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vasion of the Roman Empire by the Barbaric tribes has engaged the pen of other writers from Jornandes down to Gibbon, it is worthy of note that so much of eloquence and imagery should remain to be compressed by this poet within the narrow compass of four lines. *
The Life of Cowper, as Mr. Southey with feeling and fidelity portrays it, is one of the most painful in our literaryannals. Genius was to him a fatal and an evil gift. His sensitive frame of mind, and his spirits broken since his boyhood, sunk him into melancholy, and sometimes into madness. His circumstances gave him little cause for either. He had advantages of birth, and might have had advantages of fortune. He was grand-nephew of the Chancellor and Earl of that name. He was trained in a conveyancer's office, and fitted for promotion in the law. Through the influence of his family he soon obtained a lucrative and easy clerkship in the House of Lords. But the mere prospect of having to raise his voice in public drove him to utter distraction and attempts at suicide. He resigned his office, and after a long blank interval of frenzy, betook himself to the retired village of Olney. There he had no further tie to public life, beyond at intervals his warm sympathy to the far different careers of his old schoolfellow, Warren Hastings, and of his old brother clerk, Lord Thurlow. There, at other times, the rigour of his Calvinistic tenets on Predestination and Free Will overwhelmed him with perplexity and anguish. His chosen and constant associate was Mrs. Unwin, a widowed lady much older than himself, and growing blind, — a lady whose knitting-needles have been made immortal by his pen. Such, indeed, were his power of description and felicity of language, that even
* "With grim delight the brood of winter view "A brighter day, and heavens of azure hoe, "Scent the new fragrance of the breathing rose , "And quaff the pendent vintage as it grows I" I was told by Sir Robert Peel that he was consulted by another eminent statesman on his design (from which there was some difficulty in dissuading him) of quoting these noble lines in the House of Commons as applied to the Russian invasion of Prance in 1814.
the most trivial objects drew life and colour from his touch. In his pages the training of three tame hares, or the building of a frame for cucumbers, excite a warmer interest than many accounts compiled by other writers of great battles deciding the fate of empires. In his pages the sluggish waters of the Ouse, — the floating lilies which he stooped to gather from them, — the poplars in whose shade he sat, and over whose fall he mourned, —rise before us as though we had known and loved them too. As Cowper himself declares, "My descriptions are all from nature, not one of "them second-handed. My delineations of the heart are "from my own experience, not one of them borrowed from "books."* Hecouldnot, indeed, like poets of the highest order, — like Milton, for example, or like Dante, — imagine or body forth what he never felt or saw; but no writer of any age excels him in dealing with the daily realities of life. We might thence, perhaps, conclude, that the minds principally conversant with such realities, and slightly trained to flights of fancy, would be those to rank him highest. But this is only another form of words for expressing deserved success with by far the greater numbers of mankind. "The Task," which appeared in 1785, raised its author by one bound to be the most popular poet of his age.
The period which is now before us was distinguished by the rise of British art, and the foundation of the Eoyal Academy. Of the principal portrait-painters in England, during the two preceding generations, Sir Peter Lely and Sir Godfrey Kneller, it is remarkable that both were natives of Germany. The principal sculptors then amongst us were Rysbrack and Roubiliac, the former a Fleming, and the latter a Frenchman. But in the early years of George the Third we may point with especial pride to the name of Joshua Reynolds. He was born in 1723 at Plympton in Devonshire. His father and his grandfather also were clergymen of the Church of England, but left him little other patrimony besides his genius. That genins almost from his boyhood im* See bis Life by Soathey, vol. ii. p. 184.
pelled him to the pursuit of art. He repaired to London, and became the pupil of Hudson, no great portrait-painter, yet still the best of his day in England. The first of his own portraits which attracted even the smallest degree of public notice was of Captain Hamilton, whose son became the first Marquis of Abercorn: this portrait he painted in 1746.
Three years later he went to pursue his studies at Borne, where we find him speak as follows of himself: — "I felt my "ignorance, and stood abashed. All the indigested notions "of painting which I had brought with me from England, "where the art was in the lowest state it had ever been in (it "could not, indeed, be lower), were to be totally done away, "and eradicated from my mind. It was necessary, as is ex"pressed on a very solemn occasion, that I should become "' as a little child.'" He owns that at first sight the works of Raphael at the Vatican gave him little pleasure. But this he had the wisdom to ascribe at once to the true cause, — to no deficiencies in that great Master, but solely to his own. In a short time, he says, a new taste and new perceptions began to dawn upon him, and he found that he could measure the progress of his own improvement by the growth of his admiration for Raphael.* He adds these remarkable words: — "Having since that period frequently revolved this sub"ject in my mind, I am now clearly of opinion that a relish "for the higher excellences of art is an acquired taste, which "no man ever possessed without long cultivation, and great "labour and attention." **
On returning to England, in 1752, he took a house in London, and applied himself most assiduously to the pursuit of his profession. His advancing fame was shown (the test is a sordid but a sure one) by his advancing profits. In 1758, we find his friend Dr. Johnson write as follows: — "Mr. Reynolds has within these few days raised his prices to "twenty guineas a head; and Miss" (Reynolds, his sister,)
* Similar to this, but less just perhaps, is the rule in the study of eloquence which Quintilian laid down: "Ille se profecisse sciat, cut Cicero "valde placebit." (Instit. lib. x. c. i;) . ** Life of Beynolds by Malone, p. xii.
LITEEATUBK AND ART.] ROYAL ACADEMY. 337
"is much employed in miniatures." * Years rolled on, and fame increased, until at last Sir Joshua, in his old age, received from Horace Walpole (not without some reluctance in the latter) a thousand guineas for his fine picture of the three Ladies Waldegrave.
The revival of British art, and the number of artists in London, could not fail, besides the example of foreign countries, to suggest to them the advantages of association. About the time of the accession of George the Third they agreed to have an annual exhibition of works of art. They met with many difficulties, and but moderate encouragement. In 1765 they obtained a Charter of Incorporation, which, however, could by no means reconcile their divers sections and parties. At last, in 1768, they were constituted by the King as the Royal Academy, to include all three branches of architecture, sculpture, and painting. His Majesty, although himself no judge of art, became its patron. During several years, he made liberal grants from his Privy Purse to the rising Academy, until the receipts from its early exhibitions had grown to be more than sufficient for its objects. Apartments also were assigned it by its Royal Patron, in 1780, at Somerset House.**
Of the new institution Reynolds was with good reason, and by an unanimous vote, elected President. On that occasion he received the honour of knighthood — an honour which ever since has been considered as almost the right of his successors. To the duties of his office he brought an enlightened judgment, a mild dignity, a never-failing love of Art. Seldom indeed have such Chairs been more worthily filled than were, for some time concurrently, that of the Royal Society by Sir Joseph Banks, and that of the Royal Academy by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Though not always quite friendly in his feelings towards the artists who had
* Letter to Mr. Langton, January 9. 1758, and Mr. Croker's note. '** The sums contributed by the King at various times exceeded 5000/. In 1779 the receipts of the Exhibition were upwards of 1500/., and double that sum was obtained in the next year, — the first in Somerset House. (Life of Reynolds by Malone, p. xxlll.)
Mahon, History. VI. 22
risen by his side *, he was uniformly kind and helpful to the rising. His counsel was prompt to guide and his hospitality to cheer them. At his board, which once at least in every week was open to a company of guests, they might mtfet and commune with some of the leading spirits of the age in other walks of life beside their own; while presiding over all was seen, with spectacles on his nose, and with a trumpet at his ear, that placid and benignant countenance which his own pencil has often portrayed, and made familiar to us.
The application of Sir Joshua to his art was never relaxed by his growing wealth or fame. Usually he was in his painting room before ten o'clock, and remained there at least six hours. According to the fine expression of Mr. Burke, who to the honour of both was his intimate friend: "In "painting portraits, he appeared not to be raised upon that "platform, but to descend to it from a higher sphere. His "paintings illustrate his lessons, and his lessons seem to "be derived from his paintings." Never, perhaps, was his pencil more felicitous and truthful than in all its delineations of infancy. It was one of his favourite maxims that all the gestures of children are graceful, and that the reign of distortion and unnatural attitude commences with the dancing master. **
It was to portraits that Reynolds gave his more especial care. Yet they did not wholly engross it. Many exquisite fancy pieces of the most opposite kinds bear witness to his skill. How various, for example, are the works of his genius contained in that grey old mansion of Knole, where, embosomed in coeval groves of beech, the accomplished race of the Sackvilles, now extinct in the male line, showed themselves both partakers and patrons of intellectual eminence! There in one place we find Sir Joshua personify with the laughing eyes and the elastic form of Mrs. Abington the Comic Muse. There, on another side, we behold him
* See on this point tlie Memoirs of Sir Joshua byNorthcote, p. 317. &c, and the Supplement, p. cxlii. ** Life by Malone, p. lii.