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Then Varley would tell of his friend the mystical artist, William Blake, who died in 1827. The Philistine had regarded as mad this man whose amazing genius had produced poems that held the key to spiritual knowledge, and drawn pictures that are amongst the most wonderful the world has seen. Varley would gravely narrate how, at his suggestion, Blake would summon to his presence such persons as David, Moses, Mark Anthony, or Julius Cæsar, whose portraits he would proceed to draw, looking up from his paper from time to time with straining eyes towards presences invisible to all but himself; waiting now and then whilst they moved or frowned, and leaving off abruptly when they suddenly retired. Blake in this way executed some fifty of such pencil drawings for Varley, the most curious of which was The Ghost of a Flea, as he called the strange human figure he depicted.
'As I was anxious to make the most correct investigation in my power of the truth of these visions' Varley would tell Lady Blessington and her friends 'on hearing of the spiritual apparition of a flea, I asked him if he could draw for me the resemblance of what he saw. He instantly said "I see him now before me." I therefore gave him paper and a pencil with which he drew the portrait. I felt convinced by his mode of proceeding, that he had a real image before him; for he left off, and began on another part of the paper to make a separate drawing of the mouth of the flea, which the
spirit having opened, he was prevented from proceeding with the first sketch till he had closed it. During the time occupied in completing the drawing, the flea told him that all fleas were inhabited by the souls of such men as were by nature blood-thirsty to excess; and were therefore providentially confined to the size and forms of insects; otherwise, were he himself for instance, the size of a horse, he would depopulate a great portion of the country.'
One evening when the conversation turned on various forms of divination, Bulwer asked Lady Blessington to show them the magic crystal which had been given her by Namiz Pacha, in whose family it had been in use for over six hundred years before Christ; various generations having regulated their lives according to the symbolic visions seen therein. The crystal was four inches in diameter and had been consecrated to the sun. It was only to be consulted during four hours in the day, when to those specially gifted with clairvoyance, visions appeared in its clear depths. Lady Blessington valued it highly because of its history, but from the hour of its first arrival, when under the direction of Namiz Pacha she had stared into the crystal and believed herself to have seen a sight that startled and saddened her, she could never be induced to look into it again.
Disraeli was scarcely less interested in such subjects than Bulwer, who at a later date, drew for the former a geomantic figure from which
he predicted that which befell him, as the second Lord Lytton has stated in the biography of his father.
In the spring of the year Disraeli was a guest at Gore House, where he corrected the proofs of his novel Venetia. On returning to his father's home he wrote to his hostess as follows
'MY DEAR LADY,-Although it is little more than a fortnight since I quitted your truly friendly and hospitable roof, both of which I shall always remember with deep and lively gratitude, it seems to me at least a far more awful interval of time. I have waited for a serene hour to tell you of my doings; but serene hours are rare, & therefore I will not be deluded into waiting any longer.
'In spite of every obstacle in the shape of harassed feelings & other disagreeable accidents of life, I have not forgotten the fair Venetia, who has grown under my paternal care, & as much in grace, I hope, as in stature, or rather dimensions. She is truly like her prototype
"" -the child of love,
Tho' born in bitterness & nurtured in convulsion;"
but I hope she will prove a source of consolation to her parent, & also to her godmother, for I consider you to stand in that relation to her. I do not think that you will find any golden hint of our musing strolls has been thrown away upon me; & I should not be
surprised if, in six weeks, she may ring the bell at your hall door, & request admittance, where I know she will find at least one sympathising friend.
'I have, of course, no news from this extreme solitude. My father advances valiantly with his great enterprise, but works of that calibre are hewn out of the granite with slow & elaborate strokes. Mine are but plaster-ofParis casts, or rather statues of snow that melt as soon as they are fashioned.
'D'Orsay has written me kind letters, which always inspirit me. How are my friends, if I have any? At any rate, how is Bulwer? I can scarcely expect you to find time to write to me, but I need not say what pleasure your handwriting wd afford me, not merely in pencil notes in a chance volume. This is all very stupid, but I cod not be quite silent. Ever your DIS.'
Months later he writes her another letter in which he says:—
'I see by the papers that you have quitted the shores of the "far-resounding sea," & resumed your place in the most charming of modern houses. I therefore venture to recall my existence to your memory, & request the favour of hearing some intelligence of yourself, which must always interest me. Have you been well, happy, & prosperous? has that pen, plucked assuredly from the pinion of a bird of Paradise, been idle or creative? My lot has been as usual here, tho' enlivened by the presence of Lady
Sykes, who has contrived to pay us two visits, & the presence of Lord Lyndhurst, who also gave us a fortnight of his delightful society. I am tolerably busy, & hope to give a good account of myself & doings when we meet, which I trust will be soon. How goes that "great lubber," the Public, & how fares that mighty hoax, the World? Who of our friends has distinguished or extinguished himself or herself? In short, as the hart for the waterside, I pant for a little news, but chiefly of your fair & agreeable self. The Book of Beauty will soon, I fancy, charm the public with its presence. Where have you been? In Hampshire I heard from Lord L. How is the most delightful of men & best of friends, the Admirable Crichton? I don't mean Willis who I see has married, a fortune I suppose, tho' it doth not sound like one. How & where is Bulwer? How are the
Whigs and how do they feel? All here who know you send kind greetings, & all who have not that delight, kind wishes. Peace be within your walls & plenteousness within your palace. Vale. Your affectionately.'
Another visitor who stayed at Gore House at this time was the Countess Guiccioli. William Archer Shee, brother to the President of the Royal Academy who met her at one of Lady Blessington's receptions on May 1837, describes her as having 'neither youth, striking beauty, nor grace, and it is difficult to believe she ever could have been the great poet's ideal. She is not tall and is thick set, devoid of air or style,