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Imaginary Portraits by Walter Pater

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This etext was prepared by Bruce McClintock,
email brucemcc@cygnus.uwa.edu.au


by Walter Pater

4th edition








Valenciennes, September 1701.

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 workpeople 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 Hotel de Ville, sketching the scene to the life,
but with a 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, 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 quality.

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 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 1792.

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 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. Metayer 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. He receives three livres
a week for his pains, and his soup daily.

May 1705.

Antony Watteau has parted from the dealer in pictures a bon marche 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 stiffly 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 Depart 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 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 serieux--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 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
brasswork, 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 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 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 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 world, that Antony Watteau had been elected to the
Academy of Painting under the new title of Peintre des Fetes Galantes,
and had been named also Peintre du Roi. My brother, 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 Abbe
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 hotels, 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, 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 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, 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
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 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 jube, 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 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, 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-a-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 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 "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 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 Telemaque,
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 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, cautiously, and not
altogether with satisfaction, as if the sight of it wearied him.

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 ruffled 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;--dismissed!

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
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 Antony would have managed this or that,
and, with what an easy superiority, have done the thing better--done the

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, 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 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 hotel 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 bout 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 contentedly.

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 Antony'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 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 generation.

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 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--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 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 fetes champetres--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 the work of another. To my thinking
there is a 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.

Antony Watteau is an excellent judge of literature, and I have been
reading (with infinite 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, 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 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 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!

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

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 flowerlike 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 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 so.

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 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. I am reminded of the day when, already with that
air of seemly thought, le bel serieux, 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 riding a wooden horse: the father, and the mother
holding his tobacco-pipe, stand in the centre.

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 torchlight, 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 Abbe 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 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

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 cure 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 footsteps 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 cure of Nogent,
liking little the very rude one he 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.


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 France.

Of the French town, properly so called, in which the products of
successive ages, not with-out 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 brickwork 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 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 hotel
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 Age.

At Sens, thirty miles away to the west, a place of far graver aspect,
the name of Jean 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,
have a common character--Joigny, Villeneuve, 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 Etienne, 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 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-a-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
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--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 last.

Towards the middle of the thirteenth century the cathedral of Saint
Etienne 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 houses. 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 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. 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

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 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
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 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, 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
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

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 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 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
menagerie 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
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 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 morning.

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-lises, as they worked together for the decoration of the great
church and a hundred other 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

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 newborn babes.
A girl with child was found hanged by her own act in a dark cellar. Ah!
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.
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 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 dawn.

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 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.
Etienne, 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 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, 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 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

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, 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 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 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 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 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 streets.


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 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 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
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 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 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 may 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 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 the 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--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 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 a vol d'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 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 journey.

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 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. 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 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 country itself shared the uncertainty of the individual
human life; and there was pathos also in the constantly renewed,
heavily-taxed labour, necessary to keep the native soil, fought for so
unselfishly, there at all, with a warfare that must still be maintained
when that other struggle with the Spaniard was over. But though
Sebastian liked to breathe, so nearly, the sea and its influences, those
were considerations he scarcely entertained. In his passion for
Schwindsucht--we haven't the word--he found it pleasant to think of the
resistless element which left one hardly a foot-space amidst the
yielding sand; of the old beds of lost rivers, surviving now only as
deeper channels in the sea; of the remains of a certain ancient town,
which within men's memory had lost its few remaining inhabitants, and,
with its already empty tombs, dissolved and disappeared in the flood.

It happened, on occasion of an exceptionally low tide, that some
remarkable relics were exposed to view on the coast of the island of
Vleeland. A countryman's waggon overtaken by the tide, as he returned
with merchandise from the shore! you might have supposed, but for a
touch of grace in the construction of the thing--lightly wrought
timber-work, united and adorned by a multitude of brass fastenings, like
the work of children for their simplicity, while the rude, stiff chair,
or throne, set upon it, seemed to distinguish it as a chariot of state.
To some antiquarians it told the story of the overwhelming of one of the
chiefs of the old primeval people of Holland, amid all his gala array,
in a great storm. But it was another view which Sebastian preferred;
that this object was sepulchral, namely, in its motive--the one
surviving relic of a grand burial, in the ancient manner, of a king or
hero, whose very tomb was wasted away.--Sunt metis metae! There came
with it the odd fancy that he himself would like to have been dead and
gone as long ago, with a kind of envy of those whose deceasing was so
long since over.

On more peaceful days he would ponder Pliny's account of those primeval
forefathers, but without Pliny's contempt for them. A cloyed Roman might
despise their humble existence, fixed by necessity from age to age, and
with no desire of change, as "the ocean poured in its flood twice a day,
making it uncertain whether the country was a part of the continent or
of the sea." But for his part Sebastian found something of poetry in all
that, as he conceived what thoughts the old Hollander might have had at
his fishing, with nets themselves woven of seaweed, waiting carefully
for his drink on the heavy rains, and taking refuge, as the flood rose,
on the sand-hills, in a little hut constructed but airily on tall
stakes, conformable to the elevation of the highest tides, like a
navigator, thought the learned writer, when the sea was risen, like a
ship-wrecked mariner when it was retired. For the fancy of Sebastian he
lived with great breadths of calm light above and around him, influenced
by, and, in a sense, living upon them, and surely might well complain,
though to Pliny's so infinite surprise, on being made a Roman citizen.

And certainly Sebastian van Storck did not felicitate his people on the
luck which, in the words of another old writer, "hath disposed them to
so thriving a genius." Their restless ingenuity in making and
maintaining dry land where nature had willed the sea, was even more like
the industry of animals than had been that life of their forefathers.
Away with that tetchy, feverish, unworthy agitation! with this and that,
all too importunate, motive of interest! And then, "My son!" said his
father, "be stimulated to action!" he, too, thinking of that heroic
industry which had triumphed over nature precisely where the contest had
been most difficult.

Yet, in truth, Sebastian was forcibly taken by the simplicity of a great
affection, as set forth in an incident of real life of which he heard
just then. The eminent Grotius being condemned to perpetual
imprisonment, his wife determined to share his fate, alleviated only by
the reading of books sent by friends. The books, finished, were returned
in a great chest. In this chest the wife enclosed the husband, and was
able to reply to the objections of the soldiers who carried it
complaining of its weight, with a self-control, which she maintained
till the captive was in safety, herself remaining to face the
consequences; and there was a kind of absoluteness of affection in that,
which attracted Sebastian for a while to ponder on the practical forces
which shape men's lives. Had he turned, indeed, to a practical career it
would have been less in the direction of the military or political life
than of another form of enterprise popular with his countrymen. In the
eager, gallant life of that age, if the sword fell for a moment into its
sheath, they were for starting off on perilous voyages to the regions of
frost and snow in search after that "North-Western passage," for the
discovery of which the States-General had offered large rewards.
Sebastian, in effect, found a charm in the thought of that still,
drowsy, spellbound world of perpetual ice, as in art and life he could
always tolerate the sea. Admiral-general of Holland, as painted by Van
der Helst, with a marine background by Backhuizen:--at moments his
father could fancy him so.

There was still another very different sort of character to which
Sebastian would let his thoughts stray, without check, for a time. His
mother, whom he much resembled outwardly, a Catholic from Brabant, had
had saints in her family, and from time to time the mind of Sebastian
had been occupied on the subject of monastic life, its quiet, its
negation. The portrait of a certain Carthusian prior, which, like the
famous statue of Saint Bruno, the first Carthusian, in the church of
Santa Maria degli Angeli at Rome, could it have spoken, would have said,
"Silence!" kept strange company with the painted visages of men of
affairs. A great theological strife was then raging in Holland. Grave
ministers of religion assembled sometimes, as in the painted scene by
Rembrandt, in the Burgomaster's house, and once, not however in their
company, came a renowned young Jewish divine, Baruch de Spinosa, with
whom, most unexpectedly, Sebastian found himself in sympathy, meeting
the young Jew's far-reaching thoughts half-way, to the confirmation of
his own; and he did not know that his visitor, very ready with the
pencil, had taken his likeness as they talked on the fly-leaf of his
note-book. Alive to that theological disturbance in the air all around
him, he refused to be moved by it, as essentially a strife on small
matters, anticipating a vagrant regret which may have visited many other
minds since, the regret, namely, that the old, pensive, use-and-wont
Catholicism, which had accompanied the nation's earlier struggle for
existence, and consoled it therein, had been taken from it. And for
himself, indeed, what impressed him in that old Catholicism was a kind
of lull in it--a lulling power--like that of the monotonous organ-music,
which Holland, Catholic or not, still so greatly loves. But what he
could not away with in the Catholic religion was its unfailing drift
towards the concrete--the positive imageries of a faith, so richly beset
with persons, things, historical incidents.

Rigidly logical in the method of his inferences, he attained the poetic
quality only by the audacity with which he conceived the whole sublime
extension of his premises. The contrast was a strange one between the
careful, the almost petty fineness of his personal surrounding--all the
elegant conventionalities of life, in that rising Dutch family--and the
mortal coldness of a temperament, the intellectual tendencies of which
seemed to necessitate straightforward flight from all that was positive.
He seemed, if one may say so, in love with death; preferring winter to
summer; finding only a tranquillising influence in the thought of the
earth beneath our feet cooling down for ever from its old cosmic heat;
watching pleasurably how their colours fled out of things, and the long
sand-bank in the sea, which had been the rampart of a town, was washed
down in its turn. One of his acquaintance, a penurious young poet, who,
having nothing in his pockets but the imaginative or otherwise barely
potential gold of manuscript verses, would have grasped so eagerly, had
they lain within his reach, at the elegant outsides of life, thought the
fortunate Sebastian, possessed of every possible opportunity of that
kind, yet bent only on dispensing with it, certainly a most puzzling and
comfortless creature. A few only, half discerning what was in his mind,
would fain have shared his intellectual clearness, and found a kind of
beauty in this youthful enthusiasm for an abstract theorem. Extremes
meeting, his cold and dispassionate detachment from all that is most
attractive to ordinary minds came to have the impressiveness of a great
passion. And for the most part, people had loved him; feeling
instinctively that somewhere there must be the justification of his
difference from themselves. It was like being in love: or it was an
intellectual malady, such as pleaded for forbearance, like bodily
sickness, and gave at times a resigned and touching sweetness to what he
did and said. Only once, at a moment of the wild popular excitement
which at that period was easy to provoke in Holland, there was a certain
group of persons who would have shut him up as no well-wisher to, and
perhaps a plotter against, the common-weal. A single traitor might cut
the dykes in an hour, in the interest of the English or the French. Or,
had he already committed some treasonable act, who was so anxious to
expose no writing of his that he left his very letters unsigned, and
there were little stratagems to get specimens of his fair manuscript?
For with all his breadth of mystic intention, he was persistent, as the
hours crept on, to leave all the inevitable details of life at least in
order, in equation. And all his singularities appeared to be summed up
in his refusal to take his place in the life-sized family group (tres
distingue et tres soigne remarks a modern critic of the work) painted
about this time. His mother expostulated with him on the matter:--she
must needs feel, a little icily, the emptiness of hope, and something
more than the due measure of cold in things for a woman of her age, in
the presence of a son who desired but to fade out of the world like a
breath--and she suggested filial duty. "Good mother," he answered,
"there are duties towards the intellect also, which women can but rarely

The artists and their wives were come to supper again, with the
Burgomaster van Storck. Mademoiselle van Westrheene was also come, with
her sister and mother. The girl was by this time fallen in love with
Sebastian; and she was one of the few who, in spite of his terrible
coldness, really loved him for himself. But though of good birth she was
poor, while Sebastian could not but perceive that he had many suitors of
his wealth. In truth, Madame van Westrheene, her mother, did wish to
marry this daughter into the great world, and plied many arts to that
end, such as "daughterful" mothers use. Her healthy freshness of mien
and mind, her ruddy beauty, some showy presents that had passed, were of
a piece with the ruddy colouring of the very house these people lived
in; and for a moment the cheerful warmth that may be felt in life seemed
to come very close to him,--to come forth, and enfold him. Meantime the

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