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 this biography. George P. Landow has adapted it for html, adding links to the original text.

Leaning towards Quakerism — Bernard Barton, the Quaker Poet — Samuel Rogers — Abraham Cooper — Samuel Palmer — Sir David Wilkie.

decorated initial 'R'MONGST the voluminous correspondence left by Linnell, perhaps no portion of it is more interesting than a series of letters written to him by Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet, and a letter in reply to one of them by the artist himself. All the letters but two belong to the year 1830, and they throw an interesting light upon Linnell's religious views at this time. The artist had a strong inclination to join the Quakers, and the correspondence is largely concerned with that matter, which, indeed, seems to have been the originating cause of the correspondence, all of which, unfortunately, has not been preserved. Apart from this, almost the only other subject treated of in the Quaker poet's letters is Blake's works, Linnell having sent for his inspection a copy of the poet-painter's 'Inventions to the Book of Job,' and a print of one of his designs for the illustration of Dante.

There is nothing in the correspondence, nor in the artist's journal, to indicate that the two men ever met; indeed, the letters appear to point the other way. It is probable, therefore, that they became mutually acquainted with each other through some common friend.

The first letter of the series (although it is evidently not the first which had passed between them) is an acknowledgment of a package containing the 'Job,' while the second, dated ten days later, contains a highly interesting criticism of the work. But we will let them speak for themselves.

Woodbridge, April 12, 1830.

Thy packet containing the copy of Blake's Inventions for the Book of Job duly reached me the early part of last week, but absence from home together with indisposition, and almost incessant engagements since, have prevented me from sooner thanking thee for a sight of so extraordinary a production. Were I a rich man, I would gladly and instantly purchase it for its curiosity; but since I cannot do this, I am the more indebted to thy courtesy for allowing me the gratification of inspecting it. If I can sell it for thee I will do so with pleasure, though I doubt its finding a purchaser; but I will answer for its transmission by coach, safely packed up and carriage paid, at the time stated in thine if I am unable to dispose of it, and in the interim every possible care shall be taken of it.

Thine truly in haste,

B. B.

Woodbridge, April 22 1830

I have been a good deal indisposed for a day or two, or I should have returned Blake punctually to the day appointed; and I feel by no means well enough even now to write such a letter announcing the despatch of the book as it deserves. I cannot, however, do less than repeat my cordial thanks for the sight of so curious and extraordinary a volume; and the very first time I go to town I hope to have the pleasure of adding my personal to these written acknowledgments for the treat afforded me, as well as the gratification of seeing and conversing with one whose friendship for Blake has so highly prepossessed me in his favour; but my visits to town are, alas! few and far between; nor do I at present see a chance of paying one this summer.

Unwell as I have been, and incapable of doing more than attend to the routine of daily duties, I would have asked someone else to pack up and forward the Inventions had I not waited in the hope of finding a purchaser for the set, and the only person I could call to mind in this vicinity as likely to buy them I could not see till last evening — but I have seen him in vain. There is a dryness and hardness in Blake's manner of engraving which is very apt to be repulsive to print-collectors in general — to any, indeed, who have not taste enough to appreciate the force and originality of his conceptions, in spite of the manner in which he has embodied them. I candidly own I am not surprised at this ; his style is little calculated to take with the admirers of modern engraving. It puts me in mind of some old prints I have seen, and seems to combine somewhat of old Albert Durer with Bolswert. I cannot but wish he could have clothed his imaginative creations in a garb more attractive to ordinary mortals, or else given simple outlines of them. The extreme beauty, elegance, and grace of several of his marginal accompaniments induce me to think that they would have pleased more generally in that state. But his was not a mind to dictate to; and what he has done is quite enough to stamp him as a genius of the highest order. A still prouder and more enduring meed of praise is due to the excellence and sterling worth of the man: his child-like simplicity, his manly independence, his noble aspirations after the purest and loftiest of all fame, appear to me to form a singular union of those virtues which distinguished the better citizens of Greece and Rome with the milder graces which adorned the primitive Apostles. To have been the friend of such a man is a proud and enviable distinction.

Thine most truly,

B. B.

I have paid all the carriage and postage which they tell me at the office here I can pay.

The next two are in reply to letters by Linnell seeking information and guidance on the all-important question of his joining the Society of Friends. Incidentally in the first, however, the Dante illustration is referred to, as well as an etching of Linnell's (a copy of which he had evidently made his correspondent a present). The letters are worthy of preservation as literature only, apart from their value as expositions of Quakerism. They are as follows:

Woodbridge, June 15 1830

Judged by the date of thine, I must appear to thee very inattentive and negligent, and I fear thou hast suspected me of feeling quite indifferent to, or uninterested in, the subject occupying a considerable portion of it. Be assured I have neither been the one nor the other. The simple fact is that thy letter, though dated on the 13th May, did not reach me till, I think, the 3rd of June, the parcel containing it having, I suppose, gone a circuitous route; and when it did arrive, it was delivered at the Bank in my absence, and put into a desk we do not often open, so that I stumbled upon it by accident some time after it actually arrived. Had it reached me sooner, however, I hardly know whether I could have been much more prompt in my response; for I have been for the past three weeks painfully interested about a little girl, a boarder in the same family, who has been one of our domestic circle for the last four years, and who about three weeks ago was attacked by a sudden and violent inflammatory affection, which after near a fortnight's severe, but from its commencement hopeless, struggle, deprived us of one of the most amiable and interesting members of our little establishment. Her loss has been to us a most afflicting trial, and her illness a period of most anxious and absorbing solicitude. Not another word of apology, I am sure, need be offered for my silence.

I thank thee very cordially for Blake's illustration of a scene in Dante, and feel myself equally, if not more, thy debtor for the pretty little pastoral etching of thy own. At the risk of being thought to possess a tame and insipid taste, I must confess I prefer it to Blake's. I admire the imaginative genius displayed in the latter, but I love the simple feeling and truth to Nature evinced in the former. Not having ever seen one of thy designs before, though I had heard of thy talent as an artist, I had no idea of thy being a practitioner in my favourite department of thy art — landscape-painting. If thy colour and execution do but adequate justice to thy taste and skill in composition, I can fancy a picture, or even sketch, from thy hand to be a treat of no ordinary luxury.

But I must turn to the more important part of thine. So far as my own taste, feeling, and judgment are competent to decide the point, I see no irreconcilable hostility between the religious principles of Friends and the indulgence of a taste for painting. But I am quite aware that a Quaker painter would be a still greater novelty than a Quaker poet, and am almost inclined to doubt whether the former would not have a still more difficult and delicate task to perform than the latter if he hoped to be regarded by the body as orthodox and consistent. Abstractedly, there can be no necessary hostility between Quakerism and painting, because I know of no good reason why it should be more unquakerly to draw or paint a beautiful landscape than to build a fine house or lay out and embellish its grounds. But it is easy to theorize on elementary principles, which, when put in practice, involve much difficulty and perplexity. My own nutshell of a house is as full of prints and pictures as I can well hang it; but my indulgence in this respect is at variance with general practice amongst us, and would be regarded, I doubt not, as a species of laxity and latitudinarianism by many excellent and worthy members of our society. I have not time or space now to enter into arguments, but simply to state facts, which certainly, on the face of them, are a little incongruous. Most of our members — at least, among the more opulent — who give their children what is called a good education, have them taught drawing at school; yet pictures are barely tolerated amongst us — I mean on our walls — and a painter of any eminence amongst us is unknown. So stand the facts of the case. There is some little apparent inconsistency in them, I admit; but I think they would admit of explanation, if not vindication. Seeing that these things are so, I foresee that an application for admission into membership on the part of an artist of any note would very probably excite surprise in the first instance, and lead to a probably minute investigation of his unity with the society in its vital and leading doctrines. How far thy accordance with our views would stand the test of such investigation thou canst decide better than I can. My advice would be, if on mature reflection thy inclination should become a matter of deliberate judgment, to do nothing rashly or hastily. Our creed and ritual, if I may call it such, is one possessing few external attractions and still fewer worldly advantages; while it calls for some sacrifices, and imposes many restraints, which no judicious or reflecting person would impose on himself without a serious conviction that it was incumbent on him to do so for conscience' sake. I am far from wishing to throw the slightest impediment in the way of any honest and serious inquirer, especially in the way of one whom I respect and love for his candour and simple sincerity. I only wish thee to weigh the subject well in its different bearings. I can easily give thee the name of a Friend in London with whom thou mayst converse on the matter, if such should still be thy wish; but give the subject full and mature deliberation first, and if I can answer any questions, or be of any use in assisting thee to form a judgment, write to me freely. Thy very affectionate friend and well-wisher,


Woodbridge, July 1. 1830.


Thine dated the 21st ult. reached me in due course, but very pressing and unpostponable engagements have prevented my replying to it sooner.

To reply to it, however, so fully as inclination would lead me could hardly be compressible within the limits of a letter. I respect and esteem the candour and simplicity evinced in thine, but I foresee considerable difficulty in the way of thy admission to membership amongst us, if I rightly understand thy views and feelings. If I am incorrect, the difficulty may of course be ideal. But it strikes me from what I can gather from thine that, while on some important points thy views may coincide with those of Friends, on others they are still undecided. If in thy view what are generally considered by the world as the peculiarities of Quakerism are looked upon as mere human additions to the commands of Christ, and thou wouldst not choose to be known either by thy dress or address for a Quaker, I fear a stumbling-block would be thrown in thy way at the very commencement. Whatever may be the degree of practical license in such matters which lax professors, still retaining outward membership, may choose to allow themselves, the avowed principles of the body on these topics are well known — the exceptions only prove the existence of the rule; and as the members most active in the discharge of discipline, and whose opinions and feelings are most influential in their respective meetings, are generally consistent Friends, walking according to what they consider "the Law and the Testimony," I should, a priori, be inclined to doubt that an applicant thus candidly avowing he could go so far and no further would seem to them a little like those of olden time who held the language, " We will eat our own bread and wear our own apparel, only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach." I feel confident, my dear friend, that I shall not give offence by following thy own example of unreserved candour. I only wish thee, if it should be thy continued wish to take the step of applying for admission to membership, to be prepared for such inquiries as common prudence, and a due regard to that order and consistency which every religious body must maintain, will naturally and necessarily lead to.

So far as our brief and imperfect correspondence enables me to judge, I am inclined to think that, while on the subject of war and various other major points our views and opinions approximate, on many others, which I will concede are of themselves of minor import, thou art only prepared to go as far as in thy individual judgment may strike thee as called for. Thou explicitly givest as one reason for wishing to join Friends thy desire to have a good excuse for nonconformity with certain worldly customs; but is this not rather beginning at the wrong end? Is it not likely that any religious body would naturally expect such noncompliance to precede such application? I believe it more generally does, and that it will be found in the case of those who have been thus united to the society by convincement. that they have given such practical proof of unity in faith and doctrine, in life and conversation, before they have applied for admission. Thou art doubtless aware that Friends, of all the different sects, are least distinguished by a zeal for proselytism, and most scrupulously observant of the Apostolic injunction to lay hands suddenly on no man; though I believe there is no test required, or ordeal enjoined, from which conscientious conviction need shrink. But the conviction must be conscientious not a question of expediency; the unanimity of religious sentiment and feeling must be cordial and entire, not doubtful and partial. Shouldst thou be inclined to make further inquiry, I would recommend thy addressing a few lines to Peter Bedford, of Stewart Street, if thou art unable to get to town; but a personal conference with him would be far better. I have no acquaintance whatever with the Holborn Dartons, nor do I recollect ever having seen them; they may probably know me by name, and if a line from me can be of use, let me know.

Thine truly,

B. B.

Linnell's reply to the latter needs no comment

Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, London, July 26, 1830.

As you are so kind as to allow me to express my opinion and feelings to you without fear of offending, I am induced to say a few words in answer to your last. I think your perception of the difficulties which lie in the way to my being admitted as a member with you is correct, and I always feared the same would be the case ever since I first thought of the subject: not from what I have read in Barclay, but from what I have observed as to the exact resemblance of Friends to each other, which I can only account for by supposing it to be considered by them to be essential. As I agree with what I should consider the grand peculiarities of the society, and have avowed and practised them, it appears to me that I should be a proper person to belong to the society, and I seek it that I might continue to avoid worldly customs (when they interfere with the practice of Christian discipline) under the shelter of the privilege already obtained by the Friends. This is the motive, or partly so, of my application, and not to take away any reproach belonging to my present condition, but the contrary, to take the reproach of the Quaker, as far as Christian discipline leads me ; but I never can affect peculiarities which do not evidently form a part of such discipline. If you say I have no right to judge of such things, but should be guided by the Church, wherein do you differ from the Papists, who insist upon a blind submission for the same alleged reason? I do not want in this to be guided by my opinion, but we should all submit ourselves to the will of God and clearly prove what we require of each other. I am willing to be guided by this principle, but when the Word of God is silent, I claim the privilege of judging for myself, though willing to hear all that can be urged. In answer to what you say as to "beginning at the wrong end," I say I have already followed the practice of the Friends in many things and suffered for it, and that I may do so in cases which I have not yet been called to is one reason (as I have stated) why I wish to belong to the Friends. For instance, should I be called into a court of justice, having the same objection to oaths, I should be allowed the privilege of the society and should escape, so also in many other instances.

I am happy to find you say that you "believe there is no ordeal enjoined from which conscientious conviction need shrink" ; but' I fear when you say that the unanimity of religious sentiment must be cordial and entire, not doubtful or partial," that you mean something like a submission of the judgment to human authority; at least, such has been generally the plausible reason assigned for such a requisition. As I agree with you that a personal interview is the most desirable upon such subjects, I intend to wait until I have, such opportunity within my reach ; at present I am not able to go far to obtain it. I am much obliged for your allowing me to mention your name, and will avail myself of it when I go near Mr. Darton's. Perhaps that may lead to some acquaintance that may further the above object.

I am, sir,
Your sincerely obliged friend,


P.S. — I hope when you are in London you will not fail to call and see me.

The following letter, addressed to another Friend (Mr. Samuel Hare), although of much later date, may conveniently be inserted here as giving very fully and clearly Linnell's reasoned-out objections to Quaker doctrine and practice:


It is immaterial to me what form of address is used if sincere and free from those flattering titles which I do not any more than you feel at liberty to give to men, and while I think it right to obey the exhortation of Jude and "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints," I would avoid contending for peculiarities adopted by a small minority in opposition to all the rest of my countrymen in the use of speech, because when we contend about trifles it neutralizes our efforts in things of importance. On this account I think it injurious to the cause of truth to insist upon the use of thou and thee for you, because there is really no different or improper meaning conveyed in one more than the other, and as use is nearly everything in speech, in which there should be as little as possible to interrupt the flow of sense and meaning, I feel that in spite of grammar the logic is on the side of the prevailing use of the pronouns. It appears to me better to act from within from a sense of what is becoming one confessing Christ, than from without by adopting a fixed cut and colour of dress; the meek and quiet spirit should be seen in the women, and sobriety in the men, uncontradicted by the presence of anything contrary in the dress, all which might exist with sufficient variety of form and colour to allow of suitable arrangements for each person. When useless points of difference are removed, the serious things become evident and stand out in stronger relief, the enemy of truth has not the opportunity of evading conviction so easily by making the controversy turn upon an unimportant matter.

Your letter, dear sir, you see, has liberated me from the fear I at first felt that I had overstepped the privilege of a Christian brother (at least in your opinion); I was glad to find it otherwise, and thank you. Since I received your last I have looked over Beverly again, and the abridgment, and I see that the whole of what is said in the latter is in the first part of Beverly, but in him the praise is much qualified by his XXV. Letter, I suppose you have a copy of Beverly and the American abridgment. I have not the latter, and shall be glad if you will tell me where to get one.

I have looked into Barclay's " Apology," the only book of the subject I have, and notwithstanding there is so much that I agree with, I feel painfully sensible of a deficiency of conscientiousness in his statements of the arguments. You ask me what is ignored by your sect. Why, Baptism and the Lord's Supper are both gone, and the absence defended, I think, in a sadly equivocating manner, more like special pleading to leave his adversary incapable of reply, than as if he really believed his own statement. You will soon see what I mean if you take a Concordance and refer to the passages in which the Apostle Paul speaks of baptism. Then to defend the speaking of women in the church assembly [ . . .], the very thing which the Apostle says plainly it is a shame for them to do, showing that the prophesying and praying spoken of in other places were not [ . . .] Those three passages in I Cor. xiv. are to me conclusive, " let your women keep silence, [ . . .] for it is not permitted to them to speak"; " it is a shame for women to speak in [ . . .]" ; and the mention of the same injunction as to silence in verse 28, "if there be no interpreter let him keep silence" ; and again. " if anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first be silent" — the same Greek; also I Tim. ii. 12. I know there are some points of difficulty in all this, but the unequivocal, reiterated plain words of the Apostle should, I think, override every seeming objection. If we could make it more evident that Apostle should, I think, override every seeming objection. If we could make it more evident that our controversies with the world arose from a determination "to obey God rather than men," our refusal to comply with and sanction many things of great repute in the world would have greater weight with the more considerate part. I would on this account yield everything where mere property was concerned, I would pay all taxes demanded by the authorities. I should appear more conscientious when afterwards I refused compliance with some evidently unchristian act enjoined upon me to perform. I shall be glad if in the latter writings of your friends they have approached nearer to the truth, but I cannot see how you can get over some things mentioned by Beverly in his XXV. Letter. I see how you could easily adopt the American tract, because there is only the human priesthood heresy discussed, and your agreement goes the full length of all that is rejected of clerical assumption. But there is in Beverly's book, and even in yours, an implied love and submission to God and his Word that would lead me to expect a man could not long remain a Quaker (I use the word only to make myself plain). I can send you a copy of Beverly's " Heresy of Human Priesthood" if you have it not, and perhaps you can send me a copy of the American abridgment, from which, as I understand you, your tract is taken and further abridged — so that yours is an abridgment of an abridgment of Beverly.

I am, yours truly,


After the first letters the correspondence with Bernard Barton appears to have ceased for several years, the two remaining letters of the series belonging to 1838. There is in them no longer any question of Quakerism. The gift of a copy of Blake's 'Job,' and of an engraving by the donor himself (possibly a copy of the 'Saul,' by Varley), leads the Quaker poet to pen a most interesting letter on art, for which he had evidently a very fine feeling.

Woodbridge, August 3, 1838.

The sight of thy handwriting was most welcome, and so will the sight of thy handicraft be in any professional record of it. Any parcel sent by the Yarmouth telegraph which leaves the White Horse, Fetter Lane, daily, addressed to me at Woodbridge, will be sure to find me. I shall quite prefer paying carriage for any performance of thine, and by that means getting it direct from thee, to obtaining it by any more circuitous channel, for the sake of saving carriage. I conclude packed on a roller it will travel very safely. Hoping soon to send thee a longer letter,

I am, with much respect and esteem,

Thy affectionate friend,


Woodbridge, August 8,1838.

I am thy debtor for one of the most beautiful and striking engravings I have ever seen. Our modern things, owing, perhaps, to the rage for annual plates, are refined away to a sort of elaborate prettiness and minuteness of detail which renders them works of no mark or likelihood. I hardly can tell when I have been more riveted by a print of my day than I have been by this. There is something Rembrandt-like in the sombre depth of its gloom and in the brilliancy of its gleams of light. It reminds me somewhat, too, of Martin, and many parts of it are Blakeish, both in their conception and feeling, as well as in their execution; only that the latter is free from his too besetting faults, extravagance and distortion, as well as that hardness which too frequently mars some of his most graceful idealities. I am no critic, remember; I only write as I feel and think of the productions of an art which I cordially love and admire. Of this particular specimen of that art I cannot give a greater proof of the impression it has made on me than by adding that, when framed, I mean to hang it where it shall be most frequently in my sight.

I am also extremely obliged to thee for the copy of Blake's "Job." I wish I were a man of more leisure, for if I were I should gladly run up to town for the sake of giving thee a look and having some talks about Blake — to say nothing of the delight I should feel in seeing some of his extraordinary drawings. Were I a rich man, I can scarce tell what I would not give to be the possessor of one of his imaginary portraits — I mean one of those drawn from a supposed sitter, famous in the olden time. I forget whether he ever drew Guy Fawkes; he would have been a good subject for him.

It's only once in a long while I get footloose. But I did a few months ago, and went to see some relations in Norfolk. At Yaham Rectory, whilom the residence of Dr. John Johnson — Cowper's Johnny — I saw the drawing of Cowper by Romney, done when he was Hayley's guest at Eartham. 'Tis in crayons — rough, careless, and unfinished — but such a portrait! The prints from it, except that by Harvey in Southey's edition, give no idea whatever of its force and power, and even that has softened it down a great deal. It is a tremendous portrait, not to be looked at without mingled pity and terror; it haunted me for days after. Such a picture will hardly be ever taken again unless a mad painter should again have a mad poet for his sitter. Yet painfully powerful as it is, it has no disgusting extravagance; it is a fearful and vivid reality; but though in your admiration of it a mournful feeling is the predominant one, you can't take your eyes from it, nor do you wish it: it touches a chord of sympathy in the indulgence of which you find a mournful pleasure which neutralizes the pain it would otherwise inflict. Abbott's full-length and full dress portrait, with wig, coat, waistcoat and breeches, hung in the same room. It was really a beautifully-executed painting, with a mild, pleasing expression of countenance. It was done, too, only a month or two before the other, and both likenesses are by competent judges declared admirable; but Romney's is the portrait that rivets your attention, and engrosses your thought and feeling. But I must end my letter. Farewell affectionately, and believe me, gratefully,

Thy friend,


P.S. — When the long winter evenings shall set in, I think I shall try my hand at a poem on thy engraving. If I do, I will send thee a copy as in duty bound. Just now I am chin-deep in figure work, which must be my excuse for this hasty epistle.

Barton does not appear to have written the poem he purposed doing; but though he did not do that, he composed the following sonnet and dedicated it — 'To MR. LINNELL, OF BAYSWATER.

"Yet he was reduced, one of the ornaments of the age, to a miserable garret and a crust of bread, and would have perished from want, had not some friends, neither wealthy nor powerful, averted this disgrace from coming upon our country." — Cunningham's "Life of Blake."

'Patron and friend of him who had but few
Of either, justly worthy of thy name,
To smooth his rough and thorny path to fame;
Methinks with honest pride thou must review
That best of patronage, which took the hue
And form of friendship, by its generous aim,
To save our age and country from the shame
Which from neglected genius must accrue
Nor wealth nor power the wretched garret sought,
Where he, the gifted artist, toil'd for bread.
'Twas thine the balm of sympathy to shed,
To soothe his wounded feelings while he wrought
Bright forms of fancy, images of thought,
Or held high converse with the glorious dead.


Some other correspondence relating to this period may conveniently be inserted here, although it is of minor interest in comparison with that which has gone before. It serves, however, to show Linnell's intimate relations with some of the leading men amongst his contemporaries. The first letter, from Samuel Rogers, has reference to the Michael Angelo drawings, from which Linnell made his engravings:

January 31, 1833.

I am very sorry that I am under the necessity of leaving town early to-morrow morning, and am so pressed with business as to be unable to give a proper attention to the paper you have favoured me with. When I return in ten days or a fortnight, I shall be very happy to see you here, or to wait upon you.

Yours very truly,


Two of the designs were not executed in the chapel.

St. James's Place, Saturday.

Then pray do me the favour to breakfast with me on Tuesday or Wednesday next, at 10 o'clock. If I hear nothing from you to the contrary, I shall hope to have the pleasure of seeing you on Tuesday.

Yours very truly,


The following letters by Abraham Cooper, the animal painter, speak for themselves. They are undated; but the portrait of Mr. (afterwards Sir) A. W. Callcott, R.A. — to the present of a copy of which the first letter evidently refers — having been engraved in 1832, it was probably written about that time. The other two letters may belong to a somewhat earlier, but hardly to a later, date.

13, New Milman Street, Saturday


Please to accept my best thanks for the portrait of my good friend Callcott, which I think exceedingly like, and be assured that I will mention it whenever I think it may be desired.

I wish the first time you are in town you would call on Mr. Marshall, though at present I know he is very short of cash.

Dear sir,
Yours truly,


13, New Milman Street, Monday

I have been for some years past endeavouring to collect a slight sketch by every artist of note, together with a letter by him, either addressed to myself or otherwise. Will you permit me to ask you if you can assist me with a letter and a slight sketch by your late friend Blake, there being a very fine portrait of him after Phillips which I am anxious to add to my collection, but in the absence of the above things cannot consistently do it.

Trusting your kindness will pardon this liberty,

I remain, yours faithfully,


13, New Milman Street, Friday

Please to accept my best thanks for the sketch and letter by Blake, which are precisely what I wish, as my object is only to possess a genuine memento. And now let me beg another favour; that is, when you at any time put two or three lines together, no matter how slight, or what the subject, do not consign it to the flames, as it will be a desirable acquisition to,

Dear sir,
Yours most truly,


My friend Smith has sent with this a letter in explanation of his collection, which is an excellent one. It is composed of a letter and a print; and he is anxious to know if there are any engravings after your pictures, and which you would prefer being placed in it, as he will send to his printseller for it. — A. C.

The next letter bears the name of a gentleman who, along with his two brothers, was a well-known collector in his day. Their gallery contained many notable works, and the letter here given has reference to a Claude, upon the genuineness of which someone had cast doubts. Linnell had many dealings with the Woodburn brothers, and made copies of at least two Old Masters contained in their collection. One was a facsimile copy (for Mr. C. Hall) of a small landscape by Raphael. He also made a large copy in oil of the miniature for himself. A letter of several years' prior date refers to 'the loan of the Raphael for a short time,' which Linnell had asked for. It goes on to remark: 'I expect it will bring me a good sum one of these days, but should you desire to purchase it, of course I should not require the extent of my expectations.'

The other picture belonging to the Woodburn collection which the artist copied was a small one in oil from a long landscape by Titian, entitled 'Samson and the Lion.'

St. Martin's Lane, London, February 8, 1835.

I find that in consequence of our adversary being furnished by me with a list of gentlemen that I wished to inspect the little Claude, he took advantage of the list by sending the picture round to almost all the parties. Has he sent it to you?

In case he should send it, you will see that it is, as I told you, a true one, but yet earlier than the one in our gallery. Now, as I am desirous of being as strong as possible, you would very much oblige me if you could prevail on Mr. Collins to see it, and in case he thought as we do, his testimony would be of great value as a landscape painter and a member of the Royal Academy.

At all events, the picture must be in the Court of Common Pleas, Westminster, on Tuesday morning, and I shall count on your obliging attendance.

We did receive a note from Mr. Collins, but I think if you tell him the circumstances of this very shameful attack on our character and purse, he will be induced to put himself to a little trouble to show his dislike to such transactions.

I am, my dear sir,
Yours very sincerely,


John Linnell's family was now growing up to manhood and womanhood about him, and demanding extra thought and care on his part. In September, 1837, his eldest daughter, Hannah, was married to Mr. Samuel Palmer, the poetic landscape painter, and, as already mentioned, formerly a friend of Blake. A few days after the wedding they set out for Italy in company with Mr. and Mrs. George Richmond, and did not return till November, 1839.

It is characteristic of Linnell's way of thinking that he gave his daughter no dowry, but commissioned her to make copies for him from the frescoes of Michael Angelo and Raphael in the galleries at Rome and Florence. He was always desirous of increasing his examples of the greatest painters, and he took the opportunity thus afforded him of at once enlarging his store, and encouraging his daughter in the art which, along with all his other children, he had so carefully taught her. The copies he thus obtained he valued very highly, as reproducing the colouring of Michael Angelo and Raphael with more truthfulness than he had yet seen them done.

The letters that Linnell wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Palmer during their sojourn in Italy are among the most interesting of his correspondence. They abound in valuable ideas and suggestions in respect to art, and incidentally throw much light upon the character and struggles of his singularly-gifted son-in-law.

Mr. Palmer owed a great deal to Linnell's instruction and advice. When he was little more than a boy, our artist, admiring some of his sepia drawings, appears to have sought him out and given him the encouragement that he was ever ready to extend wherever he saw a real gift. Palmer always recognised his indebtedness in this respect, but since his death repeated efforts have been made to make it appear that he owed very little to Linnell, and that, indeed, the debt was not a little the other way. The following extract, therefore, from a letter written from Pompeii in July, 1838, is of importance. Linnell had asked him to fix a price for the coloured copies made by Mrs. Palmer from the Loggia frescoes by Raphael, and his reply was as follows:

'Though you say I understand business and life, yet business and life will never, I hope, make me forget the better feelings. I should consider a present of highly-finished drawings of the whole Vatican a poor return for what you have taught me in art — this I say quite independently of Anny's feelings on the subject.'

Again, writing from Pompeii (August, 1838), Palmer says:

'Pray send me every time any hints which may be profitable to us in our studies. Remarks of yours made months and years ago often revive in my mind as I am at work, to my no small edification.'

In a letter from Rome in January, 1838, Palmer writes:

'I hope to bring back plenty of drawings (the foregrounds and figures of which I now take care to study betimes), but as to knowledge of manners, customs, etc., shall be as ignorant as a beast. I have not time to read much, and well-bred people, as they are called — if one fall in their way — are either too ignorant or too polite to dwell long enough on any one topic for information or instruction. The habits of desultory conversation sour me for the society of men, and make me prefer the solemn and inexhaustible eloquence of ruins and mountains.

'I wish we could in a manner pursue more diversified studies. I get up at daylight, walk and work till it is dark, and come home tired, sleepy, and stupid. I cannot conceive how you manage to get through so much work and attend to so many things beside. I would give the world for the secret, if it is impartable. I do not tire myself with very long sittings, but keep several drawings going on at once, yet in everything but drawing seem to be daily becoming more ignorant; so I am reminded of poor Simon Brown, who wrote a letter to Queen Anne giving an account of the gradual decay and death of his mind before his body was worn out. Yet, if I can but bring home imitations of this glorious sunshine which turns rocks, trees, and ruins into amber and gold I shall not be unhappy.'

During their stay in Rome (March and April, 1838), the Palmers found very kind friends among the artists, especially in John Gibson, R.A., Penry — Williams, Mr. Dunbar (landscape-painter), etc. They used to meet at dusk and dine together at a restaurant, and formed a circle of English artists. Mr. Dessoullary, the principal English landscape-painter in Rome, was exceedingly kind to them. He was greatly pleased with Palmer's exhibition drawing, and lent him a frame for it. With the English gentry, however, Palmer had little intercourse, and he seemed to entertain a somewhat bitter feeling towards them. Writing to Mrs. Linnell (March, 1838), he says:

'Our little piece of prosperity [a forty-guinea commission from Mr. Baring] has not made us less economical or prudent. . . . I see more [than ever] that trumpery gentility and subdandyism are the key to favour with the English at home and abroad, but do not mean to give in to it, because it makes a slovenly and scaramouch mind. I can more and more understand the reason of the shameful treatment Mr. Linnell has met with from various persons, and believe that the only way to avoid it is a sneaking compliance with silly routine, which I will never try till I am starved out of simplicity. At the same time, I wish to drop any crudenesses of behaviour which may stand in our way and prevent my keeping Anny in that comfort and competence which, for her sake, is my dearest desire.'

They found some agreeable society at Mr. Joseph Severn's, who had 'parties of one hundred people.' In April Mrs. Palmer describes a large party they were at, 'the other night,' at Mr. Severn's when he entertained them with some 'beautiful tableaux vivants' Nevertheless, writing from Rome about this time, Palmer laments his obscure position there, and his non-acquaintance with the English gentry, owing to his not having taken any introductions with him. He is in consequence excluded from society, and has no opening for selling his drawings, etc. He writes :

'All who know us by sight know us as nobodies, and as creatures whom nobody knows, and the free terms of intercourse here make such exclusion seem the more disgraceful. I have not been introduced to a single person but Mr. Baring. As I hope soon to have something which may be worth seeing, some acquaintance with the gentry at Naples, Rome, or Florence might be of the greatest use. I should be very glad if you could think of anything which might bring it to bear. I dress as well, indeed better than I can afford, and try not to be disgusting in any way; but there seems to be a great chasm between me and gentility — that gentility which I despise, but of which I should like to suck the sweetness, so far as the wants of a simple life require. Here we stand like two little children snubbing their noses flat at the glass of a pastrycooks window, longing not for the pastry and sweetmeats of life, but for that supply of simple wants which we cheerfully trust Providence will give us, but for the attainment of which we must use all means.

'Mr. Richmond has had the whole visiting circle of Rome open to him, and if he had been a landscape-painter would have found the advantage of it.

'The world seems to have banished poverty, and to be too good for me, who am like a wart upon the neck of it. However, if I can only get a forty-guinea commission now and then, I shall know how to take care of it, and be able, I trust, to go on with Anny improving ourselves in art; and if we get more, I hope I shall do good with it, and use it for the bodily, intellectual, and moral benefit of ourselves and others. Anny will do very well for society, as she has great presence of mind and carries herself well; but " I, the dogs bark at me as I walk by them," and the time is not yet for throwing my crutch at them, if I were so disposed.'

To this letter, with its tone of depression and discontent, Linnell wrote, in a letter begun on April 29, but not finished till later:

'I am very busy, and pretty successful in my pettifogging way, pleasing those most who know but little of art, but who are kind enough to employ me. I endeavour to learn contentment, notwithstanding a deep sense of professional insufficiency, because I know how much worse I should be if I sacrificed the best interests of my family for professional aggrandisement.

'If you can make money enough without going much out of the path which your genius and taste prompt you to pursue, consider yourself most happy and blessed. Endeavour, by pursuing this path, to obtain sufficient to preserve your inde-pendence and keep up a fair price for your works, and if you can accomplish that for a few years, and at the same time buy in stock and knowledge of the phenomena of nature and the principles and practice of art, you will be a Turner some day without turning.

'May 16. — Just received your letter. I am much pleased with the account you give of your proceedings. I hope Hannah will be able to complete the set of the Loggia, though some may be less finished than others. . .

'The Exhibition [of the R.A.] is all in the first room this year, for there is nothing of first-rate interest in any others. The picture of the Exhibi-tion, if you may judge by the number round it, is "The Queen's Counsel," by Wilkie; and the picture or pictures of the Exhibition, if you judge by what is said, are Mulready's " Seven Ages" and Turner's "Ancient and Modern Italy." I have heard many say of Mulready's, when I was standing near it, that there was no one in the world who could paint it but himself. Indeed, it appears to me to be a wonderful result of the humble and unostentatious imitation of nature, connected with pure and elevated taste and great knowledge of art. The colour also — which you know I generally assert to be much more apiece with the drawing, etc., than is usually supposed in all works of art — is here as good as any quality in it. I have a half-length life-size of Mrs. Pendarves well placed this year; but some of the smaller ones are badly hung.

'I saw Mr. Woodburn yesterday, who, I hope, will send you some useful introductions; but do not care about the exclusion you mention: it is only what you would seek were you as rich as Turner. I am told when he was in Italy he kept himself aloof from everyone, that he might have his time for study; and I assure you I think it of far more consequence that you should bring home plenty of fine studies than fine connections, or anything else fine, except fine health. There are great mistakes made upon this subject, as you remember. Let nothing tempt you to lose your time or your money to obtain more acquaintances, which often is only the means of losing more time and money. Those are the most valuable friends which are made by your exertion in art; and do not forget that the battle is to be fought at your easel. Only take care of yourself, and omit nothing that is calculated to keep your physical machine in order. If you err in this respect, you will be obliged to say that it was not for want of knowing better. Only regard what you know, and there is no doubt of success.'

In his next letter (August, 1838), Linnell wrote to Palmer:

'Mr. Severn says he shall be in England again next spring, so I hope we shall all meet in my shop, and if you behave well you shall have a stuffed duck,' etc.

The latter clause had reference to a humorous letter received from Palmer a month previously, in which he described a rare gastronomical treat he had given himself. It was dated from Pompeii (July, 1838), and is as follows:

'I bought a duck at Rome, stuffed him with three large onions, crumbs of bread, an ounce of pepper, and all his gizzards, etc., till he nearly burst; served him up neatly (having been obliged to scold Anny to lend me a needle for the purpose), then stewed him to rags — when, on opening the pot, 0 the odours!! I never ate the like, except roast goose; and as I partook of it alone, it lasted me three days. Anny laughed immoderately during the operation of stuffing him, as I knelt upon the carpet and energized; but it is thus that inventors and those who wish to extend the boundaries of a science are always treated. It was the only fine dish I have tasted in Italy. The wretched Italians positively cut off every bit of fat before they cook the meat. After this I need say no more. I cooked my duck in a freak of despair, after Anny had disciplined me with boiled chicken every day for a fortnight. . .'

In August the Palmers went on to Corpo di Cava, a wild mountainous country, with fine scenery such as Poussin and Titian painted. There he found the dinners delicious, and elaborated according to principles and practices he approved of. On the Sunday they took a walk over the mountains to Vietri, and came home to a sumptuous meal. In his account of the excursion, Palmer says:

'We saw some glorious things, and after dinner I felt like a bishop!'

Then comes the following rhapsody:

'As the finest morsels of nature appear with double charms after passing through the alembic of a Titian's mind, so the " good creatures" come forth blessed angels from the spits and digesters of a fine cook. This we now felt by blessed experience. Fish or flesh, which were only eatable in the vulgar Trattorias of Rome and Naples, throw now, when only just crushed by the teeth, rays of ecstasy round the palate. . . . We fare deliciously after our studies, every dinner seeming to be better studied than the last. We breathe the fresh mountain air, which, after a surfeit of boiled mutton in our "last days of Pompeii," has quite set me up. Mental exercise, mountain air, and made dishes are my recipe for health. If the mind works the mouth should water, and then everything goes on well, at least if all be weighed in the silver balances of temperance, and if the "travailed spirits" he "recreated" by a monthly goose, which is the utmost debauch I should be guilty of, were I ever so rich, for the relief of the poor and distressed, and the intellectual treasures of books, pictures, and music, bring with them a zest and a relish that were ill-exchanged for a common of geese and an ocean of turtles.'

Writing to Palmer (in August) after a visit from Mr. Collins, who had just returned from Rome, Linnell says:

'Indeed, I have lost a great deal of my compassion for you since I heard how fat you are grown. Mr. Collins says you stand now like a fixed easel, and presenting a goodly corporation... Well, you are likely to come home a man of substance in some sense, I find.'

Palmer was indignant at this statement of Collins' when he heard it, and denied that there was any truth in it whatever. He writes from Corpo di Cava:

'If any man shall say that I fattened at Rome, he lies; and if any Academician shall say so, he says " the thing that is not." I was as lank as a cub-drawn wolf, and as thin — not as a weasel — but as an easel. Mr. Collins's comparison of a fat man to an easel is the most unlucky I ever heard.'

Mrs. Palmer also writes to the same effect:

'As to Mr. Palmer, I can declare that at the time the Collinses were in Rome he was very thin; indeed, Mrs. Richmond felt quite uneasy about him, and it is only just lately that he has looked thoroughly well.'

On August 23 Linnell wrote to the Palmers:

'Mr. and Mrs. Collins paid us a very friendly visit yesterday, August 22, which you will be glad to know, I am sure, as we are now upon good terms again, and I hope shall not have any more unfriendly disputes. He saw my portrait of Sir R. Peel on the easel, and praised it very much, said it was as like as possible, which is very gratifying to me, as I expected a very different criticism from him. . .

'Lizzie is going with me on Tuesday next to drink tea with Mrs. and Miss Austin, who have just returned from Malta.'

On November 6 (1838), Linnell writes:

'I feel a doubt, from what you say about your drawings, whether you do not compose too much. I will venture to advise you to endeavour to do as much as possible, simply laying an emphasis on the beautiful, and leaving agreeable blanks or breadths where the objectionable matter comes, and if you think a foreground in one place is applicable to a sketch made in another, I would make the studies separate; but I would not try to marry them on the spot. If, however, you feel otherwise, don't mind what I have said. I only mention it as a thing I should be very careful to avoid doing on the spot, for fear of injuring the veracity of a drawing from nature.

I think this remark is of most consequence when you begin with a beautiful distance and middle distance; for if you start with a foreground you may venture to insert a distance from nature without so much danger of injury, as in that case you will in all probability make it sufficiently subordinate; whereas if you have elaborated a drawing of anything but a foreground and, as will be most likely, exhausted all your strength of colour, etc., in parts, it will be impossible in that drawing to make the whole true by adding a foreground; and it would be better to make a separate drawing of any foreground or figure you think may be good for it, and afterwards in another drawing put them together.

'Take care, therefore, for though complete subjects may be more like a collection of pictures to look at and reckon upon, they will not yield so much in the long-run as separate studies. Get as many figures as possible, and if you set them near some bits of ruin, or with some landscape behind them, you are sure to make a picture by finishing your figure first, and then adding as much or as little as you please of what you see beyond, and you will be sure to have the figure and background relatively true, besides having a study applicable to other backgrounds. Let me, therefore, again say, draw figures out of doors with the background you wish as near as you can.'

On December 23, Linnell writes:

'I am very much delighted to find in your letter so good an account of my dear Hannah's improvement in the art, and I would advise you in your arrangements, when the M. Angelo and the Loggia are done, to get all the figures you can, but out of doors, if possible, in some sequestered garden, sheltered from the wind. You might even now. I should think, get figures, etc.; and for landscape studies, or the application of figures to landscape, you should sometimes choose a light and shade which is very striking and vivid at a distance, as the figures relieve entirely by such qualities in landscapes very often, taking care that the shapes of the lights are picturesque in every part. If a face is in shadow, let it be well lighted by reflection, and generally let the light show the action of the figure as plainly as possible.

'I think these are qualities particularly requisite in figure as introduced into landscape, and always distinguish the figures by the landscape-painter from those introduced into landscape by a figure-painter who does not paint landscape. But the treatment should depend chiefly upon the expression of your subject in effect, colour, etc., and that should rule the figures. And if you fancy a central light and soft shadows, and your landscape accords, let nothing prevent you from attempting it; only, remember, you will not escape so easily as upon the other tack.

'N. Poussin is a fine example of vividly constructed plans, though not always vividly painted; Titian finer still. But you find the more difficult and more beautiful only in Raphael — sometimes in Titian and Leonardo, and in A. Durer, and perhaps in many others which you have seen since your sojourn in Italy, but of which I am unhappily ignorant.

'I forgot that in Giulio Romano you have both qualities — those of vividness and picturesque choice and arrangements of light seen with a poetic imagination, straining nature through his mental sieve till everything mean or vulgar was excluded. Such a mind as Giulio's seems to have taken nature into his mind as ore is taken into a kiln, where it is so digested by internal heat, that nothing but pure metal escapes into the mould intended for it.'

The following extract from a letter to Palmer, dated March 7, 1839, is very characteristic of Linnell:

'I do not,' he says, 'think it possible for anyone who thinks of Milton as Dr. Johnson thought and wrote of him, or who believes him to have been entirely wrong in his political views, thoroughly to understand or feel his poetry, because some of the grandest parts of his inspiration appear to arise from those very perceptions which most people profess to despise. It is like talking against the colouring of the greatest designers because it is not like that of the inferior draughtsmen. Those who do so, in my opinion, have no true perception of the design, or they would perceive that the colouring is a part of the same, and cannot be separated from it. . . . I very much suspect that it is our fault that we do not perceive the colouring of Raphael and M. Angelo to be equal to their other qualities of art, and as superior to [the colouring of] other inferior designers.'

On March 8 Linnell wrote:

'I long to hear that Mr. Martin has reached you in health. Pray tell him that I have only just finished the engraving of the landscape of Titian for the Royal Gallery, and that I will send him a proof the first opportunity. He will be glad, as well as you, to hear that I have sold my picture of " St. John Preaching" (which I sent to the. British Gallery) to Sir Thomas Baring for 150 guineas. . . . It has been very well spoken of by the press, among whom, you know, I have scarcely an acquaintance, so that I may feel it a compliment.

'I am now and then able to devote a day to a picture or two of a similar description, and if I could prevail upon Mr. Richmond, who is entirely devoted to spiritual art, to communicate some of his discoveries, I should feel encouraged. Anyone like Mr. Richmond, leaving the Vanity Fair of Art and entering the Wicket-Gate to go to the New Jerusalem, is such a reproach to those who stay behind, from whatever cause, that I would despise myself for not following him, if I did not feel that my family is an excuse which I have no right to evade. Besides, I am too old, and shall content myself now if I can be the means, any way, of assisting others to attain that excellence which craves a whole life of concentrated exertion.

'You, I feel, are in the right road to distinction, and need not care about present and immediate return so much; for though in this age more perfection is required to obtain notice, yet at your age to have mastered so much will ensure the rest.'

Linnell's disappointment that Mr. Richmond did not communicate to him any of the impressions he had received from his studies of the highest art at Florence and Rome is referred to in another letter (March 24, 1839). He there says:

'In such a position of mind, and in such circumstances as now placed, how vivid the impression must be of what is most important to improvement, and what valuable hints might be afforded to one in my isolated condition! Surely had Mr. Richmond been as desirous of communicating what he believed to be his most valuable discoveries, as I have been formerly, when with you he was wont to visit the Hampstead cottage, I should have received my own with usury. I am out of the pale, I fear, too far to taste the salt of Art with such society; but I ought to remember that I was not one of the monthly-meeting élite — when at the platonic feast of reason and flow of soul only real Greeks from Hackney and Lisson Grove were admitted.'

The last sentence refers to a society of young men, of which Palmer and Richmond were the leading spirits, and which held monthly meetings at each other's houses to discuss poetry and art. They called themselves 'Ancients,' dressed oddly, and took for their motto 'Poetry and Sentiment.' They were all more or less Blakeites.

In April Palmer writes:

'I have undergone a course of purgation, getting a quantity of rubbish and confusion out of my mind; have found a way of carrying works on to a completion somehow or other, and have, I hope, raised and settled my taste. How happy should I be could I find time to amass sufficient knowledge of the figure to do pictures like your " St. John Preaching," which I am rejoiced to hear has been appreciated, though I think the price too low. It will be delightful and most improving to me to find you at work on similar subjects, as I wish henceforth to devote myself to poetical landscape.'

In a later communication written shortly before returning to England, and apparently in rather a depressed state, Palmer writes:

'After all this struggle I may perhaps gasp out the little life that is left me pretty quietly, and find your society and conversation.which I value more than ever — an over-compensation for the stench of gas and oppression, and weight of air in the spirit-depressing, hope-crushing, energy-choking neighbourhood of London. . . . I am burning for a last desperate struggle with old Nature, and hope in a couple of months to know whether I am a wise man or a fool.'

As we know, Palmer subsequently made a considerable name as a landscape-painter.

Although Linnell and David Wilkie had been on terms of friendship ever since they were students together at the Royal Academy, no correspondence of any importance passed between them. The following letter, however, is one of two which the recipient preserved. It has reference to the permission Mr. and Mrs. Palmer desired to enable them to draw in the Sistine Chapel, it being difficult that season to get admission.

Vicarage Place, Kensington, February 27, 1839.

As you appear to think your daughter and son-in-law have not any better chance of getting their permission renewed, I have enclosed a note to Dr. Wiseman, premising that I have not much acquaintance and no claim upon that gentleman, and cannot judge here of the difficulties that may be to overcome; still, I have stated the case as you have stated it, as a hard one, and if Mr. and Mrs. Palmer deliver the note, it will at least do no harm.

I am, dear Linnell,
Most faithfully and truly yours,


Our artist appears to have had a larger correspondence with Wilkie's brother Thomas, who was established as a wine-merchant in the City.

Last modified 1 December 2001