William Blake (Symons)/From Lady Charlotte Bury's Diary



[This extract from the Diary illustrative of the Times of George the Fourth, by Lady Charlotte Bury, afterwards Lady Charlotte Campbell, published anonymously, and edited by John Gait, in four volumes, in 1839, was first noticed by Mr. W. M. Rossetti, who printed it in the Athenæum. It is from vol. iii. pp. 345-348.]



Tuesday, the 20th of January [1820].—I dined at Lady C. L—'s. She had collected a strange party of artists and literati and one or two fine folks, who were very ill assorted with the rest of the company, and appeared neither to give nor receive pleasure from the society among whom they were mingled. Sir T. Lawrence, next whom I sat at dinner, is as courtly as ever. His conversation is agreeable, but I never feel as if he was saying what he really thought. . . .

Besides Sir T., there was also present of this profession Mrs. M., the miniature painter, a modest, pleasing person; like the pictures she executes, soft and sweet. Then there was another eccentric little artist, by name Blake; not a regular professional painter, but one of those persons who follow the art for its own sweet sake, and derive their happiness from its pursuit. He appeared to me to be full of beautiful imaginations and genius; but how far the execution of his designs is equal to the conceptions of his mental vision, I know not, never having seen them. Main-d'œuvre is frequently wanting where the mind is most powerful. Mr. Blake appears unlearned in all that concerns this world, and, from what he said, I should fear he is one of those whose feelings are far superior to his situation in life. He looks care-worn and subdued; but his countenance radiated as he spoke of his favourite pursuit, and he appeared gratified by talking to a person who comprehended his feelings. I can easily imagine that he seldom meets with any one who enters into his views; for they are peculiar, and exalted above the common level of received opinions. I could not help contrasting this humble artist with the great and powerful Sir Thomas Lawrence, and thinking that the one was fully if not more worthy of the distinction and the fame to which the other has attained, but from which he is far removed. Mr. Blake, however, though he may have as much right, from talent and merit, to the advantages of which Sir Thomas is possessed, evidently lacks that worldly wisdom and that grace of manner which make a man gain an eminence in his profession, and succeed in society. Every word he uttered spoke the perfect simplicity of his mind, and his total ignorance of all worldly matters. He told me that Lady C— L— had been very kind to him. 'Ah!' said he, 'there is a deal of kindness in that lady.' I agreed with him, and though it was impossible not to laugh at the strange manner in which she had arranged this party, I could not help admiring the goodness of heart and discrimination of talent which had made her patronise this unknown artist. Sir T. Lawrence looked at me several times whilst I was talking with Mr. B., and I saw his lips curl with a sneer, as if he despised me for conversing with so insignificant a person.[1] It was very evident Sir Thomas did not like the company he found himself in, though he was too well-bred and too prudent to hazard a remark upon the subject.

The literati were also of various degrees of eminence, beginning with Lord B—, and ending with —. The grandees were Lord L—, who appreciates talent, and therefore not so ill assorted with the party as was Mrs. G— and Lady C—, who did nothing but yawn the whole evening, and Mrs A—, who all looked with evident contempt upon the surrounding company.

  1. There is surely some mistake in this supposition, for Sir T. Lawrence was, afterwards at least, one of Mr. Blake's great patrons and admirers.