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.

Correspondence respecting a Picture by Giulio Romano — W. M. Rossetti and Blake's Life — Letters by Mrs. Sarah Austin — Jean Ingelow — Correspondence with William Henry Hunt — His Death.

LINNELL having, in 1859, learned that there was a valuable work by Giulio Romano for sale, and being deeply impressed with the need of having as many fine specimens of the old Italian masters available for study as possible, wrote to his friend George Richmond, representing to him the importance of securing this picture for the National Gallery, and asking him to exert what influence he could in the right direction. The following is Mr. Richmond's reply:

August 5,1859.


The first thing I did on receiving your note was to enclose it in one to Sir C. Eastlake, stating that, although I did not myself remember the picture of Giulio Romano, I took it as a strong recommendation that you did, and was at some pains to secure its being purchased for the nation. I now send you Sir Charles's answer, which I received last night, and am on my way to the National Gallery to see if the picture is arrived there yet.

I beg my kindest remembrances to Mrs. Linnell and your whole party, and remain,
Yours very faithfully,


Sir Charles Eastlake's letter was as follows:

7, Fitzroy Square, W., August 4, 1859.

On my return last night from Cheltenham, after having bought the Giulio Romano, I found your note enclosing Mr. Linnell's. You will now be able to tell him that the picture is secured for the nation.

There will soon be a change in the arrangements of the pictures when the temporary galleries at South Kensington are used, and I suppose any new acquisition will not be exhibited till the alteration takes place.

Sincerely yours,



Linnell replied to Mr. Richmond as follows, under date August 6:


I return you Sir C. Eastlake's letter, with many thanks both to you and Sir Charles. We are all much gratified to find that a picture so full of beauty and without any alloy is now the property of the nation.

I hope you will see the picture soon, and then run down here and tell us what you think of it.

I am, dear sir.
Yours sincerely,



In 1862 some correspondence took place between William Michael Rossetti and Linnell relative to Blake. Rossetti was compiling his catalogue of Blake's works for Gilchrist's Life, and he applied to the artist for information on the subject of his labours, as Allan Cunningham and Gilchrist had done before him. Like them, he received valuable aid; and in one of his letters he refers to 'the minute and useful answers' which he had received to his queries, and which were compiled by the artist's eldest son from the various documents in his father's possession.

One of Rossetti's questions had reference to a story about the origin and inspiration of Blake's dragons, the authority for which appears to have been a Mr. Rivière, of Oxford. According to this veracious witness, Blake at one time did heraldic painting, and derived his information in the department of 'unnatural history' relating to griffins and dragons from coats-of-arms and the like recondite sources. Linnell's answer was as follows:


Thanks for the information about the Blake story, which I. have no doubt is a mistake built upon a criticism. I never heard of Mr. RiviĖre before, or anyone of that name who knew Blake. I knew a little of an artist of that name who was the brother of Mrs. Bishop, the celebrated singer; but he was certainly not intimate with Blake, if he knew him at all. I hope after this the story will not make its appearance in the Life, for I can find no one who believes it. Mr. S. Palmer has the same wish that I have for its suppression. The criticism upon Blake's dragons would apply just as well to Turner's for his picture of Jason in the National Gallery, where the dragon is quite as heraldic in its character as any of Blake's, and even more so. But the fact is, dragons are rather uncommon. There are none in the Zoological Gardens. They are traditional, and all have been drawn from the same type, or nearly so, and hence unavoidable similarity. Blake, however, has given a sublimity of character to his dragons and serpents which we look in vain for elsewhere, and those who could not see the grandeur of Blake's conceptions were always spiteful in their criticisms, from a desire to bring that down to their low level which they could not reach. I believe it is in art as in the highest knowledge. The sensuous man, receiveth not the things of the spirit; they are foolishness to him, and he is unable to know them because they are spiritually discerned.



Before answering as above, however, Linnell had put the question to Samuel Palmer in the following humorous form



'Does he know, or can he guess,
Not who wrote of the oil mess
That Blake, he said, made in his printing,
But who told how (no malice stinting)
Blake took all his griffs and dragons
From the coats-of arms on flagons.
The Muse is tired, so off she goes
To rest herself in common prose.

'Did P. ever before this hear of the story of Blake's herald-painting?

'Did P. inwent it or propagate it?
'Did P. furnish Mrs. G. with the story?
'Does P. know who did, and will he tell?

'Blake's reputation demands that this story be tested. The public will be ill-treated if it is not set right.'

It will have been seen from the letter to Rossetti that Samuel Palmer gave as little credit to the story as did Linnell.

It may possibly have been this correspondence — stirring up as it did the foundations of memory — that first gave John Linnell the idea of writing down the autobiographical notes which he commenced in 1863, and from which I have been allowed to draw very largely in this Life.

Another very interesting series of letters, from a well-known personage in her day, claims a few pages at this point. Reference has previously been made to Mrs. Sarah Austin, the authoress, two portraits of whom Linnell had painted twenty years before. It is to these portraits that the earlier letters refer.

The daughter spoken of, for whom she wanted a copy of one of them, was, of course, Lady Duff Gordon. In other respects the letters speak for themselves.

London, April 8, 1862.

I don't know if you have still any recollection of one who is hardly to be reckoned among the living, having lost more than half herself. Yet as an old sitter, as well as an old neighbour and admirer, I will urge my claim to be remembered. I have a little request to make to you. Besides the finished portrait, which Mrs. Empson very kindly gave me after her husband's death (and which was the source of infinite pleasure to my dear husband), you made a little sketch of me. This my daughter has always esteemed the most perfect likeness of me in existence, and has always desired either to possess it or to have some true copy of it.

You probably do not know that we have been for two years and more in the greatest alarm about her, and that she is at this moment at the Cape of Good Hope, whither she was sent as a last resource. God be thanked, it has proved successful, and in six or eight weeks we hope to have her back in renewed health, though still to be watched with infinite care.

Now, it would give me great satisfaction to be able to gratify her wishes.

Will you allow me to have a photograph, a lithograph, or any sort of copy of the sketch in question taken? Or are you disposed to part with it?

My own health is very much broken — sorrow and anxiety have done their work — and before I depart I should like to give my dear child the only likeness of her mother she is fully satisfied with. Her father was entirely satisfied with the other, and continually expressed his pleasure in the possession of it.

I write to you from London, but my home is Weybridge, where I have often and often wished for you to see some of our beautiful heath and wood scenery. If ever you are inclined to look at it, pray remember that there is an old rambling cottage at which you would be very welcome. I hope all goes well with you and yours.

Very truly yours,
Dear Mr. Linnell,


The likeness above referred to is the one from which the portrait of Mrs. Austin on page 297, Vol. I., was taken .

Linnell does not appear to have kept copies of his replies to this and the following letters, although of all letters of importance he invariably made and carefully preserved copies. The other letters need no comment:

Esher, April 16, 1862.


Thank you for your compliance with my request. But before I urge it further, I must be sure that we mean the same thing, which appears to me questionable. The portrait I mean was certainly a sketch in oil. I was leaning forward one day, talking, when you asked me to remain in that position while you made a sketch of me, which was done. You had your palette and brush in your hand. To the best of my recollection, I never sat for that again. And this is the likeness which my daughter always preferred to the finished picture, now in her possession. When this doubt is cleared up, I shall be happy to avail myself of your proposal on your own terms; I don't even know what a " negative" is in any but the grammatical sense. But I am sure you would make no stipulation that would be unpleasant to me. Is the picture at Redhill or in London? I should like much to see it. If it is in London, nothing is easier; and if at Redhill, I should be tempted to drive over in my little ponychaise and give myself the pleasure of seeing not only that, but the contents of your studio, and still more yourself. Your exhibited pictures I have, of course, seen and admired with all the world, and have felt a constant interest in your well-merited success. I am at this moment at Esher with my dear son-in-law and the children, but after Monday I shall be at home. Weybridge, Surrey, is all the address necessary. I gave none in town because I was there but for a few days. I wish you would think seriously of a little visit to Weybridge. I could show you lovely spots. But I dare say you know them all.

Yours, dear Mr. Linnell,

Very truly,


Weybridge, June 14.

I shall be very much obliged by your sending the photograph (together with all charges, etc.).

My dear daughter is on the ocean, and may arrive in a few days, or, more probably, in three weeks. All my visitings stand over till this intense anxiety is at an end. I have to thank you very much for the remarkable and interesting lines you sent me. You are very happy in being able to satisfy yourself so completely that you understand that wonderful and mysterious book. I feel that I want more of that inward light which alone can solve all difficulties.

Yours very truly,


I am told Joubert's photographs are excellent, Have you seen any?

June 17.

I should be a traitor if I said that photograph is good enough for your picture. I shall be content with nothing less than the best that can be done. Since I wrote I have seen several of Joubert's, which are really beautiful. Why not get him to do it? Nevertheless, I am very much obliged to you for the one you have sent me. It only makes me the more sensible of the merits of the picture, which I positively must go to see.

Thank you for the books; I had no idea you were such a Biblical scholar and critic. I am in no danger of being priest-ridden. My difficulties will never come from that quarter. You say the mystery is told: told, yes; but not explained — at least, not to my poor understanding. But this is no subject for a hasty note, so pray believe me,

Very truly yours,


What an extremely pretty picture it is! The arrangement is so free and graceful.

August 20.

I beg your pardon for so long delaying to answer your inquiry. The truth is, that in the hurry and agitation of my dear daughter's second departure (she starts to-day for the Pyrenees, and then Egypt) I entirely forgot it, which I am sure you will allow for. My son-in-law never had anything to do with the "Duff Gordon Sherry" trade, which, owing to his father's death, passed into other hands when he was a boy. His brother had a share in it for some years, but retired from it some years ago, and has now nothing to do with it. I fear, therefore, I can be of no service to you in the way you mention. I do not even know the names of the present successors to the business.

Summer is slipping away without affording me one opportunity of realizing my plan of a visit to Redhill. My daughter has spent only one month among us. I only returned last night to Weybridge, where I shall now be stationary for some time. I still do not quite despair of my little journey, but am very uncertain.

Yours, dear Mr. Linnell,
Very truly,



Miss Ronalds was so kind as to send me a very friendly invitation to Redhill, and though I told her I feared I could hardly accept it at present, I am now so strongly tempted that I write to you for the indispensable information when you are to be found at home. And likewise, whether Miss R. is still inclined and at liberty to have me.

My project is to drive in my pony-chaise, spend the whole following day at Redhill, and return the third day.

Your account of railroad speed does not tempt nor profit me, for I am not (thank God) in London, and the way by Guildford supposes being transhipped four times at least.

As for my dear daughter — alas! since July I have not seen her beloved face.

After two years of torturing anxiety, I parted from her that she might go to seek health, or at least life, at the Cape.

I am now daily expecting the letter that is to announce her return — with what feelings, I need not say.

I am sure Miss Ronalds will be kind enough to write and tell me her plans and yours, and give me exact directions where and how to find her house.

I am by no means certain of coming. I never am, for, added to the usual precariousness of weather, I have now that of very feeble and uncertain health; but my wishes are strong.

Yours, dear Mr. Linnell,
Very truly,


Another of Linnell's lady friends and correspondents was Miss Jean Ingelow. The friendship appears to have grown out of a mutual appreciation of each other's works. Under date September 24, 1863, Linnell wrote as follows:


Your having expressed a sympathy with my works, and having at the same time sent me a copy of yours, is just one of the pleasantest things that has happened to me for a long time. Believe me, the liberty I have taken in addressing you as an intimate friend arises from a fellowship I cannot help feeling with such thoughts as are expressed in your poems.

I hope that you practise my art as an amateur, for I find generally that those who do, or at least endeavour something, know and feel most. And that you may see that I follow my theory by practice, I send you one of my endeavours to express in language what I feel. Lest, however, you should think I am nothing if not critical, I promise to show you my studies from nature if you will favour me with a visit, spending a long day at Redhill with any companion you may choose to bring.

Yours gratefully,


Three days later the artist received the following letter in reply


Your note was put into my hands two days ago, and I am much pleased that you should respond so kindly to my little offering. I should also much like to make your personal acquaintance and see those sketches from which result the pictures that have so much delighted me. If, therefore, nothing unforeseen should prevent it, and you do not write to tell me it would be inconvenient, my brother and I hope to come and pay you a call on Wednesday or Thursday in next week.

I thought your poem very original. Unfortunately, my admiration for your genius is not so intelligent as I could wish, for I have no technical knowledge of art. I can feel it intensely, but my pleasure in it is derived chiefly from the love of Nature, not from any power to paint.

I am yours very sincerely,


The 'poem' here referred to appears to have been the following, which was appended to the artist's letter as a sort of postscript:

'We hope you will come early,
And if you will stay till the sun is down
And the deep gloom set in,
You shall see the owl fly across the dell,
In a way that will cause your heart to swell,
When he enters the shade
By the thick leaves made,
With well-poised loitering wing.'

Amongst a number of other letters there is one of a later date than the foregoing, which concludes as follows:

'We have been reading the "Life of Blake" with great delight. My brother, who has long admired his works, bought his illustrations to Blair's "Grave" some time ago. You cannot think how pleased I am at the place you hold in it, and how glad I am to discover that the painter whose works I have so admired for years is as kindhearted as he is great.'

Linnell lived to see most of the artists whose careers began about the same time as his fall off one after another. John Varley had died in 1840, Wilkie in 1841, Haydon in 1846 (by his own hand), and William Collins in 1847. Mulready followed in 1863, and William Henry Hunt in 1864. The death of the latter is rendered particularly interesting in connection with Linnell from the fact that shortly before his death he recalled his former fellow-student to mind, and opened a brief correspondence with him after years of silence.

In 1858 Wethered the dealer had taken Hunt a quince which Linnell had plucked for him from the garden at Redstone. From this Hunt executed a drawing, with grapes, etc. This Wethered bought, and afterwards showed it to Linnell, who, in exchange for it, gave him a sketch of his own. No correspondence, however, at that time passed between the former fellow-students, Wethered, who was doing business with both, being the medium of communication.

Then, after a further silence of a year or two, Linnell received the following letter from Hunt:

62, Stanhope Street, Hampstead Road, N.W., November 16, 1863.


I herewith send you a carte de visite of myself at a venture, if you care to have the same. I only know that I should prize one of yourself if you will grant me the favour of one. I should like those of your sons.

How long ago is it since I met you at the Royal Academy Exhibition? I did not think how different we look to what we did when I had the advantage of sketching with you opposite Millbank.

What fine things you would have made in the old town in France, and of the fishermen and boats, if you had gone over the water!

I hear of you sometimes through Wethered, and I dare say he has told you how lame I am all through falling off some four or five steps. I fear it's quite out of the question my ever seeing your beautiful place. Wethered tells me you have said you would like to see me there. I should so much like to see you, should you ever be able to favour me with a call.

From yours truly,



To this letter Linnell replied as follows:

Redhill, November 17, 1863.

Your sincere, kind, friendly epistle, received this morning, gave me great pleasure, as it not only contained the photo of your outward man, but an intimation of the workings of your inner self. You refer to old times and associations which are interesting and good to chew the cud of sometimes; but, alas! there is so much of melancholy in all that has passed away that it is better to press on towards a glorious future, " forgetting the things behind." This future is within your reach, only act in this matter as you have done successfully in your art — go to the fountainhead — study there. As you have studied and faithfully copied Nature, the work of God, now study God himself. Be his disciple, and beware of all ecclesiastical help ; beware of the Pharisees and their counterfeit humility.

Your wish to see me is gratifying every way, and I shall make a point of paying you a visit, not, however, to tease you, but to see you and your work.

I enclose photos of myself — one for you and one for Mr. Wethered, when you see him. Keep which you prefer best. These photos were taken in my old shop at Bayswater, which I little thought, when I built it, would be used for such a purpose. I am right glad, however, to be here and not there, and shall still hope to see you here next summer, if not before.

God bless you, my dear old friend, and believe me,

Yours faithfully,


P.S. — There is another photo of you, I am told, said to be better than the one you have sent. I shall try to get it, though I like this much. Perhaps Mr. Wethered will procure me the other photo of you. Ask him.

Perhaps the following epistle, addressed to Mr. Wethered, which was at this time in Linnell's possession, may account somewhat for the tender tone in which the foregoing letter is couched. What a striking difference it reveals between the writer and the old friend who, nearly sixty years before, had commenced with him the ascent of 'Fame's rough steep'!

Bromley, June 18, 1860

I am astonished to find you have had any summer weather. As to going on with the drawing of the house and the roses, it is quite out of the question. I could do nothing in my painting-room unless I kept a good fire. There must be some mistake in the order of the seasons. Moore says there will be nice hay-making weather in August; then perhaps I may be able to do something outdoors. Until there is really some warm weather I can only make small drawings. The primrose blossoms, the apple and the may blossoms, are all over. I would try my hand at a cow, but it's too cold even to sit in a cowshed. Still, I am not, nor do I intend to be, idle. I fear that I shall not be able to make two drawings for Mr. Gillott until there is some large sort of fruit, such as melons, pines, grapes, etc., which can be done in town, the latter end of the summer, when it comes. We have had to-day more or less rain and cold north wind, so much indeed that I could not stay outdoors to hear the Ranters preach about Christ being the only name that can save sinners. But what's the use harping upon it Sunday after Sunday? You would be amused to hear how they harp upon being washed in the blood of Christ. What a very singular destiny! I will not forget to do something for you; (I do not quite understand what you mean by the large drawing for Mr. Gillott); and then I can make the other two for him.

From yours truly,


Linnell received the following letter, dated December 9 (1863) in acknowledgment of a second photograph:


In return for your second portrait I send you another of myself, on, I think, a rather larger scale. What a beautiful situation your house must be! My country retreat is an old farmhouse near Basingstoke, Hants, and that I rent.

I still work very hard at grapes and apples; but I wish persons would like the drawings as bits of colour instead of something nice to eat.

With best respects to Mrs. Linnell and family, I am, yours truly,


This was the last communication our artist ever had from his friend. On February 10, 1864, he received the following from Mr. Wethered:


I am sure you will with me much regret to learn our dear old friend Hunt died this morning early.

Believe me, very faithfully yours,


Last modified 1 December 2001