Tim Linnell [tim@thelinnells.freeserve.co.uk], a descendant of the artist, has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web his scanned text of The Life of John Linnell, which the London publishers Bentley and Son brought out in 1892. George P. Landow has adapted it for html, adding links to the original text.


Removal to North End, Hampstead — Incessant Labours — Adventure with a Furious Bull — Partial Breakdown — Mulready's Influence — William Blake's Visits to Hampstead — Other Visitors — Blake's Designs for Virgil's Pastorals — Dr. Thornton and Mr. Tatham — Sir Thomas Lawrence — copying Old Masters — Reading.

decorated initial 'I'N the summer of 1822 Linnell took lodgings for Mrs. Linnell and the children at North End, Hampstead, at a place called Hope Cottage, where they remained until the autumn. He did not stay with them himself, but went up on Sundays, returning to town on Monday morning. Occasionally, too, he went in the evening after work, going back to Cirencester Place the same night or the next morning.

Finding that the fresh air of Hampstead had been beneficial both to himself and his family (which now numbered four children, three — Elizabeth, John, and James — having been born at Cirencester Place), he in the following year took lodgings at Collins' Farm, North End, for a couple of months, and removed his family thither on August 29, 1823. He did not stay there all the time himself, but visited Hampstead occasionally and made sketches there.

It is curious to note that Linnell makes no entry in his journal of any visit paid by Blake to Hampstead during these two years. The circumstance is probably explainable by the fact that Cirencester Place was still our artist's residence, and that the other was only a temporary abode, which he himself only visited occasionally.

In March, 1824, Linnell took his family to live permanently at Collins' Farm, retaining the house at Cirencester Place, however, as a studio, and going to and fro by coach.

Linnell was now in his thirty-third year, and in robust health, notwithstanding the great strain he was putting upon his powers. For, not content with the work he had done during the day, he had something else to occupy his mind and keep his hands busy when he reached home, either some of his miniature portraits to proceed with, some engravings to do, or what not. At Hampstead he executed a portrait of Mrs. Garratt and a miniature on ivory of Mrs. Squire (both in 1825); also his engravings of the portraits of Mr. Pritchard, Mr. Lowry, Mr. Chevalier, some plates of Norwegian scenery, etc. Thus he occasionally spent a day or two at Hampstead by way of rest.

In August, 1826, he built a small additional room adjoining his other rooms at the farm. It was of wood, and was his first venture in house-building, of which he did a good deal later on.

Not many men could have stood the incessant labour that he was undergoing, and it appears to have told upon him in the long-run. But for several years, at least, he seems to have perceived no reason to relax his energies. One cannot but wonder at his ceaseless activity, and at the many-sidedness of his genius, which in his case, at least, was one preeminently of taking pains. To his other labours at this time he added that of making the family bread. He first began this onerous business in 1820, about a year after going to live in Cirencester Place, and he did not relinquish it for many years afterwards. His object, of course, was to be sure of having un-adulterated bread, which was not so easily procurable from the public bakehouses then as now. He used to go through the whole operation himself, from the putting in of the yeast to the baking; and when the family went to live at Hampstead, he took the bread up there after making it. Many a time, he was wont to say, he was obliged to leave his sitters in order to go and knead up the dough.

Sometimes, after his day's labours, he used to walk home to Hampstead; and on one occasion, when painting the likeness of his daughter Hannah, he carried her the greater part of the way on his shoulder. One morning as he was on his way to town he had an adventure with an infuriated bull, which resulted in nothing more serious than a fright, although it might have been otherwise but for his presence of mind. He was on the highroad between Highgate and Hampstead, when he suddenly heard the cry of 'Mad bull!' followed by the clattering of the animal's hoofs on the hard ground. Before he had time to get out of the way the brute was upon him. Then it was that his athletic training turned to his advantage. Keeping his eye on the bull, he held out his cloak, which he was carrying on his arm, somewhat in the manner of the bull-fighters, allowing the infuriated animal to charge that, he meanwhile springing lightly on one side. Then, while the bull carried it off on his horns and butted at it against the bank, he made for the stile and got safely over. Meanwhile, the bull had caught sight of another man, and charged at him. But he, too, escaped him by scrambling over the railings, and the bull, deluded a second time, dashed away down the road. Then Linnell was able to go back and get his cloak and proceed on his way.

Mrs. Linnell used frequently to relate this occurrence, chiefly because of an incident, which she held to be providential, connected with it. That morning she and the children had gone out with the artist, intending to walk a little way with him, but they had been compelled to turn back in consequence of the threatening rain. Thus, she held, they were saved from the danger they would have run had they all been along with her husband when he encountered the bull.

It is not certain in what year this incident took place, or whether it had any effect in accelerating the physical breakdown which occurred towards the end of his residence at Hampstead, and which had a great deal to do with his final decision to take a house nearer to town. Linnell always attributed this temporary collapse in the prime of life to the strain he had put upon himself in the early days of his acquaintance with Mulready. Albeit physically so much less powerful than his friend, he was, as already stated, tempted to emulate his prowess with the gloves, and in walking, jumping, etc., as well as in hard work, and was thus led greatly to overtax his powers. In this respect, as we have seen, he considered Mulready's influence over him prejudicial.

Referring to this subject in his autobiography, he says: 'No one could know Mulready intimately, as I did, without having all their faculties taxed to the utmost, and mine were taxed often beyond my strength, which was very inferior to his; he being a strong, active man of 5 feet 10 inches high, while my stature never exceeded 5 feet 5 inches. My muscular frame, however, was developed, and I might have been throughout life a much stronger person than I proved to be had not excess of exercise and other imprudence counteracted the good to a great extent. By trying to keep pace with Mr. Mulready — a man so much beyond me in powers of endurance — I overtaxed my powers, and eventually, in the midway of this our mortal life, I became suddenly exhausted, and have never completely recovered.'

This illness appears to have come on in 1827. It incapacitated him from any severe physical exertion for some time, and, indeed, he seems never to have thoroughly recovered his former bodily vigour. But on his removal from Hampstead to Bayswater he began gradually to improve, partly in consequence of a change of treatment. Dr. Thornton (William Blake's friend) was his chief medical adviser while at Hampstead, and he appears to have been a better friend than physician.

While at Hampstead, however, the artist spent several pleasant years at Collins' Farm, which is rendered the more interesting to us because it is more associated with the memory of Blake than either of the other houses in which he frequently visited Linnell.

To this rural abode Blake used frequently to walk on a Sunday, and spend the afternoon and evening with the artist and his family, often meeting there other equally congenial spirits, such as Varley, Dr. Thornton, George Richmond, Samuel Palmer, etc. He seldom missed a Sunday if he could help it, drawn thither by the genial hospitality and affection of his host and hostess, though all the while protesting that the air of Hampstead was inimical to his health. He had a theory that the north generally was malefic, if not devilish, and that not merely in a physical or cosmical sense, but spiritually also. The south, on the contrary, was to him synonymous with all that is wholesome, genial, beneficent, and spiritually good.

The happy days of his youth had been associated with the pleasant fields of Surrey. There he had enjoyed the early days of love's dream — there he had had his first vision; whereas the more bracing northern suburbs were identified by him with pain and discomfort. But in this respect Hampstead appears to have borne the bell in point of fanciful detestation. For even whilst enjoying its quiet in the bosom of his friend's family, or its beauty from the artist's garden or summer-house, he would not infrequently be tempted to inveigh against its propitious qualities. And his views on this, as upon other subjects, would sometimes be expressed with a brusqueness and force altogether at variance with his usual amiable manner. On one occasion, for instance, when Mrs. Linnell ventured to express her humble opinion that Hampstead was a healthy place, Blake startled her by saying, 'It is a lie! It is no such thing!'

Several of the artist's sons and daughters remember these visits of Blake to Hampstead. They recollect him as a grave and sedate gentleman, with white hair, a lofty brow, and large lambent eyes (which would fill with tears when their mother sang one of her favourite Scottish songs), and a kind and gentle manner. He was fond of children, and often took Mr. Linnell's little ones upon his knee, and talked to them in a grave, yet withal an amusing manner, telling them stories, and readily falling in with, and taking part in, their amusements. On one occasion, seeing the eldest girl, Hannah, busy upon a rude attempt at a face, he took the pencil, and showed her by a few deft touches how to give it the semblance of a real human countenance. This incident has been magnified by Gilchrist into his teaching her drawing. She afterwards, like most of the family, learned to draw and paint very cleverly; but the training was all her father's, and not in any sense Blake's.

Although the connection between the two was one of friendship, it may be said that Linnell was in a way a pupil of Blake. So receptive a mind as that of the younger artist could not help being greatly influenced by one like Blake, who exercised a powerful sway over all who came in contact with him. But Linnell was peculiarly sensible to his influence. In some respects the two men could hardly have been more opposite in character and disposition than they were, and yet there was much in common between them. They lived on a similar plane of spiritual thought; they both had great reverence for the Scriptures; and both in their way were of a highly poetic turn. Each, too, was characterized for the simplicity of his wants, and for his genuine love of Nature. It would be difficult to say, perhaps, which had the more masterful spirit, which was the more independent in his views, and which the more courageous in following out his convictions. Linnell had already shown how resolute in this respect he could be, and how uncompromising he was in his allegiance to the truth. Such a temperament could not help being strengthened in its vigorous democratic tendencies by the man who, during the period of the French Revolution, had the courage to don the bonnet rouge, and wear it in the street.

For nine years these two lived in the closest and most intimate friendship. From the day it commenced till the day of Blake's death it was never interrupted. Nothing dimmed the younger artist's admiration and reverence for the elder; he grew to think more and more of his wonderful powers as his knowledge of him increased, while the object of his veneration repaid him with a friendship that was all the stronger because it was bound up with the most sacred feelings of gratitude.

The Dr. Thornton above referred to as a frequent visitor at Hampstead and Linnell's family doctor was a man of much learning in science and literature, as well as the author of many works. He brought out an edition of Virgil's 'Pastorals,' for which Blake executed some remarkably fine illustrations, engraving them himself on wood. They narrowly escaped being sacrificed, however, to the doctor's and the publishers' lack of taste, and were only saved by the enthusiastic admiration of artists who saw them. The following letter from Thornton to our artist would appear to indicate that, in despair with Blake's designs, he had appealed to him to help him out of his difficulty by the aid of lithography:

13, Union Street, Broad Street, City, September 15, 1820.
My Dear Friend,

Enclosed you see what Blake's "Augustus" produces in the usual mode of printing. How much better will be the stone, provided it turns out well! It will amalgamate with wood, and not injure by comparison. I long to see your Virgil transferred upon the stone. It has one great advantage — authority for the drawing, superior execution, and cheap printing and perpetuity. Permit me to thank you for your kind exertions. It should be a common cause to get me out a Virgil worthy of the nation for the benefit of the rising generation, and to inspire them with a love for the arts.

I remain, dear sir,
Most truly your obliged friend,

Robert John Thornton.

Another letter, dated, however, a few years earlier (1816), is of passing interest, as showing in what a variety of ways our artist was called upon to exercise his talent. It is as follows

Dear Linnell

My son has a lecture on astronomy January 15, after which a concert and oratorio. He will send you and family orders.

If you could paint a transparency of Galileo, it would be the making of him, as his lecture turns on that great man with a fine forehead.

Yours truly,
R. J. Thornton.

Your sister is much better.

If we may judge from the following letter from Mr. Tatham, Dr. Thornton was a better scholar than physician:

Queen Street, Mayfair, Friday.

Dear Linnell,

I regret your health will not permit you to take the journey with me to Uppark. I am inclined to think from the reasons you state that your decision is a right one. Had the weather been tolerable, I should have walked up to you; and hesitated some time this morning before I quitted Alpha Road. I have by this post apprized Sir Harry; and if I can possibly bring about a few sittings when they come up in January, I shall be very happy to do it, and will do all I can to hold the commission for you. I know there is no pressing haste about it. You know you can always command my friendly offices whenever an opportunity is thrown before me.

I recommend you to live freely, not too frugally; take care what you let in, and what you let out. I will send you the song of "Begone, dull care." You may set down a good deal for the humidity of the weather; it must affect all persons of unstable nerves — come a good frost, and you will be a "cock upon a rock." You have much to be very happy for — a good wife, fine children, fine talents, and a competence. You have been a most successful man, and you are now walking on the highroad of preferment. Count up all this, and you will find it don't amount to a trifle.

My poor afflicted son is pulled back and back; the subject is worn out with me. I wish I could get him abroad; but my hands are tied and bound — my large family and my decreasing occupations threaten straitened circumstances. I am the milch cow to fifteen living souls — think of that, Johnny!

"The Lord is my Shepherd.; I shall not want." The whole Book of Psalms is my support. The more I drink of the Fountain of Wisdom, the stronger I am; the less I drink, the weaker I am.

Remember me cordially to dear Mrs. L. and family, and accept the united good wishes of your old crony, my dearest wife, and of all my family.

I hear you still consult that Top-sawyer Thornton. He has been a thorn in my side; but I endeavour to forget his unsuccessful and expensive experiments upon my poor son.

Yours ever truly,
C. H. TATHAM.

During these years at Hampstead, and, indeed, for some years later, Linnell was still chiefly occupied with portraits, although he was now getting somewhat better prices. But he was not neglecting landscape. His diary records that he made his first sketch from Nature at Hampstead in July, 1822. This was, of course, during his first summer at Hope Cottage. He afterwards made a large number of sketches in the neighbourhood of his home, and used many of them in subsequent pictures. These studies are still in existence, and very fine work they display.

During these years Linnell was kept busy with a great variety of work. In the months of June and July, 1822, he worked for Sir Thomas Lawrence upon a small unfinished portrait in oil-colours of the Duke of Wellington on horseback, begun by Mr. Stephanoff, from the large life-size picture by Sir Thomas. His diary records that he worked for seventeen days on the portrait, and received 35 for what he had done on it.

It was whilst our artist was at work on the portrait of the Great Duke that he took the opportunity of introducing Blake to Sir Thomas Lawrence, whom he induced at one period or another to purchase several of his friend's works, notably 'The Wise and Foolish Virgins' and 'The Dream of Queen Katherine.'

The relations between Linnell and Sir Thomas Lawrence were always very cordial, and subsisted till the latter's death in 1830. On one occasion Sir Thomas got his own framemaker to enlarge the frame of a small portrait of Linnell's — it was of William Denny, youngest son of Sir Edward Denny, Bart., painted at King's End House, near Worcester — in order to make it fit a space on the line at the Academy. In 1822 he gave him a letter to Lord Cowper, in order that he might obtain permission to finish his copy on ivory of his lordship's celebrated Raphael. It was begun at the Royal Academy, Somerset House, in the February of the above year, and was proceeded with at Lord Cowper's house in George Street, Hanover Square, during the months of April and May, being finished on May 8.

About the same time (1822) he made a small copy from a Rembrandt (of 'Abraham and Hagar') for Captain Digby Murray; for whom, in the same year, he painted his picture of 'Ariel' (the price being 35). He had previously executed several other commissions for Captain Murray, among the number being (in 1819) a picture of 'Venus rising from the Sea,' and (in 1821) small oil copies of two large companion pictures by Titian, in the collection of the Marquis of Stafford, 'Diana and Acteon,' and 'Diana and Calisto,' for which he received 100 guineas each.

To the same period belong the whole-length portraits in oil of Lady Agnes Buller and Captain Buller (for which the artist notes that he received 150 guineas each), and the miniature upon ivory of Lady Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Mansfield; also, though a little later (1824), the charming miniature group of the artist's own children.

During all this time, notwithstanding his multifarious labours, Linnell was not neglecting to enlarge his mind by various reading and study. He was an omnivorous reader, every description of literature finding a ready appetite in his mind, except, perhaps, fiction; albeit of that too he had read deeply in his younger days. But later in life he did not do so much novel-reading, and his acquaintance with works of that nature was very limited. He read most of Walter Scott's romances, and for one of them, 'The Heart of Midlothian,' he afterwards designed and painted an illustration, and — although this was much later in life — he derived great pleasure from the perusal of several of Charles Dickens's works. Knowing Wilkie Collins also, he was induced to read his Woman in White,' if not one or two more of his novels. But, with the exception of the latter two authors, and perhaps one or two others, his acquaintance with later fictional literature was not great. His lightest reading was apt to be somewhat substantial, and amongst his books for diversion were such works as Horne Tooke's 'Diversions of Purley,' Fuller's 'Worthies,' Aristophanes, Pope's 'Essay on Man,' Lucian's Dialogues, Butler's 'Hudibras,' Hone's Works, etc. A man is known by his books as well as by his works, and it is interesting and instructive, as regards the development of his mind, to know that, during the middle period of his life, when his character was broadening and deepening, Linnell read, among others, the following works: Rapin's History, Herodotus, Thucydides, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, Locke's Works, Dr. Gill's Commentary on the Bible, and Plato's Works (translated by Thomas Taylor). In the latter especially he took great delight, and at one time or another devoted much time to their study. At this period also he became possessed of a good edition of Milton's Works, both in prose and poetry. He admired all the great Puritan's writings, but most of all, perhaps, those in prose, in which he found a spirit and an earnestness akin to his own, and from which he derived much benefit. Among the poets to whom he turned for inspiration or relaxation, in addition to those previously mentioned, were Dante, Spenser, Chaucer, Dryden, Young, Goldsmith, Thomson, Sheridan, and, though somewhat later, Byron.


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