Men I Have Painted/Walter Tyndale
WALTER TYNDALE was fortunate in being born in Bruges—"Bruges la Morte," as Fogazzaro calls it in his romance, Il Santo. Descended from that noble martyr of Tyne-dale, the translator of the Bible, the young Anglo-Fleming was brought up in a babel of strange tongues that found an easy entrance to ears attuned by heredity to the analysis of sounds—many sounds but with one meaning.
In addition to his mother-tongue, he soon babbled in French, Flemish, Walloon, Dutch, German, and the many patois of the districts around his native place, and in after years easily acquired, by a little study and much travel, a knowledge of most of the languages of Europe and some of those of the Orient.
I met him first in Antwerp, at the Royal Academy of Arts. A slender, handsome youth, with very dark hair and eyes, and a complexion that suggested Italian rather than northern origin. Here, under the tuition of De Keyser, Van Lerius, a pupil of Baron Leys, and Buffeau, we worked together with several other English students in the life class, and in idle hours made excursions to the meadows and fields around the Scheldt, or drank lervers and ate smearbrod in the estaminets of the environs of the city. Or, going farther afield, we wandered as far—and the distances are short in the Low Countries—as Malines and Brussels, or northward to Rotterdam, The Hague, Haarlem, and Amsterdam, to study the masterpieces of Dutch and Flemish Art, in private as well as public galleries.
It was at this time that the portraits by Franz Hals were revealed to me in that little museum in Haarlem; and although I was inclined then to admire the Syndics by Rembrandt, I soon discovered, by frequent visits to Haarlem and close study of the painting, in the groups of burghers by Hals, in the purity and freshness of his colour, and the consummate skill displayed in the handling, in the deftness of touch and the accuracy of form, that the mastery lay with Hals and not with Rembrandt. Frequent pilgrimages to that Mecca of portraiture over a period of nearly fifty years has only tended to convince me of the correctness of an early judgment.
We young, ambitious, and hopeful aspirants to fame were rather inclined to look upon the bituminous colours of the old canvases with questioning eyes, for the crudities of nature appealed strongly to senses that had not yet learned to discriminate between nature chaste and nature prurient, and Art was then entering upon the period that has ended with the cult of the ugly and the worship of the commonplace and the abnormal.
We could not believe that the Rembrandts and Franz Hals and Ver Meers were just as fresh in colour when they left the easels as nature seems to be, and that time and dust and varnish had given that warmth and glow of colour that we called vieux jeu. We were not revolutionaries, we were simply ignoramuses. We were not wicked, but we were also not virtuosi.
After a separation that lasted about two years, Tyndale and I met again in London, and here we also renewed friendships with other students of the academy in Antwerp.
The first time I painted Walter Tyndale he posed as a courtier, in a dress of the period of George III, for a picture called Tubbing the Prince, an imitation of the Spanish School of Zamacois and Fortuny, then very much the vogue, because of the brilliancy of the technique, and the cleverness of the characterization of bygone types. This school comprised the French painter Boldini, one of the greatest adepts in the handling of a brush, either on a small or large scale, that has ever graced an atelier. One of his masterpieces is a portrait of Whistler, in the Brooklyn art gallery, by far the most characteristic likeness of that eccentric master.
It was during these sittings that Tyndale gave me that our divergencies of views upon political and social questions developed. Although we agreed upon other matters, we disagreed fundamentally upon the Irish question, the trade union, and in general the Radical movements of the day. Walter Tyndale is not a Socialist, as so many artists are, or pretend to be. There is nothing of the William Morris or Walter Crane in his constitution. He espoused the causes that the Radicals and the great Liberal statesmen were conscientiously working for, and he believed he could see in the success of Liberalism a regeneration of the people. I was not so optimistic, and I foreboded many dire calamities to the nation, through the ambitions of Labour leaders. I frankly admit that he seemed to have the charitable, the generous, and the neighbourly point of view; but I was held by certain inalienable principles which, however sternly individualist they may appear to be, always move along certain well-defined lines to a goal; and that goal is the stability of civilization.
To me certain truisms are to be deduced from an intelligent study of history and through just observation of present conditions. One is that the strength of a community is measured by the strength of its strongest member and not by the weakest. This test is the direct opposite of that applied to a plank or to a chain, whose strength is that of its weakest link or its greatest flaw. Another is that to increase the power of the strong is a better safeguard to a nation than to attempt to strengthen the weak, for there are innate defects in the weak that cannot be cured. In reformers there is always a disposition to criticize the strong just because they are strong. The Socialists, of course, deny them the right of strength, arguing that because some are weak all should be weak, or at least of an equal strength.
And so we fought our battles, in the Gray House, that house of mystery, in Hornton Street at the corner of the Abbey Mews, in Alpha House, in Murestead, and at last in The Hermitage, prior to and after 1914, when my oft-repeated prophetic warnings concerning the intentions of the German peoples have come true. In time of war have the police the right to open a road that the military has closed? This was one of the questions warmly disputed between us.
Under this trifling matter there is a principle that pierces as a sword to the foundation of society. In the last resort the soldier rules, and always will rule.
But the great problem of the inequalities among men was worthy of our attention as a subject becoming ever more important as humanity grows and groans under the weight of its possessions.
Both of us were well informed upon the scale that differentiated the labourer with fifty pounds a year from the manufacturer earning, by the employment of labourers, from ten to one hundred or more thousands a year; or between a parson with a dozen children and a stipend of eighty to one hundred and fifty pounds a year from a Carnegie, with one child and millions a year. These things worried George Meredith in his late years. He wrote letters about them, and he talked to me about them at Box Hill, where I went to make studies for his portrait. They worry everybody save the selfish rich.
But these extremes, it may be said, are no worse than they have always been, excepting in one respect—the taste to expend. It is absurd to blame the strong, i.e. the wealthy, merely because they are strong. Where they are open to criticism is the way they use their strength, or chiefly because they hoard it. A man who does not keep a yacht or a racing stable can live luxuriously on from two to five thousand pounds a year. If he has twenty or thirty thousand a year and invests the balance in stocks and shares, instead of spending it tastefully, he is a hoarder, if not a miser, and is not doing half his duty to his community. There is where I differ from most of the Radicals, for no one admires strength and inequality more than I do.
The inequalities in the universe make it go round instead of flying apart, hold it together instead of disintegrating it. A few fools and many rogues think equality would be heavenly, but it would be deadly dull.
Walter Tyndale soon became fascinated with the East, where he was obliged to pass the winters in order to escape the injurious effects upon his health of the coal-smoke of London. Here his tastes for the beauty of contours and of rich colour found expression in a series of charming watercolour drawings of scenes in Japan, India, Egypt, and Italy. But drawing alone did not suffice as an outlet for his enthusiastic admiration for the mosque and the Moslem. He was at last inspired to use a literary gift that had been as a talent lying hidden in a napkin. The result has been the publication of a number of admirable books upon Egypt, Japan, and Italy, all illustrated in a masterly way by his own brush.
At the outbreak of the war the Government discovered his proficiency in European languages, and appointed him chief censor at Boulogne, where he remained until the armistice was signed.