Tim Linnell [email@example.com], a descendant of the artist, has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web his scanned text of this biography. George P. Landow has adapted it for html, adding links to the original text.
Additional Correspondence — Aphoristic Wisdom — Views on Work — Views on Art — 'Beware of Americans!' — Mr. and Mrs. Cropsey — Death of Mrs. Linnell — Premonitions of his own End — Letter from George Richmond, R.A.
MONG the letters written by Linnell to his son William during his second stay in Rome there are many which have an exceptional interest, inasmuch as they are replete with ideas on art. Here and there, perhaps, prejudices crop up — the prejudices of a man who has never visited Rome, the Mecca and Medina as it were of art, and who, though always staying at home, has yet discovered there, at his very threshold, what the most laboriously travelled has seldom found with all his wandering. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if he fails to appreciate the value of foreign study, and sees all the evils and none of the advantages derivable from such change.
But, besides this, the letters are full of wisdom — worldly, and otherworldly also. Nor are they lacking in wit. In many of the letters, not otherwise of general interest, are interspersed gems of this kind that are well worth quoting. Thus, in a note dated October 7, 1864, occurs the following:
'What you say of your transition state reminds me of a certain blackbird that we heard trying with all his might to whistle a well-known English tune; and he succeeded up to a certain point, when he became but half blackbird, but he finished by whistling his "native woodnotes wild." I suppose when he was half-seas over he was in the transition state. Am I to account for your letters being so difficult to read on the same principle? If so, I wish you would get over the transition state as soon as possible, and write plainer.'
In another letter, wedged in between a lot of dry business matters, occurs the following parody on Shakespeare's well-known lines (Julius Caesar, Act IV., scene iii.)
'There is in man's affairs a tide
Which leads to fortune if descried
And taken promptly at the flood;
But if through laziness or blindness lost,
He may be in the tempest sadly tost,
And finally left sticking in the mud.'
In another saying he retorts upon La Rochefoucauld's 'No man is a hero to his own valet' with the aphorism, 'No man is a hero to his own valet, because valets are not judges of heroes, and cannot tell when they have found one.'
The following characteristic views upon work were written to his eldest daughter:
'According to your own account, you are very busy with household matters. Here is some advice from, an idle person who is often detected poring over books, or even dozing in the daytime. You know the difference between a work of art and a mere heap of matter, or jumble of things without arrangement? Well, try and consider your day's work, or your week's work, as a work of art.
'Begin the work of the day
As if you had to play
A piece of music grand and glorious,
And you your utmost skill
Intended, with good will,
To use so as to be all-victorious,
trying to resolve the unavoidable discords into their proper harmonies by some lucid touches here and there, using some touches also of melody in the midst of the recitative of directions and commands.
'Yet of crotchets be aware,
And quavers, too, for they breed care,
If out of time at all;
But breves and semibreves are best,
Sedate and calm, with many a rest,
As sweet as evening fall.'
The following letters to his son in Rome need no comment:
Redhill, May 2, 1864.
I am just arrived from the Royal Academy Exhibition where I saw G., who was so gracious that I guess he will allow you anything. I expect him here this week, and will tell him what you say, and write to you. If you want to be in Rome again in the autumn, you should certainly be here in the summer, for very many reasons more than I can state. From what you say, I think it quite necessary for you to return here as soon as you can arrange it; only, if you bring your large picture and frame, do not think of taking it again to Rome. Your " Banks and Braes" is on the line in the middle room. James's are all low, but look well. One of mine is too high, and looks nothing. My other kit-cat, " Haymakers," is on the line in the great room, and looks something. There is nothing first-rate; most of the great guns have either missed fire or not put in powder enough. Well, as to difficulties of a moral sort, I pray not for you to be taken out of the world of vice that you are in, so much as that you may be kept from the evil.
Were I with you, I should in all probability throw up my cap for a peep at Sicily, though if it should appear on inquiry that the autumn is the best time for that, why, then I should come here in the summer, and return early enough for Naples and Sicily. This is a good time to finish off your lust of travel. You can best judge what is practicable, and I will not attempt to direct, and only say be sober, be vigilant; remember what your adversary is, and remember also the helps [. . .] who are your companions, though unseen. I will do what you wish as to money, etc., only let me know in time. I have much to do just now. James's house is to be enlarged — Chart Lodge also; and in painting also I have something to do.
J. L., SEN.
Comfort yourself as to the evils about you that there is a man with an inkhorn who sets a mark upon those who honestly groan at the sight. Beware of the spite and revenge, however, of those who may, through your counsel to the simple, be disappointed of their prey; so be wise as serpents.
In your letter, supposed from Olevano, October 15, you offer a scorpion to Tom in exchange for something better than an egg — Luke xi. 12. I won't say anything about the spirit of your observations upon Redhill; but, according to the letter,
There is no one here but a fogey old,
For the rest they are only chits,
With Bell, and Shoe, and Oxtoby bold,
Oaks, and nubbly bits.
The excitement of the discovery of the brass Hercules accounts for your writing in the "Hercules vein," smashing us poor Redhillians with your club, and roaring as you used to do when you acted lion under the table. That Olevano letter is a terrible one, with the handwriting on the wall. If your photo had been in the position of mine by M. and P., we could have made pictures of the subject.
As far as I am concerned, I say:
Send no more photos, photos send no more,
They are deceivers ever,
Fading at last if not before,
And satisfying never
And be you blithe and bonny,
Pooh-pooh the sellers' notes of woe,
And keep your ready money.
Redhill, May 9, 1864
Your letter came this morning, dated the 3rd; the same day one was sent to you, and one the day after, both of which you should have by this time. The questions you ask in this last are all answered in ours of the 3rd and 4th. It seems to me that, as your pictures must be brought here either in a finished or unfinished state, you may as well do the last winding up here, as they are to be seen in English atmosphere, and there is some danger of your working to suit the Roman light, which I think led to most of your trouble in " The Gleaners." You are as capable of judging what is best, and in a position to know better than I am; but I feel sure you ought to return some time before the summer is over. We will attend to your wishes respecting the captain and the pre-Raphaelite Wallis.
Look out for squalls in the political horizon. Money is scarce, funds very low — all which, I suppose, you see. If you are flush of cash this summer, I may want to borrow some to pay for additions to Chart Lodge, which I have nearly settled to do. I am to have six per cent. in rent; but as Palmer's house has swallowed up all my savings, I am getting short, and loath to sell out at such a loss as three or five per cent. A. has not been or written lately. Everyone is cautious and shy, so we must wait. If peace continues we shall prosper, but war is very probable, I fear; so be prepared, and do not leave anything in Rome when you return here if you can help it. Try and arrange so that you can give up your studio when you please. I hope you will come before the Royal Academy Exhibition closes, and on your mother's account. You ought to see her before long, lest you should regret the omission. I have many irons in the fire, some getting " werry ott.' You should be here with your sledgehammer to lend us a rap. You shall have some beer, I promise you; for I am going to brew in a day or two, while this north-east wind lasts.
J. L., SEN.
Redhill, Saturday, October 8, 1864.
In your letter of last April you asked for my counsel, so I venture to give it now. The pictures for G. I expect he will like, as he has, I think, good reason to be satisfied, as I doubt not they will sell well, and he will want more. The group of goats I think capital, and many other points; but the thing I want to tell you is, there is, I fear, a theatrical scene-painter alloy creeping into your work that you will not get rid of in Italy, because it is the vice of the place. It is in every artist who goes to Rome, and most go through the love of that quality. It is not the beautiful they seek to accomplish, but novelty, the sensational, the melodramatic. Hence the pigmental colouring of drapery. These things, however, soon tire, like fireworks. Beauty never tires — qualities which affect the inner man. There is, I fear, a bad style of art and criticism in Rome of a contagious kind, rather Cropseyish, and worthy only of the name " slang." I cannot help feeling, notwithstanding the many good things in the two pictures sent, that you have left your first love. Your English subjects I like better; even the costume is more humane — not so savage. The majority of artists who go to Rome think to make up for the deficiency of power to express beauty by seizing noveltyń
I could not urge you to come here into frost and snow, when you are just where most people would like to be for the winter. If you stay, I have no doubt but it will be far more profitable to make studies from nature than to paint pictures. Finish, or nearly so, your large picture, and no more; spend the rest of your time in getting valuable matter such as can be got nowhere else, and then, like a good bee laden with sweets, come to your hive, only don't you sting us if we are a little curious to see your store. G. would see the small picture, and wished to have it when you had retouched it. I told him it was intended for A., and if A. did not come soon and see it, or if he did not wish to have it, I would let him (G.) know, when he said he would write to you about it. I did not mention any price. . .
Slight pictures, unless there is some peculiar grace in the execution, are not good to send out; so I recommend more work upon the small picture when you come here.
J. L., SEN.
The disease which appears to me to be in Rome infects all the painters who go there — costume pigmentally coloured; scene-painting style; novelty, and not quality, uppermost. I write strongly to make what I mean clearer. There is, I fear, an atmosphere in Rome unfavourable to improvement, though the finest examples are to be seen. The men, however, who produced them did not go after novelty, but painted their own country, and what they were used to; hence, in my opinion, they were affected more by what is permanently beautiful than what is striking, because new. Beware of Americans, North and South. They are repudiators of debts; so, whatever you do, expect nothing again. I will attend to all you wish, but can't judge here — you can. This winter in Rome ought, I think, to suffice for you; and you should be home in time to retouch your large picture here that you intend to send from Rome for the Royal Academy exhibition. There is such a thing as drifting out of a good track — a taint is soon acquired.
The Cropsey referred to in the foregoing letter was an American artist who had spent some time in Rome, and who, as the result (as Linnell thought), inflicted upon the world a lot of 'painty' and rather meretricious work — a description which Linnell held in abhorrence. About this time (1864) Mr. Cropsey and his wife sought an introduction to the artist, and after a first formal visit to Redhill there was some correspondence, preliminary to a second visit with friends. A letter from Mrs. Cropsey called forth the following, humorous reply:
DEAR MRS. CROPSEY,
Monday will do for me beautifully — if you can only get the day to be beautiful. You are sure to look so yourself, and your party also, if you only look as usual. How could you be so cruel as to dub me R.A. on the cover of your letter, and so envelop me in an honourable distinction to which I have no pretension? I am so far infra such a dig. I shall write you Wicountess Cropsey, I think, when I am disposed to retaliate. Perhaps, however, you meant something else than royal scholastic honours. R.A. may stand for many things — for Right American, or for 'Rong American, adopting the orthography of Sir William Curtis, who gave as a toast the three R's — reading, writing, and arithmetic. I am not sure that in my case R.A. might not stand for Ragged Artist, seeing that I am more allied by sympathy and habit to the ragged schools than to any others, and such let the meaning be. I shall, therefore, so take it in future, and subscribe myself,
Your obedient servant and ragged artist,
The following is from a letter undated, but having the postmark October 22, 1864:
Thanks for the fotografs, as the Italians spell it. Very few of the best things seem to be done. Are there no fotos of the wonderfull bulls, rustic waggons and figures, or are we to have those in words only? I hope you will not return without studies and fotos to back up your description, which is sure to fall otherwise into the Bill Stumps style. I should be glad also for once to see something to correspond to the boasted Italian sky; the pictures sent are — though very nicely finished — only English skies, and not the best of those. The old vice in the tints, proceeding, I suspect, from some red used which increases in force after painting, or through not mixing the light first and then refraining from the addition of red or any warmer tints, except in distinct features; but, after all, the eye ought to detect the fault and correct it before the stains have accumulated, and by a better method of mixing relative tints first, the fault I speak of ought to be almost impossible, even if painting by lamplight. I know by so rigid a process you would be shut out from some varieties which are natural, but they could be added safer than attempting them at first. Then, again, when strong colours are in costume, great care should be taken that the shadows and middle tints are true, and evidence the influence of the phenomena about. Without great attention to this the figures will look like coloured prints in children's books. Fotos will not help here — only careful observation of facts in the circumstances represented in the picture. There is a red garment on the centre figure of the squares and of the two pictures sent which is open to this criticism in my opinion. The figure is sitting on the ground — a man with a crimson cloak, or something of that sort. You see nothing like it in any of the great masters, only in the modern clap-trap Italy-mongers. It is not colour in the true artistic sense — it is colour-shop.
We all remark how like Wales the mountains are in the last picture — not better, to my mind. I hope to see something yet which we may say could only be got in Italy, or is worth going for. However, you must not in your search for this forget the brigands, who, I find by letters in the Times, are now infesting the Roman States, and go from there to the Italian. The French pursue, but seldom catch them. You are ignorant in Rome of the extent of the evil, as the Government hides all and publishes nothing. Only to-day, October 13, there is a letter to that effect, which has disturbed your mother's mind not a little. Gambart says that the banditti are very numerous, but they only rob the English; they do not carry them off. So you may think yourself well off if you only get robbed, which you had better permit quietly if they fall in your way.
I think it is the Indian red which James has just procured for you that spoils your cloud tints. I remember that Mulready and all I knew avoided that pigment as one that showed itself in a most obtrusive and offensive manner after the work was dry, and could only be used by the coarse portrait-painters of the regular old R.A. school. Vermilion is safer, I have no doubt, and will not appear in the tints beyond the time of the working. As the tints appear when first put on, so they will remain, whereas the Indian red comes out in stains afterwards. Scarlet extract and yellow ochre, or red chrome, are best for lights on clouds when well mixed with white lead.
I think it will be wise to return early next spring, and leave nothing behind you. Make a clean sweep of it, and trust to finding a place to suit you when you go again, which may not be so soon as you expect. However, if you wish to keep your studio, it will only be the loss of so much money; but it would be folly to risk the loss of your studies, so do bring all those with you. Stirring events may be expected before long.
Redhill, November 21, 1864.
We are all much relieved from anxiety about you by the receipt of yours to-day, dated from Rome the 16th. The accounts of brigandage are so frightful, all about Rome it is said, so, if you do not know it, look out. . . . I shall write to Count Guicciardini soon, and tell him what you say. I do not remember your former message, but I dare say it was sent. I paid nothing to Horne, who has behaved liberally in refusing to take anything for all the trouble we gave him about the case sent to Mackraken. You may as well repeat your message, which you say you asked me to give to C. G., as I can better tell if it was attended to. You should remember what a task I have to perform at my age. I have, besides providing soap, candles, oil, and stone blue, etc., etc., to earn enough to pay all expenses with no better materials to study from than the " nubbly bits of Redhill, Oxtoby, Bell, bitch and donkey." You really ought to contribute some sensational figures that I might turn to account. Some swinkamswash, melodramatic vagabond to place on a bridge over a cataract just about to throw a hinnocent babby into the foaming gulf. Oxtoby, Bell and Co. might be looking on and form a pleasing contrast. Next package you send I hope will contain something to give us some notion of what Italy is like.
We expect Mr. Adams here in a day or two, and he will take out to you the mounted photo of Mary and Phoebe. I enclose you Sarah's. I hope Stewart will be with you before you get this, and Adams soon after.
Yours, J. L., SEN.
Redhill, January 7, 1865.
Your mother improves, and I have only lumbago, as much as I can well stand under, though I can't understand it, seeing that I wear woollen vests, and take care of myself. I begin to think I am getting old, or older than I was some years ago, though I doubt that sometimesń
Do, pray, write more at leisure, and as soon as you get my letter, instead of writing just before, and in a hurry. It is incredible that you should not be able to find time to write all that is requisite. Candles are not scarce, I guess, in Rome surely. I should have sent ú100 this time, had you been more attentive in acknowledging the last, so do not omit this time.
Redhill, January 18, 1865.
Now, put this and that together, as Bill Stump would say, and then you will be able to stump up some day. In the meantime as much stumpey as you want shall be sent. In your letter from Olevano you say I need not infer from your remarks about everlasting oaks, nubbly bits, with " Bell, Shoe, Oxtoby, bitch and donkey," that you have " lost your taste for England." Why, from those remarks it would seem there was not much to lose, though, as you have painted such successful contradictions to that idea, we shall set down your remarks to another account. As they stand, however, without the picture commentary, they look too like the common claim set up by the admirers of the man-stealers of South America, when, after praising them for qualities which brigands may possess, and calling men chivalrous who sell their own offspring slaves, these sympathizers with the slaveocracy pretend they are as much opposed to slavery as you who denounce the whole set.
I am glad to find by your last that the Stewarts have reached Florence. I hope they are with you now. Send the wine as soon as you please. I shall drink your health with that of the senders — Stillman, Pendegrass and Co.
Can't you fish out some prime old store? Though I suppose the Cardinals are such knowing ones on that subject, that there is no chance of the very best being procurable by such heretics as we are. Severn could help in that matter if he would. See growers yourself, if possible, and go into their cellars and ferret out some reserved sample. You see how I want something Italian.
Redhill February 10, 1865.
We received yours dated February 1, 1865. That is as near as I can make it out from your masterly touches. I suppose I must be content, though I would rather that all such matters as dates should be given and written plain.
Thanks for inquiries after lumbago. I have had as much as I could well get on with, and now a cold, but not more than I can bear easily. I have such a sense of the great blessings I possess in the knowledge of Divine Wisdom and the gifts of her left hand that I am supported through much bodily weakness. Not that I am weaker than usual, but I have a sense of the trials that threaten at times to be too great for me. By faith, however, all is possible, and so I walk. I hope poor Mr. Stewart can find comfort that way. If you write to him or Mrs. S., could you not give him or her a note of introduction to Count O., who would do him good?
Mr. Grece wants a foto of Aristotle's bust in the Capitol; I forget if I named it before. He has just read to us an interesting article by Taine in the Deux Mondes, a description of Rome, very original and evidently true. He reads in English from the French book. He would be a more valuable ally if he received Źů Źî˛ ´▓Č˛├ůŹîˇ. We must not, however, forget that we were once in darkness, though now ć˝ˇ Č▓ ▄˛Ä╗˝. As children of light let us walk. These are some of the thoughts which help me through the long nights here, which I now pass alone in a room that should extort thanks from anyone. The beautiful things to be seen from the window even in the worst weather; but the worst weather seems to have been everywhere but here. We have had nothing to speak of bad, and some delightful days. The snow has been seven and ten feet deep in the North, with many disasters to travelersń
I shall be glad to get the wine you mention, that Mr. Stillman will send. And what about the other from Mr. Pendegrass? I enclose you another copy of the group, which you can do as you think best with; also one of the miniatures of your mother.
J. J. Snr.
Redhill, March 1, 1865.
Notwithstanding what you say about Redstone habits leading to isolation, I believe that I am the most really sociable person in the family, and the best employed, for, in spite of the Hebrew roots and Greek constructions, I am enabled to do as much painting work as you, if not more, and, if price is any test, I can get enough and do get it enough to justify my boasting [. . .] and, though I do not visit much, others visit me, and I give them the result of my studies by telling them as much precious truth as they would hear in all Portman Square in a week, especially if they are priests or priest-defenders. These studies, however, can't be very unprofitable, as you say you " hope to get at it." If instead of no one knowing his neighbour, as you say, they secluded themselves as I do, I think they would be more neighbourly and know each other better, not so much [. . .], perhaps, but more profitably. After all, however, there is a deal of visiting here, more than I could find room to tell.
If the wine is shipped I ought to have the bill of lading, especially as you have paid for the wine. You are right in not ordering more till we taste the first. I fear it is useless for you to write to Mr. Stewart, as the last we heard of him is that they were at Leghorn, and he was not expected to live. I forwarded a letter from Gambart to you; say if you have itń
Fitz has not kept his engagement, but I have another string to my bow in Morley, who has just arranged for a kitcat and a 30 by 20 inches.
The kitcat is from one of my Balcombe subjects, very woody (a scarce quality in Italy I fear now). I guess you will have to borrow of Redhill now for oaks, if not for 'nubbly bits.' Don't forget that pictures depend more upon phenomena and expression for their effect than upon the matter or topographical character. The difference between Turner and Stanfield lies there.
This paper (i.e., that on which the letter was written) was cut off your last.
The following letter, although undated, evidently belongs to May 17, 1865:
Your picture of "Banks and Braes" is level with the eye, and for height could not be better. It is liked, and cannot easily be " licked."
You should write again when you get our letter, in order to get the step which, like an unskilful walker, you have lost. Wait for our letter, and then write at once instead of writing just before you get ours. We got yours dated the 10th on the 17th (to-day), and write immediately. If you go to the mountains, write from the mountains, and beware of brigands. I shall not be able to send a ransom for you without selling three per cents. I must sell stock to get you out of the stocks. You can have some cash if you want it, as I have some coming in a few days. I have just sold a small picture of "Feeding Chickens" for 250 guineas — and something to Fitz. Chart Lodge is not let, but I intend to put it into a letting state. My "Disobedient Prophet" sold at Christie's for 950 guineas. I cannot tell what is best for you. No one here can see what you can see; you must judge for yourself — only remember your mother.
J. L., SEN.
As will have been seen from the foregoing letters, Mrs. Linnell had been in failing health for several years past, and her husband could not but fear the worst, which took place on September 15, 1865, a few days after the return of her son from Rome. She died of heart disease in her seventieth year. If she had lived two years longer, the aged couple would have been able to celebrate their golden wedding, so that their marriage lost nothing of the character of durability by the simple secular ceremony in presence of the Edinburgh magistrate of forty-eight years before.
In Mrs. Linnell the artist lost a helpmate such as it is the lot of but few men to possess. She was the personification of gentleness and piety; her patience had no end; and through forty-eight years of married life she devoted herself to her husband and family with unwearying fortitude and inexhaustible affection.
although Linnell was destined to live many years yet, he seems about this time to have had an impression that his own end was not far off. He refers to this feeling in a letter written to his son in April, 1865. In it he says:
'I have been relieved of my sufferings from rheumatism and sciatica, or nearly so. I am now putting all I can in order, though I fear being beaten by time; a sense of its value seems the last thing that is learned. Your mother is certainly some steps lower down towards release, and I feel the shadows of evening are lengthening, and I feel also the great value of the knowledge, though small, of that [. . .] with which all the assaults of the evil one are to be defeated. Hence, then, the melancholy of the flesh. Tell me not of death, of churchyards and God's acre; I am in love with Life, sweet maid, and I will take her, as she is given me from her Father's portal to be mine for ever, making me immortal.'
A letter received by Linnell from his old friend George Richmond, sympathizing with him on the death of his wife, will suitably close this chapter. It is dated Holwood, Bromley, October 16, 1865, and is as follows:
DEAR MR. LINNELL,
It was not from want of sympathy with you in your great loss that I did not write to you directly we heard of dear Mrs. Linnell's death, for both my wife and I thought much of you, and of the true friend whom we had also lost; one with yourself, when our fortunes were very low and our friends few indeed, who always received us with kindness — a kindness which neither time nor separation ever shook, and the givers of which I believe we shall always remember with most affectionate respect.
Dear Mr. Linnell, we see very little of each other, but if the company of an old friend would be any pleasure to you now, I shall be only too pleased to run down and see you. With kindest remembrances to all of your house,
Believe me, in true sympathy,
Very faithfully yours,
JOHN LINNELL, ESQ.
P.S. — I return to town to-morrow.
Last modified 1 December 2001