Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

6

[ocr errors]

not a proper one for you to read. Shall I bring you

. another to-morrow?'

Little Flaxman (the boy's name), thanking him, he took his leave, promising to come back the next day. Being as good as his word, he returned, bringing with him an English translation of Homer, 'Don Quixote,' and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.'

The grateful manner in which the child received the present, as well as his crippled state, interested and attracted the divine; nor did it end there. A few weeks later, he revisited the elder Flaxman's shop, and from that time continued to befriend the whole family; though he did not know how great a genius he was encouraging, when taking notice of his little sickly friend.

From his cradle, had little Johnny ever loved books, and looking at their pictures, better than any other kind of plaything. Sickly and delicate, he had ever also claimed the especial love of his family, and those little indulgences, so dear to childhood, when God has seen fit to withhold the blessings of health to the tiny form of a weakly child.

Brought up in the heart of London, his ideas of nature were bounded by the limits of the great market close to his home, in Covent Garden; and green fields, rivers, or blue sky, were as much a dream to the lame boy, as the heroic deeds or warlike actions he read of in Homer, or the wild exploits of Don Quixote. His imagination was all the more vivid because it dwelt in so narrow an outward world, and, thrown back upon itself, found vent in fanciful pictures of the worthies he read of, which he drew roughly in a little sketch-book, that, together with a

piece of common black chalk, his father had given Johnny A mere child, when George III. was crowned, he was too delicate to accompany his father and mother to see the procession, and was left in a neighbour's care during their absence.

When his father asked him what he would have as a compensation for not going, he said

• Bring me one of the medals that you say will be thrown to the crowd, father,' which the elder Flaxman, kissing him fondly, promised to do. The density of the crowd prevented him, however, from picking one up when they were scattered to the mob; yet, anxious not to disappoint his fragile child, his father persuaded a servant in livery to give him a plated button, on which there was a device of a horse and a jockey.

• What an odd device!' said the young virtuoso; yet, not discovering the innocent deception, which, to prevent his being disappointed, had substituted the button for one of the medals struck to commemorate the coronation, he put it carefully away.

The precocious child had, also, a fancy for collecting seals; and to please him many of his father's customers would lend him theirs, and allow him to take impressions from them in soft wax. years afterwards, reminded Flaxman of this childish habit, on which he said, “Sir, we are never too young to learn what is useful, nor too old to grow wise and good.' One day, Mr. Mathews told his wife of how he had met with so precocious a child. Don't lose sight of him,' said she; I should not wonder if he turned out a genius.' Her words came true, and little Flaxman did turn out a genius; though, for a long time, he was an unappreciated one.

Some one,

6

At length, he showed a decided taste for sketching, which, of course, in an artist's child, was hereditary, but that he should soon afterwards take to moulding figures in wax and clay, in a boy of his age, was extraordinary. Mr. Mathews did not forget him, and frequently called in to see him and his father in New Street, as well as when the latter removed to a larger house in the Strand.

A year or two later, Johnny's state suddenly improved, and changed into health and strength. His crutches were thrown aside; and, as he gradually improved in robustness, his eyes were delighted, for the first time, with a sight of the fresh country; for, when he was no longer obliged to consider himself an invalid, he could go with an elder brother and sister long excursions to Hampstead, Highgate, and the environs of the metropolis.

Who can describe the delight of seeing green fields and trees to a little boy, who, till then, had never known the happiness of feeling' well! His family all loved him, were proud of his talents for drawing and modelling, and fondly hoped great things from so much early promise.

A father's partiality, it is not unlikely, may have received such sketches too favourably; and the elder Flaxman had the weakness to boast of their talent, and to show them to Roubilliac, the sculptor, begging for an opinion of their merits. The boy was present when the question was asked, and the satirical look and contemptuous way in which the sculptor turned from them, with a simple 'pshaw,' long dwelt in his memory.

Genius may be chilled, but is never daunted, by

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

contempt. A few weeks later, Mortimer the artist, when turning over Johnny's sketch-book, asked if one of them, a good sketch of the human eye, 'were not an oyster?' The little artist heard the remark, and determined he would yet be great in spite of all.

His friend Mr. Mathews had introduced him to his wife; and from that gifted lady he received as much encouragement to persevere as he had been discouraged by the criticisms of Roubiliac and Mortimer. Moreover, she invited him to read with her, at her house in Rathbone Place, several evenings in each week; for, though the friend of Mrs. Montague, Chapone, and Barbauld, she yet did not disdain to encourage a humble sculptor's child in his thirst for knowledge.

Whilst she read out aloud passages from Homer, translating them as she proceeded

for his knowledge was too limited to allow him to follow all she read without some assistance from his friend–Flaxman, pencil in hand, and catching each word that fell from her lips, sat by her, storing bis mind and imagination with those treasures of poetry and tales of ancient worthies, and embodying the principal incidents with his pencil on paper.

Precious hours, long to be remembered, as forming the mind and taste of the gifted boy! Mrs. Mathews' house was the resort of a talented and intelligent set. One evening a gentleman, named Crutchley, took up off her table a sketch of Flaxman's, and thought it showed so much talent, that he turned to the lad and said, 'Make me a series of such sketches in black chalk,

a

[ocr errors]

Delighted and gratified, Flaxman did his very best. The result was, that they were well executed, and are still preserved as memorials of his early efforts. The pleasure their success gave the young sculptor can be only imagined by any who have dreaded the failure and rejoiced in the success of any first attempt. He had at last found some one who did not despise his drawings, nor give them the meed only of a contemptuous 'pshaw.

His friends, however, warned him with wisdom that no excellence can be attained without labour,' and acting up to that motto the youthful sculptor stored his brain with the fanciful legends of Greek poets, and studied assiduously, as an academy pupil, the art to which he was so enthusiastically devoted.

He studied enthusiastically, because he was bent with his whole soul on being a sculptor; yet success comes not always when most wooed. His first public defeat in life was at the academy. He had gained the silver medal one year at that institution; the next, he tried for the gold one.

His companions, interested in the slight thin form, delicate and thoughtful face, and severe study of a lad whom all respected, when talking among each other as to which was the most likely candidate to be successful, had all unanimously said, “Flaxman.' He shall tell his defeat in his own words. I

gave in my model,' he says, "at the academy, and believed the medal was my own. I knew what Engleheart could do, and did not dread him. The council gave, as is usual, a subject to model, and in a specified time. Mine was finished ere my opponent had begun. He completed his at length, and we had

6

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »