Posted on 2016-05-13
"What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough."
"Charlotte, Charlotte my love; make haste and hear my tremendous news Come and look what I have bought!"
Charlotte Collins, quite used to her husband's somewhat overblown ideas of tremendous news, laid down her needlework as she heard him bustle into the front parlour of their Hunsford Parsonage home, and mentally speculated as to what this latest earth-shattering revelation was to be, and what sort of a purchase could excite such boundless enthusiasm from her husband. It could not be anything relevant to Rosings Park, his normal source of tremendous and exciting news - where only yesterday Lady Catherine's first daffodil of the year had sprouted forth from the earth causing him to almost burst with joy- because the clue was in him purshasing something. A sudden thought caused her eyes to widen and her heart to sink as she realized he had lately, to her intense dismay, spoken of taking up playing the violin, surely not....." Oh, dear Lord, please no..."
Charlotte let out a soft sigh of relief as she saw the flat- wrapped parcel that Mr Collins was laying on the dining table. Whatever it was, it surely was not a violin. She watched the wrappings removed to reveal several canvas frames and a polished mahogany box. Her husband beamed in delight as he opened the box with a flourish and stepped aside for her to view the contents. These proved to be an extensive collection of brushes, a pallete and an artist's box of oil paints. The Reverend spread his arms out wide, beamed again and announced, "I am going to take up painting, my dear Charlotte!" with all the aplomb of someone proudly declaring he had just received a Knighthood. Charlotte's agile mind did a rapid mental assessment of all the things, accidents, costs and Heavenly plagues that a box of paints in the possession of her husband could bring down upon them and, realizing his new hobby needn't involve herself and, all things considered, was relatively risk-free, allowed a smile to flow in the direction of the newest would-be addition to the austere Royal Accademy of Arts. Mr Collins raised a finger and his eyebrows at the same time in a somewhat dramatic gesture, smiled mysteriously and stepped back in the direction of the door. Seconds later he man-handled an easel and folding stool into the room despite the eager, excited attentions of Patch, the collie pup. Charlotte raised a smile that, in a more attentive observer might be described as painful or resigned. Mr Collins was not such an attentive observer however and was obviously already mentally composing his first master work. Charlotte took the opportunity to disappear to prepare lunch.
During the lunch the story of Mr Collins 's new-found passion emerged. To no surprise on Charlotte's part, Lady Catherine De Bourgh was at the root of things although, in fairness Charlotte realized, her Ladyship's actual involvement was of an innocent and unknowing nature. She had, it seemed expressed a desire to have a likeness of Rosings House painted to exhibit with all the forefathers of the long and ancient De Bourgh ancestors who frowned, sneered and glared disapprovingly down on their viewers from the hallowed walls of the great hall of Rosings. Mr Collins had, of course, gushed veritable waterfalls of praise and enthusiasm at the idea. No thought of anyone but a London master artist was considered to do the work in the early discussions on what was no more than an idea at the time - although her Ladyship declared that had she ever learned to paint she would of course have been a prolific talent on a par with Sir Joshua Reynolds, possibly even better, a fact Mr Collins had heartily agreed with - and certainly no artistic intent was present at that time in the breast of the good Reverend himself. That idealistic revelation was to come a little later when a local member of Hunsford parish, the widow Pennington, mentioned to him inadvertently that she wanted to dispense with some of the goods and chattels of her late husband, amongst which were his itms of his equipment as a keen amateur artist. Did Mr Collins have any idea who might want to make use of such possessions she wondered? Mr Collins was about to declare he knew of no one when a dazzling sunbeam of artistic inspiration hit him with such force and enlightenment that he almost passed out with its intensity. Yes, he did know someone who could use the materials, for who better than himself could take on the responsibility of committing Rosings House to fame in paint? Did he not know every window and door in that magnificent facade with loving familiarity; every pillar and portico, every arch and step? Who better indeed to preserve the magnificent Rosings House for artistic immortality?
In a very short time he had pressed two shillings into the hands of a reluctant Widow Pennington who wanted no money as long as the art materials went to a good home. "Indeed they shall do that, dear lady" Mr Collins beamed. Within a few minutes the said materials were stowed in his curricle and he was returning home in high good humour.
"So you see, Charlotte, I shall commence my preliminary sketches forthwith. Of course her Ladyship will be informed immediately and I have no doubt she will be truly ecstatic at the idea of not having to commission some professional master who would no doubt charge her a vast sum of money, when I myself will do it for free?"
Charlotte experienced a sudden stab of concern that such a plan may well not quite have either the total enthusiasm of the benefactor, or the actual skill level of its creator. Tact was required on both counts, indeed, remembering her husband's recent venture of painting a chicken coop, a little more than tact was needed in somewhat of a hurry. Her dear husband had seen fit to letter "in" and "Out" over two of the apertures for poultry in the walls of the coop. Painting fences had, a spillage of green paint over the dog apart, been his only part successful venture involving a brush of late. Her agile mind suddenly saw a possible solution, or at least a mental "stay of execution", and she gave Mr Collins a winning smile.
"What a delightful idea William. I'm sure it will be a masterpiece and her Ladyship will be delighted, but wait... why tell her Ladyship at all, dear. Why not do your painting as a complete surprise? I'm quite sure you don't really want someone checking on progress at every turn and constantly interrupting your concentration. Imagine the pleasure you will get when unveiling your finished work as a surprise. I'm sure her Ladyship will be...amazed, and even speechless with admiration."
Mr Collins clapped his hands, then clenched his fists in his enthusiasm. His smile was dazzling.
"By jingo, Charlotte, I believe you are right. Artists do need privacy. A surprise present for her Ladyship and secrecy to be maintained until it is revealed. Yes indeed. I will of course have to do some research and make a few sketches, but I can always say I am drawing wildlife if anyone asks me, or trees, or even mushrooms, yes mushrooms are good. Yes indeed that's what I'll do. I shall start in the morning. I must check my colour palette first of course; I need green for the grass and trees, and blue for the sky and a sort of brownish colour for the brickwork. Do you know, Charlotte, I can almost see the finished work in my mind's eye, indeed I can. If it goes well I may even depict Anne De Bourgh riding past the front of the house in her little phaeton and ponies. Oh, how pleased she would be with that"
William headed off almost at a trot to begin his colourful mental journey down Linseed Oil avenue. Charlotte smiled bravely and appeared to nod enthusiastically as he waved, at least on the outside, as she sank into her chair. Inwardly she was trying desperately to find reasons for the project to be interrupted, postponed or even, praise be, abandoned completely. Perhaps a month long deluge of rain, some late hail and snow, an earthquake that opened up a large fissure and swallowed Rosings House whole even? Ah, maybe not as that would probably involve swallowing the inhabitants too and that might be considered uncharitable, even un Christian like. No, it would have to be something that, at the present time was evading her imagination and also giving her the beginnings of a faint headache. There were a few odd occasions in her normally peaceful little world when the thought of a very large glass of claret seemed slightly less sinful than others. Today may well be one of them.
Posted on 2016-05-17
The morning following Mr Collins's acquisition of the tools of his new artistic venture dawned sunny and reasonably warm for early spring in the Westerham district of Kent. Charlotte's half-prayed for hope that her husband's latest project might be shelved, even possibly forgotten completely, was dismissed with some aplomb when the good reverend appeared at breakfast in the smock, and paint-spattered straw hat he had used some time ago to paint his chicken coop and the Parsonage fences. Any small vestige of confidence in something more creative than painting a chicken coop being possible was indeed little more than a faintly flickering candle in the worrying darkness of Charlotte's imagination, especially where the daunting thought of a painting of the lair of Lady Catherine was concerned. Oh, if only her Ladyship had not mentioned the painting to her husband at all. She could not help stating now to him, albeit tactfully, that his current attire might not be the best way to avoid notice in Rosing's manicured environs. Mr Collins considered this for a moment then, took off the smock and replied:
"You are right my dearest Charlotte. One must attract as little public attention as possible when on a mission requiring some secrecy. I shall go in my normal attire, just a gentleman out strolling on a fine spring morning until I reach my little "hide" as it were! Once there I shall blend with nature and the scenery, indeed I shall"
Mr Collins was almost bursting with eagerness to begin, but Charlotte postponed the event at least until breakfast was consumed. Even the legendary ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would have had to wait when one of her special breakfasts was produced. Fried bacon, sausages, fried tomatoes and two freshly laid brown speckled eggs along with home-baked bread and a pot of strong tea would have been too much for even the famed Michelangelo to refuse, she was sure. She also had an agenda to instigate, or at least attempt to. Inside herself she was increasingly concerned that her husband's enthusiasm and good intention may become the object of ridicule at the insensitive tongue of Lady Catherine, a woman who was far more likely to administer criticism and adverse comment than encouragement or any form of praise. Where things and matters associated with her superior lifestyle and household were concerned she would be unlikely to admit that anything less than total perfection was good enough to even attract attention, and even if it should she would inevitably fault it. Charlotte put down her tea cup, tried to shrug off her worries and produced an encouraging smile.
"Wiiliam dear, I noticed amongst the canvasses you acquired there is one painted dark green already. I realise, as an artist,that you may already have considered that it may come in useful for painting the woods behind Rosings House, because oil paints, unlike watercolours, can be painted light shades upon dark. I learned that from an uncle who painted and I just thought it may save a little preparation time and be a sort of background colour for the work?"
To her surprise Mr Collins clapped his hands together after a fashion, mainly due to them having a death grip on his knife and fork, and nodded smilingly, speech temporarily on hold due to a large mouthful of fried sausage getting his fullest attention. He did continue to nod however and Charlotte was pleased that he had at least listened. "If only...." She thought. Mr Collins burped gently behind his hand and put down his fork.
"Indeed yes Charlotte, dear, a splendid idea. It means I can make a start on my sketches during the daytime and paint in the evenings, for one must take careful note of the sun and position of light and shade etc. Lady Catherine is most careful with such things. I must begin immediately..., well, just as soon as I finish breakfast, that is. ".
Charlotte suddenly realized that she had actually no real idea if her husband had any previous drawing or painting experience. He had never mentioned such in her hearing, but he wrote reasonably well. Perhaps he was hiding his light beneath a bushel and possessed talent as yet undisclosed to her? Perhaps she had been unfairly hasty in assuming a potential disaster? What worried her much more than any other factor was the plain and simple fact that Lady Catherine had the power to reduce the brightly burning fire of her husband's well-intentioned act from euphoria to crushing disappointment with one dismissive and disdainful sentence. Even with the remote possibility that Mr Collins could produce a creditable effort, it would hardly match his hoped for ambition of displaying of it amongst the silk and satin-clad august presences of the ghosts of Christmases past at Rosings House. She had actually once caught her husband striking a pose in front of some bygone army general in the gallery, someone who had probably founded China, or something. A discreet cough whilst turning in the opposite direction had saved them both some embarrassment.
There had to be a way to prevent what might be an unnecessary situation, surely? She would have to give the matter deep thought. Perhaps prayer might help, or Patch might chew up all the paint brushes or.....Her thinking was interrupted as William stood up and began to gather his goods and chattels together. The easel and his paints would remain at home till painting began, but he had his sketch book and some charcoal sticks and pencils in a knapsack along with a packet of sandwiches and a bottle of beer, and he had decided to take the folding stool along for comfort. He kissed Charlotte's cheek, told the disappointed pup to "stay" and set off in the direction of a field located some small distance from the front of Rosings House. There was a dense copse of trees surrounding a lily pond there and it was here that he intended to set up station for his sketching. The trees would conceal his presence whilst allowing him a full view of the imposing frontage of the house. With a sigh of pure pleasure he unfolded his stool, positioned it to face the earthly residence of his beloved patroness and got out his sketch book and pencil. Perhaps he should attach a few twigs and leaves around his hatband as a sort of camoflage? Humming a favourite hymn he opened his book and began to create.....
"I am really concerned that William has made a serious error of judgment here and I wish there was a way to dissuade him from carrying on with it. So far I have managed to restrain his enthusiasm into not mentioning anything to Lady Catherine, but it can only be a matter of time until he produces his "surprise". Lady Catherine will not give a second thought to either finding forty seven faults with it or suggesting he goes to study with some teacher or other in London. I cannot find it in myself to tell him of my worries. Her Ladyship speaks, and my husband obeys, I'm afraid."
Mrs Dawkins had arrived at the parsonage cottage to help with the weekly wash, and Charlotte, who often confided in the woman she had made a friend of, sighed loudly in frustration. Mr's Dawkins, whilst understanding Charlotte's concerns, was sympathetic, but had no really helpful suggestions to offer. She had never seen Rosings House in anything like close up and had stayed conveniently in the background every time Lady Catherine of her daughter Anne appeared at the Parsonage cottage. Privately she wondered why Mr Collins bothered to be so servile to a woman she considered arrogant and rude. Lady Catherine getting a present of a painting carried far less weight in her concern than their pet donkey developing a cough. It was all a matter of priorities, was it not? Mrs Collins was worth ten Lady Catherines.
Meanwhile, the good Reverend Collins was happily making a small sketch of a phaeton and pony representing Anne De Bourgh's daily trot in front of her home, when a sudden noise nearby caused him to pause and frown in surprise. Had he heard a laugh or was it his imagination? Slowly he stood up from his stool and looked cautiously around. A few yards away and half-concealed from his leafy view, two figures were crouching in the bushes. Mr Collins thought he recognized one of Lady Catherine's gardeners and a kitchen maid. Suddenly, he realized he had a dilemma. If he showed himself it might be wondered by the pair as to what he was doing there and he most certainly didn't want his sketching known or talked about. If he did not show himself he would almost certainly see things he had no wish to see and of which, in his position as a man of principle he would have to take action. Under different circumstances fire and brimstone might be needed to rain down upon the errant pair, but he had to do something that he considered the lesser of two evils. His sketching, after all, was by far the more important consideration, was it not? Picking up his knapsack, sketchbook and stool he crept out of the copse, walked some thirty yards away then turned back and began to whistle loudly. He paused and sang a few bars of a hymn and stepped back into the copse. He smiled broadly when he saw that the couple were walking hurriedly away in the opposite direction, no doubt to return to the house by a longer route. He could take no moral action he knew, but on Sunday he would make a point of bending a knowing eye in both their directions during his sermon on the evils of fornication and earthly morality. Smiling he set up his stool and took out his book and pencil again. He would create some elementary views to start, then break off for sandwiches and beer. Sketching could be such fun, he decided.
Later that evening after supper, Mr Collins showed Charlotte his pencil sketches of the day. They actually meant little as they were simply ideas for his painting and, she admitted, not badly done as such. If he could manage to paint something decent, at least it might not be ridiculed even if it never saw the hallowed walls of the Rosings gallery. She decided later, when they had retired, that worrying unduly at this stage would do little good or change anything. Tomorrow would no doubt arrive on time, the sun would rise and the day would bring new revelations that neither she nor even her Ladyship could possibly affect. Somewhere nearby an owl hooted and realizing that Mr Collins had already slipped away to dream of vermilion and burnt umber creations, she blew out her candle and settled down to sleep.
The next day was a Friday, and an early morning, hand-written message arrived from her Ladyship stating that she was low in spirits and desired that Mr and Mrs Collins would take afternoon tea with her. The request that really was a command in his view, put paid to Mr Collins plans of further artistic pursuit for the day. Charlotte smiled delightedly because on the following day they were to go to market and Sunday would be observed, as the Lords Day ever was, in morning and afternoon service at the Parsonage chapel with the De Bourghs, mother and daughter, in attendance. On Sunday evening she was suddenly thrown back into some mental apprehension when Mr Collins announced his great painting venture would commence in the morning. Charlotte had imagined possibly a week of sketching and a full sketch book of artistic impressions of Rosings House complete with items crossed out and pages torn and abandoned before a paint brush even touched canvas. It was not to be. He would paint al-fresco, Mr Collins announced grandly, and sit in the garden if the weather was fine. Charlotte again had hopeful visions of a mighty thunderstorm and skies dark with angry clouds that postponed any activities almost indefinitely, and may indeed include forked lightning with a particular dislike of turpentine, linseed oil and canvas. Her hopeful wishes were to be emphatically denied. Monday dawned with a cloudless azure sky, a gentle warm breeze and a decided baromatrical announcement that Spring had well and truly arrived in Hunsford..
Mr Collins, dressed in smock and straw hat, both liberally streaked with green paint, laid out his painting equipment with the panache of a seasoned veteran of the arts, or so it might at least appear to the casual observer, if they could ignore the fact his appearance was somewhat that of a rather wild scarecrow, that is. An easel with his dark-green painted canvas propped on it, his stool, an empty, upturned onion crate to hold his vials and bottles of turpentine, linseed oil, spare paint tubes, brushes and a hand towel and lastly, his prepared palette with a variety of colours arranged around the perimeter and gleaming brightly in the sunshine. Finally, he seated himself and picked up brush and palette with a flourish. Charlotte watched from behind him as he applied a brush-full of ultramarine blue to the canvas then smeared it around the top of the prepared surface with gusto. Unfortunately, the canvas, some two feet wide by eighteen inches deep was unsecured to the easel in any way and the thick paint mix dragged it right off its ledge and sent it sailing onto the grass where it landed...paint-side up very fortunately . Charlotte realized she had been holding her breath and she turned away and decided not to watch. It had been her suggestion that Mr Collins did not initially use the larger canvases as his first attempt and her initial hope that her fears were unfounded began to fade already. Behind her, Mr Collins, undettered, picked up the canvas, placed it back in position and prepared to attack the Rosings meadows with another brushful of sap green. Charlotte decided she would bake bread and just let fate take its course. What could be the very worst outcome of artistic failure, after all? Mr Collins's pride may take a large fall and his dreams of an exhibit in Lady Catherine's picture gallery would be shattered forever, but who would die and it could hardly mean clerical excommunication or a prison sentence for cruelty to a canvas sheet. It may even be that realization that the great idea could fail may even come from the artist himself and be quietly abandoned. No, she decided, what would be, would be and she picked up her rolling pin and commenced her work. The fact that she pounded the dough before her with a more than usual vigorous intensity had no real significance to anything, she told herself, and it was sheer coincidence that the dough itself had a decidedly female figure appearance. How unusual!
Sometimes, the oddest combinations of animal, vegetable and mineral objects can combine to influence fortune. On the noon-time of the day of Mr Collins's maiden attempt at conquering the painting arts, it was three totally unrelated items that set the path of fate for the Hunsford parson. The three items in order of appearance were a butterfly, a collie pup and Lady Catherine De Bourgh. The role of the butterfly, a large and somewhat unseasonal cabbage white, was brief in passing and of short duration in the drama that followed. It flew across the rear garden of the parsonage and settled on the top edge of the canvas that Mr Collins was busily creating his master work upon. Left to chance it may have just flown lazily away and disappeared, as it eventually did a short time later. It was totally unfortunate that Patch, the Collins border collie pup, just happened to see the butterfly land and, sensing sport, gave a joyful bark and made a lunge in its direction. The dog, eyes fixed upwards, leapt into space and crashed with some force into the paint easel. The easel collapsed, Mr Collins leapt back in alarm and applied two unintended streaks of vermilion to his already colourful canvas and lost his grip on the palette. The canvas itself fell sideways and landed face up on the grass. Patch landed on top of the palette of many colours, then jumped away and skidded across the canvas scrabbling for purchase on the slippery surface, looking down in bewilderment and raising one painted paw then another before shaking himself free and bounding hastily off. Charlott'e, just appearing to announce lunch, gasped and raised a hand to her mouth in shock and horror. She called sharply to the dog, hardly daring to look in her husband's direction. Dawkins, the Collins's driver handyman, seeing Charlotte's dilemna grabbed the dog and told her not to worry, he would take care of cleaning it. Charlotte walked over to where Mr Collins was just standing the easel upright and putting the canvas back on it. His face had a dazed look and he spread his hands wide in sheer confusion. Before either could speak, a voice called out that made Charlotte's heart lurch wildly in dismay as the third player in the drama appeared round the corner of the cottage. Lady Catherine De Bourgh, complete with parasol, had arrived.
"Mr Collins, what are you at? What are you engaged in there? Do I see you painting? Let me see what you are doing!"
Lady Catherine's curricle had arrived at the front of the cottage and, in her usual fashion she had refrained from knocking on the door in favour of just arriving unannounced. It was too late to hide the canvas and neither Mr or Mrs Collins knew what to do next. He was somewhat shocked that his work was destroyed and Charlotte cared only for her husband's feelings whilst battling her own. It came home to her that nothing was actually lost unless her husband mentioned Rosings and his intentions in that direction. The present contents of the canvas were as far removed from an image of Rosings as a picture of the Dawkins donkey would be. Very fortunately, Lady Catherine, as ever, took over the conversation in a surprising way. She stood before the easel and tilted her head one way then the other before turning back to the still-stunned reverend.
" I wondered what you were at when one of my staff said he had seen you in the little copse a couple of days ago. Now, I see what it was. You have been painting my lily pond. I must say what you have done has a certain charm, for I am quite an expert in such matters and I have immaculate taste as you know. There is a certain, "Frenchness" about your work, the yellow and white, lilies, the deep green and blue of the pond, and even a hint of Koi carp swimming below the surface. You have captured the reeds very well too. Yes, you have done well and, in a few days time when it is completely dry, you must get it famed, indeed you must"
Charlotte saw none of what her Ladyship did, only blobs of colour, two white ovals of Patches paws and his claw-scratches amongst the burnt sienna and lemon yellow mix of spilled paint. These and two streaks of redish orange amongst the dark green are what she saw. Her brain however, always sharp and able to react to situations saw a wonderful solution to the whole painting fiasco. Who argued with such an expert as her Ladyship on the topic of art?
"It was meant for you, Lady Catherine, when Mr Collins had finished it. He intended to surprise you with the painting!"
"How very thoughtful, Mr Collins, and I shall be pleased to accept it. I know just the very place to hang it when it is framed"
Mr Collins's face lit up with joy and he saw his work, unintended or otherwise, to be hung in Rosings House. Oh, the great honour!"
Her Ladyship's next words caused him to pause as he was about to blurt out an hastily prepared mental speech of effusive thanks...
"Your work shall not go unrecognized Mr Collins, indeed it shall not. It will brighten up the stone wall...... of the north transept in our chapel. Yes, that's where it shall go. Your painting is not religious in context, but the Lord made flowers and nature and I'm sure he won't mind. And now I must be away for Lady Metcalf is calling on me today for tea and will undoubtedly stay for the evening, so I shan't need you to visit today"
...and her Ladyship turned and disappeared almost as quickly as she had arrived, leaving a highly relieved Charlotte and a bemused and almost disbelieving but euphoric Mr Collins.
The topic of Rosings House as an oil painting subject was never actually mentioned again in the Collins household and due mainly to the fact that Lady Catherine announced she had commissioned a young Dutch up and coming master to carry it out. In his usual way, Mr Collins had the ability to obliterate it from his memory in favour of the glow of pride he basked in around his new contemporary work and Lady Catherine's praise of it. He had actually gone as far as considering a small brass title plate stating "Lily Pond, by the Reverend William Collins" but that would come in time. Charlotte was just delighted with the outcome and, despite his destructive actions, Patch got an unexpected beef bone from the local butchers.
And thus, dear readers, Mr Collins got his painting hung, not as he had intended, amongst the hunting, shooting and fishing likenesses of long dead De Bourgh hierarchy, but in company of the very much alive good citizens of the congregation of Hunsford Parish, and still within the bounds of the property of his patroness. Whether his painting equipment ever was ever again used for further masterpieces we are not to know, but if you should ever find yourself sitting in a quiet old country chapel somewhere in rural Kent, and a late afternoon sunbeam, shining through a stained glass window, should lead your eye to a vivid splash of colour on a small framed painting that, on close inspection, isn't quite Cezanne or Monet and not really Gauguin or even Van Gogh - for William Collins preceeded them all - but yet reminds you of their styles, you may realise, dear reader, just where that small framed painting started life and smile to yourself in your intimate knowlege of the real inventor of impressionist painting....The End