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The Three Brothers; vol. 2/3

The Three Brothers; vol. 2/3
Title: The Three Brothers; vol. 2/3
Release Date: 2018-11-22
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The Right of Translation is Reserved.


Strangeways and Walden, Printers,Castle St., Leicester Sq.






It must be admitted that the counsel thus bestowed upon Laurie inrespect to his work had rather a discouraging than a stimulating effectupon him. It disgusted him, no doubt, with Edith and his big canvas, butit did not fill him, as it was intended to do, with enthusiasm forClipstone Street, and his other opportunities of legitimate work. Hemade it an excuse for doing nothing, which was unfortunate, after somuch trouble had been taken about him. Perhaps, on the whole, it wouldhave been better to have let him have his way. The padrona herselfthought so, though she had not been able to refrain from interferingwhen she had the opportunity. The Square, and the adjacent regions, hadpronounced almost unanimously that the sketch was a very clever sketch;but, notwithstanding, deprecated with one voice the big canvas, and the{2}ambitious work. ‘I did it, and you see I have not made much of it,’ saidSuffolk. ‘If I thought I could make as much of it as you have done, Ishould go in for it to-morrow,’ cried Laurie, with an enthusiasm forwhich the painter’s wife could have hugged him. ‘But, dear Mr. Renton,if you would but advise him to take simpler subjects!’ Mrs. Suffolksaid, with her pathetic voice. Suffolk was a man of genius, as even oldWelby admitted, and slowly, by degrees, the profession itself wasbeginning to be awake to his merits; but as for the British public, itknew nothing of the painter, except that up to this moment he had beenhung down on the floor, or up at the roof, in the Academy’s exhibition,and sneered at in the ‘Sword.’ This was what came of high art.

Mr. Welby paid Laurie a visit in his rooms, to enforce the lesson uponhim. ‘If we had room and space for that sort of thing, it would be allvery well, sir,’ said the R.A., ‘but in a private collection what canyou do with it? The best thing Suffolk could hope for would be to havehis picture hung in some Manchester man’s dining-room;—best patrons wehave now-a-days. But it would fill up the whole wall, and naturally theManchester man would rather have two or three Maclises, and a Mulready,and a Webster, and even a Welby, my dear fellow,—not to speak ofMillais, and the young ones. There’s how it is.{3} A dozen pictures arebetter than one in our patrons’ eyes,—more use, and more variety, andby far more valuable if anything should happen to the mills. Though it’sa work of genius, Renton,—I don’t deny it’s a work of genius,—whereasthis——’

‘Is nothing but a beginner’s attempt, I know,’ said poor Laurie. ‘Thatis all settled and understood. Let us talk of something else.’

Mr. Welby, without heeding the young man, got up, and gazed upon thewhite canvas, which still stood on the easel like a ghost, with thewhite outlines growing fainter. Laurie had not had the heart to touch itsince that evening in the Square. ‘I don’t understand how you young mencan be so rash,’ he said; ‘for my part, I think there is no picture thatever was painted equal to the sublimity of that blank canvas. Why, sir,it might be anything! Buonarotti or Leonardo never equalled what itmight be. It is a thing that strikes me with awe; I feel like a wretchwhen I put the first daub of vulgar colour on it. Colour brings it downto reality,—to our feeble efforts after expression,—but in itself itis the inexpressible. I don’t mind your chalk so much. It’s adesecration, but not sacrilege,—a white shadow on the white blank,—andit might turn out anything, sir! Whereas, if you put another touch onit, you would bring it down to your own level. The wonder to me{4} alwaysis how a man who is a true painter ever paints a line!’

‘It is well for the world that you have not always been of thatopinion,’ said Laurie, forcing out a little compliment in spite ofhimself.

‘But I have always been of that opinion,’ said Mr. Welby.‘Unfortunately, man is a complex being, my dear fellow, and whateveryour convictions and higher sentiments may be, the other part of youwill force itself into expression. But the thing is to keep it down aslong as possible, and subdue and train it like any other slave. That isalways my advice to you young men. Never draw two lines when you can dowith one. Don’t spoil an inch more of that lovely white canvas than youridea will fill. Keep within your idea, my dear Laurie. You should nomore tell it all out than a woman should tell out how fond she is ofyou. Art is coy, and loves a secret,’ said the old man, warming into akind of enthusiasm.

These were the kind of addresses which were made to Laurie in this hisfirst attempt to stumble out of his pleasant amateur ways intoprofessional work and its habits. He could not but ask himself, with atragi-comic wonder, whether it was anxiety for his good alone whichwound up his friends into eloquence, or whether there had ever been anovice so overwhelmed by good advice before. He had done what he likedin the old days, when{5} what he liked was of little consequence; but itwas clear that he was not to be permitted to do what he liked now. Hewas affronted, disgusted, amused, and discouraged, all in a breath. Workin cold blood for work’s sake, to lead to no immediate end, wassomething of which Laurie was incapable. It seemed to him that the wayto become a painter was by painting pictures, and he did not give theweight they deserved to his friends’ counsels when they adjured him towork at smaller matters, and to postpone the great. ‘I shall neversatisfy them,’ he said to himself; and accordingly the spur being thusremoved, his natural habit of mind returned upon him. He had no tendencyto extravagance, being simple in all his tastes, and it seemed to himthat he could get on very well on his two hundred a-year. ‘I shall nevermarry,’ Laurie said to himself, with a sigh, ‘nor think of marrying.That sort of thing is all over; and there is enough to keep me alive, Isuppose. And why should I go worrying everybody about pictures which Idon’t suppose I am fit to paint? But I may be of use to my friends,’ headded in his self-communion. So he took to play instead of work, whichhe found to be more congenial to his ancient habits, and he fell backinto it as naturally as possible. It would have been better for him, sofar as his profession was concerned, had they let him have his own way.

But if he could not be a great painter himself, it{6} was possible enoughthat he might be of use to those who were so. Though he had beenmomentarily absorbed by his abortive project, and momentarily thrown offhis balance by all the opposition it met, yet he had not forgotten hispromise to Mrs. Suffolk. If there was anything he could do to open theeyes of the British public, and show it what a blunder it was making,that would always be so much rescued from the blank of existence.Laurie’s Edith, even had she come to the first development which he oncehoped for her, could never be,—or at least it was not probable that shewould ever be,—equal to that scene in the Forum, which hung neglectedon the wall of Suffolk’s studio. To bring the one into the light of daywas perhaps a better work than to paint the other. It was the firstthought that roused Laurie out of his own mortification. He bore nomalice. He was too sweet-hearted, too easy and forgiving, for that.Indeed, on the contrary, he was very grateful to one at least of hishardest critics. The padrona had uncovered her heart to him by way ofpointing her objection. He had seen into her mind and spirit as perhapsno one else had ever done. He was sorry for the pain it must have givenher to speak to him,—even more sorry than for himself; but Laurie couldnot, though Mrs. Severn would have wondered, speak what people call ‘agood word’ on her behalf when he got Slasher in his power. The wordswould have choked him. Ask any man in ordinary {7}Art-jargon and commonprint to applaud the woman to whom his own heart began to give a kind ofwordless, half-unconscious worship! Ask for praise, public praise, forhis padrona. He would as soon have thought of leading her upon the stageto have garlands thrown at her feet like a prima donna. Here was adisability of woman which nobody had ever thought of before. It did notmatter much, from Laurie’s point of view, whether they blamed her orpraised her. To name her at all was a presumption unpardonable, the merethought of which made his cheek burn. And yet it would have done Mrs.Severn a great deal of good had the ‘Sword’ taken an enthusiasm for her.And Laurie had no objection to her work. He knew that he could not havedone it for her had he tried his hardest. Her independence, and herlabours, and her artist life, were all part of herself. He could notrealise her otherwise. But to have her talked of in the papers! Laurie’sprivate feeling was, that instead of influencing Slasher in her favour,he would like to knock down the fellow who should dare to have thepresumption to think that she could be the better for his praise!

But Suffolk was a totally different matter. And Laurie, having turnedhis back upon the studio, and turned himself loose, so to speak, uponthe world again, set to work at the club and elsewhere, to cultivateSlasher with devotion. Slasher was understood to be the specialart-critic of the ‘Sword;’ and he{8} had qualified himself for such apost, as most men do, by an unsuccessful beginning as a painter, whichhad, however, happened so long ago that some people had forgotten, andsome even were not aware of the fact. Though he was not ill-natured, itmust be admitted that Laurie commended himself to the critic by the wantof success which the young fellow did not attempt to disguise. ‘Myfriends are a great deal too good to me,’ Laurie said, with comicsimpleness; ‘they have all fallen upon my picture so, that I have givenit up. What is the use of trying to paint with every man’s opinionagainst you? I have not stuff enough

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