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Title: William Blake - A Study of His Life and Art Work
Author: Langridge, Irene
Language: English
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Engraved by L. Schiavonetti after Blake's design. 1808]







Some years ago, I became deeply interested in William Blake, and made
myself familiar with all that our public collections in London contain of
his art-work. It seemed to me that this work was still so little known and
appreciated by the public, that a short book might well be written to
serve as a pointer to our national Blake treasures. The standard works on
Blake--Gilchrist's Life, Mr. A. C. Swinburne's Critical Essay, Messrs.
Ellis and Yeats' exhaustive volumes, and Mr. W. M. Rossetti's Aldine
Essay--are of great literary excellence and high critical quality, and
must ever remain the great authorities on the subject; but, owing to these
works being either out of print, very lengthy, very expensive, or
unillustrated, a want may be supplied by, and an opportunity of usefulness
open to, such a book as the present one. Different in scope as it is from
any other book on Blake, and modest in aim, it deals with the poet-artist
as he is manifested in those works of his which are accessible to the

In seeking to sketch again his artistic personality, I have been guided by
the conclusions of his eminent biographers and critics wherever they
coincided with my own intuitive convictions. But in the study of a
character and work so out of the usual, so exotic and strange as those of
Blake, unanimity of opinion and judgement is hardly to be hoped for, and
the variety of points of view from which each new student sees him, may
assist to the rounding and filling out of the portrait drawn in so
masterly a manner in the first instance by Alexander Gilchrist.

My best thanks are due to Mr. A. B. Langridge for reading my proofs and
for the photographs which he took expressly to illustrate this volume.
Also to Mr. Frederic Shields for numerous acts of kindness and the loan of
original Blake drawings, to Sir Charles Dilke, to Messrs. Chatto and
Windus, to Mr. Laurence Binyon, Mr. G. K. Fortescue, and to Dr. G. C.
Williamson for help given to me in various ways.


  CHAPTER                                               PAGE

     I. EARLY YEARS                                        1

    II. LIFE AT FELPHAM                                   21

   III. THE PROCESSION OF THE PILGRIMS                    32

    IV. DECLINING YEARS                                   45

     V. HIS RELIGIOUS VIEWS                               57

    VI. HIS MYSTICAL NATURE                               72

   VII. HIS ART WORK                                      80

        Songs of Innocence.
        Book of Thel.
        Gates of Paradise.
        Songs of Experience.
        Tales for Children.

  VIII. THE PROPHETIC BOOKS                              101

        Vision of the Daughters of Albion.

    IX. THE PROPHETIC BOOKS, continued                   116

        Book of Urizen.
        The Small Book of Designs.
        The Large Book of Designs.
        Song of Los.
        Book of Los.

     X. WORK IN ILLUSTRATION                             136

        Young's "Night Thoughts."
        Blair's "Grave."
        Thornton's "Pastorals."
        The Book of Job.

    XI. WORK IN THE EXHIBITION OF 1904                   159


        The Canterbury Pilgrimage.
        Pencil Sketches.
        Works in the National Gallery.

  INDEX                                                  195


                                                      TO FACE PAGE

  THE LAST JUDGMENT (from Blair's "Grave")          _Frontispiece_

  PORTRAIT OF BLAKE                                              1

  THE LITTLE GIRL LOST (from "Songs of Experience")             12

  THE DIVINE IMAGE (from "Songs of Innocence")                  16

  "AMERICA," a page from                                        20

  THE LAZAR HOUSE                                               22

  "EUROPE," a page from                                         24

  LOS, ENITHARMON, AND ORC (from "Urizen")                      26

  THE RE-UNION OF THE SOUL AND THE BODY (from "The Grave")      32

  THE PILGRIMAGE TO CANTERBURY (Stothard)                       36

  CHAUCER'S "CANTERBURY PILGRIMS" (Blake)                       36

  SATAN TORMENTING JOB                                          44

  BLAKE'S ROOM IN FOUNTAIN COURT (F. J. Shields)                53

  DEATH'S DOOR (from "The Grave")                               66

  THE SHEPHERD (from "Songs of Innocence")                      80

  FRONTISPIECE FROM "SONGS OF INNOCENCE"                        84

  THE LAMB (from "Songs of Innocence")                          86

  THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL, a page from                  90

  "I WANT, I WANT" (from "Gates of Paradise")                   94

  THE DELUGE (after a Plate in "Gates of Paradise")             96

  THE TYGER (from "Songs of Experience")                        98

  INFANT JOY (from "Songs of Innocence")                       100

  "VISIONS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ALBION," a page from            106

  "AMERICA," the Frontispiece to                               108

  "AMERICA," a page from                                       110

  "EUROPE," the Frontispiece to ("The Ancient of Days")        112

  "EUROPE," the first page from                                114

  "URIZEN," the title-page from                                116

  "URIZEN," Plate VI from                                      118

  "THE SMALL BOOK OF DESIGNS," Plate IX from                   120

  THE ACCUSERS (from "The Large Book of Designs")              122

  "JERUSALEM," page 33 from                                    128

  ROBERT (from "Milton")                                       134

  TIME SPEEDING AWAY (page 25 from "Night Thoughts")           138

  DEATH OF THE STRONG WICKED MAN (from "The Grave")            140

  "The Grave")                                                 144

  THORNTON'S "VIRGIL'S PASTORALS," woodcuts from               146

  "THE BOOK OF JOB," Plate II                                  150

  "THE BOOK OF JOB," Plate V                                   152

  "THE BOOK OF JOB," Plate XIV                                 154

  THE NATIVITY                                                 162

  THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT                                        168

  OBERON, TITANIA, AND PUCK                                    170

  VISION OF QUEEN KATHERINE                                    174

  THE CIRCLE OF THE LUSTFUL (from "Dante")                     180

  PENCIL SKETCH FOR "DEATH'S DOOR"                             184

  HEAD OF AN OLD MAN                                           186

  THE WHORE OF BABYLON                                         188

  DAVID DELIVERED OUT OF DEEP WATERS                           190



BINYON, ROBERT LAURENCE. "William Blake: being all his woodcuts
photographically reproduced in facsimile." London, 1902. 4o. [The Unicorn
Press: Little Engravings, No. 2.]

CUNNINGHAM, ALLAN. "The Lives of the most eminent British Painters,
Sculptors and Architects." London, 1829-33. 12o. [Part of "The Family
Library," 6 vols.] Note: a second edition of this work was published in
1830-37, in 16o, 6 vols.

ELLIS, E. J., and YEATS, W. B. "The works of William Blake, poetic,
symbolic, and critical." Edited with lithographs of the illustrated
"Prophetic Books," and a memoir and interpretation. London, B. Quaritch,
1893. 8o. 3 vols.

GARNETT (SIR) RICHARD. "William Blake, Painter and Poet." London, 1895. 80
pp. folio. ["The Portfolio Monographs," No. 22.]

GILCHRIST, ALEXANDER. "The Life of W. Blake, 'Pictor Ignotus.'" With
selections from his poems and other writings. Edited by Anne Gilchrist,
with the assistance of D. G. and W. M. Rossetti. London, 1863. 8o. 2 vols.
Note: a second enlarged edition was published in 1880. London, Macmillan &
Co. 8o. 2 vols.

MALKIN, THOMAS W. "A Father's Memoirs of his Child." London, 1806. 8o.

ROSSETTI, W. M. "The Poetical Works of William Blake." Edited with a
prefatory memoir. London, 1874. 8o. ["The Aldine Poets." George Bell &

SCOTT, WILLIAM BELL. "Exhibition of the Works of William Blake." With
introductory memoir. London, The Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1876. 4o.

SCOTT, WILLIAM BELL. "William Blake." Etchings from his works (with
descriptive text). London, Chatto and Windus, 1878. Folio.

SMETHAM, JAMES. "Essay on Blake." (Reprinted in Gilchrist's work, q.v.,
from the "London Quarterly Review").

SWINBURNE, A. C. "William Blake." A critical essay, with illustrations
from Blake's designs in facsimile, coloured and plain. Second edition.
London, 1868. 8o.

[Illustration: WILLIAM BLAKE]




The work of one of the greatest spirits that ever made Art his medium has
yet its way to make among the general public. The world entertained the
angel unawares, for three-quarters of a century have passed since the
death of William Blake, and still his name and his work are but
indifferently known. Yet to those that know them, the designs from his
pencil, and the poems from his pen, are among the most precious things
that Art has bequeathed to us.

It is my purpose in the following pages to tell over again the main
outlines of his life, quite shortly and simply, for the great biography on
Blake (that of Alexander Gilchrist) can be consulted by all, and contains
almost every detail known about him. To this monumental work, and to
Messrs. Ellis and Yeats's more recently issued and exhaustive Commentary
on Blake, I owe all my facts.

A brief memoir is a necessary preface to the review I propose making of
those engraved and painted books, pictures, drawings and engravings of
Blake's which our National Collections possess.

William Blake was one of those unique beings who live above this actual
world, in the high places of imagination. At four years old he saw his
first vision, as his wife reminded him in old age, in the presence of Mr.
Crabb Robinson: "You know, dear, the first time you saw God was when you
were four years old, and He put His head to the window and set you
screaming." Quaintly, crudely, as the story is told by Mrs. Blake, it
bears testimony to the fact that the visionary faculty was developed in
Blake from the beginning. Imagination claimed him definitely as her child
from that early day when, having rambled far afield into the country (as
it was his pastime to do throughout life), he saw, in a meadow near
Dulwich, a tree amongst whose branches glistening angels clustered and
sang. It may be, as one of Blake's critics suggests, that Nature was
herself the basis of the supernatural beauty he saw, though he was all
unwitting of it. Standing beneath a tree laden with delicate pink blossom,
and gazing up into the rosy gloom, Blake may well have translated this
pulsating beauty into a miracle. Above among the greenery he may have
seemed to catch glimpses of aspiring hands and faces among the crowding
wings of flame and rose and sun-kissed gold. A little breeze would set
angelic wings and garments all a-moving and a-fluttering, and a thrush's
voice suddenly cleaving the silence seem an angel's song indeed, too
exquisite to be endured without tears, to the quivering, spell-bound
wanderer. Such _may_ have been the explanation of this early vision, but
Blake himself never attributed any natural cause to such spiritual
manifestations. Everything was alive to him with a strange inner life: the
"vegetable world," as he called it, was but the shadow of the real world
of imagination, whose spiritual population was more clearly discernible to
his highly-wrought consciousness, than natural phenomena themselves.
Narrowly did he escape a whipping from his father, the worthy hosier, for
what that matter-of-fact man could not but consider a most impudent
invention on the child's part. The incident was a foreshadowing of the
poet-painter's life. The mysterious regions in which his spirit wandered
so fearlessly, and which his poems and his drawings represented to the
world, had but scanty attraction for his time. It would be truer perhaps
to say that they were more often regarded with fear and repulsion. The
mortal who dares to raise even the corner of the veil that so discreetly
hides from our material world the many other existent conditions of
consciousness, the great Beyond of Spirit Life, does so at his own risk,
and with the certainty of earning his fellow men's distrust and
disapproval. The outlook on that immensity has a tendency, it is true, to
endanger the perfect mental equilibrium; but though the age--professing
faith in a set of decent religious formulae, but in reality sceptical of
all spiritual life and destiny--called Blake mad, he was recognized by a
few chosen spirits as a great master and seer. The story of his life
contains but few incidents, but through these incidents we see a soul

William Blake was born in 1757 at 28, Broad Street, Carnaby Market, Soho.
The old house still stands, but looks very dirty and depressing, like the
street, which, since Blake played in it, has suffered a dingy declension.
Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, who have added some biographical details to
Gilchrist's Life, state that William's father, the hosier, James Blake,
was the son of an Irishman, one John O'Neil. John O'Neil married a girl
from Rathmines, Dublin, called Ellen Blake, and as he soon afterwards got
into debt and trouble of one sort and another, he dropped his name of
O'Neil and adopted his wife's maiden name. This fact, if established
beyond doubt, would seem to be of singular importance, as the presence of
Irish blood in William Blake would account for several strange
characteristics which are not otherwise understandable. The Kelts are
always particularly sensitive and open to spiritual experience.
Imagination, second sight, and acute psychic consciousness, seem to be
the peculiar attributes of the race; and these gifts are seldom to be
found in a pure Anglo-Saxon. There were four other children, James, of
whom we shall hear again, Robert, our artist's beloved younger brother,
John, a ne'er-do-weel, and a girl of whom not much is known.

Very early William developed a taste for art, and his father, with more
sense than usually characterizes the parents of great men, allowed him to
follow his bent, and sent him, from the age of ten to fourteen, to the
drawing class of one Pars, in the Strand. We read of his attending picture
sales and occasionally buying drawings and prints after Raphael, Michael
Angelo, Albert Dürer, and other old masters at prices which would make the
modern collector green with envy. But we do not hear of Blake's attending
any other school either before or after leaving Pars for the purpose of
furthering his general education. All the knowledge that he acquired
outside Art was self-chosen and self-taught. A sound general education is
the firmest basis on which to build a tower of observation from which the
world and life may be surveyed with judgement. Blake's beautiful and
fantastic house of thought, however, was erected on no such foundation.
Perhaps instinct guided his choice of mental food: certain it is that the
peculiar education he gave himself enabled him to preserve his own
personality in all its vital energy. Pars appears to have been the
Squarcione of that generation. He had been sent to Greece by the
Dilettante Society to study ruined temples and broken statues. On his
return to England he set up a school in the Strand to teach drawing from
plaster casts after the antique.

When he was fourteen, with a view to getting a trade by which he could
earn his daily bread, Blake's father determined to apprentice him to an
engraver. He took him first to Rylands, an eminent engraver with a Court
appointment, but the boy said after the interview, "Father, I do not like
that man's face. He looks as if he would live to be hanged." Strange
forecast this proved to be, for in 1783 Rylands was indeed hanged for
forgery. Blake was finally apprenticed to Basire, a sound craftsman, but
of a somewhat hard and dry manner. Basire's style as an engraver set its
stamp on Blake, there is no doubt. It would have hampered most men
severely, rendering their work formal and immobile, but Blake turned it to
a strange account, and it became expressive in his hands. When in his
later years he found that he had outgrown it, he modified it to suit his
new requirements, but it had been a laborious and useful servant, if not a
gracious one. During his apprenticeship Basire set him to draw all the
mediaeval tombs and monuments in Westminster Abbey and other churches for
a certain publication to be brought out by the firm. In doing this Blake
imbibed large draughts of the intense and fervent Gothic spirit. Its deep
innerness, its passionate aspiration, its whimsicality, and its quaint
decorative exuberance, expressed alike in angels and gargoyles, found and
touched a vibrating chord in his heart. Gothic art entered into him and
became part of him. Its influence was strong, though it took a
characteristically Blakeian expression always, and those long mornings
spent among the slanting sunbeams and the whispering silence of the
chapels around the King Confessor's tomb, were among the truly eventful
incidents of his life.

In many of his designs a Gothic church with spires and buttresses like
Westminster,--often a mere symbol sufficient to recall it, occasionally
carefully and elaborately drawn in--stands as an embodiment of Blake's
idea of worship.

Strange thoughts must have come to him among those forests of slender
pillars and arches! Some hint of them is conveyed by an engraving he did
during the period of drawing in the Abbey. It is after a drawing (probably
one bought by him cheap at a sale room) by Michael Angelo, and has the
imaginative inscription written on it by Blake, "Joseph of Arimathea among
the Rocks of Albion. This is one of the Gothic artists who built the
cathedrals in what we call the dark ages, wandering about in sheepskin and
goatskin, of whom the world was not worthy." Joseph of Arimathea, it will
be remembered, is supposed to have come to Glastonbury in 63 A.D. and
built the first Christian Church.

He did not always work in the Abbey in quiet. There is a story told by
Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, of how he was plagued by the Westminster boys
till he laid his grievance before the Dean, who thereupon deprived the
boys of the right to wander about the Abbey at their pleasure, a right
denied to them to this day.

At twenty, Blake's apprenticeship to Basire being ended, he attended the
Academy schools and drew from the antique under Keeper Moser, picking out
for his chief delight and most ardent study the drawings of Michael Angelo
and Raphael--a very barbaric choice it was considered, according to the
decadent taste of the period. Moser recommended him to give up poring over
"those old hard, stiff, dry, unfinished works of art," and to turn his
attention to Le Brun and Rubens, some of whose drawings he fetched out for
Blake's inspection. Blake, however, who was never able to conceal his
thoughts, nor to express them in anything but forcible terms, burst out,
"These things that you call finished, are not even begun; how then can
they be finished?" and comments on the incident, which he relates in his
MS. notes on "Reynolds' Discourses," made in his old age, "that the man
who does not know the beginning, cannot know the end of art." By this he
meant, that to be preoccupied as were Rubens and Le Brun, with the merely
faithful representation of the beauty of the body, to dwell as an end in
itself on the wonder of white shoulders, tapering fingers, and too
luscious flesh, to linger in the folds and intricacies of silk and velvet
robes, and to spend strength and power on these things, was mere
foolishness and blundering.

Physical beauty, splendour of colour, only thrilled and arrested him when
he recognized in them the symbols of an idea, when they seemed to hint of
things rarer and more excellent than any purely natural or intrinsic
attribute. If he could discriminate its eternal inner message, and could
make it visible to the world, then was physical beauty worthy of
reproduction. But he seldom dwelt on beauty for its own sake, but only
when it was spiritually significant; so it is easy to see why he was
inaccessible to the influence of such artists as Rubens and Le Brun.

At the Academy Schools he had the opportunity of drawing from the living
model, and profited by it to a certain limited extent. But he always had
an aversion to it, declaring that to his whimsical nature it "smelt of
mortality." However he might and did justify his negligence of this
important branch of technique, his art was necessarily weakened by it.
Technique is the language of art, and is only to be obtained by frequent
and laboriously faithful reference to nature. It is true that Blake's
strong power of generalizing, along with his marvellous gift of recalling
at desire things discriminated by him, made the achievement of technique
through methods of life study a less urgent necessity to him than to other
men who had no such retentive artistic memories. Essential lines Blake
never failed to give, but by intention rather than from any inability he
seldom gives more than these essential lines in the figures he drew and

After all it is possible that his power of delineating swift movement, and
the great range of emotions that correspond to that, might have been
injured or lost by too close an application to the artificially posed
human figure. We have seen much life lost in the too close study of life,
as in the otherwise exquisite work of Lord Leighton.

Blake believed that to draw from the typical forms seen by him in vision
was his true purpose and aim, and the study of individual human forms
filled his eye with confusion, for, as he was for ever asserting, Nature
seemed to him but a faint and garbled version of the grand originals seen
in imagination, that is, in truth.

While Blake was educating himself in art, he had to earn his livelihood by
engraver's work, and between 1779 and 1782 one or two booksellers employed
him to engrave designs after various artists. Among these artists was
Stothard, to whom, in 1782, Blake was introduced. Stothard brought Flaxman
and Blake together, and the three became warm friends. It was only after
many years, and then through the machinations of an evil man (the
publisher Cromek), that Blake became estranged from Stothard, and
partially also from Flaxman.

In 1780 Blake exhibited his first picture in the Academy, "The Death of
Earl Godwin." It was only the twelfth exhibition of the institution, and
the first to be held at Somerset House. How curiously do its four hundred
and eighty-seven exhibits (including wax work and a design for a fan)
contrast with our mammoth Academies of to-day! Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mary
Moser, Gainsborough, Angelica Kauffman, Cosway and Fuseli, were all
contributors in the year of grace 1780. Blake was in sympathy with none of
them save Fuseli, who, although a man greatly overrated in his day, had a
real sense of the potency of the invisible world, mainly, however, of
that portion of it concerned with arch-fiends, witches, demons, and
baleful omens.

In 1782 Blake married Catherine Bouchier, and set up housekeeping in Green
Street. It appears that he had been much in love with a girl called Pollie
Wood, who had jilted him. Going to stay at Richmond in a state of deep
depression, he made the acquaintance of Catherine Bouchier. Messrs. Ellis
and Yeats have added this detail to the first biographer's story. When she
first entered the room where he sat, she was overcome by such intense
emotion that she had to withdraw for awhile. She afterwards admitted that
at that moment she became suddenly aware that she was in the presence of
her future husband.

Small wonder that Blake felt an irresistible affinity for this charming
dark-eyed girl whose fervent susceptible spirit responded so mysteriously
to his own. No marriage was ever more happy. Catherine was of humble
origin, and practically no education, for at the time of her marriage she
was unable to read or write, but nevertheless she possessed the rare and
delicate qualities necessary for the mate of a man like Blake. She early
realized that the man she had married was no ordinary one, and to be of
service to her dear "Mr. Blake" (as she always called him with quaint
reverence), to enter into his thoughts, to smooth the path of his material
life, and to conform her young and unlessoned girlhood to his difficult
standard of plain living and high thinking, became her one absorbing

There were a few rough passages in the early days of married life, which
Gilchrist indicates, but they soon disappeared. It was merely the friction
and heat given off, before the two strong natures were fused into a
perfect union. Catherine's nature appears to have been a compound of
ardent worship and pregnant sympathy. Never did a woman so forget herself
in reverencing, nigh worshipping, the man she had chosen to marry.

During an unusually long, and in many respects a peculiarly isolated life,
these two lived together, the one master mind and purpose informing both.

No words could do full justice to the beautiful life of Catherine Blake.
It is true that no ordinary man could have drawn such harmony from the
vivacious, impulsive, passionate nature of the girl. All the generous love
that her nature possessed she lavished on Blake, and her complete
absorption in him seems to have satisfied the maternal cravings which were
to have no other satisfaction, for William and Catherine had no children.
The work of caring for the few rooms which were all that Blake's means
allowed, and his ambition desired, for the housing of their bodies, this
Catherine did with the thoroughness of the true aesthete. She cooked,
sewed, swept, dusted, and washed, and yet found time to learn from her
husband how to read and write, the use of the graver, and even to colour
with neat and precise hand some of the prints he made. Added to this she
was soon able to read with intelligence the books he praised, and listened
wondering to the songs he made, finding them of a heavenly significance
and beauty; and when his tense nerves and superabundant physical energy
drove Blake forth to stretch his limbs and cool his brain in long country
walks of thirty, and occasionally forty miles at a stretch, Catherine went
with him, and cheerfully tramped along beside him, silent or responsive as
he set the mood.

Again, when in the night time visions appeared to his teeming
ever-inventive brain, and he must needs get up and write or draw while the
divine "mania" was upon him, then Catherine arose softly and sat beside
that wondrous husband in her white nightgown, her whole consciousness
hanging upon his least movement or utterance, and her whole being
thrilling sympathetically to those invisible presences which moved his
spirit. Like Mary, "she kept all these things in her heart and pondered

Speaking of his wife, one cannot but recall that in Blake's mysterious and
unorthodox creed the doctrine of free love was a very favourite one, on
which in his poetry he was never tired of insisting. Yet he seems to have
desired freedom, only, as Mr. Swinburne finely shows, "for the soul's
sake." If love is bound, he argued, what merit is there in faithfulness?
Love, to be what love in perfect development should be,--to be what Love
in its very essence predicates,--must be free. Such a creed, proclaimed by
the lips of the most austere of men in matters sensual, seems to shadow
forth one dimly apprehended aspect of a truth, which may be realized
perhaps, in a future and more perfect state of society.

"In a myrtle shade," and "William Bond," are two among the poems in
Blake's MS. book, which have their origin in thoughts about free love.

The year after his marriage, 1782-83, Blake had to turn to engraving in
real earnest to pay for the necessities of the modest _ménage_ in Green
Street. We find him engaged mainly in engraving plates after Stothard's
refined and graceful designs. In after years, when he was estranged from
Stothard, Blake used to say that many of these same designs contained
ideas stolen from himself. There can be small doubt that Stothard did owe
something to Blake's influence. Fuseli frankly declared that "Blake is
damned good to steal from," and accordingly adopted his ideas, and in one
instance, at least, a complete design.

A kind and appreciative couple, the Rev. Henry and Mrs. Mathew, received
Blake in their drawing-room about this time, and gave him an honoured
place among their guests. It was they who paid in part for the production
of his "Poetical Sketches," and Flaxman, who had always a strong
admiration of Blake's poetical genius, helped,--an act of beautiful
generosity in a young artist with his own way to make.

The "Poetical Sketches" are among the tenderest lyric notes uttered by
Blake, and their bird-like spontaneity and lilt recall, says Dante Gabriel
Rossetti, "the best period of English song-writing, whose rarest treasures
lie scattered among the plays of our Elizabethan dramatists." These wild
wood-notes gushing unselfconscious from a heart glad with youth and fair
visions are in strange contrast to the artificial, trifling, and
unsatisfying poetry of the age. Blake himself writes in the "Poem to the

  How have you left the ancient love
    That bards of old enjoy'd in you!
  The languid strings do scarcely move,
    The sound is forced, the notes are few.

What can be said of that perfect lyric, written when Blake was but
fourteen, "My silks and fine array," and that other which I shall surely
be forgiven for quoting as it stands:

  How sweet I roamed from field to field
    And tasted all the summer's pride,
  Till I the Prince of Love beheld
    Who in the sunny beams did glide.

  He show'd me lilies for my hair,
    And blushing roses for my brow;
  He led me through his gardens fair
    Where all his golden pleasures grow.

  With sweet Maydews my wings are wet,
    And Phoebus fired my vocal rage;
  He caught me in his silken net,
    And shut me in his golden cage.

  He loves to sit and hear me sing,
    Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
  Then stretches out my golden wing,
    And mocks my loss of liberty.


To a poetically sensitive mind, verses like these remain like a beautiful
echo in the memory, having a musical charm apart from the sense of the
words. Although in this little book it is my purpose to dwell mainly on
Blake's manifestation of himself as a designer and painter, I cannot avoid
lingering sometimes on his poetical expression. For the creative impulse
that clothed its thought in a garment of words is the same as that which
is embodied in plastic forms and symbolic colouring. Blake's invention had
two outlets, but was itself one stream of energy only.

The lines to the Evening Star are incomparably sweet and haunting:

  Thou fair-hair'd angel of the evening,
    Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light
  Thy brilliant torch of love; thy radiant crown
    Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!
  Smile on our loves, and whilst thou drawest round
    The curtains of the sky, scatter thy dew
  On every flower that closes its sweet eyes
    In timely sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on
  The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,
    And wash the dusk with silver. Soon, full soon,
  Dost thou withdraw; then the wolf rages wide,
    And then the lion glares through the dim forest,
  The fleeces of our flocks are covered with
    Thy sacred dew; protect them with thine influence.

The lingering subtle and most musical sweetness of such lines as those
quoted above, "Let thy west wind sleep on the lake; speak silence with thy
glimmering eyes, and wash the dusk with silver," can be surpassed by none
of the great masters of melody. So unaccustomed were the ears of the time
to such perfectly natural bursts of song, that the Rev. Henry Mathew
considered it necessary to apologize to the refined and fastidious for
calling attention to them, "hoping their poetic originality merits some
respite from oblivion." Blake might well seem strange to these _borné_
people, for he was no other than the herald and forerunner of the poetic
renaissance of the beginning of the nineteenth century.

In the Mathew's drawing-room, surrounded by a wondering group of
dilettanti, above whom he towered head and shoulders intellectually, he
was encouraged to sing his "Songs of Innocence," which he had already
written, though not produced, to his own music. Blake had then a mode of
musical expression as well as an artistic and a literary one, though no
record of it has been preserved. With these three keys he unlocked the
doors of materialism outwards, on to the vistas of God-thrilled Eternity.

In 1784 Blake exhibited two drawings in the Royal Academy, "War, unchained
by an Angel--Fire, Pestilence and Famine following," and "A Breach in the
City--the Morning after a Battle." It is obvious from these that his style
was already formed in all its strength and almost terrifying

During this year Blake's father died, and William and Catherine returned
to Broad Street and took up their abode next to the paternal dwelling now
occupied by the elder brother James. James, though a Swedenborgian and
accounting himself a godly person, was also a busy seeker after this
world's good things, and seems to have had little in common with William,
though for some years friendly relations were maintained between them.
Blake set up a shop as printseller and engraver in Broad Street in company
with a man named Parker, whose acquaintance he had made in the old Basire
days, but it was a short-lived affair, and soon came to an end.

It was in this year that William's younger brother Robert became his
pupil. Nothing much can be discovered about the personality of Robert, but
from Blake's own writings and designs we are able to see how close a tie
of affection existed between these two brothers.

Robert only lived three years after becoming William's house-mate and
pupil. In his final illness it was not Catherine but William who nursed
him day and night untiringly, with passionate love and care; and when at
last the end came, Blake saw his brother's soul fare forth, clapping its
hands for joy, from the mortal tenement--a vision to bear fruit afterwards
in his designs for Blair's "Grave." Then he was beset with sheer physical
exhaustion, and going to bed, slept for three days and three nights. Many
years after we find him going back into this period of personal sorrow, to
extract therefrom comfort for Hayley, who had lost his son.

"I know," he writes to him, "that our deceased friends are more really
with us than when they were apparent to our mortal part. Thirteen years
ago I lost a brother, and with his spirit I converse daily and hourly in
the spirit, and see him in remembrance in the regions of my imagination. I
hear his advice and even now write from his dictate. Forgive me for
expressing to you my enthusiasm, which I wish all to partake of, since it
is to me a source of immortal joy, even in this world. May you continue to
be so more and more, and to be more and more persuaded that every mortal
loss is an immortal gain. The ruins of time build mansions in
Eternity":--from all of which it is easy to see that Robert's influence on
the soul of William augmented after his death.

In 1788 Blake removed from Broad Street to No. 28, Poland Street, which
lies in its immediate neighbourhood. A coolness may have sprung up
between James and William, for the brothers saw little of each other now.

The following characteristic story, taken from Mr. Tatham's MS., and
retold by Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, helps to draw in Blake's psychological

In Poland Street Blake's windows looked over Astley's Yard,--Astley of
circus fame. One day on looking out he saw a boy limping up and down,
dragging a heavy block chained to his foot. It was a hobble used for
horses, and Blake, with his brain on fire and pity and rage tearing at his
heart, was soon down in the yard among the circus company. He gave them a
passionate speech on liberty, appealed to them as true men and Britons not
to punish a fellow-countryman in a manner that would degrade a slave, and
finally saw the crowd yield to his eloquence, and his point was gained.
The boy was loosed, and Blake returned to his own world of work and

Some hours after, Mr. Astley, who had been out during the incident
related, called on Blake, and stormed and raved at what he called his
interference. At first Blake was as angry as Astley, his blood was up, and
there seemed every prospect of a very violent quarrel. But suddenly, in
the midst of his anger, Blake remembered that the amelioration of the
boy's condition was his first object, and, quickly changing his tactics,
he so worked on the higher moral nature which Astley evidently possessed,
that he completely won him over to his views, and the two men
parted--friends. Ever after, however, as Messrs. Ellis and Yeats point
out, the chain remained with Blake as the symbol of cruel oppression and
slavery, and we shall see him using it in his designs again and again as


In 1790 he produced the "Songs of Innocence," printed and published, as
well as designed, engraved, and composed by himself. In the long and
romantic history of art, nothing is more strange than the story of how
this little book came into being. Blake was unknown to the world and had
no credit with publishers, nor had he the wherewithal to publish at his
own expense the poems which he had written and called "Songs of
Innocence." Yet he greatly desired to see them set forth in a book with
appropriate and significant designs. But how was this to be accomplished?
He pondered the matter long, till at last light and leading came. In the
silence of one midnight his dead brother Robert appeared to him and
instructed him as to the method--an entirely original one--which he should
use. The very next day, Blake being urgent to begin his work, his wife
went out early with half-a-crown (all the money they had in the world),
and laid out one and tenpence on the necessary material. And in faith and
gladness, relying on that mystical power in himself which took and used
his hand and eye and brain almost without his will, he began to make the
first of his lovely engraved and painted books. This is the alpha of a
long series of engraved books which issued from his hand at intervals for
some years. While in Poland Street he wrote, but did not publish till long
after, the "Ghost of Abel," in 1789 the "Book of Thel," in 1790 the
"Marriage of Heaven and Hell," and in 1791 a poem, the first of a
projected series of seven books, called "The French Revolution."

This so-called poem owed its birth to the fact that about this period
Blake became one of a literary, artistic, and political set who met at the
house of Johnson the publisher. At these gatherings Mary Wollstonecraft
arrayed her charms to storm the citadel of Fuseli's cynical heart,
unavailingly. Among other guests were Tom Paine, author of "The Rights of
Man," whom eventually Blake was the means of saving, by a timely word of
warning, from arrest in England. He judiciously advised his flight to
France, at the right moment for his safety. Godwin and Holcroft and
several revolutionary dreamers were members of this _coterie_. Blake's
enthusiasm was set all aglow by a philosophy which saw in the French
Revolution a great renovating process,--the fire to burn up the ignorance
and superstition and class boundaries of the ancient order, the
introduction of a new reign of righteousness and peace.

In effect, this new philosophy which fired the imagination of Blake had a
basis of materialism and violence which would have found no answering
response in his soul, had he sought to investigate it. His sympathy with
the group was intellectual, and with the higher manifestations of its
creed alone. It led to no political action. He had far other work to do
than that of a political agitator, but all expansive doctrines which made
for liberty and individuality fired the imagination and fed the intellect
of Blake. Democracy was his ideal, and democratic virtues won his
admiration; indeed, he dared to flaunt the "_bonnet rouge_" of liberty in
London streets in this agitated period, but after the Days of Terror in
'92 he tore off the white cockade and never again donned the Cap of
Liberty. But if his work was not to be in the political arena, he was in
his own way hastening the coming of that better and more immaterial
kingdom which these young liberators only half conceived.

In 1792 died the great leader of English art, Sir Joshua Reynolds. His
work, concerned as it was with the exquisite graces of this passing world,
had nothing to say to Blake, who regarded it in the light of his own
artistic standpoint, with positive aversion. It often happens that a man
who feels it his burning mission to work out and reveal some hitherto
neglected or unseen aspect of truth, does so at the cost of a
one-sidedness which is a necessary defect of his quality. Blake could no
more appreciate Sir Joshua--at least at this stage of his being--than Sir
Joshua could appreciate Blake. The veteran Reynolds once told him, when a
young man, "to work with less extravagance and more simplicity, and to
correct his drawing." Blake never got over that. We can imagine the
suppressed heat with which he listened choking to the advice of the
popular artist who was so utterly ignorant of his aims and ideals. To us,
who may enter into the soul of each, it is given to realize that they, and
all the company of the world's great artists, have furthered the true work
of art; have all helped, and are helping, according to their gifts and in
their degree, to rear the walls and set with windows and crown with
battlements and towers, the palace of beauty for the soul of man to dwell
in with delight and worship. That the workers have not always recognized
each other is matter for regret, though it is scarcely perhaps to be
wondered at, seeing that each is set on emphasizing and relieving against
its background the one point which seems to him necessary and valuable.

The characteristic notes which Blake appended to Reynolds' "Discourses"
many years later, express much of his dislike. Truly, it is easy to
conceive of a mind offering nothing but delight and admiration to
Reynolds' practice, yet excited to a grave disapproval by much of his
theory, or what he states as his theory. For Reynolds actually taught that
genius--such as his own, for instance--was a state to be inducted into by
precept, and evolved through study, instead of being a thing of fire, a
tongue of flame from on high, set on a man as a seal, from which he cannot
escape. I am reminded of Rossetti here, who quite sincerely told Mr. Hall
Caine, "I paint by a set of unwritten but clearly-defined rules, which I
could teach to any man as systematically as you could teach arithmetic."
Ah! that such genius _might_ thus be taught!

However, Reynolds, his practice and theory alike, were by Blake swept into
a limbo of unconditional condemnation, though occasionally, in spite of
the prejudice he nursed against Sir Joshua, he flashed out notes of
emphatic approval, on certain utterances in the great man's "Discourses."

[Illustration: PAGE FROM "AMERICA, A PROPHECY," 1793

Printed in blue, from the Print Room copy]



In 1793 Blake removed across the river to Hercules Buildings, Lambeth,
where he lived for seven years of great mental and spiritual vitality,
seeing visions and dreaming dreams and embodying them in beautiful
designs. He was a tireless worker, never resting, and sleeping much less
than other men. These Lambeth days were days of comparative prosperity
with the Blakes, whose wants were so simple and few. The little house in
which they lived possessed rustic charms--a garden with a summer-house,
and a vine climbing over the back of the house, whose leaves made a
pleasant rustling in summer. A view of the river, too, could not have
failed to add a significant charm to the place. On its shining surface
might be descried ships like souls faring to the world's great
market-place, to barter and to receive merchandise; while others, with
white sails set, slipped quietly down the river and out to the wide
mysterious sea. Blake had a few pupils, too, and at this period he made
the acquaintance of Mr. Butts, who was a staunch friend and true
appreciator for thirty years. During all that time he was a constant buyer
of our artist's work, and bought sometimes at the rate of one drawing a
week. In time Mr. Butts' spacious house in Fitzroy Square became a regular
Blake Gallery. The average price he paid was £1 to 30_s._ a design or
picture. To Mr. Butts' great honour be it said that he never assumed the
airs of a patron, never tried to bind or hamper Blake's genius, or to
dictate or direct his choice of subjects or treatment of them. He seems to
have realized that this man was "a prince in Israel," and the lordship of
his ideas not to be questioned, but accepted humbly and with gratitude.

In a future chapter I hope to deal with the Blake drawings and easel
pictures done for Mr. Butts, which were available to the public in the
Exhibition at Messrs. Carfax's Rooms in Ryder Street, held in 1904.

Blake seems to have enjoyed a little wave of recognition at
Lambeth--popularity it can hardly be called--but it was not long-lived. At
one time he was even suggested as drawing-master to the Royal Family, but
declined the position, not from modesty, but from devotion to his true
_métier_--the preservation and expression of spiritual ideas--with which
such a post would probably have interfered.

Two acts of secret and most munificent generosity are recorded by Tatham,
and quoted by Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, concerning Blake while at Lambeth.

He gave £40 (he seldom after had half as much money beside him) to a
friend in distress, and his deep sympathetic heart being moved by the
sight of a sick young man, an artist, who daily passed their door, he and
his Kate made the young man's acquaintance, and for the love of Christ and
in memory of brother Robert, finally took him into their house and tended
him till his death some months later.

While at Lambeth he made three large and important
drawings--"Nebuchadnezzar," an enlarged edition of the bearded figure on
hands and knees which occurs in "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"; "The
Lazar House" and "The Elohim creating Adam." He also made designs for
Young's "Night Thoughts." There were 537 designs made, and Blake only took
a year to do them. A selected few were engraved. While at Lambeth he
printed also his "Visions of the Daughters of Albion," "America,"
"Europe," "Urizen," "The Gates of Paradise," "The Book of Los," "The Song
of Los," and "Ahania." The list implies steady application, and untiring
intellectual and spiritual energy.


Water-colour, 1795]

The introduction of our painter, in 1800, by his old friend Flaxman, to
Hayley, poetaster and dilettante, marks the beginning of a new epoch in
his life.

Hayley, the friend of Gibbon and, later, of Cowper (whose biography he
wrote), was a characteristic product of the last quarter of the eighteenth
century,--that age of complaisant preoccupation with trifles.

This poetically barren interval before the birth of the wonderful new
school of poetry had, since the best days of Cowper, but one star above
its horizon--or was it a will-o'-the-wisp?--the _soi-disant_ poet Hayley.
Complaisantly he twinkled on his admiring world, and, striking the lyre
with gracious hand, sang with modest satisfaction "The Triumphs of
Temper." This now forgotten work earned him the position of "greatest of
living poets," and he assumed his high seat in the literary world with
bustling alacrity. Above all things he aspired to culture, not at the
expense of a very continuous effort or strain, it is true, but he loved to
collect around him artists and men of letters to whom he could play the
part of a somewhat undersized Lorenzo de' Medici. That they would respond
gracefully, and take their parts becomingly in this garden-comedy, was all
that he required of his court.

It will be remembered that Romney was one of his artist friends, and that
the connection proved in a way economically disastrous to the painter, for
Hayley was an extravagant man, though he professed simple tastes, and
encouraged poor Romney in his mania for building and other lavish

His influence, such as it was, was stimulating to none of his friends,
though he meant well and kindly enough. He affected the part of the
country gentleman, as well as that of the high priest of culture, and
delighted in patronage.

Soon after his acquaintance with Blake began, his old friend Cowper died
under tragic conditions, and a week later Hayley's only child (an
illegitimate son) died also. The boy was a youth of promise, and had been
a pupil of Flaxman. So he had gratified as well as filled the poor
father's heart. Hayley's trouble called forth a letter from Blake, which I
quoted when writing on the death of Robert, and it seems to have touched,
perhaps comforted, Hayley, who even in his deep affliction assumed a pose
not natural or spontaneous.

Blake was recommended by Flaxman as an engraver and designer (if the
latter should be required), and Hayley proposed that the Blakes should
come and live at Felpham, near his own place of Eartham in Sussex, in
order that his new _protégé_ might engrave the illustrations to the life
of Cowper which he was now about to write, under Hayley's own eye.

The idea pleased Blake, while Mrs. Blake, he wrote, "is like a flame of
many colours of precious jewels, whenever she hears it named." As a matter
of fact, Hayley did not live at Eartham now, as the place was an expensive
one to keep up, but had built himself a wonderful turretted marine
"cottage," with a library and covered court for equestrian exercise at

[Illustration: PLATE FROM "EUROPE," PRINTED 1794

Coloured by hand]

In the September of 1800, Blake being then forty-three years old, the
husband and wife took up their abode in a pretty little cottage by the sea
at Felpham, and began a new manner of life. If Hercules Buildings,
Lambeth, had afforded Blake hints and types of spiritual life and
light, how much larger a vista must have opened to him at Felpham. He used
to wander musing along the seashore, and more than once saw the yellow
sands peopled by a host of souls long since departed from this
earth--Moses and the Prophets, Homer, Dante, Milton: "all," Blake said,
"majestic shadows, gray but luminous, and superior to the common height of
men." Many visions came to him at first. It is not wonderful that this
should have been so, for there was nothing that did not teem with
suggestions to his subjective mind, and when he received a new influx of
spiritual light, as he seemed to have had at Felpham, then, indeed, were
blossoms, stars and stones, nay, the very air he breathed, alive with a
strange, sentient, crowding population, to whose spiritual utterances he
listened, whose forms he strained his mental sight to realize.

In a letter to Flaxman, beginning, "Dear Sculptor of Eternity," Blake
writes in the first effervescence of delight: "Felpham is a sweet place
for study, because it is more spiritual than London. Heaven opens here on
all sides her golden gates; her windows are not obstructed by vapours;
voices of celestial inhabitants are more distinctly heard, and their forms
more distinctly seen."

For a while all went very well indeed, and the first part of his sojourn
at Felpham was a sort of charmed circle in his life. "Mr. Hayley acts like
a prince," "Felpham is the sweetest spot on earth," "work will go on here
with God-speed," "Find that I can work with greater pleasure than ever,"
are phrases which occur in the enthusiastic letters of the period. But
gradually Hayley's constant companionship, his amiable but fatuous and
gushing friendship, acted like the hated chain of slavery on Blake's
electric and expansive temperament. Hayley's mind was set on little
things, trivial business and futile undertakings, and his vanity and
self-satisfaction about all his doings came at last to be exasperating to
Blake. In spite of his generosity, his lavish but undiscerning praise, and
the commissions for engraving and designs with which he supplied our
artist, Blake little by little found himself goaded to madness by the
ever-flowing stream of Hayley's conventionality and watery enthusiasms.
Hayley attempted to enlarge Blake's education by reading to him Klopstock
and translating as he went along--a proceeding that must have bored our
fiery genius to tears. He also, with the kindest intentions in the world,
obtained commissions for Blake to paint miniatures--hardly, one would
think, a congenial form of art to him, but one which at the beginning
appears to have interested him nevertheless.

A couplet he wrote in the Note-book at the time evidences the irritated
nerves that Hayley's unspiritual contact set on edge:

  Thy friendship oft has made my heart to ache.
  Do be my enemy for friendship's sake.

The letters, too, to Mr. Butts give direct insight into his state of mind,
and the points of sharp disagreement and intellectual misunderstanding
between the two men are easily traced.

It appears that "Hayley was as much averse to a page of Blake's poetry as
to a chapter in the Bible."

Blake the creator and artist was unintelligible and foreign to Hayley,
who, always satisfied with his own judgement, sought to turn Blake from
designing and to chain him to the hack work of engraving.


Colour-print from "Urizen," 1794]

By degrees the visions that had so often and radiantly appeared to Blake
on his first coming to Felpham seemed to forsake him. As he became
involved in Hayley's pursuits, and sought to work out Hayley's plans for
him, the visions even appeared to be angry with him. Then, indeed, it
seemed that he was in danger of "bartering his birthright for a mess of
pottage." He writes to Mr. Butts:

"My unhappiness has arisen from a source which, if explored too narrowly,
might hurt my pecuniary circumstances, as my dependence is on engraving at
present, and particularly the engravings I have in hand for Mr. H., and I
find on all hands great objections to my doing anything but the mere
drudgery of business, and intimations that if I do not confine myself to
this, I shall not live. This has always pursued me.... This from Johnson
and Fuseli brought me down here, and this from Mr. H. will bring me back
again. For that I cannot live without doing my duty to lay up treasures in
heaven, is certain and determined, and to this I have long made up my
mind.... But," he goes on to say, "if we fear to do the dictates of our
angels, and tremble at the tasks set before us; if we refuse to do
spiritual acts because of natural fears and natural desires, who can
describe the dismal torments of such a state? I too well remember the
threats I heard" (_i.e._, in vision). "If you, who are organized by Divine
Providence for spiritual commission, refuse and bury your talents in the
earth, even though you should want natural bread--sorrow and desperation
pursue you through life, and after death shame and confusion of face to
eternity. Everyone in eternity will leave you, aghast at the man who was
crowned with glory and honour by his brethren and betrayed their cause to
their enemies. You will be called the base Judas who betrayed his friend."

Blake was the apostle and martyr of this devotion to the high spiritual
mission of Art. He would make no compromise with the world.

In a letter to Mr. Butts dated April 25th, 1803, he writes:

"I can alone carry on my visionary studies in London unannoyed, and that I
may converse with my friends in Eternity, see visions, dream dreams, and
prophesy and speak parables, unobserved, and at liberty from the doubts
of other mortals, perhaps doubts proceeding from kindness, but doubts are
always pernicious, especially when we doubt our friends. Christ is very
decided on this point: 'He who is not with me is against me;' there is no
medium or middle state; and if a man is the enemy of my spiritual life,
while he pretends to be the friend of my corporeal, he is a real enemy;
but the man may be the friend of my spiritual life while he seems the
enemy of my corporeal, though not _vice versâ_."

This enemy to Blake's spiritual life is certainly Hayley.

He writes with unmistakable frankness of the Hermit of Eartham in a later

"Mr. H. approves of my designs as little as he does of my poems, and I
have been forced to insist on his leaving me, in both, to my own
self-will; I am determined to be no longer pestered with his genteel
ignorance and polite disapprobation. I know myself both Poet and Painter,
and it is not his affected contempt that can move to anything but a more
assiduous pursuit of both arts. Indeed, by my late firmness I have brought
down his affected loftiness, and he begins to think I have some genius, as
if genius and assurance were the same thing! But his imbecile attempts to
depress me only deserve laughter." He goes on to say that he will
relinquish all engagements to design for Hayley, "unless altogether left
to my own judgement, as you, my dear friend, have always left me; for
which I shall never cease to honour and respect you." And for which, we
may add, posterity also has good reason to laud and acclaim Mr. Butts.

Blake was not the man to be the creature of any patron, spending his time
and all his magnificent powers as the servant of another man's
brain--especially when that brain was Hayley's.

If the engravings and designs done for his patron had earned him
thousands instead of a mere competence, such work could not have tempted
him from his chosen path of spiritual art. Finally, in 1803, he threw off
the yoke decisively, turned his back on patronage, and returned with his
faithful Kate to the liberty and poverty of rooms in South Molton Street,
London, after a three years' rural seclusion. Just before leaving Felpham
Blake became involved in a very disagreeable affair with a drunken soldier
named Schofield, which resulted in a trial for sedition. The soldier, who
was forcibly removed by Blake from his cottage garden, where he was
trespassing, trumped up in revenge a set of ridiculous charges against
him, saying he had used seditious language against the king and
government. In the practical difficulties that all this gave rise to,
Hayley came forward to Blake's assistance, and putting all the weight of
his local position and popularity on the artist's side, materially helped
him before and at the time of the trial. Although he had been thrown from
his horse and hurt a few days previously, he insisted on being present to
give evidence in his _protégé's_ favour, who was of course acquitted.
Warm-hearted Blake felt a generous inrush of the old affection for his
friend, and a deep sense of gratitude helped to re-establish the old
cordial relations between the two men. It must not be inferred from this,
however, that Blake had altered his opinion that Hayley was his spiritual
enemy. That, he held, Hayley had proved himself to be. But he now
recognized that it was not malignity, but deficiency of spiritual
knowledge and insight that had made him act as he did. It was the law of
his being, and Blake, having learned this through experience of his three
years' stay at Felpham, expected no more from him than his capacity
warranted, and gave him his dues, dwelling with gratitude on the fact that
Hayley was at least a true "corporeal friend."

The stress and strain connected with the trial had a bad effect on Blake's
highly-sensitive nerves, and is painfully apparent in the writing of the
time. The time at Felpham, and the period that succeeded on his return to
London, have much light shed on them by the Note-book. The MS. book to
which reference has been made was a sort of safety valve, which Blake kept
ever at his elbow, and in which he wrote long dissertations on Art and
Religion--the "Public Address," the "Vision of the Last Judgment," and
many of the poems published under the title (which heads the Note-book
itself) of "Ideas of Good and Evil." Along with, and interspersed with
these connected and finished utterances, are splenetic epigrams, rude
rather than humorous caricature couplets, little scraps of unconsidered
verse written to illustrate some incident of the day, and drawings here,
there, and everywhere. The MS. Note-book is a very intimate part of Blake.
On its first page Messrs. Ellis and Yeats quote the inscription written by
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who possessed it till his death:

"I purchased this original MS. of Palmer, an attendant at the Antique
Gallery of the British Museum, on the 30th April, 1849. Palmer knew Blake
personally, and it was from the artist's wife that he had the present MS.,
which he sold me for 10_s._ Among the sketches are one or two profiles of
Blake himself." Unfortunately it has now passed by purchase into the
possession of a collector at Boston, U.S.A. I say unfortunately, because
our own National Museum should have secured such a treasure, but its
present owner courteously lent it for a prolonged period to Messrs. Ellis
and Yeats, who have embodied the main part of it in their exhaustive and
most interesting work. The Note-book was deeply studied by Gilchrist, and
was one of Rossetti's dearest treasures, leaving its impress on his mind
and work.

The work Blake did during the Felpham period included the designs and
engraving of animals to Hayley's "Ballads," some of the engravings for
"The Life of Cowper," and, above all, the writing of two long prophetic
books, the "Milton" and the "Jerusalem," which, however, he did not finish
till he had returned to London.



Blake's course was now definitely chosen. He had turned his back on
patronage and voluntarily married poverty, like St. Francis, in order that
he might be free to work out his own poetic and artistic ideas without
reference to popularity, patronage, or pecuniary advantage. His wants and
Catherine's were simple indeed, and to pay for them, from week to week,
was all he desired. South Molton Street, in which they now took up their
abode, was closely shut in by streets and houses. There was no garden, no
summer-house or vine with pattering green leaves against the window as at
Lambeth,--no trees even to recall the natural beauties of Felpham. But
Blake seems to have been almost glad to be delivered from the agitating
beauty of the natural or "vegetative world," as he called it, which was to
him error and not truth--the visible shadow that darkened and hid
invisible and eternal ideas. Now indeed, with nothing to distract him, he
could open his eyes inward into the "World of Thought," into "Eternity,"
which is imagination. Gilchrist's Life enables us to realize how he could
live in this imaginative world, and yet, at the same time, fulfil with
great practical ability such a work, for instance, as collecting material
for Hayley for the "Life of Romney," which the latter was now beginning.
The letters he wrote to Hayley at the time, which are all given in the
Life, are the letters of a kindly business-like man, intent on giving
only such information as will be useful. The good sense, the sanity, the
mediocrity (I had almost said) of these letters are a pledge of Blake's
ability to act and express himself as other men when he wished so to do.


Engraving by L. Schiavonetti after Blake's design. Published 1808]

Hayley was his good "corporeal friend," to whom he was grateful for
"corporeal acts" of kindness, and as such he treated him.

In one of the letters alone there bursts forth a great full-throated shout
of joy, as it were, because he has suddenly achieved a great advance in
his art. As the passage gives valuable insight into his mind at the time,
I shall take liberty to quote it:

"O glory! O delight! I have entirely reduced that spectrous Fiend to his
station, whose annoyance has been the ruin of my labours for the last
passed twenty years of my life. He is the enemy of conjugal love, and is
the Jupiter of the Greeks, an iron-hearted tyrant, the ruiner of ancient
Greece. I speak with perfect confidence and certainty of the fact which
has passed upon me. Nebuchadnezzar had seven times passed over him, I have
had twenty; thank God, I was not altogether a beast as he was; but I was a
slave bound in a mill among beasts and devils; these beasts and these
devils are now, together with myself, become children of light and
liberty, and my feet and my wife's feet are free from fetters....

"Suddenly on the day after visiting the Truchsessian Gallery of Pictures,
I was again enlightened with the light I enjoyed in my youth, and which
has for exactly twenty years been closed from me as by a door and by
window shutters. Consequently I can, with confidence, promise you ocular
demonstration of my altered state on the plates I am engraving after
Romney, whose spiritual aid has not a little conduced to my restoration to
the light of Art. O, the distress I have undergone, and my poor wife with
me; incessantly labouring and incessantly spoiling what I had done well.
Every one of my friends was astonished at my faults, and could not assign
a reason; they knew my industry and abstinence from every pleasure for the
sake of study, and yet--and yet--and yet there wanted proofs of industry
in my works. I thank God with entire confidence that it shall be so no
longer: he is become my servant who domineered over me, he is even as a
brother who was my enemy. Dear Sir, excuse my enthusiasm, or rather
madness, for I am really drunk with intellectual vision whenever I take a
pencil or graver into my hand, even as I used to be in my youth, and as I
have not been for twenty dark but very profitable years. I thank God that
I courageously pursued my course through darkness."

All of which tense and highly-figurative language means that Blake had
suddenly received enlightenment on various technical methods from the
silent witness of Raphael's and Michael Angelo's and other masters'
achievement. He could never learn by verbal advice, precept or criticism,
but when shown great work, the artist in him dwelt on every line,
absorbing and assimilating its principles. The spectrous fiend to whom he
refers is, according to Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, his own "selfhood." He
held that every man contained in himself a devil and an angel, the devil
being the natural man, the angel the God in man. Of this idea of his more

Blake's work, when done in the heat of his spirit, is always noble,
characteristic, and _largely, often wholly, right_ (I am speaking of the
execution, not the ideas expressed), but when "incessant labour" was
expended without the incessant reference to nature which an elaborate
technique demands, it is not wonderful that "incessant spoiling" should
have been the result.

Now, indeed, he seems to have seen how it was with himself, and to have
gained a new mastery of material through studying the manner of other
men's work.

In 1804 Blake brought out his "Jerusalem; the Emanation of the Giant
Albion," a poem which he told Mr. Butts was descriptive of the "spiritual
acts of his three years' slumber on the banks of Ocean."

"Milton" was also produced in the same year.

In 1805 Robert Hartley Cromek, whilom engraver, but now publisher and
printseller, "discovered" Blake in his self-chosen retirement, and
proposed giving him employment. The story of his treacherous dealings is
an evil one.

Cromek, who had learnt engraving in the studio of Bartolozzi, found it
laborious and slow work, so exchanged its drudgery for the calling of a
publisher, but, having good taste but no capital, he was hard pressed
indeed to make both ends meet.

One day a piece of luck came in his way. He paid a visit to Blake's
working and living room in South Molton Street. Many beautiful things were
to come into being in that room, but none more so than the drawings for
Blair's "Grave" which Blake had designed, intending to print and publish
them in the usual way. Cromek found them, and seized upon them, gloating.
He persuaded Blake to relinquish the idea of publishing them himself, and
to surrender the undertaking to Cromek as one more fitted to push them and
bring them before the notice of the public.

Blake was very poor at the time. In an insulting letter written by Cromek
to Blake some two years later, he refers with contemptible want of feeling
and taste to this fact. "Your best work, the illustrations to the
'Grave,'" he says, "was produced when you and Mrs. Blake were reduced so
low as to be obliged to live on half a guinea a week!"

Blake sold the twelve drawings to him for £1 10_s._ each, with the
assured verbal agreement that he was himself to engrave them for the
projected edition--a promise which of course entailed considerable further
payment for the work of engraving later on.

Cromek in possession of the copyright conveniently forgot his promise.
Impregnated as he was with the fluent and graceful style of Bartolozzi's
school, Blake's manner of engraving seemed to him grim, austere and
archaic. He thought that the noble drawings translated by the hand of the
popular and graceful engraver, Lewis Schiavonetti, would insure the
success of the designs with the public as Blake could never have done were
he to have engraved them himself.

It may be that there was truth in it. Some critics hold that the
illustrations to Blair's "Grave" have a suavity, a felicity superimposed
by the engraver on the stern and original work of Blake which was just
what was needed to render his work attractive to the public. To Blake's
true lovers, however, his own graver is the rightful interpreter of his
own drawings, and, whether Cromek were right or not in this critical
matter of taste, he was dishonest and mean to break the engagement on the
basis of which alone he had obtained the drawings.

While Blake was looking forward with "anxious delight" to the engraving of
his designs, Cromek had other schemes afoot. He called often at South
Molton Street, hoping to pounce on some other work of genius which he
could turn into money for himself. He was arrested one day before a pencil
sketch of a new and hitherto untreated subject--the Procession of
Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims. He tried to get Blake to make a finished
drawing of it, with a view of course to getting it out of the artist's
hands, and then having it engraved by someone else. Negotiations on this
basis failing, he gave Blake a commission (verbal again) to execute the
design in a finished picture and an engraving from it. On the strength of
this, Blake's friends circulated a subscription paper for the engraving,
and he himself set to work on the picture. Cromek, however, had not done.
He was in love with the subject. Sure of Blake's conception being
thoughtful and strong, but probably wishful that it might be invested with
a more earthly grace and interest than he would put upon it, he went to
Stothard and suggested the subject to him, suppressing all mention of
Blake. Probably he assisted the suggestion by hints as to its treatment
derived from what he had actually appreciated in Blake's conception. He
commissioned him to paint the picture for sixty guineas, an engraving from
which was to be done by Bromley, though Schiavonetti was eventually
substituted for him.


Engraving after Stothard's Canterbury Pilgrimage. Published October, 1817]


Engraved by Blake in 1810 after his own "fresco" of the Canterbury

When Blake learned that Cromek denied having given him a commission, and
came to know that Stothard, his old friend, was to paint a picture on his
stolen idea, to supersede his own, his rage and indignation knew no
bounds, and he became bitterly estranged from Stothard, believing in his
haste "that all men are liars," and that this man had been a party to the
whole mean transaction. Gilchrist is almost sure that Stothard knew
nothing of Cromek's previous deal with Blake on the subject of the
Canterbury Pilgrimage.

During 1806 Blake was moved to make some designs to Shakespeare which were
neither commissioned nor engraved. Judging from the one reproduced in the
Life,--"Hamlet and the Ghost of his Father,"--they must have been wild and
powerful indeed. He had always a profound reverence for, and joy in,
Shakespeare, whose works were among his favourite books.

A strange and characteristic collection were those books which fed his
fiery imagination. Could we have glanced along the row, we should have
seen Shakespeare cheek by jowl with Lavater and Jacob Boehmen, while
Macpherson's "Ossian," Chatterton's "Rowley," and the "Visions" of
Emmanuel Swedenborg helped to fill in the ranks. Milton held perhaps the
most honoured place of all, while Ovid, St. Theresa's works, and De la
Motte Fouqué's "Sintram" were among the heterogeneous collection. Chaucer
was also cheerfully conspicuous, and, towards the close of Blake's life,
Dante's "Divine Comedy" came to join the silent company in the

In 1806 Blake became acquainted with a good and kindly man, Dr. Malkin,
Head Master of Bury Grammar School. He gave him a commission for the
frontispiece of Malkin's "Memorials of his Child," and in the preface
wrote an account of the childhood and youth of the designer. Ozias
Humphrey, the miniature painter, and a staunch friend of Blake, bought
many of his engraved books, and it was he who obtained a commission for
him from the Countess of Egremont to paint a picture elaborated from the
Blair drawing of the "Last Judgment." The paper called by the same name in
the MS. book is descriptive of this picture, and in its _intimité_ and
demonstration of Blake's bed-rock foundations of thought and artistic
principles, gives profound insight into his mind.

These things occupied him during 1807. During that year Stothard's cabinet
picture was publicly exhibited, and drew thousands of gazers. Blake
doggedly continued to work at his own "Canterbury Pilgrimage," which he
wrought in a water-colour medium which he arbitrarily termed "fresco." It
was finished about the end of 1808. In the autumn of that year the twelve
beautiful engravings after his designs for Blair's "Grave" were produced
by Cromek, with a flowery introduction by Fuseli. The list of subscribers
for the book at two-and-a-half guineas a copy was so large--thanks to
Cromek's skilful manipulation--that the amount realized by its sale came
to £1,800. Of this Blake received twenty guineas and Schiavonetti about
£500. I cannot omit to mention that leave to dedicate to Queen Charlotte
having previously been obtained, Blake made a vignette drawing with some
grave and beautiful verses to accompany it, and sent it to Cromek as an
additional plate, asking the modest price of four guineas for it.

The design and verses were returned with a long letter from Cromek,
closely packed with insults and slanders, and exhibiting a meanness too
contemptible for expression. At the end of the letter he thus refers to
the subject of the Pilgrimage, of which one would suppose he would be too
ashamed to speak: "Why did you so _furiously rage_ at the success of the
little picture of the Pilgrimage? Three thousand people have now _seen it
and have approved of it_. Believe me, yours is 'the voice of one crying in
the wilderness.'

"You say the subject is _low_ and _contemptibly treated_. For his
excellent mode of treating the subject the poet has been admired for the
last four hundred years; the poor painter has not yet the advantage of
antiquity on his side, therefore with some people an apology may be
necessary for him. The conclusion of one of Squire Simpkins' letters to
his mother in the 'Bath Guide' will afford one. He speaks greatly to the

                                I very well know
      Both my subject and verse is exceedingly low,
      But if any _great critic_ finds fault with my letter,
      _He has nothing to do but to send you a better_.

  "With much respect for your talents,
        "I remain, Sir,
              "Your real friend and well-wisher,
                          "R. H. CROMEK."

Perhaps it was that last jeering taunt which determined Blake to show
_his_ "Canterbury Pilgrimage" to the public, and make it the occasion of a
little exhibition of his own. It was opened in May, 1809. Poor unworldly
Blake, enraged and baffled, was the last man to organize an undertaking of
this sort. Cromek could afford to laugh at the modest show on the first
floor of James Blake's shop at the corner of Broad Street, all
unadvertised and unpatronized as it was.

The exhibition comprised, besides the "Pilgrimage," sixteen "Poetical and
Historical Inventions," ten "frescoes," and seven drawings--"a
collection," as Gilchrist remarks, "singularly remote from ordinary
sympathies or even ordinary apprehension."

Few of the general public penetrated here, but Blake's friends, his few
buyers, and many contemporary artists probably went through the rooms with
no little curiosity. Seymour Kirkup--the discoverer of Giotto's portrait
of Dante in the Bargello,--and Henry Crabb Robinson were among the number
of those who went and purchased catalogues. With the catalogue were issued
subscription papers for the engraving of the "Canterbury Pilgrimage,"
which, in spite of Cromek and Stothard, Blake intended to execute.

Blake drew up a Descriptive Catalogue to interpret his pictures, and in it
gave free rein, unfortunately, to his personal antipathy to Stothard, but
he also expressed at some length, and with characteristic fire and
intemperance, his views on art. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was intensely
sympathetic with his artistic forerunner, says that the Descriptive
Catalogue, and the "Address to the Public," "abound in critical passages,
on painting and poetry, which must be ranked without reserve among the
very best things ever said on either subject."

It may be remarked, however, with all respect and honour, that neither
Blake nor Rossetti were critics in any exact sense of the word. The
unprejudiced and scientific character of mind which analyses, classifies,
and lays bare with sharp dissecting knife the structure, bones, muscles,
heart, of an artistic creation, belonged to neither of them. The analytic
and synthetic qualities are seldom united in one mind. (Goethe recognized
this when he wrote, "I, being an artist, prefer that the principles
through which I work should be hidden from me.") Both Blake and Rossetti
leaped with unerring instinct and the artistic intuition at all noble and
right work, and loved it with passion, rather than appreciated it with
cold reason. Blake's affinities in art, for instance, especially as he
grew older, were much more catholic than it would be supposed. Although
the Descriptive Catalogue would induce us to believe that works of art
which he did not worship were loathed by him, this was only the case when
he was doing battle for certain cherished principles, and then he would
hit blindly to right and left in the heat of his partisanship. Mr. Samuel
Palmer spoke of evenings spent with him in his old age looking over
reproductions of the pictures of various masters, which Blake enjoyed
greatly, dwelling on whatever was beautiful and true in each. The
Catalogue and Address were written by him with a pen steeped in wormwood.
His attacks were mainly directed against the "Venetian and Flemish
demons," with their "infernal machine Chiaro Oscuro," and the "hellish
brownness" with which he says they and their school and modern followers
load their paintings. It is true that the English school of the day feared
colour, and gave a brown tone to nearly all its pictures, but probably
Blake had never seen good examples of the Venetians, whose chief glory is
that they "conceived colour heroically." He enunciated his own principle
in these words: "The great and golden rule of art, as well as of life, is
this: that the more distinct, sharp and wiry the bounding line, the more
perfect the work of art; and the less keen and sharp, the greater is the
evidence of weak imitation, plagiarism and bungling." His mood was
exasperated, truculent, passionately prejudiced, though there is much here
of artistic insight and originality. It must be admitted that a great deal
is painful reading, but through all the unmeasured language one feels the
labouring, overstrained, noble, human heart, tormented beyond endurance.
He had been galled to this state of Titanic fury by a policy of calumny,
plagiarism, and neglect, used against him by the little souls, of what was
in many respects a little age, with no mercy and little intermission for
many years.

Since the production of Blair's "Grave," he had been held up to public
ridicule as an artist, in a paper called the "Examiner," edited by Leigh
Hunt, and the occasion of this exhibition called forth another article in
its columns full of crass misunderstanding of his aims and the superior
sneers of a self-satisfied and material-minded writer. In it he was termed
"an unfortunate lunatic whose personal unoffensiveness secures him from

But the "most unkindest cut of all" had been Cromek's, in making his own
friend of thirty years' standing the supplanter of his work, the thief of
his idea.

All these things had inflamed his tremulous and excitable nerves to a
point beyond self-control.

Material disagreements of the kind I have related had a sad effect on him,
and drove him to an expression of bitterness very difficult to reconcile
with the benign, gentle and courteous nature to which all his friends and
acquaintances have affectionately testified. There is no doubt that during
the period of middle life he developed a hard and violent strain which did
not mix with, diminish, or distemper the fine and beautiful qualities of
his heart and spirit, but shot through them like a barbed wire among a
tangle of honeysuckle. In great part, it was the irritation of capricious
and highly-strung nerves, the tension of an overheated and excitable
brain, and not a quality of the mind or character at all.

The expression of this condition of Blake's must, therefore, be taken as
an undisciplined and wilfully exaggerated statement of his intellectual
convictions, with a deep note of truth at the bottom. It seems strange
that in the matter of the "Pilgrimage" he did not go straight to Stothard
and invite him to clear himself of the suspicions with which he regarded
him. But like all guileless people, and perhaps especially those of the
artistic temperament, when once they have been deceived they find it easy
to believe that all the world is in league against them.

Before people who were not intimate, who were, in fact, antipathetic to
him, Blake would abuse Stothard roundly and criticise him wantonly. But to
the immediate circle of his personal friends or sympathisers--those who,
knowing how he had suffered, and how black the case looked for Stothard,
would have understood anything he might have said,--he maintained complete
silence on the subject of the "Pilgrimage," and the name of the popular
artist was mentioned without comment and listened to in grave silence by
him. Once, many years after, he met Stothard at a dinner, and went up to
him impulsively with outstretched hand. It was refused with coldness.
Another time, hearing that Stothard was ill, Blake's heart softened and
warmed to the old friend, and he rushed off impetuously to call and make
up the quarrel in which he ever believed Stothard to have been the
aggressor. But Stothard would not receive him, desired no reconciliation.

In the year 1808 Blake exhibited, for the fifth and last time, at the
Royal Academy, two pictures in "fresco," "Christ in the Sepulchre guarded
by Angels," and "Jacob's Dream." The engraving of Blake's "Canterbury
Pilgrimage" was issued in October, 1810.

It was altogether unadvertised and unheralded, and the public held itself
coldly aloof, neither admiring nor buying. The original picture was taken
by the ever-faithful Mr. Butts. Stothard's picture was not finished
engraving till a year or two later, for adverse fortunes overtook it.
Lewis Schiavonetti died in the middle of the work, and another hand had to
finish it. Notwithstanding all of which misadventures, it was one of the
most popular engravings ever issued.

We shall compare the two compositions in a succeeding chapter.


Water-colour drawing. Reproduced by kind permission of Sir Charles Dilke]



Seventeen years of quiet productiveness and unceasing work, marked by the
increasing neglect of the world, were passed by Blake at 17, South Molton

When finally abandoned by the public to the deep solitude which he created
for himself in the midst of the roar of the city, the years are a record
of much peaceful labour, of beautiful and strange work, produced as the
result of his spiritual meditations and visions.

"That he should do great things for small wages," writes Mr. Swinburne,
"was a condition of his life," and the poverty which had knocked at his
door for almost half a century, now raised the latch and came in, to live
with the Blakes as accustomed house-mate to the end. Mrs. Blake had often
to remind him of the bare larder and purse by setting an empty plate
before him, when he turned to his task-work of engraving to earn the
needful money whereby they might live.

In the last years of his life Blake said significantly to Crabb Robinson,
"I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame, for whatever natural glory a
man has, is so much taken from his spiritual glory. I wish to do nothing
for profit. I wish to live for art. I want nothing whatever. I am quite
happy." And so indeed he was.

But he wrote in the Note-book these lines also, indicative of the
loneliness and misunderstanding of his whole life:

  The Angel who presided at my birth,
  Said, "Little creature formed for joy and mirth,
  Go, Love, without the help of anything on earth."

The struggle between himself and the world being over, and his intractable
genius relegated by the influential and great persons of his age to a
limbo of neglect and contempt, then did he reach out his hands as to a
friend, and pulled Poverty across the threshold; and stretching his limbs
and shaking back his gray old head in relief and content, he settled in to
the unhindered and undistracted contemplation of "those things which
really are"--the eternal inner world of the imagination.

"They pity me," Blake said of Sir Thomas Lawrence and other popular
artists of the day, "but 'tis they are the just objects of pity. I possess
my visions and peace. They have bartered their birthright for a mess of

Gradually the ranks of Blake's old friends were thinned till but two
remained, Fuseli and Flaxman, both of whom, however, died before him.

Johnson the bookseller died in 1809, in 1810 Ozias Humphrey; Mr. Butts,
always a staunch friend, had no room in his house for more pictures, and
fell off as a buyer; Hayley and Blake had long ceased to have a thought in
common. Flaxman still continued to find engraving to be done by Blake,
being determined that he should at least have money enough to live.
Designing, which he would so far rather have done, was out of Flaxman's
power to give, for the public had now sedulously turned its back on Blake.
Much of this part of his life seems to have been lived in drudgery, but
always cheerfully and happily. He was too poor to afford the outlay
necessary for printing and producing his books in the old wonderful way,
and often made unsuccessful applications to regular publishers. "Well, it
is published elsewhere," he would say quietly, "and beautifully bound."

Our artist had never been sympathetic to the decadent age of crumbling
institutions and fallow literary and intellectual life that the last part
of the eighteenth century presented; and now in the first years of a new
century, a generation of new-born song, of enthusiastic lovers of liberty,
of strong original and romantic minds, was to supplant the old artificial,
social and literary ideals. Blake felt the pristine thrills of the great
new birth in the poetry of Wordsworth, introduced to him by Mr. Crabb
Robinson, and also in personal acquaintance with Coleridge, a genius
somewhat akin to himself.

Mr. George Cumberland introduced Blake in 1818 to John Linnell, afterwards
held high in honour and renown as one of England's greatest landscape
painters. At that time he painted portraits for a living, and engraved
them afterwards. In this work he got Blake to help him, and it was through
him that the latter became acquainted with a younger generation of
artists, among whom he soon made many congenial friends. Of John Linnell
it must be recorded, that from this time forth till Blake's death, he
occupied a quite unique relation to him, constituting himself the old
man's chief stay and solace, and according him the attentions and the
admiring love given by a son to a beloved father.

A new circle of friends and enthusiastic admirers, very young men for the
most part, rose up around Blake, whose hearts, expanding in unison with
the awakening life of the age, recognized in him a brother, a teacher, and
inspired prophet. To them he showed his benign and childlike side, to them
he talked, not in the old dogmatic sledge-hammer fashion, but in a spirit
of rhapsodic revelation, of peaceful and joyous wisdom.

As the years went by, a new fellowship with mankind, a large toleration
and deep tenderness, bore golden fruit in his intercourse with this
favoured band of young friends and disciples. As Walter Pater wrote of
Michael Angelo, so might it be said of Blake, "This man, because the Gods
loved him, lingered on to be of immense patriarchal age, till the
sweetness it had taken so long to secrete in him was found at last. Out of
the strong came forth sweetness, _ex forti dulcedo_."

Among the new friends were John Varley, the father of English
water-colours, as he has been affectionately termed, Richter and Holmes,
both leaders of the new school. These men were the forerunners of Turner,
Copley-Fielding, De Wint, Cotman, Prout, David Cox and William Hunt, and
though in these days they are little remembered, and the glory of them has
been eclipsed by their great successors, their somewhat timid and delicate
work in South Kensington Museum will repay a visit and establish their
pioneer claims to our regard.

It was for John Varley that Blake drew the celebrated visionary heads, the
only work of his with which he is associated by many people. Varley was by
way of being an astrologer, and took the deepest interest in the occult
and the spiritualistic. Blake's talk of visions, of the actual appearances
vouchsafed him from the other world, had a significance to Varley's
matter-of-fact mind much more vulgar and material than he intended.

Our artist had cultivated imagination till it became vision, and what he
thought, that he saw, for, as Mr. Smetham wrote, "thought crystallized
itself sharply into vision with him." So that when his friend asked him to
draw the portraits of men long dead and gone, such as Edward III, William
Wallace, Richard I, Wat Tyler, or unknown personages, such as "the man who
built the Pyramids," or "the man who taught Mr. B. painting in his
dreams," and (most remarkable of all!) "the Ghost of a Flea," Blake had
but to command his visionary faculty and summon before his gaze the
desired sitters. The one which has been the most talked about is the Ghost
of a Flea, and Varley gives the following description of the manner in
which it sat for its portrait: "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 till he had closed it."

Various explanations of these portraits of "spectres" (as Varley has it)
have been put forward. Messrs. Ellis and Yeats write of them, "All are
pictorial expressions of personality, pictorial opinions, drawn, as Blake
believed, from influences set going by the character of the men, and
permanently affecting the atmosphere, finer than air or ether, into which
his imagination looked for their lineaments."

A large and curious collection of these heads, executed by Blake at
nocturnal sittings at Varley's house, is still in existence, but not in
the British Museum, unfortunately. They mostly bear the date, August,

In 1820 Blake illustrated Thornton's "Virgil's Pastorals." These, along
with his other art-work, will be considered in a later portion of this
book. They are the only woodcuts Blake ever made, and are unique, strong
and suggestive as anything he ever did. In the same year he made a drawing
of Laocoon, to illustrate an article in Rees' "Cyclopaedia" (to such
hack-work as this he was frequently reduced to replenish the household
purse). He went to the Academy Schools, and took his place humbly among
the young men to draw from the cast of Laocoon there.

"What! you heer, Meesther Blake," said his old friend Fuseli; "we ought to
come and learn of you, not you of us."

In 1821 Blake moved to No. 3, Fountain Court, in the Temple, his last
dwelling-place on earth. It was at that time an old-fashioned respectable
court, very quiet, though removed but a few paces from the bustling
Strand. The two rooms on the first floor which the Blakes inhabited have
been more graphically described than any other of Blake's homes. The front
room had its walls covered with his pictures and served as a reception
room for his friends, while the back room was living room, kitchen,
sleeping apartment and studio all in one. One of his friends wrote, "There
was a strange expansion and sensation of freedom in those two rooms,
_very_ seldom felt elsewhere"; while another, speaking of them to Blake's
biographer Gilchrist, exclaimed, "Ah! that divine window!" It was there
that Blake's working table was set, with a print of Albrecht Dürer's
"Melancholia" beside it; and between a gap in the houses could be seen the
river, with its endless suggestions, memories and "spiritual

It is to the credit of the Royal Academy that in the year after Blake's
last move, 1822, a grant of £25 was given to this least popular but
greatest of her children.

Allan Cunningham and the fastidious Crabb Robinson give the impression
that Blake lived in squalor at the end, but the insinuation is refuted by
all those who knew him well. Says one, "I never look upon him as an
unfortunate man of genius. He knew every great man of his day, and had
enough"; while one of the most attached of his friends and disciples (a
young artist of the band I have mentioned, who attained success as a
painter of "poetic landscape," Mr. Samuel Palmer) wrote to Gilchrist, "No,
certainly,--whatever was in Blake's house, there was no squalor. Himself,
his wife and his rooms, were clean and orderly; everything was in its
place. His delightful working corner had its implements ready, tempting to
the hand. The millionaire's upholsterer can furnish no enrichments like
those of Blake's enchanted rooms."

It would seem that Blake, having won "those just rights as an artist and a
man" for which he had striven with Hayley and Cromek in the old days, and
having now established his claim to live as he pleased in honourable
poverty for the sake of the imaginative life, gained a tardy recognition
and respect among the intellectual spirits of the time during his last
years. One of the friendly acquaintances of this period was Thomas
Griffiths Wainwright, a strange character of great artistic capacity and
sensibilities, and yet destined to be a secret poisoner and murderer. I
wonder if Blake was thinking of him when he said in one of his
conversations with Crabb Robinson, "I have never known a very bad man who
had not something very good in him." Palmer Samuel has given a
never-to-be-forgotten picture of Blake at the Academy looking at a picture
of Wainwright's.

"While so many moments better worthy to remain are fled," wrote Palmer,
"the caprice of memory presents me with the image of Blake looking up at
Wainwright's picture; Blake in his plain black suit and _rather_
broad-brimmed but not quakerish hat, standing so quietly among all the
dressed-up, rustling, swelling people, and myself thinking, 'How little
you know _who_ is among you!'" These few graphic and reverential words
touch the heart by their simple directness and love, for to Samuel Palmer,
Blake was "the Master." The names of Frederick Tatham the elder, and his
son the sculptor must be appended to the tale of Blake's friends; Edward
Calvert, who used to go long walks with Blake, made memorable by high
conversation; F. O. Finch, a member of the old Water Colour Society; and
the distinguished painter Richmond, who was a mere boy when he fell under
the spell of the inspired old man. Blake showed this group of young men
the most fatherly kindness, encouraged them to appeal to him for advice
and counsel, and gathered them around him and talked to them simply,
directly and earnestly, of his high and spiritual views on life and art.
He poured his noble enthusiasm and other-worldliness into receptive
hearts, and his words bore fruit in their works in after life. For this
group learned from Blake that Art must express the spirit, and must
interpret natural phenomena esoterically. Richmond tells the following
characteristic story of how once, "finding his invention flag during a
whole fortnight, he went to Blake, as was his wont, for some advice and
comfort. He found him sitting at tea with his wife. He related his
distress: how he felt deserted by the power of invention. To his
astonishment, Blake turned to his wife suddenly and said, 'It is just so
with us, is it not, for weeks together when the visions forsake us? What
do we do then, Kate?' 'We kneel down and pray, Mr. Blake.'"

To these earnest young men Blake was as the prophet Ezekiel, and the home
in Fountain Court got to be called by them significantly enough, "The
House of the Interpreter."


Reproduced from the sketch by Mr. Frederic J. Shields, kindly lent by the

Mr. Frederick Shields (who, like Blake and many other great artists,
will doubtless be honoured as he deserves to be when nothing further can
touch him, and this world may not lay at his living feet its due meed of
recognition and gratitude,) made a sketch of the sombre little living room
in Fountain Court. His friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti was so profoundly
touched on seeing it that he eased his heart in a sonnet:

  This is the place. Even here the dauntless soul,
  The unflinching hand, wrought on; till in that nook,
  As on that very bed, his life partook
  New birth and passed. Yon river's dusky shoal,
  Whereto the close-built coiling lanes unroll,
  Faced his work window, whence his eyes would stare,
  Thought wandering, unto nought that met them there,
  But to the unfettered irreversible goal.

  This cupboard, Holy of Holies, held the cloud
  Of his soul writ and limned; this other one,
  His true wife's charge, full oft to their abode
  Yielded for daily bread, the martyr's stone,
  Ere yet their food might be that Bread alone,
  The words now home-speech of the mouth of God.

The house in Fountain Court has been pulled down lately. The footprints of
the great and gentle soul in his passage through this world to the
"unfettered irreversible goal" have almost all disappeared in the dust and
scurry of the last century. We can still think of him, and of those long
rapt mornings he spent in our glorious Abbey. Full as it is--pent up and
overflowing--with the associations of centuries, it will henceforth hold
this one more--Blake worked there, Blake dreamed there, Blake caught
inspiration from the enchanted forests of its aisles.

We may think of him, too, as standing in the Diploma Gallery of Burlington
House, gazing with all his flaming spirit in his eyes at Marco d'Oggione's
beautiful copy of Da Vinci's "Last Supper." Of the apostles he said,
"Every one of them save Judas looks as if he had conquered the natural

Mr. Linnell, always during this period Blake's truest, closest friend,
introduced him to a rich and cultivated gentleman, a collector of pictures
of the German school, a Mr. Aders, at whose table Blake met Crabb Robinson
and Coleridge. Crabb Robinson thus describes our artist's appearance: "He
has a most interesting appearance. He is now old--sixty-eight--pale, with
a Socratic countenance, and an expression of great sweetness, though with
something of languor about it, except when animated, and then he has about
him an air of inspiration." Lamb was an habitué at the house also.
Gotzenburger, the German painter, met Blake at Mr. Aders, and he declared
on his return to Germany that he saw but three men of genius in
England--Coleridge, Flaxman and Blake, and the greatest of these was

Much happy time was spent by the old man among the Linnell family at the
painter's house, Collins Farm, at North End, Hampstead. Here he often went
of a Saturday, and was always welcomed with keen delight by the children
and glad affection by their parents. Mrs. Linnell sang his favourite
Scotch songs to him, John Linnell talked to him of art and listened
appreciatively to his wild poetic conversation. The latter made happy the
last few years of his life by a commission to engrave a set of plates
after water-colour drawings, already executed, illustrating the Book of

The congeniality of this task, which was to result in the crowning
achievement of his life, fired Blake to put his whole soul into the
monumental inventions. Linnell also commissioned him to make a series of
drawings from the "Divine Comedy." It is interesting to note that at
sixty-seven Blake set to work and learned Italian, in order to read his
author in the original. His health had long been failing, and before the
drawings were finished Death came to him like a friend who loved him, and
took him from this cold and unsympathetic world (where, however, he had
been strangely happy) to that other one, with which he had always had so
close and mystical a communion. The review of his life, from a worldly
point of view, is of one whose means were painfully straitened, whose
genius was baffled and powers crippled, by poverty and want of
encouragement; to whom the world's acknowledgement was lacking, and the
fame of the painter and poet denied.

His own assessment of life, however, was very different. Gilchrist relates
that a rich and influential lady (Mrs. Aders?) brought her little
golden-haired daughter to see him. When this child was old she recalled
the strangeness of the words said to her, a radiant spoilt child of
fortune, by the poor shabby old man: "May God make this world as beautiful
to you, my child, as it has been to me!" he said, stroking her golden

I cannot forbear to quote from Gilchrist the passage which describes his

"The final leave-taking came which he had so often seen in vision; so
often and with such child-like simple faith sung and designed. With the
same intense high feeling he had depicted the 'Death of the Righteous
Man,' he enacted it, serenely, joyously; for life and design and song were
with him all pitched in one key, different expressions of one reality. No
dissonances there! It happened on a Sunday, the 12th of August, 1827,
nearly three months before completion of his seventieth year. On the day
of his death ... he composed and uttered songs to his Maker so sweetly to
the ear of his Catherine, that, when she stood to hear him, he, looking
upon her most affectionately, said, 'My beloved! they are not _mine_! No!
they are _not_ mine.'"

The last things Blake did were to execute and colour the design of the
"Ancient of Days" from the Europe for the young Mr. Tatham. When that was
done, "his glance fell on his loving Kate.... As his eyes rested on the
once-graceful form, thought of all she had been to him in these years
filled the poet-artist's mind. "Stay," he cried, "keep as you are! _you_
have been ever an angel to me; I will draw you." And he made what Mr.
Tatham describes as "a phrenzied sketch of some power, highly interesting,
but not like."

In that plain back room where he had worked so contentedly he closed his
eyes on this world, about six of a summer evening, to open them on the
glorious visions of the next. Those beloved nervous hands which Mrs. Blake
said she had never once seen idle, were laid to rest at last in the cold
sleep of death.

The year of Blake's death, 1827, was that of Beethoven's. Of both of them
it may be said that they were but strangers and sojourners here, and the
language they spoke was the language of a far country. Catherine, the
devoted wife, only survived her husband four years, during the whole of
which time she felt his spiritual presence close to her. Blake, though so
poor, left no single debt, and his MSS., pictures, and printed books
realized sufficient to keep Mrs. Blake in comfort for those few years.
John Linnell and Tatham piously cared for and tended their lost leader's
widow. She died as Blake died, joyfully, and her body was laid to rest
beside his in Bunhill Fields. There is no sign to-day to show where those
graves lie, but it is as well.

"The vegetative earth" has absorbed the two dear bodies that the spirits
of William Blake and his wife may shine the clearer; their bright radiance
glimmers through the century like a guiding star, to lead men's thoughts
out into the endless vistas of the infinite life which transcends our
present limited consciousness.



It seems to me that it would be quite vain and useless to go on to a
review of Blake's art, and, incidentally, his poetry, without a
preliminary examination--as concise as may be--of the fundamental
religious and intellectual conceptions which made him the man he was, and
gave him so strange and subjective a point of view. Blake is no ordinary
painter, whose art-work is the only key to his inner life or to his
perceptions of beauty in the natural world.

He is an artist and a poet of the highest spiritual order, but he is also
a mystic. Messrs. Ellis and Yeats tell us that his rank as a mystic
entitles him to far more admiration and patient study than any claims he
may have as a mere painter and poet! Be that as it may (and some of us
cannot but hold the artist as the most glorious manifestation of the
divine on this earth!), it is certainly necessary to apprehend Blake the
mystic before we can enter into the spirit of Blake the artist.

His was a strange religious creed. It is evident that in early life he
obtained somehow or other many of the works of the great mystics and
studied them with passionate attention. Among them Swedenborg (whom,
however, he frequently criticised harshly) and Jacob Boehmen, the
wonderful shoemaker of the sixteenth century, seem to have exerted the
most lasting influence on his mind.

Swedenborg's doctrine of correspondences--the theory that natural
phenomena actually represent, or rather shadow, unseen spiritual
conditions and existence--attracted Blake at first reading, and became so
much a part of his mental fibre that one feels certain he would have
eventually fought his intellectual way out into this channel of thought
had Swedenborg never written. Nature seemed to Blake but the confused and
vague copy of something definite and perfect in "Imagination" or "Spirit."
"All things exist in the human imagination," and "in every bosom a
universe expands," he wrote, and in the human imagination and its reverend
preservation and cultivation lay man's only source of divine illumination,
he believed.

"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man
as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up till he sees all things
through narrow chinks in his cavern," are illuminating words of his.
Blake's whole effort in life seemed to be the cleansing and spiritualizing
of the portals of the senses that he might see and hear and receive as
much of the infinite spirit as his humanity could hold.

The mission which he put clearly before him always, he expressed in these
words in his prophetic poem of "Jerusalem":

  I rest not from my great task
  To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the Immortal Eyes
  Of Man inwards; into the Worlds of Thought, into Eternity
  Ever expanding in the bosom of God, the Human Imagination.

No man ever sought more gallantly to batter down the walls of materialism
which were closing round the souls of men, to let in the sweet breath of
Spirit, and to unveil the Vision of the Universal Life. The immemorial
struggle between the body and the soul of man was never lost sight of by
him, though he sometimes seems to deny it, and his letters to Butts from
Felpham show something of his acute consciousness of the difficulty of
subduing his spectre or "selfhood." "Nature and religion," he announces
passionately, "are the fetters of Life." The orthodox narrow unspiritual
religion of his time and all times was repugnant to Blake, and aroused all
his fiery combative qualities. It seemed to him to be as actually a fetter
to the spirit as the carnal nature of man. Religion was to him a matter of
intuition, and not a question of creed or dogma at all. He gives a picture
of ordinary religious conceptions in the poem called the "Everlasting

  The vision of Christ that thou dost see
  Is my vision's greatest enemy.
  Thine is the friend of all mankind;
  Mine speaks in parables to the blind.
  Thine loves the same world that mine hates,
  Thy heaven-doors are my hell-gates.
  Socrates taught what Miletus
  Loathed as a nation's bitterest curse;
  And Caiaphas was, in his own mind,
  A benefactor to mankind.
  Both read the Bible day and night;
  But thou read'st black where I read white.

The last line is very significant of Blake. The world which made so decent
and respectable a thing out of Christianity, which called success and
opportunism the favour of God, and hailed the Prince of this world by the
name of Christ, excited Blake's utmost antagonism. He announced definite
counter doctrines on his part, and advocated in his vehemence, almost as
partial a view of things, as in their own way, did the materialists of his
time. "La vérité est dans une nuance," Renan has declared, but the swing
of the pendulum of opinion must alternate from one extreme to the other
before the precise "nuance" can be determined. Blake's noble but often
impractical views have yet a practical utility, for only through a
knowledge of the extreme, can the mean be discriminated. Of his own
personal religion it might be said that certain fantastic and strange
tenets he _chose_ to believe because they pleased him, as we may choose to
believe in this or that section of the Catholic Church; but the most
quintessential, intimate, and spiritual of his views were not beliefs at
all, but simply and purely knowledge. He _knew_, by an intuition beyond
reason, things outside the ken of ordinary men.

The deep melodies of the super-sensible universe reverberated through his
soul, and he could never therefore think much of the hum and clamour of
this material world. From this intuitive and rapt knowledge of the mystic
there is no appeal, for it transcends human experience, and when Blake had
it, he was prophet (teller of hidden things) indeed. But when he chose to
believe and assert complex and sometimes contradictory doctrines, the
affair is different, and we may give or withhold our intellectual sympathy
as we will. In any case the spiritual and unorthodox creed which was the
lamp of truth to this beautiful soul is worthy of deep reverence, but I
cannot altogether agree with Messrs. Ellis and Yeats that a _consistent_
basis of mysticism underlies Blake's writings. Even a system of mystic
philosophy requires to be stated comprehensibly and in a recognizable
literary form, and the prophetic books (in which the greater part of
Blake's views are expressed) have no form nor sequence, and are as chaotic
and dim as dreams. Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, it is true, have constructed
an elaborate, imaginative and very coherent thought-structure out of
Blake's prophetic writings, but owing to the looseness, confusion and
unintelligible character of the greater part of the symbolic books
themselves, the deftly woven web of mysticism which they present to us as
Blake's does not carry conviction with it. It is suggestive, deeply
sympathetic with Blake--sometimes radiantly illuminating--but seems an
independent treatise rather than an exposition. Deeply as all students of
Blake must feel themselves indebted to Messrs. Ellis and Yeats for their
learned work, and the real help it has afforded to a clearer view of his
unique personality, I cannot but think that every man will--nay
_must_--interpret Blake for himself. He was too erratic, too emotional,
too much the artist, the apostle of discernment and the enemy of reason
and science, to have constructed the closely-reasoned,
carefully-articulated system of thought which they describe so
graphically. Blake was an intuitive mystic, not a systematic or learned
one. However, if Messrs. Ellis and Yeats have appreciated Blake's
mysticism, in all its strange convolutions and cloudy gyrations, they have
done so not by following his expressed thoughts but by stating from a
sympathetic insight denied to others, what he himself left unexpressed.
This does not materially concern the student of Blake's art and poetry,
but it _does_ deeply concern them that they should ascertain the _main_
opinions which we know he held and the nature of the spiritual insight
that obviously moulded his intellect, and hence his art.

He had a startlingly naïve and original mental perspective, and he
focussed profound and virgin thought on Life, Spirit and Art. Virgin
thought it was indeed, for tradition had little hold on him, and the
social, political and intellectual movements of his time passed by him,
washing round the rock on which he sat isolated, but leaving him almost
untouched by their influence and atmosphere. He was never swept into the
current of contemporary life, but was as removed from the London of his
time as if his rooms had been an Alpine tower of silence, instead of being
in the very heart and turmoil of the city.

He belonged to no particular age. We could never think of him, for
instance, like Rossetti or William Morris, as an exile from the middle
ages who had fallen upon an uncongenial nineteenth century. He lived apart
in a world of spirit, and concerned himself with the great elementary
problems of all ages, bringing none of the bias or characteristic mental
hamper of his generation to bear upon these considerations. His art
necessarily ranges in the same primeval world, not yet thoroughly removed
from chaos.

Mr. Swinburne, in his eloquent critical essay on Blake, finds him largely
pantheistic in his views. There is something in Blake of the rapt
indifference to externals, found in the Buddhist.

Here is a characteristic assertion of his:

"God is in the lowest effects as well as in the highest causes. He is
become a worm that he may nourish the weak. For let it be remembered that
creation is God descending according to the weakness of man: our Lord is
the Word of God, and everything on earth is the Word of God, and in its
essence is _God_." Here certainly speaks the pantheist.

From the study of Blake's writings the following points--and they are
important to our future understanding of his art-work--stand out clearly
defined. He believed in a great permeating unconditioned spirit--God--of
whose nature men also partake, but subjected to the conditions and moral
nature which result from sexual and generative humanity. And beside the
unnameable supreme God there is another God, the creator Urizen, who is a
sort of divine demon. He it is who has divided humanity into sexes, and
inclosed the universal soul in separate bodies, and set up a code of
morals which bears no relation to the supreme God, Who being altogether
removed from, and above, the generative nature of man, does not Himself
conform to "laws of restriction and forbidding."

Urizen, who imprisons and torments conditioned humanity, is somehow
subduable by this same humanity of his own invention, and Christ, the
perfect man filled as full as may be with the Divine Spirit (for "a cup
may not contain more than its capaciousness"), rises in the hearts of
humanity, and effects its freedom, by aspiring past the Creator, to the
Altogether Divine, and uniting with it.

Jehovah addressing Christ, as the highest type and flower of humanity,
says to him, in the poem called the "Everlasting Gospel":

  If thou humblest thyself thou humblest me.
  Thou art a man: God is no more:
  Thine own humanity learn to adore,
  For that is my spirit of life.

This makes us think of Blake's follower, Walt Whitman, who in the same
sort of turgid and chaotic poetry in which Blake wrote the prophetic
books, but with no mystic clouds to shroud the meaning, has consistently
developed this thought: "One's self I sing, a simple separate person," and
"none has begun to think how divine he himself is," etc.

In Blake's conversations with Crabb Robinson, this mystic view of Christ
is very apparent. "On my asking," writes Mr. Robinson, "in what light he
viewed the great questions of the duty of Jesus," he said, "He is the only
God. But then," he added, "and so am I, and so are you."

Keeping this point in view,--Blake's belief in the identity of the Spirit
of God behind all phenomena, the homogeneous character of the great
creative Energy or Imagination expressing Itself through various forms and
organisms,--another extract from Crabb Robinson's diary will help us still
nearer home to Blake's point of view. He writes: "In the same tone, he
said repeatedly, 'The Spirit told me.' I took occasion to say, 'You
express yourself as Socrates used to do. What resemblance do you suppose
there is between your spirit and his?' 'The same as between our
countenances.' He paused and added, 'I was Socrates,' and then, as if
correcting himself, 'a sort of brother. I must have had conversations with
him. So I had with Jesus Christ. I have an obscure recollection of having
been with both of them.' I suggested on philosophic grounds the
impossibility of supposing an immortal being created an _a parte post_
without an _a parte ante_. His eye brightened at this, and he fully
concurred with me. 'To be sure, it is impossible. We are all co-existent
with God, members of the Divine Body. We are all partakers of the Divine

The latter words seem as ordinary and orthodox as on first reading his
assertion that he was Socrates seems wild and mad. But all Blake really
meant (and I think Crabb Robinson only half took his meaning) was, that
the vegetative universe being a mere shadow, so are the accidents of
personality, the age one is born into, the organic form which incloses the
spirit. So his personality and that of Socrates, their imprisonment in the
"vegetative" life were differences of no account, being transitory. But he
and Socrates were one (or at least related) at the point where their
spirits (the eternal verity) touched, and melted each into the other.

He understood the Bible in its spiritual sense. As to the natural sense,
"Voltaire was commissioned by God to expose that. I have had much
intercourse with Voltaire, and he said to me, 'I blasphemed the Son of
Man, and it shall be forgiven me, but they (the enemies of Voltaire)
blasphemed the Holy Ghost in me, and it shall not be forgiven them.'" This
affords an instance of the manner in which Blake intuitively probed
beneath the appearance, and divined the spirit beneath, discarding the
fact or body with which it clothed itself. Another characteristic opinion
of Blake's, and one that moulded much of his work, is the following:

"Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason
and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to human existence. From these
contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the
passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active, springing from Energy. Good
is Heaven, Evil is Hell."

"All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following errors:

"1. That man has two existing principles, viz., a Body and a Soul.

"2. That energy, called evil, is alone from the body, and that Heaven,
called Good, is alone from the soul.

"3. That God will torment man in Eternity for following his energies. But
the following contraries are true:

"1. Man has no Body distinct from Soul, for that called Body is a portion
of Soul discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of soul in this

"2. Energy is the only life, and is from the body, and reason is the bound
or outward circumference of energy.

"3. Energy is eternal delight."

These postulates form links in a chain of thought, another progression of
which is developed in "Jerusalem." Blake writes: "There is a limit of
opaqueness and a limit of contraction in every individual man, and the
limit of opaqueness is called Satan, and the limit of contraction is
called Adam. But there is no limit of expansion, there is no limit of
translucence in the bosom of man for ever from eternity to eternity."
Certainly there was no limit in his own bosom, and in vision he expanded
away from his own "ego" and merged in the universal life, the
all-pervading Spirit. Opaqueness and contraction were the only forms of
evil he recognized, and these are negative rather than active qualities.

Indeed, Blake often seems to deny the existence of sin at all. Again
referring to the invaluable record that Crabb Robinson has left of
Blake--I quote always from Messrs. Ellis and Yeats' complete reprint of
the part of the diary referring to him--"He allowed, indeed, that there
are errors, mistakes, etc., and if these be evil, then there is evil. But
these are only negations. He denied that the natural world is anything. It
is all nothing, and Satan's empire is the empire of nothing."

In another place he writes: "Negations are not contraries. Contraries
exist. But negations exist not; nor shall they ever be organized for ever
and ever." Contraries, 'the marriage of Heaven and Hell,' seemed necessary
and right to him, and the urge and recoil natural correlatives.

The great strife with Blake was always that between reason and
imagination, experience and spiritual discernment.

The greater part of humanity seemed to him to see _with_ the natural eye
natural phenomena only. This was accordingly opaque to them, and did not
let through the light of the Universal Spirit or Imagination, seen with
which alone it was beautiful, as being then the symbol of something
immeasureably greater than itself. Locke and Newton, the men of "single
vision" as he called them, were the types of this part of humanity. He
would fain have had men look _through_ the eye at the infinite imagination
which is the cause of phenomena.


Engraved by L. Schiavonetti after Blake's drawing. Published 1808]

As he states in a glorious passage in his prose essay of the Last
Judgement: "Mental things are alone real: what is called corporeal nobody
knows of; its dwelling-place is a fallacy, and its existence an imposture.
Where is the existence out of mind, or thought? where is it but in the
mind of a fool? Some people flatter themselves that there will be no
Last Judgement, and that bad art will be adopted, and mixed with good
art--that error or experiment will make a part of truth--and they boast
that it is its foundation. These people flatter themselves; I will not
flatter them. Error is created, truth is eternal. Error or creation will
be burnt up, and then, and not till then, truth or eternity will appear.
It is burned up the moment men cease to behold it." (This is a mystical
utterance, a spiritual discernment which will repay thoughtful
consideration. It gives the Last Judgement--hitherto conceived of by the
orthodox as a terribly material and mundane affair--an imaginative and
esoteric significance very grateful and welcome to the spiritually
sensitive.) "I assert for myself, that I do not behold the outward
creation, and that to me it is hindrance and not action. 'What!' it will
be questioned, 'when the sun rises, do you not see a round disc of fire,
somewhat like a guinea?' Oh! no! no! I see an innumerable company of the
heavenly host, crying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.' I
question not my corporeal eye, any more than I would question a window
concerning a sight. I look through it, and not with it."

One of Blake's most beautiful conceptions of God is as the universal
"Poetic Genius," and he was very fond of asserting that Art is Religion,
which indeed it is when, like his own, it represents the forms of this
world as the transparent media through which pulses the light of the
universal Poetic Genius. Another belief of Blake's must be quoted before I
leave this part of our subject: "Men are admitted into heaven, not because
they have curbed and governed their passions, or have no passions, but
because they have cultivated their understandings. The treasures of heaven
are not negations of passion, but realities of intellect, from which all
the passions emanate, uncurbed in their eternal glory.

"The fool shall not enter into heaven, let him be ever so holy; holiness
is not the price of entrance into heaven. Those who are cast out are all
those who, having no passions of their own, because no intellect, have
spent their lives in curbing and governing other people's by the various
arts of poverty, and cruelty of all kinds. The modern Church crucifies
Christ with the head downwards." And again, "Many persons, such as Paine
and Voltaire, with some of the ancient Greeks, say: "We will not converse
concerning good and evil, we will live in Paradise and Liberty! You may do
so in spirit, but not in the mortal body, as you pretend, till after the
Last Judgment. For in Paradise they have no corporeal and mortal body:
_that_ originated with the Fall and was called Death, and cannot be
removed but by a Last Judgment. While we are in the world of mortality, we
must suffer--the whole Creation groans to be delivered....

"Forgiveness of sin is only at the judgment-seat of Jesus the Saviour,
where the accuser is cast out, not because he sins, but because he
torments the just, and makes them do what he condemns as sin, and what he
knows is opposite to their own identity."

And now I must gather together all the frayed ends of this diffuse but
necessary chapter, and put the vital points, around which the seeming
incongruities and strangenesses of Blake's assertions arrange themselves,
into a symmetrical if not an organic whole. The oneness of the Eternal
Imagination, "Universal Poetic Genius," or God the Spirit, was the golden
background to Blake's vision of life. And on this unity he saw contrasted
the endless diversity of the spirit's expression in phenomena. All error
(not sin, which he did not believe to exist) came from the fall of the
spirit (through Urizen the creator) into division and the sexual and
generative life of man. This tended to a closing up of man into separate
selfhoods, and each selfhood, in its effort to preserve its corporeal
existence and separate character, was guilty of error, and gradually the
inlets through which communication with the Universal Spirit was
maintained became closed up, and were senses only available, in most men,
for the uses of the natural world. This condition leads to spiritual
negation, but is merely temporary, for when the body is destroyed at
death, which is the Last Judgement, Urizen's power is broken, and the
soul, however attenuated (as long as not altogether atrophied), returns to
its pristine union with the Universal Spirit, and, though completely
merged in it, yet in some wonderful way it preserves its own identity, or
essential quality, while the body, which is error, is "burnt up." But even
in the prison of the bodily life Humanity may be delivered from the
cramping and negative effect of the selfhood, through Jesus Christ, who
exists as the Human Divine in every heart, and who at the voice of the
Universal Spirit rises from the grave of selfhood, and draws the Christian
up into the life of that spirit where is no error nor negation.

It naturally follows that to Blake the one important point was to keep the
senses, "the chief inlet of soul," perpetually cleansed and open, that he
might descry the Great Reality of which Nature and all her phenomena are
but a symbol or shadow.

In fact, Blake's hope for man lay in the contrary of Herbert Spencer's
philosophy. The continuous evolution into new divisions and organisms,
separate selfhoods and particles, was to him the falling of Urizen, head
downwards, and bound with the snake of materiality, deeper and deeper into
the abyss. By union, not division, by aspiring into the universal life, by
conquering the selfhood and cleaving to the divine element (Jesus Christ)
which exists in every human heart, Blake conceived that man might, if he
would, find salvation, true vision, and everlasting life. His own vision
was always double or symbolic, and he prayed to be delivered from "single
vision" and "Newton's sleep." For the preoccupation with Nature as an end
in itself and an object worthy of study was to him the great error, a sign
of the horror of great darkness that clouded the human intelligence.

In moments of a special inrush of spiritual apprehension his vision was
"threefold," and sometimes "fourfold," which suggests that vista behind
vista unrolled itself, revealing untellable truth and beauty to his keen
etherealized sight.

These things, not being matters of common experience, must be received and
understood intuitively, and not Blake himself can always make them
comprehensible to us. His language and visions recall the language and
visions of the Prophet Ezekiel, whose writings were read and re-read by
him till they created a frenzy of excitement in his sensitive brain.

His opinion of women, far from being in accordance with our modern
emancipated views, was somewhat oriental, though among his poems we may
find many instances of sweet and spiritual femininity.

When Urizen created Man and walled him up in his separate organism with
five senses, like five small chinks in a cavern to let in the outside
light, he gave him a dual nature, male and female, so that he was at first
a hermaphrodite. "The female portion of man trying to get the ascendency
of the male portion caused inward strife," so a further subdivision
occurred, and Man cast out his female portion, which became woman, and was
a mere "emanation" of man. "There is no such thing in eternity as a female
will," writes Blake oracularly, his happy experience being based doubtless
on the beautiful subjection of Catherine Blake to his own overmastering
personality. Yet he is bound to exclaim in "Jerusalem," "What may man be?
Who can tell? But what may woman be, to have power over man from cradle to
corruptible grave." We may fairly say that the inferior shadowy nature
which he imputes to woman was one of those opinions which he chose to
adopt, though his real and unconscious belief regarding her was possibly
very different. Be that as it may, he often makes her serve as a symbol
for material existence, obviously an infelicitous parallel.

Having very briefly indicated the nature of Blake's religious and mystical
opinions, it remains for us to say a word about his mythology.

In a letter written to Mr. Butts while Blake was at Felpham, these lines
occur among some verses, and will I think help us:

  For a double vision is always with me.
  With my inward eye, 'tis an old man gray;
  With my outward, a thistle across the way.

The personification and nomenclature of these double visions of his seem
to suggest the genesis of this mythology. He has peopled a twilight mental
world with a dim shadowy population of personified states and conditions.
They bear strange mouth-filling names, such as Orc, Fuzon, Rintrah,
Palamabron, Enitharmon, Oothoon and Ololon. What each symbolizes must be
determined by the reader for himself. No explanation of their separate
functions will be attempted in this book. Messrs. Ellis and Yeats have
carried explanation and analytic criticism as far as it can be carried,
and the reader who is interested in the literary matter of the prophetic
books should consult their learned work as well as Mr. Swinburne's
highly-suggestive critical essay.



To the world of his own time Blake appeared a mad visionary, whose sweet
impulsive early poems attracted a few of the rarer souls of the age, but
whose pictures and designs were practically unknown. His genius,
atmosphere, and modes of thought were antipathetic to his age, and his
aims and achievement proved so difficult to understand from the point of
view of that day, that he was summarily and uncomprehendingly set down as

This was an offhand and unintelligent method of accounting for so rare a
spirit. The spectacle of a man who might, had he chosen, have enjoyed
riches, honour, admiration and glory, but who instead, like his great
Master, cared not at all for lordship in this world, but much for the
preservation of the kingdom of the spirit that is not of this world, did a
great deal to earn for Blake the name of madman. The world has always
regarded the voluntarily poor with suspicion and misapprehension.

Then, again, Blake was one of those who lived very near the veil which
shrouds the great unexplored spiritual forces. Death, as we know, seemed
to him but the "passing from one room to another."

To raise the veil, to look forth on the cause of phenomena, on the visions
of eternal imagination, to strain to the uttermost that he might hear the
reverberations of the unmeasured mighty stream of Divine power, to bathe
within that stream, and let it bear him onward as it would--these were to
him the real purposes of life, and being so, formed other reasons why the
world, all engrossed as it is with wealth and position, and "here" and
"now," looked at him askance.

To-day, however, there is an undercurrent of popular opinion--a small
stream, but strong--that recognizes him for what he is, and his name is
sacred as that of the great High Priest of Spiritual Art, to those who
compose it.

It is noticeable that none of those who were personally acquainted with
him, save perhaps Crabb Robinson, ever gave credence to the prevailing
notion that he was mad: strongly do they condemn such a verdict. He was
eccentric, abnormally developed on the spiritual side, and undisciplined
in thought and speech. The mystic in him finally all but destroyed the
poet, though it never arrested the magnificent development of his artistic
genius. Again, much that is strange and difficult of apprehension in Blake
may be traced to the fact that his mind lacked the firm basis, the just
and right power of thinking, that comes from a sound education. As a
matter of fact, capriciously self-educated as he was, his ignorance of
ordinary rudimentary knowledge was as extraordinary as his acquaintance
with much that is caviar to the ordinary intellect.

"Celui qui a l'imagination sans érudition a des ailes et n'a pas de
pieds." And so it was with Blake. But it does not detract one iota from
the illuminating quality of the thoughts which flash as it were from a
heaven in his brain in times of creative inspiration. Blake on the wing
has a strange beauty, a swift, direct and strenuous flight that thrills
and awes the imaginative spectator. It is only when this wild wonderful
creature is caught and entangled in theories and systems and human
reasoning, that we may not give him our intellectual adherence.

Other causes which appear to give colour to the theory that he was mad are
the following: Blake had no curious regard or nice care for words, but
used them at random in speech, just as they came to hand, and as he
cherished numerous violent prejudices it naturally followed that he often
expressed them in very emphatic and often unreasonable language.
Passionate partisan as he was of the world of imagination as against the
world of fact, he assumed an attitude of defiance to natural science and
its oldest established facts which seemed to those who had not the key to
Blake's mind simply insane or at the best puerile.

So accustomed was he to misunderstanding, that when strangers tried to
draw him out he seems purposely to have indulged in exaggeration and
symbolic language to baffle and mystify them. In ordinary intercourse, as
in his art and poetry, he seems to have had no care to put his mind and
his listeners or spectators _en rapport_ with his own. That magical
sympathy which some men know so well how to establish like a living
current between their own and other minds before "speaking the truth that
is in them," was not one of Blake's gifts. The sympathetic standpoint for
observance or understanding he expected from those who would be at the
pains to find out his meaning. "Let them that have ears, hear--if they
can, and if they be not too tightly shut into their selfhoods, and their
senses not clogged beyond cleansing with the dust and litter of
materialism," he would seem to say.

Examining into the vexed question of Blake's visions, whether they were
the apparitions of an unsound mind, the automatic picture-making of a
vivid imagination, or the visual apprehension of supernatural appearances,
we shall see that madness is not the key to them, though we shall have to
admit a certain want of balance and proportion in his intellectual life.

Sometimes one is tempted to think that he had eyes that saw the visible
loveliness and manifest images in which Plato supposes that Ideas exist in
the spiritual universe. Which being so, it is not wonderful that he was
called mad, for the Greek philosopher himself said that "this is the most
excellent of all forms of enthusiasm (or possession), and that the lover
who has a share of this madness is called a lover of the beautiful." Our
artist was a seer such as Plato meant, but his is a figurative rather than
an actual description of the mental operations which suspend such visions
before the prophet's eye.

All the writers on Blake--Allan Cunningham, Alexander Gilchrist, James
Smetham, Mr. Swinburne, Mr. W. M. Rossetti, Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, Sir
Richard Garnett--have discussed the subject, but I find the most
illuminating passage in an article by James Smetham included in the second
volume of Gilchrist's "Life," which I shall take leave to quote, for its
matter could never be better stated: "Thought with Blake leaned largely to
the side of imagery rather than to the side of organized philosophy, and
we shall have to be on our guard, while reading the record of his views
and opinions, against the dogmatism which was more frequently based on
exalted fancies than on the rock of abiding reason and truth. The
conceptive faculty working with a perception of facts singularly narrow
and imperfect, projected every idea boldly into the sphere of the actual.
What he _thought_, he _saw_, to all intents and purposes, and it was this
sudden and sharp crystallization of inward notions into outward and
visible signs which produced the impression on many beholders that reason
was unseated.... We cannot but on the whole lean to the opinion that
somewhere in the wonderful compound of flesh and spirit, somewhere in
those recesses where the one runs into the other, he was 'slightly
touched,' and by so doing we shall save ourselves the necessity of
attempting to defend certain phases of his work" (such as much of the
literary part of the prophetic books) "while maintaining an unqualified
admiration for the mass and manner of his thoughts." This seems a just
opinion. The colloquialism "slightly touched" (just that and nothing but
that) is the very phrase to express this elusive, almost indefinable
condition of mind. In all mankind living in conditions of time and space,
a certain adjustment of themselves to these conditions, and to each other,
is a necessary function of existence. The failure to comply with such an
adjustment was Blake's strength and weakness--the defect of his quality.

As I have said before, he firmly believed in his own inspiration, and with
reason. For a mood of trance-like absorption would come upon him, his soul
would be rapt in an ecstasy, he was disturbed by no impressions of earthly
persons or surroundings, but was for the time being alone with his
quickening vision. At such moments his mind's eye was but the retina on
which God Himself projected the image. And he would permit no criticism,
no questioning of work which seemed to him not his own, but produced
through divine agency.

All creative genius must work in much the same way. The vision is granted,
who shall say just how and whence, and its translation into any form of
art must be accomplished by a power as it were outside, above, the artist.
Vogl said of Schubert, that he composed in a state of clairvoyance. (That
is the reason why the Unfinished Symphony was, and always will be,
unfinished. Schubert transcribed the tormenting melody, the awful picture
of Fate suddenly reaching a long arm from out the smiling heaven to
arrest the blithe jigging mortal so gaily tripping along a flowery path.
The overwhelming terror and pity of it all shake the soul. But the vision
was withdrawn, the clairvoyant condition left Schubert, and so he wrote no

Blake's conceptions were projected in form instantaneously and with
extraordinary vividness, and the vision seen with his mind's eye seldom
varied or faded till he had transferred its likeness to paper. In this he
was indeed unlike those artists who, having but a vague mental conception,
build up their designs from without, laboriously selecting and copying,
not that which will merely help to perfect the realization of the inward
conception, but those things which they conjecture will arrange themselves
most successfully in the making of an eye-pleasing picture. Such artists
are but little concerned with the innate and obligatory form with which an
idea must necessarily clothe itself. Blake writes in the Descriptive
Catalogue, "A spirit and a vision are not, as the modern philosophy
supposes, a cloudy vapour or a nothing: they are organized and minutely
articulated beyond all that the mortal and perishing nature can produce.
He who does not imagine in stronger and better lineaments, and in stronger
and better light than his perishing and mortal eye can see, does not
imagine at all."

At the same time in justice we must admit that Blake sometimes failed to
make his vivid and living conceptions as clear to the world as he might
have done, for the reason that he neglected to refer to Nature for the
technique which after all is the language of Art. His art in this respect
is somewhat like that of the Italian Trecenti, who uttered burning
messages in a tongue which sometimes stammered. His impetuous soul never
wholly achieved the mastery of material which only a prolonged and patient
drudgery can give, but the images which hurtled from his imagination were
so forceful and superabundant that mere fiery creation, the unburdening of
the overloaded heart and brain, was the crying obligation which forced him
ever onward, seeking relief often in the mere act of projection.

It is always a wonder that he makes so few mistakes, his technique being
manifestly deficient. When his drawing is right it is heroically,
magnificently so, and even when incorrect, it is always of amazing power
and almost convincing strength.

"Execution," says Blake, in his notes on Reynolds' "Discourses," "is the
chariot of Genius," and when he mounts into the chariot and takes the
reins into his strong nervous hands, then, indeed, nothing can withstand
the flashing glory of his course.

At such times the affinity between our artist and Michael Angelo is very
apparent. Both had the grand simple manner in their treatment of the human
form, both worked as it would seem "in a state of clairvoyance" and
according to the direction of a divine daemon, both felt the body to be at
best but the prison of the straining fluttering soul; but Blake's
conceptions glow with a whiter flame of spiritual intensity than do those
of the Florentine, greater as the latter was at all other points. I think
it is the presence of this mystic fire which forms one of the great
difficulties in the way of a facile understanding of his art-work. We feel
ourselves in the presence of an incommunicable overburdening spiritual
intensity. It has seldom happened that a mystic should be also an artist
translating those things which transcend human experience into the terms
of an art which by its very nature is only concerned with the sensible

It is this incongruity between the thought and the language in which it is
conveyed--Blake's thoughts often lying beyond the proper range of a
graphic embodiment--which creates one of the great difficulties in the
way of our right apprehension of him.

A few of his works, as we shall presently see, are perfect and flawless as
Art can make them, such as the "Songs of Innocence" and the majestic
series of designs to Job. In both of these, the thoughts, and their
incarnation in form, are harmoniously complementary each to the other. But
often the thought will not, cannot be inclosed: it outstrips the reach of
his art. Hence many designs are tumultuous with leaping ideas, dimly
apprehended suggestions, not one of which is caught and contained in its
essence, but seems rather, as it were, to flutter, tantalizingly enough,
just beyond the grasp.

Blake "hitched his waggon to the stars," to use Emerson's expressive
phrase, and to the spiritually "elect" in art--those to whom ideas are the
really precious things--he speaks winged words and with authority. The
pity is that his art speaks thus clearly to the "initiated" only. The
sense of freedom of the spirit, of the absence of all contractile elements
in Blake's work must however be obvious to all. It is his special charm,
to be expansive, sublime, large. The great ethereal spaces of the sky have
breathed their inspiration upon him, and he has reflected the colour and
the mystery and the depth of the sea. To those who are spiritually
homesick he comes as an emissary from beyond the Great Darkness, from
where Life is found at its Source.



And now we must turn our attention to Blake's art-work--the fruit of his
life "of beautiful purpose and warped power," as Ruskin calls it--and the
expression of those strange thoughts, beliefs and visions, which were his
real world. My purpose is, to turn over, as it were, the leaves of his
books in the Print Room of the British Museum (the only copies available
to the general public, though several finer are contained in private
collections), and thus help to recall to the crowded mind of to-day's art
the living burning spirit of Blake which is inclosed in those covers.
After which we will pass on to a general description and review of his
drawings, engravings and water-colours in the British Museum, and then
consider his pictures in the National Gallery. A chapter will also be
devoted to the Exhibition of Works of Blake which were on view for six
weeks (January and February, 1904) at Messrs. Carfax's Rooms in Ryder
Street, for this exhibition contained many of his finest works, and
several which will not again be seen by the public for many a long day.


In Blake's time there was little hope of success for an artist who did not
put himself under distinguished patronage and paint at the direction of
some dilettante nobleman. According to the autobiography of B. R. Haydon
the artist (a strange character if ever there were one!), who was in his
heyday when Blake was a very old man, nobody could expect to get on
without a large dependence on patrons, who would often dictate subjects
and treatment, and advance large sums to the painter, to meet his
necessarily large expenses (for great canvases cost great sums); and on
the strength of this, bind his creative imagination to the yoke of their
own petty slavery.

Blake, however, being conscious of his own high mission in art, and deeply
sensible of the divine obligation he was under to paint what he _must_,
had to forego the idea of working out his designs in large, for he was too
poor to pay for the necessary materials. Hence most of his work is
executed in very small space--in the leaves of the books we are about to
examine, and in water-colours and "frescoes" of very limited dimensions.
As we proceed it will be noted over and over again that designs some six
or seven inches square, and often less, are grand enough to be expanded
into large compositions and gallery pictures--indeed they would gain
considerably by so doing--for so much vitality and splendid strength seems
cramped in a confined area.

But that _size_ in pictures is no test of conceptive artistic genius needs
no demonstration, though it may be conceded to be a gauge of executive
ability. And it is in conception that Blake is pre-eminent.

Going quietly on in his chosen path, he has his little laugh at the crowd
of artists scrambling like chickens around the patrons, who mete out the
maize to this favourite Cochin or that admired bantam.

We find this doggerel in his Note-book:

  O dear Mother Outline, of wisdom most sage,
  What's the first part of painting? she said, Patronage.
  And what is the second, to please and engage,
  She frowned like a fury and said, "Patronage."

Of patronage during his life Blake had but little, save from Mr. Butts,
who, however, had nothing of the conventional patron about him. He merely
bought with reverent appreciation whatever Blake pleased to paint, never
suggesting alterations or improvements, never blaming or criticising, but
merely receiving in faith and love. For which Blake, as we know, "never
ceased to honour him." But let no man think that poverty did not hamper
Blake, though he chose it rather than the slavery that would have been the
price he would have had to pay for even a moderate income. He himself
writes in the Descriptive Catalogue: "Some people and not a few artists
have asserted that the painter of this picture would not have done so well
if he had been properly encouraged. Let those who think so reflect on the
state of nations under poverty, and their incapability of art. Though art
is above either, the argument is better for affluence than poverty _and
though he would not have been a greater artist, yet he would have produced
greater works of art in proportion to his means_."

Well, then: it was Blake's poverty and independence that caused him to
work mainly on a small scale, and it was the fact that he was poet as well
as artist--his poetry springing from the same creative impulse as his
plastic art--that led him to merge the two gifts into a perfect union in
the creation of his beautiful and unique books. The process by which they
were executed is thus described by Gilchrist: "The verse was written and
the designs and marginal embellishments outlined on the copper with an
impervious liquid, probably the ordinary stopping-out varnish of
engravers. Then all the white parts or lights, the remainder of the plate
that is, were eaten away with aquafortis or other acid, so that the
outline of letter and design was left prominent, as in stereotype. From
these plates he printed off in any tint, yellow, brown, blue, required to
be the prevailing or ground colour in his fac-similes; red he used for the
letterpress. The page was then coloured up by hand in imitation of the
original drawing, with more or less variety of detail in the local hues."
To read this account when one has seen the product is like pondering the
receipt for a miracle. Gilchrist goes on to say, "He taught Mrs. Blake to
take off the impressions with care and delicacy." After, they were done up
in boards by her neat hands, "so that the poet and his wife did everything
in making the book--writing, designing, printing, engraving--everything
except manufacturing the paper: the very ink, or colour rather, they did
make. Never before, surely, was a man so literally the author of his own

For the convenience of classifying in some sort of rough way, this chapter
will deal with the "Songs of Innocence," the "Book of Thel," the "Gates of
Paradise," the "Songs of Experience," also touching lightly on a very
different book, Mary Wollstonecraft's "Tales for Children," illustrated by

The small octavo volume entitled the "Songs of Innocence"--with which the
"Songs of Experience," produced some years later, are also bound--will be
a revelation of beauty to all who have not seen it before, for there was
nothing like it before, and there has been nothing like it since. The
leaves of the Print Room copy, in all probability not a very early one,
have become slightly yellowed with age, but the colours remain rare and
delicate and iridescent as they were when they were first laid on, a happy
accident, for this has not been the fate of all Blake's coloured prints.

"Every page has the smell of April," says Mr. Swinburne happily. Linger
where you will, a gay and tender harmony pervades every leaf, the smile of
an inspired child looks up at you and flashes something intuitive and
precious into your soul. The colours are the colours of morning. The
limpidness of the verses, the felicity of the designs, recall special
morning moods in the morning of life. Hope, innocence, joy, and an
all-pervading sense of Divine nearness, are the characteristic notes
sounded. Both the draught and the song weave themselves into a spell, each
one distinct, each having its own charm, its own perfume.

The words without the embracing design, beautiful as they are, seem to
lose some of that delicate and aromatic fragrance diffused from them. And
the design without the words is an effect without a cause, and thus loses
its expressiveness. It is the union of the two that makes the celestial
singing, and, like antiphonal music, one part catches up, transforms and
augments the melody of the other, which, ringing silver clear, yet
half-hid and half-announced its entire significance.

Our illustrations, in which perforce the colour is left out, are the
palest, most spectral of shadows beside the glory of the original plates.
They can but be reminders or suggestions, and must be accepted as such.

Plate 2, represents a Shepherd, pipe in hand, following a cherubic vision,
his sheep in turn following him. The shepherd, be it remarked, has on a
vestment peculiar to Blake. It is indicated only by a line round the
ankles, wrists and neck, and a few rather realistic buttons, but it does
not hide the muscles and the modeling of the body at all. It is a kind of
glorified combination garment, but it is a matter of taste whether the
shepherd would not look as well unclothed entirely. The garment, too much
recalls the historic drawers which the outraged decency of the Vatican
obliged Pontormo to paint on the figures of Michael Angelo's "Last
Judgement" in the Sistine.

Whatever reason Blake may have had for investing his shepherd in this
apparel, we are sure at least that it was not because he worried himself
about propriety! such a concern was far indeed from him.


After all, this matter of the combination garment is the merest
quibble. The design has all the enchantment of the spring in its pale
delicious tints, and the browsing sheep with the glint of gold on their
fleeces bring something of Argonautic romance into this vision of April.

The flamboyant title-page of the "Songs of Innocence," is a fine piece of
decorative design and colour.

The keynote of the whole scheme is set in the perfectly simple song, and
the page in which it is embodied, called "The Introduction." The poem is
written in brown, on a ground bright with tremulous colours which wane and
wax in prismatic variation. Rose shoots, bent in and out, make a trellis
up each side of the verses, and the result of the whole! well! you may
call it a slight thing if you like, but it is as joyous as childhood, and
strangely delightful! No songs ever written for children were as these
songs; in especial, perhaps, "The Lamb," of which the simplicity and
tenderness are of so delicate a quality that the poem cannot be handled
critically at all. It can only be felt.

The slightly richer and deeper tones of colour, and the premonitory note
of mysticism in the "Little Black Boy," afford a subtle charm:

  And we are put on earth a little space
  That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
  And these black bodies and this sun-burnt face
  Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

Who could have written this but Blake?

It is of lyrics such as this that Pater writes: "And the very perfection
of such poetry often appears to depend, in part, on a certain suppression
or vagueness of mere subject, so that the meaning reaches us through ways
not distinctly traceable by the understanding, as in some of the most
imaginative compositions of William Blake."

"The Divine Image" is another equally lovely poem, with its sinuous
growth of ribbon-like leaves, climbing among the verses. The unmistakeable
figure of Christ at the root, raises a prostrate figure.

The verses, writ in golden brown, lie on a ground of palest blue,
thrilling to Tyrian purple.

"Holy Thursday," after the rainbow tints of many of the pages and the
luxuriance of their designs, is a Quaker-like and unpretending affair
altogether. It would seem to be the untouched impression as it was first
stereotyped off the plate; and is interesting for that reason.

There is hardly anything in the book more delicious than Plate 25, "Infant
Joy." A typical (rather than botanically correct) flower with a
flame-shaped bud, and a wind-tossed bloom, springs across a page dyed like
a butterfly's wing. In the cloven blossom a mother and her small baby sit
enthroned while an angel with wings like a "White Admiral" stands
entranced before the happy child.

    "I have no name;
  I am but two days old."
    What shall I call thee?
  "I happy am,
    Joy is my name."
  Sweet joy befall thee.

  Pretty joy!
  Sweet joy but two days old.
  Sweet joy I call thee:
  Thou dost smile,
  I sing the while;
  Sweet joy befall thee.

These are the spontaneous, gushing notes of the bird in springtime,
careless, unstudied but felicitously right, not to be corrected or even
touched, for each word must lie where it fell, just so and no other way.


Plate 20, "Night," with its graceful lady tree growing up beside the
verses, is a beautiful shadowy design on a background in which blue and
green merge and deepen in a veil of evening mist and the poem is another
of those minute pieces of perfection, which, like delicate sea-shells,
were cast up out of the stormy ocean of Blake's mind.

In their own way, and with due regard to their special range and quality,
the "Songs of Innocence" are the most perfect things Blake ever did, for
he attempted no effect in song or design that his art was not adequate to
express, and his imagination lies over all like the haze of spring
sunshine. At that time the lyric poet in Blake was dominant, compelling
him to sing, while the mystic was hardly yet consciously awake in him.

But in the next book, "The Book of Thel," the mystic has stirred and
breathes through the poem. The story is veiled in a shining mystery, but
is still quite intelligible and pellucid in style, till just at the end,
when the sphinx riddle of this life, the paradox of the senses, the wonder
and terror of death, close round the consciousness of Thel, and dark
sayings are uttered darkly. Thel is the youngest of the daughters of the
Seraphim, but is herself a mortal. All her joy in her own beauty and that
of the natural world is destroyed by the thought that she must die, the
flowers must fade, the cloud will melt away, everything must change and
decay. The Lily of the Valley answers her gentle lamentation, telling her
that in this very change, the feeding of the lives of others with our own
life, lies the secret of an endless and blessed immortality. She herself
will hereafter "flourish in eternal vales." Thel assents to this--

  Thy breath doth nourish the innocent lamb: he smells thy milky garments,
  He crops thy flowers, while thou sittest smiling in his face,
  Wiping his mild and meekin mouth from all contagious taints.

That is all very well, she seems to say, _you_ help to revive and nourish
many creatures, but what do I do? I shall fade away like a little shining
cloud. The lily then calls down a cloud, which appears in the bright
likeness of a radiant youth in mid-air. The cloud tells her that when he
passes away in an hour's time, "It is to manifold life, to love, and peace
and raptures holy." He will wed the Dew, and linked together in a golden
band they will "bear food to all our tender flowers."

But Thel complains that she does nothing for any living thing,

        Without a use this shining woman lived,
  Or did she only live to be at death the food of worms.

Then the "cloud reclined upon his airy throne" tells her that even that
would prove her of great use and blessing, for

        Everything that lives
  Lives not alone nor for itself,

and in token of the truth of what he says he calls the helpless worm,
which appears to Thel as "an infant wrapped in the Lily's leaf."

This lowest form of created life is cradled in a mother's love to Thel's
surprise. The Clod of Clay appears to comfort its weeping babe and tells
the wondering "beauty of the Vales of Har," that being herself the meanest
of all things, yet nevertheless she is the bride of Him "who loves the
lowly," and is the mother of all his children.

Whereat Thel weeps to find life and love everywhere, even where she
expected nothing but coldness and horror. Then "matron Clay," invites Thel
to enter her house, saying that it is given her to enter and to return. So
Thel entered into the secret regions of the grave, and passed on "till to
her grave-plot she came and there she sat down, and heard a voice of
sorrow" speak from out it. It is a wild blood-stilling cry that rises to
her terrified ears, shrieking of the senses, their limits, their precious
and their poisoning gifts--these only avenues through which life may be
enjoyed, and by which eternity must be coloured.

Nothing answers! there _is_ no answer? It is the old Faust riddle that has
occupied the minds of thinkers since the beginning of time. It fretted
Blake into a state of painful excitement. "The Virgin started from her
seat, and with a shriek fled back unhindered till she came into the Vales
of Har."

The designs, of which there are but five, have still the serene and
delicate air which belongs to Blake's youthful work. The colour is pure
and thin, the outlines printed in faint Italian pink, and the effect of
all is of things seen through a haze, which the sunshine is beginning to

A delightful impression of rain-washed, wind-swept morning is given by the
frontispiece, in which Thel--a motive of perfect poetic
grace--contemplates the wooing of the fairy Dew, whose home is in the
calyx of the flowers, by the Cloud. Above their heads is a patch of blue
sky, across which the title is written, while birds and angels wing their
happy flight in the ethereal expanse. Exquisite also is the pale vision of
the lily of the valley bowing before Thel. And the cloud, and the clod of
the earth bending over Baby Worm, are alive with Blake's peculiar quality
of imagination. The tail-piece represents a serpent of pale green hue
coiling and rearing across the page. One naked infant drives him with
reins, while two more ride joyously upon his back.

About the same time Blake wrote a poem called "Tiriel," which will be
found in the Aldine edition of his poetical works. It was never engraved
in a book by him, and has little poetic beauty, being for the most part
full of clamorous rage, dire slaughterings and cruel revenge, but he made
some water-colour drawings illustrating the text.

The Print Room does not possess a copy of the "Marriage of Heaven and
Hell," which appeared in 1790, but the Reading Room has one which can be
viewed in the large room set apart for rare books.

None of Blake's prose writings, in sustained thought and power, are equal
to it. It is an armoury containing flashing rapiers, whose thrusts reach
home as suddenly as they are withdrawn again. The glitter of steel in
sunlight is suggested by many of its aphorisms. I cannot forbear quoting
one or two, in reading which one would seem to hear the very voice of

"He whose face gives no light shall never become a star."

"The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy
sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the
eye of man."

"Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity."

"He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence."

"How do you know but ev'ry bird that cuts the airy way,

Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five."

"Damn braces; bless relaxes."

"Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires."

"All deities reside in the human breast."

"Joys impregnate, sorrows bring forth."

"Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth."

"To create a little flower is the labour of ages."

"Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without
improvement are roads of genius."


The aphorisms are followed by five "Memorable Fancies," wild dreams full
of paradoxes, and allegories both spiritual and grotesque. The designs to
this book are very fine, but I cannot help thinking that this particular
copy was not coloured by Blake's hand. In comparison with the one formerly
belonging to Lord Crewe, which in all respects is magnificent, the Library
copy is coloured too crudely, to be in the least characteristic of Blake.
Particularly unlike him are the heavy gray shadows disfiguring the nude
figures. There is no impasto work here as in the Crewe copy, but the
colour is put on with no uncertain or unpractised hand, though in a manner
unlike Blake. Far more delightful are the renderings of several of these
plates as seen in the small "Book of Designs." They are worked up with the
utmost care and finish, and the distinctive qualities of Blake's colour,
the unmistakable impress of his hand, are there exhibited in their highest
manifestations. The sense of mystery, innate to their conception, is
preserved, nay, accentuated! whereas the Library copy, through its
unpleasant, and I cannot but think un-Blakean passages of colour, has lost
in some places this romantic and inimitable quality. The title-page alive
with leaping flames, a nude woman bathing, salamander-like, in fire, the
heaving body of a patterned water-snake writhing in foamy water, and a
male figure seated on a mound prophetic of the design presently to be
consummated in "Death's Door," are among the most notable of the pictures
in the "Marriage of Heaven and Hell." Many of the pages are faintly
tinted, while delicate suggestive ornaments cling about the writing.

In 1791 Blake designed and engraved for Johnson six plates to "Tales for
Children," by Mary Wollstonecraft. The book is in the Print Room, somewhat
yellow and musty. In no sense is it attractive, and it would find small
favour with the modern child. The fact is that Blake worked in dire
constraint when illustrating homely scenes of actual life. He had no
pleasure in the invention of accessories. In his art all is left out that
may be, and the bare, the sparse, the elemental, and the austerely
beautiful alone receive his attention, but always adjusted to meet the
requirements of his own rigid sense of harmony in composition.

Then again single vision, "the vision of Bacon and Newton," concerned only
with actual appearances, did not seem to him worth the transcribing. He
could only work with freedom when the fact could be treated as merely the
symbol of an idea. So that in these plates the homely domestic scenes he
tries to represent have a cold and ghastly appearance. They are like
nothing we have ever seen, because Blake was so curiously unobservant of
details not interesting to him that he simply did not _know_ about them
when he came to draw them. His work is only of a high order when his
imagination is excited. His spiritual insight not being called into play
renders many of these engravings weak, dull and archaic-looking.

There are among them suggestions of the terrible, and of significances
beyond this world however. They form grim and foreign accompaniments
enough to the milk-and-water stories, and are about as suitable as the
Orcagna frescoes in the Pisan Campo Santo would be to adorn the walls of a
child's nursery. We willingly shut up the book and turn to one produced
two years later called the "Gates of Paradise." The title-page says it was
designed, engraved and published by Blake, but adds Johnson's name too.
But we know that the book is all Blake, and it is probable that Johnson
gave his name to the venture through a kindly, perhaps pitying, desire to
help Blake with the public.

"The Gates of Paradise" it is called, though no glory of colour, no
beautiful angels, no city of gold, such as the title might lead us to
expect, are displayed in its pages. Indeed, to some the first glance may
bring disappointment.

These elemental and direct designs, sixteen in number, are very rough,
even rudimentary, as engravings. But they are true art-work, for they
concentrate and express conceptions and ideas of a rare order, and with a
piercing directness that drives them home to our most intimate, most
central consciousness.

Either you will feel their power and charm, and come under the subtle
spell at once, or else you will glance through them unmoved, and perhaps
contemptuously, and wonder what people can profess to see in this rude and
Gothic draughtsmanship. If this latter is the case, then Blake has nothing
to say to such an one, for it is no use to expect a literal and exact
interpretation tacked on to all his designs. Blake must and will be
discerned intuitively by his true lovers, and few words will suffice to
indicate the track of his thoughts to such; to others, all the explanation
in the world would never reveal him, for, to use his own phrase, "the
doors of their perception" are not sufficiently cleansed to admit his

The frontispiece gives us a reminiscence of Thel. A chrysalis, like a
swaddled baby, lies on a leaf, while on the spray above a caterpillar--the
emblem of motherhood--watches over it. Underneath is inscribed,
significantly enough, the words, "What is man?" Blake's thoughts were
never long away from this subject. To find an answer to the question was
his deepest preoccupation and concern, and the following designs are all
variations on this one dominant theme. Plate No. 1 represents a woman
gathering babies like flowers from among the clustering ivy at the foot of
a tree. In glad haste she plucks up one more to put with the others
already lying, like St. Elizabeth's roses, in the folds of her apron. The
child is found symbolically at the root of what Mr. Swinburne thinks is
the tree of physical life, embedded in the earth from which all things
issue, and to which all things return. The next four plates are
embodiments of the four elements, which in Blake's thoughts always teemed
with "spiritual correspondences"--according to the Swedenborgian phrase.
"Water" seems to be an emblem of folly and instability, and is embodied in
the form of a man seated on the very roots of the tree of physical life,
his feet set upon no firm earth, but upon the sand at the verge of the
water. The foolish, helpless face, and hands spread out on knees, and the
driving rain that descends with pitiless energy on all, go far to convey
the idea of the perpetual flux and flow, the "unshapeableness" of the
element "Water." A gnome-like man in a crevice represents "Earth." He is
inclosed, bound down, weighted with clay. Sitting on a high white cloud
amid the starry spaces of the sky, "Air" sits in form like a naked man,
pressing his hands to his forehead in fear and giddiness at the vast
immensity unrolled before his eyes.

"Blind in fire with shield and spear," a man strides in Plate 5. Is this
fire an emblem of the fierce elemental fires of Desire and Hatred--both of
which are blind?

Plate 6 is entitled "At length for hatching ripe he breaks the shell," and
a delicious cherub having broken the egg proceeds to climb out of it into
the sunlit air. Symbol of the material life which forms a concrete
circumference around the soul of eternal man, the eggshell is broken, when
"at length for hatching ripe," the veil of death is rent by the liberated

[Illustration: "I WANT! I WANT!"

Engraving from the "Gates of Paradise," 1793]

In Plate 7 and its successors Blake takes us back again to incidents
characteristic of the life of man on earth.--"Alas!" exhibits a boy
wantonly catching and killing bright little loves, which flutter across
his path like butterflies. Plate 8 is a youth throwing barbed darts at
an old man who sits on ruins sword in hand.

  "My son, my son, thou treatest me
  But as I have instructed thee,"

writes Blake, suggesting the numerous cases of friction and cruel offence
which must result from the education of the human soul in selfishness and

There is nothing in the series to equal the colossal daring of "I want, I
want." Just a little cross-hatching, a little rough spluttering work with
the burin, and we have this bit of marvellous irony. A group of tiny
pigmies on a spit of land have reared an enormous ladder against the moon,
and are about to start on their journey through star-bespread darkness to
the pale crescent so far above them. Mr. Swinburne says that this was
originally an ironical sketch satirizing the methods of Art study pursued
by "amateurs and connoisseurs"--"scaling with ladders of logic the heaven
of invention," and presuming to measure, reach and gauge the intangible
ideal. But in this series Blake has expanded the meaning of the design
into the passionate yearning and aching desire of man after things

Plate 10 is a study of the sea. A water-colour in washes of Indian ink of
very similar composition is in existence, and was on exhibition at Ryder
Street in 1904. The water-colour evidently suggested by this plate is the
finer work, but it is a marvellous evidence of Blake's power, that the
tiny plate of the "Gates of Paradise" (1-5/8 in. by 2 in. only in size)
should be capable of representing so infinite a waste of stormy waters.
One frantic arm reaches up to Heaven from out the foamy crest of the
waves, a minute later to be submerged,--"In Time's ocean falling,
drowned." That is its significance! No cries of "Help!" will be heard; Man
_must_ be overwhelmed by Time.

In the eleventh plate an old man in spectacles ruthlessly clips the wings
of a bright boy who wrestles and struggles under the cruel hands. Thus
does Age, full of worldly experience and material philosophy, clip the
wings of the aspiring soul of Youth.

Walled in by the divisions and materialisms into which Man has fallen
through the creation of the generative nature, we see human souls
despairing, and full of lassitude, enclosed in depths of icy dungeons, in
the twelfth plate. This plate was afterwards taken as the basis of the
design Blake made of Count Ugolino and his sons in the tower at Pisa in
his Dante series.

In Plate 13 comes the promise of life. A man stretched on his bed with his
family watching beside him, suddenly has a vision of "The Immortal Man
that cannot die." After that all is different, and in Plate 14 "the
traveller hasteth in the evening" of life to his journey's end, serenely
cheerful, even anxious to shake off mortality, that he may realize his
glorious vision the sooner.

But the way to Immortality is through the Gate of the Grave. So in Plate
15 we have the picture of Death's Door, to which our traveller has arrived
at last. This early design embodying Blake's favourite conception was
destined to be enlarged and sublimed into one of the most magnificent
inventions of Christian Art. This is the first hint of the perfect final
work, and on that account, as well as for its own intrinsic significance
here, of the greatest interest.

Death's Door being opened, the Worm is seen at work in Plate 16. Who shall
say how Blake has contrived to make the pale, hooded woman under the
tree-roots so symbolic an image of the Worm? There is that about her at
which the recoiling flesh shudders and sickens.

[Illustration: THE DELUGE

From W. B. Scott's Etching of Blake's undated Indian Ink Drawing, by kind
permission of Messrs. Chatto and Windus]

Yet here, below the dim, twisted roots of the Tree of Physical Being,
whence the embryo Man was plucked like a mandrake, is the house of the
worm. "I have said to the worm, thou art my mother and my sister," quotes
Blake enigmatically, beneath this leprous dream of mortality. But the
enigma has a solution, for the worm at least destroys that body of
generative and divided nature to which it is itself so nearly akin, and
which has cramped and imprisoned eternal Man while on earth. So that we
may be grateful to the worm in the end, for

  Weaving to dreams the sexual strife,
  And weeping over the web of life.

I have quoted an illuminating phrase here and there from the lines which
Blake wrote and called the Keys of the Gates of Paradise. These, however,
are but fugitive hints and thoughts suggested by the plates, and not in
any real sense "keys" at all. Blake leaves each man to unlock the
innermost mystery of those designs for himself. They are steeped all
through in his own peculiar hues of thought, subjective to the very verge
of the subjectivity allowable to art, but each of them exhibits that
pictorial sense without which, however poetical and rare the meaning
expressed, they could have no _raison d'être_--no artistic right to exist.
They induce the mood which assists us to their sympathetic comprehension.

After the "Gates of Paradise," Blake began the production of the London
"Prophetic Books," but we will consider these in the next chapter, and
will conclude this early phase of Blake's work in book making by the
consideration of the "Songs of Experience," which appeared in 1794--five
years later than the "Songs of Innocence."

Again we take up the little book which was the first we handled in the
Print Room, for the "Songs of Experience" are bound with the "Songs of
Innocence." The Museum copy bears the double title on the first page as
well as the two separate ones, which occur appropriately before each book.
Into this first plate, with its kindling title flashing across the
page--"Songs of Innocence and Experience showing two contrary states of
the human soul"--Blake has wrought some of that intense and passionate
feeling which makes the work so valuable as much psychologically as

Two energetic and expressive figures, a male and a female, symbolize
Innocence and Experience, while flames of Desire and Aspiration burn
fiercely around them, leaping up to lick the letters of the title, which
lie on a ground of flickering and fainting colour.

In the "Songs of Innocence," the marriage of the poems and designs was
complete, and matter and form (poetic and artistic) attained an almost
complete identity.

Here, however, the case is somewhat different, the task to be accomplished
not being so easily achievable, for the mood is less lyrical and more

Experience is a hard teacher concerned only with this material life and
its limited conditions, and sets itself against the Innocence which
retains, in Plato's phrase, "recollections of things seen" by eternal man
before generation here. Experience has nothing to do with vision, but only
with facts, and it deals with the results of concrete experiment; never
with the flashing spark of heaven-sent inspiration.

Thus the "Songs of Experience" are of far less simple mood and single
utterance than their bright forerunners. Something of the remorselessness
of experience has passed into these lyrics--for lyrics they still are,
though Blake has lost the spontaneity and felicitous gush of melody which
came from him so naturally, so rightly, six years previously.


Of one--not spontaneous certainly, but created little bit by little bit
with unerring judgement and rich fancy, struck out like the embossed
design on a shield, each blow, each delicately graduated tap and touch,
bringing out in clearer relief the magnificence of the heraldic images--of
this poem, "The Tyger," it is impossible to speak too enthusiastically. It
is a grand piece of chased metal work, and Blake has done nothing better.
The fierce swift rhythm, imitative of the padding footfalls,

  Tyger, tyger, burning bright
  In the forests of the night,

called out Lamb's critical admiration, and no one was ever better
qualified than Lamb to appreciate our painter and poet. It is matter for
regret that he came across so little of Blake's work in either kind,
though we shall find him presently with something to say anent the
engraving of the "Canterbury Pilgrimage."

One wishes (profanely no doubt) that our artist had seen fit to make the
tiger that illustrates the British Museum copy, yellow and black, rather
than blue and bistre and red, which colours seem to have no natural
relation to the animal. Is it possible that this page was coloured by Mrs.
Blake's hand in these weird parti-hues?

The "Songs of Experience" are pitted like a dark contrast against the
sun-kissed radiance of the "Songs of Innocence."

One state of mind opposes itself aggressively against the contrary state
of mind. One set of impressions is recorded in opposition to the
impressions of sometimes the same things, sometimes their correlatives
taken from a widely divergent stand-point. Thus the Lamb in the "Songs of
Innocence" finds its contrast in the Tiger of the "Songs of Experience."
Infant Joy is set against Infant Sorrow, the ordered beauty and sweetness
of one Holy Thursday is the reverse of the despairing cry of pain uttered
in the other Holy Thursday. The Divine Image emits its celestial radiance
against the cynical brilliance of the Human Abstract, and that other
distorted Divine Image.

It is interesting to know that Blake issued the "Songs of Innocence and
Experience" at the modest price of from thirty shillings to two guineas at
first. Later in life he received four guineas for each copy, and during
his last years Sir Thomas Lawrence insisted on paying twelve guineas and
Sir Francis Chantrey twenty for copies.

At Messrs. Sotheby's sale of the Crewe Collection of Blake's works on
March 31st of last year (1903) the price reached for a very perfect copy
containing the four title-pages, was £300. The sum would have been wealth
to Blake, but it is the world's way, consecrated now by immemorial
tradition, to lay its laurels of reward and appreciation only at the
_dead_ feet of its great men.




"The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they
dared so roundly to assert, that God spoke to them, and whether they did
not think at the time, that they would be misunderstood, and so be the
cause of imposition?

"Isaiah answer'd. I saw no God nor heard any, in a finite organical
perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in everything, and as I
was then persuaded and remain confirm'd; that the voice of honest
indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote."
These words are quoted from one of Blake's "Memorable Fancies" in the
"Marriage of Heaven and Hell," and in some such vein as that which Blake
makes Isaiah describe, did he himself commence the writing of the
"Prophetic Books." The sense of his great, though somewhat indefinite
mission, came upon Blake gradually. Much of his time, even when engaged in
designing, engraving and painting, was spent in thinking immense and
original thoughts. They tyrannized over him, these thoughts, and instead
of his guiding their sun-ward and most daring flight, they drew him along
on their reckless course, sometimes bringing him to complete overthrow, as
did the horses of Apollo when driven by Phaethon.

In the same "Memorable Fancy" from which I have already quoted, Blake
continues, "Does a firm persuasion that a thing is so, make it so? He
(Isaiah) replied, All poets believe that it does, and in ages of
imagination this firm persuasion moved mountains: but many are not capable
of a firm persuasion of anything."

Blake, however, _was_. He had a fine contempt for argument and proof.
Nothing mattered to him but the inner witness, the lively intuition of
internal evidence. Convinced as he was of the cruelty of the fate that had
chained eternal man into the bondage of the life of the senses and the
division of the sexes; safe-guarding each self-hood from merging in the
universal, by laws of restraint and prohibition, Blake took upon himself
to proclaim a gospel of deliverance, to awaken man to the perception of
the Infinite which lay without the clogged-up chinks of his senses.

He passionately advocated--Blake, the peaceful citizen, the faithful
husband--the freedom of the senses, that all natural impulses should be
enjoyed to the utmost limit and with the frankest delight. The body is but
the accident of this life, and its free natural impulses may be trusted,
for everything that tends to freedom belongs to eternal life, he thought.

Christ was the supreme Saviour, but to his eyes the Christ of orthodox
religion was the God of this world, and therefore Christ needed to be held
up again before men and exhibited as He really is, before He could be
worshipped in truth.

And Jehovah was no other than Urizen, the cruel creator. In storm and
excitement, in wrapt ecstasy and complete carelessness of consequence,
Blake plunged into the sea of subjective mysticism, holding up from time
to time out of the swaying waters lipped with raging foam, some treasure
of thought, some broken image of speculative opinion for the world to gaze
at. The pity is, that Blake who, in the "Songs of Innocence and
Experience" and in his early poems, had so just, though instinctive and
irrational, a sense of the relation of poetic form to matter, as to weave
his lyrics into "a unity of effect, like that of a single strain of
music," should, in the "Prophetic Books" have suddenly lost, as it would
seem, all perception of the claims of his subject-matter to any body of
poetic form at all. The absence of almost all orderly sequence of thought,
and this total disregard of the paramount artistic obligations of form,
are the distinguishing characteristics of the mystic writings.

It must, however, be recorded in extenuation, that they were composed for
the intrinsic benefit which Blake himself derived from their creation.
Hints, symbols, rags of ideas set fluttering on the wind of his
ever-inventive imagination, suggested so complete a sequence of thought
and action to him, that he failed, in his passionate excitement and hot
pursuit of them, to reflect that he had forgotten to state for our
enlightenment that sequence which seemed to him so obvious. He was not
concerned to make his ideas or visions intelligible to the world (the
world must learn to decipher them for itself), for were they not fearfully
intelligible to himself, absorbing all his life and consciousness?

Like a man intent and fixed before a vast and ever-moving pageant, he
throws out a quick word of explanation, an occasional exclamation of
enthusiasm, to the blindfolded world at his side. So present is the
reality to his senses, that he feels only impatient with the dull creature
which requires so much explanation and description. "I have told you, and
you did not listen," he seems to say. But listen as we may, to the point
of an anguished intensity, the marvellous Vision, Representation, mystic
Something, which is being enacted before Blake, can, with the help of his
jerky and disjointed speech, be but vaguely and painfully guessed at by
us. Whatever virtue may reside in these dream-like books for the mystic
and the occultist, their poetry is not a winged and triumphant spirit any
more, but a poor, wan, and halting creature, creeping painfully upon the
earth on all fours. Swinburne writes on the subject with poetic eloquence:
"To pluck out the heart of Blake's mystery is a task which every man must
be left to attempt for himself, for this prophet is certainly not 'easier
to be played on than a pipe.'... The land lying before us bright with
fiery blossom and fruit, musical with blowing branches and falling waters,
is not to be seen or travelled in, save by help of such light as lies upon
dissolving dreams, and dividing clouds. By moonrise, to the sound of wind
at sunset, one may tread upon the limit of this land, and gather as with
muffled apprehension, some soft remote sense of the singing of its birds,
and flowering of its fields."

Let these gentle and appropriate words smooth the literary path of the
"Prophetic Books" for all who intend to read them. It will be a difficult
one for those who would study them seriously, even with the light shed by
Mr. Swinburne's and Messrs. Ellis and Yeats' pioneer lanterns, for the
road is rough and rock-bound, and shrouded, for the most part, in mist.

If we are forced to admit that in the prophecies Blake's power in the art
of poetry was declining, we shall have, on the other hand, the
satisfaction of seeing his art as draughtsman and colourist waxing in
grandeur, freedom and nobility. More than ever in Blake's strangely
sensitive pictorial temperament we find--to quote Pater's subtle
phrase--that "all things whatever, all poetry, all ideas, however abstract
or obscure, float up as visible scene or image." To many of his lovers,
the "Prophetic Books" are among his most precious gifts to us, not for
their intrinsic poetic value (which will be estimated in divers manners by
divers persons), but as being the vehicle of his finest art. The first one
we take up is the "Vision of the Daughters of Albion." (The daughters of
Albion, by the way, have little enough to do with the poem, their office
being merely like that of a Greek chorus, to hear the woes of the heroine
Oothoon and echo back her cries.) I am here referring to the one in the
Print Room, though the Library possesses an almost equally beautiful copy.
The book consists of eleven quarto pages, and appeared in 1793, just five
years later than "Thel," to whose mysterious and delicate beauty it has a
shadowy relationship. The thread of poetic suggestion running through it
like a streak of sunlight is not so easy of following as the broad golden
ray of "Thel." We are met at the very entrance by dim, unreal forms, with
strange names--Oothoon, the shadowy female around whom the story centres,
Theotormon, her jealous lover, and Bromion, a looming phantasmal
personage, not definite enough to be terrible, though he is the evil
genius of the piece. So now we are at last introduced to some of the
personages of Blake's curious mythology. The argument--a page of the most
delicate and energetic design, representing a radiant young woman
"plucking Leutha's flower," which, in the form of a man, leaps from the
blossom to her lips--contains in its two initial verses the clue to all
the ensuing legend. Oothoon is, according to Mr. Swinburne, the spirit of
the great western world, "born for freedom and rebellion, but half a slave
and half a harlot." Leutha is the spirit of sensual impulse and

Theotormon, to whom Oothoon wings her way across the seas, is the strong,
enslaved, convention-bound spirit of Europe. On her way, Oothoon is
ravished by Bromion, who appears to be merely brute strength personified,
and the jealous and revengeful Theotormon binds them back to back in a
cave by the sea, and sits down in utter wretchedness near by. All the rest
of the piece is occupied by the mournful wailing of Oothoon, who desires
to justify herself, and the sad answers of Theotormon, which make a
disquieting music like the wind among pine-trees.

Those who desire to know exactly what every vague phrase and unconnected
thought may be ingeniously supposed to symbolize, must be referred to
Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, who have possibly alighted on the real meaning
and intention of these wild fancies. No system, not even that of the Zoas,
ingenious as it is, seems quite to convince one that it is the ground plan
of Blake's work. For my own part I shall not attempt systematic
explanations of the "Prophetic Books," for which task, indeed, I am
entirely unfitted, but shall merely reserve to myself the right of making
suggestions as to possible meanings when they occur to me.

The beauty of the designs is the real glory of this and the following

The Argument and a very notable bit of decorative design and colour,
representing the Eagle of Theotormon in the act of descending and tearing
the beautiful, abandoned, white body of Oothoon, lying on a billowy cloud,
should be specially noticed.

There is one extraordinarily fine plate worked in flat, even tints,
representing Oothoon and Bromion bound back to back on the sea-shore,
while Theotormon, with head buried in arms, sits on a rock above in the
very abandon of stony grief. We have seen nothing of Blake's yet, so bold,
decisive, nervous. The massive modelling of the Bromion torso is happily
contrasted with the shrinking white slenderness of Oothoon. Beyond this
passion-torn group, a calm sea, under a mild afternoon sun, shines deeply
blue. We shall come across this plate again in the large book of designs
in the Print Room. There, it is heavy and opaque in colouring, and totally
different in mood, being gloomy and sinister in the highest degree. The
blood-red sun hangs like a lamp in stormy purple clouds. The sea is deeply
green. All is ominous. Much more like this latter plate, in colour,
than the one issued in the complete work in the Print Room, is another,
printed off the same plate, of course, but laid on with an impasto. It was
sold at Messrs. Hodgson's on January 14th, 1904, for £29. Neither it nor
that in the "Book of Designs" is so beautiful as the one from which our
illustration is taken. The plate in the Library copy is another variation,
being soft, mysterious and pale in colour. The clarity and brilliance of
the colour, however, must be seen to be appreciated, and this of course,
our plate lacks. The writing and printed outlines of this book are in dead
beech brown.


From "Visions of the Daughters of Albion," 1793. A printed and coloured
plate from the Print Room copy]

The next book appearing in this year, 1793, is entitled "America," a
prophecy. It consists of eighteen plates. For richness of invention and
design none of the books we have yet seen are equal to "America." The
Print Room copy is printed in a dull blue, with a very happy effect, while
the duplicate in the Library is in deep sombre green. Gilchrist says that
no one who has not seen a coloured copy can judge of the beauty and
splendour that adorn its pages. It is a difficult matter to see a coloured
copy, as the only one definitely known to exist for many years was Lord
Crewe's copy, which was sold last year at Sotheby's for £295. However,
another coloured copy has appeared from the hitherto unknown collection of
a lady in Scotland, and this I had the rare good luck to see before it was
sold at Messrs. Hodgson's in January, 1904, for £207. Indeed it is
beautiful, but with a quite other sort of beauty to that of the austere
blue-printed copy in the Museum. The two are so different in mood and key
as to seem like quite separate and distinct creations. Gilchrist says of
the coloured copy which he saw--Lord Crewe's--that so fair and open were
its pages, as to simulate an increase of light on the retina.

That which I examined had the brightness and delicacy of Blake's colour in
the earlier books, combined with the richness and grandeur of the later
ones, but happily without the opacity and heaviness that sometimes
accompany these later qualities.

Dürer's etching of "Melancholia" is the only thing in art to which the
design on the first page of "America" may be likened, but, in Beethoven's
words: "Es ist mehr Ausdruck der Empfindung als Malerei." A great winged
giant or Titan, with his despondent head bowed on his knees, and his face
utterly shrouded by falling hair, sits chained on the ramparts of the City
of Night. Seated on a stone below is a beautiful undraped woman with a
little naked child in her arms, and another leaning against her thigh.
Heavy clouds roll up behind the genii and the ramparts. The mood of the
picture is unutterable. The winged figure is red Orc, who will presently
release himself and shatter the religions of Urizen, bringing fire and
pestilence and famine in his train. He is Orc, the deliverer, but, like
his great prototype, he comes not "to bring peace, but a sword."

In the wild clamorous poem Orc is described as the "serpent form'd who
stands at the gate of Enitharmon to devour her children." Now Enitharmon
is a vast mythic being without any defined personality; she symbolizes
sometimes Space and sometimes Nature, while another facet of her various
character, as we shall presently discover, is Pity. She is the mother of
Orc, of whom, however, she is terrified, and the woman with the children
in the frontispiece represents, I think, the same Enitharmon.


Printed in blue, from the Print Room copy]

I cannot attempt to decipher the poem here. Before its roaring frenzy of
excitement one is rendered dumb. There is no story properly so called. One
merely gathers, that Orc releases himself in order to marry the shadowy
daughter of Urthona,--Ah! shadowy indeed! After this, terrible things
occur; in especial, that which may be supposed to symbolize the War of
Independence between England and America. Whatever the prophecy contained
in the poem, this much is clear, that Blake saw in the new world the home
and harbinger of Freedom, the foe of spirit-crushing conventions, of
shackling traditions and customs. Strangely do the names of Washington,
Paine, and the King of England read in connection with "red Orc,"
"Enitharmon," and the mighty shadows of the Blakean mythology. With all
his enthusiasm and patient sympathetic study even Mr. Swinburne has to
admit of "America" that "it has more of thunder and less of lightning than
former prophecies--more of sonorous cloud, and less of explicit fire."

But a far other verdict must be passed on the designs, of which our
illustrations afford a very good idea, at least of the British Museum
copy. From the first mysterious print to the last, every page is instinct
with vigour and invention, and the disposition of the writing and the
design on each page is in accordance with the most exacting and sensitive
feeling for composition and decorative effect. Blake had the gift of
decoration as Mozart had that of melody. He simply could not help being
decorative, though preoccupation with decoration as an end in itself was a
thing utterly foreign to his earnest and high artistic aims. In "America"
Blake's outlines are put in with a thick strong line, a singularly happy
method of expressing the bold designs. Plate 6, is specially interesting
as being evidently his first feeling out after the top part of the design
called Death's Door, which afterwards appeared in its perfected embodiment
in Blair's "Grave." The lower part of the same design which we saw first
in the "Gates of Paradise," is again repeated with differences in Plate 12
of the "America." The idea was a favourite one with Blake, and in its
various representations is always vigorously and poetically treated.

Plate 7, coming after so much that is alarming, exciting, or of sustained
grandeur, comforts the eye and heart with its delicate pastoral

A tree, with willowy bending sprays such as only Blake could draw, arches
over a green sward, whereon a ram with woolly fleece and heraldically
curly horns, lies sleeping. Beside him, on the grass, a naked child lies,
relaxed in slumber, while another, cushioned on the ram's soft back,
sleeps too, in joyous ease. In the coloured copy this page appeared
particularly rich and satisfying. It has a brilliant iridescent background
after the style of the first few pages of the "Songs of Innocence," but
less vernal, more autumnal, in its richness of colour.

In what strange dreams did Blake see the pale woman of Plate 13 lying on
the bed of ocean. Quick moving fishes flash around her body in the dim
blue twilight, and a sea snake is coiled about her legs. On the top of the
same page the body floating on waves is being torn by a vulture.

Many of the plates are quivering with flames which shoot up in spiral
tongues to play about the letters of the writing. Incidentally, the
writing used in "America" is more fluent--running into dainty pennons and
fluttering streamers of decoration--than any used before.

At the sale of Messrs. Hodgson's before mentioned, a single loose coloured
plate of the frontispiece to "America" (Orc chained by the wrists) sold
for £20 10_s._

We close "America" regretfully, for a wild enchantment emanates from its
pages, and entering into the spectator's mind makes him realize that
indeed "everything possible to be believed is an image of truth."

[Illustration: PAGE FROM "AMERICA: A PROPHECY," 1793

Printed in blue, from the Print Room copy]

In 1794 appeared "Europe, a prophecy." It has fifteen large plates, but
before dwelling on them a word must be said about the prophecy itself.
The prelude is the lament of a nameless shadowy female, who rises from out
the breast of Orc. She is also daughter to Enitharmon. Her complaint is
often musical enough if we could but know what it was all about:

  I wrap my turban of thick clouds around my lab'ring head,
  And fold the sheety waters as a mantle round my limbs,
  Yet the red sun and moon,
  And all the overflowing stars, rain down prolific pains.

Blake would seem to have got fairly drunk with the excitement of wild
words and musical phrases. There is little or no sequence of ideas, and
the prophecy which follows the prelude comes storming forth, full of
sonorous sound, but "without form and void."

All that can be made out from the din of frenetic words is that Enitharmon
calls upon her son Orc, "the horrent demon," to arise and bring with him
his brothers and sisters. But in the middle of her speech she falls into a
primaeval doze of some eighteen hundred years. Patient and painstaking as
the reader may be, an incident of this kind taxes his temper somewhat too
severely, more especially as it seems a gratuitously irritating freak on
Blake's part, without any apparent sense or reason to justify it.
Persevering, we find that while she is asleep all kinds of dire affliction
come upon the race of man, and the wild pelter of words and ideas hither
and thither continues to increase in fury. It is like the dancing of the
Dervishes--faster and faster, furious and more furious, higher and higher,
so quick at last that the eye cannot follow the movements,--and then comes
the breaking out of the wild demoniac cries, and the convulsive
excitement, which is finally satisfied with nothing but the letting of

After all this incoherent clash of words, full of "flames of Orc, howlings
and hissings, shrieks and groans, and voices of despair," Enitharmon
calmly awakes, "nor knew that she had slept, and eighteen hundred years
had fled," and proceeds with the roll call of her sons and daughters as if
nothing had happened.

Rintrah, Palamabron, Elynittria Albion's Angel, Ethinthus,
Manatha-Varcyon, Leutha, Antamon, Sotha, Thiralatha and Urizen are the
names of some of the spectral shadows which pass before the spectator.

It is a dream of Walpurgis Nacht, obscure and vague; its warrings being no
more than the dissolving shadows of fighting men partially discerned on a
dark wall.

But if Blake can no longer take us with him into the infinite on the wings
of his poetry, he can with his pencil create on a sheet of paper a world
of imagination, which in relation to this actual world is evanescent and
to some impalpable. But Blake's magic has caught and held it, as Peleus
caught and held the silver-footed Thetis, though she changed from one form
to another hoping to frighten him into letting her go, till tired of his
persistence she revealed herself to him in her own wondrous form. Even so,
Blake caught and held that which his imagination discriminated, undismayed
by conditions which cause some men's heads to reel, until he succeeded in
committing it to outline and colour.

The first plate represents "The Ancient of Days setting a compass upon the
face of the earth." (See Proverbs, viii. 27.) The Museum copy has a
passage from "Paradise Lost" written, or rather scrawled, in black ink
underneath the picture. One wonders whose could have been the irreverent
pen to deface in this way a page of the Master's work. The design itself
is one of the finest that ever came from Blake's hand. The thing is
tremendous! Involuntarily the mind seeks for its like only on the roof of
the Sistine. Blake's art owns no master, links itself to no predecessor,
save Michael Angelo.


Frontispiece to "Europe: a Prophecy," printed 1794

Print coloured by hand]

This was the last design to be repeated by his hand. On his deathbed he
executed it for his young friend Mr. Tatham. The latter refers to the
incident in a letter published in 1803, in the "Rossetti Papers":

"The Ancient of Days with the compasses was the subject that Blake
finished for me on his deathbed. He threw it down and said, 'There, I hope
Mr. Tatham will like it,' and then said, 'Kate, I will draw your portrait;
you have been a good wife to me.' And he made a frenzied sketch of her,
which, when done, he sang himself joyously and most happily--literally
with songs--into the arms of the grim enemy, and yielded up his sweet

The conception is of sublimity and boldness, and in the execution of this
particular plate the colour is laid on with great care, being shaded and
stippled to a high degree of finish. The attitude of the Architect of the
Universe is heroic, and is characteristic of Blake in his best manner.
Leaning far out from the centre of the sun itself, a grand male figure,
with hair and beard streaming in the wind of cosmic motion, measures the
space below him with a compass, indicating the orbit on which the world is
to travel.

The Museum possesses another edition, as a separate drawing, in one of the
portfolios, which we shall examine later. Mr. Sydney Morse possesses yet
another, which was on view at Messrs. Carfax's Gallery; and a fourth,
probably the finest of all these different renderings, was sold with the
title-page and three plates of "Europe," at Messrs. Hodgson's sale for

The frontispiece to "Europe" has a magnificent evil-looking snake on the
centre of the page, blue hills and distance seen through its mottled

"The Pilgrim," some verses by Ann Radcliffe, are scrawled on the blank
reverse of the leaf. The first and last time it may be supposed that Ann
Radcliffe found herself in such august company! All of the plates in this
book are defaced by the same handwriting.

Blake's writing and the engraved outlines are of a bluish green colour.

"Red Orc" is seen in the second plate climbing up the sky and about to
take his station on a bank of cloud outlined boldly against the blue.
Below him, in a limbo of darkness, three naked passions in the form of
demons are struggling together and falling down into the nether heavens.

On the page entitled "a Prophecy" a lovely angel takes her despairing
flight through the sky. Her wings merge from white and mauve to a deep
blue like that of a pigeon's neck, her beautiful feet gleam white against
the rosy cloud behind, and her hair falls over her face in abandon of
grief or fear or despair--we know not which. All the different and
delicate shades in an hydrangea are to be found in this plate, and would
seem to have suggested its subtle colour harmonies.

For pure melody of line the next plate surpasses it, however. Enitharmon,
fierce, beautiful, nude, descends in a cloud to awaken Orc, who lies face
downward on the earth, the outline of his figure suggesting a young
love-god rather than the fierce personality of the terrible Orc. Even the
flames about his head might be those of love. The colour is very delicate
and transparent.

Then follow two full-page interiors, which, in spite of the fine drawing
and colour, oppress, with the uncomfortable sensation of confinement,
airlessness! The fact is, that we are so accustomed to Blake's open air
windy wilds, and broad spaces of sky and cloud, that we do not feel at
home with him when he takes us within doors.

[Illustration: PLATE FROM "EUROPE, A PROPHECY," 1794

Printed and coloured by hand]

Another plate from the "Europe," the lines of which we reproduce,
represents two lithe nude women springing upwards with incomparable grace
and the true Blake vigour, among arching wheat stems. They blow horns
through which descends a fall of blight upon the corn. The decorative
rightness, the exquisite appreciation of the melodies of form, the
vitality of action, cannot be too much admired. And the colour! The tender
flesh-painting contrasted with the young green of the corn!--Yet Mr.
Swinburne, usually so intensely alive to the beautiful, and especially
Blake's beautiful, describes the plate in these terms: "Mildews are seen
incarnate as foul, flushed women with strenuous limbs contorted, blighting
ears of corn with the violent breath of their inflated mouths."

There is some delicate tracery of cobwebs, among leaves and greenery, on
another page, exhibiting Blake in a marvellously naturalistic mood for
once, and a final plate of a man rescuing a woman and child from fierce,
rolling flames. No one ever painted fire as Blake did, and over and over
again in his treatment of this favourite motive we shall have to own that
he is, as Mr. William Michael Rossetti says, in this respect at least,
"supreme painter."

As I do not know where to place the tiny book or pamphlet entitled, "There
is no Natural Religion,"--it having no date affixed to it,--I shall refer
to it here. It consists of eleven illustrated leaves, each containing in
the engraved text a didactic statement or thesis by Blake on this
favourite subject. Below the words, which give much illumination to his
peculiar opinions, are small, rough drawings made with a brush full of
heavy black, relieved in parts by outlines in sepia.



In studying the next book which Blake produced in 1794--the "Book of
Urizen"--it is necessary to disabuse our minds of the idea that Blake's
thoughts were not clear to himself. However confused and troubled they
appear to us, they were certainly clear as sunlight to him, but he failed
in the labour of reducing them to terms of intellectual definiteness, much
less to terms of poetic art. The excitement which these visions brought
upon his tremulous and sensitive brain seems to have induced a kind of
"possession," similar to that of the maenads at the festival of Dionysus
of old, so that no very consecutive utterance may be expected from him.
Yet there _is_ a kind of sequence in "Urizen," and the marvellous
illustrations to the book cannot be properly appreciated without holding
the thread of the so-called poem. Setting aside the ancient Biblical
tradition, our prophet undertakes no less a task than the writing of a new
Genesis, which in its naked horror and despair causes the very gods
themselves to hide their faces out of pity to the sons of men.

Urizen the creator, the god of restraints and prohibitions, becomes
self-inclosed and divides himself from Eternity and the Eternals.

[Illustration: TITLE-PAGE OF "URIZEN." PUBLISHED 1794]

In fire and strife and anguish he creates the world, "like a black globe,
viewed by the Sons of Eternity, standing on the shore of the Infinite
Ocean, like a human heart struggling and beating, the vast world of
Urizen appears." But after this effort he is laid in "stony sleep
unorganized rent from eternity." Los, who is Time, was then wrenched out
of Urizen, and suffers fierce pain in the act of separation and division.
Then, while Time works with hammers at his forge, fires belching around,
he sees, nay! appears to assist at, the further changes of Urizen. For the
"formless god" is gradually taking form, and inclosing himself in a human
body. He assumes bones, heart, brain, eyes, ears, nostrils, stomach,
throat, tongue, arms, legs, and feet. And now "his eternal life like a
dream was obliterated." An age of intense agony and stress was allotted to
the evolution and development of each created portion of the body.

Meanwhile Los "forged chains new and new, numbering with links, hours,
days and years."

When Los had finished his unwilling task, and saw Urizen all bound with
the chains of time, the senses, and the enclosing boundaries of his own
selfhood, "Pity began." This is another painful division and shrinkage,--

  In tears and cries imbodied
  A female form trembling and pale,
  Waves before his deathy face.

Her name is Pity or Enitharmon. She is also Space, and her union with Los
or Time naturally follows. The Eternals are so terrified at what Urizen
has done, that they enclose the new creation in a tent to hide it from
their sight, and call the tent Science. From the union of Space and Time
springs a child, Orc, hereafter the deliverer, whom the father and mother
chain with the chain of jealousy below the deathful shadow of Urizen.

Urizen then explores his new kingdom, and, looking on his teeming world,
he sickened, for he saw "that no flesh nor spirit could keep his iron laws
(of prohibition and restraint) one moment." So he made a great Web or
Net, and flung it over all, and this was called the Net of Religion. And
of his now finished Creation it is written,

  Six days they shrunk up from existence
  And on the seventh day they rested.
  And they blessed the seventh day in sick hope,
  And forgot their eternal life.

The evolution or changes of Urizen form the subjects of a great number of
the plates. Blake has wrought here through the pictorial medium as Dante
wrought the "Inferno" in his own art. The same high imagination, the same
passionate and unshrinking realization of it, the same terrible force are
integral parts of the minds of both artists, and inspire both works,
different in kind as they are and separated by centuries of thought and
feeling. No wonder that Linnell desired Blake in his old age to make
drawings from the "Inferno," "thinking him the very man and only to
illustrate Dante."

The prelude to the book is set in a tender and lovely key, very difficult,
however, to harmonize with what follows. It is not obvious why it occurs
here or what connection it has with the dark story of Urizen. The same
little picture will be found in the smaller Book of Designs, but there it
is quite differently rendered as to colour, and I think more beautifully.
Our reproduction is from the latter plate.

The cloud-like form of a beautiful woman, drifts across the sky, drawing
by the hand a little baby, with the ideal face of sweet infancy. There is
a delicious curve in the woman's body, a swirl of the garments, and a
quick, fish-like, darting movement about the action of the child which
contribute to the impression of flight through a buoyant atmosphere.

Turning over the pages of "Urizen" one terror after another takes the
breath and quickens the pulse. Urizen--or is it Orc?--his terrible face
averted, strides through a world of fire dividing the flames with his

[Illustration: LOS HOWLING

Colour-printed plate from "Urizen." 1794]

A human figure, snake-encircled, falls headlong into raging flames,
recalling a somewhat similar idea in "America." Los is next seen, howling
in fire, because of his painful separation from Urizen.

Poor solitary thinker! what shuddering emotions must have rent Blake as
his relentless hand drew and coloured the visionary appearances of these
monsters of imagination!

To the hot and lurid impression of Plate 6 succeeds one, in which a pallid
skeleton, bowed head between knees, sits grisly on the ground. Urizen
assumes bones. In much the same attitude, but now turned to the spectator,
the next plate shows us an arresting figure. An old man, nude, with white
hair, and patriarchal beard sweeping the ground, shows an upturned
despairing blind face. Suggestions of indescribable suffering are
incarnate in this design. I shall take the liberty of calling the type the
"Blake old man." We come across it again and again, and it instances his
tendency to concentrate all varieties into a type, to make his artistic
language as bare and simple and elemental as possible.

The story can be traced through all the plates. Urizen visiting his new
world forms a series of six wonderful plates, of which one is very Gothic,
representing as it does an amphibious-looking old man very like a gargoyle
sinking slowly through a world of water. It is a true grotesque.

The most poetic of all the pictures is, I think, the one which represents
the Birth of Enitharmon or Pity. Rising from a cloudy abyss with that
bubble-like buoyancy which Blake knew so well how to breathe into his
figures, a nude woman with body bowed in anguish floats upward. The face,
with its strange dim, tortured eyes, speaks of the suffering which only
the complex and self-conscious soul born of the mingled forces that
produced the French Revolution and the New Age is capable of experiencing.
The body is of wonderful beauty and purity. On the brink of the abyss from
which she rises like the smoke of a hidden fire, Los kneels with head
bowed in arms. His deep musings have brought forth this strange
sorrow-laden beauty.

Another picture, Humanity chained by the wrists and ankles in slavery, its
blind eyes raining tears, but with the light of Eternity like an aureole
behind its head, is seen waiting, waiting, with an endless and most
painful patience, for some final deliverance. Like Michael Angelo's "Il
Penseroso," "it fascinates and is intolerable." No more piteous or
significant symbol of humanity has ever been conceived, in the full
compass of its sorrow, its slavery, and its hope. Blake utters a
Promethean cry in "Urizen." He calls out on the creator for having
imprisoned and tormented us. A wild ineffectual cry enough, and one not
consistent with brighter and saner views, which he held as passionately,
but then,--it is Blake! And Blake was never able "to build a house large
enough for his ideas." The Print Room does not contain a copy of the "Book
of Ahania" which is a continuation of the theme of "Urizen," but short and

The small Book of Designs should be looked at in conjunction with "Thel,"
"Urizen," the "Daughters of Albion" and the "Marriage of Heaven and Hell,"
for the plates are repetitions from these books often far more rich in
colour and delicate in execution than those in the complete works.

The large Book of Designs contains, among many plates familiar in design
to us, though varied always in colouring, four, which we have not seen
before, and can see nowhere else. The first is a colour-print of morning
or Glad Day. It is a radiant design, but like many of these
colour-prints of Blake, somewhat the worse for time, having the paint
rubbed off and blackened in parts. Blake's colour-printing process was as
follows, according to the only extant account:


Reproduced from the "Small Book of Designs"]

He drew the outline heavily in chalk on a mill-board and put on the colour
diluted with oil or glue in thick patches, and printed the wet impression
off on to paper. He then worked upon this rough ground, when dry, in water
colour. But only in a few instances did he show complete mastery of the
ingenious method.

The second plate I would call attention to is a nightmare horror entitled
the "Accusers of Theft, Adultery and Murder." There are a trio of furies,
only male instead of female; the watermark of the paper is 1794. A similar
design, not so finely coloured, was sold at Messrs. Hodgson's for £15
10_s._ The third is a lovely little gem representing John the Baptist
preaching to a beautifully grouped crowd. Its fellow sold at the same sale
for £26 10_s._ The fourth represents a semi-nude figure, with head
downcast, sitting beneath the bent and blasted stump of a tree, while to
the left a woman nude and of remarkable beauty tosses a child high in arm.
It is thought that this plate may have been intended for a cancel in
"America"; for another one, more beautiful in colouring than this, which
was also sold at Messrs. Hodgson's, and for £42, was found to bear some
text from "America," faintly discernible under the colouring on the upper
half of the plate, which could be read only from the back.

In 1795 Blake produced the "Song of Los." The Print Room copy is heavy and
opaque in colour, though very splendid and rich, and the Library copy is
similar in most respects. It was evidently colour-printed after the method
described above, for the peculiar mottled backgrounds are an effect that
could not very well have been realized by any other method, nor even then
are they understandable, unless indeed Blake had a wooden stamp which he
impressed on the blobs of colour first laid on the paper itself.

The "Song of Los" is the Song of Time, and includes the "Songs of Africa,
and Asia." So now Blake has written a song of prophecy for each of the
four great parts of the earth. "Africa" deals in a wild incoherent way
with the rise of the various religions. Urizen delivers his laws of brass
and iron and gold to all the Nations. These were "the nets and gins and
traps to clutch the joys of Eternity," and Har and Heva--representatives
of natural humanity--find "all the vast of Nature shrunk before their
shrunken eyes," for the senses are the limits put upon perception.

  Thus the terrible race of Los and Enitharmon gave
  Laws and Religions to the Sons of Har, binding them more
  And more to Earth: closing and restraining:
  Till a philosophy of the Five Senses was complete.
  Urizen wept and gave it into the hands of Newton and Locke!

In "Asia" Urizen hears the despairing cry of his creation, and himself
shudders and weeps, but unavailingly. Orc is heard raging on Mount Atlas,
where he is chained down with the chain of jealousy. Orc is the Flame of
Genius, the true deliverer of the Race. He was chained by his father and
mother in fear of Urizen's jealousy, but we know that he will break free
at last, and bring his living fire into the hearts of the chosen of the

The book contains but five pages, of which the most beautiful is a design
of a boy and girl with arms wound around each other, running over a
hill-top, with a passionate sunset sky behind them. The "Book of Los,"
which must not be confounded with the Song, appeared in the same year. The
Print Room has no copy, so we must descend to the Library, which happily
possesses one. It consists of four chapters on the old themes, written
in a sort of metrical prose. The frontispiece, representing a woman in the
characteristic attitude so often adopted by Blake--the figure being seated
on the ground, with head supported on knees in a mysterious lone place
among rocks--is an arresting and powerful design. The writing in this book
is particularly fine and clear. It is the last of Blake's "London Books of


Colour-print from the Large Book of Designs in the Print Room]

What shall I say of "Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion"--this
longest and perhaps most mystical of all Blake's dithyrambic books?

It was written, as well as the "Milton," during the Felpham period, though
probably added to, and finally finished after his return to London.

Those who have heard the extraordinary tone-poem called "Also sprach
Zarathustra," by Richard Strauss, may not think it far-fetched to suggest
a parallel between revolutionary, chaotic, yet somehow great music, such
as it is, and the so-called poem of "Jerusalem." To the authors of both,
the classical, the established forms of expression belonging to their
respective arts, seem outworn, inadequate, cramped. They feared to trust
the new wine of their fermenting ideas to the old bottles of recognized
form, and each has invented for himself a way of escape--somewhat
dangerous, nay, almost suicidal--from the pressure of precedent, law, and
order. Strange harmonies, horrid discords, sweetness as of honey, to be
succeeded by a sharp acridity like that of unripe lemons, great marshalled
orchestral forms, and wild abortive sounds, tormenting alike to ear and
heart, are to be discerned in "Zarathustra," not without irrational
excitement, anger, dismay, and occasional delight on the part of the
hearer. And in "Jerusalem" is it not much the same?

With an Olympian audacity Blake writes, "When this Verse was first
dictated to me, I considered a monotonous cadence like that used by
Milton and Shakespeare, and all writers of English blank verse, derived
from the modern bondage of rhyming, to be a necessary and indispensable
part of verse. But I soon found that in the mouth of a true orator, such
monotony was not only awkward, but as much a bondage as rhyme itself. I
therefore have produced a variety in every line, both of cadences and
number of syllables. Every word and every letter is studied and put into
its place; the terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts, the
mild and gentle for the mild and gentle parts, and the prosaic for the
inferior parts; all are necessary to each other; Poetry fettered, fetters
the human race."

Self-assertion such as this is the apology for arts like those of Strauss
and Walt Whitman, and our very admiration for Blake's youthful lyrical
gift compels us to lament that his muse was brought at last, after those
early days of soaring flight, to wading through such quagmires of
so-called poetry as this and the ensuing book. Mysticism had engulfed the
poet in its dim cloud, though poetic phrases and passages like crystal dew
glitter amid the gloom.

The "Jerusalem" may be regarded as an attempted poetic statement of
Blake's mystic philosophy regarding the development of humanity and its
various states.

    I give you the end of a golden string
  Only wind it into a ball,
  It will lead you in at Heaven's gate
  Built in Jerusalem's wall,

writes Blake in the course of the book. Messrs. Ellis and Yeats have wound
it into a very tangible ball, taking the symbolizism of the four Zoas as
the clue to the whole mystery. Blake mentions the Zoas here frequently:
"Four universes round the mundane egg remain chaotic" (nothing could be
more true!) "One to the North Urthona; one to the South Urizen; one to the
East Luvah; one to the west Tharmas. They are the four Zoas that stood
around the throne divine." But if the symbolism of the Zoas is in reality
woven into the very tissue of the story, and forms its vital and coherent
argument, it must be discovered on some mathematical principle very
foreign, and, indeed, repugnant to the lover of true poetry. It is in no
sense obvious or sequential. The value of the book lies, not in its
poetical merit, nor even primarily in its mystic significance, but in the
insight which it affords into the byways of Blake's mind. The knowledge of
his opinions gained here (they have been shortly commented on in a former
chapter) enable us to form correct estimates of the scope of his plastic
art, and his outlook on the world. Messrs. Maclaggan and Russell have
edited a plain-typed and unillustrated edition of "Jerusalem," and promise
an expository essay on it to follow in due course, so that to earnest
readers its study will be greatly facilitated. The book is concerned with
one Albion, the father as it would seem of all created men, and Los (Time)
who is his friend. Jerusalem and Vala are his emanations--Jerusalem being
his wife. The city of Golgonooza--that is, I believe, Spiritual Art--is
also described, and bears its part in the story.

On page 13, line 30, we read, "Around Golgonooza lies the land of death
eternal; a land of pain and misery and despair and ever-brooding
misery"--the repetition of the word "misery," does not sound as if every
word had been studied and put in its place! But the idea that the
beautiful city of spiritual Art should be built in the midst of pain and
despair reminds one of a similar idea of Goethe's, "Art enshrines the
great sadness of the world, but is itself not sad." And the following
lines develop the suggestion, page 16, line 61: "All things acted on
Earth are seen in the Bright Sculptures of Los's Halls, and every age
renews its powers from these works. With every pathetic story possible to
happen from Hate or Wayward Love and every sorrow and distress is carved

The introduction of localities, streets and districts, has an almost
ludicrous effect, as for instance in the following lines: "What are those
golden builders doing near mournful ever-weeping Paddington?" Is it, one
wonders, a prophetic announcement of the erection of the Great Western
Terminus? Had Blake possessed the saving grace of humour, he would never
have committed such laughter-provoking solecisms as this and other
passages of the same kind. Humour is a means of restoring and keeping the
balances true. It assists the sense of proportion, and like a fresh wind
blows the cobwebs away; but, alas! Blake had no faintest trace of it.

In a kind of Dionysiac rage he has flung his noble ideas, original
conceptions, pell-mell into the cauldron along with mere windy,
mouth-filling rodomontade. There is a great deal of confused noise, but by
snatches we distinguish the half-drowned but heavenly music. The fact is
that his material (God-dictated, as he thought) so excited him that he was
unable to deal with it, unable to direct the heat of his genius into
fusing the heterogeneous mass into the perfect artistic unity. The vision
unnerved him, and he all but lost his balance. Well might he too have

    A veil 'twixt us and Thee, dread Lord,
  A veil 'twixt us and Thee,
  Lest we should hear too clear, too clear
  And unto madness see.

The illustrations to the book have all the concentration, power and grasp
which the literary matter lacks. The pages seem to throb beneath the
teeming forms of life with which his hand has adorned them. Each in the
disposition of the beautiful writing is a picture. Wild passionate little
figures, drawn with exquisite feeling, leap, climb, and fly about some of
the borders while on others the writing is interrupted and entwined with
creeping tendrils, or adorned with flames, stars, serpents, and
processions of insects--a riot of decoration.

"Jerusalem" is a folio of 100 pages, one side of each leaf only being
printed. From the first page to the twenty-fifth of the Museum copy the
writing is in black, while the designs are left white outlined in black,
on a dense sable ground. Pages 26 to 50 are in deep green, the printed
designs being sometimes finished by hand, the deepest tones being laid on
with a brush full of heavy colour. Pages 51 to 100 are again black and
white--the black being always of great intensity.

In the first plate a man is seen entering through a door into darkness,
with a lamp in his hand. This is our old friend Los entering into the dark
places of Albion's mind--Albion having turned his back on "the Divine
Vision." Curiously poetical suggestions are to be found in the title-page,
whereon a cherubim with covering wings weeps over a beautiful prostrate
female. This lovely body forms the central vein of a rose leaf, and is
incorporated in its vegetable life. But above the woman's head are the
wings that have become atrophied, and the moon and stars, like the eyes of
a peacock's feathers, are seen on them, suggesting reminiscences and
possibilities of spiritual development in "Vegetative humanity" beyond
verbal expression. Glanced at as a whole without discriminating the parts,
this fanciful and Gothic conception bears a strange resemblance to a
butterfly. Did not the Greeks find in the butterfly a symbol of the
immortality of the soul and its renewal in youth, and Blake, who was so
profoundly sensitive to analogies of this kind, was not likely to have
created this obvious resemblance accidentally. Everything is with him

Is it a dryad who lies outstretched on page 23 with the rising sap of her
vegetable life stirring within her fibrous extremities, and awakening her
to some dim half-painful consciousness. And below her, what hints of
strange buried gnomic life, of Titans convulsively heaving like volcanoes
in the dark earth, of creatures begotten of rocks and tree-roots, living
like the suckers of plants in the fissures and crannies of deep strata!

Again, on page 33 appears the beautiful weird fantasy that I have named a
dryad. The sun and the moon shine on her simultaneously, and her
rudimentary limbs appear now to be branches and again to be embryonic
wings. A sort of vampire bat is poised above her. At the top of the same
page a man with the world under his foot like a stool would seem to have
been saved fainting in the arms of an effulgent divine Being from some
threatening danger.

I pondered long over this design before finding the clue, which I now
believe is to be found in these words, on the previous page, in
"Jerusalem": "The reasoning spectre stands between man and his immortal

On Plate 53 is represented a woman sitting enthroned on a sunflower, her
double wings form a sort of baldachino above her head. She has a triple
tiara from which flames arise in a pyramidal shape, and the sun, the moon,
and the stars are contained in her vast wings. The vegetative human has
blossomed in the sunflower of spiritual life. No longer "the starry
heavens are fled from the mighty limbs of Albion," but instead of
separation there is a large union. "In every bosom a universe expands,"
and "everything exists in the human imagination," are words which help to
explain this curious design.


A coloured print of the same plate, very sumptuous and rich, was exhibited
in the Carfax Galleries in January, 1894.

A beautiful drawing on page 46 gives the meeting of Vala with Jerusalem
and her children, but as an artist's forms often contain more in them than
the obvious expression of a fact, so here one may permit oneself to see
another meaning underlying this, as the ancient text underlies the
palimpsest. Vala may also have an analogy with Death, who like a veiled
woman meets a mother with her children. As she lifts her veil, and looks
upon one among the group, the child takes flight and attempts to draw his
sister after him. Blake, who seldom made his faces characteristic, but was
satisfied with making them merely typical, has given this woman's face a
piteous expression of fear and entreaty.

A notable plate is that representing the Crucifixion, the motive of which,
when disengaged from the confused material of the book, is discovered to
be the bed-rock or foundation, the radical thought, at the base of
"Jerusalem" and the next work "Milton." Jesus the Saviour is Eternal
Imagination slain by men, who nail it to the "stems of generation," that
is, kill it through the opacity of the senses and the limitations of
sexual life. Just in the same way Orc, the deliverer, who is a type or
other aspect of Jesus, is Genius, and by man is nailed on to the rocks of
Mount Atlas.

Looking through the pages of "Jerusalem," vague memories of Norse sagas,
of dim carved stalls in old Gothic cathedrals, of the cold cellar-like air
that sighs through their aisles and chapels, come to one and cause a
delightful and yet fearful shudder. But the designs savour only in a
fleeting irrational way of these things, having a wholly unique character
of their own.

The "Prophetic Books" reproduced by Messrs. Ellis and Yeats are not taken
from the British Museum copies it may be as well to remark here, and the
variation in the disposition of the light and shade is great in the
various copies, though the outlines are always the same, being printed off
the same plate, of course. The finest known copy of "Jerusalem" was sold
at Messrs. Sotheby's among other Blake treasures belonging to Lord Crewe
for the sum of £83.

"Milton," the last of the published "Books of Prophecy," produced in 1804,
is a small quarto of forty-five printed pages, coloured by hand in the old
radiant manner. The preface, beautiful but sibylline, is an appeal to all
men to worship and exalt Imagination, which in ancient times in the
Christ-form, says Blake, "walked upon England's mountains green." "Would
to God that all the Lord's people were prophets"--that is "seers"--he
quotes with profound earnestness at the end.

The "poem" itself opens more intelligibly than most of the later books
with a mythic story concerning one Palamabron and the horses of the
plough; of Satan, who persuaded him to be allowed to drive the horses for
one day, and of the dire confusion, strife, and tragedy resulting from
Palamabron's consent.

The story bears a distant analogy to the Phaethon myth, for Palamabron
represents, according to Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, the "imaginative
impulse," while Satan is the dark angel who erects the barriers of reason
limited by moral laws and senses around humanity. It was impossible for
one to do the work of the other.

The definite incidents with which "Milton" so hopefully opens are soon
lost sight of, and the loosely-fitted framework, ill-adjusted and weak,
contains a tangled woof of mysticism, from which the end of the thread is
so difficult of extraction, that I for one must plead that the trouble of
"winding a golden ball" seems hardly worth while, though it is no doubt
possible and profitable to the student of mysticism. Milton's part in the
book is perhaps the hardest to decipher. But we find him undertaking a
journey from heaven, through earth and hell. "Milton" seems specially dear
to Blake because he made Satan the supreme study of his greatest poem.
Blake, as we know, had very original thoughts concerning Satan, and
regarded him as the world's angel of light, a most respectable person
indeed, for he is the enforcer of the moral law as evolved by divided
generative humanity.

Milton like Blake recognized this highly respectable aspect of Satan,
whereas the world, says our poet in "The Everlasting Gospel," frequently
mistakes Satan for Christ:

  The vision of Christ that thou dost see,
  Is my vision's greatest enemy,

and it creates an abortive kind of hell-bat to take the _rôle_ of
Satan,--a very confused state of affairs, which leads to no little
deception and opacity in men's minds. The old themes of free-love for the
sake of the spirit, and the denunciation of "Nature's cruel holiness,"
occupy much of the book, in which the mythic personages, Leutha, Rintrah,
Ololon, and Enitharmon move up and down in dream-like procession. The ease
with which these shadowy beings enter each other's personalities, divide,
and separate again into manifold emanations and spectres, suggest the
multitudinous globes into which a drop of quicksilver may be divided,
uniting again on contact into several large ones, and finally forming the
unit from which they were first divided. Fascinating as is the experiment
with mercury, it becomes confusing and even tiresome when the appearing
and vanishing parties are persons with names and presumably characters.

One passage full of the old poetical loveliness of which Blake had been
past master must be quoted. It shows that the beauty of nature at Felpham,
with its distracting fascination, entered the soul of the poet, despite
all theories and philosophizings.

    Thou hearest the nightingale begin the Song of Spring:
  The lark sitting upon his earthy bed: just as the morn
  Appears; listens silent: then springing from the waving cornfield, loud
  He leads the choir of Day! trill, trill, trill, trill,
  Mounting upon the wings of light into the great expanse:
  Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining shell.
  His little throat labours with inspiration, every feather,
  On throat and breast and wings vibrates with the effluence divine,
  All Nature listens silent to him, and the awful sun
  Stands still upon the mountains looking on this little bird,
  With eyes of soft humility, and wonder, love and awe.
  Then loud from their green covert all the birds begin their song.
  The thrush, the linnet and the goldfinch, robin and the wren,
  Awake the Sun from his sweet reverie upon the mountains.
  The nightingale again assays his song and through the day
  And through the night warbles luxuriant: every bird of song
  Attending his loud harmony with admiration and love.

To this passage succeeds another of like beauty, a Flora's Feast of colour
and scent.

    Thou perceivest the flowers put forth their precious odours:
  And none can tell how from so small a centre comes such sweet,
  Forgetting that within that centre Eternity expands
  Its ever-during doors, that Og and Anak fiercely guard.
  First ere the morning breaks, joy opens in the flowery bosoms,
  Joy even to tears, which the Sun rising dries: first the wild thyme
  And meadowsweet downy and soft, waving among the reeds,
  Light springing in the air, lead the sweet dance: they wake
  The honeysuckle sleeping on the oak: the flaunting beauty
  Revels along the wind: the white-thorn, lovely may
  Opens her many lovely eyes: listening, the rose still sleeps,
  None dare to wake her: soon she bursts her crimson-curtained bed
  And comes forth in the majesty of beauty; every flower,
  The pink, the jessamine, the wall-flower, the carnation,
  The jonquil, the mild lily opes her heavens: every tree
  And herb and flower soon fill the ear with an innumerable dance,
  Yet all in order sweet and lovely. Men are sick with love.

Oh! how gladly the ear and heart rest on passages such as these, after
toiling through the arid wilds of non-poetical occultism!

As usual the illustrations are turned to with keen delight. The iridescent
pages recall the charms of the "Songs of Innocence and Experience." Take
it all in all the colour in this last prophetic book combines a clarity
and brilliance of tone inferior to no other of Blake's. All is careful,
clear and precise, and there are no passages of heavy colouring or impasto

Forms, elemental, electric, indicative of unknown forces and conditions of
consciousness start from the pages. As in "Jerusalem," every page of
writing is adorned, but the colour adds the necessary charm to the
forceful designs. Plate 15 represents a muscular male--Michael Angelesque
in its modelling--leaping upon a rock and seizing by the shoulders a
languid old man. The young man is Milton, starting on his journey "to
annihilate the selfhood of deceit and false forgiveness." The old man is
Albion seated on the Rock of Ages, his legs immersed in the sea of Time
and Space, his nerveless arms supported on the tables of the Law. Above
them both, on a semi-circular plane of light, the Eternals are seen,
passing in procession in a kind of ecstatic choric dance. Three play on
instruments of music, while two others toss balls of light in joyous
abandon. The rhythmic character of these dancers, their robes fetched out
like clouds upon the wind, and the colour translucent and vivid as that of
a border of April flowers, makes one think of the fair works with which
Luca della Robbia has set the dark old streets of Florence, of which, as
some one has poetically said, they would seem to be the "wall-flowers."

The two other specially noteworthy plates are full-page designs, entitled
respectively William and Robert. It is evident that they are the spiritual
likenesses of Blake and that younger brother with whom he always
maintained such close communion. A burning star emitting fountains of
light falls beside each brother, while their bodies thrown backwards, and
their faces skywards, seem to indicate the abandon of themselves to
spiritual influences. The senses are not the limits put upon their
perceptions. The Infinite spirit, the "Poetic Genius," thrills through
their entire beings as the sunshine through a dewdrop.

Let not the profane smile when they learn that the star is in reality
Milton! For it is written, "so Milton's shadow fell Precipitant loud
thundering into the sea of Time and Space."

  Then first I saw him in the zenith as a falling star,
  Descending perpendicular, swift as the swallow or swift,
  And on my left foot falling on the tarsus, enter'd there.

So there can be no doubt as to what the star symbolizes in the design. The
articulation, the tense nervous drawing of these two figures is
remarkable, even for Blake, and the light throbbing with rainbow hues, and
the intense darkness, against which it is contrasted, are boldly handled,
while the weird colouring of the dead Robert, whose skin has the tone and
lustre of gun metal, conduce to make these two designs of great
imaginative appeal. Space has only allowed me to call attention to the
most remarkable of the plates in this and the other "Prophetic Books," but
enough has been said to indicate the extraordinary range of their


To see Blake's work of this kind is to enjoy a new experience. Many of the
pictorial representations we have reviewed seem to be disregardful of
Nature, if one dare say it, _above_ Nature altogether! Yet so clearly are
they discriminated, so minutely are the parts made out, that we are
compelled to realize that they are copied from visions definitely seen
by Blake's inner eye, and energetically seized upon by him. And it is this
quality in them which so powerfully acts on the spectator, assuring him
that indeed "More things exist in heaven and earth than our philosophy
dreams of." But besides these tremendous imaginative creations, there
occur touching and beautiful transcripts from Nature, low-lying hills,
under a great sky, waving field grasses and delicate spiders' webs
accurately observed and represented, as far as they go, proving that Dame
Nature was not so utterly repudiated by Blake but that at times he saw and
loved her for her own sake, in spite of all his theories.

Still, the great word for him--the only word fit to bear the burden of his
tremendous thoughts--was always, as with Michael Angelo, the human form,
which, in its varieties of type and action, seemed to him alone suited to
express his deep meanings and spiritual ideas. As for the prophecies
themselves, they can never be largely read, nor in any sense popular,
though, to use Mr. W. M. Rossetti's words, "a reader susceptible to poetic
influence cannot make light of them; nor can one who has perused Mr.
Swinburne's essay" (or, we may add, Messrs. Ellis and Yeats' work) "affect
to consider that they lack meaning--positive and important, though not
definite and developed meaning." So now we take leave of these mystic
books of revelation, which, whatever our personal estimate of them may be,
stand alone in literature for intrinsic and unique qualities.



Blake's work in illustration is considered by many persons to be finer
than the embodiment of his original conceptions in art.

There is perhaps something to be said for this point of view. In the
designs to the "Prophetic Books" his over-heated brain attempted the
production in visible images of conceptions not matured--hints, scraps,
vague but immense suggestions. His unfettered imagination set sail on a
shoreless ocean of speculative thinking, and kept to no recognized course,
made for no definite port. Roaming hither and thither on the wide dim sea
of his ever-shifting thoughts, we sometimes long to see his imagination at
work in a more limited, a more definite area.

And so when other minds circumscribed this area, giving him a central pole
around which to group his ideas, we find no loss of individuality, no pale
reflection of another's conceptions, but a passionate concentration of
original thinking on the subject prescribed, resulting in the development
of an unsuspected point of view, a new aspect.

I am not speaking of illustrations such as those he executed as mere
task-work to gain a living, like the engravings to Mary Wollstonecraft's
Stories, or those for Hayley's Ballads. For these subjects had not enough
matter, depth or scope to attract his thoughts or engage his sympathies.
As illustrator to Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, Virgil and the Book of Job,
Blake worked with all his best and most characteristic powers under his
command, and the more effective, vital and original for being

In the same year in which he produced the last of the "London Books of
Prophecy," 1795, we find him illustrating a so-called translation of
Bürger's "Lenore." In spite of the weakness and wilful inaccuracy of the
English version, Blake seized with power on the spirit of the Teutonic
legend, and gave the edition, a copy of which is in the Print Room (a
quarto), three fine designs, of which the first is the most forceful.

We cannot linger over the designs which Hayley commissioned Blake to
execute for his "Ballads on Animals." From the engraver's point of view
they are specially fine, as the execution is very delicate, and reaches a
state of high finish seldom attempted by Blake. Perhaps he wished to atone
for paucity of inspiration by elaborate labour. Certain it is that he
worked in bonds and trammels. The subjects were not interesting to him.
Hayley might well say, in his lumberingly playful way, that "our good
Blake was in labour with a young lion," when he was engaged on the plate
representing that animal. The labour was immense, for the conception had
no vitality. Blake scourged his imagination into a degree of liveliness
sufficient to make "the Horse" and "the Eagle" arresting and uncommon
work, but the shackles were on his hands, because on his spirit, and he
knew it.

Young's "Night Thoughts," which we take up next, bears the date 1797.
Blake made no less than five hundred and thirty-seven water-colour
drawings for this poem, but only forty-three designs were eventually
selected for publication, and these were reproduced as uncoloured
engravings. Till a short while ago, Mr. Bain of the Haymarket possessed
the whole series of water-colour drawings, but they have now passed by
purchase into the hands of an American collector. Through the kindness of
Mr. Frederic Shields, who many years ago made tracings and copies from the
unpublished designs, I am enabled to give reproductions of some of the
most striking, though of course not in colour. (It will be remembered that
Mr. Shields wrote the very powerful chapter on Young's "Night Thoughts"
which is included in the second volume of Gilchrist's Life.) The designs
published with the poem are larger than those we are accustomed to see in
Blake's books, and the disposition of them on the pages, of which the
middle is occupied by the printed type enclosed in rectangular spaces, is
not effective. We miss our artist's beautiful fluent writing, and the type
produces a bald staring impression on the beholder. When, too, the head
and shoulders of a figure appear above the placard and the feet and legs
below, as in one or two plates, we are irresistibly reminded of sandwich
men. The want of colour also is a crying need in these large, pale,
somewhat flat plates. The engravings are executed with great lightness,
though with a certain monotony of line. They are slightly shaded, and have
a distinguishing quality of purity and breadth. What luminous conceptions
and stimulating fancies they contain! though it must also be admitted that
there are a few plates which seem unworthy of Blake, being diffuse, tame,

Plate 16 represents the "Aspiration of the Soul for Immortality" in a
beautiful symbolic female figure holding a lyre and fluttering upward, but
confined to the earth by chains around the ankles.

Plates 25 and 26 are, perhaps, the most tremendous in the book. In one
Time creeps towards the spectator, while in the other he half-leaps,
half-flies in his headlong course away.


Engraved plate from Young's "Night Thoughts," published in 1797]

As one turns the pages one is fain to exclaim of the artist that he
breathed the fine thin air of the mountain tops, that indeed he lived "in
the high places of thought."

I have an impression that Blake drew much of his inspiration from watching
the ever-changing cloud forms of the sky. We know that his designs gained
actually very little from the beautiful natural scenery of Felpham, that
indeed Nature seemed to close round him like a wall. "Natural objects
always did and do weaken, deaden, and obliterate imagination in me," he
wrote in his MS. notes to Wordsworth. Strange words to come from a
painter-poet. A top room in London with a good view of the sky were all
the conditions which he found necessary for the expression of his genius.
In the vastness of the heavens, clear and deeply blue, or peopled with
glistening clouds, or set with large peaceful stars, which spread
themselves before his upward gaze, Blake found that impetus to creation
which most genius finds in nature or humanity.

He had set himself the task of probing the world of appearances, and
revealing the world of spiritual causes. To say that he succeeded in
representing this pictorially would be to assert that an impossibility had
been achieved, but he got nearer to the goal than any other artist before
or since, not even excepting D. G. Rossetti and G. F. Watts, whose
affinity with Blake's genius is as close as their manifestation of it is

The better to realize his aim Blake stripped his drawing of everything
that was not essential to the idea he wished to represent. There is never
a single redundant accessory. He never stayed his upward or outward flight
to represent a lovely landscape, woman's dainty dress, flashing jewels,
bloomy fruit. Typical or merely suggested natural scenes under a great sky
are the usual settings of the human forms who were to him, as to his
master Michael Angelo, the only language coherent enough to express the
innerness and the infinity of spirit.

He seldom chose to inclose his figures in interiors, and such drawings as
he has left of places from which the sky cannot be seen are so rare as to
startle when we come across them. It may be that from Blake Walt Whitman
learned to say, "I swear I will never mention love or death inside a

The sea fascinated his imagination, and he has left characteristic records
of it. But for the most part that which he saw with his "corporeal eye"
appeared to him as merely the type of what was unseen. He climbed along
the jutting peninsula of sense to its farthest point, where, giddy with
the immensity of the unsuspected forces revealed to him, he clung, neither
angel nor mortal, but partaking to a certain degree of the conditions of
both. When in this mystic condition of consciousness he focussed his mind
on the "Night Thoughts," the pencilled ideas resulting are liberal,
spacious, empyrean.

But Blake's most forcible and poetical thinking on the subject of Death is
crystallized in the delicately gleaming drawings for Blair's "Grave."

True, the drawings are not reproduced in Cromek's edition of the poem as
they left Blake's hand. The story of Cromek's mean transaction has already
been retold in these pages. Schiavonetti's plates, beautiful and fluent in
execution as they are, have lost that peculiar rugged character, that
almost galvanic energy which stamp the original drawings with Blake's
hallmark. It must be borne in mind that engraving may alter original
drawings much in the same way as does the transposition of a musical
phrase from the original into a foreign key. The melody is the same, but
the mood of it is different. It becomes dull instead of bright, or
plaintive instead of triumphant. Schiavonetti's transposing of Blake has
made the designs more sweet and less strong, or perhaps less vehement. It
is Blake in a new aspect, one so obviously beautiful that all the world
admits its loveliness. It is Blake arranged for the many, not Blake for
the intimate few!


Engraving by L. Schiavonetti after design by Blake. Published 1808]

The stanzas he wrote in dedication to Queen Charlotte form such a fitting
introduction to the plates that we quote them:

  The door of death is made of gold
  That mortal eyes cannot behold,
  But when the mortal eyes are closed
  And cold and pale the limbs reposed,
  The soul awakes and wond'ring sees
  In her mild hands the golden keys.
  The grave is heaven's golden gate,
  And rich and poor around it wait.
  O Shepherdess of England's fold,
  Behold this gate of pearl and gold.

  To dedicate to England's Queen
  The visions that my soul has seen,
  And, by her kind permission bring,
  What I have borne on solemn wing,
  From the vast regions of the grave;
  Before her throne my wings I wave,
  Bowing before my sov'reign's feet.
  The grave produced these blossoms sweet,
  In mild repose from earthly strife;
  The blossoms of eternal life.

And now Blake comes to close quarters with the subject that had haunted
him all his life, the dark web on which he had woven so many bright,
half-defined fancies.

Again we discern a _point d'appui_ between him and Michael Angelo. The
thoughts of neither of them were long away from death. Michael Angelo
wrestled with the dark angel and brought away from the encounter the
profound and intimate thoughts that he has enshrined in the Medici Tombs
of San Lorenzo. Never has the human soul--save perhaps
Beethoven's--apprehended more closely the mystery, the terror, the mingled
shrinking and awe of the grave, yet at the same time its hope, than he did
in the Sacristy of the Medici Chapel. And in all plastic art, the only
things to which these fateful sculptures may be likened in their qualities
of rapt and sincere thinking, united to imagination and insight, are the
designs, which Blake made to illustrate Blair's "Grave."

The great Florentine, it is true, wrought colossally in enduring marble
before all the world, while the obscure Blake, two centuries later, traced
out his thoughts on paper, his designs being known to comparatively few
persons; but the conceptions of the two brains are allied, and the works
of the two hands are own brothers.

Blair's conventional and smooth verses in Blake's case have nothing to do
with the matter. They merely form the pegs on which he cast the great
garment of his thoughts. Death--the Grave!--his intense and fervent spirit
so brooded on the subject that the result is no mere illustration of
Blair's text, but invention. The poem in his handling has enlarged itself
out of all knowledge, and turned to us an unfamiliar face, new and
enriching conceptions. Blair merely indicated the track on which his
pioneer spirit journeyed heedfully and musingly, through the dim country
of Death. Piercing all conventions, all accepted theology, he would fain
seize the very heart of the elusive mystery. "What _is_ Death?" he asks;
"let me peer into the grave unshrinkingly and see for myself." And from
the grave he brings this triumphant answer, "Death is Life, this Life only
is Death; you have but to die to conquer Death"; or in Walt Whitman's
prosaic but arresting phrase, "To die is different from what anyone
supposes, and luckier."

We reproduce the most significant of the plates.

In "The Soul exploring the Recesses of the Grave," we see a shuddering yet
resolved man determinately bringing himself to the close contemplation of
death. He remains above the vault on the hillside trying to pierce the
moonlit earth with his limited human vision; but his imagination, his
soul, penetrates where he cannot enter--yet!

In the likeness of a fair woman with a lamp, like the Greek Psyche, she
tiptoes delicately into the arched hollow beneath the hill, and gazes
alarmed but steadfast on a dead body wrapped in flickering flames. It is
to be noted that the man whose soul regards death so closely is already on
the mountain tops, he has "lifted up his eyes unto the hills," and his
figure set against the sky has an indefinable air of separateness from
ordinary humanity.

The plate entitled "The Soul hovering over the Body reluctantly parting
with Life" satisfies with a strange and unearthly delight. No Diana ever
hung more yearningly above her Endymion than this beautiful and tender
soul lingers, in loving reluctance to part, above the stiff human tenement
she has just quitted. Presently she will take her darting flight through
the window and over the mountains and up into the illimitable glory of the
distant sunrise. There is the hush and the blessedness of a great silence
on this dim silver dawn, suggesting the spiritual correspondence between
it and the dawning life of the newly-released soul. Was it a recollection
of that younger brother, Robert, so dearly loved, that taught Blake the
pathetic dignity of the composed limbs, the sculptured calm of the dead

The "Death of the Strong Wicked Man" is a savage contrast to the peace,
the musical pause, of the last-mentioned design.

In "Milton," Blake writes:

  Judge then of thyself; thy Eternal Lineaments explore,
  What is eternal and what changeable, and what annihilable.

And he answers the question in the forms given to these passing souls,
some being closely analogous to their mortal appearances, others changing
even to sex, while others again have passed from age into a state of
perpetual youth.

This latter is the case in the plate called "Death's Door." "Age on
crutches is hurried by a tempest into the open door of the Grave, while
above sits a young man--'the renovated man in light and glory'--his
beautiful young head thrown up to the sky, his mouth full of inspired
song, his whole virile body expressing ideal beauty, rapture, glad new

No one but Michael Angelo could have drawn with strong felicitous hand the
glorious youth atop of the grave as Blake has done. The whole allegory is
so intellectually definite, so succinctly expressed that thought and its
body form are here identical. But the strangest flower of his thoughts on
the grave, blossoms in the picture called "The Re-Union of the Soul and
the Body." Descending like a bolt from the blue, cleaving the smoke
ascending from the fires of consuming materialism, the soul embraces with
passionate joy the strong male body, which struggles from the grave to
enfold her. Cleansing and fusing fires flame around them. The beauty of
the drawing--the melodious curves of the downward plunging "soul," the
delicious foreshortening of the leg, the swirl of the white drapery--has
stricken into poetic lines the forcefulness of flight, the passion of
re-union. This emotional conception moves the heart strangely. It is the
promise of St. Paul here visibly consummated, that a spiritual body shall
at last clothe the shivering unhoused soul.


Engraving by L. Schiavonetti after design made by Blake. Published 1808]

"States change," Blake wrote, "but Individual Identities never change nor

And now take last of all, but not least, the plate called the "Day of
Judgment." Nothing daunted by the long array of "Last Judgments" that have
been executed from Orcagna to Michael Angelo, Blake must needs give _his_
rendering of the subject; and an original one it is, though he can hardly
avoid--even _he_!--the traditional disposition of the main parts of the

But what freshness, what new life and new motives he has introduced into
this subject, hoary with extreme age. The spirits ascending into Paradise
are as lovely as heart and eye of man could wish. Orcagna's conception of
the beatified souls in Santa Maria, whose profiles Ruskin likened to
"lilies laid together in a garden border," is not more delightful in its
artless way than is Blake's. The children of wrath, snake-encircled,
howling, and falling head foremost into the abyss, recall the terrors, the
uncouth and wild imagination of "Urizen" and one of the plates in
"America." But here Schiavonetti's graceful and civilizing hand has passed
over each figure, and he has contrived in some indefinable way to smooth
away the too austere and savage strength of this latest born of the "_Dies
illa_" of art.

I have not mentioned the first plate, which represents Christ with the
Keys of the Grave in his hand, because my function is chiefly that of
praise. But I ought perhaps to point out, what is however painfully
obvious, that Blake always failed in any attempt to represent Jesus.
Whether he was hampered to a degree beyond his strength of liberation by
the traditional likeness, the type ascribed to the Saviour, and so could
not work in freedom, it is impossible to say authoritatively. But this
traditional face of Christ, ploughed as it is into the heart and memory of
humanity, probably arose and disturbed his own soul's independent vision
whenever he tried to fix his imagination on the ideal lineaments.

If this were the case, then indeed it is proved beyond question that
Blake's work is almost valueless when it is not dependent on his own naked
perceptions, his inward recognition of facts, disregardful of all outward

Blake's next work in illustration was done for Dr. Thornton, who projected
an English edition of Virgil's "Pastorals" for the use of schools, with
Ambrose Philips' imitation of Virgil's first eclogue. They were the first
and the only woodcuts Blake ever did, and though they bear traces of an
unpractised hand, "he put to proof art alien to the artists," and showed
his essential mastery of this means of expression in a manner which more
than reconciles one to his slight defects of method.

Gilchrist is of opinion that the original designs were a little
marred--lost somewhat in expression and drawing in transference to the
wood; but Mr. Laurence Binyon, who has lately studied them closely, and
has reproduced them with admirable truth, holds a different opinion. He
writes, "Blake's conceptions in these illustrations did not take their
final form in the drawings; they were only fully realized on the block
itself. Hence they have the character of visions called up as if by
moonlight out of the darkened surface of the wood, and seem to have no
existence apart from it."

They instance the power Blake had in a remarkable degree of concentrating
in a few types the essence of his subject. In these blocks it is pastoral
life--flocks feeding in lonely stretches of country, the still peace of
hills, the might of tempest--that he concentrates and expresses by the
roughly executed but exquisitely felt little scenes which are the
consummation of his insight into the large natural life of the earth.


Blake did in these woodcuts, what he could never have achieved, had he
sought to do so, in any other of the branches of art practised by
him,--namely, he gave truthful because extremely simple impressions of
Nature as she appears in her rarer moods. Master as he was of linear
design, he was too neglectful of tonic values to interpret with any
delicacy the effects of landscape in water-colour or engraving. But here,
the very nature and limitations of woodcutting, its necessary economy of
means, enabled him for once to express effectively and adequately his
great simple generalized impressions.

These pregnant suggestions of his induce a mood sympathetic with the
deeper and subtler chords of pantheism.

In one of the most beautiful, but at the same time one of the simplest of
the blocks, all the witchery and solemn charm of a remote pastoral
neighbourhood is represented in a few typical rural images.

A solitary traveller journeys along a road winding deep between hills, in
the last beams of the setting sun. Blake has endowed this darkened
landscape with I know not what suggestions of watchful intentness. The
wayfarer in some mysterious manner is in its power!

                      Hands unseen
  Are hanging the night around him fast.

And again:

  The place is silent and aware,
  It has had its scenes, its joy and crimes,
  But that is its own affair.

These words of Browning's are singularly apt to express the delicate and
profound hints in this little woodcut. The wonderful thing is that Blake
_could_ convey so much on a slip of paper about three inches by one and a
half in size.

In all the plates we find this strange accent laid on Nature, her
awareness, her sombre fateful moods, her listening, and the long patience
of her endless waiting. The oft-repeated motive of the shepherding of
flocks is treated in no glib or merely idyllic manner, but has the sort of
holy peace that befits that most ancient and most gentle of all the
occupations of men.

An appreciative critic has said anent these woodcuts, that they prove
conclusively that "amid all drawbacks there exists a power in the work of
the man of genius which no one but himself can utter fully."

The truth of this remark must be felt by all Blake's admirers with double
force and poignancy when they think regretfully of Blair's "Grave,"
wherein the designs, being engraved by another hand than the father of
them, have lost some indefinable note of character belonging to Blake's

And now we come to the greatest series of engravings on a religious
subject that have appeared since Albrecht Dürer. The inventions to "Job"
are the crown of glorious achievement on the strenuous and austere life of
the artist-poet, and of all his work there is nothing so perfect in the
dramatic development of the subject, the broad, forceful yet delicate
execution, and the poetic sensibility which animates the entire series.

It appears that Blake's lifelong friend, Mr. Butts, bought from him a
series of twenty-one water-colour drawings or "Inventions" from the Book
of Job.

(This set of drawings, be it remarked, together with twenty-two brilliant
proof impressions on India paper of the engravings afterwards made from
them, were sold to Mr. Quaritch on March 31st, 1903, at the sale of the
Crewe collection of Blake's works, for the sum of £5,600.)

I have seen one water-colour (presumably not one of the original set done
for Thomas Butts, though probably a repliqua) of Satan pouring a vial
containing the plague of boils on the prostrate body of Job. It is
interesting to compare it with the final form the design assumed in the
engraving (Plate 6 in the Book of Job) done for John Linnell. Owing to the
courtesy of Sir Charles Dilke, to whom the picture now belongs, we have
been enabled to reproduce it. It will at once be seen that, in the
engraving the management of the light is more satisfactory, because it is
comprehensible, than in the water-colour; while the cloud-forms are less
conventional and rounder. The bat-like wings with which Satan is furnished
in the painting have been sacrificed in the engraving. Job's wife has been
put into tone, whereas in the water-colour, the visible side of her, which
ought to have been in dense shadow, was in full light. The whole design
has been pulled together, gaining an impressiveness and unity altogether
wanting in the earlier work. Blake's passion for "determinate outline"
(irrespective of its appearance in Nature), and contempt for truth of tone
in colour, gives the water-colour a mapped-out definitive appearance in
its background of scenery,--despite the magnificent qualities of
imagination and draughtsmanship displayed in the treatment of the
figures,--which somehow recalls the work of such masters as Paolo Uccello.

Mr. Linnell, deeply impressed with the lofty and imaginative character of
the water-colours done for Mr. Butts, commissioned a complete set of
engravings to be executed from them by Blake's hand, for which he paid
£150 in instalments of £2 to £3 weekly--the largest sum Blake had ever
received for any one series.

On glancing through them it will at once be noticed that his style of
engraving had undergone a change during the last period of his life.

"The Canterbury Pilgrimage," which he had executed fifteen years
previously, exhibited the old hard and dry manner of engraving which he
had adopted from Basire in its most accentuated form. (For the convenience
of classification I have included that picture among the loose drawings,
engravings, and water-colours for consideration in a later chapter, but it
would be well for the student to look at it now, the better to appreciate
the freedom, grace and power of the engravings in the "Job" series.)

On one of the many pleasant days Blake spent with Linnell at North End,
Hampstead, the latter showed him some choice engravings of Marc Antonio
and his pupil Bononsoni, and from this latter's work Blake suddenly
apprehended the possibilities, the scope, that lay for him in the
engraver's art. In the school of Basire much of the work was accomplished
by a laborious and indiscriminate process of cross-hatching.

It is true that Blake by the sheer force of his genius had made this style
answer in a manner to his needs of expression, but it was work performed
in an unnecessarily confined technique.

When he came to study the Italian school of engraving he found to his
delight that every stroke was made to tell. Nothing blotchy or muddled, no
careless cross-hatching, no "lozenges or dots" were admitted, and Blake
quickly appreciated the wider range of effects obtainable by this Italian
manner, and engrafted its main principles on to his own characteristic
style. Of that characteristic style, as we know, the beauty of outline,
the care for its preservation whenever possible, was the main principle.
And here in the school of Marc Antonio and Bononsoni he found that
principle adopted as the basis of beauty in engraving, every other
consideration being made subservient to it. The conflict and want of unity
of effect, resultant on making compromises with other principles of
art,--such as subtlety of modelling, delicate distinctions in values,
imitation of textures, intricacy of detail,--had not disturbed the dignity
of the Italian school, which consciously sacrificed variety and a wide
range of effects in order to keep the work of the burin as broad and
simple as possible, the outline always being insisted on as the chief
subject of alterations, while the shading and modelling were
comprehensively indicated by long curved lines, close together, only
crossing and intersecting in the darkest parts. The beauty and freedom of
the "Job" engravings are a revelation of the final grace and power
achieved by Blake through his appreciation of the legitimate functions of
an art pre-eminently concerned with line.


Engraving, published March, 1825]

The Book of Job is one of the world's great epics. It voices man's need of
belief in God; it is the cry of one pierced to death with the arrows of
misfortune, yet asserting with passionate faith, "Though He slay me, yet
will I trust in Him." Earthquake, famine, bereavements, pestilence cannot
eradicate from man the deep-rooted assurance that God not only exists, but
is just and loving, and the Book of Job is the supreme poetical expression
of this fundamental belief.

As such, it welded itself into Blake's imagination, and the designs he
made to illustrate it are worthy in all respects to be set alongside the
ancient tragic text.

Plate 1 represents Job, his wife, and their sons and daughter kneeling
around them, praising God at the rising of the sun. Their flocks and herds
surround them, and a noble tree--on which their musical instruments are
hung--overshadows them; in the background, at the base of rocky hills, a
Gothic cathedral is daringly set, to typify the soul of worship made
visible. "Thus did Job continually." The border that surrounds the
finely-wrought plate is very slight but decorative and thoughtful. An
altar with a flaming sacrifice upon it is indicated, with these words
inscribed upon its front:

  The letter killeth,
  The Spirit giveth Life,
  It is spiritually discerned.

While, above, the words,

  Our Father which art in Heaven,
  Hallowed be Thy name,

set the keynote to the whole work.

Plate 2 contains no less than twenty-three figures, and two scenes are
being enacted simultaneously.

Job and his wife still sit beneath the tree with their children, but above
them we see the heavens open and God giving power to Satan, who strides
like Urizen through flame, to test the uprightness of His servant Job.
"This was the day when the sons of God came to present themselves before
the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before God."
The border is exquisite, light as gossamer, and containing in its fine
web-like lines beautiful suggestions. Angels with heads bent beneath
Gothic tracery receive the flame and smoke that are the thought-sacrifices
of two shepherds, who mind the sleeping flocks in their fold. The next two
plates are (3) the Destruction of the Children of Job, and (4) the
reception of the news by Job and his wife.

Plate 5 is one of the finest of the series. Job and his wife, sitting on
the ruins of their home, give of their straitened means to the blind and
halt, while "the angels of their love and resignation," as Gilchrist
sympathetically terms them, hallow and beautify the scene. But above, the
Almighty sits enthroned, with an expression almost remorseful, and the
angels shrink away in horror, for He has given Satan leave to try Job
to the uttermost, only reserving his life. "Behold he is in thy hand, but
save his life." Satan, with face averted from the sublime spectacle of Job
in his affliction, has concentrated the fires of God into a phial which he
is about to pour on his head.

[Illustration: PLATE V FROM "THE BOOK OF JOB," 1825


The border is symbolically woven with writhing snakes and thorn-set
brambles, among which quick darting flames find their way upwards.

And then follow Plates 6, 7, 8, the workings of the Evil One, the coming
of the three friends to Job, and Job raising himself in agony and uttering
the frantic words, "Lo, let the night be solitary and let no joyful voice
come therein, let the day perish wherein I was born." This suggests
"thoughts beyond the reaches of the soul." Then follows the Vision of
Eliphaz--very terrible and grand--and Plate 10, "The Just Upright Man is
laughed to scorn," in which Job's attitude, the dignity of his grief and
faith, are magnificent. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," is
expressed in every line of the noble, piteous figure.

Plate 11--"With Dreams upon my bed thou scarest me and affrightest me with
Visions"--has something mediaeval in the grotesqueness and ingeniousness
of the horrors depicted. Orcagna's devils, Dürer's "Death and Satan" are
not more terrible than Job's tormentors. The words engraved in the border
contain all the condensed pain of the race of man, as well as the faith
which alone makes it possible to be endured.

And then to all this "storm and stress" succeeds Plate 12, with its
suggestions of returning peace and the everlasting calm of the stars. "Lo,
all these things worketh God oftentimes with Man to bring back his Soul
from the pit to be enlightened with the light of the living!" says the
inspired young man to Job, who with the seal of a great suffering set on
his face--but a suffering of which the bitterness is past--sits listening
intently as one who suddenly receives light in his soul. The sonorous
penetrating words fall on the senses like the music of rain-drops on a
thirsty land, and the design grows out of them like a true organic form of
which the shape is innate. Oh! the peace of that night sky, and the gentle
radiance of the stars set in its depth!

The border is here specially beautiful. "Look upon the heavens, and behold
the clouds which are higher than thou"--words that found a responsive echo
in the heart of Blake--is the verse inscribed on the robe of a sleeping
old man. The border is quick with winged thoughts, floating upwards from
his head, in the shape of small men and women, linked in a sinuous
succession, which finally reaches a sky, also set with stars, whose clouds
have verses written upon them that contribute to a full understanding of

Plate 13, "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind," continues the
gracious and softening influences of the last design. Job and his wife,
with tremulous eager hope, look up into the mild face of God, who, clothed
and enwreathed by a whirlwind of which Blake only could have suggested the
marvellous vortex, stretches His arms in blessing above them. The three
friends are prostrated and overwhelmed beneath the force of the blast that
encloses God.

And now we come to Plate 14, than which nothing can be imagined more
beautiful. "When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God
shouted for joy," are the words beneath and around the border; the six
days of creation are indicated in six delicate medallions, which _may_ in
their turn have suggested the noble series of paintings, of ample scope
and poetic imagining, which Sir Edward Burne-Jones executed.

[Illustration: PLATE XIV FROM "THE BOOK OF JOB," 1825


But the main design--God, the centre of the universe, from whom issues Day
and Night, the listening rapt group of Job, his wife, and the
comforters, and, above all, the glorious rejoicing ranks of angels--is
beautiful almost beyond expression. It is noticeable that on either side
appears the arm alone of an angel outside the picture, thus cleverly
suggesting the idea of an infinity of this heavenly host. Mrs. Jamieson,
in her "Christian Art," says, "The most original and, in truth, the only
new and original version of the scripture idea of angels which I have met
with is that of William Blake, a poet-painter, somewhat mad as we are
told, if indeed his madness were not rather 'the telescope of truth,' a
sort of poetical clairvoyance, bringing the unearthly nearer to him than

"His adoring angels float rather than fly, and with their half-liquid
draperies seem about to dissolve into light and love; and his rejoicing
angels--behold them!--sending up their voices with the morning stars, that
'singing in their glory move!'"

The picture has the thrill, the immensity of music in it, and I never look
at it without recalling the motive of the last movement of the Choral


It resolves all the human suffering, all the incoherent and striving
emotions, all the diverse and multiform forces of the Book of Job, into a
final harmony and triumph of beauty.

In much the same way the last motive of Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" rings
forth after the tentative, subtle and passionate music of the preceding
movements like a shout of joy, the cry of a faith which says--not, "I
have heard, I have learnt, I believe," but, "I _know_! absolutely and for

Plate 15 shows God pointing out the works that His hand has fashioned.
"Behemoth" and Leviathan, in a circular design very Gothic in character,
appear below. And to this succeeds Plate 16, "Satan Falling."

Plate 17, in which God appears blessing Job and his wife, while the false
comforters hide their diminished heads with an almost comic fright, is
distinguished by another of those fine effects of light for which Blake
had so great an aptitude. The sun, which forms the nimbus of God's head,
emits strange prismatic rays, very beautiful and weird. "Also the Lord
accepted Job" shows us Job with his wife and friends offering a fire on an
altar before a great sun, which, like God's halo in the previous picture,
flashes the same strange light. The design is calm and solemn, and has an
exquisite decorative feeling. Immediately below the altar, on some steps
which form part of the border, Blake has touchingly and humbly laid his
own palette and brushes, as if to indicate that, like Job, his work had
been offered and accepted by the Lord.

In Plate 19 Job and his wife are seated beneath a fig-tree in a field of
standing corn, gratefully receiving offerings from a father and mother and
their two beautiful daughters.

"Everyone also gave him a piece of money." The border contains, as usual,
amid its palm leaves and angelic figures, verses relating to and assisting
the chief motive of the picture.

For pure melodious beauty perhaps there is no plate like 20. "There were
not found women fair as the daughters of Job in all the land, and their
father gave them inheritance among their brethren." Job is seated in a dim
rich chamber, on whose walls are wrought paintings illustrating the trials
he has experienced. Around him are grouped three beautiful daughters, who
listen rapt while he relates to them God's dealings with him.

This is a rare example of Blake's choosing an interior with no opening out
into the beyond. It is quaint and beautiful, but we are so accustomed to
seeing Blake's figures set in the open air with the sky above them, that
this closed-in chamber, exquisitely wrought and fantastic as it is, seems
a thing foreign to his usual methods, his elective affinity for the great
expansive types of God's universe. I think the reason he chose an interior
in this instance was that we might be shut in and enclosed within the mind
of Job as it revealed itself to his daughters. Instinctively we know that
Blake's true lover Rossetti must have cared for this plate with quite
special fervour, so close is the analogy between its hidden mysterious
richness and the wonderful painted interiors in which he set his women,
and from which he developed such a high degree of romantic suggestion and
atmosphere. A lute and harp amid trailing vines, grape-laden, form a
border to Blake's design, as delicate as the illuminated tracery in a
mediaeval Hour-Book. In the final plate--"So the Lord blessed the latter
end of Job more than the beginning"--the hole of the great tree that has
figured in so many of the designs is surrounded by a crowd of persons,
with Job, his wife and beautiful daughters in the midst. All play on
instruments of music, while sheep and lambs and (it must be admitted) a
most Gothic-looking sheep-dog repose in the immediate foreground. The
ancient and fantastic instruments, the rapt upraised faces, the beautiful
girls, recall the old Florentine singing galleries--cantorias as they are
called--the one by Donatello and the other by Luca della Robbia, now in
the Museo del Duomo at Florence. In neither has the joy of praise, the
delight in making music, found more complete expression.

Blake's "Book of Job" is a holy thing. The full compass of his orchestral
nature exerted itself for this final effort. All his long sacrifices,
deprivations, passionate sorrows and sacred joys, his burning aspirations
and his steadfast faith, found their true meaning, their perfect
consecration in the blossoming of this supreme flower on his tree of life.
It was Blake's offering to God, like the Sacred Host, reserved and offered
up in his own hands on the altar of his storm-weary heart.



In the January of 1904 Messrs. Carfax's tiny galleries at 17, Ryder
Street, St. James's, became a shrine to which all pious lovers of William
Blake hastened to make their pilgrimage. None of the usual crowd that
visit picture shows were to be descried here.

Blake's appreciators are not those who are most learned in schools of
painting, in tricks of style and niceties of technique. They are mainly
composed of those who, having a strong pictorial sense, are yet only
effectively moved by _ideas_ in art.

And what a harvest of ideas was garnered here!--ideas which sprung like
Athene fully developed and armed from the head of Blake--of which head a
cast taken by Deville the phrenologist was conspicuously placed in the
centre of the lower room of the exhibition. The closely-set mouth and jaw,
arched and inflated nostrils, massy brow, and intense and rapt expression,
tell one something of the nature of this rare and spiritual intellect.

Out of forty-one exhibits, twenty-five were subjects from the Bible, three
were single plates repeated from Blake's "Prophetic Books," one was an
Indian ink drawing illustrating a scene in his poem "Tiriel," three were
purely imaginative compositions, the keys to which were to be sought in
themselves, and seven were illustrations to the poets (three of Milton's
"Paradise Lost," one of a scene in Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's
Dream," and three sketches to illustrate Gray, Young, and Blair). Mainly,
then, the exhibition might be said to have dealt with Biblical subjects,
though good specimens of all kinds of Blake's work rendered it
representative of his genius in its various phases.

From the old Byzantine mosaicists through art's early springtime to her
full summer in the Renaissance, and even since then, no class of subjects
has so deeply occupied the mind of painters as sacred history. There are
no incidents left untreated in the New Testament, and the Old has had a
large meed of attention, yet we find a painter of such unique and peculiar
genius as William Blake expending his strength and invention on this
well-worn field of motives. But with results so new, so different from
anything ever achieved before, that our interest and delight were
stimulated in proportion to our susceptibility to Blake's influence. I am
not saying that this new treatment of Biblical subjects, of the Gospel
story, is finer than the work of the old masters of the golden age of
Italy. Nor do I rank it lower. "The ages are all equal," Blake says
himself, "but genius is always above its age." The great point is that it
is entirely _different_, and that it exhibits a total disregard for
traditional treatment. Blake only found it _possible_ to see these
subjects from his own point of view--one never before attained by any
artist. And as objects seen from different outlooks vary in colour,
profile, and proportion, so as to be sometimes quite unrecognizable, so do
these religious pictures of Blake's appear startlingly alien to any we
have ever seen before. Or as he puts it himself, "If perceptive organs
vary, objects of perception seem to vary too."

Looking round the characteristic and representative collection, the
ingenuous student realized that the predominant effect of this art on his
mind was one of _strangeness_. It seemed to him unconnected with the
past, unrelated to the present, an art set apart, unique, somewhat
disquieting, which took him into Blake's visionary world, opposed in every
sense to the natural world of daily experience. This visionary world of
Blake's, was minutely discriminated by him, however, and was no formless
region of emasculating dreams.

The amazing vigour of his conceptions, and the flat contradiction which
they impose on the orthodox and traditional images which most people's
minds unconsciously harbour, added a sense of shock to that of
strangeness. Inquiring yet further into the causes of this impression one
discovered the truth of W. B. Scott's assertion, that Blake's genius was
unaided by its usual correlative, talent--that facility which enthrones
the idea in its appropriately wrought shrine, dowers it with its
organically perfect form. Greatly as Blake disliked it to be said, the
truth was apparent among these collected works of his, that his execution
was seldom equal to his invention. As proof of the strangeness, the
independence of his work, we may quote the water-colour drawing of the
"Three Maries with the Angel at the Sepulchre" (date 1803), in which the
holy women shrink terrified from the angel, with all the shuddering horror
that humanity feels at the manifestations of the spiritual world. A small
colour-print from "Urizen"--called here "The Flames of Furious
Desire"--with which we are already very familiar, must have augmented the
impression of unique imagination and strangeness to those who had no
previous acquaintance with Blake's work.

The furious raging, the vital majesty of the water-colour called "Fire,"
the delicate and curious imagination in "Satan watching the Endearments of
Adam and Eve," with many others must have contributed to this effect; but
the final strangeness and most curious beauty were to be found in "The
Nativity," "The River of Life," and "The Bard." In these, Blake's highest
and most mystic qualities are manifest, and his divergence from all
preconceived ideas startlingly apparent. "The Nativity" is a small tempera
picture painted on copper without the usual foundation of gesso that Blake
first laid on the plate. Small patches of tempera have been dislodged,
showing little gleaming bits of copper, but happily this has occurred
mainly at the top part of the picture in the gloom of the roof of the
stable. All the long succession of Nativities from Giotto to Correggio
("the soft and effeminate and consequently most cruel demon," as Blake
termed him) seem not to have touched his imagination. Most artists carry
an "infused remembrance" of great pictures in their mind, and can seldom
divest themselves of the subtle influence emanating therefrom. But Blake's
picture is not in any sense a composition which even unconsciously has
been built up with the aid of memory. Imagination has here become vision,
the uncovering of the veritable image; and Blake has faithfully copied
what his entranced consciousness beheld.

Mary, white as the lilies of her annunciation, has fallen back fainting
into the arms of Joseph, while above her prostrate body, "a mist of the
colour of fire" would seem to have gradually taken form and become
incarnate in the exquisite beauty of the infant Jesus. Light as
thistledown and shining like a star, so that the whole chamber--with the
terrified Joseph, the white mother, the oxen feeding--are all illuminated
by its intense radiance--this apotheosis of divinity in childhood takes
flight to the outstretched arms of St. Elizabeth, who sits on the floor
with a quaint little St. John praying in her lap. The open window through
which is discerned the star in the East, takes the imagination out into
the night of limitless mystery.

[Illustration: THE NATIVITY

Tempera painting on copper. This reproduction is taken from W. B. Scott's
etching from the original picture. It is undated]

The technique is superior to most of Blake's work in tempera, and is
adequate, the rendering of light in the picture containing qualities
nothing short of marvellous.

It was impossible to look at this "Nativity" without being moved. The
event appeared to Blake entirely supernatural in effect as in cause. He
seems to have attached no historical value to it, nor indeed to any of his
Biblical subjects. They were to him merely symbols of eternal ideas,
projected by the Holy Ghost into the world for its enlightenment, and of
these ideas Christ was the chiefest; but every idea he thought capable of
manifesting itself equally in diverse symbols. His mind had some of the
contemplative and impersonal characteristics of the oriental, and by its
original processes he was enabled to appreciate the true inwardness of
Christianity as the western mind cannot do. Christianity was born in the
East like the Star of its Epiphany, and has come to maturity in the West,
but its most mystical secrets will be hid from us until it has returned
again and bathed in the immemorial symbolism and true occultism of the

Being so unfortunate as not to obtain leave from the "Nativity's" present
owner to reproduce it in these pages, I have been obliged to take our
illustration from the etching which William Bell Scott made after the
original, and for which permission was courteously granted me by Messrs.
Chatto and Windus. It is but the shadow of a shadow, for Bell Scott's
etching is only that, but it will serve to give some idea of the solemn
beauty of the tempera painting.

Now let me recall another purely imaginative composition.

"The River of Life," a water-colour picture, reminded me in its
transparence and delicate brilliance of Blake's earlier printed books.

It is a rhapsody of Heaven. The River of Life which flows through the City
of God, and in which all new-born souls are dipped, is a mighty stream
flowing between green banks, on which are situated the gleaming houses of
the city. Groups of happy souls wander beside the clear pale waters, and
with his back towards us the Saviour with two children (new-born souls) in
either hand swims towards the river's source, which is the Throne of God,
typified by the sun. In its rays may be descried adoring angels, reminding
us of Blake's ardent words, which I have already quoted, "What! it will be
questioned, when the sun rises, do you not see a round disc of fire,
somewhat like a guinea?" "Oh, no, no! I see an innumerable company of the
heavenly host crying, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!'"

Two angels--angels of the presence--remain suspended in flight above the
stream on either side, playing on pipes, while a beautiful strong woman,
clad in lemon-yellow robe, swoops down like a bird just above the surface
of the stream with lithe strenuous body bent to meet the wind. She is a
delicious creation, satisfying the aesthetic sense with completeness. The
disposition of the figures in this picture, the decorative arrangement of
the overhanging fruit-laden branches of the Tree of Life, the clear treble
notes of colour, made one think of the rare and iridescent art of Japan.
Blake's mood when he painted "The River of Life" must have attained to a
high and heavenly unity and joy.

"The Bard" is a picture of quite another order, and pitched in a very
different key. Here is a twilight world of intellectual notions and poetic
motives wafted hither and thither on the blast of the Bard's frenzy. The
Bard himself, a commanding figure, stands on a shelf of rock surveying the
vortex, while he smites music from his harp. Below, a king and queen and
their horses are overwhelmed in a Stygian stream. All is dark, with a
strange gleam and shimmer here and there, like jewels and burnished silver
seen through a purple veil. This was one of the pictures that appeared in
Blake's own exhibition in his brother's shop, and his description in the
celebrated catalogue is well worth quotation:

  On a rock whose haughty brow
  Frown'd o'er old Conway's foaming flood,
  Robed in sable garb of evil
  With haggard eyes the Poet stood:
  Loose his beard and hoary hair
  Streamed like a meteor of the troubled air.
  Weave the warp and weave the woof,
  The winding-sheet of Edward's race.

Thus the poet Gray; and Blake commented, "Weaving the winding-sheet of
Edward's race by means of sounds of spiritual music, and its accompanying
expressions of spiritual speech, is a bold and daring and most masterly
conception that the public have embraced and approved with avidity.

"Poetry consists in these conceptions, and shall painting be confined to
the sordid drudgery of facsimile representations of merely mortal and
perishing substances, and not be as poetry and music are, elevated to its
own proper sphere of invention and visionary conception? No, it shall not
be so! Painting as well as poetry and music exists and exults in immortal

"The connoisseurs and artists who have made objections to Mr. Blake's mode
of representing spirits with real bodies would do well to consider that
the Venus, the Minerva, the Jupiter, the Apollo, which they admire in
Greek statues are all of them representations of spiritual existences--of
gods immortal--to the ordinary perishing organ of sight; and yet they are
embodied and organized in solid marble. Mr. Blake requires the same
latitude and all is well. King Edward and Queen Eleanor are prostrated
with their horses at the foot of the rock on which the Bard
stands--prostrated by the terrors of his harp, on the margin of the river
Conway, whose waves bear up a corpse of a slaughtered bard at the foot of
the rock. The armies of Edward are seen winding among the mountains.

  He wound with toilsome march his long array!

"Mortimer and Gloucester lie spellbound behind the King. The execution of
this picture is also in water-colours or fresco," he added finally. It was
probably painted in water-colours with white of egg or glue on a medium of
gesso. The gloomy glory of its colour was a thing to ponder on. Like the
dim silvery splendour of a pearl seen in the twilight of deep-sea waters,
so does it glint and gleam. In no picture has Blake brought home to us
more directly the visible population of the world of his mind--its power
and grandeur and mystery--than in the complex imagery of this great work.

The picture was probably painted in 1785, and was exhibited at the Royal
Academy. It afterwards appeared again at Blake's own exhibition in 1809.
It is a sad thing that he so seldom dated the pictures which he executed
for his staunch friend and supporter Mr. Butts. The pictures in the
Exhibition, with a very few exceptions, were originally done for him, but
few of them could have an authentic date affixed to them. All Blake's
original methods of working were here represented by splendid examples.

First there are the tempera pictures, or "frescoes," as he termed them. He
would never paint in oil-colour, because he thought and wrote that "oil,
being a body itself, will drink, or absorb very little colour, and
changing yellow, and at length brown, destroys every colour it is mixed
with, especially every delicate colour. It turns every permanent white to
a yellow or brown putty, and has compelled the use of that destroyer of
colour, white lead, which when its protecting oil is evaporated will
become lead again," and he hotly affirmed the opinion that "oil became a
fetter to genius and a dungeon to art." This being so, he evolved a method
of painting in water-colours, stiffened with white of egg or dilute glue,
on a ground prepared with whiting or plaster and laid on copper or board.

When the "fresco" was finished he varnished it with a preparation of glue.
In his old age Linnell lent him a copy of Cennino Cennini's "Trattato
della pittura," and he was delighted to find that the method he had always
employed in his tempera pictures was very like that of the old
sixteenth-century painter.

Occasionally his pictures acquired the mellow harmony, the indescribable
deep, yet faded tenderness of the old masters' tempera pictures, as for
instance that entitled "Bathsheba at the Bath seen by David." There is
nothing supernatural or weird here, save the flowers which grow around the
pool, and they are like the strange mysterious blooms that appear to one
in dreams. Bathsheba, nude and beautiful, with her two childish
attendants, one on either side, somehow recalls the work of Masaccio and
Filippino Lippi in the Chapel of the Carmine at Florence, perhaps because
it is so nobly naturalistic in treatment.

Another beautiful tempera is "The Flight into Egypt." It was painted in
1790--the year of the "Marriage of Heaven and Hell." Holman Hunt developed
in his magnificent picture of the same subject a poetic motive first used
by Blake. The great may take from the great without shame. The angelic
spirits of the martyred Innocents flutter around the Mother and Child,
while the ass on which they ride is followed by angels with great gloomy
wings, like night made visible and beneficent. The Virgin's little
delicate face looks wistfully from the dim picture like one of Gentile da
Fabbriano's small jewel-clear miniatures, and a crescent moon shines
vaguely silver through the darkness. This is a picture of high and tender
imaginative quality, more in the spirit of old masters like Fra Angelico,
it must be admitted, than characteristically Blakean in expression.

There are three other methods used by Blake, of which one--the printed or
engraved outline, filled in with hand-wrought water-colour--is so familiar
to us from the examples studied at the British Museum, that we need not
linger to describe it again. At the British Museum we have also seen many
of Blake's "colour-printed" designs, but not any nearly as fine as the two
pictures entitled "Hecate" and "Lamech and his two Wives" of the
exhibition. The process, according to the younger Tatham's account, was as
follows: "Blake when he wanted to make his prints in oil, took a common
thick millboard and drew, in some strong ink or colour, his designs upon
it strong and thick. He then painted upon that in such oil colours and on
such a state of fusion that they would blur well. He painted roughly and
quickly, so that no colour would have time to dry. He then took a print of
that on paper, and this impression he coloured up in water-colours,
repainting his outline on the millboard when he wanted to take another
impression; and each having a sort of accidental look, he could branch out
so as to make each one different. The accidental look they had was very

The depth and grandeur of tone obtained in "Hecate" are unique, and,
united to the sombre majesty of the composition, form a most satisfying
work to eye and intellect. Looking closely at the technique, the colour is
seen to be collected in little pin-head dots all over the ground, in a
manner that clearly points to its having been impressed while yet wet,
with some carefully roughened surface, but just what means were used to
obtain this effect must always remain a mystery.


Tempera painting. Reproduced by kind permission of Mr. W. Graham

The finest example of the process is, however, "Lamech and his two Wives,"
in which the tragic nature of the subject is deepened by the
colour-printing, here most successfully handled.

Pure water-colour, sometimes delicately outlined with the pen, was Blake's
fourth mode of working, and the exhibition had a goodly array of this
class of work. We have mentioned "The River of Life," perhaps the most
beautiful example extant, but several others, noticeably "Oberon, Titania,
and Puck with fairies dancing" and "The Wise and Foolish Virgins," were
very lovely. The first represents Blake in a rare mood, his mysticism in
abeyance, and his temper one of aesthetic abandon. We are so little
accustomed to think of him as an artist of varied and wide appeal, that
this rhythmic dance, which acted on the spectator like music, surprised.
It has in it the delirious joy of elemental things. The fairies' delicate
muslins are fetched out like mist in the greenwood; butterflies' wings and
petals of flower adorn their dainty heads. Puck has wings on the back of
his hands (a new and delightful idea this!), and the rapid graceful
movements of the dance do not seem to be arrested by their embodiment in a
painting. Though this phase of Blake is distinctly novel, even strange to
us, it is entirely delightful. There is no stress, no repelling yet
attractive mystery as in the "Hecate" here. It is just pure "joie de

"The Wise and Foolish Virgins" is much more characteristic of him. The
wise virgins in the foreground are ranged in a row, their lamps by their
sides. Their bodies and faces are smitten with a cold unearthly white
light, presumably, but not obviously, thrown by the lamps. The modelling
of their forms is most careful. Behind them, issuing from a small hut,
the foolish virgins, in wild confusion, implore oil for their lamps. The
landscape in which the scene is laid is anything but Eastern. Dark,
intensely green downs undulate and swell to meet the sky. A lurid light
defines the horizon, and in the swathed masses of gray cloud above, an
angel blowing a trump (suggesting a Last Judgement) wings his fateful way.
It may easily be urged (and the prosaic mind which only rejoices in the
precise and neat imitation of what it can _see_ is sure to exclaim) that
here is a defiance of all artistic rules, a pitiable inability to copy the
most ordinary natural phenomena, proclaiming Blake a wilful "poseur" or an
unobservant madman. "Here," they exclaim, "is little atmosphere, no
distance, no attempt at truth of tone, and no comprehensible rendering of
the light."

Blake rendered it as he did because he _chose_; because his masterly sense
of style (that is, the treatment best suited to the representation of the
idea, his subjective vision) required it to be so painted and thus only,
because he considered himself free to take from Nature just what he needed
for his purpose, and never felt himself obliged to make an entire and
wholly truthful representation of her. To emphasize the light on the
figures of the foreground, he overcharged the colour in the sky and the
downs behind, and by this treatment obtained an effect productive of
strange and solemn emotion in the beholder.

Nature was to him shadow or reminiscence only, and here he has defiantly
subordinated the truth of the landscape to the spiritual truth of his


Water-colour. Undated. Reproduced by kind permission of Mr. A. A. de Pass]

The most significant types were revealed in his soul, and owned a
relationship to the visible creation only in so far as this relationship
was necessary to render his art-work intelligible to the world. His
decorative sense approved of the white virgins set so statue-pale
against the dark green of the downs. The suddenness of the contrast,
the livid and supernatural effect, were part of his deliberate intention.
So does the white fire of an intense spiritual alertness contrast with the
opaque darkness of natural physical life. For this scene, taken from the
parable of Jesus, is only another of those types which Blake regarded in
so wide and catholic a sense, and which by his treatment he has lifted
above all merely historical association into a realm of pure spiritual

The pleasure derived from the examination of his collected pictures is
rather that of a profound intellectual excitement than a purely aesthetic
satisfaction. The climax of this excitement is reached before the two
pictures called, respectively, "Elohim creating Adam" and "Satan
triumphing over Eve." How different is Blake's conception of the former
subject to Michael Angelo's, and yet, widely different as they are,
somehow we know them to be related. Elohim, in the vortex of the winds,
lifts a face pale with awe and power, as he calls into being from the clay
below him a figure scarcely human yet, and stamped with the stamp of
terrestrial creeping mortality. A snake binds one leg, and there is no
other suggestion of life about this half-developed repelling organism. But
presently Elohim will breathe into the clay, and then this thing (which
somehow recalls Mrs. Shelley's "Frankenstein" to my shuddering fancy!)
will arise and live.

Michael Angelo chose the right moment, the body made beautiful but
languid, and God's finger applied like a magnet to the limp hand through
which the fiery currents of life are just beginning to flow in thrilling
gushes into the perfect body. But Blake, with a more curious care for the
earlier part of the process of creation, a more meditative and less
dramatic sense, invites us to dwell on, not the final perfect beauty of
created man, but his partial evolution from the dark earth to which he
will one day return. The accidental character of the body of man, the
universal nature of the Spirit of God, without whose inspiration there is
no beauty nor comeliness--these are thoughts on which he mused while
painting this great and terrible picture.

The death-weary figure of Eve in the companion picture was a haunting
thing. Overcome by the serpent's wiles, Eve lies prostrate in the
tightening coils, and the cruel flat head is pressed upon the white
breast, whose power to resist is quite gone. The struggle is over, the
delicate body is relaxed, the little head has fallen back piteously, and
the eyes are closed, for no blue heavens smile comfort down on her who
lies so low in the dust. Satan in clouds of terror triumphs above her, and
her overthrow is complete.

A little sketch in pencil, ink and wash, called "Satan, Sin and Death,"
has a human figure (strangely enough that of Satan), finely posed, and
drawn with infinite power. The vigorous torso, slender hips, fine and
muscular legs, are classic in their heroic proportions, but it must be
admitted that the inspiration of the sketch as a whole is below Blake's

I must notice a very fine and highly-finished water-colour, called "The
Judgment of Paris." The subject was a congenial one to Blake, who
entertained the most original notions about classic legend and literature.
He wrote in the Descriptive Catalogue:

"The Artist (Blake) having been taken in vision into the ancient
republics, monarchies, and patriachates of Asia, has seen those wonderful
originals called in the sacred scriptures the Cherubim, which were
sculptured and painted on walls of temples, towers, cities, palaces, and
erected in the highly-cultivated States of Egypt, Moab, Eden, Arum among
the rivers of Paradise--being the originals from which the Greeks and
Hetruvians copied Hercules Farnese, Venus of Medicis, Apollo Belvedere,
and all the grand works of ancient art....

"No man can believe that either Homer's Mythology or Ovid's was the
production of Greece or Latium; neither will anyone believe that the Greek
statues, as they are called, were the invention of Greek artists; perhaps
the Torso is the only original work remaining, all the rest being
evidently copies, though fine ones, from the greater works of the Asiatic
patriarchs. The Greek muses are daughters of Mnemosyne or Memory, and not
of Inspiration or Imagination, therefore not authors of such sublime

In this ingenious way did Blake seek to justify his admiration for the old
pagan art, the old pagan mythology. They were recollections of symbols and
ideas given by God to the ancient patriarchs of the Old Testament, and
from them had filtered through to the civilization of Greece and Rome. To
Blake it all amounted to this, "God hath not left Himself without
witnesses," and he vehemently protested against any race, age, or religion
arrogating to itself the authorship of ideas which should only be ascribed
to God.

So that the "Judgment of Paris" is treated like the biblical subjects, as
a spiritual parable. When the apple of desire is given to mere sensual
beauty instead of to moral or intellectual beauty, Love, the winged
spirit, flies away, and Discord, the malformed demon, arrives. The three
goddesses' forms, delicate as reeds, pure as Blake's austere imagination,
and modelled with tender care for their lovely limbs, hands and faces,
awaken in us a great wonder at the technique he could command when he
chose. One of the tenderest and most beautiful of Blake's slightly tinted
drawings, "The Vision of Queen Katherine"--we are enabled to reproduce
through the kindness of its present owner, Sir Charles Dilke. The
composition is of exceeding harmony, the delicate outlines being suave,
fluent, gracious, to a singular degree. Sweetness and tenderness are its
predominant characteristics, and it is without a rival among Blake's works
in this respect, saving perhaps for the picture, "And when they had sung
an hymn they ascended unto the Mount of Olives."

Katherine, sick unto death, has been soothed to sleep by music:

  Cause the musicians play me that sad note
  I named my knell, whilst I sit meditating
  On that celestial harmony I go to,

she had asked. Griffith and Patience sit beside her, unconscious of the
vision that is blessing her sleep. Katherine, beautiful and crowned,
"makes in her sleep signs of rejoicing, and holdeth up her hands to
heaven." Angels of diminutive but exquisite forms float in circles above
her, and two are holding a crown of laurels over her head. Many
pictures--the Indian ink drawing called "The Deluge," an infinite waste of
stormy sea; "The Entombment," a picture of solemn intensity and
originality; and others deserve description and comment, but space does
not allow.

The exhibition was an occasion of much illumination to Blake's admirers,
and the thoughts on his art which it gave rise to may be happily
summarized in a passage from Heine's "Salon":

"Art attains its highest value when the symbol, apart from its inner
meaning, delights our senses externally, like the flowers of a _selam_,
which without regard to their secret signification are blooming and
lovely, bound in a bouquet."


Slightly tinted pencil drawing, executed in 1807 for Mr. Butts. Reproduced
by kind permission of Sir Charles Dilke]

"But is such concord always possible? Is the artist so completely free in
choosing and binding his mysterious flowers? Or does he only choose and
bind together what he must? I affirm this question of mystical
un-freedom or want of will. The artist is like that somnambula princess
who plucked by night in the garden of Bagdad, inspired by the deep wisdom
of love, the strangest flowers, and bound them into a _selam_, of whose
meaning she remembered nothing when she awoke. There she sat in the
morning in her harem, and looked at the _bouquet de nuit_, musing on it as
over a forgotten dream, and finally sent it to the beloved Caliph. The fat
eunuch who brought it greatly enjoyed the beautiful flowers without
suspecting their meaning. But Haroun al Raschid, the commander of the
faithful, the follower of the Prophet, the possessor of the ring of
Solomon, he recognized the deep meaning of the beautiful bouquet; his
heart bounded with delight; he kissed every blossom, and laughed till
tears ran down his long beard." We may not be followers of the Prophet,
nor rejoice in long beards or magic rings, yet I dare assert that in
entering into the meaning, the deep "_Innigkeit_" of the _selam_ which
Blake presented to us, we have entered on a new phase of spiritual and
artistic life not less intensely delightful than the joy experienced by
the Prophet.



I am afraid that the first view of Blake's engraving of "The Canterbury
Pilgrimage" will prejudice the spectator unfavourably towards our artist,
even if the work by him already seen has made its fascination felt.

Especially will this prejudice be heightened if the engraving from
Stothard's picture of the same subject be set against Blake's and compared
with it, for Blake's astonishes and repels on first sight, while
Stothard's pleases at once.

In Stothard's composition the variety of the company, and especially of
the horses they ride, is charming. Very different are the grim ranks of
Blake's procession, the ten horses therein exhibiting only three positions
among them, and those positions being all traditionally faithful to the
hobby-horse type. Stothard's motley throng are gracefully habited, and
appear dainty and spruce in spite of the dust of the highway as they amble
along. His lighting of the picture, the firm and effective modelling of
the horses and their riders, the wide range of tones amounting almost to
colour itself, give a satisfying richness which we fail to find in Blake's

The whole composition is harmonious, and for those who desire nothing
further of art than that it shall cater for the eye without much or
intimate reference to the mind, then Stothard's graceful performance is
indeed pre-eminent.

Turning to Blake's picture, we find he has catered for the mind, but,
having done that, he has denied us the one thing of which Stothard is so
prodigal--beauty. In his restless search beneath the surface with which
beauty obviously is concerned, for the things of the spirit and the
intelligence underlying the appearance, Blake has here lost sight of art's
first principle, beauty in the whole, as the result of the parts. The
composition in its entirety is not beautiful. It has no harmony. It is an
accretion of separate parts, made out without reference to the picture's
final unity. These parts, although some are beautiful in themselves, are
not intimately related to each other, and contribute so little towards a
general predominant scheme that the effect of discord is produced, and the
multitudinous meanings and intentions with which each figure is fraught
over-weight the composition and confuse the beholder; the simple reason of
all this being, that the first obligation of the painter, his sense of
harmony and balance, has been ruthlessly violated. Perhaps Blake's sense
of style--about which I imagine he never reasoned, it being innate and
intuitive--deserted him on this one occasion, because anger was making
havoc in his heart and blinding his eyes. The conditions under which he
worked, it will be remembered, must have been destructive to all
concentration and artistic isolation of mood. Still, as I have said,
though sadly wanting as a whole, there is beauty of an intricate and
curious sort in the details.

Look on the wide expanse of swelling downs over-arched by the tragic
splendour of an evening sky. Here the thought, as ever with Blake, is
lifted up above the accidents, into the eternal and the infinite. But
Stothard's gentle hills and bowery trees shut out such vistas, and he
concerns himself scarcely at all about the sky, which is merely the
background on which to throw up the graceful heads of his graceful
unintelligent folk.

The characteristic group of children with their mother and grandfather,
which Blake has set beside the gateway of the Tabard Inn, has great beauty
as a single motive. No labour has been spared to make all faithful to the
Chaucerian conception: the curious semi-Gothic gateway, the crowding
pigeons, the barbaric splendours of the wife of Bath, the mediaeval figure
of the knight, whose face reminds one somewhat of the supposed portrait of
Cimabue in the Chapel of the Spaniards in Santa Maria Novella; all have
been wrought with painful care. The work is an illustration of Blake's
principle enunciated in his notes on Reynolds' "Discourses" and elsewhere
that "Real effect is making out of parts, and it is nothing else but

Perhaps the strangest trait the engraving exhibits in comparison with
Stothard's is that it looks so antique. It might have been executed a
hundred years earlier than the other picture, so wilfully grotesque and
archaic is it. Yes, _wilfully_ is the word, for Blake _wished_ to make his
procession as stiff and quaint and rich as the stately Chaucerian language
that first painted the scene, forgetting perhaps that the two arts of
poetry and painting achieve the same end through widely different
conditions, and according to processes contiguous, but
non-interchangeable. The want of ease, of careless and familiar naturalism
in the engraving, may recall to those who look for it the splendid and
ceremonious language of the old story-teller. The description written by
Blake of his own design (it will be found in Gilchrist) shows how he loved
and understood Chaucer, and, we may add, how very loosely the poem was
grasped, and with what want of truth to the original it was represented by
his rival. Lamb said of the engraving itself that it was "a work of
wonderful power and spirit, hard and dry, yet with grace," and the
Descriptive Catalogue--a copy of which was given him by Crabb
Robinson--pleased him greatly; the part devoted to an analysis of the
characters in the "Canterbury Pilgrimage" he found to be "the finest
criticism of Chaucer's poem he had ever read."

Savagely powerful as it is, the engraving is merely an interesting and not
a vital utterance of Blake. The tempera picture from which it was engraved
was bought by Mr. Butts, but has been lost sight of now for many years.
Stothard's oil painting of the same subject is in the National Gallery.

Turning to the other original single engravings of Blake in the Print
Room, we find several of interest. There is that early one, designed and
engraved in 1780, which has been called "Glad Day," and is the expression
of a mood oftener felt in Blake's early manhood than in the ensuing years
of chafing complexity and multitudinous emotions. I have wondered whether
it be not the pictorial embodiment of the vision which he saw of the
"Spiritual Sun on Primrose Hill," described by him to Crabb Robinson.

Among the original engravings here may be seen the broadsheet of "Little
Tom the Sailor," executed by Blake for Hayley while at Felpham in 1800,
for a charitable purpose.

Hayley's verses and Blake's designs were bitten in with stopping-out
varnish on the pewter plate of the original from which the prints are

In the designs setting out the misfortunes of a poor widow and the heroism
of her little son he has given us one theme of natural scenery--a winding
path, a little wood surmounted by bare folded downs--testifying to the
invasion which the obvious beauty of Felpham had made on his artistic
consciousness; while the other illustration represents the tragic moment
when little Tom on the wreck is about to be drowned; over the trough of
deep sea the spiritual form of his father appears ready to receive and
embrace his soul. Mrs. Blake's hand unfortunately has coloured the Print
Room copy.

And now let us turn to the pen-and-ink etchings to Dante, designed and
executed for Mr. Linnell between the years 1824 and 1827, the year of
Blake's death.

There are seven of them, wrought by the pen, which had become so
deliberate, careful and delicate in execution during these last years of
his life.

Let us linger over two of them for a moment.

Among the many pictures of Paolo and Francesca that exist, was there ever
seen anything like this of Blake's imagining?

You may prefer others--Ary Scheffer's, Dante Rossetti's, or Mr. G. F.
Watts'--you may object that this one has not grappled with the passionate
love-motive of the story, that it has omitted the note of yearning, of
beloved pain, with which Dante's conception is fraught. The austerity of a
mind which theorized much on the subject of love--the love of man and
woman--but knew actually very little of its vehemence, its trouble, and
its languorous sweetness, forbade Blake to focus in the figures of Paolo
and Francesca the ideal tragedy of those "whom love bereav'd of life."

The scene as a whole--that second circle of the Inferno, in which

  The stormy blast of hell
  With restless fury drives the spirits on,
  Whirl'd round and dashed amain
                  With sore annoy--

was what arrested his imagination. Here, in his rendering of the subject,
the blast has torn upward in a visible ribbon-like vortex from the surface
of the waters, bearing within it, as images in a crystal, the
innumerable figures of the world's great lovers. From a spit of land,
Paolo and Francesca, fluttering "light before the wind," appear in a
single tongue of flame, and Dante lies stretched upon the ground--"through
compassion fainting." Virgil is seen irradiated by the effulgent light
which trembles around the disc wherein the immortal kiss--that which
Rostand calls "_l'instant d'infini_"--is poetically represented.


Fine Indian ink pen drawing, in the Print Room, 1825-6. Francesca da
Rimini, Canto V. of the "Inferno"]

As usual, the force, the unusualness of the conception, rather than its
ideal beauty are the points we notice first. But closer study attests to
its beauty too. Mere literary interest would give the picture no real
claim to artistic regard. But Blake felt the drawing of each bounding line
as a thing of beauty in itself, having an aesthetic element of its own,
apart from its representative or symbolic use. In that coil of entangled
fates, what manifold themes of pure sensuous beauty are to be found! For
instance--just at the leap and bend of the circle--appears a woman with
arms extended in the fluent wind, like a bird in flight, and a man's
embrace encircles her neck--a man whose face she kisses rapturously.
Leaping, floating, falling, the multitudinous figures are borne onward by
the resistless force of that terrible blast; and, however foreign or
antipathetic this embodiment of Dante's vision may seem to us, we are
bound to admit that its imaginative scope is of a temper characteristic
not only of Blake, but of the Florentine himself. An aspect of Dante's
conception is developed and emphasized here in a manner which has not been
attempted in any other picture of the subject.

The other pen-and-ink drawing from the "Inferno" represents Dante and
Virgil in the Circle of the Traitors, with the head of Bocca degli Abati
breaking through the lake of ice at the foot of Dante. Blake has given
strangely passionless faces to his Dante and Virgil, but the pure simple
lines of their figures are severely congruous with the scene, and the
iceberg, formed of shadowy frozen figures to the right, is powerfully
suggested by a few lines of sufficient economy. The picture is another of
those unique embodiments from which, once seen and dwelt on, the modern
imagination can never release itself. Gustave Doré's sensational rendering
of the same scene seems to me to acknowledge an inspiration at this

The other five designs to Dante merit a description and attention which
space does not allow us to give them here. They are of great power, but
whether the unflinching realization of the terrible imaginings of Dante is
permissible in pictorial art--where the visual representation attacks the
emotions and intellect with a poignancy that words, however forcible, can
never attain--is a question the discussion of which may provide food for
argument to critics of the school of Lessing. For my own part, I incline
to the opinion that they overstep the bounds of terror authorized in art,
and approach the confines of the horrible in the treatment of the main
motive of each design--"Admirably horrid," Mr. W. M. Rossetti pronounces
them. The unwavering truth to Dante's detailed descriptions is beyond
question, however.

The inmost sanctuary of an artist's mind is far more accessible through
his pencil sketches than through his final consummated pictures and
designs. There is something so intimate, so personal in these
manifestations of himself, that in regarding them I have something of the
feeling of one who listens unseen to a man thinking aloud. Nothing
convinces one of the labour, the thought, the balancing, the rejections,
the careful choice, that go to make up a picture like the study of the
sketches made for it.

The peculiarity of Blake's pencil sketches is their vehemence, and the
absence in them of all hesitation. He seems from the first moment of
conception to know exactly what he means to do, and rough, almost
hieroglyphic, as the first shadow of his idea may appear at first sight,
we have only to compare it with the design or picture which eventually
resulted from it, to see that all the rapid "short-hand" lines of the
sketch, block out accurately the disposition of the main parts of the
design, the final attitude of the figures therein, without as a rule any
real variation from the first idea having taken place in the working out.

This testifies more than anything else to the distinctness of the vision
seen by Blake, and his eager passionate discernment of it. Among such
sketches of clearly apprehended vision is that for "The Soul exploring the
recesses of the Grave," the final design of which we are already very
familiar with. It is executed with a broad-ended chalk pencil, in quick
unhesitating lines. There is not a single touch that cannot be traced,
that is not an essential development, in the finished picture, so that we
know Blake saw it all from the first, complete then in his mind's eye as
on the day when he finished the detailed drawing for the engraver.

Another sketch of the same order is one which, although it does not belong
to any public collection, is so important as to excuse a reference to it
here. Through the great kindness of Mr. Frederick Shields, to whom it
belongs, I am enabled to reproduce it. The two motives of the picture in
Blair's "Grave," called "Death's Door," had been favourite ones with
Blake, and used by him separately in "The Gates of Paradise," "The
Marriage of Heaven and Hell," and "America," before he combined them so
felicitously in the noble design which ranks among his best works. The
sketch by Blake belonging to Mr. Shields would seem to represent the
moment when he first realized the power and significance and beauty to be
obtained by their incorporation in one design. Of this conception it must
be admitted that it grew in Blake's mind after the first flashing vision
of it, and was not from the beginning discernible in all the splendour to
which it was eventually developed.

Here is another beautiful and careful sketch of a female figure diving
through the air. The force of her perpendicular flight, the attitude of
one leg (the left, not the right, however) recall the "Reunion of the Soul
and the Body," but this figure is undraped, and the arms are extended
downwards, and indeed the differences are so numerous that it cannot be
regarded as a sketch for that picture. In all probability it is a
preliminary study for one of the numerous figures in the "Last Judgment"
which he executed for the Countess of Egremont in 1807.

Looking at the terse expressive little drawing, we are reminded of Blake's
"golden rule of art"--"that the more distinct, sharp, and wiry the
boundary line, the more perfect the work of art." Ah! but how he played
with his line! "Wiry" at least it never was, say what Blake would! He
never "painted" it, but felt his way along with sympathetic accuracy. And
with what infinite inflexions of tenderness and strength did his pencil
impress itself on the paper, indicating by that rare quality of touch more
than form and modelling--almost, one had said--the very nature of the
flesh of the figures he drew.

Speaking of Blake's drawings, the manner in which he drew the muscular
form of the male leg is very noticeable and strangely characteristic of
him. Another line he felt very tenderly was the curved sweep of a woman's
back from shoulder to indented waist, and downwards to delicate ankles and


Reproduced by kind permission of Mr. Frederic J. Shields]

Let us linger a minute over another of what I may call Blake's shorthand
sketches in the Print Room collection. It is undoubtedly the first idea
for the picture entitled "The Spiritual form of Nelson guiding Leviathan,
in whose wreathings are enfolded the nations of the earth." The finished
picture appeared in Blake's own exhibition in 1809; it is now in the
possession of T. W. Jackson, Esq., of Worcester College, Oxford.

In the sketch, "Nelson" is drawn symbolically as a young sea-god, nude and
commanding. He stands firmly on a coil of Leviathan's body, which rearing
and circling surrounds him like a frame. We can just distinguish the human
forms caught in the serpent's toils, and its great mouth is in the act of
devouring a man. The mouth is bridled, and the reins held by Nelson's
hand. The symbolism is easy enough to understand and requires no

A carefully shaded and conscientious drawing of a naked man with arms
upraised testifies to the fact that Blake _did_ work from the model
sometimes. But how cold such work appears--valuable and necessary as it
is--compared with the passionate half-defined sketches, the mood of which
transfers to us something of the high pleasure that Blake himself felt in
making these burning transcripts from his imagination or visions.

I had much ado to make out the subject of the pen-and-wash sketch of a
woman and man with a group of people on their knees in a cornfield. In the
distance a thunder-cloud emits a lightning flash. Mr. Shields tells me
that he and Dante Gabriel Rossetti spent an evening trying to decipher a
larger and more definite sketch of the same idea, and finally decided that
it was an illustration of the following verses (1 Sam. xii. 16-19): "Now
therefore stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before
your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest to-day? I will call unto the Lord and
he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your
wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in
asking you a king. So Samuel called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent
thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the Lord and

Among the many other sketches which space does not permit me to comment
on, are two very beautiful studies in red chalk, showing Blake to be a
master of line indeed. Of his engravings after designs by Stothard,
Romney, Flaxman, Hogarth, examples of which the Print Room possesses, it
is not necessary to speak, for this book is not concerned with engraving
or any other technical branch of art. Its purpose is merely to examine
into, and if possible lay bare, the nature of the artistic impulse that
makes the work of Blake--as we may all know it in our public
collections--so rare and so precious a thing. But though we shall not
concern ourselves with these engravings, as they contribute nothing to our
purpose, it is interesting to look at the numerous copies which our artist
made from prints of Michael Angelo's frescoes on the roof of the Sistine,
from drawings after the antique, and from Cumberland's "Designs for
Engravings." These latter are pen drawings of Greek figures--similar to
those represented on old black and yellow vases--and display the Greek
ideal of form, so beautiful yet so passionless and un-individual, when
compared with the figures of the great Florentine, in which the soul with
all its struggles is apparent. Copying such diverse work
faithfully--"for," wrote Blake, "servile copying is the great merit of
copying"--must have made him think, compare, choose. Goethe says that his
study of the ancient classic literature convinced him "that a vast
abundance of objects must lie before us ere we can think upon them,--that
we must accomplish something, nay, fail in something, before we can
learn our own capacities and those of others." And this was much more the
case with Blake and his art than might be supposed. It was not ignorance
of other ideals, of other methods of thought and work, that caused him to
take the artistic path he did; it was definite choice, the ratification of
his innate, strongly individualistic tendencies, resulting from comparing
them with the characteristic principles of art exhibited in other ages,
other masters. Blake in fact copied a good deal; he himself writes in his
notes on Reynolds, "the difference between a bad artist and a good one is:
the bad artist seems to copy a great deal, the good one really does copy a
great deal."

[Illustration: HEAD OF AN OLD MAN

Pencil, pen, and wash drawing. Undated]

Turning to his water-colour sketches in the Print Room, I consider the
finest to be a very portrait-like head of an old man. It was evidently put
in in pencil and pale washes of colour, and afterwards strengthened,
rather daringly, with pen-and-ink outlines. The face with its deep eyes
and noble contours is that of a seer, awestruck before his vision. It is
in such work as this--swift, strong and delicate--that we see Blake at his
best. In finished work--such little as he has left us--some heat, some
fire seems to have escaped, but in sketches such as this the inspiration
is contained in all its strongly-spiced vitality; that which is left
undone, assisting that which is done, in producing an impression of energy
and imaginative development. A pale-tinted, very careful and elaborate
drawing of the Whore of Babylon, as Blake imagined her, next claims our
attention. It was etched and reproduced by William Bell Scott. Never did
Blake represent so voluptuous, so sensual a face, as this of the Whore of
Babylon, which in spite of its beauty is of the same type as that of the
Wife of Bath in his "Canterbury Pilgrimage." In its expression it has no
fellow, save perhaps the face of Leda in Michael Angelo's small statuette
in the Bargello. The woman is seated on a seven-headed semi-human
monster, and she holds in her hand a cup out of which smoke issues and
condenses in the forms of floating men and women of incomparable grace.
These swim around her head in a long ribbon-like streamer, and as the
little figures reach the ground they are devoured by the seven heads. They
symbolize the pleasures, ambitions, lusts of this world.

Another beautiful water-colour, in faint and tender colour, is perhaps the
very vignette for Blair's "Grave," which Blake sent to Cromek with his
verses of dedication to the Queen, and which was returned on his hands
with such a cruel and insulting letter. Part of this design has been
etched and reproduced by William Bell Scott. A mother and her young
family, from whose ankles the chains of mortality have just been severed,
ascend upward with looks of solemn exaltation on their rapt faces. They
form a noble group. Above, on the left, is an angel with a sword and key
who has presumably just set them free; he is Death, I suppose--a young and
beautiful Death; while to the right is another Apollo-like being, who
holds a pair of scales and represents St. Michael. In the most ancient
Italian pictures the Archangel is often pictured as weighing the souls of
the newly dead.

A large and very important water-colour drawing is called the "Lazar
House," from Milton. It is one of Blake's terrible works, and has a
tendency to haunt the memory unpleasantly. It is very powerful.


Water colour drawing, 1809]

A great blind, bearded figure, with outstretched arms--Death in another
aspect--is suspended in air over a scene of painfulness and intense
horror, such as few artists would dare to represent. The victims of plague
are writhing in death-agonies on the floor, while a figure to the right,
with sinister face and nervous hand clutching a bolt (or is it a knife?),
fills the spectator with insane shudderings and alarm. He eyes the
sufferers with gloating satisfaction, and the fact that he is coloured
green as verdigris from head to foot does not detract from his horrible
fascinations. I can never get over the feeling that pictures such as these
caused Blake profound pain, that indeed he sought relief from their
dominion over his mental life by turning the vision that haunted him into
a definite artistic image, thus by the act of projection getting rid of
the disquieting, the torturing inward tyrant. For with him, as I have
striven to show, all thought came with the definiteness of vision; so that
he could not read Milton's or Dante's descriptions without seeing the
thing described, immediately start into visible being before him.

A finished and elaborate water-colour of a female recumbent figure on a
tomb, with a foreground starred with brilliant flowers, is called "Letho
Similis," but in no respect is it like Blake's work, and there seems no
reason whatever to consider it as having been done by his hand, except
that it has passed as his for a long time. So acute a critic as Mr. W. M.
Rossetti casts doubt on the authorship of the work in his descriptive

On the whole I think the review of Blake's pencil sketches and drawings
impress one as powerfully as any of the work of his which we have
previously seen, and mainly for the reason that it is in these that we can
most clearly trace his thoughts in process of evolution.

And now all that remains for us to do is to visit the National Gallery,
and there in the little octagonal room behind the Turner Gallery seek out
those few precious works which are the representatives of his genius to
the public at large. Whether that public often penetrates here, or, being
here, lingers even momently before the few strange little pictures by
Blake which it contains, may be questioned.

That they are not popular, and that the little room is never crowded,
needs no demonstration. Blake's greatness is not of the kind that can ever
compete successfully with the claims of such masters as his
contemporaries--Stothard, Romney, Gainsborough and Reynolds--whose
brilliant and alluring work adorns the galleries through which one must
pass to reach the little octagonal room where his few pictures, modestly
retired behind the door, await such as will patiently seek them out.

First let us look at the water-colour numbered 43, entitled "David
delivered out of Deep Waters." It has qualities of handling akin to the
"River of Life," belonging to Captain Butts, and the conception is
specially Blakean. David, with his arms bound round with cords, floats
symbolically on dark waters. Above, seven cherubim, with wings interlacing
like the shields of a phalanx, swoop down in rhythmic ranks, with Christ
in their centre. The remarkable thing about these cherubim is that two
have the faces of children, two those of old white-bearded men, two those
of mature manhood, while the centre one alone, immediately below Christ,
has the face of a beautiful youth.

The figure and attitude of the Saviour have a noble grace, but the face is
weak and ineffectual, as is usual with Blake when treating the divine

The effect of the picture--with those strong, ordered wings in ranks,
recalling the banners borne in some rich church procession--is one of
curious symmetry, of almost heraldic composition. A delicate and remote
strangeness of imagination makes itself felt in every line, every tint;
and the range of tone is noticeably peculiar, the deepest and highest
parts of the scale being used with great effect, while no recourse has
been had to the intermediate gamut, so that there is no full body of
colour present at all. The nearest approach to it is the quivering pale
golden light that is diffused around the figure of Christ.


Water-colour. In National Gallery, undated]

No. 1164, "The Procession from Calvary," is a tempera picture reminiscent
in quality of colour of the _quattrocento_ Italian masters. Stiff,
composed and straight is the body of Jesus laid on the bier. Three pairs
of bearers support the holy burden on their shoulders. The Virgin alone,
and two other women side by side, follow the _cortége_, while in the
distance Calvary, with its three crosses, may be seen; and Jerusalem is
represented by a group of buildings defiantly Gothic in character. The
bearers and the women moving across the foreground so majestically, so
quietly, might be the somewhat stiff rendering of an idea, inspired by the
procession in a basrelief on some old Greek or Roman sarcophagus, such as
Mantegna or Andrea del Castagno worked out on canvas.

Then there is a highly-finished water-colour of an allegory--numbered
44--to be studied. It is soon evident to the spectator that the elaborate
composition owns as central motive the Atonement, with all the symbolic
correspondences which in the scriptures predicted it. At the highest point
of the picture is a medallion wherein the Almighty is represented. Dull
flames flicker and smoke around, while on them is inscribed in very small
writing the significant words "God out of Christ is a consuming fire."
This, as we know, was a much-insisted-on doctrine of Blake's, for he seems
to have denied at times the responsible fatherhood of God; and never did
he share the respectable conception of Him, prevalent at that day even
more than in this, which Tennyson so aptly defined as "an immeasurable

Below the medallion are little scenes displaying the Death of Abel, the
Flood, the Sacrifice of Isaac, the Transfiguration, and, finally, the
symbolic Vision of the Holy Grail. All these separate but related motives
are woven together, with subsidiary scenes to right and left, into one
intricate and most beautiful scheme.

The low tones of the composition, the dim, delicate tinting, bring the
varied and multitudinous parts into a harmony of effect that is very
delightful, while the spiritual and intellectual material with which it is
characteristically builded up, send our thoughts voyaging out like birds
over the sea of religious mysticism.

I have left the most important picture to be dealt with last. The tempera
picture, numbered 1110, was painted as the companion to "Nelson and
Leviathan"--a sketch for which is in the British Museum, it will be
remembered--and was shown for the first time at Blake's own exhibition in
1809. In his Descriptive Catalogue the title ran as follows: "The
spiritual form of Pitt guiding Behemoth; he is that Angel, who, pleased to
perform the Almighty's orders, rides on the whirlwind directing the storms
of war; he is ordering the Reaper to reap the vine of the earth, and the
Ploughman to plough up the cities and towers."

At first sight the figure of a beautiful young man is the one thing that
stands out clearly from the dim splendour and bewildering detail of the
picture. This noble form, instinct with power and authority, represents
the spiritual body of Pitt. A gleaming halo surrounds his head, and the
background is massed with seething indistinct figures.

Here and there strange glancing lights and phosphorescent stars emit a
milky radiance, but it is some few minutes before the eye can distinguish
the head and back of Leviathan. On either side of the great halo appears a
man's form; one holds the crescent moon by way of sickle, the other
presses heavily upon a harrow. They are the Reaper, Death, and the
Ploughman Equality. All is steeped in gloomy twilight touched here and
there with subdued yet brilliant light, as of moonlight on water. Strange
little figures seem to gather form out of the brownish mist before one's
very eyes, and there is something of a miraculous charm on this
cosmos--the fruit of the travail of Blake's intellect.


Tempera. 1809 or earlier. In the National Gallery]

Of serenity, of clarity, there is none; but Blake's virtue, his quality
with its necessary attendant defects, dominates this work and makes it
precious in the sense of a unique record of a unique conception. Therefore
it is fittingly placed as a representative of Blake's genius in our
National Palace of Art.

What the place assigned to Blake by future generations will be is not for
me to predict. That he has been gravely misapprehended and foolishly
neglected until the last few years is common knowledge, but even to-day
the ranks of his true lovers are scattered and few, though there are some
people who affirm that an exaggerated distinction, an inflated value,
attaches to his name at present, as a result of the swing of time's
pendulum. Such people, however, are not among those who under any
circumstances would be likely to admire Blake or appreciate his unique
point of view.

This little book has had for its object, not the imparting of any new
facts about him, nor the technical discussion of his works, but the
reverent and sympathetic meditation on our own National Blake treasures,
with a view to understanding the great spirit who projected them. I have
attempted to point out their essential beauties and value, not from the
vantage-ground of the connoisseur, but from the point of view of the
sympathetic observer. I have sought to explain, to justify, the affinity
felt for them by those to whom the doctrine of "Art for art's sake" is not
an all-satisfying thesis, who would fain find in plastic art a language
expressive of spiritual intuitions and revelation. Blake's mission
undoubtedly was to discover in his representations of visible phenomena
the spiritual cause, or correspondence, of which it appeared to him to be
merely a type. How far his ideas are consistent with the conditions and
scope of an art which must necessarily concern itself with surfaces and
appearances, it is hard to say. His view of art's function was largely,
but not wholly true, yet in its special application was profoundly noble
and salutary. Exaggerated, perhaps, in his recoil from the materialism and
preoccupation with physical and natural beauties as ends in themselves
which characterized the art of his day, he set to work to liberate one
hitherto unsuspected aspect of art's functions, at the expense of
belittling the recognized and practised articles of belief recited in her
honour by the masters of his time.

The innerness of art; that is what he was concerned about. Impetuously,
passionately he stormed along the rugged track he had set himself to
explore, ignoring much of beauty and truth to either side of him, because
his eyes were so steadfastly fixed on his goal. To-day we acclaim him as
the heroic and devoted priest of a new and yet old altar to Art, the flame
of which has been kept burning since his time by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
and the Pre-Raphaelites, and Mr. G. F. Watts.


  Academy, Royal, Blake attends the schools of, 6, 50.

  Academy, Royal, Exhibits at, 8, 14, 43.

  Academy, Royal, A grant from, 50.

  _Accusers, The Three_, 121.

  _Ahania, The Book of_, 23, 120.

  _America_, 23;
    described, 107;
    a cancel-sheet for, 121.

  _Ancient of Days, The_, 56, 112.

  Apprenticeship to Basire, 5, 20.

  _Atonement, The_, 191.

  _Ballads on Animals_, illustrations to Hayley's, 31, 137.

  _Bard, The_, 164.

  Basire, Blake apprenticed to, 5;
    his influence, 150.

  _Bathsheba at the Bath_, 167.

  Blake, Robert, 4, 15, 133;
    his death, 15.

  Blake, William, birth, 3;
    family history, 4;
    birthplace, 3;
    his brothers and sister, 4;
    marriage, 9;
    suggested as tutor to the royal family, 22;
    his last sketch, 56;
    death, 56;
    lived at Green Street, 11;
    Broad Street, 14;
    Poland Street, 15;
    Lambeth, 21;
    Felpham, 24;
    South Molton Street, 29;
    Temple, 50;
    his hatred of oppression, 16;
    visions of his brother, 17;
    his kind-heartedness, 22;
    trial for sedition, 29;
    influence over younger men, 47, 52;
    his circle of friends, 48, 52, 54;
    his surroundings in later years, 50;
    his appearance, 51, 54;
    German eulogy, 54;
    learns Italian, 54;
    his poverty, 82;
    his exhibition, 40;
    criticisms on painting and poetry, 40;
    his artistic affinities, 41;
    his aim in art, 7;
    his literary affinities, 37;
    views on contemporary artists, 20, 46;
    justifies his mode of representation, 165;
    his inability to depict Christ, 145, 190;
    his intuitive system of belief, 61;
    his detachment from his age, 61;
    his view of humanity, 65, 66.

  Bouchier, Catherine, married to Blake, 9;
    her character, 10;
    her death, 56;
    her assistance in printing, 83.

  Calvert, Edward, friendship with Blake, 52.

  _Canterbury Pilgrims, The_ (Blake's), designed, 37;
    completed, 38;
    exhibited, 40.
    _See_ Stothard, Thomas.

  _Canterbury Pilgrims, The_ (Engraving), issued, 44;
    discussed, 176.

  Coleridge, S. T., meeting with Blake, 47.

  Cowper, engravings for Hayley's Life of, 31.

  Cromek, R. H., his relations with Blake, 35-37, 39.

  Dante, illustrations to the _Divina Commedia_ of, 54;
    discussed, 180.

  _David delivered out of Deep Waters_, 190.

  _Death of Earl Godwin_, 8.

  _Death's Door_, development of the design of, 91, 96.

  _Descriptive Catalogue_ of Blake's exhibition, 40, 77, 82, 165, 172,
        178, 192.

  _Designs, The Large Book of_, 120.

  _Designs, The Small Book of_, 120.

  Education, Blake's early, 4.

  Ellis and Yeats, Commentary on Blake, 1, 3, 16, 22, 30, 49, 57, 60, 71.

  _Elohim Creating Adam, The_, 171.

  _Europe_, 23;
    described, 110.

  Exhibitions of Blake's works, (1809), 40;
    (1904), 159.

  Felpham, residence at, 24, 179;
    early enjoyment of, 25;
    subsequent unhappiness at, 27.

  Flaxman, J., introduction to, 8;
    aid from, 12, 23;
    correspondence with, 25.

  _Flight into Egypt, The_, 167.

  _French Revolution, The_, 17.

  Fresco, Blake's use of the term, 38.

  Fuseli, Blake's friendship with, 8, 17, 50;
    his appreciation of Blake, 11, 38, 50.

  _Gates of Paradise, The_, 23;
    described, 93.

  _Ghost of Abel, The_, 17.

  _Ghost of a Flea_, 49.

  Gilchrist's _Life of Blake_, 1, 9, 32, 50, 51, 55.

  _Glad Day_, 179.

  Gothic influences, 5, 151.

  _Grave, The_, Blake's illustrations to Blair's: sold to Cromek, 35;
    published, 39;
    discussed, 140;
    described, 143;
    Blake's introductory verses, 141.

  Hayley, Blake's introduction to, 23;
    life at Felpham, 24-31;
    illustrations to his _Ballads_, 31;
    to his life of Cowper, 31;
    letters to, 32.

  _Hecate_, 168.

  Humphrey, Ozias, Blake's relations with, 38.

  Hunt, Leigh, inept criticisms by, 42.

  _Ideas of Good and Evil_, 30.

  Irish ancestry suggested for Blake, 3.

  _Jerusalem_, 31, 34;
    discussed, 123;
    described, 127.

  _Job, The Book of_, drawings for, 54;
    discussed, 148;
    described, 151;
    sold, 148.

  _Joseph of Arimathea_, 6.

  _Judgment of Paris, The_, 172.

  Lamb, Charles, appreciative criticisms by, 99, 179.

  _Lamech and his Two Wives_, 168, 169.

  _Laocoon_, 50.

  _Last Judgment, The_, 38.

  _Lazar House, The_, 188.

  Le Brun, Blake's early aversion to her work, 6.

  _Lenore_, illustrations to Bürger's, 137.

  Linnell, John, Blake's friendship with, 47, 54, 150;
    and the Book of Job, 149.

  _Little Tom the Sailor_, 179.

  _Los, The Book of_, 23;
    described, 122.

  _Los, The Song of_, 23;
    described, 121.

  Madness, his alleged, 73.

  Malkin's _Memorials_ of his child, illustrated by Blake, 38.

  _Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The_, 17;
    discussed, 90;
    quoted, 101.

  Mathew, the Rev. Henry, an early friend, 11-14.

  Michael Angelo, his influence on Blake, 4, 6, 78, 141, 171, 187.

  _Milton_, 31;
    discussed, 130;
    described, 133.

  MS. Notebook, Blake's, references to, 6, 11, 26, 30, 38, 45, 46, 81, 82.

  Mystical views, Blake's, are misunderstood, 72-79;
    explained by Smetham, 75.

  Mythological characters, Blake's, 71, 105, 112, 117.

  National Gallery, works by Blake in the, 189.

  _Nativity, The_, 161, 162.

  _Nebuchadnezzar_, 22.

  _Nelson, The Spiritual Form of, etc._, 185.

  _Night Thoughts_, designs for Young's, 23;
    described, 137.

  _Oberon, Titania, and Puck_, 169.

  Paine, Tom, Blake's acquaintance with, 17.

  Pars' drawing-classes, Blake attends, 4.

  _Pitt guiding Behemoth, The Spiritual Form of_, 192.

  Poetic Genius, his theory of the, 67, 68.

  _Poetical Sketches_, 12.

  Prices now brought by Blake's work, 100, 107, 110, 113, 121, 130, 148.

  Prices received by Blake, 21, 35, 38, 100, 149.

  Processes employed by Blake, 38, 82, 91, 150, 166, 168, 179, 186, 187.

  _Procession from Calvary_, 191.

  Raphael, early love for, 6.

  Religious views, 57-71, 102.

  Religious views, Swedenborg, 57, 58;
    pantheism, 62;
    Blake's beliefs, 62;
    the necessity of contraries, 65;
    "art in religion," 67.

  Reynolds, Sir Joshua, his advice to Blake, 19.

  Reynolds, Sir Joshua, Blake's MS. notes on Reynolds' Discourses, 6, 19,

  _River of Life, The_, 163, 169.

  Robinson, Henry Crabb, his relations with Blake, 2, 40, 45, 47, 51, 54,
        63, 73.

  Rossetti, D. G., appreciations of Blake, 12, 40, 185.

  Rossetti, D. G., owns Blake's MS. Notebook, 30.

  Rubens, early comments on, 6.

  Rylands, proposal to apprentice Blake to, 4.

  _Satan Watching Adam and Eve_, 161.

  _Satan, Sin, and Death_, 172.

  _Satan Triumphing over Eve_, 171.

  _Satan's Three Accusers_, 121.

  Schiavonetti, Lewis, engraves the drawings for the _Grave_, 36, 140, 145.

  Shakespeare, designs to illustrate, 37.

  Shields, Mr. Frederick J., 52, 138, 183, 185.

  "Single Vision" of Bacon and Newton, 92.

  _Songs of Experience_, 97;
    described, 98.

  _Songs of Innocence_, 16;
    described, 83.

  Stothard, Thomas Blake's introduction to, 8;
    quarrel with, 37, 40, 42, 43.

  Stothard, his _Canterbury Pilgrims_, 37;
    exhibited, 38;
    described, 176.

  Swedenborg, his influence, 38, 57.

  Swinburne, Mr. A. C., criticisms by, 11, 45, 62, 95, 104, 105, 115.

  _Tales for Children_, 91.

  Tathams, Blake's friendship with the, 52, 56, 113.

  Technique, his deficiency in, 78.

  _Thel, The Book of_, 17;
    described, 87.

  _There is no Natural Religion_, 115.

  _Three Maries with the Angel at the Sepulchre_, 161.

  _Tiriel_, 89.

  _Urizen, The Book of_, 23;
    described, 116.

  _Vegetative Life_, what Blake meant by the, 2, 64, 127.

  _Virgil's Pastorals_, woodcuts for, 49;
    described, 146.

  _Vision of Queen Katherine_, 173.

  _Visionary Heads_, drawn by Blake, 48.

  _Visions of the Daughters of Albion_, 23;
    described, 104.

  Visions of Blake; in childhood, 2;
    in later years, 17.

  Water-colour sketches, 187, 188.

  Westminster Abbey, drawings in, 5.

  _Whore of Babylon, The_, 187.

  _Wise and Foolish Virgins, The_, 169.

  Wollstonecraft, Mary, acquaintance with, 17;
    designs for her Tales, 91.

  Women, his views on the position of, 70.



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