Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

when the grave received his remains they were so much affected with the sight of his son—a child of seven years old, who was there as chief mourner— that they requested leave to bear the expense of the interment. This Mrs. Bird, with modesty and good feeling, declined. A colder tale is, however, told, -and even credited far from Bristol. Those three hundred gentlemen, it is said, obtained, with much entreaty, Mrs. Bird's permission to bury her husband with all the honours of the city and at their own expense. The scene was splendid, and many were the external symptoms of public wo; but when all was over, the undertaker presented his bill to the widow of the painter. If this story be' true, the sarcasms of Savage and Lovell are merciful and kind-^-but I believe it rests on no sufficient authority.

Edward Bird was in stature below the middle size, his eyes were expressive, his smile particularly winning, and his whole look full of intelligence. He was an admirer of truth, loved good order in his family, and kept strict discipline among his children, who loved and feared him. The air of rusticity which hovered about his person wore off as he became animated in company: there was much about him to please and even captivate, and, what all men reverence, a perfect sincerity of heart. Towards the close of his life his looks grew dark and melancholy; but this was less the fault of his mind than of his fortune; he felt that the world of fashion which he had worshipped was making its own return—neglecting while it praised, and spurning while it caressed him.

The early works of Bird have an original and unborrowed air, which mark an artist who thought for himself, and sought the materials of his pictures in the living world around him, rather than in the galleries of art. In those he was eminently happy, and his very success was the cause of his after-sorrow. A swarm of counsellors came round, who persuaded him that fame was the satellite of fashion, and induced him to forsake the modest path to permanent reputation, and follow the will-o'-wisp of pageant-painting, which led to the slough of despond and to despair and the grave. Those who wish well to the fame of Edward Bird will speak of his paintings of humble life, and seek to forget not only these mistaken efforts of his declining hand, but even his historical productions, with the single exception of Chevy Chase.

HENRY FUSELI.

Henry Fuseli—so he chose to spell his name, though his fathers wrote it Fuessli—was born, by all accounts save his own, in the year 1741, at Zurich; but as he seldom wished to think like other men, so he refused to be born according to tradition or register books, and taking up a little German memoir of himself, changed the date of his birth from 1741 to 1745, without adding either day or month. He was the second of eighteen children: his name pertains to Switzerland—all by which that name is distinguished to England.

The father, John Gaspard Fuessli, obtained some fame as a portrait and landscape painter: his taste for poetry procured him the friendship of Kleist, Klopstock, and Wieland; and from his history of the Artists of Switzerland, his more eminent son drew some of the materials for an enlarged edition of Pilkington's Dictionary of Painters. He was of the same family as that Matthias Fuessli, a painter, of Zurich, who studied in Venice, and died in 1665, of whom Henry gives this brief character: "His extensive talent was checked by the freaks of an ungovernable fancy—his subjects in general were battles, towns pillaged, conflagrations, and storms." There is a kindred likeness here. The maiden name of Henry's mother was Elizabeth Waser; he loved to speak of her, and attributed much of his knowledge to her instructions; she died when he was eighteen years old. His father, a scholar and an artist, had probably experienced some of the sorrows common to both characters, and, desirous that his son should at least have bread, proposed to educate him for the church. The wayward temper of the boy, and his already enthusiastic love of painting, opposed strong obstacles to this sensible plan, and the father, with much of his own wilfulness of spirit, resolved to enforce obedience. For a while he was successful. Henry made great progress in learning; having overleaped the first difficulties, he became an ardent devourer of the classics; but it was only or chiefly to find, in the poetry of Greece and Rome, vivid images of heroic life and daring flights of imagination.

The time which the school demanded was thus spent, by one who could do in minutes what would have cost his fellows hours; for the rest of the day he had other occupation. As soon as he was released from his class, he withdrew to a secret place to enjoy unmolested the works of Michael Angelo, of whose prints his father had a fine collection. He loved, when he grew old, to talk of those days of his youth, of the enthusiasm with which he surveyed the works of his favourite masters, and the secret pleasure which he took in acquiring forbidden knowledge. With candles which he stole from the kitchen, and pencils, which his pocket-money was hoarded to procure, he pursued his studies till late at night, and made many copies from Michael Angelo and Raphael, by which he became familiar, thus early, with the style and ruling character of the two greatest masters of the art. A wild German work, called " The Hour-Glass," caught his fancy, and he illustrated it with outlines, representing fantastic imps and elves engaged in strange dances,ludicrous gambols, and mischievous tricks. Etchings of those early attempts were afterward published, and are now exceedingly rare; they are said not to be with out merit, and to show, as the poet says, that "the boy is father of the man." His schoolfellows perceived his talents—some of them purchased his works—and he presently found himself with more money in his pocket than he knew well what to do with. The taste of our youth was decidedly in favour of whatever was staring and extravagant. He bought a piece of flame-coloured silk, had it made into a coat, and in this splendid attire marched up the streets of Zurich; but the laughter and mockery of his companions put him into such a passion that he soon threw off the garment and vowed never to be fine again.

With this twofold taste for literature and art upon him, Fuseli was placed—I know not at what age—in the Humanity College of Zurich, of which two distinguished men, Bodmer and Breitenger, were professors. Here he became the bosom companion of that amiable enthusiast, Lavater, studied English, and conceived such a love for the works of Shakspeare, that he translated Macbeth into German. The writings of Wieland and Klopstock influenced his youthful fancy, and from Shakspeare he extended his affection to the chief masters in English literature. His love of poetry was natural, not affected—he practised at an early age the art which he admired through life, and some of 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. Pamphlets and accusations were probably uncommon things in Zurich; in some other countries they would have dropped 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 wonderworking production I can give no farther account. It made Fuseli, in all likelihood, few friends; we

« ZurückWeiter »