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sweet and graceful compositions, harmonious and contenting so far as they go, but deficient in force, as Blake himself thought Flaxman to have always been, and as many now think. Some touch of natural sorrow Blake might well feel at having to copy, where he could have invented with far more power and originality. For Blake was as full of ideas as Flaxman of manner, a tender and eloquent, but borrowed idiom. And while Flaxman relied on the extraneous help (or impediment ?) of a conventional, and in fact dead language or manner in art, and on archæological niceties, Blake could address us, in his rude, unpolished way, in an universal one and appeal to the Imagination direct.
During this period Blake engraved some plates for Rees Encyclopædia, illustrative of the articles on Armour and Sculpture, the latter written by Flaxman, I believe. One example selected was the Laocoon, which carried our artist to the Royal Academy's antique school, for the purpose of making a drawing from the cast of that group. What! you here, Meesther Blake ?' said Keeper Fuseli ; 'we ought to come and learn of you, not you of us !' Blake took his place with the students, and exulted over his work, says Mr. Tatham, like a young disciple ; meeting his old friend Fuseli's congratulations and kind remarks with cheerful, simple joy.
JOHN VARLEY AND THE VISIONARY HEADS. 1818--20. (ÆT. 61–63.)
I HAVE mentioned John Varley as one in the new circle to which Mr. Linnell introduced Blake. Under Varley's roof, Linnell had lived for a year as pupil ; with William Hunt, a since famous name, as a comrade.
John Varley, one of the founders of the New School of WaterColour Painting, a landscape designer of much delicacy and grace, was otherwise a remarkable man, of very pronounced character and eccentricities; a professional Astrologer in the nineteenth century, among other things, and a sincere one ; earnestly practising judicial Astrology as an Art, and taking his regular fees of those who consuuted him. He was the author of more than one memorable nativity and prediction; memorable, that is, for having come true in the sequel. And strange stories are told on this head ; such as that of Collins the artist, whose death came, to the day, as the stars had
appointed. One man, to avoid his fate, lay in bed the whole day on which an accident had been foretold by Varley. Thinking himself safe by the evening, he came downstairs, stumbled over a coal-scuttle, sprained his ankle, and fulfilled the prediction. Scriven, the engraver, was wont to declare, that certain facts of a personal nature, which could be only known to himself, were nevertheless confided to his ear by Varley with every particular. Varley cast the nativities of James Ward, the famous animal-painter's children. So many of his predictions came true, their father, a man of strong though peculiar religious opinions,—for he, too, was 'a character,'—began to think the whole affair a sinful forestalling of God's will, and destroyed the nativities. Varley was a genial, kind-hearted man; a disposition the grand dimensions of his person—which, when in a stooping posture, suggested to beholders the rear view of an elephant-well accorded with. Superstitious and credulous, he cultivated his own credulity, cherished a passion for the marvellous, and loved to have the evidence of his senses contradicted. Take an instance.—Strange, ghostly noises had been heard at a friend's, to Varley's huge satisfaction. But interest and delight were exchanged for utter chagrin and disappointment, when on calling one day, eager to learn how the mystery progressed, he was met by the unwelcome tidings : 'Oh, we have discovered the cause—the cowl of the chimney!
To such a man, Blake's habitual intercourse with the visionary world had special attractions. In his friend's stories of spiritual appearances, sight of which Varley could never share however wishful, he placed implicit and literal credence. A particularly close intimacy arose between the two; and, during the last nine years of Blake's life, they became constant companions.
At Varley's house, and under his own eye, were drawn those Visionary Heads, or Spiritual Portraits of remarkable characters, whereof all who have heard of Blake have heard something. Varley
it was who encouraged Blake to take authentic sketches of certain among his most frequent spiritual visitants. The Visionary faculty was so much under control, that, at the wish of a friend, he could summon before his abstracted gaze any of the familiar forms and faces he was asked for. This was during the favourable and befitting hours of night; from nine or ten in the evening, until one or two, or perhaps three and four o'clock, in the morning ; Varley sitting by,
sometimes slumbering, and sometimes waking. Varley would say, ' Draw me Moses,' or David; or would call for a likeness of Julius Cæsar, or Cassibellaunus, or Edward the Third, or some other great historical personage. Blake would answer, “There he is!' and paper and pencil being at hand, he would begin drawing with the utmost alacrity and composure, looking up from time to time as though he had a real sitter before him; ingenuous Varley, meanwhile, straining wistful eyes into vacancy and seeing nothing, though he tried hard, and at first expected his faith and patience to be rewarded by a genuine apparition. A 'vision' had a very different signification with Blake to that it had in literal Varley's mind.
Sometimes Blake had to wait for the Vision's appearance ; sometimes it would come at call. At others, in the midst of his portrait, he would suddenly leave off, and, in his ordinary quiet tones and with the same matter-of-fact air another might say · It rains,' would remark, “I can't go on,—it is gone! I must wait till it returns ;' or, “It has moved. The mouth is gone;' or, ‘he frowns; he is displeased with my portrait of him :' which seemed as if the Vision were looking over the artist's shoulder as well as sitting vis-à-vis for his likeness. The devil himself would politely sit in a chair to Blake, and innocently disappear; which obliging conduct one would hardly have anticipated from the spirit of evil, with his well-known character for love of wanton mischief..
In sober daylight, criticisms were hazarded by the profane on the character or drawing of these or any of his visions. “Oh, it's all right!' Blake would calmly reply; it must be right : I saw it so. It did not signify what you said ; nothing could put him out: so assured was he that he, or rather his imagination, was right, and that what the latter revealed was implicitly to be relied on,-and this without any appearance of conceit or intrusiveness on his part. Yet critical friends would trace in all these heads the Blake mind and hand,-his receipt for a face : every artist has his own, his favourite idea, from which he may depart in the proportions, but seldom substantially. John Varley, however, could not be persuaded to look at them from this merely rationalistic point of view.
At these singular nocturnal sittings, Blake thus executed for Varley, in the latter's presence, some forty or fifty slight pencil sketches, of small size, of historical, nay, fabulous and even typical personages, summoned from the vasty deep of time, and ‘seen in vision by Mr. Blake.' Varley, who accepted all Blake said of them, added
in writing the names, and in a few instances the day and hour they were seen. Thus : 'Wat Tyler, by Blake, from his spectre, as in the act of striking the tax-gatherer, drawn Oct. 30, 1819, 1 h. P.M. On another we read : “ The Man who built the Pyramids, Oct. 18, 1819, fifteen degrees of 1, Cancer ascending? Another sketch is indorsed as 'Richard Cour de Lion, drawn from his
spectre. W. Blake fecit, THE MAN WHO BUILT THE PYRAMIDS. Oct. 14, 1819, at quarter. prust twele, midnight.' In fact, two are inscribed Richard Cæur