Elihu Vedder.

The digressions of V. online

. (page 22 of 29)
Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 22 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tice, so he told me, had been for years to rub himself vigorously
all over with alcohol ; nor did he confine it to the exterior only,
he made it equally an internal cure which he attended to with
great industry and punctuality. His room was filled with bottles
of the remedy ; in fact he lived in an atmosphere of alcohol, and
yet, contrary to all the rules, the truth of his theory was in his case
fully demonstrated. Here he confided to me his scheme for a great
picture, and showed me a pencil sketch of it ; and I have no doubt
that, had he had the necessary talent, knowledge and industry, he
would have made a fine picture. But it is strange that with his
sense of humour, he did not see the humour of the situation, or had
totally forgotten that he had shown me that same sketch so many
years ago. Was this a case of arrested development ? It certainly
was with regard to the picture, and with regard to the man. I won-
dered if it could be as in the case of the mummy-heads I have
told of, arrested decay ? Never mind ; R. was a good fellow.
Any man who puts his hand in his pocket and lends you money
when you need it, is a good fellow.



To say Hunt or Ham. Wild was to say Boston. But with this
difference Hunt was himself and Boston ; Wild was pure Bos-
ton. Hunt in Rome seemed a fish out of water. There is a great
difference between a city full of friends and a city with only a few
friends. Of course he had Story and Wild and myself, but it was
not the same. The air of Rome was not the air of Boston, and in
spite of rides in the Campagna, with his grey beard streaming to
the wind, he did not seem to thrive nor did he do much work.
Wild was his stand-by and the friend of the family.

Wild was neat in dress, leisurely in speech, with an accent
which appeared affected, but to him was natural. Some thought
him finicking, Miss Nancy-ish,some put it, but underneath
there was a real man. They tell of his being for days in an open
boat with the crew of a foundered ship, when he turned out the


best and most courageous of the lot. He had a love for and
a fine sense of colour. It had once appeared in print that
Hamilton Wild was drunk with colour ; that did the business for
him ; before that he had only been, " How came you so," - when
in colour, but when I knew him, he took his colour neat. Wild
was reticent about his affairs; only on two occasions did he
unburden his heart to me.

One was when Story had been ill. Wild had been most atten-
tive, sitting with him, reading to him, and doing in fact all that
an affectionate friend could do; he said: "V., do you know
that all this winter Story has never been near me, nor ever sent
any one to me. I must confess that I feel somewhat hurt."

That " sent any one to me" must have meant a great deal, for
I imagine he had very little, barely enough to get on with; no
one would ever have dreamed that from his appearance.

The other occasion must have been the result of some com-
plaining on my part, for I, when I am hurt, squeal loudly.

"Why V., my life has been one long snub. I have never had
once no, not once anything I really longed for."

Poor boy! Poor boy!

W. W. Story was a generous and warm-hearted man, but his
palace, his great circle of distinguished friends, his large studios
and the daily caravan of admiring visitors, all made him forget
poor Wild, the real friend, waiting in his studio. Oh well, there
is some use for a future life after all ; they are both there now ;
and perhaps Story has looked over his friends more carefully by
this time,

It is not necessary to knock down Descamps in order to ele-
vate Costa in his stead. Costa has a very respectable hill of his
own to stand on ; and so have many others. I first met Costa in


Florence. The French held Rome and Civita Vecchia, and there
was a lull. Costa had left off fighting and had come on to Flor-
ence and resumed his painting. He had brought with him some
splendid lithographs of pictures by Deschamps ; particularly fine
was the " Defeat of the Cimbri." I thus became acquainted at the
same time with both Masters. Costa and I became and remained
friends from that day on. This is the story he told me of a certain
brother of his, a priest. The family was large, sixteen, I
think. Costa was one of the youngest. In the early days, when-
ever they had maccheroni, this priest-brother used always to
say, "Dear me! Dear me! I have forgotten my handkerchief."
While he was gone to get it, the maccheroni was served, so when
he returned he got his portion from the bottom of the dish where
all the butter had been collected. Time passed ; and Costa with
all his fighting and troubles also acquired much wisdom, so that
in one of the rare family reunions, when this foxy elder brother
again forgot his handkerchief, Costa bade him sit still ; he would
lend him a handkerchief, for he wanted to have his own share
of the butter this time.

Once Costa and I were painting in Velletri. We stopped at the
same house and shared the same subject. This was art old church
and a road leading up to it. An old wall on the hillside had loop-
holes cut in it, owing to the late troubles. It was a midday effect
and simple to a degree. I went at it in that spirit and painted as
directly as I knew how; afterwards I put in a contadino with
jacket thrown over his shoulder, pausing to light his pipe. Costa
approached the subject by parallels, prepared it with red one
day, and on another inserted greys, and again went over it, then
took it to Rome and painted on it from time to time for several
years ; that was his way. I took it by assault ; he, by siege. I don't


think he saw more in Nature than I did ; but he saw more in
Nature to paint than I did.

I say we shared the same room. On going to bed, I found my
pillows were so many that I could not get my head on them, so
I took out a famously hard one. This Costa eyed wistfully and
finally asked me if I was n't going to use it. I said, no ; and then
be begged me to throw it to him ; this done, he immediately put it,
together with one of his own, on his feet, saying that he could
never sleep without a weight on them. And I, who can't abide the
weight of a fly on mine ! I, who want the clothes raised like a
dome of St. Peter's above them ! How is this ? Did he need his
feet weighted to keep him from walking over all creation, and
I need all creation, to get a move on ? to induce me to walk
at all ? These be fine questions, but why turn fun into trouble.
That is the way it was.

Were I giving the lives, or even an estimate, of the artists I
have known, this would be most inadequate even as a mention of
Costa ; but as all the eminent people I have met have been so
thoroughly written up, it is useless my attempting anything of the
kind. Signora Agresti, the daughter of William Rossetti, has
written a beautiful book on Costa. He was a fighter and the
founder of a school. He believed in painting direct from Nature,
with all the strength and love you are capable of; this he did, but
he showed little love for those who differed from him. He de-
lighted in stealing upon Nature in her most intimate moods,
taking her by "tradimento," was his very Italian expression ; for
he was a thoroughgoing Italian and was as great a patriot as he
was a painter. As I say, my only aim is to give some little intimate
touch regarding the people I have known. I hope I shall not men-
tion this again, although it is ten to one I shall.


I have not said anything about Walsh, yet he merits a mention.
He was eminently one of the Caffe Greco boys. Walsh would
say such things as this : " By Jove ! that 's a fact ; I must see
Naples before I leave Rome ! " from which one would judge
him to be a Persian. How homeless he was is shown by his
remarking on a very hot day, " By Jove ! this is the weather to
take the pin out of your collar ! " For him no busy housewife plied
her evening care ; no nicely sewn buttons for Walsh. "Ah," said
he to a friend one day, " I see you 're eating eggs. I frequently eat
them myself; I consider them the best of the farinaceous foods."

The Boys were good to Walsh. He looked beautiful in his
spotless shirt with his golden beard spread on it, as he sat in his
comfortable chair in that sunny room the Boys had provided
for him dead. Poor, ignorant, harmless, loveable Walsh!

Charlotte Cushman was a large woman a generous and good
friend, and, I believe, an equally good hater. Tragedy lingered
about her. I remember the way she quoted the nightingale -
" leaning its breast up till a thorn, " leaning forward with a large
and appropriate motion. She was fond of having notabilities
about her, and I shall never forget the deep voice and tragic way
she said, on being informed that a noted young man was in town,
"What! Simmet here ? Bring him to me!" at the same time
grasping the air with "hooked hands." I thought of the small,
tender, plump Simmet within that grasp.

Randolph Rogers and she had been friends, but he, being an
excellent mimic, could not resist giving her "Sands of Dee,"
which, coming to her ears, caused a coolness to ensue between
them. Being a generous person, as I said, she concluded to make
peace, and so invited him to come again to her receptions. He
went, but to his horror she called on him to give his famous imi-


tation of the "Sands of Dee." In vain poor Roanoke protested
and begged to be excused ; she was inexorable ; so he had to
give it, which he did with his most creepy, crawly effect. Being
a consummate actress, she laughed heartily, but being a woman,
she never forgave him, and they became worse enemies than
before. I have seen lately that my friend Stillman tells this story
differently but the principle or lack of it remains the same.

Once I paid a visit to the Tre Fontane outside of the Porta
San Paolo. It is run by the Trappisti people who know how
to hold their tongues, a good thing in this tattling world. Each
day one is allowed to speak, and they take turns. So the visitor
gets the pent-up.

I would not have believed it, had not one of the good fathers
told me himself, that the spot takes its name from the fact that
at the beheading of St. Peter or St. Paul, I forget which I say
this to my shame the severed head bounded three times, and
that a fountain sprang up each time it touched the earth. Now
these Trappists are men who have taken the vow of silence, and
it seems strange to me, though doubtless stimulated by the ex-
ample of the excellent liqueur made in France by their brothers
the Benedictines, it seems strange, I say, that they should
make a drink they call Syrup of Eucalyptus, which has the pro-
perty of loosening the tongue to such an extent as it does;
I know, for I have tried it. Now I do not find fault with them
for making this drink, but if they found it was a cure for malarial
fever by logic, I find fault with their logic.

The Tre Fontane is a spot noted for the prevalence of this
dreaded fever, owing to the impervious beds of tufa beneath
the soil which holds the water, causing it to stagnate, and this
stagnant water causes the fever. The Eucalyptus, being a tree


of rapid growth, its roots absorb this water, so that by planting
extensive groves of this tree they aver that the fever has been
greatly diminished. Now would it not be just as logical to say that
tight boots produce corns, that bootjacks remove the boots which
produce the corns, and that by making a syrup of bootjacks you
make a cure for corns? Perhaps it might; but not by logic.

I have alluded to O. and his wonderful dreams, and how he let
the cat out of the bag by saying on being urged to tell a recent
one that it had not been " developed yet." I here want to try
an experiment, and see just how a dream would look honestly
told and not developed. The tendency to develop is almost in-
stinctive, so if this account has any interest it will be owing solely
to its absolute truthfulness. It happened last night, and was
written at once on awaking.

I was in some kind of church, with high windows, and ma-
son's ladders were reared against them, so that people could
look in. There was a clergyman and a feeble old man a friend
of mine present. The clergyman said, " I told them not to put
the ladders where they could look in." My friend was reading to
me. I said, "There is a window open behind you ; you will catch
cold." My friend answered me, that the cold would do him good,
coughed, and got up, and closing the window turned to the cler-
gyman and said, "Perhaps my reading disturbs you?" The
clergyman answered, "I am about to enter into contemplation,
so that your reading and people looking will not matter" - and
then he faded out of the dream. My old friend said, " It is scandal-
ous about that man's tomb ; he has put in it a paint-box to-
bacco whiskey and all sorts of things ; but here comes the
genius" and a girl entered. A small boy stood grinning; his
name was Peter. The girl was slight, willowy, blonde, beautiful,


uncertain, fascinating, saucy, timid, appealing, familiar, and shy,
and seemed to be the embodiment of contraries.

My old friend said, "Let us go up to my room." We climbed
rickety step-ladders, entered a garret, through a small hole, and
then a large room filled with books, papers, all sorts of things,
a press for etchings, slender furniture covered with chintz, all
perfectly neat and in order. There was also a graceful young cat
with a numerous litter of kittens. The old friend seemed com-
pletely under the influence of the girl, in love with her ; she
treated him with growing indifference, and was falling in love
with me. He said, "She is a genius and must be taken care of";
and placing his hands on her shoulders, " I will take you to Lon-
don ; it will be the making of you. . . . Now we will look at your
books; she has made them all herself covers and all." I ap-
proached her and she fled. I seated myself, and she came and
leaned on me while showing the books wonderful books filled
with amazing coloured engravings and writing. She was dressed
richly, and at the same time so poorly, in thread-bare beautiful
silks ; they clung to her slender figure, yet sitting almost on my
knee I felt no body, and the books again, made up of prints of all
styles and periods, she nervously shuffled about with a mingled
look of defiance and fear of coming criticism. Her eyes, dark,
of no certain colour, gleamed through her tangled blonde hair.
I can just manage to remember two subjects; those I remember
clearly. One : a dark winter landscape, with fields of snow, a
promontory with a beacon gleaming on it and a figure fleeing out
of the foreground ; on it was written, "The Fugitive," and a line
of writing losing itself in the snow said, "He runs swiftly over
the snow; they are many but come slow, but they" here it ended.
At first I could not understand whence came the great brilliance


of the beacon, but found the imitation print had a hole punc-
tured at a spot corresponding to a hole in the cover, so that the
light from the opposite window was shining through. The girl
said to the old man, "There, he has at once found out what you
could never see." Another picture was a brutal-looking man
turning away from a woman to whom he held out a glass to be
filled. She looked careworn and desperate and poured in wine,
at the same time seeming to be adding poison, and under was
written, "It finally comes to this."

Then this charming creation of unconscious cerebration, this
waif of the brain, in her silken rags this impalpability fades
away, leaving an indelible impression, while Peter stands by grin-
ning ; then he too fades away, and I wake up and write it all

I wonder if my just having tried to translate a sonnet from the
Italian of Signorini had anything to do with the dream ; it cer-
tainly has to do with versatility.

Poor girl in gaudy finery dressed,
Prowling the streets when day is done,
Will you ever this lesson learn
That she who gives herself to all,
Belongs to none ?



.Flutter YIO more HUT brertuwmc ctcrmnslr His caqre

j lp>- tru acratA l"o su\q u\nt niorninq Soixq m a^ec yetf

r>? L r *^ ** u/

VVkn movt wasr free and Jniqii\cj )\cxc uieSuK ;

^ L/ '

J- r now the ct'au iV we)| alona-'hs i\ftrl/ dark,

Clncl it vS oe^l" uxou, rolti my wenry v/n\a n^ct- ci.cLi.vae

J J cJ <j



Cea.se Leafnvo Pooi\s(x ftM*t* a
^-? ^ *

Jkou lunest" now bw.t son-ow
JfiP Cfosii-ia , not me obe>mxcr

JKe J3sstK, noV me


Jflot*. c


u%o Jooli



On Visits Home, and Other Digressions


PURSUIT does not always imply capture, and yet, as the
negro minstrels used to say,- "the villain still pursued
her." So I, still in pursuance of a plan to put some order
into this book, have grouped the various happenings on my visits
home under the above headings. Shakspere somewhere says that
" Journeys end in lovers' meetings." Would it were always so ;
but I find that my journeys home so frequently ended in my not
meeting the beloved, that I fear the gentle William is not always
right, and that this grouping may lead to a melancholy monotony.
To avoid this at the risk of a loss of breadth in treatment -
I will put these stories, or whatever they may be, together as they
come to hand, and let them happen as they happened.

Having casually remarked at the Club that I had a good mind
to go down to Varick Street and see the house where I was born,
there being present an artist, one of a family of talented and
it is needless to say very enterprising folk, as you shall see, I was
amazed to receive next morning a prospectus with beautifully


designed and engraved examples of memorial tablets suitable for
houses where celebrities have been born. An amazing prompti-
tude, as startling as when you read in the probabilities "snow,"
you look up and there it is gently falling. This can happen only
at home. Carrying out my resolve, I followed down Grand Street
until it ended in Varick Street. Of the house of my grandfather,
which was next to the one on the northeast corner of Grand
Street, there remained but a hole in the ground filled with rub-
bish and burnt beams. That hole was the basement where on
the window-sill, when a very little boy, I had painted my first
picture, representing a stable with a ray of sunlight falling on
a white horse. Like the hero in the Arabian Nights, I experi-
enced a contraction of the bosom, but pursued my quest. In Var-
ick Street, where my birthplace ought to have been, again a fire
and now a row of sheds. It was very sad. I was reminded of a
passage in the diary of a little Southern girl, which ran thus :

"That nigger Tom was over here to-day and wanted to build
a chicken-house, but receiving no encouragement he went back
the same way as he came."

Of course there was no question of the memorial tablet ; indeed
I had not set apart anything for that purpose.

The following happened when I was having an Exhibition
a badly managed "one-man show" next to Sarony's in Union
Square ; I say badly managed, for I managed it myself. It was at
this time I saw the last of poor Hitchie.

I have now made up my mind never to be interviewed except
on a full stomach ; you will gradually see my reasons for coming
to this determination. I have found, in my experience, interview-
ers to be rather pleasant people, and newspaper men have always
been very good to me, but there was a man who hypnotised me,


{Ready to be inter-viewed)


else how account for the meek way I accepted his invitation to
step across the Square and have a glass of beer and talk over
things comfortably ? He was master of the art, and I talked well,
and, pleased with myself, was gradually yielding up all the
secrets of my life, when I found myself growing weaker and
weaker every moment. This fiend in human form must have had
his finger on my pulse, for he called for oysters and fresh beer,
and I recovered, and again he bound me to the rack. His object
was most clear ; like the artist in a well-known poem, he wanted
to paint a " dying groan." In desperation I threw off the spell and
fled. He must have repented, or the account was too horrible for
publication: that interview never appeared in print.

Speaking of the press : I have always been all my life the Criti-
cised, and never felt the exhilaration of being the Critic. My
plaintive voice is heard by few, while my critic's words go speed-
ing over the land on the paper pinions of the press and are seen
by thousands. I must keep silence lest I show that the arrow has
struck home, while he exults in his immunity. My name is
known ; his is concealed. He shoots from under cover. He can
take the bread from my mouth and clothe himself with the skin
from my back, and then dance on my prostrate form, and I must
imitate the stoical Indian and seem not to feel it. His opinion of
me is disinterested ; mine of him dictated by the ugly passion of
revenge ; and if I venture to remonstrate I become that most tire-
some of persons the man with a grievance. Would I change
places with him and criticise the critic ? Not for worlds. I tried
it once and was informed that I had gained more notoriety by so
doing than I had by my works. Yet it would be fine to seize a
scalping-knife, and, brandishing a tomahawk, start out on the
war-path. No, no ; the burning Indian may stand the fire but the


burnt child dreads it. George Arnold used to say, " Better meet
with a bear robbed of her whelps than the whelps of the press in
their folly." That was what George Arnold said; I "make no

I know it is as old as the hills, yet it so fits my case that I cannot
help saying I am like that Irishman who never opened his mouth
without putting his foot in it. I will give at once an example.

In my dancing days here in Rome, in the days when I was
fond of quoting the " Bab Ballads," as I am yet, while whirling
about in the giddy mazes of the waltz, happening to collide with
a friend, I exclaimed, "Time! Time! my Christian friend!"
in which there is nothing remarkable except that he was the only
one in that large assembly to whom that quotation should not
have been addressed. Another: Comfortably seated at the Club,
I resolve that I must do my duty and make certain calls ; so tearing
myself away from my pleasant companions I fare forth to the
neighbouring Fifth Avenue and ring the bell at a certain house
and ask if Mr. X. is at home ? The Irish servant, a maid, said he
had just gone out ; but not to be deprived of the credit of the call,
I ask, "Is Mrs. X. in ?" The girl seemed staggered an instant,
but recovering answered with a strange look, " Yes ; in Green-
wood ! "

All weak animals strive to provide themselves with some
means of defence, so I have an invariable exclamation in store for
just such occasions. It is, "Well, I 've done it again ! " which
seems to relieve the tension.

What kind of a boy must he be who has not wanted to be a circus
rider ? For my part, the nicely raked ring has yet its charms. And
then the clowns ! My friend Waugh, painter and ex-clown, was
a Shaksperean one ; no snapping of the ringmaster's whip about


his legs. He once showed me. his photograph ; how handsome he
looked in his spotless tights, with vine-leaves about the neck and
running down his shapely legs. He only went out into the ring
and talked. He said the great thing with the public was to start
right. The first thing he did on arriving in a town was to treat all
the boys and get all the stories about the best-known characters
of the place. Then walking out boldly, he would say in his clear
voice, " I 'd like to know how the Deacon is getting on with the
widow." If this brought down the house, the rest was plain sail-
ing; all he said after that was pure gold.

I remember once seeing on one of my visits home what might
be called Respectability Misplaced, and wonder if we have not all
seen examples of the same thing. It was at a circus. She was a
bare-back rider, but with such an innate air of respectability. Her

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 22 of 29)