Pencil Sketches; or, Outlines of Character and Manners, page 5
THE SET OF CHINA.
"How thrive the beauties of the graphic art?"--PETER PINDAR.
"Mr. Gummage," said Mrs. Atmore, as she entered a certaindrawing-school, at that time the most fashionable in Philadelphia, "Ihave brought you a new pupil, my daughter, Miss Marianne Atmore. Haveyou a vacancy?"
"Why, I can't say that I have," replied Mr. Gummage; "I never havevacancies."
"I am very sorry to hear it," said Mrs. Atmore; and Miss Marianne, atall, handsome girl of fifteen, looked disappointed.
"But perhaps I _could_ strain a point, and find a place for her,"resumed Mr. Gummage, who knew very well that he never had the smallestidea of limiting the number of his pupils, and that if twenty more wereto apply, he would take them every one, however full his school mightbe.
"Do, pray, Mr. Gummage," said Mrs. Atmore; "do try and make an exertionto admit my daughter; I shall regard it as a particular favour."
"Well, I believe she may come," replied Gummage: "I suppose I can takeher. Has she any turn for drawing?"
"I don't know," answered Mrs. Atmore; "she has never tried."
"So much the better," said Gummage; "I like girls that have never tried;they are much more manageable than those that have been scratching anddaubing at home all their lives."
Mr. Gummage was no gentleman, either in appearance or manner. But hepassed for a genius among those who knew nothing of that ill-understoodrace. He had a hooked nose that turned to the right, and a crooked mouththat turned to the left--his face being very much out of drawing,--andhe had two round eyes that in colour and expression resembled twohazel-nuts. His lips were "pea-green and blue," from the habit ofputting the brushes into his mouth when they were overcharged withcolour. He took snuff illimitably, and generally carried half a dozenhandkerchiefs, some of which, however, were to wrap his dinner in, as heconveyed it from market in his capacious pockets; others, as he said,were "to wipe the girl's saucers."
His usual costume was an old dusty brown coat, corduroy pantaloons, anda waistcoat that had once been red, boots that had once been black, anda low crowned rusty hat--which was never off his head, even in thepresence of the ladies--and a bandanna cravat. The vulgarity of hishabits, and the rudeness of his deportment, all passed off under thetitle of eccentricity. At the period when he flourished--it was longbefore the time of Sully--the _beau ideal_ of an artist, at least amongthe multitude, was an ugly, ill-mannered, dirty fellow, that painted aninch thick in divers gaudy colours, equally irreconcileable to natureand art. And the chief attractions of a drawing master--for Mr. Gummagewas nothing more--lay in doing almost everything himself, and producingfor his pupils, in their first quarter, pictures (so called) that werepronounced "fit to frame."
"Well, madam," said Mr. Gummage, "what do you wish your daughter tolearn? figures, flowers, or landscapes?"
"Oh! all three," replied Mrs. Atmore. "We have been furnishing our newhouse, and I told Mr. Atmore that he need not get any pictures for thefront parlour, as I would much prefer having them all painted byMarianne. She has been four quarters with Miss Julia, and has workedFriendship and Innocence, which cost, altogether, upwards of a hundreddollars. Do you know the piece, Mr. Gummage? There is a tomb with aweeping willow, and two ladies with long hair, one dressed in pink, theother in blue, holding a wreath between them over the top of the urn.The ladies are Friendship. Then on the right hand of the piece is acottage, and an oak, and a little girl dressed in yellow, sitting on agreen bank, and putting a wreath round the neck of a lamb. Nothing canbe more natural than the lamb's wool. It is done entirely in Frenchknots. The child and the lamb are Innocence."
[Footnote 72: Miss Julianna Bater, an old Moravian lady, from Bethlehem,Pennsylvania, who was well known in Philadelphia, many years since, as ateacher of embroidery.]
"Ay, ay," said Gummage, "I know the piece well enough--I've drawn themby dozens."
"Well," continued Mrs. Atmore, "this satin piece hangs over the frontparlour mantel. It is much prettier and better done than the one MissLongstitch worked, of Charlotte at the tomb of Werter, though she _did_sew silver spangles all over Charlotte's lilac gown, and used chenille,at a fi'-penny-bit a needleful, for all the banks and the large tree.Now, as the mantel-piece is provided for, I wish a landscape for each ofthe recesses, and a figure-piece to hang on each side of the largelooking-glass, with flower-pieces under them, all by Marianne. Can shedo all these in one quarter?"
"No, that she can't," replied Gummage; "it will take her two quarters'hard work, and may be three, to get through the whole of them."
"Well, I won't stand about a quarter more or less," said Mrs. Atmore;"but what I wish Marianne to do most particularly, and, indeed, thechief reason why I send her to drawing-school just now, is a pattern fora set of china that we are going to have made in Canton. I was told theother day by a New York lady (who was quite tired of the queer,unmeaning things which are generally put on India ware), that she hadsent a pattern for a tea-set, drawn by her daughter, and that everyarticle came out with the identical device beautifully done on thechina, all in the proper colours. She said it was talked of all over NewYork, and that people who had never been at the house before, came tolook at and admire it. No doubt it was a great feather in her daughter'scap."
"Possibly, madam," said Gummage.
"And now," resumed Mrs. Atmore, "since I heard this, I have thought ofnothing else than having the same thing done in my family; only I shallsend for a dinner set, and a very long one, too. Mr. Atmore tells methat the Voltaire, one of Stephen Girard's ships, sails for Canton earlynext month, and he is well acquainted with the captain, who will attendto the order for the china. I suppose in the course of a fortnightMarianne will have learnt drawing enough to enable her to do thepattern?"
"Oh! yes, madam--quite enough," replied Gummage, suppressing a laugh.
"Very well," said Mrs. Atmore. "And now, Mr. Gummage, let me look atsome of your models."
"Figures, flowers, or landscapes?" asked the artist.
"Oh! some of each," replied the lady.
Mr. Gummage had so many pupils--both boys and girls--and so manyclasses, and gave lessons besides, at so many boarding-schools, that hehad no leisure time for receiving applications, and as he kept hisdomicile incog. he saw all his visitors at his school-room. Foreseeing along examination of the prints, he took from a hanging shelf several ofhis numerous portfolios, and having placed them on a table before Mrs.Atmore and her daughter, he proceeded to go round and direct his presentclass of young ladies, who were all sitting at the drawing-desks intheir bonnets and shawls, because the apartment afforded noaccommodation for these habiliments if laid aside. Each young lady wasleaning over a straining-frame, on which was pasted a sheet ofdrawing-paper, and each seemed engaged in attempting to copy one of thecoloured engravings that were fastened by a slip of cleft cane to thecord of twine that ran along the wall. The benches were dusty, the floordirty and slopped with spilt water; and the windows, for want ofwashing, looked more like horn than glass. The school-room and teacherwere all in keeping. Yet for many years Mr. Gummage was so much infashion that no other drawing-masters had the least chance of success.Those who recollect the original, will not think his portraitovercharged.
We left Mr. Gummage going round his class for the purpose of giving aglance, and saying a few words to each.
"Miss Jones, lay down the lid of your paint-box. No rulers shall be usedin my school, as I have often told you."
"But, Mr. Gummage, only look at the walls of my castle; they are allleaning to one side; both the turrets stand crooked, and the doors andwindows slant every way."
"No matter, it's my rule that nobody shall use a rule. Miss Miller, haveyou rubbed the blue and bistre I told you?"
"Yes, sir; I've been at it all the afternoon; here it is."
"Why, that's not half enough."
"Mr. Gummage, I've rubbed, and rubbed, till my arm aches to theshoulder, and my face is all in a glow."
"Then take off your bonnet, and
"Mr. Gummage," said one young lady, "you promised to put in my skyto-day."
"Mr. Gummage," said another, "I've been waiting for my distances thesetwo weeks. How can I go any farther till you have done them for me?"
"Finish the fore-ground to-day. It is time enough for the distances:I'll put them in on Friday."
"Mr. Gummage," said another, "my river has been expecting you since lastWednesday."
"Why, you have not put in the boat yet. Do the boat to-day, and thefisherman on the shore. But look at your bridge! Every arch is of adifferent size--some big, and some little."
"Well, Mr. Gummage, it is your own fault--you should let me usecompasses. I have a pair in my box--do, pray, let me use them."
"No, I won't. My plan is that you shall all draw entirely by the eye."
"That is the reason we make everything so crooked."
"I see nothing more crooked than yourselves," replied the politedrawing-master.
"Mr. Gummage," said another young lady, raising her eyes from a novelthat she had brought with her, "I have done nothing at my piece for atleast a fortnight. I have been all the time waiting for you to put in mylarge tree."
"Hush this moment with your babbling, every soul of you," said theteacher, in an under tone: "don't you see there are strangers here? Whatan unreasonable pack of fools you are! Can I do everybody's piece atonce? Learn to have patience, one and all of you, and wait till yourturn comes."
Some of the girls tossed their heads and pouted, and some laughed, andsome quitted their desks and amused themselves by looking out at thewindows. But the instructor turned his back on them, and walked offtowards the table at which Mrs. Atmore and her daughter were seated withthe portfolios, both making incessant exclamations of "Howbeautiful!--how elegant!--how sweet!"
"Oh! here are Romeo and Juliet in the tomb scene!" cried Marianne."Look, mamma, is it not lovely?--the very play in which we saw Cooperand Mrs. Merry. Oh! do let me paint Romeo and Juliet for the dinner set!But stop--here's the Shepherdess of the Alps! how magnificent! I think Iwould rather do that for the china. And here's Mary Queen of Scots; Iremember her ever since I read history. And here are Telemachus andMinerva, just as I translated about them in my Telemaque exercises. Oh!let me do them for the dinner set--sha'n't I. Mr. Gummage?"
"I don't see any figure-pieces in which the colours are bright enough,"remarked Mrs. Atmore.
"As to that," observed Gummage--who knew that the burthen of the drawingwould eventually fall on him, and who never liked to do figures--"Idon't believe that any of these figure pieces would look well if reducedso small as to go on china plates."
"Well,--here are some very fine landscapes," pursued Mrs. Atmore;"Here's the Cascade of Tivoli--and here's a view in Jamaica--and here'sGlastonbury Abbey."
"Oh! I dote on abbeys," cried Marianne, "for the sake of AmandaFitzalan."
"Your papa will not approve of your doing this," observed Mrs. Atmore:"you know, he says that abbeys are nothing but old tumble-downchurches."
"If I may not do an abbey, let me do a castle," said Marianne; "there'sConway Castle by moonlight--how natural the moon looks!"
"As to castles," replied Mrs. Atmore, "you know your papa says they areno better than old jails. He hates both abbeys and castles."
"Well, here is a noble country seat," said Marianne--"'Chiswick House.'"
"Your papa has no patience with country seats," rejoined Mrs. Atmore."He says that when people have made their money, they had better stay intown to enjoy it; where they can be convenient to the market, and thestores, and the post-office, and the coffee-house. He likes a goodcomfortable three story brick mansion, in a central part of the city,with marble steps, iron railings, and green venetian shutters."
"To cut the matter short," said Mr. Gummage, "the best thing for thechina is a flower piece--a basket, or a wreath--or something of thatsort. You can have a good cipher in the centre, and the colours may beas bright as you please. India ware is generally painted with one colouronly; but the Chinese are submissive animals, and will do just as theyare bid. It may cost something more to have a variety of colours; but Isuppose you will not mind that."
"Oh! no--no," exclaimed Mrs. Atmore, "I shall not care for the price; Ihave set my mind on having this china the wonder of all Philadelphia."
Our readers will understand, that at this period nearly all theporcelain used in America was of Chinese manufacture; very little ofthat elegant article having been, as yet, imported from France.
A wreath was selected from the portfolio that contained the engravingsand drawings of flowers. It was decided that Marianne should firstexecute it the full size of the model (which was as large as nature),that she might immediately have a piece to frame; and that she wasafterwards to make a smaller copy of it, as a border for all thearticles of the china set; the middle to be ornamented with the letterA, in gold, surrounded by the rays of a golden star. Sprigs and tendrilsof the flowers were to branch down from the border, so as nearly toreach the gilding in the middle. The large wreath that was intended toframe, was to bear in its centre the initials of Marianne Atmore, beingthe letters M. A., painted in shell gold.
"And so," said Mr. Gummage, "having a piece to frame, and a pattern foryour china, you'll kill two birds with one stone."
On the following Monday, the young lady came to take her first lesson,followed by a mulatto boy, carrying a little black morocco trunk, thatcontained a four row box of Reeves' colours, with an assortment ofcamel's hair pencils, half a dozen white saucers, a water cup, a leadpencil, and a piece of India rubber. Mr. Gummage immediately suppliedher with two bristle brushes, and sundry little shallow earthern cups,each containing a modicum of some sort of body colour, masticot, flakewhite, &c., prepared by himself, and charged at a quarter-dollar apiece,and which he told her she would want when she came to do landscapes andfigures.
Mr. Gummage's style was, to put in the sky, water, and distances withopaque paints, and the most prominent objects with transparent colours.This was probably the reason that his foregrounds seemed always to besunk in his backgrounds. The model was scarcely considered as a guide,for he continually told his pupils that they must try to excel it; andhe helped them to do so by making all his skies deep red fire at thebottom, and dark blue smoke at the top; and exactly reversing thecolours on the water, by putting red at the top, and blue at the bottom.The distant mountains were lilac and white, and the near rocks buffcolour shaded with purple. The castles and abbeys were usually gamboge.The trees were dabbed and dotted in with a large bristle brush, so thatthe foliage looked like a green fog. The foam of the cascades resembleda concourse of wigs, scuffling together and knocking the powder out ofeach other, the spray being always fizzed on with one of the aforesaidbristle brushes. All the dark shadows in every part of the picture weredone with a mixture of Prussian blue and bistre, and of these twocolours there was consequently a vast consumption in Mr. Gummage'sschool. At the period of our story, many of the best houses inPhiladelphia were decorated with these landscapes. But for the honour ofmy townspeople, I must say that the taste for such productions is nowentirely obsolete. We may look forward to the time, which we trust isnot far distant, when the elements of drawing will be taught in everyschool, and considered as indispensable to education as a knowledge ofwriting. It has long been our belief that _any_ child may, with properinstruction, be made to draw, as easily as any child may be made towrite. We are rejoiced to find that so distinguished an artist asRembrandt Peale has avowed the same opinion, in giving to the world hisinvaluable little work on Graphics: in which he has clearly demonstratedthe affinity between drawing and writing, and admirably exemplified theleading principles of both.
Marianne's first attempt at the great wreath was awkward enough. Aftershe had spent five or six afternoons at the outline, and made ittriangular rather than circular, and found it
After he had sketched the wreath, he directed Marianne to rub thecolours for her flowers, while he put in Miss Smithson's rocks.
When Marianne had covered all her saucers with colours, and wasted tentimes as much as was necessary, she was eager to commence painting, asshe called it; and in trying to wash the rose with lake, she daubed iton of crimson thickness. When Mr. Gummage saw it, he gave her a severereprimand for meddling with her own piece. It was with great difficultythat the superabundant colour was removed; and he charged her to let theflowers alone till he was ready to wash them for her. He worked a littleat the piece every day, forbidding Marianne to touch it: and sheremained idle while he was putting in skies, mountains, &c., for theother young ladies.
At length the wreath was finished--Mr. Gummage having only sketched it,and washed it, and given it the last touches. It was put into a splendidframe, and shown as Miss Marianne Atmore's first attempt at painting;and everybody exclaimed, "What an excellent teacher Mr. Gummage must be!How fast he brings on his pupils!"
In the mean time, she undertook at home to make the small copy that wasto go to China. But she was now "at a dead lock," and found it utterlyimpossible to advance a step without Mr. Gummage. It was then thoughtbest that she should do it at school--meaning that Mr. Gummage should doit for her, while she looked out of the window.
The whole was at last satisfactorily accomplished, even to the gilt starwith the A in the centre. It was taken home and compared with the largerwreath, and found still prettier, and shown as Marianne's, to the envyof all mothers whose daughters could not furnish models for china. Itwas finally given in charge to the captain of the Voltaire, withinjunctions to order a dinner-set exactly according to the pattern--andto prevent the possibility of a mistake, a written direction accompaniedit.
The ship sailed--and Marianne continued three quarters at Mr. Gummage'sschool, where she nominally effected another flower piece, and alsoperpetrated Kemble in Rolla, Edwin and Angelina, the Falls of the Rhine,and the Falls of Niagara; all of which were duly framed, and hung intheir appointed places.
During the year that followed the departure of the ship Voltaire, greatimpatience for her return was manifested by the ladies of the Atmorefamily--anxious to see how the china would look, and frequently hopingthat the colours would be bright enough, and none of the flowersomitted--that the gilding would be rich, and everything inserted in itsproper place, exactly according to the pattern. Mrs. Atmore's onlyregret was, that she had not sent for a tea-set also; not that she wasin want of one, but then it would be so much better to have a dinner-setand a tea-set precisely alike, and Marianne's beautiful wreath on all.
"Why, my dear," said Mr. Atmore, "how often have I heard you say thatyou would never have another _tea_-set from Canton, because the Chinesepersist in making the principal articles of such old-fashioned, awkwardshapes. For my part, I always disliked the tall coffee pots, with theirstraight spouts, looking like light-houses with bowsprits to them; andthe short, clumsy tea-pots, with their twisted handles, and lids thatalways fall off."
"To be sure," said Mrs. Atmore, "I have been looking forward to thetime, when we can get a French tea-set upon tolerable terms. But in themean while, I should be very glad to have cups and saucers withMarianne's beautiful wreath, and of course, when we use this china onthe table we shall always bring forward our silver pots."
Spring returned, and there was much watching of the vanes, and great joywhen they pointed easterly, and the ship-news now became the mostinteresting column of the papers. A vessel that had sailed from New Yorkfor Canton, on the same day the Voltaire departed for Philadelphia, hadalready got in; therefore the Voltaire might be hourly expected. Atlength she was reported below; and at this period the river Delawaresuffered much, in comparison with the river Hudson, owing to thetediousness of its navigation from the capes to the city.
At last the Voltaire cast anchor at the foot of Market street, and ourladies could scarcely refrain from walking down to the wharf to see theship that held the box, that held the china. But invitations wereimmediately sent out for a long projected dinner-party, which Mrs.Atmore had persuaded her husband to defer till they could exhibit thebeautiful new porcelain.
The box was landed, and conveyed to the house. The whole family werepresent at the opening, which was performed in the dining-room by Mr.Atmore himself,--all the servants peeping in at the door. As soon as apart of the lid was split off, and a handful of straw removed, a pile ofplates appeared, all separately wrapped in India paper. Each of thefamily snatched up a plate and hastily tore off the covering. There werethe flowers glowing in beautiful colours, and the gold star and the goldA, admirably executed. But under the gold star, on every plate, dish,and tureen, were the words, "THIS IN THE MIDDLE!"--being the directionwhich the literal and exact Chinese had minutely copied from a crookedline that Mr. Atmore had hastily scrawled on the pattern with a very badpen, and of course without the slightest thought of its being inserted_verbatim_ beneath the central ornament.
Mr. Atmore laughed--Mrs. Atmore cried--the servants giggled aloud--andMarianne cried first, and laughed afterwards.
The only good that resulted was, that it gave occasion to Mr. Atmore torelate the story to his guests whenever he had a dinner-party.