Elihu Vedder.

The digressions of V. online

. (page 17 of 29)
Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 17 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ened out of his wits by their weird appearance; these fences,
while good everywhere else, were here as tame as pap, and so
that scheme was relegated to the might-have-beens.

I had finally, after a careful survey, selected a simple bit of
road with a good assortment of Martin's foreground plants. On
going the next day to what the Englishman would have called
"the sketching ground," I found them all cut down and an old
farmer standing there with a scythe, mopping his brow. He was
the very picture of benevolence. The good man said, "Seein'
you was goin' to paint here, I thought I would slick it up sum fer
ye." Foiled again!

We then moved to the house of a widow some distance off,
where we were free from the village loafer, but the landscape did
not improve, nor the food either, and we wondered what the
natives did eat. I thought it must be pie, but it was not so. Not
even coffee ; but we found at a neighbouring Turner a bag of
coffee that had lain there some years, and verified what I had
heard that coffee does improve with age. We bought sugar,
but I did not dare to scandalize the good widow by using it freely
as was my habit of doing ; though Bicknell, not so considerate,
told her that when in town I would not think of drinking my cup
of coffee until the spoon stood up in the sugar.

After settling in our new quarters, I found in the barn an old
pail and some firewood, and made a careful study which I cherish
as one of what I call my prize studies. Then one day I found a
dear little girl, barefooted, wearing a quaint cap,^and feeding
some motherless chickens. I have been told of an English artist,
evidently by some one who ridiculed the literary in Art, that,
going into the artist's studio one day, he asked, "What do you call
that picture on the easel?" "That's just it," said the artist,



"I don't know, for I have n't found my quotation yet." I was
more lucky ; I had both subject and title, and painted the picture
and called it "The Motherless." You see, she was an 'orphan,
and the chickens had no mother either, really very touching.
But it was a good little picture all the same. It was bought by
a Mr. Cousins, well-known man in New York.

Now had I been wise I should have gone on painting Mother-
lesses, until every refined home had one of my little pictures, and
I should have had a villa on the Hudson. You can all remember
the time when Frere's charming little pictures were the fashion
when few could escape them. Well, they all represented a
little boy, probably an orphan, seated on a cold stone door-step,
feeding himself out of a bowl with a large wooden spoon. There
seems to be something fundamentally touching about that stone
step and the little boy and the big spoon. My little picture had
the true ring, and had I only been wise who knows ? All
that about Maine only alludes to the country about the Turners.
I have since had a glimpse of Bar Harbor and the country about


Bowdoin College, when I went to put up my decoration, and
found it beautiful. There must be some fine scenery in Maine
but it is not at Turner.

I have always maintained and held forth in season and out of
season, as my friends can testify, upon the beauty, merit, advis-
ability, morality and great utility of a modest but assured in-
come. It prevents envy on the one hand, arrogance on the other,
and I am persuaded goes as far to establishing a person pleas-
antly in the next world as it undoubtedly does in this. Of those
who possess this inestimable advantage, nothing need be said
they are simply to be envied.

Let then the young artist procure a modest but assured income.
This is accomplished by a careful selection of his parents, al-
though an Indian uncle now rare has been known to do as
well. This done, if they are not successful, they are at least safe,
- and so nothing more need be said about them. The next best
thing is to be born with the business instinct. Such also are safe ;
but to be born an artist and in addition with the business instinct
is assured success. I would most strongly urge, in the case of those
born without business talent, the placing of them in a business
college as an indispensable preliminary to their artistic career ;
for although you cannot make business men of them, you may
make successful artists. The combination of riches, genius and
business talent is too good to be true : it would be a trust and spell

A painter who possessed the business talent, determined that
while following his profession he would first make money and
then paint what he pleased. He succeeded with regard to the
money and seemed pleased with regard to the painting. This
painter once made this remarkable remark :


"Why, V., your studio is full of things which a little work
would turn into property."

Struck by the wisdom of this simple statement, I at once de-
termined to put it into practice, and so from time to time have
finished several sketches and other things. I have them yet.

At this time there lived next door to me an Italian painter, a
good artist and a good man : I know this because he confided to
me the bad behaviour of his sons. I told him of this business
discovery like a good propagandist before I had put it in
practice myself urged him to finish up his sketches and pic-
tures, and particularly to sign everything. He at once did so, and,
going to South America shortly after, died. At his sale the widow
had ample cause to thank me for my good advice.

This about signing : I once had an exhibition and sale in Bos-
ton, mostly of little landscapes, street scenes, etc., painted at
Monte Cologniola, of which I treat under the heading of Perugia.
It really was quite a success ; as the boy at the Gallery said "they
went off like hot cakes." I mention the boy, for it having been
found that I had neglected to sign a single picture and, pur-
chasers insisting on it, the boy was constantly bringing to a studio
of a friend near by batches of pictures for my signature. The boy
was wild with delight. Praise and "going like hot cakes" made
an exhilarating time of it, and I felt as actors feel on receiving
their immediate reward. I felt that a glamour surrounded me;
that others felt the glamour you may judge from this. Admit-
tance was charged and went to swell the already high percentage
of the dealer. The young lady who received the admission money
a sweet, pretty girl under the effect doubtless of the glam-
our, whispered to me that she wished to say something to me
in private, but could not do so in the Gallery. I became interested


and told her that as it was near closing hour I would wait for her
down the street. We met, and I did gallantly escort her to a re-
tired Ice-Cream Saloon. Nothing can be more proper than ice-
cream. Then she said she could stand it no longer to see how they
were taking in the admission money, and I not getting a cent of it,
and that she thought it her duty to let me know the state of affairs
and begged me not to think hardly of her for the step she had
taken to inform me. "Think hardly of you, my dear girl!"
- this was not said coldly - "I shall always hold you a true
friend." Also adding other things. Not long afterwards I re-
ceived her wedding-cards and a newspaper cutting. She had
married very well and has to this day my warm wishes for her
happiness. And I should like to tip that boy: he must be pretty
well on in life himself by this time, and doubtless married, with
boys of his own.

A bon-vivant is represented in a little pencil-drawing as saying
to his valet who is buckling up his waistcoat, " Leave a little play,
Joseph ; I am going to dine with a man who has the best cook in
Paris." I suppose that while man lives on earth he will never
cease dining, loosening his girdle and telling stories after dinner ;
and these stories will always be with him and form a part of his
life, like his religion, and, like that, may even accompany him to
the verge of the grave. I have a hope they will follow him beyond.
If they do, how a certain Boston funny man must have chuckled
when he thought of his last good thing on earth. He was dying,
and the doctor, to his plaintive " I think I must be going," said,
" Stuff and nonsense, man ; your feet are warm who ever
heard of a man dying with warm feet?" "I have John
Rogers ! " and he passed away. Now as Rogers was burned at
the stake, it was an affair of heat ; with Tom Appleton it was an

Study of a Toung Girl


affair of cold. All know how cold the northeast wind is in Boston:
this led him to suggest the tethering of a shorn lamb out on the
Common, in hopes that all might benefit by the dispensation
which ought to follow according to the gospel of Laurence
Sterne. Strange to say, I have had to explain this story to per-
sons of a nation nearly allied to us, at least in language. To
Bostonians, or even any one who has ever been in Boston, I
apologize for these two Chippendales.

A Voice from the Past. In looking over letters yellow with
age, I find one which being all about Boston may as well come
in here. It is from Bicknell, and is dated February 22, 1866.

BOSTON, Feb. 22, 1866.

It was my intention on receiving your letter to reply immedi-
ately, but better late than never. The fact is, I have been hard at
work; have finished my large picture and six others for Van
Brunt. The latter pictures are composed of fruit and flowers. It
is the commission originally given to La Farge. I have been very
successful, to say the least. My flower-pictures took everybody
by surprise; they are on exhibition at Doll's. Babcock's new
pictures, including several flower-pieces, are there. Babcock's
friends admit that mine are much better. Bancroft says that my
flower-pictures are the only ones that compete with La Farge.
One of mine I really think is powerful in effect. Doll offers an
unlimited commission at my prices. I shall not do many, how-
ever. The Boys have gotten up quite a howl about other things
of mine, including a large sketch of Hamlet and a large coast
picture, which they say knocks everything into pie. To be seri-
ous, I think I have made some sketches that would please you
very much, and wish you could drop in to see them. I know you


would have some encouraging words to say. I have carried out
my project relating to an Art Club. We have taken a large hall in
this building and shall properly fit it up. The following named
gentlemen are the officers: President, William M. Hunt; Vice-
Presidents, E. C. Cabot and W. A. Gay; also Henry Sales;
Corresponding Secretary, George Snell; Recording Secretary,
E. Adams Doll; Treasurer, "Bic." As you see, we have some
good names at the head of our enterprise. We style it the Allston
Club. We have a billiard- table attached to the Club which
assists us in the great cause of regeneration. The Allston Club
will be the Art Club of Boston. The Hall will make one of the
finest galleries in Boston. Shall give an exhibition soon. Shall
bring you out in full force. You may expect to hear you are
elected member of this great Club. Give us a sketch if you can.
We are heavy blowers for you. The V. stock is still on the gain ;
it is considered the best in the market. The picture-dealers are
not doing much now, but expect to soon. I am in hopes to do
something for you ere long ; I have a fine prospect of it at least ;
will write more definitely in my next. I have had the pleasure of
securing a commission of $5000 for Quincy Ward a few days
ago. Dr. Rimmer wanted the commission, but I ran him off the
track. Dr. owes me one. Cole has left Boston for good ; has gone
West. He has not been very successful this winter, and leaves
Boston quite disgusted. Some of his former friends have been
very hard on him. He goes to Paris in the Spring. Hunt goes
next May, and Ames talks of going next summer. Ames is the
same "dear old boy"; the billiard-table has done everything for
him, has not been absent a single night. Fletcher is not doing
much ; we have given him up as gone goose in the Fine Arts ; he
has gone over to the old Art Club. Alas, poor Yorick! he is


still the same good fellow. Thomas Robinson is with us. He
still harps on the subject of the Fine Arts ; on that subject he is
inexhaustible as the sea. "One thing we have settled ; that E. V.
is the best artist America has produced, be Gad." [These must
be the words of Thomas R. Of course it must be understood
that I have modestly "stepped back four paces" during the
reading of this letter, yet I cannot help quoting what follows.]
I think Doll has not sold any of your pictures of late, but hopes
to soon. [How familiar that sounds.] Your new things would set
the ball in motion again. I hope to hear good news from you,
that you have made many friends and are encouraged. Jack has
taken your departure much to heart. [Then he runs over a list of
all my friends who wish to be remembered ; and then takes place
a thing I have spoken of before, namely, putting the onus all
on me, poor devil !] Your strength is with the young artists ; they
are all with you, and their admiration and love will culminate in
an irresistible power. You must be our Moses and lead us out of

Your devoted friend, Bic.

And now to think that so many Moseses have arisen that there
are scarcely enough Children of Israel to go round ! Dear Bic !
The last time I saw him was standing before his big picture of the
Embattled Farmers firing "the shot heard round the world."
I dare say that shot is still heard ; but of Bic's painted shot I
have never heard a murmur. I am sorry to say that I don't even
know whether he is dead or alive. So much for living abroad.
That "Moses" he speaks of has not yet found the promised
land, and never has had a follower.

wfxocan saj^ebj tread Hia

mail hear men $<uj, ij- lie tut live,

ToxicKed As f\um!>!e lre wiffxtio





Of aim who

rfxejH or etmer nancl



> m^o


he should mil,, mats


Paris the Second Time



HE winding-up of a war is always followed by a period
of confusion which the reader will find only too well
reflected in these pages. Perhaps I shall add to it by
what follows, but as my second voyage to Europe was absolutely
lacking in interest, I have thought best to insert this "inter-
mezzo," which I suppose means "standing around," to take the
place of narrative ; and as it leads up to another letter of Jose-
phus, all is not lost. The fact is, things so overlap each other
that I did not know where else to put it, but what a mixture !
Here I am asking the gentle reader to read this prattling of
a voyage across the Atlantic which took place so long ago that
I don't even remember the date. "Standing around" I should
think so.

When I attended the Arcadian Academy of PfafFs, I must
have formed a portion of the unnoted background unnoted,
yet essential in bringing out the brilliance of the greater lights
the literary gents, hewers of words, not drawers of pictures, else
there would have been "un* altro paio di maniche," or another
pair of sleeves a good expression which might replace Kip-
ling's "another story," so useful but now somewhat shopworn.


I imagine this Italian expression arose in that so often quoted
Cinque Cento when the sleeves were tied on with points or
bows of lacings, as is beautifully, shown in many an old picture,
and could be changed at will. Had I when I frequented Pfaff's
but written some poetry, no matter how bad, it would have
made a great difference: I should not have formed merely a
background, but should have been dragged out into the light,
if merely for the exercise of their keen wits. And to think of
what fun they would have had with this venture of mine (how
they would have enjoyed these literary struggles) had they but
waited! for some of them were young enough to have seen
me and gone me years better were it not for that deplorable
habit of dying young. Who now remembers Wood and his bur-
lesques ? Like Arnold and many another of that merry set,
he died young. But all such things must be left to the pages
of a Winter or a Hutton. It makes me weep to think of all
I have missed by living abroad ; but then, who knows but I also
might have died young, so perhaps it is better as it is.

I having served so frequently as background or foil for
others so frequently included in the expression "and others"
so frequently left out in " Lives and Letters " - makes me all the
more tender and fond of those similarly situated, and I also find
them quite as interesting as those who "now have the cry." And
so I should like to paint the portraits and give a few letters of
these Ignoti.

And yet there is one little thing against my kind and benevolent
scheme for making them known: these "Ignoti," these "Igno-
rati," did not do any really great things. Well, what of it ? They
remain just as interesting and amusing. The great talents of the
great were given them : they did n't have to work to get them ;


but somehow their narrowness, meanness, or snobbishness seems
to have been produced on the premises, seems somehow to be
more entirely their own work, than their great productions.
Perhaps it all comes to this that each man, being composed of
two or three men, while we love one, we pitch into the other
or others. In reading the foregoing, if used to reading between
the lines, you will see how true it is, as I have said elsewhere, that
while the wounds of pride or feelings, or of pocket, may heal, the
wounds of vanity never heal. These imaginary lines I speak of are
very real. Show Lowell the astronomer the disc of Mars, with
a few dots and smudges properly placed, and he will at once
be able to connect them with their proper canals, double or
single as the case may be, and you will know just what portions
of Mars you are looking at, yet these lines are only imaginary.
This is the case with a few well-placed accents in a portrait.
In Florence, in the old days, there used to be small coins yet in
circulation, so thin and light that they would float on water, a
thing we frequently verified at the caffe, where in spite of their
tenuity they procured us many solid refreshments.
They were called cratzie, I think. On some you
could yet see plainly the arms of the Medici, only
faintly, but still hinting at the balls or pills on
the shield of that noble House. On another but
a few dots remained, yet connected by these
imaginary lines the pretty little head of the Ma-
donna di Lucca sprang to life. This drawing shows how this
was possible, and the great importance of properly placing these
characteristic accents in particular.

I never sit at the well-spread board but that I look at the but-
tonholes in the lapels of the coats of the diners, and am attracted


at once by those without decorations. This is, of course, in
Europe. Could those dumb mouths but speak, we should know
more about the hopes and aspirations of their owners yet
how eloquent they are all the same. They look by contrast so
bare and hopeless, and yet these empty buttonholes are slowly
getting to have something distinguished about them, so that the
time may come when a modest man will have to procure a deco-
ration that he may avoid attracting attention. I foresee a time
when those who leave out will be more hurt than those left out.
That last dot should not be left out of my portrait. In reading
the life of a great man, we are reminded how, like a splendid
statue of polished basalt, he in his time may disappear under
a cloud of discussion, soiled by the mud of abuse, and finally lie
hidden under the dust of forgetfulness until some great rehabili-
tator sets him on a pedestal, where, seen in the perspective of time,
he appears in his true proportions and in his pristine freshness.
And pray what has set V. off on this tack ? Nothing except
that he has been reading some "Lives and Letters" lately and
has been so impressed by the confusion of opinions, both of friends
and enemies, and all the complications of little daily events, that
he finds the hero's outlines blurred, and that the more he reads
the less he seems to find out and then the uselessness of all the
fuss and flurry. A little patience and all is made clear. The great,
the seeming-great, and the insignificant, all worked hard enough
to merit their daily bread, and certainly had their daily troubles ;
and when they went, their works survived or perished, the wheat
remaining, the chaff blown away in the sifting of time. And yet
V., catching the contagion, must needs put in his little oar. Well,
after all, some of the finest portraits are those of very ordinary
people: in fact, the greatness of the original and all we know


about him tends to spoil the picture as a work of Art, for we can-
not help thinking more about the subject than about the painting.
All I know is that I was better off when I knew some painters
only as painters and not as men. In the case of Ruskin, how-
ever, I have been glad to find out how really noble and tender he

was, even if he was always a little too good and frequently very

And so, on looking over my old letters, I see that I have as
fine a collection of loveable ghosts to tell about as any one. And
for whom am I writing if it be not for them ? I am thus giving
them a new lease of life here on earth, and at the same time am
opening a little window into the Past and showing how very
much alive they were in their day : and if it be sometimes at the
expense of a little modesty on my part what matters it ? I
want my new friends to know my old ones. But where are my


own letters ? God only knows. I am not editing my Life and
Letters, although I think that would be a very good plan: at least
I would get some fun and not leave it all to posterity. One thing
is clear I was a very much loved man, and if I could only
have carried out the career my friends hoped for and predicted,
I should have been a very famous one also ; but alas, I was too
fond of my play.

How could it be otherwise with such good playfellows to play
with ? But why did they not try to do some of the grand things
they were hoping I would do ? They seemed to put it all on me.
I see in these letters how sorry they were to lose me. Josephus,
after a furious outburst expressing his rage at arriving too late to
see me off, as the rest of the Boys did, continues thus :

"The Boys are well. I see them occasionally, though of course
not so frequently as when you were among us. The connecting
link of the association seems broken. Cas. has had a sale in con-
nection with Warren, which, owing to Warren's remissness in
proper attention, proved rather a fiasco for both of them, though
some of Casimiro's things brought fair prices. Warren was com-
pletely slaughtered. The pupilage scheme does not appear to
fructify much. Cas. has a pupil, a fine, healthy male of good
constitution and tolerably plethoric purse. Charlie has also a
pupil, a female of course, whose endurance I am not acquainted
with, but hope for Charlie's sake she may hold out to eternity.
Cas. works hard and has disposed of all his kerosene refrigerat-
ors and will be mighty sorry, Sunday and Monday last having
been the coldest days known here since sixty years thermome-
ter fifteen below zero. I, like the thrice-sodden idiot that I am,
went to the rural district on the Saturday previous for a day's
skating result, a heavy cold and frozen feet. New Year's


night saw but a melancholy attempt at the usual Soletyngian
Saturnalia. V. was not there; Hitchie was not there; Antonio
was not there ; Arnold was not there ; Wood was not there ; every-
body was not there. Cas., Charlie, and myself were the only
guests, and we proved barely sufficient to make more glaring the
contrast with the days gone by. Sol provided his usual abundant
hospitality and the feeding was done with the wonted prodigality
which always characterises these reunions, but the sparkle and
the verve were wanting, and we separated early, keenly conscious
of the void left by the absent and the dead. Attended an orgy at

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 17 of 29)