« ZurückWeiter »
Methinks I see them arm my gallant soldiers,
In the same high poetic spirit Sir Walter Manny converses with a genuine old English warrior, Sir Thomas Dagworth.
"O Dagworth !—France is sick!—the very sky,
Sir Thomas answers—
"Thousands of souls must leave this prison'house
I might transcribe from these modest and unnoticed pages many such passages. It would be unfair not to mention that the same volume contains some wild and incoherent prose, in which we may trace more than the dawning of those strange, mystical, and mysterious fancies on which he subsequently misemployed his pencil. There is much that is weak, and something that is strong, and a great deal that is wild and mad, and all so strangely mingled, that no meaning can be assigned to it; it seems like a lamentation over the disasters which came on England during the reign of King John.
Though Blake lost himself a little in the enchanted region of song, he seems not to have neglected to make himself master of the graver, or to have forgotten his love of designs and sketches. He was a dutiful servant to Basire, and he studied occasionally under Flaxman and Fuseli; but it was his chief delight to retire to the solitude of his chamber, and there make drawings, and illustrate these with verses, to be hung up together in his mother's chamber. He was always at work; he called amusement idleness, sight-seeing vanity, and money-making the ruin of all high aspirations. "Were I to love money," he said, "I should lose all powet of thought; desire of gain deadens the genius oi "wan. 1 might roll in wealth and ride in a golden ""liariot, were I to listen to the voice of parsimony. sty business is not to gather gold, but to make glorious shapes, expressing godlike sentiments." The day was given to the graver, by which he earned enough to maintain himself respectably; and he bestowed his evenings upon painting and poetry, and intertwined these so closely in his compositions, that they cannot well be separated.
When he was six-and-twenty years old, he married Katharine Boutcher, a young woman of humble connexions—the dark-eyed Kate of several of his lyric poems. She lived near his father's house, and was noticed by Blake for the whiteness of her hand, the brightness of her eyes, and a olim and handsome shape, corresponding with his own notions of sylphs and naiads. As he was an original in all things, it would have been out of character to fall in love like an ordinary mortal: he was describing one evening in company the pains he had suffered from some capricious lady or another, when Katharine Boutcher said, "I pity you from my heart." "Do you pity me?" said Blake, " then I love you for that." "And I love you," said the Crank-hearted lass, and so the courtship began. He tried how well she looked in a drawing, then how her charms became verse; and finding moreover that she had good domestic qualities, he married her. They lived together long and happily.
She seemed to have been created on purpose for Blake: she believed him to be the finest genius on earth; she believed in his verse; she believed in his designs; and to the wildest flights of his imagina tion she bowed the knee, and was a worshipper. She set his house in good order, prepared his frugal meal, learned to think as he thought, and, indulging him in his harmless absurdities, became, as it were, Done of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. She learned—what a young and handsome woman is seldom apt to learn—to despise gaudy dresses, costly meals, pleasant company, and agreeable invitations —she found out the way of being happy at home, living on the simplest of food, and contented in the homeliest of clothing. It was no ordinary mind which could do all this; and she whom Blake emphatically called his "beloved," was no ordinary woman. She wrought off in the press the impressions of his plates—she coloured them with a light and neat hand—made drawings much in the spirit of hei husband's compositions, and almost rivalled him in all things save in the power which he possessed of seeing visions of any individual living or dead, whenever he chose to see them.
His marriage, I have heard, was not agreeable to his father; and he then left his roof and resided \vith his wife in Green Street, Leicester Fields. He returned to Broad Street, on the death of his father, a devout man, and an honest shopkeeper, of fifty years' standing, took a first floor and a shop, and in company with one Parker, who had been his fellowapprentice, commenced printseller. His wife attended to the business, and Blake continued to engrave, and took Robert, his favourite brother, for a pupil. This speculation did not succeed—his bioII.—L
thcr, too, sickened and died; he had a dispute with Parker—the shop was extinguished, and he removed to 28, Poland Street. Here he commenced that series of works which gave him a right to be numbered among the men of genius of his country. In sketching designs, engraving plates, writing songs, and composing music, he employed his time, with his wife sitting at his side, encouraging him in all his undertakings. As he drew the figure he meditated the song which was to accompany it, and the music to which the verse was to be sung, was the offspring loo of the same moment. Of his music there are no specimens—he wanted the art of noting it down—if it equalled many of his drawings, and some of his songs, we have lost melodies of real value.
The first fruits were the "Songs of Innocence and Experience," a work original and natural, anil of high merit, both in poetry and in painting. It consists of some sixty-five or seventy scenes, presenting images of youth and manhood—of domestic sadness, and fireside joy—of the gayety, and innocence, and happiness of childhood. Every scene has its poetical accompaniment, curiously interwoven with the group or the landscape, and forming, from the beauty of the colour and the prettiness of the pencilling, a very fair picture of itself. Those designs are, in general, highly poetical; more allied, however, to heaven than to earth,—a kind of spiritual abstractions, and indicating a better world and fuller happiness than mortals enjoy. The picture of Innocence is introduced with the following sweet verses.
"Piping down the valleys wild,
Pipe a song about a lamb;
So I piped with merry cheer.
So I piped—he wept to hear
Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe,
Sing thy Bongs of happy cheer—
While he wept with joy to hear.
Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read —
And I plucked a hollow reed,
And I made a rural pen,
And I stained the water clear,
Every child may joy to hear."
In a higher and better spirit he wrought with his pencil. But then he imagined himself under spiritual influences; he saw the forms and listened to the voices of the worthies of other days; the past and the future were before him, and he heard, in imagination, even that awful voice which called on Adam among the trees of the garden. In this kind of dreaming abstraction he lived much of his life; all his w"orks are stamped with it; and though they owe much of their mysticism and obscurity to the circumstance, there can be no doubt that they also owe to it much of their singular loveliness and beauty. It was wonderful that he could thus, month after month, and year after year, lay down his graver after it had won him his daily wages, and retire from the battle for bread, to distort his fancy amid scenes of more than earthly splendour, and creatures pure as unfallen dew.
In this lay the weakness and the strength of Blake, and those who desire to feel the character of his compositions, must be familiar with his history and the peculiarities of his mind. He was by nature a poet, a dreamer, and an enthusiast. The eminence which it had been the first ambition of his youth to climb, was visible before him; and he saw on its ascent, or on its summit, those who had started earlier in the race of fame. He felt conscious of his own merit, but was not aware of the thousand