Memoir and Letters of the Late Thomas Seddon, Artist

By his BROTHER. London: 1858.

ASSOCIATIONS are fast gathering round the English Pre-Raphaelites. Those that come with honors and with death already belong to them. A permanent influence is assured to the new school by a continuance of vigor, and by the space which it already occupies in the history of Art. This little volume is of interest as being the first of its biographies. Mr. Seddon attained no wide reputation during his life, but he left a few pictures of enduring value; and his early death was felt, by those who best knew his powers and purposes, to be a great loss to Art.

He was the son of a cabinet-manufacturer, and was born in London in 1821. After receiving a good school-education, at the age of sixteen he entered his father’s work-rooms. He had already shown a decided love of drawing. He had a quick perception of beauty, and excellent power of observation. His disposition was serious, and his conscience sensitive:; but he had a pleasant vein of humor, and a generous nature. After some years of irksome work, he was sent to Paris to perfect himself in the arts of ornamentation, and his residence there seems to have confirmed his taste for painting, to the practice of which he desired to devote his life. But for the next ten years he was engaged in business, giving, however, his evenings and his few vacations to the study and practice of Art, and becoming more and more eager to leave an employment which was wholly Uncongenial to him At length, in his thirtieth year, he was able to begin his career as a professional artist. His experiences at first differed but little from those of the common run of young painters ; but his fidelity in work, his conscientious rendering of the details of Nature, and his sincerity of purpose, gave real worth even to his earlier pictures, and brought him into relations of cordial friendship with Holman Hunt, Madox Brown, and others of the heads of Pre-Raphaelitism. After making a long visit, in company with Hunt, for the purposes of study, to Egypt and Palestine, and painting a few remarkable pictures, he returned home, and was married. Some months afterward he set out again for the East, but had hardly reached Cairo before he was seized with fatal illness. He died on the 23d of November, 1856,-just as he was grasping the fruit of years of labor and waiting.

The best part of the volume of memoirs is made up of Seddon’s letters from the East. They exhibit his character in a most agreeable light, while, apart from any personal interest, they have a charm, as natural, vivid delineations of Eastern scenery and modes of life. He saw with a painter’s eye, and lie described what lie saw clearly and vigorously, showing in his letters the same traits which he displayed in his pictures. Writing from big camping-ground on the edge of the Desert, he says,-“ The Pyramids and Sphinxes, in ordinary daylight, are merely ugly, and do not look half as large ns they ought to look from their real size ; but in particular effects of light and shade, with a fine sunset behind them, for example, or when the sky lights up again, a quarter or half an hour afterwards,-when long beams of rose-colored light shoot up like a glory from behind the middle one into a sky of the most lovely violet,-they then look imposing, with their huge black masses against the flood of brilliant light behind.”

Here is the first sight of Jerusalem :- “At length, about five o'clock, after expecting, for the last half-hour, that every hill-side we climbed would be the last, we came suddenly in full view of Jerusalem. - Few, I think, however careless, have looked for the first time on this scene, without some feelings of solemn awe. We read the accounts of all that passed within or around these walls with something of the vagueness that always veils the history of times that have gone by two thousand years ago; but however soon the feeling may wear off or be cast away, it is impossible, with the very spot before you where your Saviour lived and died, not to feel vividly impressed with the actual reality of what we have read of, and its intimate connection with ourselves. - But soon I was struck with the very erroneous idea I had had of Jerusalem. From the west it does not look at all like a city built on a hill ; for, rather below you, at the farther end of a barren plain, you see nothing but the embattled walls of a feudal town, with one or two large buildings and a minaret alone visible above them. To the right the ground dips into the Valley of Hinnom,-but to the left it is level with the city-walls, and its surface is covered with bare ribs of rock running along it ; and it is from this side that the Romans and Crusaders attacked. Behind the city, rather to the north, lay the Mount of Olives, and the long, straight lines of the Moab Mountains beyond the Dead Sea, stretching from horizon to horizon. half-shadowy and veiled in mist, through which they shone rosy in the evening's sunlight.”

We have no space for further descriptions, excellent as they are. But we make one or two extracts relating more immediately to Art and to Seddon’s views of the duties of an artist.

“I am sure that there is a great work to do, which wants every laborer,-to show that Art’s highest vocation is, to he the handmaid to religion and purity, instead of to mere animal enjoyment and sensuality. This is what the Pre-Raphaelites are really lining in various degrees, but especially Hunt, who takes higher ground than mere morality, and most manfully advocates its power and duty as an exponent of the higher duties of religion.”

“ I hope I may be able to return to this place ; for, to assist in directing attention to Jerusalem, and thus to render the Bible more easily understood, seems to me to be a humble way in which, perhaps, I may aid in doing some good.”

Here is a portion of a letter written in England :-“ The railway from Farnborough went through a most beautiful country,-by Guildford, Dorking, and Boxhill. While I was at Farnborough, on the bridge, sketching, a respectably-dressed man came up and touched his hat. After standing a minute or two, be said, ‘ So you are doing something in my line, Sir? ’-‘ What!' said I, ‘are you an artist? ’-' Well, Sir, I cannot venture to call myself an artist, but I gets my living by making drawings. I makes ’em in pencil. ’-I asked him if he took portraits.-' I does every line, portraits and all; but I don’t get many portraits since the daguerreotype came in. No, Sir, my drawings are principally in the sporting line. I does portraits of gentlemen going over a fence or a five-barred gate. I does ’em all in pencil, and puts a little color on their faces, but all the rest in pencil-d’ye see?’-‘ Yes; but do you make a good living?’-’Well, not much of that; I used to earn a good deal more money when I did portraits at sixpence each than I do now.’-I said, ‘I suppose you begin to see that you can do better, and it takes you longer.’-‘ That’s just it; you’ve hit it, Sir. I used to knock them off in a quarter or half an hour, and now it takes me seven or eight days to do a sporting piece.’-So I told the poor man that I would willingly give him advice, but I was afraid it would ruin him completely, for that afterwards he would have to take two or three months.-‘ Yes, Sir, I sees that; but I am too old now to learn a new line. But I find trees very hard ; I can’t manage them.’-So I sat down, and drew a branch of a tree, which he said was very much in his style; and I gave him some advice which I thought might help him, and the good man went away so much obliged.”

When the news of Mr. Seddon’s death reached England, it was at once felt by his friends that it was due to his memory that the public should be made better acquainted with the excellence of his works. An exhibition of them was accordingly made, and a subscription raised for the benefit of his widow, by purchasing his large picture of Jerusalem, to be presented to the National Gallery. The subscription was successful, and Seddon’s fame is secure.

" Mr. Seddon’s works.” says Mr. Ruskin, " are the first which represent a truly historic landscape Art; that is to say, they are the first landscapes uniting perfect artistical skill with topographical accuracy,- being directed with stern self-restraint to no other purpose than that of giving to persons who cannot travel trustworthy knowledge of the scenes which ought to be most interesting to them. Whatever degrees of truth may have been attempted or attained by previous artists have been more or less subordinate to pictorial or dramatic effect. In Mr. Seddon’s works, the primal object is to place tire spectator, as far as Art can do, in the scene represented, and to give him the perfect sensation of its reality, wholly unmodified by the artist’s execution.”

Mr. Ruskin’s judgment will not be questioned by those who have seen Seddon’s pictures. But it might also be added, that such accuracy as he attained is by no means the result of mere laborious and conscientious copying, but implies and requires the possession of strong and well-balanced imagination.

We trust that the extracts we have given may lead lovers of Art to read the whole of the little volume from which they are taken.