University of Virginia Library



R. H. Cromek, May 1807, quoted in The Letters of William Blake, ed. G. Keynes (1956), p. 161.


Ibid., pp. 51-52; all Blake's letters are quoted from this edition.


J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times (1828), quoted in A. Symons, William Blake (1907), p. 358.


Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. G. Keynes (1948), p. 660.


Cf. "A. S. Mathew, Patron of Flaxman and Blake", N&Q, CCIII (1958), 168-178. In reference to A. Cunningham's statement (The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects [1830], III, 277) that the Rev. Mathew "aided Flaxman in befriending Blake", Maria Denman, Flaxman's sister-in-law, wrote: "Mr. Flaxman befriended Blake, as well as many others, but without being assisted by any one, besides recommending him to many of his friends." It seems equally clear that Cunningham was referring directly to the Poetical Sketches, and that Miss Denman was not. Unfortunately Miss Denman did not comment on Cunningham's even clearer statement (Symons, p. 393), that Flaxman "not only counselled their [the Sketches] publication, but joined with a gentleman of the name of Matthews in the expense, and presented the printed sheets to the artist to dispose of for his own advantage." (Miss Denman's statement was made in one of a series of notes on Cunningham's Lives, which she sent to the author, and which his son, Peter, published in The Builder, XXI [1863], 37-38, 60, as "New Materials for the Life of John Flaxman, R.A." An examination of a microfilm of these notes, which are now in the National Library of Scotland, reveals that Peter Cunningham was a very faithful transcriber, making only the most minor spelling and punctuation rectifications, and omitting only two exceedingly minor items.) J.T. Smith (Symons, p. 358) is probably the source of A. Cunningham's information.


A.C. Swinburne, William Blake (1925), p. 8.


Quoted from volume I (f 29) of the Flaxman Papers in the British Museum (39,780); hereafter these letters will be cited as F.P., with volume and page. There is no year on this letter, but someone (quite possibly John Flaxman) added the date in pencil, as he has to many letters, particularly those of Nancy. John and Nancy were married at the time of this letter; their marriage took place on June 3rd 1782, and since they were surely not separated within two weeks of marriage, the earliest (and most likely) date for this letter is 1783, which agrees with the pencil date. In this article, all superior letters, as in Mr. and 10th, have been lowered, but otherwise minutiae are reproduced as accurately as type will permit. Other abbreviations used in this article are:

  • M.L.: Morgan Library (New York) MS quoted from a microfilm.
  • H.C.: Hayley Correspondence in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England. These references are given with the volume number, but the manuscripts are not carefully enough organized to warrant page citations.
  • F.L.: Flaxman Letters, a group of fifty-six letters in a green book in the Fitzwilliam Museum, cited by number.
  • F.H.: Flaxman-Hayley letters, a group of letters loose in a folder in the Fitzwilliam Museum.
  • B.M.: British Museum, followed by the MS reference number. I am grateful to Professor Arthur Friedman, and to my mother and wife, for indispensable help in verifying quotations from the MSS.


F.P., I, 157; this letter is dated in pencil June 20th 1783. It clearly answers the foregoing letter, because in it Nancy refers to their recent marriage, and says she is "charm'd with your noble account of Miss Younge" which John had sent two days before in the other letter.


M.L. This letter is dated simply April 26th, but it begins: "Sir I return many thanks for the present of your last publication & I have the pleasure to inform you (exclusive of the satisfaction I felt in perusing such genuine & new productions of genius) I have conversed with many persons of considerable abilities, who with one consent praise the Noble purity & Pathos of the Tragedies, & the novelty, Wit, & originality of the Comedies—" The work referred to is clearly Hayley's Plays of Three Acts (1784), which was so recent as to make any favorable criticism desirable. This letter is also quoted in The Letters of William Blake, ed. A.G.B. Russell (1906), pp. 51-52 and T. Wright, The Life of William Blake (1929), I, 12. (I shall cite published sources only when they seem to have direct reference to the MS.) The "Copies of Eleven Letters to Mr Hawkins from John Flaxman Kindly lent by John Heywood Hawkins—To Maria Denman April 18, 1843" (F.P., XI), dated 1820 to 1824 (except for one of November 14th 1803), have no reference to Blake.


Letter to Hayley of October 23rd 1804. D.V. Erdman (Blake Prophet Against Empire [1954], p. 99 ff) argues that about this time (1784) Blake put Flaxman into his satiric Island in the Moon as "Steelyard the Lawgiver". His most telling piece of evidence is that Steelyard is concerned in very minor parish business, and Flaxman "eked out his small income by serving as a parish rate collector." However, Flaxman's sister-in-law, Maria Denman, wrote firmly (P. Cunningham, p. 60): "Mr. Flaxman never was a collector of water-rates,—at least, I never heard it; but I do know that he scrupulously avoided all parish business throughout his life."


S. Smiles, Josiah Wedgewood, F.R.S. (1895), p. 245.


F.P., I, 61. There is no date on the MS, but another hand (John's?) has written in November 20th 1793; this date seems possible, for the death of John's mother (who died early in 1793) may be inferred from the letter.


D.V. Erdman ("Blake's Early Swedenborgianism: A Twentieth Century Legend", Comparative Literature, V [1953], 247-257) effectively demolished the evidence that Blake's parents were Swedenborgians. However, in demonstrating that Flaxman could not (because he was in Italy) have been Blake's direct contact with the 1789 meeting, Erdman overstated his case. Flaxman had been among the earliest of those interested in Swedenborg; on February 10th 1784, after a visit to Hayley at Eartham, Flaxman wrote to his host: "Pray when you have a favorable opportunity let me have Swedenborg, which reminds me of the Hedg-hogg who is very well & we have a tender regard for him on the givers account" (F. P., I, 33; cf. M. Bishop, Blake's Hayley [1951], p. 78). On January 26th [1790?] Flaxman enclosed a note to Mr. Sanders with his letter to his parents (F.P., I, 48) in which he said: "I am fully sensible of the present changes in Europe being necessary to the present Season of the Church, at the same time that they testify the truth of E:S:'s mission[.]" This radical enthusiasm is particularly interesting when coupled with the fact that in this letter Flaxman sent love to William Sharp, about whom he wrote to his father a few years later, on July 22nd 1794 (F.P., I, 63): "The newspapers have informed us that our friend Mr: Sharp the Engraver has been examined on suspicion [of treason], but from what I know of him I think his character so excellent that I cannot believe anything will be found against him." Sharp and Flaxman were among the early members of "The Theosophical Society, instituted for the Purpose of promoting the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem by translating, printing, and publishing the Theological Writings of the Honourable Emmanuel Swedenborg" (R. Hindmarsh, Rise and Progress of the New Jerusalem Church in England, and America, and other Parts, ed. E. Madeley [1861], p. 23). It seems quite possible, as Erdman suggests, that Sharp was Blake's direct contact with the New Church group, though he himself was not there—or at least did not sign their unanimous resolutions (Minutes of the First Seven Sessions of the General Conference of the New Church, reprinted from the original editions, 1885).


A.M.W. Stirling, The Richmond Papers (1926), p. 8; cf. A.H. Palmer, The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer (1892), p. 24.


Poetry and Prose, p. 100.


Cf. "Thomas Butts, White Collar Maecenas", PMLA, LXXI (1956), 1055.


It seems likely that Flaxman bought the edition of Young's Night Thoughts for which Blake made engravings in 1796 and 1797. In Flaxman's account books ("Study account for 1796", F.P., V [H], 13 and 29), under date of July [24th?] 1796, is "Blake 5 5 -", and between May 6th and 13th 1797 is "Blakes book, binding", three shillings. The Night Thoughts were advertized to appear "Early in JUNE" 1797 (G. Keynes, Blake Studies [1949], p. 61), priced at five guineas (to subscribers) for the entire work. Normally, of course, the work was sold bound, but Flaxman may have taken an early copy (the latest date on the engravings, presumably postdated, is June 1, 1797) with some of the illustrations still in proof state. In these same accounts (I, 6) is a record of payment of two guineas to Blake in October 1797; the price for the first section of the Night Thoughts (the others were never issued) was two guineas. This last payment could have been for coloring the engravings, as was done in several copies; or, alternatively, one or more of these entries could refer to Blake's illustrations to Gray (cf. fn 53). In the Haverford College Library is a receipt, signed by Blake and dated Dec 14th 1799, for £9.0.8 from Flaxman for engraving the plates for Flaxman's Letter to the Committee for Raising the Naval Pillar.


F.L., no. 18; cf. E.J. Ellis, The Real Blake (1907), p. 187; M. Wilson, The Life of William Blake (1948), p. 131 and The Letters of William Blake (1956), p. 40 fn. According to J.T. Smith (Symons, pp. 364-365), "For his marginal illustrations of 'Young's Night Thoughts,' . . . [Blake] received so despicably low a price, that Flaxman . . . determined to serve him whenever an opportunity offered itself; and with his usual voice of sympathy, introduced him to his friend Hayley".


H.C., III; all the letters to Rose cited below are from this volume. On this same day Blake sent Hayley a proof of Demosthenes which "has been approved by Mr Flaxman".


In this letter he also thanks Rose for expediting the Demosthenes engraving, and explained that the delay with the medallion drawing was due to the inflammation of Howard's eyes. Hayley's language about his dying son was often stilted; but his emotion was clearly profound—in this letter he told Rose, "at times . . . I can only weep".


Hayley's better spirits were based on his hopes from Tom's imminent operation. Two days later, on March 12th, in his letter to Rose, Hayley predicted of Tom: "He will yet prove an Artist of astonishing powers—"; he also said that "Davies approved our Suggestion for his intended Book—". It is possible that this was Edward Davies, the Welsh antiquary and British Israelite.


Part of this and the next letter to Rose are quoted in Wright, I, 96.


F.L., no. 19; cf. Ellis, p. 187, Wilson, p 131, The Letters of William Blake (1956), p. 40 fn, and W. Hayley, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of William Hayley, Esq, ed. J. Johnson (1823), II, 495 (omitting the reference to Blake).


Blake to Hayley, April 1st 1800: "With all possible Expedition I send you a proof of my attempt to Express your & our Much Beloved's Countenance. Mr. Flaxman has seen it & approved of my now sending it to you for your remarks."


Cf. Wilson, p. 131.


Quoted from a microfilm of the MS in the Library of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In a postscript Nancy asked "for a Pocket volume from the dear Boy's Library—as a Keep Sake—for Remembrancer I need none".


H.C. IX; the breaks in the text are caused by a hole made when the seal was removed. Cf. Wright, I, 98, and Wilson, pp. 132-133. This letter is important evidence that Blake's later stay at Felpham had not been planned before this time, and that the arrangement was more or less impromptu, based on mutual friendship.


Quoted from a photostat of the MS in the Allan R. Brown William Blake Collection in the library of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. This draft was written in great haste; the reading of many words, particularly those later deleted, is in doubt, and I have supplied all punctuation. In line 1 of this draft, "most" was changed to "my gentle"; above the first three words of line 3 is written, "Accept and fondly call keep"; in line 5, "To give it" has been altered to "Rich in"; in line 7 "The Book" was changed to "For it"; and in the last line "So" was substituted for "Thus". The final version of the poem, with the date, was given by J.T. Smith (cf. Symons, p. 367).


F.L., no. 21; cf. Ellis, pp. 187-188, Wilson, pp. 133-134; Wright, I, 100, and M.R. Lowery, Windows of the Morning (1940), p. 48. The first "not" is inserted over a caret. This letter suggests that Blake's engraving work was not the primary purpose of his move to Felpham, at least as expressed to Flaxman. This letter is in curious contrast to that of April 26th 1784.


Quoted from another group of Flaxman-Hayley letters, in an orange folder, in the Fitzwilliam Museum; the letters between brackets were lost when the page was torn. After the signature of his letter, Flaxman added: "I shall beg your permission to address the other Side to Mr: Blake". Cf. Wright, II, 184 (with the letter to Hayley); A.N.L. Munby, "Letters of British Artists of the XVIIIth and XIXth Centuries — Part I", The Connoisseur, CXVIII (1946), 26-28 (with a facsimile); and The Letters of William Blake, ed. G. Keynes, who says (p. 218) that it was also printed in the catalogues of Sotheby (November 8th 1927) and Maggs (no. 544, June 1930). Blake was evidently aware of Flaxman's attitude as expressed in this and the August 19th 1800 letter, for on November 22nd 1802 he asked, why "Must Flaxman look upon me as wild"?


H.C., IX; part of the letter is quoted in Wilson, p. 139; and the poem appears as no. 47 in "A Collection of brief devotional Poems composed on the Pillow before the Dawn of Day 1801" in the Cornell University Library. The Blake letter on the next page has been torn off, and is now in Colorado Springs. In a postscript to Blake's letter, Hayley wrote: "Weller says it would soothe & comfort the good sister of the upright Mr. D. to see a little sketch from yr Hand." Keynes (The Letters of William Blake, p. 67 fn) surmises that this may be a "Mr Dally"; but in his letter to Hayley of October 7th 1801 Flaxman suggests a design for his monument to "Mr Dear".


"Mr Thomas" was almost certainly the "Rev. Joseph Thomas, Rector of Epsom" who subscribed to the edition of Blair's Grave with Blake's designs published in 1808; cf. p. 184. According to A. Gilchrist (Life of William Blake, ed. R. Todd [1942], p. 104), "Flaxman recommended more than one friend to take copies [of the Songs of Innocence and Experience], a Mr Thomas among them, who, wishing to give the artist a present, made the price ten guineas [instead of about a guinea]. For such a sum Blake could hardly do enough, finishing the plates like miniatures." Thomas also owned an extra-illustrated edition of Shakespeare for which Blake made six illustrations (now in the British Museum), but there is no record that he possessed anything else by Blake. The artist completed two sets of Comus watercolors, but it is not known which, if either, belonged to Thomas.


H.C., IX; cf. Wilson, p. 367. In this letter Hayley says further: "if my affection for his [Cowper's] Memory does not deceive me, his Letters are the most admirable & delightful Letters that were ever imparted to the World.—" This may be compared with Blake's letter of September 11th 1801, in which he says Hayley's biography "will contain Letters of Cowper to his friends, Perhaps, or rather Certainly, the very best letters that ever were published."


H.C., IX. Hayley had also sent a copy to Lady Hesketh, and another to Flaxman, which he feared had gone astray; both of them were presumably sketched by Blake.


Quoted from a microfilm of the MS in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library; cf. the catalogue no. 24 (March 1929) of Elkin Mathews Ltd, 33 Conduit Street, London W.1.


Cf. "William Blake as a Private Publisher", Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 61 (1957), 539-560.


F.H. The written year is 1801, but the postmark is clearly June 28, 1802. Flaxman's praise was badly needed about this time; on July 15th Hayley replied to Lady Hesketh's criticisms ("Blake, Hayley, and Lady Hesketh", R.E.S., N.S., VII [1956], 277-278): "I allow [your critical friend] . . . to be as severe as He pleases, as we happily counteract his Censure with the applause of a more competent, but also a nameless Judge, who has said, I think with more Truth, that there is great spirit & sentiment in the engravings of my Friend.—" On January 30th 1803 Blake sent "5 Copies of N4 of the Ballads for Mrs Flaxman."


Quoted from the MS in the Chicago Art Institute; there is no year in the written date, but the letter refers to "our late Excursion to France", which took place during the brief peace, in September 1802.


B.M., 37,538, f 6. The beginning of this sentence is "—I am sorry for Mr: Spilsbury's illness I hope he is better". On June 28th 1802 Charlotte Collins in Midhurst had written to Hayley about her success in selling the Ballads, and reported that one of her customers "by the name of Spilsbury" wanted Blake to engrave some animals he had drawn (cf. "William Blake as a Private Publisher", p. 544). Hayley evidently later came to know this Spilsbury; at least "E.G." refers to him familiarly in a rhymed epistle to Hayley on November 6th 1802, describing a visit to Midhurst: Here our well-belov'd artist (and oh may queen Fame Trumpet forth in our streets Mr Spilsbury's name) Receiv'd me and welcom'd me home: where I sat And devour'd a short meal and enjoy'd a short chat[.] The letter concludes with a
You'll let the Meyers and Mr Blake
My kind remembrances partake[.] (Quoted from a microfilm of the MS in Harvard University Library.) This Spilsbury does not seem to be the professional artist whom Blake (and presumably Hayley) knew—cf. Blake's letter of September 28th 1804.


Quoted from a microfilm of the MS in the Yale University Library.


Quoted from the MS in the possession of Sir Geoffrey Keynes.


M.L. Blake made an engraving from a medallion after Romney for Hayley's biography of Cowper, but the present medallion seems to be connected with the biography of Romney.


M.L.; cf. The Letters of William Blake (1906), pp. 133-137. Blake seems to have gone to Felpham several days before his trial with this letter. Parker's engraving is dated Jan 2, 1804, two others by Bond are dated Dec 1, 1807, and the fourth plate illustrating Flaxman's article is by Blake, dated Nov 11, 1818. Rees's Cyclopedia was finally published in 1820.


F.P., II, 41. On February 23rd Blake sent "the Academical Correspondence of Mr Hoare" to Hayley.


B.M., 36,540, f 50. Blake made a number of engravings after designs by Flaxman, notably for Flaxman's Letter to the Committee for Raising the Naval Pillar, 1799, his Illiad of Homer, 1805, and Compositions from the Works Days and Theogony of Hesiod, 1817. Gilchrist (p. 96) asserted that the original engravings to Homer were lost en route to England, and that Blake provided substitutes (with the name of the original engraver, Piroli), but he gave no evidence; Wilson (p. 77) therefore doubted the whole episode, and Todd (Gilchrist, p. 375) reaffirmed Gilchrist's account, but still without producing evidence. It may therefore be useful to record Hayley's statement (B.M., 30,803 B, f 110, n.d., probably early 1803) that Flaxman's Odyssy is rare: "I believe there are hardly 3 copies of it in England for the main body of these delightful Engravings was seized by the French— I am not sure that Flaxman himself has a copy". The existing copies were those that Flaxman had sent individually to friends from Italy. On the other hand, Flaxman's account books (F.P., V [F]) record payments to Piroli but none to Blake. The Bodleian has the plates to Flaxman's Homer. It has been noticed that Blake made a much more conscientious attempt to reproduce the living lines of Flaxman's drawings than the other engravers who copied the sculptor's sketches.


Quoted from the MS in the Library of Congress. Hayley wrote (The Life of George Romney, Esq. [1809], p. 195): "The praise, which my friend [Romney] bestowed on that interesting print, engraved by Caroline Watson, induced me to engage this very delicate artist in decorating the present volume."


F.L., no. 22; cf. Ellis, p. 251, and Wilson, p. 372. Flaxman concludes his letter by recommending "Cromak" who had made the best engravings ever done after Stothard, for the engravings of the Romney biography. "Mr. Cromak is a man of independent Spirit & is very handsomely employed as he well deserves—".


Quoted from the MS in the possession of Sir Geoffrey Keynes. Hayley concludes by asking Flaxman to pick out pictures by Romney "for your favourite Engraver" Cromek to engrave for the biography. The Blake letter quoted (very imprecisely) at the beginning of this letter is dated May 28th 1804. The Flaxman letters of this time are full of references to Cromek (see especially Mary Ann Flaxman's letters of 1804 and 1805, F.P., IV).


F.L., no. 23; cf. Ellis, p. 260, Wilson, p. 190, and Wright, I, 165. In this letter Flaxman reiterates that Cromek "is abundantly employed & sought after".


M.L. On October 1st (M.L.) Flaxman told Hayley that Cromek was too busy to undertake the Romney engravings.


Tatham, quoted in The Letters of William Blake (1906), p. 40; cf. also J.T. Smith (Symons, pp. 373, 388); S. Palmer (in Gilchrist, p. 303—and pp. 1, 101); Literary Gazette (August 18th 1827, p. 540).


F.L., no. 26; cf. Ellis, p. 267; Lowery, pp. 47-49; Wilson, p. 194; and Wright, II, 11. In 1805 Hayley's Ballads, with Blake's engravings, had been published by more conventional methods by Phillips, and Hayley had again resigned his share in the profits to Blake.


F.P., I, 263; the "[care]" was covered by the seal. "Mr T" is almost certainly the "Rev. Joseph Thomas, Rector of Epsom"; cf. fn 32. M.L. Lowery ("Blake and the Flaxmans", The Age of Johnson [1949], p. 285) seems to suggest that the Blake illustrations were made at the time of the Flaxmans' marriage; however, the edition of Gray inset into the pages is dated 1790, and the Flaxmans were married in 1782. Blake wrote a poem "To Mrs Anna Flaxman" to accompany the illustrations. The most likely and commonly accepted date for the illustrations is 1800, when Blake was particularly grateful to Flaxman for his introduction to Hayley. I have found no further reference to these illustrations to Gray (but cf. fn 17). Fuseli exhibited "The Bard", "The Descent of Odin" and "The Fatal Sisters" (all of which Blake treated) at the Royal Academy in 1800. Nancy evidently collected poetry; on April 10th 1813 (B.M., 30,805, f 44) she wrote: "My Poetic Chest goes on charmingly . . . Especially a Poem accompanied by half a Dozen charming drawings—"; and in her collection was Blake's "dedication to the Grave" "To the Queen" (F.P., IX, 89). It is curious that the only one of Blake's works in "Illuminated Printing" which the Flaxmans are known to have owned was the Songs of Innocence and Experience (G. Keynes and E. Wolf 2nd, William Blake's Illuminated Books [1953], p. 261).


M.L.; cf. The Letters of William Blake (1906), pp. 185-186, and Wright, II, 12. Only the last two drawings were engraved.


M.L.; cf. The Letters of William Blake (1906), pp. 186-187. Flaxman's resolution not to interfere seems to have been wavering, for in this letter he says "I called on Miss Watson" and they discussed the problems involved in engraving after Romney.


F.P., I, 94-95; cf. Bishop, p. 306. In his letter of October 18th 1805 Flaxman had written, "we have read your Hero and Leander and are much pleased with the beauty and elegance of the Translation". I know nothing further of this work.


Poetry and Prose, pp. 654, 655, 656.


F.L., no. 34; cf. Wright, II, 28; Wilson, pp. 207, 375; and M.R. Lowery, Windows of the Morning (1940), p. 50.


Quoted from a microfilm of the MS in the Library of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania; cf. J. Sandell, Memoranda of Art and Artists (1871), p. 31. Flaxman bought one, and perhaps two, copies of Blake's engravings to Job; there is evidence that Blake received three guineas for "one copy plain" about October 1823 (E. Wolf 2nd, "The Blake-Linnell Accounts in the Library of Yale University", The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, XXXVII [1943], 2), and that Flaxman paid for "Blake's Job £3.3" in September 1825 (F.P., XII, 142). According to Tatham, "Mr Flaxman introduced Blake to Mr Wedgwood" and procured him engraving work not long before this time (Keynes, Blake Studies, p. 70, citing a note on a proof plate of the Wedgwood catalogue now in the possession of Mrs. Robert D. Chellis, 9 Pembroke Rd, Weston 93, Mass).


F.P., I, 364; there are numerous references to the Tulks in Flaxman's letters about this time which are preserved in the Fitzwilliam (along with a portrait apiece by Flaxman of Mrs. Tulk and her two children, dated 1816) and in F.P., especially vol. II. The Tulks owned copies of Blake's Poetical Sketches, Songs of Innocence and Experience and "No Natural Religion" (Keynes and Wolf, pp. 6, 59).


Keynes and Wolf, p. 61.


Poetry and Prose, p. 384. This is cited by Scott as a Spanish proverb in The Letters of Sir Walter Scott 1819-1821 [vol. VI], ed. H.J.C. Grierson (1934), 418, and in Redgauntlet, chapter XXI.


Poetry and Prose, p. 661.