspective,
which had remained vacant for three years, and had recommended
Bonomi as a fit man for the post. Bonomi, however, was not
even an Associate, and the professors could only be elected from
the Academicians. His election as an Associate was the first
step towards what Reynolds desired ; but the fact that it had
been accomplished by Reynolds' casting vote, and that Bonomi
now stood on the same ground as Edward Edwards, another
Associate whom a certain party in the Academy had determined


should be professor, made them extremely angry, and they
resolved that the next vacancy in the ranks of the Academicians
should be filled by Edwards, though they subsequently, as it
appears, transferred their votes to Fuseli as a more likely
candidate. In the meantime the Council had informed Mr
Edwards, in reply to a letter of his demanding permission to
give a specimen lecture in Perspective before the Academicians
and Associates only, that it was their unanimous opinion that
whoever was a candidate to be an Academician for the purpose
of being hereafter Professor of Perspective, must produce a
drawing, and the President acting on this decision, informed
Bonomi that his drawings should be sent to the Academy on
the day fixed for the election, loth February 1790. Edwards
had previously declared in a letter to the President that if
specimens were required, he was past being a boy and should
produce none.

Meantime, however, as we have said, the opposition had
dropped Edwards in favour of Fuseli, and reinforced by the
opinion and support of Sir William Chambers, had taken up
the ground that it was not necessary to fill up the professor-
ship of Perspective. Chambers had previously written to
Reynolds reprimanding him for having given a " charge to the
Academicians " as to their duty in filling the vacant chair, and
subsequently informed him that he meant to join the malcontents.
One can hardly help suspecting that Chambers, in taking this
extreme step, must have been, more or less consciously, actuated
by a feeling of professional jealousy of Bonomi, and also of
irritation against Reynolds for not giving way to his opinion,
he having been accustomed, as Reynolds himself used half
jocularly to admit, to be master inside the Academy. He had
previously complained of Bonomi being a "foreigner," and
asked Reynolds why he would persevere in his favour "as
though no Englishman could be found capable of filling a
Professor's Chair'"; a sentiment which Reynolds heard with
surprise and indignation and characterised as "illiberal and


unworthy," adding that "our Royal Academy, with great
propriety, makes no distinction between natives and foreigners ;
that it was not our business to examine where a genius was
born before he was admitted into our society ; it was sufficient
that the candidate had merit." And he further adds, " though
this aversion to a foreigner may be justly suspected still to lurk
in the bosoms of our Royal Academicians, yet it is kept under
and uttered only in a whisper. I take, therefore, credit to
myself that the Academy has not been basely disgraced by any
act founded upon an open avowal of such illiberal opinions."
These opinions, however, if entertained, were conveniently laid
aside when it was found that Fuseli, also a foreigner, was a
more likely candidate than Edwards to defeat Bonomi and so
thwart Reynolds.

The match was put to the smouldering flame of rebellion
when, on the day of election, loth February 1790, Reynolds,
noticing that Bonomi's drawings were in a dark corner, ordered
them to be placed where they could be seen. He then stated
the business of the meeting, and exhorted those present to
" elect him who was qualified and willing to accept the office of
Professor of Perspective, which had been vacant for so many
years, to the great disgrace of the Academy " ; adding, " the
question, Ay or No, is Is the author of these drawings, which
are on the table, qualified or not qualified, for the office he
solicits ? " Thereupon Tyler, who was the spokesman of the
malcontents, asked who ordered the drawings to be sent to the
Academy ; and on the President replying that he did, Tyler
moved that they be put out of the room. Banks seconded the
motion on a show of hands, and it was carried by a large
majority, who, on the President wishing to make an explanation,
refused to hear it, thereby showing what we must agree with
Reynolds in calling " the rude spirit and gross manners of the
cabal." The election was then proceeded with, and Fuseli
chosen on the final ballot by twenty-one votes to nine given
for Bonomi. The next morning Reynolds resigned, so at least


he says in the MS. account from which these particulars are
taken, but the letter conveying his resignation is dated 22nd
February, twelve days after the election at which the events we
have narrated took place. It is as follows :

" Leicester Fields, 22nd February 1790.
" SIR,

" I beg you would inform the Council, which, I under-
stand, meet this evening, with my fixed resolution of resigning
the Presidency of the Royal Academy, and consequently my
seat as Academician. As I can be no longer of any service to
the Academy as President, it would be still less in my power in
a subordinate station. I therefore now take my final leave of
the Academy with my sincere good wishes for its prosperity,
and with all due respect to its members.

" I am, Sir,

" Your most humble and most obedient servant,

"P. S. Sir Wm. Chambers has two letters of mine, either
of which or both he is at full liberty to communicate to the

" To the Secretary of the Royal Academy."

These letters and the letter of resignation were read at
the Council on 23rd February, and at the General Assembly
specially summoned on 3rd March. It is probable that in the
twelve days' interval already spoken of, Chambers had
endeavoured to change Reynolds' resolution, as in the two
letters which contain a statement of the motives of his action,
and his reasons for resigning, he refers to the "gracious and
condescending message which His Majesty has been pleased


to send through you (Chambers), expressing his desire for my
continuance as President of his Academy," which message he
adds he received " with most profound respect and the warmest
gratitude, as a consolation of my retreat, and the greatest
honour of my life." All the same he adheres to his determina-
tion to resign both the Presidency and his membership of the

So far the malcontents were not disposed to make any
overtures to him, as at the General Assembly, on 3rd March,
they passed a resolution thanking him for the able and attentive
manner in which he had for so many years discharged his duty
as President, and also decided to summon a General Assembly
for Saturday, 1 3th March, " to elect a President in the room of
Sir Joshua Reynolds." The former resolution is alluded to by
Reynolds in his MS., where he says he has "had the honour
of receiving it, but," he adds, " as if some demon still preserved
his influence in this society, that nothing should be rightly
done, these thanks were not signed by the Chairman, according
to regulation, but by the Secretary alone, and sent to the
President in the manner of a common note, closed with a wafer,
and without even an envelope, and presented to the President
by the hands of the common errand-boy of the Academy, not
as a resolution, but 'the Secretary was desired to inform.'
Whether this was studied neglect or ignorance of propriety, I
have no means of knowing, but so much at least may be dis-
covered, that the persons who have now taken upon themselves
the direction of the Royal Academy are as little versed in the
requisites of civil intercourse as they appear to be unknowing
of the more substantial interest and true honour of that society
of which they are members." From which it may be inferred
that Reynolds was thoroughly roused, and determined to stand
upon his dignity.

Meantime the public began to take part in the quarrel, and
the newspapers attacked both sides, but the general feel-
ing was strongly in favour of Reynolds. As Gibbon wrote to


him, " I hear you have had a quarrel with your Academicians.
Fools as they are ! for such is the tyranny of character, that
no one will believe that your enemies can be in the right."
Lord Carlisle sent him a poetic address, beginning

"Too wise for contest, and too meek for strife,
Like Lear, oppress'd by those you rais'd to life,
Thy sceptre broken, thy dominion o'er,
The curtain falls, and thou art king no more."

And concluding

"Desert not then thy sons, those sons who soon
Will mourn with me and all their errors own.
Thou must excuse that raging fire, the same
Which lights the daily course to endless fame,
Alas ! impels them thoughtless far to stray
From filial love and Reason's sober sway,
Accept again thy power resume the chair
Nor leave it till you place an equal there ! "

An exhortation to both sides, which happily proved pro-
phetic, for when the General Assembly met on I3th March,
instead of proceeding to elect a President, they passed two
resolutions, one stating that " on inquiry it was their opinion
that the President had acted in conformity with the intention
of the Council in directing Mr Bonomi to send in his draw-
ings, but that the general meeting, not having been informed
of or having consented to the new regulation, had judged the
introduction of the drawings irregular and had ordered them
to be withdrawn." And the second, that " Sir Joshua Rey-
nolds' declared objection to his resuming the chair being done
away, a committee be appointed to wait on him requesting
him, that in obedience to the gracious desires of His Majesty,
and in compliance with the wishes of the Academy, he would
withdraw his letter of resignation." This committee consisted
of Thos. Sandby, Bacon, Copley, Russell, Catton, West, Cosway,
Farington, and the Secretary. He received them with every
mark of satisfaction, expressed his pleasure in acceding to the


request, and to cement the reconciliation in true British
fashion, asked the committee to dine with him that day.

Three days afterwards another General Assembly was held
at which the delegates announced the success of their mission,
and Reynolds himself attended and confirmed their report, but
did not think he was authorised to resume the chair till he
had obtained His Majesty's leave. This was soon received,
and on i8th March he again appeared in the President's
chair at the Council, and on the 3Oth at a General Assembly.
But his resumption of the reins was not destined, alas ! to be
of long duration, and he took his seat for the last time before
his death on i/th July 1791. Nor was this short period
without its troubles. On 25th June, Reynolds proposed to
the Council that the Academy should contribute ;ioo towards
the monument to be erected in St Paul's to Samuel Johnson,
but the question was referred to the General Assembly. It met
on 2nd July, and was the last that Reynolds attended. After
the transaction of some preliminary business, a letter was read
from Chambers expressing strong disapproval of the proposed
grant, as being for an object outside those for which the
Academy was founded, and in itself inappropriate "as well,"
he says, " propose the erection of a Triumphal Arch to Lord
Heathfield, or a Mausoleum to the inventor of fire engines, or a
statue to any other person whose pursuits and whose excellence
lay wholly wide of ours." A sensible opinion, it may be, looking
to the then state of the Academy funds and the requirements
they had to meet, but an essentially narrow-minded one, and
one which, under the circumstances, must have been peculiarly
distasteful to Reynolds. The proposal was carried on the
motion of West, whose reason for supporting it was not so much
admiration for Johnson as the hope that the erection of monu-
ments in St Paul's would "open a new field for the display
of the abilities of our brethren." When, however, the proposal
was submitted to the king for his approval, he, acting no doubt
under Chambers' advice, declined to sanction it.



THE first meeting of the newly-constituted Royal Academy
was held on I4th December, four days after the " Instrument "
of its institution had been signed by the king. Twenty-eight
of the thirty-four nominated Academicians were present, and
their first business was to severally sign what is called the
"Obligation," which ran as follows:

" His Majesty having been graciously pleased to institute
and establish a society for promoting the Arts of Design,
under the name and title of the ' Royal Academy of Arts/
in London ; and having signified his royal intention that the
said society should be established under certain laws and
regulations, contained in the Instrument of the establishment
signed by His Majesty's own hand :

" We, therefore, whose names are hereunto subscribed, either
original or elected members of the said society, do promise,
each for himself, to observe all the laws and regulations con-
tained in the said Instrument ; as, also, all other laws, bye-
laws, or regulations, either made or hereafter to be made, for
the better government of the above-named society ; promising,
furthermore, on every occasion to employ our utmost endea-
vours to promote the honour and interest of the establishment,
so long as we shall continue members thereof."

This Obligation, which is written at the head of a large
sheet of parchment, has been signed the signatures now ex-



tending to a second sheet by every Royal Academician
down to the present day. The ceremony takes place at a
General Assembly of the Academicians, to which the newly-
elected one is introduced by the two junior members present.
After hearing the Obligation read by the Secretary, he affixes
his signature to it, and then receives his diploma, signed by
the sovereign, from the President, afterwards entering his
name in the attendance-book, and taking his seat in the
assembly. As has been explained in a former article, the
diploma was not in existence at the first meeting ; it was
not decided upon till May 1769.

The next business to which this first meeting proceeded
was the election of the President and the Council, of the
Visitors in the schools, and of those executive officers the
Secretary and the Keeper who, in accordance with the
terms of the Instrument, were to be chosen by ballot from
among the Academicians, and subsequently approved of by
His Majesty. The appointment to the treasurership the
king retained in his own hands entirely. To quote the
Instrument, " There shall be a Treasurer of the Royal Academy,
who, as the king is graciously pleased to pay all deficiencies,
shall be appointed by His Majesty from among the Academi-
cians, that he may have a person in whom he places full con-
fidence in an office where his interest is concerned." The
Librarianship was not established till 1770, and the appoint-
ment was then made direct by the king. This is not the
time to speak at length of the various changes that have
been made in the tenure of, and mode of election to, these
different offices since their institution. But it may be stated
briefly that the only one that has undergone no change, save
in having become a salaried instead of an unsalaried post, is
the Presidentship. The Council, on which every Academician
serves in rotation for two years, consists of ten instead of eight
members ; the Visitors, many more in number to meet the
requirements of the various schools that have since been


established in addition to the original life school, are now
chosen from among the Associates as well as the Academicians ;
the Treasurer and the Librarian are no longer appointed by
the sovereign, but like the Keeper are elected by the General
Assembly of the Academicians, and approved of by the
sovereign, and have, moreover, to present themselves for
re-election every five years ; while the Secretary, though still
elected by the General Assembly and approved of by the
sovereign, is not a member of the Academy.

It may seem fitting here to give some account of the men
who first filled these chief executive offices of Treasurer,
Secretary, Keeper, and Librarian Chambers, Newton, Moser,
and Hayman.


The fame and genius of Sir Joshua Reynolds as a painter
and a writer have invested the first years of the Royal
Academy with a splendour which, parvis componere magna,
inclines us to look upon his presidency as the Augustan era
of its history : but from what we have already written of the
constitution and management of the Institution, the reader
will have perceived that there were other agents who possessed
an almost equal influence in its councils, who were responsible
to an almost equal extent for its actions, and who must therefore
bear an almost equal share of any blame which may attach
to it and partake an almost equal share of its glory. Of
those agents the principal was Sir William Chambers. He
was in fact a prime mover in bringing about the foundation
of the Academy, and continued till his death to exercise an
enormous influence in its decisions. The following is a short
outline of his history.

There was once upon a time, say the biographers, a Scot-
tish family living in France bearing the name of Chalmers ;
a descendant of that family was a merchant and lent money and


warlike stores to Charles XII. of Sweden, by which he naturally
lost In 1726 this Chalmers was in Stockholm endeavouring to
obtain restitution, and there, in the same year, a son was born
to him who was christened William. Subsequently, for no
reasons stated, the family name was changed to Chambers. The
father removed to Ripon, in Yorkshire, where the boy was
educated. The connection with Sweden was, however, kept up,
as we find William at the age of sixteen embarking as super-
cargo on board a vessel of the Swedish East India Company.
He made two voyages in its service and visited China, where he
imbibed a strong taste for that peculiar kind of scenery which
is so beautifully represented in the willow-pattern plate, and on
his return published a series of sketches in illustration of it. At
the age of eighteen he forsook the career of the sea, and devoted
himself to architecture, but in spite of Vitruvius and the study
of the works of the greatest architects of the Italian Renaissance,
he never quite got rid of the crotchet he had picked up in the
Celestial Empire. In the fulness of his maturity, when enjoying
a great reputation, he published works on Chinese architecture,
and when entrusted with the laying out of Kew Gardens he put
his early predilections into practice. He was then Treasurer
of the Royal Academy, Comptroller of the Office of Works,
Surveyor - General to the king ; and was consequently con-
sidered by an envious world as an eligible and deserving
person to assail. To vindicate his taste he published his
Dissertation on Oriental Gardening, which is certainly a
worse literary sin than any he had committed horticulturally.
It is an exaggeration of all the defects of Rasselas, and called
forth a terrible rejoinder from the combined forces of Horace
Walpole and William Mason, in the " Heroic Epistle," a mock
heroic poem which is a travesty of all the bombastic passages
in the work of Chambers.

His connection with the Court began early. When George
III. was Prince of Wales, a tutor was wanted for him in
architecture, and Chambers was selected. He had every quali-


fication ; he was learned and very skilful as a draughtsman, he
had travelled and mixed with all sorts and conditions of men,
his manners were easy and engaging, and he possessed tact.
When the Prince succeeded to the throne, Chambers was
appointed royal architect, and subsequently Comptroller of the
Office of Works and Surveyor-General. By his influence with
the king he was mainly instrumental in bringing about the
formation of the Royal Academy, as the reader has seen, and
his business-like ability served to steer it successfully through
its early difficulties. He was no doubt meddlesome and fond
of having things his own way, but there is little doubt that he
was to the Royal Academy what Omar was to Mohammedanism,
and Napoleon to the Directory : the esprit organisatoire y without
which it might not have got into working order quite so quickly.
We have already spoken of the part taken by him in the quarrel
which ended in the temporary resignation of Reynolds, and
alluded to the further difference of opinion between them as to
the subscription to Johnson's monument ; both episodes being
significative of the influence possessed by Chambers both over
the king and the members of the Academy. With these two
exceptions, however, he and the President appear to have
worked in perfect harmony, the latter, no doubt, being in the
habit of very much deferring to Chambers in all matters of

His greatest title to posthumous fame is the Treatise on
Civil Architecture, which remains to this day an admirable
digest of the proportions and methods of construction used by
the great Italian architects of the Renaissance, and borrowed
by them from Vitruvius and the Romans. It is a work of great
research, and is animated by an enthusiasm for the subject
which has a tendency to become contagious.

Somerset House, where the Royal Academy had its home
for so many years, is Chambers' principal work in archi-
tecture. A noble and imposing edifice, and as complete and
irreproachable probably as any public building in London, it





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would be as unfair to blame Chambers for the monotony of it's
wall spaces and the wearisome repetitions of rustication, which
offend our eyes, as it would be for future generations to blame
the architects of the past for the redundance of detail and the
exuberance of terra-cotta which characterise our street archi-
tecture at the present day. In this country, for some mysterious
reason, the art had in the days of Chambers lost its vitality to
all appearance irrecoverably. It had become an outcome of
erudition and a combination of examples, instead of ministering
naturally and spontaneously to the requirements of the builders.
Chambers elected to design his building in the style of Palladio,
as we elect to design a church in the style of William of Wyke-
ham, or a private residence in the style of Queen Anne's time
not having any style of our own ; and whatever may be the
defects of Somerset House from the decorative point of view, it
seems to be a comfortable and commodious building, admirably
adapted to its purpose.

The publication of the "Heroic Epistle" must have been
very annoying to Chambers ; ridicule of such a pungent kind
seems to have all the more sting when it attacks a reputation
which is well deserved, as it is all the more popular when levelled
against a man who occupies an exalted position ; but he no
doubt soon forgot it, and solaced his last years of declining
health with the society of the most eminent and intellectual of
his contemporaries, Burke, Johnson, Reynolds, and Garrick.
He died, having attained the Psalmist's appointed term of
human life, in wealth and honour, in March 1796, and was
buried in Westminster Abbey.


Newton was the first secretary of the Royal Academy. It
will be remembered that he filled the same post to the Incor-
porated Society of Artists, that when that society was rent in
twain by dissensions he had been deposed, and that his signature



appears in the memorial which was afterwards presented to the
king and led to the foundation of the Royal Academy. He
was born in London in 1720, and was a pupil of the Nurem-
berg artist Tuscher : he practised portrait painting exclusively.
Exclusive portrait painting was in those days often forced upon
artists by the conditions of patronage. In Newton's case, how-
ever, that consideration could not have been all-powerful, and it

Online LibraryJ. E. (John Evan) HodgsonThe Royal academy and its members 1768-1830 → online text (page 5 of 35)