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great : the work was performed something in the manner of old books with illuminated margins, Along the ample margins which the poetry left on the page the artist sketched his fanciful creations ; contracting or expanding them according to the space. Some of those designs were in keeping with the poems, but there were others which alarmed fastidious people : the serious and the pious were not prepared to admire shapes trembling in nudity round the verses of a grave divine. In the exuberance of Young there are many fine figures; but they are figures of speech only, on which art should waste none of its skill. This work was so much, in many parts, to the satisfaction of Flaxman, that he introduced Blake to Hayley the poet, who, in 1800, persuaded him to remove to Felpham in Sussex, to make engravings for the Life of Cowper. To that place he accordingly went with his wife and sister, and was welcomed by Hayley with much affection. Of his journey and his feelings he gives the following account to Flaxman, whom he usually addressed thus, “ Dear Sculptor of Eternity."
6 We are arrived safe at our cottage, which is more beautiful than I thought it, and more convenient. It is a perfect model for cottages, and I think for palaces of magnificence, only enlarging and not altering its proportions, and adding ornaments and not principals. Nothing can be more grand than its simplicity and usefulness, Felpham is a sweet place for study, because it is more spi. ritual than London. Heaven opens here on all sides her golden gates; her windows are not obstructed by vapouss; voices of celestial inhabitants are more distinctly heard, and their forms more distinctly seen, and my cottage is also a shadow of their houses. My wife and sister are both well, and are courting Neptune for an embrace.".
Thus far had he written in the language and feelings of a person of upper air; though some of the expressions are tinctured with the peculiar enthusiasm of the man, they might find shelter under the license of figurative speech, and pass muster as the poetic language of new-found happiness. Blake thus continues :
5 And now begins a new life, because another covering of earth is shaken off. I am more famed in heaven for my works than I could well conceive. In my brain are studies and chambers filled with books and pictures of old, which I wrote and painted in ages of eternity before my mortal life, and those works are the delight and study of archangels. Why then should I be anxious about the riches or fame of mortality? You, O dear Flaxman, are a sublime archangel, my friend and companion from eternity. Farewell, my dear friend, remember me and my wife in love and friendship to Mrs. Flaxman, whom we ardently desire to entertain beneath our thatched roof of russet gold." ;
This letter, written in the year 1800, gives the true twofold image of the author's mind. During the day he was a man of sagacity and sense, who handled his graver wisely, and conversed in a wholesome and pleasant manner; in the evening, when he had done his prescribed task, he gave a loose to his imagination. While employed on those engravings which accompany the works of Cowper, he saw such company as the country where he resided afforded, and talked with Hayley about poetry with a feeling to which the author of the Triumphs of 'Temper was an utter stranger; but at the close of day away went Blake to the seashore to indulge in his own thoughts, and
High converse with the dead to hold.”,
Here he forgot the present moment and lived in the past; he conceived, verily, that he had lived in other days, and had formed friendships with Homer and Moses, with Pindar and Virgil; with Dante and Milton. These great men, he asserted, appeared to him in visions, and even entered into conversation. 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." It 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,
Seem tapestry in lordly hall.” His mind could convert the most ordinary occurrence into something mystical and supernatural. He often saw less majestic shapes than those of the poets of old. “ Did you ever see 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 last 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. “ Aster my three years' slumber on the banks of the ocean, I 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 our 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 Jllustrations 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 in art and taste in literature. The price was little, but nevertheless it was more than what he usually received 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 task,
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