Elegant Art Jokes: FUSELI’S CHANGE FROM LITERATURE TO PAINTING.
Fuseli’s wit, learning, and talents gained him early admission to the company of wealthy and distinguished men. He devoted himself for a considerable time after his arrival in London to the daily toils of literature—translations, essays, and critiques. Among other works,
he translated Winckelmann’s book on Painting and Sculpture. One day Bonnycastle said to him, after dinner,
“Fuseli, you can write well,—why don’t you write something?”
“Something!” exclaimed the other; “you always cry write—Fuseli write!—blastation! what shall I write?”
“Write,” said Armstrong, who was present, “write on the Voltaire and Rousseau Row—there is a subject!”
He said nothing, but went home and began to write. His enthusiastic temper spurred him on, so that he composed his essay with uncommon rapidity. He printed it forthwith; but the whole edition caught fire and was consumed! “It had,” says one of his friends, “a short life and a bright ending.”
While busied with his translations and other literary labors, he had not forgotten his early attachment to Art. He found his way to the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and submitted several of his drawings to the President’s examination, who looked at them for some time, and then said, “How long have you studied in Italy?” “I never studied in Italy—I studied at Zurich—I am a native of Switzerland—do you think I should study in Italy?—and, above all, is it worth while?” “Young man,” said Reynolds, “were I the author of these drawings, and were offered ten thousand a year not to practice as an artist, I would reject the proposal with contempt.” This very
favorable opinion from one who considered all he said, and was so remarkable for accuracy of judgment, decided the destiny of Fuseli; he forsook for ever the hard and thankless trade of literature—refused a living in the church from some patron who had been struck with his talents—and addressed himself to painting with heart and hand.