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No doubt, some mouldy tale
Like Pericles; and stale
Scraps, out of every dish
May keep up the play club;
As the best ordered meal:
And much good do 't ye then:
Brave plush and velvet men
Dare quit upon your oaths,
Of lauding in your ears
Wrought upon twenty blocks :
Leave things so prostitute,
And take th' Alcaic lute;
Warm thee by Pindar's fire:
Ere years have made thee old,
Throughout, to their defeat:
SIR GODFREY KNELLER, BART.
Sir GODFREY KNELLER was one of those fastidious mortals, who have the vanity to provide for posthumous honours, before they are snatched from life. He left 3001. for the purpose of erecting a monument to his name in Westminster Abbey, and furnished a design for it, which he entrusted to Rysbrack, the statuary, with particular directions concerning the style in which it ought to be finished. The labour thus solicitously instituted, is honoured with a place at the extremity of the north aisle, and consists of his own bust standing under a rich canopy, which is confined by gilt cords, trimmed with gilt fringe, and supported by a high pedestal of fine workmanship. One cherub, in tears, points to the bust, and another hangs over a medallion of Lady Kneller.
There are two inscriptions upon the pedestal : the one in Latin, which merely recapitulates that he was a knight of the Roman empire, an English baronet, and painter to five successive sovereigns; the other in English, and most eulogistically composed by Pope. They are engraved in the following order :
· M. S.
Baronetti Pictoris Regibus Carolo II. Jacobi II.
KNELLER, by Heav'n, and not a Master taught,
Rests crown'd with Princes' Honours, Poets' Lays,
Godfrey Kneller was born during the year 1646, at Lubeck, to the mines of which city his father, an architect by profession, was surveyor. The army was originally his destination ; and the better to qualify him for that career, he was sent to study mathematics and the science of fortification, at the University o Leyden. There, however, a natural predilection for the fine arts impelled him to make some efforts in painting, which were so well approved, that his father consented to change the intended course of his life, and permitted him to receive instructions from Bol, at Amsterdam. At a subsequent period he had also the honour of taking some lessons from Rembrandt.
Acquiring means to visit Italy in his twenty-second year, he made a considerable stay at Venice; and, after devoting some time to a study of the works of Titian and Annabal Carracci, began to labour on his own account in the business of an historical painter. As his productions were striking, he rose into immediate notice, and acquired the patronage of the wealthier families in the city with enviable rapidity. He did not, however, continue long attached to the higher branches of the profession ; but, instigated by an insatiable thirst for emolument, which ever after infected his progress, soon diverged into the lazier and more lucrative employment of portrait painting. This modification of his art once adopted, he adhered to with constancy, and was accustomed to extenuate by observing, that historical painters made the dead live, but only began to live themselves after they were dead in their turn; whereas, he who painted the living was kept alive by his subjects. This was a mercenary sentiment, unworthy of the nobility of genius, and as such has been greatly quarrelled with. Instances are certainly to be quoted, in which historical painters have failed to acquire during lifetime that full portion of fame and fortune to which they were eminently entitled ; but the cases are very few in which a man of superior deserts in this line has been so shamefully neglected as to bear the contrast of the preceding statement fully out. Portrait painting, nevertheless, is honourably deserving of its greatest rewards, for it is the handmaid of history, and renders services the most valuable, by preserving the faithful image of every character who can impart interest or dignity to the records of national affairs.
Kneller's first visit to England took place in 1674; and the first introduction of any note obtained by him was to the Duke of Monmouth. So flattering were his recommendations, that the Duke sat to him for a portrait, which gave complete satisfaction, and induced his grace to prevail upon Charles the II. to follow his example. It so happened that Sir Peter Lely was just then busy upon a similar work, and the indolent monarch, to save himself trouble, sat to both artists at the same time. Lely, as the Court painter, had the advantages of a chosen light and station; while Kneller was obliged to catch his traits as he could, and yet succeeded best; for even his competitor acknowledged that he drew with happier despatch, and coloured a more faithful likeness. The king received the performance with unqualified applause, and his reputation was forthwith established : orders and sittings multiplied incessantly upon him, and he quickly determined to fix his residence in England.
In 1680 Sir Peter Lely died, and Kneller was promoted to the rank thus vacated, of portrait painter to his Majesty, who four years after, sent him to Paris to take a picture of Louis the XIV. During this interval, the death of Charles occurred; but Kneller lost nothing by the event, for he was distinguished with great favours by his successor, who also sat for a portrait. The revolution tended even more fortunately to augment his prosperity: he was commissioned by William to paint the plenipotentiaries at Rywick; and upon his return to England, in 1692, was honoured with knighthood, presented with a gold medal and chain, valued at three hundred guineas, and nominated a gentleman of the Privy Chamber. This was the climax of his career: for William, or rather for William's Queen Mary, he painted his portraits of the British admirals, his Beauties of Hampton Court, and during the reign of William, he made his celebrated likenesses of the Kit-Cat Club. His official employments and state patronage were continued under equal circumstances of regard during the reign of Anne, who employed him to paint her a picture of Charles, then Archduke, but afterwards Emperor of Austria, an
occupation for which he was recompensed by the title of Hereditary Knight of the Roman Empire. Equally prized by both the great contending parties in the nation, no vicissitudes in the order of state proceedings could affect his popularity: by George the I. he was caressed as signally as by any of his predecessors, and created a Baronet. George, too, was the last of five British sovereigns who sat to him for their portraits, and were all outlived by him.
Employment thus protracted, and popularity so constant, of course, begot a circle of acquaintances equally extensive, and a fortune comparatively ample, which was enhanced by the particular friendship of some of the first men of the age. Though eager in the acquisition of money, Kneller was not altogether illiberal in the use he made of his gains, and led a life of hospitality and tasteful magnificence. He lost 20,0001. by the South Sea bubble, but recovered his means so carefully as to leave behind him an estate of 20001. a-year at his death. It was somewhat burthened, however, and was realized by charging twenty guineas for a head; twenty-five for a head with one hand introduced on the canvass, thirty for a half, and sixty guineas for a whole-length picture. He kept a country-house at Whitton, near Hampton Court, and was there accustomed to entertain the first wits and best authors of his day. As a member of the KitCat Club, he was the intimate associate of nobles and statesmen of the highest rank and merit, and derived no mean portion of his celebrity. A licentious man, particularly in matters concerning religion; he was also a very free liver, and yet enjoyed capital health, almost to the very last stage of an advanced old age. He never once ceased to cultivate his art, and died in consequence of the enervation produced by a fever, from which he was partially recovered by the skill of Dr. Mead, in October, 1723. His obsequies were celebrated with flattering pomp: the body lay in state in London, and was then removed to a vault expressly prepared for its reception at Whitton.
It is to Kneller we must trace the dawning of a Roya. Academy, for we are told that an association of artists, for the purpose of exhibiting paintings, was instituted in 1711. They held their meetings at the private residence of some one member