There was a time when Britannia accidentally ruled the world through commerce…
Flag of the British East India Company. this flag briefly served as the Grand Union Flag of the United States in 1775.
Other European nations partook of the colonization of vulnerable lands with massive resources as well, tying the world together, for good or ill, and shaping the modern world as we know it. It was common for young men to begin their careers by heading to the colonies and other exotic places far from home, so understandably merchants popped up to respond to the needs of this class of colonial gentlemen. Massive catalogues were available to outfit one with everything one would need, and many things one did not, to ease the transition to foreign climes.
A sample of goods for sale for the newly minted campaigner.
These young men hardly knew how to live away from home in their own country much less in lands known to them as virtual fables. You could not only provide the comforts of home and more, one could completely reinvent themselves and set up the ideal of a truly self-made man. We won’t look at the scruples of era at this time but marvel at the awesome array of cutting-edge camp and expedition equipment available.
“And, pray, what can be pleasanter to behold? Talk, indeed, of your pantomimes and gaudy shows; your processions and installations and coronations! Give me, for a beautiful sight, a neat and smart woman, heating her oven and setting in her bread! And, if the bustle does make the sign of labour glisten on her brow, where is the man that would not kiss that off, rather than lick the plaster from the cheek of a duchess.”
Arab Mendicant in Meditation Painter, Charles Camino, French b.1824 – d.1888, watercolor over traces of graphite on cream, slightly textured wove paper .
From the description of the Walters Art Museum:
“In this work, the artist depicts the figure in such a way that most of his face is obscured, creating a sense of mystery. Everything we know about the character of this man is expressed though his posture, clothes, and objects, like his bowl containing a few coins. Very little is known about Camino’s training; he visited Algeria in the early 1850s, which inspired the art he made in the decades that followed.”
The past couple years have been a time of transition. Those can be tough on a soul.
A painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893). Tinkers were originally tinsmiths or “tinners”. One of many itinerant jobs pursued by a class of casual laborers. These were mostly skilled and specialized crafts like basket making, shoe repair, leather work, and metal work but many poorer workers were migrant farm labor picking hops and tending the market gardens during the peak harvest. The fellow in the image above appears to be a fairly well-off repairman mending a seam in a pot. This from a time when new items were a rare purchase.
I love deciphering images like this for the details of domestic life. Unlike most photos, there is real intention in what the artist chose to include or not in the painting. The house is clearly a poor one but a freshly killed chicken hangs from a nail on the wall by some dry roots. A handmade broom leans against the wall next to a basket that has the tradesman’s coat lying across it. The oldest daughter tends the infant while the mother stands by the laundry basin with a toddler behind. All the children look on while the novel worker plies his trade in a waistcoat and hobnail walking shoes.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
I really love this illustration from one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain. An image of his mind while recounting his many adventures on the road and playing the self-critical and self-deprecating American. This is how my thoughts appear to me much of the time.