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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 4 - The Artist - Part 2


Another Scottish artist, who belongs to a period about a quarter of a century later, is better known to fame—Gavin Hamilton. When he came to manhood he went abroad, and lived almost entirely in Italy, where he held his state like one of the great old masters, and Scotland saw no more of him save when he appeared on an occasional visit, prompted by a lingering desire to settle in his native county, Lanark—.a design always protracted by the coldness of the climate, or some other uncongeniality, when it came to a practical issue. He was a very learned and industrious worker in what may now be termed the aesthetic department of archaeology, and the services performed by him for the Italian collections of antiques are to be found recorded in all the proper authorities.

He executed some stately portraits, one of which, representing the Duchess of Hamilton with a greyhound, is pretty well known in an engraving once very popular. Hamilton saturated himself with classicality. He aimed high, and, in his day had a reputation somewhat akin to that subsequently enjoyed by the French David. Efforts so rigidly conventional in this direction are not popular at present, yet the system has had its great advocates; and no one can deny that Hamilton, whether he rightly or wrongly understood the mission of the artist, did his work nobly, and carried the palm of a victor. Look at his "Andromache weeping over the Body of Hector." There she is in full attitude, like Clairon in one of her most felicitous classical inspirations, while Dumesnil might have personified the decorously solicitous attendant. The whole group is, in short, intensely theatrical, or, if one may make a word more suitable to the purpose, attitudinary; yet it exhibits a profusion of energy and conventional skill which must commend it as a great work to the devotees of that style of art.

Another picture by Hamilton excited a melancholy interest in its day. It represented Achilles dragging the body of Hector round the walls of Troy. It was purchased by the Duke of Bedford. The tragic fate of the young heir of that house became some time afterwards the talk of all England, and the object of many a sympathising echo to the grief of the bereaved parents, not unaccompanied by apposite reflections on the incapacity of temporal greatness and wealth to save us from the common lot. The youth fell from his horse, and was dragged by the stirrup till death relieved him from torture. The canvass, full of energy and terrible action, so vividly recalled the character of the calamity that it was ejected from the collection of the ducal house, and fell, if I mistake not, into the hands of General Scott, the father-in-law of Canning.

If it were desirable to fill the present rapid sketch with all available names, it would be easy to bring forward many secondary Scottish artists who studied and worked on the Continent; such, for instance, as Thomas Murray, whose portrait is in the Florentine Gallery, and William Ferguson, a painter of still life, who seems to have lived so much of his life in Italy that scarcely anything is known of him in his own country but the general reputation of his paintings for vigour and natural truth. Leaving the completion of such inquiries to all who are patriotic enough for the task, I profess only to touch—and that fugitively—the names that hold a conspicuous place in the general history of art; and so let us pass to a name which has acquired a renown amply deserved.—that of Allan Ramsay.

Every one, of course, is acquainted with the fame of his father, the author of the ‘Gentle Shepherd.’ It was one quite alien from the purpose of these papers, for he was eminently a Scot at home—his birthplace in the Lanarkshire hills, and his house on the Castlehill of Edinburgh, forming the limits of his migrations. He confesses to an early propensity for art; and in some of his manuscripts which I have seen, there are impatient dabbings of grotesque heads and angular fragments of rock and tree scenery, dashed off to occupy the pen while the brain was elaborating the poetic thought. About the year 1736 the poet writes to a friend that young Allan (he was born in 1713) had been sedulously pursuing art since he was thirteen years old; "has since been painting here like a Raphael," and "sets out to the seat of the Beast beyond the Alps within a month hence - to be away two years." "I am sweer," continues the father, "to part with him, but cannot stem the current which flows from the advice of his patrons and his own inclination."

On this his first visit to Rome he remained for three years, and on his return home he painted a well-known portrait of his father, and others of his relations and near friends. Very much to the poet’s satisfaction, the artist showed a decided disposition to re-establish the gentility of the family; for old Allan, much as he had been tossed about in the world, and hard as was his struggle for decent subsistence, never forgot that he was come of the Ramsays of Dalwolsey and the Douglases of Muthill. His position—speaking of him as a tradesman, not as a poet—was common to members of the best Scottish families in his age. The country was not rich enough to afford two classes of traders—the larger, who, as extensive dealers, might be counted gentlemen by profession; the smaller, who were mere retailers. All trade was looked askance on; but when it was necessary to find a living by commerce, we see the best families at once accepting the humblest position in its ranks.

Old Allan united in his person three rather incongruous social conditions. He was by descent a country gentleman; by personal qualification a man of genius; by profession the keeper of a bookstall and circulating library. In his old age, when he had conquered his difficulties, and was gathering in a harvest of wealth and fame, it was not without satisfaction that he saw his son—although following a pursuit which, like his own, sometimes led its votaries into an erratic carreer—holding his head high in the social circle, and likely to keep up the old gentility of his race.

The young artist greatly strengthened his position by his marriage with the heiress of the Lindsays of Eyvelic, whose domain, perched on the ridge of the line of hills running from Perth eastward, overlooks the rich Carse of Gowrie, and the river Tay widening into the sea. Of his wife he painted a portrait, of which it may safely be said that no other, painted in the same half-century in Britain, can have excelled it for artistic truth of drawing and sweetness of sentiment. It represents a fair-haired bright - cheeked Scottish damsel, simply dressed, and with an expression full of earnestness and innocence, carrying a basket of flowers. The attitude and the general tone are quite natural, and borrowed from none of the standard portraits, which relieved secondary artists from the labour of thinking and the responsibility of novelty. It perhaps enhances the pleasantness of this picture that it is still fresh as if it had been painted yesterday, and has suffered none of the cadaverous ravages with which Reynolds’s unfortunate method of preparing his colours has afflicted his beauties. It may be a farther reason why it is so pleasant to look upon, that the artist, while exerting all his skill, was at his ease, and did not require. to give his sitter either a state dress or a state attitude.

Too much state is undoubtedly the defect, in a wide sense, of Allan Ramsay’s painting. The success with which he brought out Lord Bute’s immaculate legs beneath the canopy of his rich Treasury robes, has been the object of much half-sarcastic laudation. But if it be a defect in an artist to succumb to conventionalities, and give prominence to robes and decorations at the sacrifice of the individual character, yet painting of this kind admits of being well done and ill done. In the common run of such state pictures the robes and decorations are the fabric on which a human face—or something as like a human face as the artist could create—is plastered. But with Ramsay, Lord Bute, in all his glory, is still Lord Bute, from his powdered hair through the easy bend of his body and the renowned calves of his legs to the toes. And so of all Ramsay’s paintings; they may generally have too much silk and velvet, and too much attitude—but they are pieces of thorough art.

Before returning to Rome, about the year 1754, he had socially allied himself, not only with many men of rank, but with a far higher circle in the permanent estimate of such matters—the leaders of the intellect of the age. He left behind him a literary association, which he had founded in Edinburgh, caged the "Select Society." All inquirers into the history of British literature at that period must be familiar with its influence over at least the Scottish department—not a small one. David Hume is found writing to his friend Allan of the progress and prospects of the little flock left behind him in the wilderness: "It has grown to be a national concert Young and old, noble and ignoble, witty and dull, laity and clergy—all the world are ambitious of a place amongst us, and on each occasion we are as much solicited by candidates as if we were to choose a member of Parliament." Then of individualities, "Our friend young Wedderburn has acquired a great character by the appearance he has made." This refers to him who became Lord Loughborough. "Wilkie the minister has turned up from obscurity, and become a very fashionable man, as he is indeed a very singular one. Monboddo’s oddities divert—Sir David’s [Lord Hailes] zeal entertains—Jack Dalrymple’s rhetoric interests. The long drawling speakers have found out their want of talents, and rise seldomer. In short, the House of Commons was less the object of general curiosity at London than the Select Society at Edinburgh. ‘The Robinhood,’ ‘The Devil,’ and all other speaking societies, are ignoble in comparison. Such felicity has attended the seed which you planted. But what chiefly renders us considerable is a project of engrafting on the society a scheme for the encouragement of arts and sciences and manufactures in Scotland, by premiums partly honorary, partly lucrative. A box is opened for donations, and about one hundred guineas have been given in. We hear of considerable sums intended by Lord Hopetoun, Morton, Marchmont, &c., who desire to be members. Nine managers have been chosen; and to keep the business distinct from our reasoning, the first Monday of every month is set apart for these transactions, and they are never to be mentioned in our Wednesday meetings. Advertisements have been published to inform the public of our intentions. A premium, I remember, is promised to the best discourse on Taste, and on the Principles of Vegetation. These regard the belles lettres and the sciences; but we have not neglected porter, strong ale, and wrought ruffles, even down to linen rags."

Then follows a good-natured word on the collection of Essays published by Ramsay, which carried a considerable reputation in their day: "Your ‘Investigator’ has been published this spring, and I find that it has met with a very good reception from the wits and the critics. In vain did I oppose myself and assert it was not just metaphysics. They did nothing but laugh at me, and told me it was very entertaining, and seemed very reasonable."

The artist, writing back from the Mons Viminalis, showed that he could hold his own against the great author, even with the pen. "Can a man, O philosopher, be both sorry and glad at the same time? If the thing is possible, I am in these circumstances; for I am glad to hear that there is any society of men amongst you, who give a particular attention to the improvement of the arts of luxury, so conducive to the riches, the strength, and liberty of our dear country; but I am afraid, at the same time, that this scheme, by bringing in a new set of members of another species, will destroy that which we had set on foot; and I could have wished that some other way had been fallen upon by which porter might have been made thick, brick thin, and the nation rich, without our understanding being at all the poorer for it. Is not truth more than meat, and wisdom than raiment? . . . . Have your rewards produced an essay on Taste? If they have, and it is printed, I should be glad to see it. Millar would send it to me, some way or other, if you desire him. I am satisfied with my own dialogue, though I find I shall make but few proselytes. It has always been my hard fate in these matters to pass for a very comical dog when I meant to get the fame of a deep philosopher; but I am comforted again when I consider that the same has been the lot of my favourite Lucian; and that to write like a deep philosopher, we must write like Turnbull or Plato."

This letter gives shape to a practical joke which must have cost Ramsay an enormous deal of labour. It is embodied in a long fabricated Greek inscription, professing to afford evidence in refutation of Hume’s scepticism, "which," says its author, "I found, while I was looking for bas-reliefs, in a lumber-room of the Palace Farnese." He conveys the result of his observation on the three popular horrors of the day in these terms: "The Pope himself is short and fat, the Pretender is long and lean, which is all I am able to inform you with regard to either. As to the Devil, I have not yet seen him, and am too diffident of reports, especially when they concern heads of parties, to send you any description of his person by hearsay." That Ramsay was a pretty genial representative of the philosopher in "the seat of the Beast," may be inferred from the manner in which Hume communicates to him his own embroilments with the ecclesiastical authorities. He begins by telling about Kames, against whom the General Assembly were undoubtedly urged strongly by a party in the Church to proceed. "They will not," he says, "at once go to extremities with him, and deliver him over to Satan, without any preparation or precaution. They intend to make him be prayed for in all the churches of Scotland during six months, after which, if he do not give signs of repentance, he is to be held as anathema maranatha." And then he takes a complacent view of his own prospects: "Meanwhile I am preparing for the day of wrath, and have already bespoken a number of discreet families, who have promised to admit me after I shall be excommunicated."

And again: "You may tell that reverend gentleman the Pope that there are many here who rail at him, and yet would be much greater prosecutors had they equal power. The last Assembly sat on me. They did not propose to burn me, because they cannot. But they intend to give me over to Satan, which they think they have the power of doing. My friends, however, prevailed, and my damnation is postponed for a twelve month. But next Assembly will surely be upon me. Anderson—the godly, spiteful, pious, splenetic, charitable, unrelenting, meek, persecuting, Christian, inhuman, peace-making, furious Anderson—is at present very hot in pursuit of Lord Kames. He has lately wrote a letter to his son, which they say is a curiosity. He mentions his own great age, which leaves him no hopes of being able long to survive the condemnation of that atheistical, however just judge. He therefore leaves me as a legacy to his son, and conjures him, as he expects his blessing, or the blessing of Heaven, never to cease his pursuit of me till he bring me to condign punishment. Is not this somewhat like Hamilcar, who swore Hannibal on the altar to be an eternal enemy to the Roman people?" These were the characteristic home-memorials which broke in on the dreamy luxuriousness of an artist-life in Rome; recalling the memories of that healthy warfare of the mind, which, in the city of the Republic, the Caesars, and the Vatican, had long been dead and buried.

Ramsay’s mantle fell on one of his countrymen who studied under him at Rome—David Martin. There is a good deal of his master’s touch in his portraits, and the same affection for velvet and state finery. A portrait-painter takes rank in a great measure by the importance of his sitters. Martin has thus possession of two of the most remarkable statesmen of his day. The one was a great lawyer— perhaps the greatest Britain ever saw—Lord Mansfield. There he is spread before you in bland breadth, the warm glow of red velvet toning his ruddy, good humoured, powerful face. One may see in it something of the epicureanism which made him decline to wrinkle it with the cares of the woolsack. Like Ramsay’s Lord Bute, this portrait goes somewhat to legs, but then they are also well-drawn and well-set legs. The painting has the specialty that its artist made the best engraving we have of it. The other eminent statesman painted by Martin was a man at the opposite extreme of eminence—Benjamin Franklin. This portrait is known to the world by a dark mezzotint, and is reputed to be the best likeness of Franklin. Martin painted David Hume and Rousseau, too. He could not have had access to "the self-torturing sophist" except through the fat philosopher; and it is odd that among the charges made by Rousseau against Hume, that of being compelled or fraudulently induced to sit for his portrait is not included. Martin preserved the likeness of another man who left the chief evidence of his talents to posterity—Dr Carlyle. His autobiography, recently published, was accompanied with an engraving of this fine portrait, which one can easily believe to have meted out full justice to the reverend dignity and beauty for which Carlyle was famed.

Such are a few stray notices of the artists whom Scotland sent forth, most of them before England could point to her great Reynolds. They were not sufficiently strong in their home influence to found a school. The artistic character which they conferred on their country was fed, as it were, from hand to mouth by foreign supplies. Each stood alone on his merits, such as they were; but it may be safely attributed to the genial influence of that connection with foreign countries which the enterprise of Scottish warriors and scholars had created, that down to the middle of the last century we could boast of an array of artists such as England, with all her numerical superiority of population, her riches, and her pecuniary patronage of art, could not match. For Jamesone, Aikman, Hamilton, and Ramsay, she can show only such names as Dobson, Thornhill, and Hudson; and that after her affluence had set before her artists the examples of Holbein, Rubens, Vandyk, Lely, Kneller, and a host of painters second to these eminences. Of Jamesone, our old friend Allan Cunningham says, in his ‘Lives of British Painters; "That he stands at the head of the British school of portrait-painting there can be no question; nor had England an artist of her own worthy of being named above him, in his own walk, before the days of Reynolds."

Here it comes to one’s remembrance that Hogarth also was an occasional portrait-painter, and that he was anterior to Reynolds. And without disputing the merits of his portraits, or detracting from the rank of his transcendent genius, I yet hold that the lofty isolation and entire solitude of his position in the world of art, is in itself a curious record of the reserved ungeniality which prevented England from imbibing any artistic spirit or practice out of the opportunities afforded by the presence of great foreign artists and the purchase of great paintings. It is common indeed to deny that Hogarth was, properly speaking, an artist. It is impossible to wish him to have been an artist, in the conventional sense, if his being so must have deprived the world of those wonderful tragedies and comedies which he has performed for us on paper. But his genius had all the rugged individuality that characterises a single creative mind arising in the midst of surrounding intellectual barrenness. And he became himself, through the power of his self-achieved position, the trumpet of the vulgar English prejudice against high art. He could not endure anything foreign. All Frenchmen he held in such hatred, that in his short sojourn among them he could not restrain ebullitions which, towards a less polite people, might have been dangerous. He embodied his contempt of high art in those hideous nightmare groups which he thought would demonstrate how easily he could excel Michael Angelo, Correggio, or Rembrandt, if he condescended to abandon London life and adopt their conventionalities. Hogarth was perhaps as far above William Aikman as Burns was beyond Darwin or Glover; yet the Scottish painter’s career was a type of national conditions more conducive to the cultivation of art, in that catholic spirit which goes through the whole world to discover whatever is best and greatest in the achievements of those who have gone before.

Down to Ramsay’s epoch, our Scottish painters had been persons of family and station. It shows perhaps the germinating of something like a national school, when we find men of obscure condition struggling into the ranks of fame. Jacob More was a house-painter’s apprentice in Edinburgh. Through the aid of some enlightened patrons he went to Italy, and there remained, unknown among his countrymen save by the general European celebrity of his landscapes. In other instances, the descent of artistic ambition to a humbler grade was accompanied by the dawning of a national spirit in the objects of the artist. David Allan, though he studied in Italy, had the boldness to devote his genius to the illustration of Scottish life, and painted such scenes as would have made the classic Hamilton shudder. But far above Allan—high indeed in the great republic of genius—was the ill-starred Runciman. He was one of those who had not the good fortune, or the skill, as it may be, to make their light shine before men; and it is in obscure corners that people stumble on his best works, wondering whence came the deep artistic power, and the noble simplicity, of pictures so unknown to fame. I have seen portraits of his own esteemed friends—of some of those, for instance, who made his student circle at Rome— which I question if even Raeburn—who took his tone from Runciman, and is generally reputed to have greatly improved on it—could have excelled in truth and dignified simplicity.

Let us now step over to another department of art—one lower than painting, in general estimation, and ancillary to it, yet which it was the function of one of our countrymen to elevate to a rank very little under that of the higher walks of design. Sir Robert Strange’s engravings look like the works of a man who could do everything that the human hand, aided by the head, is capable of achieving. There is not an effect in the whole range of painting which he has not shown his capacity to shadow forth with his magic graver. Beginning with the restless cheerful sky, and the energetic white horse of Wouvermans’ Market-Cart, he advances with immediate perfection to the rugged grandeur of Salvator’s Belisarius, the soft smooth fleshes of Guido Reni, and the heavenly countenances of the Corregios. There is surely no sweeter production that can be looked upon in uncoloured art than the Parce somnum rumpere, whether we prefer to rest the eye on the health and innocence radiating from the babe, or the absorbing love of the graceful mother or on the tender beaming excitement of the beautiful onlooker. From these features, which at-rest even the uninitiated eye, the adept will turn to the perfection of detail in the drapery, and the gossamer lightness of the veil which the mother gently removes. Nor less perfect is he in representing the stately dignity of Vandyks Charles I., and the pleasant mixture of childish simplicity and princely consciousness in the royal children with their dogs. There are few things more calculated to awaken a train of pensive reflection than to find hanging, perhaps in some quiet bedroom in a remote country-house, the portraits of the stately monarch and the unconscious group of children, with their silky-haired spaniels, when one contemplates them with time and inclination to recall the tragic and eventful history through which they all passed.

There never was a nobler and more unselfish devotion to art than Strange’s adoption of his great object in life. With genius enough to have achieved a separate reputation as a creative artist, he resolved to devote his rare powers to the promulgation of the beautiful forms which others had created, rather than attempt to add to their number. He knew that aloft in the domes of great cathedrals, or remote in private mansions, or in the exclusive recesses of palaces, were those wondrous productions of the great masters which hitherto had received but unworthy interpreters to the world, or none at all; and he resolved that his mission through life should be so to devote those powers which he knew he was endowed with, as to become the great teacher of art, as it were, among the nations, by promulgating abroad its unknown treasures.

The difficulties he had to undergo show, when compared with the life of the ordinary engrave; who copies what he is employed to copy, and does it as accurately as his opportunities permit, how arduous is the task of the engraver who sets before himself a higher object—who is bent on copying certain pictures, because they are the best and none others will satisfy him, and who must have a full opportunity of rendering all their characteristics on his plate ere he ventures to interpret them to the public. In one instance, perhaps, there are political or ecclesiastical difficulties in the way. Certain cardinals and bishops have to be consulted ere access can be obtained to the picture. There perhaps is a high altar-piece: to remove it would be sacrilege, were it practicable, which it often is not; and raising a scaffolding before it, which was not unfrequently Strange’s proposal, was something nearly as offensive. Less truthful engravers would have been content with such flying opportunities as they could catch, hoping that no others would be enabled, by a closer inspection of the original, to detect their slovenly workmanship. But Strange set out with a resolution to copy the best pictures in the world, and to copy them faithfully; and his resolute perseverance was rewarded with marvellous success.

It is fortunate for the memory of Strange, and for those who love to dwell on such a history as his, that it has been recorded by one whose naturally fastidious and highly-cultivated taste made him a worshipper at the same shrine of high Italian art. Though the work fell to his hands nearly a century after it should have been performed by others, James Dennistoun, with a zealous devotion which the fatal progress of disease could not quench, collected the fragments of the artist’s history—scattered as they were, minute and scarcely perceptible, all over Europe—and massed them together in a book, which, if it do not afford an exciting narrative to the cornmon reader, must be full of interest to. the collector and the critic of art.

The artist, casually referring in a letter to the impulse under which he devoted himself, says: "Since the time of the memorable revival of the arts in the fifteenth century, Italy, without doubt, is the country which has produced the most celebrated painters. There are none who have penetrated so deep as they into the secret of this art, or reached to such a height in the sublime. A purity and correctness of design, the most noble expressions, elegant forms, just proportions, elevated ideas, and a fertility of genius, give a superiority to their productions which no other artist would have been able to attain. It is only by studying and meditating upon the works of the Italian masters that we can reasonably expect to form a true taste, and to defend ourselves against the destructive and capricious sorcery of fashion, which changes almost with the seasons, and of which the most applauded and finest efforts in the space of a few years generally appear to be, what they really are, unnatural and ridiculous."

How very true is this reference to "the capricious sorcery of fashion!" How imperfectly have mental philosophers yet expounded that specialty in the human intellect that carries it off in aesthetic epidemic, to hold that the prevailing fashion, and nothing else, is graceful or beautiful, and to feel that when a change has come, nothing can be more hideous and odious than the prevailing fashion last deserted! Perhaps this, like all other indications of barbarism, is getting chastened down as the world grows older. Certainly the multiplication through the world of the forms destined to everlasting homage for their grace and beauty was likely to be a counteracting balance-wheel to such oscillations.

And in this the world’s debt of gratitude to Strange is very great Few men can possess the paintings of the great masters. Their possession is indeed not always a privilege to be envied, since, if honour-ably and kindly used, it must admit of participation by others. It is, perhaps, hard that because a man is wealthy and can buy great pictures he should become a showman; yet concealing them from the sight of those worthy of beholding them is something like a crime. Humbler devotees of art, collecting scraps of paintings, enjoy the notion that though not great works there is here a special artistic touch, and there a happy combination of colours,

that, after frequent study, in the end endear to them the possession. So in paintings. But in engravings there is no excuse for decorating the wall with anything that does not repeat the forms adjusted by the great masters. Believing in the education of the eye by training it to beauty, I cannot but also believe that the being habitually surrounded by such forms gives a capacity for finding and enjoying beauty, to the eyes of children, and when, in maturity, they see the great paintings themselves, the engraved copies at home recall all the relish of the sight. Since, then, Strange seems to have rendered these great works as fully as an inspiration can be rendered, I have often thought that it would be a wholesome arrangement that places frequented by young people should be decorated by the best Stranges, and perhaps a few other engravings of like eminence, such as Morghens’s of the smaller Raphael Madonna, or Muller’s of the larger. They would be all the better a safeguard to the eyes of the young, that at present there exists a school which, determining to pit the ideal ugly against the ideal beautiful, has worked for the degradation of the popular taste with an amount of zealous energy, and also of success, which are, taken together, among the wonders of the age.

To come to Strange’s personal history: he was descended of a somewhat worshipful family in Orkney, his father leaving some landed property and sheep, with "twelve double-silver spoons," "a knock [clock] and case thereof," and a wainscot cabinet. His mother’s name was Scollay, and the paternal name was originally the Norwegian Strang or Strong. The artist, disliking its northern harshness, softened it by the addition of an e, and thus carried it into a totally different line of etymological descent—the French étrange. There is a traditional story—I remember being told it by Dr Chalmers—that soon after the metamorphosis he happened to meet a traveller, who, hearing his name, said, "Ah, sir, you call yourself Strange, but the strangest part of it is that your name is only the letter e." The artist’s guilty conscience smote him with the idea that the traveller intended to be sarcastic on his addition to the patronymic; but he was only an etymological enthusiast, who derived the word, very inaccurately, by increment from the Latin preposition e. Thus e, ex, extra, extraneous, whence comes the French étrange.

With a sort of instinct that he was some day or other to be great, he began at an early period an account of his own progress. It dropped, suddenly interrupted by the labours of a busy life; and the artist-like clearness of his account of whatever passed around him in his early humble phase of life, makes the reader regret that it is so brief. He underwent some training in one of the humbler departments of the law, but apparently with a hopeless restlessness; and the bent of his genius drove him to an engraver of the name of Cooper, whose apparently wealthy circumstances show how considerable a field was then open in Edinburgh to one of that profession who was little above a trading mechanic. The young artist joined the insurgents of 1745—fortunately for himself and art, not so effectually distinguishing himself by his warlike prowess as to encounter the vengeance of the victors.

His chief service to the cause was characteristic. At the camp at Inverness, and just before the battle of Culloden, he engraved at the Prince’s desire a plate for bank-notes, payable at the Restoration. The excellence of the engraving, however, could not make up for the want of assets; and doubtless, if one of the notes thrown off could now be recovered, it would bring far more as a relic of art than its original value in the money market. Making his escape, like many others, from the broken army through terrible hardships, he reached France, and studied engraving with Le Bas. It would have been difficult to find a better master. His clearness and quiet sweetness make him still a favourite, whether the collector prefers his fresh sunny seaports with their lazy life, or the warm interiors, where the solemn Dutch alchemist blows his bellows, and imparts wisdom to his pupils.

But as Strange acquired technical skill in secondary work, higher aspirations dawned on him, and a visit to Italy confirmed him in the great project of his life. With the devotion of the monk or the crusader in the pursuit of his mission, he made sacrifices to his pursuit, some of them trivial, others deep and real. His adherence to the Jacobite cause has been attributed with considerable foundation to his love for Miss Lumisden, the sister of the accomplished secretary of the exiled court in Italy. She was one of the arbitrary and enthusiastic Jacobite beauties who would tolerate no lover unless he first proved himself a true knight by wearing the white rose. Strange obtained his reward, and they were married; but art stepped in to claim her votary, and years after years of absence from her husband, all-absorbed in the pursuit of his mission, joined to the protracted hopelessness of her darling cause, turned her enthusiasm into acidity.

Her growing fretfulness and ardent Jacobitism to the end make the letters and conversation of this strong-charactered woman very amusing. When it came to her ear that her brother, after a quarter of a century of endurance, must at last leave the Prince’s service, and the announcement came along with rumours not complimentary to the habits and conduct into which the object of her devoted loyalty had fallen, she cannot show the letter to her husband, so filled is it with matter of overwhelming grief. "If ever," she says, "anything in prejudice of my darling’s [the Prince’s] character is suggested, I deny it, or find an excuse for it. Oh, he has had much to disturb his brains! I am perfectly satisfied, my dearest Andrew, that you have not failed in your duty, for which I thank God. Believe me, I would sooner wish to hear of your death than blush for anything you ever did in your life. Suffer I can, but sin I will not. Honest principles were the noble legacy our dear parents left us; while we live we will display them when called on to do so. All I beg is secrecy. Four-and-twenty years’ faithful service cannot be rewarded with a frown—no, you must be mistaken. If you are not, at least be advised. ‘Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the uncircumcised rejoice, and the daughters of the Philistines be glad ‘—this was our good grandfathers text for many years on the 30th of January."

And on another occasion: "If my twenty years’ old acquaintance [the Prince] is now at your house, on your knees present my most respectful duty, nor blush to think a lady bid you do so. Oh, had I been of a more useful sex! Had my pen been a sword, I had not been here, sitting tamely by my fireside, desiring you to do me a simple office like this. In those years, so many and so long, I have not been altogether idle, for I have made three fine boys, who, I hope, will do me credit: they’ll be recruits when I am gone—I hope they’ll all have Roman spirits in them. I’ll instruct them that their lives are not their own when Rome demands them." Afterwards sending one of these young Gracchi to Paris, she insists that he is not to wear ruffles, silk, or lace, or any other ornament, however imperiously dictated by fashion: she will give her reasons when she sees her brother—they are doubtless founded on the calamitous condition of her favourite court, and not to be casually committed to writing even in the year 1770; and she characteristically winds up her injunction, "If he appears awkward, say he does so by the positive command of his worthy old mother, who never did or said anything but what she had a good reason for—therefore you comply without asking a single question."

A common tradition attributes the commencement of Strange’s prosperity to the courtly dexterity of his wife. A rumour of the excellence of his engraved portrait of "the Prince" had, according to the tradition, reached the palace, and some royal relation called at Strange’s workshop desirous to see it. Mrs Strange, who was there alone, knowing that the portrait by her husband was of the wrong Prince, took care that amid the other works with which she entertained the visitor it should not be found, and fixed a time for a second visit, before which she got her obedient husband to have in tolerable progress an engraving of the right Prince.

It is very clear that Mrs Strange, or "Bella," as she was called, was not a person to perform such a feat. It was known, indeed, to those conversant with the artistic gossip of the time, that Strange had received proffers from the royal family very early in his career, and that he had repelled them with a surly abruptness, which was supposed too clearly to indicate the motives of "the brother-in-law of the Pretender’s secretary." The documents published by Mr Dennistoun make this affair very clear. A proffer had been made to him by Allan Ramsay to engrave his own portrait of the Prince of Wales, just before he became George IlI. But Strange was then full of his great Italian projects. His allegiance was for his own chosen sovereign, high art, and he cared for neither of their houses.

But it was not necessary to go into large questions—there was a sublunary and immediate shape assumed by the offer. The payment was to be £100, and Strange, saying that to do justice to the subject would occupy him fifteen months, said he could not afford to engrave the picture at the price offered. Other people would, of course, naturally look to the consequent patronage of the Court as the ultimate bribe to such an undertaking. But Strange had built his ultimate hopes elsewhere—the only question about the offer was whether the immediate remuneration might bribe him to postpone for a time his nobler studies. It would not; and so the matter ended. But public fame naturally rumoured disaffection as his motive, and the consequences of this, coupled with his exclusion from the Royal Academy as an engraver, excited bitter feelings. He wrote a fierce letter to Ramsay, saying, "Did I ever directly or indirectly, hint that it was from the least disaffection I declined at that time to engrave the picture you had painted? Speak the truth, and the whole truth, so help you God." Ramsay, thus pressed, answered very bluntly that there had been no hint whatever of disaffection, "the reasons you gave me were all of the money-getting kind." There was something in an expression of this sort not calculated entirely to secure the friendship of a man actuated by such motives and aims as those which governed Strange, and the apparent conclusion of the whole history was not likely to cool the ardour of Bella’s Jacobitism. She continued to pray for an heir to the exiled house, after the greater portion of her most zealous allies were comforting themselves that the improbability of such an event was a fortunate conclusion of all difficulties. Yet this mother of the Gracchi stands as an illustration of that sarcastic philosophy which says that all have their price if one knew the coin to pay it in. She was ready for all forms of martyrdom, and direct bribery of any kind she would have thrown back with scorn. But when one clay rather unexpectedly she found that Bobbie was knighted, and that she was Lady Strange, all reminiscences from across the water seem to have been swept away in a gush of gratitude.

Let us have a few words before parting on a department of art proverbial for leaving the artist forgotten, while his work remains to create wonder and admiration. The world is filled with buildings of which the architects are unknown, but which yet are found by the careful student to contain enough to show the character of their acquirements, and sometimes the school in which they must have studied. I have already had to show how, after the rupture with England, Scotland took her ecclesiastical and baronial architecture from the Continent, and chiefly from France. The process by which the rich turreted chateaus of France were transferred to the moorlands of the north and the braes of the Grampians could not fail to be extremely interesting if we could remove from it the veil which shrouds it in the mystery common to so large a portion of the architectural history even of civilised times. How much of it was brought over by foreigners? How much learned in France by Scotsmen who returned to practise at home?—are questions that must be asked in vain. We have no clue to the studies which induced Aytoun, by decorating the bulky framework of a German palace with a beautiful coronet of turrets and decorated chimneys, to conceive the plan of Heriot’s Hospital. Even so late as the time of Sir William Bruce, who worked into the last century, we are not aware how far his conversion of Holyrood into a French chateau of the sixteenth century was founded on a practical acquaintance acquired in the land of its origin with that style of building. And yet he was a person of worshipful condition, whose lands and inheritances are set forth in genealogical books. We know, however, too much of the poverty of the country at the time of the reconstruction of the palace in 1674. From the accounts still preserved, every kind of work above that which supplied the sordid needs of a poor people had to be brought from other lands. In far later times we know that Robert Adam, also a man of considerable territorial position, studied the architectural remains of the Roman empire with a devoted zeal, attested by his great work on the ruins of Diocletian’s mighty palace at Spalatro.

But there was a Scotsman before the period of Robert Adam, whose pilgrimage among classical remains produced results not to be so briefly passed by. James Gibbs was born in Aberdeen about the year 1674. He was the son of a substantial tradesman, and finding himself at twenty without parents, and possessed of some money and a good useful Scottish education, he made up his mind to qualify himself as an architect. He went first to Holland, where, save the State House of Amsterdam, he can have found little adapted to his peculiar taste; but what he did consider worth studying, he examined laboriously and practically. By mere accident he was found there by the Earl of Mar, who felt an interest in the .quiet persevering youth who had come forth from his own peculiar district in the north to push through the world. Whatever were the Earl’s defects of character, he is generally admitted to have had fine taste. Whether for assistance received at that time, or for subsequent patronage in his profession, Gibbs was so grateful to Mar, that, when he had realised fame and fortune, and the family of his patron were precarious exiles, he bequeathed a considerable fortune to his benefactor’s son.

After the commencement of the century he spent ten years in Italy, studying, searching, and treasuring up the practical results of his labours for future use. He returned at a favourable juncture. The great church-extension scheme for London had developed itself in an arrangement for building fifty new churches, and his friend Mar being in power, the young architect had an excellent opportunity of bringing forward his claims, and obtained a considerable share in the execution of the undertaking. Gibbs accomplished a sufficient number of works to make an era for himself in English architecture, and his name came so readily upwards, that poor Savage, in his wild forgotten poem of ‘The Wanderer,’ naturally calls on it. When he passes from the ancient fanes, where time’s hand leaves its print of mossy green, it is to cry—

"Oh Gibbs! whose art the solemn fane can raise
Where God delights
to dwell and man to praise;
When mouldered thus, the column falls away,
Like some great prince majestic in decay;
When ignorance and scorn the ground shall tread
Where wisdom tutored and devotion prayed—
Where shall thy pompous work our wonder claim?
What but the muse alone preserve thy name?"

His many works were by no means equal in merit. The Radcliffe Library at Oxford—probably the most ambitious—justifies the borrowed remark of Walpole, that it looks as if it had sunk a stage into the earth. Yet Allan Cunningham, speaking of its general effect on the landscape, says: "The Radcliffe dome, in fact, conveys to every distant observer the idea of its being the air-hung crown of some gigantic cathedral or theatre. It is perhaps the grandest feature in the grandest of all English architectural landscapes. It rises wide and vast amidst a thousand other fine buildings, interrupts the horizontal line, and materially increases the picturesque effect of Oxford." He completed the quadrangle of All-Souls, where Walpole gives him credit for stumbling upon a sort of Gothic picturesqueness; and made additions to King’s College, Cambridge, which have been censured for subdivision of detail.

The work, however, on which his fame rests as the embodiment of a great thought, unbroken by partial defects, is the Church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, fortunately opened up to the admiration of the present generation by the works in Trafalgar Square. It was a bold and original idea, greatly censured in its day as a barbarous combination of two distinct and antagonistic types of architecture, and a rank rebellion against the first Horatian rule of taste. The spire or steeple had been held peculiar to Gothic architecture, and was deemed the natural terminus of the aspiring character of the pointed arch. Yet Gibbs placed a spire on a pediment, supported by Corinthian columns. It was, however, no mixture of styles in luxurious confusion, like the efforts of the French renaissance. The edifice in itself was untainted by Gothic; and even on the spire, that architecture had no more claim than merely as it was a spire, since its details were carefully and severely classic.

Illegitimate or not, it was a great hit in architecture—something like Michael Angelo’s mounting the dome in air—and became so prevalent that it is now never deemed an anomaly. For the general merits of the building, it may be truly said that it is one of the chief architectural glories of London. Formerly buried in a mass of obscure streets and lane; its thorough architectural character has been tested by the severest ordeal to which the innate character of a building can be trusted—a general clearing away, which lays it bare for full inspection, and either close or distant criticism. To try how it bears this, look first upon St Martin’s, and then turn to the costly modern edifice to the right, built as a suitable repository for the artistic treasures of the British Empire!

Of course it has its enemies among those who are inimical to the classic forms, but I hope we are getting more tolerant in esthetics, as in other things, and that the day may come when people will be content to enjoy each in its own way all the forms in which high intellect is developed in stone structure, just as in going over a picture-gallery we can pass from the divine loveliness of the Raphaels and Correggios to enjoy the riotous vitality of Rubens, the solemn gloom of Teniers, and the perfect velvets and satins of Terbourg. There is a good deal, no doubt, of intolerant sentiment against the classic forms. Such terms as "dishonourable" and "sensual" are levelled at them, as if those who esteem them might be capable of forging a bill on you, or ruining the peace of your family. But all is mere scolding, and there is no one eloquent enough to deal towards the classic that utter intolerance which, in our grandfathers’ days, held down the Gothic under the level of art.

Even during the revival, this oppression has a mischievous influence, like that of their former life on emancipated slaves. Its own admirers treat the Gothic with a disrespectful familiarity. They forget that it is the oldest art in existence, for it lived by the influence of the clergy when other arts perished, and so it is legitimately descended from the age of the pyramids, having passed through the rigid Greek to the ductile Roman, from which all the steps to the pointed arch are distinct. Too many of its votaries are unconscious how much reverend study it should take to become master of the art which if took three hundred years of the labours of the most accomplished artists in their several generations to develop. Every draughtsman and mere builder thinks he can flounder through the details of the Gothic, and hence every religious denomination is doing its most desperate to rear a set of structures, which can but torture every eye in which the sense of the symmetrical and appropriate is not utterly dead.


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