William Blake (Symons)/Obituary Notices in the 'Literary Gazette' and 'Gentleman's Magazine'

William Blake (Symons) by Arthur Symons
Obituary Notices in the 'Literary Gazette' and 'Gentleman's Magazine'

[Obituary Notices of Blake appeared in the Literary Gazette of August 18, 1827 (pp. 540-41), the Gentleman's Magazine of October 1827 (pp. 377-8), and the Annual Register of 1827, in its Appendix of Deaths (pp. 253-4). The notice in the Gentleman's Magazine is largely condensed from that in the Literary Gazette, but with a different opening, which I have given after the notice in the Literary Gazette. The notice in the Annual Register is merely condensed from the Gentleman's Magazine.]


William Blake

The Illustrator of the Grave, etc.

To those few who have sympathies for the ideal and (comparatively speaking) the intellectual in art, the following notice is addressed. Few persons of taste are unacquainted with the designs by Blake, appended as illustrations to a 4to edition of Blair's Grave. It was borne forth into the world on the warmest praises of all our prominent artists, Hoppner, Phillips, Stothard, Flaxman, Opie, Tresham, Westmacott, Beechey, Lawrence, West, Nollekins, Shee, Owen, Rossi, Thomson, Cosway, and Soane; and doubly assured with a preface by the learned and severe Fuseli, the latter part of which we transcribe:—'The author of the moral series before us has endeavoured to wake sensibility by touching our sympathies with nearer, less ambiguous, and less ludicrous imagery, than what mythology, Gothic superstition, or symbols as far-fetched as inadequate could supply. His invention has been chiefly employed to spread a familiar and domestic atmosphere round the most important of all subjects— to connect the visible and the invisible world, without provoking probability—and to lead the eye from the milder light of time to the radiations of eternity. Such is the plan and the moral part of the author's invention; the technic part, and the execution of the artist, though to be examined by other principles, and addressed to a narrower circle, equally claim approbation, sometimes excite our wonder, and not seldom our fears, when we see him play on the very verge of legitimate invention; but wildness so picturesque in itself, so often redeemed by taste, simplicity, and elegance—what child of fancy, what artist, would wish to discharge? The groups and single figures, on their own basis, abstracted from the general composition, and considered without attention to the plan, frequently exhibit those genuine and unaffected attitudes, those simple graces, which nature and the heart alone can dictate, and only an eye inspired by both discover. Every class of artists, in every stage of their progress and attainments, from the student to the finished master, and from the contriver of ornament to the painter of history, will here find materials of art, and hints of improvement!'

When it is stated, that the pure-minded Flaxman pointed out to an eminent literary man the obscurity of Blake as a melancholy proof of English apathy towards the grand, the philosophic, or the enthusiastically devotional painter; and that he (Blake) has been several times employed for that truly admirable judge of art, Sir T. Lawrence, any further testimony to his extraordinary powers is unnecessary. Yet has Blake been allowed to exist in a penury which most artists[1]—beings necessarily of a sensitive temperament—would deem intolerable. Pent, with his affectionate wife, in a close back-room in one of the Strand courts, his bed in one corner, his meagre dinner in another, a ricketty table holding his copper-plates in progress, his colours, books (among which his Bible, a Sessi Velutello's Dante, and Mr. Carey's translation, were at the top), his large drawings, sketches, and MSS.; his ankles frightfully swelled, his chest disordered, old age striding on, his wants increased, but not his miserable means and appliances: even yet was his eye undimmed, the fire of his imagination unquenched, and the preternatural, never-resting activity of his mind unflagging. He had not merely a calmly resigned, but a cheerful and mirthful countenance; in short, he was a living commentary on Jeremy Taylor's beautiful chapter on Contentedness. He took no thought for his life, what he should eat, or what he should drink; nor yet for his body, what he should put on; but had a fearless confidence in that Providence which had given him the vast range of the world for his recreation and delight.

Blake died last Monday! Died as he lived! piously cheerful, talking calmly, and finally resigning himself to his eternal rest, like an infant to its sleep. He has left nothing except some pictures, copper-plates, and his principal work of a series of a hundred large designs from Dante.

William Blake was brought up under Basire, the eminent engraver. He was active in mind and body, passing from one occupation to another, without an intervening minute of repose. Of an ardent, affectionate, and grateful temper, he was simple in manner and address, and displayed an inbred courteousness, of the most agreeable character. Next November he would have been sixty-nine. At the age of sixty-six he commenced the study of Italian, for the sake of reading Dante in the original, which he accomplished!

His widow is left (we fear, from the accounts which have reached us) in a very forlorn condition, Mr. Blake having latterly been much indebted for succour and consolation to his friend Mr. Linnell, the painter. We have no doubt but her cause will be taken up by the distributors of those funds which are raised for the relief of distressed artists, and also by the benevolence of private individuals. When further time has been allowed us for inquiry, we shall probably resume this matter; at present (owing the above information to the kindness of a correspondent) we can only record the death of a singular and very able man.


Mr. William Blake

Aug. 13, aged 68, Mr. William Blake, an excellent, but eccentric, artist.

He was a pupil of the engraver Basire; and among his earliest productions were eight beautiful plates in the Novelist's Magazine. In 1793 he published in 12mo, 'The Gates of Paradise,' a very small book for children, containing fifteen plates of emblems; and 'published by W. B., 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth'; also about the same time, 'Songs of Experience, with plates'; 'America; a Prophecy,' folio, and 'Europe, a Prophecy,' 1794, folio. These are now become very scarce. In 1797 he commenced, in large folio, an edition of Young's Night Thoughts, of which every page was a design, but only one number was published. In 1805 were produced in 8vo numbers, containing five engravings by Blake, some ballads by Mr. Hayley, but which also were abruptly discontinued. Few persons of taste are unacquainted with the designs by Blake, engraved by Schiavonetti, as illustrations to a 4to edition of Blair's Grave. They are twelve in number, and an excellent portrait of Blake, from a picture by T. Phillips, R.A., is prefixed. It was borne forth . . . [Here follows the third sentence, p. 345 above, to the end of the paragraph.]

In 1809 was published in 12mo, 'A Descriptive Catalogue of [sixteen] pictures, poetical and historical inventions, painted by William Blake in watercolours, being the ancient method of fresco painting restored, and drawings, for public inspection, and for sale by private contract.' Among these was a design of Chaucer's Pilgrimage to Canterbury, from which an etching has been published. Mr. Blake's last publication is a set of engravings to illustrate the Book of Job. To Fuseli's testimony of his merit above quoted, it is sufficient to add, that he has been employed by that truly admirable judge of art, Sir Thomas Lawrence; and that the pure-minded Flaxman. . . .

[The remainder is condensed from the Literary Gazette, p. 346 above, with the occasional change of a word, or the order of a sentence.]

  1. The term is employed in its generic and comprehensive sense.