Now to resume the narrative. I left Beaucaire to join my husband at Havre on his return, and after visiting the town together we hastened to our new house at Sens, which I longed to see, for it had been chosen in my absence, and though I had received minute descriptions of it, I was not able to realize its appearance or surroundings. It was one of the large, roomy maisons bourgeoises, so numerous in French provincial towns at that time, built for the convenience of the owner, and not in order to be let as an investment. It was perfectly suitable for the double purpose Gilbert had in view—with a spacious carriage entrance, courtyard, cellars, barns, and stable for the wine trade, and large, commodious, well-lighted rooms for residence. But to my regret there was no garden,—a great privation for me; however, my husband told me that our landlord had promised to make one if I cared so much for it. I did care very much, as the only view from the house was that of other houses and walls on the other side of the street; but when asked to fulfil his promise, the landlord said it was a misunderstanding, he had merely given leave for us to make a garden in the courtyard if we liked, or else he would let us have one for a moderate rent, outside of the town, a common habit at Sens. However, as I did not appreciate the pleasure of an hour's walk every time I wished to smell a flower in my garden, we declined the offer, and my husband kindly planned a narrow flower-bed all along the base of the walls in the courtyard, which looked gay enough when the plants were in full bloom, and the walls were hidden by convolvulus, nasturtiums, and Virginia creepers.
Even before the house was furnished and in order, Gilbert was eager to begin his commission pictures; but he soon found that even our large rooms were too small for a studio, and the light was not good for painting; but at the same time, I believe he was not really sorry, because it gave him a plausible excuse for turning one of the barns into a capital studio.
This outbuilding offered great and tempting advantages; it was isolated from the house, therefore silent and private; it might be lighted from the north, and was sufficiently spacious to allow a part to be divided off for a laboratory. Being greatly interested in architecture and building, my husband derived great pleasure from the execution of his own plans, even in such a small matter. I vainly attempted to reconcile him to the idea of using one of the large rooms, standing in fear of the expense; but I could not help admitting that with his propensity for large canvases, which I deprecated all my life, a studio was indispensable; and, after all, as it seemed almost certain that we should stay there a great many years, it was not of much importance, especially after having lived in terror of seeing him undertake the building of a tower, or the restoration of an old castle like Kilchurn,—a dream that he often indulged, as numerous designs bore testimony.
The first thing considered by Gilbert when he settled at Sens was the choice of subjects for his commission pictures, which he intended to paint directly from nature; and he soon selected panoramic landscape views from the top of a small vine-clad hill, called St. Bon, which commands an extensive prospect of the river Yonne, and of the plains about it. On the summit of this eminence there is a kiosk belonging to the archbishop, who readily granted the use of it to the artist for sheltering his pictures, brushes, colors, etc. But the artist was not one who could bear confinement, and the kiosk was but a tiny affair, and not movable, so two of the tents were set up at its foot, and formed a painter's camp, which attracted so many curious visitors that it was thought unsafe to leave it at their mercy; and when Gilbert went back home for the night a watchman, well armed with pistols and a gun, took his place. Every day, when the great summer heat had abated, I used to set off with the children to go and meet my husband at the foot of the hill, and we returned together to the house, attempting on the way to make the boys speak English, but without success, for the eldest, who spoke nothing but English when I had left him two months before at Beaucaire, now chose to gabble in Provencal, which he had picked up from his nurse, regardless of his Aunt Caroline's efforts to make him talk in his native tongue. Subsequently, when he perceived that no one understood him, he quickly dropped his Provencal and replaced it by French, but would not trouble himself to speak two different languages together.
By the care and thoughtfulness of Gilbert, a pretty little house and garden had been prepared for his father-in-law and family, at a short distance from our own dwelling, where the office of the business was now ready on the ground-floor, completely fitted up, and separated from the private dwelling.
My mother had come first with my brothers and sister, whilst my father remained a little longer to put his successor au courant. But it seemed to me that the delay was longer than we had foreseen, and I began to grow anxious on account of my letters remaining unanswered; then I was told that my father was very busy, not very well, and that he could not write. About a month later he wrote that he was now well enough to undertake the journey, and with great rejoicings we prepared to receive him; but when I noticed how altered he was, how thin, how weak, all my joy forsook me, and it was almost beyond my power not to let him read it in my face. Courageous as ever, he tried to be and to look happy, and talked of setting to work immediately. I learned now that he had been dangerously ill, but that his malady had been kept secret to spare me.
A few trying months followed, during which we passed alternately from hope to fear, the most distressing feature of this sorrowful time being my poor father's desperate struggle for life. "I must and I will live to work; it is my duty to get well; I have a heavy debt and responsibility now that you are involved in this business," he used to say to his son-in-law. He had the greatest confidence in his friend, Alphonse Guerin, the celebrated discoverer of the antiseptic method of dressing wounds, and thought that if any one could cure him it was A. Guerin, who had prescribed for him throughout his life in Paris. Accordingly to Paris he went, and died there shortly after, notwithstanding the devoted care of his doctor.
Everything seemed to turn against my husband's wisest plans, but nothing daunted by this last fearful blow, he at once offered his mother-in-law a pension sufficient to enable her children to carry on their education; this pension would gradually be diminished as the children became able to earn money for themselves and to take their share in the maintenance of their mother. The fact was, that from that time he had two families to keep.
Besides the studies at St. Bon, he had begun two pictures of large dimensions in his studio, and worked at them steadily. As he could not sit down, this excess of fatigue brought on a very serious illness, which kept him in bed for nearly a fortnight, and it was the only instance of his submission to such an order from a physician during the whole course of our married life, but it was rendered imperative by the nature of the disorder. He hated remaining in bed when awake, at all times, and he could not stand it at all in the hours of day; later on he had the measles, and still later he suffered from gout, but he would not stay in bed in either case, and during the first attack of gout, which was as severe as unexpected, he remained for twenty-one nights without going to bed.
This illness prevented him from attending the marriage of his eldest cousin Anne Hamerton, about which her sister wrote on July 22, 1862, that it was to take place on August 6, and after giving a good many details she observed: "You may be above such vanities, but I think Eugenie may be a little interested; poor Eugenie, how anxious she must have been, having you in your room so long! How are your pictures progressing? It must decidedly be a punishment to you to be limited to time at your easel, particularly now, when you must feel so wishful to get on with your commissions."
After his recovery, my husband arranged his work in a manner which divided the hours into sitting ones and standing ones, to avoid a return of the late inflammatory symptoms; and there never was a recurrence of them.
The pictures were in a fairly advanced stage when Mr. William Wyld came on a visit of a few days and gave him valuable advice about them. His Aunt Susan said in a subsequent letter: "I am very glad Mr. Wyld has been to see your pictures, and though you may be a little dissatisfied that your present works will be 'dirt cheap,' still the cheering opinion of them will give you great courage, I hope. I shall certainly go to see them as soon as they get to Agnew's."
So much for the art department. For the literary one the "Painter's Camp" had been accepted by Mr. Macmillan, and we were in a fever of excitement awaiting its publication. As to the wine business, after remaining irresolute for some time, Gilbert had accepted the proposition of a friend to assume what should have been my father's part,—with this alteration, however, that he would pay interest on the funds confided to him, and share the clear profits with the sleeping partner.
This episode in my husband's life was so bitter, and involved him in such difficulties, that I will cut it short. Suffice it to say, that though the partnership was continued for a few years, during which the interest of the money came but irregularly, the capital was entirely and irremediably lost in the end.
When autumn came, the commission pictures were sent to Manchester for exhibition, and shortly after Mr. Milne declined to accept them, on the plea that he did not care for the subjects: the real reason being that his sensitive heart had been again impressed—this time by a young governess, of whom he had bought two copies after Greuze, which were now occupying the place formerly destined for his cousin's works. However, another friend soon became their purchaser, but for the artist the disappointment remained.
Sadness for the loss of his aunt, Mrs. Thomas Hamerton, which happened just at that time, and sympathy with his uncle in these trying moments, spoilt the pleasure Gilbert had anticipated from the visit to his relations which we made that year. We were to go back to France with return tickets; and the time allowed being nearly over, we went to take leave of our friends at West Lodge, when we learned that Mrs. T. Hamerton, who had lately been suffering from an attack of gout, had succumbed to its weakening effects. Regardless of the pecuniary loss, my husband immediately expressed his determination to stay as long as he could be of any help to his uncle. We therefore sacrificed our tickets, and went back to "The Jumps," whence he came down every day to spare his uncle all the painful formalities of a funeral. We only left when the run of ordinary habits had been re-established at West Lodge, but even then we felt that a new misfortune was lurking in the silent house, for the health of Jane Hamerton, who had never been very strong, now began to disquiet her friends, particularly my husband, whose affection for her was very true and tender. Aunt Susan, who was her devoted but clear-sighted nurse, wrote to us in the course of the summer that her case was very serious, notwithstanding the short periods of improvement occurring at intervals. The poor girl had grown very weak and lost her appetite; almost constantly feverish, she longed for fruit to refresh her parched mouth and quench her thirst. As soon as he became aware of this longing, Gilbert began to plan how he might gratify it, and it appeared easy enough, as we were in a land of plenty; but the time required for the transport of such delicacies as grapes and peaches threatened ominously their safe arrival. However, we would run the risk to give a little relief to our dear invalid, and we would take the greatest precautions in the packing. So we went to a fruit-grower, taking with us a large box filled with dry bran and divided into compartments: one was filled with melons, another with grapes, the last with peaches, every one taken from the tree, vine, or plant with our own hands, then wrapped in tissue-paper and protected all round with bran. The result will be seen in the following letter from Jane:—
"MY DEAR EUGENIE AND P. G.—A thousand thanks for the enormous box of fruit, which arrived here to-day about noon: it is quite a honey-fall to the inhabitants of West Lodge, more especially to me. I am very happy to tell you that the grapes have arrived in perfect condition, and that the melons seem to have suffered only outwardly, as the one cut into is quite luscious and good. The sausage (saucisson de Lyon) also appears to have borne the journey well, but has not yet been tasted, so the next letter from Todmorden must give the opinion upon it, but it certainly looks to me a most comical affair; and to tell last the only disagreeable thing, it is about the peaches, which were all in a dreadful mess, and quite mixed up with the bran and scarcely fit to touch, though Aunt Susan did take out one or two to see the extent of the decay. How very provoking for you both when you heard of the detention at Havre, particularly when P. G. had taken such precautions with regard to the outside directions."
If I have given such apparently trivial details at length, it was to show how generous of his time and thought was my husband in everything concerning affection or pity; his sympathy was always ready and active, and he never begrudged his exertions to give relief or comfort to those in need of either.
It had been most fortunate for the young author of the "Painter's Camp in the Highlands" that the MS. of the book happened to come under the eyes of Mr. Macmillan himself, who, being in want of rest, and attracted by the title, had taken it with him in the country and had read it with great delight. Being a Scotchman, he was in immediate sympathy with so fervent an admirer of the Highlands as my husband, and had at once agreed to publish the book.
From the first it was a success: the freshness of the narrative, the novelty of the subject, the truthfulness and charm of the descriptions were duly appreciated, together with the earnest (if still immature) expressions of the "Thoughts about Art." The book soon found its way to America, where it attracted the notice of Roberts Brothers' publishing house. They were charmed with it, and published an edition in America. The "Painter's Camp" was well received by the Press of both nations, and the reviews were numerous. It was compared to "Robinson Crusoe" and called "unique." The author was very much amused to hear that "Punch" had given an illustrated notice of it under the title of "A Painter Scamp in the Highlands."
This success—almost unexpected—led my husband to accept proposals for other literary productions, the most important at that time being contributed to the "Fine Arts Quarterly Review," and beginning with an elaborate criticism of the Salon of 1863. He also began to write for the "Cornhill" and "Macmillan's Magazine," much against his wish, merely because painting was a source of expense without a return.
Although, my husband had himself chosen Sens for his residence, his choice had been dictated by necessity, to a great extent, rather than by preference. It was a combination of conveniences for different purposes, but the kind of scenery was so far from giving entire satisfaction to his artistic tastes that he began to suffer seriously from mountain nostalgia. He admired the river, and had upon it a lovely rowing-boat, bought of the best boat-builder at Asnieres, and he used it often, but without finding river landscape a compensation for mountain scenery. In fear of a serious illness, we thought it better to gratify the longing, and devised a plan for a journey to Switzerland which would greatly reduce the expense without spoiling the pleasure. It was this: The new line of railway from Neufchatel to Pontarlier had just been opened, and passed through the most beautiful scenery. Gilbert offered the company an article in an English paper in return for two travelling tickets, for himself and his wife, and the offer was accepted.
It was a charming holiday. We stayed a few days at Neufchatel with friends, and visited at our leisure Geneva, Lausanne, Lucerne, Bale, and Berne, and after feasting his eyes on Mont Pilatus, the Jungfrau, and Mont Blanc, my husband came back cured. He had sometimes spoken of the possibility of a removal to Geneva (before we had been there), on account of the lake and Mont Blanc; but I objected that we did not know the place. To this objection he had a very characteristic answer: "You don't know the place, but I know it as well as if I had dwelt there, after reading so many descriptions of it, and being aware of its geographical situation." When I remarked that it was quite different from what I had anticipated, he said: "It is exactly what I had imagined." He often used to tell us that he had no need of going to Rome, or Vienna, or to any other celebrated town, to know its general aspect, for he had studied their monuments in detail, the prevailing character of their architecture, that of the inhabitants with their costumes and manners, and he was even acquainted with the names and directions of the principal streets.
At the end of the year, our sweet cousin Jane died with great resignation, thankful to be delivered from her long, wearying, consumptive pains. Aunt Susan had volunteered to be her bed-fellow from the month of June, in order to move her gently, and to support the poor wasted frame upon her own, to relieve the bed-sores by a change of posture; her devotion had been indefatigable and unrelieved, for her invalid niece would accept attendance from no one else.
This loss was keenly felt by my husband, whose little playfellow she had been; the threatening symptoms of the disease had prevented her coming to us, together with her father and aunt, as it was proposed they should do in the summer, and now grief did not allow her bereaved relatives to entertain the idea of a change.
It is likely enough that the series of sorrows and disappointments we had experienced since we came to Sens prevented our growing attached to the place; it may be also that our roomy but thoroughly commonplace house, being one of a row in a street devoid of interest, never answered in the least to our need of poetry or even of privacy, particularly with our minds and hearts still full of dear Innistrynich; but certain it is that we did not feel the slightest regret at the idea of leaving it forever; nay, we even longed to be away from it. This feeling was common to both of us, yet we both refrained from mentioning it to each other for some time, thinking it unreasonable, till we came to discuss it together, and to agree that it would not be unreasonable to exchange a house too large for our wants for a smaller one at a lower rent, and a town life that neither of us enjoyed for a simpler mode of living in some picturesque country-place more suitable for my husband's artistic taste.
It must be explained that our partner had decided to take a house in the very heart of Burgundy to carry on the business, on the plea that the name of the renowned vineyards surrounding it, being on the address, were likely to inspire confidence in the customers. He added that the situation would also be more favorable for his purchases, sales, and business journeys, and of course, being the only working partner, he acted as he liked. Then what was the use now of those empty cellars, dreary paved courtyard, and formal office? We had no pleasant associations there, having made no friends on account of our mourning—why should we remain against our inclination?
We decided to remove as soon as we had discovered something for which we might form a real liking, and the result of our experience has been given at length by Mr. Hamerton in "Round my House," to which I refer the reader for details which could not find place in the following brief account of our search.
It was begun on the shores of the Rhone, whose noble landscape my husband so much admired. But although the scenery was very tempting to an artist, that was not the only condition to be considered, and we were soon discouraged by the prevailing dirtiness and slovenliness of the people, and by what we heard of the disastrous inundations. We were also afraid of our children catching the horrid accent of the country. So we thought of the Saone district, Gilbert being unable to bear the idea of being at a remote distance from an expanse of water of some kind.
Here again the landscape was appreciated, though for charms different from those of the Rhone. Unluckily we could not find a suitable house in a good situation, and we also learned that intermittent fevers were very prevalent, on account of the periodical overflows of the Saone.
We tried after that the vine-land of Burgundy, where Gilbert told me what he has repeated in "Round my House": "There is no water, with its pleasant life and changefulness, here." I also agreed with him in thinking the renowned vineyards of the Cote d'Or most monotonous, except during a very short time indeed, when they are clothed in the splendor of gold and purple, just before a cruel night of frost strips them bare, and only leaves the blackened paisceaux visible, for more than six months at a time. Then we turned to the beautiful valley of the Doubs, and discovered the very dwelling of our dreams, in which were found all the conditions that we thought desirable. However, we were doomed to a new disappointment, for the owner, when we offered to take it, changed her mind and coolly declined to let.
Fortunately, some time later, a friend directed us to quite another region, that of the Autunois, to see a very similar house, offering about the same advantages. There were a few points of difference; for instance, the little river encircling the garden was only a trout-stream, instead of the broad and placid Doubs; the building was also of more modest appearance. As compensations, however, there were picturesque and extensive views from every window; the situation was more private, and the solitude of the small wild park with its beautiful trees at once enchanted Gilbert. So we decided to take Pre-Charmoy.
Canoeing on the Ternin.—Visit of relatives.—Tour in Switzerland.— Experiments in etching.—The "Saturday Review."—Journeys to London.—Plan of "Etching and Etchers."—New friends in London. —Etchings exhibited at the Royal Academy.—Serious illness in London.—George Eliot.—Professor Seeley.
NOT to waste his time in the work of removal and fitting up, Mr. Hamerton remained behind at Sens, to finish the copying of a window by Jean Cousin in the cathedral and some other drawings, begun to illustrate an article on this artist. We had all gone forward to Pre-Charmoy, and when he arrived there, everything being already in order, he continued his work without interruption. He was delighted with the unpretentious little house, and with its views from every window; with the silent, shady, wild garden, and its group of tall poplars by the clear, cool, winding river which divided it from the pastures on the other side, and he often repeated to us with a smile, "Pre-Charmoy charme moi." Although the house was small, there were a good many rooms in it, and the master had for himself alone a studio (an ordinary-sized room), a study, and a carpenter's shop—for he was fond of carpentry in his leisure hours, and far from unskilful. He liked to make experimental boats with his own hands, and moreover he found out that some kind of physical exercise was necessary to him as a relief from brain-work, for if the weather was bad and he took no exercise he began to feel liable to a sort of uncomfortable giddiness. I wished him to consult a doctor about it, but he believed that it would go away after a while, for it had come on quite lately while painting on an open scaffolding inside the cathedral at Sens, when he could see through the planks and all round far below him, and this had produced, at times, a kind of vertigo.
The pretty little boat bought at Asnieres was all very well for the Arroux which flows by Autun, but for the narrow, shallow, winding Ternin and the Vesure, some other kind of craft had to be devised, and paper boats were built upon basket-work skeletons, and tried with more or less success. My eldest brother Charles, who had finished his classical studies and was now preparing to become an architect, used to come from Macon for the holidays, sometimes bringing a friend with him, and together with Gilbert they went exploring the "Unknown Rivers." They generally came home dripping wet, having abandoned their canoes in the entanglement of roots and weeds after a sudden upset, and having to go and fetch them back with a cart, unless the shipwreck was caused by an unsuspected branch under water, or by the swift rush of a current catching the frail concern and carrying it away altogether, whilst the venturesome navigator was gathering his wits on the pebbles of the river-bed.
Towards the end of August, Mr. Thomas Hamerton and his sister Susan came to visit us. They liked the Autunois—at least what they saw of it— exceedingly, but they suffered much from the heat, particularly our uncle, who had remained true to his youthful style of dress: high shirt- collar sawing the ears and stiffened by a white, starched choker, rolled several times about the neck; black cloth trousers, long black waistcoat, and ample riding-coat of the same color and material. He was also careful never to put aside either flannel undergarments or woollen socks. Our kind uncle was a pattern of propriety in everything, but the fierce heat of a French August on a plain surrounded by a circle of hills was too much even for Mr. T. Hamerton's propriety, and he had to beg leave to remove his coat and to sit in his shirt-sleeves. There was a stone table under a group of fine horse-chestnuts in the garden, not far from the little river, to which we used to resort after dinner with our work and books in search of coolness, and there even my husband did his writing. One afternoon, when we were sitting as usual in this shady arbor, all silent, uncle dozing behind the newspaper, and his nephew intent on literary composition, what was our astonishment at the sight of sedate Aunt Susan suddenly jumping upon the table and remaining like a marble statue upon its stone pedestal, and quite as white. We all looked up, and uncle pushed his spectacles high on his forehead to have a better sight of so strange an attitude for his sister to take. At last Aunt Susan pointed to something gliding away in the grass, and gasped: "A serpent! oh, dear, oh, dear, a serpent!" Vainly did my husband try to calm her fright by explaining that it was only an adder going to seek the moisture of the river-bank and never intending to attack any one, that they were plentiful and frequently to be met with, when their first care was to pass unnoticed; our poor aunt would not be persuaded to descend from her pedestal for some time, and not before she was provided with a long and stout stick to beat the grass about her as she went back to the house.
Mr. T. Hamerton's intention, as well as his sister's, was to go to Chamouni and the Mer de Glace, and to ask their nephew to act as guide. He was glad enough to avail himself of the opportunity for studying mountain scenery, but felt somewhat disappointed that I declined being one of the party, from economical motives.
The letters I received during their tour bore witness to a fervent appreciation of the landscape, of which a memento was desired, and Gilbert undertook to paint for his relatives a small picture of Mont Blanc after reaching home; meanwhile, he took several sketches to help him. As he was relating to me afterwards the incidents of the journey, he remembered a rather amusing one. At Bourg, where they had stopped to see the church of Brou, he came down to the dining-room of the hotel and found his uncle and aunt seated at their frugal English breakfast of tea and eggs, which he did not share because tea did not agree with him, but took up a newspaper and waited for the table d'hote.
"My word!" exclaimed his uncle, when dejeuner was over, "but you do not stint yourself. I counted the dishes: omelette, beef-steak and potatoes, cray-fish and trout, roasted pigeons and salad, cheese, grapes, and biscuits, without mentioning a full bottle of wine. Excuse my curiosity, but I should like to know how much you will have to pay for such a repast?"
"Exactly two francs and fifty centimes," answered his nephew; "and I dare say your tea, toast, butter, and eggs will come to pretty near the same amount, for here tea is an out-of-the-way luxury, and also you had a separate table to yourselves, whilst the table d'hote is a democratic institution."
"Then let us be democrats as long as we remain in France, if the thing does not imply being deprived of tea."
From London, on her way back, Aunt Susan wrote:—
"We went to the Bedford Hotel, Covent Garden, and bespoke beds, got something to eat, and then set out. Our first visit was to 196 Piccadilly, where Thursday was glad to see us, and where we stayed a long time, well pleased to look at your pictures. I like them all exceedingly, and could not decide on a choice; they each had in them something I liked particularly. When we had been gone away some time, we remembered we had not paid our admission, so we went back; this afforded us another looking at the pictures and also a pleasing return of a small etching; our choice was 'Le four et la terrasse de Pre-Charmoy!' We were well contented with what we got, but I did think the proofs beautiful."
Mr. Hamerton's strong love of etching had now led him to the practice of it, and for several hours every day he struggled against its technical difficulties. Full of hope and trust in a final success, he turned from a spoilt plate to a fresh one without discouragement, always eager and relentless. His main fault, as I thought, was attempting too much finish and effect, and I used to tell him so. He acknowledged that I was right, and when taking up a new plate he used to say playfully: "Now this is going to be a good etching; you don't believe it because you are a little sceptic, but you'll see—I mean not to carry it far." Then before biting he showed it me with "Look at it before it is spoilt." It was rarely spoilt in the biting, but by subsequent work. Many charming proofs I greatly admired. "Oh! this is only a sketch; you will see the improvement when I have darkened this mass." Then I begged hard that it should be left as it was, and I was met by arguments that I could not discuss,—"the effect was not true so," "the lights were too strong," or "the darks too heavy;" "but very little retouching was necessary," and it ended in the pretty sketch being destroyed after having been re-varnished and re-bitten two or three times. When it was no longer shown to me, I was aware of its fate. The amount of labor bestowed upon etching by my husband was stupendous, as he had to seek his way without help or advice. A plate once begun, he could not bring himself to leave it—not even in the night, and at that time he always had one in hand. Heedless of his self-imposed rules about the division of hours for literary work and artistic work, he devoted himself almost entirely to the pursuit of etching. This made me very uneasy, for it had become imperative that he should make his work pay. The tenant of the coal-mine had reiterated his decision not to pay rent any longer, and when threatened with a law-suit answered that he would put it in Chancery. I had been told that a suit in Chancery might last over twenty years, and we had no means to carry it on. We were therefore obliged to abandon all idea of redress, and were left entirely dependent upon the earnings of my husband, which were derived from his contributions to the "Fine Arts Quarterly Review," and to a few periodicals of less importance. From that period of overwork and anxiety dates the nervousness from which he suffered so much throughout his life; though at that time he believed it to be only temporary. He sought relief in outdoor exercise, especially in canoeing, and this suggested the "Unknown River," published later, but based on the excursions undertaken at that time, and on sketches and etchings done on the way.
The picture painted in remembrance of the journey in Switzerland had been finished and dispatched, and this is what Aunt Susan wrote about it:—
"We are now in possession of our picture, which we received from Agnew yesterday morning, and we are very much pleased with it; my impression is that it is a very good, well-finished painting: we have not yet concluded where to hang it for a proper and good light. We are very glad to hear that Mamzelle Mary Susan Marguerite (as Uncle Thomas called her) is thriving and good; be sure and give her a kiss for each of us."
Mamzelle Mary Susan Marguerite had been born early in the spring, and to the general wonder of the household, seemed to have reconciled her father to the inevitable cries and noises of babyhood. Brought up by two maiden aunts in a large, solitary house in the country, and addicted from early youth to study, my husband had a perfect horror of noises of all kinds, and could not understand that they were unavoidable in some circumstances; he used to call out from the top of the stairs to the servants below "to stop their noise," or "to hold their tongues," whenever he overheard them singing to the babies or laughing to amuse them, and if the children's crying became audible in the upper regions, he declared that the house was not fit to live in, still less to work in. One morning when the youngest boy was loudly expressing his distaste for the ceremonies of the toilet, his father—no less loudly—was giving vent to his irritation at the disturbance, and calling out to shut all the doors; but he could not help being very much amused by the resolute interference of the eldest brother—three years old—who, crossing his little fat arms, and standing his ground firmly, delivered this oracle: "Papa, babies must cry." I suppose he had heard this wise sentence from the nurse, but he gave it as solemnly as if it were the result of his own reflections. Whether a few years' experience had rendered his father more patient generally, or whether he had become alive to the charm of babyhood—to which he had hitherto remained insensible—it was a fact first noticed by the nurse that "Monsieur, quand la petite criait, voulait savoir ce qu'elle avait, et la prenait meme dans ses bras pour la consoler."
A very important event now occurred: Mr. Hamerton was appointed art critic to the "Saturday Review," where he succeeded Mr. Palgrave at his recommendation. He did not accept the post with much pleasure, but it afforded him the opportunity of studying works of art free of expense, and that was a weighty consideration, besides being an opening to intellectual and artistic intercourse of which he was greatly deprived at Pre-Charmoy.
The visits to the London exhibitions necessitated two or three journeys every year, and we both suffered from the separations; but I could bear them better in my own home—surrounded by my children, visited by my mother, sister, and brothers—than my husband, who was alone amongst strangers, and who had to live in hotels, a thing he had a great dislike for. In order to make these separations as short as possible, he travelled at night by the most rapid trains; saw the exhibitions in the day, and went to his rooms to write his articles by gas-light. For some time he only felt fatigued; afterwards he became nervous; but he found compensation in the society of his newly made friends, and in the increasing marks of recognition he was now meeting everywhere.
He soon gave up hotel life, and took lodgings in St. John's Wood, where he had many acquaintances, and from there he wrote to me:—
"I have seen Palgrave, Macmillan, Rossetti, Woolner, and Mr. Pearce to-day. Palgrave says the 'Saturday Review' 'is most proud to have me.' Woolner says it is not possible to succeed as an art critic more than I have done; that Tennyson has been very much interested in my articles, and has in consequence urged his publishers to employ Dore to illustrate the "Idylls of the King." They have offered the job to Dore, who has accepted.
"The best news is to come.
"The 'Painter's Camp' is a success after all. It has fully cleared its expenses, and Macmillan is willing to venture on a second edition, revised, and I think he will let me illustrate it; he only hesitates.
"Macmillan has positively given me a commission for a work on Etching.
"I am to be paid whether it succeeds or not. I cannot tell you the exact sum, but you shall know it soon.
"It is to be made up of articles in different reviews. It is to be a guinea work of 400 pages, beautifully got up, with 50 illustrative etchings by different masters, and is to be called 'Etching and Etchers.'
"Macmillan said that as to my capacity as a writer there existed no doubt on the subject. He fully expects this work on Etching to be a success. It is to be out for Christmas next.
"Macmillan is most favorably disposed to undertake other works, on condition that each shall have a special character like that. One on 'Painting in France' and another on 'Painting in England' looms in the future. He prefers this plan to the Year-book I mentioned to you.
"The great news in this letter is that I have written a book which has paid its expenses. Is not that jolly? The idea of a second edition quite elates me. So you see, darling, things are rather cheering. I must say, everybody receives me pleasantly. Woodward is going to give me a whole day at Windsor. Beresford-Hope is out of town, but called to-day at Cook's and said 'he was most anxious to see me.'"
My husband wrote to me sometimes in French and sometimes in English; when my mother came to keep me company during his absence, he generally wrote in French, to enable me to read aloud some passages of his letters that she might find interesting. The following letter was written on his first journey to London for the "Saturday Review ":—
"CHERE PETITE FEMME,—Me voici installe dans un fort joli appartement tout pres de chez Mr. Mackay, a une guinee par semaine; j'y suis tout-a-fait bien.
"Samedi dernier je suis alle d'abord chez Mr. Stephen Pearce que j'ai trouve chez lui; c'est un homme parfaitement comme il faut; il m'a recu bien cordialement et il m'a invite a diner demain. J'ai dine chez Mrs. Leslie hier et j'ai passe tout le tantot d'aujourd'hui chez Lewes qui habite une fort belle maison a cinq minutes d'ici. J'ai beaucoup cause avec l'auteur de 'Romola;' c'est une femme de 45 ans, pas belle du tout, mais tres distinguee, elle m'a fort bien recu. Lewes lui-meme est laid, mais tres cordial. Voila quelque chose comme sa physionomie. [Sketch of Lewes]. Je vais te donner George Eliot sur l'autre page. Il est tres gentil avec elle. [Sketch of George Eliot.] Ce portrait n'est pas tres ressemblant, mais il donne une bonne idee de l'expression—elle en a enormement et parle fort bien. Son salon est un modele de gout et d'elegance, et toute sa maison est aussi bien tenue que celle de Millais, par exemple. Nous avons cause de beaucoup de choses, entre autres precisement de cette curieuse question de priere selon Comte. Elle soutient que c'est raisonnable dans le sens d'expression de vif desir, de concentration de l'esprit vers son but. Son argument etait bien fortement soutenu par sa maniere energique de raisonner, mais je lui ai tenu tete avec beaucoup d'obstination, et nous avons eu une veritable lutte. Elle a une singuliere puissance, quelque chose qui ne se trouve jamais que chez les personnes d'un genie extraordinaire. Quand elle a voulu me convaincre, elle y mettait tant de persuasion et de volonte qu'il me fallait un certain effort pour garder la clarte de mes propres idees. Je te dirai cela plus en detail quand nous nous reverrons.
"Lewes m'a dit qu'il serait content d'avoir d'autres articles de moi pour la 'Fortnightly Review.'"
Two days later he wrote:—
"I dined with the Mackays yesterday; Mr. Watkiss Lloyd was there, and other friends came in the evening. I spent the day at home, writing, but I have an engagement for every night this week—I am becoming a sort of professional diner-out.
"I have been talking over the illustrations of the 'Painter's Camp' with George Leslie. He has promised to do twenty etchings of figure-subjects to illustrate it, and I shall do twenty landscapes. I have learned a great deal from Haden here, and I feel sure now of grappling successfully with the difficulties which plagued me before. Besides, I am anxious to have a book with etchings in it out in time to appear with the work on Etching. I am sure this new edition of the 'Painter's Camp' will be something jolly. It's nice to think I shall have two beautiful books out at Christmas. It will give my reputation a fillip. It appears that Charles Dickens, Alfred Tennyson, and George Eliot are amongst my most assiduous readers. Isn't it pleasant to have readers of that class?..."
I will give here a few more extracts from his letters at that time; it is the best way of becoming acquainted with his method of work, as well as with the state of his mind.
"Yesterday I went to see some exhibitions and Mrs. Cameron's photographs; they are really very fine, quite different from anything one ever saw before. You will be very much struck with them, I am sure.
"Mr. Palgrave and I spent a delightful evening together yesterday; we talked till midnight. I found him a pleasant companion. We had some music; Mrs. Palgrave plays well. He has a nice collection of Greek vases, which would delight Mariller. [A figure-painter who lived at Autun, and who drew the figures for the 'Unknown River.']
"The more I reflect on matters, the more I rejoice to live far away from here. Known as I am now, I am sure that if I lived in or near London I should be exposed to frequent interruptions, and gradually our dear little private life would be taken away from us both. Besides, this continued excitement would kill me, I could never stand it; I really need quiet, and I get it at Pre-Charmoy. Just now I bear up pretty well, but I know I could not stand this for three months—out every evening, working or seeing people, or going in omnibuses. And then I need the great refreshment of being able to talk to thee, and to hear thee talk, and play with the children a little; all that is good for me,—in fact, I live upon it. I want to be back again. My breakfast in the morning is a difficulty; as you know, I never can eat an English one, and if I don't I am not fit for much fatigue. The distances, too, are terrible. Still, on the whole, I keep better than I expected to do. I hope the dear little boys are both quite well, and my little daughter, who is the apple of my eye."
About the difficulty of eating an English breakfast, it must be explained that since Gilbert had begun to suffer from nervousness he had given up coffee and tea; besides, he only liked a very light breakfast, and we had tried different kinds of food for the morning meal: chocolate he could not digest, although it was to his taste; cocoa he did not care for; beer and dry biscuits succeeded for a time, but at last we discovered that soup was the best breakfast for him, vegetable soup (soupe maigre) especially, because it must not be too rich. At home I always made his soup myself, for, being always the same—by his own choice—he was particular about the flavor; it was merely onion-soup with either cream and parsley, or onion-soup with Liebig and chervil. In the great summer heat he took instead of it cold milk and brown bread. It may be easily surmised that such a frugal meal could not last him far into the day, particularly as he was a very early riser, and often had his bowl of soup at six in the morning; then, when he felt hungry again—at ten generally—he drank a glass of beer and ate a slice of home-made brioche, which allowed him to await the twelve o'clock dejeuner a la fourchette.
The following passage is extracted from a letter written a few days after those already given:—
"J'ai dine chez Woolner hier. Quel brave garcon! Ses manieres avec moi sont tout-a-fait affectueuses, et je me sens avec lui sur le pied de la plus parfaite intimite. Il n'y a pas un homme a Londres qui possede un cercle d'amis comme le sien: tout ce qu'il y a de plus distingue en tout. Palgrave dit que Woolner fait un choix serieux dans ses amities. Sa femme est jolie, delicate, gracieuse, intelligente; elle me fait l'effet d'un lys.
"J'ai recu la visite de Haden hier, il m'a plus enseigne relativement a l'eau-forte en une demi-heure de conversation que dix ans de pratique ne l'auraient fait. Voici mes engagements:—
"Samedi, diner chez Leslie. Dimanche, tantot chez Lewes. Lundi, diner chez Pearce. Mardi, " " Mackay. Mercredi, " " Shaw. Jeudi, " " Woolner. Vendredi, toute la journee avec Woodward. Samedi, soiree chez Marks. Lundi, diner chez Haden. Mardi, " " Constable fils:
"et il n'y a pas de raison pour que cela s'arrete, excepte mon depart pour West Lodge qui sera, je crois, pour mercredi."
However, he had to postpone his departure on account of a distressing and alarming disturbance of his nervous system. Mr. Haden recommended him to give up all kind of work immediately, which he did, and for a few days he only wrote short notes.
"NORTHUMBERLAND STREET. Wednesday Morning.
"Je suis toujours faible, mais je crois que je puis supporter le voyage aujourd'hui. Si j'etais une fois a West Lodge je m'y reposerais bien. Si je me sentais fatigue je m'arreterais n'importe ou. La surexcitation cerebrale est completement passee, mais je n'espere pas etre remis avant un mois."
From West Lodge he wrote, in answer to one of my letters:—
"Our present business is to look simply to the question, what will be most economical? I have no objection to any arrangement which will save my keeping a man, but I have a decided objection to that. [It was about the garden, one half of which I proposed to cede on condition of having the other half cultivated free of charge.] Any arrangement you make that does not involve my keeping a man has my approbation beforehand.
"I saw Macmillan again before leaving, and now he is for bringing out the new edition of the 'Painter's Camp' in May. It will be a pretty little book, but I can't get Macmillan to go to the expense about illustrations. Colnaghi will publish etchings for me, and after all the hints and instructions received from Haden, I feel quite sure that I shall succeed in etching.
"I expect to be at Pre-Charmoy in a few days, when I shall be delighted to see you all, my treasures."
Having returned to London, he writes:—
"I spent last evening with Beavington Atkinson, who was to have come to see us in France; you remember Woodward wrote about him. He and his wife are most agreeable people, and I like him really; there is something so intelligent and pleasing in his manner.
"Yesterday I went through Buckingham Palace to see the pictures. There is a fine Dutch collection. Then I went to the British Museum to see the Rembrandt etchings, and was accompanied by a collector, Mr. Fisher. This evening I am to spend with Haden again; he has a magnificent collection of etchings, and will help me very much with my book. So now I am sure of the right quantity of assistance in my work.
"I was with the editor of the 'Saturday' this afternoon; nothing could exceed his kind, trustful way.
"Still, I wish I were back with you; but I shall hurry now and come back fast."
Two days later:—
"Je me sens de nouveau fatigue. J'ai cause aujourd'hui avec l'aubergiste de Walton-on-Thames, et il m'a dit qu'il nous nourrirait et nous logerait tous les deux pour L2 par semaine. On y est tres bien, il y a un jardin, et des etudes a faire en quantite. Mr. Haden pense que la peinture ne fatiguerait pas autant le cerveau que la litterature.
"Si je t'avais avec moi, et si je restais plus longtemps, je n'aurais pas besoin l'annee prochaine de revenir au mois de juillet. Voila le reve que j'ai fait. Je viendrais a Londres une ou deux fois par semaine seulement, et je t'aurais la-bas. Je ne pense pas vivre sans toi, je meurs d'ennui."
The kind of life we led at Pre-Charmoy suited perfectly my husband's tastes, and he was soon restored to health. He would have been entirely happy but for pressing cares; still, thanks to his philosophical disposition, he contrived to enjoy what was enjoyable in his life. He was extremely fond of excursions in the country, and we often used to set off with nurse and children in the farmer's cart, to spend the day in some picturesque place, where he could sketch or paint. We had our provisions with us, and both lunched and dined on the grass under the fine chestnuts or oaks, so numerous in the Morvan, by the side of a clear stream or rivulet; for running water had a sort of magic influence upon Gilbert, and instinctively, when unwell from nervous exhaustion, he sought its soothing influence. We generally rambled about the country after each meal, and whilst he drew I read to him, leaving the children to their play, under the charge of the nurse.
So far we had taken upon ourselves the teaching of the boys, but for some time past I had perceived that it was becoming inadequate to their present requirements, and I told their father that I thought they should be sent to college,—any rate the eldest, who was nearly eight years old; but he demurred, not seeing the necessity for it. He had a notion that they could be much better educated at home, according to a plan of his own: Latin and Greek would be reserved for their teens, because it was a clear loss of time before, and they would be taught modern languages early, together with science and literature. To this I objected, that, if successful, it might be a very good education for boys who were certain of an independence, but that it did not seem a good way towards the degrees necessary for almost every one of the liberal professions. Besides, who was to teach the boys when he was away? and would he always find spare time to do it, and regular hours also? I was certain he would never be punctual as to time; only he did not like to be told so, because, being aware of this shortcoming, he made earnest efforts to correct it, and constantly failed. It was difficult to him to bear any kind of interruption, or any compulsory change of work—involving loss of time—and on that score very trying to one who wanted always to finish what he had in hand. He hardly ever came down at meal-times without the bell being rung twice, and often when he did come down, he used to say: "That bell was getting angry," and he was met with this stereotyped phrase from us: "And it made you abandon the refractory sentence at last!"
Well, he acknowledged there was some weight in my objections to home instruction, but "he could give tasks to be done in his absence, and correct them afterwards." I asked, who could help the young students when they were in a fix? and would they be always inclined to apply themselves steadily to their tasks without supervision? That was expecting too much, but it seemed natural to him to expect it, as study and work had ever been both a necessity and a pleasure to him. However, he yielded, but so strong was his disapproval of public school teaching as it was carried on, that at first he would have nothing to do with it. I had to go to the principal of the college, and make terms and arrangements; the only condition he made was that the boys should come home every Saturday night, and remain till Monday morning, and the same from Wednesday to Friday regularly, for their English lessons and for their health. I desired nothing better, and the principal agreed to it. Whenever the boys complained of anything about their college life afterwards, their father used to say good-humoredly: "I have no responsibility in the matter; I did not want you to go to college, you know—it was your mother."
Pre-Charmoy being four kilometres distant from the town of Autun, and five from the college, where the boys had to be in time for the eight o'clock class, summer and winter, it became necessary to have some means of conveying them to and fro, for they were still very young,—Stephen a little over eight, and Richard hardly seven. The eldest boy went alone at first, but his brother soon insisted on going too. We decided to do like most of our country neighbors, that is, to have a little donkey-cart, because it would have been both inconvenient and expensive to hire the farmer's so frequently. Accordingly we bought a small, second-hand carriage with its donkey, and I was taught to drive; my husband would have preferred a pony, but I was nervous at the idea of driving one, although I had been told that it was much easier to manage than a donkey, and discovered afterwards that it was the truth.
The little cart proved a great convenience for my husband's studies, as he could start with it at any time, and there was no trouble about the care of the donkey, the servant-girls being accustomed to it from infancy—almost every household in the vicinity being in possession of this useful and inexpensive animal. There is a Morvandau song, known to all the little shepherdesses, in illustration of the custom:—
"Mes parents s'y mariant tou Me j'garde l'ane (bis). Mes parents s'y mariant tou Me j'garde l'ane taut mon saoul!
"Mais quand mon tour viendra Gardera l'ane (bis). Mais quand mon tour viendra Gardera l'ane qui voudra."
At first we had a swift little animal, which could not be stopped at all when he was behind another carriage, till that carriage stopped first. It was an advantage in some cases,—for instance, when preceded by a good horse; but if the horse went further than our destination, one of us had to jump out and hold back the fiery and stubborn little brute by sheer force, till his sense of jealous emulation was appeased.
The load upon the cart, when we were all together, was found excessive for the animal, and my husband, who was always deeply concerned about the welfare of dumb creatures, decided to have a bigger and stronger donkey. He bought a very fine one, strong enough to pull us all, but he did it in such a leisurely fashion that he received the expressive name of "Dort-debout." This led my husband to write to me sometimes from London, after a hard day's work: "Here is a very short note, but I am like our donkey, je dors debout."
The editor of the "Saturday Review" asked Mr. Hamerton to be present at the opening of the Paris Exhibition of 1867, and to write a series of articles on the works of art exhibited; then to proceed to London for a review of the Academy. He wished me very much to go with him, and I being nothing loth, we started together, and received in Paris the following letter from Aunt Susan:—
"WEST LODGE. April 20, 1867.
"MY DEAR NEPHEW,—I am very glad indeed to hear from you, as I now know where to direct my long-intended epistle to you; your uncle thought you would not like to come to the exhibition in its very unfinished state, and I thought you would like to be at the opening of it, and so the matter was resting quite unacted upon. I grieve very much to tell you of the sad tidings we have of poor Anne Gould; there has been a consultation with her medical men, and they pronounce her case very serious,—in fact, incurable. She grows thinner and weaker almost every week, and one lung is said to be affected. A confinement is expected in July, and I cannot but still hope that she may possibly come round again; but it has been sorrowful news. We shall be very glad to see you both at West Lodge when you can make it convenient, and I do hope and trust we shall be able to enjoy the anticipated pleasure of your company. You will have left home with comparative comfort, the boys being both at college, and, I expect, grandmamma with the little sister. I was very glad when you wrote 'before we can be in England,' as it assured me the little wife was not to be sent homeward from Paris, instead of accompanying you to West Lodge, where we shall be very glad to see her."
Nevertheless, I had to go homewards, for about three weeks after our arrival in Paris I heard that my little daughter Mary was ill with bronchitis, and I hastened to her whilst my husband was leaving for London. I was doubly sorry, because he was very reluctant to go alone; but although he felt a sort of instinctive dread of the journey he did not attempt to detain me. He had borne the sight-seeing very well, and the crowds, which he disliked; but it was mainly because he had been spared hotel life, for we had lodged with a former servant of ours, who was married at Pre-Charmoy, and now lived at La Glaciere, in Paris. It was by no means a fashionable quarter, and our lodgings left much to be desired in the way of comfort, but it will be seen how much he regretted it all when alone at Kew, where he had taken lodgings after much suffering from fatigue, over-work, and depression. Still, the first news from London was very gratifying:—
"Un mot seulement pour te dire que toutes les huit eaux-fortes sont recues a l'Academie et bien placees. Ces Academiciens commencent a devenir gentils.
"Ce matin je suis alle de bonne heure a l'Academie, comme d'habitude; j'ai maintenant ma carte d'exposant dont je suis tres fier."
But after a fortnight he wrote:—
"PETITE CHERIE,—Aujourd'hui je vais me donner le plaisir de m'entretenir longuement avec toi. Combien je prefererais te parler de vive voix. Je suppose que je suis tres bien ici; c'est-a-dire j'ai tout ce que j'aime materiellement: le bon air, la belle nature, un petit appartement d'une propriete vraiment exquise, une belle riviere tout a cote, et des canots a ma disposition. Et cependant, malgre cela je suis d'une tristesse mortelle, et j'ai beau me raisonner la-contre. Nous avons ete si heureux ensemble a Paris, malgre notre sale petite rue que je vois bien la verite de ce que tu m'as dit qu'il vaudrait mieux vivre dans n'importe quel tandis, ensemble, que dans des palais, et separes. Si je croyais a l'immortalite de l'ame, je regarderais avec effroi la possibilite d'etre au ciel pendant que tu resterais sur la terre. Je crois que ma maladie est due principalement a la tristesse et je tache de lutter la-contre. Je vais faire quelques eaux-fortes et aquarelles dans mes moments de loisir pour m'empecher, autant que possible, de penser a ma solitude.
"J'ai eu un peu de fievre dans la nuit, et ce matin je suis calme, mais fatigue. Il ne faut pas t'en alarmer cependant; le voyage et l'exposition reclamaient une reaction, et elle arrive naturellement au premier moment ou j'ai la possibilite du repos. Quant au repos, je m'en donne aujourd'hui pleinement; je ne fais rien; mais je me reposerais mieux si tu etais ici pour me dire que tu m'aimes et pour mettre tes douces mains sur mon front. Je deviens par trop dependant de toi, je voudrais etre plus fort—et pourtant je crois qu'on est plus heureux etant triste a cause d'une separation d'avec la femme aimee que si l'on etait insensible a cette separation. Allons! je ne voudrais pas vendre ma tristesse pour beaucoup! elle s'en ira le jour ou je te verrai; en attendant je la garde volontiers."
Then follows a minute description of his lodgings, of Kew itself—the gardens, the river, the different boats upon it—and he concludes:—
"Tiens, voila que je redeviens un peu gai, ce qui est bon signe; peut- etre, quand j'aurai recu une lettre de toi cela ira mieux. Ainsi, ta-ta, good-bye; embrasse bien les chers enfants pour moi et dis a ma petite Marie que je lui rapporterai une pepem [for poupee, which she could not yet pronounce clearly] ou autre chose de beau."
A few days later:—
"Je suis alle aujourd'hui au musee Britannique continuer mes etudes. Le systeme que j'ai adopte parait bon, et ca va bien. Je limite rigoureusement mes travaux en choisissant seulement la creme de la creme des planches.
"Je me suis promene ce soir au jardin de Kew; ces promenades me rendent toujours triste, parce qu'a chaque bel arbre ou jolie fleur, je me figure combien tu en jouirais si tu etais avec moi. Quand on s'est si bien habitue a vivre a deux il est difficile de redevenir garcon. Dans ces moments de tristesse je pense toujours a la separation eternelle, et au sort de celui de nous qui restera. Enfin j'apprends ici une chose qui me servira toujours, c'est que pour moi maintenant tout est vanite sans toi. J'ai un jardin Royal a ma disposition, des collections d'oeuvres d'art superbes, les plus jolis canots, une belle riviere, de bons livres a lire, du succes avec les editeurs et une reputation en bonne voie, et pourtant cette existence ne vaut pas la peine de vivre. Il est bon de savoir ces choses la et de se connaitre. A Paris ou notre existence materielle etait pleine d'ennuis, j'etais pourtant heureux. Il ne faut pas de ton cote etre triste parce que je le suis, du moins si tu peux l'eviter. C'est une affaire de deux ou trois semaines, voila tout. De mon cote je suis si occupe que je n'ai pas le temps de penser a moi- meme, et je travaille avec la regularite d'un homme de bureau. C'est lorsque je rentre chez moi que je souffre de ne point t'avoir.
"Quant a ma sante, elle va mieux. Je connais l'etat de mon systeme nerveux et l'effet que le chemin-de-fer lui produit. Aujourd'hui je n'en ai rien ressenti du tout. Quand je suis malade, la vibration et le mouvement des objets me font souffrir un peu."
On the following Sunday:—
"DEAR LITTLE WIFE,—Last night I passed the evening with a set of artists, friends of George Leslie, at the house of one of them, Mr. Hodgson. They acted charades, and as their costumes (from their own ateliers) were numerous and rich, it was very good. Among them were Calderon and Frederick Walker. This morning we all set out for a walk on Hampstead Heath; I have no doubt the walk will do me good, but I am very well now, and feel better every day.
"I called on Rossetti the painter; he lives in a magnificent house, furnished with very great taste, but in the most extraordinary manner. His drawing-room is very large indeed and most curious; the general effect is very good. He was very kind in receiving me, and I saw his pictures, which are splendid in color, and very quaint and strange in sentiment. His own manners are singularly soft and pleasant. I called on Mr. Barlow the engraver, and spent some time with him about the etchings. He will lend me some; Marks will lend me some also. The worst of the way I go on in London now is that society absorbs too much time. I must restrict it in future very much."
After the walk to Hampstead he wrote:—
"Yesterday, Sunday, I went on a long walk to Hampstead with several artists who live close together, and I never met seven more agreeable and more gentlemanly men; I enjoyed our conversation extremely. George Leslie and I got some lunch at the inn and walked back together.
"Calderon's studio that I saw a few days ago is richly tapestried and very lofty; it is quite as fine as that of Millais. It seems Leighton has built himself a studio forty feet long. Mr. Barlow, the engraver, has a fine studio attached to the one you saw him in, and far larger. All these artists complain of nothing but the too great prosperity of the profession in these days; they tell me an artist's life is a princely one now. They live and dress like gentlemen, and their daughters might be 'clothed in scarlet.'
"The reason for my staying in London longer than I intended is the time I have spent in society—a thing I certainly shall never do again— because I go to bed so late, always after twelve, whereas if I were not in society I should go to bed at nine or ten, and keep my strength up easily. Another thing I am sure of is that, on the whole, the advantages of being isolated, as I am at Pre-Charmoy, counterbalance and more than counterbalance the disadvantages. I certainly would not, if I could, have a house in London; the loss of time is awful. The only good in it for a painter is that the dealers are always after him for pictures as soon as he succeeds.
"Mind you have a man from the farm to sleep in the house every night. It would be well for him to have the gun loaded, only take care the children don't get at it. My health is still tolerably good, sufficiently so for me to get easily through what I have to do."
But the next news was far from being so satisfactory.
"J'ai des nouvelles de West Lodge qui sont vraiment tristes. Anne est accouchee prematurement, et l'enfant—une fille—est morte apres avoir vecu deux nuits et un jour. On l'a baptisee Annie Jane Hamerton Gould. Anne est dans un etat de faiblesse tel qu'on n'espere pas la conserver au-dela de quelques semaines, et mon pauvre oncle est dans l'ile de Wight avec elle, ou tout cela se passe. La tante Susan, de son cote, est malade d'une fievre gastrique—maladie bien dangereuse, comme tu sais; elle a pu m'ecrire quelques mots au crayon; elle se trouve un peu mieux, ce qui me fait esperer que probablement sa bonne constitution triomphera du mal. Je voudrais aller la voir de suite, mais je suis tellement retenu par mon travail; et puis le bon arrangement de ce travail et son heureux succes m'avaient fait regagner un peu ma serenite d'esprit, et maintenant je souffre de nouveau pour mon oncle et ma tante. Vraiment c'est penible d'etre la avec son dernier enfant qui s'en va si vite. Si encore la pauvre petite avait vecu, mon oncle aurait eu une fille peur remplacer les siennes, car il faut bien parler d'Anne comme d'une personne morte.
"Je me felicite des resultats de mon nouveau systeme: je me leve de fort bonne heure, j'ai fini dans l'Academie a 10 h. 1/2; alors je fais une course, et immediatement apres je me rends au Musee ou je dejeune. On y dejeune tres bien et pas cher; tu comprends que c'est pour les gens de lettres qui travaillent a la bibliotheque. Je rentre ici a six heures, et le soir je me promene un peu au jardin, ou sur l'eau; apres quoi j'ecris a la petite femme cherie et je me couche. Aujourd'hui, comme hier, j'ai etudie et decrit dix tableaux et dix planches. Je crois que mes notes sur les aquafortistes iront plus vite que je ne l'avais espere. J'ai deja termine Claude, Salvator, Wilkie, Geddes, Ruysdael, Paul Potter. J'arriverai a ma vingtaine si ma sante se maintient pendant tout mon sejour. Je reserve le samedi et le dimanche a Kew pour ecrire ou dessiner.
"Je m'etonne du mauvais de certains aqua-fortistes celebres. Dans toute l'oeuvre de Ruysdael je ne trouve que deux bonnes planches, et encore si elles etaient publiees dans l'ouvrage de la Societe Francaise, je les trouverais peut-etre mauvaises. Dans Salvator il y en a egalement deux ou trois bonnes. L'oeuvre de Claude est belle en somme, avec plusieurs mauvaises choses toutefois.
"Adieu, petite cherie, le temps de mon exil diminue, et alors je te reverrai, toi et les enfants."
But he was suddenly and violently seized by a mysterious illness, which threatened not only his life but his reason, as he told me afterwards. He longed to have me near him, yet he was so courageous that, to spare me, he only wrote that he was suffering from fatigue:—
"CROWN INN, WALTON-ON-THAMES.
"Ca va toujours tout doucement. Je me promene tranquillement. Je reste encore ici deux nuits pour gagner un peu de force. Je suis toujours tres faible, mais le cerveau va mieux, je n'ai point de surexcitation cerebrale. Je ne dois pas beaucoup ecrire. Ainsi tata, ma bien aimee.
"Puisque je sais que tu dois etre inquiete je t'ecris une deuxieme fois aujourd'hui pour te dire que je vais beaucoup mieux. La force commence a me revenir. Je me suis bien promene, lentement, toute la journee. Je n'ai pas ose te dire combien j'ai desire ta chere presence ces jours-ci. Si je l'avais dit tu aurais ete capable de te mettre en route. C'est toujours triste d'etre malade, mais c'est terrible quand on est seul dans une auberge. [He had gone to Walton-on-Thames for quiet and rest.]
"Enfin j'espere que c'est a peu pres passe pour cette fois, et je me promets bien de ne plus jamais travailler au-dessus de mes forces. Mr. Haden dit que je n'ai point de maladie, mais que je suis incapable de supporter tout travail excessif. Il va falloir regler tout cela."
"J'ai du renoncer a mon travail pendant deux jours parce que j'ai besoin de repos, et il me semble plus sage de le prendre a temps que de me rendre malade. Lorsque je suis malade je ne puis pas me reposer, tandis que maintenant, je suis simplement fatigue. Je dors bien, mais comme je suis seul dans mon logement, je deviens tout triste. Je n'ose pas penser du tout a Pre-Charmoy parce que cela me donne une telle envie de te voir que j'en serais malade. Ah! si la force physique voulait seulement repondre a la force morale! Moralement, je n'ai jamais ete plus fort, plus dispose a la lutte; et puis ces jours de fatigue arrivent et m'accablent, et je souffre dix fois plus qu'un paresseux s'y resignerait.
"Beaucoup de baisers aux enfants, et beaucoup pour toi, petite femme trop cherie. Je n'ose penser combien ce serait gentil si tu etais ici aupres de moi."
In answer I immediately proposed to go to him, as our little daughter was convalescent, and her grandmother would take care of her during my absence, but he declined.
"PETITE CHERIE DE MON COEUR,—Je viens de recevoir ta bonne lettre, il n'est pas necessaire que tu viennes; je gagne graduellement. J'ai passe la soiree avec Mr. Pearce qui sait que je suis malade. J'ai echappe sans doute a un grave danger, j'ai meme eu peur de perdre la raison; mais tout cela est passe; je suis calme et quoique faible encore—plus fort. C'est surtout mentalement que je vais mieux, ce qui est le plus essentiel: le corps suivra. Je n'ai pas ose entreprendre le voyage de Todmorden aujourd'hui, mais j'ai l'espoir de pouvoir partir demain. Quoique en etat de convalescence, je suis oblige d'etre prudent et d'eviter les grandes fatigues. Le medecin dit qu'il faudra un changement dans ma maniere de vivre. Le fait est que je me tue en travaillant et je sens que je n'irais pas trois ans comme cela. Enfin je me dis que puisque ma mort ne te ferait pas de bien, je dois tacher de me conserver; si ma mort pouvait t'etre utile je mourrais bien volontiers. Ta chere lettre, toute pleine d'affection, m'a fait du bien. Dis a mon bon petit Stephen que je le remercie de toute sa tendresse pour moi et que je vais mieux. J'ai beaucoup pense a mes chers enfants, ne sachant pas si je les reverrais.
"Je t'ai tout dit; ca a ete seulement un etat d'abattement complet accompagne d'excitation des centres nerveux."
"Le temps est si mauvais que je n'ai pas pu faire une seule esquisse. Ma tante Susan t'a ecrit pour te dire que la pauvre Anne a cesse de souffrir. J'ai recu une lettre de son mari qui me dit que les derniers jours ont ete bien penibles. Je ne vais toujours pas bien a cause de la tristesse et de l'inquietude que tout cela m'a cause, mais il ne faut pas etre inquiete pour moi; ca se passera dans un jour ou deux, tu sais que je suis tres impressionnable.
"Il me prend de temps en temps d'angoissantes envies de te voir. Dans ces moments-la il me semble que je realise chaque metre, chaque centimetre de l'effroyable distance qui nous separe. Je suis oblige de lutter fortement contre ces idees qui finiraient par me rendre malade.
"Je dois maintenant aller au train; a demain donc."
"WEST LODGE. Vendredi.
"Je suis bien arrive chez ma tante que j'ai trouvee en bonne sante, mais je suis toujours horriblement triste ici, et je me le reproche, car ma tante est toujours si bonne. Elle nous avait destine la belle chambre-a-coucher, et j'ai la chambre tout seul, ce qui ne contribue pas a diminuer ma tristesse. Une chose au moins me console: j'ai le materiel pour mon livre sur l'eau-forte, c'est beaucoup. Je crois la publication de ce livre si essentielle a mon avenir, comme soutien de ma reputation, que j'aurais ete vraiment desole de ne pas pouvoir le faire maintenant. Ayant tout le materiel dans ma tete, je ferai l'ouvrage tres vite, et je suis convaincu qu'il sera bon et tout-a-fait nouveau. J'ai bien besoin maintenant d'un peu de bruit pour augmenter ma reputation, car ces articles anonymes ne l'aident point.
"Dans ta tristesse, ma cherie, il faut toujours avoir la plus grande confiance en la duree de mon amour pour toi. Je crois que mon amour et ma loyaute sont au moins aussi forts que le sentiment de l'heroisme militaire. Il me semble que si les soldats peuvent supporter toutes les privations pour leur roi ou pour leur patrie, je dois pouvoir en faire autant pour ma femme. Compte sur ma tendresse, meme dans les circonstances les plus difficiles, tu l'auras toujours. Grace a ton influence, je suis beaucoup plus capable qu'autrefois de supporter les difficultes de la vie, et si nous avions a vivre dans une pauvre chaumiere, je t'aiderais gaiement a faire les travaux du petit menage en y consacrant deux ou trois heures par jour, et quand tu coudrais je te ferais un peu la lecture, et toujours je t'aimerais. Ainsi crois que, loin de souffrir des devoirs que je me suis imposes, j'y trouve la plus profonde satisfaction, et que je me trouve plus respectable que si je ne faisais rien."
"WEST LODGE. Vendredi.
"J'avais l'intention de partir aujourd'hui mais la tante Susan parait tellement triste quand je parle de m'en aller que j'ai du reculer mon depart jusqu'a lundi. Du reste j'ai fait trois planches que je crois bonnes; j'y ai bien travaille; j'ai aussi ecrit trois articles, mais mon travail pour la Revue ne gagne pas grand'chose, et du moment ou la peinture rapportera, je quitterai la revue; je n'aime pas ce genre de travail, quoiqu'on dise que je le fais bien. J'aimerais autant etre cocher de fiacre. Ce que j'ai toujours desire faire c'est de la peinture; mes efforts dans cette direction n'ont pas abouti jusqu'a present, mais si j'avais un peu de temps libre, je saurais mieux faire a cause de mon experience de critique; je vois maintenant dans quel sens il faut travailler.
"Je vis a Londres aussi simplement que possible et pourtant mes sejours y sont tres couteux. Quant a la reputation, en comparaison du bonheur de vivre tranquillement avec toi, elle m'est absolument indifferente. Il me semble que lorsque le mari et la femme sont si parfaitement d'accord sur le but de la vie, il doit etre facile d'y parvenir. Notre plus grand desir a tous les deux c'est d'etre ensemble; eh! bien, du moment ou les choses nous seront propices, nous realiserons notre desir, et meme par la volonte nous forcerons les circonstances, c'est-a-dire que nous supporterons des inconvenients pour y arriver. Deja Wallis et Colnaghi consentent a exposer mes ouvrages; mes eaux-fortes sont appreciees. Peut-etre dans un temps comparativement rapproche serai-je en position de donner ma demission—non seulement a la Saturday, mais a la litterature, et a me devouer exclusivement a l'Art. Du moment ou cela arrivera il sera infiniment plus facile d'etre ensemble, car je tacherai de faire un genre d'Art qui me permettra d'etudier chez nous, ou dans un petit rayon. Enfin regardons la situation actuelle comme penible, mais pas du tout permanente. Tu peux compter que du moment ou je le pourrai je quitterai la Revue; j'y suis bien decide."
After this letter, my husband, feeling much better, came back to London to resume his work, and wrote about what he thought most important or most interesting to me. I shall quote from his letters in their order according to dates.
WATERLOO PLACE, KEW. Lundi soir.
"Mr. Macmillan m'a recu parfaitement, presque affectueusement; il m'a invite a diner. Je suis alle voir Mr. Seeley, mon nouvel editeur, que j'ai trouve intelligent, comme il faut, jeune encore, et parfaitement cordial. Je crois que mes relations avec lui seront tout-a-fait faciles. [Footnote: Mr. Seeley had asked him to write some notes on Contemporary French Painters, to be illustrated with photographs.]
"L'exposition, en somme, est belle. Il y a plusieurs tableaux remarquables, entre autres une Venus de Leighton que je trouve superbe. La contribution de Landseer est importante, c'est un portrait de la Reine, a cheval, en deuil; cheval noir, trois chiens noirs, groom noir, ciel noir.
"C'est agreable de rentrer le soir en pleine campagne; ca me fait du bien. Je n'ose pas penser combien ce serait gentil si ma cherie etait avec moi, parceque cela me rend triste tout de suite; mais je t'ecrirai presque tous les jours, quelquefois brievement quand je serai trop presse. Sois gentille toi, et ecris souvent; les bonnes nouvelles que tu m'envoies de ta sante et de celle des enfants m'ont rendu mon courage et—ce que je puis avoir de gaiete."
"Il parait que j'avais encore besoin de repos, car aujourd'hui je suis tres fatigue. J'espere que lundi j'irai mieux; un ou deux jours de repos me sont necessaires: voila tout. Je n'ai point de surexcitation cerebrale; je dors bien et je me repose pleinement, ce qui ne doit pas tarder a retablir mes forces. Je souffre d'etre seul. Mr. Gould va venir passer huit jours ici; je trouve amiable de sa part de bien vouloir venir s'etablir a Kew pour etre pres de moi; mon oncle viendra peut-etre aussi.
"Je vais me plaindre un peu, tout doucement, de la petite cherie de Pre-Charmoy; elle n'ecrit pas assez souvent a son mari qui recoit toujours ses lettres avec tant de plaisir. Il y a pourtant une de ces lettres qui a donne tant de bonheur qu'elle peut compter pour une douzaine. Pauvre cherie! comme je voudrais toujours reussir a rendre ta vie douce et agreable! Depuis que je ne vis plus pour moi, mais pour toi et les enfants, j'ai goute moi-meme un nouveau genre de bonheur mele de nouvelles tristesses. Ces tristesses sont dues a la pensee que je fais si peu, et que, avec plus de forces je ferais tant et si bien! Avec la force je serais sur maintenant de reussir pleinement. Je tiens la reputation par un petit bout, mais je la tiens, et elle augmentera. Tout me prouve que notre avenir serait assure si j'avais autant de force que de volonte."
"Je suis alle voir George Eliot et Lewes qui a ete charmant; il est venu s'asseoir a cote de moi ou il est reste tout le temps de ma visite, et lorsque je suis parti, il s'est beaucoup plaint de ne pas me voir davantage. Il me traite d'une facon tres affectueuse, et en meme temps avec un respect qui, venant de lui, me flatte beaucoup. Quant a George Eliot elle est tres aimable, mais elle a le defaut de rester toujours assise an meme endroit, et quand il y a du monde, la seule personne qui puisse causer avec elle, est son voisin. Quand j'y retournerai, je m'installerai aupres d'elle, parce que je tiens a la connaitre un peu mieux. J'y ai rencontre Mr. Ralston qui s'etait assis modestement un peu en dehors du cercle ou j'etais et pendant tout le temps de sa visite, il n'a presque rien dit et c'est a peine si on lui a parle. J'ai trouve ces arrangements mauvais. Les gens qui recoivent doivent souvent changer de place, de facon a causer avec tous leurs visiteurs.
"Lundi dernier j'ai dine chez Mr. Craik—le mari de l'auteur de 'John Halifax.' Il habite un charmant cottage a Beckenham, un endroit a quatre lieues de Londres ou il vient tous les jours en chemin-de-fer. Tu sais qu'il est l'associe de Macmillan. Nous avons passe une soiree fort agreable; c'est un homme tres cultive, qui autrefois etait auteur, et qui a occupe une chaire de litterature a Edimbourg. Sa femme, quoique celebre, est simple et tres aimable; elle m'a dit que quand tu viendrais, elle desirait te connaitre.
"Mardi j'ai dine chez le Professeur Seeley, le frere de mon editeur; il a occupe la chaire de Latin a l'Universite de Londres. C'est l'auteur d'Ecce Homo. Macmillan m'ayant donne ce livre, je l'ai trouve tres fort comme style et d'une hardiesse etonnante. L'auteur est des plus sympathiques; il a des manieres charmantes—si modestes et si intelligentes, car les manieres peuvent montrer de l'intelligence. J'aime beaucoup les deux freres, et dans le peu de temps que je les ai vus j'en ai fait des amis.
"Mercredi j'ai dine chez moi, ayant un article a ecrire. Jeudi chez Stephen Pearce. Vendredi chez Mr. Wallis, le marchand de tableaux. C'est un homme tres delicat et tres fin. Il avait invite Mr. Burgess, un artiste intelligent et agreable que j'avais deja rencontre au Salon de l'annee derniere. J'ai rencontre Tom Taylor a l'exposition. Wallis et nous avons cause quelque temps ensemble. J'ai rencontre Clifton et dine avec lui a son Club."
"Je suis alle hier passer le tantot chez Lewes, on a ete enchante de mes eaux-fortes. George Eliot s'est plainte de ne pas avoir assez cause avec moi a ma derniere visite, et m'a invite a prendre place a cote d'elle. Nous avons parle d'art, de litterature et d'elle meme. Elle m'a dit que personne n'avait eu plus d'inquietudes et de souffrances dans le travail qu'elle, et que le peu qu'elle fait lui coute enormement.
"J'ai discute avec Lewes l'idee de faire la reimpression de mes articles, et il m'a conseille de ne pas le faire si je puis fonder un livre sur ces articles. J'avoue que je serais assez tente de faire un ouvrage serieux sur la peinture, pour lequel mes articles serviraient de materiel."
"J'ai dine hier soir chez Mr. Macmillan, nous etions seuls d'hommes. Il y avait sa femme, ses enfants, et une grand'mere. Il a une famille nombreuse, de beaux enfants. Sa femme est bonne, et si simple que j'ai rarement vu un comme-il-faut plus acheve sans etre de la distinction. La maison est tres spacieuse et entouree d'arbres magnifiques. Ce qu'il y a de particulier dans cette maison, c'est un caractere intime et d'aisance ancienne. Macmillan a su eviter avec un tact parfait, tout ce qui pouvait rappeler le nouveau riche. On se croirait dans une grande maison de campagne, a cinquante lieues de Londres, et dans une ancienne famille etablie la depuis plusieurs generations.
"Nous avons passe toute la soiree ensemble. Il laisse entierement a mon jugement tout ce qui regarde l'illustration de mon livre. Ce que j'ai aime dans cette maison, comme dans toutes les personnes que j'y ai trouvees, a ete l'absence complete de toute affectation. Tout est homogene et je n'ai encore jamais vu une maison de campagne ayant cet aspect-la. Mon respect pour Macmillan s'est considerablement augmentee de ce qu'on ne rencontre chez lui aucune splendeur vulgaire: rien ne parle d'argent chez lui.
"La conversation a ete tres generale. Quand je suis parti, il m'a reconduit a travers un champ pour abreger mon chemin a la station. Il a chante quelques vieilles chansons avec beaucoup de caractere; j'ai chante un peu aussi—et pourtant je ne suis guere dispose a chanter. Anne avait montre tant de contentement quand je suis alle la voir a Sheffield—et penser que je ne la reverrai plus. Je souffre aussi pour mon oncle, je me mets a sa place en pensant a ma petite Mary; si je la perdais plus tard!... et puis—et puis, tu sais comment viennent les idees noires, et combien un malheur vous en fait craindre d'autres."
"Je me sens de nouveau fatigue et cette fatigue semble persister. Il est bien possible que l'ennui et la nostalgie y soient pour quelque chose.
"Figure-toi qu'il y a une jeune peintresse qui m'a ete recommandee, et dont la situation est bien precaire; j'ai eu la faiblesse de lui ecrire une petite lettre gentille et encourageante et me voila en butte a des eclats de desespoir ou de reconnaissance; de reproches et de remerciements. Le plaisir de faire du bien a ceux qui souffrent est tel, que l'on voudrait s'en donner, et le critique est souvent tente de manger de ce sucre-la.
"Je ne regrette pas de m'etre etabli a Kew; il n'y a qu'une chose contre Kew, c'est que je n'y connais personne, tandis qu'a St. John's Wood j'ai plusieurs amis. Mais la solitude a aussi ses avantages et quand on voit du monde tous les jours, on peut bien passer la soiree chez soi. Si la petite femme etait seulement ici, ce serait parfait."
"Petite femme cherie qui a ete gentille puisqu'elle a ecrit deux lettres.
"Celle-ci est simplement pour te dire que mon repos a enfin produit son effet et que je suis rentre dans mon etat ordinaire. Aujourd'hui je me rends au Musee, et j'ai pu ecrire.
"Mon oncle est arrive hier soir, il partage mon salon, mais je lui ai loue une chambre-a-coucher dans la maison voisine. Il ne parait pas trop abattu; nous causons beaucoup et je tache de l'egayer autant que sa position le permet. Il est moins reserve qu'autrefois et me laisse voir davantage le cours de ses pensees qui vont souvent a ses filles et a sa femme. Je l'emmene aujourd'hui a l'Academie. Il y a une chose qui doit te rassurer quant a l'etat de ma sante, c'est que je n'ai jamais ces sensations au cerveau dont j'ai souffert. Le cerveau n'est pas fatigue et en me reposant a temps, je repare rapidement mes forces. Ce qui est vraiment insupportable ce sont les separations, et j'ai bien de la peine a m'y resigner, et je ne m'y resignerais pas du tout si la peinture rapportait. Mais en mettant les choses au pis pour les affaires d'argent, j'espere que tu me verras toujours courageux et affectueux dans l'adversite; je me figure que depuis quelque temps j'ai appris a la supporter sans qu'elle puisse m'aigrir. Si je dois vivre de pommes-de-terre, ou meme mourir de faim, tu me verras toujours devoue jusqu'a la mort. Celles-ci ne sont pas de vaines paroles; je suis pret a les soutenir dans une pauvre cabane ou sur le lit d'un hopital."