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this graphic account:—" The novelty and originality of manner in his pictures, added to his great abilities, drew a universal attention from the connoisseurs, and he was immediately surrounded and employed by all the principal nobility of England. When he ceased, and that was soon, to be a novelty, the capricious public left him in disgust. They now looked out for his defects alone—and he became, in his turn, totally neglected and forgotten; and, instead of being the sole object of public attention, and having the street where he lived so crowded with coaches of the nobility as to become p. real nuisance to the neighbourhood, 'so,' as he jestingly observed to me, 'that he thought he must place cannon at the door to keep the multitude off from it,' he now found himself as entirely deserted as if his house had been infected with the plague. Such is the world!" His popularity was not, however, so very brief as this description would induce us to infer. Some time elapsed before he executed his commissions. When the wonder of the town began to abate, the country came gaping in; and ere he wearied both, he had augmented the original thirty guineas with which he commenced the adventure, to a very comfortable sum; had furnished a house in Orange Court, Leicester Fields; and was every way in a condition to bid immediate want defiance.
The first use which he made of his success was to spread comfort around his mother; and then he proceeded with his works and his studies like one resolved to deserve the distinction which he had obtained. His own strong natural sense, and powers of observation, enabled him to lift the veil which the ignorant admiration of the multitude had thrown over his defects: he saw where he was weak—and laboured most diligently to improve himself. His progress was great—and visible to all, save the leaders of taste and fashion. When his works were crude and unstudied, their applause was deafening; when they were such as really merited a place in public galleries, the world, resolved not to be infatuated twice with the same object, paid him a cold, or at least a very moderate, attention. "Reynolds," says Wilton, the sculptor, "is the only eminent painter who has been able to charm back the public to himself after they were tired of him." The somewhat rough and unaccommodating manners of Opie were in his way to fortune: it requires delicate feet to tread the path of portraiture; and we must remember that he was a peasant unacquainted with the elegance of learning, and unpolished by intercourse with the courtesies and amenities of polite life. Of this he could learn little in his father's cottage; and Wolcot, whose skill lay in coarse satiric verse, in boisterous humour, and in profane swearing, could be but an indifferent instructer. He was thrown into the drawing-room, rough and rude as he came from the hills of Cornwall, and had to acquit himself as well as he could.
I can hardly believe all that has been said as to that fear of heart and fervour of spirit which were upon Opie when he found himself fanned for the first time with dutchesses' plumes, and enclosed in a glittering circle of garters and stars. A weak man might have been bewildered, and a very vain man too much elated—but he was neither weak nor vain; and it is apparent that he made no efforts to accommodate himself to the atmosphere which he has been described as breathing with such superfluity of respect.
Indeed, he appears to have been a plain, bold man, with a moderate share of sensitiveness. "His habitual ruggedness of address," observes Mrs. Inchbald, "was stigmatized by the courtly observer with the appellation of ill-breeding, while a plainer and wiser description of persons found in this contempt of affectation such a security from design—either upon their hearts or their under
standings—that they willingly yielded him boih; and they made this sacrifice with a kind of joyful astonishment to observe that where the Graces never appeared, the Virtues acted for them. This natural blemish in the man—this habitual ruggedness of manner—appeared to Northcote only the effect of an honest indignation towards that which he conceived to be error. It, however, made its appearance early in life, and seems to have been inherited from his father, who, according to all accounts, was coarse and unaccommodating. One Sunday afternoon, while his mother was at church, Mr. Opie, then a boy of ten or eleven years old, fixed his materials for painting in a little kitchen, directly opposite the parlour where his father sat reading the Bible. He went on drawing till he had finished every thing but the head, and when he came to that, he frequently ran into the parlour to look up in his father's face. He repeated this extraordinary interruption so often, that the old man became quite angry, and threatened to correct him severely if he did the like again. This was exactly what the young artist wanted. He wished to paint his father's eyes when lighted up and sparklmg with indignation: and having obtained his end, he quietly resumed his task. He had completed his picture before his mother's return from church, and on her entering the house, he set it before her. She knew it instantly; but, ever true to her principles, she was very angry with him for having painted on a Sunday, thereby profaning the Sabbath-day. The child, however, was so elated by his success, that he disregarded her remonstrance, and hanging fondly round her neck, he was alive only to the pleasure she had given him, by owning the strength of the resemblance. At this moment his father entered the room, and recognising his own portrait, immediately highly approved of his son's amusement during the afternoon, and exhibited the picture with ever-new satisfaction to all who came to the house; while the story of his anger at interruptions, so happily excused and accounted for, added interest to his narrative, and gratified still more the pride of th« artist."
I would fain disbelieve this story; but it comes too well authenticated to be omitted in a narrative whose object is truth. To think of a child deli berately putting its father in a passion that it might copy the sparkling indignation of his eyes! and a wife, and a loving one, recording the trick of this sucking incendiary as a thing pleasant and meritorious! The rod must, after all, have been a necessary piece of furniture in the household of the carpenter of St. Agnes!
Opie, having conquered the chief difficulties of his profession, and acquired a knowledge of French, and a smattering of Latin, now found leisure to become sensible of a want which London could easily supply. It is reported that love of money first directed his eyes to the daughter of a pawnbroker who lived in his neighbourhood. Neither his courtship nor his marriage have been alluded to by his biographers; the first was short, and the second unhappy. His wife, a little woman, with very dark eyes, and a handsome portion, had a mind of her own as well as the artist; and, loving gayety, was not disposed to shut herself up from sun and air with a man of morose turn, whose whole time was dedicated to the study of the dark masters. It is said that a kind word, and an affectionate shake by the hand, banished from his mind in general the remembrance of any wrong committed against him; and that such was his placability of nature, that he was willing to confide again in those who unworthily betrayed him. His wife, a childless and giddy woman, soon put his charity to the extreme proof; and he was compelled to sue for a divorce.
That domestic sorrow such as this had a serious inflaence upon his temper and his studies, who can doubt? but those who have drawn his character and delineated his life, avoid any allusion to his frail partner; they had knowledge and declined to use it—they were over-sensitive, and have not done justice to the memory of Opie by this omission. The only allusion to the circumstance is contained in one of the painter's own smart sayings. He was passing the church of St. Giles late one evening, ir. the company of a friend of avowed skeptical opinions. "I was married at that church," observed Opie. "And I was christened there," said his companion. "Indeed!" answered the painter, "it seems they make unsure work at that church, for it neither holds in wedlock nor in baptism!"
Having freed himself from the encumbrance of an unfaithful wife, and got rid of the crowds of carriages which filled up the street, and annoyed his neighbours, he divided his time between his profession and the cultivation of his mind. He was conscious of his defective education; and, like Reynolds, desired to repair it, by mingling in the company of men of learning and talent, and by the careful perusal of the noblest writers. "Such," says his best biographer, "were the powers of his memory, that he remembered all he had read: and Milton, Shakspeare, Dryden, Pope, Gray, Cowper, Butler, Burke, and Dr. Johnson, he might, to use a familiar expression, be said to know by heart." A man of powerful understanding and ready apprehension, who "remembered all he read," and who had nine of the greatest and most voluminous of our authors by heart, could never be at any loss in Company, if he had tolerable skill in using his stores.
To his intellectual vigour we have strong testimony. "Mr. Opie crowds more wisdom," said Home Tooke, "into a few words, than almost any man I ever knew—he speaks as it were in axioms —and what he observes, is worthy to be remom