As his letters indicate, Blake's enthusiasm continued once in Sussex. Hayley received him ‘with his usual brotherly affection’ and Felpham was certain to prove ‘propitious to the Arts’ (Blake, 710–11). In a letter to Butts of 2 October 1800 Blake included a poem in couplets testifying to his renewed ‘Vision’ by the sea (ibid., 713). Hayley provided ample employment: a series of portraits of poets to decorate his library; a broadside etched in relief and white-line of Hayley's poem, ‘Little Tom the Sailor’; portrait miniatures; illustrations for a series of ballads authored by Hayley and distributed (with scant success) by his friends; and engravings for Hayley's Life of William Cowper
. In May 1801 Blake reported to Butts that ‘Hayley acts like a Prince’ and that Felpham remained ‘the sweetest spot on Earth’ (ibid., 715).
The first dissonant notes emerged from work associated with the biography of Cowper. Beginning in March 1801, Cowper's cousin Lady Harriet Hesketh criticized Blake's miniature, and later his engraving, based on George Romney's portrait of her beloved relation. More generally, Hayley tried to divert Blake from poetry and history painting and direct him into the practical crafts of copy engraving and miniature portraiture. As Blake later jotted in his notebook:
When H—y finds out what you cannot do
That is the Very thing hell set you to.
Although he assisted Blake in acquiring at least a little Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and thereby elevated the London artisan closer to the society of educated gentlemen, differences in class and taste persisted. Hayley treated Blake as a protégé possessing ‘admirable Talents’ and ‘uncommon powers of mind’, but also an ‘eccentric Soul’ evincing ‘Touches of nervous Infirmity’ verging on ‘Insanity’ (Hayley's letters in Bentley, Records
, 83, 87, 106, 164). The decaying relationship with Hayley was compounded with poor health: Catherine Blake's recurring bouts of rheumatism began in November 1800; husband and wife were both ill in spring 1802 and again in January 1803.