William Blake was born on November 28, 1757, in the family of a merchant of knitwear. His parents were already John’s son, as a child, his father’s and mother’s favorite (later he descended and became a “lousy sheep” of the family). Following William, the younger children were born – James (all his life he harassed the poet with advice on how to make money), Robert (William’s favorite brother) and a girl about whom almost nothing is known.
Mysticism in creativity
At that time, the ideas of the theosophist-mystic Swedenborg began to penetrate into England, and James Blake was interested in them. Of course, his children were involved in these games with the other world. Prophecies and mystical visions have become the usual topic of conversation over evening tea. According to recollections, little William listened to them with bated breath. One of the prophecies has sunk into his soul especially deeply. Swedenborg argued that the old world would soon end and that a new world was coming (according to the philosopher’s predictions, it was to come in 1757), from which all old religious systems would disintegrate like card-houses, and the era of the new Jerusalem would come on the earth. Under the influence of this idea, William’s imagination played out, he began to see ghostly faces and figures against the background of bright green meadows with mysterious traces on the grass. Subsequently, the poet believed that this was the first glimpse of his great new insight, and he called his visions visits to Eden. At the age of four, the boy saw that “God brought his brow to one of the windows of their house.”
Parents did not take William to school long enough. Father did not limit the freedom of his son, and the boy could read everything that was in his access. The knowledge acquired by the child at home turned out to be surprisingly extensive and versatile. Finally, the father sent his middle son to be taught by the painter Pars. Three years later, William moved into an apprentice to engraver Bezayr, an excellent specialist in his field. In the days of transition to a new place of study, the teenager first demonstrated his visionary abilities. Originally he was to become a student of the engraver Rylands. But when he saw him, the boy said softly to his father: “I do not like this man because he has the face of a hanged man.” Twelve years later Rylands was hanged for forgery. Blake studied with the help of Bezier for two years, but then quarreled with the teacher and was expelled. Sometime later, William was instructed to copy the monuments, gravestones, columns and other architectural elements of the church in Westminster Abbey. The young man has been doing this for five years.
Royal Academy of Arts
In 1779, at the age of twenty-two, Blake entered the Royal Academy of Arts, and in 1780 his first exhibition was held, followed by many others. The quarrel with the President of the Academy, Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), who, it seemed to Blake, interfered with the development of his talent, led to the fact that the young man left the Academy and permanently maintained a negative attitude towards educational institutions in general. Then Blake met with the sculptor Flaxman and the artists Stothard and Fuseli, with whom he had a long friendship. Around the same time, Blake fell in love with Polly Woods. The girl could not answer him with mutual love, which became a hard blow for William, he even fell ill. However, the acquaintance with Polly left a deep imprint in the soul of the poet and artist: he constantly portrayed her as allegorical women, her type of feminine beauty seemed to Blake perfect until the end of his days.
To improve his health, the poet moved to Richmond, where he settled in the house of the gardener Voucher, who grew vegetables and fruits for sale in the market. William met the pretty daughter of the gardener Catherine. He told her about his unsuccessful love and met sincere sympathy. On August 18, 1782, Blake and Catherine Voucher got married. The bride could not read or write, so instead of signing, she put a cross in the registration book. A loving husband began to teach a young wife, and she was so capable pupil that in two or three years she was able to copy his manuscripts completely. In addition, Catherine helped her husband paint books illustrated with his insights. Blakes had no children, but their absence paid off with the atmosphere of mutual love and loyal friendship that reigned in their house.
The first book
A year after his marriage, Blake’s first book, Poetic Sketches, was published. The poet’s friends paid for the publication of this collection. William was twenty-six years old, for a beginner, it’s rather late. This book opened an entire era in English literature, the rise of the poetry of Romanticism began with it. After that, Blake was silent for another six years, then he published a collection “Island on the Moon,” which marked the transition to a mystical period in the poet’s work. The collection, in addition to philosophical poems, also contained several beautiful lyrical creations. In 1789, the poet worked on the collection of “Songs of Innocence.” Blake designed this book with his own illustrations, made in his new technique, according to which at first simple engravings were made, and then they were carefully painted by hand to the customer’s taste.
The book of Blake for a long time remained known in a relatively narrow circle of admirers. Popularity was brought to him by illustrating the philosophical poem by Edward Jung “Night Reflections.” The artist quickly performed 537 watercolor drawings. In 1797 the first part of the poem with 43 engravings was printed. The publication was not successful and was stopped. But the apparent failure brought Blake the patron of art – a certain T. Batts, an official from the office of the chief recruiter, who over the next thirty years became a regular buyer of his paintings. In 1794 Blake published a collection of “Songs of Experience,” where he polemicized with his former convictions and showed the human society in his ugly guise. It was a monster, corrupted by the power of money. The tiger, who personified energy, strength, viciousness, and cruelty, became the central symbol. In those years, Blake wrote his first prophetic works, these were long and complex poems inspired by the Bible and the creations of Milton. This is the “Book of Thiele” (1789), “The marriage of Heaven and Hell” and others. Together, these works asserted the author’s main idea that the creation of the world is the greatest evil.
Death of the father and engraving
In 1784 James Blake died. The family hearth of Blake inherited his elder brother James. However, William and Catherine moved closer to the poet’s home and settled in a nearby house. Cooperating with one of his comrades, Blake opened here a workshop combined with a shop for engravings and prints. He began to teach his younger brother Robert, who had an innate artistic talent for engraving. Unfortunately, in 1787, Roberta became ill with transient tuberculosis, and soon the young man died. At the time of his death, the shocked Blake saw clearly how his brother’s soul rose to the ceiling, “clapping joyfully,” and then melted and disappeared. During night vigils at the dying man’s bed, Blake came up with the idea of a new method of engraving, which he called “illuminated” or “decorative” print. William closed the engraving workshop, moved to another place and devoted himself entirely to the art of engraving. At the same time, he claimed that he was working on the promptings of the ghost of Robert, who comes to him and advises what and how to do. Friends began to chuckle at Blake, he was known as a crazy guy.
The life of Blake in the period from 1803 to 1820 was full of worldly failures. He could not get any new orders. In the last hope of selling his paintings, the artist-poet organized an exhibition, wrote a detailed catalog, but it turned out to be a failure too. In 1804, Blake returned to London and began working on engraving his poems “Jerusalem” and “Milton.” These two things, except for the unfinished drama “The Phantom of Abel,” written long before that, but appeared in print only in 1822, were the last poetic works published by Blake himself. Until the end of his life, he continues to look for buyers for these and other his poems, but no one wanted to buy them.
In 1822, at the request of Mr. Linnell, Blake created a whole series of magnificent watercolor illustrations for John Milton’s poem “The Lost Paradise.” After three years, in 1825, again with the assistance of Linnell, he began work on illustrating Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” The full cycle of illustrations should have been very voluminous, but the author managed to perform only a part of the watercolor sketches and seven prints.
The end of life
In 1827, Blake got an attack of some strange disease, consisting in severe malaise, weakness and fever trembling. The poet felt that he did not have much time. He wrote about this in a letter to one of his friends: “I visited the very Gate of Death and returned from there as a decrepit, feeble old man with difficulty moving his legs, but my spirit did not become weaker from this, and the imagination paler. The more feeble my stupid, frail body is, the stronger my spirit and imagination are and they will live forever. ”
A few days before his death, Blake composed several songs for the glory of the Creator, and, lying on his deathbed, sang them with a suddenly strengthened voice. One of his friends, who came to him to say goodbye, recalled: “After a pause, he said that he was going to the country he dreamed of seeing all his life, and so he died happy, hoping for the salvation of the soul and eternal bliss in another world. A few minutes before his death, his face brightened, his eyes lit up with glee, and he sang about Paradise, that so many times appeared to him in visions.”
William Blake died in London on August 12, 1827. His death was not noticed. The poet was buried in a common grave for the poor.