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George Morland

This  eccentric man and clever artist was born in London, in 1763. He gave very early indications of genius, and when quite a child, used to draw objects on the floor, with the implements of his father, who was a painter, in crayons. He executed pictures of pencils, scissors, and other things of the kind, with so much perfection, that his father often mistook them for real ones, and stooped down to pick them up. Some of George's drawings, executed before he was five years old, were exhibited with great applause at the society of artists in London.

These and other evidences of talent rendered him a favorite child; his father saw the germs of excellence in his own art, and, at the age of fourteen, had him apprenticed to himself, for seven years, during which his application was incessant. His father appears to have been harsh, unfeeling and selfish, and to have thought more of obtaining money from the talents and exertions of his son, than of giving him such training as should insure his success in life.

During his apprenticeship, George was confined to an upper room, copying drawings or pictures, and drawing from plaster casts. Being almost entirely restricted from society, all the opportunities he had for amusement were obtained by stealth, and his associates were a few boys in the neighborhood. The means of enjoyment were obtained by such close application to his business, as secretly to produce a few drawings or pictures more than his father imagined he could complete in a given time. These he lowered by a string from the window of his apartment, to his youthful companions, by whom they were converted into money, which they spent in common when opportunities offered.

In this manner passed the first seventeen years of the life of George Morland; and to this unremitted diligence and application he was indebted for the extraordinary power he possessed over the implements of his art. Avarice, however, was the ruling passion of his father, and this was so insatiable, that he kept his son incessantly at work, and gave him little, if any, education, except as an artist. To this cause must doubtless be attributed the irregularities of his subsequent life.

Morland's earlier compositions were small pictures of two or three figures, chiefly from the ballads of the day. These his father put into frames and sold for from one to three guineas. They were remarkable for their simple truth, and were much admired. Many of them were engraved, and widely circulated, which gave the young artist an extensive reputation. About this time, he went to Margate to spend the summer, and, by the advice of a friend, commenced portrait painting there. Great numbers of fashionable persons came to sit to him, and he commenced several pictures.

But the society of accomplished people made him feel his own ignorance to such a degree as to render him unhappy, and he sought relief at pig races and in other coarse amusements, projected for the lower order of visitors at Margate. These at last engaged his whole attention, and the portraits were thrown aside, to be finished in town. He at last returned, with empty pockets and a large cargo of unfinished canvasses.

Morland continued, however, to rise rapidly in his profession, and he might easily have secured an ample fortune. The subjects he selected for his pencil, were, generally, rural scenes, familiar to every eye, and the sentiment they conveyed was felt by every beholder. Many of these were admirably engraved by the celebrated J. B. Smith, and immense numbers were sold. Morland now had demands for more pictures than he could execute, and at almost any price.

But, unhappily, this gifted artist had already become addicted to the society of low picture dealers, and other dissipated persons, and his habits were, consequently, exceedingly irregular. His chief pleasures seemed to be—a ride into the country to a grinning match, a jolly dinner with a drinking bout after it, and a mad scamper home with a flounce in the mud.

Such, at last, was Morland's dislike of the society of gentlemen, and his preference of low company, that he would not paint pictures for the former class, but preferred selling them to certain artful dealers, who were his associates, and who flattered his vices, so that they might prey upon his genius. Of these persons, who pretended to be his friends, he did not obtain more than half price for his paintings. This system was carried to such an extent that Morland was at last entirely cut off from all connection with the real admirers of his works. If a gentleman wished to get one of his pictures, he could only do it by employing one of these harpies who had access to the artist, and who would wheedle a picture out of him for a mere trifle, and all under the mask of friendship.

About the year 1790, Morland lived in the neighborhood of Paddington. At this period, he had reached the very summit of his professional fame, and also of his extravagance. He kept, at one time, no less than eight saddle horses at livery, at the sign of the White Lion, opposite to his house, and affected to be a good judge of horse-flesh. Frequently, horses, for which one day he would give thirty or forty guineas, he would sell the next, for less than half that sum; but as the honest fraternity of horse-dealers knew their man, and would take his note at two months, he could the more easily indulge this propensity, and appear, for a short time, in cash, until the day of payment came, when a picture was produced as a douceur for a renewal of the notes.

This was one source of calamity which neither his industry, for which he was not remarkable, nor his talents, were by any means adequate to overcome. His wine merchant, who was also a gentleman in the discounting line, would sometimes obtain a picture worth fifty pounds, for the renewal of a bill. By this conduct, he heaped folly upon folly, to such a degree, that a fortune of ten thousand a year would have proved insufficient for the support of his waste and prodigality.

Morland's embarrassments, which now crowded upon him, were far from producing any change in his conduct; and, at length, they conducted him, through the hands of a bailiff, into prison, of which, by the way, he had always entertained a foreboding apprehension. This, however, did not render him immediately unhappy, but rather afforded him an opportunity of indulging, without restraint of any kind, his fatal propensities. There, he could mingle with such companions as were best adapted to his taste, and there too, in his own way, he could, without check orcontrol, reign or revel, surrounded by the very lowest of the vicious rabble.

When in confinement, and even sometimes when he was at liberty, it was common for him to have four guineas a day and his drink,—an object of no small consequence, as he began to drink before he began to paint, and continued to do both alternately, till he had painted as much as he pleased, or till the liquor had completely overcome him, when he claimed his money, and business was at an end for that day.

This laid his employer under the necessity of passing his whole time with him, in order to keep him in a state fit for labor, and to carry off the day's work when it was done; otherwise some eavesdropper snapped up his picture, and his employer was left to obtain what redress he could. By pursuing this fatal system, he ruined his health, enfeebled his genius, and sunk himself into general contempt. His constitution could not long sustain such an abuse of its powers. He was attacked with paralysis, and soon after, he died.

Thus perished George Morland, at the early age of forty-one years; a man whose best works will command esteem as long as any taste for the art of painting remains; one whose talents might have insured him happiness and distinction, if he had been educated with care, and if his entrance into life had been guided by those who were able and willing to caution him against the snares which are continually preparing by knavery for the inexperience and heedlessness of youth. Many of the subjects of Morland's pencil, are such as, of themselves, are far from pleasing. He delighted in representations of the pigsty. Yet even these, through the love we possess of truthful imitations, and the hallowing powers of genius, excite emotions of pleasure. His pictures of scenery around the cottage door, and of those rustic groups familiar to every eye, have the effect of poetry, and call into exercise those gentle sentiments, which, however latent, exist in every bosom. It is sad to reflect, that one who did so much to refine and civilize mankind, should himself have been the victim of the coarsest of vices.