DBNNISTOUN'S MEMOIRS OF ROBERT STRANGE AND ANDREW LUMISDEN..
THE interest of this work is less biographical than social. The lives, indeed, of our first great native engraver, Sir Robert Strange, and of his brother-in-law, Andrew Lumisden, a stanch Jacobite, and for some time private secretary to both the Pretenders, are continually connected with the matter. The lives, however, are a nucleus round which are gathered correspondence or anecdote ex- hibitive of the manners of the times, the condition of the exiled Jacobites, or the state of affairs at the Pretender's court, rather than the biography of either of the heroes. Even the simple and lifelike autobiographical fragments of Strange's early years have something of an external character. As in the case of Ben- jamin Franklin, sketches of the persons Strange encountered are as conspicuous as the account of his own feelings and fortunes; but, as in Franklin's memoirs, they contribute to the interest, and impart to the narrative something of the character of a drama. This peculiarity of the book may partly arise from the paucity of incidents or surviving materials; in some sense probably from the fact that Mr. Dennistoun is not so well qualified for strict bio- graphy as for topics connected with biography,—illustrations of society and manners, critical notices of art, and traits of character, which last though belonging to an individual yet are as distinctive of classes as of a person. Lady Strange's spelling and her some- what free language were not peculiar to her, but belonged to Scotchwomen, and indeed to Englishwomen, who had been trained in the first half of the last century. Although the "outside" predominates too much for strict bio- graphy, there is strength enough in the lives to support the extra- neous matter. Robert Strange was a remarkable man, with a re- markable career his brother-in-law had less strength of character, and might not have become remarkable for hims&' but the evil fate which linked his fortunes to the Stuarts connected him with singular scenes and persons. The union of two indeed of three persons in one work (for Lady Strange occupies a conspicuous position) is not so incongruous as it might be supposed: similarity in politics and tastes, with a strong family affection, made the three one' in spite of vehemence of temper and greater freedom of speech on the part of the lady than belonged to her husband and her brother.
Robert Strange, who gives weight and breadth to the compound narrative, was a native of Orkney, born in 1721. The family was respectable, and, according to a pedigree furnished by the Lyon King at Arms after Robert had obtained a handle to his name, of antiquity and of distinction in ancient times. His father appears to have been a man of some property ; but, though Robert suc- ceeded to it after the death of his half-brothers, Mr. Dennistonn has not been able to obtain exact particulars as to its amount. Beyond a turn for drawing, which is common to many children, young Strange gave no indication of his future career. His long- ing was toward the sea; to which his mother at last consented: An experimental trip in a King's ship, commanded by a friend of his half-brother, and the advice of a friendly officer, cured him of his naval aspirations. He then passed some months in the office of this half-brother, a writer to the signet at Edinburgh. He did not neglect his business, but his heart was not in his work ; and his brother having discovered that he passed_ much time in draw- ing, placed him with an engraver on trial. Young Strange was now in a congenial sphere, and the trial was quickly closed by an apprenticeship. His master, Cooper, was an Englishman who had settled in Edinburgh, as principal and it might almost be said only engraver of Scotland. His skill in his craft would not have preserved his name ; still he was a man of taste and of knowledge in art. He combined print-selling and a little picture-dealing with his primary business. As his collection of engravings and drawings was good and varied, Strange had better opportunities of study than at that time existed elsewhere North of the Tweed, or perhaps out of Lon- don. By these opportunities he did not fail to profit i • but neither during his apprenticeship nor immediately afterwards did he attain distinction as an artist. Perhaps but for his future eminence, the eye of the connoisseur would fail to detect even in the best of his earlier works gleams of those powers which he afterwards ex- hibited, especially in representing flesh.. Pinder congratulates a Cretan patron on having been driven into exile by domestic brawls, and thus led to become a winner of the Olympic crown. A modern poet might have addressed Sir Robert Strange in a similar strain. His own political feelings do not ap- pear to have been very strong, but by 1745 he had become attached to Miss Lumisden, a high-spirited young lady and very ardent
Jacobite. The suitor's only .hope of success, or rather of avoiding immediate dismissal, was in joining the Pretender's forces. Robert figured as one of the Prince's " Life Guards ": his professional skill was about to be used in facilitating an issue of paper cur- rency, for which he had made sketches and engraved plates, when the battle of Culloden put an end to this project of a Circulating medium. An autobiographical fragment gives a full and interest- ing account of the currency scheme, as well as of the battle and t its previous circumstances. Mr. Dennistoun truly remarks, that • Memoirs of Sir Robert Strange, lint., Engraver, Member of several Foreign Academies of Design; and of his Brother-in-Law, Andrew uLiumesisdoe= Se- cretaryi to the Stuart Princes, and Author of •• The A abitzled of James Dennistoun of Denmstoun. In two volumes. Pa by Longman aa Co.
" after reading Strange's lifelike details of this affair of Culloden, our wonder is, not that Charles Edward and his followers were there routed, but that they ever gained any battle whatever."
About Lumisden's position after the defeat of the Stuart cause there was no doubt. Having been attainted, he escaped to France, went to Rome, and became private secretary to the first Pretender and to Charles Edward. The salary was so scanty, that even with a small pension from France his means were very limited, till his father's affairs were settled. His principles kept him to his post till 1768. At the close of that year, "the King," in the language of Lumisden, "was pleased to dismiss .Sir John Hay, Mr. Urqu- hart, and me, from his service." The cause of the dismissal is not very distinctly known. The account of a polished partisan being translated into the vernacular, it would appear that "the King" insisted upon going to an oratorio in a state of intoxication ; and on the three adherents declining to attend him or even to get into the coach, Charles Edward got out and dismissed them at once. Some years after the loss of his place, Lumisden had permission to return home, and obtained a pardon; which was convenient on account of legal proceedings connected with his paternal property.
The paper money not having been issued, and the body-guards- man being a less eminent person than the secretary, Strange did not reach the honour of attainder. However, as a rebel actually in arms, he seemed to think his position dangerous, and he lay close for upwards of a year. He employed his time in engraving or painting Jacobite subjects, which appear to have been disposed of sub rose. In this period he privately married Isabella Lumis- den ; and afterwards, with "no small difficulty procured a safe con- duct to London, intending as soon as possible to embark for France." His object was improvement in his profession, to which he now determined to apply himself. The plan was carried into effect in the autumn of 1748. Strange studied drawing for a short time at Rouen, where he carried off a prize; and then went to Paris, where he became a pupil of Lebas. In 1750 he returned to London, and soon after settled in Parliament Street. Throughout his career, like his master Cooper, he combined the business of a print-seller and picture-dealer with that of an engraver ; his patri- monial property (for he could have had no other) furnishing the means to commence, which he seems to have done on a suffi- cient scale. The taste and opportunities of his brother-in-law at Rome also assisted him greatly in his importations. In London he continued to reside till his death in 1792; occasionally visiting the Continent, to examine the best works of the great masters, to make drawings from such as he thought adapted to the graver, and to look out for bargains in articles of vertu. His own in- dustry in his profession was untiring; his wife apparently managed the details of the sale business, the great engraver probably appearing to close a bargain. Throughout his London life he seems to have lived respectably, and with a wide connexion. His chil- dren were well educated, one of his sons was at -Oxford, and his daughters married well. Sir Robert left by his will money lega- cies amounting to upwards of ten thousand pounds, and a residue consisting largely of his engravings and works of art : the property was not therefore easy to estimate, but it was at least double the value of the money he bequeathed. Yet Strange was not merce- nary. From the time that " high art" opened clearly before him, he always threw aside the merely profitable. Book designs and similar things of an immediate paying kind he rarely engaged in, and only under some special circumstances. His personal labour was extended to what in our moneymaking times would have been handed over to assistants. Ile had a lofty idea of the dignity of his art and its importance in preserving paintings.
Strange is said to have been a man of very mild and placable character • and probably he was so in politics and private life, but touch him in his art and you touched his temper. For twenty years and more the career of Strange was embittered by what he deemed a grand conspiracy against him. The ringleaders were the King, Lord Bute, and Ramsay the portrait-painter, subsequently joined by Dalton, and Bartolozzi. The rank and file consisted of the great body of London painters, and other envious persons. Ramsay was the prime author of the whole, in this way : he had painted portraits of George the Third, then Prince of Wales, and his Governor, Bute ; he hinted to Strange, evidently by com- mand, that he should engrave them ; Strange without much con- sideration objected to the smallness of the sum talked of,—though had it been fixed, the sale of the plate would have paid him well enough ; he also objected that he was going abroad with professional views ; this refusal, and perhaps the loyal Ramsay's suggestions that politics had to do with it, gave offence. The affair fills a space in the professional life of Strange, for ha wrote a public account of his grievances, and of course made himself a target for paper pellets. We take a little bit for its Wolsey-like trait of Bute.
"About a fortnight later, Strange received, through Mr. Chambers the architect, a message from the Prince, desiring that he would lay aside all other commissions in order to execute both portraits ; in return for which he was offered one hundred guineas, and his Royal Highness's patronage to the public subscription for the prints. Mr. Strange conceived, from the in- adequate amount of this remuneration, that the Prince had supposed the work such as might require but a few months ; a calculation afterwards con- firmed by the fact that Mr. Ryland, who wrought on these plates nearly four years, received 501. in each quarter, besides 1051. for his drawings and the copyright. Mr. Strange, therefore, repeated to Mr. Chambers, for the Prince's information, the same explanation be had offered through Ramsay ; and subsequently heard from him that his Royal Highness had expressed himself in all respects satisfied with the reasons thus assigned. To his con- sternation, he soon after ascertained that Ramsay was representing, on Lord Bute's authority, the Prince as so provoked that he could not bear to hear Mr. Strange'a name mentioned. During these incidents, and especially after they had so ended, Strange sought opportunities, personally and by letter, of stating the matter to Lord Bute ; and sent proofs of his three en- gravings of 1759 to the Prince, his mother, and the Earl, without obtaining either notice or satisfaction. The sunshine of courtly favour being thus withdrawn at its very dawn, our artist found himself the victim of many false and injurious reports, and learned that Lord Bute had said of him, 'It is a thing we are determined never to forgive.' Finally, before setting out for Italy, he detailed the whole ease to Mr. Dalton, who was much about the Prince; and who replied with a shrug, that Lord Bute was entirely under Ramsay's influence.'
Nearly thirty years afterwards, in 1787, when Ramsay (" the scoundrel") was dead, and the power of "we" had departed, and Charles Edward was dropping fast into his grave, and the Stuart hopes were extinct, Strange received the honour of knighthood, under circumstances described by his Jacobite wife in a letter to one of her sons.
"Your dear father has been employed in engraving a moat beautiful pic- ture painted by Mr. West, which he liked so much that he was desirous to make a print from it. The picture was painted for his Majesty : it repre- sented two of the Royal children who died. The composition is an angel in the clouds ; the first child sitting by the angel, and the other, a most sweet youth, looking up : there are two cherubs in the top, and a view of Windsor at the bottom. This print was lately finished, and Friday the 5th currt. was appointed for your father's presenting some proofs of it to his Majesty. He went with them to the Queen's house, and had a most gracious reception. His Majesty was very much pleased. After saying many most flattering things, the] said, Mr. Strange, I have another favour to ask of you.' Your father was attentive, and his Blajesty, 'It is that you will attend the levee on Wednesday or Friday, that I may confer on you the honour of knighthood. His Majesty left the room, but coming quickly back, said, 'I'm going im- mediately to St. James's, if you'll follow me I will do it now ; the sooner the better' : so calling one of the pages, gave him orders to conduct Mr. Strange to St. James's, where, kneeling down, he rose up Sin ROBERT STRANGE. This honour to our family I hope is a very good omen. I hope it will be a spur to our children, and show them to what virtue and industry may bring them. My dear Bob, I hope you will equally share in our virtues as you do our honours; honours and virtue ought never to part. Few familya have ever had a more sure or oredetable foundation than ours : may laurels flourish on all your heads."
This account of his plates will have an interest for the connois- seur, however little the spirit of Strange's descendants is likely to be imitated now-a-days.
" In one of the brief MS. notices of Strange now before me, and ap nt- ly drawn up for some periodical, it is stated that he left fifty ca pi plates still in good condition, which are carefully preserved in his amily.' From these the market continued to be regularly supplied for some twenty-five years after his death; after which in consequence of a representation that the prints were being depreciated by over-production, and in some instances from the plates wearing out, a council was held of the various parties inte- rested. After full inquiry, and finding that some hundred impressions re- mained in stock, valued at about 18,0001., it was resolved, for protection of Strange's reputation as well as to prevent farther glut of impressions, that the copperplates should be destroyed. In this conclusion he would have anxiously concurred ; yet it may now be regretted that monuments of Bri- tish art so interesting were not gilt, and deposited for safe custody in the national Museum. But a number of the leading printsellers in London be- ing assembled to dispose of them, and to verify the fact, a more routine view was adopted, and in their presence chisels were driven into the delicate parts of each plate. Being supposed, after this ruthless operation, to be merely three hundredweight of old metal, the mass was subsequently found embar- rassing, and was disposed of by weight to a founder of good reputation, on condition of being melted down the same day. It was afterwards rumoured, and avowed by the purchaser, that he was endeavouring to renovate the plates for farther use ; and, from the way in which this information reached the Strange family, it is possible that, finding his project impracticable, he used it merely as a threat to obtain terms. Notices were immediately pre- pared for circulation among the dealers of every town in Europe, warning them of the intended imposition. After long negotiation, the whole plates were recovered, and were at once cut to shreds, except the Charles I. in his robes, which remains in its cruelly mutilated state, as a memorial of the author, in the possession of Sir Thomas Strange's widow."
Family papers bequeathed to Mr. Dennistoun by Sir Thomas Strange, the son of Sir Robert, form the basis of the memoirs. But the biographer has had recourse to many other authorities, artist- lea], anecdotical, and historical in connexion with the Stuarts. He has also brought to his task considerable knowledge both of art and of the manners and social peculiarities of the times in which his subjects lived. A shorter exhibition of the family corre- spondence would have made the story lighter and more rapid; but all the letters have character of some kind, and to hit the exact medium of selection in such circumstances is very difficult. The plan, or as regards biographical narrative the absence of plan, ren- ders the memoirs rather discursive, but the book is of considerable merit as a sketch of the life and times of two remarkable men, as well as for the judgment displayed by Mr. Dennistoun. He may sometimes err a little in the importance he attaches to his topics, but not in the judgment he passes upon them, which is that of a sensible and instructed man of the world.