Tim Linnell [tim@thelinnells.freeserve.co.uk], a descendant of the artist, has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web his scanned text of this biography. George P. Landow has adapted it for html, adding links to the original text.



Difficulties in the Way of Marriage -- Opposed to 'Clerical Interference' — Decides upon a Scottish Marriage — Carrying out his Views to their Logical Sequence — Departure for Scotland — Arrival in Edinburgh — Marriage — Visit to Glasgow — Loch Lomond — Return to Edinburgh and London — Commences Housekeeping.

decorated initial 'I'N 1817, having been so far prosperous, Linnell decided to defer his marriage no longer. He was now in his twenty-fifth year, and since his engagement to Mary Palmer he had managed to lay aside £500. With this amount safely invested, he felt that he was justified in taking the momentous step.

But all was not yet plain-sailing; for our artist was a young man of ideas and of sturdy principles, and never acted rashly or without due thought. It is not intended to convey in this biography that he was always right; but if a man's principles may be judged by the success or failure which attend their application to life, we must grant that Linnell was not on the whole far wrong. Anyway, such was his method — to apply the principles he had adopted as his rule of life, not only in regard to conduct, but in all his dealings, and thereby to test them. The religious views he had accepted referred him to the Scriptures as the sole repository of the truths that are essential to man's well-being, as well here as hereafter; and being, moreover, satisfied of their sufficiency, he did not flinch from making them the touchstone by which to judge the right from the wrong.

Thus following the guidance of his reason, he came to the conclusion that marriage is a civil rite, and in no wise an ecclesiastical one. A Dissenter of Dissenters, he was opposed to all priesthoods, whose influence he considered always usurping and tyrannous, and never for the real spiritual good of the people.

This being his matured conviction on the subject of marriage, he resolved to submit to no clerical assistance or authority whatever in regard to that rite. This decision landed him in something of a dilemma; for, on the one hand, it was not clear how he was going to get over the difficulty, while, on the other, some of his religious friends manifested strong opposition, and even began to hint that his objection to being married by a clergyman was a mere pretext to break off his engagement. Fortunately, those who knew the artist best, and especially Mr. Palmer and his daughter, had no such doubt as to his motives.

Finally, after making diligent inquiry on every hand, he decided that the only way to overcome his difficulties was to go to Scotland, and be married by the simple civil rite which obtains, and is perfectly legal, there.

Writing of this subject in his autobiography, he says 'My determination to be married there in order to avoid the degrading and, as I consider it, blasphemous character of the Church ceremony, was the chief thing which had stayed my marriage so long, for at that time the journey to Scotland was the only escape from the clerical imposition, and I have some conviction that my testimony helped to procure the present deliverance from that remnant of priestly usurpation. At the time when I first became convinced that such a step was necessary to satisfy my conscience in the matter, I did not see where the means would come from to defray the expense. . . . When the time arrived, however, I was able to take £50 from my funded property for my journey.'

Some of those persons who had watched Linnell's perplexities doubtless thought he was carrying his obedience to principle a little too far. He, on his part, could not understand the frame of mind of those who, in this as in other matters, held by a certain doctrine, but were unwilling to follow it out to its logical conclusion. There was no such hesitancy on his part. Hence he sturdily went to Scotland to be married as a protest against priestly usurpation in any and every form.

These are in substance Linnell's own words. He adds: 'This was the second instance in which I had carried out to their proper logical sequence the principles of those who had taught me, but who had not the courage to follow my example.'

The first instance here alluded to was his baptism by immersion; for on joining the Keppel Street community, he at once acquiesced to 'being immersed in the name of Christ Jesus.'

The reference to those 'who had not the courage to follow my example' is a gird at Cornelius Varley, who was the person who in the first instance induced him to go to the Keppel Street Baptist Church, and who appears not to have had the courage to follow out the principles he had espoused. At least, such was Linnell's view; for Cornelius Varley was not baptized; nor did he become a regular member of the church.

Before going to Scotland, Linnell made particular inquiries respecting the legality of a marriage contracted in the way he was about to adopt, and, among others, he applied to a Dr. Waugh, a Scotch Dissenting clergyman, for information. The worthy gentleman assured him that such a marriage was perfectly legal and binding; 'but,' he added, in a manner and tone of great severity, 'I'll tell you what, young maan: if ye were a member of my church I'd cut ye aff!'

This little bit of feeling on the part of the parson, it need hardly be said, convinced the artist more than ever that the clerical idea, whether in Church or Dissent, was radically wrong.

On Monday, September 15, 1817, therefore, John Linnell and his affianced bride set forth on their journey to Scotland. It speaks well for the confidence Mr. Palmer had in the character of his future son-in-law that he allowed his daughter to accompany him alone on such an errand. But Mr. Palmer had been acquainted with the young man intimately for five or six years, and knew the sterling stuff of which he was made.

They travelled on the top of the coach to Manchester, where they arrived on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday morning they continued their journey, going by way of Lancaster to Kendal, and thence on Thursday morning to Keswick, where they rested for the remainder of the day. Here Linnell made a sketch in water-colours of Derwent-Water, with the hill beyond. From this study he (in 1868) painted his picture called 'The Emigrants'. From Keswick, on Friday morning, the travellers went on to Carlisle in a gig, proceeding thence on the following day by mail-coach to Edinburgh, where they arrived at six in the morning of Sunday, September 21.

Linnell had letters of introduction from Mr. Robson, the water-colour painter, and member of the Society of Painters in Oil and Water-Colours, to Mr. David Lizars, the engraver and publisher of Edinburgh, with whom he subsequently had some dealings. After visiting several other friends on Sunday and Monday, the travellers called upon Mr. Lizars, who received them with great kindness and cordiality, and by whose aid our artist obtained from the public library the loan of Erskine's 'Institutes', which enabled him to satisfy himself beyond all doubt that the form of marriage he wished to adopt, 'namely, by magistrate, without any priestly interference,' was 'thoroughly legal'.

Even at this point some of his Scotch Nonconformist friends pressed him to adopt their semi-clerical plan of marriage; but he replied that he 'had come all the way from London to testify against the usurpation of a civil act by clergy of any sort, and he would in no way bend from his purpose'. Accordingly, on September 24, the marriage took place, in the presence of Mr. James Gibson, a magistrate of Edinburgh, and Mr. Lizars. The fiancés simply made a declaration that henceforth they would hold themselves bound together as man and wife; the magistrate signed the marriage certificate, and there was an end.

In this action in respect to his marriage, Linnell stands out in a most distinct manner from other men around him. Taking his beliefs direct from the Scriptures, and being sincere in his desire to live according to those beliefs, he could see no other way of acting in regard to his marriage except as he did. In this he manifested that striking individuality which characterized him throughout the whole of his life, but which was never more splendidly exemplified than in this act of self-restraint and ultimate triumph. For when he first engaged himself to Mary Palmer, he might have married as other young men do, and taken his chances of being able to keep his wife and family (if such he should have) ; but, being resolute in his determination not to accept the intervention of the clergy, he was obliged to wait until a way was opened out to him. The waiting was of several years' duration, but by hard work and perseverance he gained the victory, saving enough money in that time not only to pay for the matrimonial trip to Scotland, but also to start housekeeping with a handsome nest-egg in the funds.

The views he then held in regard to marriage Linnell never relinquished; and when, in after-years, his son James came to be married, he insisted upon the rite being performed before the civil authority (which by that time had become legal in England), and though the father of the bride was opposed to it, he gained his point.

In this respect he acted upon the same principles as those which guided him in his painting. He went for his perceptions and knowledge of truth direct to Nature, aided by the works of the Old Masters, without being deterred by the opinions of those around him, or by modern art practice.

From Edinburgh the newly-married pair went, on September 25, to Glasgow, where they spent the next few days. While here Linnell painted portraits in water-colours of Mr. and Mrs. Cochrane. The Mr. Cochrane here referred to was the father of Mr. J. Cochrane, of the firm of Ogle, Duncan, and Cochrane, booksellers, Holborn, for whom Linnell had previously (1815) executed various commissions, taking books in part payment.

The portraits were finished on the 29th, and on the 30th the artist and his wife set out on a trip to Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine. They went first by steamboat to Arrochar, thence, accompanied by Captain McLachlin and Mr. J. Allan (one of the friends he had met in Edinburgh), proceeding to Tarbet, and from there, by steamboat again, to Inversnaid, and so over Loch Lomond. They endeavoured to reach Mr. Stewart's inn on Loch Katrine, but failed to do so, and were obliged to make their way back to Inversnaid, nearly losing their way in their attempt to find the Garrison Inn, near Rob Roy's Cave.

Linnell made a few sketches of the lakes and mountains; but he does not appear to have been so deeply impressed with the scenery of Scotland as he had been some years before with the qualities of the landscape in Wales. Possibly he did not enjoy the necessary calm and quiet. On the morning of October 1 (he records) he rose early and made a drawing of the mountains before breakfast. Later, he and Mrs. Linnell sailed down Loch Lomond to Luss, proceeding thence to Helensburgh and Glasgow.

On October 6 he paid a visit to Kilbarchin, near Paisley, with Mr. Cochrane to see his mother, aged ninety, of whom he also painted a portrait. Whilst at Glasgow he went twice, as he records, to hear Dr. Chalmers preach.

On the 7th the travellers returned to Edinburgh, when they again visited Mr. Lizars. On the 8th they turned their faces southward, proceeding by coach to Newcastle Here Linnell visited his old friend William, otherwise 'Billy,' Dixon, who was then living at Newcastle, painting portraits. By Dixon he was introduced to T. M. Richardson, the artist. From Newcastle the southward journey was continued to Durham, and thence, after visiting the cathedral, via Leeds, to London.

'Such,' remarks Linnell in his notes on this trip to Scotland — 'such was our prosperous journey to the North.' He goes on to say that neither he nor his wife ever visited Scotland again. Both, however, cherished the recollection of the kind friendship they experienced from Mr. Lizars and his family. He subsequently put it on record, too, that the uniform courtesy and kindness they received at the hands of all those whom they met in Scotland gave him and Mrs. Linnell a very high opinion of the Scottish people, and that opinion was afterwards confirmed by the great kindness of a Scotchwoman whom he knew later in London, and who proved to be one of his best friends — Lady Torrens.

This trip to the North lasted just a month, the travellers having set out on September 15 and arriving in London again on October 15. When he started Linnell put £50 in his pocket. He spent £60 15s. while away; but £15 of the amount, as he makes note, was for linen and woollen goods, bought at Glasgow, with which to begin housekeeping.

On their return to London the couple separated for a few days, going to their respective parents' houses until such time as Linnell could secure and prepare a suitable place of abode. He took the first floor and an upper room at No. 35, Rathbone Place, Oxford Street, at a rent of £60 a year, and by October 27 the necessary furniture, etc., had been bought and housekeeping commenced.

On November 4 he began a picture of Mrs. Freeman, and on the 10th he had commenced an evening academy, with Masters Lowry (son of the engraver) and Albert Varley (son of John Varley) as pupils. This month also he was working on two pictures for Mr. Vines, 'A View near Shanklin' and 'Windsor Forest'; and in December he executed an etching from a drawing by Robson, and made sketches for his picture of 'St. John preaching in the Wilderness,' 'The Flight into Egypt,' etc. The 'St. John preaching' was exhibited at Spring Gardens the same year; but, although greatly admired, it did not sell. 'The Flight into Egypt' was not finally completed until 1841, when it was exhibited in the British Gallery.

At Lady Day, 1818, Linnell rented an additional floor at Rathbone Place, his tenancy continuing until Christmas, at £64 per annum.


Victorian Web Homepage Visual Arts John Linnell Next Contents

Last modified 1 December 2001