Sunday, 20 February 2011

William Blake

NAME William Blake

WHAT FAMOUS FOR Mystic poet and artist.

BIRTH b November 28, 1757 at 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick St) in the Soho district of London.

FAMILY BACKGROUND William's father, James Blake, was a non conformist who owned a clothing shop and was not rich. His mother was Catherine Wright Armitage Blake.
William was the third son of seven children, two of whom died in infancy. Dearest to his heart was his younger brother, Robert, who died very young in 1787.

CHILDHOOD A visionary from early childhood, at the age of 4 the Almighty peered at William through a window and made him cry. Once he told his parents he had seen a tree full of angels and the prophet Ezekiel, which angered his father who thought his son a liar.
As a child he wanted to be a painter and by the age of 12, William was diligently collecting prints. He was also writing poetry; the lyric, “How sweet I roam’d from Field to Field” is thought to have been written before he'd entered his teens.
Blake's Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794) provide the first example of literature concerned with the essential goodness of children in the spirit of Rousseau’s educational philosophy. Although not intended for children, they were highly influential; he portrayed childhood as a happy and virtuous time and growing up a saddening and complicated process.

EDUCATION William barely went to school, (only enough to lean to read and write) and was otherwise educated at home by his mother.
In 1779 William became a student at the newly formed Royal Academy located at the Old Somerset House, near the Strand. While the terms of his study required no payment, he was expected to supply his own materials. Throughout his time there, Blake rebelled against the aesthetic doctrines of its president, Sir Joshua Reynolds, an advocate of what he regarded as the unfinished style of fashionable painters such as Rubens. Blake preferred to draw from his imagination.
Later in life, he had a profound contempt for classical education, "I never was sent to school, to be flog'd into following the style of a fool," he Wrote.

CAREER RECORD William began engraving copies of drawings of Greek antiquities at ten years old, a practice that was then preferred to real-life drawing. Four years later he became apprenticed to James Basire of Great Queen Street, London. After two years Basire sent him to draw the monuments in the old churches of London, a task that he thoroughly enjoyed. At the age of twenty-one Blake finished his apprenticeship and studied briefly at the Royal Academy whilst setting himself up as a professional engraver. From then on Blake laboured most days on engraving mainly for book illustrations. He was only able to devote himself to art and poetry in his spare time.
A brief CV
1783 Blake's first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, was printed. 1784-87 Started a print shop with another engraver James Parker and Blake’s brother, Robert, at 27 Broad Street, Golden Square, London after his father's death. It failed after three years.
1788 Blake began to experiment with relief etching, a method he would use to produce most of his books, paintings, pamphlets and poems.
1800-03 Blake moved to a cottage at Felpham in Sussex (now West Sussex) to take up a job illustrating the works of his friend and patron William Hayley, who was a mediocre but fashionable poet.
1804-20 Blake could get little work. In the 1820s he produced his beautiful illustrations to the Book of Job.

FASHION Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American revolutions and openly wore the red revolutionary bonnet in the streets.
For some mystical reason Blake was not fond of soap - his wife contended that his skin not only did not attract dirt, but positively repelled it.

CHARACTER Amiable and agreeable, single minded, unworldly, maybe mad, eccentric, stubborn visionary.

SENSE OF HUMOUR In the early 1780s Blake wrote the satirical fragment An Island in the Moon, which made fun of scientific dilettantism.

RELATIONSHIPS The first time Blake met pretty Catherine Boucher, the daughter of a Chelsea market gardener, the conviction that this was the man she must marry so overwhelmed her that she fainted. She was a visionary too. Blake, meanwhile was recovering from a relationship that had culminated in a refusal of his marriage proposal. He recounted the story of his heartbreak for Catherine and her parents, after which he asked Catherine, "Do you pity me?" When she responded affirmatively, he declared, "Then I love you."
At the age of 25 William married the illiterate Catherine, who was five years his junior, on 18 August 1782 in St. Mary's Church, Battersea. After the wedding she signed the register with a cross as she couldn't write her name. There were early problems, however, such as Catherine's illiteracy and the couple's failure to produce children. At one point, in accordance with the beliefs of the Swedenborgian Society, Blake suggested bringing in a concubine. Catherine was distressed at the idea, and he dropped it. Later Blake taught his wife to read and write. Whilst William engraved words and pictures on copper printing plates, Catherine made the printing impressions, hand coloured the pictures and bound the books. She cooked for him and made his clothes never complaining. He was never unfaithful to her despite writing about sexual energy and polygamy and their marriage remained a close and devoted one until his death.
"I have very little of Mr Blake's company. He is always in paradise." Catherine once quipped about her husband's visions.

MONEY AND FAME Blake initially made as much impact as a sponge dropped in a bath. His poetry in picture books did not sell well in his day and his Songs of Innocence earned him little. Neither were his unusual paintings popular. He was considered by many to have been insane and merely an interesting oddity.On the few occasions when critics did notice him, it was because they suspected he was mad. he was known as a lunatic.
At the end of his life Blake enjoyed a little success, particularly with his Bible illustrations when Samuel Palmer and his coterie looked to him as a guru figure for their movement, "The Ancients". He sold a a number of works to Thomas Butts, a patron who saw Blake more as a friend in need than an artist. Geoffrey Keynes, a biographer, described Butts as, "a dumb admirer of genius, which he could see but not quite understand." Dumb or not, we have him to thank for eliciting and preserving so many works.
By the end of the nineteenth century, he was recognised as the genius he was.

FOOD AND DRINK If Catherine thought her William was spending too much time with his angels and not enough earning his daily bread at meal time she would place an empty plate at his end of the table.

ART Blake's radical artistic techniques and colour experiments were not appreciated in his time. His figures were usually elongated and heavily muscled and he was poor at painting landscapes and animals. He habitually claimed that the biblical subjects of his paintings were actually present in his studio.
His poetry in picture books featured his great innovative art form, which he called "Illuminated Printing". Blake wrote his texts in reverse and illustrated them on metal plates through a method of relief etching. The pages were then printed and coloured before being bound. His precise method is not known. The most likely explanation is that he wrote the words and drew the pictures for each poem on a copper plate, using some liquid impervious to acid, which, when applied, left the text and illustration in relief. Ink or colour wash was then applied, and the printed picture was finished by hand in water-colours.
Blake shrank from drawing nude bodies because he found them corpse like and "smelling of mortality".
Blake's engraving of 21 pictures to his own Book of Job (1826), is considered by many to be his finest art. He was given the commission by the painter John Cinnell.

MUSIC Whenever he had the chance Blake would sing his poetry to friends and his wife. Instruments of the day included the church pump organ.

LITERATURE John Milton was his favorite poet, an ever present in the Blake library. William and Catherine liked to sit naked in their summer house being Adam and Eve whilst reciting passages from Paradise Lost.
Blake did all his publishing for his poetry in picture books, even making his own ink, hand-printing the pages and getting Mr's Blake to sew on the covers.
His Three most famous works are:
1789 Songs of Innocence poetry collection, which eloquently explored issues of divine love. Unable to find a publisher for his Songs of Innocence, Blake and his wife engraved and printed them at home.
1794 Songs of Experience , which considered the nature of evil. Amongst the 26 poems are the famous:
"Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry." Despite admiring its fearful symmetry Blake appears unable to spell 'tiger.'
1804 Jerusalem Taken from his preface to his long poem, Milton, it was one of the most complicated works Blake ever wrote. A hymn of spiritual power and sexual liberty, Blake wrote Jerusalem whilst living in Felpham, West Sussex despite the fact there are very few dark, satanic mills in that nick of the woods.

NATURE An lover of animals, Blake used his poetic gift to renounce cruelty to God's creatures. "A Robin Redbreast in a cage. Puts all Heaven in a rage," he wrote in Auguries of Innocence.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS As a youth, William spent his time on endless walks - and did these feet endlessly trot...

SCIENCE Anti science, Blake preferred an intuitive approach.

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Baptised as a child at St James, Piccadilly, William was brought up on the Bible in a non-conformist household. The visionary English artist and poet was known as “barmy” Blake, as he believed he had long conversations with biblical heroes and other famous historic figures. Even as a child he had visions of angels in a tree and the prophet, Ezekiel in a field.
The Non-conformist mystic wanted to escape from puritanical repressive Christianity and had contempt for organized religion. He believed that England had a special relationship with God, having accepted the myth that Christianity had been established at Glastonbury almost in Christ’s own lifetime, by his follower Joseph of Arimethea, and that as the Jews have failed him, God replaced them with the English as his “chosen people.”
Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793) argued that in time evil will be turned into good thus precluding the need for hell.
Blake: "He who would do good must do it in minute particulars. General good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer."

POLITICS At weekly dinners Blake met the leading radicals and freethinkers of his age, including Wollstonecraft, Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, William Godwin, Henry Fuseli, and Thomas Paine. He espoused savage anarchy and also peace and love and was an anti monarchist.
SCANDAL Blake's feet in those ancient times, sure tread upon other people's toes.
(1)In the long afternoons Blake spent sketching in Westminster Abbey, during his apprenticeship to James Basire he was occasionally interrupted by the boys of Westminster School, one of whom "tormented" Blake so much one afternoon that he knocked the boy off a scaffold to the ground, "upon which he fell with terrific Violence".
(2) During his time at Felpham, Blake was charged with high treason. He'd been overheard by a soldier in his garden uttering such seditious expressions as "D—n the King, d—n all his subjects" and he would "fight for Napoleon sooner than England." Blake maintained that ”the whole accusation is a wilful Perjury“. Found not guilty but a time of great fear for Blake, he felt his whole work was on trial.
(3) Also during his time at Felpham, Blake had a punch up with a soldier whom he'd discovered in his garden.
(4) Blake helped Thomas Paine escape to France when his "Rights of Man was deemed too inflammatory in a revolutionary climate.

MILITARY RECORD Blake lived during a time of unrest, war and fear of revolutionary. Living in the capital city he felt it was a maelstrom of uncertainties.
A pacifist, his "Dark Satanic mills" in Jerusalem refer to gunpowder factories.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS Though Blake's vast output of visionary art and poetry is revered now, in his own time they were regarded as convincing evidence of insanity. "There is no doubt this poor man was mad, but there is something, in the madness of this man which interest me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott," said Wordsworth said of the "cockney nutcase".

HOMES 1785-90 28 Poland Street, London.
1790-1800 Lived at 13 Hercules Buildings, Lambeth Marsh.
1800-03 Lived at Felpham, West Sussex at what is now Blake House until his arrest for treason. It was a damp, thatched cottage which he rented for £20 a year. It is still a private residence.
1804-21 Lived in one room in grim poverty at 17 South Molton Street, London.
1821-27 Fountain Court off West End of Fleet Street.

TRAVEL Couldn't afford it. He never ventured further than Sussex and that was only once.

DEATH Died 1827 in London. Buried Bunhill Fields in East End where traditionally the Non Conformists were buried.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA 1. (a) Richard Ashcroft borrowed the words of William Blake's London for the 1995 Verve single "History".
(b) Jah Wobble's 1996 CD The Inspiration of William Blake is some of his poems set to music.
2. "If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is infinite." (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell) 1790-93. From this quote came the title of Aldous Huxley's book, The Doors of Perception. From this book came the name of Jim Morrison's rock band, The Doors.
3. Blake's poem Jerusalem was set to music in 1916 by Charles Parry to beef up British morale during the bleakest days of the First World War. Despite the unorthodox theology of the words it is now one of the most popular hymns in the English language and many of the English population would like this to replace God Save The Queen as their national anthem.
4. The Emglish classical vocal quartet Blake chose their namr from a mutual appreciation of the poet and artist's peerless thirst for innovation.

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. Blake created what he himself termed "Republican Art" in which themes of individual liberty and justice were explored. Much of his poetry was an expression of his anti-church brand of mystical religion.
2. Greatly influenced the 1950s Beat Generation.
3. Created a new form of art with his etching technique
4. His later writings such as Jerusalem and Milton (1804-08) were revolutionary in their free verse form having no plot, characters, rhyme nor metre.
4. There is a memorial to Blake in St Paul's Cathedral.
5. Jerusalem is the official hymn of the Woman's Institute.

(1) The Oxford Companion to English Literature
(2) Wikipedia

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