Winslow Homer - The Obtuse Bard (draft 20150402) screen 126
Compare Homer's The Gulf Stream. Note the position of the boat and the position of the ship in the background. Although the similarity to Allston's painting is obvious, much is different. The boat is demasted. Instead of a square rigged ship with sails down, there is a schooner under full sail. The waterspout suggests a hurricane. Much has been written about Homer's The Gulf Stream, but it is mentioned here because of its connection to a book that Winslow Homer owned. That book provides significant additional background regarding how Winslow Homer viewed Nature and may add to the understanding of The Gulf Stream.

March 25, 1872, John Hamilton Gourlie gave Winslow Homer a copy of George Chaplin Child's Benedicite: The Song of the Three Children. That book was among the many items purchased by Margaret Strong from the Homer family at Prout's Neck and it is now in the library of The Margaret Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester New York. Gourlie was an honorary member of the National Academy of Design, a founder of the Century Club, travelled with W. C. Bryant to Europe in 1852 and went with John Durand to visit John's father Ascher Durand in Italy. This book can add insights into Homer's thinking especially when items from Child's book can be connected to an artwork, such as in the case of The Gulf Stream.

Benedicite relates to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three who were burned in the fire. Dr. Chaplin's words explain the purpose of the book. He wrote,
The Three Hebrews were miraculously preserved. Daniel tells us that Nebuchadnezzar himself saw them "loose and walking in the midst of the fire." "Not a hair of their heads was singed, neither were their coats changed, nor had the smell of the fire passed on them." Elsewhere in the Song of the Three Children, we are told that "they walked in the midst of the fire, praising God and blessing the Lord." After so signal a deliverance, who does not realize the exulting fervour with which their Hymn of gratitude was poured forth? The deepest consciousness of the almighty power of God welled up in their hearts and burst from their lips, and the whole universe was ransacked for illustrations, to typify and express it. ln whatever direction they turned they beheld nature crowed with emblems of His glory and beneficence, and they eagerly welcomed them as aids to lift up their thoughts to the fervour of their adoration." [from G. C. Child Chaplin, M.D., 1870, p.7 ff
Further on, Dr. Chaplin also wrote,
They who have acquired this sensibility to the hymns of praise for ever ascending from all God's works, have found an aid to adoration whose value is known to themselves, but which must sometimes appear like extravagant affectation to others who have never taken any pains to cherish it. ... It may, indeed, be truely said that he who undertakes to cull from the many fields of nature the most striking examples of God's Providence will find his chief difficulty to arise from the "embarrassment of riches." [G. C. Child Chaplin, M.D., 1870, p. 13 ff.

The "embarrassment of riches" may explain Homer's comment and drawing "W.H. hiding his light under a bushel."

Details regarding the scientific details of the Gulf Stream are found in a chapter titled Seas and Floods in which Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury is quoted at length. Additional biographical information about Lt. Maury might also be related to Homer's painting, but that discussion does not belong here. Looking at Nature using Benedicite as a guide helps the viewer to see "emblems of His glory and benefinence." You are not just looking at physical Nature, but appreciating and cherishing His work, evidence of His imagination, perfection, and intelligence. The point here is that Child's book Benedicite provides insight into Winslow Homer thinking. We should expect to find evidence of its influence on Winslow Homer, evidence that he "...beheld nature crowned with emblems of His glory and beneficence" and that he too "eagerly welcomed them as aids to lift up their thoughts to the fervour of their adoration." One remark by Homer is certainly consistent with Child's book, which is this, "The Sun will not rise or set without my notice and thanks."

Note: We have mentioned two separate biblical stories about visions seeing three people. One is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were burned in the fire and the other is the story of the three angels appearing at Abraham's tent. Benedicite is based on the psalm written about the three burned in the fire.


Copyright 1992-2015 Peter Bueschen
The presentation is available at The Obtuse Bard website