The Letters of William Blake/Introduction
LETTERS are of two kinds, reflective and impulsive. The writer may be concerned with the analysis of his impressions and the choice of words, or he may simply rely upon the sheer intensity of his passions or emotions to carry conviction to the reader's imagination. The Letters of William Blake are of the latter sort. That very impatience and impetuosity which so often mars the perfection of his achievement in other directions, is their incomparable distinction. His personality reveals itself in them in its most charming aspect. They are filled with a delightful freshness and spontaneity; and at the same time his most intimate ideas, in regard to both religion and art, are expressed with a clearness and simplicity which is scarcely to be found anywhere else in his writings. He never tires of writing exultantly and triumphantly of the supreme joy of the visionary life. "He had a devil," Mr. Swinburne has said, "and its name was faith"; and his letters are everywhere inspired with the child-like enthusiasm and god-like energy begotten of this faith. The union with the Divine through Art and Love—that is the central fact of his life and work, his one and ever-present ideal; and it is not surprising to find it his principal topic when he is writing to his friends. The only possible redemption was, he believed, through the imagination; he was, therefore, continually occupied with casting out from himself everything that was not imagination, and adjuring others to do the same, that the same eternal life, which he already possessed in himself, might be theirs too. "I know of no other Christianity," he writes in Jerusalem, "and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body and mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination: Imagination, the real & 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.... Is the Holy Ghost any other than an Intellectual Fountain?... Is God a Spirit, who must be worshipped in Spirit & in Truth, and are not the Gifts of the Spirit Everything to Man?... What is Mortality but the things relating to the Body, which Dies? What is Immortality but the things relating to the Spirit, which Lives eternally?... Answer this to yourselves, & expel from among you those who pretend to despise the labours of Art & Science, which alone are the labours of the Gospel: Is not this plain & manifest to the thought? Can you think at all, & not pronounce heartily: That to Labour in Knowledge is to Build up Jerusalem; and to Despise Knowledge is to Despise Jerusalem & her Builders. And remember: He who despises & mocks a Mental Gift in another, calling it pride & selfishness & sin, mocks Jesus the giver of every Mental Gift, which always appear to the ignorance-loving Hypocrite as Sins; but that which is a Sin in the sight of cruel Man, is not so in the sight of our kind God. Let every Christian, as much as in him lies, engage himself openly & publicly before all the World in some Mental pursuit for the Building up of Jerusalem." In such words he sums up "the Everlasting Gospel," which he believed himself and all other creative artists in duty bound to deliver to humanity.
The series of letters begins with an extract from a letter from Flaxman to Hayley (now for the first time printed), which has some importance if only to refute the common idea that Blake's art found no acceptance among the artists of his own day. This delusion has doubtless arisen from the story of the conflict with Sir Joshua Reynolds, who is said to have criticised adversely some of his earliest essays in painting, and to have recommended him "to work with less extravagance and more simplicity, and to correct his drawing." This most excellent advice was, however, resented by Blake, not on its own merits but because of the lips from which it came; for since the method of painting adopted by Reynolds was wholly opposed to his own ideal, which was that of Dürer, Michel Angelo, and the rest of the linear school, he not unnaturally considered it an extreme impertinence on the part of one who, in his opinion, was ignorant of the very essence of the highest kind of art to criticise work which was at anyrate conceived on right lines. Besides Romney, Flaxman himself, Fuseli, Lawrence—to mention the chief names only—were enthusiastic admirers of Blake's designs. In connection with the last of these, it is worth while correcting an error on the part of Gilchrist, who speaks of him, among others, as considering it "almost giving the money" whenever he gave Blake a commission either for a drawing or for one of his illuminated books. That this was certainly not the case is shown by the honour paid by him to a replica of the beautiful watercolour (done originally for Butts) of "The Wise and Foolish Virgins," which he had ordered from him. I find a note in the diary of the present owner's grandfather, who was a personal friend of that eminent artist and collector, and purchased the drawing for a high price at his sale, stating that "it was Sir Thomas's favourite drawing," and that "he commonly kept it on his table in his studio, as a study"—which is high praise, when we remember that Lawrence's collection of drawings by the old masters was one of the finest that has ever been brought together. Blake's poems also were found worthy of honour by a tribunal from which there can be no appeal—Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Lamb.
About the time at which Flaxman writes, Blake's work was beginning to appear at the Royal Academy exhibitions. He was there for the first time in 1780 with the "Death of Earl Goodwin," for which the sketch alone survives. In 1784 were shown two sombre designs of a didactic tendency, "War unchained by an Angel: Fire, Pestilence, and Famine following," and "A Breach in a City: the Morning after a Battle." The first of these seems to have disappeared; but the second, of which there are two versions still in existence (that in the possession of Mr. Stopford Brooke being probably the one exhibited), is amply prophetic of his later manner and typical of the kind of work which elicited such extravagant praise from Romney's lips. It is the grey of early dawn. Before the breach, among fragments of the wall, is a heap of slain, with a woman prostrate upon one of the bodies, and a young woman kneeling and embracing her dead knight. A mourning mother and an aged father, who is wiping away his tears with a fold of his mantle (the latter an anticipation of the patriarchal type so often to reappear), stand close by. Through the breach a young woman is seen, searching frantically for her dead lover. High upon the wall is a hungry bird of prey. An intensity of dramatic feeling which belongs to the greatest achievements of Blake's inventive faculty is present in the design: where the woeful state of the fallen on the one side is vividly contrasted with the vertical lines of the mourners and of the wall on the other; while the dismal twilight of the morning serves to increase the lamentable aspect of the scene. It will appear from many of Blake's letters that the admiration evinced by Romney was fully reciprocated, especially in the use of the various historical studies and cartoons which were undertaken by the latter at this period. These have even left a visible mark upon Blake's style. An lndia-ink drawing, done about the date of this meeting, entitled "Har and Heva bathing: Mnetha looking on" (one of a, set of twelve illustrations to his own poem "Tiriel"), is a good example of the Romney influence, which is clearly distinguishable in the curves of the figures, in the breadth of the light effects, and in the character of the forest background; and from the designs of the latter from "Shakespeare" and "Milton" it is sufficiently clear that the gain was not on Blake's side alone. I have even identified a sketch by Romney from Paradise Lost bearing Blake's signature forged upon it.
In the same letter from Flaxman, just alluded to, there is mention of another matter, which has hitherto escaped the notice of Blake's biographers, which is a proposal to send him to Rome. It is difficult to be thankful enough that this most generous offer was never carried into effect, when we consider the disastrous influence of the Sistine Chapel in annihilating the very considerable ability of such artists as Barry and Fuseli, not to mention a host of others of inferior rank. This terrible neo-michelangelism is responsible for many of the worst excesses of the school to which they belonged. As it was, the only way in which Blake was able to become acquainted with the works of Michel Angelo was through the medium of engravings and studies from them, and that he made use of his opportunities is shown by some copies (now in the Print Room of the British Museum) executed at this period, after Adam Ghisi's Sistine prints.
The death of his brother, Robert, in 1787, may be taken to mark the beginning of a new era in Blake's artist career; since the publication of the books of songs and prophecies, with which his name is generally associated, is intimately connected with this event. For it was not long before his brother returned one night in a vision and revealed to him the method of relief-etching, which enabled him to print and illuminate them for an expense which his slender means would permit. The nature of these books is well known through the facsimiles which have been published; and it is only necessary to mention them here, for the reason that they are the first decisive step in his career as a visionary artist, and also because it was the mode of their production which gave rise to what is in many ways the most distinctive and characteristic section of the whole of his artistic productions—his Printed Drawings; since it is reasonable to believe that it was the satisfactory result obtained on a small scale in these books and in certain other small designs separately printed in a similar manner, which led him to the idea of modifying his method for the treatment of independent subjects on a larger scale. The date of this further invention is probably 1795 (or a little earlier), as this is the year of all the dated prints known to me; and it was upon their production that he was engaged at the time when his correspondence with George Cumberland begins. The "Creation of Adam" is, from its nature, the most conspicuous of them, and is perhaps the greatest extant monument of Blake's genius as an artist. The Creator, a grand and terrific figure, ancient and winged, like some monument of an Oriental imagination, clothed about the body with flowing drapery, his hair streaming behind, with all the agony of creation upon his face, is forming Adam, who lies prostrate below him, out of the four elements. With his left hand he is taking up a clod of clay, and moulding his head with his right. Adam's left arm is stretched out towards the water beneath, with the palm of the hand open; about one of his legs, which are as yet only partially formed from the natural wood, are the coils of an immense worm, the emblem of nature and of mortality. Behind the hovering figure of the Almighty is a vast sun (representing Fire), a lurid yellow and red disk surrounded with red and black rays. Above are thick rolling clouds (Air) of a purplish black colour. Below Adam is the green Earth, with the dark blue Water lapping the edge.
At the same time as he was at work upon the Printed Drawings, Blake was engaged upon a number of small pictures (chiefly biblical in subject), painted in oil upon a gesso ground, which continue down to the end of the century, when he ceased to employ an oily vehicle. That he had not yet made up his mind to alienate himself from the influences, Greek, Flemish, and Venetian, which were to become so odious to him, is clearly discernible from many of those works; even if we had not his own explicit declaration on the point in a letter written as late as 1799, where he says: "The purpose for which alone I live,... is... to renew the lost art of the Greeks," and at the same time professes himself willing to execute "a number of cabinet pictures, which I flatter myself will not be unworthy of a scholar of Rembrandt and Teniers" (both soon to be included in the same category with the Venetians and Correggio), "whom I have studied no less than Raphael and Michael Angelo." The "Christ blessing little Children" and the "Flight into Egypt," both dated 1790, are the earliest of the series known to me. In the former of these the Venetian feeling is strongly perceptible, especially in a standing female figure, clothed in bluish green, with an infant in her arms, and in the landscape background; while the diminutive children vividly recall some Greek reliefs of the fifth century. Somewhat later in date is the strange "Nativity," which is one of the artist's boldest and most beautiful inventions. Mary, swooning in the miraculous childbirth, is sustained by Joseph; while the Divine Infant, clothed with supernatural light, leaps forth upon the air. Elizabeth holds out her arms to receive Him; and the tiny Baptist, upon her knees, folds his hands in adoration. The star of the Nativity sheds a flood of light through a window in the stall. A less striking but not less beautiful work of the same type is "The Angel appearing to Zacharias," where the sense of solemnity pervading the whole is enhanced by the richness of the ornaments and the jewelled colour. The effect of light both in this and in the preceding picture has a distinctly Rembrandtesque quality. But perhaps the most remarkable of the whole group is Captain Archibald Stirling's "Temptation of Eve." Eve is a beautiful nude figure, with luxuriant yellow hair, standing in the midst with her right arm uplifted; her face is radiant, charmed by the serpent whose golden yellow coils surround her, circling upwards behind, its crested head lifted high above her head, and holding the fruit in its mouth. Adam lies stretched in sleep upon the grass, by the writhing folds of the serpent's tail, one hand resting upon a spade at his side. The dark trunk of the Tree of Mystery stands massively on the left, overarching the composition with its deadly branches. In the background is a rocky landscape, with a waterfall. Above, in the dark blue sky of night, the moon is being eclipsed.
It was not long after the designs for Young's Night Thoughts had been completed (in 1797) that Blake entered upon his friendship with Butts, who in 1799 gave him an order for fifty small pictures at one guinea each. This and one or two other commissions about the same time were sufficient to induce him once and for all to turn his attention seriously to the art of painting, and for the future to make engraving, which had until now been his principal pursuit, merely a means of earning bread. Thomas Butts remained ever a true friend to Blake, and became the purchaser, for small sums, of practically all his most important works from this date until about 1810, when sheer lack of room on his walls prevented him from being for the future anything more than an occasional buyer. He was an amiable, if somewhat commonplace individual, and if the letter to Blake, printed in the present collection, does not point to a very high level either of humour or intelligence, it shows him to have been greatly attached to his protégé and he has certainly earned the gratitude of all Blake-lovers in giving to the world, through his patronage, so many of the artist's greatest designs. He is above all to be commended for leaving Blake an entirely free hand in regard to the execution of all his commissions. Of the supreme benefit of this freedom, "his just right as an artist and as a man," Blake was ever most sensible, and his sincere thanks are gratefully recorded in one of his letters to his friend, where he says: "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." The greater part of the magnificent collection brought together by this patron was dispersed, about the middle of the last century, by his son, Thomas, who was for a time Blake's pupil, and instructed by him in the art of engraving. The whole of the remainder, including many of the artist's noblest productions, has been recently disposed of by the present representative of the Butts family.
In September 1800, Blake left London to work for Hayley at Felpham. The prospect of life in the country filled him with unbounded delight. He had dreams of the beginning of a new life, in which he has to emerge at last from the confusion and unrest of his past existence into a state of freedom and spiritual felicity. With no care but art, he imagined that he would be able, unmolested, to "converse in heaven and walk with angels." His wife was overwhelmed with the same enthusiasm. "My dear and too-overjoyous woman," he wrote to Hayley just before their departure from London, "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." The first undertaking after his arrival was a frieze of poet heads for his employer's library at Felpham, whither the latter had just removed from Eartham. The Little Tom broad-sheet was also produced at the same time; and it was not long before he was set to work by his patron (through whom he obtained commissions among the neighbouring gentry) upon the uncongenial task of miniature painting; and in addition to all this he was occupied with the engraving of plates for Hayley's Life of Cowper. Any time that could be spared from these labours was devoted to the completion of his commission for Butts. Among the drawings which he did for the latter about this time is one entitled "The Soldiers Casting Lots for Christ's Garment" (dated 1800), which from its extraordinary qualities of invention and energy, we may suppose to belong to the first enthusiasm of his new life. In the foreground three soldiers are dicing excitedly for the seamless coat; while several others leaning upon the shafts of their partizans are bending over and watching the game intently. Beyond is the crucifixion, seen from behind, with the group of holy women, etc., at the feet of Christ. In the distance, upon the terrace of the Temple, which rises up with its many pinnacles mysteriously in the back-ground, is a multitude of spectators, darkly suggested; many, too, are crowding up beneath a portcullis gate, below the steep rock upon which the crucifixion has taken place. Of a different character to this sombre design is the charming and beautifully coloured drawing of "The Vision of Jacob's Ladder," which there is good reason to assign to the same date; indeed, it is difificult to dissociate it from the vision of the ladder in the song addressed to Mrs. Flaxman, and it is for this reason that it has been reproduced here to accompany it. The youthful Jacob, propped upon a pillow of large stones, is stretched in sleep upon a grassy hill-top, his shepherd's crook in his hand. Ending by his pillow, and descending from a vast golden sun on high, whence emanate floods of bright yellow beams, is a white spiral stairway or ladder, upon which countless angels and girls and little children are passing up and down. Foremost among them is a winged angel bearing a basket of bread upon his head, and followed by a damsel with a jug of wine. Others are engaged in various delights: embracing one another, leading little children, one carrying a scroll, others a book, compasses, or a musical instrument,—all joyful and beautiful. Beneath the rays of the sun is deep blue sky, star spangled. Many of those for whom the symbolism of art is, as it was for Blake, inseparable from its reality, will be reminded in this lovely invention of the striking words in The Obscure Night of the Soul, where St. John of the Cross tells of how the Ladder of Contemplation ascends to the Sun, which is God.
It was not destined that this new-found happiness should remain for long unclouded. The "brotherly affection" with which he was at first received by his benevolent patron, soon unmasked itself as the charity of an elder brother, or in other words a tyranny of a peculiarly exasperating kind; and even the mild and ever-patient Blake could not long endure the "genteel ignorance and polite disapprobation" which he encountered continually by reason of the visionary quality of his inventions. How many of us have suffered from those who "do unkind things in kindness: with power armed to say the most irritating things in the midst of tears and love!" as Blake afterwards wrote in his Milton, a poem which is almost wholly devoted to describing, under a close disguise, the events, or the "herculean labours," as he calls them, of his life at Felpham; and how many of us have cried out with him: "O God, protect me from my friends, that they have not power over me: Thou hast given me power to protect myself from my bitterest enemies." At last he could conceal the truth no more. "He is as much averse," he complains of Hayley in a letter to Butts, "to my poetry as he is to a chapter in the Bible," and "approves of my designs as little as he does of my poems." This attitude on the part of his patron soon convinced him that he was in serious danger from an enemy of his soul, who was urging him in the name of worldly wisdom to forsake his allegiance to Imagination, that he might devote himself to the imitation of nature. So after three dark years he was forced to return to London. The experience had not, however, been an altogether fruitless one. "One thing," he writes, "of real consequence I have accomplished by coming into the country, which is to me consolation enough, namely, I have recollected 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 obliterated from my mind." And again, "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." The clarification of ideas, and the return to those principles of technique which were latent in his youthful pieces, and which preceded the attempt at eclecticism, when it was his intention to incorporate into his work all the graces of Venice and Flanders as well as the linear austerity of the Florentines, and when his mind was perturbed by a hundred conflicting doubts and fears, were clearly things to be thankful for, and he was by no means oblivious of his debt. The three years at Felpham were years of retreat, during which he was enabled to devote himself to bringing to an end the period of mental war; and the conflict was there fiercest because it had passed into the ultimate world of vision. The book of Milton, in which the story of this final struggle is chronicled, was begun during the last days at Felpham and finished in London. The year 1804, however, upon the title-page must be taken to mark the completion of the composition rather than the date of publication; since the engraving of the poem seems to have been delayed, by pressure of other work, for several years; and even in the end the original plan had to be modified considerably, and the number of books reduced from twelve to two. That the whole labour of producing the book was not over at any rate before 1808, is shown by the following allusion to it in the Public Address belonging to that year. "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,... 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." But it seems to have been ready not long after these words were written, as in every copy known to me the paper is watermarked with the year 1808, a coincidence which must, I think, fix the approximate date of its appearance. The intention of the book is clearly stated on p. 36, ll. 21-25:
"For when Los join'd with me he took me in his firy whirlwind;
My Vegetated portion was hurried from Lambeth's shades;
He set me down in Felpham's Vale, & prepared a beautiful
Cottage for me, that in three years I might write all these visions,
To display Nature's cruel holiness: the deceits of Natural Religion."
The story of the events at Felpham having reached the dwellers in eternity, the poet Milton receives a heavenly command to return to earth, with the double purpose both of redeeming his own imagination from the state of bondage into which it had fallen during his lifetime owing to the detestable nature of his religion, and of delivering Blake from the tyranny of his oppressors. He comes as "the Awakener," to overthrow "the idiot Reasoner," who "laughs at the Man of Imagination." Visionary art is to be restored once more, and the poetry of vision is to silence for ever those, "who pretend to Poetry, that they may destroy Imagination by imitation of Nature's Images drawn from Remembrance." Such an one as Hayley, the mere "Polypus of soft affections without Thought or Vision," is no longer to have dominion over those whose care is alone for the things of the Spirit.
It is well to point out here that Blake's Jerusalem, though in all probability it was not published before about 1818, has also the date 1804 upon its title-page, and is also largely concerned with the author's sojourn at Felpham, and has therefore a considerable amount of autobiographical interest; in fact, Blake seems to have transferred a good deal of the material originally intended for Milton to its pages.
We have now reached the period of Blake's artistic maturity, following upon the elaboration of the theory of art, which had been constructed during these three years, and on account of which, as has been already pointed out. In spite of the incompatibility of their intelligences, he never ceased to be grateful to his patron. In 1804 came the visit to the Truchsessian Picture Gallery of old masters (of which a description may be found in Gilchrist), accompanied by a new burst of intellectual vision. The history of mysticism provides countless similar instances of the way in which an apparently trivial circumstance may be possessed of the highest spiritual significance: and a reference to the letter to Hayley, of 23rd October 1804, will show that we are justified by Blake himself in regarding this visit as a landmark in his career, when he became able to carry out his new code of art with all the joy and enthusiasm which inspired the productions of his youth. Evidence style induces me to assign to the beginning of the new period a water-colour drawing entitled "The River of Life," which for the purity and beauty of its colouring as well as the sheer inspiration of its joyous and life-giving qualities, rather than for any definable superiority of design or execution, has found a number of admirers at two recent exhibitions of Blake's work. Its subject is Revelation xxii. 1, 2. The lovely clear blue river of water of life is flowing by a winding course, proceeding out of the throne of God, which is represented by a vast yellow sun encircled by a glory of angelic figures. Upon its banks are the tree of life, with its twelve manner of fruits, and the many "tents and pavilions, gardens and groves" of Paradise, "with its inhabitants walking up and down, in conversations concerning mental delights." Over the midst of the stream is a male figure flying downwards towards his wife, who, with her two infants, is stemming the current towards the sources of light. Near these, a woman in a pale yellow dress, who is floating above the river, is bending down and taking up water in a cup to drink. On either side of these central figures is a beautiful female figure piping to them. In the latter part of the year 1804, Blake began the series of drawings for Blair's Grave, which he completed the following year, and of which a selection were, in 1806, engraved by Schiavonetti. The originals have now almost all disappeared, and the reference to them in the letter from Flaxman to Hayley, dated 18th October 1805, is particularly interesting, as among those mentioned by him as being the most striking is a drawing with the remarkable title of "The Gambols of the Ghosts according with their Affections previous to the Final Judgment," now lost. A good deal of Blake's time at this period was also taken up with the collection of materials for Hayley's Life of Romney and the engraving of a plate for this work, as well as of a portrait of Romney, which was not used. He still found time, however, for some original work as well; for in May 1805 he was able to deliver a dozen water-colours to Butts. Among them was the admirable design of "The Wise and Foolish Virgins," of which he afterwards executed the replica for Sir Thomas Lawrence, already alluded to. To 1806 belongs the second of his designs for "The Last Judgment," which comes nearer to that which is described in the letter to Ozias Humphrey than the previous one engraved by Schiavonetti for Blair's Grave, The subject is, however, much less elaborately treated than in the Petworth picture, finished two years later. A second commission from Lady Egremont was carried out about the same time as the other; it was an experiment picture in the fresco medium, entitled "Satan calling up his Legions," from Paradise Lost. This magnificent work is still also at Petworth. It is the "more perfect picture afterward executed for a lady of high rank," alluded to in the Descriptive Catalogue, The scene is in lurid darkness at the brink of the fiery lake: everywhere sheets of flame are mounting from gulfs and fissures, and down a sheer cliff a torrent of molten flint is streaming, to join the seething lava flood below. The nude form of Satan, with uplifted arms, stands erect on high, in the midst, against a background of fire. Beelzebub, a crown of gold upon his head, is reclining deep in thought upon a rock below him. Overhead, on either side, is a cluster of rebels pursued headlong from heaven by flaming arrows and hail and many lightnings. All around Satan are the leaders of his host, princes and deities and demons, some of them still stupefied by their fall, many of them bound and wallowing in liquid fire. The painting of the fire throughout is a wonderful achievement. Some years later, after Blake's death, a third work from his hand found its way to Petworth, being purchased by Lord Egremont from Mrs. Blake. It is an illustration of the characters in Spenser's Faery Queen, and was intended to be the companion to the famous picture of the Canterbury Pilgrimage, which is the principal item in the Descriptive Catalogue.
From the year 1809, in which the Descriptive Catalogue was published, until the time of his introduction to Linnell, we have no letters from Blake's pen. It is not likely, indeed, that many were written by him during these years, as he seems for some time to have isolated himself from nearly all his friends, and to have lived a solitary life. His commissions became fewer and fewer, and it is certain that he was sadly oppressed by poverty.
It was in 1818 that Blake first made the acquaintance of John Linnell the painter, through the introduction of his old friend, George Cumberland. One of the first things which Linnell did for Blake was to present him to his own former master, John Varley, who, both as astrologer and artist, was able to take a lively interest in the genius of his new friend. A considerable intimacy arose between the two, and it was at Varley's instigation that Blake embarked upon the remarkable series, alluded to by Tatham in the Life, of visionary portraits of historical personages and others, which covers the years 1818—1820. The facsimiles given in Gilchrist will be sufficient to show the character of these productions. Two of the finest of those which I have seen are the heads of King John, and of Lais of Corinth, mistress of Apelles,—the former, a noble visage with a grim look, the head narrowing curiously above the eyes, with a short beard, waving hair down to the neck, and large eyes; the latter, a strangely Lionardesque representation of a woman of very low type. About 1820, Blake took in hand his last and most elaborate picture of "The Last Judgment," 7 feet by 5 feet in dimensions, and containing upwards of a thousand figures, but did not complete it until the year of his death. It has not been seen for a good many years, but it is said to have been sumptuously coloured and much worked up with gold. In 1822 he did replicas of some of his early Paradise Lost designs for Linnell. About the same time he was engaged upon one of his last commissions for Butts, a set of water-colour drawings illustrating the Book of Job. He had been attracted from early days by the history of the patriarch, which he would often parallel by the course of his own life; and ever since his publication in 1793 of a large engraving of Job in affliction, he had from time to time turned his attention to the book. In 1823 be began to make a duplicate set of the designs for Linnell, who had offered to publish a book of engravings to be done from them by the artist. For any account of these illustrations the reader must be referred to Gilchrist's Life of Blake; and it is only necessary to mention here that, magnificent as the original water-colour drawings unquestionably are, they are in every case inferior to the final version in the engraving, and that both they themselves and the many existing studies for them are mainly interesting as showing the evolution of the design in the mind of the artist, and the marvellous certainty of judgment that guided him in every elimination or change. The only one of the Job designs of this period known to me which can in any way be compared with the engraving, is a varnished water-colour on panel of "Satan smiting Job with sore Boils," in the possession of Sir Charles Dilke, in which the effect of colour is one of the most splendid that Blake ever attained. To 1825 belong a beautiful series of twelve water-colour drawings from Paradise Regained, in which the design is at once simple and dignified, while the colour has all the delicacy and finish which characterises his latest works; for towards the end of his life he departed in some measure from the very austere method of colouring which he originally employed, and permitted himself a more liberal use of the subtleties and varieties of tint of which his medium was capable.
The last great labour of his life, and one of the most remarkable evidences of his extraordinary genius for the invention of design, is the series of ninety-eight illustrations which he made for the Divine Comedy, an undertaking which occupied him until the very end, even upon his deathbed, for the prodigious intellectual energy which characterised his whole life, remained to the last creative; and in a letter to Linnell, shortly before death, he wrote: "I am too much attached to Dante to think much of anything else." Though he did not live long enough to bring more than a few of the whole number to completion, yet in every instance, even where the merest pencil outline is all that exists, he never failed to convey all the essentials of his idea, with a vigour and comprehension that showed no signs of decay. Seven of the set only were engraved by him, including the "Paolo and Francesca, with the Whirlwind of Lovers," which is here reproduced, and which is the most beautiful of them. Of the remainder, which he did not live to engrave, the most striking designs among those which approach a finished state are "Dante conversing with Farinata degli Uberti among the fiery Tombs"; "Antæus setting down Dante and Virgil in the last Circle," in which the giant, who is a grandly drawn figure, clinging on to the rock with his left hand, is bending over the precipice, as, with his right, he puts the two down together upon a rocky platform below; "The Ascent of the Mountain of Purgatory"; and "Dante and Statius sleeping, Virgil watching," with the vision of Rachel and Leah in the moon. The last engraving ever executed by Blake was the message card which he did for his friend Cumberland. It is signed "W. Blake, inv. & sc. A. Æ, 70, 1827." A minutely executed allegorical design surrounds the name "Mr. Cumberland," printed in bastard Gothic letters, showing the punishment which awaits cruelty to animals, and the reward of industry and innocence. On one side, below, are two figures; one with a snare, the other flying two birds at the end of strings, upon whom a reaping angel with a sickle is descending,—the intention being shown by some growing oats close by. On the other side, three rejoicing angels are appearing to an upward floating figure with a distaff. Near them a child is bowling a hoop through the sky. The story of how, at the very end, upon his deathbed, he finished for Tatham the illuminated print of "The Ancient of Days striking the first Circle of the Earth," may be left to be told by Tatham himself. On the 12th August 1827, Blake's body died; and we may leave his work with a few beautiful words about the man from a letter written by Linnell to Bernard Barton three years later: "He was more like the ancient patterns of virtue than I ever expected to see in this world; he feared nothing so much as being rich, lest he should lose his spiritual riches. He was at the same time the most sublime in his expressions, with the simplicity and gentleness of a child."
Frederick Tatham, author of the Life which follows, was the son of an architect to whom Blake had been introduced by Linnell; he was himself a sculptor and miniature-painter. He was about twenty years of age when he made Blake's acquaintance, only two or three years before the death of the latter. He soon became on most intimate terms with him, and saw him continually until the end. He thus enjoyed unique opportunities of gathering reliable material for the Life, which, together with the brief sketch of the early life given by Malkin in his Father's Memoirs of His Child, must always remain the principal contemporary sources, outside his own writings, for the particulars of Blake's biography. After the death of the widow, the whole stock of drawings, engravings, etc., which still remained unsold, as well as a good many copper plates, passed into Tatham's hands. He also came in for a considerable quantity of MS. material, the greater part of which he unhappily destroyed on conscientious grounds, having been told by certain members of the Catholic Apostolic Church, to which he belonged, that many dangerous and pernicious doctrines were contained in them. He furnished an explanation for Gilchrist's Life of the method in which Blake's printed drawings were executed. The accuracy of this account was disputed by Linnell, and has been generally doubted. My own investigations have led me to believe it to be substantially correct; and as Linnell seems to have had a particular dislike for Tatham, and was at the same time either unwilling or unable to provide a more exact description, it may be concluded that it was its incompleteness rather than its inaccuracy which led him to a vehement denial of its veracity. Some experiments made by my friend Mr. Graham Robertson, based upon a somewhat fuller account of the process given to him by myself, have been remarkably successful, and certainly reproduce very closely the quality of Blake's own productions. Owing to the very intelligible indignation aroused among Blake-lovers by his destruction of the MSS., Tatham's honesty has also been unjustly called into question. I have even heard it said that he was in the habit of forging Blake's signature upon drawings of his own manufacture. This I am in a position to deny absolutely. His act of destruction is indeed greatly to be deplored; but weakness and narrow-mindedness are the worst things that he can be accused of on that account. There can be no doubt of the genuineness of his love and admiration of Blake, and I can see no reason to question his sincerity in other matters. His Life, if it is somewhat lacking in both scholarly exactness and literary grace, is on the whole a valuable and trustworthy document; and if it is often marred by the false sentiment belonging to the time at which it was written, it is also full of fine appreciation, and contains some passages of real feeling and beauty. The copy of Jerusalem with which the Life is bound up, is a magnificent one, illuminated with extreme beauty by Blake himself; it is the only copy which he ever lived to finish in colours. It is printed in orange, and measures 13⅜ x 10¾ inches. The portrait of Mrs. Blake, by George Richmond, here reproduced, is also contained in it; and it has for frontispiece two rather uninteresting likenesses of Blake, at the ages of twenty-eight and sixty-nine years, both drawn by Tatham himself, the former after a sketch from life by Mrs. Blake.