Georg Büchner – Lenz,1835

 

 

On another occasion, Oberlin showed him coloured tablets and explained to him the relationship which each colour bears to man; he showed him twelve apostles, each of whom, he said, was represented by by a colour. Lenz took up the theme and continued with it; he was afflicted by bad dreams and, like Stilling, began to read the Apocalypse; and he read the Bible a great deal.

. . .

At the dinner table, Lenz was in good humour once again; they talked about literature, and here he was in his element. The Idealistic period was just then beginning; Kaufmann was an ardent supporter of it, but Lenz contradicted him vehemently; ‘The poets, who are said to mirror reality, have not the slightest idea of it; nevertheless, they are more bearable than those who try to glorify reality. The dear Lord has certainly made the world as it should be, and we most definitely cannot throw together something better; our sole effort ought to be dedicated to imitating Him a little. In all things, I expect to find—life, the possibility of existence, then I am satisfied; we have no authority to ask whether it is beautiful, or ugly. The feeling that anything that has been created is imbued with life, is stronger than these two sentiments and is the sole criterion in matters of art. It is only seldom, by the way, that we encounter it: we find it in Shakespeare, folk songs are full of its sounds, and we find it sometimes in Goethe; everything else is only fit for burning. The people cannot even draw a dog kennel. They strive for idealistic shapes, but all I have seen of them are wooden dolls. Such Idealism reveals the most shameful contempt for human nature.’–One ought to attempt it sometime, he said, and immerse oneself in the life led by the meanest human creature, and then translate this experience into convulsive movements, faint signs, and the delicate, almost imperceptible changes of facial expression; he himself had attempted to do so in his works The Private Tutor and The Soldiers–‘These are the most prosaic persons under the sun, but the emotional aspect is almost identical in all human beings, save that the outer shell through which it must break out is more or less solid. One need have only eyes and ears for it. Yesterday, as I was walking up the valley, I saw two girls sitting upon a stone; one was putting up her hair and the other was helping her; her golden hair hanging down, and a grave, pale face, yet so young, and her black dress, and the other girl so eager to help.–The most beautiful, touching works of the Old German school of painting can hardly convey an idea of it. At times, one could wish oneself a Medusa, to be able to turn such a group into stone, and call to the passers-by.–Then they stood up, the lovely group vanished; but as they walked down the valley, between the cliffs, yet another picture ensued.

The most beautiful pictures, the richest tones, group together and then fall apart. Only one thing remains: an infinite beauty which migrates from one shape to another, forever laid open to view, transformed. Of course, we cannot always capture them and put them into museums or written music, and then summon young young and old and let young lads and old men chatter about them and be filled with delight. One must love all human beings in order to penetrate in to inmost soul of each one; one must not consider anyone too mean or too ugly—only then can one understand them; the most nondescript face creates a deeper impression than a mere feeling of beauty, and one can create one’s own figures without copying into them external features devoid of life, of muscles, of a pounding, racing pulse.’

Kaufmann objected, saying that, in real life, Lenz would not find any models suitable for a Belvedere Apollo or a Raphael Madonna. ‘What of it,’ he replied; ‘I must admit that such things have the kiss of death for me. When I really make an effort I can certainly respond to them with feeling, but the work is more mine than theirs. Among poets and artists, I prefer the one who can present nature to me in the most realistic manner, so that his work arouses feeling in me; anything else disturbs me. I prefer the Dutch painters to the Italian, they are the only ones whose works are tangible. I know only two paintings, both by Dutch artists, which made the same impression upon me as the New Testament; one—I do not know the artist’s name—depicts Christ and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. When you read the description of how the disciples went forth, the whole of Nature is contained in those few words. It is a gloomy, twilit evening, a dull red streak can be seen on the horizon, the road in semi-darkness; a stranger approaches them, they speak to him, and he breaks the bread; then they recognize him by his plain human manner; and his divinely suffering features speak clearly to them, and they are afraid, for darkness has set in, and they are overcome by an inexplicable feeling of; yet it is not a feeling of ghostly terror, but as if a beloved person, now dead, were to come to meet you in the twilight just as he did before; such is the mod of the picture, overshadowed by a monochrome, brownish tone, the quiet, gloomy evening. Then a second picture: a woman sitting in her rom with her prayer-book in her hand. Everything clean and tidy, Sunday-fashion, sand strewn on the floor, everything cosily clean and warm. The woman has not been able to go to church, and she is performing her devotions at home; the window is open, she is facing the window, and one feels as if the sound of the bells from the village were sweeping across the wide, flat landscape through the window, and the singing of the congregation is echoing from the church close-by, and the woman is following the text in her prayer book.’

He went on speaking in this vein; everyone listened intently, for much of what he said rang true. His face had become red from speaking; one minute smiling, the next grave, he shook his blond curls. He had forgotten himself completely.

Georg Büchner,1813-1837. Lenz,1835. First partly published in Karl Gutzkow‘s and Wienberg’s Deutsche Revue,1839. Translation @Michael Fleming, 1997. Oxford University Press, World Classic’s paperback,1997.

Image: Raphael, 1483-1520. Sistine Madonna/  Madonna di San Sisto, 1512. Oil on canvas. 265 x 196cm. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister  

Image: Nicolas Maes, 1634-1693. Old Woman Saying Grace (The Prayer Without End). c.1656. Oil on canvas. 134 x 133cm. Gotha, Schlossmuseum. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, on loan from the city of Amsterdam.

Image: Carel van Savoy. c.1621-1665. Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus, Oil on canvas 132 x 109cm.. Hessisches Landesmuseum,  Darmstadt

Image: Apollo Belvedere.  c. 130-140 AD. Marble copy of an original bronze statue of 330-320 B.C. by Leochares, who worked on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Vatican Museums

Georg Büchner was a writer, poet and dramatist whose dramas include Dantons Tod,1835, (Death of Danton), Leonce and Lena, 1836, and Woyzeck, 1837 concerned with social and revolutionary change in response to the contemporary intellectual ideas of Idealism, Romanticism and Realism. Büchner’s documentary novella concerns a period of mental illness in the life of Jakob Lenz, 1751-1826, a Sturm und Drang poet and friend of Goethe, whose best known plays are Der Hofmeister,1774, (The Private Tutor) and Die Soldaten,1776, (The Soldiers). The narrative relates incidents when Lenz was in the care of Johann Friedrich Oberlin,1740-1826, a pastor in the Alsace, from November 1777 to January 1778, and is based on Oberlin’s diary, and a biography of Oberlin, published in 1831. The description of the internal life of a schizophrenic character was an influential text for modernist European fiction. Büchner challenged the ideas of Idealism and Romanticism, and Lenz notably combines Naturalism with Expressionism, through a factual observation and documentation of events, with an imaginative and poetic understanding of the human psyche. The references to paintings propose the aesthetic of Dutch realist painters, such as Nicholas Maes, 1634-1693

Lenz is an important text as the Kunstsgepräge, or art conversation presents an argument for realism and authenticity in art – promoting the importance of detail, and a less bourgeois and broader range of society reflected in the subject matter, in preference to the predominant idealistic aesthetic.

Christoph Kaufmann,1753-1795, introduced the term Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) to describe the German Romantic movement. Johann Stilling,1740-1817, published studies of the Apocalypse. Idealism – the dominant aesthetic and moral culture in late eighteenth century Germany. The Old German School – fifteenth century artists such as Altdorfer, Dürer, and Grünewald. Apollo Belvedere – A Roman copy of a Greek statue of Apollo in the Vatican Belvedere. Johann Joachim Winckelmann considered it the sublime expression of Greek art, “of all the works of antiquity that have escaped destruction, the statue of Apollo represents the highest ideal of art”. Raphael Madonna – Raphael’s paintings of the Madonna embodied the Renaissance idea of ‘transfiguring the real’ as an ideal aesthetic in Weimar Classicism. Winkelmann wrote prominently about the Sistine Madonna as a highpoint of Classical and Christian art. The altarpiece was commissioned in 1512 by Pope Julius II for the church of San Sisto, Piacenza. It was purchased by Augustus III, Grand Duke of Saxony, for  Dresden in 1754. The purchase price of 25 million Roman scudari, made it the most expensive painting in the world for a generation and its status as the world’s most important painting was particularly influential in Germany. Christ and the Disciples at Emmaus, a painting by Carel von Savoy, (c. 1621-1665), a pupil of Rembrandt. Buchner saw this painting in the Museum of Darmstadt.

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Cuthbert Bede BA – The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman, 1853

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Chapter XII. Mr. Verdant Green terminates his existence as an Oxford Freshman. 

      After ordering for dinner every thing that the house was enabled to supply, they made their way in the first place (as it could only be seen between 11 and 1) to Blenheim; the princely splendours of which were not only costly in themselves, but, as our hero soon found, costly also to the sight-seer. The doors in the suite of apartments were all opposite to each other, so that, as a crimson cord was passed from one to the other, the spectator was kept entirely to the one side of the room, and merely a glance could be obtained of the Raffaelle, the glorious Rubens’s, [19] the Vandycks, and the almost equally fine Sir Joshuas. But even the glance they had was but a passing one, as the servant trotted them through the rooms with the rapidity of locomotion and explanation of a Westminster Abbey verger; and he made a fierce attack on Verdant, who had lagged behind, and was short-sightedly peering at the celebrated “Charles the First” of Vandyck, as though he had lingered in order to surreptitiously appropriate some of the tables, couches, and other trifling articles that ornamented the rooms. In this way they went at railroad pace through the suite of rooms and the library, – where the chief thing pointed out appeared to be a grease-mark on the floor made by somebody at somebody else’s wedding-breakfast, – and to the chapel, where they admired the ingenuity of the sparrows and other birds that built about Rysbrach’s monumental mountain of marble to the memory of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough; – and then to the so-called “Titian room” (shade of mighty Titian, forgive the insult!) where they saw the Loves of the Gods represented in the most unloveable manner,[20] and where a flunkey lounged lazily at the door, and, in spite of Mr. Bouncer’s expostulatory “chaff,” demanded half-a-crown for the sight.

      Indeed, the sight-seeing at Blenheim seemed to be a system of half-crowns. The first servant would take them a little way, and then say, “I don’t go any further, sir; half-a-crown!” and hand them over to servant number two, who, after a short interval, would pass them on (half-a-crown!) to the servant who shewed the chapel (half-a-crown!), who would forward them on to the “Titian” Gallery (half-a-crown!), who would hand them over to the flower-garden (half-a-crown!), who would entrust them to the rose-garden (half-a-crown!), who would give them up to another, who shewed parts of the Park, and the rest of it. Somewhat in this manner an Oxford party sees Blenheim (the present of the nation); and Mr. Verdant Green found it the most expensive show-place he had ever seen.

[19] Dr Waagen says that the Rubens collection at Blenheim is only surpassed by the royal galleries of Munich, Vienna, Madrid, and Paris.


[20] The ladies alone would repel one by their gaunt ugliness, their flesh being apparently composed of the article on which the pictures are painted, leather. The only picture not by “Titian” in this room is a Rubens, – “the Rape of Proserpine” – to see which is well worth the half-crown charged for the sight of the others.


Cuthbert Bede BA, (Edward Bradley 1827-1889) The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman,1853. Part I. 

Text: Part I. Chapter XII. Mr. Verdant Green terminates his existence as an Oxford Freshman.

Image: Part III. Chapter IX. Mr, Verdant Green asks Papa.

Publisher: Blackwoods Magazine, 1850s. Nathaniel Cooke, (Late Ingram, Cooke, And Co.) Milford House, Strand, London, 1853. Part II. 1854, Part III, 1857.

Illustrations by Cuthbert Bede BA, (Edward Bradley 1827-1889), with numerous illustrations designed and drawn on wood by the author.

The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green is a light comic novel with illustrations by the author, Edward Bradley, 1827-1889, under the pseudonym of Cuthbert M. Bede. It follows the day-to-day life of Mr. Verdant Green, a first year undergraduate at Oxford University, and became a cult book for Oxford students, published in three volumes between 1853 to 1857. The description of an outing to Blenheim Palace to view the paintings of Titian, Raffaele, Vandyke, Rubens, the Sir Joshuas, and the sculpture of Rysbrach provides continual circumstances for exploitation by the house servants of the Duke and duchess of Marlborough, who fleece the tourists of  half-a-crown at every opportunity.

Cuthbert Bede BA – The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford Freshman,1853

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Part II. Chapter IX. Mr Verdant Green makes his first appearance on the boards.

SCENE IV. The Word. – Miss Bouncer discovered with her camera, arranging her photographic chemicals. She soliloquizes: “There! now, all is ready for my sitter.” She calls the footman (Mr. Verdant Green), and says, “John, you may show the Lady Fitz-Canute upstairs.” The footman shows in Miss Honeywood, dressed in an antiquated bonnet and mantle, waving a huge fan. John gives her a chair, into which she drops, exclaiming, “What an insufferable toil it is to ascend to these elevated Photographic rooms;” and makes good use of her fan. Miss Bouncer then fixes the focus of her camera, and begs the Lady Fitz-Canute to sit perfectly still, and to call up an agreeable smile to her face. Miss Honeywood thereupon disposes her face in ludicrous “wreathed smiles;” and Miss Bouncer’s head disappears under the velvet hood of the camera. “I am afraid,” at length says Miss Bouncer, “I am afraid that I shall not be able to succeed in taking a likeness of your ladyship this morning.” “And why, pray?” asks her ladyship with haughty surprise. “Because it is a gloomy day,” replies the Photographer, “and much depends upon the rays of light.” “Then procure the rays of light!” “That is more than I can do.” “Indeed! I suppose if the Lady Fitz-Canute wishes for the rays of light, and condescends to pay for the rays of light, she can obtain the rays of light.” Miss Bouncer considers this too exigeant, and puts her sitter off by promising to complete a most fascinating portrait of her on some more favourable day. Lady Fitz-Canute appears to be somewhat mollified at this, and is graciously pleased to observe, “Then I will undergo the fatigue of ascending to these elevated Photographic-rooms at some future period. But, mind, when I next come, that you procure the rays of light!” So she is shown out by Mr. Verdant Green, and the folding-doors are closed amid applause, and the audience distract themselves with guesses as to the word.

“Photograph” is a general favourite, but is found not to agree with the three first scenes, although much ingenuity is expended in endeavouring to make them fit the word. The Curate makes a headlong rush at the word “Daguerreotype,” and is confident that he has solved the problem, until he is informed that it is a word of more than three syllables. Charles Larkyns has already whispered the word to Mary Green; but they keep their discovery to themselves. At length, the Revd. Josiah Meek, in a moment of inspiration, hits upon the word, and proclaims it to be CALOTYPE (“Call – oh! – type;”) upon which Mr. Alfred Brindle declares to Miss Fanny Green that he had fancied it must be that, all along, and, in fact, was just on the point of saying it: and the actors, coming in in a body, receive the violet-crowns and laurel-wreaths of praise as the meed of their exertions. Perhaps, the Miss Honeywoods and Mr. Bouncer receive larger crowns than the others, but Mr. Verdant Green gets his due share, and is fully satisfied with his first appearance on “the boards.”

Cuthbert Bede BA, (Edward Bradley 1827-1889)  The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green : an Oxford Freshman,1853

Part II. THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF MR. VERDANT GREEN, AN OXFORD UNDERGRADUATE, BEING A CONTINUATION OF “THE ADVENTURES OF MR. VERDANT GREEN, AN OXFORD FRESHMAN.” 1854

Text + Image: Part II. Chapter VIII. Mr Green spends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Publisher: Blackwoods Magazine, 1850s. Nathaniel Cooke, (Late Ingram, Cooke, And Co.) Milford House, Strand, London, 1853. Part II. 1854, Part III, 1857.

Illustrations by Cuthbert Bede BA, (Edward Bradley 1827-1889), with numerous illustrations designed and drawn on wood by the author.

The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green is a light comic novel with illustrations by the author, Edward Bradley, 1827-1889, under the pseudonym of Cuthbert M. Bede. It follows the day-to-day life of Mr. Verdant Green, a first year undergraduate at Oxford University, and became a cult book for Oxford students, published in three volumes between 1853 to 1857. The popular novelty of photography is described as Miss Fanny Bouncer creates Daguerrotypes: Moreover, as the adorning of College chimney-pieces with the photographic portraits of all the owner’s College friends, had just then come into fashion, Mr. Verdant Green’s beaming countenance and spectacles were daguerreotyped in every variety of Ethiopian distortion; and, being enclosed in miniature frames, were distributed as souvenirs among his admiring friends.” Part III. Chapter IX. Mr. Verdant Green Takes His Degree.

W M Thackeray – Vanity Fair,1848 Ch XVII

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Chapter 17. How Captain Dobbin Bought a Piano.

No. 369,” roared Mr. Hammerdown. “Portrait of a gentleman on an elephant. Who’ll bid for the gentleman on the elephant? Lift up the picture, Blowman, and let the company examine this lot.” A long, pale, military-looking gentleman, seated demurely at the mahogany table, could not help grinning as this valuable lot was shown by Mr. Blowman. “Turn the elephant to the Captain, Blowman. What shall we say, sir, for the elephant?” but the Captain, blushing in a very hurried and discomfited manner, turned away his head.

Shall we say twenty guineas for this work of art? — fifteen, five, name your own price. The gentleman without the elephant is worth five pound.”

I wonder it ain’t come down with him,” said a professional wag, “he’s anyhow a precious big one”; at which (for the elephant-rider was represented as of a very stout figure) there was a general giggle in the room.

Don’t be trying to deprecate the value of the lot, Mr. Moss,” Mr. Hammerdown said; “let the company examine it as a work of art — the attitude of the gallant animal quite according to natur’; the gentleman in a nankeen jacket, his gun in his hand, is going to the chase; in the distance a banyhann tree and a pagody, most likely resemblances of some interesting spot in our famous Eastern possessions. How much for this lot? Come, gentlemen, don’t keep me here all day.”

Some one bid five shillings, at which the military gentleman looked towards the quarter from which this splendid offer had come, and there saw another officer with a young lady on his arm, who both appeared to be highly amused with the scene, and to whom, finally, this lot was knocked down for half a guinea. He at the table looked more surprised and discomposed than ever when he spied this pair, and his head sank into his military collar, and he turned his back upon them, so as to avoid them altogether.

Of all the other articles which Mr. Hammerdown had the honour to offer for public competition that day it is not our purpose to make mention, save of one only, a little square piano, which came down from the upper regions of the house (the state grand piano having been disposed of previously); this the young lady tried with a rapid and skilful hand (making the officer blush and start again), and for it, when its turn came, her agent began to bid.

But there was an opposition here. The Hebrew aide-de-camp in the service of the officer at the table bid against the Hebrew gentleman employed by the elephant purchasers, and a brisk battle ensued over this little piano, the combatants being greatly encouraged by Mr. Hammerdown.

At last, when the competition had been prolonged for some time, the elephant captain and lady desisted from the race; and the hammer coming down, the auctioneer said:—“Mr. Lewis, twenty-five,” and Mr. Lewis’s chief thus became the proprietor of the little square piano. Having effected the purchase, he sate up as if he was greatly relieved, and the unsuccessful competitors catching a glimpse of him at this moment, the lady said to her friend,

Why, Rawdon, it’s Captain Dobbin.”

W M Thackeray, 1811-1861.  Vanity Fair,1848. Chapter 17. How Captain Dobbin Bought a Piano

image: W M Thackeray, An Elephant for Sale,1848

Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Blithedale Romance,1852

 

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At my first entrance, old Moodie was not there. The more patiently to await him, I lighted a cigar, and establishing myself in a corner, took a quiet, and, by sympathy, a boozy kind of pleasure in the customary life that was going forward. The saloon was fitted up with a good deal of taste. There were pictures on the walls, and among them an oil-painting of a beefsteak, with such an admirable show of juicy tenderness, that the beholder sighed to think it merely visionary, and incapable of ever being put upon a gridiron. Another work of high art was the lifelike representation of a noble sirloin; another, the hindquarters of a deer, retaining the hoofs and tawny fur; another, the head and shoulders of a salmon; and, still more exquisitely finished, a brace of canvasback ducks, in which the mottled feathers were depicted with the accuracy of a daguerreotype. Some very hungry painter, I suppose, had wrought these subjects of still-life, heightening his imagination with his appetite, and earning, it is to be hoped, the privilege of a daily dinner off whichever of his pictorial viands he liked best.

Then there was a fine old cheese, in which you could almost discern the mites; and some sardines, on a small plate, very richly done, and looking as if oozy with the oil in which they had been smothered. All these things were so perfectly imitated, that you seemed to have the genuine article before you, and yet with an indescribable, ideal charm; it took away the grossness from what was fleshiest and fattest, and thus helped the life of man, even in its earthliest relations, to appear rich and noble, as well as warm, cheerful, and substantial. There were pictures, too, of gallant revellers, those of the old time, Flemish, apparently, with doublets and slashed sleeves, drinking their wine out of fantastic, long-stemmed glasses; quaffing joyously, quaffing forever, with inaudible laughter and song; while the champagne bubbled immortally against their moustaches, or the purple tide of Burgundy ran inexhaustibly down their throats.

But, in an obscure corner of the saloon, there was a little picture excellently done, moreover of a ragged, bloated, New England toper, stretched out on a bench, in the heavy, apoplectic sleep of drunkenness. The death-in-life was too well portrayed. You smelt the fumy liquor that had brought on this syncope. Your only comfort lay in the forced reflection, that, real as he looked, the poor caitiff was but imaginary, a bit of painted canvas, whom no delirium tremens, nor so much as a retributive headache, awaited, on the morrow.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864. The Blithedale. Romance,1852. Chapter XXI. An Old Acquaintance

Hawthorne lived from April to November 1841 at Brook Farm, Massachusetts, a utopian community, which lasted from 1841-1847. His observations of Brook Farm in the romantic tale of The Blithedale Romance are told through the narrator Miles Coverdale. In the novel’s preface, Hawthorne recalls his time at the commune as “essentially a daydream, and yet a fact” which he employs as “an available foothold between fiction and reality.” The paintings described in the saloon as the imaginings of “Some very hungry painter”, present a “lifelike representation of a noble sirloin. . . the head and shoulders of a salmon . . . a brace of canvasback ducks, in which the mottled feathers were depicted with the accuracy of a daguerreotype”. They are notable for their realism, rooted in European realist painting and Dutch genre painting. Henry James described the novel as “the lightest, the brightest, the liveliest” of Hawthorne’s “unhumorous fictions”.

Image: Anonymous, British School, Folk Painting, 1830s. Still Life of Fish,  19th Century

Maria Edgeworth – Belinda, 1801

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The next day, when they came to the exhibition, Lady Delacour had an opportunity of judging of Belinda’s real feelings. As they went up the stairs, they heard the voices of Sir Philip Baddely and Mr. Rochfort, who were standing upon the landing-place, leaning over the banisters, and running their little sticks along the iron rails, to try which could make the loudest noise.

Have you been much pleased with the pictures, gentlemen?” said Lady Delacour, as she passed them.

Oh, damme! no —’tis a cursed bore; and yet there are some fine pictures: one in particular — hey, Rochfort? — one damned fine picture!” said Sir Philip. And the two gentlemen laughing significantly, followed Lady Delacour and Belinda into the rooms.

Ay, there’s one picture that’s worth all the rest, ‘pon honour!” repeated Rochfort; “and we’ll leave it to your ladyship’s and Miss Portman’s taste and judgment to find it out, mayn’t we, Sir Philip?”

Oh, damme! yes,” said Sir Philip, “by all means.” But he was so impatient to direct her eyes, that he could not keep himself still an instant.

Oh, curse it! Rochfort, we’d better tell the ladies at once, else they may be all day looking and looking!”

Nay, Sir Philip, may not I be allowed to guess? Must I be told which is your fine picture? — This is not much in favour of my taste.”

Oh, damn it! your ladyship has the best taste in the world, every body knows; and so has Miss Portman — and this picture will hit her taste particularly, I’m sure. It is Clarence Hervey’s fancy; but this is a dead secret — dead — Clary no more thinks that we know it, than the man in the moon.”

Clarence Hervey’s fancy! Then I make no doubt of its being good for something,” said Lady Delacour, “if the painter have done justice to his imagination; for Clarence has really a fine imagination.”

Oh, damme! ’tis not amongst the history pieces,” cried Sir Philip; “’tis a portrait.”

And a history piece, too, ‘pon honour!” said Rochfort: “a family history piece, I take it, ‘pon honour! it will turn out,” said Rochfort; and both the gentlemen were, or affected to be, thrown into convulsions of laughter, as they repeated the words, “family history piece, ‘pon honour! — family history piece, damme!”

I’ll take my oath as to the portrait’s being a devilish good likeness,” added Sir Philip; and as he spoke, he turned to Miss Portman: “Miss Portman has it! damme, Miss Portman has him!”

Belinda hastily withdrew her eyes from the picture at which she was looking. “A most beautiful creature!” exclaimed Lady Delacour.

Oh, faith! yes; I always do Clary the justice to say, he has a damned good taste for beauty.”

But this seems to be foreign beauty,” continued Lady Delacour, “if one may judge by her air, her dress, and the scenery about her — cocoa-trees, plantains: Miss Portman, what think you?”

I think,” said Belinda, (but her voice faltered so much that she could hardly speak,) “that it is a scene from Paul and Virginia. I think the figure is St. Pierre’s Virginia.”

Virginia St. Pierre! ma’am,” cried Mr. Rochfort, winking at Sir Philip. “No, no, damme! there you are wrong, Rochfort; say Hervey’s Virginia, and then you have it, damme! or, may be, Virginia Hervey — who knows?”

This is a portrait,” whispered the baronet to Lady Delacour, “of Clarence’s mistress.” Whilst her ladyship leant her ear to this whisper, which was sufficiently audible, she fixed a seemingly careless, but most observing, inquisitive eye upon poor Belinda. Her confusion, for she heard the whisper, was excessive.

She loves Clarence Hervey — she has no thoughts of Lord Delacour and his coronet: I have done her injustice,” thought Lady Delacour, and instantly she despatched Sir Philip out of the room, for a catalogue of the pictures, begged Mr. Rochfort to get her something else, and, drawing Miss Portman’s arm within hers, she said, in a low voice, “Lean upon me, my dearest Belinda: depend upon it, Clarence will never be such a fool as to marry the girl — Virginia Hervey she will never be!”

And what will become of her? can Mr. Hervey desert her? she looks like innocence itself — and so young, too! Can he leave her for ever to sorrow, and vice, and infamy?” thought Belinda, as she kept her eyes fixed, in silent anguish, upon the picture of Virginia. “No, he cannot do this: if he could he would be unworthy of me, and I ought to think of him no more. No; he will marry her; and I must think of him no more.”

She turned abruptly away from the picture, and she saw Clarence Hervey standing beside her.

What do you think of this picture? is it not beautiful? We are quite enchanted with it; but you do not seem to be struck with it, as we were at the first glance,” said Lady Delacour.

Because,” answered Clarence, gaily, “it is not the first glance I have had at that picture — I admired it yesterday, and admire it to-day.”

But you are tired of admiring it, I see. Well, we shall not force you to be in raptures with it — shall we, Miss Portman? A man may be tired of the most beautiful face in the world, or the most beautiful picture; but really there is so much sweetness, so much innocence, such tender melancholy in this countenance, that, if I were a man, I should inevitably be in love with it, and in love for ever! Such beauty, if it were in nature, would certainly fix the most inconstant man upon earth.”

Belinda ventured to take her eyes for an instant from the picture, to see whether Clarence Hervey looked like the most inconstant man upon earth. He was intently gazing upon her; but as soon as she looked round, he suddenly exclaimed, as he turned to the picture —“A heavenly countenance, indeed! — the painter has done justice to the poet.”

Poet!” repeated Lady Delacour: “the man’s in the clouds!”

Pardon me,” said Clarence; “does not M. de St. Pierre deserve to be called a poet? Though he does not write in rhyme, surely he has a poetical imagination.”

Certainly,” said Belinda; and from the composure with which Mr. Hervey now spoke, she was suddenly inclined to believe, or to hope, that all Sir Philip’s story was false. “M. de St. Pierre undoubtedly has a great deal of imagination, and deserves to be called a poet.”

Very likely, good people!” said Lady Delacour; “but what has that to do with the present purpose?”

Nay,” cried Clarence, “your ladyship certainly sees that this is St. Pierre’s Virginia?”

St. Pierre’s Virginia! Oh, I know who it is, Clarence, as well as you do. I am not quite so blind, or so stupid, as you take me to be.” Then recollecting her promise, not to betray Sir Philip’s secret, she added, pointing to the landscape of the picture, “These cocoa trees, this fountain, and the words Fontaine de Virginie, inscribed on the rock — I must have been stupidity itself, if I had not found it out. I absolutely can read, Clarence, and spell, and put together. But here comes Sir Philip Baddely, who, I believe, cannot read, for I sent him an hour ago for a catalogue, and he pores over the book as if he had not yet made out the title.”

Sir Philip had purposely delayed, because he was afraid of rejoining Lady Delacour whilst Clarence Hervey was with her, and whilst they were talking of the picture of Virginia.

Here’s the catalogue; here’s the picture your ladyship wants. St. Pierre’s Virginia: damme! I never heard of that fellow before — he is some new painter, damme! that is the reason I did not know the hand. Not a word of what I told you, Lady Delacour — you won’t blow us to Clary,” added he aside to her ladyship. “Rochfort keeps aloof; and so will I, damme!”

Maria Edgeworth, 1768-1849. Belinda, 1801 Chapter XIV, The Exhibition

Image: Pierre  Auguste  Cot,1837-1883. La Tempête,1880, also called  Daphnis  et  Chloé, and Paul et Virginie. Oil on canvas. 243.3 x 156.8cm. Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York

Frank Norris – Vandover and the Brute,1894-5 pub.1914

norrisvandover2

Then an immense and overwhelming terror seized upon him. Was there nothing, then–nothing left which he could lay hold of to save him? He knew that he could not deliver himself by his own exertions. Religion could not help him, he had killed his father, estranged the girl he might have loved, outraged the world, and at a single breath blighted the fine innate purity of his early years. It was as if he had entered into his life in the world as into some vast labyrinth, wandering on aimlessly, flinging from him one by one the threads, the clues, that might have led him again to a safe exit, going down deeper and deeper until, when near the centre, he had suddenly felt the presence of the brute, had heard its loathsome muttering growl, had at last seen it far down at the end of a passage, dimly and in a dark shadow; terrified, he had started back, looking wildly about for any avenue of escape, searching with frantic haste and eagerness for any one of those clues he had so carelessly cast from him, realizing that without such guidance he would inevitably tend down again to that fatal central place where the brute had its lair.

There was nothing, nothing. He clearly saw the fate toward which he was hurrying; it was not too late to save himself if he only could find help, but he could find no help. His terror increased almost to hysteria. It was one of those dreadful moments that men sometimes undergo that must be met alone, and that when past, remain in the memory for all time; a glimpse far down into the springs and wheels of life; a glimpse that does not come often lest the reason brought to the edge of the fearful gulf should grow dizzy at the sight, and reeling, topple headlong.

But suddenly Vandover rose to his feet, the tears came to his eyes, and with a long breath he exclaimed: “Thank God for it!” He grew calmer in a moment, the crisis had passed, he had found a clue beneath his groping fingers.

He had remembered his art, turning to it instinctively as he always did when greatly moved. This was the one good thing that yet survived. It was the strongest side of him; it would be the last to go; he felt it there yet. It was the one thing that could save him.

The thought had come to him so suddenly and with such marvellous clearness that in his present exalted state of mind it filled him with a vague sense of awe, it seemed like a manifestation, a writing on the wall. Might it not be some sort of miracle? He had heard of men reforming their lives, transformed almost in an instant, and had scoffed at the idea. But might it not be true, after all? What was this wonderful thing that had happened to him? Was this less strange than a miracle? Less divine?

The following day Vandover rented a studio. It was the lofty room with hardwood floors and the immense north light in that suite which he had rejected when looking for rooms on the former occasion. He gave notice to the clerk in the apartment house where his quarters were situated that he intended to vacate after the first of the month. Charming as he had found these rooms, he gave up, with scarcely a regret, the idea of living in them any longer. In a month it would be summer and he would be on his way to Paris.

But so great was his desire for work now, so eager was he to start the “Last Enemy,” so strong was the new energy that shook him, that Vandover could not wait until summer to begin work again. He grudged everything now that kept him away from his easel.

He disappeared from the sight of his ordinary companions; he did not even seek the society of Geary or of young Haight. All the sketches he had made for the “Last Enemy,” together with his easel and his disused palette, his colour-box, tubes, brushes and all the other materials and tools for his work, he caused to be transferred to the new studio. Besides this he had the stretcher made, best twill canvas on a frame four feet long, two and a half feet high. This was for the large sketch of the picture. But the finished work he calculated would demand an eight by five stretcher.

He did not think of decorating the room, of putting any ornaments about the wall. He was too serious, too much in earnest now to think of that. The studio was not to be his lounging place, but his workshop. His art was work with him now, hard, serious work. It was above all work that he needed to set him right again, regular work, steady, earnest work, not the dilettante fancy of an amateur content with making pretty things.

Never in his life had Vandover been so happy. He came and went continually between his rooms, his studio, and his art dealers, tramping grandly about the city, whistling to himself, strong, elated, filled with energy, vigour, ambition. At times his mind was full of thankfulness at this deliverance at the eleventh hour; at times it was busy with the details of the picture, its composition, its colour scheme. The main effects he wanted to produce were isolation and intense heat, the shadows on the sand would be blue, the horizon line high on the canvas, the sky would be light in tone, almost white near the earth.

The morning when he first began to work was charming. His new studio was in the top floor of a five-story building, and on arriving there, breathless from his long climb up the stairs, Vandover threw open the window and gazed out and down upon the city spread out below him, enjoying the view a moment before settling to his work.

A little later the trades would be blowing strong and brisk from the ocean, driving steadily through the Golden Gate, filling the city with a taint of salt; but at present the air was calm, touched with a certain nimbleness, a sparkling effervescence, invigourating, exhilarating.

It was early in the forenoon, not yet past nine o’clock, and the mist that gathers over the city just before dawn was steaming off under the sun, very thin and delicate, turning all distant objects a flat tone of pale blue. Over the roofs of the houses he could catch a glimpse of the distant mountains, faint purple masses against the pale edge of the sky, rimming the horizon round with a fillet of delicate colour. But any larger view was barred by a huge frame house with a slated mansard roof, directly opposite him across the street, a residence house, one of the few in the neighbourhood. It had been newly painted white and showed brave and gay against the dark blue of the sky and the ruddy greens of the great garden in which it stood. Vandover from his window could from time to time catch the smell of eucalyptus trees coming to him in long aromatic breaths mingled with the odour of wet grass and fresh paint. Somewhere he heard a hummingbird singing, a tiny tweedling thread of song, while farther off two roosters were crowing back and forth at each other with strained and raucous trumpet calls.

Vandover turned back to his work. Under the huge north light was the easel, and clamped upon it the stretcher, blank, and untouched. The very sight of the heavy cream-white twill was an inspiration. Already Vandover saw a great picture upon it; a great wave of emotion suddenly welled up within him and he cried with enthusiasm:

“By God! it is in moods like this that chef d’oeuvres are made.”

Around the baseboard of the room were a row of esquisses for the picture, on small landscape-stretchers, mere blotches of colour laid on with the palette knife and large brushes, almost unintelligible to any one but Vandover. He selected two or three of these and fastened them to the easel above the big stretcher where he could have them continually in his eye. He lit his pipe, rolled up his shirt-sleeves, and standing before the easel, began to sharpen a stick of charcoal with an old razor, drawing the blade toward him so as to keep the point of the stick from breaking. Then at last with a deep breath of satisfaction he began blocking in the first large construction lines of his picture.

It was one o’clock before he knew it. He went downtown and had a hasty lunch, jealous of every moment that was not spent on his picture. The sight of it as he re-entered the room sent a thrill all over him; he was succeeding better than he could have expected, doing better than he thought he would. He felt sure that now he should do good work; every stage of the picture’s progress was an inspiration for the next one. At this time the figures had only been “placed,” broadly sketched in large lines, “blocked in” as he called it. The next step was the second drawing, much more finished.

He rapped the stretcher sharply with his knuckles; it responded sonorously like a drumhead, the vibration shaking the charcoal from the tracings, filling the air with a fine dust. The outlines grew faint, just perceptible enough to guide him in the second more detailed drawing.

He brought his stick of charcoal to a very fine edge and set to work carefully. In a moment he stopped and, with his chamois cloth, dusted out what he had drawn. He had made a false start, he began but could not recall how the lines should run, his fingers were willing enough; in his imagination he saw just how the outlines should be, but somehow he could not make his hand interpret what was in his head. Some third medium through which the one used to act upon the other was sluggish, dull; worse than that, it seemed to be absent. “Well,” he muttered, “can’t I make this come out right?” Then he tried more carefully. His imagination saw the picture clearer, his hand moved with more assurance, but the two seemed to act independently of each other. The forms he made on the canvas were no adequate reflection of those in his brain; some third delicate and subtle faculty that coordinated the other two and that called forth a sure and instant response to the dictates of his mind, was lacking. The lines on his canvas were those of a child just learning to draw; one saw for what they were intended, but they were crude, they had no life, no meaning. The very thing that would have made them intelligible, interpretive, that would have made them art, was absent. A third, a fourth, and a fifth time Vandover made the attempt. It was useless. He knew that it was not because his hand lacked cunning on account of long disuse; such a thing, in spite of popular belief, never happened to artists–a good artist might abandon his work for five years, ten years–and take it up again precisely where he had laid it down with no loss of technical skill. No, this thing seemed more subtle, so subtle that at first he could hardly grasp it. But suddenly a great fear came upon him, a momentary return of that wild hysterical terror from which he believed he had forever escaped.

“Is it gone?” he cried out. “Is it gone from me? My art? Steady,” he went on, passing his hand over his face with a reassuring smile; “steady, old man, this won’t do, again–and so soon! It won’t do for you to get scared twice like that. This is just nervousness, you are overexcited. Pshaw! What’s the matter with me? Let’s get to work.”

Still another time he dusted out what he had done and recommenced, concentrating all his attention with a tremendous effort of the will. Grotesque and meaningless shapes, the mocking caricatures of those he saw in his fancy, grew under his charcoal, while slowly, slowly, a queer, numb feeling came in his head, like a rising fog, and the touch of that unreasoning terror returned, this time stronger, more persistent, more tenacious than before.

Vandover nerved himself against it, not daring to give in, fearing to allow himself to see what this really meant. He passed one hand over his cheek and along the side of his head, the fingers dancing. “Hum!” he muttered, looking vaguely about him, “this is bad. I mustn’t let this get the better of me now. I’ll knock off for to-day, take a little rest, begin again to-morrow.”

In ten minutes he was back at his easel again. His charcoal wandered, tracing empty lines on his canvas, the strange numbness grew again in his head. All the objects in the range of his eyes seemed to move back and stand on the same plane. He became a little dizzy.

“It’s the tobacco,” he exclaimed. “That pipe always was too strong.” He turned away to the open window, feeling an irresistible need of distraction, of amusement, and he remained there resting on his elbows, listening and looking, trying to be interested.

Frank Norris, 1870-1902.  Vandover and the Brute, 1894/5, published 1914. Chapter 14

The novel follows the life of Vandover as an art student and his increasingly degenerate lifestyle and circumstances as his personality disintegrates and finds a desparate outlet through an obsessive creation of art. In Chapter 5, his idea for a masterpiece  “The Last Enemy” is presented:  “Some time before there had come to him the idea for a great picture. It was to be his first masterpiece, his salon picture when he should get to Paris. A British cavalryman and his horse, both dying of thirst and wounds, were to be lost on a Soudanese desert, and in the middle distance on a ridge of sand a lion should be drawing in upon them, crouched on his belly, his tail stiff, his lower jaw hanging. The melodrama of the old English “Home Book of Art” still influenced Vandover. He was in love with this idea for a picture and had determined to call it “The Last Enemy.” The effects he wished to produce were isolation and intense heat; as to the soldier, he was as yet undecided whether to represent him facing death resignedly, calmly, or grasping the barrel of his useless rifle, determined to fight to the last.”