1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Blake

Anonymous, "William Blake" The Literary Chronicle 9 (1 September 1827) 557-58.



The late Mr. William Blake, whose recent decease has also been publicly notified, may be instanced as one of those ingenious persons which every age has produced, whose eccentricities were still more remarkable than their professional abilities, the memory of which extra circumstances have largely contributed to the perpetuation of their fame.

Mr. Blake, celebrated for his graphic illustrations of Blair's poem of the Grave, however ingenious that series of designs, was still more remarkable, as before observed, for the singularity of his opinions, and for his pretended knowledge of the world of spirits.

It is not our intention to speak of the aberrations of men of genius with levity, but would rather advert to them, with commiseration and pity. Yet, to dwell upon the pursuits, or to relate the opinions of such visionaries as the late Mr. Blake with seriousness, would be an attempt beyond the extremest limits of our critical gravity.

That he believed to have seen and conversed with those with whom he pretended acquaintance, we no more doubt than that he is now incorporated with those incorporeal beings with whom he was so familiar. But still more strange, perhaps, is that which is no less true — that there are those, men of sense and of quick perception too, who actually believe what he believed to have seen to be true!

Mr. Blake, in our hearing, with, apparently, the powers of reasoning on the objects before him, as clearly, distinctly, and rationally as the most sane logician, has declared, that he had frequently seen and conversed with the ancient kings and prophets. With David, Saul, Hezekiah, and other great personages mentioned in Holy Writ; nay, that he drew their portraits in his sketch-book, which portraits we have seen. "Seeing is believing," saith the adage. We have seen these — ergo, we believe, as aforesaid, that Mr. Blake thought that he had seen, and confirmed the fact by sketching their portraits.

In illustration of which, it may be worth relating here, that which he related to us, namely—

That the first time he saw King Saul, he was clad in armour. That his helmet was of a form and structure unlike any that he had seen before, though he had been in the armories of all nations since the flood. Moreover, that King Saul stood in that position which offered only a view in part of the said helmet, and that he could not decently go round to view the whole.

Thus the sketch of the helmet, — for artists have a rule not to touch at home upon that which they have sketched abroad, neither from nature or the life; this rule, Mr. Blake invariably maintained, wherein the material of his art was exercised upon those of his sitters, who were immaterial. This sketch of the helmet then remained as he first sketched it — incomplete.

"Some months after" (this first sitting,) said Mr. Blake, "King Saul appeared to me again (when he took a second sitting,) and then I had all opportunity of seeing the other part of the helmet."

We saw the said helmet when completed, and, in sober truth can assert, that the helmet and the armour are most extraordinary!

The MAN FLEA. — Mr. Blake had a conversation with a flea, which, on being related to us, naturally enough reminded us of the saying of the great Napoleon, "that from the sublime to the ridiculous — was but a step."

The flea communicated to Mr. Blake what passed, as related to himself, at the creation.

"It was first intended," said he (the flea) "to make me as big as a bullock; but then when it was considered from my construction, so armed — and so powerful withal, that in proportion to my bulk, (mischievous as I now am) that I should have been a too mighty destroyer; it was determined to make me no bigger than I am."

It must, in justice to the genius and professional renown of Mr. Blake, be added, that he made a drawing, composed in a poetic mood, of this little pernicious vampire, enlarging it to the figure of a man, encased in armour, folded somewhat analogously to the rhinoceros-like coat of the flea, and denominated it — The Man Flea; and, to speak without hyperbole, it is indubitably the most ingenious, and able personification of a devil, or a malignant and powerful fiend, that ever emanated from the inventive pencil of a painter.

Apropos — In a book of autographs, in the possession of the librarian of the London Institution, is the autograph of this artist, who has added to a very clever drawing, "William Blake, born in 1765, has died several times since!!!"