The Real Thing
This etext was scanned by David Price, email email@example.com,
from the 1893 Macmillan and Co. edition. Proofing was by Nina
Hall, Mohua Sen, Bridie, Francine Smith and David.
The Real Thing
by Henry James
When the porter's wife (she used to answer the house-bell), announced
"A gentleman--with a lady, sir," I had, as I often had in those days,
for the wish was father to the thought, an immediate vision of
sitters. Sitters my visitors in this case proved to be; but not in
the sense I should have preferred. However, there was nothing at
first to indicate that they might not have come for a portrait. The
gentleman, a man of fifty, very high and very straight, with a
moustache slightly grizzled and a dark grey walking-coat admirably
fitted, both of which I noted professionally--I don't mean as a
barber or yet as a tailor--would have struck me as a celebrity if
celebrities often were striking. It was a truth of which I had for
some time been conscious that a figure with a good deal of frontage
was, as one might say, almost never a public institution. A glance
at the lady helped to remind me of this paradoxical law: she also
looked too distinguished to be a "personality." Moreover one would
scarcely come across two variations together.
Neither of the pair spoke immediately--they only prolonged the
preliminary gaze which suggested that each wished to give the other a
chance. They were visibly shy; they stood there letting me take them
in--which, as I afterwards perceived, was the most practical thing
they could have done. In this way their embarrassment served their
cause. I had seen people painfully reluctant to mention that they
desired anything so gross as to be represented on canvas; but the
scruples of my new friends appeared almost insurmountable. Yet the
gentleman might have said "I should like a portrait of my wife," and
the lady might have said "I should like a portrait of my husband."
Perhaps they were not husband and wife--this naturally would make the
matter more delicate. Perhaps they wished to be done together--in
which case they ought to have brought a third person to break the
"We come from Mr. Rivet," the lady said at last, with a dim smile
which had the effect of a moist sponge passed over a "sunk" piece of
painting, as well as of a vague allusion to vanished beauty. She was
as tall and straight, in her degree, as her companion, and with ten
years less to carry. She looked as sad as a woman could look whose
face was not charged with expression; that is her tinted oval mask
showed friction as an exposed surface shows it. The hand of time had
played over her freely, but only to simplify. She was slim and
stiff, and so well-dressed, in dark blue cloth, with lappets and
pockets and buttons, that it was clear she employed the same tailor
as her husband. The couple had an indefinable air of prosperous
thrift--they evidently got a good deal of luxury for their money. If
I was to be one of their luxuries it would behove me to consider my
"Ah, Claude Rivet recommended me?" I inquired; and I added that it
was very kind of him, though I could reflect that, as he only painted
landscape, this was not a sacrifice.
The lady looked very hard at the gentleman, and the gentleman looked
round the room. Then staring at the floor a moment and stroking his
moustache, he rested his pleasant eyes on me with the remark:
"He said you were the right one."
"I try to be, when people want to sit."
"Yes, we should like to," said the lady anxiously.
"Do you mean together?"
My visitors exchanged a glance. "If you could do anything with ME, I
suppose it would be double," the gentleman stammered.
"Oh yes, there's naturally a higher charge for two figures than for
"We should like to make it pay," the husband confessed.
"That's very good of you," I returned, appreciating so unwonted a
sympathy--for I supposed he meant pay the artist.
A sense of strangeness seemed to dawn on the lady. "We mean for the
illustrations--Mr Rivet said you might put one in."
"Put one in--an illustration?" I was equally confused.
"Sketch her off, you know," said the gentleman, colouring.
It was only then that I understood the service Claude Rivet had
rendered me; he had told them that I worked in black and white, for
magazines, for story-books, for sketches of contemporary life, and
consequently had frequent employment for models. These things were
true, but it was not less true (I may confess it now--whether because
the aspiration was to lead to everything or to nothing I leave the
reader to guess), that I couldn't get the honours, to say nothing of
the emoluments, of a great painter of portraits out of my head. My
"illustrations" were my pot-boilers; I looked to a different branch
of art (far and away the most interesting it had always seemed to
me), to perpetuate my fame. There was no shame in looking to it also
to make my fortune; but that fortune was by so much further from
being made from the moment my visitors wished to be "done" for
nothing. I was disappointed; for in the pictorial sense I had
immediately SEEN them. I had seized their type--I had already
settled what I would do with it. Something that wouldn't absolutely
have pleased them, I afterwards reflected.
"Ah, you're--you're--a--?" I began, as soon as I had mastered my
surprise. I couldn't bring out the dingy word "models"; it seemed to
fit the case so little.
"We haven't had much practice," said the lady.
"We've got to DO something, and we've thought that an artist in your
line might perhaps make something of us," her husband threw off. He
further mentioned that they didn't know many artists and that they
had gone first, on the off-chance (he painted views of course, but
sometimes put in figures--perhaps I remembered), to Mr. Rivet, whom
they had met a few years before at a place in Norfolk where he was
"We used to sketch a little ourselves," the lady hinted.
"It's very awkward, but we absolutely MUST do something," her husband
"Of course, we're not so VERY young," she admitted, with a wan smile.
With the remark that I might as well know something more about them,
the husband had handed me a card extracted from a neat new pocket-
book (their appurtenances were all of the freshest) and inscribed
with the words "Major Monarch." Impressive as these words were they
didn't carry my knowledge much further; but my visitor presently
added: "I've left the army, and we've had the misfortune to lose our
money. In fact our means are dreadfully small."
"It's an awful bore," said Mrs. Monarch.
They evidently wished to be discreet--to take care not to swagger
because they were gentlefolks. I perceived they would have been
willing to recognise this as something of a drawback, at the same
time that I guessed at an underlying sense--their consolation in
adversity--that they HAD their points. They certainly had; but these
advantages struck me as preponderantly social; such for instance as
would help to make a drawing-room look well. However, a drawing-room
was always, or ought to be, a picture.
In consequence of his wife's allusion to their age Major Monarch
observed: "Naturally, it's more for the figure that we thought of
going in. We can still hold ourselves up." On the instant I saw
that the figure was indeed their strong point. His "naturally"
didn't sound vain, but it lighted up the question. "SHE has got the
best," he continued, nodding at his wife, with a pleasant after-
dinner absence of circumlocution. I could only reply, as if we were
in fact sitting over our wine, that this didn't prevent his own from
being very good; which led him in turn to rejoin: "We thought that
if you ever have to do people like us, we might be something like it.
SHE, particularly--for a lady in a book, you know."
I was so amused by them that, to get more of it, I did my best to
take their point of view; and though it was an embarrassment to find
myself appraising physically, as if they were animals on hire or
useful blacks, a pair whom I should have expected to meet only in one
of the relations in which criticism is tacit, I looked at Mrs.
Monarch judicially enough to be able to exclaim, after a moment, with
conviction: "Oh yes, a lady in a book!" She was singularly like a
"We'll stand up, if you like," said the Major; and he raised himself
before me with a really grand air.
I could take his measure at a glance--he was six feet two and a
perfect gentleman. It would have paid any club in process of
formation and in want of a stamp to engage him at a salary to stand
in the principal window. What struck me immediately was that in
coming to me they had rather missed their vocation; they could surely
have been turned to better account for advertising purposes. I
couldn't of course see the thing in detail, but I could see them make
someone's fortune--I don't mean their own. There was something in
them for a waistcoat-maker, an hotel-keeper or a soap-vendor. I
could imagine "We always use it" pinned on their bosoms with the
greatest effect; I had a vision of the promptitude with which they
would launch a table d'hote.
Mrs. Monarch sat still, not from pride but from shyness, and
presently her husband said to her: "Get up my dear and show how
smart you are." She obeyed, but she had no need to get up to show
it. She walked to the end of the studio, and then she came back
blushing, with her fluttered eyes on her husband. I was reminded of
an incident I had accidentally had a glimpse of in Paris--being with
a friend there, a dramatist about to produce a play--when an actress
came to him to ask to be intrusted with a part. She went through her
paces before him, walked up and down as Mrs. Monarch was doing. Mrs.
Monarch did it quite as well, but I abstained from applauding. It
was very odd to see such people apply for such poor pay. She looked
as if she had ten thousand a year. Her husband had used the word
that described her: she was, in the London current jargon,
essentially and typically "smart." Her figure was, in the same order
of ideas, conspicuously and irreproachably "good." For a woman of
her age her waist was surprisingly small; her elbow moreover had the
orthodox crook. She held her head at the conventional angle; but why
did she come to ME? She ought to have tried on jackets at a big
shop. I feared my visitors were not only destitute, but "artistic"--
which would be a great complication. When she sat down again I
thanked her, observing that what a draughtsman most valued in his
model was the faculty of keeping quiet.
"Oh, SHE can keep quiet," said Major Monarch. Then he added,
jocosely: "I've always kept her quiet."
"I'm not a nasty fidget, am I?" Mrs. Monarch appealed to her husband.
He addressed his answer to me. "Perhaps it isn't out of place to
mention--because we ought to be quite business-like, oughtn't we?--
that when I married her she was known as the Beautiful Statue."
"Oh dear!" said Mrs. Monarch, ruefully.
"Of course I should want a certain amount of expression," I rejoined.
"Of COURSE!" they both exclaimed.
"And then I suppose you know that you'll get awfully tired."
"Oh, we NEVER get tired!" they eagerly cried.
"Have you had any kind of practice?"
They hesitated--they looked at each other. "We've been photographed,
IMMENSELY," said Mrs. Monarch.
"She means the fellows have asked us," added the Major.
"I see--because you're so good-looking."
"I don't know what they thought, but they were always after us."
"We always got our photographs for nothing," smiled Mrs. Monarch.
"We might have brought some, my dear," her husband remarked.
"I'm not sure we have any left. We've given quantities away," she
explained to me.
"With our autographs and that sort of thing," said the Major.
"Are they to be got in the shops?" I inquired, as a harmless
"Oh, yes; hers--they used to be."
"Not now," said Mrs. Monarch, with her eyes on the floor.
I could fancy the "sort of thing" they put on the presentation-copies
of their photographs, and I was sure they wrote a beautiful hand. It
was odd how quickly I was sure of everything that concerned them. If
they were now so poor as to have to earn shillings and pence, they
never had had much of a margin. Their good looks had been their
capital, and they had good-humouredly made the most of the career
that this resource marked out for them. It was in their faces, the
blankness, the deep intellectual repose of the twenty years of
country-house visiting which had given them pleasant intonations. I
could see the sunny drawing-rooms, sprinkled with periodicals she
didn't read, in which Mrs. Monarch had continuously sat; I could see
the wet shrubberies in which she had walked, equipped to admiration
for either exercise. I could see the rich covers the Major had
helped to shoot and the wonderful garments in which, late at night,
he repaired to the smoking-room to talk about them. I could imagine
their leggings and waterproofs, their knowing tweeds and rugs, their
rolls of sticks and cases of tackle and neat umbrellas; and I could
evoke the exact appearance of their servants and the compact variety
of their luggage on the platforms of country stations.
They gave small tips, but they were liked; they didn't do anything
themselves, but they were welcome. They looked so well everywhere;
they gratified the general relish for stature, complexion and "form."
They knew it without fatuity or vulgarity, and they respected
themselves in consequence. They were not superficial; they were
thorough and kept themselves up--it had been their line. People with
such a taste for activity had to have some line. I could feel how,
even in a dull house, they could have been counted upon for
cheerfulness. At present something had happened--it didn't matter
what, their little income had grown less, it had grown least--and
they had to do something for pocket-money. Their friends liked them,
but didn't like to support them. There was something about them that
represented credit--their clothes, their manners, their type; but if
credit is a large empty pocket in which an occasional chink
reverberates, the chink at least must be audible. What they wanted
of me was to help to make it so. Fortunately they had no children--I
soon divined that. They would also perhaps wish our relations to be
kept secret: this was why it was "for the figure"--the reproduction
of the face would betray them.
I liked them--they were so simple; and I had no objection to them if
they would suit. But, somehow, with all their perfections I didn't
easily believe in them. After all they were amateurs, and the ruling
passion of my life was the detestation of the amateur. Combined with
this was another perversity--an innate preference for the represented
subject over the real one: the defect of the real one was so apt to
be a lack of representation. I liked things that appeared; then one
was sure. Whether they WERE or not was a subordinate and almost
always a profitless question. There were other considerations, the
first of which was that I already had two or three people in use,
notably a young person with big feet, in alpaca, from Kilburn, who
for a couple of years had come to me regularly for my illustrations
and with whom I was still--perhaps ignobly--satisfied. I frankly
explained to my visitors how the case stood; but they had taken more
precautions than I supposed. They had reasoned out their
opportunity, for Claude Rivet had told them of the projected edition
de luxe of one of the writers of our day--the rarest of the
novelists--who, long neglected by the multitudinous vulgar and dearly
prized by the attentive (need I mention Philip Vincent?) had had the
happy fortune of seeing, late in life, the dawn and then the full
light of a higher criticism--an estimate in which, on the part of the
public, there was something really of expiation. The edition in
question, planned by a publisher of taste, was practically an act of
high reparation; the wood-cuts with which it was to be enriched were
the homage of English art to one of the most independent
representatives of English letters. Major and Mrs. Monarch confessed
to me that they had hoped I might be able to work THEM into my share
of the enterprise. They knew I was to do the first of the books,
"Rutland Ramsay," but I had to make clear to them that my
participation in the rest of the affair--this first book was to be a
test--was to depend on the satisfaction I should give. If this
should be limited my employers would drop me without a scruple. It
was therefore a crisis for me, and naturally I was making special
preparations, looking about for new people, if they should be
necessary, and securing the best types. I admitted however that I
should like to settle down to two or three good models who would do
"Should we have often to--a--put on special clothes?" Mrs. Monarch
"Dear, yes--that's half the business."
"And should we be expected to supply our own costumes?"
"Oh, no; I've got a lot of things. A painter's models put on--or put
off--anything he likes."
"And do you mean--a--the same?"
Mrs. Monarch looked at her husband again.
"Oh, she was just wondering," he explained, "if the costumes are in
GENERAL use." I had to confess that they were, and I mentioned
further that some of them (I had a lot of genuine, greasy last-
century things), had served their time, a hundred years ago, on
living, world-stained men and women. "We'll put on anything that
fits," said the Major.
"Oh, I arrange that--they fit in the pictures."
"I'm afraid I should do better for the modern books. I would come as
you like," said Mrs. Monarch.
"She has got a lot of clothes at home: they might do for
contemporary life," her husband continued.
"Oh, I can fancy scenes in which you'd be quite natural." And indeed
I could see the slipshod rearrangements of stale properties--the
stories I tried to produce pictures for without the exasperation of
reading them--whose sandy tracts the good lady might help to people.
But I had to return to the fact that for this sort of work--the daily
mechanical grind--I was already equipped; the people I was working
with were fully adequate.
"We only thought we might be more like SOME characters," said Mrs.
Monarch mildly, getting up.
Her husband also rose; he stood looking at me with a dim wistfulness
that was touching in so fine a man. "Wouldn't it be rather a pull
sometimes to have--a--to have--?" He hung fire; he wanted me to help
him by phrasing what he meant. But I couldn't--I didn't know. So he
brought it out, awkwardly: "The REAL thing; a gentleman, you know,
or a lady." I was quite ready to give a general assent--I admitted
that there was a great deal in that. This encouraged Major Monarch
to say, following up his appeal with an unacted gulp: "It's awfully
hard--we've tried everything." The gulp was communicative; it proved
too much for his wife. Before I knew it Mrs. Monarch had dropped
again upon a divan and burst into tears. Her husband sat down beside
her, holding one of her hands; whereupon she quickly dried her eyes
with the other, while I felt embarrassed as she looked up at me.
"There isn't a confounded job I haven't applied for--waited for--
prayed for. You can fancy we'd be pretty bad first. Secretaryships
and that sort of thing? You might as well ask for a peerage. I'd be
ANYTHING--I'm strong; a messenger or a coalheaver. I'd put on a
gold-laced cap and open carriage-doors in front of the haberdasher's;
I'd hang about a station, to carry portmanteaus; I'd be a postman.
But they won't LOOK at you; there are thousands, as good as yourself,
already on the ground. GENTLEMEN, poor beggars, who have drunk their
wine, who have kept their hunters!"
I was as reassuring as I knew how to be, and my visitors were
presently on their feet again while, for the experiment, we agreed on
an hour. We were discussing it when the door opened and Miss Churm
came in with a wet umbrella. Miss Churm had to take the omnibus to
Maida Vale and then walk half-a-mile. She looked a trifle blowsy and
slightly splashed. I scarcely ever saw her come in without thinking
afresh how odd it was that, being so little in herself, she should
yet be so much in others. She was a meagre little Miss Churm, but
she was an ample heroine of romance. She was only a freckled
cockney, but she could represent everything, from a fine lady to a
shepherdess; she had the faculty, as she might have had a fine voice
or long hair.
She couldn't spell, and she loved beer, but she had two or three
"points," and practice, and a knack, and mother-wit, and a kind of
whimsical sensibility, and a love of the theatre, and seven sisters,
and not an ounce of respect, especially for the H. The first thing
my visitors saw was that her umbrella was wet, and in their spotless
perfection they visibly winced at it. The rain had come on since
"I'm all in a soak; there WAS a mess of people in the 'bus. I wish
you lived near a stytion," said Miss Churm. I requested her to get
ready as quickly as possible, and she passed into the room in which
she always changed her dress. But before going out she asked me what
she was to get into this time.
"It's the Russian princess, don't you know?" I answered; "the one
with the 'golden eyes,' in black velvet, for the long thing in the
"Golden eyes? I SAY!" cried Miss Churm, while my companions watched
her with intensity as she withdrew. She always arranged herself,
when she was late, before I could turn round; and I kept my visitors
a little, on purpose, so that they might get an idea, from seeing
her, what would be expected of themselves. I mentioned that she was
quite my notion of an excellent model--she was really very clever.
"Do you think she looks like a Russian princess?" Major Monarch
asked, with lurking alarm.
"When I make her, yes."
"Oh, if you have to MAKE her--!" he reasoned, acutely.
"That's the most you can ask. There are so many that are not
"Well now, HERE'S a lady"--and with a persuasive smile he passed his
arm into his wife's--"who's already made!"
"Oh, I'm not a Russian princess," Mrs. Monarch protested, a little
coldly. I could see that she had known some and didn't like them.
There, immediately, was a complication of a kind that I never had to
fear with Miss Churm.
This young lady came back in black velvet--the gown was rather rusty
and very low on her lean shoulders--and with a Japanese fan in her
red hands. I reminded her that in the scene I was doing she had to
look over someone's head. "I forget whose it is; but it doesn't
matter. Just look over a head."
"I'd rather look over a stove," said Miss Churm; and she took her
station near the fire. She fell into position, settled herself into
a tall attitude, gave a certain backward inclination to her head and
a certain forward droop to her fan, and looked, at least to my
prejudiced sense, distinguished and charming, foreign and dangerous.
We left her looking so, while I went down-stairs with Major and Mrs.
"I think I could come about as near it as that," said Mrs. Monarch.
"Oh, you think she's shabby, but you must allow for the alchemy of
However, they went off with an evident increase of comfort, founded
on their demonstrable advantage in being the real thing. I could
fancy them shuddering over Miss Churm. She was very droll about them
when I went back, for I told her what they wanted.
"Well, if SHE can sit I'll tyke to bookkeeping," said my model.
"She's very lady-like," I replied, as an innocent form of
"So much the worse for YOU. That means she can't turn round."
"She'll do for the fashionable novels."
"Oh yes, she'll DO for them!" my model humorously declared. "Ain't
they had enough without her?" I had often sociably denounced them to
It was for the elucidation of a mystery in one of these works that I
first tried Mrs. Monarch. Her husband came with her, to be useful if
necessary--it was sufficiently clear that as a general thing he would
prefer to come with her. At first I wondered if this were for
"propriety's" sake--if he were going to be jealous and meddling. The
idea was too tiresome, and if it had been confirmed it would speedily
have brought our acquaintance to a close. But I soon saw there was
nothing in it and that if he accompanied Mrs. Monarch it was (in
addition to the chance of being wanted), simply because he had
nothing else to do. When she was away from him his occupation was
gone--she never HAD been away from him. I judged, rightly, that in
their awkward situation their close union was their main comfort and
that this union had no weak spot. It was a real marriage, an
encouragement to the hesitating, a nut for pessimists to crack.
Their address was humble (I remember afterwards thinking it had been
the only thing about them that was really professional), and I could
fancy the lamentable lodgings in which the Major would have been left
alone. He could bear them with his wife--he couldn't bear them
He had too much tact to try and make himself agreeable when he
couldn't be useful; so he simply sat and waited, when I was too
absorbed in my work to talk. But I liked to make him talk--it made
my work, when it didn't interrupt it, less sordid, less special. To
listen to him was to combine the excitement of going out with the
economy of staying at home. There was only one hindrance: that I
seemed not to know any of the people he and his wife had known. I
think he wondered extremely, during the term of our intercourse, whom
the deuce I DID know. He hadn't a stray sixpence of an idea to
fumble for; so we didn't spin it very fine--we confined ourselves to
questions of leather and even of liquor (saddlers and breeches-makers
and how to get good claret cheap), and matters like "good trains" and
the habits of small game. His lore on these last subjects was
astonishing, he managed to interweave the station-master with the
ornithologist. When he couldn't talk about greater things he could
talk cheerfully about smaller, and since I couldn't accompany him
into reminiscences of the fashionable world he could lower the
conversation without a visible effort to my level.
So earnest a desire to please was touching in a man who could so
easily have knocked one down. He looked after the fire and had an
opinion on the draught of the stove, without my asking him, and I
could see that he thought many of my arrangements not half clever
enough. I remember telling him that if I were only rich I would
offer him a salary to come and teach me how to live. Sometimes he
gave a random sigh, of which the essence was: "Give me even such a
bare old barrack as THIS, and I'd do something with it!" When I
wanted to use him he came alone; which was an illustration of the
superior courage of women. His wife could bear her solitary second
floor, and she was in general more discreet; showing by various small
reserves that she was alive to the propriety of keeping our relations
markedly professional--not letting them slide into sociability. She
wished it to remain clear that she and the Major were employed, not
cultivated, and if she approved of me as a superior, who could be
kept in his place, she never thought me quite good enough for an
She sat with great intensity, giving the whole of her mind to it, and
was capable of remaining for an hour almost as motionless as if she
were before a photographer's lens. I could see she had been
photographed often, but somehow the very habit that made her good for
that purpose unfitted her for mine. At first I was extremely pleased
with her lady-like air, and it was a satisfaction, on coming to
follow her lines, to see how good they were and how far they could
lead the pencil. But after a few times I began to find her too
insurmountably stiff; do what I would with it my drawing looked like
a photograph or a copy of a photograph. Her figure had no variety of
expression--she herself had no sense of variety. You may say that
this was my business, was only a question of placing her. I placed
her in every conceivable position, but she managed to obliterate
their differences. She was always a lady certainly, and into the
bargain was always the same lady. She was the real thing, but always
the same thing. There were moments when I was oppressed by the
serenity of her confidence that she WAS the real thing. All her
dealings with me and all her husband's were an implication that this
was lucky for ME. Meanwhile I found myself trying to invent types
that approached her own, instead of making her own transform itself--
in the clever way that was not impossible, for instance, to poor Miss
Churm. Arrange as I would and take the precautions I would, she
always, in my pictures, came out too tall--landing me in the dilemma
of having represented a fascinating woman as seven feet high, which,
out of respect perhaps to my own very much scantier inches, was far
from my idea of such a personage.
The case was worse with the Major--nothing I could do would keep HIM
down, so that he became useful only for the representation of brawny
giants. I adored variety and range, I cherished human accidents, the
illustrative note; I wanted to characterise closely, and the thing in
the world I most hated was the danger of being ridden by a type. I
had quarrelled with some of my friends about it--I had parted company
with them for maintaining that one HAD to be, and that if the type
was beautiful (witness Raphael and Leonardo), the servitude was only
a gain. I was neither Leonardo nor Raphael; I might only be a
presumptuous young modern searcher, but I held that everything was to
be sacrificed sooner than character. When they averred that the
haunting type in question could easily BE character, I retorted,
perhaps superficially: "Whose?" It couldn't be everybody's--it
might end in being nobody's.
After I had drawn Mrs. Monarch a dozen times I perceived more clearly
than before that the value of such a model as Miss Churm resided
precisely in the fact that she had no positive stamp, combined of
course with the other fact that what she did have was a curious and
inexplicable talent for imitation. Her usual appearance was like a
curtain which she could draw up at request for a capital performance.
This performance was simply suggestive; but it was a word to the
wise--it was vivid and pretty. Sometimes, even, I thought it, though
she was plain herself, too insipidly pretty; I made it a reproach to
her that the figures drawn from her were monotonously (betement, as
we used to say) graceful. Nothing made her more angry: it was so
much her pride to feel that she could sit for characters that had
nothing in common with each other. She would accuse me at such
moments of taking away her "reputytion."
It suffered a certain shrinkage, this queer quantity, from the
repeated visits of my new friends. Miss Churm was greatly in demand,
never in want of employment, so I had no scruple in putting her off
occasionally, to try them more at my ease. It was certainly amusing
at first to do the real thing--it was amusing to do Major Monarch's
trousers. They WERE the real thing, even if he did come out
colossal. It was amusing to do his wife's back hair (it was so
mathematically neat,) and the particular "smart" tension of her tight
stays. She lent herself especially to positions in which the face
was somewhat averted or blurred; she abounded in lady-like back views
and profils perdus. When she stood erect she took naturally one of
the attitudes in which court-painters represent queens and
princesses; so that I found myself wondering whether, to draw out
this accomplishment, I couldn't get the editor of the Cheapside to
publish a really royal romance, "A Tale of Buckingham Palace."
Sometimes, however, the real thing and the make-believe came into
contact; by which I mean that Miss Churm, keeping an appointment or
coming to make one on days when I had much work in hand, encountered
her invidious rivals. The encounter was not on their part, for they
noticed her no more than if she had been the housemaid; not from
intentional loftiness, but simply because, as yet, professionally,
they didn't know how to fraternise, as I could guess that they would
have liked--or at least that the Major would. They couldn't talk
about the omnibus--they always walked; and they didn't know what else
to try--she wasn't interested in good trains or cheap claret.
Besides, they must have felt--in the air--that she was amused at
them, secretly derisive of their ever knowing how. She was not a
person to conceal her scepticism if she had had a chance to show it.
On the other hand Mrs. Monarch didn't think her tidy; for why else
did she take pains to say to me (it was going out of the way, for
Mrs. Monarch), that she didn't like dirty women?
One day when my young lady happened to be present with my other
sitters (she even dropped in, when it was convenient, for a chat), I
asked her to be so good as to lend a hand in getting tea--a service
with which she was familiar and which was one of a class that, living
as I did in a small way, with slender domestic resources, I often
appealed to my models to render. They liked to lay hands on my
property, to break the sitting, and sometimes the china--I made them
feel Bohemian. The next time I saw Miss Churm after this incident
she surprised me greatly by making a scene about it--she accused me
of having wished to humiliate her. She had not resented the outrage
at the time, but had seemed obliging and amused, enjoying the comedy
of asking Mrs. Monarch, who sat vague and silent, whether she would
have cream and sugar, and putting an exaggerated simper into the
question. She had tried intonations--as if she too wished to pass
for the real thing; till I was afraid my other visitors would take
Oh, THEY were determined not to do this; and their touching patience
was the measure of their great need. They would sit by the hour,
uncomplaining, till I was ready to use them; they would come back on
the chance of being wanted and would walk away cheerfully if they
were not. I used to go to the door with them to see in what
magnificent order they retreated. I tried to find other employment
for them--I introduced them to several artists. But they didn't
"take," for reasons I could appreciate, and I became conscious,
rather anxiously, that after such disappointments they fell back upon
me with a heavier weight. They did me the honour to think that it
was I who was most THEIR form. They were not picturesque enough for
the painters, and in those days there were not so many serious
workers in black and white. Besides, they had an eye to the great
job I had mentioned to them--they had secretly set their hearts on
supplying the right essence for my pictorial vindication of our fine
novelist. They knew that for this undertaking I should want no
costume-effects, none of the frippery of past ages--that it was a
case in which everything would be contemporary and satirical and,
presumably, genteel. If I could work them into it their future would
be assured, for the labour would of course be long and the occupation
One day Mrs. Monarch came without her husband--she explained his
absence by his having had to go to the City. While she sat there in
her usual anxious stiffness there came, at the door, a knock which I
immediately recognised as the subdued appeal of a model out of work.
It was followed by the entrance of a young man whom I easily
perceived to be a foreigner and who proved in fact an Italian
acquainted with no English word but my name, which he uttered in a
way that made it seem to include all others. I had not then visited
his country, nor was I proficient in his tongue; but as he was not so
meanly constituted--what Italian is?--as to depend only on that
member for expression he conveyed to me, in familiar but graceful
mimicry, that he was in search of exactly the employment in which the
lady before me was engaged. I was not struck with him at first, and
while I continued to draw I emitted rough sounds of discouragement
and dismissal. He stood his ground, however, not importunately, but
with a dumb, dog-like fidelity in his eyes which amounted to innocent
impudence--the manner of a devoted servant (he might have been in the
house for years), unjustly suspected. Suddenly I saw that this very
attitude and expression made a picture, whereupon I told him to sit
down and wait till I should be free. There was another picture in
the way he obeyed me, and I observed as I worked that there were
others still in the way he looked wonderingly, with his head thrown
back, about the high studio. He might have been crossing himself in
St. Peter's. Before I finished I said to myself: "The fellow's a
bankrupt orange-monger, but he's a treasure."
When Mrs. Monarch withdrew he passed across the room like a flash to
open the door for her, standing there with the rapt, pure gaze of the
young Dante spellbound by the young Beatrice. As I never insisted,
in such situations, on the blankness of the British domestic, I
reflected that he had the making of a servant (and I needed one, but
couldn't pay him to be only that), as well as of a model; in short I
made up my mind to adopt my bright adventurer if he would agree to
officiate in the double capacity. He jumped at my offer, and in the
event my rashness (for I had known nothing about him), was not
brought home to me. He proved a sympathetic though a desultory
ministrant, and had in a wonderful degree the sentiment de la pose.
It was uncultivated, instinctive; a part of the happy instinct which
had guided him to my door and helped him to spell out my name on the
card nailed to it. He had had no other introduction to me than a
guess, from the shape of my high north window, seen outside, that my
place was a studio and that as a studio it would contain an artist.
He had wandered to England in search of fortune, like other
itinerants, and had embarked, with a partner and a small green
handcart, on the sale of penny ices. The ices had melted away and
the partner had dissolved in their train. My young man wore tight
yellow trousers with reddish stripes and his name was Oronte. He was
sallow but fair, and when I put him into some old clothes of my own
he looked like an Englishman. He was as good as Miss Churm, who
could look, when required, like an Italian.
I thought Mrs. Monarch's face slightly convulsed when, on her coming
back with her husband, she found Oronte installed. It was strange to
have to recognise in a scrap of a lazzarone a competitor to her
magnificent Major. It was she who scented danger first, for the
Major was anecdotically unconscious. But Oronte gave us tea, with a
hundred eager confusions (he had never seen such a queer process),
and I think she thought better of me for having at last an
"establishment." They saw a couple of drawings that I had made of
the establishment, and Mrs. Monarch hinted that it never would have
struck her that he had sat for them. "Now the drawings you make from
US, they look exactly like us," she reminded me, smiling in triumph;
and I recognised that this was indeed just their defect. When I drew
the Monarchs I couldn't, somehow, get away from them--get into the
character I wanted to represent; and I had not the least desire my
model should be discoverable in my picture. Miss Churm never was,
and Mrs. Monarch thought I hid her, very properly, because she was
vulgar; whereas if she was lost it was only as the dead who go to
heaven are lost--in the gain of an angel the more.
By this time I had got a certain start with "Rutland Ramsay," the
first novel in the great projected series; that is I had produced a
dozen drawings, several with the help of the Major and his wife, and
I had sent them in for approval. My understanding with the
publishers, as I have already hinted, had been that I was to be left
to do my work, in this particular case, as I liked, with the whole
book committed to me; but my connection with the rest of the series
was only contingent. There were moments when, frankly, it WAS a
comfort to have the real thing under one's hand; for there were
characters in "Rutland Ramsay" that were very much like it. There
were people presumably as straight as the Major and women of as good
a fashion as Mrs. Monarch. There was a great deal of country-house
life--treated, it is true, in a fine, fanciful, ironical, generalised
way--and there was a considerable implication of knickerbockers and
kilts. There were certain things I had to settle at the outset; such
things for instance as the exact appearance of the hero, the
particular bloom of the heroine. The author of course gave me a
lead, but there was a margin for interpretation. I took the Monarchs
into my confidence, I told them frankly what I was about, I mentioned
my embarrassments and alternatives. "Oh, take HIM!" Mrs. Monarch
murmured sweetly, looking at her husband; and "What could you want
better than my wife?" the Major inquired, with the comfortable
candour that now prevailed between us.
I was not obliged to answer these remarks--I was only obliged to
place my sitters. I was not easy in mind, and I postponed, a little
timidly perhaps, the solution of the question. The book was a large
canvas, the other figures were numerous, and I worked off at first
some of the episodes in which the hero and the heroine were not
concerned. When once I had set THEM up I should have to stick to
them--I couldn't make my young man seven feet high in one place and
five feet nine in another. I inclined on the whole to the latter
measurement, though the Major more than once reminded me that HE
looked about as young as anyone. It was indeed quite possible to
arrange him, for the figure, so that it would have been difficult to
detect his age. After the spontaneous Oronte had been with me a
month, and after I had given him to understand several different
times that his native exuberance would presently constitute an
insurmountable barrier to our further intercourse, I waked to a sense
of his heroic capacity. He was only five feet seven, but the
remaining inches were latent. I tried him almost secretly at first,
for I was really rather afraid of the judgment my other models would
pass on such a choice. If they regarded Miss Churm as little better
than a snare, what would they think of the representation by a person
so little the real thing as an Italian street-vendor of a protagonist
formed by a public school?
If I went a little in fear of them it was not because they bullied
me, because they had got an oppressive foothold, but because in their
really pathetic decorum and mysteriously permanent newness they
counted on me so intensely. I was therefore very glad when Jack
Hawley came home: he was always of such good counsel. He painted
badly himself, but there was no one like him for putting his finger
on the place. He had been absent from England for a year; he had
been somewhere--I don't remember where--to get a fresh eye. I was in
a good deal of dread of any such organ, but we were old friends; he
had been away for months and a sense of emptiness was creeping into
my life. I hadn't dodged a missile for a year.
He came back with a fresh eye, but with the same old black velvet
blouse, and the first evening he spent in my studio we smoked
cigarettes till the small hours. He had done no work himself, he had
only got the eye; so the field was clear for the production of my
little things. He wanted to see what I had done for the Cheapside,
but he was disappointed in the exhibition. That at least seemed the
meaning of two or three comprehensive groans which, as he lounged on
my big divan, on a folded leg, looking at my latest drawings, issued
from his lips with the smoke of the cigarette.
"What's the matter with you?" I asked.
"What's the matter with YOU?"
"Nothing save that I'm mystified."
"You are indeed. You're quite off the hinge. What's the meaning of
this new fad?" And he tossed me, with visible irreverence, a drawing
in which I happened to have depicted both my majestic models. I
asked if he didn't think it good, and he replied that it struck him
as execrable, given the sort of thing I had always represented myself
to him as wishing to arrive at; but I let that pass, I was so anxious
to see exactly what he meant. The two figures in the picture looked
colossal, but I supposed this was NOT what he meant, inasmuch as, for
aught he knew to the contrary, I might have been trying for that. I
maintained that I was working exactly in the same way as when he last
had done me the honour to commend me. "Well, there's a big hole
somewhere," he answered; "wait a bit and I'll discover it." I
depended upon him to do so: where else was the fresh eye? But he
produced at last nothing more luminous than "I don't know--I don't
like your types." This was lame, for a critic who had never
consented to discuss with me anything but the question of execution,
the direction of strokes and the mystery of values.
"In the drawings you've been looking at I think my types are very
"Oh, they won't do!"
"I've had a couple of new models."
"I see you have. THEY won't do."
"Are you very sure of that?"
"You mean _I_ am--for I ought to get round that."
"You CAN'T--with such people. Who are they?"
I told him, as far as was necessary, and he declared, heartlessly:
"Ce sont des gens qu'il faut mettre a la porte."
"You've never seen them; they're awfully good," I compassionately
"Not seen them? Why, all this recent work of yours drops to pieces
with them. It's all I want to see of them."
"No one else has said anything against it--the Cheapside people are
"Everyone else is an ass, and the Cheapside people the biggest asses
of all. Come, don't pretend, at this time of day, to have pretty
illusions about the public, especially about publishers and editors.
It's not for SUCH animals you work--it's for those who know, coloro
che sanno; so keep straight for ME if you can't keep straight for
yourself. There's a certain sort of thing you tried for from the
first--and a very good thing it is. But this twaddle isn't IN it."
When I talked with Hawley later about "Rutland Ramsay" and its
possible successors he declared that I must get back into my boat
again or I would go to the bottom. His voice in short was the voice
I noted the warning, but I didn't turn my friends out of doors. They
bored me a good deal; but the very fact that they bored me admonished
me not to sacrifice them--if there was anything to be done with them-
-simply to irritation. As I look back at this phase they seem to me
to have pervaded my life not a little. I have a vision of them as
most of the time in my studio, seated, against the wall, on an old
velvet bench to be out of the way, and looking like a pair of patient
courtiers in a royal ante-chamber. I am convinced that during the
coldest weeks of the winter they held their ground because it saved
them fire. Their newness was losing its gloss, and it was impossible
not to feel that they were objects of charity. Whenever Miss Churm
arrived they went away, and after I was fairly launched in "Rutland
Ramsay" Miss Churm arrived pretty often. They managed to express to
me tacitly that they supposed I wanted her for the low life of the
book, and I let them suppose it, since they had attempted to study
the work--it was lying about the studio--without discovering that it
dealt only with the highest circles. They had dipped into the most
brilliant of our novelists without deciphering many passages. I
still took an hour from them, now and again, in spite of Jack
Hawley's warning: it would be time enough to dismiss them, if
dismissal should be necessary, when the rigour of the season was
over. Hawley had made their acquaintance--he had met them at my
fireside--and thought them a ridiculous pair. Learning that he was a
painter they tried to approach him, to show him too that they were
the real thing; but he looked at them, across the big room, as if
they were miles away: they were a compendium of everything that he
most objected to in the social system of his country. Such people as
that, all convention and patent-leather, with ejaculations that
stopped conversation, had no business in a studio. A studio was a
place to learn to see, and how could you see through a pair of
The main inconvenience I suffered at their hands was that, at first,
I was shy of letting them discover how my artful little servant had
begun to sit to me for "Rutland Ramsay." They knew that I had been
odd enough (they were prepared by this time to allow oddity to
artists,) to pick a foreign vagabond out of the streets, when I might
have had a person with whiskers and credentials; but it was some time
before they learned how high I rated his accomplishments. They found
him in an attitude more than once, but they never doubted I was doing
him as an organ-grinder. There were several things they never
guessed, and one of them was that for a striking scene in the novel,
in which a footman briefly figured, it occurred to me to make use of
Major Monarch as the menial. I kept putting this off, I didn't like
to ask him to don the livery--besides the difficulty of finding a
livery to fit him. At last, one day late in the winter, when I was
at work on the despised Oronte (he caught one's idea in an instant),
and was in the glow of feeling that I was going very straight, they
came in, the Major and his wife, with their society laugh about
nothing (there was less and less to laugh at), like country-callers--
they always reminded me of that--who have walked across the park
after church and are presently persuaded to stay to luncheon.
Luncheon was over, but they could stay to tea--I knew they wanted it.
The fit was on me, however, and I couldn't let my ardour cool and my
work wait, with the fading daylight, while my model prepared it. So
I asked Mrs. Monarch if she would mind laying it out--a request
which, for an instant, brought all the blood to her face. Her eyes
were on her husband's for a second, and some mute telegraphy passed
between them. Their folly was over the next instant; his cheerful
shrewdness put an end to it. So far from pitying their wounded
pride, I must add, I was moved to give it as complete a lesson as I
could. They bustled about together and got out the cups and saucers
and made the kettle boil. I know they felt as if they were waiting
on my servant, and when the tea was prepared I said: "He'll have a
cup, please--he's tired." Mrs. Monarch brought him one where he
stood, and he took it from her as if he had been a gentleman at a
party, squeezing a crush-hat with an elbow.
Then it came over me that she had made a great effort for me--made it
with a kind of nobleness--and that I owed her a compensation. Each
time I saw her after this I wondered what the compensation could be.
I couldn't go on doing the wrong thing to oblige them. Oh, it WAS
the wrong thing, the stamp of the work for which they sat--Hawley was
not the only person to say it now. I sent in a large number of the
drawings I had made for "Rutland Ramsay," and I received a warning
that was more to the point than Hawley's. The artistic adviser of
the house for which I was working was of opinion that many of my
illustrations were not what had been looked for. Most of these
illustrations were the subjects in which the Monarchs had figured.
Without going into the question of what HAD been looked for, I saw at
this rate I shouldn't get the other books to do. I hurled myself in
despair upon Miss Churm, I put her through all her paces. I not only
adopted Oronte publicly as my hero, but one morning when the Major
looked in to see if I didn't require him to finish a figure for the
Cheapside, for which he had begun to sit the week before, I told him
that I had changed my mind--I would do the drawing from my man. At
this my visitor turned pale and stood looking at me. "Is HE your
idea of an English gentleman?" he asked.
I was disappointed, I was nervous, I wanted to get on with my work;
so I replied with irritation: "Oh, my dear Major--I can't be ruined
He stood another moment; then, without a word, he quitted the studio.
I drew a long breath when he was gone, for I said to myself that I
shouldn't see him again. I had not told him definitely that I was in
danger of having my work rejected, but I was vexed at his not having
felt the catastrophe in the air, read with me the moral of our
fruitless collaboration, the lesson that, in the deceptive atmosphere
of art, even the highest respectability may fail of being plastic.
I didn't owe my friends money, but I did see them again. They re-
appeared together, three days later, and under the circumstances
there was something tragic in the fact. It was a proof to me that
they could find nothing else in life to do. They had threshed the
matter out in a dismal conference--they had digested the bad news
that they were not in for the series. If they were not useful to me
even for the Cheapside their function seemed difficult to determine,
and I could only judge at first that they had come, forgivingly,
decorously, to take a last leave. This made me rejoice in secret
that I had little leisure for a scene; for I had placed both my other
models in position together and I was pegging away at a drawing from
which I hoped to derive glory. It had been suggested by the passage
in which Rutland Ramsay, drawing up a chair to Artemisia's piano-
stool, says extraordinary things to her while she ostensibly fingers
out a difficult piece of music. I had done Miss Churm at the piano
before--it was an attitude in which she knew how to take on an
absolutely poetic grace. I wished the two figures to "compose"
together, intensely, and my little Italian had entered perfectly into
my conception. The pair were vividly before me, the piano had been
pulled out; it was a charming picture of blended youth and murmured
love, which I had only to catch and keep. My visitors stood and
looked at it, and I was friendly to them over my shoulder.
They made no response, but I was used to silent company and went on
with my work, only a little disconcerted (even though exhilarated by
the sense that THIS was at least the ideal thing), at not having got
rid of them after all. Presently I heard Mrs. Monarch's sweet voice
beside, or rather above me: "I wish her hair was a little better
done." I looked up and she was staring with a strange fixedness at
Miss Churm, whose back was turned to her. "Do you mind my just
touching it?" she went on--a question which made me spring up for an
instant, as with the instinctive fear that she might do the young
lady a harm. But she quieted me with a glance I shall never forget--
I confess I should like to have been able to paint THAT--and went for
a moment to my model. She spoke to her softly, laying a hand upon
her shoulder and bending over her; and as the girl, understanding,
gratefully assented, she disposed her rough curls, with a few quick
passes, in such a way as to make Miss Churm's head twice as charming.
It was one of the most heroic personal services I have ever seen
rendered. Then Mrs. Monarch turned away with a low sigh and, looking
about her as if for something to do, stooped to the floor with a
noble humility and picked up a dirty rag that had dropped out of my
The Major meanwhile had also been looking for something to do and,
wandering to the other end of the studio, saw before him my breakfast
things, neglected, unremoved. "I say, can't I be useful HERE?" he
called out to me with an irrepressible quaver. I assented with a
laugh that I fear was awkward and for the next ten minutes, while I
worked, I heard the light clatter of china and the tinkle of spoons
and glass. Mrs. Monarch assisted her husband--they washed up my
crockery, they put it away. They wandered off into my little
scullery, and I afterwards found that they had cleaned my knives and
that my slender stock of plate had an unprecedented surface. When it
came over me, the latent eloquence of what they were doing, I confess
that my drawing was blurred for a moment--the picture swam. They had
accepted their failure, but they couldn't accept their fate. They
had bowed their heads in bewilderment to the perverse and cruel law
in virtue of which the real thing could be so much less precious than
the unreal; but they didn't want to starve. If my servants were my
models, my models might be my servants. They would reverse the
parts--the others would sit for the ladies and gentlemen, and THEY
would do the work. They would still be in the studio--it was an
intense dumb appeal to me not to turn them out. "Take us on," they
wanted to say--"we'll do ANYTHING."
When all this hung before me the afflatus vanished--my pencil dropped
from my hand. My sitting was spoiled and I got rid of my sitters,
who were also evidently rather mystified and awestruck. Then, alone
with the Major and his wife, I had a most uncomfortable moment, He
put their prayer into a single sentence: "I say, you know--just let
US do for you, can't you?" I couldn't--it was dreadful to see them
emptying my slops; but I pretended I could, to oblige them, for about
a week. Then I gave them a sum of money to go away; and I never saw
them again. I obtained the remaining books, but my friend Hawley
repeats that Major and Mrs. Monarch did me a permanent harm, got me
into a second-rate trick. If it be true I am content to have paid
the price--for the memory.
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