Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: Life of William Blake, “Pictor Ignotus”, vol. 1
Author: Alexander Gilchrist
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of Composition: 1880

The full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.

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Sig. Vol. I.



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I assert for myself that I do not behold the outward creation, and that to me it is hindrance and not action. “What!” it will be questioned, “when the sun rises, do you not see the round disc of fire somewhat like a guinea?” Oh ! no, no ! I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host, crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!” I question not my corporeal eye any more than I would question a window concerning a sight. I look through it and not with it.—Blake, A Vision of the Last Judgment.
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Portrait of Blake

Fac-simile of a Portrait on Ivory

Painted from life by John Linnell, 1827

Engraved by C.H. Jeens.

Figure: Bust portrait of Blake, in profile

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Editorial Note (page ornament): Phaeton Press’ printer's mark, capital "P" drawing manned chariot



The Right of Translation is Reserved

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Originally Published 1880

Reprinted 1969
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 72-90368

Published by PHAETON PRESS, INC.
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Preface To The Second Edition.
In 1878 thirty-four autograph letters from William Blake to Hayley were sold by Messrs. Sotheby and Wilkinson. Thanks to the courtesy of the gentlemen into whose possession a large proportion of the letters ultimately passed,— Mr. Frederick Locker and Mr. Alexander Macmillan,—these, and a few more obtained from the same source (one by the British Museum and the others by Mr. Kirby), are now incorporated in the Biography, and carry on the narrative of Blake's life during the two years immediately succeeding his return from Felpham. In the same way the letters to Mr. Butts, generously placed in my hands by his grandson, Captain Butts, just before the appearance of the first edition, and there printed in Vol. II., are now put in their place, making the Felpham chapters mainly autobiographical.
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The two friends whose labour of love wrought so largely to give completeness to the first issue of this book have revised and, especially in the case of the Annotated Catalogue, brought up to date their work; whilst another friend, Mr. Frederic J. Shields, out of the same warmth of admiration for Blake's genius and character, has freely rendered precious service with pen and pencil further to enrich the new edition. He has supplied a vigorous translation into words of the more pregnant among the large and important series of Designs by Blake to Young's Night Thoughts, which has lately come to light, and is now in the possession of Mr. Bain, of the Haymarket—the series of which a very small portion only was engraved by Blake for Edwards's edition of 1797. Mr. Shields has also drawn, from original pencil sketches by Blake, two new portraits of Mrs. Blake and the head of Blake by himself, which was somewhat roughly given in the first edition. Lastly, he has adapted a fairy design of Blake's own to the cover.
From America has come help in the shape of some admirable examples of engraver's work, four of which are from designs by Blake never before reproduced, and two are from the Grave. These were executed to illustrate an article on Blake, by Mr. Horace Scudder, in Scribner's Magazine, June, 1880; and to the courtesy of Messrs. Scribner & Co., of
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New York, we are indebted for the use of the blocks.
Of additional illustrations there remain to be specified a newly discovered design to Hamlet (from a copy of the Second Folio Shakespeare containing also several other designs by Blake, and now in possession of Mr. Macmillan); another plate from the Jerusalem; the Phillips portrait of Blake, which Schiavonetti engraved for Blair's Grave; a view of Blake's Cottage at Felpham and of his Work Room and Death Room in Fountain Court, both drawn by Herbert H. Gilchrist; and, last not least, the Inventions to the Book of Job executed anew by the recently discovered photo-intaglio process.
In Vol. II will also now be found an Essay on Blake, by James Smetham, republished (by permission) from the London Quarterly Review. Its fine qualities and its inaccessibility will, I feel assured, make it welcome here as an important accession to a work which aims to gather to a focus all the light that can be shed on Blake and on the creations of his genius.
Anne Gilchrist

Keats Corner, Well Road, Hampstead,

Oct. 10, 1880
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Preface To The First Edition
One short word of sorrowful significance which has had to be inserted in the title-page, while it acquaints the reader with the peculiar circumstances under which this Biography comes before him, seems also to require a few words about its final preparation for the press; the more so as the time which has elapsed since the Life of Blake was first announced might otherwise lead to a wrong inference respecting the state in which it was left by the beloved author when he was seized, in the full tide of health and work and happy life, with the fever which, in five days, carried him hence. The Life was then substantially complete; and the first eight chapters were already printed. The main services, therefore, which the Work has received from other hands— and great they are—appear in the Second Part and in the Appendix: in the choice and arrangement of a large collection of Blake's unpublished and hitherto almost equally inaccessible published Writings, together with
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introductory remarks to each Section; and in a thorough and probably exhaustive Annotated Catalogue of his Pictorial Works. The first of these services—the editorship, in a word, of the Selections—has been performed by Mr. Dante Gabriel Rossetti; the second by his brother, Mr. William Rossetti. To both of these friends, admiration of Blake's genius and regard for the memory of his biographer have made their labour so truly a labour of love that they do not suffer me to dwell on the rare quality or extent of the obligation.
To the Life itself one addition has been made,—that of a Supplementary Chapter, in fulfilment of the Author's plan. He left a memorandum to the effect that he intended writing such a chapter, and a list of the topics to be handled there, but nothing more. This also Mr. D. G. Rossetti has carried into execution; and that the same hand has filled in some blank pages in the Chapter on the Inventions to the Book of Job the discerning reader will scarcely need to be told.
The only other insertions remaining to be particularized are the accounts of such of Blake's Writings as it was decided not to reprint in the Second Part; chiefly of the class he called Prophecies. I could heartily wish the difficult problem presented by these
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strange Books had been more successfully grappled with, or indeed grappled with at all. Hardly anything has been now attempted beyond bringing together a few readable extracts. But however small may be the literary value of the Europe, America, Jerusalem, &c., they are at least psychologically curious and important; and should the opportunity arise, I hope to see these gaps filled in with workmanship which shall better correspond with that of the rest of the fabric. In speaking of the Designs which accompany the Poems in question, I was not left wholly without valued aid.
To Mr. Samuel Palmer and Mr. William Haines, to Mr. Linnell and other of Blake's surviving friends, and to the possessors of his works, grateful acknowledgments of the services rendered are due, in various ways, by each and all to enhance the completeness of the following record of the fruitful life and labours of William Blake. In my dear husband's name, therefore, I sincerely thank these gentlemen.
Anne Gilchrist.

May 15th, 1863,

Brookbank, near Haslemere.
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Contents Of Volume I.

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Note: The list of illustrations is printed in four columns. The headers of the three right-hand columns are "Drawn by", "Engraved by", and "Page".
  • Portrait of Blake, from a miniature painted in 1827 . .   John Linnell    C.H. Jeens    Frontispiece
  • From America. . .  Blake    W. J. Linton    Title-page to Biography
  • From Illustrations of the Book of Job . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    1
  • Glad Day. Block lent by Messrs. Scribner and Co. . .   Blake          29
  • Plague. From a Water-colour Drawing . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    54
  • Infant Joy. From Songs of Innocence. Block lent by Messrs. Scribner and Co. . .   Blake    J. F. Jungling    68
  • Nebuchadnezzar. From Pencil-Drawing in Rossetti's MS. Note-book. . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    88
  • Illustration for Wollstonecraft's Tales for Children. From the original Drawing . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    90
  • From Visions of the Daughters of Albion . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    97, 103
  • Gates of Paradise. Eight plates. Facsimilies. . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    98, 100, 102
  • From America. . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    108, 110
  • From Europe. . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    124, 126
  • Elijah in the Chariot of Fire. From a Colour-printed Design. (See Vol. II., p. 209. No. 23.) Block lent by Messrs. Scribner and Co. . .   Blake          128
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  • Young burying Narcissa (?) India-ink Drawing. Block lent by Messrs. Scribner and Co. . .   Blake    J. Hellawell    134
  • "Are glad when they can find the Grave." From the MS. Note-book. (See Vol. II., p. 259. No. 27 F) . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    141
  • From Visions of the Daughters of Albion . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    155
  • Blake's Cottage at Felpham. Photo-Intaglio . .   Herbert H. Gilchrist.    Typographic Etching Co.    150
  • From the MS. Note-book . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    225
  • Vala Hyle, Skofeld. From Jerusalem . .   Blake    Typographic Etching Co.    230
  • Border from Jerusalem   Blake    W. J. Linton    232, 233, 234
  • Full-page "   " . . Blake W. J. Linton 226
  • "   "   " . . Blake W. J. Linton 236
  • "   "   " . . Blake W. J. Linton 238
  • "   "   " . . Blake W. J. Linton 240
  • Tail and Head-pieces from Jerusalem . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    27, 50, 51, 115, 264,
  • Portions of Pages from the same . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    239, 240
  • From Milton.—Blake's Cottage at Felpham . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    245
  • Death's Door. From Blair's Grave. Block lent by Messrs. Scribner and Co. . .   Blake          269
  • Counsellor, King, Warrior, Mother and Child in the Tomb. From the same. Block lent by Messrs. Scribner and Co.   Blake          270
  • Design from Hamlet. From Watercolour Drawing.   Blake    J. D. Cooper    272
  • Visionary Heads. From Pencil Drawings . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    299
  • From the same.—The Man who built the Pyramids, Edward I, William Wallace, Edward III. . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    300.
  • Ghost of a Flea . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    303.
  • The Accusers of Theft, Adultery, Murder . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    304
  • Designs to Phillips's Pastorals. Blake's own Wood-blocks. . .   Blake    Blake    320
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  • Plan of Blake's Room in Fountain Court . .   F. J. Shields          322
  • Behemoth and Leviathan. From the Illustrations to Job. .   Blake    W. J. Linton    336
  • Blake's Work-room and Death-room . .   Herbert H. Gilchrist    Typographic Etching Co.    348
  • Catherine Blake. From a Pencil-Drawing by her Husband. (Photo-Intaglio) . .   F. J. Shields    Typographic Etching Co.    361
  • Catherine and William Blake. From the Pencil-outline in MS. Note-book. (Photo-Intaglio). .   F. J. Shields    Typographic Etching Co.    374
  • The Circle of Traitors. From Dante . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    377
  • Mr. Cumberland's Card-plate . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    399
  • From Design for Blair's Grave . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    406
  • Mrs. Blake in Age . .   Tatham    W. J. Linton    412
  • Portrait of Blake. By T. Phillips, R.A., Etched by Schiavonetti for Blair's Grave. Photo-Intaglio. . .     Typographic Etching Co.    Frontispiece
  • Design from Visions of the Daughters of Albion . .   Blake       W. J. Linton    Title-page to Selections
  • Canterbury Pilgrimage (reduced). The Heads under it are Facsimilies . .   Blake    W. J. Linton    144
  • Illustrations of the Book of Job. Twenty-one Photo-Intaglios. .      Typographic Etching Co.    204
  • Songs of Innocence. Seven of the Original Plates . .    204
  • Songs of Experience. Nine of the Original Plates . .    204
  • Tail-piece. From Vision of the Daughters of Albion . . 376
  • The design on the cover is adapted, by Mr. Frederic J. Shields, from a rough sketch in Blake's MS. Note-book, for a picture which was exhibited some years ago at Manchester, but did not find its way to the Burlington Fine Art Club Exhibition of Blake's works. The angelic figure on the back of the volume is from one of the designs to Young's Night Thoughts.

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William Blake


from America

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From nearly all collections or beauties of ‘The English Poets,’ catholic to demerit as these are, tender of the expired and expiring reputations, one name has been hitherto perseveringly exiled. Encyclopædias ignore it. The Biographical Dictionaries furtively pass it on with inaccurate despatch, as having had some connexion with the Arts. With critics it has had but little better fortune. The Edinburgh Review, twenty-seven years ago, specified as a characteristic sin of ‘partiality’ in Allan Cunningham's pleasant Lives of British Artists, that he should have ventured to include his name, since its possessor could (it seems) ‘scarcely be considered a painter’ at all. And later, Mr. Leslie, in his Handbook for Young Painters , dwells on it with imperfect sympathy for a while, to dismiss it with scanty recognition.
Yet no less a contemporary than Wordsworth, a man little prone to lavish eulogy or attention on brother poets, spake in private of the Songs of Innocence and Experience of William
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Blake, as ‘undoubtedly the production of insane genius,’ (which adjective we shall, I hope, see cause to qualify,) but as to him more significant than the works of many a famous poet. ‘There is something in the madness of this man,’ declared he (to Mr. Crabb Robinson), ‘which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott.’
Of his Designs, Fuseli and Flaxman, men not to be imposed on in such matters, but themselves sensitive— as Original Genius must always be—to Original Genius in others, were in the habit of declaring with unwonted emphasis, that ‘the time would come’ when the finest ‘would be as much sought after and treasured in the portfolios’ of men discerning in art, ‘as those of Michael Angelo now.’ ‘And ah! Sir,’ Flaxman would sometimes add, to an admirer of the designs, ‘his poems are as grand as his pictures.’
Of the books and designs of Blake, the world may well be ignorant. For in an age rigorous in its requirement of publicity, these were in the most literal sense of the words, never published at all: not published even in the mediæval sense, when when writings were confided to learned keeping, and works of art not unseldom restricted to cloister-wall or coffer-lid. Blake's poems were, with one exception, not even printed in his life-time; simply engraved by his own laborious hand. His drawings, when they issued further than his own desk, were bought as a kind of charity, to be stowed away again in rarely opened portfolios. The very copper-plates on which he engraved, were often used again after a few impressions had been struck off; one design making way for another, to save the cost of new copper. At the present moment, Blake drawings, Blake prints, fetch prices which would have solaced a life of penury, had their producer received them. They are thus collected, chiefly because they are (naturally enough) already ‘ RARE,’ and ‘ VERY RARE.’ Still hiding in private portfolios, his drawings are there prized or known by perhaps a score of individuals, enthusiastic appreciators,—some of their singularity and rarity, a few of their instrinsic quality.
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At the Manchester Art-Treasures Exhibition of 1857, among the select thousand water-colour drawings, hung two modestly tinted designs by Blake, of few inches in size: one the Dream of Queen Catherine, another Oberon and Titania. Both are remarkable displays of imaginative power, and finished examples in the artist's peculiar manner. Both were unnoticed in the crowd, attracting few gazers, fewer admirers. For it needs to be read in Blake, to have familiarized oneself with his unsophisticated, archaic, yet spiritual ‘manner,'—a style sui generis as no other artist's ever was,—to be able to sympathize with, or even understand, the equally individual strain of thought, of which it is the vehicle. And one must almost be born with a sympathy for it. He neither wrote nor drew for the many, hardly for work'y-day men at all, rather for children and angels; himself ‘a divine child,’ whose playthings were sun, moon, and stars, the heavens and the earth.
In an era of academies, associations, and combined efforts, we have in him a solitary, self-taught, and as an artist, semi-taught Dreamer, ‘delivering the burning messages of prophecy by the stammering lips of infancy,’ as Mr. Ruskin has said of Cimabue and Giotto. For each artist and writer has, in the course of his training, to approve in his own person the immaturity of expression Art has at recurrent periods to pass through as a whole. And Blake in some aspects of his art never emerged from infancy. His Drawing, often correct, almost always powerful, the pose and grouping of his figures often expressive and sublime as the sketches of Raffaelle or Albert Dürer, on the other hand, range under the category of the ‘impossible;’ are crude, contorted, forced, monstrous, though none the less efficient in conveying the visions fetched by the guileless man from Heaven, from Hell itself, or from the intermediate limbo tenanted by hybrid nightmares. His prismatic colour, abounding in the purest, sweetest melodies to the eye, and always expressing a sentiment, yet looks to the casual observer slight, inartificial, arbitrary.
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Many a cultivated spectator will turn away from all this as from mere ineffectualness,—Art in its second childhood. But see that sitting figure of Job in his Affliction, surrounded by the bowed figures of wife and friend, grand as Michael Angelo, nay, rather as the still, colossal figures fashioned by the genius of old Egypt or Assyria! Look on that simple composition of Angels Singing aloud for Joy , pure and tender as Fra Angelico, and with an austerer sweetness.
It is not the least of Blake's peculiarities that, instead of expressing himself, as most men have been content to do, by help of the prevailing style of his day, he, in this, as in every other matter, preferred to be independent of his fellows; partly by choice, partly from the necessities of imperfect education as a painter. His Design has conventions of its own; in part, its own, I should say, in part, a return to those of earlier and simpler times.
Of Blake as an Artist, we will defer further talk. His Design can ill be translated into words, and very inadequately by any engraver's copy. Of his Poems, tinged with the very same ineffable qualities, obstructed by the same technical flaws and impediments—a semi-utterance as it were, snatched from the depths of the vague and unspeakable— of these remarkable Poems, never once yet fairly placed before the reading public, specimens shall by-and-bye speak more intelligibly for themselves. Both form part in a Life and Character as new, romantic, pious—in the deepest natural sense—as they : romantic, though incident be slight; animated by the same unbroken simplicity, the same high unity of sentiment.
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CHILDHOOD. 1757-71.
William Blake, the most spiritual of artists, a mystic poet and painter, who lived to be a contemporary of Cobbett and Sir Walter Scott, was born 28th November, 1757, the year of Canova's birth, two years after Stothard and Flaxman ; while Chatterton, a boy of five, was still sauntering about the winding streets of antique Bristol. Born amid the gloom of a London November, at 28, Broad Street, Carnaby Market, Golden Square (market now extinct), he was christened on the 11th December—one in a batch of six—from Grinling Gibbons’ ornate font in Wren's noble Palladian church of St. James's. He was the son of James and Catherine Blake, the second child in a family of five.
His father was a moderately prosperous hosier of some twenty years’ standing, in a then not unfashionable quarter. Broad Street, half private houses, half respectable shops, was a street much such as Wigmore Street is now, only shorter. Dashing Regent Street as yet was not, and had more than half a century to wait for birth ; narrow Swallow Street in part filling its place. All that Golden Square neighbourhood,—Wardour Street, Poland Street, Brewer Street,—held then a similar status to the Cavendish Square district say, now: an ex-fashionable, highly respectable condition, not yet sunk into the seedy category. The Broad Street of present date is a dirty, forlorn-looking thoroughfare ; one half of it twice as wide as the other. In the wider
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portion stands a large, dingy brewery. The street is a shabby miscellany of oddly assorted occupations,—lapidaries, pickle-makers, manufacturing trades of many kinds, furniture-brokers, and nondescript shops. ‘Artistes’ and artizans live in the upper stories. Almost every house is adorned by its triple or quadruple row of brass bells, bright with the polish of frequent hands, and yearly multiplying themselves. The houses, though often disguised by stucco, and some of them refaced, date mostly from Queen Anne's time; 28, now a ‘trimming shop,’ is a corner house at the narrower end, a large and substantial old edifice.
The mental training which followed the physical one of swaddling-clothes, go-carts, and head-puddings, was, in our Poet's case, a scanty one, as we have cause to know from Blake's writings. All knowledge beyond that of reading and writing was evidently self-acquired. A ‘new kind’ of boy was soon sauntering about the quiet neighbouring streets— a boy of strangely more romantic habit of mind than that neighbourhood had ever known in its days of gentility, has ever known in its dingy decadence. Already he passed half his time in dream and imaginative reverie. As he grew older the lad became fond of roving out into the country, a fondness in keeping with the romantic turn. For what written romance can vie with the substantial one of rural sights and sounds to a town-bred boy? Country was not, at that day, beyond reach of a Golden Square lad of nine or ten. On his own legs he could find a green field without the exhaustion of body and mind which now separates such a boy from the alluring haven as rigorously as prison bars. After Westminster Bridge—the ‘superb and magnificent structure' now defunct, then a new and admired one— came St. George's Fields, open fields and scene of ‘Wilkes and Liberty’ riots in Blake's boyhood; next, the pretty village of Newington Butts, undreaming its 19th century bad eminence in the bills of cholera-mortality ; and then, unsophisticated green field and hedgerow opened on the
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child's delighted eyes. A mile or two further through the ‘large and pleasant village’ of Camberwell with its grove (or avenue) and famed prospect, arose the sweet hill and vale and ‘sylvan wilds' of rural Dulwich, a ‘village’ even now retaining some semblance of its former self. Beyond, stretched, to allure the young pedestrian on, yet fairer amenities: southward, hilly Sydenham ; eastward, in the purple distance, Blackheath. A favourite day's ramble of later date was to Blackheath, or south-west, over Dulwich and Norwood hills, through the antique rustic town of Croydon, type once of the compact, clean, cheerful Surrey towns of old days, to the fertile verdant meads of Walton- upon-Thames; much of the way by lane and footpath. The beauty of those scenes in his youth was a lifelong reminiscence with Blake, and stored his mind with lifelong pastoral images.
On Peckham Rye (by Dulwich Hill) it is, as he will in after years relate, that while quite a child, of eight or ten perhaps, he has his ‘first vision.’ Sauntering along, the boy looks up and sees a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars. Returned home he relates the incident, and only through his mother's intercession escapes a thrashing from his honest father, for telling a lie. Another time, one summer morn, he sees the haymakers at work, and amid them angelic figures walking. If these traits of childish years be remembered, they will help to elucidate the visits from the spiritual world of later years, in which the grown man believed as unaffectedly as ever had the boy of ten.
One day, a traveller was telling bright wonders of some foreign city. ‘Do you call that splendid ?’ broke in young Blake; ‘I should call a city splendid in which the houses were of gold, the pavement of silver, the gates ornamented with precious stones.’ At which outburst, hearers were already disposed to shake the head and pronounce the speaker crazed : a speech natural enough in a child, but not unlikely to have been uttered in maturer years by Blake.
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To say that Blake was born an artist, is to say of course that as soon as the child's hand could hold a pencil it began to scrawl rough likeness of man or beast, and make timid copies of all the prints he came near. He early began to seek opportunities of educating hand and eye. In default of National Gallery or Museum, for the newly founded British Museum contained as yet little or no sculpture, occasional access might freely be had to the Royal Palaces. Pictures were to be seen also in noblemen's and gentlemen's houses, in the sale-rooms of the elder Langford in Covent Garden, and of the elder Christie: sales exclusively filled as yet with the pictures of the ‘old and dark’ masters, sometimes genuine, oftener spurious, demand for the same exceeding supply. Of all these chances of gratuitous instruction the boy is said to have sedulously profited: a dear proof other schooling was irregular.
The fact that such attendances were permitted, implies that neither parent was disposed, as so often happens, to thwart the incipient artist's inclination ; bad, even for a small tradesman's son, as at that time were an artist's outlooks, unless he were a portrait-painter. In 1767 (three years after Hogarth's death), Blake being then ten years old, was ‘put to Mr. Pars drawing-school in the Strand.’ This was the preparatory school for juvenile artists then in vogue: preparatory to the Academy of Painting and Sculpture in St. Martin's Lane, of the ‘Incorporated Society of Artists,’ the Society Hogarth had helped to found. The Royal Academy of intriguing Chambers’ and Moser's founding, for which George the Third legislated, came a year later. ‘Mr. Pars’ drawing-school in the Strand’ was located in ‘the great room,’ subsequently a show-room of the Messrs. Ackermann's— name once familiar to all buyers of prints—in their original house, on the left-hand side of the Strand, as you go citywards, just at the eastern comer of Castle Court: a house and court demolished when Agar Street and King William Street were made. The school was founded and brought
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into celebrity by William Shipley, painter, brother to a bishop, and virtual founder also, in 1754, of the still-extant Society of Arts,—in that same house, where the Society lodged until migrating to its stately home over the way, in the Adelphi.
Who was Pars? Pars, the Leigh or Cary of his day, was originally a chaser and son of a chaser, the art to which Hogarth was apprenticed, one then going out of demand, unhappily,—for the fact implied the loss of a decorative art. Which decadence it was led this Pars to go into the juvenile Art-Academy line, vice Shipley retired. He had a younger brother, William, a portrait-painter, and one of the earliest Associates or inchoate R. A.'s, who was extensively patronized by the Dilettanti Society, and by the dilettante Lord Palmerston of that time. The former sent him to Greece, there for three years to study ruined temple and mutilated statue, and to return with portfolios, a mine of wealth to cribbing ‘classic’ architects,—contemporary Chambers’ and future Soanes.
At Pars’ school as much drawing was taught as is to be learned by copying plaster-casts after the Antique, but no drawing from the living figure. Blake's father bought a few casts, from which the boy could continue his drawing-lessons at home: the Gladiator, the Hercules, the Venus de Medici, various heads, and the usual models of hand, arm, and foot. After a time, small sums of money were indulgently supplied wherewith to make a collection of Prints for study. To secure these, the youth became a frequenter of the print-dealer's shops and the sales of the auctioneers, who then took threepenny biddings, and would often knock down a print for as many shillings as pounds are now given, thanks to ever-multiplying Lancashire fortunes.
In a scarce, probably almost unread book, affecting—despite the unattractive literary peculiarities of its pedagogue authors— from its subject and very minuteness of detail, occurs an account, from which I have begun to borrow, of Blake's early education in art, derived from the artist's own lips. It is a more reliable story than Allan Cunningham's pleasant
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mannered generalities, easy to read, hard to verify. The singular biography to which I allude, is Dr. Malkin's Father's Memoirs of his Child (1806), illustrated by a frontispiece of Blake's design. The Child in question was one of those hapless ‘prodigies of learning’ who,—to quote a good-natured friend and philosopher's consoling words to the poor Doctor,—'commence their career at three, become expert linguists at four, profound philosophers at five, read the Fathers at six, and die of old age at seven.’
‘Langford,’ writes Malkin, called Blake ‘his little connoisseur, and often knocked down a cheap lot with friendly precipitation.’ Amiable Langford! The great Italians,— Raffaelle, Michael Angelo, Giulio Romano,—the great Germans,— Albert Dürer, Martin Hemskerk,—with others similar, were the exclusive objects of his choice ; a sufficiently remarkable one in days when Guido and the Caracci were the gods of the servile crowd. Such a choice was ‘contemned by his youthful companions, who were accustomed to laugh at what they called his mechanical taste!’ ‘I am happy,’ wrote Blake himself in later life ( MS. notes to Reynolds), ‘I cannot say that Raffaelle ever was from my earliest childhood hidden from me. I saw and I knew immediately the difference between Raffaelle and Rubens.’
Between the ages of eleven and twelve, if not before, Blake had begun to write original irregular verse ; a rarer precocity than that of sketching, and rarer still in alliance with the latter tendency. Poems composed in his twelfth year, came to be included in a selection privately printed in his twenty-sixth. Could we but know which they were! One, by Malkin's help, we can identify as written before he was fourteen: the following ethereal piece of sportive Fancy, ‘Song’ he calls it:—
  • How sweet I roam'd from field to field,
  • And tasted all the summer's pride,
  • Till I the prince of Love beheld,
  • Who in the sunny beams did glide!
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  • He shew'd me lilies for my hair,
  • And blushing roses for my brow;
  • He led me through his gardens fair,
  • Where all his golden pleasures grow.
  • With sweet May-dews my wings were wet,
  • 10And Phœbus fir'd my vocal rage;
  • He caught me in his silken net,
  • And shut me in his golden cage.
  • He loves to sit and hear me sing,
  • Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
  • Then stretches out my golden wing,
  • And mocks my loss of liberty.
This may surely be reckoned equal precocity to that so much lauded of Pope and Cowley. It is not promise, but fulfilment. The grown man in vain might hope to better such sweet playfulness,—playfulness as of a ‘child-angel's’ penning— any more than noon can reproduce the tender streaks of dawn. But criticism is idle. How analyse a violet's perfume, or dissect the bloom on a butterfly's wing ?
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ENGRAVER'S APPRENTICE. 1771-78. [ÆT. 14-21]
The preliminary charges of launching Blake in the career of a Painter, were too onerous for the paternal pocket ; involving for one thing, a heavy premium to some leading artist for instruction under his own roof, then the only attainable, always the only adequate training. The investment, moreover, would not after all be certain of assuring daily bread for the future. English engravers were then taking that high place they are now doing little to maintain. Apprenticeship to one would secure, with some degree of artistic education, the cunning right hand which can always keep want at arm's length : a thing artist and littérateur have often had cause to envy in the skilled artizan. The consideration was not without weight in the eyes of an honest shopkeeper, to whose understanding the prosaic craft would more practically address itself than the vague abstractions of Art, or those shadowy promises of Fame, on which alone a mere artist had too often to feed. Thus it was decided for the future designer, that he should enter the, to him, enchanted domain of Art by a back door, as it were He is not to be dandled into a Painter, but painfully to win his way to an outside place. Daily through life, he will have to marry his shining dreams to the humblest, most irksome realities of a virtually artizan life. Already it had been decreed that an inspired Poet should be endowed with barely grammar enough to compose with schoolboy accuracy.
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At the age of fourteen, the drawing-school of Mr. Pars in the Strand, was exchanged for the shop of engraver Basire, in Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields. There had been an intention of apprenticing Blake to Ryland, a more famous man than Basire; an artist of genuine talent and even genius, who had been well educated in his craft; had been a pupil of Ravenet, and after that (among others) of Boucher, whose stipple manner he was the first to introduce into England. With the view of securing the teaching and example of so skilled a hand, Blake was taken by his father to Ryland; but the negotiation failed. The boy himself raised an unexpected scruple. The sequel shows it to have been a singular instance—if not of absolute prophetic gift or second sight— at all events of natural intuition into character and power of forecasting the future from it, such as is often the endowment of temperaments like his. In after life this involuntary faculty of reading hidden writing continued to be a characteristic. ‘Father,’ said the strange boy, after the two had left Ryland's studio, ‘I do not like the man's face : it looks as if he will live to be hanged! ‘ Appearances were at that time utterly against the probability of such an event. Ryland was then at the zenith of his reputation. He was engraver to the king, whose portrait (after Ramsay) he had engraved, receiving for his work an annual pension of 2OOl. An accomplished and agreeable man, he was the friend of poet Churchill and others of distinguished rank in letters and society. His manners and personal appearance were peculiarly prepossessing, winning the spontaneous confidence of those who knew or even casually saw him. But twelve years after this interview, the unfortunate artist will have got into embarrassments, will commit a forgery on the East India Company:—and the prophecy will be fulfilled.
The Basire with whom ultimately Blake was placed, was James Basire, the second chronologically and in merit first of four Basires ; all engravers, and the three last in date
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(all bearing one Christian name) engravers to the Society of Antiquaries. This Basire, born in London, 1730, now therefore forty-one, and son of Isaac Basire, had studied design at Rome. He was the engraver of Stuart and Revett's Athens (1762), of Reynolds's Earl Camden (1766), of West's Pylades and Orestes (1770). He had also executed two or three plates after some of the minor and later designs of Hogarth :—the frontispiece to Garrick's Farmer's Return (1761), the noted political caricature of The Times , and the portrait sketch of Fielding (1762), which Hogarth himself much commended, declaring ‘he did not know his own drawing from a proof of the plate.’ The subjects of his graver were principally antiquities and portraits of men of note,—especially portraits of antiquaries: hereditary subjects since with the Basire family. He was official engraver to the Royal as well as the Antiquarian Society. Hereafter he will become still more favourably known in his generation as the engraver of the illustrations to the slow-revolving Archæologia and Vetusta Monumenta of the Society of Antiquaries,— then in a comparatively brisk condition,—and to the works of Gough and other antiquarian big-wigs of the old, full-bottomed sort. He was an engraver well grounded in drawing, of dry, hard, monotonous, but painstaking, conscientious style; the lingering representative of a school already getting old-fashioned, but not without staunch admirers, for its ‘firm and correct outline,’ among antiquaries; whose confidence and and esteem,—Gough's in particular,—Basire throughout possessed.
In the days of Strange, Woollett, Vivares, Bartolozzi, better models, if more expensive in their demands, might have been found ; though also worse. Basire was a superior, liberal-minded man, ingenuous and upright; and a kind master. The lineaments of his honest countenance (set off by a bob-wig) may be studied in the portrait by his son, engraved as frontispiece to the ninth volume of Nichols's Literary Anecdotes. As a Designer, Blake was, in essentials, influenced by no contemporary ; as engraver alone influenced
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by Basire, and that strongly—little as his master's style had in common with his own genius. Even as engraver, he was thus influenced, little to his future advantage in winning custom from the public. That public, in Blake's youth fast outgrowing the flat and formal manner inherited by Basire, in common with Vertue (engraver to the Society of Antiquaries before him) and the rest, from the Vanderguchts, Vanderbanks and other naturalized Dutchmen and Germans of the bob-wig and clipped-yew era, will now readily learn to enjoy the softer, more agreeable one of M'Ardell, Bartolozzi, Sherwin.
His seven years apprenticeship commenced in 1771, year of the Academy's first partial lodgement in Old Somerset Palace— and thus (eventually) in the National Pocket. As he was constitutionally painstaking and industrious, he soon learned to draw carefully and copy faithfully whatever was set before him, altogether to the Basire taste, and to win, as a good apprentice should, the approval and favour of his master. One day, by the way (as Blake ever remembered), Goldsmith walked into Basire's. It must have been during the very last years of the poet's life : he died in 1774. The boy— as afterwards the artist was fond of telling—mightily admired the great author's finely marked head as he gazed up at it, and thought to himself how much he should like to have such a head when he grew to be a man. Another still more memorable figure, a genius singularly german to Blake's own order of mind, the ‘singular boy of fourteen,’ may during the commencement of his apprenticeship, ‘any day have met unwittingly in London streets, or walked beside,—a placid, venerable, thin man of eighty-four, of erect figure and abstracted air, wearing a full-bottomed wig, a pair of long ruffles, and a curious-hilted sword, and carrying a goldheaded cane,—no Vision, still flesh and blood, but himself the greatest of modern Vision Seers,—Emanuel Swedenborg by name; who came from Amsterdam to London, in August 1771, and died at No. 26, Great Bath Street,
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Coldbath Fields, on the 29th of March, 1772.' This Mr. Allingham pleasantly suggests, in a note to his delightful collection of lyrical poems, Nightingale Valley (1860), in which (at last) occur a specimen or two of Blake's verse. The coincidence is not a trivial one. Of all modern men the engraver's apprentice was to grow up the likest to Emanuel Swedenborg; already by constitutional temperament and endowment was so, in faculty for theosophic dreaming, for the seeing of visions while broad awake, and in matter of fact hold of spiritual things. To savant and to artist alike, while yet on earth, the Heavens were opened. By Swedenborg's theologic writings, the first English editions of some of which appeared during Blake's manhood, he was considerably influenced ; but in no slavish spirit. These writings, in common with those of Jacob Boehmen and of the other select mystics of the world, had natural affinities to Blake's mind and were eagerly assimilated. But he hardly became a proselyte or ‘Swedenborgian’ proper; though his friend Flaxman did. In another twenty years we shall find him freely and—as true believers may think—heretically criticising the Swedish seer from the spiritualist, not the rationalist point of view : as being a Divine Teacher, whose truths however were ‘not new,’ and whose falsehoods were ‘all old.’
Among the leading engravings turned out by Basire, during the early part of Blake's apprenticeship, may be instanced in 1772, one after B. Wilson ( not Richard), Lady Stanhope as the Fair Penitent, (her rôle in certain amateur theatricals by the Quality); and in 1774, The Field of the Cloth of Gold and Interview of the two Kings , after a copy for the Society of Antiquaries by ‘little Edwards’ of Anecdote fame, from the celebrated picture at Windsor. The latter print was celebrated for one thing, if no other, as the largest ever engraved up to that time on one plate—copper, let us remember,—being some 47 inches by 27; and paper had to be made on purpose for it.
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Sig. Vol. I. C
‘Two years passed over smoothly enough,’ writes Malkin, ‘till two other apprentices were added to the establishment, who completely destroyed its harmony.’ Basire said of Blake, ‘ he was too simple and they too cunning.’ He, lending, I suppose, a too credulous ear to their tales, ‘declined to take part with his master against his fellow-apprentices;’ and was therefore sent out of harm's way into Westminster Abbey and the various old churches in and near London, to make drawings from the monuments and buildings Basire was employed by Gough the antiquary to engrave : ‘a circumstance he always mentioned with gratitude to Basire.’ The solitary study of authentic English history in stone was far more to the studious lad's mind than the disorderly wrangling of mutinous comrades. It is significant of his character, even at this early date, for zeal, industry, and moral correctness, that he could be trusted month after month, year after year, unwatched, to do his duty by his master in so independent an employment.
The task was singularly adapted to foster the romantic turn of his imagination, and to strengthen his natural affinities for the spiritual in art. It kindled a fervent love of Gothic,—itself an originality then,—which lasted his life, and exerted enduring influences on his habits of feeling and study; forbidding once for all, if such a thing had ever been possible to Blake, the pursuit of fashionable models, modern excellences, technic and superficial, or of any but the antiquated essentials and symbolic language of imaginative art.
From this time forward, from 1773 that is, the then ‘neglected works of art called Gothic monuments,’ were for years his daily companions. The warmer months were devoted to zealous sketching, from every point of view, of the Tombs in the Abbey; the enthusiastic artist ‘frequently standing on the monument and viewing the figures from the top.’ Careful drawings were made of the regal forms which for four or five centuries had lain in mute majesty,—
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once amid the daily presence of reverent priest and muttered mass, since in awful solitude,—around the lovely Chapel of the Confessor: the austere sweetness of Queen Eleanor, the dignity of Philippa, the noble grandeur of Edward the Third, the gracious stateliness of Richard the Second and his Queen. Then came drawings of the glorious effigy of Aymer de Valence, and of the beautiful though mutilated figures which surround his altar-tomb; drawings, in fact, of all the mediæval tombs. He pored over all with a reverent good faith, which in the age of Stuart and Revett, taught the simple student things our Pugins and Scotts had to learn near a century later. ‘The heads he considered as portraits,'—not unnaturally, their sculptors showing no overt sign of idiocy;—'and all the ornaments appeared as miracles of art to his gothicized imagination,’ as they have appeared to other imaginations since. He discovered for himself then or later, the important part once subserved by Colour in the sculptured building, the living help it had rendered to the once radiant Temple of God,—now a bleached dishonoured skeleton.
Shut up alone with these solemn memorials of far off centuries,—for, during service and in the intervals of visits from strangers, the vergers turned the key on him,—the Spirit of the past became his familiar companion. Sometimes his dreaming eye saw more palpable shapes from the phantom past: once a vision of ‘Christ and the Apostles,’ as he used to tell; and I doubt not others. For, as we have seen, the visionary tendency, or faculty, as Blake more truly called it, had early shown itself.
During the progress of Blake's lonely labours in the Abbey, on a bright day in May, 1774, the Society for which, through Basire, he was working, perpetrated by royal permission, on the very scene of those rapt studies, a highly interesting bit of antiquarian sacrilege : on a more reasonable pretext, and with greater decency, than sometimes distinguish such questionable proceedings. A select
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Sig. C 2
company formally and in strict privacy opened the tomb of Edward the First, and found the embalmed body ‘in perfect preservation and sumptuously attired,’ in ‘robes of royalty, his crown on his head, and two sceptres in his hands.’ The antiquaries saw face to face the ‘dead conqueror of Scotland ;’ had even a fleeting glimpse—for it was straightway re-inclosed in its cere-cloths—of his very visage: a recognisable likeness of what it must have been in life. I cannot help hoping that Blake may (unseen) have assisted at the ceremony.
In winter the youth helped to engrave selections from these Abbey Studies, in some cases executing the engraving single-handed. During the evenings and at over hours, he made drawings from his already teeming Fancy, and from English History. ‘A great number,’ it is said, were thrown off in such spare hours. There is a scarce engraving of his, dated so early as 1773, the second year of his apprenticeship, remarkable as already to some extent evincing in style—as yet, however, heavy rather than majestic—still more in choice of subject, the characteristics of later years. In one corner at top we have the inscription (which sufficiently describes the design), ‘Joseph of Arimathea among the Rocks of Albion;’ and at bottom, ‘engraved by W. Blake, 1773, from an old Italian drawing;’ ‘Michael Angelo, Pinxit.’ Between these two lines, according to a custom frequent with Blake, is engraved the following characteristic effusion, which reads like an addition of later years:—'This’ (he is venturing a wild theory as to Joseph) ‘is One of the Gothic Artists who built the Cathedrals in what we call the Dark Ages, wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins; of whom the World was not worthy. Such were the Christians in all ages.’
The ‘prentice work as assistant to Basire of these years ( 1773-78) may be traced under Basire's name in the Archæologia in some of the engravings of coins, &c., to the Memoirs of Hollis (1780), and in Gough's Sepulchral Monuments , not
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published till 1786 and 1796. The Antiquaries were alive and stirring then; and enthusiastic John Carter was laying the foundations in English Archæology on which better-known men have since built. In the Sepulchral Monuments, vol. I, pt. 2 (1796), occurs a capital engraving as to drawing and feeling, ‘Portrait of Queen Philippa from her Monument,’ with the inscription Basire delineavit et sculpsit; for which, as in many other cases, we may safely read ‘W. Blake.’ In fact, Stothard often used to mention this drawing as Blake's, and with praise. The engraving is in Blake's forcible manner of decisively contrasted light and shade, but simple and monotonous manipulation. It is to a large scale, and gives the head and shoulders merely. Another plate, with a perspective view of the whole monument and a separate one of the effigy, accompanies it. In Part I. (1786), are similar ‘Portraits’ of Queen Philippa, of Edward III. &c.
From Basire, Blake could only acquire the mechanical part of Art, even of the engraver's art ; for Basire had little more to communicate. But that part he learned thoroughly and well. Basire's acquirements as an engraver were of a solid though not a fascinating kind. The scholar always retained a loyal feeling towards his old master; and would stoutly defend him and his style against that of more attractive and famous hands,—Strange, Woollett, Bartolozzi. Their ascendency, indeed, led to no little public injustice being done throughout, to Blake's own sterling style of engraving: a circumstance which intensified the artist's aversion to the men. In a MS. descriptive Advertisement (1810) printed in VOL. II. with the title Public Address, relating to the engraving of his own Canterbury Pilgrimage , Blake expresses his contempt for them very candidly—and intemperately perhaps. There too, he records the impression made on him personally, when as a boy he used to see some of them in Basire's studio. ‘Woollett,’ he writes, ‘I knew very intimately by his intimacy with Basire, and knew him to be one of the most ignorant fellows I ever met.
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A machine is not a man, nor a work of art : it is destructive of humanity and of art. Woollett, I know, did not know how to grind his graver. I know this. He has often proved his ignorance before me at Basire's by laughing at Basire's knife-tools, and ridiculing the forms of Basire's other gravers, till Basire was quite dashed and out of conceit with what he himself knew. But his impudence had a contrary effect on me.'—West, for whose reputation Woollett's graver did so much, ‘asserted’ continues Blake, ‘that Woollett's prints ‘ were superior to Basire's, because they had more labour and care. Now this is contrary to the truth. Woollett did not know how to put so much labour into a hand or a foot as Basire did ; he did not know how to draw the leaf of a tree. All his study was clean strokes and mossy tints. . . . Woollett's best works were etched by Jack Brown; Woollett etched very ill himself. The Cottagers, and Jocund Peasants, the Views in Kew Gardens, Foot's Cray, and Diana and Actæon, and, in short, all that are called Woollett's were etched by Jack Brown. And in Woollett's works the etching is all; though even in these a single leaf of a tree is never correct. Strange's prints were, when I knew him, all done by Aliamet and his French journeymen, whose names I forget. I also knew something of John Cooke, who engraved after Hogarth. Cooke wished to give Hogarth what he could take from Raffaelle; that is, outline, and mass, and colour; but he could not.’ Again, in the same one-sided, trenchant strain:—'What is called the English style of engraving, such as proceeded from the toilettes of Woollett and Strange (for theirs were Fribble's toilettes) can never produce character and expression. Drawing—'firm, determinate outline ‘—is in Blake's eyes, all in all:—'Engraving is drawing on copper and nothing else. But, as Gravelot once said to my master, Basire " De English may be very clever in deir own opinions, but day do not draw ." ‘
Before taking leave of Basire we will have a look at the
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house in Great Queen Street, in which Blake passed seven years of his youth; whither Gough, Tyson, and many another enthusiastic dignified antiquary, in knee-breeches and powdered wig, so often bent their steps to have a chat with their favourite engraver. Its door has opened to good company in its time, to engravers, painters, men of letters, celebrated men of all kinds. Just now we saw Goldsmith enter. When Blake was an apprentice, the neighbourhood of Lincoln's Inn Fields, though already antique, was a stately and decorous one, through which the tide of fashionable life still swayed on daily errands of pleasure or business. The house can yet be identified as No. 31, one of two occupied by Messrs. Corben and Son, the coach-builders, which firm, or rather their predecessors, in Basire's time occupied only No. 30. It stands on the northern side of the street, opposite—to the west or Drury Lane-ward of—Freemasons’ Tavern ; almost exactly opposite New Yard and the noticeable ancient house at one side of that yard, with the stately Corinthian pilasters in well wrought brick. Basire's is itself a seventeenth century house refaced early in the Georgian era, the parapet then put up half hiding the old dormer windows of the third story. Originally, it must either have been part of a larger mansion, or one of a uniformly-built series, having continuous horizontal brick mouldings ; as remnants of the same on its neighbours testify. Outside, it remains pretty much as it must have looked in Blake's time ; old-fashioned people having (Heaven be praised!) tenanted it ever since the first James Basire and after him his widow ended their days there. With its green paint, old casements quiet old-fashioned shop-window, and freedom from the abomination of desolation (stucco), it retains an old-world genuine aspect, rare in London's oldest neighbourhoods, and not at war with the memories which cling around the place.
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A BOY'S POEMS. 1768-77. [ÆT. 11-20.]
The poetical essays of the years of youth and apprenticeship are preserved in the thin octavo, Poetical Sketches by W. B. , printed by help of friends in 1783, and now so rare, that after some years’ vain attempt, I am forced to abandon the idea of myself owning the book. I have had to use a copy borrowed from one of Blake's surviving friends. In such hands alone, linger, I fancy, the dozen copies or so still extant. There is (of course) none where, at any rate, there should be one—in the British Museum.
‘Tis hard to believe these poems were written in the author's teens, harder still to realize how some of them, in their unforced simplicity, their bold and careless freedom of sentiment and expression, came to be written at all in the third quarter of the eighteenth century : the age ‘of polished phraseology and subdued thought,'—subdued with a vengeance. It was the generation of Shenstone, Langhorne, Mason, Whitehead, the Wartons ; of obscurer Cunningham, Lloyd, Carter. Volumes of concentrated Beauties of English Poetry, volumes as fugitive often as those of original verse, are literary straws which indicate the set of the popular taste. If we glance into one of this date,—say into that compiled towards the close of the century, by one Mr. Thomas Tompkins, which purports to be a collection (expressly compiled ‘to enforce the practice of Virtue') of ‘Such poems as have been universally esteemed the first
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ornaments of our language,'—who are the elect? We have in great force the names just enumerated, and among older poets then read and honoured, to the exclusion of Chaucer and the Elizabethans, so imposing a muster-roll as— Parnell, Mallett, Blacklock, Addison, Gay; and, ascending to the highest heaven of the century's Walhalla, Goldsmith, Thomson, Gray, Pope; with a little of Milton and Shakspere thrown in as make-weight.
Where, beyond the confines of his own most individual mind, did the hosier's son find his model for that lovely web of rainbow fancy already quoted? I know of none in English literature. For the Song commencing
‘My silks and fine array,’
(see Vol. II), with its shy evanescent tints and aroma as of pressed rose-leaves, parallels may be found among the lyrics of the Elizabethan age, an alien though it be in its own. The influence of contemporary models, unless it be sometimes Collins or Thomson, is nowhere in the volume discernible; but involuntary emulation of higher ones partially known to him, there is;—of the Reliques given to the world by Percy in 1760; of Shakspere, Spenser, and other Elizabethans. For the youth's choice of masters was as unfashionable in Poetry as in Design. Among the few students or readers in that day of Shakspere's Venus and Adonis, Tarquin and Lucrece, and Sonnets, of Ben Jonson's Underwoods and Miscellanies, the boy Blake was, according to Malkin, an assiduous one. The form of such a poem as
‘Love and harmony combine,’
is inartificial and negligent; but incloses the like intangible spirit of delicate fancy; a lovely blush of life as it were, suffusing the enigmatic form. Even schoolboy blunders against grammar, and schoolboy complexities of expression, fail to break the musical echo, or mar the naive sweetness of the two concluding stanzas; which, in practised hands, might
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have been wrought into more artful melody with little increase of real effect. Again, how many realms of scholastic Pastoral have missed the simple gaiety of one which does not affect to be a ‘pastoral’ at all:—
‘I love the jocund dance.’
Of the remarkable Mad Songextracted by Southey in his Doctor, who probably valued the thin octavo, as became a great Collector, for its rarity and singularity, that poet has said nothing to show he recognised its dramatic power, the daring expression of things otherwise inarticulate, the unity of sentiment, the singular truth with which the key-note is struck and sustained, or the eloquent, broken music of its rhythm.
The ‘marvellous Boy’ that ‘perished in his pride,’ (1770) while certain of these very poems were being written, amid all his luxuriant promise, and memorable displays of Talent produced few so really original as some of them. There are not many more to be instanced of quite such rare quality. But all abound in lavish if sometimes unknit strength. Their faults are such alone as flow from youth, as are inevitable in one whose intellectual activity is not sufficiently logical to reduce his imaginings into sufficiently clear and definite shape. As examples of poetic power and freshness quickening the imperfect, immature form, take his verses To the Evening Star in which the concluding lines subside into a reminiscence, but not a slavish one, of Puck's Night Song in Midsummer Night's Dream; or the lament To the Muses, —not inapposite surely, when it was written; or again, the full-colored invocation To Summer.
In a few of the poems, the influence of Blake's contemporary, Chatterton,—of the Poems of Rowley, i.e., is visible. In the Prologue to King John, Couch of Death, Samson, &c., all written in measured prose, the influence is still more conspicuous of Macpherson's Ossian, which had taken the world
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by storm in Blake's boyhood, and in his manhood was a ruling power in the poetic world. In the ‘Prophetic’ and too often incoherent rhapsodies of later years this influence increases unhappily, leading the prophet to indulge in vague inpalpable personifications, as dim and monotonous as a moor in a mist. To the close of his life, Blake retained his allegians to Ossian and Rowley. ‘I believe,’ writes he, in a MS. note (1826) on Wordsworth's Supplementary Essay,‘I believe both Macpherson and Chatterton; that what they say is ancient, and it is so.’ And again, when the Lake Poet speaks contemptuously of Macpherson, ‘I own to myself an admirer of Ossian equally with any other poet whatever; of Rowley and Chatterton also.’
The longest piece in this volume, the most daring and perhaps, considering a self-taught boy wrote it, the most remarkable, is the Fragment or single act, of a Play on the high historic subject of King Edward III.: one of the few in old English history accidentally ommitted from Shakspere's cycle. In his steps it is, not in those of Addison or Home, the ambitious lad strives as a dramatist to tread; and, despite halting verse, confined knowledge, and the anachronism of a modern tone of thought,—not unworthily, though of course with youthful unsteady stride. The manner and something of the spirit of the Historical Plays is caught, far more nearly than by straining Ireland in his forgeries. Of this performance as of the other contents of this volume, specimens must be deferred till Vol. II; not to interrupt the thread of our narrative too much.
Fully to appreciate such poetry as the lad Blake composed in the years 1768-77, let us call to mind the dates at which first peeped above the horizon the cardinal lights which people our modern poetic Heavens, once more wakening into life the dull corpse of English song. Five years later than the last of these dates was published a small volume of Poems, ‘By William Cowper, of the Middle Temple.’ Nine years later (1786) Poems in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert
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Burns, appealed to a Kilmarnock public. Sixteen years later (1793) came the poems Wordsworth afterwards named Juvenile, written between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two; The Evening Walk, and the Descriptive Sketches, with their modest pellucid merit, still in the fettered 18th century manner. Not till twenty-one years later (1798), followed the more memorable Lyrical Ballads, including for one thing, the Tintern Abbey of Wordsworth, for another, The Ancient Mariner of Coleridge.
All these Poems had their influence, prompt or tardy, widening eventually into the universal. All were at any rate published. Some—those of Burns,—appealed to the feelings of the people, and of all classes; those of Cowper to the most numerous and influential section of an English community. The unusual notes struck by William Blake, in any case appealing but to one class and that a small one, were fated to remain unheard, even by the Student of Poetry, until the process of regeneration had run its course, and we may say, the Poetic Revival gone to seed again, since the virtues of simplicity and directness the new poets began by bringing once more into the foreground are those least practised now.  

Figure: An image of a reclining female figure.

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Morning, or Glad Day


Figure: Engraving. Nude figure personifying Morning, just touching one foot to earth, arms outstretched, rising sun behind head. Creeping caterpillar slides past his planted foot, while night moth flies away into background.


STUDENT AND LOVER. 1778-82. [ÆT. 21-25]
Apprenticeship to Basire having ended, Blake, now (1778) twenty-one, studied for a while in the newly formed Royal Academy : just then in an uncomfortable chrysalis condition, having had to quit its cramped lodgings in Old
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Somerset Palace (pulled down in 1775) and awaiting completion of the new building in which more elbow-room was to be provided. He commenced his course of study at the Academy (in the Antique School) ‘under the eye of Mr. Moser,’ its first Keeper, who had conducted the parent Schools in St. Martins Lane. Moser, like Kauffman and Fuseli, was Swiss by birth : a sixth of our leading artists were still foreigners, as lists of the Original Forty testify. By profession he was a chaser unrivalled in his generation, medallist—he modelled and chased a great seal of England, afterwards stolen—and enamel-painter, in days when costly watch-cases continued to furnish employment for the enamel-painter. He was, in short, a skilled decorative artist during the closing years of Decorative Art's existence as a substantive fact in England, or Europe. The thing itself—the very notion that such art was wanted—was about to expire ; and be succeeded, for a dreary generation or two, by mere blank negation. Miss Moser, afterwards Mrs. Lloyd ‘the celebrated flower painter,’ another of the original members of the Academy, was George Michael Moser's daughter. Edwards, in his Anecdotes of Painters, obscurely declares of the honest Switzer that he was ‘well skilled in the construction of the human figure and, as an instructor in the Academy, his manners, as well as his abilities, rendered him a most respectable master to the students.’ A man of plausible address, as well as an ingenious, the quondam chaser and enameller was, evidently: a favourite with the President (Reynolds), a favourite with royalty. On the occasion of one royal visit to the Academy, after 1780 and its instalment in adequate rooms in the recently completed portion of Chambers’ ‘Somerset Place,’ Queen Charlotte penetrated to the old man's apartment, and made him sit down and have an hour's quiet chat in German with her. To express his exultation at such ‘amiable condescension,’ the proud Keeper could ever after hardly find broken English and abrupt gestures sufficiently startling and whimsical. He was a favourite, too, with the students ; many
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of whom voluntarily testified their regard around his grave in the burial-ground of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, when the time came to be carried thither in January, 1783.
The specific value of the guidance to be had by an ingenuous art-student from the venerable Moser, now a man of seventy-three, is suggestively indicated by a reminiscence afterwards noted down in Blake's MS. commentary on Reynolds’ Discourses.‘I was once,’ he there relates, ‘looking over the prints from Raffaelle and Michael Angelo in the Library of the Royal Academy. Moser came to me, and said,—“You should not study these old, hard, stiff, and dry, unfinished works of art : stay a little and I will show you what you should study.” He then went and took down Le Brun and Ruben's Galleries. How did I secretly rage! I also spake my mind! I said to Moser,— “These things that you call finished are not even begun : how then can they be finished?” The man who does not know the beginning cannot know the end of art.’ Which observations ‘tis feared Keeper Moser accounted hardly dutiful. For a well-conducted Student ought, in strict duty, to spend (and in such a case lose) his evening in looking through what his teacher sets before him. It has happened to other Academy students under subsequent Keepers and Librarians, I am told, to find themselves in a similarly awkward dilemma to this of Blake's.
With the Antique, Blake got on well enough, drawing with ‘great care all or certainly nearly all the noble antique figures in various views.’ From the living figure he also drew a good deal : but early conceived a distaste for the study as pursued in the Academies of Art. Already ‘life,’ in so factitious, monotonous an aspect of it as that presented by a Model artificially posed to enact an artificial part—to maintain a painful rigidity some fleeting gesture of spontaneous Nature's —became, as it continued, ‘hateful’ looking to him, laden with thick-coming fancies, ‘more like death’ than life ; nay, (singular to say), ‘smelling of mortality'—to an imagin-
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ative mind ! ‘Practice and opportunity,’ he used afterwards to declare, ‘very soon teach the language of art:’ as much, that is, as Blake ever acquired, not a despicable if imperfect quantum. ‘It's spirit and poetry, centred in the imagination alone, never can be taught ; and these make the artist:’ a truism, the fervid poet already began to hold too exclusively in view. Even at their best—as the vision-seer and instinctive Platonist tells us in one of the very last years of his life ( MS. notes to Wordsworth)—mere ‘Natural Objects always did and do weaken, deaden and obliterate imagination in me!’
The student still continued to throw off drawings and verses for his own delight ; out of his numerous store of the former, engraving two designs from English history. One of these engravings, King Edward and Queen Eleanor, ‘published’ by him at a later date (from Lambeth), I have seen. It is a meritorious but heavy piece of business, in the old-fashioned plodding style of line-engraving, wherein the hand monotonously hatched line after line, now struck off by machine. The design itself and the other water-colour drawings of this date, all on historical subjects, which now lie scattered among various hands, have little of the quality or of the mannerism we are accustomed to associate with Blake's name. they remind one rather of Mortimer, the historical painter (now obsolete) of that era, who died, high in reputation with his figure, but neglected by patrons, about this very time, viz. in 1779, at the early age of forty. Of Mortimer, Blake always continued to entertain a very high estimate. The designs of this epoch in his life are correctly drawn, prettily composed, and carefully coloured, in a clear uniform style of equally distributed positive tints. But the costumes are vague and mythical, without being graceful and credible ; what mannerism there is is a timid one, such as reappears in Hamilton always, in Stothard often ; the general effect is heavy and uninteresting,—and the net result a yawn. One drawing
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dating from these years (1778-9), The Penance of Jane Shore in St. Paul's Church, thirty years later was included in Blake's Exhibition of his own Works (1809). In the Descriptive Catalogue he speaks of it with some complacency as ‘proving to the author, and he thinks to any discerning eye, that the productions of our youth and of our maturer age are equal in all essential points.’ To me, on inspecting the same, it proves nothing of the kind ; though it be a very exemplary performance in the manner just indicated. The central figure of Jane Shore has however much grace and sweetness; and the intention of the whole composition is clear and decisive. One extrinsic circumstance materially detracts from the appearance of this and other water-colour drawings from his hand of the period: viz. that, as a substitute for glass, they were all eventually, in prosecution of a hobby of Blake's, varnished—of which process, applied to a water-colour drawing, nothing can exceed the disenchanting, not to say destructive effect.
There is a scarce engraving inscribed ‘W. B. inv. 1780’ (reproduced at the head of this chapter,) which, within certain limitations, has much more of the peculiar Blake quality and intensity about it. The subject is evidently a personification of Morning, or Glad Day: a nude male figure, with one foot on earth, just alighted from above; a flood of radiance still encircling his head; his arms outspread,—as exultingly bringing joy and solace to this lower world,—not with classic Apollo-like indifference, but with the divine chastened fervour of an angelic minister. Below crawls a caterpillar, and a hybrid kind of night-moth takes wing.
Meanwhile, the Poet and Designer, living under his father the hosier's roof, 28, Broad Street, had not only to educate himself in high art, but to earn his livelihood by humbler art—engraver's journey-work. During the years 1779 to 1782 and onwards, one or two booksellers gave him employment in engraving from afterwards better known fellow designers. Harrison of Paternoster Row employed him for his Novelists’
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Magazine, or collection of approved novels ; for his Ladies’ Magazine, and perhaps other serials; J. Johnson, a constant employer during a long series of years, for various books ; and occasionally other booksellers,—Macklin, Buckland, and (later) Dodsley, Stockdale, the Cadells. Among the first in date of such prints, was a well-engraved frontispiece after Stothard, bold and telling in light and shade ('The Four Quarters of the Globe'), to a System of Geography (1779); and another after Stothard ('Clarence's Dream ‘) to Enfield's Speaker, published by Johnson in 1780. Then came with sundry miscellaneous, eight plates after some of Stothard's earliest and most beautiful designs, for the Novelists’ Magazine. The designs brought in young Stothard, hitherto an apprentice to a Pattern-draftsman in Spitalfields, a guinea a-piece,—and established his reputation : their intrinsic grace, feeling, and freshness being (for one thing) advantageously set off by very excellent engraving, of an infinitely more robust and honest kind than the smooth style of Heath and his School which succeeded to it and eventually brought about the ruin of line-engraving for book illustrations. Of Blake's eight engravings, all thorough and sterling pieces of workmanship, two were illustrations of Don Quixote, one of the Sentimental Journey (1782), one of Miss Fielding's David Simple, another of Launcelot Greaves, three of Grandison (1782-3).
One Trotter, a fellow-engraver who received instructions from Blake, engraved a print or two after Stothard, and was also draftsman to the calico-printers, had introduced Blake to Stothard, the former's senior by nearly two years, then lodging in company with Shelly, the miniature painter, in the Strand. Stothard introduced Blake to Flaxman, who after seeing some of the early graceful plates in the Novelists’ Magazine, had of his own accord made their designer's acquaintance. Flaxman, of the same age and standing as Stothard, was as yet subsisting by his designs for the first Wedgwood, and also living in the Strand with his father who
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there kept a well-known plaster-cast shop when plaster-cast shops were rare. A wistful remembrance of the superiority of ‘old Flaxman's’ casts still survives among artists. In 1781 the sculptor married, taking house and studio of his own at 27, Wardour Street, and becoming Blake's near neighbour. He proved—despite some passing clouds which for a time obscured their friendship at a later era—one of the best and firmest friends Blake ever had, as great artists often prove to one another in youth. The imaginative man needed friends ; for his gifts were not of the bread-winning sort. He was one of those whose genius is in a far higher ratio than their talents : and it is Talent which commands worldly success. Amidst the miscellaneous journey-work which about this period kept Blake's graver going, if not his mind, may be mentioned the illustrations to a show-list of Wedgwood's productions, specimens of his latest novelties in earthenware and porcelain—tea and dinner services, &c. Seldom have such very humble essays in Decorative Art— good enough in form, but not otherwise remarkable—tasked the combined energies of a Flaxman and a Blake! To the list of the engraver's friends was afterwards added Fuseli, of maturer age and acquirements, man of letters as well as Art, a multifarious and learned author. From intercourse with minds like these, much was learned by Blake, in his art and out of it. In 1780, Fuseli, then thirty-nine, just returned from eight years’ sojourn in Italy, became a neighbour, lodging in Broad Street, where he remained until 1782. In the latter year, his original and characteristic picture of The Nightmare made ‘a sensation’ at the Exhibition: the first of his to do so. The subsequent engraving gave him a European reputation. Artists’ homes as well as studios abounded then in Broad Street and its neighbourhood. Bacon the sculptor lived in Wardour Street, Paul Sandby in Poland Street, the fair R.A., Angelica Kauffman in Golden Square, Bartolozzi with his apprentice Sherwin in Broad Street itself and, at a later date, John Varley, ‘father of
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modern Water Colours,’ in the same street (No. 15). Literary celebrities were not wanting: in Wardour Street, Mrs. Chapone; in Poland Street, pushing, pompous Dr. Burney, of Musical History notoriety.
In the catalogue of the now fairly established Royal Academy's Exhibition for 1780, its twelfth, and first at Somerset House— all previous had been held in its ‘Old Room’ (originally built for an auction room), on the south side of Pall Mall East—appears for the first time a work by ‘W. Blake.’ It was an Exhibition of only 489 ‘articles’ in all, waxwork and ‘designs for a fan' inclusive ; among its leading exhibitors, boasting Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mary Moser, R.A., Gainsborough and Angelica Kauffman, R.A. Cosway, and Loutherbourg, Paul Sandby and Zoffany, Copley (Lyndhurst's father), and Fuseli, not yet Associate. Blake's contribution is the Death of Earl Godwin exhibited in ‘The Ante-room’ devoted to flower-pieces, crayons, miniatures, and water-colour landscapes—some by Gainsborough. This first Exhibition in official quarters went off with much éclat, netting double the average amount realized by its predecessors: viz. as much as 3,000 l.
In the sultry, early days of June, 1780, the Lord George Gordon No-Popery Riots rolled through Town. Half London was sacked, and its citizens for six days laid under forced contributions by a mob some forty thousand strong of boys, pickpockets, and ‘roughs.’ In this outburst of anarchy, Blake long remembered an involuntary participation of his own. On the third day, Tuesday, 6th of June, ‘the Mass-houses’ having already been demolished—one, in Blake's near neighbourhood, Warwick Street, Golden Square—and various private houses also ; the rioters, flushed with gin and victory, were turning their attention to grander schemes of devastation. That evening, the artist happened to be walking in a route chosen by one of the mobs at large, whose course lay from Justice Hyde's house near Leicester Fields, for the destruction of which less than an hour had sufficed, through Long Acre,
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past the quiet house of Blake's old master, engraver Basire in Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and down Holborn, bound for Newgate. Suddenly, he encountered the advancing wave of triumphant Blackguardism, and was forced (for from such a great surging mob there is no disentanglement) to go along in the very front rank, and witness the storm and burning of the fortress-like prison, and release of its three hundred inmates. This was a peculiar experience for a spiritual poet ; not without peril, had a drunken soldier chanced to have identified him during the after weeks of indiscriminate vengeance: those black weeks when strings of boys under fourteen were hung up in a row to vindicate the offended majesty of the Law. ‘I never saw boys cry so!’ observed Selwyn, connoisseur in hanging, in his Diary.
It was the same Tuesday night, one may add, that among the obnoxious mansions of magistrate and judge gutted of furniture, and consigned to the flames, Lord Mansfield's in Bloomsbury Square was numbered. That night, too—every householder having previously chalked the talisman, ‘No Popery,’ on his door, (the very Jews inscribing ‘This House True Protestant!’) every house showing a blue flag, every wayfarer having donned the blue cockade—that night the Londoners with equal unanimity illuminated their windows. Still wider stupor of fear followed next day : and to it, a still longer sleepless night of prison-burning, drunken infatuation, and onsets from the military, let slip at last from civil leash. Six-and-thirty fires are to be seen simultaneously blazing in one new neighbourhood (Bloomsbury), not far from Blake's and still nearer to Basire's ; whence are heard the terrible shouts of excited crowds, mingling with the fiercer roar of the flames, and with the reports of scattered musket-shots at distant points from the soldiery. Some inhabitants catch up their household effects and aimlessly run up and down the streets with them; others cheerfully pay their guinea a mile for a vehicle to carry them beyond the
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tumult. These were not favourable days for designing, or even quiet engraving.
Since his twentieth year, Blake's energies had been ‘wholly directed to the attainment of excellence in his profession’ as artist: too much so to admit of leisure or perhaps inclination for poetry. Engrossing enough was the indispensable effort to master the difficulties of Design, with pencil or in water-colours. With the still tougher mechanical difficulties of oil-painting he never fairly grappled; but confined himself to water-colours and tempera (on canvas), with, in after years a curious modification of the latter—which he daringly christened ‘fresco.' Original invention now claimed more than all his leisure. His working-hours during the years 1780 to 1782 were occupied by various book-plates for the publications already named. These voluminous, well-illustrated serials are not infrequently stumbled on by the Collector at the second-hand booksellers. Very few are to be found in our Museum Library, professedly miscellaneous as that collection is. In the Print Room exists a fine series of engravings after Stothard ; which, however, being undated, affords little help to those wishing to learn something about the engravers of them.
These were days of Courtship, too. And the course of Blake's love did not open smoothly. ‘A lively little girl’ in his own, or perhaps a humbler station, the object of his first sighs readily allowed him, as girls in a humbler class will, meaning neither marriage nor harm, to ‘keep company’ with her; to pay his court, take mutual walks, and be as lovesick as he chose; but nowise encouraged the idea of a wedding. In addition to the pangs of fruitless love, attacks of jealousy had stoically to be borne. When he complained that the favour of her company in a stroll had been extended to another admirer, ‘Are you a fool ?’ was the brusque reply— with a scornful glance. ‘That cured me of jealousy,’ Blake used naïvely to relate. One evening at a friend's house he was bemoaning in a corner his love-crosses. His
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listener, a dark-eyed generous-hearted girl, frankly declared ‘She pitied him from her heart.’ ‘Do you pity me ?’ Yes ! I do, most sincerely.’ ‘Then I love you for that!’ he replied with enthusiasm:—such soothing pity is irresistible. And a second more prosperous courtship began. At this, or perhaps a later meeting, followed the confession, I dare say in lower tones, ’ Well! and I love you!‘—always, doubtless, a pretty one to hear.
The unsophisticated maiden was named Catherine Sophia Boucher—plebeian corruption, probably, of the grand historic name, Bourchier;—daughter of William and Mary Boucher of Battersea. So at least the Register gives the name: where, within less than ten years, no fewer than seven births to the same parents, including two sets of twins in succession, immediately precede hers. Her position and connexions in life were humble, humbler than Blake's own ; her education— as to book-lore—neglected, not to say omitted. For even the (at first) paltry makeshift of National Schools had not yet been invented; and Sunday Schools were first set going a little after this very time, namely in 1784. When, by and by, Catherine's turn came, as bride, to sign the Parish Register, she, as the same yet mutely testifies, could do no more than most young ladies of her class then, or than the Bourchiers, Stanleys, and magnates of the land four centuries before could do—viz. make a X as ‘her mark:’ her surname on the same occasion being misspelt for her and vulgarized into Butcher, and her second baptismal name omitted. A bright-eyed, dark-haired brunette, with expressive features and a slim graceful form, can make a young artist and poet overlook such trifles as defective scholarship. Nor were a fair outside and a frank accessible heart deceptive lures in this instance. Catherine—Christian namesake, by the way, of Blake's mother—was endowed with a loving loyal nature, an adaptive open mind, capable of profiting by good teaching, and of enabling her, under constant high influence, to become a meet companion to her imaginative husband in his solitary
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and wayward course. Uncomplainingly and helpfully, she shared the low and rugged fortunes which over-originality insured as his unvarying lot in life. She had mind and the ambition which follows. Not only did she prove a good housewife on straitened means, but in after-years, under his tuition and hourly companionship, she acquired, besides the useful arts of reading and writing, that which very few uneducated women with the honestest effort ever succeed in attaining—some footing of equality with her husband, She, in time, came to work off his engravings as though she had been bred to the trade; nay, imbibed enough of his very spirit to reflect it in Design which might almost have been his own.
Allan Cunningham says she was a neighbour. But the marriage took place at Battersea, where I trace relatives of Blake's father to have been then living. During the course of the courtship, many a happy Surrey ramble must have been taken towards and around the pleasant village of the St. Johns. The old family-seat, spacious and venerable, still stood, in which Lord Bolingbroke had been born and died, which Pope had often visited. The village was ‘four miles from London’ then, and had just begun to shake hands with Chelsea by a timber bridge over the Thames; the river bright and clear there at low tide as at Richmond now, with many a placid angler dotting its new bridge. Green meadow and bright cornfield lay between the old-fashioned winding High Street and the purple heights of Wimbledon and Richmond. In the volume of 1783, among the poems which have least freshness of feeling, being a little alloyed by false notes as of the poetic Mocking Bird, are one or two love-poems anticipating emotions as yet unfelt. And Love, it is said, must be felt ere it can be persuasively sung. One or two stanzas, if we did not know they had been written long before, might well have been allusive to the ‘black-eyed maid’ of present choice and the ‘sweet village’ where he wooed her.
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  • When early morn walks forth in sober grey,
  • Then to my black-ey'd maid I haste away;
  • When evening sits beneath her dusky bow'r
  • And gently sighs away the silent hour,
  • The village-bell alarms, away I go,
  • And the vale darkens at my pensive woe.
  • To that sweet village, where my black-ey’ maid
  • Doth drop a tear beneath the silent shade,
  • I turn my eyes; and pensive as I go,
  • 10Curse my black stars, and bless my pleasing woe.
  • Oft when the summer sleeps among the trees,
  • Whisp'ring faint murmurs to the scanty breeze,
  • I walk the village round; if at her side
  • A youth doth walk in stolen joy and pride,
  • I curse my stars in bitter grief and woe,
  • That made my love so high and me so low.

The last is an inapplicable line to the present case,—decidely unprophetic. In a better, more Blake-like manner is the other poem, apposite to how many thousand lovers, in how many climes, since man first came into the planet.

  • My feet are wing'd while o'er the dewy lawn
  • I meet my maiden risen with the morn:
  • Oh, bless those holy feet, like angel's feet!
  • Oh, bless those limbs beaming with heavenly light!
  • As when an angel glitt'ring in the sky
  • In times of innocence and holy joy,
  • The joyful shepherd stops his grateful song
  • To hear the music of that angel's tongue:
  • So when she speaks, the voice of Heav'n I hear;
  • 10So when we walk, nothing impure comes near;
  • Each field seems Eden and each calm retreat;
  • Each village seems the haunt of holy feet.
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  • But that sweet village where my black-ey'd maid
  • Closes her eyes in sleep beneath the Night's shade,
  • Whene'er I enter, more than mortal fire
  • Burns in my soul, and does my song inspire.
The occasional hackneyed rhyme, awkward construction, and verbal repetition, entailed by the requirements of very inartificial verse, are technical blemishes any poetical reader may by ten minutes’ manipulation mend, but such as clung to Blake's verse in later and maturer years.
The lovers were married, Blake being in his twenty-fifth year, his bride in her twenty-first, on a Sunday in August (the 18th), 1782, in the then newly rebuilt church of Battersea : a ‘handsome edifice,’ say contemporary topographers. Which, in the present case, means a whitey-brown brick building in the church-warden style, relying for architectual effect externally, on a nondescript steeple, a low slate roof, double rows of circular-headed windows, and an elevated western portico in a strikingly picturesque and unique position, almost upon the river as it were, which here takes a sudden bend to the south-west, the body of the church stretching alongside it. The interior, with its galleries (in which are interesting seventeenth and eighteenth century mural tablets from the old church, one by Roubiliac), and elaborately decorated apsidal dwarf-chancel, has an imposing effect and a strongly marked characteristic accent (of its Day), already historical and interesting. There, standing above the vault wherein lies the coronetted coffin of Pope's Bolingbroke, the two plighted troth. The vicar who joined their hands, Joseph Gardnor, was himself an amateur artist of note in his day, copious ‘honorary contributor’ (not above customers) to the Exhibitions ; sending ‘ Views from the Lakes,’ from Wales, and other much-libelled Home Beauties, and even Landscape Compositions ‘in the style of the Lakes,’ whatever that may mean. Specimens of this master—pasteboard-like model of misty mountain, old manorial houses as of cards, perspective-
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less diagram of lovely vale—may be inspected in Williams’ plodding History of Monmouthshire, and in other books of topography. Engravers had actually to copy and laboriously bite in these young-lady-like Indian ink drawings. Conspicuous mementoes of the vicar's Taste and munificence still survive, parochially, in the ‘handsome crimson curtains’ trimmed with amber, and held up by gold cord with heavy gold tassels, festooned about the painted eastern window of the church : or rather in deceptively perfect imitations of such upholstery, painted ('tis said) by the clergyman's own skilled hand on the light-grained wall of the circular chancel. The window is an eighteenth century remnant piously preserved from the old church : a window literally painted not stained— the colours not burnt in, that is ; so that a deluded cleaner on one occasion rubbed out a portion. The subjects are armorial bearings of the St. Johns, and (at bottom) portraits of three august collateral connexions of the Family: Margaret Beauchamp, Henry VII, and Queen Elizabeth. The general effect is good in colour, not without a tinge of ancient harmony, yellow being the predominating hue. From the vicar's hand, again, are the two small ‘paintings on glass,'— The Lamb bearing the sacred monogram, and The Dove (descending),— which fill the two circular side-windows, of an eminently domestic type, in the curvilinear chancel-wall: paintings so ‘natural’ and familiarly ‘like,’ an innocent spectator forgets perhaps their sacred symbolism—as possibly did the artist too! Did the future designer of The Gates of Paradise, the Jerusalem, and the Job, kneel beneath these trophies of religious art?
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. 1782-84. [ÆT. 25-27.]
To his father, Blake's early and humble marriage is said to have been unacceptable ; and the young couple did not return to the hosier's roof. They commenced housekeeping on their own account in lodgings at 23, Green Street, Leicester Fields; in which Fields or Square, on the north side, the junior branches of Royalty had lately abode, and on the east (near Green Street) great Hogarth. On the west side of it Sir Joshua, in these very years, had his handsome house and noble gallery. Green Street, then the abode of quiet private citizens, is now a nondescript street, given up to curiosity-shops, shabby lodging-houses and busy feet hastening to and from the Strand. No. 23, on the right-hand side going citywards, next to the house at the corner of the Square, is one—from the turn the narrow Street here takes—at right angles with and looking down the rest of it. At present, part tenanted by a shoemaker, the house is in an abject plight of stucco, dirt, and dingy desolation. In the previous year, as we have seen, friendly Flaxman had married and taken a house.
About this time, or a little earlier, Blake was introduced by the admiring, sympathetic sculptor to the accomplished Mrs. Mathew, his own warm friend. The ‘celebrated Mrs. Mathew?’ Alas! for tenure of mortal Fame! This
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lady ranked among the distinguished blue-stockings of her day; was once known to half the Town, the polite and lettered part thereof, as the agreeable, fascinating, spirituelle Mrs. Mathew, as, in brief, one of the most ‘gifted and elegant’ of women. As she does not, like her fair comrades, still flutter about the bookstalls among the half-remembered all-unread, and as no lettered contemporary has handed down her portrait, she has disappeared from us. Yet the lady, with her husband, the Rev. Henry Mathew, merit remembrance from the lovers of Art, as the first discoverers and fosterers of the genius of Flaxman, when a boy not yet in teens, and his introducer to more opulent patrons. Their son, afterwards Dr. Mathew, was John Hunter's favourite pupil. Learned as well as elegant, she would read Homer in Greek to the future sculptor, interpreting as she went, while the child sat by her side sketching a passage here and there; and thus she stimulated him to acquire hereafter some knowledge of the language for himself. She was an encourager of musicians, a kind friend to young artists. To all of promising genius the doors of her house, 27, Rathbone Place, were open. Rathbone Place, not then made over to papier-maché, Artist's colours, toy-shops, and fancy-trades, was a street of private houses, stiffly genteel and highly respectable, nay, in a sedate way, quasi fashionable ; the Westbourne Street of that day, when the adjacent district of Bloomsbury with its Square, in which (on the countryward side) was the Duke of Bedford's grand House, was absolutely fashionable and comparatively new, lying on the northern skirts of London; when Great Ormond Street, Queen's Square, Southampton Row, were accounted ‘places of pleasure, ‘being’ in one of the most charming situations about town, ‘next the open fields, and commanding a ‘beautiful landscape formed by the hills of Highgate and Hampstead and adjacent country.’ Among the residents of Rathbone Place, the rebel Lords Lovat, Kilmarnock, Balmarino had at one time been numbered. Of the Mathews’ house, by the
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way, now divided into two, both of them shops, the library or back parlour, garrulous Smith (Nollekens's biographer) in his Book for a Rainy Day tells us, was decorated by grateful Flaxman ‘with models in putty and sand, of figures in niches in the Gothic manner :’ quære if still extant? The window was painted ‘in imitation of stained glass'—just as that in Battersea church, those at Strawberry Hill, and elsewhere were, the practice being one of the valued arts or artifices of the day—by Loutherbourg's assistant, young Oram, another protégé. The furniture, again, ‘bookcases, tables, and chairs,’ were also ornamented to accord with the appearance of those ‘of antiquity.’
Mrs. Mathew's drawing-room was frequented by most of the literary and known people of the last quarter of the century, was a centre of all then esteemed enlightened and delightful in society. Réunions were held in it such as Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Vesey had first set going, unconsciously contributing the word blue-stocking to our language. There, in the list of her intimate friends and companions, would assemble those esteemed ornaments of their sex,—unreadable Chapone, of well improved mind ; sensible Barbauld; versatile, agreeable Mrs. Brooke, novelist and dramatist; learned and awful Mrs. Carter, a female Great Cham of literature, and protectress of ‘Religion and Morality.’ Thither came sprightly, fashionable Mrs. Montagu herself, Conyers Middleton's pupil, champion of Shakspere in his urgent need against rude Voltaire, and a letter-writer almost as vivacious and piquante in the modish style as her namesake Lady Wortley; her printed correspondence remaining still readable and entertaining. This is the lady whose powers of mind and conversation Dr. Johnson estimated so highly, and whose good opinion he so highly valued, though at last to his sorrow falling out of favour with her. It was she who gave the annual May-Day dinner to the chimney sweeps, in commemoration of a well-known family incident. As illustrative of their status with the public, let us add, on Smith's authority,
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that the four last-named beaux-esprits figured as Muses in the Frontispiece to a Lady's Pocket Book for 1778—a flattering apotheosis of nine contemporary female wits, including Angelica Kauffman and Mrs. Sheridan. Perhaps pious, busy Hannah More, as yet of the world, as yet young and kittenish, though not without claws, also in her youth a good letter-writer in the woman-of-the-world style; perhaps, being of the Montagu circle, she also would make one at Mrs. Mathew's, on her visits to town to see her publishers, the Cadells, about some ambling poetic 4to. Florio and the Basbleu, modest Sacred Drama, heavy 8vo. Strictures on Female Education, or other fascinating lucubration on
"Providence, foreknowledge, will and fate :"
dissertations, which, after having brought their author in some thirty thousand pounds sterling, a capricious public consumes with less avidity than it did. Good heavens! what a frowsy, drowsy ‘party sitting in a parlour,’ now ‘all silent and all damned’ (in a literary sense), these venerable ladies and great literary luminaries of their day, ladies once lively and chatty enough, seem to an irreverent generation, at their present distance from us. The spiritual interval is an infinitely wider one than the temporal; so foreign have mere eighteenth-century habits of thought and prim conventions become. Let us charitably believe the conversation of the fair was not so dull as their books; that there was the due enlivenment of scandal and small talk; and that Mrs. Mathew—by far the most pleasant to think of, because she did not commit herself to a book—that she, with perhaps Mrs. Brooke and Mrs. Montagu, took the leading parts.
The disadvantages of a neglected education, such as Blake's, are considerable. But, one is here reminded, the disadvantages of a false one are greater: when the acquisition of a second nature of conventionality, misconception of
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high models and worship of low ones, is the kind in vogue. An inestimable advantage for an original mind to have retained its freedom, the healthy play of native powers, of virgin faculties yet unsophisticate!
Mrs. Mathew's husband was a known man, too, man of taste and virtù, incumbent of the neighbouring Proprietary Chapel, Percy Chapel, Charlotte Street, built for him by admiring lay friends ; an edifice known to a later generation as the theatre of Satan Montgomery's displays. Mr. Mathew filled also a post of more prestige as afternoon preacher at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields; and ‘read the church-service more beautifully than any other clergyman in London,’ a lady who had heard him informs me—and as others too used to think, Flaxman for one. With which meagre biographic trait, the inquisitive reader must be satisfied. The most diligent search yields nothing further. That he was an amiable, kindly man we gather from the circumstances of his first notice of the child Flaxman in the father's cast-shop, coughing over his Latin behind the counter, and of his continued notice of the weakly child during the years which elapsed before he was strong enough to walk from the Strand to Rathbone Place, and be received into the sunshine of Mrs. Mathew's smiles.
To that lady's agreeable and brilliant conversazioni Blake was made welcome. At one of them, a little later (in 1784), Nollekens Smith, most literal, most useful of gossips, then a youth of eighteen, first saw the poet-painter, and ‘heard him read and sing several of his poems'—'often heard him.’ Yes! sing them; for Blake had composed airs to his verses. Wholly ignorant of the art of music, he was unable to note down these spontaneous melodies, and repeated them by ear. Smith reports that his tunes were sometimes ‘most singularly beautiful,’ and ‘were noted down by musical professors;’ Mrs. Mathew's being a musical house. I wish one of these musical professors or his executors would produce a sample. Airs simple and ethereal to match the designs and poems of
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William Blake would be a novelty in music. One would fain hear the melody invented for
How sweet I roam'd from field to field—
or for some of the Songs of Innocence. ‘He was listened to by the company,’ adds Smith, ‘with profound silence, and allowed by most of the visitors to possess original and extraordinary merit.’ Phœnix amid an admiring circle of cocks and hens is alone a spectacle to compare mentally with this!
The accomplished hostess for a time took up Blake with much fervour. His poetic recitals kindled so much enthusiasm in her feminine bosom that she urged her husband to join his young friend Flaxman, in placing the poems—those of which we gave an account at the date of composition—in the clear light of print and to assume half the cost. Which, accordingly, was done, in 1783 : the year in which happened the execution for forgery of the gifted fellow-engraver—in whose face the boy Blake, twelve years before, had so strangely deciphered omens of his fate—Ryland. This unfortunate man's prepossessing appearance and manners inspired, on the other hand, so much confidence in the governor of the prison in which he awaited trial, that on one occasion the former took him out for a walk, implicitly trusting to his good faith that he would not avail himself of the opportunity to run away. Ryland's was the last execution at Tyburn, then still on the outside of London. This was the year, too, in which Barry published his Account of the Pictures in the Adelphi. On one copy I have seen a characteristic pencil recollection, from Blake's hand, of the strange Irishman's ill-favoured face : that of an idealized bulldog, with villainously low forehead, turn-up nose, and squalid tout-ensemble. It is strong evidence of the modest Flaxman's generous enthusiasm for his friend that, himself a struggling artist, little patronized, he should have made the first offer of printing these poems, and at his
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Sig. Vol. I. E
own charge; and that he now bore a moiety of the cost. The book only runs to 74 pages, 8vo., and its unpretending title-page stands thus: Poetical Sketches; by W. B., London: Printed in the Year 1783. The clergyman ‘with his usual urbanity’ penned a preface stating the youthful authorship of the volume, apologizing for ‘irregularities and defects’ in the poems, and ‘hoping their poetic originality merits some respite from oblivion.’
The author's absence of the leisure, ‘requisite to such a revisal of these sheets as might have rendered them less unfit to meet the public eye, is pleaded.’ Little revisal certainly they had, not even correction of the press, apparently. The pamphlet, which has no printer's name to be discredited by it, is as carelessly printed as an old English play, evidently at an establishment which did not boast a ‘reader.' Semi-colons and fullstops where commas should be, misprints, such as ‘beds of dawn’ for ‘birds,’ by no means help out the meaning. The whole impression was presented to Blake to sell to friends or publish, as he should think best. Unfortunately, it never got published and, for all purposes except that of preservation, might as well have continued MS. As in those days there still survived, singular to say, a bonâ fide market for even mediocre verse, publishers and editors actually handing over hard cash for it, just as if it were prose, Blake's friends would have done better to have gone to the Trade with his poems. The thin octavo did not even get so far as the Monthly Review; at all events, it does not appear in the copious and explicit Index of ‘books noticed’ in that periodical, now quite a manual of extinct literature.
The poems J. T. Smith, in 1784, heard Blake sing, can hardly have been those known to his hearers by the printed volume of 1783, but fresh ones, to the composition of which the printing of that volume had stimulated him : some, doubtless, of the memorable and musical Songs of Innocence, as they were subsequently named.
Blake's course of soirées in Rathbone Place was not long a
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smooth one. ‘It happened unfortunately,’ writes enigmatic Smith, whose forte is not grammar, ‘soon after this period'— soon after 1784, that is, the year during which Smith heard him ‘read and sing his poems’ to an attentive auditory— ‘that in consequence of his unbending deportment, or what his adherents are pleased to call his manly firmness of opinion, which certainly was not at all times considered pleasing by every one, his visits were not so frequent’:—and after a time ceased altogether, ‘tis to be feared. One's knowledge of Blake's various originalities of thought on all subjects, his stiffness, when roused, in maintaining them, also his high, though at ordinary moments inobtrusive notions of his calling, of the dignity of it, and its superiority to all mere worldly distinctions, help to elucidate gossiping John Thomas. One readily understands that on more intimate acquaintance, when it was discovered by well-regulated minds that the erratic Bard perversely came to teach, not to be taught, nor to be gently schooled into imitative proprieties and condescendingly patted on the back, he became less acceptable to the polite world at No. 27, than when first started as a prodigy in that elegant arena.  

Figure: A figure standing under a tree.

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Sig. E 2

STRUGGLE AND SORROW. 1782-87. [ÆT. 25-30.]

Figure: Print of skeleton lying supine, just below chapter title.

Returning to 1782-3, among the engravings executed by Blake in those years, I have noticed after Stothard, four illustrations—two vignettes and two oval plates—to Scott of Amwell's Poems, published by Buckland (1782) ; two frontispieces to Dodsley's Lady's Pocket Book—'The morning amusements of H.R.H. the Princess Royal and her four sisters’ (1782), and ‘A Lady in full-dress’ with another ‘in the most fashionable undress now worn’ (1783);—and The Fall of Rosamond, a circular plate in a book published by Macklin (1783). To the latter year also, the first after Blake's marriage, belong about eight or nine of the vignettes after the purest and most lovely of the early and best designs of the same artist—full of sweetness, refinement, and graceful fancy—which illustrate Ritson's Collection of English Songs (3 vols. 8vo.); others being engraved by Grignon, Heath, &c. In the first volume occur the best designs, and—what is remarkable—designs very Blake-like in feeling and conception ; having the air of graceful translation of his inventions. Most in this volume are engraved by Blake, and very finely,
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with delicacy, as well as force. I may instance in particular one at the head of the Love Songs, a Lady singing, Cupids fluttering before her, a singularly refined composition; another, a vignette to Jemmy Dawson, which is, in fact, Hero awaiting Leander ; another to When Lovely Woman, a sitting figure of much dignity and beauty.
In after-years of estrangement from Stothard, Blake used to complain of this mechanical employment as engraver to a fellow designer, who (he asserted) first borrowed from one that, in his servile capacity, had then to copy that comrade's version of his own inventions—as to motive and composition his own, that is. The strict justice of this complaint I can hardly measure, because I know not how much of the Design he afterwards engraved was actually being produced at this period—doubtless much. We shall hereafter have to point out that a good deal in Flaxman and Stothard may be traced to Blake, is indeed only Blake in the Vernacular, classicized and (perhaps half-unconsciously) adapted. His own compositions bear the authentic first-hand impress ; those unmistakable traces, which no hand can feign, of genuineness, freshness, and spontaneity ; the look as of coming straight from another world—that in which Blake's spirit lived. He, in his cherished visionary faculty, his native power and lifelong habit of vivid Invention, was placed above all need or inclination to borrow from others. If, as happens to all, there occur occasional passages of unconscious reminiscence from the Old Masters, there is no cooking or disguise. His friend Fuseli, with characteristic candour, used to declare, ‘Blake is d——d good to steal from!'
Certainly, Stothard, though even he could by utmost diligence only earn a moderate income—for if in request with the publishers he was neglected by picture-buyers—was throughout life, compared with Blake, a prosperous, affluent man. He had, throughout, the advantage of Blake with the public. Hence, early, some feeling of soreness in his uncompliant companion's bosom. Stothard had the advantage
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in the marketable quality of his genius, in his versatile talents, his superior technic attainments—or, rather, superior consistency of attainment ; above all, in his inborn grace and elegance. He could make the refined Domestic groups he so readily conceived, whether all his own or in part borrowed, far more palatable to the many, the cultivated many—cultivated Rogers for example, his life-long patron— than Blake could ever make his Dantesque sublimity, wild Titanic play of fancy, and spiritually imaginative dreams. I think the latter, as we shall see when we come to the Songs of Innocence and Experience, was at this period of his life influenced to his advantage as a designer by contact with Stothard's graceful mind ; but that any capability of grander qualities occasionally shown by Stothard was derived, and perhaps as unconsciously, from Blake. And Stothard's earlier style is far purer and more ‘matterful,’ to use an expression of Charles Lamb's, than the sugar-plum manner of his latter years. In Stothard as in Blake, however nominally various the subject, there is the tyrannous predominance of certain ruling ideas of the designer's. Stothard's tether was always shorter than Blake's; but within the prescribed limits, his performance was the more (superficially) perfect, as well as soft, and rounded.
In 1784 I find Blake engraving after Stothard and others in the Wit's Magazine. The Wit's Magazine was a ‘Monthly Repository for the Parlour Window':— not designed (as the title in those free-speaking days might warrant a suspicion) to raise a blush on Lady's cheek :—a miscellany of innocently entertaining rather than strictly witty gleanings, and original contributions, mostly amateur. A periodical curious to look back upon in days of a weekly Punch! It would be difficult now to find a literary parallel to Mr. Harrison's plan of ‘creating a spirit of emulation, and rewarding genius : ‘by awarding ‘one silver medal’ per month to the ‘best witty tale, essay, or poem,’ another to ‘the best answer’ to the munificent proprietor's ‘prize enigmas.’ A full list of the names and addresses
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of successful candidates for Fame is appended to each of the two octavo volumes to which the Magazine ran. A graceful grotesque, the Temple of Mirth, of Stothard's design, is the frontispiece to the first number: a folding sheet forcibly engraved by Blake in his characteristic manner of distributing strongly contrasted light and shade and tone. To it succeeded, month by month, four similar engravings by him after a noted caricaturist of the day now forgotten, S. Collings: on broad-grin themes, such as The Tithe in Kind, or the Sow's Revenge, The Discomfited Duellists , The Blind Beggar's Hats, and May Day in London. After which, an engraver of lower grade, one Smith, ( quære, our friend Nollekens Smith?) executes the engravings; and after him a nameless one. The engraving caricatures of the earth earthy for this ‘Library of Momus’ was truly a singular task for a spiritual poet!
Some slight clue to the original Design of this period in a somewhat different key is given by the Exhibition-Catalogues, which report Blake as making a second appearance at the Academy in 1784. In that year,—the year of Reynolds's Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse, and Fortune-Teller,—there hung in the ‘Drawing and Sculpture Room,’ two designs of Blake's: one,— War unchained by an Angel—Fire, Pestilence and Famine following ; the other, a Breach in a City— The Morning after a Battle. Companion-subjects, their tacit moral— the supreme despicableness of War—was one of which the artist, in all his tenets thorough-going, was a fervent propagandist in days when War was tyrannously in the ascendant. This, by the way, was the year of Peace with the tardily recognised North American States. I have not seen the former of those two drawings. The same theme gave birth about twenty years later to four very fine water-colour drawings,—for Dantesque intensity, imaginative directness, and power of the terrible : illustrations of the doings of the Destroying Angels that War lets loose— Fire, Plague, Pestilence, and Famine. Of the second-named we give here a reduced
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Figure: Watercolor drawing depicting Plague, one of Blake's four Destroying Angels loosed by War. Figures in the foreground, dressed in classical costume, care for and mourn over those who have succumbed. A conflagration and looming black cloud occupies a corner of the background. A study of a female mourner hovers over the drawing and that of the dead in their shared grave appears below, just above the title.

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Note: blank page
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version. A vivid expositor of Blake ( London Quarterly Review, January 1869) says of this design :—‘An inexorable severe grandeur pervades the general lines; an inexplicable woe—as of Samaria in the deadly siege, when Joram, wandering on the walls, was obliged to listen to the appeal of the cannibal mother—hangs over it. A sense of tragic culmination, the stroke of doom irreversible comes through the windows of the eyes, as they take in the straight black lines of the pall and bier; the mother falling from her husband's embrace with her dying child; one fair corpse scarcely earthed over in the foreground, and the black funereal reek of a distant fire which consumes we know not what difficult horror. It is enough to fire the imagination of the greatest historical painter.’ Another very grand and awe-inspiring illustration of still later date, of the same suggestive theme, is Let loose the Dogs of War—a demon or savage cheering on blood-hounds who seize a man by the throat; of which Mr. Ruskin possesses the original pencil sketch, Mr. Linnell the water-colour drawing.
During the summer of 1784, died Blake's father, an honest shopkeeper of the old school, and a devout man—a dissenter. He was buried in Bunhill Fields, on the fourth of July (a Sunday) says the Register. The second son, James,—a year and a half William's senior,—continued to live with the widow Catherine, and succeeded to the hosier's business in Broad Street, still a highly respectable street, and a good one for trade, as it and the whole neighbourhood continued until the era of Nash and the ‘first gentleman in Europe.’ Golden Square was still the ‘town residence’ of some half-dozen M.P.'s—for county or rotten borough ; Poland Street and Great Marlborough Street of others. Between this brother and the artist no strong sympathy existed, little community of sentiment or common ground (mentally) of any kind; although indeed, James—for the most part an humble matter-of-fact man—had his spiritual and visionary side too; would at times talk Swedenborg, talk of seeing Abraham and Moses,
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and to outsiders seem, like his gifted brother, ‘a bit mad'—a mild madman instead of a wild and stormy.
On his father's death, Blake, who found Design yield no income, Engraving but a scanty one, returned from Green Street, Leicester Fields, to familiar Broad Street. At No. 27, next door to his brother's, he set up shop as printseller and engraver, in partnership with a former fellow-apprentice at Basire's : James Parker, a man some six or seven years his senior. An engraving by Blake after Stothard, Zephyrus and Flora (a long oval), was published by the firm "Parker and Blake" this same year (1784). Mrs. Mathew, still friendly and patronizing, though one day to be less eager for the poet's services as Lion in Rathbone Place, countenanced, nay perhaps first set the scheme going—in an ill-advised philanthropic hour; favouring it, if Smith's hints may be trusted, with solid pecuniary help. It will prove an ill-starred speculation ; Pegasus proverbially turning out an indifferent draught-horse. Mrs. Blake helped in the shop; the poet busied himself with his graver and pencil still. William Blake behind the counter would have been a curious sight to see! His younger and favourite brother, Robert, made one in the family; William taking him as a gratis pupil in engraving. It must have been a singularly conducted commercial enterprise. No. 27 bears at present small trace—with its two quiet parlour-windows, apparently the same casements that have been there from the beginning—of having once been even temporarily a shop. The house is of the same character as No. 28: a good-sized three-storied one, with panelled rooms ; its original aspect (like that of No. 28) wholly disguised, externally, by all-levelling stucco. It is still a private mansion ; but let out (now) in floors and rooms to many families, instead of one.
From 27, Broad Street, Blake in 1785 sent four water-colour drawings or frescos, in his peculiar acceptation of the term, to the Academy-Exhibition, one by the way, at which our old friend Parson Gardner is still exhibiting—some seven Views of Lake Scenery. One of Blake's drawings is from Gray, The
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Bard. The others are subjects from the Story of Joseph: Joseph's Brethren bowing before him; Joseph making himself known to them ; Joseph ordering Simeon to be bound. The latter series I have seen. The drawings are interesting for their imaginative merit, and as specimens, full of soft tranquil beauty, of Blake's earlier style : a very different one from that of his later and better-known works. Conceived in a dramatic spirit, they are executed in a subdued key, of which extravagance is the last defect to suggest itself. The design is correct and blameless, not to say tame (for Blake), the colour full, harmonious and sober. At the head of the Academy-Catalogues of those days, stands the stereotype notification, ‘The pictures &c. marked (*) are to be disposed of.’ Blake's are not so marked : let us hope they were disposed of! The three Joseph drawings turned up within the last ten years in their original close rose-wood frames (a far from advantageous setting), at a broker's in Wardour Street, who had purchased them at a furniture-sale in the neighbourhood. They were sent to the International Exhibition of 1862. Among Blake's fellow-exhibitors, it is now curious to note the small galaxy of still remembered names—Reynolds, Nollekens, Morland, Cosway, Fuseli, Flaxman, Stothard (the last three yet juniors)— sprinkling the mob of forgotten ones : among which such as West, Hamilton, Rigaud, Loutherbourg, Copley, Serres, Mary Moser, Russell, Dance, Farington, Edwards, Garvey, Tomkins, are positive points of light. This year, by the way, Blake's friend Trotter exhibits a Portrait of the late Dr. Johnson , ‘a drawing in chalk from the life, about eighteen months before his death,’ which should be worth something.
Blake's brother Robert, his junior by nearly five years, had been a playfellow of Smith's, whose father lived near (in Great Portland Street) ; and from him we hear that ‘Bob, as he was familiarly called,’ had ever been ‘much beloved by all his companions.’ By William he was in these years not only taught to draw and engrave, but encouraged to exert his imagination in original sketches. I have come across some of
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these tentative essays, carefully preserved by Blake during life, and afterwards forming part of the large accumulation of artistic treasure remaining in his widow's hands : the sole, but not at all unproductive, legacy, he had to bequeath to her. Some are in pencil, some in pen and ink outline thrown up by a uniform dark ground washed in with Indian ink. They unmistakably show the beginner— not to say the child—in art ; are naïf and archaic-looking ; rude, faltering, often puerile or absurd in drawing ; but are characterized by Blake-like feeling and intention, having in short a strong family likeness to his brother's work. The subjects are from Homer and the poets. Of one or two compositions there are successive and each time enlarged versions. True imaginative animus is often made manifest by very imperfect means ; in the composition of the groups, and the expressive disposition of the individual figure, or of an individual limb : as e.g. (in one drawing) that solitary upraised arm stretched heaven-ward from out the midst of the panic-struck crowd of figures, who, embracing, huddle together with bowed heads averted from a Divine Presence. In another, a group of ancient men stand silent on the verge of a sea-girt precipice, beyond which they gaze towards awe-inspiring shapes and sights unseen by us. This last motive seems to have pleased Blake himself. One of his earliest attempts, if not quite his earliest, in that peculiar stereotype process he soon afterwards invented, is a version of this very composition ; marvellously improved in the treatment—in the dispositon and conception of the figures (at once fewer and better contrasted), as well, of course, as in drawing ; which was what Blake's drawing always was— whatever its wilful—not only full of grand effect, but firm and decisive, that of a Master.
With Blake and with his wife, at the print-shop in Broad Street, Robert for two happy years and a half lived in seldom disturbed accord. Such domestications, however, always bring their own trials, their own demands for self-sacrifice. Of which the following anecdote will supply a hint, as well as
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testify to much amiable magnanimity on the part of both the younger members of the household. One day, a dispute arose between Robert and Mrs. Blake. She, in the heat of discussion, used words to him, his brother (though a husband too) thought unwarrantable. A silent witness thus far, he could now bear it no longer, but with characteristic impetuosity— when stirred—rose and said to her: ‘Kneel down and beg Robert's pardon directly, or you never see my face again!’ A heavy threat, uttered in tones which, from Blake, unmistakably showed it was meant. She, poor thing! ‘thought it very hard,’ as she would afterwards tell, to beg her brother-in-law's pardon when she was not in fault! But being a duteous, devoted wife, though by nature nowise tame or dull of spirit, she did kneel down and meekly murmur, ‘Robert, I beg your pardon, I am in the wrong! ‘Young woman, you lie!' abruptly retorted he: ‘ I am in the wrong!’
At the commencement of 1787, the artist's peaceful happiness was gravely disturbed by the premature death, in his twenty-fifth year, of this beloved brother : buried in Bunhill Fields the 11th of February. Blake affectionately tended him in his illness, and during the last fortnight of it watched continuously day and night by his bedside, without sleep. When all claim had ceased with that brother's last breath, his own exhaustion showed itself in an unbroken sleep of three days’ and nights’ duration. The mean room of sickness had been to the spiritual man, as to him most scenes were, a place of vision and of revelation; for Heaven lay about him still, in manhood, as in infancy it ‘lies about us’ all. At the last solemn moment, the visionary eyes beheld the released spirit ascend heavenward through the matter-of-fact ceiling, ‘clapping its hands for joy'—a truly Blake-like detail. No wonder he could paint such scenes! With him they were work'y-day experiences.
In the same year, disagreements with Parker put an end to the partnership and to print-selling. This Parker subsequently
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engraved a good deal after Stothard, in a style which evinces a common Master with Blake as well as companionship with him: in particular, the very fine designs, among Stothard's most masterly, to the Vicar of Wakefield (1792), which are very admirably engraved ; also most of those of Falconer's Shipwreck (1795). After Flaxman, he executed several of the plates to Homer's Iliad; after Smirke, The Commemoration of 1797 ; after Northcote, The Revolution of 1688, and others ; and for Boydell's Shakspeare, eleven plates. He died ‘about 1805,’ according to the Dictionaries.
Blake quitted Broad Street for neighbouring Poland Street: the long street which connects Broad Street with Oxford Street, and into which Great Marlborough Street runs at right angles. He lodged at No. 28 (now a cheesemonger's shop, boasting three brass bells), not many doors from Oxford Street on the right-hand side, going towards that thoroughfare; the houses at which end of the street are smaller and of later date than those between Great Marlborough and Broad Street. Henceforward Mrs. Blake, whom he carefully instructed, remained his sole pupil—sole assistant and companion too ; for the gap left by his brother was never filled up by children. In the same year—that of Etty's birth (March, 1787) amid the narrow streets of distant antique York—his friend Flaxman exchanged Wardour Street for Rome, and a seven years’ sojourn in Italy. Already educating eye and mind in his own way, Turner, a boy of twelve, was hovering about Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, in which the barber's son was born : some half mile—of (then) staid and busy streets—distant from Blake's Broad Street; Long Acre, in which Stothard first saw the light, lying between the two.
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One of Blake's engravings of the present period is a frontispiece after Fuseli to the latter's translation of the Aphorisms of his fellow-countryman, Lavater. The translation, which was from the original MS., was published by Johnson in 1788, the year of Gainsborough's death. If any deny merit to Blake as an engraver, let them turn from this boldly executed print of Fuseli's mannered but effective sitting figure, ostentatiously meditative, of Philosophic Contemplation, or whatever it may be, to the weak shadow of the same in the subsequent Dublin editions of this little book. For the Swiss enthusiast had then a European reputation. And this imposing scroll of fervid truisms and hap-hazard generalities, as often disputable as not, if often acute and striking, always ingenuous and pleasant, was, like all his other writings, warmly welcomed in this country. Now it, as a whole, reads unequal and monotonous ; does not impress one as an elixir of inspired truth ; induces rather, like most books of maxims, the ever recurring query, cui bono? And one readily believes what the English edition states, that the whole epitome of moral wisdom was the rapid ‘effusion’ of one autumn.
In the ardent, pious, but illogical Lavater's character, full of amiability, candour, and high aspiration, a man who in the eighteenth century believed in the continuation of miracles, of witchcraft, and of the power of exorcising evil spirits, who,
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in fact, had a bonâ fide if convulsive hold of the super-sensual, there was much that was german to William Blake, much that still remains noble and interesting.
In the painter's small library the Aphorisms became one of his most favourite volumes. This well-worn copy contains a series of marginal notes, neatly written in pen and ink—it being his habit to make such in the books he read—which speak to the interest it excited in him. On the title-page occurs a naïve token of affection : below the name Lavater is inscribed ‘Will. Blake,’ and around the two names, the outline of a heart.
Lavater's final Aphorism tells the reader, ‘If you mean to know yourself, interline such of these as affected you agreeably in reading, and set a mark to such as left a sense of uneasiness with you, and then show your copy to whom you please.’ Blake showed his notes to Fuseli ; who said one assuredly could read their writer's character in them.
‘All old!’ ‘This should be written in letters of gold on our temples,’ are the endorsements accorded such an announcement as ‘The object of your love is your God ;’ or again, ‘Joy and grief decide character. What exalts prosperity? What embitters grief? What leaves us indifferent? What interests us ? As the interest of man, so his God, as his God so is he.’
But the annotator sometimes dissents ; as from this : ‘You enjoy with wisdom or with folly, as the gratification of your appetites capacitates or unnerves your powers.’ ‘ False!’ is the emphatic denial, ‘for weak is the joy which is never wearied.’ On one Aphorism, in which ‘frequent laughing,’ and ‘the scarcer smile of harmless quiet,’ are enumerated as signs respectively ‘of a little mind,’ or ‘of a noble heart;’ while the abstaining from laughter merely not to offend, &c. is praised as ‘a power unknown to many a vigorous mind ;’ Blake exclaims, ‘I hate scarce smiles ; I love laughing !’ ‘A sneer is often the sign of heartless malignity,’ says Lavater. ‘ Damn sneerers!‘ echoes Blake. To Lavater's censure
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of the ‘pietist who crawls, groans, blubbers, and secretly says to gold, Thou art my hope! and to his belly, Thou art my god,’ follows a cordial assent. ‘Everything,' Lavater rashly declares, ‘may be mimicked by hypocrisy but humility and love united.’ To which, Blake : ‘All this may be mimicked very well. This Aphorism certainly was an oversight; for what are all crawlers but mimickers of humility and love?’ ‘Dread more the blunderer's friendship than the calumniator's envy,’ exhorts Lavater. ‘ I doubt this! ‘ says the margin.
At the maxim, ‘You may depend upon it that he is a good man, whose intimate friends are all good, and whose enemies are characters decidedly bad,’ the artist (obeying his author's injunctions) reports himself ‘ Uneasy,’ fears he ‘has not many enemies !’ Uneasy, too, he feels at the declaration, ‘Calmness of will is a sign of grandeur : the vulgar, far from hiding their will, blab their wishes—a single spark of occasion discharges the child of passion into a thousand crackers of desire.’ Again: ‘Who seeks those that are greater than himself, their greatness enjoys, and forgets his greatest qualities in their greater ones, is already truly great.’ To this, Mr. Blake : ‘I hope I do not flatter myself that this is pleasant to me.’
Some of Blake's remarks are not without a brisk candour: as when the Zurich philanthropist tells one, ‘The great art to love your enemy consists in never losing sight of man in him,’ &c.; and he boldly replies, ‘None can see the man in the enemy. If he is ignorantly so, he is not truly an enemy : if maliciously so, not a man. I cannot love my enemy, for my enemy is not a man but a beast. And if I have any, I can love him as a beast, and wish to beat him.’ And again, to the dictum, ‘Between passion and lie there is not a finger's breadth,’ he retorts, ‘Lie is contrary to passion.’ Upon the aphorism, ‘Superstition always inspires littleness; religion grandeur of mind ; the superstitious raises beings inferior to himself to deities,’ Blake remarks at some length : ‘I do not allow there is such a thing as superstition, taken in the
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true sense of the word. A man must first deceive himself before he is thus superstitious, and so he is a hypocrite. No man was ever truly superstitious who was not as truly religious as far as he knew. True superstition is ignorant honesty, and this is beloved of God and man. Hypocrisy is as different from superstition as the wolf from the lamb.’ And similarly when Lavater, with a shudder, alludes to ‘the gloomy rock, on either side of which superstition and incredulity their dark abysses spread,’ Blake says, ‘Superstition has been long a bug-bear, by reason of its having been united with hypocrisy. But let them be fairly separated, and then superstition will be honest feeling, and God, who loves all honest men, will lead the poor enthusiast in the path of holiness.’ This was a cardinal thought with Blake, and almost a unique one in his century.
The two are generally of better accord. The since often-quoted warning, ‘Keep him at least three paces distant who hates bread, music, and the laugh of a child!’ is endorsed as the ‘Best in the book.’ Another, ‘Avoid like a serpent him who speaks politely, yet writes impertinently,’ elicits the ejaculation, ‘ A dog! get a stick to him!‘ And the reiteration, ‘Avoid him who speaks softly and writes sharply,’ is enforced with, ‘Ah, rogue, I would be thy hangman!’ The assertion that ‘A woman, whose ruling passion is not vanity, is superior to any man of equal faculties,’ begets the enthusiastic comment, ‘ Such a woman I adore!’ At the foot of another, on woman, ‘A great woman not imperious, a fair woman not vain, a woman of common talents not jealous, an accomplished woman who scorns to shine, are four wonders just great enough to be divided among the four corners of the globe,’ Blake appends, ‘Let the men do their duty and the women will be such wonders: the female life lives from the life of the male. See a great many female dependents and you know the man.’
In a higher key, when Lavater justly affirms that ‘He only who has enjoyed immortal moments can reproduce them,
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Blake exclaims, ‘Oh that men would seek immortal moments !— that men would converse with God!’ as he, it may be added, was ever seeking, ever conversing, in one sense. In another place Lavater declares, that ‘He who adores an impersonal God, has none; and without guide or rudder launches on an immense abyss, that first absorbs his powers and next himself.’ To which, warm assent from the fervently religious Blake: ‘Most superlatively beautiful, and most affectionately holy and pure. Would to God all men would consider it!’ Religious, I say, but far from orthodox ; for in one place he would show sin to be ‘ negative not positive evil:’ lying, theft, &c., ‘mere privation of good ;’ a favourite idea with him, which, whatever its merit as an abstract proposition, practical people would not like written in letters of gold on their temples, for fear of consequences.
One of the most prolix of these aphorisms runs,‘Take from Luther his roughness and fiery courage, from this man one quality, from another that, from Raffaelle his dryness and nearly hard precision, and from Rubens his supernatural luxury of colours; detach his oppressive exuberance from each, and you will have something very correct and flat instead,’ as it required no conjuror to tell us. Whereon Blake, whom I here condense : ‘Deduct from a rose its red, from a lily its whiteness, from a diamond hardness, from an oak-tree height, from a daisy lowliness, rectify everything in nature, as the philosophers do, and then we shall return to chaos, and God will be compelled to be eccentric in His creation. Oh ! happy philosophers ! Variety does not necessarily suppose deformity. Beauty is exuberant, but if ugliness is adjoined, it is not the exuberance of beauty. So if Raffaelle is hard and dry, it is not from genius, but an accident acquired. How can substance and accident be predicated of the same essence? Aphorism 47 speaks of the "heterogeneous" in works of Art and Literature, which all extravagance is; but exuberance is not. ‘But,' adds
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Blake, ‘the substance gives tincture to the accident, and makes it physiognomic.’
In the course of another lengthy aphorism, the ‘knave’ is said to be ‘only an enthusiast, or momentary fool.‘ Upon which Mr. Blake breaks out still more characteristically: ‘Man is the ark of God: the mercy-seat is above upon the ark; cherubim guard it on either side, and in the midst is the holy law. Man is either the ark of God or a phantom of the earth and water. If thou seekest by human policy to guide this ark, remember Uzzah— 2 Sam. 6th ch. Knaveries are not human nature; knaveries are knaveries. This aphorism seems to lack discrimination.’ In a similar tone, on Aphorism 630, commencing, ‘A God, an animal, a plant, are not companions of man ; nor is the faultless,—then judge with lenity of all,’ Blake writes, ‘It is the God in all that is our companion and friend. For our God Himself says, "You are my brother, my sister, and my mother;" and St. John, "Whoso dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him." Such an one cannot judge of any but in love, and his feelings will be attractions or repulsions. God is in the lowest effects as well as in the highest causes. He is become a worm that he may nourish the weak. For let it be remembered that creation is God descending according to the weakness of man : our Lord is the Word of God, and everything on earth is the Word of God, and in its essence is God.’
Surely gold-dust may be descried in these notes; and when we remember it is a painter, not a metaphysician, who is writing, we can afford to judge them less critically. Another characteristic gleaning or two, ere we conclude. An ironical maxim, such as ‘Take here the grand secret, if not of pleasing all, yet of displeasing none : court mediocrity, avoid originality, and sacrifice to fashion,’ meets with the hearty response from an unfashionable painter, ‘And go to hell.’ When the Swiss tells him that ‘Men carry their character not seldom in their pockets : you might decide
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on more than half your acquaintance had you will or right to turn their pockets inside out;’ the artist candidly acknowledges that he ‘seldom carries money in his pockets, they are generally full of paper,’ which we readily believe. Towards the close, Lavater drops a doubt that he may have ‘perhaps already offended his readers;’ which elicits from Blake a final note of sympathy. ‘Those who are offended with anything in this book, would be offended with the innocence of a child, and for the same reason, because it reproaches him with the errors of acquired folly.’
Enough of the Annotations on Lavater, which, in fulfilment of biographic duty, I have thus copiously quoted ; too copiously, the reader may think, for their intrinsic merit. To me they seem mentally physiognomic, giving a near view of Blake in his ordinary moments at this period. We, as through a casually open window, glance into the artist's room, and see him meditating at his work, graver in hand.
Lavater's Aphorisms not only elicited these comments from Blake, but set him composing aphorisms on his own account, of a far more original and startling character. In Lavater's book I trace the external accident to which the form is attributable of a remarkable portion—certain ‘Proverbs of Hell,’ as they were waywardly styled—of an altogether remarkable book, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, engraved two years later; the most curious and significant book, perhaps, out of many, which ever issued from the unique man's press.
Turning from the Annotations on Lavater to higher, less approachable phases of this original Mind, the indubitably INSPIRED aspects of it, it is time to note that the practice of verse had, as we saw in 1784, been once more resumed, in a higher key and clearer tones than he had yet sounded. Design more original and more mature than any he had before realized, at once grand, lovely, comprehensible, was in course of production. It must have been during the years 1784—88, the Songs and Designs sprang from his creative brain, of which another chapter must speak.
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Infant Joy



Figure: Infant Joy. From Songs of Innocence.


POEMS OF MANHOOD. 1788-89. [ÆT. 31-32.]
Though Blake's brother Robert had ceased to be with him in the body, he was seldom far absent from the faithful visionary in spirit. Down to late age the survivor talked much and often of that dear brother; and in hours of solitude and inspiration his form would appear and speak to the poet in consolatory dream, in warning or helpful vision. By the end of 1788, the first portion of that singularly originial and significant series of Poems, by which of themselves, Blake
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established a claim, however unrecognised, on the attention of his own and after generations, had been written; and the illustrative designs in colour, to which he wedded them in inseparable loveliness, had been executed. The Songs of Innocence form the first section of the series he afterwards, when grouping the two together, suggestively named Songs of Innocence and of Experience. But how publish? for standing with the public, or credit with the trade, he had none. Friendly Flaxman was in Italy; the good offices of patronising blue-stockings were exhausted. He had not the wherewithal to publish on his own account; and though he could be his own engraver, he could scarcely be his own compositor. Long and deeply he meditated. How solve this difficulty with his own industrious hands? How be his own printer and publisher?
The subject of anxious daily thought passed—as anxious meditation does with us all—into the domain of dreams and (in his case) of visions. In one of these a happy inspiration befell, not, of course, without supernatural agency. After intently thinking by day and dreaming by night, during long weeks and months, of his cherished object, the image of the vanished pupil and brother at last blended with it. In a vision of the night, the form of Robert stood before him, and revealed the wished-for secret, directing him to the technical mode by which could be produced a fac-simile of song and design. On his rising in the morning, Mrs. Blake went out with half-a-crown, all the money they had in the world, and of that laid out 1 s. 10 d. on the simple materials necessary for setting in practice the new revelation. Upon that investment of 1 s. 10 d. he started what was to prove a principal means of support through his future life,—the series of poems and writings illustrated by coloured plates, often highly finished afterwards by hand,—which became the most efficient and durable means of revealing Blake's genius to the world. This method, to which Blake henceforth consistently adhered for multiplying his works, was quite an original one. It
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consisted in a species of engraving in relief both words and designs. The verse was written and the designs and marginal embellishments outlined on the copper with an impervious liquid, probably the ordinary stopping-out varnish of engravers. Then all the white parts or lights, the remainder of the plate that is, were eaten away with aquafortis or other acid, so that the outline of letter and design was left prominent, as in stereotype. From these plates he printed off in any tint, yellow, brown, blue, required to be the prevailing or ground colour in his fac-similes; red he used for the letter-press. The page was then coloured up by hand in imitation of the original drawing, with more or less variety of detail in the local hues.
He ground and mixed his water-colours himself on a piece of statuary marble, after a method of his own, with common carpenter's glue diluted, which he had found out, as the early Italians had done before him, to be a good binder. Joseph, the sacred carpenter, had appeared in vision and revealed that secret to him. The colours he used were few and simple : indigo, cobalt, gamboge, vermilion, Frankfort-black freely, ultramarine rarely, chrome not at all. These he applied with a camel's-hair brush, not with a sable, which he disliked.
He taught Mrs. Blake to take off the impressions with care and delicacy, which such plates signally needed; and also to help in tinting them from his drawings with right artistic feeling; in all which tasks she, to her honour, much delighted. The size of the plates was small, for the sake of economising copper; something under five inches by three. The number of engraved pages in the Songs of Innocence alone was twenty-seven. They were done up in boards by Mrs. Blake's hand, forming a small octavo; so that the poet and his wife did everything in making the book,—writing, designing, printing, engraving,—everything except manufacturing the paper : the very ink, or colour rather, they did make. Never before surely was a man so literally the author
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of his own book. ‘Songs of Innocence, the author and printer W. Blake, 1789,’ is the title. Copies still occur occasionally; though the two series bound together in one volume, each with its own title-page, and a general one added, is the more usual state.
First of the Poems let me speak, harsh as seems their divorce from the Design which blends with them, forming warp and woof in one texture. It is like pulling up a daisy by the roots from the greensward out of which it springs. To me many years ago, first reading these weird Songs in their appropriate environment of equally spiritual form and hue, the effect was as that of an angelic voice singing to oaten pipe, such as Arcadians tell of; or, as if a spiritual magician were summoning before human eyes, and through a human medium, images and scenes of divine loveliness; and in the pauses of the strain we seem to catch the rustling of angelic wings. The Golden Age independent of Space or Time, object of vague sighs and dreams from many generations of struggling humanity—an Eden such as childhood sees, is brought nearer than ever poet brought it before. For this poet was in assured possession of the Golden Age within the chambers of his own mind. As we read, fugitive glimpses open, clear as brief, of our buried childhood, of an unseen world present, past, to come; we are endowed with new spiritual sight, with unwonted intuitions, bright visitants from finer realms of thought, which ever elude us, ever hover near. We encounter familiar objects, in unfamiliar, transfigured aspects, simple expression and deep meanings, type and antitype. True, there are palpable irregularities, metrical licence, lapse of grammar, and even of orthography; but often the sweetest melody, most daring eloquence of rhythm, and what is more, appropriate rhythm. They are unfinished poems: yet would finish have bettered their bold and careless freedom? Would it not have brushed away the delicate bloom? that visible spontaneity, so rare and great a charm, the eloquent attribute of our old English ballads and of the
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early Songs of all nations. The most deceptively perfect wax-model is no substitute for the living flower. The form is, in these Songs, a transparent medium of the spiritual thought, not an opaque body. ‘He has dared to venture,’ writes Malkin, not irrelevantly, ‘on the ancient simplicity, and feeling it in his own character and manners, has succeeded’ better than those who have only seen it through a glass.
There is the same divine afflatus as in the Poetical Sketches, but fuller: a maturity of expression, despite surviving negligences, and of thought and motive. The ‘Child Angel,’ as we ventured to call the Poet in earlier years, no longer merely sportive and innocently wanton, wears a brow of thought; a glance of insight has passed into
  • ‘A sense sublime
  • Of something far more deeply interfused’
in Nature, a feeling of ‘the burthen of the mystery of things’; though still possessed by widest sympathies with all that is simple and innocent, with echoing laughter, little lamb, a flower's blossom, with ‘emmet wildered and forlorn.’
These poems have a unity and mutual relationship, the influence of which is much impaired if they be read otherwise than as a whole. They are given entire in the Second Volume, to which I refer my reader, if not of decisively unpoetic turn.
Who but Blake, with his pure heart, his simple exalted character, could have transfigured a commonplace meeting of Charity Children at St. Paul's, as he has done in the Holy Thursday? A picture at once tender and grand. The bold images, by a wise instinct resorted to at the close of the first and second stanzas and opening of the third, are in the highest degree imaginative; they are true as only Poetry can be.
How vocal is the poem Spring, despite imperfect rhymes. From addressing the child, the poet, by a transition not
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infrequent with him, passes out of himself into the child's person, showing a chameleon sympathy with childlike feelings. Can we not see the little three-year-old prattler stroking the white lamb, her feelings made articulate for her?—Even more remarkable is the poem entitled The Lamb, sweet hymn of tender infantine sentiment appropriate to that perennial image of meekness ; to which the fierce eloquence of The Tiger, in the Songs of Experience , is an antitype. In The Lamb the poet again changes person to that of a child. Of lyrical beauty, take as a sample The Laughing Song, with its happy ring of merry innocent voices. This and The Nurse's Song are more in the style of his early poems, but, as we said, of far maturer execution. I scarcely need call attention to the delicate simplicity of the little pastoral, entitled The Shepherd : to the picturesqueness in a warmer hue, the delightful domesticity, the expressive melody of The Echoing Green : or to the lovely sympathy and piety which irradiate the touching Cradle Song. More enchanting still is the stir of fancy and sympathy which animates The Dream, that
  • Did weave a shade o'er my angel-guarded bed ;
  • of an emmet that had
  • Lost her way,
  • Where on grass methought I lay.
Few are the readers, I should think, who can fail to appreciate the symbolic grandeur of The Little Boy Lost and The Little Boy Found, or the enigmatic tenderness of the Blossom and the Divine Image ; and the verses On Another's Sorrow, express some of Blake's favourite religious ideas, his abiding notions on the subject of the Godhead, which surely suggest the kernel of Christian feeling. A similar tinge of the divine colours the lines called Night, with its revelation of angelic guardians, believed in with unquestioning piety by Blake, who makes us in our turn conscious, as we read, of angelic noiseless footsteps. For a nobler depth of religious beauty,
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with accordant grandeur of sentiment and language, I know no parallel nor hint elswhere of such a poem as The Little Black Boy
  • My mother bore me in the southern wild.
We may read these poems again and again, and they continue fresh as at first. There is something unsating in them, a perfume as of a growing violet, which renews itself as fast as it is inhaled.
One poem, The Chimney Sweeper, still calls for special notice. This and Holy Thursday are remarkable as an anticipation of the daring choice of homely subject, of the yet more daringly familiar manner, nay, of the very metre and trick of style adopted by Wordsworth in a portion of those memorable ‘experiments in poetry,’—the Lyrical Ballads,— in The Reverie of Poor Susan, for instance (not written till 1797), the Star Gazers, and The Power of Music (both 1806). The little Sweep's dream has the spiritual touch peculiar to Blake's hand. This poem, I may add, was extracted thirty-five years later in a curious little volume (1824) of James Montgomery's editing, as friend of the then unprotected Climbing Boys. It was entitled, The Chimney Sweeper's Friend and Climbing Boy's Album ; a miscellany of verse and prose, original and borrowed, with illustrations by Robert Cruikshank. Charles Lamb, one of the living authors applied to by the kind-hearted Sheffield poet, while declining the task of rhyming on such a subject, sent a copy of this poem from the Songs of Innocence, communicating it as "from a very rare and curious little work." At line five, ‘Little Tom Dacre’ is transformed, by a sly blunder of Lamb's, into ‘little Tom Toddy.’ The poem on the same subject in the Songs of Experience, inferior poetically, but in an accordant key of gloom, would have been the more apposite to Montgomery's volume.
The tender loveliness of these poems will hardly reappear in Blake's subsequent writing. Darker phases of feeling,
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more sombre colours, profounder meanings, ruder eloquence, characterise the Songs of Experience of five years later.
In 1789, the year in which Blake's hand engraved the Songs of Innocence, Wordsworth was finishing his versified Evening Walk on the Goldsmith model ; Crabbe (‘Pope in worsted stockings,’ as Hazlitt christened him), famous six years before by his Village, was publishing one of his minor quartos, The Newspaper ; and Mrs. Charlotte Smith, not undeservedly popular, was accorded a fifth edition within five years, of her Elegiac Sonnets, one or two of which still merit the praise of being good sonnets, among the best in a bad time. In these years, Hayley, Mason, Hannnah More, Jago, Downman, Helen Maria Williams, were among the active producers of poetry ; Cumberland, Holcroft, Inchbald, Burgoyne, of the acting drama of the day ; Peter Pindar, and Pasquin Williams, of the satire.
The designs, simultaneous offspring with the poems, which in the most literal sense illuminate the Songs of Innocence, consist of poetized domestic scenes. The drawing and draperies are grand in style as graceful, though covering few inches’ space ; the colour pure, delicate, yet in effect rich and full. The mere tinting of the text and of the free ornamental period are idealized, the landscape given in pastoral and symbolic hints. Sometimes these drawings almost suffer from being looked at as a book and held close, instead of at a distance as pictures, where they become more effective. In composition, colour, pervading feeling, they are lyrical to the eye, as the Songs to the ear.
On the whole, the designs to the Songs of Innocence are finer as well as more pertinent to the poems ; more closely interwoven with them, than those which accompany the Songs of Experience. Of these in their place.
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BOOKS OF PROPHECY. 1789-90. [ÆT. 32-33]
In the same year that the Songs of Innocence were published, Blake profited by his new discovery to engrave another illustrated poem. It is in a very different strain ; one, however, analogous to that running through nearly all his subsequent writings, or ‘Books,’ as he called them. The Book of Thel is a strange mystical allegory, full of tender beauty and enigmatic meaning. Thel, youngest of ‘the Daughters of the Seraphim’ (personification of humanity, I infer), is afflicted with scepticism, with forebodings of life's brevity and nothingness:—
  • She in paleness sought the secret air
  • To fade away like morning beauty from her mortal day;
  • Down by the river of Adona her soft voice is heard,
  • And thus her gentle lamentation falls like morning dew.
As the poem is printed entire in our Second Volume , I will now simply give an Argument of it, by way of indicating its tenor, and to serve as a bridge for the reader across the eddying stream of abstractions which make up this piece of poetic mysticism.
Thel laments her transient life—The Lily of the Valley answers her—Pleads her weakness, yet Heaven's favour—Thel urges her own
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uselessness—A little cloud descends and taketh shape—Shows how he weds the evening dew and feeds the flowers of earth—Tells of Love and Serviceableness—Thel replies in sorrow still—The Cloud invokes the lowly worm to answer her—Who appears in the form of a helpless child—A clod of clay pities her wailing cry—And shows how in her lowliness she blesses and is blessed—She summons Thel into her house—The grave's gates open—Thel, wandering, listens to the voices of the ground—Hears a sorrowing voice from her own grave-plot—Listens, and flees back.
The fault of the poem is the occasional tendency to vagueness of motive, to an expression of abstract emotions more legitimate for the sister art of music than for poetry, which must be definite, however deep and subtle. The tendency grew in Blake's after writings and overmastered him. But on this occasion the meaning which he is at the pains to define, with the beauty of much of the imagery and of the pervading sentiment, more than counterbalance any excess of the element of the Indefinite, especially when, as in the original, the poem is illumined by its own design, lucidly expository, harmonising with itself and with the verse it illustrates.
The original quarto consists of seven engraved pages, including the title, in size some six inches by four and a quarter. Four are illustrated by vignettes, the other two by ornamental head or tail-piece. The designs—Thel, the virgin sceptic, listening to the lily of the valley in the humble grass ; to the golden cloud ‘reclining on his airy throne ;’ to the worm upon her dewy bed ; or kneeling over the personified clod of clay, an infant wrapped in lily's leaf; or gazing at the embracing clouds—are of the utmost sweetness; simple, expressive, grand; the colour slight, but pure and tender. The mere ornamental part of the title-page, of which the sky forms the framework, is a study for spontaneous easy grace and unobtrusive beauty. The effect of the whole, poem and design together, is as of a wise, wondrous, spiritual dream or angel's reverie. The engraving of the letter-press differs
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from that of the Songs of Innocence, the text (in colour red as before) being relieved by a white ground, which makes the page more legible if less of a picture. I may mention, in corroboration of a previous assertion of Stothard's obligations as a designer to Blake, that the copy of Thel, formerly Stothard's, bears evidence of familiar use on his part, in broken edges, and the marks of a painter's oily fingers. These few and simple designs, while plainly original, show all the feeling and grace of Stothard's early manner, with a tinge of sublimity superadded which was never Stothard's.
In the track of the mystical Book of Thel came in 1790 the still more mystical Marriage of Heaven and Hell, an engraved volume, illustrated in colour, to which I have already alluded as perhaps the most curious and significant, while it is certainly the most daring in conception and gorgeous in illustration of all Blake's works. The title dimly suggests an attempt to sound the depths of the mystery of Evil, to view it in its widest and deepest relations. But further examination shows that to seek any single dominating purpose, save a poetic and artistic one, in the varied and pregnant fragments of which this wonderful book consists, were a mistake. The student of Blake will find in Mr. Swinburne's Critical Essay on Blake all the light that can be thrown by the vivid imagination and subtle insight of a Poet on this as on the later mystic or ‘Prophetic Books.’
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell opens with an ‘Argument’ in irregular unrhymed verse:—
  • Rintrah roars and shakes his fires in the burdened air;
  • Hungry clouds swag on the deep.
  • Once meek and in a perilous path
  • The just man kept his course along
  • The vale of death.
  • Roses are planted where thorns grow,
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  • And on the barren heath
  • Sing the honey bees.
  • Then the perilous path was planted;
  • 10And a river and a spring
  • On every cliff and tomb ;
  • And on the bleached bones
  • Red clay brought forth.
  • Till the villain left the paths of ease
  • To walk in perilous paths, and drive
  • The just man into barren climes.
  • Now the sneaking serpent walks
  • In mild humility,
  • And the just man rages in the wilds
  • 20Where lions roam.
  • Rintrah roars and shakes his fires in the burdened air;
  • Hungry clouds swag on the deep.
The key-note is more clearly sounded in the following detached sentences:—

Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive, that obeys Reason. Evil is the active, springing from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.

The Voice of the Devil.

All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following errors:—

  • 1. That man has two real existing principles, viz. a Body and a Soul.
  • 2. That Energy, called Evil, is alone from the Body, and that Heaven, called Good, is alone from the Soul.
  • 3. That God will torment man in Eternity for following his energies.

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But the following contraries to these are true:—

  • 1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul, for that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
  • 2. Energy is the only Life, and is from the Body ; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
  • 3. Energy is Eternal Delight.

To this shortly succeeds a series of Proverbs or Aphorisms, called ‘Proverbs of Hell.’ These we give almost entire.
  • In seed-time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
  • Drive your cart and your plough over the bones of the dead.
  • The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
  • Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
  • The cut worm forgives the plough.
  • Dip him in the river who loves water.
  • A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
  • He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.
  • Eternity is in love with the productions of Time.
  • The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
  • The hours of Folly are measured by the clock, but of Wisdom no clock can measure.
  • All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap.
  • Bring out number, weight, and measure, in a year of dearth.
  • The most sublime act is to set another before you.
  • If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.
  • Shame is Pride's cloak.
  • Excess of sorrow laughs; excess of joy weeps.
  • The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.
  • The fox condemns the trap, not himself.
  • Joys impregnate, sorrows bring forth.
  • Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.
  • The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
  • The selfish smiling fool and the sullen frowning fool shall be both thought wise, that they may be a rod.
  • What is now proved was once only imagined.
  • The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit, watch the roots; the lion, the tiger, the horse, the elephant, watch the fruits.
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  • The cistern contains; the fountain overflows.
  • One thought fills immensity.
  • Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
  • Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.
  • The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.
  • The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.
  • He who has suffered you to impose on him, knows you.
  • The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
  • Expect poison from the standing water.
  • You never know what is enough, unless you know what is more than enough.
  • Listen to the fool's reproach; it is a kingly title!
  • The eyes of fire; the nostrils of air; the mouth of water; the beard of earth.
  • The weak in courage is strong in cunning.
  • The apple-tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion the horse how he shall take his prey.
  • The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.
  • If others had not been foolish, we should be so.
  • The soul of sweet delight can never be defiled.
  • When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head !
  • One law for the lion and ox is oppression.
  • To create a little flower is the labour of ages.
  • Damn braces, Bless relaxes.
  • The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.
  • Prayers plough not! Praises reap not!
  • Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!
  • As the air to a bird, or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.
  • The crow wished everything was black, the owl that everything was white.
  • Exuberance is beauty.
  • Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of Genius.
  • Where man is not, Nature is barren.
  • Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believed.
  • Enough ! or too much.
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The remainder of the book consists of five distinct, but kindred prose compositions, not all following consecutively, each entitled a ‘Memorable Fancy.’ Half dream, half allegory, these wild and strange fragments defy description or interpretation. It would hardly occur, indeed, that they were allegorical, or that interpretation was a thing to be expected or attempted, but for an occasional sentence like the following:— ‘I, in my hand, brought the skeleton of a body which in the mill was Aristotle's Analytics:’ and we are sometimes tempted to exclaim with the angel who conducts the author to the mill: ‘Thy phantasy has imposed upon me, and thou oughtest to be ashamed.’ Throughout these ‘Memorable Fancies,’ there is a mingling of the sublime and grotesque better paralleled in art than literature—in that Gothic art with the spirit of which Blake was so deeply penetrated ; where corbels of grinning and distorted faces support solemn overarching grandeurs, and quaint monsters lurk in foliaged capital or nook.
In the second ‘Memorable Fancy,’ of which we give a brief sample or two, he sees Isaiah and Ezekiel in a vision :—
* * * *Then I asked : ‘Does a firm persuasion that a thing is so make it so ?’
He replied, ‘All poets believe that it does, and in ages of imagination this firm persuasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm persuasion of anything.’
Then Ezekiel said: ‘The philosophy of the East taught the first principles of human perception; some nations held one principle for the origin and some another; we of Israel taught that the Poetic Genius (as you now call it) was the first principle, and all the others merely derivative; which was the cause of our despising the priests and philosophers of other countries, and prophesying that all gods would at last be proved to originate in ours, and to be the tributaries of the Poetic Genius. It was this that our great poet, King David, desired so fervently and invoked so pathetically, saying, "By this he conquers enemies, and governs kingdoms;" and we so loved our God, that we cursed in His name all the deities of surrounding nations, and asserted that they had rebelled. From these opinions, the vulgar came to think that all nations would at last be subject to the Jews.’
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Sig. G 2

‘This,’ said he, ‘like all firm persuasions, is come to pass, for all nations believe the Jews’ code and worship the Jews’ God ; and what greater subjection can be?’

I heard this with some wonder, and must confess my own conviction.

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is—infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till be sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.

A Memorable Fancy.

I was in a printing-house in hell, and saw the method in which knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation.

In the first chamber was a dragon-man, clearing away the rubbish from a cave's mouth; within, a number of dragons were hollowing the cave.

In the second chamber was a viper folding round the rock and the cave, and others adorning it with gold, silver, and precious stones.

In the third chamber was an eagle with wings and feathers of air; he caused the inside of the cave to be infinite. Around, were numbers of eagle-like men, who built palaces in the immense cliffs.

In the fourth chamber were lions of flaming fire raging around and melting the metals into living fluids.

In the fifth chamber were unnamed forms, which cast the metals into the expanse.

There they were received by men who occupied the sixth chamber, and took the forms of books, and were ranged in libraries.

The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence, and now seem to live in it in chains, are, in truth, the causes of its life and the sources of all activity, but the chains are the cunning of weak and tame minds which have power to resist energy; according to the proverb, the weak in courage is strong in cunning.

Thus, one portion of being is the Prolific, the other the Devouring. To the devourer it seems as if the producer was in his chains, but it is not so; he only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole.

But the Prolific would cease to be prolific, unless the devourer, as a sea, received the excess of his delights.

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A Memorable Fancy.

An Angel came to me, and said, ‘O pitiable, foolish young man ! O horrible—O dreadful state ! Consider the hot burning dungeon thou art preparing for thyself to all eternity, to which thou art going in such career.’ I said, ‘Perhaps you will be willing to show me my eternal lot, and we will contemplate together upon it, and see whether your lot or mine is most desirable.’

So he took me through a stable and through a church, and down into the church vault, at the end of which was a mill. Through the mill we went, and came to a cave : down the winding cavern we groped our tedious way till a void, boundless as a nether sky, appeared beneath us, and we held by the roots of trees, and hung over this immensity. But I said, ‘If you please, we will commit ourselves to this void and see whether Providence is here also ; if you will not, I will!' But he answered, ‘Do not presume, O young man; but as we here remain, behold thy lot, which will soon appear when the darkness passes away.’

So I remained with him, sitting in the twisted root of an oak ; he was suspended in a fungus which hung with the head downward into the deep.

By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city. Beneath us, at an immense distance, was the sun, black but shining. Round it were fiery tracks, on which revolved vast spiders crawling after their prey, which flew or rather swam in the infinite deep, in the most terrific shapes of animals sprung from corruption; and the air was full of them, and seemed composed of them. These are Devils, and are called Powers of the Air. I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot ? he said, ‘Between the black and the white spiders.’

But now from between the black and white spiders, a cloud and fire burst and rolled through the deep, blackening all beneath; so that the nether deep grew black as a sea, and rolled with a terrible noise. Beneath us was nothing now to be seen but a black tempest; till, looking east between the clouds and the waves, we saw a cataract of blood mixed with fire, and not many stones’ throw from us appeared and sunk again the scaly fold of a monstrous serpent. At last to the east, distant about three degrees, appeared a fiery crest above the waves. Slowly it reared like a ridge of golden rocks, till we discovered two globes of crimson fire, from which the sea fled away in clouds of smoke, and now we saw it was the head of

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Leviathan. His forehead was divided into streaks of green and purple, like those on a tiger's forehead. Soon we saw his mouth and red gills hang just above the raging foam, tinging the black deep with beams of blood, advancing towards us with all the fury of a spiritual existence.

My friend the Angel climbed up from his station into the mill. I remained alone, and then this appearance was no more ; but I found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moonlight, hearing a harper who sung to the harp, and his theme was, ‘The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.’

But I arose, and sought for the mill, and there I found my Angel; * * * but I by force suddenly caught him in my arms, and flew westerly through the night, till we were elevated above the earth's shadow. Then I flung myself with him directly into the body of the sun. Here I clothed myself in white, and, taking in my hand Swedenborg's volumes, sunk from the glorious clime, and passed all the planets till we came to Saturn. Here I stayed to rest, and then leaped into the void between Saturn and the fixed stars.

Soon we saw seven houses of brick; one we entered; in it were a number of monkeys, baboons, and all of that species, chained by the middle, grinning and snatching at one another, but withheld by the shortness of their chains. However, I saw that they sometimes grew numerous, and then the weak were caught by the strong, and with a grinning aspect devoured, by plucking off first one limb and then another, till the body was left a helpless trunk. This, after grinning and kissing it with seeming fondness, they devoured too; and here and there I saw one savourily picking the flesh off his own tail. As the stench terribly annoyed us both, we went into the mill, and I in my hand brought a skeleton of a body, which in the mill was Aristotle's Analytics. So the Angel said: ‘Thy phantasy has imposed upon me, and thou oughtest to be ashamed.’

I answered, ‘We impose on one another, and it is but lost time to converse with you, whose works are only Analytics.’

Swedenborg boasts that what he writes is new ; though it is only the contents or index of already published books.

Any man of mechanical talents may, from the writings of Paracelsus or Jacob Behmen, produce ten thousand volumes of equal value with Swedenborg's, and from those of Dante or Shakespeare an infinite number.

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But when he has done this, let him not say that he knows better than his master, for he only holds a candle in sunshine.

The power of these wild utterances is enhanced to the utmost by the rich adornments of design and colour in which they are set—design as imaginative as the text, colour which has the lustre of jewels.
A strip of azure sky surmounts, and of land divides, the words of the title-page, leaving on each side scant and baleful trees, little else than stem and spray. Drawn on a tiny scale, lies a corpse, and one bends over it. Flames burst forth below and slant upward across the page, gorgeous with every hue. In their very core two spirits rush together and embrace. These beautiful figures appear to have suggested to Flaxman the delicately executed bas-relief on Collins's monument. In the second design, to the right of the page, there runs up an almost lifeless tree. A man clinging to the thin stem, and holding by a branch, reaches its only cluster to a woman standing below. Distant are three figures reposing on the ground. At the top of the third, a woman with outspread arms is borne away on flames—
  • ‘like a creature native and indued
  • Unto that element;’
beneath, two figures are rushing away from a female lying on the earth.
In the next, the sun sets over the sea in blood. A spirit, grasping a child, walks on the waves. Another, in the midst of fire, would fain rush to her, but an iron link clinches his ankle to the rock.
The fifth resembles the catastrophe of Phaëton, save that there is but one horse. Spires of flame are already kindling below.
Under the text of the sixth, an accusing demon, with bat-like wings, points fiercely to a scroll—a great parchment scroll across his knees. A figure sits on each side recording.
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In the next design we have a little island of the sea, where an infant springs to its mother's bosom. From the birth-cleft ground a spirit has half emerged. Below, with outstretched arms and hoary beard, an awful ancient man rushes at you, as it were, out of the page.
At the top of the fourteenth page a spirit, with streaming locks, extends her arms across, pointing hither and thither. She hovers, poised over a corpse, which looks as if ‘laid out,’ the arms straight by the sides; helpless, uncoffined ; flames are rolling onward to consume it.
The ninth design is of an eagle flying and gazing upwards : his talons gripe a long snake trailing and writhing. Both are flecked with gold, and coruscate as from a light within.
The tenth presents a huddled group of solemn figures seated on the ground. The next is a surging of mingled fire, water, and blood, wherein roll the volumes of a huge double-fanged serpent, his crest erect, his jaws wide open.
In the twelfth, the disembodied spirit, luminous and radiant, sits lightly upon its late prison house, gazing upwards whither it is about to soar. It is the same figure as that in Blair's Grave, where you see also the natural body, bent with years, tottering into the dark doorway beneath.
The thirteenth and last design gives Blake's idea of Nebuchadnezzar in the wilderness. Mr. Palmer tells me that he has old German translations of Cicero and Petrarch, in which, among some wild and original designs, almost the very same figure occurs; but that many years had elapsed after making his own design before Blake saw the woodcut.
The designs are highly finished: Blake had worked upon them so much, and illuminated them so richly, that even the letterpress seems as if done by hand. The ever-fluctuating colour, the spectral pigmies rolling, flying, leaping among the letters; the ripe bloom of quiet corners, the living light and bursts of flame, the spires and tongues of fire vibrating with the full prism, make the page seem to move and quiver within its boundaries, and you lay the book down tenderly, as if you
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had been handling something sentient. A picture has been said to be midway between a thing and a thought; so in these books over which Blake had long brooded, with his brooding of fire, the very paper seems to come to life as you gaze upon it—not with a mortal life, but with a life indestructible, whether for good or evil.
The volume is an octavo, consisting of twenty-four pages ; all of them illuminated. In some copies the letters are red, in others a golden brown. The engraved page is about six inches by four. Occasionally a deep margin was left so as to form a quarto. Lord Houghton possesses a fine quarto, Mr. Linnell an octavo copy.
The subjoined outline of Nebuchadnezzar is not copied from the design just spoken of in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, but is a facsimile of what was probably the original sketch for this, and is taken from a MS. volume by Blake, of rare interest and value, in the possession of Mr. Rossetti. This book contains, besides rough sketches and rough draughts, afterwards elaborated into finished designs and poems, much that exists in no other form. The kindness of the owner enables me freely to draw from this source.



Figure: facsimile of original pencil drawing of Nebuchadnezzar

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BOOKSELLER JOHNSON'S. 1791-92. [ÆT. 34-35]
These were prolific years with Blake, both in poetry and design. In 1791 he even found a publisher, for the first and last time in his life, in Johnson of St. Paul's Churchyard, to whom Fuseli had originally introduced him, and for whom he had already engraved. Johnson in this year—the same in which he published Mary Wollstonecraft's Rights of Women— issued, without Blake's name, and unillustrated, a thin quarto, entitled The French Revolution, a Poem in Seven Books. Book the First. One Shilling. Of the Revolution itself, only the first book, ending with the taking of the Bastille, had as yet been enacted. In due time the remainder followed. Those of Blake's epic already written were never printed, events taking a different turn from the anticipated one.
The French Revolution, though ushered into the world by a regular publisher, was no more successful than the privately printed Poetical Sketches, or the privately engraved Songs of Innocence, in reaching the public, or even in getting noticed by the monthly reviewers. It finds no place in their indices, nor in the catalogue of the Museum Library.
In this year Johnson employed Blake to design and engrave six plates to a series of Tales for Children, in the then prevailing Berquin School, by Johnson's favourite and protégée,
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Mary Wollstonecraft; tales new and in demand in the autumn of 1791, now unknown to the bookstalls. ‘Original stories' they are entitled, ‘from real life, with conversations calculated to regulate the affections and form the mind to truth


Illustration from Wollstonecraft

Figure: Illustration for Wollstonecraft's Tales for Children . Care-worn mother holds her hands up in despair while a young boy and girl cling to her skirt.

and goodness.’ The designs, naïve and rude, can hardly be pronounced a successful competition with Stothard, though traces of a higher feeling are visible in the graceful female forms—benevolent heroine, or despairing, famishing peasant group. The artist evidently moves in constraint, and the
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accessories of these domestic scenes are as simply generalised as a child's : result of an inobservant eye for such things. They were not calculated to obtain Blake employment in a capacity in which more versatile hands and prettier designers, such as Burney and Corbould (failing Stothard), were far better fitted to succeed. The book itself never went to a second edition. More designs appear to have been made for the little work than were found available, and some of the best were among the rejected. It may interest the reader to have a sample of him in this comparatively humble department. Possessing most of the original drawings, we therefore give a print from one. There is, however, a terrible extremity of voiceless despair in the upturned face of the principal figure which, perhaps, no hand but that of him who conceived it could accurately reproduce. He also re-engraved for Johnson some designs by Chodowiecki to a book of pinafore precepts, called Elements of Morality, translated from the German of Salzmann by Mary Wollstonecraft; 1 and among casual work engraved a plate for Darwin's Botanic Garden—The Fertilization of Egypt—after Fuseli.
Bookseller Johnson was a favourable specimen of a class of booksellers and men now a tradition : an open-hearted tradesman of the eighteenth century, of strict probity, simple habits, liberal in his dealings, living by his shop and in it, not at a suburban mansion. He was, for nearly forty years, Fuseli's fast and intimate friend, his first and best; the kind patron of Mary Wollstonecraft, and of many another. He encouraged Cowper over The Task, after the first volume of Poems had been received with indifference ; and when The Task met its sudden unexpected success, he righteously pressed 1,000 l. on the author, although both this and the previous volume had been assigned to him for nothing—as an equivalent, that is, for the bare cost of publication. To Blake, also, Johnson was friendly, and tried to help him as far as he could help so unmarketable a talent.
Transcribed Footnote (page 91):

1 Notes and Queries, June 19, 1880.

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In Johnson's shop—for booksellers’ shops were places of resort then with the literary—Blake was, at this date, in the habit of meeting a remarkable coterie. The bookseller gave, moreover, plain but hospitable weekly dinners at his house, No. 72, St. Paul's Churchyard, in a little quaintly-shaped upstairs-room, with walls not at right angles, where his guests must have been somewhat straitened for space. Hither came Drs. Price and Priestley, and occasionally Blake; hither friendly, irascible Fuseli ; hither precise doctrinaire Godwin, whose Political Justice Johnson will, in 1793, publish, giving 700 l. for the copyright. Him, the author of the Songs of Innocence got on ill with, and liked worse. Here, too, he met formal stoical Holcroft, playwright, novelist, translator, literary man-of-all-work, who had written verse ‘to order’ for our old friend The Wits’ Magazine. Seven years hence he will be promoted to the Tower, and be tried for high treason with Hardy, Thelwall, and Horne Tooke, and one day will write the best fragment of autobiography in the language : a man of very varied fortunes. Here hard-headed Tom Paine, ‘the rebellious needleman :’ Mary Wollstonecraft also, who at Johnson's table commenced her ineffectual flirtation with already wedded, cynical Fuseli, their first meeting occurring here in the autumn of 1790. These and others of very ‘advanced’ political and religious opinions, theoretic republicans and revolutionists, were of the circle. The First Part of The Rights of Man had been launched on an applauding and indignant world, early in 1791 ; Johnson, whom the MS. had made the author's friend, having prudently declined to publish it though he was Priestley's publisher. A few years hence their host, despite his caution, will, for his liberal sympathies, receive the honour of prosecution from a good old habeas-corpus-suspending Government ; and, in 1798, be fined and imprisoned in the King's Bench for selling a copy of Gilbert Wakefield's Reply to the Bishop of Llandaff's Address,— a pamphlet which every other bookseller in town sold, and continued to sell, with impunity. While in prison he still
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gave his weekly literary dinners—in the Marshal's house instead of his own; Fuseli remaining staunch to his old friend under a cloud.
Blake was himself an ardent member of the New School, a vehement republican and sympathiser with the Revolution, hater and contemner of kings and king-craft. And like most reformers of that era,—when the eighteenth century dry-rot had well-nigh destroyed the substance of the old English Constitution, though the anomalous caput mortuum of it was still extolled as the ‘wisest of systems,'—he may have even gone the length of despising the ‘Constitution.’ Down to his latest days Blake always avowed himself a ‘Liberty Boy,’ a faithful ‘Son of Liberty;’ and would jokingly urge in self-defence that the shape of his forehead made him a republican. ‘I can't help being one,’ he would assure Tory friends, ‘any more than you can help being a Tory : your forehead is larger above ; mine, on the contrary, over the eyes.’ To him, at this date, as to ardent minds everywhere, the French Revolution was the herald of the Millennium, of a new age of light and reason. He courageously donned the famous symbol of liberty and equality—the bonnet-rouge—in open day, and philosophically walked the streets with the same on his head. He is said to have been the only one of the set who had the courage to make that public profession of faith. Brave as a lion at heart was the meek spiritualist. Decorous Godwin, Holcroft, wily Paine, however much they might approve, paused before running the risk of a Church-and-King mob at their heels. All this was while the Revolution, if no longer constitutional, still continued muzzled; before, that is, the Days of Terror, in September ‘92, and subsequent defiance of kings and of humanity. When the painter heard of these September doings he tore off his white cockade, and assuredly never wore the red cap again. Days of humiliation for English sympathisers and republicans were beginning.
Though at one with Paine, Godwin, Fuseli and the others as to politics, he was a rebel to their theological or anti-
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theological tenets. Himself a heretic among the orthodox, here among the infidels he was a saint, and staunchly defended Christianity—the spirit of it—against these strangely assorted disputants.
In 1792 the artist proved, as he was wont to relate, the means of saving Paine from the vindictive clutches of exasperated ‘friends of order.’ Early in that year Paine had published his Second Part of The Rights of Man. A few months later, county and corporation addresses against ‘seditious publications’ were got up. The Government (Pitt's) answered the agreed signal by issuing a proclamation condemnatory of such publications, and commenced an action for libel against the author of The Rights of Man, which was to come off in September; all this helping the book itself into immense circulation. The ‘Friends of Liberty’ held their meetings too, in which strong language was used. In September, a French deputation announced to Paine that the Department of Calais had elected him member of the National Convention. Already as an acknowledged cosmopolitan and friend of man, he had been declared a citizen of France by the deceased Assembly. One day in this same month, Paine was giving at Johnson's an idea of the inflammatory eloquence he had poured fourth at a public meeting of the previous night. Blake, who was present, silently inferred from the tenor of his report that those in power, now eager to lay hold of noxious persons, would certainly not let slip such an opportunity. On Paine's rising to leave, Blake laid his hands on the orator's shoulder, saying, ‘You must not go home, or you are a dead man !’ and hurried him off on his way to France, whither he was now, in any case bound, to take his seat as French legislator. By the time Paine was at Dover, the officers were in his house or, as his biographer Mr. Cheetham designates it, his ‘lurking hole in the purlieus of London ;’ and some twenty minutes after the Custom House officials at Dover had turned over his slender baggage with, as he thought, extra malice, and he had set sail
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for Calais, an order was received from the Home Office to detain him. England never saw Tom Paine again. New perils awaited him : Reign of Terror and near view of the guillotine—an accidentally open door and a chalk mark on the wrong side of it proving his salvation. But a no less serious one had been narrowly escaped from the English Tories. Those were hanging days ! Blake, on this occasion, showed greater sagacity than Paine, whom, indeed, Fuseli affirmed to be more ignorant of the common affairs of life than himself even. Spite of unworldliness and visionary faculty, Blake never wanted for prudence and sagacity in ordinary matters.
Early in this September died Blake's mother, at the age of seventy, and was buried in Bunhill Fields on the 9th. She is a shade to us, alas! in all senses: for of her character, or even her person, no tidings survive. Blake's associates in later years remember to have heard him speak but rarely of either father or mother, amid the frequent allusions to his brother Robert. At the beginning of the year (February 23rd, 1792) had died the recognised leader of English painters, Sir Joshua Reynolds, whom failing eyesight had for some time debarred from the exercise of his art. He was borne, in funeral pomp, from his house in Leicester Fields to Saint Paul's, amid the regrets of the great world, testified by a mourning train of ninety coaches, and by the laboured panegyric of Burke. Blake used to tell of an interview he had once had with Reynolds, in which our neglected enthusiast found the originator of a sect in art to which his own was so hostile, very pleasant personally, as most found him. ‘Well, Mr. Blake,’ blandly remarked the President, who, doubtless, had heard strange accounts of his interlocutor's sayings and doings ‘I hear you despise our art of oil-painting.’ ‘ No, Sir Joshua, I don't despise it; but I like fresco better.’
Sir Joshua's style, with its fine taste, its merely earthly graces and charms of colour, light, and shade, was an abomination to the poetic visionary—'The Whore of Babylon’
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and ‘Antichrist,’ metaphorically speaking. For, as it has been said, very earnest original artists make ill critics : of feeble sympathy with alien schools of feeling, they can no more be eclectic in criticism than, to any worthy result, in practice. Devout sectaries in art hate and contemn those of opposite artistic faith with truly religious fervour. I have heard of an eminent living painter in the New School, who, on his admiration being challenged for a superlative example of Sir Joshua's graceful, generalizing hand, walked up to it, pronounced an emphatic word of disgust, and turned on his heel: such bigoted mortals are men who paint!
It was hardly in flesh and blood for the unjustly despised author of the Songs of Innocence, who had once, as Allan Cunningham well says, thought, and not perhaps unnaturally, that ‘he had but to sing beautiful songs, and draw grand designs, to become great and famous,’ and in the midst of his obscurity feeling conscious of endowments of imagination and thought, rarer than those fascinating gifts of preception and expression which so readily won the world's plaudits and homage; it was hardly possible not to feel jealous, and as it were injured, by the startling contrast of such fame and success as Sir Joshua's and Gainsborough's.
Of this mingled soreness and antipathy we have curious evidence in some MS. notes Blake subsequently made in his copy of Sir Joshua's Discourses. Struck by their singularity, one or two of Blake's admirers in later years transcribed these notes. To Mr. Palmer I am indebted, among many other courtesies, for a copy of the first half of them.
‘This man was here,’ commences the indignant commentator, ‘to depress Art: this is the opinion of William Blake. My proofs of this opinion are given in the following notes. Having spent the vigour of my youth and genius under the oppression of Sir Joshua, and his gang of cunning, hired knaves—without employment and, as much as could possibly be without bread,—the reader must expect to read, in all my remarks on these books, nothing but indignation
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Sig. Vol. I. II
and resentment. While Sir Joshua was rolling in riches, Barry was poor and unemployed, except by his own energy; Mortimer was called a madman, and only portrait-painting was applauded and rewarded by the rich and great. Reynolds and Gainsborough blotted and blurred one against the other, and divided all the English world between them. Fuseli, indignant, almost hid himself. I AM HID.’
Always excepting the favoured portrait-painters, these were, indeed, cold days for the unhappy British artist—the historical or poetic artist above all. Times have strangely altered within living memory. The case is now reversed. One can but sympathise with the above touching outburst; and Blake rarely complained aloud of the world's ill usage, extreme as it was: one can but sympathise, I say, even while cherishing the warmest love and admiration for Sir Joshua's and Gainsborough's delightful art. The glow of sunset need not blind us to the pure light of Hesperus. Admiration of a fashionable beauty, with her Watteau-like grace, should not dazzle the eye to exclusion of the nobler grace of Raphael or the Antique.
Of these notes more hereafter.


from Visions of the Daughers of Albion

Figure: Illustration from the Visions of the Daughters of Albion . Woman lying prone on a bed of clouds; bird with outstretched wings hovers over her.

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In 1793, Blake quitted Poland Street, after five years' residence there. The now dingy demirep street, one in which Shelley lodged in 1811, after his expulsion from Oxford, had witnessed the production of the Songs of Innocence and other Poetry and Design of a genus unknown, before or since, to that permanently foggy district. From the neighbourhood of his birth he removed across Westminster Bridge to Lambeth. There he will remain other seven years, and produce no less an amount of strange and original work. Hercules Buildings is the new abode ; a row of houses which had sprung up since his boyish rambles.
Within easy reach of the centre of London on one side, the favourite Dulwich strolls of early years were at hand on the other. Hercules Buildings, stretching diagonally between the Kennington Road and Lambeth Palace, was then a street of modest irregular sized houses, from one to three stories high, with fore-courts or little gardens in front, in the suburban style ; a street indeed only for half its length, the remainder being a single row, or terrace. No. 13, Blake's, was among the humbler, one-storied houses, on the right hand side as you go from the Bridge to the Palace. It had a wainscoted parlour, pleasant low windows, and a narrow strip of real garden behind, wherein grew a fine vine. A lady who, as a girl, used with her elders to call on the artist here, tells me Blake would on no account prune this vine, having a
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Gates of Paradise plates.

4.— AIR.

2.— WATER.

Figure: Facsimiles of two plates from Gates of Paradise. Upper plate depicts "Air": crouching figure with hands in hair, head on knee. Clouds behind and above form a chair for him, stars surround him. Lower plate depicts "Water", a drooping figure sitting under a tree on a river bank, the river itself running at his feet. Rain pours down on him and fills the frame.

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Note: blank page
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Sig. H 2
theory it was wrong and unnatural to prune vines : and the affranchised tree consequently bore a luxuriant crop of leaves, and plenty of infinitesimal grapes which never ripened. Open garden ground and field, interspersed with a few lines of clean, newly-built houses, lay all about and near ; for brick and mortar was spreading even then. At back, Blake looked out over gardens towards Lambeth Palace and the Thames, seen between gaps of Stangate Walk,—Etty's home a few years later. The city and towers of Westminster closed the prospect beyond the river, on whose surface sailing hoys were then plying once or twice a day. Vauzhall Gardens lay half a mile to the left ; Dulwich and Peckham hills within view to the south-west. The street has since been partly rebuilt, partly re-named ; the whole become now sordid and dirty. At the back of what was Blake's side has arisen a row of ill-drained, one-storied tenements bestriden by the arches of the South Western Railway ; while the adjacent main roads, grimy and hopeless looking, stretch out their long arms towards further mile on mile of suburb,—Newington, Kennington, Brixton.
In Hercules Buildings Blake engraved and ‘published'—May, 1793, adding at the foot of the title-page Johnson's name to his own— The Gates of Paradise; a singularly beautiful and characteristic volume, pre-eminently marked by significance and simplicity. It is a little foolscap octavo, printed according to his usual method, but not coloured ; containing seventeen plates of emblems, accompanied by verse, with a title or motto to each plate. For Children, the title runs, or as some copies have it, For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise.—‘a sort of devout dream, equally wild and lovely,’ Allan Cunningham happily terms it. There is little in art which speaks to the mind directly and pregnantly as do these few, simple Designs, emblematic of so much which could never be imprisoned in words, yet of a kind more allied to literature than to art. It is plain, on looking at this little volume alone, from whom Flaxman and Stothard borrowed.
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Hints of more than one design of theirs might be found in it. And Blake's designs have, I repeat, the look of originals. A shock as of something wholly fresh and new, these typical compositions give us.
The verses at the commencement elucidate, to a certain extent, the intention of the Series, embodying an ever recurrent canon of Blake's Theology :—
  • Mutual forgiveness of each vice,
  • Such are the Gates of Paradise,
  • Against the Accuser's chief desire,
  • Who walked among the stones of fire.
  • Jehovah's fingers wrote The Law:
  • He wept! then rose in zeal and awe,
  • And in the midst of Sinai's heat,
  • Hid it beneath His Mercy Seat.
  • O Christians ! Christians ! tell me why
  • 10You rear it on your altars high? ‘
‘What is man ?’—the frontispiece significantly inquires.
To the Gates of Paradise their author in some copies added what many another Book of his would have profited by,—the Keys of the Gates, in sundry wild lines of rudest verse, which do not pretend to be poetry, but merely to tag the artist's ideas with rhyme, and are themselves a little obscure, though they do help one to catch the prevailing motives. For which reason they shall here accompany our samples of the ‘emblems.’ The numbers prefixed to the lines refer them to the plates which they are severally intended to explain.
The Keys of the Gates.
  • The Caterpillar on the Leaf
  • Reminds thee of thy Mother's Grief.
  • 1 My Eternal Man set in Repose,
  • The Female from his darkness rose ;
  • And she found me beneath a Tree,
  • A Mandrake, and in her Veil hid me.
  • Serpent reasonings us entice,
  • Of Good and Evil, Virtue, Vice.
  • 2 Doubt self-jealous, Wat'ry folly,
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Gates of Paradise. Plates.




Figure: Facsimile of three plates from Gates of Paradise. Upper plate ("What Is Man?") is of a rural scene. The central figure is a young man in mid-stride, right arm raised with hat in hand. His left foot is planted at the feet of another human figure lying supine on the grass. The young man's startled gaze follows a tiny human figure spiriting away through the air.

Lower left plate ("I Want! I Want!"): three small, indistinct figures stand on a hill. Two have arms over each other's shoulders, the third climbs upon a luminescent moon beam up to a crescent moon.

Lower right plate ("The Traveller Hasteth In The Evening"): rural path, a young man dressed as a traveller and carrying a walking stick strides toward right side of frame.

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  • 103 Struggling through Earth's Melancholy.
  • 4 Naked in Air, in Shame and Fear,
  • 5 Blind in Fire, with Shield and Spear,
  • Two Horrid Reasoning Cloven Fictions,
  • In Doubt which is Self Contradiction,
  • A dark Hermaphrodite I stood,—
  • Rational Truth, Root of Evil and Good.
  • Round me, flew the flaming sword;
  • Round her, snowy Whirlwinds roar'd,
  • Freezing her Veil, the mundane shell.
  • 206 I rent the veil where the Dead dwell:
  • When weary Man enters his Cave,
  • He meets his Saviour in the Grave.
  • Some find a Female Garment there,
  • And some a Male, woven with care,
  • Lest the Sexual Garments sweet
  • Should grow a devouring Winding-sheet.
  • 7 One Dies! Alas! the living and dead!
  • One is slain! and one is fled !
  • 8 In vainglory hatch'd and nurs'd
  • 30By double spectres, self accurs'd
  • My Son! my Son ! thou treatest me
  • But as I have instructed thee.
  • 9 On the shadows of the Moon,
  • Climbing thro’ night's highest noon :
  • 10 In Time's Ocean falling, drown'd :
  • 11 In Aged Ignorance profound,
  • Holy and cold, I clipp'd the Wings
  • Of all Sublunary Things :
  • 12 And in depths of icy Dungeons
  • 40Closed the Father and the Sons.
  • 13 But when once I did descry
  • The Immortal man that cannot Die,
  • 14 Thro’ evening shades I haste away
  • To close the labours of my Day.
  • 15 The Door of Death I open found,
  • And the Worm weaving in the Ground ;
  • 16 Thou'rt my Mother, from the Womb ;
  • Wife, Sister, Daughter, to the Tomb:
  • Weaving to Dreams the Sexual Strife,
  • 50And weeping over the Web of Life.
page: 102
In one copy which I have seen, under No. 4 are inscribed the words—
  • On cloudy doubts and reasoning cares.
Last follows an epilogue, or postscript, which perhaps explains itself, addressed
  • To the Accuser, who is the God of this World.
  • Truly, my Satan, thou art but a dunce,
  • And dost not know the garment from the man ;
  • Every harlot was a virgin once,
  • Nor canst thou ever change Kate into Nan.
  • Though thou art worshipped by the names divine
  • Of Jesus and Jehovah, thou art still
  • The Son of Morn in weary Night's decline,
  • The lost traveller's dream under the hill.
In this year, by the way, the first volume of a more famous poet, but a much less original volume than Blake's first,—the Descriptive Sketches of Wordsworth, followed by the Evening Walk,—were published by Johnson, of St. Paul's Churchyard. Neither reached a second edition ; but by 1807, when the Lyrical Ballads had attracted admirers here and there, they had, according to De Quincey, got out of print, and scarce.
Other engraved volumes, more removed from ordinary sympathy and comprehension than the Gates of Paradise, were issued in the same year : dreamy ‘Books of Prophecy' following in the wake of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. First came Visions of the Daughters of Albion, a folio volume of Designs and rhymless verse, printed in colour.

  • The eye sees more than the heart knows
is the key-note struck in the first page, to which follows the Argument :—
  • I loved Theotormon,
  • And I was not ashamed ;
  • I trembled in my virgin fears,
  • And I hid in Leutha's vale.
  • page: [102a recto]

    Gates of Paradise plates

    7.— ALAS!

    10.— HELP! HELP!


    Figure: Three facsimiles from the Gates of Paradise. Upper plate ("Alas!"): worm larva with face of sleeping child and a body mimicking swaddling clothes lays on an outspread leaf. Another leaf arches over it, providing a canopy. Lower left plate ("Help! Help!"): an arm reaches out of a tempestuous sea towards a heaven filled with foreboding clouds. Lower right plate ("I Have Said To The Worm..."): a helpless looking figure shrouded in white crouches under the exposed roots of a tree. An enormous worm snakes in from the background and encircles the figure's feet. His skeletal hand weakly holds a slender stick or wand.

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    page: 103
  • I plucked Leutha's flower,
  • And I rose up from the vale ;
  • But the terrible thunders tore
  • My virgin mantle in twain.

from Visions of the Daughers of Albion

Figure: Illustration from the Visions of the Daughters of Albion . Oothoon, partially nude, kneels before the marigold and kisses a smaller figure that issues from it with its arms outstretched. Rain or sunrays in the background.

The poem partakes of the same delicate mystic beauty as Thel, but tends also towards the incoherence of the writings which immediately followed it. Of the former qualities the commencement may be quoted as an instance—
  • Enslaved, the daughters of Albion weep, a trembling lamentation
  • Upon their mountains ; in their valleys, sighs toward America.
  • For the soft soul of America,—Oothoon,—wandered in woe
  • Among the vales of Leutha, seeking flowers to comfort her :
  • And thus she spoke to the bright marigold of Leutha's vale,—
  • page: 104
  • ‘Art thou a flower? Art thou a nymph? I see thee now a flower ;
  • And now a nymph ! I dare not pluck thee from thy dewy bed!’
  • The golden nymph replied, ‘Pluck thou my flower, Oothon the mild,
  • Another flower shall spring, because the soul of sweet delight
  • 10Can never pass away.'—She ceased and closed her golden shrine.
  • Then Oothoon plucked the flower, saying,—'I pluck thee from thy bed,
  • Sweet flower, and put thee here to glow between my breasts,
  • And thus I turn my face to where my whole soul seeks.’
  • Over the waves she went, in wing'd exulting swift delight,
  • And over Theotormon's reign took her impetuous course.
But she is taken in the ‘thunders,’ or toils of Bromion, who appears the evil spirit of the soil. Theotormon, in jealous fury, chains them—'terror and meekness'—together, back to back, in Bromion's cave, and seats himself sorrowfully by. The lamentations of Oothoon, and her appeals to the incensed divinity, with his replies, form the burthen of the poem. The Daughters of Albion, who are alluded to in the opening lines as enslaved, weeping, and sighing towards America, ‘hear her woes and echo back her cries ;’ a recurring line or refrain, which includes all they have to do.
We subjoin another extract or two:—
  • Oothoon weeps not: she cannot weap ! her tears are locked up !
  • But she can howl incessant, writhing her soft, snowy limbs,
  • And calling Theotormon's eagles to prey upon her flesh!’
  • ‘I call with holy voice ! kings of the sounding air I !
  • ‘Rend away this defiled bosom that I may reflect
  • The image of Theotormon on my pure transparent breast!’
  • The eagles at her call descend and rend their bleeding prey.
  • Theotormon severely smiles; her soul reflects the smile,
  • As the clear spring mudded with feet of beasts grows pure and smiles.
  • 10The Daughters of Albion hear her woes and echo back her sighs.
  • page: 105
  • ‘Why does my Theotormon sit weeping upon the threshold?
  • And Oothoon hovers by his side persuading him in vain!
  • I cry, Arise, O Theotormon ! for the village dog
  • Barks at the breaking day; the nightingale has done lamenting;
  • The lark does rustle in the ripe corn; and the Eagle returns
  • From nightly prey, and lifts his golden beak to the pure east,
  • Shaking the dust from his immortal pinions, to awake
  • The sun that sleeps too long ! Arise, my Theotormon ; I am pure !

  • Ask the wild ass why he refuses burdens; and the meek camel
  • Why he loves man. Is it because of eye, ear, mouth, or skin,
  • Or breathing nostrils ? No : for these the wolf and tiger have.
  • Ask the blind worm the secrets of the grave; and why her spires
  • Love to curl round the bones of death : and ask the ravenous snake
  • Where she gets poison ; and the winged eagle, why he loves the sun :
  • And then tell me the thoughts of man that have been hid of old !
  • Silent I hover all the night, and all day could be silent,
  • If Theotormon once would turn his loved eyes upon me;
  • 10How can I be defiled, when I reflect thy image pure ?
  • Sweetest the fruit that the worm feeds on ; and the soul prey'd on by woe.
  • The new washed lamb ting'd with the village smoke and the bright swan
  • By the red earth of our immortal river: I bathe my wings,
  • And I am white and pure, to hover round Theotormon's breast.’
Then Theotormon broke his silence, and he answered:—
  • ‘Tell me what is the night or day to one o'erflow'd with woe?
  • Tell me what is a thought ? and of what substance is it made?
  • Tell me what is a joy : and in what gardens do joys grow?
  • And in what rivers swim the sorrows; and upon what mountains
  • Wave shadows of discontent? And in what homes dwell the wretched,
  • Drunken with woe forgotten, and shut up from cold despair?
  • Tell me where dwell the thoughts forgotten till thou call them forth?
  • 10Tell me where dwell the joys of old and where the ancient loves?
  • And when they will renew again, and the night of oblivion pass?
  • That I may traverse times and spaces far remote, and bring
  • Comforts into a present sorrow, and a night of pain.’
page: 106
The poem concludes thus :—
  • The sea fowl takes the wintry blast for a covering to her limbs.
  • And the wild snake the pestilence, to adorn him with gems and gold.
  • And trees, and birds, and beasts, and men, behold their eternal joy.
  • Arise, you little glancing wings, and sing your infant joy !
  • Arise, and drink your bliss ! For every thing that lives is holy.
  • Thus every morning wails Oothoon, but Theotormon sits
  • Upon the margined ocean, conversing with shadows dire.
  • The Daughters of Albion hear her woes, and echo back her sighs.
The designs to the Visions of the Daughters of Albion are magnificent in energy and portentousness. They are coloured with flat, even tints, not worked up highly. A frontispiece represents Bromion and Oothoon, chained in a cave that opens on the sea ; Theotormon sitting near. The title-page is of great beauty ; the words are written over rainbow and cloud, from the centre of which emerges an old man in fire, other figures floating round. We give two specimens. One ( page 103) illustrates the Argument we have quoted ; the other ( page 97), an incident in the poem (also quoted), where the eagles of Theotormon rend the flesh of Oothoon.
The other volume of this year's production at Lambeth, entitled America, a Prophecy, is a folio of twenty pages, of still more dithyrambic verse. It is verse hard to fathom; with far too little Nature behind it, or back-bone; a redundance of mere invention,—the fault of all this class of Blake's writings; too much wild tossing about of ideas and words. The very names—Urthona, Enitharmon, Ore, &c. are but Ossian-like shadows, and contrast oddly with those of historic or matter-of-fact personages occasionally mentioned in the poem ; whom, notwithstanding the subject in hand, we no longer expect to meet with, after reading the Preludium:—
page: 107
  • The shadowy Daughter of Urthona stood before red Orc,
  • When fourteen suns had faintly journey'd o'er his dark abode :
  • His food she brought in iron baskets, his drink in cups of iron.
  • Crown'd with a helmet and dark hair, the nameless female stood.
  • A quiver with its burning stores, a bow like that of night
  • When pestilence is shot from heaven,—no other arms she needs,—
  • Invulnerable though naked, save where clouds roll round her loins
  • Their awful folds in the dark air. Silent she stood as night ;
  • For never from her iron tongue could voice or sound arise ;
  • 10But dumb from that dread day when Orc essay'd his fierce embrace.
  • ‘Dark virgin !’ said the hairy youth, ‘thy father stern, abhorr'd,
  • Rivets my tenfold chains, while still on high my spirit soars ;
  • Sometimes an eagle screaming in the sky ; sometimes a lion,
  • Stalking upon the mountains ; and sometimes a whale, I lash
  • the raging, fathomless abyss ; anon, a serpent folding
  • Around the pillars of Urthona, and round thy dark limbs,
  • On the Canadian wilds I fold.’
The poem opens itself thus:—
  • The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent.
  • Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America's shore,
  • Piercing the souls of warlike men, who rise in silent night.
  • Washington, Franklin, Paine, Warren, Gates, Hancock and Green,
  • Meet on the coast, glowing with blood, from Albion's fiery prince.
  • Washington spoke : ‘Friends of America, look over the Atlantic sea.
  • ‘A bended bow is lifted in the heaven, and a heavy iron chain
  • Descends link by link from Albion's cliffs across the sea to bind
  • Brothers and sons of America, till our faces pale and yellow,
  • 10Heads deprest, voices weak, eyes downcast, hands work-bruised,
  • Feet bleeding on the sultry sands, and the furrows of the whip,
  • Descend to generations that in future times forget.’
  • The strong voice ceased : for a terrible blast swept over the heaving sea,
  • The eastern cloud rent. On his cliffs stood Albion's wrathful Prince,—
  • A dragon form clashing his scales : at midnight he arose,
  • and flamed red meteors round the land of Albion beneath.
  • His voice, his locks, his awful shoulders and his glowing eyes,
  • Appear to the Americans, upon the cloudy night.
  • Solemn heave the Atlantic waves between gloomy nations.
page: 108
One more extract shall suffice :—
  • The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;
  • The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up.
  • The bones of death, the covering clay, the sinews shrunk and dried,
  • Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing ! awakening !
  • Spring,—like redeemed captives when their bonds and bars are burst.
  • Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field ;
  • Let him look up into the heavens and laugh in the bright air.
  • 10Let the enchained soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing,
  • Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,
  • Rise, and look out !—his chains are loose ! his dungeon doors are open !
The poem has no distinctly seizable pretensions to a prophetic character, being, like the rest of Blake's ‘Books of Prophecy,’ rather a retrospect, in its mystic way, of events already transpired. The American War of Independence is the theme ; a portion of history here conducted mainly by vast mythic beings, ‘Orc,’ the ‘Angels of Albion,’ the ‘Angels of the thirteen states,’ &c. ; whose movements are throughout accompanied by tremendous elemental commotion—'red clouds and raging fire ;' ‘black smoke, thunder,’ and

  • Plagues creeping on the burning winds driven by flames of Orc,
through which chaos the merely human agents show small and remote, perplexed and busied in an ant-like way. Strange to conceive a somewhile associate of Paine producing these ‘Prophetic’ volumes !
The America now and then occurs coloured, more often plain black, or occasionally blue and white. The designs blend with and surround the verse ; the mere grouping of the text, filled in here and there with ornament, often forming, in itself, a picturesque piece of decorative composition. Of the beauty of most of these designs, in their finished state, it would be quite impossible to obtain any notion, without
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from America


  • Albions Angel stood beside the Stone
  • of night and saw
  • The terror like a comet or more like the
  • planet red
  • That once inclosd the terrible wandering comets in its sphere
  • Then Mars thou wast our center & the planets three flew round
  • Thy crimson disk; so e'er the Sun was rent from thy red sphere.
  • The Spectre glowd his horrid length staining the temple long
  • With beams of blood & thus a voice came forth and shook the temple

Figure: Illustrated verse from the America. Above, "Albion's Prince" stands astride a cloud, shouldering a captive male figure. Two angelic figures flank him; the one on his left offers a flaming sword; on his right, a balance of scales tipped heavily in favor of one side. Below, a serpent's coils open to receive a man who is free-falling head first into the abyss. The upper body and head of the serpent perfectly encircle the contorted body as it descends. On the left side of the frame, another figure descends, in anguished fetal position, into flaming hell-fire.

page: 109
the necessary adjunt of colour. The specimens given in this chapter and elsewhere can at best only show form and arrangement—the groundwork of the pages ; the frames as it were in which the verses are set ; Blake never intending any copies to go forth to the world until they had been coloured by hand. Facing pages 109 and 110, however, we give facsimiles both as of two whole pages from the America, exact facsimiles both as regards drawing and writing (though reduced to about half the size of the original), and in a colour as near as possible to that frequently used by Blake for the groundwork, as we said before, of his painted leaves. Similar examples we shall give when we come to other books of the same character,—the Europe, and that yet more remarkable, the Jerusalem.
Whatever may be the literary value of the work, the designs display unquestionable power and beauty. In firmness of outline and refinement of finish, they are exceeded by none from the same hand. We have more especially in view Lord Houghton's superb copy. Turning over the leaves, it is sometimes like an increase of daylight on the retina, so fair and open is the effect of particular pages. The skies of sapphire, or gold, rayed with hues of sunset, against which stand out leaf or blossom, or pendant branch, gay with bright plumaged birds ; the strips of emerabld sward below, gemmed with flower and lizard and enamelled snake, refresh the eye continually. Some of the illustrations are of a more sombre kind. There is one in which a little corpse, white as snow, lies gleaming on the floor of a green overarching cave, which close inspeciton proves to be a field of wheat, whose slender interlacing stalks, bowed by the full ear and by a gentle breeze, bend over and inclose the dead infant. The delicate network of stalks (which is carried up one side of the page, the main picture being at the bottom), and the subdued yet vivid green light shed over the whole, produce a lovely decorative effect. Decorative effect is in fact never lost sight of, even when the motive of the design is ghastly or terrible. As for instance at page 13, which represents the different fate
page: 110
of two bodies drowned in the sea—the one, that of a woman, cast up by the purple waves on a rocky shore ; an eagle, with outstretched wings, alighting on her bosom, his beak already tearing her flesh : the other, lying at the bottom of the ocean, where snaky loathsome things are twining round it, and open-mouthed fishes gathering greedily to devour. The effect is as of looking through water down into wondrous depths. One design in the volume was an especial favourite of Blake's : Gates of Paradise (Plate 15); in Blair's Grave, and as a distinct engraving. There are also two other subjects repeated subsequently,—in the Grave and the Job. But one more design (we might expatiate on all) shall tempt us to loiter. It heads the last page of the book and consists of a white-robed, colossal figure, bowed to the earth ; about which, as on a huge, snow-covered mass of rock, dwarf shapes are clustered here and there. Enhancing the weird effect of the whole, stand three lightning scathed oaks, each of which,
  • “As threatening Heaven with vengeance,
  • Holds out a whithered hand.”
An exquisite piece of decorative work occupies the foot of the page.
In all these works the Designer's genius floats loose and rudderless ; a phantom ship on a phantom sea. He projects himself into shapeless dreams, instead of into fair definite forms, as already in the Songs of Innocence he had shown that he could do ; and hereafter will again in the tasks so happily prescribed by others :—the illustrations to Young, to Blair's Grave, to Job, to Dante. In these amorphous Prophecies are profusely scattered the unhewn materials of poetry and design : sublime hints are sown broad-cast. But alas ! whether Blake were definite or indefinite in his conceptions, he was alike ignored. He had not the faculty to make himself popular, even with a far more intelligent public as to Art than any which existed during the reign of George the Third.
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from America

  • Fiery the Angels rose, and as they rose deep thunder roll'd
  • Around their shores : indignant burning with the fires of Orc,
  • And Boston's angel cried aloud as they flew thro’ the dark night.
  • He cried : Why trembles honesty, and, like a murderer,
  • Why seeks he refuge from the frown of his immortal station ?
  • Must the generous tremble and leave his joy to the idle, to the pestilence
  • That mock him ? Who commanded this ? What God, what Angel ?
  • To keep the generous from experience till the ungenerous
  • Are unrestrained performers of the energies of nature,
  • 10Till pity become a trade and generosity a science
  • That men get rich by, and the sandy desert is given to the strong.
  • What God is he writes laws of peace and clothes him in a tempest?
  • What pitying Angel lusts for tears and fans himself with sighs?
  • What crawling villain preaches abstinence and wraps himself
  • In fat of lambs ? No more I follow, no more obedience pay.
From America

Figure: Illustrated verse from the America. Above, a female figure rides through the night sky on the back of a flying swan, reigns in hand. She looks backward over her left shoulder. Below, another female figure rides the back of a serpent, also with reigns in hand. Two children, holding hands, ride behind. A crescent moon shines in the cloudy night sky ; there are birds soaring above.

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In 1794, Flaxman returned from his seven years’ stay in Italy, with well-stored portfolios, with more than ever classicized taste, and having made at Rome for discerning patrons those designs from Homer, Æschylus and Dante which were afterwards to spread his fame through Europe. He returned to be promoted R.A. at once, and to set up house and studio in Buckingham Street, Fitzroy Square,—then a new scantily-peopled region, lying open to the hills of Hampstead and Highgate. In these premises he continued till his death in 1826. Piroli, a Roman artist, had been engaged to engrave the above-mentioned graceful compostions from the poets. His first set of plates,—those to the Odyssey, —were lost in the voyage to England, and Blake was employed to make engravings in their stead, although Piroli's name still remained on the general title-page (dated 1793) ; probably as being liklier credentials with the public. Piroli subsequently engraved the Outlines to Æschylus, to the Iliad, &c. Blake's engravings are much less telling, at the first glance, than Piroli's. Instead of hard, bold, decisive lines, we have softer lighter ones. But on looking into them we find more of the artist in the one,—as in the beautiful Aphrodite, for instance, a very fine and delicate engraving,—more uniform mechanical effect in the other. Blake's work is like a drawing, with traces as of a pen ; Piroli's the orthodox copperplate style. Blake, in fact, at that time, etched a good deal more than do ordinary engravers.
One consistent patron there was, whom it has become time to mention. Without his friendly countenance, even less would have remained to show the world, or a portion of it, what manner of man Blake was. I mean Mr. Thomas Butts, whose long friendship with Blake commenced at this period. For nearly thirty years he continued (with few interruptions) a steady buyer, at moderate prices, of Blake's drawings, temperas and frescoes ; the only large buyer the artist ever had. Occasionally he would take of Blake a drawing a week. He, in this way, often supplied the imaginative man with the bare
page: 112
means of subsistence when no others existed—at all events from his art. All honour to the solitary appreciator and to his zealous constancy ! As years rolled by, Mr. Butts' house in Fitzroy Square became a perfect Blake gallery. Fitzroy Square, by the way built in great part by Adelphi Adams, was fashionable in those days. Noblemen were contented to live in its spacious mansions ; among other celebrities, General Miranda, the South American hero, abode there.
Mr. Butts was no believer in Blake's ‘madness.’ Strangers to the man, and they alone, believed in that. Yet he could give piquant account of his protégé‘s extravagances. One story in particular he was fond of telling, which has been since pretty extensively retailed about town ; and though Mr. Linnell, the friend of Blake's later years, regards it with incredulity, Mr. Butts’ authority in all that relates to the early and middle period of Blake's life, must be regarded as unimpeachable. At the end of the little garden in Hercules Buildings there was a summer-house. Mr. Butts calling one day found Mr. and Mrs. Blake sitting in this summer-house, freed from ‘those troublesome disguises’ which have prevailed since the Fall. ‘ Come in !’ cried Blake; ‘it's only Adam and Eve, you know !’ Husband and wife had been reciting pasages from Paradise Lost, in character, and the garden of Hercules Buildings had to represent the Garden of Eden. For my reader here frankly to enter into the full simplicity and naïveté of Blake's character, calls for the exercise of a little imagination on his part. He must go out of himself for a moment, if he would take such eccentricities for what they are worth, and not draw false conclusions. If he or I—close-tethered as we are to the matter-of-fact world—were on a sudden to wander in so bizarre a fashion from the prescriptive proprieties of life, it would be time for our friends to call in a doctor, or apply for a commission de lunatico. But Blake lived in a world of Ideas ; Ideas to him were more real than the actual external world. On this matter, as on all others, he had his own peculiar views. He thought that,
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Sig. Vol. I. I
the Gymnosophists of India, the ancient Britons, and others of whom History tells, who went naked, were, in this, wiser than the rest of mankind,—pure and wise,—and that it would be well if the world could be as they. From the speculative idea to the experimental realization of it in his own person, was, for him, but a step ; though the prejudices of Society would hardly permit the experiment to be more than temporary and private. Another of Blake's favourite fancies was that he could be, for the time, the historical person into whose character he projected himself : Socrates, Moses, or one of the Prophets. ‘I am Socrates,’ or ‘Moses,’ or ‘the prophet Isaiah,’ he would wildly say ; and always his glowing enthusiasm was mirrored in the still depths of his wife's nature. This incident of the garden illustrates forcibly the strength of her husband's influence over her, and the unquestioning manner in which she fell in with all he did or said. When assured by him that she (for the time) was Eve, she would not dream of contradiction—nay, she in a sense believed it. If therefore the anecdote argues madness in one, it argues it in both.
The Blakes do not stand alone, however, in modern history as to eccentric tenets, and even practices, in the article of drapery. Jefferson Hogg, for instance, in his Life of Shelley, tells us of a ‘charming and elegant’ family in the upper ranks of society, whose acquaintance the poet made about 1813, who had embraced the theory of ‘philosophical nakednesss.’ The parents believing in an impending ‘return to nature’ and reason, the pristine state of innocence, prepared their children for the coming millennium, by habituating them to run naked about the house, a few hours every day ; in which condition they would open the door to welcome Shelley. The mother herself, enthusiastic in the cause,—than whom there was ‘never a more innocent or more virtuous lady,’—also rehearsed her part—in private. She would rise betimes, lock herself in her dressing-room, and there for some hours remain, without her clothes, reading and writing,
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naively assuring her friends afterwards that she ‘felt so much the better for it, so innocent during the rest of the day.’ Strange dénoûments have happened to other believers in the high physical, moral, and aesthetic advantages of nudity. Hogg tells another story,—of Dr. Franklin; who wrote, on merely sanitary grounds, in favour of morning ‘air-baths.’ The philosopher, by the daily habit of devoting the early hours to study undressed, had so familiarized himself with the practice of his theory, that the absence of mind natural to philosophers led him into inadvertences. Espying once a friend's maid-servant tripping quickly across the green with a letter in her hand—an important letter he had been eagerly expecting—the philosopher ran out to meet her: at which apparition she fled in terror, screaming. Again, no one ever accused hard-headed, cannie Wilkie even of eccentricity. But he was a curious mixture of simplicity, worldliness, and almost fanatical enthusiasm in the practice of his art. One morning, the raw-boned young Scotchman was discovered by a caller (friend Haydon) drawing from the nude figure before a mirror; a method of study he pronounced ‘verra improving,’ as well as economical! Blake's vagary, then, we may fairly maintain to be not wholly without parallel on the part of sane men, when carried away by an idea, as at first blush it would seem.
At the period of the enactment of the scene from Milton, Mrs. Blake was, in person, still a presentable Eve. A ‘brunette’ and ‘very pretty’ are terms I have picked up as conveying something regarding her appearance in more youthful days. Blake himself would boast what a pretty wife he had She lost her beauty as the seasons sped,— ‘never saw a woman so much altered,’ was the impression of one on meeting her again after a lapse of but seven years ; a life of hard work and privation having told heavily upon her in the interim. In spirit, she was, at all times, a true Eve to her Adam ; and might with the most literal appropriateness have used to him the words of Milton:
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Sig. I 2
  • ‘What thou bid'st
  • Unargued I obey ; so God ordains :
  • God is thy law, thou mine ; to know no more
  • Is woman's happiest knowledge and her praise.
  • With thee conversing I forget all time ;
  • All seasons and their change, all please alike.’
To her he never seemed erratic or wild. There had indeed at one time been a struggle of wills, but she had yielded ; and his was a kind, if firm rule. Surely never had visionary man so loyal and affectionate a wife!  

Figure: A human figure walks across the clouds, pulling the moon in crescent phase behind him.

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In the Songs of Experience , put forth in 1794, as complement to the Songs of Innocence of 1789, we come again on more lucid writing than the Books of Prophecy last noticed,— writing freer from mysticism and abstractions, if partaking of the same colour of thought. Songs of Innocence and Experience, showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul: the author and printer, W. Blake , is the general title now given. The first series, quite in keeping with its name, had been of far the more heavenly temper. The second, produced during an interval of another five years, bears internal evidence of later origin, though in the same rank as to poetic excellence. As the title fitly shadows, it is of grander, sterner calibre, of gloomier wisdom. Strongly contrasted, but harmonious phases of poetic thought are presented by the two series.
One poem in the Songs of Experience happens to have been quoted often enough (first by Allan Cunningham in connection with Blake's name), to have made its strange old Hebrew-like grandeur, its Oriental latitude yet force of eloquence, comparatively familiar:— The Tiger. To it Charles Lamb refers: ‘I have heard of his poems,' writes he, ‘but have never seen them. There is one to a tiger, beginning—
  • Tiger ! tiger! burning bright
  • In the forests of the night,
which is glorious !’
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Of the prevailing difference of sentiment between these poems and the Songs of Innocence, may be singled out as examples The Clod and the Pebble, and even so slight a piece as The Fly ; and in a more sombre mood, The Garden of Love, The Little Boy Lost, Holy Thursday (antitype to the poem of the same title in Songs of Innocence), The Angel, The Human Abstract, The Poison Tree, and above all, London. One poem, The Little Girl Lost, may startle the literal reader, but has an inverse moral truth and beauty of its own. Another, The Little Girl Lost, and Little Girl Found, is a daringly emblematic anticipation of some future age of gold, and has the picturesqueness of Spenserian allegory, lit with the more ethereal spiritualism of Blake. Touched by
  • ‘The light that never was on sea or shore,’
is this story of the carrying off of the sleeping little maid by friendly beasts of prey, who gambol round her as she lies; the kingly lion bowing ‘his mane of gold,’ and on her neck dropping ‘from his eyes of flame, ruby tears ;’ who, when her parents seek the child, brings them to his cave; and
  • They look upon his eyes,
  • Filled with deep surprise ;
  • And wondering behold
  • A spirit armed in gold!
Well might Flaxman exclaim, ‘Sir, his poems are as grand as his pictures,’ Wordsworth read them with delight, and used the words before quoted. Blake himself thought his poems finer than his designs. Hard to say which are the more uncommon in kind. Neither, as I must reiterate, reached his own generation. In Malkin's Memoirs of a Child, specimens from the Poetical Sketches and Songs of Innocence and Experience were given ; for these poems struck the well-meaning scholar, into whose hands by chance they fell, as somewhat astonishing; as indeed they struck most who
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stumbled on them. But Malkin's Memoirs was itself a book not destined to circulate very freely ; and the poems of Blake, even had they been really known to their generation, were not calculated in their higher qualities to win popular favour,—not if they had been free from technical imperfection. For it was an age of polish of trifles ; not like the present age, with its slovenliness and licence. Deficient finish was never a charactistic of the innovator Wordsworth himself, who started from the basis of Pope and Goldsmith ; and whose matter, rather than manner, was obnoxious to critics. Defiant carelessness, though Coleridge in his Juvenile Poems was often guilty of it, did not become a characteristic of English verse, until the advent of Keats and Shelley ; poets of imaginative virtue enough to cover a multitude of their own and other people's sins. The length to which it has since run (despite Tennyson), we all know.
Yet in this very inartificiality lies the secret of Blake's rare and wondrous success. Whether in design or in poetry, he does, in very fact, work as a man already practised in one art, beginning anew in another ; expressing himself with virgin freshness of mind in each, and in each realizing, by turns, the idea flung out of that prodigal cornucopia of thought and image, Pippa Passes:—‘If there should arise a new painter, will it not be in some such way by a poet, now, or a musician (spirits who have conceived and perfected an ideal through some other channel), transferring it to this, and escaping our conventional roads by pure ignorance of them ?’ Even Malkin, with real sense, observes of the poet in general,—his mind ‘is too often at leisure for the mechanical prettinesses of cadence and epithet, when it ought to be engrossed by higher thoughts. Words and numbers present themselves unbidden when the soul is inspired by sentiment, elevated by enthusiasm, or ravished by devotion.’ Yes ! ravished by devotion. For in these songs of Blake's occurs devotional poetry, which is real poetry too—a very exceptional thing.
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Witness that simple and beautiful poem entitled The Divine Image, or that On Another's Sorrow. The Songs of Innocence are in truth animated by a uniform sentiment of deep piety, of reverent feeling, and may be said, in their pervading influence, to be one devout aspiration throughout. The Songs of Experience consist rather of earnest, impassioned arguments ; in this differing from the simple affirmations of the earlier Songs of Innocence, —arguments on the loftiest themes of existence.
After the Songs of Experience, Blake never again sang to like angelic tunes ; nor even with the same approach to technical accuracy. His poetry was the blossom of youth and early manhood. Neither in design did he improve on the tender grace of some of these illustrations ; irregularities became as conspicuous in it, as in his verse ; though in age he attained to nobler heights of sublimity, as the Inventions of Job will exemplify.
Let us again take a glance at what was going on contemporaneously in English literature during the years 1789-94. In novels, these were the days of activity of the famous Minerva Press, with Perdita Robinson and melancholy Charlotte Smith as leaders. Truer coin was circulated by Godwin ( St. Leon appeared in 1799), by Zeluco Moore, by Mrs. Radcliffe ( Mysteries of Udolfo, in 1794), by Monk Lewis, the sisters Lee, Mrs. Inchbald, and Mrs. Opie. In verse, it was the hour of the sentimental Della Cruscans, Madame Piozzi, Mrs. Robinson again, ‘Mr. Merry,’ and others. On these poor butterflies, Gifford, in this very year, laid his coarse, heavy hand ; himself as empty a versifier, if smarter. Glittering Darwin, whose Loves of the Plants delighted the reading world in 1789, smooth Hayley, Anna Seward, ‘Swan of Lichfield,’ were popular poets. In satire, Dr. Wolcott was punctually receiving from the booksellers his unconscionably long annuity of two hundred and fifty pounds, for copious Peter Pindarisms, fugitive odes, and epistles. In the region of enduring literature Cowper had closed his
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contributions to poetry by the translation of Homer. The third reprint of Burns's Poems, with Tam O’ Shanter for one addition, had appeared at Edinburgh in 1793 ; and the poet himself took leave of this rude world in 1796. Crabbe had achieved his first success. Among rising juniors was Rogers, who had made his début in 1786, the same year as Burns ; and in 1792, the Pleasures of Memory established a lasting reputation for its author,—a thing it would hardly do now. A little later (1799), stripling Campbell's Pleasures of Hope will leap through four editions in a year. Bloomfield is in 1793-4 jotting down The Farmer's Boy; Wordsworth shaping the first example, but a diffuse one, of that new kind of poetry which was hereafter to bring refreshment and happiness to many hearts,— Guilt and Sorrow; still one of his least read poems.
In the newly-opened fruitful domain of poetic antiquarianism,— the eighteenth century's best poetic bequest,— Bishop Percy had found a zealous follower in choleric, trenchant Joseph Ritson who, in 1791, published his Pieces of Ancient Popular Poetry, and in 1795 Robin Hood. In 1790 had appeared Ellis's Specimens of the Early English Poets.
Surely there was room for Blake's pure notes of song— still, in 1860, fresh as when first uttered—to have been heard. But it was fated otherwise. Half a century later, they attracted the attention of a sympathizer with all mystics and spiritualists, Dr. Wilkinson, the editor of Swedenborg. Under his auspices, the Songs of Innocence and Experience were reprinted, or rather first printed, as a thin octavo, without illustrations, by Pickering, in Chancery Lane, and W. Newberry, in Chenies Street, both extinct publishers now. A very limited impression was taken off, and the reprint soon became almost as scarce as the costly and beautiful original. During the last few years, I have observed only three copies turn up—two at the fancy prices of £i 8 s and £i 7 s 6 d. ; the other, secured by myself at a more moderate outlay. They are once again printed in Vol. II. in the succession, so far as
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can be ascertained, in which their author first issued them. Consisting, as they did, of loose sheets, the Songs have seldom been bound up twice alike, and are generally even numbered wrong. Dr. Wilkinson printed them in an order of his own, and too often with words of his own ; alterations which were by no means improvements always. They are now given in strict fidelity to the original, the correction of some few glaring grammatical blemishes alone excepted, which seemed a pious duty. 1
A few words of bibliographic detail may perhaps be permitted for the collector's sake, considering the extreme beauty, the singularity, and rarity of the original book.
The illustrated Songs of Innocence and Experience was issued to Blake's public, to his own friends that is, at the modest price of thirty shillings or two guineas. Its selling price now, when perfect, varies from ten and twelve guineas upwards. From the circumstance of its having lain on hand in sheets, and from some purchasers having preferred to buy or bind only select portions, the series often occurs short of many plates—generally wants one or two. The right number is fifty-four engraved pages.
Later in Blake's life,—for the sheets always remained in stock,—five guineas were given him, and in some cases, when intended as a delicate means of helping the artist, larger sums. Flaxman recommended more than one friend to take copies, a Mr. Thomas among them, who, wishing to give the artist a present, made the price ten guineas. For such a sum Blake could hardly do enough, finishing the plates like miniatures. In the last years of his life, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir Francis Chantrey, and others, paid as much as twelve and twenty guineas ; Blake conscientiously working up the colour and finish, and perhaps over-labouring them, in return ; printing off only on one side of the leaf, and expanding the book by help of margin into a handsome quarto. If without a sixpence in his pocket, he was always too justly
Transcribed Footnote (page 121):

1 See note prefixed to the Songs in Vol. II.

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proud to confess it: so that, whoever desired to give Blake money, had to do it indirectly, to avoid offence, by purchasing copies of his works ; which, too, might have hurt his pride, had he suspected the secret motive, though causelessly ; for he really gave, as he well knew, far more than an intrinsic equivalent.
The early, low-priced copies,—Flaxman's for instance,— though slighter in colour, possess a delicacy of feeling, a freshness of execution, often lost in the richer, more laboured examples, especially in those finished after the artist's death by his widow. One of the latter I have noticed, very full and heavy in colour, the tints laid on with a strong and indiscriminating touch.
Other considerable varieties of detail in the final touches by hand exist. There are copies in which certain minutiæ are finished with unusual care and feeling. The prevailing ground-colour of the writing and illustrations also varies. Sometimes it is yellow, sometimes blue, and so on. In one copy the writing throughout is yellow, not a happy effect. Occasionally the colour is carried further down the page than the ruled space ; a stream say, as in The Lamb, is introduced. Of course, therefore, the degrees of merit vary greatly between one copy and another, both as a whole and in the parts. A few were issued plain, in black and white, or blue and white, which are more legible than the polychrome examples. In these latter, the red or yellow lettering being sometimes unrelieved by a white ground, we have, instead of contrasted hue, gradations of it, as in a picture.
Out of the destruction that has engulfed so large a portion of Blake's copper-plates, partly owing to the poverty which compelled him often to obliterate his own work, that the same metal might serve again, partly to the neglect, and worse than neglect, of some of those into whose hands they fell, we have happily been able to enrich our pages from a remnant,—ten plates, taking off sixteen impressions (a
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few having been engraved on both sides),—of the Songs of Innocence and Experience. The gentleman from whom they were obtained had once the entire series in his possession ; but all save these ten were stolen by an ungrateful black he had befriended, who sold them to a smith as old metal.
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PRODUCTIVE YEARS. 1794-95. [ÆT. 37-38]
To the Songs of Experience succeeded from Lambeth the same year (1794) volumes of mystic verse and design, in the track of the Visions of the Daughters of Albion, and the America. One of them is a sequel to the America, and generally occurs bound up with it, sometimes coloured, sometimes plain. It is entitled Europe, a Prophecy: Lambeth, printed by William Blake , 1794 ; and consists of seventeen quarto pages, with designs of a larger size than those of America, occupying the whole page often. The frontispiece represents the ‘Ancient of Days,’ as shadowed forth in Proverbs viii. 27 : ‘when he set a compass upon the face of the earth;’ and again, as described in Paradise Lost, Book vii. line 236 : a grand figure, ‘in an orb of light surrounded by dark clouds, is stooping down, with an enormous pair of compasses, to describe the world's destined orb;’ Blake adopting with childlike fidelity, but in a truly sublime spirit, the image of the Hebrew and English poets. This composition was an especial favourite with its designer. When colouring it by hand, he ‘always bestowed more time,' says Smith, ‘and enjoyed greater pleasure in the task, than from anything else he produced.’ The process of colouring his designs was never to him, however, a mechanical or irksome one. Very different feelings were his from those of a mere copyist. Throughout life, whenever for his few patrons filling in the colour to his
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from Europe

  • Enitharmon slept
  • Eighteen hundred years : Man was a Dream!
  • The night of Nature and their harps unstrung
  • She slept in middle of her nightly song.
  • Eighteen hundred years a female dream
  • Shadows of men in fleeting bands upon the winds :
  • Divide the heavens of Europe :
  • Till Albions Angel smitten with his own plagues fled with his bands
  • The cloud bears hard on Albions shore,
  • 10Fill'd with immortal demons of futurity.
  • In council gather the smitten Angels of Albion
  • The cloud bears hard upon the council house: down rushing
  • On the heads of Albions Angels
  • One hour they lay buried beneath the ruins of that hall
  • But as the stars rise from the salt lake they arise in pain
  • In troubled mists oerclouded by the terrors of strugling times

Figure: A plate from Europe A whirlwind of air and snow frame the verse here. Two human figures are caught up in it, hovering at the top of the frame, entwined in the spiralling lines that represent the winds.

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Note: blank page
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engraved books, he lived anew the first fresh, happy experiences of conception, as in the high hour of inspiration.
Smith tells us that Blake ‘was inspired with the splendid grandeur of this figure, “ The Ancient of Days ,” by the vision which he declared hovered over his head at the top of his staircase’ in No. 13, Hercules Buildings, and that ‘he has been frequently heard to say that it made a more powerful impression upon his mind than all he had ever been visited by.’ On that same staircase it was Blake, for the only time in his life, saw a ghost. When talking on the subject of ghosts, he was wont to say they did not appear much to imaginative men, but only to common minds, who did not see the finer spirits. A ghost was a thing seen by the gross bodily eye, a vision, by the mental. ‘Did you ever see a ghost ?” asked a friend. ‘Never but once,’ was the reply. And it befel thus. Standing one evening at his garden-door in Lambeth, and chancing to look up, he saw a horrible grim figure, ‘scaly, speckled, very awful,’ stalking down stairs towards him. More frightened than ever before or after, he took to his heels, and ran out of the house.
It is hard to describe poems wherein the dramatis persona are giant shadows, gloomy phantoms; the scene, the realms of space ; the time, of such corresponding vastness, that eighteen hundred years pass as a dream:—
  • Enitharmon slept,

  • She slept in middle of her nightly song
  • Eighteen hundred years.
More apart from humanity even than the America, it is hard to trace out any distinct subject, any plan or purpose in the Europe, or to determine whether it mainly relate to the past, present, or to come. And yet its incoherence has a grandeur about it as of the utterance of a man whose eyes are fixed on strange and awful sights, invisible to bystanders. To use an expression of Blake's own, on a subsequent
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occasion, it is as if the ‘Visions were angry,’ and hurried in stormy disorder before his rapt gaze, no longer to bless and teach, but to bewilder and confound.
The Preludium, and the two accompanying specimen pages, which give a portion of both words and design, will enable the reader to form some idea of the poem. There occurs in one of the latter an allusion to the Courts of Law at Westminster, which is a striking instance of that occasional mingling of the actual with the purely symbolic, before spoken of. Perhaps the broidery of spider's web which so felicitously embellishes the page, was meant to bear a typical reference to the same.
The ‘nameless shadowy female,’ with whose lamentation the poem opens, personifies Europe as it would seem ; her head (the mountains) turbaned with clouds, and round her limbs, the ‘sheety waters’ wrapped; whilst Enitharmon symbolizes great mother Nature:— Preludium.
  • The nameless shadowy female rose from out
  • The breast of Orc,
  • Her snaky hair brandishing in the winds of Enitharmon :
  • And thus her voice arose:—
  • ‘O mother Enitharmon, wilt thou bring forth other sons ?
  • To cause my name to vanish, that my place may not be found ?
  • For I am faint with travel!
  • Like the dark cloud disburdened in the day of dismal thunder.
  • My roots are brandish'd in the heavens; my fruits in earth beneath,
  • 10Surge, foam, and labour into life !—first born, and first consum'd,
  • Consumed and consuming !
  • Then why shouldst thou, accursed mother! bring me into life ?
  • I weep !—my turban of thick clouds around my lab'ring head ;
  • I fold the sheety waters as a mantle round my limbs.
  • Yet the red sun and moon
  • And all the overflowing stars rain down prolific pains.
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Note: blank page
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From Europe

  • And the clouds & fires pale rolld round in the night of Enitharmon
  • Round Albions cliffs & Londons walls: still Enitharmon slept!
  • Rolling volumes of grey mist involve Churches Palaces Towers.
  • For Urizen unclasped his Book: feeding his soul with pity
  • The youth of England hid in gloom curse the paind heavens: compell'd
  • Into the deadly night to see the form of Albions Angel
  • Their parents brought them forth & aged ignorance preaches canting
  • On a vast rock percievd by those senses that are clos'd from thought:
  • Bleak dark abrupt it stands & overshadows London city
  • 10They saw his boney feet on the rock the flesh consumd in flames:
  • They saw the Serpent temple lifted above shadowing the Island white:
  • They heard the voice of Albions Angel howling in flames of Orc
  • Seeking the trump of the last doom
  • Above the rest the howl was heard from Westminster louder & louder:
  • The Guardian of the secret codes forsook his ancient mansion.
  • Driven out by the flames of Orc his furr'd robes & false locks
  • Adhered and grew one with his flesh, and nerves & veins shot thro them
  • With dismal torment sick hanging upon the wind: he fled
  • Goveling along Great George Street thro’ the Park gate all the soldiers
  • 20Fled from his sight he dragd his torments to the wilderness.
  • Thus was the howl thro Europe!
  • For Orc rejoicd to hear the howling shadows
  • But Palamabron shot his lightnings trenching down his wide back
  • And Rintrah hung with all his legions in the nether deep.
  • Enitharmon laugh'd in her sleep to see 10 womans triumph
  • Every house a den, every man bound: the shadows are filld
  • With spectres and the windows wove over with curses of iron:
  • Over the doors Thous shalt not & over the chimneys Fear is written
  • With bands of iron round their necks fastend into the walls.
  • 30the citizens in leaden gyves the inhabitants of suburbs
  • Walk heavy: soft and bent are the bones of villagers
  • Between the clouds of Urizen the flames of Orc roll heavy
  • Around the limbs of Albions Guardian his flesh consuming.
  • Howlings & hissings, shrieks & groans & voices of despair
  • Heavens of Albion, Furious
From Europe.

Figure: Plate from Europe. The verse verges into a background of a large spider web occupied by several spiders, bees, and various bugs. At the bottom of plate, a human figure lies with legs bent, hands folded under chin, face upraised.

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  • Unwilling I look up to heaven : unwilling count the stars,
  • Sitting in fathomless abyss of my immortal shrine.
  • I seize their burning power,
  • 20And bring forth howling terrors and devouring fiery kings!
  • Devouring and devoured, roaming on dark and desolate mountains,
  • In forests of eternal death, shrieking in hollow trees,
  • Ah ! mother Enitharmon !
  • Stamp not with solid form this vig'rous progeny of fire !
  • I bring forth from my teeming bosom, myriads of flames,
  • And thou dost stamp them with a signet. Then they roam abroad,
  • And leave me, void as death.
  • Ah ! I am drown'd in shady woe, and visionary joy.
  • And who shall bind the infinite with an eternal band?
  • 30To compass it with swaddling bands? And who shall cherish it
  • With milk and honey?
  • I see it smile, and I roll inward, and my voice is past.’
  • She ceas'd ; and rolled her shady clouds
  • Into the secret place.
So rapid was the production of this class of Blake's writings that, notwithstanding their rich and elaborate decoration, and the tedious process by which the whole had to be, with his own hand, engraved and afterwards coloured, the same year witnessed the completion of another, and the succeeding year, of two more ‘prophetic books.’ The Book of Urizen (1794), was the title of the next. The same may be said of it as of its predecessors. Like them, the poem is shapeless, unfathomable ; but in the heaping up of gloomy and terrible images, the America and Europe are even exceeded.
The following striking passage, which describes the appearing of the first woman, will serve as an example of Urizen:—
  • At length, in tears and cries, embodied
  • A female form trembling and pale
  • Waves before his deathly face.
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  • All Eternity shudder'd at the sight
  • Of the first female form, now separate.
  • Pale as a cloud of snow,
  • Waving before the face of Los !
  • Wonder, awe, fear, astonishment,
  • Petrify the eternal myriads
  • 10At the first female form now separate.
  • They call'd her Pity, and fled !
  • ‘Spread a tent with strong curtains around them :
  • Let cords and stakes bind in the Void,
  • That Eternals may no more behold them !’
  • They began to weave curtains of darkness.
  • They erected large pillars round the void ;
  • With golden hooks fastened in the pillars ;
  • With infinite labour, the Eternals
  • A woof wove, and called it Science.
The design, like the text, is characterized by a monotony of horror. Every page may be said as a furnace mouth to

  • ‘Cast forth redounding smoke and ruddy flame,’

in the midst of which are figures howling, weeping, writhing, or chained to rocks, or hurled headlong into they abyss. Of the more striking, I recall a figure that stoops over and seems breathing upon a globe enveloped in flames, the lines of fire flowing into those of his drapery and hair ; an old, amphibious-looking giant, with rueful visage, letting himself sink slowly through the waters like a frog ; a skeleton coiled round, resembling a fossil giant imbedded in the rock, &c. The colouring is rich—a little overcharged perhaps in the copy I have seen,—and gold-leaf has been freely used, to heighten the effect.
Still another volume bears date 1794,—a small quarto, consisting of twenty-three engraved and coloured designs, without letter-press, explanation, or key of any kind. The designs are of various size, all fine in colour, all extraordinary, some beautiful, others monstrous abounding in forced
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Elijah in the Chariot of Fire


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Note: blank page
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Sig. Vol. I. K
attitudes, and suspicious anatomy. The frontispiece, adopted from Urizen, is inscribed Lambeth printed by Will. Blake, 1794, and has the figure of an aged man, naked, with white beard sweeping the ground, and extended arms, each hand resting on a pile of books, and each holding a pen, wherewith he writes. The volume seems to be a carefully finished selection of favourite compositions from his portfolios and engraved books. Four are recognizable as the principal designs of the Book of Thel, modified in outline, and in colour richer and deeper. One occurs in the Visions of the Daughters of Albion. Another will hereafter re-appear in the illustrations to The Grave :—‘The spirit of the strong wicked man going forth.’
The Song of Los (1795), is in metrical prose, and is divided into two portions, one headed Africa, the other Asia. In it we again, as in the America, seem to catch a thread of connected meaning. It purports to show the rise and influence of different religions and philosophies upon mankind; but, according to Blake's wont, both action and dialogue are carried on, not by human agents, but by shadowy immortals, Orc, Sotha, Palamabron, Rintrah, Los, and many more:—
  • Then Rintrah gave abstract philosophy to Brama in the East;
  • (Night spoke to the cloud—
  • ‘So these human-formed spirits in smiling hypocrisy war
  • Against one another: so let them war on I
  • Slaves to the eternal elements !')
Next, Palamabron gave an ‘abstract law’ to Pythagoras ; then also to Socrates and Plato:—
  • Times roll'd on o'er all the sons of men,
Till Christianity dawns. Monasticism is spoken of:—
  • * * * The healthy built
  • Secluded places : * * *
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Afterwards it becomes a fruitful source of spiritual corruption :—
  • Then were the churches, hospitals, castles, palaces,
  • Like nets and gins and traps to catch the joys of eternity;
  • And all the rest a desert,
  • Till like a dream, eternity was obliterated and erased.
Prior to this, however—
  • Antamon call'd up Leutha from her valleys of delight,
  • And to Mahomet a loose Bible gave.
  • But in the North to Odin, Sotha gave a code of war.
A gradual debasement of the human race goes on—
  • Till a philosophy of five senses was complete !
  • Urizen wept, and gave it into the hands of Newton and Locke.
  • Clouds roll heavy upon the Alps round Rousseau and Voltaire.
  • And on the mountains of Lebanon round the deceased gods of Asia,
  • And on the deserts of Africa round the Fallen Angels.
  • The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent!
Under the symbol of the kings of Asia, the Song describes the misery of the old philosophies and despotisms ; their bitter lament and prayer that by pestilence and fire the race may be saved ; ‘that a remnant may learn to obey’:—
  • The Kings of Asia heard
  • The howl rise up from Europe !
  • And each ran out from his web,
  • From his ancient woven den :
  • For the darkness of Asia was startled
  • At the thick-flaming, thought-creating fires of Orc.
  • And the Kings of Asia stood
  • And cried in bitterness of soul:—
  • ‘Shall not the King call for Famine from the heath ?
  • 10Nor the Priest for Pestilence from the fen ?
  • To restrain ! to dismay ! to thin,
  • The inhabitants of mountain and plain !
  • In the day of full-feeding prosperity,
  • And the night of delicious songs ?’
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Sig. K 2
Urizen heard their cry :—
  • And stretched his clouds over Jerusalem :
  • For Adam, a mouldering skeleton,
  • Lay bleached on the garden of Eden;
  • And Noah, as white as snow,
  • On the mountains of Ararat.
He thunders desolately from the heavens; Orc rises ‘like a pillar of fire above the Alps,’ the earth shrinks, the resurrection of the dry bones is described, and the poem concludes.
Of the illustrations, two are separate pictures occupying the full page; the rest surround and blend with the text in the usual manner; and if they have not all the beauty, they share a full measure of the spirit and force of Blake. The colour is laid on with an impasto which gives an opaque and heavy look to some of them, and the medium being oil, the surface and tints have suffered. Here, as elsewhere, the designs seldom directly embody the subjects of the poem, but are independent though kindred conceptions—the right method perhaps.
As if the artist himself were at length beginning to grow weary, The Book of Ahania (1795), last of this series, is quite unadorned, except by two vignettes, one on the title, the other on the concluding page. The text is neatly engraved in plain black and white, without border or decoration of any kind. There are lines and passages of much force and beauty, but they emerge from surrounding obscurity like lightning out of a cloud :—
  • ‘And ere a man hath power to say—Behold !
  • The jaws of darkness do devour it up.’
The first half of the poem is occupied with the dire warfare between Urizen and his rebellious son, Fuzon. Their weapons are thus describled:—
  • The broad disk of Urizen upheaved.
  • Across the void many a mile.
  • It was forged in mills where the winter
  • Beats incessant: ten winters the disk
  • Unremitting endured the cold hammer.
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But it proves ineffectual against Fuzon's fiery beam:—
  • * * Laughing, it tore through
  • That beaten mass; keeping its direction,
  • The cold loins of Urizen dividing.
Wounded and enraged, Urizen prepares a bow formed of the ribs of a huge serpent—‘a circle of darkness’—and strung with its sinews, by which Fuzon is smitten down into seeming death. In the midst of the conflict, Ahania, who is called ‘the parted soul of Urizen,’ is cast forth :—
  • She fell down a faint shadow wand'ring
  • In chaos and circling dark Urizen,
  • As the moon anguish'd circles the earth ;
  • Hopeless! abhorr'd ! a death-shadow
  • Unseen, unbodied, unknown !
  • The mother of Pestilence!
Her lamentation, from which we draw our final extract, fills the concluding portion of the poem :—
  • Ah, Urizen ! Love !
  • Flower of morning! I weep on the verge
  • Of non-entity: how wide the abyss
  • Between Ahania and thee!

  • I cannot touch his hand,
  • Nor weep on his knees, nor hear
  • His voice and bow; nor see his eyes
  • And joy; nor hear his footsteps and
  • My heart leap at the lovely sound!
  • 10I cannot kiss the place
  • Whereon his bright feet have trod.
  • But I wander on the rocks
  • With hard necessity.
While intent on the composition and execution of these mystic books, Blake did not neglect the humble task-work which secured him a modest independence. He was at this time busy on certain plates for a book of travels, Captain J. G. Stedman's Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam . This work, ‘illustrated
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with eighty elegant engravings from drawings made by the author,’ was published by Johnson the following year (1796). Of these ‘elegant engravings’ Blake executed fourteen ; Holloway and Bartolozzi were among those employed for the remainder. Negroes, Monkeys, ‘Limes, Capiscums, Mummy-apples,’ and other natural productions of the country, were the chief subjects which fell to Blake's share.
Also among the fruit of this period should be particularised two prints in which the figures are on a larger scale than in any other engravings by Blake. They are both from his own designs. Under the first is inscribed :— Ezekiel : ‘Take away from thee the desire of thine eyes.’ Ezek. xxiv. 17. Painted and Engraved by W. Blake. Oct. 27, 1794. 13, Hercules Buildings. Ezekiel kneels with arms crossed and eyes uplifted in stern and tearless grief, according to God's command: beside him is one of those solemn bowed figures, with hidden face, and hair sweeping the ground, Blake often, and with such powerful effect, introduces : and on a couch in the background lies the shrouded corpse of Ezekiel's wife.
The subject of the other, which corresponds in size and style, is from the Book of Job:—‘What is man, that thou shouldst try him every moment?’ It possesses a peculiar interest as being the first embodiment of Blake's ideas upon a theme, thirty years later to be developed in that series of designs,—the Inventions to the Book of Job, which, taken as a grand harmonious whole, is an instance of rare individual genius, of the highest art with whatever compared, that certainly constitutes his masterpiece. The figure of Job himself, in the early design, is the same as that in the Inventions. But the wife is a totally differnt conception, being of a hard and masculine type.
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AT WORK FOR THE PUBLISHERS. 1795-99. [ÆT. 38-42]
In 1795-6, Miller, the publisher, of Old Bond Street, employed Blake to illustrate a new edition in quarto, of a translation of Bürger's Lenore, by one Mr. J. T. Stanley, F.R.S. The first edition (1786), had preceded by ten years Sir Walter Scott's translation, which came out at the same time as Stanley's new edition. The amateur version amounts to a paraphrase, not to say a new poem ; the original being ‘altered and added to,’ to square it with ‘the cause of religion and morality.’ Blake's illustrations are engraved by a man named Perry, and are three in number. One is a frontispiece,—Lenore clasping her ghostly bridegroom on their earth-scorning charger ; groups of imps and spectres from hell hovering above and dancing below ; a composition full of grace in the principal figures, wild horror and diablerie in the accessories. Another—a vignette—is an idealised procession of Prussian soldiers, escorted by their friends ; Lenore and her mother vainly gazing into the crowd in quest of their missing William. It is a charmingly composed group characterised by more than Stothard's grace and statuesque beauty. The third illustration, also a vignette, is the awakening of Lenore from her terrible dream, William rushing into her arms in the presence of the old St. Anna-like mother,—for such is the turn the catastrophe takes under Mr. Stanley's
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Young Burying Narcissa


Figure: India-ink drawing. Three young girls kneel at the edge of a grave that has been newly dug in a cave. A shovel and lantern occupy the left side of the frame. In the center, the oldest girl holds a book in her left hand and gestures with her right hand toward the grave. The two younger girls kneel by her side, praying and weeping. The name of the engraver, "J. Hellawell", appears in the lower left corner.

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Note: blank page
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hands. This, again, is a composition of much daring and grace; its principal female figure, one of those spiritual, soul-startled forms Blake alone of men could draw. To Stanley's translation the publisher added the original German poem, with two engravings after Chodowiecki, ‘the German Hogarth,’ as he has been called, which, though clever, look as here executed, prosaic compared with Blake.
Edwards, of New Bond Street, at that day a leading bookseller, engaged Blake, in 1796, to illustrate an expensive edition, emulating Boydell's Shakspere and Milton, of Young's Night Thoughts. The Night Thoughts was then, as it had been for more than half a century, a living classic, which rival booksellers delighted to re-publish. Edwards paid his designer and engraver ‘a despicably low sum,’ says Smith, which means, I believe, a guinea a plate. And yet the prefatory Advertisement, dated December 22, 1796, tells us that the enterprise had been undertaken by the publisher ‘not as a speculation of advantage, but as an indulgence of inclination, in which fondness and partiality would not permit him to be curiously accurate in adjusting the estimate of profit and loss ;’ undertaken also from the wish ‘to make the arts in their most honourable agency subservient to the purposes of religion.’ In the same preface, written with Johnsonian swing, by Fuseli probably—the usual literary help of fine-art publishers in those days—and who I suspect had something to do with Edwards’ choice of artist, ‘the merit of Mr. Blake’ is spoken of in terms which show it to have been not wholly ignored then: ‘to the eyes of the discerning it need not be pointed out ; and while a taste for the arts of design shall continue to exist, the original conception, and the bold and masterly execution of this artist cannot be unnoticed or unadmired.’ The edition, which was to have been issued in parts, never got beyond the first ; public encouragement proving inadequate. This part extends to ninety-five pages,—to the end of Night the Fourth, —, and includes forty-three designs. It appeared in the autumn of 1797.
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These forty-three plates occupied Blake a year. A complete set of drawings for the Night Thoughts had been made, which remained in the family of Edwards, the publisher, till quite recently, when it passed into the hands of Mr. Bain, of the Haymarket. ‘Altogether this enormous series reaches the aggregate of five hundred and thirty-seven designs, of which, as has been said, only forty-three were given in the Engraved Selection. In some, every inch of the available margin is quick with multitudinous invention ; and in others the whole interest is gathered to the broadest spaces and the remainder left as great breadths of light or gloom. As might be expected in so vast a task, they are very unequal both in conception and design. In succession they are solemn, tender or playful, broken by frequent bursts of Titanic inspiration under which the pages tremble. Then follow others painfully grotesque, or feebly uninteresting, but these are comparatively few; and the inspection of these unique volumes (which ought to belong to the nation) cannot fail to impress on the mind of every lover of Blake a loftier estimate of his gigantic powers than was before entertained.’ Thus writes Mr. Frederick Shields, from whose hand the reader will find, in Vol. II., complete descriptive notes of all the more important designs in this great series.
Edwards’ edition was as much a book of design as of type ; splendidly printed in folio on thick paper, with an ample margin to each page. Around every alternate leaf Blake engraved wild, allegorical figures; designs little adapted to the apprehension of his public. He so engraved them as to make a picture of the whole page, as in his own illustrated poems; but not with an equally felicitous result, when combined with formal print. To each of the four Nights was prefixed an introductory design or title—The illustrations have one very acceptable aid, and that is, a written ‘explanation of the engravings’ at the end; drawn up or put into shape by another hand than Blake's—the same possibly which had penned the Advertisement. It would be well if
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all his designs had this help. For at once literal in his translation of word into line, daring and unhacknied in his manner of indicating his pregnant allegories, Blake's conceptions do not always explain themselves at a glance, and without their meaning, half their beauty must needs be lost.
Looked at merely as marginal book illustrations, the engravings are not strikingly successful. The space to be filled in these folio pages is of itself too large, and the size of the outlines is æsthetically anything but a gain. For such meanings as Blake's, not helped by the thousand charms of the painter's language, can be advantageously compressed into small space. The oft-repeated colossal limbs of Death and Time sprawling across the page—figures too large for the margin of the book, and necessarily always alike—become somewhat uninteresting. How little Blake was adapted to ingratiate himself with the public, the engraved series exemplifies. The general spectator willl find these designs, all harping on life, death, and immortality, far from attractive ; austere themes, austerely treated, if also sweetly and grandly ; without even relief of so much admixture of worldly topic and image as is introduced in the text of the epigrammatic poet. There is monotony of subject, of treatment, of the expression of ideas pure and simple, ideas similar to those literature is commonly employed to convey, yet transcending words, is at the very opposite pole to that of the great mass of modern painters. There is little or no individuality in his faces, if more in his forms. Typical forms and faces, abstract impersonations, are used to express his meaning. Everything—figures, landscape, costume, accessory—is reduced to its elemental shape, its simplest guise— ‘bare earth, bare sky, and ocean bare.’
The absence of colour, the use of which Blake so well understood, to relieve his simple design and heighten its significance, is a grave loss. I have seen one copy of the Young, originally coloured for Mr. Butts, now in the hands of
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Lord Houghton, much improved by the addition, forming a book of great beauty.
Many of these designs, taken by themselves, are, however, surpassingly imaginative and noble : as the first—‘Death in the character of an old man, having swept away with one hand part of a family, is presenting with the other their spirits to immortality;’ in which, as often happens with Blake, separate parts are even more beautiful compositions than the whole. And again, the literal translation into outline of a passage few other artists would have selected, to render closely:—
  • What though my soul fantastic measures trod
  • O'er fairy fields; or mourn'd along the gloom
  • Of pathless woods; or down the craggy steep
  • Hurl'd headlong; swam with pain the mantled pool
  • Or scaled the cliff, or danced on hollow winds,
  • With antic shapes, wild natives of the brain.’
Again, the illustration to the line—
  • ’ ‘Tis greatly wise to talk with our past hours,’
in which ‘the hours are drawn as aërial and shadowy beings some of whom are bringing their scrolls to the inquirer, while others are carrying their records to heaven.’ Again, ‘the author, encircled by thorns emblematical of grief, laments the loss of his friend to the midnight hours,’ here also represented as aërial, shadowy beings. A grand embodiment is that of the Vale of Death, where ‘the power of darkness broods over his victims as they are borne down to the grave by the torrent of a sinful life ;’ the life stream showing imploring upturned faces, rising to the suface, of infancy, youth, age ; while the pure, lovely figure of Narcissa wanders in the shade beside.
Of a higher order still, are some illustrations in which the designer chooses themes of his own, parallel to, or even independent of the text, not mere translations of it. As to the line—
  • ‘Its favours here are trials, not rewards,’
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where in exemplification of the ‘frailty of the blessings of this life, the happiness of a little family is suddenly destroyed by the accident of the husband's death from the bite of a serpent.’ The father is writhing in the serpent's sudden coil, while beside him his beautiful wife, as yet unconscious of his fate, is bending over, and holding back her infant, who stretches out eager little hands to grasp a bird on the wing. A truly pregnant allegory, nobly designed, and of Raffaellesque grace. On so slight a hint as the line—
  • ‘Oft burst my song beyond the bounds of life,’
a lovely and spiritual ‘figure holding a lyre, and springing into the air, but confined by a chain to the earth,’ typifies ‘the struggling of the soul for immortality.’ The line—
  • ‘We censure nature for a span too short,’
waywardly suggests a naïve but fine composition of ‘a man measuring an infant with his span, in allusion to the shortness of life.’ To the words—
  • ‘Know like the Median, fate is in thy walls,’
we have of course the story of Belshazzar. Illustrative of the axiom, ‘teaching we learn,’ is introduced an unaffected and beautiful group,—an aged father instructing his children.
Some of the designs trench on those afterwards more matured in Blair's Grave : as ‘Angels attending the death-bed of the righteous,’ and ‘Angels conveying the spirit of the good man to heaven,’ both of aërial tenderness and grace. ‘A skeleton discovering the first symptoms of re-animation on the sounding of the archangel's trump,’ is precisely the same composition as one introduced in The Grave, except that in the earlier design the foreshortened figure of the archangel is different and finer.
Throughout, the familiar abstractions Death and Time are originally conceived, as they had need be, recurring so frequently. They are personified by grand, colossal figures. Instead of the hacknied convention of a skeleton, Death appears as a solemn, draped, visionary figure. So, too, the
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conventional wings of angel and spirit are dispensed with. The literalness with which the poet's metaphors are occasionally embodied is a startling and not always felicitous invasion of the province of words. As when Death summons the living ‘from sleep to his kingdom the grave,’ with a handbell; or ‘plucks the sun from his sphere.’ Or again, when a personification of the Sun hides his face at the crucifixion ; or another of Thunder, directs the poet to admiration of God ; all which difficulties are fearlessly handled. Any less daring man would have fared worse. In Blake's conceptions it is hit or miss, and the miss is a wide one : witness the ‘Resurrection of our Saviour,’ and ‘Our Saviour in the furnace of affliction ;’ large, soulless figures, quite destitute of Blake's genius.
Excepting one or two such as I have last named, familiarity does much to help the influence of these, as of all Blake's designs ; to deepen the significance of our artist's high spiritual commentary on the poet; to modify the monotony of the appeal. The first unpleasant effect wears off of the conventional mannikins which here represent humanity, wherewith gigantic Time and Death disport on the page. Art hath her tropes as well as poetry. At this very time was preparing, and in 1802 was published by Vernor and Hood, and the trade, an octavo edition of Young, illustrated by Stothard, which did prove successful. Blake's Young compares advantageously, I may add, with Stothard's, whose designs, with some exceptions, display a very awkward attempt to reconcile the insignia of the matter-of-fact world with those of the spiritual. Better Blake's nude figures (in which great sacrifices are made to preserve decorum), better his favourite, simple draperies of close-fitting garments, and his typical impersonation of ‘the author,’ than Stothard's clerical gentleman, in full canonicals, looking, with round-eyed wonder, at the unusual phenomenon of winged angels fluttering above. Returning to Blake's career, I find him, in 1799, exhibiting a picture at the Academy, The Last Supper. ‘Verily I say
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unto you that one of you shall betray me.’ Among the engravings of the same year are some slight ones after the designs of Flaxman for a projected colossal statue of the allegoric sort for Greenwich Hill, to commemorate Great Britain's naval triumphs. They illustrate the sculptor's Letter or quarto pamphlet, addressed to the committee which had started the scheme of such a monument. It is a curious pamphlet to look at now. Flaxman's design, rigidly classical of course, is not without recommendations, on paper. There is an idea in it, a freshness, purity, grand simplicity we vainly look for in the Argand-lamp style of the Trafalgar Square column, or in any other monument erected of late by the English, so unhappy in their public works.  

Are glad when they can find the Grave

Figure: "Are Glad When They Can Find The Grave" from the MS. Notebook. A man dressed as a traveller and carrying a walking stick reaches his left hand out towards Death, who is depicted here as the Grim Reaper.

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A NEW LIFE. 1799-1800. [ÆT. 42-43]
About this time (1800) the ever-friendly Flaxman gave Blake an introduction which had important consequences ; involving a sudden change of residence and mode of life. This was in recommending him to Hayley, ‘poet,’ country gentleman, friend and future biographer of Cowper ; in which last capacity the world alone remembers him. Then, though few went to see his plays, or read his laboured Life of Milton, he retained a traditional reputation on the strength of almost his first poem,—still his magnum opus, after nearly twenty years had passed since its appearence,—the Triumphs of Temper. He held, in fact, an honoured place in contemporary literature ; his society eagerly sought and obtained, by lovers of letters ; to mere ordinary squires and neighbours sparingly accorded ; to the majority point-blank refused. His name continued to be held in esteem among a slow-going portion of the world, long after his literary ware had ceased to be marketable. People of distinction and ‘position in society,’ princesses of the blood, and others, when visiting Bognor, would, even many years later, go out of their way to see him, as if he had been a Wordsworth.
Between Flaxman and the Hermit of Eartham, as the book-loving squire delighted to subscribe himself, friendly relations had, for some twenty years, subsisted. During three of these, Hayley's acknowledged son (he had no legitimate
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children), Thomas Alphonso, had been an articled pupil of the sculptor's. Early in 1798, beginnings of curvature of the spine had necessitated a return from Flaxman's roof into Sussex. There, after two years’ more suffering, he died of the accumulated maladies engendered in a weakly constitution by sedentary habits ; a victim of forcing, I suspect.
In 1799, the author of the Triumphs of Temper was seeing through the press one of his long Poetical Essays, as smooth and tedious as the rest, on Sculpture; in the form of ‘Epistles to Flaxman.’ It was published in 1800, with three trivial illustrations. Two of these are engraved by Blake: The Death of Demosthenes, after a bald outline by Hayley junior, whom the father easily persuaded himself into believing, as well as styling, his ‘youthful Phidias ;’ and a portrait of the ‘young sculptor,’ after a medallion by his master, Flaxman, the drawing of which was furnished Blake by Howard; the combined result being indifferent. This was the occasion of Blake's first coming into direct personal communication with Hayley, to whom he submitted an impression of the plate of The Death of Demosthenes, which ‘has been approved,’ he writes, February 8th, 1800, ‘by Mr. Flaxman ;’ adding his hopes that the young sculptor ‘will soon be well enough to make hundreds of designs both for the engraver and the sculptor.’
On April 25th, 1800, the long intermittent tragedy of Cowper's life came to an end, amid dark and heavy clouds: the last years of suffering having been smoothed by a pension obtained through Hayley's intercession. A week later died Hayley's hapless son. And our poor bard had to solace himself in his own way, by inditing sonnets to his child's memory, ‘on his pillow,’ at four o'clock in the morning; a daily sonnet or two soon swelling into MS. volumes. Blake, to whom death ever seemed but as ‘the going out of one room into another,’ was, of all men, one who could offer consolation as sincere as his sympathy. On hearing the sorrowful news he wrote at once the following characteristic letter:—
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Dear Sir,
I am very sorry for your immense loss, which is a repetition of what all feel in this valley of misery and happiness mixed. I send the shadow of the departed angel, and hope the likeness is improved. The lips I have again lessened as you advise and done a good many other softenings to the whole. I know that our deceased friends are more really with us than when they were apparent to our mortal part. Thirteen years ago I lost a brother and with his spirit I converse daily and hourly in the spirit, and see him in my remembrance, in the regions of my imagination ; I hear his advice and even now write from his dictate. Forgive me for expressing to you my enthusiasm which I wish all to partake of, since it is to me a source of immortal joy, even in this world. By it I am the companion of angels. May you continue to be so more and more; and to be more and more persuaded that every mortal loss is an immortal gain. The ruins of Time build mansions in Eternity.
I have also sent a proof of Pericles for your remarks, thanking you for the kindness with which you express them, and feeling heartily your grief with a brother's sympathy.
I remain,

Dear Sir,

Your humble servant,

William Blake.

Lambeth, May 6th , 1800.
The Pericles in question is an outline engraving of a medallion in the Townly collection which forms the frontispiece to Hayley's Essay on Sculpture.
‘The shadow of the departed angel,’ here spoken of, may possibly be the sepia drawing, which subsequently passed into the hands of Mr. George Smith, and was by him bound up in a volume of Blakiana containing many other items of great interest. At the sale of that gentleman's library, at Christie's, April, 1880, this volume fetched £66.
As further consolation, Hayley resolved on ample memoirs of son and friend. To the biography of Cowper he was ultimately urged by Lady Hesketh herself. During one of his frequent flying visits to town, and his friends the Meyers, at Kew, in June, 1800, and while he, nothing loth, was being
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coaxed to the task of writing Cowper's life, the idea was mooted of helping a deserving artist, by the employment of Blake to engrave the illustrations of the projected quarto. And in the same breath followed the proposal for the artist to come and live at Felpham that, during the book's progress, he might be near ‘that highly respected hermit,’ as Smith styles the squire ; a generous, if hot-headed hermit, who thought to push Blake's fortunes, by introducing him to his numerous well-connected friends. All Hayley's projects were hurried into execution in the very hey-day of conception, or as speedily abandoned. Blake at once fell in with this scheme, encouraged perhaps by the prospect of a patron. And his friend Mr. Butts rejoiced aloud, deeming his protégé's fortune made.
A copy of the Triumphs of Temper (tenth edition), illustrated by Stothard, which had belonged to the poet's son, and was now given to Blake, contains evidence,—in verse of course,—of Hayley's esteem for him. Perhaps the fact can palliate our insertion of rhymes so guiltless of sense otherwise. It is Smith who is answerable for having preserved them:—
  • Accept, my gentle visionary Blake,
  • Whose thoughts are fanciful and kindly mild;
  • Accept, and fondly keep for friendship's sake,
  • This favoured vision, my poetic child!
  • Rich in more grace than fancy ever won,
  • To thy most tender mind this book will be,
  • For it belonged to my departed son;
  • So from an angel it descends to thee.
W.H. July, 1800.
After seven productive years in Lambeth, the modest house in Hercules Buildings was exchanged for a cottage by the sea, where Blake spent three years ; the only portion of his life passed in the country. He was now in his forty-third year, Hayley in his fifty-seventh. In August, Blake went down
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to Felpham to look at his future home, and secure a house ; which he did at an annual rent of twenty pounds : not being provided with one rent-free by Hayley, as some supposed,—a kind of patronage which would have ill-suited the artist's independent spirit. The poet was not even his landlord, owning, in fact, no property in the village beyond what he had bought to build his house on. Blake's cottage belonged to the landlord of the Fox Inn.
Hayley, whose forte was not economy nor prudent conduct of any kind, had, by ill-judged generosities and lavish expenditure, seriously incumbered the handsome estate inherited from his father. Felpham, his present retreat, lay some six miles off the patrimonial ‘paradise,’ as he, for once, not hyperbolically styled it,—romantic Eartham, a peaceful sequestered spot among the wooded hills stretching southward from Sussex Downs ; a hamlet made up of some dozen widely-scattered cottages, a farm-house or two, a primitive little antique church, and the comfortable modern ‘great house,’ lying high, in the centre of lovely sheltered gardens and grounds, commanding wide, varied views of purple vale and gleaming sea. At Felpham, during the latter years of his son's life, he had built a marine cottaage, planned to his own fancy, whither to retire and retrench, while he let his place at Eartham. It was a cottage with an embattled turret ; with a library fitted up with busts and pictures ; a ‘covered way for equestrian exercise,’ and a well-laid-out garden ; all as a first step in the new plans of economy. His son passed the painful close of his ill-starred existence in it ; and here Hayley himself had now definitely taken up his abode. He continued there till his death in 1820 ; long before which he had sold Eartham to Huskisson, the statesman ; whose widow continued to inhabit it for many years.
On the eve of removing from Lambeth, in the middle of September, was written the following characteristic letter from Mrs. Blake to Mrs. Flaxman,—the ‘dear Nancy’ of the sculptor. I am indebted for a copy of it to the courtesy
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of Mrs. Flaxman's sister, the late Miss Denman. Characteristic, I mean, of Blake ; for though the wife be the nominal inditer, the husband is obviously the author. The very hand-writing can hardly be distinguished from his. The verses with which it concludes may, in their artless spiritual simplicity, almost rank with the Songs of Innocence and Experience.
From Mrs. Blake to Mrs. Flaxman.

‘My Dearest Friend,

‘I hope you will not think we could forget your services to us, or any way neglect to love and remember with affection even the hem of your garment. We indeed presume on your kindness in neglecting to have called on you since my husband's first return from Felpham. We have been incessantly busy in our great removal ; but can never think of going without first paying our proper duty to you and Mr. Flaxman. We intend to call on Sunday afternoon in Hampstead, to take farewell ; all things being now nearly completed for our setting forth on Tuesday morning. It is only sixty miles and Lambeth one hundred ; for the terrible desert of London was between. My husband has been obliged to finish several things necessary to be finished before our migration. The swallows call us, fleeting past our window at this moment. O! how we delight in talking of the pleasure we shall have in preparing you a summer bower at Felpham. And we not only talk, but behold ! the angels of our journey have inspired a song to you:—

To my dear Friend, Mrs. Anna Flaxman.
  • This song to the flower of Flaxman's joy ;
  • To the blossom of hope, for a sweet decoy ;
  • Do all that you can and all that you may,
  • To entice him to Felpham and far away.
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  • Away to sweet Felpham, for Heaven is there ;
  • The ladder of Angels descends through the air,
  • On the turret its spiral does softly descend,
  • Through the village then winds, at my cot it does end.
  • You stand in the village and look up to heaven ;
  • 10The precious stairs glitter in flight seventy-seven ;
  • And my brother is there ; and my friend and thine
  • Descend and ascend with the bread and the wine.
  • The bread of sweet thought and the wine of delight
  • Feed the village of Felpham by day and by night ;
  • And at his own door the bless'd hermit does stand,
  • Dispensing unceasing to all the wide land.
W. Blake.

Receive my and my husband's love and affection, and believe me to be yours affectionately,

Catherine Blake.’

‘H.B. Lambeth, 14 Sept. 1800.’
The labour of preparation and the excitement of eager anticipation proved almost too much for the affectionate and devoted Kate. September 16th, a few days before they started, Blake writes to Hayley, ‘My dear and too careful and over-joyous woman has exhausted her strength...Eartham will be my first temple and altar ; my wife is like a flame of many colours of precious jewels whenever she hears it named.’
A letter from Blake's own hand to Flaxman, penned immediately after arrival in Sussex, has been put into print by our excellent friend Smith. This very physiognomic compostion, lucid enough to all who know Blake, needlessly puzzled Allan Cunningham. It does not, to my mind, separate, as he maintains, into two distinct parts of strongly contrasted spirit ; nor does it betoken that irreconcilable discord of faculties he imagines. The mingling of sound sagacity with the utmost licence of imagination showed itself at every hour of Blake's life. He would, at any moment, speak as he here writes, and was not a mere sensible mortal
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in the morning, and a wild visionary in the evening. Visionary glories floated before his eyes even while he stooped over the toilsome copper-plate. There was no pause or hiatus in the life-long wedding of spiritual and earthly things in his daily course ; no giving the reins to imagination at one time more than other.
And if immortality, if eternity, mean something, if they imply a pre-existence as well as a post-mortal one, that which startles the practical mind in this letter is not so wholly mad ; especiallly if we make due allowance for the dialect, the unwonted phraseology (most very original men have their phraseology), which long custom had made familiar and anything but extravagant to him, or to those who have read themselves into Blake's writing and design ; a dialect so full of tropes and metaphor, dealt with as if they were literal, not symbolic facts.
‘Dear Sculptor Of Eternity,

We are safe arrived at our cottage, which is more beautiful than I thought it, and more convenient. It is a perfect model for cottages, and I think for palaces of magnificence, only enlarging not altering its proportions, and adding ornaments and not principles. Nothing can be more grand than its simplicity and usefulness. Simple without intricacy, it seems to be the spontaneous expression of humanity, congenial to the wants of man. No other formed house can ever please me so well, nor shall I ever be persuaded, I believe, that it can be improved either in beauty or use.

Mr. Hayley received us with his usual brotherly affection. I have begun to work. Felpham is a sweet place for study, because it is more spiritual than London. Heaven opens here on all sides her golden gates : her windows are not obstructed by vapours; voices of celestial inhabitants are more distinctly heard, and their forms more distinctly seen ; and my cottage is also a shadow of their houses.

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My wife and sister are both well, courting Neptune for an embrace.

Our journey was very pleasant; and though we had a great deal of luggage, no grumbling. All was cheerfulness and good humour on the road, and yet we could not arrive at our cottage before half-past eleven at night, owing to the necessary shifting of our luggage from one chaise to another ; for we had seven different chaises, and as many different drivers. We set out between six and seven in the morning of Thursday, with sixteen heavy boxes and portfolios full of prints.

And now begins a new life, because another covering of earth is shaken off. I am more famed in Heaven for my works than I could well conceive. In my brain are studies and chambers filled with books and pictures of old, which I wrote and painted in ages of eternity before my mortal life ; and those works are the delight and study of archangels. Why then should I be anxious about the riches or fame of mortality ? The Lord our Father will do for us and with us according to His Divine will, for our good.

You, O dear Flaxman! are a sublime archangel,—my friend and companion from eternity. In the Divine bosom is our dwelling-place. I look back into the regions of reminiscence, and behold our ancient days before this earth appeared in its vegetated mortality to my mortal vegetated eyes. I see our houses of eternity which can never be separated, though our mortal vehicles should stand at the remotest corners of heaven from each other.

Farewell, my best friend ! Remember me and my wife in love and friendship to our dear Mrs. Flaxman, whom we ardently desire to entertain beneath our thatched roof of rusted gold. And believe me for ever to remain your grateful and affectionate

‘William Blake.

Felpham, Sept. 21st, 1800.

Sunday morning.’
page: [150a verso]

Blake's cottage at Felpham


Figure: Photo-Intaglio of Blake's cottage drawn by Herbert H. Gilchrist.

page: [150b recto]
Note: blank page
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From this letter it appears the squire's method of travelling by post-chaise was adopted by the painter. His sister, nearly seven years younger than himself, made one in the party and in Blake's family during his residence at Felpham.
Blake also wrote, during this time, at frequent intervals, to Mr. Butts, letters which in their full and frank utterance show that this steady and almost life-long buyer of his works was a sympathetic friend as well as a constant patron.
The first of these letters, after describing the journey and the cottage in words almost identical with those used in the letter to Flaxman just quoted, continues :—
[Date of Post-mark, Sept. 23, 1800.]

Dear Friends of my Angel's,

The villagers of Felpham are not mere rustics; they are polite and modest. Meat is cheaper than in London ; but the sweet air and the voices of winds, trees, and birds, and the odours of the happy ground, make it a dwelling for immortals. Work will go on here with God-speed. A roller and two harrows lie before my window. I met a plough on my first going out at my gate the first morning after my arrival, and the ploughboy said to the ploughman, ‘Father, the gate is open.’ I have begun to work, and find that I can work with greater pleasure than ever, hoping soon to give you a proof that Felpham is propitious to the arts.

God bless you ! I shall wish for you on Tuesday evening as usual. Pray, give my and my wife's and sister's love and respects to Mrs. Butts. Accept them yourself, and believe me for ever

Your affectionate and obliged friend,

William Blake.

My sister will be in town in a week, and bring with her your account, and whatever else I can finish.

Direct to me— Blake, Felpham, near Chichester,

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Belonging also to early days at Felpham is the following :—
Felpham,Oct. 2, 1800.

Friend Of Religion And Order,

I thank you for your very beautiful and encouraging verses, which I account a crown of laurels, and I also thank you for your reprehension of follies by me fostered. Your prediction will, I hope, be fulfilled in me, and in future I am the determined advocate of religion and humility—the two bands of society. Having been so full of the business of settling the sticks and feathers of my nest, I have not got any forwarder with the Three Maries, or with any other of your commissions ; but hope, now I have commenced a new life of industry, to do credit to that new life by improved works. Receive from me a return of verses, such as Felpham produces by me, though not such as she produces by her eldest son. However, such as they are, I cannot resist the temptation to send them to you :—

Note: The following verse is printed in two columns.
  • To my friend Butts I write
  • My first vision of light,
  • On the yellow sands sitting.
  • The sun was emitting
  • His glorious beams
  • From Heaven's high streams
  • Over sea, over land ;
  • My eyes did expand
  • Into regions of air,
  • 10Away from all care;
  • Into regions of fire,
  • Remote from desire :
  • The light of the morning,
  • Heaven's mountains adorning.
  • In particles bright,
  • The jewels of light
  • Distinct shone and clear.
  • Amazed, and in fear,
  • I each particle gazed,
  • 20Astonish'd, amazed ;
  • For each was a man
  • Human-formed. Swift I ran,
  • For they beckon'd to me,
  • Remote by the sea,
  • Saying : ‘Each grain of sand,
  • Every stone on the land,
  • Each rock and each hill,
  • Each fountain and rill,
  • Each herb and each tree,

  • Column Break

  • 30Mountain, hill, earth, and sea,
  • Cloud, meteor, and star,
  • Are men seen afar.’
  • I stood in the streams
  • Of heaven's bright beams,
  • And saw Felpham sweet
  • Beneath my bright feet,
  • In soft female charms ;
  • And in her fair arms
  • My shadow I knew,
  • 40And my wife's shadow too,
  • And my sister and friend.
  • We like infants descend
  • In our shadows on earth,
  • Like a weak mortal birth.
  • My eyes more and more,
  • Like a sea without shore,
  • Continue expanding,
  • The heavens commanding,
  • Till the jewels of light,
  • 50Heavenly men beaming bright,
  • Appeared as one man,
  • Who complacent began
  • My limbs to infold
  • In his beams of bright gold ;
  • Like dross purged away,
  • All my mire and my clay.
  • Soft consumed in delight,
  • In his bosom sun-bright
  • page: 153
  • I remain'd. Soft he smil'd,
  • 60And I heard his voice mild,
  • Saying: ‘This is my fold,
  • O thou ram, horn'd with gold!’
  • Who awakest from sleep
  • On the sides of the deep.
  • On the mountains around
  • The roarings resound
  • Of the lion and wolf,
  • The loud sea and deep gulf.

  • Column Break

  • These are guards of my fold,
  • 70O thou ram, horn'd with gold!’
  • And the voice faded mild,
  • I remain'd as a child ;
  • All I ever had known,
  • Before me bright shone :
  • I saw you and your wife
  • By the fountains of life.
  • Such the vision to me
  • Appear'd on the sea.

Mrs. Butts will, I hope, excuse my not having finished the portrait, I wait for less hurried moments. Our cottage looks more and more beautiful. And though the weather is wet, the air is very mild, much milder than it was in London when we came away. Chichester is a very handsome city, seven miles from us. We can get most conveniences there. The country is not so destitute of accommodations to our wants as I expected it would be. We have had but little time for viewing the country, but what we have seen is most beautiful; and the people are genuine Saxons, handsomer than the people about London. Mrs. Butts will excuse the following lines:—

  • Wife of the friend of those I most revere,
  • Receive this tribute from a harp sincere ;
  • Go on in virtuous seed-sowing on mould
  • Of human vegetation, and behold
  • Your harvest springing to eternal life,
  • Parent of youthful minds, and happy wife !
W. B.

I am for ever yours,

William Blake.
‘I have begun to work,’ Blake writes ; on the plates to a ballad of Hayley's, that is:— Little Tom the Sailor, written and printed for a charitable purpose. The project had been set going in Hayley's fervid head by an account his friend Rose the barrister gave of the boy's heroism and the mother's misfortunes, as celebrated in the poem. Hayley was at once to write a ballad, Blake to illustrate and engrave it, and the broadsheet to be sold for the widow's benefit to the poet's
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friends, or any who would join in helping the ‘necessities of a meritorious woman;’ in which the brochure, says Hayley's Memoirs, proved successful.
The poem, like some others of Hayley's, has simplicity, and perhaps even a touch of sweetness. At any rate, it is brief. If its author had not been cursed with the fatal facility of words and numbers, he might have done better things. A tinge of Blake-like feeling seems to have passed for once into the smooth verse of the poet of Eartham. The ballad was written 22nd September, 1800; Blake's broadsheet bears date October 5th. Both verse and designs, of which there are two, one at the head, the other at the foot of the page, are executed on metal—pewter, it is said—the designs being graver work, in the same manner as on wood, the ballad and imprint bitten in with acid. The impressions were printed off by himself and Mrs. Blake:—’ Printed for and sold by the Widow Spicer of Folkstone, for the benefit of her orphans.’ The sheet is now exceedingly scarce, as broadsheets always become, even when far more widely circulated than this could ever have been. I have come across but two or three copies.
The engravings are vigorous and effective, in an unpretending, rude style. The designs have all Blake's characteristic directness and naïveté. At the foot we see the future widow leaving her humble cottage to seek her sick husband, and turning her head wistfully round as she steps forth on her way; her little son rocking the cradle within. Around stretches a landscape in the typical style of Poussin,—wood, and winding path, and solemn distant downs. It is a grand and simple composition. The engraving at the head of the sheet represents the sailor-boy aloft on the shrouds, climbing to the top-mast, the embodied spirit of his father bursting with extended arms from the midst of the storm-cloud and forked lightnings. This picture also is full of high feeling.
To those disposed to judge a work of art vulgarly by what the eye merely can see, instead of by the emotions aroused, it may look like gross exaggeration to speak of grandeur in so
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rude and slight a work. But the kindled imagination of the artist can speak eloquently through few and simple strokes, and with them kindle imagination in others. This is more than the most skilful piece of mere artistic handicraft can do, which as it does not come from, neither can it appeal to, the mind. Hence we venture to claim for these designs, a place among the genuinely great in kind, though not in degree, of excellence. In truth, there are very few works by Blake for which thus much, at least, cannot be claimed.  

from Visions of the Daughters of Albion

Figure: Engraving from Visions of the Daughters of Albion

page: [156]

POET HAYLEY AND FELPHAM. 1800-1801. [ÆT. 43-44]
Blake's life at Felpham was a happy one. In Hayley he had a kind and friendly neighbour; notwithstanding disparity of social position and wider discrepancies of training and mental character. Hayley, the valued friend of Gibbon in one generation, of Cowper in the next, whose reputation, like many another reputation then and since, was for a time in excess of his literary deservings, has since been, even from a literary point of view, just as disproportionately despised,— sneered at with excess of rigour. By Allan Cunningham he is never mentioned, in connexion with Blake or Romney, but to be injuriously spoken of, and the worst construction put upon his motives. This he does, swayed by the gratuitous assertions of Romney's too acrimonious son, and giving the rein to one of those unmeasured dislikes the stalwart Scot was prone to take into his head ; witness his distorted portrait of the amiable, urbane Sir Joshua.
As a poet, Hayley was no worse, if little better, than his compeers ; Cowper and Burns standing of course apart. One must judge him not as a literary man, but as a literary country gentleman; an amateur, whose words flowed a thousand times faster than his thoughts. His Life of Cowper was one of the earliest and best examples in that modern school of biography wherein authentic letters form the basis, and the hero draws his own portrait. Mason's Life of Gray
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was the first, but not an unexceptionable one ; Mason being at the pains of mutilating and otherwise doctoring Gray's lively scholarly gossip. Hayley's own part in the Life of Cowper is well and gracefully written, in the smooth style,— in a style, which is something.
If Hayley was always romancing, as it were, which his position in life allowed ; always living in a fool's paradise of ever-dispelled, ever-renewed self-deceptions about the commonest trifles; seeing all men and things athwart a fog of amiability; it was not in the main a worse world than common, and sometimes it was a useful life to others. The pension his bustling energy obtained for Cowper outweighs many an absurdity and inanity. He was surely an endurable specimen, for variety's sake, among corn-law and game-preserving squires. A sincere, if conventional love of literature, independence of the great world, and indifference to worldly distinctions, are, after all, not criminal foibles. Pertinacious, wrongheaded, and often foolish in his actions; weakly greedy of applause, as ready to lavish it; prone to exaggeration of word or thought; without reticence: he was also an agreeable companion, really kind-hearted and generous; though vanity mixed itself with all he did ; for ever going out of his way to befriend some one, to set in motion some well-intended, ill-considered scheme. For Blake,— let us remember, to the hermit's honour,—Hayley continued to entertain unfeigned respect. And the self-tutored, wilful visionary must have been a startling phenomenon to so conventional a mind. During the artist's residence at Felpham his literary friend was constantly on the alert to advance his fortunes.
Another source of happiness for Blake at Felpham was the natural beauty which surrounded him, and which the transplanted Londoner keenly enjoyed. ‘A cottage which is more beautiful than I had thought it, and more convenient; a perfect model for cottages,’ Blake had written of his new home on his first arrival. It is still standing, and is on the
page: 158
southern or seaward side of the village. It is really a cottage ; a long, shallow, white-faced house, one room deep, containing but six in all,—small and cosy ; three on the ground-floor, opening one into another, and three above. Its latticed windows look to the front ; at back the thatched roof comes sweeping down almost to the ground. A thatched wooden verandah, which runs the whole length of the house, forming a covered way, paved with red brick, shelters the lower rooms from a southern sun ; a little too much so at times, as the present tenant (a coast-guardsman) complains. The entrance is at the end of this verandah, out of the narrow lane leading from the village to the sea. In front lies the slip of garden (there is none at back), inclosed by a low, flint wall. In front of that again is a private way, shaded with evergreens, to the neighbouring large red brick mansion, surrounded by ample gardens, in which Cyril Jackson, Dean of Christ Church and Tutor to George IV. once lived. Beyond, corn-fields stretch down to the sea, which is but a few furlongs distant, and almost on the same level,—the coast here being low and crumbling. To the right are scattered one or two labourers' humble cottages, with their gardens and patches of corn-field. Further seaward are two windmills standing conspicuously on a tongue of land which shuts off adjacent Bognor from sight. The hideous buildings now to be descried in that direction were not extant in Blake's time. His upper or bedroom windows commanded a glorious view of the far-stretching sea, with many a white sail gleaming at sunset in the distance, on its way betwixt the Downs and the chops of the Channel. The wide and gentle bay is terminated westward by Selsea Bill, above which the cloud-like Isle of Wight is commonly visible ; eastward by Worthing and the high cliff of Beechy Head beyond. Often, in after years, Blake would speak with enthusiasm of the shifting lights on the sea he had watched from those windows. In fine weather the waves come rippling in to the gently shelving, sandy beach, but when rough, with
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so much force as to eat away huge mouthfuls of the low, fertile coast. Middleton Church and signal-house, on a point of land a mile or so eastward, have disappeared bodily since Blake's time. The village, a large but compact one, spreading along two or three winding roads, still wears much the same aspect it must have done then ; rustic, pleasant, and (as yet) unspoiled by the close vicinity of a ‘genteel' watering-place. It includes a few tolerably commodious marine residences of the last century, and several picturesque old thatched cottages. The church has within the last few years been restored, all but its fine western tower of perpendicular date. Excellent in proportion, strikingly picturesque in hue and outline, this tower is at once well preserved and in good state for the artist. It is a landmark for many miles, rising above the thick foliage which in the distance hides yet distinguishes the village from the surrounding flats. Several epitaphs of Hayley's,—in the composition of which species of poetry, it may perhaps be still conceded, he was happy,—are to be met with in the church and adjoining graveyard.
A few steps up the winding lane, by the old Fox Inn, brought Blake to the postern-like gate of his patron's house, in the centre of the village ; a plain white house, of little architectural pretension (but for its turret) and less beauty. It stands at one corner of the garden which Hayley had carefully inclosed with high walls for privacy's sake. The lofty turret commanded some remarkable views, of the sea in one direction, of the adjacent levels and great part of the South Downs in another. For walks, Blake had the pleasant sands which stretch below the shingle, or an upper path along the coast on one hand ; the Downs eight or nine miles distant rising in undulating solemn clouds on the other. These were the great natural features, ever the same, yet ever varying shifting lights and tones and hues. The walks inland, within a range of five or six miles, are tame and monotonous, though in summer pleasant, with corn and pasture, shady lane, fair old homestead, and humble early
page: 160
English village church. One especially pleasant summer-walk is that by footpath to the village of Walberton, some five miles northward. Bognor was not then ugly and repulsive as great part of it is now. At all events, there were none of those ghastly blocks of untenanted, unfinished houses, dreary monuments of building infatuation, which lower upon the traveller and put him out of heart as he approaches from Felpham, looking like so many builders’ night-mares; erections that bespeak an almost brutish absence of natural instincts for the beautiful or expressive in construction. It was only some nine years previous to Blake's residence in Sussex that Sir Richard Hotham, the retired hatter, had set Bognor going as a fashionable watering-place. He had found it a sequestered hamlet of smugglers. The ‘retired and beautiful village of Hothamton,’ as it was for a time called, included then but fifty houses, Hothampton Place, viz. and those which form now the eastern section of Bognor, visited or tenanted only by a select and aristocratic few.
By the sounding shore, visionary conversations were held with many a majestic shadow from the Past—Moses and the Prophets, Homer, Dante, Milton: ‘All,’ said Blake, when questioned on these appearances, ‘all majestic shadows, grey but luminous, and superior to the common height of men.’ Sometimes his wife accompanied him, seeing and hearing nothing, but fully believing in what he saw. By the sea, or pacing the pretty slip of garden in front of his house, many fanciful sights were witnessed by the speculative eyes. The following highly imaginative little scene was transacted there. It is related by Allan Cunningham. ‘Did you ever see a fairy's funeral, madam ?’ he once said to a lady who happened to sit by him in company. ‘Never, sir,’ was the answer. ‘I have !’ said Blake, ‘but not before last night. I was walking alone in my garden ; there was great stillness among the branches and flowers, and more than common sweetness in the air; I heard a low and pleasant sound, and I knew
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Sig. VOL. I. M
not whence it came. At last I saw the broad leaf of a flower move, and underneath I saw a procession of creatures, of the size and colour of green and grey grasshoppers, bearing a body laid out on a rose-leaf, which they buried with songs, and then disappeared. It was a fairy funeral!’
Among the engravings executed by Blake's industrious hands during his first year at Felpham, I make note of a fine one of Michael Angelo, at the end of the first edition (in quarto) of Fuseli's famous Lectures on Painting,—the first three, delivered at the Academy in March 1801, published in May. It is an interesting and characteristic full-length portrait. The great Florentine is standing, looking out on the world with intent, searching gaze, the Coliseum in the background. This and the circular plate on the title-page of the same volume, well engraved by F. Legat, were both designed by Fuseli himself. Grand and suggestive, in a dim allegoric way, is this drooping female figure, seated on the earth, her crossed arms flung down in expressive abandon, the face bowed between them and hidden by her streaming hair. This is a design I could swear to as Blake's whether ‘adopted’ by Fuseli or not.
Hayley, desiring the artist's worldly advancement, introduced him to many of the neighbouring gentry ; among them Lord Egremont of Petworth, Lord Bathurst of Lavant, Mrs. Poole; and obtained him commissions for miniatures. Some of which, reports Hayley, ‘that singularly industrious man who applied himself to various branches of the art’ and ‘had wonderful talents for original design’ executed ‘very happily.’ Blake, indefatigable in toil, would also, at his craft of engraving, honestly execute for bread whatever was set him, good or bad. Humble as the task was, for so imaginative a man, of tracing servilely, line by line, other men's conceptions, he would patiently and imperturbably work at a design, however inferior to his own, though with an obvious and natural absence of enthusiasm. Blake's docility, however, had a limit. He was
page: 162
wont to say he had refused but one commission in his life,— to paint a set of handscreens for a lady of quality, one of the great people to whom Hayley had introduced him ; that he declined ! For Lady Bathurst it was, I think,—the Bathursts had then a seat near Lavant, which subsequently, like most other estates in the neighbourhood, was absorbed by the Duke of Richmond. Blake taught for a time in her family, and was admired by them. The proposal was, I believe, that he should be engaged at a regular annual salary for tuition and services such as the above; as painter in ordinary, in fact, to this noble family. Besides bestirring himself to obtain Blake commissions, Hayley did what his means would allow to furnish employment himself. The interior of his new villa was fitted up in a manner bespeaking the cultivated man of letters and taste,—thanks, in great part, to his friendly relations with such artists as Flaxman and Romney,—was adorned with busts, statues, and pictures. Among the latter were interesting portraits of distinguished contemporaries and friends, and of the Hermit himself; all from Romney's hand, and originally painted for the library at Eartham. There was one of Gibbon, sitting and conversing; there were others, in crayons, of Cowper, Charlotte Smith, Anna Seward, Madame de Genlis ; above all, there were fine studies of Lady Hamilton in various fancy characters, as Cassandra, Andromeda, Cecilia, Sensibility, &c. When, twenty years earlier, Hayley had built himself, at Eartham, a large and handsome room, specially to contain his fine collection of books in many languages, Flaxman had superintended the sculptured ornaments, and had modelled for it busts of the poet and his friend Romney. The new library at Felpham, Blake, during his residence in Sussex, decorated with temperas :—eighteen heads of the poets, life size, some accompanied by appropriate subsidiary compositions. Among them were Shakespeare, Homer, Camoens, Sir Philip Sidney, Cowper, Hayley himself (encircled by cooing doves). Within twenty years after Hayley's death, the marine villa passed, by sale, from the hands
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Sig. M 2
of his cousin and heir, Captain Godfrey, to strangers. The place was dismantled and the effects sold. Among other things, these temperas, so interesting in their original position, were dispersed. Like most of Blake's ‘temperas’ and ‘frescoes,’ they are blistered and cracked, and have not been improved by exposure to dust and gas ; but they bear the unmistakable Blake impress. The head of Cowper I remember as one of the most interesting, and the accompanying vignette, with its hint of landscape, in which appears Cowper's favourite dog, as being in Blake's best manner. They are all now in the possession of Mr. William Russell.
During the execution of this congenial task Blake reports progress, in joyous mood, to Hayley, then absent on a visit to friends:—
Dear Sir,

Absorbed by the poets Milton, Homer, Camoens, Ercilla, Ariosto, and Spenser, whose physiognomies have been my delightful study, Little Tom has been of late unattended to, and my wife's illness not being quite gone off she has not printed any more since you went to London. But we can muster a few in colours and some in black which I hope will be no lesss favour'd tho’ they are rough like rough sailors. We mean to begin printing again to-morrow. Time flies very fast and very merrily. I sometimes try to be miserable that I may do more work, but find it is a foolish experiment. Happinesses have wings and wheels ; miseries are leaden legged and their whole employment is to clip the wings and to take off the wheels of our chariots. We determine, therefore, to be happy and do all that we can, tho’ not all that we would. Our dear friend Flaxman is the them of my emulation in this of industry, as well as in other virtues and merits. Gladly I hear of his full health and spirits. Happy son of Immortal Phidias, his lot is truly glorious, and mine no less happy in his friendship and in that of his friends. Our cottage is surrounded by the same guardians you left with us ; they keep off every wind. We hear the west howl at a distance, the south bounds on high over our thatch, and smiling on our cottage says, ‘you lay too low for my anger to injure.’ As to the east and north I believe they cannot get past the turret.

page: 164

My wife joins me in duty and affection to you. Please to remember us both in love to Mr. and Mrs. Flaxman, and

Believe me to be your affectionate,

Enthusiastic, hope-fostered visionary,

William Blake.

Felpham, 26 th November, 1800
Next in date comes a letter to Mr. Butts which betokens still the same unclouded horizon:—
My Dear Sir,

the necessary application to my duty, as well to my old as new friends, has prevented me from that respect I owe in particular to you. And your accustomed forgiveness of my want of dexterity in certain points emboldens me to hope that forgiveness to be continued to me a little longer, when I shall be enabled to throw off all obstructions to success.

Mr. Hayley acts like a prince. I am at complete ease. But I wish to do my duty, especially to you, who were the precursor of my present fortune. I never will send you a picture unworthy of my present proficiency. I soon shall send you several. My present engagements are in miniature-painting. Miniature has become a goddess in my eyes, and my friends in Sussex say that I excel in the pursuit. I have a great many orders, and they multiply.

Now, let me entreat you to give me orders to furnish every accommodation in my power to receive you and Mrs. Butts. I know, my cottage is too narrow for your ease and comfort. We have one room in which we could make a bed to lodge you both ; and if this is sufficient, it is at your service. But as beds and rooms and accommodations are easily procured by one on the spot, permit me to offer my service in either way ; either in my cottage, or in a lodging in the village, as is most agreeable to you, if you and Mrs. Butts should think Bognor a pleasant relief from business in the summer. It will give me the utmost delight to do my best.

Sussex is certainly a happy place, and Felpham in particular is the sweetest spot on earth ; at least it is so to me and my good wife, who desires her kindest love to Mrs. Butts and yourself. Accept mine also, and believe me to remain

Your devoted

William Blake

Felpham, May 10, 1801.
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In the latter part of 1801 Hayley began spinning a series of Ballads on Anecdotes relating to Animals, of very different merit from Little Tom the Sailor of the previous year; empty productions, long-winded, bald, devoid of every poetic virtue save simplicity,—in the unhappy sense of utter insipidity. What must the author of the Songs of Innocence have thought of them ? On these Ballads hung a project, as usual with Hayley. They were to be illustrated by Blake, printed by another protégé, Seagrave, a Chichester bookseller, and published for the artist's sole benefit; in realising which they were fated to have but ill success. Our hermit sincerely believed in contributing verse of his he was giving money's worth ; in that serene faith meaning as generously as when handing over tangible coin.
During the progress of the Life of Cowper, and of the Ballads, the letters of Hayley to the Rev. John Johnson supply glimpses, here and there, of Blake, at his engraving, or in familiar intercourse with his patron ; and they supply more than glimpses of the writer himself, in his accustomed undress of easy, slip-shod vanity and amiability. This Johnson was Cowper's cousin, his right-hand man in latter years, and faithful guardian ultimately. The letters are entombed in Hayley's Memoirs of himself and his son, edited
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or, at all events, seen through the press, by the amiable clergyman in 1823.
‘Our good Blake,’ scribbles the artist's patron, one hot day in August, 1801, ‘is actually in labour with a young lion. The new born cub will probably kiss your hands in a week or two. The Lion is his third Ballad,’ (none are yet printed) ‘and we hope his plate to it will surpass its predecessors. ‘ Apropos of this good, warm-hearted artist. He has a great wish that you should prevail on Cowper's dear Rose’ (Mrs. Anne Bodham, a cousin of the poet on the mother's side, and the correspondent who sent him that picture of his mother which elicited the poem we all know so well) ‘to send her portrait of the beloved bard, by Abbott, to Felpham, that Blake may engrave it for the Milton we meditate; which we devote (you know) to the sublime purpose of raising a monument suited to the dignity of the dear bard, in the metropolis; if the public show proper spirit (as I am persuaded it will) on that occasion—a point that we shall put to the test, in publishing the Life.
The portrait of Cowper, by Abbot, the Academician,—a very prosaic one,—was not, I presume, sent to Felpham; for it was never engraved by Blake. A print of it, by one W. C. Edwards, forms the frontispiece to Vol. I. of The Private Correspondence of Cowper, edited by Johnson in 1824. The scheme here referred to was that of an edition of Cowper's unfinished Commentary on Paradise Lost, and MS. translations of Milton's Latin and Italian poetry, together with Hayley's previously published, lengthy Life of Milton. The whole was to be in three quarto volumes, ‘decorated with engravings,’ by Blake, after designs by Flaxman: the proceeds to go towards a London monument to Cowper, from Flaxman's chisel. The project, like so many from the same brain, had to be abandoned for one of later birth :—a single quarto, illustrated by Flaxman, of Cowper's Translations and Notes on Milton, for the proposed ‘benefit,’ as usual, of somebody,—this time of ‘an orphan godson of the
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poet,’ which in 1808 actually did take shape: followed in 1810, by a ‘neat pocket edition,’ for the emolument of Cowper's kinsman, Johnson.
September 3, 1801 : (Hayley to Johnson again} * * * ‘The good Blake is finishing, very happily, the plate of the poet's mother. He salutes you affectionately.’ October 1, 1801 : ‘October, you see, is arrived, and you, my dear Johnny, will arrive, I trust, before half this pleasant month shall pass away; for we want you as a faithful coadjutor in the turret, more than I can express. I say we, for the warm-hearted indefatigable Blake works daily by my side, on the intended decorations of our biography. Engraving, of all human works, appears to require the largest portion of patience ; and he happily possesses more of that inestimable virtue than I ever saw united before to an imagination so lively and so prolific. Come, and criticise what we have done! Come, and assist us to do more ! I want you in a double capacity,—as an excellent scribe, and as an infallible fountain of intelligence for all the latter days of our dear bard.’
Hayley, whose sight was often weak, availed himself of Blake's help, too, as amanuensis, and in other ways during the progress of the Life. Blake had thus opportunity to form a judgment of Hayley's mode of dealing with his material; he was not greatly impressed by its candour and fidelity.
September 11th, 1801, Blake writes two letters to Mr. Butts :—
Dear Sir,

I hope you will continue to excuse my want of steady perseverance, by which want I am still your debtor, and you so much my creditor; but such as I can be, I will. I can be grateful, and I can soon send some of your designs which I have nearly completed. In the meantime, by my sister's hands, I transmit to Mrs. Butts an attempt at your likeness, which I hope she, who is the best judge, will think like. Time flies faster (as seems to me here) than in London. I labour incessantly, I accomplish not one-half of what I intend, because my abstract folly hurries me often away while I am at work, carrying me over mountains and valleys, which are not real,

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into a land of abstraction where spectres of the dead wander. This I endeavour to prevent ; I, with my whole might, chain my feet to the world of duty and reality. But in vain ! the faster I bind, the better is the ballast; for I, so far from being bound down, take the world with me in my nights, and often it seems lighter than a ball of wool rolled by the wind. Bacon and Newton would prescribe ways of making the world heavier to me, and Pitt would prescribe distress for a medicinal potion. But as none on earth can give me mental distress, and I know that all distress inflicted by Heaven is a mercy, a fig for all corporeal! Such distress is my mock and scorn. Alas ! wretched, happy, ineffectual labourer of Time's moments that I am ! who shall deliver me from this spirit of abstraction and improvidence ? Such, my dear Sir, is the truth of my state, and I tell it you in palliation of my seeming neglect of your most pleasant orders. But I have not neglected them ; and yet a year is rolled over, and only now I approach the prospect of sending you some, which you may expect soon. I should have sent them by my sister ; but, as the coach goes three times a week to London, and they will arrive as safe as with her, I shall have an opportunity of enclosing several together which are not yet completed. I thank you again and again for your generous forbearance, of which I have need; and now I must express my wishes to see you at Felpham, and to show you Mr. Hayley's library, which is still unfinished, but is in a finishing way and looks well. I ought also to mention my extreme disappointment at Mr. Johnson's forgetfulness, who appointed to call on you but did not. He is also a happy abstract, known by all his friends as the most innocent forgetter of his own interests. He is nephew to the late Mr. Cowper, the poet. You would like him much. I continue painting miniatures, and I improve more and more, as all my friends tell me. But my principal labour at this time is engraving plates for Cowper's Life, a work of magnitude, which Mr. Hayley is now labouring at with all his matchless industry, and which will be a most valuable acquisition to literature, not only on account of Mr. Hayley's composition, but also as it will contain letters of Cowper to his friends—perhaps, or rather certainly, the very best letters that ever were published.

My wife joins with me in love to you and Mrs. Butts, hoping that her joy is now increased, and yours also, in an increase of family and of health and happiness.

I remain, dear Sir,

Ever yours sincerely,

William Blake.
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Felpham Cottage, of cottages the prettiest,

September 11, 1801

Next time I have the happiness to see you, I am determined to paint another portrait of you from life in my best manner, for memory will not do in such minute operations; for I have now discovered that without nature before the painter's eye, he can never produce anything in the walks of natural painting. Historical designing is one thing, and portrait-painting another, and they are as distinct as any two arts can be. Happy would that man be who could unite them !

P.S.—Please to remember our best respects to Mr. Birch, and tell him that Felpham men are the mildest of the human race. If it is the will of Providence, they shall be the wisest. We hope that he will, next summer, joke us face to face. God bless you all!

November 8th, 1801 : (Hayley to Johnson again).* * * ‘And now let me congratulate you on having travelled so well through the Odyssey!’ (an edition of Cowper's Homer, with the translator's final touches, which the clergyman was bringing out). ‘Blake and I read every evening that copy of the Iliad which your namesake’ (the bookseller) of St. Paul's was so good as to send me ; comparing it with the first edition, and with the Greek, as we proceed. We shall be glad to see the Odyssey also, as soon as it is visible .’
This and other passages in the correspondence show the familiar intimacy which had been established between the literary gentleman and the artist. The latter evidently spent much of his time, and most of his working hours, in Hayley's library, in free companionship with its owner; which in the case of so proud and sensitive a man as Blake can only have been due to much delicacy and genial courtesy on the part of his host; whose manners, indeed, were those of a polished gentleman of the old school. We can, for a moment, see the oddly assorted pair; both visionaries, but in how different a sense! the urbane amateur seeing nothing as it really was; the painter seeing only, so to speak, the unseen : the first with
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a mind full of literary conventions, swiftly writing without thought; the other, with a head just as full of originalities,— right or wrong,—patiently busying his hands at his irksome craft, while his spirit wandered through the invisible world.
November 18th, 1801.—Hayley writes to Johnson from the house of his friend, Mrs. Poole: ‘Your warm-hearted letter (that has met me this instant in the apartments of our benevolent Paulina, at Lavant) has delighted us all so much (by all, I mean Paulina, Blake, and myself) that I seize a pen, while the coffee is coming to the table, to tell you with what cordial pleasure we shall expect you and your young pupil. If my Epitaph’ (on Mrs. Unwin) ‘delighted you, believe me, your affectionate reception of it has afforded me equal delight. I have been a great scribbler of Epitaphs in the last month, and as you are so kindly partial to my monumental verses, I will transcribe for you even in the bustle of this morning, a recent Epitaph on your humble old friend, my good William, who closed his height of cheerful and affectionate existence (near eighty) this day fortnight, in the great house at Eartham, where Blake and I had the mournful gratification of attending him (by accident) in the few last hours of his life.’
November 22nd, 1801. * * * ‘Did I tell you that our excellent Blake has wished to have Lawrence's original drawing to copy, in his second engraving; and that our good Lady Hesketh is so gracious as to send it ?’
The engravings to the Life of Cowper—the first issue in two volumes quarto (they were omitted in the subsequent octavo edition)—are not of that elaborate character the necessity of their being executed under the ‘biographer's own eye’ might have led us to expect. One is after that portrait of Cowper, by Romney, in crayons, made during the poet's own visit to Eartham in 1792 ; which drew forth the graceful, half sad, half sportive sonnet, concluding with so skilful an antithesis of friendly hyperbole in complimenting his painter and host. A correct copy as to likeness, the
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engraving gives no hint of the refinement of Romney's art. In so mannered, level a piece of workmanship, industry of hand is more visible than of mind. Another is after the stiff, Lely-like portrait of Cowper's mother, by D. Heins, which suggested the poet's beautiful lines. In Vol. II, we have a good rendering of young Lawrence's clever, characteristic sketch of Cowper ; and, at the end, a group of pretty, pastoral designs from Blake's own hand. The subjects are that familiar household toy, ‘the weather house,’ described in The Task; and Cowper's tame hares. These vignettes are executed in a light, delicate style, very unusual with Blake.
In January, 1802, Cowper's cousin paid the promised visit, and brought with him the wished-for anecdotes of the poet's last days. Hayley, with friendly zeal, had urged Blake to attempt the only lucrative walk of art in those days— portraiture ; and during Johnson's stay, the artist executed a miniature of him, which Hayley mentions as particularly successful. It would be an interesting one to see, for its painter's sake, and for the subject—the faithful kinsman and attendant with whom The Letters of Cowper have put on friendly terms all lovers of that loveable poet, the fine-witted, heaven-stricken man.
Before the second winter was over, unmistakable signs began to appear that neither the smiling cottage nor the friendly Hayley were all they had at first seemed. The dampness of a house placed upon the earth without cellarage, on a low shore too, between the Downs and the sea, seriously affected Blake's health for a time, and caused his Kate severe ague and rheumatism, which lasted even after her return to the dryness of London.
And no less baneful to the inner life was constant intercourse with the well-meaning literary squire. It was not possible for the ardent and exalted nature of Blake, to whom poetry and design were the highest expression of religion, to breathe freely in an atmosphere of elegant trivialities and
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shallow sentiment. So early as January 10th, 1802, he writes to Mr. Butts :—
Dear Sir,

Your very kind and affectionate letter, and the many kind things you have said in it, called upon me for an immediate answer. But it found my wife and myself so ill, and my wife so very ill, that till now I have not been able to do this duty. The ague and rheumatism have been almost her constant enemies, which she has combated in vain almost ever since we have been here; and her sickness is always my sorrow, of course. But what you tell me about your sight afflicted me not a little, and that about your health, in another part of your letter, makes me entreat you to take due care of both. It is a part of our duty to God and man to take due care of His gifts ; and though we ought not think more highly of ourselves, yet we ought to think as highly of ourselves as immortals ought to think.

When I came down here, I was more sanguine than I am at present; but it was because I was ignorant of many things which have since occurred, and chiefly the unhealthiness of the place. Yet I do not repent of coming on a thousand accounts; and Mr. H., I doubt not, will do ultimately all that both he and I wish—that is, to lift me out of difficulty. But this is no easy matter to a man who, having spiritual enemies of such formidable magnitude, cannot expect to want natural hidden ones.

Your approbation of my pictures is a multitude to me, and I doubt not that all your kind wishes in my behalf shall in due time be fulfilled. Your kind offer of pecuniary assistance I can only thank you for at present, because I have enough to serve my present purpose here. Our expenses are small, and our income, from our incessant labour, fully adequate to these at present. I am now engaged in engraving six small plates for a new edition of Mr. Hayley's Triumphs of Temper, from drawings by Maria Flaxman, sister to my friend the sculptor. And it seems that other things will follow in course, if I do but copy these well. But patience ! If great things do not turn out, it is because such things depend on the spiritual and not on the natural world; and if it was fit for me, I doubt not that I should be employed in greater things ; and when it is proper, my talents shall be properly exercised in public, as I hope they are now in private. For, till then, I leave no stone unturned, and no path unexplored that leads to improvement in my beloved arts. One thing of real consequence I have accomplished by coming

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into the country, which is to me consolation enough : namely, I have re-collected all my scattered thoughts on art, and resumed my primitive and original ways of execution, in both painting and engraving, which in the confusion of london I had very much lost and obliterated from my mind. But whatever becomes of my labours, I would rather that they should be preserved in your greenhouse (not, as you mistakenly call it, dunghill) than in the cold gallery of fashion. The sun may yet shine, and then they will be brought into open air.

But you have so generously and openly desired that I will divide my griefs with you that I cannot hide what it has now become my duty to explain. My unhappiness has arisen from a source which, if explored too narrowly, might hurt my pecuniary circumstances ; as my dependence is on engraving at present, and particularly on the engravings I have in hand for Mr. H.: and I find on all hands great objections to my doing anything but the mere drudgery of business, and intimations that, if I do not confine myself to this, I shall not live. This has always pursued me. You will understand by this the source of all my uneasiness. This from Johnson and Fuseli brought me down here, and this from Mr. H will bring me back again. For that I cannot live without doing my duty to lay up treasures in heaven is certain and determined, and to this I have long made up my mind. And why this should be made an objection to me, while drunkenness, lewdness, gluttony, and even idleness itself, do not hurt other men, let Satan himself explain. The thing I have most at heart—more than life, or all that seems to make life comfortable without—is the interest of true religion and science. And whenever anything appears to affect that interest (especially if I myself omit any duty to my station as a soldier of Christ), it gives me the greatest of torments. I am not ashamed, afraid, or averse to tell you what ought to be told—that I am under the direction of messengers from heaven, daily and nightly. But the nature of such things is not, as some suppose, without trouble or care. Temptations are on the right hand and on the left. Behind, the sea of time and space roars and follows swiftly. He who keeps not right onwards is lost ; and if our footsteps slide in clay, how can we do otherwise than fear and tremble ? But I should not have troubled you with this account of my spiritual state, unless it had been necessary in explaining the actual cause of my uneasiness, into which you are so kind as to inquire : for I never obtrude such things on others unless questioned, and then I never disguise the truth. But if we fear to do the dictates of our angels, and tremble at the tasks set before us ; if we refuse to

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do spiritual acts because of natural fears or natural desires, who can describe the dismal torments of such a state!—I too well remember the threats I heard!—‘If you, who are organized by Divine Providence for spiritual communion, refuse, and bury your talent in the earth, even though you should want natural bread,—sorrow and desperation pursue you through life, and after death shame and confusion of face to eternity. Every one in eternity will leave you. aghast at the man who was crowned with glory and honour by his brethren, and betrayed their cause to their enemies. You will be called the base Judas who betrayed his friend !’—Such words would make any stout man tremble, and how then could I be at ease ? But I am now no longer in that state, and now go on again with my task, fearless, though my path is difficult. I have no fear of stumbling while I keep it.

My wife desires her kindest love to Mrs. Butts, and I have permitted her to send it to you also. We often wish that we could unite again in society, and hope that the time is not distant when we shall do so, being determined not to remain another winter here, but to return to London.

  • I hear a Voice you cannot hear, that says I must not stay,
  • I see a Hand you cannot see, that beckons me away.

Naked we came here—naked of natural things—and naked we shall return: but while clothed with the Divine mercy, we are richly clothed in spiritual, and suffer all the rest gladly. Pray, give my love to Mrs. Butts and your family.

I am yours sincerely,

William Blake.

P.S.—Your obliging proposal of exhibiting my two pictures likewise calls for my thanks; I will finish the others, and then we shall judge of the matter with certainty.

Our next excerpts from Hayley's garrulous letters date after Johnson's visit to Felpham.
February 3rd, 1802. [Hayley to Johnson, as before.] * * * ‘Here is instantaneously a title-page for thee’ (the new edition of Cowper's Homer), ‘and a Greek motto, which I and Blake, who is just become a Grecian, and literally learning the language, consider as a happy hit! * * * The new Grecian greets you affectionately.’
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Blake, who had a natural aptitude for acquiring knowledge, little cultivated in youth, was always willing to apply himself to the vocabulary of a language, for the purpose of reading a great original author. He would declare that he learnt French, sufficient to read it, in a few weeks. By-and-by, at sixty years of age, he will set to learning Italian, in order to read Dante
The references, in our next extract, to Cowper's monumental tablet at East Dereham, then under discussion, and Blake a party to it, are sufficiently amusing, surely, to warrant our staying to smile over the same. Consider what ‘the Design’ actually erected is. An oblong piece of marble, bearing an inscription, with a sculptured ‘Holy Bible’ on end at top; another marble volume, lettered ‘The Task,’ leaning against it; and a palm leaf inclined over the whole, as the redeeming line of beauty. Chaste and simple!

February 25th, 1802. ‘I thank you heartily for your pleasant letter, and I am going to afford you, I hope, very high gratification in the prospect of our overcoming all the prejudices of our good Lady Hesketh against simple and graceful ornament for the tomb of our beloved bard. I entreated her to suspend her decision till I had time to send for the simply elegant sketches that I expected from Flaxman. When these sketches reached me, I was not myself perfectly pleased with the shape of the lyre introduced by the sculptor, and presumptuously have tried myself to out-design my dear Flaxman himself, on this most animating occasion. I formed, therefore, a device of the Bible upright supporting The Task, with a laurel leaf and Palms, such as I send you, neatly copied by our kind Blake. I have sent other copies of the same to her ladyship and to Flaxman ; requesting the latter to tell me frankly how he likes my design, and for what sum he can execute the said design, with the background,—a firm slab of dove-coloured marble, and the rest white. If her ladyship and Flaxman are as much pleased with my idea as the good Blake and Paulina

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of Lavant are, all our difficulties on this grand monumental contention will end most happily. Tell me how you, my dear Johnny, like my device. To enable you to judge fairly, even against myself, I desired the kind Blake to add for you, under the copy of my design, a copy of Flaxman's also, with the lyre whose shape displeases me.’ In the sequel the Lyre was eliminated, and the amateur's emendation, in the main, adhered to; The Task, however, being made to prop the Bible, instead of vice versâ as, at first, the Hermit heedlessly suggests.

March 11th, 1802. * * * ‘The kind, indefatigable Blake salutes you cordially, and begs a little fresh news from the spiritual world ‘; an allusion to some feeble joke of Hayley's on Johnson's timorous awe of the public, which the latter makes believe to think has slain the bashful parson. The Life of Cowper,—commenced January, 1801, finished the following January,—was, this March, in the hand of Seagrave, whom the author had, ‘for the credit of his native city,’ induced reluctant Johnson to accept as printer. The four copper-plates were entirely printed off by Blake ands his wife at his own press, a very good one for that day, having cost 40 l. when new—a heavy sum for him. From March to December, Hayley, after beginning the Memoir of his son, was busy getting his two quartos through the press.
The issue of The Ballads was not commenced till June; they were in quarto numbers, three engravings to each—a frontispiece and two vignettes. The first was The Elephant. A Series of Ballads. Number I. The Elephant. Ballad the First. Chichester: printed by J. Seagrave, and sold by him and P. Humphry; and by R. H. Evans, Pall Mall, London, for W. Blake, Felpham, 1802.
In May we hear, through Hayley, of illness :— May 16th, 1802. * * * ‘You will feel anxious when I tell you that both my good Blakes have been confined to their bed a week by a severe fever. Thank heaven ! they are both revived, and he is at this moment by my side, representing,
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on copper, an Adam, of his own, surrounded by animals, as a frontispiece to the projected ballads’: a frontispiece which appeared in the first number.
In June, healthfully restored, ‘our alert Blake,’ scribbles Hayley, one ‘Monday afternoon,’ June 28th , 1802, ‘is preparing, con spirito, to launch his Eagle, with a lively hope of seeing him superior to The Elephant, and
  • ‘Sailing with supreme dominion
  • Through the azure deep of air.
Lady Hesketh has received and patronised his Elephant with the most obliging benignity, and we hope soon to hear that the gentle and noble beast arrived safe at Dereham, and finds favour with the good folks of your county. The ingenious maker of elephants and eagles, who is working at this instant on the latter, salutes you with kindest remembrance.’
A few days later, July 1st, 1802, The Eagle was published, forming No. II. of The Ballads. The frontispiece is one of the finest designs in the series. The frantic mother, kneeling on the topmost verge of the over-hanging crag amid the clouds, who stretches fourth passionate, outspread arms over her smiling babe below, as he lies and sports with his dread comrade in this perilous nest,—the blood-stained cranny in the rocks,—is a noble and eloquent figure. It was subsequently reproduced in the duodecimo edition, but without either of the vignettes. In one of these, the eagle is swooping down on the child in its cradle outside the mother's cottage. In the other, the liberated little one is standing upon the dead eagle among the mountains. Both have a domestic simplicity of sentiment, and both are good in drawing.
Between September, 1802, and January, 1804, occurs an unlucky hiatus in the printed letters of Hayley to Johnson ; and we catch no further glimpses of the artist by that flickering rushlight.
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The third number of The Ballads,— The Lion ,—appeared in 1802: after which they were discontinued ; the encouragement being too slender to pay for mere printing in so expensive a form. Though Phillips’ name was added on the title-page, and copies perhaps consigned to him, the book can hardly be said to have been published, as matters were managed down at Felpham and Chichester. Had it been efficently made known, the illustrations ought to have commanded some favour with the public. The style of design and engraving, careful and finished, is, for once, not of a kind to repel the ordinary gazer ; and the themes are quite within popular comprehension, though their treatment be unusually refined. I here speak of the quarto edition. The whole fifteen windy ballads were, three years later, printed in duodecimo by Seagrave, for Phillips of London, the aim still being to benefit the artist, and still proving ineffectual. Of this edition more hereafter.
November 15th, 1802, died Hayley's old friend Romney, after a sad and lengthened twilight of his faculties; which solemn event set Hayley ‘composing an epitaph before the dawn of day,’ and revolving in his mind pious intent of further biographic toil, in which Blake was to help. This autumn, too, died Blake's old master, Basire.
Here again, happily, two more of the precious budget of letters to Mr. Butts bring us face to face with the real Blake instead of Blake as seen through the blinking mental vision of the amiable Hermit.
Felpham, Nov. 22, 1802.

Dear Sir,

My brother tells me that he fears you are offended with me. I fear so too, because there appears some reason why you might be so. But when you have heard me out, you will not be so.

I have now given two years to the intense study of those parts of the art which relate to light and shade and colour, and am convinced that either my understanding is incapable of comprehending the beauties of colouring, or the pictures which I painted for you are

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equal in every part of the art, and superior in one, to anything that has been done since the age of Raphael. All Sir J. Reynolds’ Discourses to the Royal Academy will show that the Venetian finesse in art can never be united with the majesty of colouring necessary to historical beauty; and in a letter to the Rev. Mr. Gilpin, author of a work on Picturesque Scenery, he says thus:—‘It may be worth consideration whether the epithet picturesque is not applicable to the excellencies of the inferior schools rather than to the higher. The works of Michael Angelo, Raphael, &c. appear to me to have nothing of it. Whereas Rubens and the Venetian painters may almost be said to have nothing else. Perhaps picturesque is somewhat synonymous to the word taste, which we should think improperly applied to Homer or Milton, but very well to Prior or Pope. I suspect that the application of these words is to excellences of an inferior order, and which are incompatible with the grand style. You are certainly right in saying that variety of tints and forms is picturesque ; but it must be remembered, on the other hand, that the reverse of this ( uniformity of colour and a long continuation of lines ) produces grandeur.’ So says Sir Joshua, and so say I; for I have now proved that the parts of the art which I neglected to display, in those little pictures and drawings which I had the pleasure and profit to do for you, are incompatible with the designs. There is nothing in the art which our painters do that I can confess myself ignorant of. I also know and understand, and can assuredly affirm, that the works I have done for you are equal to the Caracci or Raphael (and I am now some years older than Raphael was when he died). I say they are equal to Caracci or Raphael, or else I am blind, stupid, ignorant, and incapable, in two years’ study, to understand those things which a boarding-school miss can comprehend in a fortnight. Be assured, my dear friend, that there is not one touch in those drawings and pictures but what came from my head and my heart in unison ; that I am proud of being their author, and grateful to you my employer ; and that I look upon you as the chief of my friends whom I would endeavour to please, because you, among all men, have enabled me to produce these things. I would not send you a drawing or a picture till I had again reconsidered my notions of art, and had put myself back as if I was a learner. I have proved that I am right and shall now go on with the vigour I was, in my childhood, famous for. But I do not pretend to be perfect; yet, if my works have faults, Caracci's, Correggio's, and Raphael's have faults also. Let me observe that the yellow-leather flesh of old men, the ill-drawn and
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ugly young women, and above all, the daubed black and yellow shadows that are found in most fine, ay, and the finest pictures, I altogether reject as ruinous to effect, though connoisseurs may think otherwise.

Let me also notice that Caracci's pictures are not like Correggio's, nor Correggio's like Raphael's; and, if neither of them was to be encouraged till he did like any of the others, he must die without encouragement. My pictures are unlike any of these painters, and I would have them to be so. I think the manner I adopt more perfect than any other. No doubt they thought the same of theirs. You will be tempted to think that, as I improve, the pictures, &c. that I did for you are not what I would now wish them to be. On this I beg to say that they are what I intended them, and that I know I never shall do better; for, if I were to do them over again, they would lose as much as they gained, because they were done in the heat of my spirit.

But you will justly inquire why I have not written all this time to you. I answer I have been very unhappy, and could not think of troubling you about it, or any of my real friends (I have written many letters to you which I burned and did not send). And why I have not before now finished the miniature I promised to Mrs. Butts ? I answer I have not, till now, in any degree pleased myself, and now I must entreat you to excuse faults, for portrait-painting is the direct contrary to designing and historical painting, in every respect. If you have not nature before you for every touch, you cannot paint portrait; and if you have nature before you at all, you cannot paint history. It was Michael Angelo's opinion and is mine. Pray give my wife's love with mine to Mrs. Butts. Assure her that it cannot be long before I have the pleasure of painting from you in person, and then that she may expect a likeness. But now I have done all I could, and know she will forgive any failure in consideration of the endeavour. And now let me finish with assuring you that, though I have been very unhappy, I am so no longer. I am again emerged into the light of day; I still and shall to eternity embrace Christianity, and adore Him who is the express image of God; but I have travelled through perils and darkness not unlike a champion. I have conquered and shall go on conquering. Nothing can withstand the fury of my course among the stars of God and in the abysses of the accuser. My enthusiasm is still what it was, only enlarged and confirmed.

I now send two pictures, and hope you will approve of them. I have inclosed the account of money received and work done, which

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I ought long ago to have sent you. Pray forgive errors in omission of this kind. I am incapable of many attentions which it is my duty to observe towards you, through multitude of employment, and through hope of soon seeing you again. I often omit to inquire of you, but pray let me now hear how you do, and of the welfare of your family.

Accept my sincere love and respect.

I remain yours sincerely,

William Blake.

A piece of seaweed serves for barometer, and gets wet and dry as the weather gets so.

Dear Sir,

After I had finished my letter, I found that I had not said half what I intended to say, and in particular I wish to ask you what subject you choose to be painted on the remaining canvas which I brought down with me (for there were three), and to tell you that several of the drawings were in great forwardness. You will see by the inclosed account that the remaining number of drawings which you gave me orders for is eighteen. I will finish these with all possible expedition, if indeed I have not tired you, or, as it is politely called, bored you too much already ; or, if you would rather cry out, Enough, off, off! Tell me in a letter of forgiveness if you were offended, and of accustomed friendship if you were not. But I will bore you more with some verses which my wife desires me to copy out and send you with her kind love and respect. They were composed above a twelvemonth ago, while walking from Felpham to Lavant, to meet my sister :—

  • With happiness stretched across the hills,
  • In a cloud that dewy sweetness distils,
  • With a blue sky spread over with wings,
  • And a mild sun that mounts and sings ;
  • With trees and fields, full of fairy elves,
  • And little devils who fight for themselves,
  • Remembering the verses that Hayley sung
  • When my heart knock'd against the root of my tongue,
  • With angels planted in hawthorn bowers,
  • 10And God Himself in the passing hours ;
  • With silver angels across my way,
  • And golden demons that none can stay ;
  • With my father hovering upon the wind,
  • And my brother Robert just behind,
  • And my brother John, the evil one,
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  • In a black cloud making his moan;
  • Though dead, they appear upon my path,
  • Notwithstanding my terrible wrath :
  • They beg, they entreat, they drop their tears,
  • 20Fill'd full of hopes, fill'd full of fears ;
  • With a thousand angels upon the wind,
  • Pouring disconsolate from behind
  • To drive them off, and before my way
  • A frowning Thistle implores my stay.
  • What to others a trifle appears
  • Fills me full of smiles or tears ;
  • For double the vision my eyes do see,
  • And a double vision is always with me.
  • With my inward eye, ‘tis an old man grey ;
  • 30With my outward, a thistle across my way.
  • ‘If thou goest back,’ the Thistle said,
  • ‘Thou art to endless woe betray'd ;
  • For here does Theotormon lower,
  • And here is Enitharmon's bower,
  • And Los the Terrible thus hath sworn,
  • Because thou backward dost return,
  • Poverty, envy, old age, and fear,
  • Shall bring thy wife upon a bier.
  • And Butts shall give what Fuseli gave,
  • 40A dark black rock, and a gloomy cave.’
  • I struck the thistle with my foot,
  • And broke him up from his delving root;
  • ‘Must the duties of life each other cross?
  • Must every joy be dung and dross?
  • Must my dear Butts feel cold neglect
  • Because I give Hayley his due respect?
  • Must Flaxman look upon me as wild,
  • And all my friends be with doubts beguil'd ?
  • Must my wife live in my sister's bane,
  • 50Or my sister survive on my Love's pain?
  • The curses of Los, the terrible shade,
  • And his dismal terrors make me afraid.’
  • So I spoke, and struck in my wrath
  • The old man weltering upon my path.
  • Then Los appeared in all his power :
  • In the sun he appeared, descending before
  • My face in fierce flames ; in my double sight,
  • ‘Twas outward a sun,—inward, Los in his might.
  • My hands are labour'd day and night,
  • 60And ease comes never in my sight.
  • My wife has no indulgence given,
  • Except what comes to her from heaven.
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  • We eat little, we drink less;
  • This earth breeds not our happiness.
  • Another sun feeds our life's streams ;
  • We are not warmed with thy beams.
  • Thou measurest not the time to me,
  • Nor yet the space that I do see :
  • My mind is not with thy light array'd;
  • 70Thy terrors shall not make me afraid.’
  • When I had my defiance given,
  • The sun stood trembling in heaven:
  • The moon, that glow'd remote below,
  • Became leprous and white as snow;
  • And every soul of man on the earth
  • Felt affliction, and sorrow, and sickness, and dearth.
  • Los flam'd in my path, and the sun was hot
  • With the bows of my mind and the arrows of thought :
  • My bowstring fierce with ardour breathes,
  • 80My arrows glow in their golden sheaves ;
  • My brother and father march before,
  • The heavens drop with human gore.
  • Now I a fourfold vision see
  • And a fourfold vision is given to me :
  • ‘Tis fourfold in my supreme delight,
  • And threefold in soft Beulah's night,
  • And twofold always. May God us keep
  • From single vision, and Newton's sleep!

I also enclose you some ballads by Mr. Hayley, with prints to them by your humble servant. I should have sent them before now, but could not get anything done for you to please myself; for I do assure you that I have truly studied the two little pictures I now send, and do not repent of the time I have spent upon them.

God bless you!

Yours, W. B.
Next year, in an extract from Hayley's Diary, we again get sight of Blake for a moment:— 26th and 29th of March, 1803— ‘Read the death of Klopstock in the newspaper of the day, and looked into his Messiah, both the original and the translation. Read Klopstock into English to Blake, and translated the opening of his third canto, where he speaks of his own death.’ Hayley was at this time trying to learn German, ‘finding that it contained a poem on the Four Ages of Woman,’ of which he, ‘for some time, made it a rule to
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translate a few lines’ daily ; finding also, by the arrival of presentation copies in the alien tongue, that three of his own works had been translated into German : the Eassy on Old Maids, the Life of Milton, and the Triumphs of Temper. O Time! eater of man and books, what has become of these translations ?
The next two letters to Mr. Butts show Blake's determination of returning to London to have been already taken. In his art, in truth, Blake would not barter independence, or the exercise of his imaginative faculty for patronage or money. This residence at Felpham, under poet Hayley's protection, might have proved a turning-point in his life. Had he complied with Hayley's evident wishes, and set himself, as a miniature painter, to please patrons, he might have climbed to fortune and fame. It was a ‘choice of Hercules’ for him once again. But he had made his choice in boyhood, and adhered to it in age. Few are so perseveringly brave. Many who, in early life, elect as he had done, falter and waver in after years : perchance too late to win that worldly success for which they have learned to hanker. He saw there was presented to him this choice of paths and that longer stay was perilous to the imaginative faculty he prized above all earthly good. He feared being tempted to sell his birthright for a mess of pottage; feared to become a trader in art; and that the Visions would forsake him. He even began to think they were forsaking him. ‘The Visions were angry with me at Felpham,’ he would afterwards say.
April 25, 1803.

My Dear Sir,

I write in haste, having received a pressing letter from my Brother. I intended to have sent the Picture of the Riposo, which is nearly finished much to my satisfaction, but not quite. You shall have it soon. I now send the four numbers for Mr. Birch with best respects to him. The reason the Ballads have been suspended is the pressure of other business, but they will go on again soon. Accept of my thanks for your kind and heartening letter. You have faith in the endeavours of me, your weak brother and fellow-

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disciple; how great must be your faith in our Divine Master ! You are to me a lesson of humility, while you exalt me by such distinguishing commendations. I know that you see certain merits in me, which, by God's grace, shall be made fully apparent and perfect in Eternity. In the meantime I must not bury the talents in the earth, but do my endeavour to live to the glory of our Lord and Saviour ; and I am also grateful to the kind hand that endeavours to lift me out of despondency, even if it lifts me too high.

And now, my dear Sir, congratulate me on my return to London with the full approbation of Mr. Hayley and with promise. But alas ! now I may say to you—what perhaps I should not dare to say to any one else—that I can alone carry on my visionary studies in London unannoyed, and that I may converse with my friends in Eternity, see visions, dream dreams, and prophecy and speak parables, unobserved, and at liberty from the doubts of other mortals: perhaps doubts proceeding from kindness ; but doubts are always pernicious, especially when we doubt our friends. Christ is very decided on this point: ‘He who is not with me is against me.’ There is no medium or middle state; and if a man is the enemy of my spiritual life while he pretends to be the friend of my corporeal, he is a real enemy ; but the man may be the friend of my spiritual life while he seems the enemy of my corporeal, though not vice versa.

What is very pleasant, every one who hears of my going to London again applauds it as the only course for the interest of all concerned in my works; observing that I ought not to be away from the opportunities London affords of seeing fine pictures, and the various improvements in works of art going on in London.

But none can know the spiritual acts of my three years’ slumber on the banks of Ocean, unless he has seen them in the spirit, or unless he should read my long Poem * descriptive of those acts ; for I have in these years composed an immense number of verses on one grand theme, similar to Homer's Iliad or Milton's Paradise Lost; the persons and machinery entirely new to the inhabitants of earth (some of the persons excepted). I have written this Poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without premeditation, and even against my will. The time it has taken in writing was thus rendered non-existent, and an immense Poem exists which seems to be the labour of a long life, all produced without labour or study. I mention this to show you what I think the grand reason of my being brought down here.

Transcribed Footnote (page 185):

( 1 The Jerusalem)

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I have a thousand and ten thousand things to say to you. My heart is full of futurity. I perceive that the sore travail which has been given me these three years leads to glory and honour. I rejoice and tremble : ‘I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ I had been reading the CXXXIX. Psalm a little before your letter arrived. I take your advice. I see the face of my Heavenly Father: He lays His hand upon my head, and gives a blessing to all my work. Why should I be troubled ? Why should my heart and flesh cry out ? I will go on in the strength of the Lord; through Hell will I sing forth His praises: that the dragons of the deep may praise Him, and that those who dwell in darkness, and in the sea coasts may be gathered into His kingdom. Excuse my, perhaps, too great enthusiasm. Please to accept of and give our loves to Mrs. Butts and your amiable family, and believe me

Ever yours affectionately,

William Blake.

Felpham, July 6, 1803

Dear Sir,

I send you the Riposo, which I hope you will think my best picture, in many respects. It represents the Holy Family in Egypt, guarded in their repose from those fiends, the Egyptian gods. And though not directly taken from a Poem of Milton's (for till I had designed it Milton's Poem did not come into my thoughts), yet it is very similar to his Hymn on the Nativity, which you will find among his smaller Poems, and will read with great delight. I have given, in the background, a building, which may be supposed the ruin of a part of Nimrod's Tower, which I conjecture to have spread over many countries; for he ought to be reckoned of the Giant brood.

I have now on the stocks the following drawings for you :—1. Jephthah sacrificing his Daughter; 2. Ruth and her Mother-in-law and Sister ; 3. The Three Maries at the Sepulchre; 4. The Death of Joseph ; 5. The Death of the Virgin Mary ; 6. St. Paul Preaching; and 7. The Angel of the Divine Presence clothing Adam and Eve with Coats of Skin.

These are all in great forwardness, and I am satisfied that I improve very much, and shall continue to do so while I live, which is a blessing I can never be too thankful for both to God and man. We look forward every day with pleasure toward our meeting again in London with those whom we have learned to value by absence no less perhaps than we did by presence; for recollection often surpasses

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everything. Indeed, the prospect of returning to our friends is supremely delightful. Then, I am determined that Mrs. Butts shall have a good likeness of you, if I have hands and eyes left; for I am become a likeness-taker, and succeed admirably well. But this is not to be achieved without the original sitting before you for every touch, all likenesses from memory being necessarily very, very defective; but Nature and Fancy are two things, and can never be joined, neither ought any one to attempt it, for it is idolatry, and destroys the Soul.

I ought to tell you that Mr. H. is quite agreeable to our return, and that there is all the appearance in the world of our being fully employed in engraving for his projected works, particularly Cowper's Milton—a work now on foot by subscription, and I understand that the subscription goes on briskly. This work is to be a very elegant one, and to consist of all Milton's Poems with Cowper's Notes, and translations by Cowper from Milton's Latin and Italian Poems. These works will be ornamented with engravings from designs by Romney, Flaxman, and your humble servant, and to be engraved also by the last-mentioned. The profits of the work are intended to be appropriated to erect a monument to the memory of Cowper in St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey. Such is the project; and Mr. Addington and Mr. Pitt are both among the subscribers, which are already numerous and of the first rank. The price of the work is six guineas. Thus I hope that all our three years’ trouble ends in good-luck at last, and shall be forgot by my affections, and only remembered by my understanding, to be a memento in time to come, and to speak to future generations by a sublime allegory, which is now perfectly completed into a grand Poem. I may praise it, since I dare not pretend to be any other than the secretary; the authors are in Eternity. I consider it as the grandest Poem that this world contains. Allegory addressed to the intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the corporeal understanding, is my definition of the most sublime Poetry. It is also somewhat in the same manner defined by Plato. This Poem shall, by Divine assistance, be progressively printed and ornamented with prints, and given to the Public. But of this work I take care to say little to Mr. H., since he is as much averse to my Poetry as he is to a chapter in the Bible. He knows that I have writ it, for I have shown it to him, and he has read part by his own desire, and has looked with sufficient contempt to enhance my opinion of it. But I do not wish to imitate by seeming too obstinate in poetic pursuits. But if all the world should set their

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faces against this, I have orders to set my face like a flint (Ezekiel iii. 8) against their faces, and my forehead against their foreheads. As to Mr. H., I feel myself at liberty to say as follows upon this ticklish subject. I regard fashion in Poetry as little as I do in Painting: so, if both Poets and Painters should alternately dislike (but I know the majority of them will not), I am not to regard it at all. But Mr. H. approves of my Designs as little as he does of my Poems, and I have been forced to insist on his leaving me, in both, to my own self-will; for I am determined to be no longer pestered with his genteel ignorance and polite disapprobation. I know myself both Poet and Painter, and it is not his affected contempt that can move to anything but a more assiduous pursuit of both arts. Indeed, by my late firmness, I have brought down his affected loftiness, and he begins to think I have some genius: as if genius and assurance were the same thing ! But his imbecile attempts to depress me only deserve laughter. I say thus much to you, knowing that you will not make a bad use of it. But it is a fact too true that, if I had only depended on mortal things, both myself and my wife must have been lost. I shall leave every one in this country astonished at my patience and forbearanee of injuries upon injuries; and I do assure you that, if I could have returned to London a month after my arrival here, I should have done so. But I was commanded by my spiritual friends to bear all and be silent, and to go through all without murmuring, and, in fine, [to] hope till my three years should be almost accomplished ; at which time I was set at liberty to remonstrate against former conduct, and to demand justice and truth ; which I have done in so effectual a manner that my antagonist is silenced completely, and I have compelled what should have been of freedom—my just right as an artist and as a man. And if any attempt should be made to refuse me this, I am inflexible, and will relinquish any engagement of designing at all, unless altogether left to my own judgment, as you, my dear friend, have always left me; for which I shall never cease to honour and respect you.

When we meet, I will perfectly describe to you my conduct and the conduct of others towards me, and you will see that I have laboured hard indeed, and have been borne on angels’ wings. Till we meet I beg of God our Saviour to be with you and me, and yours and mine. Pray give my and my wife's love to Mrs. Butts and family, and believe me to remain

Yours in truth and sincerity,

William Blake.
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At the latter end of 1803, Hayley, prompted by the unexpected success of Cowper's Life, began preparing a third volume of Additional Letters, with ‘desultory’ remarks of his own on letter-writing. The volume was finished and published by the spring of 1804, Blake executing for it two tame engravings of tame subjects. One is from a drawing by a Francis Stone, of the chancel of East Dereham Church,— Cowper's burial-place; the other an etching of the mural tablet in the same chancel, as designed by Flaxman and Hayley.
Among other journeywork at this date, I may mention engravings finished May 1803, after six original designs by Maria Flaxman (the sculptor's sister), to the Triumphs of Temper,—the thirteenth edition, not published until 1807. These amateur designs, aiming at an idealized domesticity, are expressive and beautiful in the Flaxman-Stothard manner; abound in grace of line, elegance of composition, and other artist-like virtues of a now obsolete sort. The engravings are interesting to admirers of Blake, though monotonous and devoid of ordinary charms, smoothness and finish.
Uncommissioned work was also, as we have seen, in course of production now. I mean the illustrated ‘prophecies’ in the old class which will next year issue from Blake's private press: Jerusalem, The Emanation of the Giant Albion, very grandly designed, if very mistily written ; also Milton, a Poem in two Books. Of these, more hereafter.
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TRIAL FOR SEDITION. 1803-1804. [ÆT. 46-47.]
High visions and patient industry, friendly intercourse with his neighbours, and happy enjoyment of nature were all interrupted for Blake during the short remainder of his stay at Felpham, by the incongruous event in a peaceful and innocent life narrated in the next letter to Mr. Butts,—the last of the series :—
FELPHAM, August 16, 1803.

Dear Sir,

I send seven Drawings, which I hope will please you. This, I believe, about balances our account. Our return to London draws on apace. Our expectation of meeting again with you is one of our greatest pleasures. Pray tell me how your eyes do. I never sit down to work but I think of you, and feel anxious for the sight of that friend whose eyes have done me so much good. I omitted, very unaccountably, to copy out in my last letter that passage in my rough sketch, which related to your kindness in offering to exhibit my two last pictures in the Gallery in Berners-street. It was in these words : ‘I sincerely thank you for your kind offer of exhibiting my two pictures. The trouble you take on my account, I trust, will be recompensed to you by Him who seeth in secret. If you should find it convenient to do so, it will be gratefully remembered by me among the other numerous kindnesses I have received from you.’

I go on with the remaining subjects which you gave me commission to execute for you; but I shall not be able to send any more before my return, though, perhaps, I may bring some with me finished. I am, at present, in a bustle to defend myself against a very unwarrantable warrant from a justice of peace in Chichester, which was

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taken out against me by a private in Captain Leathes’ troop of 1st or Royal Dragoons, for an assault and seditious words. The wretched man has terribly perjured himself, as has his comrade; for, as to sedition, not one word relating to the King or Government was spoken by either him or me. His enmity arises from my having turned him out of my garden, into which he was invited as an assistant by a gardener at work therein, without my knowledge that he was so invited. I desired him, as politely as possible, to go out of the garden ; he made me an impertinent answer. I insisted on his leaving the garden; he refused. I still persisted in desiring his departure. He then threatened to knock out my eyes, with many abominable imprecations, and with some contempt for my person; it affronted my foolish pride. I therefore took him by the elbows, and pushed him before me till I had got him out. There I intended to have left him ; but he, turning about, put himself into a posture of defiance, threatening and swearing at me. I, perhaps foolishly and perhaps not, stepped out at the gate, and, putting aside his blows, took him again by the elbows, and, keeping his back to me, pushed him forward down the road about fifty yards—he all the while endeavouring to turn round and strike me, and raging and cursing, which drew out several neighbours. At length, when I had got him to where he was quartered, which was very quickly done, we were met at the gate by the master of the house—the Fox Inn—(who is the proprietor of my cottage) and his wife and daughter, and the man's comrade, and several other people. My landlord compelled the soldiers to go indoors, after many abusive threats against me and my wife from the two soldiers; but not one word of threat on account of sedition was uttered at that time. This method of revenge was planned between them after they had got together into the stable. This is the whole outline. I have for witnesses:—the gardener, who is ostler at the Fox, and who evidences that, to his knowledge, no word of the remotest tendency to Government or sedition was uttered; our next-door neighbour, a miller's wife (who saw me turn him before me down the road, and saw and heard all that happened at the gate of the inn), who evidences that no expression of threatening on account of sedition was uttered in the heat of their fury by either of the dragoons. This was the woman's own remark, and does high honour to her good sense, as she observes that, whenever a quarrel happens, the offence is always repeated. The landlord of the inn and his wife and daughter will evidence the same, and will evidently prove the comrade perjured, who swore that he heard me, while at the gate,
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utter seditious words, and d—— the K—— , without which perjury I could not have been committed ; and I had no witnesses with me before the justices who could combat his assertion, as the gardener remained in my garden all the while, and he was the only person I thought necessary to take with me. I have been before a bench of justices at Chichester this morning; but they, as the lawyer who wrote down the accusation told me in private, are compelled by the military to suffer a prosecution to be entered into, although they must know, and it is manifest, that the whole is a fabricated perjury. I have been forced to find bail. Mr. Hayley was kind enough to come forward, and Mr. Seagrave, printer at Chichester; Mr. H. in £100, and Mr. S. in £50, and myself am bound in £100 for my appearance at the quarter-sessions, which is after Michaelmas. So I shall have the satisfaction to see my friends in town before this contemptible business comes on. I say contemptible, for it must be manifest to every one that the whole accusation is a wilful perjury. Thus you see, my dear friend, that I cannot leave this place without some adventure. It has struck a consternation through all the villages round. Every man is now afraid of speaking to, or looking at, a soldier: for the peaceable villagers have always been forward in expressing their kindness for us, and they express their sorrow at our departure as soon as they hear of it. Every one here is my evidence for peace and good neighbourhood; and yet, such is the present state of things, this foolish accusation must be tried in public. Well, I am content, I murmur not, and doubt not that I shall receive justice, and am only sorry for the trouble and expense. I have heard that my accuser is a disgraced sergeant: his name is John Scholfield. Perhaps it will be in your power to learn somewhat about the man. I am very ignorant of what I am requesting of you; I only suggest what I know you will be kind enough to excuse if you can learn nothing about him, and what, I as well know, if it is possible, you will be kind enough to do in this matter.

Dear Sir, this perhaps was suffered to clear up some doubts, and to give opportunity to those whom I doubted to clear themselves of all imputation. If a man offends me ignorantly, and not designedly, surely I ought to consider him with favour and affection. Perhaps the simplicity of myself is the origin of all offences committed against me. If I have found this, I shall have learned a most valuable thing, well worth three years’ perseverance. I have found it. It is certain that a too passive manner, inconsistent with my active physiognomy, had done me much mischief. I must now express to you

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Sig. VOL. I. O
my conviction that all is come from the spiritual world for good and not for evil.

Give me.your advice in my perilous adventure. Burn what I have peevishly written about any friend. I have been very much degraded and injuriously treated ; but if it all arise from my own fault, I ought to blame myself.

  • O why was I born with a different face ?
  • Why was I not born like the rest of my race?
  • When I look, each one starts ; when I speak, I offend ;
  • Then I'm silent and passive, and lose every friend.
  • Then my verse I dishonour, my pictures despise ;
  • My person degrade, and my temper chastise ;
  • And the pen is my terror, the pencil my shame;
  • All my talents I bury, and dead is my fame.
  • I am either too low or too highly priz'd ;
  • 10When elate I am envied, when meek I'm despised.

This is but too just a picture of my present state. I pray God to keep you and all men from it, and to deliver me in His own good time. Pray write to me, and tell me how you and your family enjoy health. My much-terrified wife joins me in love to you and Mrs. Butts and all your family. I again take the liberty to beg of you to cause the inclosed letter to be delivered to my brother, and remain sincerely and affectionately

Yours, William Blake.
The sequel forcibly reminds us we are here in the times of ‘the good old king,’ not in those of Victoria. The soldier and ‘his mate’ made their charge on oath before a magistrate, and Blake had to stand his trial for high treason at the next Quarter Sessions.
Hayley, full of zeal for the artist, whose extraordinary entanglement ‘pressed not a little on his mind and heart,’ engaged as defendant's counsel, his friend, Samuel Rose, another name familiar to the reader of Cowper's correspondence as that of the enthusiastic young Scotchman, who, at twenty-two, had introduced himself to the shy recluse, winning a large share of the poet's regard and favour. Now in his thirtieth year, he had been about eight years at the
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bar, practising with fair success on the home circuit. Prospects of a brilliant future were only dashed by wavering health,—a constitution unequal to the strain of his profession. On that sunken rock, how many struggling in the same arduous career,—often those of brightest promise, of finest nature,—have been wrecked, almost at the outset; not great and famous, but nameless and unremembered.
Meanwhile, as the trial was not to come off till the following January, and all the arrangements for Blake's return to London had been completed, he quitted Felpham at the end of September, carrying with him Hayley's unabated goodwill and esteem; some unfinished work for the Lives of Romney and of Cowper; and charged also with instructions to glean all the particulars he could respecting Romney's works. These instructions Blake zealously fulfilled, as letters written to Hayley during the next two years show. He left the literary hermit producing his daily occasional poem, epitaph, or song, on waking in the morning ; extempore sonnet while shaving; and facile labours during the day, at an extensive composition on the Triumphs of Music, ‘with devotional sonnets and hymns interspersed.’ Two days sufficed for a whole canto. This composition the English public has hitherto declined to trouble its head about, despite the confident prediction of an amiable female friend, ‘that it would gradually become a favourite with readers’ of a turn ‘for simplicity and tenderness.’
A week or two after his return, Blake writes from South Molton Street:—
October 26th, 1803.

Dear Sir,

I hasten to write to you by the favour of Mr. Edwards. I have been with Mr. Saunders who has now in his possession all Mr. Romney's pictures that remained after the sale at Hampstead ; I saw Milton and his Daughters, and ‘Twas where the Seas were Roaring, and a beautiful Female Head. He has promised to write a list of all that he has in his possession, and of all that he remembers of Mr. Romney's paintings, with notices where they now are, as far as his recollection will serve. The picture of Christ in the Desert he supposes

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to be one of those which he has rolled on large rollers. He will take them down and unroll them, but cannot do it easily, as they are so large as to occupy the whole length of his workshop, and are laid across beams at the top.

Mr. Flaxman is now out of town. When he returns I will lose no time in setting him to work on the same object.

I have got to work after Fuseli for a little Shakespeare. Mr. Johnson the bookseller tells me that there is no want of work. So far you will be rejoiced with me, and your words, ‘Do not fear you can want employment!’ were verified the morning after I received your kind letter; but I go on finishing Romney with spirit, and for the relief of variety shall engage in other little works as they arise. I called on Mr. Evans who gives small hopes of our ballads; he says he has sold but fifteen numbers at the most, and that going on would be a certain loss of almost all the expenses. I then proposed to him to take a part with me in publishing them on a smaller scale, which he declined on account of its being out of his line of business to publish, and a line in which he is determined never to engage, attaching himself wholly to the sale of fine editions of authors and curious books in general. He advises that some publisher should be spoken to who would purchase the copyright: and, as far as I can judge of the nature of publication, no chance is left to one out of the trade. Thus the case stands at present. God send better times. Everybody complains, yet all go on cheerfully and with spirit. The shops in London improve ; everything is elegant, clean, and neat; the streets are widened where they were narrow; even Snow Hill is become almost level and is a very handsome street, and the narrow part of the Strand near St. Clement's is widened and become very elegant.

My wife continues poorly, but fancies she is better in health here than by the seaside. We both sincerely pray for the health of Miss Poole and for all our friends in Sussex, and remain, dear sir,

Your sincere and devoted servants,

W. and C. Blake.
The trial came off at Chichester, 11th January, 1804, at the Quarter Sessions ; the Duke of Richmond (the radical, not the corn-law duke) being the presiding magistrate. The sessions were held, in those days, in the Guildhall, which is the shell of a Gothic building, having been formerly the
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chancel, of Early English date, to the old church of the Grey Friars convent. The fragmentary chancel and the Friary grounds are still extant, just within what used to be the city walls, at the north-east corner of the cheerful old cathedral town.
A few days before the impending trial, Hayley met with an accident, which very nearly prevented his attending to give evidence in his protégé's favour. It was of a kind, however, to which he was pretty well accustomed. A persevering and fearless rider, he was in the eccentric habit of using an umbrella on horseback, to shade his eyes ; the abrupt unfurling of which was commonly followed, naturally enough, by the rider's being forthwith pitched on his head. He had, on this occasion, lighted on a flint with more than usual violence; owing his life, indeed, to the opportune shield of a strong, new hat. ‘Living or dying,’ however, he declares to his doctor, he ‘ must make a public appearance, within a few days, at the trial of our friend Blake.’ And on the appointed day he did appear in Court, to speak to the character and habits of the accused.
Reference obligingly made for me by the present editor, to the file of the Sussex Advertiser, at that date the only Sussex newspaper, discovers a report (16th Jan. 1804) of this singular trial; one its inditer little thought would ever become curious and interesting. The report is after the curt fashion of local journals in those backward days. ‘William Blake, an engraver at Felpham, was tried on a charge exhibited against him by two soldiers for having uttered seditious and treasonable expressions, such as “D—n the king, d—n all his subjects, d—n his soldiers, they are all slaves; when Bonaparte comes, it will be cut-throat for cut-throat, and ;the weakest must go to the wall; I will help him ; &c. &c.”’
Mrs. Blake used afterwards to tell how, in the middle of the trial, when the soldier invented something to support his case, her husband called out ‘False!’ with characteristic vehemence, and in a tone which electrified the whole court,
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and carried conviction with it. Rose greatly exerted himself for the defence. In his cross-examination of the accuser, he ‘most happily exposed,’ says Hayley, ‘the falsehood and malignity of the charge, and also spoke very eloquently for his client,’ though, in the midst of his speech, seized with illness, and concluding it with difficulty. Blake's neighbours joined Hayley in giving him the same character of habitual gentleness and peaceableness; which must have a little astonished the soldier, after his peculiar experiences of those qualities. A good deal of the two soldiers’ evidence being plainly false, the whole was received with suspicion. It became clear that whatever the words uttered, they were extorted, in the irritation of the moment, by the soldier's offensive conduct.
‘After a very long and patient hearing,’ the Sussex Advertiser continues, ‘he was, by the jury, acquitted; which so gratified the auditory that the court was, in defiance of all decency, thrown into an uproar by their noisy exultations. The business of the afore-going Sessions,’ it is added, ‘owing to the great length of time taken up by the above trials’ (Blake's and others), ‘was extended to a late hour on the second day, a circumstance that but rarely happens in the western division’ of the county. ‘The Duke of Richmond sat, the first day, from ten in the morning till eight at night, without quitting the court, or taking any refreshment.’
An old man at Chichester, but lately dead, who was present as a stripling, at the trial, attracted thither by his desire to see Hayley, ‘the great man’ of the neighbourhood, said, when questioned, that the only thing he remembered of it was Blake's flashing eye.
Great was Hayley's satisfaction. ‘It was late in the evening,’ writes he to Johnson, and ‘I was eager to present the delivered artist to our very kind and anxious friend, the lady of Lavant, Mrs. Poole.’ The friendly welcome and social evening meal which followed all this frivolous vexation and even peril, the pleasant meeting in the cheerful hospitable house of the
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venerable lady, we can picture. Her house, in which Blake often was, yet stands, somewhat altered, by the wayside to the right as you enter the hamlet of Mid Lavant, ten minutes’ drive from Chichester; at the back, pleasant grounds slope down to the babbling Lavant brook, with a winding road beside it, across which rise other pleasant wooded slopes, and beyond, the solemn, rounded Downs,—in this part bare of trees; among them, to the right, Goodwood, and that specially conspicuous hill, the Trundle (or St. Roche's). The ‘peerless villa,’ Hayley used to call it; everything of his, or of his friends, being more or less extraordinary and romantic. The lady herself was a woman respected far and wide, sociable, cheerful, and benevolent. She is still remembered in those parts, though none of her kin remain there. ‘Ah ! good creature!’ exclaimed an infirm old labourer but the other day, on hearing mention of her name ; he had worked for her. She died at a ripe age, suddenly, while dining among her friends at the Bishop's palace, a little more than three years after Blake's trial.
Poor Rose,—defendant's counsel,—never rallied from the illness which attacked him on that day. The ‘severe cold’ proved the commencement of a rapid consumption, of which he died at the close of the same year; sorrowful Hayley effervescing into an ‘epitaph in the middle of the night.’
Not ten years before, quiet literary men and shoemakers, theoretic enthusiasts such as Horne Tooke the learned and witty, Holcroft, Thelwall, Hardy, members of a corresponding society—society corresponding with ‘the friends of liberty’ abroad that is—had been vindictively prosecuted by the Crown for (constructive) high treason, and almost convicted. At this very time, men were being hung in Ireland on such trivial charges. Blake's previous intimacy with Paine, Holcroft, and the rest, was doubtless unknown to an unlettered soldier, and probably at Chichester also. But as a very disadvantageous antecedent, in a political sense, of which counsel for the prosecution might have made good use, it was, in
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connexion with this vamped-up charge, a curious coincidence. Friend Hayley himself was not a very orthodox man in politics or religion, a Whig at the least, a quondam intimate of Gibbon's, admirer of Voltaire and Rousseau; holding, in short, views of his own. He was a confirmed absentee, moreover, from church, though an exemplary reader, to his household, of Church-service, and sermon, and family prayer, winding up with devotional hymns of his own composition.
Blake used to declare the Government, or some high person, knowing him to have been of the Paine set, ‘sent the soldier to entrap him ;’ which we must take the liberty of regarding as a purely visionary notion.
The net result of this startling close to the tranquil episode of the life at Felpham was to revive, in Blake's generous heart, warm feelings of gratitude and affection towards Hayley, whose conduct on the occasion certainly had the ring of true metal in it. For a time, at any rate, it obliterated the sense of irritation and the intellectual scorn which had been engendered in Blake's mind,—witness various jottings in his note-book to be quoted hereafter,—by a too close companionship bringing into harsh prominence the inevitable yet ludicrous social inversion of their true natural relations. Full of genuine solicitude on account of Hayley's rash horsemanship, which had been so near proving fatal, he sends an emphatic caution on his return:—
London, January 14, 1804.

Dear Sir,

I write immediately on my arrival, not merely to inform you that in a conversation with an old soldier, who came in the coach with me, I learned that no one, not even the most expert horseman, ought ever to mount a trooper's horse. They are taught so many tricks, such as stopping short, falling down on their knees, running sideways, and in various and innumerable ways endeavouring to throw the rider, that it is a miracle if a stranger escape with his life. All this I learn'd with some alarm, and heard also what the soldier said confirmed by another person in the coach. I therefore, as it is my duty, beg and entreat you never to mount that wretched

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horse again, nor again trust to one who has been so educated. God our Saviour watch over you and preserve you.

I have seen Flaxman already, as I took to him, early this morning, your present to his scholars. He and his are all well and in high spirits, and welcomed me with kind affection and generous exultation in my escape from the arrows of darkness. I intend to see Mr. Lambert and Mr. Johnson, bookseller, this afternoon. My poor wife has been near the gate of death, as was supposed by our kind and attentive fellow inhabitant, the young and very amiable Mrs. Enoch, who gave my wife all the attention that a daughter could pay to a mother; but my arrival has dispelled the formidable malady, and my dear and good woman again begins to resume her health and strength. Pray, my dear sir, favour me with a line concerning your health, how you have escaped the double blow both from the wretched horse and from your innocent humble servant, whose heart and soul are more and more drawn out towards you, Felpham and its kind inhabitants. I feel anxious and therefore pray to my God and Father for the health of Miss Poole, and hope that the pang of affection and gratitude is the gift of God for good. I am thankful that I feel it; it draws the soul towards eternal life, and conjunction with spirits of just men made perfect by love and gratitude,—the two angels who stand at Heaven's gate, ever open, ever inviting guests to the marriage. O foolish Philosophy! Gratitude is Heaven itself; there could be no Heaven without gratitude; I feel it and I know it, I thank God and man for it, and above all, you, my dear friend and benefactor, in the Lord. Pray give my and my wife's duties to Miss Poole ; accept them yourself.

Yours in sincerity,

William Blake.
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LETTERS TO HAYLEY. 1804-1805. [ÆT. 47-48.]
Although the friendly haven of sweet Felpham was now finally exchanged for the deeper seclusion of the brick and mortar desert, in the hope of more perfect converse there with the visions, undistracted by appeals from the beauty of the visible world, or by temptations from well-meaning patrons, above all, undisturbed by daily contact with so essentially material and eighteenth century a mind as Hayley's, a friendly relation between the two continued so long as there were any connecting links of work on one side or helpfulness on the other possible ; after which it died a natural death. A brisk and, for the most part, business-like, correspondence, warmed on Blake's side by the sincere gratitude which Hayley's conduct in the closing adventure of their neighbourship had inspired, carries on the record of his practical work for the next year and a half. Blake's lodgings in South Molton Street were within a mile of the spot where he was born. There neither garden nor tree reminded him of what he had left behind. South Molton Street, less shabby then than now, runs diagonally from Oxford Street into Brook Street. At No. 17 he took a first floor, in which he remained nearly seventeen years. Jan. 27th he writes thence to Hayley:—

Your eager expectation of hearing from me compels me to write immediately, tho’ I have not done half the business I wish'd, owing to a violent cold which confined me to my bed three days and to my chamber a week. I am now so well, thank God, as to get

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out, and have accordingly been to Mr. Walker, who is not in town, being at Birmingham, where he will remain six weeks or two months. I took my Portrait of Romney as you desired, to show him. His son was likewise not at home, but I will again call on Mr. Walker jun., and beg him to show me the pictures and make every inquiry of him, if you think best. Mr. Sanders has one or two large Cartoons. The subject he does not know. They are folded up on the top of his workshop : the rest he packed up and sent into the North. I showed your letter to Mr. John Romney to Mr. Flaxman who was perfectly satisfied with it. I seal'd and sent it immediately, as directed by Mr. Sanders, to Kendall, Westmoreland. Mr. Sanders expects Mr. Romney in town soon. Note, your letter to Mr. J. Romney; I sent off the money after I received it from you, being then in health. I have taken your noble present to Mr. Rose, and left it with charge, to the servant, of great care. The writing looks very pretty. I was fortunate in doing it myself, and hit it off excellently. I have not seen Mr. Rose, tho’ he is in town; Mr. Flaxman is not at all acquainted with Sir Allan Chambre ; recommends me to inquire concerning him of Mr. Rose. My brother says he believes Sir Allan is a Master in Chancery. Tho’ I have called on Mr. Edwards twice for Lady Hamilton's direction, was so unfortunate as to find him out both times; I will repeat my call on him to-morrow morning. My dear sir I wish now to satisfy you that all is in a good train; I am going on briskly with the Plates, find everything promising; work in abundance; and if God blesses me with health, doubt not yet to make a figure in the great dance of life that shall amuse the spectators in the sky. I thank you for my Demosthenes, which has now become a noble subject. My wife gets better every day. Hope earnestly that you have escaped the brush of my Evil Star, which I believe is now for ever fallen into the abyss. God bless and preserve you and our good Lady Paulina with the good things both of this life and of eternity. And with you, my much admired and respected Edward the Bard of Oxford, whose verses still sound upon my ear like the distant approach of things mighty and magnificent, like the sound of harps which I hear before the Sun's rising, like the remembrance of Felpham's waves and of the glorious and far-beaming Turret, like the villa of Lavant blessed and blessing. Amen. God bless you all, O people of Sussex, around your Hermit and Bard. So prays the emulator of both his and your mild and happy temper of soul.

Your Devoted,

Will. Blake.
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Diligent research as to who "Edward the Bard of Oxford" might be, yields no other suggestion than that he was a certain young Mr. Edward Marsh of Oriel College, who, when visiting Hayley while Blake was also his frequent guest and fellow-labourer, had been wont to read aloud to them the Hermit's own compositions in a singularly melodious voice.
Whilst engaged in collecting useful details for the Life of Romney, on which Hayley was now busy, as well as in executing two engravings for the same, Blake writes, February 23rd, 1804:—

I called yesterday on Mr. Braithwaite as you desired, and found him quite as cheerful as you describe him, and by his appearance should not have supposed him to be near sixty, notwithstanding he was shaded by a green shade over his eyes. He gives a very spirited assurance of Mr. John Romney's interesting himself in the great object of his father's fame, and thinks that he must be proud of such a work in such hands. As to the picture from Sterne which you desired him to procure for you, he has not yet found where it is; supposes that it may be in the north and that he may learn from Mr. Romney, who will be in town soon. Mr. B. desires I will present his compliments to you and write you that he has spoken with Mr. Read concerning the Life of Romney. He interests himself in it and has promis'd to procure dates of premiums (?) pictures, &c., Mr. Read having a number of articles relating to Romney, either written or printed, which he promises to copy out for your use, as also the Catalogue of Hampstead Sale. He showed me a very fine portrait of Mrs. Siddons, by Romney, as the Tragic Muse; half-length, that is, the head and hands, and in his best style. He also desires me to express to you his wish that you would give the Public an engraving of that medallion by your son's matchless hand which is placed over his chimney-piece between two pretty little pictures, correct and enlarged copies from antique gems, of which the centre ornament is worthy. He says that it is by far, in his opinion, the most exact resemblance of Romney he ever saw. I have furthermore the pleasure of informing you that he knew immediately my portrait of Romney, and assured me that he thought it a very great likeness.

I wish I could give you a pleasant account of our beloved Councellor (Rose), he, alas! was ill in bed when I called yesterday

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at about 12 o'clock; the servant said that he remains every ill indeed.

Mr. Walker I have been so unfortunate as not to find at home, but I will call again in a day or two. Neither Mr. Flaxman nor Mr. Edwards know Lady Hamilton's address: the house which Sir William lived in, in Piccadilly, she left some time ago. Mr. Edwards will procure her address for you, and I will send it immediately. I have inclosed for you the twenty-two numbers of Fuseli‘s Shakespeare that are out, and the book of Italian Letters from Mrs. Flaxman who with her admirable husband present their best compliments to you. He is so busy that I believe I shall never see him again but when I call on him; for he has never yet, since my return to London, had the time or grace to call on me. Mrs. Flaxman and her sister give also their testimony to my likeness of Romney. Mr. Flaxman I have not yet had an opportunity of consulting about it, but soon will.

I inclose likewise the Academical Correspondence of Mr. Hoare the Painter, whose note to me I also inclose. For I did but express to him my desire of sending you a copy of his work, and the day after I received it with the note expressing his pleasure in your wish to see it. You would be much delighted with the man, as I assure myself you will be with his work.

The plates of Cowper's monument are both in great forwardness and you shall have proofs in another week. I assure you that I will not spare pains, and am myself very much satisfied that I shall do my duty and produce two elegant Plates. There is, however, a great deal of work on them that must and will have time.

  • ‘Busy, busy, busy, I bustle along
  • Mounted upon warm Phoebus’ ray
  • Thro’ the heavenly throng.’

But I hastened to write to you about Mr. Braithwaite. Hope when I send my proofs to give as good an account of Mr. Walker.

My wife joins me in respects and love to you and desires with mine to present hers to Miss Poole.

The medallion by Thomas Hayley mentioned above was eventually given in the Life, but not from Blake's hand. It was drawn by Maria Denman, Flaxman's sister-in-law, and engraved by Caroline Watson.
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Mr. Hoare here spoken of, was the well-known and accomplished Prince Hoare, painter and son of a painter, who studied in Rome under Mengs in 1776, with Fuseli and Northcote for companions. He was the author of some twenty slight dramatic pieces, among them the long popular No Song, No Supper, and of many essays on subjects connected with the Fine Arts; and was made Foreign Secretary of the Royal Academy in 1799; in which capacity he published the alluded to. March 12th, Blake writes :—

Dear Sir,

I begin with the latter end of your letter and grieve more for Miss Poole's ill-health than for my failure in sending the proofs, though I am very sorry that I cannot send before Saturday's coach. Engraving is Eternal Work. The two plates are almost finished. You will receive proofs of them from Lady Hesketh, whose copy of Cowper's letters ought to be printed in letters of gold and ornamented with jewels of Heaven, Havilah, Eden, and all the countries where jewels abound. I curse and bless Engraving alternately because it takes so much time and is so intractable, though capable of such beauty and perfection. My wife desires me to express her love to you, praying for Miss Poole's perfect recovery, and we both remain,

Your affectionate,

Will. Blake.
The plates mentioned are probably the two tame engravings already described for the supplementary third volume of Cowper‘s Life and Letters.
Which of Romney's works should be chosen to illustrate his Life was still under discussion. Blake writes :—

April 2nd, 1804.

* * Mr. Flaxman advises that the drawing of Mr. Romney's which shall be chosen instead of the Witch (if that cannot be recovered) be Hecate, the figure with the torch and snake, which he thinks one of

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the finest drawings. The twelve impressions of each of the plates which I now send ought to be unrolled immediately that you receive them and put under somewhat to press them flat. You should have had fifteen of each, but I had not paper enough in proper order for printing. There is now in hand a new edition of Flaxman's Homer with additional designs, two of which I am now engraving. I am uneasy at not hearing from Mr. Dally, to whom I inclosed £15 in a letter a fortnight ago, by his desire. I write to him by this post to inquire about it. Money in these times is not to be trifled with. I have now cleared the way to Romney, in whose service I now enter again with great pleasure, and hope soon to show you my zeal with good effect. Am in hopes that Miss Poole is recovered, as you are silent on that most alarming and interesting topic in both your last letters. God be with you in all things. My wife joins me in this prayer.

I am, dear Sir,

Your sincerely affectionate,

Willm. Blake.
The next letter broaches a scheme of which, since it was never realized, no more can be said than is told in this, and in a subsequent letter. But its originator, Richard Phillips, the ‘man of vast spirit, enterprise, and solidity,’ demands a passing notice. First a schoolmaster at Chester, then a bookseller at Leicester, he was among the number of those prosecuted and imprisoned in 1793 for selling Paine‘s Rights of Man. Soon after his release he, having realized a considerable sum by speculating in canal shares, started with the aid of republican friends, the Monthly Magazine as an organ of the ‘democratic’ party, contributing frequent articles himself signed ‘Common Sense.’ He besides embarked first in the hosiery and then in the bookselling business again, on a large scale. Three years after the date of the following letter, he was made one of the Sheriffs of the City of London, and on presenting an address ‘accepted the honour of knighthood to the great astonishment of his republican friends.' He became bankrupt shortly after ; but the Magazine was bought in by friends, and he became its editor.
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April 7th Blake writes:—

Dear Sir,

You can have no idea, unless you were in London as I am, how much your name is loved and respected. I have the extreme pleasure of transmitting to you one proof of the respect which you will be pleased with, and I hope will adopt and embrace. It comes thro’ Mr. Hoare, from Mr. Phillips of St. Paul's Churchyard. It is, as yet, an entire secret between Mr. P., Mr. H., and myself, and will remain so till you have given your decision. Mr. Phillips is a man of vast spirit and enterprize, with a solidity of character which few have; he is the man who applied to Cowper for that sonnet in favour of a prisoner at Leicester, which I believe you thought fit not to print; so you see he is spritually adjoined with us. His connections throughout England, and indeed Europe and America, enable him to circulate publications to an immense extent, and he told Mr. Hoare that on the present work, which he proposes to commence with your assistance, he can afford to expend £2,000 a year. Mr. Phillips considers you as the great leading character in literature, and his terms to others will amount to only one quarter of what he proposes to you. I send, inclosed, his terms, as Mr. Hoare by my desire has given them to me in writing. Knowing your aversion to reviews and reviewing, I consider the present proposal as peculiarly adapted to your ideas. it may be call'd a Defence of Literature against those pests of the press, and a bulwark for genius, which shall, with your good assistance, disperse those rebellious spirits of Envy and Malignity. In short, if you see it as I see it, you will embrace this proposal on the score of parental duty. Literature is your child. She calls for your assistance! You, who never refuse to assist any, how remote so ever, will certainly hear her voice. Your answer to the proposal you will, if you think fit, direct to Mr. Hoare, who is worthy of every confidence you can place in him.

I am, dear Sir,

Your ansciously devoted

Will. Blake.
Blake seems to have had this scheme of starting a Review much at heart:—

April 27th, 1804.

Dear Sir,

I have at length seen Mr. Hoare, after having repeatedly called on him every day and not finding him. I now understand that he

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received your reply to P.'s proposal at Brighton, where he has a residence, from whence he sent it to London to Mr. Phillips; he has not seen P. since his return, and therefore cannot tell me how he understood your answer. Mr. H. appears to me to consider it as a rejection of the proposal altogether. I took the liberty to tell him that I could not consider it so, but that as I understood you, you had accepted the spirit of P.'s intention, which was to leave the whole conduct of the affair to you, and that you had accordingly nominated one of your friends and agreed to nominate others. But if P. meant that you should yourself take on you the drudgery of the ordinary business of a review, his proposal was by no means a generous one. Mr. H has promised to see Mr. Phillips immediately, and to know what his intentions are; but he says perhaps Mr. P. may not yet have seen your letter to him, and that his multiplicity of business may very well account for the delay. I have seen our excellent Flaxman lately; he is well in health, but has had such a burn on his hand as you had once, which has hindered his working for a fortnight. It is now better; he desires to be most affectionately remembered to you; he began a letter to you a week ago; perhaps by this time you have received it; but he is also a laborious votary of endless work. Engraving is of so slow process, I must beg of you to give me the earliest possible notice of what engraving is to be done for the Life of Romney. Endless work is the true title of engraving, as I find by the things I have in hand day and night. We feel much easier to hear that you have parted with your horse. Hope soon to hear that you have a living one of brass, a Pegasus of Corinthian metal; and that Miss Poole is again in such health as when she first mounted me on my beloved Bruno. I forgot to mention that Mr. Hoare desires his most respectful compliments to you. Speaks of taking a ride across the country to Felpham, as he always keeps a horse at Brighton. My wife joins me in love to you.

I remain, yours sincerely,

William Blake.
‘In engraver's hurry, which is the worst and most unprofitable of all hurries,’ are the words with which Blake concludes a brief business note. Yet besides this ‘endless work’ of engraving, and the huge labour of producing the Jerusalem and Milton, also accomplished this year, he continued diligent in collecting serviceable details of Romney's works for
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Sig. Vol. I. P
Hayley's slowly progressing Life, as the following letters show:—

May 4 th, 1804.

Dear Sir,

I thank you sincerely for Falconer, an admirable Poet, and the admirable prints to it by Fettler. Whether you intended it or not, they have given me some excellent hints in engraving; his manner of working is what I shall endeavour to adopt in many points. I have seen the elder Mr. Walker. He knew and admired without any preface, my print of Romney, and when his daughter came in he gave the print into her hand without a word, and she immediately said, ‘Ah ! Romney! younger than I have known him, but very like indeed.’ Mr. Walker showed me Romney's first attempt at oil painting ; it is a copy from a Dutch picture—Dutch boor smoking; on the back is written, ‘This was the first attempt at oil painting by G. Romney.’ He shew'd me also the last performance of Romney. It is of Mr. Walker and family, the draperies put in by somebody else. It is a very excellent picture, but unfinished. The figures as large as life, half length, Mr. W., three sons, and I believe two daughters, with maps, instruments, &c. Mr. Walker also shew'd me a portrait of himself (W.), whole length on a canvas about two feet by one and a half; it is the first portrait Romney ever painted. But above all, a picture of Lear and Cordelia, when he awakes and knows her,—an incomparable production which Mr. W. bought for five shillings at a broker's shop; it is about five feet by four, and exquisite for expression, indeed it is most pathetic; the heads of Lear and Cordelia can never be surpassed, and Kent and the other attendant are admirable; the picture is very highly finished. Other things I saw of Romney's first works,—two copies, perhaps from Borgognone, of battles; and Mr. Walker promises to collect all he can of information for you. I much admired his mild and gentle, benevolent manners; it seems as if all Romney's intimate friends were truly amiable and feeling like himself.

I have also seen Alderman Boydel, who has promised to get the number and prices of all Romney's prints as you desired. He has sent a Catalogue of all his Collection, and a Scheme of his Lottery; desires his compliments to you, says he laments your absence from London, as your advice would be acceptable at all times but especially at the present. He is very thin and decay'd, and but the shadow of what he was; so he is now a Shadow's Shadow; but how can we expect a very stout man at eighty-five, which age he tells me he has now

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reached ? You would have been pleas'd to see his eyes light up at the mention of your name.

Mr. Flaxman agrees with me that somewhat more than outline is necessary to the execution of Romney's designs, because his merit is eminent in the art of massing his lights and shades. I should propose to etch them in a rapid but firm manner, somewhat, perhaps, as I did the Head of Euler; the price I receive for engraving Flaxman's outlines of Homer is five guineas each. I send the Domenichino, which is very neatly done. His merit was but little in light and shade ; outline was his element, and yet these outlines give but a faint idea of the finished prints from his works, several of the best of which I have. I send also the French monuments, and inclose with them a catalogue of Bell's Gallery and another of the Exhibition which I have not yet seen. I mention'd the pictures from Steme to Mr. Walker; he says that there were several; one, a garden scene with uncle Toby and Obadiah planting in the garden; but that of Lefevre's Death he speaks of as incomparable, but cannot tell where it now is, as they were scatter'd abroad, being disposed of by means of a raffle. He supposes it is in Westmoreland ; promises to make every inquiry about it. Accept also of my thanks for Cowpers third volume, which I got, as you directed, of Mr. Johnson. I have seen Mr. Rose ; he looks, tho’ not so well as I have seen him, yet tolerably, considering the terrible storm he has been thro'! He says that the last session was a severe labour, indeed it must be so to a man just out of so dreadful a fever. I also thank you for your very beautiful little poem on the King's recovery; it is one of the prettiest things I ever read, and I hope the King will live to fulfil the prophecy and die in peace: but at present, poor man, I understand he is poorly indeed, and times threaten worse than ever. I must now express my sorrow and my hopes for our good Miss Poole, and so take my leave for the present with the joint love of my good woman, who is still stiff-knee'd but well in other respects.

I am, dear Sir,

Yours most sincerely,

William Blake.

May 28 th, 1804.

Dear Sir,

I thank you heartily for your kind offer of reading, &c. I have read the book thro’ attentively and was much entertain'd and instructed, but have not yet come to the Life of Washington. I suppose

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Sig. P 2
an American would tell me that Washington did all that was done before he was born, as the French now adore Buonaparte and the English our poor George; so the Americans will consider Washington as their god. This is only Grecian, or rather Trojan, worship, and perhaps will be revis'd (?) in an age or two. In the meantime I have the happiness of seeing the Divine countenance in such men as Cowper and Milton more distinctly than in any prince or hero. Mr. Phillips has sent a small poem, he would not tell the author's name, but desired me to inclose it for you with Washington's Life.

Mr. Carr call'd on me, and I, as you desired, have him a history of the reviewing business as far as I am acquainted with it. He desires me to express to you that he would heartily deovte himself to the business in all its laborious parts, if you would take on you the direction; and he thinks it might be done with very little trouble to you. He is now going to Russia; hopes that the negotiations for this business is not wholly at an end, but that on his return he may still perform his best, as you assistant in it. I have delivered the letter to Mr. Edwards, who will give it immediately to Lady Hamilton. Mr. Walker I have again seen; he promises to collect numerous particulars concerning Romney and send them to you—wonders he has not had a line from you; desires me to assure you of his with to give every information in his power. Says that I shall have Lear and Cordelia to copy if you desire it should be done; supposes that Romney was about eighteen when he painted it; it is therefore doubly interesting. Mr. Walker is truly an amiable man; spoke of Mr. Green as the oldest friend of Romney, who knew most concerning him of any one; lamented the little difference that subsisted between you, speaking of you both with great affection. Mr. Flaxman has also promised to write all he knows or can collect concerning Romney, and send to you. Mr. Sanders has promised to write to Mr. J. Romney immediately, desiring him to give us liberty to copy any of his father's designs that Mr. Flaxman may select for that purpose; doubts not at all of Mr. Romney's readiness to send any of the cartoons to London you desire; if this can be done it will be all that could be wished. I spoke to Mr. Flaxman about choosing out proper subjects for our purpose; he has promised to do so. I hope soon to send you Flaxman's advice upon this article. When I repeated to Mr. Phillips your intention of taking the books you want from his shop, he made a reply to the following purpose:— ‘I shall be very proud to have Mr. Hayley's name in my books, but please to express to him my hope that he will consider me as the

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sincere friend of Mr. Johnson, who is (I have every reason to say) both the most generous and honest man I ever knew, and with whose interest I should be so averse to interfere that I should wish him to have the refusal first of anything before it should be offered to me, as I know the value of Mr. Hayley's connexion too well to interfere between my best friend and him.’ This Phillips spoke with real affection, and I know you will love him for it, and will also respect Johnson the more for such testimony ; but to balance all this I must, in duty to my friend Seagrave [the Chichester printer] tell you that Mr. Rose repeated to me his great opinion of Mr. Johnson's integrity while we were talking concerning Seagrave's printing: it is but justice therefore, to tell you that I perceive a determination in the London booksellers to injure Seagrave in your opinion, if possible. Johnson may be very honest and very generous, too, where his own interest is concerned, but I must say that he leaves no stone unturn'd to serve that interest, and often (I think) unfairly; he always has taken care, when I have seen him, to rail against Seagrave, and I perceive that he does the same by Mr. Rose. Mr. Phillips took care to repeat Johnson's railing to me, and to say that country printers could not do anything of consequence. Luckily he found fault with the paper which Cowper's Life is printed on, not knowing that it was furnish'd by Johnson. I let him run on so far as to say that it was scandalous and unfit for such a work ; here I cut him short by asking if he knew who furnish'd the paper, he answered, ‘I hope Mr. J. did not.' I assured him that he did, and here he left off; desiring me to tell you that the Life of Washington was not put to press till the 3rd of this month (May), and on the 13th he had deliver'd a dozen copies at Stationers Hall, and by the 16th five hundred were out. This is swift work if literally true, but I am not apt to believe literally what booksellers say; and on comparing Cowper with Washington must assert that except paper (which is Johnson's fault) Cowper is far the best, both as to type and printing. Pray look at Washington as far as page 177, you will find that the type is smaller than from 177 to 308, the whole middle of the book being printed with a larger and better type than the two extremities ; also it is carefully hot-pressed. I say thus much being urged thereto by Mr. Rose's observing some defects in Seagrave's work, which I conceive were urged upon him by Johnson : and as to the time the booksellers would take to execute any work, I need only refer to the little job which Mr. Johnson was to get done for our friend Dally. He promised it in a fortnight, and it is now three months and is not yet completed. I could not avoid say-
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ing thus much in justice to our good Seagrave, whose replies to Mr. Johnson's aggravating letters have been represented to Mr. Rose in an unfair light, as I have no doubt; because Mr. Johnson has, at times, written such letters to me as would have called for the sceptre of Agamemnon rather than the tongue of Ulysses, and I will venture to give it as my settled opinion that if you suffer yourself to be persuaded to print in London you will be cheated every way; but, however, as some little excuse, I must say that in London every calumny and falsehood utter'd against another of the same trade is thought fair play. Engravers, Painters, Statuaries, Printers, Poets we are not in a field of battle but in a City of Assassinations. This makes your lot truly enviable, and the country is not only more beautiful on account of its expanded meadows, but also on account of its benevolent minds. My wife joins with me in the hearty wish that you may long enjoy your beautiful retirement.

I am, with best respects to Miss Poole, for whose health we constantly send wishes to our spiritual friends,

Yours sincerely,

William Blake.

P.S.—Mr. Walker says that Mr. Cumberland is right in his reckoning of Romney's age. Mr. W. says Romney was two years older than himself, consequently was born 1734.

Mr. Flaxman told me that Mr. Romney was three years in Italy; that he returned twenty-eight years since. Mr. Humphry, the Painter, was in Italy the same time with Mr. Romney. Mr. Romney lodged at Mr. Richter's, Great Newport Street, before he went; took the house in Cavendish Square immediately on his return; but as Flaxman has promised to put pen to paper you may expect a full account of all he can collect. Mr. Sanders does not know the time when Mr. R. took or left Cavendish Square house.

In the sequel, Blake's portrait of Romney was laid aside and the Sketch of a Shipwreck, a fine and characteristic bit of engraving, was his sole contribution to the Life. Of the remaining eleven plates, all, save one, after pictures by Romney, most were engraved by Caroline Watson, in her very fascinating style, bold and masterly, yet graceful. The Infant Shakespeare, Sensibility, Cassandra, Miranda are well known to the collector. One of the engravings, a poor Head of Christ, is
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by Raimbach, afterwards famous as Wilkie's engraver. Another, from a curious early effort of Romney's in the comic vein— The Introduction of Slop into the Parlour of Shandy —is by W. Haines, a Sussex man, then an engraver, subsequently a painter of repute.

September 20 th, 1804.

Dear Sir,

I hope you will excuse my delay in sending the books which I have had some time, but kept them back till I could send a Proof of the Shipwreck, which I hope will please. It yet wants all its last and finishing touches, but I hope you will be enabled by it to judge of the pathos of the picture. I send Washington's second volume, five numbers of Fuseli's Shakespeare, and two vols. with a letter from Mr. Spilsbury, with whom I accidentally met in the Strand. He says that he relinquished painting as a profession, for which I think he is to be applauded: but I conceive that he may be a much better painter if he practises secretly and for amusement than he could ever be if employed in the drudgery of fashionable daubing for a poor pittance of money in return for the sacrifice of Art and Genius. He says he never will leave to practice the Art, because he loves it, and this alone will pay its labour by success, if not of money, yet of true Art, which is all. I had the pleasure of a call from Mrs. Chetwynd and her brother, a giant in body, mild and polite in soul, as I have, in general, found great bodies to be; they were much pleased with Romney's Designs. Mrs. C. sent to me the two articles for you, and for the safety of which by the coach I had some fear, till Mr. Meyer obligingly undertook to convey them safe. He is now, I suppose, enjoying the delights of the turret of lovely Felpham; please to give my affectionate compliments to him. I cannot help suggesting an idea which has struck me very forcibly, that the Tobit and Tobias in your bedchamber would make a very beautiful engraving done in the same manner as the Head of Cowper, after Lawrence; the heads to be finished, and the figures to be left exactly in imitation of the first strokes of the painter. The expression of those truly pathetic heads would then be transmitted to the public, a singular monument of Romney's genius in that slightest branch of art. I must now tell my wants, and beg the favour of some more of the needful. The favour of ten pounds more will carry me through this plate, and the Head of Romney, for which I am already paid. You shall soon see a proof of him in a very advanced state. I have not yet proved it, but shall soon, when I will send you one.

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I rejoice to hear from Mr. Meyer of Miss Poole's continued recovery. My wife desires with me her respects to you, and her, and to all whom we love, that is, to all Sussex.

I remain,

Your sincere and obliged humble servant,

Will. Blake.
In the midst of all these business details, valuable as showing Blake's perfect sanity and prudence in the conduct of practical affairs, it is refreshing to come upon a letter written in his visionary vein.

23 rd Oct. 1804.

Dear Sir,

I received your kind letter with the note to Mr. Payne, and have had the cash from him. I should have returned my thanks immediately on receipt of it, but hoped to be able to send, before now, proofs of the two plates, the Head of R. and the Shipwreck, which you shall soon see in a much more perfect state. I write immediately because you wish I should do so, to satisfy you that I have received your kind favour.

I take the extreme pleasure of expressing my joy at our good Lady of Lavant's continued recovery, but with a mixture of sincere sorrow on account of the beloved Councillor. My wife returns her heartfelt thanks for your kind inquiry concerning her health. She is surprisingly recovered. Electricity is the wonderful cause; the swelling of her legs and knees is entirely reduced. She is very near as free from rheumatism as she was five years ago, and we have the greatest confidence in her perfect recovery.

The pleasure of seeing another poem from your hands has truly set me longing (my wife says I ought to have said us) with desire and curiosity ; but, however, " Christmas is a coming."

Our good and kind friend Hawkins is not yet in town—hope soon to have the pleasure of seeing him—with the courage of conscious industry, worthy of his former kindness to me. For now ! O Glory ! and O Delight! I have entirely reduced that spectrous Fiend to his station, whose annoyance has been the ruin of my labours for the last passed twenty years of my life. He is the enemy of conjugal love, and is the Jupiter of the Greeks, an iron-hearted tyrant, the ruiner of ancient Greece. I speak with perfect confidence and certainty of the fact which has passed upon me. Nebuchadnezzar had seven times passed over him, I have had

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twenty; thank God I was not altogether a beast as he was; but I was a slave bound in a mill among beasts and devils; these beasts and these devils are now, together with myself, become children of light and liberty, and my feet and my wife's feet are free from fetters. O lovely Felpham, parent of Immortal Friendship, to thee I am eternally indebted for my three years’ rest from perturbation and the strength I now enjoy. Suddenly, on the day after visiting the Truchsessian Gallery of Pictures, I was again enlightened with the light I enjoyed in my youth, and which has for exactly twenty years been closed from me as by a door and by window-shutters. Consequently I can, with confidence, promise you ocular demonstration of my altered state on the plates I am now engraving after Romney, whose spiritual aid has not little conduced to my restoration to light of Art. O the distress I have undergone, and my poor wife with me. Incessantly labouring and incessantly spoiling what I had done well. Every one of my friends was astonished at my faults, and could not assign a reason; they knew my industry and abstinence from every pleasure for the sake of study, and yet—and yet —and yet there wanted the proofs of industry in my works. I thank God with entire confidence that it shall be so no longer: —he is become my servant who domineered over me, he is even as a brother who was my enemy. Dear Sir, excuse my enthusiasm or rather madness, for am really drunk with intellectual vision whenever I take a pencil or graver into my hand, even as I used to be in my youth, and as I have not been for twenty dark, but very profitable, years. I thank God that I courageously pursued my course through darkness. In a short time I shall make my assertion good that I am become suddenly as I was at first, by producing the Head of Romney and the Shipwreck quite another thing from what you or I ever expected them to be. In short, I am now satisfied and proud of my work, which I have not been for the above long period.

If our excellent and manly friend meyer is yet with you, please to make my wife's and my own most respectful and affectionate compliments to him, also to our kind friend at Lavant.

I remain, with my wife's joint affection,

Your sincere and obliged servant,

Will. Blake.
The ‘Truchessian Gallery,’ which as the foregoing letter seems to show, exerted a powerful influence on Blake's mind, has happily left a discoverable record of itself in the shape of
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two pamplets to be found in the ‘Dance Collection’ in the Bodleian Library. One is a Proposal for the Establishment of a Public Gallery of Pictures in London, by count Joseph Truchsess, London, 1802; and the other a Catalogue of the Truchsessian Picture Gallery, Now Exhibiting in the New Road, opposite Portland Place, London, 1803. In the first of these, the Count, who signs himself Joseph, Count Truchsess, of Zeyl-Wurzach, Grand Dean of the Cathedral of Strasburg and Canon of the Metropolitan Chapter of Cologne, affirms that he has lost a large fortune in the French Revolution, but has saved with difficulty a very large and valuable collection of pictures, which he has been obliged to ‘pledge’ in Vienna. He refers to the Imperial Academy of Vienna and to many travelling Englishmen of distinction, especially Lord Minto, as willing to attest its genuineness and importance. He proposes to bring the best part of the collection to England and make it the nucleus of a gallery, in which people may find the ‘means of making themselves acquainted with all the schools of painting.’ He then proposes that a company shall be formed to raise the requisite amount (60,000 guineas) and give references to well-known bankers who will act as his trustees. He is not, he writes, ‘an adventurer, nor his gallery a chimera,’ and ‘all who are particularly acquainted with him will gladly do justice to the uprightness of his moral character.’ As to his subscribers, ‘their names shall not only be publicly printed, but they shall also remain indelibly engraven on his heart.’ In the Catalogue, printed next year, there is no information regarding the purchase of the pictures. Their whole number is very large, and they are classified as follows;—
  • (1) German Painters:—among whom are Albert Dürer, Brand, Edlinger, Hans Holbein senior (father of the great painter), Roos, Sarbach, &c., &c.
  • (2) Dutch and Flemish:—Aertsens, Breughel, Vandyck, Geldorp, De Laar, Miel, Uchterwelt, &c. &c.
  • (3) Italian and Spanish:—Buonarotti (Michael Angelo), Leonardo da Vinci, Carlo Dolce, Correggio, Murillo, Strozzi, Salvator Rosa, &c. &c.
  • (4) French:—Bourdon, both the Poussins, Claude Lorraine, Watteau, &c. &c.
It is curious that no mention of so large a collection should appear in Buchanan‘s Memoirs of Painting, which is mainly devoted to the picture importations of that very period.
December 18th, 1804, Blake writes:—

Dear Sir,

I send, with some confidence, proofs of my two plates, having had the assistance and approbation of our good friend Flaxman. He approves much (I cannot help telling you so much) of the Shipwreck. Mrs. Flaxman also, who is a good conoisseur in engraving, has given her warm approbation, and to the plate of the Portrait, though not yet in so high finished a state. I am sure (mark my confidence) with Flaxman's advice, which he gives with all the warmth of friendship both to you and me, it must be soon a highly finished and properly finished print; but yet I must solicit for a supply of money, and hope you will be convinced that the labour I have used on the two plates has left me without any resource but that of applying to you. I am again in want of ten pounds; hope that the size and neatness of my plate of the Shipwreck will plead for me the excuse for troubling you before it can be properly finished, though Flaxman has already pronounced it so. I beg your remarks also on both my performances, as in their present state they will be capable of very much improvement from a few lucky or well advised touches. I cannot omit observing that the price Mr. johnson gives for the plates of Fuseli's Shakespeare (the concluding numbers of which I now send) is twenty-five guineas each. On comparing them with mine of the Shipwreck, you will preceive that I have done my duty and put forth my whole strength.

Your beautiful and elegant daughter Venusa grows in our estimation on a second and third perusal. I have not yet received the History of Chichester. I mention this not because I would hasten its arrival before it is convenient, but fancy it may have miscarried. My wife joins me in wishing you a merry Christmas. Remembering our happy Christmas at lovely Felpham, our spirits seem still to hover round our sweet cottage and round the beautiful Turret. I have said seem, but am persuaded that distance is nothing but a phantasy. We

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are often sitting by our cottage fire, and often we think we hear your voice calling at the gate. Surely these things are real and eternal in our eternal mind, and can never pass away. My wife continues well, thanks to Mr. Birch's Electrical Magic, which she has discontinued these three months.

I remain your sincere and obliged,

William Blake.
A few days’ later died Councillor Rose, whom Blake ever regarded with grateful affection and admiration. Thus characteristically he writes:—“Farewell, sweet Rose, though hast got before me into the Celestial City. I also have but a few more mountains to pass, for I hear the bells ring and the trumpets sound to welcome thy arrival among Cowper's glorified band of spirits of just men made perfect.”
The four remaining letters to Hayley are chiefly occupied with plans for bringing out the duodecimo edition of the Ballads already alluded to.

Jan. 22 nd, 1805.

Dear Sir

I hope this letter will outstrip Mr. Phillips', as I sit down to write immediately on returning from his house. He says he is agreeable to every proposal you have made, and will himself immediately reply to you. I should have supposed him mad if he had not, for such clear and generous proposals as yours to him he will not easily meet from any one else. He will, of course, inform you what his sentiments are of the proposal concerning the three dramas. I found it unnecessary to mention anything relating to the purposed application of the profits, as he, on reading your letter, expressed his wish that you should yourself set a price, and that he would, in his letter to you, explain his reasons for wishing it. The idea of publishing one volume a year he considers as impolitic, and that a handsome general edition of your works would be more productive. He likewise objects to any periodical mode of publishing any of your works, as he thinks it somewhat derogatory as well as unprofitable. I must now express my thanks for your generous manner of proposing the Ballads to him on my account, and inform you of his advice concerning them; and he thinks that they should be published all together in a volume the size of the small edition of the Triumphs of Temper, with six or seven plates. That one thousand copies should be the first edition, and if we choose, we might add to the number of plates in a second

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edition. And he will go equal shares with me in the expense and the profits, and that Seagrave is to be the printer. That we must consider all that has been printed as lost, and begin anew, unless we can apply some of the plates to the new edition. I consider myself as only put in trust with this work, and that the copyright is for ever yours. I, therefore, beg that you will not suffer it to be injured by my ignorance, or that it should in any way be separated from the grand bulk of your literary property. Truly proud I am to be in possession of this beautiful little estate ; for that it will be highly productive, I have no doubt, in the way now proposed ; and I shall consider myself a robber to retain more than you at any time please to grant. In short, I am tenant at will, and may write over my door as the poor barber did, “Money for live here.”

I entreat your immediate advice what I am to do, for I would not for the world injure this beautiful work, and cannot answer P.'s proposal till I have your directions and commands concerning it; for he wishes to set about it immediately, and has desired that I will give him my proposal concerning it in writing.

I remain, dear Sir,

Your obliged and affectionate,


April 25 th, 1805.

Dear Sir,

This morning I have been with Mr. Phillips, and have entirely settled with him the plan of engraving for the new edition of the Ballads. The prints, five in number, I have engaged to finish by 28th May; they are to be as highly finished as I can do them, the size the same as the seven plates, the price 20 guineas each, half to be prepaid by P. The subjects I cannot do better than those already chosen, as they are the most eminent among animals, viz.:— the Lion, the Eagle, the Horse, the Dog. Of the dog species, the two ballads are so pre-eminent, and my designs for them please me so well, that I have chosen that design in our last number, of the dog and crocodile, and that of the dog defending his dead master from the vultures. Of these five I am making little high finished pictures the size the engravings are to be, and I am hard at it to accomplish in time what I intend. Mr. P. says he will send Mr. Seagrave the paper directly.

The journeymen printers throughout London are at war with their masters, and are likely to get the better. Each party meets to

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consult against the other. Nothing can be greater than the violence on both sides; printing is suspended in London except at private presses. I hope this will become a source of advantage to our friend Seagrave.

The idea of seeing an engraving of Cowper by the hand of Caroline Watson is, I assure you, a pleasing one to me. It will be highly gratifying to see another copy by another hand, and not only gratifying, but improving, which is much better.

The town is mad: young Roscius [Master Betty] like all prodigies, is the talk of everybody. I have not seen him, and perhaps never may. I have no curiosity to see him, as I well know what is within compass of a boy of fourteen; and as to real acting, it is, like historical painting, no boy's work.

Fuseli is made Master of the Royal Academy. Banks, the sculptor, is gone to his eternal home. I have heard that Flaxman means to give a lecture on sculpture at the Royal Academy on the occasion of Bank's death. He died at the age of seventy-five, of a paralytic stroke, and I conceive Flaxman stands without a competitor in sculpture.

I must not omit to tell you that, on leaving Mr. Phillips, I asked if he had any message to you, as I meant to write immediately. He said, “Give my best respects, and tell Mr. Hayley that I wish very much to be at work for him.” But perhaps I ought to tell you what he said to me previous to this in the course of our conversation. His words were, “Give my best respects, and tell Mr. Hayley that I wish very much to be at work for him.” But perhaps I ought to tell you what he said to me previous to this in the course of our conversation. His words were, “I feel somewhat embarrassed at the idea of setting a value on any works of Mr. Hayley, and fear that he will wish me to do so.” I asked him how a value was set on any literary work. He answered the probable sale of the work would be the measure of estimating the profits, and that would lead to a valuation of the copyright. This may be of no consequence; but I could not omit telling you.

My wife continues in health, and desires to join me in every grateful wish to you and to our dear respected Miss Poole.

I remain

Yours with sincerity,

William Blake.

P.S.—Your desire, that I should write a little advertisement at the beginning of the Ballads, has set my brains to work, and at length produced the following. Simplicity, as you desire, has been my first object. I send it for your correction or condemnation, begging you

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to supply its deficiency or to new create it according to your wish:—‘The public ought to be informed that these Ballads were the effusions of friendship to countenance what their author is kindly pleased to call talents for designing and to relieve my more laborious engagement of engraving those portraits which accompany the Life of Cowper. Out of a number of designs, I have selected five, and hope that the public will approve of my rather giving few highly laboured plates than a greater number and less finished. If I have succeeded in these, more may be added at pleasure.’

Will. Blake
It was, no doubt, an irksome task to be continually expressing thanks for work that was in the main little congenial, and admiration for Hayley's own performances, which though the warmth of Blake's friendly and grateful feelings enabled him to utter with sincerity at the time, his cooler judgment must have declined to ratify. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the MS. Note-book before alluded to, which in his spleenful as well as in his elevated moods appears to have generally lain at the artist's elbow, we find such a couplet as the following:—

On H. [Hayley] the Pickthank.
  • I write the rascal thanks till he and I
  • With thanks and compliments are both drawn dry.
The next letter, last of the series, June 4th, 1805, refers to the Advertisement again : a matter in which Mr. Phillips showed excellent discernment.

June 4 th, 1805.

Dear Sir,

I have fortunately, I ought to say providentially, discovered that I have engraved one of the plates for that ballad of The Horse which is omitted in the new edition ; time enough to save the extreme loss and disappointment which I should have suffered had the work been completed without that ballad's insertion. I write to entreat that you would contrive so as that my plate may come into the work, as its omission would be to me a loss that I could not now sustain

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as it would cut off ten guineas from my next demand on Phillips, which sum I am in absolute want of; as well as that I should lose all the labour I have been at on that plate, which I consider as one of my best; I know it has cost me immense labour. The way in which I discovered this mistake is odd enough. Mr. Phillips objects altogether to the insertion of my Advertisement, calling it an appeal to charity, and says that it will hurt the sale of the work, and he sent to me the last sheet by the penny (that is the twopenny) post, desiring that I would forward it to Mr. Seagrave. But I have inclosed it to you, as you ought and must see it. I am no judge in these matters, and leave all to your decision, as I know that you will do what is right on all hands. Pray accept my and my wife's sincerest love and gratitude.

Will. Blake.
Not without some sense of relief, probably, wil the reader turn the last leaf of the story of Blake's connection, with Hayley, honourable though it were to each ; especially to Hayley, considering how little nature had fitted him to enter into the spiritual meanings of Blake's art. But herein, as Blake said to Mr. Butts, he that is not with a man is against him ; and no amount of friendly zeal to serve, nor even of personal liking, could neutralise the blighting influence of constant intercourse with one who had an ignorant contempt for those fine gifts and high aspirations which rightly to use and to fulfil were for Blake the sacred purpose and delight of life.
  • And in the midst of the great Assembly Palamabron prayed,
  • O God, protect me from my friends, that they have no power over me;
  • Thou hast given me power to protect myself from my bitterest enemies!
Thus wrote Blake in one of the mystic books, Milton, produced at this time. And in his Note-book he apostrophises poor Hayley:—
  • Thy Friendship oft has made my heart ache;
  • Do be my enemy for friendship's sake!
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Doubtless, as sometimes ensues in the case of far more congenial minds, many things which failed, amid the amenities of personal intercourse, to disturb the good understanding at the time, rankled or were felt resentfully afterwards. In two more of the sarcastic and biting reflections, in epigrammatic form, on those against whom Blake had, or fancied he had, cause of offence, interspersed with more serious matter in the Note-book, Hayley's name again figures:—
  • My tide as a genius thus is proved,
  • Not praised by Hayley, nor by Flaxman loved.
And once more:—

To Hayley.
  • You think Fuseli is not a great painter ? I'm glad:
  • This is one of the best compliments he ever had.
The reading world, too, was fast coming round to a juster estimate of its quondam favourite. The Ballads, though illustrated in so poetic a spirit and in a more popular style than anything previous from the same hand, were as complete a failure — not in pecuniary respects alone, but in commanding even a moderate share of public attention — as any in the long list of Blake's privately printed books. Hayley had not more power to help Blake with a public challenged now by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb, won by Crabbe, Campbell, Scott, than Blake had by his archaic conceptions, caviare to the many, to recall roving readers to an obsolete style of unpoetic verse, a tame instead of a rattling one, such as had come into vogue. The Life of Romney, when at last it did appear, was quite unnoticed. After the Life of Cowper, no book of Hayley's again won an audience.
June l8th, 1808, is the engraver's date to the duodecimo edition of Hayley‘s Ballads on Animals. These prints are unfair examples of Blake's skill and imperfect versions of his designs ; they have more than his ordinary hardness of manner. Two— The Eagle and The Lion—are repetitions from the quarto. The Dog, The Hermit's Dog, and The Horse, are new.
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Sig. Vol. I. Q
The last-named is, perhaps, the finest in the series. Even though the horse's hind leg be in an impossible position, and though there be the usual lack of correct local detail, very striking and soulful is the general effect ; especially so is that serene, majestic, feminine figure, standing before her terrified child and bravely facing the frenzied animal, which, by mere spiritual force, she subdues into motionless awe.  

Figure: Line drawing from the MS Note-book. A female figure sitting with her head between her knees.

page: [226]

In two letters to Mr. Butts (p. 185-7) Blake had alluded to a ‘long poem’ descriptive of the ‘spiritual acts of his three years’ slumber on the banks of Ocean.’ This was entitled Jerusalem ; the Emanation of the Giant Albion, 1804, Printed by W. Blake, South Molton Street; it is a large quarto volume of a hundred engraved pages, writing and design ; only one side of each leaf being engraved. Most copies are printed with plain black and white, some with blue ink, some red ; a few are tinted. For a tinted copy the price was twenty guineas.
The Jerusalem is prefaced by an ‘Address’ to the public, in a style to which the public is little accustomed:—

Note: A line figure resembling a plateau is accompanied here by the words "Sheep" to the upper left, "Goats" on the upper right, and "To the Public" below the line.
Sheep.    Goats.

To the Public.

After my three years slumber on the banks of Ocean, I again display my giant forms to the public : my former giants and fairies having received the highest reward possible; the . . . and . . . of those with whom to be connected is to be . . . I cannot doubt that this more consolidated and extended work will be . . . as kindly received . . . &c. * * * Reader, what you do not approve, &c. . . . me for this energetic exertion of my talents.

Although the Jerusalem was conceived, and in great part written at Felpham, it was finished in London whilst the work of engraving for Hayley was still going on. At page 38 we find:—
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  • By Satans Watch-fiends tho they search numbering every grain
  • Of sand on Earth every night they never find this Gate.
  • It is the Gate of Los. Withoutside is the Mill, intricate, dreadful
  • And fill'd with cruel tortures; but no mortal man can find the Mill
  • Of Satan, in his mortal pilgrimage of seventy years
  • For Human beauty knows it not: nor can Mercy find it! But
  • In the Fourth region of Humanity, Urthona namd
  • Mortality begins to roll the billows of Eternal Death
  • Before the Gate of Los. Urthona here is named Los.
  • And here begins the System of Moral Virtue, named Rahab.
  • Albion fled thro the Gate of Los, and he stood in the Gate.
  • Los was the friend of Albion who most lov'd him. In Cambridgeshire,
  • His eternal station, he is the twenty-eighth, & is four-fold.
  • Seeing Albion had turnd his back against the Divine Visio
  • Los said to Albion, Whither fleest thou? Albion reply'd.
  • I die! I go to Eternal Death! the shades of death
  • Hover within me & beneath, and spreading themselves outside
  • Like rocky clouds, biuld me a gloomy monument of woe:
  • Will none accompany me in my death? or be a Ransom for me
  • In that dark Valley? I have girded round my cloke, and on my feet
  • Bound these black shoes of death, & on my hands, death's iron gloves
  • God hath forsaken me, & my friends are become a burden
  • A weariness to me, & the human footstep is a terror to me.
  • Los answerd: troubled and his soul was rent in twain.
  • Must the Wise die for an Atonement? does Mercy endure Atonement
  • No! It is Moral Severity, & destroys Mercy in its Victim.
  • So speaking, not yet infected with the Error & Illusion,

Figure: Plate from Blake's "Jerusalem"

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Note: blank page
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Sig. Q 2
  • In Felpham I saw and heard the visions of Albion;
  • I write in South Molton Street what I both see and hear.
  • In regions of humanity, in London's opening streets
  • I see the awful Parent Land in light.
  • Behold I see!
  • Verulam! Canterbury! venerable parent of men!
  • Generous immortal guardian! Golden clad; for cities
  • Are men, fathers of multitudes; and rivers and mountains
  • Are also men: everything is human! mighty! sublime!
The poem, since poem we are to call it, is mostly written in prose; occasionally in metrical prose ; more rarely still it breaks forth into verse. Here is the author's own account of the matter:—

When this verse was first dictated to me, I considered a monotonous cadence, like that used by Milton, Shakspeare and all writers of English blank verse, derived from the modern bondage of rhyming, to be a necessary and indispensable part of the verse. But I soon found that, in the mouth of a true orator, such monotony was not only awkward, but as much a bondage as rhyme itself. I, therefore, have produced a variety in every line, both in cadence and number of syllables. Every word and every letter is studied, and put into its place. The terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts, the mild and gentle for the mild and gentle parts, and the prosaic for inferior parts : all are necessary to each other.

There is little resemblance to the ‘prophetic books’ of earlier date. We hear no longer of the wars, the labours, the sufferings, the laments of Ore, Rintrah, Urizen, or Enitharmon. Religious enthusiasm, always a strong element in Blake's mental constitution, always deeply tinging his imaginative creations, seems, during the time of the lonely sea-shore life, to have been kindled into over-mastering intensity. ‘I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve, or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time; without premeditation, and even against my will ; thus an immense poem exists which seems to be the labour of a long life, all produced without labour'or study,’ he wrote in a letter already cited to Mr. Butts. Such a belief in plenary inspiration, such a deliberate abjuring of the guidance and
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control of intellect and will, could have but one result. ‘Scattered upon the void in incoherent despair,’ to borrow his own too appropriate words, are our thoughts whilst the eyes wander, hopeless and dispirited, up and down the large closely-written pages. The following lines instance in brief the devout and earnest spirit in which Blake wrote, the high aims he set before him, and afford also a glimpse of the most strange and unhappy result, — dark oracles, words presenting endless obstacles to all but him who uttered them:—
  • Trembling I sit, day and night. My friends are astonisht at me:
  • Yet they forgive my wand'rings. I rest not from my great task:
  • To open the eternal worlds ! To open the immortal eyes
  • Of man inwards ; into the worlds of thought : into eternity
  • Ever expanding in the bosom of God, the human imagination.
  • O Saviour ! pour upon me thy spirit of meekness and love.
  • Annihilate selfhood in me ! Be thou all my life!
  • Guide thou my hand, which trembles exceedingly, upon the Rock of Ages!
  • While I write of the building of Golgonooza and of the terrors of Entuthon:
  • 10Of Hand and Hyle, and Coban ; of Kwantok, Peachey, Brereton, Slayd, and Hutton:
  • Of the terrible sons and daughters of Albion and their generations.
  • Scofield, Kox, Kotope and Bowen revolve most mightily upon
  • The furnace of Los, before the eastern gate bending their fury.
  • They war to destroy the furnaces ; to desolate Golgonooza,
  • And to devour the sleeping humanity of Albion in rage and hunger.
There is an ominous sentence in one of the letters to Mr. Butts, where, speaking of the Jerusalem, he says, ‘the persons and machinery entirely new to the inhabitants of earth ( some of the persons excepted ).’ The italics are mine, and, alas! to what wisp-led flounderings of research might they not lure a reckless adventurer. The mixture of the unaccountable with the familiar in nomenclature which occurs towards the close of the preceding extract from the Jerusalem is puzzling enough in itself; but conjecture attains bewilderment when we realize that one of the names, ‘Scofield’ (spelt perhaps more properly Scholfield, but pronounced no doubt as above),
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was that of the soldier who had brought a charge of sedition against Blake at Felpham. Whether the other English names given were in some way connected with the trial would be worth any practicable inquiries. When we consider the mystical connection in which this name of Scofield is used, a way seems opened into a more perplexed region of morbid analogy existing in Blake's brain than perhaps any other key could unlock. It is a minute point, yet a significant and amazing one. Further research discovers further references to ‘Scofield,’ for instance,
  • ‘Go thou to Skofield:
  • Ask him if he is Bath or if he is Canterbury:
  • Tell him to be no more dubious : demand explicit words:
  • Tell him I will dash him into shivers where and at what time
  • I please. Tell him, Hand and Skofield, they are ministers of evil
  • To those I hate: for I can bate also as well as they.’
Again (not without Jack the Giant Killer to help):—
  • ‘Hark! hear the giants of Albion cry at night,—
  • We smell the blood of the English, we delight in their blood on our altars;
  • The living and the dead shall be ground in our crumbling mill,
  • For bread of the sons of Albion, of the giants Hand and Skofield:
  • Skofield and Cox are let loose upon the Saxons; they accumulate
  • A world in which man is, by his nature, the enemy of man.’
Again (and woe is the present editor):—
  • “These are the names of Albion's twelve sons and of his twelve daughters:—’
(Then follows a long enumeration,—to certain countries attached):—
  • ‘Skofield had Ely, Rutland, Cambridge, Huntingdon,
  • Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertford, Essex, and his emanation is Guinivere.’ (!!!)
The first of the three above quotations seems meant really as a warning to Scholfield to be exact in evidence as to his place of birth or other belongings, and as to the ‘explicit words’ used by Blake! Cox and Courthope are Sussex names: can these be the ‘Kox’ and ‘Kotope’ of the poem, and names in some way connected, like Schofield's, with the
page: 230
trial? Is the wild, wild tale of Schofield exhausted here? Alas no! At leaf 51 of the Jerusalem occurs the design which is reproduced opposite. In some, perhaps in all, copies of the Jerusalem, as a whole, the names inscribed above the figures are not given, but at least three examples of water-colour drawings, or highly-coloured reproductions of the plate exist, in which the names appear as in our plate. Who ‘Vala’ and ‘Hyle’ may personify I do not pretend to conjecture, though dim surmises hurtle in the mind, which, like De Quincey in the catastrophe of the Spanish Nun, I shall keep to myself. These two seem, pretty clearly, to be prostrate at the discomfiture of Schofield, who is finally retiring fettered into his native element. As a historical picture then, Blake felt it his duty to monumentalise this design with due inscription. Two of the three hand-coloured versions, referred to above, are registered as Nos. 50 and 51 of the Catalogue in Vol. II., and the third version appears as No. 108 in the Burlington Catalogue. I may note another point bearing on the personal grudges shadowed in the Jerusalem. In Blake‘s Public Address (see Vol. II.), he says, ‘The manner in which my character has been blasted these thirty years, both as an artist and a man, may be seen, particularly in a Sunday paper called the Examiner, published in Beaufort's Buildings (we all know that editors of newspapers trouble their heads very little about art and science, and that they are always paid for what they put in upon these ungracious subjects) ; and the manner in which I have rooted out the nest of villains will be seen in ‘a poem concerning my three years Herculean labours at Felpham, which I shall soon publish. Secret calumny and open professions of friendship are common enough all the world over, but have never been so good an occasion of poetic imagery.’ Thus we are evidently to look (or sigh in vain) for some indication of Blake's wrath against the Examiner in the vast Jerusalem. It is true that the Examiner persecuted him, his publications and exhibition, and that Leigh Hunt
page: [230a recto]

Vala. Hyle. Skofeld


Figure: Woodcut of three figures.

page: [230b verso]
Note: blank page
page: 231
was prone to tell ‘good stories’ of him, as we shall see later; and in some MS. doggerel of Blake's we meet with the line,
  • ‘The Examiner whose very name is Hunt.’
But what form can the irate allegory be supposed to take in the Jerusalem ? Is it conceivable that that mysterious entity or non-entity, ‘Hand,’ whose name occurs sometimes in the poem, and of whom an incribed spectrum is there given at full length, can be a hieroglyph for Leigh Hunt? Alas, what is possible or impossible in such a connection?
Of the names strung together in the first extract in this chapter, many do not occur again throughout the book ; and to some, the perplexed reader fails, to the last, to attach any idea. Their owners can hardly be spoken of as shadows, for a shadow has a certain definition of form. It may be surmised that the Jerusalem is to be regarded as an allegory in which the lapse of the human race from a higher spiritual state, and its struggles towards a return to such, are the main topics. ‘Jerusalem’ is once spoken of as Liberty; she is also apostrophized as ‘mild shade of man,’ and must, on the whole, be taken to symbolize a milennial state.
There is sometimes a quaint felicity in the choice of homely, familiar things as symbols, as in this description of Golgonooza, the ‘spiritual fourfold London’ (for so it is afterwards called in the Milton):—
  • Lo!
  • The stones are pity, and the bricks well-wrought affections,
  • Enamelled with love and kindness ; and the tiles, engraven gold,
  • Labour of merciful hands ; the beams and rafters are forgiveness;
  • The mortar and cement of the work, tears of honesty; the nails
  • And the screws and iron traces are well-wrought blandishments,
  • And well-contrived words, firm fixing, never forgotten,
  • Always comforting the remembrance : the floors humility;
  • The ceilings devotion ; the hearths thanksgiving.
Far more curious is the following song. It seems to indicate again that Jerusalem may have with Blake, in a wide acceptation, its not unusual significance of ‘The True Church;’ seeing that the portion of the poem in which this song occurs is addressed ‘To the Jews,’ and that the British
page: 232
Editorial Note (page ornament): Border from Jerusalem along right margin.
nation, nevertheless, seems here as elsewhere in Blake's writings, to be ‘the chosen people,’ or as one may say, ‘the Jews regenerate.’ This song is given as an example of what Blake could do in his most exacting moods, if indeed he really expected any listener other than a ‘spectre’ or ‘emanation’ of his own to hearken to such strains ; combining as they do, localities familiar only to penny-a-lining with conceptions ‘pinnacled dim in the intense inane.’ The early part of the song is included, indeed, not without hesitation, lest the reader should laugh at one whose creation was not for laughter; but it had better speak as a whole for itself, and for its author's wildest exigencies. The inmost cell of the poetic mind will not find the familiar names in such connexion altogether unwelcome ; and after the stanza commencing,
  • ‘The Rhine was red with human blood,’
the verse opens out into reaches of utterance much nobler, and surely, here and there, not unsuggestive of prophecy.
  • To the Jews.
  • The fields from Islington to Marybone,
  • To Primrose Hill and Saint John's Wood,
  • Were builded over with pillars of gold;
  • And there Jerusalem's pillars stood.
  • Her little ones ran on the fields,
  • The Lamb of God among them seen;
  • And fair Jerusalem, his Bride,
  • Among the little meadows green.
  • Pancras and Kentish Town repose
  • 10Among her golden pillars high,
  • Among her golden arches which
  • Shine upon the starry sky.
  • The Jew's-Harp House and the Green Man,
  • The Ponds where boys to bathe delight,
  • The fields of cows by Welling's farm,
  • Shine in Jerusalem's pleasant sight.
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Editorial Note (page ornament): Border from Jerusalem along right margin.
  • She walks upon our meadows green
  • The lamb of God walks by her side,
  • And every English child is seen,
  • 20Children of Jesus and His Bride:
  • Forgiving trespasses and sins,
  • Lest Babylon, with cruel Og,
  • With moral and self-righteous Law,
  • Should crucify in Satan's synagogue.
  • What are those golden builders doing
  • Near mournful, ever-weeping Paddington?
  • Standing above that mighty ruin
  • Where Satan the first victory won?
  • Where Albion slept beneath the fatal tree,
  • 30And the Druid's golden knife
  • Rioted in human gore,
  • In offerings of human life?
  • They groaned aloud on London Stone,
  • They groaned aloud on Tyburn's brook:
  • Albion gave his deadly groan,
  • And all the Atlantic mountains shook.
  • Albion's spectre from his loins
  • Tore forth in all the pomp of war,
  • Satan his name : in flames of fire,
  • 40He stretched his Druid pillars far.
  • Jerusalem fell from Lambeth's vale
  • Down through Poplar and old Bow,
  • Through Maiden, and across the sea,
  • In war and howling, death and woe.
  • The Rhine was red with human blood,
  • The Danube roll'd a purple tide,
  • On the Euphrates Satan stood
  • And over Asia stretch'd his pride.
  • He wither'd up sweet Zion's hill
  • 50From every nation of the earth,
  • He wither'd up Jerusalem's gates,
  • And in a dark land gave her birth.
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Editorial Note (page ornament): Border from Jerusalem along right margin.
  • He wither'd up the human form
  • By laws of sacrifice for sin,
  • Till it became a mortal worm.
  • But, O! translucent all within!
  • The Divine Vision still was seen,
  • Still was the human form divine:
  • Weeping, in weak and mortal day,
  • 60O Jesus! still the form was Thine!
  • And Thine the human face; and Thine
  • The human hands, and feet, and breath
  • Entering through the gates of birth
  • And passing through the gates of death.
  • And, O! Thou Lamb of God! whom I
  • Slew in my dark, self-righteous pride,
  • Art Thou retum'd to Albion's land?
  • And is Jerusalem Thy Bride?
  • Come to my arms, and never more
  • 70Depart, but dwell for ever here;
  • Create my spirit to Thy love,
  • Subdue my spectre to Thy fear.
  • Spectre of Albion ! warlike fiend!
  • In clouds of blood and ruin roll'd,
  • I here reclaim Thee as my own,
  • My selfhood ; Satan arm'd in gold.
  • Is this thy soft family love?
  • Thy cruel patriarchal pride?
  • Planting thy family alone,
  • 80Destroying all the world beside?
  • A man's worst enemies are those
  • Of his own house and family;
  • And he who makes his law a curse
  • By his own law shall surely die.
  • In my exchanges every land
  • Shall walk, and mine in every land,
  • Mutual, shall build Jerusalem,
  • lloth heart in heart and hand in hand.
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Many of Blake's favourite metaphysical and theological tenets are enlarged upon. As, for instance, the antagonism of Reason to Faith:—
  • And this is the manner of the sons of Albion in their strength:
  • They take two contraries, which are called qualities, with which
  • Every substance is clothed : they name them Good and Evil.
  • From these they make an abstract, which is a negation,
  • Not only of the substance from which it is derived,—
  • A murderer of its own body : but also a murderer
  • Of every divine member: — it is the Reasoning Power,
  • An abstract, objecting Power, that negatives everything.
  • This is the spectre of man, — the holy Reasoning Power;
  • 10And in its holiness is closed the abomination of desolation.
And again:—
  • Are not religion and politics the same thing? Brotherhood is religion.
  • He who would do good to another, must do it in minute particulars :
  • General good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer.
  • For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized particulars,
  • And not in generalizing demonstrations of the Rational Power.
  • The Infinite alone resides in definite and determinate identity.
Here is another theme he loved to dwell on:—
  • All that has existed in the space of six thousand years
  • Permanent and not lost : not lost nor vanish'd ; and every little act,
  • Word, work, and wish that have existed, — all remaining still
  • In those churches, ever consuming and ever building by the spectres
  • Of all the inhabitants of earth waiting to be created;
  • Shadowy to those who dwell not in them—mere possibilities;
  • But, to those who enter into them, they seem the only realities.
  • For everything exists; and not one sigh, nor smile, nor tear,
  • One hair, nor particle of dust--not one can pass away.
* * * * * *
page: 236
  • 10All things acted on earth are seen in the bright sculptures of
  • Los's Hall. And every age renews its powers from these works:
  • With every pathetic story possible to happen from Hate or
  • Wayward Love. And every sorrow and distress is carved here;
  • Every affinity of parents, marriages and friendship's are here
  • In all their various combinations; wrought with wondrous art,
  • All that can happen to man in his pilgrimage of seventy years.
Interesting fragments, surely, if only as being so eminently characteristic of the man. A few more such—mere fragments—I will add before proceeding to speak of the decorative designs with which every page of the original is enriched:—
  • Wherefore hast thou shut me into the winter of human life
  • And closed up the sweet regions of youth and virgin innocence
  • Where we live forgetting error, not pondering on evil:
  • Among my lambs and brooks of water, among my warbling birds,
  • Where we delight in innocence before the face of the Lamb,
  • Going in and out before him in his love and sweet affection?
  • Vala replied weeping and trembling, hiding in her veil.
  • When winter rends the hungry family and the snow falls
  • Upon the ways of men, hiding the paths of man and beast,
  • 10Then mourns the wanderer: then he repents his wanderings and eyes
  • The distant forest ; then the slave groans in the dungeon of stone,
  • The captive in the mill of the stranger sold for scanty hire:
  • They view their former life : they number moments over and over
  • Stringing them on their remembrance as on a thread of sorrow.
  • Imagination [is] the real and eternal world, of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow : and in which we shall live, in our eternal or imaginative bodies, when these vegetable mortal bodies are no more.
  • It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.
  • Without forgiveness of sin, Love itself is eternal Death.
  • O Albion ! why didst thou a female will create?
  • Negations are not contraries. Contraries mutually exist,
  • 20But negations exist not; exceptions, objections, unbelief,
  • Exist not ; nor shall they ever be organized for ever and ever.
  • page: [236a recto]
    Note: Blank page.
    page: [236b verso]

    Jerusalem. C 4

    • The Spectres of Albions Twelve Sons revolve mightily
    • Over the Tomb & over the Body: ravning to devour
    • The Sleeping Humanity. Los with his mace of iron
    • Walks round: loud his threats, loud his blows fall
    • On the rocky Spectres, as the Potter breaks the potsherds;
    • Dashing in pieces Self righteousnesses: driving them from Albions
    • Cliffs: dividing them into Male & Female forms in his Furnaces
    • And on his Anvils: lest they destroy the Feminine Affections
    • They are broken. Loud howl the Spectres in his iron Furnace.
    • While Los laments at his dire labours viewing Jerusalem,
    • Sitting before his Furnaces clothed in sackcloth of hair;
    • Albions Twelve Sons surround the Forty two Gates of Erin,
    • In terrible armour, raging against the Lamb & against Jerusalem,
    • Surrounding them with armies to destroy the Lamb of God.
    • They took their Mother Vala, and they crown'd her with gold:
    • They namd her Rahab, & gave her power over the Earth;
    • The Concave Earth round Golganooza in Entuthon Banython—
    • Even to the stars exalting her Throne, to build beyond the Throne
    • Of God and the Lamb, to destroy the Lamb & usurp the Throne of God
    • Drawing their Ulro. Voidness round the Four-fold Humanity
    • Naked Jerusalem lay before the Gates upon Mount Zion
    • The Hill of Giants, all her foundations levelld with the dust:
    • Her Twelve Gates thrown down: her children carried into captivity
    • Herself in chains: this from within was seen in a dismal sight
    • Outside, unknown before in Beulah & the twelve gates were filld
    • With blood; from Japan eastward to the Giants causway west
    • In Erins Continent: and Jerusalem wept upon Euphrates banks
    • Disorganizd; an evanescent shade, scarce seen or heard among
    • Her childrens Druid Temples dropping with blood wanderd weeping.
    • And thus her voice went forth in the darkness of Philisthea.
    • My brother & my father are no more! God hath forsaken me
    • The arrows of the almighty pour upon me & my children.
    • I have sinned and am an outcast from the Divine Presence?

    Figure: Plate 78 from Blake's "Jerusalem." The heading of chapter four is in the top right corner, with the sun setting below it. In the upper left of the plate, Los sits on a rock with his elbow on his knee and chin on his hand. The text fills the lower portion of the plate, with a border along the right side.

    page: 237
  • If I were pure, never could I taste the sweets of the forgiveness of sins.
  • If I were holy, I never could behold the tears of love:
  • Of Him who loves me in the midst of His anger.
  • I heard His voice in my sleep, and His angel in my dream
  • Saying, Doth Jehovah forgive a debt, only on condition that it shall
  • Be paid ? Doth He forgive pollution only on condition of purity?
  • That debt is not forgiven! that pollution is not forgiven!
  • Such is the forgiveness of the gods ; the moral virtues of the
  • 30Heathen, whose tender mercies are cruelty. But Jehovah's salvation
  • Is without money and without price, in the continual forgiveness of sins.
  • The vegetative universe opens like a flower from the earth's centre,
  • In which is eternity. It expands in stars to the mundane shell,
  • And there it meets Eternity again, both within and without.
  • What may man be ? Who can tell ? But what may women be
  • To have power over man from cradle to corruptible grave?
  • He who was an Infant, and whose cradle was a manger,
  • Knoweth the Infant Sorrow, whence it came and where it goeth,
  • And who weave it a cradle of the grass that withereth away.
  • 40This world is all a cradle for the erred, wandering Phantom,
  • Rock'd by year, month, day, and hour. And every two moments
  • Between, dwells a daughter of Beulah, to feed the human vegetable.
  • Rock the cradle, ah me ! of that eternal man!
The magic influences of one of the ‘daughters of Beulah’ are thus described:—
  • She creates at her will a little moony night and silence,
  • With spaces of sweet gardens and a tent of elegant beauty
  • Closed in by sandy deserts, and a night of stars shining;
  • A little tender moon, and hovering angels on the wing.
  • And the male gives a time and revolution to her space
  • Till the time of love is passed in ever-varying delights:
  • For all things exist in the human imagination.
This last line contains what deserves to be called the corner-stone of Blake's philosophy. For his philosophy had
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corner-stone and foundation, and was not miraculously suspended in the air, as his readers might sometimes feel tempted to believe. Amid all contradictions, incoherences, wild assertions, this principle, — that the conceptions of the mind are the realities of realities, that the human imagination is an eternal world, ‘ever expanding in the bosom of God,’— shines steadily forth : and to readers of a speculative turn, who will be at the pains to examine by its light these erratic writings, the chaos will resolve itself into substance, though not into form and order. It is needless to tell such thinkers that Bishop Berkeley was one on the list of Blake's favourite authors. But, with his fervid, dauntless imagination, the artist seized hold of the metaphysician's theory of Idealism, and strove to quicken it into a grand, poetic Cosmos.
There is another ‘Song’ in the Jerusalem, addressed To the Deists, beginning—
  • I saw a monk of Charlemaine,
which follows soon after the one already quoted To the Jews . As it is far less singular and characteristic than its predecessor, however, the concluding beautiful stanza is all that shall here detain us:—
  • For a tear is an intellectual thing,
  • And a sigh is the sword of an angel king,
  • And the bitter groan of a martyr's woe
  • Is an arrow from the Almighty's bow.
Of the pictorial part of the Jerusalem much might be said which would merely be applicable to all Blake's works alike. One point, perhaps, somewhat distinctive about it, is an extreme largeness and decorative character in the style of the drawings, which are mostly made up of a few massive forms, thrown together on a grand, equal scale. The beauty of the drawings varies much, according to the colour in which they are printed. One copy, possessed by Lord Houghton, is so incomparably superior, from this cause, to any other I have seen, that no one could know the work
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Note: Blank page.
page: [238b verso]


Figure: Plate from Blake's "Jerusalem"

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properly without having examined this copy. It is printed in a warm, reddish brown, the exact colour of a very fine photograph ; and the broken blending of the deeper tones with the more tender shadows,—all sanded over with a sort of golden mist peculiar to Blake's mode of execution,— makes still more striking the resemblance to the then undiscovered ‘handling’ of Nature herself. The extreme breadth of the forms throughout, when seen through the medium of this colour, shows sometimes, united with its grandeur, a sauvity of line which is almost Venetian.
The subjects are vague and mystic as the poem itself. Female figures lie among waves full of reflected stars: a strange human image, with a swan's head and wings, floats on water in a kneeling attitude, and drinks : lovers embrace in an open water-lily : an eagle-headed creature sits and


Figure: Figures ploughing. From Jerusalem

contemplates the sun: serpent-women are coiled with serpents: Assyrian-looking, human-visaged bulls are seen yoked to the plough or the chariot : rocks swallow or vomit forth human forms, or appear to amalgamate with them: angels cross each other over wheels of flame: and flames and hurrying figures wreathe and wind among the lines. Even


Figure: Intersecting circles around sketches of angels. From Jerusalem

such slight things as these rough intersecting circles, each containing some hint of an angel; even these are made the unmistakable exponents of genius. Here and there some more familiar theme meets us,—the creation of Eve, or the
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Crucifixion ; and then the thread is lost again. The whole spirit of the designs might seem well symbolized in one of the finest among them, where we see a triple-headed and


Figure: Spider and snake. From Jerusalem

triple-crowned figure embedded in rocks, from whose breast is bursting a string of youths, each in turn born from the others breast in one sinuous throe of mingled life, while the life of suns and planets dies and is born, and rushes together around them.
Milton: a Poem in Two Books. The Author and Printer, W. Blake, 1804>, is a small quarto of forty-five engraved pages, coloured by hand in the usual manner. In the frontispiece of the Jerusalem, a man enters at a dark door carrying a planet. Would we might follow him through those dim passages, and see them by his light ! Nor would his company be less serviceable among the mazes of the Milton. As this latter work has no perceptible affinity with its title, so the designs it contains seem unconnected with the text. This principle of independence is carried even into Blake's own portrait of his cottage at Felpham, p. 245, which bears no accurate resemblance to the real place. In beauty, the drawings do not rank with Blake's most notable works ; the copy at the Museum (as seen by the water-mark of its paper — 1808) is not one of the earliest, and others might, probably, be found surpassing it in point of colour. Two of the designs chiefly arrest attention ; each of which shows us a figure falling as if struck by Heaven ; one bearing the inscription Robert, and the other William. They embody the sweet remembrance which Blake preserved of his lost brother, throughout the dying life of every day. Of the two figures, Robert, the already dead, is wrapped in the deeper shadow ; but, in other respects, they are almost the same.
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Figure: Plate from Blake's "Jerusalem"

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Note: Blank page.
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Sig. Vol. I. R
The poem is very like the Jerusalem in style: it would seem, in fact, to be a sort of continuation ; an idea that is borne out by the verses with which its singular Preface concludes:—
  • And did those feet in ancient time
  • Walk upon England's mountain green?
  • And was the holy Lamb of God
  • On England's pleasant pastures seen?
  • And did the countenance Divine
  • Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
  • And was Jerusalem builded here
  • Among these dark Satanic mills?
  • Bring me my bow of burning gold!
  • 10Bring me my arrows of desire!
  • Bring me my spear : O clouds, unfold!
  • Bring me my chariot of fire!
  • I will not cease from mental fight,
  • Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
  • Till we have built Jerusalem
  • In England's green and pleasant land.
‘Would to God that all the Lord's people were prophets!‘— Numbers ii. 29.
The Milton, as I have hinted, equals its predecessor in obscurity ; few are the readers who will ever penetrate beyond the first page or two. There is also the same religious fervour, the same high, devout aim:
  • I touch the heavens as an instrument to glorify the Lord!
exclaims Blake in one place; and the reader is, with impassioned earnestness, besought to give heed unto him in the following line, which recurs incessantly:—
  • Mark well my words; they are of your eternal salvation!
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About Milton we hear very little, but his name is mentioned in the opening invocation:—
  • Daughters of Beulah ! muses who inspire the poet's song!
  • Record the journey of immortal Milton through your realms
  • Of terror and mild moony lustre!
And afterwards we are told:—
  • First Milton saw Albion upon the rock of ages,
  • Deadly pale outstretch'd and snowy cold, storm-cover'd:
  • A giant form of perfect beauty outstretch'd on the rock
  • In solemn death : the Sea of Time and Space thunder'd aloud
  • Against the rock which was inwrapp'd with the weeds of death
  • Hovering over the cold bosom. In its vortex Milton bent down
  • To the bosom of death. What was underneath soon seem'd above,
  • A cloudy heaven mingled with stormy seas in loudest ruin.
  • But as a wintry globe descends precipitant, through Beulah, bursting
  • 10With thunders loud and terrible, so Milton's shadow fell
  • Precipitant, loud thund'ring, into the sea of Time and Space.
Two other familiar names find pregnant mention.
  • God sent his two servants Whitfield and Wesley ; were they prophets?
  • Or were they idiots and madmen? ‘Shew us miracles?’
  • Can you have greater miracles than these? Men who devote
  • Their life's whole comfort to entire scorn, injury, and death?
But the chief parts are played, as before, by shadowy or symbolic personages ; of some of whose names, however, a definite interpretation here occurs which will be welcome:—
  • Los is by mortals named Time, Enitharmon is named Space;
  • But they depict him bald and aged who is in eternal youth,
  • All powerful, and his locks flourish like the brow of morning.
  • He is the Spirit of Prophecy, the ever apparent Elias,
  • Time is the mercy of Eternity ; without Time's swiftness,
  • Which is the swiftest of all things, all were eternal torment.’
‘The latter part of the first book of Milton,’ says Mr. Swinburne, — to whose guidance the reader, desirous of testing his poetic mettle by plunging resolutely through the dark
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Sig. R 2
mazes of these labyrinthine, spectre-haunted books, is commended,— ‘is a vision of nature, a prophecy of the gathering of the harvest of Time, and treading tlie winepress of war; in which harvest and vintage-work all living things have their share for good or evil’:
  • How red the sons and daughters of Luvah ! here they tread the grapes
  • Laughing and shouting, drunk with odours ; many fall o'er wearied;
  • Drowned in the wine is many a youth and maiden ; those around
  • Lay them on skins of tigers, of the spotted leopard and the wild ass,
  • Till they revive, or bury them in cool grots, making lamentation.
  • This Winepress is called War on Earth ; it is the printing-press
  • Of Los ; there he lays his words in order above the mortal brain
  • As cogs are formed in a wheel to turn the cogs of the adverse wheel.
All kinds of insects, of roots and seed and creeping things —all the armies of disease visible or invisible are there:—
  • The slow slug; the grasshopper that sings and laughs and drinks
  • (Winter comes, he folds his slender bones without a murmur).
Wasp and hornet, toad and newt, spider and snake,—
  • They throw off their gorgeous raiment ; they rejoice with loud jubilee
  • Around the winepresses of Luvah naked and drunk with wine.
  • There is the nettle that stings with soft down ; and there
  • The indignant thistle whose bitterness is bred in his milk,
  • Who feeds on contempt of his neighbour ; there all the idle weeds
  • That creep around the obscure places show their various limbs
  • Naked in all their beauty, dancing round the winepresses.
  • But in the winepresses the human grapes sing not nor dance,
  • They howl and writhe in shoals of torment, in fierce flames consuming;
Tortured for the cruel joy and deadly sport of Luvah's sons and daughters;
  • They dance around the dying and they drink the howl and groan,
  • They catch the shrieks in cups of gold, they hand them one to another.
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  • These are the sports of love, and these the sweet delights of amorous play;
  • Tears of the grape, the death-sweet of the cluster, the last sigh
  • Of the mild youth who listens to the luring songs of Luvah.
With the following sweet reminiscence of life at Felpham, which occurs in the Second Book of Milton, and with the quaint and pretty lines apropos of which Blake introduces the idealized view of his cottage, given at the end of this chapter, let these gleanings from the ‘Prophetic Books' conclude.
  • Thou hearest the nightingale begin the song of spring;
  • The lark, sitting upon his earthy bed, just as the morn
  • Appears, listens silent; then, springing from the waving corn-field, loud
  • He leads the choir of day: trill — trill — trill — trill —
  • Mounting upon the wings of light into the great expanse,
  • Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining heavenly shell.
  • His little throat labours with inspiration; every feather
  • On throat, and breast, and wing, vibrates with the effluence divine.
  • All nature listens to him silent ; and the awful Sun
  • 10Stands still upon the mountains, looking on this little bird
  • With eyes of soft humility, and wonder, love, and awe.
  • Then loud, from their green covert, all the birds begin their song,—
  • The thrush, the linnet and the goldfinch, robin and the wren,
  • Awake the sun from his sweet reverie upon the mountains;
  • The nightingale again essays his song, and through the day
  • And through the night warbles luxuriant ; every bird of song
  • Attending his loud harmony with admiration and love.
  • (This is a vision of the lamentation of Beulah over Ololon.)
  • Thou perceivest the flowers put forth their precious odours,
  • 20And none can tell how from so small a centre come such sweets,
  • Forgetting that within that centre Eternity expands
  • Its ever-during doors that Og and Anak fiercely guard.
  • First, ere the morning breaks, joy opens in the flowery bosoms.
  • Joy even to tears, which the sun, rising, dries ; first the wild thyme
  • And meadow-sweet, downy and soft, waving among the reeds,
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  • Light springing on the air, lead the sweet dance ; they wake
  • The honeysuckle sleeping on the oak, the flaunting beauty
  • Revels along upon the wind; the white thorn, lovely May,
  • Opens her many lovely eyes; listening, the rose still sleeps,
  • 30None dare to wake her : soon she bursts her crimson-curtained bed
  • And comes forth in the majesty of beauty; every flower,
  • The pink, the jasmine, the wallflower, the carnation,
  • The jonquil, the mild lily opes her heavens ; every tree
  • And flower and herb soon fill the air with an innumerable dance,
  • Yet all in order sweet and lovely; men are sick with love.
  • Such is a vision of the lamentation of Beulah over Ololon.
  • * When Los joined with me he took me in his fiery whirlwind;
  • My vegetated portion was hurried from Lambeth's shades;
  • He set me down in Felpham's vale, and prepared a beautiful
  • 40Cottage for me, that, in three years, I might write all these visions;
  • To display Nature's cruel holiness ; the deceits of Natural Religion.
  • Walking in my cottage garden, sudden I beheld
  • The virgin Ololon, and address'd her as a daughter of Beulah:—
  • ‘Virgin of Providence ! fear not to enter into my cottage!’

Figure: Blake's Cottage at Felpham. From Milton.

page: [246]

A KEEN EMPLOYER. 1805—7. [ÆT. 48-50.]
To Hayley succeeded a patron who will give even less pecuniary help, but a more efficient introduction to the public. This was R. H. Cromek, hitherto an engraver, now turning print-jobber and book-maker, who, at this period, discovered Blake. The slighted artist sorely needed a discoverer; he and his wife being now, according to Cromek, ‘reduced so low as to be obliged to live on half a guinea a week.’ ‘Living’ must here mean board ; for weekly rent alone would amount to that sum. Thus interpreted, the statement is not an exaggerated one of Blake's straitened resources at this and other periods of his life.
During 1804 to 1805 had been produced that series of Drawings illustrative of Blair‘s Grave, by which, from the accident of their having been afterwards really published and pushed in the regular way, Blake is most widely known—known at all, I may say—to the public at large. It is the only volume, with his name on its title-page, which is not ‘scarce.’ These drawings Blake had intended engraving and publishing himself. They were seen, however, admired, and purchased, by engraver Cromek—‘engraver, printseller, publisher, author—and Yorkshireman.’ He gave, according to Smith, ‘the insignificant sum of one guinea each for them,’ but, in fact, about a guinea and a half; ‘on the express understanding,’ adds Smith, ‘that the artist was to engrave
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them for a projected edition of The Grave.’ This, involving a far more considerable remuneration, would have made the total payment for the designs tolerably adequate.
Robert Hartley Cromek, a native of Hull, now a man of five and thirty, had been a pupil of Bartolozzi, and, during the past ten years, had engraved, with credit, many bookplates after Stothard. He was one in the numerous band whom that graceful artist's active fingers kept employed ; for, as may well be believed, it is vastly quicker work the making of designs than the engraving them. Among Cromek's doing are some of the plates to an edition of The Spectator (1803), to Du Roveray's edition of Pope (1804), and one in an early edition of Rogers’ Pleasures of Memory. With a nervous temperament and an indifferent constitution the painful confinement of his original profession ill agreed. An active, scheming disposition, combined with some taste for literature and superficial acquaintance with it, tempted him to exchange, as many second-rate engravers have done, the steady drudgery of engraving for the more profitable, though speculative, trade of print-publisher and dealer, or farmer of the talents of others. He had little or no capital. This edition of Blair‘s Grave, with illustrations by Blake, was his first venture. And twenty guineas for twelve of the most original designs of the century, and not unintelligible designs, though from Blake's mystic hand, was no bad beginning. Even in this safe investment, however, the tasteful Yorkshireman showed bolder discernment of unvalued genius than the stolid trade ever hazarded.
In 1805 the Prospectus was issued; from which it appears, it was then intended for Blake to engrave the illustrations. The Prospectus was helped by an elaborate opinion in favour of the Designs from Fuseli's friendly pen, whose word then carried almost judicial weight. As collateral guarantee was added an authorized statement of their cordial approval by President West, and ten other academicians ; among them Cosway, Flaxman, Lawrence, Nollekens, Stothard. These
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were credentials by which the practical Cromek set some store. He had submitted the drawings to those academic dons, disinterestedly anxious to be assured ‘how far he was warranted in calling the attention of connoisseurs to what he himself imagined to be a high and original effort of genius;’ not, of course, with any eye to the value of such testimonials with the public. Accomplished Thomas Hope— Anastasius Hope—and virtuoso Mr. Locke, of Norbury, also ‘pledged their character as connoisseurs’ (according to Malkin) in their favour, ‘by approving and patronizing these designs.’
Blake was looking forward ‘with anxious delight’ to the congenial task of engraving his ‘Inventions,’ and did engrave one or two. A print in his peculiar, vigorous manner, from his favourite design— Death's Door—I have seen. But shrewd Cromek's eye had been educated in the school of graceful Bartolozzi. By him, Blake's old-fashioned, austere style was quickly perceived to be not in unison with public taste, and far less likely to draw subscribers than a lucid version of his wild grandeur by some competent hand. To the initiated, an artist's rendering of his own conception — that, say, of an Albert Dürer, a Lucas von Leyden, a Hogarth — has always the infinitely superior claim, in its first-hand vigour, freshness, and air as of an original. Such engravings are, in fact, originals.
Cromek selected for his purpose Lewis Schiavonetti, a native of Bassano, in Venetia, who, on coming to England, had put himself under Bartolozzi, Cromek's master. In that studio, probably, the two became acquainted. Schiavonetti rose above all Bartolozzi's other pupils; above the master too ; developing an individual style, which united grandeur with grace, boldness, draughtsman-like power, and intelligence with executive delicacy and finish. It was a happy choice of engraver on Cromek's part, and with his views. The large outlay requisite to secure the Italian's service was pretty sure of ultimate return, with good interest. Cromek's sagacity
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cannot, indeed, be denied. It resulted in the wedding of remarkable powers of engraving to high design, worthy of them. In his brief course, Schiavonetti was generally most unfortunate in having subjects to engrave not deserving of his skill. A previous engraving from Michael Angelo's noble Cartoon of Pisa, the plates to The Grave, and a subsequent etching from Stothard‘s Canterbury Pilgrims, are the only examples of a fitly-directed exercise of his powers. By them alone can they now be estimated. On another ground, Cromek's decision can hardly be blamed. Schiavonetti introduced Blake's designs to a wider public than himself could ever have done.
On the other hand, the purchaser of the designs having made a certain engagement, it was not open to him, in honour or common honesty, because it was an unwritten one, to depart from it for his own advantage, without Blake's consent, or without making compensation to the artist for his pecuniary loss. In point of fact, Cromek jockeyed Blake out of his copyright. And Blake was naturally mortified and incensed at the loss of profitable and happy employment to which the new arrangement sentenced him, and at becoming a mere conduit for the enrichment of two fellow-engravers.
Allan Cunningham, who also had had relations with Cromek, and had kindly reasons for judging him leniently, tells us the speculator, in paying Blake twenty guineas for the twelve designs, gave a price which, ‘though small, was more than what he usually received for such productions.’ This is what Cromek, or his widow, told Cunningham ; but the statement is incorrect. True, Blake's gains were always small. A guinea to a guinea and a half each was his price for the water-colour drawings sold to Mr. Butts and others. But then he did not lose his copyright ; he was always at liberty to make duplicates and to engrave them. Clearly, he did make more by those ; more, also, by the Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and the other series of designs which he
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kept in his own hands, and sold engraved copies of, for sums varying from five to twenty guineas.
While Schiavonetti was at work on his etchings from the Designs to Blair, hungry Cromek would call every now and then on Blake, to see what he was doing. One day, he caught sight of a pencil drawing from a hitherto virgin subject — the Procession of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims; Chaucer being a poet read by fewer then than now. Cromek ‘appeared highly delighted’ with Blake's sketch, says Smith, as being an original treatment of an original subject. In point of fact, he wanted to secure a finished drawing from it, for the purpose of having it engraved, and without employing Blake, just as he had served him over the Designs to the The Grave; as I learn from other sources, on sifting the matter. However, Blake was not to be taken in a second time. Negotiations on that basis failed ; but, as Blake understood the matter, he received a commission, tacit or express, from Cromek, to execute the design. The Yorkshireman, nevertheless, went to Stothard, suggested the subject as a novelty, and, in fine, commissioned of that artist an oil-picture for sixty guineas, to be engraved by Bromley ; for whom Schiavonetti was eventually substituted. Whether Stothard knew of Blake's design I can hardly pronounce ; possibly not ; certainly he did not, I should say, of Cromek's previous overtures to Blake, nor of the fact that a subscription paper for an engraving of the Canterbury Pilgrims had been circulated by Blake's friends.
This was in 1806, two years before publication of The Grave. One day, while Stothard was painting his picture, Blake called on his friend and saw it, ignorant, evidently, that it was to supersede his own, and that slippery Cromek was at the bottom of its having existed at all ; nay, was making it his next speculation with the public. For the two artists to design from the same poets and subjects was no new thing, as a comparison of their works will show. Take, for instance, the Night Thoughts of Young, illustrated by Blake in 1797, by
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Stothard in 1802. Such coincidences naturally happen to all painters of history and poetry. According to Stothard, Blake praised his picture, and expressed much pleasure at seeing it. Stothard, on his side, talked of introducing Blake (a good subject, by the way) into the Procession, ‘as a mark of esteem for him and his works.’ From these he candidly confessed to have long derived pleasure and profit.
When Blake came to know how the case really stood, his indignation was vehement against Cromek, at whom his grudge was yet fresh for having robbed him of the engraving his designs to Blair. Indignation, too, he long cherished towards Stothard, whom he took to have been privy to Cromek's previous dealings with himself for his design from Chaucer. My own induction, from all the evidence, coincides with Flaxman's opinion, viz., that Stothard's act was not a wilful one, in being made a party to an engraving of a picture by himself, on a subject previously taken by Blake. Certain it is, indeed, that the general composition of his Procession has a suspicious resemblance to Blake's. This, however, may be due to hints given by the unscrupulous go-between.
By May 1807 Stothard's ‘Cabinet Picture’ was publicly exhibited; and, what with its own merits and novelty, and what with Cromek's judicious puffing, drew several thousand gazers and admirers. Hoppner, at the end of May, wrote an encomiastic descriptive ‘Letter’ to Cumberland, printed in Prince Hoare's Artist, and turned to good account in Cromek's Prospectus for the engraving. Connoisseur, picture-dealing Carey,—afterwards as ‘Ridolfi,’ Etty's panegyrist,—always too happy to get his verbiage set up in type free of cost, penned a still longer Critical Description the following year, which wily Cromek had well circulated, as a bait to subscribers.
During this May was scribbled a letter from Cromek to Blake, bearing incidentally on this matter, but mainly on the designs to The Grave, and the differences which had arisen between the two. The letter sets forcibly before us Blake's
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circumstances at the time; is an example of the spurns he from the unworthy took; and throws a flood of light on the character of the writer. It subsequently fell into Allan Cunningham's hands, thence into his son, Mr. Peter Cunningham's, and has been printed in the Gentleman's Magazine (Feb. 1852):—

‘64, NEWMAN STREET, May, 1807.


‘I rec’ d, not with t great surprise, your letter demanding four guineas for the sketched vignette ded d to the Queen. I have returned the drawing with this note, and I will briefly state my reasons for so doing. In the first place, I do not think it merits the price you affix to it, under any circumstances . In the next place, I never had the remotest suspicion that you d for a moment entertain the idea of writing me to supply money to create an honour in w h I cannot possibly participate. The Queen allowed you, not me, to dedicate the work to her! The honour w d have been yours exclus y; but that you might not be deprived of any advantage likely to contribute to your reputation, I was willing to pay Mr. Schiavonetti ten guineas for etching a plate from the drawing in question.

‘Another reason for returning the sketch is, that I can do without it, having already engaged to give a greater number of etchings than the price of the book will warrant ; and I neither have, nor ever had, any encouragement from you to place you before the public in a more favourable point of view than that which I have already chosen. You charge me w h imposing upon you. Upon my honour I have no recollection of anything of the kind. If the world and I were to settle accounts to-morrow, I do assure you the balance w d be considerably in my favour. In this respect I am more sinned against than sinning ; but if I cannot recollect any instances wherein I have imposed upon you, several present themselves in w h I have imposed upon myself. Take two or three that press upon me.

‘When I first called on you, I found you without reputation; I imposed on myself the labour, and an herculean one it has been, to create and establish a reputation for you. I say the labour was herculean, because I had not only to contend with, but I had to battle with a man who had predetermined not to be served. What public reputation you have, the reputation of eccentricity excepted, I have acquired for you ; and I can honestly and conscientiously assert, that if you had laboured through life for yourself as zealously and as

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earnestly as I have done for you, your reputation as an artist w d not only have been enviable, but it would have put it out of the power of an individual as obscure as myself either to add to or take from it. I also imposed on myself, when I believed what you so often have told me, that your works were equal, nay superior, to a Raphael, or to a Michael Angelo! Unfortunately for me as a publisher, the public awoke me from this state of stupor, this mental delusion. That public is willing to give you credit for what real talent is to be found in your productions, and for no more .

I have imposed on myself yet more grossly in believing you to be one altogether abstracted from this world, holding converse with the world of spirits! simple, unoffending, a combination of the serpent and the dove. I really blush when I reflect how I have been cheated in this respect. The most effectual way of benefiting a designer whose aim is general patronage, is to bring his designs before the public, through the medium of engraving. Your drawings have had the good fortune to be engraved by one of the first artists in Europe, and the specimens already shown have already produced you orders that I verily believe you otherwise w d not have rec d. Herein I have been gratified ; for I was determined to bring you food as well as reputation, though, from your late conduct, I have some reason to embrace your wild opinion, that to manage genius, and to cause it to produce good things, it is absolutely necessary to starve it ; indeed, this opinion is considerably heightened by the recollection that your best work, the illustrations of The Grave, was produced when you and Mrs. Blake were reduced so low as to be obliged to live on half a guinea a week!

‘Before I conclude this letter, it will be necessary to remark, when I gave you the order for the drawings from the poem of The Grave, I paid you for them more than I could then afford ; more in proportion than you were in the habit of receiving, and what you were perfectly satisfied with ; though, I must do you the justice to confess, much less than I think is their real value. Perhaps you have friends and admirers who can appreciate their merit and worth as much as I do. I am decidedly of opinion that the twelve for The Grave should sell at the least for sixty guineas. If you can meet with any gentleman who will give you this sum for them, I will deliver them into his hands on the publication of the poem. I will deduct the twenty guineas I have paid yon from that sum, and the remainder forty ditto shall be at your disposal.

‘I will not detain you more than one minute. Why did yon so

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furiously rage at the success of the little picture of The Pilgrimage? Three thousand people have now seen it and have approved of it. Believe me, yours is “the voice of one crying in the wilderness!”

‘You say the subject is low, and contemptibly treated. For his excellent mode of treating the subject, the poet has been admired for the last 400 years; the poor painter has not yet the advantage of antiquity on his side, therefore, w h some people, an apology may be necessary for him. The conclusion of one of Squire Simkin's letters to his mother in the Bath Guide will afford one. He speaks greatly to the purpose:—

  • “I very well know,
  • Both my subject and verse is exceedingly low;
  • But if any great critic finds fault with my letter,
  • He has nothing to do but to send you a better.
With much respect for your talents,

I remain, Sir,

Your real friend and well-wisher,


It is one thing to read such a letter fifty years after it was written, though one can hardly do so without indignation ; another to have had to receive and digest its low affronts. A poet had need have a world of visions to retire to when exposed to these ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ Blake might well get irascible, might well give vent to his contempt and scorn in epigrams such as the following, which I find in that same MS. note-book wherein poor Hayley figures so ignominiously:—
  • Cromek loves artists as he loves his meat;
  • He loves the art, but ‘tis the art to cheat!
And again:—
  • A petty sneaking knave I knew;
  • Oh, Mr. Cromek ! how do you do?
Here is a taste of ‘Cromek's opinions put into rhyme.’

* * *
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  • I always take my judgments from a fool,
  • Because his judgment is so very cool;
  • Not prejudiced by feelings great and small.
  • Amiable state ! he cannot feel at all.
And yet, is not a needy publisher to make that profit out of a needy painter he cannot for himself? May not the purchaser of twelve drawings at twenty pounds do what he likes with his own? That Cromek had no answer to the charge of ‘imposition,’ and of having tricked Blake, is obvious from his preferring to open up irrelevant questions : he defends by attacking. The artist's discouragement of Cromek's herculean labours in behalf of Blake's fame, refers to his infatuated preference for being his own engraver, according to agreement. Through Cromek's reluctance to part with four guineas, the Blair lost a crowning grace in the vignette or setting, as in Blake's hands it would have been, of the Dedication to the Queen.
Poor Blake, in asking four guineas instead of one, for a single sketch, had evidently felt entitled to some insignificant atonement for previous under-pay. Perhaps, on the hint at the close of Cromek's letter—
  • ‘He has nothing to do but to send you a better,’
the indignant painter acted in executing, hereafter, his projected ‘fresco’ from the Canterbury Pilgrimage , and exhibiting and engraving it.
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GLEAMS OF PATRONAGE. 1806—1808. [ÆT. 49-51.]
Another ‘discoverer’ of Blake's singular and ignored genius was Dr. Malkin, Head-Master of Bury Grammar School, to whose account of the artist's early years we were indebted at the outset. It was, probably, after the return from Felpham, and through Cromek, they were made known to one another. Dr. Malkin was the author of various now all but forgotten works,— Essays on Subjects connected with Civilization, 1795: Scenery, Antiquities, and Biography of South Wales, 1804, which was his most popular effort, reaching, in 1807, to a second edition : also, Almahide and Hamet a Tragedy, 1804. His name may likewise be found to a current revision of Smollett's Translation of Gil Blas, the earlier editions of which contain illustrations by Smirke.
Blake designed, and originally engraved, the ‘ornamental device’ to the frontispiece for Malkin‘s Father's Memoirs of his Child, but it was erased before the appearance of the work, and the same design re-engraved by Cromek. The book was published February, 1806; in which month, by the way, died Barry, whom Blake knew and admired. The frontispiece consists of a portrait of the precocious infant, when two years old, from a miniature by Page, surrounded by an emblematic design of great beauty. An Angel is conducting the child heavenward ; he takes leave, with consoling gesture, of his kneeling mother, who, in a half-resigned,
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half-deprecating attitude, stretches towards him her wistful, unavailing arms, from the edge of a cliff—typifying Earth's verge. It is in a rambling Introductory Letter to Johnes of Hafod, translator of Froissart, the account in question of the designer of the frontispiece is given, with extracts from his Poems : a well-meant, if not very successful, attempt of the kindly pedagogue to serve the ‘untutored proficient,’ as he terms Blake. The poor little defunct prodigy who is the subject of the Memoir, and who died in 1802, after little more than a six years’ lease of life, was not only an expert linguist, a general reader, something of a poet, the historian and topographer of an imaginary kingdom, of which he drew an ‘accurate map;’ but was also a designer, producing ‘copies from some of Raphael's heads so much in unison with the style and sentiment of the originals, as induced our late excellent and ingenions friend, Mr. Banks, the sculptor, to predict, “that if he were to pursue the arts as a profession, he would one day rank among the more distinguished of their votaries.”’
He was also an original inventor of ‘little landscapes; accustomed to cut every piece of waste paper within his reach into squares’ an inch or two in size, and to fill them with ‘temples, bridges, trees, broken ground, or any other fanciful and picturesque materials which suggested themselves to his imagination.’ The father gives tracings from six of these as ‘specimens of his talent in composition;’ himself descrying a ‘decisive idea attached to each,’ and that ‘the buildings are placed firm on the ground;’ not to mention a taste and variety, the ‘result of a mind gifted with just feeling and fertile resources.’
The ‘testimony of Mr. Blake’ is added, who, being a man of imagination, can decipher more in these pre-Claudite jottings of pillar and post, arch and scrub, than his humble biographer can. What he says is, in its general tenor, interesting and true enough. But surely Mr. Blake saw double on the occasion, — for his sincerity never admits of doubt.
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‘They are all,’ writes he, ’firm determinate outline, or identical form. Had the hand which executed these little ideas been that of a plagiary, who works only from the memory, we should have seen blots, called masses,’ (Blake is girding at his own opposites in Art) ‘blots without form, and therefore without meaning. These blots of light and dark, as being the result of labour, are always clumsy and indefinite; the effect of rubbing out and putting in ; like the progress of a blind man, or one in the dark, who feels his way but does not see it. These are not so. Even the copy from Raphael's cartoon of St. Paul Preaching’ (from Dorigny's plate of the same) ‘is a firm, determinate outline, struck at once, as Protogenes struck his line, when he went to make himself known to Apelles. The map of Allestone has the same character of the firm and determinate. All his efforts prove this little boy to have had that greatest of blessings, a strong imagination, a clear idea, and a determinate vision of things in his own mind.’
To this date belongs a vigorous letter, discovered by Mr. Swinburne in the Monthly Review for July, 1st, 1806, our old friend Phillips being then editor, in which Blake returns some of Fuseli's good offices by defending his picture of Count Ugolino against an adverse critic:—

To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.


My indignation was exceedingly moved at reading a criticism in Bell's Weekly Messenger (25th May), on the picture of Count Ugolino, by Mr. Fuseli, in the Royal Academy Exhibition ; and your magazine being as extensive in its circulation as that paper, and as it also must, from its nature, be more permanent, I take the advantageous opportunity to counteract the widely diffused malice which has for many years, under the pretence of admiration of the arts, been assiduously sown and planted among the English public against true art, such as it existed in the days of Michael Angelo and Raphael. Under the pretence of fair criticism and candour the most wretched taste ever produced has been upheld for many, very many years ; but now, I say, now, its end has come. Such an

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artist as Fuseli is invulnerable ; he needs not my defence : but I should be ashamed not to set my hand and shoulder, and whole strength, against those wretches who, under pretence of criticism, use the dagger and the poison.

My criticism on this picture is as follows:—Mr. Fuseli's Count Ugolino is the father of sons of feeling and dignity, who would not sit looking in their parent's face in the moments of his agony, but would rather retire and die in secret, while they suffer him to indulge his passionate and innocent grief, his innocent and venerable madness and insanity and fury and whatever paltry, cold-hearted critics cannot, because they dare not, look upon. Fuseli's Count Ugolino is a man of wonder and admiration, of resentment against man and devil, and of humiliation before God ; prayer and parental affection fill the figure from head to foot. The child in his arms, whether boy or girl signifies not (but the critic must be a fool who has not read Dante, and who does not know a boy from a girl), I say, the child is as beautifully drawn as it is coloured— in both, inimitable ; and the effect of the whole is truly sublime, on account of that very colouring which our critic calls black and heavy. The German-flute colour, which was used by the Flemings (they call it burnt bone) has [ so ?] possessed the eye of certain connoisseurs, that they cannot see appropriate colouring, and are blind to the gloom of a real terror.

The taste of English amateurs has been too much formed upon pictures imported from Flanders and Holland; consequently our countrymen are easily brow-beat on the subject of painting; and hence it is so common to hear a man say, ‘I am no judge of pictures;’ but, oh Englishmen ! know that every man ought to be a judge of pictures, and every man is so who has not been connoisseured out of his senses.

A gentleman who visited me the other day said, ‘I am very much surprised at the dislike which some connoisseurs show on viewing the pictures of Mr. Fuseli ; but the truth is, he is a hundred years beyond the present generation.’ Though I am startled at such an assertion, I hope the contemporary taste will shorten the hundred years into as many hours ; for I am sure that any person consulting his own reputation, or the reputation of his country, will refrain from disgracing either by such ill judged criticisms in future.


Wm. Blake.
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Cromek, in the letter of May, 1807, quoted in the previous chapter, tells Blake incidentally, ‘The specimens’ (in proof) ‘of Schiavonetti's etchings have already produced you orders that, I verily believe, you would not otherwise have received.’ One commission, the credit whereof Cromek may here be assuming to himself, was that which occupied Blake during 1807 for the Countess of Egremont, to whom he had already been made known by Hayley. It was for a repetition, or enlargement rather, of the most elaborate of the Blair drawings— The Last Judgment. In reality, however, the commission was obtained through his staunch friend, Ozias Humphrey, the miniature painter. A letter to him from Blake (18th February, 1808), descriptive of this composition, is, in its commencement, applicable to that in the Blair, but shows the new picture to have contained many more figures and considerable variations from the previous treatment. Smith got hold of this letter from Upcott, Humphrey's godson, or, as some say, son in a less spiritual sense. The original is now in the possession of Mr. Anderdon, and, thanks, to his courtesy, has been here followed ; Smith's version being a slightly inaccurate one. To those familiar with Blake's works, a very extraordinary and imaginative composition is indicated.
To Ozias Humphrey, Esq.

The design of The Last Judgment., which I have completed, by your recommendation, for the Countess of Egremont, it is necessary to give some account of; and its various parts ought to be described, for the accommodation of those who give it the honour of their attention.

Christ seated on the Throne of Judgment: before His feet and around Him the Heavens, in clouds, are rolling like a scroll, ready to be consumed in the fires of Angels who descend with the four trumpets sounding to the four winds.

Beneath, the earth is convulsed with the labours of the Resurrection. In the caverns of the earth is the Dragon with seven heads and ten horns, chained by two Angels ; and above his cavern on the earth's surface, is the Harlot, seized and bound by two Angels with

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chains, while her palaces are falling into ruins, and her counsellors and warriors are descending into the abyss, in wailing and despair.

Hell opens beneath the Harlot's seat on the left hand, into which the wicked are descending.

The right hand of the design is appropriated to the Resurrection of the Just : the left hand of the design is appropriated to the Resurrection and Fall of the Wicked.

Immediately before the Throne of Christ are Adam and Eve, kneeling in humiliation, as representatives of the whole human race ; Abraham and Moses kneel on each side beneath them ; from the cloud on which Eve kneels, is seen Satan, wound round by the Serpent, and falling headlong ; the Pharisees appear on the left hand pleading their own Righteousness before the Throne of Christ and before the Book of Death, which is opened on clouds by two Angels ; many groups of figures are falling from before the throne, and from the sea of fire which flows before the steps of the throne ; on which are seen the seven Lamps of the Almighty, burning before the throne. Many figures, chained and bound together, and in various attitudes of despair and horror, fall through the air, and some are scourged by Spirits with flames of fire into the abyss of Hell which opens beneath, on the left hand of the Harlot's seat ; where others are howling and descending into the flames, and in the act of dragging each other into Hell, and of contending and fighting with each other on the brink of perdition.

Before the Throne of Christ on the right hand, the Just, in humiliation and in exultation, rise through the air with their children and families ; some of whom are bowing before the Book of Life, which is opened on clouds by two Angels : many groups arise in exultation ; among them is a figure crowned with stars, and the moon beneath her feet, with six infants around her, — she represents the Christian Church. Green hills appear beneath with the graves of the blessed, which are seen bursting with their births of immortality ; parents and children, wives and husbands, embrace and arise together, and in exulting attitudes tell each other that the New Jerusalem is ready to descend upon earth ; they arise upon the air rejoicing ; others, newly awaked from the grave, stand upon the earth embracing and shouting to the Lamb, who cometh in the clouds with power and great glory.

The whole upper part of the design is a view of Heaven opened, around the Throne of Christ. In the clouds, which roll away, are the four living creatures filled with eyes, attended by seven Angels

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with seven vials of the wrath of God, and above these, seven Angels with the seven trumpets ; these compose the cloud, which, by its rolling away, displays the opening seats of the Blessed ; on the right and the left of which are seen the four-and-twenty Elders seated on thrones to judge the Dead.

Behind the seat and Throne of Christ appear the Tabernacle with its veil opened, the Candlestick on the right, the Table with Shew-bread on the left, and, in the midst, the Cross in place of the Ark, the Cherubim bowing over it.

On the right hand of the Throne of Christ is Baptism, on His left is the Lord's Supper — the two introducers into Eternal Life. Women with infants approach the figure of an Apostle, which represents Baptism ; and on the left hand the Lord's Supper is administered by Angels, from the hands of another aged Apostle ; these kneel on each side of the throne, which is surrounded by a glory : in the glory many infants appear, representing Eternal Creation flowing from the Divine Humanity in Jesus ; who opens the Scroll of Judgment, upon His knees, before the Living and the Dead.

Such is the Design which you, my dear Sir, have been the cause of my producing, and which, but for you, might have slept till the Last Judgment.

William Blake. February 18, 1808.
The Last Judgment was, in the final years of Blake's life, once more repeated as a ‘fresco,’ into which he introduced some thousand figures, bestowing much finish and splendour of tint on it.
The reader will find in the Second Volume a very curious paper by Blake, concerning the Last Judgment, appearing to be partly descriptive of his picture, partly, as usual with him, running off into vision, and speculation about vision, and explanations of what a last judgment is and is not. This paper is printed verbatim from a piecing together of many scattered paragraphs or pages in the MS. Book by Blake, belonging to Mr. Rossetti, elsewhere already referred to ; most of the fragments certainly, and all of them very likely, forming a continuous whole. The descriptive portion of the paper is valuable in proportion to the interest appertaining to the
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fresco, one of the most important of the culminating productions of Blake's life. One would give a good deal to have a similar sort of explanation by Orcagna, Michael Angelo, or Rubens, of the Last Judgment, as conceived and painted by those painters respectively; and none of them certainly was more capable of conceiving the subject than Blake, whatever may be the connoisseur's verdict as to the relative powers for executing it. How close, in many respects, the affinity of treatment, of framework and detail of incident, in all these paintings: yet how immense the divergence of the feeling, of the minds embodied in the works, of the aspects under which the subject, the Dies illa presented itself within the inner precincts of the painters' intellects! As regards the visionary or speculative portion of the paper referred to, a remarkable resemblance to Swedenborg may be observed in it here and there, as in the ‘Doctrine of Correspondences’ which it implies—the principle that spiritual conditions are represented by material objects, properties, and events. With these few remarks, we refer the reader to the paper itself.
Ozias Humphrey, a miniature painter of rare excellence, whose works have a peculiar sweetness of painting and refined simplicity in a now old-fashioned style, was himself a patron as well as friend, for whom Blake had expressley coloured many of his illustrated books. Humphrey had passed three years of his life, 1785—88, in India, and had reaped a golden harvest in Oude by painting miniatures of the native princes. What has become of these, I wonder? 1858 may have brought some of them across seas as the work of native artists! His sketches and note-books during that period are in the British Museum. When, in 1790, his sight first became imperfect, he took to crayons and oils with ill success. His eyes failed him altogether in 1799, after which he lived at Knightsbridge.
At the Academy's Exhibition in Somerset House for 1808, Blake, after nine years’ intermission, exhibited two works, hung, as usual, in the Drawing and Miniature Room. Both
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were subjects eminently suited to show, in his enemies despite, what he could do: Christ in the Sepulchre guarded by Angels, and Jacob's Dream. Jacob's Dream, a fresco, using the word in Blake's peculiar sense, now in the possession of Lord Houghton, is a poetic and beautiful composition, of far deeper imaginative feeling than the much-praised landscape effect of Allston, the American, or the gracefully designed scene of Stothard, whose forte, by the way, did not lie in bringing angels from the skies, though he did much to raise mortals thither. In Blake's fresco, angelic figures, some winged, others wingless, but all truly angelic in suggestion, make radiant the mysterious spiral stairs heavenward ; and some among them lead children — a very Blake-like touch.
This was the last time Blake exhibited at the Royal Academy ; he had done so but five times in all. No wonder that his name was little known to an exhibition-going public. And in truth, dreams so devout as his, and brought from very different worlds, were ill suited to jostle in the miscellaneous crowd. Solitude and silence are needed to enter into their sequestered spirit.


Figure: Tail-piece from Jerusalem. Man standing between two feet.

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DESIGNS TO BLAIR. 1804—8. [ÆT. 47-51.]
From July 1805 to May 1808 the twelve admirable etchings after Blake's designs had been in progress under the skilful and conscientious hands of the Italian workman, — etchings which have not a line too much nor too little. They were, as I have said, a really favourable medium for introducing Blake to the many : although admirers might prefer the artist's own characteristic expression of himself with the graver. There were no such thorough-paced admirers then, perhaps there are not above half a dozen now. Schiavonetti's version is, in fact, a graceful translation, and, as most would think, an improvement
The boldly-engraved portrait of Blake after Phillips’ fine drawing, prefixed to The Grave, was considered like. We, in it, recognise the high visionary brow, the speculative eyes characteristic of William Blake. But the aspect is a too idealized and made-up one, too studiously inspired, and does not therefore convey a wholly reliable impression. You would hardly, for instance, suspect its original to have been short in stature, as he really was. ( See Frontispiece, Vol. II.)
In the autumn of 1808, the book was published by Cromek, in alliance with Cadell and Davies, Johnson, Payne, and other leaders in the trade. It was beautifully printed in quarto by Bensley, the best printer of his day, and was indorsed with Fuseli's testimonial, and the credentials from the R.A.'s again. Cromek had certainly worked hard for his
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own profit and Blake's fame, in obtaining subscriptions. His list comprises no less than five hundred and eighty-nine names, from London and the chief provincial towns, — Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Newcastle. Native Yorkshire, — Leeds, Wakefield, Halifax, — contributes a large contingent. There are, however, only one or two titled subscribers. The artists, always best appreciators of one another, muster in strength as supporters of the enterprise, not without importunity on busy Cromek's part. We particularize with interest the names of Bewick, from far Newcastle, and ‘Mr. Green, landscape draughtsman, Ambleside.’ A few literary men came forward ; among them Holcroft, and Hayley, bringing with him Mrs. Poole of Lavant, and printer Seagrave. Vigilant Cromek had, at the outset, taken care not to neglect these old friends of the designer's. The subscriptions at two and a half guineas amount to above £1,800 ; besides proof copies at four guineas, and a margin of unsubscribed-for copies on sale. This makes Cromek pretty sure of a good profit by his protégé's genius and his own activities, after all outlay to designer (twenty guineas), engraver (perhaps £500), printing, advertising, puffing, travelling expenses, and allowances to the trade.
While the engravings were in progress, the name of the Queen as a subscriber had been somehow obtained, and permission to dedicate the designs to her; of which Blake availed himself in the following simple and earnest stanzas, — a mere enigma, I should fancy, to old Queen Charlotte. The vignette, which was to have accompanied it, Cromek, as we saw, returned on his hands:—
  • The door of death is made of gold,
  • That mortal eyes cannot behold;
  • But when the mortal eyes are clos'd,
  • And cold and pale the limbs repos'd,
  • The soul awakes, and, wond'ring, sees
  • In her mild hand the golden keys.
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  • The grave is heaven's golden gate,
  • And rich and poor around it wait;
  • O Shepherdess of England's fold,
  • 10Behold this gate of pearl and gold!
  • To dedicate to England's Queen
  • The visions that my soul has seen,
  • And, by her kind permission bring
  • What I have borne on solemn wing
  • From the vast regions of the grave,
  • Before her throne my wings I wave,
  • Bowing before my sov'reign's feet:
  • The Grave produced these blossoms sweet,
  • In mild repose from earthly strife;
  • 10The blossoms of eternal life!
William Blake.
When Blake speaks of—
  • The visions that my soul has seen,
  • * * * * *
  • borne on solemn wing
  • From the vast regions of the grave,
it is no metaphorical flourish, but plain facts he means and feels. This is cultivating ‘the Arts’ in a high spirit indeed.
The simple beauty and grandeur of the illustrations to Blair's Grave are within the comprehension of most who possess any feeling for what is elevated in art. Fuseli's evidence in their favour, despite turgid Johnsonianism, which, as usual with him, fails to conceal the uneasy gait of a man not at home in our language, is, in part, lucid and to the purpose.
‘The author of the moral series before us,’ he writes, after some preliminary generalizing on the triteness of the ordinary types employed in art, ‘endeavoured to awake sensibility by touching our sympathies with nearer, less ambiguous, and less ludicrous imagery than what mythology, Gothic superstition, or symbols as far-fetched as
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inadequate, could supply. His invention has been chiefly employed to spread a familiar and domestic atmosphere round the most important of all subjects; to connect the visible and the invisible world, without provoking probability; and to lead the eye from the milder light of time to the radiations of eternity.
‘Such is the plan and the moral part of the author's invention. The technic part and the execution of the artist, though to be examined by other principles, and addressed to a narrower circle, equally claim approbation, sometimes excite our wonder, and not unseldom our fears, when we see him play on the very verge of legitimate invention. But wildness so picturesque in itself, so often redeemed by taste, simplicity, and elegance, what child of fancy, what artist would wish to discharge? The groups and single figures, on their own basis, abstracted from their general composition and considered without attention to the plan, frequently exhibit those genuine, unaffected attitudes, those simple graces, which nature and the heart alone can dictate, and only an eye inspired by both discover. Every class of artists, in every stage of their progress, or attainments, from the student to the finished master, and from the contriver of ornament to the painter of history, will find here materials of art and hints of improvement.’
The designs to Blair are in the same key as those to The Night Thoughts of eight years previous; but are more mature, purer, and less extravagant. Both sets of designs occupy, to some extent, the same ground. And thus similar motives occur, and even compositions, as already noticed. Blake's previous etching, by the way, of the Skeleton Reanimated, compares favourably with the present one by Schiavonetti, showing, as do all the etchings to Young, that he could have executed his own designs to The Grave. The chief want of those etchings was what engravers call colour.
Blair's Grave, a poem written before the Night Thoughts, though published the same year (1743), was, sixty-two years
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Death's Door

Drawn by W. Blake   Etched by L. Schiavonetti DEATH'S DOOR

Figure: A bearded old man stoops to enter a door into a large rock. A young man sits nude atop the rock, gazing upward, illuminated by the sun setting behind him.

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later, still a popular English classic. Blake's designs form a strangely spiritual commentary on the somewhat matter-of-fact homily of the dry, old Scottish divine: they belong to a more heavenly latitude. Running parallel to the poem rather than springing out of it, they have, in some cases, little foundation in the text, in others absolutely none ; as, for instance, the emblematic ‘Soul exploring the recesses of the Tomb.’ The Series in itself forms a poem, simple, beautiful, and exalted: what tender eloquence in ‘The Soul hovering over tlie Body;’ in the passionate ecstasy of ‘The Re-union of Soul and Body;’ the rapt felicity of mutual recognition in ‘The meeting of a Family in Heaven.’ There meet husband and wife, little brothers and sisters ; two angels spread a canopy of loving wings over the group, one remarkable for surpassing, sculturesque beauty. Such designs are, in motive, spirit, manner of embodiment, without parallel, and enlarge the boundaries of art. Equally high meaning has the oft-mentioned allegory, Death's Door, into which ‘Age on crutches is hurried by a tempest,’ while above sits a youthful figure, ‘the renovated man in light and glory,’ looking upwards in joyful adoration and awe. And again the Death of the Strong Wicked man: the still-fond wife hanging over the convulsed body, in wild, horror-struck sympathy, the terrified daughter standing beside, with one hand shutting out the scene from her eyes ; while the wicked soul is hurried, amid flames, through the casement. What unearthly surprise and awe expressed in that terrible face, in those uplifted deprecating hands! The Last Judgment, unlike the other designs, is a subject on which great artists had already lavished imagination and executive skill. But Blake's conception of it is an original and homogeneous one, worthy of the best times of art. What other painter, since Michael Angelo, could have really designed anew that tremendous scene ?
These are not mere exercises of art, to be coldly measured by the foot-rule of criticism, but truly inventions to be read and entered into with something of the spirit which conceived
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them. The oftener I have looked into them, the more meaning and eloquence I have discovered, and the more freshness. Never, surely, were the difficulties of human speech (whether with word or outline) more fearlessly encountered. A poor designer moves in shackles, when handling such topics ; has, for instance, but the same tangible flesh and blood wherewith to express material body and immaterial soul. And that anomaly alone leads many a practical person to dismiss the designs at once, as absurd and puerile. But if we stay to consider how this allegorical mode is a necessary convention to symbolize a meaning beyond the reach of art, we are soon reconciled to the discrepancy, and begin to value aright the daring and the suggestive beauty with which these meanings are indicated. That shuddering awe of the strong wicked man's naked soul (even though a material form express it), as he enters the unknown world ; the living grace of the draped feminine figure, emblem of a purer human soul, which lingers a moment yearningly over the stiffening mortal frame it has forsaken, its mute eloquence so strangely enhanced by that utterly lonely, mountain landscape into which it is about to vanish, seen through the open casement : I say such art ranks with that of the greatest eras ; is of the same sublime reach and pure quality. What signifies it that these drawings cover but a few inches, and are executed in watercolours instead of oils or fresco?
Now, in maturity, as when in youth producing the Songs of Innocence, or in age the Inventions to Job, we see Blake striking always the same mystic chord. The bridge thrown across from the visible to the invisible world was ever firm and sure to him. The unwavering hold (of which his ‘Visions’ were a result) upon an unseen world, such as in other ways poetry and even science assure us of, and whose revelation is the meaning underlying all religions, — this habitual hold is surely an authentic attainment, not an hallucination; whether the particular form in which the faith clothes itself, the language of Blake's mind,—souls entering
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and departing from material forms, angels hovering near poor human creatures, and the like emblems, — be adequate or not. In such intensity as Blake's, it was truly a blissful possession ; it proved enchanted armour against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and all their sordid influences.
I have still a word to say àpropos of one of these twelve designs, and a water-colour drawing formerly in Mr. Butts' collection, illustrative of the verse—
  • ‘But Hope rekindled only to illume
  • The shades of death, and light her to the tomb.’
It is a duplicate, probably, of one of the unengraved designs from Young. The main feature, a descending precipice broken into dark recesses, is the same as in that grand and eloquent tableau in the Blair, of the Descent of Man into the Vale of Death. The figures are different, but the same motive pervades both designs.
Of the composition in the Blair, an intelligible summary occurs in Cromek's Descriptive List at the end of the volume. ‘The pious daughter, weeping and conducting her sire onward ; age, creeping carefully on hands and knees ; an elder, without friend or kindred ; a miser ; a bachelor, blindly proceeding, no one knows whither, ready to drop into the dark abyss ; frantic youth, rashly devoted to vice and passion, rushing past the diseased and old who totter on crutches ; the wan, declining virgin ; the miserable and distracted widow ; the hale country youth ; and the mother and her numerous progeny, already arrived in this valley, are among the groups which, &c. — are, in fact, all the groups.’
The fate of the original copper-plates has been somewhat singular. After being used by Ackermann to illustrate a Spanish Poem, Meditaciones Poeticas por Jose Janquin de Mora : Londres : asimismo en Colombia, Buenos Ayres, Chili, Pero y Guatemala , 1826, they, at a more recent period, I have been told, found their way across the Alantic, serving for an American edition — not of Blair's poem, but of Martin Tupper‘s Proverbial Philosophy.
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In the unengraved drawing I have referred to, we have the Soul departing from the dying Narcissa, over whose lifeless form her lover, with lamenting, outstretched arms, is bending ; the bright figure of Hope, with lighted lamp, beckons to the shades below, down the rocky stairs leading to which old and young are wending, as in the Blair design; the timid, hesitating girl, the strong man hurrying, age creeping, the tender mother (a very beautiful figure) leading her infant children. In the recesses of the tomb below, we again encounter emblematic, sorrowful deathbeds. On the hills, in the background above, are faintly seen the dim populations of the earth, all journeying to the same bourne. The principal figures are of exceeding grace and loveliness ; as, in particular, the heavenly one of Hope, and that of the little girl who accompanies her youthful brothers, with reluctant step, with drooping head, and face hidden in her hand, shuddering and sad to exchange the fair daylight for the gloomy tomb — a figure which, for its expressive beauty, Raphael himself might have sketched.
About this date (1806) were also produced some designs to Shakespeare which were neither commissioned nor engraved. An account of them will be found in the Annotated Catalogue, Vol. II. Nos. 83-85. They are now, with a few from other hands, bound up in a quarto edition of Shakespeare, which was executed for the Rev. Ker Porter, who himself contributed one or two well-conceived designs ; notably, that of Falstaff between the Merry Wives. There is also an early sample of Mulready's art, evidently showing the influence of Fuseli. But by far the most remarkable of the collection is the Ghost from Hamlet, by Blake, of which a print is here given. The Ghost has led Hamlet to the verge of the sea, far from the Castle ; and, on the solitary moonlit sands, he has fallen on his knees in the act of swearing to obey his father's behest of vengeance on the perpetrators of his ‘most foul, strange, and unnatural murder.’ The volume is now in the possession of Mr. Alexander Macmillan.
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"ADIEU, ADIEU, ADIEU! REMEMBER ME."— Hamlet, Act I., Scene V.

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Note: Blank page.
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APPEAL TO THE PUBLIC. 1808—10. [ÆT. 51-53.]
Scihavonetti was, by 1808, engaged on the plate from Stothard's Canterbury Pilgrimage. At the end of the Blair, published, as we saw, in the autumn of 1808, appeared, to indignant Blake's unspeakable disgust doubtless, a flowery Prospectus of Cromek's, for publishing by subscription and ‘under the immediate patronage of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, a line engraving after’ the now ‘well-known Cabinet Picture; which, in fact, Cromek had exhibited throughout the three kingdoms at a shilling a head.
It was now that Blake finished his ‘fresco’ of the Canterbury Pilgrimage, with the view of ‘appealing to the public,’—the wrong kind of tribunal for him. To this end, also, he painted or finished some other ‘frescos’ and drawings. The completion of the Pilgrimage was attended by adverse influences of the supernatural kind — as Blake construed them. He had hung his original design over a door in his sitting-room, where, for a year perhaps it remained. When, on the appearance of Stothard's picture, he went to take down his drawing, he found it nearly effaced : the result of some malignant spell of Stothard's, he would, in telling the story, assure his friends. But as one of them (Flaxman) mildly expostulated, ‘Why! my dear sir! as if, after having left a pencil drawing so long exposed to air and dust, you could have expected otherwise!’ The fresco was ultimately bought by a customer who seldom failed—Mr. Butts; and was afterwards in the possession of
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the late Sir William Stirling Maxwell. It was sent to the International Exhibition of 1862.
Thinking to take a leaf out of Cromek's book, Blake determined to show his work, and ‘shame the fools’ who preferred Stothard ; to show it under more advantageous conditions than were to be had in the Academy Exhibitions. In May, 1809, — the year in which our old friend Hayley brought out his Life of Romney, and made a second marriage even more ill-advised than the first;—in May, Blake opened an Exhibition of his own, on the first floor of his brother the hosier's house, at the corner of Broad Street The plan had the merit of cheapness, at any rate, involving little outlay or risk ; the artist, in fact, not having money to venture. The Exhibition comprised sixteen ‘Poetical and Historical Inventions,’ as he designated them,—eleven ‘frescos,’ seven drawings : a collection singularly remote from ordinary sympathies, or even ordinary apprehension. Bent on a violent effort towards justifying his ways to men and critics, he drew up and had printed a Descriptive Catalogue of these works, in which he interprets them, and expounds at large his own canons of art. Of which more anon. The price of this Catalogue, which included admission to the Exhibition, was half a crown.
A singular enterprise, for unpractised Blake, was this of vying with adroit, experienced Cromek! As if a simple-minded visionary could advertise, puff, and round the due preparatory paragraphs for newspaper and magazine, of ‘latest fine arts intelligence.’ An exhibition set going under such auspices was likely to remain a profound secret to the world at large. A few, however, among the initiated were attracted by curiosity to see a picture which was the subject of a notorious quarrel between two friendly artists, and which had been painted in rivalry of Stothard's already famous work. An English artist who died lately at Florence, above ninety years of age,—Mr. Seymour Kirkup, celebrated, among other things, as the discoverer of Giotto's fresco in the Chapel of the Podestà,—was one of these few: Mr. Henry
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Crabb Robinson, a gentleman of singularly wide intercourse with the distinguished men of two generations, was another. On entering the room, as he related to me, he found himself alone. With a wise prescience of the inevitable future scarcity of that remarkable brochure, the Descriptive Catalogue, he purchased four copies for himself and friends — Charles Lamb among them. When, after that wholesale purchase, he inquired of James Blake, the custodian of the unique gallery, whether he could not come again free?—‘Oh! yes; free as long as you live! ’ was the reply of the humble hosier, overjoyed at having so munificent a visitor, or a visitor at all.
This James Blake is characterized, by those who remember him, as an honest, unpretending shopkeeper in an old-world style, ill-calculated for great prosperity in the hosiery, or any other line. In his dress he is described to me as adhering to knee-breeches, worsted stockings, and buckles. As primitive as his brother he was, though very unlike : his head not in the clouds amid radiant visions, but bent downwards and studying the pence of this world — how to get them which he found no easy task, and how to keep. He looked upon his erratic brother with pity and blame, as a wilful, misguided man, wholly in a wrong track ; while the latter despised him for his grovelling, worldly mind, — as he reckoned it. Time widened the breach. In after years, when James had retired on a scanty independence and lived in Cirencester Street, becoming a near neighbour of Mr. Linnell, at whose house Blake was then a frequent visitor, they did not even speak. At James's shop, ladies yet living, friends of Blake's, remember to have made their little purchases of gloves and haberdashery.
Lamb preferred Blake's Canterbury Pilgrimage to Stothard's. ‘A work of wonderful power and spirit, hard and dry, yet with grace,’ he says of it, on one occasion. That rare critic was delighted also with the Descriptive Catalogue. The analysis of the characters in the Prologue—the Knight, the
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Prioress, the Friar, &c. — be pronounced the finest criticism of Chaucer's poem he hod ever read.
In Southey's Doctor, special allusion is made to one of the pictures in this exhibition. ‘That painter of great but insane, genius, William Blake, of whom Allan Cunningham has written so interesting a memoir, took his Triad’ (the story of the three who escaped from the battle of Camlan, where Arthur fell—‘the strongest man, the beautifullest man. and the ugliest man’,)—‘for the subject of a picture, which he called The Ancient Britons. It was one of his worst pictures (!) which is saying much; and he has illustrated it with one of the most curious commentaries in his very curious and very rare Descriptive Catalogue of his own pictures.’
The Catalogue is excessively rare. I have seen but three copies ; heard of, perhaps, three more. Here is the title: ‘ A Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures; Poetical and Historical Inventions; Painted by William Blake in Water-colours, being the ancient method of Fresco Painting resumed: and Drawings, for Public Inspection and for Sale by Private Contract. London: printed by D. N. Shury, 7, Berwick Street, Soho, for J. Blake, 28, Broad Street, Golden Square. 1809.’ It is reprinted entire in Vol. II.
Another curious waif, bearing a record of this exhibition, has floated down, and is now in the possession of Mr. Alex. C. Weston,—a printed programme dated in Blake's autograph, May 15, 1809, and directed to Ozias Humphrey; containing one page of print preceded by an elaborate title-page. It shows that the picture of the Ancient Britons had ‘the figures full as large as life.’
  • ‘In the last battle that Arthur fought, the most beautiful was one
  • That returned, and the most strong another: with them also returned
  • The most ugly ; and no other beside returned from the bloody field.
  • The most beautiful, the Roman warriors trembled before and worshipped.
  • The most strong they melted before and dissolved in his presence.
  • The most ugly they fled with outcries and contortions of their limbs.’
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Let it be added that Mr. Kirkup thought this the finest of Blake's works, remembering to the last, reports Mr. Swinburne, ‘the fury and splendour of energy there contrasted with the serene ardour of simply beautiful courage, the violent life of the design, and the fierce distance of fluctuating battle.’
In treacherous Cromek's despite, Blake had resolved to engrave, as well as exhibit, the Pilgrimage. On opening his exhibition, he issued a printed prospectus of his intended engraving, almost as curious as the Catalogue. It is a literary composition which halts between the monologue of a self-taught enthusiast and the circular of a competing tradesman. Observe how he girds, parenthetically, at Cromek and Schiavonetti. Date, May 15 th, 1809.



The Fresco Picture,

Representing Chaucer's Characters, painted by


As it is now submitted to the Public.

‘The Designer proposes to engrave [it] in a correct and finished line manner of engraving, similar to those original copper-plates of Albert Durer, Lucas von Leyden, Aldegrave, and the old original engravers, who were great masters in painting and designing ; whose method, alone, can delineate Character as it is in this Picture, where all the lineaments are distinct.

‘It is hoped that the Painter will be allowed by the public ( notwithstanding artfully disseminated insinuations to the contrary) to be better able than any other to keep his own characters and expressions ; having had sufficient evidence in the works of our own Hogarth, that no other artist can reach the original spirit so well as the Painter himself,

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especially as Mr. B. is an, old well-known and acknowledged engraver.

‘The size of the engraving will be three feet one inch long, by one foot high. The artist engages to deliver it, finished, in one year from September next. No work of art can take longer than a year : it may be worked backwards and forwards without end, and last a man's whole life ; but he will, at length, only be forced to bring it back to what it was, and it will be worse than it was at the end of the first twelve months. The value of this [the ?] artist's year is the criterion of Society; and as it is valued, so does Society flourish or decay.

‘The price to Subscribers, Four Guineas; two to be paid at the time of subscribing, the other two, on delivery of the print.

‘Subscriptions received at No. 28, corner of Broad Street, Golden Square, where the Picture is now exhibiting, among other works, by the same artist.

‘The price will be considerably raised to non-subscribers.’

Singularly artful announcement, — surely a suggestion of brother James's! The swan walks very ungracefully. Cromek had little cause for alarm at such naive self-assertion ; so innocent an attempt to divide the public favour. In reading this, and similar effusions of Blake's, allowances must be made for a want of early familiarity with the conventions of printed speech, parallel to his want of dexterity with those of the painter's language ; which explains a good deal of the crudeness and eccentricity.
It was a favourite dogma of Blake's, not, certainly, learned of the political economists, that the true power of Society depends on its recognition of the arts. Which is his meaning when, pardonably regarding himself as a representative of high art, he mysteriously announces, ‘The value of this artist's year is the criterion of Society, and as it is valued, so does society flourish or decay.’ Society had little to congratulate itself upon in its recognition of ‘ this artist's year.’ Miserably
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did she undervalue it, to her discredit and our loss. This artist's fresh and daring conceptions it would have been well to have embodied in happier, maturer, more lucid shape, than ‘society’ ever vouchsafed him the slenderest help towards realizing. As it is, one of his archaic-looking drawings is often more matterful and suggestive, imprisons more thought and imagination, than are commonly beaten out thin over the walls of an entire exhibition.
In September or October 1809, the engraving of his Canterbury Pilgrimage was commenced. And, fulfilling the voluntary engagement recorded in the prospectus, the print, — somewhat smaller in size than the picture, — was issued on the 8th of the following October ; a year or two before the plate after Stothard's picture emerged from the difficulties which befel it. Blake thus forestalled his forestaller, to the indignation of Stothard in his turn ; the print being of the same size as Cromek's intended one, and having inevitable resemblances to it, in general composition.
It was launched without the slightest help from the elaborate machinery usually put in motion to secure a welcome for an important engraving, and, by energetic Cromek, worked on so unprecedented a scale. As may readily be believed, the subscribers might almost have been counted on the hand. Blake's work, indeed, lacks all the alluring grace of Stothard's felicitous composition, in which a wide range of previous art is indirectly laid under contribution, or, to speak plainly, cribbed from, after the fashion of most well-educated historical painters ; whereas Blake boldly and obstinately draws on his own resources. Bare where Stothard's composition is opulent, yet challenging comparison as to the very qualities in which Blake was most deficient, his design creates an unfavourable impression before the superficial spectator has time to recognise its essential merits. A good notion of the work may be obtained from our reduced outline with the series of heads, on the same scale as the original, engraved below it. ‘Hard and dry,’ as Lamb
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observes, it is, — uncouth compared with Stothard's ; but, tested by the poetry and spirit of Chaucer, it is, in all points of character and arrangement, undoubtedly superior. There is, too, a mediæval look about Blake's which does not distinguish Stothard's version.
I have heard that Blake retouched the plate of the Canterbury Pilgrimage, and did not improve it. There are impressions, rather black and heavy in effect, which would seem to confirm this rumour.
To judicious counsel from a friend Blake was always amenable, but was stiffened in error by hostile criticism. Unaided by the former, while at work on his fresco and engraving, he had been in the very worst mood for realizing success, or even the harmonious exercise of his powers. He was in the temper to exaggerate his eccentricities, rather than to modify them. If Cromek, instead of throwing up Blake's drawing when he could not dictate terms, had gone on and gently persuaded the designer to soften his peculiarities ; or if Blake had suffered his design to be engraved by Schiavonetti, and doctored (as that engraver so well knew how) by correct smooth touches, some of Blake's favourite hard, ‘determinate outline’ being sacrified a little, a different fortune would have awaited the composition. It might have become almost as well known and admired as Stothard's, certainly as the Blair, instead of being a curiosity sought only by collectors of scarce things.
Blake was at no pains, throughout this business or afterwards, to conceal his feelings towards Stothard. To the end of his life he would, to strangers, abuse the popular favourite, with a vehemence to them unaccountable. With friends and sympathizers, he was silent on the topic. Such was the mingled waywardness and unworldliness of the man ; exaggerating his prejudices to the uncongenial, waiving them with the few who could interpret them aright. He was blind to the fact that his motives for decrying Stothard were liable to misconstruction ; and would have been equally unguarded
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could he have perceived it. For Stothard's art — in his eyes far too glib, smooth, and mundane in its graces — he entertained a sincere aversion ; though, as in the case of Reynolds, some degree of soreness may have aggravated the dislike. And the epithets he, in familiar conversation, applied to it, would, repeated in cold blood, sound extravagant and puerile.
On his part, too, the ordinarily serene Stothard, the innocent instrument of shifty Cromek's schemes, considered himself just as much aggrieved by Blake. Up to 1806 they had been friends, if not always warm ones ; friends of nearly thirty years’ standing. The present breach was never healed. Once, many years later, they met at a gathering of artists — of the Artists’ Benevolent, I think. Before going in to dinner, Blake, placable as he was irascible, went up to Stothard and offered to shake hands ; an overture the frigid, exemplary man declined, as Mr. Linnell, an eye-witness, tells me. Another time, Stothard was ill : Blake called and wished to see him and be reconciled, but was refused. There is something of the kingdom of heaven in this — on the one side. Such men are not to be judged by wayward words. Warm hearts generally spend their worst violence in them.
This squabble with Cromek was a discordant episode in Blake's life. The competition with Stothard it induced placed him in a false position, and, in most people's eyes, a wrong one. In Blake's own mind, where all should have been, and for the most part was, peace, the sordid conflict left a scar. It left him more tetchy than ever ; more disposed to wilful exaggeration of individualities already too prominent, more prone to unmeasured violence of expression. The extremes he again gave way to in his design and writings — mere ravings to such as had no key to them — did him no good with that portion of the public the illustrated Blair had introduced him to. Those designs most people thought wild enough ; yet they were really a modified version of his style. Such demand as had existed for his works, never considerable, declined.
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Now, too, was established for him the damaging reputation ‘Mad,’ by which the world has since agreed to recognise William Blake. And yet it is one—and let the reader note this — which none who knew the visionary man intimately, at any period of his life, thought of applying to him. And, in his time, he was known to, and valued by, many shrewd, clear-headed men; of whom suffice it to mention Fuseli, Flaxman, Linnell. More on this point hereafter.
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ENGRAVER CROMEK. 1807—1812. [ÆT. 50-55.]
While Blake had been nursing his wrath against Cromek and Stothard, and making ineffectual reprisals by exhibition and engraving, the course of Cromek's speculation had not run smoothly. As intimately, if indirectly, bearing on Blake's life of struggles, this matter ought, perhaps, to be glanced at here. We must first go back a little, and track Cromek in his versatile career. The retrospect will, here and there, throw a vivid ray of light on the real character of the man, and so enable us to construe Blake aright in the critical relation in which the two, for a time, stood to one another. It may help the reader to a conclusion as to the rights of that difficult case—for so Smith and Cunningham seemed to find it— Blake v. Stothard and Another.
During the progress, under the engraver, of his first publishing scheme, the active Yorkshireman had been turning his literary tastes to account. He had made a tour in Dumfriesshire, in quest of unpublished fugitive pieces by Robert Burns; a tour undertaken, according to his own statement, from pure interest in the poet. He discovered many previously unknown; others rejected ‘on principle’ by the great man's posthumous patron, prim Currie, of now seldom blessed memory. The visit was well timed. Burns had been dead ten years ; but everything by him, everything about him, was already carefully treasured by those privileged enough to
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have aught to keep or remember. His mother, and others of his family and friends, were still living. Cromek returned with well-filled wallet; though he too, squeamish as Currie, must needs keep back The Jolly Beggars and Holy Willie's Prayer. Of these gleanings he made an octavo volume, supplementary to Currie's four, entitling it The Reliques of Burns. It was published by Cadell and Davies in 1808,—the year in which the Blair came out,—and is a volume on which subsequent editors and biographers of Burns have freely drawn. It had the peculiar fortune of calling forth memorable manifestations of bad feeling towards the poet, of tepid taste and supercilious vulgarity, from two persons high in the world of letters,—the articles of Jeffrey in the Edinburgh, of Walter Scott in the Quarterly.
Here, again, Cromek's well-directed industry bore off, I fear, the profits, to part of which another—Burns's widow—was entitled. Cromek might, indeed, plead in self-defence, the lapse of ten years during which no one else had had the pious zeal to glean the open field.
The following summer, which was that of Blake's exhibition, Cromek, encouraged by the success of his first literary venture, revisited Dumfries, with Stothard as a companion and with new schemes in his head. One was an enlarged and illustrated edition of Burns's works, for which materials and drawing were now to be got together ; an enterprise which, in the sequel, failing health prevented his carrying out. The other was a Collection of Old Scottish Songs, such, especially, as had been the favourites of Burns, together with the poet's notes already printed in the Reliques, and any other interesting scraps that could be picked up, could be begged, borrowed, or filched from various contributors. Two duodecimo volumes were got together, and, in the summer of 1810, published under the above title, with three vignettes after Stothard, characteristically cut on wood by clever, hapless Luke Clennell, hereafter the tenant of a madhouse.
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During this visit of 1809, the bookmaker fell an easy victim to the hoax devised by a stalwart young stone-mason, afterwards known to fame as poet, novelist, biographer, and art critic. This was Allan Cunningham, then in his twenty-fifth year, earning eighteen shillings a week as a working mason. Cromek, we learn from Mr. Peter Cunningham's interesting introduction to his father's collected Poems and Songs (1847), looked coldly on the mason's acknowledged verses, but caught eagerly at the idea of discoveries of old Songs, to be made among the Nithsdale peasantry. He greedily swallowed Allan's happy imitations, and ever ‘called out for more!’ On quitting Dumfries for Newman Street, he put a MS. book into Allan's hands with the modest written injunction, ‘ To be filled with old unpublished songs and ballads, with remarks on them, historical and critical.’ Another milch-cow has turned up!
Under pretence of collecting a world of previously unknown local song from the well-gleaned land of Burns and Scott, the young man, finding in Cromek (who had more natural taste than reading or acumen) a good subject for the cheat, and a willing one, palmed off, as undoubted originals, a whole deskful of his own verse, in slightly antique mould. Verse, it proved, bold, energetic, and stirring, or tender, sentimental, and graceful ; the best of modern Scottish songs and ballads since those of the Ayrshire peasant, though wide the interval! Cromek, who reminds one of Burns's Johnson, of Musical Museum memory, a man of the same type, was, as usual, only too happy to avail himself of another's genius and labours ; too ready a recipient to be over-curious as to authenticity. But his letters to Cunningham reveal often pertinent doubts as to any high antiquity, even while he and the eager domestic circle in Newman Street, whom a northern raven was feeding, were receiving the poems with delighted wonder. ‘I have read these verses,’ he writes of one song ( She's gone to dwell in Heaven), ‘to my old mother, my wife, sister, and family, till all our hearts ache.’ Cromek
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spared neither urging nor vague hints of a future ‘kind return’ for all services, to extract from his young friend an original and striking volume of verse, and even copious prose notes, illustrative of local traditions. The poet was lured to London to help to push the volume through the press. Cromek gave him free quarters the while, and then left him to hire himself as a sculptor's mason, at six-and-twenty shillings a week. Subsequently Cromek spoke a good word for his protégé to Chantrey, young then, and with little to employ a second pair of hands, but who, some years later, took Allan as a workman. The engagement, as Chantrey's fortunes rose, transformed itself into a higher one, which lasted till the end of the sculptor's life.
The volume was swelled to due dimensions by a few poems collected from other sources, and by plausible, loose-spun letter-press of Cromek's own, — an ‘Introduction’ and critical ‘Notices’ of the poems; including grave details of how one had been taken down from the recitation of such and such ‘a young girl,’ or ‘worthy old man.’ The Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, printed by Bensley, was published by Cadell and Davies, at the latter end of 1810, with a spirited woodcut vignette by Clennell, after Stothard. It is now scarce.
Some general expressions of ‘obligation to Mr. Allan Cunningham’ for ‘guidance and interesting conversation,’ was the sole acknowledgment accorded the gratis contributor (as author and collector) of the bulk and all the value of the volume. To which add a presentation copy, accompanied by the candid assurance, ‘It has been a costly work, and I have made nothing by it, but it is d—d good, let the critics say what they will, and when it goes to a second edition, I will give you something handsome!’ The book was well received and sold well, but never went to a second edition ; our publishers having taken care to make the first a large one. None of Cromek's clients grew sleek on his bounty. Nine years later, Cunningham's true share in the volume became known.
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And farther cultivation of the profession (or trade sometimes) of literature, while he was still clerk of the works to Chantrey, was rendered easy to him on the strength of that volume alone.
On this, as on other occasions of the kind, Cromek fulfilled to admiration his legitimate part as publisher. While he picked the brains of his protégée—Blake, Stothard, Cunningham—and stopped the pay, he could not help doing them incidental good service, in dragging them forward a stage with the public; a service which genial Allan Cunningham seems always to have remembered with a kind of tenderness.
One more illustrative anecdote. ‘Cromek,’ as Mr. Peter Cunningham mildly puts it, ‘had rather lax ideas about meum et tuum when valuable autographs were laid before him. I remember an instance of this, which I have heard my father relate. Sir Walter Scott was talking to him of some of the chief curiosities he possessed at Abbotsford. “I had once (I am sorry to say once) an original letter from Ben Jonson to Drummond of Hawthornden, all in Ben's own beautiful handwriting: I never beard of another.” My father mentioned one he had seen in London in Cromek's hands. Scott used some strong expression, and added, “The last person I showed that letter to was Cromek, and I have never seen it since.”’ Cromek had favoured Scott with a visit during his Dumfries tour of 1809.
After this unexpectedly vivid ray of evidence as to character Mr. Cromek's bare word cannot be taken, when he contradicts the positive assertion of simple, upright, if visionary Blake, that Cromek ‘had actually commissioned him to paint the Pilgrimage before Stothard thought of his.’ We doubt the jocose turn given the denial—‘that the order had been given in a vision for he never gave it,’ will not serve. The order was a vivâ voce one. And that, like a previous vivâ voce agreement, is even easier to forget than the ownership of an autograph worth, perhaps, ten pounds in the market. Mr. Blake was not aware of the desirableness of getting
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a man's hand to a bargain. There is no palming off a signature as visionary.
During these three years of book-making, Cromek had, a-print-seller, published engraved portraits of Currie and of Walter Scott, after Raeburn. Meanwhile, the grand speculation of all, Schiavonetti's engraving of Stothard's best picture, a subject new to art, as freshly and gracefully handled,—had been going on slowly, though not unprosperously. Ingenious Cromek made it pay its own expenses: in this way.
Besides the stinted sixty pounds, the original price of the picture, Cromek, while it was in progress, and assuming daily new importance, had engaged to add another forty, in consideration of unforeseen labour and research, and of extra finish : this to be paid as soon as collections from the subscribers came in. But when the time for payment arrived, came excuses instead, on the score of heavy expenses incurred for advertising, exhibiting, &c. The picture itself the dexterous man sold for £300, some say £500 ; but still excused himself, to quiet Stothard, on the old grounds. The poor artist never handled solid cash again from that quarter ; though, through his own exertions, he realised another hundred or two by repetitions of his masterpiece for various patrons.
In June 1810, just as Cromek had issued his Select Scottish Songs, the enterprise received its first check. The fine etching for the engraving was completed, but further progress was stayed by the failing health (from consumption) of the gifted Italian, to whose hands it had been committed. On the 7th of that month, Schiavonetti, who had entered on life at beautiful Bassano, quitted it at Brompton, at the premature age of forty-five. Schiavonetti was to have had £840 for his engraving, but only lived to receive or entitle himself to £275. In the following autumn, — the same in which Blake's print of his Canterbury Pilgrimage, and Cromek's Nithsdale and Galloway Song appeared,—the plate was confided to Engleheart, who worked on it from the 20th of September to the end of December, receiving some £44. But heavier troubles now
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involved both print and proprietor. On Cromek, too, consumption laid its hand, arresting all his ingenious and innocent schemes, or, as Smith calls it, the long ‘endeavour to live by speculating on the talents of others.’ Lengthened visits to native Yorkshire failed to stay the inevitable course of his malady, and he returned to Newman Street, there to linger another year of forced inaction, during which poor Cromek and family,—comprising a wife, two young children, and a dependent sister, — were reduced to great straits. Doubtless, many a valuable autograph and Design had then to be changed into cash. So that we have to pity the predacious Yorkshireman after all. On the 12th March, 1812, at the age of forty-two, he went where he could jockey no more men nor artists.
The widow had her fresh difficulties in realising the property her husband's scheming brain had created ; had first to raise money for the engraver to proceed with the Pilgrimage. The engraver then in view was Lewis Schiavonetti's brother, Niccolò, who had worked in Lewis's studio, and caught his manner. To finish the plate, he wanted three hundred and thirty guines, in three instalments, and fifteen months’ time. To raise the first instalment, Mrs. Cromek parted with a good property,—sold the remainder and copyright of Blake's Blair for £120, to the Ackermanns, who re-issued the book in 1813, with biographic notices of Blair, Cromek, and Schiavonetti. Then Niccolò followed in his brother's steps to an early grave. This last in the chain of sorrowful casualties caused further delays. The plate,—Mrs. Cromek borrowing the necessary money with difficulty from her father, — was at last, after having passed under the hands of three distinct engravers, finished by James Heath, or in his manufactory rather. Thence it eventually issued, a very much worse one for all these changes than when poor Lewis Schiavonetti's failing hand had left it a brilliant, masterly etching. It had an extraordinary sale, as everybody knows, and proved exceedingly profitable to the widow. The long-cherished venture
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turned out no despicable dower for a needy man, living by his wits, to leave her. As for the producer of the picture, who, artist-like, had forborne to press the adventurer in his straits, or the widow in hers, his share in this great success was a certain number of copies of the print (commercially useless to him), as an equivalent for the long-deferred £40. Such I gather, from Mrs. Bray's Life of Stothard and other sources, to have been the fluctuating fortunes of the most popular of modern prints ; of an enterprise which, thanks to Cromek's indirect courses, excited, first and last, so much bitterness in the mind of Blake.
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Sig. U 2

YEARS OF DEEPENING NEGLECT. 1810—1817. [ÆT. 53-60.]
I have mentioned that Blake's Canterbury Pilgrimage (the fresco) was bought by Mr. Butts. Among the drawings executed, at this period, for the same constant patron, was a grandly conceived scene from the apocalyptic vision, the Whore of Babylon:—a colossal, sitting figure, around whose head a wreath of figures issues from the golden cup of Abominations; below, is gathered a group of kings and other arch offenders. This drawing (dated 1809) formed one in the numerous collection of Blake's works sold at Sotheby's by Mr. Butts’ son, in 1852, and is now in the British Museum Print Room. There, also, two other drawings, and a large, though not complete, collection of Blake's illustrated books are now accessible to the public ; thanks to the well-directed zeal of the late Keeper, Mr. Carpenter.
In these years, more than one of Blake's old friends had dropped away. In December 1809 died, of asthma, Fuseli's ancient crony, Johnson, who had more than once extended to Blake what little countenance his hampered position, as a bookseller who must live to please, allowed. In March 1810 the friendly miniature painter, Ozias Humphrey, died. Hayley, as we foretold, lost sight of Blake. Mr. Butts, steady customer as he was, had already a house full of his works.
December 26, 1811, is the engraver's date affixed to a small
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reduction, by Blake, of a portion of the Canterbury Pilgrimage,—including eight of the principal figures in the left-hand corner, — which forms the frontispiece to a duodecimo volume, published at Newberry's famous shop in St. Paul's Churchyard. The little book, with its small specimen or taste, as as it were, of the original composition, was evidently intended to spread a knowledge of the larger engraving. The title runs thus: ‘The Prologue and Characters of Chaucer's Pilgrims, selected from the Canterbury Tales, intended to illustrate a particular design of Mr. William Blake, which is engraved by himself, and may be seen at Mr. Colnaghi's, Cockspur Street ; at Mr. [James] Blake's, No. 28, Broad Street, Golden Square ; and at the publisher's, Mr. Harris, Bookseller, St. Paul's Churchyard. Price two shillings and sixpence. 1812.’ The brief introductory preface is not from Blake's hand; possibly from that of the friendly pedagogue, Malkin. ‘To the genius and fancy of that celebrated man, Mr. Blake,’ writes the editor, after a notice of Southwark and the Tabard Inn, ‘it occurred, that though the names and habits of men altered by time, yet their characters remained the same ; and as Chaucer had drawn them four hundred years past, he might as justly delineate them at the present period, and by a pleasant picture, bring to our imagination the merry company setting out upon their journey. As the Canterbury Tales may be too long a story for modern amusement, I have selected the Prologue and the characters’ (the whole Introduction, in short) ‘that the heads as represented by Mr. Blake may be compared with the lineaments drawn by Chaucer, and I think the merit of the artist will be acknowleged.’ A double text is given on opposite pages : the original from Speght's edition of 1687, and a modernized version, or free translation, from Mr. Ogle's edition of 1741. The frontispiece is well engraved in Blake's style, with necessary and skilful variations from the large engraving ; the distribution of light being different, and some of the details improved, — the towers and spires
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in the background, for example. Towards the end of the volume, a pretty and characteristic, but very generalised little etching by Blake occurs, of a Gothic cathedral, among trees, meant probably for that of Canterbury.
Few new patrons arose to fill the gaps I have recapitulated in the chosen circle of the old. All, it may be observed, were in the middle rank of life. There was nothing in William Blake's high and spiritual genius to command sympathy from a fastidious, poco curante aristocracy, still less from Majesty, in those days. ‘Take them away ! take them away !’ was the testy mandate of disquieted Royalty, on some drawings of Blake's being once shown to George the Third.
Among present friends may be mentioned Mr. George Cumberland of Bristol. This gentleman did an important service to Blake, when he introduced him, about 1813, to a young artist named John Linnell, who was to become the kindest friend and stay of the neglected man's declining years, and afterwards to be famous as one of our great landscape-painters. He was then, and till many a year later, industriously toiling at Portrait, as a bread profession ; at miniatures, engraving — whatever, in short, he could get to do ; while he painted Landscape as an unremunerative luxury. The present brisk, not to say eager, demand for good modern pictures was not, in those years, even beginning. The intimacy between the two arose from the younger artist applying to the elder to help him over engravings then in hand, from portraits of his own. Such as were jointly undertaken in this way, Blake commenced, Linnell finished.
Of the half-dozen years of Blake's life succeeding the exhibition in Broad Street, and the engravings of his Pilgrimage, I find little or no remaining trace, except that he was still living in South Moulton Street, in his accustomed poverty, and, if possible, more than accustomed neglect.
He was no longer at the pains or trivial cost, to him not trivial, of being even his own publisher; of throwing off from
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his copper-plate press Books of ‘Prophetic’ poetry and design, such as we saw him busied with, year by year, in Hercules Buildings. The Milton and the Jerusalem were the only ones thus issued from South Molton Street, and his last in that class. Sibylline leaves of engraved writing were, however, now and then put forth ; such as that On Homer's Poetry, the Laocoon, the Ghost of Abel. As I have hinted, funds failed for the mere copper requisite to engrave lengthy productions like the Jerusalem; perhaps also, amid entire discouragement, the spirit for such weighty, bootless toil. He continued writing in the old strain till the end of his life,—wrote more, he declared himself, than Shakespeare and Milton put together. Scores of MSS. were produced, which never got beyond MS., and have since been scattered, most of them destroyed or lost. He could find no publisher here for writing or design. Many an unsuccessful application to the trade, as to undertaking some book of his, he, in his time, had to make. ‘Well, it is published elsewhere,’ he, after such an one, would quietly say, ‘and beautifully bound.’ Let the reader construe such words with candour. Blake, by the way, talked little about ‘posterity,’ an emptier vision far than those on which his abstracted gaze was oft-times fixed. The invisible world, present to him even here, it was that to which his soul turned ; in it found refuge amid the slights of the outward, vulgar throng.
Many of the almost numberless host of Blake's water-colour drawings, on high scriptural and poetic themes, or frescos, as he called those (even on paper) more richly coloured, and with more impasto than the rest, continued to be produced ; some for Mr. Butts, some to lie on hand ; all now widely dispersed, many undated, unhappily, though mostly signed. If men would but realise the possible value of a date! Still more numerous rough sketches were thrown off ; for Blake's hand was ceaselessly at work. His was indefatigable industry. He thought nothing of entering on such a task as writing out, with ornamental letters, a MS. Bible
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as a basis for illustration ; and actually commenced one, the last year of his life, for Mr. Linnell, getting as far as Genesis, chap. iv. verse 15. He cared not for recreation. Writing and design were his recreation from the task-work of engraving. ‘I don't understand what you mean by the want of a holiday,’ he would tell his friends. Art was recreation enough for him. Work itself was pleasure, and any work, engraving, whilst he was at it, almost as much as design,— nay, even what, to another, would have been the irksome task of engraving bad pictures. He was an early riser, and worked steadily on, through health and sickness. Once, a young artist called and complained of being very ill: ‘What was he to do?’ ‘Oh!’ said Blake, ‘I never stop for anything; I work on, whether ill or not.’ Throughout life, he was always, as Mrs. Blake truly described him, either reading, writing, or designing. For it was a tenet of his, that the inner world is the all-important; that each man has a world within, greater than the external. Even while he engraved, he read, — as the plate-marks on his books testify. He never took walks for mere walking's sake, or for pleasure ; and could not sympathise with those who did. During one period, he, for two years together, never went out at all, except to the corner of the Court to fetch his porter. That in-doors ‘recreation’ of his held him spell-bound. So wholly did the topics on which he thought, or dreamed, absorb his mind that ‘often,’ Smith tells us, ‘in the middle of the night he would, after thinking deeply upon a particular subject, leap from his bed and write for two hours or more.’
Through his friend Linnell, Blake became acquainted with a new and sympathising circle of artists, which hereafter will include some very enthusiastic younger men. They, in part filled the place of the old circle, now thinned by death and (in Stothard's case) by dissension. Of which, however, Flaxman and Fuseli remaine