BLAKE CIRCLE - STOTHARD, CUMBERLAND AND HIGHMORE
Lot 109
BLAKE CIRCLE - STOTHARD, CUMBERLAND AND HIGHMORE
Sold for £4,320 (US$ 7,161) inc. premium
Lot Details
ART
BLAKE CIRCLE - STOTHARD, CUMBERLAND AND HIGHMORE
Autograph journal kept by John Highmore of "An Eccentric Tour in Kent" made by the author, "an eccentric Being of no profession", in company with [George] Cumberland, "a Man of taste and science", and [Thomas] Stothard, "a painter by profession, chiefly in Mortimer's style and manner", all three being "dear lovers of, and votaries to, the goddess, Nature" (who is imagined as accompanying them on their journey and frequently addressed, the author explaining that "I can travel nowhere without a tutelary goddess" and that "the character was real, and tho' not actually present, was ever so in my imagination"), the first entry made at Sevenoaks on Saturday 22 May 1779 and the last at London on Wednesday 26 May 1779, their journey taking them over the hill between Sevenoaks and Bromley ("...Don't you think Cumberland's view of it very natural?..."), past Sir James Farnham's house (viewed from "the parsons summer house"), to Dorset Park ("...Stothard, who had been in search of Novelty another way, came in; - don't you admire his view of Dorset Park? I wonder what in the world our waiter thinks - after dinner to see us all so busy - one scribbling t'other drawing, another painting - gad says he, here's Loutherbourg, a brother brush, and an author, I suppose - Artists and Authors, - poor enough, no doubt!..."), past Bradbourne, Kempson, the river Derwent, the "park of St Clere", Wrotham (where they stayed at The Bull), to "the heights above the town" ("...Stothard took one, Cumberland two views..."), where Stothard sketches Cumberland ("...Cumberland! stop, and take a view of this cottage, it has a curious picturesque appearance, and we'll sit upon this rail before it..."), to West Malling Abbey ("...Good God! here's an abbey at the skirts of the Town, we knew nothing of! Cumberland! Stothard! you must draw this Abbey: - you Stothard take this front View - Cumberland, and I... will go into that garden, and take a side view - how romantic!... well let's see for Stothard! here he is sitting on the grass with a parcel of children round about him; - what a sweet girl that is! how naturally elegant! what a shape, what a complection, only look at her love! gad that's a clever view of Stothard's! but come let's be gone..."), to East Malling (where Stothard and Cumberland draw the landlord's step-daughter) en route to Maidstone, walking there by moonlight with Stothard looking "very much like a Captain of Banditti" ("...But here's a gate, a tree too! that large hollow tree! - how fine! - do Stothard stand you in it - there that's the position - your elbow leaning on the post before, resting your cheek upon the back of your right hand, supported by your crooked stick, rather leaning forwards, your head inclining to the right, with eyes upcast to Heaven - Good God! - how sublime an attitude! - sketch him off Cumberland...") and where, after a good deal more rhapsodizing, they end up at the "Starr Inn" [now the Star Hotel]; they then progress to the river Medway, where they find a pub, secure a flat boat, and go for a swim; afterwards they set off to Rochester, where next morning they secure a key to the castle ("...Eight oClock in the Morning, by george: do Cumberland - Stothard - do get up - now we'll go and take views of the Castle - Stothard take this view..."); after visiting the castle, they progress to Gravesend, with Highmore composing verse and his companions sketching; early the following morning they take the packet back to London, taking the opportunity to chat-up two girls on board ("...No sooner were we all three embark'd than Cumberland and I scraped acquaintance with two decent looking girls, who seemed to be on a holiday trip to London - we were very civil to them you may be sure - handed them down into the cabin and procured them seats - Cumberland got his Mistress'es cloak and sat himself down at her feet upon it, rested his drawing book on her lap, and began to sketch a number of curious characters that were ranged upon the bench... Stothard, who by the way you know is a very diffident Man, and withall a Man of no Conversation, kept walking the deck all this while in a misle of rain..."); and so back to London, 82 numbered pages, plus title-page and 8 pages of 'Dedication' and 'Preface', armorial bookplate of Anthony Highmore, and pencil ownership signature "A Highmore" on title (possibly being the author's brother and inheritor of the volume), marbled endpapers and boards, half-vellum, gilt morocco label on spine 'Tour In Kent. J.H. 1779.', minor scuffs and wear but overall in fine, fresh condition, 8vo, "London Wednesday the 26th May 1779"

Footnotes

  • "GIVE THEM A MAYPOLE OF A SUNDAY MORNING AND THEY'LL DANCE DOWN THE SUN": A WINDOW INTO THE WORLD OF THE YOUNG WILLIAM BLAKE. This previously unknown journal throws light on an incident in Blake's early career, when a student at the Royal Academy Schools: "During his early manhood, Blake probably spent a good deal of his time with a small group of active young artists, including...George Cumberland, a painter and etcher who worked for an insurance company; and Thomas Stothard, a painter who by 1780 was already making an important name for himself as a prolific inventor of charming vignettes for the booksellers. Stothard, Cumberland and their friends often went on sailing trips. Some seventy years later Stothard's daughter-in-law described an expedition, which may have taken place about September 1780: 'Stothard would occasionally spend a few days with his friends in sailing up the Medway, landing and sketching as they pleased. In one of these he was accompanied by his old friend Mr Ogleby, and Blake, that amiable, eccentric and greatly gifted artist, who produced so many works indicative of a high order of genius, and sometimes no less of an unsound mind. Whilst the trio were one day engaged with the pencil on shore, they were suddenly surprised by the appearance of some soldiers, who very unceremoniously made them prisoners, under the suspicion of their being spies for the French government... They were detained, with a sentinel placed over them, until intelligence could be received from certain members of the Royal Academy, to whom they appealed, to certify they were really peaceable subjects of His Majesty King George, and not spies for France'" (Blake Records, edited by G.E. Bentley Jr., second edition, 2004, pp.22-3). Among Stothard's drawings in the Oppé Collection held by the Tate, at least one can be identified as having been done on our expedition, this being of "Allington Castle on the River Medway, Kent", dated 1779 (T10083). It was drawn on Monday 24 May, on the third day of their trip, when Highmore records: "Cumberland, and Stothard, are going over the River to Allington Castle, to take views" (p.38).

    As so little is known of Blake's early life, a good deal has naturally been made of his 1780 Medway expedition. Bentley himself, for example, expands upon it in his own biography of Blake, The Stranger from Paradise: A Biography of William Blake 2001, pp.58-60 (with, it should be said in the context of our discovery, a degree of prescience, as when he observes that "The ancient woods and cow-filled meadows by the side of the Medway provided the kinds of bucolic scenery recommended by some of the more modish teachers at the Royal Academy"). An account of the 1780 expedition also finds its way into Robert N. Essick's notice on Blake for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. However when Highmore wrote up this account of the 1779 expedition, neither he, Stothard nor Cumberland were likely to have known Blake, who only joined the Academy Schools the following year; in time for that year's expedition which - if this journal is anything to go by - probably took place in May, rather than during the Academy's September vacation, as hitherto surmised.

    A good deal is known about two of our three participants. Stothard, the most famous, remained a good friend of Blake's until the two had their quarrel over their rival engravings of the Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims some thirty years later. Cumberland remained a friend to the end, commissioning Blake's last engraving; and receiving his celebrated farewell letter of April 1827: "I have been very near the Gates of Death & have returned very weak & an Old Man feeble & tottering, but not in Spirit & Life not in The Real Man The Imagination which Liveth for Ever". As for John Highmore, the author of this journal, not so much is known; and he presumably died when still comparatively young. He is however known to have been a subscriber to the Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, published in 1782. Cumberland, incidentally, was also a friend of Sancho's: "the aspiring author George Cumberland read some of his works to Sancho because 'he is said to be a great Judge of literary performances'... [Sancho] treated as protégés the much younger John Meheux, an amateur writer and artist, John Highmore, an aspiring author, and Julius Soubise... Sancho's relationships with Meheux and Highmore make him the only known black patron of aspiring white artists and writers during the century" (Vincent Carretta, ODNB). This is the same Highmore who, in our journal, on observing the "fine luxuriant" countryside of Kent, that "seems to pour forth all her blessings spontaneously", is prompted to exclaim: "how different in this is the west Indies, where gangs of Negro slaves, Morning, Noon, and Night, 'cover the fields with their hoes, and fill the air with their sighs' - Oh! My Country! My Country! thou dear land of Liberty! - thou climate of good sense! where the distinction of colors makes no distinction of sentiment - where every complexion has an equal claim to the blessings, which a benevolent Being has indiscriminately lavished on the Inhabitants of the Globe from Pole to Pole!" (pp.34-35).

    These sentiments would of course have been shared by Blake. And it is not hard to imagine the young Blake - who loved 'the jocund dance / The softly-breathing song,/ Where innocent eyes do glance,/ And where lisps the maiden's tongue' - sharing in Highmore's youthful high spirits, and his impassioned celebration of life and liberty: "Did you mind the Maypoles at the little public houses as you came along? - Our commonality are not so immoderately fond of them as the french - you scarcely ever see them dancing round 'em - the french are fond of May poles à la folie, and so are the Italians - give them a Maypole of a sunday Morning and they'll dance down the sun, and continue 'till it's rising again on the Monday Morn, calls them all away to their accustomed weekly labour. there is a gaité de Coeur about these people, a disposition to be pleased and made happy by trifles; which, whatever we may think of their subjection to Slavery, makes them run thro' life with more real satisfaction and enjoyment, than My Countrymen can pretend to with all their boasted Liberty - We have a sullen way of enjoying the good things of this World - We possess many superior Blessings and Advantages over our Neighbours, but it is a negative happyness only to us; we are happy because we have no reason to be otherwise - ; but we want the true relish to enjoy it, because we have not experiences the reverse" (p.62).
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