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Title: Homer Martin - A Reminiscence
Author: Martin, Elizabeth Gilbert
Language: English
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[Illustration: HOMER MARTIN

From a photograph taken in England in 1892]




    OCTOBER 28, 1836—FEBRUARY 12, 1897


    Copyright, 1904, by WILLIAM MACBETH



    PORTRAIT OF HOMER MARTIN         _Frontispiece_

                                       FACING PAGE

    NORMANDY TREES                               6

    THE DUNES                                   12

    ON THE HUDSON                               18

    BLOSSOMING TREES                            24

    THE HAUNTED HOUSE                           28

    THE CRIQUEBŒUF CHURCH                       32

    GOLDEN SANDS                                36

    ON THE SEINE (“HARP OF THE WINDS”)          40

    TREES NEAR VILLERVILLE                      46

    CAPE TRINITY                                52

    A NEWPORT LANDSCAPE                         56

The publisher cordially thanks the friends who kindly lent the pictures
which have been reproduced to illustrate these pages.


During the last year I have more than once been told that an
authoritative biographical sketch of my husband ought to be written
and I have never felt inclined to dispute the statement as an abstract
proposition. But when it is followed by the direct question: “Who so
capable of writing it as you?” the names of one or two of his personal
friends inevitably present themselves as belonging to practised writers
and connoisseurs of art, who might, perhaps, need the aid of dates or
facts I could supply, but who, in more essential respects, would be
altogether better equipped for the task. Homer Martin was so intensely
masculine, so preëminently a man’s man, that he must necessarily have
escaped thorough comprehension by any woman. And this, I think, is the
chief reason why I have so long delayed, why I am even now inclined to
shirk altogether, the fulfilment of my reluctant promise to put on paper
some of my memories of the years we spent together.

The question made me smile when it was propounded more than a year ago,
but since then it has often made me ponder. Doubtless no one else has had
so long and intimate an acquaintance with various phases of his character
and circumstances; doubtless, too, it was not merely as an artist that
he commanded attention and attracted life-long friends. Yet I suppose
it must be solely in this character that he appeals to the majority of
those who are now attaining to a tardy appreciation of his achievement
as a whole. It is not in my power to hasten that. When I first met him
my ignorance of art—at any rate on its pictorial side—was dense; and
if it has been somewhat mitigated since, that result is due solely to
him and largely to his own works. Is not this tantamount to expressing
my conviction that those who wish to increase their knowledge of Homer
Martin as an artist can do so much more satisfactorily by studying the
landscapes into which he has put as much of his best self as any man
could part with and live, than by reading anything I find it possible to
say about him? Aspects of external nature are inextricably blended in
these with the mind, moods, and personality of the painter. Years before
he had quite succeeded in mastering his material, I remember the late
John Richard Dennett saying of them: “Martin’s landscapes look as if no
one but God and himself had ever seen the places.” There is an austerity,
a remoteness, a certain savagery in even the sunniest and most peaceful
of them, which were also in him, and an instinctive perception of which
had made me say to him in the very earliest days of our acquaintance that
he reminded me of Ishmael. They formed, I think, the substratum of his
personality. Needless to add, for those who knew him even slightly, that
he had other phases. Though the human verb in him was one and singular,
its moods were many.

                                                ELIZABETH GILBERT MARTIN.




Homer Dodge Martin, fourth child and youngest son of Homer Martin and
Sarah Dodge, was born in Albany, N. Y., in a house on Park Street,
October 28, 1836. That was my own native city, but although we must
have lived for years in the same neighborhood, he was past twenty-two
and I in my twenty-first year when we first became acquainted. But for
the anti-slavery movement which split the Methodist body first into two
great sections and then into minor subdivisions, we might have met much
earlier, for, in our childhood, our parents had attended the same place
of worship.

What I know, therefore, about his early years I learned chiefly from
his mother. He was not of a reminiscent habit as a rule, and his
recollections of childhood were not always pleasant. His father was
one of the most upright and altogether the mildest-tempered of all the
men that I have met. His mother was a woman of strong but uncultivated
mind, keen wit, incisive speech and arbitrary will, from whom her son
derived many of his own characteristics, including his innate bent toward
pictorial expression. In her that inclination never took any but the
crudest shape, but she had beyond all peradventure the instinct which
under more propitious circumstances would have displayed itself more
convincingly. Perhaps the very cramping of it in her was the cause of its
appearance at so preternaturally early an age in him. She more than once
told me that he began to draw as soon as he could hold a pencil, and that
from his twentieth month to provide him with one and a piece of blank
paper was the surest means of quieting his most turbulent outbreaks.
Years afterward, not long before our marriage, his first schoolmistress
sent me a spirited drawing of a horse which she said he had made for her
when not more than five years old.

This drawing was produced in one of the Albany ward schools, and it
pretty accurately foreshadowed all that he was to accomplish in them
thereafter. I doubt if he ever took kindly to lessons obviously given.
Even in painting, his sole direct tuition was imparted by James Hart
and extended over two weeks only. What he needed, what suited him, he
then and always took in, so to say, through his pores, absorbing what
he required, leaving other things untouched, and wrestling unaided with
his personal problems. Greatly to his own after regret, his ordinary
schooling ended when he was thirteen. But at the time his aversion
to school-books and school routine dovetailed to a marvel with the
persuasion of his relatives that it was time for him to begin earning his
own livelihood. He once told me that his school-hours had been largely
spent in looking through the windows at the Greenbush hills on the other
side of the Hudson, and in longing for the time to come when he could go
over there in the horse-boat with paper and pencil to record a nearer

Nevertheless, it was only for school-books as such that he had an
intimate aversion. In other lines all was fish that came to his net. How
he obtained it I do not know, but a copy of Volney’s “Ruins” which he
read at this period colored his opinions in a way that he afterward found
reason to regret. But at the time it made him an irreverent, amused, and
precocious critic of the talk he heard at Conference-time, when itinerant
ministers thronged the family board.

[Illustration: NORMANDY TREES

Reproduced from the original painting in the Wilstach Collection,

Poetry of certain kinds attracted him throughout his life, and verse that
greatly pleased him would stamp itself indelibly on his memory. Once in
a great while, almost to the last, I could persuade him to repeat to
me Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” with a lingering enunciation and a
melancholy charm of accent which a few of his most intimate friends may
likewise recall. I especially remember one night in Villerville, when
we were alone out-of-doors in the late moonlight, awaiting in vain the
advent of a nightingale said to have been heard in the neighborhood, that
he more than compensated me for its absence by reciting the whole of the
same poet’s lines to that “light-wingèd Dryad of the trees.” Reciting,
I say, but the word is ill chosen. It was rather a barely audible
yet perfectly distinct breathing out of the ineffable melancholy and
remoteness of those perfect lines.

Homer was transferred to his father’s carpenter shop on leaving school;
but even that most patient of men came at last to the reluctant
conclusion that the long, slender fingers which could not refrain from
ornamenting smoothly planed boards with irrelevant trees and mountains
were of no use at all in handling saws and chisels. A shopkeeper with
whom he was next placed as clerk, much against the boy’s own will,
soon discharged him for incorrigible—perhaps premeditated—rudeness to
customers. One of these, who was a young cleric in the Episcopalian
Seminary in Ninth Avenue, New York City, when he told me the story,
described in words too graphic to quote, the manner in which, as a child,
he had once been driven out of the shop and all memory of what he was
sent for out of his mind, by the thunderous scowl and wrath-freighted
tone and terms in which Homer inquired what he wanted.

He was next introduced into the architect’s office of a relative, whence
he was eliminated, partly because his cousin thought the inevitable
landscapes that decorated his plans totally superfluous, but also on
account of Homer’s congenital inability to see perpendicular lines
distinctly. I think I never saw him draw an upright of any sort without
first laying his paper or canvas on its side. When the Civil War broke
out, shortly before our marriage, and he presented himself for the draft,
it was this defect of vision which caused the examiners to reject him.

Every attempt at harnessing him to a beaten track of obvious utility and
present productiveness having terminated disastrously, from the paternal
point of view, E. D. Palmer, the Albany sculptor, finally succeeded in
persuading the elder Homer Martin that his son’s talent and inclination
for art were too marked and exclusive to permit of his success in any
other pursuit. Thenceforward—he was perhaps sixteen—he was left free to
follow the bent of his genius. I do not know where he painted at first;
perhaps at home. Later on, he had a studio in the old Museum Building,
at the junction of State Street and Broadway. James Hart had previously
occupied it, and it was probably there that for a fortnight he acted as
Homer’s instructor.

There were other painters in Albany at the time: William Hart, George
Boughton, Edward Gay, perhaps one or two others, with all of whom he was
intimate and whose studios he frequented. Boughton went abroad not long
after, and, when he was in France, once wrote to Launt Thompson in most
enthusiastic terms concerning the landscapes of Corot, whose great vogue
had hardly yet begun, but with whose work Boughton was at once enchanted.
And, in describing it, he remarked that “if Homer Martin had been his
pupil he could hardly paint more like him.” It was not until long years
after that Thompson had the grace to repeat the observation to Homer, and
when at last he did so, the only reply he got was: “Why did you not tell
me that years ago, when it would have been of some service to me?” For
Homer, too, was one of the Corot worshipers from the first.

It was in the Museum studio that I first saw Homer Martin. It was not
until long afterward that I learned—and not from him—that having seen
me in the street, he deliberately sought acquaintance with my eldest
brother, like himself a lover of music and a frequenter of the local
Philharmonic Society. An invitation to visit the studio and bring his
sisters soon followed. To the end of his days, I suppose, Homer had
reticences of that sort with me. At the time I speak of he was already
locally known as a colorist of no mean capacity and a man of genius. I
had heard his name, but only in connection with that of a dear friend and
schoolmate of my own, a beautiful, golden-haired little creature, with
a voice as delightful as her person, whom he was said to be following
everywhere she went. They never met until after our marriage, which
preceded her own.

I went one afternoon with my brother to see his pictures and his studio.
The latter struck me as the most untidy room I had ever entered. I
remember his rushing to throw things behind a large screen. I was not
used to paintings. Such as I had seen had seemed to me mere daubs to
which any good engraving would be altogether preferable. But on that
afternoon there was a large unfinished landscape on the easel, which
even to my unpractised eye conveyed the promise of beauty. It was a
commission, painted for a Mr. Thomas of Albany, if I do not mistake.
There were two great boulders lifting their heads out of a shallow
foreground brook, and one day, much later, when I was there, he painted
his own initials on one of them and mine on the other, but—as was always
his habit when he remembered to sign his pictures at all—in tints
differing so slightly from that of the surface on which he inscribed
them as to be scarcely distinguishable from it.

[Illustration: THE DUNES

Reproduced from the original water color in the collection of Mr. Wm.

We were married in my father’s house during the first year of the Civil
War, on the twenty-fifth of June, 1861, and went off the same day to
Twin Lakes, Connecticut. I still have the first sketch in oils which he
made out-of-doors that season: a barley-field, meadow land in the middle
distance, gray-green trees beyond. Two or three brown boulders, others
merely penciled in, lie on the left of the foreground. The delicate heads
of grain are swaying in a light breeze. Perhaps he did not do much in
the way of visible work that summer. At all events, I do not now recall
any. But in some subsequent winter he embodied his recollections of the
place and time in a delightful landscape. All his life long, I think, his
results were arrived at more by means of a slow, only half deliberate
absorption when out-of-doors than by a wilful effort to record them at
the time. Yet the one exception to that statement which I distinctly
recall is a very great one: the Westchester Hills, which is thought by
many to be his most perfect landscape. It was painted entirely _en plein
air_, and many a day I sat close by, reading aloud or knitting while it
was in progress. He never got so much as an offer for it, nor was it
until more than two years after his death that a purchaser was found
sufficiently venturesome to end a long hesitation by paying $1,000 to
obtain it. He was presently rewarded for his temerity, I am happy to
say, for when he put it up at auction a few months later, it brought him
$4,750. The second purchaser was still more fortunate, reselling it for

Neither of us ever revisited Twin Lakes. Later in the season we went to
the farmhouse of Mr. Thaddeus Dewey, near Fort Ann, N. Y., where we
remained until late in the autumn.

       *       *       *       *       *

My husband retained his Albany studio until the winter of 1862-63, when
he went to New York and for some months painted in the studio of Mr.
James Smillie. It could hardly have been earlier than the winter of
1864-65 that after many efforts he succeeded in finding an empty studio
in the Tenth Street Studio Building—a little, skylighted room on the
top corridor which he occupied continuously until he resigned it before
sailing for England the second time in the fall of 1881. His forty-fifth
birthday came while he was on shipboard. I followed him to London in the
succeeding June.

His nearest neighbors in the Studio Building for many years were Sanford
R. Gifford, Richard Hubbard, C. C. Griswold, and J. G. Brown. Jervis
McEntee and his charming wife were on the corridor next below; so was
Julian Scott. Eastman Johnson and Launt Thompson were on the ground
floor. I think that John La Farge must have come a little later. At any
rate, I do not remember him before the winter of 1867-68. Failing, as
often happened, to find my husband in his own studio, I went one day to
that of Mr. La Farge on the same corridor in search of him. He was not
there either, but I still retain a very distinct recollection of Mr. La
Farge, face and characteristic attitude of doubtful welcome for intruders
quickly changing as he divined my identity, asked me to enter, and so
began a friendship still unbroken. Of course, Homer had talked a good
deal to me about him. Certain questions which had been pressing on my
mind with increasing persistence ever since my father’s death in 1866,
very speedily found expression in a sort of personal catechism concerning
his hereditary faith which he, perhaps, may likewise recall.

We were fairly prosperous in those early years, or might have been if we
had been constituted differently. “There is much virtue in If.” Homer’s
landscapes were often commissioned, and seldom remained long on his
easel in any case after they were finished. But it was never possible
to count on any definite term as that of their probable completion. He
was a man of many moods, and that one of them in which he could paint
and be satisfied after a fashion with what he painted, was the most
irregular and uncertain of them all. He did not possess his genius but
was possessed by it. His fallow periods were many. When they passed away,
the first sign that seeds had begun to sprout again was often the entire
scraping out of a landscape that to others had seemed to need only the
final touches. I asked him once in later years, at a time when there was
every need for exertion were it possible, why he did not paint. It was in
1881. “I cannot paint,” said he. “I do not know where the impulse comes
from, nor why it stays away. All I know is that when it comes I can do
nothing else but paint; when it goes I can do nothing but dawdle.” That
was absolutely true. It was also very inconvenient.

But in that earlier period with which I am still concerned, his pictures
for years brought him an income which averaged between two and three
thousand dollars, sometimes more than that. It was war-time and after.
Prices were high for everything. Money came at irregular intervals, often
so prolonged that, when it did come, it had to be chiefly employed in
the process he once described as “mopping up debts;” a kind of industry
to which he found me persistently addicted. Neither of us took as much
thought for the morrow as perhaps we might have done had not the morrows
themselves seemed so uncertain a quantity. Life used to present itself
to me at that time as a narrow path leading between precipices, across
turbulent brooks, over stones that were slippery as well as sharp, and
whose end was nowhere in sight. In fact, it never did become visible
until, turning at some unexpected angle, our cul-de-sac would prove to
have had a hidden outlet after all. Perhaps this was why our frequently
recurring difficulties troubled us more and taught us less than they
might have done under different circumstances. In the complex of life we
ourselves were circumstances. Once, in later years, he casually remarked
that I had never given him a chance to get tired of me, because he never
knew what I would do next. Can any one give what one has not got?

[Illustration: ON THE HUDSON

Reproduced from the original painting through the courtesy of John M.
Robertson, Esq.]

Meantime, we found life entertaining as well as perplexing and difficult.
Our little boys were healthy, intelligent and good-tempered. Homer’s
work, when he could once settle down to it, was always able to divert
his mind from every other preoccupation. I had been writing book reviews
occasionally ever since the early spring of 1861 for the “Leader,” to
which paper an article of mine concerning Mrs. Rebecca Harding Davis’s
first novel had been sent under a pseudonym by the brother I have
already referred to, who was a friend of that eccentric genius, Henry
Clapp. Later on, I wrote once in a while for the “Round Table,” and,
after some date in 1866, when Auerbach’s “On the Heights” was sent me
from the “Nation” editorial rooms for review, pretty steadily for that
periodical. Our friends were interesting to both of us. If Homer ever
“talked shop,” at least I never heard him, and the men whose company
he instinctively sought were never painters; or, since I must make an
exception in the case of John La Farge, they were never merely that. He
had a great capacity for love, and the two men whom he loved best were
critics in the large sense: John Richard Dennett, from the first time
they met until his untimely death in 1874; and William C. Brownell from
that period, or perhaps before it, until the end.

Painting was his own sole means of adequate expression. Perhaps I ought
not to say that. I may not be an adequate judge, and certainly I have
heard great things about his reputation as a talker at the Century
Club. But to me, from first to last, he never talked about impersonal
subjects—perhaps because he could not consider anything that affected
me in a purely impersonal light. I always read aloud to him a great
deal, but the books and topics which interested me most after 1870
never interested him at all. Until then we had both been turning our
intellectual searchlights in every conceivable intellectual direction. At
that period mine steadied on its proper centre and veered no more. But to
the very end I continued to read to him whatever he desired to hear.

Nevertheless, even though he was too many-sided not to find issue in more
than one direction, his pictures are the only permanent result of his
imperative need for self-expression. He always detested what he called
literary pictures—pictures, that is, that told or tried to tell a story.
And yet I think it true to say that if he is supreme as a colorist it is
largely because color was to him an instrument, not an end. He used it
as a poet uses words. He made it reflect not so much what is obvious in
nature as that duplex image into which external nature fused itself with
him, who was also a part of nature. To me, this is what individualizes
his pictures. I think it impossible to mistake them. When he was in
England the second time, I went to the art rooms of Mr. Lanthier, whom
I had authorized to obtain from William Schaus a landscape I had never
seen, and which had been for some months tucked away in an upper room
inaccessible to visitors. I, at least, had been refused a sight of it
when I went to the Schaus gallery for that purpose. The attendant told
me they did not exhibit American pictures. Lanthier obtained possession
of it, and when I saw it I remarked that, as usual, it was unsigned.
“Unsigned!” protested he. “It is signed from the top of the canvas to the
bottom. No one in the world could have painted it but Homer Martin.” He
sold it a few days later to Mr. Sidney de Kay, whose family, I believe,
still possesses it.

Homer went abroad for the first time in 1876, in company with the late
Dr. Jacob S. Mosher, an Albany friend of both of us since before our
marriage, and at that period quarantine physician of the port of New
York. They went to France and Holland, perhaps to Belgium, as well as
to England. How far they penetrated into France I do not remember, but
I do recall—though when Mr. Charles de Kay wrote to ask the question
some three years since I had forgotten—that they visited Barbizon and
probably some of the painters whose classic ground it was, and that
Homer made some pencilings both there and at Saint-Cloud. They were
absent for some considerable time, and it was at this period that he made
acquaintance with the late James McNeill Whistler.

He sailed for England the second time in October, 1881, and I joined him
in London early in the next July. On the “glorious Fourth” we visited
Mr. Whistler’s studio, where Homer had occasionally painted. I think it
must have been there that he painted, late in the previous autumn, a
delightful Newport landscape which was bought at the Artist Fund sale of
that season by Mr. Lanthier for Mr. Charles de Kay. Whistler’s beautiful
portrait of his mother—which I afterward saw in Paris at the Salon—was
on the easel, and it is the only one of his pictures which I distinctly
recollect. There were some “nocturnes” on the walls, and they were
doubtless worth remembering. But I never went there again, and on this
occasion my attention was riveted by the artist and his surroundings,
alike spectacular and bizarre, the man grotesque as a caricature in
attitude and aspect, the rooms all pale blue and lemon-yellow, even
to the many vases and the flowers therein contained. He said a good
many things, not one of which was I able to recall, so lost was I in
contemplation of the general oddity of him and his chosen environment.
“What did you think of him?” asked Homer after we came away. “Why didn’t
you talk? You never said a thing.” “I was afraid to open my lips,” said
I, “lest I should involuntarily tell him to shake that feather out of
his hair. He must have had his head buried in a pillow before we went
in.” “I wish you had!” said he with a laugh. “That is Jimmy’s feather. He
delights in having it noticed.” I had observed that he bowed profoundly
on our introduction and so brought it into staring evidence; but I could
scarcely believe, even on testimony, that the premeditated effect was
produced by a quite unpremeditated lock of gray hair.


Reproduced from the original painting through the courtesy of Mrs.
Charles O. Gates]

The especial occasion for this second visit to England was the making
of some drawings illustrative of places mentioned in the novels of
Thackeray and George Eliot. He had been there for some months and they
were hardly more than begun, but after I came he worked at them pretty
steadily. It was an undertaking which he did not at all enjoy, but which
circumstances had made imperative. When he first told me of it in the
previous summer, he made it evident that he thought such a commission
derogatory to his dignity as a painter. Whether it was that his pictures
were selling less readily, or because the painting mood came with less
imperative frequency, I do not know, but he was unusually despondent. The
idea of the voyage was pleasant in itself. One of his never fulfilled
longings was to cross the ocean in a sailing vessel. His Artist Fund
picture was nearly due and could be painted on the other side; he thought
the price of the drawings would pay all his other expenses. And when an
unexpected stroke of good fortune made it possible for me to join him,
his sky cleared up. I do not remember whether the English drawings were
successful; I do know that they were tardy in reaching the New York
office of The Century Company, for whose magazine they had been destined,
and that when, in the ensuing year, he sent the same publishers a set of
Villerville drawings, accompanied by a sketch he had suggested my writing
about that delightful haunt of painters, Mr. Gilder wrote me, after some
delay, that they had been much interested in my article, but that their
art department was not satisfied with the drawings. It was subsequently
published in the “Catholic World,” unaccompanied by the illustrations,
that magazine not then having begun to produce any.

In October of that year, the completion of the last drawing coincided
with the arrival in London of an old New York friend, the late Mr. Bryant
Godwin, and an invitation to spend some weeks in Normandy with the family
of another, W. J. Hennessy, the well-known artist and illustrator. There
was no further reason for delay in England, and the three of us crossed
the Channel one night by the Southampton boat. I have never forgotten
my first sight of the French shore next morning. “I don’t wonder now at
Rousseau’s color,” I said to Homer; “how could he help it?”

It had been our intention to return to New York after a brief visit
with the Hennessys, who had been living for years in a picturesque and
pleasant way at Pennedepie, an agricultural hamlet on the road between
Honfleur and Trouville, where they occupied a roomy and quaintly
furnished old manor just opposite the village church. But we found the
place, the people, and the neighboring views alike delightful, and when
news arrived, early in our stay, of a considerable sum to his credit
which had been lying for some months uncalled for at the American
Exchange, London, where it had been sent to his first address by Mr.
James Stillman, Homer decided on remaining in Normandy. To have returned
to New York just then would have been a distinct loss to both of us in
many ways. I look back on the time we spent in Villerville as the most
tranquil and satisfactory period of our life together.

That little fishing village, dominated by the tower of a church erected
when the eleventh century was young, in thanksgiving because the
foreboded end of the world had not come in the year 1000, lies about
midway between Honfleur and Trouville, at an easy walk from Pennedepie.
Equidistant from either place stands the ivy-grown church of Criquebœuf,
beloved of artists, and made by Homer the theme of one of his best
pictures. In the same grassy enclosure on the right of the pond into
which this old church dips its foot, he found two more delightful
subjects. One of them is embodied on one of his last canvases, the
“Normandy Farm,” now owned, I believe, by Mr. Bloomingdale of New York.
It was bought in the first place by Mr. W. T. Evans, a week or so before
my husband’s death. The other, a view of a deserted manor, showing dimly
through a veil of ghostly trees, which Mrs. Hennessy declared ought to be
called “The Haunted House,” was finished in New York after his return for
an early friend, Dr. D. M. Stimson, to whom for many years he had been
greatly attached. I think it was exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair.

[Illustration: THE HAUNTED HOUSE

Reproduced from the original painting through the courtesy of Dr. D. M.

Villerville had for years been thronged in summer and fall by painters,
French, English, and American; perhaps it is so still. Guillemet had been
there for twenty consecutive seasons; Duez had built himself a house and
studio with a Norman tower. Stanley Reinhart came both summers while we
were there, with that most sweet wife of his and their pretty little
children. The Forbes-Robertsons had a little villa for a while,—the
parents, that is, and Miss Frances, then a girl of sixteen; and the
actor son must have spent some considerable part of his vacation with
them, for I recall a rather animated discussion we had one night, pacing
up and down the _estacade_ in the moonlight, when he declaimed in so
ardent a fashion about the intrinsic and extrinsic glories of England,
that a mere sense of equilibrium made the interjection of a “What about
Ireland? What about India?” seem to me inevitable. “Oh! unjust, if you
insist,” said he. “But I am an Englishman—Scotch as a matter of fact,
I suppose. And you must admit that a man is bound to stand up for his
country, right or wrong.” It is a sentiment I have never been able to
understand. Some of us, I suppose, are born cosmopolitans, or else look
forward to “an abiding city wherein dwelleth justice,” since not even
patriotism can insist that it has a local abiding place here.

And that reminds me of another incident belonging to the winter
time, when, as there was not an English-speaking soul in the entire
neighborhood except ourselves, our landlord one day brought me in
despair a lady whose vernacular it was, accompanied by a French _bonne_
and two little children as apple-faced and ruddy as Polly Toodles’
babies. She explained that she was the wife of a major in the English
army, and had but just returned with him from India; also, that while
there she had read such a glowing description of the beauties of
Villerville in a copy of “The Queen,” that she had determined to examine
them for herself. I did what I could for her in the way of finding a
furnished apartment, and before they had removed to it, went one morning
to return her call at one of the hotels. I found her and the major at
a late breakfast, with the English newspapers lying about. The period
antedated Mr. Joseph Chamberlain’s change of his political coat, the
Irish question was well to the front, and my new acquaintances spoke
English with one of the most sonorous brogues that had ever greeted my
ear. Here was a case in which my own sympathies and the presumable ones
of my audience seemed naturally to invite a moderate expression of views
on a current topic. Dead silence fell for a moment after I had stopped
speaking. Then the major said with an accent that positively projected:
“Excuse me, but I am English: that is to say, I am Irish, _but of the
landlord class_!” It was simply a matter of the point of view.

It was this question of the seasons, I think, which chiefly necessitated
my learning the language which was afterward of so much use to both of us
up to the very end. It also necessitated a more incessant companionship
than at any period was ever possible in the city of the Century Club. It
was easy to pick up French enough to carry on such intercourse as was
absolutely necessary with the people about us, but my serious study of
it was undertaken in the first place in order that I might continue to
read aloud to Homer in the evenings after the available supply of English
novels and periodicals had been exhausted. I began with About’s “Roi
des Montagnes,” my method being to read a sentence to accustom his ear
and my tongue to the unfamiliar sounds, and forthwith to translate it
literally. Of course, I had teachers, one of whom had taught this, her
native language, in a London private school, while a second was at the
time professor of English in the College of Honfleur. Curious English it
must have been! But he was praiseworthily anxious to increase his own
knowledge as well as mine. But the best one of the three was a delightful
woman, Mademoiselle Lemonnier, the village postmistress, who did not know
a word of English although her mother had been an Englishwoman. She was
very well read and intelligent as well as companionable and kindly. I had
applied to her, when my first instructress found it impossible to come
any longer, to find me another. We already knew each other pretty well,
and when she said, “If you will let me teach you _for love_, I will do it
myself, but if you insist on paying, I will inquire for some one else,”
it was simply a new version of Hobson’s choice. I could not have done
better in any case. When Homer went abroad for the last time, he made a
point of crossing the Channel to visit Mademoiselle Lemonnier. Slender
as were their means of communication, they had managed to understand and
sympathize with each other very completely, a strong sense of humor on
either side helping greatly to that consummation.


Reproduced from the original drawing through the courtesy of Dr. D. M.

We lived in Villerville for nineteen months. An excellent studio with
two adjacent rooms had been arranged for us before our arrival, and we
lunched and dined at Madame Cornu’s hotel, providing our breakfast in our
own quarters. A quaint old English priest whom I knew in London, and who
had to the full the hereditary prejudice against “Johnny Crapaud,” had
warned me not merely of what he believed to be the prevalent Jansenism
which would prevent so frequent an approach to the sacraments as I had
been accustomed to, but against the cheating, the conscienceless thievery
to which he assured me we would be subjected on all sides. “I would not
spend a farthing in France!” said he. Well, in Paris, perhaps, though
I had no personal experience of it even there. But in Villerville, and
afterward in Honfleur, there was absolutely no exception to the perfect
cordiality, absolute trust, and gentle politeness which greeted us on all
sides. I have never met anything like it elsewhere save in the parish
of the Paulist Fathers in New York. I speak from what may be called
exhaustive knowledge, since there was a period, before we left the former
place, when we were out of money for so long that when at last we were
able to settle Madame Cornu’s bill it amounted to the considerable sum
of two thousand francs. I had asked her some time previously if she
were not in need of it, but only to receive the smiling answer: “When
Madame pleases. We are neither of us robbers.” So in Honfleur, where,
after we had been domiciled for a month or so, and had found our fresh
bread and rolls on the kitchen-window ledge every morning, I went to the
baker to inquire for and settle his account. “But, Madame,” objected
the fresh-cheeked young woman in charge, “we have kept no account. Does
not Madame know how much it is herself?” “Why, yes,” said I; “you have
brought so much for so many days at such a price.” “_C’est ça_” she
smiled. “Whatever Madame says.” And this, again, reminds me of Madame
Cornu and her remarkable bill. There had been a price set in the first
place of so much a day for our two meals, which were always abundant and
well-cooked. I knew the dates and was ready with the exact sum. But when
my tally was placed beside her bill there was a discrepancy arising from
the fact that Homer would sometimes be absent from the midday meal by
reason of a sketching excursion or something of the sort, and she was
never notified beforehand. Yet on every such occasion a deduction had
been scrupulously made. Such an experience never befell us elsewhere.

To Homer also Villerville was as delightful as any place could be while
lacking that social intercourse with men of brains and cultivation
which was always his chief pleasure and relaxation. Years afterward,
Mr. Brownell said one evening when we were all dining together in those
pleasant apartments of theirs on Fifty-sixth Street, that the three weeks
which he and his wife had spent there with us seemed to him more like his
idea of heaven than anything he remembered. And he asked me whether I
would not like to live it all over again. In retrospect, yes; as I have
just been proving. But, were it possible in reality? O no! Never have I
seen a day that has tempted me to say to it: “Stay, thou art fair!”

[Illustration: GOLDEN SANDS

Reproduced from the original painting through the courtesy of Mrs. Wm.

Our sojourn in Villerville was a particularly important one for both of
us, but in different ways. For him it was a period of absorption rather
than of production, while, on that very account, exactly the reverse
process went on in me. I have already said it was at his suggestion
that I accompanied his Villerville drawings with an article which, Mr.
Brownell afterward wrote me, was like “a Martin landscape put into
words.” Homer perhaps thought so himself, for he had already said: “I see
that you can paint with words. I wonder if you can set people in action.
Why not try?” Whereupon I made a character sketch which Mr. Alden, of
“Harper’s Magazine,” declined because “it was too painful,” but which
the then editor of “Lippincott’s”—I think his name was Kirk—found too
short, and wrote me that if I would lengthen it out so that it should
bear less resemblance to a truncated cone, he would be glad to avail
himself of it. Whereupon I recalled it, fished up my heroine out of an
earthquake on the island of Capri which I had allowed to swallow her, but
whom I now unearthed, none the worse except in the matter of a broken
wrist,—I think it was a wrist,—and in a month or so received a very
fair-sized check for the tale of her experiences.

The same sort of exterior pressure, not any interior need of expression,
was what led to the production of a tale which ran for eighteen months
as a serial in the “Catholic World” under the title of “Katharine,” and
during that period provided for our necessary expenditures. Henry Holt
republished it with a new name which he himself suggested. I liked the
first one better, but it made too little difference to me to make it
worth while to adhere to my own views. Mr. Kirk, by the way, had also
renamed my sketch: that seems to be a privilege with literary sponsors,
the literary parent not being present. Almost an entire chapter was also
eliminated from the book, because the reader, whose name I never knew,
objected to it on the ground that it showed too plainly that “Mrs. Martin
really believed” that a certain tenet of her faith was absolutely true.

I began a second story on the heels of this one, but when it had run to
some thirty thousand words, Homer objected to it as certain to split upon
the same dogmatic rock as its predecessor, and I laid it aside for a
third one which attained the same proportions and pleased every one who
then or thereafter read it better than either of its predecessors. But it
had the misfortune of not specially interesting me; and yet there was a
baby in it with the second sight, who bade fair to develop into something
“mystic, wonderful,” in course of time, if not interfered with. Meantime,
the imperative need for production on my part having ended, I put the
unfinished manuscript in the fire some three years ago. The second one I
completed after our return to New York, and it was published under the
title of “John Van Alstyne’s Factory,” in the “Catholic World.”

To Homer our life in France was chiefly seed-time. There germinated
his “Low Tide at Villerville,” the “Honfleur Lights,” the “Criquebœuf
Church,” the “Normandy Trees,” the “Normandy Farm,” the “Sun Worshipers,”
and the landscape known in the Metropolitan Gallery of New York, where
it now hangs, as a “View on the Seine,”—which, in strictness, it is
not,—but for which his own title was “The Harp of the Winds.” I had
asked him what he meant to call it, and, with his characteristic aversion
to putting his deeper sentiments into words, he answered that he supposed
it would seem too sentimental to call it by the name I have just given,
but that was what it meant to him, for he had been thinking of music all
the while he was painting it. And this reminds me of a commission given
him by a music-lover among his friends during our early days in New York
to “paint a Beethoven symphony” for him. He did it, too, and to the
utmost satisfaction of its possessor.


Reproduced from the original painting in the Metropolitan Museum, New

He used to carry about with him in those days a pocket sketch-book in
which he noted his impressions in water-color. Mr. Brownell must remember
it, and so, I think, must Mr. Russell Sturgis, for, being at our rooms
during my husband’s last sojourn on the other side of the Atlantic, when
he was known to be afflicted with an incurable malady, he said to me that
if Homer’s things were ever put up for sale, he would like to become
the purchaser of this book. My husband never got over his chagrin when
it became evident that it must have fallen a prey to some unscrupulous
packer of our household goods at the time when he concluded to follow
me to St. Paul, in June, 1893. He had a suspicion that it might have
found its way to a pawnbroker, and never gave up hoping for its ultimate
recovery. It had in it some delightful miniature bits of character and

It was in Villerville also that he began the “Sand Dunes on Lake
Ontario,” now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, with the
intention of sending it to the Salon. But before it was completed he got
into one of those hobbles which were not uncommon in his experience, when
the more he tried to hurry the less he was in reality accomplishing. It
was in no condition to be seen when the last day for sending came, as we
both agreed, yet he sent it. Naturally enough, it was rejected. I think
that result surprised him less than it momentarily annoyed him. He put
the canvas aside and for months never touched it. But one day during the
next season, while he was painting on it, a French landscapist and his
wife came to call upon us. I forget his name. He studied it in silence
for a long time. Then turning to me, he said: “Your husband’s work
reminds me strongly of that of Pointelin. He must send this canvas to the
next Salon.” “It has been there once,” said I, “and the jury rejected
it,” adding, because of his evident surprise, “It was not then in its
present condition.” “Nevertheless,” he replied, “I cannot understand a
French jury rejecting such a picture in any state in which Mr. Martin
would have sent it in at all.”

I do not remember just why we removed from Villerville. Perhaps because
Homer was able to obtain in Honfleur a roomy and well-lighted studio
apart from our dwelling-place, an arrangement which he always preferred.
The little city from which William the Norman set out on his conquering
expedition in 1066 had not the picturesque charm of the village we
left, but possessed compensating features in the way of English and
American neighbors. Our whole sojourn in France was, in fact, delightful,
and perhaps even more so to me than to my husband. Through my mother
there was a good deal of French blood in my veins, and in its ancestral
environment it throbbed with a rhythmic atavism unknown elsewhere to my

I think that notwithstanding the excellent lighting arrangements of his
studio, my husband did not complete much work in Honfleur. “The Mussel
Gatherers,” to me one of the most impressive of his later canvases,
was finished there, and though I do not recall another for the Artist
Fund Sale, I suppose there must have been one. A never-completed studio
interior with a portrait of me, and reproductions in miniature of the
studies hanging on the walls; still another small portrait, a number of
panels, one of which, “Wild Cherry Trees,” was in the Clarke Sale in
1897, and various water-colors belong likewise to this period. Meanwhile
his note-books were filling up with material for future use.

I sailed for New York at the end of August, 1886, and Homer, who had
remained to finish some of the things I have just named, followed
me three months later, arriving December 12th of that year. In the
following spring he secured one of the studios in Fifty-fifth Street,
having previously utilized for that purpose a room with a north light
in an apartment we had in Sixty-third Street. In his more convenient
quarters he painted a few great pictures, among them the “Low Tide at
Villerville,” the “Sun Worshipers,” and still another, the title of
which I never knew, and which I never saw until much later, when going
one day with the late Miss a’Becket to the Eden Musée,—I think to see
something of her own in an exhibition then in progress, of paintings
belonging to private owners,—this great canvas faced me on the line of
the opposite wall, and startled me into the exclamation: “That must be
one of Homer’s!” It was full of light and color. The land on the left
sloped gradually down nearly to the middle of the foreground, and the
wonderful sheet of water behind and beyond it that fairly rippled out of
the frame, was dazzling. What he called it I do not know. To each other
we never gave his landscapes any name, nor did he to any one else unless
a purchaser required a title, or there was question of a catalogue.
I think, however, that this canvas may be one which was completed in
January, 1889, while I was in Toledo, and which was bought almost as soon
as finished by Mr. Thomas B. Clarke. If so, it changed hands very soon,
and was possibly taken away from New York. Homer wrote me at the time
about the sale. From all I could learn of the Memorial Exhibition at the
Century Club in the spring of 1897—an exhibition which, to my lasting
regret, closed just before I was able to reach New York—this picture was
not included in it.


Reproduced from the original water color in the collection of Mr. Wm.

His last studio in New York—occupied from 1890 until he went to St.
Paul in June, 1893—was in a house belonging to the Paulist Fathers
and adjoining their Convent in Fifty-ninth Street. There he painted the
“Normandy Trees,” the “Haunted House” I have already referred to as
belonging to Dr. D. M. Stimson, the “Honfleur Lights” now owned by the
Century Club, and began the “Criquebœuf Church,” afterward completed
in St. Paul. In that house I first observed that his eyesight, always
imperfect, was becoming still more dim. Never till then had I known him
to ask any one to trace an outline for him. He thought, moreover, that
some serious internal trouble threatened him, and consulted both an
oculist and a physician. In the early summer of 1892, believing that an
ocean voyage would benefit him, he availed himself of the opportunity
afforded by the sale to the Century Club of the “Honfleur Lights” and
sailed for the last time to England. He spent a very considerable part
of his absence at Bournemouth, where resided the family of Mr. George
Chalmers, friendship with whom must, I think, have been coeval with
his entire life in New York, and lasted, on the part of the survivor,
far beyond it. Concerning this visit, Mr. Chalmers wrote me a few
years later, in reply to my request that he should tell me about it:
“I do not feel that I can do Homer the justice he deserves. Certainly
that visit greatly endeared him to me and to my wife, and even to our
Harold, who was then a little mite, but who remembers him well. I wish I
could remember some of Homer’s talk, always so charming, on our various
outings during that happy time—especially about pictures, a subject with
which he was eminently so familiar. Two visits to the National Gallery
in London I recall in a general sort of way, to be sure. I remember
how stirred he was as we stood before the two Turners in the National
Gallery, presented by the artist on condition that they should be placed
next to the Claudes. Homer regarded Turner’s challenging comparison with
the great Frenchman as the sheerest audacity, and called attention to
the fussiness and labored work of the Turners compared with the ease and
serene dignity and splendor of the Claudes.”

Curiously enough, Mr. Chalmers arrived in New York from London the next
day after my own arrival from St. Paul, in April, 1897, and took what I
am sure could not have been altogether agreeable pains in order to render
me a very important service.

During this last absence of my husband from America, I spent a part of
my own vacation in Ottawa, and while there received a letter in which
he asked me to write to the oculist who had examined him—I think it
was Dr. Bull—and find out from him precisely what was the condition
of his eyes. I did so, and received the painful verdict that the optic
nerve of one of them was dead, while the other was partially clouded by
a cataract. I mention these facts in order that my readers may get an
adequate conception of the enormous difficulties under which his latest
paintings were begun and finished. Among these is the autumnal known as
“The Adirondacks,” exhibited at the Century Club Memorial Exhibition,
and bought shortly afterward by Mr. Untermyer at the sale of Mr. T. B.
Clarke’s collection. Looking at it when he was giving his final touches,
I said to him: “Homer, if you never paint another stroke, you will go out
in a blaze of glory!” “I have learned to paint, at last,” he answered.
“If I were quite blind now, and knew just where the colors were on my
palette, I could express myself.” Another belonging to this period is
the “View on the Seine” already referred to, and which in an earlier
stage was, to my mind, still more beautiful than it is at present. In
its primitive condition—and, indeed, from the moment when it was first
charcoaled on the canvas, the trees so grouped that they suggested by
their very contour the Harp to which he was inwardly listening—it was
supremely elegant. Elegance is still its characteristic feature, but I
wish he had left it as I saw it first. “The trees were about four hundred
feet high!” he objected, when I told him so, and I did not then, and
do not now, see the force of the objection. It was a thing of beauty,
anyhow, and who but a pedant measures those except by the optical
illusion and spiritual impression they produce?

It was I who went first to St. Paul, where our elder son resided, hoping
to recover by means of a long rest from the fatigue entailed by incessant
mental labor. I had been editing, reviewing, translating, finishing a
novel, besides keeping house, and began to feel as if my own mainspring
were liable to snap at any moment. This was at the end of December, 1892.
I went, intending to return, and to continue the writing of book reviews
during my absence. But in February I broke down completely, gave up all
work and all expectation of resuming it in New York. In the following
June, Homer resigned his studio and followed me, stopping on the way to
see the Chicago Exposition, where several of his paintings were on view.

In St. Paul he had for a while a very good studio in one of the life
insurance buildings, and while there completed several pictures, among
them that of the “Criquebœuf Church,” selling it, almost as soon as it
reached New York, to Mr. William T. Evans. This building was sold, soon
afterward, and converted to uses which made it impossible as a studio.

If my memory serves me correctly, it was in the spring of 1894 that the
Century Club had a reunion of more than ordinary importance. The special
date and occasion I do not recall, but I know that Homer’s presence was
so urgently desired by some of his friends that he then paid his last
visit to New York, and to the place and associates in it which had given
him most satisfaction. He was absent some six weeks, possibly more, and
I have since been told that when he left, his physical condition was
such that his friends not merely gave up hope of seeing him again, but
expected speedy tidings of his death. But the end was not so near. It was
to be preceded by such a conquest of mind over matter, of sheer will over
propensities both inherited and acquired, of triumphant performance in
the face of physical obstacles apparently insurmountable as is altogether
unique in my experience. Such efforts are never made, I take it, except
under the stimulus of hope, and even that sheet-anchor often fails when
the soul is pusillanimous. But Homer Martin was no coward. Moreover, he
had always been his own severest critic. Mr. Montgomery Schuyler has
quoted him as saying in earlier years when the hangmen exalted him “above
the line” in exhibitions, and buyers accepted that verdict as conclusive:
“If I could only do it, they would see it fast enough.” Mr. Schuyler
adds: “But this was more modest than exact. Even after he had attained
the capacity to ‘do it,’ to make canvas palpitate with light and color,
as the visitors to the Memorial Exhibition know, the picture-buyers of
twenty years ago still failed to ‘see it.’”

[Illustration: CAPE TRINITY

Reproduced from the original drawing in the collection of Mr. Wm.

But, at the period of his life with which I am now concerned, he was not
only conscious that he had attained full mastery of his own power of
artistic expression by means of color, but he had reason to believe that
an opportunity had been afforded him to make that mastery triumphantly
evident. Although his faith turned out to be ill-founded, yet his belief
to the contrary was sufficient to make him rise at once to his full
strength and shake off without apparent effort whatever other shackles
had hitherto confined him. He was like nothing so much as blind Samson
after his hair had grown, and he carried off the gates of old habits
and flung them aside as easily as if he had never felt their weight. In
the late spring of that year he went away alone to a quiet farm, taking
with him the canvases on which “The Adirondacks,” the “Seine View,”
and the “Normandy Farm” were already charcoaled, and set to work at
their development and completion. From time to time he would come into
the city, his step alert and his physical improvement so apparent in
every way, that my apprehension that his health was already shattered
irreparably gave way to confidence that years of life and successful
achievement were still before him. As for him, I think he never fully
believed that the doctors were right in considering his bodily condition
hopeless until a short time before his death. He had always looked
confidently forward to such length of days as both of his parents and
others of his more remote forbears had attained. “I never thought,”
he said to me one night, a week or two before his death, “that I was
shortening my life in this way.” As to his blindness, it never became
entire, and having been accustomed from the beginning to defective vision
while yet absorbing his material through the eye and appealing to it in
his production, he had, in a measure bewildering to hear of and barely
credible to us who beheld it in its final efforts, learned to rely almost
entirely on his inward vision and the hand which responded as it were
instinctively to its impulse and suggestion.

The pictures I have named went to New York in the late autumn of
1895, and were at once acknowledged with hearty words of praise and a
preliminary check. My husband was back at home by this time, and, full
of vigor and the anticipation of assured success, had begun three or four
other landscapes. Only one of these was ever completed, but that was so
present to his imagination, and his steady hand moved in such obedience
to his will, that it took visible shape almost without an effort. He had
begun making plans for the future and seemed to have renewed his youth.
And then, when the year was nearly ended, his hopes were shattered by the
tidings that the pictures were found to be unsalable, and had been, or
were to be, transferred to other hands which might or might not be more
successful in finding purchasers for them.

This was the end, so far as further work was concerned. My Samson fell
once more into the hands of the Philistines, and this time not to rise

[Illustration: A NEWPORT LANDSCAPE (The Artist’s Last Work)

Reproduced from the original painting through the courtesy of Frank L.
Babbott, Esq.]

Over those final days, I have not the heart to linger. In all ways, they
were inexpressibly painful. In August of the following year, a growth in
his throat made its appearance. Although it never caused him intense
physical anguish until a few days before his death, when it seemed to
have made its way to the brain, it caused him great discomfort. So long
as hope remained that it was not malignant and might be removed, he felt
and expressed an irritation which, under the precise circumstances,
was only natural. But when, late in October, about the time of his
sixtieth birthday, the specialist who was attending him pronounced it
cancerous, his mood changed. Certain thoughts, certain memories, certain
injustices of which he had felt himself the victim, would still move him
to indignation when the recollection of them recurred, but he bore his
physical trials with wonderful and unalterable patience. A Unitarian
clergyman in the neighborhood began calling on him in the early winter
and contributed much to his entertainment in some of my unavoidable
absences. But, as Christmas was approaching, my husband asked me to
request the Reverend Doctor Shields, now Professor of Psychology in
the Catholic University at Washington, D. C., to pay him a visit. Said
he: “L⸺ is a good fellow; he thinks just as I do about the tariff
and the civil service, and he likes good books. But, what all that has
to do with his profession, considered as a profession, I do not clearly
see.” Therefore I preferred his request to Dr. Shields, who might
reasonably have refused it, as he was not doing parish duty but employed
in laboratory work at the Ecclesiastical Seminary in St. Paul. He came,
nevertheless, a number of times, paying his last visit on the Saturday
evening before Homer died. And then, before leaving, he said to me:
“There is not the ghost of a hope that your husband will do just exactly
what you wish him to do. And, for my part, I am content to leave him in
the hands of God just as he is. He is absolutely honest. If he could take
another step forward, he would do it.” And, on his part, Homer said to
me, “Father Shields has the clearest mind of any man I ever met. I wish I
had known him three years ago. But now my head is in such anguish that
I can no longer keep three or four threads of argument in my mind at the
same time.”

       *       *       *       *       *

One day in Honfleur, Homer broke a protracted silence by saying, “I
hope that I shall die before you do.” To which I answered, “I hope so
too.” “You think that you could get along better without me than I could
without you?” he asked, and I said, “I know I could.” And now, two days
before he died, he said, “I am glad that I am going first”; adding a
few more words which it pleases me to remember, but which I shall not
repeat. And again I told him that I was glad also. Later still, he asked
me what I meant to do when he was gone, and when I said I hoped to enter
a convent, he replied, “That is just what I supposed. Well, it is a
beautiful life.”

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Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.