Flicking through bound issues of Victorian magazines is very much a part of my job description. This engraving from an 1877 edition of Cassell's Magazine caught my eye the other day, partly for the subject matter and the caption but also for the artist, Frank Dadd (1851-1929) a very fine and well-regarded painter of genre scenes.
But the painting was an illustration of a poem which is on a facing page. It is not great literature and W(illiam) A(lfred) Gibbs was no Tennyson but there is a certain dark intensity in the tone and thought of the poem which I found affecting.
A lovely child is playing on the strand,
Where the glad ocean sends its rippling waves
To wash with silver light the golden sand
Of Naples; with delight he laves
In fearless, joyous revels, in the sea -
Like a young Cupid suddenly set free
From Venus' shell.
A Painter wanders down
To that same strand; a man whose high renown
Was soon to add to fair Italia's glory,
And live for ever in this world's grand story.
Struck by the wondrous beauty of the boy,
The painted limned him: such a face of joy
And innocence angelic, ne'er before,
Either in dreams, on on the sea or shore,
Had risen like a vision on his sight
To fill his soul with exquisite delight.
The vision - like a vision - passed away
Save for the picture painted on that day,
Which in his studio evermore remained,
And for which golden offers were disdained.
* * * * * * *
Years chased each other o'er the sands of time;
The world-worn painter sought another clime,
For through his far-famed life a mystic yearning
Though often quelled, came evermore returning -
The strong desire to find in some strange land
A contrast to his picture
'Midst a band
Of outlawed murderers at length he found
One - chained - awaiting death; upon the ground
The creature writhed with fierce and fiendish rage,
Like a wild beast wounded in a cage;
With blood-shot eyes, blurred, sensual, hideous face -
With form distorted - without shame or grace;
The wretch blasphemed his God, and cursed at men.
Here was the contrast found indeed; but when
The painter, tracing back through that foul life
Of degradation, vice, and deadly strife,
Unravelled with a sad and wondering awe
That his fair angel of the sunny shore
Was now the criminal whose latest breath
Cursed God and man - unfit for life or death -
His heart was touched with such a shock of pain,
That on this earth he never smiled again.
W. A. Gibbs