as yet, find a customer for one ; but hopes to do somewhat by
perseverance in his endeavours. He tells me that it is too much
finished, or overlaboured, for his Bristol friends, as they think.
I saw Mr. Tatham, senior, yesterday. He sat with me above one
hour, and looked over the Dante. He expressed himself very
much pleased with the designs as well as the engravings, and
hopes soon to get proofs of what I am doing.
I am, dear Sir,
This Mr. Cumberland, of Bristol, was one of the few buyers
from Blake during these years. For him the artist now
executed a slight, but interesting commission — an artistic
card-plate ; no infrequent thing in former days. Reynolds
had such an one, and Hogarth also. The whole conception
appears to be symbolic of life. Two boys playing fate with
the distaff ; last the angel with sickle to reap the harvest of
God ; and other figures harder to interpret.
^-^— £— i!C. - :^_ - ££-^Je= - ^
The inscription below is, W. Blake inv. & sc. cct. 70. 1827,
The Mr. Tatham, senior, was the architect I have already
mentioned as father of a young sculptor then among Blake's
most enthusiastic followers.
400 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1824— 1827.
The little bundle of letters to Mr. Linnell — too soon, alas !
to be exhausted — will best continue to tell the story of
Blake's fluctuating health, his sanguine hopes of recovery,
and zealous devotion to his beloved task of finishing and
engraving the Designs from Dante — task never to be
completed by his faltering hands.
25/>5 April, 1827.
Dear Sir, —
I am going on better every day, as I think, both in
health and in work, I thank you for the ten pounds which I
received from you this day, which shall be put to the best use ;
as also for the prospect of Mr. Ottley's advantageous acquaintance.
I go on without daring to count on futurity, which I cannot do
without doubt and fear that ruin activity, and are the greatest hurt
to an artist such as I am. As to UgoHno, &c., I never supposed
that I should sell them. My wife alone is answerable for their
having existed in any finished state. I am too much attached to
Dante to think much of anything else. I have proved the six
plates, and reduced the fighting devils ready for the copper, I
count myself sufficiently paid if I live as I now do, and only fear
that I may be unlucky to my friends, and especially that I may
be so to you.
I am, sincerely yours,
The Mr. Ottley, whose ' advantageous acquaintance ' as a
likely buyer, or recommender of buyers, is here anticipated,
must have been the celebrated connoisseur of that day, author
of an elaborate History of Engraving, somewhile Keeper, —
and a very slovenly one, — of the British Museum Prints ; a
crony of Sir George Beaumont's, The reader of Constable's
Life may remember how ill that original artist took Ottley's
meddlesome condescension. The conventional, old-world
connoisseur little had it in his trivial mind to apprehend the
significance of Blake's works.
Mr, Linnell still continued indefatigable in endeavours to
obtain buyers for his friend's works, and recommended him
to all he thought likely purchasers : Chantrey, who (as we
said) declined the Paradise Regained, but took a highly
^.T. 67-70] DECLINING HEALTH: DESIGNS TO DANTE. 4OI
finished copy of the Songs of Innocence and Experience, at
20/. ; Lord Egremont, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Mr. Tatham,
and others. They considered it almost giving the money,
even when they chose copies of the obviously beautiful Songs.
Some of the last drawings executed or, at least, finished by
Blake, were two commissioned by Sir Thomas Lawrence, —
' that admirable judge of art,' as he was then considered, and
in a certain fastidious way, was ; certainly the enthusiastic
accumulator of a princely and matchless collection of draw-
ings by the old masters. Sir Thomas gave fifteen guineas
apiece for these designs of Blake's. One was The Wise and
Foolish Virgins, the other The Dream of Qneen Katherine ;
both repetitions, though not literal ones, of careful drawings
made for Mr. Butts. The Dream of Queen Katherine is
among Blake's most highly finished and elaborate water-colour
drawings, and one of his most beautiful and imaginative.
During these last years, Blake lavished many finishing
touches on his large fresco of the Last Judgment, of which
subject we had to mention, twenty years back, two water-
colour drawings — one for Blair's Grave, and the other for the
Countess of Egremont. The fresco was a very different and
much fuller composition than either, containing some thousand
figures. It was an especial favourite with the artist and,
according to Smith, would have been exhibited at the
Academy had Blake lived another year. Nobody could be
found to give twenty-five guineas for it then. I have been
unable to discover in whose possession this singularly interest-
ing and important work now is, and only know it from
hearsay. Smith had seen the picture, and hands down
a word or tvv^o on its executive peculiarities. ' The lights of
'this extraordinary performance,' writes he, 'have the ap-
' pearance of silver and gold ; but, upon Mrs. Blake assuring
* me that there was no silver used, I found, upon a closer
' examination, that a blue wash had been passed over those
' parts of the gilding which receded ; and the lights of the
' forward objects, which were also of gold, were heightened
VOL. I. . D D
402 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1824— 1827.
' with a warm colour, to give the appearance of two metals.'
Blake, on looking up one day at this /resco, which hung in his
front room, candidly exclaimed, as one who was present tells
me, *I spoiled that — made it darker; it was much finer,
* but a Frenchwoman here (a fellow-lodger) didn't like it.'
Ill advised, indeed, to alter colour at a fellow-lodger and
Frenchwoman's suggestion ! Blake's alterations were seldom
LAST DAYS. 1827 [^T 69.]
The last letter Mr. Linnell received from Blake dates nearly
three months after that which closed the previous chapter : —
yd July, 1827.
I thank you for the ten pounds you are so kind as to send
me at this time. My journey to Hampstead on Sunday brought on
a relapse which has lasted till now. I find I am not so well as I
thought; I must not go on in a youthful style. However, I am
upon the mending hand to-day, and hope soon to look as I did ;
for I have been yellow, accompanied by all the old symptoms.
I am, dear Sir,
He was not to mend ; though still, so long as breath lasted,
to keep on at his life-long labours of love. This letter was
written but six weeks before his death.
In the previous letter of April 25th, Blake had said of
himself, ' I am too much attached to Dante to think much of
'anything else.' In the course of his lingering illness, he was
frequently bolstered up in his bed that he might go on with
these drawings. The younger Tatham had commissioned a
coloured impression of that grand conception in the Europe,
the Ancient of Days, already noticed as a singular favourite
with Blake and as one it was always a happiness to him to
D D 2
404 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [18:7.
copy. Tatham gave three guineas and a half for this speci-
men ; a higher rate of payment than Blake was accustomed
to. This being so, of course, Blake finished it to the utmost
jooint, making it as beautiful in colour as already grand in
design ; patiently working on it till within a few days of his
death. After he ' had frequently touched upon it,' says
Tatham, as reported by Smith, ' and had frequently held it
' at a distance, he threw it from him, and with an air of
' exulting triumph exclaimed, " There ! that will do ! I cannot
' mend it." '
As he said these words, his glance fell on his loving Kate,
no longer young or beautiful, but who had lived with him in
these and like humble rooms, in hourly companionship, ever
ready helpfulness, and reverent sympathy, for now forty-five
years. August, forty-five years ago (back into a past century),
they had wedded at Battersea Church, on the other side the
river. August, 1827, he lies, in failing strength, in the quiet
room looking out ovex the river, yet but a few yards removed
from the roaring Strand : she beside his bed, she alone. He
has no other servant, nor nurse, and wants no other. As his
eyes rested on the once graceful form, thought of all she had
been to him in these years filled the poet-artist's mind. ' Stay ! '
he cried, ' keep as you are ! yoii have been ever an angel to
' me : I will draw you ! ' And a portrait was struck off by a
hand which approaching death — few days distant now — had
not weakened nor benumbed. This drawing has been de-
scribed to me by Mr. Tatham, who once possessed it, as ' a
' phrenzied sketch of some power; highly interesting, but not
Blake still went on designing as of old. One of the very
last shillings spent was in sending out for a pencil. For his
illness, caused, as was afterwards ascertained, by the mixing
of the gall with the blood, was not violent, but a gradual and
gentle failure of physical powers, which no wise affected the
mind. The speedy end was not foreseen by his friends.
The final leave-taking came he had so often seen in vision ;
^T. 69—70.] LAST DAYS. 405
SO often, and with such child-like, simple faith, sung and
designed. With the very same intense, high feeling he had
depicted the Death of the Righteous Man, he enacted it —
serenely, joyously. For life and design and song were with
him all pitched in one key, different expressions of one
reality. No dissonances there ! It happened on a Sunday
the 1 2th of August, 1827, nearly three months before com-
pletion of his seventieth year. 'On the day of his death,'
writes Smith, who had his account from the widow, ' he com-
' posed and uttered songs to his Maker, so sweetly to the ear
' of his Catherine that, when she stood to hear him, he, looking
' upon her most affectionately, said, " My beloved ! they are 7iot
' mine. No ! they are 7iot mine ! " He told her they would
' not be parted ; he should always be about her to take care
' of her.'
A little before his death, Mrs. Blake asked where he would
be buried, and whethe;' a dissenting minister or a clergyman
of the Church of England should read the service. To which
he answered, that ' as far as his own feelings were concerned,
' she might bury him where she pleased.' But that as ' father,
' mother, aunt, and brother were buried in Bunhill Row,
' perhaps it w^ould be better to lie tJiere. As to service, he
' should wish for that of the Church of England.'
In that plain, back room, so dear to the memory of his
friends, and to them beautiful from association with him —
with his serene, cheerful converse, his high personal influence,
so spiritual and rare — he lay chaunting Songs to Melodies,
both the inspiration of the moment, but no longer, as of old,
to be noted down. To the pious Songs followed, about six
in the summer evening, a calm and painless withdrawal of
breath ; the exact moment almost un perceived by his wife
who sat by his side. A humble female neighbour, her only
other companion, said afterwards : ' I have been at the death,
' not of a man, but of a blessed angel. '
A letter, written a few days later, to a mutual friend by a
now distinguished painter, one of the most fervent in that
LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.
enthusiastic little band I have so often mentioned, expresses
their feelings better than words less fresh or authentic can.
My dear Friend,
Lest you should not have heard of the death of Mr. Blake,
I have written this to inform you. He died on Sunday night, at six
o'clock, in a most glorious manner. He said he was going to that
country he had all his life wished to see, and expressed himself
happy, hoping for salvation through Jesus Christ. Just before he
died his countenance became fair, his eyes brightened, and he burst
out into singing of the things he saw in heaven. In truth, he died
like a saint, as a person who was standing by him observed. He is
to be buried on Friday, at twelve in the morning. Should you like
to go to the funeral ? If you should, there will be room in the
* POSTHUMOUS. 1827—31.
At noon on the following Friday, August 17th, the chosen
knot of friends, — Richmond, Calvert, Tatham, and others, —
attended the body of the beloved man to the grave, — saw
it laid in Bunhill Fields burying-ground, Finsbury : Tatham,
though ill, travelling ninety miles to do so. Bunhill Fields is
known to us all as the burial-place of Bunyan and De Foe,
among other illustrious Nonconformists. Thither, seven years
later, was brought Blake's old rival, Stothard, to be laid with
his kin : a stone memorial marks his grave.
Among the ' five thousand head-stones ' in Bunhill Fields,
exists none to William Blake ; nothing to indicate the spot
where he was buried. Smith, with the best intentions (and
Mr. Fairholt in the Art Journal for August, 1858, follows
him), would identify the grave as one 'numbered 80, at the
• distance of about twenty-five feet from the north wall.' Un-
fortunately, that particular portion of the burying-ground was
not added until 1836 ; in 1827 it was occupied by houses,
then part of Bunhill Row. On reference to the register, now
kept at Somerset House, I find the grave to be numbered ' TJ ,
'east and west; 32 north and south.' This, helped by the ex-
sexton, we discover vaguely to be a spot somewhere about
the middle of that division of the ground lying to the right
as you enter. There is no identifying it further. As it was
408 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1827— 1831.
an unpurchased ' common grave ' (only a nineteen-shilling fee
paid), it was doubtless — to adopt the official euphuism for the
basest sacrilege—' used again,' after the lapse of some fifteen
years say : as must also have been the graves of those dear
to him. For such had, of late years, become the uniform
practice in regard to ' common graves,' the present custodian
tells me, amid other melancholy detail of those good old
times, which mortal sexton cannot but remember wistfully, —
of some sixteen hundred burials in the year; until, in fact,
the 'hallowed enclosure ' and 'resting-place' was closed by
authority in 1854. In 1827, indeed, the over-crowding had
not reached its subsequent portentous dimensions. But only
a few years later, viz. in 183 1 — 32, when resurrection work
was so active, a nightly guard of two watchmen had to be set
on foot, and was continued till the closing of the ground.
Their watch-box still lingered at the period of my visit in 1854.
To a neglected life, then. Consistently followed a nameless
and dishonoured grave. ' The Campo Santo of the Dissenters '
these fields have been poetically styled.. A truly British
Campo Santo ; bare of art, beauty, or symbol of human
feeling : the very gravestones of old Nonconformist worthies
now huddled into a corner, as by-past rubbish. Wandering
lonely around that drear, sordid Golgotha, the continuous
rumble of near omnibus traffic forming a running accom-
paniment of dismal sound, in harmony with the ugliness which
oppresses the eye : wandering dejected in that squalid Hades,
it is, for the time, hard to realize the spiritual message, in song
and design, of the poet whose remains lie, or once lay there.
The year of Blake's death has been incorrectly given by
Allan Cunningham as 1828 ; so, too, by Pilkington and the
other dictionaries, and in Knight's Cyclopcedia, all copying
one another. In the Literary Gazette and in the Gentleman s
Magazine appeared, at the time, brief notices of Blake, in
substance the same. The year of Blake's death, it may be
worth adding, was that of Beethoven's and of Jean Paul
i827— 1831.] POSTHUMOUS. 409
Blake left not a single debt behind ; but a large stock of
his works — Drawings, Engravings, Copper-Plates, and copies
of Engraved Books — which will help ward off destitution from
the widow, A month after her husband's death she, at Mr.
Linnell's invitation, took up her abode at his house in Ciren-
cester Place, in part fulfilment of the old friendly scheme.
There she remained some nine months ; quitting, in the
summer of 1828, to take charge of Mr. Tatham's chambers.
Finally, she removed into humble lodgings at No. 17, Upper
Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, in which she continued till
her death ; still under the wing, as it were, of this last-named
friend. The occasional sale, to such as had a regard for
Blake's memory, or were recommended by staunch friends
like Mr. Richmond, Nollekens Smith and others, of single
drawings, of the Jerusalem, of the Songs of Innocence and
Experience, secured for her moderate wants a decent, if stinted
and precarious competence. Perhaps we need hardly call it
a stinted one, however; for, besides the friends just enumer-
ated, one or two of her husband's old patrons, who had in
later years fallen away, remembered their ancient kindness
when tidings of his death reached them, and were glad to
extend a helping hand to his widow. Nor did she live long
enough to test their benevolence too severely ; surviving her
husband only four years. Among these Lord Egremont
visited her and, recalling Blake's Felpham days, said regret-
fully, ' Why did he leave me ">. ' The Earl subsequently pur-
chased, for the handsome sum of eighty guineas, a large
water-colour drawing containing ' The Characters of Spenser's
Faerie Qneenl grouped together in a procession, as a com-
panion picture to the Canterbury Pilgrims. Mr. Haviland
Burke, a nephew (or grand-nephew) of Edmund Burke, and
a very warm appreciator of Blake's genius, not only bought
of the widow himself, but urged others to do so. At his in-
stance Dr. Jebb, Bishop of Limerick, sent her twenty guineas,
intimating, at the same time that, as he was not a collector
of works of Art, he did not desire anything in return. To
4IO LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1827— 1831.
which Mrs. Blake, with due pride as well as gratitude, replied
by forwarding him a copy of the Song's of Innocence and
Experience, which she described as, in her estimation,
especially precious from having been ' Blake's own.' It is
a very late example, the water-mark of the paper bearing
date 1825 ; and certainly, as to harmony of colour and
delicacy of execution, is not, throughout, equal to some of
the early copies. But, as the leaves were evidently numbered
by Blake himself, the figures being in the same colour as the
engraved writing, it has been here followed, — thanks to the
courtesy of its present owner, the Rev. Charles Foster, — in
regard to the order of the Songs as reprinted in Vol. II.
A note to Mr. Swinburne's Critical Essay (pp. 81-83),
contains the following interesting reminiscence of Mrs. Blake
from the lips of Mr. Seymour Kirkup, who, as the reader will
remember, was one of the few visitors to Blake's Exhibition
in 1809. 'After Blake's death, a gift of ^100 was sent to
' his widow by the Princess Sophia. Mrs. Blake sent back
' the money with all due thanks, not liking to take or keep
' what, as it seemed to her, she could dispense with, while
' many, to whom no chance or choice was given, might have
' been kept alive by the gift. One complaint only she was
' ever known to make during her husband's life, and that
' gently, — " Mr. Blake was so little with her, though in the
' body they were never separated ; for he was incessantly
' away in Paradise," — which would not seem to have been
' far off.'
Mr. Gary, the translator of Dante, also purchased a drawing
— Oberon and Titania : and a gentleman in the far north,
Mr. James Ferguson, an artist who whites from Tynemouth,
took copies of three or four of the Engraved Books. Neither
was Mrs. Blake wanting in efforts to help herself, so far as it
lay within her own power to do so. She was an excellent
saleswoman, and never committed the mistake of showing
too many things at one time. Aided by Mr. Tatham, she also
filled in, within Blake's lines, the colour of the Engraved
iS27— 1831.] POSTHUMOUS. 41 I
Books ; and even finished some of the drawings — rather
against Mr. Linnell's judgment. Of her husband she would
always speak with trembling voice and tearful eyes as ' that
' wonderful man,' whose spirit, she said, was still with her,
as in death he had promised. Him she worshipped till the
end. The manner of her own departure, which occurred
Somewhat suddenly, was characteristic, and in harmony with
the tenor of her life. When told by the doctor that the
severe attack of inflammation of the bowels which had seized
her and which, always self-negligent, she had suffered to run
to a height before calling in medical aid, would terminate in
mortification, she sent for her friends, Mr. and Mrs. Tatham,
and, with much composure, gave minute directions for the
performance of the last sad details ; requesting, among other
things, that no one but themselves should see her after death,
and that a bushel of slaked lime should be put in the cofiin,
to secure her from the dissecting knife. She then took leave
of Miss Blake, and passed the remaining time — about five
hours — calmly and cheerfully ; 'repeating texts of Scripture,
' and calling continually to her William, as if he were only
' in the next room, to say that she was coming to him, and
' would not be long now.' This continued nearly till the end.
She died in Mrs. Tatham's arms, at four o'clock in the
morning, on or about the i8th of October, 183 1, at the age
of sixty-nine ; and was buried beside her husband in Bunhill
Fields. The remaining stock of his works, still consider-
able, she bequeathed to Mr. Tatham, who administered
her few effects — effects, in an artistic sense, so precious.
They have since been widely dispersed ; some destroyed.
Blake left no surviving blood relative, except his sister,
concerning whom only the scantiest particulars are now to
be gleaned. She had had in her youth, it is said, some
pretensions to beauty, and even in age retained the traces
of it ; her eyes, in particular, being noticeably fine. She
was decidedly a lady in demeanour, though somewhat shy
and proud ; with precise old-maidish ways. To this may be
LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.
added that she survived her brother many years,
latterly, it is to be feared, into extreme indigence
point we lose sight of her altogether. Where or
died, I have been unable to discover. Miss
crossed our path but once casually during the
this narrative, — during the Felpham days, when
one in her brother's household.
; at which
MRS, BLAKE IN AGE.
From a drawing by Frederick Tatham.
■ Amid unavoidable regrets that all it seems possible to glean
regarding a life of great gifts and independent aims, which
has passed away beneath the very eyes of many now living,
is already exhausted, it remains only to add a few further
notes of critical or personal detail ; a few pages of summary,
and of matters accessory to the main subject.
To begin with the first of these : —
The reader has already seen that Blake applied the term
fresco to his own pictures in a somewhat unusual sense. Ac-
cording to the literal meaning of the word, he cannot be said
to have ever painted a fresco in his life. To Mr. Linnell I
am indebted for the following explanation of the matter — an
explanation which also throws light on the cause of the
lamentable decay into which some of Blake's ' frescos ' and
tejuperas have already fallen. ' He evidently founded his
* claim to the \\2lX^q fresco on the material he used, which was
' water-colour on a plaster ground (literally glue and whiting) ;
' but he always called it either fresco, gesso, or plaster. And he
' certainly laid this ground on too much like plaster on a
' wall. When so laid on to canvas or linen, it was sure to
' crack, and, in some cases, for want of care and protection
' from damp, would go to ruin. Some of his pictures in this
' n^.aterial on board have been preserved in good condition,
414 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.
' and so have a few even on cloth. They come nearer to
' tempera in process than to anythhig else, inasmuch as white
'was laid on and mixed with the colours which were tempered