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the important occurrences of Mrs. Gilchrist's life-her occupation upon the Life of Blake, and her enthusiastic rally to the cause of Walt Whitman-I have abstained from interfering (except in some minor particulars) with the biographer's discretion in the treatment of these copious items of correspondence; and, as to the further general question, I commit myself to the indulgent construction of the reader.
My acquaintance with Mrs. Gilchrist must have begun in the autumn or winter of 1860. Her husband was then engaged in the composition of his Life of William Blake, and my brother had entrusted to him a precious MS. volume, his own and my joint property, containing a rich store of Blake's writings in prose and in verse, and of his designs. This is the volume, famous among the students of Blake, which my brother bought
, towards 1847 from Palmer, an attendant in the British Museum, at the modest price (produced from my pocket) of ten and sixpence, and which remained ever afterwards in our possession until, in the sale of my brother's effects which took place soon after his death in 1882, it fetched the sum of £110 ss., and even that, in the eyes of experts, was rather below than above its intrinsic worth. Along with this volume my brother had lent Mr. Gilchrist Varley's pamphlet of Zodiacal Physiognomy, containing some engraved heads by Blake; a precious and almost undiscoverable brochure which through the misdeed of a cheap bookbinder (acting under my orders, but certainly contrary to my intention), had been wofully cut down at its edges amid other items bound into the same volume, so that even the
engravings showed clippings and manglings. I doubt whether Mr. Gilchrist ever quite forgave my involuntary share in this outrage, which remained for my brother a standing joke against me for years—always on hand when convenient. I can still remember something of that evening which I spent with Mr. and Mrs. Gilchrist in 1860. They were then living in Cheyne Row, Chelsea, next door to Carlyle. This proximity, of itself, made the meeting an interesting one to me. To know the author of the Life of Etty (a book which I had myself reviewed in the Spectator), now engaged on the still more important and attractive subject of Blake's career, and to inspect the numerous Blake drawings and engravings which he had got together, was of course a matter to me of even higher and more direct interest than any quasi-Carlylean environment. I passed a very cordial and pleasant evening with the Gilchrists, finding in both of them a large fund of intelligence and sympathy, and in neither the least pretence or affectation. A more evidently well-assorted couple there could hardly be : the husband animated, clear-headed, and bent
upon producing good work—he was then regarded, in my own circle, as the best-equipped and ablest of the various artcritics on the periodical press; the wife entering with zest into all his ideas, and capable not only of serving but of furthering their development.
Notwithstanding this favourable beginning of quaintance with Mr. Gilchrist, and the intimacy which my brother, my friend Mr. Madox Brown, and probably some others of my friends, maintained with him during the brief remainder of his life, I cannot remember that I saw him more than once or twice again. We were both busy men, and one casualty or another kept us apart.
It was not until some little while after his death (December 1861), that my brother offered to Mrs. Gilchrist, for himself and for me, that we would do anything which we could to aid her in bringing the Life of Blake to completion. The biography was already indeed substantially finished by Mr. Gilchrist ; and his widow undertook, and very efficiently accomplished, those connecting and amplifying details which were really wanted. But my brother acted as selector, editor, and elucidator of the
prosewritings of Blake, and supplied some important comments upon some of his works of art; while I set-to at compiling a catalogue raisonné of his paintings and designs. This was a task of no small compass, requiring me to go about to various localities to look up the works, besides the time and attention needed for the actual criticism, compilation, and arrangement. Not long after I had undertaken the cataloguing I paid a visit of a day or two to Mrs. Gilchrist in her cottage-home, Brookbank, Shottermill, near Haslemere. previous acquaintance ripened into what I am proud to remember as a frank and unreserved friendship. The young widow surrounded by her three small children (the elder boy was, I think, absent), presented a touching picture of sorrow borne wisely and bravely, with a constant sense that the duties of life, though they may change with its changing and sometimes heart-rending conditions, never intermit, but have to be met with the whole strength of will and affection, and the whole force of
Here our PREFATORY NOTICE.
character. Brookbank, on the very confines of three counties, Surrey, Hampshire, and Sussex, with an uncommon plenty of noticeable old fashioned farm-houses about, was a most pleasurable residence for persons who, while indifferent to luxury, had a true feeling for homelike comfort, and a genuine enjoyment of fine scenery. Mrs. Gilchrist was of these. It always appeared to me that she was excellently well suited at Brookbank; indeed, after seeing her there on three or four successive short visits spread over about as many years, the ideas of her personality and of her locality seemed to be so identified that her ultimate removal to London told as the break-up of a natural and pleasant affinity.
In London, and afterwards when (upon returning to England from a sojourn in America lasting three years) she had settled in Hampstead, we met oftener, yet still not extremely often ; although, if there was one house more than another in which I felt myself always at home, and the object of cordial welcome, it was that of Mrs. Gilchrist. The last time I saw her was in August 1885, soon after I had come back from my annual holiday at the sea-side. I remember walking up to Hampstead on a Sunday of steady sultry heat, and passing in her house as friendly and agreeable an afternoon as I ever enjoyed. Her reminiscences of Carlyle and his wife, an interesting project which she entertained of vindicating his character from misconstructions by a narrative of her personal experiences, and many other matters (in which Turner and British painting in landscape and other forms bore a part), furnished forth a discursive and unflagging talk of three or four hours. She had then for a long while suffered from an illness, of which the chief obvious symptom was an oppression of breath. It affected her voice to some extent, and prevented her from moving about with much freedom, even in her sitting-room; but her manner, her readiness of conversation, and the vivacity of her mind, remained wholly unimpaired. I left the house without the faintest idea that this was to be our last meeting. Soon afterwards, however, I learned that her malady had taken a very serious turn, confining her to bed ; and after an anxious interval the news of her death reached me from her son Herbert. Thus passed out of my life one of its sincere and firm friendships : a friendship never clouded, so far as my own share in it goes, by a breath of coldness or dissatisfaction. That it was reciprocated with fully equal warmth I am amply convinced : if perchance the warmth was coupled with more indulgence, the reason is obvious —that there was more to indulge.
As already observed, I was closely associated with Mrs. Gilchrist in two of the leading literary interests of her life : those which concern William Blake and Walt Whitman. As regards Blake, I co-operated with her — so far as my limited share in the matter goes—both when the biography was preparing for the press and again when the second and revised edition was forthcoming in 1880. As regards Whitman, it will be seen in the Memoir that the selection which I made and published in 1868 from the works of the great-souled American introduced Mrs. Gilchrist to a knowledge of his work, and laid the foundation for that heart-stirring