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This was the commissioner of Plymouth Dock; he wrote to his father with a joy which he sought not to conceal that he had painted the likeness of the greatest man in the place. The performance which obtained him most notice was the portrait of Captain Hamilton, of the noble family of Abercorn. It was painted in 1746.
On Christmas-day, in the year 1746, his father died. He was a man of respectable learning, and remarkable for the innocence of his heart and the simplicity of his manners. He was what is called an absent man, and was regarded by his parishioners as a sort of Parson Adams. Of his forgetfulness it is said that, in performing a journey on horseback, one of his boots dropped off by the way without being missed by the owner; and of his wit--for wit also has been ascribed to him !-it is related that, in allusion to his wife's name, Theophila, he made the following rhyming domestic arrangement:
When I say The
Reynolds was now twenty-three years old, and his name was beginning to be heard beyond the limits of his native county. He had acquired the friendship and earnest patronage of the third Lord Edgcumbe, and of Captain, afterward Lord, Keppel.
He had paid a second visit to London, and lived for Į a time in Saint Martin's Lane, then the favourite
residence of artists, and where something which resembled an academy was established. His growing fame and skill acquired and secured friends, and his graceful and unpresuming manners were likely to forward his success; he was polite without meanness, and independent without arrogance.
Rome, which is in reality to painters what Par. o nassus is in imagination to poets, was frequently
present to the fancy of Reynolds; and he longed to
see with his own eyes the glories in art, of which he heard so much. He desired to pay his homage to the princes of the profession, and profit, if possible, by studying their productions. A visit to the Sistine Chapel confers on an artist that kind of dignity, which studying at a university bestows on a scholar; and one would imagine, from the importance attached to such a pilgrimage, that excellence in painting could be acquired like knowledge in wet Greek. But the power to remember is one thing, and the power to create is another.
In the month of May, 1749, Captain Keppel was appointed Commodore in the Mediterranean station for the purpose of protecting the British merchants from the insults of the Algerines, and he invited Reynolds to accompany him. The young artist willingly embarked with the full equipment of his profession, and touching at Lisbon, went ashore, and witnessed several religious processions. He next visited Gibraltar; and on the 20th of July landed at Algiers, where he was introduced to the Dey, who behaved with civility, and dismissed Keppel and his companion with assurances of amity and good-will, which he afterward seemed disinclined to keep. From Algiers they sailed for Minorca, and landed at Port Mahon on the 23d of August. The friend. ship of Keppel and the kindness of General Blake. ney were here very serviceable; through their in. fluence and his own skill Reynolds was employed to paint portraits of almost all the officers in the garrison; and as he lived free of all expense at the governor's table, he improved his fortune at the same time that he exercised his talents.
Reynolds was detained in Minorca longer than ho wished. As he was taking an airing on horseback, his horse took fright, and rushed with him down a precipice, by which his face was severely cut, and his lip so much bruised that he was compelled to have some of it cut away. A slight deformity
marked his mouth ever after. His deafness was imputed by scme to the same misfortune; but that misfortune dated from a dangerous illness in Rome. After a residence of three months, he left Port Mahon, landed at Leghorn, and went directly to Rome.
Of his first sensations in the Metropolis of Art he has left us a minute account. “It has frequently happened,” says he, “ as I was informed by the keeper of the Vatican, that many of those whom he had conducted through the various apartments of that edifice, when about to be dismissed, have asked for the works of Raphael, and would not believe that they had already passed through the rooms where they are preserved; so little impression had those performances made on them. One of the first painters in France once told me that this circumstance happened to himself: though he now looks on Raphael with that veneration which he deserves from all painters and lovers of the art. I remember very well my own disappointment when I first visited the Vatican: but on confessing my feelings to a brother student, of whose ingenuousness I had a high opinion, he acknowledged that the works of Raphael had the same effect on him, or rather that they did not produce the effect which he expected. This was a great relief to my mind; and on inquiring farther of other students, I found that those persons only who, from natural imbecility, appeared to be incapable of relishing those divine perforinances, made pretensions to instantaneous raptures on first beholding them. In justice to myself, however, I must add, that though disappointed and mortified at not finding myself enraptured with the works of this great master, I did not for a moment conceive or suppose that the name of Raphael, and those admirable paintings in particular, owed their reputation to the ignorance and prejudice of mankind; on the contrary, my not relishing them as I was conscious
I ought to have done, was one of the most humiliating circumstances that ever happened to me; I found myself in the midst of works executed upon principles with which I was unacquainted : I felt my ignorance, and stood abashed. All the indigested notions of painting which I had brought with me from England, where the art was in the lowest state it had ever been in (it could not indeed be lower), were to be totally done away and eradicated from my mind. It was necessary, as it is expressed on a very solemn occasion, that I should become as a little child. Notwithstanding my disappointment, I proceeded to copy some of those excellent works. I viewed them again and again ; J even affected to feel their merit and admire them more than I really did. In a short time, a new taste and a new perception began to dawn upon me, and I was convinced that I had originally formed a false opinion of the persection of art, and that this great painter was wellentitled to the high rank which he holds in the admiration of the world. The truth is, that if these works had really been what I expected, they would have contained beauties superficial and alluring, but by no means such as would have entitled them to the great reputation which they have borne so long, and so justly obtained.”
That Reynolds had imagined the Vatican filled - with works of another order from what he found there, is only informing us that in his earlier years he thought differently from Raphael. He had been accustomed to admire stiff or extravagant attitudes, and to put faith in works deficient in the sober dignity and majestic simplicity which distinguished the illustrious Italian. He saw those noble pro. ductions; and though at first he could not feel their excellence, he, before he left Rome, became one of their daily worshippers. All this was very natural: but the conclusion which Reynolds draws, viz. that none but an imbecile person can be alive at first
sight to the genius of a Raphael, is certainly rash and, most probably, erroneous.
“Having,” he says, “ since that period frequently revolved the subject in my mind, I am now clearly of opinion that a relish for the higher excellences of art is an acquired taste, which no man ever possessed without long cultivation and great labour and attention. On such occasions as that which I have mentioned, we are often ashamed of our apparent dulness; as if it were to be expected that our minds, like 'inder, should catch fire from the divine spark of Raphael's genius. I flatter myself that now it would be so, and that I have a just and lively perception of his great powers; but let it be always remembered, that the excellence of his style is not on the surface, but lies deep; and at the first view is seen but mistily. It is the florid style which strikes at once, and captivates the eye for a time, without ever satisfying the judgment. Nor does painting in this respect differ from other arts. A just poetical taste, and the acquisition of a nice discriminative musical ear, are equally the work of time. Even the eye, however perfect in itself, is often unable to distinguish between the brilliancy of two diamonds; though the experienced jeweller will be amazed at its blindness; not considering that there was a time when he himself could not have been able to pronounce which of the two was the more perfect."
I must repeat that I doubt as to all this. True art is nature exalted and refined; but it is nature still. We look on a noble scene-on a high mountain-on a mighty sea-on a troubled sky-or on any of the splendid pictures which the Lord of the universe spreads before his creatures, and we require no long course of study, no series of academic lectures on light and shade, to enable us to feel their gran deur or their beauty. If the study of many years, and great labour and attention, be absolutely neces