Tim Linnell [email@example.com], a descendant of the artist, has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web his scanned text of The Life of John Linnell, which the London publishers Bentley and Son brought out in 1892. George P. Landow has adapted it for html, adding links to the original text.
Second Marriage — Visit to Linnell's Studio — 'The Rooks' — Habits in his Last Years — Political Opinions — Inner Vision — Studies in the Psalm — Correspondence — Spurious Copies of his Works — Curious Legal Point as regards Forgery.
N the month of September, 1866, consequently when he was seventy-four years of age, Linnell entered the bonds of matrimony for the second time, taking for his wife Mary Ann Budden, an old friend of the late Mrs. Linnell and the family, and a former member of the Plymouth Brethren. The marriage took place in the simplest possible manner, before the registrar of Reigate, thus showing what an immense change had been effected in the marriage laws since the artist's first wedding experience, forty-nine years before. He thus makes entry of the event in his journal:
'Sept. 18, 1866. — To Reigate to Mr. Hart's office at 9.30 with Marian and her sister, E. L., J. T. L., etc. Received certificate of marriage (which see). To St. Leonard's with Marian by 11.10 train.'
On the following day the venerable bridal pair visited Ecclesborne and, on September 20, Fairlight, returning to Redhill the same day. One or two friends held up their hands in dismay at these late nuptials, prophesying ill; but Linnell took no notice of them, and declared that he had become rejuvenated thereby, and such in truth seemed to be the case.
In the 'Life of Richard Redgrave' (recently published) an amusing story is told about this second marriage, and it has every appearance of being true. The anecdote is quoted from Redgrave's diary, and is as follows:
'On the occasion of his second marriage, the Reigate registry-office was put in requisition. The wedding took place not from the lady's own home, but from Redstone, where she had arrived about a week before. When someone objected to the old painter that this was contrary to received custom, he said "There is full authority for it. Rebecca came to Isaac. Why should not Mary Ann Budden come to John Linnell? The only difference I see is that Rebecca brought all her worldly goods on a camel, whereas my bride's belongings came by Pickford's van."'
Another story told by Redgrave is not only ill-natured, but has not the merit of being ben trouvato. 'Linnell's son John' (the narration goes) 'asked his father to give him some painting tools, of which the old man had an abundant supply. "Nay! nay!' said the painter; "recollect, my boy, your mother's first words to you, 'Bye-bye, bye-bye — buy-buy!'"
Redgrave gives the story as having been told by another Academician, and adds that it 'showed truly Linnell's habit of making the most out of everything and everybody.' There are several reasons for affirming that Linnell could not have said any such thing. He never used the negative, 'nay,' and he never said 'my boy.' Moreover, the person represented as being chiefly concerned has no recollection of such an incident; but he and all other members of the family bear emphatic testimony to the fact that the artist never begrudged anything to his sons and daughters that was necessary for their studies or their welfare.
Redgrave ought to have been the last to put such a story on record. He was Linnell's friend, and he bears testimony to his generosity as a host; but the latter remembered to his dying day an act of gross inhospitality on Redgrave's part. They were, in a sense, neighbours, the Academician having a cottage at Abinger, near Leith Hill; and Linnell one day, when he was very old, drove over in his pony carriage to see him. Redgrave came to the door to speak to him, and did not so much as ask him to step in.
A writer who paid a visit to the veteran painter shortly after his second marriage, and who saw him at work, says that, though his 'hand may not be as strong as it was sixty or seventy years ago, it shows no diminution of vital energy, or of the cunning that it has so long possessed.'
The picture he gives of him, as seen at this time, is interesting. 'Dressed in a close gray suit, with the chosen one of a score of broad-brimmed hats shading his brows, Linnell sits at a clear, easy distance from his easel, holds his brush at arm's length, and takes a view over his left-hand, as a mariner by a point out at sea. Then, with a short, sharp, nervous, incisive movement of the hand and brush, he lays down his living mark of colour.'
Linnell's hand in his prime was so firm and steady that he hardly ever used a maulstick. Nor, if we may judge from his neat, small handwriting, which hardly showed signs of tremor to the last, did that firmness of touch ever become much impaired. A letter now lying on the writer's table, which was written in 1865 — when, therefore, he was seventy-three years of age — will not be easily paralleled among septuagenarians.
'He never leaves his domain' (the description proceeds) 'except for a drive in the neighbourhood; and very often is not tempted over the threshold of his house, unless there is a cloud which must be looked at, or Nature holds out some such special enticement to this most loving child of hers.
'"Just see those rooks," he says, when you follow him into that holy of holies, his studio. He points to a fresh picture now upon the easel. "I saw that. I saw those rooks come boiling up over a cloud, and then, while you stood looking, came another posse, rushing past you like tigers."
The picture in question is among the best he painted, and is an exceedingly beautiful one. Its only fault is that it is a little too gray in tone. It shows a broad landscape, with a glint of water in it, and some figures and a dog in the foreground. But the rooks certainly form the central interest of the picture. They are full of life and vigour, and seem literally to boil up over the hill.
After his second marriage Linnell became more than ever tied to Redstone. In his little domain, with his sons and daughters and his grandchildren about him, he was content to spend the remainder of his days. He now seldom left his own grounds, except occasionally for a drive in the neighbourhood when the weather was fine. He spent much time out-of-doors, however, driving, or having himself driven, to and fro in a little donkey-chaise, somewhat in the style of William Henry Hunt, the companion of his younger days. Later he discarded the donkey, and had himself pulled about by his man Bell, who, he used to declare, was the stubborner donkey of the two.
Always a man of marked individuality and originality, these traits seemed to come out in a still stronger light in these later years. In many of his opinions there was something of incongruity when considered in conjunction with his views on other subjects. For instance, although strongly Liberal, and even democratic, in his general tendency of thought, yet on some subjects he was not only at variance with the popular current of Liberal sentiment, but quite Conservative, if not altogether reactionary. As an instance in point, I may mention that while he was in substantial agreement with Mr. Gladstone's Liberal views in regard to general reform, he did not support his foreign policy. He had been a great admirer of Lord Palmerston as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and regarded Lord Beaconsfield as his natural successor in that department. In short, he was no 'peace at any price' man, but was ever for upholding the honour and supremacy of England by vigorous action. Hence the Afghan war had his hearty approval.
Some of the measures of reform also that came to the front during his later years did not have his entire sympathy. In short, he was of an older generation, and could not trim his sails to every fresh wind that blew. Most striking of all was his lack of interest in Mr. Forster's Elementary Education Bill. He soon became utterly weary of hearing about it, and could not hear it spoken of with patience.
It is not difficult to understand this lack of interest if we consider that he had never been to school himself and that all the education that he ever possessed he had practically obtained by his own unaided efforts. He, too, with the assistance of Mrs. Linnell, had directed the education of their children in the rudiments of learning, and had been the inspirer of their later self-education, which it is not surprising if he considered the best. Indeed, he looked upon the home as the true school, and in a large degree he was doubtless right. The fact is, the artist was losing more and more his touch with the everyday world. His thoughts were on other things. The life to come seemed more real to him than the physical life about him, and he was contemplating that, and meditating upon it, with the tranquillity of one who has long been perfectly assured of its imminence and reality. Indeed, the last few years of his life were characterized by a perfect Christian calm, untroubled by doubts, and free from worldly ambitions or cares. He had for years been accustomed to turn to his Biblical studies for rest, and for the purpose of escaping from the minor worries of life. While thus occupied he was as it were translated, an enfranchised being. Truly has it been said by a writer who had met the subject of whom he was writing:
'A man like this, who can feel in the life around him an inner depth for which the generality have no eyes, may well observe that men choose to live in a dusthole when they might have the best room in the house. With him, as, indeed, with every true seer, artistic or otherwise, "everything," to use his own words, "is duplicated and full of more meaning than itself." The "Open thou mine eyes, that I may see," with him refers not only to prophetic vision, but to deep sight artistic.'
That this inner vision of Linnell's had something of real depth in it may be gathered from one bit of criticism which was the outcome of his study of the Psalms, which now became his favourite relaxation. In Psalm civ. occur the words:
'O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works!
In wisdom thou hast made them all;
The earth is full of thy riches
So is this sea, great and wide in its shores,
Wherein are things creeping without number,
Living creatures both small and great.
There go the ships, there is that Leviathan
Whom thou hast made to take his pastime therein.
These all wait upon thee,
That thou mayest give them their food in due season.'
Most thoughtful readers of the Bible have noticed the incongruity of the ship occurring amongst the creatures that God had made, and to which he gives their 'food in due season.' The commentators and Biblical critics have, of course, called attention to the difficulties of the passage, albeit without showing us any way out of them. It is all the more interesting, therefore, to see how a man of Linnell's imaginative insight would solve the enigma. For 'ship' in the ordinary sense he reads 'nautilus,' the little 'Portuguese man-of-war,' as it is called by seamen, the ship of the Almighty's own making.
The point is not one of great vital moment, like some of those questions to which Linnell had formerly given so much attention, and many persons perhaps may not see any particular interest in it beyond a happy suggestion. But it is just in this gift of suggestiveness that the critical intellect, coupled with spiritual perception, is so potent in solving difficulties, and in harmonizing the various parts with the whole. And how happy in this case is the result! The picture presented by the magnificent passage is now complete. We behold the fruitful earth and the wondrously peopled sea; the latter with its great whales and the tiny and delicate nautili in their shells of iridescent hue, all the work of his hand, all needing 'their food in due season.'
Such was the way in which Linnell approached the great Book, which he took so literally, and by which he had endeavoured so sincerely to shape his life.
For the Psalms in especial he had ever had the greatest love and admiration, and it was now his delight to compare the Authorized Version with the original, and to make such emendations as he thought were necessary for a more perfect rendering. He had some idea of having the Psalms published as thus edited or emended by himself, but he did not live to complete the work. Some of his suggested alterations or corrections were very happy, and showed that the critical acumen and the clear perceptions which had guided him in his earlier and more important studies of the Hebrew text had not yet lost their brightness and vigour.
How strong and clear his perceptions continued to be, long after attaining the age of threescore years and ten, is evidenced by a letter dated November 3, 1867, written to his nephew, Mr. Chance, on a subject which was always uppermost in his mind. It is as follows:
My Dear Chance,
I have read the report of the discussion with much interest, and from the circumstances you mentioned respecting his history, I guess he must have been as industrious as Dr. Lee, the carpenter who became the Professor of Hebrew, etc., at the University of Cambridge. Mr. Booth has, it seems to me, much light and much honesty, which I expect will lead him into more truth. I care not for the question between Prayerbook and Missal, or Ritualism, as the Prayerbook Protestantism is, in my opinion, only Romanism or Popery diluted. The mother-tincture is at Rome, and the dilutions are in England. For us, however, if we thirst for it, there is the pure river of the water of life, and the unadulterated Word, if we are disposed to prefer it to poisoned streams.
I wish you would get a tract by Catesby Paget called, "Can Ritualism cast out Ritualism ? A Letter to Earl Shaftesbury" (London: Marlborough and Co., Ave Maria Lane). Give the tract to Mr. Booth from me, and I will pay you for it.
I am sorry for the Appendix to Mr. Booth's report, as it seems to me to partake of the equivocation so common with Popery, and somewhat reduces my estimate of Mr. Booth's sincerity. But what is a man to do who has error to defend? It was so even with the inspired Apostles. See Gal. ii. 12, 13, where Paul relates how Peter dissembled, and Barnabas was led away with the hypocrisy of Peter and the Jews. Now, what can a man do who has the Prayerbook to defend? He must equivocate and dissemble. How can he honestly defend infant-sprinkling, falsely called baptism, and the pretended regeneration, should he be connected with it, and the sponsors, etc.?
And then the priesthood, which alone condemns the whole system. Why, priesthood is a denial that Christ has come in the flesh, and so is really Antichrist. Bishops, I know, and others, impose upon the ignorant by telling them a falsehood, viz., that presbyter and priest are the same in the New Testament. (See the Bishop of London's Charge to his clergy.) Then the whole ceremonial, according to the Prayerbook, is ritualistic and popish — only a pot-and-kettle question of degree; the vestments and the titles usurp the glory of God; even the common title of reverend, assumed by Mr. Booth, is robbing God, to whom alone it belongs (Ps. cxi. 9). I exhort Mr. Booth to lay down this presumptuous sin, as Mr. Spurgeon has publicly done.
From all this a Christian should separate at any cost. And that that cost may not be a hindrance I recommend Mr. Booth to stick to his bench still, and do as the Thessalonians were exhorted to do by the Apostle. See 2 Thess. iii.
J. L., SEN.
P.S. — If Mr. Booth comes to Redhill I shall be glad to see him, or if you like to bring him some day to tea, at four or five o'clock, do so.
The following letters to Count Guicciardini present a striking contrast to the above:
Redhill, England, October 12, 1868.
My Dear Friend Count Guicciardini,
Will you be kind enough to remember me as a dependent upon your kind assistance to procure some more of the Priorata wine, which I hope this year's vintage will produce in abundance and perfection? As soon as this year's wine is fit to move, I shall be glad to have 100 gallons either in two casks or four, as the last. I venture to ask this favour of you again, as I fear to attempt to alter the channel of application to the merchant or grower of the wine, and as I can only write English I fear I should not be successful. I hope the happy events in Spain will tend to facilitate business rather than otherwise.
The book you gave me about the doings of Christian Brethren in Italy I got translated, but I have lost both book and translation. I beseech you to give me another copy. I always speak of the Brethren in Italy as the best examples of Christians in Europe. I trust they progress and increase.
I am, yours truly,
John Linnell, Sen.
October 28, 1868.
My Dear Kind Friend Count Guicciardini
Thanks for your friendly note with offer to obtain the best wine for me. It is very desirable to procure the true and pure in all things in food and drink, as well as knowledge. There is a mental satisfaction in drinking good genuine pure wine; one feels there must have been veracity and conscientiousness in the minds of all concerned in the making the wine, and one feels grateful not only to God, but to man, and the mental satisfaction is as beneficial as the wine.
My only reason for choosing this year's vintage was that I supposed the season to be the best which had occurred for years on account of the great heat, which I always thought produced the richest wine; but if you think there is better Priorata wine in store than this year's vintage will turn out, I leave it to you to procure me the very best, and what will keep.
If the price of about a franc the bottle applies to the white pale Marsala, my son will be glad to have a quarter cask (24 gallons) of that, and one cask of the red Sicilian, called Vittoria, which you intimate will keep by saying it is good when old. The Priorata has reached me viâ Liverpool by rail, and I have paid the duty and expenses to the Liverpool. firm of Bahr, Behrend and Co. This plan suits me best, as I have not to employ any agent in London to clear the wine at the docks, etc. Now, if the Marsala can be sent by the same route, I shall prefer it much. I am told there is an article in Marsala that never finds its way to England, but is much superior to that which is usually sent; they say it is much paler. If there is any superior Marsala, I should be glad to have some; that which I had before from Florio was only the usual sort, and no better or cheaper than I can get in London. You may order 100 gallons of the best Priorata in two or more casks, as may be most convenient; and if this year's vintage makes very superior wine, I can wait till next year to receive it. I do not want to pay for age, as I can wait and keep the wine till it is old; all I want is best quality, and such as will keep. Payment shall be made as you direct, and when you please.
I am, yours truly,
John Linnell, Sen.
In 1869 occurred a correspondence with a gentleman in Manchester, apparently a dealer in a small way, who sent the artist a picture which he called an early work of his, with a request that he would do something to it. He wrote:
'I think it would be of greater interest if you painted a few sheep in, and worked on the picture a little — I know not what else to suggest.'
On the receipt of the picture and the letter Linnell wrote:
May 21, 1869.
Had I not had previous business transactions with you, I should have required the usual verification fee, and a guarantee against being called to give evidence on the point of originality of the picture. All, however, I require now, before I say aught of the work, is that you give me an assurance that I shall not be called upon except to give a written opinion of the work you have sent me. If I am expected to say what I wish upon the work, I think I may claim from you some account of where it came from, from whom you had it, and how much you gave for it, if it is your property, and if not, to whom it really belongs. As soon as I receive from you a satisfactory reply, I will write all that is requisite.
— , Esq., Manchester.am, yours truly,
John Linnell, Sen.
In reply, the gentleman wrote that he had bought the picture at Huddersfield, and had paid under £20 for it. He also said:
'Had there been a doubt about its genuineness I would have sent the fee. (I can do so now if you desire.) The foreground is so transparent, you may see pencil-drawing previous to painting and the impasto. What little there is, is Linnell all over . . .
'I've had great experience in pictures, ancient and modern, and am known to understand them. I've no desire to do anything unfair or shabby. I thought a few sheep or geese would improve the picture, and perhaps the tree on left-hand side of picture worked up a little.'
To this letter Linnell replied under date, May 24, 1869, as follows:
I fear from the confidence you speak with of your experience, etc., you will scarcely believe my account of the picture you sent to me the other day. But I beg to say that I never saw it before. Of its merits I forbear to say aught but that I do not feel flattered by your admiration and assertion that it is "Linnell all over." Indeed, I think it would soon be "all over" with Linnell if your account of the matter were right. Now, I suppose, after this from me, you will not either part with the picture or keep it with a forged signature on it. Will you allow me, before I return the picture, to erase the forgery, and so have the evidence that it does not leave my room with a falsehood as if I had sanctioned it?
I shall require nothing more, but that you will believe me to be,
John Linnell, Sen.
The desired permission to erase the forged signature was not given, and the picture was finally returned, followed by the annexed letter:
Redhill, Surrey, May 26, 1869.
I have sent the picture as you require with the false signature on it, just as it came to me, and beg to say that whoever now sells the picture with that name on it will be liable to prosecution for forgery, as Mr. Clöss was, who was sent to Newgate for the same thing in 1857.
I am, yours faithfully,
John Linnell, Sen.
P.S. — I hope you will let me know if the name has been erased, for it will be highly disgraceful if the person who keeps the picture does not erase the name after my declaration of its falsehood.
In regard to the man Clöss above referred to, there appears at one time, when the demand for the artist's pictures was at its height, to have been a systematic manufacture of spurious 'Linnells,' and from time to time he was called upon to decide as to the genuineness of pictures said to be by him. There was never any difficulty, however, in detecting the counterfeits, the imitation always being crude, and of the shallowest surface quality. Clöss was one of the spurious manufacturers, and was prosecuted for passing off a copy with a forged signature.
A curious point of law turned up on this occasion. although it was proved beyond question that the culprit had signed Linnell's name to his own work, yet technically he could not be convicted of forgery, because the signature was upon canvas, and not upon paper or parchment, as by law it should be to become a felonious act. Clöss in consequence got off with a nominal sentence.
Last modified 26 March 2002 [MB]