Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

this part of the memoir, only questioned other of the Linnell brothers, whose memories, then as now, were less accurate and complete than that of the elder, who alone had retained and studied their late father's papers.

I have perfectly known as far back as I can remember how it escaped ; there never was the slightest doubt about the matter. Since the death of Mr. Blake and onwards, my father often told me as well as others that Mr. Blake gave him the MS. The exact date of the gift he said nothing about, as of no consequence. Certainly I never heard anything about his “death-bed." This is a pure invention of some one.

The other Linnell brother who was the present writer's informant did not use the phrase “death-bed,” but said that the MS. had been given to his father by Blake when he was ill, and during the latter or last days of his life. Blake's final illness was of an intermittent character, and he was drawing for J. Linnell, sometimes in bed, on and off, up to a short time before he actually died. There is every probability that the gift was really made on “his death-bed,” though long before the day of his death. The sentence to which Mr. Linnell takes such energetic exception in his letter is as follows: "How the MS. of Vala escaped” (that is, escaped destruction from Tatham's hands when other MSS. were ruthlessly burned]," and found safe keeping with Mr. John Linnell is not known by his own family. It is believed to have been given by Blake himself on his death-bed as a recognition that he owed more to his last patron than the short hours that were left to him would let him accomplish.” “Deathbed” is not offered as a quotation of any one's exact words. Mr. Linnell's letter here does not deny the substantial accuracy of the recollections of his brother as followed in the memoir, though he appears to believe himself to be doing so. But he suggests a reason for Blake's not allowing Tatham to get at the MS., which may perhaps be the real answer to the question how it escaped.

Blake gave it to J. L., no doubt because he knew that he would be the one most likely to appreciate and preserve it, as at first it contained some rather extraordinary illustrations.

At firstrefers to the fact that later on it did not contain all of these “extraordinary illustrations,” because J. Linnell used the india-rubber to one in particular, to make it less audaciously defiant of the proprieties,—the drawings were in pencil only. Their subjects include the distinguishing characteristic of the ancient god “ Priapus," an object fitted for sacred art before the degrading spirit of a later civilisation had vulgarised it, but not fitted for secular art, other than medical, at any period of the world's history. In one design to Vala, the Priapic attribute is represented as nearly the height of a signpost: three figures are bowing down to it. They presumably represent Bacon, Newton, and Locke worshipping Nature. The association of the symbol with this rendering is found in its character of being that which most causes man, apart from argument, to believe in external nature (the great delusion), and the design represents the fact that all rationalistic and experimental philosophy depends upon for support, and therefore worships as its god, the great source of temptation to a belief in external nature, for without external nature they are nothing. On this also depends Morality, which is necessary, if they be right, but is nothing and ceases to exist if there be no such thing as temptation, which it therefore worships as its creator; of all this, however, as part of Blake's mind, and of the meaning, in any respect, of Blake's prophetic books, neither the late John Linnell nor any of his descendants ever had the glimmering of an idea. The present Mr. John Linnell continues :

Who could have misled you to make such a statement I cannot conceive, and that after Mr. Story had simply told the truth (page 170). What will the public think of this ?

The public will understand, of course, that the present writer had not at that date read or even heard of Mr. Story's little book.

I have no room for more now. Excuse bad writing through haste. Yours faithfully,

J. LINNELLE

The letter is beautifully written in a minute handwriting, and, notwithstanding its great length, covers only the usual four pages of a sheet of notepaper.

The payments," of which it gives so hard, full, and careful an account, passed often by post, and the letters acknowledging them are always pleasant, though they contain hardly anything of those outpourings of the “spirit” that are to be found in what Blake used to write, even to Hayley, at times. That of November 18, 1825, referred to in Mr. Linnell's letter, is as follows :

DEAR SIR– Until the year before his death Blake addressed Linnell as “ Dear Sir " I have done, I believe, nearly all we agreed on. And if you should put on your considering cap, as you did last time we met, I have no doubt that the plates would be all the better for it. [This is evidence that retouchings in consultation had been going on since the date on the plates of March 8, 1825.] I cannot get well, and am now in bed, but seem as if I should get better to-morrow. Rest dloes me good. Pray take care of your health this wet weather; and though I write, do not venture out on such days as to-day has been. I hope a few more days will bring us to a conclusion.

J. Linnell himself was a good engraver, and had engraved plates in collaboration with Blake. With regard to the house “in Circuit Place,” referred to in the letter of J. Linnell's eldest son, can it have been in Cirencester Place ?

Blake wrote one letter to Mrs. Linnell at Collins's Farm, North End, Hampstead, describing a scene in which he, who had once undergone a trial, actually describes an imprisonment, though for a short term :

DEAR MADAM-I have had the pleasure to see Mr. Linnell set off safe in a very comfortable coach. And I may say I accompanied him part of the way on his journey in the coach. For we both got in, together with another passenger, and entered into conversation when at length we found that we were all three proceeding on our journey. But as I had not paid, and did not wish to pay for, or take so long a ride, we with some difficulty made the coachman understand that one of his passengers was unwilling to go, when he obligingly permitted me to get out, to my great joy.

This is the second time that Blake has set his persuasive tongue to change the intentions of a man accustomed to govern horses, and has succeeded. He must have remembered Astley and Poland Street.

It was at the house of Mr. Aders, a buyer of pictures, to whom Linnell had introduced Blake, that, in 1825, Blake met Mr. Crabb Robinson, who afterwards called on him several times, and wrote of him at some length in his journals (quoted by Gilchrist) and in his reminiscences, condensing his journals, and yet-unless Gilchrist makes misleading omissions—adding a sentence or two. These reminiscences are complete in the memoir to the Quaritch edition. His personal description of Blake at this time is : ;.

He had a broad pale face, a large full eye, and a benignant expression, at the same time a look of languor, except when excited, and then he had an air of inspiration, but not such as, without previous acquaintance with him or attending to what he said, would suggest the notion that he was insane.

Mr. Robinson's opinion was that Blake, nevertheless, was insane, a victim of monomania (on the subject of art, evidently); and Gilchrist says that Mr. Robinson was the only one who thought so of all whom he had met that knew Blake.

The reason is obvious. Of Blake's friends Mr. Robinson had most general education, without having enough imagination to judge Blake. Yet he thought that he could judge and understand any sane person, and that if Blake were really sane, he must be able to understand him. Yet he knew nothing of symbolism, and nothing of Swedenborg. The other people consulted by Gilchrist were simpler folk, and admitted that it did not at all follow that Blake, who seemed sane, was mad merely because they could not always understand what he was saying. When their knowledge of books fails to be enough to prepare their judgments, welleducated men are dangerous.

Of Mrs. Blake's appearance Crabb Robinson says :

Notwithstanding her dress, which was poor and dirty, she had a good expression in her countenance, and, with a dark eye, remains of beauty from her youth.

She always spoke of, and to, her husband as “Mr. Blake.” CHAPTER XXXV

BLAKE AND WORDSWORTH'S IMAGINATION

In the conversations remembered by Crabb Robinson, there are notes of a good deal besides what has already been referred to. Most of this is about Wordsworth, who had not then been put away on an upper shelf because room was wanted for Tennyson, Swinburne, and Browning; nor were men's ears rendered impatient of his wearying manner by the fascination of Keats and the tragic sweetness of Shelley, nor was the book-case filling up as now with the gradually increasing editions of Blake himself.

Crabb Robinson did not suspect, when he wrote his journals, that when his interview had ceased to be of value as explaining Blake or illuminating Wordsworth, it would still be worth reading to smile over. Least of all did he foresee that the smile would be at himself:

On the 24th December I called a second time on him. On this occasion it was that I read to him Wordsworth's Ode on the supposed pre-existent state [he means pre-natal, of course), Intimations of Immortality. The subject of Wordsworth's religious character was discussed when we met on 18th February and 12th May (this is all 1826). I will here bring together Blake's declarations regarding Wordsworth. I had been in the habit, when reading this marvellous Ode to friends, of oinitting one or two passages, especially that,

But there's a tree of many a one,
A single field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that has gone :

The pansy at my feet

Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam ?

Where is it now, the glory and the dream ? lest I should be rendered ridiculous, being unable to explain precisely what I advised. Not that I acknowledged this to be a fair test. But with Blake I could fear nothing of the kind. And it was this very stanza which threw him almost into an hysterical rapture. His delight in Wordsworth's poetry was intense. Nor did it seem less notwithstand

« ZurückWeiter »