Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

He had no wish, however, to be distinguisi resident in the realm of durance: taking advar the liberty of a day-rule in term time, he borri horse-rode from house to house among his friends in the country round London-contradicted boldly the story of his imprisonment-returned to town at the spur, and exhibited himself at every low pot-house on his way to the Rules. His vanity soared not beyond the present moment; to make a good passing impression was his chief aim; and while his money lasted, he was sure of success among those whose applause he valued. Though well-descended, he regarded that matter little, and would rather have had the laugh of a pot-house on his side than all the emblazonments of heraldry. In his earlier and better days, a solicitor informed him that he was heir to a baronet's title, and advised him to assert his claim. I know not whether there was any real foundation for this lawyer's story. “Sir George Morland !" however, said the painter, “it sounds well, but it won't do. Plain George Morland will always sell my pictures, and there is more honour in being a fine painter than in being a fine gentleman."

When the Insolvent Debtor's Act at length restored him to liberty-he was almost past the power of enjoying it. His constitution was ruined, and his personal character was sunk into general contempt. No one would associate with him but the meanest of mankind, nor did he wish this otherwise. In his thirty-ninth year, the palsy struck him. He recovered partially, but would often fall back senseless in his painting chair, and sometimes sink into sleep with his palette and brush in his hand. His left hand was so much affected, that he could no longer hold the implements of his profession. He was not, however, dismayed; he made drawings in pencil and in chalk, tinted them lightly, still enriched the country with works at once bold, original, and

Vol. II.-S

striking, and seemed to set want and disease at de. fiance. But the swiftest runner is soonest at the end of his journey. Morland was carried for debt to a spunging-house in Air Street, and to strengthen his courage on the loss of his liberty, swallowed an unusual quantity of spirits, which, instead of stupefaction, produced fever. Attwell, the keeper of the house, became alarmed, and applied to his friends for assistance: their sympathy, if exerted-of which there is no proof-came too late; the powers of life were exhausted, and he died, after a brief illness, in utter wretchedness and penury, in the fortieth year of his age. His wife, from whom he had been separated for some time, in consequence of family feuds, survived him only a few days.

Morland had a look at once sagacious and sensual, and the same friends wlio compared his forehead to that of Napoleon, represent him as vain and irritable, fretful and vindictive. His character as a man was essentially vulgar, and he seemed insensible to shame. He loved all kinds of company save that of gentlemen; it gave him pain to imitate the courtesies and decencies of life, and he disliked accordingly all those whose habits required their observance. He married without being in love, and treated his wife with carelessness, because he was incapable of feeling the merits of modesty or domestic worth. He had fits of profuse generosity and capricious affection; but folly and grossness were his familiar companions.

As an artist Morland's claims to regard are high and undisputed. He is original and alone; his style and conceptions are his own; his thoughts are ever at home-are always natural-he extracts pleasing subjects out of the most coarse or trivial scenes, and finds enough to charm the eye in the commonest occurrence. He never points above the most ordinary capacity, and gives an air of truth and reality to whatever he touches. He has taken a strong and

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 born 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-moneylong 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 dates 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 ạt 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

« ZurückWeiter »