Charles Dickens, 1812-1879. Somebody’s Luggage – His Brown Paper-Parcel, 1862

HIS BROWN-PAPER PARCEL 

My works are well known. I am a young man in the Art line. You have seen my works many a time, though it’s fifty thousand to one if you have seen me. You say you don’t want to see me? You say your interest is in my works, and not in me? Don’t be too sure about that. Stop a bit. 

Let us have it down in black and white at the first go off, so that there may be no unpleasantness or wrangling afterwards. And this is looked over by a friend of mine, a ticket writer, that is up to literature. I am a young man in the Art line – in the Fine-Art line. You have seen my works over and over again, and you have been curious about me, and you think you have seen me. Now, as a safe rule, you never have seen me, and you never do see me, and you never will see me. I think that’s plainly put – and it’s what knocks me over. 

If there’s a blighted public character going, I am the party. 

It has been remarked by a certain (or an uncertain,) philosopher, that the world knows nothing of its greatest men. He might have put it plainer if he had thrown his eye in my direction. He might have put it, that while the world knows something of them that apparently go in and win, it knows nothing of them that really go in and don’t win. There it is again in another form – and that’s what knocks me over. 

Not that it’s only myself that suffers from injustice, but that I am more alive to my own injuries than to any other man’s. Being, as I have mentioned, in the Fine-Art line, and not the Philanthropic line, I openly admit it. As to company in injury, I have company enough. Who are you passing every day at your Competitive Excruciations? The fortunate candidates whose heads and livers you have turned upside down for life? Not you. You are really passing the Crammers and Coaches. If your principle is right, why don’t you turn out to-morrow morning with the keys of your cities on velvet cushions, your musicians playing, and your flags flying, and read addresses to the Crammers and Coaches on your bended knees, beseeching them to come out and govern you? Then, again, as to your public business of all sorts, your Financial statements and your Budgets; the Public knows much, truly, about the real doers of all that! Your Nobles and Right Honourables are first-rate men? Yes, and so is a goose a first-rate bird. But I’ll tell you this about the goose; – you’ll find his natural flavour disappointing, without stuffing. 

Perhaps I am soured by not being popular? But suppose I AM popular. Suppose my works never fail to attract. Suppose that, whether they are exhibited by natural light or by artificial, they invariably draw the public. Then no doubt they are preserved in some Collection? No, they are not; they are not preserved in any Collection. Copyright? No, nor yet copyright. Anyhow they must be somewhere? Wrong again, for they are often nowhere. 

Says you, “At all events, you are in a moody state of mind, my friend.” My answer is, I have described myself as a public character with a blight upon him – which fully accounts for the curdling of the milk in THAT cocoa-nut. 

Those that are acquainted with London are aware of a locality on the Surrey side of the river Thames, called the Obelisk, or, more generally, the Obstacle. Those that are not acquainted with London will also be aware of it, now that I have named it. My lodging is not far from that locality. I am a young man of that easy disposition, that I lie abed till it’s absolutely necessary to get up and earn something, and then I lie abed again till I have spent it. 

It was on an occasion when I had had to turn to with a view to victuals, that I found myself walking along the Waterloo Road, one evening after dark, accompanied by an acquaintance and fellow-lodger in the gas-fitting way of life. He is very good company, having worked at the theatres, and, indeed, he has a theatrical turn himself, and wishes to be brought out in the character of Othello; but whether on account of his regular work always blacking his face and hands more or less, I cannot say. 

“Tom,” he says, “what a mystery hangs over you!” 

“Yes, Mr. Click” – the rest of the house generally give him his name, as being first, front, carpeted all over, his own furniture, and if not mahogany, an out-and-out imitation – “yes, Mr. Click, a mystery does hang over me.” 

“Makes you low, you see, don’t it?” says he, eyeing me sideways. 

“Why, yes, Mr. Click, there are circumstances connected with it that have,” I yielded to a sigh, “a lowering effect.” 

“Gives you a touch of the misanthrope too, don’t it?” says he. “Well, I’ll tell you what. If I was you, I’d shake it of.” 

“If I was you, I would, Mr. Click; but, if you was me, you wouldn’t.” 

“Ah!” says he, “there’s something in that.” 

When we had walked a little further, he took it up again by touching me on the chest. 

“You see, Tom, it seems to me as if, in the words of the poet who wrote the domestic drama of The Stranger, you had a silent sorrow there.” 

“I have, Mr. Click.” 

“I hope, Tom,” lowering his voice in a friendly way, “it isn’t coining, or smashing?” 

“No, Mr. Click. Don’t be uneasy.” 

“Nor yet forg- ” Mr. Click checked himself, and added, “counterfeiting anything, for instance?” 

“No, Mr. Click. I am lawfully in the Art line – Fine-Art line – but I can say no more.” 

“Ah! Under a species of star? A kind of malignant spell? A sort of a gloomy destiny? A cankerworm pegging away at your vitals in secret, as well as I make it out?” said Mr. Click, eyeing me with some admiration. 

I told Mr. Click that was about it, if we came to particulars; and I thought he appeared rather proud of me. 

Our conversation had brought us to a crowd of people, the greater part struggling for a front place from which to see something on the pavement, which proved to be various designs executed in coloured chalks on the pavement stones, lighted by two candles stuck in mud sconces. The subjects consisted of a fine fresh salmon’s head and shoulders, supposed to have been recently sent home from the fishmonger’s; a moonlight night at sea (in a circle); dead game; scroll-work; the head of a hoary hermit engaged in devout contemplation; the head of a pointer smoking a pipe; and a cherubim, his flesh creased as in infancy, going on a horizontal errand against the wind. All these subjects appeared to me to be exquisitely done. 

On his knees on one side of this gallery, a shabby person of modest appearance who shivered dreadfully (though it wasn’t at all cold), was engaged in blowing the chalk-dust off the moon, toning the outline of the back of the hermit’s head with a bit of leather, and fattening the down-stroke of a letter or two in the writing. I have forgotten to mention that writing formed a part of the composition, and that it also – as it appeared to me – was exquisitely done. It ran as follows, in fine round characters: “An honest man is the noblest work of God. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0. Pounds s. d. Employment in an office is humbly requested. Honour the Queen. Hunger is a 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 sharp thorn. Chip chop, cherry chop, fol de rol de ri do. Astronomy and mathematics. I do this to support my family.” 

Murmurs of admiration at the exceeding beauty of this performance went about among the crowd. The artist, having finished his touching (and having spoilt those places), took his seat on the pavement, with his knees crouched up very nigh his chin; and halfpence began to rattle in. 

“A pity to see a man of that talent brought so low; ain’t it?” said one of the crowd to me. 

“What he might have done in the coach-painting, or housedecorating!” said another man, who took up the first speaker because I did not. 

“Why, he writes – alone – like the Lord Chancellor!” said another man. 

“Better,” said another. “I know his writing. He couldn’t support his family this way.” 

Then, a woman noticed the natural fluffiness of the hermit’s hair, and another woman, her friend, mentioned of the salmon’s gills that you could almost see him gasp. Then, an elderly country gentleman stepped forward and asked the modest man how he executed his work? And the modest man took some scraps of brown paper with colours in ’em out of his pockets, and showed them. Then a fair-complexioned donkey, with sandy hair and spectacles, asked if the hermit was a portrait? To which the modest man, casting a sorrowful glance upon it, replied that it was, to a certain extent, a recollection of his father. This caused a boy to yelp out, “Is the Pinter a smoking the pipe your mother?” who was immediately shoved out of view by a sympathetic carpenter with his basket of tools at his back. 

At every fresh question or remark the crowd leaned forward more eagerly, and dropped the halfpence more freely, and the modest man gathered them up more meekly. At last, another elderly gentleman came to the front, and gave the artist his card, to come to his office to-morrow, and get some copying to do. The card was accompanied by sixpence, and the artist was profoundly grateful, and, before he put the card in his hat, read it several times by the light of his candles to fix the address well in his mind, in case he should lose it. The crowd was deeply interested by this last incident, and a man in the second row with a gruff voice growled to the artist, “You’ve got a chance in life now, ain’t you?” The artist answered (sniffing in a very low-spirited way, however), “I’m thankful to hope so.” Upon which there was a general chorus of “You are all right,” and the halfpence slackened very decidedly. 

I felt myself pulled away by the arm, and Mr. Click and I stood alone at the corner of the next crossing. 

“Why, Tom,” said Mr. Click, “what a horrid expression of face you’ve got!” 

“Have I?” says I. 

“Have you?” says Mr. Click. “Why, you looked as if you would have his blood.” 

“Whose blood?” 

“The artist’s.” 

“The artist’s?” I repeated. And I laughed, frantically, wildly, gloomily, incoherently, disagreeably. I am sensible that I did. I know I did. 

Mr. Click stared at me in a scared sort of a way, but said nothing until we had walked a street’s length. He then stopped short, and said, with excitement on the part of his forefinger: 

“Thomas, I find it necessary to be plain with you. I don’t like the envious man. I have identified the cankerworm that’s pegging away at YOUR vitals, and it’s envy, Thomas.” 

“Is it?” says I. 

“Yes, it is,” says be. “Thomas, beware of envy. It is the greeneyed monster which never did and never will improve each shining hour, but quite the reverse. I dread the envious man, Thomas. I confess that I am afraid of the envious man, when he is so envious as you are. Whilst you contemplated the works of a gifted rival, and whilst you heard that rival’s praises, and especially whilst you met his humble glance as he put that card away, your countenance was so malevolent as to be terrific. Thomas, I have heard of the envy of them that follows the Fine-Art line, but I never believed it could be what yours is. I wish you well, but I take my leave of you. And if you should ever got into trouble through knifeing – or say, garotting – a brother artist, as I believe you will, don’t call me to character, Thomas, or I shall be forced to injure your case.” 

Mr. Click parted from me with those words, and we broke off our acquaintance. 

I became enamoured. Her name was Henrietta. Contending with my easy disposition, I frequently got up to go after her. She also dwelt in the neighbourhood of the Obstacle, and I did fondly hope that no other would interpose in the way of our union. 

To say that Henrietta was volatile is but to say that she was woman. To say that she was in the bonnet-trimming is feebly to express the taste which reigned predominant in her own. 

She consented to walk with me. Let me do her the justice to say that she did so upon trial. “I am not,” said Henrietta, “as yet prepared to regard you, Thomas, in any other light than as a friend; but as a friend I am willing to walk with you, on the understanding that softer sentiments may flow.” 

We walked. 

Under the influence of Henrietta’s beguilements, I now got out of bed daily. I pursued my calling with an industry before unknown, and it cannot fail to have been observed at that period, by those most familiar with the streets of London, that there was a larger supply. But hold! The time is not yet come! 

One evening in October I was walking with Henrietta, enjoying the cool breezes wafted over Vauxhall Bridge. After several slow turns, Henrietta gaped frequently (so inseparable from woman is the love of excitement), and said, “Let’s go home by Grosvenor Place, Piccadilly, and Waterloo” – localities, I may state for the information of the stranger and the foreigner, well known in London, and the last a Bridge. 

“No. Not by Piccadilly, Henrietta,” said I. 

“And why not Piccadilly, for goodness’ sake?” said Henrietta. 

Could I tell her? Could I confess to the gloomy presentiment that overshadowed me? Could I make myself intelligible to her? No. 

“I don’t like Piccadilly, Henrietta.” 

“But I do,” said she. “It’s dark now, and the long rows of lamps in Piccadilly after dark are beautiful. I WILL go to Piccadilly!” 

Of course we went. It was a pleasant night, and there were numbers of people in the streets. It was a brisk night, but not too cold, and not damp. Let me darkly observe, it was the best of all nights-FOR THE PURPOSE. 

As we passed the garden wall of the Royal Palace, going up Grosvenor Place, Henrietta murmured: 

“I wish I was a Queen!” 

“Why so, Henrietta?” 

“I would make YOU Something,” said she, and crossed her two hands on my arm, and turned away her head. 

Judging from this that the softer sentiments alluded to above had begun to flow, I adapted my conduct to that belief. Thus happily we passed on into the detested thoroughfare of Piccadilly. On the right of that thoroughfare is a row of trees, the railing of the Green Park, and a fine broad eligible piece of pavement. 

“Oh my!” cried Henrietta presently. “There’s been an accident!” 

I looked to the left, and said, “Where, Henrietta?” 

“Not there, stupid!” said she. “Over by the Park railings. Where the crowd is. Oh no, it’s not an accident, it’s something else to look at! What’s them lights?” 

She referred to two lights twinkling low amongst the legs of the assemblage: two candles on the pavement. 

“Oh, do come along!” cried Henrietta, skipping across the road with me. I hung back, but in vain. “Do let’s look!” 

Again, designs upon the pavement. Centre compartment, Mount Vesuvius going it (in a circle), supported by four oval compartments, severally representing a ship in heavy weather, a shoulder of mutton attended by two cucumbers, a golden harvest with distant cottage of proprietor, and a knife and fork after nature; above the centre compartment a bunch of grapes, and over the whole a rainbow. The whole, as it appeared to me, exquisitely done. 

The person in attendance on these works of art was in all respects, shabbiness excepted, unlike the former personage. His whole appearance and manner denoted briskness. Though threadbare, he expressed to the crowd that poverty had not subdued his spirit, or tinged with any sense of shame this honest effort to turn his talents to some account. The writing which formed a part of his composition was conceived in a similarly cheerful tone. It breathed the following sentiments: “The writer is poor, but not despondent. To a British 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Public he Pounds S. d. appeals. Honour to our brave Army! And also 0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 to our gallant Navy. BRITONS STRIKE the A B C D E F G writer in common chalks would be grateful for any suitable employment HOME! HURRAH!” The whole of this writing appeared to me to be exquisitely done. 

But this man, in one respect like the last, though seemingly hard at it with a great show of brown paper and rubbers, was only really fattening the down-stroke of a letter here and there, or blowing the loose chalk off the rainbow, or toning the outside edge of the shoulder of mutton. Though he did this with the greatest confidence, he did it (as it struck me) in so ignorant a manner, and so spoilt everything he touched, that when he began upon the purple smoke from the chimney of the distant cottage of the proprietor of the golden harvest (which smoke was beautifully soft), I found myself saying aloud, without considering of it: 

“Let that alone, will you?” 

“Halloa!” said the man next me in the crowd, jerking me roughly from him with his elbow, “why didn’t you send a telegram? If we had known you was coming, we’d have provided something better for you. You understand the man’s work better than he does himself, don’t you? Have you made your will? You’re too clever to live long.” 

“Don’t be hard upon the gentleman, sir,” said the person in attendance on the works of art, with a twinkle in his eye as he looked at me; “he may chance to be an artist himself. If so, sir, he will have a fellow-feeling with me, sir, when I” – he adapted his action to his words as he went on, and gave a smart slap of his hands between each touch, working himself all the time about and about the composition – “when I lighten the bloom of my grapes – shade off the orange in my rainbow – dot the i of my Britons – throw a yellow light into my cow-cum-BER – insinuate another morsel of fat into my shoulder of mutton – dart another zigzag flash of lightning at my ship in distress!” 

He seemed to do this so neatly, and was so nimble about it, that the halfpence came flying in. 

“Thanks, generous public, thanks!” said the professor. “You will stimulate me to further exertions. My name will be found in the list of British Painters yet. I shall do better than this, with encouragement. I shall indeed.” 

“You never can do better than that bunch of grapes,” said Henrietta. “Oh, Thomas, them grapes!” 

“Not better than THAT, lady? I hope for the time when I shall paint anything but your own bright eyes and lips equal to life.” 

“(Thomas, did you ever?) But it must take a long time, sir,” said Henrietta, blushing, “to paint equal to that.” 

“I was prenticed to it, miss,” said the young man, smartly touching up the composition – “prenticed to it in the caves of Spain and Portingale, ever so long and two year over.” 

There was a laugh from the crowd; and a new man who had worked himself in next me, said, “He’s a smart chap, too; ain’t he?” 

“And what a eye!” exclaimed Henrietta softly. 

“Ah! He need have a eye,” said the man. 

“Ah! He just need,” was murmured among the crowd. 

“He couldn’t come that ‘ere burning mountain without a eye,” said the man. He had got himself accepted as an authority, somehow, and everybody looked at his finger as it pointed out Vesuvius. “To come that effect in a general illumination would require a eye; but to come it with two dips – why, it’s enough to blind him!” 

That impostor, pretending not to have heard what was said, now winked to any extent with both eyes at once, as if the strain upon his sight was too much, and threw back his long hair – it was very long – as if to cool his fevered brow. I was watching him doing it, when Henrietta suddenly whispered, “Oh, Thomas, how horrid you look!” and pulled me out by the arm. 

Remembering Mr. Click’s words, I was confused when I retorted, “What do you mean by horrid?” 

“Oh gracious! Why, you looked,” said Henrietta, “as if you would have his blood.” 

I was going to answer, “So I would, for twopence – from his nose,” when I checked myself and remained silent. 

We returned home in silence. Every step of the way, the softer sentiments that had flowed, ebbed twenty mile an hour. Adapting my conduct to the ebbing, as I had done to the flowing, I let my arm drop limp, so as she could scarcely keep hold of it, and I wished her such a cold good-night at parting, that I keep within the bounds of truth when I characterise it as a Rasper. 

In the course of the next day I received the following document: 

“Henrietta informs Thomas that my eyes are open to you. I must ever wish you well, but walking and us is separated by an unfarmable abyss. One so malignant to superiority – Oh that look at him! – can never never conduct 

HENRIETTA 

P.S. – To the altar.” 

Yielding to the easiness of my disposition, I went to bed for a week, after receiving this letter. During the whole of such time, London was bereft of the usual fruits of my labour. When I resumed it, I found that Henrietta was married to the artist of Piccadilly. 

Did I say to the artist? What fell words were those, expressive of what a galling hollowness, of what a bitter mockery! I – I – I – am the artist. I was the real artist of Piccadilly, I was the real artist of the Waterloo Road, I am the only artist of all those pavement-subjects which daily and nightly arouse your admiration. I do ’em, and I let ’em out. The man you behold with the papers of chalks and the rubbers, touching up the down-strokes of the writing and shading off the salmon, the man you give the credit to, the man you give the money to, hires – yes! and I live to tell it! – hires those works of art of me, and brings nothing to ’em but the candles. 

Such is genius in a commercial country. I am not up to the shivering, I am not up to the liveliness, I am not up to the wanting-employment-in-an-office move; I am only up to originating and executing the work. In consequence of which you never see me; you think you see me when you see somebody else, and that somebody else is a mere Commercial character. The one seen by self and Mr. Click in the Waterloo Road can only write a single word, and that I taught him, and it’s MULTIPLICATION – which you may see him execute upside down, because he can’t do it the natural way. The one seen by self and Henrietta by the Green Park railings can just smear into existence the two ends of a rainbow, with his cuff and a rubber – if very hard put upon making a show – but he could no more come the arch of the rainbow, to save his life, than he could come the moon-light, fish, volcano, shipwreck, mutton, hermit, or any of my most celebrated effects. 

To conclude as I began: if there’s a blighted public character going, I am the party. And often as you have seen, do see, and will see, my Works, it’s fifty thousand to one if you’ll ever see me, unless, when the candles are burnt down and the Commercial character is gone, you should happen to notice a neglected young man perseveringly rubbing out the last traces of the pictures, so that nobody can renew the same. That’s me.

Charles Dickens, 1812-1879. Somebody’s Luggage, Chapter III – His Brown Paper-Parcel, 1862

His Brown Paper Parcel is part of the series of short stories, ‘Somebody’s Luggage’, published in the extra Christmas number of ‘All the Year Round’, 1862.

Image: Edward G. Dalziel, A London Sidewalk ArtistWood engraving, 8.5 cm high by 6.5 cm wide. The image is an uncaptioned title-page vignette for Chapter III, ‘His Brown-Paper Parcel’, published in Christmas Stories, 1877.  

The pavement artist, referred to only as Tom or Thomas, is in the ‘Fine-Art line’. He creates chalk pictures of popular subjects, “Mount Vesuvius going it (in a circle), supported by four oval compartments, severally representing a ship in heavy weather, a shoulder of mutton attended by two cucumbers, a golden harvest with distant cottage of proprietor, and a knife and fork after nature; above the centre compartment a bunch of grapes, and over the whole a rainbow.”

The pavement art is located in Piccadilly and the Waterloo Road, South of the River Thames, Tom rents out his pavement exhibits to street artists with the appearance of poverty who are skilled in eliciting money from a crowd of spectators.  The slang for a pavement artist is Screever, an Elizabethan term c. 1560, derived from the word scrivener (a clerk, scribe or notary), describing the Copperplate penmanship and proverbs, presented alongside the pictures of London pavement artists. Tom bemoans the role of the genius artist in a commercial country, as unfitted for office work and regular hours, and “only up to originating and executing the work.” He describes himself as an idler: “I am a young man of that easy disposition, that I lie abed till it’s absolutely necessary to get up and earn something, and then I lie abed again till I have spent it.

Dickens describes artists in the following works: Nicholas Nickleby 1838-39; The Ghost of Art, 1850; Little Dorrit, 1857; The Portrait-Painter’s Story, 1861; Somebody’s Luggage: His Brown Paper-Parcel,1862.

Maria Edgeworth – Belinda,1801.

paul-et-virginie-du-roman-aux-images-au-musee-leon-dierx.jpgChapter 14. The Exhibition

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!”

A gentleman at this instant beckoned to Mr Hervey with an air of great eagerness. Clarence went and spoke to him, then returned with an altered countenance, and apologized to Lady Delacour for not dining with her, as he had promised. Business, he said, of great importance required that he should leave town immediately. Helena had just taken Miss Portman into a little room, where Westall’s drawings were hung, to show her a group of Lady Anne Percival and her children; and Belinda was alone with the little girl, when Mr Hervey came to bid her adieu. He was in much agitation.

———————————————-

Maria Edgeworth, 1768-1849

Title: Belinda,1801

Maria Edgworth, 1768-1849, was a British writer, associated with the Anglo-Irish Tory gentry, notable for her observations on social conventions through well-observed dialogue and challenging moral views on the politics, Catholic emancipation, agricultural reform, education, anti-semitism and the role of property and the injustices caused by English and Irish absentee landlords. Her major novels are Castle Rackrent1800; Belinda1801; Leonora, 1806; The Absentee1812; Patronage,1814; and Harrington, 1817; Ormond, 1817.

The novel Belinda, 1801, was considered controversial in its day, owing to its depiction of interracial marriage. In the 1810 publication, some characters were replaced and the interracial plot lines were omitted completely. In ‘The Exhibition’, chapter 14 of Belinda, during a visit by Lady Delacour to the picture gallery of Clarence Hervey, she is directed to a picture of ‘Paul and Virginie’ illustrating a scene from Jacques-Henri Bernadin de Saint-Pierre’s novel ‘Paul et Virginie’, 1788 set on the French colony of Ile-de-France (Mauritius). The novel tells the story of two childhood friends who become lovers, and is an Enlightenment story of a child of nature whose moral views are corrupted by the false sentimentality of the French bourgeoisie and aristocracy on the eve of the French Revolution.  

Lady Delacour, who is a mercenary rival suitor to Belinda for the hand and estate of Clarence Hervey, is advised by Sir Phillip Baddely that the picture is of Mr Hervey’s ‘native’ mistress. As part of the intrigue, Mr Hervey warns Belinda as a friend that it is being rumoured that Belinda would marry Lord Delacour after his wife’s death. Belinda is a traditional courtship novel of the period where women might seek socially suitable fortune-hunting marriages. Belinda is a Romantic heroine who champions innocence,  love and feelings over marital duty and compatibility in a treatment of themes popularised by Jane Austen.

In Chapter XXV of her novel ‘Patronage’, 1814, Edgeworth portrays the importance of painting as a symbol of lineage and marriageability in the sentence, “A picture is no very dangerous rival, except in a modern novel.” 

The characters
Belinda Portman – the heroine
Mrs Stanhope – Belinda’s matchmaking aunt
Lady Delacour – the society hostess with whom Belinda stays in London
Lord Delacour – Lady Delacour’s dissolute husband
Clarence Hervey – Belinda’s suitor #1
Sir Philip Baddeley – one of Mr Hervey’s dissipated friends and Belinda’s suitor #2
Mr Rochfort – another of Mr Hervey’s dissipated friends
Mr Vincent – Belinda’s suitor #3 – a rich West Indian gentleman
Mr Henry Percival – a gentleman who once loved Lady Delacour, but who has found happiness in his second attachment
Lady Anne Percival – Mr Percival’s wife, seemingly the perfect wife and mother
Helena Delacour – Lady Delacour’s only surviving child
Margaret Delacour – Lord Delacour’s sister
Mrs Luttridge – Lady Delacour’s rival
Mrs Harriet Freke – once Lady Delacour’s friend, but now her bitterest enemy
Marriott – Lady Delacour’s maid
Champfort – Lord Delacour’s manservant
Virginia St Pierre – a young woman living under Mr Hervey’s protection
Mrs Ormond – Virginia’s companion
Mr Moreton – a clergyman who was badly treated by Harriet Freke but rewarded by Mr Hervey
Mr Hartley – Virginia’s father
A good summary of the novel / moral tale by Rachel Knowles can be found at: https://www.regencyhistory.net/2016/04/belinda-by-maria-edgeworth-regency.html
Images: 1. Maria Edgeworth – Belinda. Belinda at the exhibition. 1896
2. Paul et Virginie

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.

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

an-elephant-for-sale-17-1

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

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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.”

W M Thackeray – Vanity Fair,1848 Ch XX

 

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Chapter XX. The history of a philosophic vagabond, pursuing novelty, but losing content

‘In this manner I proceeded to Paris, with no design but just to look about me, and then to go forward. The people of Paris are much fonder of strangers that have money, than of those that have wit. As I could not boast much of either, I was no great favourite. After walking about the town four or five days, and seeing the outsides of the best houses, I was preparing to leave this retreat of venal hospitality, when passing through one of the principal streets, whom should I meet but our cousin, to whom you first recommended me. This meeting was very agreeable to me, and I believe not displeasing to him. He enquired into the nature of my journey to Paris, and informed me of his own business there, which was to collect pictures, medals, intaglios, and antiques of all kinds, for a gentleman in London, who had just stept into taste and a large fortune. I was the more surprised at seeing our cousin pitched upon for this office, as he himself had often assured me he knew nothing of the matter. Upon my asking how he had been taught the art of a connoscento so very suddenly, he assured me that nothing was more easy. The whole secret consisted in a strict adherence to two rules: the one always to observe, that the picture might have been better if the painter had taken more pains; and the other, to praise the works of Pietro Perugino. But, says he, as I once taught you how to be an author in London, I’ll now undertake to instruct you in the art of picture buying at Paris.

‘With this proposal I very readily closed, as it was a living, and now all my ambition was to live. I went therefore to his lodgings, improved my dress by his assistance, and after some time, accompanied him to auctions of pictures, where the English gentry were expected to be purchasers. I was not a little surprised at his intimacy with people of the best fashion, who referred themselves to his judgment upon every picture or medal, as to an unerring standard of taste. He made very good use of my assistance upon these occasions; for when asked his opinion, he would gravely take me aside, and ask mine, shrug, look wise, return, and assure the company, that he could give no opinion upon an affair of so much importance. Yet there was sometimes an occasion for a more supported assurance. I remember to have seen him, after giving his opinion that the colouring of a picture was not mellow enough, very deliberately take a brush with brown varnish, that was accidentally lying by, and rub it over the piece with great composure before all the company, and then ask if he had not improved the tints.

W M Thackeray, 1811-1861.       Vanity Fair – A Novel without a Hero, 1848

image: ‘The Saleroom of The Commissaires-priseurs, Paris’, wood engraving illustration from page 73 of ‘L`Illustration’, Vol.9, Paris, France, 1846–7. Museum no. NAL PP 10