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I started for London on the 15th of April, 1802. I knew not a word of English. True, I was accompanied by an English maid, but the girl had long been serving me badly, and I was obliged to dismiss her very shortly after my arrival in London, because she did nothing but eat bread and butter all day. Luckily I had brought some one besides, a charming person to whom ill-fortune made the home she had found under my roof very precious. This was my faithful Adelaide, who lived with me on the footing of a friend, and whose attentions and counsels have always been most valuable to me.

On disembarking at Dover I was at first somewhat affrighted at the view of a whole population assembled on the shore. But I was reassured when informed that the crowd was simply composed of curious idlers, who were following their usual habits in coming down to see the travellers land.

The sun was going down. I at once hired a three-horse chaise, and made off forthwith, for I was not without apprehensions, seeing I had been told I might very likely encounter highwaymen. I took the precaution of putting my diamonds into my stockings, and was glad I had done so when I perceived two horsemen advancing toward me at a gallop. What capped the climax of my fears was to see them separate, in order – as I imagined – to present themselves at the two windows of my carriage. I confess I was seized with a violent fit of trembling, but that was the worst that happened.

Vast and handsome though London may be, that city affords less food for the artist's interest than Paris or the Italian towns. Not that you do not find a great number of rare works of art in England. But most of them are owned by wealthy private persons, whose country houses and provincial seats they adorn. At the period I mention, London had no picture gallery, that now existing being the result of legacies and gifts to the nation made within a few years. In default of pictures, I went to look at the public edifices. I returned several times to Westminster Abbey, where the tombs of the kings and queens are superb. As they belong to different ages they offer great attractions to artists and fanciers. I admired, among others, the tomb of Mary Stuart, in which the remains of that ill-fated Queen were deposited by her son, James I. I spent much time in that part of the church devoted to the sepulture of the great poets, Milton, Pope, and Chatterton. This last-named is known to have poisoned himself while dying of starvation, and I reflected that the money laid out upon rendering him these posthumous honours might have sufficed, when he was alive, to insure him comfortable days.

St. Paul's Cathedral is also very fine. Its dome is an imitation of that of St. Peter's, at Rome. At the Tower of London I saw a very interesting collection of armour, dating from the various centuries. There is a row of royal figures on horseback, among them Elizabeth, mounted on a courser and ready to review her troops. The London museum contains a collection of minerals, birds, weapons and tools from the South Sea Islands, due to the famous Captain Cook.

The streets of London are wide and clean. Broad side pavements make them very convenient for foot-passengers, and one is the more surprised to witness scenes upon them that ought to be proscribed by civilisation. It is not rare to see boxers fighting and wounding each other to the point of drawing blood. Far from such a spectacle seeming to shock the people looking on, they give them glasses of gin to stimulate their zeal.

Sunday in London is as dismal as the climate. Not a shop is open; there are no plays, nor balls, nor concerts. Universal silence reigns, and as on that day no one is allowed to work nor even to play music without incurring the risk of having his windows broken by the populace, there is no resource for killing time but the public walks. These, indeed, are very well frequented.

The chief amusement of the town is the assembling of good company, called a "rout." Two or three hundred individuals walk up and down the rooms, the women arm-in-arm, for the men usually keep aside. In this crowd one is pushed and jostled without end, so that it becomes very fatiguing. But there is nothing to sit on. At one of these routs I attended, an Englishman I knew in Italy caught sight of me. He came up to me and said, in the midst of the profound silence that reigns at all these parties, "Don't you think these gatherings are enjoyable?" "You enjoy yourselves with what would bore us," I replied. I really did not see what pleasure was to be got out of stifling in such a crowd that you could not even reach your hostess.

Nor are the walks in London any livelier. The women walk together on one side, all dressed in white; they are so taciturn, and so perfectly placid, that they might be taken for perambulating ghosts. The men hold aloof from them, and behave just as solemnly. I have sometimes come upon a couple, and have amused myself, if I happened to follow them awhile, by watching whether they would speak to each other. I never saw any who did.

I went to the principal painters, and was mightily astonished to see that they all had a large room full of portraits with nothing but the heads done. I asked them why they thus exhibited their pictures before finishing them. They all answered that the persons who had posed were satisfied with being seen and mentioned, and that besides, the sketch made, half the price was paid in advance, when the painter was satisfied, too.

At London I saw many pictures by the renowned Reynolds; their colouring is excellent, resembling that of Titian, but they are mostly unfinished, except as to the head. I, however, admired a "Child Samuel" by him, whose completeness and colouring both pleased me. Reynolds was as modest as he was talented. When my portrait of M. de Calonne arrived at the London customhouse, Reynolds, who had been apprised of the fact, went to look at it. When the box was opened he stood absorbed in the picture for a long space and praised it warmly. Thereupon some nincompoop ejaculated, "That must be a fine portrait; Mme. Lebrun was paid eighty thousand francs for it!" "I am sure," replied Reynolds, " I could not do it as well for a hundred thousand."

The London climate was the despair of this artist because of the difficulty it offers to drying pictures, and he had invented, I heard, a way of mixing wax with his colours, which made them dull. In truth, the dampness in London was such that, to dry the pictures I painted there, I had a fire constantly burning in my studio until the moment I went to bed. I would set my pictures at a certain distance from the fireplace, and often would leave a rout to go and ascertain whether they wanted moving nearer the grate or farther away. This slavery was unavoidable and unendurable.

Concerts were very much the fashion in London, and I preferred them to the routs, though these afforded an opportunity to the well-received foreigner – and fortunately I was one – of meeting all the best English society. Invitations are not by letter, as in France. Only a card is sent, with the inscription, "At home such and such a day."

The most fashionable woman in London at this time was the Duchess of Devonshire. I had often heard of her beauty and her influence in politics, and when I called upon her she greeted me in the most affable style. She might then have been about forty-five years old. Her features were very regular, but I was not struck by her beauty. Her complexion was too high, and ill-fortune had ordained that one of her eyes should be blind. As at this period the hair was worn over the forehead, she concealed the eye under a bunch of curls, but that was insufficient to hide such a serious defect. The Duchess of Devonshire was of fair size, her degree of stoutness being exactly appropriate to her age, and her unconstrained manner became her exceedingly well.

Not long after my arrival in London, the Treaty of Amiens was abrogated, and all French who had not lived in England over a year were compelled to leave the country at once. The Prince of Wales, to whom I was presented, assured me that I was not to be included in this edict, that he would oppose my expulsion, and that he would immediately ask his father, the King, for a permit allowing me to remain. The permit, stating all necessary particulars, was granted me. It mentioned that I was at liberty to travel anywhere within the kingdom, that I might sojourn wherever I pleased, and also that I must be protected in the seaport towns I might elect to stop at – a favour which old French residents of England had great difficulty in securing at this juncture. The Prince of Wales went to the limit of politeness by bringing the document to me in person.

The Prince of Wales might then have been about forty, but he looked older, which was to be accounted for by his stoutness. Tall and well-built, he had a handsome face; his features were all regular and distinguished. He wore a wig very artistically disposed, the hair parted on the forehead like the Apollo di Belvedere's, and this suited him to perfection. He was proficient in all the bodily exercises, and spoke French very well and with the greatest fluency. He was elaborately elegant – magnificently so, to the extent of prodigality. At one time he was reputed to have debts to the amount of £300,000 – which were finally paid by his father and Parliament. As he was one of the handsomest men in the United Kingdom, he was the idol of the women.

It was but a little while before my departure that I did his portrait. I painted him at almost full length, in uniform. Several English painters became enraged against me on hearing that I had begun this picture and that the Prince allowed me all the time I asked to finish it, for they had long and vainly been waiting for the same concession. I was aware that the Queen-mother said her son was making love to me, and that he often came to lunch at my house. Never did the Prince of Wales enter my door in the forenoon except for his sittings.

As soon as his likeness was done the Prince gave it to Mme. Fitzherbert. She had it put in a rolling frame, like a large bedroom mirror, so as to move it into any of her rooms – something which I thought highly ingenious.

The anger of the English artists toward me did not stop at talk. A certain M. —, a portrait painter, published a work in which he vehemently belittled French painting in general and my own in particular. Sundry parts of the book were translated to me, and they appeared so unjust and absurd that I could not help springing to the defense of the famous painters whose countrywoman I was. Accordingly, I wrote to this M. — as follows:

"Sir: I understand that in your work on painting you speak of the French school. As, from what is reported to me concerning your remarks, I gather that you have not the least idea of that school, I think I must give you some information that you may find serviceable. I presume, in the first place, that you do not attack the great artists who lived in the reign of Louis XIV., such as Lebrun, Lesueur, Simon Vouet, etc., and Rigaud, Mignard, and Largillière, the portrait painters. As for the artists of the day, you do the French school the greatest injustice in rating it by its achievements of thirty years ago. Since then it has made enormous strides in a branch totally different from that signalising its decline. Not, however, that the man who ruined it was not gifted with a very superior talent. Boucher was a born colourist. He had discrimination in composing and good taste in the choice of his figures. But of a sudden he stopped working except for the dainty chambers of women, when his colouring became insipid, his style affected; and, this example once set, all painters tried to follow it. His defects were carried to the extreme, as always happens; things went from bad to worse, and art seemed irretrievably destroyed. Then came an able painter, called Vien, whose style was simple and severe. He was appreciated by true art-lovers, and regenerated our school. We have since produced David, young Louis Drouais – who died at Rome, aged twenty-five, just as he seemed to give promise of becoming a second Raphael – Gérard, Gros, Girodet, Guérin, and a number of others I might cite.

"It is not surprising that after criticising the works of David, which you evidently do not know at all, you do me the honour of criticising mine, which you know no better. Being ignorant of the English language, I had not been able to read what you wrote about my painting, and when I was told, without being given the particulars, that you had abused me soundly, I answered that, however much you might disparage my pictures, all the worst you could say of them would be less than I think. I do not suppose that any artist imagines he has attained perfection, and, far from any such presumption on my part, I have never yet been quite satisfied with any work of mine. Nevertheless, being now more fully informed, and knowing that your criticism bears principally on a point that appears important to me, I believe my duty is to repudiate it in the interest of art.

"Patience, the only merit you allow me, is unfortunately not one of the virtues of my character. Only, it is true that I am loath to leave my work. I consider it is never complete enough, and, in the fear of leaving it too imperfect, my conscience makes me think about it a long time and touch it up repeatedly.

"It seems that my lace shocks you, although I have painted none for fifteen years. I vastly prefer scarfs, which you, sir, would do well yourself to employ. Scarfs, you may believe me, are a boon to painters, and had you used them you would have acquired good taste in draping, in which you are deficient. As for those stuffs, those eloquent cushions, those velvets, to be seen in my shop, it is my opinion that one should pay as much attention as possible to all such accessories. On this point I have Raphael as an authority, who never neglected anything of this kind, who wished everything to be explicit, to be rendered minutely – that is the language of art – even to the smallest flowers in the grass. I can, furthermore, quote the example of ancient sculpture, in which not the most trifling accessories are found neglected: the draped scarfs which lie so snugly upon nude figures, and of which mere fragments are bought by real fanciers to-day, the ornamentation on breastplates, the buskins – all that is carried out with perfect finish.

"And now, sir, allow me to remark that the word shop, which term you apply to my studio, is scarcely worthy of an artist. I show my pictures without having money asked at the door. I have even, to avoid that practise" [then in vogue among the painters of London], "set aside one day each week for persons of good standing and such persons as these may see fit to present to me. I may, therefore, beg you to observe that the word shop is improper, and that severity never excuses a man from being polite.

"I have the honour to be, etc."

This letter, which I read to some friends, remained no secret to London society, and the laugh was not on the side of M. —, who, all enmity aside, did not know how to do drapings.

I met a number of compatriots in England whom I had known for years. I had the felicity of meeting the Count d'Artois once more, at a party given by Lady Percival, who received a number of exiles. He had grown stouter, and I really thought him very handsome. A few days later he honoured me by coming to see my studio. I was out, and I only returned just as he was going away. But he was good enough to come back and compliment me upon my portrait of the Prince of Wales, with which he seemed highly pleased. The Count d'Artois did not go out much into society. Having but a modest income, he yet saved money, with which he helped the poorest of the French. His goodness of heart incited him to sacrifice all his pleasures for charitable purposes.

This Prince's son, the Duke de Berri, often came to see me of a morning. He sometimes appeared with small pictures under his arm, which he had bought at a very low price. What proves how good a judge of painting he was is that these pictures were splendid Wouvermans. But it needed a very fine feeling to detect their merit under the grime that covered them. The Duke de Berri also had a passion for music.

I was at the play in London when the murder of the Duke d'Enghien was announced. Hardly had the news spread through the theatre, when all the women in the boxes turned their backs to the stage, and the piece would not have gone on if somebody had not come in to state the report a false one. We then all resumed our seats, and the play continued, but as we went out it was, alas! all confirmed. We even learned some particulars of this atrocious crime, which will always leave a terrible blood-stain on Napoleon's career.

Next day we attended the funeral mass celebrated for the noble victim. All of the French, our Princes included, and a large number of English ladies were present. The Abbé de Bouvant gave a most touching discourse on the lot of the unhappy Duke d'Enghien. The sermon ended with an invocation to the Almighty to spare our dear Princes from a like fate. Alas! the prayer was not heard, for we lived to see the Duke de Berri fall by the dagger of a dastardly assassin.

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