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London: Chapman and Hall, 1917. Pp. xviii+ 352. 1

The New Statesman, 10 (2 Mar 1918) 528, 530

Thomas Woolner was a sculptor whose works and celebrity fully entitled him to the reward of a biographical volume; though the present is a very large one. To those who are interested chiefly in the sculptor’s works, this book will not have much to offer; it does not attempt a criticism of the artist; Miss Woolner’s modest paragraphs only bind together a series of letters in which statuary takes but a small place. The book is interesting from two aspects: as affording inspection of a Victorian sculptor, and as affording inspection of the Victorian age from its chief sculptor’s point of view. Woolner knew nearly everybody; he was associated with the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and throughout his life was on terms of intimacy with the Tennysons and Carlyles. 2 One gets the impression of a large but cosy society comfortably contained within the shores of this island; singularly free from envy, cliques and quarrels; deriving its intellectual illumination from the dispersed radiance of Great Men rather than from the inter-polar sparks of intelligence. It was a society generously given to admiration, and in this society Woolner appears both as Admirer and Admired. Woolner was applauded by his friends; and he was also disposed to applaud. This quality makes certain small touches all the more delightful, as when Woolner speaks of Matthew Arnold as

a regular swell, in brilliant white kid gloves, glittering boots and costume cut in most perfect fashion. [145]

Arnold was talking to Coventry Patmore,

whose countenance the whole time beamed radiant joy with the satisfaction of holding intercourse with such a high Oxford don of critical propensities. [145] 3

But Woolner admired Patmore; he admired Carlyle; he admired Aurora Leigh; he admired Rossetti and he praised “The Defence of Guenevere.” 4 As he did so much in the way of portraiture, what he says of Browning’s appearance has interest:

The connection between Browning’s face and his works seems to me as little understandable as well can be. Of course his conversation would connect the two immediately but his head is I think the most unprepossessing poet’s head it is well possible to imagine. [124]

Woolner’s life was one of hard work and self-gained independence, but the society he frequented was spacious and easy. Various minor figures of the literary world of the time present themselves, such as the Trevelyans and Sir John Swinburne with his collection of Turners. 5 Of Ruskin we hear little; Woolner admired Modern Painters, but speaks several times of Ruskin’s inaccuracy or rather perversity of taste in Academy exhibitions. 6 The two important points in Woolner’s acquaintanceships were his early association with the P.R.B., and his friendship with the Tennysons. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood appears in his letters as a jolly little group of young men who were also artists rather than as a definite school. There was little hard warfare in the aesthetics of the ’60’s. Woolner wrote frequently to Lady Tennyson, with inquiries about the Bard or Lord of Farringford. With everything Tennyson wrote, Woolner was pleased; and among the letters we find the two stories of Woolner’s on which were based “Enoch Arden” and “Aylmer’s Field.” 7 In 1858 Woolner at York converted

a whole family to the true faith in matters poetical by reading “The Miller’s Daughter” and “The Gardener’s Daughter.” [142] 8

Woolner appears altogether as a most delightful man, and it is pleasant to record his great triumph toward the end of his life, when his colossal statue of Captain Cook was unveiled in...

Published By:   Faber & Faber logo    Johns Hopkins University Press