Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

First and foremost, I have to thank that greatest of all dead or living writers on art, for his memoranda, more especially for his kind permission to let me examine and take notes at my leisure of the many hundred sketch-books left by Turner to the nation, and for a quiet inspection of the best of the twenty thousand sketches found in the trunks, chests, and portfolios of their great hoarder.

The Rev. Mr. Trimmer (eldest son of the artist's oldest executor, of Marston on Bere, Staffordshire), I have to also warmly and especially thank for a MS. volume of recollections of Turner, whom he had known for forty years. I am deeply indebted to G. Jones, Esq., R.A., another executor, for his MS. volume of Turner reminiscences (especially as connected with his friendship for Chantrey). I also have to express my gratitude to David Roberts, Esq., R.A., for several sheets of valuable anecdotes of his old friend Turner; to J. Griffiths, Esq., of Norwood, an executor, for allowing me to study his large collection of touched proofs by Turner, and for furnishing me with a unique and most valuable index to all Turner's engraved works, an index that cost Mr. Stokes off and on some twenty years' labour.

I also beg to acknowledge the kindness shown me by H. C. Munro, Esq., of Novars, a great Turner collector, and one of the artist's few compagnons de voyage, in furnishing me with all he knew, and giving me full access to his matchless collection of Turner's water-colour drawings ; to F. Dillon, Esq., for allowing me to see his beautiful collections of Turner etchings; and last, not least, I may mention the great help fur

[blocks in formation]

a

nished me by that celebrated engraver, Mr. John Pye, the possessor of the best extant collection of the “Liber Studiorum," in nearly all states, and a collector for the last thirty years of all matters relating to that chef-d'oeuvre of Turner's genius; nor must I forget to also warmly thank Sir Charles Eastlake, President of the Royal Academy, E. M. Ward, R.A., Messrs. Bale and Smith, Mr. Mayall, the eminent photographer, Wilkie Collins, Esq., and the two executors, Messrs. Hardwicke and Cockerell.

Nor can I close my preface without expressing my obligations to all Turner's engravers—Messrs. Goodall, Cousen, Le Keux, Rawle, Wilmore, Armitage, &c., and not forgetting Mr. S. Lupton, who has from the beginning taken a special interest in the work.

When Mr. Ruskin first wrote to me, encouraging me in my plan of " A Life of Turner,” he said, “there

" is no time to be lost, for those who knew him when young are dying daily.”

I do not think, however, that as yet much information has been lost in that way—Sir John Swinburne is dead, it is true ; Mr. Stokes, Turner's oldest friend and enthusiastic admirer, is also gone, but the laborious catalogues and most of the stories of the latter have been handed to me by survivors. The Stokes and Hawkins collections of the “Liber

“ Studiorum,” it is true, have gone to pieces ; but Mr. Pye's, even a richer and fuller one, still remains intact; Mr. Trimmer, Turner's preceptor in Greek and pupil. in painting, too, is dead, but most of his traditions have been preserved for me by his sons. Mr. Wells also is dead, but some of his reminiscences have been

[blocks in formation]

written down for me by his daughter. Mr. Charles Heath and Mr. Charles Turner, both dead, were well acquainted with the artist, but their recollections survive in the memories of others. And thus I trust that a kind Providence has allowed nothing of this great man to perish which might be useful to a future generation, either for incitement or for warning. It is only a Shakspeare who can afford to leave his works behind him as his only monument.

And now a word in conclusion about my predecessors in Turner biography. They are few, indeed, whom I have to thank or to quote from. Mr. Peter Cunningham once wrote a short memoir full of prejudice, and still more full of errors. But for Mr. Burnett's most valuable remarks on Turner's art that accompanied it, it would be worse than valueless. Little else has been printed, if I except a short memoir of Turner in an old “Fraser's Magazine,” by Mr. Cyrus Redding, another by Mr. A. Watts, and a still shorter one in some other paper, for which Mr. Windus, of Tottenham, furnished many facts. Mr. Timbs, with little of that courtesy that should distinguish literary men, plying his scissors with his usual industry, has lately cut out a dozen or two of trite or erroneous Turner stories, and published them in a catchpenny form-for which, as partly fulfilling Job's wish, I thank him. To Mr. Wornum, an official of the National Gallery, I am indebted for two or three

I dates.

In Mr. Ruskin's fifth volume of “Modern Painters” he alludes kindly to my “Life of Turner.” I trust that my views of Turner may agree with those of the

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

great exponent of his genius. I have spared none of Turner's faults—I have tried to forget none of his excellences I have not tried to caricature him as a miser, because I knew that one great work of charity had been the fixed object of his whole life : I could not ridicule him as an anchorite and a misanthrope, because I knew how tenderly he was beloved by his more intimate friends, how sensitive he was to their sufferings, and how deeply he felt their loss.

Yet I have not written this book in the base gladiator spirit of a mere special pleader, but with, I hope, a

I stern and undeviating regard for truth. I had no motive whatever to warp me.

I did not wish to write a eulogy, a fulsome funeral oration, a poem, a riddle, a rhapsody, or a mere saleable time-serving apology. I have tried to paint the man as I really believe he was—an image of gold with clay feet-a creature over whom the sun now shone, now darkened —a great disappointed man, whose ambition was never satisfied, and who in despair of all other pleasure sought out nature, and in her presence felt his only real happiness.

I have not sought to put him on a higher or lower throne than the genius of his great exponent has already placed him, but rather to gather fresh proof of his genius from the records of his personal history. In many respects I certainly do not think his mind

I was so vast or so harmoniously developed as that of Michael Angelo, Raphael, or Titian. I do not think that his oil pictures were always equal to his watercolour drawings. But I do firmly believe that though often utterly defective in a sense of form, Turner was,

[blocks in formation]

taking altogether his quantity, imagination, variety, quality, and originality, the greatest landscape painter not only England, but the world, ever has and perhaps ever will produce.

WALTER THORNBURY.

[ocr errors]

P.S. In a postscript I must also thank Turner's old friend, F. H. Fawkes, Esq., of Farnley Hall, in Yorkshire, for the kind readiness with which he sent me a catalogue of his unique collection of Turner's drawings (chiefly unpublished); and to Mr. Trimmer for his original reminiscences of Lawrence, Gainsborough, &c. I have been much indebted to Mr. Pye also for his admirable and well verified volume on the history of English Art, which, as a treasury of dates, facts, &c., especially as relating to English engraving, cannot be equalled ; nor can I help expressing my gratitude to Mr. Ruskin for many passages in the last wonderful volumes of his on “Modern Painters,” volumes which, although I often differ from them, seem to me monuments of a genius as versatile and profound as Turner's, and infinitely more logical, clear, and far-seeing.

I only trust that the following pages will at least show the injustice of Mr. Fairholt's assertion, “ that all reminiscences of Turner are unpleasant, and only tend to lower the man.'

« PreviousContinue »