I was rather unkind about Blake’s private notes, but this letter proves that when he takes his head out of his nether regions and communicates with another human being, he can do it lucidly, even if I don’t agree with him. John Trusler was a clergyman and an eccentric in his own right, an inventor of many completely impractical things. Apparently at some point he was a client of Blake’s (I wish the NAEL editor explained it more thoroughly) and he took issue with his watercolour of the allegory of Malevolence, portraying a father taking leave of his wife and children, watched by two fiends who were going to murder his family.
Blake starts on a high horse, with “I really am sorry that you are falln our with the Spiritual World”. If Trusler (or me) find Blake’s works obscuer, well, “What is Grand is necessarily obscure to Weak men”, and throws the authority of Moses and Plato back at him, because what is not too explicit, rouses the facility to act. He also defends his design for Malevolence: the envy of other people’s happiness is cause enough, unlike the thief’s want of money, because many people suffer poverty and do not resort to thieving.
And so, Blake says triumphantly, “I have therefore proved your Reasonings ill proportioned”, unlike my figures. If you find my figures unharmonious, it’s because you’ve seen too many caricatures (caricature in the 18th c. was immensely popular and influential – cf. Gillray, Cruikshank and others). “Fun I love, but too much Fun is of all things the most loathsom. Mirth is better than Fun, & Happiness is better than Mirth—I feel that a Man may be happy in This World. ” (This letter is written in 1799, so closer in time to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, when Blake still believed that Jerusalem could be built on this earth. Also, I’m perhaps perverted by living in the age of irony, but I can’t fathom Blake’s idea of happiness without fun.) The perception of the world, Blake argues, is highly subjective: for a miser a guinea may be a more beautiful view than the sun. And for him, the world “is all One continued Vision of Fancy or Imagination”, this is the nature of all great painting and he throws now some quotes from Francis Bacon (book, chapter and verse, no less) to strengthen his point. But there are lots of people who can understand my work perfectly, especially children.
The rest of the letter is the kind of squabbles that any free-lancer knows, I’m afraid, too well. At this point in his career Blake is perhaps too mature to get the dreaded “do it for free and put it in your portfolio”. But he writes somewhat testily, no, I can’t do engravings of other people’s designs for less than 12 guineas, because it’s much more work to engrave others’ designs that mine own. It’s not that I am posing to be a greater artist than I am, because I am a trained engraver and I could happily do this line of work, but the fact is, I have loads of clients interested in my own engravings and paintings.