Landseer Part 2 – Last Days

Sir_edwin_landseer

Self portrait

Towards the end of his life Landseer became hopelessly insane and, during his periods of violence, a dangerous homicidal maniac. Such an affection, however, had my father and mother for the friend of their young days, that they still had him to stay with us in Kent for long periods. He had necessarily to bring a large retinue with him: his own trained mental attendant; Dr. Tuke, a very celebrated Alienist [psychiatrist] in his day; and, above all, Mrs. Pritchard. The case of Mrs. Pritchard is such an instance of devoted friendship as to be worth recording. She was an elderly widow of small means, Landseer’s neighbour in St. John’s Wood; a little shrivelled, dried-up old woman. The two became firm allies, and when Landseer’s reason became hopelessly deranged, Mrs. Pritchard devoted her whole life to looking after her afflicted friend. In spite of her scanty means, she refused to accept any salary, and Landseer was like wax in her hands. In his most violent moods when the keeper and Dr. Tuke both failed to quiet him, Mrs. Pritchard had only to hold up her finger and he became calm at once. …….

Edwin_Landseer_1873

Landseer in 1873, the year of his death.

My mother happened to be confined to her bed with an attack of bronchitis when Landseer’s visit came to an end, but she felt no hesitation about receiving her life-long friend in her bedroom, insane though he was, so he was shown in, Mrs. Pritchard, the faithful watch-dog, remaining on guard outside the door. Landseer thanked my mother profusely for the pleasure his visit had given him, and then added “now, will you allow an old friend of over fifty years’ standing to take a very great liberty?”
“Certainly, Lanny,” answered my mother, thinking that he was asking permission to kiss her.
“Thank you,” said Landseer, and at once sat down on her chest and remained there. He was a very heavy man, and my mother in her weak state had not sufficient strength to move him from his position. His weight was crushing her; she was quite unable to breath, and, suffering as she was from bronchitis, she began to lose consciousness, and might have been suffocated, had not the watchful Mrs. Pritchard (who, I suspect, had kept her eye constantly glued to the key-hole of the door) darted into the room and raised Landseer to his feet, soundly upbraiding him at the same time for his outrageous conduct. That was the last visit he ever paid us.
‘The Days Before Yesterday’, Lord Frederic Hamilton. Hodder and Stoughton. 1920.

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