Frances Burney – Evalina, 1778

f hayman the triumph of britanniaLETTER XLVI. EVELINA TO THE REV. MR. VILLARS. Holborn, June 17th.

Observing that Sir Clement seemed disposed to renew his enquiries, I turned towards one of the paintings, and, pretending to be very much occupied in looking at it, asked M. Du Bois some questions concerning the figures.

“O! Mon Dieu! ” cried Madame Duval, “don’t ask him; your best way is to ask Mr. Smith, for he’s been here the oftenest. Come, Mr. Smith, I dare say you can tell us all about them.”

“Why, yes, Ma’am, yes,” said Mr. Smith: who, brightening up at this application, advanced towards us with an air of assumed importance, which, however, sat very uneasily upon him, and begged to know what he should explain first: “For I have attended,” said he, “to all these paintings, and know every thing in them perfectly well; for I am rather fond of pictures, Ma’am; and, really, I must say, I think, a pretty pictures is a – a very – is really a very – is something very pretty – ”

“So do I too,” said Madame Duval; “but pray now, Sir, tell us who that is meant for,” pointing to a figure of Neptune.

“That! – why, that, Ma’am, is, – Lord bless me, I can’t think how I come to be so stupid, but really I have forgot his name; – and yet, I know it as well as my own too: – however, he’s a General, Ma’am, they are all Generals.”

I saw Sir Clement bite his lips; and, indeed, so did I mine.

“Well,” said Madame Duval, “it’s the oddest dress for a general ever I see!”

“He seems so capital a figure,” said Sir Clement, to Mr. Smith, “that I imagine he must be Generalissimo of the whole army.”

“Yes, Sir, yes,” answered Mr. Smith, respectfully bowing, and highly delighted at being thus referred to, “you are perfectly right; – but I cannot for my life think of his name; – perhaps, Sir, you may remember it?”

“No, really,” replied Sir Clement, “my acquaintance among the generals is not so extensive.”

The ironical tone of voice in which Sir Clement spoke entirely disconcerted Mr. Smith; who again retiring to an humble distance, seemed sensibly mortified at the failure of his attempt to recover his consequence.

Frances Burney, 1752-1840. Evalina, 1778

Letter XLVI. Evalina to the Rev. Mr. Villars. Holborn, June 17th. (Vol II. Letter XV. Evalina in continuation. June 17th)

Note: The Picture Room at Vauxhall Gardens, which opened in 1661, was attached to the Rotunda. Also known as the ‘saloon’, it was 70 feet long by 34 feet wide. The paintings on the walls of the Picture Room were commissioned in 1760 from Francis Hayman, 1708-1776. They depicted famous British victories and the military heroes associated with them. The painting of The Triumph of Britannia, now lost, celebrated Sir Edward Hawke’s defeat of the French fleet in 1759 included  the central figure of Neptune appearing to favour the British cause. Hayman also made paintings for the fifty supper-boxes at Vauxhall. The images were contemporary and jingoistic as seen in the work by marine painter, Peter Monamy, 1681-1749, who depicted episodes from the current conflict with Spain, the so-called “War of Jenkins’ Ear.” Including The Taking of Porto Bello, and the Capture of the San Joseph. Hayman created a series of fifty-three paintings, fourteen of which have survived, painted by the staff and students, at the Saint Martin’s Lane Academy. Eighteen of the paintings were published as popular engravings, illustrating subjects from contemporary theatre, children’s games,  and adult pursuits.

Image: Edward Francis Burney, 1760-1848. Portrait of Frances Burney. c.1784-85. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Image: Francis Hayman (after). The Triumph of Britannia. Print by Simon François Ravenet. Published in London,1765. © The Trustees of the British Museum, Prints & Drawings Department

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Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre, 1847

Charlotte_Bronte_coloured_drawing

Mr. Rochester continued–‘Adele showed me some sketches this morning, which she said were yours. I don’t know whether they were entirely of your doing; probably a master aided you?’

‘No, indeed!’ I interjected.

‘Ah! that pricks pride. Well, fetch me your portfolio, if you can vouch for its contents being original; but don’t pass your word unless you are certain: I can recognise patchwork.’

‘Then I will say nothing, and you shall judge for yourself, sir.’

I brought the portfolio from the library.

‘Approach the table,’ said he; and I wheeled it to his couch. Adele and Mrs. Fairfax drew near to see the pictures.

‘No crowding,’ said Mr. Rochester: ‘take the drawings from my hand as I finish with them; but don’t push your faces up to mine.’

He deliberately scrutinised each sketch and painting. Three he laid aside; the others, when he had examined them, he swept from him.

‘Take them off to the other table, Mrs. Fairfax,’ said he, ‘and look at them with Adele;–you’ (glancing at me) ‘resume your seat, and answer my questions. I perceive those pictures were done by one hand: was that hand yours?’

‘Yes.’

‘And when did you find time to do them? They have taken much time, and some thought.’

‘I did them in the last two vacations I spent at Lowood, when I had no other occupation.’

‘Where did you get your copies?’

‘Out of my head.’

‘That head I see now on your shoulders?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Has it other furniture of the same kind within?’

‘I should think it may have: I should hope–better.’

He spread the pictures before him, and again surveyed them alternately.

While he is so occupied, I will tell you, reader, what they are: and first, I must premise that they are nothing wonderful. The subjects had, indeed, risen vividly on my mind. As I saw them with the spiritual eye, before I attempted to embody them, they were striking; but my hand would not second my fancy, and in each case it had wrought out but a pale portrait of the thing I had conceived.

These pictures were in water-colours. The first represented clouds low and livid, rolling over a swollen sea: all the distance was in eclipse; so, too, was the foreground; or rather, the nearest billows, for there was no land. One gleam of light lifted into relief a half-submerged mast, on which sat a cormorant, dark and large, with wings flecked with foam; its beak held a gold bracelet set with gems, that I had touched with as brilliant tints as my palette could yield, and as glittering distinctness as my pencil could impart. Sinking below the bird and mast, a drowned corpse glanced through the green water; a fair arm was the only limb clearly visible, whence the bracelet had been washed or torn.

The second picture contained for foreground only the dim peak of a hill, with grass and some leaves slanting as if by a breeze. Beyond and above spread an expanse of sky, dark blue as at twilight: rising into the sky was a woman’s shape to the bust, portrayed in tints as dusk and soft as I could combine. The dim forehead was crowned with a star; the lineaments below were seen as through the suffusion of vapour; the eyes shone dark and wild; the hair streamed shadowy, like a beamless cloud torn by storm or by electric travail. On the neck lay a pale reflection like moonlight; the same faint lustre touched the train of thin clouds from which rose and bowed this vision of the Evening Star.

The third showed the pinnacle of an iceberg piercing a polar winter sky: a muster of northern lights reared their dim lances, close serried, along the horizon. Throwing these into distance, rose, in the foreground, a head,–a colossal head, inclined towards the iceberg, and resting against it. Two thin hands, joined under the forehead, and supporting it, drew up before the lower features a sable veil, a brow quite bloodless, white as bone, and an eye hollow and fixed, blank of meaning but for the glassiness of despair, alone were visible. Above the temples, amidst wreathed turban folds of black drapery, vague in its character and consistency as cloud, gleamed a ring of white flame, gemmed with sparkles of a more lurid tinge. This pale crescent was ‘the likeness of a kingly crown;’ what it diademed was ‘the shape which shape had none.’

‘Were you happy when you painted these pictures?’ asked Mr. Rochester presently.

‘I was absorbed, sir: yes, and I was happy. To paint them, in short, was to enjoy one of the keenest pleasures I have ever known.’

‘That is not saying much. Your pleasures, by your own account, have been few; but I daresay you did exist in a kind of artist’s dreamland while you blent and arranged these strange tints. Did you sit at them long each day?’

‘I had nothing else to do, because it was the vacation, and I sat at them from morning till noon, and from noon till night: the length of the midsummer days favoured my inclination to apply.’

‘And you felt self-satisfied with the result of your ardent labours?’

‘Far from it. I was tormented by the contrast between my idea and my handiwork: in each case I had imagined something which I was quite powerless to realise.’

‘Not quite: you have secured the shadow of your thought; but no more, probably. You had not enough of the artist’s skill and science to give it full being: yet the drawings are, for a school-girl, peculiar. As to the thoughts, they are elfish. These eyes in the Evening Star you must have seen in a dream. How could you make them look so clear, and yet not at all brilliant? for the planet above quells their rays. And what meaning is that in their solemn depth? And who taught you to paint wind? There is a high gale in that sky, and on this hill-top. Where did you see Latmos? For that is Latmos. There! put the drawings away!’

Charlotte Brontë. 1816-1855 (first published as Currer Bell). Jane Eyre, 1847. Vol1.ch13.

Anne Brontë – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1848

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall-January 10th, 1827. While writing the above, yesterday evening, I sat in the drawing-room. Mr. Huntingdon was present, but, as I thought, asleep on the sofa behind me. He had risen, however, unknown to me, and, actuated by some base spirit of curiosity, been looking over my shoulder for I know not how long; for when I had laid aside my pen, and was about to close the book, he suddenly placed his hand upon it, and saying – ‘With your leave, my dear, I’ll have a look at this,’ forcibly wrested it from me, and, drawing a chair to the table, composedly sat down to examine it – turning back leaf after leaf to find an explanation of what he had read. Unluckily for me, he was more sober that night than he usually is at such an hour.

Of course I did not leave him to pursue this occupation in quiet: I made several attempts to snatch the book from his hands, but he held it too firmly for that; I upbraided him in bitterness and scorn for his mean and dishonourable conduct, but that had no effect upon him; and, finally, I extinguished both the candles, but he only wheeled round to the fire, and raising a blaze sufficient for his purposes, calmly continued the investigation. I had serious thoughts of getting a pitcher of water and extinguishing that light too; but it was evident his curiosity was too keenly excited to be quenched by that, and the more I manifested my anxiety to baffle his scrutiny, the greater would be his determination to persist in it – besides it was too late.

‘It seems very interesting, love,’ said he, lifting his head and turning to where I stood wringing my hands in silent rage and anguish; ‘but it’s rather long; I’ll look at it some other time; – and meanwhile, I’ll trouble you for your keys, my dear.’

‘What keys?’

‘The keys of your cabinet, desk, drawers, and whatever else you possess,’ said he, rising and holding out his hand.

‘I’ve not got them,’ I replied. The key of my desk in fact was, at that moment, in the lock, and the others were attached to it.

‘Then you must send for them,’ said he; ‘and if that old bitch, Rachel, doesn’t immediately deliver them up, she tramps bag and baggage tomorrow.’

‘She doesn’t know where they are,’ I answered, quietly placing my hand upon them, and taking them from the desk, as I thought, unobserved. ‘I know, but I shall not give them up without a reason.’

‘And I know, too,’ said he, suddenly seizing my closed hand and rudely abstracting them from it. He then took up one of the candles and relighted it by thrusting it into the fire.

‘Now, then,’ sneered he, ‘we must have a confiscation of property. But, first, let us take a peep into the studio.’

And putting the keys into his pocket, he walked into the library. I followed, whether with the dim idea of preventing mischief or only to know the worst, I can hardly tell. My painting materials were laid together on the corner table, ready for to-morrow’s use, and only covered with a cloth. He soon spied them out, and putting down the candle, deliberately proceeded to cast them into the fire – palette, paints, bladders, pencils, brushes, varnish: – I saw them all consumed – the palette-knives snapped in two – the oil and turpentine sent hissing and roaring up the chimney. He then rang the bell.

‘Benson, take those things away,’ said he, pointing to the easel, canvas, and stretcher; ‘and tell the housemaid she may kindle the fire with them: your mistress won’t want them any more.’

Benson paused aghast and looked at me.

‘Take them away, Benson,’ said I; and his master muttered an oath.

‘And this and all, sir?’ said the astonished servant, referring to the half-finished picture.

‘That and all,’ replied the master; and the things were cleared away.

Mr. Huntingdon then went up-stairs. I did not attempt to follow him; but remained seated in the arm-chair, speechless, tearless, and almost motionless, till he returned about half an hour after, and walking up to me, held the candle in my face and peered into my eyes with looks and laughter too insulting to be borne. With a sudden stroke of my hand I dashed the candle to the floor.

‘Hal-lo!’ muttered he, starting back – ‘She’s the very devil for spite. Did ever any mortal see such eyes? – they shine in the dark like a cat’s. Oh, you’re a sweet one!’ So saying, he gathered up the candle and the candle-stick. The former being broken as well as extinguished, he rang for another.

‘Benson, your mistress has broken the candle: bring another.’

‘You expose yourself finely,’ observed I, as the man departed.

‘I didn’t say I’d broken it, did I?’ returned he. He then threw my keys into my lap, saying, – ‘There! you’ll find nothing gone but your money, and the jewels – and a few little trifles I thought it advisable to take into my own possession, lest your mercantile spirit should be tempted to turn them into gold. I’ve left you a few sovereigns in your purse, which I expect to last you through the month – at all events, when you want more you will be so good as to give me an account of how that’s spent. I shall put you upon a small monthly allowance, in future, for your own private expenses; and you needn’t trouble yourself any more about my concerns; I shall look out for a steward, my dear; I won’t expose you to the temptation. And as for the household matters, Mrs. Greaves must be very particular in keeping her accounts: we must go upon an entirely new plan – ‘

‘What great discovery have you made now, Mr. Huntingdon? Have I attempted to defraud you?’

‘Not in money matters, exactly, it seems, but it’s best to keep out of the way of temptation.’

Here Benson entered with the candles, and there followed a brief interval of silence – I sitting still in my chair, and he standing with his back to the fire, silently triumphing in my despair.

‘And so,’ said he at length, ‘you thought to disgrace me, did you, by running away and turning artist, and supporting yourself by the labour of your hands, forsooth? And you thought to rob me of my son too, and bring him up to be a dirty Yankee tradesman, or a low, beggarly painter?’

‘Yes, to obviate his becoming such a gentleman as his father.’

‘It’s well you couldn’t keep your own secret – ha, ha! It’s well these women must be blabbing. If they haven’t a friend to talk to, they must whisper their secrets to the fishes, or write them on the sand or something; and it’s well too I wasn’t overfull tonight, now I think of it, or I might have snoozed away and never dreamt of looking what my sweet lady was about – or I might have lacked the sense or the power to carry my point like a man, as I have done.’

Leaving him to his self-congratulations, I rose to secure my manuscript, for I now remembered it had been left upon the drawing- room table, and I determined, if possible, to save myself the humiliation of seeing it in his hands again. I could not bear the idea of his amusing himself over my secret thoughts and recollections; though, to be sure, he would find little good of himself therein indited, except in the former part – and oh, I would sooner burn it all than he should read what I had written when I was such a fool as to love him!

Anne Brontë. 1820-1849. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1848. Chapter 40. A Misadventure. (First published under the name of Acton Bell).

image:

Anne Brontë – Agnes Grey, 1847

anne bronte roeheadThrough all our troubles, I never but once heard my mother complain of our want of money. As summer was coming on she observed to Mary and me, ‘What a desirable thing it would be for your papa to spend a few weeks at a watering-place. I am convinced the sea-air and the change of scene would be of incalculable service to him. But then, you see, there’s no money,’ she added, with a sigh. We both wished exceedingly that the thing might be done, and lamented greatly that it could not. ‘Well, well!’ said she, ‘it’s no use complaining. Possibly something might be done to further the project after all. Mary, you are a beautiful drawer. What do you say to doing a few more pictures in your best style, and getting them framed, with the water-coloured drawings you have already done, and trying to dispose of them to some liberal picture-dealer, who has the sense to discern their merits?’

‘Mamma, I should be delighted if you think they COULD be sold; and for anything worth while.’

‘It’s worth while trying, however, my dear: do you procure the drawings, and I’ll endeavour to find a purchaser.’

‘I wish I could do something,’ said I.

‘You, Agnes! well, who knows? You draw pretty well, too: if you choose some simple piece for your subject, I daresay you will be able to produce something we shall all be proud to exhibit.’

‘But I have another scheme in my head, mamma, and have had long, only I did not like to mention it.’

‘Indeed! pray tell us what it is.’

‘I should like to be a governess.’

 

Anne Brontë , 1820-1849.  Agnes Grey, 1847. C hapter 1.

 

images:  Anne Brontë . Roe Head School. Mirfield. c.1835-1837

Attributed to Anne Brontë. Portrait of a Young Woman, (mary robinson?), c1840-1845

Roe Head School
c. 1835 – 1837

Saki – The Stalled Ox, 1923

Front View of a Bull's Head null by Joseph Highmore 1692-1780THEOPHIL ESHLEY was an artist by profession, a cattle painter by force of environment. It is not to be supposed that he lived on a ranche or a dairy farm, in an atmosphere pervaded with horn and hoof, milking-stool, and branding-iron. His home was in a park-like, villa- dotted district that only just escaped the reproach of being suburban. On one side of his garden there abutted a small, picturesque meadow, in which an enterprising neighbour pastured some small picturesque cows of the Channel Island persuasion. At noonday in summertime the cows stood knee-deep in tall meadow-grass under the shade of a group of walnut trees, with the sunlight falling in dappled patches on their mouse-sleek coats. Eshley had conceived and executed a dainty picture of two reposeful milch-cows in a setting of walnut tree and meadow-grass and filtered sunbeam, and the Royal Academy had duly exposed the same on the walls of its Summer Exhibition. The Royal Academy encourages orderly, methodical habits in its children. Eshley had painted a successful and acceptable picture of cattle drowsing picturesquely under walnut trees, and as he had begun, so, of necessity, he went on. His “Noontide Peace,” a study of two dun cows under a walnut tree, was followed by “A Mid-day Sanctuary,” a study of a walnut tree, with two dun cows under it. In due succession there came “Where the Gad- Flies Cease from Troubling,” “The Haven of the Herd,” and “A-dream in Dairyland,” studies of walnut trees and dun cows. His two attempts to break away from his own tradition were signal failures: “Turtle Doves alarmed by Sparrow-hawk” and “Wolves on the Roman Campagna” came back to his studio in the guise of abominable heresies, and Eshley climbed back into grace and the public gaze with “A Shaded Nook where Drowsy Milkers Dream.”

On a fine afternoon in late autumn he was putting some finishing touches to a study of meadow weeds when his neighbour, Adela Pingsford, assailed the outer door of his studio with loud peremptory knockings.

“There is an ox in my garden,” she announced, in explanation of the tempestuous intrusion.

“An ox,” said Eshley blankly, and rather fatuously; “what kind of ox?”

“Oh, I don’t know what kind,” snapped the lady. “A common or garden ox, to use the slang expression. It is the garden part of it that I object to. My garden has just been put straight for the winter, and an ox roaming about in it won’t improve matters. Besides, there are the chrysanthemums just coming into flower.”

“How did it get into the garden?” asked Eshley.

“I imagine it came in by the gate,” said the lady impatiently; “it couldn’t have climbed the walls, and I don’t suppose anyone dropped it from an aeroplane as a Bovril advertisement. The immediately important question is not how it got in, but how to get it out.”

“Won’t it go?” said Eshley.

“If it was anxious to go,” said Adela Pingsford rather angrily, “I should not have come here to chat with you about it. I’m practically all alone; the housemaid is having her afternoon out and the cook is lying down with an attack of neuralgia. Anything that I may have learned at school or in after life about how to remove a large ox from a small garden seems to have escaped from my memory now. All I could think of was that you were a near neighbour and a cattle painter, presumably more or less familiar with the subjects that you painted, and that you might be of some slight assistance. Possibly I was mistaken.”

“I paint dairy cows, certainly,” admitted Eshley, “but I cannot claim to have had any experience in rounding-up stray oxen. I’ve seen it done on a cinema film, of course, but there were always horses and lots of other accessories; besides, one never knows how much of those pictures are faked.”

Adela Pingsford said nothing, but led the way to her garden. It was normally a fair-sized garden, but it looked small in comparison with the ox, a huge mottled brute, dull red about the head and shoulders, passing to dirty white on the flanks and hind-quarters, with shaggy ears and large blood-shot eyes. It bore about as much resemblance to the dainty paddock heifers that Eshley was accustomed to paint as the chief of a Kurdish nomad clan would to a Japanese tea-shop girl. Eshley stood very near the gate while he studied the animal’s appearance and demeanour. Adela Pingsford continued to say nothing.

“It’s eating a chrysanthemum,” said Eshley at last, when the silence had become unbearable.

“How observant you are,” said Adela bitterly. “You seem to notice everything. As a matter of fact, it has got six chrysanthemums in its mouth at the present moment.”

The necessity for doing something was becoming imperative. Eshley took a step or two in the direction of the animal, clapped his hands, and made noises of the “Hish” and “Shoo” variety. If the ox heard them it gave no outward indication of the fact.

“If any hens should ever stray into my garden,” said Adela, “I should certainly send for you to frighten them out. You ‘shoo’ beautifully. Meanwhile, do you mind trying to drive that ox away? That is a MADEMOISELLE LOUISE BICHOT that he’s begun on now,” she added in icy calm, as a glowing orange head was crushed into the huge munching mouth.

“Since you have been so frank about the variety of the chrysanthemum,” said Eshley, “I don’t mind telling you that this is an Ayrshire ox.”

The icy calm broke down; Adela Pingsford used language that sent the artist instinctively a few feet nearer to the ox. He picked up a pea-stick and flung it with some determination against the animal’s mottled flanks. The operation of mashing MADEMOISELLE LOUISE BICHOT into a petal salad was suspended for a long moment, while the ox gazed with concentrated inquiry at the stick-thrower. Adela gazed with equal concentration and more obvious hostility at the same focus. As the beast neither lowered its head nor stamped its feet Eshley ventured on another javelin exercise with another pea-stick. The ox seemed to realise at once that it was to go; it gave a hurried final pluck at the bed where the chrysanthemums had been, and strode swiftly up the garden. Eshley ran to head it towards the gate, but only succeeded in quickening its pace from a walk to a lumbering trot. With an air of inquiry, but with no real hesitation, it crossed the tiny strip of turf that the charitable called the croquet lawn, and pushed its way through the open French window into the morning-room. Some chrysanthemums and other autumn herbage stood about the room in vases, and the animal resumed its browsing operations; all the same, Eshley fancied that the beginnings of a hunted look had come into its eyes, a look that counselled respect. He discontinued his attempt to interfere with its choice of surroundings.

“Mr. Eshley,” said Adela in a shaking voice, “I asked you to drive that beast out of my garden, but I did not ask you to drive it into my house. If I must have it anywhere on the premises I prefer the garden to the morning-room.”

“Cattle drives are not in my line,” said Eshley; “if I remember I told you so at the outset.” “I quite agree,” retorted the lady, “painting pretty pictures of pretty little cows is what you’re suited for. Perhaps you’d like to do a nice sketch of that ox making itself at home in my morning-room?”

This time it seemed as if the worm had turned; Eshley began striding away.

“Where are you going?” screamed Adela.

“To fetch implements,” was the answer.

“Implements? I won’t have you use a lasso. The room will be wrecked if there’s a struggle.”

But the artist marched out of the garden. In a couple of minutes he returned, laden with easel, sketching-stool, and painting materials.

“Do you mean to say that you’re going to sit quietly down and paint that brute while it’s destroying my morning-room?” gasped Adela.

“It was your suggestion,” said Eshley, setting his canvas in position.

“I forbid it; I absolutely forbid it!” stormed Adela.

“I don’t see what standing you have in the matter,” said the artist; “you can hardly pretend that it’s your ox, even by adoption.”

“You seem to forget that it’s in my morning-room, eating my flowers,” came the raging retort.

“You seem to forget that the cook has neuralgia,” said Eshley; “she may be just dozing off into a merciful sleep and your outcry will waken her. Consideration for others should be the guiding principle of people in our station of life.”

“The man is mad!” exclaimed Adela tragically. A moment later it was Adela herself who appeared to go mad. The ox had finished the vase-flowers and the cover of “Israel Kalisch,” and appeared to be thinking of leaving its rather restricted quarters. Eshley noticed its restlessness and promptly flung it some bunches of Virginia creeper leaves as an inducement to continue the sitting.

“I forget how the proverb runs,” he observed; of something about ‘better a dinner of herbs than a stalled ox where hate is.’ We seem to have all the ingredients for the proverb ready to hand.”

“I shall go to the Public Library and get them to telephone for the police,” announced Adela, and, raging audibly, she departed.

Some minutes later the ox, awakening probably to the suspicion that oil cake and chopped mangold was waiting for it in some appointed byre, stepped with much precaution out of the morning-room, stared with grave inquiry at the no longer obtrusive and pea-stick-throwing human, and then lumbered heavily but swiftly out of the garden. Eshley packed up his tools and followed the animal’s example and “Larkdene” was left to neuralgia and the cook.

The episode was the turning-point in Eshley’s artistic career. His remarkable picture, “Ox in a morning-room, late autumn,” was one of the sensations and successes of the next Paris Salon, and when it was subsequently exhibited at Munich it was bought by the Bavarian Government, in the teeth of the spirited bidding of three meat-extract firms. From that moment his success was continuous and assured, and the Royal Academy was thankful, two years later, to give a conspicuous position on its walls to his large canvas “Barbary Apes Wrecking a Boudoir.”

Eshley presented Adela Pingsford with a new copy of “Israel Kalisch,” and a couple of finely flowering plants of MADAME ANDRE BLUSSET, but nothing in the nature of a real reconciliation has taken place between them.

Saki (H H Munro), 1870 -1916                 The Stalled Ox, 1923

image: Joseph Highmore, 1692-1780. Front View of a Bull’s Head. Ink and watercolour on paper. 168x144mm. Tate Gallery Collections

Saki – The Unbearable Bassington, 1912

j j shannon lady marjorie mannersThe Rutland Galleries were crowded, especially in the neighbourhood of the tea-buffet, by a fashionable throng of art-patrons which had gathered to inspect Mervyn Quentock’s collection of Society portraits. Quentock was a young artist whose abilities were just receiving due recognition from the critics; that the recognition was not overdue he owed largely to his perception of the fact that if one hides one’s talent under a bushel one must be careful to point out to everyone the exact bushel under which it is hidden. There are two manners of receiving recognition: one is to be discovered so long after one’s death that one’s grandchildren have to write to the papers to establish their relationship; the other is to be discovered, like the infant Moses, at the very outset of one’s career. Mervyn Quentock had chosen the latter and happier manner. In an age when many aspiring young men strive to advertise their wares by imparting to them a freakish imbecility, Quentock turned out work that was characterised by a pleasing delicate restraint, but he contrived to herald his output with a certain fanfare of personal eccentricity, thereby compelling an attention which might otherwise have strayed past his studio. In appearance he was the ordinary cleanly young Englishman, except, perhaps, that his eyes rather suggested a library edition of the Arabian Nights; his clothes matched his appearance and showed no taint of the sartorial disorder by which the bourgeois of the garden-city and the Latin Quarter anxiously seeks to proclaim his kinship with art and thought. His eccentricity took the form of flying in the face of some of the prevailing social currents of the day, but as a reactionary, never as a reformer. He produced a gasp of admiring astonishment in fashionable circles by refusing to paint actresses- -except, of course, those who had left the legitimate drama to appear between the boards of Debrett. He absolutely declined to execute portraits of Americans unless they hailed from certain favoured States. His “water-colour-line,” as a New York paper phrased it, earned for him a crop of angry criticisms and a shoal of Transatlantic commissions, and criticism and commissions were the things that Quentock most wanted.

“Of course he is perfectly right,” said Lady Caroline Benaresq, calmly rescuing a piled-up plate of caviare sandwiches from the neighbourhood of a trio of young ladies who had established themselves hopefully within easy reach of it. “Art,” she continued, addressing herself to the Rev. Poltimore Vardon, “has always been geographically exclusive. London may be more important from most points of view than Venice, but the art of portrait painting, which would never concern itself with a Lord Mayor, simply grovels at the feet of the Doges. As a Socialist I’m bound to recognise the right of Ealing to compare itself with Avignon, but one cannot expect the Muses to put the two on a level.”

“Exclusiveness,” said the Reverend Poltimore, “has been the salvation of Art, just as the lack of it is proving the downfall of religion. My colleagues of the cloth go about zealously proclaiming the fact that Christianity, in some form or other, is attracting shoals of converts among all sorts of races and tribes, that one had scarcely ever heard of, except in reviews of books of travel that one never read. That sort of thing was all very well when the world was more sparsely populated, but nowadays, when it simply teems with human beings, no one is particularly impressed by the fact that a few million, more or less, of converts, of a low stage of mental development, have accepted the teachings of some particular religion. It not only chills one’s enthusiasm, it positively shakes one’s convictions when one hears that the things one has been brought up to believe as true are being very favourably spoken of by Buriats and Samoyeds and Kanakas.”

The Rev. Poltimore Vardon had once seen a resemblance in himself to Voltaire, and had lived alongside the comparison ever since.

“No modern cult or fashion,” he continued, “would be favourably influenced by considerations based on statistics; fancy adopting a certain style of hat or cut of coat, because it was being largely worn in Lancashire and the Midlands; fancy favouring a certain brand of champagne because it was being extensively patronised in German summer resorts. No wonder that religion is falling into disuse in this country under such ill-directed methods.”

“You can’t prevent the heathen being converted if they choose to be,” said Lady Caroline; “this is an age of toleration.”

“You could always deny it,” said the Rev. Poltimore, “like the Belgians do with regrettable occurrences in the Congo. But I would go further than that. I would stimulate the waning enthusiasm for Christianity in this country by labelling it as the exclusive possession of a privileged few. If one could induce the Duchess of Pelm, for instance, to assert that the Kingdom of Heaven, as far as the British Isles are concerned, is strictly limited to herself, two of the under-gardeners at Pelmby, and, possibly, but not certainly, the Dean of Dunster, there would be an instant reshaping of the popular attitude towards religious convictions and observances. Once let the idea get about that the Christian Church is rather more exclusive than the Lawn at Ascot, and you would have a quickening of religious life such as this generation has never witnessed. But as long as the clergy and the religious organisations advertise their creed on the lines of ‘Everybody ought to believe in us: millions do,’ one can expect nothing but indifference and waning faith.”

“Time is just as exclusive in its way as Art,” said Lady Caroline.

“In what way?” said the Reverend Poltimore.

“Your pleasantries about religion would have sounded quite clever and advanced in the early ‘nineties. To-day they have a dreadfully warmed-up flavour. That is the great delusion of you would-be advanced satirists; you imagine you can sit down comfortably for a couple of decades saying daring and startling things about the age you live in, which, whatever other defects it may have, is certainly not standing still. The whole of the Sherard Blaw school of discursive drama suggests, to my mind, Early Victorian furniture in a travelling circus. However, you will always have relays of people from the suburbs to listen to the Mocking Bird of yesterday, and sincerely imagine it is the harbinger of something new and revolutionising.”

“WOULD you mind passing that plate of sandwiches,” asked one of the trio of young ladies, emboldened by famine.

“With pleasure,” said Lady Caroline, deftly passing her a nearly empty plate of bread-and-butter.

“I meant the place of caviare sandwiches. So sorry to trouble you,” persisted the young lady

Her sorrow was misapplied; Lady Caroline had turned her attention to a newcomer.

“A very interesting exhibition,” Ada Spelvexit was saying; “faultless technique, as far as I am a judge of technique, and quite a master-touch in the way of poses. But have you noticed how very animal his art is? He seems to shut out the soul from his portraits. I nearly cried when I saw dear Winifred depicted simply as a good-looking healthy blonde.”

“I wish you had,” said Lady Caroline; “the spectacle of a strong, brave woman weeping at a private view in the Rutland Galleries would have been so sensational. It would certainly have been reproduced in the next Drury Lane drama. And I’m so unlucky; I never see these sensational events. I was ill with appendicitis, you know, when Lulu Braminguard dramatically forgave her husband, after seventeen years of estrangement, during a State luncheon party at Windsor. The old queen was furious about it. She said it was so disrespectful to the cook to be thinking of such a thing at such a time.”

Lady Caroline’s recollections of things that hadn’t happened at the Court of Queen Victoria were notoriously vivid; it was the very widespread fear that she might one day write a book of reminiscences that made her so universally respected.

“As for his full-length picture of Lady Brickfield,” continued Ada, ignoring Lady Caroline’s commentary as far as possible, “all the expression seems to have been deliberately concentrated in the feet; beautiful feet, no doubt, but still, hardly the most distinctive part of a human being.”

“To paint the right people at the wrong end may be an eccentricity, but it is scarcely an indiscretion,” pronounced Lady Caroline.

One of the portraits which attracted more than a passing flutter of attention was a costume study of Francesca Bassington. Francesca had secured some highly desirable patronage for the young artist, and in return he had enriched her pantheon of personal possessions with a clever piece of work into which he had thrown an unusual amount of imaginative detail. He had painted her in a costume of the great Louis’s brightest period, seated in front of a tapestry that was so prominent in the composition that it could scarcely be said to form part of the background. Flowers and fruit, in exotic profusion, were its dominant note; quinces, pomegranates, passion- flowers, giant convolvulus, great mauve-pink roses, and grapes that were already being pressed by gleeful cupids in a riotous Arcadian vintage, stood out on its woven texture. The same note was struck in the beflowered satin of the lady’s kirtle, and in the pomegranate pattern of the brocade that draped the couch on which she was seated. The artist had called his picture “Recolte.” And after one had taken in all the details of fruit and flower and foliage that earned the composition its name, one noted the landscape that showed through a broad casement in the left-hand corner. It was a landscape clutched in the grip of winter, naked, bleak, black-frozen; a winter in which things died and knew no rewakening. If the picture typified harvest, it was a harvest of artificial growth.

“It leaves a great deal to the imagination, doesn’t it?” said Ada Spelvexit, who had edged away from the range of Lady Caroline’s tongue.

“At any rate one can tell who it’s meant for,” said Serena Golackly.

“Oh, yes, it’s a good likeness of dear Francesca,” admitted Ada; “of course, it flatters her.”

“That, too, is a fault on the right side in portrait painting,” said Serena; “after all, if posterity is going to stare at one for centuries it’s only kind and reasonable to be looking just a little better than one’s best.”

“What a curiously unequal style the artist has,” continued Ada, almost as if she felt a personal grievance against him; “I was just noticing what a lack of soul there was in most of his portraits. Dear Winifred, you know, who speaks so beautifully and feelingly at my gatherings for old women, he’s made her look just an ordinary dairy-maidish blonde; and Francesca, who is quite the most soulless woman I’ve ever met, well, he’s given her quite–”

“Hush,” said Serena, “the Bassington boy is just behind you.”

Comus stood looking at the portrait of his mother with the feeling of one who comes suddenly across a once-familiar half-forgotten acquaintance in unfamiliar surroundings. The likeness was undoubtedly a good one, but the artist had caught an expression in Francesca’s eyes which few people had ever seen there. It was the expression of a woman who had forgotten for one short moment to be absorbed in the small cares and excitements of her life, the money worries and little social plannings, and had found time to send a look of half-wistful friendliness to some sympathetic companion. Comus could recall that look, fitful and fleeting, in his mother’s eyes when she had been a few years younger, before her world had grown to be such a committee-room of ways and means. Almost as a re-discovery he remembered that she had once figured in his boyish mind as a “rather good sort,” more ready to see the laughable side of a piece of mischief than to labour forth a reproof. That the bygone feeling of good fellowship had been stamped out was, he knew, probably in great part his own doing, and it was possible that the old friendliness was still there under the surface of things, ready to show itself again if he willed it, and friends were becoming scarcer with him than enemies in these days. Looking at the picture with its wistful hint of a long ago comradeship, Comus made up his mind that he very much wanted things to be back on their earlier footing, and to see again on his mother’s face the look that the artist had caught and perpetuated in its momentary flitting. If the projected Elaine-marriage came off, and in spite of recent maladroit behaviour on his part he still counted it an assured thing, much of the immediate cause for estrangement between himself and his mother would be removed, or at any rate, easily removable. With the influence of Elaine’s money behind him he promised himself that he would find some occupation that would remove from himself the reproach of being a waster and idler. There were lots of careers, he told himself, that were open to a man with solid financial backing and good connections. There might yet be jolly times ahead, in which his mother would have her share of the good things that were going, and carking thin-lipped Henry Greech and other of Comus’s detractors could take their sour looks and words out of sight and hearing. Thus, staring at the picture as though he were studying its every detail, and seeing really only that wistful friendly smile, Comus made his plans and dispositions for a battle that was already fought and lost.

The crowd grew thicker in the galleries, cheerfully enduring an amount of overcrowding that would have been fiercely resented in a railway carriage. Near the entrance Mervyn Quentock was talking to a Serene Highness, a lady who led a life of obtrusive usefulness, largely imposed on her by a good-natured inability to say “No.” “That woman creates a positive draught with the number of bazaars she opens,” a frivolously-spoken ex-Cabinet Minister had once remarked. At the present moment she was being whimsically apologetic.

“When I think of the legions of well-meaning young men and women to whom I’ve given away prizes for proficiency in art-school curriculum, I feel that I ought not to show my face inside a picture gallery. I always imagine that my punishment in another world will be perpetually sharpening pencils and cleaning palettes for unending relays of misguided young people whom I deliberately encouraged in their artistic delusions.”

“Do you suppose we shall all get appropriate punishments in another world for our sins in this?” asked Quentock.

“Not so much for our sins as for our indiscretions; they are the things which do the most harm and cause the greatest trouble. I feel certain that Christopher Columbus will undergo the endless torment of being discovered by parties of American tourists. You see I am quite old fashioned in my ideas about the terrors and inconveniences of the next world. And now I must be running away; I’ve got to open a Free Library somewhere. You know the sort of thing that happens–one unveils a bust of Carlyle and makes a speech about Ruskin, and then people come in their thousands and read ‘Rabid Ralph, or Should he have Bitten Her?’ Don’t forget, please, I’m going to have the medallion with the fat cupid sitting on a sundial. And just one thing more–perhaps I ought not to ask you, but you have such nice kind eyes, you embolden one to make daring requests, would you send me the recipe for those lovely chestnut-and-chicken-liver sandwiches? I know the ingredients of course, but it’s the proportions that make such a difference–just how much liver to how much chestnut, and what amount of red pepper and other things. Thank you so much. I really am going now.”

Staring round with a vague half-smile at everybody within nodding distance, Her Serene Highness made one of her characteristic exits, which Lady Caroline declared always reminded her of a scrambled egg slipping off a piece of toast. At the entrance she stopped for a moment to exchange a word or two with a young man who had just arrived. From a corner where he was momentarily hemmed in by a group of tea-consuming dowagers, Comus recognised the newcomer as Courtenay Youghal, and began slowly to labour his way towards him. Youghal was not at the moment the person whose society he most craved for in the world, but there was at least the possibility that he might provide an opportunity for a game of bridge, which was the dominant desire of the moment. The young politician was already surrounded by a group of friends and acquaintances, and was evidently being made the recipient of a salvo of congratulation– presumably on his recent performances in the Foreign Office debate, Comus concluded. But Youghal himself seemed to be announcing the event with which the congratulations were connected. Had some dramatic catastrophe overtaken the Government, Comus wondered. And then, as he pressed nearer, a chance word, the coupling of two names, told him the news.

Saki (H H Munro), 1870-1916. The Unbearable Bassington, 1912. Chapter 10

image:James Jebusa Shannon,1862-1923.  Lady Marjorie Manners. later marchioness of Anglesey. painting in the Octagon Room at Plas Newydd, Anglesey, Wales. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Saki – The Bull, 1923

t roebuck the bull - sakiTom Yorkfield had always regarded his half-brother, Laurence, with a lazy instinct of dislike, toned down, as years went on, to a tolerant feeling of indifference. There was nothing very tangible to dislike him for; he was just a blood-relation, with whom Tom had no single taste or interest in common, and with whom, at the same time, he had had no occasion for quarrel. Laurence had left the farm early in life, and had lived for a few years on a small sum of money left him by his mother; he had taken up painting as a profession, and was reported to be doing fairly well at it, well enough, at any rate, to keep body and soul together. He specialised in painting animals, and he was successful in finding a certain number of people to buy his pictures. Tom felt a comforting sense of assured superiority in contrasting his position with that of his half-brother; Laurence was an artist-chap, just that and nothing more, though you might make it sound more important by calling an animal painter; Tom was a farmer, not in a very big way, it was true, but the Helsery farm had been in the family for some generations, and it had a good reputation for the stock raised on it. Tom had done his best, with the little capital at his command, to maintain and improve the standard of his small herd of cattle, and in Clover Fairy he had bred a bull which was something rather better than any that his immediate neighbours could show. It would not have made a sensation in the judging-ring at an important cattle show, but it was as vigorous, shapely, and healthy a young animal as any small practical farmer could wish to possess. At the King’s Head on market days Clover Fairy was very highly spoken of, and Yorkfield used to declare that he would not part with him for a hundred pounds; a hundred pounds is a lot of money in the small farming line, and probably anything over eighty would have tempted him.

It was with some especial pleasure that Tom took advantage of one of Laurence’s rare visits to the farm to lead him down to the enclosure where Clover Fairy kept solitary state–the grass widower of a grazing harem. Tom felt some of his old dislike for his half- brother reviving; the artist was becoming more languid in his manner, more unsuitably turned-out in attire, and he seemed inclined to impart a slightly patronising tone to his conversation. He took no heed of a flourishing potato crop, but waxed enthusiastic over a clump of yellow-flowering weed that stood in a corner by a gateway, which was rather galling to the owner of a really very well weeded farm; again, when he might have been duly complimentary about a group of fat, black-faced lambs, that simply cried aloud for admiration, he became eloquent over the foliage tints of an oak copse on the hill opposite. But now he was being taken to inspect the crowning pride and glory of Helsery; however grudging he might be in his praises, however backward and niggardly with his congratulations, he would have to see and acknowledge the many excellences of that redoubtable animal. Some weeks ago, while on a business journey to Taunton, Tom had been invited by his half- brother to visit a studio in that town, where Laurence was exhibiting one of his pictures, a large canvas representing a bull standing knee-deep in some marshy ground; it had been good of its kind, no doubt, and Laurence had seemed inordinately pleased with it; “the best thing I’ve done yet,” he had said over and over again, and Tom had generously agreed that it was fairly life-like. Now, the man of pigments was going to be shown a real picture, a living model of strength and comeliness, a thing to feast the eyes on, a picture that exhibited new pose and action with every shifting minute, instead of standing glued into one unvarying attitude between the four walls of a frame. Tom unfastened a stout wooden door and led the way into a straw-bedded yard.

“Is he quiet?” asked the artist, as a young bull with a curly red coat came inquiringly towards them.

“He’s playful at times,” said Tom, leaving his half-brother to wonder whether the bull’s ideas of play were of the catch-as-catch- can order. Laurence made one or two perfunctory comments on the animal’s appearance and asked a question or so as to his age and such-like details; then he coolly turned the talk into another channel.

“Do you remember the picture I showed you at Taunton?” he asked.

“Yes,” grunted Tom; “a white-faced bull standing in some slush. Don’t admire those Herefords much myself; bulky-looking brutes, don’t seem to have much life in them. Daresay they’re easier to paint that way; now, this young beggar is on the move all the time, aren’t you, Fairy?”

“I’ve sold that picture,” said Laurence, with considerable complacency in his voice.

“Have you?” said Tom; “glad to hear it, I’m sure. Hope you’re pleased with what you’ve got for it.”

“I got three hundred pounds for it,” said Laurence.

Tom turned towards him with a slowly rising flush of anger in his face. Three hundred pounds! Under the most favourable market conditions that he could imagine his prized Clover Fairy would hardly fetch a hundred, yet here was a piece of varnished canvas, painted by his half-brother, selling for three times that sum. It was a cruel insult that went home with all the more force because it emphasised the triumph of the patronising, self-satisfied Laurence. The young farmer had meant to put his relative just a little out of conceit with himself by displaying the jewel of his possessions, and now the tables were turned, and his valued beast was made to look cheap and insignificant beside the price paid for a mere picture. It was so monstrously unjust; the painting would never be anything more than a dexterous piece of counterfeit life, while Clover Fairy was the real thing, a monarch in his little world, a personality in the countryside. After he was dead, even, he would still be something of a personality; his descendants would graze in those valley meadows and hillside pastures, they would fill stall and byre and milking-shed, their good red coats would speckle the landscape and crowd the market-place; men would note a promising heifer or a well-proportioned steer, and say: “Ah, that one comes of good old Clover Fairy’s stock.” All that time the picture would be hanging, lifeless and unchanging, beneath its dust and varnish, a chattel that ceased to mean anything if you chose to turn it with its back to the wall. These thoughts chased themselves angrily through Tom Yorkfield’s mind, but he could not put them into words. When he gave tongue to his feelings he put matters bluntly and harshly.

“Some soft-witted fools may like to throw away three hundred pounds on a bit of paintwork; can’t say as I envy them their taste. I’d rather have the real thing than a picture of it.”

He nodded towards the young bull, that was alternately staring at them with nose held high and lowering its horns with a half-playful, half-impatient shake of the head.

Laurence laughed a laugh of irritating, indulgent amusement.

“I don’t think the purchaser of my bit of paintwork, as you call it, need worry about having thrown his money away. As I get to be better known and recognised my pictures will go up in value. That particular one will probably fetch four hundred in a sale-room five or six years hence; pictures aren’t a bad investment if you know enough to pick out the work of the right men. Now you can’t say your precious bull is going to get more valuable the longer you keep him; he’ll have his little day, and then, if you go on keeping him, he’ll come down at last to a few shillingsworth of hoofs and hide, just at a time, perhaps, when my bull is being bought for a big sum for some important picture gallery.”

It was too much. The united force of truth and slander and insult put over heavy a strain on Tom Yorkfield’s powers of restraint. In his right hand he held a useful oak cudgel, with his left he made a grab at the loose collar of Laurence’s canary-coloured silk shirt. Laurence was not a fighting man; the fear of physical violence threw him off his balance as completely as overmastering indignation had thrown Tom off his, and thus it came to pass that Clover Fairy was regaled with the unprecedented sight of a human being scudding and squawking across the enclosure, like the hen that would persist in trying to establish a nesting-place in the manger. In another crowded happy moment the bull was trying to jerk Laurence over his left shoulder, to prod him in the ribs while still in the air, and to kneel on him when he reached the ground. It was only the vigorous intervention of Tom that induced him to relinquish the last item of his programme.

Tom devotedly and ungrudgingly nursed his half brother to a complete recovery from his injuries, which consisted of nothing more serious than a dislocated shoulder, a broken rib or two, and a little nervous prostration. After all, there was no further occasion for rancour in the young farmer’s mind; Laurence’s bull might sell for three hundred, or for six hundred, and be admired by thousands in some big picture gallery, but it would never toss a man over one shoulder and catch him a jab in the ribs before he had fallen on the other side. That was Clover Fairy’s noteworthy achievement, which could never be taken away from him.

Laurence continues to be popular as an animal artist, but his subjects are always kittens or fawns or lambkins–never bulls.

Saki, (H H Munro), 1870-1916.  The Bull, 1923

image: Thomas Roebuck. b.1806. TheDerbyshire Bull. oil on canvas, 76 x 91 cm