The removal did not hinder or interrupt Mr. Hamerton seriously in his work, for the new house was quite ready to receive the furniture; and the place of every piece having been decided beforehand, the farmers merely handed them out of their carts to the workmen, who carried them inside the rooms, according to previous directions.
The difficulty of getting proofs of the different states of his plates whilst etching them, incited my husband to invent a press for his own laboratory, that he might judge of his work in progress by taking proofs for himself whenever he liked. Considering the present state of our affairs I was not favorable to the idea, but I was overruled, as in all cases concerning expenses deemed necessary to artistic or literary pursuits. He had few material wants, and therefore thought himself justified in providing for his intellectual needs—for instance, by the gradual formation of a library. He often deprecated the necessity of apparent extravagance in such things; "but you see," he would say, "I cannot stand stationary in the acquirement of knowledge if I am to go on teaching others—I must keep ahead—without mentioning the satisfaction of my own tastes and cravings, to which I have a certain right." Indeed it was truly wonderful that he should have been able to achieve so much work, and work of such quality, in the intellectual solitude and retirement of these seven years passed out of great cities where libraries, museums, and human intercourse constantly offer help and stimulus to a writer. Luckily for him he bore solitude well. He has said in "The Intellectual Life": "Woe unto him that is never alone, and cannot bear to be alone!" And again: "Only in solitude do we learn our inmost nature and its needs." Further on: "There is, there is a strength that comes to us in solitude from that shadowy awful Presence that frivolous crowds repel." He often sought communion with that awful Presence in the thick forests of the Morvan and on the highest peak of the Mont Beuvray, and found it.
For some time our minds had been disturbed by the unsettled aspect of French politics, and the possibility of a war with Prussia had been a cause of great personal anxiety to my husband on account of his nationality. He has related in "Round my House" how the news of the declaration of war reached us on a Sunday, as we were bringing the children home after spending the day peacefully in the fields and on the river-banks of a picturesque little village.
It is probable that if my husband had been able to bear a long railway journey, we might have accepted the hospitality so kindly offered in the following letter:—
WEST LODGE. August 12, 1870.
"MY VERY DEAR NEPHEW AND NIECE,—I am most grievously and fearfully concerned to hear of your sad condition in consequence of the terrible and needless war that is now spreading misery, desolation, and perhaps famine all over the Empire, just to gratify the unbounded ambition of one man. We wish you and your three children could fly over to us and be in safety. Really, if you get at all alarmed, do not hesitate to come, all of you, with as much of your property as you can pack and bring; we can and shall be pleased to find you refuge from any pending evil you may be dreading. Dear P. G., you would find your articles about the state of your country had got copied into the 'Manchester Courier,' but we wish to caution you about what you put in them. Remember whose iron heart could punish you, and what would become of your wife and family if you were cast into prison.
"The little grandson and his nurse are coming here on Tuesday next for a month; they will only occupy one bedroom, so there will still be the best bedroom and a very good attic, and half of my bed if little Mary Susan Marguerite dares trust herself with me"
Although Mr. Hamerton had always taken great interest in politics, he never wished to play an active part in them; from time to time he wrote a political article about some cause he had at heart, or some wrong which he wished to see redressed, or again on some obscure point which his experience of two countries might help to clear up, but he never consented to supply regular political correspondence to any newspaper. Having had rather a lengthened connection with the "Globe," he was offered the post of war-correspondent, which he declined.
He has passed over many interesting incidents of this wartime in "Round my House," although he has given a few. One of the most striking was certainly his guiding a Garibaldian column en reconnaissance across the bed of the river Ternin, on a bitterly cold day, mounted on his spirited little Cocote, who showed quite a martial mettle, and may well have felt proud of leading a number of great cavalry horses. She took no harm from her cold bath, but her master, whose legs had been in the icy water (on account of her small height) up to the thighs, was not so fortunate: he caught a serious chill, accompanied with fever and pains, which confined him to the house over a week. He mentions in the book our anxiety when the spy mania was at its height, and the workmen had almost decided to attack us in a body, but he refrains from detailing how, day after day, when the "hands" congregated in the village inns after dinner in the twilight, we used to take our children by the hand and pass, with hearts in anguish for their safety, but with as confident a countenance as we could command, before their infuriated groups; never knowing whether some fatal blow would not be dealt from the next group or the one following. The men stood on the door-steps, or in the very middle of the road, awaiting us with lowering brows and sullen looks of suspicion, when with sinking hearts and placid faces we stopped to say a few words to one of our present enemies to whom we had formerly rendered some help in illness or destitution. The truth is, they generally looked somewhat ashamed on such occasions, and always answered politely, but without the frank and pleased looks of other days, when they were proud of our notice and interest; they would rather have done without it now, especially in the company of their fellow-conspirators against our safety. I dare say the innocent unconcern of our children, who laughed and played freely in their happy ignorance of danger, proved our best safeguard, but still every night after reaching home we could not help thinking—"How will it be to-morrow?"
Just at the beginning of the hostilities, my husband had deprecated the rashness of the French people, which was blinding them to the unprepared state of their army, and to its numerical inferiority when compared with the German force. But when he saw that, although the King of Prussia had said that the war was not directed against the French people, he was still carrying it on unmercifully after the fall of Napoleon III., his sympathies with the invaded nation grew warmer every day, and he did all that was in his power to spare from invasion that part of the country where we lived, and which we knew so well. He put himself in communication with General Bordone,—Garibaldi's aide-de-camp (Garibaldi himself being very ill at that time),—and explained how Autun might be surprised by roads which had been left totally unguarded. He made a careful map of the country about us for Garibaldi, and shortly after, outposts were placed according to his directions, so as to prevent the enemy from reaching Autun by these parts, without resistance.
He used to go to Autun with Cocote almost every night for news, and met there with Garibaldian officers whom he often drove to inspect the outposts, and they gave him the password for the sentinels on his way home. One night, however, he had remained even later than usual, having taken an officer to a very distant outpost, and when he reached the road leading to La Tuilerie, the password had been changed, and he was detained in spite of all he could say to be allowed to proceed on his way. He would have submitted easily to the discomfort of a few hours in the guard-room had it not been that he realized how anxious I must be, and when he heard the order of march given to a patrol, he asked to be allowed to join it as it was going his way, observing that the soldiers would have the power of shooting him if he attempted to run away.
The permission was granted, and he set off on foot, in the midst of the patrol, followed by his dog, Cocote having been left at the inn.
It was freezing hard, and the snow lay deep on the ground; the march was a silent one—the men having been forbidden to talk—and it was a miracle that Gilbert's dog escaped with its life, for every time it barked or growled it was threatened with instant death. His master, however, artfully represented that in case enemies were hidden in the ditches or behind the hedges bordering the road, "Tom" would soon dislodge them and help in their capture. This seemed to pacify the men, together with the prospect (no less artfully held out) of a glass of rum each when they reached La Tuilerie.
It was a weary march for Gilbert and an anxious watch for me, and as soon as I heard the joyful bark of our dog announcing his master's return, I hastened downstairs and made a great blaze for the half-frozen patrol and its prisoner, and served to them all some hot grog which was duly appreciated.
I have no doubt it seemed hard to the poor soldiers to leave the seats by the leaping flames to resume their slippery march in the creaking snow, but they did it promptly enough, somewhat cheered by the renewed warmth they were carrying away with them.
Mr. Hamerton has described in "Round my House" how he watched the battle which took place at Autun, from our garret window. With the naked eye we could only see the dark lines of soldiers without being able to follow their strategical movements; but to my husband, with the help of his telescope, every incident was instantly revealed, and he communicated them to us in succession as they occurred.
It is needless to say what a relief we experienced when we heard that the enemy was falling back—ever so slightly. Then every one of us, women and children, wanted to look through the telescope, and for once I did see in it, and hailed with heartfelt thanksgivings, the scarcely perceptible retreating movement of the Germans.
At that moment the light of day was fading fast, and in the twilight I could just see my husband turning towards our awestruck children and saying to them: "I am certain that you will never forget this day, and what a horrible thing a war is."
And they answered, "Oh! never!"
Despite these painful preoccupations, Mr. Hamerton had prepared the "Etcher's Handbook" and its illustrations, and was writing a series of articles on the "Characters of Balzac" for the "Saturday Review." To save time I read to him "Le Pere Goriot," "Eugenie Grandet," "Ursule Mirouet," "Les Parents Pauvres," "La Cousine Bette," etc. Mr. Harwood approved of the series, but although my husband admired Balzac's talent greatly, he disliked the choice of his subjects in general, and complained to me of the desponding state of mind they produced in him; he called it "withering" sometimes. In consequence he became convinced that it was not a good study—mentally—for him, and rightly abandoned the series, for it was of importance that he should be in the healthiest mental condition to write the "Intellectual Life," the form of which was giving him a great deal of trouble. He had already begun it twice over, and each time had read to me the preliminary chapters, without giving to my expectant interest entire satisfaction. He had had the plan of the book in contemplation for years, and the gathered materials were rich and ready, but the definite form had not yet been found. He was in no way discouraged by repeated failures, and told me he "was sure to grasp it sometime," only he grew excited in the struggle. The prudent rule which forbade work at night had been cast aside, and it was about two o'clock in the morning when I was awakened to listen to the first chapters of the "Intellectual Life," as they now remain. I was very happy to be able to praise them unreservedly: hitherto my part had been but a sorry one. I could only say, "I don't think this is the best possible form," without suggesting what the best form ought to be; but now I felt sure it answered exactly to my expectations, and my husband rejoiced that "he had hit it at last."
Landscape-painting.—Letters of Mr. Peter Graham, R. A.—Incidents of the war time.—"The Intellectual Life."—"The Etcher's Handbook."
An American clergyman, Mr. Powers, after reading Mr. Hamerton's works, had become one of his most fervent admirers, and there came to be a regular correspondence between them. Mr. Powers used to gather all the information he could about the progress of his friend's reputation in the United States—newspaper articles, criticisms, encomiums, notes, etc., and to send them to Pre-Charmoy. He was a great deal more sensitive to strictures on my husband than the victim himself; and I see in the letter-book of 1870 this entry: "April 28. Powers. To console his mind about the article on me."
Now Mr. Powers longed to see some pictures from the hand of Mr. Hamerton, and had so often expressed this wish, that the artist, out of gratitude for the constant interest shown in his work, rashly promised to paint two landscapes as a present. It was very characteristic that he did not promise one only, but two, and at a time when he was so overwhelmed with work that he hardly knew how to get through the most pressing; and still more characteristic is this other entry in the letter-book: "February 7, 1871. Powers. Sending him measures of his pictures, so that he may get frames for them."
It is true that one of the pictures was begun, but before it was brought to completion several years were to elapse, though the pictures were both—at intervals—on the easel; always undergoing some change either of effect or of composition, even of subject, for the painter could never be satisfied with them. He felt that he lacked the power of expressing himself, and said to me: "These are not my pictures, I dream them differently;" whilst when he had seen Mr. Peter Graham's "Spate in the Highlands," he exclaimed: "This is one of my dream-pictures; I should like to have painted it." Entirely devoid of the false pride which prevents learning from others, he had written to Mr. Peter Graham about what he considered his failures, and had received the following reply:—
"With regard to what you say of yourself in your last letter, I have never had an opportunity of seeing a picture of yours; but I cannot imagine any one to fail in landscape who has the high qualifications for it which you obviously have—a sensitively impressionable nature, a strong, loving admiration for whatever in heaven or earth is beautiful or grand in form, color, or effect. Then you have the faculty of observation, without which a mind, however sensitive to the impressions of nature, will not be able to do anything, will be passive, not active. The mechanical difficulties of our art must be to some extent overcome before our thoughts and intentions can be realized and our impressions conveyed to others. After all, every artist feels that his work is a failure, the success of rendering what he wishes is so exceedingly limited in his mind. I am talking of what you know as well as I do; but my only reason is that you spoke of yourself as failing in landscape, 'probably from want of natural ability,' which I cannot believe. My method of getting memoranda, which you inquire about, is to study as closely as I can; to watch and observe and make notes and drawings, also studies in color, and patient groping after what I wish to learn, are my only methods. I feel unable to enter into details, so much would need be said on the subject. I believe I am much indebted to my long education as a figure-painter for any little ability I may have in rendering the material of nature. I was a figure-painter many years before I touched landscape. Continued study from the antique and painting from the nude in a life-class give, or ought to give, an acquaintance with light and shadow which to a landscape-painter is invaluable—nature affects our feelings so much in landscape by light and shadow. In Edinburgh we had a long gallery with windows from the roof at intervals, and the statues were arranged there; a splendid collection. I shall never forget the exquisite beauty of the middle tint, or overshadowing, which the statues had that were placed between the windows; those which were immediately underneath them were of course in a blaze of light, and we had all gradations of light, middle-tint, and shadow. When I came to study clouds and skies, I recognized the enchantment of effect to be caused by the same old laws of light I had tried to get acquainted with at the Academy. Of course color adds immensely to the difficulty of sky painting, and the amount of groping in the study of gray, blue, etc., is very disheartening. I need not longer weary you, however, on this subject, but shall just again say that I really see no reason why you should not succeed in landscape-painting if such be your wish, and therefore cannot think of you as having failed."
Then, in a subsequent letter, I find this passage:—
"Since receiving your last letter I have read, and with great pleasure, your 'Painter's Camp in the Highlands.' I am stronger than ever in the belief that it is merely from your never having devoted the necessary amount of time to art in the right direction that unqualified success has not been attained by you as an artist. I think it unfortunate that you 'learned painting with a clever landscape-painter.' You probably far excelled him in sympathy with nature, power of observation, and all the gifts especially required for a landscape-painter. What you really needed, study under a figure-painter, or better still at an Academy, would have given you. Landscape nature is too complicated to be a good school to acquire the mastery over the mechanical difficulties in art. I don't agree with you that you ought to have filled your notebooks with memoranda from nature instead of painting pictures at Loch Awe. Your experience there was very valuable. A notebook memorandum from nature is of little or no use for a picture in oil without previous study of similar subjects or effects in the same vehicle. You ask my opinion of your present method of study. I think it excellent, and would make only two suggestions. You might safely discontinue the study of botany and dissection of plants; there is not the slightest fear of a want of truth in your pictures, and the time might be devoted to some more pressing work. Then I think you might paint the human figure with much profit, even to landscape-painting and writing on art."
The reader may have remarked that Mr. Hamerton had frequently painted from a model at Pre-Charmoy, though not from the nude, for he was of opinion that this kind of study was no great help to him at this stage, though it might have been earlier.
A more serious impediment than technical difficulties soon stopped all progress with Mr. Powers' pictures. It was a recurrence of the cerebral excitement, almost in a chronic form. My husband had made a plan for issuing—separately—proofs of the etchings appearing in the "Portfolio;" but he was so ill that he could not hold a pen; and to explain the details of this plan to Mr. Seeley I acted as amanuensis under his dictation. His aunt was very much grieved to hear of this illness, and wrote:—
"Suppose you tried a ten or twenty miles' journey by train, in some direction whence you could return by water or conveyance if necessary. I assure you I can do valiant things with impunity that the very thinking of them would have made me ill about thirteen months ago."
He did not need courage to be preached to him, he had a sufficient store of it; indeed, his nervousness had nothing to do with fear: he used to drive or ride Cocote after she had been running away, upsetting the carriage and breaking the harness, till she was subdued again into docility. Once at Dieppe, in a storm, he had volunteered to steer a lifeboat which was making for a ship in distress, but his services had been refused when it was known that he had a family. He rode fearlessly one of the high, dangerous bicycles of that time, about which Aunt Susan humorously said in one of her letters that "they often prove rather restive, and are given to, or seized with, an inclination to butting the walls, and also of lazily lying down on the road over which they ought to be almost imperceptibly passing along." And during the war he kindly received, fed, and helped several francs-tireurs and stray French soldiers, perfectly aware that he was risking his life in case the Prussians came near; he even conveyed one of them to the Garibaldian outposts in his carriage. Of his own accord he attempted time after time to get the better of this peculiar nervousness, but it had lately increased to such a point that, for a time, when we reached Autun in the carriage and came in sight of the railway bridge, he had to give me the reins, jump down, and go back to wait for my return outside the town; for I could not go with him, having to take our boys to the college. I never knew how I might find him when we met again. Unlike the majority of patients, who make the most of their ailments to excite sympathy, he considerately let me know immediately of the slightest improvement, and kept repeating: "It will soon be over now; don't distress yourself."
I believe that the great excitement and anxiety of the wartime had caused the recurrence of the ailment, and no wonder, for we knew several cases of mental derangement in the small circle of our acquaintances, even amongst peasants, who are far from imaginative or nervous. In Gilbert's case there were only too many reasons for anxiety, besides the uncertainty of his situation. His brother-in-law, M. Pelletier, then Econome of the Lycee at Vendome, was in the thick of the strife, and his post was not unattended with danger—though the Lycee had become an International Ambulance. It was sometimes hard for him to restrain his indignation before the insolence and partiality of the victors: once, for instance, he appealed to the general in command to obtain for the French wounded an equal portion of the bread given to the Prussians; but he was pushed by the shoulder to an open window, from which the French army could be seen, and the general exclaimed—pointing to the soldiers in the distance: "Vous n'aurez rien, rien! tant que nous ne les aurons pas battus!... allez!..."
Another time M. Pelletier had to go to Chateau Renaud to fetch several things sorely wanted at the ambulance. It was forbidden by the enemy, under penalty of death, to carry any letters out of the city, which they had declared in a state of siege; but M. Pelletier could not find in his heart to refuse a few from desolate mothers and wives, and these letters were carefully sewn up at night, by his wife, in the lining of his overcoat. Who betrayed him?... No one knows, but just as he was about to descend the stairs, some one rapidly brushed past, whispering hurriedly, "Leave that coat behind." He understood, went back to his apartment, threw the coat to his terrified wife, merely saying "Burn," and had only time to seize another great-coat hanging in the passage and rush to the omnibus waiting with the escort. He was, however, stopped by a Prussian officer, who said: "You sha'n't go—you are carrying letters, and you know that you have put yourself in the way of being shot." The coat was taken from him and the lining cut open. On finding nothing, the officer said, with a dry smile: "You have been warned; but let it be a lesson to you,—you might not escape so easily another time."
My brother Charles, despite his being the only son of a widow and soutien de famille, had been enlisted, and his letters did not always reach their destination, though his regiment was at Chagny, not far from Autun, and for a while Mr. Hamerton had lost all traces of his mother-in-law. Madame Gindriez had gone to Vendome to be near her younger daughter, Madame Pelletier, in the hope of keeping clear of the bloody conflict, but found herself in the very centre of it after the occupation of Vendome by Prince Frederick Charles, and was thus shut off from all news of her son. After vainly attempting to get a safe-conduct during the hostilities, she at last succeeded after the armistice, and left the town to go to Tours, where she had friends willing to receive her, and where she expected to hear from her son. The omnibus in which she travelled was escorted by Bismarck's White Cuirassiers, pistol in hand, till it reached Chateau Renaud. In the night, Madame Gindriez was awakened by loud rappings at her bedroom door, and ordered to give up her room to some Prussian sergeants who had come back from an expedition. She dressed quickly and went to the kitchen—the only place in the hotel free from soldiers—to await the morning as she best could. Her breakfast was served upon a small table, apart from the long one in the centre of the room, which was reserved for the German officers. They were very much elated, it seemed, by the armistice, thinking that it might lead ultimately to a peace, for which they openly expressed their desire, ordering champagne, clinking their glasses together, and politely offering one to Madame Gindriez with the words: "You won't refuse to drink with us a la paix, Madame?" "A la paix, soit," she courageously answered; "mais sans cession de territoire." They did not insist.
It may be easily surmised that such tidings, reaching my husband from time to time, kept him in an anxious state far from beneficial to his health. After the armistice, I find a great many entries in the letter-book of letters inquiring about friends, and how they had fared during this terrible war-time. Despite this chronic state of anxiety, Mr. Hamerton was writing "The Intellectual Life," and had offered it for publication in America to Messrs. Roberts Brothers. They answered:—
"We liked the title and the plan of your new work, as outlined by you, and presuming it will be larger than 'Thoughts about Art,' we will give you fifty pounds outright for the early copy, or we shall allow you a percentage on it, after the first thousand are sold, of ten per cent, on the retail price, provided we are not interfered with by competing editions."
The author had the satisfaction of receiving another letter from Roberts Brothers, dated July 21, 1871, in which this passage occurs: "'Thoughts about Art' is quite popular; you have many very dear friends in this country, and the number is increasing."
In September of the same year Mr. Haden wrote, in reference to the projected "Etcher's Handbook":—
"Your new processes interest me immensely, and I am glad you are going to give us a handbook on the whole subject. Let it be concise, and even dogmatic, for you have to speak ex cathedra on the matter, and people prefer to be told what to do to being reasoned into it."
Ever anxious to improve himself, my husband had asked Mr. Lewes to advise him about his reading preparatory to the new book he had begun to write on the Intellectual Life. Here is the answer:—
"THE PRIORY, 21 NORTH BANK, REGENT'S PARK.
"Nov. 2, 1871.
"MY DEAR HAMERTON,—We so often speak of you and your wife, and were so very anxious about you during the war, that we have asked right and left for news of you, and were delighted at last to get such good news of you both.
"As to the books to be suggested for your work, partly the fact that no one can really suggest food for another, partly the fact that I don't clearly understand the nature of your work—these perhaps make a good excuse if the following list is worthless. It is all I have been able to gather together.
"Littre, 'Vie d'Auguste Comte.' St. Hilaire, 'Vie et travaux de Geoffroy St. Hilaire.' Gassendi, 'Vita Tychonis Brahei, Copernici.' Bertrand, 'Fondateurs de l'Astronomie Moderne.' Morley, 'Life of Palissy' (passionate devotion to research). Morley, 'Life of Cardan.' Berti, 'Vita di Giordano Bruno.' Bartholmess, 'Vie de Jordano Bruno.' Muir's 'Life of Mahomet.' Stanley's 'Life of Arnold.' Mazzuchelli, 'Vita di Archimede.' Blot's 'Life of Newton.' Drinkwater's 'Kepler and Galileo.'
"All these are first-rate, especially the two last, published by the Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge, together with some others, under the title of 'Lives of Eminent Persons.'
"The 'Biographie Universelle' will give you, no doubt, references as to the best works under each head.
"We did not go abroad this year, but buried ourselves in absolute solitude in Surrey—near Haslemere, if you know the lovely region; and there I worked like a man going in for the Senior Wranglership, and Mrs. Lewes, who was ailing most of the time, went on with her new work. This work, by the way, is a panorama of provincial life, to be published in eight parts, on alternative months, making four very thick vols. when complete. It is a new experiment in publishing. While she was at her art, I was at the higher mathematics, seduced into those regions by some considerations affecting my personal work. The solitude and the work together were perfectly blissful. Except Tennyson, who came twice to read his poems to us, we saw no one.
"No sooner did we return home than Mrs. Lewes, who had been incubating an attack, hatched it—and for five weeks she was laid up, getting horribly thin and weak. But now she is herself again (thinner self) and at work.
"She begs me to remember her most kindly to you and to Mrs. Hamerton.
"Ever yours truly,
"G. H. LEWES."
Almost in every letter that my husband received from Mr. Lewes, he had this confirmation of what George Eliot had told him about the heavy penalty in health attending or following her labors.
Mr. Lewes had not mentioned his lives of Goethe and Aristotle, but they were ordered with the other books he had recommended, and I began to read them aloud to my husband whilst he was etching the plates for an illustrated edition of the "Painter's Camp," that he had always hoped to see accepted by Mr. Macmillan.
M. Pelletier had been promoted from Vendome to Lons-le-Saunier, and after spending a month of the vacation at our house with his wife and three children, now invited his host and family to go back with him for the remainder of the holidays. However, the boys only went, for their father was incapacitated for railway travelling, and the little girl May could not be persuaded to leave her parents, even to go with her cousins and her Aunt Caroline, whom she so much loved.
The nervous state into which my husband had been thrown back had produced a morbid sensitiveness to noise and to the sight of movement which isolated him more and more, even from his nearest friends, and during these last vacations he had seldom been able to take dejeuner with us. In consequence he had a little hut erected near the river, au buisson Vincent, whither he retired almost daily, and to which I took or sent him his lunch; there he read, wrote, or sketched, surrounded only by silent and motionless objects. This morbid sensitiveness decreased with the light of day, and when the sun had set we generally joined him to admire the beauty of the after-glow fading slowly into twilight in the summer evenings. He always dined with us all, and after dinner he either listened to music, of which he was very fond, or even played a little himself on the violin, or walked out in company. We made quite a little procession on the road now,—six children romping about, my sister and her husband, my mother and my brother Charles, the master of the house and myself; and since it had transpired that my husband was not so well, some of his friends at Autun or in the neighborhood came as often as they could to make him feel less out of the world. He has said himself: "The intellectual life is sometimes a fearfully solitary one. Unless he lives in a great capital the man devoted to that life is more than other men liable to suffer from isolation, to feel utterly alone beneath the deafness of space and the silence of the stars. Give him one friend who can understand him, who will not leave him, who will always be accessible by day and night,—one friend, one kindly listener, just one,—and the whole universe is changed." In his case the friendly and intelligent intercourse kept up with his wife's relatives alleviated in a great measure the sense of isolation.
The life in the hut, together with the botanical studies and the formation of the herbarium, suggested the plan of the "Sylvan Year," and thereby lent additional interest to these pursuits, though at that time his main work was the prosecution of "The Intellectual Life," now that he had finished the correction of the handbook on etching. [Footnote: Contributed to the "Portfolio," and afterwards published separately.] This last work brought him many pleasant letters from brother artists, but I shall only quote what Mr. Samuel Palmer said about it, because it was his praise, and that of Mr. Seymour Haden, which gave the author the greatest satisfaction, coming from authorities on the subject.
"REDHILL. January, 1872.
"DEAR MR. HAMERTON,—Had I thanked you earlier for your 'handbook,' which came long ago, I could not have thanked you so much: for it is the test of good books, as of good pictures, that they improve with acquaintance. I had a little 'Milton' bound with brass corners, that I might carry it always in my waistcoat-pocket—after doing this for twenty years it was all the fresher for its portage. Your invention of the positive process is equally useful and elegant; useful because the reverse method lessens the pleasure of work, elegant because the materials are delicate and the process cleanly and expeditious."
In this letter Mr. Palmer expressed his desire to publish a translation of Virgil's "Eclogues" in verse, and asked for his correspondent's advice about it. Another source of satisfaction to Gilbert was the increasing success of his works in America. In January, 1872, he had a letter from Roberts Brothers, in which they said:—
"We have mailed you a copy of 'The Unknown River.' It has proved a success, and has been generally admired. It is a charming book, and we should like to bring out a popular edition. 'Thoughts about Art' is selling better than we expected—it has given a start to the 'Painter's Camp,' which we are now printing a second edition of.
"We think you are getting to be well known and appreciated in this country."
Enclosed in the letter was a remittance for L49 8s., which proves that an author has need of a good many successes to pay his way; still, these remittances from America made a difference in Mr. Hamerton's circumstances, and were exclusively devoted to the education of his boys. Though unambitious, he was not indifferent to the increase in his reputation, for he had written in "The Intellectual Life," "Fame is dearer to the human heart than wealth itself." He certainly cared infinitely and incomparably more for his reputation—such as he wished it to be, pure, dignified, and honored—than for wealth; his only desire about money, often expressed, was "not to have to think about it."
Popularity of "The Intellectual Life."—Love of animals.—English visitors.—Technical notes.—Sir F. Seymour Haden.—Attempts to resume railway-travelling.
The dedication of "The Intellectual Life" was a perfect surprise to me when I first opened my presentation copy: the secret had been well kept. I felt grateful and honored to be thus publicly associated by my husband in his work, though my share had been but humble and infinitesimal—more sympathetic than active, more encouraging than laborious. Our common dream had been to be as little separated as possible, and he had attempted soon after our marriage to rouse in me some literary ambition, and to direct my beginnings. I first reviewed French books for "The Reader," and he was kind enough to correct everything I wrote; then he induced me to try my hand at a short novel, reminding me humorously that some of my father's friends used to call me "Little Bluestocking." He took a great deal of trouble to find a publisher for my second novel, and was quite disappointed to fail. He wrote to encourage me to persevere:—
"The reviews of your first novel have all been favorable enough, but the publishers told me they had never published a one-volume novel that had succeeded, and that they had now made up their minds never to publish another, no matter who wrote it. I rather think they would publish your new novel, but I earnestly recommend you to try ... I am quite sure you have something in you, but you want wider culture, better reading, and more of it, and the difficulty about household matters is for the present in your way, though if I go on as I am doing now we will get you out of that."
A copy of "The Intellectual Life" was sent to Aunt Susan, who received it just as she was going to visit her sister, Mrs. Hinde, whom she found in failing health, and who died shortly after. It was a new grief for my husband, to whom she had always been very kind. As soon as tranquillity was re-established in France, after the war and Commune, Mr. Hamerton had renewed a regular correspondence with his friends, and, being greatly interested in the technique of the fine arts, consulted those friends whose experience was most to be relied upon. Mr. Wyld's letters are full of explanation about his own practice, as well as that of Decamps, Horace Vernet, Delaroche, and Delacroix. In one of them I find this interesting passage:—
"I very much doubt if the talent of coloring can be learnt. I think it is a gift like an ear for music, which if not born with you can never be perfectly acquired (I, for instance, I am sure, could never have perfectly tuned a violin). Doubtless if the faculty exists intuitively, it may be perfected, or at all events much improved by study and practice, but he that has it not from birth, I think, can never acquire it."
Mr. S. Palmer, in a long letter also devoted to the technical part of painting and etching, turns to literature to say:—
"My pleasure in hearing of the success of 'The Intellectual Life' is qualified only by the comparative apathy of the English. Of such a book one edition here to three in America is something to be ashamed of."
The sale of the book was rapid, both in England and in America, but the American sale continued to be incomparably the larger. As early as February, 1874, Roberts Brothers wrote:—
"'The Intellectual Life' is a complete literary success in America; it has been the means of making you almost a household god in the most refined circles. We are now selling the fifth thousand. Our supply of the English 'Chapters on Animals' [Footnote: Contributed to the "Portfolio," and afterwards published separately.] is all sold, and we are now stereotyping the book. We hope to sell a good many."
The motive which prompted my husband to write these "chapters" was purely his love and pity for all dumb creatures. He never could do without a dog—and the dog was always the favorite, being even preferred to the saddle-horse; and when out of compassion for its infirmities it had to be out of pain, his master never shirked the painful duty, but performed it himself as mercifully as he could. One of his dogs, which had long been treated for cancer, was at last chloroformed to death, his master helping the veterinary surgeon all the time. Another, who became suddenly rabid, and could not be prevented from entering the house, to the imminent peril of us all, he met and stunned at a blow with a log of wood, having no weapon ready. Poor Cocote was not sold when she became useless, but allowed to divide her old age peacefully between the freedom of the pasturage and the comfort and plenty of the stable, till her master asked the best shot of the place (a poacher) to assist him in firing a volley, which quickly put an end to her life, as she was unsuspectingly coming out of the field. And he only came to this decision when we left the country. Out of love or pity my husband was interested in all animals, and I believe that animals were instinctively aware of it. Dogs always sought his caresses; he used to remove with his hands toads from the dangers of the road, and they did not seem afraid. He never was stung by bees, though he often placed his hand flat in front of the opening in the hive, so that they were obliged to alight upon it before entering. Of the rat only he had a nervous horror, but it remained unconquerable; he disliked the sight of one, and if he met one accidentally, he always experienced a disagreeable shock. When he tried to find out the reason, he was inclined to attribute it to the disquieting rapidity and restlessness of its movements.
In 1874 Mr. Hamerton began to write for the "International Review," principally on the fine arts, and continued his contributions till 1880. Roberts Brothers expressed a wish that he would reserve the publications in book form to their firm, which had done so much for his reputation.
At the beginning of April he heard from Boston that they were printing the sixth thousand of the "Intellectual Life," and had written to Messrs. Macmillan that they were willing to unite in bringing out a new edition of "Etching and Etchers." In October the seventh thousand of the "Intellectual Life" was being printed; the second edition of "Chapters on Animals" and the second of "Thoughts about Art" were about half gone, and "A Painter's Camp" was going off quite freely. About the last Roberts Brothers added: "This book ought to sell better. We have reason to congratulate ourselves that it so fascinated us that we ventured to republish it. We are Nature lovers, and delight to keep the company of one who loves her and is able to tell of it as you can."
Of course we cheered Aunt Susan with the list of these successes, and she answered: "I wish, my dear P. G., that all your admirers would be as generous with their money as they are with their flattery, for flattery is not a commodity to supply a family with means of subsistence." In the same letter she told of Mr. Hinde's death and funeral, and of her hopes of seeing her nephew, Ben Hinde, succeed to his father's living.
Early in 1874 Mr. Hamerton had the pleasure of becoming personally acquainted with one of the most distinguished of the contributors to the "Portfolio,"—Mr. Sidney Colvin, who now came to pay a visit to the editor, after nursing his friend R. L. Stevenson through one of his dangerous attacks of illness. My husband esteemed highly Mr. Colvin's knowledge and acquirements. During his short stay this esteem expanded into personal regard, and in after years, whenever a meeting with him was possible, it invariably afforded gratification.
In the summer our house was turned into a sort of temporary hospital by an epidemic of measles brought to it by the boys from their college. Having had it in my youth, I luckily was spared to nurse in succession the three children and my husband, whose case was by far the most serious. However, he would not take to his bed, but remained in his study with a good fire at night, sleeping upon an ottoman or in an arm-chair, wrapped up in his monk's dress, and the head covered with an Algerian chechia. In due course he got through the distemper without accident, but for fear of chills he continued to wear the chechia and monk's dress in the house some time after his recovery, and he was so discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Mark Pattison when they paid us an unexpected visit. It happened thus. I had driven my sister and her youngest boy to Autun, where he had been invited to stay a few days at his godmother's, and as we alighted in the courtyard of the hotel I was told that an English gentleman and his wife had ordered an omnibus to call upon Mr. Hamerton, and were on the point of starting. On learning that I was at the hotel they came to propose that I should go back to La Tuilerie with them, which proposition I accepted with pleasure. I left the pony-carriage, told my sister that I would fetch her in the evening, and drove off with Mr. and Mrs. Pattison, the latter very much interested by what I could point out to her on the way,—the Temple of Janus, the Roman archways, the double walls of the town, and Mont Beuvray.
The drive from Autun to La Tuilerie is a short one, and we soon arrived at the garden gate. As we stopped, the study window was quickly, almost violently, thrown open, my husband's anxious face appeared through it, and he shouted to the bewildered coachman, "What has happened?" At the sight of an omnibus he had been afraid of an accident (not at all unusual with Cocote's tendency to take fright, run away, and upset carriage and all), and had fancied me hurt, and brought back laid upon the cushioned seat. But as soon as he saw me safe and sound, and noticed my companions, he hastened down to receive his visitors. We spent the afternoon very pleasantly, but as it was getting cooler and a little damp after sunset, my husband, who was not fully recovered, had to excuse himself from accompanying Mr. and Mrs. Pattison back to Autun, and to let me go instead. I had the pleasure of a second meeting with them on the following morning at the hotel, when we took leave of each other.
I have always remembered an incident in connection with this visit that Mr. and Mrs. Pattison never knew of. There had been in our entrance hall for the last four months at least, a manuscript notice written very legibly by Mr. Hamerton, and carefully pasted up with his own hands, in a very good light by the side of the drawing-room door, to this effect: "English visitors to this house are earnestly requested not to stay after seven o'clock p.m. if not invited to dine; and when invited to dine, not to consider themselves as entitled to the use of a bedroom, unless particularly requested to remain."
This had been done in a moment of legitimate anger and vexation (of course without consulting me), and I had thought it the best policy to ignore it for some time—particularly during winter, when it was put up, for there was little probability of English visitors at that time. As to French visitors, it was unlikely that they could make out its meaning, and if they did, as it did not concern them, they would consider it as a humorous boutade. After a fortnight, however, I begged my husband to remove the "notice;" but his anger had not cooled a bit, and he said in a tone that I knew to admit of no opposition that the "notice" was meant to remain there permanently. And there it remained, at first partially, and by degrees almost entirely, covered up by the shawls or mantles that I artfully spread as far as possible over the obnoxious manuscript, till, emboldened by non-interference, and under pretext that the wall-paper about the door was soiled, I got leave to have a new piece hung, and took care to have it laid over the notice. This took place on the very day that Mr. and Mrs. Pattison paid their friendly visit.
I must now explain the cause of my husband's temporary ukase. As I have said before, M. Bulliot, President of the Societe Eduenne, was a friend of his, and on one occasion, a Scotchman having applied to him for permission to see a precious book kept in the archives of the learned society, M. Bulliot, finding him well-bred and interesting, took the trouble of bringing him to La Tuilerie, in the hope that Mr. Hamerton and Mr. W—— would derive pleasure from the meeting. It was so, and Mr. W——'s researches at Autun requiring a few days only, he was invited to dinner for the morrow. He duly arrived and dined, but as he gave no sign of going away, I asked him a little before ten if he was a good walker, as the hotels at Autun closed at eleven. He merely answered, "No matter." Looking already like an old man, and weak besides, I felt certain that he could not possibly reach the town in time for a bed, and I quietly retired to mine. My husband told me in the morning that he had shown Mr. W—— to the spare room, unwilling to turn an old man out in the cold and mist of an early morning. I foresaw a repetition of what had happened at Pre-Charmoy. And so it proved, for Mr. W—— quartered himself upon us for two days, and it is impossible to say how much longer he would have stayed if my husband had not at last insisted peremptorily on driving him back to Autun.
On reaching home Gilbert immediately went up to his study to write his "Notice to English visitors," and without saying a word securely pasted it up at the entrance. A few days later he heard from the proprietor of the Hotel de la Poste, that before leaving Mr. W—— had said, "Mr. Hamerton will settle the bill."
It was a good thing for my husband that he gave so much consideration to the bringing up of his children, for indirectly he derived from it some benefit to his own health; for instance, not wishing them to be always confined to college, he used often to drive them to and from Autun; and in the summer, as he came back, he would just stop the pony for a few minutes at our gate to pick up the rest of the family and a hamper, then take us to a cool and shady dell divided from a little wood by the river Vesvre—the coldest water I ever bathed in; and as soon as Cocote was taken out of harness and left in the enjoyment of the fresh grass, we all tumbled into the icy water, and swam till our appetites were thoroughly sharpened for a hearty dinner in the lingering twilight.
The children were also taken by their father to the hills, where they climbed about whilst he sketched; his little daughter Mary liked nothing better than to spend a day "au Pommoy" above the beautiful valley of the Canche, where the parents of our servant-girl lived. They were farmers in a very humble way, but they offered us heartily the little they possessed,—the new-laid eggs, the clotted cream, which the children delighted in, thickly spread upon black bread, and which the mother prepared in perfection; also frothy goat's milk, with walnuts and chestnuts in their season. Cocote, too, had free access to the dainty grass and crystal spring of their pasturage in the hollow behind the cottage. Whilst my husband painted and I read to him, we watched the children, who, bare-footed and bare-legged, turned up the stones in the river-bed seeking for trout and crayfish. In the course of these pleasant excursions Gilbert entered into conversation with every one he met—farmers, shepherdesses, cow-boys, and even beggars, learning what he could of their lives and thoughts, sympathizing with their labors and their wants, often conveying useful information to their minds, frequently on politics, sometimes on geography or science. He tried to explain to them the railways and telegraph, for many of the dwellers in these hilly regions had never seen a railroad, especially the old folk, who could no longer walk any great distance, and remembered Autun only as it was in the time of the diligences. He liked the polite, deferential manners of the French peasants and their quiet dignity; and they felt at ease with him because of his serious interest in what concerned them, and total absence of pride in the superiority of his station or learning. Wherever he went he liked to see the parish church, and generally found it worth his while, either artistically or historically. The cure was frequently to be met with, and not sorry to talk with a person better informed than most of his parishioners: it was for Gilbert another field to glean from, and on such occasions he generally managed to bring home a sheaf with him. It was most remarkable to see how well he got on with the Roman Catholic clergy, although his religious opinions were never hidden from them, and his attitude by no means conducive to hopes of conversion; but on the other hand, he was not aggressive, and did not turn into ridicule ceremonies or beliefs to which he remained a stranger. Perfectly firm in his own convictions, he respected those of other people, because his large sympathy understood the different wants of different natures, even when he had no share in them. He was always on visiting terms with our cure (the one officiating at Tavernay—the nearest village to La Tuilerie), and on friendly terms with the Aumonier de l'Hopital and the Aumonier de College (although the boys were not under his spiritual direction, their father considering it as a duty to let them choose their own religion when they were of age); later on l'Abbe Antoine, professor at the seminary, became a faithful and welcome visitor to La Tuilerie; even Monseigneur the Bishop of Autun gave a signal proof of his respect for Mr. Hamerton's character, which will be related in due course, and visited him afterwards so long as we remained in the Autunois.
The technical difficulties of painting, which were giving my husband so much trouble to conquer, led him to speak not unfrequently of the advantages formerly afforded to students by the privilege of working in the same studios with their masters, and even of having some portions of the masters' pictures to execute under their personal and invaluable direction. He realized what a gain it would be, not only for beginners, but even for artists, to be acquainted with the best methods of the best artists, and at last, counting upon their well-known generosity, he resolved to make a general appeal to their experience. They were almost unanimously favorable to the idea, and furnished valuable notes, the substance of which was published in the "Portfolio." The letters are too technical, though very interesting, to be quoted here, but the eminent names of the writers will be a proof of the importance attached to the subject. I find those of Sir Frederick Leighton, Sir John Gilbert, Watts, Holman Hunt, Samuel Palmer, Calderon, Wyld, Dobson, Davis, Storey, etc., etc., in the notes still in my possession.
My husband was himself in the habit of making experiments in painting and etching, though he deplored both the time and money so spent, and repeatedly resolved not to meddle any more with them; but he could not keep the resolution. His mind was so curious about all possible processes and technicalities, and his desire of perfection so great, that not only did he experiment in all the known processes, but invented new ones. Entries in the note-book like the following are of frequent occurrence:—
"Experiments with white zinc did not succeed."
"This month tried sulphur with success. I discovered also that the three-cornered scraper is excellent for obtaining various breadths of line in the background."
"I made a successful experiment in sandpaper mezzotint."
"M. de Fontenay and I made creme d'argent very cheaply indeed."
"To-day I tried experiments on grains: the grains given by the sandpaper and rosin. That given by the fine glass-paper was the best."
"Quite determined to put a stop to all experiments, in view of typographic drawings."
Here is an important entry, August 19, 1875:—
"RESOLVED in future to confine myself exclusively to oil-painting and etching in all artistic work done for the public, except the designs for the bindings of my books, which may be done in water-colors.
"RESOLVED also that there shall be as little as possible of copying and slavery in my artistic work, but that Etching shall be Etching, and Painting Painting."
He had been working very hard, copying etchings for the new edition of "Etching and Etchers," and was thoroughly tired of it. I see in his diary:—
"Finished my plate after Rembrandt. N.B.—Will never undertake a set of copies again."
"Felt it a great deliverance to be rid of plates for 'Etching and Etchers.'"
A later note:—
"There is no technical difficulty for me in etching. I ought therefore to direct my energies against the artistic difficulties of composition, drawing, light and shade. Haden's 'Agamemnon' is the model for the kind of work I should like to be able to do in etching. Comprehensive sketching is the right thing."
Meanwhile our boys were growing, and giving great satisfaction to their father by their application to and success in their studies; they always kept at the head of their class, and carried off a great number of prizes at the end of every scholastic year. The younger boy, Richard, evinced an early taste for the pictorial arts, and was gifted with a sure critical faculty and a natural talent for drawing. Although he had never taken regular drawing-lessons, he had often watched his father at work, had occasionally sketched and painted under his direction, and was receiving a sort of artistic education by what he saw at home of illustrated periodicals, engravings, and etchings sent for presentation or criticism. He was early tempted to try etching, and of course received encouragement and help; the first attempt was a success, as far as it went, and Mr. S. Palmer wrote about it:—
"Your son's etching has given pleasure to other than 'parental eyes.' 'What a sweet little etching,' said my wife, who saw it lying on the table; 'it is like an old master.' There is something touching in the sight of a beginner, full of curiosity and hope. My yearning is, 'O that he may escape the rocks on which I split—years wasted, any one of which would have given a first grounding in anatomy, indispensable anatomy, to have gone with the antique. The bones are the master-key; the marrowless bones are the talisman of all life and power in Art. Power seems to depend upon knowledge of structure; all surface upon substance; knowing this, and imbued with the central essence, we may venture to copy the appearance, perhaps even imitate it."
Mr. Seeley also wrote, with sly humor: "Your boy's etching is capital. It would be interesting to know what processes this remarkable artist employs."
Richard frequently expressed his intention of being a painter; but his father, though much pleased to notice in the boy a real tendency towards art, did not at all feel certain that there were in him the gifts indispensable to the making of an artist. I was often told that, despite the cleverness of his copies, and even of his caricatures, he seemed to lack invention and originality. However, it was understood that he would be allowed a fair trial,—but only after taking his degree of "Bachelier es-lettres," for his father was of opinion that perhaps more for artists than for men in other professions, a liberal education was necessary to the development of the finest aptitudes. He also thought that the boys might now appreciate English poetry, and selected short passages from the best poets, which he read aloud in the evenings, whilst they followed with books in their hands; it accustomed them to the rhythm and to the music of the language, and the peculiar qualities of each piece were explained to them afterwards. Little Mary Susan also received encouragement in the practice of her music, for I see this entry on March 7, 1875: "My little daughter and I played piano and violin together to-day for the first time."
Very slowly and gradually his health had improved, and he was in 1875 almost free from nervousness, but he had not yet dared to attempt railway travelling; he had occasion to write to Mr. Seymour Haden, and here is part of the reply:—
"First, I am delighted to hear that the improvement in your health maintains itself; next, that I shall be very happy to do you a plate for the 'Portfolio.' I was with Macmillan the other day, and heard from him that you were at work upon a new edition of 'Etching and Etchers.' He spoke so well of you and of your work, that I am empresse to report him to you in this. It must be a great satisfaction to you, after the extraordinary life you have led, to find that it is producing such satisfactory results. May it and the good effect which attends it continue! And this brings me to speak of your railway malady. It does not differ from other cases of the kind in any one particular. It is an idiosyncracy. It is not to be got over by medicine (certainly not by chloral), but by time—or rather, by the difference induced in the constitution by age. A man may be subject to all you describe at forty, and actually free from such symptoms at fifty—and I should advise you to test yourself, after so long an abstinence from this mode of travel, by a short journey now and then. No accumulative mischief could arrive—and you may find, to your great satisfaction, that you have entirely lost your enemy. If you do, by all means come, pay us a visit, and see what we are doing in England. I have done an etching of Turner's 'Calais Pier,' 30 inches square, which is by many degrees the finest thing (if I may be permitted so superlative an expression) I have done or ever shall do. I mean to publish it about the close of the year. I have built a press for printing it, and am having paper made expressly, and real sepia (which is magnificent—both in color and price) got from the Adriatic for the ink! so that great things ought to result."
And the result was certainly by far the finest of modern etchings, according to Mr. Hamerton's opinion; in some particulars he preferred the "Agamemnon," but the size of "Calais Pier" as an increase of difficulty was to be considered, and if the "Agamemnon" was an original conception, it cannot be said that "Calais Pier" was a copy—so much being due to interpretation. Later on, when my husband was in possession of this chef-d'oeuvre, it always occupied the place of honor in the house.
Following Mr. Haden's advice, he now tried short railway journeys at intervals, by slow trains, so that he could get out frequently at the numerous stations,—not to allow the accumulating effect of the vibration,—and generally in the night. There are some short entries about it in the diary:—
"October 7, 1875. Went to Laisy in boat with M. de Fontenay; the day was most lovely. Came back in the train without feeling any inconvenience."
"October 12, 1875. Went from Laisy to Etang by the river. Dined there; returned by train in the evening all right. We had no accidents, except on a little sunken rock after Chaseux, when M. de Fontenay's boat was upset."
In this manner he used to go to Chalon (there was rather a long stoppage at Chagny for change of train) to stay two or three days with my mother and brother, who lived there. He was still anxious and uneasy, but he nerved himself to bear the discomfort, in the hope that he would get inured to it in time, and he used to close his eyes as soon as he was in the carriage, and to draw the curtains to avoid seeing the objects that we passed on the line.
In the summer of 1875 he received from the new owner of Innistrynich an invitation to revisit the dear island. Nothing could have given him more pleasure. Mr. Muir gave him all the details of the improvements he had effected, but said:—
"I retained the old cottage, with its twelve small apartments, and added a new front, containing five rooms.
"I saw Donald Macorquodale [whom my husband often had in the boat with him]; he was much pleased to hear that you had been inquiring about him. He is now getting frail, and not very able to work. He requested me to say that he was very glad to hear of you, and would be delighted to see you at Loch Awe. He sold the boats you were so kind as to give him, but he only received a small sum for them, having kept them too long."
My husband never forgot his old servants, and showed his interest in them whenever he could; they had great affection and respect for him, mingled with awe, well knowing that, although he gave his orders kindly, he meant to be obeyed. There was a very trusty widow, who came to our house twice a week, and I remember finding her in tears, and asking what was the matter. "Ah! c'est Monsieur qui m'a grondee," she sobbed desperately. "But what has he said to put you in such a state?" "Oh! he did not say much; only, 'Lazarette, why will you scratch off the paint with the matches?' ... 'Mais quand Monsieur gronde,'" ... and there was a fresh explosion.
It was well that my husband's health was better, for it enabled him to bear the saddening news of his uncle Thomas's approaching end; he had, for the last few months, grown weaker and weaker, till his sister wrote:—
"WEST LODGE. September 1875.
"The loss of my dear worthy brother is indeed a sad blow to me, and I was not able to attend the funeral.... I am better now, though the doctor is still in attendance upon me. I should indeed have liked you both to have been here, but I could not press you, or even expect you to run such a risk.... Still, I look forward to the pleasure of seeing you all at West Lodge before the winter sets in."
It may be here briefly explained that Miss Susan Hamerton greatly needed her nephew's advice about money matters; they had been hitherto managed by her brother, and she had had no care about it; but now, after entrusting what she possessed to a person recommended by Mr. T. Hamerton, she had become aware that it was not safe, and was afraid of losing the savings she had been able to make, for she had no control over the capital.
It was difficult to explain all this by letters, and she was anxious to give all the details by word of mouth, consequently she grew more and more pressing in the expression of the desire that her nephew should attempt the journey; he was not to be detained by the consideration of expense, for she intended to make him a present of some bank-shares which she no longer wanted, since her brother had left her an increase of income for her life.
My husband resolved to undertake the long journey in the course of 1876, and to arrange his work in view of it. Besides his contributions to different periodicals, he had in the year 1875 entirely written "Round my House," prepared the new edition of "Etching and Etchers," got the notes necessary for the "Life of Turner," and given much consideration to a plan mentioned thus in the note-book: "December 28, 1875. Feel inclined to write a book on remarkable Frenchmen, such as the Amperes, Victor Jacquemont, the Cure d'Ars, and a few others who interest me."
"Round my House."—Journey to England after seven years' absence. —Friends in London.—Visit to Mr. Samuel Palmer.—Articles for the "Encyclopaedia Britannica."—Death of my sister.—Mr. Appleton.
The note-book for 1876 opened with the following rules, written by my husband for his own guidance:—
"Rise at six in winter and five in summer. Go to bed at eleven in winter and ten in summer. There must be two literary sittings every day of two hours each. The first to be over as soon as possible, in order to leave me free for practical art work; the second to begin at five p.m., and end at seven p.m.
"Something really worth reading must be read every day, the quantity not fixed.
"I must go out every day whatever the weather may be.
"Time may be taken, no matter when, for putting things in order. The best way is to do it every morning before setting to work. It is better to try to keep things in order than to accumulate disorder.
"Keep everything quite in readiness for immediate work in literature and art.
"When tired, rest completely, but never dawdle. Be either in harness or out of harness avowedly. Special importance is to be given to painting this year. Pictures are to be first painted in monochrome, in raw umber and white. Read one thing at a time in one language. All rules suspended during fatigue."
At the beginning of the year Roberts Brothers had asked for a photograph of the now popular author of "The Intellectual Life." In April they acknowledged the receipt of two, and were sending some copies of the engraving from them. They also said:—
"Suppose we should wish to bring out an edition of 'Wenderholme' this autumn, would you abridge and rewrite it? Condensation would be likely to make it more powerful and more interesting. Or perhaps you would rather write an entirely new novel? We think such a novel as you could write would have a large sale.
"The accompanying letters will interest you as proofs of your growing popularity. We mail you to-day, by request of Miss May Alcott, a copy of her father's clever little volume, 'Concord Days.' A fine old gentleman he is, the worthy father of the most popular of American authoresses."
Here is Miss May Alcott's letter:—
"MY DEAR MR. HAMERTON,—I am pleased and proud that you should have considered my letter worthy an answer, and I am still more gratified to be allowed the satisfaction of selecting the best pictures of Concord's great man for you. Mr. Emerson has been for more than thirty years the most intimate friend of my father, as also Mrs. Emerson and mother; the daughters and myself growing up together. And as father is thought to know and understand the poet perhaps better than any other contemporary, I venture sending by post one of his books, which contains an essay on Mr. Emerson, which may interest you. It was thought so fine and true on its first appearance that it was published in illuminated form for private circulation only; but as there is not a copy of the small edition to be obtained, I send 'Concord Days' instead. This morning, on receipt of your very kind reply to my letter, I went to Mr. Emerson's study and read him the paragraph relating to himself, which pleased him exceedingly; and while his daughter Ellen stood smilingly beside him, he said, 'But I know Mr. Hamerton better than he thinks for, as I have read his earlier works, and though I did not meet him while in England, I value all he writes.' Then I showed him the two pictures which father and I thought the preferable likenesses, which I enclose by mail to you, though he produced a collection taken at Elliot and Fry's, Baker Street, London, from which we find none better on the whole than this head, which gives his exact expression, and the little one giving the tout ensemble of the man we admire so much."
Few things could have given greater pleasure to Mr. Hamerton than to learn that his works were appreciated by such a writer and thinker as Mr. Emerson, whose books he studied and enjoyed and quoted very frequently. But he was quite put out by the engraving of his portrait, which, indeed, could not be called a likeness. He wrote as much to Roberts Brothers, who replied: "We are not a bit disappointed to hear that you don't like the head, for we have come to consider the dislike of all authors to similar things as chronic." They offered, however, to have the plate corrected according to the victim's directions, and added: "But take heart upon the fact that nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand who look upon it believe it to be a facsimile of yourself, and where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."
In another letter, they say again:—
"The head, which to you is an insurmountable defect, is favorably looked upon by everybody. If Mrs. Hamerton should hear the praise from fair lips she would certainly be jealous. However, the engraver will see how nearly he can conform to your wishes, and perhaps we may be able to please you yet."
No praises from lips however fair would have induced me to put up with the portrait, and I said so frankly, without being at all influenced by jealousy, for in my opinion the original was far handsomer in expression and bearing than the likeness; but Roberts Brothers, who had never seen the original, still clung to the obnoxious engraving, and wrote again: "If we are deluded, and happy in that delusion, why should you care? Mrs. Hamerton, she must confess it, is jealous of our fair countrywomen." Nevertheless it was withdrawn in deference to our wishes.
Mr. Powers was now and then discreetly reminding Mr. Hamerton of his promised pictures, and after hearing from the painter that they were safe (whatever that may have brought to his mind) sent these verses:—
"A famous artist over the sea Promised to paint two pictures for me.
"He wrought, but his colors would not show His pure ideal and heart's warm glow.
"And so the paintings are still unsent, Though years ago their spirit went.
"Two pictures hang in my treasured thought— My dream of those the artist wrought.
"They are sweet and fadeless, and soothe my sight, When weary and sad, with a strange delight.
"But the light which shows their marvellous art Is the generous glow of the painter's heart.
"This is the way that there came to me The gift of pictures from over the sea."
"There's a parson out West in Chicago, To whom I did promise—long ago— A couple of pictures, Not fearing strictures Of the critical folk of Chicago.
"Time passed, and the works were not finished; Time passed, yet with hope undiminished, That parson he wrote, And my conscience he smote, And so was I greatly punished.
"For a promise is not a pie-crust, And 'I will' is changed to 'I must' When you say to a friend— 'Two pictures I'll send,' And he orders the cadres in trust.
"Then the parson he sighed in despair— 'Where are my two pictures?—O where?' In regions ideal Far, far from the real, Like cloudscapes that melt into air.
"And then I thought—'Now it grows serious, For deferred hope is most deleterious; Yet how can I toil In color and oil In a world where the publishers weary us?'
"Ah me! for a month with the flowers, And the sweet April sunshine and showers. To paint with delight From morning till night, For my dear friend, Horatio N. Powers!"
It may be said here that the pictures were completed and packed off in the beginning of October, 1876.
In view of a series of large etchings Mr. Hamerton went to Decize, on the Loire, where he hoped to find material for several subjects. He made twenty sketches of the town, river, boats, etc., and then called upon M. Hanoteau, the painter, who had expressed a desire for his acquaintance. There is a short note relating the visit:—
"April 21, 1876. Arrived at ten a.m., and had a pleasant day watching him paint. I also saw the interior of his atelier, and the things in progress. He only paints in the immediate neighborhood. Always from nature. When we had finished dejeuner we went together to a little etang in the wood, near to which were some old cottages. He painted that bit on a small panel. After completing his sitting he showed me part of the road to Cercy-la-Tour, and a gentleman with him showed me the rest.
"Had a deal of art talk with Hanoteau, also with a young sculptor called Gautherin."
This young sculptor was poor, but energetic and courageous; he rapidly made his way to fame, but unfortunately died too soon to reap the benefit of his remarkable talent.
The idea of an abridged "Wenderholme" had been accepted by the author, who had written to Messrs. Blackwood about it, and who received the satisfactory answer that, "though they had sustained a loss with the first publication, they thought that the reputation and popularity of the writer having considerably increased, 'Wenderholme' would sell well in their 'Library Series of Novels.'" In consequence the revision was begun at once, for Roberts Brothers had also written, "Whenever you feel inclined to take up 'Wenderholme,' we shall be glad to comply with your demand." And there followed a new proposition in the same letter:—
"Since writing you about a new novel, we have had an inspiration, and have already acted upon it—a series of novelettes, to be published anonymously, the secret of authorship, for a period, to rest entirely with the author and publisher. We shall call it the 'No Name Series,' and issue it in neat, square 18mo volumes of about 250 pages, to sell for one dollar.
"Those to whom we have suggested the idea are mightily pleased, and we are even tickled with the great fun we expect to have—something like a new experience of the 'Great Unknown' days of Sir Walter Scott. We have several promises from well-known authors, and we all agree that you must write one of them. Take your own time to do so, and when you send us the 'copy' we will advance L50 towards the copyright. People say it will be impossible to keep the secret, for an author's style cannot be hidden; but though it may be easy enough to say, 'Oh! this is Hamerton; anybody can tell his style,' if it is not admitted, there will be uncertainty enough to make it exciting, and create a demand—we hope a large one."
Although my husband had not been so well in the spring (it was the worst time of the year for him), he decided to start for England early in June to see the Paris Salon and the English Academy. He did not ask me to go with him, for our daughter had had quite recently a bad attack of bronchitis—at one time we had even feared inflammation of the lungs—and the greatest care against the possibility of colds had been recommended. However, he thought he would be equal to the journey, and gave me a promise to stop whenever he felt unwell. He reached Paris all right, did his work there, and had a kind letter from Mr. Seeley, who said:—
"I was greatly pleased to receive your card this morning, and learn that you had had a successful journey. Now you will certainly come and see me, won't you? Brunet-Debaines is here, and will remain till the end of next week. If you are with us then, we will get him to Kingston, and have a day on the Thames together, and all of us shall make sketches."
It was very tempting. But the next news was not so good, and Mr. Seeley wrote again:—
"If you have lost your appetite in a big town the remedy is plain. Come to Kingston at once. You will not be much troubled with noise there, and you can paddle about on the river and get hungry, or go flying madly about on a bicycle, if you have kept up the practice. There is a big bedroom empty, and waiting for you."
The journey was resumed as far as Amiens, but the enemy proved too strong to be overcome by courage and resolution, and after resting two days my husband came back home by easy stages, having only told me the truth after leaving Amiens, to prevent my going to him at any cost. He reached La Tuilerie on the first of July, and I see in the diary: "Rested at home. Very glad to be there." The attempt was not attended by any lasting bad effects; he immediately regained his appetite and usual health; but his Aunt Susan was sorely disappointed. He tried to soothe her by explaining what he believed to be the combined causes of his breakdown: first the intense heat, which had made his stay in Paris very trying; the fatigue he had undergone there; and lastly the weakness supervening after the loss of appetite, also due to the abnormal heat, which was causing several sunstrokes every day, even in England. He announced his intention of making another attempt with me in the autumn, when the chances would be more in his favor.
Since the beginning of the year the study of painting had become predominant, and had necessitated rather a heavy outlay, because Gilbert's schemes were always so elaborate and complex—drawing-boards of different sizes, every one of them with a tin cover painted and varnished; some for water-colors, others for charcoals; canvases for oils and monochromes, wooden and porcelain palettes, pastilles, tubes, portable easels, sunshades, knapsacks, stools, brushes, block-books, papers for water-colors and chalk studies, tinted and white, numberless portfolios to class the studies, and—a gig, to carry the paraphernalia to greater distances and in less time than the four-wheeled carriage required. I was against the gig, but the boys were of course delighted, and declared with their father that it had become "absolutely necessary."
I see in the diary: "July 30, 1876. In the evening went to Autun on Cocote; enjoyed the ride considerably. Brought back the gig. Wife sulky." The expenses of the year had been very heavy, owing to several causes; first some house repairs had become inevitable, and the landlord offering us only the option of doing them at our own cost or leaving the house, we had to order them. The roofs were in such a state that in stormy weather we had our ceilings and wall-papers drenched with rain-water, and indeed it had even begun to make its way through the ceilings into the inhabited rooms. The diary for March 12, 1876, says: "A very stormy day, the wildest of the whole year. We arranged the tents (Stephen and I) in the attic, to prevent the rain from coming into our bedroom." Then there had been boats made for the boys (cheap boats, it is true, made by common joiners). They were well deserved, I acknowledge; the boys had had each an accessit at the "Concours Academique," and both were mentioned with praise by the Sous-Prefet at the public distribution of prizes. Besides, what was still more important, Stephen had successfully passed his examination for the "Baccalaureat." Lastly, there had been an expensive and unproductive journey, and there was the prospect of another. All this in the same year somewhat alarmed me. The gig was not an important concern, being made, like the four-wheeled carriage, from designs of my husband's, by ordinary wheelwrights and blacksmiths; but though admitting its usefulness, and even desirableness, I thought we might have done without it.
In the beginning of August my husband told me the plan of "Marmorne" (for the "No Name Series"), and I had been afraid that it would be too melodramatic; however, I was charmed when he read me the beginning, and my fears were soon dispelled by the strength and simplicity of the narrative.
On October 4 we started for England, leaving my mother in charge of the house and children; we stopped at Fontainebleau in the morning, and after dejeuner visited the forest pretty thoroughly in a carriage. After dinner we went on to Paris, where we stayed only four days for fear of its effects, and proceeded to Calais by a night-train. Luckily for Gilbert, he could sleep very well in a railway carriage, and sea-sickness was unknown to him. We crossed in the "Castalia," in very rough weather indeed, the waves jumping over the deck, and covering everything there with foam; at one time there came a huge one dashing just against my husband's block as he was sketching, and drenched him from head to foot. However, he took a warm bath at Dover, changed his clothes, and felt only the better for the passage.
Mr. Seeley's house was reached at midnight, and very happy was Mr. Hamerton to meet his friend again, and to be once more in England after an enforced absence of seven years. On the morrow our kind host and hostess took us to Hampton Court Palace, thence to Richmond Park by Twickenham, and altogether made us pass a most pleasant day. The following day was reserved for the National Gallery, and I find this note in the diary: "I was delighted to see the Turner collection again, and greatly struck by the luminous quality of the late works. This could not possibly have been got without the white grounds."
On the Sunday we went to Balham to dine early with Mr. and Mrs. Macmillan, and met Mr. Ralston and Mr. Green, the historian. It was noted as a very interesting day by my husband.