20000 Free eBooks
Library for Free Download eBooks and Read Online

Your last book:

You dont read books at this site.

Total books at library:
about 20000

You can read online and download ebooks for free!

Ebooks by authors: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 
Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 439 Volume 17, New Series, May 29, 1852



No. 439. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, MAY 29, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


A distinguished general-officer being appointed to a command in which
he would be called on to discharge judicial as well as military
duties, expressed to Lord Mansfield his apprehensions, that he would
execute his office but ill in the former respect, and that his
inexperience and ignorance of technical jurisprudence would prove a
serious impediment to his efficient administration of justice. 'Make
your mind perfectly easy,' said the great judge; 'trust to your native
good sense in forming your opinions, but beware of attempting to state
the grounds of your judgments. The judgment will probably be
right--the argument infallibly wrong.'

This is a common case, especially with practical men, who rarely have
either leisure or inclination to recall the workings of their own
minds, or observe the intellectual process by which they have been
conducted to any conclusion. By what they are prone to consider as a
kind of instinct--if by chance they are philosophers, and delight in
what old Wilson, the essayist, calls 'inkhorn terms,' they designate
it 'intuition'--they arrive at a truth, but have no recollection
whatever of the road they travelled to reach it, and are able neither
to retrace their own steps nor indicate to another the way they came.
The poet, in describing and contrasting the intellectual
characteristics of the two sexes, attributes to the softer something
of this instinct as a distinguishing mental peculiarity, and seems to
consider it as somewhat analogous in its constitution to those animal
senses by means of which the mind becomes cognisant of external
objects, of their existence, their qualities, and their relations. In
his view, the reasoning process is vitally and essentially distinct,
as it is exercised by men and by women--

'Her rapid mind decides while his debates;
She _feels_ a truth which he but calculates.'

And certainly this is a very pretty, very poetical, and very
convenient way of accounting for a phenomenon that, if examined with
common care, suggests a solution more accurate and complete, if not
exactly so complimentary. In sober truth, a positive incapacity
clearly to point out the precise manner in which a conviction has been
formed, is one of the commonest of logical deficiencies, and no more
to be ascribed exclusively to the softer sex, than it is an attribute
of intellectual excellency in either.

When, in Euripides's beautiful play, the untranslatable _Hippolylus_,
Phædra's nurse is made to conclude that certain men she refers to
cannot be otherwise than lax in their morals, _because_ they have
finished the roofs of their houses in a very imperfect manner, her
reasoning is inconsequential enough; but not more so than that of the
renowned French chancellor, Michael L'Hôpital, who, when employed in
negotiating a treaty between Charles IX. and our Elizabeth, insisted
on the well-known line of the Latin poet--

'Et penitus toto divisos orbe Britannos,'

as a _reason_ that Calais should not be returned to the English. The
connection between the premises and the conclusion was not more real
in one case than in the other. A learned member of the medical
profession, in an elaborate work on the climate and the people of
Malta, enjoins on the invalid a participation in the amusements of
cheerful society; and the propriety of his injunction few will be
disposed to dispute: they may well, however, marvel at the _reason_ he
assigns for such sensible advice--that, so far as invalids are
concerned, society has a direct tendency to promote cutaneous

Cardinal de Retz severely reprehends the historians of his time for
their pedantic affectation of explaining and accounting for every
event they record--the motives that actuated this statesman, the
reasons which prompted that policy, the wherefore it was this
enterprise miscarried, or that undertaking brought to a successful
issue. It would not be difficult to furnish a lengthy catalogue of the
blunders historical writers have perpetrated through their overweening
addiction to this folly. Let two instances here suffice: When the
Roman Church, about the middle of the eleventh century, was
endeavouring to insure the celibacy of its priesthood, the married
clergy, who braved its censures and contemned its authority, became
known as _Nicolaites_; which name, grave writers assure us, was given
them in consequence of the active share Pope Nicholas II. had taken in
punishing their contumacy and effecting their suppression. The notion
that any sect or class of religionists should have borrowed its name
from that of its most zealous opponent and indefatigable persecutor,
is worthy only of those critics, so severely reprehended by
Quintilian, who professed to discover the etymon of the Latin word
_lucus_, a grove, in the substantive _lux_, light; and vindicated the
derivation on the ground, that in groves darkness usually prevailed.
The familiar expression of _lucus à non lucendo_, owes its birth to
this striking manifestation of critical sagacity.

Again: a certain portion of the eastern and southern coast of England
was, in early times, denominated 'the Saxon Shore'--Littus
Saxonicum--and was, during the days of Roman supremacy, under the
government of a military court enjoying the appellative of _Comes
Littoris Saxonici_. Acute historical critics inform us, that this
tract was so denominated in consequence of its being open to the
aggressions of the Saxons; that, in short, it received its name from
its occasional invaders, and not from its permanent inhabitants. The
absurdity of this explanation is the greater, inasmuch as, on the
other side of the Channel, there was a large district bearing
precisely the same name, and settled entirely by adventurers, Saxon in
birth or by descent. This, one would have thought, would have
suggested to our English antiquaries a more probable explanation of
the name than that they adopted. The people of Genoa have, or had, in
speaking, a peculiar way of clipping or cutting short their syllables.
Their Italian has never been considered pure. You must not go to
maritime towns for purity of language, especially to such as have been
long and extensively engaged in commercial pursuits. Labat, however,
gives a special and peculiar reason for the fashion of mutilated
speech in which, he declares, the Genoese indulge, telling us they
call their superb city _Gena_, and not _Genoa_. He refers their
'chopping' pronunciation to their habitual economy--an economy
distinctly traceable to their mercantile habits. 'Telle est leur
économie,' he says, 'ils rognent tout jusqu'aux paroles.'

The old English law-writer, Bracton, desiring to account for the
ancient doctrine of English law, that inheritances shall lineally
descend, and never lineally ascend, finds a reason in the fact, that a
bowl being trundled, runs down a hill and never up a hill; and
Littleton, the first great writer on English real property-law, traces
the origin of the phrase 'hotchpot'--a familiar legal term--to the
archaic denomination of a pudding, in our English tongue. 'It
seemeth,'he says, 'that this word, hotchpot, is in English a pudding;
for in this pudding is not commonly put one thing alone, and
_therefore_ it behoveth, in this case, to put the lands given in
frank-marriage,' &c. Erasmus used to say of lawyers, that of ignorant
people, they were the most learned. Questionless they are not always
sound logicians. When the clown in Hamlet disserts so learnedly on
'crowner's quest-law,' he is only parodying, and that closely, a
scarcely less ludicrous judgment which had actually been pronounced,
not long before, in the Court of Queen's Bench. Dr Clarke, the
traveller, tells an amusing story to the purpose. According to him,
the Turkish lawyers recognise as an offence what they style 'homicide
by an intermediate cause'--an instance of which offence our traveller
details in these words: 'A young man, desperately in love with a girl
of Stanchio--the ancient Cos, the birthplace of Hippocrates
and Apelles, the lovely isle renowned for its lettuces and
turpentine--eagerly sought to marry her. But his proposals were
rejected. In consequence, he destroyed himself by poison. The Turkish
police arrested the father of the obdurate fairy, and tried him for
culpable homicide. "If the accused," they argued, with becoming
gravity, "had not had a daughter, the deceased would not have fallen
in love; consequently, he would not have been disappointed;
consequently, he would not have died: but he (the accused) had a
daughter, and the deceased had fallen in love," &c. &c. Upon all these
counts he was called upon to pay the price of the young man's life;
and this, being eighty piastres, was accordingly exacted.' When the
amiable and gentle John Evelyn was in the Netherlands, a woman was
pointed out to him who had had twenty-five husbands, and was then a
widow; 'yet it could not be proved,' he says, that 'she had made any
of her husbands away, though the suspicion had brought her several
times to trouble.' However, the Dutch logicians made no difficulty of
the matter; and arguing, from the number of the woman's husbands, that
she could not be wholly innocent of their death, prohibited her from
marrying again--which, her addiction to matrimony being considered,
was perhaps, of all the 'troubles' she had undergone, by no means the

The logical faculty, which not only consists with the poetical, but is
invariably and necessarily associated with it, whenever the latter
exists in an advanced stage of development, is in no writer more
conspicuous as an intellectual characteristic than in Schiller. In
this respect he is not excelled even by Wordsworth himself; but Homer
sometimes snoozes, and Schiller's reasoning is not always
consequential: as, for instance, when he denies two compositions of
Ovid--the _Tristia_ and _Ex Ponto_--to be genuine poetry, on the
ground that they were the results not of inspiration, but of
necessity; just as if poetry were not a thing to be judged of by
itself; and as if one could not determine whether it were present or
absent in a composition, without knowing to what influences the author
was subjected at the time the composition was produced!

Rousseau, in one of his moods of bilious cynicism, falls foul of human
reason altogether. No man despised it more in action; no one could
more consistently decry it in speculation. In his opinion, the
exercise of the reasoning powers is absolutely sinful--_l'homme qui
raisonne est l'homme qui péche_. Franklin, on the other hand, in a
familiar tone of playful banter, vindicates its utility, alleging that
it is mightily 'convenient to be a rational animal, who knows how to
find or invent a plausible pretext for whatever it has an inclination
to do.' Examples of this convenience abound. The Barbary Jews were
rich and industrious, and, accordingly, their wealth provoke the
cupidity of the indolent and avaricious Mussulmans. These latter,
whenever a long drought had destroyed vegetation, and the strenuous
prayers offered up in the mosques had proved unavailing for its
removal, were accustomed to argue--and a mighty convenient argument it
was--that it was the foul breath of the Jews that had offended Heaven,
and rendered the pious petitions of the faithful of none effect. The
remedy for the drought, then, who could doubt? The true believers
drove the Jews out of their cities, and quietly confiscated their
goods. Dryden, anxious to congratulate Charles II. on his 'happy
restoration,' amidst a thousand fulsome compliments--all tending to
shew that that prince was the author of blessings, not only to his own
kingdoms, but to universal humanity--declares, that it was to Charles,
and to him only, Spain was indebted for her magnificent colonial
possessions in either hemisphere. Addressing the sovereign, his words

'Spain to your gift _alone_ her Indies owes,
_For what the powerful takes not, he bestows_.'

A convenient fashion of reasoning truly: as convenient every whit as
that of Daniel Burgess, a witty Presbyterian minister, devoted to the
House of Brunswick and the principles of the Revolution, who was wont
to affirm, as the reason the descendants of Jacob were called
Israelites, and did not receive the original name of their progenitor,
that Heaven was unwilling they should bear a name in every way so
odious as that of Jacobites.

Once more: it appears from Dr Tschudi's valuable and interesting work
on South America, that in Peru rice is cheap, and servants both lazy
and dirty. Now, the servants in Lima have a theory about rice. They
consider it possesses certain qualities antagonistic to water, so
that, after eating, to touch water would be seriously injurious to
health; and thus does their frequent consumption of rice supply them
with a most convenient reason or excuse for their habitual abstinence
from an operation they detest--that of washing their hands.

Verily, they are mighty fine and convenient words, THEREFORE and


The whole population of the good city of Brussels was in a state of
excitement. Talma, the great French tragedian, was that evening to
close his engagement by appearing in his favourite character of
Leonidas; and from an early hour in the morning, the doors of the
theatre were beset with waiting crowds, extending to the very end of
the large square in which it stood. It was evident that the building,
spacious as it was, could not contain one-half of the eager expectants
already assembled, and yet every moment brought a fresh accession to
the number destined to be disappointed. The hero of this ovation, and
the object of all this unusual excitement to the worthy and naturally
phlegmatic beer-drinkers of old Brabant, was standing near a window in
the White Cross Hotel, engaged most prosaically in shaving himself;
and, from time to time, casting on the crowd, to which he was the
magnet of attraction, the careless glance of a monarch become from
habit almost insensible to the loyal enthusiasm of his subjects.

'So he will not come?' said the tragedian to an old friend who was
with him. 'He is a cynical old fool; and yet, I assure you, my dear M.
Lesec, that I had _Leonidas_ got up expressly for him, thinking to
tickle his old republican fancies, for to my mind it is as stupid a
play as _Germanicus_, though I contrive to produce an effect with some
of its high-sounding patriotic passages; and I thought the worthy
David would have recognised his own picture vivified. But he will not
come: he positively refused, you tell me. I might have known it. Age,
exile, the memory of the past--all this has cut him up terribly: he is
the David of the Consulate no longer.'

'I am just come from him,' answered Collector Lesec: 'he received me
almost as Hermione receives Orestes in the fourth act of _Andromache_.
To say the least of it, he was somewhat tart. "I never go to the
theatre," he answered abruptly. "Tell my friend Talma, that I thank
him for his kindness; but I always go to bed at nine. I should be very
glad if he would come, before he left Brussels, and have a tankard and
a smoke with me."'

'I see,' said Talma with a half-ironical smile, 'he is turned quite
Flemish. Poor fellow! to what has he come?--to smoking tobacco, and
losing all faith in art. Persecution does more harm than the
guillotine,' added the tragedian in a tone of bitterness. 'There is a
living death. David's exile has deprived us of many a _chef-d'oeuvre_.
I can forgive the Restoration for surrounding itself with nobodies,
but it need not banish our men of talent: they are not to be found
now-a-days in every corner. But enough. Another word, and we should be
talking politics.'

Leonidas finished shaving like any other man; and then turned suddenly
to his friend: 'I bet you ten napoleons,' said he, 'that David would
have come to the play had I gone myself to him with the invitation! I
intended it, but I had not time; these rehearsals kill me--I might as
well be a galley-slave. However, I have about three-quarters of an
hour to myself now, and I will go beard the old Roman in his
stronghold. What say you to going with me?'

It would have been difficult to name a place to which M. Lesec would
not have gone, to have the honour of being seen arm-in-arm with the
great Talma; and in another half hour they were on their way across
the Place de la Monnaie into the Rue Pierre Plate.

'Now for a storm!' said Lesec. 'We are in for it: so be prepared. I
leave it all on your shoulders, noble sir, for I must keep clear of

'Is he, then, so entirely changed?' exclaimed Talma, quickening his
pace. 'Poor exile! unhappy genius! torn from thy native soil, to
languish and die!'

The visitors soon reached the large, though somewhat dilapidated
mansion of the celebrated artist; and after they had been reconnoitred
through a small grating by an old female servant, they were ushered
into a rather gloomy apartment, presenting a singular discrepancy
between its antique decorations and modern furniture.

The illustrious exile came out of an adjoining apartment in his
dressing-gown, and advanced towards them with a quick yet almost
majestic step, though his form was slightly bent, apparently by age.
To Talma's great surprise, David received him most cordially, even
throwing away his usually inseparable companion, a long pipe, to grasp
both his hands. 'Welcome, welcome, my old friend!' he said; 'you could
not have come at a better time. I have not for many a day felt so
happy, and the sight of you is a great addition.' And the old painter
kept rubbing his hands, a token with him of exuberant satisfaction.

Talma looked at Lesec as much as to say: 'The devil is not quite so
black as he is painted;' while the worthy collector only shrugged his
shoulders, and lifted his eyebrows in pantomimic expression of his
inability to comprehend such a sudden change in the atmosphere.

'You must promise to come and dine with me to-morrow,' continued the
painter, accompanying his invitation with a smile, or rather a grin,
for David's face was very much disfigured by a wen on his cheek, which
also, by causing a twitching of the jaw, rendered his articulation

'To my great regret, I am obliged to decline your invitation, my dear
friend,' said Talma. 'This is my last night here, and I must set off
for Paris to-morrow.'

'Set off to-morrow!'

'Positively. Michelet and Dumas have the whole management on their
shoulders, and are pressing my return; and Lemercier is only waiting
for me to read to us a sort of _Richard the Third_.'

'Nevertheless, you dine with me to-morrow. One day longer will not
matter to them, and is a great matter to me. I suspect Lemercier's
_Richard the Third_ is cold enough to keep a little longer. I am to
have my friend Girodet with me; so dine with us you must. It will make
me grow young again, man, and bring back the happy meetings at
Moliker's, near the gate of the Louvre.'

The illustrious exile accompanied this sentence with another of his
grim smiles. The actor was deeply moved by it, for in that bitter
smile he read how the artist pined for his country. 'I will stay with
you, I will stay with you, dear David!' now eagerly cried Talma. 'For
your sake, I will desert my post, and steal a holiday from my Paris
friends; but it can only be on condition that you, too, will make a
little sacrifice for me, and come this evening to see me in Leonidas.'

'Well, I don't care if I do,' answered the painter, whom the sight of
one friend, and the expectation of seeing another, had made quite a
different being from the David of the morning. 'Here goes for
Leonidas; but, remember, I give you fair warning--I shall go to sleep.
I have scarcely ever been in a theatre that I did not take a sound

'But when Talma plays, plaudits will keep you awake, M. David,' said
the courtly M. Lesec; and this seasonable compliment obtained for him
a smile, and an invitation for the next day, so flattering to his
vanity that, even at the risk of compromising himself with the Prince
of Orange, he unhesitatingly accepted.

That evening, between six and seven o'clock, the old French painter,
a Baron of the Empire, entered the theatre in full dress, and with a
new red ribbon in his button-hole; but, as if shrinking from notice,
he took his seat at the back of the stage-box, reserved for him by his
friend Talma, with M. Lesec by his side, prouder, more elated,
more frizzled and befrilled, than if he had been appointed
first-commissioner of finance. But notwithstanding all the care of the
modest artist to preserve his incognito, it was soon whispered through
the theatre that he was one of the audience; and it was not long
before he was pointed out, when instantly the whole house stood up
respectfully, and repeated cheers echoed from pit to vaulted roof. The
prince himself was among the first to offer this tribute to the
illustrious exile, who, confused, agitated, and scarcely able to
restrain his tears, bowed to the audience rather awkwardly, as he
whispered to M. Lesec: 'So, then, I am still remembered. I thought no
one at Brussels cared whether I was dead or alive.'

Soon Talma appeared as Leonidas; and in his turn engrossed every eye,
every thought of that vast assembly. A triple round of applause hailed
every speech uttered by the generous Spartan. The painter of the
Sabines, of Brutus, of the Horatii, of the Coronation, seemed to heed
neither the noisy acclamations nor the deep silence that succeeded
each other. Mute, motionless, transfixed, he heard not the plaudits:
it was not Talma he saw, not Talma he was listening to. He was at
Thermopylæ by the side of Leonidas himself; ready to die with him and
his three hundred heroes. Never had he been so deeply moved. He had
talked of sleep, but he was as much alive, as eager, as animated, as
if he were an actual sharer in the heroic devotedness that was the
subject of the drama. For some moments after the curtain fell, he
seemed equally absorbed; it was not till he was out of the theatre,
and in the street, that he recovered sufficiently to speak; and then
it was only to repeat every five minutes: 'What a noble talent it is!
What a power he has had over me!'

A night of tranquil sleep, and dreams of bright happy days, closed an
evening of such agreeable excitement to the poor exile; and so
cheering was its effect upon him, that he was up the next morning
before day, and his old servant, to her surprise, saw her usually
gloomy and taciturn master looking almost gay while charging her to
have breakfast ready, and to be sure that dinner was in every way
befitting the honoured guests he expected.

'And are you going out, sir, and so early?' exclaimed the old woman;
now, for the first time, perceiving that her master had his hat on and
his cane in his hand.

'Yes, Dame Rebecca,' answered David, as he gained the outer gate. 'I
have grown a great boy, and may be trusted to go alone.'

'But it is scarcely daylight yet. None of the shops are open.'

'I do not want to make any purchases.'

'Then, where in the world can you be going, sir, at this hour?'

'_Sacre bleu!_' returned the painter, losing all patience: 'could you
not guess, you old fool, that I am going as far as the Flanders-gate
to meet my old friend Girodet?'

'O that, indeed! But are you sure he will come that way? And did he
tell you the exact time?'

'What matter, you old torment? Suppose I have to wait a few minutes
for him, I can walk up and down, and it will be exercise for me,
which, you know, Dr Fanchet has desired me to take. Go along in, and
don't let the dinner be spoiled.' And the old man went on his way with
an almost elastic step. Once more was he young, gay, happy. Was he not
soon to see the friend dearer to him than all the world? But his
eagerness had made him anticipate by two hours the usual time for the
arrival of the diligence, and he was not made aware of his
miscalculation till after he had been a good while pacing up and down
the suburb leading to the Flanders-gate. The constant companion alike
of his studio and his exile, his pipe, he had left behind him,
forgotten in his hurry; so that he had no resource but to continue his
solitary walk, the current of his happy thoughts flowing on,
meanwhile, uninterrupted, save by an occasional greeting from
labourers going to their work, or the countrywomen hastening, as much
as their Flemish _embonpoint_ would allow, to the city markets. When
sauntering about alone, especially when waiting, we, like children,
make the most of everything that can while away the time, or give even
the semblance of being occupied: a flower-pot in a window, a parrot in
a cage, nay, even an insect flying past, is an absolute gain to us.
David felt it quite a fortunate chance when he suddenly caught sight
of a sign-painter carrying on his work in the open air. Though
evidently more of a whitewasher than a painter, yet, from the top of
his ladder, he was flourishing his brush in a masterly style, and at
times pausing and contemplating his work with as much complacency as
Gros could have done his wonderful cupola of Sainte-Geneviève.

The painter of Napoleon passed the self-satisfied dauber twice, not
without some admiring glances at the way in which he was plastering
the background of his landscape with indigo, by way of making a sky.
At top of the sign, now nearly finished, was traced, in large
characters, 'Break of Day;' a precaution as indispensable to point out
the artist's design, as the inscription, 'Dutch and Flemish Beer,' was
to announce the articles dealt in by the owner of the house upon which
this masterpiece was to figure.

'Here's a pretty fellow!' said the artist to himself; 'with as much
knowledge of perspective as a carthorse; and yet, I doubt not,
thinking himself a second Rubens. He brushes away as if he were
polishing a pair of boots. And what matter? Why should he not enjoy
himself in his own way?' But when he passed the ladder for the third
time, and saw a fresh layer of indigo putting over the first, his
patience could hold out no longer, and he exclaimed, without stopping
or even looking at the offender: 'There is too much blue!'

'Eh! Do you want anything, sir?' said the sign-painter; but he who had
ventured the criticism was already at a distance.

Again, David passed by. Another glance at the 'Break of Day,' and
another exclamation: 'Too much blue, you blockhead!' The insulted
plasterer turned round to reconnoitre the speaker, and as if
concluding, from his appearance, that he could be no very great
connoisseur, he quietly set to work again, shrugging his shoulders in
wonder how it could possibly be any business of his whether the sky
was red, green, or blue. For the fourth time the unknown lounger
repeated his unwelcome criticism: 'Too much blue!'

The Brussels Wouvermans coloured, but said, in the subdued tone of a
man wishing to conceal anger he cannot help feeling: 'The gentleman
may not be aware that I am painting a sky.' By this time he had come
down from the ladder, and was standing surveying his work with one eye
closed, and at the proper distance from it to judge of its effect; and
his look of evident exultation shewed that nothing could be more
ill-timed than any depreciation of his labours.

'It is because I suppose you do want to paint a sky, that for that
very reason I wished to give you this little piece of advice, and to
tell you that there is too much blue in it.'

'And pray, Mr Amateur, when was there ever a sky seen without blue?'

'I am no amateur; but I tell you once more, that there is too much
blue. And now do as you like; and if you do not think you have enough,
you can put more.'

'This is entirely too bad!' cried the now exasperated sign-painter.
'You are an old fool, and know nothing of painting. I should like to
see you make a sky without blue.'

'I do not say I am a good hand at a sky; but if I did set about it,
there should be no blue.'

'A pretty job it would be!'

'It would look like something, at all events.'

'That is as much as to say mine is like nothing at all.'

'No indeed, for it is very like a dish of spinach, and very like a
vile daub, or like anything else you please.'

'A dish of spinach! a vile daub!' cried the artist of Brabant in a
rage. 'I, the pupil of Ruysdael--I, fourth cousin to Gerard Dow! and
you pretend to know more of my art than I do--an art I have practised
with such credit at Antwerp, Louvain, and Liege! A dish of spinach,
indeed!' And by this time the fury of the insulted painter had
increased to such a degree, that he seized David by the arm, and
shaking him violently, added: 'Do you know, you old dotard, that my
character has been long established? I have a red horse at Mechlin, a
stag at Namur, and a Charlemagne at Aix-la-Chapelle, that no one has
ever seen without admiring!'

'This is beyond all patience,' said David; and suddenly extricating
himself from the man's grasp, and snatching his palette from him, he
was up the ladder in an instant, shouting: 'Wait awhile, and you shall
have yourself to admire, with your fool's pate and your ass's ears!'

'Stop, stop, you villain!' roared the luckless artist, pale with
consternation. 'My splendid sign! A painting worth thirty-five francs!
I am ruined and undone!' And he continued shaking the ladder, and
pouring out a torrent of abuse upon David, who, caring neither for the
reproaches of his victim, nor for the crowd that the sudden clamour
had attracted, went on pitilessly effacing the 'Break of Day,' and
mingling in one confused mass sky and sun, and trees and figures; or
what was intended, at least, to represent them. And now--not less
rapid in creating than in destroying--and with the lightest possible
touch of his brush, the new sign-painter sketched and finished, with
magic rapidity, a sky with the gray tints of early dawn, and a group
of three men, glass in hand, watching the rising sun; one of these
figures being a striking likeness of the whitewasher, shewn at once by
his bushy eyebrows and snub-nose.

The crowd, that had at first shewn every inclination to take the part
of their countryman against a stranger unfairly interfering with him,
now stood quietly watching the outlines as they shone through the
first layers of colour, and shouts of applause burst from them as the
figures grew beneath the creative hand of the artist. The
tavern-keeper himself now swelled the number of admirers, having come
out to ascertain the cause of the tumult; and even the fourth-cousin
of Gerard Dow felt his fury fast changing into admiration.

'I see it all now,' he said to those nearest him in the crowd. 'He is
a French or Dutch sign-painter, one of ourselves, and he only wanted
to have a joke against me. It is but fair to own that he has the real
knack, and paints even better than I do.'

The artist to whom this equivocal compliment was paid, was now coming
down from the ladder amid the cheers of the spectators, when a new
admirer was added to them in the person of a man who, mounted on a
fine English horse, seemed inclined to ride over the crowd in his
eagerness to get a good view of the painting.

'That picture is mine!' he exclaimed; 'I will have it. I will buy it,
even if I have to cover it with guineas!'

'What do you mean?' asked the tavern-keeper.

'I mean, that I will give any price you choose to name for that sign,'
answered the stranger.

'The picture is not to be sold, young man; I could not think of
parting with it,' said the whitewasher with as much paternal pride as
if it had been indeed his workmanship.

'Certainly not,' said the vender of beer; 'for it has been already
sold, and partly paid for in advance. The picture is mine; and, though
not very anxious to dispose of it, yet, perhaps, we may come to some
understanding, and make a bargain.'

'Not so fast,' said the dauber; 'the sign belongs to me, and my
brother-artist was only kindly giving me a helping-hand. It is my
lawful property; and if this gentleman wants to buy it, he must deal
with me for it.'

'I tell you,' replied the tavern-keeper, 'that the "Break of Day" is
my property, as sure as it is now hanging in front of my house.'

The dispute was waxing louder and louder, when David broke in: 'And am
I to go for nothing in the matter? Methinks I might be allowed a voice
in it.'

'And a good right you have, brother,' said the sign-painter; 'and I am
sure you and I shall have no difference about it. But the open street
is no place for all this. We had better go into the house, and settle
the matter over a pot of beer.'

David, wishing to escape the continually increasing crowd, consented
to the adjournment, which, however, had no effect upon the disputants,
and the contest waged more fiercely than ever; nor did the
Englishman's reiterated offers to give for the picture its weight in
gold tend to allay it.

'But what will you say, if I won't let it be sold?' cried David, at
length losing all patience.

'Ah, good sir,' said the tavern-keeper, 'you would not deprive a poor,
struggling man like me of this opening for getting a little ready
money to enable me to lay in a stock of beer. As for that
sign-painter, he is a drunken sot, who has left himself without as
much as a stiver to give his daughter, who ought to have been married
a year ago.'

'Do not believe him, sir,' cried David's brother-artist. 'Every one
knows there is not a fonder father in the whole town; and more shame
to me if I were not, for never was there such a good daughter as my
dear, pretty Lizette. I have no money to give her, to be sure, but she
is betrothed to an honest fellow, who is glad to get her, poor as she
is. He is a young Frenchman, a cabinet-maker, and no better workman in
the whole city; and they are to be married whenever he has anything

'A good child, and a good workman, and only waiting for wherewithal to
live! This alters the matter entirely,' said David; 'and the young
couple shall have the picture. We leave it to this gentleman's
liberality to name the price he is willing to give for it.'

'Illustrious artist,' said the Englishman, 'I rejoice in the decision
you have come to: Solomon himself could not have given a wiser one. As
for me, I have already offered a hundred guineas for the sign as it
stands; but I will give two hundred, if you will consent to inscribe
on it the two words "Pierre David."'

The name was no sooner pronounced, than a cry of astonishment and
delight burst from all present; and the poor sign-painter, with tears
in his eyes, implored pardon for all his rudeness and presumption, and
poured out grateful thanks for the Master's kind intentions in favour
of the young couple.

By this time the news had reached the crowd without, and was received
with repeated shouts, and cries of 'Long live David!' 'Long live the
prince of artists!' But the cheers became almost deafening, when the
pretty Lizette, having heard the wonderful story of a sign having been
painted that was to hasten her marriage, and give her a dowry of 200
guineas, made her appearance, and, without a moment's hesitation,
threw her arms about the neck of her benefactor, who returned her
caresses most cordially; declaring that, all things considered, he did
not know any one who had a better right to a kiss from the bride.

At this instant Talma, followed by Girodet and the collector,
hurriedly entered the tavern. Not finding David at his house, and
being told of his having left home very early, they became uneasy lest
some accident had befallen him, and set off in search of him.

'Thank Heaven, we have found him!' said Girodet.

'And very well employed, too, I declare,' cried Talma. 'If I could be
sure of meeting such a kind welcome from a pretty girl, I should not
mind getting up early myself!'

'Bravo, bravo, my old friend!' said Girodet, as, after a warm embrace
from him, he turned to examine the picture: 'I never expected to hear
of your changing your style, and turning Flemish sign-painter. But it
is no shame for David to end as Rembrandt began.'


A good biography is ever welcome; and if it be the biography of a good
and a great man, the cordiality of the _bienvenu_ is doubled. Mr
Prescott remarks,[2] that there is no kind of writing, having truth
and instruction for its main object, which, on the whole, is so
interesting and popular as biography: its superiority, in this point
of view, to history, consisting in the fact, that the latter has to
deal with masses--with nations, which, like corporate societies, seem
to have no soul, and whose chequered vicissitudes may be contemplated
rather with curiosity for the lessons they convey, than with personal
sympathy. Among contemporary biographers, Mr Hepworth Dixon has
already established for himself a name of some distinction by his
popular lives of William Penn and John Howard; nor will his credit
suffer a decline in the instance of the memoir now before us--that of
the gallant and single-minded patriot, Robert Blake. Of this fine old
English worthy, republican as he was, the Tory Hume freely affirms,
that never man, so zealous for a faction, was so much respected and
even esteemed by his opponents. 'Disinterested, generous, liberal;
ambitious only of true glory, dreadful only to his avowed enemies; he
forms one of the most perfect characters of the age, and the
least stained with those errors and vices which were then so
predominant.'[3] Yet hitherto the records of this remarkable man have
been scanty in matter, and scattered in form--the most notable being
Dr Johnson's sketch in the _Gentleman's Magazine_, and another in the
_Encyclopædia Britannica_. Mr Dixon has consulted several scarce
works, of genuine though obsolete authority, and a large mass of
original documents and family papers, in preparing the present able
and attractive memoir; not omitting a careful examination of the
squibs, satires, and broadsides of that time, in his endeavour to
trace, in forgotten nooks and corners, the anecdotes and details
requisite, as he says, to complete a character thus far chiefly known
by a few heroic outlines. We propose taking a brief survey of his
life-history of the great admiral and general at sea--the 'Puritan
Sea-King,' as Mr Dixon more characteristically than accurately calls
his hero. A sea-king he was, every inch of him; but to dub him
Puritan, is like giving up to party what was meant for British
mankind. To many, the term suggests primarily a habit of speaking
through the nose; and Blake had thundered commands through too many a
piping gale and battle blast for _that_.

Robert Blake was born at Bridgewater, in August 1599. His father,
Humphrey Blake, was a merchant trading with Spain--a man whose temper
seems to have been too sanguine and adventurous for the ordinary
action of trade, finally involving him in difficulties which clouded
his latter days, and left his family in straitened circumstances: his
name, however, was held in general respect; and we find that he lived
in one of the best houses in Bridgewater, and twice filled the chair
of its chief magistrate. The perils to which mercantile enterprise was
then liable--the chance escapes and valorous deeds which the
successful adventurer had to tell his friends and children on the dark
winter nights--doubtless formed a part of the food on which the
imagination of young Blake, 'silent and thoughtful from his
childhood,' was fed in the 'old house at home.' At the Bridgewater
grammar-school, Robert received his early education, making tolerable
acquaintance with Latin and Greek, and acquiring a strong bias towards
a literary life. This _penchant_ was confirmed by his subsequent
career at Oxford, where he matriculated at sixteen, and where he
strove hard but fruitlessly for scholarships and fellowships at
different colleges. His failure to obtain a Merton fellowship has been
attributed to a crotchet of the warden's, Sir Henry Savile, in favour
of tall men: 'The young Somersetshire student, thick-set, fair
complexioned, and only five feet six, fell below his standard of manly
beauty;' and thus the Cavalier warden, in denying this aspirant the
means of cultivating literature on a little university oatmeal, was
turning back on the world one who was fated to become a republican
power of the age.

Pages: | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | Next |

Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 439 Volume 17, New Series, May 29, 1852