Thomas Hope

 

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Anastasius

Towards Background and Meaning

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A Study of the Beechey Portrait

Sandor Baumgarten, Hope's Forgotten Champion

'Racial' Politics in Anastasius

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Sándor Baumgarten,
Hope’s Forgotten Champion

Jerry Nolan

 Le Crepuscule neo-classique. Thomas Hope (Paris: Didier, 1958), 272pp.

It was probably after reading Anastasius that Sándor Baumgarten (1893-1970), the inde­pendent Hungarian scholar, wanted to write the life of its author. At the beginning of his research, Baum­garten read in the Literary Gazette (1831) that the paper hoped that ‘some competent person will prepare and lay before the public an ample account of the life, travels and writings of Mr. Hope, convinced as we are that it would be pecu­liarly interesting to the literary, scientific and higher circles of society.’ Quite early on in his researches, Baumgarten began to feel that he had given himself a task which had been utterly neglected over four or five generations. The challenge was not only to find some original Hope documents but to develop his own skills to match the many interests of such a widely travelled and knowledgeable man. The very extensive biblio­graphy in Baumgarten’s book displayed just how far and wide into primary and secondary sources he ranged in search of Hope. There was much use made of published correspondence, memoirs and contemporary criticism. One of the most notable suc­cesses of the enterprise was the tracking down of Hope unpublished letters in the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, the Bibliothèque of Geneva, the Bibliothèque Municipale of Bassano del Grappa, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and the Bibliothèque Royale in Copenhagen. The sheer paucity of primary sources led Baumgarten to think that many things which could have facilitated his research must have been either stupidly or wickedly destroyed. Baumgarten’s suspicion fell on members of Hope’s family, probably his grandson, who might well have suppressed the evidence for their father’s dissenting voice in order to protect their own exalted ambitious plans to rise high in British society, and this suspicion turned into full scale conviction as the researcher began to piece together his own portrait of Hope by means of the study of the published writings and of reactions from his contemporaries. Baumgarten’s stroke of genius was that he structured his book in such a way that the attentive reader is put into pole position to observe Hope in a series of double-roles which reveal  the dialectical rhythms of his experiences.

 

Banker and Aesthete

 

Baumgarten studies Hope’s self-understanding as a member of one of the great banking families at the time by highlighting Hope’s published account of his childhood love of architectural drawing when other children were concentrating on more or less correct repro­ductions of familiar images such as flowers and landscapes. Later in life Hope copied engravings of many places including the ruined sites in Asia Minor and went on to draw much of what he saw on his Grand Tour of the Orient. Baumgarten discusses dilettantism as an element in his character but shifts the emphasis onto Hope’s efforts to admit the wider public to his house in Duchess Street, London where they could admire and learn from the display there of great art from many cultures. In Baumgarten’s view, Hope believed that works of art belong also to the community and should never be ‘at home in churlish cabinets concealed’. Baumgarten tells the story of how Hope’s wealth was used as a patron and draws special attention to the case of the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (who was born in Iceland) whom he rescued during a visit to Rome in March 1803 on the very day the sculptor, who had run out of money, was about to be expelled by the police of the Vatican State. Hope was to play Maecenas to the ever grateful sculptor.

 

Neo-Classicist and Transculturalist

 

In his view of Hope as neo-classicist, Bamgarten reveals his own considerable hostility to the tendency of associating Hope too closely with the spread of neo-classical taste in design during the Regency period. Baumgarten’s opposition to neo-classicism is implied  in the book’s title. For him, neo-classicism was the new intolerant religion favoured by those Enlightenment enthusiasts who, in order to become Greek and Roman again, seemed determined if necessary to disenfranchise themselves from everything else. Hope is criticized for his involvement in some of the ephemeral reviews of the neo-classical movement which, according to Baumgarten, were read by the devotees with as much fervour as diocesan bulletins were consumed by the Christian party faithful. These devotees went on rather quickly to imitate the Christian religion further by exposing heretics and turncoats among the themselves and by opposing Christianity itself when each Doric column erected in Edinburgh or on the lands of the Northern Semiramis was seen as a challenge to the Kirk or Orthodoxy. Unfortunately Baumgarten does not pause in this tirade long enough to seek the explanation of how Hope managed to be simultaneously  neo-classicist in some areas and cross-culturalist overall. More attention to details included in Hope long review of world cultures in his Essay on Man would have helped on this point. However what Baumgarten does manage to do is to rescue Hope from being captured as their prisoner, then or afterwards, by the neo-classical aesthetes.

 

Christian and World Philosopher

 

Baumgarten refers to Essay on Man when he quotes the opinion on the book by Thomas Carlyle who had praised and recommended Anastasius. Carlyle dismissed the book as ‘this monstrous anomaly, where all sciences are heaped and huddled together and the principles of all are, with a childlike innocence, plied hither and thither… a general agglomerate of all facts, notions, whims and observations as they lie in the brain of an English gentleman.’ Baumgarten confesses to feeling attracted to Hope’s sense of wonder before the universe which surely must stretch far beyond the stretch of Christian thought when the realization dawns that human beings on this globe are running around on a miniscule part of the prodigious universe – so prodigious that no human should pretend to be certain about its curvature. For Baumgarten, Hope seemed to be on a path which was to lead to the development of scientific knowledge – ahead of Einstein, in fact! Baumgarten lacked the philosophical knowledge to examine in depth Hope’s suggestions for the way forward in science, but he was determined to encourage his readers to begin to think like Hope and move beyond the limits set by Carlyle.

 

Family Man and Angry Rebel

 

One of Baumgarten’s most striking conclusions is that Thomas Hope was so little understood and appreciated by his wife and sons. Samuel Rogers’s opinion is quoted on the trials and tribu­lations of the ‘poet-banker’ whom Baumgarten readily identifies as Hope: ‘He has a wife who inflicts on him each season two or three immense evening parties. During one of  them, totally lost, with his elbows on the mantelpiece, he was accosted by a gentleman who said to him, “Sire, as neither you nor I know anyone here, the best would be, I believe, to go home.’ Baumgarten argues that one of the reasons why Hope remained a social outsider was that English society never forgot and forgave him for his non-English origins. Baumgarten is highly sceptical about the role of Hope’s eldest son Henry Thomas in the posthumous publication of Essay on the History of Architecture posthumously in 1835, when only part of the work was ever published and believes that the most interesting and revelatory pages, those which best characterized their author, never saw the light of day and must have been disposed of by somebody nearby. Commenting on the final Hope sale at Christie’s in 1917 of the heirlooms inherited down the family line from Hope’s eldest son Henry Thomas, Baumgarten’s scorn is obvious: ‘One can understand: why force a great grandson to lug after himself all this bric-a-brac, all this past? Over there the war was pushing up the prices of works of art; we forgive…’ Baumgarten viewed with scepticism the testimony of Irene Law in The Book of the Beresford Hopes (1928) where her great admiration for her grandfather Alexander J. B. Beresford Hope led her towards the belittlement of the achievements of her great-grandfather Thomas. Baumgarten warms to one of Hope’s cries of social rebellion in Essay on Man – now at last the man can talk freely! - by quoting from a passage about the unjust leisure class who consume their fortune in ‘an empty, sterile and hollow ostentation, keeping up a stupid pomp.’

 

The Bombshell of Anastasius

 

Chapter XI ‘Un Don Juan en Prose’ (pp. 164-206) is the tour de force of the book. Marshalling a vast range of sources, Baumgarten quite brilliantly recreates the sensational drama which happened in Regency society among the Whigs and the Tories when this bombshell of a novel was lobbed into the public domain. Baumgarten gives a remarkably balanced account of supporters and opponents, many of them strident, by quoting chapter and verse across the vigo­rously expressed divisions. The ongoing editions, translations and sales of the book at the time confirmed the enormous impact on the many who read the account of Anastasius, the world traveller. The chapter’s title has misled some critics to jump to the conclusion that Baumgarten is taking the story of Anastasius to be a variation on the legend of Don Juan. Actually Baumgarten is drawing attention to the original nature and instant fame of Byron’s Don Juan because  Byron was giving to the old legend a highly original angle by using the adventures of a vulnerable Don Juan as a vehicle for a biting satirical view of the unquestioned orthodoxies of contemporary society, so, like Byron, Hope was confronting the public with unpalatable truths about the drift of civilization. Baumgarten concludes by deeply regretting the fact that while Byron’s unfinished work continued to challenge generations of readers, Hope’s completed work with its perennial message for humanity too quickly became one of yesterday’s irrelevant works.

 

Two Reviews of Baumgarten’s Hope

 

There were two significant reviews of Baumgarten’s book about Hope published in England. David Irwin in The Burlington Magazine, December 1959 complained about Baumgarten’s inade­quate analysis of Hope’s attitude to Greek antiquity in general and to Hope’s own acqui­sition of Greek art in Italy. Irwin went on to regret that Baumgarten failed to discuss thoroughly Hope’s eclecticism especially as Hope, in his book about furniture in 1807, used illustrations based on classical, Egyptian and Oriental sources to show his aesthetic preferences. Another question left unanswered by Baumgarten, in Irwin’s view, was the nature of the eclecticism as shown in the portrait by Beechey when Hope had himself painted in Turkish dress. Douglas Dakin, in The Modern Language Review January 1960, described the book as a scholarly monograph. Dakin sympathized with Baumgarten’s problems caused by the chronic unavailability of primary sources and expressed deep regret that Hope had never found a Boswell. Dakin’s response to Hope’s Essay on Man was positive: ‘Hope, the former dilettante whose classicism had been a religion and perhaps an escape, endeavoured to come to grips with life in all its aspects and to understand nature.’ What Dakin liked most in Baumgarten’s book was the way in which he ‘skilfully builds up the picture of Hope growing older in the changing environment’. Dakin concluded by recommending that the book would be extremely valuable in an English translation. Irwin’s concerns were addressed by David Watkin in his 1968 book Thomas Hope and the Neo-Classical Idea. Dakin’s concerns have never really been addressed – most significantly, an Eng­lish translation of his book has never appeared. Neither Irwin nor Dakin showed much enthu­siasm for a re-launch of Anastasius but Dakin referred to the work – in passing – as ‘brilliant’.

 

Hope for Baumgarten

 

This publication of The Long Riders’ Guild Anastasius fulfils Baumgarten’s dream of the long awaited resurrection from the dead of the work by Hope which he cham­pioned most passionately. Already the LRG is planning to republish Baumgarten’s book about Hope in that long awaited English translation because – for all its hectic pace of researching, strong personal opinions, inevitable gaps, minor inaccuracies, inaccurate details, hasty final proof-reading – Le Crépuscule néo-classique:.Thomas Hope is a work to treasure not only for its many insights into a complex Regency figure, whose range of achievements tends to elude cultural historians, but also as a prime example of a scholar’s romantic travelling across countries in person and in imagination to find out more about a kindred spirit!  

 

 

Home

Thomas Hope - Triumph, Tragedy: Obverse Worlds

Anastasius

Anastasius:  Towards Background and Meaning

Philosophy

Interior Design

A Study of the Beechey Portrait

Sándor Baumgarten, Hope's Forgotten Champion

 

'Racial' Politics and Personal Ethics

Contact us

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