Ford Madox Brown, acute with certain angularities, as he presented himself, was esteemed most by those who knew him best. He had often had differences with others, which sometimes ended in quarrels, but he was one of those dear and highly endowed fellows from whom, early in intimacy, it was easy to determine never to take offence, though I could not shut my eyes to his curious crotchets. About this date Mr. and Mrs. Combe, with whom I had spoken warmly of him as one they ought to know, and who, I felt sure, were disposed to'appreciate him, came to town quite suddenly, as was their wont, and asked me to go out with them for the day. I took them to his house, and was sorry to find he was not at home. As I was speaking with the servant, his daughter Lucy came to us, and on introducing my friends, I said I had been anxious to show her father's works. At which Miss Madox Brown assured me we might all venture upstairs, and that she would show the paintings. The principal picture was "Work." They greatly admired its execution, but it was not, I knew, of a kind they would wish to possess. The other paintings helped to increase their interest in the painter; but afterwards I received the following letter from Brown:—

And as I have never derived anything but disgust (except in the case of personal friends) from artistic meetings, I mean to keep at home and never talk of art or show my pictures except to those who I know come to buy. I am obliged to tell you this, because I have now made a strict rule in the house, that no one is ever allowed in my studio while I am out—which, were it not explained to you as part of a general plan, might on some future occasion take you by surprise or appear unfriendly.


Rev. F. D. Maurice and Thomas Carlyle from Ford Madox Brown's Work. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

The soreness that he thus revealed was a great bar to the possibility of making my friends of service to him. We have already seen to what lengths of generosity in the recognition of a competitor's merits Brown could go; it is not unfair now to his dear memory to show how, under stress of continued rebuff, he could allow himself to express mistrust and suspicion at acts which could only have been directed by kindness on the part of his friend. I had proposed that he should allow me to offer him as a candidate for the Cosmopolitan Club, but this also failed. The following story serves as an example how the gentlest and kindest of men can be soured by continued ill-treatment, neglect, and misunderstanding. One evening I met him at Patmore's, and in walking home from Finchley, I made inquiries about the progress of his protracted picture "Work." He thereupon told me that he was wanting the two intellectual workers contemplating their brothers labouring with bodily strength to be Rev. F. D. Maurice and Thomas Carlyle, but that he found the latter difficult to obtain as a sitter. Whereupon I said that perhaps I might help him, because Carlyle had promised that he would give me the opportunity to paint his portrait, and the sittings were to be given when first I was free, and that under this obliging bond I might ask the Philosopher to sit to Brown in the interim. A few days afterwards I received the following letter:—

May 1, 1859.

MY DEAR HUNT—The evening at Patmore's when you mentioned the fact of your having obtained a promise from Carlyle not to sit for his portrait to any one else than you, and at the same time offered to speak to him on my behalf, I was taken so completely by surprise that I made an immediate resolve not to say a word on the subject till I had time to revolve the matter in my mind and make sure of the circumstances. I must now beg as a favour that you will not mention my name on the subject to him. I should have doubts of the success of your mediation; and indeed, from the step you have taken, you must be aware that the chances of my ever getting him to sit for the portrait of him in my large picture are now smaller than ever (if only from the mere disgust of being so frequently requested as a subject for an art he despises), and such as they are can possibly be bettered by their being worked against yours and not possibly in unison with. Remains, of course, to you the right of pushing vour interests in the matter how and when you like. However, I must pay you the compliment to tell you frankly (and only in the case of such an old friend as you could I take direct notice of such a thing), that your practice has been a leetle too sharp in this case considering the stake I had in the matter.—Believe me ever, yours most sincerely,

The fact of Brown's continuing difficulty was that when Carlyle saw the preparatory sketch of his face on the canvas, he was not nattered, and had no desire to help the artist with the grimacing distortion of his features, which gave Brown his fond opportunity of representing a gap in the upper row of teeth, a defect which I must say I never detected in the philosopher, even when haranguing most vehemently. I can only believe that. Brown must actually for the time have persuaded himself that, instead of my having Carlyle's promise before I went to the East two or more years ago, I had gone to Carlyle after he had revealed his wish to introduce him into his picture. [I, 155-57]

Related Material


Hunt, William Holman. Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1905.

Biographical materials

Last modified 25 October 2012