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.
Friendships — Rev. E. T. Daniel — 'St. John the Baptist Preaching' — Turner — ' Noon' — Callcott — Lady Callcott — William Collins — 'Sabbath-breaking' — Opinion of Collins's Art — Constable — Ceases Membership of Keppel Street.
MONG the many notable and famous men whom Linnell at this time counted in the number of his friends, one of the most influential was the Rev. E.T. Daniel, already mentioned, who was the curate of St. Martin's, North Audley Street. This gentleman, although not specially rich, was one of the best known patrons and encouragers of art of his time. Himself an amateur, of no mean ability, and a pupil of Girtin's, he was one of the first to recognise talent in others, and to stimulate them by his countenance and support. His house in Park Lane was a treasure-house of art, and comprised works by some of the best painters of the day, including several of Linnells, and not a few by Turner, Callcott, Creswick, and others.
Linnell's acquaintance with Daniel had begun while the latter was still at Oxford, he having written thence to him respecting some of Blake's works, which he wanted to bring to the notice of a local publisher, as well as to interest some of the Dons in them; but he was only able to record a failure in both respects.
Subsequently, after a residence of several years in Norfolk, Daniel settled in London, and became one of our artist's best friends. It was now Daniel's delight to entertain men of genius, especially painters; and many were the celebrities who met for the first time at his board, where Linnell was a frequent and honoured guest.
Mr. Daniel had ever the highest esteem for him, and was one of the first among the patrons of art to recognise his great powers. He it was who induced the artist to finish his 'St. John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness,' the first sketch of which, begun in 1818, hung for many years on the wall of his studio. Struck by its great conceptive and executive power, he offered, as already stated, to purchase it himself, if, when completed, another buyer were not forthcoming.
The picture represents a wooded vale between high hills; St. John is in the foreground, with his back to the spectator, preaching with uplifted hands to the multitude around him. The canvas measures 38 by 53 inches, and is dated 1828-33. It was not, however, until 1839 that it was exhibited for the second time in the British Institution with the title 'St. John Preaching.' It was then the means of bringing the painter a certain amount of fame, on account of the many fine qualities it displayed.
It was at Mr. Daniel's that Linnell first met Turner, whose portrait he afterwards painted from memory. It is one of the few likenesses we have of the great landscape-painter, and possesses, therefore, a certain value; but, while reproducing truthfully the lineaments of the subject, it is somewhat lacking in individuality, and Linnell himself did not rate it very highly as a portrait. It was executed in 1838, and sold for 150 guineas, subsequently selling at Christie's for 74 guineas. Turner had previously been asked to sit to the artist, but had refused, as he invariably did all such applications.
Probably Mr. Daniel himself proffered the request, he being on very good terms with Turner, and greatly esteemed by him. The artist's daughter Elizabeth remembers Turner calling at her father's studio at Bayswater to see Mr. Daniel's portrait, then in progress, and commending it for its life-like qualities. A small etching of this portrait was subsequently executed as a frontispiece to a life of Mr. Daniel.
Mr. Daniel not unfrequently went out of his way to do Linnell a good turn. One instance in which he did so is worth recording. In 1840 the artist sent to the Academy his picture entitled 'Noon' (29 by 38 inches), which was rejected. It is one of the best works he ever did in the Italian style, of which it is a notable example. It is peculiar for its freshness and purity of colour, having been painted in tempera first and finished in oil, according to the method practised by the early Italian painters, such as Perugino and others of the pre-Raphaelite age.
The landscape, which was painted from a sketch made years before in the Isle of Wight, presents the interior of a wood, through which a brook is flowing, with a flock of sheep scattered about among the trees, and the shepherd sitting at the foot of an old gnarled trunk. In the distance, through the overhanging foliage, we get a glimpse of the sea. The picture is inscribed:
'Where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon.' — Song of Solomon, i. 7.
Mr. Daniel was indignant when, calling upon his friend, he found the picture in his studio, whither it had been brought after having been turned out, and before the exhibition was opened.
'Send it to my house,' said Mr. Daniel. 'I am expecting several Academicians to dine with me to-night. I will hang it over my mantelpiece, and we will hear what they have to say about it. None of the hangers will be present, and so they will not know that it has been rejected.'
He did as he said, hanging the picture conspicuously over his chimneypiece, where it soon attracted the attention of his guests, amongst whom were Turner and Eastlake. All admired it, especially the latter, who took great delight in the early Italian school.
Then Daniel quietly turned upon them, and said:
'You are a pretty set of men to pretend to stand up for high art and to proclaim the Academy the fosterer of artistic talent, and yet allow such a picture to be rejected!'
All averred that there must have been some mistake on the part of the hangers. But, as a matter of fact, the rejection was not made by an oversight, for the two Academicians chiefly responsible that year for the hanging, Uwins and Lee, afterwards justified their action, saying Linnell's did not go well with the other pictures: which might possibly be the case.
It was such occurrences as these that sometimes made our artist, not exactly complain, for he never did that, but think that selection did not always go by merit.
After Linnell's death this picture was borrowed from Mr. David Jardine for the Old Masters Exhibition of 1883, when, it is said, Sir Frederick Leighton greatly admired it, as did also other Academicians.
Linnell met many other men of note at these gatherings at Mr. Daniel's house. Amongst others may be named Sir A. W. Callcott, R.A., Thomas Creswick, R.A., William Collins, R.A., Abraham Cooper, David Roberts, R.A., J. C. Horsley, etc.
Some of them were near neighbours. Callcott lived at the Kensington Gravel Pits, and, like the Collinses, was on very intimate terms with Linnell and his family, as a number of letters from him and Lady Callcott indicate. The greater number of the letters are by Lady Callcott, who was a woman of high character and attainments, as well as of great originality. She was the daughter of Rear-Admiral Dundas, and prior to marrying Mr. Callcott was the wife of Captain Graham, R.N., with whom she had travelled much, and so improved a vigorous and inquiring mind. She had previously published some interesting works, such as an account of her 'Travels in India,' her 'Three Months in the Environs of Rome,' and her 'History of Spain'; but her most popular and best-written work was 'Little Arthur's History of England,' of which many hundreds of thousands have been printed and sold.
Lady Callcott was a great and original talker, and her drawing-room was the focus of a good deal of animated intellectual life. Linnell was a frequent visitor, and was always greatly interested in the people he met and the conversation he heard there. He used to describe the famous blue-stocking as being oftentimes not less striking in her remarks than in her dress. On one occasion, the conversation turning upon the terms in use for women, as female, etc., she surprised the company by remarking with quiet emphasis : 'As for me, I would rather be called a bitch than a female.'
Several of the letters refer to the portrait which the artist painted of Lady Callcott's brother-in-law, Dr. Warren. None of them are dated, but as the portrait of Dr. Warren was painted in 1837, that fact supplies an approximate date for the letters. One or two of the others evidently belong to a later date.
MY DEAR SIR,
If you will come and meet Dr. Warren here and paint him, he will sit. I have taken upon me to say you will. He comes to me on Saturdays always, as near to four o'clock as he can. And as he has no other time to spare, I have agreed that he shall sit for his picture and visit me at the same time. Now, I think that is being generous, for I receive no visit I like half so well as his, and therefore dividing it with anybody I consider as very kind, especially to his sister, for whom the portrait is to be.
You perceive that I presume my brother's morning portrait is not to prevent us an afternoon sitting. If you have anything to say about it, pray call any afternoon. Dr. Warren's is a head full of character.
MY DEAR SIR,
My brother called yesterday, and says if he is alive he will be here by a little after eleven on Saturday for the purpose of your beginning the operation of taking off his head. You can send your materials, and I will have an easel got ready.
Yours very truly,
MY DEAR SIR,
Dr. Warren is still very ill, and in the country. I expect to hear from his daughter in a day or two. Take great care of the picture. Would you do me the favour to make me a small copy of just the head for myself, as like as you can, and as soon as you can? I will not quarrel about price.
Lady Callcott has just received a note from Miss Fox to say that, as she could not trust her feelings to see you herself on the subject of the drawing of Lord Holland, she would be pleased if Lady Callcott would settle with you for it for her. She says the report Lady Mary made to her of the success of the sketch was most gratifying. In making this request to Lady Callcott, Miss Fox evidently supposes we are acquainted with the price you have for such things. She has told her in reply that this is not the case, but that we will send to you to know the amount, and give her your reply.
We should both be much gratified if you could oblige us with a sight of the drawing before it goes to her.
Yours very truly,
A. W. CALLCOTT.
MY DEAR SIR,
Mr. Mackintosh, the son of the late Sir James Mackintosh, called here to-day to inquire if we could recommend him to an engraver who would execute a small commission. He is publishing two octavo volumes of memoirs and papers of his father. For the first volume they have a portrait from Lawrence's picture, engraved under the inspection of Goodall, and they now wish to have for the second volume an engraving after a bust which they think still more like their father in his latter days. This bust Mr. Mackintosh would bring from Clapham to the house of whatever artist would engrave from it. I have told him nobody will preserve the likeness, or do the thing altogether so well as you, but that this is a very busy season, and the time he can allow that is, until the last of March — very short. He seems inclined to trust to the artist's taste entirely, as to the slightness and kind of work, as he seems to know little as to the kind of engraving himself. The size is ordinary octavo, therefore the plate will be small, and I thought, short as the time is, you might manage it.
Can you let me hear from you so as I might write to him by the mid-day post to-morrow? If you had rather talk than write about it, I can see you in my dressing-gown any time after twelve to-morrow.
I am, dear sir,
MY DEAR SIR,
am more than pleased with the drawing you have sent, and I shall put into your care the print from Pietro Perugino. I wish to have the group of sibyls only copied, the rest not belonging to my subject. You must let me know what I am indebted to the young artist. I am not surprised to hear that you are suffering from cold; this weather is trying to everybody. I feel it very much; but we must all learn to bear it patiently. With compliments to Mrs. Linnell, believe me to remain,
William Collins left Hampstead very soon after Linnell, and took a house close to him in Porchester Terrace. His attachment to our artist appears to have been very sincere, albeit he seems at times to have had some scruples about associating with a man who was not only a Dissenter, but a 'Sabbath. breaker,' he himself favouring the Puseyite form of faith — a form which Linnell satirized in many a stinging line, as in the following:
'The monster lie exists at Rome,
Diluted it is seen at home —
Priesthood set up, the Antichrist foretold,
Taking the place of Him who from of old
Was true High Priest, who coming did fulfil
All priestly types, and of his own free will
The sacrifice became for all, even the least,
And therefore no longer sacrifice, no longer priest.'
Collins called Linnell a Sabbath-breaker because he did not believe in our English Sunday. The fact is, Linnell's study of the Bible had led him to the conclusion that the observance of Sunday as the Sabbath was founded upon an erroneous understanding of the Scriptures, and, in accordance with his usual method, he did not allow himself to be bound by a religious ordinance that was without Divine authority. Of his arguments in support of his contention more will have to be said anon. Suffice it here to state that while he avoided giving unnecessary offence to those who differed from him on this point, he did not refrain from doing work on that day if he thought fit. Hence his neighbour's qualms.
One Sunday, in the warm spring weather, Collins happened to see Linnell piously nailing his peach and nectarine trees against his northern wall, and was greatly shocked. Not long after, when Dr. Liefchild, a famous Congregational preacher of those days, was one day sitting for his portrait, Linnell sent for Collins, thinking he would like to know the gentleman. Collins was pleased to have the introduction but during the conversation which ensued he took occasion to denounce his brother-artist as a Sabbath-breaker. To his surprise, Liefchild, though he held to a strict observance of the Sabbath, recognised Linnell's conscientious objections, and refrained from pronouncing the condemnation Collins had doubtless looked for.
On another occasion Collins gave currency to a report that Linnell had refused to pay one of his workmen, and wanted to cheat him out of his wages. The calumny had reference to a man named Hobbs, whom the artist employed most of his time in the garden, or doing other work about the place. In consequence of his wife having on several occasions asked for and obtained his wages, and then spent a large portion of the money in drink, Linnell refused to give the money to her any more. She therefore went and maliciously told the Collinses that he would not pay her husband's wages, and Collins told the story to others. When our artist heard what was being said, he took Hobbs to Collins, and asked him to say in the latter's presence if he had ever refused to pay him his wages.
'No; you always paid me straight, like a gentleman,' Hobbs replied.
'Now, Mr. Collins' said Linnell, 'I hope you will acknowledge your error in circulating such an accusation without first ascertaining the truth of it.'
'Of what consequence is it,' Collins replied, 'whether you cheated a man out of his wages or not, when you are constantly doing things ten times worse?'
'I suppose that is a hit at me for nailing up my nectarines on a Sunday afternoon,' said Linnell.
Collins acknowledged that it was, and said that a man who would break the Sabbath would do any other bad thing.
The worthy Academician though an amiable, was in many respects rather a weak-minded, man. He appeared always to be oppressed by the twin bugbears propriety and respectability, and found it difficult to forgive anyone who failed in his respect to them.
Everyone has read the story of his meeting Blake in the Strand with a pot of porter in his hand, and passing him without recognition. When he became an R.A., he felt that he greatly overtopped all who had not attained to that dignity, and could not, therefore, legitimately write themselves down 'Esquire,' as the King (to use his own words) had given him the title to do.
In this Collins reminds one of Uwins, who, when Linnell called on him about the rejection of his picture 'Noon,' pointed to his Academy diploma, gorgeously framed and glazed, over his chimney-piece, as though it were a patent of infallibility.
These appear puerile matters; but they are, nevertheless, the sort of stuff of which our life is largely composed. Nor are such weaknesses without their kindly side. If men were equally strong all round, they might, perhaps, be less amiable; and that Collins was of a good-natured and neighbourly disposition, notwithstanding some narrowness, is proved by the fact that the friendship betwixt him and Linnell never suffered any serious interruption, and that he was frank, and even generous, in his acknowledgment of Linnell's many kindnesses to him.
The following letters show the kindly relations subsisting between the two families. The first is dated from Hampstead, and the second, although undated, evidently belongs to the period of the writer's and Linnell's residence at Hampstead, because Blake, to whom it has reference died whilst they were there.
Hampstead, Thursday morning.
I lose no time in writing to assure you that nothing but the distance and a very severe illness which I had soon after my return from Holland have prevented my calling upon you at Bayswater. No longer ago than last night I heard (as I have frequently done before) from Mulready that you were going on well.
With respect to your relative, I recollect giving him a letter to the National Gallery in his real name, but I had nothing to do with his admission to the Academy; but I will inquire about him when I go there again, and will let you know the result when I have the pleasure of seeing you, which I sincerely hope I shall be able to accomplish as soon as a cold which I am now nursing will allow me.
Mrs. Collins wishes very much to call upon Mrs. Linnell, and it is not impossible that we may visit you together. She and the children are, thank God, very well, but my mother is still in a melancholy way.
With our kindest regards to Mrs. Linnell, yourself, and family,
Most faithfully yours,
Monday morning, 11, New Cavendish Street.
If Mr. Blake will send a receipt to Mr. Smirke, junior, Stratford Place, he will be paid. It is not necessary that Mr. B. should make a formal application.
Let me know the result.
The next letter probably belongs to the same or a little later period:
Will it suit your convenience to go with me on Saturday next at half-past one to see the collection of German pictures in Euston Square?
I have written to Mulready to request he will call here at the hour above mentioned.
Fortunately the two following interesting letters, written from North Wales, are dated:
Llanberis, N. W., August 11, 1834.
I have just received yours containing the halves of a £10 and £5 note. At your earliest convenience send me the remainder by the same mode of conveyance, with any other letters which may have been received since. When you happen to go into the City — pray do not go on purpose
Be kind enough to call upon Mr. Searle at Messrs. George Wildes and Searle (19, I think), Coleman Street, and show him the annexed letter, as well as this part of mine, as your authority to receive the amount there mentioned, which keep for me until my return. Do not leave Mr. Lee's letter with him unless he insists upon it, as I wish to keep it. As yet I do not feel much benefited by my journey my spirits still flag much; but all is for the best, as I feel greatly humbled.
With regards to Mrs. Linnell and all friends,
How are the Richmonds?
I thank you for your offer of touching upon the picture by Finden, and accept it. Let me know what is the subject of it.
Mrs. Collins desires the remainder of this scrap, so farewell. When you see Wilkie, tell him I wish much to know how he is, and give him my regards. I hope to find time to write to him soon.
I thank you, my dear friend, for your kind note, and the information it contains. I wish you could see our present place of residence surrounded by such mountains and rocks; but I have not lost my cat-like propensity of loving home. There are troubles and difficulties everywhere. Lucy has been very ill since we have been here, and no servant is kept by our landlady, who has a young child and a shop to mind. I leave you to judge of the attendance under these circumstances.
It is quite a foreign country; no one understands us, nor can we comprehend their jargon. Milk is scarce eggs the same; bread very doubtful to get, unless you send seven miles to Carnarvon. Meat only to be had there. Lean ducks and chickens brought alive for us to get killed and picked; no fruit; good potatoes — no other vegetable. The scenery is truly grand, but of the wild, savage kind. Mr. Collins went to the top of Snowdon Friday with the Bells, who came here on their way home. We have the only lodging in the place; but there are two good inns.
I think I am nearly the same as usual in health. Willy quite well ; Charlie thinner, and has been poorly, but is again picking up. I have never heard from my sister. I think the letter she talked of writing must be lost. Perhaps Anny would write for me a few lines to her to say that I fear she has written, and the letter miscarried, and that if she sends to you it will be forwarded.
How shall we ever make you amends for all you have done and are doing for us?
We shall proceed on our travels on Saturday; but Mr. Bransby will still be our agent. We are going through Beddgelert, Dolgelly, etc., to Barmouth, where I hope we shall be stationary.
Farewell. Love to Anny, Lizzie, etc., and believe me,
Most affectionately yours,
Beddgelert, North Wales, August 18, 1834.
I have this morning seen a gentleman from Birmingham, who seems to think the present season most favourable for their exhibition, as the great music meeting and other local attractions will draw much company to the town. This circumstance and his request that I should send them a picture, has brought to my recollection what you advised in one of your recent letters, and I have decided upon sending the " Haunts of the Seafowl." You were good enough to offer your services should I feel disposed to send them anything, and I beg to accept them. I hope, too, you will embrace the favourable opportunity, and let them have a picture or two of your own.
The picture has been carefully hung up, and if you can spare time, perhaps you will be present when it is taken down, and, as it is very heavy, give a caution to those who undertake to pack it for Birmingham. I have this evening written to the secretary, Mr. Wyatt, but it will be proper that you should send a letter describing the picture as above, and stating that it is for sale at the price of three hundred guineas, including the frame.
We are all pretty well, and delighting in the scenery of this neighbourhood, and purpose going on to Barmouth in a few days. Carnarvon, as before, will be the best address, as Mr. Bransby will forward all communications. I had hoped to receive the other halves of the notes this morning; I trust, however, soon to get them.
Harriet unites with me in kindest remembrances to Mrs. Linnell and the family, as well as to all friends.
Very faithfully yours,
Did you receive a letter containing an order on Mr. Searle, of the house of George Wildes and Searle, 19, Coleman Street, for £9 odd?
Soon after the date of the last letter — that is, in 1835 — Mr. Alaric A. Watts wrote to John Linnell, asking if he could help him 'with a few anecdotes of our excellent friend W. Collins, to relieve the baldness of mere dates' in an article he was writing about the Royal Academy to accompany a print of his picture of 'The Gate,' and suggesting that a little criticism and description of some of his pictures would be acceptable. In reply Linnell wrote as follows:
I am sorry that I find it difficult to remember anything respecting our friend Collins which would be useful to you, especially when I confine myself within the limits consistent with my intimacy with him. I think it best, therefore, to mention only those facts which his modesty and goodness would prevent your obtaining from himself, such, for instance, as his supporting his mother entirely to the day of her death, and partly his brother. His father, who dealt in pictures, kept a small shop in Great Portland Street, and died, without leaving any property, when Collins was not more, I believe, than about twenty years of age. But he improved so rapidly as soon to be enabled to take a house in New Cavendish Street, where some of his best pictures were painted — "The Sale of Fish by Dropping a Stone" was one, I remember. From there he removed to Hampstead, where he painted his "Frost Piece," and companion, for Sir Robert Peel. His early success, however, was in a great measure owing to his patronage by Lord Liverpool.
Collins's painting-room at Cavendish Street was an interesting atelier; and was made by simply inserting a skylight into the roof of the attic floor and removing some partitions. The Sloping ceiling, with the screens covered with beautiful sketches on mill-board without frames, and arranged on for the purposes of study, the lay figure draped, etc., with a fireplace like that of an alchemist, small and convenient for experiments, some of which were generally going on for perfecting varnishes and oils, altogether made a most picturesque retreat, which was visited by many great personages, who were sometimes candid enough to confess there was a charm about a place arranged for the purposes of art which surpassed all the splendours of their impracticable saloons. There was a kind of monastic seclusion and security about this nest of art which at once delighted and humbled the mind of the visitor, producing a love of art without ostentation.
Of Collins's style and painting in general, it may be said that, though there may be some artists who are more intensely admired by a few, there is no one who has more admirers, and few so many.
A characteristic anecdote relating to the intimacy existing between the two families is told by the sons of the painter. Young Wilkie Collins, who was their playmate at Bayswater, was one day in the garden with them, when they happened to draw upon themselves the wrath of their father. Said young Wilkie when the passing storm was over:
'I should not like your father to be mine. Your father is a bull ; mine is a cow.' Not a bad bit of characterization for one who was afterwards to become a famous novelist.
Constable was even less tolerant of Linnell's dissent than Collins. He used to say that all Dissenters had heads no better than shoemakers, to which Linnell retorted that Constable's own head was like a shoemaker's, being long and flat. This hostility on the part of Constable, and the action he took in regard to our artist's candidature for the associateship of the Academy, tended to convince the latter that his unpopular opinions had much to do with his being refused the honour of membership.
Some may regard these stories as not worth repeating. They seem altogether unimportant; but when it is considered how much the history of the world, and of individuals, is made up of such trifles, they can no longer be regarded as unimportant. Society builds up its men, like Nebuchadnezzar's image, partly of brass and partly of clay; even its greatest men cannot be spared these feet of the baser material. Why, then, should we try to hide them, or pass them over as minor and not-to-be-considered blots on the perfect image? When Collins was weak enough to threaten his friend and neighbour with prosecution (as he did) for not attending church, he was acting in accordance with the ecclesiastical spirit of his time; and had he done as he said, the proceeding to many would not have appeared very unreasonable or illiberal. But how would it look now? It is only by getting a little perspective that we are enabled to see how small and paltry things are that, when near, have a tendency to look very different.
It should be said that Linnell had as early as 1828 ceased to attend the Baptist church in Keppel Street, preferring to remain at home with his wife and children, and worship God in his own way. He still remained true to the chief tenets of the Baptist faith, however, although on some lesser points he had come to differ from them. Holding that religion was of the heart and mind, and not a matter of formal worship and display, he considered that the mere frequenting of a place of worship was a minor matter. Hence when he was a member of the Keppel Street body, he was by no means a regular attendant at the services. This 'laxity' did not please the other members of the church, and after one warning and remonstrance, without effect, his name was struck from the roll.
Last modified 1 December 2001