20 July 2023

The eccentric sculptor
who donated his statues
of Boswell and Johnson
to Lichfield and London

The writer and sculptor Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald (1830-1925) was in his late 70s when he donated his statue of James Boswell to Lichfiield in 1908 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald (1830-1925) was an Irish-born lawyer, author and critic who became a painter and sculptor later in life, and when he was in his late 70s made public donations of two major works with Lichfield connections: his statue of James Boswell in Lichfiield (1908), and his statue of Dr Samuel Johnson in the Strand, London (1910).

But who was the sculptor who completed these public works at a late stage in life?

And what inspired him to work on them?

Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald was born on 26 April 1830 at Fane Valley near Dundalk, Co Louth. His father Thomas FitzGerald, was an Irish politician and slave trader, who became wealthy in the West Indies as the owner of the slave plantation at Richmond Hill in Demerera, British Guiana (now Guyana).

Thomas Fitzgerald was a son of Christopher Fitzgerald and Anne Esmonde. He was the co-owner of Richmond Hill with his brother Laurence Fitzgerald and Thomas Fitzgerald and his business associate of Thomas Naghten were slave-factors in Demerara in the early 1800s.

When Fitzgerald returned to Ireland with a fortune from slavery and sugar, he bought Fane Valley in Co Louth in August 1823. He was elected MP for Co Louth for Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association in the 1832 general election. He was still in office when he died in 1834.

FitzGerald was the father of two sons: Thomas Christopher Fitzgerald (1820-1871), and Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald (1830-1925).

Percy Fitzgerald’s statue of James Boswell with the statue of Samuel Johnson and the Samuel Johnson Museum in the background (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald was educated by the Jesuits, first at Belvedere College in Dublin and then at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, before studying at Trinity College Dublin. He was called to the Irish Bar and for a time crown he was a prosecutor on the north-east circuit and briefly served as high sheriff for Co Louth.

In 1853, and perhaps on other occasions, he made a pretentious claim to the title of ‘Knight of Kerry’, one of three unique hereditary knighthoods in the FitzGerald/FitzMaurice dynasty in Ireland, the others being the Knight of Glin and the White Knight. However, the true Knight of Kerry was Sir Peter George FitzGerald (1808-1880) of Valentia Island.

Percy Fitzgerald stood back from his legal career, and moved to London in the hope of becoming a journalist and writer. He introduced himself to the literary critic and biographer of Charles Dickens, John Forster, who had recently completed a biography of Oliver Goldsmith and was working on another of Jonathan Swift. Forster encouraged Fitzgerald to write and introduced him to Dickens in 1856.

Fitzgerald became a regular contributor to Dickens’s magazine Household Words, founded in 1850, and All the Year Round. Other contributors included William Henry Wills, Edmund Yates, Douglas Jerrold, Blanchard Jerrold, Wilkie Collins, Eliza Lynn Linton and George Augustus Sala.

Claire Tomalin, in Dickens: A Life (2011), describes Fitzgerald as an Irish lawyer with a fluent pen and one of the clever young men Dickens surrounded himself with, ‘aspiring writers who were eager to learn from him and ready to flatter.’ She describes how ‘Dickens gave them work, corrected and improved their copy, was a good friend to them and dined them well.’

Fitzgerald contributed to a variety of journals and papers, including the Temple Bar Magazine, London Society, the Art Journal, the Daily News, the Gentleman’s Magazine, Cassell’s Magazine, and the Illustrated London News.

Fitzgerald was also a drama critic for the Observer and the Whitehall Review, and wrote a series of biographies and histories of the theatre.

One of the three bronze reliefs shows Boswell and Johnson together in the Hebrides (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

He edited the works of Samuel Johnson (1898), wrote biographies of Charles Dickens (1905, 1913), James Boswell (1891, 1911, 1912), David Garrick (1868), Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1886), Laurence Sterne (1864), Charles Lamb (1866), Henry Irving (1893), George IV (1881) and William IV (1884). He produced several histories of theatres and theatre companies, including the Savoy Theatre, the Lyceum and the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

His output was prolific: at any one time he claimed to be at work on two serials and he is credited with more than 200 publications on a variety of topics including fiction, drama, history, biography, religion, and dramatic criticism. He wrote several volumes of memoirs, in which he included detailed personal recollections of Dickens and his circle.

Most of these books were published by Chapman and Hall. Although his fiction is no longer read, at the time he experienced considerable success with novels such as Bella Donna (1864), published under the pseudonym ‘Gilbert Dyce’, and its sequels, Jenny Bell (1866) and Seventy-five Brooke Street (1867).

His shorter pieces included the Foreword to Dickens’s Dream Children (1895) by Mary Angela Dickens and others.

Fitzgerald married the Hon Dorcas Olivia Skeffington, eldest daughter of John Skeffington, 10th Viscount Massereene and Ferrard, on 8 July 1869. Already, there were interesting Lichfield connections through this marriage.

The Skeffington family were descendants of the Skeffingtons of Fisherwick Hall. Dorcas was a niece of Amelia Spread Deane O’Grady, who eloped to Gretna Green as a young teenager in 1821 to marry Lord Edward Chichester (1799-1889), who became the Dean of Raphoe in 1831. Dorcas’s parents were married in the Deanery in Raphoe, Co Donegal, in 1835. Lord Edward eventually succeeded as 4th Marquess of Donegall in 1883, but he never inherited the vast estates once owned by the family that gave its name to Donegal House on Bore Street in Lichfield.

Dorcas brought her husband a fortune of £12,000. He recalled that they quickly ran through this money, but only briefly experienced financial difficulties before he inherited his father’s fortune when his elder brother died in 1871. Dorcas died on 27 September 1876.

Percy Fitzgerald boasts on his Lichfield statue of his published works on Johnson and Boswell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

In later life, Fitzgerald turned his hand to being an artist, illustrator, and sculptor. He completed a bust of Dickens in 1900 for the Pump Room in Bath, another in the courtyard of the Prudential Assurance building, Holborn, London, and a bust of Charles Reade, the plaster cast of which is in the National Portrait Gallery.

Most noticeably, Fitzgerald was responsible for the eccentric statues of James Boswell in Lichfield (1908), and of Samuel Johnson behind Saint Clement Danes Church on the Strand, London (1910).

In the inscription on the Boswell statue in Lichfield, Fitzgerald describes himself as the ‘Biographer of Boswell and editor of Boswell’s Johnson.’

The more than life-size bronze figure shows a jaunty, fashionably dressed Boswell, sword at his side, with a comical crown-like hat and a turned-up nose. He stands on a black marble base with a Portland stone plinth.

A decorative medallion with a portrait of Mrs Thrale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Three bronze reliefs show Boswell with Johnson in different scenes: travelling together in the Hebrides; Boswell being introduced by Johnson to the Literary Club in London; and Boswell and Johnson dining at the Three Crowns Inn in Lichfield.

Boswell’s name and dates (1740-1795) are on the front bronze panel on the north side, with his heraldic crest at the base. There are additonal decorative medallions with portraits of James Boswell, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Joshua Reynolds and Mrs Hester Thrale, friend and patron of Johnson and Boswell.

The inscription on the south side reads: ‘The Work of Percy Fitzgerlad MA FSA, Biographer of Boswell, also Editor of Boswell’s Johnson, presented by him to the City of Lichfield.’ Smaller lettering at the base names ‘WR Coleridge-Roberts Mayor, Herbert Russell Town Clerk, 1908.’

Percy Fitzgerald’s bronze statue of Samuel Johnson at the east end of Saint Clement Danes Church in the Strand, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Fitzgerald also made the bronze statue of Johnson behind the east end of Saint Clement Danes Church in the Strand, London. The statue, which has been dismissed by critics as ‘grotesque’ and ‘quirky’ and as ‘modelled in a very rough style.’

Johnson used to worship in the church and Fitzgerald depicts him looking past the Law Courts down Fleet Street.

Fitzgerald is said to have copied Johnson’s face from a portrait by Reynolds and a bust by Nollekens. He looks stout and crumpled, as he did in life, and is commenting animatedly on a book he is reading, with two more books and an inkpot at his feet.

Percy Fitzgerald’s statue of Johnson in London has been dismissed by critics as ‘grotesque’ and ‘quirky’ and ‘modelled in a very rough style’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The main part of the inscription reads: ‘Samuel Johnson L.L.D. Critic. Essayist. Philologist. Wit. Poet. Moralist. Dramatist. Political Writer. Talker.’ On either side of the Boswell medallion are Johnson’s dates (Born 1709 Died 1784).

Below that is information about the sculptor and the erection of the monument: ‘The gift and handiwork of Percy Fitzgerald FSA and erected by the Revd S. Pennington MA, Rector of St Clement Danes 1910.’

The London relief showing Johnson and Boswell in the Highlands is similar to the one on Fitzgerald’s statue of Boswell in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The relief showing Johnson and Boswell in the Highlands is similar to the one on Fitzgerald’s statue of Boswell in Lichfield. A whimsical relief showing Johnson and Mrs Thrale misspells her name as ‘Mrs Thrall’.

The original plan was to have a royal unveiling by Princess Louise. But this was postponed when Edward VII died that very day. Then Septimus Pennington, the Rector at Saint Clements, died just as the statue was ready.

At Fitzgerald’s suggestion, he eventually unveiled his own work as Pennington’s body was brought into the church for lying in rest before his funeral.

The relief showing Johnson and Mrs Thrale misspells her name as ‘Mrs Thrall’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Fitzgerald took his sculptures and ‘handiwork’ much more seriously than his writing, and more seriously than his critics: in An output (1912), he mentions up to 50 works.

Nevertheless, he continued to write, and he produced new editions of his biography of Boswell in 1911 and 1912.

However, it must be asked whether Fitzgerald’s sculptures were inspired by his books? Or whether his sculptures were merely an enthusiastic but amateurish and awkward effort to promote his books and their sale?

Percy Fitzgerald was 80 when he unveiled his own statue of Samuel Johnson in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

He remained loyal throughout his life to Dickens. He was in his mid-80s when he published Memories of Charles Dickens in 1914. He was the first president of the Dickens Fellowship, and he presented much of his collection of Dickens memorabilia to the Eastgate Museum in Rochester.

He was 95 when he died on 23 November 1925 at his Bloomsbury home at 37 St George Square, London. His body was brought back to Ireland and he was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Samuel Johnson used to worship in Saint Clement Danes Church and Percy Fitzgerald depicts him looking past the Law Courts down Fleet Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (53) 20 July 2023

The Greek Church (Biserica Grecilor or simply Greci), a Romanian Orthodox Church in Brașov, is dedicated to the Holy Trinity

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (16 July 2023).

Today (20 July 2023), the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship celebrates the lives of Margaret of Antioch, Martyr, 4th century, and Bartolomé de las Casas, Apostle to the Indies, 1566.

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass windows in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

An image of the Trinity above the entrance porch of the Greek Church in Brașov

Holy Trinity Church (Biserica Grecilor), Brașov, Romania:

For some years, I was a regular visitor to Romania, for family reasons, working as a journalist with The Irish Times, and then working in partnership with Church of Ireland and Romanian Orthodox parish churches on projects in Bucharest and Brașov.

Brașov in Transylvania has a population of almost 250,000 and is the sixth most populous city in Romania. Brașov is in central Romania, surrounded by the Southern Carpathians and about 166 km north of Bucharest and 380 km from the Black Sea.

Historically, the city was the centre of the Burzenland (Țara Bârsei), once dominated by the Transylvanian Saxons. It was a significant commercial hub on the trade roads between Austria and Turkey (then Ottoman Empire). It is also where the Romanian national anthem was first sung.

The landmark church in Brașov is the Black Church (Biserica Neagră or Die Schwarze Kirche), a Gothic church dating from 1477. Some accounts claim it is the largest Gothic church in south-east Europe. It got its name after being blackened by smoke in a great fire in 1689.

Bran Castle, close to Brașov, is a major tourist attraction, said (incorrectly) to have been the home of Vlad the Impaler, often identified with Dracula.

Brașov is 48 km north of Sinaia, where King Carol I of Romania built Peleș Castle, his summer residence, in the late 19th century. The Sinaia Monastery, which gives its name to the town, was founded by Prince Mihail Cantacuzino in 1695 and named after the Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. Today, the monastery has about a dozen Orthodox monks.

In the past, I have worked closely with the Greek Church (Biserica Grecilor or simply Greci) on Gheorghe Barițiu Street in Brașov. The church is formally dedicated to the Holy Trinity.

The church was built in 1787 by Orthodox guild members and merchants of various nationalities: Romanians, Greeks, Aromanians or Vlachs, Serbs and Bulgarians, all living in Brașov. The first parish priest, Father Macarie, came from Sinaia Monastery in 1788. A church school was built in 1799.

This was a wealthy church, and from the 1780s competing language and cultural groups in Brașov disputed the control of both the church and school. Initially, the vying ‘Greek’ and ‘Romanian’ parties were split along socio-economic lines, with Greeks and Romanians in both parties. Eventually, they acquired an ethnic character and relations between the two communities were poisoned.

The Greek faction was successful in the courts, and the language of both church and school continued to be Greek under Austro-Hungarian rule.

However, the local Greek community in Brașov declined numerically and economically in the late 19th century, and in 1892 Xeropotamou Monastery on Mount Athos refused to send a new priest to the church, citing the church’s poor condition. By then, most Greek speakers in Brașov seem to have adopted a modern Romanian identity.

Due to a shortage of students, the Greek school closed in 1908. The last Greek priest, Father Neofitos Stamatiades, left the parish for Greece in 1946. The church reopened in 1956. The Revd Professor Nicolae Moșoiu has been the parish priest since 1999.

The church is 20.5 metres long, 8.5 meters wide and 11 meters high. The walls are of stone and brick. It is shaped like a ship, with arches and lengthy semicircular windows. The baroque façade is richly ornamented with stucco plants and flowers.

The interior of the church was painted with floral motifs in 1859 by the painter Guliemievici who also gilded the iconostasis. The icons of Christ the Pantocrator and the Mother of God with the Christ Child on the vault of the nave have a special beauty.

Over time, the church has seen many changes. A small entrance porch was added in 1958, and an inscription in Romanian in 1977 translated the original inscription in Greek from 1787. The interior painting was last restored in 1987 to mark the 200th anniversary of the church, when Father Zenofie Moşoiu was the parish priest (1972-1999).

A tower, known as the Bastion Gate Tower or the Powder Tower, forms part of the citadel wall and adjoins the church wall. The tower is 12-15 metres high, and includes bells and a semantron. It leads into the cemetery, where the burials include Dositei Filitti, Bishop of Wallachia, who died in 1826 and Panaiot Hagi Nica (1709-1796), the principal founder of the church and school. A number of royal figures are buried in the Brâncoveanu family crypt.

The Romanian Orthodox Parish of the Holy Trinity has over 600 families of parishioners. The church is open daily from 7 am to 7 pm. The church and the cemetery are listed as a historic monuments by Romania’s Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs.

Inside the Greek Church (Biserica Grecilor or simply Greci) in Brașov

Matthew 11: 28-30 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

The interior of the church was decorated in 1859 by the painter Guliemiev

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Abundant life – A human right.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (20 July 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Help us remember Lord, in all that we do, that we are all your children. We are all equal.


Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

the Greek Church in Brașov has over 600 families of parishioners

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The entrance to the Greek Church on Gheorghe Barițiu Street in Brașov