On 29th March 1833 John Constable gave his daughter Emily a copy of Isaac Watts’s book ‘Songs, Divine and Moral’. It was Emily’s eighth birthday and her father had coloured in the five woodcuts in his own hand and added a drawing on the half title page. When Constable’s great friend and eventual biographer Charles Leslie was about to sail with his family to move to America, Constable gave his god-daughter Harriet Jane Leslie a second version of “Songs Divine and Moral” again with the woodcut illustrations coloured with watercolours in his own hand and with eight additional watercolour sketches on various pages. He dedicated the book “Harriet Jane Leslie, from her affectionate godfather” and signed it “John Constable” and dated it Sept 13th 1833.
Emily’s book was gifted to the V&A in London by Isabel Constable in 1888 and Harriet Jane Leslie’s book was eventually gifted to her nephew Charles Robert Leslie Fletcher (1857-1934), who was the only son of Caroline Anna Leslie (Harriet’s sister) and Alexander Pearson Fletcher. The book has remained in the Fletcher family ever since and has never been publicly exhibited or offered for sale.
Both Emily and Harriett’s books are recorded in “The Later Drawings and Paintings of John Constable” by Graham Reynolds. The relevant entry is:
33.11 The Holy Spirit: Illustration to Watts’s “Songs, Divine and Moral” (Pl 870).
Victoria and Albert Museum (The National Art Library).
Watercolour 6 1/4 x 4 in 16.5 x 10cm (size of page)
Coll: Emily Constable, Isabel Constable; given by her 1888.
Lit: J.L. Whalley “Illustrations for Isaac Watts’s “Devine and Moral Songs” Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin IV, No 4, October 1968, pp 149 – 57; Reynolds 1973 , pp 3-4.
This edition of Songs Divine and Moral by Dr Isaac Watts was published in 1832 by C Tilt and contained five woodcuts attributed to J Thompson after Stothard. The copy included in Isabel Constable’s gift to the Victoria and Albert Museum had been a present from John Constable to his daughter Emily on her eighth birthday, 29th March 1833. He had coloured the cuts and added this drawing on the half title page.
When Leslie left for West Point, America in 1833, Constable gave his daughter Harriet a similarly decorated copy of the same book. He added further designs of his own: a bird singing over its nest; a bee settling on a rose. The copy was inscribed: Harriet Jane Leslie from her affectionate godfather John Constable Sept 13th 1833. It was last recorded in the collection of a collateral descendent, the late Captain A.L. Fletcher RN (Corr, III, p. 106).
Provenance (Private at present)
Harriet Jane Leslie, Charles Robert Leslie Fletcher, Captain Alexander Leslie Fletcher RN, Robert Graham Fletcher, Charles Hugh Fletcher, Andrew Charles Fletcher.