« PredošláPokračovať »
à good likeness of the features of the poet ; 'but, in my opinion,' he continued, 'no painter living could take it, none being able to give that expressive flash of the eye that Burns possessed.' He never witnessed such an eye."
The letter concludes with :
“I have often told you of the extraordinary meeting of myself with Burns’s ‘young friend' Andrew Aitkin, and Mr. Nasmyth, the writer having been introduced to Mr. Aitkin by Dr. Gairdner (son-in-law of Mr. Tennant already mentioned) on board the steam packet from Leith to London, and of our being joined by Mr. Bruce, the son of one of thə poet's heroines—I have forgotten the name of the song, but it goes, “I lo’ed her mickle and lang.'t This meeting should it be of any use to Mr Chambers, I will give some other time—the above being as much as I can do at present, being pretty well for one bordering on eighty years. Give my regards to Mr. Chambers; he will remember me, having once ciceroned him and his lady in Liverpool, and I have called on him since at his office in Edinburgh. Trusting the above may prove useful to the publisher and author of the life and writings of the poet, -I remain, dear sir, yours,
" WILLIAM HALL.” After receiving the above letter from Mr. Ireland, I remembered that I had amongst my father's old papers, the original pamphlet issued by Constable, entitled-“Unpublished Remains of Robert Burns,-Lockhart's third edition of his life, --Account of a lately discovered portrait, with letters concerning it.” This seems to have been issued as an advertisement as it is stated on the reverse side of the title page, “Extracted from the Edinburgh Literary Journal, No. 54," (published 21 November, 1829). My father has added some foot notes of his own, evidently written at the time. After giving a description of the newly discovered portrait, the writer says that “it was painted by the late Peter Taylor, an artist of considerable celebrity at the time of Burns's visit to Edinburgh in 1786," and that “Buchan, Bonar, and Nasmyth were his contemporaries, and entertained the highest respect for his abilities, &c.”—all of which, as we have seen above, is quite incorrect so far as Nasmyth is concerned. The account altogether reads very much like one of Lockhart's random statements, for which he was so celebrated, and which Chambers, Scott Douglas, and others have corrected. In reference to the letters quoted in favour of the picture, and the fact that the writers received copies of the engraving--my father writes at the foot of the
page,—"A bribe! they offered me a copy of the print enclosed in an elegant frame.” This is signed with his initials “W. H." Then in reference to these letters and others which are not quoted in the pamphlet, it is said, “They all agree in speaking of the portrait as amazingly like the original.” To this my father adds another note thus :
“It is somewhat remarkable that the respectable publishers of this print could not procure, though strongly urged to do so, the concurrence of several intimate friends of the poet then alive, namely-Dr. John M‘Kenzie, Mr. Nasmyth, Mr. Robert Ainslie, and Mr. William Tennant. Mr. Syme's account of it, as his son informed me, was any. thing but flattering. I also, who had often seen the poet, was strongly urged to lend my testimony to the likeness, but I could not do so, not being able to perceive any. The first four named gentlemen, all of them intimately acquainted with Burns, laughed at the idea of it being thought a likeness."
W.H. This portrait was engraved by J. Horsburg, and published by Constable, in 1830, and caused considerable discussion in Edinburgh, but it was generally condemned as an impossible likeness of Burns. Some thought the portrait rather like Gilbert Burns, but he was not considered to be like his brother the Poet. The supposed artist does not seem to have painted any other likeness that is known, and this one at the best is a very poor work of Art. The original oil painting is still in the National Portrait Gallery in Queen Street, Edinburgh, where I first saw it in 1887, when it was exhibited after its return from Australia, where it had been for some years. I have seen it several times since, but only think it interesting as an illustration of the discussion which it has raised. Any one who wants to see the difference between it and Nasmyth's can easily do so by looking at the two engravings of them in last year's Chronicle, or better still by looking at the two originals in Edinburgh, and they will at once perceive that as Burns was only 27 when they were both taken, he could not be like both of them! Taylor's looks much older than the other, and gives no indication of the man who charmed every one who saw him, and whose eyes "literally glowed," as Scott himself has described them, a characteristic which one can easily imagine from Nasmyth's original painting, or Walker's beautiful engraving of it. I quite agree with what Mr. Stevenson says about the Skirving portrait having "a charm of its own.” I have always understood that Skirving drew it at the suggestion of Burns's family, as they were dissatisfied with the Nasmyth portrait as looking too smooth and refined-forgetting that it was taken after Burns had been living six months in Edinburgh, and moving in good society. Skirving, it is supposed, must often have seen Burns before he went to Italy, as he only returned to Scotland after Burns's death. He has at any rate produced a wonderful portrait showing more marked features and more force of character than the Nasmyth likeness. Skirving would never part with the picture, but after his death, in 1819, Sir John Rennie purchased it, and afterwards it became the property of his son, Mr George Rennie, and in 1881 it was purchased by Sir Theodore Martin, who considers it superior to Nasmyth's, and that Skirving must have seen Burns or he never could have produced such a portrait. By a lucky accident I bought a small photograph of it-but how procured I do not know—in the Burns monument in Edinburgh, in 1878, and afterwards when I tried to get a larger one I was told the sale of them had been stopped. There is a large one in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, but it is much faded. I have never seen a good engraving of it or one that gave one any idea of the original. There was lately a photogravure taken of it, but the number printed was very limited. It is a pity it is not published or better known, as it well deserves
to be. *
Before closing these reminiscences I would like to put on record the strong opinion my father always expressed of the unfairness of Lockhart's Life of Burns, inasmuch as he grossly exaggerated his faults, and made many statements about him to his discredit which turned out to be untrue, and many of which he had to retract. In fact I never heard my father mention the name of the biographer without calling him that
blackguard Lockhart !” At the time I heard this there were, of course, other charges against him, especially his unfounded and scandalous attack on the Ballantynes, both as to their social position and financial honesty, which caused such a bitter discussion in Edinburgh on the appearance of his Life of Scott, and in which Robert Chambers always declared Lockhart to be “wholly wrong." In Scott's Diary, lately published, there is not a word of blame cast on the Ballantynes, though it covers all the time of their mutual troubles. There is, however, an allusion to Lockhart having a wicked wit," and this was his well-known character. Disraeli, in one of his letters to his sister in 1836, sàys,—“I am to meet Lockhart; he is known in society as 'the viper,' but if he tries to sting me he will find my heel of iron.” It is the fashion to overpraise Lockhart's biographies without noticing these drawbacks. In Scott Douglas's last edition of the Life of Burns, he still points out a good many mis-statements of facts. Burns had faults enough without having them exaggerated.
* Messrs Blackie published a large engraving of it in 1866. — [ED.]
I will close with an interesting incident which I remember happening in 1842, when attending a lecture with my father at the Mechanics’ Institution in Liverpool, by Charles Cowden Clarke, the well-known friend of Keats and other literary men of his time. The lecture was on the British poets, one of whom was “Robert Burns," and after quoting and praising his poetry he began, (as is the fashion still with some people), to moralise about him, when my father gave an expressive exclamation of dissent peculiar to himself. Then Cowden Clarke, with his jolly face, looked up amused, as much as to say, “Well, I like that; anything more?” and then went on with the lecture. As I was coming out of the lecture hall, and passing the door of the committee-room, Cowden Clark came up and exclaimed to Dr W. B. Hodgson, the secretary, (afterwards Professor of Political Economy at Edinburgh University), "I would give anything to know the gentleman who made that exclamation.” Seeing me, Dr Hodgson, who knew it was my father, asked me to find him and bring him in, which I did, and after a good laugh and a chat, Mr Clarke being interested to hear that my
father was not only an admirer of Burns, but had actually seen him, their interview ended in my father inviting Mr Clark and Dr Hodgson to supper, promising Mr Clarke a glass of whisky toddy out of Burns's wine glass, of which he was the proud possessor ! There was a great deal of interesting conversation about Burns and other celebrities, which I, as a young man greatly enjoyed, especially the singing by Mr Clarke of Canning's song of “ The University of Gottingen." When the Burns glass was produced, of course Cowden Clarke was asked to give a toast. He was a large man with a large expressive countenance, and as we watched him he set us all in a roar with the comical way in which he simply rolled his eyes round the glass and drank it off in silence. This incident led to other visits from him, and afterwards we heard that the next time he delivered the same lecture he introduced the story of the interruption from the gentleman who had seen Robert Burns.