Page:Life of William Blake, Gilchrist.djvu/77
ÆT. 26—27.] 47
INTRODUCTION TO THE POLITE WORLD.
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