Monday, October 14, 2013


When Blake died in 1827 he was little known outside of a small circle of friends and supporters. As a designer and engraver he was known through his illustrations of 1797 for Young's Night Thoughts and his designs for Blair's The Grave published in 1808. Artists such as the group of younger admirers who called themselves The Ancients were acquainted with his work in his later years and mentioned it in wider circles. Blake's legacy was in jeopardy after his death because his talents had not been recognized during his life. After his death Blake's Notebook passed from John Linnell to Samuel Palmer and then to Dante Gabriel Rossetti who contributed to the second volume of the 1880 Gilchrist biography of Blake.

Collectors preserved his books and pictures; devoted admirers wrote of his life and thought. The obscure, poverty stricken mystic became recognized as a cultural treasure whose voice lives and speaks for a more receptive audience.

In a letter to a friend Rossetti commented on Hayley's book of ballads illustrated by Blake.

8 Jan., 1856. 
A month and a half actually, dear A., since the 
last sheet, already long behindhand, yet which has 
lain in my drawer ever since, till it is too late now 
to wish you merry Christmas, too late to wish you 
happy New Year, only not too late to feel just 
the same towards you as if I were the best cor 
respondent in the world, and to know you feel the 
same towards me... 
Many thanks indeed for your new year's gift, 
a most delightful one. Old Blake is quite as 
loveable by his oddities as by his genius, and the 
drawings to the Ballads abound with both. The 
two nearly faultless are the Eagle and the Hermit's 
Dog. Ruskin's favourite (who has just been look 
ing at it) is the Horse ; but I can't myself quite 
get over the intensity of comic decorum in the 
brute's face. He seems absolutely snuffling with 
propriety. The Lion seems singing a comic song- 
with a pen behind his ear, but the glimpse of 
distant landscape below is lovely. The only draw 
ing where the comic element riots almost unre- 
buked is the one of the dog jumping down the 

As regards engraving, these drawings, with the 
Job, present the only good medium between etching 
and formal line that I ever met with. I see that 
in coming to me the book returns home ; having 
set out from No. 6 Bridge St., Blackfriars, just 
50 years ago. Strange to think of it as then, new 
literature and art. Those ballads of Hayley some 
of the quaintest human bosh in the world picked 
their way, no doubt, in highly respectable quarters, 
where poor Blake's unadorned hero at Page i was 
probably often stared at, and sometimes torn out. 
[Comment on website:]
The book that " returns home ; having set out 
from No. 6, Bridge Street, Blackfriars, just fifty 
years ago," was Ballads by William Hayley, founded 
on anecdotes relating to animals, with prints, de 
signed and engraved by William Blake. Chichester, 
printed by J. Seagrave for Richard Phillips, Bridge 
Street, Blackfriars, London, 1805."
British Museum
The Eagle. 
Ballad the Second in Hayley's "Designs to a Series of Ballads" (Chichester, 1802)

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