William Blake, Richard Phillips and the Monthly Magazine

Article excerpt

ABONG THE SATIRICAL VERSES THAT WILLIAM BLAKE WROTE IN HIS NOTEBOOK in the early 1800s are four lines that read:

   P--loved me, not as he lovd his Friends
   For he lovd them for gain to serve his Ends
   He loved me and for no Gain at all
   But to rejoice & triumph in my fall (1)

P--has been identified as the publisher Richard Phillips, (2) who played a brief but important role in Blake's life, as a partner in the publishing of a book with Blake's illustrations and as publisher of the Monthly Magazine. Exploring Blake's relations with Phillips in these two capacities will give us a better idea of Blake's life and interests in the years immediately following his move back to London in 1803 after three years' absence.

Upon returning from what he called "my three years Slumber on the banks of the Ocean," (3) Blake began to reestablish himself in the professional world of engraving in London. His first project involved the ballads that had initially been issued as quartos in Sussex, featuring William Hayley's poems about animals and Blake's engravings after his own designs. This enterprise had been Hayley's idea from the beginning, his purpose being to get some money for Blake. In 1802 four ballads were issued in quarto, the texts printed by William Seagrave in Chichester and the plates by William and Catherine Blake in their Felpham cottage, and marketed by Hayley among his friends. However, the hoped-for benefit to Blake did not materialize. Hayley reported on 30 April 1803 that Blake had paid 30 [pounds sterling] for paper and had not received even half that sum from sales. (4) In a later letter to Hayley (28 December 1804), Blake mentions "the Twelve Guineas which you Lent Me when I made up 30 Pounds to pay our Worthy Seagrave in part of his Account" (E 760), and says that he would deduct that amount from his price for engraving The Shipwreck by George Romney for Hayley's Life. So at the end of 1804 Blake was still paying the costs of the 1802 Ballads. A year later he had still not been able to repay Seagrave, for on 11 December 1805 he asked Hayley to give his thanks to "the Generous Seagrave. In whose Debt I have been too long," adding optimistically "but percieve that I shall be able to settle with him soon what is between us" (E 761).

Despite the fact that the 1802 Ballads had been a financial failure, (5) Blake hoped that an octavo edition with re-engraved plates would succeed. With Blake's benefit once more in mind, in 1805 Hayley proposed (at Blake's suggestion) an octavo volume of the Ballads to Phillips. Phillips's ready acceptance of this proposal was no doubt influenced by his wish to succeed James Dodsley (d. 1797) as Hayley's principal publisher. Besides, the terms left him with little to lose. On 22 January 1805 Blake informed Hayley "[t]hat one thousand copies should be the first edition, and, if we choose, we might add to the number of plates in a second edition. And he will go equal shares with me in the expense and the profits, and that Seagrave is to be the printer" (E 763). Typically optimistic at the beginning of a project, Blake wrote in the same letter: "Truly proud I am to be in possession of this beautiful little estate; for that it will be highly productive I have no doubt." Blake gave Hayley further details of the arrangement on March 22. There were to be five "highly finished" plates by Blake by May 28, "the Price 20 Guineas Each half to be paid by P-" (E 763). So Blake would earn 50 guineas toward his share of the publishing costs.

Trouble with Phillips had begun by 4 June 1805, when Blake wrote to Hayley: "I have fortunately, I ought to say providentially, discovered that I have engraved one of the plates for that ballad of The Horse which is omitted in the new edition; time enough to save the extreme loss and disappointment which I should have suffered had the work been completed without that ballad's insertion" (E 765). Providence entered into it because Phillips had sent Blake a proof of the last sheet of the Ballads for forwarding to the printer Joseph Seagrave in Chichester, and so Blake learned that the volume was to end with Hayley's fifteenth ballad, "The Baya: Or the Indian Bird," and not with the sixteenth, "The Horse," for which Blake had engraved a plate. Phillips's intention was, in violation of his agreement with Blake and to Blake's great financial detriment, to include only four of Blake's plates in the volume. (6) "I write to entreat," Blake continued to Hayley, "that you would contrive so as that my plate may come into the work, as its omission would be to me a loss that I could not now sustain, as it would cut off ten guineas from my next demand on Phillips, which sum I am in absolute want of" (E 765). This tactic was evidently successful, for the final ballad, The Horse, and with it Blake's engraving, was included in the published volume.

Another indication that the partnership was going sour was Phillips's rejection of the advertisement that Hayley had suggested Blake write as a preface to the volume. Blake's draft read:

   The Public ought to be informd that [The following] Ballads
   were the Effusions of Friendship to Countenance what their Author
   is kindly pleased to call Talents for Designing. and to relieve my
   more laborious [employment] engagement of Engraving those Portraits
   which accompany The Life of Cowper Out of a number of Designs I
   have selected Five hope that the Public will approve of my rather
   giving few highly labourd Plates than a greater number & less
   finishd. If I have succeeded in these more may be added at Pleasure
   (E 764-65)

Phillips thought this "an appeal to charity," and said it would "hurt the sale of the work." By 27 November 1805, Blake felt that Phillips was doing nothing to advance the fortunes of the book, for he informed Hayley, "I cannot give you any Account of our Ballads for I have heard nothing of Phillips this Age" (E 661). In the same letter we Ram why Blake may not have kept after Phillips about this, for in it the name of "Mr Cromek the Engraver" appears for the first time in Blake's correspondence. Cromek planned to publish an edition of Robert Blair's The Grave with Blake's illustrations, and "in consequence of this I produced about twenty Designs which pleasd so well that he with the same liberality with which he set me about the Drawings. has now set me to Engrave them." Blake's professional relationship with Cromek had begun as promisingly as it had with Phillips. In anticipation of the income to be derived from engraving his designs for The Grave, Blake may well have overlooked for a time what was happening to the Ballads.

The Ballads are not among Hayley's best poems, which is saying a great deal. As if in recognition of this, in 1805 the author added a little preface in which he quoted and translated a line of Horace: "'Virginibus puerisque canto,' or 'The book is intended for young readers.'" It must be said that

Blake too is not at his best here. Some of the figures are strangely angular, and their bodily positions much exaggerated. Although Samuel Greatheed, a member of the Hayley circle, generously remarked on "the genius, if not the taste of the artist" in the Eclectic Review, Robert Southey's sarcasm in describing "The Dog" as showing "fido Volant, and the crocodile rampant, with a mouth open like a boot-jack to receive him" is scarcely unjustified. (7) With the exception of these two reviews and one other that did not mention Blake's designs at all, (8) the book seems to have slipped unnoticed through the world of London publishing. One design, "The Eagle," may have received the sincerest form of flattery by George Dawe, R.A., in a painting exhibited at the Academy in 1813: A Child Rescued by Its Mother from an Eagle's Nest (untraced). (9) However, this unacknowledged borrowing would have done nothing either for Blake's reputation or the book's sales.

Had Blake executed the engravings for Blair's The Grave, he would have been able to settle his still probably outstanding debt to Seagrave, and to pay the remainder of his half of the publishing costs of the 1805 Ballads, which has been calculated as about 23 [pounds sterling] (BR, 762) after the deduction of 50 guineas for his engravings. When, before the end of the year, Cromek gave the engraving commission to Lewis Schiavonetti, any hopes Blake had of doing so were dashed. It may be that Blake approached Phillips at this point and asked for an extension of time for paying his balance. It would not have been an unreasonable request. Phillips was a publisher of great consequence, (10) and Blake knew him to be a wealthy man, as indicated in his letter to William Hayley of 19 January 1805, where Blake mentions "his removal from St Pauls to a noble House in Bridge Street Blackfriars" (E 761). At Blackfriars Phillips employed 10 or 12 clerks, and in 1808 he declared the receipts of the Monthly Magazine alone to be no less than 1500 [pounds sterling] per month. (11) Blake in contrast was a freelance engraver struggling to keep himself and his wife out of poverty. His income for 1805, including the 21 [pounds sterling] he received from Cromek for his Grave drawings (but not counting the credit toward the publishing cost of the Ballads), was merely 53 [pounds sterling]. 2s. 4d. (BR, 761, 764-66, and 810), and there was still the Seagrave debt to pay, in addition to the Blakes' living and working expenses. In his epigram Blake probably says that Phillips loved him for no gain at all because Phillips could have deducted Blake's debt to him from the sale proceeds of the book. No doubt Blake was over-sanguine as to what these would be, but Phillips, with his enormous resources, would hardly have felt the loss. Phillips was, however, in the words of the journalist Cyrus Redding, who had known both Phillips and some of the authors he published, "a selfish, conceited, shrewd man." (12) He did not extend credit to Blake, and it is likely, as Bentley suggests (BR, 762), that Blake had to borrow money as a result, which would have made his position even more precarious after The Grave debacle. Blake's "fall" was the terrible financial position in which he was left, causing him to write in his Notebook: "Tuesday Janry. 20. 1807 between Two & Seven in the Evening-Despair" (E 694).

Did Phillips "rejoice & triumph" in Blake's fall? Before writing off this statement to emotional unbalance on Blake's part, we should consider Phillips's reputation among his contemporaries. It is true that he was in some respects a conscientious man, and this was the aspect that Blake saw at first. Blake wrote of him enthusiastically to Hayley on 7 April 1804:

"Mr Phillips is a man of vast spirit & enterprize, with a solidity of character which few have; he is the man who applied to Cowper for that Sonnet in favor of a Prisoner at Leicester which I believe you thought fit not to print So you see he is spiritually adjoind with us. His connections throughout England & indeed Europe & America enable him to Circulate Publications to an immense Extent" (E 742). After being elected a Sheriff of London in 1807, Phillips improved the conditions of debtors and enacted other reforms, and on his gravestone he wished to have engraved: "He was Sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1807-8, and an effective ameliorator of a stem and uncharitable criminal code." Phillips was also a vegetarian, and asked in his Memoirs: "Cannot they [animals] contribute to supply our wants without surrendering their existence?" (13) (Cf. Blake's Lamb, who says, "Take thou my wool / But spare my life" [Four Zoas, 1.18.3, E 310].) However, there was another side to him. John Wolcot ("Peter Pindar") said, "He would suck the knowledge out of authors' skulls and fling the carcasses on the dung hill afterwards," and Robert Southey called him "One of the most accomplished rogues in his majesties domain." (14) Perhaps Phillips himself made the most revealing comment on his own notorious exploitation of authors. "He is said to have expressed the wish, on hearing Coleridge talk, that he had him in a garret without a coat to his back." (15) These words cross the line between venality and sadism, and it may have been just this quality that Blake sensed when he wrote "To P--."

2

Blake's relations with Phillips did not end with the Ballads. Blake subsequently sent at least two letters to the Monthly Magazine, one of which was the only Blake letter to appear in letterpress during his lifetime, as well as an important expression of his view of the living painter who mattered to Blake most, Henry Fuseli. Why did Blake choose the Monthly as a vehicle? The answer to this question involves the centrality of Phillips's magazine to the radical culture of its period.

Phillips started the Monthly Magazine in 1796. Its literary editor was at first the widely respected Dr. John Aikin, and for a time it was printed in the shop of Joseph Johnson. (16) While editor of the Leicester Herald in 1793, Phillips had been arrested for selling Paine's Rights of Man and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. (17) He stuck by his principles after his release, writing anti-governmental articles for the Monthly under the name "Common Sense." In addition to the magazine, Phillips published a wide variety of books, many of them gatherings made by poorly paid assistants. His business was highly successful, enabling him to move from the booksellers' neighborhood in St. Pauls Churchyard to more commodious quarters in Blackfriars in 1806. At midsummer 1807 Phillips was elected a sheriff of London, and to the surprise of some of his political friends, he accepted a knighthood on 30 March 1808.

Phillips' magazine was from the first a rallying-point for liberals and radicals. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, when he abandoned his short-lived Watchman, gave the Monthly his blessing as:

   a Work, which has almost monopolized the talents of the Country,
   and with which I should have continued a course of literary
   rivalship with as much success, as might be supposed to attend a
   young Recruit who should oppose himself to a Phalanx of disciplined
   Warriors. Long may it continue to deserve the support of the
   Patriot and the Philanthropist, and while it teaches RATIONAL
   LIBERTY, prepare it's readers for the enjoyment of it,
   strengthening the intellect by SCIENCE, and softening our
   affections by the GRACES! (18)

As Coleridge indicates, the Monthly was indeed much more than a political magazine. Its first issue is a good example of the variety of subjects it engaged. It featured letters, some very substantial, in a prominent position at the front of the book. There were articles on John Ireland's "Shakespeare" manuscripts, on the literary history of the present time, on the artist John Hamilton Mortimer, as well as a Pindaric ode by George Dyer, discussions of politics at home and abroad, and extracts from Mary Wollstonecraft's Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (published as a book by Joseph Johnson at about that same time). There were two engraved plates, both illustrating an article on Herschel's telescope. As Geoffrey Carnall remarks, "The encyclopaeidic range of the Monthly's interests was especially characteristic of the thirty years or so that followed the French Revolution." (19)

Previous to his published letter, Blake had drafted a letter on another subject to the editor of the Monthly Magazine on I September 1800, and had suggested to his friend George Cumberland that they both sign it. It begins:

   Sir

      Your Magazine being so universally Read induces me to recommend
   to your notice a Proposal made some years ago in a Life of Julio
   Bonasoni which Proposal ought to be given to the Public in Every
   work of the nature of yours. It is. For the Erection of National
   Galleries for the Reception of Casts in Plaster from all the
   Beautiful Antique. Statues Basso Relivos &c that can be procured at
   home or abroad. Which Galleries may be built & filled by Public
   Subscription To be open to The Public. (20)

In writing this proposal, Blake was of course mindful of Phillips' political views, and he must also have known that the Monthly Magazine had recently demonstrated an increased interest in the arts by publishing a "Monthly Retrospect of Fine Arts" in every six-month issue. Although Blake's letter may not have been sent (perhaps Cumberland demurred), the same reasons surely influenced Blake's choice of the Monthly for another letter, with the fact that the Monthly featured letters so prominently also, no doubt, a consideration. Furthermore, in June 1797 the Monthly had published an admiring review of Fuseli's Milton Gallery, in the form of a letter signed "Lucius." (21) This pseudonymous review must have struck a responsive chord in Blake.

Lucius begins by saying he had seen in the Morning Herald for June 1799 an announcement of the imminent exhibition of "FUSELI'S DEVILS" in Pall Mall (347). He then goes immediately to the attack: "The pencil of this artist has been distinguished for its originality and boldness, as sometimes to have been exposed to the censure of men of languid imagination for its extravagance." Lucius compares Fuseli with Michelangelo, and he concludes in language very much like Blake's in declaring that the Milton Gallery is "a revival of the high power of the pencil, when it was employed on the superior subjects of history, and not compelled by the misdirected opulence of the community, to the humiliation of the portrait." Furthermore, in August 1799 the Monthly's "Retrospect of the Arts" included another spirited defense of Fuseli's Milton. "In sublimity of subject," the anonymous author declared, "grandeur of design, and spirited execution, this gallery not only takes the lead of any now exhibiting, but perhaps any work of one artist, that every was exhibited" (559). Among the pictures he singles out for praise are (to give the Milton Gallery titles and numbers) are five from Paradise Lost: Satan Calling up his Legions (2); Lapland Orgies (8); Eve, new-created, led to Adam (18), The Vision of the Lazar-house (24), and Death and Sin bridging the 'waste' of Chaos (22). From L'Allegro, the critic names Faery Mab (30), The Frier's Lanthorn (31), and The Lubbar Fiend (32); and from Comus, The Palace and the Rout of Comus (35). (22) Of Satan Calling His Legions the reviewer expresses a view that Blake would have supported: "If the figures.., were reduced to a miniature, it would remain gigantic, grand, and sublime." (Cf. Blake's note, "The Greek Gems are in the Same Style as the Greek Statues.") (23)

Blake may well have remembered these positive comments when he read an attack on Fuseli in Bell's Weekly Messenger for 25 May 1806. The occasion was the showing of Fuseli's Ugolino at the Royal Academy's annual exhibition. The Bell's review is worth reprinting for the first time, as it will be seen that Blake's riposte was not written in a vacuum but in close response to the points it makes.

   Fuseli's Count Ugolino, Chief of the Guelphs

   Before we enter upon our Examination of this Picture it will be
   necessary to ask a question--What are the requisites which the
   Critics would expect to find in a composition of this sort? What
   would he exact from the Artist; what would his taste approve; what
   would satisfy his judgment? He would expect, in the conception of
   the story that which should distinguish it from all other subjects,
   and give it that peculiarity of character, without which no work of
   the pencil can ever be rendered sufficiently decided to be original
   or lasting.--When we examine the above Picture by this rule, we
   cannot admit that the story is so told as to place it among those
   permanent compositions which preclude from success every future
   effort upon a similar subject. In the character of Ugolino, under
   the peculiar misfortune of his imprisonment and overthrow,
   surrounded by his famished family, and in a situation which
   admitted no hope, we naturally expect to find the children looking
   to the father for assistance, and consolation, who incapable of
   affording them relief, but still expressing tenderness and
   compassion for them, has nothing left in his power but paternal
   affection and emotion. But in the present groupe, Ugolino has the
   appearance of a man who, having in a fit of phantasy destroyed the
   young female who lies across his knees, has just returned to a
   sense of reason, and remorse at the act which he has perpetrated.
   He has nothing of the character, either in action or passion, of a
   father who has lost a favourite child by famine. By this material
   error, that of the professed story, as it were, being not only
   imperfectly narrated, but absolutely untold, the artist has
   entirely lost the passion he must have intended to enforce; he has
   substituted horror for pathos, and depicted ferocity instead of
   sympathy.

      The figure of the daughter, as thrown across the knees of the
   father, from the perpendicular hanging of the limbs in right angles
   with the position of the body, conveys more the idea of a drowned
   figure, just taken from the waters, than that of a female emaciated
   and contracted by famine. The sudden dropping of the limbs,
   likewise takes off from the length which the just propositions of
   the body require, and renders the drawings essentially imperfect.
   The body is too short; in fact there is scarcely any body at all;
   the whole figure is arms and legs. The scene of this Picture being
   cast in a dungeon, we of course expected to see a gloom pervading
   every part, but it should be remembered that there is a distinction
   always to be supported between the transparency of tints, though
   gloomy, and tints that are black and heavy; and we could have
   wished that this Picture did not partake so much of the last
   quality in point of the colour.

      There is in the works of Mr. FUSELI an originality of thought
   which gives a very marked character to his Pictures, and for which
   we are inclined to admire and honour him; but it is sometimes
   matter of regret to us that, in the compositions of this Artist,
   the subject is rather made to bend to the mind, than the mind to
   conform to the subject. Thus the general stamp of his Pictures is
   too much uniformity of thinking, and a habit which borders upon
   maunerism.

A few details of this review are worth noting, one by its absence. The reviewer appears to have no idea that by 1806 the Ugolino subject carried with it a heavy load of associational baggage. (24) Sir Joshua Reynolds had exhibited his Count Hugolino and His Children in the Dungeon (Knole Park) at the Royal Academy in 1773, and it had become widely known through engravings. Fuseli's Count Ugolino, now known only through an engraving by Moses Haughton, was intended as a sublime riposte to Reynolds's pathos. Second, the reviewer seems unaware of the picture's source in Dante's Inferno, which is especially strange because its title in the R.A. catalogue is given as Count Hugolino and His Children in the Dungeon, as described by Dante in the thirty-third canto of the Inferno. Third, he concludes with the killer word mannerism, a word that had only recently been introduced--the OED's earliest example is dated 1803--and that carried only a pejorative sense at that time, presumably to show how au courant he is. Blake in his satirical poems about painting and painters pillories such buzzwords and their users. Here he carefully aims his counterattack at the reviewer's weak spots. Had the Bell's reviewer remembered that the source of Fuseli's painting was the Inferno, he could have attacked Fuseli for representing the boy in Ugolino's arms so girlishly. "The child in his arms," writes Blake, "whether boy or girl signifies not, (but the critic must be a fool who has not read Dante, and who does not know a boy from a girl)...." Blake chooses to ignore the androgynous aspect of the figure and instead chastises the critic for not knowing the source, which specifies that all four children are male. He also contends that the child in Ugolino's arms is "beautifully drawn," but does not meet the reviewer's objection to the proportions of the child. Those are indeed exaggerated for expressive or dramatic purposes, as they often are in Blake's art as well. As for Fuseli's use of color, frequently attacked by his critics, the reviewer contends that in rendering the darkness of the dungeon Fuseli does not employ "the transparency of tints," using another fashionable, though older, word (according to the OED the first English use of tint is in Pope's "Epistle to Mr. Jarvis," WIT). Blake does not contest the fact, but counters "the effect of the whole is truly sublime, on account of that very colouring which our critic calls black and heavy." Blake contends that such objections are owing to the corruption of public taste by "pictures imported from Flanders and Holland," a favorite target of his after c. 1800:

   I say, the child is as beautifully drawn as it is coloured--in
   both, inimitable! and the effect of the whole is truly sublime, on
   account of that very colouring which our critic calls black and
   heavy. The German flute colour, which was used by the Flemings,
   (they call it burnt bone), has possessed the eye of certain
   connoisseurs, that they cannot see appropriate colouring, and are
   blind to the gloom of a real terror. (E 768)

(Bone color, which was made from the burnt bones of cattle, produced a soft, shiny black; "flute color" was a synonym for it. (25))

It has recently been discovered that Blake's Monthly Magazine letter prompted a riposte by John Britton, a well-known writer on subjects having to do with art and architecture. In a book entitled The Pleasures of Human Life (London, 1807), Britton attacked "the views of Mr. Fuseli, or his successful pupil and advocate, Mr. Blake," for not "copying created nature," but "substituting their own creations of fancy" instead. Adverting to Fuseli's Ugolino and Blake's criticism of the Bell's Weekly Messenger article, Britton continues: "Mr. Blake couched his lance, and in the true quixotic style, attacked his and Mr. F's annonymous [sic] adversary. An account of this recontre may be seen in the Monthly Magazine; where the said Mr. B. endeavours to prove that the picture by Mr. F. is not only superior to that of Sir Joshua, but is, indeed, superlatively excellent!!!" (26) So Blake becomes for Britton a Don Quixote tilting at windmills on behalf of his supposed teacher. This attack is hardly damaging to either of its targets, as it assumes the reader's agreement to begin with. What it does show is that Blake was right in thinking of the Monthly Magazine as an appropriate forum. Blake's other writings on art either were privately printed or remained in manuscript; this letter, in contrast, brought some of Blake's views to a wide audience. In the following year, Blake wrote to the Monthly Magazine once more. He may have been emboldened to do so not only by the publication of his previous letter but also by a largely favorable review of his illustrations to Robert Blair's The Grave, one which displays some additional knowledge of Blake on the reviewer's part. "The author of these designs," he writes, "is an engraver of no mean talents, and is said to receive the conceptions of them from 'Visions bright,' which, like the Muse of Milton--'Visits his slumbers nightly, or when morn / Purples the East.'" (27) Blake uses this same passage in a letter declaring himself "of the same opinion with Milton when he says That the Muse visits his Slumbers & awakes & governs his Song when Morn purples the East," (28) and we may be sure that he employed similar language on other occasions. Almost the entire review is of Blake's designs. "The series of engravings," continues the reviewer, "forms one of the most singular works ever to be published in England." He credits Blake with "considerable correctness and knowledge of form in the drawings of the various figures," and goes so far as to say "some of them have even an air of ancient art, which would not have disgraced the Roman school." Some strictures on Blake's "wildness of fancy and eccentricity" follow, but these are comparatively mild, and the generally favorable tenor of the review may have encouraged Blake to try to publish another letter in Phillips's magazine.

That letter, dated 14 October 1807, is a protest against the arrest of an astrologer or, more precisely, against the report of it. "A circumstance has occurred which has again raised my Indignation," Blake writes, and continues:

   I read in the Oracle & True Briton of Octr 13, 1807--that a Mr
   Blair a Surgeon has with the Cold fury of Robespierre caused the
   Police to sieze upon the Person & Goods or Property of an
   Astrologer & to commit him to Prison. The Man who can Read the
   Stars. often is opressed by their Influence, no less than the
   Newtonian who reads Not & cannot Read is opressed by his own
   Reasonings & Experiments. We are all subject to Error: Who shall
   say  that we are not all subject
   to Crime

   My desire is that you would Enquire into this Affair & that you
   would publish this in your Monthly Magazine 1 do not pay the
   postage of this Letter because--you as Sheriff are bound to attend
   to it. (E 769)

Like Blake's defense of Fuseli, this letter has considerably more meaning when considered in context rather than in isolation. The Oracle's report, in addition to being surprisingly detailed, is sneeringly dismissive of an occult science that Blake valued.

POLICE

HATTON-GARDEN, SATURDAY, OCT. 10.

ASTROLOGY

"A Seer, named Robert Powell, was brought before the Magistrates, charged, in terms extremely degrading to the high and mysterious dignity of a Sideral Professor, with being a rogue, vagabond, and imposter, and obtaining money under false and fraudulent pretenses, from one Thomas Barnes, a footman, in the service of Surgeon Blair, of Great Russell-street, Bloomsbury, and taking from him 2s. 6p. under pretence of telling the destinies of a female fellow-servant, by means of his skill in astrological divination." Referring to Powell as "the disciple of Zoroaster," and "This descendant of the Magi born to illumine the world by promulgating the will of the stars," the article goes on to tell how Blair's footman found a handbill left by Powell, and laid it on Blair's breakfast table with the newspapers. The handbill is headed "Sciential Instructions Astrology and Calculating Activities, with the most precise accuracy, at 2s. 6d. per Lesson." As rendered in this article, it reads:

   Who will not praise and admire the glory of the sun and stars, and
   the frame of Heaven, and not wish to know their influence and
   operation upon earth, for fear of the ridicule of revilers and
   vilifiers of the science, who understand it not, and so deem it
   fraud and iniquity.

   O happy world! If they did not a hundred thousand times more hurt
   by the baits of pleasure, honour, pride, authority, arrogance,
   extortion, envy, covetousness, and cruelty! and thereby make or
   ruin themselves, by grasping and wantonness; and others by
   deception, craft, fraud and villainy! but that is all gilded over,
   and so such pass for good respectable people. Some may start and
   rave at this, but who can confute the truth of it?

   Can any suppose that the stars, the celestial bodies, are designed
   for no other purpose than for us to look at heedlessly, as being of
   no worth, nor having any effect on us? Daily experience, and the
   most learned of all ages, have proved it, and testified it to us
   that they have, and in a great degree do determine our fate; which
   I and all other professors have experienced and proved in thousands
   of different nativities. Who then, by means of such a noble and
   inestimable science, would not wish for a precognition of the
   events of their most sanguine hopes and fears, which alternately
   alleviate or depress their minds? Is the praising and magnifying a
   work a wrong to the workman? Is knowing, manifesting and
   experiencing, the power and operations of the created, wronging or
   dishonouring the Creator? Though this be a persecuted science, yet,
   happy world! How blest a state, if nothing worse was practiced in
   it!--No letters, unless post paid, will be taken in.

The newspaper report goes on to tell how the astrologer was entrapped: "Mr Blair concerted with some of the Agents of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, a stratagem to entrap the Sideral Professor." This involved Blair's footman going to the astrologer to request the fortune of a cookmaid in whom he claimed a marital interest. The footman found Robert Powell in "the attic story, by some termed 'the roost of genius,' or 'the first floor down the chimney,'" and the astrologer offered to provide a written account the next day. When the footman returned, he paid the astrologer half a crown for the written fortune, and obtained a receipt. Consequently Powell was arrested and brought before the magistrates.

   The wretched prisoner stood motionless and self-convicted. Aged,
   tall, meagre, ragged, filthy and careworn, his squalid looks
   expressed the various features of want and sorrow. Every line of
   his countenance seemed a furrow of grief and anguish; and, his eyes
   gushing with tears, in faint and trembling accents he addressed the
   magistrates. He told them he had been driven by the need to get
   food for his family. If he was able to labour, he would gladly even
   sweep the streets, to obtain them food, but he was too feeble to
   gain employment even in that way; he had tried every other, within
   the scope of his capacity, but in vain.

      'He could not dig, to beg he was ashamed:'

   and even if begging, either by private solicitation, or open in the
   streets, could promise him a casual resource in the charity of the
   passing crowd, he was afraid he should thereby incur prosecution as
   a rogue, and be consigned to imprisonment in Bridewell. Parish
   settlement he had none; and what was to be done with a miserable
   lunatic wife (for the moon was still worse to him than the stars)
   and three naked famishing children? He had no choice but famine,
   theft or imposture. His miserable wife, he feared, was even now
   roaming and raving through the streets, her disorder aggravated by
   his misfortunes; and his wretched children without raiment or food.

Although "obviously affected by this scene," the magistrates declared the prisoner had been repeatedly warned and previously convicted, and they therefore committed him for trial. (29)

If we take a Blake's-eye view of this article, we can understand what prompted his anger. First, the author sneers at not only fraudulent fortune telling, but also the evidence of things unseen in any form. The astrologer is "the disciple of Zoroaster," and a "descendant of the Magi born to illumine the world by promulgating the will of the stars." His poverty is also an object of sarcasm. It may be that some of the details of an insane wife and starving children were put on, but Powell could hardly be accused of preferring to live in an attic and to wear rags in order to impress the magistrates. (It is clear from the reporter's account that Powell had no opportunity to change clothes; he was arrested with the telltale half-crown and receipt in his pocket.) Furthermore, Blair entrapped Powell with the aid of the recently formed Society for the Suppression of Vice, a group that Blake called "Satans Watch-Fiends" in Milton 23:40 (E 119). The "affected" magistrates are like Blake's tyrannical Urizen, pitying the victim in the very act of passing sentence. An especially nasty fillip is provided by the interjection of the New Testament parable of the unjust steward, who, when dismissed by his master for stealing, says, "I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed" (Luke 16:3).

It may appear odd that Blake should mention Newton, but he thought he knew his man. "Richard Phillips," writes Carnall, "believed he had confuted Newton's theory of gravitation, and repeated the confutation, whether in the Monthly Magazine over the signature of 'Common Sense,' or in the school textbooks of which he was a prolific publisher." (30) Blake evidently thought Phillips would see the connection between anti-Newtonianism and scoffing at the stars' "influence"--a word that Blake uses in his writings eight times (31) in the sense of "the supposed flowing or streaming from the stars or heavens of an etherial fluid acting upon the character and destiny of men" (OED). This belief is in line with what in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was known as "natural astrology," which, it was thought, could explain people's dispositions and how they related to others, as distinguished from "judicial astrology," which purported to foretell the future. In this respect, as in some others, Blake's world-view goes back to an older one that sees the human, natural, and astronomical realms as intimately connected. However, Phillips did not rise to Blake's bait, and this letter was not published. At this point, Blake's direct relations with Richard Phillips and his Monthly Magazine, which had played a significant role for the three years following Blake's return to London in September 1803, came to an end. (32)

University of California, Berkeley

Bibliography

Anon. "Mr Fuseli's Designs from Milton." Monthly Magazine 7 (1799): 347.

Anon. "The Grave; a Poem by Blair, illustrated by Twelve Etchings, executed by Louis Schiavonetti, from the original Inventions of William Blake." Monthly Magazine 26 (1808): 468.

Anon. Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of Sir Richd. Phillips. London: G. Hughes and H. D. Symond, 1808.

Barker, Nicholas. "Some Notes on the Bibliography of William Hayley: Part III." Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 4 (1962): 339-60.

Bentley, G. E., Jr. "William Blake As a Private Publisher." Bulletin of the New York Public Library 61 (1957): 539-60.

--. William Blake: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1995.

--. Blake Records: Documents (1714-1841) Concerning the Life of William Blake (1757-1827) and His Family. 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Blake, William. The Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Edited by David V. Erdman. Rev. ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982.

Boyle, A. "The Publisher Sir Richard Phillips." Notes & Queries 196 (1951): 361-66.

Cale, Luisa. "Blake and the Literary Galleries." In Blake and Conflict, edited by Sarah Haggarty and Jon Mee, 185-209. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Carnall, Geoffrey. "The Monthly Magazine." Review of English Studies. New Series 5 (1954): 158-64.

--. Clarke. The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the Most Eminent Persons, Who Have Flourished in Great Britain, from the Accession of George the First to the Demise of George the Fourth. 4 vols. London: Vizetelly, Branston, 1832.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Watchman. Edited by Lewis Patton. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970.

Erdman, David V. et al. A Concordance to the Writings of William Blake. Ithaca. N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967.

Essick, Robert N. and Morton D. Paley. "'Dear Generous Cumberland': A Newly Discovered Letter and Poem by William Blake." Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly 33 (1998-99): 4-14.

Paley, Morton D. The Traveller in the Evening: The Last Works of William Blake. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Rayner, J. L. and G. T. Crook, editors. Volume 5. The Complete Newgate Calendar. London: The Navarre Society, 1926.

Redding, Cyrus. Fifty Years Recollections. 3 vols. London: C.J. Skeet, 1858.

Ripley, Wayne C. "An Unrecorded Attack on William Blake." Notes and Queries 55 (2008): 418--20.

Schiff, Gerd. Johann Heinrich Fussli, 1741-1825. 2 vols. Zurich: Verlag Berichthaus, 1973.

Seccombe, Thomas. "Phillips, Sir Richard (1767-1840)." Revised by M. Clare Loughlin-Chow. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/ view/article/22167. Accessed 23 September 2009.

Tyson, Gerald P. Joseph Johnson, a Liberal Publisher. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1979.

Wilson, Mona. The Life of William Blake. Edited by Geoffrey Keynes. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Wright, Thomas. The Life of William Blake. Olney, Bucks: T. Wright, 1929.

(1.) The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (rev. ed., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 506. This edition is hereafter cited as E.

(2.) See Thomas Wright, The Life of William Blake (Olney, Bucks: T. Wright, 1929), 1:168; and E 866.

(3.) Letter to Thomas Butts, 25 April 1803, E 728.

(4.) See G. E. Bentley, Jr., "William Blake As a Private Publisher," Bulletin of the New York Public Library 61 (1957): 550.

(5.) According to Nicholas Barker's calculation Blake had an overall loss of three pounds, but of course this does not include the considerable cost of Blake's labor on the plates. See Barker, "Some Notes on the Bibliography of William Hayley: Part Ill," Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 3 (1962): 345

(6.) I am indebted to Robert N. Essick (private communication) for this reconstruction.

(7.) See G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Records: Documents (1714-1841) Concerning the Life of William Blake (1757-1827) and His Family, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 220 and 224, from the Eclectic Review (December 1805), and the Annual Review for 1805 (1806). Blake Records is hereafter cited as BR.

(8.) In the Poetical Register for 1805. See G. E. Bentley, Jr., William Blake: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge, 1995), 109.

(9.) See -- Clarke, The Georgian era: memoirs of the most eminent persons, who have flourished in Great Britain, from the accession of George the First to the demise of George the Fourth. (London: Vizetelly, Branston, 1832-34), 4:136. According to Clarke (whose first name I have been unable to discover), the painting, now untraced, was bought by the Earl of Cassilis. Although Clarke does not mention Dawe's source here, he does devote five pages to Blake (4:110-15), unusual for this period. Clarke's discussion of Blake has not been noted previously.

(10.) In 1805 alone Phillips published, among numerous other books, The Correspondence of the Late John Wilkes, Memoirs of Samuel Foote by William Cooke, Practical Agriculture, or, A Complete System of Modern Husbandry by R. W. Dickson, Fleetwood: or, The New Man of" Feeling by William Godwin, and Travels to the Westward of the Allegany Mountains, in the States" of the Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, in the Year 1802 by F. A. Michaux.

(11.) Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of Sir Richd. Phillips (London: G. Hughes and H. D. Symond, 1808), 71, 103.

(12.) Cyrus Redding, Fifty Years Recollections (London: Charles Skeet, 1858), 1:65.

(13.) Phillips, Memoirs, 17.

(14.) Redding, Fifty Years Recollections, 2:258-59.

(15.) Redding, 2:259. See also A. Boyle, "The Publisher Sir Richard Phillips," Notes & Queries 196 (1951): 361-66 (366).

(16.) Gerald P. Tyson, Joseph Johnson, a Liberal Publisher (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1979), 258.

(17.) Thomas Seccombe, 'Phillips, Sir Richard (1767-1840)', rev. M. Clare LoughlinChow, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); online edn., January 2008, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/22167, accessed 23 September 2009.

(18.) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Watchman, ed. Lewis Patton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 374-75.

(19.) Carnall, "The Monthly Magazine," Review of English Studies, New Series 5 (1954): 163.

(20.) See Robert N. Essick and Morton D. Paley, "'Dear Generous Cumberland': A Newly Discovered Letter and Poem by William Blake," Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly 33 (1998-99): 4-14. Cumberland was the author of the life of Bonasoni Blake mentions.

(21.) "Mr Fuseli's Designs from Milton," Monthly Magazine 7 (1799): 347.

(22.) On the Milton Gallery, see Gerd Schiff, Johann Heinrich Fussli, 1741-1825, 2 vols. (Zurich, Verlag Berichthaus, 1973); and Luisa Cale, "Blake and the Literary Galleries," in Blake and Conflict, eds. Sarah Haggarty and Jon Mee (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

(23.) Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds's Discourses on Art, E 651.

(24.) On this subject see Morton D. Paley, The Traveller in the Evening: The Last Works of William Blake, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 100-107.

(25.) For this information I thank my friend Detlef W. Dorrbecker, who also points out that Pfeife was used to designate large, hollow, flute-shaped bones.

(26.) Wayne C. Ripley, "An Unrecorded Attack on William Blake," Notes and Queries 55 (2008): 418-20.

(27.) "The Grave; a Poem by Blair, illustrated by Twelve Etchings, executed by Louis Schiavonetti, from the original Inventions of William Blake. 1808," Monthly Magazine 26 (1808): 468.

(28.) Letter to Dr. John Trusler, 28 August 1799, E 702.

(29.) This article was reprinted, without any reference as to source and with some differences in incidentals, in The Complete Newgate Calendar, ed. J. L. Rayner and G. T. Crook (London: the Navarre Society, 1926), 5:8-12.

(30.) Carnall, "The Monthly Magazine," 164.

(31.) David V. Erdman et al., A Concordance to the Writings of William Blake (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967), s.v.

(32.) After Blake's death, the Monthly Magazine (NS 4, October 1827, 435) published an obituary that has been identified as a corrupt version of one originally published in the Literary Gazette. See G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Books (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 732-33. In 1833 appeared "Bits of Biography. No. 1. Blake the Vision Seer, and Martin the York Minster Incendiary" (NS 15: 244-49) concentrating on Blake's drawing of his Visionary Heads. Mona Wilson identifies the author as probably R. C. Smith, the editor of the astrological magazine Urania and a friend of John Varley's (The Life of William Blake, ed. Geoffrey Keynes [London: Oxford University Press, 1971], 350). However, Phillips, who had retired in 1823, had no connection with articles published after that year.