William Combe – The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of Consolation, 1820

dr syntax portriat 5
__On the next day a friendly call
Re-summon’d him to Bounty-Hall.
The messenger, arriv’d from town.
Had brought the apparatus down.
By which the Doctor was to ply
His fav’rite art with novelty;
To see what his unpractis’d toil
Could do with canvas and with oil.
The pallet set, with colours grac’d.
The easel in due posture plac’d.
The curtain’d window’s soften’d glare.
Of fav’ring light th’ admitted share.
The Lady, seated and full-drest,
Call’d up those looks she thought the best.-

When Syntax, with uplifted eye,
And somewhat of a doubting sigh,
Whisper’d a soft soliloquy;
Or, with hesitation fraught,
Rather indulg’d a doubtful thought.

“How oft my pencil has prepar’d
To trace the guests of farmer’s yard.
How often has it brought to view
With nice design and likeness true.
The horse, the ass, the goat, the cow.
All sheltered by a barley-mow:
While here I’m puzzled at the feature
Of a human. Christian creature:
But patience calls me to the test.
And I must strive to do my best.”
He wav’d his pencil, form’d the line
That shapes the human face divine.
Gave all the features their due places,
And hop’d to finish with the graces.
Puffing and painting on he went,
Sometimes displeas’d, sometimes content.
Until it was too plainly seen.
One eye was blue, the other green;
Whereas, on a correct survey.
Her Ladyship’s bright eyes were grey.

The Lady when she took a view
Declar’d the gen’ral likeness true.
But still she thought it might be stronger:
He took the hint, and made it younger.
By daubing out and laying in
The tints alternate thick and thin.
He kept within a mod’ rate line:
But made the drap’ry wond’rous fine.

__She thought ‘twould have a pretty look
If in her hand she held a book.
Which, with a demi-serious mood.
Might much improve her attitude:
But it so happ’d, he cast an eye
Upon a cake and currant-pie,
Which an adjoining table grac’d
With other articles of taste;
And thus the Doctor, while proceeding.
Thought more of eating than of reading:
For here attention felt a break.
Out went the book __” What a mistake!
And in her hand he plac’d the cake.
__” The laugh was loud, they sought the board.
The cake was eat, the book restored,
The pencil mov’d, the flounces twirl
And, round the robe impetuous curl.
__” Syntax now thought, I’ve done my best;
At least, my Lady is well drest.
And, as my art can go no further,
I hope, without committing murther,
I have at length just made an end
Of my kind, hospitable friend.
__” The work, ’tis true, had no pretence
To that superior excellence
Which some could to the canvas give.
Whereon the figures seem to live;
And though this picture cannot vie
With aught ‘bove mediocrity,
Yet those to whom my Lady’s known
Did all the gen’ral likeness own;
And she herself, above the rest,
Her warm and grateful praise express’d.
__When ’twas presented to the eye.
In a room hung with tapestry,
Of ancient work, with figures grim
Of monstrous shape and threat’ning limb;
Whose colours, the whole room pervading,
Had for a century been fading;
The contrast gave a glowing grace,
Both to the air, the form, the face.
To which the Rev’ rend Limner’s art
Did those apparent powers impart.
That, to his eye, he scarce could tell
The wonder it was done so well.

William Combe, 1741-1823, illustrations by Thomas Rowlandson, 1756-1827
The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of Consolation, 1820

Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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