No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.
William Blake (1757-1827) was an English writer, poet, and illustrator. From the relative obscurity of his reputation in his own time, Blake is now recognised as one of the major poets of the Romantic period and one of the most original and challenging figures in the history of English literature.
William Blake, English poet, painter and printmaker, was born 28th November 1757. Although highly regarded in the history of poetry and visual arts, Blake’s work was largely unrecognised during his lifetime.
Born in London to a middle class family, William Blake was the third of seven children. He was educated at home by his mother and attended drawing classes. Blake began engraving copies of drawings of Greek antiquities as a child, became an apprentice in 1772, and a professional engraver seven years later.
In 1782, Blake met Catherine Boucher, and married her in the same year. His new wife was illiterate, signing her marriage contract with an X, and Blake taught her to read and write as well as teaching her to engrave. She proved to be a great help over the years, helping to print his illuminated works and ‘maintaining his spirits throughout numerous misfortunes’.
William Blake’s first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches was published around 1783. He illustrated Mary Wollstonecraft’s Original Stories From Real Life (1788), but it is not known whether they actually even met.
In 1788, aged 31, Blake began to experiment with relief etching (a reversal of the normal method of etching), a method that he used to produce most of his books, paintings, pamphlets and Poems.
Around 1800, Blake moved to a cottage in Sussex to take up a job illustrating the works of the poet William Hayley. It was whilst living in Sussex that Blake wrote ‘Milton: A Poem’ (published between 1805-1808). He returned to London in 1802 and began to write and illustrate ‘Jerusalem’, his most ambitious work. In 1826, Blake was commissioned to produce a series of engravings for Dante’s Inferno. Sadly, his death in 1827 meant that only a handful of watercolours were completed, with only seven of the engravings arriving at proof form. Although only a few were produced, they have evoked praise. Blake worked on his Dante engravings even on the day of his death. Having ceased working, he drew a final portrait of his wife before dying, having promised her that he would be with her always.
After Blake’s death, Catherine believed she was regularly visited by her husband’s spirit, and would not sell any of his illuminated works and paintings without first “consulting Mr Blake”. Catherine died in 1831. Upon her death, Blake’s manuscripts were inherited by Frederick Tatham, who burned several of those which he considered too heretical or too politically radical.