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SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE
TOGETHER WITH POETICAL SKETCHES
AND SOME COPYRIGHT POEMS NOT
IN ANY OTHER EDITION
BY THE EDITOR.
AVERY few words of introduction will suffice to explain the character and purpose of this new edition of William Blake's Poetical Works. Five-and-thirty years ago, and some twelve years after the death of Blake, an edition of the Songs of Innocence and Experience" (the first, in fact, printed in the ordinary way) was issued by the father of the present Publisher. It was edited by Dr. Garth Wilkinson, who prefixed a graceful preface, which presented for the first time anything like an adequate appreciation of the high and subtle qualities of the artist-poet's verse.
Some eleven years ago the publication of Gilchrist's "Life of Blake" created, or re-awakened at least, an extraordinary interest in the poetpainter's singular genius. This memoir, which its
* Songs of Innocence and of Experience, shewing the two states of the human Soul. By William Blake. London: W. Pickering, Chancery Lane, 1839; pp. xxi. 76.
accomplished author did not live fully to complete, was accompanied by a collection of Blake's lyrical poems. This collection, it soon appeared, was very imperfect as regards completeness arid very unreliable as regards accuracy of text. Apart from these serious disadvantages, the mass of extraneous matter with which it was weighted placed it beyond the reach of many readers who might desire to possess the Poems in a separate form. These considerations, his father's former connexion with the Songs of Innocence, and the purchase eventually of a number of inedited autograph Poems of Blake, led the Publisher to re-issue his father's volume, together with the newly-acquired pieces, in 1866. The ground was carefully re-traversed, and several errors into which Dr. Wilkinson had fallen were removed by a careful collation with the rare original edition issued by Blake himself. The little volume was welcomed as satisfying a public want, and it passed into a second edition (now also exhausted) two years later (1868). About the same time the loan, opportunely obtained, of a still rarer book, the juvenile Poetical Sketches, privately printed in 1783, with a few other short pieces written in the fly-leaves, enabled the Publisher to add a twin volume to the former one. These are now united, together with a few similar pieces, not included before, scattered through the Prophetical Books. It will suffice to add that not a few of these pieces do not appear in Gilchrist's "Life of Blake," and being the present Publisher's copyright, cannot appear in Messrs. Bell's forthcoming edition.
Although the poetry of Blake was comparatively neglected until a quite recent period, it did not remain entirely unnoticed even during his lifetime. Flaxman, through whose kindly aid his early verses are preserved to us, considered Blake's poems as fine as his pictures. Wordsworth spoke of them with a generous admiration, which he did not often accord to the writings of his contemporaries. Charles Lamb also loved them as so subtle a critic and so kind and simple-hearted a man could not fail to do.
"A Father's Memoirs of his Child," by Benjamin Heath Malkin, (London, 1806), contains a portrait frontispiece designed by Blake, in introducing which the author devotes twenty pages to a disquisition on Blake's genius, and quotes the following poems: "Laughing Song," "Holy Thursday," "The Divine Image," "How sweet I roam'd," "I love the jocund dance," "The Tiger."