SOME time ago while in London visiting family members I made my way to Cheyne Row in Chelsea to see the London home of the Sage of Ecclefechan, Thomas Carlyle.
The guide book I was using informed that other famous men once lived in Cheyne Row, namely the painters James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and Joseph Turner (1775-1851). Not being into art I took as reliable the comments of that guide.
Both men observed the same scene, old Father Thames with its barges, stunted trees and the surrounding crowded streets, yet each man interpreted that scenery differently.
Whistler painted in sooty browns and greens, even hanging his work out in all weathers to render it even more sober. Whistler’s ‘At The Piano’, painted in 1859 crystallized his style, pale flat tones and sparse detail.
Turner dealt with those scenes in his own special way. For him, “Every glance of nature was a refinement of his art.”
He painted in golden splashes and all the colours of the sunset. Oscar Wilde was noted for suggesting: “There were no fogs in London before Dickens and no sunsets before Turner.”
Whistler saw things soberly, bordering on the morose, while Turner communicated the vivacity of the scene to the point of glory. The same evidence was interpreted differently. We all do it.
So what is our interpretation of life as we encounter it day by day? Benjamin Disraeli’s view has its adherents: “Youth is a blunder, manhood is a struggle old age is regret.”
While such sentiments can be occasionally true, as a concept for the whole of life, it makes human existence a cold house. If Disraeli nodded in the direction of Whistler, Turner’s approach has the backing of the prophet Isaiah. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” (40 v 31).
The central source of strength for every phase oflife, and the three outlined in Disraeli’s comment, is ‘hope in the Lord’. Isaiah was addressing a dispirited nation and his exhortation was effective for the Lord in whom he challenged them to hope had just delivered them from Babylon.
This sorce of strength gives youth it’s vigour. Young men see visions. To them the future is always bright and in Emerson’s words they chant, “Give us health and a day and we will the pomp of Emperors ridiculous.”
Those in life’s middle passage, with its strains and obligations, run the path of duty with confidence and honour knightly vows with alacrity. Those who face the setting sun in old age walk on in confidence, recalling busy days gone now, tasks completed and faith vindicated.
Whatever our stage in life His sufficient grace will be available to us. George Adam Smith wrote: “Let us hold fast to a faith which exhults in being the secret of enthusiasm and is daring enough to find its fulfilment in the commonplace.”