Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 462 - Volume 18, New Series, November 6, 1852
Author: Various
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Berries that emboss The bramble black as jet;

and truly a plant which diffuses so many benefits, even under the least advantageous circumstances, may well deserve encomium.


Nicholas Poussin was born at Andelys, in Normandy, in June 1593. His father, Jean Poussin, had served in the regiment of Tauannes during the reigns of Charles IX., Henry III., and Henry IV., without having risen to any higher rank than that of lieutenant. Happening to meet in the town of Vernon a rich and handsome young widow, Jean Poussin married her, left the service, and retired with his wife to the pleasant village of Andelys, where, in a year afterwards, Nicholas was born. His childhood resembled that of many other great painters. Whitewashed walls scribbled over with landscapes—school-books defaced with sketches, which then drew down anger and reproof on the idle student, but which now would form precious gems in many a rich museum—these were the early evidences of Poussin's genius. He was treated severely by his father, who thought that every vigorous, well-made boy ought of necessity to become a soldier—secretly consoled and encouraged by his mother, who loved him with an almost idolatrous affection, and who approved of his pursuits, not from any abstract love of art, but because she thought the profession of painting might be pursued by her darling without obliging him to leave his home.

It happened that the painter, Quintin Varin, was an intimate acquaintance of the elder Poussin. Somewhat reluctantly, the ex-lieutenant gave his son permission to study the first principles of painting under their friend. The boy's first attempts were water-colour landscapes, his very straitened finances not allowing him to use oils. His subjects were the beautiful scenes around Andelys; and, despite of his inexperience, he knew so well how to transfer the living poetry of the scenery to his canvas, that his master one day said to him: 'Nicholas, why have you deceived me?—you must have learned painting before.'

'I assure you I have not.'

'Then,' said Varin, 'I am not fit to be thy master. There is a revelation of genius in thy lightest touch to which I have never attained. I should but cloud thy destiny in seeking to instruct thee. Go to Paris, dear boy; there thou wilt achieve both fame and fortune.'

The advice was followed, and with a light purse, and a still lighter heart, Nicholas Poussin arrived in Paris. He bore a letter of introduction from Varin to the Flemish painter Ferdinand Elle, who consented to receive him as a pupil for the payment of three livres a month.

There were already a dozen young people in the studio. When their new companion joined them, they amused themselves by laughing at him, and playing off practical jokes at his expense, which at first he bore with good-humour. It happened, however, one morning, that on examining his slender purse, he found that its contents had fallen to zero; and this unpleasant circumstance caused him, no doubt, to feel in an irritable state of mind. On reaching the studio, and just as he entered the door, he was inundated by the contents of a bucket of water, which one of his companions had suspended over the door, and managed to overturn on the head of Nicholas. Furious at this unexpected douche, he flew at its unlucky contriver, and gave him a hearty beating. There were three other lads in the studio; they all attacked Nicholas, who, however, proved more than their match, overthrowing two of his assailants, and obliging the third to fly.

After this occurrence, Poussin became free from the petty annoyances which he had hitherto endured; but he found no friend in the studio of Ferdinand Elle, and he felt, besides, that he was losing his time, and learning nothing from that painter. These reasons determined him one day to write a respectful letter to his master, declining further attendance at the studio; and then, furnished with little of this world's goods, besides some pencils and paper, he set out, very literally, 'to seek his fortune.'

It was then the beginning of summer; everything in nature looked lovely and glad, and Poussin insensibly wandered on, until he found himself in a fresh green meadow on the banks of the Marne. He lay down under the shade of an osier thicket, and presently became aware of the presence of a young man about his own age, who was busily employed in fishing. Nicholas watched him for some time, and then said: 'May I remark, that the bait you are using does not appear suited to this river?'

'Very likely,' replied the stranger; 'I am but an inexperienced fisher, and will feel greatly obliged by your advice.'

Poussin then arranged the line, put on a fresh bait, and in a few minutes a fine perch was landed on the grass.

'Many thanks for your assistance,' said the young man; 'will you do me the favour to join in my repast?'

It was two o'clock in the afternoon, and Nicholas had had no breakfast. He therefore gladly consented; and the angler, drawing from his fish-basket a large slice of savoury pie, a loaf of bread, and a flask of wine, they made a hearty meal together.

After the fashion of the days of chivalry, the two knights-errant told each other their names and histories. The stranger, whose name was Raoul, was a young man of considerable property. His parents, living in Poitou, sent him to finish his education and polish his manners by frequenting fashionable society in Paris; but his tastes were simple, his habits retiring, and he had not met amongst the rich and noble any who pleased him so well as the poor penniless painter. With cordial frankness, he pressed Nicholas to take up his abode with him in Paris, and promised to advance him in the study of his art.

The offer was accepted as freely as it was made, and Nicholas Poussin was thus enabled to pursue with ardour the noble studies to which his life was henceforth devoted, free from those petty cares and sordid anxieties which so often clog the wings of genius. By the interest of Raoul, many valuable collections of paintings, including the unique one of Segnier, were opened to him. Becoming acquainted with a brother student, Philippe de Champagne, he joined him for a time in receiving instruction from Lallemand, until, perceiving that that painter was no more capable of teaching him than Ferdinand Elle had been, he left his studio, and gave himself up to severe and solitary study.

At twenty years of age, Nicholas Poussin steadily renounced every species of youthful pleasure and dissipation, that he might pursue his one noble object. He rose at daybreak, and regularly retired to rest at nine o'clock. During the winter months, he spent the early hours of the day in studying Greek and Latin under an old priest, who loved him and taught him gratuitously. The remainder of the day was devoted to painting, and the evening to short visits amongst the friends to whom he had been introduced by the active kindness of Raoul. In the summer, he loved to spend occasionally a long bright day in rambling through the beautiful scenery of Auteuil, taking sketches while his friend fished. The extent of their innocent dissipation consisted in dining at some rural hostelry on the produce of the morning's sport, washed down with a temperate modicum of wine. Thus pleasantly and profitably passed two years, at the end of which Raoul was recalled to his home.

Despite of the excuses and remonstrances of Poussin, his friend insisted on his accompanying him to Poitou, assuring him of a hearty welcome from his own parents. From Raoul's father, indeed, the young painter received it; but his mother was a proud, ill-tempered woman, who affected to despise a dauber of canvas, and treated her son's friend as a sort of valet attached to his service. In short, she heaped insults on the young man, which even his love for Raoul could not force him to endure; and in order to escape the affectionate solicitations of his friend, he set out secretly one morning alone and on foot.

Weary, penniless, and attacked with inward inflammation, he at length reached Paris. Philippe de Champagne received him, and watched over him like a brother until he recovered. A great degree of weakness and languor still depressed him; the air of Paris weighed on him like lead. He sighed for his native breeze at Andelys, and still more for his mother's embrace—his good and tender mother, whose letters to him were so often rendered almost illegible by her tears, and whose memory had been his sweetest comfort during the weary nights of sickness.

He set out on his journey with six livres in his pocket, which he had earned by painting a bunch of hats on the sign-post of a hatter, and arrived safely at home. Soon afterwards, his father died, and Nicholas determined never again to leave his mother. She, tender woman that she was, grieved for a husband who had rarely shewn her any kindness, and who, in his hard selfishness, had now left her totally destitute. All the money she had brought him as her dowry, he, unknown to her, had sunk in an annuity on his own life, and nothing now remained for her but the devoted love of her only son.

This, however, was a 'goodly heritage.' Those who zealously try to fulfil their duty, may be assured that a kind Providence will assist their efforts; and Nicholas succeeded for some time in maintaining his mother by the sale of water-colour paintings for the decoration of a convent chapel. At length, this resource failed; and the ardent young painter determined to relinquish all his bright visions, and learn some manual trade, when his mother was seized with illness, and, despite of his anxious care, died.

No motive now detained him at Andelys. The sale of his slender possessions there furnished him with a little money; and, partly in order to assuage his grief for his mother, partly to see the works of the great masters, he determined to go to Italy.

Rome was naturally the goal of his steps, but on this occasion he was not destined to reach it. On arriving at Florence, he met with an accidental hurt, which confined him to a lodging for a month, and when he was cured, left him almost penniless. Finding it impossible to dispose of the sketches which he drew for his daily bread, he determined to retrace his steps. Arrived at Paris, he was once more received by his faithful friend, Philippe de Champagne, and by him introduced to Duchesne, who was then painting the ornaments of the Luxembourg, and who engaged both the young men as his assistants.

This promised to be a durable and profitable engagement; but Duchesne, who had but little pretension to genius, soon grew jealous of his young companions, and seized the first pretext for dismissing them.

Shortly afterwards, the Jesuits of Paris celebrated the canonisation of St Ignatius and St Francis Xavier. For this occasion, Poussin executed six water-colour pictures, representing the principal events in the lives of these two personages. The merit of these works attracted the attention of Signor Marini, a distinguished courtier of the day. He was attached to the suit of Marie de Medicis, and held a high place amongst the literary and artistic, as well as gay circles of the court; his notice was therefore of importance to the artist, who by it was introduced amongst the great, the learned, and the gay.

Wisely did he take advantage of mixing in this society to improve his knowledge of men and things, and to satisfy that craving for enlightenment which he felt equally when rambling in the fields, standing at his easel, or sitting as a timid listener in the splendid saloons of Signor Marini.

This pleasant life lasted for a year; Marini was his Mecaenas; orders for paintings flowed in on him; and when, in 1625, his patron went to Rome to visit Pope Urban VIII., Poussin would have accompanied him, but for an honourable dread of breaking some engagements which he had made. Amongst others, he had to finish a large piece representing the Death of the Virgin, undertaken for the guild of goldsmiths, who presented every year a picture to Notre-Dame.

Marini tried in vain to shake his resolution. Nicholas Poussin had pledged his word, and nothing could make him break it—not even the advantage of accomplishing, in the company and at the expense of the generous Italian, that journey to Rome which had always formed his most cherished day-dream. The following year, Poussin went to Rome, and, to his great sorrow, found his kind patron suffering from a malady which speedily terminated his life. Thus was the painter once more thrown on his own resources in a city where he was a stranger; but his was not a nature to be discouraged by adversity. There was something grand in the serenity with which he spent days in examining the wondrous statues of the olden time, while a cheerless attic was his lodging, and his dinner depended on the generosity of a printseller for whom he worked occasionally, and who was not always in the humour to advance money.

Many years afterwards, Poussin, in speaking of this period, said to Chantilon: 'I have sometimes gone to bed without having tasted food since the morning, not because I had no means of paying at a hostel—although that also has befallen me at times—but because, after having my soul filled with the glorious beauty of ancient art, I could not endure to mingle in the low, sordid scenes of a cheap eating-house. Indeed, it was scarcely a sacrifice to do so, for my heart was too full to allow me to feel hunger.'

Poussin studied nature with a minuteness that often exposed him to raillery. Whenever he made a country excursion, he brought back a bag filled with pebbles and mosses, whose various tints and forms he afterwards studied with the most scrupulous care. Vigneul de Marville asked him one day how he had reached so high a rank among the great painters. 'I tried to neglect nothing,' replied Poussin.

True, indeed, he had neglected nothing. He gave his days and nights to the acquirement of various sciences. He understood anatomy better than any surgeon of his time; he knew history like a Benedictine, and the antiquities of Rome as a botanist does his favourite flora. But architecture was the art which he esteemed most essential to a painter; and accordingly his landscapes abound in exquisite delineations of buildings.

His veneration for the works of his predecessors was very great. We find him, in a letter addressed to M. de Chantilon, requesting that a painting which he sent might not be placed in the same room with one of Raphael's—'lest the contrast might ruin mine, and cause whatever little beauty it has to vanish.'

He was an ardent admirer of Domenichino, and copied many of his works. It happened one day, that as he was in a chapel busily employed in copying a painting by that master, he saw a feeble old man tottering slowly towards him, leaning on a crutch. The visitor, without ceremony, seated himself on the painter's stool, and began deliberately to examine his work. Poussin greatly disliked inquisitive critics, and now feeling annoyed, he began to put up his pallet, and to prepare for leaving.

'You don't like visitors, young man?' said the old man smiling. 'Neither did I. But when I was your age, and, like you, copying the works of the old masters, if one of them had come to look over my shoulder, and see how I succeeded in reproducing the form which he had created, I would not for that have put away my pallet, but I would gladly have sought his counsel.' And while he spoke, the handle of his crutch was rubbing against the centre of the picture.

'Signor, are you mad?' exclaimed Poussin, seizing the offending crutch.

'So they say, my child; but 'tis not true. No, no; Domenichino is not mad, and can still give good advice.'

'Domenichino! what! the great Domenichino?' cried the young man.

'The poor Domenichino. Yes, you see him such as years and grief have made him. He has come, young man, to counsel you not to follow in his track, if you wish to gain fortune and renown. That,' he continued, pointing to his own painting,'is true and conscientious art. Well, it leads to the alms-house. I see that you have the power to become a great artist. Change your place; be extravagant, capricious, unnatural, and then you will succeed.'

One may fancy the feelings of Poussin at hearing these words. He told Domenichino that he was ready to sacrifice everything to the love of true art, and respectfully accompanied him home.

From that time until Zampieri's death, Poussin was his friend and pupil. He afterwards paid a debt of gratitude to the painter's memory, by causing his picture of the Communion of St Jerome, which had been thrown aside in a granary, to be placed opposite to the Transfiguration of Raphael.

By degrees, the marvellous talent of Poussin became known, and orders for paintings flowed in on him. He might have become rich, but he cared not for wealth, and was perhaps the only artist that ever thought his works too highly paid for. On one occasion, being sent one hundred crowns for a picture, he returned fifty.

Cardinal Mancini paid him a visit one evening, and when he was going away, Poussin attended him with a lantern to the outer gate, and opened it himself. 'I pity you,' said the cardinal, 'for not having even one man-servant.' 'And I pity your eminence for having so many.'

In his days of adversity, Poussin had been kindly received and nursed in the house of a M. Dughet, whose daughter he afterwards married. She was a simple, kind-hearted woman, and fondly attached to her husband, who appreciated her good qualities, and always treated her with affection, although she probably never inspired him with ardent love. Some years after their marriage, not having any children, Poussin adopted his wife's younger brother, Gaspard Dughet, who, under his instructions, became a painter of considerable merit. The remainder of Poussin's life was singularly prosperous. He continued to reside at Rome until summoned to return to France by Louis XIII., who, finding that several invitations to that effect, conveyed through ambassadors, failed to bring back Poussin, did him the honour to write him an autograph letter, entreating his presence. The painter obeyed the flattering summons, but unwillingly. He felt that he was sacrificing his independence to the splendid bondage of a court, and he often remembered with fond regret, 'the peace and the sweetness of his little home.'

Two years he resided at court, tasting the sweets and bitters of ambition—the caresses of a powerful king, and a still more powerful cardinal—mingled with the envious intrigues and malicious detraction of jealous rivals. Poussin loved not such a life; his free spirit languished, his noble heart was pained; and in 1642, he requested and obtained leave to visit Italy, promising, however, to return.

The deaths of Louis and Richelieu, which took place within a short period of each other, released Poussin from his pledge. From that time, he constantly resided at Rome, and executed his greatest works. Amongst these may be named: Rebecca, The Seven Sacraments, The Judgment of Solomon, Moses striking the Rock, Jesus healing the Blind, and The Four Seasons, each being represented by a subject from sacred history. All these, with the exception of The Seven Sacraments, are to be seen in the Louvre.

Poussin died at Rome in 1665. His wife had expired a short time before, and grief for the loss of this fond and faithful partner broke down his energies and hastened his decease.

'Her death,' he wrote, 'has left me alone in the world, laden with years, filled with infirmities, a stranger and without friends.' All those whom he loved had preceded him to their tombs, and the only relative at his death-bed was an avaricious nephew, eager to seize his possessions.

The name of Nicholas Poussin will never die. He was the first great French painter; and in him were united what, unhappily, are often dissevered, the highest qualities of the head and of the heart—the lofty genius of the artist with the humble piety of the Christian.


As to the hackneyed doctrine that derives the origin of music from the outward sounds of nature, none but poets could have conceived it, or lovers be justified in repeating it. Granting even that the singing of birds, the rippling of brooks, the murmuring of winds, might have suggested some idea, in the gradual development of the art, all history, as well as the evidence of common sense, proves that they gave no help whatever at the commencement. The savage has never been inspired by them; his music, when he has any, is a mere noise, not deducible by any stretch of the imagination from such sounds of nature. The national melodies of various countries give no evidence of any influence from without. A collection of native airs from different parts of the world will help us to no theory as to whether they have been composed in valleys or on plains, by resounding sea-shores or by roaring waterfalls. There is nothing in the music itself which tells of the natural sounds most common in the desolate steppes of Russia, the woody sierras of Spain, or the rocky glens of Scotland. What analogy there exists is solely with the inward character of the people themselves, and that too profound to be theorised upon. If we search the works of the earliest composers, we find not the slightest evidence of their having been inspired by any outward agencies. Not till the art stood upon its own independent foundations does it appear that any musicians ever thought of turning such natural sounds to account; and—though with Beethoven's exquisite Pastoral Symphony ringing in our ears, with its plaintive clarionet cuckoo to contradict our words—we should say that no compositions could be of a high class in which such sounds were conspicuous.—Murray's Reading for the Rail.


Our attention has been invited to an invention of a very remarkable character, which, if realising the claims asserted in its behalf, will fully equal, if it does not far exceed in importance, any discovery of the age. It consists in an entirely new application of the power of the lever, an application capable of being multiplied to an almost unlimited extent. To render our account of this new marvel quite incredible in the outset, we will state on the inventor's authority, that the steam of an ordinary tea-kettle may be made to produce sufficient momentum to propel a steamship of any size across the Atlantic! Or, again, one man may exert a power equal to that of a thousand horses, and that, too, without the aid of steam or any auxiliary other than his own stout arm. It overcomes or disproves the heretofore-received principle in mechanics, of not gaining power without a loss of speed. Archimedes, in declaring his ability to move the world, if he had a suitable position for his fulcrum, conveyed an apt illustration of the measureless power of the lever when exerted to its fullest extent. This fullest extent Mr Archard claims to have attained in the action of a succession of parallel levers—one lever upon a second, the second upon a third, the third upon a fourth, and so on progressively; each succeeding lever of the same length as the first, and all operating simultaneously, the one lever upon, and with all the others. This marvellous property of multiplying leverage, is attained without any diminution in speed, since, to whatever extent the additional levers may be carried, the entire succession is moved as one compact mass, operated upon at the same instant, the last lever moving at the same moment with the first. This simultaneous movement of a succession of parallel levers, acting the one upon the other, with a force successively increasing and in geometrical proportion, is the grand desideratum, the ne plus ultra, in the science of mechanics, which the inventor professes to have achieved. To place this multiplied ad infinitum power in its plainest light, we may observe that a given power—say that of one horse—will impart to a lever of a given dimension a sixteenfold power; that sixteenfold power gives the succeeding lever sixty-fourfold increase; that to the third lever, 256; that gives to the fourth lever an increase of 1024; while this fourth lever, with its largely increased ability, gives to the fifth lever the enormous increase of 4096. If, therefore, this succession of leverage is rightly stated, a single horse is enabled to exert the power of four thousand and ninety-six horses!—American Courier.


Where is the home my spirit seeks, Amid this world of sin and care, Where even joy of sorrow speaks, And Death is lurking everywhere? Oh! not amid its fading bowers My wearied soul can find repose, For serpents lurk beneath its flowers, And thorns surround its fairest rose.

The home of earth is not for me; Far off my spirit's dwelling lies; The eye of faith alone can see Its pearly gates beyond the skies; The ear of faith alone can hear The music of its ceaseless song, As nearer with each passing year Its angel-chorus rolls along:

There is the home my spirit seeks, Above the fadeless stars on high! Where not a note of discord breaks The silver chain of harmony; Where light without a shadow lies, And joy can speak without a tear, And Death alone—the tyrant—dies: The home my spirit seeks is there!

M. Y. G.


Imagine in a spacious room, furnished after the European fashion, some thirty or forty little girls, all dressed in their best, many of them laden with rich ornaments—anklets and earrings—seated in order around the room, gazing anxiously from their large, lustrous, and soulful eyes upon the strangers who sit at the table directing the examination, aided by the teacher, the superintendents, the worthy Shet and his kinsmen; see behind them a crowd of Hindoos in their flowing robes and picturesque turbans, their faces beaming with eagerness and delight, as they watch the answers of the pupils—many of them relations, some even their wives; listen also to the low and sweet voices of childhood, chanting in the melodious Gujarati (the Ionic of Western India) the praises of education; and you may be able to form some idea of the scene, and of one of the most pleasurable moments in the life of a new-comer.—Bombay Gazette.

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