The Late Sir Joseph Paxton, M.P.
The Illustrated London News
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Obituary in The Illustrated London News
In the churchyard of the village of Edensor, in Derbyshire, and on the same day, Thursday week, in the Crystal Palace near London, the funeral of Sir Joseph Paxton, gardener and builder for a great English Duke, and for the greater English people, was duly solemnised. Within the lordly demesne of Chntsworth, one of the highest in rank and personally most accomplished of the old and rich nobility of this realm, having inherited from his predecessor, with the ownership of vast estates, and with an all but princely title, the services and the friendship of a man of genius, the fame of whose works lias reflected a fresh lustre upon the house of his early and constant patron, met a few private gentlemen, engineers, contractors, authors, artists and scientific men, with the secretary and manager of the Crystal Palace Company, to lay Sir Joseph Paxton in his grave. The Crystal Palace at Sydenham — the People’s Palace in a suburb of this metropolis, created, in a great measure, by his taste and skill — was closed and silent at the hour when his lifeless body was interred in the beautiful demesne of the wealthy Peer’s palace which he had so wonderfully opened, in the Peak country of Derbyshire. But when the Crystal Palace was opened that day, at the unusual hour of one in the afternoon, it was consecrated to a special performance of mournful music, in reverent sympathy with the feelings of those who had attended his obsequies, and of his other personal friends, as well as in just recognition of his claims upon the gratitude of the public at large. A marble bust of him, inscribed “Fundator Domus,” has for some months past been exhibited in front of the Handel Orchestra; and it was suggested last week, at the meeting of the Crystal Palace Company, that his statue, on a conspicuous pedestal, should be erected in the centre of the nave and trarisept. The inscription “ Si monumentum quaeris, circumspice ” might bear record of Paxton in that glorious edifice as fitly as, in St. Paul's Cathedral, it bears witness to the genius of Wren.
The history of this Crystal Palace and of the Exhibition Building in Hyde Park, suggested by the previous construction of the Duke of Devonshire’s grand conservatory at Chatsworth, is familiar to most of our readers. The Number of this Journal for July 6, 1850, contained an Engraving of Mr. Paxton’s design for the Exhibition building, of cast-iron columns and glass. The Crystal Palace in its form, especially in the absence of a transept and in the flatness of its three roofs, which rose one above the other, like steps or terraces, in receding stages, towards the centre of its width; but it furnished what was wanted — the means of expeditiously covering a space of twenty-one acres with a structure that would keep out the rain and wind, but let in the light of day. The Exhibition of 1851 would, to all appearance, have been a failure if it had not been for this design, since 240 other plans had been offered in vain. Sir Charles Barry has the credit of inventing the central transept, which was intended to preserve the elm-trees, but which, of course, added greatly to the architectural beauty of the building in Hyde Park. Messrs. Fox and Henderson were the builders. Still, it cannot be disputed that the merits of Sir Joseph Paxton on that occasion were sufficient to deserve all the praise which he received — as well as the knighthood; and, by his subsequent achievements at Sydenham, he proved that the confidence of the shareholders in his ability as a self-taught architect and engineer had not been misplaced. As a landscape-gardener, which was the art he first practised at Chatsworth, he has, beyond question, surpassed all others in our time. The Crystal Palace gardens, like the Crystal Palace itself, bear testimony to tlie genius of their designer. In practical horticulture and the science of botany, having, when a very young man, been employed in the establishment of the Horticultural Society at Chiswick, and having maintained throughout his life a constant intercourse with Professor Bindley, the greatest of modern botanical writers, Sir Joseph Paxton made some useful contributions to the literature of those subjects. He commenced, in 1831, with Mr. J. Harrison, a serial publication entitled The Horticultural Register and General Magazine, and, in 1832, The Magazine of Botany and Register of Flowering Plants, of which fifteen annual volumes appeared; and which then was somewhat remodelled and continued under the title of Paxton's Magazine of Gardening and Botany, ultimately being transformed into Paxton's Flower Garden. In 1838, when dahlias were fashionable, he wrote a “Practical Treatise on the Cultivation of the Dahlia,” which was translated into French, German, and Swedish, and to the translations of which Humboldt and Adrien Jussieu wrote special introductions. The last work with which his name is associated was a “Botanical Pocket Dictionary,” in which he had Dr. Lindley as a coadjutor, and which pioposes to give the history and culture of all plants known in Britain. But Sir Joseph Paxton's chief performances were less of a scientific than of a practical and executive character.
In 1851, the year of the completion and opening of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, Sir Joseph Paxton entered the House of Commons as member for Coventry. He was a sincere Liberal in politics, being one of the original proprietors of the Daily News; but it was upon matters within the rango of his own experience as a director of great public works and an employer of labour that he was most willing to give the benefit of his sagacity and special knowledge either for the information of Parliament or of the Government, by whom he was frequently consulted. The institution of the Army Works Corps, during our war in the Crimea, was mainly due to Sir Joseph Paxton.
The Portrait we have engraved is considered by his friends the best likeness of the man. A brief obituary notice appeared in our last Number.
“The Late Sir Joseph Paxton, M.P.” The Illustrated London News. (June 1865): 601. Internet Archive. Web. 25 November 2015.
Last modified 25 November 2015