Ceres' Runaway and Other Essays by Alice Christiana Thompson Meynell


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Page 2

That he made a mere intellectual mistake, gave thanks with a lowly and
lofty heart for a genius denied him, that he prepared himself to answer
to Heaven and earth for the gift he had not, to suffer its reproach, to
bear its burden, and that he looked for its reward, is all his history.
There was no fault of the intellect in his apprehension of the thing he
thought to stand possessed of. He conceived it aright, and he was just
in his rebuke of a world so dull and trivial before the art for which he
died. He esteemed it aright, except when he deemed it his.

His editor, thinking himself to be summoned to justify the chastisement,
the destruction, the whole retribution of such a career, looks here and
there for the sins of Haydon; the search is rewarded with the discovery
of faults such as every man and woman entrusts to the common generosity,
the general consciousness. It is a pity to see any man conning such
offences by heart, and setting them clear in an editorial judgement
because he thinks himself to hold a trust, by virtue of his biographical
office, to explain the sufferings and the failure of a conquered man.

What, in the end, are the sins which are to lead the reader, sad but
satisfied, to conclude with "See the result of--", or "So it ever must be
with him who yields to--," or whatever else may be the manner of
ratifying the sentence on the condemned and dead? Haydon, we hear,
omitted to ask advice, or, if he asked it, did not shape his course
thereby unless it pleased him. Haydon was self-willed; he had a wild
vanity, and he hoped he could persuade all the powers that include the
powers of man to prosper the work of which he himself was sure. He did
not wait upon the judgement of the world, but thought to compel it.

Should he, then, have waited upon the judgement of such a world? He was
foremost in the task of instructing, nay, of compelling it when there was
a question of the value of the Elgin Marbles, and when the
possession--which was the preservation--of these was at stake. There he
was not wrong; his judgement, that dealt him, in his own cause, the
first, the fatal, the final injury--the initial subtle blow that sent him
on his career so wronged, so cleft through and through, that the mere
course and action of life must ruin him--this judgement, in art, directed
him in the decision of the most momentous of all public questions. Haydon
admired, wrote, protested, declaimed, and fought; and in great part, it
seems, we owe our perpetual instruction by those judges of the Arts which
are the fragments of the Elgin sculptures, to the fact that Haydon
trusted himself with the trust that worked his own destruction. Into the
presence especially of those seated figures, commonly called the Fates,
we habitually bring our arts for sentence. He lent an effectual hand to
the setting-up of that Tribunal of headless stones.

The thing we should lament is rather that the world which refused,
neglected, forgot him--and by chance-medley was right, was right!--had no
possible authority for anything that it did against him, and that he
might have sent it to school, for all his defect of genius; moreover,
that he was mortally wounded in the last of his forty years of battle by
this ironic wound: among the bad painters chosen to adorn the Houses of
Parliament with fresco, he was not one. This affront he took at the
hands of men who had no real distinctions in their gift. He might well
have had, by mere chance, some great companion with whom to share that
rejection. The unfortunate man had no such fortuitous fellowship at
hand. How strange, the solitude of the bad painter outcast by the worst,
and capable of making common cause indomitably with the good, had there
been any such to take heart from his high courage!

There was none. There were ranged the unjust judges with their blunders
all in good order, and their ignorance new dressed, and there was no
artist to destroy except only this one, somewhat better than their
favoured, their appointed painters in fresco; one uncompanioned, and a
man besides through whose heart the public reproach was able to cut
keenly.

Is this sensibility to be made a reproach to Haydon? It has always
seemed to me that he was not without greatness--yet he was always without
dignity--in those most cruel passages of his life, such as that of his
defeat, towards the close of his war, by the show of a dwarf, to which
all London thronged, led by Royal example, while the exhibition of his
picture was deserted. He was not betrayed by anger at this end of hopes
and labours in which all that a man lives for had been pledged. Nay, he
succeeded in bearing what a more inward man would have taken more hardly.
He was able to say in his loud voice, in reproach to the world, what
another would have barred within: one of his great pictures was in a
cellar, another in an attic, another at the pawnbroker's, another in a
grocer's shop, another unfinished in his studio; the bills for frames and
colours and the rent were unpaid. Some solace he even found in stating a
few of these facts, in French, to a French official or diplomatic visitor
to London, interested in the condition of the arts. Well, who shall live
without support? A man finds it where he can.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 18th Aug 2019, 19:57