"Thanks to you," wrote Archdeacon Fisher to Constable, "for giving me the sixth sense, the power of receiving pleasure from the chiaroscuro. It has whiled away many an anxious hour."
Thanks for teaching me the sketch, as we should say.
The two spent many hours around Salisbury, making drawings of rustic scenes, and filling them in, or colouring them, at night. Mills and their picturesque associations were especially favoured, for Constable in his youth worked in his father's mill, and never lost his love for them. The artistic archdeacon never faltered in his quest, and never failed to inform his friend when he found another.
"I rode yesterday," he wrote, "out of the white atmosphere of Bath, into the green village of Bath Easton, and found myself by instinct at the mill, surrounded by weirs, backwaters, mets, and willows, and with a smell of weeds, flowing water, and flour in my nostril. I need not say that the scene brought you to my mind, and produced this letter."
The Bath road, where it meanders in company with the Wylye River, through a peaceful valley, has many claims to beauty. George Borrow and W. H. Hudson, who passed that way (the former on foot and the latter on a tricycle), wrote about it too, and Constable painted these. Hudson likened the valley to the Garden of Eden.
There is less apparent rusticity now, I suppose. The Mill and Fisherton de la Mère that Constable sketched, has been altered many times since in the interest of progress and economy. The last time I was there I turned my back on his blemished facade, and sketched a bend of the stream below the race, with a row of pollard willows. It was winter, and infernally cold; lachrymose clouds enveloped the hills, but the spirit of Constable invaded the place. It was not difficult to perceive umbrageous foliage clothing the stark trees, or the spray flashing and dancing about the mill wheel, and the whole scene smiling under a summer sky.
Constable's love of nature was consuming, and so it is with all proper sketcher, and with many another, too diffident to try to sketch, and content to preserve each fleeting revelation of splendour in the real of fading memories, ever invisible to others and gradually but inevitably lost to themselves.
Words cannot convey the full import of beauty or thought. The brush is mightier than the pen. Coutore said,"The greatest writers are those who describe and paint best; perhaps indeed they are but incomplete painters, who, had they reached on degree higher in human intelligence who would have used the divine language of painting to express their thoughts.'
Fisher's sketching was a hobby that gave him a greater knowledge of beauty, a greater love for nature, and a fund of pleasure in their contemplation. In his day there were many amateurs like him. There are few now. I have never been happier than when I have succeeded in inducing a shy friend to go try sketching. He invariably begins by protesting,"But I never could draw a straight line."to which I reply that no artist ever could. "A great draughtsman,"wrote Ruskin,"can as far as I have observed draw every line but a straight one." Some of them have drawn better after a summer's practice than others who have enjoyed or tolerated the advantages of years at an art school. The best qualifications for the amateur sketcher is the desire to sketch.
Then he will complain that in Canada we have no picturesque mills and no thatched cottages set beside gurgling brooks; that our pines cannot compare in grace with the spreading chestnut; and that our land is a wilderness. But these are not disadvantages. Pines are upstanding; they suggest virility like Gothic spires. Our landscape wild and primeval, is unrelieved by evidences of human occupation. In older countries there was a time when no landscape was complete without a ruin, when old people in red shawls drowsed away their last few hours, pictorially, at cottage doors, or gathered faggots in woods, but in our country only vigorous youth is at home, immune from the emasculating influences of convention, guided, not enslaved, by tradition, and untroubled by the atma of dead masters.
There was the subtle flavour of Constable's presence by the old mill on the Wylye, but Canada is free. We look hopefully to the future, and do not lean too heavily upon the past. "We shall yet develop a movement" says Frank Carmichael, "that will be distinctive as our native landscape—a landscape clean and crisp in form and colour, rich in inspiration—all that an artist could wish for, — begging to be used, and full of inherent possibilities if he will only have the courage of sincerity, taking hold with both hands and discounting tradition."