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Gainsborough received the first rudiments of his art from Gravelot. His genius, his history, his modest deportment, and his good looks obtained him many friends; but he had not then formed any high notion of his own powers: he, at the most, considered himself as one whose skill might gain him a comfortable livelihood in a provincial town. He saw that historical painting was an unprofitable, and he felt it to be an uncongenial pursuit; no landscapes worthy of art had yet made their appearance, for Wilson was seeking bread in portraiture; he could not fail to see that his own works were essentially different from those which filled the easels of the artists in St. Martin's Lane—and mistrusted his success accordingly. He remained in London four years, and having acquired skill, and mastered some of the mystic tricks of colour and composition, he returned to his father's house a confirmed painter.
He was now in his eighteenth year, and the repuį tation of his talents, the modest gayety of his con
versation, and the extreme elegance of his person, rendered his company universally acceptable in his native place. He could not indeed learn modesty under Hayman; but he acquired the art of making
use of his wit and his information with a graceful 1 readiness, and his handsome form, and looks
beaming with intelligence and genius, could not fail of doing him a good turn if he conducted himself wisely. It happened, in one of his pictorial excursions among the woods of Suffolk, that he sat down to make a sketch of some fine trees, with
sheep reposing below and wood-doves roosting 1 above, when a young woman entered unexpectedly 1 upon the scene, and was at once admitted into the 1 landscape and the feelings of the artist. The name
of this young lady was Margaret Burr; she was of į Scottish extraction, and in her sixteenth year, and # to the charms of good sense and good looks, she
added a clear annuity of two hundred pounds.
These are matters which no writer of romance would overlook; and were accordingly felt by a young, an ardent, and susceptible man: nor must I omit to tell that country rumour conferred other attractions—she was said to be the natural daughter of one of our exiled princes; nor was she, when a wife and a mother, desirous of having this circum. stance forgotten. On an occasion of household festivity, when her husband was high in fame, she vindicated some little ostentation in her dress by whispering to her niece-now Mrs. Lane_“I have some right to this—for you know, my love, I am a prince's daughter.” Prince's daughter, or not, she was wooed and won by Gainsborough, and made him a kind, a prudent, and a submissive wife. The courtship was short. The young pair left Sudbury, leased a small house at a rent of six pounds a-year in Ipswich, and, making themselves happy in mutual love, conceived they were settled for life.
In Ipswich it was his destiny to become acquainted with Philip Thicknesse, governor of Landguard Fort--a gentleman who befriended him at first, and maligned him afterward. This person instantly threw the mantle of his patronage over him. It is not unusual to see a friend of this fashion marching triumphantly before genius as it is struggling into distinction, and imagining all the while that from his notice the other's reputation arises. Gainsborough was as yet little known, and had few friends; his excellency lived in a lonely place, and was desirous of having his solitude enlivened by a visiter whose wit was abundant, and his pencil ready. While the artist continued humble the patron was kind; but as he began to assert his own independence, the esteem of the other subsided, and the vain friend became the avowed enemy. Had this been all, our regret might have been less; but so soon as the artist died, Thicknesse, under pretence of writing a sketch of his life, produced
I an unworthy pamphlet, which misrepresented him
as a man while it praised him as a painter.* It is indeed unsafe to follow it for a single page, but as honey is found in the basest weed, so may truth be extracted from this malignant narrative. I shall
only adopt such anecdotes as are corroborated by į internal evidence, and have been confirmed or cor
rected by the living representatives of the house of Gainsborough.
The first meeting of the artist and the governor was in character. The latter, while taking a walk in a friend's garden, saw a melancholy face looking over the wall. As the stranger remained long in the same position, he advanced to accost him, when he perceived it to be a piece of wood shaped and painted like a man, and stationed as a sentinel in the adjoining garden of Gainsborough. This species of joke corresponded with the taste of the governor-he waited on the artist, and upbraided him for having imposed a shadow upon him for a substance. The compliment was not ill received, and
he was shown into the painting-room, where he I found many portraits which he thought but indiffer
ently executed, and more landscapes, which he at once pronounced to be works of spirit and fancy. Among the former was the head of Admiral Vernon, and the portrait of the identical Tom Peartree, who longed for the ripe pears in Sudbury garden.
Of his productions in those early days Thicknesse is the only man who speaks, and I must use his words. “ Madame Nature, not man, was then his only study, and he seemed intimately acquainted with that beautiful lady.” So far well. -" I was the first man,” continues the governor," who perceived through clouds of bad colouring what an accurate eye he possessed, and the truth of his drawings, and who dragged him from the obscurity of a country
* For the use of this now rare tract I am indebted to the kindness of the Rev. Edw. Poole.
town at a time when all his neighbours were as ignorant of his great talents as he was himself.” This is the modesty of patronage! Gainsborough had shown a strong consciousness of talents, for he depended upon them for bread before he was eighteen years old ; and some of his neighbours had appreciated his genius, since they had counselled his removal to the academies of London.
'The governor invited Gainsborough to dinner-he played him a tune on the violin-he gave him a commission to paint Landguard Fort, including the neighbouring hills and the port of Harwich, price thirty guineas, and to sum up all, he lent him a fiddle; on which he ere long made such proficiency that the governor, though a skilful musician himself, declares he would as soon have tried to paint against him as fiddle against him. An engraving by Major of the picture of Landguard Fort spread abroad the name of Gainsborough; the vanity of Thicknesse, and the desire which the artist had of distinction were gratified, and they appear to have lived in great amity through the united influence of painting and fiddling. Of the original painting of the Fort nothing now remains; it was hung on a wall built with mortai mixed with seawater, and so perished.
The increasing fame of Gainsborough demanded a wider field; he had exhausted the faces and the scenery of Ipswich, and the counsel of Thicknesse agreeing with his own wishes, removed to Bath in the year 1758, and took lodgings in the Circus, at
the rate of fifty pounds annually. He was now in 'the thirty-first year of his age, and his fame was ir. some degree established yet so small, in spite of the boasted patronage of the governor, had his success been, that his wife, come of a prudent nation, if not of a prudent family, was alarmed, remonstrated against this increase of expenditure, and was with some difficulty appeased.
It formed part of the plan of the governor, who
conceived himself to be very popular in Bath I that his portrait, painted on purpose, “ should serve' di I copy his own words—" as a decoy duck for cus
tomers.” The artist himself, however, seems to Leone have given less enthusiasm to this project than his
friend. He had begun to grow weary of offering up continual incense to this vain deity; and to wish to be relieved from this overwhelining patronage of one who claimed the fame arising from his works, and the privilege of directing his studies. From some hints which his excellency throws out, I apprehend that he attributed this independent movement to the influence of Mrs. Gainsborough. But the artist must, I believe, have the whole honour of this to himself. Thicknesse seems never to have suspected that, though Gainsborough was a pleasant companion, and one who indulged in sallies of merriment and
humour, he concealed under all this a variable tem; per, and a spirit shy, proud, intrepid, and intractable.
His wife, whatever the governor has insinuated to the contrary, was a remarkably mild and sweettempered woman-I repeat the words of Mrs. Lane
—who gave her husband his own way, and never 1 sought to win him to her wishes but by gentleness.
Indeed, he was one of the last that would have brooked control; and so proud, or so whimsical, that he never rode up to his own door in a hackney-coach, and admonished his niece to avoid doing so if she loved him. Those who knew both Thicknesse and Gainsborough were only surprised that they continued friends so long. The tide was now on the turn; the portrait, proposed by the governor as a profitable decoy, was left untouched; the heads of men of inferior mark were limned off by the dozen,
and landscapes, which contained other beauties than I those of Landguard Fort, were painted; the patron
lost patience and remonstrated; the pride of the painter was hurt, and he forthwith resolved to free himself from the encumbrance of a sort of patronising