« PreviousContinue »
indicating uncertain application to the practice of art. He was then living at 44, Great Marlborough Street. Mr. Palmer, one of Blake's young disciples in those days, well remembers a visit to the Academy in Blake's company, during which the latter pointed to a picture near the ceiling, by Wainwright, and spoke of it as 'very fine.' It was a scene from Walton's Angler, exhibited in 1823 or 4. While
so many moments better worthy to remain are fled,' writes Mr. Palmer to me, 'the caprice of memory presents me with the image of Blake looking up at Wainwright's picture ; Blake in his plain black suit and rather broad-brimmed, but not quakerish hat, standing so quietly among all the dressed-up, rustling, swelling people, and myself thinking “How little you know who is among you !”!
During the first years of The London Magazine, 1820—23, Wainwright was a contributor, under various pseudonyms, of articles, not, as Talfourd mistakenly describes them, ‘of mere flashy assumption,' full of disdainful notices of living artists ;' but articles of real literary merit and originality ; in a vein of partly feigned coxcombry and flippant impertinence, of wholly genuine sympathy with art (within orthodox limits), and recognition of the real excellencies of the moderns,—of Retsch, of Stothard, for example, and of Etty, then a young man. They are articles by no means obsolete yet, even in their opinions; in matter and style still fresh and readable; standing out in vivid contrast to the heavy common-place of the Editor's, now so stale and flat, in the same department of artcriticism. They attracted the notice and admiration of Lamb, whose personal regard he retained for many years ; of De Quincey and of Procter—no mean judges.
In one of these smart, harum-scarum articles (Sept. 1820), entitled “Mr. Janus Weathercock's Private Correspondence,'—a letter on topics so miscellaneous as Recent Engravings, Pugilism, and Chapman's Homer,—occurs incidental reference to Blake, the only one I have found in the series. "Talking of articles, my learned
' friend Dr. Tobias Ruddicombe, M.D. is, at my earnest entreaty, 'casting a tremendous piece of ordnance, an eighty-eight pounder ! 'which he proposeth to fire off in your next. It is an account
of an ancient, newly discovered, illuminated manuscript, which has 'to name “ Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion "!!! 'It contains a good deal anent one “ Los,” who, it appears, is now, ‘and hath been from the Creation, the sole and four-fold dominator
of the celebrated city of Golgonooza! The doctor assures me that 'the redemption of mankind hangs on the universal diffusion of the • doctrines broached in this MS. But, however, that isn't the subject of this scrinium, scroll, or scrawl, or whatever you may call it.'
This was probably a feeler of Wainwright's, to try Editor Scott's pulse as to a paper on Blake; which, however, if written never appeared. Scott, who had originally encouraged Wainwright to use the pen, was rather discomposed by his systematic impertinences and flightiness, and now began ‘rapping him over the knuckles,' cutting his articles down, and even refusing them admission ; as is related in a subsequent contribution, one of Wainwright's last (Jan. 1823). After Scott's tragic end in a preposterous duel with one of the rancorous Blackwood set, Wainwright had been put on the staff again, at the urgent representations of Lamb and Procter. The paper in question, entitled Janus Weatherbound, contains some singularly interesting reminiscences-when we call to mind the man's subsequent history—of the writer's own previous career; of John Scott himself and his sudden death-bed, of Lamb and his sister, and of other fellow-contributors to The London.
Talfourd, in his Final Memorials of Lamb, has told the after story of Wainwright's life; Bulwer, in his Lucretia, has worked it up into fiction ; and De Quincey, in his Autobiographic Sketches, has thrown over it a gleam from the fitful torchlight of his vivifying imagination. From them we learn how expensive tastes for fine
into more books, articles of virtù, on the one hand; for mere elegant
living on the other; for combining, in short, the man about town and the man of refined taste and high sympathies, led him into inevitable money difficulties, into shifts of all kinds, and convulsive efforts to raise the wind. How, in 1830, about half a dozen years subsequent to his connexion with The London and familiar intercourse with some of the most original men of that generation, he began insuring the life of a young and beautiful sister-in-law, for a short term, in various offices, to the amount of 18,0001. in all. How he contrived that the poor girl, after having made a will in his favour, should die before the two years' term was out, without any appearance of foul play,—he using the then little known vegetable poison, strychnine, now so familiar to newspaper readers. How the assurance offices instinctively disputed his claims; and, after five years of the law's delay' in Chancery and two trials at common law, succeeded in their resistance on the technical point—that the insurance was not a bonâ fide one of the deceased's own effecting: the graver ground of objection being waived for want of conclusive evidence, though sufficient daylight was let in to warrant the darkest construction of Wainwright's real character. How, after skulking about France a few years, with a bottle of strychnine in his pocket, and, it is suspected, using the same on a confiding friend or two, Wainwright was, in 1836, apprehended for forgery of his wife's trustee's signature (he had a wife and child); was tried, pleaded guilty, and sentenced to transportation for life : finally made base revelations to the offices, enabling them to defeat the claims of his surviving sister-in-law, in the craven hope of mitigation of punishment; in which hope he was deceived. In the extremity of infamy and wretchedness, the somewhile associate of Coleridge, Blake, Lamb, still piqued himself on being the gentleman, though under a cloud; still claimed a soul sympathising with poetry, philosophy, and all high things, showing no remorse. In Australia ended the ghastly motley of his life, a few years ago.
Complete oblivion seems already to have overtaken all that Wainwright painted; though we cannot doubt, from Blake's testimony, as reported by Mr. Palmer, that his works belonged, in whatever degree, to the class showing individual power. He seems to have practised painting as a means of subsistence in Australia during his last years, as well as at an earlier, and not yet hopeless, time in England. Of the first period of his painting, there is said to be some evidence in designs to an edition of Chamberlayne's poems, which I have sought for, but failed to find, at the British Museum; and in the preface to which he is spoken of, I am told, as a young man of high hopes. To the last period belongs a portrait of the Hon. Miss Power, painted in Australia, which also is known to me by report, not by eyesight. Into any of the works of such a life it is difficult to search without feeling as if every step were taken among things dead and doomed. But the truth about Wainwright's essays on art is, that they display a real knowledge, insight, and power of language, which remained unequalled, in their own walk of criticism, from that day till the splendid advent and immediate influence of Ruskin. This being thus in fact, though sometimes otherwise stated, it would be interesting, even highly so, to discover what has become of Wainwright's pictures, and what were the practical artistic gifts of one whose nature presents such strange and hideous contrasts.
I trust that the decision with which I have spoken of this man's great talents will not be taken as implying any bluntness of repugnance for the great criminality which, I fear, stands substantially, though never explicitly, proved against him. But art has its own truth, as absolute as that of life itself, and demanding a wholly independent verdict, not to be appealed against on any ground of good deeds, and which not even the sternest personal censure can annul.
INVENTIONS TO THE BOOK OF JOB. 1823–25. ET. 66–68.]
As we have often to repeat, Blake was even more a neglected man in these days of Lawrence and Wilkie than he had been in those of Reynolds and Gainsborough. The majority of connoisseurs, a set of men who, to tell the truth, know little more about art, the vital part of it, have no quicker perception or deeper insight into its poetic and spiritual qualities than the mob of educated men, though they prate more: these were, as they still are, blind to his beauties. And this being so, the publishing class deserves no special blame for its blindness and timidity.
Even his old friend Mr. Butts, a friend of more than thirty years' standing, the possessor of his best temperas and water-colour drawings, and of copies of all his engraved books, grew cool. The patron had often found it a hard matter not to offend the independent, wilful painter, ever the prouder for his poverty and neglect, always impracticable and extreme when ruffled or stroked the wrong way. The patron had himself begun to take offence at Blake's quick resentment of well-meant, if blunt, advice and at the unmeasured violence of his speech when provoked by opposition. The wealthy merchant employed him but little now, and during the few remaining years of Blake's life they seldom met.
One of the last, if not the very last, works bought by Mr. Butts of Blake, was the original series of twenty-one water-colour drawings or Inventions from the Book of Job, the longest and most important series executed since The Grave, in 1805 ; still loftier in theme, nobler in