« ZurückWeiter »
his first attempts at composition were pieces in his native language, which made his name known in Zurich.
Like some other youthful poets, he was also a reformer. In conjunction with Lavater he composed a pamphlet against a ruler in one of the bailiwicks, who had abused his powers, and perhaps personally insulted the two friends. The peasantry, it seems, conceiving themselves oppressed by their superior, complained and petitioned; the petitions were read by young Fuseli and his companion, who, stung with indignation at the tale of tyranny disclosed, expressed their feelings in a satire, which made a great stir in the city. Threats were publicly used against the authors, who were guessed at, but not known; upon which they distributed placards in every direction, offering to prove before a tribunal the accusations they had made. Nay, Fuseli actually appeared before the magistrates—named the offender boldly—arraigned him with great vehemence and eloquence, and was applauded by all and answered by none. Pamphlets and accusations were probably uncommon things in Zurich; in some other countries they would have dropt from the author's hands harmless or unheeded, but the united labours of Fuseli and Lavater drove the unjust magistrate into exile and procured remuneration to those who had suffered. Of this wonder-working production I can give no further account. It made Fuseli, in all likelihood, few friends; we are certain that it brought him enemies, who were powerful enough to make their anger be felt, and finally succeeded in inducing the young genius to quit Zurich.
WOL. II. T
With a reputation for scholarship, poetry, painting, and patriotism, and the degree of Master of -Arts attached to his name, Fuseli bade farewell to his father's house, and travelled, in company with Lavater, to Berlin, where he placed himself under the care of Sulzer, author of the “Lexicon of the Fine Arts.” His talents and learning obtained him the friendship of several distinguished men, and his acquaintance with English poetry, induced Professor Sulzer to select him as one well qualified for opening a communication between the literature of Germany and that of England. Sir Andrew Mitchell, British ambassador at the Prussian court, was consulted; and pleased with his lively genius, and his translations and drawings from Macbeth and Lear, received Fuseli with much kindness, and advised him to visit Britain. Lavater, who till now had continued his companion, presented him at parting with a card, on which he had inscribed in German, Do but the tenth part of what you can do. “Hang that up in your bed-head,” said the physiognomist, “obey it—and fame and fortune will be the result.”
If we trust the register of Zurich, Fuseli was in his twenty-second year when he appeared in England in 1763; but if we prefer his own statement as to the time of his birth, he was but eighteen—a tender age for obtaining the notice of ambassadors, and too young surely and inexperienced for opening a communication between two great nations in a matter of literature; yet his behaviour on arriving in this great Babylon may seem to countenance his own story. “When I stood in London,” said he, “ and considered that I did not know one soul in
all this vast metropolis, I became suddenly impressed with a sense of forlornness and burst into a flood of tears. An incident restored me. I had written a long letter to my father, giving him an account of my voyage and expressing my filial affection—now not weakened by distance—and with this letter in my hand, I inquired of a rude fellow whom I met, the way to the Post Office. My foreign accent provoked him to laughter, and as I stood cursing him in good Shakesperian English, a gentleman kindly directed me to the object of my inquiry.” The embarrassment and tears thus described may strike many as suiting better the milkiness of eighteen than the firmer manhood of twenty-two. After he reached London, we hear no more of the channel of communication which Professor Sulzer employed him to open between the literature of Britain and that of Germany. In what manner this was to be accomplished, I can find no account: he had common letters of credit to Coutts, the banker, and friendly introductions to Johnson, 1Millar, and Cadell, the booksellers, who all received him with kindness; but he was made acquainted with no man of influence or genius, and had to seek his way into such society as he might. His friends, the booksellers, obtained for him the situation of tutor to the son of some nobleman, whom he accompanied to Paris. This employment suited ill with the fiery impatience and untameable enthusiasm of Fuseli. He loved not to tell the name of his pupil, nor allude to the success of his labours, nor was he willing, it is said, to have the matter mentioned. His governorship is supposed to have been short: and he returned to London to dedicate his pen to the daily toils of literature —to translations, essays, and critiques. Of such pieces he wrote nearly an hundred, but acknowledged none save a translation of Winklemann's work on painting and sculpture; and it required some nerve to make that acknowledgment, for the book, as has been mentioned in the life of Barry, advocates the doctrine that British genius is unequal to the task of making noble works of art— a notion which, however absurd, seems to have sometimes possessed Fuseli himself. The book which Barry so bitterly answered, excited no general attention here. It is a part of the English temper to listen to such fantastic assailants with exasperating indifference. Fuseli afterwards tried his skill on more inflammable materials—he precipitated himself into the angry controversy then raging between Voltaire and Rousseau. “Fuseli,” said Bonnycastle to him one day after dinner, “ you can write well— why don't you write something?” “Something!” exclaimed the other, “you always cry write— Fuseli write l—blastation! what shall I write ” “Write,” said Armstrong, who was present, “write on the Voltaire and Rousseau Ron—there is a subjects” He said nothing—but went home and began to write. The enthusiasm of his hatred or his love enabled him to compose his Essay with uncommon rapidity, and he printed it forthwith, in the hope that it would fly abroad to exalt Rousseau, and confound Voltaire. “It had,” said one of his friends, “a short life and a bright ending.” The whole impression caught fire, and either
angry philosopher lived and died in ignorance whether the future professor of painting in England was his friend or his enemy. Fuseli was afterwards much ashamed of this production, and scarcely counted the man his friend who alluded to it. Armstrong, the poet, his constant associate, had once the boldness to tax him in company with having written it—Fuseli kindled up “like fire to heather set” and poured out his fury in both English and German. This calmed him—he then argued that his friend had no right to couple his name with such a work—but he did not deny it. Though thus busied with tutorships and translations, he had not forgotten his early attachment to art. He found his way to the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and submitted several of his drawings to the President's examination, who looked at them for some time, and then said, “How long have you studied in Italy” “I never studied in Italy—I studied at Zurich—I am a native of Switzerland—do you think I should study in Italy 7—and, above all, is it worth while 7” “Young man,” said Reynolds, “were I the author of these drawings, and were offered ten thousand a year not to practise as an artist, I would reject the proposal with contempt.” This very favourable opinion from one who considered all he said, and was so remarkable for accuracy of judgment, decided the destiny of Fuseli; he forsook for ever the hard and thankless trade of literature—refused a living in the church from some patron who had been struck with his talents—and addressed himself to painting with heart and hand. The first effort of his pencil was “Joseph inter