THE SET OF CHINA
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
"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
"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
"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
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 ~~~~~~~