Skip to main content
Select Source:

William Blake

William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, engraver, and painter. A boldly imaginative rebel in both his thought and his art, he combined poetic and pictorial genius to explore important issues in politics, religion, and psychology.

William Blake was born in London on Nov. 28, 1757, the second son of a hosier and haberdasher. Except for a few years in Sussex, his entire life was spent in London. Its streets and their names took on spiritual symbolism in his writings, much as the place names of the Holy Land did in the writings of the biblical prophets whom Blake always regarded as his spiritual progenitors. From his earliest years he saw visions— trees full of angels, for example. If these were not true mystical visions, it is probably best to regard them not as hallucinations but as the artist's intense spiritual and sensory realization of the world.

At 10 Blake started to attend drawing school; at 14 he began a 7-year apprenticeship to an engraver, and it was as an engraver that Blake was to earn his living for the rest of his life. After he was 21, he studied for a time at the Royal Academy of Arts, where he formed a violent distaste for the academic canons of excellence in art.

In August 1782 Blake married Catherine Boucher, who had fallen in love with him at first sight. He taught her to read and write, and she later became a valued assistant. Although their marriage was to suffer from some of the normal frictions, his "sweet shadow of delight," as Blake called Catherine, was a devoted and loving wife. On her authority there is a description of his appearance: short with a large head and shoulders; not handsome but with a noble and expressive face; his hair yellow-brown, luxuriant, and curling like flames.

Early Works

From his early teens Blake wrote poems, often setting them to melodies of his own composition. When he was 26, a collection entitled Poetical Sketches was printed with the help of the Reverend and Mrs. Mathew, who conducted a cultural salon and were patrons of Blake. This volume was the only one of Blake's poetic works to appear in conventional printed form; he later invented and practiced a new method.

After his father died in 1784, Blake set up a print shop with a partner next door to the family hosiery shop. In 1787 his beloved younger brother and pupil Robert died; thereafter William claimed that Robert communicated with him in visions and guided him. It was Robert, William said, who inspired him with the new method of illuminated etching that was to be the vehicle for his poems. The words, design, or some combination of the two was drawn in reverse on a plate covered with an acid-resisting substance; a corrosive was then applied. From these etched plates pages were printed and later hand-colored. Blake used his unique methods to print almost all his long poems with the exception of An Island in the Moon (ca. 1784), Tiriel (ca. 1789), The Four Zoas (ca. 1795-1803), The Everlasting Gospel (ca. 1818), and a number of short works. The French Revolution exists as printer's proofs.

As an engraver, Blake favored the line rather than chiaroscuro, or masses of light and dark. Blake's predilection for the line rather than "blurs" (as he called them) of color and mass had a philosophical as well as an artistic dimension. To him the line represented the honest clarity of human day as distinguished from the mystery of night.

In 1787 Blake moved to Poland Street, where he produced Songs of Innocence (1789) as the first major work in his new process. This book was later complemented by Songs of Experience (1794). The magnificent lyrics in these two collections systematically contrast the unguarded openness of innocence with the embitteredness of experience. They are a milestone in the history of the arts, not only because they exhibit originality and high quality but because they are a rare instance of the successful fusion of two art media by one man.

After a brief period of admiration for the religious thinker Emanuel Swedenborg, Blake produced in disillusioned reaction The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-1793). In this satire the "devils" are identified with energy and creative genius, and the "angels" with repression of desire and the oppressive aspects of order and rationality. Some of the same issues arise in The Book of Thel (1789-1791) and Vision of the Daughters of Albion (1793). The former portrays a timid shepherdess who is reluctant to commit herself to the risks of existence, while the latter shows a heroine who casts off such timidity and chooses psychic and sexual liberation.

Blake had become a political radical and was in sympathy with the American Revolution and with the French Revolution during its early years. At Poland Street and shortly after his move to Lambeth in 1793, Blake composed and etched short "prophetic" books concerning these events, religious and political repression in general, and the more basic repression of the individual psyche, which he came to see as the root of institutional tyranny. Among these works (all composed between 1793 and 1795) are America, Europe, The Book of Urizen, The Book of Los, The Song of Los, and The Book of Ahania. In these poems Blake began to work out the powerful mythology he refined in his later and longer prophecies. He presented this mythology completely in his first epic-length poem, The Four Zoas (ca. 1795-1803). This difficult but mighty myth shows how religious and social evils are rooted in the internal warfare of man's basic faculties—reason (Urizen), passion (Luvah), instinct (Tharmas), and inspiration or prophetic imagination (Los or Urthona, who becomes more markedly the hero of Blake's long epics). But Blake was apparently unsatisfied with The Four Zoas. Although he drew freely on it for his later epics, he left the poem unengraved.

Felpham Period

Blake spent the years 1800 to 1803 working in Felpham, Sussex, with William Hayley, a minor poet and man of letters. With genuine good intentions Hayley tried to cure Blake of his unprofitable and unseemly enthusiasms and secured him commissions for safely genteel projects— painting ladies' fans, for example. Blake finally rebelled against this condescension and rejected Hayley's help. One result of this conflict was Blake's long poem Milton (ca. 1800-1810). In this work the spiritual issues involved in the quarrel with Hayley are allegorized, and Blake's larger themes are dramatized through an account of the decision of the poet Milton to renounce the safety of heaven and return to earth to rectify the errors of the Puritan heritage he had fostered.

In 1803 Blake had a still more disturbing experience when a soldier whom he had evicted from his garden accused him of uttering seditious sentiments—a charge that in the witch-hunting atmosphere of the time was serious indeed. Blake was tried and acquitted, but he saw in the incident further confirmation of his views on the conflict between a sadistic society and the man of humane genius. The trial experience colors much of Blake's titanic final epic, Jerusalem (ca. 1804-1820).

Later Years

Back in London, living in South Molton Street, Blake worked hard at his poems, engraving, and painting, but he suffered several reverses. He was the victim of fraud in connection with his designs for Blair's The Grave and received insulting reviews of that project and of an exhibition he gave in 1809 to introduce his idea of decorating public buildings with portable frescoes. Blake wrote three prose pieces based on the events of this time: Descriptive Catalogue (1809), Public Address (1810), and Vision of the Last Judgment (1810).

The next decade is a somber and obscure period in Blake's life. He did some significant work, including his designs for Milton's poems L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (1816) and the writing of his own poem The Everlasting Gospel (ca. 1818), but he was sometimes reduced to hackwork and the public did not purchase or read his prophecies. After 1818, however, conditions improved. He became acquainted with a group of young artists who respected him and appreciated his work. His last 6 years were spent at Fountain Court, where Blake did some of his best pictorial work: the illustrations to the Book of Job and his unfinished Dante. In 1824 his health began to weaken, and he died singing on Aug. 12, 1827.

Continuing Influence

Blake's history does not end with his death. In his own lifetime he was almost unknown except to a few friends and faithful patrons, like Thomas Butts and the young disciples he attracted in his last years. He was even suspected of being mad. But interest in his work grew during the mid-19th century, and since then painstaking commentators have gradually elucidated Blake's beautiful, intricate, and difficult mythology. The 20th century has made him its own; he has been acclaimed as a kindred spirit by psychologists, writers (most notably William Butler Yeats), radical theologians, rock-and-roll musicians, and devotees of Oriental religion. He has furnished texts to a wide variety of rebels against war, orthodoxy, and almost every kind of psychic and personal repression.

Further Reading

The standard editions of Blake's writings are Geoffrey Keynes, ed., The Complete Writings of William Blake (1957; rev. ed. 1966), and David V. Erdman, ed., The Poetry and Prose of William Blake (1965), with commentary by Harold Bloom. Alexander Gilchrist, The Life of William Blake (1863), is still a standard biography; another biography is Mona Wilson, The Life of William Blake (1927; rev. ed. 1948). For Blake the artist see Anthony Blunt, The Art of William Blake (1959). For the reader making his first acquaintance with Blake, Max Plowman, An Introduction to the Study of Blake (1927; 2d ed. 1967), and Herschel M. Margoliouth, William Blake (1951), are recommended. The most searching critical study is Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (1947). Excellent commentary on the longer poems is provided by S. Foster Damon, William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols (1924), and Harold Bloom, Blake's Apocalypse: A Study in Poetic Argument (1963). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"William Blake." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"William Blake." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-blake

"William Blake." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/william-blake

Blake, William (1757-1827)

Blake, William (1757-1827)

Poet, mystic, painter, and engraver, Blake is one of the most enigmatic yet most significant figures in the history of English literature, and a man who has likewise exerted strong influence on the graphic arts. He was born in London, England, November 28, 1757. Little is known definitely about his family's ancestry, but it seems probable that his parents and other relatives were humble folk.

William Blake manifested his artistic predilections at a very early age, and his father and mother did not discourage him. They offered to place him in the studio of a painter. The young man refused, however, pointing out that the apprenticeship was a costly one and saying that his numerous brothers and sisters should be considered; he held that it was not fair to impoverish his family on his behalf. Then engraving was suggested to him as a profession, because it required less expensive training than painting and was likely to yield a speedier financial return. Accepting this offer, Blake went at the age of 14 to study under James Basire, an engraver not very well known today, but who then enjoyed considerable reputation and was employed officially by the Society of Antiquaries.

Blake worked under Basire for seven years and was engaged mainly in making drawings of Westminster Abbey to illustrate a huge book then in progress, the Sepulchral Monuments of Richard Gough. It is said that Blake was chosen by his master to do these drawings not so much because he showed particular aptitude for drafting, but because he was eternally quarreling with his fellow apprentices; the young artist apparently believed he was superior to his confréres and made enemies by failing to conceal his belief. While at the Westminster Abbey, Blake asserted that he saw many visions.

In 1778 he entered the then recently founded Royal Academy School, where he studied under George Moser, a chaser and enameller who engraved the first great seal of George III. Yet it was not to Moser that the budding visionary looked for instruction; he was far more occupied with studying prints of the old masters, especially Michelangelo and Raphael. A short time later Blake left the Royal Academy and began to work on his own.

He had to work hard, however, for meanwhile his affections had been engaged by a young woman, Catherine Boucher, and he needed funds for the pair to marry. Blake engraved illustrations for magazines and the like, and his marriage was solemnized in 1782. His wife's name indicates that she was of French origin, but it is not known if she was related to François Boucher or to the fine engraver of the French Empire, Boucher-Desnoyers. The marriage proved a singularly happy one.

Regarding Catherine's appearance there still exists a small pencil-drawing by Blake, commonly supposed to be a portrait of his wife. It shows a slim, graceful woman, just the type of woman predominating in Blake's other pictures, so it may be presumed that she frequently acted as his model.

After his marriage Blake took lodgings on Green Street in Leicester Fields, and he opened a print shop on Broad Street. He made many friends at this period; the most favored among them was Flaxman, the sculptor. Flaxman introduced him to Mr. Matthew, a clergyman of artistic tastes who manifested keen interest in the few poems Blake had already written and generously offered to defray the cost of printing them. The writer accepted the offer and brought out a tiny volume, Poetical Sketches.

Thus encouraged, Blake gave up his print-selling business, moved to Poland Street, and soon after published his Songs of Innocence, the letterpress enriched by his own designs. In addition, the whole volume was printed by the author himself by a new method of his own invention.

Blake lived on Poland Street for five years, during which time he achieved and issued The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and the first book of The French Revolution. In 1792 he moved to the Hercules Buildings in Lambeth, where dire poverty forced him to do much of his commercial work, notably a series of illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts, yet he also found time for original drawing and writing, including the Gates of Paradise and Songs of Experience.

Eventually he tired of London, however, and moved to Felpham, near Bognor in Sussex, taking a cottage close to where Aubrey Beardsley would live at a later date. Here Blake composed Milton, Jerusalem, and a large part of the Prophetic Books, and made a new friend, William Hayley, who repeatedly aided him monetarily. The Sussex sceneryafterward to inspire Whistler and Conderappealed keenly to Blake, and in one of his lyrics he exclaimed, "Away to sweet Felpham, for Heaven is there," while to Flaxman he wrote: "Felpham is a sweet place for study, because it is more spiritual than London. Heaven opens here on all sides her golden gates; her windows are not obstructed by vapours, voices of celestial inhabitants are more distinctly heard, and their forms more distinctly seen and my cottage is also a shadow of their houses."

Eventually Blake returned to London, taking a house in South Molton Street in 1803. Here again he endured much poverty and was forced into doing illustrations for Virgil and also a series of designs for Blair's Grave; but later his financial horizon was brightened by help from John Linnell, the landscape painter. Shortly afterward Blake did some of his finest work, including his Spiritual Portraits and his drawings for The Book of Job, after which he began illustrating the Divine Comedy of Dante.

In 1821 he again changed his home to Fountain Court in Strand and continued to work at the Dante drawings, but only seven of them were ever published, for Blake's health was beginning to fail, his energies were waning, and he died August 12, 1827.

Sixteen years before his death, Blake held a public exhibition of his drawings, engravings, illustrations, and the like, and only one paper saw fit to print a criticism of it The Examiner, edited by Leigh Hunt. It is customary for Blake's idolators today to scorn those who then disdained his work, but Blake's work emerged as somewhat of a novelty, especially the mysticism permeating his pictures, which had virtually no parallel in English painting prior to his advent. Also, Blake was still maturing as a technician and still had many grave limitations which are quite evident when placed beside that of his contemporaries.

If Blake the draftsman and illustrator was a fierce iconoclast who turned his back resolutely on the styles current in his time, most assuredly Blake the poet was sublimely contemptuous of the conventions of Augustanism, and thus he prepared the way for Burns, Wordsworth, and Shelley.

Had Blake written only his Poetical Sketches, his Songs of Innocence and the subsequent Songs of Experience, his contemporaries could never have leveled the charge of madness against him. It was his later writings like The Book of Thel and the Prophetic Books that branded him, for in these later poems the writer threw simplicity to the winds. Giving literary form to visions, Blake is so purely spiritual and ethereal, so far beyond the realm of normal human speech, that mysticism frequently devolves into crypticism. His rhythm, too, is often so subtle that it hardly seems rhythm at all.

Yet even in his weirdest flights Blake is still the master. And if, as already observed, the coloring in many of his watercolor drawings is thin, the very reverse is true of the poems written toward the close of his life. Their glowing and gorgeous tones have the barbaric pomp of Gautier's finest prose and the glitter and opulence of Berlioz's or Wagner's orchestration.

Sources:

Digby, George. Symbol and Image in William Blake. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957.

Erdman, David, ed. The Illuminated Blake. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974.

Keynes, Geoffrey, ed. Blake: Complete Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974.

King, James. William Blake: His Life. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1991.

Nesfeld-Cookson, Bernard. William Blake: Prophet of Universal Brotherhood. U.K.: Crucible, 1987.

Raine, Kathleen. From Blake to "A Vision." Dublin: Dolman Press, 1979.

. William Blake. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1971.

Wilke, Joanne. William Blake's Epic: Imagination Unbound. London: Croom Helm, 1986.

Wilson, Mona. The Life of William Blake. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Wolf-Gumpold, Kaethe. William Blake: Painter, Poet, Visionary: An Attempt at and Introduction to his Life and Work. London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 1969.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Blake, William (1757-1827)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Blake, William (1757-1827)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william-1757-1827

"Blake, William (1757-1827)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william-1757-1827

Blake, William

William Blake

Born: November 28, 1757
London, England
Died: August 12, 1827
London, England

English poet, engraver, and painter

William Blake was an English poet, engraver, and painter. A boldly imaginative rebel in both his thought and his art, he combined poetic and pictorial genius to explore life.

Youth

William Blake was born in London, England, on November 28, 1757, the second son of a mens' clothing merchant. Except for a few years in Sussex, England, his entire life was spent in London. From his earliest years he saw visions. He would see trees full of angels or similar sights. If these were not true mystical visions, they were the result of the artist's intense spiritual understanding of the world. From his early teens Blake wrote poems, often setting them to melodies of his own composition.

At age ten Blake started at the well-known Park's drawing school, and at age fourteen he began a seven-year apprenticeship (studying and practicing under someone skilled) to an engraver. It was as an engraver that Blake earned his living for the rest of his life. After he was twenty-one, Blake studied for a time at the Royal Academy of Arts, but he was unhappy with the instruction and soon left.

In August 1782 Blake married Catherine Boucher, who had fallen in love with him at first sight. He taught her to read and write, and she later became a valued assistant. His "sweet shadow of delight," as Blake called Catherine, was a devoted and loving wife.

Early works

When he was twenty-six, he wrote a collection entitled Poetical Sketches. This volume was the only one of Blake's poetic works to appear in conventional printed formhe later invented and practiced a new method.

After his father died in 1784, Blake set up a print shop next door to the family shop. In 1787 his beloved brother Robert died; thereafter William claimed that Robert communicated with him in visions. It was Robert, William said, who inspired him with a new method of illuminated etching. The words and or design were drawn in reverse on a plate covered with an acid-resisting substance; acid was then applied. From these etched plates pages were printed and later hand-colored. Blake used his unique methods to print almost all of his long poems.

In 1787 Blake produced Songs of Innocence (1789) as the first major work in his new process, followed by Songs of Experience (1794). The magnificent lyrics in these two collections carefully compare the openness of innocence with the bitterness of experience. They are a milestone because they are a rare instance of the successful union of two art forms by one man.

Days of betrayal

Blake spent the years 1800 to 1803 in Sussex working with William Hayley, a minor poet and man of letters. With good intentions Hayley tried to cure Blake of his unprofitable enthusiasms. Blake finally rebelled against this criticism and rejected Hayley's help. In Milton (c. 18001810), Blake wrote an allegory (story with symbols) of the spiritual issues involved in this relationship. He identified with the poet John Milton (16081674) in leaving the safety of heaven and returning to earth. Also at this time in life Blake was accused of uttering seditious (treasonous) sentiments. He was later found not guilty but the incident affected much of Blake's final epic (long lyric poem highlighting a single subject), Jerusalem (c. 18041820).

Back in London, Blake worked hard at his poems, engraving, and painting, but he suffered several reverses. He was the victim of fraud in connection with his designs for Blair's (16991746) poem The Grave. He also received insulting reviews of that project and of an exhibition he gave in 1809 to introduce his idea of decorating public buildings with portable frescoes (paintings done on moist plaster using water-based paints).

Blake had become a political sympathizer with the American and French Revolutions. He composed The Four Zoas as a mystical story predicting the future showing how evil is rooted in man's basic facultiesreason, passion, instinct, and imagination. Imagination was the hero.

Later years

The next decade is a sad and private period in Blake's life. He did some significant work, including his designs for Milton's poems L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (1816) and the writing of his own poem The Everlasting Gospel (c. 1818). He was also sometimes reduced to writing for others, and the public did not purchase or read his divinely inspired predictions and visions. After 1818, however, conditions improved. His last six years of life were spent at Fountain Court surrounded by a group of admiring young artists. Blake did some of his best pictorial work: the illustrations to the Book of Job and his unfinished Dante. In 1824 his health began to weaken, and he died singing in London, England, on August 12, 1827.

Continuing influence

Blake's history does not end with his death. In his own lifetime he was almost unknown except to a few friends and faithful sponsors. He was even suspected of being mad. But interest in his work grew during the middle of the nineteenth century, and since then very committed reviewers have gradually shed light on Blake's beautiful, detailed, and difficult mythology. He has been acclaimed as one who shares common ideals held by psychologists, writers (most notably William Butler Yeats [18651939]), extreme students of religion, rock-and-roll musicians, and people studying Oriental religion. The works of William Blake have been used by people rebelling against a wide variety of issues, such as war, conformity (behaving in a certain way because it is accepted or expected), and almost every kind of repression.

For More Information

Ackroyd, Peter. Blake. New York: Knopf, 1996.

Bentley, G. E., Jr. The Stranger from Paradise: A Biography of William Blake. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.

King, James. William Blake, His Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Blake, William." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Blake, William." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william-0

"Blake, William." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william-0

Blake, William

William Blake, 1757–1827, English poet and artist, b. London. Although he exerted a great influence on English romanticism, Blake defies characterization by school, movement, or even period. At the same time no poet has been more sensitive or responsive to the realities of the human condition and of his time.

Early Life and Work

Blake's father, a prosperous hosier, encouraged young Blake's artistic tastes and sent him to drawing school. At 14 he was apprenticed to James Basire, an engraver, with whom he stayed until 1778. After attending the Royal Academy, where he rebelled against the school's stifling atmosphere, he set up as an engraver. In 1782 he married Catherine Boucher, whom he taught to read, write, and draw. She became his inseparable companion, assisting him in nearly all his work.

Blake's life, except for three years at Felpham where he prepared illustrations for an edition of Cowper, was spent in London. Poetical Sketches (1783), his first book, was the only one published conventionally during his lifetime. He engraved and published all his other major poetry himself (the rest remained in manuscript), for which he originated a method of engraving text and illustration on the same plate. Neither Blake's artwork nor his poetry enjoyed commercial or critical success until long after his death.

Work in the Visual Arts

Blake's paintings and engravings, notably his illustrations of his own works, works by Milton, and of the Book of Job, are painstakingly realistic in their representation of human anatomy and other natural forms. They are also radiantly imaginative, often depicting fanciful creatures in exacting detail. Nearly unknown during his life, Blake was generally dismissed as an eccentric or worse long thereafter. His following has gradually increased, and today he is widely appreciated as a visual artist and as a poet.

Mature Poetry

In Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794) the world is seen from a child's point of view, directly and simply but without sentimentality. In the first group, which includes such poems as "The Lamb," "Infant Joy," and "Laughing Songs," both the beauty and the pain of life are captured. The latter group, which includes "The Tyger," "Infant Sorrow," "The Sick Rose," and "London," reveal a consciousness of cruelty and injustice in the world, for which people, not fate, are responsible. As parables of adult life the Songs are rich in meaning and implication.

Blake's Prophetic Books combine poetry, vision, prophecy, and exhortation. They include The Book of Thel (1789), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (c.1790), The French Revolution (1791), America (1793), Europe (1794), The Book of Urizon (1794), The Book of Los (1795), Milton (1804–8), and Jerusalem (1804–20). These comprise no less than a vision of the whole of human life, in which energy and imagination struggle with the forces of oppression both physical and mental. Blake exalted love and pure liberty, and abhorred the reductive, rationalist philosophy that served to justify the political and economic inequities attendant upon the Industrial Revolution.

The Prophetic Books are founded in the real world, as are Blake's passions and anger, but they appear abstruse because they are ordered by a mythology devised by the poet, which draw from Swedenborg, Jacob Boehme, and other mystical sources. Despite this, and despite the fact that from childhood on Blake was a mystic who thought it quite natural to see and converse with angels and Old Testament prophets, he by no means forsook concrete reality for a mystical life of the spirit. On the contrary, reality, whose center was human life, was for Blake inseparable from imagination. The spiritual, indeed God himself, was an expression of the human.

Bibliography

See his complete writings, ed. by G. Keynes (rev. ed. 1966); his letters, ed. by G. Keynes (2d ed. 1968); his notebook, ed. by D. V. Erdman (1973); his complete illuminated books, ed. by D. Bindman (2000); biographies by M. Wilson, ed. by G. Keynes (3d ed. 1971), and P. Ackroyd (1996); studies by K. J. Raine (2 vol., 1968), D. V. Erdman (2d ed. 1969), G. Keynes (2d ed. 1971), D. G. Gillham (1973), D. Wagenknecht (1973), A. K. Mellor (1974), G. E. Bentley, ed. (1975), and J. Witke (1986); N. Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (1947); A. Blunt, The Art of William Blake (1959); D. V. Erdman and J. E. Grant, ed., Blake's Visionary Forms Dramatic (1970); R. J. Bertholf and A. S. Levitt, ed., William Blake and the Moderns (1982).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Blake, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Blake, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william

"Blake, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william

Blake, William

Blake, William (1757–1827) English poet, philosopher, and artist, one of the most extraordinary personalities to emerge during the period of Romanticism. A visionary, he believed that spiritual reality lies hidden behind the visible world of the senses and he attempted to create a symbolic language to represent his spiritual visions. He worked as a commercial engraver in the 1780s, but from c.1787 he began printing his own illustrated poems in colour. The first example was Songs of Innocence (1789). Blake's two patrons, Thomas Butts and John Linnell, enabled him to pursue his individual path as a poet-illustrator, producing notable engravings for Jerusalem (1804–20). Towards the end of his life, he joined a circle of younger artists who appreciated his remarkable powers, notably Samuel Palmer and Edward Calvert. It was not until the late 19th century that Blake's work achieved general recognition. He was extremely prolific and his prints, illustrations, and tempera paintings can be found in several important public collections in England and the USA. Among his other productions were Songs of Experience (1794), prophetic books portraying his private mythologies such as The Book of Urizen (1794) and The Four Zoas (1797), and illustrations to The Book of Job and to the Divine Comedy by Dante

http://www.blakearchive.org.uk; http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/blakeinteractive

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Blake, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Blake, William." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william

"Blake, William." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william

Blake, William

Blake, William (1757–1827). Artist, engraver, philosopher, visionary, and poet, Blake regarded art, imagination, and religion as one and aimed to create, through poetry and painting, a ‘visual symbolism’ to express his ‘spiritual vision’ and ‘mystical philosophy’. After drawing school and apprenticeship to an engraver, Blake briefly attended the Royal Academy where he was at odds with Joshua Reynolds. Returning to engraving, he became engrossed in what he called ‘illuminated painting’, an attempt to produce books in the style of medieval illuminated manuscripts. His first major work was Songs of Innocence in 1789, and Songs of Experience was published in 1794. Blake longed for fame and an enthusiastic audience, to build a New Jerusalem, but refused to compromise to make his work more accessible. He spent many years in poverty, saved only by the patronage of artist John Linnell and others. He spent his later years drawing rather than writing, surrounded by admirers, who included Samuel Palmer. Individual, nonconformist, experimental, Blake's work still challenges and mystifies, yet it includes two of the best-known poems in the English language, ‘Tyger, tyger’ and ‘Jerusalem’.

June Cochrane

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Blake, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Blake, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william

"Blake, William." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blake-william

Blake, William

Blake, William (1757–1827). Poet, artist, and visionary. Trained as an engraver, he soon combined his talent for illustration with his poetic gifts and, with Songs of Innocence (1789), began a series of works, engraved and combining text and coloured illustration. His vision combined a positive acceptance of, and delight in, the world of the senses, both the immediately pleasing and that which is darker and more threatening: it was expressed through verbal and visual imagery that became increasingly complex and allegorical. The key to all this Blake found in various occult traditions—hermetic, Neoplatonic, gnostic, and especially the theosophy of Swedenborg.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Blake, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Blake, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/blake-william

"Blake, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/blake-william