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 with 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
l60 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1800â 1801.
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 re-
pulsive 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.
B)^ the sounding shore, visionary conversations were held
with many a majestic shadow from the Past â 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 lie 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
^T. 43â44-] POET IIAYLEY AND FELPIIAM. l6l
' 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 grass-
'â hoppers, 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 07i Painthig, â 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 w^orld 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 Fuseh 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 Pet worth, Lord Bathurst of Lavant, Mrs. Poole;
and obtained him commissions for miniatures. Some of
which, reports Playley, ' that singularly industrious man who
applied himself to various branches of the art' and 'had wonder-
ful talents for original design' executed 'very happily.'
Blake, indefatigable in toil, would also, at his craft of en-
graving, 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
VOL. I. M
1 62 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1800â 1801.
wont to say he had refused but one commission in his hfe, â
to paint a set of handscreens for a lady of quahty, one of the
great people to whom Hayley had introduced him ; that he
declined ! For Lady Bathurst it was, I think, â 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, â thanks, in great part, to his friendly
relations with such artists as Flaxman and Romney, â 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 â¢ Seward,
Madame de Genlis ; above all, there were fine studies of Lady
Hamilton in various fancy characters, as Cassandra, Andro-
meda, 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 orna-
ments, 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 : â 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 Hay-
ley's death, the marine villa passed, by sale, from the hands
.ET. 43â44-] LETTERS. 1 63
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 : â
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 less 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 miser-
able 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 theme 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 the 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.
164 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1800â 1801.
My wife joins with 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,
Felpham, 2^th Novembo', 1800.
Next in date comes a letter to Mr. Butts which betokens
still the same unclouded horizon : â
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 con-
tinued 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 accom-
modation 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. Bat as beds and rooms and accommo-
dations 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 beheve me to remain
Felpham, May 10, 1801.
WORKING HOURS. LETTERS TO BUTTS. iSoiâ 1803. [^t, 44-46.]
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, â in the unhappy sense of utter in-
sipidity. 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 protege, Seagrave, a Chichester book-
seller, 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 Coivper, 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 en-
tombed in Hayley's Memoirs of himself and his son, edited
1 66 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1801â 1803.
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 tvith 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 i-aising
' a monument suited to the dignity of the dear bard, in the
' metropolis ; if the public show proper spirit (as I am per-
' suaded it will) on that occasion â a point that we shall put
* to the test, in publishing the Life.'
The portrait of Cowper, by Abbot, the Academician, â a very
prosaic one, â 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. trans-
lations 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 : â a
single quarto, illustrated by Flaxman, of Cowper's Trans-
lations and Notes on Milton, for the proposed ' benefit,' as
usual, of somebody, â this time of 'an orphan godson of the
/ET. 44â46.] WORKING HOURS. 1 6/
poet/ which in 1808 actually did take shape; followed in
1 8 10, 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 \,
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 inestim-
* able virtue than I ever saw united before to an imagination
* so lively and so prolific. Come, and criticise what we have
' done ! Gome, and assist us to do more ! I want you in a
' double capacity, â as an excellent scribe, and as an infallible
* fountain of intelligence for all the latter days of our dear
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 nth, 1801, Blake writes two letters to Mr.
I hope you will continue to excuse my want of steady per-
severance, 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,
1 68 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [iSoiâ 1803.
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 flights, 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 pallia-
tion 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 disappoint-
ment 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 con-
tinue painting miniatures, and I improve more and more, as all my
friends tell me. But my prmcipal 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 â 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,
^T. 44-46.] LETTERS. 169
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
P.S. â 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 Wi, 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 clergy-
man was bringing out). ' Blake and I read every evening
that copy of the Iliad which your namesake' (the book-
seller) ' 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
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
170 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1801â 1803.
a mind full of literary conventions, swiftly writing without
thought ; the other, with a head just as full of originalities, â
right or wrong, â patiently busying his hands at his irksome
craft, wdiile his spirit wandered through the invisible world.
November iZth, 1801. â 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 bene-
' volent 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 affec-
* tionate existence (near eighty) this day fortnight, in the
' great house at Eartham, where Blake and I had the mourn-
' ful gratification of attending him (by accident) in the few
' last hours of his life.'
November 2,2nd, 1801. * * * ' Did I tell you that our excel-
' lent 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 .-â¢ '
The engravings to the Life of Coivpcr â the first issue in
two volumes quarto (they were omitted in the subsequent
octavo edition) â 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
vtT. 44â46.] WORKING HOURS. 17I
engraving gives no hint of the refinement of Romney's art.