« PreviousContinue »
de Lion, and each is different. Which looks as if Varley misconstrued the seer at times, or as if the spirits were lying spirits, assuming different forms at will. Such would doubtless have been De Foe's reading, had he been gravely recording the fact.
Most of the other Visionary Heads bear date August, 1820. Nearly all subsequently fell into Mr. Linnell's hands, and have remained there. Remarkable performances these slight pencil drawings are, intrinsically, as well as for the circumstances of their production : truly original and often sublime. All are marked by a decisive, portrait-like character, and are in fact evi
EDWARD 1. dently literal portraits of what Blake's imaginative eye beheld. They are not seldom strikingly in unison with one's notions of the characters of the men they purport to represent. Some are very fine, as the Bathsheba and the David. Of these two beauty is, of course, the special attribute. William Wallace and King Edward the First have much force, and even grandeur. A remarkable one is that of ‘King Edward the Third as he now exists in the other world, according to his appearance to Mr. Blake: his skull
enlarged in the semblance of a crown,-swelling into a crown in fact,—for type and punishment of earthly tyranny, I suppose. Re
markable too, are The Assassin lying dead at the feet of Edward the First in the Holy Land, and the Portrait of a Man who instructed Mr. Blake in Painting and in his Dreams.
Among the heads which Blake drew was one of King Saul, who, as the artist related, appeared to him in armour, and wearing a helmet of peculiar form and construction, which he could not, owing to the position of the
sceptre, see to delineate satisfacEDWARD III.
torily. The portrait was therefore left unfinished, till some months after, when King Saul vouchsafed a second sitting, and enabled Blake to complete his helmet; which, with the armour, was pronounced, by those to whom the drawing was shown, sufficiently extraordinary.
The ideal embodiment of supernatural things (even things so wild and mystic as some of these) by such a man—a man of mind and sense as well as of mere fancy—could not but be worth attention. And truly they have a strange coherence and meaning of their own. This is especially exemplified in one which is the most curious of all these Visionary Heads, and which has also been the most talked of, viz. the Ghost of a Flea, or Personified Flea. Of it, John Varley, in that singular and now very scarce book, A Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy, published in 1828, gave the first and best account; one which Southey, connoisseur in singularities and scarce books, thought worth quoting in The Doctor :-
* This spirit visited his (Blake's) imagination in such a figure as he never anticipated in an insect. As I was anxious to make the most correct investigation in my power of the truth of these visions, on hearing of this spiritual apparition of a Flea, I asked him if he could draw for me the resemblance of what he saw. He instantly said, “I see him now before me.” I therefore gave him paper and a pencil, with which he drew the portrait of which a fac-simile is given in this number. I felt convinced, by his mode of proceeding, that he had a real image before him ; for he left off, and began on another part of the paper to make a separate drawing of the mouth of the Flea, which the spirit having opened, he was prevented from proceeding with the first sketch till he had closed it. During the time occupied in completing the drawing, the Flea told him that all fleas were inhabited by
GHOST OF A FLEA.
the souls of such men as were by nature blood-thirsty to excess, and were therefore providentially confined to the size and form of insects; otherwise, were he himself, for instance, the size of a horse, he would depopulate a great portion of the country.'
An engraved outline of the Ghost of a Flea was given in the Zodiacal Physiognomy, and also*of one other Visionary Head—that of the Constellation Cancer. The engraving of The Flea has been repeated in the Art Journal for August, 1858, among the illustrations to a brief notice of Blake. The original pencil drawing is in Mr. Linnell's possession. Coloured copies of three of the Visionary Heads— Wallace, Edvard the First, and the Ghost of a Flea-were made for Varley, by Mr. Linnell.
OPINIONS : NOTES ON REYNOLDS. 1820. (T. 63.]
FROM internal evidence I judge 1820, or thereabout, to have been the date of the Notes to Reynolds' Discourses, already referred to. The present, therefore, is a fit place to give the reader a taste of them, eminently characteristic as they are of the vehement, one-sided enthusiast. In the same indignant strain as that in which the Notes began, commenting on the patronage of his day, is written on the fly-leaf the following curious doggrel :
Advice of the Popes who succeeded the Age of Raphael.
In plain prose he asks, 'Who will dare to say that “polite Art” is encouraged, or either wished or tolerated, in a nation where the Society of Arts suffered Barry to give them his labour for nothing? A Society composed of the flower of the English nobility ' and gentry, suffering an artist to starve, while he really supported 'what they, under pretence of encouraging, were endeavouring to • depress! Barry told me that while he did that,'-painted, namely, the pictures in the Society's Great Room at the Adelphi,—'he ' lived on bread and apples.
0! Society for the Encouragement of Art! King and Nobility of England, where have you hid Fuseli's Milton? Is Satan troubled