Saturday, 10 October 2020

William Blake and Hampstead


“Old Wyldes”, North End, where the painter John Linnell played host to William Blake, is an early 17th-century house on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Though the present house was probably built soon after 1600, the estate of which it was the farmhouse was very much older, dating back to medieval times when it had been under monastic control. Wyldes was the medieval name of the estate, a name that was revived at the end of the 19th century. In Blake’s day it was known as Collins Farm.

The Collinses, father and son (and both called John) had been farming Wyldes since 1793. John Collins, the younger, was a small scale dairy farmer, owning 16 cows which grazed on the heath. He also sold strawberries, apples, currants and fresh water at a penny farthing a pail from one of the wells near the house. It is said that “J. Collins cow Keeper & Dairyman North End” can still be seen scratched on the window of his kitchen.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

The Chamber on the Wall

2 KINGS 4: 8-11 (King James Version)
8 And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.
9 And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.
10 Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.
11 And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there.

2 KÖNIGE 4: 8-11 (Luther Bibel 1545)

8 Und es begab sich zu der Zeit, daß Elisa ging gen Sunem. Daselbst war eine reiche Frau; die hielt ihn, daß er bei ihr aß. Und so oft er daselbst durchzog, kehrte er zu ihr ein und aß bei ihr.
9 Und sie sprach zu ihrem Mann: Siehe, ich merke, daß dieser Mann Gottes heilig ist, der immerdar hier durchgeht.
10 Laß uns ihm eine kleine bretterne Kammer oben machen und ein Bett, Tisch, Stuhl und Leuchter hineinsetzen, auf daß er, wenn er zu uns kommt, dahin sich tue.
11 Und es begab sich zu der Zeit, daß er hineinkam und legte sich oben in die Kammer und schlief darin

Monday, 14 September 2020

Bill Goldman, 1950—2020

My friend Bill Goldman died aged 70 in May this year. I have taken far longer to write these notes than I intended thanks to my continuing post-Covid 19 fatigue. I apologise now for any errors, omissions, infelicitous expressions or, indeed, lapses of tone in what follows.

William David “Bill” Goldman, Blake scholar, was born in 1950 in St Pancras, London, the first child and only son (there are two younger sisters) of Joan and William Goldman. Bill’s father, Willy, born 1910 in Mile End Old Town, was a significant memorialist of the Jewish East End. Willy Goldman married as his third wife, Mavis Joan Allsop, in St Pancras, London, in 1950.

Bill entered Sir William Borlase Grammar School in 1960, a good grammar school in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. He left aged 16 with 7 GCEs and one O/A level (Use of English, A-grade) to work for BBC Publications, sorting and delivering office mail. By 1970 he had acquired the qualifications for university entrance and went to the University of Essex to study English Literature. Bill dropped out after two years. I don’t recall him ever speaking about the period following except that it led to his religious conversion around about 1977, of which he wrote “I met Jesus my Saviour and acknowledged Him as such … I love the Bible and regard it as God’s Word as it claims to be”. (To me, this kind of talk is close to meaningless. If the Bible is God’s word, then God is a really crap mathematician. See 1 KINGS 7:23.) I can see that conversion gave Bill’s life a stability it might otherwise have lacked but I think it also made him vulnerable to the Christian flat-earthists, worshippers of Blake’s “old Nobodaddy aloft”, who were/are a feature of the Richmond church he joined.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

The bourgeois Blake

On 29 November 2019, and coinciding with the Blake exhibition at Tate Britain, I attended “William Blake and the Idea of the Artist”, a conference at the Paul Mellon Centre in Bedford Square. The conference sought to “consider the work of William Blake with the context of Romanticism and the artistic currents of his times, the creative legacies of his work and the contemporary resonances of Blake’s vision”.

The first speaker, Silvia Riccardi (University of Freiburg), drawing attention to the interlinear squiggles and elaborations of the lettering in, for example, America, made one want to go back to the works in illuminated printing again, and this time take a magnifying glass. The speakers that followed all made similarly thoughtful contributions. But the final speaker, Dave Beech (University of the Arts, London) left me puzzled.

If I understood his argument, Beech claimed there was an eighteenth-century class distinction between “artisans”, like Blake, who had undergone an apprenticeship, and “artists”, who attended academies. Perhaps it would be anachronistic to point out that Raphael, for example, was apprenticed to Perugino; but surely not anachronistic to note that Sir Joshua Reynolds served an apprenticeship with the fashionable London portrait painter Thomas Hudson. At the age of 10 Blake was drawing from casts of antiquities in the school of Henry Pars, before his apprenticeship to James Basire in 1772. After 1779 Blake was a student at the Royal Academy, where he diligently drew from classical sculpture under the instruction of George Moser.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Bunhill Fields—25 May 1708


Post Boy, January 10, 1708 - January 13, 1708; Issue 1975.

In early 1708, the religious group known as the French Prophets (a millenarian movement active in London from 1706), sensationally announced in the London newspapers that Thomas Emes, one of their number, who had died at the end of December 1707, would rise from his grave at Bunhill Fields on 25 May.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Blakespotting: Private Eye

The Private Eye letters pages regularly include “Lookalikes” where sometimes surprising visual resemblances are brought to our attention. The issue of 4-17 October 2019 features, on pages 21-22, no fewer than three Lookalikes and a Moggalike (Jacob Rees-Mogg appropriately paired with a relaxing kangaroo).

Here’s page 22 (click to enlarge)


Sunday, 17 February 2019

Bunhill Fields—3 September 1688


John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, died in August 1688, at the age of sixty. Drenched in a rainstorm on a rare visit to London for a preaching engagement, Bunyan fell ill while staying at the home in Snow Hill, Farringdon Without, of the grocer John Strudwick. His cold developed into a fever, though he still preached on 19 August to a London congregation, until illness claimed his life on 31 August 1688. He was buried at Bunhill Fields on 3 September.

Strudwick had already purchased a plot for a family vault in Bunhill Fields and it was his intention that Bunyan’s remains would be placed there too, though Bunyan was initially buried in the “Baptist Corner” at the back of the burial ground. John Strudwick survived another nine years, himself dying in 1697. There is no record of when Bunyan’s coffin was placed in the Strudwick vault although one might guess it was soon after Strudwick’s burial; the surviving burial ground registers only begin in 1713.