and publisher .-'
The subject of anxious daily thought passed — as anxious
meditation does with us all — into the domain of dreams and
(in his case) of visions. In one of these a happy inspiration
befell, not, of course, without supernatural agency.
intently thinking by day and dreaming by night, during long-
weeks and months, of his cherished object, the image of the
vanished pupil and brother at last blended with it. In a
vision of the night, the form of Robert stood before him, and
revealed the wished-for secret, directing him to the technical
mode by which could be produced a fac-simile of song and
design. On his rising in the morning, Mrs. Blake went out
with half-a-crown, all the money they had in the world, and
of that laid out \s. lod. on the simple materials necessary for
setting in practice the new revelation. Upon that investment
of IS. lod. he started what was to prove a principal means of
support through his future life, — the series of poems and
writings illustrated by coloured plates, often highly finished
afterwards by hand, — which became the most efficient and
durable means of revealing Blake's genius to the world.
This method, to which Blake henceforth consistently adhered
for multiplying his works, was quite an original one. It
70 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1788—89.
consisted in a species of engraving in relief both words and
designs. The verse was written and the designs and mar-
ginal embellishments outlined on the copper with an im-
pervious liquid, probably the ordinary stopping-out varnish
of engravers. Then all the white parts or lights, the re-
mainder 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 letter-press. 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.
He ground and mixed his water-colours himself on a piece
of statuary marble, after a method of his own, with common
carpenter's glue diluted, which he had found out, as the
early Italians had done before him, to be a good binder.
Joseph, the sacred carpenter, had appeared in vision and
revealed that secret to him. The colours he used were few
and simple : indigo, cobalt, gamboge, vermilion, Frankfort-
black freely, ultramarine rarely, chrome not at all. These
he applied with a camel's-hair brush, not with a sable, which
He taught Mrs, Blake to take off the impressions with
care and delicacy, which such plates signally needed ; and
also to help in tinting them from his drawings with right
artistic feeling ; in all which ta^ks she, to her honour, much
delighted. The size of the plates was small, for the sake
of economising copper ; something under five inches by three.
The number of engraved pages in the Songs of Innocence
alone was twenty-seven. They were done up in boards by
Mrs. Blake's hand, forming a small octavo ; so that the poet
and his wife did everything in making the book, — writing,
designing, printing, engraving, — everything except manufac-
turing the paper : the very ink, or colour rather, they did
make. Never before surely was a man so literally the author
^T.ji— 32.] SONGS OF INNOCENCE. 7 1
of his own book, ' Songs of Innocence, the author and printer
W. Blake, 1789,' is the title. Copies still occur occasionally ;
though the two series bound together in one volume, each
with its own title-page, and a general one added, is the more
First of the Poems let me speak, harsh as seems their
divorce from the Design which blends with them, forming
warp and woof in one texture. It is like pulling up a daisy
by the roots from the greensward out of which it springs.
To me many years ago, first reading these weird Songs in
their appropriate environment of equally spiritual form and
hue, the effect was as that of an angelic voice singing to
oaten pipe, such as Arcadians tell of ; or, as if a spiritual
magician were summoning before human eyes, and through a
human medium, images and scenes of divine loveliness ; and
in the pauses of the strain we seem to catch the rustling of
angelic wings. The Golden Age independent of Space or
Time, object of vague sighs and dreams from many genera-
tions of struggling humanity— an Eden_ such as childhood
sees, is brought nearer than ever poet brought it before.
For this poet was in assured possession of the Golden Age
within the chambers of his own mind. As we read, fugitive
glimpses open, clear as brief, of our buried childhood, of an
unseen world present, past, to come ; we are endowed with
new spiritual sight, with unwonted intuitions, bright visitants
from finer realms of thought, which ever elude us, ever hover
near. We encounter familiar objects, in unfamiliar, trans-
figured aspects, simple expression and deep meanings, type
and antitype. True, there are palpable irregularities, metrical
licence, lapse of grammar, and even of orthography ; but
often the sweetest melody, most daring eloquence of rhythm,
and what is more, appropriate rhythm. They are unfinished
poems : yet would finish have bettered their bold and care-
less freedom .'' Would it not have brushed away the delicate
bloom .'' that visible spontaneity, so rare and great a charm,
the eloquent attribute of our old English ballads and of the
72 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1788—89.
early Songs of all nations. The most deceptively perfect
wax-model is no substitute for the living flower. The form
is, in these Songs, a transparent medium of the spiritual
thought, not an opaque body. ' He has dared to venture,'
writes Malkin, not irrelevantly, ' on the ancient simplicity,
' and feeling it in his own character and manners, has
succeeded ' better than those who have only seen it through
There is the same divine afflatus as in the Poetical
Sketches, but fuller : a maturity of expression, despite sur-
viving negligences, and of thought and motive. The ' Child
Angel,' as we ventured to call the Poet in earlier years, no
longer merely sportive and innocently wanton, wears a brow
of thought ; a glance of insight has passed into
' A sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused'
in Nature, a feeling of 'the burthen of the mystery of things';
though still possessed by widest sympathies with all that is
simple and innocent, with echoing laughter, little lamb, a
flower's blossom, with ' emmet wildered and forlorn.'
These poems have a unity and mutual relationship, the
influence of which is much impaired if they be read otherwise
than as a whole. They are given entire in the Second
Volume, to which I refer my reader, if not of decisively
Who but Blake, with his pure heart, his simple exalted
character, could have transfigured a commonplace meeting of
Charity Children at St. Paul's, as he has done in the Holy
Thursday ? A picture at once tender and grand. The bold
images, by a wise instinct resorted to at the close of the first
and second stanzas and opening of the third, are in the
highest degree imaginative ; they are true as only Poetry
How vocal is the poem Spring, despite imperfect rhymes.
From addressing the child, the poet, by a transition not
.>ET. 31—32.] SONGS OF INNOCENCE. 73
infrequent with him, passes out of himself into the child's
person, showing a chameleon sympathy with childlike feelings.
Can we not see the little three-year-old prattler stroking the
white lamb, her feehngs made articulate for her ? — Even more
remarkable is the poem entitled The Lamb, sweet hymn
of tender infantine sentiment appropriate to that perennial
image of meekness ; to which the fierce eloquence of The
Tiger, in the Songs of Experience, is an antitype. In The
Lamb the poet again changes person to that of a child. Of
lyrical beauty, take as a sample The Laughing Song, with its
happy ring of merry innocent voices. This and The Nurses
Song are more in the style of his early poems, but, as we said,
of far maturer execution. I scarcely need call attention to
the delicate simplicity of the little pastoral, entitled The
Shepherd : to the picturesqueness in a warmer hue, the de-
lightful domesticity, the expressive melody of The Echoing
Green : or to the lovely sympathy and piety which irradiate
the touching Cradle Song. More enchanting still is the stir
of fancy and sympathy which animates The Dream, that
Did weave a shade o'er my angel-guarded bed;
of an emmet that had
Lost her way,
Where on grass methought I lay.
Few are the readers, I should think, who can fail to appre-
ciate the symbolic grandeur of TJie Little Boy Lost and The
Little Boy Found, or the enigmatic tenderness of the Blossom
and the Divine Linage ; and the verses On Another's Sorroiv,
express some of Blake's favourite religious ideas, his abiding
notions on the subject of the Godhead, which surely suggest
the kernel of Christian feeling. A similar tinge of the divine
colours the lines called Night, with its revelation of angelic
guardians, believed in with unquestioning piety by Blake,
who makes us in our turn conscious, as we read, of angelic
noiseless footsteps. For a nobler depth of religious beauty,
74 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1788—89.
with accordant grandeur of sentiment and language, I know
no parallel nor hint elsewhere of such a poem as TJie Little
Black Boy —
My mother bore me in the southern wild.
We may read these poems again and again, and they con-
tinue fresh as at first. There is something unsating in them,
a perfume as of a growing violet, which renews itself as fast
as it is inhaled.
One poem, The CJiimney Sweeper, still calls for special
notice. This and Holy Thursday are remarkable as an
anticipation of the daring choice of homely subject, of the
yet more daringly familiar manner, nay, of the very metre
and trick of style adopted by Wordsworth in a portion of
those memorable ' experiments in poetry,' — the Lyrical Bal-
lads, — in TJie Reverie of Poor Susan, for instance (not written
till i7<^y), the Star Gazers, and Tlie Power of Music (both
1806). The little Sweep's dream has the spiritual touch
peculiar to Blake's hand. This poem, I may add, was
extracted thirty-five years later in a curious little volume
(1824) of James Montgomery's editing, as friend of the then
unprotected Climbing Boys. It was entitled, The Chimney
Sweepers Friend and Climbing Boy s Album ; a miscellany
of verse and prose, original and borrowed, with illustrations
by Robert Cruikshank. Charles Lamb, one of the living
authors applied to by the kind-hearted Sheffield poet, while
declining the task of rhyming on such a subject, sent a copy
of this poem from the Songs of Innocence, communicating it
as " from a very rare and curious little work." At line five,
' Little Tom Dacre ' is transformed, by a sly blunder of
Lamb's, into ' little Tom Toddy.' The poem on the same
subject in the Songs of Experience, inferior poetically, but in
an accordant key of gloom, would have been the more
apposite to Montgomery's volume.
The tender loveliness of these poems will hardly reappear
in Blake's subsequent writing. Darker phases of feeling,
/ET. 31—32.] SONGS OF INNOCENCE. 75
more sombre colours, profounder meanings, ruder eloquence,
characterise the Songs of Experience of five years later.
In 1789, the year in which Blake's hand engraved the
Songs of Innocence, Wordsworth was finishing his versified
Evening Walk on the Goldsmith model ; Crabbe (' Pope in
worsted stockings,' as Hazlitt christened him), famous six
years before by his Village, was publishing one of his minor
quartos, The Newspaper ; and Mrs. Charlotte Smith, not
undeservedly popular, was accorded a fifth edition within
five years, of her Elegiac Sonnets, one or two of which still
merit the praise of being good sonnets, among the best in a
bad time. In these years, Hayley, Mason, Hannah More,
Jago, Downman, Helen Maria Williams, were among the
active producers of poetry ; Cumberland, Holcroft, Inchbald,
Burgoyne, of the acting drama of the day ; Peter Pindar, and
Pasquin Williams, of the satire.
The designs, simultaneous off'spring with the poems, which
in the most literal sense illuminate the Songs of Innocence,
consist of poetized domestic scenes. The drawing and
draperies are grand in style as graceful, though covering few
inches' space ; the colour pure, delicate, yet in effect rich and
full. The mere tinting of the text and of the free ornamental
border often makes a refined picture. The costumes of the
period are idealized, the landscape given in pastoral and
symbolic hints. Sometimes these drawings almost suffer
from being looked at as a book and held close, instead of at
due distance as pictures, where they become more effective.
In composition, colour, pervading feeling, they are lyrical to
the eye, as the Songs to the ear.
On the whole, the designs to the Songs of Innocence are
finer as well as more pertinent to the poems ; more closely
interwoven with them, than those which accompany the
Songs of Experience. Of these in their place.
BOOKS OF PROPHECY. 1789—90. [tet. 32—33.]
In the same year that the Songs of Innocence ^&xq^ published,
Blake profited by his new discovery to engrave another illus-
trated poem. It is in a very different strain ; one, however,
analogous to that running through nearly all his subsequent
writings, or ' Books,' as he called them. The Book of Thel
is a strange mystical allegory, full of tender beauty and
enigmatic meaning. Thel, youngest of ' the Daughters of
the Seraphim ' (personification of humanity, I infer), is
afflicted with scepticism, with forebodings of life's brevity
and nothingness : —
She in paleness sought the secret air
To fade away like morning beauty from her mortal day ;
Down by the river of Adona her soft voice is heard,
And thus her gentle lamentation falls like morning dew.
As the poem is printed entire in our Second Volume, I will
now simply give an Argument of it, by way of indicating its
tenor, and to serve as a bridge for the reader across the
eddying stream of abstractions which make up this piece
of poetic mysticism.
Thel laments her transient life — The Lily of the Valley answers
her — Pleads //^/^ weakness, yet Heaven's favour — Thel urges her own
^ET. 32—33.] THEL. 17
uselessness — A little cloud descends and taketh shape— Shows how
he weds the evening dew and feeds the flowers of earth — Tells of
Love and Serviceableness — Thel replies in soitow still — The Cloud
invokes the lowly worm to answer her — Who appears in the form of
a helpless child — A clod of clay pities her wailing cry — And shows
how in her lowliness she blesses and is blessed — She summons Thel
into her house — The grave's gates open — Thel, wandering, listens to
the voices of the ground — Hears a sorrowing voice from her own
grave-plot — Listens, and flees back.
The fault of the poem is the occasional tendency to vague-
ness of motive, to an expression of abstract emotions more
legitimate for the sister art of music than for poetry, which
must be definite, however deep and subtle. The tendency
grew in Blake's after writings and overmastered him. But
on this occasion the meaning which he is at the pains to
define, with the beauty of much of the imagery and of the
pervading sentiment, more than counterbalance any excess
of the element of the Indefinite, especially when, as in the
original, the poem is illumined by its own design, lucidly
expository, harmonising with itself and with the verse it
The original quarto consists of seven engraved pages,
including the title, in size some six inches by four and a
quarter. Four are illustrated by vignettes, the other two
by ornamental head or tail-piece. The designs — Thel, the
virgin sceptic, listening to the lily of the valley in the humble
grass ; to the golden cloud ' reclining on his airy throne ; ' to
the worm upon her dewy bed ; or kneeling over the personi-
fied clod of clay, an infant wrapped in lily's leaf; or gazing
at the embracing clouds — are of the utmost sweetness ; simple,
expressive, grand ; the colour slight, but pure and tender.
The mere ornamental part of the title-page, of which the sky
fornis the framework, is a study for spontaneous easy grace
and unobtrusive beauty. The effect of the whole, poem and
design together, is as of a wise, wondrous, spiritual dream'
or angel's reverie. The engraving of the letter-press differs
y8 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [17S9— 90.
from that of the Songs of Innocence, the text (in colour red
as before) being relieved by a white ground, which makes
the page more legible if less of a picture. I may mention,
in corroboration of a previous assertion of Stothard's obliga-
tions as a designer to Blake, that the copy of TJiel, formerly
Stothard's, bears evidence of familiar use on his part, in
broken edges, and the marks of a painter's oily fingers.
These few and simple designs, while plainly original, show
all the feeling and grace of Stothard's early manner,
with a tinge of sublimity superadded which was never
In the track of the mystical Book of TJiel came in 1790
the still more mystical Marriage of Heaven and Hell, an
engraved volume, illustrated in colour, to which I have
already alluded as perhaps the most curious and significant,
while it is certainly the most daring in conception and
gorgeous in illustration of all Blake's works. The title dimly
suggests an attempt to sound the depths of the mystery of
Evil, to view it in its widest and deepest relations. But
further examination shows that to seek any single dominating
purpose, save a poetic and artistic one, in the varied and
pregnant fragments of which this wonderful book consists,
were a mistake. The student of Blake will find in Mr.
Swinburne's Critical Essay on Blake all the light that can
be thrown by the vivid imagination and subtle insight of a
Poet on this as on the later mystic or ' Prophetic Books.'
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell o'pens. with an ' Argument'
in irregular unrhymed verse : —
Rintrah roars and shakes his fires in the burdened air ;
Hungry clouds swag on the deep.
Once meek and in a perilous path
The just man kept his course along
The vale of death.
Roses are planted where thorns grow,
^T. 32—33.] MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL. 79
And on the barren heath
Sing the honey bees.
Then the perilous path was planted ;
And a river and a spring
On every cliff and tomb ;
And on the bleached bones
Red clay brought forth.
Till the villain left the paths of ease
To walk in perilous paths, and drive
The just man into barren climes.
Now the sneaking serpent walks
In mild humility,
And the just man rages in the wilds
Where lions roam.
Rintrah roars and shakes his fires in the burdened air ;
Hungry clouds swag on the deep.
The key-note is more clearly sounded in the following
detached sentences: —
Without contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,
Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to human ex-
istence. 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.
The Voice of the Devil.
All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following
errors : —
1. That man has two real existing principles, viz. a Body and
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
8o LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1789—90-
But the following contraries to these are true : —
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul, for that called Body
is a portion of Soul discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of
Soul in this age.
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.
To this shortly succeeds a series of Proverbs or Aphorisms,
called * Proverbs of Hell.' These we give almost entire.
In seed-time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plough over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
The cut worm forgives the plough.
Dip him in the river who loves water.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of Time.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of Folly are measured by the clock, but of Wisdom
no clock can measure.
All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap.
Bring out number, weight, and measure, in a year of dearth.
The most sublime act is to set another before you.
If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.
Shame is Pride's cloak.
Excess of sorrow laughs ; excess of joy weeps.
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.
The fox condemns the trap, not himself
Joys impregnate, sorrows bring forth.
Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.
The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
The selfish smiHng fool and the sullen frowning fool shall be
both thought wise, that they may be a rod.
What is now proved was once only imagined.
The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit, watch the roots; the
hon, the tiger, the horse, the elephant, watch the fruits.
^T. 32—33.] MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL. 8 1
The cistern contains ; the fountain overflows.
One thought fills immensity.
Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will
Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth.
The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to
learn of the crow.
The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.
He who has suffered you to impose on him, knows you.
The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
Expect poison f om the standing water.
You never know what is enough, unless you know what is more
Listen to the fool's reproach ; it is a kingly title !
The eyes of fire ; the nostrils of air ; the mouth of water ; the
beard of earth.
The weak in courage is strong in cunning.
The apple-tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor
the lion the horse how he shall take his prey.
The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.
If others had not been foolish, we should be so.
The soul of sweet delight can never be defiled.
When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius ; lift
up thy head !
One law for the lion and ox is oppression.
To create a little flower is the labour of ages.
Damn braces, Bless relaxes.
The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.
Prayers plough not ! Praises reap not 1
Joys laugh not ! Sorrows weep not !
As the air to a bird, or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to
The crow wished everything was black, the owl that everything
Exuberance is beauty.
Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads with-
out improvement are roads of Genius.
Where man is not. Nature is barren.
Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be
Enough ! or too much.
VOL. I. G
82 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE, [1789-90.
The remainder of the book consists of five distinct, but
kindred prose compositions, not all following consecutively,
each entitled a ' Memorable Fancy.' Half dream, half alle-
goiy, these wild and strange fragments defy description or
interpretation. It would hardly occur, indeed, that they were
allegorical, or that interpretation was a thing to be expected
or attempted, but for an occasional sentence like the follow-
ing : — * I, in my hand, brought the skeleton of a body which
in the mill was Aristotle's Analytics: ' and we are sometimes
tempted to exclaim with the angel who conducts the author
to the mill : ' Thy phantasy has imposed upon me, and thou
oughtest to be ashamed.' Throughout these ' Memorable
Fancies,' there is a mingling of the sublime and grotesque
better paralleled in art than literature — in that Gothic art
with the spirit of which Blake was so deeply penetrated ;