Varley, John (1778-1842)

Varley, John (1778-1842)
Varley, John (1778-1842)

John Varley was an energetic English watercolourist, astrologer, and close friend of the romantic poet, William Blake. Celebrated by many of his peers, he made a significant contribution to the evolution of early 19th-century watercolour painting.

Varley trained initially as a silversmith before pursuing an artistic education at Joseph Charles Barrow’s sketching school. Enamoured with the potential of the enthusiastic young man, Barrow took him on a tour of Peterborough where he produced a fine drawing of the cathedral. It was subsequently shown at the Royal Academy and met with much acclaim.

He had a particular skill for flat washes of colour, which conveyed a tranquil, thought-provoking solemnity. Inspired by the masters of landscape, such as Claude Lorrain and the Poussins, he sought to elevate his views above mere topographical representations. Seeking to elicit a feeling of the heart rather than an observation of the mind.

His early works were generally drawn ‘on the spot’ with fresh transparent tints. Lazy sunsets fall across placid lakes. Airy clouds hug subtle peaks with an effortless sense of purity. Less was often more - he omitted the finer details in favour of the overall effect. The wild North Walien mountains were a frequent destination. As too were the Home Counties, Yorkshire and Northumberland.

In 1805, following several years exhibiting at the Royal Academy, he co-founded the Old Water-Colour Society where he became an influential contributor, showing over 700 works. His genial manner brought much popularity and he was exceedingly generous with artistic advice (whether required or not).

John Constable once wrote that Varley “has just called on me, and I have bought a little drawing off him. He told me how to do landscape, and was so kind as to point out all my defects. The price of the drawing was a guinea and a half to a gentleman, and a guinea only to an artist; but I insisted upon his taking the larger sum, as he had clearly proved to me that I was no artist."

Eager to develop others, and landscape painting more broadly, he taught numerous students such as David Cox and John Linnell. They’d board with him and work diligently, often accompanied by impromptu poetry or song. Occasionally after class, Varley would don boxing gloves and spar with them. Apparently, he possessed extraordinary agility for a heavyset gentleman.

The V&A Museum holds a charming drawing by Mary Ann Flaxman of a sketching session at Varley’s home.

His snippets of wisdom extended beyond his students as when presented with a drawing, he felt entirely compelled to critique it. On one occasion, the sketching ability of a footman at a country house was immeasurably enhanced, to the extent that he too became an artist.

At the peak of his career, Varley was earning in excess of £3,000 per annum. A considerable sum. Yet, due to a combination of endless curiosity and hapless financial decision-making, he was continually broke. Frequently arrested in lieu of payments.

Forever the inventor, he designed and patented a six-wheel carriage, investing over £1,000 in the process, but it failed to repay his optimism. He also frittered away countless hours in an attempt to create perpetual motion, eventually dissuaded by his brother, Cornelius.

Stories such as these are plentiful and his name frequently appears in the fond recollections of contemporaries. Such was the nature of his gregarious personality that many were enchanted by his witty anecdotes.

Many knew him primarily as an astrologer and often upon meeting a stranger, he’d predict their future. Numerous ladies called upon him under the guise of acquiring a drawing, but in fact, sought to discuss their ‘nativities’.

His fascination for these other-worldly matters was brought to the fore during lengthy discussions with the poet William Blake, which often extended throughout the night. The pair would exchange ideas, with Blake frequently proclaiming that he’d been joined by a vivid apparition - such as a figure from antiquity, or on one occasion, the spirit of a flea. After dozing at a table, Varley was known to rouse in a stupor and ask Blake to call upon Julius Caesar, Edward III or Moses. Blake would retort “There he is!” and proceed to sketch the vision before him, with Varley gazing somewhat blankly into space.

John Varley & William Blake

William Blake and John Varley. Drawn by John Linnell.

Over the course of his extensive career, John Varley played a vital role in transforming the art of watercolour painting from its humble topographical beginnings into a noble romantic endeavour. A generation of artists were indebted to his direct, yet amiable, suggestions.

He’s represented in numerous public collections including the British Museum, The Courtauld in London, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.


Old Watercolour Society, Royal Academy.

Public Collections

The Courtauld in London, V&A Museum, Yale Center for British Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum, The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Morgan Library & Museum, The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, Baltimore Museum of Art, Beecroft Art Gallery, Brampton Museum, Eton College, Gallery Oldham, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, The National Library of Wales, National Trust for Scotland (Leith Hall Garden & Estate), National Trust (Anglesey Abbey), Orleans House Gallery, Royal Watercolour Society, Somerset Heritage Centre, Southampton City Art Gallery.



Born in Hackney, London, to Richard Varley and Hannah Varley (nee Fleetwood).

Initially trained as a silversmith.

Studied drawing under Joseph Charles Barrow (fl. 1789-1802).

Undertook a sketching tour with Barrow to Peterborough.


Debuted at the Royal Academy with a sketch of Peterborough Cathedral. He exhibited regularly until 1805.


Visited North Wales.


Visited North Wales.


Visited North Wales.


Married Esther Gisborne in Piccadilly, London.


Co-founded the Old Watercolour Society. He would exhibit over 700 works.


Began exhibiting views of Northumberland.


Lived at Broad Street, Golden Square, London.


Exhibited views in Spain and Portugal.

C. 1815

Moved to Conduit Street, London.


Moved to Titchfield Street, London, where he built a gallery.


Developed a close friendship with the artist and poet William Blake (1757-1827).


Married Delvalle Eliza Rebecca Lowry.


Published ‘A Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy, illustrated with engravings of heads and features; accompanied by tables of rising of the 12 signs of the Zodiac; and containing also new and astrological explanations of some remarkable portions of ancient mythological history.’


Published a ‘Practical Treatise on the Art of Drawing in Perspective: adapted for the Study of those who draw from Nature; by which the usual Errors may be avoided.’




The Art Union

“The death of this gentleman took place on the 17th November, at the house of a friend in the vicinity of Cavendish Square. Few men are better known in our water-colour school of Art than Varley, and few men have more virtuously withstood the temptations of glare and colour which have cut off the rising reputations of so many. In all that Varley has done, there is an uncompromising severity of treatment, an unflinching assertion of character, which make us respect even his manner for his oneness of purpose. John Varley was distinguished among his schoolfellows for his personal strength and courage, and very early evinced a strong love of drawing, which, although encouraged by his mother, was discountenanced by his father, who said that drawing was a bad trade, and none of his children should follow it.

He was, therefore, sent to a silversmith's, to whom it was his father's intention that he should be apprenticed; but the death of the latter happening soon afterwards, young Varley was left to follow his own inclination. Being determined to pursue Art as a profession, he obtained employment for some time with a portrait painter in Holborn, and afterwards, at the age of 15 or 16, received instruction from a drawing master of the name of Barrow, with whom he made his first sketching excursion, during which he made a drawing of Peterborough Cathedral, which acquired a degree of consideration, insomuch as he began to be regarded as an artist of much promise.

He afterwards made the acquaintance of Arnold, who subsequently became A.R.A.. and with him made a tour in North Wales about the year 1799, after which Dr. Munro invited him to his house at Fetcham, in Surrey, where he employed him in making coloured sketches of views in the neighbourhood. Dr. Munro was a great admirer of Varley's talent, and was of essential service to him, as well by his observations and suggestions as by the assistance and encouragement he held out to him. About this time he found another patron in the Earl of Essex, who invited him to his seat at Cashiobury Park. In 1801 he again visited North Wales, and it was during this year and the following that he collected the Views in North Wales, which were so long favourite subjects with the public; some of which, under different treatment, were among his latest and most finished productions. After this, he visited Yorkshire, Northumberland, Devonshire, and other parts of England; and in 1803 he married.

The earliest members of the Water Colour Society formed among themselves, in 1804, a friendly society, meeting at the house of each in rotation, there to spend the evening in sketching, composition, &c. &c. Varley was not one of the original members, but he was always invited to these meetings, his talent as an artist, social qualities, and liberality in imparting information to his brother artists securing him always a welcome as a visitor.

The first exhibition of this society took place in 1805, and from 1815 to 1818 oil paintings formed a part of the exhibition. Upon the lists of his pupils, during so long a career, there occur many well-known names, as Linnell, Turner (of Oxford), Wm. Hart, F. O. Finch, who became members of the same Society. De Wint also, and Copley Fielding benefited much by his advice and communication. These gentlemen were not his pupils; but Varley had a thorough contempt for everything like concealment in matters relating to Art.

In 1824 Mrs. Varley (who was the daughter of an old friend,) died, and in the following year, a short time before his second marriage, his house in Titchfield Street was burnt, and, singular enough, he suffered five years afterwards the like misfortune. The genius of this celebrated watercolour painter was not enfeebled by years, for during the late period of his life 'his lamp burnt on,' and even more brightly than at any period of his career. His last drawing from nature was a sketch of the celebrated cedar trees in the Botanical Garden at Chelsea; but from the dampness of the ground, he caught a severe cold, which seems to have settled upon him, and terminated in his death.

To a large number of persons, John Varley had become known as an Astrologer; and some singular stories are recorded of him. His studies of this abstruse subject became, at length, almost a mania; of late, he could scarcely look at a person without "spaeing" his fortunes and predicting his futurity. He would inquire eagerly concerning the day, hour, and minute of a birth, and proceed at once to cast the horoscope of the party questioned. Some of his 'guesses' were very remarkable. We have heard, upon good authority, that he predicted the fire which consumed his house some months before it occurred. Once, when his friend Cotman was ill, in Norwich, Varley happening to be in the town, called upon him. The following odd dialogue has been reported to us.

Varley, 'Mr. Cotman at home?'
Servant, 'Yes, Sir; very ill indeed, going to die.'
Varley, 'Die; impossible; he won't die these ten years. Let me see your mistress'. Mrs. Cotman appears with a melancholy air and manner.

Varley, 'What's the matter?'
Mrs. C., 'Poor Cotman is given over by the doctors.'
Varley: 'Pooh, nonsense. They know nothing about it; his time is a long way off. Let me see him.'
Varley was introduced into the sick chamber, and addressed his friend, 'Why, Cotman, you are not such a fool as to think you are going to die. Impossible! No such thing. I tell you there are ten years for you yet to come.'
The prediction, as usual, operated to its own fulfilment, and Cotman did recover. Many anecdotes as singular might be added to this."

The Athenaeum

"We have just heard that Mr. John Varley, the well-known water-colour painter, died on Thursday, the 17th, at the house of a friend in the neighbourhood of Cavendish Square, and was buried on Thurs- day last. Mr. Varley, one of the patriarchs of our school of water-colour painters, was one of the earliest members and original founders of the Water-Colour Society, of whose exhibitions his drawings continued to the last to be among the chief attractions. Some of his finest works, indeed, were the productions of the two last years. In the outset of the Society, he was perhaps its greatest support, contributing as many as sixty pictures at a time to one Exhibition. Of all water-colour painters, none preserved greater freshness, purity and simplicity of colouring, than Mr. Varley; he surpassed, in this respect, even Turner and Girtin; and even amid the temptations of modern practices, seems steadily to have eschewed the lavish use of body colour, that rock on which water-colour painting seems destined to split.

The range of his imagination was not very large, and oftentimes his treatment verged on mannerism; yet a fine classical feeling and grandeur pervaded his compositions, at times not unworthy of Gaspar Poussin himself. Unfortunately, his circumstances obliged him to work much for the dealers, and therefore down to the low level of a certain class of purchasers. No one was more prolific in what artists call 'bread and cheese' drawings, as all print-shop windows testify.

Mr. Varley published some manuals of his art, which, though technical, are suggestive and useful. He notoriously indulged in astrological vagaries, in which must have tended to distract his attention from his art: indeed, his first thought seemed to be about 'nativities,' and his second about his pictures. Many are the stories told of the visits of fashionable young ladies to him, made ostensibly to buy a picture, but in reality to have their nativities cast. season or out, Mr. Varley was always ready for an astrological talk. He was known as a Sidrophel in all the Bayswater omnibuses.

He died in the sixty-fourth year of his age, of some affection of the kidneys, from which he had been lately suffering. He ventured out too early and was seized with a relapse before he could return home. There was something touching and kind in his death; he was perfectly conscious of its approach, bade his surgeon farewell, named his friends one by one, and sent them his affectionate remembrance."

A History of the 'Old Water-Colour' Society, John Lewis Roget (1891)

"John Varley was, throughout this period, a central figure, not only of the Society but of the school of water-colour painters. We have seen that at the birth-time of the former he was living in Broad Street, Golden Square, and had for some years past been giving lessons to amateurs. In 1813 he moved from No. 15 to No. 5. In 1814 or 1815 he migrated to 44 Conduit Street, and in 1817 to 10 (afterwards called 10) Titchfield Street, and there built a 'gallery for the display of his works.' He also educated students for the profession; and in course of time a goodly company of artists yet to be named, and some of great distinction, had profited either by his direct tuition or enjoyed the benefit of his kindly and sometimes gratuitous advice.

His pupils lodged in his house as apprentices, his own family circle increasing round him at the same time. Turner of Oxford has been mentioned as one of his earliest pupils. In its proper place will be described his generous reception of the modest stranger David Cox, who came to him very early in the century for lessons; and it has been stated above how freely a little later he gave his help to Copley Fielding; and how even the art of Peter De Wint was bettered by Varley's judicious counsel. Among other Members of the Water-Colour Society who derived like fatherly benefit from him were William Hunt, F. O. Finch, and Samuel Palmer. John Whichelo is also believed to have been an early pupil of Varley's, and at a late period of the latter's career his influence is said to have rescued from a clerk's Elmes's Annals of the Fine Arts (1817), desk the distinguished painter W. Holman Hunt, now a Member of our Society. Among the more eminent of his pupils were also John Linnell and William Mulready, and among the less the landscape painter H. B. Zeigler.

Many are the stories of his generosity to young artists, arising in part from the kindliness of his open disposition, and in part from a vehement desire to infuse into others the ardent spirit with which he pursued his own vocation. One of them has recently been told of a well-known northern architect, John Dobson, who came to London from Newcastle in 1810 to obtain the best instruction he could get in water-colour drawing, before commencing his profession. He went to Varley. But 'Varley,' writes Dobson's daughter and biographer, 'declined to be troubled with young pupils, and at first declared that he could not spare even half an hour. Observing, however, the intense disappointment of the youth, he at last consented to give him lessons at five in the morning, his time during the day being fully occupied. This concession, made at some inconvenience, marked the recognition of a kindred spirit.

The master soon perceived the uncommon qualities of his pupil, and not only agreed to give him daily instruction, but invited him to stay in his house, and would hardly part with him when, six weeks later, suitable lodgings were found.’ Master and pupil worked all day together,' and 'a mutual esteem sprang up which continued in afterlife.' It is said that Varley wished him to devote his talent to water-colour painting. Dobson's view of Seaton Delaval at the Royal Academy in 1815 has already been mentioned as the first coloured drawing exhibited there of a strictly architectural subject; drawings sent there by architects before that time having been in Indian ink, without artistic effect.'

John Varley despised secrets. He would freely tell what he knew, to the mortification of the illiberal, and the profit of most artists of his acquaintance. When he met with congenial soil, he liked to cultivate it. Discovering a taste for art in a lad employed to clean his boots, he took him in hand and made an artist of him. His enthusiasm was infectious. At a house where he gave lessons 'not only his pupils painted,' say the Messrs. Redgrave, but the very servants took brush and paper to try their skill at landscape painting.

Varley knocking at the door on one occasion was delayed a minute or two, and on the servant opening it, the painter found that the delay had been occasioned by John's being engaged at the moment washing in a sky at the hall table; the work did not please Varley, so he stopped on his way to the parlour, seized the brush, and immediately began to exemplify the necessary changes in the work before him.' The lady whom Varley had been engaged to teach on this occasion was a Miss Edwards, of Bedford Square; and to make the story more complete, it is believed that the footman whom Varley helped, afterwards became a professional artist.

He was very outspoken, and sometimes would give his advice when it was not asked; a dangerous practice, but one not always to his disadvantage, as in the following instance: Varley,' writes Constable, R.A., in a letter, 'has just called on me, and I have bought a little drawing of him. He told me how to do landscape, and was so kind as to point out all my defects. The price of the drawing was a guinea and a half to a gentleman, and a guinea only to an artist; but I insisted upon his taking the larger sum, as he had clearly proved to me that I was no artist.'

Varley's benevolence was not restricted to brethren of the brush. He could be kind to some whom many artists regard as natural enemies. He not only encouraged children when they tried to draw, but attracted them with cakes to gambol near him as he sketched from nature and to scramble around for his very loose halfpence.

At the period at which our history has now arrived, Varley's terms for teaching amateurs had risen to a guinea an hour. He and his wife's brother-in-law Clementi had arranged to start guinea lessons at the same time, one in painting, the other in music. Varley's, and it may be Clementi's too, were probably worth the money. It was remarked that he could not give a lesson without some advantage being derived by the pupil; and he said himself that he could teach many parts of his art in a lesson, which it had cost him years to learn. For Varley's teaching was not mere instruction in methods and processes, and the laying down of rules to imitate objects and paint in a set style.' It was addressed to the mind. If ever an artist painted with brains as well as colour, it was John Varley. 'As a preceptor,' says Pyne, we know of no one to prefer to Mr. Varley when he 'sets to it doggedly,' for no artist perhaps has ever studied his department with more abstract reasoning upon cause and effect.'

Happily, we are not left wholly in darkness as to the nature of his tuition, and the kind of truths which he inculcated; for he set down the one and exemplified the other in several published writings, designed for the use of students out of the reach of his personal superintendence. The chief of these, which came out in numbers, is in its complete form entitled A Treatise on the Principles of Landscape Design, with General Observations and Instructions to Young Artists. Illustrated with sixteen Highly Finished Views. By John Varley. Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper, Paternoster Row.' The sixteen views are engraved in aquatint, and printed in brown ink, two on a plate; and the eight plates, each with its explanatory letterpress, were issued as the serial numbers at 5s. apiece. They bear dates of publication from 'February 20, 1816,' to 'May 1, 1821;' the first seven, down to the date February 1st, 1818,' being published by Varley at his successive addresses, the eighth by his old friend J. P. Neale at 'Bennett Street, Blackfriars Road.'

The titles given by the author to the several landscapes (which are of course from his own designs) indicate to some extent his classification, such as it is, of the whole subject. They are as follows: i. (1 & 2), Principles of Light and Shade. ii. Principles of objects reflected in water. iii. (E) Epic [Pastoral]; (F) Pastoral. iv. (6) River Scene; (H) Ouse Bridge, York. v. (1) Sunshine; (K) Twilight. vi. (L & M) Principles of Skies in Fine or Stormy Weather. vii. (N & o) Marine. viii. General Landscape; Mountainous Landscape. This work appears to have been the first attempt to write systematically on the theory of effect.' The author is not content with stating rules of composition, but explains the object of each device; one, it may be, to conduct the eye from point to point; another, to arrest the gaze, or heighten an impression by the sense of contrast. And we find in his writing the same happiness in illustration, and ready wit in the perception of analogies, which are said to have characterised his verbal instruction, and, indeed, his ordinary conversation. Odd and quaint as he often was in his way of expressing himself, and unpolished in style, he was always apt, familiar, and original.

Many of his sayings remained in the memories of his pupils, and some have been handed down by tradition. Nature,' he would say, 'wants cooking, though there was no warmer advocate than he of studying the raw material. Every picture ought to have a look-there, was his way of saying that the spectator's eye must be directed to the point of interest. He had a pretty similitude wherewith to point out the value of flat tints, and how the points of dark and light tell upon quiet even ground. Flat tints,' said he, 'are like silence, in which you can hear the faintest whisper.' To a lady whose drawing was too smooth and timid in its execution, he said, wishing to impress her with an idea of dash and vigour, 'Did you ever notice a barber sharpen a razor? That's what it wants, the decision and the whacks.'

John Varley had illustrated his own principles by the display of no less than 435 works in the Society's galleries from 1805 to 1820, during which period he had abstained from exhibiting elsewhere. But these are unequally divided between the periods of eight years. In the first, or water-colour period, he had 330, or an average of about 41 a year; in the second 105, or an average of about 13. A large proportion of the first must have been small drawings, no doubt often executed as pupils' lessons. But among them were probably included many of his happiest and most characteristic works.

It was of his small drawings more particularly that Pyne wrote thus: 'There is a classic air pervading his best compositions which savours of the boldness of Poussin, united with the elegance of Claude; a happy combination of mountain, wood, lake, and river, that cannot fail to delight the eye of taste: the buildings, too, in his designs, are so judiciously placed, whether on a promontory, embosomed in a wood, or insulated on a plain, and so aptly formed and well-proportioned, that they are never out of place.' He further characterises them as 'admirable in the arrangements of their parts ... powerful in effect ... vivid in colour,' and 'intelligent and full of expression.'

It is of drawings of this period that the Messrs. Redgrave give the following summary of his way of painting, and just remarks on the character of his art: Varley's tints are beautifully laid, with a full and free pencil, and stippling is not resorted to, to flatten the masses; but he said that he got very fine qualities and suggestions in his skies by pumping vigorously upon them; yet the washing is not apparent, the tints of clouds being generally very sharply defined, and this is the case also with his foliage, which is massive and large, rather than imitative; he sometimes resorted to taking out the light in his foliage with bread, but did not use body colour in his best works. Varley's art was based on that of Girtin, rather than of Turner, but his study and appreciation of the old masters, Claude and Poussin, enabled him to give a classic air to his landscapes that quite removed them from any imitation of Girtin's style.

Turner's pictures consist of multitudinous details properly subordinated to breadth of treatment; but Varley's compositions, on the contrary, have few parts: the details are passed over, and great breadth and simplicity is the result, sometimes it is true with a tendency to vacancy and emptiness, and in his works for the dealers often verging on a sort of stereotyped conventionalism. 'When he laid himself out to do his best, and when he studied his subjects on the spot, his pictures have qualities that we find in no other painters-freshness, clearness, largeness of manner, and a classical air, even in the most common and matter-of-fact subjects. Though no slavish imitator of natural objects, he was so minutely truthful as to the general aspects of nature that in his representation of distances it was said, 'you might decide the number of miles each object was from the foreground.'

Though he constantly made use of the same subjects, and even 'searched the prints and etchings of the old masters for portions to introduce into his compositions,' he never could repeat a work identically, but always varied the effect or arrangement, perhaps by adding a new foreground, and sometimes patching his paper and adding pieces to the top or sides of a drawing.

Throughout the whole series of exhibitions, Varley had been very constant to his Welsh subjects, though he varied them, but in smaller numbers, with views in the home counties; in and about Oxford; in Yorkshire, &c.; and, from and after the year 1809, in Northumberland. In the above cases it may be presumed that he painted from his own sketches. A few subjects come from Scotland, the Lakes of Killarney, and Devon and Somerset. These, being smaller in number than one would expect had he been known to have travelled in the districts named, may be conjectured to have been made up at second-hand. In and about 1814, there were, as above stated, views in Spain and Portugal, confessedly from sketches made by others on the spot. A view of Windsor, exhibited in 1809, was reproduced in a coloured print in Ackermann's Repository? Some subjects on the banks of the Thames between Battersea and Vauxhall, apparently those exhibited in and about 1812, are singled out by the Messrs. Redgrave as displaying the best qualities of John Varley's art.

Sometimes he made a more ambitious effort. There were, in 1814, a 'Curfew,' and 'Thomson's Grave, from Collins's Elegy,' each with accompanying verses in the catalogue; and in 1820 another Curfew' sounds, to the same lines as the first. To one work in particular, 'The Burial of Saul,' exhibited in 1819, special attention had been drawn. But this, it is believed, was a large oil painting. It was in illustration of the sublime passage, quoted from the first chapter of the Second Book of Samuel, containing the words, 'How are the mighty fallen!' The motive is said to have been suggested to the painter on hearing his daughter play the Dead March from the oratorio of 'Saul.' The work was engraved by Linnell, who is understood to have painted the figures on the left of the picture.

If, with all his prolific power and industry, the patronage he enjoyed, and the high contemporary estimate of the merit of his work, John Varley failed as he did to realise a competency by his exertions, this failure must be set down partly to domestic circumstances beyond the fact of his having eight children to support, and partly to a certain hopeless inability on his own part to remain solvent. He used to say himself that whatever money was put into his pocket was sure to run out at the bottom. The latter defect arose in some measure from the careless generosity of his disposition, and it appears to have been aided as a source of extravagance by the habits of his first wife,' and the conduct of a sometime son-in-law. For himself, he lived from hand to mouth, never put by a farthing, and indeed was always in difficulties. But he declared that his home troubles, 'which would have worried any other man into his grave, were beneficial to him, as just preventing him from being too happy.' On Linnell's asking him, one day, how he was getting on, he answered, 'Much better, much better; there are only four men, I think, now, who could put in executions.'

A friend met him one day racing along at great speed, somewhere near Cavendish Square, and would have stopped him, but Varley pushed by, saying, 'I am in great haste, I cannot stop now. I have found a man who only takes 35 per cent.' The Messrs. Redgrave relate that Varley had an original way of getting paid by rich but forgetful debtors - a way he used to say which saved the unpleasantness of law. I send in a new bill,' said the painter, making a mistake in the amount of a guinea or two against myself, and the money comes in directly.'

It was not only in matters of art, but in everything which he undertook, that Varley showed the enthusiasm of his nature. Whatever irons he had in the fire, he heated them hot. For a long time he busied himself in the attempt to produce perpetual motion; but at last he allowed his brother Cornelius to convince him that the thing was impossible. And so he was content to take out a patent for a carriage with six wheels. But he could not regulate the wheel of Fortune, and lost his money.

A strong passion for the marvellous, which induced him to cultivate his credulity, led to the acquaintanceship which he formed with the great visionary, William Blake. To John Varley's simple and enthusiastic nature the spiritualism of Blake afforded a special fascination. He was some twenty years older than Varley, and approaching sixty years of age when the friendship was first cemented. They came together through Linnell, and from about 1818 had been constant companions. During the two succeeding years, it was Varley's delight to assist at this weird artist's visions, and encourage him to produce in graphic form the figments of his brain. Blake was then living in South Molton Street. It was at Varley's house in Titchfield Street as a studio, that in midnight hours he received his ghostly sitters. Historical, fabulous, even typical personages,' seen in the mind's eye of Varley's strange guest, were believed by the simple and credulous host to have been personally present in the dingy artists' quarters about Fitzroy Square.

Gilchrist gives the following account of these extraordinary séances. Blake's 'visionary faculty was so much under control, that at the wish of a friend he could summon before his abstracted gaze any of the familiar forms and faces he was asked for. This was during the favourable and befitting hours of the night, from nine or ten in the evening, until one or two, or perhaps three or four o'clock in the morning; Varley sitting by, sometimes slumbering, sometimes waking! Varley would say, "Draw me Moses," or David; or would call for a likeness of Julius Cæsar, or Cassibellaunus, or Edward the Third, or some other great historical personage. Blake would answer, "There he is!" and paper and pencil being at hand, he would begin drawing with the utmost alacrity and composure, looking up from time to time as though he had a real sitter before him; ingenuous Varley, meanwhile, straining wistful eyes into vacancy and seeing nothing, though he tried hard, and at first expected his faith and patience to be rewarded by a genuine apparition. A 'vision' had a very different signification with Blake to that it had in literal Varley's mind. Critical friends would trace in all these heads the Blake mind and hand, his receipt for a face. John Varley, however, could not be persuaded to look at them from this merely rationalistic point of view.' He accepted all Blake said of them, added in writing the names, and in a few instances the day and hour when they were seen.'

Shortly after Blake's death, which occurred in 1827, Varley published the following particulars of one of the strangest of these fancies, called 'The Ghost of a Flea,' with an engraving of the portrait referred to. This spirit visited his ' (Blake's) 'imagination in such a figure as he never anticipated in an insect. As I was anxious to make the most correct investigation in my power, of the truth of these visions, on hearing of this 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 until 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 bloodthirsty to excess, and were therefore providentially confined to the size and form of insects; otherwise were he himself, for instance, the size of a horse, he would depopulate a great portion of the country. He added, that if in attempting to leap from one island to another, he should fall into the sea, he could swim, and should not be lost. This spirit afterwards appeared to Blake, and afforded him a view of his whole figure.'

The existence of this supposed creature, Varley actually treats as a fact, to reason from inductively, in support of the science of astrology. But human credulity knows no bounds. Nearly all of these visionary heads mostly dated 1820, became the property of Linnell, who made coloured copies of three of them for Varley. Blake, Linnell, and John Varley, writes Gilchrist, were 'a curiously contrasted trio, as an eye-witness reports, to look upon in animated converse: Blake, with his quiet manner, his fine head-broad above, small below; Varley's the reverse: Varley, stout and heavy, yet active, and in exuberant spirits - ingenious, diffuse, poetical, eager, talking as fast as possible; Linnell, original, brilliant, with strongly marked character, and filial manner towards Blake, assuming nothing of the patron, forbearing to contradict his stories of his visions, &c., but trying to make reason out of them. Varley found them explicable astrologically-'Sagittarius crossing Taurus'--and the like; while Blake, on his part, believed in his friend's astrology, to a certain extent. He thought you could oppose and conquer the stars.'

The last reference touches upon another and a more lasting phase of Varley's superstition, namely, his firm belief in 'the vain science of astrology,' the pursuit of which he carried to a fanatical length. Many were the stories told of his practice in casting nativities, and predicting future events. It has even been alleged that he made a profit of his supposed skill as an astrologer, and took regular fees for telling fortunes. That, however, was not the case. On the contrary, he is known to have returned a note which someone sent him in acknowledgment of a favour of this kind. Yet there is no reason to doubt the correctness of Messrs. Redgrave's statement as to his being 'shrewd enough to see,' and 'candid enough to own, that his astrology was one of the causes of his popularity as a drawing master. 'Ladies come to take drawing lessons,' said he, 'that they may get their nativities cast.' Varley rarely was introduced to anyone without in a short time asking him for the day and hour of his birth. His pockets were always crammed with old almanacks to refer to for the sign of the Zodiac rising upon the horizon at the time.

His theory was that the 'house' (as it was called) influenced the life, and that even a personal likeness could be traced to the sign. And this he afterwards made the principal theme of the extraordinary book above quoted, whereof he published but one out of four projected parts. The full title is 'A Treatise on Zodiacal Physiognomy, illustrated with engravings of heads and features; accompanied by tables of rising of the 12 signs of the Zodiac; and containing also new and astrological explanations of some remarkable portions of ancient mythological history. By John Varley - London. Printed for the author, 10 Titchfield Street; and sold by Longman & Co., Paternoster Row. 1828. Price Five shillings.'This rare and curious book contains sixty-four octavo pages of letterpress, and five plates, four at least of which were engraved by Linnell. Some of them are filled with outline heads of Varley's friends supposed to exemplify the author's theory, and among them is the 'Ghost of a Flea from Blake's Vision' above mentioned. The whole figure is promised in a forthcoming part. The portraits, with others not engraved, were taken by Varley by means of a camera lucida. Varley considered this science of Zodiacal Physiognomy' as a 'branch of natural philosophy,' distinct from Judicial Astrology,' which deals in prediction. It is in relation to his practice in the latter branch that the following anecdotes are related. Some of them are said to be authentic, but for the truth of others it would perhaps be hazardous to vouch.

'Calling one day on a well-known picture dealer, he sought to dispose of some of his drawings, which he had brought in a portfolio. The dealer declined, but only to be again and again urged; at length Varley exclaimed: 'I shall sell before I leave the house,' mentioning as the ground for his assertion some particular relation which existed between the planet under which he was born, and another of the celestial luminaries. The dealer invited him to tea, still refusing to purchase; but as Varley was on the point of leaving the house, a friend of the dealer's came in, and on being introduced to the artist, then and there bought his pictures. 'Ah!' said Varley, 'I told you I should sell before I left your house.' Sceptics might answer that he was determined not to quit the premises till he did sell.

It was said that the death of Collins, R.A., came, to the day, as the stars had told Varley that it would, and that 'Scriven the engraver was wont to declare that certain facts, which could be only known to himself, were nevertheless confided to his ear by Varley with every particular.' Then 'he cast the nativities of James Ward the famous animal painter's children. So many of his predictions came true, their father, a man of strong though peculiar religious opinions - for he, too, was a 'character' began to think the whole affair a sinful forestalling of God's will, and destroyed the nativities.

A reference to dates was found by the Messrs. Redgrave not quite to bear out an oft-told tale of the fulfilment of Varley's sealed prediction, confided to Mulready, and only divulged on Callcott's wedding day, that the bridegroom was to remain single until he was fifty; for the event of his marriage occurred on his forty-eighth birthday. Varley had also prophesied that Callcott would go to Italy, and so he certainly did - three months after he had been told that the Fates required it.

It has already been mentioned how Varley considered his being tossed by Taurus in early life as a predestined event. On a later occasion, Aquarius seems to have been his persecutor: warned of danger from water, he remained at home all day, and then fell over a pail and hurt his leg. On another, as will have to be related in due place, it was the element of fire that was set against him by the Fates. Records of predictions that come true are more durable than those of failures. But there is still some evidence that Varley's were not always right. The Rev. William Harness used to declare that in his case they were entirely wrong; and the Duke of Sussex, P.R.S., laughed at his astrology; asking him whether the position of the stars would account for some corns with which his Royal Highness had lately been troubled.

Besides his more important work, the Treatise on Landscape Design,' Varley also published the following works on the practice of Art: A Practical Treatise on the Art of Drawing in Perspective, adapted for the study of those who draw from nature; by which the usual errors may be avoided. By John Varley. London: Printed for Sherwood, Gilbert, and Piper, Paternoster Row, and Ackermann and Co., Strand.' The book, or pamphlet, or whatever it may be called, which is in quarto size, and bears this title, is in fact a collection of four folio broadsheets of letterpress, accompanying two plates of diagrams of the same size, engraved by W. Lowry, pl. i. bearing in the imprint the date of publication 1 Dec. 1815, and Varley's address in Conduit Street, and pl. ii. the date 1 Sep. 1820, with the name of 'J. P. Neale,' Varley's early friend and fellow-sketcher, and his address 'Bennett Street, Blackfriars Road.'- Precepts of Landscape Drawing, exemplified in 15 Views; with Instructions to Young Artists. By John Varley.

This consists merely of two folio plates, folded in quarto, one engraved by J. C. Lewis, the other by Josh. Gleadah; the first comprising nine and the second six pretty little aquatint views, with a note to each pointing out some plain principle or device involved in the composition. Pl. i. has the date 1 Jan. 1818, and pl. ii. 22 Dec 1818, with Varley's then address in Titchfield Street (the number being changed in the interval from 10 to 10). Varley's List of Colours, otherwise described as 'Specimens of 19 Permanent Colours, with particular instructions for mixing and using them.' This is likewise a broad sheet of the same size, folded; with the several colours painted by hand in oblong spaces under one another. The quality of permanence would certainly be denied to some of them in the present day. It is not known when this sheet was first published. It is believed to have been reissued many times,' and much used by Varley's pupils. Allibone mentions Studies for Drawing Trees, 4to, by J. Varley.

There is yet another book, entitled 'Observations on Colouring and Sketching from Nature,' which has been, erroneously, attributed to John Varley, both by the Messrs. Redgrave and by Mr. Gilchrist; and it is possible that the mistake may have led to some depreciatory remarks by the latter on Varley's writings, which they do not deserve."

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