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"Sir Joshua Reynolds was on many accounts one of the most memorable men of his
time. He was the first Englishman who added the praise of the elegant arts to
the other glories of his country. In taste, in grace, in facility, in happy
invention, and in the richness and harmony of coloring, he was the equal of the
great masters of the renowned ages. In portraits he went beyond them. In these
he appeared not to be raised upon that platform, but to descend upon it from a
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS
 ENGLAND began her art in rather a queer way for a country so great and progressive. Her
first paintings were made by distinguished foreign artists who were brought into
England by her monarchs. Such was Holbein, the German portrait painter who
served Henry VIII. for more than fifteen years and then found an alien’s grave
in some unknown quarter of plague-stricken London. Such also was Van Dyck, the
polished Fleming, who painted the court beauties and gallants of the ill-starred
Charles I. Artists like Holbein and Van Dyck reflect great credit on the kings
who patronized them, but later foreign artists like Sir Peter Leley and Godfrey
Kneller, who, at best, were poor workmen, made the English public willing to
look at home for talent in the art of painting.
With the grossness of the rule of the Georges, when eating and drinking and
gaming were chief joys of
 life, came Hogarth. He knew the times in which he lived as well as he knew his
name, and he proceeded to paint them much as an author might have written of
them. Instead of using chapters, as the literary man would naturally have done,
he painted a series of pictures to represent his story. Charles Lamb used to
say, when asked to name his favorite books, "Shakespeare first, then Hogarth,"
showing how he was impressed with the literary quality of Hogarth’s work.
In his paintings, Hogarth told mighty truths which were unpleasant to his
British audience. When, for instance, he showed in "The Rake’s Progress"
the eventual downfall of the youth who pursues low pleasures, he represented a
fact not at all pleasing to the great body of English youth who then enjoyed
such a mode of life. It is needless to say that Hogarth was far from popular
and that he languished in body, though never in soul, for the patronage which
Reynolds gained almost without an effort.
If Hogarth’s work was not popular, its strength showed Englishmen that it was no
longer necessary to go abroad for their artists; there was good material in this
line as in every other on their own soil.
At about the time Englishmen realized this fact, there were born in England two
little boys who, as they progressed in life, showed without a doubt that there
 could be such a thing as English art on English soil. These two men were Joshua
Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. The latter’s lifetime of sixty-one years was
covered by that of Reynolds, who was four years older and who lived four years
It is of the first of these artists, Joshua Reynolds, that this sketch is given.
The merest mention of this great man’s name brings to our minds one of the most
brilliant of English literary coteries. Speak the name again and pictures of
club dinners and the sound of elegant discourse comes before us. There is
Johnson, portly and learned, drinking his nine or ten cups of tea; Goldsmith,
bald-headed and snub-nosed, "who wrote like an angel but who talked like poor
Poll." Back of Johnson’s chair stands that "burr" of a man, Boswell, watching
lest any remark of the ponderous doctor should escape him—the only inferior man
of that distinguished company and even he destined to write a biography of his
friend which will ever stand among English classics. Then there was Burke, the
stateliest orator of his time or perhaps of any time, and Garrick, most gifted
of actors. Later there was the great historian, Gibbon, and the charming Fanny
Burney. Occasionally Mrs. Siddons, queen of actresses and of women, graced that
noble assembly, and Reynolds’ nieces, Offy and her elder sister.
 Reynolds was often host of this gifted circle. He sat at the head of the table
and dispensed good cheer, not alone in meat and drink, but in kindly intelligent
words was well, or he quietly shifted his ear trumpet to hear more distinctly
some interesting discussion. His was ever the part of peace-maker if debate
waxed too heated and never in that brilliant company was there silence for lack
of thought. As Americans, we are proud to know that in this intellectual
coterie were firm friends of the American struggle for representation just
previous to our Revolution.
It is a happy and successful life we have to trace. Perhaps to both his
happiness and success two famous principles of his were the key—never to be
disturbed by little things and always to look for success as the outcome of
tireless effort. In the two or three thousand pictures attributed to his hand,
it is said that he never began one of them, however hopeless the subject,
without determining that that one should be the very best picture he had ever
Joshua Reynolds was born in the most picturesque part of one of the lovliest
sections in England, in Devonshire. In the little town of Plympton, four or
five miles from Plymouth, the namesake of our New England town of Pilgrim fame,
Reynolds was born, July 23, 1723. Samuel Reynolds, his father, was a
clergy-  man, the descendant of clergymen. He was master of the grammar school of the
town and "was passing rich" on one hundred and fifty pounds a year as income.
His mother was likewise the descendant of clergymen, so that Joshua’s clerical
ancestry quite equalled our own Emerson’s.
Although the boy was the seventh of eleven children, his parents early planned
his future course in life. The father had some knowledge of pharmacy and to
this business the young man was destined by parental selection. That he had
been carefully guided in his early education by his father, seems evident from
his scholarship in later life. He had been a great reader, especially of art
works, far in advance of his years. In one place he had read the prophecy that
England would one day have her Raphael. In his boyish hopefulness, he wondered
if he might not be that Raphael for his country. His father, however, could not
look upon painting as a substantial profession and so pushed the matter of the
boy’s learning pharmacy. Of this business he mastered just enough to prove a
serious detriment to him in his experimenting in mixing colors later in life.
One day as he sat in church he covertly sketched the queer little minister on
his thumb-nail. A few days later he enlarged the sketch on a piece of a sail
canvas, with ship paints. This was his first oil painting and it
 was one that showed unusual talent in one so young, talent which even a
practical father found it impossible to overlook. An early drawing of the lad’s
is preserved with this comment of his father’s written upon it, "Done by Joshua
out of pure idleness." Such things convinced Samuel Reynolds of his son’s
unswerving bent in the line of art work and, like a reasonable man, he gave up
his notion of making him a druggist. Instead he apprenticed him to an
experienced painter, much to Joshua’s joy.
Such a man was not to be found in the village of Plympton nor yet in the larger
town of Plymouth, so to great roaring London it was necessary to go. Thus he
left the beauty and quiet of his country home, the verdure draped hills, the
swiftly flowing trout streams, the dainty ponies of Dartmoor and the "clotted
cream" and cider of his native country. To the lover of nature, such as
Gainsborough was, it was a change which brought curtailed privileges, but to a
man of Reynolds’ temperament, loving nature as shown in men, women and children,
this change was in the line of his genius and a stepping-stone to his future
The man to whom Reynolds was apprenticed for four years was Hudson, the most
extensive manufacturer of portraits in the great city. The young man was
diligent here and drew much from the antique. Well pleased he
 was, too, for he wrote home, "While doing this I am the happiest creature
alive." One of his chance experiences while in this studio he often spoke of
with keenest pleasure. He one day met and shook hands with Alexander Pope, the
famous poet and so-called "Wasp of Twickenham." His hunch-backed form, his
splendid eyes and his thin face deeply impressed the young art student. And
what wonder! Would not you and I give a large portion of "our income from
dreamland" to shake hands with this man who, though ill and deformed, drew all
men to him in his villa at Twickenham?
For some mysterious reason the four years’ apprenticeship was cut short at the
end of two years. Some give as a reason that Reynolds was ordered to deliver
one of his master’s canvases, carrying it through the muddy streets. He refused
to do this and was dismissed for not obeying orders. Another and more probable
reason is that the young artist had out-stripped his master and that the latter
sent him away before this should become evident to the public. Whatever the
cause, Reynolds returned to Devonshire.
He soon settled to the practice of his art in Plymouth. Here is painted many
portraits of the great and small magnates of the county. He tried his hand at
landscape, reproducing in only fair style some of the lovely
 scenery of Devon. At this period of his life he had for advisor, besides his
father, Lord Edgcumbe, the chief nobleman of the country. Here, perhaps, began
that patronage by the nobility which was so extensive that never before or since
has a like amount been bestowed upon any painter.
DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE
In 1746, the father died after seeing his son well established in the profession
of his choice. When the home was broken up Joshua took two of his unmarried
sisters to Plymouth and rented a house. This was the beginning of that long
period of bachelor house-keeping which ended only with his death, for he never
married. In his later years the duties of housewife and homemaker devolved upon
Offy, his niece and the beautiful girl who sat for so many of his famous child
pictures. Later Offy’s elder sister assumed these duties and became her uncle’s
principal heir, inheriting from him £100,000.
Three years after his father’s death, Admiral Keppel, for many years a friend of
Reynolds, asked the artist to accompany him on board the Centurion for a
cruise in the Mediterranean. Now, nothing could be more to the heart of a young
artist longing for Italy and her art treasures, but not possessed of the means
to take such a journey, than just this invitation. We can easily imagine how
eagerly Reynolds accepted his friend’s offer. After spending some time cruising
about the west end
 of the Mediterranean they landed on the island of Minorca. Here Reynolds met
with rather a serious accident. He was out one day on a spirited horse and
dashed over a steep precipice. His head was cut and his lip so much injured
that it was ever after badly scarred.
As soon as he recovered he landed at Genoa and began his tour of Italy itself.
It was natural that he should stay some time in Florence, so full was it of
interesting buildings and wonderful pictures. But it was in Rome, where the
remains of the ancient city eclipsed the grandest modern monuments, that our
artist especially delighted. From here he wrote home, "I am now at the height
of my wishes, in the midst of the greatest works of art that the world has
In his study of the great pictures he seldom copied them entire, but recorded
his impressions and sketched, on the margins of his note books, certain parts
that impressed him particularly. It was while working over the pictures in the
Vatican that he caught the cold which resulted in his deafness.
THE INFANT ACADEMY
In Rome he met many art students like himself, some of them his own countrymen.
The greatest Italian artist of the time was Battoni, a man who painted after the
great days of Italian art were past. Reynolds saw at once that he was
superficial in his work and therefore
 not a good teacher. So he preferred to study the pictures of Raphael, Angelo
and Correggio, great masters long dead. In other words, their silent
instruction was more valuable to him than the living guidance of such a master
Reynolds’ visit to Venice perhaps meant more to him even than his sojourn in
Rome. The splendid coloring and the wonderful golden light of the Venetian
masters influenced our artist deeply. He tried to analyze chemically some of
these colors, hoping thereby to get their secret. It was not to come that
way—this wonderful secret; it came from God when he moulded those masters and
infused the beauty and color of Venice into their very souls. Reynolds,
however, must have gathered something—perhaps nothing more than a far-away
hint—of their skill in coloring, for in recent years, Ruskin, the great art
critic, has placed the name of Reynolds among the seven greatest colorists of
the world. Truly that is a choice company in which to sit!
After three years of this delightful study and a life almost free from care,
Reynolds returned to England. He remained a few months at Plymouth to rest and
recuperate, as his health was somewhat delicate on his return. He then set his
face resolutely toward London, determined there to rise or fall in his art.
He first settled in a quarter much frequented by
 artists, St. Martin’s Lane. Here his housekeeper was a younger sister, Frances,
a rather strange woman not altogether desirable to live with. She was fond of
copying her brother’s pictures, which, he said, made other people laugh but made
Shortly after his settlement in London, he made one of the first of his
life-long acquaintances. This was the strange, uncouth, but splendid Dr.
Johnson. At Reynolds’ house he was henceforth a constant visitor, often
remaining far into the night. When he died, in 1784, none of his numerous
friends missed him more than the gentle Sir Joshua. Boswell, so stupid [please
check original] in some things, was quick to perceive this affection between
these two men, and so he dedicated his great work, The Life of Johnson,
to Reynolds, and placed as a frontispiece an engraving copied from the artist’s
painted portrait of Johnson.
From the time that the artist set up a home and a studio in London, he kept
"open house" for his friends and acquaintances. Notwithstanding this, he was
untiring at his easel. Lord Edgcumbe influenced many of the nobility to sit to
the new painter, and so satisfactory did his work prove, that his titled sitters
increased until he had more than a hundred in a year. Only a short time after
his coming to London he raised the price of his work, so that he got twelve
guineas for a head,
 twenty-four for a half length, and forty-eight for a full length portrait.
Even thus early in his career his method of laying on color and his preference
for certain colors over others were thoroughly established. There were grave
faults here, too, to which we owe the destruction of some of his most highly
prized pictures. They cracked and scaled off, and however courteous the remark
that a cracked Reynolds is better than a perfect picture by a less able man, yet
the fact remains that within a few years some of his pictures have actually had
to be removed from gallery walls on account of their damaged condition. He
always bought the highest priced paints, so it was in the mixing and
experimenting that his peril lay. It will give some idea of his method of
laying on colors to relate the following incident: A servant was delivering one
of the master’s works, when some rude fellow struck the back of the canvas with
a stick. The face dropped off as completely as if it had been of plaster.
A list of those who sat to him in a year would bristle with the names of lords
and ladies, many of them famous in England’s political and social history. The
number who came increased until in 1757-8, the two busiest years of his life,
there were no less than one hundred and fifty sitters. He acquired such
 that he could complete a head in four hours. Sometimes, when a visitor stayed
too long, Reynolds would remark after his departure, "He did not know that my
time is worth five guineas an hour."
In the intervals between his sitters he devoted himself to his fancy subjects,
of which he has left us such beautiful specimens. Sometimes a ragged model—a
man or boy from the street—was hustled out of the posing chair just in time for
some noble sitter, rustling in stiff brocade or splendid in military trappings.
An interesting story is told of how he painted his beautiful picture, "The
Babes in the Woods." A boy from the street had been brought in to sit for
the artist. He was tired and fell asleep in a graceful attitude. Reynolds
hurriedly sketched him in thus and shortly the boy changed his position to one
more attractive still. This the artist likewise sketched, and so grew the
picture which has been so much admired.
In 1760, he leased a commodious house in Leicester Square and bought a sumptuous
carriage for his sister. The lease was made for forty-seven years. This and
other expenses incident on fitting up his new home swallowed up most of his
savings. Perhaps he had the carriage and the more pretentious house in order to
advertise his prosperity. Whatever his motive, this house continued to be his
home for the thirty-two
 remaining years of his life. A bronze tablet tells the visitor to-day which was
Sir Joshua’s house. It will be long indeed ere the house where so many
brilliant people gathered is forgotten. Up its broad stone staircase, made with
a great outward curve to accommodate the immense hoop-skirts worn by the women
of the time, through all those years passed the most splendid array of
statesmen, actors and literary men and women that was ever entertained in any
private house in London.
On the opposite side of the square lived Gainsborough, likewise patronized by
the nobility and beauties of the time. Admirable as he was, however, both as
man and artist, his was not the "open house" that Reynolds’ was, nor did he wish
it to be.
The art spirit, even in the dull times of George III., was increasing. Many men
were painting and exhibiting their work each year. There was felt to be a
pressing need for an art academy where there could be free instruction in
drawing and painting, and lectures by men leaned in their respective arts. Such
an organization was formed in 1768 under the direct patronage of the king and
hence called the Royal Academy. Reynolds was elected president by acclamation.
He occupied the position until his death. Here models were furnished for
drawing and painting, instruction was give in the
 various branches of the fine arts, while lectures were delivered at intervals.
Some of our most valuable art literature is the printed collections of these
lectures, good examples of which are Reynolds’ Discourses on Painting and
Flaxman’s Lectures on Sculpture.
Once a year there was an exhibition of pictures, always so stimulating to
artists. Everything was free to students prepared to take the work. Many
illustrious names shine forth from the roll of membership and the list of
presidents. Among the latter may be mentioned Benjamin West, one of the
founders of American painting, and Frederick Leighton and John E. Millais,
Englishmen of our own day.
Among the thirty-six original members of the Royal Academy we note the name of
the beautiful and accomplished Angelica Kauffmann. She was the daughter of a
poor Swiss painter, and an artist of large reputation in her life-time. In
1766, she came to London and was at once received into that select coterie over
which Sir Joshua presided in Leicester Square. For seventeen years she made her
home in London, working constantly at her art. Some say that at one time she
was deeply in love with Reynolds. However, hers was a heart in which emotions
played but lightly and she grieved little, if any, that, despite her charms, the
courtly President of the Academy still continued to choose a bachelor’s
 life. Miss Thackeray, the daughter of the great novelist, wrote a short story
called Miss Angel, in which Angelica Kauffmann and several of Reynolds’
circle figure in an interesting way.
Reynolds was now in the full tide of his powers. He had been knighted by the
king, his lectures before the Academy were strong in a literary way as well as
practical for art students. He was now producing some of his most beautiful
portraits of women and children. He was strong in his portraiture of men yet
almost more than any other painter has he mastered the secret of representing
the elusive charm of a beautiful women and lovely children. As examples of the
former let us think of the portraits of Lady Hamilton who had been a nurse-maid
at Hawarden, of Angelica Kauffman, [previously Kauffmann] the Duchess of
Devonshire, Miss Bingham, and the Waldegrave sisters, nieces of Horace Walpole.
Then, who that has ever seen it can forget the transcendent beauty of that
portrait of Mrs. Siddons, in which she personates the tragic muse? She wished
to be painted so, and Reynolds, instead of posing her himself, asked her to give
him her own idea of the position appropriate for such a representation. She
immediately assumed the attitude in which she has so gloriously come down to us
in Reynolds’ picture. How beautiful she is as she sits there wearing a look
divine, with her
 matchless arm upraised, her luxuriant hair bound with a diadem, not of rank but
of genius, her beautiful neck and breast adorned with woven pearls, and, falling
all about her, her voluminous draperies, while on either hand the spirits of her
art attend, the one bearing the dagger, the other the poisoned cup!
MRS. SIDDONS AS THE TRAGIC MUSE
It must have been a proud day for the happy artist when he looked upon this
great picture of a great woman completed. No wonder he did what was very
unusual with him—signed his full name in running characters on the edge of her
drapery. When the lovely Mrs. Siddons, examining the finished picture, wondered
at what appeared to her to be a line of embroidery on her robe which on closer
examination proved to be merely the painter’s name, what pleasure he must have
given and felt as he gallantly excused himself for his apparent vanity by
saying, "I could not lose the honor this opportunity afforded me of going down
to posterity on the hem of your garment." In all the annals of knighthood there
was never a more courtly tribute paid to a woman. True, Reynolds had a lovely
subject, but his task was so much the more difficult to represent adequately the
queen of the stage. Remembering even the lovely pictures of her that
Gainsborouth, that other great English artist, has given us, still must we
choose this one by Reynolds.
 Of his children, how can we select a favorite when there are so many? Sweet
"Little Strawberry Girl," looking at us so slyly with her turned up apron
and cute conical basket, or dear "Penelope Boothby," with her dainty cap
and quaint mits!—we may not stop at these, beautiful though they are. There is
"Age of Innocence," another beautiful child whose pink toes just creep
from beneath her skirt, while upon the fluttering little breast are crossed the
dear child hands.
In "Little Samuel," with the very light of heaven streaming in upon him,
Reynolds gave us a child for which even a commonplace mother might well pour
forth a splendid hymn of praise, as did Hannah of old. Beautiful little boy!
None of his perfect sisters of Reynolds’ creation can exceed, or, to my mind,
equal his superlative and yet perfectly childish beauty.
As I said before, it is difficult to stop in this almost inexhaustible list of
Reynolds’ children. "The Angel Choir" or "Angel Heads," that it
seems we have known always, rise up and plead with five of the sweetest faces
for their proper place in this list. Five lovely heads with wings, as if they
were pictures, sure enough, of the angels, and yet it is only Reynolds’ fanciful
way of presenting five views of the little daughter of Lord Gordon. The picture
was presented to the National Gallery, London, by Lady Gordon, in
 1841. In their perfect beauty and sweet ideality they have long ago ceased to
stand to the public as a portrait and are, instead, just a fragment of that
celestial throng brought to us by the pure and lofty imagination of a man who
was poet as well as painter.
Reynolds was fond of children and often played with his youthful sitters until
they liked him and could consequently "look their best." The precious
privilege of having children of his own never came to this man and yet no other
painter has so strikingly presented to us the divine gospel of childhood
innocence. His painted children are but types, true to life, of those we, more
fortunate than he, hold in our arms, living, breathing oracles, in whose hands
are the future of the church, the state, and the home.
Reynolds enjoyed decking out his women and children sitters after his own
notions. For the former, he was fond of the beautiful flowing draperies of the
Greeks and so we find him frequently painting them as mythological characters.
He carried this into his pictures of children, also. We recall one in which a
child is represented as Mercury in the dishonest capacity of pickpocket.
Another, with ears slightly elongated, laughs and kicks in the exuberance of his
spirits from a toad-stool throne, and we call the picture "Puck."
In looking over the almost endless list of Sir Joshua’s
 pictures, we naturally select his children and beautiful women, but he has been
quite as successful in portraying men. Though gentleness seemed to rule his
brush in his painting of women and children, that same brush gave us the rough
and massive strength of Dr. Johnson’s face, the facile mobility of Garrick’s,
the power of Burke’s, the weakness and pathos of Goldsmith’s as well as the
refinement and conceit of Horace Walpole’s. The striking thing that we deduce
from the immense body of his work is that he was first and last and all the time
an all round portrait painter, doing to the very life the lovely children, the
fascinating women and the powerful men of his time.
After perhaps the first decade of his residence in London, he pruned down the
list of his sitters to sixty or seventy a year. These, with the pupils he
instructed, the subjects painted between times and the delivery of his lectures
in the Academy, quite filled his working hours. As for recreation, there were
endless dinners and lunches, the theater, of which he was passionately fond, and
the clubs. Reynolds was, as his friend Johnson expressed it, "a very clubbable
man." At least three evenings of each week were spent at various literary and
In his own house the dinner was a most informal matter. The hour was five
o’clock and the table was
 set for about half who came—there were so many unexpected guests—and the service
inadequate for the over-crowded table. Perhaps the good host’s deafness saved
him from much embarrassment at these times. There was, however, a charm about
the company one met there, and so the same ones came over and over again and
drew new celebrities to their ranks.
THE FORTUNE TELLER
Of that merry company the simple Goldsmith was the first to pass to that unknown
country from which no traveler returns. He had often been the butt of their
good natured ridicule, but now, that there was only a mound in the Temple green
yonder and his vacant chair here, they felt that there had befallen them an
irreparable loss. The little story, "Vicar of Wakefield," that he had
reluctantly brought forth when Johnson found him under arrest for his rent, had
become a part of the world’s literature. The "Deserted Village" he had
dedicated affectionately to Reynolds and that, too, was afloat in the world,
making for "Goldy," as they now tenderly called him, a host of friends, only a
beginning of that mighty throng that has since loved the softly flowing numbers
descriptive of "Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain."
As in the sad yet good was of the world, the diminished circle was increased by
new celebrities. The great historian Gibbon came among them a welcome
 guest, though he could in no way be said to have taken the beloved Goldsmith’s
place. He and Reynolds were ever firm friends.
In 1778, a charming society novel, "Evelina," kept our artist up all one
night, so eager was he to read it. For a time no one knew the author, while
everyone was commenting and wondering about it. It shortly developed that this
pleasing story was the work of Fanny Burney, a mere girl and a great favorite of
Dr. Johnson, to whom he always referred as "Little Burney." She was the
daughter of Dr. Burney, a music teacher and composer, and was one of Johnson’s
most valued friends, at whose house he spent many happy hours. Miss Burney now
joined this gifted company and was a sort of pet among those older notables.
Her father sat to Reynolds for his portrait, which proved to be one of the best
Sir Joshua ever painted.
In the summer and fall of 1780, Reynolds spent two months visiting the Low
Countries and Germany. He made a study of the art works of the former and his
comments on Dutch paintings we prize to-day. He was always a great admirer of
Rembrandt and this visit strengthened his admiration. He considered the
paintings of the Low Countries as a sort of grammar school, as he expressed it,
to the art student, while to Italy, he said, the student must go for the higher
 This brief trip, together with one quite as short to Paris years before, was the
only break in his long residence in London. A man who accomplished the amount of
work Reynolds did could not spend long periods in travel or other recreation.
Just ten years after Goldsmith’s death, Johnson, then old and infirm, left the
gaiety of earth. Shortly before he had written to Reynolds, "We are now old
acquaintances and perhaps few people have lived so much and so long together
with less cause of complaint on either side. The retrospection of this is very
pleasant and I hope we shall never think on each other with less kindness." The
painter was with Johnson during his last hours and he promised his dying friend
three things—not to paint on Sunday, to read his Bible regularly, and to forgive
him a debt of thirty pounds. All except the first part of his promise was
loyally kept. When he became persuaded that his friend had no right to exact
such a promise to the contrary he again took up his old practice of painting on
So greatly did Reynolds rejoice in his work that it was a rare day that he did
not touch his brush. Such a day it was when Gerrick died and it is said that
was no other way in which he could so deeply show his sorrow at his friend’s
Thus death and decay were waiting upon this circle of
 distinguished men and women, the glory of their age. Already three of their
most noted men had passed away. Just across the square there Gainsborough had
breathed his last. In his closing hours he had asked for Reynolds, his rival,
from whom he had always stood aloof, and with "graying lips" he had whispered
into Sir Joshua’s "dulled ears" his last words—a message of wide forgiveness
though couched in unusual language, "We are all going to heaven and Van Dyck is
of the party."
Four years later Reynolds himself had joined that mysterious party, "wandering
to the better land."
His health had never been robust. The infirmity of his deafness had grown upon
him and in 1789 he was smitten with partial blindness, of the sort that
afflicted Milton in his old age. The hand and the mind that had plied so
incessantly a loved art now rested almost completely. The serenity, however,
that follows a life well spent and crowned with success dropped upon him like a
protecting mantle. He went out among his friends as before and yet with
moderation, too. He frequently went to Westminster Hall to listen to his
friends Sheridan and Burke, in the great trial of Warren Hastings then going on.
He visited the country places of some of his friends and frequently refreshed
himself with the air of the seashore.
 In 1790, he delivered his last lecture before the Academy and the scene was an
affecting one. He closed with these words, "I reflect, not without vanity, that
these Discourses bear testimony of my admiration of that truly divine man; and I
should desire that the last words I should pronounce, in this Academy and from
this place might be the name of MICHAEL ANGELO." Then from
that crowded and deeply touched audience Burke stepped forth and, grasping the
hand of the President, repeated the words of Milton:—
"The angel ended, and in Adam’s ear,
So charming left his voice, that he awhile
Thought him still speaking, still stood fixed to hear."
His nieces tended to his every want and the old friends who still remained were
often with him. He petted his birds, of which he had always been fond, and
played an occasional game of whist which always gave him great pleasure. When
the end finally came, in 1792, it seemed but that transition of which our
Longfellow so beautifully writes. After a funeral pageant in which nearly a
hundred carriages of the nobility joined, he was laid to rest in the crypt of
St. Paul’s Cathedral by the side of his townsman, Sir Christopher Wren, who had
reared that giant building in the heart of London. Later other great artists
were laid beside these two and
 not a few of England’s other distinguished dead. Twenty years afterwards, the
English sculptor, Flaxman, carved a statue of Reynolds which stands near the
choir in St. Paul’s.
A ponderous Latin inscription, commending Sir Joshua’s taste, his skill and his
elegant manners, is carved on his tomb. Better, however, does that other
epitaph, a jest of Goldsmith’s, written in a hilarious mood, characterize the
great painter, and noble Englishman and the kindly friend:—
"Here Reynolds is laid; and, to tell you my mind,
He has not left a wiser or better behind.
His pencil was striking, [can’t read the whole word] and grand;
His manners were gentle, complying and bland;
Still born to improve us with every part,—
His pencil our faces, his manners our heart.
To coxcombs averse, yet most civilly steering
When they judged without skill, he was still hard of hearing:
When they talked of their Raphaels, Correggios and stuff,
He shifted his trumpet and only took snuff."