Men I Have Painted/Lord Armistead

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Hamilton Men I Have Painted 232f Lord Armistead.jpg

LORD ARMISTEAD


MR. HENRY GLADSTONE asked me to paint two portraits of Lord Armitstead, his father's old friend. It was during the first winter of the war that the work was carried out.

I found the picturesque invalid reclining in a chair in one of the upper rooms of the house, where he spent the whole day in reading, and seeing now and then his friends. Lord Armitstead was a tall man of striking appearance. His hair and beard were white and long, his face handsome, and his profile marked and finely drawn. His interest in everything that was going on was still eager and at times intense, and although he was supposed to be reading while I painted, the greater part of each sitting was taken up by conversation, which displayed not only great strength of mind, but the rare generosity of recognizing past errors in his own political views and theories, admitting frankly that events then ensuing were not at all in consonance with his long-cherished aspirations. It seemed to delight him to imagine the mind of Mr. Gladstone, whose thoughts he had absorbed during so many years of friendly association, contemplating through his own, as a kind of reflex, the surprising progress of the Liberal Party in the direction of State Socialism, and he often declared that had Mr. Gladstone lived, he would have strongly disapproved of the Radical tendencies of the day. He foreshadowed, with a foresight of the deepest significance, the disruption of the old Liberal Party. He looked like an ancient Druid foretelling, with the inspiration of an oracle, the coming disaster to the Liberal cause.

Of Parliament he hardly spoke save in accents of misgiving and despair; and he did not hesitate to say that since the time he had been a member of the Commons, the whole atmosphere of the House had changed for the worse; that in its present condition he could not have retained a seat in it; that its appearance, as well as its manners and procedure, had completely degenerated. But it was the total disregard of the old form and ceremony that particularly shocked him.

He followed the campaigns in France and on the then victorious Russian front with almost boyish ardour: and the operations in the Dardanelles and in Gallipoli led him to anticipate the capture of Constantinople, and the consequent junction with the Russian armies, with enthusiastic hope.

One morning, when the news from the East seemed to be particularly favourable, he told me that Lord and Lady Morley were coming to lunch; but as Lady Morley was not very well, Lord Morley might come alone. "In that case," he continued, "you may take her place, as there is room at the table for three only." Presently Lord Morley came in alone, and I was introduced to him. He did not remember meeting me at Hawarden many years before, and I found him looking thin and older. I carried on my work until lunch was served. We had it at a small table brought into the room each day. Lord Armitstead took his usual seat, and placed Lord Morley and myself side by side opposite him. The talk was of the war. Presently I turned to Lord Morley and said, "It surprises me that the United States has not yet declared war on Germany." Turning round to face me, with an expression of disdain and in an acrimonious tone, he replied, "Oh, I see! Having got into a mess yourself, you want some one else to pull you out." He had taken me for an Englishman. I did not enlighten him, and from that time addressed myself to the cutlets, which were excellent. A gourmand may not hear what is going on around him, but a gourmet can keep his ears open. Presently Lord Armitstead said, "I see that we shall soon turn the Turks out of Constantinople." Looking up from my plate in time, I saw Lord Morley's thin-cut profile reach across the table almost into Lord Armitstead's flowing white beard, and his acrid voice hissed out, "Yes! and let the Russians in." There are times when the emotions of men seem to burst through their bony barriers, and like waves sweep over you, carrying with them the flotsam and jetsam of a whole fleet of thoughts suddenly struck by a cyclone. I sat overwhelmed, awed by the silence of our host, who seemed to be whispering in his beard, while Lord Morley cynically crunched a bone.

*****

The room in which the invalid sat was heated up to 90°. He did not feel the heat, for his blood circulated slowly; but I suffered, and would often leave the house, mopping my face and head, to enter a cold gray fog full of moist flakes of snow falling slowly and chilling me to the bone. A sudden drop of 55° in the temperature was dangerous, so I hit upon the only safe expedient—for the inside of a cab would have been fatal—which was to run as fast as I could around the corner to Rumpelmeyer's tea-rooms and drink pints of tea so hot that it burnt the mouth. Portrait painting may become a dangerous pastime.

The long sittings with Lord Armitstead for the two portraits were extended to enable me to paint a third for Andrew Carnegie, one of his near friends; but by the time it was completed Mr. Carnegie was also stricken with the infirmities of age, and never saw it. It is the one reproduced.

Lord Armitstead was a willing and capable sitter, making every circumstance easy for the painter, and enlivening the hours with personal anecdotes and reminiscences. Although he had been educated in Germany, and had lived often in that country, he had not been misled into any feeling of sympathy with the people; and he condemned, in the strongest terms, their methods of warfare. He expressed a real sorrow for the loss of so many young men, and particularly for the death of young William Gladstone, of Hawarden. He censured unhesitatingly the War Office for having permitted this brilliant and useful young member of Parliament to enter the fighting line, maintaining, and with sound sense, I thought, that such a man should have been protected by a Staff appointment, because so few young men of his antecedents and capacity could be found to carry on the duties of civil service in times of peace, while there were other young warriors to be had in thousands. I had heard of his death while in America with a feeling of deep regret based upon similar grounds to those put forward by Lord Armitstead.