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 innu-
merable 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.â€” Blake, A Vision of the Last Judgment.
ra,c-simile of a. PoTtr a,i"c on Ivory
- -ed from life 'by Join Linnell. 182J
Eii;5ra,ved. Tiy CHJaens.
WITH SELECTIONS FROM HIS POEMS AND OTHER WRITINGS
* *â– >
OF THE MIDDLE TEMPLE, B ARRISTER- AT-LA \V
AUTHOR OF "THE I,IFE OF WILLIAM ETTY, R.A*."
A NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION
ILLUSTRATED FROM BLAKE'S OWN WORKS
WITH ADDITIONAL LETTERS AND A MEMOIR OF THE AUTHOR
IN TWO VOLUMES
MACMILLAN AND CO.
The RigJtt of Ttanslaiion is Reserved
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
In 1878 thirty-four autograph letters from William
Blake to Hayley were sold by Messrs. Sotheby
and Wilkinson. Thanks to the courtesy of the
gentlemen into whose possession a large proportion
of the letters ultimately passed, â€” Mr. Frederick
Locker and Mr. Alexander Macmillan, â€” these, and
a few more obtained from the same source (one by
J the British Museum and the others by Mr. Kirby),
^ are now incorporated in the Biography, and carry
on the narrative of Blake's life during the two
f\ years immediately succeeding his return from Felp-
\ ham. In the same way the letters to Mr. Butts,
C generously placed in my hands by his grandson,
J Captain Butts, just before the appearance of the
^ first edition, and there printed in Vol. II., are now
put in their place, making the Felpham chapters
-* -" ,^ ^ r* J-.
/ t. t . ... fL
vi PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
The two friends whose labour of love wrought so
largely to give completeness to the first issue of this
book have revised and, especially in the case of the
Annotated Catalogue, brought up to date their work ;
whilst another friend, Mr. Frederic J. Shields, out
of the same warmth of admiration for Blake's genius
and character, has freely rendered precious service
with pen and pencil further to enrich the new edition.
He has supplied a vigorous translation into words
of the more pregnant among the large and important
series of Designs by Blake to Young's Night Thoughts,
which has lately come to light, and is now in the pos-
session of Mr, Bain, of the Haymarket â€” the series
of which a very small portion only was engraved by
Blake for Edwards's edition of 1797. Mr. Shields
has also drawn, from original pencil sketches by
Blake, two new portraits of Mrs. Blake and the head
of Blake by himself, which was somewhat roughly
given in the first edition. Lastly, he has adapted a
fairy design of Blake's own to the cover.
From America has come help in the shape of some
admirable examples of engraver's work, four of which
are from designs by Blake never before repro-
duced, and two are from the Grave. These were
executed to illustrate an article on Blake, by Mr.
Horace Scudder, in Scribner s Magazine, ]mx\&, 1880;
and to the courtesy of Messrs. Scribner & Co., of
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION. Vll
New York, we are indebted for the use of the
Of additional illustrations there remain to be
specified a newly discovered design to Hamlet (from
a copy of the Second Folio Shakespeare containing
also several other designs by Blake, and now in
possession of Mr. Macmillan) ; another plate from the
Jerusalem; the Phillips portrait of Blake, which
Schiavonetti engraved for Blair's Grave; a view of
Blake s Cottage at Felpham and of his Work Room,
and Death Room in Fountain Court, both' drawn
by Herbert H, Gilchrist ; and, last not least, the
hiventions to the Book of Job executed anew by the
recently discovered photo-intaglio process.
In Vol. II. will also now be found an Essay on
Blake, by James Smetham, republished (by per-
mission) from the London Quarterly Review. Its
fine qualities and its inaccessibility will, I feel assured,
make it welcome here as an important accession to
a work which aims to gather to a focus all the light
that can be shed on Blake and on the creations of
Keats Corner, Well Road, Hampstead,
Oct. lo, 1880.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION,
One short word of sorrowful significance which
has had to be inserted in the title-page, while it
acquaints the reader with the peculiar circumstances
under which this Biography comes before him, seems
also to require a few words about its final prepara-
tion for the press ; the more so as the time which
has elapsed since the Life of Blake was first an-
nounced might otherwise lead to a wrong inference
respecting the state in which it was left by the be-
loved author when he was seized, in the full tide of
health and work and happy life, with the fever which,
in five days, carried him hence. The Life was then
substantially complete ; and the first eight chapters
were already printed. The main services, therefore,
which the Work has received from other hands â€” and
great they are â€” appear in the Second Part and in the
Appendix : in the choice and arrangement of a large
collection of Blake's unpublished and hitherto almost
equally inaccessible published Writings, together with
X PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
introductory remarks to each Section ; and in a
thorough and probably exhaustive Annotated Cata-
logue of his Pictorial Works. The first of these
services â€” the editorship, in a word, of the Selections
â€” has been performed by Mr. Dante Gabriel Rossetti;
the second by his brother, Mr. William Rossetti. To
both of these friends, admiration of Blake's genius
and regard for the memory of his biographer have
made their labour so truly a labour of love that they
do not suffer me to dwell on the rare quality or
extent of the obligation.
To the Life itself one addition has been made,
â€” that of a Supplementary Chapter, in fulfilment of
the Author's plan. He left a memorandum to the
effect that he intended writing such a chapter, and
a list of the topics to be handled there, but nothing
more. This also Mr. D. G, Rossetti has carried
into execution ; and that the same hand has filled
in some blank pages in the Chapter on the Inven-
tions to the Book of Job the discerning reader will
scarcely need to be told.
The only other insertions remaining to be particu-
larized are the accounts of such of Blake's Writings
as it was decided not to reprint in the Second Part ;
chiefly of the class he called Prophecies. I could
heartily wish the difficult problem presented by these
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION. Xl
Strange Books had been more successfully grappled
with, or indeed grappled with at all. Hardly any-
thing has been now attempted beyond bringing
together a few readable extracts. But however
small may be the literary value of the Europe,
Ainerica, Jerusalem, &c., they are at least psycho-
logically curious and important ; and should the
opportunity arise, I hope tO see these gaps filled in
with workmanship which shall better correspond with
that of the rest of the fabric. In speaking of the
Designs which accompany the Poems in question,
I was not left wholly without valued aid.
To Mr. Samuel Palmer and Mr. William Haines,
to Mr. Linnell and other of Blake's surviving friends,
and to the possessors of his works, grateful acknow-
ledgments of the services rendered are due, in various
ways, by each and all to enhance the completeness
of the followinof record of the fruitful life and la-
hours of William Blake. In my dear husband's name,
therefore, I sincerely thank these gentlemen.
May i^ih, 1863,
Brookbank, near Haslemere.
CONTENTS OF VOLUME I.
\j Preliminary '
Engraver's Apprentice 12
A Boy's Poems 23
Student and Lover 28
Introduction to the Polite World 43
Struggle and Sorrow 51
Meditation : Notes on Lavater 61
Poems of Manhood : Songs of Innocence 68
Books of Prophecy : Thel, Marriage of Heaven and Hell . . 76
Bookseller Johnson's 89
The Gates of Paradise, Visions of the Daughters of Albion,
The ' America ' 98
The Songs of Experience 116
Productive Years : Europe, Urizen, The Song of Los, Ahania 124
At Work for the Publishers 134
A New Life 142
Poet Hayley and Felpham 156
Working Hours : Letters to Butts 165
Trial for Sedition 190
South Molton Street: Letters to Hayley 201
The Jerusalem and the Milton 226
A Keen Employer 246
Gleams of Patronage 256
The Desigj^s to Blair 265
Appeal to the Public 273
Engraver Cromek 283
Years of Deepening Neglect 291
/ John Varley and the Visionary Heads 298
Opinions : Notes on Reynolds 305
Designs to Phillips's Pastorals 317
Fountain Court , ... 321
Inventions to the Book 01- Jon 32;
HaMPSTEAD ; AND YOUTHKUL DiSCIPLES 3^7
Personal Details 34^
Mad or not Mad 362
Declining Health; Designs to Dante; Mr. Crabb Robinson's
Reminiscences ; Notes on Wordsworth 375
^ CHAPTER XXXVII.
i/ Last Days
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Portrait of Blake, from a
miniature painted in 1827 . . John Linnell
From America Blake
From Uliistrations of the Book of
Glad Day. Block lent by Messrs.
Scribner & Co Blake
Plague. From a Water-colour
Infant Joy. From Songs of In-
nocence. Block lent by Messrs.
, Scribner & Co Blake
Nebuchadnezzar. From Pen-
cil-Drawing in Rossetti's MS.
Illustration for Wollstone-
CRAFt's Tales for Children.
From the original Drawing . . Blake
From Visions of the Datightejs of
Albion ........ Blake
Gates of Paradise. Eight Plates.
From America ....... Blake
From Europe Blake
Elijah in the Chariot of
Fire. From a Colour-printed
Design. (See Vol. II., p. 209.
No. 23.) Block lent by Messrs.
Scrilmer & Co Blake
Engraved by Page
C. H.Jeens Frontispiece
W. J. Linton Title-page to
W. J. I>inton i
\V. J. Linton
J. F. Jungling
W. J. Linton
W. J. Linton
W. J. Linton 97, 103
W. J. Linton 98, 100, 102
W. J. Linton 108, no
W. J. Linton 124, 126
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Young burying Narcissa (?)
India-ink Drawing'. Block lent
by Messrs. Scribner and Co.
"Are glad when they can
FIND the Grave." From the
MS. Note-book. (See Vol, IL,
p. 259. No. 27 f) . , . .
From Visions of the Daughters of
Blake's Cottage at Felpham.
Photo-Intaglio ... . .
From the IV^S .' Note-book
Vala Hyle, Skofeld. From
Border from yerusalem
Tail- and Head-pieces from
Portions of Pages from the same .
From Milton. â€” Blake's Cottage
Death's Door. From Blair's
Grave. Block lent by Messrs.
Scribner & Co
Counsellor, King, Warrior,
Mother and Child in the
Tomb. From the same. Block
' lent by Messrs. Scribner & Co.
Design from Hamlet. From Water-
Ghost of a Flea
The Accusers of Theft,
Adultery, Murder . . .
Designs to Phillips's Pasto7-als,
Blake's own Wood-blocks . .
Visionary Heads. From Pencil
From the same. â€” The Man who
BUILT the Pyramids, Ed-
ward I., William Wallace,
J. Hellawell 134
W. J. Linton
W. J. Linton
W. J. Linton
W. J. Linton
232, 233, 234
W. J. Linton
W. J. Linton
W. J. Linton
W, J. Linton
27, 50. 51.
W. J. Linton
W. J, Linton
J. D. Cooper
W. J. Linton 299
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Plan of Blake's Room in
Fountain Court ....
Behemoth and Leviathan.
From the Ilhtstrations to Job .
Drawn by Engraved by
F. T. Shields
W, J. Lmton
Blake's Work - room
Death-room . . .
Catherine Blake. From a
Pencil-Drawing by her Husband,
Catherine andWilliam Blake.
From Pencil-outline in MS.
Note-book. (Photo-Intaglio) .
The Circle of the Traitors.
Mr. Cumberland's Card-plate.
From Design for Blair's Grave
Mrs. Blake in Age ....
f Herbert H. f Typographic >
1 Gilchrist \ Etching Co. j
\ F- J- Shields j T^,<>f^Â»PM' j 3e,
I F. J. Shields j ir^^^- \ 3,4
Drawn by Engraved by Page
Portrait of Blake. By T. \
Phillips, R. A., Etched by Schia- f J Typog^'aphic \ j-. â– â–
vonetti for Blair's Craw. Photo- ( | Etching Co. \^^o"f"P^'^'
Design from Visions of the Daugh- Title-page to
ters of Albion Blake W. J. Linton Selections
Canterbury Pilgrimage (re-
duced). The Heads under it
are Facsimiles Blake W. J. Linton 144
Illustrations of the Book ) ,â„¢ i,- -,
of Job. Twenty-one Photo- J Typographic 7
Intaglios ........( lEtchmgCo. i
Songs of Innocence. Seven
of the Original Plates .... 204
Songs of Experience. Nine
of the Original Plates .... 204
TAil-piece. From Vision of the
Daughters of Albion .... 376
The design on the cover is adapted, by Mr. Frederic J. Shields, from a rough
sketch in Blake's MS. Note-book, for a picture which was exhibited some years ago
at Manchester, but did not find its way to the Burlington Fine Art Club Exhibition
of Blake's works. The angelic figure on the back of the volume is from one of
the designs to Young's Night Thoughts.
From nearly all collections or beauties of
'The English Poets,' catholic to demerit as J^i/Jvi
these are, tender of the expired and expiring
reputations, one name has been hitherto perseveringly
exiled. Encyclopaedias ignore it. The Biographical Dic-
tionaries furtively pass it on with inaccurate despatch, as
havinar had some connexion with the Arts. With critics it
has had but little better fortune. The Edinburgh Review,
twenty-seven years ago, specified as a characteristic sin of
' partiality ' in Allan Cunningham's pleasant Lives of British
Artists, that he should have ventured to include this name,
since its possessor could (it seems) 'scarcely be considered
a painter' at all. And later, Mr. Leslie, in his Handbook for
Young Painters, dwells on it with imperfect sympathy for
a while, to dismiss it with scanty recognition.
Yet no less a contemporary than Wordsworth, a man little
prone to lavish eulogy or attention on brother poets, spake
in private of the Sojigs of Innocence and Experience of William
VOL. I. B
2 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.
Blake, as ' undoubtedly the production of insane genius,' (which
adjective we shall, I hope, see cause to qualify,) but as to him
more significant than the works of many a famous poet.
' There is something in the madness of this man,' declared he
(to Mr. Crabb Robinson), ' which interests me more than the
sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott.'
Of his Designs, Fuseli and Flaxman, men not to be imposed
on in such matters, but themselves sensitive â€” as Original
Genius must always be â€” to Original Genius in others, were
in the habit of declaring with unwonted -emphasis, that 'the
time would come ' when the finest ' would be as much sought
after and treasured in the portfolios ' of men discerning in
art, ' as those of Michael Angelo now.' ' And ah ! Sir,' Flax-
man would sometimes add, to an admirer of the designs, ' his
poems are as grand as his pictures.'
Of the books and designs of Blake, the world may well
be ignorant. For in an age rigorous in its requirement of
publicity, these were in the most literal sense of the words,
never published at all : not published even in the mediaeval
sense, when writings were confided to learned keeping, and
works of art not unseldom restricted to cloister-wall or coffer-
lid. Blake's poems were, with one exception, not even printed
in his life-time ; simply engraved by his own laborious hand.
His drawings, when they issued further than his own desk,
were bought as a kind of charity, to be stowed away again
in rarely opened portfolios. The very copper-plates on which
he engraved, were often used again after a few impressions
nad been struck off; one design making way for another, to
save the cost of new copper. At the present moment, Blake
drawings, Blake prints, fetch prices which would have solaced
a life of penury, had their producer received them. They
are thus collected, chiefly because they are (naturally enough)
already 'K.aiiJe,' and 'Vdil^^ 5KaiSÂ©.' Still hiding in private
portfolios, his drawings are there prized or known by perhaps
a score of individuals, enthusiastic appreciators, â€” some of their
singularity and rarity, a few of their intrinsic quality.
At the Manchester Art-Treasures Exhibition of 1857, among
the select thousand water-colour drawings, hung two modestly
tinted designs by Blake, of few inches in size : one the Dream
of Queen Catherine, another Oberon and Titania. Both are
remarkable displays of imaginative power, and finished ex-
amples in the artist's peculiar manner. Both were unnoticed \
in the crowd, attracting few gazers, fewer admirers. For it
needs to be read in Blake, to have familiarized oneself with
his unsophisticated, archaic, yet spiritual ' manner,' â€” a style
sui generis as no other artist's ever was, â€” to be able to
sympathize with, or even understand, the equally individual
strain of thought, of which it is the vehicle. And one must
almost be born with a sympathy for it. He neither wrote nor
drew for the many, hardly for work'y-day men at all, rather
for children and angels ; himself 'a divine child,' whose play-
things were sun, moon, and stars, the heavens and the earth.
In an era of academies, associations, and combined efforts,
we have in him a solitary, self-taught, and as an artist, senii-
taught Dreamer, ' delivering the burning messages of prophecy
by the stammering lips of infancy,' as Mr. Ruskin has said
of Cimabue and Giotto. For each artist and writer has, in
the course of his training, to approve in his own person the
immaturity of expression Art has at recurrent periods to
pass through as a whole. And Blake in some aspects of
his art never emerged from infancy. His Drawing, often
correct, almost always powerful, the pose and grouping of
his figures often expressive and sublime as the sketches of
Raffaelle or Albert Diirer, on the other hand, range under
the category of the ' impossible ; ' are crude, contorted,
forced, monstrous, though none the less efficient in convey-
ing the visions fetched by the guileless man from Heaven,
from Hell itself, or from the intermediate limbo tenanted
by hybrid nightmares. His prismatic colour, abounding in
the purest, sweetest melodies to the eye, and always ex-
pressing a sentiment, yet looks to the casual observer slight,
4 l-IFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.
Many a cultivated spectator will turn away from all this
as from mere inefifectualness, â€” Art in its second childhood.
But see that sitting figure of Job in his Affiiciion, surrounded
by the bowed figures of wife and friend, grand as Michael
Angelo, nay, rather as the still, colossal figures fashioned
by the genius of old Egypt or Assyria ! Look on that
simple composition of Angels Singing aloud for Joy, pure
and tender as Fra Angelico, and with an austerer sweetness.
It is not the least of Blake's peculiarities that, instead of
expressing'himself, as most men have been content to do, by
help of the prevailing style of his day, he, in this, as in every
other matter, preferred to be independent of his fellows ;
partly by choice, partly from the necessities of imperfect
education as a painter. His Design has conventions of its
own ; in part, its own, I should say, in part, a return to
those of earlier and simpler times.
Of Blake as an Artist, we will defer further talk. His
Design can ill be translated into words, and very inade-
quately by any engraver's copy. Of his Poems, tinged with
the very same ineffable qualities, obstructed by the same
technical flaws and impediments â€” a semi-utterance as it
were, snatched from the depths of the vague and unspeak-
able â€” of these remarkable Poems, never once yet fairly placed
before the reading public, specimens shall by-and-bye speak
more intelligibly for themselves. Both form part in a Life
and Character as new, romantic, pious â€” in the deepest
natural sense â€” as they : romantic, though incident be slight ;
animated by the same unbroken simplicity, the same high
unity of sentiment.
William Blake, the most spiritual of artists, a mystic
poet and painter, who hved to be a contemporary of Cobbett
and Sir Walter Scott, was born 28th November, 1757, the
year of Canova's birth, two years after Stothard and Flax-
man ; while Chatterton, a boy of five, was still sauntering
about the winding streets of antique Bristol. Born amid
the gloom of a London November, at 28, Broad Street,
Carnaby Market, Golden Square (market now extinct), he
was christened on the nth Decemberâ€” one in a batch ot
six â€” from Grinling Gibbons' ornate font in Wren's noble
Palladian church of St. James's. He was the son of James
and Catherine Blake, the second child in a family of five.
His father was a moderately prosperous hosier of some
twenty years' standing, in a then not unfashionable quarter.
Broad Street, half private houses, half respectable shops,
was a street much such as Wigmore Street is now, only
shorter. Dashing Regent Street as yet was not, and had
more than half a century to wait for birth ; narrow Swallow
Street in part filling its place. All that Golden Square
neighbourhood,â€” Wardour Street, Poland Street, Brewer
Street, â€” held then a similar status to the Cavendish Square
district say, now : an ex-fashionable, highly respectable con-
dition, not yet sunk into the seedy category. The Broad
Street of present date is a dirty, forlorn-looking thorough-
fare ; one half of it twice as wide as the other In the wider
6 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1765â€”67.
portion stands a large, dingy brewery. The street is a
shabby miscellany of oddly assorted occupations, â€” lapi-
daries, pickle-makers, manufacturing trades of many kinds,
furniture-brokers, and nondescript shops, ' Artistes ' and
artizans live in the upper stories. Almost every house is
adorned by its triple or quadruple row of brass bells, bright
with the polish of frequent hands, and yearly multiplying
themselves. The houses, though often disguised by stucco,
and some of them refaced, date mostly from Queen Anne's
time ; 28, now a ' trimming shop,' is a corner house at the
narrower end, a large and substantial old edifice.