Christie Johnstone by Charles Reade
A LITTLE band of painters came into Edinburgh from a professional walk. Three were of Edinburgh — Groove, aged fifty; Jones and Hyacinth, young; the latter long-haired.
With them was a young Englishman, the leader of the expedition, Charles Gatty.
His step was elastic, and his manner wonderfully animated, without loudness.
"A bright day," said he. "The sun forgot where he was, and shone; everything was in favor of art."
"Oh, dear, no," replied old Groove, "not where I was"
"Why, what was the matter?"
"The flies kept buzzing and biting, and sticking in the work. That's the worst of out o' doors!"
"The flies! is that all? Swear the spiders in special constables next time," cried Gatty. "We shall win the day;" and light shone into his hazel eye.
"The world will not always put up with the humbugs of the brush, who, to imitate Nature, turn their back on her. Paint an out o' door scene indoors! I swear by the sun it's a lie! the one stupid, impudent lie that glitters among the lies of vulgar art, like Satan among Belial, Mammon and all those beggars.
"Now look here; the barren outlines of a scene must be looked at, to be done; hence the sketching system slop-sellers of the Academy! but the million delicacies of light, shade, and color can be trusted to memory, can they?
"It's a lie big enough to shake the earth out of her course; if any part of the work could be trusted to memory or imagination, it happens to be the bare outlines, and they can't. The million subtleties of light and color; learn them by heart, and say them off on canvas! the highest angel in the sky must have his eye upon them, and look devilish sharp, too, or he shan't paint them. I give him Charles Gatty's word for that."
"That's very eloquent, I call it," said Jones.
"Yes," said poor old Groove, "the lad will never make a painter."
"Yes, I shall, Groove; at least I hope so, but it must be a long time first."
"I never knew a painter who could talk and paint both," explained Mr. Groove.
"Very well," said Gatty. "Then I'll say but one word more, and it is this. The artifice of painting is old enough to die; it is time the art was born. Whenever it does come into the world, you will see no more dead corpses of trees, grass and water, robbed of their life, the sunlight, and flung upon canvas in a studio, by the light of a cigar, and a lie — and — "
"How much do you expect for your picture?" interrupted Jones.
"What has that to do with it? With these little swords" (waving his brush), "we'll fight for nature-light, truth light, and sunlight against a world in arms — no, worse, in swaddling clothes."
"With these little swerrds," replied poor old Groove, "we shall cut our own throats if we go against people's prejudices."
The young artist laughed the old daubster a merry defiance, and then separated from the party, for his lodgings were down the street.
He had not left them long, before a most musical voice was heard, crying:
"A caallerr owoo!"
And two young fishwives hove in sight. The boys recognized one of them as Gatty's sweetheart.
"Is he in love with her?" inquired Jones.
Hyacinth the long-haired undertook to reply.
"He loves her better than anything in the world except Art. Love and Art are two beautiful things," whined Hyacinth.
"She, too, is beautiful. I have done her," added he, with a simper.
"In oil?" asked Groove.
"In oil? no, in verse, here;" and he took out a paper.
"Then hadn't we better cut? you might propose reading them," said poor old Groove.
"Have you any oysters?" inquired Jones of the Carnie and the Johnstone, who were now alongside.
"Plenty," answered Jean. "Hae ye ony siller?"
The artists looked at one another, and didn't all speak at once.
"I, madam," said old Groove, insinuatingly, to Christie, "am a friend of Mr. Gatty's; perhaps, on that account, you would lend me an oyster or two."
"Na," said Jean, sternly.
"Hyacinth," said Jones, sarcastically, "give them your verses, perhaps that will soften them."
Hyacinth gave his verses, descriptive of herself, to Christie. This youngster was one of those who mind other people's business.
Alienis studiis delectatus contempsit suum.
His destiny was to be a bad painter, so he wanted to be an execrable poet.
All this morning he had been doggreling, when he ought to have been daubing; and now he will have to sup off a colored print, if he sups at all.
Christie read, blushed, and put the verses in her bosom.
"Come awa, Custy," said Jean.
"Hets," said Christie, "gie the puir lads twarree oysters, what the waur will we be?"
So they opened the oysters for them; and Hyacinth the long-haired looked down on the others with sarcastico-benignant superiority. He had conducted a sister art to the aid of his brother brushes.
"The poet's empire, all our hearts allow; But doggrel's power was never known till now."