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picture; of which there is a fine engraving in mezzotinto by Hodges.
When the late Alderman John Boydell projected the plan of his Shakspeare, one of the first persons thought of to illustrate that splendid work was the president of the Royal Academy; but on being applied to, he declined taking any part in the concern.
It has been oddly surmised, by one who ought to have known Sir Joshua better, that he was shy of forming an engagement with a printseller, which was not the fact: and the conjecture is injurious to his memory. Sir Joshua had his suspicions that the work would not keep up to what was professed, and this made him reluctant to lend his name to the undertaking. How far he was right in his apprehension, may be easily ascertained by an examination of the pictures and plates of that splendidly imposing edition.
After resisting many importunities, the rhetoric of George Steevens is said to have overcome the scruples of Sir Joshua, who painted three pictures for the Shakspeare Gallery: the first was the Cauldron scene in Macbeth; the second, Puck, in the Midsummer Night's Dream; and the third, the Death of Cardinal Beaufort, in the second part of Henry the Sixth. This last painting became the object of much hypercriticism, on account of the demon represented as couching close behind the pillow of the dying prelate, and exulting in his agonies. This personification of a tormented conscience was condemned as an unnatural, intermixture of fancy with reality, the censors forgeting, mayhap, that the artist had not engaged in painting a picture illustrative of an historical event, but of a scene in a play, where the poet had himself introduced the pious King Henry saying,
“ Oh beat away the busy meddling fiend,
That lays strong siege unto this wretch's soul!" So that Sir Joshua here strictly confined himself to the rule,
similisque Poesi Sit Pictura True painting imitates the poet's lays; by depicting on canvass the terrible imagery which the great bard had so powerfully described in his tragedy. Were the censure of the critics to be admitted in this instance, it would follow that the artist who should paint the banquetting scene in Macbeth, ought to represent an empty chair at the table, instead of filling it with the shade of the murdered Banquo; for the spectral appearance in the one case is as much the creature of the imagination as in the other.
We are now arrived at an event in the life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, which excited general surprise, and occasioned, of course, a variety of observations, according to the light in which it was viewed, by those who took an interest in the affairs of the academy. The simple facts appear to be these; that Sir Joshua, wishing to procure the professorship of perspective for Mr. Bonomi, a very ingenious Italian architect, gave his casting vote in favour of that candidate as an associate ; but that, afterwards, in endeavouring to bring him in as an academician, he failed, and was outnumbered by a very large majority, who were in the interest of Mr. Fuseli. Upon the announcement of the numbers the president quitted the chair, evidently much chagrined, and soon after wrote the following letter to the secretary :
“I beg you would inform the Council, which I understand meet this evening, with my fixed resolution of resigning the presidency of the Royal Academy, and consequently my seat as an academician. As I can no longer be of any use to the academy as president, it would be still less in my power, in a subordinate situation. I therefore now take my leave of the academy, with my sincere good wishes for its prosperity, and with all due respect to its members,
“ I am, Sir, your most humble,
66 Joshua REYNOLDS."
« P. S.-Sir William Chambers has two letters of mine, either of which, or both, he is at full liberty to communicate to the Council.” VOL. I.
The Council felt much concern at this unpleasant occurrence; but Sir William Chambers flattered himself that, by laying the matter before the King, the difference might be healed. He did so, and obtained an interview with his Majesty, who said, "she would be happy in Sir Joshua's continuing in the president's chair.” It now seemed harmony would have been restored; but Sir Joshua continued inflexible, and in his reply to Sir William, observed, “ that he inferred his conduct must have been satisfactory to his Majesty, from the very gratifying way in which his royal pleasure had been declared; and if any inducement could make him depart from his original resolution, the will of his sovereign would prevail; but that, flattered by his Majesty's approval to the last, there could be nothing dishonourable in his resignation; and that, in addition to this determination, as he could not consistently hold the subordinate distinction of royal academician, after he had so long possessed the chair, he begged also to relinquish that honour."
Upon this another meeting was held, and a conciliatory resolution entered into, expressive of the regret of the Council at what had happened, and as they unanimously professed that no personal disrespect was intended towards Sir Joshua, they trusted he would be prevailed upon to comply with the wishes of the King, and continue in the presidency. A delegation of nine members waited upon Sir Joshua with this resolution, and happily succeeded in obtaining his consent to resume the chair; which, after the King's consent had been granted as a matter of form, took place.
Shortly after this restoration, Sir Joshua delivered his fifteenth Discourse to the academy, in which he displayed his wonted mental vigour, but hinted, at the same time, that, from his age and increasing infirmities, this would probably be, what it really was, his last address.
The late worthy Mr. William Gilpin having submitted to Sir Joshua for his opinion, before he printed it, his Essay on Picturesque Beauty, received this letter, which shows that his judgment remained as sound and penetrating as ever.
“ London, April 19, 1791. “ DEAR SIR,
“ Though I read now but little, yet I have read with great attention the Essay which you were so good as to put into my hands, on the difference between the beautiful and the picturesque ; and I may truly say I have received from it much pleasure and improvement.
“ Without opposing any of your sentiments, it has suggested an idea that may be worth consideration, whether the epithet Picturesque is not applicable to the excellence of the inferior schools, rather than to the higher. The works of Michel Angelo, Raffaelle, &c, appear to me to have