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by [?]

Thomas Gainsborough was the youngest of the brood, the pet of his parents, and the pride of his big sisters, who had nursed him and brought him up in the way he should go. In babyhood he wasn’t so very strong; but love and freedom gradually did their perfect work, and he evolved into a tall, handsome youth of gracious manner and pleasing countenance. All the family were sure that Tom was going to be “somebody.”

The eldest boy, John, known to the town as “Scheming Jack,” had invented a cuckoo-clock, and this led to a self-rocking cradle that wound up with a strong spring; next he made a flying-machine; and so clever was he that he painted signs that swung on hinges, and in several instances essayed to put a picture of the prosperous owner on the sign.

The second son, Humphrey, was a brilliant fellow, too. He made the model of a steam-engine and showed it to a man by the name of Watt, who was greatly interested in it; and when Watt afterward took out a patent on it, Humphrey’s heart was nearly broken, and it might have been quite, but he said he had in hand half a dozen things worth more than the steam-engine. As tangible proof of his power, he won a prize of fifty pounds from the London Society for the Encouragement of Art, for a mill that was to be turned by the tides of the sea. The steam-engine would require fuel, but this tide-engine would be turned by Nature at her own expense. In the British Museum is a sundial made by Humphrey Gainsborough, and it must stand to his credit that he made the original fireproof safe. From a fireproof safe to liberal theology is but a step, and Humphrey Gainsborough became a Dissenting Clergyman, passing rich on forty pounds a year.

The hopes of the family finally centered on Thomas. He had assisted his brother John at the sign-painting, and had done several creditable little things in drawing ‘scutcheons on coach-doors for the gentry. Besides all this, once, while sketching in his father’s orchard, a face cautiously appeared above the stone wall and for a single moment studied the situation. The boy caught the features on his palette, and transferred them to his picture. The likeness was so perfect that it led to the execution of the thief who had been robbing the orchard, and also the execution of that famous picture, finished many years after, known as “Tom Peartree.”

The orchard episode pleased the Gainsboroughs greatly. A family council was held, and it was voted that Thomas must be sent to London to study art. The girls gave up a dress apiece, the mother retrimmed her summer bonnet for the Winter, the boys contributed, and there came a day when Tom was duly ticketed and placed on top of the great coach bound for London. Good-bys were waved until only a cloud of dust was seen in the distance.

Gainsborough went to “Saint Martin’s Drawing Academy” at London, and the boys educated him. The art at the “Academy” seems to have been very much akin to the art of the Writing Academies of America, where learned bucolic professors used to teach us the mysteries of the Spencerian System for a modest stipend. The humiliation of never knowing “how to hold your pen” did much to send many budding geniuses off on a tangent after grasshopper chirography, but those who endured unto the end acquired the “wrist movement.” They all wrote alike. That is to say, they all wrote like the professor, who wrote just like all Spencerian professors. So write the girls in Melvil Dewey’s Academy for Librarians, at Albany–God bless them all!–they all write like Dewey.

Thomas Gainsborough at London seems to have haunted the theaters and coffeehouses, and whenever there were pictures displayed, there was Thomas to be found. To help out the expense-account, he worked at engraving and made designs for a silversmith. The strong, receptive nature of the boy showed itself, for he succeeded in getting a goodly hold on the art of engraving, in a very short time. He absorbed in the mass.