Personalities Under Studio Lights
Readers of MacLean's who caught an intriguing glimpse of a portrait painter's varied experience through Mr. Forster's series of studio reminiscences, published last year, will welcome this further contribution from the famous Canadian artist. His insight into the character of his sitters is as penetrating as his comment is sparkling.
J. W. L. FORSTER
IT IS not so much the revealing light upon the physical features of my clients as it is stories from awakened memories that invite curious feet across the threshold of this article.
The quiet intimacy of the studio touches a chord, and a half-forgotten incident is told; often a story concerning dramatic and important issues.
A casual mention of the name of a friend, and out comes the history of a project which has given name and fame and title to others, while the founder, who built for years in unostentatious generosity until its success was guaranteed, is not named.
It was while painting the portrait of Mrs. John Beverley Robinson, of Toronto, for the “Home for Incurables that city, that I learned it was at a concert promoted by herself that the money for the foundation of this splendid institution was obtained. Mrs. Robinson was a charming singer and none of her concerts closed without the audience calling for her impressive rendering of “Home, Sweet Home.” At this particular concert of which I speak, she sang the old song over again, and when given on this occasion with her wonderfully sympathetic voice, it seemed more thrilling than ever. That is why •this song sheet in her hand means so much to the happy guests in that Home.
The title “Home,” has for financial reasons been changed to “Hospital,” but a home spirit still clings to an institution which has been administered with devotion by Alexander Manning, and following him, by Ambrose .Kent.
An Athletic Governor
THIS introduces one of the picturesque figures of the last generation. Hon. John Beverley Robinson, whom I painted as Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. He was as far from commonplace in character as his air of stalwart manliness would indicate to any stranger who saw him. His square-front forehead gave evidence of his courage and tendency toward frontal attack in controversy or dispute, rather than flank movement.
Good stories aplenty attest his fistic prowess. I have seen his capable play with the gloves, and know personally his skill with the foils. His striking figure on the street was only a hint of his style as a Hector in action at The Toronto Athletic Club. He was an enthusiastic promoter of clean sport.
In 1838, when Mackenzie’s forces held Navy Island, Beverley Robinson, then but a youth, was given command of a negro company of loyal militia. One member of this company was a clever contortionist, who could almost tie himself into a knot while one foot still kept pattering a horn-pipe. The effect upon the onlookers was hilarity so persistent and uncontrollable that cries of agony were many as men writhed in roars of laughter.
It was young Beverley Robinson who wormed his way through the vigilance agents on both sides of the border and carried the cypher message from Governor-General Head, of Canada, to Governor Van Ranssellaer of New York, which had the effect of restraining United States’ active support of William Lyon Mackenzie.
Speaking of governors, another, varying in type from Beverley Robinson, was Sir Mortimer Clark, as true hearted a gentleman as any who ever occupied an executive mansion. A large dignity reigned easily about him and simply breathed the natural import and spirit of the man.
His appointment to the lieutenant-governorship of Ontario came to him without political service or influence. As a gift to a noble and useful citizen it honored the government of Canada in its bestowal.
Without ostentation he had in evidence in a quiet spot the motto, “Christ is in this home, an unseen guest at our table, a silent listener to every conversation.” Foremost in moral movements, the memory of his life enriches his practical endowments to public benefits. Sir Mortimer’s thoughtfulness made convenient and easy the sittings given me at Government House by General Booth.
Sir John Morrison Gibson had been told by his Scottish mother that her intuition, or psychic vision, saw him one day as Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, and that he was to mind himself with that in view.
His attaining the governorship was not a greater achievement than his success as a lawyer and in financial affairs, or as a military man in promoting marksmanship in the Canadian Militia, or, again, as Attorney-General in the Ontario cabinet. For service to the State during the Great War, he was given the honorary rank of BrigadierGeneral.
As a portrait subject neither affectations nor posing had any place with Sir John. The inclination to stiffness, when left undisturbed, will sometimes take on a simple grace. This, I have been told, has been caught in his portrait in the Ontario Parliament Buildings.
Son Follows Father as Governor
'T'HIS is a welcome opportunity to give high place to the name of Hon. James Cox Aikins, P.C., a former Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba. He served eighteen years as Secretary of State and as Minister of Inland Revenue for the Dominion; twice declined knighthood, was later appointed to the Senate and was a man and a statesman of unimpeachable integrity of character.
He entered Parliament as a Liberal. There he found his chief, George Brown, very dogmatic, somewhat partisan in his insistence on special ecclesiastical or denominational privileges and very active in a sort of guerilla warfare that followed the Strachan-Ryerson conflict of a decade or so before.
A controversy arose. Aikins’ articles were strong and logical, as were Brown’s. The breach widened and Aikins ultimately transferred allegiance to the Conservative Party and carried with him a large following of those whose cause he had championed. Singular distinction and honor has been given to public life in Canada by his fifty active years therein.
His son, Sir James Aikins, some years later became Lieutenant-Governor of the same Province of Manitoba. Because of his initials, J.A.M., the son is popularly known as “Jam” Aikins.
I knew him as a pranksome youth at the Brampton Grammar School. Colonel Clarence Denison told me of J.A.M.’s leadership in getting the Upper Canada College cow up the college tower one night, and of the problem that confronted the faculty next day when it came to getting the animal down again. One can read still in the twinkle of J. A. M.’s eye, the suggestion of many youthful adventures. Dr. Cockburn laughed heartily when Sir James, years after, confessed to his guilt.
His was a brilliant career in law, he having been solicitor for the Canadian Pacific Railway during the period of its great development in world carrying trade. He resigned this post to enter politics and represented Brandon in the Federal House.
Not the least of his services to the country was the organization of the Dominion Bar Association, of which he became first president. His unusual power as a speaker, won by severe discipline, he has dedicated to high moral issues. The fact that as a speaker he is in very frequent international demand is only one example of many achievements attributable to that one cause—self-discipline.
His appointment for a second term is a compliment to his outstanding ability and public spirit, as well as to the kindliness and charming presence of Lady Aikins as a hostess.
The Governor Who Was Bald
T WAS invited to paint the portrait of Hon. John
James Fraser, Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick, for the capital of that province, and I found him particularly interesting because of his accomplishments through sheer force of self-discipline.
He resigned a judgeship to take up the exacting duties of the parliamentary life of his province.
All the while his whole nature, he admitted to me, was more in love with the responsible functions and experiences on the judicial Bench than with the partisan struggles of politics. His health suffered through political campaigning and he retired upon his appointment as Lieutenant-Governor in recognition of useful public service.
My touch with the gubernatorial office has not been confined to my own country, for Governors Montague and Stuart, of the State of Virginia, honored me with sittings. Governor Hunt, of Arizona, sat for his portrait for that state; and he, being even more bald than I, secured for his portrait most sympathetic treatment. I am told this was a pronounced success in the adaptation of attitude and lighting to overcome a deficiency which
some humorou ly regard as a decorative difficulty.
Sloping Forehead no Sign of Weakness
CTUDIO side^ lights brought into relief the versatility of John W. Langmuir, the organizer of the Victoria Park Commission for that commendable national enterprise, the beautification of the Canadian side of the Niagara River and the vicinity of the “Falls.” He was the founder, and for years the administrator, ofjthe Guelph Sanitarium; founder also of the Toronto General Trusts Corporation, of which he retained the general managership until his busy hand relaxed its grip. His rapidly sloping forehead answers with an emphatic “No!” the question often put to me: Does a retreating forehead indicate a low mentality? Nor does it mean a lack of courage. It may suggest however, caution in the line of ap-
proach to a crisis, an oblique rather than a frontal attack.
While his portrait was being painted a neighbor Scot came into the studio, where he was seated, and saluted him familiarly. He then addressed me: “Mr. Forsther, this John Langmuir is one of the greh-test men ye ever saw. Here, he’s eighty-three, an’ he has nae a grey hair in ’is heid. They’re aw’ white.”
Langmuir’s peer as a story-teller was the dignified financier, John L. Blaikie, who brought with him much of the fisherman’s philosophy and a flavor of the streams he whipped for trout.
One morning Blaikie entered the studio full of mirth over a cockney conductor’s sketch of Mayor John Shaw, a convivial old sport, then in the civic chair. On the “Belt Line,” passing McMaster Hall, the conductor had pointed across the street with his thumb to the little ten-by-twelve home where the mayor lived, and explained to a group of United States passengers: “ ’nd this is the ’ouse of the Mayor. ’Tain’t much of a ’ouse, y’know. ’Tain’t much of a ’ouse to look at, but John Shaw, ’e’s a good young man, y’know; ’e’s a good young man. ’is opes are ’igher, y’know, ’is ’opes are ’igher, and the ouse don’t matter much.”
To the old friends of Mayor Shaw the more than picturesque humor of the sketch will be apparent.
A Nose Causes Trouble
AFTER the painting of a full-face view of Mr.
Blaikie for one financial corporation, another company, of which he was also president, asked for a replica. Not wishing to repeat, and preferring to paint a profile of his handsome features and good nose, I asked for sittings again. Finding Mr. Blaikie was sensitive about that particular feature, I discussed the proposition with him frankly; but finding his opposition so emphatic to having his nose in profile, I dropped the question and went on with the sittings.
These continued without incident till he caught a glimpse of the portrait. He forthwith gave an eloquent and impressive address to me uppn breach of faith and its exceedingly painful disappointment to him. Knowing he was a Scot and claiming for myself a good strain of like national idiosyncrasy I knew the folly of argument, so I painted a full face over the profile and showed it to him. He was satisfied and went his way.
Immediately on his leaving, the full face was painted out and the profile restored. It was far and away the better view of him. Further sittings completed it and I, in turn, then made a speech to him on the artist’s judgment and knowledge of both character value now and of permanent approval in the future. I also emphasized the bringing out of a man’s best in what should be a historic record. When sufficient of this high logic had been unloaded upon him, the portrait was placed for his view. For a moment he was silent; then he exploded.
Then Scot met Scot for a few ominous minutes. He appealed to the directors and brought in the General Manager, L. Goldman, who examined the portrait carefully and said nothing. I, long afterward, learned that he strongly commended the portrait to Blaikie on their leaving the studio.
The next day Mrs. Blaikie and his daughter were brought in, as t had asked, and whom he stated would utterly condemn it. Mrs. Blaikie’s comment was, “John, I like it. I think it is very good.” The daughter said: “Father, I think it’s excellent and wouldn’t, have it changed.” The noble Scotsman capitulated gracefully, saying, “My dears, I thought you wouldn’t like it at all.” Then to me he apologized and commended me for having stood to. my judgment.
Another distinctly Scottish, Canadian was Dr. Walter Bayne Geikie. Among the several disciples of Aesculapius I have painted, Geikie’s personality was manifestly exceptional. His quick wit enlivened a deeper humor. For instance, he advised his brother-inlaw, whose respect for old friends was shown by faithful attendance at all services for the dead, to change church affiliations to one of more numerous congregation, as “providing more scope for funerals.”
Dr. Geikie’s radiant cheerfulness was good medicine. His thorough scholarship was ever at the service of students of medicine. For years in Victoria University School; later, in founding and for thirty-two years on the staff of Trinity Medical College, and twenty-five years its Dean, the impress of his tireless spirit was an inspiration to many thousand students and to practitioners in all quarters of the globe.
One other of the representatives of the profession of healing must be mentioned for his masterful organization of a city’s Department of Health.
A review of the factors in the problem of making a city sanitary and its citizens healthy as told during sittings by Dr. Charles J. Hastings, Medical Health Officer for Toronto, was like a fascinating story of engineering and campaigning feats carried out on great battle fronts. Involved in the survey were the menaces to the city’s water, food and milk supply, including the proper handling, marketing and delivery of food stuffs. Dangers from insects, bacteria and human ignorance and how to adequately deal with all these, presented problems to appal the most robust.
Nor did a recital of methods necessary to persuade governments and a council to train inspectors and to promote enthusiasm in his staff indicate half the tribulations of a medical health officer. In the Toronto press his program was humorously characterized as the “Battle of Hastings.”
The fostering of hygienic conditions and of preventive medicine, and a Spartan dealing with communicable diseases indicate some of his paternal methods. His campaigns are prosecuted with hammer blows at traditions and tribunals. He scouts in all sorts of disagreeable places in and out of factories, warehouses and the homes of the people. To these activities add health talks, pre-natal clinics, baby clinics, tuberculosis and other contagious disease clinics, with nursingat-home and follow-up work along with many lesser activities, all links in the chain of health safeguards.
The record is of a heavy investment and good dividends. As given by the M.O.H., the death rate in Toronto in 1901 was 15.1 per thousand of population; in 1923, 9.1 per thousand—2,500 fewer deaths per year in 1923 than if 1909 death rate had continued. Infant mortality has been cut in half; tuberculosis deaths fewer than in any city of the world of similar size, and typhoid fever has almost disappeared.
Dr. Hastings in appearance suggests the old dashing type of South-West cavalry officer; commanding, fearless, persistent, with a saving joviality and a bonhomie that fairly dances in his penetrating eyes.
A Rebel Turns Chief Justice
TN 1870 I witnessed the mustering in of A the expedition under Wolseley, to Canada’s North-West. I have listened to the recital by actors in the several dramas of North-West settlement. From them I heard stories of the Selkirk pioneers and the Fur Trade Adventurers, some of whom still lived; also of the doughty participants in the savage fiasco of the first Riel Rebellion, and the campaigns of ’85. Their stories glowed and sparkled with the primary vividness no secondary relating of them can supply.
Reference to the first Riel Rebellion introduces a personality who merits a paragraph in this chapter. One of the evidences of the swift transformation of rebels into loyal citizens under free British institutions was Chief Justice Dubuc, of Manitoba.
The Chief Justice was a small man, not of commanding appearance; but acquaintin' H-+
ance soon revealed the dignity of his honesty and his sincerity and respect for law and national institutions. “These,” he said, “have been built up to safeguard the interests of all citizens of the commonwealth alike.”
The conscientiousness and clarity of his judgments proved that this was no mere empty phrase where he was concerned.
He had been seat-mate of and had formed friendship with Louis Riel at Montreal College, whence Dubuc graduated, B.C.L., in 1869. He went to the North-West at Riel’s invitation, not knowing, he said, the reason of Riel’s request; and was with him in the Metis insurrection at Fort Garry in 1870, where his elementary knowledge of law was helpful to his friend.
When General Wolesley’s force surrounded the Fort, Dubuc was taken care of by Archbishop Tache, until the storm blew over. When Hon. Mr. Archibald arrived from Ottawa with a commission to organize the Province of Manitoba, with himself as Lieutenant-Governor, he called for an election of representatives to a parliament. Young Dubuc was nominated for a seat and became a member of Manitoba’s first Parliament.
About this time a belated raid of Riel’s friends, the Fenians, came over the border from the United States. Against them Mr. Dubuc, M.P.P., led a troop of loyal horsemen. This transformation occurred within the space of one year.
Early in the existence of the provincial court, Dubuc received appointment as judge. I was present on the occasion of his taking the oath of office as Chief Justice of the High Court of Manitoba, and received the foregoing statements from his own lips, in frank conversation during interesting portrait sittings.
No Quibbling Here
WHEN I was working on the portrait of Chief Justice Sir Charles Moss, of Toronto, I caught many amusing glimpses into the relationships of rival counsel on court cases. Relief was often very welcome from the strain of long court sessions, and the cloak-room sometimes supplied the first free breath to weary lawyers.
Moss one day complimented a rival counsel on his quotation of the favorable portion of a certain decision, and asked why he didn’t finish it. “Because, my learned friend, the strain of the case was sufficiently heavy and I feared a longer quotation would be too much for the court, for my client and for myself, sir.” “It surely would have been too much for your client and for yourself,” Moss commented, adding: “I’ll give the rest of the decision for you to-morrow.”
When the case was called on the morrow, announcement that a settlement out of court had been agreed upon between the clients, snatched expected victory from Mr. Moss. It illustrated the chance happenings of court practice. •
Chief Justice Howell, of Manitoba, had an eccentric way of contradicting himself in talking; and me, if I reminded him. He had risen from the beginnings of law practice in his province and he gave a racy review of the primitive conditions existent in the early days, many of the facts of which have mercifully not been recorded in the chronicles of the period.
His successor, Chief Justice W. E. Perdue, and I, had been fellow students at the Brampton Grammar School, where we often compared pencil drawings on the fly leaves and margins of our text books. The artistic impulse was strong in him; but this was complementary to a penchant for versification, which has not been lost in the desert of legal forms and enactments, I’m happy to believe.
Like Perdue, Chief Justice Mather did not allow a dull moment in the hours of sittings, for he, too, through years of struggle with pioneer handicaps, had developed the air of conquest which sits so well upon the head and shoulders of the men of the West.
In his survey of pioneer days the light of his experience flashed from many facets. Comment on the unethical habits of some new citizens, as brought out in cases then being argued before him, impelled the exclamation: “Thank God for the Ontario homes that gave us a right start in ideals of decency.”