Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

The idea finds no parallel in any practical organisation for the conduct of business, public or private, nor is it likely to find any countenance in any Bill framed by a practical statesman.

I do not expect that any change in the prison system under the present criminal law will produce any remarkable improvement over our existing system in the repression of crime, which undeniably has greatly decreased concurrently at all events with the present system. But, as I have already suggested, the power of making rules conferred on the Secretary of State by this Bill might conceivably, if some illadvised theorist should prevail with some future Secretary of State, undo much of what previous generations of reformers have effected.

It is to the care and proper bringing up of the young that we must look for further advance in the effort to uproot crime by instilling proper principles into them at a time of life when habits and tones of thoughts are established. The Reformatory and Industrial School Acts of 1866 are probably the chief among the causes which have led to the decrease of crime; but it is admitted that they are now susceptible of great improvements, for which the evidence furnished by Lord Aberdare's Commission and Sir Godfrey Lushington's Committee ought to furnish guidance. It is admitted that their management is very unequal; and though it is not a case in which it is at all desirable to require uniformity of practice, the standard of efficiency of many of them might with advantage be raised. The measures which have recently been taken for more entirely separating juveniles under sixteen years old in prison, under sentence of a month or over, from adults, are of course in the right direction, though the total number who can come under these conditions is very small and their stay in prison very short. The difference it makes in the former practice has probably been exaggerated by those who do not remember that as every prisoner occupies a separate cell, and as juveniles have for many years been kept in a separate part of the prison and treated apart from other prisoners, there have been no grounds for supposing they were contaminated by intercourse with adult prisoners. The greatest number whom the new rule admits of being collected together appears by the last report to be seven, and as these would in any case have been kept apart from adults in company with those who have less than a month's sentence, the change is practically a very small one. The truth is that most of these juveniles ought not to be in prison

and small as their number now is, it would be smaller if some of the judicial authorities exercised greater discretion than they do.

The great step which might be made in this matter would be to extend the reformatory system, so that certain young people over sisteen years of age could be kept for longer periods than the usual sentence of imprisonment in a separate establishment, in order that they might be for a sufficient time kept away from their bad habits

at all ;

and bad associations, and subjected to reformatory influences, but without neglecting the elements of deterrence in due measure. It would not be desirable to add these older youths to the population of the reformatories in which the juveniles are confined. It is just between sixteen and twenty-one or twenty-two that the larrikin and the half-developed young criminal is most mischievous and most likely to exercise an evil influence on those who are a little younger, so that a complete separation between these classes is desirable, because in a reformatory there must necessarily be a great deal of association, which there should not be in a prison. A special establishment should therefore be created for them. The uninhabited convict prison at Dover is ready to hand, and would serve excellently for this purpose. The adjoining farmland, not at present very profitable, would furnish a great deal of useful occupation; and a good deal of mechanical employment in workshops, by which the inmates could be trained to various useful trades, could be furnished in connection with the construction of the proposed breakwater, to help in which the prison was originally erected. The convict prison at Borstal might also very well be vacated and turned into a reformatory for the older youths. A measure such as this would, I venture to think, constitute legitimate progress; for it would be developing a system which has been successful, and not upsetting it as some would do with our prison system.

E. F. Du CANE.

Vol. XLIII–No. 255

31

E. MEISSONIER

PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS AND ANECDOTES

MEISSONIER, the celebrated French artist, is such a well-known figure, his works, reproduced by engravings, are so wide spread throughout the whole world, that it seems to me as if his name alone were sufficient to recall his image. A little man, with a thickset and powerful frame, a head of the type of Michael Angelo, a flowing beard like that of a river god, and short thick hair that hides a narrow forehead, one hand supporting a pensive brow, while in the other he holds an immense palette worthy of a giant's thumb, and robed from head to foot in a blood red Arab garment—such is the portrait he has left of himself in three pictures, and thus he is

represented by Antoine Mercié, the great sculptor who has carved his image in marble, and thus immortalised his features on the facade of the Gallery of Apollo of the Louvre, in the gardens of the Infanta.

As a man he liked to create an impression, loved show and display, and thirsted for fame and distinction; nevertheless he strore more to deserve these than merely to seek for them, and honours came to him as to the most worthy. Correct in all things, he had a natural love of retirement, and led a secluded life in the country, at his lovely residence the Abbey of Poissy, and even after he became famous and wealthy, and had built the handsome mansion, Place Malesherbes-of which the memory alone survives—his house was barred from intruders, his life given up to incessant work, and his doors opened only to true friends, chosen among the greatest and most worthy.

Of all the celebrated modern painters of Europe, most of whom I have been personally acquainted with, Meissonier's personality stands out as the most curious and interesting in regard to painting, both on account of his particular method and process of work, and because of his wonderful power, conscientiousness, and respect for his Art.

The man himself was extremely picturesque and living, bis physiognomy and character invite study, and his life is full of anecdotes.

Meissonier was born at Grenoble in 1815, and was the son of wellto-do tradespeople, who were, however, ruined by the Revolution of 1830. M. Gréard, the Provost of the University of Paris, who was a confidant of the family, has quoted from the class books of the Institution Petit of the rue de Jouy, where the boy was at school, the following memorandum, dated the 14th of June 1823 :— Ernest has a decided taste for drawing, the mere sight of an engraving will make him neglect his lessons. The child was then only eight years old, but he already felt that he was a painter; however, after his family were ruined, the future painter of the 'Campaign of France' became a chemist's apprentice in the rue des Lombards, Maison Menier, where he was employed in tying up parcels and preparing plaisters. At night he would stealthily draw; his father knew this and strove, but in vain, to combat this tendency; one day, however, his son boldly proposed the following compact: his father was to give him twelve pounds, and he, Ernest, would start for Naples, and take up painting as a profession, giving his word never to ask for a farthing more from his family, so certain did he feel of success. The father hesitated but did not yield; he consented, however, to grant his son a short delay, in which he might find a master and a studio. If he succeeded he would then be at liberty to go where his instinct called him, and should have an allowance of fivepence a day, with the family dinner on Wednesdays. Meissonier, nothing daunted, at once accepted his father's proposal; the first studio he went to was that of Paul Delaroche, at that time held in high repute, but into which no one was admitted without payment. From there he went to a certain Pottier, a worthy man of little talent, who as soon as he heard the young man's plans for his future career said to him, 'I am dying of hunger, better be a cobbler than a painter!' However, when at a second interview the young man showed Pottier a composition he had designed but not dared to show the first time, the painter, struck with admiration, not only took the sketch to Léon Coignet, the master under whom Bonnat and many other artists of our day have studied, but actually paid out of his own pocket in advance the price of several months' tuition. Meissonier was at that time about seventeen years old, and was beginning a period of severe hardship, although he never underwent the pangs of hunger like so many other struggling artists, such as poor François Millet, for instance, endured. His pencil saved him from this, for he illustrated magazines, drew headings for chapters, and, when he was able, painted small pictures. In 1834 he sent up to the Annual Salon and obtained admittance for his first painting, 'Une visite chez le bourgmestre' (the visitors). During twenty years I had this small painting under my eyes, Sir Richard Wallace having purchased it in 1872, in order to place it as a companion picture to one of the finest works of the master in the Hertford collection. The Société des Amis des Arts, already in existence, had thought this small canvas worth purchasing for four pounds. The painting is in a good Flemish style, somewhat recalling Ostade and Terburg, but the execution lacks freedom and firmness. Between 1834 and 1836 the artist devoted his time to illustrations, and found many purchasers; and among these a somewhat neglected master, Tony Johannot. Curmer, the celebrated publisher, was just then bringing out the famous Bible de Royaumount, to which Meissonier contributed some designs, and he also illustrated the Chaumière Indienne (the Indian hut), besides executing any order he could get for ornamental letters, emblematic designs, tail pieces, headings of chapters and frontispieces; this work gave him his daily bread, for painting pictures did not at that time provide him with the necessaries of life ; moreover, each picture required models, a studio, costumes, and many other items which the young artist was not rich enough to purchase. It was to his pencil that Meissonier looked for his livelihood, and although his fare was often scanty, he was able to live; he himself has stated that in three years, from 1836 to 1839, he made three hundred and seventy-six pounds, that is a little over a hundred and twenty pounds a year. In 1838 the artist married Mdlle. Steinkel, the daughter of a well-known and very artistic painter on glass. He was now twenty-three years of age, and to enable him to start housekeeping his father gave him six silver spoons and forks, a year's allowance of forty pounds, besides paying a year's rent for his rooms. This was considered setting up a young artist in life. The newly married man had henceforth to provide for others, and it was by illustrating books that he was able to do this, executing series after series; all those he executed at that period have become extremely rare and diffieult to find. All Meissonier's talent lay in genre in bis illustrations for Les Français peints par eux-mêmes (the French depicted by themselves); Paul and Virginia; the first illustrations for M. de Chevigné's Contes Rémois, to which the greatest artists of that day contributed their assistance, and the Popular Songs of France. At that time he became acquainted with all the most distinguished novelists and writers : Dumas père, Eugène Sue, and Balzac, to whom he furnished the illustrations for his Comédie Humaine.

The painter, however, now asserted himself; hitherto his subjects had been dictated to him, now he chose them, and after a certain amount of hesitation, a few concessions to the necessities of life, and some attempt at religious subjects, Meissonier struck out his own line, and determined to devote himself to the reproduction of little incidents and scènes de genre, taken from the life of past days.

Costume formed his groundwork; and he frequented the Marché du Temple and the rag fairs, where remnants of historical costumes, cast off uniforms, cheap materials, and all the odds and ends which

« AnteriorContinuar »