Elihu Vedder.

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more about everything. What am I to do, with a memory like
mine ? And then what am I to do about my fear of degenerating
into mere prattle ? It is a fear I cannot overcome.
" But V., what do you call prattle ?"
'Just what I've been writing."

With a new gold watch, a new trunk, and a pocket well sup-
plied with money, Ben and I started for Havre, en route for Paris.
Rhodes, a former student with me at Matteson's, left by the same
steamer and we three became inseparable. My good father saw
me off - told me to be careful and particularly to avoid duels.
Now the first thing which occurred was an offer at one. Some
Cubans were at the same table, and one next me made a pellet
of bread, and throwing it at a companion who sat opposite, struck
him on the side of the nose. His friend was looking away at the
time, but turning suddenly, his eye fell on me, and seeing that I
was laughing, he thought that I had thrown it, and picking up
a loaf of bread would have thrown it at me, had I not seized a
bottle with which I would inevitably have returned the compli-
ment. However, the thing stopped there, and the Cuban who
began it having explained all, his friend felt rather cheap, while
all thought I had shown a proper spirit. As usual, I did not
think anything. Had he thrown the bread I would have thrown
the bottle, and that was all there was to it.

It is needless to say how interested I was as we drew near
shore, or how I compared the little stout dumpy pilot-boat with
our own trim schooners, little thinking how misleading first im-
pressions are. I could see the dumpy, but I could not see how


perfectly adapted they were to the choppy sea of the British Chan-
nel. Pity that a dumpy stomach is not also adapted to that beastly
bit of water. This as to the first impressions.

Please remember that I am seeing the Then with the eyes of '
Now all through these reminiscences. At Rouen I saw my first
cathedral. It was twilight and I gazed with hushed awe at the
real thing and not a picture. That impression has never needed

A friend yesterday went to Tivoli. "Well," I said, "you will
see the lovely little temple and also that quintessence of romance,
the Villa d'Este, but I don't think you can crowd in the Villa
Hadrian with profit." "Oh, yes, starting early. I am only
seeking impressions." That may be all very well about things,
but about people and manners and customs it is quite another

I don't know that I look back on that eight months' stay in
Paris with unmingled satisfaction, nor do I remember its moral
effects, at least I did not get an impression of much morality,
but well remember that I cut a wisdom-tooth there which I have
to this day. Strange how we change both in body and mind, and
yet how a wisdom-tooth will linger in the system unchanged.

The first thing I did was to lose all my money. This happened
on a trip to Versailles. On coming back we went the rounds
searching for it, and I wrote to the Mayor of Versailles without
much hope, but received a prompt reply saying that my pocket-
book was awaiting my orders. I went there and after generously
feeing the waiter in the restaurant who had found it, came back,
right glad to escape so cheaply.

We took an entresol in the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette and



set up housekeeping, from motives of economy. We found that
the dear little old woman we had hired to take care of the rooms
was an excellent cook and we had dinners "mighty merry,"
and even invited guests. One of them was a young fellow study-
ing mathematics. He was a water-drinker. Once, when he dined

with us, late in the dinner we found his place vacant. He had
modestly slipped under the table. By his place was found one of
those tall earthenware Curacoa bottles, empty. When he came
to, he said that, rinding a sweet syrup much to his taste, he had
continued tasting until the inevitable result took place.

Here the pace became too fast for our funds, and I then re-
membered my father's injunction as to taking care ; and think-
ing it unsafe to go about with such a nice new gold watch, I


placed it for safe-keeping in the hands of my aunt, as they say
in Paris. We then moved up to Montmartre near by, up by the
windmills, and afterwards to the Latin Quarter. From thence
I left for Italy.

But while water was running under the bridges of Paris, in the
meantime grass was not growing under our feet, for we at once
found out that in the Atelier Picot more grands prix de Rome
had been won than in any other, so we went there and were ad-
mitted. The instruction consisted in a little old man with a decora-
tion coming twice a week and saying to each one of us, " Pasmal!
Pas mall " and going away again. But we got instruction from
the older students, got it hot and heavy and administered in the
most sarcastic way.

Who can tell of the workings of Fate or foretell anything?
Had I fallen in with some of the American students of Couture,
I might have gone there and gotten over a faithful but fid-
dling little way of drawing which hangs around me yet, " un-
beknownst,-" or I might have said in later years with a most
talented friend of mine, " I wish to God I could get rid of that
cut-and-dried Beaux- Arts style." All that is past remedy. I was
only in Paris eight months, drawing from plaster casts, and
left because Rhodes left, and I wanted to see Italy.

Yes, but about the Atelier and the Latin Quarter ? Why in the
Atelier I had the great fight, and in the Latin Quarter but
first about the fight, and before that the milieu.

Picot's Atelier was an old and renowned one. As to the man-
ners and customs they were like the savages - " they had no
manners and the customs were beastly." When some gentlemen
called asking an interview with M. Picot, he was received with
the most exquisite politeness, told to be seated, and after a great


amount of consultation was invited to follow the massier into the
presence, and was shown into anything but the presence of the
master. In the meantime a dab of Prussian blue was placed in
his hat where it would come in contact with his forehead. Of
course the victim left amid howls of derision, and the Prussian
blue then kept up the merry tale.

This Prussian blue is the most subtle and invading colour on
the palette. It is like those articles marked "made in Germany,"
and goes everywhere. It was the cause of the ruder manifesta-
tions of French "esprit" being abandoned in the Atelier Picot.
This was the tradition. A nouveau one day was stripped, tied to
a ladder, painted all over with Prussian blue, and then set out in
the street, leaning against a wall. One can easily imagine how
the police went into the matter, and one acquainted with Prus-
sian blue can imagine how they came out. The whole quarter
must have been tinged with it.

In all the mischief of the studio there were three leading spirits.
One, Le Roux, was about as handsome a figure of a man as I
have ever seen. He, as a treat, used now and then to strip and
show us how fine the human form can be. Another was De Cour-
cy. He was the mischief-maker, and Cousin was an able third.
Now on Saturday afternoon, late, there took place the main
shindy of the week. All the chairs and stools were piled up into
as high a pyramid as could be constructed, and then all retiring
to the door a stool was hurled at the pile and the door shut and
we stood listening to hear the awful row as everything came down
with a crash.

It was also the custom just before this to roll up our blouses
into hard balls, and commence pelting each other, seeking to
catch the unwary. I was drawing from a cast of the torso of


the Laocoon, all encumbered with drawing-board, chair and
stool in front, when I got a hard ball on the back of my neck.
I looked around and there was Cousin scowling at me. Of
course I sent back the ball, when he jumped at me and com-
menced kicking at me and going on "real ridiculous." I freed
myself from the hampering chairs and my arm from its sling,
and watching a good chance amid his wild and inefficient blows,
planted a good one on his nose. The blood spurted like a fount-
ain and seemed to bring things to a standstill. My blood also,
though not out was up, and so walking to the stove I picked
up the poker and said to the assembly : " See here, play is play.
I will do just what you do, but if any fellow kicks at me I will
kill him with this ! Now translate that, will you, damn you ! "
This very polite request was addressed to Benasses, who un-
derstood English. De Courcy explained that he had told
Cousin that I intended to thrash him. Now Cousin was the most
quarrelsome man there, but was also a first-rate fellow. After
the explanation, we made up, and all repairing to a neighbour-
ing cafe, we sealed a bond of eternal friendship in a bowl of

Years afterwards Cousin came to my studio in the Via Margut-
ta, and after an affectionate embrace he asked me if I did not
want to buy all his sketching outfit, for he said no Frenchman
ought to be painting while a Prussian was on the soil of France,
and off he went to the war. He had just come up from Capri,
and I was told that there also he had received his usual blow on
the nose in some row at Pagano's. The handsome Le Roux had
both legs shot off in the war and I have lost sight of the third of
the trio. I found the other day a drawing with dark stains on it.
Those stains were the dry gore of poor Cousin.



But the Latin Quarter? The grisette was still alive in my
day, and I believe (much as things have changed) is now as
lively as ever. You will find all about her in Trilby. This little
drawing may have been Trilby, only her name was Clara, and
perhaps Ben may have been Little Billee. You must ask Ben,
or perhaps you had better not. It is long ago; a dream which
I will leave " undeveloped." Rhodes was a kind of Svengali. _ He



was also the .rich one of the party. I have forgotten to say that
Ben, having a few words more of French than the rest of us, did
the translating and became at once a proficient in French
Latin-Quarter French. Here I may as well conclude my
account of this short period by quoting from Ben's letter. Ben
writes :

"There is no need of my referring to Picot and Couture and
our life in the studio in the Rue Blanche ; you must have all that
pat. Perhaps you have forgotten Joe's Venus of Milo drawing
and the skilful flitting of a palette full of paint across it by Jer-
vais, and the interrupted battle that ensued."

[Joe's drawing may have been stained with paint, but my
drawing of the Laocoon was stained with the blood of Cousin,
and the fight was my fight. Had it been Ben's fight he would
have remembered it better.]

" Do you remember Le Roux,* Denassit, Uhlman, Jonciere,
Levy, Couturier, De Courcy, Henner from Marseilles, Michel,
and the other boys in the Rue Blanche, with the Barriere wall
opposite the studio, where recalcitrant nouveaux were tied to
ladders set up against this wall ? "

[Of course I can't remember much about all this, as I was
only there eight months and was drawing from casts when I left.
Contrast this with my friend Will Low's four or five years. For
my part, I did not meet with those paragons of all the Christian
virtues told of by some writers I dare say my stay was too
short; and my luck has been equally bad in Italy, where I have
met only human beings.]

" I cannot remember when and how I was left alone in Paris,
but I think you went from there to Italy. I have met W.'s daugh-
ter in Hague, N. Y. You must remember W., who used to brush


both your clothes and mine alternately when we all kept house
in the Rue Notre Dame de Lorette; he was near-sighted and
mistook ours for his own clothes. You cannot have forgotten our
cook and our lost family cat, with the subsequent piece de resist-
ance in the shape of a rabbit ; nor the solid apple-dumplings that
I think I inflicted on the family. But I must shut down, I am
tired, so tired trying to pump up fading memories."

[I had forgotten the French culinary miracle of the translation
of the cat, and its apotheosis in the form of a rabbit.]

Fate, the stupidity of drawing from casts, the roving instinct
and the opportunity, and Rhodes'sneedof a companion combined
drew me to Italy. It is impossible not to ask what would have
happened had I stayed in Paris and it remains always a ques-
tion without an answer.

Before I forget it, I must say here that Rhodes told me of a
great picture he was going to paint and showed me a pencil-
sketch of it. And so I said good-bye to Ben, and to many others.
Poor old good-byes ! How old they are ! And to think that most
of them were for ever !

Here I must cut out a lot of things. We were going to walk
from Nice to Genoa. Our trunks were sent to Rome, and we
felt that gypsy-like freedom of the knapsack and the stout staff.
From Nice commences the happy hunting-ground of Murray,
and I leave him in possession, only we had the chance of see-
ing Nature when she seemed least to expect us, at all hours of
the day and night, and it was delightful; and so was Rome: the
long hours in the Colosseum by moonlight, and especially the
twilight passed on the great piers of the Baths of Caracalla. The
fallen masonry formed such great heaps that the door of the




staircase by which we ascended is now halfway up one of these
piers. The levels above were one mass of flowers, and the mosaic
pavement up there could have been gathered by the bushel.
But ever was this feeling see all you can, for you will never
see it again ! And now to think of the long years I have spent
here. It just shows what puppets we are, and yet I don't deny
the Guardian Angel. I sometimes seem to hear wings and feel
a faint stirring of the air and an odour of flowers. Are these
only things of the past ?

P.S. I like postscripts: what would a parting be without its
parting injunctions, or a Lady's letter without its P.S. ? And by
the way, there is a Lady in this one, for it was precisely along this
road from Nice to Genoa that I took (on my second coming to
Europe) a preliminary canter ending in matrimony but that
was strictly my affair. However, see "Paris and propinquity"
and you will know all about it.

A Link uniting many things. Writing these things as
I made the drawings for the Omar, all over the book at one
time, as it were, writing narrative, anecdote, or prattling as


the spirit moves, I find I come to gaps which must be bridged
over, or links inserted to give some slight semblance of continuity ;
and thus the narrative portion at times swelling up from the
pressure of the divine afflatus or subsiding when the spirit of
duty has the cry resembles an undulating country over which
I trust we may stroll pleasantly, especially if the fair goddess
Fun deigns to be our company. This looks like one of those pro-
logues written for the "well-trod stage," only I fear in this case
Jonson's learned sock is not on, but only common white canvas
shoes with rope soles, yet well adapted to the wearer, the rocky
soil of Capri, and the Theme.

But about the Link ? Here it is. /From Rome I went to Florence,
stayed there about a month, then on to Venice, where I remained
about the same length of time, and returned to Florence where I
lived four years, with the exception of excursions to Pisa, Lucca,
Volterra, San Gemignano, and Siena. I well remember when
I went to Venice, for it was in the time of a great Comet, which
I first saw as I was leaving. In Venice it was over the bronze men
who strike the hours in the Piazza, and seemed about a yard long.
At Bologna it stretched across the end of the street, and at Flor-
ence filled a quarter of the horizon. It was a most impressive
sight and has served me as a date ever since only I have for-
gotten in what year it occurred.

I At Venice I absorbed colour like a sponge, for I started as
a colourist, strange as it may seem to some. Yet I wondered
at a talented young French artist making a splendid copy of
Carpaccio, now one of my favourites. I loved the colour but
thought the treatment so odd. The same at Pisa when I passed
through it the first time. I laughed when Mr. Murray called
my attention to the "Modest look of the Virgin" in some old

5 3

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DC -o
h S

. . .

A LINK 139

picture and yet not long after I was making studies in the
Campo Santo.

In any case, at that time so much Art burst into my unprepared
mind that the resulting confusion has lasted me for the rest of
my life ; and if I give a confused impression of that period, I can
assure the reader it does not equal the confusion of my recol-
lections. I studied by myself, and sometimes wish I had n't, for
my pictures always have to me a home-made air which I don't
like. I mean, they lack the air of a period or school, and this
I say it seriously seems to me a great defect. I believe that all \
my defects have arisen from my trying to cure them. I commenced
with a great love of colour and a strong sense of the solidity of
form; but drawing killed the colour and atmosphere weakened
the form, and reduced me to what I am. I loved landscape,
but was eternally urged to paint the figure ; thus my landscape
was spoiled by the time devoted to figure ; and the figure suffered
by my constant flirting with landscape. What I felt strongly I
could strongly express in the sketch, but the finished picture
killed the feeling and then in addition all became sicklied
o'er by the pale cast of thought. I was accused of having im-
agination. I never said I had imagination, but they thought
I thought it, and people are mistrustful of imagination, some
going so far as to deny its very existence or at least resent its
intrusion in Art, especially when I intrude it. I could copy Nature
beautifully, and how often I have wished that I had dedicated
myself to the painting of cabbages! I mean, painting them
splendidly, with all the witchery of light and shade and colour,
until the picture should contain all the pictorial elements needed
in a Descent from the Cross, or a Transfiguration, and no
gallery would be complete without a cabbage by V. I fear, how-


ever, I am so constituted that had I done differently from what
I did, I should have always thought I would have done better
had I done otherwise.

Like all beginners, I was intensely interested in processes of
painting. I believe I then saw more clearly how the old Masters
painted than I do now. One thing I settled on that style
should spring entirely from the subject, be appropriate to it and
the time at your disposal, whether you were taking it by assault
or by siege ; and my idea of the aim of Art was first have an
idea, and then from your experiences and the nature about you
get the material to clothe it. In fact, take a soul and give it a
body ; this in my case has not been a cold-blooded plan of action,
but merely the expression of my nature. I am not the discoverer
of this idea, however.

I have alluded to the finishing of a picture as being the death
of the sketch, and have just found this truthful and touching
saying in a little "Life of Leighton," by Alice Corkran: "With
every picture I complete, I follow the funeral of my ideal." This
is sad and true, and Alma Tadema draws the moral for us:
" Don't make sketches." To avoid turning this Link into one of
those they carry at funerals, I stop only adding that what
that favoured child of Fortune, Leighton, had in abundance from
the very first refined surroundings, the best of advice, and
that freedom which money gives were just the things I lacked ;
but at once I haste to say that I do not make that an excuse for
my shortcomings. Perhaps he needed them all, and I did not,
had I only made a proper use of my opportunities.


Florence- The Garden of Lost


IF the Bohemia I belonged to in Paris had been divided into
classes, I think I could have been returned as a Member
for Upper Bohemia. Not that I was proud or rich, on
the contrary, I was poor; but I had a washerwoman and I paid
her bills. There were those who did not pay their bills, but they
all meant to except one. He it was who on leaving Paris for
home said, as the cars moved from the station : " By Jove, I Ve
forgotten one thing! I've forgotten to get trusted for a pack-
age of cigars." However, he turned over a new leaf on reaching
home, gave up art, and has become a very successful business

In Paris I lived in full Bohemia ; not so in Florence, which was
full of opportunities for quitting it. There I lived in a sort of
Limbo, or borderland. Why I did not seek the society of the
titled, the great, the learned, the good, although they were all
about me (for somehow I never seemed to lack the entree), I do
not know. I went on tampering with both sides. I was like


the young man brought before the judge, who said to him:
"Here are you, well educated and of respectable parents, in-
stead of which you go about stealing ducks ! "

There were reasons, however. I was a fierce republican and
thought titles foolish and wrong. The wise knew too much for
me ; the good were too good for me, or at least I did not feel in-
clined to follow in their footsteps just then; the refined seemed
lacking in jollity ; and, above all, I was very fond and jealous of
my freedom ; and then the boys were not too wise and good for
human nature's daily food and we had a glorious time. Mr.
Hyde was in the ascendant, although there was good Dr. Jekyl
in the background. Why Mr. Hyde is called a sad rogue, I
don't know ; I 'm sure the Doctor was the sad one of the two.

To some the shade of Savonarola and of Dante may seem to
hang over Florence ; to me the merry spirit of Boccaccio was
a living presence. Florence seemed no garden of lost opportun-
ities to me then, although it was, as a matter of fact. After all,
t( there's nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so" ;
and then I thought things were very good.

How much more I know about Florence now than I did when
I first saw it ! You see, I did not then see Florence thf ough books :
the Florence of Browning, of Landor, of Hawthorne, or even of
Hiram Powers, did not exist for me then, although Powers thought
it did for him ; and later, the Rome of Story was not the Rome
I knew. As to Florence, you will find out all about it in Larry
Hutton's " Literary Landmarks of Florence." If this continues,
there will be no spot on earth which a man can call his own. My
Florence was a beautiful city filled with figures fresh from the
frescoes of Ghirlandaio or Giotto or Cimabue its hills covered
with the villas of Boccaccio's fair ladies, or when bare and rugged

Study of a Youth in a Red Jacket


inhabited by the lean Fathers of the Desert. The white clouds
seen through the dark cypresses glowed with Venetian warmth
and colour, for I had the Venetian eye then, and the real people
were very much alive and of their day ; but the city with its real
or imaginary inhabitants was held in an atmosphere of my own in-
vention which to me hangs round it still. Now as this fair mirage
fades out of my life, the only figure which remains and seems real
is an old father of the desert, sitting alone, gazing at the desola-
tion surrounding him and wondering what the dream meant. __ {

And yet even then there was not lacking that rich, romantic
sadness of youth. I had it very badly and enjoyed it immensely ;
otherwise how account for my preparations for dying young,
preparations for which event were amply provided for in num-
berless subjects I then conceived, but, with few exceptions, never
executed : the alchemist dying just as he had made his grand dis-
covery ; the young hermit praying for death ; the old man at the
gate of a graveyard ; the end of a misspent life ; and a lot of other
things. What I mean is that in a great many of the things I
have done since prevails that sadness peculiar to youth, and its
survival shows how much of youth I yet retain. As for dying
young, I have lost my opportunity, for although I am now in the

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 9 of 29)