Tim Linnell [email@example.com], a descendant of the artist, has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web his scanned text of The Life of John Linnell, which the London publishers Bentley and Son brought out in 1892. George P. Landow has adapted it for html, adding links to the original text.The Painter-poet — Poetry and Art — Beauty of Redhill — Begins to write Poetry — Humour — ' Winter' — 'Spring' — 'The Soul's Struggle' — 'The Poet' — 'Gradation' — 'The Turk,' etc.
t is one of the surprising facts in John Linnell's life that his removal to Redhill should have awakened in him a poetic vein which had not hitherto manifested itself, except in connection with his art. Of the various poetical pieces he wrote, all were composed subsequently to 1851. He had always been a great lover of poetry, and it was one of his doctrines that an artist should constantly reinvigorate his mind by excursions into great domains of thought if desired to avoid the deterioration of his art. He held that the best technical work becomes merely mannered and conventional unless constantly vivified by renewed inspiration and deeper and wider perception. In this respect he had found the reading of the poets of great advantage. Their ideas stirred thought in him; their inspiration kindled his imagination and kept the poetic perception fresh and clear. But it was only after his settlement at Redhill, and therefore when he was close upon sixty years of age, that the poetic faculty found expression in verse. It seems to have been the direct outcome of his residence amid the beautiful surroundings of his new home. His greater leisure also doubtless had something to do with it; for now, exempt as he was from the toils of portrait-painting, he could devote more time to reading, and give greater latitude to thought.
One of his earliest poetical compositions was an impromptu, written in a note to his daughter, Mrs. Palmer, a few months after his settlement at Redstone (November, 1851). In the missive in question he writes:
'I only wish you were here. I saw a sunrise this morning that was worth a winter's sojourn in a desert to behold. It was on that slope to the south, where we are planting an orchard.'
He gives a pen-and-ink sketch of the view as he saw it from this southern slope, subscribing it '7 a.m., looking S-E.' Then follow the verses:
'Come with me to the southern slope
And enjoy the rising sun
Though the north is chill,
On this side the hill
The cold has scarce begun.
'Tis late in the year I know full well,
And reminded I am by that sounding knell
Of the falling leaf which the tale does tell,
That we who on this earth do dwell
Must fall like the leaf that just now fell.
'But when I look at the pushing buds,
Adorning each branch with shining studs,
I feel the hope of future joy,
Of pleasures pure without alloy.
'So come with me to the southern slope,
And enjoy a scene so full of hope,
And here you shall feel the autumn sun,
Though his rising is late
And his course soon run.
'The trees are decked in gayest attire,
And in evening sunshine seem on fire,
Though scantily clad like a lady full drest,
They show their bare arms
In their richest vest.'
Some of his verses appeared in The Bouquet, signed with his floral penname, 'Larkspur.' In sending his first verses to the editress, he wrote:
Redhill, June, 1853.
I send you my feeble effort as a contribution to The Bouquet, trusting that you will put it into the fire, or into the B., as you please. If you think either of the attempts worth insertion, I shall make the same request to you that a working man made to the editor of a newspaper, to whom he sent a letter, viz., "to mend the spelling for me, and put in the stops."
The following verses, addressed 'To the Young Ladies, Projectors of The Bouquet,' appeared with the letter:
'Children, whose aspirations pure
Are told in such delightful measures,
Giving me far greater pleasures
Than from sense I can procure
'Will you grant a boon to me,
To let me join your youthful band?
Though I am old, my heart and hand
Are ever with simplicity.
'The difference is not great between
Us children of the dust ;
I in my second childhood am,
And you are in your first.
'Such sweet fraternity does childhood make,
'Tis wisdom, highest wisdom to partake
Of the similitude, and thus to bear
That image which alone can heavenly glory share.
'Oh, let us seek with fervour to possess
All those rare qualities, that spiritual dress,
Taught us by all that God doth richly place
In childhood's precious image, full of heavenly grace.
'The guileless spirit that is childhood's own,
In lovely children found, with love that fain
Would have all happy and, without a moan,
Would be the slave of all to save but one from pain.
'And if we such became — we ought, we know —
Then should we still for ever younger grow,
Nor care to find this thread of life outspun :
Once children of our God, our life is but begun.'
The humble fruits of the artist's poetic vein may be broadly classed under the three heads of Humorous, Descriptive, and Religious. That he was possessed of a strong sense of humour will have been perceived ere this. The wonder is that it did not show itself to a greater degree in his art. It is the more surprising because in one or two minor things that he executed the humour is distinct and of a very refined quality. This is notably the case as regards four drawings that he did for a little book of 'Nursery Rhymes,' by Felix Summerly (Mr., afterwards Sir, Henry Cole, the originator of the South Kensington Museum), which contained illustrations, among others, by Mr. Redgrave and Mr. Horsley, the Academicians. Linnell's sketches are unquestionably the most humorous in the book, and call to mind some of the best hands at this sort of illustration.
The following, entitled 'An Imitation of H. W. Longfellow by a Short-fellow,' is a parody of lines seventy to eighty in the first part of 'Evangeline.' and is based on an incident which occurred at Redstone:
An Imitation of H. W. Longfellow by a Short-fellow
'By a roadside that leadeth to somewhere, in England so famous for learning,
Standeth a labourer's cottage, that once had ten steps to its porch-door;
But now will those steps be in vain sought by any who once stumbled up them,
For all have been taken away, and flowers are there blooming fragrant;
Pity that such desire of change did ever come into the hearts of
The dwellers in that pleasant cot, whose children might yet have been with them.
List, ye admirers of routine, how dangerous a little of that is;
Ye who think that minds can be dealt with as if they were clockwork.
From this cottage went every morning two urchins sent forth by their parents,
With satchel and hooks rather dog's-eared, and, what they liked better, their dinner.
To the school of the parish priest they went, their lessons to say like a parrot.
In the evening home they came, without being any the wiser.
Cleaner were they on a Sunday morn, with best coat and hat on;
As down the hill they toddled to church, the bell going ding-dong,
Marring the holy quiet with sounds like butchers' rough music,
When round a house with cleavers and bones they scatter dismay on its inmates.
More pleasant in woodlands the nightingale's voice, or far-sounding cuckoo,
With blackbirds and thrushes that throng thereabouts in the spring-time,
Though mostly in showery weather, foretold by the braying of donkeys.
A sullen demureness sat on the face of each of these urchins,
For they were oppressed with learning by rote and vain repetitions,
Always on one note of their voice, and that rather alto,
To say they believed what they didn't, and thus to tell stories.
To the question, "What is your name?" they oft had to answer,
And "What did godfathers and mothers do for you when christened,"
And so on, and so on, repeating without variations,
Which made these poor ignorant urchins such creatures of habit,
They only could go in routine, in a track they'd been used to,
And thus they became one day so completely bewildered,
As home they returned from school, and found not the ten steps,
Because in the morning soon after they left their own dwelling
Those steps were removed and a roundabout way to the door made,
Which bothered them so that they could not believe they at home were;
But further went looking for ten steps, from habit, like question and answer;
And so wandered on until no one can tell where they are or about them;
But every day, just at schooltime, their voices are heard in the distance
Repeating their names and who gave them, and why they were christened, when seeing
By reason of their being babies, they nothing could know of the matter,
But godfathers promised all for them, how they should renounce when they grew up
The devil and all pomps and vain things, and so through the whole Catechism
And then they say, "Let us go home now ; we know the way up by the ten steps."
And small feet are heard to pass close by the spot where the steps stood aforetime,
But never those urchins were seen more, those children of rigmarole custom.'
The next piece, entitled 'On seeing Turner's Picture of Ulysses deriding Polypheme,' is in a different vein:
'When Ulysses had put out old Polypheme's eye,
Who had eaten so many of his men, and him, too, very nigh,
He left him sprawling,
Roaring and bawling,
Which roused his friends who lived hard by.
And as they saw him lie,
They asked him what 'twas all about,
He made such a confounded root:
Says he, "It's all my eye."
'Ulysses then gave Pol the slip,
And hied him to his ship,
And on the prow he stood,
In his hand the burning wood,
And though he was so wise, and was not very young,
Like many other folks he could not hold his tongue.
'And to revenge him for his losses by the giant's cruel maw,
He, in addition to his black-eye, gave him some of his jaw.
So standing on his vessel's prow,
He lustily did cry out,
"You bloodthirsty villain, here am I,
And there you go with your eye out."'
Some specimens have already been given in which the artist's love of Nature finds fitting expression. The following, entitled 'Winter' and 'Spring,' may be added thereto:
'Is it only when the fields are green,
And the flowers begin to show,
That the beauty of this earth is seen?
'Is it only when the ploughman ploughs,
And the sower begins to sow,,
And the maid in the meadow milks her cows?
'Is the beauty only then perceived
When the forest trees are fully leaved,
Or the ripened corn is reaped and sheaved?
Oh no! Oh no!
'For beautiful as fields so green,
Or flowers in spring, when first they're seen,
When plougman ploughs and sower sows,
And maiden in meadow milks her cows,
And trees full-leaved, and corn just sheaved,
Is the sun on the hills 'mid the winter chills
Shining upon the snow.'
'The north-east wind has ceased,
The bitter freezing sky relents
Clouds from the west, a lovely band, arise,
And showers fall sweetly o'er the awakened earth,
Roused from its frosty winter's dreary sleep.
Its snowy covering softer than fleece of lambs,
Which soon shall gambol on its grassy floor,
In Nature's wardrobe now is laid.
Balmy winds breathe soft, and sunny gleams,
With shadows of the quickly-passing clouds,
Reveal the distant woods and hills,
And every graceful turn of the far-winding stream.
Nature is at her toilette,
And soon will show herself decked out so fair,
That all her favourite children will with rapture gaze,
When she comes smiling in her robe of May,
With flowers bespangled and with odours sweet,
Her feathered choristers attending in her train,
Chanting the praises of her mighty sire.'
The chief characteristic of the poetry which I have designated religious, and some specimens of which I give, is that it is bristling with thought, and with the kind of thought peculiar to Linnell's religious views. Perhaps 'The Soul's Struggle' is too theological to suit the tastes of most readers, but no one can deny to it great vigour, and not unfrequently rare felicity of expression. The same objection will not apply to 'The Poet' and 'Gradation,' both of which give utterance to a deep thought, aptly and beautifully expressed. Of The Turk' nothing need be said, save that it gives a measure of the man's character from another point of view.
The Soul's Struggle
'Shall siren melodies seduce our hearts
And serpent fascinations steal our sympathies,
When superstition in poetic garb salutes,
Chanting her bribes and threats to lure us to her sway?
What if the measure chimes, and in the verse are woven
Words of love, and purity, and truth —
Unholily united to the poisonous false,
Like beauteous innocence betrayed by force and craft —
To wed deformity and vice?
Shall we, because she sings of angels, saints, and heaven,
Be led unwarily by her to hell?
Oh, how can they escape that condemnation,
Who, like the Pharisees of old, offspring of vipers,
Always resist the Holy Spirit, and make void
The Word of God by their inventions?
How can any, fallen in their pit, be saved,
If not snatched like brands from the consuming fire
Of lust and passion fierce, most craftily concealed
Behind a seeming sweet serenity?
No sultry stillness, prelude to earth's throes,
To hurricanes and storms,
More certainly portends the evils we should flee,
Than that same mimicry of peace and holiness,
Which ever is with aspect of devotion seen,
Pretending to communion with the God of truth,
Whose word it sets at naught, to whom it gives the lie.
'Is it not prophesied in Holy Writ,
And by the Spirit there expressly said,
That in the latter times some from the faith will turn,
Apostatizing, led by seducing spirits, and by demons taught
In all hypocrisy and lies, with conscience seared,
Prohibiting to marry, and forbidding meats which God created
That the faithful, who the truth well know,
May take the same with thanks?
And are not these the times foretold, even this present age,
When convents rise, prisons for the weaker sex seduced,
With monasteries and other fortresses of crime;
Where the seducers sit, and where in secret they concoct
Their evil charms, distil their poisons, forge their fetters
Both for body and for mind,
Their instruments for torture and for death
Where they prohibit marriage — ordinance of God —
And abstinence from meats command
And even deny all access to the bread of life —
That heavenly manna sent by God —
Even his precious Word,
Able through faith to save the soul
This they keep back, and in its place
Force all entangled in their snares
To fill themselves with a most poisonous counterfeit
Of what the soul most needs to satisfy and guide
Its yearnings after immortality.
How great, then, is that wickedness that starves the soul —
Withholding that which to man's life
More needful is than bread
For it is written, "Not on bread alone shall man exist,
But upon every word proceeding from the mouth of God."
Well may the crafty foe that word withhold,
Seeing it is the weapon he most fears —
Chief of that perfect panoply of heaven
Provided for the soldier of the risen Christ —
Armour complete, that both detects the foe
And shields from his assaults.
Secure in this against the devil's wiles he stands,
Him loins girt round with precious truth
And on his breast the righteousness of God,
His feet shod firmly with the tidings of that peace
Which everything surpasses for the good of man
The shield of faith quenching all fiery darts,
Salvation for a helmet, and the Spirit's sword
The Word of God, with living energy replete,
And sharp to pierce to the dividing of both soul and spirit,
Even to the marrow of all being.
Truly not fleshly are those weapons rare,
But powerful through God to level with the dust
The strongest holds and citadels of evil,
With everything that riseth up against
The knowledge of His glorious truth.
'Nor is the struggle against flesh and blood,
But against chiefs, authorities, and worldly powers
Of that dread darkness now o'er all the earth
That spiritual wickedness usurping heavenly places —
This, the direful mystery of evil,
Already working with the energy of Satan
In seeming miracles and lying wonders,
In all unrighteousness deceiving those
Who perish rather than accept the truth that saves.
But thanks to God — whose thoughts and ways
Are as the heavens to earth, higher than thoughts of man —
His promise has been given, that as the rain
Descending from the heavens returneth not
Until the earth, satiate with refreshing streams,
Breaks forth in praise,
Speaking from the abundance of its heart in buds and fruits —
Giving, as if with joy and gratitude,
Seed to the sower, and to the eater bread —
Even so the Word proceeding from his mouth
Shall not return unfruitful or devoid of good,
But must accomplish all those purposes of grace
Whereto he sent it forth.'
'Poet, thou canst not find
Rest for thy troubled mind,
Nor for thy dearest longings for eternal fame
A settled ground of hope, or even a name,
To last beyond the present age,
By looking on that page
Which thou call'st Nature. No, not there
Not all those beauties, though so rich and fair,
Will e'er reveal to thee that longed.for goal,
Which in the yearnings of thy soul
Thou fondly didst expect to know and see,
And thereby reach thy aim and glory win to thee.
No ; it is written, "As the fading flower,
So is man's glory;" but for one short hour,
And, like the grass that withers in the field,
No lasting good will man's exertions yield,
If but on Nature based, or works of man.
Only in that beyond all Nature's scan,
In God's own written Word, the key to Nature's page,
Can e'er be found the life beyond the age;
There, only there, can ever be discerned
That gift of grace which never can be earned,
That life which all those ardent longings meant,
And to which all thy deepest thoughts intent
Do tend, didst thou but know and feel
What to thy peace belongs, and what the seal
Of that inheritance which those shall share
Who Christ confess on earth, and dare
Despise the Cross,
When earth and heaven — all shall pass away,
And Christ shall reign and all their worship pay.'
'Not every stormy wind that blows
Blows always at its worst,
Nor every ocean wave that flows
With equal rage doth burst
But stays, as if to gather force,
Renew exhausted power,
Relaxing in its onward course,
Till, at its own right hour,
In renovated impulses of strength,
It works its mission to its fullest length.
Claim not, then, of man that he should do
Always like well in every effort new,
For he may not expect, whene'er he will,
His utmost to display of might or skill.
'In all the storms that rave
Upon the ocean vast,
There's an emphatic wave,
A climax of the blast.
Through Nature's wrath,
Through Nature's sadness,
There's a method in its madness
And as in gentler moods there's music still
From graduated force, by the Creator's will,
All Nature to th' observance of this law doth call,
And we must e'en obey the heavenly rule or fall.'
Is there in man aught good or great?
Then God has placed it there,
To his own glory ultimate,
But now for man to share.
'Remember, thou, that not in vain
Thy efforts will be made
To win, by patient toil and pain,
The crown that ne'er will fade.'
To Be Put up in All Places of Worship
'Let no one sing who in his heart
No melody doth make,
Nor name the name of Jesus Lord,
Unless he doth forsake
All evil ways, all idols vain,
Hypocrisy and pride,
Renouncing all unrighteous gain,
For sake of Christ who died.'
'The work of peace is done,
After the piece of work
Which we have had, through snow and sun,
All for the sake of the Turk.
'O Turk! O Turk! you deserve our care,
For after all has been said
Of your being infidel, I will declare
That you by most truth are led.
'More than most states who have the name
Of Christian falsely given,
Worshipping idols to their shame,
And lying before high heaven.
'Thou Turk, together with the Jew,
Hast kept that one great truth,
That "God is one" to open view,
And taught it to thy youth.
'By Turk and Jew to the Christian world
The name of infidel may back be hurled.
'For they have sold that precious truth,
Through lust of power and gain,
And every holy precept broke
Their idols to maintain.'
I have deemed it necessary to give these poetical pieces, in order the more fully to carry out the aim with which I started, namely, to show the man exactly as he was. That some of them are not poetry in the true sense, no one will deny; but they none the less mirror the artist's soul, and that is the foremost object of this Life.
Last modified 7 December 2001