Dinah Craik and “The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple”

Holman Hunt's Painting of the child Jesus debating the interpretation of the scripture with learned rabbis
Figure 1: William Holman Hunt, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, Wikimedia Commons.

In 1860, the Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt completed and exhibited his now-famous painting, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple (Fig. 1). Hunt’s was one of the first attempts at a realistic, ethnographically and archaeologically accurate depiction of “The Finding in the Temple” from the Gospel of Luke. In the foreground, Mary and Joseph embrace the young Jesus Christ. They had lost him in Jerusalem and rediscovered him in a nearby temple discussing scripture with the Jewish Rabbis.

Dinah Craik and her friend Miss (Mary) Montgomery went to see The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple in London on Tuesday, April 10th, 1860. Dinah was immediately taken with it. She wrote to her brother that Sunday, that it was

“the grandest picture I ever saw – Beats all the old masters hollow – Real Art. – or rather it feels like Nature. Not like a picture – you seem actually there.”

At the viewing, Dinah also had the opportunity to speak with the artist, Holman Hunt, whom she refers to as

“such a nice, gentle, simple soul – as fine as his picture.”

Indeed, Dinah Craik was so struck by The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple that she felt compelled to write a poem to commemorate it. The poem, “Our Father’s Business: Holman Hunt’s Picture of ‘Christ in the Temple’,” is a devotional ode written in the first-person plural. It addresses and praises the young Jesus Christ—who is seen as wholly present and not simply reproduced in Holman Hunt’s painting. The speaker, who speaks on behalf of all Christians, glorifies the boy Christ and advocates for a renewed sense of Christian faith and duty. Craik had already written “Our Father’s Business” by the time she sent her brother his weekly mail on Sunday, April 15th, 1860, and it certainly did not spend much time on her desk after that. Sometime between April 10th and the end of the month, she sent it off to her friend and publisher, Alexander Macmillan.

“I don’t know whether this is good or not – or whether you would like it in the magazine. I felt it strongly – on seeing Hunt’s picture: one of the grandest, if not the grandest picture I ever saw in my life. – “

Macmillan must have thought it was a good poem because he published it the following month in Macmillan’s Magazine (May 1860). The painting could not be reproduced in the pages of Macmillan’s as it is here, but Craik’s poem is preceded by an anonymous introduction, elaborate description, and commentary on Hunt’s painting. This introduction concludes with a statement that seems to be written on behalf of Macmillan & Co.

It is now time to announce our conviction that Mr. Holman Hunt, who has ever been the steadfast centre of the Pre-Raffaelite movement, has in this noble work successfully laid down his idea of art; that by so doing he has put a crown on to his previous labours; and that the result is likely to be a great extension of those principles . . .

For ease of reference, I’ve copied Craik’s poem “Our Father’s Business” (1860) below. Enjoy!

OUR FATHER’S BUSINESS:
HOLMAN HUNT’S PICTURE OF ‘CHRIST IN THE TEMPLE.’
BY THE AUTHOR OF “JOHN HALIFAX.”

O CHRIST-CHILD, Everlasting, Holy One,
Sufferer of all the sorrow of this world,
Redeemer of the sin of all this world,
Who by Thy death brought’st life into this world,—
O Christ, hear us!

This, this is Thou. No idle painter’s dream
Of aureoled, imaginary Christ,
Laden with attributes that make not God;
But Jesus, son of Mary; lowly, wise,
Obedient, subject unto parents, mild,
Meek—as the meek that shall inherit earth,
Pure—as the pure in heart that shall see God.

O infinitely human, yet divine!
Half clinging childlike to the mother found,
Yet half repelling—as the soft eyes say,
‘How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not
That I must be about my Father’s business?’
As in the Temple’s splendors mystical,
Earth’s wisdom hearkening to the all-wise One,
Earth’s closest love clasping the all-loving One,
He sees far off the vision of the cross,
The Christ-like glory and the Christ-like doom.

Messiah! Elder Brother, Priest and King,
The Son of God, and yet the woman’s seed;
Enterer within the veil; Victor of death,
And made to us first fruits of them that sleep;
Saviour and Intercessor, Judge and Lord,—
All that we know of Thee, or knowing not
Love only, waiting till the perfect time
When we shall know even as we are known—
O Thou Child Jesus, Thou dost seem to say
By the soft silence of these heavenly eyes
(That rose out of the depths of nothingness
Upon this limner’s reverent soul and hand)
We too should be about our father’s business—
O Christ, hear us!

Have mercy on us, Jesus Christ, our Lord!
The cross Thou borest still is hard to bear;
And awful even to humblest follower
The little that Thou givest each to do

Of this Thy Father’s business; whether it be
Temptation by the devil of the flesh,
Or long-linked years of lingering toil obscure,
Uncomforted, save by the solemn rests
On mountain-tops of solitary prayer;
Oft ending in the supreme sacrifice,
The putting off all garments of delight,
And taking sorrow’s kingly crown of thorn,
In crucifixion of all self to Thee,
Who offeredst up Thyself for all the world.
O Christ, hear us!

Our Father’s business:—unto us, as Thee,
The whole which this earth-life, this hand-breadth span
Out of our everlasting life that lies
Hidden with Thee in God, can ask or need.
Outweighing all that heap of petty woes—
To us a measure huge—which angels blow
Out of the balance of our total lot,
As zephyrs blow the winged dust away.

O Thou who wert the Child of Nazareth,
Make us see only this, and only Thee,
Who camest but to do thy Father’s will,
And didst delight to do it. Take Thou then
Our bitterness of loss,—aspirings vain,
And anguishes of unfulfilled desire,

Our joys imperfect, our sublimed despairs,
Our hopes, our dreams, our wills, our loves, our all,
And cast them into the great crucible
In which the whole earth, slowly purified,
Runs molten, and shall run—the Will of God.
O Christ, hear us!

Works Cited:
Craik, Dinah.“Our Father’s Business: Holman Hunt’s Picture of ‘Christ in the Temple’.” Macmillan’s Magazine, vol. II, no. VII (May 1860): 40–41, accessed 5 June 2017.
Landow, George P. “The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple.” Replete with Meaning: William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009, Victorian Web, accessed 5 June 2017.
“Letter from Dinah Mulock Craik to Benjamin Mulock, 15 April 1860.” Mulock Family Papers, 846, Box 1, Folder 8, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California at Los Angeles.*
Letter from Dinah Mulock Craik to Alexander Macmillan, April 1860,” Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, Folder 67B2875, New York Public Library, Digital Dinah Craik on TAPAS, accessed 5 June 2017.
Stephens, Frederic George. William Holman Hunt and His Works: A Memoir of the Artist’s Life with Descriptions of His Pictures. London: James Nisbet & Co, 1861, accessed 5 June 2017.

*Coming soon to Digital Dinah Craik on TAPAS

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