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Moses, with Pindar and Virgil; whh Dante and Milton. These great men, he asserted, appeared to him in visions, and even entered into conversatioa Milton, in a moment of confidence, intrusted him with a whole poem of his, which the world had never seen; but unfortunately the communication was oral, and the poetry seemed to have lost much of its brightness in Blake's recitation. When asked about the looks of those visions, he answered, 'They are all majestic shadows, gray but luminous, and superior to the common height of men." I was evident that the solitude of the country gave him a larger swing in imaginary matters. His wife often accompanied him to these strange interviews; she saw nothing and heard as little, but she was certain that her husband both heard and saw.
Blake's mind at all times resembled that first page in the magician's book of gramoury, which made
"The cobweb on the dungeon wall,
His mind could convert the most ordinary occuirence into something mystical and supernatural. He often saw less majestic shapes than those of the poets of old. "Did you ever «ee a fairy's funeral, madam?" he once said to a lady, who happened to sit by him in company. "Never, sir!" was the answer. "I have," said Blake, "but not before la3t night. I was walking alone in my garden, there was great stillness among the branches and flowers and more than common sweetness in the air; I heard a low and pleasant sound, and I knew not whence it came. At last I saw the broad leaf of a flower move, and underneath I saw a procession of creatures of the size and colour of green and gray grasshoppers, bearing a body laid out on a rose leaf, which they buried with songs, and then disappeared. It was a fairy funeral." It would, perhaps, have been better for his fame had he connected it more
with the superstitious beliefs of his country—among the elves and fairies his fancy might have wandered at will—their popular character would perhaps have kept him within the bounds of traditionary belief, and the sea of his imagination might have had a shore.
After a residence of three years in his cottage at Felpham, he removed to 17, South Molton Street, London, where he lived seventeen years. He came back to town with a fancy not a little exalted by the solitude of the country, and in this mood designed and engraved an extensive and strange work which he entitled " Jerusalem." A production so exclusively wild was not allowed to make its appearance in an ordinary way: he thus announced it. "After my three years' slumber on the banks of the ocean, 1 again display my giant forms to the public." Of those designs there are no less than a hundred; what their meaning is the artist has left unexplained. It seems of a religious, political, and spiritual kind, and wanders from hell to heaven and from heaven to earth; now glancing into the distractions of oui own days, and then making a transition to the antediluvians. The crowning defect is obscurity; meaning seems now and then about to dawn; you turn plate after plate and read motto after motto, in the hope of escaping from darkness into light. But the first might as well be looked at last; the whole seems a riddle which no ingenuity can solve. Yet, if the work be looked at for form and effect rather than for meaning, many figures may be pronounced worthy of Michael Angelo. There is wonderful freedom of attitude and position; men, spirits, gods, and angels move with an ease which makes one lament that we know not wherefore they are put in motion. Well might Hayley call him his " gentle visionary Blake." He considered the Jerusalem to be his greatest work, and for a set of the tinted engravings he charged twenty-five guineas. Few
joined the artist in his admiration. The Jerusalem, with all its giant forms, failed to force its way into circulation.
His next work was the Illustrations of Blair's Grave, which came to the world with the following commendation by Fuseli. "The author of the moral series before us has endeavoured to awaken sensibility by touching our sympathies with nearer, less ambiguous, and less ludicrous imagery, than what mythology, gothic superstition, or symbols as far fetched as inadequate could supply. His avocation has been chiefly employed to spread a familiar and domestic atmosphere round the most important of all subjects, to connect the visible and the invisible world without provoking probability, and to lead the eye from the milder light of time to the radiations of eternity." For these twelve "Inventions," as he called them, Blake received twenty guineas from Cromek, the engraver—a man of skill m art and taste in literature. The price was little, fcut nevertheless it was more than what he usually deceived for such productions; he also undertook to engrave them. But Blake's mode of engraving was as peculiar as his style of designing; it had little of that grace of execution about it, which attracts customers, and the Inventions, after an experiment or two, were placed under the fashionable graver of Louis Schiavonetti. Blake was deeply incensed—he complained that he was deprived of the profit of engraving his own designs, and, with ven less justice, that Schiavonetti was unfit for the .ask.
Some of these twelve Inventions are natural and poetic, others exhibit laborious attempts at the terrific and the sublime. The old Man at Death's Door is one of the best—in the Last Day there are fine groups and admirable single figures—the Wise Ones of the Earth pleading before the inexorable Throne, and the Descent of the Condemned, are creations of a high order. The Death of the Strong Wicked Man is fearful and extravagant, and the flames in which the soul departs from the body have no warrant in the poem or in belief. The Descent of Christ into the Grave is formal and tame, and the hoary old Soul in the Death of the Good Man, tra veiling heavenward between two orderly Angels, required little outlay of fancy. The frontispiece—a naked angel descending headlong and rousing the dead with the sound of the last trumpet—alarmed the devout people of the north, and made maids and matrons retire behind their fans.
If the tranquillity of Blake's life was a little disturbed by the dispute about the twelve "Inventions," it was completely shaken by the controversy which now arose between him and Cromek respecting his Canterbury Pilgrimage. That two artists at one and the same time should choose the same subject for the pencil, seems scarcely credible— especially when such subject was not of a temporary interest. The coincidence here was so close, that Blake accused Stothard of obtaining knowledge of his design through Cromek, while Stothard with equal warmth asserted that Blake had commenced bis picture in rivalry of himself. Blake declared that Cromek had actually commissioned him to paint the Pilgrimage before Stothard thought of his; to which Cromek replied, that the order had been given in a vision, for he never gave it. Stothard, a man as little likely to be led aside from truth by love of gain as by visions, added to Cromek's denial the startling testimony that Blake visited him during the early progress of his picture, and expressed his approbation of it in such terms, that he proposed to introduce Blake's portrait in the procession, as a mark of esteem. It is probable that Blake obeyed some imaginary revelation in this matter, and mistook it for the order of any earthly employer; but whether commissioned by a vision or by.mortal lips, his Canterbury Pilgrimage made its appearance in an exhibition of his principal works in the house of his brother, in Broad Street, during the summer of 1809.
Of original designs, this singular exhibition contained sixteen—they were announced as chiefly "of a spiritual and political nature"—but then the spiritual works and political feelings of Blake were unlike those of any other man. One piece represented "The Spiritual Form of Nelson guiding Leviathan." Another, "The Spiritual Form of Pitt guiding Behemoth." This, probably, confounded both divines and politicians; there is no doubt that plain men went wondering away. The chief attraction was the Canterbury Pilgrimage, not indeed from its excellence, but from the circumstance of its origin, which was well known about town, and pointedly alluded to in the catalogue. The picture is a failure. Blake was too great a visionary for dealing with such literal wantons as the Wife of Bath and her jolly companions. The natural flesh and blood of Chaucer prevailed against him. He gives grossness of body for grossness of mind,—tries to be merry and wicked—and in vain.
Those who missed instruction in his pictures, found entertainment in his catalogue, a wild performance, overflowing with the oddities and dreams of the author—which may be considered as a kind of public declaration of his faith concerning art and artists. His first anxiety is about his colours. "Colouring," says this new lecturer on the Chiaroscuro, "does not depend on where the colours are put, but on where the lights and darks are put, and all depends on form or outline. Where that is wrong the colouring never can be right, and it is always wrong in Titian and Correggio, Rubens and Rembrandt; till we get rid of them we shall never equal Raphael and Albert Durer, Michael Angelo rtiid Julio Romano. Clearness and precision have