The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

“Recollections of a Portrait Painter, A Brother of the Brush”-Part Four, Final

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Ten years of loving dependence and nearly unruffled happiness to the one; ten years of smiling but bitter endurance to the other, and they were once more nearly destitute. The Marchesa died suddenly, and before she had time to make permanent provision for her protegé. The Marchese bemoaned her loss for three months, endured the presence of her dependants for three months more, and then brought home another bride with a tribe of relations. A few days afterwards he placed a small purse of gold in Hamilton’s hand, and politely intimated that he must seek a residence elsewhere. Madeline had permission to remain if she pleased, but she felt it was impossible to do so if she were to be separated from her grandfather. For the Marchese she had never felt any affection. His second wife was a cruel, proud piece of still life, and Madeline had sense enough to see the misery of such a position as hers must be if she staid. They left Florence, therefore—like our first parents, “the world was all before them where to choose,” and they naturally chose to go to England. They bent their course towards Hamilton’s native town, for there he trusted he might yet obtain a subsistence by the exercise of his long neglected art.—He was doomed to be disappointed. Twenty years had raised his birthplace from an insignificant to a wealthy town, the seat of a thriving manufacture. His old connections were dead or dispersed, and other painters had arisen, enough not only to fill his place, but to starve in their own.— He quited H— in despair, and went to London, for he felt that in that great mart he was most likely to obtain a living by the exercise of some humble branch of his calling. Moreover, there Madeline, skilled as she was in all pretty works and womanly accomplishments, might be able to contribute something towards their support. For two years longer they struggled on. Hamilton obtained humble but constant employment as repairer to a picture dealer, and Madeline, flying to the usual resources of lady-like females in distress, made some little additions to their finances by the sale of embroidery, &c. But her health began to fail—she could no longer bend much over her work—there were sickly mists in her eyes when she gazed intently on her muslin or canvass—there was a dull constant aching at her chest, and frequent stitches in her side—there were faintings that made her suddenly drop her needle, and fall back exhausted. Anon she grew pale, and there and then came the short gasping cough, and the daily recurring hectic of the cheek, and the drenching night perspiration. How could Hamilton doubt with what fiend her constitution was silently wrestling, with the certainty of being finally the conquered— Their main resource, the employment furnished by the picture dealer, was at the time suspended, in consequence of some embarrassment in his affairs, and they were almost pennyless. Hamilton declared that this was by far the most trying time of his life. He had barely the means of procuring bread for their daily sustenance, and poor Madeline’s case called not only for this, but for comforts and luxuries which it was impossible to obtain for her.
How often had the poor painter stood by a shop where were stored the delicacies of daily purchase by the rich, and felt the bitterness of his poverty in full, when he thought of her who had been reared in a palace, and for whom he was now unable to procure one morsel of that tempting food, that might have stimulated her sickly appetite! How especially did the sight of piles of costly fruit, exposed for sale in windows or markets, almost drive him mad, when he thought of his inability to procure one handful to cool her feverish lips! How the warm garments and rich furs in the fashionable shops made him think of her thin clothing, and the coming on of winter.
One resource was left, and only one. Amidst the changes of their fortune Hamilton had still preserved a painting by his son—one of his masterpieces. It was the “vintage scene” spoken of in the early part of this narrative, and was peculiarly dear to the old man, as containing portraits of his son, his son’s wife, and their infant daughter. Through the interest of an artist with whom he had made some slight acquaintance, a place was procured for it in the gallery where I first saw it; and day after day did poor Hamilton attend there in the vain hope that it might sell. The result had been seen; it led to my introduction to Hamilton, and, I trust, much more comfort than the mere price of his picture could have purchased.
When Lady Borrodaile heard this tale of distress, (which my readers may be assured reached her early on the next day,) her self-reproach for having unconsciously caused the artist a continuance of suspense and anxiety, was beyond all bounds. She instantly sent to secure the picture; and in less than two hours from her acquaintance with Hamilton’s history, she was seated beside the suffering Madeline, and with the care of a mother, and the tenderness of a dear sister, was inquiring into her wants, and making arrangements for their ample supply. She would not allow the invalid to remain another night in an unwholesome and comfortless lodging, but removed her to her own house, and procured instant medical attendance for her.
In a few days more she established Madeline at a small villa near Richmond, the property of Sir Philip, deeming that quickness and fresh air might do much for her. Here she visited her almost daily; and surrounded by every comfort, tended constantly by her grandfather, and watched over by her benefactress, the poor patient appeared for a while to revive. She certainly grew stronger, and the painter and Lady Borrodaile flattered themselves she would recover. But there was still the hollow cough and the often flushed cheek; and I, who had anxiously watched over a similar case before, knew too well there was nothing to hope.
It was a lovely day in the early spring—one of the first warm days of the season. The roots of the old trees were tufted with primroses, and the river, bankful from recent rains, glided brightly and majestically on in the pure sunshine—the whole face of nature was full of life and gladness. Lady Borrodaile and myself had driven down to the villa, as we frequently did, and found our gentle patient enjoying the sweet spring air and sunshine. She was sitting on a bench placed on the sunny side of the lawn, and her grandfather was beside her. He was reading to her from a small volume, which, as we draw nearer, we found was the New Testament. He passed as we approached, but she did not perceive us.
“Read that again,” said she, in her low sweet voice—“for it does me good!”
We motioned to him not to mention our presence, and softly drew nearer to listen. Suddenly he stopped—an exclamation of terror burst from his lips—Lady Borrodaile sprung forward and caught Madeline on her arm just as she was sliding from her seat. There was a deadly paleness on her brow, but a sweet smile on her lips. She closed her eyes—her hand fell powerless by her side—she quivered slightly, and all was over!
Never, in life or death, have I looked on any thing so lovely as Madeline Hamilton immediately after her spirit had departed. There was not yet the rigidity and chilliness which so soon follows in the track of death, and converts the dearest and the loveliest to a thing for awe and wonder. Never shall I forget the perfect repose, the ineffable grace of her attitude, as she lay for a few minutes on the rustic bench—her small hand drooping by her side—her lips slightly open—her forehead so smooth and still! Long did that form and face haunt me with their solemn quiet beauty; and even yet they ofttimes arise before me, with a vividness and reality which few memories possess.
Hamilton was a lonely man from that hour. All that could be done to alleviate his sorrow was done by kind and sympathising friends. But it was too late—“his occupation was gone.” In six months we laid the poor painter by the side of Madeline.

“Recollections of a Portrait Painter, A Brother of the Brush”-Part Three

Part One
Part Two
Part Four

The story of Hamilton’s life was now told. He was the son of a country artist, a struggling man, who had never risen to any eminence in his profession, but who had managed to “make a living,” as the phrase goes, for himself and his family by portraying the effigies of the boors who surrounded him, occasionally copying a picture for the squire, and, when other work was scarce, touching up and remodeling the sign-posts for a dozen miles round. To his son he bequeathed little, except a talent for painting, some degrees superior to his own, but still not of the kind that is likely to bring its possessor much fame or profit. He married early, and somewhat imprudently, but his wife died a few years after their union, leaving him one only child, a son. This son was, indeed, a genius. The light which, in descending, had passed by his ancestors, leaving them but a faint reflection of its glories, seemed to settle in full and perfect lustre on the head of George Hamilton. Even in early childhood its emanations were apparent in the bold and beautiful sketches that were the produce of his untaught pencil. In like manner was the love and pride of his father’s heart concentrated on him. Once he had felt some faint aspiration for fame on his own account, but this was all merged in an absorbing thirst for the glory of his son. Poor as he was, he resolved to submit to every possible sacrifice that might promote the cultivation of his child’s talent, and converting his little property into money, he departed for Italy, resolved, by privation, and toil, and self-devotion, to procure for the youth those advantages which a residence on the continent alone affords. One trait of this mighty love and unselfish ambition must be told. He actually bound himself to grind colours, and perform the [?] [?] offices for a celebrated [?] in Rome, in return for lessons bestowed upon his gifted son. He who so loved his art himself—he who had once even hoped to attain some excellence in it, gave up all, and became a very servant for the sake of that son of his heart.
Years rolled on, and found the father contentedly labouring in the very drudgeries of his profession, and the son still promising to excel in its highest walks. He designed and executed several small pictures, which were advantageously disposed of, and the father began to see the reward of his self-denying love in the dawning excellence of his son. But George Hamilton, unfortunately, was not of a temperament to persevere patiently in a course of steady, pains-taking improvement. He had submitted to the trammels of a tutor so long, because mighty and glorious creations were swelling in his soul, which he lacked the power of pouring forth on canvass. No sooner did he attain this power to a moderate degree, than, with the self-confidence which is so often the attendant upon high talent, he imagined he had no more to learn, and that genius, rich and vivid as his own, could need no farther training. At nineteen he married an orphan Italian girl, without any dower but her beauty and her virtues; and dearly as father and son both loved her, she could not but be a serious burden on finances so slender as theirs. Another year saw a farther addition to their cares, in the shape of a little girl, who was named “Madeline,” after her mother. Young Hamilton continued to paint, but, alas! not to improve. The few English at Rome, who had purchased his pictures at first as an encouragement to rising genius, either left the city, or were attracted to the studio of some newer artist. He was naturally of a roving and restless disposition, and he now imagined that if he were in England, the land of his birth, he should more than realize his dreams of fame and fortune.— He left his family in Italy, and came to England, where, before he had time to make trail of his success, a violent fever hurried him to the grave.
For weeks his relatives remained in ignorance of his death. They learned it at last through the medium of an English paper, which found its way into Mr. Hamilton’s hands. His daughter-in-law was near her confinement, and the shock of the tidings proved too much for her. She gave birth to a still-born child, and expired in a few hours afterwards.
Poor Hamilton was now utterly desolate. The loss of his son had crushed his pride and hope forever, but the death of his beloved daughter was almost a more distressing stroke. He was left a stranger in a strange land, without resources, and with an infant grand-daughter dependent on him for support. He gathered together his few remaining effects, and was on the eve of leaving Italy, determining to make his way, if possible, to England, and, consigning his little charge to the care of some public charity, lay down his lonely head and die. But circumstances occurred which changed his plans.
On the very day before that on which he intended to leave his residence, the carriage of the Marchesa di V— broke down before his door. Its fair inmate sought refuge beneath his roof—was charmed with the beauty of his grandchild—drew from him the outline of his story—and, with the quick decision of a rich, young, and self-willed woman, determined on taking his future fortunes into her own keeping. On the day which was to have witnessed the beginning of their pilgrimage to England, Hamilton and his Madeline were rolling in the carriage of the Marchesa towards her splendid villa near Florence.
And for ten years Madeline’s life was like a dream of fairy land. The Marchesa was married to a man of calm, almost stern manners, who, whilst he allowed his lovely wife to do pretty much as she pleased, never troubled himself to make any very extraordinary manifestations of attachment to her. She was, moreover, childless, and she made this title orphan the recipient of the overflowings of her warm and passionate nature, her liberal gifts, her pent-up affections. Strange that one so affectionate should have been scarcely amiable! She loved Madeline because she was beautiful, and returned her love; and, moreover, early showed herself the possessor of a brilliancy and diversity of talent most remarkable in a child.—Of Hamilton she soon got tired. He had not depth enough or genius enough to interest her long; she had taken him as a pendant to her “little cherub,” as she called Madeline, and soon began to account him an incumbrance. Not like a happy dream did his ten years pass away, but in the endurance of slights and neglect that amounted to insult. In Madeline’s presence, indeed, open unkindness was forborne, and to her he never complained—with her he tried to seem cheerful and happy, and for her dear sake he bore all that was to be borne, for she was the last tie of earth around his heart, and he felt he could not voluntarily leave her.

“Recollections of a Portrait Painter, A Brother of the Brush”-Part Two

Part One
Part Three

All day that old man haunted my memory—his tall, slight figure, his thin, grey hair, his threadbare garments, his own eager look of prying interest. I could not account for this unless he were the painter of the picture. If he were, he must be in great need; his pale face, his emaciated form, his shabby habiliments, all gave colour to the supposition; and if he were in distress——“I must find this out,” thought I; “my means are but small, but whether Sir Philip buys his picture or not, a brother of the brush must not starve.”
The next day, accompanied by Lady Borrodaile, we re-visited the gallery. Our fair companion was pleased with the picture, yet she wished the purchase delayed for a day or two.
“I should wish to visit some other exhibition first, Philip, said she, “and see if there be any thing that I like better, for you know this last chosen picture is to be mine. I may seem very capricious, Mr. Ashley,” she continued, turning to me, “but I really cannot relinquish my womanly privilege of turning over a whole warehouse of goods before I buy.”
She laughed lightly as she spoke, and I could not blame her, but yet my thoughts turned involuntarily to the poor painter. I made some excuse to part with my friends at the door of the gallery, and returned again when they had left me, for there was a strange restless curiosity awakened in my mind about the picture and its master. I inquired from the attendants if they knew any thing about Mr. Hamilton—such was his name—but the only information I could obtain was, that he had no other picture there—that he was exceedingly anxious about the sale of this, and was in the habit of coming almost daily to know if it were disposed of. Before I had concluded my questions, the object of them entered, and on seeing me, cast a hasty glance towards his solitary picture. Alas! it did not yet bear the ticket announcing its sale, and, turning away, he sank rather than sat down on one of the benches, where, resting his elbows on his knees, he buried his face in his hands. I was certain that he had tears of disappointment to hide at that moment.
I left the gallery and proceeded slowly along the streets, my mind full of my poor brother artist, who I now felt certain was laboring under some heavy distress. I blamed myself that I had not overcome the paltry scruples of caution and custom, and at once addressed him, as one who could sympathise in his sorrows, and who was ready to afford him what small aid my means would allow.
“It is not too late, even now,” said I, half aloud, and I began to retrace my steps. At that moment my attention was attracted by a loud cry—I raised my eyes, and saw the people running towards the end of the street, where a crowd had collected by the time I reached it. With almost a prophetic knowledge of the truth, I forced my way into the centre of the mob, and there extended on the ground, in a deep swoon, lay the unfortunate Hamilton. Putting aside the throng as I best could, and repelling the [?] of one very [?] gentleman of doubtful aspect, who was anxious to search the pockets of the sufferer for a card of address, I directed a coach to be called, and having placed Mr. Hamilton therein, I conveyed him to my own residence, which was at no great distance. He speedily gave signs of returning animation, and when he was established on the sofa in my apartment, a glass of wine and water soon restored him so far as to enable him to raise his head and thank me for my care.
“I am better now, I shall be quite able to walk presently,” he feebly reiterated; but the attempt was vain, and he sunk down again.
“I do not try to move yet, sir,” said I, “you are much too weak to leave your seat at present; rest here awhile, and believe me, you are most welcome to any little kindness that it is in my power to show you.”
He pressed my hand gratefully, and then, leaning his head on the sofa, burst into tears, and wept like a child. A few words did not suffice to tell his story, but they were enough to enlist all my pity on his side, and make me anxious to do him service. He was old and feeble—he lived in a poor street about half a mile off—he was in the extremity of poverty, and had a sick grandchild—had had looked forward to the sale of the picture, so often named, as his only remaining hope of succour. Hitherto he had been disappointed, and on attempting to return home that day, had fainted—I strongly suspected more from want of sustenance than fatigue.
All this I gathered in a few minutes, and as soon as he was sufficiently recovered, I accompanied him to his lodgings. We ascended two or three flights of stairs, each narrower and dirtier than the one below it, and there in a garret, I found, was the painter’s home. Scraps of canvas, half-finished drawings, (very inferior, as I saw at a glance, to the picture in the exhibition,) were scattered about the room. An old tent bedstead, entirely despoiled of its hangings, and furnished only with a wretched mattress, stood on one side, and a bundle of straw, partly covered with a small coarse rug, occupied a corner. But there was one jewel—one glorious feature in that wretched scene, which shed a halo of beauty and romance even over that poor chamber, and made it seem a fit abode for the very spirit of poetry. This was a young girl of about fifteen years old, who, reclining on a wooden settle near the small window—slept! Yes—amidst all the desolation of the scene—amidst the pressure of her sorrows, (for the tears might be traced where they had dried on her cheeks,) she slept!—the beautiful image of Christian peace in the midst of a cold and persecuting world. Her lips were slightly parted, and her breathing short and quick; her brow was pale and pure as marble, but one little crimson spot on each cheek told “of the foe that worked within,” and her white, shrunken hand hung powerless by her side, almost transparent in its exceeding thinness. But her hair! Never have I seen such masses, such wreaths of deep golden hair as those which hung, half uncurled, in heavy, damp waves around her face and shoulders! The string that should have confined it had evidently been unfastened as she stirred in her slumbers, and all that ocean of hair was falling around her, bright, rich, unscathed by the illness that was evidently consuming her life. I have known one other instance in which the hair of a consumptive patient seemed to grow more luxuriantly than in health—probably drawing its strength from the very vitals of the sufferer—and never but one. All this was impressed on my mind in a few moments, and Hamilton going up to the side of the invalid she awakened. With a low, sweet voice, and something of a foreign accent, she inquired, “Why he had been away so long, and if the picture”——She paused, for she saw a stranger, and fixed on me a look so sweet, so plaintive, that it clung to my mind for days after.
“You are faint, my Madeline,” said Hamilton, as he assisted her to rise—“faint and weak, but God has helped us, see here”—and he showed her a certain coin which I had just deposited in his hand. “You shall have nourishment—medicine, dearest—soon, very soon.”
This was half whispered, as if for her ear alone, but I caught every word.
“I have not wanted,” said the poor girl; “I was weak, and faint, and sinfully sad an hour ago, but I have slept, and angels have come to me with pleasant dreams, and now I am quite strong and well.”
And she smiled, such a smile as a ministering spirit might wear when assuming the office of a comforter to some sorrowful mortal. Then followed a scene of temporary joy and relief, which it gladdened my very soul to witness. Oh, ye who have more wealth at your disposal in a single year than I ever possessed in my whole life, and who yet are in a single year than I ever possessed in my whole life, and who yet are in want of excitement and emotion, seek out the abodes of the sick, the poor, the wretched, and see how much happiness to others, and, above all, to yourselves, may be purchased for a single sovereign!

“Recollections of a Portrait Painter” by A Brother of the Brush”

It was not until after I had finished transcribing this story of unknown authorship for a personal webpage, that I realized the story was not written by the author I’d mistakenly attributed it to. Therefore, I post this story for the public with the hopes that others may enjoy it.

You will find this in several installments, as it is quite lengthy. You can view links to the next parts below.

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

[From The Corsair, Vol. 1, No. 37, November 23, 1839, pp. 581-583.]


My friend, Sir Philip Borrodaile, shortly after his union with the fair Eleanor Armstrong, called upon me one morning, to request that I would accompany him to the——street gallery to assist him in the selection of two or three pictures, which were wanted to complete the furniture of his splendid dining-room.
“I know but little of pictures myself,” said he, “but Eleanor dotes on them, and I am sure I owe it to the company of painters to encourage them by every means in my power.”
To the gallery we proceeded accordingly, and commenced a search for such pictures as my friend wished to purchase. Three were soon fixed upon—my share in the choice being rather a negative thing; for clever as they certainly were, they were not quite what I should have selected, if left to my own judgment. “A Scotch terrier,” by one of the first animal painters of the day, Sir Philip fell in love with at first sight, because of the resemblance it bore to a favourite dog of his own, which had died a few weeks before. “A party of Duch boors” were purchased, because they were so amusing; and a large fruit piece concluded the trio, because as Sir Philip remarked, “nothing could be more suitable for a dining-room.” But still a fourth was wanting to complete the required number, and as I saw my friend casting an eye towards the representation of some nameless battle, simply because it accorded in size with those already chosen, I drew him away towards a picture which had all along attracted my attention, and which, whilst it was nearly of the proper dimensions, was far more tasteful in design than the battle aforesaid.
On examination I found that this work was not particularly well finished; but I was pleased with the poetical light and warmth, the freedom of outline, the stamp of natural genius that pervaded it. There could be no question but that the artist, whoever he was, had the root of excellence strong within him, though it might lack sufficient cultivation. The subject was “an Italian vintage scene,” as we found by reference to the catalogue; and certainly the painting told its own story without words. A beautiful peasant girl had just reached her cottage door, and was reclining in a languid attitude on the turf before it. A large basket of grapes rested on the ground beside her, and an infant slumbered on her knees. Behind her leaned a youth of eighteen or twenty, who was twisting a few vine leaves amongst her dark curls. She was raising one hand as if to put aside those tresses, and her eyes were uplifted with an expression of the deepest and most overflowing tenderness I ever saw in or out of a picture. But the most striking feature of the whole, was the appearance of the young man, whose features and dress were genuinely and evidently English. I felt that the picture had a history. Perhaps the very thing that fixed my attention so lovingly upon it, was the conviction that at once entered my mind that here were portraits. Sir Philips did not seem particularly taken with the object of my admiration. I assured him that Lady Borrodaile would be delighted with it; but still his eye obstinately wandered towards the battle piece. At last he consented to suspend his choice till his lady’s opinion could be taken; and directions were given, that while “sold” should be marked on the three positively chosen, the “Italian vintage scene,” and its gaudy rival should not be disposed of, without due notice being given to me or my friend.
I had observed that an elderly man, of very prepossessing appearance, had several times lingered near us during our perambulation of the rooms, and though there was not the least of impertinent curiosity or obtrusiveness in his manner, I could not but see that he was in some way interested in our decision. He always kept in the neighbourhood of the “Italian scene,” and though as we came near it again and again he withdrew his eyes from us, and seemed totally absorbed in the perusal of a catalogue, I was sure he wished to hear what we said—sure that our choice was a matter of moment to him. Once, when I was advising that my favourite should be at any rate purchased, I caught his clear blue eyes fixed on me with the most intense eagerness; but the moment he perceived that I noticed it, he turned very red, and rolling up his catalogue, retreated to the farther end of the room. He came near us no more, but we passed him as we were leaving the gallery, and as the door closed, a heavy sigh reached my ears. I was sure it came from the old man behind us.