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In these old times, the Mohawk Indians were still numerous in Pennsylvania. Every year a party of them used to pay a visit to Springfield, because the wigwams of their ancestors had formerly stood there. These wild men grew fond of little Ben, and made him very happy by giving him some of the red and yellow paint with which they were accustomed to adorn their faces. His mother, too, presented him with a piece of indigo. Thus he now had three colors, — red, blue, and yellow,- and could manufacture green by mixing the yellow with the blue. Our friend Ben was overjoyed, and doubtless showed his gratitude to the Indians by taking their likenesses in the strange dresses which they wore, with feathers, tomahawks, and bows and arrows.
But all this time the young artist had no paint brushes ; nor were there any to be bought, unless he had sent to Philadelphia on purpose. However, he was a very ingenious boy, and resolved to manufacture paint brushes for himself. With this design he laid hold upon — what do you think? Why, upon a respectable old black cat, who was sleeping quietly by the fireside.
“ Puss," said little Ben to the cat,“ pray give me some of the fur from the tip of thy tail ? ”
Though he addressed the black cat so civilly, yet Ben was determined to have the fur, whether she were willing or not. Puss, who had no great zeal for the fine arts, would have resisted if she could; but the boy was armed with his mother's scissors, and very dexterously clipped off fur enough to make a paint brush. This was of so much use to him that he applied to Madam Puss again and again, until her warm coat of fur had become so thin and ragged that she could hardly keep comfortable through the winter. Poor thing! she was forced to creep close into the chimney corner, and eyed Ben with a very rueful physiognomy. But Ben considered it more necessary that he should have paint brushes than that puss should be warm. About this period Friend West received a visit from Mr.
Pennington, a merchant of Philadelphia, who was likewise a member of the Society of Eriends. The visitor, on entering the parlor, was surprised to see it ornamented with drawings of Indian chiefs, and of birds with beautiful plumage, and of the wild flowers of the forest. Nothing of the kind was ever seen before in the habitation of a Quaker farmer.
“Why, Friend West," exclaimed the Philadelphia merchant, “what has possessed thee to cover thy walls with all these pictures ? Where on earth didst thou get them ?”
Then Friend West explained that all these pictures were painted by little Ben, with no better materials than red and yellow ochre and a piece of indigo, and with brushes made of the black cat's fur.
“Verily,” said Mr. Pennington, “the boy hath a wonderful faculty. Some of our friends might look upon these matters as vanity ; but little Benjamin appears to have been born a. painter; and Providence is wiser than we are."
The good merchant patted Benjamin on the head, and evidently considered him a wonderful boy. When his parents saw how much their son's performances were admired, they, no doubt, remembered the prophecy of the old Quaker preacher respecting Ben's future eminence. Yet they could not understand how he was ever to become a very great and useful man merely by making pictures.
XXXV. - THE SAME SUBJECT, CONCLUDED.
ONE evening, shortly after Mr. Pennington's return to Philadelphia, a package arrived at Springfield, directed to our little friend Ben.
“ What can it possibly be ?” thought Ben, when it was put into his hands. 6 Who can have sent me such a great square package as this?"
On taking off the thick brown paper which enveloped it,
behold! there was a paint box, with a great many cakes of paint, and brushes of various sizes. It was the gift of good Mr. Pennington. There were likewise several squares of canvas, such as artists use for painting pictures upon, and, in addition to all these treasures, some beautiful engravings of landscapes. These were the first pictures that Ben had ever seen, except those of his own drawing.
What a joyful evening was this for the little artist! At bedtime he put the paint box under his pillow, and got hardly a wink of sleep; for, all night long, his fancy was painting pictures in the darkness. In the morning he hurried to the garret, and was seen no more till the dinner hour; nor did he give. himself time to eat more than a mouthful or two of food before he hurried back to the garret again. The next day, and the next, he was just as busy as ever; until at last his mother thought it time to ascertain what he was about. She accordingly followed him to the garret.
On opening the door, the first object that presented itself to her eyes was our friend Benjamin, giving the last touches to a beautiful picture. He had copied portions of two of the engravings, and made one picture out of both, with such admirable skill that it was far more beautiful than the originals. · The grass, the trees, the water, the sky, and the houses were all painted in their proper colors. There, too, were the sunshine and the shadow, looking as natural as life.
“My dear child, thou hast done wonders !” cried his mother.
The good lady was in an ecstasy of delight. And well might she be proud of her boy; for there were touches in this picture which old artists, who had spent a lifetime in the business, need not have been ashamed of. Many a year afterwards, this wonderful production was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.
Well, time went on, and Benjamin continued to draw and paint pictures, until he had now reached the age when it was proper that he should choose a business for life. His father and mother were in considerable perplexity about him. Ac
cording to the ideas of the Quakers, it is not right for people to spend their lives in occupations that are of no real and sensible advantage to the world. Now, what advantage could the world expect from Benjamin's pictures ? This was a difficult question; and, in order to set their minds at rest, his parents determined to consult the preachers and wise men of their society. Accordingly, they all assembled in the meeting house, and discussed the matter from beginning to end.
Finally, they came to a very wise decision. It seemed so evident that Providence had created Benjamin to be a painter, and had given him abilities which would be thrown away in any other business, that the Quakers resolved not to oppose his inclination. They even acknowledged that the sight of a beautiful picture might convey instruction to the mind, and might benefit the heart as much as a good book or a wise discourse. They therefore committed the youth to the direction of God, being well assured that he best knew what was his proper sphere of usefulness. The old men laid their hands upon Benjamin’s head and gave him their blessing, and the women kissed him affectionately. All consented that he should go forth into the world, and learn to be a painter by studying the best pictures of ancient and modern times.
So our friend Benjamin left the dwelling of his parents, and his native woods and streams, and the good Quakers of Springfield, and the Indians who had given him his first colors ; he left all the places and persons whom he had hitherto known, and returned to them no more. He went first to Philadelphia, and afterwards to Europe. Here he was noticed by many great people, but retained all the sobriety and simplicity which he had learned among the Quakers.
When he was twenty-five years old, he went to London, and established himself there as an artist. In due course of time, he acquired great fame by his pictures, and was made chief painter to King George III., and president of the Royal Academy of Arts. When the Quakers of Pennsylvania heard of his success, they felt that the prophecy of the old preacher as
to little Ben's future eminence was now accomplished. It is true, they shook their heads at his pictures of battle and bloodshed, such as the Death of Wolfe, thinking that these terrible scenes should not be held up to the admiration of the world.
But they approved of the great paintings in which he represented the miracles and sufferings of the Redeemer of mankind. King George employed him to adorn a large and beautiful chapel at Windsor Castle with pictures of these sacred subjects. He likewise painted a magnificent picture of Christ Healing the Sick, which he gave to the hospital at Philadelphia. It was exhibited to the public, and produced so much profit, that the hospital was enlarged so as to accommodate thirty more patients. If Benjamin West had done no other good deed than this, yet it would have been enough to entitle him to an honorable remembrance forever. At this very day there are thirty poor people in the hospital who owe all their comforts to that same picture. We shall mention only a single incident more.
The picture of Christ Healing the Sick was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, where it covered a vast space, and displayed a multitude of figures as large as life. On the wall, close beside this admirable picture, hung a small and faded landscape. It was the same that little Ben had painted in his father's garret after receiving the paint box and engravings from good Mr. Pennington.
He lived many years in peace and honor, and died in 1820, at the age of eighty-two. The story of his life is almost as wonderful as a fairy tale; for there are few stranger transformations than that of a little unknown Quaker boy, in the wilds of America, into the most distinguished English painter of his day. Let us each make the best use of our natural abilities,
Benjamin West did; and, with the blessing of Providence, we shall arrive at some good end. As for fame, it is but little matter whether we acquire it or not.