Another very important item of expense lay in the different materials required for my husband's work of various kinds, and of which he ordered such quantities that their remnants are still to be found in his laboratory as I write. Papers of all sorts of quality and size—for pen-and-ink, crayons, pastel, water-color, etching, tracing; colors dry and moist, brushes, canvases, frames, boards, panels; also the requisites for photography. It was one of my husband's lasting peculiarities that, in his desire to do a great quantity of work, and in the fear of running short of something, he always gave orders far exceeding what he could possibly use. He also invariably allowed himself, for the completion of any given work, an insufficiency of time, because he did not, beforehand, take into account the numerous corrections that he was sure to make; for he was constantly trying to do better.
Our journeys also contributed to swell considerably the total of our expenditure. Before we were married he promised my parents that he would bring me over once a year, for about a month; for it was a great sacrifice on their part to let their eldest child go so far away, and, even as it was, to remain separated for so long at a time. My husband's relations had also to be considered, and he decided that every time we went to France we would stay a week at least with his maiden aunts, who had brought him up, and a few days with the family of his kind uncle, Thomas Hamerton of Todmorden; then a short time in London to see the Exhibitions and his friends. The same itinerary was to be followed on our return.
My parents living then in Paris, where even at that time rents were high and space restricted, my husband's dislike to confinement did not allow him to remain satisfied with the single room they could put at our disposal; moreover, in order to work effectively, peace and perfect quiet were absolutely indispensable to him; so he took lodgings close to my parents', and whilst I spent as much of my time with them as I could spare, he wrote or read in the noiseless rooms we had taken entre cour et jardin. Of course the rent of the lodgings was an additional expense. Altogether, when we summed up the accounts after the first year, we were dismayed to see what was the cost of such an unpretentious existence; but with youthful hope we counted upon the income that art could not fail to bring shortly.
Painting from nature.—Project of an exhibition.—Photography.—Plan of the "Painter's Camp."—Topographic Art.—Charm of our life in the Highlands.
Mr. Hamerton has himself explained in his autobiography what were his artistic tendencies and aims: he meant to be topographically true in his rendering of nature, and was unluckily greatly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, who were, at the time of our marriage, attracting great attention. I was totally unprepared for that kind of art, and the most famous specimens of it which my husband took me to see in London only awoke an apprehension as to what I might think of his own pictures when they were shown to me. The old masters in the Louvre, even the yearly Salons, where, under my father's guidance, I had learned to admire Troyon, Corot, and Millet, had given me an education which fell short of enabling me to recognize the merits of the new school. It was in vain that my husband pointed out the veracity of the minutest detail, in vain that he attempted to interest me in the subjects or praised the scheme of color; I did not understand it as art, and I received an impression, perfectly remembered to this day, and which I hardly hope to convey to others in words: it was for my eyes what unripe fruit is for the teeth.
It was a long time before my husband completed a picture at Innistrynich, because he had resolved, at first, to paint only from nature, and was constantly interrupted by changes of effect. After many attempts, he came to the conclusion that he would only paint local color out-of-doors, and in order to study effects rapidly, he made hasty sketches with copious notes written in pencil. Still, he was not satisfied, the sketch, however quickly traced, retarding the taking of notes, so that the effect had vanished before they were completed. After giving mature consideration to another scheme of study, he decided to make careful pen-and-ink topographical drawings of the most striking features of the scenery, such as Ben Cruachan, Glen Etive, Ben Vorlich, Glencoe, etc., and to have them reproduced in large quantities, so that, when upon the scene represented by any of them, he would only have to note the most impressive effects, the sketch having become unnecessary. I wished him to take these memoranda in water-colors or pastels, for it seemed to me very difficult, when the effect was out of the memory, to revive it in its entirety by hundreds of minute observations covering the whole sheet of paper. I had another reason for wishing to see him work more in colors—it was his want of dexterity with them, which I thought practice only could give; but he said it was too slow for out-of-door study, and should be reserved for winter-time and bad weather. Another point upon which we could not agree was the amount of truth to which an artist ought to bind himself; he said "nothing less than topographic truth," and he took infinite pains in the measurement of mountain peaks, breadth of heather-patches, and length of running streams. To his grievous disappointment, when the conscientious and labored study was shown to me, I could not but repeat that if it were true it did not look so to me, since it produced none of the sensations of the natural scene. "You would like me to exaggerate, then?" he asked. "Yes," I answered, "if that is the way to make it look true." But he persevered in his system. He used to camp out a week, sometimes a fortnight, wherever he made choice of a subject, and returned to the same spot several times afterwards, with his printed studies of outlines to take notes of effects.
He was fond of elaborating schemes, and I told him sometimes that I wished he would allow things to go on more simply, that he would paint his pictures straightforwardly, and try for their reception in the Academy; but he answered that most certainly they would be rejected if painted with so little care, and that he thought the best plan was to go on patiently during the summer as he had begun, then to paint in winter from his studies, and produce, not an odd picture now and then, but a series of pictures illustrating the most remarkable characteristics of Highland scenery, which he would put before the public in a private exhibition of his own, under the title of "Pictures from the Highlands, by P. G. Hamerton." And before one of the pictures was begun, he had made the model of a die bearing this inscription, to be stamped on the frames of the pictures, as well as on the studies. Mr. Hamerton had taken lessons from a photographer in Paris, at the time of his first visit there, thinking it might be a help in the prosecution of his scheme, and now he was always trying to get some photographs of the scenes among which he camped. They were generally very poor and feeble, the weather being so often unpropitious, and the process (paper process) so imperfect and tedious. Still, it was the means of giving pleasure to our relations and friends by acquainting them with our surroundings. Here is a passage from one of my father's letters in acknowledgment of the photograph of our house: "J'ai recu avec infiniment de plaisir votre lettre et la photographie qui l'accompagnait. Cette petite image nous met en communication plus directe, en nous identifiant pour ainsi dire, a votre vie interieure. Merci donc, et de bon coeur."
Although my husband firmly believed that nature had meant him to be an artist, and helped nature as much as he could by his own exertions, the literary talent which was in him would not be stifled altogether, and under pretext of preparing a way for his artistic reputation, made him undertake the "Painter's Camp."
It may be easily realized that with his elaborate system of study, which required journeys and camping out, the taking of photographs, painting indoors in wet weather, together with a course of reading for culture and pleasure, and in addition literary composition, Gilbert's time was fully occupied; still he was dissatisfied by the meagre result, and fretted about it. He had, at the cost of much thought and money, organized a perfect establishment, with wagons, tents, and boats, to go and stay wherever he pleased; but wherever he went or stopped he almost invariably met with rain and mist, and though he could draw or paint inside the tent, he still required to see his subject, and how could he possibly when the heavy rain-clouds enveloped the mountains as if in a shroud, or when the mist threw a veil over all the landscape? I remember going with him to camp out in Glencoe in delightful weather, which lasted (for a wonder) throughout the journey and the day following it, after which we were shut inside the tents by pouring or drizzling rain for six consecutive days, when the only possible occupation was reading, so that at last we were beaten back home with a few bad photographs and incomplete sketches as the fruits of a week's expedition.
At first we did not attach much importance to the weather, even if it wasted time. My husband had taken the island on a lease of four years, and it seemed to us that almost anything might be achieved in the course of four years; we were so young, both of us—he twenty-four, and I nineteen—that we had not yet realized how rapidly time flows—and it flowed so delightfully with us as to make everything promising in our eyes. The rain might be troublesome and interfere with work, but were not the splendid colors of the landscape due to it? The lake might be stormy, and the white foam of its waves dash even upon the panes of our windows, but the clouds, driven wildly over the crests of the hills, and rent by peaks and crags, cast ever-hanging shadows along their swift course, and the shafts of the sun darting between them clothed the spaces between in dazzling splendor. Our enjoyment of natural beauty was not marred by considerations about the elements which produced it: whether the rich color of the shrivelled ferns on the hillside had been given by the fierce heat of a sun which, at the same time, had dried up the streams and parched the meadows, we did not inquire; and if the grandeur of the stormy lake on a dark night, with the moaning of the breakers on the rocky shore, and the piercing shrieks of the blast, involved the fall and ruin of many a poor man's cottage and the destruction of hundreds of uprooted trees, we were so entranced in admiration as to give no thought to the consequences. We derived pleasure from everything, study or contemplation, fair weather or foul; a twilight ramble on the island by the magnificent northern lights, or a quiet sail on the solitary lake perfumed with the fragrance of the honeysuckle or of the blue hyacinths growing so profusely on Inishail and the Black Isles.
Well, we were happy; we did not stop to consider if we were perfectly happy; but it was, without a doubt, the happiest time of our lives, for we have always turned back to it with deep regret, and, as my husband has expressed it in the "Painter's Camp"—"It is so full of associations and memories which are so infinitely dear and sweet and sacred, that the very word 'Highlands' will lay a sudden charm on my heart forever."
Although we made no dissection of our happiness to know what it was made of, there was a powerful element in it which I discern clearly now: we were satisfied with ourselves, thinking we were fulfilling our duty to the best of our understanding; if we erred, it was unconsciously. Since then we have not been so positive, and sometimes have questioned the wisdom of those days. But who can tell?... If my husband had not lived those four years of Highland life he would not have been the man he became, and his literary gift, though perhaps developed in some other way, would never have acquired the charm which influenced afterwards so many minds and hearts.
English and French manners.—My husband's relatives.—First journey to France after our marriage.—Friends in London.—Miss Susan Hamerton.
The summer of 1858 had been unusually warm and pleasant in the Highlands, and my husband had put many a study in his portfolios, in spite of the interruptions to his work caused by a series of boils, which, though of no importance, were exceedingly painful and irritating, being accompanied by fever and sleeplessness: they were the result of a regimen of salted meat and an insufficiency of fresh vegetables; for of course those we succeeded in growing the first year were only fit for the table towards the end of summer.
We had not been so solitary as I had expected, for with the warm weather a few families had come back to their residences on the shores of the lake, and had called upon us. I had felt rather timid and awkward, as I could not speak English; but the ladies being kindly disposed, and generally knowing a little French, we managed to get on friendly terms, particularly when left to ourselves, for I was very much afraid of Gilbert's strictures—I will explain for what reasons in particular. He was, as I have said before, a very good and competent teacher, but very exacting, and he had repeatedly said that he could put up better with my faults were they the usual recognized mistakes of a foreigner, but that unluckily mine were vulgarisms. This was very humiliating, as I must confess I took a little pride in my French, which had been often praised as elegant and pure, and this had fostered in me a taste for conversation such as was still to be enjoyed in intelligent French society at that time, and of which I had never been deprived at home, my father being an excellent conversationalist, and receiving political friends of great talent as orators and debaters, such as Michel de Bourges, Baudin, Madier-de-Montjau, Boysset, and many others, as well as literary people.
On the other hand, it must be explained that I was unknown to my husband's relations, and aware of some prejudices against me among them, particularly on the part of his Aunt Susan,—the younger of the two sisters who had brought him up. She only knew that I was French, a Roman Catholic, and without fortune; all these defects were the very opposite of what she had dreamt of for her nephew, and her disappointment had been so bitter when she had heard of his engagement that, to excuse it in her own eyes, she had convinced herself that a French girl could only be flippant, extravagantly fond of amusement, and neglectful of homely duties; a Roman Catholic must of necessity be narrow-minded and bigoted, and the want of fortune betrayed low birth and lack of education. These views had been expressed at length to my betrothed, together with severe reproaches and admonitions, and it was in vain that he had attempted to justify his choice; his aunt persisted in attributing it solely to a passion he had been too weak to master. At last our marriage drawing near, Gilbert wrote to his aunt that if her next letter contained anything disrespectful to me he would return it, and do the same for the following ones, without opening them; and the correspondence had ceased.
It was quite different with his aunt Mary, who must also have been disappointed by his marriage, for with her aristocratic tastes and notions she had desired for her nephew a bride of rank, and an heiress to put him again in the station befitting the family name, to which his education and talents seemed to entitle him. But she had confidence in his judgment, and loved him with so generous a love that she congratulated him warmly when he was accepted, and wrote me an affectionate letter of thanks, and a welcome as a new member of the family.
Of course my husband had often talked to me about his aunts; not much was said of Miss Susan, but a great deal of his dear guardian, who had been like a mother to him, and who now wrote encouragingly to me from time to time about my English, and my new life. He praised both his aunts for their good management of a small income, for the position they had been able to retain in society, and particularly for their lady-like manners and good breeding; explaining sometimes that I should probably find it different in some respects from French comme-il-faut, and mentioning in what particulars. I felt that he would be very sensitive about the opinions his aunts would form of me, and I dreaded that of Miss Susan Hamerton. He had put me on my guard on some points; for instance, about the French custom of always addressing people as Monsieur or Madame, which was hard for me to relinquish, as it seemed rude; and I was also told not to be always thanking servants for their services (as we do in France), if I wished to be considered well-bred. But besides what was pointed out to me, I noticed many other things which ought to be toned down in my nature and habits, if I meant to acquire what I heard called lady-like manners. I was at that time very vivacious, merry, and impulsive, and so long as I had lived in France this natural disposition had been looked upon as a happy one, and rather pleasant than otherwise; but I did not notice anything resembling it in our visitors, who were said to be real ladies, or lady-like. They looked to my French eyes somewhat indifferent and unconcerned: it is true that they were all my seniors by at least half-a-score of years, but the fact did not put me more at ease. However, as they showed great kindness, and frequently renewed their visits and invitations, I was led to think that their judgment had not gone against me, and this gave me some courage for the day of my meeting with my Aunt Susan. And that day was drawing near, my husband having promised his relations that we should visit them after six months, which was the delay granted to me to learn a little English; and although I could not and dared not speak it at the end of the allotted time, no respite was allowed.
It was arranged that after our stay in Lancashire we should go on to Paris. This news was received with great joy and thankfulness in my family, where we had not been expected so soon, and where the sorrow for my absence was still so keen that my father wrote to my husband: "Chaque fois que je rentre je m'attends a la voir accourir au devant de moi et chaque desillusion est suivie de tristesse. Il n'est pas jusqu'au piano dont le mutisme me fait mal. J'ai beau me dire que ces impatiences, ces chagrins sont de la faiblesse: je le sais, je le sens, et je n'en suis pas plus fort."
The love of improvements, which was one of Gilbert's characteristics, had led him to plan a road on the island, which should go from the house to the lowest part of the shore, where the lake dried up in summer, so as to facilitate the conveyance of goods, which could then be carted without unloading from Inverary to the barn or kitchen-door. He gave very minute directions to Thursday and Dugald, and set them to their work just before we left for France, telling them that he expected to find the road finished on our return.
We started in November, and arrived at Todmorden on a wet day; and just before leaving the railway carriage we were much amused by a gentleman who answered the query "Is this Todmorden?" by letting down the window and thrusting his hand out, after which he gravely said: "It is raining; it must be Todmorden."
My husband's uncle, Thomas Hamerton, with his two daughters, was awaiting us at the station to welcome us and take us to his house, where we found Mrs. Hamerton, who received us very kindly, but called me Mrs. Philip Gilbert, because she despaired of ever pronouncing my Christian name rightly. I begged her to call me "niece," and her husband gave the example by calling me "my niece Eugenei." Our cousins Anne and Jane spoke French very creditably, although they had never been in France, and we were soon on friendly terms. When my husband was away, they translated my answers to their mother's numerous questions about our life in the Highlands, my occupations, tastes, French habits, and what not. Although my powers of expression in English were very limited, I understood the greater part of what was said, and Mrs. Hamerton and my cousins being so encouraging, I did not feel so timid, and if I had stayed longer I should most certainly have made rapid progress. On that score my husband—P. G., as they called him in the family circle—was taken to task and scolded for having been too severe with "his poor little foreign wife." His cousins, with whom he was on brotherly terms, were much pleased with the soft French pronunciation of the name Gilbert, and dropped the P. G. decisively, to the great wonder of their mamma.
The following day was fixed by my husband as the day of our trial,—that is, for our visit to his aunts, who lived on a steep eminence above Todmorden, in a pleasant house, "The Jumps." Aunt Mary, in order to spare me, had offered to come down to meet us at her brother's; but as she suffered from some kind of heart complaint (the knowledge of which kept her loving nephew in constant alarm) we were afraid of the effect that fatigue and emotion might have, and preferred to encounter Miss Susan Hamerton.
The reception was typical of the different dispositions towards us. Aunt Mary was standing at the door, straining her eyes to see us sooner, and came forward to embrace me and to receive the kisses of her beloved nephew; then she whispered that "she had hoped Susan would have gone away on a visit to her friends; but she had remained obdurate to all hints and entreaties." So there was nothing for it but to meet her, since she would have it so; and with a beating heart I was led to the drawing-room by my husband. That the reader may not be misled into believing that a life-long estrangement resulted from the following scene, I will quote a passage from the preface to "Human Intercourse," which gives the unforeseen result of my acquaintance with Miss Susan Hamerton.
"A certain English lady, influenced by the received ideas about human intercourse which define the conditions of it in a hard and sharp manner, was strongly convinced that it would be impossible for her to have friendly relations with another lady whom she had never seen, but was likely to see frequently. All her reasons would be considered excellent reasons by those who believe in maxims and rules. It was plain that there could be nothing in common. The other lady was neither of the same country, nor of the same religious and political parties, nor of the same generation. These facts were known, and the inference deduced from them was that intercourse would be impossible. After some time the English lady began to perceive that the case did not bear out the supposed rules; she discovered that the younger lady might be an acceptable friend.
"At last the full, strange truth became apparent—that she was singularly well adapted, better adapted than any other human being, to take a filial relation to the elder, especially in times of sickness, when her presence was a wonderful support. Then the warmest affection sprang up between the two, lasting till separation by death, and still cherished by the survivor."
But the first meeting held out no such promise. There, on the couch, was an elderly lady, sitting stiff and straight, with a book in her hands, from which her eyes were never raised, even when she acknowledged our entrance by a studiously slow, chilling, and almost imperceptible bend of the head. I saw my husband's face flush with anger as we bowed to my new relation; but I pressed his hand entreatingly, and we sat down, attempting to ignore the hostile presence, and to talk as if we found ourselves in ordinary circumstances. Poor Aunt Mary, thinking it must be unendurable to me, soon proposed that we should go to the dining-room for refreshments, and her proposition was accepted with alacrity. We left the dining-room with the same ceremonial which had followed our entrance, and were rewarded by the same frigid and distant movement of the silent figure on the sofa. We remained some time with Aunt Mary, and took an affectionate leave of her, my husband giving a promise that on our return journey we would stay a few days at "The Jumps," whether her sister chose to be at home or away.
I have related this episode at some length, although it seems to concern me more than my husband, because the influence it had on his life was so important. It is almost certain that if Miss Susan Hamerton had behaved towards us like her sister, my husband would never have thought of going to live in France. At the end of our lease at Innistrynich, he would have chosen a residence in some picturesque part of England, and would have easily induced his aunts to settle as near as possible to us. Their example and advice in household matters would have been invaluable to me, whilst the affectionate intercourse would have grown closer and dearer as we came to know each other better. However, this was not to be.
We soon left Todmorden after our visit to "The Jumps," and when we reached Paris there were great rejoicings in my family, where my husband was fully appreciated. He liked to talk of politics, literature, and art with my father, whose experience was extensive, and whose taste was refined and discriminating; he awoke in his son-in-law an interest in sculpture which hitherto had not been developed, but which grew with years. As to my mother, brothers, and sister, they loved him for his kindness, and also because he had made a life of happiness for me.
In Paris we went to see everything of artistic interest, but especially of architectural interest. I knew nothing of architecture myself, but was naturally attracted by beauty, and my husband guided my opinions with his knowledge. I noticed with surprise his indifference to most of the pictures in the Museum of the Louvre, and he explained, later, that he could not appreciate them at that period in the development of his artistic taste, which was at that time retarded by the Pre-Raphaelite influence. There was certainly a great evolution of mind between this state of quasi-indifference and the fervid enthusiasm which made him say to me when we came to live in Paris: "At any rate there is for me, as a compensation for the beauty of natural scenery, an inexhaustible source of interest and study in the Louvre."
The Museum of the Luxembourg containing several pictures by modern artists, whose merits he recognized, was frequently visited by us—and he admired heartily among others, Rosa Bonheur, Daubigny, Charles Jacque, and especially Troyon, whose works went far to shake his faith in topographic painting, and sowed the first seeds of the French school's influence on his mind.
At the expiration of the month we returned to London, and stayed with friends; my husband introduced me to Mr. and Mrs. Mackay, to Mrs. Leslie and her family, to the sons and daughters of Constable, of whom he speaks in his autobiography, and they all received me very kindly, and told me what hopeful views they entertained of his future career. We also called upon Millais, for whose talent my husband had a great admiration. He received us quite informally, and we had a long talk in French, which he pronounced remarkably well; he explained it to me by saying that he belonged to a Jersey family.
It was also during this London visit that Mr. Hamerton made the acquaintance of Mr. Calderon, who also spoke French admirably,—an acquaintance which was to ripen into friendship, and last to the end of my husband's life. He also went to all the winter exhibitions, public or private, where he stood rooted before all the works which could teach him something of his difficult art; and when we left he was certain of having acquired new knowledge.
Miss Susan Hamerton having said to Aunt Mary that she had no objection to our being her sister's guests, we went straight to "The Jumps" after leaving London. This time she received us with polite coldness,—like perfect strangers,—but she was not insulting, only at times somewhat ungenerously sarcastic with me, who was not armed to parry her thrusts. I felt quite miserable, for I did not wish to widen the gap between her and her nephew, and on the other hand I did not see how our intercourse could be made more pleasant by any endeavors of mine, for I was ignorant of the art of ingratiating myself with persons whom I felt adverse to me, and I must avow that I had also a certain degree of pride which prevented me from making advances when unfairly treated. I had always lived in an atmosphere of confidence, love, and goodwill,—perhaps I had been a little spoilt by the kindness of my friends, and now it seemed hard to be a butt for ill-natured sarcasms. These shafts, however, were seldom, if ever, let loose in the presence of my husband, who would not have tolerated it; the want of welcome being as much as he could bear. Still, there was no doubt that matters had slightly mended since our first visit, and an undeniable token of this was the fact of Miss Susan Hamerton extending her hand to each of us at parting. Had I been told then that this reluctant hand would become a firm support for me; that these cold eyes would he filled with warm tears of love, and that I should be tenderly pressed to this apparently unsympathizing bosom, I could not have believed it. Yet the day came when Aunt Susan proved my dearest friend, and when Mr. Thomas Hamerton said to his nephew, "Susan loves you much, no doubt, but Eugenie is A1 for her."
Visits from friends and relatives.—A Frenchman in the Highlands.— Project of buying the island of Innistrynich.
When we arrived at Innistrynich from the Continent, all our neighbors had left Loch Awe, and we had only as occasional visitors the doctor and our landlord—the rare and far-between calls of the minister ceasing with the fine days; but we were not afraid of our solitude a deux, and we had the pleasant prospect of entertaining Aunt Mary and Anne Hamerton early in the summer, as well as the husband of my godmother, M. Souverain, a well-known Parisian publisher, whose acquaintance Mr. Hamerton had made through my father, and who had promised to come to see us. Meanwhile, we resumed our usual rules of work, and my husband began several oil pictures at once, so as to lose no time in having to wait for the drying of the colors.
As he had made great progress in his French, he proposed that we should change our parts, and that nothing but English should be spoken, read, or written by me, except my letters to French correspondents. I delayed my submission a while, for it seemed that if I could not speak—even to him—confidentially and with perfect ease, that indeed would be solitude. At last I yielded to his entreaties, strengthened by my father's remonstrances, and some months of constantly renewed endeavors not always successful, and sometimes accompanied by weariness, discouragement, and tears—began for me, my teacher never swerving from his rule, not even when, despairing of making myself understood, I used a French word or expression. On such occasions he invariably shook his head and said: "I do not understand French; speak English," at the same time helping me out of my difficulty as much as he could.
Aunt Mary and Anne Hamerton had promised to come to see us during the summer, and we had repeated our invitation in the beginning of the spring of 1859, but Aunt Mary wrote to her nephew: "I am looking forward with great pleasure to my visit to you and Eugenie, but I think I had better NOT come till the little cherub has come, because anybody would know better what to do than I should."
She wrote again on June 6, 1859: "I am very glad indeed that Eugenie and the dear little boy are doing well; give my very best love to Eugenie, and tell her that now Anne and I are looking forward with great pleasure to visiting you as soon as we can."
They came in July, and Aunt Mary was delighted with the beauty of the scenery, with the strong and healthy appearance of her little grand-nephew, whom she held in her arms as much and as long as her strength allowed, but especially by the recovered affectionate intimacy with my husband, and also by the certainty of our domestic happiness.
Anne Hamerton greatly enjoyed the excursions on land and water, and so the days passed pleasantly. When my husband was painting, either in his studio or out-of-doors, we sat near him and read aloud by turns. Aunt Mary was very fond of Moore's poetry, and read it well and feelingly, though her voice was rather tremulous and weak. To Anne were given passages of "Modern Painters" as examples of style, and Lamartine's "Jocelyn" for French pronunciation. I fear that Aunt Mary's appreciation of it was more imaginary than real. "The Newcomes" fell to my lot, being easier than poetry, and gave rise to many a debate about its superiority or inferiority to Thackeray's other works. As an author he was not justly appreciated by Aunt Mary, who, on account of her aristocratic loyalty, did not forgive him for "The Four Georges."
We had also a good deal of music; my husband, having been accustomed to play duets with his cousin, soon resumed the practice, and though I had not encouraged him as a solo-player, I liked well enough to listen to his violin with a piano accompaniment. Anne's playing was only mediocre, but as she did not attempt anything above her skill, it was pleasant enough; she accompanied all the French songs I had brought with me, and they were numerous, for at that time there was no soiree in Paris—homely or fashionable—without romances; the public taste was not so fastidious as it has since become, and did not expect from a school-girl the performance of an operatic prima donna. When out in the boat on a peaceful and serene night, my husband rowing us slowly on the glassy water, it seemed that the melodies which rose and spread in the hazy atmosphere were the natural complement to these enchanted hours. Anne often sang "Beautiful Star" or "Long Time Ago," and I was always asked for "Le Lac" or "La Chanson de Fortunio."
The arrival of Monsieur Souverain added a new element of cheerfulness to our little party: he was so thoroughly French—that is, so ignorant of other habits than French ones, so naively persuaded of their superiority to all others, so keenly alive to any point of difference, and so openly astonished when he discovered any, always wondering at the reason for this want of similarity—that he was a perpetual source of interest to our lady visitors. He could not speak English, but he always addressed Aunt Mary in his voluble and rapid Parisian French, and she was all smiles, and appeared to enjoy extremely his run of anecdotes about French celebrities she had never heard of. Now and then she let fall a word or sometimes a phrase totally irrelevant to what he had been saying, but which in his turn he politely pretended to appreciate, although he had not understood a single syllable of it. It was most amusing to see them walking side by side, evidently enjoying each other's society and animated conversation; only we remarked that they were careful to remain well out of profane hearing by keeping a good deal in front of us, or else loitering behind.
We had been awaiting M. Souverain for some days, no date having been fixed, when one morning our attention was aroused by loud and prolonged shouts coming from that part of the road which affords a view of Innistrynich, before descending to the bay. With the help of his telescope, my husband soon discovered a small, spare human form, now waving a pocket-handkerchief, and now making a speaking-trumpet of both hands to carry its appeal as far as the island. "It must be M. Souverain," Gilbert said, as he sent a shout of welcome, and ran to the pier to loosen the boat and row it across the bay.
He had scarcely landed our visitor when enthusiastic ejaculations met our ears: "Mais c'est le Paradis terrestre ici!" "Quel pays de reve!" "Quel sejour enchanteur!" Then, with a change of tone habitual to him, and a little sarcastic: "Yes, but as difficult to find as dream-land; I thought I should have to turn back to France without meeting with you, for no one seemed to be aware of the existence of the 'lac Ave' any more than of 'Ineestreeneeche,' and I was beginning to suspect your descriptions to have been purely imaginary, when un trait de lumiere illuminated my brain. I bought a map of Scotland, and without troubling myself any longer with the impossible pronunciation of impossible names, I stuck a pin on the spot of the map that I wanted to reach and showed it either to a railway employe or to a matelot, and I was sure to hear 'All right,'—I have learnt that at least. But upon my life, to this day I can't explain why no one seemed to understand me, even at Inverary, at the hotel. I asked: 'Quel chemin doit on prendre pour aller chez Monsieur Amertone, dans l'ile d'Ineestreeneeche sur le lac Ave?' That was quite plain, was not it?... Well, they only shook their heads till I gave them the address you had written for me, then of course they came out with 'All right,' and a good deal besides which was of no consequence to me, and at last I am here 'all right.' But why on earth do they spell Londres, London; Glascow, Glasgow; and Cantorbery, Canterbury? It is exceedingly puzzling to strangers." My husband was greatly tickled, and rather encouraged this flow of impressions; he thought it extremely interesting in a cultivated and intelligent man who was far from untravelled, for he had been in Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Algeria, and who still evinced a childlike wonder at every unfamiliar object. For instance, he would say: "Now, Mr. Hamerton, I am sure you can't justify this queer custom in English hotels, of putting on the table a roast of eight pounds' weight, at least, or a whole cheese. I can't eat all that, then why serve it me?... And why also those immense washing-basins? They are so cumbersome and heavy that it is almost as much as I can achieve to empty them: I don't take a bath in them, I take it in a baignoire, and I have not to empty it."
The conversation, however, often ran on serious subjects, and M. Souverain heard with deep interest from my husband an account of his plans, both literary and artistic, and said once: "If you intend to devote your life to painting Highland scenery, and since your wife loves this admirable island as much as you do, why should not you buy it and secure the benefit of the improvements you are carrying on? It is somewhat solitary at times, no doubt, but as you will be obliged to go to London and Paris every year at least, you might arrange to do so in winter and enjoy society there, and a change at the same time. You tell me that your property yields at present but a very poor income,—why not sell it, or part of it, since it has no attraction for you, and live here, on your own property, free of rent?"
Gilbert himself had entertained the idea, and had developed it to me with flattering possibilities and speculations, but I was already beginning to fear that our present existence was too exquisite to last. We had received bad news from Uncle Thomas about the rents; the mill was not let, and would require a heavy outlay before it could find a tenant; the machinery was old, out-of-date, and would have to be replaced by new with the modern improvements, and the cottages surrounding the mill were likely to remain tenantless so long as the mill did not work, or the rents be but irregularly forthcoming. In fact, our income was already insufficient, and my husband was seriously considering whether he ought to borrow in order to set up the mill again, or whether it would be more profitable to sell the property and draw upon the capital as we required it, till he could sell his pictures. At last he decided to consult his uncle, who was a prudent man of business, and had a long experience as landed proprietor. After due consideration Mr. T. Hamerton advised him to go to the necessary expense for repairs to the mill.
Meanwhile M. Souverain was growing more enchanted with Loch Awe day by day, and could not bear the idea that we might be turned out of Innistrynich some day by a new owner (for the present one was getting old, and had said that at the end of our lease he would put it up for sale), so he tempted my husband by the almost irresistible offer of a third of the purchase money, in consideration of having two rooms reserved for himself and his wife—my godmother—during two of the summer months. But Aunt Mary's secret desire—and perhaps hope—of seeing us established at a future time nearer to herself, suggested some very weighty considerations against the project. "When your child or maybe children grow up and have to attend school, will you resign yourselves to send them so far as will be inevitable if you are still here?" she said; "and will your healths be able to stand the severity of the climate when you are no longer so young? The distance from a doctor is another serious affair in case of sickness, and I myself, as well as Eugenie's parents, am on the downward course, and may soon be deprived of the possibility of undertaking so fatiguing a journey." All this had been foreseen by her nephew, of course, but his attachment to the place was such that he found ready answers to all objections. "Our children would be educated at home—the climate, though damp, was not more severe or unhealthy than the average—doctors were of no good, generally speaking—and we might visit our relations more frequently in case they were unable to come to us."
So the question remained open.
Gilbert, thinking it desirable to give his guests a more extensive acquaintance with the surrounding country than his boats could afford, proposed to take a carriage, which would be ferried from Port Sonachan to the other side of the lake, after which we might drive as much as possible along the shores till we reached Ardhonnel Castle. If we arrived early we would visit the ruins and the island; if too late, it would be reserved for the following morning, as we intended to spend the night at the inn, and to resume our drive in time to be back at Innistrynich for dinner.
We started merrily,—Aunt Mary, Anne Hamerton, M. Souverain, my husband, myself, and baby; for our guests kindly insisted upon my being one of the party, in spite of my small encumbrance, which I could not leave behind. I did my best to be excused, but they were unanimous in declaring that they would not go if I stayed.
"You need not walk unless you like," they said, "for there will always be the carriage, the boat, or the inn for you."
It was a splendid day of bright sunshine in a tenderly blue sky, with a pure, soft breeze hardly rippling the lake. We all took our seats inside the roomy, open carriage, my husband leaving the management of the horses to the driver that he might be free to enjoy the scenery. M. Souverain remarked that if the Highlanders were a strong race, their horses hardly deserved the same epithet; and indeed the pair harnessed to our carriage appeared very lean and somewhat shaky, but the driver affirmed that they were capital for hill-work, though he would not swear to their swiftness, and as we did not want to go fast, it was again "all right" from M. Souverain when the explanation had been translated to him.
Fast we certainly did not go, and, moreover, we often stopped to admire the changing views, but the poor starved beasts did not pick up any more spirit during their frequent rests; they painfully resumed their dull jog-trot for a short time, which soon dwindled to slow, weary paces that even the whip in no way hastened. However, with plenty of time before us, we only turned it into a joke, pretending to be terrified by the ardor of our steeds.
My husband had to tell M. Souverain all the legends of the places we were passing, and as he himself "courtisait la Muse," he listened with rapt attention, so as to be able to treat the subjects in French verse. "This country is a mine for a poet!" he frequently exclaimed.
Luckily we had packed some provisions in the carriage, for the sun was already declining,—like the pace of the horses,—and we were not yet at the end of the drive by a good distance.
The fresh air had sharpened our appetites, and Gilbert proposed that we should have something to eat whilst the horses were taken out of harness and given a feed to refresh them and give them a little more vigor for the rest of the journey.
By the time we had finished our collation the air had freshened, and it was twilight; we agreed that now it was desirable to get within shelter as soon as possible, although the charm of the hour was indescribable; but the thin white mist was beginning to float over the lake, and the last remnants of the afterglow had entirely died out. What was our dismay when we found that all my husband's efforts, joined to those of the driver, to make the horses get up were ineffectual; there they lay on the grass, and neither expostulations, pulls, cracks of the whip, or even kicks, I am sorry to say, seemed to produce the slightest effect upon their determination to remain stretched at full length on the ground. What were we to do? The driver vociferated in Gaelic, but the poor brutes did not mind, and they would have been cruelly maltreated if we had not interfered to protect them. Gilbert said to the man: "You see well enough that they have no strength to work, therefore allow them to rest till they are able to go back. I leave you here, and as I have ladies with me I must try to find some sort of shelter for the night." The man was almost frantic when he saw us go, but we all agreed with my husband, and in the hope of finding a cottage set forth resolutely on foot.
It was now almost dark, but our spirits were not damped yet, and, as M. Souverain remarked, it was "une veritable aventure." Still, I was beginning to find my baby somewhat heavy after walking for three-quarters of an hour, when the gentlemen in front of us cheerily encouraged our exertions by calling out, "A cottage, a cottage!" and when we came up to them they were loudly knocking at the door, unable to obtain a sign of life from within; however, the smell of burning peat clearly indicated that the cottage was inhabited, and my husband shouted our story, begging that the door might be opened and the ladies allowed to rest. Then on the other side of the door, which remained closed, a voice answered in Gaelic we knew not what, except that the tone of it was unmistakably angry, and unbroken silence ensued.
There was nothing left to us but to resume our walk, enlivened by M. Souverain singing the celebrated song, "Chez les montagnards Ecossais l'hospitalite se donne," etc. Every one in turn offered to hold the baby; but Aunt Mary, I knew, had enough to do for herself, Anne was not strong, and my confidence in the fitness of the gentlemen for the function of nurse was very limited. My husband kept up our courage by affirming that we were not far from Ardhonnel, and consequently within a short distance of the inn; indeed, he called us to the side of the road, from which we could see the noble ruin with our own eyes, now that the new moon had risen and was peeping between the clouds occasionally. It was a welcome sight, for by this time we were really weary; but alas! the inn was on the other side of the lake, and we had no boat; still, Gilbert felt sure there must be one not very far off, to take the people across, and after surveying the shore for a while he discovered a little pier, with a rowing-boat chained to it, and a very small cottage almost close to where we stood; so he went to knock at the door, and again Gaelic was given in answer. But this time the door was opened by a woman who had only taken time to put on a short petticoat, and to throw a small shawl over her head; her feet, legs, and arms were bare, and she looked strong and placid; her English was scanty, but she understood pretty well what we wanted, and declared herself willing to row our party to the other side if any one could steer, for her "man" was asleep in bed and too tired for work; so my husband took a pair of oars, the woman another, and I steered from indications frequently given. At last we stood in front of the inn, and it was past midnight. Not a light was visible, not a sound was heard, and there was no sign of life except a faint blue wreath of peat-smoke; but it was enough to revive our energies and hopes. In response to our united appeals a dishevelled head of red hair cautiously looked down from a half-opened window, and our story had to be told again. Well, this time we were let in and allowed to sit down, whilst the ostler's wife was being roused as well as the servant, for we were told that the tourists' season, being already over, the inn was no longer in trim for customers. This was bad news, for the good effects of the luncheon had passed off, and as soon as we could rest and forget our fatigue we became sensible of ravenous hunger. The good innkeeper and his wife were so obliging and good-hearted that they kept deprecating the absence of all the comforts they would have liked to give us. However, my husband had brought a large basket of dry peat, and M. Souverain heaped it up dexterously, and blew upon what remained of red ashes under his pile, whilst a kettle was placed upon the glowing embers. "I am afraid I can't offer you the same cheer that you would give me at the maison Doree," Gilbert said to his friend. "Ca serait gater la couleur locale; oh! some bread-and-cheese, with a bottle of beer, will do very well for me." But there was neither bread nor cheese nor beer; and no kind of abode, however miserable, had M. Souverain ever known to be without bread. "What do they live upon then?" he asked. "Porridge, and they occasionally make scones," was the reply. Luckily for us there happened to be an ample supply of them, freshly made, and with these, boiled eggs, and fried bacon, we had one of the best appreciated meals we ever tasted. It was followed by hot whiskey-toddy and cigars for the gentlemen, by tea and clotted cream for the ladies, and for a while we quite revived; but sleep would have its way, and there being only two beds, occupied by the owners of the inn, they charitably yielded them to us; and when the sheets had been changed, Aunt Mary and Anne shared one, whilst I thankfully retired to the other with baby. The gentlemen remained near the fire in the dining-room, one of them stretched on the sofa, and the other using its cushions as a mattress.
On the following morning I learned the meaning of the word "smart" for the first time, it being so frequently repeated by our good hostess, who had made room for me by the kitchen fire to dress my child. "How smart is the sweet baby!" she constantly exclaimed with honest admiration, as she made him laugh by tickling his little feet or chucking his chin.
Our breakfast was a repetition of the supper in every detail, and our enjoyment of it more limited. My husband soon went out to hire a boat and a couple of men to row us back again. They took us first to Ardhonnel, of which he has given a description in "The Isles of Loch Awe,"—
"A gray, tall fortress, on a wooded isle, Not buried, but adorned by foliage."
The day was fine again, and the return home ideal; Gilbert steered and relieved each rower in turn, while they sang their Scotch melodies with voices strong and clear, and we all joined in the chorus. When we reached Port Sonachan we heard that our driver had only arrived towards mid-day, and that his horses not being strong enough to stop the carriage on the slope to the ferry, had fallen into the lake, from which they were rescued with great difficulty. We saw the carriage still dripping wet, which had been left out to dry, and for the repairs of which Gilbert later on received a bill that he indignantly refused to pay.
This "romantic excursion," as M. Souverain called it, had so much developed his fancy for Loch Awe that, before taking leave of us, he offered to go halves with my husband in the purchase of Innistrynich; but there was plenty of time for reflection, as the lease had four years to run, so no decision was taken then.
A fortnight after the departure of our Parisian guest, Aunt Mary and Anne left us regretfully,—the former especially, who was going back reluctantly to the jealous remarks of her sister, and did not feel disposed to listen patiently to criticisms on her nephew's character and conduct or on mine. From her letters afterwards she had not a pleasant time of it, but relieved the painfulness of it as much as possible by accepting at intervals several invitations from her friends in the neighborhood. This state of affairs made my husband very miserable, for he would have done anything to secure his Aunt Mary's happiness and tranquillity of mind; and to help him in his endeavors, I proposed that she should come to live with us. This is part of her answer:—
"I hope to return with you in May next. Give my very best love to dear Eugenie, and tell her that I thank her very much for proposing to gratify your affection to me by proposing that I should live with her and you; but Susan and I have taken each other for better and worse, unless some deserving person of the other sex should propose, and the one he proposes to should say, Yes, if you please. But I think we shall never separate."
It is with regret that I have to recall Miss Susan Hamerton's unamiable temper at that time; one thing comes in mitigation, but I only knew of it years afterwards: she was suffering much from unavowed nervousness. Her nephew told me that when living in the same house with her he had sometimes noticed that she ate hardly anything and looked unwell; but to his affectionate inquiries she used to answer: "My health is good enough, thank you; and I know what you imply when you pretend to be anxious about it—you mean that I am cross and ill-tempered." She made it a point never to plead guilty to any physical ailment, as if it were a weakness unworthy of her, and also to discourage all attempts at sympathy.
Another thing I learned too late was her jealous disposition, which explained her attitude towards her nephew at the time of his marriage; it was love turned sour, and although we tried to discover the cause of her bitterness in her worldly disappointment, we became convinced that she would have felt as bitter had the bride been wealthy and of noble lineage, because her jealousy would have tortured her as much, if not more. She became jealous of her sister when we invited her; and long afterwards, when her brother became a widower, and she went to live with him, he confided to his nephew that he had had to bear frequent outbursts of jealousy. It was merely the exaggeration of a tender sentiment which could not brook a rival.
Financial complications.—Summer visitors.—Boats and boating.—Visit to Paris.—W. Wyld.—Project of a farm in France.—Partnership with M. Gindriez.
While the "Painter's Camp" was progressing, which was to be the foundation of my husband's success, three pictures had been sent to the Academy and rejected; but after the first feeling of disappointment he was cheered up again by a favorable opinion from Millais about those pictures—one of them in particular, a sailing-boat on Loch Awe in the twilight, which was pronounced true in effect and color. Aunt Mary wrote to him soon after: "I am so very glad of the account you give of your pictures, and of Millais' opinion of them; it is very encouraging. I do hope truly that they will attract gain, good-will, and success for you."
As it would have been very expensive to have the pictures sent to and fro, with the deterioration of the frames, packing, etc., Mr. Hamerton begged a friend who lived in London to keep them in one of his empty rooms (he had a whole floor unfurnished) till there were a sufficient number of them for a private exhibition, in which he intended to give lectures on artistic subjects.
The mill, after thorough and expensive repairs, had been let, but there was bad news from the tenant of the coal-mine, who refused to pay the rent any longer, under pretext that the mine was exhausted. This looked very serious, as, after referring the matter to his uncle, who was a solicitor, my husband learned that the lease made during his minority did not specify the quantity of coal that the tenant was allowed to extract from the mine, and, of course, as much as possible had been taken out of it. Still, as there was an agreement to pay the rent during twelve more years, the tenant's right to withdraw from the signed agreement might be contested, and the affair had to be put into the hands of a lawyer. This was a cause of great anxiety, and it was not the only one. The health of my father had become very unsatisfactory of late, and his situation was no longer secure. He had been on most excellent terms with the English gentlemen who were at the head of the firm in which he was cashier, but they were retiring from business, and my father did not know what was coming next. He wrote on October 9, 1859:—
"Enfin je commence a respirer; depuis bientot six semaines je ne savais pas vraiment ou donner de la tete. Nous avons eu transformation de societe, inventaire, assemblee d'actionnaires, tout cela m'a donne un effrayant surcroit de besogne et de fatigue, et je n'avais pas le courage de reprendre la plume lorsque je rentrais au logis, harasse et souffrant. Aujourd'hui nos affaires commencent a reprendre leur cours normal."
On the 28th of the same month I find this phrase in one of his letters: "Ma position est plus tendue que jamais et les changements survenus dans notre administration me donnent des craintes serieuses pour l'avenir." Then we learned that a project for lighting Bucharest with gas was on foot, and that my father was to go there to ascertain the chances of success. Some outlay was necessary, and my husband, who had heard of it through a friend, generously offered to defray the preliminary expenses; his offer, however, was declined for the time, there being as yet no certainty of profit.
Early in 1860 Gilbert had to leave Innistrynich to visit his property and receive the rents. He always felt reluctant to go there, because of the painful reminiscences of his early youth, and of the dreariness of the scenery. There was also another reason, still more powerful,—he was not made to be a landlord, being too tender-hearted. How often did it happen that, instead of insisting on getting his rent from a poor operative, he left some of his own money in the hand of wife or child?—frequently enough in hard times, I know.
He was staying at "The Jumps," and went from there to Shaw, Burnley, and Manchester; he never missed writing to me every day, either a short note or a long letter, according to his spare time. In one of them he says:—
"Ma tante Marie est bien bonne, mais nous ne parlons jamais de choses serieuses—toujours des riens. Comme la vie est etrange! a quoi bon aller loin pour voir ses amis quand ils vous disent simplement qu'il fait froid!... ma tante Susan est assez gracieuse, mais j'ai vu des nuages. Je suis alle hier a Manchester ou j'avais a faire; j'y ai vu quelques tableaux et je suis de plus en plus convaincu que la meilleure chose pour moi est de peindre plutot dans le genre des vrais peintres Francais que dans celui de nos Pre-Raphaelites, ces realistes impitoyables qui ne nous epargnent pas un brin de gazon."
This letter contains a strong proof of his mind's artistic evolution.
In the course of the summer we had several unexpected visitors, among them Mr. and Mrs. Mackay, Mr. Pettie the artist, and the gentleman described in the "Painter's Camp" as Gordon, who frequently called,—sometimes with his son, sometimes alone, and on such occasions generally remained for the night. Being an early riser, and indisposed to remain idle till breakfast time, he was found in the morning knitting an immense woollen stocking, which he afterwards took into use, and found most comfortable wear for grouse-shooting, as he took care to inform me.
We had once another visitor, who had come to paint from nature, and was staying at the Dalmally inn; his name I will not mention on account of a little adventure which made him so miserable that he left our house breakfastless, rather than face me after it. He had been offered a bedroom, and had slept soundly till about five in the morning, when his attention was attracted by a small phrenological bust on the chimney-piece, which he took into his bed, with the intention of studying it at leisure. As he lay back on the pillow, however, holding up the bust and turning it sideways to read the indications, he became aware of a black dribble rapidly staining the sheets and counterpane. Horrified at such a sight, he sprang out of bed, and discovered—too late—that he had totally emptied the inkstand.
About the same time we had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Captain Clifton and his wife, Lady Bertha Clifton, who had rented a large house on the other side of the lake, and proved very friendly neighbors. Lady Bertha was extremely handsome; her voice was splendid, and she sang readily when she was asked. Our neighbors had speculated a good deal about her probable appearance, ways, and disposition, and the news that a lady in her own right was coming had created quite a commotion. I asked to be enlightened on so important a subject, and soon heard all the details from very willing lips. She was very simple in dress, and often came to call upon us in a fresh cotton-print gown and straw hat, with only the feather of a heron or a woodcock in it. Her husband, Captain Clifton, retired from the army, spoke French fairly well, and although he had little in common with Gilbert—being an enthusiastic sportsman—soon became his most constant visitor. Both of them liked the country and were fond of boating, and they both took an interest in politics.
A very pleasant feature had been added to the lake by the appearance of a small steamer belonging to a proprietor beyond Port Sonachan, who came with his wife to Loch Awe every summer. They invited us from time to time to join a fishing party, and we had either lunch or supper on board. There was a cabin for shelter, and the ladies, being thus protected against the almost unavoidable showers, readily joined the salmon-fishers.
In this summer of 1860 Aunt Mary came with our cousin Jane, whose sweet disposition and charm of manner greatly disturbed the peace of mind of a bachelor visitor, a distant relation of my husband, who was looking about for a shooting. Everything in his behavior seemed pointing to a not distant offer; but Gilbert, who was already a good judge of character, strongly doubted the final step. He said to me: "If Henry is too sorely tempted, he will run away rather than expose his wealth to the perils of matrimony; he does not spend his money, he is constantly earning more and accumulating, but he has told me that no amount of conjugal happiness could be a compensation to him if, at the end of the year, he found out that he had spent a thousand pounds more than what he was accustomed to spend regularly." And it happened that he left abruptly, just as my husband had foretold, but not without promising a future commission for two pictures when his billiard-room should be finished.
The love of boating was very strong in Gilbert, but the love of planning new boats with improvements was still stronger; in fact, he always had in a portfolio plans more or less advanced for some kind of boat, and he very often made models with his own hands. I was in constant fear of the realization of these plans, of which I heard a great deal more than I could understand. He was well aware of it, and sometimes stopped short to say with a smile: "Now, don't go away; I won't bother you any longer with boats." Unable to resist the temptation of devising improvements, even when he resisted that of testing them for his own use, he gave the benefit of his thoughts to his friends when they seemed likely to prove useful. In the course of the spring, however, he had been at work planning a much larger boat than those he already possessed; one which might, when needful, carry a cart-load of goods across the bay, or the whole camp to any part of the lake. I offered some timid remonstrances about the probable cost, but he met them by affirming that it would be an economy in the end, by saving labor. So two carpenters were fetched from Greenock, and began to work under his direction.
The building of the boat, which of course took more time than had been expected, delayed our departure for France, but at last we set off to introduce our baby-boy to his relations.
Once in Paris, Mr. Hamerton saw a great deal of his kind friend, William Wyld, whose advice he was better able to appreciate now that his ideas about art were no longer topographic. He began at this stage of artistic culture to enjoy composition and harmony of color; and though he still thought that his friend's compositions were rather too obviously artificial, he did not remain blind to their merit. He also saw more of Alexandre Bixio, brother of the celebrated Garibaldian general, at whose house he met renowned artists, men of letters, and politicians. Alexandre Bixio had been one of the founders of the "Revue des Deux Mondes," with Bulwer Lytton. He had acted as Vice-President of the Assemblee Nationale, and had been sent to the Court of Victor Emmanuel as Minister Plenipotentiary, and was an intimate friend of Cavour. One evening, after dinner at his house, he took Mr. Hamerton aside, and pointing to a young man engaged in an animated conversation with several other guests, he said: "I am very much mistaken if that is not a future Minister of State." "He looks very young," answered my husband, very much astonished. "He is young, he was born in 1827; but remember his name, and in a few years you will see if I am right: it is Signor Sella." Four years later Signor Sella was Minister of Finance.
As my husband has told in his autobiography, I had a sister younger than myself by seven years, very pretty and winning, about whose future we were very anxious, on account of the recurring interruptions in her studies, owing to my mother's distressing state of health. When periods of illness came on, the whole duty of attendance upon her devolved on my sister, disastrous as such breaks in her education might prove as the girl grew up. During the intervals of sickness my mother yielded to our entreaties, and Caroline was sent to school; but as a day-scholar she often missed classes for one reason or another, being so often wanted, and after becoming a boarder she never remained in the same institution for more than a few months at a time. My mother kept hoping that the trouble would not return, and tried to persuade us that now Caroline's studies would be regular, and that being very intelligent, she would soon be on a par with girls of her own age; but this state of things had lasted ever since I was married, and I could not foresee the end of it. We often talked about it, my husband and myself, and he soon guessed that I wished to have her with us, but that knowing how much he liked having our home to ourselves I would not ask him to bring another into it, even though it were my sister. He was, however, with his usual generosity, the first to offer it. Aware of how much it cost him I accepted nevertheless, for we were both of one mind, and considered it as a duty to be done. I looked upon my sister as my child, for my mother's illness had begun when Caroline was so young that almost all motherly cares had devolved upon me, who was the eldest. We kept our project secret to the last, not to disturb the family peace, and being sure of my father's acquiescence and of Caroline's delight. When the day came, my husband's persuasion prevailed, and my sister was entrusted to our care.
This time, while staying at "The Jumps," we noticed a great change in Aunt Susan's behavior towards us; it was decidedly friendly, with now and then an almost affectionate touch, and I was told privately that she had thrown out hints about the pleasure that an invitation to Innistrynich would give her, so the invitation was given before we left.
My husband applied to Caroline's teaching the system which had proved effective with me, and made her read English aloud to him whilst he was painting; I undertook the French and musical part of her education, and her progress was rapid. For my sake Gilbert was very glad that I had Caroline with me, because in the course of that year he camped out a great deal, and it had become impossible for me to accompany him, another little boy having been born in the beginning of February, and his delicate health requiring constant care.
Our pecuniary troubles were increasing. The American war having broken out, the mill, which had been repaired at great cost, was stopped in consequence, and of course we got no rent either from it or from the cottages, whilst the expenses of the little farm were heavy—hay being at an extravagant price, because of the persistent rains, which in the previous summer had rotted all the cut grass, and made it necessary to bring hay from England. Although we kept two cows, our supply of milk and cream was insufficient, and my husband made the calculation that each cow consumed daily seven shillings' worth of hay in this spring, though put on short rations. In fact, the state of our affairs greatly alarmed us, for we did not see any prospect of speedy earnings, and we began to think of a total change in our way of living which would materially reduce our expenses. My husband would have been inclined to remove to the English Lake District, but remembered in time that it was nearly as wet as the Highlands, and what he wanted as a compensation, if we left Scotland, was a dry climate which would allow much more time for out-of-door work.
It so happened that my father, who was now Directeur de l'Usine a Gaz at Beaucaire, had suffered in health, catching frequent colds through having to get out of bed to look after the puddlers, to stand before the fires whilst they were replenished, and to cross a cold, draughty courtyard in coming back. He had never complained, but my mother thought it extremely dangerous, and wished that he had a more healthy occupation.
On the other hand, I had diligently applied myself to our small farm and garden, with the help of a most valuable and simple guide, "La Maison Rustique des Dames," by Madame Millet-Robinet, which had been sent to me as a present by M. Bixio, and I had often thought that if my efforts were not always thwarted by the inclemency of the weather, I might count upon a fair return. All this led me to fancy that if we were to buy a farm in France it might prove a profitable investment, and I talked the project over with Gilbert. This is the conclusion he arrived at. He would sell his property, rent a farm in France, which I should manage with my father, himself remaining entirely faithful to his artistic and literary studies. If my mother were strong enough, and my sister willing, they would have a share in the direction, and even my brothers, later on, if it were to their taste. There were now many gentlemen-farmers who did not neglect either their work on the land or their own culture—M. and Madame Millet-Robinet might be cited as examples.
When the project was communicated to my father, he was very happy at the idea of living near us, and grateful for the delicate thoughtfulness which had devised this means of coming to his help under pretext of asking help from him. Here is part of his answer:—
"MON CHER FUTUR ASSOCIE,—Ah ca! pensez-vous donc que j'aie tout a fait la berlue pour n'avoir pas decouvert de prime abord tout l'insidieux de votre proposition? Il vous faudrait, dites-vous naivement, pour associe, un homme actif, exerce, connaissant bien les affaires, la culture, pour exploiter votre ferme et, plus heureux que Diogene, vous braquez votre lanterne sur un homme qui dans trois ans sera un quasi vieillard, deja valetudinaire aujourd'hui et sachant a peine distinguer le seigle du froment! Oh! l'admirable cultivateur modele que vous aurez la! Soyez franc, mon cher Gendre, vous avez rumine ce pretexte avec ma fille pour m'assurer des invalides et donner a ma vieillesse un repos et un abri que mon labeur n'a pas voulu conquerir au prix de mon honnetete. [Footnote: My father had been offered a very important post in the government of Napoleon III., on condition of accepting his policy, after the Coup d'Etat.] Je vous vois venir et j'ai beau etre un ane en agriculture, tout ce qui reussira me sera attribue; mon incapacite sera couverte d'un manteau de profonde habilete et vous me persuaderez que, livres a vos propres lumieres, vous ne feriez rien de bon, tandis qu'en me confiant le soc, c'est a moi que le sillon devra sa richesse."
My mother and my brothers also wrote warmly and gratefully, whilst all the details of the project were discussed at length in every successive letter. My father inclined for the purchase of a farm, but Gilbert was afraid of a possible confiscation of property in case of a war between England and France.
Meanwhile, Aunt Susan had entered into a regular and friendly correspondence with me and her nephew, and she wrote on June 27, 1861;—
"MY DEAR NIECE,—My sister and myself are quite annoyed to seem so dilatory in fixing our time for visiting you; however, we hope (D. V.) to be with you on Saturday, the sixth of July. I hope your little olive branches are both quite well, and also your sister; we shall be glad to renew and make fresh acquaintance amongst the young ones. I suppose Philip Gilbert will ere this be returned from his long camping expedition, and I hope he has had a most satisfactory outing. Will you all accept our united love, and believe me
"Your affectionate aunt,
My husband was at home to receive his aunts, and pleased to notice how amicably we got on together, but he was not prepared for what took place shortly before their departure. One morning I was gathering strawberries in the garden, and it was slow work because they were very small, being the wild species, which had been transplanted for their delicious flavor. Aunt Susan came up, and offered to help me. Never shall I forget the scene when we both rose from the strawberry-beds, with our fragrant little baskets well filled. We turned towards the lake, whose soft, hazy glamour matched that of the tender sky; the air was still, and there reigned a serene silence, as if a single sound might have desecrated the almost religious peace of earth and heaven; yet a smothered sob was heard as I felt myself caught in a close embrace, my head laid upon a heaving bosom, my hair moist with warm tears, a broken voice murmuring: "My child, how I have wronged you!... and I love you so—" "Oh! Aunt Susan," I said, "don't cry; I will love you too; my husband will be so happy." We kissed each other, and said no more, and from that time Aunt Susan became my most faithful friend.
The farm project having been seriously considered by my father, he at last declared it too hazardous for him to undertake the direction of it. From the first he had felt unequal to it, for want of the proper knowledge and preparation; and so much would depend upon its success—the future of two families. But having had formerly a long experience in the wine trade, and being a particularly reliable authority on the qualities and values of Burgundy wines (he was able to name the cru—that is, the place where the grapes were cultivated—of any wine he tasted, as well as the cuvee, namely the year in which it had been made); and having been in his youth the representative of an important wine firm in Burgundy, he was more inclined to undertake the management of a wine business than anything else. He said so to my husband, adding that the relatives and acquaintances we had in England might form the beginning of a good connection, and that his own name as head of the firm would secure a good many customers both in France and Belgium. His son-in-law was soon convinced of the wisdom of these reasons, and it was decided that towards the end of the year we would go to France to choose a new residence, suited to the requirements of the wine business, and situated in a part sufficiently picturesque to lend itself to artistic representation. It was stipulated that the name of Hamerton should not be used; the title of the firm was to be "Gindriez et Cie.," my husband being sleeping partner only.
Effects of the Highland climate.—Farewell to Loch Awe.—Journey to the South of France.—Death of Miss Mary Hamerton.—Settlement at Sens.—Death of M. Gindriez.—Publication of the "Painter's Camp."—Removal to Pre-Charmoy.
Very few people can stand the climate of the Highlands without suffering from it; it is so damp and so depressing in winter-time, when the wind howls so piteously in the twisted branches of the Scotch firs, and when the rain imprisons one for weeks within liquid walls of unrelieved grayness. Mr. Hamerton, since he came to Innistrynich, had repeatedly suffered from what he believed to be toothache, although his teeth were all perfectly sound, and the pain being always attended by insomnia, was a cause of weakness and fatigue detrimental to his general health. The doctor said it was congestion of the gums, due to the excess of moisture in the climate, which had not been favorable to either of us; for I had also discovered that my hearing was becoming impaired, and these were weighty additional reasons for removing elsewhere. I had been somewhat anxious at times, when I saw him fall suddenly into a state of listlessness and prostration, but as he always recovered his energy and resumed his usual avocations after a short sleep, I thought it must be the result of temporary exhaustion, for which nature kindly sent the best remedy—restoring sleep; and as he had told me he had always experienced the greatest difficulty in getting to sleep before midnight or at regular hours, and especially in getting a sufficiency of sleep in the course of the night, it seemed a natural compensation for the system, that an occasional nap should now and then become irrepressible,—the more so on account of his customary nocturnal rides, sails, or walks. To the end of his life the hours of the night seemed to him quite as fit for any sort of occupation as those of the day, and it made little difference to him whether it was dark or light; indeed at one time, years later, when at Pre-Charmoy, he began, to the stupefaction of his country neighbors, to call upon them at nine or ten in the summer evenings, and then to propose a row on the pond or a walk by moonlight; but it happened not unfrequently that he could get no admittance, rural habits having sent the inhabitants to their early beds; or else if they were still found in a state of wakefulness, they did not evince the slightest desire to be out with a noctambule, and even hinted that it might look objectionable and vagabondish in case they were seen. He was greatly astonished at this new point of view; for it was merely to spare the working hours of the day that he took his relaxation in the night.
A good many more pictures had been painted in the course of the year, and had suggested many "Thoughts about Art," which had been duly consigned to the manuscript of the "Painter's Camp." Aunt Mary, who was kept au courant, wrote: "How can you, dear Philip Gilbert, find time to paint so much, and to write so much?" It was now necessary to be more industrious than ever, in order to have a sufficient number of works to cover the walls of the exhibition room, the project being near its realization and matured in all its details. My husband was to take me, our children, and Caroline to my parents at Beaucaire, and leave us there while he went in search of a house, then back again to the Highlands for the removal, and before joining me again he was to organize the exhibition in London with the help of Thursday, and leave him in charge of it.
About the middle of October, 1861, we started for our long journey southwards, with mingled feelings of deep regret for what we left behind,—the country we still loved so much, the associations with the births of our children and the laborious and hopeful beginnings of an artistic and literary career, as well as the tender memories of the growth of our union, which solitude had tested and strengthened and made so perfect and complete; then if we looked forward, it was with joyful feelings for the lasting reunion of the family, for the peace and happiness we were going to give to my father's old age, and also for future success and easier circumstances.
We stopped at Todmorden to say farewell to our relations, and also paid farewell visits to some friends, amongst them Mrs. Butler and her husband—Mr. Hamerton's Burnley schoolmaster; to Mr. Handsley, for whom he had as much esteem as affection, and to his half-cousins Abram and Henry Milne, who had agreed to purchase his property, and had given him a commission for the two pictures already spoken of at Loch Awe, and destined for the billiard-room, which had been built in the meantime, and was now used daily.
On arriving at Beaucaire, we found my mother in much better health than formerly, but my father looked aged, we thought; however, he was much cheered by our prospects, and entered heartily into every detail concerning them.
My husband had not much time to spare, and he made the most of it; together we saw Arles, Nimes, the Pont du Gard, and Montmajour, and called upon Roumieu, the Provencal poet, to whom we were introduced by friends. We used to roam along the shores of the Rhone in the twilight, the noble river affording us a perpetual source of admiration, and one evening, when we were bending over one of its bridges looking at the swollen and tumultuous waves after a storm, we became spellbound by the tones of a superb voice, coming as it seemed from the sky, and singing with happy ease and unconcern, one after the other, some of the most difficult parts in the opera of "William Tell." We dared not speak for fear of losing a few notes, for the rich, full voice hardly paused between two songs, never betraying the slightest effort or fatigue; half-an-hour later it ceased altogether, and we went to my father's full of our discovery.
"Oh! it's Villaret of the brewery; yes, a splendid tenor, but he has long been discovered; only he has no musical education, and his relatives won't hear of his going on the stage. Alexandre Dumas, after listening to him, offered to pay all necessary expenses to enable him to attend the Conservatoire, but it was of no use: they are very religious in the family, and have an insurmountable horror of theatres. He is, himself, a very simple, good-natured fellow, and does not require much pressing to sing whenever he is asked. I know some of his friends, and the lady organist of the church particularly; and if you wish to hear him at her house, I dare say she would give a soiree to that end."
Two days later we were invited by the lady to meet him, and with evident pleasure, but without vanity, he sang several pieces, with very great power and feeling. At last, when the company were leaving, the lady of the house took Gilbert aside to beg him to remain a little longer with Villaret, and when everybody else had left, she said: "Now, Monsieur Villaret, I count upon the pleasure of listening to my favorite piece in 'La Muette de Portici.' I am going to play the accompaniment." "I would if I could, to oblige you," he answered; "but you are aware of my weakness. I never can do justice to it, because I can't master my emotion." "Never mind; you must fancy we are alone together. Mr. Hamerton and his wife will remain at the other end of the salon, behind your back; and what then if you break down?... no one will be any the worse for it." She sat down and began the accompaniment of that most exquisitely tender song,—
"De ton coeur bannis les alarmes, Qu'un songe heureux seche les larmes Qui coulent encore de tes yeux."
The words were hardly audible; but we were so moved by the marvellous purity of the pathetic voice that tears stood in our eyes. As for the singer, tears rolled down his face. It was one of those rare and perfect pleasures that are never forgotten. A few years later Villaret made his debut as first tenor at the Opera in Paris with great success. He was very generous with tickets to his early friends and fellow-citizens; some of his most intolerant relatives had died, and he had yielded at last to the general wish.
Now came for my husband and myself the longest separation in our married life. It lasted two months, and seemed at least two years, so sad and wearied did we grow. He wrote every night succinctly what had been done in the course of the day, and sent me his letters three times a week.
When beds had been packed up or sold, our kind neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Whitney, offered him hospitality, which he gratefully accepted, till everything was cleared out of Innistrynich and on its way to Sens, in the department of the Yonne, where our new residence was to be.
On his way to Sens, Gilbert stayed a few days with his aunts, but left them for a short time, and concluded the sale of his property to Henry Milne. It was but a poor bargain, the times being bad for the cotton district on account of the American war; but he had no alternative, having engaged to find capital for the wine business, and even needing money for daily expenses, for as yet he earned nothing.
What he had been in dread of for so many years, on account of his Aunt Mary's state of health, happened just as he was returning to "The Jumps," and when he saw his uncle Thomas awaiting him at the station he had a foreboding of the truth. "Aunt Mary is dead?" ... "Not dead yet, but unconscious, and there is no hope. This morning when Susan was in the breakfast-room, waiting for her sister, she heard a stamping overhead, followed by a dull, heavy thud, and on rushing upstairs found Mary stretched on the floor and moaning, but unconscious. She has been put to bed and attended by doctors; but there is nothing to be done, and they say that she does not suffer." Mournfully my husband ascended alone, in the dark night, the steep hill up which he had so often walked gayly to see his beloved guardian; tenderly he watched at her bedside for forty-eight hours, till she breathed no more, and at last reverently accompanied her remains to the chosen place, which he never omitted to visit afterwards, every time he came to Todmorden. He wrote to say what a satisfaction it was to think that his aunt had seen him only a few hours before the attack, and when it came she must have felt him so near to her.
I remember an incident which took place on the day we took leave of Aunt Mary to go to Innistrynich; she had invited two of her nieces to lunch with us at "The Jumps." When we left the house, some time in the afternoon, I went first with my cousins, leaving nephew and aunt together for more intimate communing, and when my husband reached us, his eyes were still moist and his voice tremulous. The girls thoughtlessly teased him about it, and twitted him with his weakness; but he did not allow them to amuse themselves long, he cowed them with a violence of contempt which terrified me, whilst I could not help admiring it. "Yes," he said, "I have shed tears—not unmanly tears—and if you are not capable of entering into the feelings of grateful love and regret which wring these tears out of my heart, I despise you for your heartlessness." His voice had recovered its firmness and rang loud, his eyes shot flames, he looked more than human. These startling outbursts of generous or honest passion were one of his most marked characteristics; they occurred but rarely, but when they did occur nothing could abate their terrific violence; a single word in mitigation would have acted like oil on the flames. It must be explained that they were always justified by the cause, and it was impossible not to admire such genuine and high-minded resentment against meanness or dishonesty, or in some cases against what he considered insulting to his sense of honor. For instance, on one occasion a very important sale of works of art was to take place abroad, and he was asked to contribute some notes to the catalogue. It was hinted—clearly enough—that any words of praise would be handsomely acknowledged. He resented the offer like a blow on the face, blushed crimson with ardent indignation, and almost staggered to the writing-table; there he seized a postcard, and in large, clear, print-like letters threw back the insult with cutting contempt. The sense of having cleared his honor somewhat relieved him, and after waiting for a propitious moment I tried to persuade him, before the card was posted, that the offence was not so heinous as it looked, the writer not knowing him personally, and merely imagining himself to be acting in conformity with a prevalent custom, which some critics were far from resenting. All I could obtain, however, was an envelope for the terrible postcard.