William "New Age" Blake (1757-1827)
William Blake was born 28 November 1757, third and strangest son of James
his wife Catherine1. His life started off weird and never
At the tender age of four, he had his first vision2.
parents may have thought it was all right at first, his father was very upset
William was still having them at eight. James decided, probably quite
to put William in school. He learned to read and write at home, and also
great aptitude for drawing. He was sent to a drawing school at age ten,
father arranged for William to be apprenticed to an engraver as soon as he
William bought every print he could possibly afford. He drew sketches of
throughout the London area. Oh, yes, and he also wrote some poetry. His first
collection (published 1783) was the Poetical Sketches, lyric poems
between the ages of twelve and twenty. Though mostly derivative of other
these early poems show the beginnings of the Romantic ideas of emotion over
and they're still read today, which is more than you'd expect of such early
William's case, it's the later poems that don't get read anymore. But I'm
ahead of myself. William's work was unusual for the time: he never
sonnet, as near as we can tell, and he really wasn't very good at couplets,
of his contemporaries considered the only good forms of poetry.
William attended the Royal Academy after finishing his apprenticeship and
was soon able
to support himself by his engraving. On 18 August 1782, he married a woman
Catherine Boucher5. She accepted the visions that William
was still having with no
apparent qualms. They never had any children, nor did any of William's
some reason, this fact is sometimes listed as proof that there was a lot of
in William's family6. William's behavior was awfully
strange, and he never made the
slightest attempt to hide it. After tending to his brother Robert on his
William said quite casually on several occasions that he still saw and
with Robert on a regular basis. William's later poetry collections were
an engraving process which Robert had described during one of these
In 1789, Songs of Experience was published. In 1789, Songs of
of Experience Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul was
William also designed illustrations for these poems and they look pretty
cool. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, written about this time, was
William's first really offbeat work, and this and everything he wrote after
it aren't really read a great deal anymore. One thing that might have
inspired this change in William's work was his study of the philosopher
Emanuel Swedenborg, who stated his belief that the year 1757 (the year of
William's birth) would mark a grand "New Age" which would allow mankind to
regain moral freedom8.
Amongst writing his poetry, William earned extra money by teaching drawing
to the sons of friends of his. One of these friends, Thomas Butts, Sr.,
kept William from poverty for many years, through teaching fees and out and
out gifts. Rather than earning money, William was usually to be found
channelling the spirit of John Milton9, a favorite author
of his, or possibly drawing sketches of the heads of the famous dead people
who would come and sit for him10.
In spite of the fact that he was very much NOT famous, he won the patronage
of Lady Caroline Lamb, and was then in a much better financial position.
His engravings were much prized by publishers and other authors, however,
and William much appreciated the admiration he received from younger
artists towards the end of his life. His poetry, however, was not destined
to be appreciated much until after authors such as Coleridge became popular.
After several years of failing health (he suffered shivering fits and
jaundice from 1824 on, symptoms of the gallstones which would later kill
him), William died on 12 August 1827, singing to his wife of what he saw of
heaven11. His wife outlived him by four years, gradually
selling off those of his manuscripts and engravings that she still had for
money to live on, and claimed that William would visit her each day,
sitting and talking with her for two or three hours. She often refused to
reach a decision until she was able to consult with him12.
- Catherine's maiden name was probably Harmitage, though no one's
quite sure. No, she isn't very important.
- He wrote later that God 'put his head to the window and set him
- William had a bad feeling about the first engraver his father
chose, and asked for
a different teacher. The first choice was later hanged for forgery.
- Or ecstasy over excellence. William isn't really a Romantic, but
he's often labelled
as such. I don't think he'd like that, actually.
- Think My Fair Lady. William taught his wife to read,
write, draw, and print
and color his engravings.
- I don't get the connection either. I look on that fact as proof
that anyone who
says he or she is descended from William Blake is full of it.
- Some poems actually migrated from 'Experience' to 'Innocence' by
the second volume.
Maybe he was a bit confused.
- William seems to have taken this sort of thing in general quite
seriously. Most of his later works are considered 'prophetic' works.
- NOT made up. He wrote two books of a poem called Milton: A
Poem in Twelve Books which he claimed were written by Milton through
- Also not made up. Such deceased luminaries as Sir William
Wallace, Edward I, and Lot of Biblical fame would sit for him late at
night. He also drew a rather frightening little sketch which he said was
the soul of a flea.
- Catherine had once, in all seriousness, told a friend, "I have
very little of Mr. Blake's company; he is always in Paradise."
- They must have been very well-suited for each other.
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