'forgotten. He was very indignant when lie spoke of it.'
.'ET. 63.J OPINIONS: NOTES ON BACON. 315
At page 61 of the Notes we are introduced to another of
Blake's antipathies: â 'The "great Bacon," as he is called (I
* call him the little Bacon), says that everything must be done
' by experiment. His first principle is unbelief, and yet here
' he says that art must be produced without such method.
' He is like Sir Joshua, full of self-contradiction and knavery.'
Bacon, known to Blake by his Essays, was also Antichrist in
his eyes. The high, worldly wisdom and courtier-like sagacity,
not unmingled with politic craft, of those Essays were alien
to the sympathies of the republican spiritualist, despite the
imaginative form with which those qualities are clothed in
Bacon's grand speech, â his stately, organ-like eloquence.
The artist's copy of the Essays, a duodecimo, published by
Edwards, in 1798, is roughly annotated, in pencil, in a very
characteristic, if very unreasonable, fashion ; marginal notes
dating, I should say, during the latter years of Blake's life.
We have frequent indignant comment and execration. The
epithets 'fool,' 'liar,' 'villain,' 'atheist,' nay, 'Satan,' and
even (most singular of all) 'stupid,' are freely indulged in.
There is in these notes, however, none of that leaven of real
sense and acumen which tempers the violence of those on
Reynolds. Bound by the interests of faithful biography, we
will borrow a few characteristic sentences ; but only a iew.
' Good advice for Satan's kingdom,' is the inscription on
the title-page. ' Is it true or is it false,' asks the annotator,
' that the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God .? This is
' certain : if what Bacon says is true, what Christ says is false.
' If Caesar is right, Christ is wrong, both in politics and re-
' ligion, since they will divide themselves in two.' ' Everybody
' knows,' he writes again, ' that this is epicurism and libertin-
' ism, and yet everybody says that it is Christian philosophy.
' How is this possible .'' Everybody must be a liar and de-
' ceiver .-^ No! "Everybody" does not do this; but the
' hirelings of Kings and Courts, who made themselves " every -
' body," and knowingly propagate falsehood. It was a
' common opinion in the Court of Queen Elizabeth that
3l6 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1820.
' knavery is wisdom. Cunning plotters were considered
'as wise Machiavels.'
Whatever Bacon may say, his singular annotator refuses to
be pleased. When the former innocently enough tells us, 'It
' is great blasphemy to personate God, and bring him in
'saying, "I will demand,'" &c., Blake answers : 'Did not Jesus
^ descend and become a servant ? The Prince of Darkness is
' a gentleman and not a man : he is a Lord Chancellor.'
Characteristic comment on the Essay on Virtue is this :
' What do these knaves mean by virtue ? Do they mean war
and its horrors, and its heroic villains ? ' ' Good thoughts,'
says Bacon, ' are little better than good dreams.' ' Thought
is act,' replies Blake : ' Christ's acts were nothing to Caesar's,
if this is not so.* When Bacon, after the fashion of his age,
says, ' The increase of any state must be upon the foreigner,'
the artist, innocent of political economy though he be, has for
once what would be generally considered now-a-days, in part,
a just retort : ' The increase of a State, as of a man, is from
' internal improvement or intellectual acquirement. Man is
* not improved by the hurt of another. States are not im-
* proved at the expense of foreigners.' Again : ' Bacon calls
* intellectual arts unmanly : and so they are for kings and
' wars, and shall in the end annihilate them,' ' What is fortune
* but an outward accident .'' for a few years, sixty at the most,
* and then gone ! '
'King James was Bacon's /r/;/z?^;;Â« mobile^ exclaims the
scornful Blake. And elsewhere his political prejudices explode
in an amusing way. Thephilosopher speaks of 'mighty Princes:'
â the * Powers of Darkness,' responds Blake. Again : ' A
tyrant is the worst disease, and the cause of all others ! '
And in the same spirit : ' Everybody hates a king ! David
' was afraid to say that the envy was upon a king : but is this
' envy or indignation ? '
And here let the singular dialogue at cross-purposes end.
DESIGNS TO PHILLIPS' 'PASTORALS.' 1820â 1821. [^t. 63â64.]
Blake was, in 1 820 â 2 1 , employed by Dr. Thornton for some
illustrations to the Doctor's School Virgil â Virgil's Pastorals,
that is. The result of the commission was a series of designs
among the most beautiful and original of Blake's performances.
These are the small woodcuts to Ambrose Phillips' imitation
of Virgil's first Eclogue : designs simple, quaint, poetic, charged
with the very spirit of pastoral.
Dr. Thornton, son of Bonnell Thornton of humorous memory,
colleague with Colman in TJie Connoisseiir, was a physician
and botanist of note, in his day. He was the author of several
very expensively illustrated folios and quartos on botany : A
New Illustration of the Sexual System of LinncEus, lyf^y ; The
Temple of Flora, or Garden of the Poet, Painter, and Philoso-
pher, and other similar productions about botany in its
picturesque aspect ; costly books, illustrated in colours, which
impoverished their amiable projector.
More successful in its generation was the Doctor's edition
of the Pastorals of Virgil, ' with a course of English reading
adapted for schools,' and other explanatory helps. All which
was designed to enable youth 'to acquire ideas as well as
words ' with ' ease to the master and delight to the scholar.'
One means to this end was ultimately added in a series of
illustrative woodcuts. The first edition of 1812 had none :
illustrations were issued as a supplementary volume in 1814.
3l8 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1S20â 1821.
In the second edition of 18 19 the two were incorporated. In
this third edition of 1821 the illustrations were increased to
as many as two hundred and thirty, including these from
And hereby hangs a tale. Blake made twenty drawings
to illustrate the Pastorals of Phillips, introduced by Thornton
into his ' course ' of Virgil reading. From these he executed
seventeen wood blocks, the first he had ever cut, and, as they
will prove, the last. The rough, unconventional work of a
mere 'prentice hand to the art of wood-engraving, they are,
in effect, vigorous and artist-like, recalling the doings of Albert
Diirer and the early masters, whose aim was to give ideas, not
pretty language. When he sent in these seventeen, the
publishers, unused to so daring a style, were taken aback,
and declared ' this man must do no more ; ' nay, were for
having all he had done re-cut by one of their regular hands.
The very engravers received them with derision, crying out in
the words of the critic, ' This will never do.' Blake's merits,
seldom wholly hidden from his artist contemporaries, were
always impenetrably dark to the book and print selling
Dr. Thornton had, in his various undertakings, been munifi-
cent to artists to an extent which, as we have said, brought
him to poverty. But he had, himself, no knowledge of art,
and, despite kind intentions, was disposed to take his pub-
lishers' view. However, it fortunately happened that meeting
one day several artists at Mr. Aders' table, â Lawrence, James
Ward, Linnell, and others, â conversation fell on the Virgil.
All present expressed warm admiration of Blake's art, and of
those designs and woodcuts in particular. By such competent
authority reassured, if also puzzled, the good Doctor began
to think there must be more in them than he and his
publishers could discern. The contemplated sacrifice of the
blocks already cut was averted. The three other designs,
however, had been engraved by another, nameless hand : those
illustrative of the three ' comparisons ' in the last stanza but
.r.T. 63â64.] DESIGNS TO PHILLIPS' 'PASTORALS.' 319
one of Phillips' Pastorals. Wretched, jejune caricatures of the
beautiful originals they proved, scarce any trace of Blake
To conciliate the outraged arts, Dr. Thornton introduced
the designs with an apology. ' The illustrations of this
' English Pastoral are by the famous Blake, the illustrator
' of Young's Night Thoughts, and Blair's Grave ; who de-
' signed and engraved them himself. This 'is mentioned as
' they display less of art than of genius, and are much
' admired by some eminent painters.'
One of the designs, engraved by Blake, was re-cut among
the engravers, who scrupled not, by way of showing what it
ought to have been, to smooth down and conventionalize the
design itself; reducing a poetic, typical composition to mere
commonplace, ' to meet the public taste.' This as an earnest
of what had been contemplated for the whole series. The
amendment was not adopted by Thornton. Both versions
may be seen in the A thencsum for January 21st, 1843; where,
in the course of a very intelligent article on the true princi-
ples of wood-engraving, they are introduced, with other cuts
from Holbein, &c., to illustrate the writer's just argument:
that ' amid all drawbacks there exists a power in the work of
the man of genius which no one but himself can utter fully;'
and that ' there is an authentic manifestation of feeling in an
' author's own work, which endears it to all who can sympathize
' with art, and reconciles all its defects. Blake's rude work,'
adds the critic, ' utterly without pretension, too, as an en-
* graving, the merest attempt of a fresh apprentice, is a work
' of genius ; whilst the latter ' â the doctored cut â ' is but a
' piece of smooth, tame mechanism.'
The more these remarkable designs are seen, the more
power do they exert over the mind. With few lines, and the
simplest, rudest hints of natural objects, they appeal to the
imagination direct, not the memory ; setting before us con-
densed, typical ideas. Strange to think of Blake, shut up in
dingy, gardenless South Molton Street, designing such
20 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1820â1821.
pastorals ! His mind must have been impregnated with
rural images, enabling him, without immediate reference to
Nature, to throw off these beautiful suggestions, so pastoral
in feeling, of Arcadian shepherds and their flocks, under the
broad setting sun or tranquil moon. As Thornton's purpose
was to give his young readers pictured images of his author's
words, the designs accompany the poem literally, and line for
line. Thenot addresses Colinet, who leans, lonesome, against
a tree, crook in hand, and sheep beside ; and so on.
The original designs, in sepia, are of much delicacy and
grace. Their expression and drawing are a little distorted in
the transference to wood, even under Blake's own hands. The
blocks, moreover, proved, in the first instance, too wide for the
page, and were, irrespective of the composition, summarily
cut down to the requisite size by the publishers. They are
now, together with the drawings, in the possession of Mr.
Linnell, who has kindly permitted impressions from three of
them to be taken for the present work.
Dr. Thornton found further employment for Blake in etch-
ings, scattered through the two volumes of 1821, from antique
busts : Theocritus, Virgil, Augustus, Agrippa, Julius Ca;sar,
Epicurus ; task-work Blake well and honestly performed. A
drawing of his, from Poussin's Polyphhne, was put into By-
field's hands to engrave ; which the latter did, poorly enough.
As for the rest of the two hundred and thirty cuts, though
executed by some of the best wood engravers of the time,
they are, with the exception of one or two by Bewick and
Thurston, of singularly laughable calibre. The designers
obviously thought they could not be too puerile in addressing
boys. The old, rude woodcuts to Croxall's Aisop are respect-
able works of art, compared with these. It is a curious
practical satire on the opinion of Blake the engravers had,
that the book, which has become scarce, is seldom looked at
now but for Blake's slight share in it.
FOUNTAIN COURT : WAINWRIGHT. 1821â 1825. [mt. 64â68.]
After seventeen years in South Molton Street, Blake, in
1821, migrated to No. 3, Fountain Court, Strand, â a house
kept by a brother-in-law named Baines. It was his final
change of residence. Here, as in South Molton Street, his
lodgings were not a ' garret,' as Allan Cunningham, with
metaphorical flourish, describes them ; but now, as before, in
the best part â the first floor â of a respectable house. Foun-
tain Court, unknown by name, perhaps, to many who yet
often pass it on their way through a great London artery, is a
court lying a little out of the Strand, between it and the river,
and approached by a dark narrow opening, or inclined plane,
at the corner of Simpson's Tavern, and nearly opposite
Exeter Hall. At one corner of the court, nearest the Strand,
stands the Coal Hole Tavern, once the haunt of Edmund
Kean and his ' Wolf Club,' of claqueurs ; still in Blake's time
a resort of the Thespian race ; not then promoted to the
less admirable notoriety it has, in our days, enjoyed.
An old-fashioned respectable court in 1821, as other similar
streets in that neighbourhood still are â its red-brick houses
with overhanging cornices, dating from the end of the seven-
teenth and beginning of the eighteenth century â it is silent
and sordid now ; having, like all Blake's abodes, suffered a
decline of fortune. No. 3, then a clean red-brick house, is
now a dirty stuccoed one, let out, as are all in the court, in
VOL. I. Y
LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.
single rooms to the labouring poor. That which was Blake's
front room was lately in the market at four and sixpence a
week, as an assiduous inquirer found. Of the back room,
which Blake chiefly inhabited, a plan is given below and a
picture in Chapter XXXIV. The whole place now wears that
inexpressibly forlorn, squalid look houses, used for a lower
purpose than the one for which they were built, always
assume. There is an ancient timber and brick gateway under
a lofty old house hard by ; and a few traces yet linger here
and there, in bits of wall, &c., of the old Savoy Palace,
destroyed to make way for the approaches to Waterloo
Bridge, which had been opened just four years when Blake
first came to the court.
Door openin^'to flii
Front Room oi>crlooki7t'g
Those capable of feeling the beauty of Blake's design were,
if anything, fewer at this period than they had ever been.
Among these few numbered a man who was hereafter to
acquire a sombre and terrible notoriety, â Thomas Griffiths
Wainwright ; the lively magazine writer, fine-art critic, artist,
man of pleasure, companion of poets and philosophers, and
future murderer, secret poisoner of confidential friend and
trustful sister-in-law. This was the Janus Weathercock of
Tlie London Magazine ; the ' hght-hearted Janus' of Charles
Lamb. To the other anomalies of this unhappy man's career
may be added the fact of his intimacy with William Blake,
a;t. 64â68.] WAINWRIGliT. 323
whom he assisted by buying two or three of his expensive
illustrated books. One among the best of the Songs of
Innocence and Experience I have seen, formerly belonged to
Wainwright. Blake entertained, as did Lamb, Procter, and
others of TJie London coterie, a kindness for him and
For this spiritual voluptuary, with the greedy senses, soft
coat, and tiger heart, painted and exhibited as well as wrote.
I trace him at the Academy in 1821, â Subject from Undine,
ch. 6; in 1822 (year of Wilkie's Chelsea Pensioners), Paris in
the CJiambcr of Helen ; and in 1825, First Idea of a Scene
front Der Fi-eyschiitz, and a SketcJi from Geriisaiemnie Liberata
â both sketches, it is worth notice, as indicating uncertain
application to the practice of art. He was then living at
44, Great Marlborough Street. Mr. Palmer, one of Blake's
young disciples in those days, well remembers a visit to the
Academy in Blake's company, during which the latter pointed
to a picture near the ceiling, by Wainv/right, and spoke of
it as 'very fine.' It was a scene from Walton's Angler,
exhibited in 1823 or 4. 'While so many moments better
'worthy to remain are fled,' writes Mr. Palmer to me, 'the
' caprice of memory presents me with the image of Blake
' looking up at Wainwright's picture ; Blake in his plain black
' suit and rÂ«///^r broad-brimmed, but not quakerish hat, stand-
' ing so quietly among all the dressed-up, rustling, swelling
' people, and myself thinking " How little you know who is
' " among you ! " '
During the first years of The London Magazine, 1820 â 2-^^,
Wainwright was a contributor, under various pseudonyms, of
articles, not, as Talfourd mistakenly describes them, ' of mere
' flashy assumption,' full of ' disdainful notices of living artists ; '
but articles of real literary merit and originality ; in a vein
of partly feigned coxcombry and flippant impertinence, of
wholly genuine sympathy with art (within orthodox limits),
and recognition of the real excellencies of the moderns, â of
Retsch, of Stothard, for example, and of Etty, then a young
324 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1821â1825.
man. They are articles by no means obsolete yet, even in
.their opinions ; in matter and style still fresh and readable ;
standing out in vivid contrast to the heavy common-place of
the Editor's, noiv so stale and flat, in the same department
of art-criticism. They attracted the notice and admiration
of Lamb, whose personal regard he retained for many years ;
of De Ouincey and of Procter â no mean judges.
In one of these smart, harum-scarum articles (Sept. 1820),
entitled ' Mr. Janus Weathercock's Private Correspondence,'
â a letter on topics so miscellaneous as Recent Engravings,
Pugilism, and Chapman's Homer, â occurs incidental refer-
ence to Blake, the only one I have found in the series.
' Talking of articles, my learned friend Dr. Tobias Ruddi-
' combe, M.D. is, at my earnest entreaty, casting a tremendous
' piece of ordnance, an eighty-eigJU pounder ! which he proposeth
' to fire off in your next. It is an account of an ancient, newly
' discovered, illuminated manuscript, w^hich has to name
"'â¢Jerusalem ifte lEmanation of tjbe CGiant Albion"!!! It
' contains a good deal anent one " Los" who, it appears, is
' now, and hath been from the Creation, the sole and four-fold
' dominator of the celebrated city of Golgonooza ! The doctor
' assures me that the redemption of mankind hangs on the
' universal diffusion of the doctrines broached in this MS.
' But, however, that isn't the subject of this scriniinn, scroll,
' or scrawl, or whatever you may call it.'
This was probably a feeler of Wainwright's, to try Editor
Scott's pulse as to a paper on Blake ; which, however, if
written never appeared. Scott, who had originally encouraged
Wainwright to use the pen, was rather discomposed by his
systematic impertinences and fiightiness, and now began
' rapping him over the knuckles,' cutting his articles down,
and even refusing them admission ; as is related in a sub-
sequent contribution, one of Wainwright's last (Jan. 1823).
After Scott's tragic end, in a preposterous duel with one of
the rancorous Blackwood set, Wainwright had been put on
the staff again, at the urgent representations of Lamb and
.KT. 64â68.] WAINWRIGHT. 325
Procter, The paper in question, entitled Janus Weather-
bound, contains some singularly interesting reminiscences â
when we call to mind the man's subsequent history â of the
writer's own previous career ; of John Scott himself and his
sudden death-bed, of Lamb and his sister, and of other
fellow-contributors to TJie London.
Talfourd, in his Final Memorials of Lamb, has told the
after story of Wainwright's life ; Bulwer, in his Lucretia, has
worked it up into fiction ; and De Ouincey, in his Autobio-
graphic Sketches, has thrown over it a gleam from the fitful
torchlight of his vivifying imagination. From them we learn
how expensive tastes for fine prints, rare books, articles of
virtu, on the one hand ; for mere elegant living on the other ;
for combining, in short, the man about town and the man
of refined taste and high sympathies, led him into inevitable
money difficulties, into shifts of all kinds, and convulsive
efforts to raise the wind. How, in 1830, about half a dozen
years subsequent to his connexion with The London and
familiar intercourse with some of the most original men of
that generation, he began insuring the life of a young and
beautiful sister-in-law, for a short term, in various offices, to
the amount of i^ 18,000 in all. How he contrived that the
poor girl, after having made a will in his favour, should die
before the two years' term was out, without any appear-
ance of foul play, â he using the, then little known, vegetable
poison, strychnine, now so familiar to newspaper readers.
How the assurance offices instinctively disputed his claims ;
and, after five years of ' the law's delay ' in Chancery and two
trials at common law, succeeded in their resistance on the
technical point â that the insurance was not a bond fide one
of the deceased's own effecting : the graver ground of objec-
tion being waived, for want of conclusive evidence, though
sufficient daylight was let in to warrant the darkest con-
struction of Wainwright's real character. How, after skulk-
ing about France a few years, with a bottle of strychnine in
his pocket, and, it is suspected, using the same on a confiding
326 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1821â 1825.
friend or two, Wainwright was, in 1836, apprehended for
forgery of his wife's trustee's signature (he had a wife and
child) ; was tried, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to trans-
portation for life : finally made base revelations to the
offices, enabling them to defeat the claims of his surviving
sister-in-law, in the craven hope of mitigation of punishment ;
in which hope he was deceived. In the extremity of infamy
and wretchedness, the somewhile associate of Coleridge,
Blake, Lamb, still piqued himself on being the gentleman,
though under a cloud ; still claimed a soul sympathising
with poetry, philosophy, and all high things, showing no
remorse. In Australia ended the ghastly motley of his life,
a few years ago.
Complete oblivion seems already to have overtaken all
that Wainwright painted ; though we cannot doubt, from
Blake's testimony, as reported by Mr. Palmer, that his works
belonged, in whatever degree, to the class showing individual
power. He seems to have practised painting as a means
of subsistence in Australia during his last years, as well as
at an earlier, and not yet hopeless, time in England. Of
the first period of his painting, there is said to be some
evidence in designs to an edition of Chamberlayne's poems,
which I have sought for, but failed to find, at the British
Museum ; and in the preface to which he is spoken of, I am
told, as a young man of high hopes. To the last period
belongs a portrait of the Hon. Miss Power, painted in
Australia, which also is known to me by report, not by
eyesight. Into any of the works of such a life it is difficult
to search without feeling as if every step were taken among
things dead and doomed.
INVENTIONS TO THE BOOK OF JOB. 1823â 1825. [.ilt. 66â68.]
As we . have often to repeat, Blake was even more a
neglected man in these days of Lawrence and Wilkie than
he had been in those of Reynolds and Gainsborough. The
majority of connoisseurs, a set of men who, to tell the truth,
know little more about art, the vital part of it, have no quicker
perception or deeper insight into its poetic and spiritual
qualities than the mob of educated men, though they prate
more : these were, as they still are, blind to his beauties.
And this being so, the publishing class deserves no special
blame for its blindness and timidity.
Even his old friend Mr, Butts, a friend of more than thirty
years' standing, the possessor of his best temperas and water-
colour drawings, and of copies of all his engraved books,
grew cool. The patron had often found it a hard matter
not to offend the independent, wilful painter, ever the
prouder for his poverty and neglect, always impracticable
and extreme when ruffled or stroked the wrong way. The
patron had himself begun to take offence at Blake's quick re-
sentment of well-meant, if blunt, advice and at the unmeasured
violence of his speech, when provoked by opposition. The