William Blake, A Visionary Philosopher & an Artist. An Artist who saw an ecstatic visions of angels and saints, and spoke to the dead. The Philosopher who believed the Archangels were fans of his work. Blake once painted the Ghost of a Flea, which he claimed to have seen firsthand.
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Biography of William Blake
William Blake is now hailed as a visionary poet and artist. William Blake, one of seven children, was born on November 28th, 1757, to James and Catherine Blake.The Blake’s resided in London, and William lived in the family home on Broad Street in Soho until he was 25. His education was unorthodox – he left school at the age of 10, having learned to read and write, and thereafter was self-taught, with guidance from his mother. He read primarily from the Bible and other theological treatises, which would influence his work for the rest of his life. Even from an early age, Blake showed a great sensitivity to art, poring over books of prints from the masters Raphael and Michelangelo.
Blake began attending drawing classes, and at the age of 14, was apprenticed to an engraver, James Basire. There is a peculiar story associated with Blake’s apprenticeship. Basire was not the first choice of William’s parents. They had originally selected William Ryland, the royal engraver, to serve as young William’s mentor. But something about the man’s looks disturbed William Blake, who told his father the engraver was sure to be hanged as a criminal. His father took William’s words to heart, and placed him with a different mentor.
Oddly, years later, Ryland WAS hanged as a forger. Under Basire’s guidance, Blake learned a somewhat old-fashioned technique of engraving, which may have hampered his popularity during his lifetime. Still, Blake fed his imagination during his apprenticeship, visiting Gothic churches, and publishing his first volume of verse, called “Poetical sketches.” At the end of his apprenticeship, at the age of 21, Blake became a student at the relatively new institution, the Royal Academy of Arts,which was at that time directed by the influential painter Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Blake’s views on art differed from Reynolds, and he found himself a reactionary in this environment, preferring the classic works of Michelangelo and Raphael he so loved as a child, to the newer fashionable painters of the day. Still, Blake was able to begin showing his own work while at the Royal Academy. During this time, William Blake also met his wife, Catherine, whom he taught to read and write after they were married.
William Blake then embarked on his career as a professional engraver. In 1784, Blake and a partner, James Parker, opened a print shop, turning out mainly radical political pamphlets. They enjoyed some success, and the print shop was a favorite haunt of such luminaries as Thomas Paine, Joseph Priestley,and Mary Wollstonecraft. Meanwhile, William Blake began experimenting with new engraving techniques for his own writings. He invented “relief etching,”a kind of reverse engraving on copper plates where the background is dissolved away with acid, leaving the words and pictures to stand out.
“Songs of Innocence,” one of the first books by William Blake illuminated the blake’s writing style, was published in 1789. An expanded collection, “Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul,” was published 5 years later. The poems explore the innocence of childhood and the delicate balance between knowledge and corruption. At first glance, the simple lyric poems resemble writing for children, but the subject matter often dealt with society’sills and social inequities.
Blake’s poems and the accompanying artwork presents a rich experience where one enhances the enjoyment and understanding of the other. Blake continued his philosophical investigations into the nature of good and evil in his later works, which included “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” “Visions of the Daughters of Albion,” “Milton,” and “Jerusalem.”In his writings, Blake rejected what he saw as the corruption of the Industrial Revolution in his England, writing of “dark satanic mills” and celebrating the beauty of nature. He scoffed at the feeble efforts made thus far to understand our world, stating “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
William Blake and his wife Catherine lived happily together for many years, despite some financial hardship. Catherine assisted William,and together they produced a remarkable body of writing and illustrations. Unfortunately, his work with engraving materials may have taken a toll on William Blake’s health. He suffered for years from an unknown ailment, with stomach pain and muscle weakness. These symptoms are consistent with biliary cirrhosis, which can be caused by prolonged exposure to toxins, such as the fumes produced when acid eats away at copper.
Blake continued to work up until his death, expressing no fear about his own mortality. A friend wrote of Blake’s last moments:“He said He was going to that Country he had all His life wished to see & expressed himself Happy hoping for Salvation through Jesus Christ—Just before he died, his Countenance became fair—His eyes brighten’d and He burst out in Singing of the things he Saw in Heaven.” William Blake died on August 12th, 1827 and was buried in Bunhill Fields, the resting place in London set aside for nonconformists.
William Blake is now celebrated as a favorites on of England. The “Jerusalem” lyric from the preface to his epic poem “Milton”was set to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916, and is now considered the unofficial national hymn of England: “I will not cease from mental fight,Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.”