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lasting hold of the popular fancy; not by ministering to our vanity, but by telling plain and striking truths. He is the rustic painter for the people; his scenes are familiar to every eye, and his name is on every lip. Painting seemed as natural to him as language is to others, and by it he expressed his sentiments and his feelings and opened his heart to the multitude. His gradual descent in society may be traced in the productions of his pencil; he could only paint well what he saw or remembered; and when he left the wild seashore and the green wood-side for the hedge ale-house and the Rules of the Bench, the character of his pictures shifted with the scene. Yet even then his wonderful skill of hand and sense of the picturesque never forsook him. His intimacy with low life only dictated his theme—the coarseness of the man and the folly of his company never touched the execution of his pieces. All is indeed homely—nay, mean—but native taste and elegance redeem every detail. To a full command over every implement of his art, he united a facility of composition and a free readiness of hand perhaps quite unrivalled.
His pictures were mostly produced under the influence of intoxication, and the strong stimulant of immediate payment; they were painted in the terror of want, and in the presence of the sordid purchaser, who risked five guineas in a venture for twenty—yet they want nothing which art can bestow, or the most fastidious eye desire. Such was the precious coin with which this unfortunate man paid for gin, obtained the company of the scum and feculence of society, and purchased patience from his creditor, or peace from the tipstaff. The annals of genius record not a more deplorable story than Morland's. EDWARD BIRD.
Edward Bird was bor n at Wolverhampton, on the 12th day of April, 1772. His father, a clothier by trade, was a man of sense and information, and gave him a fair education. His mother watched over him—for he was a weakly child—with the most anxious solicitude. When very young—the family tradition says three or four years old—he began to sketch. He would stand on a stool, chalk outlines on the furniture, and say,'with childish glee, as he eyed his labours, "Well done, little Neddy Bird!" He would be up with the dawn to draw figures upon the walls, which he called French and English soldiers, and was continually in disgrace with the servant maids of his father's house, who had to make use of their mops and scrubbing-brushes) after those early risings.
He was privately encouraged in these pursuits by his eldest sister, now Mrs. Baker; his first box of colours were purchased with her pocket-money— long hoarded for that purpose: and after he had risen to distinction, "Sarah," he would sometimes say, "I must thank you for my being an artist." Nor were his talents in those childish days unfelt by his father; but remote from collections of paintings, unacquainted with the fame they bring, and their influence with the world, the worthy clothier never thought of his son becoming a painter by profession, and regarded it as at best a pleasing but unprofitable calling. His first attempt worthy of notice dales in his fourteenth year—this was the imaginary interview between the Earl of Leicester, and the daughters whom Miss Lee has conferred on Mary Queen of Scots, in her novel of " The Recess." it is now in the house of the artist's widow.
When his father saw that his love of drawing and sketching was incurable, he began to grow anxious to turn it to some account, but could think of nothing better than apprenticing him to a maker of tea-trays —these accordingly it became the boy's business to ornament and embellish. Birmingham then, as now, sent over the world many productions of domestic usefulness, which require not only skill of hand, but good taste and some fancy. On such things Bird first tried his pencil, and was soon distinguished above his fellow-workmen for the neatness and beauty of his embellishments. Of this there is strong proof: long after, when his name was in the ranks of acknowledged genius, he was on a tour in France with several companions, and at Boulogne drank tea off a beautiful tray which excited their notice and praise. Bird looked at it and smiled; when they had recommenced their journey, one of his friends said, "I did not think they could have made such trays in France." "It was not made here," said Bird, " it was made in Birmingham, for I painted it." One of the party was with difficulty restrained from turning back and buying it. Works of this nature, however, are, in a great measure, produced by a kind of mechanical process, in which genius claims little share. The daily reproduction of the same shapes and the same ornaments is but a wearisome task. To dedicate the golden hours of his life to gather wealth for the benefit of some manufacturer, was the original curse of Bird's condition, and he no sooner had the sense to perceive this, than he found courage necessary for setting himself free.
When his indentures expired, very advantageous offers were made to induce him to continue with the "trade;" but he refused them all and probably II.—R
without any defined plan of conduct for future life, resigned a connexion which, with talents infinitely below his, many could have made highly lucrative.
Bird had long felt that yearning after distinction which genius ever feels; he had improved his knowledge in the nature and use of colours; his eye was already familiar with the human form, and his mind stored with those images of social humour and fireside affection in which his strength lay. Of nature as he felt it, and of manners and passions, he had produced many sketches with the pencil—some he had tried to make permanent in oil; and his confidence was daily increasing with his skill.
It was to the advantage of his art that he was thus self-instructed—for his genius was not of that powerful and self-relying order which gains much and loses nothing in the lecture-room and the mechanical workshop attached to academies. The routine of a regular education in art would probably have tamed down the gentle fire with which nature had endowed his bosom to a very insignificant spark.
Though Bird listened to the call of ambition, he was a wise and a prudent man, and obeyed it but in part. He relinquished all connexion with Birmingham and her teaboards, and, removing to Bristol, commenced a drawing-school. During the intervals of instruction, he sketched, designed, and painted with all his early ardour, and with success such as follows patient self-discipline. He by-and-by thought so well of his works, that he ventured to show some of them to his friends, and among others to Mr. Murphy, an artist of t aste and feeling, who liked them so much that he advised their being exhibited. To this Bird was averse for some time, but he at last consented to send two to the Bath Exhibition. It was necessary that a price should be named; the painter wrote down ten guineas each: his friend, with a better sense of their merit, wrote down thirty; and hey found ready purchasers. This was in 1807. when Bird was in his thirty-fifth year. His sketchbooks, says Mr. Murphy, were at that time filled with subjects fit to expand into paintings, and contained scenes of all kind, serious and comic. They were marked by an original spirit, and showed a natural skill in grouping. The Interior of a Volunteer's Cottage was the subject of one of his works; and Clowns dancing in an Ale-house another. The threats of a French invasion had
"Brought the freeman's arm to aid the freeman's laws,"
and Bird had the bayonet of a volunteer at that time in his hands. He was surrounded by a growing family. Fame and money were both desirable, and they were both obtained. Art cannot be followed without incurring expense; and the very reputation which genius acquires is a tax upon the pocket by bringing friends and strangers. Our painter's heart opened with his, fortune: he was never a profuse, but always a very liberal man.
His first successful work, if we measure success by the applause of the world, was called "Good News." Some of his earlier pictures, I have heard good judges say, were of higher merit—and this is not unlikely; it seldom happens that the first original work which genius produces seizes the attention of mankind; it is considered by many as the lucky hit of an ordinary mind, and passed by till it is recalled to notice by a continuation of works from the same hand. "The Choristers Rehearsing" and "The Will" followed, and received equal praise, and, what was not less fortunate, obtained purchasers of high distinction: his present Majesty bought the first, and added judicious commendation to liberal payment; and the other was purchased by the late Marquis of Hastings. The Royal Academy soon afterward conferred honoar on themselves by enrolling our self-taught artist among their number.
His next work was his most poetical, and deci