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William Blake - Biography and Legacy

William Blake addressed our predicament at the dawn of the materialism that has enveloped us. He did so in poetry, painting and music sadly his tunes, if not his verses, are lost to us. Blake can put us back in touch with paradise while on earth, as Kathleen Raine stated. He taught me everything. Too often, commentators strain at gnats and swallow camel-loads of trite or obscure, overly literary interpretation. It was long ago observed that had Blake been born in Germany, he would have been as famous as Beethoven, with statues of him in the cities and his books required reading for the cultivated.

Life & Works of William Blake (Hard coded) Literature

It took a century after his death in for Blake to be appreciated at practically any level beyond a tiny coterie of supporters viz : Samuel Palmer, John Linnell, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Innocence soon became Experience — with Jimi Hendrix — and William Blake was there too with comfort and guidance through the darkening years that followed the first brief opening of perceptual doors in the late s.

Everyone now realizes that something happened in that time, though few are sure what exactly. The spiritually Free Man and Woman would rise again and re-integrate the Broken Man, living in darkness, into the heart and centre of his or her own true being. Eternal Life would mean something to the objects of the Western world once more. Chief among exceptions to prevailing misapprehensions stand, in my opinion, commentaries by WB Yeats and Kathleen Raine: they make sense of the man. Blake was concerned with a total spiritual revival. If you had asked him to paint the church at Felpham, Sussex where he lived —03 , he would not think you meant a portrait or landscape.

Having little time for either genre, he would want to paint the church! When I have asked singers of the song if they knew who wrote it, they have oft expressed surprise at the question. What does it matter? We shall see, however, that to understand the writer is to understand the hymn. If we care about the hymn, we shall want to learn about its author. Women saw another aspect of the beauty of the work.

Thanks to them, we know it still. They were not alone in their approval. What artist could wish for more? But there would be no jewelled buildings or golden spires in the new flats, estates and tenements of post-war Britain. And it must be said that Blake would have found little to admire in the philosophy of either state-controlled, or liberal, socialism.

He was against its principles at the most fundamental level. Where lies this dignity? It lies in the realization that Man is a spiritual being, a spiritual being of infinite, not rationally predictable, potential. True wealth resided in the spirit. This false self hides the true God.

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The Blakes are believed to have belonged to a radical religious sect called Dissenters; however, the exact identity of the sect is a mystery. The Bible was an early and profound influence on Blake, and would remain a crucial source of inspiration throughout his life. From a young age, Blake is said to have had visions. The earliest certain instance was when, at the age of about eight or ten in Peckham Rye, London, he saw a tree filled with angels "bespangling every bough like stars.

Though all the evidence suggests that Blake's parents were supportive and of a broadly liberal bent, his mother seems to have been especially supportive; several of Blake's early drawings and poems decorated the walls of her chamber. On another occasion, Blake beheld haymakers at work, and saw angelic figures walking among them. It is possible that other visions occurred before these incidents. Later in his life, Blake's wife Catherine would recall to him the time he beheld God's head "put to the window. Blake began engraving copies of drawings of Greek antiquities purchased for him by his father a further indication of the support Blake's parents lent their son , a practice that was then preferred to real-life drawing.

His parents knew enough of his headstrong temperament that he was not sent to school but was instead enrolled in drawing classes. He read avidly on subjects of his own choosing. During this period, Blake was also making explorations into poetry; his early work displays knowledge of Ben Johnson and Edmund Spenser.

At the end of this period, when Blake would have reached the age of 21 , it was presumed that Blake would become a professional engraver. While there is no record of any serious disagreement between the two during the period of Blake's apprenticeship, Ackroyd's biography notes that Blake was later to add Basire's name to a list of artistic adversaries - and then cross it out Ackroyd This aside, Basire's style of engraving was considered to be old-fashioned at the time, and Blake's instruction in this outmoded form may have had a detrimental effect on his efforts to acquire work or recognition during his lifetime.

After two years, Basire sent him to copy images from the Gothic churches in London. It is possible that this task was set in order to break up a quarrel between Blake and James Parker, his fellow apprentice.

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Blake's experiences in Westminster Abbey in particular first informed his artistic ideas and style. It must be remembered that the Abbey was a different environment entirely from its more somber modern aspect: it was festooned with suits of armor, painted funeral effigies and varicolored waxworks, and "the most immediate [impression] would have been of faded brightness and colour" Ackroyd During the many long afternoons Blake spent sketching in the cathedral, he was occasionally interrupted by the boys of Westminster School, one of whom tormented Blake so much one afternoon that he knocked the boy off a scaffold to the ground, "upon which he fell with terrific Violence.

The terms of his study required him to make no payment; he was, however, required to supply his own materials throughout the six-year period.

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There, Blake rebelled against what he regarded as the unfinished style of fashionable painters such as Rubens , championed by the school's first president, Joshua Reynolds. Over time, Blake came to detest Reynold's attitude to art, especially his pursuit of "general truth" and "general beauty. The mob was wearing blue cockades ribbons on their caps, to symbolize solidarity with the insurrection in the American colonies. They attacked the prison gates with shovels and pickaxes, before setting the building ablaze.

Marriage and Sexuality

The rioters than clambered onto the roof of the prison and tore away at it, releasing the prisoners inside. Blake was reportedly in the very front rank of the mob during this attack, though it is unlikely that he was forced into attendance.

More likely, according to Ackroyd, he accompanied the crowd impulsively. These riots were in response to a Parliamentary bill designed to advance Roman Catholicism. This disturbance, later known as the Gordon riots after Lord George Gordon whose Protestant Association incited the riots, provoked a flurry of paranoid legislation from the government of George III, as well as the creation of the first police force.

In , Blake met John Flaxman, who was to become his patron. In the same year he met Catherine Boucher. At the time, Blake was recovering from an unhappy relationship that had ended with a refusal of his marriage proposal. Telling Catherine and her parents the story, she expressed her sympathy, whereupon Blake asked her 'Do you pity me? Catherine, who was illiterate, signed her wedding contract with an 'X.

Throughout his life she would prove to be an invaluable aide to him, helping to print his illuminated works and maintaining his spirits following his numerous misfortunes. Their marriage, though unblessed by children, remained close and loving throughout the remainder of Blake's life.

William Blake | British writer and artist |

At this time, George Cumberland, one of the founders of the National Gallery, became an admirer of Blake's work. Blake's first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches , was published in After his father's death, William and brother Robert opened a print shop in and began working with radical publisher Joseph Johnson. At Johnson's house, he met some of the leading intellectual dissidents in England, including Joseph Priestley , scientist; Richard Price , philosopher; John Henry Fuseli, a painter with whom Blake became friends; Mary Wollstonecraft , an early feminist; and Thomas Paine , American revolutionary.

Blake wore a red liberty cap in solidarity with the French revolutionaries, but despaired with the rise of Robespierre and the Reign of Terror. They shared similar views on sexual equality and the institution of marriage. In the Visions of the Daughters of Albion in , Blake condemned the cruel absurdity of enforced chastity and marriage without love, and defended the right of women to complete self-fulfillment.

In , at the age of 31, Blake began to experiment with relief etching, which was the method used to produce most of his books of poems. The process is also referred to as illuminated printing, and final products as illuminated books or prints. Illuminated printing involved writing the text of the poems on copper plates with pens and brushes, using an acid-resistant medium.

Illustrations could appear alongside words in the manner of earlier illuminated manuscripts. He then etched the plates in acid in order to dissolve away the untreated copper and leave the design standing. The pages printed from these plates then had to be hand-colored in watercolors and stitched together to make up a volume. Blake's marriage to Catherine remained a close and devoted one until his death. There were early problems, however, such as Catherine's illiteracy and the couple's failure to produce children.

At one point, in accordance with the beliefs of the Swedenborgian Society , Blake suggested bringing in a concubine.

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Catherine was distressed at the idea, and he dropped it. Later in his life Blake sold a great number of works, particularly his Bible illustrations, to Thomas Butts, a patron who saw Blake more as a friend in need than an artist. Around , Blake moved to a cottage at Felpham in Sussex now West Sussex to take up a job illustrating the works of William Hayley, a mediocre poet. It was in this cottage that Blake wrote Milton: a Poem which was published later between and