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fulness, and good sense. By this indispensable adjunct to an artist's life, the labour of love which so many hands have built up in Blake's honour has been, on the whole, well completed. Sero, sed serio.
The early circumstances of Blake were not unlike those of Turner. Both were born of fathers belonging to the small tradesman class, and both saw the light and spent their youthful years within the duskiest recesses of London—Turner near Covent Garden, Blake (born 1757) in the scarcely less unpicturesque region of 'Carnaby Market, Golden Square. Yet two men could hardly be named whose art is more free from the associations of the 'great city.' By ten years old there was no mistaking the vocation of our young artist; indeed, to the angelic eyes which Blake imagined about him, his style might have been already prefigured. Beside the vision quoted above, he had seen a tree at Peckham Rye (presumably on one of his earliest insights of the country a hundred years since), clustered with as many angels as leaves. We do not find that the parents interfered much, for blame or praise, with the boy's chosen pursuit. He grew up in those quiet ways and sheltered byplaces which are the best home of young Genius, drew casts from the antique, frequented sale-rooms to pick up old Italian and German prints (Dürer, the early line engravings from Raphael, and the like), and was finally apprenticed to an architectural engraver in 1771. This artist-one of several who bore the name Basire, was among the first to attempt accurate delineations of our Gothic buildings, being employed by the Society of Antiquaries on their “Monumenta ;' he was also (says Mr. Gilchrist) well grounded in drawing, of dry, hard, monotonous, but painstaking, conscientious style,' admired for its firm and correct outline.' But he cannot have shared his pupil's enthusiasm for the early masters of engraving; and from some expressions we infer that Blake, later in life, regretted the mechanical
cross-hatchings' (always the vice of English engraving) in which he had been grounded by Basire. A comparison of his early copper-plates, “The Gates of Paradise,' with the Illustrations to
· Job,' will show that it was not until he cut the latter work, that the technical method of Dürer or Marcantonio told decisively on Blake as an engraver.
Let us now try to mark out the influences which, during Blake's youth, contributed to form his style. The main direction of it, indeed, as with all creative minds, must be sought within. the singular structure of Blake's own soul we shall afterwards speak more fully, endeavouring to bring out, by degrees, its many and perplexing aspects.
Here it will be enough to say that from the first he appears to have had that vivid imagination
which painted as literal objects of sight, the images called up by the mind, combined with an equally marked deficiency in that regulative intellect and cultivated experience which would have enabled him to separate the 'within' from the without,' and to guide, rather than to follow, his own visionary conceptions. Already, as we have noticed, at ten years old, he saw a tree at Peckham Rye filled with angels. Working under Basire in the Abbey, he now not only discovered the tenderness and invention of the old Gothic art, which were hidden from the eyes of his contemporaries, but divined its origin. Joseph of Arimathea, according to Blake, was one of the Gothic artists who built the cathedrals in what we call the dark ages, wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins.' Fancies and judgments of this kind are not uncommon amongst clever children, or amongst grown-up people of vivid imagination and untrained mind. Most remarkable examples are given by Bunyan, in that astonishing autobiography which we think the greatest effort of his great genius. There is nothing wonderful in seeing visions and dreaming dreams, unless they are accompanied by mature intellectual or imaginative power. They were, indeed, so accompanied in Blake. But whilst in the case of Bunyan the visionary impulse (as an object of real belief) passed away or transfigured itself into the sublime realities of his immortal allegory, in the less powerful and coherent nature of the artist the marriage of imagination and reason was never completed. To the close of his life we find Blake more or less unable to distinguish between fact and fancy; between what he had learnt from other artists, or from the books which he was illustrating, and the immediate inspirations of his own fertile genius. Add to this his total inexperience as a writer ; that though he read much, he read (as his notes on Lord Bacon and Sir Joshua Reynolds prove) without judgment, and was early seized on by Ossian and Swedenborg; that he was apt to speak, as self-trained men are wont, without reserve or qualification; nay, when provoked, was not without a pleasure in mystifying his hearer; lastly, that he was of a peculiarly vivid, untiring, and courageous mind, restrained by no fears, and modified by no counter-arguments, and we have (we think) the key to Blake's psychological peculiarities. How these affected his art, we hope afterwards to show.
Led away, perhaps, by the fascination of so peculiar a talent as Blake's, and by the force with which he ascribed his work to direct internal prompting, Mr. Gilchrist appears to us very decidedly to overrate Blake's originality in style. "A good deal in Flaxman and Stothard may be traced to Blake, is, indeed, only Blake in the vernacular, classicised, and (perhaps half-unconsciously) adopted. He was placed above all need or inclination
to borrow from others. His friend Fuseli, with characteristic candour, used to declare Blake is d-d good to steal from.'
Whether Fuseli, whose own inventive faculty outran his power of expressing himself as an artist, stole from Blake, or no, it will not be doubted by those who are acquainted with his works, that he, at any rate, set a powerful impress upon Blake. They appear to have become friends about 1780, when the ages of the two sufficiently indicate the relation in which they really stood-Blake twenty-two, the enthusiastic and highly-educated Swiss thirty-nine. The first important picture produced by Fuseli after this date is · The Nightmare.' This is significant,
' both of Fuseli and of his influence over Blake, an influence of which Blake's style of drawing throughout his life, but especially during the last twenty years of the eighteenth century, bears unmistakeable traces. The differences between the two friends might, perhaps, be summed up thus: that Fuseli, in spite of his dreamy tendencies, was saved, by his better education, from the aimless wildness (ill-named extravagance or madness) of Blake; whilst Blake, in his turn, possessed of a force and tenderness of imagination to which Fuseli had no claim, saw and drew Visions, where the other composed and painted Nightmares.
Mr. Gilchrist gives no adequate proof of the assertions we have quoted above in reference to Flaxman and Stothard. Nor does acquaintance with their works appear to us in any way to confirm these assertions. Here and there, amongst
Flaxman's drawings, occurs a visionary sketch, which more or less recalls Blake. Stothard's graceful designs, about the middle of his life, resemble in general style Blake's own early manner.
In most, however, of their works, there is no sign of resemblance; nothing in the exquisite studies from contemporary life and manners with which Flaxman began his career, or in the delicate transfusions from Raphael and Watteau, recreated by his own charming fancy, that characterise the close of Stothard's long and honoured life. With the Hellenic element which forms the most conspicuous and the best known part of Flaxman's genius, Blake has even less of sympathy. The two artists are wide apart as Greek and Goth. Where they resemble each other, the likeness is due to the fact that both were influenced by the mystical religious element of the time. Allan Cunningham's interesting sketch *
We are glad to learn that a detailed Life of Flaxman (we hope, not without copious illustrations) is in preparation by Mr. Teniswood. As an English artist Flaxman ranks with our four or fivej greatest nen. As a sculptor, he is, in our judgment, beyond comparison the most gifted inventor since Michel Angelo. When Canova came to England, to be caressed by our noblemen of taste, his generous nature revolted against the total neglect of Flaxman. But his protest (like
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 them. 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.
We set a value on William Blake's genius which will, perhaps, appear 'madness' to the sober man' of Plato's dialogue. Mr. Gilchrist, even though the last moderating touches which a man of sense generally finds proper to give his book are inevitably absent, keeps himself clear, on the whole, from extravagant or fanatic estimate of his subject. Yet it may be expedient thus to premise the limitations under which the art of this remarkable man was produced, as general conditions which will underlie the estimate we shall try to make of it. There is small profit in that overpraise, even of the dead, to which a proverb that has sheltered many a knave invites us. Blake, at any rate, is great enough to bear nil nisi verum for his epitaph. By recognising that much in him, as with all other men, was due to the circumstances of his age, and that everywhere in his art he fell short of completeness, often of moderation, we do not impair his claim to the extraordinary gift in which he probably has had no superior, and by which we desire at once to sum up our impression of his genius—the gift of imaginative intensity.
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.
Returning to the narrative of Blake's youth, Mr. Gilchrist tells a story that he visited Reynolds, and received from him the advice to work with less extravagance and more simplicity, and to correct his drawing.' The President must have been advanced in life and Blake a youth at the period of this visit. They were not, indeed, men likely at any time to understand each other. The younger 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,