THE ARTIST ON 11th THAMES.:
THE literature of the Thames would fill a bookcase, and it would be not the least delightful bookcase in a library. Its upper courses, indeed, have been scantly described ; the tributary vales by which Churnet, Colne, Leech, Windrush, Cherwell, enrich the youth of " Quee-ne Isis, mother of great 'Tames," still lack a sacred poet; but from Abingdon to
• We follow here the reading (4 the Septuagint.
t " Afterness " is the literal meaning of the word. It of ten admittedly means ." posterity," and that is the sense best suited to the context in Num. 'alit.. 10.
Our Riser: Personal Reminiscences of an Artist's Life on the River Thames. By G. D. Leslie, R.A. New Edition. London: Bradbury and Co. 1888.
Teddington its scientific structure and environments, its historical, literary, romantic interest, even its commerce, navigation, and police, have been catalogued and expanded with a completeness attaching. perhaps, to no other river in the world,—Totwm, cognovimus amnem. On one side alone it has been incompletely handled; while its "well-known objects of interest," its noblemen's seats, important places, picturesque mills, churches, bridges, have been abundantly illustrated from the artistic or the guide-book point of view, no landscape painter of repute has preceded Mr. Leslie in giving pen and pencil to describe in continuity its less obvious yet not less enchanting beauties ; has elected so to portray its banks, villages, locks, flowers, animals, that the untrained or half- trained tourist may be educated to the delight of seeing them with a painter's eye. This defective side of Thames biblio- graphy Mr. Leslie has seized. From his schooldays in 1849, he seems to have lived upon the river during parts of every year. With an artist's patient enthusiasm and a good fellow's kindly altruism, he makes us partners in his lifelong enjoy- ment, condensing his personal reminiscences into the beau- tiful book before us.
The earlier chapters are filled with gossip and with anecdote, rather than with Art. We have casual peeps at Maidenhead, Cookham, Benson, Ewelme, Marlow, Dorchester, in the com- pany of more or less famous painters, many of whom have passed away,—F. Walker, Landseer, Marks, Calderon, Field Talfourd, Marcus Stone, G. Mason, Hodgson. Wu are called upon discursively to notice the pictorial value of eel-backs and ballast-dredgers, or the final cause of a weathercock as warming up with its fleck of gold the cold of a blue sky. We are told how George III. ate hot rolls at Culham, and how George IV. ate hot mutton-chops at Henley; are exhorted to deprecate the cruelty of swan-hopping, the ugliness of varnished boat-houses, the cockneyism of carpet-bedding : but after a time the artist marries, buys a punt, takes a cottage at Reme.nham Hill, and settles down to his work. He guides us first from Bray to Henley, sketching the beautiful Jesus' Hospital and Ockwell Manor House, exploring the Maidenhead backwater, weir, and paper-mills, lingering long over the exquisite eyots between Boulter's Lock and Hedsor, glancing briefly at " Cliveden's proud alcove," dwelling more deliberately on Cookham and the Quarry Woods, pushing through Marlow Race to the " Complete Angler," to Bisham Church and Abbey, to Hurley Mill, Medmenham, Magpie Eyot, Culham, Hambleden, and so past Fawley Court and Phillis Court to Henley : names to some readers purely geographical, to others rich in blissful lifelong associations with schoolday excursions and Long Vacation parties and wedding tours ; with weeks or months snatched from the monotony of pro- fessional or business overwork, freshening the dulled heart with tender feelings, and the jaded brain with welcome change of thought. Two chapters are given to Henley : in the first, the gossiping vein returns, and our guide discourses, not wearisomely, on the archfeology of the quaint old place, the genius of its celebrated townsman, Humphrey Gainsborough, the execution of Miss Blandy, the historic lines by Shenstone, still visible on a window at the "Red Lion," the famous coaches passing through it daily in days of yore, many of which, the " Tantivy," " Magnet," "Defiance," "Rival," with their queer drivers, Cheeseman, Jack Adams, Black Will, and their yet more eccentric owner, Richard Costar, who from his stables at Benson horsed the entire road. The second is devoted to Regattas, past and recent, omitting, however, from its spirited record the exciting seven-oar race of 1843, which first made boating really popular at Oxford. We resume our journey upwards ; trace out the loveliness of Marsh Lock, Park Place, Bolney ; work our way up the Loddon into St. Patrick's Water, voyage slowly amongst the eyots between Shiplake and Sonning, more rapidly through the long, dull Reading reach. The loveliest part of the whole river follows ; the woods and island of Maple Durham, the stretch from Pangbourne to Hart's Wood, with its osier- farms and beech-groves ; the white " Grotto," on which travellers by the Great Western Railway look down, admiring its fine lawns and timber to the water's edge ; Streatley Mill and grand hill range; Goring and Cleve Lock ; the weary six miles to Wallingford; Sinodun Hill, its clump of trees and Roman trenches ; the quiet, unostentatious meeting of the Tha.me and Isis; picturesquely perched Clifton Hampden. Church; and at last the beautiful bridge of Abingdon. The chapter on the river fauna contains nothing new to any observant voyager, and omits much that a naturalist could have supplied. Its flora, viewed from an artist's, not a botanist's standpoint, is the most valuable part of the book ; though, in denouncing as unnatural Wordsworth's hackneyed image of the primrose, Mr. Leslie forgets that a " river's brim " in Westmoreland has no affinity with a river's brim in Berkshire.
But the low clay cliffs which line the towing-paths, supporting tall plants of red loose-strife, St. John's wort, willow herb, edged where the water meets them by the graceful curling leaves of comfrey ; the rich blue dewberry harmonising with the dense yellow of the flea-bane, the fringe of potentilla, bed- straw, toad-flax, and herb twopence, trailing down from the grassy ridge above ; the purple bittersweet twining amongst the stunted alders, the meadowsweet and figwort, the scarcer meadow geranium, the turquoise masses of forget-me-not, the fragrant Acorns, the cradlerash and river-sedge, the rare and lovely fringed-buck-bean, the frogbit and arrowhead, the mag- nificent water-docks, with their tropical foliage and ruddy spikes of fruit,—are described with that loving, lingering minuteness of a " heart which watches and receives," without
which, in the eye of our great poet of Nature, both Science and Art were barren. The following is Ruskinesque in expressive insight, if not in gorgeous colouring :- " In the growth of trees and bushes what a wonderful thing it is that almost every leaf takes its line, and has reference to the lines and composition of every other leaf on the plant, the whole tree being like a well-disciplined army, every single soldier of which is in accord with the ruling ideas of its leader. My favourite willow " (apparently he means Salix Caprea) " is a beautiful example in this respect : not only does every large branch with its clump of foliage harmonise with the whole bush, as that does with the surrounding landscape, but also each little coterie of leaves and twigs grows with the same unity of purpose and design ; the colouring, too, is put on every- where with perfect rightness, the minute leaves at the end of the young shoots having entrusted to them the important duty of lighting up and warming the whole with flecks of orange, red, and gold; the light-grey under sides of other leaves showing exactly where they are wanted, and the olive-green of the top sides giving the prevailing tone to the whole. And what could be possibly devised to go so well with these charming bushes as clumps of the tall reed mace or feathery reeds of an entirely different coloured green and entirely different character of growth ! And then how much the whole is helped by the reflections, repeating the composition in a gently subdued manner, like a beautiful refrain in fine music ! Even this is not all, for lest the perpen- dicular lines of the reeds and their reflections should have too much influence, the horizontal spread of a few water-lily leaves over the surface is introduced, restoring the balance, and at the same time affording a perspective effect by which the eye can judge the distances."
Herein lies the difference between the artist and the amateur. The amateur sits dabbing away in the presence of his subject, with utterly conventional results; the artist's pencil is idle,
his hand was educated long ago, he is educating his eye ; he writes upon his brain the analysis of Nature's beauties, and reproduces them at will, with brush by preference, with pen if necessary. Turner went fishing on a day with Chantrey ; they separated ; returning with well-filled basket to find Turner seated where he had left him, Chantrey reproached him for his idleness. Turner asked if he knew the difference between
the rings made by a rising fish and those which spread when a stone falls into the water. He had been studying this all day ; had mastered a persistent variation of form which was to him a novelty, to render it truthfully on canvas when next a river
surface should be formed by his creative hand.
It is, perhaps, by the products of the pencil rather than the pen, by the engravings rather than the letterpress, that some will be disposed to judge a book avowedly artistic. It contains fifty illustrations, and we are greedy enough to regret that Mr. Leslie has withheld many more whose insertion would have postponed publishing, but for which we would have
waited gladly. They are not all, indeed, strictly illustrative of their subject,—unkempt Berkshire lasses, cottage school- children intent upon an artist's operations, a little girl " minding baby," young ladies waiting for the ferry, have no bearing on the River Thames. The value of " The Hurly Bird "is personal and extrinsic. We could sacrifice these, with the ugly dredging-boat, the lost dogs upon the towing-path,
the Wargrave sign, the stiff Streatley Mill, whose engraved lines are surely in one part unintelligible, for more fragments of architecture with the masterly handling of " Henley-on- Thames," more bits of realism like the " Swans," more land- scapes with the tender grace of the Bolney backwater, the Shiplake stream, the exquisite "Landing-Place at Monkey Island."
Mr. Leslie is not too artistic to be practical ; his book con- cludes with a chapter of experiences and hints. He makes out a strong case for the punt as preferable to the rowing- boat, unless where speed is necessary,—unless, that is, where it is desired to cover space rather than to enjoy Nature. He. advises as to the courses to be taken on the river, the halting- places, the months best suited to the voyage ; deals warningly with the dog nuisance, with the dangers of overloading and of remaining on the water after dark ; protests pathetically against the practice of picking water-lilies, lovely only in their native element ; against the uncouth iron piles which are replacing the old shapely weirs ; above all, against the detestable steam-launches,—ugly, dangerous, selfish, divorcing from all healthy enjoyment, ministering td no needs but those of ostentation and vulgarity. But the value of his- work lies not in guide-book details, though even these are penetrated with an artistic flavour, nor in the beautiful equip- ment of type and binding which recommends it for a drawing- rooin ornament or a wedding present, but in the educational initiation which it affords ; its revealing secrets of beauty locked from the untrained apprehension, but perceptible through the borrowed vision which its pages lend. The traveller brings home wealth of recollection proportioned to the knowledge he takes out with him. Many a reader of this- book will gratefully ascribe the new sensitiveness to harmony of form and colour, new insight into Nature's mysteries, new acceptance of her lessons, which in his next Thames voyage- will elevate him from a lounger into a student, to the power- granted him of seeing with Mr. Leslie's eyes, appropriating; his experience, reflecting some rays of his inspiration.