Blake is a real name, i assure you, and a most extraordinary man, if he be still living. He is the Robert Blake, whose wild designs accompany a splendid folio edition of the Night Thoughts, which you may have seen, in one of which he pictures the parting of soul and body by a solid mass of human form floating off, God knows how, from a lumpish mass fac Simile to itself left behind on the dying bed. He paints in water colours marvellous strange pictures, visions of his brain, which he asserts that he has seen.
They have great merit. He has seen the old Welsh bards on Snowdon—he has seen the Beautifullest, the strongest, and the Ugliest man, left alone from the massacre of the Britons by the Romans, and has painted them from memory i have seen his paintings , and asserts them to be as good as the figures of Raphael and angelo, but not better, as they had precisely the same retro-visions and prophetic visions with themself. The painters in oil which he will have it that neither of them practised he affirms to have been the ruin of art, and affirms that all the while he was engaged in his Water paintings, Titian was disturbing him, Titian the Genius of Oil Painting.
His Pictures—one in particular,. He has written a Catalogue of them with a most spirited criticism on Chaucer, but mystical and full of Vision. His poems have been sold hitherto only in manuscript. But i must look on him as one of the most extraordinary persons of the age. Between and , Crabb Robinson met periodically with Blake and produced verbatim records of their conversations, on subjects ranging from Milton, Wordsworth, Dante, and Christ to free love and education. December 10th. The party at dinner Blake the painter, and l innell, also a painter.
Shall i call Blake artist, genius, mystic, or madman? Probably he is all. 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. The conversation turned on art, poetry, and religion.
However, in my youth, i was always studying paintings of this kind. No wonder there is a resemblance. But at another time he spoke of his paintings as being what he had seen in his visions. What resemblance do you suppose there is between your spirit and his? So i had with Jesus Christ. His eye brightened at this, and he fully concurred with me. We are all coexistent with God, members of the Divine body. We are all partakers of the Divine nature.
Jesus Christ should not have allowed himself to be crucified, and should not have attacked the government. Yet he professes to be very hostile to Plato, and reproaches Wordsworth with being not a Christian, but a Platonist. This was the fault of Plato. He knew of nothing but the virtues and vices, and good and evil. There is nothing in all that. Yet at other times he spoke of there being error in heaven. The angels in heaven are no more so than we. Of himself, he said he acted by command. His eye glistened while he spoke of the joy of devoting himself solely to divine art. When michael angelo, or Raphael, or mr.
Flaxman, does any of his fine things, he does them in the Spirit. The natural world must be consumed. He has done much good, and will do much. He has corrected many errors of Popery, and also of luther and Calvin. Yet Swedenborg was wrong in endeavoring to explain to the rational faculty what the reason cannot comprehend.
He should have left that.
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He asked me whether Wordsworth. The passage was produced and read:— Jehovah,—with this thunder and the choir Of shouting angels, and the empyreal thrones,—. Does mr. Jacob Boehme was spoken of as a divinely inspired man. Though he spoke of his happiness, he also alluded to past sufferings, and to suffering as necessary. But as Blake has invited me to go and see him, i shall possibly have an opportunity of throwing connection, if not system, into what i have written, and making additions.
He is certainly a most amiable man,—a good creature. Wordsworth and lamb like his poems, and the aderses his paintings. He is a sent man. But they who are sent go further sometimes than they ought. His sexual religion is so. He is Satan. The tone and manner are incommunicable.
There are a natural sweetness and gentility about Blake which are delightful. His friend linnell seems a great admirer. Perhaps the best thing he said was his comparison of moral with natural evil. He dwells in Fountain Court, in the Strand. Nothing could exceed the squalid. His wife was a good expression of countenance. The book Cary and his sketches before. He showed me his designs, of which i have nothing to say but that they. Our conversation began about Dante.
He was an atheist,—a mere politician, busied about this world, as milton was, till in his old age he returned to God, whom he had had in his childhood. But he would not admit this. Yet when he in like manner charged locke with atheism, and i remarked that locke wrote on the evidences of Christianity and lived a virtuous life, Blake had nothing to say in reply.
Nor did he make the charge of wilful deception. From this subject we passed over to that of good and evil, on which he repeated his former assertions more decidedly. But these are only negations. Nor would he admit that any education should be attempted, except that of the cultivation of the imagination and fine arts.
We spoke of the Devil, and i observed that, when a child, i thought the manichean doctrine, or that of two principles, a rational one. He assented to this, and in confirmation asserted that he did not believe in the omnipotence of God. The language of the Bible on that subject is only poetical or allegorical. Yet soon afterwards he denied that the natural world is anything. The Fall could not produce any pleasure. His faculty of vision, he. He thinks all men partake of it, but it is lost for want of being cultivated.
He eagerly assented to a remark i made, that all men have all faculties in a greater or less degree. February 18th. Jehovah dropped a tear, and followed him by his Spirit into the abstract void. Satan dwells in it, but mercy does not dwell in him. Some of his writings proceed from the Holy Spirit, but others are the work of the Devil.
He talked of being under the direction of self. He warmly declared that all he knew is in the Bible. But he understands the Bible in its spiritual sense. He touched it, probably, French, but to my ear it became english. There are so many, the labor would be too great. Besides, there would be no use. Six or seven epic poems as long as Homer, and twenty tragedies as long as macbeth. He will not print any more. The mSS. You cannot tell what purpose they may answer unforeseen by you. He repeated his philosophy. There is a constant falling off from God, angels becoming devils. He told me my copy of his songs would be five guineas, and was pleased by my manner of receiving this information.
He spoke of his horror of money,—of his having turned pale when money was offered him. When Blake died in , the disciples encouraged each other to record their memories of their mentor. Tatham alone wrote. William Blake in stature was short, but well made, and very well proportioned; so much so that West, the great history painter, admired much the form of his limbs; he had a large head and wide shoulders.
His motions were rapid and energetic, betokening a mind filled with elevated enthusiasm; his forehead was very high and prominent over the frontals; his eye most unusually large and glassy, with which he appeared to look into some other world. His beautiful grey locks hung upon his shoulders; and dressing as he always did in latter years in black, he looked, even in person, although without any effort towards eccentricity, to be of no ordinary character.
His disposition was cheerful and lively, and was never depressed by any cares but those springing out of his art. He was the attached friend of all who knew him, and a favourite with everyone but those who oppressed him, and against such his noble and impetuous spirit boiled, and fell upon the aggressor like a water-spout from the troubled deep.
Yet, like moses, he was one of the meekest of men. His patience was almost incredible: he could be the lamb; he could plod as a camel; he could roar as a lion. He was everything but subtle; the serpent had no share in his nature; secrecy was unknown to him. He would relate those things of himself that others make it their utmost endeavour to conceal. He was possessed of a peculiar obstinacy,. He then made an enigma of a plain question: hence arose many vague reports of his oddities.
He was particularly so upon religion. His writings abounded with these sallies of independent opinion. He detested priestcraft and religious cant. He wrote much upon controversial subjects, and, like all controversies, these writings are inspired by doubt and made up of vain conceits and whimsical extravagances. Generally advocating one in which there is a flaw, the greatest controversialists are the greatest doubters. They are trembling needles between extreme points.
But he put forth ramifications of doubt, that by his vigorous and creative mind were watered into the empty enormities of extravagant and rebellious thoughts. Blake, on the other hand, said what he was always asserting, that the religion of Jesus was a perfect law of liberty. Fuseli was very intimate with Blake, and Blake was more fond of Fuseli than any other man on earth. Blake certainly loved him, and at least Fuseli admired Blake and learned from him, as he himself confessed, a great deal.
Fuseli and Flaxman both said that Blake was the greatest man in the country, and that there would come a time when his works would be invaluable. Before Fuseli knew Blake, he used to fill his pictures with all sorts of fashionable ornaments and tawdry embellishments. His abstraction from.
His poetry and he has written a great deal was mostly unintelligible, but not so much so as the works written in the manner of the present one. Generally speaking, he seems to have published those most mysterious. That which could be discerned was filled with imagery and fine epithet. Russell, , pp. Samuel Palmer — , an etcher, painter, and printmaker, was another member of the Shoreham Disciples or Shoreham Ancients.
Palmer first met Blake in , when he was nineteen. In addition to supplying Gilchrist with personal anecdotes, Palmer contributed a description of the designs in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and the following memori - al letter, both of which Gilchrist published unaltered in his Life of William Blake. Blake, of whom i can give you no connected account; nothing more, in fact, than the fragments of memory; but the general impression of what is great remains with us, although its details may be confused; and Blake, once known, could never be forgotten. His knowledge was various and extensive, and his conversation so nervous and brilliant, that, if recorded at the time, it would now have thrown much light upon his character, and in no way lessened him in the estimation of those who know him only by his works.
He was energy itself, and shed around him a kindling influence; an atmosphere of life, full of the ideal. To walk with him in the country was to perceive the soul of beauty through the forms of matter; and the high gloomy buildings between which, from his study window, a glimpse was caught of the Thames and the Surrey shore, assumed a kind of grandeur from the man dwelling near them. Those may laugh at this who never knew such an one as Blake; but of him it is the simple truth.
He was a man without a mask; his aim single, his path straightforwards, and his wants few; so he was free, noble, and happy. His voice and manner were quiet, yet all awake with intellect. His eye was the finest i ever saw: brilliant, but not roving, clear and intent, yet susceptible; it flashed with genius, or melted in tenderness. Cunning and falsehood quailed under it, but it was never busy with them. Nor was the mouth less expressive; the lips flexible and quivering with feeling.
Those who may have read some strange passages in his Catalogue, written in irritation, and probably in haste, will be surprised to hear, that in conversation he was anything but sectarian or exclusive, finding sources of delight throughout the whole range of art; while, as a critic, he was judicious and discriminating.
He united freedom of judgment with reverence of all that is great. He did not look out for the works of the purest ages, but for the purest works of every age and country—athens or Rhodes, Tuscany or Britain; but no authority or popular consent could influence him against his deliberate judgment. Thus he thought with Fuseli and Flaxman that the elgin Theseus, however full of antique savour, could not, as ideal form, rank with the very finest relics of antiquity. Nor, on the other hand, did the universal neglect of Fuseli in any degree lessen his admiration of his best works.
He fervently loved the early Christian art, and dwelt with peculiar affection on the memory of Fra angelico, often speaking of him as an inspired inventor and as a saint; but when he approached michael angelo, the last Supper of Da Vinci, the Torso Belvidere, and some of the inventions preserved in the antique Gems, all his powers were concentrated in admiration. He was fond of the works of St. Theresa, and often quoted them with other writers on the interior life. He used to ask how it was that we heard so much of priestcraft, and so little of soldiercraft and lawyercraft.
The Bible, he said, was the book of liberty and Christianity the sole regenerator of nations. His ideal home was with Fra angelico: a little later he might have been a reformer, but after the fashion of Savanarola. He loved to speak of the years spent by michael angelo, without earthly reward, and solely for the love of God, in the building of St.
Centuries could not separate him in spirit from the artists who went about our land, pitching their tents by the morass or the forest side, to build those sanctuaries that now lie ruined amidst the fertility which they called into being. His mind was large enough to contain, along with these things, stores of classic imagery. He delighted in Ovid, and, as a labour of love, had executed a finished picture from the Metamorphoses, after Giulio Romano.
His poems were variously estimated. They tested rather severely the imaginative capacity of their readers. Flaxman said they were as grand as his designs, and Wordsworth delighted in his Songs of Innocence. To the multitude they were unintelligible.
Thrown early among the authors who resorted to Johnson, the bookseller, he rebuked the profanity of Paine, and was no disciple of Priestley; but, too undisciplined and cast upon times and circumstances which yielded him neither guidance nor sympathy, he wanted that balance of the faculties which might have assisted him in matters extraneous to his profession. He saw everything through art, and, in matters beyond its range, exalted it from a witness into a judge. He had great powers of argument, and on general subjects was a very patient and good-tempered disputant; but materialism was his abhorrence:.
This might amuse those who were in the secret, but it left his opponent angry and bewildered. Such was Blake, as i remember him. He ennobled poverty, and, by his conversation and the influence of his genius, made two small rooms in Fountain Court more attractive than the threshold of princes. In , Kirkup wrote to the art critic William Rossetti, explaining, much as he does in this letter to Lord Houghton, that he had once thought Blake mad but does not think so now. Blake was the determined enemy of colourists, and his drawing was not very academical. His high qualities i did not prize at that time; besides, i thought him mad.
His manner was too honest for that. He was very kind to me, though very positive in his opinion, with which i never agreed. His excellent old wife was a sincere believer in all his visions. He had no other. Butts who introduced me to him. You can see it. Though the figures reminded one of Hercules, apollo, and Pan, they were naked. Wemyss Reid,. When Gilchrist died in November , Rossetti volunteered his services, along with those of his brother, William Michael Rossetti, so beginning a fertile correspondence with Mrs. Rossetti co-opted Blake as a proto-Pre-Raphaelite, seeing in Blake the sensuous and spiritual qualities he himself valued.
This, coupled with the tremendous popularity of the Pre-Raphaelites in the s and s, helped Blake to belated fame. This is the place. But all of these publications, unlike the popular Life of William Blake , were not widely distributed. The Selections made Blake available to a wide audience. Now the growing number of Blake readers were free or freer to make up. The Selections were also important because they presented Blake as a poet. Blake the engraver and Blake the illuminator had attracted far more attention than Blake the poet. As a writer, Blake seemed to operate outside established traditions.
Rossetti expects it to remain unappreciated and preemptively pens its eulogy. Stripped of contextual clues, some of the earlier poems were read as childlike and conceptually simple: the anti-establishmentarian rancor of the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience , for instance, eluded many nineteenth-century commentators, who relied solely on print editions.
Swinburne was himself a controversial figure, decadent before decadence became fashionable, his poetry recurring to themes of sadomasochism, homosexuality, and irreligion. Blake, he observes, deconstructs the categories of good and evil, Hell and Heaven, angel and devil. Without Contraries is no progression. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell. Plate 3. These sets of opposites all replicate one particular opposition: that of reason and religion against the creative energy of humanity.
As Blake sees it, humanity needs both the disorderly will and the ordering principles of reason. Each represses and perverts the other, but so long as they remain adversaries, there will be progress. He does, however, give us a unified Blake, finding recurring concepts and narratives in the Prophetic Books. Swinburne and Conway offered two of the few nineteenth-century studies of the Prophetic Books. They inspired a host of additional Blake commentary, much of which. Comyns Carr and James Smetham both wrote in the wake of Swinburne but rejected the Prophetic Books on the grounds of obscurity and incoherence.
Blake did not correspond extensively with other writers, and he was older than the British poets seen as definitively Romantic. James John Garth Wilkinson, a young Swedenborgian, suggested a comparison between Blake and Percy Bysshe Shelley in his introduction to the first print edition of Songs of Innocence and Experience He depicts a Blake who is gifted but insane, and in any case too prone to squander his gifts on supernatural subjects. Yet imagination is the life and spirit of all great works of genius and taste; and, indeed, without it, the head thinks, and the hand labours in vain.
Anna Jameson was the eldest daughter of Irish painter D. Brownell Murphy. Rossetti, a Pre-Raphaelite devotee of. Walter Thornbury — was a journalist, novelist, and art critic. His British Artists places Blake alongside a small collection of visionary artists:. Cosway, Varley, Flaxman, and Loutherberg. The comparison between Percy Bysshe Shelley and Blake, on the other hand, had been first suggested by a young Swedenborgian, James John Garth Wilkinson, in his introduc- tion to the first print edition of Songs of Innocence and Experience.
Alexander Gilchrist died before his Life of William Blake was completed. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an art- ist and poet, a leading figure in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Rather, Rossetti was confronted with the difficulty of writing about a poetry that operated outside the established traditions. Rossetti himself was engaged in producing a new poetry.
That his limited com - mentary on Blake concentrates on its singularity, its disconnection from anything produced by the Romantics or the high Victorians, is perhaps the highest flattery the aesthetic radical could offer. The one literary confrere Rossetti summons for Blake is the desperately obscure Charles Jeremiah Wells — Wells was educated with the younger broth - er of Romantic poet John Keats and was later associated with essayist William Hazlitt.
Hazlitt discouraged Wells from writing and, apart from receiving brief commendations from poet Thomas Wade in and from Richard Horne in , Wells fell into complete obscurity. But, indeed, he is so far removed from ordinary. Perhaps some infusion of his modest and genuine beauties might add a charm even to the most gifted works of our present rather redundant time. One grand poem, on the same footing as his own or even a still more obscure one as regards popular recognition, and which shares exactly, though on a more perfect scale than he ever realized in poetry, the exalted and primeval qualities of his poetic art, may be found in C.
This work is, perhaps, the solitary instance, within our period, of poetry of the very first class falling quite unrecognised and continuing so for a long space of years. Mary Abigail Dodge —96 , whose pen name was Gail Hamilton, was an American essayist, best remembered for her advocacy of education and employment opportunities for women.
Yet, somewhere, through mediaeval gloom and modern din, another spirit breathed upon him,—a spirit of green woods and blue waters, the freshness of may mornings, the prattle of tender infancy, the gambols of young lambs on the hill-side. From his childhood, Poetry walked hand in hand with Painting, and beguiled his loneliness with wild, sweet harmonies. Bred up amid the. The little singing-birds that seem almost to have leaped unbidden into life among the gross creations of those old afreets who.
Stood around the throne of Shakspeare, Sturdy, but unclean,. Fine, fleeting fantasies we have, a tender, heart-felt, heart-reaching pathos, laughter that might at any moment tremble into tears, eternal truths, draped in the garb of quaint and simple story, solemn fervors, subtile sympathies, and the win- someness of little children at their play,—sometimes glowing with the deepest color, often just tinged to the pale and changing hues of a dream, but touched with such coy grace, modulated to such free, wild rhythm, suffused with such a delicate, evanishing loveliness, that they seem scarcely to be the songs of our tangible earth, but snatches from fairy-land.
Often rude in form, often defective in rhyme, and not un-frequently with even graver faults than these, their ruggedness cannot hide the gleam of the sacred fire. Algernon Charles Swinburne — , poet and professional aesthete, wrote the second major book of the s Blake revival, William Blake:.
A Critical Essay. The work instead is highly circumspect, low on quota - tion a problem, particularly given that many of the poems had not yet been published , and prone to generalizations. Gilchrist, whose husband had died before its completion. Both shied away from the moral and religious heterodoxies of the prophetic books. These heterodoxies, however, were precisely what attracted Swinburne, who offered lengthy quotations from the books and a reading that emphasized and celebrat- ed their preemptive affront to Victorian pieties.
Whitman was uneasy with the comparison. Here then the scroll of prophecy is finally wound up; and those who have cared to unroll and decipher it by such light as we can attain or afford may now look back across the tempest and tumult, and pass sentence, according to their pleasure or capacity, on the message delivered from this cloudy and noisy tabernacle. The complete and exalted figure of Blake cannot be seen in full by those who avert their eyes, smarting and blinking, from the frequent smoke and sudden flame. Others will see more clearly, as they look more sharply, the radical sanity and coherence of the mind which put forth its shoots of thought and faith in ways so strange, at such strange times.
Faith incredible and love invisible to most men were alone the springs of this turbid and sonorous stream.
One at least of these may here be swept once for all out of our way. So far Blake would probably have gone; and so far his commentators need not fear to go.
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But one thing does certainly seem to me loathsome and condemnable; the imputation of such a charge as has been brought against Blake on this matter, without ground and without excuse. The oral flux of fools, being as it is a tertian or quotidian malady or ague of the tongue among their kind, may deserve pity or may not, but does assuredly demand rigid medical treatment.
The words or thoughts of a free thinker and a free speaker, falling upon rather than into the ear of a servile and supine fool, will probably in all times bring forth such fruit as this. By way of solace or compensation for the folly which he half perceives and half admits, the fool must be allowed his little jest and his little lie. Only when it passes into tradition and threatens to endure, is it worth while to set foot on it. This contempt, in itself noble and rational, became injurious when applied to the direct service of things in hand.
Confidence in future friends, and contempt of present foes, may have induced him to leave his highest achievements impalpable and obscure. Their scope is as wide and as high as heaven, but not as clear; clouds involve and rains inundate the fitful and stormy space of air through which he spreads and plies an indefatigable wing.
There can be few books in the world like these; i can remember one poet only whose work seems to me the same or similar in kind; a poet as vast in aim, as daring in detail, as unlike others, as coherent to. The points of contact and sides of likeness between William Blake and Walt Whitman are so many and so grave, as to afford some ground of reason to those who preach the transition of souls or transfusion of spirits. The great american is not a more passionate preacher of sexual or political freedom than the english artist.
To each the imperishable form of a possible and universal Republic is equally requisite and adorable as the temporal and spiritual queen of ages as of men. To each all sides and shapes of life are alike acceptable or endurable. From the fresh free ground of either workman nothing is excluded that is not exclusive. The words of either strike deep and run wide and soar high. They are both full of faith and passion, competent to love and to loathe, capable of contempt and of worship.
Both are spiritual, and both democratic; both by their works recall, even to so untaught and tentative a student as i am, the fragments vouchsafed to us of the Pantheistic poetry of the east. Their casual audacities of expression or speculation are in effect wellnigh identical. Their outlooks and theories are evidently the same on all points of intellectual and social life.
The divine devotion and selfless love which make men martyrs and prophets are alike visible and palpable in each. The noble and gentle labours of the one are known to those who live in his time; the similar deeds of the other deserve and demand a late recognition.
No man so poor and so obscure as Blake appeared in the eyes of his generation ever did more good works in a more noble and simple spirit. Had we place or time or wish to touch on their shortcomings and errors, it might be shown that these too are nearly akin; that their poetry has at once the melody and the laxity of a fitful storm-wind; that, being oceanic, it is troubled with violent groundswells and sudden perils of ebb and reflux, of shoal and reef, perplexing to the swimmer or the sailor; in a word, that it partakes the powers and the faults of elemental and eternal things; that it is at times noisy and barren and loose, rootless and fruitless and informal; and is in the main fruitful and delightful and noble, a necessary part of the divine mechanism of things.
Whitman has seldom struck a note of thought and speech so just and so profound as Blake has now and then touched upon; but his work is generally more frank and fresh, smelling of sweeter air, and readier to expound or expose its message, than this of the prophetic books.
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