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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 fire. side 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 confi. dence 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 Birming. ham 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 taste 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 they 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 honour on 'themselves by enrolling our self-taught artist among their number,
His next work was his most poetical, and deci. dedly his best one. This is a representation of the Field of Chevy Chase on the day after the battle. It is painted in the mournful spirit with which the glorious old ballad concludes, and cannot well be looked on without tears. These are the words imbodied;
« Of fifteen hundred Englishmen
Went home but fifty-three;
Under the greenewoode tree.
Their husbands to be wayle;
But all would not prevayle.
They bare with them awy;
Of this heroic ballad, which Sir Philip Sydney said roused him like the sound of a trumpet, and which Ben Johnson affirmed was well worth all his dramas, the people of England are great admirers, and among the peasantry of the south it is almost the only one known. When they saw a painting which gave a life-like and touching image of a scene often present to the fancy, they were loud in its praise. Lady Percy is, with perfect propriety, made a visiter of the fatal field: she appears in deep agony beside the body of her lord. The old Minstrel thought proper to slay Percy by the spear of Sir Hugh Montgomery, and we appeal to history in vain against the poet's decision. The gentle Kate of Shakspeare, who said to Hotspur, in his interview with Glendower, “ Lie still, thou thief, and hear the Welch lady sing," had that sorrowful duty to perform at the battle of Shrewsbury, stricken many years after Otterbourne. This exquisite piece, which should have been pur. chased by some wealthy Douglas or Percy, was bought for 300 guineas by the Marquis of Stafford ; while Mr. (now Sir Walter) Scott acquired the oris ginal sketch. The same munificent nobleman purchased Bird's next picture, the Death of Eli, for 500 guineas; and the British Institution added their testimony to its merits, by presenting the painter with their premium, amounting to £315.
Concerning the picture of the Death of Eli a curious story was circulated. Bristol long endured the reproach of parsimony both in prose and verse. Two English poets have expressed themselves with no measured bitterness of spirit concerning the sordid spirit of its merchants. Thus sings Savage
“ Upstarts and mushrooms; proud, relentless hearts,
Thou blank of sciences ! thou dearth of arts !
Huns, Goths, and Vandals were but types of thee."
“No mild urbanity attracts the sight,
Who's dead? who's broken ? and, who's run away ?" If such reproaches were ever due, they are so no longer: Bristol has now her literary and scientific institutions, and can point to many individuals of the most refined manners as well as the most gene, rous liberality among her citizens. Touched somewhat, however, with the spirit described in Lovell's verses, three gentlemen of that city subscribed 100 pounds each, and commissioned, as it is called, a picture from the pencil of Bird. He painted the Death of Eli. The lucky proprietors sold it for 500 guineas; and, inspired with this, perhaps, unexpected profit, clubbed their hundreds again, and waited on the painter with a fresh commission. But he had no wish to have his brains sucked at that rate, and declined their proposal. The meaning of these citizens in their first offer was kindly; they wished to inspire the artist with a proper confidence, and made remuneration certain; but they could not resist the temptation of gain. They ought to have paid Bird the whole sum which they received, and not sought to enrich themselves under pretence of friendship. But neither the satire of poets nor indi. vidual parsimony must conceal the fact that Bristol took an affectionate interest in his prosperity, and that he found many friends and patrons among her citizens.
Business about this time took Bird to his native town. He was personally recognised by many, and received with an enthusiasm which would have been creditable to a place of higher pretensions. His early companions gathered about him, and he made them cordially welcome. Many of those persons survive, and they all, and of their own accord, when his name is mentioned, speak first of the active kindness of his heart, and then of the early indications of his talents. “I knew Ned Bird, sir,” said one of those humble friends, “ when he was a boy at school; he never thought of himself; he would give the one-half of his dinner to a beggar-woman and the other to a lame soldier, and fast upon his lesson.” Nor had increase of years hardened his heart. One night, as he was on his way to his lodging, a woman ran wildly out of a door, crying, “My child ! my child !” Bird went into her house and finding one of her children in strong convulsions, instantly brought a physician. “ Look to the boy,” said Bird," and look also to the mother; she seems to need it much: I will pay for all.” He returned next day, gave the poor widow a present of money, and when the child, which recovered only for a short time, died, he buried it at his own expense.
On his return to Bristol he recommenced his studies. His chief merit as an artist lay in natural and touching representations of homely and social