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William Blake, George Romney, and The Life of George Romney, Esq.

Morton D. Paley

William and Catherine Blake returned to London in September 1803, after spending three years in the seaside village of Felpham in Sussex. During the two years that followed, one of William’s most important and time-consuming occupations was assisting William Hayley with the illustrations to be engraved for Hayley’s Life of George Romney. Blake had commissions for two of these and hoped for more. These activities were no mere task for Blake, who praised the gifts of “our admired Sublime Romney” and thought, unfairly, that Romney’s talent had been diverted from history to portrait painting by Hayley, asserting in a frank letter to his brother James that Hayley “thinks to turn me into a Portrait Painter as he did Poor Romney” (30 January 1803, E 725). In the extraordinary letter that Blake wrote to Hayley about his renewal of vision “on the day after visiting the Truchsessian Gallery of pictures,” he stated: “I can, with confidence, promise you ocular demonstration of my altered state on the plates I am now engraving after Romney, whose spiritual aid has not a little conduced to my restoration to the light of Art.”

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