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William Blake

1757-1827

William Blake

The English poet, painter, mystic, and engraver, William Blake, was born in Soho, London on November 28, 1757. His father was an Irish hosier, and he was the second of five children. Blake began to have mystical visions from an early age, and his desire to become an artist started early, too. Other than a period at a drawing school in the Strand when he was ten, Blake was largely self-taught but well-read. He was apprenticed to James Basire, an engraver, in 1772, and followed his apprenticeship by entering the Royal Academy as an engraving student in 1779. He began to earn a living painting watercolors and engraving illustrations for magazines.

On August 18, 1782, Blake married a market-gardener's daughter, Catherine Boucher, and the following year some friends privately published his first volume of poems, written between the ages of 12 and 20, Poetical Sketches. By W.B.. In 1787, Blake invented his method of "illuminated printing", a process that produced colorful "illuminated books", colored by Blake or his wife. Most of Blake's books from now on would be self-published in this way, resulting in limited distribution of his works during his lifetime.

A sequence of important works followed: Songs of Innocence and The Book of Thel (1789), The French Revolution (1791), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794), and The Song of Los (1795).

In 1800, the Blakes were offered the loan of a cottage in Felpham by a wealthy patron, William Hayley, and they duly moved to Sussex. The dampness of the cottage and the patronizing and irritating attitude of Hayley saw their eventual return to London in 1803. Blake found it difficult to get paid work, but continued to produce his masterpieces. From 1804 to 1808 he wrote and engraved Milton, and Jerusalem, written largely at the same time, followed.

1819 saw an upturn in Blake's fortunes when the painter John Linnell became a patron. Blake's final years were devoted mainly to art, with the most noteworthy poetry after Jerusalem being the unfinished Everlasting Gospel, written some time around 1818. In 1821, Blake was commissioned by Linnell to produce one of his finest works - a series of 21 watercolors on the Book of Job. A further commission of designs for Dante's Divine Comedy, begun in 1825, was left unfinished at Blake's death on August 12, 1827, in London. After a life beset with poverty, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Bunhill Fields.

Blake's work was influenced, not only by his own mystical experiences, but by the writings of such figures as Jacob Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg. In turn, his work influenced later writers, such as the poet, William Butler Yeats.



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