Before Gustave Doré had been in Paris a year his father died. Shortly after, the Strasburg home was broken up, and madame Doré followed her son to Paris. Gustave’s tireless pencil was bringing him a better income than his father had ever made; and the mother and her three sons lived in comfort. The mother admonished Gustave to apply himself to pure art and not be influenced by Philipon and the others who were making fortunes by his genius. And this advice he intended to follow—not yet, but very soon. There were Rabelais and Balzac’s Contes drolatiques to illustrate. These done, he would then enter the atelier of one of the masters and take his time in doing the highest work.
But before the books were done others came, with retainers in advance. Then a larger work was begun, to illustrate the Crimean War, in five hundred battle scenes.
And so he worked—worked like a steam-engine—worked without ceasing. He illustrated Shakespeare’s Tempest as only Doré could; then Coleridge, Moore, Hood, Milton, Dante, Hugo, Gautier, and great plans were being laid to illustrate the Bible.
The years were slipping past. His brothers had found snug places in the army, and he and his mother lived together in affluence. Between them there was an affection that was very lover-like. They were comrades in everything—all of his hopes, plans, and ambitions were rehearsed to her. The love that he might have bestowed on a wife was reserved for his mother, and, fortunately, she had a mind strong enough to comprehend him.
In the corner of the large, sunny apartment that was set apart for his mother’s room, he partitioned off a little room for himself, where he slept on an iron cot. He wished to be near her, so each night he could tell her of what he had done during the day, and each morning rehearse his plans for the coming hours. By telling her, things shaped themselves, and as he described the pictures he would draw, others came to him.
The confessional seems a crying need of every human heart—we wish to tell someone. And without this confessional, where one soul can outpour to another that fully sympathizes and understands, marriage is a hollow, whited mockery, full of dead men’s bones.
There is a desire of the heart that makes us long to impart our joy to another. Corot once caught the sunset on his canvas as the great orb sank, a golden ball, behind the hills of Barbizon. He wished to show the picture to someone—to tell someone, and looking around saw only a cottage on the edge of the wood a quarter of a mile away, and thither he ran, crying to the astonished farmer, “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!”
- Image source: Milton, John; Vaughan, Robert. Milton’s Paradise lost. New York: Collier, n.d.