‘Touching Angels’: Author and Broadcaster Selina Mills’ Response to the Monument to William Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848) and Frederick, Viscount Melbourne (1782-1853) by Carlo Marochetti RA, 1853
By Selina Mills
This is one of my favourite sculptures in the Cathedral. And actually, the first one I really got to know. It’s just one of the most beautiful things to touch in the world because it’s both smooth – angular – muscular, but you can also do very light touches. So, you have her elbow, which is smooth; and her dress, which is slightly more grainy; and then you’ve got feathers with the most amazing details, so you can feel just the very fine lines of each feather, which I would never expect, actually.
And there’s no cheating, so if you go behind the back of the angel, you feel her wings at the back, they are absolutely beautifully detailed, just continually detailed.
And so, even if you don’t know it’s an angel, you would know it was something very tender – very, very tender.
I first really got to know this through a friend of mine who, three months before Covid, brought me here. He was a blind friend and he was a historian called Brian Miller.* He lived in America, and he often came to London. And he said if you want to come on a touch tour, and we came here — and I have to say, I will always be grateful to him — it was like a gift, because I have these wings in my head as a touch experience — it’s not a sighted experience at all.
And he sadly died with Covid in April 2020, during the first big wave. And so, I come here and I think of him, and I really am so grateful. I think what he showed me was that you can have a sense of something very beautiful purely through touch. So, I mean, from the smoothness of the marble, to the feathers, which I go on and on about a bit, but which I have to say are extraordinary, because you’ve got these tiny, mini feathers; and you’ve got medium feathers; and you’ve got big, big, strong feathers — and you think, gosh, they feel like a feather has been put in some sort of stone and then covered up, but actually each one has been hand crafted.
And I think, also, what I love about this angel is her symmetry. There’s something about each wing being each side — and obviously that’s true of angels — but you feel it, and when you’re touching it, you just think, everything has it’s right and proper place. It feels very — and I want to say equanimity: there’s an equanimity about it. But most of all it’s the touch; it’s the sense that you do not have to see this and yet you have a complete sense of this incredible, tender, light, beautiful protectress, and I love her. She’s absolutely wonderful.
In a way, I come here, and I just think, ‘Thank you, Brian!’ because he gave me this – this great gift of knowing that I can come to St Paul’s and — stroke feathers! It was an amazing gift and I will always carry him in my heart because of that.
*Read an obituary of Dr Brian Miller from the Washington Post and the National Federation of the Blind (US).
About Selina Mills
Selina Mills is an award-winning writer and broadcaster who is legally blind.
Selina has worked as a senior reporter and broadcaster for Reuters, the Daily Telegraph, and the BBC. She has regularly written for various publications including the Observer and the Spectator. She has a keen interest in disability and how it shapes our world. Selina has been a contributor to the ground-breaking BBC/Loftus series “Disability: A New History” (2013) which has been rebroadcast around the world, and a regular commentator to BBC Radio 4’s “In Touch”programme.
Selina also created the original idea and co-wrote the libretto (with Nicola Werenowska) of The Paradis Files, a chamber opera by Errolyn Wallen, which premiered at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank in April 2022, and then on tour around the U.K. The opera follows the real life story of Maria-Theresia Von Paradis (1759-1824) the talented musician and composer, known as “the Blind enchantress”.
Selina’s part-memoir and part history book on blindness, Life Unseen: A Story of Blindness is forthcoming.
Find Selina on Twitter.
About the Monument
Brothers William (1779–148) and Frederick Lamb (1782–1853), the 2nd and 3rd Viscounts Melbourne, were both figures at the heart of British public life.
William was twice Prime Minister. In fact, he was the last prime minister to be dismissed by a monarch – William IV – though he was later to be reinstated by Queen Victoria. William’s wife, Lady Caroline Lamb (1785–1828) was the author of the Gothic novel Glenarvon, who gained notoriety following her affair with Byron.
Frederick was a diplomat, who served as British ambassador in Portugal and Austria.
The brothers’ 1853 memorial by Carlo Marochetti RA (1805–1867) was the first overtly theologically themed monument in St Paul’s Cathedral and was very positively received by the then Dean of the cathedral, Henry Hart Milman. Marochetti returned to the theme of sentinel angels with full-height wings for the Crimean War memorial known as the ‘Scutari’ monument (1856, Istanbul) and the Cawnpore Memorial (c. 1865, Kanpur).