and others of their family
Publisher's noteIN the days when wood engraving as now practised, and when lithography, zincography, photography, and the thousand and one mechamcal processes for cheap and direct reproduction of the artist' s drawing were practically unknown, illustrations were perforce almost entirely confined to direct impressions from engraved copperplates. The minor as well as the more important works of the best engravers of that elastic period find a safe refuge in the folio of the art collector. But only a few of the original copperplates have escaped the melting pot, and impressions from some of the more finely engraved of these are here presented. Each one has been carefully and separately struck off direct from the original copperplate itself — the only method of pnnting by which the minuteness and beauty of the engraved work can be properly rendered.
Richardson was born in Derbyshire, in 1689. The son of a printer, he was apprenticed at the age of fifteen to a printer in London. It was characteristic of his deliberateness that he took half a century to discover he was a fine author. For he was fifty when he wrote Pamela, which, with a speed unknown to its creator, made haste into five editions. Eight years later, Clarissa Harlowe appeared; and four years after that, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, in which Richardson designed to draw the character of a Christian gentleman. It was a venturesome undertaking on the part of the old bookseller, writing in a back-shop, and in an age of license and of false honour. Yet how well he succeeded is seen by the great contemporary fame he (very keenly) enjoyed, and by the fact that his graceful pages retain for fastidious readers today the fascinations they first exercised over fine ladies in the Ranelagh Gardens, who triumphantly waved Richardson's volumes — fresh from the press — before the eyes of envious beholders who possessed them not. This maker and printer of books — an ideal combination — had lived for seventytwo years, when he died in 1761. His declining days were soothed by the friendship of many ladies, who repaid with tenderness the true homage Richardson had offered in his pages to their sex. Nor was this all he gained from his worship of womanhood. For it was his gallantry, of a good kind, which did more than anything else to educate and to develop him — freeing him from ignorances and limitations common to his time. May the same dear devotion have always similar and sweet rewards!
It is a pity that it should not be taken at all. The book is full of charm. We even venture to say that no one reading it with dramatic reference to time and manners would seriously wish to shorten its polysyllables, or moderate its gush, its tears, its sprightliness, its perfectly high-bred and graceful twaddle, or would diminish the number of Sir Charles's virtues, accomplishments, or adorers. The "best of men" is really a very fine, generous, and delicate gentleman. The old bookseller who drew him set his heart upon making a virtuous contemporary Christian, who should not be a milksop; and the little absurdities of the book ought not to impair the importance of the fact that he succeeded.
The whole being in the form of letters — such letters! "the loveliest of her sex" must have given all her days and all her nights, and they would not have sufficed, to her correspondence — Richardson has presented his hero dramatically, through the narratives of the other characters, whose virtues he encourages, whose vices he reforms, whose faults he forgives, whose good looks he outshines, whose dancing, fencing, wooing, and praying he outdoes. Thus the whole book has the effect of a chorus of admiration. Miss Byron narrowly escapes a decline through her suspense as to the state of his affections, while the excellent Clementina, in Bologna, goes mad for love of him, and the reprehensible Olivia, at Florence, makes attempts upon his life and liberty in the vindictiveness of her love, and the ingenuous Miss Jervois spends her time in tears. Miss Byron, the chosen one and thus "the happiest woman in England", must be shown worthy of such a man, and so we have infinite correspondence on her beauties of mind and person.
The minor characters, at which Richardson did not labour with so careful a hand, are really admirable. Lady G's letters are charming, even now, although the fashions in fun change so much; Sir Charles's "awful dad" (we really beg pardon for using slang on a subject which the best of men treats with such filial respect and such circumspection is cleverly sketched; and the Italian group (excepting perhaps the ill-behaved Olivia) are very good for the untravelled time at which Sir Charles Grandison was written.
The story consists simply in the deliberations and difficulties of Sir Charles's choice in marriage. Before he had seen the amiable Byron he had felt a pure flame for the admirable Clementina, who has conscientious objections to marrying a Protestant, Sir Charles had promised this lady her own confessor, her chapel, and the education of daughters, but Clementina fears that his virtues and his goodness might some day wean her insensibly from her faith, and she struggles against her feelings at the (temporary) expense of her reason. Grandison incidentally reforms her brother Jeronymo, who is addicted to light courses. He returns to England to save from forcible marriage Harriet Byron, whom one of her innumerable adorers has kidnapped after a masquerade, and is hurrying across Hounslow Heath in a "chariot". Sir Charles's two sisters, Lady L. and Charlotte Grandison (afterwards Lady G) swear eternal friendship with Harriet, and recount to her the family history, including the tyrannical behaviour of the late naughty Sir Thomas to his children. After innumerable scenes of high sensibility, Clementina decides against her English suitor, and Sir Charles is free to make the lovliest woman in the world his own. Incidentally he does a quantity of good works — among them being the reconciliation of Sir Harry Beauchamp and his unmanageable wife, who had had a long dispute about the younger Beauchamp. So much will make the illustrations intelligible to those who have not read the complete work.
The Sir Charles Grandison was his magnum opus. He had the sympathy of affinity with his author. Richardson's naif sentimentality, his elaborate scenes, over-explicit and minute, in which nothing — not a word, or look, or tone — was left to the imagination of the reader, his propriety and state, all had their counterpart in Taylor's illustrations. Both men loved to add fact to fact, and line to line; all corners are explored, all accessories emphatically explained. The modern novelist will sometimes record an action and leave you to infer the motive from what he has told you of the person's character, and the modern illustrator will leave you in the dark as to the precise way in which a lady's frill is finished, or the pattern in a carpet repeated. But Isaac Taylor and Richardson will permit no such mysteries.
The artist's explicitness in costume can scarcely be appreciated at a glance. A lady, minded to go to a bal poudre as a graceful Miss Grandison, or as the lovely Harriet herself, could perfectly well have a complete fancy costume made after Lady Grandison's coming-home attire, or the dinner dresses of Caroline and Charlotte. See the conscientious way in which Taylor has varied the trimming of these two ladies' skirts, and the perfect manner in which he has rendered the several textures in the "head" of the weeping Caroline — the taffeta puff, the quilled ribbon, the lapet of exquisite lace that lies on her powdered hair. See also Lady Beauchamp's still more fearful and wonderful coiffure, and the lace pendant therefrom. And Sir Charles's travelling dress, enclosing a figure which, allowing for the long-bodied and short-legged ideal of the day, is exquisitely drawn — so solid, clean, and clear. See also the dress of the General in the Porretta Palace, and the mosaic marble pavement. The ecclesiastical costume has evidently presented some difficulty to the realistic Taylor, but he came nearer to the facts than Stothard, who put his Bolognese Bishop into a surplice. And all Taylor's extraordinary detail is expressed precisely as he intended. He "interpreted" himself, and thus had no engraver's misapprehensions to complain of. Moreover, his labour is all the more direct and unmistakeable, inasmuch as he engraved directly on the metal. That means of engraving bids fair to become, in time, one of several lost arts, of which the place is taken by new handicrafts. The many mechanical processes now in use have driven out the human precision of Taylor's method, but the relics we have of it will never lose their value. Energy, dramatic power, or singular grace cannot be claimed for him, but he was beforehand with the Pre-raphaelite movement-in part at least of its principles and practice.
THE following is a passage from Sir Charles Grandison's account of his rescue of Miss Byron from the hands of Sir Hargraves Pollexfen. He has heard a lady scream from the flying carriage, has challenged, stopped, and felled her captor.
I had not drawn my sword: I hope I shall never be provoked to do so in a private quarrell ... The lady, though greatly terrified, had disengaged herself from the cloak. I had not leisure to consider her dress; but I was struck with her figure, and more with her terror. ... Have you not read ... (Pliny, I think, gives the relation) of a frightened bird that, pursued by a hawk, flew for protection into the bosum of a man passing by? In like manner, your lovely cousin, the moment I returned to the chariot door, instead of accepting my offered hand, threw herself in my arms. “O save me! Save me!” She was ready to faint ... I carried the lovely creature round Sir Hargrave's horses and seated her in my chariot. “Be assured, Madam,” said I, “that you are in honourable hands.”