Saturday, September 04, 2010


Item 89, "To him the mighty mother did unveil her awful face", Thomas Gray

"Around the Springs of Gray my wild root weaves
Traveller repose & Dream among my leaves,"


John Flaxman was a friend of Blake from his student days, a fellow artist and associated with the Swedenborg Church in which Blake briefly participated. There was sometimes tension in the relationship between the fiery Blake and the restrained Flaxman but their relationship was sustained. Blake appreciated the help his friend gave him emotionally and professionally.

This section from a letter Blake wrote to Flaxman in 1800 shows that Blake understood the debt he owed to Flaxman who became quite successful and influential in his time.

Letters, Mr Flaxman, Buckingham Street, Fitzroy Square (E 707)
"To My Dearest Friend John Flaxman
these lines

I bless thee O Father of Heaven & Earth that ever I saw Flaxmans face
Angels stand round my Spirit in Heaven. the blessed of Heaven are my friends upon Earth
When Flaxman was taken to Italy. Fuseli was giv'n to me for a season
And now Flaxman hath given me Hayley his friend to be mine such my lot upon Earth
Now my lot in the Heavens is this; Milton lovd me in childhood & shewd me his face
Ezra came with Isaiah the Prophet, but Shakespeare in riper years gave me his hand
Paracelsus & Behmen appeard to me. terrors appeard in the Heavens above
And in Hell beneath & a mighty & awful change threatend the Earth
The American War began All its dark horrors passed before my face
Across the Atlantic to France. Then the French Revolution commencd in thick clouds
And My Angels have told me. that seeing such visions I could not subsist on the Earth
But by my conjunction with Flaxman who knows to forgive Nervous Fear
I remain for Ever Yours

Owing to the close social connection between the Blakes and the Flaxmans, we have one of Blake's unique productions. To please his wife Ann, John Flaxman commissioned William Blake to produce a set of watercolor illustrations of the poems of Thomas Gray which were favorites of Ann. For the sum of 10 guineas Blake produced 116 watercolors and this poem of his own which he attached to the end.

[With Blake's Illustrations to Gray's Poems]
Pickering Manuscript (E 482)
"To Mrs Ann Flaxman
A little flower grew in a lonely Vale
Its form was lovely but its colors pale
One standing in the Porches of the Sun
When his Meridian Glories were begun
Leaped from the steps of fire & on the grass
Alighted where this little flower was
With hands divine he moved the gentle sod
And took the Flower up in its native Clod
Then planting it upon a Mountains brow
'Tis your own fault if you don't flourish now
- William Blake"

The watercolors which were bound into a book remained in the Flaxman family and in private hands until in1966 they were purchased by Paul Melon (for the Yale Center for British Art) and a expensive facsimile book was issued. You can now purchase a copy of the Dover reprint of Blake's Watercolours for the Poems of Thomas Gray for $24.95 or for less if you wait for a sale. All 116 color illustrations are included in a
9 1/8 x 11 5/8 inch format.

Dover's reprint is no longer available.

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