Monday 24th July, 1876
Dear Mr Smith,
I fear you will think me a terrible slut, sir, but I have spent the whole of the day in bed.
Since my marble arrived Tuesday morning, I have spent every day in a sort of desperate fervour – I have filled at least fifty or sixty pages with sketches of my marble, imagining what I can bring from beneath its surface.
You have sent but a block of marble, Mr Smith, but in it already I see the beautiful face of the Titaness, wife of Hyperion, mother of the dawn, the moon, and the sun, she who has birthed wonders upon the Earth, who shines so brightly, will be born herself from this marble, Mr Smith. I shall free her from it, chip by chip with my hammer and chisels, until she sets one foot delicately upon my studio floor, and embraces the sunrise as it comes in through the windows.
That seems quite strange now that I write it down, Mr Smith, but as I have spent the week pacing the corridors of Mnemosyne’s Rest, drawing and sketching constantly on one page or other, I have quite tired myself, and my dreams have been tremendously vivid. In every dream I have, it seems to me that Theia steps out from the marble as easily as rising from a pool of water, and although she moves out of it very fluidly, I know, in the dream, that it is I who wrought it. Is it not so very strange, Mr Smith, how you might know things to be true in dreams without quite understanding how or why you know it to be true, only that you do?
But in any case, yesterday – yesterday being Saturday – I began to carve my first maquette.
Do you know what a maquette is, Mr Smith? I hope I do not condescend to you – I know that you have chosen to sponsor me as an artist, and evidently, you know people who can purchase for you great slabs of marble, and transport it very fleetly and silently, but I don’t know if that means you have a great expertise where art is concerned, or if you only wish to see its final result.
If you do know, you must jump over this passage, and jump over any other where I bore you with my technical explanations – oh, Mr Smith, I would hate indeed to bore you. When my letters are the recompense I pay you for the kindness of your patronage, what a shame it would be to bore you with them.
When a gentleman sculpts with clay, he can take away or add to it as he pleases until it is time to set it within the kiln to bake – so long as the clay is moist and kept flexible beneath one’s hands, one can spin it and mould it and alter it as one pleases, and if one accidentally draws too much away, one can take more clay from the slab and return it to one’s subject.
(I do not like clay, Mr Smith. It is a dreadfully sticky substance, and my hands always come away so red and smutty with it, I feel as though I have been working at some abattoir.)
To sculpt with wood or stone or something else, it is different. One works from one block, you see, and when one chips something away from the block, it is gone – there is no glue on this earth, Mr Smith, that might repair a lopsided chest, once one has gone awry with one’s chisel. It is the work of a sculptor to mine one’s subject from the oppressive weight of its surroundings, but one has to be careful not to damage one’s subject in the process.
As you can imagine, when working on a very large piece of marble, as the one you have so graciously gotten for me, it could be very easy indeed to injure my Titaness in my quest to free her from within: therefore, one creates a maquette, which is a sort of version of one’s sculpture in miniature, and once it is done, you can segment out the anatomy as one has made it, and use callipers to mark one’s points of particular interest on the larger ones – the callipers allow one to recreate the work to scale by acting as landmarks, you see?
I don’t know that I have ever sculpted as I did yesterday, Mr Smith, not in all my life.
I rose from my bed, dressed, and descended the stair to the dining room, where I ate a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and some fried vegetables, and then I went into the studio, and having done many sketches in the week, and having sort of digested them in my dreams, as one does, as soon as I crossed the threshold, I picked up my chisel and my hammer and set to work—
And then all of a sudden, Mr Smith, I came to myself, as though waking once more from a dream, only that it was quite dark outside and I had stripped off my vest and unbuttoned my shirt, so drenched in sweat as I was that it stuck to my chest, and my arms ached quite terribly and I was covered all over in marble dust, and I was so very hungry I was dizzy with it, and from the small block of marble – this one being only about a foot high – Theia’s silhouette was quite hazy, but visible as that of a woman’s.
It was so very queer, you know.
My hands, exhausted, wilted like dying flowers, and I dropped my chisel and hammer onto the couch, moving on jellified legs into the next room and falling before the dining table, devouring… I really can’t recall what my meal was, only that it was hearty and very meaty, and quite juicy, besides, for I recall the way the juice stuck to my chin.
I felt so very exhausted I wanted to go straight to bed, but I couldn’t bear to thinking of the state I had left my workspace in, and I limped back to the studio to clean my tools and pack them away before I retired to bed, but the servants had evidently already swept through, for all my marble dust was quite gone away, and my tools were sparkling clean, and dry.
Standing there in the doorway, Mr Smith, I could scarcely tear my eyes from Theia, still blanketed as she was in marble, as yet not wholly made in miniature, so undefined, and my fingers twitched at my sides – I wanted very badly to return to my work, to continue my efforts, but really, Mr Smith, I ought not have progressed so much in one day, and to have done what I had already, my whole body hurt with it, as though I had spent the day labouring as Sisyphus does.
My shoulders, my arms, my back, my waist, my thighs, my feet, even, all of my body ached, and was so very stiff I could have been made of marble myself, and I knew that I couldn’t bear to do even another minute of hewing work without dropping dead.
I almost wept climbing the stairs to my bed.
How my legs ached, how they hurt, and I wanted to take a hot bath just to soothe the pain from my body, but I was certain as soon as I slipped into the water the soothing heat of it would send me straight to sleep, and it would be the most ridiculous way to drown, you know, so I did not. I sort of fell out of my clothes, wriggling out of them, and fell forward naked atop the sheets on my bed, white dust still stuck fast to me in places, every part of me stiff—
Oh, you must not think too poorly of me, Mr Smith, but I was so very tired I didn’t even put myself beneath the covers. I just sort of laid on top of them, and told myself within but a few seconds I would roll myself appropriately beneath their warmth, but the night was quite temperate, and I was so tired I fell asleep before I managed it.
When I woke, it was well past noon and I had put myself beneath the duvet in the night – I would have felt quite guilty, I think, but I really have no notion of what time it was when I slipped into bed, only that it was black as pitch outside, so I feel it must have been very late.
My lunch awaited me on a tray, so I hate it, and since then I have sort of sprawled around and laid in place, until I finally reached for the tray again and commenced this letter to you.
I shall take a bath this evening, for even after all this rest, my whole body quite hurts – I really don’t know what I was thinking, working in such a fever, but truth be told, I don’t know that I was thinking at all. After all, I don’t remember thinking – were thoughts really thought, Mr Smith, if one has no notion of having thought any at all?
Mr Zagre says a good madness can be quite the catharsis – perhaps that is what it was.
I have entered such inspirited states in my life, but never for quite so long, and never in such a way as to not stop to eat or to rest, but sometimes, I suppose, we are moved by the soul of our art, and it quite possesses us.
Even as I write to you now, Mr Smith, I can hear the water running into the bath in the next room. I wonder, were I to creep forward from beneath my blankets, nude as I am, and silently open the bathroom door to peek within, who might I see? I have not had much occasion to think about it, these past days, but I cannot help but wonder what manner of staff occupy this home with me, always out of my sight.
Are they men, women? Old, young? Fat, thin, tall, short, handsome, ugly? Do they care for art? Do they care for me – am I an inconvenience to them? Are they worried that I should see them? Is it at your instruction, Mr Smith, that they remain always hidden from my sight?
I cannot bear to attempt it, of course.
My body aches too much to move very stealthily, and I am so very tired, I do not know that I am even in the mood to entertain a conversation with whomever might be running my bath – I am impossibly grateful, of course, but…
At times, I lack the spirit for conversation, and now is one of those times, but it is easy to write. I wrote two letters earlier in the week, one for the Stone Post, and one to the family of Mr Thornwell, inquiring after his health, for I have heard no word from anyone about his health, and I am concerned for him, and I also wrote a letter to Mrs Kori Asimi, telling her that I am now in Heatherton, and that I was very grateful for all her past support of my artwork, and that I knew her children lived nearby.
I wrote to Telamon at the Aeginan Home, also, and asked if perhaps he might have an address for Thamyris, for I have not thought of him often these past few years, and yet now at Mnemosyne’s Rest, he is a constant consideration in my day’s musings. He was in my dream last night, you know – I did not see him, for I had eyes only for Theia as she stepped from the marble, a white ghost in miniature, and yet I could hear Thamyris singing. His music filled my studio to the brim, and filled me, also.
I have never been a man particularly posed to correspondence, as I have told you, Mr Smith – I am not at all an interesting man, and I suppose at times, I rather struggle to put myself to the page. It seems to me I am a creature who was made to be looked at, and everything I create is made to be looked at, also – I am not naturally poised for conversation, and even at the Royal Academy, very few people ever seemed to be interested in speaking for me for every long, and I sometimes think that perhaps if they could not look at me while we were engaged in conversation, they would not bother to speak with me at all.
Please do not mistake me, for I am very grateful that people find me good-looking, for beauty is a sign of favour from the gods, but I only wish I had more substance behind me. I think sometimes that I am like a sketch some better artist than I have wrought upon the page: beautiful to look at, for a moment, but not worthy of extensive contemplation, and with nothing whatsoever behind the face of the sketch itself.
Oh, Mr Smith, I worry so much that I am empty, and that everyone I have ever known is full.
It is for that reason I have never much written to anyone, for the act of correspondence is putting one’s soul upon the page, and but for what is sometimes revealed in my better art, I do not know that I have ever been in possession of such things, and I do not wish to bother anyone with my soulnessness, only I have been in Heatherton for quite some weeks now, and clapped eyes on almost no one, and had no conversation with anyone since I spoke with Mr Thornwell on my journey north, and really, what I like is to listen to other people speaking in conversation – you know, interesting people, who speak back and forth with one another, and aren’t held back by such uncertainty as I have.
Perhaps I make no sense to you. Perhaps you think I am very mad indeed, and that my madness lacks any sort of charm or poetry, as one might hope from it.
Excuse me, Mr Smith. It seems I grow quite maudlin, and that must be dull indeed to read. I shall bathe, and return refreshed to write to you.
It is a good job, Mr Smith, I did not date my letter to you before I commenced to write it, for as I write to you now it is now Monday morning.
I did not fall asleep in my bath – as I have told you before, I would never – but after I had washed myself, I
[a segment of text hastily blotted out]
There are things I ought not write upon the page, and I do apologise for the mess I have made of my paper above, but I would not write anything that would have you think very little of me. It is merely that I took a long bath, Mr Smith, and was so very tired in the aftermath I fell back into bed still somewhat damp from it, and slept then until came the morning.
I shall send this letter off you to immediately, Mr Smith, and then return to my studio to work some. My muscles still ache somewhat, though not nearly so awfully as they did, and I am rested enough, I think, to return to my work.
Yours, tired but fit to create,