IN the summer of 1881 I was in Bedford, England, visiting the haunts of Bunyan. Upon the edge of a pretty green in the town is a statue in bronze, erected in Bunyan’s honor. The attitude of the figure is indicated by the words which are engraved upon the stone pedestal: “ It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of Truth was written upon bis lips. . . . It stood as if it pleaded with men.” I recognized the felicity with which these words were made to do service in formulating the sculptor’s conception of Bunyan, and when I turned to The Pilgrim’s Progress I found the sentence to describe the “ picture of a very grave person,” which hung upon the wall of the house of the Interpreter. In the half-shadowy substance of Bunyan’s allegory, this very grave person appears to stand not for any one apostle, prophet, or preacher, but as a figure of the true apostle of righteousness, under whatever guise he may assume; and as easily happens in dreams, we let the picture and the Interpreter discoursing upon it blend into one person. Such a very grave person, the sculptor lightly apprehended, was Bunyan, and such a very grave person I conceive to be an English painter of to-day : known to a few in England ; totally unknown, I may say, in America, except as travelers have now and then come upon his work and brought back reports.
A few days after I was in Bedford, I was persuaded by the painter Herbert Gilchrist, son of the authors of the Life of William Blake, to visit with him the studio of Frederic James Shields, whose name I knew only as connected with the excellent service rendered in perfecting the new edition of Gilchrist’s Blake, where he furnished descriptive notes of the designs to Young’s Night Thoughts, and aided by his pencil in transcribing some of Blake’s drawings. I was persuaded against my judgment ; when does not a traveler magnify the importance of taking a particular train to his next stopping-place ! Never was I good-natured to such good purpose. I lost the train I had intended to take, and gained an introduction to a world of thought and beauty. In Mr. Shields’s studio I saw cartoons upon which he was engaged, in pursuance of a commission from the Duke of Westminster ; and I changed my plans of travel that I might make a journey to Chester, to see the perfected work at Eaton Hall Chapel.
Eaton Hall, the seat of the Grosvenor family, is one of the great show places of England, and thus it will not be long before Mr. Shields’s name will be known to travelers who visit the Hall and enter the private chapel, now approaching completion. Mr. Alfred Waterhouse, R. A., the architect of the chapel, invited Mr. Shields to design the glass and mosaic decorations, and most of the glass was in position when I visited the place in September. The south side of the chapel has no lights and is to receive the mosaic decorations, which form a part of the entire scheme, of which the windows in the chancel and upon the north and west furnish the translucent portion ; the chancel windows only were not in place when I was there.
The scheme of windows and mosaics is a graphic and illuminated presentation of the Te Deum Laudamus, and it is in the grouping and disposition under this majestic theme that the interpreting power of this painter is first discovered. That is to say, the thought which should analyze the hymn of the church in all ages and produce an artistic synthesis is independent of the pictorial skill of reproduction, so far as our power of apprehension is concerned ; it is not independent of the painter’s originating power. The mind which conceived and executed this work is one. It would be a mere mechanical conception of the human soul which should justify one in saying,The painter’s exegetical intellect made the disposition ; his perception of form and color and his trained hand did the rest. But for us, contemplating the result, it is so far possible to separate these parts that I, by the use of words, can give some notion of the plan, with its rich interpretation of the Christian faith. The presentation of single figures through the translation of engraving would give a hint of the modeling of form ; the color and translucency, color and glass and light alone could give.
There are six chancel windows; and running from north to south, the longer upper sections of the casement follow this order : —
PARADISE. All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting. NATIVITY. When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man.
CRUCIFIXION. When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death. ASCENSION. Thou sittest at the right hand of God.
PENTECOST. Make them to be numbered with Thy saints.
JUDGMENT.We believe that Thou shalt come to be our judge.
The shorter lower sections are complementary. Beneath the Crucifixion, the Ascension, and Pentecost are Faith, Hope, and Love ; beneath Paradise is Praise ; beneath Nativity is Obedience ; beneath Judgment is Vigilance. The great facts in the divine order are answered by the great spiritual factors in human life ; the heaven above is reflected in the waters of the earth below.
Turning now to the west, we see, above a gallery which crosses the chapel, a great window, divided into four perpendicular compartments, the head of the window being pierced by three multifoils, which contain cherubim and seraphim which “ continually do cry, Holy, holy, holy,” — might and movement suggested in the former, rest and tenderness in the latter; -with no bodily discrimination of sex, the beholder feels the one to be masculine, the other feminine. Beneath are the four lancet windows, and in these begins the series of the glorious company of the apostles, which is completed in the windows on the north side of the chapel. Yet these four are in a sense an epitome of the whole company: for the first is S. John the Baptist, the first apostle, since he was sent before His face ; the fourth is S. John the Divine, desiring the second advent of the Lord, as the other John desired the first; and between the two are S. Peter, glorifying Christ as the Son of God, and S. James the martyr, ascribing salvation to the Lamb.
Upon the level with these windows are two which continue the series on the north wall, S. Andrew, as the first called, and S. Philip. Above S. Andrew are the words, “ We have found the Messiah,” and above S. Philip, “ We have found him of whom Moses and the prophets did write.” S. Andrew, with half-parted lips and animated face, points with one hand and beckons with the other; by his side is the mustard plant, with birds gathering upon it, all the great plant of Christianity having sprung from this first seed. S. Philip is shown as the gentlest of the apostles, and his words are taken to carry forward the thought of the Messiah by connecting it with its historic prophecy. In the quatrefoil above is the angel, with cup of sorrow and crown of thorns.
As soon as the gallery is passed, the continuing series of apostles, arranged still in pairs, has beneath it a second series of smaller lights, which contain the confession, “ The holy church throughout all the world doth acknowledge Thee ; ” and in these smaller lights there is a distinct reference to the apostolic manifestations above, while both above and below the juxtaposition of subjects in the same window is a natural and significant one. To make this clearer, let me arrange the windows in a plain diagram : —
|Angel of the Resurrection.||Angel with Bit and Mirror.||Reaper Angel.||Angel bearing Mission Ship.|
|S. BARTHOLOMEW.||S. THOMAS.||S. MATTHEW.||S. JAMES THE LESS.||S. JUDE.||S. SIMON ZELOTES.||S. MATTHIAS.||S. PAUL.|
|Mary Magdalene.||Lazarus.||The Woman who was a sinner.||Dorcas.||Barnabas.||The Ethiopian Eunuch.||Priscilla and Aquila.||The Roman Jailer.|
Any one conversant with the gospel narrative can, from these brief hints, catch at the significance of the disposition ; but I venture to fill in the outline a little, as I dwell perhaps with more affection than discretion upon the separate figures, for I would fain give some notion of the picturesque qualities as well as of the intellectual and spiritual harmony. Thus in the first window, S. Bartholomew is the type of the guileless believer, —for Mr. Shields assumes the identity of Bartholomew and Nathanael, — S. Thomas of one victorious over doubt; Mary Magdalene gazes sorrowfully upon the grave-clothes ; Lazarus bursts forth from the tomb. By S. Bartholomew is a fig-leaf, suggestive of “ Under the fig-tree I saw thee,” and a lily by his side typifies his purity. His attitude is that of aspiration, in answer to Christ’s words, “ Ye shall see greater things than these.” S. Thomas, as if mindful of his past incredulity, and expressing also the victory over doubt, is in his old age preaching the certainty of the Lord’s resurrection. “ The wound in his side was here,” he seems to say, as he points to his own side. The figure of Lazarus below is magnificent. He is bursting forth at the sound of Christ’s voice, and praising him ; the open tomb is behind him ; his hands are still bound, but lifted in adoration ; a shadow falls upon the upper part of his face from the tomb or from the hands, as if to indicate the presence still of death, — his is not yet the perfect resurrection, and a bud is opening at his side. I could not help placing the figure, in my mind, beside Blake’s familiar figure of the young man upon the tomb, into which the old man is entering. The two are somewhat alike; but Blake’s figure is the joy of a new life, Shields’s the adoration of one delivered.
In the next window, S. Matthew is listening to an angel while he writes, not looking upon the scroll, where his hand is employed. His foot is upon the tax-gatherer’s money-box, which lies forgotten on the ground. S. Matthew was a publican, and below him is the woman who was a sinner, both praising him who was a friend of publicans and sinners. As S. Matthew’s praise is that of the faithful evangelist, careful only fo hear the gospel which he is to record, so hers is the praise of the humble, repentant sinner, who does not so much as lift up her eyes to heaven ; but the alabaster box has been broken, and above her are the signs of the feast in Simon’s house. S. James stands next in the attitude of authority, as a pillar of the church and its president. A curule chair is behind him : he is inculcating government of the tongue, one finger being upon his lips ; and good works, as with the other hand he points to Dorcas below. Dorcas is clothing a naked child, who looks up with grateful affection to her, one hand laid upon her shoulder, while an aged woman, with clasped hands, stands by.
Beyond these come S. Jude and S. Simon Zelotes. S. Jude’s epistle being almost wholly denunciatory of hypocrites, citing the prophecy of Enoch against ungodly men, whom the Lord shall judge, the apostle stands in an attitude and with an expression of scorn and indignation. A fruitless tree plucked up by the roots is there, and a toad, emblem of uncleanness. S. Simon is shown with the zeal of an evangelist, and a serpent idol lies destroyed at his feet, as evidence of his power over his hearers. Beneath S. Jude is S. Barnabas, as the opposite of the insincere follower condemned by S. Jude ; for he sold his field, and laid the money at the apostles’ feet. This act is represented, and he himself, with a strikingly ardent face, is shown as a Levite, fresh from the temple service. Beneath the zealous evangelist S. Jude is the eager convert, the Ethiopian, who called promptly for baptism.
The final wiudow includes SS. Matthias and Paul. At the foot of the former is the urn used in the lot, and he is represented meek and bowing with awe at the high service to which he is called. Beneath him is a lovely scene in Priscilla and Aquila holding one another’s hands, while a lamp above throws its light upon the scroll which they are reading. The checkered goat-skin fabric of tents lies at their feet. In this is the dedication of the family. S. Paul’s figure is majestic, He is preaching Christ crucified, and his form suggests the cross. His expression is of passionate entreaty. Pan has fallen dead at his feet, as significant of the apostle’s attitude toward paganism. The high, intellectual brow, the thin face, the long beard, make up a splendid conception of the great apostle. The figure below him is that of the Roman jailer, who is in a half-kneeling attitude, — S. Paul’s first Gentile convert, brought out of the dark prison-house of paganism.
There are, besides, certain symbols which run through the group. As the barren fig-tree of the Jewish church stands by the side of the precursor Baptist, so the fruitful branch of the Gentile church grows beside S. Paul, the branch being grafted in. The olive appears throughout the series, but the most striking and original symbol is in the divided flame above each head except that of S. John Baptist, as intimating that all after John were in the power of the Holy Spirit. I do not think this has ever before been used in art, but it is entirely fit and beautiful. It is wonderful how the painter has made this flame to have an individuality in each case. It is the same Spirit, but with a different manifestation in each. In the case of S. Paul, the flames lie almost horizontally, one on either side, as embracing Jew and Gentile ; in S. John the flame is ruddy at the tips, pale at the roots, as of the dying life radiant with hope ; in S. James the Greater it burns calmly and broadly ; in S. Andrew it is a twisted flame, each tongue binding the other; in S. Philip the two tongues are clearly marked, as of the old and new ; in S. Thomas the flame is erect, as of a spirit now undivided by doubt; in S. Jude it flames fiercely; in S. Matthias it is pale and pure.
There is in all this an independence of merely traditionary art : the apostles are no longer distinguished by conventional symbols ; each is marked by that historic act or expression which serves to realize his personality to the beholder, and the symbols used are those which have a clear and natural historic basis. Take, for example, the four figures in the west window, which Mr. Shields has chosen to epitomize the whole college of apostles. Beside S. John Baptist is the barren fig-tree of the Jewish church, with the axe laid at its root. On the other side is a lamb, but it is that creature lifted by the force of its symbolic expression into singular dignity of being, and its foot is crushing an adder. S. John stands by a pool ; he bears a torch in his hand, as the friend of the bridegroom, and his figure is that of a strong man, with the face of a seer. It is a superb face, full of fire and splendid visions, — the face of a youth. There is no asceticism in it, but a fire which has burned out every earthly passion. S. Peter is girt about with his fisher’s coat, and, holding in one hand the fish, in the other raises, in the attitude of praise, the coin which he has taken. His face is rugged and massive, but without the long beard which generally belongs to him. It is a fisherman’s face so ennobled that toil is transformed into worship. S. James the Greater holds the cup of suffering empty, as drained to the last drop; he bears also a palm branch, and his face is rapt with the glow of triumph. S. John the Divine is an old man, with withered hands, holding an unclasped book. He stands upon the brink of a river, but he looks back, as one still hoping to see the Lord upon earth, since it is no personal release for himself that he desires. The eagle by his side holds in his claws a radius, inscribed “ Apocalypsis Jesu Christi,” and a scroll above contains “ Amen, come, Lord Jesus.” The face of the apostle is earnest, with sunken eyes and long beard ; the whole figure possessed of a deep fervor. Seven lamps flame above him.
The difficulty with a written description of such a series is that it inevitably breaks up the effect, and even suggests a fanciful and quiddling treatment. But the eye, dwelling upon these imposing figures, denies any such notion, — cannot, indeed, entertain it at all; and the mind is impressed by the unity of the design, by the sweep of imagery, and, above all, by the commanding thought in this iconology of the ascription of praise. Whatever act may be indicated in a scene, it is made distinctly to have a glorifying end ; every figure, however engaged, is through its occupation praising God. The painter has clearly distinguished his work from a series of saints and martyrs for men to praise. It is the body of apostles, prophets, and martyrs, the holy church throughout all the world, singing, “ We praise Thee, O God; we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.”
I have given in detail the windows which I saw, and must content myself with brief mention of two transept windows and the mosaics, which complete the scheme, but had not been executed last summer. For my knowledge of these I am indebted to some notes furnished me by Mr. Shields, and also to the cartoons which I saw in his studio. The transept windows, facing each other, are to be occupied by the noble army of martyrs, — one comprising the Old Testament, the other the New Testament, martyrs. Over the former window, with its two compartments, is to be an angel with a fiery sword drawn for vengeance, hearkening to the cry of righteous blood ; and the martyrs chosen for the long lights are the first and last, as indicated by Christ in the words, “ From the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.” Abel lays his right hand on the head of the kid; his left is raised to his own head; and, with an expression of faith, he seems in the act of transferring his sins to the sin-offering. In the other, Zechariah lays his hands on the head of the scape-goat, confessing the sins of the people over it. He is clad in his white linen vestment, as he was wont to appear on the great day of atonement. The golden altar of incense is behind him, with its crowned top, emblem of the kindly mediation of Christ. Beside him bubbles a fountain of blood, in reference to the Talmudic legend that where he was martyred such an unceasing fountain sprang up from the temple floor. The lower subject under Abel is a group of martyred prophets, pleading with Israel; the foremost, an aged man, has been scourged, and bears a scroll with the legend, “ Is it a small thing to weary man, but will ye weary my God also ? ” The stocks are seen behind him, and the sword of martyrdom is at his feet, with a hen gathering chickens under a wing, — a quick reference to the Saviour’s words, after his burst of indignation. The subject under Zechariah is the Three Children in the Furnace, with one like the Son of man with them.
In the head of the opposite window is an angel bearing a crown over a cross wreathed with poppies, intimating the violent death of martyrs to be as under an opiate : so Stephen fell asleep. The first and last martyrs here are S. Stephen and S. Antipas. There is a contrasted and correspondent sentiment with the other window. Here S. Stephen appears with hands clasped in prayer, a strange blending of physical suffering and spiritual fervor. His face is radiant as an angel’s, as he prays for his murderers; one foot is raised on a heap of stones, beneath which lies a crushed lily. In the lower compartment, is a group showing SS. Ignatius and Polycarp and Bishop Patteson in the front row; Bishop Latimer, Savonarola, Le Clerc, Huss, and James Pamel, behind. S. Antipas, with a palm in his left hand, bears in his right a model of the brazen bull (from which a whirl of flame streams upward round his head), into which he is said to have been thrown alive by the devotees of Æsculapius ; the altar dedicated to that deity is at his side, bearing the significant serpent attribute, that old enemy which is the last to be overcome. Beneath Antipas, are SS. Vivia, Perpetua, and Felicitas, with little S. Agnes, in the front row ; behind, Mary Dyer, Anne Askew, and Rosalama, the first martyr of Madagascar. It will thus be seen that the painter has drawn one figure from American annals, and has taken her from the ranks of the only body that did not persecute. Thus has he also repeated again and again the Lord’s words — “ from Abel to Zacharias ” — in his several series, from Stephen to Antipas, from Ignatius to Patteson, from Perpetua to Rosalama.
The scheme of mosaics to occupy the south wall, opposite the windows which set forth the apostles and the holy church of the dispensation of the Spirit, intends, in like manner, the goodly fellowship of the prophets with the holy church of the old dispensation. The design here is not yet sufficiently advanced to permit description, but one thought running through it is that which lies in the Lord’s words, indicative of the Gentile fellowship of the Jewish promises, when he said significantly, “ Many widows were in Israel, . . . but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.” Hence this widow will be placed in the compartment beneath Elijah, as beneath Jeremiah will be placed Ebed-melecb, beneath Elisha, Naaman.
With such barren words must I describe this rendition of the Te Deurn. I do not attempt to report the vitreous determination. I will frankly say that I liked the cartoons better than the windows, and that I think the painter worked under conditions which he did not wholly accept. He had a conception to embody in glass and stone, and he allowed himself to use these materials as if they were canvas. The translucency of glass is its determining quality ; and while noble form may be retained when design is executed in it, color can be only symbolical, not natural, and subtle expression of line is impossible. The result, therefore, at Eaton Hall chapel is not that a series of wonderful glass decoration has been executed, the design great and the color a triumph of art and mechanism, but that a great thought has been attempted through a medium imperfect and inadequate. The highest success has not been attained, because there is not a perfect equilibrium of forces ; art, to have triumphed here, would have called for a repression of the full and subtle meaning which the artist has poured forth. But when this failure is granted, how magnificent is the dream, how vast the attainment! We may almost say that the new wine has burst the old bottles.
It is in the interpretative function of art that Mr. Shields has shown his great power; and the interpretation is not of a school of thought, nor of a historic tradition, nor of an individual fancy, but of a catholic and comprehensive conception of the spiritual life. The dominating thought is in the vivifying power of the spirit, and the religious sentiment is unhesitating and profound. It is frankly modern, and not a careful reproduction of antique phases of belief. We have had examples of religious art in this generation which are learned, thoughtful, minute in archæological accuracy, and yet dependent for their motif upon a fancy, a play upon words, a mere momentary impulse: these have no power to move men, nor to penetrate them with the reality of faith, for they are not themselves real; they are but simulacra. It is not the careful preservation of a memorial Christianity, but the energetic action of a living, palpitating belief, which is to supply art with purpose and effect; and the person behind the picture is just as necessary as the person behind the sermon. The conditions of religious art are unquestionably different from those under which painters worked in the mediæval church; but it is idle to suppose that religious art itself was a historic accident. It is very certain that what was real then is real now, and the spirit which would seek to satisfy itself with a careful reproduction of the forms of that day is totally foreign from the spirit of that day, which used the forms that lay nearest them. The Venetian or Florentine painted Holy Families which were ingenuously composed of Venetian or Florentine persons; he did not aim at reproducing Judaic forms. The English or American painter of to-day has no such simple solution of the problem, for he has to meet a body of spectators and critics to whom Christianity has a positive historic character, and he is forbidden to indulge in anachronisms. But there is no element of time at all in the inner spiritual apprehension of Christianity ; the painter’s success in revealing that will not depend upon the fidelity of his work to Syrian models, but upon his power of transfiguring humanity ; he is simply deterred from using locality and personality about him in a way to create opposition to the profounder thought.
The painter of religious subjects has the immense advantage that he addresses a sense already prepared by knowledge to apprehend his work, and, moreover, to be kindled by the appeal which it may make to his higher nature. There is a common ground on which painter and spectator meet, and it is not the common ground of an unrelated historic knowledge. The address through the religious sentiment has an enduring and a universal power, which it is idle to claim for an appeal through the classic or ethnic sentiment. The mind that can receive intelligible and enjoyable impressions through the unexplained medium of a statue of Psyche is one of a thousand, but the thousand will need no guidebook to interpret for them the Angel of the Resurrection. The mere presentation of such work as this of Mr. Shields is a triumphant vindication of the power of a vital Christian art, and the secret of its success is in the spirit of the painter. He goes to the records of Christianity as frankly, as directly and forcibly, as the landscape painter goes to nature, and he interprets a word of God to the soul, which is far more articulate than rocks, trees, and flowers.
The work at Eaton Hall chapel, so far as it has been completed, stands as the most elaborate expression of Mr. Shields’s art. It is not the solitary expression. The work of a similar character which preceded it, and led to the commission, was a series of designs for the decoration of the private chapel on the estate of Mr. W. H. Houldsworth, at Kilmarnock, Scotland. These designs, known as the Triumph of Faith, are a presentation of the pageant of faithful witnesses which fills the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Here also the painter, as interpreter, has conceived of the subject in its largest and completest phase. The central design is of the crucifixion, with the Divine figure supported on the one side by Melchisedec, on the other by S. John Baptist, while the faithful form the great procession of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Sarah, Abraham and Isaac, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, and David. The wealth of symbolism, the dignity and sweetness of the figures, the strength of the designs, render this series one of power and splendor.
It is fortunate for the untraveled student that a means is afforded of becoming acquainted with Mr. Shields’s work in part, in the publications of the English Picture Publishing Company of Manchester and London. The autotype process employed preserves for us the Triumph of Faith series in a form of sufficient size to render a study of detail quite possible; the autotypes are from the original cartoons in black and white. By the same means one may possess himself of the wonderfully beautiful Nativity, a decorative treatment of the subject, which has the technical charm of an “ old master,” with the fresh, unaffected spirit of modem belief. In the same company’s publications is a delightful little series of red chalk domestic subjects, bearing such titles as The Limpet Gatherers, TickTack-Toe, My First Go, Good-Night, Music hath Charms.1
I suppose that my association of Mr. Shields with Bunyan’s Interpreter may have been caught partially from the interesting work which happened to be his first important introduction to an English public. The publisher of the Manchester Examiner conceived the notion of issuing a series of well-known works, with illustrations, at a popularly low price, and gave Mr. Shields a commission to draw on the block a set of designs for The Pilgrim’s Progress. The book was published, not as an illustrated edition, but as a series of designs with explanatory text, and drew from Mr. Ruskin the delighted commendation, “ I have not seen anything at all approaching these designs in power or originality in any modern illustrated work that I remember.” The earnestness with which the subjects are conceived is in marked contrast to the perfunctory treatment which such subjects customarily get. They disclose at the beginning of his career what the Te Deum continues to show in these latest years, a stern devotion to his art, and a conception of that art as interpretative of the highest human thought and feeling.
I asked a friend of Mr. Shields to give me one or two facts concerning the painter’s early life and study. In reply I received the copy of an autobiographic sketch which Mr. Shields some time ago wrote at request, and I add it to my article as the best presentation of the man possible, aside from his works.
“ My first conscious impressions are of the streets of London, whither I had been brought as a babe, when my parents removed from my northern birthplace, Hartlepool, on the Durham coast. The three R’s were acquired at the charity school of the parish church of St. Clement’s Danes, under a master who taught me also religion and morality, as strongly by his example as his precept, — Mr. Thomas Davies, whose name is to this day venerable to me. My mother came from Alnwick, in Northumbria, and used to sing me many a stirring Border ballad, and tell me many a wondrous legend of the olden days. My father belonged to Perth, and was a book-binder’s finisher, in which art he excelled, and so found some vent for a strong artistic faculty, which had been bottled down in his boyhood by my grandfather’s determination that he should not be, as he wished, an engraver, lest he should fall into the temptation of bank-note forgery ; three engravers having suffered death lately at Edinburgh for that crime,
“ So one of the remote circles, stirred by their fate, was to mar my father’s hopes for his own course of life, and to make him resolute that they should find development in myself, his eldest boy, so far as his means sufficed ; and at the age of six I received my first lesson, my father setting me, with a sheet of paper laid over a penny theatrical character print of J. P. Cooke as William, in Black-Eyed Susan, to trace its lines against the window-pane.
“ This was a spark to tinder. Henceforth the pencil was my passion, and many a day have I simulated illness that I might stay from school, to creep up-stairs, and with trembling delight draw as long as daylight served. What wonder that, untaught as I was, I yet left school, at the age of fourteen, with the reputation of a draughtsman.
“ What was to be done with me now, my father’s health failing, and my poor mother laboring with her needle to assist in supporting the family ? About this time I received some kindly lessons from a lithographic artist, in the manner of Harding, on oak touch, ash touch, willow touch, etc. ; but beyond some astonishment at these slick signs for objects almost unknown to my eyes, they had no effect upon my practice, and I went on in my own way for some six months daily at the British Museum sculpture galleries, which were not then the haunts of coquetry and flirtation that they have become since female students have flooded them.
“ But now life must he seriously entered on, and after applications at various establishments, Messrs. Maclure and Macdonald, then in Leicester Square, consented, on inspection of my boyish drawings, to receive me as an apprentice to lithography, artistic and commercial, my wages to commence after three years. But the arrangement collapsed at the end of the first, for it was impossible to maintain me profitless at home, with the younger children growing up. My father, too, had been compelled by slackness of work to leave London for the post of foreman at McCorquodale’s works at Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire. He was alone there, and desired me to be sent to him. He stimulated me to sketch from nature, continually inciting me with his advice,— ‘ Observe, observe,’ — and guiding me into an acquaintance with the best books, of which he knew much more than their gilded covers. After a time he procured a situation for me (then about sixteen) in Manchester, at the wages of five shillings a week, to do anything required in mercantile lithography.
“ My father sickened, and I was left wholly dependent on this sum for food, clothes, and lodging; and when, afterwards, even this sum was cut off by my employers’ failure, there came lower sinks of privation, — absolute want of bread even,—and as the culmination of my distress my loved father’s death, and I was left alone in a strange city. But just before his death, he succeeded in obtaining a situation for me at Messrs. Bradshaw and Blacklock’s. Here, in the extremest drudgery of commercial lithography, I endured daily torture of mind, — suffering also from a disease brought on by semi-starvation, which sapped my strength for four years. Months passed in this new circle of misery, and then I was dismissed for inability to execute with sufficient nicety repetitions of bobbin tickets; some eighty on one cold stone to be neatly painted with the brush for printing from. Conceive the dull round of agony ; suffering as of the victim of the Inquisition under the slow drops of water falling on his chest. In vain I strove to satisfy the foreman, for my heart loathed the task ; so again I was without means of bread-winning.
“ I remember tramping to Liverpool, thirty-two miles by road, with a few pence in my pocket, and back without any, in fruitless search of work. What to do ? I thought of my father’s friends at the Newton works, poor, but warmhearted ; they might show me kindness. There, at the tariff of seven shillings a head, they found me physiognomies enough to keep my pencil busy for months. These were drawn on tinted paper, life-size, in black and white chalk, with a little red. Excellent practice, and joy delirious, after the grinding bondage of bobbin tickets, to be face to face with nature’s work.
“ But the mine of the little town grew exhausted, and at this juncture old Bradshaw, the Quaker partner in the Railway Guide printing firm, sent for me, and said, —
“ ‘ Dost thou think thyself able to design for Baxter’s Patent Oil Printing Process ? ’2 Modestly, but confidently, I replied, ‘ Yes.’
“ ‘ What wages wilt thou require ? ’ Seven shillings a week I had received at bobbin tickets, and I dared to ask ten shillings a week for the elevated post of designer, and returned to my old shop in honor. The despised became a head, with a little room to himself, where no defilement of bobbin tickets ever entered ; and I reveled in gleaners and milkmaids and rustic lovers, and a box of colors for the first time.
“ But a few months so passed, when my good master died (the old man is sure with his Lord, for he was rich in loving charity), and I was an outcast once again ; the chief advantage from my increased wages being that I had been enabled to pay for a quarter’s attendance at the School of Design, my only art educational curriculum. But by this time I had attained some repute in the trade, and I easily entered on service, at something like comfortable wages, with a French firm, in the execution of every variety of ornamental label used in drapers’ goods for the Manchester market.
“ The firm failed, after a short-lived existence, and my next employment was with a German lithographer, who also, soon after, failed, and I began to think myself fatal as the plague to all who entertained me : but as I had now grown into the reputation of being the most tasteful designer in the Manchester ticket trade, I resolved to abandon shop situations and lodgings at once. It was at this period that my mother, sinking under the struggle of maintaining the three younger children, came to live with me in Manchester. Alas, it proved to die (after a few months of patient suffering) from consumption,
“ I rented a small house in the outskirts, and began to work for the general trade, by which course I increased my means, and so gradually compassed leisure to begin painting in water-colors, in hope eventually to break through this lithographic chrysalis which had encoffiued my art aspirations so long. Throughout these years of bitter drudgery I kept up the habit, in my daily journeying to the shop where my employment lay, of familiarizing my eye with nature by observation of faces, figures, and groupings that caught my attention either for beauty or oddity, rapidly sketching them on the moment in the street, ere the impression faded, — an exercise which did much to train my eye to swift perception of essential points, and my hand to facility in portraying them. But the offer of two pounds ten shillings a week tempted me into the service of a firm at Halifax for a year, and the fresh Yorkshire moors greatly strengthened my enfeebled health ; and when I returned to Manchester, it was with a few pounds — a novel experience — in my pocket.
“Every point gained only made me set my eyes more covetously on the bright summit which my eye had seen in childhood, and longed after through every shadowed valley where Fate had pushed me. Like the Japanese designers, who love to depict their snow-clad Fusiyama crowning the background of almost every subject, so, through every engagement, no matter how incongruous, I sought the path to my distant goal. And now, when such an opportunity arose as the proposal from the late Mr. Henry Rawson, of the Manchester Examiner, of a set of illustrations to The Pilgrim’s Progress, I threw my whole soul into the suggestion as the beginning of a new life.
“ ‘ Cheaply they must be done,’ he said. I was indifferent to money, in my enthusiasm, and, fearful lest the first scheme of serious design which had fallen to my lot should escape me, undertook to execute the larger drawings for two pounds each, the smaller for half that sum. This arrangement very soon consumed my savings from the Yorkshire service, and brought me to bread and water again : yet I was happy ; my soul was filled. But a cruel disappointment befell me in the experience that it was most difficult to secure a wood-engraver capable of rendering deliberate drawing, and block after block was travestied out of all resemblance to my lines. At last more efficient help was secured ; but the general disappointment attendant on wood blocks sickened me of further effort in that direction, and I fell into the service of a landscape painter, who used me chiefly to put figures into his own drawings, and at length took me with him to Devonshire, where my clogged wings fairly expanded under the genial inspiration of the marvelous and hitherto unimaginable loveliness of its northern coast, and all at once I felt myself start into power of painting with unexpected facility.
“ The Pilgrim’s Progress had won warm commendation from John Ruskin. . . . These designs were also the medium of my recommendation to the friendship of Dante G. Rossetti, a friendship most precious and steadfast to this day. His influence has, moreover, always been directed in the most generous spirit to stimulate and encourage me in the noblest paths of design.
“ My name gradually became known as a painter of domestic pictures, chiefly of children, a course into which I was first drawn through my inability to pay for adult models, and in which I continued, because such subjects find ready sale. In this character I obtained election into the Old Society of Water-Color Painters, and ... [I left] Manchester, a few years ago, to settle in London, — a resolve made chiefly for the sake of the opportunities and facilities of study presented by the metropolis, in which the city of cotton is notoriously deficient.” The reader has already been made acquainted with the two important works which have since occupied the painter’s attention. It is the misfortune of men that they cannot see great buildings without going to them, nor great art in buildings without the same labor. Yet to those who have been, and in some degree to those who have heard the tale, there often remains a higher pleasure in the contemplation of the artist’s life, when that life is crowned by noble work.
Horace E. Scudder.
- The English Picture Publishing Company undertook the commendable work of affording the English public inexpensive copies of the best modem English art. It is, I believe, still operative, although its success has not been commensurate with the merit of its designs. Besides the examples of Mr. Shields’s work mentioned above, it has issued autotypes after designs by Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, E. Burne Jones, Holman Hunt, Wallis, Cope, Herkomer, and others. A set of these publications is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.↩
- Readers of this narrative will doubtless recall the little oil-print pictures which flourished in book and print stores twenty-five years ago.↩