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This article is taken from PN Review 63, Volume 15 Number 1, September - October 1988.

Moonstruck: Samuel Palmer Anthony Bailey

Anyone with a touch of fitfully recognized or fulfilled talent will find it easier to identify with Samuel Palmer than with other more consistent artists: genius blazes in his pictures early, and for a short while, then apparently diminishes. We are intrigued by the fall from eminence into a more common lot, and the melancholy of a long period of humdrum life made all the more so by his awareness of it. 'I seem doomed never to see again that first flush of summer splendour which entranced me at Shoreham,' he wrote to his wife Hannah in June, 1859, when he was 54; and although he was referring to weather - to east wind and mist at Hastings - he may well also have had in mind the artistic brilliance which was his between the ages of 21 and 27. Further evidence of the fall was found by Palmer's second, only surviving son Herbert, in a memorandum book into which his father while in the Eden of Shoreham had copied bits of Shakespeare, Spenser and other poets, and later in London, listed engagements with pupils and amounts received for instructing them in art. Much of what is known about Samuel Palmer was first assembled by Herbert, who wrote a filial but still first-rate life of his father in 1892, but who also - whether to lighten his steamer trunks or preserve as he thought his father's reputation - burned a great heap of material before he emigrated to Canada ...


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