Friday, December 09, 2011


In 1818 the 61 year old William Blake met the 26 year old John Linnell through the son of his friend George Cumberland. The two became friends and collaborators in artistic pursuits. Linnell was important in making the final decade of Blake's life pleasant and productive.

In 1821 Linnell painted a miniature portrait of Blake in watercolor on ivory which is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The Notes from an Exhibition at the Fitzwilliam in 2001 include a quote from John Linnell’s Autobiographical Notes, (f.57-58)

This image from the portrait extracted from William Blake, his life, character and genius (1893) Story, Alfred Thomas and is available from wikimedia.

Miniature in watercolor on ivory as seen at the Fitzwilliam.

Linnell on Blake

“I soon encountered Blake’s peculiarities and [was] somewhat taken aback by the boldness of some of his assertions. I never saw anything the least like madness, for I never opposed him spitefully, as many did - but being really anxious to fathom, if possible, the amount of truth which might be in his most startling assertions, I generally met with a sufficiently rational explanation in the most really friendly and conciliatory tone. Even when John Varley, to whom I introduced to Blake, and who readily devoured all the marvellous in Blake’s most extravagant utterances - even to Varley, Blake would occasionally explain unasked how he believed that both Varley and I could see the same visions as he saw - making it evident to me, that Blake claimed the possession of some powers, only in a greater degree, that all men possessed, and which they undervalued in themselves but lost through love of sordid pursuits - pride, vanity, and the unrighteous mammon” John Linnell’s Autobiographical notes, f.57-58

This letter from Blake to Linnell's wife shows something of the camaraderie and playfulness which existed among the friends.

Letters, (E 774)
To Mrs Linnell, Collinss Farm North End, Hampstead

Tuesday 11 October 1825
Dear Madam
I have had the Pleasure to see Mr Linnell set off safe in a
very comfortable Coach. & I may say I accompanied him part of the
way on his journey in the Coach for we both got in together &
with another Passenger enterd into Conversation when at length we
found that we were all three proceeding on our Journey. but as I
had not paid & did not wish to pay for or take so long a Ride.
we with some difficulty made the Coachman understand that one of
his Passengers was unwilling to Go. when he obligingly permitted
me to get out to my great joy. hence I am now enabled to tell you
that I hope to see you on Sunday morning as usual which I could
not have done if they had taken me to Gloucester
I am D.r Madam yours Sincerely


Susan J. said...

that letter is hilarious... thanks, Ellie! and what a treat, to see a portrait of Blake later in his life. I had always pictured him much thinner, in my mind... :-)

Susan J. said...

thanks for providing the link to the Exhibition as well -- fascinating!

ellie said...

I find it comforting that after Blake's long period of isolation in which he wrote and engraved Milton and Jerusalem he found a social group who loved and respected him. Sometimes they even came close to understanding him, which was the icing on the cake.
I hope your Christmas in West Vitginia is lovely.