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The Set of China by Elisa Leslie

The following is the complete text of Elisa Leslie's The Set of China. The various books, short stories and poems we offer are presented free of charge with absolutely no advertising as a public service from Internet Accuracy Project.

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The Set of China by Elisa Leslie


by Elisa Leslie

"Mr. Gummage," said Mrs. Atmore, as she entered a certain drawing-school, at that time the most fashionable in Philadelphia, "I have brought you a new pupil, my daughter, Miss Marianne Atmore. Have you a vacancy?"

"Why, I can't say that I have," replied Mr. Gummage; "I never have vacancies."

"I am very sorry to hear it," said Mrs. Atmore; and Miss Marianne, a tall, handsome girl of fifteen, looked disappointed.

"But perhaps I could strain a point, and find a place for her," resumed Mr. Gummage, who knew very well that he never had the smallest idea of limiting the number of his pupils, and that if twenty more were to apply, he would take them every one, however full his school might be.

"Do pray, Mr. Gummage," said Mrs. Atmore; "do try and make an exertion to admit my daughter; I shall regard it as a particular favor."

"Well, I believe she may come," replied Gummage: "I suppose I can take her. Has she any turn for drawing?"

"I don't know," answered Mrs. Atmore, "she has never tried."

"Well, madam," said Mr. Gummage, "what do you wish your daughter to learn? figures, flowers, or landscape?"

"Oh! all three," replied Mrs. Atmore. "We have been furnishing our new house, and I told Mr. Atmore that he need not get any pictures for the front parlor, as I would much prefer having them all painted by Marianne. She has been four quarters with Miss Julia, and has worked Friendship and Innocence, which cost, altogether, upwards of a hundred dollars. Do you know the piece, Mr. Gummage? There is a tomb with a weeping willow, and two ladies with long hair, one dressed in pink, the other in blue, holding a wreath between them over the top of the urn. The ladies are Friendship. Then on the right hand of the piece is a cottage, and an oak, and a little girl dressed in yellow, sitting on a green bank, and putting a wreath round the neck of a lamb. Nothing can be more natural than the lamb's wool. It is done entirely in French knots. The child and the lamb are Innocence."

"Ay, ay," said Gummage, "I know the piece well enough--I've drawn them by dozens."

"Well," continued Mrs. Atmore, "this satin piece hangs over the front parlor mantel. It is much prettier and better done than the one Miss Longstitch worked of Charlotte at the tomb of Werter, though she did sew silver spangles all over Charlotte's lilac gown, and used chenille, at a fi'-penny-bit a needleful, for all the banks and the large tree. Now, as the mantel-piece is provided for, I wish a landscape for each of the recesses, and a figure-piece to hang on each side of the large looking-glass, with flower-pieces under them, all by Marianne. Can she do all these in one quarter?"

"No, that she can't," replied Gummage; "it will take her two quarters hard work, and maybe three, to get through the whole of them."

"Well, I won't stand about a quarter more or less," said Mrs. Atmore; "but what I wish Marianne to do most particularly, and, indeed, the chief reason why I send her to drawing-school just now, is a pattern for a set of china that we are going to have made in Canton. I was told the other day by a New York lady (who was quite tired of the queer unmeaning things which are generally put on India ware), that she had sent a pattern for a tea-set, drawn by her daughter, and that every article came out with the identical device beautifully done on the china, all in the proper colors. She said it was talked of all over New York, and that people who had never been at the house before, came to look at and admire it. No doubt it was a great feather in her daughter's cap."

"Possibly, madam," said Gummage.

"And now," resumed Mrs. Atmore, "since I heard this, I have thought of nothing else than having the same thing done in my family; only I shall send for a dinner set, and a very long one, too. Mr. Atmore tells me that the Voltaire, one of Stephen Girard's ships, sails for Canton early next month, and he is well acquainted with the captain, who will attend to the order for the china. I suppose in the course of a fortnight Marianne will have learned drawing enough to enable her to do the pattern?"

"Oh! yes, madam--quite enough," replied Gummage, suppressing a laugh.

* * * * * *

"To cut the matter short," said Mr. Gummage, "the best thing for the china is a flower-piece--a basket, or a wreath--or something of that sort. You can have a good cipher in the center, and the colors may be as bright as you please. India ware is generally painted with one color only; but the Chinese are submissive animals, and will do just as they are bid. It may cost something more to have a variety of colors, but I suppose you will not mind that."

"Oh! no--no," exclaimed Mrs. Atmore, "I shall not care for the price; I have set my mind on having this china the wonder of all Philadelphia."

Our readers will understand, that at this period nearly all the porcelain used in America was of Chinese manufacture; very little of that elegant article having been, as yet, imported from France.

A wreath was selected from the portfolio that contained the engravings and drawings of flowers. It was decided that Marianne should first execute it the full size of the model (which was as large as nature), that she might immediately have a piece to frame; and that she was afterwards to make a smaller copy of it, as a border for all the articles of the china set; the middle to be ornamented with the letter A, in gold, surrounded by the rays of a golden star. Sprigs and tendrils of the flowers were to branch down from the border, so as nearly to reach the gilding in the middle. The large wreath that was intended to frame was to bear in its center the initials of Marianne Atmore, being the letters M.A. painted in shell gold.

"And so," said Mr. Gummage, "having a piece to frame, and a pattern for your china, you'll kill two birds with one stone."

On the following Monday, the young lady came to take her first lesson, followed by a mulatto boy, carrying a little black morocco trunk, that contained a four-row box of Reeves's colors, with an assortment of camel's-hair pencils, half a dozen white saucers, a water cup, a lead-pencil and a piece of India rubber. Mr. Gummage immediately supplied her with two bristle brushes, and sundry little shallow earthen cups, each containing a modicum of some sort of body color, massicot, flake-white, etc., prepared by himself and charged at a quarter of a dollar apiece, and which he told her she would want when she came to do landscapes and figures.

Mr. Gummage's style was to put in the sky, water and distances with opaque paints, and the most prominent objects with transparent colors. This was probably the reason that his foregrounds seemed always to be sunk in his backgrounds. The model was scarcely considered as a guide, for he continually told his pupils that they must try to excel it; and he helped them to do so by making all his skies deep red fire at the bottom, and dark blue smoke at the top; and exactly reversing the colors on the water, by putting red at the top and the blue at the bottom. The distant mountains were lilac and white, and the near rocks buff color, shaded with purple. The castles and abbeys were usually gamboge. The trees were dabbed and dotted in with a large bristle brush, so that the foliage looked like a green frog. The foam of the cascades resembled a concourse of wigs, scuffling together and knocking the powder out of each other, the spray being always fizzed on with one of the aforesaid bristle brushes. All the dark shadows in every part of the picture were done with a mixture of Persian blue and bistre, and of these two colors there was consequently a vast consumption in Mr. Gummage's school. At the period of our story, many of the best houses in Philadelphia were decorated with these landscapes. But for the honor of my townspeople I must say that the taste for such productions is now entirely obsolete. We may look forward to the time, which we trust is not far distant, when the elements of drawing will be taught in every school, and considered as indispensable to education as a knowledge of writing. It has long been our belief that any child may, with proper instruction, be made to draw, as easily as any child may be made to write. We are rejoiced to find that so distinguished an artist as Rembrandt Peale has avowed the same opinion, in giving to the world his invaluable little work on Graphics: in which he has clearly demonstrated the affinity between drawing and writing, and admirably exemplified the leading principles of both.

Marianne's first attempt at the great wreath was awkward enough. After she had spent five or six afternoons at the outline, and made it triangular rather than circular, and found it impossible to get in the sweet-pea, and the convolvulus, and lost and bewildered herself among the multitude of leaves that formed the cup of the rose, Mr. Gummage snatched the pencil from her hand, rubbed out the whole, and then drew it himself. It must be confessed that his forte lay in flowers, and he was extremely clever at them, "but," as he expressed it, "his scholars chiefly ran upon landscapes."

After he had sketched the wreath, he directed Marianne to rub the colors for her flowers, while he put in Miss Smithson's rocks.

When Marianne had covered all her saucers with colors, and wasted ten times as much as was necessary, she was eager to commence painting, as she called it; and in trying to wash the rose with lake, she daubed it on of crimson thickness. When Mr. Gummage saw it, he gave her a severe reprimand for meddling with her own piece. It was with great difficulty that the superabundant color was removed; and he charged her to let the flowers alone till he was ready to wash them for her. He worked a little at the piece every day, forbidding Marianne to touch it; and she remained idle while he was putting in skies, mountains, etc., for the other young ladies.

At length the wreath was finished--Mr. Gummage having only sketched it, and washed it, and given it the last touches. It was put into a splendid frame, and shown as Miss Marianne Atmore's first attempt at painting: and everybody exclaimed, "What an excellent teacher Mr. Gummage must be! How fast he brings on his pupils!"

In the meantime, she undertook at home to make the small copy that was to go to China. But she was now "at a dead lock," and found it utterly impossible to advance a step without Mr. Gummage. It was then thought best that she should do it at school--meaning that Mr. Gummage should do it for her, while she looked out the window.

The whole was at last satisfactorily accomplished, even to the gilt star, with the A in the center. It was taken home and compared with the larger wreath, and found still prettier, and shone as Marianne's to the envy of all mothers whose daughters could not furnish models for china. It was finally given in charge to the captain of the Voltaire, with injunctions to order a dinner-set exactly according to the pattern, and to prevent the possibility of a mistake, a written direction accompanied it.

The ship sailed--and Marianne continued three quarters at Mr. Gummage's school, where she nominally affected another flower-piece, and also perpetrated Kemble in Rolla, Edwin and Angelina, the Falls of Schuylkill, and the Falls of Niagara, all of which were duly framed, and hung in their appointed places.

During the year that followed the departure of the ship Voltaire great impatience for her return was manifested by the ladies of the Atmore family,--anxious to see how the china would look, and frequently hoping that the colors would be bright enough, and none of the flowers omitted--that the gilding would be rich, and everything inserted in its proper place, exactly according to the pattern. Mrs. Atmore's only regret was, that she had not sent for a tea-set also; not that she was in want of one, but then it would be so much better to have a dinner-set and a tea-set precisely alike, and Marianne's beautiful wreath on all.

"Why, my dear," said Mr. Atmore, "how often have I heard you say that you would never have another tea-set from Canton, because the Chinese persist in making the principal articles of such old-fashioned, awkward shapes. For my part, I always disliked the tall coffee-pots, with their straight spouts, looking like light-houses with bowsprits to them; and the short, clumsy teapots, with their twisted handles, and lids that always fall off."

"To be sure," said Mrs. Atmore, "I have been looking forward to the time when we can get a French tea-set upon tolerable terms. But in the meanwhile I should be very glad to have cups and saucers with Marianne's beautiful wreath, and of course when we use them on the table we should always bring forward our silver pots."

Spring returned, and there was much watching of the vanes, and great joy when they pointed easterly, and the ship-news now became the most interesting column of the papers. A vessel that had sailed from New York to Canton on the same day the Voltaire departed from Philadelphia had already got in; therefore, the Voltaire might be hourly expected. At length she was reported below; and at this period the river Delaware suffered much, in comparison with the river Hudson, owing to the tediousness of its navigation from the capes to the city.

At last the Voltaire cast anchor at the foot of Market Street, and our ladies could scarcely refrain from walking down to the wharf to see the ship that held the box that held the china. But invitations were immediately sent out for a long projected dinner-party, which Mrs. Atmore had persuaded her husband to defer till they could exhibit the beautiful new porcelain.

The box was landed, and conveyed to the house. The whole family were present at the opening, which was performed in the dining-room by Mr. Atmore himself--all the servants peeping in at the door. As soon as a part of the lid was split off, and a handful of the straw removed, a pile of plates appeared, all separately wrapped in India paper. Each of the family snatched up a plate and hastily tore off the covering. There were the flowers glowing in beautiful colors, and the gold star and the gold A, admirably executed. But under the gold star, on every plate, dish and tureen were the words, "THIS IN THE MIDDLE!"--being the direction which the literal and exact Chinese had minutely copied from a crooked line that Mr. Atmore had hastily scrawled on the pattern with a very bad pen, and of course without the slightest fear of its being inserted verbatim beneath the central ornament.

Mr. Atmore laughed--Mrs. Atmore cried--the servants giggled aloud--and Marianne cried first, and laughed afterwards.

~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~

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