Personalities Under Studio Lights

J. W. L. FORSTER August 1 1926

Personalities Under Studio Lights

J. W. L. FORSTER August 1 1926

Personalities Under Studio Lights


DOCTOR ALEXANDER WHYTE says“Art is that ceaseless music which links up all the centuries in a great spiritual language that moves where no other influence can.”

As Homer chanted stories and rhymes of old, so his successor, the Oriental Story Teller, is often a literary genius; and by the same token of grace, why should not the men and women who embellish fireside evenings with garlands of festive tales and dinner hours with good stories, have place beside the writers of fiction and history?

Many times have I felt that a niche in Fame’s Gallery ought to be given those who illumined studio hours with tale and fancy.

The history of the studio would make a wonderful collection of stories, for almost every sitter had his “good ones” to mingle in the thought exchange.

A client of the early years, William Brown, had an exhaustless fund of them, and could invent new ones in swift succession to amuse his children.

Puring one of his visits to Paris I spent the afternoons in outings with him. Once meeting him by appointment near the Arc de Triomphe, I found him embarrassed by the possession of a peck of strawberries. The recital immediately began of his seeing these luscious fruit and his wish to taste their sweets; of his pantomime with madame, at the street^ide store, the perplexities of bargaining in unknown tongues tickling to the risibilities of both into prolonged, speechless laughter. Finally of his offering a silver half franc, and she, catching up a measure, pouring the full contents into a newspaper on his lap.

His consternation and her hilarity were a vivid picture to greet my arrival, a picture to convulse the soberest. Brown’s recital of his experience to his wife and family one evening at his home, set his phildren rolling on the carpet in screams of laughter.

The Author ol the “Golden Dog”

WILLIAM KIRBY, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, is a name deserving honor among men of letters. He pame to Canada in the Rebellion year, 1838, to fight for Britain, bringing his rifle and a box of books from Kentucky.

There bejng at that time a large jingo element in the United States who were endeavoring to foment an invasion of Canada, not a few young men prpssed the border to show their opposition to such a move. Several of the latter remained in the country, among them this tall, keen-eyed youth, William Kirby. He settled in Niagara-on-the-Lake where he edited the Niagara Mail for twenty years, printing much of his special literary work on his own press. After he became a customs officer the literary impulse became more fitful and less spirited.

He was a fine philosopher, poet and gentleman; and always will be remembered as the author of the “Golden Dog,” a historic romance of Old Quebec. It is one of the choice volumes of the world’s literature.

I met him first during a summer at Niagara, t the old Chatauqua, in 1890, and made my sket. h notes for the portrait I have.

Mr. Kirby was very conservative. I called upon him under the stimulus of discussions among a group of us at the Royal Canadian Institute: Dr. Kennedy, Oliver A. Howland, Wm. Hamilton, Arthur Harvey, and others. I had not provided myself with a letter of introduction and my reception was cool enough to convince me that my banner did not yet carry a crest of fame.

I could not but wonder that he had not penetration enough to see I was sincere? But I utilized a bit of reporter’s experience and asked a question or two that he could not refuse to answer, and catching the attitude that is the foundation of the portrait, saw for a few minutes his illumined face.

I saw him again at a Historical Society’s picnic at Brock’s monument, where he addressed the company with some vigor.

By consultation with his family and much study of former photographs, the key to character was kept true to the lines and moods of his virile years. The rekindling, in conversation, of the fires of a strong mentality gave gleam to the eye and the result was highly approved by the family.

General Joe Hooker, known as Fighting Joe, of the Federal Army in the American Civil War, who had been criticised for his conduct in a certain action, determined to write a book on that campaign in defence of his leadership. He chose Niagaraon-the-Lake as a quiet spot and arrived with his secretary and a special car fitted with pigeon holes and cases of army correspondence, despatches, etc., equipped for the task. He liked the place. Its calm appealed to him.

He and his secretary took a day to boat and fish before beginning their work. The next day something else. A week passed, and he felt less inclination for work. Two weeks; then he said to his secretary: “It’s no use! This place has ‘got me.’ I can’t write anything here.” They packed up their belongings and departed and the book was never written.

It is told of Sam Jones that he once landed at this town. He had gone but a few steps when he halted and, turning to his friend Sam Small, said: “Tread lightly, Sam, you’re walking on the dead.” With these incidents in mind, it is little short of marvelous that William Kirby wrote so much and so well.

Helen Jackson and Helen Merrill

ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN was the typical poet. To spend an evening with him and his mother was a rare and to be remembered pleasure; but this memory intensifies regret that his all too early passing left us without the life sittings for the portrait which Canada would have prized.

To Helen Hunt Jackson, the Indian’s friend, the author of “Ramona,” and “A Hundred Years of Dishonor,” who was often a visitor at my studio, is due some of the interest I have taken in Indian affairs. Her soul was kindled to white heat by the white man’s conduct toward the red.

When, oh, when, will our boasted civilization live the spirit and letter of the Golden Rule? Helen Jackson’s travels in the hills, and residence of years, on the Pacific slope, made her narratives of experience in that romantic country even more thrilling in voice and gesture than is their literary recital.

Her adventurous spirit once led her alone up into the mountains on a horseback jaunt. She had been warned of a notorious outlaw, California Joe, who had terrorized an almost unlimited district and upon whose head a liberal bounty had been placed by the sheriffs of several counties. Her thirst for scenery was passionate, however; the views to be had were unsurpassed and chance of enjoying them might not come again. The opportunities outweighed the hazards, so on she went, and fortune favoring, she was not disappointed.

Her routes had been traced for her and the trails were followed. Glen, crag, torrent and cataract, peak, gorge and vista, were of absorbing joy in a succession of marvels. She was delighted to find another well mounted tourist enraptured with a most entrancing outlook.

They fell into conversation and she found him a cultured English gentleman, whose speech echoed her own in that quality which reveals the home source of the well bred. He told of other views in the vicinity, to which they went, and to rare peeps here and there, off the trail.

As they journeyed, the romance of this pleasant meeting appealed to her and she thought of California Joe; but the Englishman assured her the outlaw’s usual haunts were a hundred miles from here and that she needn’t have the slightest fear. Of course, womanlike, she thought she would like to see him, at which the stranger smiled indulgently.

They drew near a hostel, and he said: “This is where I am staying and I’d like to give you a cup of tea and a biscuit, then see you safely on your journey.” The cup of tea was brought by a serving man; they remounted and he said: “I’ll show you a shorter route back to your home and a beautiful way it is.” As they emerged from the woodland, a view of the westering slopes away to the distant ocean was a panorama of indescribable impressiveness.

Awed to silence, they stood for a few minutes until she found voice to thank her unexpected friend for a pleasure she would never forget. As he acknowledged his own pleasure in the meeting, he pointed the way for her to follow down the slope towards her home, which he indicated away in the offing; he raised his hat and said, “California Joe will be for ever grateful for his glimpse of a civilization he has loved and which has been so preciously revived in his memory.”

The name of Helen Merrill, now Mrs. Egerton, archivist and champion of our native Indians, whose portrait was exhibited in the Walker Gallery, Liverpool, ought to be better known. Into the literature of this continent is injected an oriole note by the exquisite rhythmic beauty of her ’ occasional poems. Like this rare visitor to Canadian woods, her ringing, rapturous trills leave us eagerly listening for their recurrence.

Chrrles G. D. Roberts

Y^/HEN intimation was given that Charles G. D. Rob' ' erts intended giving me sittings, I was awakened to an immediate survey of memory records. In the ’eighties, when he was Editor of The Week I had written occasional magazine articles, and recalled his courteous attitude to a literary tyro. As vent or sluice gate for the overflow of ideas that had rushed upon me as a teacher of art, he gave them a generous welcome.

Roberts was not then widely known, but a small ripple of fame had moved in and ’plashed upon our quiet shore. In the United States he had only been heard of. But the ripple mounted to a wave when the story blew in of a feat of strength. He had lifted, with one hand, one of a coterie of New York men of letters and carried him about the room on a chair. Hercules was acclaimed as Apollo. It is personality men want as much as product.

Books of his exquisite verse appeared from time to time and in the overcrowded years, a fitful but welcome

lull allowed once in a while the strains of his music to be heard.

Refreshing indeed and most satisfying is that octrain of his, which I think is the fullest epitome of the art I love that has yet vibrated the lyre of poet:

“Said Life to Art, I love thee best,

Not when I find in thee My very face and form expresst With dull fidelity;

But when in thee my craving eyes Behold continually The mystery of my memories And all I long to be.”

It was a pleasure to meet him again, and to find, after the long years, the same gentleness as of old that so well becomes a man of strength.

When I had his portrait three parts done, a peep of it was allowed a young friend. Her observations were delightfully original. She was especially attracted by the eyes, which, she said, “have the ‘father look,’ like daddy’s; the look that inspires admiration and respect.”

I was anxious to understand her thought more clearly, but found she hadn’t read his father-song from “Love Poems.”

“My heart is a house, deep walled and warm,

To cover you from the night of storm.”

She only repeated, “Daddy has that look and other men.” Then I remembered Lloyd Roberts, his son, had been with him and that they had chatted familiarly all through the first sitting. A residuum of that filial and paternal fellowship still lingered in the eyes. How the young glimpse us through and through.

The picture came off the brush so quickly there was not time to learn all his ways of making friends with our fellows of the wilds; nor the story

of his “Rose” and “Other Odes.” There was time, however, to feel the pulse of a poet, who may yet thunder forth a psalm that will be sung in cathedrals, by generations yet to be.

Bliss Carman

BLISS CARMAN brought with him a personality as novel as his poetry. The mystical sentiment prevailing in his work, produces a haunting fascination that appeals to the mystic strain in all of us.

A studious cultivation of felicity in word-music and years of practice in the arts of the poet, have apparently encouraged in him this tendency to mysticism. A scanning of his later books reveals also an augmentation in power and in imagery that places him well toward the front, among the foremost writers of lyric verse.

My sketch of Bliss Carman is not intended to be of his poetry, but of him. I heard of the young lady, who, looking at his broad-brimmed hat, remarked, “Isn’t it just like him?” Bliss Carman is a man apart and looks it. A couple of lads, who like to come into the studio, saw the half finished portrait of him and exclaimed, “Uncle John, that man looks like a poet.” A mass of wayward hair and the unconventional freedom in garb, gives his tall figure an air of daring and characteristic bohemianism.

A few hours with him demonstrated to me, however, that he wasn’t born for a solitary life. A curious centring in self, a concentration of thought upon the ego, has invested him with an aureole of irresponsibility that doesn’t quite fit the head of this man who has given to our literature such gems of rhythmic splendor. And yet solitude alone can give the quiet in which is evolved for the world those priceless products of his pen.

I have long wondered if the spirit of the “Vagabondia” which he invoked years ago, has not retained the driving seat of the chariot of his life, and, may be, still holds the reins of the impetuous steeds. A friend of his says that Bliss can drop easily away from the most perfect English into the most ribald of modern slang.

In any case Carman’s charm of manner and ready answers make him companionable. His scholarship and his contacts with men and women of parts render his conversation far from platitudinous.

His humor is large and humane. It never descends to malicious personalities. It is often whimsy or an outbreak of drollery that feathers an arrow of wisdom shot from a humming bow string.

Of an evening a “swallow-tail” or tuxedo limply embraces his fathom—plus frame with careless ease as he gives you the legend of “Shamballa,” the dream city of great souls, which may be seen in the Aurora, or the “Revelation” so splendidly colorful and vital.

His art sympathies are evident in Sargent’s Frieze of Ancient Prophets in which the famous Hosea had Carman for model.

Bliss Carman tells of studious university work with a professorship in view; but of his final escape into poetry. When his chairman in a western city said: "Mr. Carman is another Canadian who had to go to the United States to get recognition,” he promptly replied: “I think it’s the

other way about, I came back to Canada to get it.” And J. Murray Gibbon’s humorous paraphrase, “I have more pleasure in this one returning Canadian than in the ninety and nine who remain outside the fold,” is a fairly happy allusion.

Will red Campbell

DR. WILFRED CAMPBELL I knew more intimately, and our fellowship became a cordial friendship. His grandfather having been a portrait painter, his own instincts and intuitions led him to a deeper and more penetrating discernment of the portrait painter’s art than most men possess, hence our evenings together were happy and memorable.

I always felt, when leaving him, that there were reaches for exploration and portrayal in human soul, areas unthought of by the tyro, unasked for by the average patron or client, yet to be observed and recorded by an enthusiastic portrait painter. A reperusal of his verse with this in mind will disclose the secret, that this insight finds voice and echo in many of his poetic numbers.

Of Pauline Johnson, distinguished daughter of great chiefs, I gladly record her claim to national and international esteem. This eminent poetess and storywriter had a nature the most intense of any of my literary acquaintances. One was aware of the impetuous forces within.

A friend, Frank Russell, was canoeing one evening with her on Lake Joseph. Conversation naturally drifted on to race spirit in song, action and tradition, in which she was ardently patriotic. She leaned over the side of the canoe almost to the water and gave the wild screech of a war-whoop that was terrifically bloodcurdling. A vivid expression of the valkyrie-like wild passion of her race.

The same spirit thrills the melody of her verse; and while a fine control sweetens and deepens its meaning, a power and pathos is flung out beyond its enchanting measures. Her grave in Stanley Park is an appropriate resting-place for this wonderful daughter of the wildwood.

Many delightful memories will be awakened by the mention of Mrs. Grace E. Denison, whose pen-name was Lady Gay. For years, she edited a column of social events in Toronto Saturday Night, but it was in other articles which appeared from time to time from her facile and original pen, that her discernment of the soul of things beneath social glamor was clearly revealed.

Of too great a nature to be cynical, her sense of humor sometimes prompted her to remove the mask from conventions, which often screen agreeable insincerities. The friendship of a woman of her calibre of mind was a high privilege indeed.

Seats ol the Mighty

DURING the sittings at the Hotel Netherland in New York, Sir Gilbert Parker continued his program of writing, receiving visitors, talking business and telling reminiscences, for he was an excellent raconteur. All were done with a frank heartiness that made fellowship with him a pleasure.

His portrait was shown at the British Colonial Exhibition in London, in 1892, and is owned by the National Club, Toronto. Here’s just one of his stories: When he was in Australia, his friend, Tennyson, son of the Poet-Laureate, and himself afterwards Lord Tennyson, contested the Melbourne constituency. It was open voting in those days. On finding he lacked a dozen votes of equalling his opponent, Tennyson appealed to Mr. Parker and referred to a Yorkshireman, an illiterate but prosperous ranchman, whose eighteen foremen would be likely to vote as he did. Gilbert Parker said: “Leave that to me.”

He met the ranchman on the hotel verandah, engaged in conversation and asked him if he had voted.

“Noa, not yit. Does th’u knaw the men?”

“Oh, yes,” said Parker, “they are both making a good run, I believe. Do you see Mr.—’s beautiful residence across the bay?”


“You know what a charming wife he has?”


“And his refined and modest daughters?”

“Aye, that.” “Well, do you know,”—in a solemn whisper—-“he keeps an aquarium in that very house?”—emphasis on aquarium.

“Th’u daunt tell me that?”

“Yes, I do,” said Parker brusquely, and he walked away.

In a few minutes was heard: “Ah, say, Bill, ah’s not gawin’ t’vaute f’l that fellow across t’bay; ah’s heard summat aboot’m, etc.”

Tennyson was elected.