4 NOVEMBER 1905, Page 15

THE career of B. R. Hayden is a practical sermon

upon the evil of reckless vanity and impossible ideals. Hayden was a man of sanguine temper and untiring energy, and had he been gifted with some sense of humour and proportion, he might have won the glory and honour for which he thirsted. But he would not have won the glory and

* B. R. Hayden and his Frienda. By George Penton. London: J. Nisbet sad Co. [12a6&]

honour as an historical painter. He would have chosen some pursuit better fitted to his disposition; he might, for instance, have been a man of letters ; and he would then have been saved the misery of curing his many troubles by suicide.

Few men were ever less adapted to rival Raphael and Michael Angelo than Haydon. He had neither the talent nor the training for the enterprise. He suffered so acutely from his eyes as to he almost blind. Yet so strong was his ambition that he made light of all obstacles. When his friends said in scorn, "How can you think of becoming a painter ? Why, you can't see "—" See or not see," he replied, "a painter I'll be ; and if I am a great one without seeing. I shall be the first." No arguments, then, could dissuade him ; a painter he would be ; and he went to London with very little money in his pocket, and a strong determination never to sink so low as to paint a portrait. From the beginning to the end of his unfortunate career he was possessed with a firm belief that painting should be dramatic and emotional ; or that, in other words, it should attempt to achieve the work of poetry. He was equally sure that a small canvas was a sin against the nobility of his art, and he never felt that he was loyally fulfilling his ambition if he were not standing before a vast space, presently to be filled with the creatures of his fancy. It is not strange that with prejudices such as these he did not always find the path of success easy. But, in order that he might wantonly increase his difficulties, he quarrelled loudly and bitterly with his patrons and his colleagues. Indeed, even if he had not attempted a task which was far beyond his power, he would have been beset by hardships and disappoint- ments. The tact which might have softened opposition was never his, and with perfect honesty of soul he would always rather lose a friend than not indulge a scruple.

But, if Haydon were the victim of a false ambition, he had one quality which always served him in good stead. It is clear that he had the power of winning the attachment of all sorts of men. That he was an admirable talker is certain from his friends. Keats and Lamb, Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt, Wordsworth and Coleridge, would not have associated with a dullard. At the moment of his highest prosperity he counted among his visitors half the Peerage. Lord Alulgrave and Lord Grey were among his patrons. He tells us—and there is no reason to disbelieve him—that Lord Melbourne, in some respects the cleverest man of his age, was delighted with his company. He held his own in the cultivated society which gathered about Lady Blessington and Count d'Orsay ; and we can well believe, when we read his autobiography, that he was a copious and brilliant talker. But it was not merely among the great that he exercised the charm of his personality. The land- lords and tradesmen, whose bills he never paid, were eager to forgive his delinquencies, and to help him with money. Though now and again some creditor of inhuman harshness threw him into the Fleet, be was more often assisted in his hour of need by those who must have known that their chance of payment was almost hopeless.

Being an historical painter of vast ambition and careless extravagance, Haydon had not been long in London before be fell into the hands of the moneylenders, and no man was ever cleverer at the shifts which lack of money necessitates. He had a rare head for finance, and though he borrowed at exorbitant interest to repay old debts, he managed his army of creditors with singular adroitness. Here is one of his, exploits, described in his own words. "In one hour and a half," he wrote on a certain day in 1843, "I had 210 to pay upon honour, and only 22 15s. in my pocket. I drove away to Newton, paid him 22 15s., and borrowed 210. I then drove away to my friend, paid him the 210, and borrowed 25 more, but felt relieved I bad not broke my honour." He bad done more than save his honour. He had turned £2 15s. into 25, and it was in this spirit that he always settled the financial difficulties which dogged him through life. But until the last catastrophe which drove him to destroy himself be seems never to have lost heart. No disaster could long damp the ardour of his spirits. The smallest commission for an historical painting convinced him that the triumph of his principles was at hand. Even when he was carried off to gaol he made the best of his unhappy situation. "Well, I am in prison !" said he. "So were Bacon, Raleigh, and Cervantes—Vanity ! Vanity ! Here's a consolation !" For so long did he make light of his misfortunes that his suicide

is the more remarkable. On May 18th, 1846, he closed big last exhibition, having lost 2111 8s. 10d. "Next to victory," be wrote, "is a skilful retreat, and I marched out before General Tom Thumb, a beaten but not conquered exhibitor." A month later he was dead, having written in the last line of his journal these pathetic words : "Stretch me no longer on this tough world." At last a cloud. of depression had fallen upon him from which he could not emerge. At last his brave heart had broken at the thought of defeat, and the prospect of beggary. And there are few bitterer tragedies recorded in history than the sacrifice of this Courageous man, who fell a victim to his own vanity and lack of judgment.

Mr. Paston tells us little about the historical paintings for the sake of which Haydon lost his peace of mind and his life. This is a pity, because, whatever their demerits may have been, it would be curious to see reproductions of works which in their time aroused so general enthusiasm. Though Haydon was never able to free him- self from debt, he found some small compensation in the flattery of his friends. Few men were so highly praised, so generously bela.uded. The greatest poets addressed sonnets to his name. In all sincerity, Keats believed him the greatest genius of his time. Wordsworth never wavered in his faith. And though Lamb saw through the man's infirmity, he spoke well of his paintings unto the end. What were they, then, those masterpieces of history ? And where are they gone ? Where, we wonder, is the famous "Mock Election," which George IV. declared to be a " d—d fine thing," and bought for five hundred guineas ? These are the questions which the biographer of Haydon ought to answer. Maybe they have all been painted out or hustled away into attics. But they are worth recovery, if recovery be possible, for the mere sake of curiosity. However, Haydon was far greater than his pictures,—great in his life in the sense that Don Quixote is great, great also in his autobiography, which is a master- piece of self-revelation. And if he could not achieve the heroic in his art, he knew the heroic when he saw it, and it was partly due to his advocacy that England secured the Elgin Marbles. With such a subject, then, Mr. Ruston could not write a dull book, and his Life of Haydon does not contain a page that is not alive with a grim comedy or poignant with a yet grimmer tragedy.