over the last several years, i’ve been working on an edition of the selected poems of bernard isaac durward, a scottish immigrant to milwaukee in the mid-1800s. along the way, i’ve made some fun discoveries; one of which is a book hand-painted by bernard’s son charles.
in my childhood, i visited durward’s glen with my grandparents who lived in baraboo, wisconsin. the small sandstone and conglomerate gorge on prentice creek shaped my young imagination and grounded me in a sense of the numinous in the natural world linked to the devotions of the catholic faith. little did i know that decades later, when i finally got a job teaching in a university english department in milwaukee, i’d end up living on the same street as bernard (the old plank road, humboldt ave) before learning that this early milwaukee poet was _the_ durward that the glen was named after.
once i learned this, and started looking into bernard’s literary and visual art, it felt as though making his work more widely available was a sort of mission. i’ve been in archives throughout milwaukee and at the glen, visited the seminary here in milwaukee where bernard worked as an english professor, and worked thru every issue of the daily milwaukee paper _the sentinel_ (and other periodicals) to track down bernard’s publishing history. all while accumulating quite a little library of bernard’s and his children’s books, all self-published in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
then, i happened on a blog post from the milwaukee public library that featured a book i hadn’t yet come across: a one of a kind book of paintings featuring one painting per page of plants found at the glen, all painted by bernard durward’s most artistically inclined son, charles.
chalres percy durward (1844-1875) was born in prestwich, england and came with his family to milwaukee, wisconsin in 1845. he learned to draw and paint at his father’s side, first at riverside in milwaukee (the plot now called gordon park), then at st. francis seminary in st. francis, wisconsin. when the family moved to durward’s glen in columbia county in 1862, charles painted plants and landscapes, but he found the only money to be had from art was in portraiture. he dutifully obliged to some extent, and farmed some in order to afford a trip abroad to scotland, england, and france. but generally speaking his “contempt for money was as absolute as any poet or philosopher could wish” (says his brother wilfrid in his moving memorial to charles in his book annals of the glen—wilfrid’s poem on his brother’s memory is reproduced at the bottom of this post). charles died suddenly and prematurely by eating a root he found while hoeing one morning; they speculate it was water hemlock—a grimly ironic death given charles’s great love of plant life. near the end of his life, when he was painting more and more religious paintings, he said “i only want enough money to live on, and then to paint madonnas the rest of my life.” well said.
two years before his death, he also painted the book of wildflowers and tree branches from the glen, the idiosyncratic book i got the chance to leaf thru in the rare books collection last month. it was lovely and big and heavy and a touching relic of this man’s life and his fondness for the growing things with whom he lived at the glen. knowing the glen and its various inhabitants from my earliest years, and knowing that charles wouldn’t live more than a couple years after compiling this book, having some time with it was a powerful experience. here’s hoping i can get the selected poems out in the near future!
the milwaukee public library has given me permission to use their own (clear and straight-on) images of the book, and i’ve included a few more of my own with poorer lighting but more “hands-on.” i hope you enjoy, and do stop by the glen to meet his models someday if you’re in the neighborhood.
“these twenty years” by wilfrid durward, on his brother’s early death
the snowdrops nestle there,
the cross a marble prayer,
rises divinely fair
above his head.
the shadow comes and goes,
the grass but sparcely grows,
one frail ‘dear wilding rose’
the pine trees overhead
a perfumed coolness spread,
we pass with muffled tread
upon their leaves.
of sound, the calm suspense;
life’s turmoil has gone hence;
’round every tired sense
still sweetness weaves.