ADIEU TO FELPHAM. 1804. [ÆT. 47]
BY the 25th of March following Blake’s trial, the two slight engravings to the supple¬mentary third volume of Cowper’s Life and Letters were finished, as the engraved dates on the plates tell us. Hayley, at the end of 1803, had made a beginning of his Life of Romney. And now must have been executed Blake’s only engraving for the often deferred quarto, not finished until four years after, nor published till 1807. Unnoticed when it did appear, the book is now scarce and, for its illustrations, interesting. Blake’s contribution is after Romney’s Sketch of a Ship¬wreck; a fine and characteristic bit of engraving. Of the remaining eleven, all save one after pictures by Romney, most were engraved by Caroline Watson, in her very fascinating style—bold and masterly, yet graceful. The Infant Shakespeare, Sensibility, Cassandra, Miranda, are well known to the collector. One of the engravings, a poor Head of Christ, is by Raimbach, afterwards famous as Wilkie’s engraver. Another, from a curious early effort of Romney’s in the comic vein,— The Introduction of Slop into the Parlour of Shandy,—is by W. Haines, a Sussex man, then an engraver, subsequently a painter of repute.
Blake, indefatigable in toil,—that ‘singularly industrious man,’ as Hayley and all who knew him pronounced,— would, at his craft of engraving, honestly execute for bread whatever was set him, good or bad. Humble as the task was, for so imaginative a man, of tracing servilely, line by line, other men’s conceptions, he would patiently and imperturbably work at a design, however inferior to
his own, though with an obvious and natural absence of enthusiasm. Blake’s docility, however, had a limit. He was wont to say he had refused but one commission in his life,—to paint a set of hand-screens for a lady of quality, one of the great people to whom Hayley had introduced him. That he declined! For Lady Bathurst it was, I think. The Bathursts had then a seat near Lavant, which subsequently, like most other estates in the neighbour¬hood, was absorbed by the Duke of Richmond. Blake taught for a time in her family, and was admired by them. The proposal was, I believe, that he should be engaged at a regular annual salary, for tuition and services such as the above; as painter in ordinary, in fact, to this noble family.
In his art, in truth, Blake would not tarter independence, or the exercise of his imaginative faculty, for patronage or money. This residence at Felpham, under poet Hayley’s protection, might have proved a turning-point in his life. Had he complied with Hayley’s evident wishes, and set himself, as a miniature painter, to please patrons, he might have climbed to fortune and fame. It was a ‘choice of Hercules’ for him once again. But he had made his choice in boyhood, and adhered to it in age. Few are so perseveringly brave. Many who, in early life, elect as he had done, falter and waver in after years: perchance too late to win that worldly success for which they have learned to hanker.
The failure of the Ballads, though illustrated in so poetic a spirit, and in a more popular style than anything previous from the same hand,—a failure not in pecuniary respects alone, but in commanding even a moderate share of public attention,—had been as complete, despite Hayley’s poetry, and Seagrave’s printing, as that of any in the long list of Blake’s privately printed books. This had been a heavy disappointment. The vexatious squabble with a common soldier, and its vexatious results, had broken the flow of Blake’s previously serene life at Felpham. The last volume of Cowper’s Life, the original cause
of his change of abode, was finished, and Blake felt it was time to return to familiar London.
His leaving would seem to have been as abrupt as his coming. He saw there was presented to him that choice of paths I have alluded to, and that longer stay was perilous to the imaginative faculty he prized above all earthly good. He feared being tempted to sell his birth¬right for a mess of pottage; feared to become a trader in art; and that the Visions would forsake him. He even began to think they were forsaking him. ‘ The Visions were angry with me at Felpham,’ he would afterwards say.
Aversion to being any man’s dependent may also have contributed to his determination. I fear the friendly con¬nexion with Hayley ceased with this otherwise amiable episode in the life of each; honourable to each, especially to Hayley, considering how little nature had fitted him to enter into the spiritual meanings of Blake’s art. Smooth, clever execution was an excellence far more within his critical ken. Hayley’s sanguine temperament and per¬tinacity of disposition, to use a mild term, would lead him in the end to take offence at a protégé so perverse as to follow his own counsels, a friend who would not be befriended, and who could be as obstinate as himself. Not that any quarrel occurred, or even that any ill humour was betrayed on either side. But, as sometimes ensues in the case of far more congenial minds, many things which failed, amid the amenities of personal intercourse, to dis¬turb good understanding at the time, rankled, or were felt resentfully afterwards. If direct proofs were wanting, indeed, that Hayley’s society became irksome, and his sentiments distasteful to Blake, however it may have fared with the hermit himself, the MS. volume, before alluded to, furnishes us with an abundance. In his spleenful as well as in his elevated moods, this book appears to have gener¬ally lain at the artist’s elbow. Intermingled with more serious matter, are to be found many sarcastic and biting reflections, in an epigrammatic form, on those against whom he
had, or fancied he had, cause of offence. The following evidently belong to this period; they were prob¬ably written just before or just after Blake’s leaving Felpham:—
You think Fuseli is not a great painter? I’m glad;
This is one of the best compliments he ever had.
To the same.
Thy friendship oft has made my heart to ache:
Do be my enemy, for friendship’s sake!
In the next, it is poor Flaxman’s turn as well as Hayley’s:—
My title as a genius thus is proved,—
Not praised by Hayley, nor by Flaxman loved.
On H. [Hayley], the Pickthank.
I write the rascal thanks; till he and I
With thanks and compliments are quite drawn dry.
The following is of more general application, though prob¬ably a result of Felpham experiences:—
Friends were quite hard to find, old authors say,
But now they stand in everybody’s way.
Certain it is, the Felpham episode in Blake’s life once over, there is no further influence of Hayley on the artist’s fortunes. And with the duodecimo edition of the Ballads of next year,—an after result of Felpham activities,—with that last nugatory enterprise, mortifying doubtless on both sides, will finally close relations with Hayley. Amid the estrangement of distance and years, I no longer find them even alluding to one another, except on Blake’s part, in the manner just displayed. Other engravers are employed for Hayley’s subsequent publications. As early as the close of the next year, Caroline
Watson executed the frontispiece (Cowper’s Oak) of the Supplementary Pages to the Life of Cowper, which appeared with the octavo edition. She and Raimbach succeeded Blake as Hayley’s protégés. The former amiable lady stayed some weeks at Felpham in 1806, making drawings after Romney’s pictures, for her engravings to the Life. Their attractive merit was cordially appreciated by Hayley.
Blake’s residence at Felpham terminated after nearly four years duration. Early in 1804 he bade adieu to Hayley; left the literary hermit producing his daily occa¬sional poem, epitaph, or song, on waking in the morning; extempore sonnet while shaving; and facile labours during the day, at an extensive composition on the Triumphs of Music, ‘with devotional sonnets and hymns interspersed.’ Two days sufficed for a whole canto. This composition the English public has hitherto declined to trouble its head about, despite the confident prediction of an amiable female friend, ‘that it would gradually become a favourite with readers’ of a turn ‘for simplicity and tenderness.’ After the Life of Cowper, no book of Hayley’s again won an audience.