Men I Have Painted/The Publisher
MY most vivid recollection of the Publisher is when I was trying to climb on his shoulders, at the risk of plunging into the square below, while he was leaning out of an upper window of the Johnson House to see a Zeppelin passing that was dropping bombs. The police were shouting at us, and threatening to raid the house, if we did not go in and turn out the lights. The great airship was slowly sailing overhead, brilliantly illuminated by the flare of the searchlights and the explosion of shells, and as we were a company of twenty-eight in the upper room just under the roof, a chance bomb falling upon the house would, in all probability, have shattered the majority of us.
The Publisher had kindly invited me to be his guest at a supper of the Johnson Club. At supper Mr. Clement Shorter sat on my right, Mr. Augustine Birrell just beyond him, and a group of members of Parliament were sitting around the secretary at the head of the table and opposite to us. After supper a paper was read on the cynicism of Dr. Johnson. Before the discussion began the secretary was asked to look in the dictionary to find the precise definition of a cynic. While he was doing so, a loud explosion was heard outside and near by. I did not recognize the sound; it was very loud, but dull, and did not reverberate: so I turned to Clement Shorter to say that a Zeppelin raid was in progress, when another and nearer explosion confirmed my suspicions; and a remarkable change in Mr. Shorter's complexion and expression made it evident that he also realized the situation. A very pronounced increase in the beat of my heart, and the colour, or the lack of it, of a tall man opposite, who had risen, as most of us were doing, caused me to search for the signs of an emotion of fright: but all that I found was that of an intense feeling of curiosity to see the airship, a curiosity that I had never known before, and which became so powerful, that in the struggle to get up on the Publisher's back—he had been quicker to reach the window than I—I almost precipitated both of us into Gough Square.
"Oh!" we all groaned in varying notes of surprise, alarm, and execration, as the thing passed immediately over us, sailing eastward. It was very high, and soon disappeared, although a little man beside me persisted in saying he could still see it; and when I suggested that he only saw the Pleiades through the thin veil of smoke, he resentfully remarked that it was the Zeppelin, because he had often seen airships manœuvring at night over Lake Constance. The police had now become so insistent, that we reluctantly left the window, and retook our seats at table to discuss "the cynicism of Dr. Johnson."
Birrell, I think, led off, and thirteen others took part in the debate. Half an hour after the raid a visitor would not have discovered in the calm of our procedure that anything unusual had happened. The porch of the Lyceum Theatre had been blown up, a drinking house opposite partly destroyed, and a number of people killed. The Morning Post building was on fire, and all the windows in that part of Fleet Street and the Strand blown out. When we left the Johnson House, at eleven o'clock, I looked up at the constellation of stars which my neighbour at the window took for the retreating Zeppelin, and as he passed me I said, "Do you see the Pleiades?" To which he responded in an aggrieved tone, "Yes, yes." In Fleet Street we walked through what seemed to be masses of broken ice, and stood for a few minutes watching the firemen on ladders against the Morning Post building, putting out the fire. There I left the Publisher, thanking him for his kind and novel entertainment, and proceeded across the bridge to Waterloo Station.
The lights were out, soldiers and others were lying about, and no trains were running. Hurrying to the underground I took a train to Richmond, that was redirected to Ealing on the way, and got down somewhere at 2 a.m. A kind policeman roused up a man from his bed, who drove me in a taxi to The Hermitage, which I reached at three o'clock, to the great relief of my family. This was the first air raid. During the two long years which followed, they were so frequent that they became a commonplace thing to the Publisher and his wife, who, from their windows in Adelphi Terrace, had a free view of the ships and planes that flew up and down the Thames every moonlit night.
The day after the supper in Gough Square I came into London to see the effect of the raid upon the people. The Strand and Fleet Street were densely crowded with sightseers on foot, gaping in wonderment at the havoc that had been made. Less than half a mile away, in Oxford Street, the traffic was going on as usual, and the pavements were crowded with shoppers, who either did not know, or did not care, that a murderous and destructive raid had taken place.
I first met the Publisher at No. 14, Buckingham Street, Strand, long the residence of Joseph and Mrs. Pennell, whose hospitality to fellow-craftsmen and to publishers and Pressmen was proverbial. I found in the Publisher a pronounced Free Trader, a warm disciple of his father-in-law, Richard Cobden; and as he was also a member of various Liberal Clubs, I thought him a trifle distant, and that he no doubt suspected me of being a Protectionist and a Conservative.
Old parties have been riven asunder by the war, and old names have given place to new ones. "Unionist" is no more, and if "Conservative" and "Labour" still remain like embers of dying causes, "Profiteer" and "Proletaire" are more popular. The things themselves still exist as faculties of government, but the names, as expressions of theories or doctrines, have been discarded for Internationalism, Proletariat, the World State, and other glorified denominations that are intended first to dress out human nature in a garb of common mediocrity, and then gradually to reduce man to the condition of the ants and the bees.
These advanced doctrines have both alarmed us and drawn us closer together, as, happily, most men of integrity and goodwill have been gathered into a solid phalanx to defend themselves from the complots of schemers, who have conjured up a mirage of illusions to tempt the foolish and covetous. In addition to the weaknesses of human nature, the variable climate of this planet makes the realization of every Utopian idea impossible.
Two portraits of the Publisher were painted—one in his old-fashioned Adam room, at No. 1, Adelphi Terrace, and the other at The Hermitage. When Mrs. Cobden Unwin saw the first portrait, she was as frank as Mrs. "Colonel" House, and said, "I do not like it—it's all lavender." In one thing the Publisher is conservative. His clothes are the colour of lavender; and this tint is enhanced by a yellow necktie that is perpetually renewed. In the second portrait I avoided lavender, and succeeded in pleasing Mrs. Cobden Unwin with tones of brown and gray.
The sittings at The Hermitage were enlivened by amusing talks about men and women who appear in books; and as the Publisher has had many opportunities for the study of authors, as well as of the people they write about, I have made mental notes for a volume of "Studio Causeries." These talks, whilst he sat for me, to pass the time, and perhaps keep him from going to sleep, led him to reveal some of the experiences of his profession; and it was interesting to me, as an American, to find his wide knowledge of American publishers and literary men, which he seems to have obtained during the last forty years or more. In the middle 'eighties he became the publisher of The Century and St. Nicholas magazines, which at that time, and for a good many years, were two of the best American periodicals; and they contained work by many of his and my friends, both artists and literary men. Joseph Pennell and his wife, both of whom I have painted, were great contributors to these magazines, and they were naturally acquainted with the Publisher; and I gathered they frequently met, and sometimes on the scenes of the artist's work. For instance, when Pennell was doing his English Cathedrals they spent week-ends together at Canterbury, Gloucester, and Ely; at the latter place, apparently, the Publisher had to go down to help the artist out of some copyright trouble with the local photographer, who was inclined to assume that the artist could not draw the cathedral without his help. Then again he was with Pennell when he was drawing The Oldest Church in London, St. Bartholomew's the Great, and again at Chelsea; these pictures eventually took book form. The book on Chelsea was written by Dr. Martin, another American, who collaborated with Lawrence Hutton, known to his friends as "Uncle Larry," in that good book Literary Landmarks of London.
Another suggestion for articles, which came, apparently, from the Publisher, was a visit to the Thames. The Publisher, with Mr. and Mrs. Pennell and other friends, paddled from Oxford to Kingston. The result of this excursion was issued under the title of The Stream of Pleasure.
Again and again they must have met in Paris for the opening of the Salon: Mrs. Pennell at that time wrote her well-known articles on Art for the New York Nation under the initials N. N. On one of these visits a party of artists and critics discovered in the shop of a picture-framer in Montmartre a large collection of paintings by Van Gogh, which must have been given by the artist in payment for paints and brushes. Only one of the party, the Publisher, dared to speculate with a few sovereigns. These masterpieces are now sold for hundreds and even thousands of pounds. If only the party had been wiser, even if worse critics!