It was a peculiarity of mine in early life (which I never thought about at the time, but which has become evident in the course of this autobiography) to prefer the society of elderly men. In London I had liked to be with Mackay, Robinson the engraver, and Leslie, all gray-headed men, and in Paris I soon acquired a strong liking for M. Ouvrard, M. Gindriez, and Mr. Wyld. They were kind and open, and had experience, therefore they were interesting; my uncles in Lancashire had, no doubt, been kind in their own way, that is, in welcoming me to their houses, but they were both excessively reserved. Being at that time deeply interested in France, I was delighted to find a man like M. Gindriez who could give me endless information. His chief interest in life lay in French politics; art and literature being for him subjects of secondary concern, but by no means of indifference, and the plain truth is that he had a better and clearer conception of art than I myself had in those days, or for long afterwards. There was also for me a personal magnetism in M. Gindriez, which it was not easy to account for then, but which is now quite intelligible to me. He had in the utmost strength and purity the genuine heroic nature. I came to understand this in after years, and believe that it impressed me from the first. It is unnecessary to say more about this remarkable character in this place, because the reader will hear much of him afterwards. It is enough to say that I was attracted by his powers of conversation and his evident tenderness of heart.
When we had become better acquainted, M. Gindriez invited me to spend an evening at his house after dinner, and I went. He was living at that time on a boulevard outside the first wall, which has since been demolished. His appartement was simply furnished, and not strikingly different in any way from the usual dwellings of the Parisian middle class. I had now been absent for some weeks from anything like a home, and after living in hotels it was pleasant to find myself at a domestic fireside. M. Gindriez had several children. The eldest was a girl of sixteen, extremely modest and retiring, as a well-bred jeune fille generally is in France, and there was another daughter, very pretty and engaging, but scarcely more than a child; there were also two boys, the eldest a very taciturn, studious lad, who was at that time at the well-known college of Sainte Barbe. Their mother had been a woman of remarkable beauty, and still retained enough of it to attract the eye of a painter. She had also at times a certain unconscious grace and dignity of pose that the great old Italian masters valued more than it is valued now. M. Gindriez himself had a refined face, but my interest in him was due almost entirely to the charm and ease of his conversation.
In writing an autobiography one ought to give impressions as they were received at the time, and not as they may have been modified afterwards. I am still quite able to recall the impression made upon me by the eldest daughter in the beginning of 1856. I did not think her so pretty as her sister, though she had a healthy complexion, with bright eyes and remarkably beautiful teeth, whilst her slight figure was graceful and well formed; but I well remember being pleased and interested by the little glimpses I could get of her mind and character. It was a new sort of character to me, and even in the tones of her voice there was something that indicated a rare union of strength and tenderness. The tenderness, of course, was not for me, a foreign temporary guest in those days, but I found it out by the girl's way of speaking to her father. I perceived, too, under an exterior of cheerfulness, rising at times to gayety, a nature that was really serious, as if saddened by a too early experience of trouble.
The truth was, that in consequence of her father's checkered career, this girl of sixteen had passed through a much greater variety of experience than most women have known at thirty. Her mother, too, had for some time suffered almost continuously from ill-health, so that the eldest daughter had been really the active mistress of the house. Her courage and resolution had been put to the test in various ways that I knew nothing about then, but the effects of an uncommon experience were that deepening of the young nature which made it especially interesting to me. Afterwards I discovered that Eugenie Gindriez had read more and thought more than other girls of her age. This might have been almost an evil in a quiet life, but hers had not been a quiet life.
We soon became friends in spite of the French conventional idea that a girl should not open her lips, but it did not occur to me that we were likely ever to be anything more than friends. Had the idea occurred, the obstacle of a difference in nationality would have seemed to me absolutely insuperable. I thought of marriage at that time as a possibility, but not of an international marriage. In fact, the difficulties attending upon an international marriage are so considerable, and the subsequent practical inconvenience so troublesome, that only an ardently passionate and imprudent nature could overlook them.
I, for my part, left Paris without being aware that Mademoiselle Gindriez had anything to do with my future destiny; but she, with a woman's perspicacity, knew better. She thought it at least probable, if not certain, that I should return after long years; she waited patiently, and when at last I did return there was no need to tell on what errand.
An incident occurred that might have been a partial revelation to me and a clear one to her. Before my departure from Paris, M. Ouvrard said to me that he had been told I was engaged to "une Francaise."
"What is her name?"—he mentioned another young lady. Now to this day I remember that when he spoke of a French marriage as a possibility for me I at once saw, mentally, a portrait of Eugenie Gindriez. However, as a French marriage was not a possibility, I thought no more of the matter.
Specialities in painting.—Wyld's practice.—Projected voyage on the Loire.—Birth of the Prince Imperial.—Scepticism about his inheritance of the crown.—The Imperial family.—I return home.—Value of the French language to me.
Being entirely absorbed in the study of French during my first visit to Paris, I did little in the practice of art. My Lancashire neighbor, who was studying in Paris, worked in Colin's atelier, and I have since regretted that I did not at that time get myself entered there, the more so that it was a decent and quiet place kept under the eye of the master himself, who had long been accustomed to teaching. My friend had certainly made good progress there. I was unfortunately influenced by two erroneous ideas, one of them being that the studies of a figure-painter could be of no use in landscape, [Footnote: This idea had been strongly confirmed by Mr. Pettitt.] and the other that it was wiser to be a specialist, and devote myself to landscape exclusively. It is surprising that the notion of a limited speciality in painting should have taken possession of me then, as in other matters I have never been a narrow specialist, or had any tendency to become one.
The choice of a narrow speciality may be good in the industrial arts, but it is not good in painting, for the reason that a painter may at any time desire to include something in his picture which a specialist could not deal with. To feel as if the world belonged to him a painter ought to be able to paint everything he sees. There is another sense in which speciality may be good: it may be good to keep to one of the graphic arts in order to effect that intimate union between the man and his instrument which is hardly possible on any other terms.
Wyld would have taught me landscape-painting if I had asked him, and I did at a later period study water-color with him; but his practice in oil did not suit me, for this reason: it was entirely tentative, he was constantly demolishing his work, so that it was hard to see how a pupil could possibly follow him. The advantage in working under his eye would have been in receiving a great variety of sound artistic ideas; for few painters know more about art as distinguished from nature. However, by mere conversation, Wyld has communicated to me a great deal of this knowledge; and with regard to the practical advantages of painting like him they would probably not have ensured me any better commercial success, as his style of painting has now for a long time been completely out of fashion.
My scheme in 1856 was to make a great slow boat voyage on the Loire, with the purpose of collecting a quantity of sketches and studies in illustration of that river; and my ardor in learning to speak French had for an immediate motive the desire to make that voyage without an interpreter. I have often regretted that this scheme was never carried out. I have since done something of the same kind for the Saone, but my situation is now entirely different. I am now obliged to make all my undertakings pay, which limits them terribly, and almost entirely prevents me from doing anything on a great scale. For example, these pages are written within a few miles of Loire side; the river that flows near my home is a tributary of the Loire; I have all the material outfit necessary for a great boating expedition, and still keep the strength and the will; but no publisher could prudently undertake the illustration of a river so long as the Loire and so rich in material, on the scale that I contemplated in 1856.
It is unnecessary to trouble the reader with my crude impressions of European painting in the Universal Exhibition of that year. I no more understood French art at that time than a Frenchman newly transplanted to London can understand English art. The two schools require, in fact, different mental adjustments. Our National Gallery had sufficiently prepared me for the Louvre, which I visited very frequently; and there I laid the foundations of a sort of knowledge which became of great use many years afterwards, though for a long time there was nothing to show for it.
No historical event of importance occurred during my stay in Paris, except the birth of the Prince Imperial. I was awakened by the cannon at the Invalides, and having been told that if there were more than twenty-one guns the child would be a boy, I counted till the twenty-second, and then fell asleep again. There existed, even then, the most complete scepticism as to the transmission of the crown. Neither M. Gindriez, nor any other intelligent Frenchman that I met, believed that the newly born infant had the faintest chance of ever occupying the throne of France. Before the child's birth I had seen his father and mother and all his relations at the closing ceremony of the Universal Exhibition, and thought them, with the exception of the Empress, a common-looking set of people. They walked round the oblong arena in the Palais de l'Industrie exactly as circus people do round the track at the Hippodrome. The most interesting figure was old Jerome—interesting, not for himself, as he was a nonentity, but as the brother of the most famous conqueror since Caesar.
Being called back to England on a matter of business, I cut short my stay in Paris, and arrived at Hollins without having advanced much as an artist, but with an important linguistic acquirement. The value of French to me from a professional point of view is quite incalculable. The best French criticism on the fine arts is the most discriminating and the most accurate in the world, at least when it is not turned aside from truth by the national jealousy of England and the consequent antipathy to English art. At the same time, there are qualities of delicacy and precision in French prose which it was good for me to appreciate, even imperfectly.
My first encampment in Lancashire.—Value of encamping as a part of educational discipline.—Happy days in camp.—The natural and the artificial in landscape.—Sir James Kay Shuttleworth's Exhibition project.—I decline to take an active part in it.—His energetic and laborious disposition.—Charlotte Bronte.—General Scarlett.
The Loire expedition having been abandoned for the year 1856, and the Nile voyage put off indefinitely, I remained working in the north of England, discouraged, as to literature, by the failure of the book of verse, and without much encouragement for painting either; so the summer of 1856 was not very fruitful in work of any kind.
Towards autumn, however, I took courage again, and determined to paint from nature on the moors. This led to the first attempt at encamping.
It is wonderful what an influence the things we do in early life may have on our future occupations. In 1886, exactly thirty years later, I made the Saone expedition, for which two absolutely essential qualifications were an intimate knowledge of the French language and a practical acquaintance with encamping. The Roman who said that fifteen years made a long space in human life would have appreciated the importance of thirty, yet across all that space of time what I did in 1856 told just as effectually as if it had been done the year before. Moral (for any young man who may read this book): it is impossible to say how important the deeds of twenty-one may turn out to have been when we look back upon them in complete maturity. All we know about them is that they are likely to be recognized in the future as far more important than they seemed when they were in the present.
Encamping is now quite familiar to young Englishmen in connection with boating excursions, and it has even been adopted in American pine forests for the sake of health; but in 1856 only military men and a few travellers knew anything about encampments. I was led into this art, or amusement (for it is both), by a very natural transition. Here are the three stages of it.
1. You want to paint from nature in uncertain weather, and you build a hut for shelter.
2. The hut is at some distance from a house, and you do not like to leave it, so you sleep in it.
3. The accommodation is found to be narrow, and it is unpleasant to have one little room for everything, so you add a tent or two outside and keep a man. Hence a complete little encampment.
Everybody considered me extremely eccentric in 1856 because I was led into encamping; but it was an excellent thing for me in various ways. A young man given up to such pursuits as literature and art needs a closer contact with common realities than aesthetic studies can give. The physical work attendant upon encamping, and the constant attention that must be given to such pressing necessities as shelter and food, give exactly that contact with reality that educates us in readiness of resource, and they have the incalculable advantage of making one learn the difference between the necessary and the superfluous. I look back upon early camping experiments with satisfaction as an experience of the greatest educational value. Even now, in my sixth decade, I can sleep under canvas and arrange all the details of a camp with indescribable enjoyment, and (what is perhaps better still) I can put up cheerfully with the very humblest accommodation in country inns, provided only that they are tolerably clean.
The arrangements of my hut on the moor near Burnley have been described in detail in "The Painter's Camp," so it is unnecessary to give a minute account of them in this place. I was entirely alone, except the company of a dog, and had no defence but a revolver. That month of solitude on the wild hills was a singularly happy time, so happy that it is not easy, without some reflection, to account for such a degree of felicity. I was young, and the brisk mountain air exhilarated me. I walked out every day on the heather, which I loved as if my father and mother had been a brace of grouse. Then there was the steady occupation of painting a big foreground study from nature, and the necessary camp work that would have kept morbid ideas at a distance if any such had been likely to trouble me. As for the solitude, and the silence broken only by wind and rain, their effect was not depressing in the least. Towns are depressing to me—even Paris has that effect—but how is it possible to feel otherwise than cheerful when you have leagues of fragrant heather all around you, and blue Yorkshire hills on the high and far horizon?
A noteworthy effect of this month on the moors was that on returning to Hollins, which was situated amongst trim green pastures and plantations, everything seemed so astonishingly artificial. It came with the force of a discovery. From that day to this the natural and the artificial in landscape have been, for me, as clearly distinguished as a wild boar from a domestic pig. My strong preference was, and still is, for wild nature. The unfortunate effects of this preference, as regards success in landscape-painting, will claim our attention later.
The grand scheme for an Exhibition of Art Treasures at Manchester, in 1857, suggested to Sir James Kay Shuttleworth the idea of having an Exhibition at Burnley in the same year to illustrate the history of Lancashire. He thought that a certain proportion of the visitors to the Manchester Art Treasures would probably be induced to visit our little-known but prosperous and rising town. His scheme was of a very comprehensive character, and included a pictorial illustration of Lancashire. There would have been pictures of Lancashire scenery as well as portraits of men who have distinguished themselves in the history of the county, and whose fame has, in many instances, gone far beyond its borders. All the mechanical inventions that have enriched Lancashire would also have been represented.
Having thought this over in his own mind, Sir James wanted an active lieutenant to aid him in carrying his idea into execution, and as he knew me he asked me to be the practical manager of the Exhibition. I was to travel all over the county, see all the people of importance, and borrow, whenever possible, such of their pictures and other relics as might be considered illustrative of Lancashire history. Sir James had many influential friends, I myself had a few, and it seemed to him that by devoting my time to the scheme heartily I might make it a success. My reward was to be simply a very interesting experience, as I should see almost all the interesting things and people in my native county.
Sir James did his best to entice me, and as he was a very able man with much knowledge of the world, he might possibly have succeeded had I not been more than usually wary. Luckily, I felt the whole weight of my inexperience, and said to myself: "Whatever we do it is certain that mistakes will be committed, and very probable that some things will be damaged. All mistakes will be laid to my door. Then the Exhibition itself may be a failure, and it is disagreeable to be conspicuously connected with a failure." I next consulted one or two experienced friends, who said, "Sir James will have the credit of any success there may be, and you, as a young useful person, comparatively unknown, will get very little, whilst at the same time you will be burdened with heavy anxieties and responsibilities." I therefore firmly declined, and as Sir James could not find any other suitable assistant, his project was never reaped.
It seems odd that the existence of this Lancashire Exhibition should have depended on the "yes" or "no" of a lad of twenty-three; yet so it did, for if I had consented the scheme would certainly have been carried into execution, whether successfully or not it is impossible to say. The enterprise would have greatly interested and occupied me, for I have a natural turn for organizing things, being fond of order and details, and I should have learned a great deal and seen many people and many houses; still, the negative decision was the wiser.
Sir James Kay Shuttleworth was certainly one of the remarkable people I have known. At that time he was unpopular in Burnley on account of his separation from his wife, who had been the richest heiress in the neighborhood, the owner of a fine estate and a grand old hall at Gawthorpe. People thought she had been ill-used. Of this I really know (of my own knowledge) absolutely nothing, and shall print no hearsays.
Sir James himself was an ambitious and very hard-working man, who passed through life with no desire for repose. Public education, in the days before Board Schools, was his especial subject, and he owed his baronetcy to his efforts in that cause. The Tory aristocracy of the neighborhood disliked him for his liberal principles in politics, and for his brilliant marriage, which came about because the heiress of Gawthorpe took an interest in his own subjects. Perhaps, too, they were not quite pleased with his too active and restless intellect. He made one or two attempts to win a position as a novelist, but in connection with literature future generations will know him chiefly as the kind host of Charlotte Bronte, who visited him at Gawthorpe.
I regret now that I never met Charlotte Bronte, as she was quite a near neighbor of ours; in fact, I could have ridden or walked over to Haworth at any time. That village is just on the northeast border of the great Boulsworth moors, where my hut was pitched. At the time of my encampment there Charlotte Bronte had been dead about eighteen months. She was hardly a contemporary of mine, as she was born seventeen years before me, and died so prematurely; still, when I think that "Jane Eyre" was written within a very few miles of Hollins, [Footnote: I have not access to an ordnance map, but believe that the distance was hardly more than eight miles across the moors. Haworth is only twelve miles from Burnley by road.] and that for several years, during which I rode or walked every day, Charlotte Bronte was living just on the other side of the moors visible from my home, I am vexed with myself for not having had assurance enough to go to see her. Since those days a hundred ephemeral reputations have risen only to be quenched forever in the great ocean of the world's oblivion, but the fame of "Jane Eyre" is as brilliant as it was when the book astonished all reading England forty years ago. [Footnote: I am writing in 1888.]
Amongst the distinguished people belonging to the neighborhood of Burnley was General Scarlett, who led the charge of the Heavy Cavalry at Balaclava,—brilliant feat of arms much more satisfactory to military men than the fruitless sacrifice of the Light Brigade, which, however, is incomparably better known. I recollect General Scarlett chiefly because he set me thinking about a very important question in political economy. I happened to be sitting next him at dinner when the talk turned upon wine, and the General said, "The Radicals find fault with the economy of the Queen's household because they say that the wine drunk there costs sixteen thousand a year. I don't know what it costs, but that is of no consequence." I then timidly inquired if he did not think it was a waste of money, on which, in a kind way, he explained to me that "if the money were paid and put into circulation it did not signify what it had been spent upon." I knew there was something fallacious in this, but my own ideas were not clear upon the subject, and it did not become me to set up an argument with a distinguished old officer like the General. Of course the right answer is that there is always a responsibility for spending money so as to be of use not only to the tradesman who pockets it, but to the consumers also. If the wine gave health and wisdom it would hardly be possible to spend too much upon it.
I visit the homes of my forefathers at Hamerton, Wigglesworth, and Hellifield Peel.—Attainder and execution of Sir Stephen Hamerton.— Return of Hellifield Peel to the family.—Sir Richard.—The Hamertons distinguished only for marrying heiresses.—Another visit to the Peel, when I see my father's cousin.—Nearness of Hellifield Peel and Hollins.
In one of these years (the exact date is of no consequence) I visited the old houses in Yorkshire which had belonged to our family in former times. The place we take our name from, Hamerton, belonged to Richard de Hamerton in 1170. I found the old hall still in existence, or a part of it, and though the present building evidently does not date from the twelfth century, it dates from the occupation of my forefathers. At the time of my visit there was some very massive oak wainscot still remaining.
The situation is, to my taste, one of the pleasantest in England. The house is On a hill, from which it looks down on the valley of Slaidburn. Steep green pastures slope to the flat meadows in the lower ground, which are watered by a stream. There are many places of that character in Yorkshire, and they have never lost their old charm for me. I cannot do without a hill, and a stream, and a green field. [Footnote: Since this was written I have been compelled to do without them by the necessity for living close to an art-centre, a necessity against which I rebelled as long as I could. Even to-day, however, I would joyously give all Paris for such a place as Hollins or Hamerton (as I knew them), with their streams and pastures, and near or distant hills.]
My forefathers lived at Hamerton, more or less, from a time of which there is no record down to the reign of Henry VIII., but their principal seat in the time of their greatest prosperity was Wigglesworth Hall. I arrived there in time to see masons demolishing the building. One or two Gothic arched door-ways still remained, but were probably destroyed the next week. Just enough, of the house was preserved to shelter the occupant of the farm.
For me this unnecessary destruction is always distressing, even in foreign countries. It is excusable in towns, where land is dear; but in the country the site of an old hall is of such trifling value that it might surely be permitted to fall peaceably to ruin.
The family of De Arches, to which Wigglesworth originally belonged, bore for arms gules, three arches argent. The coincidence struck me forcibly when I saw the Gothic arches still standing amongst the ruins.
The place came into the possession of our family by the marriage of Adam de Hamerton, in the fourteenth century, with Katharine, heiress of Elias de Knoll of Knolsmere. His father, Reginald de Knoll, had married Beatrix de Arches, heiress of the manor of Wigglesworth. These estates, with others too numerous to mention, remained in our family till they were lost by the attainder of Sir Stephen Hamerton, who joined the insurrection known as "The Pilgrimage of Grace" in the reign of Henry VIII.
During these excursions to old houses I visited Hellifield Peel, still belonging to the chief of our little clan. The Peel is an old border tower, embattled, and with walls of great thickness. It is large enough to make a tolerably spacious, but not very convenient, modern house, and my great uncle spoiled its external appearance by inserting London sash windows in the gray old fortress wall. On this occasion I did not see the interior, not desiring to claim a relationship that had fallen into abeyance for half-a-century; yet I felt the most intense curiosity about it, and for more than twenty years afterwards I dreamed from time to time I got inside the Peel, and saw quite a museum of knightly armor [Footnote: The first Sir Stephen Hamerton was made a knight banneret in Scotland by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in the reign of Edward IV. He married Isabel, daughter of Sir William Plumpton, of Plumpton, and a letter of his is still extant in the Plumpton correspondence.] and other memorials which, I regret to say, have not been preserved in reality.
Hellifield Peel was built by Laurence Hamerton in 1440. When the second Sir Stephen was executed for high treason and his possessions confiscated, the manor of Hellifield was preserved by a settlement for his mother during her life. After that it was granted by the king to one George Browne, of whom we know nothing positively except that he lived at Calais, and after changing hands several times it came back into the Hamerton family by a fine levied in the time of Queen Elizabeth. The owners then passed the manor to John Hamerton, a nephew of Sir Stephen. The attainted knight left an only son, Henry, who is said to have been interred in York Minster on the day when his father was beheaded in London. Whitaker thought it "not improbable that he died of a broken heart in consequence of the ruin of his family." Henry left no male issue.
The career of Sir Stephen seems to have been doomed to misfortune, for there were influences that might have saved him. He had been in the train of the Earl of Cumberland, the same who afterwards held Skipton Castle against the rebels. Whitaker says "he forsook his patron in the hour of trial." This seems rather a harsh way of judging a Catholic, who believed himself to be fighting for God and His spoliated Church against a tyrannical king. I notice that in our own day the French Republican Government cannot take the smallest measure against the religious houses, cannot even require them to obey the ordinary law of the country, but there is immediately an outcry in all the English newspapers; yet the measures of the Third Republic have been to those of Henry VIII. what that same Third Republic is to the First. All that can be fairly urged against Sir Stephen Hamerton is that "after having availed himself of the King's pardon, he revolted a second time."
There is nothing else, that I remember, in the history of our family that is likely to have any interest for readers who do not belong to it. Sir Richard Hamerton, of Hamerton, married in 1461 a sister of the bloody Lord Clifford who was slain at Towton Field, and that is the nearest connection that we have ever had with any well-known historical character.
Through marriages we are descended, in female lines, from many historical personages, [Footnote: Some in the extinct Peerage, and others belonging to royal families of England and France which have since lost their thrones by revolution.]—a matter of no interest to the reader, though I acknowledge enough of the ancestral sentiment to have my own interest in them quickened by my descent from them.
Another consequence of belonging to a well-connected old family was that I sometimes, in my youth, met with people who were related to me, and who were aware of it, although the relationship was very distant. I recollect, for instance, that one of the officers in our militia regiment remembered his descent from our family, and though I had never seen him before it was a sort of lien between us.
The Hamertons do not seem to have distinguished themselves in anything except marrying heiresses, and in that they were remarkably successful. At first a moderately wealthy family, they became immensely wealthy by the accumulation of heiresses' estates, and after being ruined by confiscation they began the same process over again; but being at the same time either imprudent or careless, or too much burdened with children (my great-grandfather had a dozen brothers and sisters), they have not kept their lands. One of my uncles said to me that the Hamertons won property in no other way than by marriage, and that they were almost incapable of retaining it; he himself had the one talent of his race, but was an exception to their incapacity. In justice to our family I may add that we are said to make indulgent husbands and fathers,—two characters incompatible with avarice, and sometimes even with prudence when the circumstances are not easy.
On a later occasion I made a little tour in Craven with a friend who had a tandem, and we stopped at Hellifield, where I sketched the Peel. Whilst I sat at work the then representative of the family, my father's first cousin, came out upon the lawn; but I did not speak to him, nor did he take any notice of me. He was a fine, hale man of about eighty.
The nearness of Hellifield to Hollins was brought home to me very strongly on that occasion. It was late afternoon when I finished my sketch, and yet, as we had very good horses, we reached home easily the same evening. So near and yet so far! As I have said already in the third chapter, my grandfather's wife and children never even saw his brother's house, and during my own youth the place had seemed as distant and unreal as one of the old towers that I had read about in northern poetry and romance.
Expedition to the Highlands in 1857.—Kindness of the Marquis of Breadalbane and others.—Camp life, its strong and peculiar attraction.—My servant.—Young Helliwell.—Scant supplies in the camp.—Nature of the camp.—Necessity for wooden floors in a bad climate.—Double-hulled boats.—Practice of landscape-painting.—Changes of effect.—Influences that governed my way of study in those days.—Attractive character of the Scottish Highlands.—Their scenery not well adapted for beginners.—My intense love of it.
In the year 1857 I made the expedition to the Highlands which afterwards became well known in consequence of my book about it.
The Marquis of Breadalbane (the first Marquis) granted me in the kindest way permission to pitch my camp wherever I liked on his extensive estate, and at the same time gave me an invitation to Taymouth Castle. The Duke of Argyll gave me leave to encamp on an island in Loch Awe that belonged to him, and Mr. Campbell of Monzie granted leave to encamp on his property on the Cladich side of the lake. I ought to have gone to Taymouth to thank Lord Breadalbane and accept the hospitality he had offered, but it happened that he had not fixed a date, so I avoided Taymouth. This was wrong, but young men are generally either forward or backward. The Marquis afterwards expressed himself, to a third person, as rather hurt that I had not been to see him.
My advice to any young man who reads this book is always to show that he appreciates kindness when it is offered. There is not very much of it in the world, but there is some, and it is not enough merely to feel grateful; we ought to accept kindness with visible satisfaction. One of my regrets now is to have sometimes failed in this, usually out of mere shyness, particularly where great people were concerned. Here is another instance. When going to Inverary on the steamer, I made the acquaintance of a very pleasant Scotchman, who turned out to be the Laird of Lamont, on Loch Fyne side. He took an interest in my artistic projects, and very kindly invited me to go and see him. Nothing would have been easier,—I was as free as a fish, and might have sailed down Loch Fyne any day on my own boat,—yet I never went.
The book called "A Painter's Camp" gave a sufficient account of my first summer in the Highlands, which was not distinguished by much variety, as I remained almost exclusively at Loch Awe; but the novelty of camp life by choice seems to have interested many readers, though they must have been already perfectly familiar with camp life by necessity in the practice of armies and the experience of African travellers. The true explanation of my proceedings is the intense and peculiar charm that there is about encamping in a wild and picturesque country. I had tasted this on the Lancashire moors, and I wanted to taste it again. Just now, whilst writing, I have on my table a letter from an English official in Africa, who tells me of his camp life. He says: "The wagon was generally my sleeping quarter. I had two tents and a riding horse, and very seldom slept in a house or put the horse in a stable. Such a life was ever, and is now, to me the acme of bliss. No man can be said to have really lived who has not camped out in some such way, and I know well that you especially will say Amen! to this sentiment. Since 1848, I have lived altogether for about six years in the open, and have never caught a cold. Only, through imprudent uncovering of the head, once in 1855, whilst drawing the topography of a mountain, I was struck down by sunstroke."
The reasons for this intense attraction in camp life are probably complex. One certainly is that it brings us nearer to nature, but a still deeper reason may be that it revives obscure associations that belong to the memory of the race, and not to that of the individual. Camping is in the same category with yachting, fishing, and the chase,—a thing practised by civilized man for his amusement, because it permits him to resume the habits of less civilized generations. The delight of encamping, for a young man in vigorous health, is the enforced activity in the open air that is inseparably connected with it.
I had only one servant, a young man from the moorland country on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire, perfectly well adapted to life in the Highlands. He had excellent health, and was physically a good specimen of our north-English race. It was a pleasure to see his tall straight figure going over the roughest ground with no appearance of hurry, but in fact with such unostentatious swiftness that few sportsmen could follow him. I was myself active enough then, and accustomed to wild places, but he always restrained himself when we did any mountain work together. He afterwards became well known as the "Thursday" of the "Painter's Camp," but I may give his real name here, which was Young Helliwell. Temperate, hardy, and extremely prudent, not to be caught by any allurements of vulgar pleasure, he lived wisely in youth, and will probably have fewer regrets than most people in his old age.
Young had studied the art of simple cookery at Hollins, so he was able to keep me tolerably well when we happened to have anything to eat, which was not always. There were no provision shops on Lochaweside; Inverary was at some distance in one direction and Oban in the other, and as I had never given a thought to feeding before, I was an utterly incompetent provider. The consequence was that we fasted like monks, except that our abstinence was not on any regular principle; in fact, sometimes we had so little to eat for days together that we began to feel quite weak. This gave us no anxiety, and we only laughed at it, undereating being always more conducive to good spirits than its opposite, provided that it is not carried too far.
The camp consisted of three structures,—my hut, which was made of wooden panels with plate-glass windows; a tent for Young, with a wooden floor, and wooden sides to the height of three feet; lastly, a military bell-tent that served for storing things. My hut was both painting-room and habitation, but it would have been better to have had a separate painting-room on rather a larger scale. Mr. Herkomer afterwards imitated the hut for painting from nature in Wales, and he introduced a clever improvement by erecting his hut on a circular platform with a ring-rail, so that it could be turned at will to any point of the compass. Young's tent was, in fact, also a kind of hut with a square tent for a roof.
In a climate like that of the West Highlands, wooden floors at least are almost indispensable; but a camp so arranged ceases to be a travelling camp unless you have men and horses in your daily service like a Shah of Persia. It may be moved two or three times in a summer.
I have always had a fancy for double-hulled boats (now generally called catamarans), and had two of them on Loch Awe. This eccentricity was perhaps fortunate, as my boats were extremely safe, each hull being decked from stem to stern and divided internally into water-tight compartments. They could therefore ship a sea with perfect impunity, and although often exposed to sudden and violent squalls, we were never in any real danger. One of my catamarans would beat to windward tolerably well, but she did not tack quickly, and occasionally missed stays. However, these defects were of slight importance in a boat not intended for racing, and small enough to be always quite manageable with oars. Since those days I have much improved the construction of catamarans, so that their evolutions are now quicker and more certain. They are absolutely the only sailing-boats that combine lightness with safety and speed.
As to the practice of landscape-painting, I very soon found that the West Highlands were not favorable to painting from nature on account of the rapid changes of effect. Those changes are so revolutionary that they often metamorphose all the oppositions in a natural picture in the course of a single minute. I began by planting my hut on the island called Inishail, in the middle of Loch Awe, with the intention of painting Ben Cruachan from nature, but soon discovered that there were fifty Cruachans a day, each effacing its predecessor, so my picture got on badly. If I painted what was before me, the result was like playing successfully a bar or two from each of several different musical compositions in the vain hope of harmonizing them into one. If I tried to paint my first impression, it became increasingly difficult to do that when the mountain itself presented novel and striking aspects.
Every artist who reads this will now consider the above remarks no better than a commonplace, but in the year 1857 English landscape-painting was going through a peculiar phase. There was, in some of the younger artists, a feeling of dissatisfaction with the slight and superficial work too often produced from hasty water-color sketches, and there was an honest desire for more substantial truth coupled with the hope of attaining it by working directly from nature. My critical master, Mr. Ruskin, saw in working from nature the only hope for the regeneration of art, and my practical master, Mr. Pettitt, considered it the height of artistic virtue to sit down before nature and work on the details of a large picture for eight or ten weeks together. I was eagerly anxious to do what was considered most right, and quite willing to undergo any degree of inconvenience. The truth is, perhaps, that (like other devotees) I rather enjoyed the sacrifice of convenience for what seemed to me, at that time, the sacred cause of veracity in art.
The Highlands of Scotland were intensely attractive to me, as being a kind of sublimation of the wild northern landscape that I had already loved in my native Lancashire; but the Highlands were not well chosen as a field for self-improvement in the art of painting. A student ought not to choose the most changeful of landscapes, but the least changeful; not the Highlands or the English Lake District, but the dullest landscape he can find in the south or the east of England. Norfolk would have been a better country for me, as a student, than Argyllshire. If, however, any prudent adviser had told me to go to dull scenery in those days, it would have been like telling a passionate lover of great capitals to go and live in a narrow little provincial town. I hated dull, unromantic scenery, and at the same time had the passion for mountains, lakes, wild moorland, and everything that was rough and uncultivated,—a passion so predominant that it resembled rather the natural instinct of an animal for its own habitat than the choice of a reasonable being. I loved everything in the Highlands, even the bad weather; I delighted in clouds and storms, and have never experienced any natural influences more in harmony with the inmost feelings of my own nature than those of a great lake's dark waters when they dashed in spray on the rocks of some lonely islet and my boat flew past in the gray and dreary gloaming.
"Le paysage," says a French critic, "est un etat d'ame." He meant that what we seek in nature is that which answers to the state of our own souls. What is called dreary, wild, and melancholy scenery afforded me, at that time, a kind of satisfaction more profound than that which is given by any of the human arts. I loved painting, but all the collections in Europe attracted me less than the barren northern end of our own island, in which there are no pictures; I loved architecture, and chose a country that is utterly destitute of it; I delighted in music, and pitched my tent where there was no music but that of the winds and the waves.
The Loch Awe of those days was not the Loch Awe of the present. There was no railway; there was not a steamer on the lake, either public or private; there was no hotel by the waterside, only one or two small inns, imperceptible in the vastness of the almost uninhabited landscape. The lake was therefore almost a solitude, and this, added to the wildness of the climate and the peculiarly simple and temporary character of my habitation, made nature much more profoundly impressive than it ever is amidst the powerful rivalry of the works of man. The effect on my mind was, on the whole, saddening, but not in the least depressing. It was a kind of poetic sadness that had nothing to do with low spirits. I have never been either merry or melancholy, but have kept an equable cheerfulness that maintains itself serenely enough even in solitude and amidst the desolate aspects of stony and barren lands. As life advances, it is wise, however, to seek the more cheering influences of the external world, and those are rather to be found in the brightest and sunniest landscape, with abundant evidence of happy human habitation; some southern land of the vine where the chestnut grows high on the hills, and the peach and the pear ripen richly in innumerable gardens.
Small immediate results of the expedition to the Highlands.—Unsuitable system of work.—Loss of time.—I rent the house and island of Innistrynich.—My dread of marriage and the reasons for it.—Notwithstanding this I make an offer and am refused.—Two young ladies of my acquaintance.—Idea of a foreign marriage.—Its inconveniences.—Decision to ask for the hand of Mdlle. Gindriez.—I go to Paris and am accepted.—Elective affinities.
The immediate artistic results of the expedition to the Highlands were very small. I had gone there to paint detailed work from nature, when I ought to have gone to sketch, and so adapt my work to the peculiar character of the climate.
The tendency then was to detail, and the merit and value of good sketching were not properly understood. There has been a complete revolution, both in public and in artistic opinion, since those days. The revival of etching, which in its liveliest and most spontaneous form is only sketching on copper, the study of sketches by the great masters, the publication of sketches by modern artists of eminence in the artistic magazines, have all led to a far better appreciation of vitality in art, and consequently have tended to raise good sketching both in popular and in professional estimation. At the Paris Exhibition of 1889 the Grand Prizes for engraving were given to an English sketching etcher, Haden, and to two French etchers, Boilvin and Chauvel. In 1857, I and many others looked upon sketching as defective work, excusable only on the plea of want of time to do better. The omissions in a sketch, which when intelligent are merits, seemed to me, on the contrary, so many faults. In a word, I knew nothing about sketching. My way was to draw very carefully and accurately, and then fill in the color and detail in the most painstaking fashion from nature. I went by line and detail, nobody having ever taught me anything about mass and tonic values, still less about the difference between art and nature, and the necessity for transposing nature into the keys of art. The consequence was a great waste of time, and of only too earnest efforts with hardly anything to show for them.
Here I leave this subject of art for the present, as it will be necessary to recur to it later.
My guardian, like all women, had an objection to what was not customary, and as my camp was considered a piece of eccentricity, she wanted me to take a house on Lochaweside. The island called Innistrynich, which is near the shore, where the road from Inverary to Dalmally comes nearest to the lake, had a house upon it that happened to be untenanted. There were twelve small rooms, and the camping experience had made me very easy to please. It was possible to have the whole island (about thirty acres) as a home farm, so I took it on a lease. This turned out a misfortune afterwards, as I got tied to the place, not only by the lease, but by a binding affection which was extremely inconvenient, and led to very unfortunate consequences.
My dear guardian had another idea. Though she had prudently avoided marriage on her own account, she thought it very desirable for me, and sometimes recurred to the subject. Her heart complaint made her own life extremely precarious, and she wished me to have the stay and anchorage of a second affection that might make the world less dreary for me after she had left it. At the same time it may be suspected that she looked to marriage as the best chance of converting me to her own religious opinions, or at least of obtaining outward conformity. To confess the plain truth, I had a great dread of marriage, and not at all from any aversion to feminine society, or from any insensibility to love.
My two reasons were these, and all subsequent observation and experience have confirmed them. For a person given up to intellectual and artistic pursuits there is a special value in mental and pecuniary independence. So far as I could observe married men in England, they enjoyed very little mental independence, being obliged, on the most important questions, to succumb to the opinions of their wives, because what is called "the opinion of Society" is essentially feminine opinion. In our class the ladies were all strong Churchwomen and Tories, and the men I most admired for the combination of splendid talents with high principle, were to them (so far as they knew anything about such men) objects of reprobation and abhorrence. No mother was ever loved by a son more devotedly than my guardian was by me, and yet her intolerance would have been hard to bear in a wife. Kind as she always was in manner, the theological injustice which had been instilled into her mind from infancy made her look upon me as bad company for my friends, as a heretic likely to contaminate their orthodoxy. I could bear that, or anything, from her, but I determined that if I married at all it should not be to live under perpetual theological disapprobation.
The other grave objection to marriage was the dread of losing pecuniary independence. I cared nothing for luxury and display, having an unaffected preference for plain living, and being easily bored by the elaborate observances of fine society, so that comparative poverty had no terrors for me on that account; but there was another side to the matter. A student clings to his studies, and dreads the interference that may take him away from them. An independent bachelor can afford to follow unremunerative study; a married man, unless he is rich, must lay out his time to the best pecuniary advantage. His hours are at the disposal of the highest bidder.
There was a young lady in Burnley for whom I had had a boyish attachment long before, and whom I saw very frequently at her father's house in the years preceding 1858. He was a banker in very good circumstances, and a kind friend of mine, as intimate, perhaps, as was possible considering the difference of years. He had been a Wrangler at Cambridge, and now employed his forcible and fully matured intellect freely on all subjects that came in his way, without deference to the popular opinions of the hour. These qualities, rare enough in the upper middle class of those days, made him very interesting to me, and I liked my place in an easy-chair opposite to his, when he was in the humor for talking. He had three handsome daughters, and his eldest son had been my school-fellow, and was still, occasionally at least, one of my companions. Their mother was a remarkably handsome and amiable lady, so that the house was as pleasant as any house could be. We had music and played quintets, and the eldest daughter sometimes played a duet with me. She was a good amateur musician, well educated in other ways, and with a great charm of voice and manner. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the old boyish attachment revived on my side, though there was nothing answering to it on hers.
My good friend, her father, sometimes talked to me about marriage, and expressed the regret that in a state of civilization like ours, and in our class, a family of children should be a cause of weakness instead of strength. In a primitive agricultural community, sons are of great value, they are an increase of the family force; in a highly-civilized condition, they only weaken the father by draining away his income. "Daughters," said my friend, "are of use in primitive societies and in the English middle class, because they do the work of the house, and spare servants; but our young ladies do nothing of the least use, and require to be first expensively educated, and afterwards expensively amused." My friend then went into details about the cost of his own family, which was heavy without extravagance or ostentation. All this was intended to warn me, but I asked if he had any objection to me personally as a son-in-law. He answered, with all the kindness I expected, that there was no objection to make (he was too intelligent to see anything criminal in my philosophical opinions), and that in what he had said about the costliness of marriage he had spoken merely as a friend, thinking of the weight of the burden I might be taking upon myself, and the inconvenience to my own life in the future.
One afternoon his daughter and I were alone together, playing a duet, when I asked her if she would have me, and she laughingly declined. I remember being so little hurt by the refusal that I said: "That is not the proper way to refuse an, offer; you ought to express a little regret—you might say, at least, that you are sorry." Then the young lady laughed again, and said: "Very well, I will say that I am sorry, if you wish it." And so we parted, without any further expression of sentiment on either side.
I never could understand why men make themselves wretched after a refusal. It only proves that the young lady does not care very much for one, and it is infinitely better that she should let him know that before marriage than after. It was soon quite clear to me that, in this case, the young lady's decision had been the wise one. We were not really suited for each other, and we should never have been happy, both of us, in the same kind of existence. Perhaps she was rather difficult to please, or indifferent to marriage, for she never accepted anybody, and is living still (1889) in happy independence as an old maid, within a short distance of Hellifield Peel. I had a little indirect evidence, thirty years afterwards, that she had not forgotten me. Most likely she will survive me and read this. If she does, let the page convey a complete acknowledgment of her good sense.
This was the only offer of marriage I ever made in England. There was a certain very wealthy heiress whose uncle was extremely kind to me, and he pushed his kindness so far as to wish me to marry her. She was well-bred, her manners were quite equal to her fortune, and she had a good appearance, but the idea of marriage did not occur to either of us. Some time afterwards, her uncle said to a friend of mine: "I cannot understand Hamerton; I wanted him to marry my niece, and he has gone and married a French woman." "Oh!" said the other, "that was only to improve his French!"
There was another case that I would have passed in silence, had not people in Lancashire persistently circulated a story of an offer and a refusal. A young lady, also a rich heiress, though not quite so rich as the other, had a property a few miles distant from mine. She was a very attractive girl, very pretty, and extremely intelligent, and we were very good friends. To say, in this case, that the idea of marriage never occurred would he untrue; but when I first knew her she was hardly more than a child, and afterwards it became apparent to me that to live happily in her house I should have to stifle all my opinions on important subjects, so I never made the offer that our friends and perhaps she herself expected. Whether she would have accepted me or not is quite another question. Had I made any proposal I should have accompanied it by a very plain statement of my obnoxious opinions on religion and politics, and these would almost certainly have produced a rupture. After my marriage, and before hers, we met again in the old friendly way. I was paying a call with my wife, in a country house in Lancashire, when a carriage came up the drive—her carriage—and the lady of the house, extremely fluttered, asked me if I had no objection to meet Miss ——. "On the contrary," I said, "I like to meet old friends." The young lady visibly enjoyed the humor of the situation, and the embarrassment of our hostess. We talked easily in the old way, and afterwards my wife and I left on foot, and her carriage passed us, rather stately, with servants in livery. "There goes your most dangerous rival," I said to my wife, and told her what story there was to tell. "She is much prettier than I am," was the modest answer, "and evidently a good deal richer; and she is a charming person." In due time Miss —— married very suitably. Her husband is a good Churchman and Conservative, who takes a proper interest in the pursuits belonging to his station.
My guardian was of opinion that with my philosophical convictions, which were at that time not only unpopular, but odious and execrated in our own class in England, I should have to remain an old bachelor. She herself would certainly never have married an unbeliever, and although her great personal affection for me made her glad to have me in the house, she must have felt that it was like sheltering a pariah. Her sister once heard some rumor or suggestion, connecting my name with that of a pious young lady, and looked upon it as a sort of sacrilege. Under these circumstances I came at last to the conclusion that, being under a ban, I would at least enjoy my liberty, either by living my own life as a bachelor, or else by marrying purely and simply according to inclination, without any reference to the opinion of other people.
It was at this time that the idea of a foreign marriage first occurred to me as a possibility. I had never thought of it before, and if such an idea had entered my head, the clear foresight of the enormous inconveniences would have immediately expelled it. A foreign marriage is, in fact, quite an accumulation of inconveniences. One of the two parties must always be living in a foreign country, and in all their intercourse together one of the two must always be speaking a foreign language. The families of the two parties will never know each other or understand each other properly; there will be either estrangement or misunderstanding. And unless there is great largeness of mind in the parties themselves, the difference of national customs is sure to produce quarrels.
All this was plain enough, and yet one morning, when I was writing on my desk (a tall oak desk that I used to stand up to), the idea suddenly came, as if somebody had uttered these words in my ear: "Why should you remain lonely all your days? Eugenie Gindriez would be an affectionate and faithful wife to you. She is not rich, but you would work and fight your way."
I pushed aside the sheet of manuscript and took a sheet of note-paper instead. I then wrote, in French, a letter to a lady in Paris who knew the Gindriez family, and asked her if Mademoiselle Eugenie was engaged to be married. The answer came that she was well, and that there had been no engagement. Soon afterwards I was in Paris.
I called on M. Gindriez, but his daughter was not at home. I asked permission to call in the evening, and she was out again. This was repeated two or three times, and my wife told me afterwards that the absences had not been accidental. At last we met, and there was nothing in her manner but a certain gravity, as if serious resolutions were impending. Her sister showed no such reserve, but greeted me gayly and frankly. After a few days, I was accepted on the condition of an annual visit to France.
From a worldly point of view, this engagement was what is called in French une folie, on my part, and hardly less so on the part of the young lady. We had, however, a kind of inward assurance that in spite of the difference of nationality and other differences, we were, in truth, nearer to each other than most people who contract matrimonial engagements. The "elective affinities" act in spite of all appearances and of many realities.
We have often talked over that time since, and have confessed that we really knew hardly anything of each other, that our union was but an instinctive choice. However, in 1858 I had neither doubt nor anxiety, and in 1889 I have neither anxiety nor doubt.
Reception at home after engagement.—Preparations at Innistrynich.—I arrive alone in Paris.—My marriage.—The religious ceremony.—An uncomfortable wedding.—The sea from Dieppe.—London.—The Academy Exhibition of 1858.—Impressions of a French woman.—The Turner collection.—The town.—Loch Awe.—The element wanting to happiness.
On returning home after my engagement I was greeted very affectionately at the front door by my dear guardian, who expressed many wishes for my future happiness; but her sister sat motionless and rigid in an arm-chair in the dining-room, and did not seem disposed to take any notice of me. From that time until long after my marriage she treated me with the most distant coldness, varied occasionally by a bitter innuendo.
I said nothing and bore all patiently, looking forward to a speedy deliverance. There was much in the circumstances to excuse my aunt, who was intensely aristocratic and intensely national. She was the proudest person I ever knew, and would have considered any marriage a misalliance for me if my wife's family had not had as long a pedigree as ours, and as many quarterings as the fifteen that adorned our shield. Being a stanch Protestant, she was not disposed to look favorably on a Roman Catholic, unless she belonged to one of the old English Catholic families. Her ideas of the French nation were those prevalent in England during the wars against Napoleon. She had probably counted upon me to do something to lift up a falling house, and instead of that I was going to marry she knew not whom. It is impossible to argue against national and class prejudices; the fact was simply that my wife's family belonged to the educated French middle class. Her uncle was a well-to-do attorney in Dijon, [Footnote: Very nearly in the same social position as my own father. His daughter afterwards married the grandson and representative of the celebrated Count Francais de Nantes, who filled various high offices in the State, and was grand officer of the Legion of Honor and Peer of France. A fine portrait of him by David is amongst their family pictures.] and her father had gone through a perfectly honorable political career, both as deputy and prefect. My wife herself had been better educated than most girls at that time, and both spoke and wrote her own language not only correctly, but with more than ordinary elegance,—a taste she inherited from her father. As to her person, she dressed simply, but always with irreproachable neatness, and a scrupulous cleanliness that richer women might sometimes imitate with advantage. These were the plain facts; what my aunt imagined is beyond guessing.
Before my marriage I went to Loch Awe, to prepare the house on Innistrynich and furnish it. Of all strange places in the world for a young Parisienne to be brought to, surely Innistrynich was the least suitable! My way in those days was the usual human way of thinking, that what is good for one's self is good for everybody else. Did I not know by experience that the solitude of Loch Awe was delightful? Must not my Paradise be a Paradise for any daughter of Eve?
It was a charming bachelor's paradise the morning I left for Paris, a bright May morning, the loch lying calm in its great basin, the islands freshly green with the spring. At Cladich the people, who knew I was going to fetch a bride, threw old shoes after the carriage for luck. It did not rain rice at Loch Awe in those days.
I was an excellent traveller then, and did not get into a bed before arriving in Paris. There was a day in London between two nights of railway, a day spent in looking at pictures and making a few purchases. At Paris I went to a quiet hotel in the Cite Bergere. I was utterly alone; no relation or friend came with me to my marriage. Somebody told me a best man was necessary, so I asked a French acquaintance to be best man, and he consented. The morning of my wedding there was a garcon brushing the waxed oak floor on the landing near my door. I had a flowered white silk waistcoat, and the man said: "Monsieur est bien beau ce matin; on dirait qu'il va a une noce." I answered: "Vous avez bien devine; en effet, je vais a une noce." It was unnecessary to give him further information.
The marriage was a curious little ceremony. My wife's father had friends and acquaintances in the most various classes, who all came to the wedding. Some men were there who were famous in the Paris of those days, and others whom I had never heard of, but all were alike doomed to disappointment. They expected a grand ceremony in the church, and instead of that we got nothing but a brief benediction in the vestry, by reason of my heresy and schism. The benediction was over in five minutes, and we left in the pouring rain, whilst a crowd of people were waiting for the ceremony to begin. My wife, like all French girls, would have liked an imposing and important marriage, and lo! there was nothing at all, not even an altar, or a censer, or a bell!
However, we had been legally married at the mairie with the civil ceremonial, and as we were certainly blessed in the vestry, nobody can say that our union was unhallowed. I shall always remember that benediction, for, brief as it was, it cost me a hundred francs. [Footnote: Including what I had to pay for being called a schismatic by the Archbishop of Paris, or his officials.] A magnificent mass on my daughter's marriage cost me only sixty, which was a very reasonable charge.
Words cannot express how odious to me are the fuss and expense about a wedding. There was my father-in-law, a poor man, who thought it necessary (indeed, he was compelled by custom) to order a grand feast from a famous restaurant and give a brilliant ball, as if he had been extremely happy to lose his daughter, the delight of his eyes and the brightness of his home. Everything about our wedding was peculiarly awkward and uncomfortable. I knew none of the guests, I spoke their language imperfectly, and was not at ease, then, in French society; we had to make talk and try to eat. The family was sad about our departure, the sky was gray, the streets muddy and wet. In an interval of tolerable weather we went for a drive in the Bois de Boulogne to get through the interminable afternoon.
It was pleasanter when, a day or two later, my wife and I were looking out upon the sea from Dieppe. She had never seen salt water before, and as it happened to be a fine day the vast expanse of the Channel was all a wonderful play of pale greens and blues, like turquoise and pale emerald. There were white clouds floating in the blue sky, and here and there a white sail upon the sea. My wife was enchanted with this, to her fresh young eyes, revelation of a novel and unimaginable beauty. It was a new world for her, and that hour was absolutely the only hour in her life during which she thoroughly enjoyed the sea; for she is the worst of sailors, and now cannot even endure the smell of salt water at a distance.
The first thing we did in London was to go and see the Exhibition of the Royal Academy. My wife, like her father, took a keen interest in art, and had been rather well acquainted with French painting for a girl of her age. When she got into an English Exhibition she looked round in bewildered amazement. It was, for her, like being transported into another planet. In 1858 the difference between French and English painting was far more striking than it is to-day. French color, without being generally good, was subdued; in fact, most of it was not color at all, but only gray and brown, with a little red or blue here and there to make people believe that there was color. The English, on the other hand, were trying hard for real color, but the younger men were in that crude stage which is the natural "ugly duckling" condition of the genuine colorist. The consequence was an astounding contrast between the painting of the two nations, and to eyes educated in France English art looked outrageous to a degree that we realize with the greatest difficulty now. At a later period my wife became initiated into the principles and tendencies of English painting, and then she began to enjoy it. I took her to see the Turner collection in 1858, and that seemed to her like the ravings of a madman put on canvas; but a few years later she became a perfectly sincere admirer of the noblest works of Turner. I may add that in 1858 my wife was already, in spite of her difficulty in understanding what to her were novelties, far more in sympathy with art generally than I was myself. She had lived in a great artistic centre, whilst I had lived with nature in the north, and cared, at that time, comparatively little about the art of the past, my hopes being concentrated on a kind of landscape-painting that was to come in the future, and to unite the effects I saw in nature with a minute accuracy in the drawing of natural forms. The kind of painting I was looking forward to was, in fact, afterwards realized by Mr. John Brett.
My wife's first impressions of London generally were scarcely more favorable than her impressions of English painting, but they were of a very different order. If the painting had appeared too bright, the town appeared too dingy. London is extremely dismal for all French people, whose affection for their own country leads them to the very mistaken belief that the skies, in France, are bright all the year round. My wife now prefers London to any place in the world except Paris; in fact, she has a strong affection for London, the consequence of the kindness she has received there, and also of the enlightened interest she takes in everything that is really worth attention.
We went straight from London to Glasgow, and thence to Loch Awe, which happened at that time to be enveloped in a dense fog that lasted two days, so that when I told my wife that there was a high mountain on the opposite side of the lake she could hardly believe it. In fact, nothing was visible but a still, gray, shoreless sea.
I was now, as it seemed, in a condition of great felicity, being in the place I loved best on earth with the person most dear to me. Unfortunately, the union of many different circumstances and conditions is necessary to perfect happiness, if happiness exists in the world. The element lacking in my case was success in work, or at least the inward assurance of progress. There was our beautiful island home, in itself as much a poem as a canto of "The Lady of the Lake," with its ancient oaks, its rocky shore, its green, undulating, park-like pasture; there was the lake for sailing and the mountain for climbing, and all around us a country of unlimited wealth of material for the sketcher. Amidst all this, with a too earnest and painful application, I set myself to do what had never been done,—to unite the color and effect of nature to the material accuracy of the photograph.
PHILIP GILBERT HAMERTON
My first sight of Loch Awe.—Arrival at Innistrynich.—Our domestic life.—Difficulties about provisions.—A kitchen garden.
When Philip Gilbert Hamerton asked me to marry him, he conscientiously attempted to explain how different my life would be in the Highlands of Scotland from that to which I had been accustomed in Paris. He said how solitary it was, especially in the winter-time; how entirely devoid of what are called the pleasures of a metropolis—to which a Parisian lady has the reputation of being such a slave (he knew, however, that it was not my case); and already his devotion to study was such that he requested me to promise not to interfere with his work of any kind that he deemed necessary,—were it camping out, or sailing in stormy weather to observe nature under all her changing aspects, either of day or night.
Still, the picture he drew of our future existence was by no means all in dark colors, for with the enthusiasm of an artist he described the glories of the Highlands, the ever-varying skies, the effects of light and shadow on the mountains, the beauties of the lovely isles, and the charm of sailing on the moonlit and mysterious lake. He also made me acquainted with the numerous legends of Loch Awe (he had told them in verse, but I was ignorant of English), which would lend a romantic atmosphere to our island-home. He was so sensitive to the different moods of nature that his descriptions gave to a town-bred girl like me an intense desire to witness them with my own eyes; and when I did see them there was no desillusion, and the effect was so overpowering that it seemed like the revelation of a new sense in me. The first glimpse I had of Loch Awe, from the top of the coach, was like the realization of a fantastic and splendid dream; I could not believe it to be a reality, and thought of some mirage; but my husband was delighted by this first impression.
We reached Innistrynich shortly before nightfall, and I was taken to the keeper's cottage to warm myself, whilst the luggage was being conveyed across the bay to the house. Though it was the end of May, the weather had been so cold all the way that I felt almost benumbed after the drive; for, being accustomed to the climate of France, I had taken but scanty precautions in the way of wraps, believing them to be superfluous at that time of the year. My husband, having begged the keeper's wife to take care of me, she carried her assiduities to a point that quite confused me, for I could not remonstrate in words, and she was so evidently prompted by kindness that I was fearful of hurting her by opposing her well-meant but exaggerated attentions. She swathed me in a Scotch plaid, and placed the bundle I had become in a cushioned and canopied arm-chair by the peat-fire, the smoke and unaccustomed odor of which stifled me; then she insisted upon removing my boots and stockings, and chafed my feet in her hands, to bring back a little warmth. Lastly, she hospitably brought me what she thought the best thing she had to offer, a hot whiskey toddy. To please her, and also to relieve my numbness, I tried my best to drink what seemed to me a horrid mixture, but I could not manage it, and could not explain why, and the poor woman remained lost in sorrowful bewilderment at my rejection of the steaming tumbler. Just then my husband came back, and after thanking the keeper's wife, rowed me over to Innistrynich.
It was then quite dark, and impossible to see the island, even the outside of the cottage; but when the door was open, it showed the prettiest picture imaginable: the entrance was brilliantly illuminated, and our two servants—a maid and a young lad ("Thursday" of the "Painter's Camp"), both healthy and cheerful-looking, were standing ready to relieve us of our wraps. The drawing-room had an inviting glow of comfort, with the generous fire, the lights of the elegant candelabra playing amongst the carvings of the oak furniture, and the tones of the dark ruddy curtains harmonizing with the lighter ones of the claret-colored carpet; an artistic silver set of tea-things, which my husband had secretly brought from Paris with the candelabra, had been spread on the table ready for us, and my appreciation of the taste and thoughtfulness displayed on my behalf gladdened and touched the donor. I had never before partaken of tea as a meal, but it was certainly a most delightful repast to both of us.
After a short rest, my husband showed me the arrangements of the house, rich in surprises to my foreign notions, but none the less interesting and pleasant.
Our drawing-room was to serve as dining-room also, for the orthodox dining-room had been transformed into a studio and sitting-room; they stood opposite to each other. A little further along the corridor came the two best bedrooms, which, at first sight, gave to a Parisian girl a sensation of bareness and emptiness, corrected later by habit. Everything necessary was to be found there,—large brass bedsteads with snowy coverings, all the modern contrivances for the toilet, chests of drawers, each surmounted by a bright looking-glass; even a number of tiny and curious gimcracks ornamented the narrow mantelpiece; but to a French eye the absence of curtains to the bed, and the unconcealed display of washing utensils, suggested a cabinet de toilette rather than a bedroom. This simplicity has now become quite fashionable among wealthy French people, on account of its healthiness: the fresh air playing more freely and remaining purer than in rooms crowded with stuffed seats, and darkened by elaborate upholstery.
On the upper story were four other rooms, used as laboratory, store-room, and servants' rooms; whilst on the ground-floor we had a scullery, a large kitchen, a laundry,—that I used afterwards as a private kitchen, when my husband provided it with a set of French brass pans and a charcoal range,—a spare room, which was turned into a nursery by and by, and lastly, a repository for my husband's not inconsiderable paraphernalia.
The first days after our arrival were devoted to sailing or rowing on the lake, to acquaint me with its topography; soon, however, we made rules to lose no time, for we had both plenty of work before us.
My husband, at that time, knew French pretty well; he could express everything he wished to say, and understood even the nuances of the language, but his accent betrayed him at once as an Englishman, and there lingered in his speech a certain hesitation about the choice of words most appropriate to his meaning. As for me, my English had remained that of a school-girl, and my husband offered me his congratulations on my extremely limited knowledge, for this reason—that I should have little to unlearn. We agreed, to begin with, that one of us ought to know the other's language thoroughly, so as to establish a perfect understanding, and as he was so much more advanced in French than I in English, it was decided that for a time he should become my pupil, and that our conversations should be in my mother-tongue.
On my part I devoted two hours a day to the study of English grammar, and to the writing of exercises, themes, and versions. This task was fulfilled during my husband's absence, or whilst he was engaged with his correspondence; and in the afternoon I used to read English aloud to him, while he drew or painted either at home or out of doors. It was his own scheme of tuition, and proved most satisfactory, but required in the teacher—particularly at the beginning—an ever-ready attention to correct the pronunciation of almost every word, and to give the translation of it, together with a great store of patience to bear with the constantly recurring errors; for not to mar my interest in the works he gave me to read, I was exempted from the slow process of the dictionary. He was himself the best of dictionaries—explaining the differences of meaning, giving the life and spirit of each term, and always impressing this truth, that rarely does the same expression convey exactly the same idea in two languages. He frequently failed to give word for word, because he would not give an approximate translation; but he was always ready with a detailed explanation, and so taught me to enter into the peculiar genius of the language; so that if I did not become a good translator, I learned early to think and to feel in sympathy with the authors I was studying.
If the weather allowed it, Gilbert generally took me out on the lake, and according to the prevailing wind, chose some particular spot for a study. These excursions lasted about half the day or more, and then some sort of nourishment was required; but as my ignorance of the language prevented me from giving the necessary orders, the responsibility of the commissariat entirely devolved upon him; and I may candidly avow that the results were a continual source of surprise to me. Being unacquainted with English ways, I presumed that it was customary to live in the frugal and uniform fashion prevalent at Innistrynich; namely, at breakfast: ham or bacon; sometimes eggs, with or without butter, according to circumstances; toast—or scones, if bread were wanting—and coffee. At lunch: dry biscuits and milk. At tea-time, which varied considerably as to time, ranging from five if we were in the house, to eight or nine if my husband was out sketching: ham and eggs again, or a little mutton—chop or steak, if the meat were fresh, cold boiled shoulder or leg if it was salted; and a primitive sort of crisp, hard cake, which Thursday always served with evident pleasure and pride, being first pastry-cook and then partaker of the luxury. I often wondered how Englishmen could grow so tall and so strong on such food; for I was aware within myself of certain feelings of weakness and sickness never experienced before, but which I was ashamed to confess so long as men whose physical organizations required more sustenance remained free from them. One day, however, the reason of this difference became clear to me. My husband had proposed to show me Kilchurn Castle, which he was going to sketch, and we started early after the first light breakfast, with Thursday to manage the sails. On turning round Innistrynich we met a contrary wind, and had to beat against it: it was slow work, and at last I timidly suggested that it might perhaps be better to turn back to get something to eat; but Gilbert triumphantly said he was prepared for the emergency, and had provided ... a box of figs!!!... yes, and he opened it deliberately and offered me the first pick. I could not refrain from looking at Thursday, whose face betrayed such a queer expression of mingled amusement and disappointed expectation that I burst out laughing heartily, at which my husband, who had been meditatively eating fig after fig, looked up wondering what was the matter. I then asked if that was all our meal, and he gravely took out of the box two bottles of beer and a flask of sherry, the look of which seemed to revive Thursday's spirits wonderfully. As for me, who drank at that time neither beer nor wine, and whose taste for dry figs was very limited, I hinted that something more—bread, for instance—would not have been superfluous. The opportunity for ridding himself of cares so little in harmony with his tastes and artistic pursuits was not lost by my husband, and I was then and there invested with the powers and functions of housekeeper.
This was the plan adopted for the discharge of my new duties. In the morning I studiously wrote, as an exercise, the orders I wished to give, and, after correction, I learned to repeat them by word of mouth till I could be understood by the servants. It succeeded tolerably when my husband was accessible, if an explanation was rendered necessary on account of my foreign accent; but there was no way out of the difficulty if he happened to be absent.
Ever since I knew him I had noticed his anxiety to lose no time, and to turn every minute to the best account for his improvement. Throughout his life he made rules to bind his dreamy fancy to active study and production; they were frequently altered, according to the state of his health and the nature of his work at the time; but he felt the necessity of self-imposed laws to govern and regulate his strong inclination towards reflection and reading. He used to say that when people allowed themselves unmeasured time for what they called "thinking," it was generally an excuse for idle dreaming; because the brain, after a certain time given to active exertion, felt exhausted, and could no longer be prompted to work with intellectual profit; that, in consequence, the effort grew weaker and weaker, till vague musings and indistinct shadows gradually replaced the powerful grasp and clear vision of healthy mental labor.
On the other side, it must be said that he was too much of a poet to undervalue the state of apparent indolence which is so favorable to inspiration, and that he often quoted in self-defence the words of Claude Tillier,—"Le temps le mieux employe est celui que l'on perd." Aware of his strong propensity to that particular mental state, he attempted all his life to restrict it within limits which would leave sufficient time for active pursuits. His love of sailing must have been closely connected with the inclination to a restful, peaceful, dreamy state, for although fond of all kinds of boating, he greatly preferred a sailing-boat to any other, and never wished to possess a steamer, or cared much to make use of one.
Still, he took great pleasure in some forms of physical exercise: he could use an oar beautifully; he was a capital horseman, having been used to ride from the age of six, and retained a firm seat to the last; he readily undertook pedestrian excursions and the ascent of mountains. He often rode from Innistrynich to Inverary or Dalmally (when our island became a peninsula in dry weather, or in winter when the bay was frozen over); but he found little satisfaction in riding the mare we had then, which was mainly used as a cart-horse to fetch provisions, for the necessaries of life were not very accessible about us. We had to get bread, meat, and common grocery from Inverary, and the rest from Glasgow, so that we soon discovered that the whole time of a male servant would be required for errands of different kinds. Not unfrequently was the half of a day lost in the attempt to get a dozen eggs from the little scattered farms, or a skinny fowl, or such a rare delicacy as a cabbage. Sometimes Thursday came back from the town peevish and angry at his lost labor, having found the bread too hard or too musty, and mutton unprocurable; as to the beef which came occasionally from Glasgow, it was usually tainted, except in winter-time, and veal was not to be had for love or money, except in a condition to make one fearful of a catastrophe.
There was also the additional trouble of unloading the goods on the side of the road, of putting them into the boat, to be rowed across the bay; then they must be carried to the house either by man or horse. Merely to get the indispensable quantity of fuel in such a damp climate, when fires have to be kept up for eight or oftener nine months in the year, was a serious matter, and my husband complained that he was constantly deprived of Thursday's services. He then decided to take as a gardener, out-of-door workman, and occasional boatman, a Highlander of the name of Dugald, whom he had employed sometimes in the latter capacity, for he knew something of boats, having been formerly a fisherman.
There were some outbuildings on the island; one of them contained two rooms, which Dugald and his wife found sufficient for them (they had no children), and this became the gardener's cottage. Another was used as a stable, and the smallest as a fowl-house and carpenter's shop, for now we had come to the conclusion that we could not possibly live all the year round on the island without a small farm, to provide us, at least, with milk, cream, butter, and eggs; so we bought two cows, and also a small flock of sheep, that we might always be sure of mutton—either fresh or salted. This did not afford a great variety of menus, but it was better than starvation.
Vegetables, other than potatoes and an occasional cabbage, being unseen—and I believe unknown—at Loch Awe, and my husband's health having suffered in consequence of the privation, we had the ambition of growing our own vegetables, and a great variety of them too. Dugald was set to dig and manure a large plot of ground, though he kept mumbling that it was utterly useless, as nothing could or would grow where oats did not ripen once in three years, and that Highlanders, who knew so much better than foreigners, "would not be fashed" to attempt it. However, as he was paid to do the work, he had to do it; and it was simple enough, for he had no pretensions to being a gardener; the choice of seeds and the sowing of them were left to Gilbert, who had never given a thought to it before, and to me, who knew absolutely nothing of the subject. In this emergency we got books to guide us, bought and sowed an enormous quantity of seeds, and to our immense gratification some actually sprouted. Our pride was great when the doctor came to lunch with us for the first time, and we could offer him radishes and lettuce, which he duly wondered at and appreciated. Of course we had to put up with many failures, but still it was worth while to persevere, as, in addition to carrots, onions, turnips,—which grew to perfection,—potatoes and cabbages, we had salads of different kinds, small pumpkins, and fine cauliflowers. I soon discovered that peat was extremely favorable to them, so we had a trench made in peaty soil, where they grew splendidly.
Although very well satisfied on the whole with our attempt, we thought it absorbed too much of my husband's time, and he soon requested me to go on with it by myself, and frankly avowed that he could not take any interest in gardening, even in ornamental gardening. This lack of interest seemed strange to me, because he liked to study nature in all her phenomena, but it lasted to the end of his life; he did not care in the least for a well-kept garden, but he liked flowers for their colors and perfumes,—not individually,—and trees for their forms, either noble or graceful, and especially for their shade. He could not bear to see them pruned, and when it became imperative to cut some of their branches, he used to complain quite sadly to his daughter—who shared his feelings about trees—and he would say: "Now, Mary, you see they are at it again, spoiling our poor trees." And if I replied, "But it is for their health; the branches were trailing on the ground, and now the trees will grow taller," he slowly shook his head, unconvinced. When we took the small house at Pre-Charmoy, he was delighted by the wildness of the tiny park sloping gently down to the cool, narrow, shaded river, over which the bending trees met and arched, and he begged me not to interfere with the trailing blackberry branches which crept about the roots and stems of the superb wild-rose trees, making sweet but impenetrable thickets interwoven with honeysuckle, even in the midst of the alleys and lawns.
And now to return to the domestic arrangements arrived at by mutual consent. Upon me devolved the housekeeping, provisioning, and care of the garden, with the help of a maid, occasionally that of Dugald's wife as charwoman, and pretty regularly that of Dugald himself for a certain portion of the day; that is, when he was not required by my husband to man the boat or to help in a camping-out expedition. It was agreed that Thursday should be considered as his master's private servant.
Money matters.—Difficulties about servants.—Expensiveness of our mode of life.
My husband had a little fortune, sufficient for his wants as a bachelor, which were modest; it would have been larger had his father nursed it instead of diminishing it as he did by his reckless ways, and especially by entrusting its management during his son's minority to a very kind but incapable guardian in business matters, and to another competent but dishonest trustee, who squandered, unchecked, many important sums of money, and made agreements and leases profitable to himself, but almost ruinous to his ward. As to the other trustee, he never troubled himself so far as to read a deed or a document before signing it. Still, what remained when my husband came of age was amply sufficient for the kind of life he soon chose, that of an artist; and he hoped, moreover, to increase it by the sale of his works.
He was, however, aware of the future risks of the situation when he asked in marriage a girl without fortune, and he told me without reserve what we had to expect.
An important portion of his income was to cease after fourteen years—the end of the lease of a coal-mine; but he felt certain that he would be able by that time to replace it by his own earnings, and meanwhile we were to live so economically and so simply that, as we thought, there was no need for anxiety; so we convinced my parents—with the persuasion that love lent us—that after all we should not be badly off.
Soon after the completion of our household organization, however, I began to fear that a very simple way of living might, under peculiar conditions, become expensive. A breakfast consisting of ham and eggs is not extravagantly luxurious, but if the ham comes to thrice the original price when carriage and spoilage are allowed for, and if to the sixpence paid for half-a-dozen eggs you add the wages of a man for as many hours, you find to your dismay that though your repast was simple, it was not particularly cheap. Whichever way we turned we met with unavoidable and unlooked-for expenses. Perhaps an English lady, accustomed to the possibilities of such a place, and to the habits of the servants and the customs of the country, might have managed better—though even to-day I don't see clearly what she could have done; as for me, though I had been brought up in the belief that Paris was one of the most expensive places to live in, and though I was perfectly aware of its prices,—having kept my father's house for some years, on account of my mother's weak state of health,—I was entirely taken by surprise, and rather afraid of the reckoning at the end of the year. No one who has not attempted that kind of primitive existence has any idea of its complications. A mere change of servant was expensive—and such changes were rather frequent, on account of their disgust at the breach of orthodox habits, and the lack of followers; or their dismissal was rendered inevitable by their incapacity or unwillingness, or their contempt for everything out of their own country. We had a capital instance of this characteristic in a nurse who came from Greenock, and who thoroughly despised everything in the Highlands. One night, my husband and myself were out of doors admiring a splendid full moon, by the light of which it was quite easy to read. The nurse Katharine was standing by us, holding baby in her arms, and she heard me express my admiration: unable to put up with praises of a Highland moon, she exclaimed deliberately, "Sure, ma'am, then, you should see the Greenock moon; this is nothing to it."
This change of servants was of serious moment to us, both in the way of time and money, for we had to go to Glasgow or Greenock to fetch new ones, besides paying for their journeys to and fro, and a month's wages if they did not give satisfaction, which was but too often the case.
Once it happened that a steamer, bringing over a small cargo of much-needed provisions, foundered, and we were in consequence nearly reduced to a state of starvation.
Also, after paying princely prices for laying hens, we only found empty shells in the hen-coop, the rats having sucked the eggs before us. Gilbert, to save our eggs, bought a vivacious little terrier, who killed more fowls than rats; and as to the few little chickens that were hatched—despite the cold and damp—they gradually disappeared, devoured by the birds of prey, falcons and eagles, which carried them off under my eyes, even whilst I was feeding them.