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' for statecraft or standing armies, yet no man less resembled the 'vulgar radical. His sympathies were rather with Milton, Har* rington, and Marvel-not with Milton as to his puritanism, but ' his love of a grand ideal scheme of republicanism ; though I ‘ never remember him speaking of the American institutions: I
suppose Blake's republic would always have been ideal.' We must assuredly number among his more 'wilful' assertions the curious hypothesis, that the Bonaparte of Italy was killed, and that ' another was somehow substituted from the exigent want of the ' name, who was the Bonaparte of the Empire ! He referred 'to the different physiognomies (as he thought) in the earlier and • later portraits. But, stranger still, he gave me the (forgotten) ' name of some public man-ambassador, or something of the sort '—who assured him such was the case; and a very plausible “story he made of it,' says the same friend.
Similar latitude of speculation was, as we have seen, cultivated on ethics. Practically obedient to moral law, a faithful husband, and temperate in all his habits, Blake is for ever, in his writings, girding at the 'mere moral law,' as being the letter which killeth. His conversation on social topics, his writings, his designs, were equally marked by theoretic licence and virtual guilelessness; for he frankly said, described, and drew everything as it arose to his mind. “Do you think,' he once said in familiar conversation, and in the spirit of controversy, if I came home, and discovered my wife to be unfaithful, I should be so foolish as to take it ill ?' Mrs. Blake was a most exemplary wife, yet was so much in the habit of echoing and thinking right whatever he said that, had she been present, adds my informant, he is sure she would have innocently responded, . Of course not !' 'But,' continues Blake's friend, 'I am inclined to think (lespite the philosophic boast) it would have gone ill with the offenders.'
DECLINING HEALTH : DESIGNS TO DANTE. 1824—1827. (ÆT. 67–70.]
WHILE the Job was in progress, Blake had, among other work, assisted, from August to December, 1824, in engraving a portrait from his friend Linnell's hand, of Mr. Lowry, and perhaps in some other plates. It was during this period, also, Mr. Linnell introduced him to the knowledge of Dante, and commissioned a series of drawings from the Divina Commedia, to be hereafter engraved ; justly thinking Blake 'the very man and the only' to illustrate the great medieval master of supernatural awe and terror. While still engaged over the engravings to Job, Blake set to work full of energy, sketching, while confined to bed by a sprained foot, the first outlines of the whole, or nearly the whole, of this new series, in a folio volume of a hundred pages, which Mr. Linnell had given him for the purpose. This was during the years 1824 to 1826. With characteristic fervour and activity of intellect, he, at sixty-seven years of age, applied himself to learning Italian, in order to read his author in the original. Helped by such command of Latin as he had, he taught himself the language in a few weeks; sufficiently, that is, to comprehend that difficult author substantially, if not grammatically: just as, earlier in life, he had taught himself something of Latin, French, and even Greek.
The drawings after Dante, at first dividing Blake's time with the engravings of the Job, engrossed nearly the whole of it during the brief remnant of his life. They amount to a hundred in all,
many unfinished; presenting his conceptions in all stages, in fact, from the bare outline to high finish.
These designs (which will be found catalogued, with a few remarks, in List No. 1, of the Appendix) form the largest series ever undertaken by Blake, except the one from Gray, which numbers 118 subjects; and, from the profound interest and the variety and special nature of the subject, not to speak of the merits of the designs themselves, they maintain a high rank among his performances. It was a great labour for a man of threescore years and ten' to undertake; and a labour which, in its result, exhibits no symptom of age or feebleness. The designs, it is true, are scarcely ever carried to full completion, and are often extremely slight; but the power of mind, eye, hand—the power of grappling with a new subject matter, and making all its parts, so to speak, organic-is in no wise dimmed. The conception is not always such as most students of Dante will be willing to admit as Dantesque, though certainly much more Dantesque than the refined performance of Flaxman, or than any other known to me; it is, at any rate, the highly creative mind of Dante filtered through the highly creative, sympathetic mind of Blake.
Blake lived to engrave only seven, published in 1827. These seven, all from the Hell, are
1. The Circle of the Lustful—Paolo and Francesca.
2. The Circle of the Corrupt Officials—The Devils tormenting Ciampolo.
3. Same Circle—The Devils mauling each other.
4. The Circle of the Thieves—Agnolo Brunnelleschi attacked by the serpent.
5. Same Circle-Buoso Donati attacked by the serpent.
7. The Circle of the Traitors-Dante's foot striking Bocca degli Abati.
These engravings are, like the designs, uncompleted works. They are executed in Blake's strict, sharp-lined manner; and, though they are more than outlines, do not aim at entire finish of light and shade, or at any strong effects. It will be observed, in the list of engravings, that the two circles of the Corrupt Officials and of the Thieves receive a more than proportionate share of illustration, and the same is still more strikingly apparent in the list of the complete series of designs. Blake flapped, like a moth round a candle, time after time at the grotesqueness of the pitchforked devils, and the horror of the transforming serpents.
The agreement between the two friends as to the Dante was, that Mr. Linnell should go on paying Blake 21. or 31. a week, as he wanted money, Blake doing as little or as much as he liked in return. The payments on account amounted in the end to 1501. By this truly genial and friendly arrangement, the ease and comfort of Blake's declining years were placed on a sure footing; which was the object Mr. Linnell had at heart.
These drawings are unique, no duplicates having been executed : two of them (as shown in the Appendix), are known in a preparatory stage also. They still remain in the congenial keeping of their first owner, and have never been engraved, except the seven just mentioned, nor otherwise made use of.
While, in 1825, the designs from Dante were progressing, I find Mr. Linnell a purchaser also of twelve drawings from Milton's Paradise Regained, a sequel to those from the Paradise Lost, executed for Mr. Butts, which are now scattered in various hands. Mr. Linnell had unsuccessfully endeavoured to persuade the jovial, affluent Chantrey, to buy the Paradise Regained for 201. They are of great beauty, refined in execution, especially tender and pure in colour, and pervading feeling. Like all Mr. Linnell's other purchases from Blake, they have been retained by him.
A letter from Blake, in November, 1825, shows him still adding final touches to the plates of the Job. It is addressed
John Linnell, Esq. Cirencester Place, Fitzroy Square, and is dated ‘Thursday Evening, 10th Nov. 1825, from Fountain Court, Strand :
· Dear Sir,
'I have, I believe, done nearly all that we agreed on. And if you should put on your considering cap, just as you did last time we met, I have no doubt that the plates would be all the better for it. 'I cannot get well, and am now in bed, but seem as if I should be better to-morrow. Rest does 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.
'I am, dear Sir,
• Yours sincerely,
• WILLIAM BLAKE.'
Among the new friends to whom Mr. Linnell had introduced Blake, was Mr. Aders, a wealthy merchant of an old German