A Century of British Painters

By Samuel Redgrave; Richard Redgrave | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
SIR THOMAS LAWRENCE

THOMAS LAWRENCE, afterwards Sir Thomas, and the fourth president of the Royal Academy, was born at Bristol on 4 May 1769. His father was the son of a clergyman, and although originally bred to the law, was at the time of his son's birth the landlord of the White Lion Inn in that city; his mother was a daughter of the vicar of Tenbury. The marriage of the parents of the painter had been somewhat clandestine, and Mrs. Lawrence was disowned by her family on that account; she seems to have been a woman of much refinement and sweetness of disposition, and was hardly fitted for the hostess of an inn. In 1772, when young Lawrence was about three years of age, the father, having failed in his business in Bristol, removed to Devizes, and was aided by his friends to take the Black Bear Inn, in that town. These were the days when all travelling was comparatively slow, and when all the better class travelled post; and as Devizes was on the high road to Bath, then the great centre of fashionable resort when the London season was over, the Black Bear, the principal inn, was the resting-place of most of the visitors to that city of waters.

Young Lawrence, as a child, was eminently beautiful; by his father's zealous teaching he had committed many fine passages from our poets to memory, and was able to repeat them with much taste and innate feeling; added to this he early developed a power of sketching likenesses, and would readily pencil either the profile or full face of those who sat to him. The father was very proud of his child's beauty and precocity, and would often introduce him to his guests to exhibit his talents.

Lawrence's biographer tells us that in 1775, Mr., subsequently Lord Kenyon, arrived with his lady late in the evening at Devizes. After the fatigues of travelling--slow enough in those days--they were not in the best possible humour when the innkeeper entered their sittingroom, and proposed to show them his wonderful child; he told them his boy was only five years old and could take their likeness or repeat to them any speech in Milton's 'Pandemonium'. To that place the offended guests were on the eve of commending their host, when the child rushed in; and as Lady Kenyon used to relate, her vexation and

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