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.

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.

Oscar Wilde – The Artist,1894

oscar wilde portrait

ONE evening there came into his soul the desire to fashion an image of The Pleasure that Abideth for a Moment. And he went forth into the world to look for bronze. For he could think only in bronze.

But all the bronze of the whole world had disappeared, nor anywhere in the whole world was there any bronze to be found, save only the bronze of the image of The Sorrow that Endureth For Ever.

Now this image he had himself, and with his own hands, fashioned, and had set it on the tomb of the one thing he had loved in life. On the tomb of the dead thing he had most loved had he set this image of his own fashioning, that it might serve as a sign of the love of man that dieth not, and a symbol of the sorrow of man that endureth for ever. And in the whole world there was no other bronze save the bronze of this image.

And he took the image he had fashioned, and set it in a great furnace, and gave it to the fire.

And out of the bronze of the image of The Sorrow that Endureth For Ever he fashioned an image of The Pleasure that Abideth for a Moment.

 

Oscar Wilde, 1856-1900. The Artist, from, Poems in Prose,1894

Image: Portrait of Oscar Wilde,1892. Photographer: Napoleon Sarony

Heinrich von Kleist, Clemens Bretano, Achim von Arnim: Various Expressions Experienced Before A Seascape With A Monk By Caspar David Friedrich, 1810

caspar david friedrich monk

It is magnificent to stand in infinite solitude on the seashore, beneath an overcast sky, and to look on an endless waste of water. Part of this feeling is the fact that one has made life’s way there and yet must go back, that one would like to cross over but cannot, that one sees nothing to support life and yet senses the voice of life in the sigh of the waves, the murmur of the air, the passing clouds and the lonely cry of birds. Part of this feeling is a claim made by the heart and a rejection, if I may call it that, on the part of nature. But this is impossible in front of the picture, and what I should have found in the picture itself I found only between myself and the picture, namely a claim my heart made on the picture and the picture’s rejection of me; and so I myself became the monk, and the picture became the dune, but the sea itself, on which I should have looked out with longing — the sea was absent. 
[There can be nothing sadder or more desolate in the world than this place: the only spark of life in the broad domain of death, the linely centre in the lonely circle. The picture, with its two or three mysterious subjects (monk, dune, sea), lies there like an apocalypse, as if it were thinking Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts” and since it has, in its uniformity and boundlessness, no foreground but the frame, it is as if one’s eyelids had been cut off. Yet the painter has undoubtedly broken an entirely new path in the field of his art, and I am convinced that with his spirit, a square mile of the sand of Mark Brandenburg could be represented with a barberry bush, on which a lone crow might sit preening itself, and that such a picture would have an effect that rivalled Ossian or Kosegarten. Why, if the artist painted this landscape using its own chalk and its own water, I believe he would make the foxes and wolves weep: the most powerful praise, without doubt, that could be given to this kind of landscape painting. 
Yet my own impressions of this wonderful painting are too confused, and so, before I venture to express them in full, I have decided to learn what I can from the remarks of the couples who pass before it from morning till evening.] 
I listened to the remarks of the many viewers around me and now relay them as comments on this painting, which is surely a stage set before which a scene must be acted, for it allows no repose.

(Enter a Lady [the wife of a senior official in the War Department] and a Gentleman [perhaps a great wit]).

LADY (looks in her catalogue): Painting Number Two: a landscape in oils. What do you think of it?
GENTLEMAN: Infinitely deep and sublime!
LADY: You mean the sea, yes, it must be amazingly deep, and the monk is also very sublime.
GENTLEMAN: No, Frau Kriegsrat, I mean the emotion felt by the one and only Friedrich before this painting.
LADY: Is it old enough for him to have seen it too?
GENTLEMAN: Ah, you misunderstand me, I refer to the painter Friedrich, not our great King Frederick. At the sight of this picture, Ossian strikes up on his harp. (Exeunt)

(Enter two Young Ladies)

FIRST LADY: Did you hear that, Louise? It’s Ossian.
SECOND LADY: No, surely you misunderstand. It’s the ocean.
FIRST LADY: But he said he was striking his harp.
SECOND LADY: Well, I don’t see any harp. It’s really gruesome.
(Exeunt)

(Enter two Connoisseurs)

FIRST CONNOISSEUR: Greysome, yes, it is all terribly grey. how he insists on painting such dry stuff.
SECOND CONNOISSEUR: You mean, how he insists on painting such wet stuff so dryly.
FIRST CONNOISSEUR: I suppose he paints it as well as he can.
(Exeunt)

(Enter a Governess and two Young Ladies)

GOVERNESS: This is the sea near Rügen.
FIRST YOUNG LADY: Where Kosegarten lives.
SECOND YOUNG LADY: Where groceries come from.
GOVERNESS: Why did he paint nothing but dull skies? How lovely it would be if he had painteed some men gathering amber on the seashore.
FIRST YOUNG LADY: Oh yes, I’d like to fish for a nice amber necklace for myself.
(Exeunt)

(Enter a Young Lady with two Children and a few Gentlemen.)

GENTLEMAN: Magnificent, magnificent! This is the only artist who expresses a soul in his landscapes. There is a great individuality in this picture, high truth, solitude, the overcast, melancholy sky — he knows what he’s painting all right.
SECOND GENTLEMAN: And he also paints what he knows, and feels it, and thinks it, and paints it.
FIRST CHILD: What is that?
FIRST GENTLEMAN: That is the sea, my boy, and a monk who is taking a walk along the shore and feeling sad because he hasn’t got a good little boy like you.
SECOND CHILD: Why isn’t he dancing at the front of the picture? Why doesn’t he waggle his head like in a shadow-play? That would be more fun!
FIRST CHILD: I suppose he predicts the weather, like the monk outside our window.
SECOND GENTLEMAN: That’s a different kind of monk, my boy, but he does predict the weather, he is the one within the wholeness, the lonely centre in the lonely circle.
FIRST GENTLEMAN: Yes, he is the soul, the heart, the whole picture’s reflection in itself and on itself.
SECOND GENTLEMAN: How divinely the figure is chosen, it is not merely a device to show the height of the other objects, as in the work of the common run of painters. He is the subject itself, he is the picture; and as he seems to dream himself into this setting, as if into a sad mirror of his isolation, so the shipless, enclosing sea, which binds him like a vow, and the bleak, sandy shore, as friendless as his life, seem symbolically to make him spring up again like a lonely dune plant prophesying its own fate.
FIRST GENTLEMAN: Magnificent, certainly, you are right. (To the Lady) But, my dear, you have not said a word.
LADY: Oh, I felt so at home in front of the picture, it truly touched me. It is truly lifelike, and when you were talking like that, it was all hazy, just like when I went for a walk beside the sea with our philosophical friends. I only wish that a fresh sea breeze was blowing and a sail was coming in, and that there was a glint of sunlight and the water was lapping. As it is, it’s like a dream, having a nightmare or feeling homesick — let’s move on, it’s making me feel sad.
(Exeunt)

(Enter a Lady and a Gentleman as her guide.)

LADY (stands for a long time before speaking): How grand, how immeasurably grand! It is as if the sea was thinking Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts”.
GENTLEMAN: You mean, as if they had occurred to the monk here?
LADY: If only you wouldn’t make jokes all the time, and spoil the impression. Secretly you feel the same but you want to mock in others what you yourself reverence. What I said was, it is as if the sea was thinking Young’s “Night Thoughts”.
GENTLEMAN: Yes, I agree, particularly the Karlsruke second edition, and Mercier’s “Bonnet de nuit” as well, and then Schubert’s “View of Nature from its Dark Side” on top of that.
LADY: The best answer I can give you is a similar anecdote. When the immortal Klopstock wrote the line “Dawn smiles” in a poem for the first time, Madame Gottsched read it and said, “Did she pout as well?”
GENTLEMAN: Surely not as prettily as you when you say that.
LADY: You are beginning to annoy me.
GENTLEMAN: And Gottsched gave his wife a kiss for her bon mot.
LADY: I could give you a “bonnet de nuit” for yours, but a wet blanket would be more appropriate.
GENTLEMAN: Surely I am more like a view of your nature from its dark side.
LADY: You are teasing.
GENTLEMAN: Ah, if only we were both standing there, like the monk!
LADY: I would leave you and go to the monk.
GENTLEMAN: And ask him to make us one.
LADY: No, to throw you in the water.
GENTLEMAN: And then you would be alone with the holy man, and you would seduce him, and spoil the whole picture and his night thoughts; you see, that’s what you women are like, in the end you destroy what you feel, in your very lying you tell the truth. How I wish I was the monk, forever gazing out alone over the dark, foreboding sea which spreads out before him like the apocalypse. I would forever yearn for you, dear Julia, yet would be without you forever, for longing is the only magnificent feeling in love.
LADY: no, no, my dear, it is true in this picture too; if you talk like that, I will jump in the water after you and leave the monk by himself.
(Exeunt)

All this while, a tall, forbearing man was listening with some signs of impatience; I came close to treading on his foot and he answered me as if in so doing I have asked his opinion. “It’s a good thing the pictures can’t hear, or else they’d have veiled themselves long ago; people treat them in a very ill-mannered way and are firmly convinced that the pictures are standing in the pillory here for some secret offence which onlookers must at all costs discover.” 
”But what is your own opinion of the picture?” I asked. “I am glad”, he replied, “that there is still one landscape painter who pays attention to the strange conjunctures of the seasons and the sky, which produce the most striking effects in even the poorest regions. True, I would prefer it if he also had the gift and the technique to represent it truthfully; in this respect he is as far inferior to some of the Dutch School who have painted subjects similar to this as he is their superior in his overall approach. It would not be difficult to name a dozen pictures where the sea and the shore and the monk are better painted. From a certain distance the figure looks like a brown smudge; if I had wanted to paint a monk I sooner have shown him lying down asleep, or set him lower to pray or look about him in all modesty, so as not to spoil the view for the visitors, on whom the outspread ocean obviously makes a greater impression than the little monk. Anyone who looked around later for the people of the coast would still find in the monk every reason to say what several of the visitors have said effusively and confidently, loud enough for all to hear.” 
These words pleased me so much that I at once went home with the gentleman, where I still reside, and where you will be able to find me in the future. 

[the end]

 

Heinrich von Kleist,1777-1810,  Clemens Bretano, 1778-1842, Ludwig Achim von Arnim,1781-1831

Various Expressions Experienced Before A Seascape With A Monk By Caspar David Friedrich, 1810. Published in Berliner Abendblätter, October 1810

Image:  Caspar David Friedrich,  Der Mönch am Meer, 1808-1810 (The Monk by the Sea), Oil on Canvas. 110 x 171.5cm. Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Edgar Allan Poe – The Oval Portrait, 1850

E A Poe the oval portrait

THE CHATEAU into which my valet had ventured to make forcible entrance, rather than permit me, in my desperately wounded condition, to pass a night in the open air, was one of those piles of commingled gloom and grandeur which have so long frowned among the Appennines, not less in fact than in the fancy of Mrs. Radcliffe. To all appearance it had been temporarily and very lately abandoned. We established ourselves in one of the smallest and least sumptuously furnished apartments. It lay in a remote turret of the building. Its decorations were rich, yet tattered and antique. Its walls were hung with tapestry and bedecked with manifold and multiform armorial trophies, together with an unusually great number of very spirited modern paintings in frames of rich golden arabesque. In these paintings, which depended from the walls not only in their main surfaces, but in very many nooks which the bizarre architecture of the chateau rendered necessary-in these paintings my incipient delirium, perhaps, had caused me to take deep interest; so that I bade Pedro to close the heavy shutters of the room-since it was already night-to light the tongues of a tall candelabrum which stood by the head of my bed-and to throw open far and wide the fringed curtains of black velvet which enveloped the bed itself. I wished all this done that I might resign myself, if not to sleep, at least alternately to the contemplation of these pictures, and the perusal of a small volume which had been found upon the pillow, and which purported to criticise and describe them.

Long-long I read-and devoutly, devotedly I gazed. Rapidly and gloriously the hours flew by and the deep midnight came. The position of the candelabrum displeased me, and outreaching my hand with difficulty, rather than disturb my slumbering valet, I placed it so as to throw its rays more fully upon the book.

But the action produced an effect altogether unanticipated. The rays of the numerous candles (for there were many) now fell within a niche of the room which had hitherto been thrown into deep shade by one of the bed-posts. I thus saw in vivid light a picture all unnoticed before. It was the portrait of a young girl just ripening into womanhood. I glanced at the painting hurriedly, and then closed my eyes. Why I did this was not at first apparent even to my own perception. But while my lids remained thus shut, I ran over in my mind my reason for so shutting them. It was an impulsive movement to gain time for thought-to make sure that my vision had not deceived me-to calm and subdue my fancy for a more sober and more certain gaze. In a very few moments I again looked fixedly at the painting.

That I now saw aright I could not and would not doubt; for the first flashing of the candles upon that canvas had seemed to dissipate the dreamy stupor which was stealing over my senses, and to startle me at once into waking life.

The portrait, I have already said, was that of a young girl. It was a mere head and shoulders, done in what is technically termed a vignette manner; much in the style of the favorite heads of Sully. The arms, the bosom, and even the ends of the radiant hair melted imperceptibly into the vague yet deep shadow which formed the back-ground of the whole. The frame was oval, richly gilded and filigreed in Moresque. As a thing of art nothing could be more admirable than the painting itself. But it could have been neither the execution of the work, nor the immortal beauty of the countenance, which had so suddenly and so vehemently moved me. Least of all, could it have been that my fancy, shaken from its half slumber, had mistaken the head for that of a living person. I saw at once that the peculiarities of the design, of the vignetting, and of the frame, must have instantly dispelled such idea-must have prevented even its momentary entertainment. Thinking earnestly upon these points, I remained, for an hour perhaps, half sitting, half reclining, with my vision riveted upon the portrait. At length, satisfied with the true secret of its effect, I fell back within the bed. I had found the spell of the picture in an absolute life-likeliness of expression, which, at first startling, finally confounded, subdued, and appalled me. With deep and reverent awe I replaced the candelabrum in its former position. The cause of my deep agitation being thus shut from view, I sought eagerly the volume which discussed the paintings and their histories. Turning to the number which designated the oval portrait, I there read the vague and quaint words which follow:

“She was a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee. And evil was the hour when she saw, and loved, and wedded the painter. He, passionate, studious, austere, and having already a bride in his Art; she a maiden of rarest beauty, and not more lovely than full of glee; all light and smiles, and frolicsome as the young fawn; loving and cherishing all things; hating only the Art which was her rival; dreading only the pallet and brushes and other untoward instruments which deprived her of the countenance of her lover. It was thus a terrible thing for this lady to hear the painter speak of his desire to portray even his young bride. But she was humble and obedient, and sat meekly for many weeks in the dark, high turret-chamber where the light dripped upon the pale canvas only from overhead. But he, the painter, took glory in his work, which went on from hour to hour, and from day to day. And be was a passionate, and wild, and moody man, who became lost in reveries; so that he would not see that the light which fell so ghastly in that lone turret withered the health and the spirits of his bride, who pined visibly to all but him. Yet she smiled on and still on, uncomplainingly, because she saw that the painter (who had high renown) took a fervid and burning pleasure in his task, and wrought day and night to depict her who so loved him, yet who grew daily more dispirited and weak. And in sooth some who beheld the portrait spoke of its resemblance in low words, as of a mighty marvel, and a proof not less of the power of the painter than of his deep love for her whom he depicted so surpassingly well. But at length, as the labor drew nearer to its conclusion, there were admitted none into the turret; for the painter had grown wild with the ardor of his work, and turned his eyes from canvas merely, even to regard the countenance of his wife. And he would not see that the tints which he spread upon the canvas were drawn from the cheeks of her who sate beside him. And when many weeks bad passed, and but little remained to do, save one brush upon the mouth and one tint upon the eye, the spirit of the lady again flickered up as the flame within the socket of the lamp. And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice, ‘This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!

 

Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849.  The Oval Portrait, 1850

Edgar Allen Poe – The Fall of the House of Usher, 1839

Tales of Mystery & Imagination Poe_Harry Clarke

I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours I thus spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved me, or led me the way. An excited and highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears. Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber. From the paintings over which his elaborate fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vaguenesses at which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered knowing not why; –from these paintings (vivid as their images now are before me) I would in vain endeavour to deduce more than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words. By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, he arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least — in the circumstances then surrounding me — there arose out of the pure abstractions which the hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvas, an intensity of intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and without interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any portion of its vast extent, and no torch, or other artificial source of light was discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendour.

Edgar Allen Poe, 1809-1849

The Fall of the House of Usher, 1839

Image:  Harry Clarke, 1889-1931. EA Poe. Tales of Mystery and Imagination, 1923.