Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct

Samuel Smiles
Smiles, Samuel
(1812-1904)
BIO
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Editor/Trans.
First Pub. Date
1859
Publisher/Edition
Boston: Ticknor and Fields
Pub. Date
1863
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Chapter V
WORKERS IN ART.

V.0

"If what shone afar so grand,
Turn to nothing in thy hand,
On again, the virtue lies
In the struggle, not the prize."—R. M. Milnes.

V.1

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS was such a believer in the force of industry, that he held that excellence in art, "however expressed by genius, taste, or the gift of heaven, may be acquired." Writing to Barry he said, "Whoever is resolved to excel in painting, or indeed any other art, must bring all his mind to bear upon that one object from the moment that he rises till he goes to bed." And on another occasion he said, "Those who are resolved to excel must go to their work, willing or unwilling, morning, noon, and night; they will find it no play, but very hard labor." But although diligent application is no doubt absolutely necessary for the achievement of the highest distinction in art, it is equally true that without the inherent faculty, no mere amount of industry, however well applied, will make an artist. The gift comes by nature, but is perfected by self-culture, which is of much more avail than the imparted education of the schools.

V.2

It is indeed remarkable that the most distinguished artists of our own country have not been born in an artistic sphere, or in a position of life more than ordinarily favorable to the culture of artistic genius. They have nearly all had to force their way upward in the face of poverty and manifold obstructions. Thus Gainsborough and Bacon were the sons of cloth-workers; Barry was an Irish sailor-boy, and Maclise a banker's apprentice at Cork; Opie and Romney, like Inigo Jones, were carpenters; West was the son of a small Quaker farmer in Pennsylvania; Northcote was a watchmaker; Jackson a tailor, and Etty a printer; Reynolds, Wilson, and Wilkie, were the sons of clergymen; Lawrence was the son of a publican, and Turner of a barber. Several of our painters, it is true, originally had some connection with art, though in a very humble way,—such as Flaxman, whose father sold plaster casts; Bird, who ornamented tea-trays; Martin, who was a coach-painter; Wright and Gilpin, who were ship-painters; Chantrey, who was a carver and gilder; and David Cox, Stanfield, and Roberts, who were scene-painters.

V.3

All these men achieved distinction in their several walks under circumstances often of the most adverse kind. It was not by luck nor accident that they rose, but by sheer industry and hard work. Though some achieved wealth, yet this was never their ruling motive. Indeed, no mere love of money could sustain the efforts of the artist in his early career of self-denial and application. The pleasure of the pursuit has always been its best reward; the wealth which followed but an accident. Many noble-minded artists have preferred following the bent of their genius, to chaffering with the public for terms. Spagnoletto verified in his life the beautiful fiction of Xenophon, and after he had acquired the means of luxury, preferred withdrawing himself from their influence, and voluntarily returned to poverty and labor. When Michael Angelo was asked his opinion respecting a work which a painter had taken great pains to exhibit for profit, he said, "I think that he will be a poor fellow so long as he shows such an extreme eagerness to become rich."

V.4

Like Sir Joshua Reynolds, Michael Angelo was a great believer in the force of labor; and he held that there was nothing which the imagination conceived, that could not be embodied in marble, if the hand were made vigorously to obey the mind. He was himself one of the most indefatigable of workers; and he attributed his power of studying for a greater number of hours than most of his contemporaries, to his spare habits of living. A little bread and wine was all he required for the chief part of the day when employed at his work; and very frequently he rose in the middle of the night to resume his labors. On these occasions, it was his practice to fix the candle, by the light of which he worked, on the summit of a pasteboard cap which he wore. Sometimes he was too wearied to undress, and he slept in his clothes, ready to spring to his work so soon as refreshed by sleep. He had a favorite device of an old man in a go-cart, with an hour-glass upon it bearing the inscription, Ancora imparo! still I am learning.

V.5

Titian, also, was an indefatigable worker. His celebrated "Pietro Martyre" was eight years in hand, and his "Last Supper" seven. In his letter to Charles V. he said, "I send your Majesty the 'Last Supper' after working at it almost daily for seven years—doppo, sette anni lavorandovi quasi continuamente." Few think of the patient labor and long training involved in the greatest works of the artist. They seem easy and quickly accomplished, yet with how great difficulty has this ease been acquired. "You charge me fifty sequins," said the Venetian nobleman to the sculptor, "for a bust that cost you only ten days' labor." "You forget," said the artist, "that I have been thirty years learning to make that bust in ten days." Once when Domenichino was blamed for his slowness in finishing a picture which was bespoken, he made answer, "I am continually painting it within myself." It was eminently characteristic of the industry of the late Sir Augustus Callcott, that he made not fewer than forty separate sketches in the composition of his famous picture of "Rochester." This constant repetition is one of the main conditions of success in art, as in life itself.

V.6

Art is indeed a long labor, no matter how amply nature has bestowed the gift of the artistic faculty. In most cases this has shown itself early; and illustrations of apparent precocity have been noted in the lives of most great artists. The anecdote related of West is well known. When only seven years old, struck with the beauty of the sleeping infant of his eldest sister whilst watching by its cradle, he ran to seek some paper and forthwith drew its portrait in red and black ink. The little incident revealed the artist in him, and it was found impossible to draw him from his bent. West might have been a greater painter, had he not been injured by too early success; his fame, though great, was not purchased by study, trials, and difficulties, and it has not been enduring. Richard Wilson, when a mere child, indulged himself with tracing figures of men and animals on the walls of his father's house, with a burnt stick. He first directed his attention to portrait-painting; but when in Italy, calling one day at the house of Zucarelli, and growing weary with waiting, he began painting the scene on which his friend's chamber-window looked. When Zucarelli arrived, he was so charmed with the picture, that he asked if Wilson had not studied landscape, to which he replied that he had not. "Then, I advise you," said the other, "to try; for you are sure of great success." Wilson adopted the advice, studied and worked hard, and became our first great English landscape-painter. Sir Joshua Reynolds, when a boy, forgot his lessons, and took pleasure only in drawing, for which his father was accustomed to rebuke him. The boy was destined for the profession of physic, but his strong instinct for art could not be repressed, and he became a painter. Gainsborough went sketching, when a school-boy, in the woods of Sudbury; and at twelve he was a confirmed artist; he was a keen observer and a hard worker,—no picturesque feature of any scene he had once looked upon, escaping his diligent pencil. William Blake, a hosier's son, employed himself in drawing designs on the backs of his father's shopbills and making sketches on the counter. Edward Bird, when a child only three or four years old, would mount a chair and draw figures on the walls, which he called French and English soldiers. A box of colors was purchased for him, and his father, desirous of turning his love of art to account, put him apprentice to a maker of tea-trays! Out of this trade he gradually raised himself by study and labor, to the rank of a Royal Academician.

V.7

Hogarth, though a very dull boy at his lessons, took pleasure in making drawings of the letters of the alphabet, and his school exercises were more remarkable for the ornaments with which he embellished them, than for the matter of the exercises themselves. In the latter respect he was beaten by all the blockheads of the school, but in his adornments he stood alone. His father put him apprentice to a silversmith, where he learned to draw, and also to engrave spoons and forks with crests and ciphers; from silver-chasing, he went on to teach himself to engrave on copper, principally griffins and monsters of heraldry; in the course of which practice he became ambitious to delineate the varieties of human character. The singular excellence which he reached in this art, was mainly the result of careful observation and study. He had the gift, which he sedulously cultivated, of committing to memory the precise features of any remarkable face, and afterwards reproducing it on paper; but if any singularly fantastic form or outré face came in his way, he would make a sketch of it on the spot, upon his thumb-nail, and carry it home to expand at his leisure. Everything fantastical and original had a powerful attraction for him, and he wandered into many out-of-the-way places for the purpose of meeting with character. By this careful storing of his mind, he was afterwards enabled to crowd an immense amount of thought and treasured observation into his works. Hence it is that Hogarth's pictures are so truthful a memorial of the characters, the manners, and even the very thoughts of the times in which he lived. True painting, he himself observed, can only be learned in one school, and that is kept by Nature. But he was not a highly cultivated man, except in his own walk. His school education had been of the slenderest kind, scarcely even perfecting him in the art of spelling; his self-culture did the rest. For a long time he was in very straitened circumstances, but, nevertheless, worked on with a cheerful heart. Poor though he was, he contrived to live within his small means, and he boasted, with becoming pride, that he was "a punctual paymaster." When he had conquered all his difficulties and become a famous and thriving man, he loved to dwell upon his early labors and privations, and to fight over again the battle which ended so honorably to him as a man and so gloriously as an artist. "I remember the time," said he on one occasion, "when I have gone moping into the city with scarce a shilling, but as soon as I have received ten guineas there for a plate, I have returned home, put on my sword, and sallied out with all the confidence of a man who had thousands in his pockets."

V.8

"Industry and Perseverance" was the motto of the sculptor Banks, which he acted on himself, and strongly recommended to others. His well-known kindness induced many aspiring youths to call upon him and ask for his advice and assistance; and it is related that one day a boy called at his door to see him with this object, but the servant, angry at the loud knock he had given, scolded him, and was about sending him away, when Banks over-hearing her, himself went out. The little boy stood at the door with some drawings in his hand. "What do you want with me?" asked the sculptor. "I want, sir, if you please, to be admitted to draw at the Academy." Banks explained that he himself could not procure his admission, but he asked to look at the boy's drawings. Examining them, he said, "Time enough for the Academy, my little man! go home,—mind your schooling,—try to make a better drawing of the Apollo,—and in a month come again and let me see it." The boy went home,—sketched and worked with redoubled diligence,—and, at the end of the month, called again on the sculptor. The drawing was better, but again Banks sent him back, with good advice, to work and study. In a week the boy was again at his door; his drawing much improved; and Banks bid him be of good cheer, for if spared he would distinguish himself. The boy was Mulready; and the sculptor's augury was amply fulfilled.

V.9

Though Nollekens came of a family of artists, his father died so young, and he was left so destitute, that it was necessary for him to fight his own way in the world inch by inch. He had not much school education, could read indifferently, and had little knowledge of spelling or grammar; yet he became a successful, if not a great, artist. He was taken into the shop of an obscure sculptor, Scheemakers, and while laboring late and early at his favorite art, he ran errands during the day, being often employed, because of his carefulness, to carry pots of porter for his master's maids on washing-days,—"creeping slowly along," as he afterwards described, "to save the head of foam, that the lasses might taste it in all its strength." As he grew in knowledge of his art, he competed for the Society of Arts' prizes, and won them in two successive years. Determined to visit Rome, he journeyed thither in the humblest style possible, and reached the Eternal City with only twenty guineas in his pocket, without a friend. But he set to work with a will; he first earned ten guineas for a bas-relief carved in stone, and the year following he was voted fifty guineas by the Society of Arts for a marble group. Garrick and Sterne both sat to him for their busts at Rome, which brought him more guineas, and, what was better for him, reputation; and when he returned to London to commence business, he had already accumulated a little store of capital,—for his privations as a youth had early forced him to cultivate the habit of economy. He improved as an artist, and Dr. Johnson, of whom he executed a capital bust, once said of him, "My friend Joe Nollekens can chop out a head with any of them." Yet Nollekens was no genius, for his biographers confess that all which he accomplished came by painful labor and incessant diligence.

V.10

John Flaxman was a true genius,—one of the greatest artists England has yet produced. He was besides a person of beautiful character, his life furnishing many salutary lessons for men of all ranks. Flaxman was the son of a humble seller of plaster casts in New Street, Covent Garden; and when a child, he was so constant an invalid that it was his custom to sit behind the shop counter propped by pillows, amusing himself with drawing and reading. A benevolent clergyman, named Matthews, one day calling at the shop, found the boy trying to read a book, and on inquiring what it was, found it was a Cornelius Nepos, which his father had picked up for a few pence at a bookstall. The gentleman, after some conversation with the boy, said that was not the proper book for him to read, but that he would bring him a right one on the morrow; and the kind man was as good as his word. The Rev. Mr. Matthews used afterwards to say, that from that casual interview with the cripple little invalid behind the plaster-cast seller's shop counter, began an acquaintance which ripened into one of the best friendships of his life. He brought several books to the boy, amongst which were Homer and "Don Quixote," in both of which Flaxman then and ever after took immense delight. His mind was soon full of the heroism which breathed through the pages of the former work, and, with the stucco Ajaxes and Achilleses about him, looming along the shop shelves, the ambition thus early took possession of him, that he too would design and embody in poetic forms those majestic heroes. His black chalk was at once in his hand, and the enthusiastic boy labored in a divine despair to body forth in visible shapes the actions of the Greeks and Trojans.

V.11

Like all youthful efforts, his first designs were crude. The proud father one day showed them to Roubilliac, the sculptor, who turned from them with a contemptuous "pshaw!" But the boy had the right stuff in him; he had industry and patience; and he continued to labor incessantly at his books and drawings. He then tried his young powers in modelling figures in plaster of Paris, wax, and clay; some of these early works are still preserved, not because of their merit, but because they are curious as the first healthy efforts of patient genius. The boy was long before he could walk, and he only learned to do so by hobbling along upon crutches. Hence he could not accompany his father to see the procession at the coronation of George III., but he entreated his father to bring him back one of the coronation medals which were to be distributed amongst the crowd. The pressure was too great to enable the father to obtain one in the scramble, but, not to disappoint the little invalid, he obtained a plated button bearing the stamp of a horse and jockey, which he presented to his son as the coronation medal. His practice at this time was to make impressions of all seals and medals that pleased him; and it was for this that he so much coveted the medal.

V.12

His physical health improving, the little Flaxman then threw away his crutches. The kind Mr. Matthews invited him to his house, where his wife explained Homer and Milton to him. They helped him also in his selfculture,—giving him lessons in Greek and Latin, the study of which he prosecuted at home. When under Mrs. Matthews, he also attempted with his bit of charcoal to embody in outline on paper such passages as struck his fancy. His drawings could not, however, have been very extraordinary, for when he showed a drawing of an eye which he had made to Mortimer, the artist, that gentleman with affected surprise exclaimed, "Is it an oyster?" The sensitive boy was much hurt, and for a time took care to avoid showing his drawings to artists, who, though a thin-skinned race, are sometimes disposed to be very savage in their criticisms on others. At length, by dint of perseverance and study, his drawing improved so much that Mrs. Matthews obtained a commission for him from a lady, to draw six original drawings in black chalk of subjects in Homer. His first commission! A great event that in the boy's life. A surgeon's first fee, a lawyer's first retainer, a legislator's first speech, a singer's first appearance behind the foot-lights, an author's first book, are not any of them more full of interest to the individual than the artist's first commission. The boy duly executed the order, and was both well praised and well paid for his work.

V.13

At fifteen Flaxman entered a student at the Royal Academy. He might then be seen principally in the company of Blake and Stothard, young men of kindred tastes and genius, gentle and amiable, yet ardent in their love of art. Notwithstanding his retiring disposition, Flaxman soon became known among the students, and great things were expected of him. Nor were their expectations disappointed: in his fifteenth year he gained the silver prize, and next year he became a candidate for the gold one. Everybody prophesied that he would carry off the medal, for there was none who surpassed him in ability and industry. The youth did his best, and in his after-life honestly affirmed that he deserved the prize, but he lost it, and the gold medal was adjudged to Engleheart, who was not afterwards heard of. This failure on the part of the youth was really of service to him; for defeats do not long cast down the resolute-hearted, but only serve to call forth their real powers. "Give me time," said he to his father, "and I will yet produce works that the Academy will be proud to recognize." He redoubled his efforts, spared no pains, designed and modelled incessantly, and consequently made steady if not rapid progress. But meanwhile poverty threatened his father's household; the plaster-cast trade yielded a very bare living; and young Flaxman, with resolute self-denial, curtailed his hours of study, and devoted himself to helping his father in the humble details of his business. He laid aside his Homer to take up the plaster-trowel. He was willing to work in the humblest department of the trade so that his father's family might be supported, and the wolf kept from the door. To this drudgery of his art he served a long apprenticeship; but it did him good. It familiarized him with steady work, and cultivated in him the spirit of patience. The discipline may have been rough, but it was wholesome.

V.14

Happily, young Flaxman's skill in design had reached the knowledge of Mr. Wedgwood, who sought him out for the purpose of employing him in designing improved patterns of china and earthenware to be produced at his manufactory. It may seem a humble department of art for Flaxman to have labored in; but it really was not so. An artist may be laboring truly in his vocation while designing even so common an article as a teapot or a water-jug; articles which are in daily use amongst the people, and are before their eyes at every meal, may be made the vehicles of art-education to all and minister to their highest culture. The most ambitious artist may thus confer a greater practical benefit on his countrymen than by executing an elaborate work which he may sell for thousands of pounds, to be placed in some wealthy man's gallery, where it is hidden away from public sight. Before Wedgwood's time the designs which figured upon our china and stoneware were hideous both in drawing and execution, and he determined to improve both. Finding out Flaxman, he said to him: "Well, my lad, I have heard that you are a good draughtsman and clever designer. I'm a manufacturer of pots,—name Wedgwood. Now, I want you to design some models for me,—nothing fantastic, but simple, tasteful, and correct in drawing. I'll pay you well. You don't think the work beneath you?" "By no means, sir," replied Flaxman, "indeed, the work is quite to my taste. Give me a few days,—call again, and you will see what I can do." "That's right,—work away. Mind, I am in want of them now. They are for pots of all kinds,—teapots, jugs, teacups and saucers. But especially I want designs for a table-service. Begin with that. I mean to supply one for the royal table. Now, think of that, young man. What you design is meant for the eyes of royalty!" "I will do my best, sir, I assure you." And the kind gentleman bustled out of the shop as he had come in.

V.15

Flaxman did his best. By the time that Mr. Wedgwood next called upon him, he had a numerous series of models prepared for various pieces of earthenware. They consisted chiefly of small groups in very low relief,—the subjects taken from ancient verse and history. Many of them are still in existence, and some are equal in beauty and simplicity to his after-designs for marble. The celebrated Etruscan vases, many of which were to be found in public museums and in the cabinets of the curious, furnished him with the best examples of form, and these he embellished with his own elegant devices. "Stuart's Athens," then recently published, also furnished him with specimens of the purest-shaped Greek utensils, and he was not slow to adopt the best of them, and work them up into new and wondrous shapes of elegance and beauty. Flaxman then saw that he was laboring in a great work,—no less than the promotion of popular education; and he was proud in after-life, to allude to these his early labors, by which he was enabled at the same time to cultivate his love of the beautiful, to diffuse a taste for art among the people, and to replenish his own purse, while he promoted the prosperity of his friend and benefactor.

V.16

Engaged in such labors as these, for several years Flaxman executed but few works of art, and then at rare intervals. He lived a quiet, secluded, and simple life, working during the day, and sketching and reading in the evenings. He was so poor that he had as yet been only able to find plaster of Paris for his works,—marble was too dear a material for him. He had hitherto executed only one statue in the latter material, and that was a commission.

V.17

At length, in the year 1782, when twenty-seven years of age, he quitted his father's roof and rented a small house and studio in Wardour Street, Soho; and what was more, he married,—Ann Denman was the name of his wife,—and a cheery, bright-souled, noble woman she was. He believed that in marrying her, he should be able to work with an intenser spirit; for, like him, she had a taste for poetry and art; and besides was an enthusiastic admirer of her husband's genius. Yet when Sir Joshua Reynolds,—himself a bachelor,—met Flaxman shortly after his marriage, he said to him, "So, Flaxman, I am told you are married; if so, sir, I tell you you are ruined for an artist." Flaxman went straight home, sat down beside his wife, took her hand in his, and said, "Ann, I am ruined for an artist." "How so, John? How has it happened? and who has done it?" "It happened," he replied, "in the church, and Ann Denman has done it." He then told her of Sir Joshua's remark,—whose opinion was well known, and had often been expressed, that if students would excel they must bring the whole powers of their mind to bear upon their art, from the moment they rise until they go to bed; and also, that no man could be a great artist unless he studied the grand works of Raffaelle, Michael Angelo, and others, at Rome and Florence. "And I," said Flaxman, drawing up his little figure to its full height, "I would be a great artist." "And a great artist you shall be," said his wife, "and visit Rome too, if that be really necessary to make you great." "But how?" asked Flaxman. "Work and economize," rejoined the brave wife; "I will never have it said that Ann Denman ruined John Flaxman for an artist." And so it was determined by the pair that the journey to Rome was to be made when their means would admit. "I will go to Rome," said Flaxman, "and show the President that wedlock is for a man's good rather than his harm; and you, Ann, shall accompany me."

V.18

Patiently and happily this affectionate couple plodded on during five years in that humble little home in Wardour Street; always with the long journey to Rome before them. It was never lost sight of for a moment, and not a penny was uselessly spent that could be saved towards the necessary expenses. They said no word to any one about their project; solicited no aid from the Academy; but trusted only to their own patient labor and love, to pursue and achieve their object. During this time Flaxman exhibited very few works. He could not afford marble to experiment in original designs; but he obtained frequent commissions for monuments, by the profits of which he maintained himself. He still worked for the Messrs. Wedgwood, who proved good paymasters; and, on the whole, he was thriving, happy, and hopeful. He was not a little respected by his neighbors, and those who knew him greatly estimated his sincerity, his honesty, and his unostentatious piety. His local respectability was even such as to bring local honors and local work upon him; so much so that he was on one occasion selected by the rate-payers to collect the watch-rate for the parish of St. Anne, when he might be seen going about with an ink-bottle suspended from his buttonhole, collecting the money.

V.19

At length Flaxman and his wife, having thriftily accumulated a sufficient store of savings, set out for Rome. Arrived there, he applied himself diligently to study, maintaining himself, like other poor artists, by making copies from the antique. English visitors sought his studio and gave him commissions; and it was then that he composed his beautiful designs, illustrative of Homer, Æschylus, and Dante. The price paid for them was moderate,—only fifteen shillings apiece; but Flaxman worked for art as well as money; and the beauty of the designs brought him new friends and patrons. He executed Cupid and Aurora for the munificent Thomas Hope, and the Fury of Athamas for the Earl of Bristol. He then prepared to return to England, his taste improved and cultivated by careful study; but before he left Italy, the Academies of Florence and Carrara recognized his merit by electing him a member.

V.20

His fame had preceded him to England, and he soon found abundant lucrative employment. While at Rome, he had been commissioned to execute his famous monument in memory of Lord Mansfield, and it was erected in the north transept of Westminster Abbey shortly after his return. It stands there in majestic grandeur, a monument to the genius of Flaxman himself,—calm, simple, and severe. No wonder that Banks, the sculptor, then in the heyday of his fame, exclaimed when he saw it, "This little man cuts us all out!"

V.21

When the bigwigs of the Royal Academy heard of Flaxman's return, and especially when they had an opportunity of seeing and admiring his noble portrait-statue of Mansfield, they were eager to have him enrolled among their number. The Royal Academy has always had the art of running to the help of the strong; and when an artist has proved that he can achieve a reputation without the Academy, then is the Academy most willing to "patronize" him. He allowed his name to be proposed in the candidates' list of associates, and was immediately elected. His progress was now rapid, and he was constantly employed. Perseverance and study, which had matured his genius, had made him great, and he went on from triumph to triumph. But he appeared in yet a new character. The little boy who had begun his studies behind the poor plaster-cast seller's shop-counter in New Street, Covent Garden, was now a man of high intellect and recognized supremacy in art, to instruct aspiring students, in the character of Professor of Sculpture to the Royal Academy! And no man better deserved to fill that distinguished office; for none is so able to instruct others as he who, for himself and by his own almost unaided efforts, has learned to grapple with, and overcome difficulties. The caustic Fuseli used to talk of the lectures as "sermons by the Reverend John Flaxman;" for the sculptor was a religious man, which Fuseli was not. But Flaxman acquitted himself well in the professorial chair, as any one who reads his instructive "Lectures on Sculpture," now published, may ascertain for himself.

V.22

Flaxman's monuments are known nearly all over England. Their mute poetry beautifies most of our cathedrals, and many of our rural churches. Whatever work of this kind he executed, he threw a soul and meaning into it, embodying some high Christian idea of charity, of love, of resignation, of affection, or of kindness. In monuments such as these his peculiar genius preëminently shone. There is a tenderness and grace about them which no other artist has been able to surpass, or even to equal. His rapid sketches illustrative of the Lord's Prayer, published in lithograph some years ago, exhibit this peculiar quality of his genius in a striking light. In historical monuments, again, he was less successful, though his monuments to Reynolds and Nelson, in St. Paul's Cathedral, are noble works, which will always be admired.

V.23

After a long, peaceful, and happy life, Flaxman found himself growing old. The loss which he sustained by the death of his affectionate wife Ann, was a severe shock to him; but he survived her several years, during which he executed his celebrated "Shield of Achilles" and his noble "Archangel Michael vanquishing Satan,'—perhaps his two greatest works.

V.24

Chantrey was a more robust man,—every inch of him English. He was somewhat rough, but hearty in his demeanor; proud of his successful struggle with the difficulties which beset him in early life; and, above all, proud of his independence. He was born a poor man's child, at Norton, near Sheffield. His father dying when he was a mere boy, his mother married again. Young Chantrey used to drive an ass laden with milk-cans across its back into the neighboring town of Sheffield, and there serve his mother's customers with milk. Such was the humble beginning of his industrial career; and it was by his own strength that he rose from that position, and achieved the highest eminence as an artist. Not taking kindly to his step-father, the boy was sent to trade, and was first placed with a grocer in Sheffield. The business was very distasteful to him; but, passing a carver's shop-window one day, his eye was attracted by the glittering articles it contained, and, charmed with the idea of being a carver, he begged to be released from the grocery business with this object. His friends consented, and he was bound apprentice to a carver and gilder for seven years. His new master, besides being a carver in wood, was also a dealer in prints and plaster models; and Chantrey at once set about imitating both, studying with great industry and energy. All his spare hours were devoted to drawing, modelling, and self-improvement, often working far into the night. Before his apprenticeship was out,—at the age of twenty-one,—he paid over to his master the whole wealth which he was able to muster,—a sum of 50l.,—to cancel his indentures, determined to devote himself to the career of an artist. He then made the best of his way to London, and, with characteristic good sense, sought employment as an assistant carver, studying painting and modelling at his by-hours. Amongst the jobs on which he was at that time employed as a journeyman carver, was the decoration of the dining-room of Mr. Rogers, the poet,—a room in which he was in after-life a welcome visitor; and he usually took pleasure in pointing out his early handiwork to the guests whom he met at his friend's table.

V.25

Returning to Sheffield on a professional visit he advertised himself in the local papers as a painter of portraits in crayons and miniatures, and also in oil. For his first portrait he was paid a well-earned guinea by a cutler; and for a portrait in oil, a confectioner paid him as much as 5l. and a pair of top boots! Chantrey was soon in London again, to study at the Royal Academy; and next time he returned to Sheffield, he advertised himself as ready to model plaster busts of his townsmen, as well as to paint portraits of them. He was even selected to design a monument to a deceased vicar of the town, and executed it to general satisfaction. When in London he used a room over a stable as a studio, and there he modelled his first original work for exhibition. It was a gigantic head of Satan. Towards the close of Chantrey's life, a friend passing through his studio was struck by this model lying in a corner. "That head," said the sculptor, "was the first thing that I did after I came to London. I worked at it in a garret, with a paper cap on my head; and as I could then afford only one candle, I stuck that one in my cap that it might move along with me, and give me light whichever way I turned." Flaxman saw and admired this head at the Academy Exhibition, and recommended Chantrey for the execution of the busts of four admirals, required for the Naval Asylum at Greenwich. This commission led to others, and painting was given up. But for eight years before, he had not earned 5l. by his modelling. His famous head of Horne Tooke was such a success that, according to his own account, it brought him commissions amounting to 12,000l.

V.26

Chantrey had now succeeded, but he had worked hard, and thoroughly earned his fortune. He was selected from amongst sixteen competitors to execute the statue of George III. for the city of London. A few years later, he produced the exquisite monument of the Sleeping Children, now in Lichfield Cathedral,—a work not to be surpassed for tenderness of sentiment and poetic beauty; and thenceforward his career was one of increasing honor, fame, and prosperity. His patience, industry, and steady perseverance were the means by which he achieved his greatness. Nature endowed him with genius, and his sound sense enabled him to employ the precious gift as a blessing. He was prudent and shrewd, like the men amongst whom he was born; the pocketbook which accompanied him on his Italian tour containing mingled notes on art, records of daily expenses, and the current prices of marble. His tastes were simple, and he made his finest subjects great by the mere force of simplicity. His statue of Watt, in Handsworth Church, seems to us the very consummation of art; yet it is perfectly artless and simple. His generosity to brother artists in need was splendid, but quiet and unostentatious. In a word, Chantrey was a national sculptor; and the character and career of the man were such as to make Englishmen justly proud of him. The fortune which he amassed during his life of hard work he bequeathed to the Royal Academy for the promotion of British art.

V.27

The same honest and persistent industry was throughout distinctive of the career of David Wilkie. The son of a poor Scotch minister, he gave early indications of an artistic turn; and though he was a negligent and inapt scholar, he was a sedulous drawer of faces and figures. A silent boy, he already displayed that quiet, concentrated energy of character which distinguished him through life. He was always on the look-out for an opportunity to draw,—and the walls of the manse, or the smooth sand by the river side, came alike convenient for his purpose. Any sort of tool would serve him; like Giotto, he found a pencil in a burnt stick, a prepared canvas in any smooth stone, and the subject for a picture in every ragged mendicant he met. When he visited a house, he generally left his mark on the walls as an indication of his presence, sometimes to the disgust of cleanly housewives. In short, notwithstanding the aversion of his father, the minister, to the "sinful" profession of painting, Wilkie's strong propensity was not to be thwarted, and he became an artist; working his way manfully up the steep of difficulty. Though rejected on his first application as a candidate for admission to the Scottish Academy, at Edinburgh, on account of the rudeness and inaccuracy of his introductory specimens, he persevered in producing better, until he was admitted. But his progress was slow. He applied himself diligently to the drawing of the human figure, and held on with the determination to succeed, as if with a resolute confidence in the result. He displayed none of the eccentric humor and fitful application of many youths who conceive themselves geniuses, but kept up the routine of steady application to such an extent that he himself was afterwards accustomed to attribute his success to his dogged perseverance rather than to any higher innate power. "The single element," he said, "in all the progressive movements of my pencil, was persevering industry." At Edinburgh he gained a few premiums, thought of turning his attention to portrait-painting, with a view to its higher and more certain remuneration, but eventually went boldly into the line in which he earned his fame,—and painted his Pitlessie Fair. What was bolder still, he determined to proceed to London, on account of its presenting so much wider a field for study and work; and the poor Scotch lad arrived in town, and painted his Village Politicians while living in a humble lodging on eighteen shillings a week.

V.28

Notwithstanding the success of this picture, and the commissions which followed it, Wilkie long continued poor. The prices which his works realized were not great, for he bestowed upon them so much time and labor, that his earnings continued comparatively small for many years. Every picture was carefully studied and elaborated beforehand; nothing was struck off at a heat; many occupied him for years,—touching, retouching, and improving them, until they finally passed out of his hands. As with Reynolds, his motto was "Work! work! work!" and, like him, he expressed great dislike for talking artists. Talkers may sow, but the silent reap. "Let us be doing something," was his oblique mode of rebuking the loquacious and admonishing the idle. Among such was his friend Haydon, who was always talking so big about high art, but doing so little to advance it. Haydon, perhaps, had more of what is called "genius" than Wilkie, but he had no persistency,—no work in him. He who does not end speechifying does not begin doing. While the silent Wilkie was working and advancing, poor noisy Haydon's enthusi asm for high art mostly ended in declamation. What Haydon did attempt with his dropsical muscle figures, usually proved beyond his grasp, and he failed; while Wilkie did his best within his powers, and succeeded. The one, fitful and irregular in his habits, aimed at an unattainable ideal; the other, sedulously cultivating his peculiar and original talent, aimed steadily at the success which was within his reach, and secured it. Haydon's career was a warning and example to the gifted. He was one of a numerous class who are ready to cry out without sufficient reason against the blindness and ingratitude of the world. But, as in most of such cases, Haydon's worst enemy was himself. Half the time spent in working that he spent in complaining, would have gone far towards making him the great man that he aimed to be. While he went on holding himself forth as a persecuted genius, Wilkie, with the simplicity that belongs to true genius, made no claim whatever, but worked hard and did his best, and the world did not fail to recognize his merits. Nor did Flaxman, Reynolds, or Chantrey, expend their eloquence in bemoaning their lot, but vigorously exerted themselves to deserve the support and encouragement which they received. Haydon was fonder of seeing himself in print than of steady work; and hence he never reached the ambition of his life. Unlike honest Barry, who, like Haydon, was constantly running his head against stone walls, he sponged upon his friends for the money that he would not earn. For many years of his life he lived upon borrowed money. He drew supplies from his poor, worn-out father as long as he could; and when that source failed, he sent begging-letters about among the patrons of "high art." His life, indeed, illustrated the truth of the saying, that "an empty bag cannot stand upright." Though his views of art were lofty, his ideas of life were low. He talked eloquently, but acted meanly; and though he boasted of his independence, he yet lived in daily and hourly humiliation.

V.29

Turner, the greatest of our landscape-painters, was a man of an entirely different character. He was intended by his father for his own trade of a barber, which he carried on in Maiden Lane, until one day the sketch which the boy had made of a coat of arms on a silver salver having attracted the notice of a customer, whom his father was shaving, he was urged to allow his son to follow his bias, and he was eventually permitted to follow art as a profession. He learned his first rudiments with Malton, who had at the same time under him another pupil, Thomas Girtin, whose genius was akin to Turner's, and kept alive in him that ardent spirit of emulation and industry which never ceased to be his distinguishing characteristic, even after he had attained the summit of his fame. Girtin and Turner, though essentially unlike in character and disposition, were warmly attached friends, and when poor Girtin died, full of promise, under thirty, he had no more affectionate mourner than his fellow-pupil and competitor. Like all young artists, Turner had many difficulties to encounter, and they were all the greater that Turner's circumstances were so straitened. But he was always willing to work, and to take pains with his work, no matter howsoever humble it might be. He was glad to hire himself out at half a crown a night to wash in skies in Indian ink upon other people's drawings, getting his supper into the bargain. Thus he earned money and acquired expertness. Then he took to illustrating guide-books. almanacs, and any sort of books that wanted cheap frontispieces. "What could I have done better?" said he afterwards; "it was first-rate practice." He did everything carefully and conscientiously, never slurring over his work because he was ill-remunerated for it. He aimed at learning as well as living; always doing his best, and never leaving a drawing without having made a step in advance upon his previous work. A man who thus labored was sure to do much; and his advance in power and grasp of thought was, to use Ruskin's words, "as steady as the increasing light of sunrise." But Turner's genius needs no panegyric; his best monument is the great works bequeathed by him to the nation, which will ever be the most lasting memorial of his fame.

V.30

Many artists have had to encounter privations which have tried their courage and endurance to the utmost before they succeeded. What number may have sunk under them we can never know. Martin encountered difficulties in the course of his career, such as perhaps fall to the lot of few. More than once he found himself on the verge of starvation whilst engaged on his first great picture. It is related of him that on one occasion he found himself reduced to his last shilling,—a bright shilling,—which he had kept because of its very brightness, but at length he found it necessary to exchange it for bread. He went to a baker's shop, bought a loaf, and was taking it away, when the baker snatched it from him, and tossed back the shilling to the starving painter. The bright shilling had failed him in his hour of need,—it was a bad one! Returning to his lodgings, he rummaged his trunk for some remaining crust to satisfy his hunger. Upheld throughout by the victorious power of enthusiasm, he pursued his design with unsubdued energy. He had the courage to work on and to wait; and when, a few days after, he found an opportunity to exhibit his picture, he was from that time famous. Like many other great artists, his life proves that, in despite of outward circumstances, genius, aided by industry, will be its own protector, and that fame, though she comes late, will never ultimately refuse her favors to real merit.

V.31

The most careful discipline and training after academic methods will fail in making an artist, unless he himself take an active part in the work. Like every highly cultivated man, he must be mainly self-educated. When Pugin, who was brought up in his father's office, had learned all that he could learn of architecture according to the usual formulas, he still found that he had learned but little; and that he must begin at the beginning, and pass through the discipline of labor. Young Pugin accordingly hired himself out as a common carpenter at Covent Garden Theatre,—first working under the stage, then behind the flies, then upon the stage itself. He thus acquired a familiarity with work, and cultivated an architectural taste, to which the diversity of the mechanical employment about a large operatic establishment is peculiarly favorable. When the theatre closed for the season, he worked a sailing-ship between London and some of the French ports, carrying on at the same time a profitable trade. At every opportunity he would land and make drawings of any old building, and especially of any ecclesiastical structure which fell in his way. Afterwards he would make special journeys to the Continent for the same purpose, and returned home laden with drawings. Thus he plodded and labored on, making sure of the distinction and excellence which he eventually achieved.

V.32

A similar illustration of plodding industry in the same walk is presented in the career of George Kemp, the architect of the beautiful Scott Monument at Edinburgh. He was the son of a poor shepherd, who pursued his calling on the southern slope of the Pentland Hills. Amidst that pastoral solitude the boy had no opportunity of enjoying the contemplation of beautiful works of art. It happened, however, that in his tenth year he was sent on a message to Roslin, by the farmer for whom his father herded sheep, and the sight of the beautiful castle and chapel there seems to have made a vivid and enduring impression on his mind. Probably to enable him to indulge his love of architectural construction, the boy besought his father to let him be a joiner; and he was accordingly put apprentice to a neighboring village carpenter. Having served his time, he went to Galashiels to seek work, doing the journey on foot. As he was plodding along the valley of the Tweed with his tools upon his back, a carriage overtook him near Elibank Tower; and the coachman, doubtless at the suggestion of his master, who rode alone inside, having asked the youth how far he had to walk, and learning that he was on his way to Galashiels, invited him to mount the box beside him, and thus to ride thither. It turned out that the kindly gentleman inside was no other than Sir Walter Scott, then travelling on his official duty as Sheriff of Selkirkshire. Whilst working at his trade at Galashiels, Kemp had frequent opportunities of visiting Melrose, Dryburgh, and Jedburgh Abbeys, and studying them carefully. Inspired by his love of architecture, he next worked his way, as a carpenter, over the greater part of the north of England, never omitting an opportunity of inspecting and making sketches of any fine Gothic building. On one occasion, when working at his trade in Lancashire, he walked fifty miles to York, spent a week in carefully examining the Minster, and returned in like manner on foot. We next find him in Glasgow, where he remained four years, studying the fine cathedral there during his spare time. He returned to England again, this time working his way further south; studying Canterbury, Winchester, Tintern, and other well-known structures. In 1824 he formed the design of travelling over Europe with the same object, supporting himself by his trade. He commenced at Boulogne, and from thence proceeded by Abbeville and Beauvais to Paris, spending a few weeks, making drawings and studies, in each place. His skill as a mechanic, and especially his knowledge of mill-work, readily secured him employment wherever he went; and he was thus enabled to choose his site of employment, which was invariably in the neighborhood of some fine old Gothic structure, in studying which he occupied his leisure hours. After a year's working, travel, and study abroad, he was abruptly summoned home by family affairs, and returned to Scotland. He continued his studies, and became a proficient in drawing and perspective: Melrose was his favorite ruin; and he produced several elaborate drawings of the building, one of which, exhibiting it in a "restored" state, was afterwards engraved. He also obtained some employment as a modeller of architectural designs; and afterwards made drawings for a work commenced by an Edinburgh engraver, after the plan of Britton's "Cathedral Antiquities." This was a task most congenial to his tastes, and he labored at it with an enthusiasm which ensured its rapid advance; walking on foot for this purpose over half Scotland, and living as an ordinary mechanic, whilst executing drawings which would have done credit to the greatest masters in the art. The projector of the work having died suddenly, its publication was interfered with, and Kemp sought other employment. Few knew of the genius of this man,—for he was exceedingly taciturn and habitually modest,—when the Committee of the Scott Monument offered a prize for the best design. The competitors were numerous,—including some of the greatest names in classical architecture; but the design unanimously selected was that of George Kemp, then working at Kilwinning Abbey, in Ayrshire, many miles off, when the letter reached him intimating the decision of the committee. Poor Kemp! Shortly after this event he met an untimely death, and did not live to see the first result of his indefatigable industry and self-culture embodied in stone,—one of the most beautiful and appropriate memorials ever erected to literary genius.

V.33

Among living artists, who have honorably fought their way upwards from poverty to fame, we may mention John Gibson,—a man full of a genuine enthusiasm and love of his art, which place him high above those sordid temptations which urge meaner natures to make time the measure of profit. He was born at Gyffn, near Conway, in North Wales,—the son of a gardener. He early showed indications of his talent by the carvings in wood which he made by means of a common pocket knife; and his father, noting the direction of his talent and wisely improving the circumstance, sent him to Liverpool, and bound the boy apprentice to a cabinet-maker and woodcarver. He rapidly improved at his trade, and some of his carvings were much admired. He was naturally led onwards to sculpture, and when eighteen years of age, he modelled a small figure of Time in wax, which attracted considerable notice. The Messrs. Franceys, sculptors, of Liverpool, purchased the boy's indentures, and took him as their apprentice for six years, during which his remarkable genius displayed itself in many pure and original works. From thence he proceeded to London, and afterwards to Rome; and his fame is now European.

V.34

Robert Thorburn, another Royal Academician, like John Gibson, was born of poor parents. His father was a shoemaker in a very humble way of business, in the town of Dumfries, in Scotland. Besides Robert there were two other sons; one of whom is still noted in his native town as a skilful carver in wood. One day a lady called at the shoemaker's, and found Robert, then a mere boy, engaged in drawing upon a stool which served him for a table. She examined his work, and finding that he had abilities in this direction, interested herself in obtaining for him some occupation in drawing, and enlisted in his behalf the services of others who could assist him in prosecuting the study of art. The boy was very diligent, painstaking, staid, and silent, mixing little with his companions, and forming but few intimacies. About the year 1830, some gentlemen of the town provided Thorburn with the means of proceeding to Edinburgh, where he was admitted student of the Scottish Academy. There he had the advantage of studying under competent masters, and the progress which he made was rapid and decided. After residing in Edinburgh for some years, he removed to London, where, we understand, he had the advantage of being introduced to notice under the patronage of the Duke of Buccleuch. We need scarcely say, however, that whatever use patronage may have been to Thorburn in giving him an introduction to the best circles, patronage of no kind could have made him the great artist that he unquestionably is, without native genius and diligent application.

V.35

Noel Paton, another well-known painter, began his artistic career at Dunfermline and Paisley, as a drawer of patterns for tablecloths and muslin embroidered by hand; meanwhile working diligently at higher artistic studies, including the human figure. He was, like Turner, ready to turn his hand to any kind of work, and in 1840, when a mere youth, we find him engaged, among his other labors, in illustrating the "Renfrewshire Annual." He worked his way step by step, slowly, yet surely; but he remained unknown until the exhibition of the prize cartoons painted for the Houses of Parliament, when his picture of the Spirit of Religion (for which he obtained one of the first prizes) revealed him to the world as a genuine artist; and the works which he has since exhibited,—such as the "Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania," "Home," and "The bluidy Tryste,"—have shown a steady advance in artistic power and culture.

V.36

But perhaps the most striking exemplification of perseverance and industry in the cultivation of art is found in the-career of James Sharples, the working blacksmith of Blackburn. He was born at Wakefield in Yorkshire, in 1825, one of a family of thirteen children. His father was a working ironfounder, and removed to Bury to follow his business, while his family were still young. The boys received no school education, but were all sent to work as soon as they were able; and at about ten James was placed in the foundry of the Messrs. Lees, Cousins, and Diggles, where he was employed for about two years as a smithy-boy. After that he was sent into the engine-shop of the Messrs. Clarkson and Kay, where his father worked as an engine-smith. The boy's employment was to heat and carry rivets for the boiler-makers. Though his hours of labor were very long—often from six in the morning until eight at night—his father contrived to give him some little teaching after work hours; and it was thus that he partially learned his letters. An incident occurred in the course of his employment among the boiler-makers, which first awakened in him the desire to learn drawing. He had occasionally been employed by the foreman to hold the chalked line with which he made the designs of boilers upon the floor of the workshop; and on such occasions the foreman was accustomed to hold the line, and direct the boy to make the necessary dimensions. James soon became so expert at this as to be of considerable service to the foreman; and at his leisure hours at home his great delight was to practise drawing designs of boilers upon his mother's floor. On one occasion, when his mother's aunt was expected from Manchester to pay the family a visit, and the house had been made as decent as possible for her reception, the boy, on coming in from the foundry in the evening, immediately began his usual operations upon the floor. He had proceeded some way with his design of a large boiler in chalk, when his mother arrived with the visitor, and to her dismay found the boy unwashed and the floor chalked all over. The aunt, however, professed to be pleased with the boy's industry, praised his design, and recommended his mother to provide "the little sweep," as she called him, with paper and pencils.

V.37

His elder brother, being like himself disposed to be industrious in the evenings after the day's work was over, occupied himself in mechanical drawing; and he recommended James to practise figure and landscape drawing. He accordingly began to make copies of lithographs, but remained altogether ignorant of the rules of perspective and the principles of light and shade. He worked away, however, and gradually acquired expertness in copying. At sixteen he entered the Bury Mechanics' Institution for the purpose of attending the drawing class, which was taught by an amateur artist who followed the trade of a barber. There he had one lesson a week during three months. The teacher recommended him to obtain from the library Burnet's "Practical Treatise on Painting;" but as he could not yet read with ease, he was under the necessity of getting his mother, and sometimes his elder brother, to read passages from the book for him, while he sat by and listened. Feeling himself hampered by his ignorance of the art of reading, and eager to master the contents of Burnet's book, he ceased attending the drawing class at the Mechanics' Institute after the first quarter, and diligently devoted himself to learn reading and writing at home. In this he soon succeeded; and when he again joined the Institution for another quarter, and took out "Burnet" a second time, he was not only able to read it, but to make written extracts for future use. So ardently did he study the volume, that he used to rise at four o'clock in the morning to read it and copy out passages; after which he went to the foundry at six, worked until six and sometimes eight in the evening; and returned home to enter with fresh zest upon the study of Burnet, which he continued very often until a late hour. Part of his nights were also occupied in drawing and making copies of drawings. On one of these—a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper"—he spent an entire night. He went to bed indeed, but his mind was so engrossed with the subject that he could not sleep, and rose again to resume his pencil.

V.38

He next proceeded to try his hand at painting in oil, for which purpose he procured some canvas from a draper's shop, stretched it on a frame, coated it over with white lead, and began painting upon it with colors bought from a house-painter. But his work proved a total failure; for the canvas was rough and knotty, and the paint would not dry. In this extremity he applied to his old teacher, the barber, from whom he first learnt that prepared canvas was to be had, and that there were colors and varnishes made for the special purpose of oil-painting. As soon, therefore, as his means would allow, he bought a small stock of the necessary articles and began afresh,—his amateur master showing him how to paint; and the pupil succeeded so well that he excelled the master's copy. His first picture was a copy from an engraving called "Sheep-shearing," and was afterwards sold by him for half-a-crown. Aided by a shilling Guide to Oil-painting, he went on working at his leisure hours, and gradually acquired a better knowledge of his materials. He made his own easel and palette, palette-knife, and paint-chest; and he bought his paint, brushes, and canvas, as he could raise the money by working over-time. This was the slender fund which his parents consented to allow him for the purpose; the burden of supporting a very large family precluding them from doing more. Often he would walk to Manchester and back in the evenings to buy two or three shillings' worth of paint and canvas, returning almost at midnight, after his eighteen miles' walk, sometimes wet through and completely exhausted, but borne up throughout by his inexhaustible hope and invincible determination. The further progress of the self-taught artist is best narrated in his own words:—

V.39

"The next pictures I painted," he writes, "were a Landscape by Moonlight, a Fruit-piece, and one or two others; after which I conceived the idea of painting 'The Forge.' I had for some time thought about it, but had not attempted to embody the conception in a drawing. I now, however, made a sketch of the subject upon paper, and then proceeded to paint it on canvas. The picture simply represents the interior of a large workshop such as I have been accustomed to work in, although not of any particular shop. It is, therefore, to this extent, an original conception. Having made an outline of the subject, I found that, before I could proceed with it successfully, a knowledge of anatomy was indispensable to enable me accurately to delineate the muscles of the figures. My brother Peter came to my assistance at this juncture, and kindly purchased for me Flaxman's 'Anatomical Studies'—a work altogether beyond my means at the time, for it cost twenty-four shillings. This book I looked upon as a great treasure, and I studied it laboriously, rising at three o'clock in the morning to draw after it, and occasionally getting my brother Peter to stand for me as a model at that untimely hour. Although I gradually improved myself by this practice, it was some time before I felt sufficient confidence to go on with my picture. I also felt hampered by my want of knowledge of perspective, which I endeavored to remedy by carefully studying Brook Taylor's 'Principles;' and shortly after I resumed my painting. While engaged in the study of perspective at home, I used to apply for and obtain leave to work at the heavier kinds of smith work at the foundry, and for this reason—the time required for heating the heaviest iron work is so much longer than that required for heating the lighter, that it enabled me to secure a number of spare minutes in the course of the day, which I carefully employed in making diagrams in perspective upon the sheet iron casing in front of the hearth at which I worked."

V.40

Thus assiduously working and studying, James Sharples steadily advanced in his knowledge of the principles of art, and acquired greater facility in its practice. Some eighteen months after the expiry of his apprenticeship he painted a portrait of his father, which attracted considerable notice in the town; as also did the picture of "The Forge," which was finished soon after. His success in portrait-painting even obtained for him a commission from the foreman of the shop to paint a family group, and Sharples executed it so well that the foreman not only paid him the agreed price of eighteen pounds, but thirty shillings to boot. While engaged upon this group he ceased to work at the foundry, and he had thoughts of giving up his trade altogether and devoting himself exclusively to painting. He proceeded to paint several pictures, amongst others a head of Christ, an original conception, life-size, and a view of Bury; but not obtaining sufficient employment at portraits to occupy his time, or give him the prospect of a steady income, he had the good sense to resume his leather apron, and go on working at his honest trade of a blacksmith; employing his leisure hours in engraving his picture of "The Forge," since published. He was induced to commence the engraving by the following circumstance. A Manchester picture-dealer, to whom he showed the painting, let drop the observation, that in the hands of a skilful engraver it would make a very good print. Sharples immediately conceived the idea of engraving it himself, though altogether ignorant of the art. The difficulties which he encountered and successfully overcame in carrying out his project are thus described by himself:—

V.41

"I had seen an advertisement of a Sheffield steel-plate maker, giving a list of the prices at which he supplied plates of various sizes, and, fixing upon one of suitable dimensions, I remitted the amount, together with a small additional sum for which I requested him to send me a few engraving tools. I could not specify the articles wanted, for I did not then know anything about the process of engraving. However, there duly arrived with the plate three or four gravers and an etching needle; the latter I spoiled before I knew its use. Whilst working at the plate, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers offered a premium for the best design for an emblematical picture, for which I determined to compete, and I was so fortunate as to win the prize. Shortly after this I removed to Blackburn, where I obtained employment at Messrs. Yates', engineers, as an engine-smith; and continued to employ my leisure time in drawing, painting, and engraving, as before. With the engraving I made but very slow progress, owing to the difficulties I experienced from not possessing proper tools. I then determined to try to make some that would suit my purpose, and after several failures I succeeded in making many that I have used in the course of my engraving. I was also greatly at a loss for want of a proper magnifying glass, and part of the plate was executed with no other assistance of this sort than what my father's spectacles afforded, though I afterwards succeeded in obtaining a proper magnifier, which was of the utmost use to me An incident occurred while I was engraving the plate, which had almost caused me to abandon it altogether. It sometimes happened that I was obliged to lay it aside for a considerable time, when other work pressed; and in order to guard it against rust, I was accustomed to rub over the graven parts with oil. But on examining the plate after one of such intervals, I found that the oil had become a dark sticky substance extremely difficult to get out. I tried to pick it out with a needle, but found that it would almost take as much time as to engrave the parts afresh. I was in great despair at this, but at length hit upon the expedient of boiling it in water containing soda and afterwards rubbing the engraved parts with a toothbrush; and to my delight found the plan succeeded perfectly. My greatest difficulties now over, patience and perseverance were all that were needed to bring my labors to a successful issue. I had neither advice nor assistance from any one in finishing the plate. If, therefore, the work possesses any merit, I can claim it as my own; and if in its accomplishment I have contributed to show what can be done by persevering industry and determination, it is all the honor I wish to lay claim to."

V.42

It would be beside our purpose to enter upon any criticism of "The Forge" as an engraving; its merits having already been genially recognized by the "Art Journal," the "Athenæum," the "Critic," and other journals. The execution of the work occupied James Sharples's leisure evening hours during a period of five years; and it was only when he took the plate to the printer that he for the first time saw an engraved plate produced by any other man. To this unvarnished picture of industry and genius, we add one other trait, and it is a domestic one. "I have been married seven years," says he, "and during that time my greatest pleasure, after I have finished my daily labor at the foundry, has been to resume my pencil or graver, frequently until a late hour of the evening, my wife meanwhile sitting by my side and reading to me from some interesting book,"—a simple but beautiful testimony to the thorough common sense as well as the genuine right-heartedness of this most interesting and deserving workman.

V.43

The same industry and application which we have found to be necessary in order to acquire excellence in painting and sculpture, are equally required in the sister art of music,—the one being the poetry of form and color, the other of the sounds of nature. Handel was an indefatigable and constant worker; he was never cast down by defeat, but his energy seemed to increase the more that adversity struck him. When a prey to his mortifications as an insolvent debtor, he did not give way for a moment, but in one year produced his "Saul," "Israel," the music for Dryden's "Ode," his "Twelve Grand Concertos," and the opera of "Jupiter in Argos," among the finest of his works. As his biographer says of him, "He braved everything, and, by his unaided self, accomplished the work of twelve men."

V.44

Haydn, speaking of his art, said, "It consists in taking up a subject and pursuing it." "Work," said Mozart, "is my chief pleasure." Beethoven's favorite maxim was, "The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, 'Thus far and no farther.'" When Moscheles submitted his score of "Fidelio" for the piano-forte to Beethoven, the latter found written at the bottom of the last page, "Finis, with God's help." Beethoven immediately wrote underneath, "O man! help thyself!" This was the motto of his artistic life. John Sebastian Bach said of himself, "I was industrious; whoever is equally sedulous, will be equally successful." But there is no doubt that Bach was born with a passion for music, which formed the main-spring of his industry, and was the true secret of his success. When a mere youth, his elder brother, wishing to turn his abilities into another direction, destroyed a collection of studies which the young Sebastian, being denied candles, had copied by moonlight; proving the strong natural bent of the boy's genius. Of Meyerbeer, Bayle thus wrote from Milan in 1820: "He is a man of some talent, but no genius; he lives solitary, working fifteen hours a day at music." Years passed, and Meyerbeer's hard work fully brought out his genius, as displayed in his "Roberto," "Huguenots," "Prophète," and other works, confessedly amongst the greatest operas which have been produced in modern times.

V.45

Although musical composition is not an art in which Englishmen have as yet greatly distinguished themselves, their energies having for the most part taken other and more practical directions, we are not without native illustrations of the power of perseverance in this special pursuit. Arne was an upholsterer's son, intended by his father for the legal profession; but his love of music was so great, that he could not be withheld from pursuing it. While engaged in an attorney's office, his means were very limited, but, to gratify his tastes, he was accustomed to borrow a livery and go into the gallery of the Opera, then appropriated to domestics. Unknown to his father he made great progress with the violin, and the first knowledge his father had of the circumstance was when accidentally calling at the house of a neighboring gentleman, to his surprise and consternation he found his son playing the leading instrument with a party of musicians. This incident decided the fate of Arne. His father offered no further opposition to his wishes; and the world thereby lost a lawyer, but gained a musician of much taste and delicacy of feeling, who added many valuable works to our stores of English music.

V.46

The career of William Jackson, the author of "The Deliverance of Israel," an oratorio which has been successfully performed in the principal musical towns of his native county of York, furnishes an interesting illustration of the triumph of perseverance over difficulties in the pursuit of musical science. He is the son of a miller at Masham, a little town situated in the valley of the Yore, in the northwest corner of Yorkshire. Musical taste seems to have been hereditary in the family, for his father played the fife in the band of the Masham Volunteers, and was a singer in the parish choir. His grandfather also was leading singer and ringer at Masham Church; and one of the boy's earliest musical treats was to be present at the bell-pealing on Sunday mornings. During the service, his wonder was still more excited by the organist's performance on the barrel-organ, the doors of which were thrown open behind to let the sound fully into the church, by which the stops, pipes, barrels, staples, key-board, and jacks, were fully exposed, to the wonderment of the little boys sitting in the gallery behind, and to none more than our young musician. At eight years of age he began to play upon his father's old fife, which, however, would not sound D; but his mother remedied the difficulty by buying for him a one-keyed flute; and shortly after, a gentleman of the neighborhood presented him with a flute with four silver keys. As the boy made no progress with his "book learning," being fonder of cricket, fives, and boxing, than of his school lessons,—the village schoolmaster giving him up as "a bad job,"—his parents sent him off to a school at Pately Bridge. While there he found congenial society in a club of village choral singers at Brighouse Gate, and with them he learned the sol-fa-ing gamut on the old English plan. He was thus well drilled in the reading of music, in which he soon became a proficient. His progress astonished the club, and he returned home full of musical ambition. He now learned to play upon his father's old piano, but with little melodious result; and he became eager to possess a finger-organ, but had no means of procuring one. About this time, a neighboring parish clerk had purchased, for an insignificant sum, a small disabled barrel-organ, which had gone the circuit of the northern counties with a show. The clerk tried to revive the tones of the instrument, but failed; at last he bethought him that he would try the skill of young Jackson, who had succeeded in making some alterations and improvements in the hand-organ of the parish church. He accordingly brought it to the lad's house in a donkey cart, and in a short time the instrument was repaired, and played over its old tunes again, greatly to the owner's satisfaction.

V.47

The thought now haunted the youth that he could make a barrel-organ, and he determined to do so. His father and he set to work, and though without practice in carpentering, yet, by dint of hard labor and after many failures, they at last succeeded; and an organ was constructed which played ten tunes very decently, and the instrument was generally regarded as the marvel of the neighborhood. Young Jackson was now frequently sent for to repair old church organs, and to put new music upon the barrels which he added to them. All this he accomplished to the satisfaction of his customers, after which he proceeded with the construction of a four-stop finger-organ, adapting to it the keys of an old harpsichord. This he learned to play upon,—studying "Callcott's Thorough Bass" in the evening, and working at his trade of a miller during the day; occasionally also tramping about the country as a "cadger," with an ass and a cart. During summer he worked in the fields, at turnip-time, hay-time, and harvest, but was never without the solace of music in his leisure evening hours. He next tried his hand at musical composition, and a dozen of his anthems were shown to the late Mr. Camidge, of York, as "the production of a miller's lad of fourteen." Mr. Camidge was pleased with them, marked the objectionable passages, and returned them with the encouraging remark, that they did the youth great credit, and that he must "go on writing."

V.48

A village band having been set on foot at Masham, young Jackson joined it, and was ultimately appointed leader. He played all the instruments by turns, and thus acquired a considerable practical knowledge of his art; he also composed numerous tunes for the band. A new finger-organ having been presented to the parish church, he was further appointed organist. He now gave up his employment as a journeyman miller, and commenced tallow-chandling, still employing his spare hours in the study of music. In 1839 he published his first anthem,—"For joy let fertile valleys sing"; and in the following year he gained the first prize from the Huddersfield Glee Club, for his "Sisters of the Lea." His other anthem, "God be merciful to us," and the 103d Psalm, written for a double chorus and orchestra, are well known. In the midst of these minor works, Jackson proceeded with the composition of his oratorio,—"The Deliverance of Israel from Babylon." His practice was, to jot down a sketch of the ideas as they presented themselves to his mind, and to write them out in score in the evenings, after he had left his work in the candle-shop. His oratorio was published in parts, in the course of 1844-5, and he published the last chorus on his twentyninth birthday. The work was exceedingly well received by musical critics, and has been frequently performed with great success in the northern towns. Mr. Jackson is now settled at Bradford, and not long since had the honor of leading his fine company of Bradford choral singers before Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace; on which occasion, as well as at the Crystal Palace, some fine choral pieces of his composition, from his MS. work (since published), entitled "The Year," were performed with great effect.

V.49

Such is a very brief outline of the career of a self-taught English musician, who promises, in the maturity of his powers, to take high rank among native composers. His life affords but another illustration of the power of self-help, and the force of courage and industry, in enabling a man to surmount and overcome early difficulties and obstructions of no ordinary kind.

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