HotFreeBooks.com
Biographies of Working Men
by Grant Allen
Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

From the day that Gibson arrived at man's estate, the great dream of his life was to go to Rome. For Rome is to art what London is to industry— the metropolis in its own way of the entire earth. But travelling in 1810 cost a vast deal of money; and the poor Liverpool marble-cutter (for as yet he was really nothing more) could hardly hope to earn the immense sum that such an expedition would necessarily cost him. So for six years more he went on working at Liverpool in his own native untaught fashion, doing his best to perfect himself, but feeling sadly the lack of training and competition. One of the last works he executed while still in Mr. Francis's service was a chimney-piece for Sir John Gladstone, father of the future premier. Sir John was so pleased with the execution, that he gave the young workman ten pounds as a present. But in spite of occasional encouragement like this, Gibson felt himself at Liverpool, as he says, "chained down by the leg, and panting for liberation."

In 1817, when he was just twenty-seven, he determined to set off to London. He took with him good introductions from Mr. Roscoe to Mr. Brougham (afterwards Lord Chancellor), to Christie, the big picture- dealer, and to several other influential people. Later on, Roscoe recommended him to still more important leaders in the world of art— Flaxman the great sculptor, Benjamin West, the Quaker painter and President of the Royal Academy, and others of like magnitude. Mr. Watson Taylor, a wealthy art patron, gave Gibson employment, and was anxious that he should stop in London. But Gibson wanted more than employment; he wanted to learn, to perfect himself, to become great in his art. He could do that nowhere but at Rome, and to Rome therefore he was determined to go. Mr. Taylor still begged him to wait a little. "Go to Rome I will," Gibson answered boldly, "even if I have to go there on foot."

He was not quite reduced to this heroic measure, however, for his Liverpool friends made up a purse of L150 for him (we may be sure it was repaid later on); and with that comparatively large sum in his pocket the young stone-cutter started off gaily on his continental tour, from which he was not to return for twenty-seven years. He drove from Paris to Rome, sharing a carriage with a Scotch gentleman; and when he arrived in the Pope's city (as it then was) he knew absolutely not a single word of Italian, or of any other language on earth save Welsh and English. In those days, Canova, the great Venetian sculptor, was the head of artistic society in Rome; and as all society in Rome is more or less artistic, he might almost be said to have led the whole life of the great and lively city. Indeed, the position of such a man in Italy resembles far more that of a duke in England than of an artist as we here are accustomed to think of him. Gibson had letters of introduction to this prince of sculptors from his London friends; and when he went to present them, he found Canova in his studio, surrounded by his numerous scholars and admirers. The Liverpool stone-cutter had brought a few of his drawings with him, and Canova examined them with great attention. Instinctively he recognized the touch of genius. When he had looked at them keenly for a few minutes, he turned kindly to the trembling young man, and said at once, "Come to me alone next week, for I want to have a talk with you."

On the appointed day, Gibson, quivering with excitement, presented himself once more at the great master's studio. Canova was surrounded as before by artists and visitors; but in a short time he took Gibson into a room by himself, and began to speak with him in his very broken English. Many artists came to Rome, he said, with very small means, and that perhaps might be Gibson's case. "Let me have the gratification, then," he went on, "of assisting you to prosecute your studies. I am rich. I am anxious to be of use to you. Let me forward you in your art as long as you stay in Rome."

Gibson replied, with many stammerings, that he hoped his slender means would suffice for his personal needs, but that if Canova would only condescend to give him instruction, to make him his pupil, to let him model in his studio, he would be eternally grateful. Canova was one of the most noble and lovable of men. He acceded at once to Gibson's request, and Gibson never forgot his kind and fatherly assistance. "Dear generous master," the Welsh sculptor wrote many years after, when Canova had long passed away, "I see you before me now. I hear your soft Venetian dialect, and your kindly words inspiring my efforts and gently correcting my defects. My heart still swells with grateful recollection of you."

Canova told his new pupil to devote a few days first to seeing the sights of Rome; but Gibson was impatient to begin at once. "I shall be at your studio to-morrow morning," the ardent Welshman said; and he kept his word. Canova, pleased with so much earnestness and promptitude, set him to work forthwith upon a clay model from his own statue of the Pugilist. Gibson went to the task with a will, moulding the clay as best he could into shape; but he still knew so little of the technical ways of regular sculptors that he tried to model this work from the clay alone, though its pose was such that it could not possibly hold together without an iron framework. Canova saw his error and smiled, but let him go on so that he might learn his business by experience. In a day or two the whole thing, of course, collapsed by its own weight; and then Canova called in a blacksmith and showed the eager beginner how the mechanical skeleton was formed with iron bars, and interlacing crosses of wood and wire. This was quite a new idea to Gibson, who had modelled hitherto only in his own self-taught fashion with moist clay, letting it support its own weight as best it might. Another pupil then fleshed out the iron skeleton with clay, and roughly shaped it to the required figure, so that it stood as firm as a rock for Gibson to work upon. The new hand turned to vigorously once more; and, in spite of his seeming rawness, finished the copy so well that Canova admitted him at once to the Academy to model from life. At this Academy Canova himself, who loved art far more than money, used to attend twice a week to give instruction to students without receiving any remuneration whatsoever. It is of such noble men as this that the world of art is largely made up—that world which we too-practical English have always undervalued or even despised.

Gibson's student period at Rome under Canova was a very happy episode in a uniformly happy and beautiful life. His only trouble was that he had not been able to come there earlier. Singularly free from every taint of envy (like all the great sculptors of his time), he could not help regretting when he saw other men turning out work of such great excellence while he was still only a learner. "When I observed the power and experience of youths much younger than myself," he says in his generous appreciative fashion, "their masterly manner of sketching in the figure, and their excellent imitation of nature, my spirits fell many degrees, and I felt humbled and unhappy." He need not have done so, for the man who thus distrusts his own work is always the truest workman; it is only fools or poor creatures who are pleased and self- satisfied with their own first bungling efforts. But the great enjoyment of Rome to Gibson consisted in the free artistic society which he found there. At Liverpool, he had felt almost isolated; there was hardly anybody with whom he could talk on an equality about his artistic interests; nobody but himself cared about the things that pleased and engrossed his earnest soul the most. But at Rome, there was a great society of artists; every man's studio was open to his friends and fellow-workers; and a lively running fire of criticism went on everywhere about all new works completed or in progress. He was fortunate, too, in the exact moment of his residence: Rome then contained at once, besides himself, the two truest sculptors of the present century, Canova the Venetian, and Thorwaldsen the Dane. Both these great masters were singularly free from jealousy, rivalry, or vanity. In their perfect disinterestedness and simplicity of character they closely resembled Gibson himself. The ardent and pure-minded young Welshman, who kept himself so unspotted from the world in his utter devotion to his chosen art, could not fail to derive an elevated happiness from his daily intercourse with these two noble and sympathetic souls.

After Gibson had been for some time in Canova's studio, his illustrious master told him that the sooner he took to modelling a life-size figure of his own invention, the better. So Gibson hired a studio (with what means he does not tell us in his short sketch of his own life) close to Canova's, so that the great Venetian was able to drop in from time to time and assist him with his criticism and judgment. How delightful is the friendly communion of work implied in all this graceful artistic Roman life! How different from the keen competition and jealous rivalry which too often distinguishes our busy money-getting English existence! In 1819, two years after Gibson's arrival at Rome, he began to model his Mars and Cupid, a more than life-size group, on which he worked patiently and lovingly for many months. When it was nearly finished, one day a knock came at the studio door. After the knock, a handsome young man entered, and announced himself brusquely as the Duke of Devonshire. "Canova sent me," he said, "to see what you were doing." Gibson wasn't much accustomed to dukes in those days—he grew more familiar with them later on—and we may be sure the poor young artist's heart beat a little more fiercely than usual when the stranger asked him the price of his Mars and Cupid in marble. The sculptor had never yet sold a statue, and didn't know how much he ought to ask; but after a few minutes' consideration he said, "Five hundred pounds. But, perhaps," he added timidly, "I have said too much." "Oh no," the duke answered, "not at all too much;" and he forthwith ordered (or, as sculptors prefer to say, commissioned) the statue to be executed for him in marble. Gibson was delighted, and ran over at once to tell Canova, thinking he had done a splendid stroke of business. Canova shared his pleasure, till the young man came to the price; then the older sculptor's face fell ominously. "Five hundred pounds!" he cried in dismay; "why, it won't cover the cost of marble and workmanship." And so indeed it turned out; for when the work was finished, it had stood Gibson in L520 for marble and expenses, and left him twenty pounds out of pocket in the end. So he got less than nothing after all for his many months of thought and labour over clay and marble alike.

Discouraging as this beginning must have proved, it was nevertheless in reality the first important step in a splendid and successful career. It is something to have sold your first statue, even if you sell it at a disadvantage. In 1821 Gibson modelled a group of Pysche and the Zephyrs. That winter Sir George Beaumont, himself a distinguished amateur artist, and a great patron of art, came to Rome; and Canova sent him to see the young Welshman's new composition. Sir George asked the price, and Gibson, this time more cautious, asked for time to prepare an estimate, and finally named L700. To his joy, Sir George immediately ordered it, and also introduced many wealthy connoisseurs to the rising sculptor's studio. That same winter, also, the Duke of Devonshire came again, and commissioned a bas-relief in marble (which is now at Chatsworth House, with many other of Gibson's works), at a paying price, too, which was a great point for the young man's scanty exchequer.

Unfortunately, Gibson has not left us any notice of how he managed to make both ends meet during this long adult student period at Rome. Information on that point would indeed be very interesting; but so absorbed was the eager Welshman always in his art, that he seldom tells us anything at all about such mere practical every-day matters as bread and butter. To say the truth, he cared but little about them. Probably he had lived in a very simple penurious style during his whole studenthood, taking his meals at a caffe or eating-house, and centering all his affection and ideas upon his beloved studio. But now wealth and fame began to crowd in upon him, almost without the seeking. Visitors to Rome began to frequent the Welshman's rooms, and the death of "the great and good Canova," which occurred in 1822, while depriving Gibson of a dearly loved friend, left him, as it were, that great master's successor. Towards him and Thorwaldsen, indeed, Gibson always cherished a most filial regard. "May I not be proud," he writes long after, "to have known such men, to have conversed with them, watched all their proceedings, heard all their great sentiments on art? Is it not a pleasure to be so deeply in their debt for instruction?" And now the flood of visitors who used to flock to Canova's studio began to transfer their interest to Gibson's. Commission after commission was offered him, and he began to make money faster than he could use it. His life had always been simple and frugal—the life of a working man with high aims and grand ideals: he hardly knew now how to alter it. People who did not understand Gibson used to say in his later days that he loved money, because he made much and spent little. Those who knew him better say rather that he worked much for the love of art, and couldn't find much to do with his money when he had earned it. He was singularly indifferent to gain; he cared not what he eat or drank; he spent little on clothes, and nothing on entertainments; but he paid his workmen liberally or even lavishly; he allowed one of his brothers more than he ever spent upon himself, and he treated the other with uniform kindness and generosity. The fact is, Gibson didn't understand money, and when it poured in upon him in large sums, he simply left it in the hands of friends, who paid him a very small percentage on it, and whom he always regarded as being very kind to take care of the troublesome stuff on his account. In matters of art, Gibson was a great master; in matters of business, he was hardly more than a simple-minded child.

Sometimes queer incidents occurred at Gibson's studio from the curious ignorance of our countrymen generally on the subject of art. One day, a distinguished and wealthy Welsh gentleman called on the sculptor, and said that, as a fellow Welshman, he was anxious to give him a commission. As he spoke, he cast an admiring eye on Gibson's group of Psyche borne by the Winds. Gibson was pleased with his admiration, but rather taken aback when the old gentleman said blandly, "If you were to take away the Psyche and put a dial in the place, it'd make a capital design for a clock." Much later, the first Duke of Wellington called upon him at Rome and ordered a statue of Pandora, in an attitude which he described. Gibson at once saw that the Duke's idea was a bad one, and told him so. By-and-by, on a visit to England, Gibson waited on the duke, and submitted photographs of the work he had modelled. "But, Mr. Gibson," said the old soldier, looking at them curiously, "you haven't followed my idea." "No," answered the sculptor, "I have followed my own." "You are very stubborn," said Wellington. "Duke," answered the sturdy sculptor, "I am a Welshman, and all the world knows that we are a stubborn race." The Iron Duke ought to have been delighted to find another man as unbending as himself, but he wasn't; and in the end he refused the figure, which Gibson sold instead to Lady Marian Alford.

For twenty-seven years Gibson remained at Rome, working assiduously at his art, and rising gradually but surely to the very first place among then living sculptors. His studio now became the great centre of all fashionable visitors to Rome. Still, he made no effort to get rich, though he got rich without wishing it; he worked on merely for art's sake, not for money. He would not do as many sculptors do, keep several copies in marble of his more popular statues for sale; he preferred to devote all his time to new works. "Gibson was always absorbed in one subject," says Lady Eastlake, "and that was the particular work or part of a work—were it but the turn of a corner of drapery—which was then under his modelling hands. Time was nothing to him; he was long and fastidious." His favourite pupil, Miss Hosmer, once expressed regret to him that she had been so long about a piece of work on which she was engaged. "Always try to do the best you can," Gibson answered. "Never mind how long you are upon a work—no. No one will ask how long you have been, except fools. You don't care what fools think."

During his long life at Rome, he was much cheered by the presence and assistance of his younger brother, Mr. Ben, as he always called him, who was also a sculptor, though of far less merit than John Gibson himself. Mr. Ben came to Rome younger than John, and he learned to be a great classical scholar, and to read those Greek and Latin books which John only knew at second hand, but from whose beautiful fanciful stories of gods and heroes he derived all the subjects for his works of statuary. His other brother, Solomon, a strange, wild, odd man, in whom the family genius had degenerated into mere eccentricity, never did anything for his own livelihood, but lived always upon John Gibson's generous bounty. In John's wealthy days, he and Mr. Ben used to escape every summer from the heat and dust of Rome—which is unendurable in July and August—to the delightfully cool air and magnificent mountain scenery of the Tyrol. "I cannot tell you how well I am," he writes on one of these charming visits, "and so is Mr. Ben. Every morning we take our walks in the woods here. I feel as if I were new modelled." Another passage in one of these summer tourist letters well deserves to be copied here, as it shows the artist's point of view of labours like Telford's and Stephenson's. "From Bormio," he says, "the famous road begins which passes over the Stelvio into the Tyrol; the highest carriage-road in the world. We began the ascent early in the morning. It is magnificent and wonderful. Man shows his talents, his power over great difficulties, in the construction of these roads. Behold the cunning little workman—he comes, he explores, and he says, 'Yes, I will send a carriage and horses over these mighty mountains;' and, by Jove, you are drawn up among the eternal snows. I am a great admirer of these roads."

In 1844 Gibson paid his first visit to England, a very different England indeed to the one he had left twenty-seven years earlier. His Liverpool friends, now thoroughly proud of their stone-cutter, insisted upon giving him a public banquet. Glasgow followed the same example; and the simple-minded sculptor, unaccustomed to such honours, hardly knew how to bear his blushes decorously upon him. During this visit, he received a command to execute a statue of the queen. Gibson was at first quite disconcerted at such an awful summons. "I don't know how to behave to queens," he said. "Treat her like a lady," said a friend; and Gibson, following the advice, found it sufficiently answered all the necessities of the situation. But when he went to arrange with the Prince Consort about the statue, he was rather puzzled what he should do about measuring the face, which he always did for portrait sculpture with a pair of compasses. All these difficulties were at last smoothed over; and Gibson was also permitted to drape the queen's statue in Greek costume, for in his artistic conscientiousness he absolutely refused to degrade sculpture by representing women in the fashionable gown of the day, or men in swallow-tail coats and high collars.

Another work which Gibson designed during this visit possesses for us a singular and exceptional interest. It was a statue of George Stephenson, to be erected at Liverpool. Thus, by a curious coincidence, the Liverpool stone-cutter was set to immortalize the features and figure of the Killingworth engine-man. Did those two great men, as they sat together in one room, sculptor and sitter, know one another's early history and strange struggles, we wonder? Perhaps not; but if they did, it must surely have made a bond of union between them. At any rate, Gibson greatly admired Stephenson, just as he had admired the Stelvio road. "I will endeavour to give him a look capable of action and energy," he said; "but he must be contemplative, grave, simple. He is a good subject. I wish to make him look like an Archimedes."

If Gibson admired Stephenson, however, he did not wholly admire Stephenson's railways. The England he had left was the England of mail- coaches. In Italy, he had learnt to travel by carriage, after the fashion of the country; but these new whizzing locomotives, with their time-tables, and their precision, and their inscrutable mysteries of shunts and junctions, were quite too much for his simple, childish, old- world habits. He had a knack of getting out too soon or too late, which often led him into great confusion. Once, when he wanted to go to Chichester, he found himself landed at Portsmouth, and only discovered his mistake when, on asking the way to the cathedral, he was told there was no cathedral in the town at all. Another story of how he tried to reach Wentworth, Lord Fitzwilliam's place, is best told in his own words. "The train soon stopped at a small station, and, seeing some people get out, I also descended; when, in a moment, the train moved on —faster and faster—and left me standing on the platform. I walked a few paces backward and forward in disagreeable meditation. 'I wish to Heaven,' thought I to myself, 'that I was on my way back to Rome with a postboy.' Then I observed a policeman darting his eyes upon me, as if he would look me through. Said I to the fellow, 'Where is that cursed train gone to? It's off with my luggage and here am I.' The man asked me the name of the place where I took my ticket. 'I don't remember,' said I. 'How should I know the name of any of these places?—it's as long as my arm. I've got it written down somewhere.' 'Pray, sir,' said the man, after a little pause, 'are you a foreigner?' 'No,' I replied, 'I am not a foreigner; I'm a sculptor.'"

The consequence of this almost childish carelessness was that Gibson had always to be accompanied on his long journeys either by a friend or a courier. While Mr. Ben lived, he usually took his brother in charge to some extent; and the relation between them was mutual, for while John Gibson found the sculpture, Mr. Ben found the learning, so that Gibson used often to call him "my classical dictionary." In 1847, however, Mr. Ben was taken ill. He got a bad cold, and would have no doctor, take no medicine. "I consider Mr. Ben," his brother writes, "as one of the most amiable of human beings—too good for this world—but he will take no care against colds, and when ill he is a stubborn animal." That summer Gibson went again to England, and when he came back found Mr. Ben no better. For four years the younger brother lingered on, and in 1851 died suddenly from the effects of a fall in walking. Gibson was thus left quite alone, but for his pupil Miss Hosmer, who became to him more than a daughter.

During his later years Gibson took largely to tinting his statues— colouring them faintly with flesh-tones and other hues like nature; and this practice he advocated with all the strength of his single-minded nature. All visitors to the great Exhibition of 1862 will remember his beautiful tinted Venus, which occupied the place of honour in a light temple erected for the purpose by another distinguished artistic Welshman, Mr. Owen Jones, who did much towards raising the standard of taste in the English people.

In January, 1866, John Gibson had a stroke of paralysis, from which he never recovered. He died within the month, and was buried in the English cemetery at Rome. Both his brothers had died before him; and he left the whole of his considerable fortune to the Royal Academy in England. An immense number of his works are in the possession of the Academy, and are on view there throughout the year.

John Gibson's life is very different in many respects from that of most other great working men whose story is told in this volume. Undoubtedly, he was deficient in several of those rugged and stern qualities to which English working men have oftenest owed their final success. But there was in him a simple grandeur of character, a purity of soul, and an earnestness of aim which raised him at once far above the heads of most among those who would have been the readiest to laugh at and ridicule him. Besides his exquisite taste, his severe love of beauty, and his marvellous power of expressing the highest ideals of pure form, he had one thing which linked him to all the other great men whose lives we have here recounted—his steadfast and unconquerable personal energy. In one sense it may be said that he was not a practical man; and yet in another and higher sense, what could possibly be more practical than this accomplished resolve of the poor Liverpool stone-cutter to overcome all obstacles, to go to Rome, and to make himself into a great sculptor? It is indeed a pity that in writing for Englishmen of the present day such a life should even seem for a moment to stand in need of a practical apology. For purity, for guilelessness, for exquisite appreciation of the true purpose of sculpture as the highest embodiment of beauty of form, John Gibson's art stands unsurpassed in all the annals of modern statuary.



IV.

WILLIAM HERSCHEL, BANDSMAN.

Old Isaac Herschel, the oboe-player of the King's Guard in Hanover, had served with his regiment for many years in the chilly climate of North Germany, and was left at last broken down in health and spirits by the many hardships of several severe European campaigns. Isaac Herschel was a man of tastes and education above his position; but he had married a person in some respects quite unfitted for him. His good wife, Anna, though an excellent housekeeper and an estimable woman in her way, had never even learned to write; and when the pair finally settled down to old age in Hanover, they were hampered by the cares of a large family of ten children. Respectable poverty in Germany is even more pressing than in England; the decent poor are accustomed to more frugal fare and greater privations than with us; and the domestic life of the Herschel family circle must needs have been of the most careful and penurious description. Still, Isaac Herschel dearly loved his art, and in it he found many amends and consolations for the sordid shifts and troubles of a straitened German household. All his spare time was given to music, and in his later days he was enabled to find sufficient pupils to eke out his little income with comparative comfort.

William Herschel, the great astronomer (born in 1738), was the fourth child of his mother, and with his brothers he was brought up at the garrison school in Hanover, together with the sons of the other common soldiers. There he learned, not only the three R's, but also a little French and English. Still, the boy was not content with these ordinary studies; in his own playtime he took lessons in Latin and mathematics privately with the regimental schoolmaster. The young Herschels, indeed, were exceptionally fortunate in the possession of an excellent and intelligent father, who was able to direct their minds into channels which few people of their position in life have the opportunity of entering. Isaac Herschel was partly of Jewish descent, and he inherited in a marked degree two very striking Jewish gifts—a turn for music, and a turn for philosophy. The Jews are probably the oldest civilized race now remaining on earth; and their musical faculties have been continuously exercised from a time long before the days of David, so that now they produce undoubtedly a far larger proportion of musicians and composers than any other class of the population whatsoever. They are also deeply interested in the same profound theological and philosophical problems which were discussed with so much acuteness and freedom in the Book of Ecclesiastes and the subtle argument of Job and his friends. There has never been a time when the Jewish mind has not exercised itself profoundly on these deep and difficult questions; and the Hanover bandsman inherited from his Jewish ancestry an unusual interest in similar philosophical subjects. Thus, while the little ones were sleeping in the same common room at night, William and his father were often heard discussing the ideas of such abstruse thinkers as Newton and Leibnitz, whose names must have sounded strange indeed to the ordinary frequenters of the Hanover barracks. On such occasions good dame Herschel was often compelled to interpose between them, lest the loudness of their logic should wake the younger children in the crib hard by.

William, however, possessed yet another gift, which he is less likely to have derived from the Jewish side of the house. He and his brother Alexander were both distinguished by a natural taste for mechanics, and early gave proof of their learning by turning neat globes with the equator and ecliptic accurately engraved upon them, or by making model instruments for their own amusement out of bits of pasteboard. Thus, in early opportunities and educational advantages, the young Herschels certainly started in life far better equipped than most working men's sons; and, considering their father's doubtful position, it may seem at first sight rather a stretch of language to describe him as a working man at all. Nevertheless, when one remembers the humble grade of military bandsmen in Germany, even at the present day, and the fact that most of the Herschel family remained in that grade during all their lives, it is clear that William Herschel's life may be fairly included within the scope of the present series. "In my fifteenth year," he says himself, "I enlisted in military service," and he evidently looked upon his enlistment in exactly the same light as that of any ordinary soldier.

England and Hanover were, of course, very closely connected together at the middle of the last century. The king moved about a great deal from one country to the other; and in 1755 the regiment of Hanoverian Guards was ordered on service to England for a year. William Herschel, then seventeen years of age, and already a member of the band, went together with his father; and it was in this modest capacity that he first made acquaintance with the land where he was afterwards to attain the dignity of knighthood and the post of the king's astronomer. He played the oboe, like his father before him, and no doubt underwent the usual severe military discipline of that age of stiff stocks and stern punishments. His pay was very scanty, and out of it he only saved enough to carry home one memento of his English experiences. That memento was in itself a sufficient mark of the stuff from which young Herschel was compounded. It was a copy of "Locke on the Human Understanding." Now, Locke's famous work, oftener named than read, is a very tough and serious bit of philosophical exposition; and a boy of seventeen who buys such a book out of his meagre earnings as a military bandsman is pretty sure not to end his life within the four dismal bare walls of the barrack. It is indeed a curious picture to imagine young William Herschel, among a group of rough and boisterous German soldiers, discussing high mathematical problems with his father, or sitting down quietly in a corner to read "Locke on the Human Understanding."

In 1757, during the Seven Years' War, Herschel was sent with his regiment to serve in the campaign of Rossbach against the French. He was not physically strong, and the hardships of active service told terribly upon the still growing lad. His parents were alarmed at his appearance when he returned, and were very anxious to "remove" him from the service. That, however, was by no means an easy matter for them to accomplish. They had no money to buy his discharge, and so, not to call the transaction by any other than its true name, William Herschel was forced to run away from the army. We must not judge too harshly of this desertion, for the times were hard, and the lives of men in Herschel's position were valued at very little by the constituted authorities. Long after, it is said, when Herschel had distinguished himself by the discovery of the planet Uranus, a pardon for this high military offence was duly handed to him by the king in person on the occasion of his first presentation. George III. was not a particularly wise or brilliant man; but even he had sense enough to perceive that William Herschel could serve the country far better by mapping out the stars of heaven than by playing the oboe to the royal regiment of Hanoverian Guards.

William was nineteen when he ran away. His good mother packed his boxes for him with such necessaries as she could manage, and sent them after him to Hamburg, but, to the boy's intense disgust, she forgot to send the copy of "Locke on the Human Understanding." What a sturdy deserter we have here, to be sure! "She, dear woman," he says plaintively, "knew no other wants than good linen and clothing!" So William Herschel the oboe player started off alone to earn his living as best he might in the great world of England. It is strange he should have chosen that, of all European countries; for there alone he was liable to be arrested as a deserter: but perhaps his twelvemonth's stay in London may have given him a sense of being at home amongst us which he would have lacked in any other part of Europe. At any rate, hither he came, and for the next three years picked up a livelihood, we know not how, as many other excellent German bandsmen have done before and since him. Our information about his early life is very meagre, and at this period we lose sight of him for a while altogether.

About the year 1760, however, we catch another incidental glimpse of the young musician in his adopted country. By that time, he had found himself once more a regular post as oboist to the Durham militia, then quartered for its muster at Pontefract. A certain Dr. Miller, an organist at Doncaster, was dining one evening at the officers' mess; when his host happened to speak to him in high praise of a young German they had in their band, who was really, he said, a most remarkable and spirited performer. Dr. Miller asked to see (or rather hear) this clever musician; so Herschel was called up, and made to go through a solo for the visitor's gratification. The organist was surprised at his admirable execution, and asked him on what terms he was engaged to the Durham militia. "Only from month to month," Herschel answered. "Then leave them at the end of your month," said Miller, "and come to live with me. I'm a single man; I think we can manage together; and I'm sure I can get you a better situation." Herschel frankly accepted the offer so kindly made, and seems to have lived for much of the next five years with Miller in his little two-roomed cottage at Doncaster. Here he took pupils and performed in the orchestra at public concerts, always in a very quiet and modest fashion. He also lived for part of the time with a Mr. Bulman at Leeds, for whom he afterwards generously provided a place as clerk to the Octagon Chapel at Bath. Indeed, it is a very pleasing trait in William Herschel's character that to the end he was constantly engaged in finding places for his early friends, as well as for the less energetic or less fortunate members of his own family.

During these years, Herschel also seems to have given much attention to the organ, which enabled him to make his next step in life in 1765, when he was appointed organist at Halifax. Now, there is a great social difference between the position of an oboe-player in a band and a church organist; and it was through his organ-playing that Herschel was finally enabled to leave his needy hand-to-mouth life in Yorkshire. A year later, he obtained the post of organist to the Octagon Chapel at Bath, an engagement which gave him new opportunities of turning his mind to the studies for which he possessed a very marked natural inclination. Bath was in those days not only the most fashionable watering-place in England, but almost the only fashionable watering-place in the whole kingdom. It was, to a certain extent, all that Brighton, Scarborough, Buxton, and Harrogate are to-day, and something more. In our own time, when railways and steamboats have so altered the face of the world, the most wealthy and fashionable English society resorts a great deal to continental pleasure towns like Cannes, Nice, Florence, Vichy, Baden, Ems, and Homburg; but in the eighteenth century it resorted almost exclusively to Bath. The Octagon Chapel was in one sense the centre of life in Bath; and through his connection with it, Herschel was thrown into a far more intelligent and learned society than that which he had left behind him in still rural Yorkshire. New books came early to Bath, and were read and discussed in the reading-rooms; famous men and women came there, and contributed largely to the intellectual life of the place; the theatre was the finest out of London; the Assembly Rooms were famous as the greatest resort of wit and culture in the whole kingdom. Herschel here was far more in his element than in the barracks of Hanover, or in the little two-roomed cottage at rustic Doncaster.

He worked very hard indeed, and his work soon brought him comfort and comparative wealth. Besides his chapel services, and his later engagement in the orchestra of the Assembly Rooms, he had often as many as thirty-eight private pupils in music every week; and he also composed a few pieces, which were published in London with some modest success. Still, in spite of all these numerous occupations, the eager young German found a little leisure time to devote to self-education; so much so that, after a fatiguing day of fourteen or sixteen hours spent in playing the organ and teaching, he would "unbend his mind" by studying the higher mathematics, or give himself a lesson in Greek and Italian. At the same time, he was also working away at a line of study, seemingly useless to him, but in which he was afterwards to earn so great and deserved a reputation. Among the books he read during this Bath period were Smith's "Optics" and Lalande's "Astronomy." Throughout all his own later writings, the influence of these two books, thoroughly mastered by constant study in the intervals of his Bath music lessons, makes itself everywhere distinctly felt.

Meanwhile, the family at Hanover had not been flourishing quite so greatly as the son William was evidently doing in wealthy England. During all those years, the young man had never forgotten to keep up a close correspondence with his people in Germany. Already, in 1764, during his Yorkshire days, William Herschel had managed out of his savings as an oboe-player to make a short trip to his old home; and his sister Carolina, afterwards his chief assistant in his astronomical labours, notes with pleasure the delight she felt in having her beloved brother with her once more, though she, poor girl, being cook to the household apparently, could only enjoy his society when she was not employed "in the drudgery of the scullery." A year later, when William had returned to England again, and had just received his appointment as organist at Halifax, his father, Isaac, had a stroke of paralysis which ended his violin-playing for ever, and forced him to rely thenceforth upon copying music for a precarious livelihood. In 1767 he died, and poor Carolina saw before her in prospect nothing but a life of that domestic drudgery which she so disliked. "I could not bear the idea of being turned into a housemaid," she says; and she thought that if only she could take a few lessons in music and fancy work she might get "a place as governess in some family where the want of a knowledge of French would be no objection." But, unhappily, good dame Herschel, like many other uneducated and narrow-minded persons, had a strange dread of too much knowledge. She thought that "nothing further was needed," says Carolina, "than to send me two or three months to a sempstress to be taught to make household linen; so all that my father could do was to indulge me sometimes with a short lesson on the violin when my mother was either in good humour or out of the way. It was her certain belief that my brother William would have returned to his country, and my eldest brother would not have looked so high, if they had had a little less learning." Poor, purblind, well-meaning, obstructive old dame Herschel! what a boon to the world that children like yours are sometimes seized with this incomprehensible fancy for "looking too high"!

Nevertheless, Carolina managed by rising early to take a few lessons at daybreak from a young woman whose parents lived in the same cottage with hers; and so she got through a little work before the regular daily business of the family began at seven. Imagine her delight then, just as the difficulties after her father's death are making that housemaid's place seem almost inevitable, when she gets a letter from William at Bath, asking her to come over to England and join him at that gay and fashionable city. He would try to prepare her for singing at his concerts; but if after two years' trial she didn't succeed, he would take her back again to Hanover himself. In 1772, indeed, William in person came over to fetch her, and thenceforth the brother and sister worked unceasingly together in all their undertakings to the day of the great astronomer's death.

About this time Herschel had been reading Ferguson's "Astronomy," and felt very desirous of seeing for himself the objects in the heavens, invisible to the naked eye, of which he there found descriptions. For this purpose he must of course have a telescope. But how to obtain one? that was the question. There was a small two-and-a-half foot instrument on hire at one of the shops at Bath; and the ambitious organist borrowed this poor little glass for a time, not merely to look through, but to use as a model for constructing one on his own account. Buying was impossible, of course, for telescopes cost much money: but making would not be difficult for a determined mind. He had always been of a mechanical turn, and he was now fired with a desire to build himself a telescope eighteen or twenty feet long. He sent to London for the lenses, which could not be bought at Bath; and Carolina amused herself by making a pasteboard tube to fit them in her leisure hours. It was long before he reached twenty feet, indeed: his first effort was a seven-foot, attained only "after many continuous determined trials." The amateur pasteboard frame did not fully answer Herschel's expectations, so he was obliged to go in grudgingly for the expense of a tin tube. The reflecting mirror which he ought to have had proved too dear for his still slender purse, and he thus had to forego it with much regret. But he found a man at Bath who had once been in the mirror-polishing line; and he bought from him for a bargain all his rubbish of patterns, tools, unfinished mirrors and so forth, with which he proceeded to experiment on the manufacture of a proper telescope. In the summer, when the season was over, and all the great people had left Bath, the house, as Carolina says ruefully, "was turned into a workshop." William's younger brother Alexander was busy putting up a big lathe in a bedroom, grinding glasses and turning eyepieces while in the drawing-room itself, sacred to William's aristocratic pupils, a carpenter, sad to relate, was engaged in making a tube and putting up stands for the future telescopes. Sad goings on, indeed, in the family of a respectable music-master and organist! Many a good solid shopkeeper in Bath must no doubt have shaken his grey head solemnly as he passed the door, and muttered to himself that that young German singer fellow was clearly going on the road to ruin with his foolish good-for-nothing star-gazing.

In 1774, when William Herschel was thirty-six, he had at last constructed himself a seven-foot telescope, and began for the first time in his life to view the heavens in a systematic manner. From this he advanced to a ten-foot, and then to one of twenty, for he meant to see stars that no astronomer had ever yet dreamt of beholding. It was comparatively late in life to begin, but Herschel had laid a solid foundation already, and he was enabled therefore to do an immense deal in the second half of those threescore years and ten which are the allotted average life of man, but which he himself really overstepped by fourteen winters. As he said long afterwards with his modest manner to the poet Campbell, "I have looked further into space than ever human being did before me; I have observed stars of which the light, it can be proved, must take two millions of years to reach this earth." That would have been a grand thing for any man to be able truthfully to say under any circumstances: it was a marvellous thing for a man who had laboured under all the original disadvantages of Herschel—a man who began life as a penniless German bandsman, and up to the age of thirty-six had never even looked through a telescope.

At this time, Herschel was engaged in playing the harpsichord in the orchestra of the theatre; and it was during the interval between the acts that he made his first general survey of the heavens. The moment his part was finished, he would rush out to gaze through his telescope; and in these short periods he managed to observe all the visible stars of what are called the first, second, third, and fourth magnitudes. Henceforth he went on building telescope after telescope, each one better than the last; and now all his glasses were ground and polished either by his own hand or by his brother Alexander's. Carolina meanwhile took her part in the workshop; but as she had also to sing at the oratorios, and her awkward German manners might shock the sensitive nerves of the Bath aristocrats, she took two lessons a week for a whole twelvemonth (she tells us in her delightfully straightforward fashion) "from Miss Fleming, the celebrated dancing mistress, to drill me for a gentlewoman." Poor Carolina, there she was mistaken: Miss Fleming could make her into no gentlewoman, for she was born one already, and nothing proves it more than the perfect absence of false shame with which in her memoirs she tells us all these graphic little details of their early humble days.

While they were thus working at Bath an incident occurred which is worth mentioning because it shows the very different directions in which the presence or the want of steady persistence may lead the various members of the very self-same family. William received a letter from his widowed mother at Hanover to say, in deep distress, that Dietrich, the youngest brother, had run away from home, it was supposed for the purpose of going to India, "with a young idler no older than himself." Forthwith, the budding astronomer left the lathe where he was busy turning an eye- piece from a cocoa-nut shell, and, like a good son and brother as he always was, hurried off to Holland and thence to Hanover. No Dietrich was anywhere to be found. But while he was away, Carolina at Bath received a letter from Dietrich himself, to tell her ruefully he was "laid up very ill" at a waterside tavern in Wapping—not the nicest or most savoury East End sailor-suburb of London. Alexander immediately took the coach to town, put the prodigal into a decent lodging, nursed him carefully for a fortnight, and then took him down with him in triumph to the family home at Bath. There brother William found him safe and sound on his return, under the sisterly care of good Carolina. A pretty dance he had led the two earnest and industrious astronomers; but they seem always to have treated this black sheep of the family with uniform kindness, and long afterwards Sir William remembered him favourably in his last will.

In 1779 and the succeeding years the three Herschels were engaged during all their spare time in measuring the heights of about one hundred mountains in the moon, which William gauged by three different methods. In the same year, he made an acquaintance of some importance to him, as forming his first introduction to the wider world of science in London and elsewhere. Dr. Watson, a Fellow of the Royal Society, happened to see him working at his telescope; and this led to a visit from the electrician to the amateur astronomer. Dr. Watson was just then engaged in getting up a Philosophical Society at Bath (a far rarer institution at that time in a provincial town than now), and he invited William Herschel to join it. Here Herschel learned for the first time to mix with those who were more nearly his intellectual equals, and to measure his strength against other men's.

It was in 1781 that Herschel made the great discovery which immediately established his fame as an astronomer, and enabled him to turn from conducting concerts to the far higher work of professionally observing the stars. On the night of Tuesday, March 13th, Herschel was engaged in his usual systematic survey of the sky, a bit at a time, when his telescope lighted among a group of small fixed stars upon what he at first imagined to be a new comet. It proved to be no comet, however, but a true planet—a veritable world, revolving like our own in a nearly circular path around the sun as centre, though far more remote from it than the most distant planet then known, Saturn. Herschel called his new world the Georgium Sidus (King George's star) in honour of the reigning monarch; but it has since been known as Uranus. Astronomers all over Europe were soon apprised of this wonderful discovery, and the path of the freshly found planet was computed by calculation, its distance from the sun being settled at nineteen times that of our own earth.

In order faintly to understand the importance attached at the time to Herschel's observation of this very remote and seemingly petty world, we must remember that up to that date all the planets which circle round our own sun had been familiarly known to everybody from time immemorial. To suggest that there was yet another world belonging to our system outside the path of the furthest known planet would have seemed to most people like pure folly. Since then, we have grown quite accustomed to the discovery of a fresh small world or two every year, and we have even had another large planet (Neptune), still more remote than Herschel's Uranus, added to the list of known orbs in our own solar system. But in Herschel's day, nobody had ever heard of a new planet being discovered since the beginning of all things. A hundred years before, an Italian astronomer, it is true, had found out four small moons revolving round Saturn, besides the big moon then already known; but for a whole century, everybody believed that the solar system was now quite fully explored, and that nothing fresh could be discovered about it. Hence Herschel's observation produced a very different effect from, say, the discovery of the two moons which revolve round Mars, in our own day. Even people who felt no interest in astronomy were aroused to attention. Mr. Herschel's new planet became the talk of the town and the subject of much admiring discussion in the London newspapers. Strange, indeed, that an amateur astronomer of Bath, a mere German music-master, should have hit upon a planet which escaped the sight even of the king's own Astronomer Royal at Greenwich.

Of course there were not people wanting who ascribed this wonderful discovery of Herschel's to pure chance. If he hadn't just happened to turn his telescope in that particular direction on that particular night, he wouldn't have seen this Georgium Sidus they made such a fuss about at all. Quite so. And if he hadn't built a twenty-foot telescope for himself, he wouldn't have turned it anywhere at any time. But Herschel himself knew better. "This was by no means the result of chance," he said; "but a simple consequence of the position of the planet on that particular evening, since it occupied precisely that spot in the heavens which came in the order of the minute observations that I had previously mapped out for myself. Had I not seen it just when I did, I must inevitably have come upon it soon after, since my telescope was so perfect that I was able to distinguish it from a fixed star in the first minute of observation." Indeed, when once Herschel's twenty-foot telescope was made, he could not well have failed in the long run to discover Uranus, as his own description of his method clearly shows. "When I had carefully and thoroughly perfected the great instrument in all its parts," he says, "I made a systematic use of it in my observation of the heaven, first forming a determination never to pass by any, the smallest, portion of them without due investigation. This habit, persisted in, led to the discovery of the new planet (Georgium Sidus)." As well might one say that a skilled mining surveyor, digging for coal, came upon the seam by chance, as ascribe to chance the necessary result of such a careful and methodical scrutiny as this.

Before the year was out, the ingenious Mr. Herschel of Bath was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was also presented with the Copley gold medal. From this moment all the distinguished people in Bath were anxious to be introduced to the philosophical music-master; and, indeed, they intruded so much upon his time that the daily music lessons were now often interrupted. He was soon, however, to give up lessons for ever, and devote himself to his more congenial and natural work in astronomy. In May, 1782, he went up to London, to be formally admitted to his Fellowship of the Royal Society. There he stayed so long that poor Carolina was quite frightened. It was "double the time which my brother could safely be absent from his scholars." The connection would be broken up, and the astronomy would be the ruin of the family. (A little of good old dame Herschel's housewifely leaven here, perhaps.) But William's letters from London to "Dear Lina" must soon have quieted her womanly fears. William had actually been presented to the king, and "met with a very gracious reception." He had explained the solar system to the king and queen, and his telescope was to be put up first at Greenwich and then at Richmond. The Greenwich authorities were delighted with his instrument; they have seen what Herschel calls "my fine double stars" with it. "All my papers are printing," he tells Lina with pardonable pride, "and are allowed to be very valuable." But he himself is far from satisfied as yet with the results of his work. Evidently no small successes in the field of knowledge will do for William Herschel. "Among opticians and astronomers," he writes to Lina, "nothing now is talked of but what they call my great discoveries. Alas! this shows how far they are behind, when such trifles as I have seen and done are called great. Let me but get at it again! I will make such telescopes and see such things!" Well, well, William Herschel, in that last sentence we get the very keynote of true greatness and true genius.

But must he go back quietly to Bath and the toils of teaching? "An intolerable waste of time," he thought it. The king happily relieved him from this intolerable waste. He offered Herschel a salary of L200 a year if he would come and live at Datchet, and devote himself entirely to astronomical observations. It was by no means a munificent sum for a king to offer for such labour; but Herschel gladly accepted it, as it would enable him to give up the interruption of teaching, and spend all his time on his beloved astronomy. His Bath friend, Sir William Watson, exclaimed when he heard of it, "Never bought monarch honour so cheap." Herschel was forty-three when he removed to Datchet, and from that day forth he lived almost entirely in his observatory, wholly given up to his astronomical pursuits. Even when he had to go to London to read his papers before the Royal Society, he chose a moonlight night (when the stars would be mostly invisible), so that it might not interfere with his regular labours.

Poor Carolina was horrified at the house at Datchet, which seemed terribly desolate and poor, even to her modest German ideas; but William declared his willingness to live permanently and cheerfully upon "eggs and bacon" now that he was at last free to do nothing on earth but observe the heavens. Night after night he and Carolina worked together at their silent task—he noting the small features with his big telescope, she "sweeping for comets" with a smaller glass or "finder." Herschel could have had no more useful or devoted assistant than his sister, who idolized him with all her heart. Alexander, too, came to stay with them during the slack months at Bath, and then the whole strength of the family was bent together on their labour of love in gauging the heavens.

But what use was it all? Why should they wish to go star-gazing? Well, if a man cannot see for himself what use it was, nobody else can put the answer into him, any more than they could put into him a love for nature, or for beauty, or for art, or for music, if he had it not to start with. What is the good of a great picture, a splendid oratorio, a grand poem? To the man who does not care for them, nothing; to the man who loves them, infinite. It is just the same with science. The use of knowledge to a mind like Herschel's is the mere possession of it. With such as he, it is a love, an object of desire, a thing to be sought after for its own sake; and the mere act of finding it is in itself purely delightful. "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her." So, to such a man as Herschel, that peaceful astronomer life at Datchet was indeed, in the truest sense of those much-abused words, "success in life." If you had asked some vulgar- minded neighbour of the great Sir William in his later days whether the astronomer had been a successful man or not, he would doubtless have answered, after his kind, "Certainly. He has been made a knight, has lands in two counties, and has saved L35,000." But if you had asked William Herschel himself, he would probably have said, with his usual mixture of earnestness and humility, "Yes, I have been a very fortunate man in life. I have discovered Uranus, and I have gauged all the depths of heaven, as none before ever gauged them, with my own great telescope."

Still, those who cannot sympathize with the pure love of knowledge for its own sake—one of the highest and noblest of human aims—should remember that astronomy is also of immense practical importance to mankind, and especially to navigation and commerce. Unless great astronomical calculations were correctly performed at Greenwich and elsewhere, it would be impossible for any ship or steamer to sail with safety from England to Australia or America. Every defect in our astronomical knowledge helps to wreck our vessels on doubtful coasts; every advance helps to save the lives of many sailors and the cargoes of many merchants. It is this practical utility of astronomy that justifies the spending of national money on observatories and transits of Venus, and it is the best apology for an astronomer's life to those who do not appreciate the use of knowledge for its own beauty.

At Datchet, Herschel not only made several large telescopes for sale, for which he obtained large prices, but he also got a grant of L2000 from the king to aid him in constructing his huge forty-foot instrument. It was here, too, in 1783, that Herschel married. His wife was a widow lady of scientific tastes like his own, and she was possessed of considerable means, which enabled him henceforth to lay aside all anxiety on the score of money. They had but one child, a son, afterwards Sir John Herschel, almost as great an astronomer as his father had been before him. In 1785, the family moved to Clay Hall, in Old Windsor, and in 1786 to Slough, where Herschel lived for the remainder of his long life. How completely his whole soul was bound up in his work is shown in the curious fact recorded for us by Carolina Herschel. The last night at Clay Hall was spent in sweeping the sky with the great glass till daylight; and by the next evening the telescope stood ready for observations once more in the new home at Slough.

To follow Herschel through the remainder of his life would be merely to give a long catalogue of his endless observations and discoveries among the stars. Such a catalogue would be interesting only to astronomers; yet it would truly give the main facts of Herschel's existence in his happy home at Slough. Honoured by the world, dearly loved in his own family, and engrossed with a passionate affection for his chosen science, the great astronomer and philosopher grew grey in peace under his own roof, in the course of a singularly placid and gentle old age. In 1802 he laid before the Royal Society a list of five thousand new stars, star-clusters, or other heavenly bodies which he had discovered, and which formed the great body of his personal additions to astronomical knowledge. The University of Oxford made him Doctor of Laws, and very late in life he was knighted by the king—a too tardy acknowledgment of his immense services to science. To the very last, however, he worked on with a will; and, indeed, it is one of the great charms of scientific interest that it thus enables a man to keep his faculties on the alert to an advanced old age. In 1819, when Herschel was more than eighty, he writes to his sister a short note—"Lina, there is a great comet. I want you to assist me. Come to dine and spend the day here. If you can come soon after one o'clock, we shall have time to prepare maps and telescopes. I saw its situation last night. It has a long tail." How delightful to find such a living interest in life at the age of eighty!

On the 25th of August, 1822, this truly great and simple man passed away, in his eighty-fifth year. It has been possible here only to sketch out the chief personal points in his career, without dwelling much upon the scientific importance of his later life-long labours; but it must suffice to say briefly upon this point that Herschel's work was no mere mechanical star-finding; it was the most profoundly philosophical astronomical work ever performed, except perhaps Newton's and Laplace's. Among astronomers proper there has been none distinguished by such breadth of grasp, such wide conceptions, and such perfect clearness of view as the self-taught oboe-player of Hanover.



V.

JEAN FRANCOIS MILLET, PAINTER.

There is no part of France so singularly like England, both in the aspect of the country itself and in the features and character of the inhabitants, as Normandy. The wooded hills and dales, the frequent copses and apple orchards, the numerous thriving towns and villages, the towers and steeples half hidden among the trees, recall at every step the very similar scenery of our own beautiful and fruitful Devonshire. And as the land is, so are the people. Ages ago, about the same time that the Anglo-Saxon invaders first settled down in England, a band of similar English pirates, from the old common English home by the cranberry marshes of the Baltic, drove their long ships upon the long rocky peninsula of the Cotentin, which juts out, like a French Cornwall, from the mainland of Normandy up to the steep cliffs and beetling crags of busy Cherbourg. There they built themselves little hamlets and villages of true English type, whose very names to this day remind one of their ancient Saxon origin. Later on, the Danes or Northmen conquered the country, which they called after their own name, Normandy, that is to say, the Northmen's land.

Mixing with the early Saxon or English settlers, and with the still more primitive Celtic inhabitants, the Northmen founded a race extremely like that which now inhabits our own country. To this day, the Norman peasants of the Cotentin retain many marks of their origin and their half-forgotten kinship with the English race. While other Frenchmen are generally dark and thick-set, the Norman is, as a rule, a tall, fair- haired, blue-eyed man, not unlike in build to our Yarmouth fisherman, or our Kentish labourers. In body and mind, there is something about him even now which makes him seem more nearly akin to us than the true Frenchmen who inhabit almost all the rest of France.

In the village of Gruchy, near Greville, in this wild and beautiful region of the Cotentin, there lived at the beginning of the present century a sturdy peasant family of the name of Millet. The father of the family was one of the petty village landholders so common in France; a labourer who owned and tilled his own tiny patch of farm, with the aid of his wife and children. We have now no class in England exactly answering to the French peasant proprietors, who form so large and important an element in the population just across the Channel. The small landholder in France belongs by position to about the same level as our own agricultural labourer, and in many ways is content with a style of dress and a mode of living against which English labourers would certainly protest with horror. And yet, he is a proprietor, with a proprietor's sense of the dignity of his position, and an ardent love of his own little much-subdivided corner of agricultural land. On this he spends all his energies, and however many children he may have, he will try to make a livelihood for all by their united labour out of the soil, rather than let one of them go to seek his fortune by any other means in the great cities. Thus the ground is often tilled up to an almost ridiculous extent, the entire labour of the family being sometimes expended in cultivating, manuring, weeding, and tending a patch of land perhaps hardly an acre in size. It is quite touching to see the care and solicitude with which these toilsome peasants will laboriously lay out their bit of garden with fruits or vegetables, making every line almost mathematically regular, planting every pea at a measured distance, or putting a smooth flat pebble under every strawberry on the evenly ridged-up vines. It is only in the very last resort that the peasant proprietor will consent to let one of his daughters go out to service, or send one of his sons adrift to seek his fortune as an artisan in the big, unknown, outer world.

Millet the elder, however, had nine children, which is an unusually large number for a French peasant family (where the women ordinarily marry late in life); and his little son Jean Francois (the second child and eldest boy), though set to weed and hoe upon the wee farm in his boyhood, was destined by his father for some other life than that of a tiller of the soil. He was born in the year before Waterloo—1814—and was brought up on his father's plot of land, in the hard rough way to which peasant children in France are always accustomed. Bronzed by sun and rain, poorly clad, and ill-fed, he acquired as a lad, from the open air and the toilsome life he led, a vigour of constitution which enabled him to bear up against the numerous hardships and struggles of his later days. "A Norman Peasant," he loved to call himself always, with a certain proud humility; and happily he had the rude health of one all his life long.

Hard as he worked, little Francois' time was not entirely taken up with attending to the fields or garden. He was a studious boy, and learned not only to read and write in French, but also to try some higher flights, rare indeed for a lad of his position. His family possessed remarkable qualities as French peasants go; and one of his great-uncles, a man of admirable strength of character, a priest in the days of the great Revolution, had braved the godless republicans of his time, and though deprived of his cure, and compelled to labour for his livelihood in the fields, had yet guided the plough in his priestly garments. His grandmother first taught him his letters; and when she had instructed him to the length of reading any French book that was put before him, the village priest took him in hand. In France, the priest comes often from the peasant class, and remains in social position a member of that class as long as he lives. But he always possesses a fair knowledge of Latin, the language in which all his religious services are conducted; and this knowledge serves as a key to much that his unlearned parishioners could never dream of knowing. Young Millet's parish priest taught him as much Latin as he knew himself; and so the boy was not only able to read the Bible in the Latin or Vulgate translation, but also to make acquaintance with the works of Virgil and several others of the great Roman poets. He read, too, the beautiful "Confessions" of St. Augustine, and the "Lives of the Saints," which he found in his father's scanty library, as well as the works of the great French preachers, Bossuet and Fenelon. Such early acquaintance with these and many other masterpieces of higher literature, we may be sure, helped greatly to mould the lad's mind into that grand and sober shape which it finally acquired.

Jean Francois' love of art was first aroused by the pictures in an old illustrated Bible which belonged to his father, and which he was permitted to look at on Sundays and festivals. The child admired these pictures immensely, and asked leave to be permitted to copy them. The only time he could find for the purpose, however, was that of the mid- day rest or siesta. It is the custom in France, as in Southern Europe generally, for labourers to cease from work for an hour or so in the middle of the day; and during this "tired man's holiday," young Millet, instead of resting, used to take out his pencil and paper, and try his hand at reproducing the pictures in the big Bible. His father was not without an undeveloped taste for art: "See," he would say, looking into some beautiful combe or glen on the hillside—"see that little cottage half buried in the trees; how beautiful it is! I think it ought to be drawn so—;" and then he would make a rough sketch of it on some scrap of paper. At times he would model things with a bit of clay, or cut the outline of a flower or an animal with his knife on a flat piece of wood. This unexercised talent Francois inherited in a still greater degree. As time went on, he progressed to making little drawings on his own account; and we may be sure the priest and all the good wives of Gruchy had quite settled in their own minds before long that Jean Francois Millet's hands would be able in time to paint quite a beautiful altar- piece for the village church.

By-and-by, when the time came for Francois to choose a trade, he being then a big lad of about nineteen, it was suggested to his father that young Millet might really make a regular painter—that is to say, an artist. In France, the general tastes of the people are far more artistic than with us; and the number of painters who find work for their brushes in Paris is something immensely greater than the number in our own smoky, money-making London. So there was nothing very remarkable, from a French point of view, in the idea of the young peasant turning for a livelihood to the profession of an artist. But Millet's father was a sober and austere man, a person of great dignity and solemnity, who decided to put his son's powers to the test in a very regular and critical fashion. He had often watched Francois drawing, and he thought well of the boy's work. If he had a real talent for painting, a painter he should be; if not, he must take to some other craft, where he would have the chance of making himself a decent livelihood. So he told Francois to prepare a couple of drawings, which he would submit to the judgment of M. Mouchel, a local painter at Cherbourg, the nearest large town, and capital of the department. Francois duly prepared the drawings, and Millet the elder went with his son to submit them in proper form for M. Mouchel's opinion. Happily, M. Mouchel had judgment enough to see at a glance that the drawings possessed remarkable merit. "You must be playing me a trick," he said; "that lad could never have made these drawings." "I saw him do them with my own eyes," answered the father warmly. "Then," said Mouchel, "all I can say is this: he has in him the making of a great painter." He accepted Millet as his pupil; and the young man set off for Cherbourg accordingly, to study with care and diligence under his new master.

Cherbourg, though not yet at that time a great naval port, as it afterwards became, was a busy harbour and fishing town, where the young artist saw a great deal of a kind of life with which he possessed an immense sympathy. The hard work of the fishermen putting out to sea on stormy evenings, or toiling with their nets ashore after a sleepless night, made a living picture which stamped itself deeply on his receptive mind. A man of the people himself, born to toil and inured to it from babyhood, this constant scene of toiling and struggling humanity touched the deepest chord in his whole nature, so that some of the most beautiful and noble of his early pictures are really reminiscences of his first student days at Cherbourg. But after he had spent a year in Mouchel's studio, sad news came to him from Gruchy. His father was dying, and Francois was only just in time to see him before he passed away. If the family was to be kept together at all, Francois must return from his easel and palette, and take once more to guiding the plough. With that earnest resolution which never forsook him, Millet decided to accept the inevitable. He went back home once more, and gave up his longings for art in order to till the ground for his fatherless sisters.

Luckily, however, his friends at Gruchy succeeded after awhile in sending him back again to Cherbourg, where he began to study under another master, Langlois, and to have hopes once more for his artistic future, now that he was free at last to pursue it in his own way. At this time, he read a great deal—Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Byron, Goethe's "Faust," Victor Hugo and Chateaubriand; in fact, all the great works he could lay his hands upon. Peasant as he was, he gave himself, half unconsciously, a noble education. Very soon, it became apparent that the Cherbourg masters could do nothing more for him, and that, if he really wished to perfect himself in art, he must go to Paris. In France, the national interest felt in painting is far greater and more general than in England. Nothing is commoner than for towns or departments to grant pensions (or as we should call them, scholarships) to promising lads who wish to study art in Paris. Young Millet had attracted so much attention at Cherbourg, that the Council General of the Department of the Manche voted him a present of six hundred francs (about L24) to start him on the way; and the town of Cherbourg promised him an annual grant of four hundred francs more (about L16). So up to Paris Millet went, and there was duly enrolled as a student at the Government "School of Fine Arts."

Those student days in Paris were days of hunger and cold, very often, which Millet bore with the steady endurance of a Norman peasant boy. But they were also days of something worse to him—of effort misdirected, and of constant struggling against a system for which he was not fitted. In fact, Millet was an original genius, whereas the teachers at the School of Fine Arts were careful and methodical rule-of-thumb martinets. They wished to train Millet into the ordinary pattern, which he could not follow; and in the end, he left the school, and attached himself to the studio of Paul Delaroche, then the greatest painter of historical pictures in all Paris. But even Delaroche, though an artist of deep feeling and power, did not fully understand his young Norman pupil. He himself used to paint historical pictures in the grand style, full of richness and beauty; but his subjects were almost always chosen from the lives of kings or queens, and treated with corresponding calmness and dignity. "The Young Princes in the Tower," "The Execution of Marie Antoinette," "The Death of Queen Elizabeth," "Cromwell viewing the Body of Charles I."—these were the kind of pictures on which Delaroche loved to employ himself. Millet, on the other hand, though also full of dignity and pathos, together with an earnestness far surpassing Delaroche's, did not care for these lofty subjects. It was the dignity and pathos of labour that moved him most; the silent, weary, noble lives of the uncomplaining peasants, amongst whom his own days had been mostly passed. Delaroche could not make him out at all; he was such a curious, incomprehensible, odd young fellow! "There, go your own way, if you will," the great master said to him at last; "for my part, I can make nothing of you."

So, shortly after, Millet and his friend Marolle set up a studio for themselves in the Rue de l'Est in Paris. The precise occasion of their going was this. Millet was anxious to obtain the Grand Prize of Rome annually offered to the younger artists, and Delaroche definitely told him that his own influence would be used on behalf of another pupil. After this, the young Norman felt that he could do better by following out his own genius in his own fashion. At the Rue de l'Est, he continued to study hard, but he also devoted a large part of his time to painting cheap portraits—what artists call "pot-boilers;" mere hasty works dashed off anyhow to earn his daily livelihood. For these pictures he got about ten to fifteen francs apiece,—in English money from eight to twelve shillings. They were painted in a theatrical style, which Millet himself detested—all pink cheeks, and red lips, and blue satin, and lace collars; whereas his own natural style was one of great austerity and a certain earnest sombreness the exact reverse of the common Parisian taste to which he ministered. However, he had to please his patrons—and, like a sensible man, he went on producing these cheap daubs to any extent required, for a living, while he endeavoured to perfect himself meanwhile for the higher art he was meditating for the future. In the great galleries of the Louvre at Paris he found abundant models which he could study in the works of the old masters; and there, poring over Michael Angelo and Mantegna, he could recompense himself a little in his spare hours for the time he was obliged to waste on pinky- white faces and taffeta gowns. To an artist by nature there is nothing harder than working perforce against the bent of one's own innate and instinctive feelings.

In 1840, Millet found his life in Paris still so hard that he seemed for a time inclined to give up the attempt, and returned to Greville, where he painted a marine subject of the sort that was dearest to his heart—a group of sailors mending a sail. Shortly after, however, he was back in Paris—the record of these years of hard struggle is not very clear— with his wife, a Cherbourg girl whom he had imprudently married while still barely able to support himself in the utmost poverty. It was not till 1844 that the hard-working painter at last achieved his first success. It was with a picture of a milkwoman, one of his own favourite peasant subjects; and the poetry and sympathy which he had thrown into so commonplace a theme attracted the attention of many critics among the cultivated Parisian world of art. The "Milkwoman" was exhibited at the Salon (the great annual exhibition of works of art in Paris, like that of the Royal Academy in London, but on a far larger scale); and several good judges of art began immediately to inquire, "Who is Jean Francois Millet?" Hunting his address out, a party of friendly critics presented themselves at his lodgings, only to learn that Madame Millet had just died, and that her husband, half in despair, had gone back again once more to his native Norman hills and valleys.

But Millet was the last man on earth to sit down quietly with his hands folded, waiting for something or other to turn up. At Cherbourg, he set to work once more, no doubt painting more "pot-boilers" for the respectable shop-keepers of the neighbourhood—complacent portraits, perhaps, of a stout gentleman with a large watch-chain fully displayed, and of a stout lady in a black silk dress and with a vacant smile; and by hook or by crook he managed to scrape together a few hundred francs, with which once more he might return to Paris. But before he did so, he married again, this time more wisely. His wife, Catharine Lemaire, was a brave and good woman, who knew how to appreciate her husband, and to second him well in all his further struggles and endeavours. They went for a while to Havre, where Millet, in despair of getting better work, and not ashamed of doing anything honest to pay his way, actually took to painting sign-boards. In this way he saved money enough to make a fresh start in Paris. There, he continued his hard battle against the taste of the time; for French art was then dominated by the influence of men like Delaroche, or like Delacroix and Horace Vernet, who had accustomed the public to pictures of a very lofty, a very romantic, or a very fiery sort; and there were few indeed who cared for stern and sympathetic delineations of the French peasant's unlovely life of unremitting toil, such as Millet loved to set before them. Yet, in spite of discouragement, he did well to follow out this inner prompting of his own soul; for in that direction he could do his best work—and the best work is always the best worth doing in the long run. There are some minds, of which Franklin's is a good type, so versatile and so shifty that they can turn with advantage to any opening that chances to offer, no matter in what direction; and such minds do right in seizing every opportunity, wherever it occurs. But there are other minds, of which Gibson and Millet are excellent examples, naturally restricted to certain definite lines of thought or work; and such minds do right in persistently following up their own native talent, and refusing to be led aside by circumstances into any less natural or less promising channel.

While living in Paris at this time, Millet painted several of his favourite peasant pictures, amongst others "The Workman's Monday," which is a sort of parallel in painting to Burns's "Cotter's Saturday Night" in poetry. Indeed, there is a great deal in Millet which strongly reminds one at every step of Burns. Both were born of the agricultural labouring class; both remained peasants at heart, in feelings and sympathies, all their lives long; neither was ashamed of his origin, even in the days of his greatest fame; painter and poet alike loved best to choose their themes from the simple life of the poor whose trials and hardships they knew so well by bitter experience; and in each case they succeeded best in touching the hearts of others when they did not travel outside their own natural range of subjects. Only (if Scotchmen will allow one to say so) there was in Millet a far deeper vein of moral earnestness than in Burns; he was more profoundly impressed by the dignity and nobility of labour; in his tender sympathy there was a touch of solemn grandeur which was wanting in the too genial and easy-going Ayrshire ploughman.

In 1848, the year of revolutions, Millet painted his famous picture of "The Winnower," since considered as one of his finest works. Yet for a long time, though the critics praised it, it could not find a purchaser; till at last M. Ledru Rollin, a well-known politician, bought it for what Millet considered the capital price of five hundred francs (about L20). It would now fetch a simply fabulous price, if offered for sale. Soon after this comparative success Millet decided to leave Paris, where the surroundings indeed were little fitted to a man of his peculiarly rural and domestic tastes. He would go where he might see the living models of his peasant friends for ever before him; where he could watch them leaning over the plough pressed deep into the earth; cutting the faggots with stout arms in the thick-grown copses; driving the cattle home at milking time with weary feet, along the endless, straight white high-roads of the French rural districts. At the same time, he must be within easy reach of Paris; for though he had almost made up his mind not to exhibit any more at the Salon—people didn't care to see his reapers or his fishermen—he must still manage to keep himself within call of possible purchasers; and for this purpose he selected the little village of Barbizon, on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau.

The woods of Fontainebleau stand to Paris in somewhat the same relation that Windsor Great Park stands to London; only, the scenery is more forest-like, and the trees are big and antique looking. By the outskirts of this great wood stands the pretty hamlet of Barbizon, a single long street of small peasant cottages, built with the usual French rural disregard of beauty or cleanliness. At the top of the street, in a little three-roomed house, the painter and his wife settled down quietly; and here they lived for twenty-seven years, long after Millet's name had grown to be famous in the history of contemporary French painting. An English critic, who visited the spot in the days of Millet's greatest celebrity, was astonished to find the painter, whom he had come to see, strolling about the village in rustic clothes, and even wearing the sabots or wooden shoes which are in France the social mark of the working classes, much as the smock-frock used once to be in the remoter country districts of England. Perhaps this was a little bit of affectation on Millet's part—a sort of proud declaration of the fact that in spite of fame and honours he still insisted upon counting himself a simple peasant; but if so, it was, after all, a very pretty and harmless affectation indeed. Better to see a man sticking pertinaciously to his wooden shoes, than turning his back upon old friends and old associations in the days of his worldly prosperity.

At Barbizon Millet's life moved on so quietly that there is nothing to record in it almost, save a long list of pictures painted, and a gradual growth, not in popularity (for that Millet never really attained at all), but in the esteem of the best judges, which of course brought with it at last, first ease, then comfort, and finally comparative riches. Millet was able now to paint such subjects as pleased him best, and he threw himself into his work with all the fervour of his intensely earnest and poetical nature. Whatever might be the subject which he undertook, he knew how to handle it so that it became instinct with his own fine feeling for the life he saw around him. In 1852 he painted his "Man spreading Manure." In itself, that is not a very exalted or beautiful occupation; but what Millet saw in it was the man not the manure—the toiling, sorrowing, human fellow-being, whose labour and whose spirit he knew so well how to appreciate. And in this view of the subject he makes us all at once sympathize. Other pictures of this period are such as "The Gleaners," "The Reapers," "A Peasant grafting a Tree," "The Potato Planters," and so forth. These were very different subjects indeed from the dignified kings and queens painted by Delaroche, or the fiery battle-pieces of Delacroix; but they touch a chord in our souls which those great painters fail to strike, and his treatment of them is always truthful, tender, melancholy, and exquisite.

Bit by bit, French artistic opinion began to recognize the real greatness of the retiring painter at Barbizon. He came to be looked upon as a true artist, and his pictures sold every year for increasingly large prices. Still, he had not been officially recognized; and in France, where everything, even to art and the theatre, is under governmental regulation, this want of official countenance is always severely felt. At last, in 1867, Millet was awarded the medal of the first class, and was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. The latter distinction carries with it the right to wear that little tag of ribbon on the coat which all Frenchmen prize so highly; for to be "decorated," as it is called, is in France a spur to ambition of something the same sort as a knighthood or a peerage in England, though of course it lies within the reach of a far greater number of citizens. There is something to our ideas rather absurd in the notion of bestowing such a tag of ribbon on a man of Millet's aims and occupations; but all honours are honours just according to the estimation of the man who receives them and the society in which he lives; and Millet no doubt prized his admission to the Legion of Honour all the more because it had been so long delayed and so little truckled for.

To the end of his days, Millet never left his beloved Barbizon. He stopped there, wandering about the fields, watching peasants at work, imprinting their images firmly upon his eye and brain, and then going home again to put the figures he had thus observed upon his vivid canvas. For, strange to say, unlike almost every other great painter, Millet never painted from a model. Instead of getting a man or woman to sit for him in the pose he required, he would go out into the meadows and look at the men and women at their actual daily occupations; and so keen and acute was his power of observation, and so retentive was his inner eye, that he could then recall almost every detail of action or manner as clearly as if he had the original present in his studio before him. As a rule, such a practice is not to be recommended to any one who wishes to draw with even moderate accuracy; constant study of the actual object, and frequent comparison by glancing from object to copy, are absolutely necessary for forming a correct draughtsman. But Millet knew his own way best; and how wonderfully minute and painstaking must his survey have been when it enabled him to reproduce the picture of a person afterwards in every detail of dress or movement.

He did not paint very fast. He preferred doing good work to much work— an almost invariable trait of all the best workmen. During the thirty- one years that he worked independently, he produced only eighty pictures—not more, on an average, than two or three a year. Compared with the rate at which most successful artists cover canvas to sell, this was very slow. But then, Millet did not paint mainly to sell; he painted to satisfy his own strict ideas of what constituted the highest art. His pictures are usually very simple in their theme; take, for example, his "Angelus," painted at the height of his fame, in 1867. A man and a woman are working in the fields—two poor, simple-minded, weather-beaten, devout French peasants. It is nightfall; the bell called the "Angelus" rings out from the church steeple, and the two poor souls, resting for a moment from their labours, devote a few seconds to the silent prayers enjoined by their church. That is all; and yet in that one picture the sorrows, the toils, and the consolations of the needy French peasantry are summed up in a single glimpse of a pair of working and praying partners.

Millet died somewhat suddenly in 1875. Strong and hearty as he was, even the sturdy health of the Norman peasant had been undermined by the long hardships of his early struggles, and his constitution gave way at last with comparative rapidity. Still, he had lived long enough to see his fame established, to enjoy ten years of ease and honour, and to find his work cordially admired by all those for whose admiration he could have cared to make an effort. After his death, the pictures and unfinished sketches in his studio were sold for 321,000 francs, a little less than L13,000. The peasant boy of Greville had at last conquered all the difficulties which obstructed his path, and had fought his own way to fame and dignity. And in so fighting, he had steadily resisted the temptation to pander to the low and coarse taste in art of the men by whom he was surrounded. In spite of cold, and hunger, and poverty, he had gone on trying to put upon his canvas the purer, truer, and higher ideas with which his own beautiful soul was profoundly animated. In that endeavour he nobly succeeded. While too many contemporary French pictures are vicious and sensual in tone and feeling, every one of Millet's pictures is a sermon in colour—a thing to make us sympathize more deeply with our kind, and to send us away, saddened perhaps, yet ennobled and purified.



VI.

JAMES GARFIELD, CANAL BOY.

At the present time, the neighbourhood of Cleveland, Ohio, the busiest town along the southern shore of Lake Erie, may fairly rank as one of the richest agricultural districts in all America. But when Abram Garfield settled down in the township of Orange in 1830, it was one of the wildest and most unpeopled woodland regions in the whole of the United States. Pioneers from the older states had only just begun to make little clearings for themselves in the unbroken forest; and land was still so cheap that Abram Garfield was able to buy himself a tract of fifty acres for no more than L20. His brother-in-law's family removed there with him; and the whole strength of the two households was immediately employed in building a rough log hut for their common accommodation, where both the Garfields and the Boyntons lived together during the early days of their occupation. The hut consisted of a mere square box, made by piling logs on top of one another, the spaces between being filled with mud, while the roof was formed of loose stone slabs. Huts of that sort are everywhere common among the isolation of the American backwoods; and isolated indeed they were, for the Garfields' nearest neighbours, when they first set up house, lived as far as seven miles away, across the uncleared forest.

When Abram Garfield came to this lonely lodge in the primaeval woodlands, he had one son and one daughter. In 1831, the year after his removal to his new home, a second boy was born into the family, whom his father named James Abram. Before the baby was eighteen months old, the father died, and was buried alone, after the only possible fashion among such solitary settlers, in a corner of the wheat field which he himself had cleared of its stumps. A widow's life is always a hard one, but in such a country and under such conditions it is even harder and more lonely than elsewhere. Mrs. Garfield's eldest boy, Thomas, was only eleven years old; and with the aid of this one ineffectual helper, she managed herself to carry on the farm for many years. Only those who know the hard toil of a raw American township can have any idea what that really means. A farmer's work in America is not like a farmer's work in England. The man who occupies the soil is there at once his own landlord and his own labourer; and he has to contend with nature as nobody in England has had to contend with it for the last five centuries at least. He finds the land covered with trees, which he has first to fell and sell as timber; then he must dig or burn out the stumps; clear the plot of boulders and large stones; drain it, fence it, plough it, and harrow it; build barns for the produce and sheds for the cows; in short, make his farm, instead of merely taking it. This is labour from which many strong men shrink in dismay, especially those who have come out fresh from a civilized and fully occupied land. For a woman and a boy, it is a task that seems almost above their utmost powers. Nevertheless, Mrs. Garfield and her son did not fail under it. With her own hands, the mother split up the young trees into rude triangular rails to make the rough snake fences of the country—mere zigzags of wood laid one bit above the other; while the lad worked away bravely at sowing fall and spring wheat, hoeing Indian corn, and building a little barn for the harvest before the arrival of the long cold Ohio winter. To such a family did the future President originally belong; and with them he must have shared those strong qualities of perseverance and industry which more than anything else at length secured his ultimate success in life.

Previous Part     1  2  3     Next Part
Home - Random Browse