Richard Brinsley Sheridan – A Portrait, 1777

Tell me, ye prim adepts in Scandal’s school,
Who rail by precept, and detract by rule,
Lives there no character, so tried, so known,
So deck’d with grace, and so unlike your own,
That even you assist her fame to raise,
Approve by envy, and by silence praise!
Attend!—a model shall attract your view—
Daughters of calumny, I summon you!
You shall decide if this a portrait prove,
Or fond creation of the Muse and Love.
Attend, ye virgin critics, shrewd and sage,
Ye matron censors of this childish age,
Whose peering eye and wrinkled front declare
A fix’d antipathy to young and fair;
By cunning, cautious; or by nature, cold,—
In maiden madness, virulently bold;—
Attend, ye skill’d to coin the precious tale,
Creating proof, where innuendos fail!
Whose practised memories, cruelly exact,
Omit no circumstance, except the fact!—
Attend, all ye who boast,—or old or young,—
The living libel of a slanderous tongue!
So shall my theme, as far contrasted be,
As saints by fiends or hymns by calumny.
Come, gentle Amoret (for ’neath that name
In worthier verse is sung thy beauty’s fame),
Come—for but thee who seeks the Muse? and while
Celestial blushes check thy conscious smile.
With timid grace and hesitating eye,
The perfect model which I boast supply:—
Vain Muse! couldst thou the humblest sketch create
Of her, or slightest charm couldst imitate—
Could thy blest strain in kindred colours trace
The faintest wonder of her form and face—
Poets would study the immortal line,
And Reynolds own his art subdued by thine;
That art, which well might added lustre give
To nature’s best and heaven’s superlative:
On Granby’s cheek might bid new glories rise.
Or point a purer beam from Devon’s eyes!
Hard is the task to shape that beauty’s praise,
Whose judgment scorns the homage flattery pays?
But praising Amoret we cannot err,
No tongue o’ervalues Heaven, or flatters her!
Yet she by fate’s perverseness—she alone
Would doubt our truth, nor deem such praise her own!
Adorning fashion, unadorn’d by dress,
Simple from taste, and not from carelessness;
Discreet in gesture, in deportment mild,
Not stiff with prudence, nor uncouthly wild:
No state has Amoret; no studied mien;
She frowns no goddess, and she moves no queen,
The softer charm that in her manner lies
Is framed to captivate, yet not surprise;
It justly suits the expression of her face,—
’Tis less than dignity, and more than grace!
On her pure cheek the native hue is such,
That, form’d by Heaven to be admired so much,
The hand divine, with a less partial care,
Might well have fix’d a fainter crimson there,
And bade the gentle inmate of her breast—
Inshrined Modesty—supply the rest.
But who the peril of her lips shall paint?
Strip them of smiles—still, still all words are faint!
But moving Love himself appears to teach
Their action, though denied to rule her speech;
And thou who seest her speak, and dost not hear,
Mourn not her distant accents ’scape thine ear;
Viewing those lips, thou still may’st make pretence
To judge of what she says, and swear ’tis sense:
Clothed with such grace, with such expression fraught,
They move in meaning, and they pause in thought!
But dost thou farther watch, with charm’d surprise,
The mild irresolution of her eyes,
Curious to mark how frequent they repose,
In brief eclipse and momentary close—
Ah! seest thou not an ambush’d Cupid there,
Too tim’rous of his charge, with jealous care
Veils and unveils those beams of heavenly light,
Too full, too fatal else, for mortal sight?
Nor yet, such pleasing vengeance fond to meet,
In pard’ning dimples hope a safe retreat.
What though her peaceful breast should ne’er allow
Subduing frowns to arm her altered brow,
By Love, I swear, and by his gentle wiles,
More fatal still the mercy of her smiles!
Thus lovely, thus adorn’d, possessing all
Of bright or fair that can to woman fall,
The height of vanity might well be thought
Prerogative in her, and Nature’s fault.
Yet gentle Amoret, in mind supreme
As well as charms, rejects the vainer theme;
And, half mistrustful of her beauty’s store,
She barbs with wit those darts too keen before:—
Read in all knowledge that her sex should reach,
Though Greville, or the Muse, should deign to teach,
Fond to improve, nor timorous to discern
How far it is a woman’s grace to learn;
In Millar’s dialect she would not prove
Apollo’s priestess, but Apollo’s love,
Graced by those signs which truth delights to own,
The timid blush, and mild submitted tone:
Whate’er she says, though sense appear throughout,
Displays the tender hue of female doubt;
Deck’d with that charm, how lovely wit appears,
How graceful science, when that robe she wears!
Such too her talents, and her bent of mind,
As speak a sprightly heart by thought refined:
A taste for mirth, by contemplation school’d,
A turn for ridicule, by candour ruled,
A scorn of folly, which she tries to hide;
An awe of talent, which she owns with pride!
Peace, idle Muse! no more thy strain prolong,
But yield a theme, thy warmest praises wrong;
Just to her merit, though thou canst not raise
Thy feeble verse, behold th’ acknowledged praise
Has spread conviction through the envious train,
And cast a fatal gloom o’er Scandal’s reign!
And lo! each pallid hag, with blister’d tongue,
Mutters assent to all thy zeal has sung–
Owns all the colours just–the outline true;
Thee my inspirer, and my model–CREWE!

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). A Portrait. 1777. (Addressed to Mrs Crewe, with the Comedy of The School for Scandal)

C P Cavafy – I brought to art

I sit in a mood of reverie.
I brought to Art desires and sensations:
things half-glimpsed,
faces or lines, certain indistinct memories
of unfulfilled love affairs. Let me submit to Art:
Art knows how to shape forms of Beauty,
almost imperceptibly completing life,
blending impressions, blending day with day

C.P. Cavafy, I brought to art. Collected Poems.

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992

Horace Walpole – The Castle of Otranto, 1764


Manfred rose to pursue her, when the moon, which was now up, and gleamed in at the opposite casement, presented to his sight the plumes of the

fatal helmet, which rose to the height of the windows, waving backwards and forwards in a tempestuous manner, and accompanied with a hollow and rustling sound. Isabella, who gathered courage from her situation, and who dreaded

nothing so much as Manfred’s pursuit of his declaration, cried

“Look, my Lord ! see, Heaven itself declares against your impious intentions ! ”

“Heaven nor Hell shall impede my designs,” said Manfred, advancing again to seize the Princess.

At that instant the portrait of his grandfather, which hung over the bench where they had been sitting, uttered a deep sigh, and heaved its breast.

Isabella, whose back was turned to the picture, saw not the motion, nor knew whence the sound came, but started, and said

“Hark, my Lord ! What sound was that” and at the same time made towards the door.

Manfred, distracted between the flight of Isabella, who had now reached the stairs, and yet unable to keep his eyes from the picture, which began to move, had, however, advanced some steps after her, still looking backwards on the portrait, when he saw it quit its panel, and descend on the floor with a grave and melancholy air.

“Do I dream ? ” cried Manfred, returning ; “or are the devils themselves in league against me? Speak, infernal spectre ! Or, if thou art my grandsire, why dost thou too conspire against thy wretched descendant, who too dearly pays for ‘

Ere he could finish the sentence, the vision sighed again, and made a sign to Manfred to follow him.

” Lead on ! ” cried Manfred ; ” I will follow thee to the gulf of perdition.”

The spectre marched sedately, but dejected, to the end of the gallery, and turned into a chamber on the right hand. Manfred accompanied him at a little distance, full of anxiety and horror, but resolved. As he would have entered the chamber, the door was clapped to with violence by an invisible hand. The Prince, collecting courage from this delay, would have forcibly burst open the door with his foot, but found that it resisted his utmost efforts.

” Since Hell will not satisfy my curiosity,” said Manfred, ” I will use the human means in my power for preserving my race ; Isabella shall not escape me.”

Horace Walpole, 1717-1797.   The Castle of Otranto, 1764.  (Chapter 30)

Image: Marcus Geeraerts, the younger, 1561-1635. Portrait of Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland, (c.1576-1633), c.1603. Strawberry Hill

Kingsley Amis – Shitty, 1955


Look thy last on all things shitty
While thou’rt at it: soccer stars,
Soccer crowds, bedezined bushheads
Jerking over their guitars.

German tourists, plastic roses,
Face of Mao and face of Ché,
Women wearing curtains, blankets,
Beckett at the ICA.

High-rise blocks and action paintings,
Sculptures made from wire and lead:
Each of them a sight more lovely
Than the screens around your bed.

Kingsley Amis, 1922 -1995

Shitty, 1955 from Collected Poems 1944–1979

Image: Terence Donovan (1936-1996), Man About Town, 1960

Joyce Cary – Herself Surprised, 1941


‘He promised me my picture in six months and it’s not finished after four years.’ It was always her picture. She would say to visitors: ‘Yes, my picture is going on very well. It is going to be finished by next month. A wonderful conception, don’t you think, the Garden of Eden?’

Of course, all the people in the place were disgusted at the picture. Ugly was too good a word for it. It was an outrage, an insult to decent folk, a bolshevist plot. Why they thought it bolshevist, I could never find out, because it was only naked men and women in a kind of garden with queer flowers and trees, and some of them speaking words out of their mouths, written on coloured puffs. None of the words were to do with bolshevism, which Gulley hated like poison because, he said, the bolshevists tried to make artists paint for  the government.

One of the women, with very short legs, was saying in pink letters on a blue puff: ‘Love is my name, on death I stand.’ A tree with white flowers was singing out of one of the flowers: ‘I sleep in this joy, do not wake me with admiration.’ A goat was saying in white letters on a green puff: ‘Chain me or I shall eat the world bare.’ An old man with no ears or arms or legs was saying: ‘You do not speak my language – I can’t hear your voice.’ A big strong black man with his legs like tree roots was saying in black letters on a big white puff: ‘I am death, from life I grow. Maids, take my seed, and bear.’

No one liked the picture, not even Miss Slaughter, who was shocked by the puffs. She was terribly upset when she saw Gulley painting them on, in the very last month. I heard her catch her breath. But as I say, she was tough, and she always stuck to her principles, which were that Gulley was a genius and that a genius is always right. So she even praised them to him. But all he said was: ‘I think they look silly.’

So I thought too, and I hoped he would change them. But he never did. For one day he came in and told me that the picture was done; he never wanted to see it again. He agreed only to stay for the opening day, which was to be after harvest Sunday.

Miss Slaughter couldn’t wait even so long as a month. She turned us out as soon as the picture was finished. Not that she was rude. She said that her niece was coming. But no niece came and it was only to get rid of us. I don’t blame her after five years. But as it turned out we had no money, at least till Gulley finished a portrait down in Queensport; so we had to take the cheapest room, over the blacksmith’s.

It was small, but that was no drawback when Gulley was happy. So he was, glad as always to be finished with a picture; and full of a new one, for Mr Hickson’s drawing- room, twenty feet high and forty feet long. Mr Hickson had not ordered it and we both knew he would never take it; but it kept us both happy in that week. For as I say, when Gulley was happy then we were both gay.

Joyce Cary. 1888- 1957

Herself Surprised, 1941

D H Lawrence – Women in Love, 1920


`You have heard the plan,’ he said with some excitement, `for a studio for Winifred, over the stables?’

`No!’ exclaimed Gudrun, in mock wonder.

`Oh! — I thought Winnie wrote it to you, in her letter!’

`Oh — yes — of course. But I thought perhaps it was only her own little idea –‘ Gudrun smiled subtly, indulgently. The sick man smiled also, elated.

`Oh no. It is a real project. There is a good room under the roof of the stables — with sloping rafters. We had thought of converting it into a studio.’

`How very nice that would be!’ cried Gudrun, with excited warmth. The thought of the rafters stirred her.

`You think it would? Well, it can be done.’

`But how perfectly splendid for Winifred! Of course, it is just what is needed, if she is to work at all seriously. One must have one’s workshop, otherwise one never ceases to be an amateur.’

`Is that so? Yes. Of course, I should like you to share it with Winifred.’

`Thank you so much.’

Gudrun knew all these things already, but she must look shy and very grateful, as if overcome.

`Of course, what I should like best, would be if you could give up your work at the Grammar School, and just avail yourself of the studio, and work there — well, as much or as little as you liked –‘

He looked at Gudrun with dark, vacant eyes. She looked back at him as if full of gratitude. These phrases of a dying man were so complete and natural, coming like echoes through his dead mouth.

`And as to your earnings — you don’t mind taking from me what you have taken from the Education Committee, do you? I don’t want you to be a loser.’

`Oh,’ said Gudrun, `if I can have the studio and work there, I can earn money enough, really I can.’

`Well,’ he said, pleased to be the benefactor, `we can see about all that. You wouldn’t mind spending your days here?’

‘If there were a studio to work in,’ said Gudrun, ‘I could ask for nothing better.’

D H Lawrence, 1885-1930.  Women in Love, 1920. (Chapter 21 – The Threshold)

P G Wodehouse – The Man Upstairs, 1910

“It must be great to be able to do things—artistic things, I mean, like composing.”

“Well, you do, don’t you? You paint.”

The young man shook his head with a cheerful grin.

“I fancy,” he said, “I should make a pretty good housepainter. I want scope. Canvas seems to cramp me.”

It seemed to cause him no discomfort. He appeared rather amused than otherwise.

“Let me look.”

She crossed over to the easel.

“I shouldn’t,” he warned her. “You really want to? Is this not mere recklessness? Very well, then.”

To the eye of an experienced critic the picture would certainly have seemed crude. It was a study of a dark-eyed child holding a large black cat. Statisticians estimate that there is no moment during the day when one or more young artists somewhere on the face of the globe are not painting pictures of children holding cats.

“I call it ‘Child and Cat,’ ” said the young man. “Rather a neat title, don’t you think? Gives you the main idea of the thing right away. That,” he explained, pointing obligingly with the stem of his pipe, “is the cat.”

Annette belonged to that large section of the public which likes or dislikes a picture according to whether its subject happens to please or displease them. Probably there was not one of the million or so child- and-cat eyesores at present in existence which she would not have liked. Besides, he had been very nice about her music.

“I think it’s splendid,” she announced.

The young man’s face displayed almost more surprise than joy.

“Do you really?” he said. “Then I can die happy—that is, if you’ll let me come down and listen to those songs of yours first.”

“You would only knock on the floor,” objected Annette.

“I’ll never knock on another floor as long as I live,” said the ex-brute, reassuringly. “I hate knocking on floors. I don’t see what people want to knock on floors for, anyway.”

Friendships ripen quickly in Chelsea. Within the space of an hour and a quarter Annette had learned that the young man’s name was Alan Beverley (for which Family Heraldic affliction she pitied rather than despised him), that he did not depend entirely on his work for a living, having a little money of his own, and that he considered this a fortunate thing. From the very beginning of their talk he pleased her. She found him an absolutely new and original variety of the unsuccessful painter. Unlike Reginald Sellers, who had a studio in the same building, and sometimes dropped in to drink her coffee and pour out his troubles, he did not attribute his nonsuccess to any malice or stupidity on the part of the public. She was so used to hearing Sellers lash the Philistine and hold forth on unappreciated merit that she could hardly believe the miracle when, in answer to a sympathetic bromide on the popular lack of taste in Art, Beverley replied that, as far as he was concerned, the public showed strong good sense. If he had been striving with every nerve to win her esteem, he could not have done it more surely than with that one remark. Though she invariably listened with a sweet patience which encouraged them to continue long after the point at which she had begun in spirit to throw things at them, Annette had no sympathy with men who whined. She herself was a fighter. She hated as much as anyone the sickening blows which Fate hands out to the struggling and ambitious; but she never made them the basis of a monologue act. Often, after a dreary trip round the offices of the music-publishers, she would howl bitterly in secret, and even gnaw her pillow in the watches of the night; but in public her pride kept her unvaryingly bright and cheerful.

P G Wodehouse, 1881-1975

The Man Upstairs, 1910