A Rogue's Life HTML version

Chapter 5
HE led the way into the street as he spoke. I felt the irresistible force of his logic. I
sympathized with the ardent philanthropy of his motives. I burned with a noble
ambition to extend the sphere of the Old Masters. In short, I took the tide at the
flood, and followed Dick.
We plunged into some by-streets, struck off sharp into a court, and entered a
house by a back door. A little old gentleman in a black velvet dressing-gown met
us in the passage. Dick instantly presented me: "Mr. Frank Softly--Mr. Ishmael
Pickup." The little old gentleman stared at me distrustfully. I bowed to him with
that inexorable politeness which I first learned under the instructive fist of
Gentleman Jones, and which no force of adverse circumstances has ever availed
to mitigate in after life. Mr. Ishmael Pickup followed my lead. There is not the
least need to describe him--he was a Jew.
"Go into the front show-room, and look at the pictures, while I speak to Mr.
Pickup," said Dick, familiarly throwing open a door, and pushing me into a kind of
gallery beyond. I found myself quite alone, surrounded by modern-antique
pictures of all schools and sizes, of all degrees of dirt and dullness, with all the
names of all the famous Old Masters, from Titian to Teniers, inscribed on their
frames. A "pearly little gem," by Claude, with a ticket marked "Sold" stuck into the
frame, particularly attracted my attention. It was Dick's last ten-pound job; and it
did credit to the youthful master's abilities as a workman-like maker of Claudes.
I have been informed that, since the time of which I am writing, the business of
gentlemen of Mr. Pickup's class has rather fallen off, and that there are dealers in
pictures, nowadays, who are as just and honorable men as can be found in any
profession or calling, anywhere under the sun. This change, which I report with
sincerity and reflect on with amazement, is, as I suspect, mainly the result of
certain wholesale modern improvements in the position of contemporary Art,
which have necessitated improvements and alterations in the business of picture-
In my time, the encouragers of modern painting were limited in number to a few
noblemen and gentlemen of ancient lineage, who, in matters of taste, at least,
never presumed to think for themselves. They either inherited or bought a gallery
more or less full of old pictures. It was as much a part of their education to put
their faith in these on hearsay evidence, as to put their faith in King, Lords and
Commons. It was an article of their creed to believe that the dead painters were
the great men, and that the more the living painters imitated the dead, the better
was their chance of becoming at some future day, and in a minor degree, great
also. At certain times and seasons, these noblemen and gentlemen self-
distrustfully strayed into the painting-room of a modern artist, self-distrustfully