« PreviousContinue »
Mr. Cunningham has the courage to assert that his mind on the whole failed to expand with his fortune, and that he continued the same system of saving when he was master of 60,0001.* as when he owned but sixpence.' Malice,' says Mr. Dayes, *has charged him with avarice. The reports were raised by enemies, whose unreasonable requests he had refused, or whose extravagant pretensions he had opposed.f Mr. Cunningham calls these obscure libellers 'the public. When somebody,' says Swift, .was telling a great minister that people were discontented, “Pho!” he replied, “half a dozen fools are prating in a coffee-house, and presently think their own noise is made by the world.")
An important measure, which is said by Barry to have originated with Reynolds, was adopted in 1760. The painters comAcademy "at a very low price,' on condition that a gallery should be built for their reception. In an evil hour the boon was declined, and he resolved to dispose of them to private purchasers, probably because he could not afford to keep them when his professional income had ceased. In April, 1791, they were shown at a room in the Haymarket. He announced that the door-keeper had a catalogue in which their prices were marked, and that the money charged for admission was for the benefit of his old servant Ralph Kirkley. 'A wicked wit,' says North. cote, 'wished to insinuate that Sir Joshua was a partaker in the profits, and inserted these lines from “ Hudibras" in a morning paper :
“A squire he had whose name was Ralph,
Who in the adventure went half,” thus gaily making a sacrifice of truth to a joke.' Allan Cunningham in retailing the story couverts the fling of the jester into a grave and common belief: Our painter's well-known love of gain excited public suspicion. He was considered by many as a partaker in the profits.' His 'well-known love of gain' had just been manifested by his offering the pictures for a sum which was equivalent to a donation of thousands; and the notion, if it had existed, that he could yet be eager to make a few pounds by the exhibition of the collection, would teach us the value of the unauthenticated imputations upon Reynolds.
* Sir Joshua left 18,3001, in legacies, including 20001. which he had lent to Burke. Miss Palmer was residuary legatee, and Burke, who was an executor, reckoned that at the very worst she would receive 30,000l
. ; but he comprised in this calculation the pictures, drawings, and prints, which had cost 20,0001., the London and Richmond honse, the numerous works of Sir Joshua which remained on hand, the furniture and property of every description. The statement of Burke disproves the assertion of Northcote that Reynolds must have left 60,000l. in money. It is clear that his pecuniary savings could not have much exceeded the amount of the legacies, or from twenty to thirty thousand pounds. These were the miserly accumulations of a man who had been in the receipt of a splendid income for above thirty years.
+ In the Table-Talk' of Rogers there is an instance of the ridiculous grounds upon which even persons who are impartial will credit scandal. A gentleman saw a girl crying on the steps of Sir Joshua's house in Leicester Square. He asked her what was the matter, and she told him that Sir Joshua had paid her a bad shilling for sitting to him as a model and would not give her another. 'I can hardly believe it,' said Rogers, but the gentleman assured me it was a fact.' The fact consisted in the girl having made the assertion, and rather than suppose that she belonged to the swarm of London impostors, who tell fictitious tales to excite compassion, Rogers was willing to presume that Reynolds would try to palm off a bad shilling on one of the destitute creatures he employed for a model.
menced an annual exhibition. Hitherto their productions were chiefly to be seen at shops, which compelled the artists to submit to the terms of the shopkeeper, upon whose countenance they depended for the disposal of their works. Brooking, an excellent painter of sea-views, who died in 1759, was accustomed to write his name on his pieces, but the dealer always obliterated it before exposing them for sale. A picture was sent home in his absence, and his wife omitted to efface the signature. It was read by a gentleman who had previously been refused the information, and in order to find out Brooking's address he was still obliged to advertise for him in the newspapers. When the artists were thus reduced to anonymous insignificance, when they were not allowed to come in contact with their true patrons, and when they had no other place for the display of their pictures than the window of a grasping tradesman, they might well be desirous to get their works fairly before the world, and to sell them without the intervention of dealers. The first exhibition did not answer its intention. The great room of the Society of Arts in the Strand was borrowed for the purpose, and all the members of the Society were allowed to give tickets of admission. They lavished them upon their servants and their servants' friends. The room was crowded with a rabble, and presented a constant scene of “tumult and disorder.' The educated classes would not engage in a scuffle with a mob, and the painters were disgusted to find that the tribunal which sat in judgment on their works was composed of kitchen-maids and stable-boys.' The loaf and dead mackerel must have been more than ever in favour. The evil was increased by some premiums bestowed by the Society of Arts. None of the principal painters competed, and the spectators in their simplicity imagined that the pictures which obtained prizes were the best. The artists resolved to be independent, and in 1761 they hired a large room in Spring Gardens. The ticket of admission was the catalogue, which cost a shilling; but it could be used by a thousand persons in succession, and the crush and confusion of the previous year was renewed. The abuse was corrected in 1763 by the charge of a shilling at the door. Johnson, instigated no doubt by Reynolds, wrote a preface to the catalogue in justification of the step, and he there states that the multitudes which thronged the room had made access dangerous, and frightened away the judges and purchasers of pictures.
Reynolds signalised the year 1762 by one of those special works which combine an immortal subject with the finest art. He produced his portrait of Garrick between Tragedy and Comedy. There was a resemblance between the career of the
actor and the painter. Both had broken loose from a dreary, monotonous, artificial school of copyists, and reverted to the freshness, the spirit, and variety of nature. Both had joined unwearied study to intuitive genius; for Garrick, like Reynolds, was always labouring to improve, and however often he had played a part, be prepared hiinself anew for every performance by hours of practice and meditation. Both had advanced the dignity of their callings by their morals, their manners, their intelligence, and social charm, as well as by their transcendent excellence in their professions. "Garrick,' said Johnson, has made a player a higher character. Both had risen from poverty to wealth, both were accused by the malignant of avarice, and both united generosity to prudence. “I know,' said Johnson, that Garrick has given away more money than any man in England that I am acquainted with.' Reynolds, by a happy thought, commemorated a versatility which stands alone in the history of the stage. Of no other actor but Garrick can it be told that he ran the round of the histrionic art, and that in tragedy, comedy, and farce he was unsurpassed by the first masters in each department. This was not the whole of his superiority. Johnson, indeed, remarked that his peculiar excellence was his variety, and that there was no character, perhaps, which had not been as perfectly played by somebody else. But the best portion of his genius was lost upon Johnson. "He could not,' says Murphy, ‘see the passions as they rose and chased one another in the varied features of Garrick's expressive face. From the descriptions which remain of him there cannot be a question that in the loftiest region of dramatic power he was not equalled by any one in his own time or since. Ordinary men in common things can rival the greatest. There are always admirable performers of low parts, for the same reason that clever caricaturists are more abundant than Raphaels and Michael Angelos. Cradock, a theatrical enthusiast and a friend and worshipper of Garrick, could detect no inferiority in Munden's personation of Scrub. This was nothing more than might be expected with characters in which the utmost attainable perfection could be reached by talents below the highest. In proportion as the difficulty increased, Garrick left his brother actors behind. * Except Betterton,' said Young, the poet, in 1748, ‘I never knew a player that was a good tragedian, and I never knew a dancingmaster that was a genteel man. And the cause is the same; they both overshoot the mark. Here it was that Garrick asserted his supremacy. In tragedies which depended for much of their success upon an imposing presence and well-declaimed speeches, he may now and then have had an equal; in parts which depended upon deep and complex passions he soared above every
competitor. He has never been approached in the representation of Lear; and there is no character in the entire range of the drama that more tasks the genius of the actor. Northcote, who saw him play it in 1773, beheld the performance with wonder. * I can only,' he said, in a letter which he wrote immediately afterwards, 'give you some idea of it by the effects. The people were not content by clapping, but halloed out with mighty shouts when he was going off; for I believe even the most ignorant people are sensible of his excellence, and it had such an effect on me that my hair seemed to stand on end upon my head. Sir Joshua says it is by much the most capital part he can act, and that he thinks he does it without faults; but in every other he has a good many.' The likeness of Garrick by Reynolds was among rival portraits what Garrick was among actors. Even Gainsborough could not fix his changeable countenance upon canvas, and said of him and Foote, in excuse for his failure,
that they had everybody's faces but their own.' The portrait of Garrick, at Knole, gives us the vivacious companion as he appeared in society. The portrait which represents him between Tragedy and Comedy gives us the flexible features and marvellous expression of the actor as he might have appeared upon the stage.* In looking at it we can realise the superlative faculty which could call up every emotion into the countenance, and convulse the spectators with laughter, melt them with pity, and appal them with terror. Ten years later Reynolds projected a large picture for the purpose of displaying the varied powers of Garrick. Fifteen of the principal characters, out of the hundred and twenty he had acted, were to stand round him listening to his delivery of a prologue in his own proper person. Garrick received the proposition with enthusiasm. “That,' he exclaimed, “will be the very thing I desire--the only way that I can be handed down to posterity.' You need not mention it,' wrote Northcote to his brother, “as it may never happen. The misgiving was prophetic
. The scheme was long contemplated, but the propitious moment for executing it never arrived, and we have missed a work which, from such a hand, would have been unique in interest, both as a record of Garrick's consummate art and as a physiognomical
* • Nothing,' remarks Mr. Davis, in his “Thoughts on Great Painters,' can be imagined more alluring than the figure of Comedy, but that which forms the zest of the picture is Garrick's look of apology and expostulation to the Tragic Muse. He seems to say, "I venerate, I admire you, I would devote to you all the energies of my genius; but, my gentle Melpomene, look at this fascinating creature here, your Comic Sister. I appeal to your candour, what can I do? Is it possible to resist her?”i In the opinion of Mr. Davis, the expression in Garrick's face is almost the happiest among the many marvels of expression embodied by Reynolds.
display of the diverse aspects which a single countenance could be made to assume without distortion or apparent constraint.
Reynolds, in 1760, had raised his price for a head to twentyfive guineas, and for the other two sizes in the same proportion. His increased charges had little effect in diminishing his commissions, and his health suffered from his long-protracted exertions. To recruit himself he set out to visit his native county on August 16, 1762, and was absent from his studio till September 26. Johnson, who enjoyed a jaunt, went with him. They were the guests of several noblemen and gentlemen, and at Plymouth, which was their head-quarters, they stayed with Mr. Mudge, the surgeon, who was the son of the clergyman that taught Reynolds to generalise. The most fervent homage which the painter received, when he returned full of fame to the scenes of his youth, did not come to his knowledge. A lad of sixteen, the son of a poor watchmaker at Plymouth, was inspired with a passion for art. He had seen some pictures by Reynolds, and they · filled him with wonder and delight.' The celebrated master himself was pointed out at a public meeting to his admiring eyes, and working his way as close to him as the pressure of the crowd would permit, the enthusiast touched the skirt of his coat, which I did,' he says, 'with great satisfaction to my mind. This was Northcote, his future pupil and biographer. Reynolds had performed a similar action when he was first apprenticed in London. He had been sent by Hudson to bid at an auction, and was at the top of the room when a bustle arose at the lower end. The stir was immediately followed by the general whisper, Mr. Pope, Mr. Pope.' The closely-packed assembly divided to make a lane for him, and as he passed up it bowing, the people on each side held out a hand for him to touch. Joshua was not in the front row, but he thrust his hand forward and secured the coveted honour.
Pity,' says Northcote, that Pope had not known the future importance of the hand he received into his own. Young Reynolds was already a close observer. From his single sight of the poet he gave in after years a more precise description of his person than any other which has come down to us.
The exhibiting artists obtained a charter of incorporation from the King in 1765. The management was in the hands of twentyfour directors, who were elected by the members. There is always a body of inferior men who are jealous of their betters, and anxious to dethrone them. This ambitious and undistinguished section of the Society voted, in October, 1768, that sixteen persons from their own numbers should be directors in the place of the heads of the profession. The remaining eight directors were thwarted in their measures, and resigned on November 10. The dissatis