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'before his Kate awoke. Smith speaks of the uninterrupted harmony in which Blake and ‘his beloved Kate' lived. Such harmony there really was ; but, as we saw, it had not always been unruffled. There had been stormy times in years long past, when both were young ; discord by no means trifling while it lasted. But with the cause (jealousy on her side, not wholly unprovoked,) the strife had ceased also. In age and affliction each grasped the reward of so wise a reconciliation, in an even, calm state of companionship and mutual helpfulness. And his Kate' was capable of sharing to some extent, at all events, the inner life too, and of yielding true sympathy.
Having never been a mother,' says the same cordially appreciative friend, who saw much of her in later years, and whose words I have already often borrowed, 'to this devoted wife Blake was at
once lover, husband, child. She would get up in the night, when he was under his very fierce inspirations, which were as if they would tear him asunder, while he was yielding himself to the * Muse, or whatever else it could be called, sketching and writing.
And so terrible a task did this seem to be, that she had to sit ·motionless and silent; only to stay him mentally, without moving • hand or foot: this for hours, and night after night. Judge of the 'obedient, unassuming devotion of her dear soul to him!'
Mrs. Blake's spirit, in truth, was influenced magnetically, if one may so speak, by her husband's. She appears to have had the same literal belief in his visions as John Varley ; and when he, in his wild way, would tell his friends that King Alfred, or any great historical personage, had sat to him, Mrs. Blake would look at her husband with an awe-struck countenance, and then at his listener to confirm the fact. Not only was she wont to echo what he said, to talk as he talked, on religion and other matters—this may be accounted for by the fact that he had educated her; but she, too, learned to have visions ;—to see processions of figures wending along the river, in broad daylight; and would give a
start when they disappeared in the water. As Blake truly maintained, the faculty for seeing such airy phantoms can be cultivated. I have mentioned that she coloured Blake's designs under his direction, and successfully. One drawing, undoubtedly designed as well as executed by herself, is now in Mr. Linnell's possession. It is so like a work of Blake's, that one can hardly believe it to have been the production of another hand. Captain Butts has also one, of small size, in pen and ink: a seated figure of a woman, which I would not hesitate, at first sight, to call a Blake; and even on inspection it proves a very fair drawing. I have no doubt of this too being bonâ fide Mrs. Blake's. Some of the characteristics of an originally uneducated mind had clung to her, despite the late culture received from her husband :-an exaggerated suspiciousness, for instance, and even jealousy of his friends. But vulgarity there was none. In person, the once beautiful brunette had, with years, grown—as we have elsewhere observed-common and coarse-looking, except in so far,' says one who knew her, as love made her otherwise, and spoke through her gleaming black eyes.' This appearance was enhanced by the common dirty dress, poverty, and perhaps age, had rendered habitual. In such cases, the traces of past beauty do but heighten the melancholy of its utter ruin. Amid so much that was beautiful in her affectionate, wifely spirit, these externals were little noticed. To friends who remember Blake in Fountain Court, those calm, patriarchal figures of Job and his Wife in the artist's own designs, still recall the two, as they used to sit together in that humble room.
ALL I have met, who at any period of the poet-artist's life knew much of Blake, speak with affection of him. A sweet, gentle, lovable creature, say all ; courageous too, yet not bitter. Of course, casual acquaintances were more startled than pleased by his extravagancies and vehemences of speech. To men of the world, his was a mind which, whether judged by his writings or his talk, inevitably seemed scarcely a sane, still less a trustworthy one. The impression he made on others varied in proportion to the community of sentiment which existed ; and, as I said, he showed his best self only to such as had this bond of sympathy ; namely, a certain innocence and even humility of heart, a certain virgin freshness of mind. In society he was often brought into contact with men, superior and intellectual, but occupying widely different spheres of thought to his own ; who, if they admired, marvelled still more, and could not accept him and his strange, novel individuality in the frank, confiding spirit of those to whom we have been lately hearkening. We shall have evidence of this in a later chapter.
MAD OR NOT MAD?
In his familiar conversations with Mr. Palmer and other disciples, Blake would speak in the most matter-of-fact way of recent spiritual visitors. Much of their talk was of the spirits he had been discoursing with, and, to a third person, would have sounded oddly enough. ‘Milton the other day was saying to me,' so and so. “I tried to convince him he was wrong, but I could not • succeed. His tastes are Pagan; his house is Palladian, not Gothic. Ingenuous listeners hardly knew sometimes whether to believe Blake saw these spirits or not; but could not go so far as utterly to deny that he did. It often struck them, however, that the spirits came under false pretences, and were not what they represented themselves ; inasmuch as they spoke false doctrine, broached unsound opinions.
In society, again, Blake would give accounts of romantic appearances which had shown themselves to him. At one of Mr. Aders' parties—at which Flaxman, Lawrence, and other leading artists were present — Blake was talking to a little group gathered round him, within hearing of a lady whose children had just come home from boarding school for the holidays. The other
evening,' said Blake, in his usual quiet way, “taking a walk, 'I came to a meadow, and at the farther corner of it I saw a fold
of lambs. Coming nearer, the ground blushed with flowers; and
'the wattled cote and its woolly tenants were of an exquisite
pastoral beauty. But I looked again, and it proved to be no • living flock, but beautiful sculpture.' The lady, thinking this a capital holiday-show for her children, eagerly interposed, 'I beg
pardon, Mr. Blake, but may I ask where you saw this ?' 'Here, 'madam,' answered Blake, touching his forehead. The reply brings us to the point of view from which Blake himself regarded his visions. It was by no means the mad view those ignorant of the man have fancied. He would candidly confess they were not literal matters of fact; but phenomena seen by his imagination : realities none the less for that, but transacted within the realm of mind. A distinction which widely separates such visions from the hallucinations of madness, or of the victims of ghostly or table-turning delusions; and indicates that wild habit of talk (and of writing) which startled outsiders, to have been the fruit of an excessive culture of the imagination, combined with daring licence of speech. No man, by the way, would have been more indifferent or averse than he (wide and tolerant as was his faith in supernatural revelations) towards the table-turning, wainscot-knocking, bosh-propounding 'Spiritualism of the present hour; the gross and puerile materialism which tries to pass itself off for its eternal opposite. He might not have disbelieved in the communications' in question; but they would not, in his eyes, have seemed worth attending to, or as proceeding from a higher world at all :-only, perhaps, as the witless pranks of very ignoble spirits from a lower one.
According to his own explanation, Blake saw spiritual appearances by the exercise of a special faculty—that of imaginationusing the word in the then unusual, but true sense, of a faculty which busies itself with the subtler realities, not with fictions. He, on this ground, objected even to Shakspeare's expression
“And gives to airy nothing 'A local habitation and a name.'