Monday, February 9, 2009

Into Legend: "Who are you, sir? ...Where are you from?"

Self-Portrait, c. 1778, oil on canvas, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, Rhode Island
"The artist was traveling by stage in England. His fellow-passengers were a number of gentlemen who were strangers to him, and who, finding him very amusing, ventured to ask him who he was, and what was his calling.
Mr. Stuart answered with a grave face and a serious tone, that he sometimes dressed gentlemen's and ladies' hair (at that time the high-craped pomatumed hair was all the fashion). 'You are a hair-dresser, then?' 'What! said he, do you take me for a barber?'
'I beg your pardon, sir, but I inferred it from what you said. If I mistook you, may I take the liberty to ask what you are, then?'
'Why, I sometimes brush a gentlman's coat, or hat, and sometimes adjust a cravat.'
'Oh, you are a valet, then, to some nobleman?'
'A valet! Indeed, sir, I am not. I am not a servant,--to be sure, I make coats and waistcoats for gentlemen.'
'Oh, you are a tailor?'
'Tailor! Do I look like a tailor? I assure you, I never handled a goose, other than a roasted one.'
By this time they were all in a roar. 'What the devil are you, then?' said one.
'I'll tell you,' said Stuart. 'Be assured all I have said is literally true. I dress hair, brush hats and coats, adjust a cravat, and make coats, waistcoats and breeches, and likewise boots and shoes, at your service.'
'Oh, a boot and shoe maker after all!'
'Guess again, gentlemen; I never handle boots or shoes but for my own feet and legs, yet all I have told you is true.'
'We may as well give up guessing.'
After checking his laughter, and pumping up a fresh flow of spirits by a large pinch of snuff, he said to them very gravely: 'Now gentlemen, I will not play the fool with you any longer, but will tell you, upon my honor as a gentleman, my bona fide profession. I get my bread by making faces.' He then screwed his countenance, and twisted the lineaments of his visage in a manner such as Samuel Foote or Charles Mathews might have envied. When his companions, after loud peals of laughter, had composed themselves, each took credit to himself for having all the while suspected that the gentleman belonged to the theatre, and they all knew he must be a comedian by profession; when, to their utter surprise, he assured them that he was never on the stage, and very rarely saw the inside of a play-house, or any similar place of amusement. They now all looked at each other in blank astonishment.
Before parting, Stuart said to his companions: 'Gentleman, you will find that all I have said of my vaious employments is comprised in these words; I am a portrait painter."

"While taking a parting glass at the inn, they begged leave to inquire of their pleasant companion in what part of England he was born; he told them he was not born in England, Wales, Ireland, or Scotland. Here was another puzzle for John Bull.
'Where then?'
'I was born in Narragansett.'
"Where's that?'
'Six miles from Pottawoone, and ten miles from Poppasquash, and about four miles from Conanicut, and not far from the spot where the famous battle with the warlike Pequots was fought.'
'In what part of the East Indies is that, sir?'
'East Indies, my dear sir! it is in the State of Rhode Island, between Massachusetts and Connecticut River!' "

"as related by Dr. Waterhouse, who probably had it direct from Stuart." Published in The Life and Works of Gilbert Stuart by George Mason, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1894, p 60-61

1 comment:

emikk said...

He was areal stinker back then, wasn't he.

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