serious one had been narrowly escaped from the English
Tories. Those were hanging days ! Blake, on this occasion,
showed greater sagacity than Paine, whom, indeed, Fuseli
affirmed to be more ignorant of the common affairs of life
than himself even. Spite of unworldliness and visionary
faculty, Blake never wanted for prudence and sagacity in
Early in this September died Blake's mother, at the age of
seventy, and was buried in Bunhill Fields on the 9th. She is a
shade to us, alas! in all senses: for of her character, or even her
person, no tidings survive. Blake's associates in later years
remember to have heard him speak but rarely of either father
or mother, amid the frequent allusions to, his brother Robert
At the beginning of the year (February 23rd, 1792) had
died the recognised leader of English painters. Sir Joshua
Reynolds, whom failing eyesight had for some time debarred
from the exercise of his art. He was borne, in funeral pomp,
from his house in Leicester Fields to Saint Paul's, amid the
regrets of the great world, testified by a mourning train of
ninety coaches, and by the laboured panegyric of Burke.
Blake used to tell of an interview he had once had with
Reynolds, in which our neglected enthusiast found the
originator of a sect in art to which his own was so hostile, very
pleasant personally, as most found him. 'Well, Mr. Blake,'
blandly remarked the President, who, doubtless, had heard
strange accounts of his interlocutor's sayings and doings,
' I hear you despise our art of oil-painting.' ' No, Sir Joshua,
I don't despise it ; but I like fresco better.'
Sir Joshua's style, with its fine taste, its merely earthly
graces and charms of colour, light, and shade, was an
abomination to the poetic visionary ā 'The Whore of Babylon'
96 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1792,
and ' Antichrist,' metaphorically speaking. For, as it has
been said, very earnest original artists make ill critics : of
feeble sympathy with alien schools of feeling, they can no
more be eclectic in criticism than, to any worthy result, in
practice. Devout sectaries in art hate and contemn those of
opposite artistic faith with truly religious fervour. I have
heard of an eminent living painter in the New School, who,
on his admiration being challenged for a superlative example
of Sir Joshua's graceful, generalizing hand, walked up to it,
pronounced an emphatic word of disgust, and turned on his
heel : such bigoted mortals are men who paint !
It was hardly in flesh and blood for the unjustly despised
author of the Songs of Innocence, who had once, as Allan
Cunningham w^ell says, thought, and not perhaps unnaturally,
that 'he had but to sing beautiful songs, and draw grand
designs, to become great and famous,' and in the midst of
his obscurity feeling conscious of endowments of imagination
and thought, rarer than those fascinating gifts of preception
and expression which so readily won the world's plaudits
and homage ; it was hardly possible not to feel jealous, and
as it were injured, by the startling contrast of such fame and
success as Sir Joshua's and Gainsborough's.
Of this mingled soreness and antipathy we have curious
evidence in some MS. notes Blake subsequently made in his
copy of Sir Joshua's Discourses. Struck by their singularity,
one or two of Blake's admirers in later years transcribed
these notes. To Mr. Palmer I am indebted, among many
other courtesies, for a copy of the first half of them.
' This man was here,' commences the indignant com-
mentator, ' to depress Art : this is the opinion of William
' Blake. My proofs of this opinion are given in the following
* notes. Having spent the vigour of my youth and genius
* under the oppression of Sir Joshua, and his gang of cunning,
' hired knaves ā without employment and, as much as could
' possibly be without bread, ā the reader must expect to read,
' in all my remarks on these books, nothing but indignation
' and resentment. While Sir Joshua was rolling in riches,
' Barry was poor and unemployed, except by his own energy ;
* Mortimer was called a madman, and only portrait-painting
* was applauded and rewarded by the rich and great. Reynolds
' and Gainsborough blotted and blurred one against the other,
'and divided all the English world between them. Fuseli,
* indignant, almost hid himself. I AM hid.'
Always excepting the favoured portrait-painters, these
were, indeed, cold days for the unhappy British artist ā the
historical or poetic artist above all. Times have strangely
altered within living memory. The case is now reversed.
One can but sympathise with the above touching outburst ;
and Blake rarely complained aloud of the world's ill usage,
extreme as it was : one can but sympathise, I say, even
while cherishing the warmest love and admiration for Sir
Joshua's and Gainsborough's delightful art. The glow of
sunset need not blind us to the pure light of Hesperus.
Admiration of a fashionable beauty, with her Watteau-Iike
grace, should not dazzle the eye to exclusion of the nobler
grace of Raphael or the Antique.
Of these notes more hereafter.
THE GATES OF PARADISE, AMERICA, etc. 1793. [^t. 36.]
In 1793, Blake quitted Poland Street, after five years' resi-
dence there. The now dingy demirep street, one in which
Shelley lodged in 1811, after his expulsion from Oxford,
had witnessed the production of the Songs of Innocence and
other Poetry and Design of a genus unknown, before or since,
to that permanently foggy district. From the neighbour-
hood of his birth he removed across Westminster Bridge
to Lambeth. There he will remain other seven years, and
produce no less an amount of strange and original work.
Hercules Buildings is the new abode ; a row of houses which
had sprung up since his boyish rambles.
Within easy reach of the centre of London on one side, the
favourite Dulwich strolls of early years were at hand on the
other. Hercules Buildings, stretching diagonally between the
Kennington Road and Lambeth Palace, was then a street of
modest irregular sized houses, from one to three stories high,
with fore-courts or little gardens in front, in the suburban
style ; a street indeed only for half its length, the remainder
being a single row, or terrace. No. 13, Blake's, was among
the humbler, one-storied houses, on the right hand side as
you go from the Bridge to the Palace. It had a wain-
scoted parlour, pleasant low windows, and a narrow strip of
real garden behind, wherein grew a fine vine. A lady who,
as a girl, used with her elders to call on the artist here, tells
me Blake would on no account prune this vine, having a
4- ā AIR.
2. ā WATER.
.ET. 36.] THE GATES OF PARADISE. 99
theory it was wrong and unnatural to prune vines : and the
affranchised tree consequently bore a luxuriant crop of leaves,
and plenty of infinitesimal grapes which never ripened. Open
garden ground and field, interspersed with a few lines of
clean, newly-built houses, lay all about and near ; for brick
and mortar was spreading even then. At back, Blake looked
out over gardens towards Lambeth Palace and the Thames,
seen between gaps of Stangate Walk, ā Etty's home a few
years later. The city and towers of Westminster closed the
prospect beyond the river, on whose surface sailing hoys were
then plying once or twice a day. Vauxhall Gardens lay half
a mile to the left ; Dulwich and Peckham hills within view
to the south-west. The street has since been partly rebuilt,
partly re-named ; the whole become now sordid and dirty.
At the back of what was Blake's side has arisen a row of ill-
drained, one-storied tenements bestriden by the arches of the
South Western Railway; while the adjacent main roads,
grimy and hopeless looking, stretch out their long arms
towards further mile on mile of suburb, ā Newington,
In Hercules Buildings Blake engraved and ' published ' ā
May, 1793, adding at the foot of the title-page Johnson's
name to his own ā TJte Gates of Paradise; a singularly
beautiful and characteristic volume, pre-eminently marked
by significance and simplicity. It is a little foolscap octavo,
printed according to his usual method, but not coloured ; con-
taining seventeen plates of emblems, accompanied by verse,
with a title or motto to each plate. For Children, the title
runs, or, as some copies have it. For the Sexes. The Gates of
Pai'adise ā 'a sort of devout dream, equally wild and lovely,'
Allan Cunningham happily terms it. There is little in art
which speaks to the mind directly and pregnantly as do these
few, simple Designs, emblematic of so much which could
never be imprisoned ''^ words, yet of a kind more allied to
literature than to art. It is plain, on looking at this little
volume alone, from whom Flaxman and Stothard borrowed.
lOO LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1793-
Hints of more than one design of theirs might be found in it.
And Blake's designs have, I repeat, the look of originals. A
shock as of something wholly fresh and new, these typical
compositions give us.
The verses at the commencement elucidate, to a certain
extent, the intention of the Series, embodying an ever
recurrent canon of Blake's Theology : ā
Mutual forgiveness of each vice,
Such are the Gates of Paradise,
Against the Accuser's chief desire,
Who walked among the stones of fire,
Jehovah's fingers wrote The Law:
He wept ! then rose in zeal and awe,
And in the midst of Sinai's heat,
Hid it beneath His Mercy Seat.
O Christians ! Christians ! tell me why
You rear it on your altars high ?
' What is man ? ' ā the frontispiece significantly inquires.
To the Gates of Paradise their author in some copies added
what many another Book of his would have profited by, ā the
Keys of the Gates, in sundry wild lines of rudest verse, which
do not pretend to be poetry, but merely to tag the artist's
ideas with rhyme, and are themselves a little obscure, though
they do help one to catch the prevailing motives. For which
reason they shall here accompany our samples of the
'emblems.' The numbers prefixed to the lines refer them
to the plates which they are severally intended to explain.
The Keys of the Gates.
The Caterpillar on the Leaf
Reminds thee of thy Mother's Grief.
1 My Eternal Man set in Repose,
The Female from his darkness rose ;
And she found me beneath a Tree,
A Mandrake, and in her Veil hid me.
Serpent reasonings us entice,
Of Good and Evil, Virtue, Vice.
2 Doubt self-jealous, Wat'ry folly,
WHAT IS MAN?
9. ~I WANT ! I WANT
14. ā THE TRAVELLER HA5TE1H
IX THE EVENIN'G.
^T. 36.] THE GATES OF PARADISE. lOI
3 Struggling through Earth's Melancholy.
4 Naked in Air, in Shame and Fear,
5 Blind in Fire, with Shield and Spear,
Two Horrid Reasoning Cloven Fictions,
In Doubt which is Self Contradiction,
A dark Hermaphrodite I stood, ā
Rational Truth, Root of Evil and Good.
Round me, flew the flaming sword ;
Round her, snowy Whirlwinds roar'd,
Freezing her Veil, the mundane shell.
6 I rent the veil where the Dead dwell :
When weary Man enters his Cave,
He meets his Saviour in the Grave.
Some find a Female Garment there.
And some a Male, woven with care,
Lest the Sexual Garments sweet
Should grow a devouring Winding-sheet.
7 One Dies ! Alas ! the living and dead !
One is slain ! and one is fled !
8 In vainglory hatch'd and nurs'd
By double spectres, self accurs'd
My Son ! my Son ! thou treatest me
But as I have instructed thee.
9 On the shadows of the Moon,
Climbing thro' night's highest noon :
10 In Time's Ocean falling, drown'd :
11 In Aged Ignorance profound,
Holy and cold, I clipp'd the Wings
Of all Sublunary Things :
12 And in depths of icy Dungeons
Closed the Father and the Sons.
13 But when once I did descry
The Immortal man that cannot Die,
14 Thro' evening shades I haste away
To close the labours of my Day.
15 The Door of Death I open found,
And the Worm weaving in the Ground ;
16 Thou'rt my Mother, from the Womb ;
Wife, Sister, Daughter, to the Tomb :
Weaving to Dreams the Sexual Strife,
And weeping over the Web of Life.
I02 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE". [1793.
In one copy which I have seen, under No. 4 are inscribed
the words ā
On cloudy doubts and reasoning cares.
Last follows an epilogue, or postscript, which perhaps
explains itself, addressed
To the Accuser, who is the God of this World.
Truly, my Satan, thou art but a dunce,
And dost not know the garment from the man ;
Every harlot was a virgin once, .,;
Nor canst thou ever change Kate into Nan.
Though thou art worshipped by the names divine
Of Jesus and Jehovah, thou art still
The Son of Morn in weary Night's decline.
The lost traveller's dream under the hill.
In this year, by the way, the first volume of a more famous
poet, but a much less original volume than Blake's first, ā the
Descriptive Sketches of Wordsworth, followed by the Eveiiing
Walk, ā were published by Johnson, of St, Paul's Churchyard.
Neither reached a second edition ; but by 1807, when the
Lyrical Ballads had attracted admirers here and there, they
had, according to De Ouincey, got out of print, and scarce.
Other engraved volumes, more removed from ordinary
sympathy and comprehension than the Gates of Paradise,
were issued in the same year : dreamy ' Books of Prophecy '
following in the wake of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
First came Visions of the Dajighters of Albion, a folio volume
of Designs and rhymless verse, printed in colour.
The eye sees more than the heart knows
is the key-note struck in the first page, to which follows the
Argument : ā
I loved Theotormon,
And I was not ashamed ;
I trembled in my virgin fears.
And I hid in Leutha's vale.
7- ā ALAS !
lO, ā HELP ! HELP
l6. ā I HAVE SAID TO THE
WORM, THOU ART MY MOTHER
AND MY SISTER.
^T. 36.] VISIONS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ALBION.
I plucked Leutha's flower,
And I rose up from the vale ;
But the terrible thunders tore
My virgin mantle in twain.
The poem partakes of the same delicate mystic beauty as
Thely but tends also towards the incoherence of the writings
which immediately followed it. Of the former qualities the
commencement may be quoted as an instance ā
Enslaved, the daughters of Albion weep, a trembling lamentation
Upon their mountains ; in their valleys, sighs toward America.
For the soft soul of America, ā Oothoon, ā wandered in woe
Among the vales of Leutha, seeking flowers to comfort her :
And thus she spoke to the bright marigold of Leutha's vale,ā
104 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1793.
* Art thou a flower ? Art thou a nymph ? I see thee now a flower ;
* And now a nymph ! I dare not pluck thee from thy dewy bed ! '
The golden nymph replied, ' Pluck thou my flower, Oothoon the
'Another flower shall spring, because the soul of sweet delight
' Can never pass away,' ā She ceased and closed her golden shrine.
Then Oothoon plucked the flower, saying,ā' I pluck thee from
' Sweet flower, and put thee here to glow between my breasts,
' And thus I turn my face to where my whole soul seeks. '
Over the waves she went, in wing'd exulting swift delight.
And over Theotormon's reign took her impetuous course.
But she is taken in the ' thunders,' or toils of Bromion, who
appears the evil spirit of the soil. Theotormon, in jealous
fury, chains them ā ' terror and meekness ' ā together, back to
back, in Bromion's cave, and seats himself sorrovi^fully by.
The lamentations of Oothoon, and her appeals to the incensed
divinity, with his replies, form the burthen of the poem. The
Daughters of Albion, who are alluded to in the opening lines
as enslaved, weeping, and sighing towards America, ' hear her
woes and echo back her cries ; ' a recurring line or refrain,
which includes all they have to do.
We subjoin another extract or two : ā
Oothoon weeps not : she cannot weap ! her tears are locked up !
But she can howl incessant, writhing her soft, snowy limbs.
And caUing Theotormon's eagles to prey upon her flesh !
' I call with holy voice ! kings of the sounding air !
' Rend away this defiled bosom that I may reflect
* The image of Theotormon on my pure transparent breast ! '
The eagles at her call descend and rend their bleeding prey.
Theotormon severely smiles ; her soul reflects the smile,
As the clear spring mudded with feet of beasts grows pure and smiles.
The Daughters of Albion hear her woes and echo back her sighs.
.tr. 36.] VISIONS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ALBION. 105
' Why does my Theotormon sit weeping upon the threshold ?
' And Oothoon hovers by his side persuading him in vain !
' I cry, Arise, O Theotormon ! for the village dog
' Barks at the breaking day ; the nightingale has done lamenting ;
' The lark does rustle in the ripe corn ; and the Eagle returns
' From nightly prey, and lifts his golden beak to the pure east,
' Shaking the dust from his immortal pinions, to awake
' The sun that sleeps too long ! Arise, my Theotormon ; I am pure !
' Ask the wild ass why he refuses burdens ; and the meek camel
' Why he loves man. Is it because of eye, ear, mouth, or skin,
' Or breathing nostrils ? No : for these the wolf and tiger have.
' Ask the blind worm the secrets of the grave ; and why her spires
' Love to curl round the bones of death : and ask the ravenous snake
' Where she gets poison ; and the winged eagle, why he loves the sun :
' And then tell me the thoughts of man that have been hid of old !
' Silent I hover all the night, and all day could be silent,
' If Theotomion once would turn his loved eyes upon me ;
' How can I be defiled, when I reflect thy image pure ?
' Sweetest the fruit that the worm feeds on ; and the soul prey'd
on by woe.
' The new washed lamb ting'd with the village smoke and the
' By the red earth of our immortal river : I bathe my wings,
' And I am white and pure, to hover round Theotormon's breast.'
Then Theotormon broke his silence, and he answered : ā
' Tell me what is the night or day to one o'erflow'd with woe ?
' Tell me what is a thought ? and of what substance is it made ?
' Tell me what is a joy ; and in what gardens do joys grow ;
' And in what rivers swim the sorrows ; and upon what mountains
' Wave shadows of discontent ? And in what houses dwell the
' Drunken with woe forgotten, and shut up from cold despair ?
' Tell me where dwell the thoughts forgotten till thou call them
' Tell me where dwell the joys of old, and where the ancient loves ?
' And when they will renew again, and the night of oblivion pass ?
' That I may traverse times and spaces far remote, and bring
' Comforts into a present sorrow, and a night of pain.'
I06 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1793.
The poem concludes thus : ā
The sea fowl takes the wintry blast for a covering to her limbs.
And the wild snake the pestilence, to adorn him with gems and
And trees, and birds, and beasts, and men, behold their eternal
Arise, you little glancing wings, and sing your infant joy !
Arise, and drink your bliss ! For every thing that lives is holy.
Thus every morning wails Oothoon, but Theotormon sits
Upon the margined ocean, conversing with shadows dire.
The Daughters of Albion hear her woes, and echo back her sighs.
The designs to the Visio7is of the Daughters of Albion are
magnificent in energy and portentousness. They are coloured
with flat, even tints, not worked up highly. A frontispiece re-
presents Bromion and Oothoon, chained in a cave that opens
on the sea ; Theotormon sitting near. The title-page is of
great beauty ; the words are written over rainbow and cloud,
from the centre of which emerges an old man in fire, other
figures floating round. We give two specimens. One (page
103) illustrates the Argument we have quoted ; the other
(page 97), an incident in the poem (also quoted), where the
eagles of Theotormon rend the flesh of Oothoon.
The other volume of this year's production at Lambeth,
entitled America, a Prophecy, is a folio of twenty pages, of
still more dithyrambic verse. It is verse hard to fathom ;
with far too little Nature behind it, or back-bone ; a redun-
dance of mere invention, ā the fault of all this class of Blake's
writings ; too much wild tossing about of ideas and words.
The very names ā Urthona, Enitharmon, Ore, &c. are but
Ossian-like shadows, and contrast oddly with those of
historic or matter-of-fact personages occasionally men-
tioned in the poem ; whom, notwithstanding the subject in
hand, we no longer expect to meet with, after reading the
Pi'eludinni : ā
^r. 36.] THE AMERICA. 10/
The shadowy Daughter of Urthona stood before red Ore,
When fourteen suns had faintly journey'd o'er his dark abode :
His food she brought in iron baskets, his drink in cups of iron.
Crown'd with a helmet and dark hair, the nameless female stood.
A quiver with its burning stores, a bow like that of night
When pestilence is shot from heaven, ā no other arms she needs, ā
Invulnerable though naked, save where clouds roll round her
Their awful folds in the dark air. Silent she stood as night :
For never from her iron tongue could voice or sound arise ;
But dumb from that dread day when Ore essay'd his fierce
' Dark virgin ! ' said the hairy youth, ' thy father stern, ahhorr'd,
* Rivets my tenfold chains, while still on high my spirit soars ;
' Sometimes an eagle screaming in the sky ; sometimes a lion,
' Stalking upon the mountains ; and sometimes a whale, I lash
' The raging, fathomless abyss ; anon, a serpent folding
'Around the pillars of Urthona, and round thy dark limbs,
'On the Canadian wilds I fold.'
The poem opens itself thus : ā
The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent.
Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America's shore.
Piercing the souls of warlike men, who rise in silent night,
Washington, Franklin, Paine, Warren, Gates, Hancock and Green,
Meet on the coast, glowing with blood, from Albion's fiery prince.
Washington spoke : ' P'riends of America, look over the Atlantic sea.
* A bended bow is lifted in heaven, and a heavy iron chain
' Descends link by link from Albion's cliffs across the sea to bind
' Brothers and sons of America, till our faces pale and yellow,
' Heads deprest, voices weak, eyes downcast, hands work-bruised,
* Feet bleeding on the sultry sands, and the furrows of the whip,
* Descend to generations that in future times forget.'
The strong voice ceased : for a terrible blast swept over the
The eastern cloud rent. On his cliffs stood Albion's wrathful Prince, ā
A dragon form clashing his scales : at midniglit he arose,
And flamed red meteors round the land of Albion beneath.
His voice, his locks, his awful shoulders and his glowing eyes,
Appear to the Americans, upon the cloudy night.
Solemn heave the Atlantic waves between the gloomy nations.
I08 LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE. [1793.
One more extract shall suffice : ā
The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up.
The bones of death, the covering clay, the sinews shrunk and
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing ! awakening !
Spring, ā like redeemed captives when their bonds and bars are
Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field;
Let him look up into the heavens and laugh in the bright air.
Let the enchained soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,
Rise, and look out ! ā his chains are loose ! his dungeon doors
are open !
The poem has no distinctly seizable pretensions to a pro-
phetic character, being, like the rest of Blake's ' Books of
Prophecy,' rather a retrospect, in its mystic way, of events
already transpired. The American War of Independence is
the theme ; a portion of history here conducted mainly by
vast mythic beings, ' Ore,' the ' Angels of Albion,' the ' Angels
of the thirteen states,' &c. ; whose movements are throughout
accompanied by tremendous elemental commotion ā ' red
clouds and raging fire ; ' ' black smoke, thunder,' and
Plagues creeping on the burning winds driven by flames of Ore,
through which chaos the merely human agents show small
and remote, perplexed and busied in an ant-like way. Strange
to conceive a somewhile associate of Paine producing these
' Prophetic ' volumes !