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Imaginary Portraits by Walter Horatio Pater

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Electronic Version 1.0 / Date 10-12-01


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I. A Prince of Court Painters: 3-44

II. Denys L’Auxerrois: 45-77

III. Sebastian Van Storck: 79-115

IV. Duke Carl of Rosenmold: 117-153




Valenciennes, September 1701.

[5] They have been renovating my father's large workroom. That
delightful, tumble-down old place has lost its moss-grown tiles and
the green weather-stains we have known all our lives on the high
whitewashed wall, opposite which we sit, in the little sculptor's
yard, for the coolness, in summertime. Among old Watteau's work-
people came his son, "the genius," my father's godson and namesake, a
dark-haired youth, whose large, unquiet eyes seemed perpetually
wandering to the various drawings which lie exposed here. My father
will have it that he is a genius indeed, and a painter born. We have
had our September Fair in the Grande Place, a wonderful stir of sound
and colour in the wide, open space beneath our windows. And just
where the crowd was busiest young Antony was found, hoisted into one
of those empty niches of the old Hôtel de Ville, sketching the scene
to the life, but with a [6] kind of grace--a marvellous tact of
omission, as my father pointed out to us, in dealing with the vulgar
reality seen from one's own window--which has made trite old
Harlequin, Clown, and Columbine, seem like people in some fairyland;
or like infinitely clever tragic actors, who, for the humour of the
thing, have put on motley for once, and are able to throw a world of
serious innuendo into their burlesque looks, with a sort of comedy
which shall be but tragedy seen from the other side. He brought his
sketch to our house to-day, and I was present when my father
questioned him and commended his work. But the lad seemed not
greatly pleased, and left untasted the glass of old Malaga which was
offered to him. His father will hear nothing of educating him as a
painter. Yet he is not ill-to-do, and has lately built himself a new
stone house, big and grey and cold. Their old plastered house with
the black timbers, in the Rue des Cardinaux, was prettier; dating
from the time of the Spaniards, and one of the oldest in

October 1701.

Chiefly through the solicitations of my father, old Watteau has
consented to place Antony with a teacher of painting here. I meet
him betimes on the way to his lessons, as I return from Mass; for he
still works with the masons, [7] but making the most of late and
early hours, of every moment of liberty. And then he has the feast-
days, of which there are so many in this old-fashioned place. Ah!
such gifts as his, surely, may once in a way make much industry seem
worth while. He makes a wonderful progress. And yet, far from being
set-up, and too easily pleased with what, after all, comes to him so
easily, he has, my father thinks, too little self-approval for
ultimate success. He is apt, in truth, to fall out too hastily with
himself and what he produces. Yet here also there is the "golden
mean." Yes! I could fancy myself offended by a sort of irony which
sometimes crosses the half-melancholy sweetness of manner habitual
with him; only that as I can see, he treats himself to the same

October 1701.

Antony Watteau comes here often now. It is the instinct of a natural
fineness in him, to escape when he can from that blank stone house,
with so little to interest, and that homely old man and woman. The
rudeness of his home has turned his feeling for even the simpler
graces of life into a physical want, like hunger or thirst, which
might come to greed; and methinks he perhaps overvalues these things.
Still, made as he is, his hard fate in that rude place must needs
touch one. And then, he profits by the experience of [8] my father,
who has much knowledge in matters of art beyond his own art of
sculpture; and Antony is not unwelcome to him. In these last rainy
weeks especially, when he can't sketch out of doors, when the wind
only half dries the pavement before another torrent comes, and people
stay at home, and the only sound from without is the creaking of a
restless shutter on its hinges, or the march across the Place of
those weary soldiers, coming and going so interminably, one hardly
knows whether to or from battle with the English and the Austrians,
from victory or defeat:--Well! he has become like one of our family.
"He will go far!" my father declares. He would go far, in the
literal sense, if he might--to Paris, to Rome. It must be admitted
that our Valenciennes is a quiet, nay! a sleepy place; sleepier than
ever since it became French, and ceased to be so near the frontier.
The grass is growing deep on our old ramparts, and it is pleasant to
walk there--to walk there and muse; pleasant for a tame, unambitious
soul such as mine.

December 1702.

Antony Watteau left us for Paris this morning. It came upon us quite
suddenly. They amuse themselves in Paris. A scene-painter we have
here, well known in Flanders, has been engaged to work in one of the
Parisian play-houses; and young Watteau, of whom he had some slight
[9] knowledge, has departed in his company. He doesn't know it was I
who persuaded the scene-painter to take him; that he would find the
lad useful. We offered him our little presents--fine thread-lace of
our own making for his ruffles, and the like; for one must make a
figure in Paris, and he is slim and well-formed. For myself, I
presented him with a silken purse I had long ago embroidered for
another. Well! we shall follow his fortunes (of which I for one feel
quite sure) at a distance. Old Watteau didn't know of his departure,
and has been here in great anger.

December 1703.

Twelve months to-day since Antony went to Paris! The first struggle
must be a sharp one for an unknown lad in that vast, overcrowded
place, even if he be as clever as young Antony Watteau. We may
think, however, that he is on the way to his chosen end, for he
returns not home; though, in truth, he tells those poor old people
very little of himself. The apprentices of the M. Métayer for whom
he works, labour all day long, each at a single part only,--coiffure,
or robe, or hand,--of the cheap pictures of religion or fantasy he
exposes for sale at a low price along the footways of the Pont Notre-
Dame. Antony is already the most skilful of them, and seems to have
been promoted of late to work on church pictures. I like the thought
of that. [10] He receives three livres a week for his pains, and his
soup daily.

May 1705.

Antony Watteau has parted from the dealer in pictures à bon marché,
and works now with a painter of furniture pieces (those headpieces
for doors and the like, now in fashion) who is also concierge of the
Palace of the Luxembourg. Antony is actually lodged somewhere in
that grand place, which contains the king's collection of the Italian
pictures he would so willingly copy. Its gardens also are
magnificent, with something, as we understand from him, altogether of
a novel kind in their disposition and embellishment. Ah! how I
delight myself, in fancy at least, in those beautiful gardens, freer
and trimmed less stiff than those of other royal houses. Methinks I
see him there, when his long summer-day's work is over, enjoying the
cool shade of the stately, broad-foliaged trees, each of which is a
great courtier, though it has its way almost as if it belonged to
that open and unbuilt country beyond, over which the sun is sinking.

His thoughts, however, in the midst of all this, are not wholly away
from home, if I may judge by the subject of a picture he hopes to
sell for as much as sixty livres--Un Départ de Troupes, Soldiers
Departing--one of those scenes of military life one can study so well
here at Valenciennes.


June 1705.

Young Watteau has returned home--proof, with a character so
independent as his, that things have gone well with him; and (it is
agreed!) stays with us, instead of in the stone-mason's house. The
old people suppose he comes to us for the sake of my father's
instruction. French people as we are become, we are still old
Flemish, if not at heart, yet on the surface. Even in French
Flanders, at Douai and Saint Omer, as I understand, in the churches
and in people's houses, as may be seen from the very streets, there
is noticeable a minute and scrupulous air of care-taking and
neatness. Antony Watteau remarks this more than ever on returning to
Valenciennes, and savours greatly, after his lodging in Paris, our
Flemish cleanliness, lover as he is of distinction and elegance.
Those worldly graces he seemed when a young lad almost to hunger and
thirst for, as though truly the mere adornments of life were its
necessaries, he already takes as if he had been always used to them.
And there is something noble--shall I say?--in his half-disdainful
way of serving himself with what he still, as I think, secretly
values over-much. There is an air of seemly thought--le bel sérieux-
-about him, which makes me think of one of those grave old Dutch
statesmen in their youth, such as that famous William the Silent.
And yet the effect of this first success [12] of his (of more
importance than its mere money value, as insuring for the future the
full play of his natural powers) I can trace like the bloom of a
flower upon him; and he has, now and then, the gaieties which from
time to time, surely, must refresh all true artists, however hard-
working and "painful."

July 1705.

The charm of all this--his physiognomy and manner of being--has
touched even my young brother, Jean-Baptiste. He is greatly taken
with Antony, clings to him almost too attentively, and will be
nothing but a painter, though my father would have trained him to
follow his own profession. It may do the child good. He needs the
expansion of some generous sympathy or sentiment in that close little
soul of his, as I have thought, watching sometimes how his small face
and hands are moved in sleep. A child of ten who cares only to save
and possess, to hoard his tiny savings! Yet he is not otherwise
selfish, and loves us all with a warm heart. Just now it is the
moments of Antony's company he counts, like a little miser. Well!
that may save him perhaps from developing a certain meanness of
character I have sometimes feared for him.


August 1705.

We returned home late this summer evening--Antony Watteau, my father
and sisters, young Jean-Baptiste, and myself--from an excursion to
Saint-Amand, in celebration of Antony's last day with us. After
visiting the great abbey-church and its range of chapels, with their
costly encumbrance of carved shrines and golden reliquaries and
funeral scutcheons in the coloured glass, half seen through a rich
enclosure of marble and brass-work, we supped at the little inn in
the forest. Antony, looking well in his new-fashioned, long-skirted
coat, and taller than he really is, made us bring our cream and wild
strawberries out of doors, ranging ourselves according to his
judgment (for a hasty sketch in that big pocket-book he carries) on
the soft slope of one of those fresh spaces in the wood, where the
trees unclose a little, while Jean-Baptiste and my youngest sister
danced a minuet on the grass, to the notes of some strolling lutanist
who had found us out. He is visibly cheerful at the thought of his
return to Paris, and became for a moment freer and more animated than
I have ever yet seen him, as he discoursed to us about the paintings
of Peter Paul Rubens in the church here. His words, as he spoke of
them, seemed full of a kind of rich sunset with some moving glory
within it. Yet I like far better than any of these pictures of
Rubens a work of that old Dutch [14] master, Peter Porbus, which
hangs, though almost out of sight indeed, in our church at home. The
patron saints, simple, and standing firmly on either side, present
two homely old people to Our Lady enthroned in the midst, with the
look and attitude of one for whom, amid her "glories" (depicted in
dim little circular pictures, set in the openings of a chaplet of
pale flowers around her) all feelings are over, except a great
pitifulness. Her robe of shadowy blue suits my eyes better far than
the hot flesh-tints of the Medicean ladies of the great Peter Paul,
in spite of that amplitude and royal ease of action under their stiff
court costumes, at which Antony Watteau declares himself in dismay.

August 1705.

I am just returned from early Mass. I lingered long after the office
was ended, watching, pondering how in the world one could help a
small bird which had flown into the church but could find no way out
again. I suspect it will remain there, fluttering round and round
distractedly, far up under the arched roof, till it dies exhausted.
I seem to have heard of a writer who likened man's life to a bird
passing just once only, on some winter night, from window to window,
across a cheerfully-lighted hall. The bird, taken captive by the
ill-luck of a moment, re-tracing its issueless circle till it [15]
expires within the close vaulting of that great stone church:--human
life may be like that bird too!

Antony Watteau returned to Paris yesterday. Yes!--Certainly, great
heights of achievement would seem to lie before him; access to
regions whither one may find it increasingly hard to follow him even
in imagination, and figure to one's self after what manner his life
moves therein.

January 1709.

Antony Watteau has competed for what is called the Prix de Rome,
desiring greatly to profit by the grand establishment founded at Rome
by King Lewis the Fourteenth, for the encouragement of French
artists. He obtained only the second place, but does not renounce
his desire to make the journey to Italy. Could I save enough by
careful economies for that purpose? It might be conveyed to him in
some indirect way that would not offend.

February 1712.

We read, with much pleasure for all of us, in the Gazette to-day,
among other events of the great world, that Antony Watteau had been
elected to the Academy of Painting under the new title of Peintre des
Fêtes Galantes, and had been named also Peintre du Roi. My brother,
[16] Jean-Baptiste, ran to tell the news to old Jean-Philippe and
Michelle Watteau.

A new manner of painting! The old furniture of people's rooms must
needs be changed throughout, it would seem, to accord with this
painting; or rather, the painting is designed exclusively to suit one
particular kind of apartment. A manner of painting greatly prized,
as we understand, by those Parisian judges who have had the best
opportunity of acquainting themselves with whatever is most enjoyable
in the arts:--such is the achievement of the young Watteau! He looks
to receive more orders for his work than he will be able to execute.
He will certainly relish--he, so elegant, so hungry for the colours
of life--a free intercourse with those wealthy lovers of the arts, M.
de Crozat, M. de Julienne, the Abbé de la Roque, the Count de Caylus,
and M. Gersaint, the famous dealer in pictures, who are so anxious to
lodge him in their fine hôtels, and to have him of their company at
their country houses. Paris, we hear, has never been wealthier and
more luxurious than now: and the great ladies outbid each other to
carry his work upon their very fans. Those vast fortunes, however,
seem to change hands very rapidly. And Antony's new manner? I am
unable even to divine it--to conceive the trick and effect of it--at
all. Only, something of lightness and coquetry I discern there, at
variance, methinks, [17] with his own singular gravity and even
sadness of mien and mind, more answerable to the stately apparelling
of the age of Henry the Fourth, or of Lewis the Thirteenth, in these
old, sombre Spanish houses of ours.

March 1713.

We have all been very happy,--Jean-Baptiste as if in a delightful
dream. Antony Watteau, being consulted with regard to the lad's
training as a painter, has most generously offered to receive him for
his own pupil. My father, for some reason unknown to me, seemed to
hesitate at the first; but Jean-Baptiste, whose enthusiasm for Antony
visibly refines and beautifies his whole nature, has won the
necessary permission, and this dear young brother will leave us to-
morrow. Our regrets and his, at his parting from us for the first
time, overtook our joy at his good fortune by surprise, at the last
moment, just as we were about to bid each other good-night. For a
while there had seemed to be an uneasiness under our cheerful talk,
as if each one present were concealing something with an effort; and
it was Jean-Baptiste himself who gave way at last. And then we sat
down again, still together, and allowed free play to what was in our
hearts, almost till morning, my sisters weeping much. I know better
how to control myself. In a few days that delightful new life will
have [18] begun for him: and I have made him promise to write often
to us. With how small a part of my whole life shall I be really
living at Valenciennes!

January 1714.

Jean-Philippe Watteau has received a letter from his son to-day. Old
Michelle Watteau, whose sight is failing, though she still works
(half by touch, indeed) at her pillow-lace, was glad to hear me read
the letter aloud more than once. It recounts--how modestly, and
almost as a matter of course!--his late successes. And yet!--does
he, in writing to these old people, purposely underrate his great
good fortune and seeming happiness, not to shock them too much by the
contrast between the delicate enjoyments of the life he now leads
among the wealthy and refined, and that bald existence of theirs in
his old home? A life, agitated, exigent, unsatisfying! That is what
this letter really discloses, below so attractive a surface. As his
gift expands so does that incurable restlessness one supposed but the
humour natural to a promising youth who had still everything to do.
And now the only realised enjoyment he has of all this might seem to
be the thought of the independence it has purchased him, so that he
can escape from one lodging-place to another, just as it may please
him. He has already deserted, somewhat incontinently, more than one
of those [19] fine houses, the liberal air of which he used so
greatly to affect, and which have so readily received him. Has he
failed truly to grasp the fact of his great success and the rewards
that lie before him? At all events, he seems, after all, not greatly
to value that dainty world he is now privileged to enter, and has
certainly but little relish for his own works--those works which I
for one so thirst to see.

March 1714.

We were all--Jean-Philippe, Michelle Watteau, and ourselves--half in
expectation of a visit from Antony; and to-day, quite suddenly, he is
with us. I was lingering after early Mass this morning in the church
of Saint Vaast. It is good for me to be there. Our people lie under
one of the great marble slabs before the jubé, some of the memorial
brass balusters of which are engraved with their names and the dates
of their decease. The settle of carved oak which runs all round the
wide nave is my father's own work. The quiet spaciousness of the
place is itself like a meditation, an "act of recollection," and
clears away the confusions of the heart. I suppose the heavy droning
of the carillon had smothered the sound of his footsteps, for on my
turning round, when I supposed myself alone, Antony Watteau was
standing near me. Constant observer as he is of the lights and
shadows of things, he visits [20] places of this kind at odd times.
He has left Jean-Baptiste at work in Paris, and will stay this time
with the old people, not at our house; though he has spent the better
part of to-day in my father's workroom. He hasn't yet put off, in
spite of all his late intercourse with the great world, his distant
and preoccupied manner--a manner, it is true, the same to every one.
It is certainly not through pride in his success, as some might
fancy, for he was thus always. It is rather as if, with all that
success, life and its daily social routine were somewhat of a burden
to him.

April 1714.

At last we shall understand something of that new style of his--the
Watteau style--so much relished by the fine people at Paris. He has
taken it into his kind head to paint and decorate our chief salon--
the room with the three long windows, which occupies the first floor
of the house.

The room was a landmark, as we used to think, an inviolable milestone
and landmark, of old Valenciennes fashion--that sombre style,
indulging much in contrasts of black or deep brown with white, which
the Spaniards left behind them here. Doubtless their eyes had found
its shadows cool and pleasant, when they shut themselves in from the
cutting sunshine of their own country. But in our country, [21]
where we must needs economise not the shade but the sun, its
grandiosity weighs a little on one's spirits. Well! the rough
plaster we used to cover as well as might be with morsels of old
figured arras-work, is replaced by dainty panelling of wood, with
mimic columns, and a quite aerial scrollwork around sunken spaces of
a pale-rose stuff and certain oval openings--two over the doors,
opening on each side of the great couch which faces the windows, one
over the chimney-piece, and one above the buffet which forms its vis-
à-vis--four spaces in all, to be filled by and by with "fantasies" of
the Four Seasons, painted by his own hand. He will send us from
Paris arm-chairs of a new pattern he has devised, suitably covered,
and a painted clavecin. Our old silver candlesticks look well on the
chimney-piece. Odd, faint-coloured flowers fill coquettishly the
little empty spaces here and there, like ghosts of nosegays left by
visitors long ago, which paled thus, sympathetically, at the decease
of their old owners; for, in spite of its new-fashionedness, all this
array is really less like a new thing than the last surviving result
of all the more lightsome adornments of past times. Only, the very
walls seem to cry out:--No! to make delicate insinuation, for a
music, a conversation, nimbler than any we have known, or are likely
to find here. For himself, he converses well, but very sparingly.
He assures us, indeed, that the [22] "new style" is in truth a thing
of old days, of his own old days here in Valenciennes, when, working
long hours as a mason's boy, he in fancy reclothed the walls of this
or that house he was employed in, with this fairy arrangement--itself
like a piece of "chamber-music," methinks, part answering to part;
while no too trenchant note is allowed to break through the delicate
harmony of white and pale red and little golden touches. Yet it is
all very comfortable also, it must be confessed; with an elegant open
place for the fire, instead of the big old stove of brown tiles. The
ancient, heavy furniture of our grandparents goes up, with
difficulty, into the garrets, much against my father's inclination.
To reconcile him to the change, Antony is painting his portrait in a
vast perruque, and with more vigorous massing of light and shadow
than he is wont to permit himself.

June 1714.

He has completed the ovals:--The Four Seasons. Oh! the summerlike
grace, the freedom and softness, of the "Summer"--a hayfield such as
we visited to-day, but boundless, and with touches of level Italian
architecture in the hot, white, elusive distance, and wreaths of
flowers, fairy hayrakes and the like, suspended from tree to tree,
with that wonderful lightness which is one of the charms of his [23]
work. I can understand through this, at last, what it is he enjoys,
what he selects by preference, from all that various world we pass
our lives in. I am struck by the purity of the room he has re-
fashioned for us--a sort of moral purity; yet, in the forms and
colours of things. Is the actual life of Paris, to which he will
soon return, equally pure, that it relishes this kind of thing so
strongly? Only, methinks 'tis a pity to incorporate so much of his
work, of himself, with objects of use, which must perish by use, or
disappear, like our own old furniture, with mere change of fashion.

July 1714.

On the last day of Antony Watteau's visit we made a party to Cambrai.
We entered the cathedral church: it was the hour of Vespers, and it
happened that Monseigneur le Prince de Cambrai, the author of
Télémaque, was in his place in the choir. He appears to be of great
age, assists but rarely at the offices of religion, and is never to
be seen in Paris; and Antony had much desired to behold him.
Certainly it was worth while to have come so far only to see him, and
hear him give his pontifical blessing, in a voice feeble but of
infinite sweetness, and with an inexpressibly graceful movement of
the hands. A veritable grand seigneur! His refined old age, the
impress of genius and [24] honours, even his disappointments, concur
with natural graces to make him seem too distinguished (a fitter word
fails me) for this world. Omnia vanitas! he seems to say, yet with a
profound resignation, which makes the things we are most of us so
fondly occupied with look petty enough. Omnia vanitas! Is that
indeed the proper comment on our lives, coming, as it does in this
case, from one who might have made his own all that life has to
bestow? Yet he was never to be seen at court, and has lived here
almost as an exile. Was our "Great King Lewis" jealous of a true
grand seigneur or grand monarque by natural gift and the favour of
heaven, that he could not endure his presence?

July 1714.

My own portrait remains unfinished at his sudden departure. I sat
for it in a walking-dress, made under his direction--a gown of a
peculiar silken stuff, falling into an abundance of small folds,
giving me "a certain air of piquancy" which pleases him, but is far
enough from my true self. My old Flemish faille, which I shall
always wear, suits me better.

I notice that our good-hearted but sometimes difficult friend said
little of our brother Jean-Baptiste, though he knows us so anxious on
his account--spoke only of his constant industry, [25] cautiously,
and not altogether with satisfaction, as if the sight of it wearied

September 1714.

Will Antony ever accomplish that long-pondered journey to Italy? For
his own sake, I should be glad he might. Yet it seems desolately
far, across those great hills and plains. I remember how I formed a
plan for providing him with a sum sufficient for the purpose. But
that he no longer needs.

With myself, how to get through time becomes sometimes the question,-
-unavoidably; though it strikes me as a thing unspeakably sad in a
life so short as ours. The sullenness of a long wet day is yielding
just now to an outburst of watery sunset, which strikes from the far
horizon of this quiet world of ours, over fields and willow-woods,
upon the shifty weather-vanes and long-pointed windows of the tower
on the square--from which the Angelus is sounding--with a momentary
promise of a fine night. I prefer the Salut at Saint Vaast. The
walk thither is a longer one, and I have a fancy always that I may
meet Antony Watteau there again, any time; just as, when a child,
having found one day a tiny box in the shape of a silver coin, for
long afterwards I used to try every piece of money that came into my
hands, expecting it to open.


September 1714.

We were sitting in the Watteau chamber for the coolness, this sultry
evening. A sudden gust of wind ruffed the lights in the sconces on
the walls: the distant rumblings, which had continued all the
afternoon, broke out at last; and through the driving rain, a coach,
rattling across the Place, stops at our door: in a moment Jean-
Baptiste is with us once again; but with bitter tears in his eyes;--

October 1714.

Jean-Baptiste! he too, rejected by Antony! It makes our friendship
and fraternal sympathy closer. And still as he labours, not less
sedulously than of old, and still so full of loyalty to his old
master, in that Watteau chamber, I seem to see Antony himself, of
whom Jean-Baptiste dares not yet speak,--to come very near his work,
and understand his great parts. So Jean-Baptiste's work, in its
nearness to his, may stand, for the future, as the central interest
of my life. I bury myself in that.

February 1715.

If I understand anything of these matters, Antony Watteau paints that
delicate life of Paris so excellently, with so much spirit, partly
[27] because, after all, he looks down upon it or despises it. To
persuade myself of that, is my womanly satisfaction for his
preference--his apparent preference--for a world so different from
mine. Those coquetries, those vain and perishable graces, can be
rendered so perfectly, only through an intimate understanding of
them. For him, to understand must be to despise them; while (I think
I know why) he nevertheless undergoes their fascination. Hence that
discontent with himself, which keeps pace with his fame. It would
have been better for him--he would have enjoyed a purer and more real
happiness--had he remained here, obscure; as it might have been
better for me!

It is altogether different with Jean-Baptiste. He approaches that
life, and all its pretty nothingness, from a level no higher than its
own; and beginning just where Antony Watteau leaves off in disdain,
produces a solid and veritable likeness of it and of its ways.

March 1715.

There are points in his painting (I apprehend this through his own
persistently modest observations) at which he works out his purpose
more excellently than Watteau; of whom he has trusted himself to
speak at last, with a wonderful self-effacement, pointing out in each
of his pictures, for the rest so just and true, how [28] Antony would
have managed this or that, and, with what an easy superiority, have
done the thing better--done the impossible.

February 1716.

There are good things, attractive things, in life, meant for one and
not for another--not meant perhaps for me; as there are pretty
clothes which are not suitable for every one. I find a certain
immobility of disposition in me, to quicken or interfere with which
is like physical pain. He, so brilliant, petulant, mobile! I am
better far beside Jean-Baptiste--in contact with his quiet, even
labour, and manner of being. At first he did the work to which he
had set himself, sullenly; but the mechanical labour of it has
cleared his mind and temper at last, as a sullen day turns quite
clear and fine by imperceptible change. With the earliest dawn he
enters his workroom, the Watteau chamber, where he remains at work
all day. The dark evenings he spends in industrious preparation with
the crayon for the pictures he is to finish during the hours of
daylight. His toil is also his amusement: he goes but rarely into
the society whose manners he has to re-produce. The animals in his
pictures, pet animals, are mere toys: he knows it. But he finishes a
large number of works, door-heads, clavecin cases, and the like. His
happiest, his most genial moments, [29] he puts, like savings of fine
gold, into one particular picture (true opus magnum, as he hopes),
The Swing. He has the secret of surprising effects with a certain
pearl-grey silken stuff of his predilection; and it must be confessed
that he paints hands--which a draughtsman, of course, should
understand at least twice as well as all other people--with
surpassing expression.

March 1716.

Is it the depressing result of this labour, of a too exacting
labour? I know not. But at times (it is his one melancholy!) he
expresses a strange apprehension of poverty, of penury and mean
surroundings in old age; reminding me of that childish disposition to
hoard, which I noticed in him of old. And then--inglorious Watteau,
as he is!--at times that steadiness, in which he is so great a
contrast to Antony, as it were accumulates, changes, into a ray of
genius, a grace, an inexplicable touch of truth, in which all his
heaviness leaves him for a while, and he actually goes beyond the
master; as himself protests to me, yet modestly. And still, it is
precisely at those moments that he feels most the difference between
himself and Antony Watteau. "In that country, all the pebbles are
golden nuggets," he says; with perfect good-humour.


June 1716.

'Tis truly in a delightful abode that Antony Watteau is just now
lodged--the hôtel, or town-house of M. de Crozat, which is not only a
comfortable dwelling-place, but also a precious museum lucky people
go far to see. Jean-Baptiste, too, has seen the place, and describes
it. The antiquities, beautiful curiosities of all sorts--above all,
the original drawings of those old masters Antony so greatly admires-
-are arranged all around one there, that the influence, the genius,
of those things may imperceptibly play upon and enter into one, and
form what one does. The house is situated near the Rue Richelieu,
but has a large garden about it. M. de Crozat gives his musical
parties there, and Antony Watteau has painted the walls of one of the
apartments with the Four Seasons, after the manner of ours, but
doubtless improved by second thoughts. This beautiful place is now
Antony's home for a while. The house has but one story, with attics
in the mansard roofs, like those of a farmhouse in the country. I
fancy Antony fled thither for a few moments, from the visitors who
weary him; breathing the freshness of that dewy garden in the very
midst of Paris. As for me, I suffocate this summer afternoon in this
pretty Watteau chamber of ours, where Jean-Baptiste is at work so


May 1717.

In spite of all that happened, Jean-Baptiste has been looking forward
to a visit to Valenciennes which Antony Watteau had proposed to make.
He hopes always--has a patient hope--that Anthony's former patronage
of him may be revived. And now he is among us, actually at his work-
-restless and disquieting, meagre, like a woman with some nervous
malady. Is it pity, then, pity only, one must feel for the brilliant
one? He has been criticising the work of Jean-Baptiste, who takes
his judgments generously, gratefully. Can it be that, after all, he
despises and is no true lover of his own art, and is but chilled by
an enthusiasm for it in another, such as that of Jean-Baptiste? as if
Jean-Baptiste over-valued it, or as if some ignobleness or blunder,
some sign that he has really missed his aim, started into sight from
his work at the sound of praise--as if such praise could hardly be
altogether sincere.

June 1717.

And at last one has actual sight of his work--what it is. He has
brought with him certain long-cherished designs to finish here in
quiet, as he protests he has never finished before. That charming
Noblesse--can it be really so distinguished to the minutest point, so
naturally [32] aristocratic? Half in masquerade, playing the
drawing-room or garden comedy of life, these persons have upon them,
not less than the landscape he composes, and among the accidents of
which they group themselves with such a perfect fittingness, a
certain light we should seek for in vain upon anything real. For
their framework they have around them a veritable architecture--a
tree-architecture--to which those moss-grown balusters; termes,
statues, fountains, are really but accessories. Only, as I gaze upon
those windless afternoons, I find myself always saying to myself
involuntarily, "The evening will be a wet one." The storm is always
brooding through the massy splendour of the trees, above those sun-
dried glades or lawns, where delicate children may be trusted thinly
clad; and the secular trees themselves will hardly outlast another

July 1717.

There has been an exhibition of his pictures in the Hall of the
Academy of Saint Luke; and all the world has been to see.

Yes! Besides that unreal, imaginary light upon these scenes, these
persons, which is pure gift of his, there was a light, a poetry, in
those persons and things themselves, close at hand we had not seen.
He has enabled us to see it: we are so much the better-off thereby,
and I, for [33] one, the better. The world he sets before us so
engagingly has its care for purity, its cleanly preferences, in what
one is to see--in the outsides of things--and there is something, a
sign, a memento, at the least, of what makes life really valuable,
even in that. There, is my simple notion, wholly womanly perhaps,
but which I may hold by, of the purpose of the arts.

August 1717.

And yet! (to read my mind, my experience, in somewhat different
terms) methinks Antony Watteau reproduces that gallant world, those
patched and powdered ladies and fine cavaliers, so much to its own
satisfaction, partly because he despises it; if this be a possible
condition of excellent artistic production. People talk of a new era
now dawning upon the world, of fraternity, liberty, humanity, of a
novel sort of social freedom in which men's natural goodness of heart
will blossom at a thousand points hitherto repressed, of wars
disappearing from the world in an infinite, benevolent ease of life--
yes! perhaps of infinite littleness also. And it is the outward
manner of that, which, partly by anticipation, and through pure
intellectual power, Antony Watteau has caught, together with a
flattering something of his own, added thereto. Himself really of
the old time--that serious old time which is passing away, the
impress of which he carries on his physiognomy [34]--he dignifies,
by what in him is neither more nor less than a profound melancholy,
the essential insignificance of what he wills to touch in all that,
transforming its mere pettiness into grace. It looks certainly very
graceful, fresh, animated, "piquant," as they love to say--yes! and
withal, I repeat, perfectly pure, and may well congratulate itself on
the loan of a fallacious grace, not its own. For in truth Antony
Watteau is still the mason's boy, and deals with that world under a
fascination, of the nature of which he is half-conscious methinks,
puzzled at "the queer trick he possesses," to use his own phrase.
You see him growing ever more and more meagre, as he goes through the
world and its applause. Yet he reaches with wonderful sagacity the
secret of an adjustment of colours, a coiffure, a toilette, setting I
know not what air of real superiority on such things. He will never
overcome his early training; and these light things will possess for
him always a kind of representative or borrowed worth, as
characterising that impossible or forbidden world which the mason's
boy saw through the closed gateways of the enchanted garden. Those
trifling and petty graces, the insignia to him of that nobler world
of aspiration and idea, even now that he is aware, as I conceive, of
their true littleness, bring back to him, by the power of
association, all the old magical exhilaration of his dream--his dream
of a better world than [35] the real one. There, is the formula, as
I apprehend, of his success--of his extraordinary hold on things so
alien from himself. And I think there is more real hilarity in my
brother's fêtes champêtres--more truth to life, and therefore less
distinction. Yes! the world profits by such reflection of its poor,
coarse self, in one who renders all its caprices from the height of a
Corneille. That is my way of making up to myself for the fact that I
think his days, too, would have been really happier, had he remained
obscure at Valenciennes.

September 1717.

My own poor likeness, begun so long ago, still remains unfinished on
the easel, at his departure from Valenciennes--perhaps for ever;
since the old people departed this life in the hard winter of last
year, at no distant time from each other. It is pleasanter to him to
sketch and plan than to paint and finish; and he is often out of
humour with himself because he cannot project into a picture the life
and spirit of his first thought with the crayon. He would fain begin
where that famous master Gerard Dow left off, and snatch, as it were
with a single stroke, what in him was the result of infinite
patience. It is the sign of this sort of promptitude that he values
solely in work of another. To my thinking there is a [36] kind of
greed or grasping in that humour; as if things were not to last very
long, and one must snatch opportunity. And often he succeeds. The
old Dutch painter cherished with a kind of piety his colours and
pencils. Antony Watteau, on the contrary, will hardly make any
preparations for his work at all, or even clean his palette, in the
dead-set he makes at improvisation. 'Tis the contrast perhaps
between the staid Dutch genius and the petulant, sparkling French
temper of this new era, into which he has thrown himself. Alas! it
is already apparent that the result also loses something of
longevity, of durability--the colours fading or changing, from the
first, somewhat rapidly, as Jean-Baptiste notes. 'Tis true, a mere
trifle alters or produces the expression. But then, on the other
hand, in pictures the whole effect of which lies in a kind of
harmony, the treachery of a single colour must needs involve the
failure of the whole to outlast the fleeting grace of those social
conjunctions it is meant to perpetuate. This is what has happened,
in part, to that portrait on the easel. Meantime, he has commanded
Jean-Baptiste to finish it; and so it must be.

October 1717.

Anthony Watteau is an excellent judge of literature, and I have been
reading (with infinite [37] surprise!) in my afternoon walks in the
little wood here, a new book he left behind him--a great favourite of
his; as it has been a favourite with large numbers in Paris.* Those
pathetic shocks of fortune, those sudden alternations of pleasure and
remorse, which must always lie among the very conditions of an
irregular and guilty love, as in sinful games of chance:--they have
begun to talk of these things in Paris, to amuse themselves with the
spectacle of them, set forth here, in the story of poor Manon
Lescaut--for whom fidelity is impossible, so vulgarly eager for the
money which can buy pleasures such as hers--with an art like
Watteau's own, for lightness and grace. Incapacity of truth, yet
with such tenderness, such a gift of tears, on the one side: on the
other, a faith so absolute as to give to an illicit love almost the
regularity of marriage! And this is the book those fine ladies in
Watteau's "conversations," who look so exquisitely pure, lay down on
the cushion when the children run up to have their laces righted.
Yet the pity of it! What floods of weeping! There is a tone about
it which strikes me as going well with the grace of these leafless
birch-trees against the sky, the pale silver of their bark, and a
certain delicate odour of decay which rises from the soil. It is all
one half-light; and the heroine, nay! the [38] hero himself also,
that dainty Chevalier des Grieux, with all his fervour, have, I
think, but a half-life in them truly, from the first. And I could
fancy myself almost of their condition sitting here alone this
evening, in which a premature touch of winter makes the world look
but an inhospitable place of entertainment for one's spirit. With so
little genial warmth to hold it there, one feels that the merest
accident might detach that flighty guest altogether. So chilled at
heart things seem to me, as I gaze on that glacial point in the
motionless sky, like some mortal spot whence death begins to creep
over the body!

And yet, in the midst of this, by mere force of contrast, comes back
to me, very vividly, the true colour, ruddy with blossom and fruit,
of the past summer, among the streets and gardens of some of our old
towns we visited; when the thought of cold was a luxury, and the
earth dry enough to sleep on. The summer was indeed a fine one; and
the whole country seemed bewitched. A kind of infectious sentiment
passed upon us, like an efflux from its flowers and flower-like
architecture--flower-like to me at least, but of which I never felt
the beauty before.

And as I think of that, certainly I have to confess that there is a
wonderful reality about this lovers' story; an accordance between
themselves and the conditions of things around them, so deep as to
make it seem that the course of [39] their lives could hardly have
been other than it was. That impression comes, perhaps, wholly of
the writer's skill; but, at all events, I must read the book no more.

June 1718.

And he has allowed that Mademoiselle Rosalba--"ce bel esprit"--who
can discourse upon the arts like a master, to paint his portrait: has
painted hers in return! She holds a lapful of white roses with her
two hands. Rosa Alba--himself has inscribed it! It will be
engraved, to circulate and perpetuate it the better.

One's journal, here in one's solitude, is of service at least in
this, that it affords an escape for vain regrets, angers, impatience.
One puts this and that angry spasm into it, and is delivered from it

And then, it was at the desire of M. de Crozat that the thing was
done. One must oblige one's patrons. The lady also, they tell me,
is consumptive, like Antony himself, and like to die. And he, who
has always lacked either the money or the spirits to make that long-
pondered, much-desired journey to Italy, has found in her work the
veritable accent and colour of those old Venetian masters he would so
willingly have studied under the sunshine of their own land. Alas!
How little peace have his great successes given him; how little of
[40] that quietude of mind, without which, methinks, one fails in
true dignity of character.

November 1718.

His thirst for change of place has actually driven him to England,
that veritable home of the consumptive. Ah me! I feel it may be the
finishing stroke. To have run into the native country of
consumption! Strange caprice of that desire to travel, which he has
really indulged so little in his life--of the restlessness which,
they tell me, is itself a symptom of this terrible disease!

January 1720.

As once before, after long silence, a token has reached us, a slight
token that he remembers--an etched plate, one of very few he has
executed, with that old subject: Soldiers on the March. And the
weary soldier himself is returning once more to Valenciennes, on his
way from England to Paris.

February 1720.

Those sharply-arched brows, those restless eyes which seem larger
than ever--something that seizes on one, and is almost terrible, in
his expression--speak clearly, and irresistibly set one on the
thought of a summing-up of his life.

[41] I am reminded of the day when, already with that air of seemly
thought, le bel sérieux, he was found sketching, with so much truth
to the inmost mind in them, those picturesque mountebanks at the Fair
in the Grande Place; and I find, throughout his course of life,
something of the essential melancholy of the comedian. He, so
fastidious and cold, and who has never "ventured the representation
of passion," does but amuse the gay world; and is aware of that,
though certainly unamused himself all the while. Just now, however,
he is finishing a very different picture--that too, full of humour--
an English family-group, with a little girl tiding a wooden horse:
the father, and the mother holding his tobacco-pipe, stand in the

March 1720.

To-morrow he will depart finally. And this evening the Syndics of
the Academy of Saint Luke came with their scarves and banners to
conduct their illustrious fellow-citizen, by torch-light, to supper
in their Guildhall, where all their beautiful old corporation plate
will be displayed. The Watteau salon was lighted up to receive them.
There is something in the payment of great honours to the living
which fills one with apprehension, especially when the recipient of
them looks so like a dying man. God have mercy on him!


April 1721.

We were on the point of retiring to rest last evening when a
messenger arrived post-haste with a letter on behalf of Antony
Watteau, desiring Jean-Baptiste's presence at Paris. We did not go
to bed that night; and my brother was on his way before daylight, his
heart full of a strange conflict of joy and apprehension.

May 1721.

A letter at last! from Jean-Baptiste, occupied with cares of all
sorts at the bedside of the sufferer. Antony fancying that the air
of the country might do him good, the Abbé Haranger, one of the
canons of the Church of Saint Germain l'Auxerrois, where he was in
the habit of hearing Mass, has lent him a house at Nogent-sur-Marne.
There he receives a few visitors. But in truth the places he once
liked best, the people, nay! the very friends, have become to him
nothing less than insupportable. Though he still dreams of change,
and would fain try his native air once more, he is at work constantly
upon his art; but solely by way of a teacher, instructing (with a
kind of remorseful diligence, it would seem) Jean-Baptiste, who will
be heir to his unfinished work, and take up many of his pictures
where he has left them. He seems now anxious [43] for one thing
only, to give his old "dismissed" disciple what remains of himself,
and the last secrets of his genius.

His property--9000 livres only--goes to his relations. Jean-Baptiste
has found these last weeks immeasurably useful.

For the rest, bodily exhaustion perhaps, and this new interest in an
old friend, have brought him tranquillity at last, a tranquillity in
which he is much occupied with matters of religion. Ah! it was ever
so with me. And one lives also most reasonably so. With women, at
least, it is thus, quite certainly. Yet I know not what there is of
a pity which strikes deep, at the thought of a man, a while since so
strong, turning his face to the wall from the things which most
occupy men's lives. 'Tis that homely, but honest curé of Nogent he
has caricatured so often, who attends him.

July 1721.

Our incomparable Watteau is no more! Jean-Baptiste returned
unexpectedly. I heard his hasty footstep on the stairs. We turned
together into that room; and he told his story there. Antony Watteau
departed suddenly, in the arms of M. Gersaint, on one of the late hot
days of July. At the last moment he had been at work upon a crucifix
for the good curé of Nogent, liking little the very rude one he [44]
possessed. He died with all the sentiments of religion.

He has been a sick man all his life. He was always a seeker after
something in the world that is there in no satisfying measure, or not
at all.


37. *Possibly written at this date, but almost certainly not printed
till many years later.--Note in Second Edition. Return.


[47] Almost every people, as we know, has had its legend of a "golden
age" and of its return--legends which will hardly be forgotten,
however prosaic the world may become, while man himself remains the
aspiring, never quite contented being he is. And yet in truth, since
we are no longer children, we might well question the advantage of
the return to us of a condition of life in which, by the nature of
the case, the values of things would, so to speak, lie wholly on
their surfaces, unless we could regain also the childish
consciousness, or rather unconsciousness, in ourselves, to take all
that adroitly and with the appropriate lightness of heart. The
dream, however, has been left for the most part in the usual
vagueness of dreams: in their waking hours people have been too busy
to furnish it forth with details. What follows is a quaint legend,
with detail enough, of such a return of a golden or poetically-gilded
age (a denizen of old Greece itself actually finding his way back
again among men) as it happened in an ancient town of medieval

[48] Of the French town, properly so called, in which the products of
successive ages, not without lively touches of the present, are
blended together harmoniously, with a beauty specific--a beauty
cisalpine and northern, yet at the same time quite distinct from the
massive German picturesque of Ulm, or Freiburg, or Augsburg, and of
which Turner has found the ideal in certain of his studies of the
rivers of France, a perfectly happy conjunction of river and town
being of the essence of its physiognomy--the town of Auxerre is
perhaps the most complete realisation to be found by the actual
wanderer. Certainly, for picturesque expression it is the most
memorable of a distinguished group of three in these parts,--Auxerre,
Sens, Troyes,--each gathered, as if with deliberate aim at such
effect, about the central mass of a huge grey cathedral.

Around Troyes the natural picturesque is to be sought only in the
rich, almost coarse, summer colouring of the Champagne country, of
which the very tiles, the plaster and brick-work of its tiny villages
and great, straggling, village-like farms have caught the warmth.
The cathedral, visible far and wide over the fields seemingly of
loose wild-flowers, itself a rich mixture of all the varieties of the
Pointed style down to the latest Flamboyant, may be noticed among the
greater French churches for breadth of proportions internally, and is
famous [49] for its almost unrivalled treasure of stained glass,
chiefly of a florid, elaborate, later type, with much highly
conscious artistic contrivance in design as well as in colour. In
one of the richest of its windows, for instance, certain lines of
pearly white run hither and thither, with delightful distant effect,
upon ruby and dark blue. Approaching nearer you find it to be a
Travellers' window, and those odd lines of white the long walking-
staves in the hands of Abraham, Raphael, the Magi, and the other
saintly patrons of journeys. The appropriate provincial character of
the bourgeoisie of Champagne is still to be seen, it would appear,
among the citizens of Troyes. Its streets, for the most part in
timber and pargeting, present more than one unaltered specimen of the
ancient hôtel or town-house, with forecourt and garden in the rear;
and its more devout citizens would seem even in their church-building
to have sought chiefly to please the eyes of those occupied with
mundane affairs and out of doors, for they have finished, with
abundant outlay, only the vast, useless portals of their parish
churches, of surprising height and lightness, in a kind of wildly
elegant Gothic-on-stilts, giving to the streets of Troyes a peculiar
air of the grotesque, as if in some quaint nightmare of the Middle

At Sens, thirty miles away to the west, a place of far graver aspect,
the name of Jean [50] Cousin denotes a more chastened temper, even in
these sumptuous decorations. Here all is cool and composed, with an
almost English austerity. The first growth of the Pointed style in
England-the hard "early English" of Canterbury--is indeed the
creation of William, a master reared in the architectural school of
Sens; and the severity of his taste might seem to have acted as a
restraining power on all the subsequent changes of manner in this
place--changes in themselves for the most part towards luxuriance.
In harmony with the atmosphere of its great church is the cleanly
quiet of the town, kept fresh by little channels of clear water
circulating through its streets, derivatives of the rapid Vanne which
falls just below into the Yonne. The Yonne, bending gracefully, link
after link, through a never-ending rustle of poplar trees, beneath
lowly vine-clad hills, with relics of delicate woodland here and
there, sometimes close at hand, sometimes leaving an interval of
broad meadow, has all the lightsome characteristics of French river-
side scenery on a smaller scale than usual, and might pass for the
child's fancy of a river, like the rivers of the old miniature-
painters, blue, and full to a fair green margin. One notices along
its course a greater proportion than elsewhere of still untouched old
seignorial residences, larger or smaller. The range of old gibbous
towns along its banks, expanding their gay quays upon the water-side,
[51] have a common character--Joigny, Villeneuve, Saint Julien-du-
Sault--yet tempt us to tarry at each and examine its relics, old
glass and the like, of the Renaissance or the Middle Age, for the
acquisition of real though minor lessons on the various arts which
have left themselves a central monument at Auxerre.--Auxerre! A
slight ascent in the winding road! and you have before you the
prettiest town in France--the broad framework of vineyard sloping
upwards gently to the horizon, with distant white cottages inviting
one to walk: the quiet curve of river below, with all the river-side
details: the three great purple-tiled masses of Saint Germain, Saint
Pierre, and the cathedral of Saint Étienne, rising out of the crowded
houses with more than the usual abruptness and irregularity of French
building. Here, that rare artist, the susceptible painter of
architecture, if he understands the value alike of line and mass of
broad masses and delicate lines, has "a subject made to his hand."

A veritable country of the vine, it presents nevertheless an
expression peaceful rather than radiant. Perfect type of that happy
mean between northern earnestness and the luxury of the south, for
which we prize midland France, its physiognomy is not quite happy--
attractive in part for its melancholy. Its most characteristic
atmosphere is to be seen when the tide of light and distant cloud is
travelling quickly [52] over it, when rain is not far off, and every
touch of art or of time on its old building is defined in clear grey.
A fine summer ripens its grapes into a valuable wine; but in spite of
that it seems always longing for a larger and more continuous
allowance of the sunshine which is so much to its taste. You might
fancy something querulous or plaintive in that rustling movement of
the vine-leaves, as blue-frocked Jacques Bonhomme finishes his day's
labour among them.

To beguile one such afternoon when the rain set in early and walking
was impossible, I found my way to the shop of an old dealer in bric-
à-brac. It was not a monotonous display, after the manner of the
Parisian dealer, of a stock-in-trade the like of which one has seen
many times over, but a discriminate collection of real curiosities.
One seemed to recognise a provincial school of taste in various
relics of the housekeeping of the last century, with many a gem of
earlier times from the old churches and religious houses of the
neighbourhood. Among them was a large and brilliant fragment of
stained glass which might have come from the cathedral itself. Of
the very finest quality in colour and design, it presented a figure
not exactly conformable to any recognised ecclesiastical type; and it
was clearly part of a series. On my eager inquiry for the remainder,
the old man replied that no more of it was [53] known, but added that
the priest of a neighbouring village was the possessor of an entire
set of tapestries, apparently intended for suspension in church, and
designed to portray the whole subject of which the figure in the
stained glass was a portion.

Next afternoon accordingly I repaired to the priest's house, in
reality a little Gothic building, part perhaps of an ancient manor-
house, close to the village church. In the front garden, flower-
garden and potager in one, the bees were busy among the autumn
growths--many-coloured asters, bignonias, scarlet-beans, and the old-
fashioned parsonage flowers. The courteous owner readily showed me
his tapestries, some of which hung on the walls of his parlour and
staircase by way of a background for the display of the other
curiosities of which he was a collector. Certainly, those tapestries
and the stained glass dealt with the same theme. In both were the
same musical instruments--pipes, cymbals, long reed-like trumpets.
The story, indeed, included the building of an organ, just such an
instrument, only on a larger scale, as was standing in the old
priest's library, though almost soundless now, whereas in certain of
the woven pictures the hearers appear as if transported, some of them
shouting rapturously to the organ music. A sort of mad vehemence
prevails, indeed, throughout the delicate bewilderments of the whole
series--[54] giddy dances, wild animals leaping, above all perpetual
wreathings of the vine, connecting, like some mazy arabesque, the
various presentations of one oft-repeated figure, translated here out
of the clear-coloured glass into the sadder, somewhat opaque and
earthen hues of the silken threads. The figure was that of the
organ-builder himself, a flaxen and flowery creature, sometimes
wellnigh naked among the vine-leaves, sometimes muffled in skins
against the cold, sometimes in the dress of a monk, but always with a
strong impress of real character and incident from the veritable
streets of Auxerre. What is it? Certainly, notwithstanding its
grace, and wealth of graceful accessories, a suffering, tortured
figure. With all the regular beauty of a pagan god, he has suffered
after a manner of which we must suppose pagan gods incapable. It was
as if one of those fair, triumphant beings had cast in his lot with
the creatures of an age later than his own, people of larger
spiritual capacity and assuredly of a larger capacity for melancholy.
With this fancy in my mind, by the help of certain notes, which lay
in the priest's curious library, upon the history of the works at the
cathedral during the period of its finishing, and in repeated
examination of the old tapestried designs, the story shaped itself at

Towards the middle of the thirteenth century [55] the cathedral of
Saint Étienne was complete in its main outlines: what remained was
the building of the great tower, and all that various labour of final
decoration which it would take more than one generation to
accomplish. Certain circumstances, however, not wholly explained,
led to a somewhat rapid finishing, as it were out of hand, yet with a
marvellous fulness at once and grace. Of the result much has
perished, or been transferred elsewhere; a portion is still visible
in sumptuous relics of stained windows, and, above all, in the
reliefs which adorn the western portals, very delicately carved in a
fine, firm stone from Tonnerre, of which time has only browned the
surface, and which, for early mastery in art, may be compared with
the contemporary work of Italy. They come nearer than the art of
that age was used to do to the expression of life; with a feeling for
reality, in no ignoble form, caught, it might seem, from the ardent
and full-veined existence then current in these actual streets and

Just then Auxerre had its turn in that political movement which broke
out sympathetically, first in one, then in another of the towns of
France, turning their narrow, feudal institutions into a free,
communistic life--a movement of which those great centres of popular
devotion, the French cathedrals, are in many instances the monument.
Closely connected always with the assertion of individual freedom,
alike in [56] mind and manners, at Auxerre this political stir was
associated also, as cause or effect, with the figure and character of
a particular personage, long remembered. He was the very genius, it
would appear, of that new, free, generous manner in art, active and
potent as a living creature.

As the most skilful of the band of carvers worked there one day, with
a labour he could never quite make equal to the vision within him, a
finely-sculptured Greek coffin of stone, which had been made to serve
for some later Roman funeral, was unearthed by the masons. Here, it
might seem, the thing was indeed done, and art achieved, as far as
regards those final graces, and harmonies of execution, which were
precisely what lay beyond the hand of the medieval workman, who for
his part had largely at command a seriousness of conception lacking
in the old Greek. Within the coffin lay an object of a fresh and
brilliant clearness among the ashes of the dead--a flask of lively
green glass, like a great emerald. It might have been "the wondrous
vessel of the Grail." Only, this object seemed to bring back no
ineffable purity, but rather the riotous and earthy heat of old
paganism itself. Coated within, and, as some were persuaded, still
redolent with the tawny sediment of the Roman wine it had held so
long ago, it was set aside for use at the supper which was shortly to
celebrate the completion of the masons' work.

[57] Amid much talk of the great age of gold, and some random
expressions of hope that it might return again, fine old wine of
Auxerre was sipped in small glasses from the precious flask as supper
ended. And, whether or not the opening of the buried vessel had
anything to do with it, from that time a sort of golden age seemed
indeed to be reigning there for a while, and the triumphant
completion of the great church was contemporary with a series of
remarkable wine seasons. The vintage of those years was long
remembered. Fine and abundant wine was to be found stored up even in
poor men's cottages; while a new beauty, a gaiety, was abroad, as all
the conjoint arts branched out exuberantly in a reign of quiet,
delighted labour, at the prompting, as it seemed, of the singular
being who came suddenly and oddly to Auxerre to be the centre of so
pleasant a period, though in truth he made but a sad ending.

A peculiar usage long perpetuated itself at Auxerre. On Easter Day
the canons, in the very centre of the great church, played solemnly
at ball. Vespers being sung, instead of conducting the bishop to his
palace, they proceeded in order into the nave, the people standing in
two long rows to watch. Girding up their skirts a little way, the
whole body of clerics awaited their turn in silence, while the
captain of the singing-boys cast the ball into the air, as [58] high
as he might, along the vaulted roof of the central aisle to be caught
by any boy who could, and tossed again with hand or foot till it
passed on to the portly chanters, the chaplains, the canons
themselves, who finally played out the game with all the decorum of
an ecclesiastical ceremony. It was just then, just as the canons
took the ball to themselves so gravely, that Denys--Denys
l'Auxerrois, as he was afterwards called--appeared for the first
time. Leaping in among the timid children, he made the thing really
a game. The boys played like boys, the men almost like madmen, and
all with a delightful glee which became contagious, first in the
clerical body, and then among the spectators. The aged Dean of the
Chapter, Protonotary of his Holiness, held up his purple skirt a
little higher, and stepping from the ranks with an amazing levity, as
if suddenly relieved of his burden of eighty years, tossed the ball
with his foot to the venerable capitular Homilist, equal to the
occasion. And then, unable to stand inactive any longer, the laity
carried on the game among themselves, with shouts of not too
boisterous amusement; the sport continuing till the flight of the
ball could no longer be traced along the dusky aisles.

Though the home of his childhood was but a humble one--one of those
little cliff-houses cut out in the low chalky hillside, such as are
[59] still to be found with inhabitants in certain districts of
France--there were some who connected his birth with the story of a
beautiful country girl, who, about eighteen years before, had been
taken from her own people, not unwillingly, for the pleasure of the
Count of Auxerre. She had wished indeed to see the great lord, who
had sought her privately, in the glory of his own house; but,
terrified by the strange splendours of her new abode and manner of
life, and the anger of the true wife, she had fled suddenly from the
place during the confusion of a violent storm, and in her flight
given birth prematurely to a child. The child, a singularly fair
one, was found alive, but the mother dead, by lightning-stroke as it
seemed, not far from her lord's chamber-door, under the shelter of a
ruined ivy-clad tower.

Denys himself certainly was a joyous lad enough. At the cliff-side
cottage, nestling actually beneath the vineyards, he came to be an
unrivalled gardener, and, grown to manhood, brought his produce to
market, keeping a stall in the great cathedral square for the sale of
melons and pomegranates, all manner of seeds and flowers (omnia
speciosa camporum), honey also, wax tapers, sweetmeats hot from the
frying-pan, rough home-made pots and pans from the little pottery in
the wood, loaves baked by the aged woman in whose house he lived. On
that Easter Day he had entered the [60] great church for the first
time, for the purpose of seeing the game.

And from the very first, the women who saw him at his business, or
watering his plants in the cool of the evening, idled for him. The
men who noticed the crowd of women at his stall, and how even fresh
young girls from the country, seeing him for the first time, always
loitered there, suspected--who could tell what kind of powers? hidden
under the white veil of that youthful form; and pausing to ponder the
matter, found themselves also fallen into the snare. The sight of
him made old people feel young again. Even the sage monk Hermes,
devoted to study and experiment, was unable to keep the fruit-seller
out of his mind, and would fain have discovered the secret of his
charm, partly for the friendly purpose of explaining to the lad
himself his perhaps more than natural gifts with a view to their
profitable cultivation.

It was a period, as older men took note, of young men and their
influence. They took fire, no one could quite explain how, as if at
his presence, and asserted a wonderful amount of volition, of
insolence, yet as if with the consent of their elders, who would
themselves sometimes lose their balance, a little comically. That
revolution in the temper and manner of individuals concurred with the
movement then on foot at Auxerre, as in other French towns, [61] for
the liberation of the commune from its old feudal superiors. Denys
they called Frank, among many other nicknames. Young lords prided
themselves on saying that labour should have its ease, and were
almost prepared to take freedom, plebeian freedom (of course duly
decorated, at least with wild-flowers) for a bride. For in truth
Denys at his stall was turning the grave, slow movement of politic
heads into a wild social license, which for a while made life like a
stage-play. He first led those long processions, through which by
and by "the little people," the discontented, the despairing, would
utter their minds. One man engaged with another in talk in the
market-place; a new influence came forth at the contact; another and
then another adhered; at last a new spirit was abroad everywhere.
The hot nights were noisy with swarming troops of dishevelled women
and youths with red-stained limbs and faces, carrying their lighted
torches over the vine-clad hills, or rushing down the streets, to the
horror of timid watchers, towards the cool spaces by the river. A
shrill music, a laughter at all things, was everywhere. And the new
spirit repaired even to church to take part in the novel offices of
the Feast of Fools. Heads flung back in ecstasy--the morning sleep
among the vines, when the fatigue of the night was over--dew-drenched
garments--the serf lying at his ease at last: the artists, then so
[62] numerous at the place, caught what they could, something, at
least, of the richness, the flexibility of the visible aspects of
life, from all this. With them the life of seeming idleness, to
which Denys was conducting the youth of Auxerre so pleasantly,
counted but as the cultivation, for their due service to man, of
delightful natural things. And the powers of nature concurred. It
seemed there would be winter no more. The planet Mars drew nearer to
the earth than usual, hanging in the low sky like a fiery red lamp.
A massive but well-nigh lifeless vine on the wall of the cloister,
allowed to remain there only as a curiosity on account of its immense
age, in that great season, as it was long after called, clothed
itself with fruit once more. The culture of the grape greatly
increased. The sunlight fell for the first time on many a spot of
deep woodland cleared for vine-growing; though Denys, a lover of
trees, was careful to leave a stately specimen of forest growth here
and there.

When his troubles came, one characteristic that had seemed most
amiable in his prosperity was turned against him--a fondness for
oddly grown or even misshapen, yet potentially happy, children; for
odd animals also: he sympathised with them all, was skilful in
healing their maladies, saved the hare in the chase, and sold his
mantle to redeem a lamb from the butcher: He taught the people not to
be [63] afraid of the strange, ugly creatures which the light of the
moving torches drew from their hiding-places, nor think it a bad omen
that they approached. He tamed a veritable wolf to keep him company
like a dog. It was the first of many ambiguous circumstances about
him, from which, in the minds of an increasing number of people, a
deep suspicion and hatred began to define itself. The rich bestiary,
then compiling in the library of the great church, became, through
his assistance, nothing less than a garden of Eden--the garden of
Eden grown wild. The owl alone he abhorred. A little later, almost
as if in revenge, alone of all animals it clung to him, haunting him
persistently among the dusky stone towers, when grown gentler than
ever he dared not kill it. He moved unhurt in the famous ménagerie
of the castle, of which the common people were so much afraid, and
let out the lions, themselves timid prisoners enough, through the
streets during the fair. The incident suggested to the somewhat
barren pen-men of the day a "morality" adapted from the old pagan
books--a stage-play in which the God of Wine should return in triumph
from the East. In the cathedral square the pageant was presented,
amid an intolerable noise of every kind of pipe-music, with Denys in
the chief part, upon a gaily-painted chariot, in soft silken raiment,
and, for [64] headdress, a strange elephant-scalp with gilded tusks.

And that unrivalled fairness and freshness of aspect:--how did he
alone preserve it untouched, through the wind and heat? In truth, it
was not by magic, as some said, but by a natural simplicity in his
living. When that dark season of his troubles arrived he was heard
begging querulously one wintry night, "Give me wine, meat; dark wine
and brown meat!"--come back to the rude door of his old home in the
cliff-side. Till that time the great vine-dresser himself drank only
water; he had lived on spring-water and fruit. A lover of fertility
in all its forms, in what did but suggest it, he was curious and
penetrative concerning the habits of water, and had the secret of the
divining-rod. Long before it came he could detect the scent of rain
from afar, and would climb with delight to the great scaffolding on
the unfinished tower to watch its coming over the thirsty vine-land,
till it rattled on the great tiled roof of the church below; and
then, throwing off his mantle, allow it to bathe his limbs freely,
clinging firmly against the tempestuous wind among the carved
imageries of dark stone.

It was on his sudden return after a long journey (one of many
inexplicable disappearances), coming back changed somewhat, that he
ate flesh for the first time, tearing the hot, red morsels with his
delicate fingers in a kind of [65] wild greed. He had fled to the
south from the first forbidding days of a hard winter which came at
last. At the great seaport of Marseilles he had trafficked with
sailors from all parts of the world, from Arabia and India, and
bought their wares, exposed now for sale, to the wonder of all, at
the Easter fair--richer wines and incense than had been known in
Auxerre, seeds of marvellous new flowers, creatures wild and tame,
new pottery painted in raw gaudy tints, the skins of animals, meats
fried with unheard-of condiments. His stall formed a strange,
unwonted patch of colour, found suddenly displayed in the hot

The artists were more delighted than ever, and frequented his company
in the little manorial habitation, deserted long since by its owners
and haunted, so that the eyes of many looked evil upon it, where he
had taken up his abode, attracted, in the first instance, by its rich
though neglected garden, a tangle of every kind of creeping, vine-
like plant. Here, surrounded in abundance by the pleasant materials
of his trade, the vine-dresser as it were turned pedant and kept
school for the various artists, who learned here an art supplementary
to their own,--that gay magic, namely (art or trick) of his
existence, till they found themselves grown into a kind of
aristocracy, like veritable gens fleur-de-lisés, as they worked
together for the decoration of the great church and a hundred other
[66] places beside. And yet a darkness had grown upon him. The kind
creature had lost something of his gentleness. Strange motiveless
misdeeds had happened; and, at a loss for other causes, not the
envious only would fain have traced the blame to Denys. He was
making the younger world mad. Would he make himself Count of
Auxerre? The lady Ariane, deserted by her former lover, had looked
kindly upon him; was ready to make him son-in-law to the old count
her father, old and not long for this world. The wise monk Hermes
bethought him of certain old readings in which the Wine-god, whose
part Denys had played so well, had his contrast, his dark or
antipathetic side; was like a double creature, of two natures,
difficult or impossible to harmonise. And in truth the much-prized
wine of Auxerre has itself but a fugitive charm, being apt to sicken
and turn gross long before the bottle is empty, however carefully
sealed; as it goes indeed, at its best, by hard names, among those
who grow it, such as Chainette and Migraine.

A kind of degeneration, of coarseness--the coarseness of satiety, and
shapeless, battered-out appetite--with an almost savage taste for
carnivorous diet, had come over the company. A rumour went abroad of
certain women who had drowned, in mere wantonness, their new-born
babes. A girl with child was found hanged by her own act in a dark
cellar. Ah! [67] if Denys also had not felt himself mad! But when
the guilt of a murder, committed with a great vine-axe far out among
the vineyards, was attributed vaguely to him, he could but wonder
whether it had been indeed thus, and the shadow of a fancied crime
abode with him. People turned against their favourite, whose former
charms must now be counted only as the fascinations of witchcraft.
It was as if the wine poured out for them had soured in the cup. The
golden age had indeed come back for a while:--golden was it, or
gilded only, after all? and they were too sick, or at least too
serious, to carry through their parts in it. The monk Hermes was
whimsically reminded of that after-thought in pagan poetry, of a
Wine-god who had been in hell. Denys certainly, with all his flaxen
fairness about him, was manifestly a sufferer. At first he thought
of departing secretly to some other place. Alas! his wits were too
far gone for certainty of success in the attempt. He feared to be
brought back a prisoner. Those fat years were over. It was a time
of scarcity. The working people might not eat and drink of the good
things they had helped to store away. Tears rose in the eyes of
needy children, of old or weak people like children, as they woke up
again and again to sunless, frost-bound, ruinous mornings; and the
little hungry creatures went prowling after scattered hedge-nuts or
dried vine-tendrils.

[68] Mysterious, dark rains prevailed throughout the summer. The
great offices of Saint John were fumbled through in a sudden darkness
of unseasonable storm, which greatly damaged the carved ornaments of
the church, the bishop reading his mid-day Mass by the light of the
little candle at his book. And then, one night, the night which
seemed literally to have swallowed up the shortest day in the year, a
plot was contrived by certain persons to take Denys as he went and
kill him privately for a sorcerer. He could hardly tell how he
escaped, and found himself safe in his earliest home, the cottage in
the cliff-side, with such a big fire as he delighted in burning upon
the hearth. They made a little feast as well as they could for the
beautiful hunted creature, with abundance of waxlights.

And at last the clergy bethought themselves of a remedy for this evil
time. The body of one of the patron saints had lain neglected
somewhere under the flagstones of the sanctuary. This must be
piously exhumed, and provided with a shrine worthy of it. The
goldsmiths, the jewellers and lapidaries, set diligently to work, and
no long time after, the shrine, like a little cathedral with portals
and tower complete, stood ready, its chiselled gold framing panels of
rock crystal, on the great altar. Many bishops arrived, with King
Lewis the Saint himself accompanied by his mother, to assist at the
search for and disinterment of the sacred relics. In [69] their
presence, the Bishop of Auxerre, with vestments of deep red in honour
of the relics, blessed the new shrine, according to the office De
benedictione capsarum pro reliquiis. The pavement of the choir,
removed amid a surging sea of lugubrious chants, all persons fasting,
discovered as if it had been a battlefield of mouldering human
remains. Their odour rose plainly above the plentiful clouds of
incense, such as was used in the king's private chapel. The search
for the Saint himself continued in vain all day and far into the
night. At last from a little narrow chest, into which the remains
had been almost crushed together, the bishop's red-gloved hands drew
the dwindled body, shrunken inconceivably, but still with every
feature of the face traceable in a sudden oblique ray of ghastly

That shocking sight, after a sharp fit as though a demon were going
out of him, as he rolled on the turf of the cloister to which he had
fled alone from the suffocating church, where the crowd still awaited
the Procession of the relics and the Mass De reliquiis quae
continentur in Ecclesiis, seemed indeed to have cured the madness of
Denys, but certainly did not restore his gaiety. He was left a
subdued, silent, melancholy creature. Turning now, with an odd
revulsion of feeling, to gloomy objects, he picked out a ghastly
shred from the common bones on the pavement to wear about his neck,
and in a little while found his way to the monks [70] of Saint
Germain, who gladly received him into their workshop, though
secretly, in fear of his foes.

The busy tribe of variously gifted artists, labouring rapidly at the
many works on hand for the final embellishment of the cathedral of
St. Étienne, made those conventual buildings just then cheerful
enough to lighten a melancholy, heavy even as that of our friend
Denys. He took his place among the workmen, a conventual novice; a
novice also as to whatever concerns any actual handicraft. He could
but compound sweet incense for the sanctuary. And yet, again by
merely visible presence, he made himself felt in all the varied
exercise around him of those arts which address themselves first of
all to sight. Unconsciously he defined a peculiar manner, alike of
feeling and expression, to those skilful hands at work day by day
with the chisel, the pencil, or the needle, in many an enduring form
of exquisite fancy. In three successive phases or fashions might be
traced, especially in the carved work, the humours he had determined.
There was first wild gaiety, exuberant in a wreathing of life-like
imageries, from which nothing really present in nature was excluded.
That, as the soul of Denys darkened, had passed into obscure regions
of the satiric, the grotesque and coarse. But from this time there
was manifest, with no loss of power or effect, a well-assured
seriousness, somewhat [71] jealous and exclusive, not so much in the
selection of the material on which the arts were to work, as in the
precise sort of expression that should be induced upon it. It was as
if the gay old pagan world had been blessed in some way; with effects
to be seen most clearly in the rich miniature work of the manuscripts
of the capitular library,--a marvellous Ovid especially, upon the
pages of which those old loves and sorrows seemed to come to life
again in medieval costume, as Denys, in cowl now and with tonsured
head, leaned over the painter, and led his work, by a kind of visible
sympathy, often unspoken, rather than by any formal comment.

Above all, there was a desire abroad to attain the instruments of a
freer and more various sacred music than had been in use hitherto--a
music that might express the whole compass of souls now grown to
manhood. Auxerre, indeed, then as afterwards, was famous for its
liturgical music. It was Denys, at last, to whom the thought
occurred of combining in a fuller tide of music all the instruments
then in use. Like the Wine-god of old, he had been a lover and
patron especially of the music of the pipe, in all its varieties.
Here, too, there had been evident those three fashions or "modes":--
first, the simple and pastoral, the homely note of the pipe, like the
piping of the wind itself from off the distant fields; then, the
wild, savage din, that had cost so much to quiet people, and [72]
driven excitable people mad. Now he would compose all this to
sweeter purposes; and the building of the first organ became like the
book of his life: it expanded to the full compass of his nature, in
its sorrow and delight. In long, enjoyable days of wind and sun by
the river-side, the seemingly half-witted "brother" sought and found
the needful varieties of reed. The carpenters, under his
instruction, set up the great wooden passages for the thunder; while
the little pipes of pasteboard simulated the sound of the human voice
singing to the victorious notes of the long metal trumpets. At times
this also, as people heard night after night those wandering sounds,
seemed like the work of a madman, though they awoke sometimes in
wonder at snatches of a new, an unmistakable new music. It was the
triumph of all the various modes of the power of the pipe, tamed,
ruled, united. Only, on the painted shutters of the organ-case
Apollo with his lyre in his hand, as lord of the strings, seemed to
look askance on the music of the reed, in all the jealousy with which
he put Marsyas to death so cruelly.

Meantime, the people, even his enemies, seemed to have forgotten him.
Enemies, in truth, they still were, ready to take his life should the
opportunity come; as he perceived when at last he ventured forth on a
day of public ceremony. The bishop was to pronounce a blessing upon
the foundations of a new bridge, [73] designed to take the place of
the ancient Roman bridge which, repaired in a thousand places, had
hitherto served for the chief passage of the Yonne. It was as if the
disturbing of that time-worn masonry let out the dark spectres of
departed times. Deep down, at the core of the central pile, a
painful object was exposed--the skeleton of a child, placed there
alive, it was rightly surmised, in the superstitious belief that, by
way of vicarious substitution, its death would secure the safety of
all who should pass over.

There were some who found themselves, with a little surprise, looking
round as if for a similar pledge of security in their new
undertaking. It was just then that Denys was seen plainly, standing,
in all essential features precisely as of old, upon one of the great
stones prepared for the foundation of the new building. For a moment
he felt the eyes of the people upon him full of that strange humour,
and with characteristic alertness, after a rapid gaze over the grey
city in its broad green framework of vineyards, best seen from this
spot, flung himself down into the water and disappeared from view
where the stream flowed most swiftly below a row of flour-mills.
Some indeed fancied they had seen him emerge again safely on the deck
of one of the great boats, loaded with grapes and wreathed
triumphantly with flowers like a floating garden, which were then
bringing down the vintage from the country; but generally the people
[74] believed their strange enemy now at last departed for ever.
Denys in truth was at work again in peace at the cloister, upon his
house of reeds and pipes. At times his fits came upon him again; and
when they came, for his cure he would dig eagerly, turned sexton now,
digging, by choice, graves for the dead in the various churchyards of
the town. There were those who had seen him thus employed (that form
seeming still to carry something of real sun-gold upon it) peering
into the darkness, while his tears fell sometimes among the grim
relics his mattock had disturbed.

In fact, from the day of the exhumation of the body of the Saint in
the great church, he had had a wonderful curiosity for such objects,
and one wintry day bethought him of removing the body of his mother
from the unconsecrated ground in which it lay, that he might bury it
in the cloister, near the spot where he was now used to work. At
twilight he came over the frozen snow. As he passed through the
stony barriers of the place the world around seemed curdled to the
centre--all but himself, fighting his way across it, turning now and
then right-about from the persistent wind, which dealt so roughly
with his blond hair and the purple mantle whirled about him. The
bones, hastily gathered, he placed, awefully but without ceremony, in
a hollow space prepared secretly within the grave of another.

Meantime the winds of his organ were ready [75] to blow; and with
difficulty he obtained grace from the Chapter for a trial of its
powers on a notable public occasion, as follows. A singular guest
was expected at Auxerre. In recompense for some service rendered to
the Chapter in times gone by, the Sire de Chastellux had the
hereditary dignity of a canon of the church. On the day of his
reception he presented himself at the entrance of the choir in
surplice and amice, worn over the military habit. The old count of
Chastellux was lately dead, and the heir had announced his coming,
according to custom, to claim his ecclesiastical privilege. There
had been long feud between the houses of Chastellux and Auxerre; but
on this happy occasion an offer of peace came with a proposal for the
hand of the Lady Ariane.

The goodly young man arrived, and, duly arrayed, was received into
his stall at vespers, the bishop assisting. It was then that the
people heard the music of the organ, rolling over them for the first
time, with various feelings of delight. But the performer on and
author of the instrument was forgotten in his work, and there was no
re-instatement of the former favourite. The religious ceremony was
followed by a civic festival, in which Auxerre welcomed its future
lord. The festival was to end at nightfall with a somewhat rude
popular pageant, in which the person of Winter would be hunted
blindfold through the streets. It was the sequel [76] to that
earlier stage-play of the Return from the East in which Denys had
been the central figure. The old forgotten player saw his part
before him, and, as if mechanically, fell again into the chief place,
monk's dress and all. It might restore his popularity: who could
tell? Hastily he donned the ashen-grey mantle, the rough haircloth
about the throat, and went through the preliminary matter. And it
happened that a point of the haircloth scratched his lip deeply, with
a long trickling of blood upon the chin. It was as if the sight of
blood transported the spectators with a kind of mad rage, and
suddenly revealed to them the truth. The pretended hunting of the
unholy creature became a real one, which brought out, in rapid
increase, men's evil passions. The soul of Denys was already at
rest, as his body, now borne along in front of the crowd, was tossed
hither and thither, torn at last limb from limb. The men stuck
little shreds of his flesh, or, failing that, of his torn raiment,
into their caps; the women lending their long hairpins for the
purpose. The monk Hermes sought in vain next day for any remains of
the body of his friend. Only, at nightfall, the heart of Denys was
brought to him by a stranger, still entire. It must long since have
mouldered into dust under the stone, marked with a cross, where he
buried it in a dark corner of the cathedral aisle.

So the figure in the stained glass explained [77] itself. To me,
Denys seemed to have been a real resident at Auxerre. On days of a
certain atmosphere, when the trace of the Middle Age comes out, like
old marks in the stones in rainy weather, I seemed actually to have
seen the tortured figure there--to have met Denys l'Auxerrois in the


[81] It was a winter-scene, by Adrian van de Velde, or by Isaac van
Ostade. All the delicate poetry together with all the delicate
comfort of the frosty season was in the leafless branches turned to
silver, the furred dresses of the skaters, the warmth of the red-
brick house-fronts under the gauze of white fog, the gleams of pale
sunlight on the cuirasses of the mounted soldiers as they receded
into the distance. Sebastian van Storck, confessedly the most
graceful performer in all that skating multitude, moving in endless
maze over the vast surface of the frozen water-meadow, liked best
this season of the year for its expression of a perfect impassivity,
or at least of a perfect repose. The earth was, or seemed to be, at
rest, with a breathlessness of slumber which suited the young man's
peculiar temper. The heavy summer, as it dried up the meadows now
lying dead below the ice, set free a crowded and competing world of
life, which, while it gleamed very pleasantly russet and [82] yellow
for the painter Albert Cuyp, seemed wellnigh to suffocate Sebastian
van Storck.

Yet with all his appreciation of the national winter, Sebastian was
not altogether a Hollander. His mother, of Spanish descent and
Catholic, had given a richness of tone and form to the healthy
freshness of the Dutch physiognomy, apt to preserve its youthfulness
of aspect far beyond the period of life usual with other peoples.
This mixed expression charmed the eye of Isaac van Ostade, who had
painted his portrait from a sketch taken at one of those skating
parties, with his plume of squirrel's tail and fur muff, in all the
modest pleasantness of boyhood. When he returned home lately from
his studies at a place far inland, at the proposal of his tutor, to
recover, as the tutor suggested, a certain loss of robustness,
something more than that cheerful indifference of early youth had
passed away. The learned man, who held, as was alleged, the
doctrines of a surprising new philosophy, reluctant to disturb too
early the fine intelligence of the pupil entrusted to him, had found
it, perhaps, a matter of honesty to send back to his parents one
likely enough to catch from others any sort of theoretic light; for
the letter he wrote dwelt much on the lad's intellectual
fearlessness. "At present," he had written, "he is influenced more
by curiosity than by a care for truth, according to the character of
the [83] young. Certainly, he differs strikingly from his equals in
age, by his passion for a vigorous intellectual gymnastic, such as
the supine character of their minds renders distasteful to most young
men, but in which he shows a fearlessness that at times makes me
fancy that his ultimate destination may be the military life; for
indeed the rigidly logical tendency of his mind always leads him out
upon the practical. Don't misunderstand me! At present, he is
strenuous only intellectually; and has given no definite sign of
preference, as regards a vocation in life. But he seems to me to be
one practical in this sense, that his theorems will shape life for
him, directly; that he will always seek, as a matter of course, the
effective equivalent to--the line of being which shall be the proper
continuation of--his line of thinking. This intellectual rectitude,
or candour, which to my mind has a kind of beauty in it, has reacted
upon myself, I confess, with a searching quality." That "searching
quality," indeed, many others also, people far from being
intellectual, had experienced--an agitation of mind in his
neighbourhood, oddly at variance with the composure of the young
man's manner and surrounding, so jealously preserved.

In the crowd of spectators at the skating, whose eyes followed, so
well-satisfied, the movements of Sebastian van Storck, were the
mothers [84] of marriageable daughters, who presently became the
suitors of this rich and distinguished youth, introduced to them, as
now grown to man's estate, by his delighted parents. Dutch
aristocracy had put forth all its graces to become the winter morn:
and it was characteristic of the period that the artist tribe was
there, on a grand footing,--in waiting, for the lights and shadows
they liked best. The artists were, in truth, an important body just
then, as a natural consequence of the nation's hard-won prosperity;
helping it to a full consciousness of the genial yet delicate
homeliness it loved, for which it had fought so bravely, and was
ready at any moment to fight anew, against man or the sea. Thomas de
Keyser, who understood better than any one else the kind of quaint
new Atticism which had found its way into the world over those waste
salt marshes, wondering whether quite its finest type as he
understood it could ever actually be seen there, saw it at last, in
lively motion, in the person of Sebastian van Storck, and desired to
paint his portrait. A little to his surprise, the young man declined
the offer; not graciously, as was thought.

Holland, just then, was reposing on its laurels after its long
contest with Spain, in a short period of complete wellbeing, before
troubles of another kind should set in. That a darker time might
return again, was clearly enough felt by Sebastian the elder--a time
[85] like that of William the Silent, with its insane civil
animosities, which would demand similarly energetic personalities,
and offer them similar opportunities. And then, it was part of his
honest geniality of character to admire those who "get on" in the
world. Himself had been, almost from boyhood, in contact with great
affairs. A member of the States-General which had taken so hardly
the kingly airs of Frederick Henry, he had assisted at the Congress
of Munster, and figures conspicuously in Terburgh's picture of that
assembly, which had finally established Holland as a first-rate
power. The heroism by which the national wellbeing had been achieved
was still of recent memory--the air full of its reverberation, and
great movement. There was a tradition to be maintained; the sword by
no means resting in its sheath. The age was still fitted to evoke a
generous ambition; and this son, from whose natural gifts there was
so much to hope for, might play his part, at least as a diplomatist,
if the present quiet continued. Had not the learned man said that
his natural disposition would lead him out always upon practice?

And in truth, the memory of that Silent hero had its fascination for
the youth. When, about this time, Peter de Keyser, Thomas's brother,
unveiled at last his tomb of wrought bronze and marble in the Nieuwe
Kerk at Delft, the young Sebastian was one of a small company [86]
present, and relished much the cold and abstract simplicity of the
monument, so conformable to the great, abstract, and unuttered force
of the hero who slept beneath.

In complete contrast to all that is abstract or cold in art, the home
of Sebastian, the family mansion of the Storcks--a house, the front
of which still survives in one of those patient architectural pieces
by Jan van der Heyde--was, in its minute and busy wellbeing, like an
epitome of Holland itself with all the good-fortune of its "thriving
genius" reflected, quite spontaneously, in the national taste. The
nation had learned to content itself with a religion which told
little, or not at all, on the outsides of things. But we rnay fancy
that something of the religious spirit had gone, according to the law
of the transmutation of forces, into the scrupulous care for
cleanliness, into the grave, old-world, conservative beauty of Dutch
houses, which meant that the life people maintained in them was
normally affectionate and pure.

The most curious florists of Holland were ambitious to supply the
Burgomaster van Storck with the choicest products of their skill for
the garden spread below the windows on either side of the portico,
and along the central avenue of hoary beeches which led to it.
Naturally this house, within a mile of the city of Haarlem, became a
resort of the artists, then mixing freely in great society, giving
and receiving [87] hints as to the domestic picturesque. Creatures
of leisure--of leisure on both sides--they were the appropriate
complement of Dutch prosperity, as it was understood just then.
Sebastian the elder could almost have wished his son to be one of
them: it was the next best thing to being an influential publicist or
statesman. The Dutch had just begun to see what a picture their
country was--its canals, and boompjis, and endless, broadly-lighted
meadows, and thousands of miles of quaint water-side: and their
painters, the first true masters of landscape for its own sake, were
further informing them in the matter. They were bringing proof, for
all who cared to see, of the wealth of colour there was all around
them in this, supposably, sad land. Above all, they developed the
old Low-country taste for interiors. Those innumerable genre pieces-
-conversation, music, play--were in truth the equivalent of novel-
reading for that day; its own actual life, in its own proper
circumstances, reflected in various degrees of idealisation, with
no diminution of the sense of reality (that is to say) but with more
and more purged and perfected delightfulness of interest. Themselves
illustrating, as every student of their history knows, the good-
fellowship of family life, it was the ideal of that life which these
artists depicted; the ideal of home in a country where the
preponderant interest of life, after all, could not well be out of
doors. Of the earth earthy--[88] genuine red earth of the old Adam--
it was an ideal very different from that which the sacred Italian
painters had evoked from the life of Italy, yet, in its best types,
was not without a kind of natural religiousness. And in the
achievement of a type of beauty so national and vernacular, the
votaries of purely Dutch art might well feel that the Italianisers,
like Berghem, Boll, and Jan Weenix went so far afield in vain.

The fine organisation and acute intelligence of Sebastian would have
made him an effective connoisseur of the arts, as he showed by the
justice of his remarks in those assemblies of the artists which his
father so much loved. But in truth the arts were a matter he could
but just tolerate. Why add, by a forced and artificial production,
to the monotonous tide of competing, fleeting existence? Only,
finding so much fine art actually about him, he was compelled (so to
speak) to adjust himself to it; to ascertain and accept that in it
which should least collide with, or might even carry forward a
little, his own characteristic tendencies. Obviously somewhat
jealous of his intellectual interests, he loved inanimate nature, it
might have been thought, better than man. He cared nothing, indeed,
for the warm sandbanks of Wynants, nor for those eerie relics of the
ancient Dutch woodland which survive in Hobbema and Ruysdael, still
less for the highly-coloured [89] sceneries of the academic band at
Rome, in spite of the escape they provide one into clear breadth of
atmosphere. For though Sebastian van Storck refused to travel, he
loved the distant--enjoyed the sense of things seen from a distance,
carrying us, as on wide wings of space itself, far out of one's
actual surrounding. His preference in the matter of art was,
therefore, for those prospects à vol a'oiseau--of the caged bird on
the wing at last--of which Rubens had the secret, and still more
Philip de Koninck, four of whose choicest works occupied the four
walls of his chamber; visionary escapes, north, south, east, and
west, into a wide-open though, it must be confessed, a somewhat
sullen land. For the fourth of them he had exchanged with his mother
a marvellously vivid Metsu, lately bequeathed to him, in which she
herself was presented. They were the sole ornaments he permitted
himself. From the midst of the busy and busy-looking house, crowded
with the furniture and the pretty little toys of many generations, a
long passage led the rare visitor up a winding staircase, and (again
at the end of a long passage) he found himself as if shut off from
the whole talkative Dutch world, and in the embrace of that wonderful
quiet which is also possible in Holland at its height all around him.
It was here that Sebastian could yield himself, with the only sort of
love he had ever felt, to the supremacy of his difficult [90]
thoughts.--A kind of empty place! Here, you felt, all had been
mentally put to rights by the working-out of a long equation, which
had zero is equal to zero for its result. Here one did, and perhaps
felt, nothing; one only thought. Of living creatures only birds came
there freely, the sea-birds especially, to attract and detain which
there were all sorts of ingenious contrivances about the windows,
such as one may see in the cottage sceneries of Jan Steen and others.
There was something, doubtless, of his passion for distance in this
welcoming of the creatures of the air. An extreme simplicity in
their manner of life was, indeed, characteristic of many a
distinguished Hollander--William the Silent, Baruch de Spinosa, the
brothers de Witt. But the simplicity of Sebastian van Storck was
something different from that, and certainly nothing democratic. His
mother thought him like one disembarrassing himself carefully, and
little by little, of all impediments, habituating himself gradually
to make shift with as little as possible, in preparation for a long

The Burgomaster van Storck entertained a party of friends, consisting
chiefly of his favourite artists, one summer evening. The guests
were seen arriving on foot in the fine weather, some of them
accompanied by their wives and daughters, against the light of the
low sun, falling red on the old trees of the avenue and the [91]
faces of those who advanced along it:--Willem van Aelst, expecting to
find hints for a flower-portrait in the exotics which would decorate
the banqueting-room; Gerard Dow, to feed his eye, amid all that
glittering luxury, on the combat between candle-light and the last
rays of the departing sun; Thomas de Keyser, to catch by stealth the
likeness of Sebastian the younger. Albert Cuyp was there, who,
developing the latent gold in Rembrandt, had brought into his native
Dordrecht a heavy wealth of sunshine, as exotic as those flowers or
the eastern carpets on the Burgomaster's tables, with Hooch, the
indoor Cuyp, and Willem van de Velde, who painted those shore-pieces
with gay ships of war, such as he loved, for his patron's cabinet.
Thomas de Keyser came, in company with his brother Peter, his niece,
and young Mr. Nicholas Stone from England, pupil of that brother
Peter, who afterwards married the niece. For the life of Dutch
artists, too, was exemplary in matters of domestic relationship, its
history telling many a cheering story of mutual faith in misfortune.
Hardly less exemplary was the comradeship which they displayed among
themselves, obscuring their own best gifts sometimes, one in the mere
accessories of another man's work, so that they came together to-
night with no fear of falling out, and spoiling the musical
interludes of Madame van Storck in the large back parlour. [92] A
little way behind the other guests, three of them together, son,
grandson, and the grandfather, moving slowly, came the Hondecoeters--
Giles, Gybrecht, and Melchior. They led the party before the house
was entered, by fading light, to see the curious poultry of the
Burgomaster go to roost; and it was almost night when the supper-room
was reached at last. The occasion was an important one to Sebastian,
and to others through him. For (was it the music of the duets? he
asked himself next morning, with a certain distaste as he remembered
it all, or the heady Spanish wines poured out so freely in those
narrow but deep Venetian glasses?) on this evening he approached more
nearly than he had ever yet done to Mademoiselle van Westrheene, as
she sat there beside the clavecin looking very ruddy and fresh in her
white satin, trimmed with glossy crimson swans-down.

So genially attempered, so warm, was life become, in the land of
which Pliny had spoken as scarcely dry land at all. And, in truth,
the sea which Sebastian so much loved, and with so great a
satisfaction and sense of wellbeing in every hint of its nearness, is
never far distant in Holland. Invading all places, stealing under
one's feet, insinuating itself everywhere along an endless network of
canals (by no means such formal channels as we understand by the
name, but picturesque rivers, with sedgy banks and [93] haunted by
innumerable birds) its incidents present themselves oddly even in
one's park or woodland walks; the ship in full sail appearing
suddenly among the great trees or above the garden wall, where we had
no suspicion of the presence of water. In the very conditions of
life in such a country there was a standing force of pathos. The

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