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ART. I.-- The Life of William Blake, illustrated from his Works.
By the late Alexander Gilchrist, of the Middle Temple. 2 vols. 1863.* COU know, dear, the first time you saw God, was when you
were four years old, and He put His head to the window, and set you screaming. This singular remark was made by Mrs. Blake to her husband, at the close of a life in which Visions (as he called them) had formed what William Blake was disposed to regard as the real, essential portion. It was of visionary images that he spoke and wrote; above all, they were the subjects of his art during a career of fifty industrious years. Such an artist—a rare being at all times—appears especially strange regnante Georgio III.; and we are much indebted to the writer who, before the last of those who knew the seer had gone, has enabled us, in some degree, to become familiar with Blake, and to comprehend the conditions under which he produced works which, at once in their wildness and their originality, are without parallel in English art.
Taking into account the long interval which separates us from Blake, who died, an old man, in 1827, and the fact that Mr. Gilchrist was himself removed before the conclusion of his work, we consider this book one of the most satisfactory amongst our recent biographies, a province of literature in which England has not been particularly eminent. It is brief—a praise which few readers will quarrel with us for placing first-for the Life is contained in one volume. It appears to unite the chief available records of Blake with a complete account of his works; and, from the fortunate accident that Blake gave his ideas to the world by engraving, the illustrations are able to convey a much more adequate picture of the artist, as artist, than is generally possible. What we mainly miss is a fuller statement, from letters or from printed criticism, of what Blake's contemporaries thought of him. How much could be collected for this purpose we know not. The two friends who knew Blake best, and were best qualified to judge him, were Stothard and Flaxman. Blake
. We are indebted to the owner of the copyright for the use of the illustrations which we have transferred to these pages. Vol. 117.-No. 233.
is entirely passed over in the published Life of the first, and of Flaxman we have, as yet, no detailed biography. It is possible that letters from them may, however, be in existence, which might serve to fill the blank we regret. Mr. Gilchrist writes in a language which, if not free from a certain mannerism, is at least clear and animated, and is alive to those characteristic incidents which are in place (and only in place) in biography. When a very young man he published a Life of Etty, which, though much superior in accuracy and completeness to the superficial volumes which have formed the brief • In Memoriam of most of our recent artists, was seriously disfigured by its style. This is the most perfect imitation of Mr. Carlyle's manner we have ever had the ill-fortune to meet with. Perhaps it was not surprising that the peculiar merits of the Life of Sterling,' by that distinguished writer, should have fascinated a youthful biographer; and, although much less prominent, yet decided traces, of this fascination remain in the Blake-something of hero-worship in the comparisons drawn between Blake and his contemporaries, and something of abruptness and off-hand criticism in the incidental remarks. Crudities such as these, like spurts of the pen, are just what a fervent writer, animated with his task, throws off currente calamo ; they are the natural protests of honest admiration for one who never found his due recognition in life, against that smirking, complacent, and complimentary worship of charlatanerie, which is the besetting sin of the English public in matters of art; they are in refreshing contrast to the mealy-mouthed' belaudations of everything, from worst to best, which superficial or time-serving writers fancy proofs of catholic taste. But they are also flaws which a sober judgment effaces in giving its last touches; and, had Mr. Gilchrist been spared to his task and to us, we may hope that he would have effaced them.
To complete our short sketch of the quality of this book, let us add that, by aid of Mr. Linton's well-known skill as a woodcutter, and of some new process in photographic engraving, it has been illustrated with a copiousness and a skill which leave little to desire. Blake's poems (of which more anon), with his scanty pieces in prose, have been wisely added by Mr. D. G. Rossetti, and accompanied with notes, which, though not free from occasional fancifulness and fanaticism, show much of that delicate taste in poetry that we should expect from the admirable translator of Dante's lyrics. Finally, Mr. W. Rossetti, known to the serious students of art as one of our most intelligent and accomplished critics, has compiled a descriptive and critical catalogue of Blake's drawings and paintings, which is a model of brevity,