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Anxiously Managing Mourning: Wellington's Funeral and the Press Peter Sinnema Victorian studies has commonly valorized the Great Exhibition of 1851 as nineteenth-century Britain's most remarkable celebration ofburgeoning economic power. The Exhibition "display[ed] the preeminence of Britain's own industry over the rest of the world" (Johansen 59); functioning as "a kind ofsurrogate Parliament, . . . perhaps the most influential representative body ofthe nineteenth century" (Richards 17). Quite legitimately, the Exhibition has come to be perceived as an unprecedented theater for the showcasing of commodities and for the advertising of national prestige. It must also be grasped, however, ifin a more limited sense, as a successful experiment in crowd control, in the préfabrication ofspatial security. On the much-hyped "Shilling Days," working-class crowds strolled the phantasmagorical space ofthe Crystal Palace in Hyde Park without incident: galleries laden with goods gleaned from Empire and with the material wonders ofthe Industrial Revolution transformed a potential mob into awed dilettantes. An arguably grander and admirably well-managed spectacle of the followingyear—the public funeral on 18 November 1852ofArthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington—has, surprisingly, received little scholarly attention. Attracting IV2 million spectators to London, the massive procession which bore the military hero's body from Chelsea to St. Paul's Cathedral (see figure 1) was widely celebrated by the earlyVictorian press as "one ofthe most magnificent and solemn pageants recorded in history" {MorningHerald, 19 Nov. 1852: 4). "Never before," exclaimed the rabidly pro-EnglandJohn Bull, "did the world witness a more imposingspectacle" than Wellington's cortège (20 Nov. 1852: 746). V i c t o r i a ? R e ? i e w (1 999) P. Sïnnema Figure 1 31 Anxiously Managing Mourning Figure 2 32 P. Si nnema Notably, Bell's Life in London was explicit in its comparison of the funeral to the Exhibition, foregrounding the more recent ceremony against a now-surpassed spectacle, the latter already regarded as fading into history : "Within the metropolis were congregated more persons than were contained in thewhole ofEngland 300 years ago—a greater population . . . than the population of London itself in that year of the Great Exhibition which appeared then the culminating point ofthe age ofgreat cities" (21 Nov. 1852: 3). Such accolades in the press encourage our apprehension ofWellington 's funeral as a new cultural watermark superseding even the triumph ofthe Exhibition. Harry Garlickgoes someway toward recognizing the significance manyVictorians attached to the occasion byarguing thatWellington's funeral "became at once the greatest performed spectacle ofthe Victorian Age" (59), its 1 1-ton funeral car (see figure 2) being the most remarkable sign of these "process[es] ofsymbolisation" (70). Garlick, however, emphasizes the symbolic and ritualistic functions of the procession, without investigating the ways in which the funeral stamped itself in England's cultural memory through a spatial staging preceded, as I shall demonstrate, byserious anxieties about public behavior and commemorative decorum. This essayaccounts for the important historical intervention made by the British popular press in the preparations for, andsubsequent interpretations of, Wellington's death and burial. I suggest that Wellington's funeral was a symptomatic event in its production of a space at once literal (London's central thoroughfares, lined with viewing booths and stands) and abstract (a prolonged period ofdebate initiated by the hero's death), a space in which apprehensions about public security and class conflict could be placated. Simultaneously, it marked a crucially important moment in what Mary Poovey has called that "necessarily . . . protracted and uneven process," the "consolidation ofa national identity or national character" in nineteenth-century Britain (55). The co-dependency ofthis distinction's constitutive parts—national identity solidified, however inconclusively, by a carefully staged and controlled spatial arrangement —is most tellingly located in contemporary press reportage. The Times, for example, solicited spectators to "[keep] still in their places" along the procession route, as the most appropriate way to celebrate a 33 volume 25 num b c r 2 Anxiously Managing Mourning national hero "ours by the accident ofbirth [who] was, to the very heart's core, and the very marrow ofhis bones—an Englishman" (18 Sept. 1852: 4). The solicitude with which the press anticipated the obsequies for Napoleon's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 30-60
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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