William Blake was born in 1757, the third son of a London hosier. Blake lived in or near to London, a city which dominates much of his work, whether as the nightmare 'London' of the Songs of Experience, or the London which Blake saw as the 'New Jerusalem', the kingdom of God on earth.
As the son of a hosier, a generally lower middle class occupation in late eighteenth century London, he was brought up in a poor household, a preparation for the relative poverty in
which he would live for most of his life. He also received little formal schooling, which is all
the more remarkable given both the depth and range of his reading of the Bible, of Milton
and Greek and Latin classic literature, evident throughout his work. His intellectual and
psychological growth, however, was dominated by the influence of his brother, Robert, who
died of consumption at the age of 20. Blake, witnessing his brother's death, remarked that
he saw his brother's soul "ascend heavenward clapping its hands for joy", and continued,
from that point on, to feel Robert's inspirational influence over his work. Blake, who had
already testified to seeing visions - (at the age of ten he tried to convince his father that he
had seen hosts of angels in a tree in Peckham Rye) - retained this strong faith in the spirit
world throughout his life, affirming that he often spoke with the apparitions, angels, devils
and spirits which populate his work. It was this psychical interest which also brought him into
contact with that strange world of late eighteenth century London psychics, visionaries, and
various other Christian and progressive free-thinking writers and intellectuals such as
Blake's subsequent career as a...
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... where he lived until his death in
1827. Yet the final 24 years of his life saw Blake producing voluminous amounts of illustrated
work and engraving, including the monumental work Milton (begun in Felpham but finished
only in 1808) and Jerusalem, 1804-20), and illustrated versions of Dante and The Book of
Job. These later years were, however, disappointing for Blake: he had not found the fame
and recognition he longer for and, as for most of his life, he was never far from penury. What
did not change also was Blake's passionate commitment to a vision of Christianity
revisioned, and to a Spiritual, Psychological, Political and Sexual Renaissance, brought
about by discarding the narrow moralising and conventionality of orthodox Christianity, and
his vision of Albion reborn, in Everyman and in England.
Blake died in 1827, and was buried in a common grave.