Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/174

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Du Maurier
Du Maurier
162

Paris on 6 March 1834. His grandfather, descended from an old French family of nobility, had an interest in some glass-works in Anjou. Glass-blowing was then a monopoly of the gentilshommes, and no commoner might engage in it. He fled to England during the French revolution, but returned to France in 1816, and died holding the post of schoolmaster at Tours. His son, Louis Mathurin, George's father, derived some income from the glass-works, but never greatly prospered, owing to a talent for making inventions which proved unsuccessful. He married an Englishwoman, Miss Ellen Clarke, and became a naturalised Englishman. They had three children, two sons and a daughter, of whom George was the eldest. The children grew up equally conversant with both languages, and George spoke English without the slightest foreign accent. When he was five years old his parents came to England, and lived for a time in the house in Devonshire Terrace, Marylebone Road, where Dickens afterwards resided. But, the father's pecuniary position not improving, the family returned to France, living for a while in Boulogne, and afterwards in Paris, where George went to school, between 1847 and 1851, in the Pension Froussard, in the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne. This school-life is described in the 'Martian,' as the earlier days of childhood are in 'Peter Ibbetson.' In 1851 George returned to London to study chemistry at University College, under the direction of Dr. Williamson, where he was a fellow-student of Sir Henry Roscoe. Later, in 1854, his father, who was bent on his son becoming a man of science, provided him with a laboratory of his own in Bard's Yard, Bucklersbury. He had been, according to his own account, a most unsatisfactory student while at the college, his real bias being all the time for the art he subsequently followed. He drew caricatures of his teachers which amused them much, though, as du Maurier used carefully to add, 'they did not see them all.' His work at assaying in his private laboratory was to prove not more successful.

In 1856 du Maurier lost his father, and his scientific career closed. For a while he seems to have thought of adopting the profession of a singer, for he had inherited from his father a tenor voice of great beauty, and much charm in the use of it; but wiser counsels prevailed, and he returned to Paris and entered the studio of the eminent teacher Gleyre. Many of his experiences while there were recorded long afterwards with great vivacity and charm in the pages of 'Trilby.' In Paris he made the acquaintance of many who were to become his life-long friends, including the late Mr. T. R. Lament, Mr. Thomas Armstrong, C.B., who was not, however, a pupil of Gleyre, Mr. Whistler, and Mr. (now Sir Edward) Poynter. After one year of this Quartier Latin existence he left Paris in 1857 with his mother for Antwerp, where he worked in the class-rooms of the Antwerp Academy under De Keyser and Van Lerius. In 1859, while drawing in the studio, he was suddenly deprived of the sight of one eye by 'detachment of the retina.' The oculists whom he consulted among them the famous experts at Malines and Diisseldorf gave him no great assurance of preserving the other eye, but it remained, with some occasional intervals of trouble, sufficient for his work during the remainder of his life.

In 1860 du Maurier came to England, and in the autumn began to do book illustrations, appearing for the first time in the pages of 'Once a Week,' a periodical remarkable, in its first series, for its wood-engravings from drawings by Millais, Fred. Walker, Keene, Pinwell, Sandys, and other artists of eminence. Du Maurier's first contribution was in September 1860, illustrating an oriental tale in verse by Sir John Bowring. In the October following appeared his first contribution to 'Punch,' for which he continued to draw as an occasional contributor, largely of initial letters and the like, until he joined the staff four years later. Du Maurier's first drawing (October 1860, xxxix. 140), of an incident recorded to have happened to himself and Mr. Whistler in a photographer's studio, it must be admitted gave but little promise of the knowledge of the figure and the sense of beauty which he was to develop later.

Meantime, his work on 'Once a Week,' 'Punch,' and other miscellaneous publications justifying the step, he married, in 1863, Emma, daughter of Mr. William Wightwick. The young couple took up their abode in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury (over 'Pears's Soap '), where they resided for the next four years.

In 1864 John Leech died, and du Maurier was at once chosen to succeed him at the 'Punch' table. From this time forward his progress in draughtsmanship was steady and rapid. The continual practice and intense devotion to his art soon had results which are traceable by all who consult the five or six volumes of 'Punch' following his election to the staff. Mark Lemon had encouraged him from the first to cultivate the graceful and poetical side of his talent. 'Let others be funny 'was the editor's advice ;