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- Biographies of Working Men - 10/22 -

of the situation. But when he went to arrange with the Prince Consort about the statue, he was rather puzzled what he should do about measuring the face, which he always did for portrait sculpture with a pair of compasses. All these difficulties were at last smoothed over; and Gibson was also permitted to drape the queen's statue in Greek costume, for in his artistic conscientiousness he absolutely refused to degrade sculpture by representing women in the fashionable gown of the day, or men in swallow-tail coats and high collars.

Another work which Gibson designed during this visit possesses for us a singular and exceptional interest. It was a statue of George Stephenson, to be erected at Liverpool. Thus, by a curious coincidence, the Liverpool stone-cutter was set to immortalize the features and figure of the Killingworth engine-man. Did those two great men, as they sat together in one room, sculptor and sitter, know one another's early history and strange struggles, we wonder? Perhaps not; but if they did, it must surely have made a bond of union between them. At any rate, Gibson greatly admired Stephenson, just as he had admired the Stelvio road. "I will endeavour to give him a look capable of action and energy," he said; "but he must be contemplative, grave, simple. He is a good subject. I wish to make him look like an Archimedes."

If Gibson admired Stephenson, however, he did not wholly admire Stephenson's railways. The England he had left was the England of mail- coaches. In Italy, he had learnt to travel by carriage, after the fashion of the country; but these new whizzing locomotives, with their time-tables, and their precision, and their inscrutable mysteries of shunts and junctions, were quite too much for his simple, childish, old- world habits. He had a knack of getting out too soon or too late, which often led him into great confusion. Once, when he wanted to go to Chichester, he found himself landed at Portsmouth, and only discovered his mistake when, on asking the way to the cathedral, he was told there was no cathedral in the town at all. Another story of how he tried to reach Wentworth, Lord Fitzwilliam's place, is best told in his own words. "The train soon stopped at a small station, and, seeing some people get out, I also descended; when, in a moment, the train moved on --faster and faster--and left me standing on the platform. I walked a few paces backward and forward in disagreeable meditation. 'I wish to Heaven,' thought I to myself, 'that I was on my way back to Rome with a postboy.' Then I observed a policeman darting his eyes upon me, as if he would look me through. Said I to the fellow, 'Where is that cursed train gone to? It's off with my luggage and here am I.' The man asked me the name of the place where I took my ticket. 'I don't remember,' said I. 'How should I know the name of any of these places?--it's as long as my arm. I've got it written down somewhere.' 'Pray, sir,' said the man, after a little pause, 'are you a foreigner?' 'No,' I replied, 'I am not a foreigner; I'm a sculptor.'"

The consequence of this almost childish carelessness was that Gibson had always to be accompanied on his long journeys either by a friend or a courier. While Mr. Ben lived, he usually took his brother in charge to some extent; and the relation between them was mutual, for while John Gibson found the sculpture, Mr. Ben found the learning, so that Gibson used often to call him "my classical dictionary." In 1847, however, Mr. Ben was taken ill. He got a bad cold, and would have no doctor, take no medicine. "I consider Mr. Ben," his brother writes, "as one of the most amiable of human beings--too good for this world--but he will take no care against colds, and when ill he is a stubborn animal." That summer Gibson went again to England, and when he came back found Mr. Ben no better. For four years the younger brother lingered on, and in 1851 died suddenly from the effects of a fall in walking. Gibson was thus left quite alone, but for his pupil Miss Hosmer, who became to him more than a daughter.

During his later years Gibson took largely to tinting his statues-- colouring them faintly with flesh-tones and other hues like nature; and this practice he advocated with all the strength of his single-minded nature. All visitors to the great Exhibition of 1862 will remember his beautiful tinted Venus, which occupied the place of honour in a light temple erected for the purpose by another distinguished artistic Welshman, Mr. Owen Jones, who did much towards raising the standard of taste in the English people.

In January, 1866, John Gibson had a stroke of paralysis, from which he never recovered. He died within the month, and was buried in the English cemetery at Rome. Both his brothers had died before him; and he left the whole of his considerable fortune to the Royal Academy in England. An immense number of his works are in the possession of the Academy, and are on view there throughout the year.

John Gibson's life is very different in many respects from that of most other great working men whose story is told in this volume. Undoubtedly, he was deficient in several of those rugged and stern qualities to which English working men have oftenest owed their final success. But there was in him a simple grandeur of character, a purity of soul, and an earnestness of aim which raised him at once far above the heads of most among those who would have been the readiest to laugh at and ridicule him. Besides his exquisite taste, his severe love of beauty, and his marvellous power of expressing the highest ideals of pure form, he had one thing which linked him to all the other great men whose lives we have here recounted--his steadfast and unconquerable personal energy. In one sense it may be said that he was not a practical man; and yet in another and higher sense, what could possibly be more practical than this accomplished resolve of the poor Liverpool stone-cutter to overcome all obstacles, to go to Rome, and to make himself into a great sculptor? It is indeed a pity that in writing for Englishmen of the present day such a life should even seem for a moment to stand in need of a practical apology. For purity, for guilelessness, for exquisite appreciation of the true purpose of sculpture as the highest embodiment of beauty of form, John Gibson's art stands unsurpassed in all the annals of modern statuary.



Old Isaac Herschel, the oboe-player of the King's Guard in Hanover, had served with his regiment for many years in the chilly climate of North Germany, and was left at last broken down in health and spirits by the many hardships of several severe European campaigns. Isaac Herschel was a man of tastes and education above his position; but he had married a person in some respects quite unfitted for him. His good wife, Anna, though an excellent housekeeper and an estimable woman in her way, had never even learned to write; and when the pair finally settled down to old age in Hanover, they were hampered by the cares of a large family of ten children. Respectable poverty in Germany is even more pressing than in England; the decent poor are accustomed to more frugal fare and greater privations than with us; and the domestic life of the Herschel family circle must needs have been of the most careful and penurious description. Still, Isaac Herschel dearly loved his art, and in it he found many amends and consolations for the sordid shifts and troubles of a straitened German household. All his spare time was given to music, and in his later days he was enabled to find sufficient pupils to eke out his little income with comparative comfort.

William Herschel, the great astronomer (born in 1738), was the fourth child of his mother, and with his brothers he was brought up at the garrison school in Hanover, together with the sons of the other common soldiers. There he learned, not only the three R's, but also a little French and English. Still, the boy was not content with these ordinary studies; in his own playtime he took lessons in Latin and mathematics privately with the regimental schoolmaster. The young Herschels, indeed, were exceptionally fortunate in the possession of an excellent and intelligent father, who was able to direct their minds into channels which few people of their position in life have the opportunity of entering. Isaac Herschel was partly of Jewish descent, and he inherited in a marked degree two very striking Jewish gifts--a turn for music, and a turn for philosophy. The Jews are probably the oldest civilized race now remaining on earth; and their musical faculties have been continuously exercised from a time long before the days of David, so that now they produce undoubtedly a far larger proportion of musicians and composers than any other class of the population whatsoever. They are also deeply interested in the same profound theological and philosophical problems which were discussed with so much acuteness and freedom in the Book of Ecclesiastes and the subtle argument of Job and his friends. There has never been a time when the Jewish mind has not exercised itself profoundly on these deep and difficult questions; and the Hanover bandsman inherited from his Jewish ancestry an unusual interest in similar philosophical subjects. Thus, while the little ones were sleeping in the same common room at night, William and his father were often heard discussing the ideas of such abstruse thinkers as Newton and Leibnitz, whose names must have sounded strange indeed to the ordinary frequenters of the Hanover barracks. On such occasions good dame Herschel was often compelled to interpose between them, lest the loudness of their logic should wake the younger children in the crib hard by.

William, however, possessed yet another gift, which he is less likely to have derived from the Jewish side of the house. He and his brother Alexander were both distinguished by a natural taste for mechanics, and early gave proof of their learning by turning neat globes with the equator and ecliptic accurately engraved upon them, or by making model instruments for their own amusement out of bits of pasteboard. Thus, in early opportunities and educational advantages, the young Herschels certainly started in life far better equipped than most working men's sons; and, considering their father's doubtful position, it may seem at first sight rather a stretch of language to describe him as a working man at all. Nevertheless, when one remembers the humble grade of military bandsmen in Germany, even at the present day, and the fact that most of the Herschel family remained in that grade during all their lives, it is clear that William Herschel's life may be fairly included within the scope of the present series. "In my fifteenth year," he says himself, "I enlisted in military service," and he evidently looked upon his enlistment in exactly the same light as that of any ordinary soldier.

England and Hanover were, of course, very closely connected together at the middle of the last century. The king moved about a great deal from one country to the other; and in 1755 the regiment of Hanoverian Guards was ordered on service to England for a year. William Herschel, then seventeen years of age, and already a member of the band, went together with his father; and it was in this modest capacity that he first made acquaintance with the land where he was afterwards to attain the dignity of knighthood and the post of the king's astronomer. He played the oboe, like his father before him, and no doubt underwent the usual severe military discipline of that age of stiff stocks and stern punishments. His pay was very scanty, and out of it he only saved enough to carry home one memento of his English experiences. That memento was in itself a sufficient mark of the stuff from which young Herschel was compounded. It was a copy of "Locke on the Human Understanding." Now, Locke's famous work, oftener named than read, is a very tough and serious bit of philosophical exposition; and a boy of seventeen who buys such a book out of his meagre earnings as a military bandsman is pretty sure not to end his life within the four dismal bare walls of the barrack. It is indeed a curious picture to imagine young William Herschel, among a group of rough and boisterous German soldiers, discussing high

Biographies of Working Men - 10/22

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