Tuesday 23 February 2010

The Presidents’ Portraitist and Snuff ....

Comes of not doing my homework properly and making an incorrect assumption! I completely missed the most important aspect of that magnificent picture “The Skater”, which I was in awe of when I found it on Wikipedia, as it satisfied many aspects for my post – the mini ice-ages that have occurred over the centuries: here it is recorded in the picture dated 1782, and the fact that the gentleman is so well dressed; the fact that Gilbert Stuart was an artist, presumably English, I had not heard of registered, but only that.
The Skater, 1782, a portrait of William Grant by Gilbert Stuart

Gilbert Stuart is one of America’s greatest portraitists! Did you know it is his portrait of Washington that has been depicted on the one-dollar bill for over a century? Throughout his career Stuart produced portraits of over 1,000 people, including the first six Presidents of the United States.

His work is now found in many celebrated museums in America and England. I have to thank Terro who said that she did not know that Stuart had spent some of his early career in Scotland and England, which triggered me to look a little closer and who exactly this Gilbert Stuart was.
Gilbert Stuart's unfinished 1796 painting of George Washington, also known as The Athenaeum, is his most celebrated and famous work.

Now that I’ve looked a little closer I see too that William Grant, “The Skater”, was fairly influential in North America – he issued the ordinances establishing civil and criminal courts in Quebec, when he was appointed attorney general in 1776 – before being superseded by the formal appointment of James Monk for the post, by the Secretary of State for the American colonies.

Grant returned to England to ultimately excel at being a parliamentary orator, first practising by giving a lucid explanation of Canadian law during the debates over the Quebec Government Bill, as a Member of Parliament in Great Britain.

Both these men, along with many, many others, were intrepidly crossing the Atlantic Ocean in sailing vessels – the first steam ship (that was in fact a hybrid of steam and sail) to cross the Atlantic was only made in 1819. I am absolutely certain that I would not like to have made that journey then. Except that surprisingly travelling by ship or boat was safer than facing the bandits on the highways and byways of land.

The snuff connection here is that Gilbert Stuart’s father, a Scottish immigrant employed in the snuff-making industry, worked in the first colonial Snuff Mill in America, located in the basement of the family homestead, in Rhode Island.
The Gilbert Stuart Birthplace in Saunderstown, Rhode Island

Snuff taking was observed on Columbus’ second journey to the Americas during 1493 – 1496 by the native peoples of Haiti. Snuff, the pulverised powder from tobacco, had already long been in use in the Americas as an ‘entheogen’ (a plant psychoactive substance).

It seems that the idea of ‘curative properties’ helped popularize snuff, when Jean Nicot, the French Ambassador to Portugal, had sent some in 1561 as a medicine to the court of Catherine de Medici to treat her son’s persistent migraines. The genus ‘Nicotiana’ for tobacco was named after Nicot.

Within two hundred years of Columbus’ find on Haiti, snuff was being traded around the world from Europe, to the UK, to northern Europe and on into Russia, across to India, Asia and even China.

Even by the 1600s some were objecting to snuff being taken, while the Pope threatened to excommunicate ‘sniffers’ but the Tsar set a worse punishment – have your nose off. However King Louis XIII was a devout snuff taker. The trend continued some loved it, some hated it – an English doctor, John Hill (1716 – 1775), warned against the cancerous element of snuff.
An Antique Pair of Snuffers, 1888

When I found that Gilbert Stuart’s family worked at a snuff mill in the family home in Rhode Island, it was just after I’d spotted a wonderful snuff box when I was looking at ‘Love Spoons’ for my recent Valentine’s Day post.
Nineteenth century carved walnut treen snuff box

A wooden “Treen” is a generic name for small wooden handmade functional household objects. As it happens there are two tiny villages in the West of Cornwall called ‘Treen’ – “tre” in Cornish means farm or settlement, perhaps the word ‘Treen’ comes from a Celtic derivation – hence the name for something from or for the home.
Is William Grant not as well dressed as the Olympic Skaters??

Dear Mr Postman – everywhere seems to be soaking in rain: we are here, Madeira had the most awful deluges, the Americas don’t seem to be faring much better .. not a good week for you doing your rounds – thanks for being here though. Mum is ok, but we’re not out of the woods yet for her. She’s comfortable and cheerful – and really what more can I ask.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Terro said...

Here's Washington Irving, an American writer who spent a great deal of time in England, writing about crossing the Atlantic in The Voyage:

"The storm increased with the night. The sea was lashed into tremendous confusion. There was a fearful, sullen sound of rushing waves and broken surges. Deep called unto deep. At times the black volume of clouds overhead seemed rent asunder by flashes of lightning, which quivered along the foaming billows, and made the succeeding darkness doubly terrible. The thunders bellowed over the wild waste of waters, and were echoed and prolonged by the mountain waves. As I saw the ship staggering and plunging among these roaring caverns, it seemed miraculous that she regained her balance, or preserved her buoyancy. Her yards would dip into the water: her bow was almost buried beneath the waves. Sometimes an impending surge appeared ready to over whelm her, and nothing but a dexterous movement of the helm preserved her from the shock.

When I retired to my cabin, the awful scene still followed me. The whistling of the wind through the rigging sounded like funeral wailings. The creaking of the masts, the straining and groaning of bulkheads, as the ship labored in the weltering sea, were frightful. As I heard the waves rushing along the sides of the ship, and roaring in my very ear, it seemed as if Death were raging round this floating prison, seeking for his prey; the mere starting of a nail, the yawing of a seam, might give him entrance.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Your posts are so interesting. I was especially interested in the snuff information. Hmm. Maybe I need some personal reflection time.

So glad your mom is cheerful. Am wishing you this as well.-

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Terro - thank you for those words and that description - it sets it out so clearly .. it must have been terrifying .. and now I'm more certain I would have been frightened to my knees on one of those crossings.

Also we learn so much about the ship itself, let alone how the sea looked at the time ..

Thanks Terro - a great passage for us to think about .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. thankyou! the snuff information interested me - as I had no idea about it .. please don't dwell too much on the snuff .. the snuffers look pretty down at heel - don't they?!!

Yes - me too- my Mum is quieter .. and always seems to come up with a smile and pertinent comment, even if she can't hear. Difficult, but I'm very grateful for the peaceful times.

Thanks for the good wishes .. have a good rest of the week - Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Hilary, its funny how if you take a word, it often has many more meanings and contexts than you have at thetip of the tongue. Thanks for inviting readers to jog their memories. I continue my final editing on my third book, Transform Your Lie: 730 Inspirations and the nature of your posts resonates with the research I do as part of this uplifting process.

Wilma Ham said...

Hi Hilary
Never mind the snuff stuff, although isn't it great that everything in the olden days was medicinal at first and then becomes bad and causes cancer. Hmm.
What I find so wonderful are the paintings. The Skater is so beautiful depicted, it nearly is a shame we have cameras now.
No rain here, we still are waiting and waiting. Funny the differences in the world.
Love to you and your Mum, xox Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. thank you for that comment - language has developed and transformed over so many centuries, millennia - a great deal of it in isolation for long periods. I struggle to find the right words so often, equally as you so rightly say there are often different meanings for the same word, or different words for the same thing.

Honestly - if my posts are resonating in some way with your new book and giving you some transformational ideas at a different 'level' - then I'm amazed and truly honoured. Thank you.

Good for you - I'm so pleased your third book is coming together - I look forward to reading it - it is a wonderful achievement.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma - It's interesting that throughout human life we've always been prepared to try thing - the herbalists in pagan times and before in Greek and Roman times .. were always testing things. So I guess the fact that the Haitians were 'taking' new herbs would have been noticed by the botanists and scientists, who were always included on these exploratory ships. We'd have a much more limited food repertoire if as humans we hadn't been prepared to try out new things.

However as you say - some of these 'new' products were not good for us, but a great many offer us hope for the future -including those still being found. The chemical alteration that's occurred is the problem .. so natural as recommended is so much better for us.

Thanks - I had to put The Skater up again - it's wonderful .. no wonder Gilbert Stuart was revered as a portraitist. As I can't paint .. I'm pleased I have a camera .. though I don't do an awful lot of that at the moment -

We have excessive wet here with more to come - the weather forces are definitely changing - I remember South Africa and praying for rain in October ..the theoretical start of the rainy season there: gone are the days of the 4.00 pm deluge, that was a regular occurrence in the wet season!

Thank you for the hugs - she loves those and I so appreciate your thoughts .. Hilary

Blue Bunny said...

hey, my jannie haz a soop treen!! she putting she soop in there and giving some to me with she ladel.

but she wood nevver ever let me try snuff, she no likes nikkoteens.

frum blue bunny wit loves.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Blue Bunny .. good to see you to have a laugh .. after all my alphabet hassles. Yay .. I bet your Jannie haz a soop treen .. bets its not med from trees tho .. iz ze ladel a bit of natrl forest?

Gud to heer she no likey yee trize ze snifflers .. mind yee - them snufflers be under gud wood fur treens!?

Gud to here from yee - Bee Bee ... xxxooo - wet hugs from here ..