View of Richmond the Capital of Virginia, U.S. on the James River, Looking downwards

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BROOKE, William Henry (1772–1860) - BUCKINGHAM, James Silk (1786–1855) - BENNETT, William James (1787-1844). View of Richmond the Capital of Virginia, U.S. on the James River, Looking downwards. London: 1842.

Single sheet (8 4/8 x 10 6/8 inches). EXCEPTIONALLY FINE, EARLY WATERCOLOUR DRAWING OF RICHMOND, THE CAPITAL OF VIRGINIA, IN 1839, pen and ink and watercolour wash, heightened in white, on paper. An extremely romantic view of Richmond, the capital of Virginia. Captioned by the author beneath the image: "View of Richmond the Capital of Virginia, U.S. on the James River" (browned).



Buckingham describes the history and foundation of Richmond from page 412 in volume II, of his "The Slave States of America": "The situation of the town is peculiarly striking and beautiful; and from almost every point of view it forms a magnificent picture. The three finest views, perhaps are from the river's bank avove the Falls; from the library windows in the upper story of the State House, of Capitol; and from Gamble's Hall, where the panorama is most extensive... Though the town of Richmond has one general ascent upward from the river's-bank on the north, it has within its area several small hills and valleys, running at right angles with the stream, and consequently giving great inequalities to the surface, which, however inconvenient to pedestrians in their perambulations of the streets, adds greatly to the variety and beauty of the picture, throwing out the most prominent buildings in bold relief, elevating the spires of the churches, and domes of the Academy and Court House, and, above all, exhibiting the noble form and proportions of the Capitol, which, like the Temple of the Parthenon on the Acropolis at Athens, stands proudly elevated on the brow of the hill, to the greatest advantage" (Buckingham "The Slave States of America", London, 1842, volume II, pages 412-415).

The renowned artist of this dramatic scene is Irishman William Henry Brooke, F.S.A., celebrated for his paintings, and numerous illustrations to travel accounts such as the one in which his "Slaves shipping Cotton by torch-light-River Alabama' appears opposite page 472 in Buckingham's "The Slave States of America". He and Buckingham collaborated on many works, including Buckingham's "Travels in Assyria, Media and Persia", London, 1830. Buckingham described their working relationship in volume 20 of his own "Oriental Herald" of 1829: "To the kindness of my friend, Mr. James Baillie Frazer, the intelligent author of a Tour in the Himalya Mountains, and a Journey in Khorassan, I owe the two interesting views, of the Ruins of Persepolis seen under the aspect of an approaching storm, and the Ruins of Ormuz with its sweeping bay of anchorage. With these exceptions, the Illustrations of the Volume, to the number of twenty-six, are from original sketches of the scenes and objects described, taken in the course of the journey, and completed from descriptions noted on the spot. The manner in which these have all been drawn on wood by Mr. W. H. Brooke, and in which the greater part of them have been executed by the respective engravers whose names appear in the list, is such as, I hope, will confirm the established reputation of the artists themselves, at the same time that they cannot fail to gratify as well as to instruct the reader".

As a youth Brooke "worked briefly in a bank but within a short period became the pupil of the history painter Samuel Drummond. He made rapid progress and soon established himself as a portrait painter, first in Soho and later in the Adelphi, London, and in 1810 he showed his first works at the Royal Academy. However, between 1813 and 1823 he did not exhibit, but in the latter year sent a portrait and two Irish landscapes with figures for exhibition. In 1826 he showed Chastity, and this was to be the final work which he sent to the academy.

"In 1812 Brooke began drawing for The Satirist, a monthly publication which changed ownership several times during its short life, expiring finally in 1814. He contributed satirical illustrations to this paper until September 1813, and was then succeeded by George Cruikshank. His drawings for this somewhat obscure periodical seem to have brought him a certain critical appreciation and presumably as a result he was commissioned to illustrate several popular books. Among the more important were Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies (1822); J. Major's edition (1823) of Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler, for which he supplied some vignettes; T. Keightley's The Mythology of Ancient Greece and Italy (1831); an edition of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels; Nathaniel Cotton's Visions in Verse for the Entertainment and Instruction of Younger Minds (1786); and Fables in Verse for the Female Sex by E. Moore and his uncle, Henry Brooke (1825). He also drew for William Hone's Every Day Book (1826–7) and W. H. Harrison's The Humorist (1832). Many of his non-humorous designs display a rather winning simplicity and sincerity and the influence of Thomas Stothard is clear. His portraits were evidently popular, as they were frequently engraved. Two of the best-known were of Angelica Catalani, the celebrated soprano, and Catherine, countess of Essex.

"Brooke was an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin and exhibited there on several occasions between 1827 and 1846... Examples of his portraiture are in the National Portrait Gallery, London, and Leeds City Art Gallery; some of his watercolours and drawings are in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. His engravings, including some woodcuts and etchings, are in the department of prints and drawings of the British Museum" (Ernest Radford, rev. Paul Goldman, for DNB).

Buckingham travelled extensively from a very early age, and was a voluminous writer, supporting himself on his travels, including those described in his "Slave States of America", by giving public lectures describing his travels in the east while touring: "He published numerous books on his foreign travels—which are especially notable for the information they provide about social conditions in the many countries he visited—and wrote a large number of pamphlets on social and political subjects. He was probably best known, however, as a lecturer, undertaking speaking tours in both Britain and North America. His enthusiasm for campaigns of reform was unrestrained; in his own words, he could ‘never find anything in a defective state without feeling an instinctive desire to improve it’. The sheer variety of his undertakings was not perhaps well calculated to ensure him immediate success in any one of them individually; indeed, his many critics judged him capricious and shallow. His seemingly eclectic political creed has puzzled historians as much as it infuriated his opponents. In sum, the remarkable range of his travels, the diversity of his interests, and the extent of his writings testify to a life of energy if not of achievement" (G. F. R. Barker, rev. Felix Driver for DNB).

Greatly concerned with the welfare of the enslaved in America, Buckingham does not shrink from expressing his often controversial opinion: "In the same spirit of impartiality, I have endeavoured to describe the state of Slavery in the Southern States, of which these volumes will contain a full account. I shall perhaps be blamed by some English readers for the admissions which I make, if not in favour, at least in palliation, of the conduct of manv slaveholders in America, as well as in the confessions which truth demands, of the well-being, and even comfort, of some of the domestic slaves. On the other hand, I expect my full share of censure from a large section, at least, of the people of America, for daring to speak, as truth compels me to do, of the wretched condition of the great body of the African race throughout the South; and of the reckless indifference to human life, and human obligations of every kind, which the very system of Slavery engenders in nearly all the white population who live beneath its influence. To the censures of both these parties I shall be willing to submit, and console myself with the belief that I have served the cause of truth and justice, better than by attempting to please either" (Preface).

The modern world had never seen such a vast and powerful slave society as existed in antebellum America: "the fundamental tragedy of this time, this era of revolutions in politics, transportation, and reform was also a period when an empire for slavery extended across a quarter of the new nation. Slavery, propelled by the same territorial expansion and technological innovation that drove so much else in the new country, spread like a hemorrhage. Over 300,000 slaveowners held nearly 4 million people in bondage by 1860. Slavery, contrary to the expectations of virtually everyone in 1815, grew stronger with each passing decade, embracing an ever larger part of the continent to the South and West, holding more people within its bonds, accounting for a larger share of the nation's exports. Cotton and slavery created a per capita income for white southerners higher than that of any country in Europe except England.

"The discussions in the churches, the reform organizations, and the political parties turned repeatedly, if fitfully and sometimes obliquely, to the morality of slavery and the sectional conflict it bred. Rivalry and distrust between the North and the South came to infect everything in public life. Each section viewed the other as aggressive and expansionist, intent on making the nation all one thing or another. The North claimed that the slaveholder South would destroy the best government on earth rather than accept the results of a fair election. The white South claimed that the arrogant and greedy North would destroy the nation rather than tolerate a labor system the Constitution itself had acknowledged. Both sides were filled with righteous rage, accepting violence to gain the upper hand, whether that involved capturing fugitive slaves or applauding John Brown's failed insurrection. Americans could not stop the momentum they themselves had created.

"What most Americans thought of as progress brought on the Civil War. Had the nation not expanded so relentlessly, the elaborate compromises of 1820, 1850, and 1854 might have held. Had the nation not been made so aware of itself through newspapers, novels, and sermons; through political parties and reform organizations; and through railroads and telegraphs, the bargains and evasions of the Revolutionary generation might have endured. Had cotton not been so in demand and so crucial to the prosperity of the nation and Europe, slavery might have faded rather than growing stronger. No one sought a war that would kill 630,000 Americans, but the killing came on the heels of many changes people did desperately seek. The war that broke out, suddenly and irrevocably defining this era, bore the marks of the emerging modern world. It would rage with terrifying efficiency and far-reaching consequences, forever, changing the way Americans thought of the years that had come before" (Edward L. Ayers for ANB).