1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Blake

Charles Lamb to Bernard Barton, 15 May 1824; Works of Charles Lamb, ed. Lucas (1903-05) 7:642-43.



Blake is a real name, I assure you, and a most extraordinary man he is, if he still be living. He is the Robert [William] Blake, whose wild designs accompany a splendid edition of the Night Thoughts, which you may have seen, in one of which he pictures the parting of soul and body by a solid mass of human form floating off, God knows how, from a lumpish mass (fac Simile to itself) left behind on the dying bed. He paints in water-colours marvellous strange pictures, visions of his brain, which he asserts he has seen. They have great merit. He has seen the old Welsh bards on Snowdon — he has seen the Beautifullest, the strongest, and the Ugliest Man, left alone from the Massacre of the Britons by the Romans, and has painted them from memory (I have seen his paintings), and asserts them to be as good as the figures of Raphael and Angelo, but not better, as they had precisely the same retro-visions and prophetic visions with themself [himself]. The painters in oil (which he will have it that neither of them practised) he affirms to have been the ruin of art, and affirms that all the while he was engaged in his Water paintings, Titian was disturbing him, Titian the Ill Genius of Oil Painting. His Pictures — one in particular, the Canterbury Pilgrims (far above Stothard's) — have great merit, but hard, dry, yet with grace. He has written a Catalogue of them with a most spirited criticism on Chaucer, but mystical and full of Vision. His poems have been sold hitherto only in Manuscript. I never read them; but a friend at my desire procured the "Sweep Song." There is one to a tiger, which I have heard recited, beginning:

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright,
Thro' the desarts of the night,

which is glorious, but, alas! I have not the book; for the man is flown, whither I know not — to Hades or a Mad House. But I must look on him as one of the most extraordinary persons of the age.