The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

July 28, 2012

July 28, 1811

Charles West Cope (July 28, 1811 to August 21, 1890 ) was a popular Victorian painter. Cope's history paintings were very popular--Prince Albert commissioned some of his work, and Cope was commissioned to paint scenes for the Parliament building. What came to mind browsing the memoirs of this artist was that, at the dissolution of a universal religious understanding in Europe, men looked, though rarely deliberately, to replace the function of religion in their lives, to replace that function with history, in philosophy, and/or, with art. Although this avenue failed ultimately to provide the surety and guidance that theology once had, the popularity of Charles West Cope, and his history paintings, illustrated the attempt. You can at least say, of the world, portrayed on a large canvas, that there is some narrative meaning.

We have excerpts from Cope's Reminiscences (1891) which touch on the interest many felt in spiritualism. Some details are just for context.

1859.—At the Royal Academy: ...'Cordelia hearing the Account of her Father's Ill-Treatment,' for Mr. Arthur Burnand....

In the autumn wife and I visited the Sulivans at Llanbedr, in South Wales. Here the first symptoms of a weak heart (fainting) appeared in my dear wife. A good trout-stream, but I could catch no fish, and one day I discovered the cause. The river had been limed, as I found lime on ledges of rock at the sides. A resident family here, who showed us hospitality, much interested me. Mr. R told me strange tales of his wife's powers. She was an accomplished woman, and had written an epic poem. She had lost an only son (age about twelve), and she told us, with great detail and frankness, how often he visited her. 'How?' I asked. She said while at needlework she felt her hand laid hold of, and it was made to draw long curves on large sheets of paper (which she kept on the table for the purpose) and very intricate and involved patterns, a lead pencil being used. I asked to see specimens. She showed me dozens of sheets as large as newspapers. Sometimes writing was apparent, and the spirit-hand had caused designs to be made, to be carved on his tombstone. We were taken to the churchyard to see it. It was a monolith about six feet high, and the figures (geometric) were cut into it by a village mason from these designs. At the top there was an eye, from which lines or rays emanated, such as we see in old fashioned woodcuts. I think there was a motto, but I forget.
The father told me that his young daughter, about fourteen, was frequently spoken to by her brother as she walked through a field of long grass, and that she saw the tops of the grass bend down as he brushed over them. The mother also, when playing on the piano any ordinary tune, would feel her hands influenced to play strange combinations of chords, and had no control over them. She sat down to play one day, and after playing some time, she thought the spirit influence was not coming; but suddenly she stopped, and then struck quite different chords, harmonious, but strange. Mr.R told me, in reply to my inquiry, that he never had any similar experiences, but that he was convinced of their reality. I asked, 'What good could come of unmeaning or unintelligible scrawls, and was it likely that a spirit from another sphere would communicate with his mother for no more serious purpose?' He said it was a great comfort to them to be thus assured of their son's continued existence, and that at one time he had informed them that they would not see him for two years, as he was about to undergo some change. They both were quite free from reticence on the subject, and seemed never tired of being cross-questioned. A small trout-stream ran through his grounds, in which I fished with fair success.

At the close of 1859 I completed one of the Peers' Corridor frescoes, painted, on one of Sir C. Barry's portable frames, in committee-room B, and it was fixed in its place on December 8th. Subject, 'The Parting of Lord and Lady William Russell.'...

1861.....In the summer we took furnished apartments at Calais, and all the family went there ...I was almost sleepless, both there and afterwards in Devonshire, when visiting the Sulivans, getting only a nap after dinner. I took bromide of potassium as a remedy subsequently, with good results. .... The Ryans
[With whom he stayed in London at the outset of his art career.] lived here in retirement. Poor Mr. Ryan was confined to his bed, on the pillow of which always sat a large cat. Mrs. Ryan had died, and her sister, Maria Buchanan, kept house ..

On our return home, being unfit for work, I visited friend Sulivan in Devonshire, and tried, by hard work with a salmon rod in the Taw ... and long walks, to tire myself out and thus obtain sleep—in vain. On my return my dear wife managed to read me to sleep, by gradually lowering her voice as I got drowsy. I found Thackeray the most interesting, and yet soothing, for the attention must be fixed to induce sleep. Chloral also helped. I took it at night for some time, and am not aware that it injured my brain. ...

We found the above account in Reminiscences of Charles West Cope, R. A.(1891). Of course, in reference to my opening generalization, these details prove nothing, yet they do twinkle.

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