Page:Notes and Queries - Series 9 - Volume 9.djvu/459

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9- s. ix. JUNE 7, 1902.] NOTES AND QUERIES.


461


by painted


2


circular mirrors surrounded designs telling the story of the lioly Grail, "in old black oak frames carved with knights at tilt." I do not remember seeing these there. But they are evidently the mirrors decorated with copies of the lost Holy Grail frescoes once existing on the walls of the Union Heading - Room at Oxford. One of these mirrors has been photographed, and is given in Mr. Ma- rillier's charming book on Rossetti. These beautiful decorations I have seen at " The Pines," but not elsewhere. I have often seen "D'Arcy" in the company of several of the other characters introduced into 'Aylwin'; for instance, " De Castro" and " Symonds " (the late F. R. Ley land, at that time the owner of the Leyland line of steamers, living at Prince's Gate, where was the famous Peacock Room painted by Mr. Whistler). I did not myself know that quaint character Mrs. Titwing, but I have been told by people who knew her well that she is true to the life. With regard to " De Castro," it is a matter of regret to those who knew him that, after giving us that most vivid scene between " D'Arcy " and " De Castro " at Scott's oyster - rooms (a place which Rossetti was very fond of frequenting in those nocturnal rambles that caused " De Castro" to give him the name of Haroun al Raschid), the author did not go on and paint to the full the most extraordinary man of the very extraordinary group, the centre of which was Rossetti's Chelsea house. Rossetti was a well-known figure at Scott's and at Rule's oyster-rooms at the time he encountered "Aylwin." That scene at Scott's is, in my opinion, the most living thing in the book a picture that whenever I turn to it makes me feel that everything said and done must have occurred. "De Castro" seemed to belong not merely to the Rossetti group, but to all groups, for he was brought into touch with almost every remarkable man of his time, and fascinated every one of them. Literary and artistic London was once full of stories of him, and no one that knew him doubted he was what must be called a man of genius although a barren genius. Among others, he was brought into close relations with Ruskin, Burne-Jones, and, I think, Smetham ("Wil- derspin "), and others. Rossetti used to say that since Blake there has been no more visionary painter in the art world than Smetham.

Rossetti had a quite affectionate feeling towards Smetham, and several of his pictures (small ones) were on Rossetti's studio walls.


I remember one or two extraordinary pictures of his especially one depicting a dragon in a fen, of which Rossetti had a great opinion ; and I believe this, with other pictures of Smetham's, is in the hands of Mr. Watts- Dunton. The author of ' Aylwin ' would have been much amused had he seen, as I did, in an American magazine the statement that " Wilderspin " was identified with William Morris a man who was as much the opposite of the visionary painter as a man can be. Morris, whom I had the privilege of knowing very well, and with whom I have stayed at Kelmscott during the Rossetti period, is alluded to in 'Aylwin' (chap. ix. book xv.) as the " enthusiastic angler " who used to go down to " Hurstcote " to fish. At that time this fine old seventeenth - centurv manor house was in the joint occupancy or Rossetti and Morris. Afterwards it was in the joint occupancy of Morris and (a beloved friend of the two) the late F. S. Ellis, who, with Mr. Cockerell, was executor under Morris's will. But " Wilderspin " was Smetham with a variation : certain characteristics of another painter of genius were introduced, I believe, into the portrait of him in ' Aylwin ' ; and the story of " Wilderspin's " early life was not that of Smetham. The series of " large attics in which was a number of enormous oak beams " supporting the antique roof was a favourite resort of my own ; but all the ghostly noise that I there heard was the snoring of young owls a peculiar sound that had a special fascination for Rossetti; and after dinner Rossetti, my brother, and I would go to the attics to listen to them.

But a more singular mistake with regard to ' the * Aylwin ' characters than that of Morris being confounded with "Wilderspin" was that of confounding, as certain newspaper paragraphs at the time did, " Cyril Aylwin " with Mr. Whistler. I am especially able to speak of this character, who has been inquired about more than any other in the book. I knew him, I think, even before I knew Ros- setti and Morris, or any of that group. He was a brother of Mr. Watts-Dunton's Mr. Alfred Eugene Watts. He lived at Park House, Sydenharn, and died suddenly either in 1870 or 1871, very shortly after I had met him at a wedding party. Among the set in which I moved at that time he had a great reputation as a wit and humourist. His style of humour always struck me as being more American than English. While bringing out humorous things that would set a dinner table in a roar, he would himself maintain a perfectly unmoved countenance. And it was said of him, as " Wilderspin" says of