Page images

When we contemplate Sir Joshua as a painter, we are to recollect, that after the death of Kneller, the arts in England fell to the lowest state of barbarism; and each professor either followed that painter's steps or else wandered in utter darkness, till Reynolds, like the sun, dispelled the mists, and threw an unpre. cedented splendour on the department of portraiture. To the grandeur, the truth, and simplicity of Titian, and to the daring strength of Rembrandt, he has united the chasteness and delicacy of Vandyke. Delighted with the picturesque beauties of Rubens, he was the first that attempted a bright and gay background; and defying the dull and ignorant rules of his master, at a very early period of life, emancipated his art from the shackles with which it had been encumbered in the school of Hudson. Indeed there is every reason to believe that he very rarely, if ever, copied a single picture of any master, though he certainly did imitate the excellent parts of many. His versatility in this respect was equalled only by the susceptibility of his feelings, the quickness of his comprehension, and the ardour which prompted his efforts. His principal aim, however, was colour and effect, and these he always varied as the subject required. Whatever deficiencies there may be in the designs of this great master, no painter, of any period, better understood the principles of coJouring; nor can it be doubted that he carried that branch of his art to a very high degree of perfection. As for his portraits, those of dignified character have a certain air of grandeur, and those of women and children possess a grace, beauty, and simplicity, which have seldom been equalled, and never surpassed. In his attemps to give character where it did not exist, he has sometimes lost likeness, but the deficiencies of the portrait were often compensated by the beauty of the picture.

The attitudes of his figures are generally full of grace, ease, and variety. He could throw them into the boldest variations, and he often ventures at postures which would frighten inferior painters, or, if attempted, would inevitably destroy their credit. In light and shade, in colouring and expression, he stands without a rival. His lights display the knowledge he possessed, and with shade he conceals his defects; whether we consider the power, the brilliancy, or the form of his lights, the transparency of his shadows, with the just quantities of each, and the harmony, richness, and full effect of the whole, it is evident that he has not only far transcended every modern master, but that his excellencies, in these captivating parts of painting, vie with the works of the great models he has emulated.

The opinion he has given of Raffaelle may with equal justice be applied to himself: “ that his materials were generally borrowed, but the noble structure was his own." No one ever ap

propriated the ideas of others to his own purpose with more skill than Sir Joshua. He possessed the alchemy of painting, by converting, as it were, whatever he touched into gold. Like the bee that extracts sweets from the most noxious flower, so his active observation could convert every thing into a means of improvement, from the puerile print on a common ballad, to the highest graces of Parmegiano. In short, there is no painter that ever went before him, from whom he has not derived some advantage, and appropriated the same with judicious selection and consummate taste. Yet after all that can be alledged against him as a borrower of forms, from other masters, it must be allowed that he engrafted on them excellencies peculiarly to his own : simplicity, sentiment, feeling, grace, and taste ; together with richness, harmony of colour, and general effect. The severest critics, indeed, must admit that his manner is truly original, bold, and free. Freedom is certainly his principal characteristic: for to this he seems to have sacrificed every other consideration. He has, however, two manners : his early works are without that extreme freedom of his dashing pencil; being more minute and fearful, but the colouring is clear, natural, and good. In his later pictures, the colouring, though excellent, is often more artificial than chaste.

As an Historical Painter, he cannot be placed in the same rank which he holds in the line of Portraiture. The compositions of his portraits are unquestionably excellent, whilst his historical pictures are in this respect often very defective. They frequently consist of borrowed parts, which are not always in harmony with each other. Though often inaccurate, and deficient in style of drawing, they must however be allowed to possess consummate taste, and some of them great expression. His light, poetical pieces, much excelled those of a narrative or historical character.

Sir Joshua was a man of general information, and was candid in stating his opinions. It has been very justly observed, that there is as much wisdom shown in bearing other people's defects, as in approving their good qualities, and that a well regulated mind finds it easier to yeild to a perverse one than to direct and manage it. This wisdom was eminently possessed by Sir Joshua. His general manner, deportment, and behaviour, were amiable and prepossessing ; his disposition was naturally courtly ; he evinced a desire always to pay a due respect to persons superior stations, and certainly contrived to move in a higher sphere of society than any other English artist had done before him. Thus he procured for professors of the arts a consequence, dignity, and reception, which they had never before possessed in this country. His conversation was remarkably elegant, affable, and



intelligent. He possessed an equal flow of spirits, 'which rendered him at all times a most desirable companion : ever ready to be amused, and to contribute to the amusement of others. In many respects both as a painter and a man, Sir Joshua Reynolds cannot be too much praised, studied and imitated. His incessant industry was never wearied into despondency by miscarriage, nor elated into negligence by success. All nature and all art combined to forin his academy; with a mind at once capacious and vigorous, to comprehend all the varieties of the picturesque, he had taste to select, and skill to combine whatever might serve the object he had in view. Although gentle and complying in his discourse with the world, yet in his profession, having by intense study matured his judgment, he never sacrificed his opinions to the casual caprices of his employers. Far from overrating his own talents however, he did not seem to hold them in that degree of estimation which they deservedly obtained from the public. In short, it may be safely said that his faults were few and those were much subdued by his wisdom : for no man had more reverence for virtue, or a higher regard for unsullied fame.

We close this honourable effusion to the memory a great master, by one of his scholars whose skill has often interested the public, by adding the epitaph composed for Sir Joshua, during his life, and read to the literary club, by his friend Oliver Goldsmith:

[ocr errors]


Here REYNOLDS is laid, and, to tell you my mind,
He has not left a wiser, or better behind :
His pencil was striking, resistless and grand,
His manners were gentle, complying, and bland ;
Still born to improve us in every part,
His pencil our faces, his manners our heart :
To coxcombs averse, yet most civilily steering,
When they judg'd without skill he was still hard of hearing :
When they talk'd of their Raffaelles', Corregios', and stuff,
He shifted his trumpet* and only took snuff.

Sir Joshua, being rather deaf, used an ear trumpet. A very fine por. trait of himself, in the collection at Streatham, shows a front view of his face with his open hand to his ear.



[ocr errors]

IN 1762, the parliament of Paris issued an arrêt against Rousseau, on account of his Emilius, which had given offence to the ecclesiastical order. Hume was then at Edinburgh, where he received a letter from a friend at Paris, informing him that Rousseau intended to seek an asylum in England, and desiring our historian to do him all the good offices in his power.

Mr. Hume believing that Rousseau had already put his design in execution, wrote to several of his friends in London, and warmly recommended this celebrated exile to their favour. He also wrote to Rousseau himself, assuring him of his desire to serve him, and inviting him to come to Edinburgh, and reside in his own house as long as he, Rousseau, should please to continue. No other motive, says Mr. Hume, in a pamphlet, which he published in French on this affair,- no other motive was wanting to incite me to this act of humanity, than the account given me of M. Rousseau's personal character by the friend who had recommended him ;-his well known genius and abilities, and abore all, his misfortunes. To this letter Rousseau returned the following answer:

Motiers- Travers, Feb. 19, 1763. “ I did not receive till lately, and at this place, the letter you did me the honour to direct to me at London, the 2d of July last, on the supposition that I was then in that capital. I should doubtless have made choice of a retreat in your country, and as near as possible to yourself, if I had foreseen what a reception I was to meet with in my own. There was no other nation I could prefer to England. And this prepossession, for which I have dearly suffered, was, at that time, very excusable ; but to my great astonishment, as well as that of the public, I have met with nothing but affronts and insults, where I hoped to have found consolation, if not gratitude. How many things make me regret the want of that asylum and philosophical hospitality I should have found with you! My misfortunes, indeed, have constantly seeined to lead me in a manner that way. The protection and kindness of lord Marischal, your worthy and illustrious countryman, have brought Scotland home to me, if I may so express myself, in the midst of Switzerland ; he has made you so often bear a part in our conversation ; he has brought me so well acquainted with your virtues, while I before was only with your talents; he has inspired me with the most tender friendship for you, and the most ardent desire of obtaining yours, before I knew you were disposed to grant it. Judge then of the pleasure I feel, at finding this inclination reciprocal. No, sir, I should pay your merit but half its due, if it were the subject only of my admiration

Your great views, your astonishing impartiallity, your genius would lift you far above the rest of mankind, if you were less attached to them by the goodness of your heart. My lord Marischal, in acquainting me that the amiableness of your disposition was still greater than the sublimity of your genius, rendered a correspondence with you every day more desirable, and cherished in me those wishes which he inspired, of ending my days near you. Oh, sir, that a better state of health, and more convenient circumstances, would but enable me to take such a journey in the manner I could like! Could I but hope to see you and lord Marischal one day settled in your common country, which should for ever after be mine, I should be thankful, in so agreea. ble a society, for the very misfortunes that led me into it, and should account the day of its commencement as the first of my life. Would to heaven I might see that happy day, more to be desired than expected! With what transports should I not exclaim, on setting foot in that happy country which gave birth to David Hume and the lord Marischal of Scotland,

“ Salve, facis mihi debita tellus !
“ Hæc domus, hæc patria est.”

Rousseau was afterwards obliged to fly from Motiers to avoid being stoned by the populace, whose religious zeal he had offended. He chose the isle of St. Peter in the midst of the lake of Bienne for the place of his retreat; and in a work intitled, Les Reveries du Promeneur Solitaire, he has introduced an interesting description of that island. His caprices again exposed him to the popular indignation, and he was ordered by their excellencies the syndics or magistrates to leave the country: he accordingly withdrew to Strasburgh.

From the date of the preceding letter, all correspondence ceased between Hume and Rousseau till about the middle of autumn 1765, when it was renewed by the following accident. The Marchioness de Verdelin happened to be on a journey to one of the provinces bordering on Switzerland ; and being acquainted with Rousseau, she too the opportunity of paying a visit to him in his retreat at Motiers-Travers. He complained to the Marchioness, thai his residence at Neufchatel was become extremely disagreeable, as well on account of the superstition of the people, as the resentment of the clergy; and expressed his fear, that he should shortly be under the necessity of seeking an asylum elsewhere : in which case England appeared to him to be the most eligible place he could retire to with perfect security. He added, that his friend lord Marischal had advised him to put himself under Mr. Hume's protection, and that if he did not think it would have been giving the latter too much trouble, he would have already addressed him on the subject.

Hume, who was then chargé d'affaires at Paris, but had a pros

« PreviousContinue »