William Blake The Critical Heritage

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  On one side we learn a great deal about the state of criticism at large and in particular about the development of critical attitudestowards a single writer; at the same time, through private comments in letters, journals or marginalia, we gain an insight upon the tastesand literary thought of individual readers of the period. Clearly, for many of the highlyproductive and lengthily reviewed nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers, there exists an enormous body of material; and in these casesthe volume editors have made a selection of the most important views, significant for their intrinsic critical worth or for their representativequality—perhaps even registering incomprehension!

27 Hoare, Academic Correspondence (1804)

  WALKER, 1808 117(k) WILLIAM BELL SCOTT 117 (l) DAVID SCOTT, 1844 117(m) JAMES MONTGOMERY 118 Reviews(n) Review by ROBERT HUNT in the Examiner, 1808 119 (o) BLAKE’S reply in his Descriptive Catalogue, 1809 121(p) Antijacobin Review, 1808 122 (q) Monthly Magazine, 1808 131General comments, 1810–26 (r) W. (1825, 1826) Introduction 140 33 Illustrations of The Book of Job (1826) (a) J.

42 FREDERICK TATHAM, ‘Life of Blake’, ?1832 213

Part VI Forgotten Years: References to William Blake 1831– 62220 BIBLIOGRAPHY 270


  Cowper Johnson), copied by Blake (1801) from a crayon portrait by Romney8 ‘The Eagle’ in [Hayley,] Designs to a Series of Ballads (1802), frontispiece to Ballad the Second (reproduced by permission of the Trustees of the British Museum), designed and engraved by Blake 9 Portrait of Cowper, in Hayley, Life of…William Cowper (1803), vol. Cromek11 ‘Vision of the Last Judgment’ (1808) (reproduced by courtesy of the Earl of Egremont from the original at Petworth House), water-colour by Blake PLATES 12 ‘The Skeleton Re-Animated’, Blair, The Grave (1808), title page(reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, SanMarino, California), designed by Blake, etched by Schiavonetti 13 ‘The Soul hovering over the Body’, Blair, The Grave (1808), p.


  Dutch Boys LandingMears, Michigan Acknowledgments The manuscripts of most of the documents quoted here from Blake Records (1969) are in the British Museum (chiefly Hayley, Flaxman, and Cumberland MSS.), Dr Williams’s Library (Crabb Robinson’s papers), the Linnell Papers of Mrs Joan Linnell Ivimy Burton (néeIvimy), and the collection of Mr Paul Mellon (Tatham’s ‘Life of Blake’ and Rogers’s letter, n.d. His ‘extravagant’designs were increasingly known from about 1796 to connoisseurs in London, to a few patrons of watercolour painting, and to buyersof the illustrated editions of Blair’s Grave (1808, 1813).


  INTRODUCTION When, however, Blake was engraving his own designs, the public reaction was more mixed; in general the public at large was indifferentor hostile to the subtlety and independence of his technique, and the praise came mostly from a small group of artists and friends. The Night Thoughts(1797) was a failure, with only four of nine Nights published; Hayley’s Ballads (1802) sold only a little more than one hundred copies, and the new edition (1805) was never republished; and the Job (1826) sold only a few score copies before Blake died in 1827.


  When the drawings were auctioned (unsuccessfully) in 1821 and 1826, however, the catalogue said that they were, ‘perhaps,unequalled for the boldness of conception and spirit of execution’ (No.22g); ‘a more extraordinary, original, and sublime production of art has seldom, if ever, been witnessed since the days of the celebrated Mich. Other private buyers probably found, as James Montgomery did, that the nudity depicted in several of the ‘splendid illustrations’ was‘hardly of such a nature as to render the book proper to lie on a parlour table for general inspection’, and other designs manifested a ‘solemnabsurdity’ in representing spirits with ordinary bodies (No. 29m).


  Even FrederickTatham, who was spurred to sympathy for the work by having the magnificent and unique coloured copy to sell, could find little to praisein the verse, though the ‘designs are possessed of some of the most sublime Ideas, some of the most lofty thoughts, some of the most nobleconceptions possible to the mind of man’ (No. 42). There are a number of awkward drawbacks to Gilchrist’s biography, however; for one thing, the em-phases necessary to a pioneering work are no longer relevant; for another, twentieth-century readers tend to be indifferent to arguments(like Gilchrist’s) about Blake’s madness and to be deeply interested in his mythological system, which Gilchrist and the Rossettis largelyignored; for another, Gilchrist regularly omitted the sources of his information.

9 Portrait of Cowper engraved by Blake after Romney for Hayley’s Life…of

  WRITINGS Most of Blake’s works were etched, printed, coloured, bound, and sold by Blake himself, clearly in very small numbers—the mostcommon is Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794) in some twenty-three complete contemporary copies, while several surviveonly in unique copies—and even his conventionally printed works, such as Poetical Sketches (1783) and Descriptive Catalogue (1809),were limited issues of which only about a score of copies can be traced today. Rossetti provided separateeditions of the lyrics in 1874, but the most ambitious Blake edition of the nineteenth century was the three-volume one of Ellis and Yeats in1893, which not only presented for the first time many of Blake’s prophetic works, such as the great unfinished epic The Four Zoas, butprovided hundreds of lithographs of the illuminated works.

D], 1970 [K])

17 The Book of Los (1886 [A] )

  Ansari, in Arrows of Intellect: A Study in William Blake’s Gospel of the Imagination (1965), which deals especially with Wordsworth, Locke, and Blake’s philosophical ideas, and by Kathryn Kremen, in The Imagination of the Resurrection: The Poetic Continuity of a Religious Motif in Donne, Blake, and Yeats (1972), pp. In the second of these, which is the best of them, he claims that ‘there was not one absurdity in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century that Blakedid not know’; he is particularly stimulating and useful on the23 Kabbala, Hindu mythology, and Druidism, and frequently his scholarship and accuracy are commendable.

2 See A.T.Story, The Life of John Linnell ( vols, 189), A.H.Palmer, The

  To walk with him in the country was to perceive the soulof beauty through the forms of matter; and the high gloomy buildings between which, from his study window, a glimpse was caught of theThames and the Surrey shore, assumed a kind of grandeur from the man dwelling near them. He fervently loved the early Christian art, and dwelt with peculiar affection on the memory of Fra Angelico, often speaking of him asan inspired inventor and as a saint; but when he approached MichaelAngelo, the Last Supper of Da Vinci, the Torso Belvidere, and some of the inventions preserved in the Antique Gems, all his powers wereconcentrated in admiration.

3. Politics

  1804, 1805During his early manhood his political sympathies were with the radicals, with Paine and Horne Tooke and Joseph Johnson, (a) Hisfriend Samuel Greatheed wrote on 27 January 1804:I knew our friend’s eccentricity, and understood, that, during the crisis of the French Revolution, he had been one of its earnest partisans…. (b) His patron explained what happened in a letter of 3 August 1805:The Fact simply was that a brutal quarrelsome soldier (a degraded sar-gent) intruded into the garden of Blake’s Cottage, & refused toquit it—Blake who has courage, agility, & strength, seized the abusiveIntruder, & pushed Him (over several paces of ground) to the door of his Quarters.

4. Visions

  Once in Westminster Abbey, where he worked as an apprentice, he had another vision:The aisles and galleries of the old building (or sanctuary) suddenly filled with a great procession of monks and priests, choristers andcenser-bearers, and his entranced ear heard the chant of plain-song and chorale, while the vaulted roof trembled to the sound of organ2 music. The mouth is gone;’ or, ‘he frowns; he is displeased with my portrait1 of him.’ The most sensational was that of The Ghost of a Flea, which is covered with coat of armour, similar to the case of a flea, and isrepresented slowly pacing in the night, with a thorn attached to his right1 A.

5. Madness

  She thought it strange at the time, she said, that such a poor old man, dressed in such shabby clothes,could imagine the world had ever been so beautiful to him as it must be to her, nursed in all the elegancies and luxury of wealth; but inafter years she understood well enough what he meant and treasured2 the few words he had spoken to her.(d) And Seymour Kirkup wrote many years later:His excellent old wife was a sincere believer in all his visions. He sang loudly & with true extatic energy and seemed too happy that he hadfinished his course, that he had run his race, & that he was shortly to arrive at the Goal, to receive the prize of his high & eternal calling….


  As an artist, he seems to be one of those whomistake extravagance for genius; as is testified even by his angel in the frontispiece, though the kneeling figure is elegant, and that of the child ispassable. (d) Crabb Robinson reported in hisdiary for 24 May 1812 a walk across the fields to Hampstead Heath with Wordsworth:[Wordsworth said] that there is insanity in Lord B[yron]’s family and that he believes Lord By to be somewhat cracked—I read W.some of Blake’s poems[;] he was pleased with Some of them and d g consid B[lake] as hav the elements of poetry—a thousand timesmore than either Byron or Scott.

9. Poetical Sketches (1783)

  This indeed was the occasion of the printing of Blake’s first work, for, as Smith, explained elsewhere, Mrs Mathewwas so extremely zealous in promoting the celebrity of Blake, that upon hearing him read some of his early efforts in poetry, she thoughtso well of them, as to request the Rev. since which time, his talents having been wholly directed to the attainment of excellence in his profession, he has been deprived of the leisure requisite tosuch a revisal of these sheets, as might have rendered them less unfit to meet the public eye.

10. The Book of Thel (1789)

11. The French Revolution (1791)

  I felt puzzled what to say of the man who was com-pounded of such heterogeneous materials as to be able at one time to write the ‘Songs of Innocence’ and at another ‘The Visions of theDaughters of Albion.’ ‘The Book of Thel’ is, partly, an exception to the general badness or unintelligibility of his verse and designs. Title page and thefollowing emblem contain all the faults of the Drawings with as few beauties, as could be in the compositions of a man who was capable ofsuch faults+such beauties.—The faults—despotism in symbols, amounting in the Title page to the µισητε′ον [odium], and occasionally,irregular unmodified Lines of the Inanimate, sometimes as the effect of rigidity and sometimes of exossation—like a wet tendon.


  (f) As Blake wrote to George Cumberland on 12 April 1827,You are desirous I know to dispose of some of my Works & to make them Pleasin[g.] I am obliged to you & to all who do so But havingnone remaining of all that I had Printed I cannot Print more Except at a great loss for at the time I printed those things I had a wholeHouse to range in[;] now I am shut up in a Corner therefore am forced to ask a Price for them that I scarce expect to get from aStranger. The visionary tendencies, and mysticism of Blake, developing themselves, as theydid, under the shelter of a religious parentage and education, carried him, on the contrary, to the mythic fountains of an elder time, and hisgenius which was too expansive to dwell in classic formalisms, entered into, and inhabited, the Egyptian and Asiatic perversions of an ancientand true Religion.

13. America (1793) and Europe (1794)

  The finest ofthese are a figure of an angel standing in the sun, a group of three furies surrounded by clouds and fire, and a figure of a man sittingbeneath a tree in the deepest dejection; all of which are peculiarly remarkable for their strength and splendour of colouring. The best plates in this series are,—the first of an aged man, with a white beard sweeping the ground, and writing in a book with each hand, naked; a human figure pressingout his brain through his ears; and the great sea-serpent; but perhaps the best is a figure sinking in a stormy sea at sun-set, the splendidlight of which, and the foam upon the black waves, are almost magical effects of colouring.

14. Descriptive Catalogue (1809)

  BLAKE very modestly observes, ‘the grand style of art is restored; and in it will be seen real art, as left us by RAPHAEL and ALBERTDURER, MICHAEL ANGELO and JULIO ROMANO, stripped from the ignorances of RUBENS and REMBRANDT, TITIAN and3 CORREGGIO.’ Of the engraving which he proposes to make from his picture of the Canterbury Pilgrims, and to finish in a year, he as1 This is obviously a misprint for ‘immateriality’. Speaking of his picture of the Ancient Britons, in which he has attempted to represent ‘the strongest man, the beautifullest man,and the ugliest man’, he says— ‘It has been said to the artist, take the Apollo for the model of your beautiful man, and the Hercules for your strong man, and the DancingFawn for your ugly man.

15. Jerusalem (1804–?20)

  It is an account of an ancient, newly discovered, illuminated manuscript, which has to name ‘Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion!!!’ It containsa good deal anent one ‘Los,’ who, it appears, is now, and hath been from the creation, the sole and fourfold dominator of the celebratedcity of Golgonooza! Smith, who wrote:As for his later poetry, if it may be so called, attached to his plates, though it was certainly in some parts enigmatically curious as to itsapplication, yet it was not always wholly uninteresting; and I have unspeakable pleasure in being able to state, that though I admit hedid not for the last forty years attend any place of Divine worship, yet he was not a Freethinker, as some invidious detractors havethought proper to assert, nor was he ever in any degree irreligious.


  Blake’s assuring me that there was no silver used, I found, upon a closer examination, that a blue wash had been passed over thoseparts of the gilding which receded, and the lights of the forward objects, which were also of gold, were heightened with a warm colour,to give the appearance of the two metals. I should have liked the heads3 more English and less Grecian.(ee) Blake’s warmest critical partisans were always to be found among his best friends, as George Cumberland showed in his letter to Blakeof 18 December 1808:The Holy family is like all your designs full of Genius and originality—I shall give it a handsome frame and shew it to all who come to my house.(ff) Garth Wilkinson wrote on 6 November 1838 of the Blake drawings he saw at Frederick Tatham’s:12 J.


  His contemporaries clearly knew him best as an engraver, and his reputation was generally good, though few suggestedthat he was one of the great masters of his craft. Most critics apparently felt that the oddity of his designswas to some extent compensated for by the competence of the engravings.

19. Burger, Leonora (1796)

  (b) That in the Analytical Review for November 1796 was similar:This edition is embellished with a frontispiece, in which the painter has endeavoured to exhibit to the eye the wild conceptions of thepoet, but with so little success, as to produce an effect perfectly2 ludicrous, instead of terrific. Cumberland, Thoughts on Outline (1796) 1796More charitable views were expressed of his engravings for his friendGeorge Cumberland’s Thoughts on Outline in 1796: one thing may be asserted of this work, which can be said of fewothers that have passed the hands of an engraver, which is, that Mr.

21. Stuart and Revett, Antiquities

of Athens (1794) 1803James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, The Antiquities of Athens Measured and Delineated (1794), volume III. Flaxman recommended Blake as an engraver for Prince Hoare’s Academic Correspondence, 1803 (1804), in a letter of 25 December 1803: d.he etched & engraved some of the fine Basso Relievos in the 3 Vol ofStuart’s Athens in a very masterly manner & I think he will do the bust of Ceres exactly in the manner You wish for[.]

22. Young, Night Thoughts (1797)

  In an age like the present of literature and of taste, in which the arts, fostered by the general patronage, have attained to growth beyondthe experience of former times, no apology can be necessary for offering to the publick an embellished edition of an english classick;or for giving to the great work of Young some of those advantages of dress and ornament which have lately distinguished the immortalproductions of Shakspeare and of Milton. Not uninfluenced by professional, he acted also under the impulse of higher motives; andwhen he selected the Night Thoughts for the subject of his projected decoration, he wished to make the arts, in their most honourable agency,subservient to the purposes of religion; and by their allurements to solicit the attention of the great for an enforcement of religious and moraltruth, which can be ineffectual only as it may not be read.

A. Of all enthusiasts, the painter Blake seems to have been the most

  I saw a few days ago, a copy of the ‘Night Thoughts,’ which he had illustrated in a manner at once so grotesque, so sublime—now by so literal an interpretation, now byso vague and disconnected a train of invention, that the whole makes one of the most astonishing and curious productions which everbalanced between the conception of genius and the ravings of positive insanity. They are in the style and manner of his designs for ‘Blair’s Grave.’ In point of composition and design,the present production is certainly superior, and is alone sufficient to2 immortalize the name of Blake as an artist of the highest order.1 Thomas Winstanley & Co., Catalogue of…Thomas Edwards, 10 May 1826 ff., lot 1076; see Blake Records (1969), pp.

23. Hayley, An Essay on Sculpture (1800)

  The great & radical defect I conceive to be this—the engraving is aHead 3 years older than the medallion—the Features by being made longer & more sedate have lost the lively sensibility of 16…—would it not give a little younger appearance to shorten the space between the nose & the upper lip a little more by representing the mouth rathermore open, in the act of speaking which appears to me the Expression of the medallion? For Nature in that Mind’ &c (b) To this Blake replied tardily but characteristically a fortnight later, on hearing of the death of Tom:I send the Shadow of the departed Angel, hope the likeness is improved, the lip I have again lessened as you advised & done a good manyother softenings to the whole—I know that our deceased friends are more really with us than when they were apparent to our mortal part.

24. Hayley, Designs to a Series

  with Him whom you patronize, yet,—if M B: is but New in the world, may it be not in reality kinder to point out his failings, than to sufferhim to think his performances faultless.—surely it may, as it may stimulate his endeavours after Perfection!—it wou’d be wrong to name those whohave dared to Criticize what I own pleased me very much: but I will try if I can put under the Seal—(for I would not make you pay for a doubleletter) the opinion of one [? here, & when D Randolph shew’d her this (perhaps with all theenthusiastic warmth which makes his manner)—She too I know (She is a woman of Quality) made objections, chiefly I believe to the design[;]the Elephant not being seen in the back ground in the same piece where the man is struggling at the windows, she considered as a defect, sinceno one cou’d tell how he came there?

25. Hayley, Life…of William Cowper (1803)

  Within a few months of the death of William Cowper in 1800, and about the time that Blake moved to Felpham to work under Hayley’spatronage, William Hayley undertook to write the biography of his lamented friend. (b) On 19 March she wrote to him in great distress:[On one subject] I am determined—absolutely determind!—I mean the subject of the picture, which I have this moment received and forwhich I do indeed thank you; tho.’ the Sight of it has in real truth inspired me with a degree of horror, which I shall not recover from inhaste!… I cannot restrain my Pen from declaring that I think it dreadful!

26. Hayley, Triumphs of Temper (1803)

  1803William Hayley, The Triumphs of Temper. A Poem: in Six Cantos.

27. Hoare, Academic Correspondence

  Petersburgh, on the Present Cultivation ofthe Arts of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture; a Summary Report of the Transactions of The Royal Academy of London,from the Close of the Exhibition, 1802, to the Same Period, 1803. complained of the only plate in Prince Hoare’s Academic Correspondence, engraved by Blake after a design by Flaxman representing Ceres: ‘Surely…the Royal Academy of England might1 have offered an engraving worthy of the subject, and of the country.’1 S.

28. Hayley, Ballads (1805)

  to say nothing of the extreme composure of the Lady, but I wasnever formd to Criticize any of the Sister arts, and shall leave to abler Judges to decide on the merits of the Engravings…. The poet has had thesingular good fortune to meet with a painter capable of doing full justice to his conceptions; and, in fact, when we look at the delectablefrontispiece to this volume which represents Edward starting back, fido volant, and the crocadile rampant, with a mouth open like a boot-jack to receive him, we know not whether most to admire the genius1 of Mr.

29. Blair, The Grave (1808)

  His Invention has been chiefly employedto spread a familiar and domestic Atmosphere round the mostImportant of all Subjects, to connect the visible and the invisible World, without provoking Probability, and to lead the Eye from the milderLight of Time to the Radiations of Eternity. Such is the Plan and the Moral Part of the Author’s Invention; the technic Part, and the Execution of the Artist, though to be examinedby other Principles, and addressed to a narrower Circle, equally claimApprobation, sometimes excite our Wonder, and not Seldom our Fears, when we see him play on the very Verge of legitimate Invention; butWildness so picturesque in itself, so often redeemed by Taste, Simplicity, and Elegance, what Child of Fancy, what Artist would wish to discharge?

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