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gives us some glimpses into the sculptor's inner life, and indicates how much he was affected by Swedenborg, as Jung Stilling and Jacob Boehmen affected Goethe. The distinction between these men and Blake was that they mastered their spiritual enthusiasm. Hence the work of Goethe and Flaxman, as artists, is incomparably more complete ; for completeness is impossible without sanity. Yet Blake's art, from the author's self-abandonment to his imaginations, wields a certain wild and entrancing power over sympathetic natures. It speaks to the initiated. Every hint to them seems pregnant with meaning, as the letter of Scripture to the allegorical interpreters of old. It even gains no little by its very imperfection and want of purpose, as the weather-stains on a wall, or the cinders of the grate, present landscapes and faces to a dreamy mind. Those to whom such art speaks are apt, perhaps, to overrate at once its intrinsic value, and their own taste in admiring it. They forget that their sympathy is so deep, precisely because a limitation in the artist's genius fits in with a limitation in themselves. Some remarks in Plato may occur to scholars here. • The poetry of the sober man,' said Socrates, is annihilated before the poetry of the enthusiast.' But he is careful to add, “I too am a prophet, but not altogether an enthusiastic prophet.'* In truth, there was no risk, amidst the well-balanced nature and cultivation of the Athenians, if Plato preached the necessity of rapture, enthusiasm, madness, or however we may try to translate one of the many untransferable words of that perfect language, for success in art.
No people were more thoroughly aware than his countrymen, that this ecstasy must repose on underlying sanity and moderation. They said to themselves, with Hamlet, that 'in the very torrent, tempest, and whirlwind of their passion, they must acquire and beget a temperance;' for only thus could perfect things and things for all time be produced. It was thus that Phidias and Plato, Thucydides and Sophocles worked, and Flaxman after
em. Their creations, like those of all the very highest men, tremble with suppressed emotion. They are white hot with the fire of imagination. Yet they never abandon their majestic calm; they never outstep the tenderest lines of grace; they unite the strength of man to the reserve of maidenhood—in one word, they are sane.
Wc set a value on William Blake's genius which will, perhaps,
that of our intelligent foreign critics against some of those sculptors who are now fashionable among us) was totally unheeded. It is one of the innumerable proofs how dead the English mind is to the highest of the Fine Arts, that we should have had to wait forty years for this biography. But we hope, nunc demum redit animus.
* Phædrus, c. xx. xxii.
appear • madness' to the “ sober man' of Plato's dialogue. Mr.
Returning to the narrative of Blake's youth, Mr. Gilchrist
artist had also in him the narrowness of the half-educated or self-made' man, united to the firmness of conscious power.
Yet no one can doubt that, had Blake been able to accept the counsel, he would not have been the · Pictor Ignotus' which Mr. Gilchrist has happily named him. The result was that he confused through life his dislike at Reynolds's implied criticism with his dislike of Reynolds's method in painting, and expressed his feelings in sundry comments which . might, we think, have been much better left to the privacy of the note-books in which they were jotted down by their irritable and neglected author.
On the close of his apprenticeship, Blake set up as an artist after his own fashion, making his livelihood as a professed engraver, and before long marrying a lively and generous-hearted girl, whose loving fidelity to her wild and gifted husband through more than forty struggling years proves that she did not regret her frank acceptance of his brief and characteristic courtship. This was the beginning of the great age of English line-engraving, and Blake appears to have had a fair amount of business, to which the friendship of Stothard, then rising into popularity, probably introduced him. The vignettes by Blake, which we have been able to identify, are cut with delicacy and spirit,
and the extremities treated with care ; but they never exhibit a trace of the artist's own style-a curious proof of self-mastery.
Meanwhile, however, the imagination within him was active. Honestly as he might accept the business by which he was to live, it was in the intervals when he could be himself that Blake found his real life. For some years he had worked in putting some of his thickcoming fancies on paper in the form of verse, and painting others in water-colour. A striking design, representing Plague as one of the attendant horrors of war, engraved in the Life,' shows that by 1784 the main elements of his style were already formed, although we have seen other early specimens much less marked with his manner.
im The poetry came into print through the aid of Flaxman and of a kindly-natured couple named Mathews, who, about 1783, introduced Blake to a literary circle which met at their house. The volume is amongst the rarissima of collectors, vying in scarcity with some of the Elizabethan books of verse; nor does the resemblance stop here. For this singular genius, original in everything, had, from his youth, according to the testimony of Dr. Malkin, been a diligent reader of our early poetry. Shak
speare's Poems and Sonnets, and Ben Jonson's Underwoods,' are specially noted ; and although, by 1770, students of the Elizabethan literature were probably less unfrequent than Mr. Gilchrist supposes, yet it is very remarkable that these lyrical writers should have been selected for his models, with instinctive taste and insight, by an engraver's lad some thirty years before the date of the ballads in which Wordsworth and Coleridge first made their submission to antiquity. A copious selection from these, and from Blake's later poems, has been wisely added to the Life. _We cannot, as we have already intimated, join with Mr. G. Rossetti in that bias of mind which treats imperfect suggestiveness with the honours due to finished art; but a little fanaticism may be readily pardoned to the editor, if not precisely the first admirer, of such exquisitely tender and original stanzas as occur amongst Blake's earlier poems. It is sad but instructive to watch their steady decline, not less in poetry than in meaning, as Blake endeavoured to express ideas which could only be mastered by that sane experience of life and of literature which lay so far distant from the circumstances of his career. But when, in youth, and yet unvitiated in his mental vision by the distorting fog of religious mysticism, he poured forth his fine instincts in strains of unpremeditated art,' he could write with a most unusual delicacy of touch and music of expression. His verses at fourteen may be fairly set beside any specimens of early promise we know of.
To the Muses.
Or in the chambers of the East,
From ancient melody have ceased;
Or the green corners of the earth,
Where the melodious winds have birth ;
Beneath the bosom of the sea,
Fair Nine, forsaking Poetry;
That bards of old enjoy'd in you!
The sound is forced, the notes are few. Blake's brief poetical career may be traced in Mr. Gilchrist's volumes, through the Songs of Innocence' (1789), the 'Songs
of Experience' (1794), and some few pieces now first printed from his MS., to the mystical strains in which, amidst a torrent of high-sounding phrases and oracular annunciations, here and there a glimpse, not simply of meaning, but of profound spiritual insight, relieves for a moment, if it does not repay, the labour of perusal. Our criticism would seem exactly such as might fit the writings of insane genius. We think that no one who, ignorant of their author's life, opened “Jerusalem' or ' Albion, • Los,' • Ahania,' America,' and the rest, would assign them a different origin.
Clouds roll heavy upon the Alps round Rousseau and Voltaire, And on the mountains of Lebanon round the deceas'd gods of Asia, And on the deserts of Africa round the Fallen Angels. The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent! Or how, except as a contribution from St. Luke's, should the respectable public of 1804, to whom Hayley was a poet, and Wordsworth a heretical innovator, receive such an announcement as prefaced Blake's epic of Jerusalem'? SHEEP.
Goats. To the Public. After my three years' slumber on the banks of ocean, I again display my giant forms to the public, my former giants and fairies having received the highest reward possible.
Yet we are convinced no judgment would be more false than that which should set these down as the utterances of insanity. They are simply the singular forms taken by total inexperience in literature, combined with the wish to express in words what can only be expressed in drawings; the writer being also a man of fervent genius and entire disregard to everything but the expression of what he thinks the truth. Blake, says Mr. Samuel Palmer, himself a water-colour painter of no small poetical faculty and technical power, in an excellent letter of reminiscences, 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. One of his most favourite aphorisins, ' Art is Christianity, and Christianity is Art, explains the modus operandi of Blake, when working at his own free will. It may be compared with that phrase, The Beautiful is the Good, and the Good the Beautiful,' which, like many similar word-juggles, has fascinated more than one gifted man. Such a nature is led, by an impulse he cannot resist, into grappling with those problems which wider mental cultivation and experience of life would warn him should be touched with reserve and com