My passion for heraldry and hawking led to the production of a little book on heraldry which was an imitation of Sir John Sebright's "Observations on Hawking," a treatise that seemed to me simple, and clearly arranged.
My little book had no literary value, and the publisher said that only thirty-nine copies were sold; however, on being asked to produce the remainder of the edition, he said he was unable to do so, as the copies had been "mislaid." The printing and binding having been done at my expense, I compelled the publisher to reprint the book, but this brought me no pecuniary benefit, as the demand, such as it was, had been satisfied by the first edition.
To this day I do not feel certain in my own mind whether the publisher was dishonest or not. It would be quite natural that a book on heraldry should have a very small sale, but on the other hand it is inconceivable that more than four hundred copies of a book should have been simply lost. [Footnote: There is a third possibility: the sale may have been exactly what the publisher stated; but he may have had no belief in the success of the work, and have printed only one hundred copies whilst charging me for five hundred.]
It was a very good thing for me that the printing of this treatise on heraldry was a cause of loss and disappointment, for if it had been successful I might easily have wasted my life in archaeology, and corrected pedigrees—those long lists of dead people of whom nobody knows anything but their names, and the estates they were lucky enough to possess.
The reader will see that up to this point my tastes had been conservative and aristocratic. Then there came a revolution which was the most important intellectual crisis of my life, and which deserves a chapter to itself.
Political and religious opinions of my relations.—The Rev. James Bardsley.—Protestant controversy with Rome.—German neology.—The inspiration of the Scriptures.—Inquiry into foundation for the doctrine.—I cease to be a Protestant.—An alternative presents itself.—A provisional condition of prolonged inquiry.—Our medical adviser.—His remarkable character.—His opinions.
All my relations were Tories of the most strongly Conservative type, and earnestly believing members of the Church of England, more inclined to the Evangelical than to the High Church party. In my early youth I naturally took the religion and political color of the people about me.
There was at Burnley in those days a curate who has since become a well-known clergyman in Manchester, Mr. James Bardsley. He was a man of very strong convictions of an extreme Evangelical kind, and nature had endowed him with all the gifts of eloquence necessary to propagate his opinions from the pulpit. [Footnote: Since then he has become Canon and Archdeacon.] He was really eloquent, and he possessed in a singular degree the wonderful power of enchaining the attention of his audience. We always listened with interest to what Mr. Bardsley was saying at the moment, and with the feeling of awakened anticipation, as he invariably conveyed the impression that something still more interesting was to follow. His power as a preacher was so great that his longest sermons were not felt to be an infliction; one might feel tired after they were over, but not during their delivery. His power was best displayed in attack, and he was very aggressive, especially against the doctrines of the Church of Rome,—which he declared to be "one huge Lie."
Of course a boy of my age believed his own religion to be absolutely true, and others to be false in exact proportion to their divergence from it, as this is the way with young people when they really believe. It was my habit to take an intensely strong interest in anything that interested me at all, and as religion had a supreme interest for me I read all about the Protestant controversy with Rome under Mr. Bardsley's guidance, in books of controversial theology recommended by him. My guardian, with her usual good sense, did not quite approve of this controversial spirit; she was content to be a good Christian in her own way and let the poor Roman Catholics alone, but I was too ardent in what seemed to me the cause of truth to see with indifference the menacing revival of Romanism.
A large new Roman Catholic church was erected in Burnley, and opened with an imposing ceremony. There was at that time a belief that the power of the Pope might one day be re-established in our country, and the great results of the Reformation either wholly sacrificed or placed in the greatest jeopardy. Protestants were called upon to defend these conquests, and in order to qualify themselves for this great duty it was necessary that they should make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the great controversy between the pure Church to which it was their own happiness to belong, and that corrupt association which called itself Catholicism. I had rather a bold and combative disposition, and was by no means unwilling to take a share in the battle.
All went well for a time. The spirit of inquiry is not considered an evil spirit so long as it only leads to agreement with established doctrines, and as an advanced form of Protestantism was preached in Burnley Church, I was at liberty to think boldly enough, provided I did not go beyond that particular stage of thought. Not having as yet any disposition to go beyond, I did not at all realize what a very small degree of intellectual liberty my teachers were really disposed to allow me.
One occasion I remember distinctly. Mr. Bardsley was at Hollins, where he spent the evening with us, and in the course of conversation, as he was leaning on the chimney-piece, he spoke about German Neology, which I had never heard of before, so I asked what it was, and he described it as a dreadful doctrine which attributed no more inspiration to sacred than to profane writers. The ladies were shocked and scandalized by the bare mention of such a doctrine, but the effect on me was very different. The next day, in my private meditations, I began to wonder what were the evidences by which it was determined that some writers were inspired and infallible, and what critics had settled the question. The orthodox reader will say that in a perplexity of this kind I had nothing to do but carry my difficulty to a clergyman. This is exactly what I did, and the clergyman was Mr. Bardsley himself.
He was full of kindness to me, and took the trouble to write a long paper on the subject, which must have cost him fully two days' work,—a paper in which he gave a full account of the Canon of Scripture from the Evangelical point of view. The effect on me was most discouraging, for the result amounted merely to this, that certain Councils of the Church had recognized the Divine inspiration of certain books, just as certain authoritative critics might recognize the profane inspiration of poets. After reading the paper with the utmost care I felt so embarrassed about it that (with the awkwardness of youth) I did not even write to thank the amiable author who had taken so much trouble to help me, and I only thanked him briefly on meeting him at a friend's house, where it was impossible to avoid the interchange of a few words.
This autobiography is not intended to be a book of controversy, so I shall carefully avoid the details of religious changes and give only results. I do not think that anything in my life was ever more decisive than the receipt of that long communication from Mr. Bardsley. The day before receiving it I was in doubt, but the day after I felt perfectly satisfied that the Divine inspiration of the books known to Englishmen as the "Scriptures" rested simply on the opinion, of different bodies of theologians who had held meetings which were called Councils. The only difference between these Councils and those of the Church of Rome was, that these were represented as having taken place earlier, before the Church was so much divided; but it did not seem at all evident that the members of the earlier Councils were men of a higher stamp, intellectually, than those who composed the distinctly Roman Catholic Councils, nor was there any evidence that the Holy Spirit had been with those earlier Councils, though it afterwards withdrew itself from the later.
The Protestant reader will perhaps kindly bear with me whilst I give the reasons why I ceased to be a Protestant, after having been so earnest and zealous in that form of the Christian faith. It appeared to me—I do not say it is, but it appeared to me, and appears to me still—that Protestantism is an uncritical belief in the decisions of the Church down to a date which I do not pretend to fix exactly, and an equally uncritical scepticism, a scepticism of the most unreceptive kind, with regard to all opinions professed and all events said to have taken place in the more recent centuries of ecclesiastical history. The Church of Rome, on the other hand, seemed nearer in temper to the temper of the past, and was more decidedly a continuation, though evidently at the same time an amplification, of the early Christian habits of thinking and believing.
With this altered view of the subject the alternative that presented itself to me was that which presented itself to the brothers Newman, and if I had found it necessary to my happiness to belong to a visible Church of some kind, and if devotional feelings had been stronger than the desire for mental independence, I should have joined the Church of Rome.
There were, indeed, two or three strong temptations to that course. My family had been a Catholic family in the past, and had sacrificed much for the Church of Rome when she was laboring under oppression; for a Hamerton to return to her would therefore have been quite in accordance with those romantic sentiments about distant ancestors which were at that time very strong in me. Besides this, I had all the feeling for the august ceremonial of the Catholic Church which is found in the writer who most influenced me, Sir Walter Scott; and there was already a certain consciousness of artistic necessities and congruities which made me dimly aware that if you admit the glories of ecclesiastical architecture, it is only the asceticism of Puritan rebellion against art that can deny magnificence to ritual. I had occasionally, though rarely, been present at High Mass, and had felt a certain elevating influence, and if I had said to myself, "Religion is only a poem by which the soul is raised to the contemplation of the Eternal Mysteries," then I could have dreamed vaguely in this contemplation better, perhaps, in the Roman Catholic Church than in any other. But my English and Protestant education was against a religion of dreaming. An English Protestant may have his poetical side, may be capable of feeling poetry that is frankly avowed to be such—may read Tennyson's "Eve of St. Agnes" or Scott's "Hymn to the Virgin" with almost complete imaginative sympathy; but he expects to believe his religion as firmly as he believes in the existence of the British Islands. Such, at least, was the matter-of-fact temper that belonged to Protestantism in those days. In more recent times a more hazy religion has become fashionable.
My decision, therefore, for some time was to remain in a provisional condition of prolonged inquiry. I read a great deal on both sides, and constantly prayed for light, following regularly the external services of the Church of England. Here the subject may be left for the present.
The reader is to imagine me as a youth who no longer believed in the special inspiration of the Scriptures, or in their infallibility, but who was still a Christian as thousands of "liberal" Church people in the present day are Christians.
Before resuming my religious history, I ought to mention an influence which was supposed by my friends to have been powerful over me, but which in reality had slightly affected the current of my thinking. Our medical adviser was a surgeon rather advanced in years, and whose private fortune made him independent of professional success. As time went on, he allowed himself to be more and more replaced by his assistant, Mr. Uttley, one of the most remarkable characters I ever met with. In those days, in a northern provincial town, it required immense courage to avow religious heterodoxy of any advanced kind, yet Mr. Uttley said with the utmost simplicity that he was an atheist, and the religious world called him "Uttley the Atheist," a title which he accepted as naturally as if it implied no contempt or antagonism whatever. He was by no means devoid of physical courage also, for I remember that at one time he rode an ugly brute that had a most dangerous habit of bolting, and he would not permit me to mount her. He was excessively temperate in his habits, never drinking anything stronger than water, except, perhaps, a cup of tea (I am not sure about the tea), and never eating more than he believed to be necessary to health. He maintained the doctrine that hunger remains for a time after the stomach has had enough, and that if you go on eating to satiety you are intemperate. He disliked, and I believe despised, the habit of stuffing on festive occasions, which used to be common in the wealthier middle classes. I confess that Mr. Uttley's fearless honesty and steady abstemiousness impressed me with the admiration that one cannot but feel for the great virtues, by whomsoever practised; but Mr. Uttley had a third virtue, which is so rare in England as to be almost unintelligible to the majority,—he looked with the most serene indifference on social struggles, on the arts by which people rise in the world. Perfectly contented with his own station in life, and a man of remarkably few wants, he lived on from year to year without ambition, finding his chief interest in the pursuit of his profession, and his greatest pleasure in his books. He so little attempted to make a proselyte of me that, when at a later period I told him of a certain change of views, concerning which more will be said in the sequel, he was unaffectedly surprised by it, and said that he had never supposed me to be other than what I appeared to the world in general, an ordinary member of the Church of England. My intimate knowledge of Mr. Uttley's remarkable character must have had, nevertheless, a certain influence in this way, that it enabled me to estimate the vulgar attacks on infidels at their true worth; and though my own theistic beliefs were very strong, I knew from this example that an atheist was not necessarily a monster.
The only occasions that I remember in youth when Mr. Uttley might have influenced me were these two. Being curious to know about opinions from those who really held them, and being already convinced that we cannot really know them from the misrepresentations of their enemies, I once asked Mr. Uttley what atheism really was, and why it recommended itself to him. He replied that atheism was, in his view, the acceptance of the smaller of two difficulties, both of which were still very great. The smaller difficulty for him was to believe in the self-existence of the universe; the greater was to believe in a single Being, without a beginning, who could create millions of solar systems; and as one or the other must be self-existent the difficulty about self-existence was common to both cases. The well-known argument from design did not convince him, as he believed in a continual process of natural adjustment of creatures to their environment,—a theory resembling that of Darwin, but not yet so complete. I listened to Mr. Uttley's account of his views with much interest; but they had no influence on my own, as it seemed to me much easier to refer everything to an intelligent Creator than to believe in the self-existence of all the intricate organizations that we see. Still, I was not indignant, as the reader may think I ought to have been. It seemed to me quite natural that thoughtful men should hold different opinions on a subject of such infinite difficulty.
The other occasion was, when in the vigor of youthful Protestantism I happened to say something against the Church of Rome. Mr. Uttley very quietly and kindly told me that I was unjust towards that Church, and I asked him where the injustice lay. "It lies in this," he replied, "that you despise the dogmas of the Church of Rome as resting only on the authority of priests, whereas the case of that Church is not exceptional or peculiar, as all dogmas rest ultimately on the authority of priests." To this I naturally answered that Scriptural authority was higher; but Mr. Uttley answered,—"The Roman Catholics themselves appeal to Scriptural authority as the Protestants do; but it is still the priests who have decided which books are sacred, and how they are to be interpreted." His conversation was not longer than my report of it, and it occurred when I met Mr. Uttley accidentally in the street; but though short, it was of some importance, as I happened at that time to be exercised in my mind about what Mr. Bardsley had told us concerning "German Neology." Subsequent observation has led me to believe that Mr. Uttley attributed more originating authority to priests than really belongs to them. It seems to me now that they take up and consecrate popular beliefs that may be of use, and that they drop and discard, either tacitly or openly, those beliefs which are no longer popular. Both processes have been going on, for some years very visibly in the Church of Rome, and the second of the two is plainly in operation in the Church of England.
First visit to London in 1851.—My first impression of the place.— Nostalgia of the country.—Westminster.—The Royal Academy.—Resolution never to go to London again.—Reason why this resolution was afterwards broken.
In the year 1851 I went to London for the first time, to see the Great Exhibition. Our little party consisted only of my guardian, my aunt, and myself.
My first impression of London was exactly what it has ever since remained. It seemed to me the most disagreeable place I had ever seen, and I wondered how anybody could live there who was not absolutely compelled to do so. At that time I did not understand the only valid reason for living in London, which is the satisfaction of meeting with intelligent people who know something about what interests you, and do not consider you eccentric because you take an interest in something that is not precisely and exclusively money-making.
My aunts knew nobody in London except one or two ladies of rank superior to their own, on whom we made formal calls, which was a sort of human intercourse that I heartily detested, as I detest it to this day.
Our lodgings were in Baker Street, which, after our pure air, open scenery, and complete liberty at Hollins, seemed to me like a prison. The lodgings were not particularly clean—the carpets, especially, seemed as if they had never been taken up. The air was heavy, the water was bad (our water at Hollins was clearer than glass, and if you poured a goblet of it beady bubbles clung to the sides), there was no view except up street and down street, and the noise was perpetual. A Londoner would take these inconveniences as a matter of course and be insensible to them, but to me they were so unpleasant that I suffered from nostalgia of the country all the time.
The reader may advantageously be spared my boyish impressions of the Great Exhibition and the other sights of London. Of course we fatigued our brains, as country people always do, by seeing too many things in a limited time; and as we had no special purpose in view, we got, I fear, very little instruction from our wanderings amidst the bewildering products of human industry. I remember being profoundly impressed by Westminster Abbey, though I would gladly have seen all the modern monuments calcined in a lime-kiln; and Westminster Hall affected me even more, possibly because one of our ancestors, Sir Stephen Hamerton, had been condemned to death there for high treason in the time of Henry VIII. I was also deeply impressed by the grim, old Tower of London, and only regretted that I did not know which cell the unlucky Sir Stephen had occupied during his hopeless imprisonment there.
The rooms of the Royal Academy left a more durable recollection than the contents of the great building in Hyde Park. Those are quite old times for us now in the history of English art. Sir Frederick Leighton was a young student who had not yet begun to exhibit; I think he was working in Frankfort then. Millais was already known as the painter of strange and vivid pictures of small size, which attracted attention, and put the public into a state of much embarrassment. There were three of these strange pictures that year,—an illustration of Tennyson, "She only said, 'My life is dreary,'" the "Return of the Dove to the Ark," and the "Woodman's Daughter." I distinctly remember the exact sensation with which my young eyes saw these works; so distinctly that I now positively feel those early sensations over again in thinking about them. All was so fresh, so new! This modern art was such a novelty to one who had not seen many modern pictures, and my own powers of enjoying art were so entirely unspoiled by the effect of habit that I was like a young bird in its first spring-time in the woods. I much preferred the beautiful bright pictures in the Academy, with their greens and blues like Nature, to the snuffy old canvases (as they seemed to me) in the National Gallery.
The oddest result for a boy's first visit to London was a quiet mental resolution of which I said nothing to anybody. What I thought and resolved inwardly may be accurately expressed in these words: "Every Englishman who can afford it ought to see London once, as a patriotic duty, and I am not sorry to have been there to have got the duty performed; but no power on earth shall ever induce me to go to that supremely disagreeable place again!"
Of course the intelligent reader considers this boyish resolution impossible and absurd, as it is entirely contrary to prevalent ideas; but a man may lead a very complete life in Lancashire, and even in counties less rich in various interest, without ever going to London at all. A man's own fields may afford him as good exercise as Hyde Park, and his well-chosen little library as good reading as the British Museum. It was the Fine Arts that brought me to London afterwards; the worst of the Fine Arts being that they concentrate themselves so much in great capitals.
The love of reading a hindrance to classical studies.—Dr. Butler becomes anxious about my success at Oxford.—An insuperable obstacle.—My indifference to degrees.—Irksome hypocrisy.—I am nearly sent to a tutor at Brighton.—I go to a tutor in Yorkshire.—His disagreeable disposition.—Incident about riding.—Disastrous effect of my tutor's intellectual influence upon me.—My private reading.—My tutor's ignorance of modern authors.—His ignorance of the fine arts.—His religious intolerance.—I declare my inability to sign the Thirty-nine Articles.
The various mental activities hinted at in the preceding chapters had naturally a retarding effect upon my classical studies, which I had never greatly taken to. It seemed then, and it seems to me still, that for one who does not intend to make a living by teaching them, the dead languages, like all other pursuits, are only worth a limited amount of labor. It may appear paradoxical at first, but it is true, that one reason why I did not like Latin and Greek was because I was extremely fond of reading. The case is this: If you are fond of reading and have an evening at your disposal, you will wish to read, will you not? But construing is not reading; it is quite a different mental operation. When you read you think of the scenes and events the author narrates, or you follow his reasoning; but when you construe you think of cases and tenses, and remember grammatical rules. I could read English and French, but Latin and Greek were only to be construed a coups de dictionnaire.
The case may be illustrated by reference to an amusement. A man who is indifferent to rowing cares very little what sort of boat he is in, and toils contentedly as peasants do in their heavy boots, but a lover of rowing wants a craft that he can move. This desire is quite independent of the merits of the craft itself, considered without reference to the man. A sailing yacht may he a beautiful vessel, but an Oxford oarsman would not desire to pull one of her cumbersome sweeps.
I was at that time a private pupil of Dr. Butler's, and was getting on at such a very moderate pace that he began to be anxious about his responsibility. My guardian and he had decided together that I was to be sent to Oxford, and it was even settled to which college, Balliol; and my dear guardian expected me to come out in honors, and be a Fellow of my college and a clergyman. That was her plan; and a very good scheme of life it was, but it had one defect, that of being entirely inapplicable to the human being for whom it was intended. I looked forward to Oxford with anything but pleasure, and, indeed, considered that there was an insuperable obstacle to my going there. In those days most of the good things in life were kept as much as possible for members of the Church of England, and it was necessary to sign the Thirty-nine Articles on entering the University. This I could not do conscientiously, and would not do against the grain of my conviction. I looked upon this obstacle as insuperable; but if I had been as indifferent on such questions as young men generally are, there would still have remained a difficulty in my own nature, which is a rooted dislike to everything which is done for social advancement. I might possibly have desired to be a scholar, but cannot imagine myself desiring a degree. However, I might have taken the trouble to get a degree, simply to please my guardian, if there had not been that obstacle about the Thirty-nine Articles.
From this time, during a year or two, there was a sort of game of cross-purposes between me and my guardian, as I had not yet ventured to declare openly my severance from the Church of England, and my consequent inability to go to one of her universities. The enormous weight of social and family pressure that is brought to bear on a youth with reference to these matters must be my excuse for a year or two of hypocrisy that was extremely irksome to me; but besides this I have a still better excuse in a sincere unwillingness to give pain to my dear guardian, and in the dread lest the declaration of heresy might even be dangerous to one whom I knew to be suffering from heart disease. I therefore lived on as a young member of the Church of England who was studying for Oxford, when in fact I considered myself no longer a member of that Church, and had inwardly renounced all intention of going to either of the Universities, which she still kept closed against the Dissenters.
The inward determination not to go to Oxford or Cambridge had a bad effect on my classical studies, as I had no other object in view whilst pursuing them than the intellectual benefit to be derived from the studies themselves, and I had not any very great faith in that benefit. The most intelligent men I knew did not happen to be classical scholars, and some men of my acquaintance who were classical scholars seemed to me quite impervious to ideas concerning science and the fine arts. Even now, after a much larger experience, I do not perceive that classical scholarship opens men's minds to scientific and artistic ideas, or even that scholarship gives much appreciation of literary art and excellence. Still, it is better to have it than to be without it. There is such a thing as a scholarly temper,—a patient, careful, exact, and studious temper,—which is valuable in all the pursuits of life.
Mr. Butler had been for some time my private tutor—which means that I prepared my work at Hollins in the morning, and went to read with Mr. Butler in the afternoon. The plan was pleasant enough for me, but it was not advantageous, because what I most wanted was guidance during my hours of study,—such guidance as I had at Doncaster. However, I read and wrote Latin and Greek every day, and learned French at the same time, as Mr. Butler had a taste for modern languages. This went on until he became rather alarmed about my success at Oxford (which for reasons known to the reader troubled me very little), and told my guardian that she ought to send me to some tutor who could bestow upon me more continuous attention. I was as near as possible to being sent to a tutor at Brighton,—a reverend gentleman with aristocratic connections,—but he missed having me by the very bait which he held out to attract my guardian. He boasted in a letter of the young lords he had educated, and said he had one or two still in the house with him. We had a near neighbor and old friend who was herself very nearly connected with two of the greatest families in the peerage, and as she happened to call upon us when my guardian received the letter, it was handed to her, and she said: "That bit about the young lords is not a recommendation; the chances are that P. G. would find them proud and disagreeable." As for me, the whole project presented nothing that was pleasant. I disliked the south of England, and had not the slightest desire to make the acquaintance of the young noblemen. It was therefore rather a relief that the Brighton project was abandoned.
It happened then that my dear guardian did the only one foolish and wrong thing she ever did in her whole life. She sent me to a clergyman in Yorkshire, who had been a tutor at Oxford, and was considered to be a good "coach,"—so far he may seem to have been the right man,—but he was unfortunately exactly the man to inspire me with a complete disgust for my studies. He had no consideration whatever for the feelings of other people, least of all for those of a pupil. He treated me with open contempt, and was always trying to humiliate me, till at last I let him understand that I would endure it no longer. One day he ordered me to clean his harness, with a peremptoriness that he would scarcely have used to a groom, so I answered, "No, sir, I shall not clean your harness; that is not my work." He then asked whether I considered myself a gentleman. I said "yes," and he retorted that it would be a good thing to thrash the gentility out of me; on which I told him that if he ventured to attempt any such thing I should certainly defend myself. I was a well-grown youth, and could have beaten my tutor easily. One day he attempted to scrape my face with a piece of shark's skin, so I seized both his wrists and held them for some time, telling him that the jest, if it was a jest, was not acceptable.
As my tutor was very handsomely paid for the small amount of trouble he took with me, my guardian had inserted in the agreement a clause by which he was either to keep my horse in his stable, or else let me have the use of one of his own. He preferred, for economy's sake, to mount me; so in accordance with our agreement I innocently rode out a little in the early mornings, long before the hour fixed for our Greek reading together. As my tutor rose late, he was not aware of this for some time; but at length, by accident, he found it out, and then an incident occurred which exactly paints the charming amenity of the man.
His stable-boy had brought the horse to the gate, and I was just mounting when my tutor opened his bedroom window, and called out, "Take that horse back to the stable immediately!" I said to the servant, who hesitated, that it was his duty to obey his master's orders, and dismounted; then I went to my lodgings in the village, and wrote a note to the tutor, in which I said that I expected him to keep his agreement, and in accordance with it I should ride out that day. I then left the note at the house, saddled the animal myself, and rode a long distance. From that time our relations were those of constrained formality, which on the whole I much preferred. My tutor assumed an air of injured innocence, and treated me with a clumsy imitation of politeness which was intended to wound me, but which I found extremely convenient, as the greater the distance between us the less intercourse there would be. However, after that demonstration of my rights, I kept a horse of my own—a much finer animal—at a farmer's.
The intellectual influence of my present tutor was disastrous, by the reaction it produced. He was a fanatical admirer of the ancient authors who wrote in Latin and Greek, and was constantly expressing his contempt for modern literature, of which he was extremely ignorant. I was fond of reading, and had English books in my lodgings which were my refuge and solace after the pedantic lectures I had to undergo. My love for Scott was still very lively (as indeed it is to this day), but I had now extended my horizon and added Byron, Shelley, Tennyson, and other modern authors to my list. My tutor had all the hatred for Byron which distinguished the clergy in the poet's life-time, and he was constantly saying the most unjust things against him; as, for example, that the "Bride of Abydos" was not original, but was copied from the Greek of Moschus. This clerical hatred for Byron quite prevented my tutor from acquiring any knowledge of the poet; but he had seen a copy of his works at my lodgings, and this served as a text for the most violent diatribes. As for Shelley, he knew no more about him than that he had been accused of atheism. He had heard of Moore, whom he called "Tommy." I believe he had never heard of Keats or Tennyson; certainly he was quite unacquainted with their poems. He had a feeble, incipient knowledge of French, and occasionally read a page of Moliere, with an unimaginable pronunciation; but he knew nothing really of any modern literature. On the other hand, his knowledge of the Greek and Latin classics was more intimate than that possessed by any other teacher I had ever known. He was a thorough, old-fashioned scholar, with all the pride of exact erudition, and a corresponding contempt for everybody who did not possess it. I do not at this moment remember that he ever referred to a dictionary. I only remember that he examined my Liddell and Scott to see whether those modern lexicographers had done their work in a way to merit his approval, and that he thought their book might be useful to me. He had some knowledge of astronomy, and was building a reflecting telescope which he never completed; but I remember that he was often occupied in polishing the reflectors whilst I was reading, and that his hand went on rubbing with a bit of soft leather, and a red powder, when he would deliver the clearest disquisitions on the employment of words by Greek authors, most of which I was not sufficiently advanced to profit by. His manner with me was impatient, and often rude and contemptuous. What irritated him especially in me was the strange inequality of my learning, for I was rather strong on some points, and equally weak on others; whilst he himself had an irresistible regularity of knowledge, at least in Latin and Greek.
We did absolutely nothing else but Latin and Greek during my stay with this tutor, and I suppose I must have made some progress, but there was no feeling of progress. In comparison with the completeness of my master's terrible erudition it seemed that my small acquirements were nothing, and never could be more than nothing. On the other hand, the extreme narrowness of his literary tastes led me to place a higher value on my own increasing knowledge of modern literature, and conclusively proved to me, once for all, that a classical education does not necessarily give a just or accurate judgment. "If a man," I said to myself, "can be a thorough classical scholar as my tutor is, and at the same time so narrow and ignorant, it is clear that a classical training does not possess the virtue of opening the mind which is ascribed to it."
Besides his narrowness with regard to modern literature of all kinds, my tutor had the usual characteristic of the classical scholars of his generation, a complete ignorance and misunderstanding of the fine arts. All that he knew on that subject was that a certain picture by Titian was shameful because there was a naked woman in it; and I believe he had heard that Claude was a famous landscape-painter, but he had no conception whatever of the aims and purposes of art. One of his accusations against me was that, from vanity, I had painted a portrait of myself. As a matter of fact, the little picture was a portrait of Lord Byron, done from an engraving; but any artist may, without vanity, make use of his own face as a model.
In religion my tutor was most intolerant. He could not endure either Roman Catholics or Dissenters of any kind, and considered no terms harsh enough for infidels. He told with approbation the story of some bigot like himself, who, when an unbeliever came into his house, had loudly ordered the servant to lock up the silver spoons. He possessed and read with approbation one of those intolerant books of the eighteenth century entitled, "A Short Method with Deists," in which the poor Deists were crushed beneath the pitiless heel of the dominant State Church. It happened one day, by a strange chance, that an antiquary brought a Unitarian minister, who also took an interest in archaeology, to visit the church where my tutor officiated, in which, there were some old things, and as they stayed in the church till our early dinner-time, my tutor could hardly do otherwise than offer them a little hospitality. When the guests had gone (I hope they enjoyed the conversation, which seemed to me artificial and constrained) my tutor said to me: "That man, that Unitarian, will go to hell! All who do not believe in the Atonement will go to hell!" I said nothing, but thought that the mild antiquary who sat with us at table might deserve a less terrible fate. My tutor troubled me less, perhaps, about theology than might have been expected. He intended to inflict much more theology upon me than I really had to undergo, thanks to his indolence, and the craft and subtlety with which I managed to substitute other work for it. Still, it was a trial to me to have to look acquiescent, or at least submissive and respectful, whilst he said the most unjust and intolerant things about those who differed from him, and with whom I often secretly agreed. And of course I had to listen to his sermons every Sunday, and to go through the outward seemings of conformity that my master had power enough to exact from me. Beyond the weekly services in the church he fulfilled scarcely any of the duties of a parish clergyman. He rose about eleven in the morning, and spent his time either in mechanical pursuits or in desultory reading, often of the Greek and Latin classics. In fact, my tutor's mind was so imbued with the dead languages that he was unable to write his own, but had constant recourse to Greek and Latin to make his meaning clear.
A year spent with this clergyman, with whom I had not two ideas in common, produced an effect upon me exactly opposite to that which had been intended. My feelings towards the ancient classics had grown into positive repugnance when I saw the moderns so unjustly sacrificed to them, and my love for the moderns had increased to the point of partisanship. My tutor's injustice towards Dissenters and unbelievers had also, by a natural reaction, aroused in me a profound sympathy for these maligned and despised people, and I would willingly have joined some dissenting body myself if I could have found one that had exactly my own opinions; but it seemed useless to leave the Church of England for another community if I were no more in accordance with the new than with the old. The fact that my master had been a tutor at Oxford and was always boasting about his university career—he openly expressed his contempt for men who "had never seen the smoke of a university"—made me sick of the very name of the place, and to this day I have never visited it. In a word, my tutor made me dislike the very things that it was his business to make me like, and if I had ever felt the least desire for a degree he would have cured me of it, as it was impossible to desire honors that were accessible to so narrow a mind as his, a mind fit for nothing but pedagogy, and really unable to appreciate either literature or art.
At the end of a year, therefore, I said plainly to my guardian that I was doing no good, and that it was useless to prepare me any further for Oxford, as I could not conscientiously put my name to the Thirty-nine Articles.
If, in those days, any human being in our class of society in England had been able to conceive of such a thing as education not in clerical hands, I might have gone on with my classical studies under the direction of a layman; but education and the clergy were looked upon as inseparable; even by myself. My education, therefore, came momentarily to a stand-still, though it happened a little later that a sense of its imperfection made me take it up again with fresh energy on my own account, and I am still working at it, in various directions, at the mature age of fifty-two.
Choice of a profession.—Love of literature and art.—Decision to make trial of both.—An equestrian tour.—Windermere.—Derwentwater.—I take lessons from Mr. J. P. Pettitt.—Ulleswater.—My horse Turf.—Greenock, a discovery.—My unsettled cousin.—Glasgow.—Loch Lomond. —Inverary.—Loch Awe.—Inishail.—Innistrynich.—Oban.—A sailing excursion.—Mull and Ulva.—Solitary reading.
The question of a profession now required an immediate decision. My guardian's choice for me had formerly been the Church, but that was not exactly suited to my ways of thinking. The most natural profession for a young man in my position would have been the law, but my father had expressly desired that I should not adopt it, as he was sick of it for himself, and wished to spare me its anxieties. The cotton trade required a larger disposable capital than I possessed, to start with any chance of success.
My own desires were equally balanced between two pursuits for which I had a great liking, and hoped that there might be some natural aptitude. One of these was literature, and the other painting. A very moderate success in either of these pursuits would, it seemed to me, be more conducive to happiness than a greater success in some less congenial occupation. My fortune was enough for a bachelor, and I did not intend to marry, at least for a long time.
There was no thought of ambition in connection with the desire to follow one of these two pursuits, beyond that of the workman who desires to do well. I mean, I had no social ambition in connection with them. It seemed to me that the liberty of thought which I valued above everything was incompatible, in England, with any desire to rise in the world, as unbelievers lay under a ban, and had no chance of social advancement without renouncing their opinions. This was an additional reason why I should seek happiness in my studies, as a worldly success was denied to me.
The reader may perhaps think that I had not much, in the way of social advancement, to renounce, but in fact I had a position remarkably full of possibilities, that a man of the world could have used to great advantage. I had independent means, enough to enable me, as a bachelor, to live like a gentleman; I belonged to one of the oldest and best-descended families in the English untitled aristocracy, had a retentive memory, a strong voice, and could speak in public without embarrassment. A man of the world, in my position, would have found his upward course straight before him. He would simply have made use of the Church as an instrument (it is one of the most valuable instruments for the worldly), have given himself the advantages of Oxford, married for money, offered his services to the Conservative party, and gone into Parliament. [Footnote: The reader may wonder why the Conservative party is specially mentioned. It is mentioned simply because all my relations and nearly all my influential friends (who could have pushed me) belonged to it. The Conservative party is also the one that gives the best social promotion to those who serve it. There have been many little Beaconsfields.]
It would have been much easier to do all that than to make a reputation either in literature or painting,—easier, I mean, for a man starting in life with so many good cards in his hand as I had.
I have been sometimes represented as an unsuccessful painter who took to writing because he had failed as an artist. It is, of course, easy to state the matter so, but the exact truth is that a very moderate success in either literature or art would have been equally acceptable to me, so that there has been no other failure in my life than the usual one of not being able to catch two hares at the same time. Very few dogs have ever been able to do that.
I decided to try to be a painter and to try to be an author, and see what came of both attempts. My guardian always thought I should end by being an author, and though she had no prejudice against painting, she looked upon it as a pursuit likely to be very tedious, at times, to those who practise it, in which she was quite right. It is generally a hard struggle, requiring infinite patience, even in the clever and successful.
One of the first things I did was to go on horseback to the English Lake district in the summer of 1852, with the intention of continuing the journey, still on horseback, into the mountainous regions of Scotland. Unfortunately this project could not be executed with the horse I then possessed, the most dangerous, sulky, resolute, and cunning brute I ever mounted. I rode him as far as Keswick, where a horse-breaker tried him and said his temper was incurable, recommending me to have him shot. The advice was excellent, but I could not find it in my heart to destroy such a fine-looking animal, so I left him in grass at Penrith, and went on to Scotland by the usual means of travelling,—a change that I regret to this day.
I had materials with me for painting studies in oil, and painted at Windermere and Derwentwater. It was an inexpressible pleasure to see these lakes, and a mental torment not to be able to paint them better.
My first sight of Windermere (or of any natural lake, for I had hitherto seen nothing but fish-ponds and reservoirs) was enjoyed under peculiarly impressive circumstances. I had been riding alone or walking by the side of my horse during the night, and arrived at the lake shore by the guidance of a star. I wrote down my first impression next day, and have kept the words.
"I could not find the way to the little harbor of Bowness, and so went on for a considerable distance till I came to a gate which, as I knew, from the position of the north star, would lead directly to the lake across the fields. There was a small and scarcely traceable footpath, and a board to warn trespassers. However, I fastened the horse to the gate and proceeded. I soon arrived at the shore, and was overawed by a scene of overpowering magnificence. The day was just dawning. The water mirrored the isles, except where the mist floated on its surface and wreathed round their bases. The trees were massed by it into domes and towers that seemed to float on the cloudy lake as if by enchantment. The stars were growing pale in the yellowing east; the distant hills were coldly blue, till far away lake and hill and sky melted into cloud.
"Opposite, I saw the dark form of an island rising between me and the other shores, strongly relieved against the mist which crept along the base of the opposite mountain and almost clambered to its dark summit. The reflection of the dark upper part of the mountain (which rose clear of the mist) fell on the lake in such a manner as to enclose that of the island. In another direction an island was gradually throwing off its white robe of mist, and the light showed through the interstices of the foliage that I had taken for a crag.
"I had a pistol with me, and tried the echo, though it seemed wrong to disturb a silence so sublime. I fired, and had time to regret that there was no echo before a peal of musketry came from the nearer hills and then a fainter peal from the distance, followed by an audible rejoinder."
This is the kind of travel for the enjoyment of natural beauty. One should be either quite alone, or have a single companion of the same tastes, and one should be above all commonplace considerations about hours. Samuel Palmer often walked the whole night alone, for the pleasure of observing the beautiful changes between sunset and sunrise.
In the evening there was a fine red sunset followed by moonlight, so I took a boat and rowed out in the moonlight alone. This first experience of lake scenery was an enchantment, and it had a great influence on my future life by giving me a passion for lakes, or by increasing the passion that (in some inexplicable way) I had felt for them from childhood. One of the earliest poems I had attempted to compose began with the stanza,—
"A cold and chilly mist Broodeth o'er Winandermere, And the heaven-descended cloud hath kissed The still lake drear."
I had already tried to paint lake scenery, in copying a picture, and my favorite illustrations in the Abbotsford edition of Scott's works were the lochs that I was now to see for the first time.
After a night at Ambleside I saw Rydal Water in sunshine and calm, with faint breezes playing on its surface, and rode on to Keswick through the Vale of St. John. The only way in which it was possible to ride the brute I possessed was in putting him behind a carriage, which he followed as if he had been tied to it. In this manner I reached Keswick, after apologizing to a family party for dogging their carriage so closely. As soon as the vehicle came to a stop opposite the hotel, my horse, Turf, threw out his heels vigorously in the crowd. Luckily he hurt nobody, but the bystanders told me that one of his shoes had been within six inches of a young lady's face. A vicious horse is a perpetual anxiety. Turf kicked in the stable as well as out of it, and hit a groom on the forehead a few days later. The man would probably have been killed without the leather of his cap.
Finding an artist at Keswick, Mr. J. P. Pettitt, I asked his advice and became his pupil for a few days. I climbed Skiddaw during the night with one of Mr. Pettitt's sons, who was a geologist and a landscape-painter also. When we got to the top of the mountain we were enveloped in a thick mist, which remained till we descended; but I lay down in my waterproof on the lee side of the cairn, and slept in happy oblivion of discomfort.
Mr. Pettitt's lessons were of some use to me, but as all my serious education hitherto had been classical, I was not sufficiently advanced in practical art to prepare me for color, and I ought to have been making studies of light and shade in sepia.
There was nothing more difficult in those days than for a young gentleman to become an artist, because no human being would believe that he could be serious in such an intention. As I had a fine-looking horse in the stable at the hotel, Pettitt of course took me for an amateur, and only attempted to communicate the superficial dexterity that amateurs usually desire. It was my misfortune to be constantly attempting what was far too difficult for me in art, and not to find any one ready and willing to put me on the right path. I was very well able, already, to make studies in sepia that would have been valuable material for future reference, whereas my oil studies were perfectly worthless, and much more inconvenient and embarrassing.
I was enchanted with the Lake District, seeing Windermere, Derwentwater, and Ulleswater, besides several minor lakes; but although I delighted in all inland waters and the Lake District was so near to my own home, I never revisited it. The reason was that, after seeing the grander Highlands of Scotland, I became spoiled for the English Lakes. There was another reason,—the absence of human interest on the English lakes except of a quite modern kind, there being no old castles on shore or island. Lyulph's Tower, on Ulleswater, though immortalized by Wordsworth, is nothing but a modern hunting-box. Nevertheless, I have often regretted that I did not become more familiar with Wordsworth's country in my youth.
The mention of Lyulph's Tower reminds me that when I landed there after a hard pull of seven miles against a strong wind, I was kindly invited to take part in a merry picnic that was just being held there by some farmers of the neighborhood. A very pretty girl asked me to dance, and I afterwards played the fiddle. The scene with the dancers in the foreground on the green sward, and the lake and mountains in the distance, was one of the most poetical I ever beheld.
Turf had been ridden from Keswick to Penrith by the horse-breaker already mentioned, and with infinite difficulty. I would have left him in the breaker's hands, but he refused to mount again, saying that he had done enough for his credit, and so had I for mine. By his advice I took the same resolution, and as nobody in Penrith would ride the brute, he was left to grow still wilder in a green field whilst I went on to Scotland by the train.
I had a cousin at Greenock who was learning to be a marine constructing engineer. He was a young man of remarkable ability, who afterwards distinguished himself in his profession, and might no doubt have made a large fortune if his habits had not been imprudent and unsettled. At that time he was tied to Greenock by an engagement with one of the great firms where he was articled. He had rooms in a quiet street, and offered me hospitality. One day I came in unexpectedly and found a baby in my bed, when the door opened suddenly, and a very pretty girl with dark eyes came and took the baby away with an apology. I immediately said to myself: "My cousin has been privately married, that pair of dark eyes has cost him his liberty, and that child is an infantine relation of mine!" This discovery remained a long time a secret in my own breast, and I affected a complete absence of suspicion during the rest of my stay at Greenock, but it was afterwards fully confirmed. My cousin had, in fact, married at the early age of nineteen, when he was still an articled pupil with Messrs. Caird, and living on an allowance from his father, whom he dared not ask for an increase. He was therefore obliged to eke out his means by teaching mechanical drawing in the evenings; but though his marriage had been an imprudence, it was not a folly. He had, in fact, shown excellent judgment in the choice of a wife. The dark eyes were not all. Behind them there was a soul full of the most cheerful courage, the sweetest affection, the most faithful devotion. For thirty-seven years my cousin's wife followed him everywhere, and bore his roving propensity with wonderful good humor. What that propensity was, the reader may partly realize when I tell him that in those thirty-seven years my cousin went through eighty-seven removals, some of them across the greatest distances that are to be found upon the planet. The only reason why he did not remove to all the different planets one after another was the absence of a road to them. This tendency of my cousin Orme had been predicted by a French phrenologist at Manchester when he was a boy. The phrenologist had said, after examining his "bumps," that Orme would settle in a place for a short time and appear satisfied at first, as if it were for good, but that very soon afterwards he would go elsewhere and repeat the process. I never met with any other human being who had such an unsettled disposition. The consequence was that he often quitted places where he was extremely prosperous, and people who not only appreciated his extraordinary talents, but were ready to reward them handsomely, in order to go he knew not whither, and undertake he knew not what.
I left Greenock by an early steamer for Glasgow, and remember this one detail of the voyage. The morning air was brisk and keen, so I was not sorry to breakfast when the meal was announced, and did ample justice to it with a young and vigorous appetite. Having eaten my third poached egg, and feeling still ready for the more substantial dishes that awaited me, I suddenly recollected that I had already disposed of an ample Scotch breakfast at my cousin's. Can anything more conclusively prove the wonderful virtue of early hours and the healthy northern air?
After visiting Glasgow and the Falls of Clyde in drenching rain, I saw Loch Lomond, which was my first experience of a Highland lake, and therefore memorable for me. The gradual approach, on the steamer, towards the mountains at the upper end of the lake was a revelation of Highland scenery. The day happened to be one of rapidly changing effects. A rugged hill with its bosses and crags was one minute in brilliant light, to be in shade the next, as the massive clouds flew over it, and the colors varied from pale blue to dark purple and brown and green, with that wonderful freshness of tint and vigor of opposition that belong to the wilder landscapes of the north. From that day my affections were conquered; as the steamer approached nearer and nearer to the colossal gates of the mountains, and the deep waters of the lake narrowed in the contracting glen, I felt in my heart a sort of exultation like the delight of a young horse in the first sense of freedom in the boundless pasture.
The next sunrise I saw from the top of Ben Lomond, but will spare the reader the description. It was a delight beyond words for an enthusiastic young reader of Scott to look upon Loch Katrine at last. Thousands of tourists have been drawn to the same scenes by their interest in the same poet, yet few of them, I fancy, had in the same degree with myself the three passions for literature, for nature, and for art. If little has come of these passions, it was certainly not from any want of intensity in them, but in consequence of certain critical influences that will be explained later. I will only say in this place, that if the passion for art had been strongest of the three the productive result would have been greater.
From Tarbet on Loch Lomond I went to Inverary, and the first thing I did there was to hire a sailing-boat and go beating to windward on Loch Fyne. I made a sketch of the ruined castle of Dundera, which stands between the road and the loch on a pretty rocky promontory. For some time I had a strong fancy for this castle, and wanted to rent it on lease and restore three or four rooms in it for my own use. The choice would have been in some respects wiser than that I afterwards made, as Dundera has such easy access to Inverary by a perfectly level and good road on the water's edge, and by the water itself; but the scenery of Loch Fyne is not as attractive as that of Loch Awe, and there is always a certain inevitable dreariness about a salt-water loch which, to my feeling, would make it depressing for long residence.
I had travelled from Tarbet with a rather elderly couple who were very kind to me, and afterwards invited me to their house in Yorkshire. The lady was connected with Sir James Ross, the Arctic discoverer, and her husband had been a friend of Theodore Hook, of whom he told me many amusing anecdotes. They were both most amiable, cheerful people, and we formed a merry party of three when first I saw Loch Awe, as the carriage descended the road from Inverary to Cladich on the way to Dalmally. As I kept a journal of this tour, I find easily the account of my first boating on Loch Awe. It was in the month of August when we had come to a halt at Cladich:—
"In the afternoon I made a sketch of the bridge taken from the ravine. It occupied me four hours, as the scene was of the most elaborate character. We dined at four o'clock, and then strolled to the lake, which was at some distance. Two boats were lying in a small stream which emptied itself into the lake, so I pressed one of them into my service, and was soon out upon the water. The boat was old, badly built, and rickety. The starboard oar was cracked, and the port oar had been broken in two and mended with bands of iron. The bottom was several inches deep in water, the thwarts were not securely fastened, nor were they at right angles to the keel. Out in the loch the waves were high, and the crazy craft rolled and pitched like a beer-barrel, the water in her washing from side to side. However, I reached the island called 'Inishail.' It was a striking scene. Around me were the tombs of many generations. In the far distance the dark ruin of Kilchurn was reduced almost to insignificance by its background of rugged hills towering into the clouds.
"Night was coming on quickly as I rowed back to the mouth of the little river. On reaching the inn I found that the people were getting anxious about me."
This first row on Loch Awe has a pathetic interest for me to this day. It was like one's first meeting with a friend who was destined to become very dear and to exercise a powerful influence on the whole current of one's life.
As my first impression of London had been, "This is a place an Englishman ought to see once, but I will never come to it again," so my first impression about Loch Awe was a profound sort of melancholy happiness in the place and a longing to revisit it. I never afterwards quitted Loch Awe without the same longing to return, and I have never seen any place in the world that inspired in me that nostalgia in anything like an equal degree.
There is an affinity between persons and places, but the Loch Awe that won my affection exists no longer. What delighted me was the complete unity of character that prevailed there, the lonely magnificent mountains, the vast expanse of water only crossed occasionally by some poor open boat, the melancholy ruins on island or peninsula, the wilderness, the sadness, the pervading sense of solitude, a solitude peopled only with traditions of a romantic past. It was almost as lonely as some distant lake in the wilds of Canada that the Indian crosses in his canoe, yet its ruined castles gave a poetry that no American waters can ever possess. Such was Loch Awe that I loved with the melancholy affection of youth before the experience of life had taught me a more active and practical philosophy than the indulgence in the sweet sadness of these reveries. But Loch Awe of to-day and of the future is as modern and practical as the sea-lochs that open upon the Clyde. On my first visit in 1852 there was neither steamer nor sailing-boat; now there are fourteen steamers on the lake, four of them public, and the railway trains pass round the skirts of Cruachan and rush through the Brandir Pass. There is a big hotel, they tell me, just opposite Kilchurn, from which place, by express train, you can get to Edinburgh in four hours.
The day after our arrival at Loch Awe turned out to be most beautiful (a fine day in the Highlands seems, by contrast, far more beautiful than elsewhere), and I shall never forget the enchantment of the head of Loch Awe as our carriage slowly descended the hilly road from Cladich towards Dalmally, stopping frequently for me to look and sketch. When we got near the island, or peninsula, of Innistrynich, with its dark green oaks and pasture-laud of a brighter green in the sunshine, and gray rocks coming down into the calm, dark water, it seemed to my northern taste the realization of an earthly paradise. I have lived upon it since, and unwillingly left it, and to this day I have the most passionate affection for it, and often dream about it painfully or pleasurably, the most painful dream of all being that it has been spoiled by the present owner, which happily is quite the contrary of the truth.
I went to Oban on the top of the coach in the most brilliant weather that ever is or can be, alternate sunshine and rain, with white clouds of a dazzling brightness. Under this enchantment, the barren land of Lorne seemed beautiful, and one forgot its poverty. For the first time, I saw the waters of Loch Etive, then a pale blue, stretching far inland, and the distant hills of Morven were, or seemed to be, of the purest azure.
When my new friends had left me at Oban, I hired a sailing-boat and two men for a voyage amongst the Western Isles; but as she was an open boat, the men did not like the idea of risking our lives in her on the exposed waters of the Atlantic, so the voyage was confined to the Sound of Mull, and I crossed the island to its western shore on foot. That voyage left permanent recollections of grand effects and wild scenery of the kind afterwards described by William Black in his "Macleod of Dare." As we sailed across the Sound in the evening from Oban to Auchincraig, the sky was full of torn rain-clouds flying swiftly and catching the lurid hues from the sunset, whilst the distant mountains and cliffs of Mull were of that dark purple which seems melancholy and funereal in landscape, though it is one of the richest colors in the world. It was dangerous weather for sailing, being very squally, and in the year 1852 I knew nothing about the management of sailing-boats; but the men were not imprudent, and after coasting under the cliffs of Mull we landed at Auchincraig, where at that time there was a miserable inn. The next day we had a glorious sail up the sound to the Bay of Aros, stopping only to see Duart Castle. In walking across the island to Loch na Keal, we passed through a most picturesque camp, that would have delighted Landseer. There were hundreds of horses and innumerable dogs of the picturesque northern breeds. It was the half-yearly market of Mull.
I shall never forget my first sight of Ulva, as we sat on the shore of Mull waiting for the ferry-boat. Ulva lay, a great dark mass, under the crimson west, reflected in a glassy sea. We had already seen Staffa and Iona, pale in the distant Atlantic. Then the boat fetched us, and we floated as in a poet's dream, till the worst of inns brought one back to a sense of reality.
The boatman who accompanied me, whose name was Andrew, amused himself by telling lies to the credulous inhabitants of Ulva, and one of his inventions was that I was going to purchase the island. The other boatman, Donald, slept in the boat at Salan, wrapped up in a sail. The return voyage to Oban is thus described in my journal:—
"A fine young man asked me for a seat in the boat, which I granted on condition that he would perform his share of the work. A favorable wind carried us well over fifteen miles, half our distance, and the rest had to be rowed. The sun set in crimson, and the crescent moon arose behind the blue hills of Mull, over the dark tower of Duart. The scene was shortly a festival of lights with stars in the sky and the water brilliantly phosphorescent, so that the oar seemed to drip with fire. Lastly, when we entered the smooth bright bay of Oban, a crescent of lights shone around it, reflected in columns of flame upon the surface."
These were my chief experiences of the West Highlands during that first tour, and they left what I believe to be an indelible impression, for to this day I remember quite distinctly under what kind of effect each of these scenes presented itself. The artistic results of the tour consisted of sketches in oil and pencil, quite without value except to remind me of the scenes passed through, and of the most decidedly amateur character. I also wrote a journal, interesting to me now for the minute details it contains, which bring the past back to me very vividly, but utterly without literary merit. The wonder is how a youth with so little manifest talent as may be found in these sketches and journal could indulge in any artistic or literary ambition. My impression is that the dull year of heavy work that I had gone through with the Yorkshire tutor had done positive harm to me. Besides this, I was living, intellectually, in great solitude. My guardian was very kind, and she was a woman of sterling good sense, but she knew nothing about the fine arts, nor could she afford me much guidance in my reading, her own reading being limited to the Bible, and to some English and French classics. My uncles were both extremely reserved men who did not encourage my questions, so I was left for a while to get on without other intellectual assistance than that afforded by books. My eldest uncle, the owner of Hollins, said one day to my guardian, "Buy him the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' it will prevent him from asking so many questions;" so she made the purchase, which gave me a large pasture, at least for facts, and as for good literature, my little library was beginning to be well stocked. I made no attempt at that time to keep up my Latin and Greek, nor did I work seriously at painting, but read, drew, and wrote very much as it happened, not subjecting myself to any rigorous discipline, yet never remaining unoccupied.
A journal.—Self-training.—Attempts in periodical literature.—The time given to versification well spent.—Practical studies in art.—Beginning of Mr. Ruskin's influence.—Difficulty in finding a master in landscape-painting.—Establishment of the militia.—I accept a commission.—Our first training.—Our colonel and our adjutant.—The Grand Llama.—Paying off the men.
On January 1, 1853, I began to keep a journal, and continued it, with some intermissions, till June, 1855. The journal is long and minute in detail, and affords me a very clear retrospect of my life in those years; but it will be needless to trouble the reader with quotations from it.
The title page of the diary is a clear indication of my pursuits. It is called an "Account of time spent in Literature, Art, Music, and Gymnastics." The reader may observe that Literature comes before Art, so that if I am now an author rather than an artist, the reason may be found in early studies and inclination. Music and gymnastics were, in my view, only a part of general culture, yet of considerable importance in their way.
As a scheme of self-training, this seems sufficiently comprehensive, and to this day I feel the good effects of it. My reading was not badly chosen, the drawing gave some initiation into art, and exercise developed physical activity, not yet altogether lost in mature age.
Still, the experienced reader will see at a glance that this was not the training of a young painter who, in a craft of such great technical difficulty and in an age of such intense competition, must give himself up more completely to his own special pursuit.
On the first page of this diary I find an entry about an article for the "Westminster Review." I offered two or three papers to the "Westminster," which were declined, and then I wrote to the editor asking him if he would be so good as to explain, for my own benefit and guidance, what were the reasons for their rejection. His answer came, and was both kind and judicious. "An article," he told me, "ought to be an organic whole, with a pre-arranged order and proportion amongst its parts. There ought to be a beginning, a middle, and an end." This was a very good and much-needed lesson, for at that time I had no notion of a synthetic ordonnance of parts. There was, no doubt, another reason, which the editor omitted out of consideration for the feelings of a literary aspirant, who was too young and too insufficiently informed to write anything that could interest readers of the "Westminster."
I worked rather hard at writing English verse, and do not at the present time regret a single hour of that labor. My general habit was to write a poem, sometimes of considerable length, and then destroy it; but I kept some of these compositions, which were afterwards published in a volume. Verse-writing was good for me at that time for a particular reason. I did not understand the art of prose composition, which is much less obvious than that of poetry; but being already aware that verse-writing was an art, approached it in the right spirit, which is that of ungrudging labor and incessant care. The value or non-value of the result has nothing to do with the matter; the essential point is that verse was to me a discipline, coming just at a time of life when I had much need of a discipline. Besides, the mind of a young man is not ripe enough in reflection or rich enough in knowledge to supply substantial and well-nourished prose; but the freshness and keenness of his feelings may often give life enough to a few stanzas, if not to a longer poem.
It may be objected to this advocacy of verse, that as the poet's gift is excessively rare, the probability is that a youth who writes verse attacks an art that he can never master. No doubt the highest degree of the poetic gift is most rare, and so, according to Christine Nilsson, are the gifts needed to make a prima donna, yet many a girl practises singing without hoping to be a Nilsson; and there are many poets in the world whose verses have melody and charm though their brows may never be "cooled with laurel." The objection to verse as a trifling occupation comes really from that general disinclination to read verse which excuses itself by the rarity of genius. Rossetti, who had genius in his own person, was always ready to appreciate good poetical work that had no fame to recommend it. [Footnote: Since the above was written I have met with an address delivered by Mr. Walter Besant, the novelist, in which he recommends the continuous practice of versification as a discipline in the use of language most valuable to writers of prose.]
In the way of art at this time I painted three portraits and some landscapes that were merely studies. It is needless to enumerate these attempts, all of no value, and generally destroyed afterwards.
An important event occurred on March 22,1853. Being in Manchester, I bought the first volume of Ruskin's "Modern Painters." In this way I came under the influence of Mr. Ruskin, and remained under it, more or less, for several years. It was a good influence in two ways, first in literature, as anything that Mr. Ruskin has to say is sure to be well expressed, and after that it was a good influence in directing my attention to certain qualities and beauties in nature; but in art this influence was not merely evil, it was disastrous. I was, however, at that time, just the young man predestined to fall under it, being very fond of reading, and having a strong passion for natural beauty. In the course of the year 1853 I corresponded with Mr. Ruskin about my studies, and I have no doubt of the perfect sincerity of his advice and the kindness of intention with which it was given; but it tended directly to encourage the idea that art could be learned from nature, and that is an immense mistake. Nature does not teach art, or anything resembling it; she only provides materials. Art is a product of the human mind, the slow growth of centuries. If you reject this and go to nature, you have to begin all over again, the objection being that one human life is not long enough for that.
As it is possible that some critic may say that Mr. Ruskin's influence was not so much opposed to the tradition of art as I am representing it to be, and considering that I shall be dead when this is published, I quote the following passage from a memorandum found amongst the papers of Mr. Leitch, the water-color painter, and printed in his biography:—
"I knew a young man of talent, ardent and energetic, and anxious to be a landscape-painter, who went to Mr. Ruskin and asked his advice as to what he should do, what school he should follow, how he should practise, and what master he should put himself under. I was told that the answer he got was to this effect: 'Have nothing to do with schools; put yourself under no master. Both the one and the other are useless. As soon as you can draw a tree, or a tower, or a rock, in an ordinary drawing-master way, that is sufficient. Take your materials then out to nature, and paint in her school. It is the only school I know of where you can't go wrong.'"
I had asked Mr. Ruskin to recommend me some landscape-painter in London with whom I could study for six months. His answer was: "There is no artist in London capable of teaching you and at the same time willing to give lessons. All those who teach, teach mere tricks with the brush, not true art, far less true nature." He then recommended me to "go to William Turner, of Oxford, not for six months, but for six weeks." I was prevented from following this advice by a technical difficulty. Turner of Oxford was a water-color painter. I had learned water-color with two masters, but had never liked it or felt the slightest impulse to continue it. One man is naturally constituted for one process, another for another. There is something in my idiosyncrasy repugnant to the practice of water-color and favorable to oil, and this in spite of the greater convenience of water-color, and the facility with which it may be left off and instantaneously resumed. In after-life I learned water-color a third time with a very able artist, and now I am able to paint studies in that medium from nature which are truthful enough, and people seem to like them; but hitherto I have had no enjoyment whatever in the work. The reader will please understand that this implies no want of appreciation of the art when it is skilfully practised by others. There are certain instruments of music that one may listen to with pleasure without having the slightest desire to perform upon them. [Footnote: My estimate of the rank of water-color amongst the fine arts has steadily risen as the true technical relations of the graphic arts have become clearer to me. Water-color is quite as great an art as fresco, whilst it is incomparably more convenient.]
This being so, the reader will understand how I felt about going to William Turner of Oxford. Hour for hour, I would as willingly have read Greek as practise water-color washes. Not to trouble Mr. Ruskin, however, any further with my affairs, I tried to induce several well-known oil-painters to accept me as a pupil, but always met with the same answer, that they "did not teach." It was rather a matter of pride in those days for a successful painter to decline to give lessons; it proved him to be above the grade of a drawing-master.
On March 29, 1853, a little event occurred which was one of the numerous causes that turned me aside from the steady practice of art. One of our friends called about the impending establishment of the militia, and offered to use his influence with Colonel Towneley to get a commission for me in the 5th Royal Lancashire, the regiment that was to have its headquarters at Burnley. My guardian much wished me to accept, and I did so to please her, as I had not been able to please her by going to Oxford. There was nothing in a military life, even for a short time every year, that had the slightest attraction for me. The notion of rendering a patriotic service did not occur to me, for nobody in those days looked upon the militia seriously. We were only laughed at for our pains, and we had a great deal of trouble and hard work in getting the regiment, including ourselves, into something distantly resembling military order. Before we were called up for training I got some initiation with a line regiment.
Our colonel was the representative of a very old Catholic family, the Towneleys of Towneley. This family had been, skilful enough to avoid shipwreck during the contests that attended the establishment of Protestantism in England. It had survived in increasing wealth and prosperity, and had now reached the calm haven of a civilized age, with tolerant and liberal institutions. Everything promised a long continuance. The head of the family had no male heir, but his brother John, who was a major in our regiment, had one son, a cousin of Roger Tichborne, and on this son the hopes of continuance rested. Those hopes have not been realized. The young man died in his youth; his father and his uncle also died; the property is divided amongst three heiresses, and now for the first time, since surnames were invented, there is no longer a Towneley of Towneley.
The colonel was a man of the kindest disposition and the most gentle manners, without much confidence in himself. For all regimental matters he trusted the adjutant, Captain Fenton, an officer who had seen much active service in India. Fenton had by nature the gifts of a ruler of men. When not on duty he was as gentle as a lady, a pleasant and amiable talker, but on the parade-ground he ruled us all like a Napoleon. He had lost one eye; people always believed in battle, but in fact, the loss had occurred in a tennis-court since his return from India. The other eye seemed to have gained, in consequence, a supernatural degree of penetration. It looked you through! One day, on the parade-ground, that eye glared at me in such a manner that I was quite intimidated, and said what I had to say in rather a low tone of voice. "Speak up, sir! can't you?" thundered the adjutant. "Mister Hamerton, I tell you to speak up!"
Fenton had an extremely pretty little bay horse, that had been in a circus, so when he rode past the companies on parade, and the band struck up, the horse used to begin dancing, keeping time beautifully, and indeed danced all the way from company to company. This used to put Fenton out of temper, and as soon as ever military usages permitted it, he would stop the band with a gesture, even in the middle of a tune; in fact, no matter at what moment. To such of us as had a musical disposition, this was perhaps as difficult to hear as the dancing of Fenton's horse could be to him. [Footnote: We had a major who did not much like the band, and when he could stop it, he would say, "Tell that band to hold its tongue."]
During our first training there were not billets enough in Burnley to lodge all our men, so one company had to be sent to Padiham, and mine was selected. I was a lieutenant, and had neither captain nor ensign, being quite alone as a commissioned officer, but we possessed an excellent old sergeant, who had seen active service, and, of, course, he taught me what to do. My "mess" consisted of a solitary dinner in the inn at Padiham, sufficient, but not luxurious. My guardian had wished me to go into the militia to live rather more with young gentlemen, and my only society was that of the old sergeant, who punctiliously observed the difference of rank. On account of the distance from Padiham to Burnley (rather more than three miles), we were excused the early parade, but went through the two others. The consequence was, that at the end of the training, although we had marched more than the other companies, we had had only two-thirds of their drill, and when the grand inspection by a general took place, it was thought advisable to hide my company and another, that was also weak in drill, though for a different reason. Luckily, there was a sort of dell in the parade-ground, and we were ordered to march down into it. There we stood patiently in line during the whole time of the review, and the inspecting general never looked at us, which was what the colonel desired. Being destitute of military ambition, I was quite contented to remain down in the hollow. The most modest and obscure positions are sometimes the most agreeable.
We had a major who had been a colonel in the Guards. It was whispered that he did not know very much about drill, having probably forgotten his acquirements. One day, however, he commanded the regiment, and I ventured to ask him a question. He answered with a good-humored smile, that the commanding officer was like the Grand Llama of Thibet,—he could not be approached directly, but only through the adjutant. My belief was, and is, that my question puzzled him, for he was far too good-natured not to have answered it at once if he had been able. I told the story to my brother officers, who were amused by the comparison with the Grand Llama, and we sometimes called the major by that high-sounding title afterwards.
As a perfectly inexperienced young officer, without anybody but an old, over-worked and used-up sergeant to help him, and a number of drunken Irishmen in the company to vex and trouble him by day and by night, I had as much to do during the first training as could be expected of a youth in my situation. The last day of the training I committed the blunder of advancing small sums of money to a number of men, who, of course, immediately got drunk. My ignorance of popular manners and customs had made me unable to realize the lamentable fact that if you pay five shillings to a man in the improvident class he will at once invest it in five shillings' worth of intoxication. I was still in Padiham at two in the afternoon, finishing accounts, and I had to be in Burnley with my men in time to get them off by the evening trains. When we started many of them were so drunk that they could not walk, and I requisitioned a number of empty carts, and so got the drunken portion of the company to headquarters. Then there came the final settlement of more than eighty separate accounts. Without the adjutant, Fenton, I should never have got through it. He was a methodical man, who understood the business. He got a quantity of small change, piled it in separate heaps upon a table, had each man brought up before him, and said authoritatively, "So much is owing to you—there it is!" In this way we got through the payments, and the drunken men were lodged in prison for the night.
I was glad to get back to my quiet literary and artistic occupations, and my country home. We had been so busy during our first training, and I had been so much separated from the other officers by my duty at Padiham, that so far as society was concerned, I might almost as well have been on the top of Pendle Hill. Besides that, Englishmen are slow to associate—they are shy, and they look at each other a long time before getting really acquainted.
A project for studying in Paris.—Reading.—A healthy life.—Quinsy. —My most intimate friend.
If there is any good in an autobiography it ought to be as an example or a warning to others; so at the risk of seeming to moralize, which, however, is far from my intention, I will say something in this place about my manner of life in those days.
First with regard to art, it was not my fault if all the painters I had applied to said that they did not take pupils. There was a young gentleman in our neighborhood who, though a rich man's son, worked seriously at painting, and put himself every year under the direction of a French artist in Paris, where he studied in an atelier. I had an idea of joining him, but my guardian (who with all her sweetness of disposition could be authoritative when she liked) put a stop to the project by saying that she refused her consent to any plan involving absence from England before the expiration of my minority. She had the usual English idea that Paris is a more immoral place than London. Perhaps it may be, but great capitals such as Paris, London, and Vienna have this in common, that you may be moral in them, or immoral, as you like; and if we are to avoid a town because immorality is practised there, we must avoid all the great and most of the smaller centres of intelligence.
For the present I worked from nature, but not with sufficient energy or regularity. I had not found my path, and was always dissatisfied with my studies. In literature my reading was abundant, and included the best English poets and essayists. I had entirely given up reading Latin and Greek at that time, and was not just then studying any modern language in their place. Young men both over-estimate and under-estimate their own gifts,—they do not know themselves, as indeed how should they? I had an impression that Nature had not endowed me with a gift for languages. This impression was not only erroneous, but the exact contrary of the truth, for I am a born linguist.
My life in general was healthy and active. It included a great deal of walking exercise, sometimes five hours in a day. This, with bathing, kept me in fair health, though I never had what is called robust health, that which allows its possessor to commit great imprudences with impunity. I was once near losing life altogether by an odd result from a small accident. My horse, which was a heavy and large animal, put his foot accidentally on mine. The accident did not prevent me from riding out on the moors, but when I got there the pain became so violent that I held my foot in a cold rivulet. During the night the pain returned, and then I foolishly plunged the foot into a cold bath. The result was that the inflammation flew to the throat, and I had a quinsy which nearly carried me off. I remember asking for everything by writing on a slate, and the intense longing I had for lemonade.
My most intimate friend in those days was a young solicitor in Burnley, a man of remarkable ability and naturally polished manners. His professional duties did not leave him very much time for reading, but he had a mind far above the common Philistinism that cannot appreciate literature. I must have wearied him sadly sometimes by reading my own verses,—always a most foolish thing to do, and at this day quite remote from my notions of an author's dignity. Handsley was wisely indifferent to literary fame, and never wrote anything himself except his letters, which were those of a clear-headed man of business. He took upon himself great labors and great responsibilities, which ripened his faculties at a very early age, and he bore them with uncommon firmness and prudence. I never met with his superior in the practical sense that seizes upon opportunities, and in the energy which arrives in time. "Opportunity is kind," said George Eliot, "but only to the industrious." Handsley was always one of those to whom Opportunity is kind. If his career had been in Parliament I am convinced that he would have risen high. His merits were exactly those that are most valued in an English Cabinet Minister. At the present time he has under his management some of the largest collieries in Lancashire, and has been for many years one of the most influential men in the neighborhood.
London again.—Accurate habits in employment of time.—Studies with Mr. Pettitt.—Some account of my new master.—His method of technical teaching.—Simplicity of his philosophy of art.—Incidents of his life.—Rapid progress under Pettitt's direction.
On August 8, 1853, the writer of this book, who had promised and vowed never to visit London again, went there to see the Royal Academy Exhibition, and of course found it closed. If any one could have seen me before the closed doors, knowing that I had come all the way from Lancashire in the expectation of finding them open, he might have derived some innocent mirth from my disappointment.
The Royal Academy being no longer accessible, I turned into the National Gallery, and at once began to take notes in a pocket-book. This seems to have been my habit at that time. I took notes about everything—about painting, architecture, and even the Royal Mews. The notes are copious and wordy. Though destitute of literary merit, they certainly serve their purpose, for they recall things vividly enough, even in detail. Nothing of any importance is omitted.
Although notes of that kind are unreadable, they are very useful afterwards for reference, and my time could scarcely have been better spent. I find I gave five hundred words to the description of Turner's "Building of Carthage," and other pictures are treated with equal liberality. I carried the same laborious system of note-making even into exhibitions. In later life one learns the art of doing such work more briefly.
Having purchased a few prints for study, I returned to Lancashire and resumed my strict division of time. Four hours a day were given to practical drawing, but not invariably the entry is sometimes three or two only. When art lost an hour, literature gained it, either in study or practical writing. I was curiously accurate in my accounts of time, and knew to half-an-hour what was spent on this pursuit or that. Here is an extract in evidence of this tendency:—
"Thursday, August 13, 1853. Determined to-day to study the copper Albert Duerer 80 hours, having given 83 to the wood-cuts. I have already given the copper 101/2 hours, so that I have 691/2 to devote to it yet. I shall also give 40 hours to Kreutzer's violin studies, and have already practised them 24, which leaves 16. I shall now commence a course of poetical reading, beginning with 50 hours of Chaucer, and as I gave him 11/2 last night it leaves me exactly 481/2."
This is carrying exactness to excess, and it is not given as an example to be followed, but it had the advantage of letting me know how my time expenditure was running. In this way it became clear that if I intended to be an artist the time given to practical work was insufficient. As no painter of eminence would take a pupil I bethought me of Mr. Pettitt, who had given me lessons at Keswick. He consented to take me, but said that he had left the north of England for London. In the Lake District he had been earning a small income; in London he earned twice as much, but his expenses increased in proportion. The change, however, was a disappointment to me, as it would have been more profitable to study from nature under my master's direction, than to copy pictures in a London studio.
My new London life began at the end of December, 1853. It has always been, in my case, an effort little short of heroic to go and stay in a town at all. My dislike to towns increases in exact mathematical proportion to their size. The notion of going to London to study landscape-painting seemed against nature. The negotiations with Mr. Pettitt had been begun with the hope of a return to Derwentwater.
However, one dark and drizzly evening in December I found myself seeking the number my new master had given me, in Percy Street. He was not there, that was his studio only; the house was in the suburbs. We met on the following morning in the studio, where stood an enormous picture of Nebuchadnezzar and the Golden Image. This was conceived on the principles of John Martin, with prodigious perspectives of impossible architecture, and the price was a thousand pounds. The labor involved was endless, but the whole enterprise was vain and futile from beginning to end. Pettitt could work honestly and laboriously from nature,—indeed, he never stinted labor in anything,—but such a large undertaking as this piece of mingled archaeology and art was alike beyond his knowledge and outside the range of his imagination. He was not to blame, except for an error of judgment. The demand for his work was feeble and uncertain, so he thought it necessary to attract attention by a sensation picture. To finish the history of this work without recurring to it, I have only to add that it proved in all ways, financially and otherwise, a failure.
Mr. Pettitt was a most devoted student of nature, and his best pictures had the character of faithful studies. He would sit down in some rocky dell by the side of a stream in Wales, and paint rocks and trees month after month with indefatigable perseverance; but he had no education, either literary or artistic, and very little imaginative power. His only safety was in that work from nature, and he would have stuck to it most resolutely had there been any regularity in the encouragement he received; but his income, like that of all painters who are not celebrated, was very uncertain, and he could not quietly settle down to the tranquil studies that he loved. Anxiety had made him imprudent; it had driven him to try for notoriety. The Nebuchadnezzar picture, and other mistakes of a like magnitude, were the struggles of a disquieted mind. Pettitt had a very large family to maintain, and did nothing but paint, paint from morning till night, except for half-an-hour after his light lunch, when he read the "Times." As the great picture did not advance very rapidly, he worked by gaslight after the short London winter day, and often pursued his terrible task till the early hours of the morning, when exhausted nature could resist no longer, and be fell asleep on a little iron bed in the studio. There were days when he told me he had worked twenty hours out of the twenty-four. All this was a perfectly gratuitous expenditure of time and health that could not possibly lead to any advantage whatever.
Pettitt was a very kind and attentive teacher, and his method was this: He would begin a picture in my presence, give me two white canvases exactly the same size, and then tell me to copy his hour's work twice over. Whilst he painted I watched; whilst I painted he did not look over me, but went on with his own work. He was always ready to answer any question and to help me over any difficulty. In this way he soon initiated me into the processes of oil-painting so far as I required any initiation, for most of them were familiar to me already. Unfortunately, Pettitt had no conception of art. This needs a short explanation, as the reader may allowably ask how a man without any conception of art could be even a moderately successful artist.
The answer is that men like Mr. Pettitt regard painting simply as a representation of nature, and their pictures are really nothing but large and laborious studies. Pettitt was a most sincere lover of nature, but that was all; he knew little or nothing of those necessities and conditions that make art a different thing from nature. The tendency of his teaching was, therefore, to lead me to nature instead of leading me to art, and this was a great misfortune for me, as my instincts were only too much in the same direction already. I could get nature in the country, and that in endless abundance; what I needed at that time was some guidance into the realm of art.