University of Virginia Library

An ill-wisher once wrote that the "public reputation" of William Blake was largely "the reputation of eccentricity".[1] The libel had just enough truth in it to make it sting. Blake's professional success as an engraver depended on his securing the interest of the public or the enthusiasm of a publisher, and both tasks were conspicuously beyond his own unaided powers. His most ambitious undertakings, the illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts, Job and Dante, involving hundreds of drawings and engravings, were commercial failures. As a consequence, Blake depended very heavily upon his friends for his spiritual and physical well-being; from them he derived sporadic admiration and a relatively steady stream of commissions. Among the earliest of Blake's friends, and perhaps the most valuable, was John Flaxman, one of the greatest sculptors England has produced. For half a lifetime Flaxman found praise and patrons for his fiery friend, during the years when all Blake's greatest mature poetry was being written, from the Songs of Innocence to Jerusalem. Flaxman's bread-and-butter friendship was responsible for much of that margin of financial security Blake occasionally achieved, and for endless workaday commissions. Blake's gratitude for such practical help was shown in spiritual praise. In 1800 he wrote:

You, O Dear Flaxman, are a Sublime Archangel, My Friend & Companion from Eternity; in the Divine bosom in our Dwelling place. I look back into the regions of Reminiscence & behold our ancient days before this Earth appear'd in its vegetated mortality to my mortal vegetated Eyes. I see our houses of Eternity, which can never be separated, tho' our Mortal vehicles should stand at the remotest corners of heaven from each other.[2]


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The friendship which inspired this enthusiasm was clearly a focal point in Blake's life; the record of that friendship is largely to be found in Flaxman's letters soliciting work for the engraver, and explaining his peculiarities to perplexed patrons. It is my purpose here to examine such records as have survived of the extent and effect of the relationship between William Blake and John Flaxman.

Soon after his apprenticeship ended in 1779, Blake met Flaxman[3] and immediately struck up a friendship with the young man who was just two years his senior. Flaxman soon showed the quality of his friendship by introducing Blake to an early patroness of his, Mrs. Mathew, a blue-stocking of thoroughly Gothic inclinations. Mrs. Mathew moved with a group of what Blake called "the Cunning-sures & the aim-at-yours",[4] and she encouraged ambitious young artists to come and perform at her literary evenings. Almost nothing is known of Mr. and Mrs. Mathew, but there can be no doubt that they had, in some respects, excellent taste and perception; in spite of Blake's continued indifference to the project, they with Flaxman introduced the poet to the public by printing his Poetical Sketches in 1783.[5] Though these scarcely made an impression for fifty years, they were, as Swinburne said, "not simply better than any man could do then; [but] better than all except the greatest have done since: better too than some still ranked among the greatest ever managed to do."[6] Few Cunning-sures have performed a greater service to literature.


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Flaxman remained on close terms with Mrs. Mathew and her husband for the rest of his life, and his letters are full of his gratitude to them. Within a year or two of the publication of his Poetical Sketches Blake became alienated from Mrs. Mathew's cosy conversaziones. The pattern thus established was to repeat itself over and over; Flaxman introduced Blake to people of taste and liberality, and the poet could not suppress his opinions or temper sufficiently to keep his hard won patrons. It seems likely that Blake's marriage may have influenced his disagreement with the Mathews. Flaxman had been courting a girl named Nancy Denman in the early 1780s, but Miss Denman's father had opposed her marriage to a penniless sculptor of obscure prospects; clearly he felt that Miss Denman would be marrying beneath her. However, with the help of Mrs. Mathew, Flaxman's courtship prospered, and on June 23rd 1782 he and Miss Denman were married. During these same years Blake was courting the illiterate daughter of a market gardner named Catherine Boucher, and a legend has survived that Blake's father was opposed to the match, perhaps on the ground that Blake would be marrying beneath him. Just eleven weeks after the Flaxman's marriage, on August 18th 1782 Blake and Catherine Boucher were married, the bride signing her name with an X. It seems reasonable to suppose that Catherine Blake would have made a most anomalous figure in the sophisticated, highly literary gatherings of Mrs. Mathew.

During these years Flaxman and Blake were struggling for success in the creative arts while supporting themselves by the most tedious journeyman labor, Flaxman by designing pottery for the Wedgwood firm and Blake by engraving for the booksellers after the designs of more successful artists. The great thing both of them wanted was commissions to display their creative talents for profit. Flaxman's genius was thoroughly adapted to the spirit of the times, and his tepid pseudoclassical designs were acclaimed by a steadily widening range of patrons. Blake's genius was more independent and perverse, and wealthy patrons tended to fight shy of him. Most of his life his patrons seem to have been motivated as much by friendship and pity as by their conviction of his transcendant genius, and Blake was a difficult man to be friends with. Many of his earliest commissions came to him, not because his reputation for ability had spread abroad, but because his friends assiduously introduced him to prospective customers. Flaxman probably did more in the way of finding engraving work than any other man in the dark days when Blake took his works to the desolate market and none came to buy.


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Flaxman was at ease with the chisel, not the pen, and his syntax is often as perplexing as Blake's punctuation. However, he worked quietly and determinedly in Blake's interests for over thirty years, and in the letters that survive we can get occasional glimpses of the success of his efforts. The earliest reference to Blake is on June 18th 1783 when Flaxman reported to his bride Nancy that a young gentleman of their own age,

Mr. Hawkins paid me a visit & at my desire has employed Blake to make him a capital drawing for whose advantage in consideration of his great talents he seems desirous to employ his utmost interest[.][7]
And on June 20th Nancy replied: "I rejoice for Blake."[8] The consequences of this were pleasant, and might have been far-reaching. On April 26th [1784] Flaxman wrote to "William Haley" (whose name he could not yet spell),
I have left a Pamphlet of Poems with Mr Long which he will transmit to Eartham, they are the writings of a Mr: Blake you have heard me mention, his education will plead sufficient excuse to your liberal mind for the defects of his work & there are few so able to distinguish & set a right value on the beauties as yourself, I have beforementioned that Mr: Romney thinks his historical drawings rank with those of Ml: Angelo; he is at present employed as an engraver, in which his encouragement is not extraordinary—


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Mr: Hawkins a Cornish Gentleman has shewn his taste & liberality in ordering Blake to make several drawings for him, & is so convinced of his uncommon talents that he is now endeavouring to raise a subscription to send him to finish studies in Rome if this can be done at all it will be determined on before the 10th of May next at which time Mr: Hawkins is going out of England—his generosity is such he would bear the whole charge of Blakes travels—but he is only a younger brother, & can therefore only bear a large portion of the expence[.][9]
Though this subscription never bore its intended fruit, Hawkins did many minor services for Blake, and years later Blake was still writing of "Our good and kind friend Hawkins" and "his former kindness to me".[10]

In 1787 Flaxman went to Italy to study classical statuary, a step which he said was "absolutely necessary to [his] improvement".[11] During the seven years he was abroad he probably wrote to Blake now and then, but Blake was never a reliable correspondent. On November 21st 1791 Nancy wrote to Mary Flaxman: "pray call on Mr Blake & beg of him to answer your Brothers Letter directly" [F.P., I, 56]. Evidently even this produced no satisfactory results, for on November 20th 1793 Nancy was still asking Mary Flaxman, "know you anything of Stothard or Blake?"[12]


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At this time Flaxman was becoming more and more absorbed in the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg. He was probably responsible for Blake's early interest in Swedenborg, and indirectly for Blake's presence at the meeting to organize the New Church in April 1789.[13] This is particularly significant, because it is the only religious group to which Blake is known to have belonged. Flaxman believed firmly in Swedenborg's ideas to the end of his life, though he was not a member of the church; Blake was disillusioned within a year of his joining. Flaxman's mind was pious and conventional, and the differences between the two men are well illustrated by a story Blake's friends were fond of telling.

Flaxman: "How do you get on with Fuseli? I can't stand his foul-mouthed swearing. Does he swear at you?"

Blake: "He does."

Flaxman: "And what do you do?"

Blake: "What do I do? Why—I swear again! and he says astonished, 'Vy, Blake, you are svaring!'—but he leaves off himself!"[14]


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Flaxman probably would not have approved of Blake's bitter couplet:

An Answer to the Parson
"Why of the sheep do you not learn peace?"
"Because I don't want you to shear my fleece."[15]

Soon after he returned from Rome in 1794, Flaxman began ascending the heights of popularity, and his commissions were reckoned in thousands of pounds. About this time Blake found himself a modest and reliable patron in Thomas Butts,[16] but during the last six years of the century he is not known to have made illustrations for more than a dozen or so books, and commissions were always welcome. He was particularly in need of work after his enormous undertaking for Edwards' edition of Young's Night Thoughts had failed in 1797 and 1798.[17] During these years Flaxman's old patron William Hayley was composing a poetic Essay on Sculpture, with a great display of classical erudition tending to prove that Phydias and Praxiteles had found a fitting successor in John Flaxman. By the end of 1799 the work was finished, and on December 21st Hayley sought Flaxman's advice, as he usually did, about engravings and engravers:

For my first Edition I wish to have only the two following Decorations, if you approve them.—a Frontispiece & a vignette at the close—the 1st from poor Toms outline of Demosthenes at the Base of Neptunes Statue (a scene described expressly for this purpose in the poem) & a neat small Head, as a closing vignette, from your Medallion of the dear disciple, whose character I have sketch'd in the closing Epistle—You I know will have the Goodness to retouch for Him his Demosthenes in such a manner, that it may form an engrav'd outline, & yet still remain very fairly his own design—& you will


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have the goodness to desire our Friend Howard to make for me such a drawing from your Medallion of the dear disciple, as may furnish us with a proper siz'd ornament for a quarto page to appear under the closing Lines of the Poem—[H.C., IX]
Flaxman recommended Blake, and more or less undertook to supervise the progress of the engravings. On January 29th 1800 he reported:
I have delivered the Drawing of Demosthenes to Mr: Blake with the right orthography of the Dedication to Neptune, I have also consulted Mr. Howard concerning the portrait of Friend Thomas for the Vignette, he prefers the Medallion to the Picture . . . .[18]
There was a particular urgency about this medallion engraving, because Hayley's illegitimate son Thomas, who had been apprenticed informally to Flaxman, was dying. On February 18th Hayley wrote: "I am vexed by a delay of our Friend Howards in regard to his medallion", and asked Samuel Rose to do what he could to hurry the drawing.[19] On February 25th he told Rose that the engraving of Demosthenes had arrived "& the sight of it has been a real Gratification to his [Tom's] affectionate Spirit— . . . —I yet hope the dear departing angel will see his own engraved portrait arrive before his own departure".[20] On March 7th Hayley wrote to Rose suggesting that his friend Davies enlarge his work by a volume on Greek poets, illustrated "by works of Grecian & Etruscan art" for which Tom could make outlines:
it is a subject that deserves mature deliberation: with the aid of Flaxman, Howard, & that worthy ingenious Engraver Blake (who has done the outline of dear Toms Demothenes delightfully) we might produce a Book that would do Credit to our Country—[21]
On March 14th Hayley wrote again to Rose:


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My beloved Cripple is sinking gradually in all probability . . . —no news yet of the Medallion—I hope He will yet see it engraved[.]
By the 23rd he was getting quite anxious:
What can have happen'd to our Friend Howard—Here is the last sheet of the poem, & no Medallion, & no Tidings of it[.][22]
He complained gently to Flaxman about the delay, and on March 26th Flaxman replied:
It is equally Surprizing & unaccountable that you have had no farther news of the Engravings, for Mr: Howard finished a beautiful drawing from the Medallion of my Friend Thomas I think four weeks ago, since which time it has been in the hands of Mr: Blake & the copper plate from it is most likely done by this time, as well as that of the head of Pericles but perhaps You are not acquainted with Mr: Blake's direction? it is No: 13 Hercules Buildings near the Asylum, Surry Side of Westminster Bridge[.][23]
Flaxman evidently urged Blake along,[24] and on April 2nd Hayley reported to Samuel Rose:
Here is the long-expected medallion arrived today from the Engraver Blake—& I must endeavour to be a Hero . . . & bear a most mortifying disappointment with serenity for mortifying you will allow it to be when I tell you the portrait instead of representing the dear juvenile pleasant Face of yr Friend exhibits a heavy sullen sulky Head which I can never present to the public Eye as the Image of a Being so tenderly & so justly beloved. I believe I must have a fresh outline & a mere outline instead of it—[25]
Nothing could be done for some time, because Thomas and Hayley's friend Cowper died within a week of each other in April and May, and Hayley devoted his time to writing midnight epitaphs and planning biographies of his two great friends. After his son's funeral Hayley came to London, and while there, perhaps moved by Blake's eloquent letter of consolation, he seems to have invited the engraver to come to Felpham in July to work on his portrait of Tom. This casual invitation was to change profoundly Blake's subsequent life, perhaps to stifle the lyric impulse in him, but Flaxman (like Blake and Hayley) was for


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the moment concerned only with very ordinary matters; on July 5th he wrote to Hayley:
when Mr. Hawkins left town he desired me to send You a Bas-relief of Paris & Helen framed, which I had no opportunity of doing without making the packing & carriage expensive, untill Mr. Blake's departure who is so kind as to take charge of it together with a Roll (I believe of prints) which Mr: Townley sent for You:[26]
On July 16th, after Blake had been at Felpham some time, Hayley replied:

My very dear Flaxman

as I find our good enthusiastic Friend Blake will (in his Zeal to render the Portraits of our beloved scholar more worthy of Him) extend the time of his Residence in the south a little longer than we at first proposed, I shall not wait to transmit my Thanks to you for a Letter of infinite Kindness by the worthy Engraver on his Return.— . . .

The good Blake is taking great pains to render all the Justice in his Power to Romneys exquisite Portrait of Him, & I hope the two next prints will atone for all the defects of the engraved Medallion—

It will please you to hear that, as a Tribute to the Genius of our poor disabled Romney, we have preserv'd, & I think improv'd, in a Copy of considerable size, the Miltonic design of our old Friend, that you remember on the Boards of Demogorgons Hall, as we us'd to call his p[ainting] apartment—But I [shall le]ave the good Blake to [carry] on with a History of what He h[as] done in the South on his Return, & only add at present his kind Remembrance to you & yr dear Nancy with the cordial Benediction

of yr ever
affectionate & afflicted

The Turret
July 16 1800
pray assure Nancy with my Love to her, that such a little Book as she desires shall travel to Her by the Favor of Blake—I was highly gratified by the Kind presents from Messieurs Hawkins & Townley which you were so good as to send me under his friendly Care—adieu—[27]

Blake's visit evidently changed Hayley's early bad impression, for


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during that July he gave Blake his son's copy of The Triumphs of Temper with a dedicatory poem, the first draft of which read:

From Thomas Hayley to Wm Blake
Accept, most[?] visionary Blake,
Sublimely fanciful & kindly mild,
And favorably[?] guard[?] for friendships sake
This favored vision my poetic Child.
To give it more Grace than Fancy ever won
To thy most tender mind this Book will be,
The Book belonged to my departed Son;
Thus from an Angel it descends to Thee.[28]

Sublimely fanciful and kindly mild! Hayley seems to have been as mistaken about Blake as Blake was about Hayley.

In the beginning of August Hayley finally made up his mind to write the biography of Cowper which he had been considering for several months, and he invited Blake to come live in Felpham and work under his patronage, on engravings for the Cowper biography to begin with. With the approval of his friends in London, Blake arranged to move out in September. On August 19th Flaxman wrote to Hayley:

You may naturally suppose that I am highly pleased with the exertion of Your usual Benevolence in favour of my friend Blake & as such an occasion offers you will perhaps be more satisfied in having the portraits under your own eye, than at a distance, indeed I hope that Blake's residence at Felpham will be a Mutual Comfort to you & him, & I see no reason why he should not make as good a livelihood there as in London, if he engraves & teaches drawing, by which he may gain considerably as also by making neat drawings of different kinds but if he places any dependence on painting large pictures, for which he is not qualified, either by habit or study, he will be miserably decieved—[29]


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We may assume that this letter did not come to the attention of Blake, for it seems carefully calculated to rasp on his most delicate nerves, and there was no noteworthy explosion at this time. Flaxman's advice was well-meaning and most bitterly true—eighteenth-century taste would only tolerate Blake as a journeyman engraver—but Blake would not have appreciated having his ambitions blasted in this way. As time went by his friends tended more and more to discourage his bright visions of eternity and stress the bread-winning motif, and Blake became increasingly bitter and prickly. At this time, however, things seemed to be going well for him, and he was profusely grateful to Flaxman and everyone else. On September 12th 1800 he wrote to Flaxman:
My dearest Friend,
It is to you I owe All my present Happiness. It is to you I owe perhaps the Principal Happiness of my life.

Flaxman continued to turn patrons toward Blake, but his own tone became noticeably patronizing, the tone of a competent and successful middle-aged man addressing an impoverished friend from his aspiring youth. On October 7th 1801 Flaxman wrote on the back of his letter to Hayley:

Dear Blake

I rejoice in Your happiness & contentment under the kind & affectionate auspices of our Friend, Mrs: Flaxman & myself would feel no small gratification in a visit of participation in the domestic Innocence & satisfaction of your rural retreat; but the same Providence that has given retirement to You, has placed me in a great City where my employments continually exact an attention neither to be remitted or delayed, & thus the All besto[wing] Hand deals out happiness to his creatures when they are sensible of His Goodness; the little commissions I troubled you with in my last are such as one friend offers unwillingly to another on account of the Scanty recompence, but I know you relieve yourself from more tedious labours by Composition & Design, when they are done let me have them & I will take care to get the money for you, My Wife unites in love to you & Mrs: Blake.

with your affectionate
J Flaxman [30]

On October 18th Hayley replied to Flaxman's letter:

My very dear Flaxman

It affords a lively Gratification to your two warm-hearted Friends, the Hermit & the artist of Felpham, to find, that you remember us both so Kindly, in the midst of your grand Occupations.—

Plate I

Page Plate I

Plate II

Page Plate II

Plate III

Page Plate III

Plate IV

Page Plate IV

Plate V

Page Plate V

Plate VI

Page Plate VI

Plate VII

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Plate VIII

Page Plate VIII


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Be assured, we both take a most friendly Interest in the happy Progress of all your noble Works!—we are both following your excellent Example in point of Industry; & shall rejoice, if we make any near approaches to you in the Merit, & Felicity of our Labours.—With all of these you will in Time be made acquainted, since however deficient they may be, they will not fail to interest, in some Measure, a Friend, whose Feelings are so benevolently warm.—it is with great delight I assure you, that our good Blake grows more & more attach'd to this pleasant marine village, & seems to gain in it a perpetual Increase of improving Talents, & settled Comfort.—. . . [Hayley encloses an epitaph on his wife:]

If lovely Features, & a lofty Mind,
Tender as Charity, as Bounty Kind,
If these were Blessings, that to Life could give
a Lot, which makes it Happiness to live;
Thou, fair Eliza! had'st been blest on Earth:
But Seraphs in Compassion wept thy Birth;
For thy deep nervous Woes, of wondrous Weight,
Love could not heal, nor Sympathy relate:
Yet Pity trusts, with hallow'd Truth serene,
Thy God o'er-pays them in a purer Scene.
Peace to thy Ashes! to thy Memory, Love!
and to thy spirit, in the Realms above,
all, that from blameless sufferings below
Mortality can hope, or Angels Know!
If this should happen to strike you, as it does Blake & me, I shall wish, at your Leisure, to have a most simple small marble monument . . . .

adio! carissimo Principe dei Scolptori!—I leave the next page for Blake to fill—with Kind remembrance to Nancy & our united Benediction to you both

ever your most sincere & affectionate


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And in his letter on the next page Blake identified the latest patron whom Flaxman had sent to him:

Mr Thomas, your friend to whom you was so kind as to make honourable mention of me, has been at Felpham & did me the favor to call on me. I have promis'd him to send my designs for Comus when I have done with them, directed to you.[32]

For his life of Cowper, Hayley wanted to use a portrait of Cowper by Romney, but he was deterred by Lady Hesketh's intense dislike of the picture, and Lady Hesketh had to be conciliated because she had many of the letters and poems upon which Hayley depended. To confirm himself in his opinion, therefore, Hayley asked Flaxman's advice; on January 18th 1802 he wrote in a postscript:

our worthy Friend Blake joins me in every kind wish to you & yr dear Nancy. He allows me to inclose one of his unfinish'd Engravings, that we think you may wish to see for the purpose of forming a Medallion—Be kind enough to keep it in friendly privacy & tell us your frank opinion of it, in its present unfinish'd state: we shall both thank you heartily for any suggestions that may improve it[.][33]
On the 25th Flaxman replied most satisfactorily:

In the engraving of Cowper I think my friend Blake has kept the spirit of the likeness most perfectly the eyes are exceedingly well, & in the finishing I presume the extremities of the nose & mouth will be softened which at present appear rather harsh,

with kindest wishes & remembrance from Mrs: Flaxman to Yourself & Mr & Mrs: Blake I have the honour to remain [etc.] [F.H.] [.]

Upon such authoritative confirmation, Blake and Hayley went ahead


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confidently with the engraving, and at the end of his January 31st letter to Flaxman Hayley wrote:
Here I will only add, that the zealous indefatigable Blake desires to join in every good wish to you & Nancy
with your sincere & affectionate
Hermit [H.C., IX]

In his next letters Hayley's interest had turned to the problem of a monument to Cowper which he wanted Flaxman to make. However, he himself had made a design for the monument, and on February 25th he explained that "our Friend Blake was so Kind as to make me some neat Copies of my design", which he enclosed.[34] On the same day Flaxman replied that "having therefore examined Mr: Blake's drawing for the Monument, repeatedly, I am of opinion, that altho' the emblems are very proper . . .", the design might with propriety be alterred, and he ended his letter "with love to Mr: Mrs: Blake in which Nancy unites to them & yourself".[35] As a consequence of this difference of opinion poor Blake was kept busy copying sketches to get support for Hayley's point of view. On March 24th Hayley again wrote to Flaxman: "I hope Blake's drawing express'd my Idea"; and at the end of his letter he added that "The Kind industrious Blake by my side unites in this Benediction & in every good wish to you & Nancy" [H.C., IX].

During most of the rest of the spring Blake's and Hayley's energies were expended on a series of Ballads about Animals which Hayley wrote and gave to Blake to illustrate and sell, one at a time, for his own profit.[36] Hayley peddled the Ballads indefatigably among his friends, but though everyone liked the Ballads themselves, there were some elementary criticisms of the engravings: that the babies weren't pretty enough, that the ladies lacked feminine grace. Hayley sent a heavy consignment of Ballads for Flaxman to market in London, at the same time asking for encouragement about the quality of the engravings. Flaxman's reply of June 27th was most encouraging; not only had he sold more copies than most of Hayley's Ballad-mongers, but he praised Blake's work as well:

Mr: Hawkins has taken two copies, Mr: Long one, Mr: Rogers one, I


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enclose my subscription for the whole of my copy which I must beg of you to give to my friend Blake, & do me the favor to tell him that I will send the other Subscriptions as soon as I get them—I think the Etchings have Spirit & Sentiment, & calling the attention of man to the virtues & value of the brute creation & making this the vehicle of Service to the worthy artist & printer at the same time, is a part of that tissue of Benevolence which forms the Good Bard's character . . . with Love to Mr & Mrs: Blake in which Mrs: Flaxman unites as well as to the Bard I have the honour to remain [etc.][37]

As 1802 wore on Hayley began to discover that he knew what was good for Blake better than Blake did, and the realization began to obsess Blake that Hayley was an interfering busybody. Relations between the two men became strained, and Hayley's references to Blake in his letters became perfunctory or disappeared completely. Flaxman was unaffected, however, and on August 14th, just before he left for Paris, he sent "love to Mr: Mrs: Blake & Yourself in which Mrs: F unites" [F.H.]. He added a postscript to his letter to Hayley of November 2nd: "Pray give our love to Mr. & Mrs: Blake" [B.M., 37,538, f 4]; and in her letter of December 10th Nancy asked Hayley to "give our Love to the good Cottagers—"[38] On December 16th, Hayley added a P.S. to his letter to Nancy: "poor Mrs Blake has suffer'd most severely from Rheumatism but she is reviving—They return yr good wishes—" [H.C., IX]. On March 21st 1803 Flaxman wrote to say, "I hope you & your Household with Mr: & Mrs: Blake have escaped the Influenza".[39]

By January 1803 Blake had had his fill of Hayley. On the 30th of that month he wrote to his brother James:

My Wife has had Agues & Rheumatisms almost ever since she has been here,


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but our time is almost out that we took the Cottage for. . . . we have lately made [a decision] . . . To leave This Place, because I am now certain of what I have long doubted, Viz that H. is jealous as Stothard was & will be no further My friend than he is compell'd by circumstances.
It was probably not until some time later that Blake made his feelings clear to his friends and to Hayley, but on April 25th he asked his patron Butts to "Congratulate me on my return to London, with the full approbation of Mr Hayley & with Promise—". Hayley evidently wrote to Flaxman about these complaints, for on May 28th Flaxman replied: "your account of Mr: & Mrs: Blake's having suffered so much from a damp Situation concerns me, I earnestly hope what they propose is for the best, you have allways acted with the same bounty & Kindness by them as you do by all."[40]

Gradually the breach between Hayley and Blake widened; Blake began to demand rights Hayley had never heard of, and Hayley did not know how to react. He continued to do his best for Blake, however. On August 7th 1803 he wrote to Flaxman about the drawings Flaxman's sister-in-law, Maria Denman, had made for Hayley's depressing poem entitled Triumphs of Temper:

the Engravings were made from the drawings in the State I found them except the omission of one Figure (the tall Minerva) that Blake & I thought it would be better to omit[?]—I am sorry to say that the Ladies (& it is a Ladys Book) find Fault with the engravings—our poor industrious Blake has received sixty Guineas for them from my Bookseller & I believe both the artist & the paymaster are dissatisfied on the occasion—The Engravings of Cowper have been also heavily censur'd but I think in the Portrait from Lawrence very unjustly for Blake was certainly more faithful than Bartolozzi in the original drawing—I wish our Friend may be more fortunate in the engravings that He is now beginning to decorate a Life of our lost Romney— . . .

Blake has made two excellent drawings of Romney one from his own large picture the other from our dear disciples Medallion—I thought of having both engraved for a single quarto volume of his Life—but Blake


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surprised me a little in saying (after we had settled the price of 30 Guineas for the first the price which He had for the Cowper) that Romneys head would require much Labor & he must have 40 for it—startled as I was I replied I will not stint you in behalf of Romney—you shall have 40—but soon after while we were looking at the smaller & slighter drawing of the Medallion He astonished me by saying I must have 30 for this—I then replied—of this I must consider because you will observe Romneys life can hardly circulate like Cowpers & I shall perhaps print it entirely at my own risk—So the matter rests between us at present—yet I certainly wish to have both the portraits engraved—[41]

On August 24th Flaxman replied:

a word or two concerning the prints both for the Triumphs of Temper & the projected life of Romney. there certainly was a drawing of Serena veiwing herself in the Glass when dressed for the Masquerade whilst her Maid adjusts her train, & this was by far the prettiest of the set, it was so great a favorite with us that Nancy & myself prevailed on my Sister to make its fellow for our private Collection, you will therefore naturally imagine we were surprized when we greedily examined our Friend's present, to find that our favorite had either been overlooked, or discarded from the Suite of decorations I have not Yet shewn the kind passage in Your letter on this occasion to my Sister, because I feel some uneasiness for all parties concerned but I shall communicate what you have written as soon as I can have a little conversation with her alone—I hope You will excuse my partiality when I say the Sentiment of my Sister's drawings allways appeared to me, just & delicate, altho I must acknowledge there is room for amendment in the effects & drawing of her figures, these corrections might be done in the engraving but I confess the prints for Serena seem in these respects to be worse than the drawings. I am sorry for it because now there is no remedy; since I wrote so far, my Sister has told that the drawing in question was sent to You, but returned for some reason & is the same now in Mrs: Flaxman's folio, but as we are on the Subject of engraving, permit me to offer an opinion concerning the medallion, you may remember how much you was disappointed in the engraving from our Dear Thomas's portrait, & consider whether there is not a possibility that You may be as little pleased with the prints from Romney's Medallion? if this should be the case you will pay an additional sum to make the Your book less acceptable . . . . I am heartily grieved for Blake's irritability, & your consequent trouble[.][42]
This curious letter seems almost designed to influence Hayley against Blake. In particular, the comments on Blake's ability to engrave after


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Romney may have encouraged Hayley to give most of the plates for this biography to other engravers.

It took a treason trial to restore good relations between the two men. Hayley does not seem to have told Flaxman that about two weeks before the date of the last letter Blake had removed an objectionable soldier from his garden, and had been promptly charged with treason and sedition. In the subsequent disagreeable proceedings Hayley stood by Blake nobly, went bail for him, testified as to his loyal character, and paid his lawyer. Thereafter Blake remembered pretty consistently that, however silly Hayley's ideas and poems were, there could be no doubt that he meant well. To show his gratitude, Blake did a great deal of research for Hayley's biography of Romney during the next few years, largely under the direction, or with the advice, of Flaxman.

On January 2nd 1804, shortly before Blake's trial, Flaxman wrote to Hayley:

Dear and Kind Friend
Mr: Blake's opinion that the drawing sent from Norfolk may be advantageously engraved for the ensuing volume of Cowper's life as an agreable perspective of the Situation, seems very just, whilst the Monument itself may be represented on a larger Scale in a Vignette, and for the materials on this subject he will be at no loss—I sincerely wish with You that the Tryal was over, that our poor friend's peace of mind might be restored, altho' I have no doubt from what I have heard of the Soldier's character and the merits of the case that the bill will at least be thrown out by the Court as groundless & vexatious—Blake's irritability as well as the Association & arrangement of his ideas do not seem likely to be Soothed or more advantageously disposed by any power inferior to That by which man is originally endowed with his faculties—I wish all our defects were fewer, certainly my own among the rest—but if we really are desirous this should come to pass, we are told to Whom & by what means we should apply.

I wonder my Good Friend as You admired the Genius of Romney so much that You do not remember the whole Catalogue of his Chalk Cartoons . . . . I hope they exist in a perfect State, & if they do, they are well worth etching in a bold manner which I think Blake is likely to do with great success & perhaps at an expence that will not be burthensome—but at any rate give him one to do first for a tryal . . . . I have troubled You by Mr. Blake with a Short tract written for Dr: Rees's Cyclopedia, on Basso Relievo, with one of the prints [by Parker] referred to at the end of the article, the rest are not yet engraven . . . . A happy release from his afflictions to poor Blake, & to you my Dear Friend many happy years unclouded by misfortune or Sorrow[.][43]


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Flaxman remained faithful to Blake's interests, and continued to look for work for him, while Blake continued to cause difficulty by his casual approach to business. On January 4th Prince Hoare wrote to Flaxman:

Dear Sir,
Being disappointed of a proper copy of my pamphlet [of Academic Correspondence, 1803] & proof of Mr Blake's Etching which I hoped to have sent you today, I will not longer delay thanking you for your dissertation on Bas relief, which I have read with very great admiration.[44]
Of all the occasions of Blake's tardiness, however, this delay is perhaps most understandable, for it was in the very next week that his trial for treason took place in Chichester. Blake was acquitted amid the cheers of the crowded courtroom, and Hayley had a celebratory banquet afterwards. On his return to London, Blake wrote immediately, on January 14th, to thank Hayley for all his kindness; and he continued:
I have seen Flaxman already as I took to him early this morning your present to his Scholar; he & his are all well & in high spirits & welcom'd Me with kind affection & generous exultation in my escape from the arrows of darkness.
On May 1st Flaxman expressed his gratitude for all Hayley had done:
you will readily beleive how much I was delighted with your friendship equally generous & magnanimous to poor Blake when under the most threatening circumstances, & indeed I rejoiced no less in the event— . . . [In reply to your query you may like to know that] Mr. Blake is to have from 5 to 6 Guineas each from Messrs. Longman & Rees for the plates of the Homer [after Flaxman's designs] according to the labor, but what the proper recompence for more finished engraving might be I cannot tell, but this might be learned from the Booksellers, Mr: Davis is better qualified than almost any one to inform you of the current prices; it might perhaps be advantageous to Romney's life, to adorn the book with two or three bold etchings shadowed, on a small scale, in which Blake has succeeded admirably sometimes & to engrave some of the other compositions in outline only for head & tail pieces to the Chapters or divisions of the work . . . .[45]


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Evidently Blake and Hayley were still haggling over money. Blake, as we have seen, had been promised the engravings to Hayley's biography of Romney, but Hayley began to think it would be better to have someone else do them, and he suggested to Flaxman that Caroline Watson might be a good choice. Flaxman was obviously distressed at this change, and made it clear to Hayley that he wanted no part of the new arrangement.

June 8th 1804
Dear & Kind Friend

The drawing you sent arrived safe & I think is very prettily concieved & delicately executed, however before I spoke to Caroline Watson concerning the engraving I was willing to know the probable expence by consulting a friend who is a very great Artist in that way [Stothard?], he told me that the abovementioned lady engraves in the dotted manner only, which is not fit for the decoration of Books, & that the lowest expence of such a plate will be 35 Guineas, you will decide on the price & manner, then let me know your determination— . . . I beg you will countermand your desire that Blake should buy the additional plates to the Homer when published for I shall send them to beg your acceptance sufficiently ashamed that they are no return for the many presents you have sent to me of a kind so much more valuable—[46]

Hayley must have replied promptly, for on June 16th Flaxman wrote again:

Notwithstanding Your apparent determination & reasons given for having the drawing engraved by the Lady you have mentioned I cannot communicate that commission until I have given my reasons for delay, I, like You, delight in paying a large portion of respect & preference to Female Talent but if I am to execute a commission for a Friend it ought to be done faithfully with a view to his satisfaction & advantage, at least not to his hurt, & really I have seen two children's heads with the abovementioned


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lady's name lately copied from pictures by Sr. Wm Beechey, but so miserably executed that similar engraving instead of being a decoration, would be a blemish in your Book I am very sure the fault could not be in the pictures, for the Painter is a man of great merit if after this information you still continue in the same resolution as at first I will deliver Your Commission but there my interference must cease & all further communication must be between the Engraver & Yourself, because I foresee that the conclusion of such an engagement must be unsatisfactory to all parties concerned[!][47]
Hayley replied immediately:

June 18th 1804
My very Dear Flaxman

If I interpreted literally an expression in a Letter of our so lively Friend Blake, who says "London among authors & artists of every kind is a city of assassinations, where every thing is reckoned fair in destroying those we happen to dislike". I should apprehend, that even my Dear magnanimous sculpter had struck with a Barberous stiletto, the Reputation of Caroline The Engraver but as I hold it to be an utter impossibility, that you can act or speak unjustly on so tender a point as that of professional merit, I must suppose that the Eyes or Hand of that ingenious Woman have been injur'd by Time or chance, & no longer possess the Talent for which I gave her full Credit.—at all Events I held it my duty to Romney's Pupil (who generously declines all pecuniary reward for his drawing) to our Dear Painter Himself, to sacrifice my predilection for the female Engraver, & confide the execution of the plate from this very delicate & pathetic Drawing to your kind care & direction.—I will only add therefore it is my wish to have it executed with all possible perfection & I shall think the sum you mentioned 25 Guineas a very reasonable price—I should like to employ your Friend Cromak on the Shipwreck you mention, but as I learn by a letter from Saunders which arriv'd with your last, that Blake has just got in his own appartments the three designs of Romney; given to me by his Son, I should be sorry to risque wounding the Feelings of our quick-spirited Friend by sending the oil sketch from his possession to the House of any other Engraver[.][48]

Obviously both Flaxman and Hayley had learned to treat Blake with some delicacy. On August 2nd Flaxman replied tardily:

with respect to Blake's remark upon "Assassinations" I suppose he may


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have been acquainted with wretches capable of such practices, but I desire it may be understood that I am not one of them, & 'tho I do not deal in "barbarous Stilettos" myself I am willing to acknowledge the benevolence & soundness of Blake's general observation as well as the point & keenness with which it was applied; but this was only a poetic jeu d'esprit which neither did nor intended harm[.][49]
This pious protestation of innocence is particularly interesting in view of Flaxman's sponsorship of Cromek, who later cheated Blake so brazenly.

In his letter of November 7th 1804 Flaxman endeavored to soothe Hayley's ruffled feelings while still standing clear of the fray himself.

You can have little need to dwell on your friend [Rose]'s illness as an apology for not having been liberal to the artists employed in Romney's life, because in truth your bounty exceeds the expectations & frequently the wishes of all those who do anything for you; as to Mr. Sharpe's leisure to engage in this work, I can say nothing certain about it, for his pursuits & mine for some years past have been so different that we never meet notwithstanding I shall always respect him as a great artist & a benevolent man, I have understood that there is great difficulty in prevailing on him to finish his works, but if you choose to write to him the direction is No. 50 Upper Litchfield Street Oxford Market London, there is another Engraver of distinguished merit who is a punctual honest Man Mr. Parker a fellow Student of Blake, by whom You have a beautiful small print of David playing on the harp before Saul, he lives at, Spring Place Kentish Town, near London, You may besides see specimens of the best Engravers of the present time in Bowyer's History of England & other popular works now or lately published, which will enable you to select the Man[?] that pleases you most with more satisfaction than can arise from any interference of mine as I have no intimacy among them & have no knowledge whatever of their several prices & conditions of undertaking work[.][50]
That Flaxman regarded Blake highly in this period is shown in the repetition of such encomia as that "Blake was the greatest man in the country, and that there would come a time when his works would be invaluable."[51] He continued to solicit work for Blake, and on August 12th 1805 he wrote to Hayley:
concerning the Edward the first, I have seen two or three noble Sketches


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by Blake which might be drawn in outline by him in a manner highly creditable to your book & I would overlook them so far as to see that they should be Suitable to the other designs— . . . the day after I received your last letter, Blake brought a present of two Copies of the Songs [Ballads, surely], it is a beautiful work, Nancy and I are equally thankful for this present and equally delighted with your bounty to the Poet-Artist[.][52]
And one Sunday in September Nancy wrote to her husband that a "Mr T" had been near death, but
is now slowly recovering wishes much to see us at Epsom expresses a great & sincere regard for us both & wishes as a great favor the loan of Blake's [illustrations to] Gray to amuse himself with promising that it shall not go from his chamber or be wantonly shewn to anybody he wishes to make a few copies from it—to keep with his Youngs Nights Thoughts & some other works he has of Blakes he wishes to collect all B— has done, & I have a little commission to give to Blake for him—respecting the Loan, I shall take [care] to consider of it[.][53]
With the aid of all this friendly assistance Blake should have been flourishing.

Flaxman wrote to Hayley on October 18th that

Mr. Cromak has employed Blake to make a set of 40 drawings from Blair's poem of the Grave 20 of which he proposes have engraved by the Designer and to publish them with the hope of rendering Service to the Artist, several members of the Royal Academy have been highly pleased with the specimens and mean to encourage the work, I have seen several


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compositions, the most Striking are, the Gambols of Ghosts according with their affections previous to the final Judgment—A widow embracing the turf which covers her husband's grave—Wicked Strong man dying—the good old man's Soul recieved by Angels—[54]
It is interesting to note that this information (particularly the pious purpose) seems to come from Cromek, and that Blake is clearly to be the engraver. Four weeks later, on November 14th, Flaxman told Hayley:
you will be glad to hear that Blake has his hands full of work for a considerable time to come and if he will only condescend to give that attention to his worldly concerns which every one does that prefers living to Starving, he is now in a way to do well[.][55]
On December 1st Flaxman reported to Hayley that
Blake is going on gallantly with his drawings from the Grave, which are patronized by a formidable list of R.A's. and other distinguished persons—I mentioned before that he has [all deleted] good employment besides, but still I very much fear his abstracted habits are so much at variance with the usual modes of human life, that he will not derive all the advantage to be wished from the present favourable appearances— [F.P., I, 92]
Perhaps Flaxman mentioned to Blake the disadvantages of his abstracted habits and his eccentricity. Whatever the cause, a noticeable cooling in Flaxman's references to Blake took place about this time. In his letter to Hayley of two weeks later, on December 17th, Flaxman made an extraordinary request:
When You have occasion to write to Mr. Blake pray inquire if he has sufficient time to spare from his present undertaking to engrave, my drawings of Hero & Leander, & the orphan family, if he has not I shall look out for another engraver, I would rather this question should be proposed by you than me because I would not have either his good nature or convenience strained to work after my designs[.][56]
It must have been a considerable breach that prevented Flaxman from just walking round to see Blake, instead of using such a devious method.


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This quarrel seems to have followed the pattern of most of Blake's breaches with his friends. It probably began with the friend advising Blake that his temporal and financial interests would be served if he would conform a bit more, as in Flaxman's letter to Hayley above. This, of course, Blake deeply resented, and vented his anger in violent words and bitter epigrams. Usually he decided that his critics were both stupid and jealous. Of Flaxman he wrote:

I mock thee not, tho' I by thee am Mocked.
Thou call'st me Madman, but I call thee Blockhead.[57]
You call me Mad: 'tis Folly to do so—
To seek to turn a Madman to a Foe.
If you think as you speak, you are an Ass,
If you do not, you are but what you was.[57]
On Nancy he wrote:
How can I help thy Husband's copying Me?
Should that make difference 'twixt me & Thee?[57]
And on Flaxman and Stothard:
I found them blind: I taught them how to see;
And now they know neither themselves nor me[.][57]
Though Blake's denunciations are a trifle shrill, it is likely that Fuseli was not the only one who found Blake "damned good to steal from".

Partly because of this breach, Hayley and Flaxman turned to other engravers when they knew of work for which Blake might have been qualified. However, they liked to help him when they could. On March 11th 1808 Flaxman wrote to Hayley:

yesterday Mr. Raimbach left proofs from the plates for my opinion . . . . concerning the price I cannot pretend to judge, this must depend on the value Mr. R. sets on his time or the agreement he made, I can tell You as I did him that Mr. Longman paid 5 Guineas each one with another to Messrs. Blake, Parker &c for the plates they engraved for the Homer and with which those Artists were highly contented—[F.L., no. 33]
And on May 4th he reported further
concerning the engraving Mr. Raimbach thought very modestly that Mr. Blake would execute the outlines better than himself but it was not possible


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to take the commission from the person that brought it to town, besides at present I have no intercourse with Mr Blake—[58]
It is likely that part of Blake's bitterness was due to the fact that Flaxman seems to have taken the part of Stothard and Cromek in the acrid dispute over the Chaucer painting.

Flaxman did not stop working in Blake's interests, however. On August 19th 1814 he replied to John Bischoff's enquiry about having an engraving made from one of Flaxman's monuments for Dr. T.H. Whitaker's history of Leeds (published as Loides and Elmete in 1816):

If the Revd Doctor should be satisfied with an outline of the Monument, such as those published of Homer's Iliad & Odyssey, as well as some in Cowper's translations of Milton's Latin poems, which is now a favorite style of decoration in books, I can make the outline myself & will request the Editor's acceptance of it—the engraving including the Copper plate will cost 6 Guineas if done by Mr. Blake the best engraver of outlines—[59]
Blake did not get this commission. The last reference from these letters exhibits the relationship of Blake and Flaxman in perhaps its most characteristic light. In July 1816 Nancy wrote to her husband:
I have had some discourse with our Friend [Tulk?] about Blakes book & the little drawings—It is true he did not give him anything for he thought It would be wrong so to do after what pass'd between them for as I understand B— was very violent Indeed beyond all credence only that he has served you his best friend the same trick [some] time back as you must well remember—but he bought a drawing of him, I have nothing to say in this affair It is too tickilish, only I know what has happened both to yourself & me, & other people are not oblig'd to put up with B s odd humours —but let that pass[.][60]


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Nothing further is known of this quarrel, but it was obviously just one of many that littered the history of Blake's friendships. Evidently, however, the Flaxmans continued to put up with Blake's odd humors, for in an uncolored copy of the Songs of Innocence is the inscription "Mrs Flaxman April 1817".[61] This is the last evidence of personal contact between Blake and the Flaxmans, but we may assume that the relationship continued in its old uneven channel until Flaxman's death, eight months before Blake's, in 1826.

Blake was a passionate intense little man, and, as this correspondence shows, it was not easy to be friends with him. In a moment of anger and bitterness Blake once wrote:

O God, protect me from my friends, that they have not power over me.
Thou hast giv'n me power to protect myself from my bitterest enemies.[62]
It is likely that during the forty-six years he knew Blake Flaxman would have felt the justice of this with great vividness. Blake also wrote:
Great things are done when Men & Mountains meet;
This is not done by Jostling in the Street.[63]
Blake's friends probably lamented that it was so often necessary to persuade Blake to come down from his far mountains to jostle in the street.