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LITTLE MEMOIRS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
BY GEORGE PASTON
_For these sketches of minor celebrities of the nineteenth century, it has been my aim to choose subjects whose experiences seem to illustrate the life–more especially the literary and artistic life–of the first half of the century; and who of late years, at any rate, have not been overwhelmed by the attentions of the minor biographer. Having some faith in the theory that the verdict of foreigners is equivalent to that of contemporary posterity, I have included two aliens in the group. A visitor to our shores, whether he be a German princeling like Pückler-Muskau, or a gilded democrat like N. P. Willis, may be expected to observe and comment upon many traits of national life and manners that would escape the notice of a native chronicler.
Whereas certain readers of a former volume–‘Little Memoirs of the Eighteenth Century’–seem to have been distressed by the fact that the majority of the characters died in the nineteenth century, it is perhaps meet that I should apologise for the chronology of this present volume, in which all the heroes and heroines, save one, were born in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. But I would venture to submit that a man is not, necessarily, the child of the century in which he is born, or of that in which he dies; rather is he the child of the century which sees the finest flower of his achievement._
BENJAMIN ROBERT HAYDON,
LADY MORGAN (SYDNEY OWENSON)
NATHANIEL PARKER WILLIS
LADY HESTER STANHOPE
PRINCE PÜCKLER-MUSKAU IN ENGLAND
WILLIAM AND MARY HOWITT
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
BENJAMIN ROBERT HAYDON,
NATHANIEL PARKER WILLIS
LADY HESTER STANHOPE ON HORSEBACK
LADY HESTER STANHOPE IN EASTERN COSTUME
BENJAMIN ROBERT HAYDON
If it be true that the most important ingredient in the composition of the self-biographer is a spirit of childlike vanity, with a blend of unconscious egoism, few men have ever been better equipped than Haydon for the production of a successful autobiography. In naïve simplicity of temperament he has only been surpassed by Pepys, in fulness of self-revelation by Rousseau, and his _Memoirs_ are not unworthy of a place in the same category as the _Diary_ and the _Confessions_. From the larger public, the work has hardly attracted the attention it deserves; it is too long, too minute, too heavily weighted with technical details and statements of financial embarrassments, to be widely or permanently popular. But as a human document, and as the portrait of a temperament, its value can hardly be overestimated; while as a tragedy it is none the less tragic because it contains elements of the grotesque. Haydon set out with the laudable intention of writing the exact truth about himself and his career, holding that every man who has suffered for a principle, and who has been unjustly persecuted and oppressed, should write his own history, and set his own case before his countrymen. It is a fortunate accident for his readers that he should have been gifted with the faculty of picturesque expression and an exceptionally keen power of observation. If not a scholar, he was a man of wide reading, of deep though desultory thinking, and a good critic where the work of others was concerned. He seems to have desired to conceal nothing, nor to set down aught in malice; if he fell into mistakes and misrepresentations, these were the result of unconscious prejudice, and the exaggerative tendency of a brain that, if not actually warped, trembled on the border-line of sanity. He hoped that his mistakes would be a warning to others, his successes a stimulus, and that the faithful record of his struggles and aspirations would clear his memory from the aspersions that his enemies had cast upon it.
Haydon was born at Plymouth on January 26, 1786. He was the lineal descendant of an ancient Devonshire family, the Haydons of Cadbay, who had been ruined by a Chancery suit a couple of generations earlier, and had consequently taken a step downwards in the social scale. His grandfather, who married Mary Baskerville, a descendant of the famous printer, set up as a bookseller in Plymouth, and, dying in 1773, bequeathed his business to his son Benjamin, the father of our hero. This Benjamin, who married the daughter of a Devonshire clergyman named Cobley, was a man of the old-fashioned, John Bull type, who loved his Church and king, believed that England was the only great country in the world, swore that Napoleon won all his battles by bribery, and would have knocked down any man who dared to disagree with him. The childhood of the future historical painter was a picturesque and stirring period, filled with the echoes of revolution and the rumours of wars. The Sound was crowded with fighting ships preparing for sea, or returning battered and blackened, with wounded soldiers on board and captured vessels in tow. Plymouth itself was full of French prisoners, who made little models of guillotines out of their meat-bones, and sold them to the children for the then fashionable amusement of ‘cutting off Louis XVI.’s head.’
Benjamin was sent to the local grammar-school, whose headmaster, Dr. Bidlake, was a man of some culture, though not a deep classic. He wrote poetry, encouraged his pupils to draw, and took them for country excursions, with a view to fostering their love of nature. Mr. Haydon, though he was proud of Benjamin’s early attempts at drawing, had no desire that he should be turned into an artist, and becoming alarmed at Dr. Bidlake’s dilettante methods, he transferred his son to the Plympton Grammar-school, where Sir Joshua Reynolds had been educated, with strict injunctions to the headmaster that the boy was on no account to have drawing-lessons. On leaving school at sixteen, Benjamin, after, a few months with a firm of accountants at Exeter, was bound apprentice to his father for seven years, and it was then that his troubles began.
‘I hated day-books, ledgers, bill-books, and cashbooks,’ he tells us. ‘I hated standing behind the counter, and insulted the customers; I hated the town and all the people in it.’ At last, after a quarrel with a customer who tried to drive a bargain, this proud spirit refused to enter the shop again. In vain his father pointed out to him the folly of letting a good business go to ruin, of refusing a comfortable independence–all argument was vain. An illness, which resulted in inflammation of the eyes, put a stop to the controversy for the time being; but on recovery, with his sight permanently injured, the boy still refused to work out his articles, but wandered about the town in search of casts and books on art. He bought a fine copy of Albinus at his father’s expense, and in a fortnight, with his sister to aid, learnt all the muscles of the body, their rise and insertion, by heart. He stumbled accidentally on Reynold’s _Discourses_, and the first that he read placed so much reliance on honest industry, and expressed so strong a conviction that all men are equal in talent, and that application makes all the difference, that the would-be artist, who hitherto had been held back by some distrust of his natural powers, felt that at last his destiny was irrevocably fixed. He announced his intention of adopting an art-career with a determination that demolished all argument, and, in spite of remonstrances, reproaches, tears, and scoldings, he wrung from his father permission to go to London, and the promise of support for the next two years.
On May 14, 1804, at the age of eighteen, young Haydon took his place in the mail, and made his first flight into the world. Arriving at the lodgings that had been taken for him in the Strand in the early morning, he had no sooner breakfasted than he set off for Somerset House, to see the Royal Academy Exhibition. Looking round for historical pictures, he discovered that Opie’s ‘Gil Bias’ was the centre of attraction in one room, and Westall’s ‘Shipwrecked Boy’ in another.
‘I don’t fear you,’ he said to himself as he strode away. His next step was to inquire for a plaster-shop, where he bought the Laocoön and other casts, and then, having unpacked his Albinus, he was hard at work before nine next morning drawing from the round, and breathing aspirations for High Art, and defiance to all opposition. ‘For three months,’ he tells us, ‘I saw nothing but my books, my casts, and my drawings. My enthusiasm was immense, my devotion for study that of a martyr. I rose when I woke, at three or four, drew at anatomy till eight, in chalks from casts from nine till one, and from half-past two till five–then walked, dined, and to anatomy again from seven till ten or eleven. I was resolute to be a great painter, to honour my country, and to rescue the Art from that stigma of incapacity that was impressed upon it.
After some months of solitary study, Haydon bethought him of a letter of introduction that had been given him to Prince Hoare, who was something of a critic, having himself failed as an artist. Hoare good-naturedly encouraged the youth in his ambitions, and gave him introductions to Northcote, Opie, and Fuseli.
To Northcote, who was a Plymouth man, Haydon went first, and he gives a curious account of his interview with his distinguished fellow-countryman, who also had once cherished aspirations after high art. Northcote, a little wizened old man, with a broad Devonshire accent, exclaimed on hearing that his young visitor intended to be a historical painter: ‘Heestorical painter! why, ye’ll starve with a bundle of straw under yeer head.’ As for anatomy, he declared that it was no use. ‘Sir Joshua didn’t know it; why should you want to know what he didn’t? Michael Angelo! What’s he to do here? You must paint portraits here.’ ‘I won’t,’ said young Haydon, clenching his teeth, and he marched off to Opie. He found a coarse-looking, intellectual man who, after reading the introductory letter, said quietly, ‘You are studying anatomy–master it–were I your age, I would do the same.’ The last visit was to Fuseli, who had a great reputation for the terrible, both as artist and as man. The gallery into which the visitor was ushered was so full of devils, witches, ghosts, blood and thunder, that it was a palpable relief when nothing more alarming appeared than a little old and lion-faced man, attired in a flannel dressing-gown, with the bottom of Mrs. Fuseli’s work-basket on his head! Fuseli, who had just been appointed Keeper of Academy, received the young man kindly, praised his drawings, and expressed a hope that he would see him at the Academy School.
After the Christmas vacation of 1805, Haydon began to attend the Academy classes, where he struck up a close friendship with John Jackson, afterwards a popular portrait-painter and Royal Academician, but then a student like himself. Jackson was the son of a village tailor in Yorkshire, and the _protége_ of Lord Mulgrave and Sir George Beaumont. The two friends told each other their plans for the future, drew together in the evenings, and made their first life-studies from a friendly coalheaver whom they persuaded to sit to them. After a few months of hard work, Haydon was summoned home to take leave of his father, who was believed to be dying. The invalid recovered, and then followed another period of torture for the young student–aunts, uncles, and cousins all trying to drive the stray sheep back into the commercial fold. Exhausted by the struggle, Haydon at last consented to relinquish his career, and enter the business. Great was his delight and surprise when his father refused to accept the sacrifice–which was made in anything but a cheerful spirit–and promised to contribute to his support until he was able to provide for himself.
In the midst of all these domestic convulsions came a letter from Jackson, containing the announcement that there was ‘a raw, tall, pale, queer Scotchman just come up, an odd fellow, but with something in him. He is called Wilkie.’ ‘Hang the fellow!’ said Haydon to himself. ‘I hope with his “something” he is not going to be a historical painter.’ On his return to town, our hero made the acquaintance of the queer young Scotchman, and was soon admitted to his friendship and intimacy. Wilkie’s ‘Village Politicians’ was the sensation of the Exhibition of 1806, and brought him two important commissions–one from Lord Mulgrave for the ‘Blind Fiddler,’ and the other from Sir George Beaumont for the ‘Rent-Day.’ It was now considered that Wilkie’s fortune was made, his fame secure, and if his two chief friends–Haydon and Jackson–could not help regarding him with some natural feelings of envy, it is evident that his early success encouraged them, and stimulated them to increased effort.
Haydon had been learning fresh secrets in his art, partly from an anatomical ‘subject’ that he had obtained from a surgeon, and partly from his introduction, through the good offices of Jackson, to the works of Titian at Stafford House, and in other private collections, there being as yet no National Gallery where the student could study the old masters at his pleasure. Haydon was now panting to begin his first picture, his natural self-confidence having been strengthened by a letter from Wilkie, who reported that Lord Mulgrave, with whom he was staying, was much interested in what he had heard of Haydon’s ambitions. Lord Mulgrave had suggested a heroic subject–the Death of Dentatus–which he would like to see painted, and he wished to know if this commended itself to Haydon’s ideas. This first commission for a great historical picture–for so he understood the suggestion–was a triumph for the young artist, who felt himself gloriously rewarded for two years of labour and opposition. He had, however, already decided on the subject of his first attempt–Joseph and Mary resting on the road to Egypt. On October 1,1806, after setting his palette, and taking his brush in hand, he knelt down, in accordance with his invariable custom throughout his career, and prayed fervently that God would bless his work, grant him energy to create a new era in art, and rouse the people to a just estimate of the moral value of historical painting.
Then followed a happy time. The difficulties of a first attempt were increased by his lack of systematic training, but Haydon believed, with Sir Joshua, that application made the artist, and he certainly spared no pains to achieve success. He painted and repainted his heads a dozen times, and used to mix tints on a piece of paper, and carry them down to Stafford House once a week in order to compare them with the colouring of the Titians. While this work was in progress, Sir George and Lady Beaumont called to see the picture, which they declared was very poetical, and ‘quite large enough for anything’ (the canvas was six feet by four), and invited the artist to dinner. This first dinner-party, in what he regarded as ‘high life,’ was an alarming ordeal for the country youth, who made prodigious preparations, drove to the house in a state of abject terror, and in five minutes was sitting on an ottoman, talking to Lady Beaumont, and more at ease than he had ever been in his life. In truth, bashfulness was never one of Haydon’s foibles.
The Joseph and Mary took six months to paint, and was exhibited in 1807. It was considered a remarkable work for a young student, and was bought the following year by Mr. Hope of Deepdene. During the season, Haydon was introduced to Lord Mulgrave, and with his friends Wilkie and Jackson frequently dined at the Admiralty, [Footnote: Lord Mulgrave had recently been appointed First Lord of the Admiralty.] where they met ministers, generals, great ladies and men of genius, and rose daily in hope and promise. Haydon now began the picture of the ‘Death of Siccius Dentatus’ that his patron had suggested, but he found the difficulties so overwhelming that, by Wilkie’s advice, he decided to go down to Plymouth for a few months, and practise portrait-painting. At fifteen guineas a head, he got plenty of employment among his friends and relations, though he owns that his portraits were execrable; but as soon as he had obtained some facility in painting heads, he was anxious to return to town to finish his large picture. Mrs. Haydon was now in declining health, and desiring to consult a famous surgeon in London, she decided to travel thither with her son and daughter. Unfortunately her disease, angina pectoris, was aggravated by the agitation of the journey, and on the road, at Salt Hill, she was seized with an attack that proved fatal. Haydon was obliged to return to Devonshire with his sister, but as soon as the funeral was over he set off again for town, where his prospects seemed to justify his exchanging his garret in the Strand for a first floor in Great Marlborough Street.
He found the practice gained in portrait-painting a substantial advantage, but he still felt himself incapable of composing a heroic figure for Dentatus. ‘If I copied nature my work was mean,’ he complains; ‘and if I left her it was mannered. How was I to build a heroic form like life, yet above life?’ He was puzzled to find, in painting from the living model, that the markings of the skin varied with the action of the limbs, variations that did not appear in the few specimens of the antique that had come under his notice. Was nature wrong, he asked himself, or the antique? During this period of indecision and confusion came a proposal from Wilkie that they should go together to inspect the Elgin Marbles then newly arrived in England, and deposited at Lord Elgin’s house in Park Lane. Haydon carelessly agreed, knowing nothing of the wonders he was to see, and the two friends proceeded to Park Lane, where they were ushered through a yard to a dirty shed, in which lay the world-famous Marbles.
‘The first thing I fixed my eyes on,’ to quote Haydon’s own words, ‘was the wrist of a figure in one of the female groups, in which were visible the radius and ulna. I was astonished, for I had never seen them hinted at in any wrist in the antique. I darted my eye to the elbow, and saw the outer condyle visibly affecting the shape, as in nature. That combination of nature and repose which I had felt was so much wanting for high art was here displayed to midday conviction. My heart beat. If I had seen nothing else, I had beheld sufficient to help me to nature for the rest of my life. But when I turned to the Theseus, and saw that every form was altered by action or repose-when I saw that the two sides of his back varied as he rested on his elbow; and again, when in the figure of the fighting metope, I saw the muscle shown under one armpit in that instantaneous action of darting out, and left out in the other armpits; when I saw, in short, the most heroic style of art, combined with all the essential detail of everyday life, the thing was done at once and for ever…. Here were the principles which the great Greeks in their finest time established, and here was I, the most prominent historical student, perfectly qualified to appreciate all this by my own determined mode of study.’
On returning to his painting-room, Haydon, feeling utterly disgusted with his attempt at the heroic in the form and action of Dentatus, obliterated what he calls ‘the abominable mass,’ and breathed as if relieved of a nuisance. Through Lord Mulgrave he obtained an order to draw from the Marbles, and devoted the next three months to mastering their secrets, and bringing his hand and mind into subjection to the principles that they displayed. ‘I rose with the sun,’ he writes, with the glow of his first enthusiasm still upon him, ‘and opened my eyes to the light only to be conscious of my high pursuit. I sprang from my bed, dressed like one possessed, and passed the day, noon, and the night, in the same dream of abstracted enthusiasm; secluded from the world, regardless of its feelings, impregnable to disease, insensible to contempt.’ He painted his heads, figures, and draperies over and over again, feeling that to obliterate was the only way to improve. His studio soon filled with fashionable folk, who came to see the ‘extraordinary picture painted by a young man who had never had the advantages of foreign travel.’ Haydon believed, with the simplicity of a child, in all these flattering prophecies of glory and fame, and imagined that the Academy would welcome with open arms so promising a student, one, moreover, who had been trained in its own school. He redoubled his efforts, and in March 1809, ‘Dentatus’ was finished.
‘The production of this picture,’ he naively explains, ‘must and will be considered as an epoch in English art. The drawing in it was correct and elevated, and the perfect forms and system of the antique were carried into painting, united with the fleshy look of everyday life. The colour, light and shadow, the composition and the telling of the story were complete.’ His contemporaries did not form quite so flattering an estimate of the work. It was badly hung, a fate to which many an artist of three-and-twenty has had to submit, before and since; but Haydon writes as if no such injustice had been committed since the world began, and was persuaded that the whole body of Academicians was leagued in spite and jealousy against him. Lord Mulgrave gave him sixty guineas in addition to the hundred he had first promised, which seems a fair price for the second work of an obscure artist, but poor Haydon fancied that his professional prospects had suffered from the treatment of the Academy, that people of fashion (on whose attentions he set great store) were neglecting him, and that he was a marked man. A sea-trip to Plymouth with Wilkie gave his thoughts a new and more healthy turn. Together, the friends visited Sir Joshua’s birthplace, and roamed over the moors and combes of Devonshire. Before returning to town, they spent a delightful fortnight with Sir George Beaumont at Coleorton, where, says Haydon, ‘we dined with the Claude and Rembrandt before us, and breakfasted with the Rubens landscape, and did nothing, morning, noon, and night, but think of painting, talk of painting, and wake to paint again.’
During this visit, Sir George gave Haydon a commission for a picture on a subject from _Macbeth_. After it was begun, he objected to the size, but our artist, who, throughout his life, detested painting cabinet pictures, refused to attempt anything on a smaller scale. He persuaded Sir George to withhold his decision until the picture was finished, and promised that if he still objected to the size, he would paint him another on any scale he pleased. While engaged on ‘Macbeth,’ he competed with ‘Dentatus’ for a hundred guinea prize offered by the Directors of the British Gallery for the best historical picture. ‘Dentatus’ won the prize, but this piece of good fortune was counterbalanced by a letter from Mr. Haydon, senior, containing the announcement that he could no longer afford to maintain his son. This was a heavy blow, but after turning over pros and cons in his own mind, Haydon came to the conclusion that since he had won the hundred guinea prize, he had a good chance of winning a three hundred guinea prize, which the Directors now offered, with his ‘Macbeth,’ and consequently that he had no occasion to dread starvation. ‘Thus reasoning,’ he says, ‘I borrowed, and praying God to bless my emotions, went on more vigorously than ever. _And here began debt and obligation, out of which I have never been, and shall never be, extricated, as long as I live.’_
This prophecy proved only too true. But Haydon, though he afterwards bitterly regretted his folly in exchanging independence for debt, and his pride in refusing to paint pot-boilers in the intervals of his great works, firmly believed that he, with his high aims and fervent desire to serve the cause of art, was justified in continuing his ambitious course, and depending for maintenance on the contributions of his friends. Nothing could exceed the approbation of his own conduct, or shake his faith in his own powers. ‘I was a virtuous and diligent youth,’ he assures us; ‘I never touched wine, dined at reasonable chop-houses, lived principally in my study, and cleaned my own brushes, like the humblest student.’ He goes to see Sebastian del Piombo’s ‘Lazarus’ in the Angerstein collection, and, after writing a careful criticism of the work, concludes: ‘It is a grand picture; a great acquisition to the country, and an honour to Mr. Angerstein’s taste and spirit in buying it; yet if God cut not my life permanently short, I hope I shall leave one behind me that will do more honour to my country than this has done to Rome. In short, if I live, I will–I feel I shall, (God pardon me if this is presumption. June 31, 1810.)’
At this time Haydon devoted a good deal of his leisure to reading classic authors, Homer, Æschylus, and Virgil, in order to tune his mind to high thoughts. Nearly every day he spent a few hours in drawing from the Elgin Marbles, and he piously thanks God that he was in existence on their arrival. He spared no pains to ensure that his ‘Macbeth’ should be perfect in poetry, expression, form and colour, making casts and studies without end. His friends related, as a wonderful specimen of his conscientiousness, that, after having completed the figure of Macbeth, he took it out in order to raise it higher in the picture, believing that this would improve the effect. ‘The wonder in ancient Athens would have been if I had suffered him to remain,’ he observes. ‘Such is the state of art in this country!’
In 1811 Haydon entered into his first journalistic controversy, an unfortunate departure, as it turned out, since it gave him a taste for airing his ideas in print. Leigh Hunt, to whom he had been introduced a year or two before, had attacked one of his theories, relative to a standard figure, in the _Examiner_. Haydon replied, was replied to himself, and thoroughly enjoyed the controversy which, he says, consolidated his powers of verbal expression. Leigh Hunt he describes as a fine specimen of a London editor, with his bushy hair, black eyes, pale face, and ‘nose of taste.’ He was assuming yet moderate, sarcastic yet genial, with a smattering of everything and mastery of nothing; affecting the dictator, the poet, the politician, the critic, and the sceptic, whichever would, at the moment, give him the air, to inferior minds, of a very superior man.’ Although Haydon disliked Hunt’s ‘Cockney peculiarities,’ and disapproved of his republican principles, yet the fearless honesty of his opinions, the unhesitating sacrifice of his own interests, the unselfish perseverance of his attacks upon all abuses, whether royal or religious, noble or democratic, made a deep impression on the young artist’s mind.
Towards the end of 1811 the new picture, which represents Macbeth stepping between the sleeping grooms to murder the king, was finished, and sent to the British Gallery. It was well hung, and was praised by the critics, but Sir George declined to take it, though he offered to pay Haydon a hundred pounds for his trouble, or to give him a commission for a picture on a smaller scale. Haydon petulantly refused both offers, and thus after three years’ work, and incurring debts to the amount of six hundred pounds, he found himself penniless, with his picture returned on his hands. This disappointment was only the natural result of his own impracticable temperament, but to Haydon’s exaggerative sense the whole world seemed joined in a conspiracy against him. ‘Exasperated by the neglect of my family,’ he writes, ‘tormented by the consciousness of debt, cut to the heart by the cruelty of Sir George, and enraged at the insults of the Academy, I became furious.’ His fury, unfortunately, found vent in an attack upon the Academy and its methods, through the medium of the _Examiner_, which was the recognised vehicle of all attacks upon authority. The onslaught seems to have been justified, though whether it was judicious is another question. The ideals of English artists during the early years of the nineteenth century had sunk very low, and the standard of public taste was several degrees lower. Portrait-painting was the only lucrative branch of art, and the Academy was almost entirely in the hands of the portrait-painters, who gave little encouragement to works of imagination. The burden of the patron, which had been removed from literature, still rested upon painting, and the Academicians found it more to their interest to foster the ignorance than to educate the taste of the patron.
Over the signature of ‘An English Student,’ Haydon not only exposed the inefficiency of the Academy, but advocated numerous reforms, chief among them being an improved method of election, the establishment of schools of design, a reduction in the power of the Council, and an annual grant of public money for purposes of art. In these days, when the Academicians are no longer regarded as a sacred body, it is hard to realise the commotion that these letters made in art circles, whether professional or amateur. The identity of the ‘English Student’ was soon discovered, and ‘from that moment,’ writes Haydon, ‘the destiny of my life was changed. My picture was caricatured, my name detested, my peace harassed. I was looked at like a monster, abused like a plague, and avoided like a maniac.’ There is probably some characteristic exaggeration in this statement, but considering the power wielded at this time by the Academy and its supporters, Haydon would undoubtedly have done better, from a worldly point of view, to keep clear of these controversies. The prudent and sensible Wilkie was much distressed at his friend’s ebullition of temper, and earnestly advised him to follow up the reputation his brush had gained for him, and leave the pen alone. ‘In moments of depression,’ wrote Haydon, many years later, ‘I often wished I had followed Wilkie’s advice, but then I should never have acquired that grand and isolated reputation, solitary and unsupported, which, while it encumbers the individual, inspires him with vigour proportioned to the load.’
On April 3, 1812, Haydon records in his journal: ‘My canvas came home for Solomon, twelve feet ten inches by ten feet ten inches–a grand size. God in heaven, grant me strength of body and vigour of mind to cover it with excellence. Amen–on my knees.’ His design was to paint a series of great ideal works, that should stand comparison with the productions of the old masters, and he had chosen the somewhat stereotyped subject of the Judgment of Solomon, because Raphael and Rubens had both tried it, and he intended to tell the story better! He was now, at the beginning of this ambitious project, entirely without means. His father had died, and left him nothing, and his ‘Macbeth’ had not won the £300 premium at the British Gallery. His aristocratic friends had temporarily deserted him, but the Hunts assisted him with the ready liberality of the impecunious. John lent him small sums of money, while Leigh offered him a plate at his table till Solomon was finished, and initiated him into the mysteries of drawing and discounting bills.
Haydon already owed his landlord two hundred pounds, but that seemed to him no reason for moving into cheaper rooms. He called the man up, and represented to him that he was about to paint a great masterpiece, which would take him two years, during which period he would earn nothing, and be unable to pay any rent. The landlord, surely a unique specimen of his order, deliberated rather ruefully over the prospect set before him, rubbed his chin, and muttered: ‘I should not like ye to go–it’s hard for both of us; but what I say is, you always paid me when you could, and why should you not again when you are able?… Well, sir, here’s my hand; I’ll give you two years more, and if this does not sell–why then, sir, we’ll consider what is to be done.’
Thus a roof was provided, but there was still dinner to be thought of, since, if a man works, he must also eat. ‘I went to the house [John o’ Groat’s] where I had always dined,’ writes Haydon, ‘intending to dine without paying for that day. I thought the servants did not offer me the same attention. I thought I perceived the company examine me–I thought the meat was worse. My heart sank, as I said falteringly, “I will pay you to-morrow.” The girl smiled, and seemed interested. As I was escaping with a sort of lurking horror, she said, “Mr. Haydon, my master wishes to see you.” “My God,” thought I, “it is to tell me he can’t trust!” In I walked like a culprit. “Sir, I beg your pardon, but I see by the papers you have been ill-used; I hope you won’t be angry–I mean no offence; but I just wish to say, as you have dined here many years and always paid, if it would be a convenience during your present work to dine here till it is done–so that you may not be obliged to spend your money here when you may want it–I was going to say that you need be under no apprehension–hem! for a dinner.”‘ This handsome offer was condescendingly accepted, and the good man seemed quite relieved.
While Solomon was slowly progressing at the expense of the landlord and the eating-house keeper, Haydon spent his leisure in literary rather than artistic circles. At Leigh Hunt’s he met, and became intimate with Charles Lamb, Keats, Hazlitt, and John Scott. In January 1813 he writes: ‘Spent the evening with Leigh Hunt at West End. His society is always delightful. I do not know a purer, more virtuous partner, or a more witty and enlivening man. We talked of his approaching imprisonment. He said it would be a great pleasure if he were certain to be sent to Newgate, because he should be in the midst of his friends.’ Hazlitt won our hero’s liking by praising his ‘Macbeth.’ ‘Thence began a friendship,’ Haydon tells us, ‘for that interesting man, that singular mixture of friend and fiend, radical and critic, metaphysician, poet, and painter, on whose word no one could rely, on whose heart no one could calculate, and some of whose deductions he himself would try to explain in vain…. Mortified at his own failure [in painting] he resolved that as he had not succeeded, no one else should, and he spent the whole of his after-life in damping the ardour, chilling the hopes, and dimming the prospects of patrons and painters, so that after I once admitted him, I had nothing but forebodings of failure to bear up against, croakings about the climate, and sneers at the taste of the public.’
By the beginning of 1814 Solomon was approaching completion, but the artist had been reduced to living for a fortnight on potatoes. He had now been nearly four years without a commission, and three without any help from home, so that it is not surprising to learn that he felt completely broken down in body and mind, or that his debts amounted to £1100. A frame was procured on credit, and, failing any more suitable place of exhibition, the picture was sent to the Water-colour Society. At the private view, the Princess of Wales and other eminent critics pronounced against the Solomon, but as soon as the public were admitted, the tune changed, and John Bull vowed it was the finest work of art ever produced in England. If posterity has not indorsed this judgment, the Solomon is at least regarded, by competent critics, as Haydon’s most successful work. ‘Before the doors had been open half an hour,’ writes Haydon, ‘a gentleman opened his pocket-book, and showed me a £500 note. “Will you take it?” My heart beat–my agonies of want pressed, but it was too little. I trembled out, “I cannot.” The gentleman invited me to dine, and when we were sitting over our wine, agreed to give me my price. His lady said, “But, my dear, where am I to put my piano?” and the bargain was at an end!’ On the third day Sir George Beaumont and Mr. Holwell Carr came to the Exhibition, having been deputed to buy the picture for the British Gallery. While they were discussing its merits, one of the officials went over, and put ‘sold’ on the frame, whereupon the artist says he thought he should have fainted. The work had been bought at the price asked, £700, by two Plymouth bankers, Sir William Elford (the friend and correspondent of Miss Mitford) and Mr. Tingecombe.
Poor Haydon now thought that his fortune was secure. He paid away £500 to landlord and tradesmen in the first week, and though this did not settle half his debts, it restored his credit. The balance was spent in a trip to Paris with Wilkie, Paris being then (May 1814) the most interesting place on earth. All the nations of Europe were gathered together there, and the Louvre was in its glory. So absorbed and fascinated was Haydon by the actual life of the city, that he finds little to say about the works of art there collected. Yet his first visit was to the Louvre, and he describes with what impetuosity he bounded up the steps, three at a time, and how he scolded Wilkie for trotting up with his usual deliberation. ‘I might just as well have scolded the column,’ he observes. ‘I soon left him at some Jan Steen, while I never stopped until I stood before the “Transfiguration.” My first feeling was disappointment. It looked small, harsh and hard. This, of course, is always the way when you have fed your imagination for years on a work you know only by prints. Even the “Pietro Martyre” was smaller than I thought to find it; yet after the difference between reality and anticipation had worn away, these great works amply repaid the study of them, and grew up to the fancy, or rather the fancy grew up to them…. It will hardly be believed by artists that we often forgot the great works in the Louvre in the scenes around us, and found Russians and Bashkirs from Tartary more attractive than the “Transfiguration”; but so it was, and I do not think we were very wrong either. Why stay poring over pictures when we were on the most remarkable scene in the history of the earth.’
On his return to London, Haydon was gratified by the news that his friend and fellow-townsman, George Eastlake, had proposed and carried a motion that he should be presented with the freedom of his native city, as a testimony of respect for his extraordinary merit as a historical painter. Furthermore, the Directors of the British Gallery sent him a hundred guineas as a token of their admiration for his latest work. But no commission followed, either from a private patron or public body. However, the artist, nothing daunted, ordered a larger canvas, and set vigorously to work on a representation of ‘Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem,’ a picture which occupied him, with intervals of illness and idleness, for nearly six years.
The year 1815 was too full of stir and excitement for a man like Haydon, who was always keenly interested in public affairs, to devote himself to steady work. The news of Waterloo almost turned his brain. On June 23 he notes: ‘I read the _Gazette_ [with the account of Waterloo] the last thing before going to bed. I dreamt of it, and was fighting all night; I got up in a steam of feeling, and read the _Gazette_ again, ordered a _Courier_ for a month, and read all the papers till I was faint…. ‘Have not the efforts of the nation,’ I asked myself, ‘been gigantic?’ To such glories she only wants to add the glories of my noble art to make her the grandest nation in the world, and these she shall have if God spare my life….
‘_June_ 25.–Dined with Hunt. I give myself credit for not worrying him to death at this news. He was quiet for some time, but knowing it must come, and putting on an air of indifference, he said, “Terrible battle this, Haydon.” “A glorious one, Hunt.” “Oh yes, certainly,” and to it we went. Yet Hunt took a just and liberal view of the situation. As for Hazlitt, it is not to be believed how the destruction of Napoleon affected him; he seemed prostrated in mind and body; he walked about unwashed, unshaved, hardly sober by day, and always intoxicated by night, literally, without exaggeration, for weeks, until at length, wakening as it were from his stupor, he at once left off all stimulating liquors, and never touched them after.’
It is in this year that we find the first mention in the Journal of Wordsworth, who, throughout his life, was one of Haydon’s most faithful friends and appreciative admirers. On April 13, the artist records: ‘I had a cast made yesterday of Wordsworth’s face. He bore it like a philosopher…. We afterwards called on Hunt, and as Hunt had previously attacked him, and now has reformed his opinions, the meeting was interesting. Hunt paid him the highest compliments, and told him that as he grew wiser and got older, he found his respect for his powers, and enthusiasm for his genius, increase…. I afterwards sauntered with him to Hampstead, with great delight. Never did any man so beguile the time as Wordsworth. His purity of heart, his kindness, his soundness of principle, his information, his knowledge, and the intense and eager feelings with which he pours forth all he knows, affect, interest, and enchant one. I do not know any one I would be so inclined to worship as a purified being.’
The new picture was not far advanced before the painter was once again at the end of his resources, though not of his courage. Fifty guineas were advanced to him by Sir George Beaumont, who had now commissioned a picture at two hundred guineas, and Mr. (after Sir George) Phillips, of Manchester, gave him a commission of £500 for a sacred work, paying one hundred guineas down. But these advances melted rapidly away in the expenses attendant on the painting of so ambitious a work as the ‘Entry into Jerusalem.’ Towards the close of the year Haydon’s health began to suffer from his excessive application, his sight weakened, and he was often unable to paint for months at a time. Under these afflictions, he was consoled by receiving permission to take casts of the Elgin Marbles, the authenticity of which treasures had recently been attacked by the art-critic, Knight Payne, who declared that they were not Greek at all, but Roman, of the time of Hadrian. Such was the effect of Payne Knight’s opinion that the Marbles went down in the public estimation, the Government hesitated to buy them for the nation, and they were left neglected in a damp shed. Haydon was furious at this insult to the objects of his idolatry, whose merits he had been preaching in season and out of season since the day that he first set eyes upon the Theseus and the Ilissus. At this critical moment he found himself supported by a new and powerful champion in the person of Canova, who had just arrived in England. Canova at once admitted that the style of the Marbles was superior to that of all other known marbles, and declared that they were well worth coming from Rome to see. ‘Canova’s visit was a victory for me,’ writes Haydon, who had received the sculptor at his studio, and introduced him to some of the artistic lions of London. ‘What became now of all the sneers at my senseless insanity about the Marbles? I, unknown, with no station or rank, might have talked myself dumb; but for Canova, the great artist of Europe, to repeat word for word what I had been saying for seven years! His opinion could not be gainsaid.’
If our troubles are apt to come not in single file, but in ‘whole battalions,’ our triumphs also occasionally arrive in squadrons, or such at least was Haydon’s experience. Hard upon Canova’s departure came a letter from Wordsworth, enclosing three sonnets, the last of which had, he avowed, been inspired by a letter of Haydon’s on the struggles and hardships of the artist’s life. This is now the familiar sonnet beginning, ‘High is our calling, Friend,’ and concluding:
‘Great is the glory, for the strife is hard.’
‘Now, reader,’ writes the delighted recipient, ‘was not this glorious? And you, young student, when you are pressed down by want in the midst of a great work, remember what followed Haydon’s perseverance. The freedom of his native town, the visit of Canova, and the sonnet of Wordsworth, and if that do not cheer you up, and make you go on, you are past all hope…. It had, indeed, been a wonderful year for me. The Academicians were silenced. All classes were so enthusiastic and so delighted that, though I had lost seven months with weak eyes, and had only accomplished The Penitent Girl, The Mother, The Centurion and the Samaritan Woman, yet they were considered so decidedly in advance of all I had yet done, that my painting-room was crowd by rank, beauty, and fashion, and the picture was literally taken up as an honour to the nation.’
But, alas! neither the sonnets of poets nor the homage of the great would pay for models and colours, or put bread into the artist’s mouth. Haydon could only live by renewed borrowing, for which method of support he endeavours, without much success, to excuse himself. Once in the clutches of professional money-lenders, he confesses that ‘the fine edge of honour was dulled. Though my honourable discharge of what I borrowed justified my borrowing again, yet it is a fallacious relief, because you must stop sooner or later; if you are punctual, and if you can pay in the long-run, why incur the debt at all? Too proud to do small, modest things, that I might obtain fair means of subsistence as I proceeded with my great work, I thought it no degradation to borrow, to risk the insult of refusal, and be bated down like the meanest dealer. Then I was liberal in my art; I spared no expense for casts and prints, and did great things for the art by means of them…. Ought I, after such efforts as I had made, to have been left in this position by the Directors of the British Gallery or the Government?’
The year 1816 was distinguished in Haydon’s life as the epoch of his first, or, more accurately, his last serious love-affair. He was of a susceptible temperament, and seems to have been a favourite with women, whom he inspired with his own strong belief in himself; but he demanded much of the woman who was to be his wife, and hitherto he had not found one who seemed worthy of that exalted position. He had long been acquainted with Maria Foote, the actress, for whom he entertained a qualified admiration, and by her he was taken one day to a friend’s house where, ‘In one instant, the loveliest face that was ever created since God made Eve, smiled gently at my approach. The effect of her beauty was instantaneous. On the sofa lay a dying man and a boy about two years old. We shortly took leave. I never spoke a word, and after seeing M—- home, I returned to the house, and stood outside, in hopes that she would appear at the window. I went home, and for the first time in my life was really, heartily, thoroughly, passionately in love. I hated my pictures. I hated the Elgin Marbles. I hated books. I could not eat, or sleep, or think, or write, or talk. I got up early, examined the premises and street, and gave a man half-a-crown to let me sit concealed, and watch for her coming out. Day after day I grew more and more enraptured, till resistance was relinquished with a glorious defiance of restraint. Her conduct to her dying husband, her gentle reproof of my impassioned air, riveted my being. But I must not anticipate. Sufficient for the present, O reader, is it to tell thee that B. R. Haydon is, and for ever will be, in love with that woman, and that she is his wife.’
The first note that Haydon has preserved from his friend Keats is dated November 1816, and runs:
‘MY DEAR SIR,–Last evening wrought me up, and I cannot forbear sending you the following.–Yours imperfectly,
The ‘following’ was nothing less than the noble sonnet, beginning–‘Great spirits now on earth are sojourning,’ with an allusion to Haydon in the lines:
‘And lo! whose steadfastness would never take A meaner sound than Raphael’s whispering.’
Haydon wrote an enthusiastic letter of thanks, gave the young poet some good advice, and promised to send his sonnet to Wordsworth. ‘Keats,’ he records, ‘was the only man I ever met who seemed and looked conscious of a high calling, except Wordsworth. Byron and Shelley were always sophisticating about their verses; Keats sophisticated about nothing. He had made up his mind to do great things, and when he found that by his connection with the _Examiner_ clique he had brought upon himself an overwhelming outcry of unjust aversion, he shrank up into himself, his diseased tendencies showed themselves, and he died a victim to mistakes, on the part of friends and enemies alike.’
Haydon gives a curious account of his first meeting with Shelley, which took place in the course of this year. The occasion was a dinner-party at James Smith’s house, when Keats and Horace Smith were also among the guests. ‘I seated myself,’ writes Haydon,’ right opposite Shelley, as I was told afterwards, for I did not then know what hectic, spare, weakly, yet intellectual-looking creature it was, carving a bit of broccoli or cabbage in his plate, as if it had been the substantial wing of a chicken. In a few minutes Shelley opened the conversation by saying in the most feminine and gentle voice, “As to that detestable religion, the Christian–” I looked astounded, but casting a glance round the table, I easily saw that I was to be set at that evening _vi et armis_…. I felt like a stag at bay, and resolved to gore without mercy. Shelley said the Mosaic and Christian dispensation were inconsistent. I swore they were not, and that the Ten Commandments had been the foundation of all the codes of law on the earth. Shelley denied it. I affirmed they were, neither of us using an atom of logic.’ This edifying controversy continued until all parties grew very warm, and said unpleasant things to one another. After this dinner, Haydon made up his mind to subject himself no more to the chance of these discussions, but gradually to withdraw from this freethinking circle.
The chief artistic events of the year, from our hero’s point of view, were, the final settlement of the Elgin Marbles question, and his own attempt to found a school. The Committee appointed by Government to examine and report upon the Marbles refused to call Haydon as a witness on Lord Elgin’s side, but the artist embodied his views on the subject in a paper which appeared in both the _Examiner_ and the _Champion_. This article, which was afterwards translated into French and Italian, contained a scathing attack on Payne Knight, and was said by Sir Thomas Lawrence to have saved the Elgin Marbles, and ruined Haydon. However this may be, the Government, it will be remembered, decided to buy the treasures for £35,000, a sum considerably less than that which Lord Elgin had spent on bringing them to England.
The School of Haydon was first instituted with three distinguished pupils in the persons of the three Landseer brothers, to whom were afterwards added William Bewick, Eastlake, Harvey, Lance, and Chatfield. Haydon set his disciples to draw from the Raphael Cartoons, two of which were brought up from Hampton Court to the British Gallery, and, as soon as they were sufficiently advanced, he sent them to the Museum to draw from the Elgin Marbles. ‘Their cartoons,’ he writes, ‘drawn full size, of the Fates, of Theseus and the Ilissus, literally made a noise in Europe. An order came from the great Goethe at Weimar for a set for his own house, the furniture of which having been since bought by the Government, and the house kept up as it was in Goethe’s time, the cartoons of my pupils are thus preserved, whilst in England the rest are lying about in cellars and corners/ The early days of the School thus held out a promise for the future, which unfortunately was not fulfilled. Haydon contrived to involve two or three of his pupils in his own financial embarrassments, by inducing them to sign accommodation bills, a proceeding which broke up the establishment, and brought a lasting stain upon his reputation.
In 1817 Haydon was introduced to Miss Mitford, who greatly admired his work, and a warm friendship sprang up between the pair. In May, Miss Mitford wrote to Sir William Elford: ‘The charm of the Exhibition is a chalk-drawing by Mr. Haydon taken, _as he tells me_, from a mother who had lost her child. It is the very triumph of expression. I have not yet lost the impression which it made upon my mind and senses, and which vented itself in a sonnet.’ A visit to the studio followed, and Miss Mitford was charmed with the room, the books, the great unfinished picture, and the artist himself–with his _bonhomie_, _naïveté_, and enthusiasm. With all her heart she admires the noble, independent spirit of Haydon, who, she declares, is quite one of the old heroes come to life again–one of Shakespeare’s men, full of spirit, endurance, and moral courage. She concludes her account with an expression of regret that he should be ‘such a fright.’ Now Haydon is generally described by his contemporaries as a good-looking man, though short in stature, with an antique head, aquiline features, and fine dark eyes. His later portraits are chiefly remarkable for the immensely wide mouth with which he seems to be endowed, but in an early sketch by Wilkie he is represented as a picturesque youth with an admirably modelled profile.
To Miss Mitford we owe a quaint anecdote of our hero, which, better than pages of analysis, depicts the man. It appears that Leigh Hunt, who was a great keeper of birthdays and other anniversaries, took it into his head to celebrate the birthday of Papa Haydn by giving a dinner, drinking toasts, and crowning the composer’s bust with laurels. Some malicious person told Haydon that the Hunts were celebrating his birthday, a compliment that struck him as natural and well deserved. Hastening to Hampstead, he broke in upon the company, and addressed to them a formal speech, in which he thanked them for the honour they had done him, but explained that they had made a little mistake in the day! As a pendant to this anecdote, Miss Mitford relates that Haydon told her he had painted the head of his Christ seven times, and that the final head was a portrait of himself. It is only fair to remember that he always regarded it as the least successful part of the work.
While the picture was in progress, Haydon decided to put in a side group with Voltaire as a sceptic, and Newton as a believer. This idea, founded on the intentional anachronisms of some of the old masters, was afterwards extended, Hazlitt being introduced as an investigator, and Wordsworth bowing in reverence, with Keats in the background. The two poets had never yet met in actual life, but in December 1817, Wordsworth being then on a visit to London, Haydon invited Keats to meet him. The other guests were Charles Lamb and Monkhouse. ‘Wordsworth was in fine cue,’ writes Haydon, ‘and we had a glorious set-to-on Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Virgil. Lamb got exceedingly merry, and exquisitely witty, and his fun, in the midst of Wordsworth’s solemn intonations of oratory, was like the sarcasm and wit of the fool in the intervals of Lear’s passion.’ Although the specimens of wit recorded no longer seem inspired, we can well believe Haydon’s statement that it was an immortal evening, and that in all his life he never passed a more delightful time. We have abundant testimony to the fact that the artist-host was himself an exceptionally fine talker. Hazlitt said that ‘Haydon talked well on most subjects that interest one; indeed, better than any painter I ever met.’ Wordsworth and Talfourd echoed this opinion, and Miss Mitford tells us that he was a most brilliant talker–racy, bold, original, and vigorous, ‘a sort of Benvenuto Cellini, all air and fire.’
It was not until January 1820 that the ‘Entry into Jerusalem’ was finished, when the artist, though absolutely penniless, engaged the great room at the Egyptian Hall for its exhibition, at a rent of £300. His friends helped him over the incidental expenses, and in a state of feverish excitement he awaited the opening day. Public curiosity had been aroused about the work, and early in the afternoon there was a block of carriages in Piccadilly; the passage was thronged with servants, and soon the artist was holding what he described as a ‘regular rout at noonday.’ While Keats and Hazlitt were rejoicing in a corner, Mrs. Siddons swept in, and in her loud, deep, tragic tones, declared that the head of Christ was completely successful. By her favourable verdict, Haydon, who had his doubts, was greatly consoled, not because Mrs. Siddons had any reputation as an art-critic, but because he recognised that she was an expert on the subject of dramatic expression. A thousand pounds was offered for the picture and refused, while the net profits from the exhibition, in London alone, amounted to £1300. Haydon has been commonly represented as an unlucky man, who was always neglected by the public and the patrons, and never met with his professional deserts. But up to this time, as has been seen, he had found ready sympathy and admiration from the public, practical aid during the time of struggle from his friends, and a fair reward for his labours. With the exhibition of the ‘Entry into Jerusalem,’ his reputation was at its zenith; a little skilful engineering of the success thus gained might have extricated him from his difficulties, and enabled him to keep his head above water for the remainder of his days. But, owing chiefly to his own impracticability, his story from this point is one of decline, gradual at first, but increasing in velocity, until the end came in disaster and despair.
Even while Haydon was in the first flush of his success, there were signs that he had achieved no lasting triumph. Sir George Beaumont proposed that the British Gallery should buy the great picture, but the Directors refused to give the price asked–£2000. An effort to sell it by subscription fell through, only, £200 being paid into Coutts’. When the exhibition closed in London, Haydon took his masterpiece to Scotland, and showed it both in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, netting another £900, which, however, was quickly eaten up by hungry creditors. The picture was too big to tempt a private purchaser, and in spite of the admiration it had aroused, it remained like a white elephant upon its creator’s hands.
On his return to town, after being fêted by Sir Walter Scott, Lockhart, and ‘Christopher North,’ Haydon finished his commission for Sir George Phillips, ‘Christ Sleeping in the Garden,’ which, he frankly admitted, was one of the worst pictures he ever painted. Scarcely was this off his easel than he was inspired with a tremendous conception for the ‘Raising of Lazarus.’ He ordered a canvas such as his soul loved, nineteen feet long by fifteen high, and dashed in his first idea. He was still deeply in debt, still desperately in love (his lady was now a widow), and the new picture would take at least two years to paint. Nevertheless, he worked away with all his customary energy, and prayed fervently that he might paint a great masterpiece, never doubting but that his prayers would be heard.
With the end of this year, 1820, Haydon’s Autobiography breaks off, and the rest of his life is told in his Journals and Letters. At the beginning of 1821, when he was fairly at work on his Lazarus, he confides to his Journal his conviction that difficulties are to be his lot in pecuniary matters, and adds: ‘My plan must be to make up my mind to meet them, and fag as I can–to lose no single moment, but seize on time that is free from disturbance, and make the most of it. If I can float, and keep alive attention to my situation through another picture, I will reach the shore. I am now clearly in sight of it, and I will yet land to the sound of trumpets, and the shouts of my friends.’
In spite of his absorption in his work, Haydon found time for the society of his literary friends. On March 7, he records: ‘Sir Walter Scott, Lamb, Wilkie, and Procter have been with me all the morning, and a delightful morning we have had. Scott operated on us like champagne and whisky mixed…. It is singular how success and the want of it operate on two extraordinary men, Walter Scott and Wordsworth. Scott enters a room and sits at table with the coolness and self-possession of conscious fame; Wordsworth with a mortified elevation of the head, as if fearful he was not estimated as he deserved. Scott can afford to talk of trifles, because he knows the world will think him a great man who condescends to trifle; Wordsworth must always be eloquent and profound, because he knows that he is considered childish and puerile…. I think that Scott’s success would have made Wordsworth insufferable, while Wordsworth’s failures would not have rendered Scott a whit less delightful. Scott is the companion of Nature in all her moods and freaks, while Wordsworth follows her like an apostle, sharing her solemn moods and impressions.’
In these rough notes, unusual powers of observation and insight into character are displayed. That Haydon also had a keen sense of humour is proved by his account of an evening at Mrs. Siddons’ where the hostess read aloud _Macbeth_ to her guests. ‘She acts Macbeth herself much better than either Kemble or Kean,’ he writes. ‘It is extraordinary the awe that this wonderful woman inspires. After her first reading the men retired to tea. While we were all eating toast and tinkling cups and saucers, she began again. It was like the effect of a mass-bell at Madrid. All noise ceased; we slunk to our seats like boors, two or three of the most distinguished men of the day, with the very toast in their mouths, afraid to bite. It was curious to see Lawrence in this predicament, to hear him bite by degrees, and then stop, for fear of making too much crackle, his eyes full of water from the constraint; and at the same time to hear Mrs. Siddons’ ‘eye of newt and toe of frog,’ and to see Lawrence give a sly bite, and then look awed, and pretend to be listening.’
In the spring of 1821 Haydon lost two intimate friends, John Scott, who was killed by Christie in the Blackwood duel, and Keats, who died at Rome on February 23. He briefly sums up his impressions of the dead poet in his Journal. ‘In fireside conversation he was weak and inconsistent, but he was in his glory in the fields…. He was the most unselfish of human creatures: unadapted to this world, he cared not for himself, and put himself to inconvenience for the sake of his friends. He had an exquisite sense of humour, and too refined a notion of female purity to bear the little arts of love with patience…. He began life full of hopes, fiery, impetuous, ungovernable, expecting the world to fall at once beneath his powers. Unable to bear the sneers of ignorance or the attacks of envy, he began to despond, and flew to dissipation as a relief. For six weeks he was scarcely sober, and to show what a man does to gratify his appetites when once they get the better of him, he once covered his tongue and throat, as far as he could reach, with Cayenne pepper, in order to appreciate the “delicious coldness of claret in all its glory”–his own expression.’
June 22, 1821, is entered in the Journal as ‘A remarkable day in my life. I am arrested!’ This incident, unfortunately, became far too common in after-days to be at all remarkable, but the first touch of the bailiff’s hand was naturally something of a shock, and Haydon filled three folio pages with angry comments on the iniquity of the laws against debtors. He was able, however, to arrange the affair before night, and the sheriff’s officer, whose duty it was to keep him in safe custody during the day, was so profoundly impressed by the sight of the Lazarus, that he allowed his prisoner to go free on parole. This incident has been likened to that of the bravoes arrested in their murderous intent by the organ-playing of Stradella; and also to the case of the soldiers of the Constable who, when sacking Rome, broke into Parmigiano’s studio, but were so struck by the beauty of his pictures that they protected him and his property.
In despite of debts, difficulties, and the lack of commissions, Haydon, who had now been in love for five years, was married on October 10, 1821, to the young widow, Mary Hyman, who was blessed with two children, and a jointure of fifty pounds a year. His Journal for this period is full of raptures over his blissful state, as also are his letters to his friends. To Miss Mitford he writes from Windsor, where the honeymoon was spent: ‘Here I am, sitting by my dearest Mary with all the complacency of a well-behaved husband, writing to you while she is working quietly on some unintelligible part of a lady’s costume. You do not know how proud I am of saying _my wife_. I never felt half so proud of Solomon or Macbeth, as I am of being the husband of this tender little bit of lovely humanity…. There never was such a creature; and although her face is perfect, and has more feeling in it than Lady Hamilton’s, her manner to me is perfectly enchanting, and more bewitching than her beauty. I think I shall put over my painting-room door, “Love, solitude, and painting.”‘ On the last day of the year, according to his wont, Haydon sums up his feelings and impressions of the past twelve months. ‘I don’t know how it is, but I get less reflective as I get older. I seem to take things as they come without thought. Perhaps being married to my dearest Mary, and having no longer anything to hope in love, I get more content with my lot, which, God knows, is rapturous beyond imagination. Here I sit sketching, with the loveliest face before me, smiling and laughing, and “solitude is not.” Marriage has increased my happiness beyond expression. In the intervals of study, a few minutes’ conversation with a creature one loves is the greatest of all reliefs. God bless us both! My pecuniary difficulties are great, but my love is intense, my ambition is intense, and my hope in God’s protection cheering. Bewick, my pupil, has realised my hopes in his picture of “Jacob and Rachel.” But it is cold work talking of pupils when one’s soul is full of a beloved woman! I am really and truly in love, and without affectation, I can talk, write, or think of nothing else.’
But if a love-match brings increased happiness, it also brings weightier cares and responsibilities. Haydon’s credit had been in a measure restored by the success of his last picture, but his creditors seemed to resent his marriage, and during the months that followed, gave him little peace. He was obliged, in the intervals of painting, to rush hither and thither to pacify this creditor, quiet the fears of that, remove the ill-will of a third, and borrow money at usurious interest from a fourth in order to keep his engagements with a fifth. In spite of all his compromises and arrangements, he was arrested more than once during this year, but so far he had been able to keep out of prison. His favourite pupil Bewick, who sat to him for the head of Lazarus (being appropriately pale and thin from want of food) has left an account of the difficulties under which the picture was painted. ‘I think I see the painter before me,’ he writes, ‘his palette and brushes in the left hand, returning from the sheriff’s officer in the adjoining room, pale, calm, and serious–no agitation–mounting his high steps and continuing his arduous task, and as he looks round to his pallid model, whispering, “Egad, Bewick, I have just been arrested; that is the third time. If they come again, I shall not be able to go on.”‘
On December 7, the Lazarus was finished, and five days later Haydon’s eldest son Frank was born. The happy father was profoundly moved by his new responsibilities, as well as by his wife’s suffering and danger. On the last day of 1822 he thanks his Maker for the happiest year of his life, and also ‘for being permitted to finish another great picture, which must add to my reputation, and go to strengthen the art…. Grant it triumphant success. Grant that I may soon begin the “Crucifixion,” and persevere with that, until I bring it to a conclusion equally positive and glorious.’ Haydon’s prayers, which have been not inaptly described as ‘begging letters to the Almighty,’ are invariably couched in terms that would be appropriate in an appeal to the President of a Celestial Academy. As his biographer points out, he prayed as though he would take heaven by storm, and although he often asked for humility, the demands for this gift bore very little proportion to those for glories and triumphs.
The Lazarus, though it showed signs of haste and exaggeration, natural enough considering the conditions under which it was painted, was acclaimed as a great work, and the receipts from its exhibition were of a most satisfactory nature, mounting up to nearly two hundred pounds a week. Instead of calling his creditors together, and coming to some arrangement with them, Haydon, rendered over-confident by success, spent his time in preparing a new and vaster canvas for his conception of the Crucifixion. The sight of crowds of people paying their shillings to view the Lazarus roused the cupidity of one of the creditors, who, against his own interests, killed the goose that was laying golden eggs. On April 13, an execution was put in, and the picture was seized. A few days later Haydon was arrested, and carried to the King’s Bench, his house was taken possession of, and all his property was advertised for sale.
On April 22, he dates the entry in his Journal, ‘King’s Bench,’ and consoles himself with the reflection that Bacon, Raleigh, and Cervantes had also suffered imprisonment. His friends rallied round him at this melancholy period. Lord Mulgrave, Sir George Beaumont, Scott and Wilkie, giving not only sympathy but practical help. At his forced sale a portion of his casts and painting materials was bought in by his friends in order that he might be enabled to set to work again as soon as he was released from prison. A meeting of creditors was called, and Haydon addressed to them a characteristic letter, begging to be spared the disgrace of ‘taking the Act,’ and complaining of the hardship of his treatment in being torn from his family and his art, after devoting the best years of his life to the honour of his country. But as the creditors cared nothing for the honour of the country, he was compelled to pass through the Bankruptcy Court, and on July 25 he regained his freedom. It was now his desire to return to his dismantled house, and, without a bed to lie upon, or a shilling in his pocket, to finish his gigantic ‘Crucifixion.’ But his wife, the long-suffering Mary, persuaded him to abandon this idea, to retire to modest lodgings for a time, and to paint portraits and cabinet-pictures until better fortune dawned.
Haydon yielded to her desire, but he never ceased to regret what he considered his degradation. He would have preferred to allow his friends and creditors to support himself and his family, while he worked at a canvas of unsaleable size, a proceeding that most men would regard as involving a deeper degradation than painting pot-boilers.
Haydon began his new career by painting the ‘portrait of a gentleman.’ ‘Ah, my poor lay-figure,’ he groans, ‘he, who bore the drapery of Christ and the grave-clothes of Lazarus, the cloak of the centurion and the gown of Newton, was to-day disgraced by a black coat and waistcoat. I apostrophised him, and he seemed to sympathise, and bowed his head as if ashamed to look me in the face.’ Haydon’s detestation of portrait-painting probably arose from the secret consciousness that he was not successful in this branch of his art. His taste for the grandiose led him to depict his sitters larger than life, if not ‘twice as natural.’ His objection to painting small pictures was partly justified by his weakness of sight. It was easy for him to dash in heads on a large scale in a frenzy of inspiration, but he seemed to lack the faculty for ‘finish.’ The faults of disproportion and apparent carelessness that disfigure many of his works, are easily accounted for by his method of painting, which is thus described by his son Frederick, who often acted as artist’s model:–
‘His natural sight was of little or no use to him at any distance, and he would wear, one over the other, two or three pairs of large round concave spectacles, so powerful as greatly to diminish objects. He would mount his steps, look at you through one pair of glasses, then push them all back on his head, and paint by the naked eye close to the canvas. After some minutes he would pull down one pair of his glasses, look at you, then step down, walk slowly backwards to the wall, and study the effect through one, two, or three pairs of spectacles; then with one pair only look long and steadily in the looking-glass at the side to examine the reflection of his work; then mount his steps and paint again. How he ever contrived to paint a head or limb in proportion is a mystery to me, for it is clear that he had lost his natural sight in boyhood. He is, as he said, the first blind man who ever successfully painted pictures.’
Unfortunately, Haydon’s self-denial in painting portraits was not well rewarded, for commissions were few, and the clouds began to gather again. One of his sitters had to be appealed to for money for coals, and if such appeals were frequent, the scarcity of sitters was hardly surprising. On one occasion he pawned all his books, except a few old favourites, for three pounds, and entries like the following are of almost daily occurrence in the Journal:–‘Obliged to go out in the rain, I left my room with no coals in it, and no money to buy any…. Not a shilling in the world. Sold nothing, and not likely to. Baker called, and was insolent. If he were to stop the supplies, God knows what would become of my children! Landlord called–kind and sorry. Butcher called, respectful, but disappointed. Tailor good–humoured, and willing to wait…. Walked about the town. I was so full of grief, I could not have concealed it at home.’
In the midst of all his harassing anxieties, Haydon was untiring in his efforts to obtain employment of the heroic kind that his soul craved. He had begun to realise that he had small chance of disposing of huge historical pictures to private patrons, and that his only hope rested with the Government. Even while confined in prison he had persuaded Brougham to present a petition to the House of Commons setting forth the desirability of appointing a Committee to inquire into the state of national art, and by a regular distribution of a small portion of the public funds, to give public encouragement to the professors of historical painting. No sooner did he regain his freedom than Haydon attacked Sir Charles Long with a plan for the decoration of the great room of the Admiralty, to be followed by the decoration of the House of Lords and St. Paul’s Cathedral. This was but the beginning of a long series of impassioned pleadings with public men in favour of national employment for historical painters. Silence, snubs, formal acknowledgments, curt refusals, all were lost upon Haydon, who kept pouring in page after page of agonised petition on Sir Charles Long, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Grey, Lord Melbourne, and Sir Robert Peel, and seemed to be making no way with any of them.
Haydon thought himself ill-used, throughout his life, by statesmen and patrons, and many of his friends were of the same opinion. But both he and they ignored the fact that it is impossible to create an artificial market for works of art for which there is no spontaneous popular demand. A despotic prince may, if he chooses, give his court painter _carte blanche_ for the decorations of national buildings, and gain nothing but glory for his liberality, even when it is exercised at the expense of his people. But in a country that possesses a constitutional government, more especially when that country has been impoverished by long and costly wars, the minister who devotes large sums to the encouragement of national art has the indignation of an over-taxed populace to reckon with. It is little short of an insult to offer men historic frescoes when they are clamouring for bread. Haydon was unfortunate in his period, which was not favourable for a crusade on behalf of high art. The recent pacification of the Continent, and the opening up of its treasures, tempted English noblemen and plutocrats to invest their money in old masters to the neglect of native artists, who were only thought worthy to paint portraits of their patrons’ wives and children. We who have inherited the Peel, the Angerstein, and the Hertford collections, can scarcely bring ourselves to regret the sums that were lavished on Flemish and Italian masterpieces, sums that might have kept our Barrys and Haydons from bankruptcy.
In January 1824 Haydon left his lodgings, and took the lease of a house in Connaught Terrace, for which he paid, or promised to pay, a hundred and twenty pounds a year, a heavy rent for a recently insolvent artist. Fortunately, he acquired with the house a landlord of amazing benevolence, who took pot-boilers in lieu of rent, and meekly submitted to abuse when nothing else was forthcoming. As soon as he was fairly settled, Haydon arranged the composition of a large picture of ‘Pharaoh dismissing Moses,’ upon which he worked in the intervals of portrait-painting. A curious and obviously impartial sketch of him, as he appeared at this time, is drawn by Borrow in his _Lavengro_. The hero’s elder brother comes up to town, it may be remembered, to commission a certain heroic artist to paint an heroic picture of a very unheroic mayor of Norwich. The two brothers go together to the painter of Lazarus, and have some difficulty in obtaining admission to his studio, being mistaken by the servant for duns. They found a man of about thirty-five, with a clever, intelligent countenance, sharp grey eyes, and hair cut _à la_ Raphael. He possessed, moreover, a broad chest, and would have been a very fine figure if his legs had not been too short. He was then engaged upon his Moses, whose legs, in Lavengro’s opinion, were also too short. His eyes glistened at the mention of a hundred pounds for the mayor’s portrait, and he admitted that he was confoundedly short of money. The painter was anxious that Lavengro should sit to him for his Plutarch, which honour that gentleman firmly declined. Years afterwards he saw the portrait of the mayor, a ‘mighty portly man, with a bull’s head, black hair, a body like a dray horse, and legs and thighs corresponding; a man six foot high at the least. To his bull’s head, black hair and body, the painter had done justice; there was one point, however, in which the portrait did not correspond with the original–the legs were disproportionately short, the painter having substituted his own legs for those of the mayor, which, when I perceived, I rejoiced that I had not consented to be painted as Pharaoh, for if I had, the chances are that he would have served me in exactly the same way as he had served Moses and the mayor.’
The painting of provincial mayors was so little to Haydon’s taste that by the close of this year we find him in deep depression of spirits, unrelieved by even a spark of his old sanguine buoyancy. ‘I candidly confess,’ he writes, ‘I find my glorious art a bore. I cannot with pleasure paint any individual head for the mere purpose of domestic gratification. I must have a great subject to excite public feeling…. Alas! I have no object in life now but my wife and children, and almost wish I had not them, that I might sit still and meditate on human grandeur and human ambition till I died…. I am not yet forty, and can tell of a destiny melancholy and rapturous, bitter beyond all bitterness, cursed, heart-breaking, maddening. But I dare not write now. The melancholy demon has grappled my heart, and crushed its turbulent beatings in his black, bony, clammy, clenching fingers.’
It was just when things seemed at their darkest, when the waters threatened to overwhelm the unfortunate artist, that a rope was thrown to him. His legal adviser, Mr. Kearsley, a practical and prosperous man, came forward with an offer of help. He agreed to provide £300 for one year on certain conditions, in order that Haydon might be freed from pressure for that period, and be in a position to ask a fair price for his work. When not engaged on portraits, he was to paint historical pictures of a saleable size. The advance was to be secured on a life insurance, and to be repaid out of the sale of the pictures, with interest at four per cent. This offer was accepted with some reluctance, and the following year was one of comparative peace and quiet. The Journal gives evidence of greater ease of mind, and renewed pleasure in work. Haydon’s love for his wife waxed rather than waned with the passing of the years, and his children, of whom he too soon had the poor man’s quiverful, were an ever-present delight. ‘My domestic happiness is doubled,’ he writes about this time. ‘Daily and hourly my sweet Mary proves the justice of my choice. My boy Frank gives tokens of being gifted at two years old, God bless him! My ambition would be to make him a public man…. I have got into my old delightful habits of study again. The mixture of literature and painting I really think the perfection of human happiness. I paint a head, revel in colour, hit an expression, sit down fatigued, take up a poet or historian, write my own thoughts, muse on the thoughts of others, and hours, troubles, and the tortures of disappointed ambition pass and are forgotten.’
Portraits, and one or two commissions for small pictures, kept Haydon afloat throughout this year, but a widespread commercial distress in the early part of 1826 affected his gains, and in February he records that for the last five weeks he has been suffering the tortures of the Inferno. He was persuaded, much against his will, to send his pictures to the Academy, and he was proportionately annoyed at the adverse criticism that greeted his attempts at portraiture. This attack he regarded as the result of a deep-laid plot to injure him in a lucrative branch of his art. He consoled himself by beginning a large picture of ‘Alexander taming Bucephalus,’ the ‘finest subject on earth.’ Through his friend and opposite neighbour, Carew the sculptor, Haydon made an appeal to Lord Egremont, that generous patron of the arts, for help or employment, in response to which Lord Egremont promised to call and see the Alexander. There is a pathetic touch in the account of this visit, on which so much depended. Lord Egremont called at Carew’s house on his way, and Haydon, who saw him go in, relates that ‘Dear Mary and I were walking on the leads, and agreed that it would not be quite right to look too happy, being without a sixpence; so we came in, I to the parlour to look through the blinds, and she to the nursery.’ Happily, the patron was favourably impressed by the picture, and promised to give £600 for it when it was finished. In order to pay his models Haydon was obliged to pawn one of his two lay-figures, since he could not bring himself to part with any more books. ‘I may do without a lay-figure for a time,’ he writes, ‘but not without old Homer. The truth is I am fonder of books than of anything on earth. I consider myself a man of great powers, excited to an art which limits their exercise. In politics, law, or literature they would have had a full and glorious swing, and I should have secured a competence.’
The fact that Haydon was more at home among the literary men of his acquaintance than among his fellow-artists was a natural result of his intense love of books, and his keen interest in contemporary history. And it is evident that his own character and work impressed his poetical friends, for we find that not only Wordsworth and Keats, but Leigh Hunt, Charles Lamb, Miss Mitford, and Miss Barrett addressed to him admiring verses. For Byron, whom he never knew, Haydon cherished an ardent admiration, and the following interesting passage, comparing that poet with Wordsworth, occurs in one of his letters to Miss Mitford, who had criticised Byron’s taste:–
‘You are unjust, depend upon it,’ he writes, ‘in your estimate of Byron’s poetry, and wrong in ranking Wordsworth beyond him. There are things in Byron’s poetry so exquisite that fifty or five hundred years hence they will be read, felt, and adored throughout the world. I grant that Wordsworth is very pure, very holy, very orthodox, and occasionally very elevated, highly poetical, and oftener insufferably obscure, starched, dowdy, anti-human, and anti-sympathetic, but he never will be ranked above Byron, nor classed with Milton…. I dislike his selfish Quakerism, his affectation of superior virtue, his utter insensibility to the frailties, the beautiful frailties of passion. I was walking with him once in Pall Mall; we darted into Christie’s. In the corner of the room was a beautiful copy of the “Cupid and Psyche” (statues) kissing. Cupid is taking her lovely chin, and turning her pouting mouth to meet his, while he archly bends down, as if saying, “Pretty dear!”… Catching sight of the Cupid as he and I were coming out, Wordsworth’s face reddened, he showed his teeth, and then said in a loud voice, “_The Dev-v-vils!_” There’s a mind! Ought not this exquisite group to have softened his heart as much as his old, grey-mossed rocks, his withered thorn, and his dribbling mountain streams? I am altered very much about Wordsworth from finding him too hard, too elevated, to attend to the voice of humanity. No, give me Byron with all his spite, hatred, depravity, dandyism, vanity, frankness, passion, and idleness, rather than Wordsworth with all his heartless communion with woods and grass.’
An attempt on Haydon’s part to reconcile himself with his old enemies, the Academicians, ended in failure. He heads his account of the transaction, ‘The disgrace of my life.’ He was received with cold civility by the majority of the artists to whom he paid conciliatory visits, and when he put his name down for election, he received not a single vote. A more agreeable memory of this year was a visit to Petworth, where, as he records, with Pepysian _naiveté_, ‘Lord Egremont has placed me in one of the most magnificent bedrooms I ever saw. It speaks more of what he thinks of my talents than anything that ever happened to me…. What a destiny is mine! One year in the King’s Bench, the companion of gamblers and scoundrels–sleeping in wretchedness and dirt on a flock-bed–another reposing in down and velvet in a splendid apartment in a splendid house, the guest of rank, fashion, and beauty.’ Haydon’s painting-room was now, as he loved to see it, crowded with distinguished visitors, who were anxious to inspect the picture of Alexander before it was sent to the Exhibition. Among them came Charles Lamb, who afterwards set down some impressions and suggestions in the following characteristic fashion:–
‘DEAR RAFFAELE HAYDON,
‘Did the maid tell you I came to see your picture? I think the face and bearing of the Bucephalus-tamer very noble, his flesh too effeminate or painty…. I had small time to pick out praise or blame, for two lord-like Bucks came in, upon whose strictures my presence seemed to impose restraint; I plebeian’d off therefore.
‘I think I have hit on a subject for you, but can’t swear it was never executed–I never heard of its being–“Chaucer beating a Franciscan Friar in Fleet Street.” Think of the old dresses, houses, etc. “It seemeth that both these learned men (Gower and Chaucer) were of the Inner Temple; for not many years since Master Buckley did see a record in the same house where Geoffrey Chaucer was fined two shillings for beating a Franciscan Friar in Fleet Street.”–_Chaucer’s Life, by T. Speght_.–Yours in haste (salt fish waiting).
In June Haydon was again arrested, and imprisoned in the King’s Bench. Once more he appealed to Parliament by a petition presented by Brougham, and to the public through letters to the newspapers. Parliament and the larger public turned a deaf ear, but private friends rallied to his support. Scott, himself a ruined man, sent a cheque and a charming letter of sympathy, while Lockhart suggested that a subscription should be raised to buy one or more pictures. A public meeting of sympathisers was convened, at which it was stated that Haydon’s debts amounted to £1767, while his only available asset was an unfinished picture of the ‘Death of Eucles.’ Over a hundred pounds was subscribed in the room, and it was decided that the Eucles should be raffled in ten-pound shares. The result of these efforts was the release of the prisoner at the end of July.
During this last term of imprisonment Haydon witnessed the masquerade, or mock election by his fellow-prisoners, and instantly decided that he would paint the scene, which offered unique opportunities for both humour and pathos. This picture, Hogarthian in type, was finished and exhibited before the close of the year. The exhibition was moderately successful, but the picture did not sell, and Haydon was once more sinking into despair, when the king expressed a desire to have the work sent down to Windsor for his inspection. Hopes were raised high once more, and this time were not disappointed. George IV. bought the ‘Mock Election,’ and promptly paid the price of five hundred guineas. Thus encouraged, Haydon set to work with renewed spirit on a companion picture, ‘Chairing the Member,’ which was finished and exhibited, with some earlier works, in the course of the summer. The king refused to buy the new work, but it found a purchaser at £300, and the net receipts from the two pictures and their exhibition amounted to close upon £1400, a sum which, observes Haydon, in better circumstances and with less expense, would have afforded a comfortable independence for the year!
The Eucles occupied the artist during the remainder of 1828, and early in 1829 he began a new Hogarthian subject, a Punch and Judy show. He was still painting portraits when he could get sitters, and on April 15, he notes: ‘Finished one cursed portrait–have only one more to touch, and then I shall be free. I have an exquisite gratification in painting portraits wretchedly. I love to see the sitters look as if they thought, “Can this be Haydon’s–the great Haydon’s painting?” I chuckle. I am rascal enough to take their money, and chuckle more.’ It must be owned that Haydon thoroughly deserved his ill-success in this branch of his art. When ‘Punch’ was finished the king sent for it to Windsor, but though he admired, he did not buy, and the picture eventually passed into the possession of Haydon’s old friend, Dr. Darling, who had helped him out of more than one difficulty. A large representation of ‘Xenophon and the Retreat of the Ten Thousand’ was now begun, but before it was finished the painter was once more in desperate straits. In vain he sent up urgent petitions to his Maker that he might be enabled to go through with this great work, explaining in a parenthesis, ‘It will be my greatest,’ and concluding, ‘Bless its commencement, its progress, its conclusion, and its effect, for the sake of the intellectual elevation of my great and glorious country.’
In May 1830, Haydon was back again in the King’s Bench, where he had begun to feel quite at home. He presented yet another of his innumerable petitions to Parliament in favour of Government encouragement of historical painting, through Mr. Agar Ellis, but as the ministry showed no desire to encourage this particular historical painter, he passed through the Bankruptcy Court, and returned to his family on the 20th of July. During his period of detention, George IV. had died, and Haydon has the following comment on the event:–‘Thus died as thoroughbred an Englishman as ever existed in this country. He admired her sports, gloried in her prejudices, had confidence in her bottom and spirit, and to him alone is the destruction of Napoleon owing. I have lost in him my sincere admirer; and had not his wishes been continually thwarted, he would have given me ample and adequate employment.’
Although Haydon had regained his freedom, his chance of maintaining himself and his rapidly increasing family by his art seemed as far away as ever. By October 15th he is at his wits’ end again, and writes in his Journal: ‘The harassings of a family are really dreadful. Two of my children are ill, and Mary is nursing. All night she was attending to the sick and hushing the suckling, with a consciousness that our last shilling was going. I got up in the morning bewildered–Xenophon hardly touched–no money–butcher impudent–all tradesmen insulting. I took up my private sketch-book and two prints of Napoleon (from a small picture of ‘Napoleon musing at St. Helena’) and walked into the city. Hughes advanced me five guineas on the sketch-book; I sold my prints, and returned home happy with £8, 4s. in my pocket…. (25th) Out selling my prints. Sold enough for maintenance for the week. Several people looked hard at me with my roll of prints, but I feel more ashamed in borrowing money than in honestly selling my labours. It is a pity the nobility drive me to this by their neglect.’
In December came another stroke of good-luck. Sir Robert Peel called at the studio, and gave the artist a commission to paint, on a larger scale, a replica of his small sketch of ‘Napoleon at St. Helena.’ Unluckily, there was a misunderstanding about the price. Peel asked how much Haydon charged for a whole length figure, and was told a hundred pounds, which was the price of an ordinary portrait. Taking this to be the charge for the Napoleon, he paid no more. Haydon, who considered the picture well worth £500, was bitterly disappointed, and took no pains to conceal his feelings. Peel afterwards sent him an extra thirty pounds, but the subject remained a grievance to Haydon for the rest of his life, and Peel, who had intended to do the artist a good turn, was so annoyed by his complaints, that he never gave him another commission. The Napoleon, though its exhibition was not a success, was one of Haydon’s most popular pictures, and the engraving is well known. Wordsworth admired it exceedingly, and on June 12, sent the artist the ‘Sonnet to B. R. Haydon, composed on seeing his picture of Napoleon in the island of St. Helena,’ beginning:
‘Haydon! let worthier judges praise the skill.’
The close of this year was a melancholy period to poor Haydon. He lost his little daughter, Fanny, and his third son, Alfred, was gradually fading away. Out of eight children born to this most affectionate of fathers, no fewer than five died in infancy from suffusion of the brain, due, it was supposed, to the terrible mental distresses of their mother. ‘I can remember,’ writes Frederick Haydon, one of the three survivors, ‘the roses of her sunken cheeks fading away daily with anxiety and grief. My father, who was passionately attached to both wife and children, suffered the tortures of the damned at the sight before him. His sorrow over the deaths of his children was something more than human. I remember watching him as he hung over his daughter Georgiana, and over his dying boy Harry, the pride and delight of his life. Poor fellow, how he cried! and he went into the next room, and beating his head passionately on the bed, called upon God to take him and all of us from this dreadful world. The earliest and most painful death was to be preferred to our life at that time.’
By dint of borrowing in every possible quarter, generally at forty per cent. interest, and inducing his patrons to take shares in his Xenophon, Haydon managed to get through the winter, though his children were often without stockings. William IV. consented to place his name at the head of the subscribers’ list, and Goethe wrote a flattering letter, expressing his desire to take a ticket for the ‘very valuable painting,’ and assuring the artist that ‘my soul has been elevated for many years by the contemplation of the important pictures (the cartoons from the Elgin Marbles) formerly sent to me, which occupy an honourable station in my house.’ Xenophon was exhibited in the spring of 1832 without attracting much attention, the whole nation being engrossed with the subject of Reform. Haydon, though a high Tory by birth and inclination, was an ardent champion of the Bill, as he had been for that of Catholic Emancipation. His brush was once more exchanged for the pen, and he not only poured out his thoughts upon Reform in his Journal, but wrote several letters on the subject to the _Times_, which he considered the most wonderful compositions of the kind that had ever been penned. After the passing of the Bill he congratulates himself upon having contributed to the grand result, and adds: ‘When my colours have faded, my canvas decayed, and my body has mingled with the earth, these glorious letters, the best things I ever wrote, will awaken the enthusiasm of my countrymen. I thanked God I lived in such a time, and that he gifted me with talent to serve the great cause.’
On reading the account of the monster meeting of the Trades Unions at Newhall Hill, Birmingham, it occurred to Haydon that the moment when the vast concourse joined in the sudden prayer offered up by Hugh Hutton, would make a fine subject for a picture. Accordingly, he wrote to Hutton, and laid the suggestion before him. The Birmingham leaders were attracted by the idea, and the picture was begun, but support of a material kind was not forthcoming, and the scheme had to be abandoned. Lord Grey then suggested that Haydon should paint a picture of the great Reform Banquet, which was to be held in the Guildhall on July 11. The proposal was exactly to the taste of the public-spirited artist, who saw fame and fortune beckoning to him once more, and fancied that his future was assured. He was allowed every facility on the great day, breakfasted and dined with the Committee at the Guildhall, was treated with distinction by the noble guests, many of whom sent to take wine with him as he sat at work, and in short, to quote his own words, ‘I was an object of great distinction without five shillings in my pocket–and this is life!’
Lord Grey, on seeing Haydon’s sketches of the Banquet, gave him a commission for the picture at a price of £500, half of which he paid down at once, and thus saved the painter from the ruin that was again impending. Then followed a period of triumphant happiness. The leading men of the Liberal party sat for their heads, and Haydon had the longed-for opportunity of pressing upon them his views about the public encouragement of art by means of grants for the decoration of national buildings. Although it does not appear that he made a single convert, he was quite contented for the time being with the ready access to ministers and noblemen that the occasion afforded him, and his Journal is filled with expressions of his satisfaction. We hear of Lord Palmerston’s good-humoured elegance, Lord Lansdowne’s amiability, Lord Jeffrey’s brilliant conversation, and, most delightful of all, Lord Melbourne’s frank, unaffected cordiality. Melbourne, it appears, enjoyed his sittings, for he asked many questions about Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Keats, and Shelley, and highly appreciated Haydon’s anecdotes. Needless to add, he did not allow himself to be bored by the artist’s theories.
The sittings for the Reform picture continued through 1833, and the early part of 1834. Haydon was kept in full employment, but domestic sorrows marred his satisfaction in his interesting work. In less than twelve months, he lost two sons, Alfred and Harry, the latter a child of extraordinary promise. ‘The death of this beautiful boy,’ he writes, ‘has given my mind a blow I shall never effectually recover. I saw him buried to-day, after passing four days sketching his dear head in his coffin–his beautiful head. What a creature! With a brow like an ancient god!’ In August Haydon was arrested again, and hurried away for a day and night of torture, during which, he confesses, he was very near putting an end to himself; but advances from the Duke of Cleveland and Mr. Ellice brought him release, and in a few hours he was at home again, ‘as happy and as hard at work as ever.’
In April 1834, the Reform picture was exhibited, but the public was not interested, and Haydon lost a considerable sum over the exhibition. The price of the commission had long since gone to quiet the clamours of his creditors. On May 12 he writes: ‘It is really lamentable to see the effect of success and failure on people of fashion. Last year, all was hope, exultation, and promise with me. My door was beset, my house besieged, my room inundated. It was an absolute fight to get in to see me paint. Well, out came the work–the public felt no curiosity–it failed, and my door is deserted, no horses, no carriages. Now for executions, insults, misery, and wretchedness.’ Then follows the old story. ‘June 7.–Mary and I in agony of mind. All my Italian books, and some of my best historical designs, are gone to a pawnbroker’s. She packed up her best gowns and the children’s, and I drove away with what cost me £40, and got £4. The state of degradation, humiliation, and pain of mind in which I sat in that dingy back-room is not to be described.’
Haydon now began a picture of ‘Cassandra and Agamemnon,’ and in July he received a commission to finish it for the Duke of Sutherland, who had more than once saved him from ruin. On this occasion the Duke’s advances barely sufficed to stave off disaster. Studies, prints, clothes, and lay-figures were pawned to pay for the expenses of the work, and on October comes the entry: ‘Directly after the Duke’s letter came with its enclosed cheque, an execution was put in for the taxes. I made the man sit for Cassandra’s hand, and put on a Persian bracelet. When the broker came for his money, he burst out laughing. There was the fellow, an old soldier, pointing in the attitude of Cassandra–up right and steady as if on guard. Lazarus’ head was painted just after an arrest; Eucles was finished from a man in possession; the beautiful face in Xenophon, after a morning spent in begging mercy of lawyers; and now Cassandra’s head was finished in an agony not to be described, and her hand completed from a broker’s man.’
On October 16, 1884, the Houses of Parliament were burned down. ‘Good God!’ writes Haydon, ‘I am just returned from the terrific burning of the Houses of Parliament. Mary and I went in a cab, and drove over the bridge. From the bridge it was sublime. We alighted, and went into a public-house, which was full. The feeling among the people was extraordinary–jokes and radicalism universal…. The comfort is that there is now a better prospect of painting the House of Lords. Lord Grey said there was no intention of taking the tapestry down; little did he think how soon it would go.’ Haydon’s hopes now rose high. For many years, as we have seen, he had been advocating, in season and out of season, the desirability of decorating national buildings with heroic paintings by native artists, and, with the need for new Houses of Parliament, it seemed as if at last his cause might triumph. Once more he attacked the good-humoured but unimpressionable Lord Melbourne, and presented another petition to Parliament through Lord Morpeth. But in any case it would be years before the new buildings were ready for decoration, and in the meantime he would have been entirely out of employment if his long-suffering landlord had not allowed him to paint off a debt with a picture of ‘Achilles at the Court of Lycomedes.’
In the summer of this year Mr. Ewart obtained his Select Committee to inquire into the best means of extending a knowledge of the arts and the principles of design among the people; and further, to inquire into the constitution of the Royal Academy, and the effects produced thereby. Haydon, overjoyed at such a sign of progress, determined to aid the inquiry by giving a lecture on the subject at the London Mechanics’ Institute, under the auspices of Dr. Birkbeck. The lecture was a success, for Haydon’s natural earnestness and enthusiasm enabled him to interest and impress an audience, and Dr. Birkbeck assured him that he had made a ‘hit.’ This was the beginning of his career as a lecturer, by which for several years he earned a small but regular income. But meanwhile ruin was again staring him in the face. On September 26 he writes: ‘The agony of my necessities is really dreadful. For this year I have principally supported myself by the help of my landlord, and by pawning everything of value I have left…. Lay awake in misery. Threatened on all sides. Doubtful whether to apply to the Insolvent Court to protect me, or let ruin come. Improved the picture, and not having a shilling, sent out a pair of my spectacles, and got five shillings for the day. (29th) Sent the tea-urn off the table, and got ten shillings for the day. Shall call my creditors together. In God I trust.’
The meeting of the creditors took place, and Haydon persuaded them to grant him an extension of time until June, 1836. Thus relieved from immediate anxiety he set to work on his picture with renewed zest. The most remarkable trait about him, observes his son Frederick, was his sanguine buoyancy of spirits. ‘Nothing ever depressed him long. He was the most persevering, indomitable man I ever met. With us at home he was always confident of doing better next year. But that next year never came…. Blest as he was with that peculiar faculty of genius for overcoming difficulties, he might have found life tame without them. I remember his saying once, he was not sure he did not relish ruin as a source of increased activity of mind.’ But the struggle had begun to tell upon his powers, if not upon his spirits, and he was now painting pictures for bread; repeating himself; despatching a work in a few days that in better times he would have spent months over; ready to paint small things, since great ones would not sell; fighting misery at the point of his brush, and obliged to eke out a livelihood by begging and borrowing, in default of worse expedients such as bills and cognovits. A less elastic temperament and a less vigorous constitution would have broken down in one year of such a fight. Haydon kept it up for ten.’
The first half of 1836 went by in the usual struggle, and in September Haydon was thrown into prison for the fourth time. On November 17 he passed through the Insolvency Court, and on the following Sunday he records: ‘Went to church, and returned thanks with all my heart and soul for the great mercies of God to me and my family during my imprisonment…. (29th) Set my palette to-day, the first time these eleven weeks and three days. I relished the oil; could have tasted the colour; rubbed my cheeks with the brushes, and kissed the palette. Ah, could I be let loose in the House of Lords!’ In the absence of commissions, he now turned to lecturing as a means of support. He lectured in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham, as well as in London, and did good service by agitating for the establishment of local schools of design, and by arousing in the minds of the wealthy middle classes some faint appreciation of the claims of art.
A valuable result of these lectures was the extension of Haydon’s acquaintance among the shrewd merchant princes of the north, who recognised his artistic sincerity, and were inclined to hold out to him a helping hand. Through the influence of Mr. Lowndes, a Liverpool art-patron, Haydon received a commission to paint a picture of ‘Christ blessing Little Children,’ for the Blind Asylum at Liverpool, at a price of £400. So elated was he at this unexpected piece of good fortune that, with characteristic sanguineness, he seems to have thought that all his troubles were at an end for ever. Even his pious dependence on heavenly support diminished with his freedom from care, and he notes in a Sunday entry: ‘Went to church, but prosperity, though it makes me grateful, does not cause me such perpetual religious musings as adversity. When on a precipice, where nothing but God’s protection can save me, I delight in religious hope, but I am sorry to say my religion ever dwindles unless kept alive by risk of ruin. My piety is never so intense as when in a prison, and my gratitude never so much alive as when I have just escaped from one.’
The year 1838 passed in comparative peace and comfort. The picture for the asylum was finished about the end of August, when Haydon congratulated his Maker on the fact that he (Haydon) had paid his rent and taxes, laid in his coals for the winter, and enjoyed health, happiness, and freedom from debt–fresh debt, be it understood–ever since this commission. Going down to Liverpool to hang his work, it was proposed to him by Mr. Lowndes that he should paint a picture of the Duke of Wellington on the field of Waterloo, twenty years after the battle. This was a subject after Haydon’s own heart, for the Duke had always been his ideal hero, his king among men. Overflowing with pride and delight, he prays that Providence will so bless this new commission that ‘the glorious city of Liverpool may possess the best historical picture, and the grandest effort of my pencil in portraiture. Inspired by history, I fear not making it the grandest thing.’
The Liverpool committee wrote to the Duke, to ask if he would consent to give sittings to Haydon, and received a promise that he would sit for his head as soon as time could be found. Meanwhile, Haydon set to work upon the horse, which was copied from portraits of Copenhagen. While he was thus engaged, D’Orsay called at the studio, and bestowed advice and criticism upon the artist, which, for once, was thankfully received. Haydon relates how D’Orsay ‘took my brush in his dandy glove, which made my heart ache, and lowered the hind-quarters by bringing over a bit of the sky. Such a dress! white greatcoat, blue satin cravat, hair oiled and curling, hat of the primest curve, gloves scented with eau-de-Cologne, primrose in tint, skin in tightness. In this prime of dandyism, he took up a nasty, oily, dirty hog-tool, and immortalised Copenhagen by touching the sky. I thought after he was gone, “This won’t do–a Frenchman touch Copenhagen!” So out I rubbed all he had touched, and modified his hints myself.’
As there was no chance of the Duke’s being able to sit at this time, owing to the pressure of public business, Haydon made a flying visit to Brussels, in order to get local colour for the field of Waterloo. A few weeks later he was overjoyed at receiving an invitation to spend a few days at Walmer, when the Duke promised to give the desired sittings. On October 11, 1839, he went down ‘by steam’ to Walmer, where he was heartily welcomed by his host. His Journal contains a long and minute account of his visit, from which one or two anecdotes may be quoted. Haydon’s fellow-guests were Sir Astley Cooper, Mr. Arbuthnot, and Mr. Booth. The first evening the conversation turned, among other topics, upon the Peninsular War. ‘The Duke talked of the want of fuel in Spain-of what the troops suffered, and how whole houses, so many to a division, were pulled down, and paid for, to serve as fuel. He said every Englishman who has a house goes to bed at night. He found bivouacking was not suitable to the character of the English soldier. He got drunk, and lay down under any hedge, and discipline was destroyed. But when he introduced tents, every soldier belonged to his tent, and, drunk or sober, he got to it before he went to sleep. I said, “Your grace, the French always bivouac.” “Yes,” he replied, “because French, Spanish, and all other nations lie anywhere. It is their habit. They have no homes.”‘
The next morning, after his return from hunting, the Duke gave a first sitting of an hour and a half. ‘I hit his grand, manly, upright expression,’ writes Haydon. ‘He looked like an eagle of the gods who had put on human shape, and got silvery with age and service…. I found that to imagine he could not go through any duty raised the lion. “Does the light hurt your grace’s eyes?” “Not at all,” and he stared at the light as much as to say, “I’ll see if you shall make me give in, Signor Light.” ‘Twas a noble head. I saw nothing of that peculiar expression of mouth the sculptors give him, bordering on simpering. His colour was beautiful and fleshy, his lips compressed and energetic.’ The next day, being Sunday, there was no sitting, but Haydon was charmed at sharing a pew with his hero, and deeply moved by the simplicity and humility with which he followed the service. ‘Arthur Wellesley in the village church of Walmer,’ he writes, ‘was more interesting to me than at the last charge of the Guards at Waterloo, or in all the glory and paraphernalia of his entry into Paris.’
It is probable that the Duke was afraid of being attacked by Haydon on the burning question of a State grant for the encouragement of historical painting, a subject about which he had received and answered many lengthy letters, for on each evening, when there was no party, he steadily read a newspaper, the _Standard_ on Saturday, and the _Spectator_ on Sunday, while his guest watched him in silent admiration. On the Monday morning, the hero came in for another sitting, looking extremely worn, his skin drawn tight over his face, his eyes watery and aged, his head slightly nodding. ‘How altered from the fresh old man after Saturday’s hunting,’ says Haydon. ‘It affected me. He looked like an aged eagle beginning to totter from its perch.’ A second sitting in the afternoon concluded the business, and early next morning Haydon left for town. ‘It is curious,’ he comments, ‘to have known thus the two great heads of the two great parties, the Duke and Lord Grey. I prefer the Duke infinitely. He is more manly, has no vanity, is not deluded by any flattery or humbug, and is in every way a grander character, though Lord Grey is a fine, amiable, venerable, vain man.’
During the remainder of the year, Haydon worked steadily, and finished his picture. On December 2 he notes: ‘It is now twenty-seven years since I ordered my Solomon canvas. I was young–twenty-six. The whole world was against me. I had not a farthing. Yet I remember the delight with which I mounted my deal table and dashed it in, singing and trusting in God, as I always do. When one is once imbued with that clear heavenly confidence, there is nothing like it. It has carried me through everything. I think my dearest Mary has not got it; I do not think women have in general. Two years ago I had not a farthing, having spent it all to recover her health. She said to me, “What are we to do, my dear?” I replied, “Trust in God.” There was something like a smile on her face. The very next day came the order for £400 from Liverpool, and ever since I have been employed.’ Alas, poor Mary! who had been chiefly occupied in bearing children and burying them, that must have been rather a melancholy smile upon her faded face.
During the first part of 1840, Haydon seems to have been chiefly engaged in lecturing, the only picture on the stocks being a small replica of his Napoleon Musing for the poet Rogers. In February he was enabled to carry out one of the dreams of his life, namely, the delivery of a series of lectures upon art in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, under the patronage of the Vice-Chancellor. The experiment was a triumphant success, and he exclaims, with his usual pious fervour, ‘O God, how grateful ought I to be at being permitted the distinction of thus being the first to break down the barrier which has kept art begging to be heard at the Universities.’ He describes the occasion as one of the four chief honours of his life, the other three being Wordsworth’s sonnet, ‘High is our calling,’ the freedom of his native town, and a public dinner that was given in his honour at Edinburgh. On March 14 he arrived home, ‘full of enthusiasm and expecting (like the Vicar of Wakefield) every blessing–expecting my dear Mary to hang about my neck, and welcome me after my victory; when I found her out, not calculating I should be home till dinner. I then walked into town, and when I returned she was at home, and hurt that I did not wait, so this begat mutual allusions which were anything but loving or happy. So much for anticipations of human happiness!’
On June 12,1840, Haydon notes: ‘Excessively excited and exhausted. I attended the great Convention of the Anti-Slavery Society at Freemasons’ Hall. Last Wednesday a deputation called on me from the Committee, saying they wished for a sketch of the scene. The meeting was very affecting. Poor old Clarkson was present, with delegates from America, and other parts of the world.’ A few days later, Haydon breakfasted with Clarkson, and sketched him with ‘an expression of indignant humanity.’ In less than a week fifty heads were dashed in, the picture, when finished, containing no fewer than a hundred and thirty-eight; in fact, as the artist remarked, with a curious disregard of natural history, it was all heads, like a peacock’s tail. Haydon took a malicious pleasure in suggesting to his sitters that he should place them beside the negro delegate; this being his test of their sincerity. Thus he notes on June 30: ‘Scobell called. I said, “I shall place you, Thompson, and the negro together.” Now an abolitionist, on thorough principle, would have gloried in being so placed. He sophisticated immediately on the propriety of placing the negro in the distance, as it would have much greater effect. Lloyd Garrison comes to-day. I’ll try him, and this shall be my method of ascertaining the real heart…. Garrison met me directly. George Thompson said he saw no objection. But that was not enough. A man who wishes to place a negro on a level with himself must no longer regard him as having been a slave, and feel annoyed at sitting by his side.’ A visit to Clarkson at Playford Hall, Ipswich, was an interesting experience. Clarkson told the story of his vision, and the midnight voice that said ‘You have not done your work. There is America.’ Haydon had been a believer all his life in such spiritual communications, and declares, ‘I have been so acted on from seventeen to fifty-five, for the purpose of reforming and refining my great country in art.’
In 1841 the Fine Arts Committee appointed to consider the question of the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament, sat to examine witnesses, but Haydon was not summoned before them, a slight which he deeply felt. With an anxious heart he set about making experiments in fresco, and was astonished at what he regarded as his success in this new line of endeavour. During the past year, the Anti-Slavery Convention picture, and one or two small commissions, had kept his head above water, but now the clouds were beginning to gather again, his difficulties being greatly increased by the fact that he had two sons to start in the world. The eldest, Frank, had been apprenticed, at his own wish, to an engineering firm, but tiring of his chosen profession, he desired to take orders, and, as a university career was considered a necessary preliminary to this course, he was entered at Caius College, Cambridge. The second son, Frederick, Haydon fitted out for the navy, and in order to meet these heavy extra expenses, he was