(now) in floors and rooms to many families, instead of one.
From 27, Broad Street, Blake in 1785 sent four water-colour
drawings or frescos, in his peculiar acceptation of the term,
to the Academy-Exhibition, one by thewa}'', at which our old
friend Parson Gardnor is still exhibiting ā some seven Views
of Lake Scenery. One of Blake's drawings is from Gray, TJie
^T. 28ā29.] STRUGGLE AND SORROW. 5/
Bard. The others are subjects from the Story of Joseph :
JosepJis Brethren bowing before him ; Joseph inakiiig himself
known to them ; Joseph ordering Simeon to be bound. The
latter series I have seen. The drawings are interesting for
their imaginative merit, and as specimens, full of soft tranquil
beauty, of Blake's earher style: a very different one from that
of his later and better-known works. Conceived in a dra-
matic spirit, they are executed in a subdued key, of which
extravagance is the last defect to suggest itself The design
is correct and blameless, not to say tame (for Blake), the colour
full, harmonious and sober. At the head of the Academy-
Catalogues of those days, stands the stereotype notification,
* The pictures &c. marked (*) are to be disposed of Blake's
are not so marked : let us hope they were disposed of ! The
three Joseph drawings turned up within the last ten years in
their original close rose-wood frames (a far from advantageous
setting), at a broker's in Wardour Street, who had purchased
them at a furniture-sale in the neighbourhood. They were sent
to the International Exhibition of 1862. Among Blake's
fellow-exhibitors, it is now curious to note the small galaxy of
still remembered names ā Reynolds, Nollekens, Morland,
Cosv/ay, Fuseli, Flaxman, Stothard (the last three yet juniors)
ā sprinkling the mob of forgotten ones : among which such
as West, Hamilton, Rigaud, Loutherbourg, Copley, Serres,
Mary Moser, Russell, Dance, Farington, Edwards, Garvey,
Tomkins, are positive points of light. This year, by the way,
Blake's friend Trotter exhibits a Portrait of the late Dr.
Johnson, ' a drawing in chalk from the hfe, about eighteen
months before his death,' which should be worth something.
Blake's brother Robert, his junior by nearly five years, had
been a playfellow of Smith's, whose father lived near (in
Great Portland Street) ; and from him we hear that ' Bob, as
he was familiarly called,' had ever been 'much beloved by all
his companions.' By William he was in these years not only
taught to draw and engrave, but encouraged to exert his
imagination in original sketches. I have come across some of
58 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1786ā87.
these tentative essays, carefully preserved by Blake during
life, and afterwards forming part of the large accumulation of
artistic treasure remaining in his widow's hands : the sole, but
not at all unproductive, legacy, he had to bequeath her.
Some are in pencil, some in pen and ink outline thrown up
by a uniform dark ground washed in with Indian ink. They
unmistakably show the beginner ā not to say the child ā in
art ; are naif and archaic-looking ; rude, faltering, often puerile
or absurd in drawing ; but are characterized by Blake-like
feeling and intention, having in short a strong family likeness
to his brother's work. The subjects are from Homer and the
poets. Of one or two compositions there are successive and
each time enlarged versions. True imaginative ajiimiis is
often made manifest by very imperfect means ; in the compo-
sition of the groups, and the expressive disposition of the
individual figure, or of an individual limb : as^.^. (in one draw-
ing) that solitary upraised arm stretched heaven-ward from
out the midst of the panic-struck crowd of figures, who, em-
bracing, huddle together with bowed heads averted from a
Divine Presence. In another, a group of ancient men stand
silent on the verge of a sea-girt precipice, beyond which
they gaze towards awe-inspiring shapes and sights unseen
by us. This last motive seems to have pleased Blake him-
self. One of his earliest attempts, if not quite his earliest, in
that peculiar stereotype process he soon afterwards invented,
is a version of this very composition ; marvellously improved
in the treatment ā in the disposition and conception of the
figures (at once fewer and better contrasted), as well, of
course, as in drawing ; which was what Blake's drawing
always was ā whatever its zvilful faults ā not only full of
grand effect, but firm and decisive, that of a Master.
With Blake and with his wife, at the print-shop in Broad
Street, Robert for two happy years and a half lived in seldom
disturbed accord. Such domestications, however, always
bring their own trials, their own demands for self-sacrifice.
Of which the following anecdote will supply a hint, as well as
iET. 29-30.] STRUGGLE AND SORROW. 59
testify to much amiable magnanimity on the part of both the
vounger members of the household. One day, a dispute arose
between Robert and Mrs. Blake. She, in the heat of discus-
sion, used words to him, his brother (though a husband too)
thought unwarrantable. A silent witness thus far, he could
now bear it no longer, but with characteristic impetuosity ā
when stirred ā rose and said to her : ' Kneel down and beg
Robert's pardon directly, or you never see my face again ! '
A heavy threat, uttered in tones which, from Blake, unmistak-
ably showed it was meant. She, poor thing ! ' thought it
very hard,' as she would afterwards tell, to beg her brother-
in-law's pardon when she was not in fault ! But being a
duteous, devoted wife, though by nature nowise tame or
dull of spirit, she did kneel down and meekly murmur,
' Robert, I beg your pardon, I am in the wrong! ' Young
woman, you lie 1 ' abruptly retorted he : ' / am in the
wrong ! '
At the commencement of 1787, the artist's peaceful happi-
ness was gravely disturbed by the premature death, in his
twenty-fifth year, of this beloved brother : buried in Bunhill
Fields the nth of February. Blake affectionately tended
him in his illness, and during the last fortnight of it watched
continuously day and night by his bedside, without sleep.
When all claim had ceased with that brother's last breath,
his own exhaustion showed itself in an unbroken sleep of
three days' and nights' duration. The mean room of sick-
ness had been to the spiritual man, as to him most scenes
were, a place of vision and of revelation ; for Heaven lay
about him still, in manhood, as in infancy it ' lies about us '
all. At the last solemn moment, the visionary eyes beheld
the released spirit ascend heavenward through the matter-
of-fact ceiling, 'clapping its hands for joy' ā a truly Blake-
like detail. No wonder he could paint such scenes ! With
him they were work'y-day experiences.
In the same year, disagreements with Parker put an end to
the partnership and to print-selling. This Parker subsequently
6o LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1787.
engraved a good deal after Stothard, in a style which evinces
a common Master with Blake as well as companionship with
him : in particular, the very fine designs, among Stothard's
most masterly, to the Vicar of Wakefield (iygz), which are
very admirably engraved ; also most of those of Falconer's
SJiipwreck (1795). After Flaxman, he executed several of
the plates to Homer's Iliad ; after Smirke, TJie Coimnemora-
tion of lygy ; after Northcote, The Revolution of 1688, and
others ; and for Boydell's Shakspeare, eleven plates. He died
' about 1805,' according to the Dictionaries.
Blake quitted Broad Street for neighbouring Poland Street :
the long street which connects Broad Street with Oxford
Street, and into which Great Marlborough Street runs at
right angles. He lodged at No. 28 (now a cheesemonger's
shop, boasting three brass bells), not many doors from Ox-
ford Street on the right-hand side, going towards that
thoroughfare ; the houses at which end of the street are
smaller and of later date than those between Great Marl-
borough and Broad Street. Henceforward Mrs. Blake,
whom he carefully instructed, remained his sole pupil ā sole
assistant and companion too ; for the gap left by his brother
was never filled up by children. In the same year ā that of
Etty's birth (March, 1787) amid the narrow streets of distant
antique York ā his friend Flaxman exchanged Wardour Street
for Rome, and a seven years' sojourn in Italy. Already edu-
cating eye and mind in his own way, Turner, a boy of twelve,
was hovering about Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, in which
the barber's son was born : some half mile ā of (then) staid
and busy streets ā distant from Blake's Broad Street ; Long
Acre, in which Stothard first saw the light, lying between
MEDITATION: NOTES ON LAVATER. 1788. [^t. 31.]
One of Blake's engravings of the present period is a frontis-
piece after Fuseli to the latter's translation of the Aphorisms
of his fellow-countryman, Lavater. The translation, which
was from the original MS., was published by Johnson in 1788,
the year of Gainsborough's death. If any deny merit to
Blake as an engraver, let them turn from this boldly executed
print of Fuseli's mannered but effective sitting figure, osten-
tatiously meditative, of Philosophic Contemplation, or what-
ever it may be, to the w^eak shadow of the same in the
subsequent Dublin editions of this httle book. For the Swiss
enthusiast had then a European reputation. And this imposing
scroll of fervid truisms and hap-hazard generalities, as often
disputable as not, if often acute and striking, always ingenuous
and pleasant, was, like all his other writings, warmly welcomed
in this country. Now it, as a whole, reads unequal and mono-
tonous ; does not impress one as an elixir of inspired truth ;
induces rather, like most books of maxims, the ever recurring
query, cut bono ? And one readily believes what the English
edition states, that the whole epitome of moral wisdom was
the rapid 'effusion ' of one autumn.
In the ardent, pious, but illogical Lavater's character, full
of amiability, candour, and high aspiration, a man who in the
eighteenth century believed in the continuation of miracles,
of witchcraft, and of the power of exorcising evil spirits, who,
62 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1788.
in fact, had a hond fide if convulsive hold of the super-sensual,
there was much that was german to William Blake, much
that still remains noble and interesting.
In the painter's small library the Aphorisms became one of
his most favourite volumes. This well-worn copy contains a
series of marginal notes, neatly written in pen and ink ā it
being his habit to make such in the books he read ā which
speak to the interest it excited in him. On the title-page
occurs a naiVe token of affection : below the name Lavater
is inscribed ' Will. Blake,' and around the two names, the
outline of a heart.
Lavater's final Aphorism tells the reader, ' If you mean to
' know yourself, interline such of these as affected you agreeably
' in reading, and set a mark to such as left a sense of uneasi-
'ness with you, and then show your copy to whom you please.'
Blake showed his notes to Fuseli ; who said one assuredly
could read their writer's character in them.
'All old!' 'This should be written in letters of gold on
our temples,' are the endorsements accorded such an announce-
ment as ' The object of your love is your God ; ' or again,
' Joy and grief decide character. What exalts prosperity .-*
'What embitters grief .-* What leaves us indifferent.'' What
' interests us ? As the interest of man, so his God, as his
' God so is he.'
But the annotator sometimes dissents ; as from this : ' You
' enjoy with wisdom or with folly, as the gratification of your
' appetites capacitates or unnerves your powers.' ' False ! '
is the emphatic denial, ' for weak is the joy which is never
wearied. ' On one Aphorism, in which ' frequent laughing,'
and 'the scarcer smile of harmless quiet,' are enumerated as
signs respectively 'of a little mind,' or 'of a noble heart;' while
the abstaining from laughter merely not to offend, &c. is
praised as ' a power unknown to many a vigorous mind ; '
Blake exclaims, ' I hate scarce smiles ; I love laughing ! '
'A sneer is often the sign of heartless malignity,' says Lava-
ter. ' Damn sneerers I' echoes Blake. To Lavater's censure
.CT. 31.] MEDITATION : NOTES ON LAVATER. 63
of the 'pietist who crawls, groans, blubbers, and secretly
* says to gold, Thou art my hope ! and to his belly, Thou art
' my god,' follows a cordial assent. ' Everything,' Lavater
rashly declares, 'may be mimicked by hypocrisy but humility
and love united.' To which, Blake : ' All this may be mimicked
' very well. This Aphorism certainly was an oversight ; for
'what are all crawlers but mimickers of humility and love ?'
' Dread more the blunderer's friendship than the calumniator's
' envy,' exhorts Lavater. ' / iioud^ tJiis ! ' says the margin.
At the maxim, ' You may depend upon it that he is a good
' man, whose intimate friends are all good, and whose enemies
' are characters decidedly bad,' the artist (obeying his
author's injunctions) reports himself ' Uneasy,' fears he 'has
not many enemies ! ' Uneasy, too, he feels at the declara-
tion, ' Calmness of will is a sign of grandeur : the vulgar, far
' from hiding their will, blab their wishes ā a single spark of
' occasion discharges the child of passion into a thousand
' crackers of desire.' Again : ' Who seeks those that are
' greater than himself, their greatness enjoys, and forgets his
' greatest qualities in their greater ones, is already truly
' great.' To this, Mr. Blake : '/ hope I do not flatter myself
' that this is pleasant to me.'
Some of Blake's remarks are not without a brisk candour :
as when the Zurich philanthropist tells one, * The great art to
' love your enemy consists in never losing sight of man in
' him,' &c. ; and he boldly replies, ' None can see the man in
' the enemy. If he is ignorantly so, he is not truly an enemy :
' if maliciously so, not a man. I cannot love my enemy, for
' my enemy is not a man but a beast. And if I have any, I
' can love him as a beast, and wish to beat him.' And again,
to the dictum, ' Between passion and lie there is not a finger's
' breadth,' he retorts, ' Lie is contrary to passion.' Upon the
aphorism, ' Superstition always inspires littleness ; religion
' grandeur of mind ; the superstitious raises beings inferior
' to himself to deities,' Blake remarks at some length : ' I do
* not allow there is such a thing as superstition, taken in the
64 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1788.
* true sense of the word. A man must first deceive himself
' before he is thus superstitious, and so he is a hypocrite.
' No man was ever truly superstitious who was not as truly
' religious as far as he knew. True superstition is ignorant
' honesty, and this is beloved of God and man. Hypocrisy
' is as different from superstition as the wolf from the lamb.'
And similarly when Lavater, with a shudder, alludes to ' the
' gloomy rock, on either side of which superstition and in-
' credulity their dark abysses spread,' Blake says, ' Supersti-
' tion has been long a bug-bear, by reason of its having been
' united with hypocrisy. But let them be fairly separated,
* and then superstition will be honest feeling, and God, who
' loves all honest men, will lead the poor enthusiast in the
* path of holiness.' This was a cardinal thought with Blake,
and almost a unique one in his century.
The two are generally of better accord. The since often-
quoted warning, ' Keep him at least three paces distant who
' hates bread, music, and the laugh of a child ! ' is endorsed
as the 'Best in the book.' Another, 'Avoid like a serpent
' him who speaks politely, yet writes impertinently,' elicits
the ejaculation, ' A dog ! get a stick to him ! ' And the
reiteration, ' Avoid him who speaks softly and writes sharply,'
is enforced with, ' Ah, rogue, I would be thy hangman ! '
The assertion that ' A woman, whose ruling passion is not
' vanity, is superior to any man of equal faculties,' begets the
enthusiastic comment, ' Such a ivoman I adore ! ' At the
foot of another, on woman, ' A great woman not imperious,
' a fair woman not vain, a woman of common talents not
'jealous, an accomplished woman who scorns to shine, are
' four wonders just great enough to be divided among the
' four corners of the globe,' Blake appends, ' Let the men do
* their duty and the women will be such wonders : the female
' life lives from the life of the male. See a great many female
' dependents and you know the man.'
In a higher key, when Lavater justly afifirms that ' He only
' who has enjoyed immortal moments can reproduce them,
,ET. 31.] ^[EDITATION : NOTES ON LAVATER. 65
Blake exclaims, ' Oh that men would seek immortal moments !
ā that men would converse with God ! ' as he, it may be
added, was ever seeking, ever conversing, in one sense. In
another place Lavater declares, that ' He who adores an
' impersonal God, has none ; and without guide or rudder
' launches on an immense abyss, that first absorbs his powers
' and next himself.' To which, warm assent from the fervently
religious Blake : ' Most superlatively beautiful, and most
' affectionately holy and pure. Would to God all men would
' consider it I ' Religious, I say, but far from orthodox ;
for in one place he would show sin to be ' negative not
positive evil : ' lying, theft, &c., * mere privation of good ; '
a favourite idea with him, which, whatever its merit
as an abstract proposition, practical people would not like
written in letters of gold on their temples, for fear of
One of the most prolix of these aphorisms runs, ' Take
' from Luther his roughness and fiery courage, from this man
ā¢ one quality, from another that, from Rafifaelle his dryness
' and nearly hard precision, and from Rubens his supernatural
' luxury of colours ; detach his oppressive exuberance from
' each, and you will have something very correct and flat
' instead,' as it required no conjuror to tell us. Whereon
Blake, whom I here condense : ' Deduct from a rose its red,
' from a lily its whiteness, from a diamond hardness, from an
' oak-tree height, from a daisy lowliness, rectify everything
' in nature, as the philosophers do, and then we shall return
' to chaos, and God will be compelled to be eccentric in His
' creation. Oh ! happy philosophers ! Variety does not
' necessarily suppose deformity. Beauty is exuberant, but
' if ugliness is adjoined, it is not the exuberance of beauty.
* So if Rafifaelle is hard and dry, it is not from genius, but an
' accident acquired. How can substance and accident be
' predicated of the same essence } Aphorism 47 speaks of
' the " heterogeneous " in works of Art and Literature, which
' all extravagance is ; but exuberance is not. ' But,' adds
VOL. I. F
66 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE, [1788.
Blake, ' the substance gives tincture to the accident, and
makes it physiognomic'
In the course of another lengthy aphorism, the ' knave ' is
said to be 'only an entJmsiast, or momentary fool' Upon
which Mr. Blake breaks out still more characteristically :
* Man is the ark of God : the mercy-seat is above upon the
' ark ; cherubim guard it on either side, and in the midst is
' the holy law. Man is either the ark of God or a phantom
' of the earth and water. If thou seekest by human policy to
' guide this ark, remember Uzzah ā 2 Sam. 6th ch. Knaveries
* are not human nature ; knaveries are knaveries. This
* aphorism seems to lack discrimination.' In a similar tone,
on Aphorism 630, commencing, ' A God, an animal, a plant,
' are not companions of man ; nor is the faultless, ā then
'judge with lenity of all,' Blake writes, ' It is the God in all
' that is our companion and friend. For our God Himself
' says, " You are my brother, my sister, and my mother ; "
' and St. John, " Whoso dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God,
' and God in him." Such an one cannot judge of any but in
* love, and his feelings will be attractions or repulsions. God
' is in the lowest effects as well as in the highest causes. He
' is become a worm that he may nourish the weak. For
' let it be remembered that creation is God descending
' according to the weakness of man : our Lord is the Word
' of God, and everything on earth is the Word of God,
' and in its essence is God.'
Surely gold-dust may be descried in these notes ; and
when we remember it is a painter, not a metaphysician,
who is writing, we can afford to judge them less critically.
Another characteristic gleaning or two, ere we conclude.
An ironical maxim, such as ' Take here the grand secret, if
' not of pleasing all, yet of displeasing none : court mediocrity,
' avoid originality, and sacrifice to fashion,' meets with the
hearty response from an unfashionable painter, 'And go to
hell.' When the Swiss tells him that ' Men carry their
' character not seldom in their pockets : you might decide
yET. 30ā31.] MEDITATION : NOTES ON LAVATER. 6"]
* on more than half your acquaintance had you will or right
* to turn their pockets inside out ; ' the artist candidly
acknowledges that he ' seldom carries money in his pockets,
they are generally full of paper,' which we readily believe-
Towards the close, Lavater drops a doubt that he may have
'perhaps already ofifended his readers;' which elicits from
Blake a final note of sympathy. ' Those who are offended
' with anything in this book, would be offended with the
' innocence of a child, and for the same reason, because it
' reproaches him with the errors of acquired folly.'
Enough of the Annotations on Lavater, which, in fulfilment
of biographic duty, I have thus copiously quoted ; too
copiously, the reader may think, for their intrinsic merit.
To me they seem mentally physiognomic, giving a near view
of Blake in his ordinary moments at this period. We,
as through a casually open window, glance into the artist's
room, and see him meditating at his work, graver in hand.
Lavater's Aphorisms not only elicited these comments from
Blake, but set him composing aphorisms on his own account,
of a far more original and startling character. In Lavater's
book I trace the external accident to which the form is
attributable of a remarkable portion ā certain ' Proverbs of
Hell,' as they were waywardly styled ā of an altogether re-
markable book. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, engraved
two years later ; the most curious and significant book, perhaps,
out of many, which ever issued from the unique man's press.
Turning from the Annotations on Lavater to higher, less
approachable phases of this original Mind, the indubitably
INSPIRED aspects of it, it is time to note that the practice of
verse had, as we saw in 1784, been once more resumed, in a
higher key and clearer tones than he had yet sounded.
Design more original and more mature than any he had
before realized, at once grand, lovely, comprehensible, was
in course of production. It m.ust have been during the years
1784 ā 88, the Songs and Designs sprang from his creative
brain, of which another chapter must speak.
. F 2
POEMS OF MANHOOD. 1788ā89. [/et. 31ā32.]
Though Blake's brother Robert had ceased to be with him
in the body, he was seldom far absent from the faithful
visionary in spirit. Down to late age the survivor talked
much and often of that dear brother ; and in hours of solitude
and inspiration his form would appear and speak to the poet
in consolatory dream, in warning or helpful vision. By the
end of 1788, the first portion of that singularly original and
significant series of Poems, by which of themselves, Blake
MT. 31ā32-] SONGS OF INNOCENCE. 69
established a claim, however unrecognised, on the attention
of his own and after generations, had been written ; and the
illustrative designs in colour, to which he wedded them in
inseparable loveliness, had been executed. The Songs of
Innocence form the first section of the series he afterwards
when grouping the two together, suggestively named Songs of
Innocence and of Experience. But how publish .-* for standing
with the public, or credit with the trade, he had none.
Friendly Flaxman was in Italy ; the good offices of patronising
blue-stockings were exhausted. He had not the wherewithal
to publish on his own account ; and though he could be his
own engraver, he could scarcely be his own compositor.
Long and deeply he meditated. How solve this difficulty
with his own industrious hands t How be his ozvn printer