1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Blake

Anonymous, Obituary in Literary Gazette (18 August 1827) 540-41.



To those few who have sympathies for the ideal (and comparatively speaking) the intellectual in art, the following notice is addressed. For persons of taste are unacquainted with the designs by Blake, appended as illustrations to a 4to edition of Blair's Grave. It was borne forth into the world on the warmest praise of all our prominent artists, Hoppner, Philips, Stothard, Flaxman, Opie, Tresham, Westmacott, Beechey, Lawrence, West, Nollekins, Shee, Owen, Rossi, Thomson, Cosway, and Soane; and doubly assured with a preface by the learned and severe Fuseli, the latter part of which we transcribe: — "The author of the moral series before us has endeavoured to wake sensibility by touching our sympathies with nearer, less ambiguous, and less ludicrous imagery, than what mythology, Gothic superstition, or symbols as far-fetched as inadequate, could supply. His invention has been chiefly employed to spread a familiar and domestic atmosphere round the most important of all subjects — to connect the visible and invisible world, without provoking probability — and to lead the eye from the milder light 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 examined by other principles, and addressed to a narrower circle, equally claim approbation, sometimes excite our wonder, and not seldom our fears, when we see him play on the very verge of legitimate invention: but wildness so picturesque in itself, so often redeemed by taste, simplicity, and elegance — what child of fancy, what artist, would wish to discharge? The groups and single figures on their own basis, abstracted from the general composition, and considered without attention to the plan, frequently exhibit those genuine and unaffected attitudes, those simple graces, which nature and the heart alone can dictate, and only an eye inspired by both discover. Every class of artists, in every stage of their progress and attainments, from the student to the finished master, and from the contriver of ornament to the painter of history, will here find materials of art, and hints of improvement!"

When it is stated, that the pure-minded Flaxman pointed out to an eminent literary man the obscurity of Blake as a melancholy proof of English apathy towards the grand, the philosophic, or the enthusiastically devotional painter; and that he, Blake, has been several times employed for that truly admirable judge of art Sir T. Lawrence, any further testimony to his extraordinary powers is unnecessary. Yet has Blake been allowed to exist in a penury which most artists, — beings necessarily of a sensitive temperament, — would deem intolerable. Pent, with his affectionate wife, in a close back-room in one of the Strand courts, his bed in one corner, his meagre dinner in another, a ricketty table holding his copper-plates in progress, his colours, books (among which his Bible, a Sessi Velutello's Dante, and Mr. Carey's translation, were at the top), his large drawings, sketches, and MSS.; — his ancles frightfully swelled, his chest disordered, old age striding on, his wants increased, but not his miserable means and appliances: even yet was his eye undimmed, the preternatural, never-resting activity of his mind unflagging. He had not merely a calmly resigned, but a cheerful and mirthful countenance; in short, he was a living commentary on Jeremy Taylor's beautiful chapter on Contentedness. He took no thought for his life, what he should eat or what he should drink; nor yet for his body, what he should put on; but had a fearless confidence in that Providence which had given him the vast range of the world for his recreation and delight.

Blake died last Monday! Died as he lived! piously cheerful! talking calmly, and finally resigning himself to his eternal rest, like an infant in its sleep. He has left nothing except some pictures, copper-plates, and his principal work, a Series of a hundred large Designs from Dante.

William Blake was brought up under Basire, the eminent engraver. He was active in mind and body, passing from one occupation to another without an intervening minute of repose. Of an ardent, affectionate, and grateful temper, he was simple in manner and address, and displayed an inbred consciousness of the most agreeable character. Next November he would have been sixty-nine. At the age of sixty-six he commended the study of Italian, for the sake of reading Dante in the original, which he accomplished!

His widow is left, (we fear, from the accounts which have reached us) in a very forlorn condition, Mr. Blake himself having latterly been much indebted for succour and consolation to his friend Mr. Linnell, the painter. We have no doubt but her cause will be taken up by the distributors of those funds which are raised for the relief of distressed artists, and also by the benevolence of private individuals.

When further time has been allowed us for inquiry we shall probably resume this matter; at present, (owing the above information to the kindness of a correspondent,) we can only record the death of a singular and very able man.