William Blake

William Blake

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William Blake

William Blake was born in London, where he spent most of his life. His
father was a successful London hosier and attracted by the doctrines
of Emmanuel Swedenborg. Blake was first educated at home, chiefly by
his mother. His parents encouraged him to collect prints of the
Italian masters, and in 1767 sent him to Henry Pars' drawing school.
From his early years, he experienced visions of angels and ghostly
monks, he saw and conversed with the angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary,
and various historical figures.

At the age of 14 Blake was apprenticed for seven years to the engraver
James Basire. Gothic art and architecture influenced him deeply. After
studies at the Royal Academy School, Blake started to produce
watercolors and engrave illustrations for magazines. In 1783 he
married Catherine Boucher, the daughter of a market gardener. Blake
taught her to draw and paint and she assisted him devoutly. In 1774
Blake opened with his wife and younger brother Robert a print shop at
27 Broad Street, but the venture failed after the death of Robert in
1787. Blake's important cultural and social contacts included Henry
Fuseli, Reverend A.S. Mathew and his wife, John Flaxman (1755-1826), a
sculptor and draftsman, Tom Paine, William Godwin, and Mrs Elizabeth
Montagu (1720-1800), married to the wealthy grandson of the earl of

His early poems Blake wrote at the age of 12. However, being early
apprenticed to a manual occupation, journalistic-social career was not
open to him. His first book of poems, POETICAL SKETCHES, appeared in
1783 and was followed by SONGS OF INNOCENCE (1789), and SONGS OF
EXPERIENCE (1794). His most famous poem, 'The Tyger', was part of his
Songs of Experience. He approved of free love, and sympathized with
the actions of the French revolutionaries but the Reign of Terror
sickened him. In 1790 Blake engraved THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL,
a book of paradoxical aphorisms and his principal prose work.
Radically he sided with the Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost and
attacked the conventional religious views in a series of aphorisms.
But the poet's life in the realms of images did not please his wife
who once remarked: "I have very little of Mr. Blake's company. He is
always in Paradise." Some of Blake's contemporaries called him a
harmless lunatic.

The Blakes moved south of the Thames to Lambeth in 1790. During this
time Blake began to work on his 'prophetic books', where he expressed
his lifelong concern with the struggle of the soul to free its natural
energies from reason and organized religion. Although Blake first
accepted Swedenborg's ideas, he eventually rejected him. He wrote THE

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THE BOOK OF URIZEN (1794), and THE SONG OF LOS (1795). Blake hated the
effects of the Industrial Revolution in England and looked forward to
the establishment of a New Jerusalem "in England's green and pleasant
land." Between 1804 and 1818 he produced an edition of his own poem
JERUSALEM with 100 engravings.

In 1800 Blake was taken up by the wealthy William Hayley, poet and
patron of poets. The Blakes lived in Hayley's house at Felpham in
Sussex, staying there for three years. At Felpham Blake worked on
finished and engraved between 1803 and 1808. In 1803 Blake was charged
at Chichester with high treason for having 'uttered seditious and
treasonable expressions, such as "D-n the King, d-n all his
sibjects..."' but was acquitted. In 1809 Blake had a commercially
unsuccessful exhibition at the shop once owned by his brother.
However, economic problems did not depress him, but he continued to
produce energetically poems, aphorisms, and engravings. "The tigers of
wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction," he wrote.

From 1818 Blake started to enjoy the admiration of a group of young
disciples. Blake's last years were passed in obscurity, quarreling
even with some of the circle of friends who supported him. Among
Blake's later artistic works are drawings and engravings for Dante's
Divine Comedy and the 21 illustrations to the book of Job, which was
completed when he was almost 70 years old. Blake never shook off the
poverty, in large part due to his inability to compete in the highly
competitive field of engraving and his expensive invention that
enabled him to design illustrations and print words at the same time.

Independent through his life, Blake left no debts at his death on
August 12, 1827. He was buried in an unmarked grave at the public
cemetery of Bunhill Fields.
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