Devonshire Characters and Strange Events/Benjamin R. Haydon
BENJAMIN R. HAYDON
THE only painting by which this artist is generally known is that of Napoleon standing on a cliff at S. Helena, gazing on the departing glories of the day as the sun sets in the ocean. There is feeling and pathos in the picture, as there is in Watts's "Young Man with Great Possessions," although in both only the back is seen of the personage depicted. Haydon did his "Napoleon Musing" over a good many times. He sold a copy to the King of Hanover.
On 7 March, 1844, he entered in his diary: "I have painted nineteen Napoleons. Thirteen Musings at S. Helena, and six other Musings. By heavens! how many more?"
And of all his pictures Haydon thought least of this. But he was a man mistaken in his estimate of his own powers and of what he could do. He wanted to be an heroic painter, but projected his own personality upon his canvas, and as he was a man with disproportionately short legs, his "Moses," his "Alexander," and other heroes must be short nether-limbed as well.
The Haydons of Cadhay, in Ottery S. Mary parish, were an ancient family. They built the south porch of the collegiate church in 1571, and set up on it the inscription "He that no il will Do no thynt yt lang yto," or in plainer English, "He that no ill will do, let him do nothing that belongs thereto"; a motto that it had been well for Benjamin had he retained it and acted on it to the end.
The authentic pedigree of the Haydons goes back to the reign of Henry III. They were, originally, of Ebford, in Woodbury parish, and did not acquire Cadhay till the beginning of the seventeenth century; but in the eighteenth century they got into difficulties through expensive lawsuits, and lost both Cadhay and Ebford, and disappeared as water that sinks into the sand. The last of whom we know anything was Gideon Haydon, of Cadhay, who died in 1707, and left two sons, Gideon and John.
Benjamin Robert Haydon in his Autobiography says: "My father was the lineal descendant of one of the oldest families in Devon, the Haydons of Cadhay. The family was ruined by a chancery suit, and the children were bound out to various trades. Among them was my grandfather, who was bound out to Mr. Savery, of Slade, near Plymouth. He conducted him- self well, and gained the esteem of his master, who in time made him his steward. In a few years he saved money, and on the death of Mr. Savery set up a bookseller's shop in Plymouth, where he died in 1773 from disease of the heart. My grandfather married Mary Baskerville, a descendant of the great printer. At my grandfather's death my father succeeded to the business, and married a Miss Cobley, daughter of a clergyman, who had the living of Ide, near Exeter. He was killed early in life by the fall of a sounding-board on his head while preaching."
Unfortunately B. R. Haydon does not give the Christian names of his father and grandfather, so that we are not able to say where they hitch on to the submerged Haydons of Cadhay.B. R. Haydon left at his death not only an
B. R. HAYDON
From a drawing by David Wilkie
As the opening of his Autobiography contains some lively sketches of old Plymouth, I shall extract these.
"My father sent me to the grammar school under the Rev. Dr. Bidlake, a man of some taste. He painted and played on the organ, patronized talent, was fond of country excursions, wrote poems which nobody ever read.
"Finding that I had a taste for art, he always took me, with another boy, from our studies to attend his caprices in painting. Here his odd and peculiar figure, for his back was bent from fever, induced us to play him tricks. As he was obliged to turn round and walk away to study the effect of his touches, we used to rub out what he had done before he returned, when his perplexity and simplicity were delightful to mischievous boys. Once he sent my companion to cut off the skirt of an old coat to clean his palette with, and the boy cut off the skirt of his best Sunday coat. Poor dear Dr. Bidlake went to Stonehouse Chapel in his great-coat the next Sunday, and when he took it off to put on the surplice the clerk exclaimed in horror, ’Good God, Sir! somebody has cut off the skirt of your coat!'"
"My father used to show my drawings to his customers. One of them was a very great man in the town—merchant and, I believe, consul. John H. [Hawker] was a very worthy but pompous man, exceedingly vain, very fond of talking French before people who could not speak a word of it, and quoting Italian sayings of which he knew little; liked everything but steady attention to his business, was a good father, good husband, and to play soldier for a week at any time would have laid his head upon the block. During the dread of invasion volunteer corps became the rage. The very infants in the nursery played soldiers too. Mr. John [Hawker] either raised or joined a corps of volunteers, and warier men made him colonel, that the expense might not fall on their heads. Colonel he was, and devoted himself to the occupation with so much sincerity that his men in discipline and order would certainly not have disgraced a marching militia regiment. After review days, nothing gave the Colonel so much delight as marching right through the town from the Hoe, to the horror and consternation of the apple-women. The moment the drums and trumpets were heard sounding at the bottom of Market Street, the scramble to get out of the way among the poor old women is not to be imagined. Market Street in Plymouth is a sort of hill, and how often as a boy have I left my drawing, dashed down and out to the top of the hill to see the Colonel in all his glory.
"First came in view his feather and cap, then his large, red, pride-swollen, big-featured face, with a smile on it in which grim war, dignity, benevolent condescension, stolidity, and self-satisfaction were mixed in equal proportions; then came his charger, curvetting with graceful fire, now hind-quarters this side, now forequarters that side, with the Colonel—sword drawn and glittering in the sun—recognizing the wives and children of the ironmongers, drapers, and grocers who crowded the windows to see him pass. Then came the band, big drum and trumpets; then the grenadier company with regular tramp; then the Colonel's eldest son, John, out of the counting-house, who was captain; then his lieutenant, an attorney's clerk; then the Colonel and band turned to the right down Broad Street—the music became fainter and fainter, the rear lagged after. The Colonel drew up his regiment before his own parlour windows, and solaced by white handkerchiefs and fair lips, dismissed his men, and retired to the privacy of domestic life until a new field day recalled him to the glory of the Hoe and the perils of apple-stalls and slippery streets."
B. R.'s father had been a fast and dissipated man, but before he utterly sank past recovery, he pulled himself together and became a man of business, always somewhat shifty, and disposed to enjoy himself rather than stick to work. On one occasion the bookseller was asked angrily by a important customer why he had not fulfilled his oft-repeated promise to procure some young walnuts to which he had access, and his reply was that there had been such a demand for gun-stocks from the war then raging in the Peninsula that there were no trees left.
A somewhat congenial spirit came to Plymouth and settled into his house. This was a Mr. Cobley, brother of Mrs. Haydon, a man fond of society and of his bottle, accomplished, and so habitually indolent that when he came to see his sister on a six weeks' visit he never had the energy to remove, got embedded in the family, stayed thirty years, and quitted it and life together.
B. R. does not appear to have had much love for his father, but he always speaks of his mother with the tenderest affection, and her opposition to her only boy's choice of the profession of a painter cost him a severe struggle before he could disregard her entreaties to abide by his father's trade.
Haydon was little more than a boy in years when he left home in May, 1804, and plunged into the uncertain depths of London life. He had an introduction to Northcote, a Devonshire man like himself, but jealous, spiteful, and unwilling to help a struggling beginner, And he was fortunate in attracting the notice of Fuseli, Keeper of the Royal Academy, who liked him, and helped him to master the rudiments of his profession.
Haydon admired the effects of London smoke.
"By Code," said Fuseli to him one day, "it's like the smoke of the Israelites making bricks." "It is grand," retorted B. R., "for it is the smoke of a people who would have made the Egyptians make bricks for them."
He became friendly with Wilkie, then a raw, red-headed Scotch lad, who had made a hit, and taken the town by storm with his " Village Politicians."
David Wilkie was canny about money. One day he was showing his fellow pupils some drawing-paper he was using. "Why, Wilkie!" exclaimed Haydon, "where did you get this? Bring us a quire to-morrow." He promised that he would. The next day, and the day after, no drawing-paper. When remonstrated with, David quietly excused himself, "Weel, weel, jest give me the money first, and ye'll be sure to hae the paper."
When thus starting as a painter, a hint was given to Haydon, by this success of Wilkie, what was the line that he should pursue, what was the style of picture that would appeal to the public. But he was too obstinate to take the hint. His idea was the High Art, heroic subjects from mythology or classic history, or from the Old Testament, on huge canvases—themes that interested few, and of a size that few could buy.
"Your paintings are too big," said a duchess to him one day; "we have not houses that can contain them."
"It is not that," replied Haydon; "it is that your hearts are too contracted to appreciate them."
In 1807 Haydon was summoned to Plymouth by the failure of his mother's health.
"Incessant anxiety and trouble, and her only son's bursting away from her at a time when she had hoped for his consolations in her old age, gradually generated that dreadful disease angina pectoris. Her doom was sealed, and death held her as his own, whenever it should please him to claim her. Her fine heroic face began to wither and grow pale; loss of exercise brought on weakness and derangement. She imagined that the advice of an eminent surgeon in London might save her, and though I and everybody else knew that nothing could be done, we acceded to her wish immediately.
"I painted her portrait, and as she sat I saw a tear now and then fill her eye and slowly trickle down her cheek, and then she would look almost indignant at her own weakness. My dear mother felt her approaching end so clearly that she made every arrangement with reference to her death. I went to Exeter to get her apartments ready at the hotel the day before she left home. She had passed a great part of her life with a brother (the prebend of Wells), who took care of a Mr. Cross, a dumb miniature painter. Cross (who in early life had made a fortune by his miniatures) loved my mother, and proposed to her, but she, being at that time engaged to my father, refused him, and they had never seen each other since. He retired from society, deeply affected by his disappointment. The day after leaving Exeter we stopped at Wells, as my mother wished to see my uncle once more.
"The meeting was very touching. As I left the room and crossed the hall I met a tall, handsome old man; his eyes seemed to look me through. Muttering hasty, unintelligible sounds he opened the door, saw my mother, and rushed over to her, as if inspired of a sudden with youthful vigour. Then, pressing her to his heart, he wept, uttering sounds of joy not human. This was Cross. They had not met for thirty years. We came so suddenly to my uncle's they had never thought of getting him out of the way. It seemed as if the great sympathizing spirit once again brought them together before their souls took flight.
"He was in an agony of joy and pain, smoothing her hair, and pointing first to her cheek and then to his own, as if to say, ’How altered!' The moment he darted his eyes upon my sister and me, he looked as if he felt we were her children, but did not much notice us beyond this.
"My sister, hanging over my poor mother, wept painfully. She, Cross, my uncle and aunt, were all sobbing and much touched; for my part, my chest hove up and down as I struggled with emotions at this singular and afflicting meeting. Disappointment in love, where the character is amiable, gives a pathetic interest to woman or man. But how much more than ordinary sympathy must he excite who, dumb by nature, can only express his feelings by the lightenings of the eye! Thus had this man been left for thirty years, brooding over affections wounded as for the mere pleasure of torture. For many months after my mother married he was frantic and ungovernable at her continued absence, and then sank into sullen sourness. His relations and friends endeavoured to explain to him the cause of her going away, but he was never satisfied, and never believed them; now, when the recollection of her, young and beautiful, might occasionally have soothed his imagination, she suddenly bursts on him with two children, the offspring of her marriage with his rival—and that so altered, bowed, and weakened as to root out the association of her youthful beauty with the days of his happy thoughts.
"There are moments of suffering or joy when all thought of human frailties is swept away in the gush of sympathy. Such a moment was this. His anger, his frantic indignation, and his sullen silence at her long absence, all passed away before her worn and sickly face. He saw her before him, broken and dying; he felt all his affection return, and flinging himself forward on the table, he burst into a paroxysm of tears as if his very heart-strings would crack. By degrees we calmed him, for nature had been relieved by this agonizing grief, and they parted in a few moments for the last time."
Next day Haydon and his sister went on with their mother, but did not reach London with her; she died at Salt Hill, in the inn.
Surely had B. R. but deigned to paint a picture of the old dumb lover with arms outspread on the table, weeping—as he so touchingly describes the scene, it would have appealed to the public. But no! the scene was not heroic. Old Cross was not a classic figure. Haydon had resolved to be a painter of heroic in art or be nothing.
The Royal Academy would have none of him, and he attacked it furiously at point of the bayonet. That the Royal Academy hampered the progress of Art, stifled genius, crushed out originality was true then as some assert it is true now; but the Royal Academicians did not relish being told these truths by one just growing to manhood; and it was impolitic in Haydon to set those in arms against him who posed and were regarded as authorities on Art. Nothing pleased him but vast canvases. On 24 July, 1825, he refused a commission of five hundred guineas from Sir John Broughton to paint a small picture of Edward the Black Prince distinguishing an ancestor on the field of Poitiers, lest it should interfere with his carrying out of one of his unsaleable monstrous canvases. The pictures that sold were portraits. "My whole soul and body raise the gorge at portrait," he wrote in his diary. When he was engaged to do a family piece, he says that it gave him a nasty taste in his mouth. Yet, as his great subjects would not sell, he was forced to paint portraits; and he writes, 24 July, 1824: "For these two months, having at last devoted myself to portraits, I have enjoyed tranquillity, luxury, quiet, and peace, and have maintained my family with respectability." And then he bursts forth into scorn and loathing of the subject. Indeed, he says he gloried in doing portraits badly, because it was unworthy of him and his high ideals. "I have an exquisite gratification in painting portraits wretchedly." 27 March, 1843: "The moment I touch a great canvas I think I see my Creator smiling on all my efforts. The moment I do mean things for subsistence I feel as if He had turned His back, and, what's more, I believe it." 21 January, 1842: "There is nothing like a large canvas. Let me be penniless, helpless, hungry, thirsty, croaking or fierce, the blank, even space of a large canvas restores me to happiness, to anticipations of glory. My heart expands, and I stride my room like a Hercules." Borrow, in his Lavengro, has devoted a chapter to a visit to Haydon. A commission had been given to the artist to paint the portrait of the Mayor of Norwich. He was only reconciled to the idea when it was suggested to him that he should represent the mayor as issuing from under a Norman archway.
"The painter of the heroic resided a great way off, at the western end of the town. We had some difficulty in obtaining admission to him; a maidservant, who opened the door, eyeing us somewhat suspiciously. It was not until my brother had said that he was a friend of the painter that we were permitted to pass the threshold. At length we were shown into the studio, where we found the painter, with an easel and brush, standing before a huge canvas, on which he had lately commenced painting a heroic picture. The painter might be about thirty-five years old; he had a clever, intelligent countenance, with a sharp grey eye; his hair was dark-brown, and cut à la Raphael, that is, that there was very little before and much behind; he did not wear a neckcloth, but in its stead a black riband, so that his neck, which was rather fine, was somewhat exposed; he had a broad, muscular breast, and I make no doubt that he would have been a fine figure, but unfortunately his legs and thighs were somewhat short.
"My brother gave him a brief account of his commission. At the mention of the hundred pounds I observed the eyes of the painter to glisten. 'Really,' said he, 'it was very kind to think of me. I am not very fond of painting portraits; but a mayor is a mayor, and there is something grand in the idea of the Norman arch. I'll go; moreover, I am just at this moment confoundedly in need of money, and when you knocked at the door I thought it was some dun. I don't know how it is, but in the capital they have no taste for the heroic. They will scarce look at a heroic picture.'
"Thereupon it was arranged between the painter and my brother that they should depart [for Norwich] the next day but one; they then began to talk of art. ’I'll stick to the heroic’ said the painter; 'I now and then dabble in the comic, but what I do gives me no pleasure—the comic is low; there is nothing like the heroic. I am engaged here on a heroic picture,' said he, pointing to the canvas; 'the subject is Pharaoh dismissing Moses from Egypt. That finished figure is Moses.' The picture was not far advanced; as I gazed upon it, it appeared to me that there was something defective—something unsatisfactory in the figure.
"We presently afterwards departed. My brother talked much about the painter. 'He is a noble fellow,' said my brother, 'but, like many other noble fellows, has a great many enemies; he is hated by his brethren of the brush but above all, the race of portrait painters detest him for his heroic tendencies. It will be a kind of triumph to the last when they hear he has condescended to paint a portrait; however, that Norman arch will enable him to escape from their malice. … By the by, do you not think that figure of Moses is somewhat short?' And then it appeared to me that I had thought the figure of Moses somewhat short, and I told my brother so.
"On the morrow my brother departed with the painter for the old town, and there the painter painted the mayor. The mayor was a mighty, portly man, with a bull's head, black hair, body like that of a dray-horse, and legs and thighs corresponding—a man six foot high at the least. To his bull's head, black hair, and body, the painter had done justice; there was one point, however, in which the portrait did not correspond with the original the legs were disproportionably short, the painter having substituted his own legs for those of the mayor.
"Short legs in a heroic picture will never do; and, upon the whole, I think the painter's attempt at the heroic in painting the mayor of the old town a decided failure. If I am now asked whether the picture would have been a heroic one provided the painter had not substituted his own legs for those of the mayor, I must say I am afraid not. I have no idea of making heroic pictures out of English mayors, even with the assistance of Norman arches; yet I am sure that capital pictures might be made of English mayors, not issuing out of Norman arches, but rather from the door of the Chequers, or the Brewers Three. The painter in question had great comic power, which he scarcely ever cultivated; he would fain be a Raphael, which he never could be, when he might have been something quite as good another Hogarth; the only comic piece which he ever presented to the world being little inferior to the best of that illustrious master."
Borrow was wrong in saying that Haydon did only one comic piece; he did three or four, of which presently.
On 10 October, 1821, Haydon married a widow with two children by the first husband; and to the end he remained devotedly attached to his dear Mary. She had a little money of her own.
He had got £3000 receipts by exhibition of his picture "Christ's Entry into Jerusalem," but had to sell it, being short of money, for £240; and he was forced to dispose of his "Raising of Lazarus" to Binus, his upholsterer, to clear off a debt, for £300. He certainly did make a good deal of money, but was always in debt, often without a shilling in his pocket. His huge canvases did not sell. He says of them, in 1826, when Reinagle questioned him about them, "Where is your ’Solomon,' Mr. Haydon?" "Hung up in a grocer's shop." " Where is your 'Jerusalem'?" "In a ware-room in Holborn." "Where is your 'Lazarus'?" "In an upholsterer's shop in Mount Street." "And your ’Macbeth'?" "In Chancery." "Your ’Pharaoh'?" "In an attic, pledged." "And your 'Crucifixion'?" "In a hayloft." "And 'Silenus'?" "Sold for half-price." But he was incapable of bending his proud spirit to accommodate his style to the popular taste. He besieged the ministers, he pestered great men to get the Government to encourage High Art. If noble patrons would not buy heroic pictures on huge canvases, the State should do it to adorn public buildings. He took pupils, who paid large premiums, and he got them to back his bills, and involved them in heavy outlay to meet them, and then pupils shrank from coming near him. He pestered the nobility, all wealthy men for loans, for grants, for pecuniary aid to help him out of immediate difficulties. He was arrested again and again, and sent to the King's Bench, had to appear in the Insolvent Debtors' Court, had distraints levied on his pictures, his furniture, his books. He went about lecturing on Art, and these lectures brought him in a respectable revenue, but he was ever under-water. How he squandered his money does not appear in his journals; but he certainly did earn sufficient with his brush to have maintained himself and his family in respectability had he known how to economize. He got into the hands of moneylenders, and was squeezed. He met with generous aid from numerous quarters, but was no sooner relieved of one pressing call than he fell into fresh difficulties.
If he were taken up by a noble patron and invited to his table, he offended him by contradiction and rudeness. "I do not think I am liked in company, except by women," he admits in his journal.
The comic painting alluded to by Borrow was thus originated whilst Haydon was in the Debtors' Prison at King's Bench:—
"I was sitting in my own apartment, buried in my own reflexions, melancholy, but not despairing, at the darkness of my prospects and the unprotected condition of my wife and children, when a sudden tumultuous and hearty laugh below brought me to the window.
"Before me were three men marching in solemn procession, the one in the centre a tall young, reckless, bushy-headed, light-hearted Irishman, with a rusty cocked-hat under his arm, a bunch of flowers in his bosom, his curtain-rings round his neck for a gold chain, a mopstick for a white wand, tipped with an empty strawberry-pottle, bows of ribbons on his shoulders, and a great hole in his elbow; on his right was another person in burlesque solemnity, with a sash and real white wand; two others, fantastically dressed, came immediately behind, and the whole followed by characters of all descriptions, some with flags, some with staffs, and all in perfect merriment and mock gravity, adapted to some masquerade. I asked what it meant, and was told it was a procession of burgesses, headed by the Lord High Sheriff and Lord Mayor of the King's Bench Prison, going in state to open the poll, in order to elect two members to protect their rights in the House of Commons. I returned to my room, and laughed and wept by turns! Here were a set of creatures who must have been in want and in sorrow, struggling (with a spiked wall before their eyes) to bury remembrance in the humour of a farce."
He painted the scene of the "Mock Election in Prison," and sold it to the King for £525, after having made £321 by it in exhibition. Then he painted another comic picture, "Chairing the Member," for which he got £422, beside £168 by exhibition. A third humorous picture was " Punch and Judy."
But though he made money by these paintings in the style of Hogarth, he hated doing them. His soul soared to High Art.
"At the table of Mr. Wyatt," says the Rev. J. Richardson in his Recollections (London, 1856), I met the late Mr. Haydon, the artist, with whom I had been previously acquainted. Haydon was undoubtedly a man of considerable talent, but of insatiable vanity. He had concentrated in his own estimation of his merits those atoms of admiration that ought to have been diffused among the general community, who were certainly somewhat slow in recognizing the claims which he was continually urging; indeed, they were far too slow to satisfy his craving for applause, and for a slice or two of that solid pudding which many people value much more than empty praise. The consequence was that he was continually indulging in querulous complaint and bitter vituperation; everybody was rewarded except himself; nobody but himself had any merit or capacity or feeling for Art. All the world were fools; he was the little bit of leaven that was to bring the solid lump into fermentation; the one wise man whose presence rescued the mass of mankind from unqualified insignificance and fatuity. This inordinate vanity overlaid the many good qualities which he possessed, blinded his perspicuity, and perverted his judgment."
On 16 October, 1834, the Houses of Parliament were consumed by fire, and Barry was entrusted with designs for the erection of a new palace, which was begun in 1840. Now was the opportunity for which Haydon had yearned. The new Houses of Parliament must receive decoration in fresco. In 1842 a Fine Arts Commission issued a notice of conditions for a cartoon competition. Haydon welcomed this with delight. Who but he was competent to execute such great works? And he laboured hard at the study of fresco and in the preparation of cartoons. But he was disappointed at not being given the chief place, without question, in the decoration of the Houses.
"After thirty-eight years of bitter suffering," he wrote, "perpetual struggle, incessant industry, undaunted perseverance, four imprisonments, three ruins, and five petitions to the House—never letting the subject of State support rest night or day, in prison or out; turning everything before the public—the wants of his family, the agonies of his wife, the oppression of the Academy, directing all to the great cause [of High Art], it is curious to see that the man who has got hold of the public heart, who is listened to and hailed by the masses—it is curious, as a bit of human justice, to find chairman, committee, witnesses, pupils, avoid throughout the whole inquiry any thought, word, or deed which could convey to a foreign nation or a native artist, a noble lord or an honourable member, that there was such a creature as Haydon on the earth!"
The opening of the Cartoon Exhibition was fixed for 3 July, 1843. Already, on 27 June, Haydon had received intelligence that his cartoons had been rejected. It was a bitter blow. But he struggled on till April, 1846, when he received another, that was final, and crushed his spirits. His cartoons should be seen and appreciated by the public. He hired a room in the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, in which to exhibit them, together with some of his historical paintings—"Aristides Banished from Naples," "Nero Playing upon his Harp whilst Rome was Burning," and some others. In the large front room of the Egyptian Hall, General Tom Thumb was holding his levees, and a swarm of people crowded to these, and very few looked in on Haydon's exhibition.
In his diary he enters: "21 April. Tom Thumb had 12,000 people last week. B. R. Haydon 133½ (the ½ a little girl). Exquisite taste of the English people!"
He closed his exhibition on 18 May, and had lost by it £111 8s. rod. He wrote: "I have not decayed, but the people have been corrupted. I am the same, they are not."
This was a wound so severe to his vanity that it never healed. He abused the public, contrasting his own merits with those of his diminutive rival, and mixing up the sublime with the ridiculous in such a manner as to make his complaints the source of laughter rather than of commiseration. He was at some moments in so excited a condition from his own disappointment, contrasted with the success of the dwarf and the showman, that he appeared to his friends to be almost insane.
On 22 June he wrote in his diary the lines from Lear: —
Stretch me no longer on this rough world.
This was written between half-past ten and a quarter to eleven o'clock on that morning. He was in his studio. About a quarter to eleven his wife and daughter heard the report of firearms, but took little notice of it, as they supposed it to proceed from the troops then exercising in the Park. Mrs. Haydon went out. Miss Haydon entered the painting-room, and found her father stretched dead before the easel on which stood his unfinished picture of "King Alfred and the First English Jury"—his white hairs dabbled in blood, a half-open razor smeared with blood at his side, near it a small pistol recently discharged, in his throat a fearful gash, and a bullet-wound in his skull. A portrait of his wife stood on a smaller easel facing his large picture. On a table near was his diary open at the page of that last entry, his watch, and a Prayer Book open at the Gospel for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, and his will.
The coroner's jury found that the suicide was committed when Haydon was in an unsound state of mind. In fact, he had been driven mad by mortified vanity. His debts at his death amounted to about £3000. The assets were inconsiderable. Liberal and immediate assistance and much sympathy were extended to the bereaved widow and family.
Posterity has not seen occasion to reverse the judgment of his contemporaries on Haydon's paintings.
His engrossing love of art, with his consciousness of great powers, and excessive self-esteem, made him a most enthusiastic devotee to any work which he had on his easel, and enabled him to bear up long against the thousand interruptions from embarrassed circumstances which are detailed in his Autobiography. Whilst painting his "Maid of Saragossa" he accidentally wounded his foot with a bayonet, but went on with the picture, using his own blood as a pigment, till the surgeon arrived.
Zeal, devotion, high thoughts, ability in composition, some power in colouring, and correct anatomical drawing may and ought to be conceded to Haydon. But he aimed at subjects beyond his power of execution, and in all his High Art paintings there is a lack of refined feeling and good taste. Thus, in the "Judgment of Solomon" the king is depicted as treating the whole affair as a practical joke. Mr. Watts, the artist, says: "The characteristics of Haydon's art appear to me to be great determination and power, knowledge and effrontery. His pictures are himself, and fail as he failed. In Haydon's work there is not sufficient forgetfulness of self to disarm criticism of personality. His pictures are themselves autobiographical notes of the most interesting kind; but their want of beauty repels, and their want of modesty exasperates. Perhaps their principal characteristic is want of delicacy of perception and refinement of execution. His touch is generally woolly, and his surface disagreeable."
He was determined to force his idea of the Heroic in Art on a public that had got beyond gods and goddesses and the heroes of the Greeks and Romans. He would have done well at the Court of Louis XIV, but he was out of date at the dawn of the naturalism of the nineteenth century.
The public, thought Haydon, were sick, and knew not what Art was. They must be forced, scolded, lectured, rated to admire it. The last thing that would occur to him would be to study the trend of public taste and to adapt himself to it.
When drawing his cartoons for the Houses of Parliament, he would not even consider what was fitting. Had he sent in his "Alfred and Trial by Jury," it might and probably would have been approved; but instead he sent pictures from the Reign of Terror in France to represent Anarchy, which was of all things unsuited for the new palace, that did not desire scenes from French history, and those recent ones.
And his huge cartoons were a mistake. Epics are not for the masses, and only great public buildings could contain these canvases. Public bodies did not care to spend large sums upon pictures for town halls and exchanges.
"What a game you have thrown away!" said a friend to Haydon one day; and we must echo that opinion in considering the life before us. It was a game utterly and irretrievably, through vanity and pig-headedness, thrown away.
- His pupils paid him £210 each.