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in an impending 'return to nature' and reason, the pristine state of innocence, prepared their children for the coming millennium, by habituating them to run naked about the house, a few hours every day; in which condition they would open the door to welcome
Shelley. The mother herself, enthusiastic in the cause,—than whom - there was 'never a more innocent or more virtuous lady,'-also rehearsed her part-in private. She would rise betimes, lock herself into her dressing-room, and there for some hours remain (without her clothes) reading and writing; naively assuring her friends afterwards that she felt so much the better for it; so innocent during the rest of the day. Strange dénouements have happened to other believers in the high physical, moral, and ästhetic advantages of nudity. Hogg tells another story,—of Dr. Franklin ; who wrote, on merely sanitary grounds, in favour of morning air-baths. The philosopher, by the daily habit of devoting the early hours to study undressed, had so familiarized himself with the practice of his theory, that the absence of mind natural to philosophers led him into inadvertences. Espying once a friend's maid-servant tripping quickly across the green with a letter in her hand—an important letter he had been eagerly expecting—the philosopher ran out to meet her: at which apparition she fled in terror, screaming. Again, no one ever accused hard-headed, canny Wilkie even of eccentricity. But he was a curious mixture of simplicity, worldliness, and almost fanatical enthusiasm in the practice of his art. One morning, the raw-boned young Scotchman was discovered by a caller (friend Haydon) drawing from the nude figure before a mirror; a method of study he pronounced ‘verra improving,' as well as economical! Blake's vagary, then, we may fairly maintain to be not wholly without parallel on the part of sane men, when carried away by an idea, as at first blush it would seem.
At the period of the enactment of the scene from Milton, Mrs. Blake was, in person, still a presentable Eve. A brunette' and 'very pretty' are terms I have picked up as conveying something regarding her appearance in more youthful days. Blake himself would boast what a pretty wife he had. She lost her beauty as the seasons sped,— never saw a woman so much altered' was the impression of one on meeting her again after a lapse of but seven years; a life of hard work and privation having told heavily upon her in the interim. In spirit, she was, at all times, a true Eve to her Adam; and might with the most literal appropriateness have used to him the words of Milton :
* What thou bid'st
To her he never seemed erratic or wild. There had indeed at one time been a struggle of wills, but she had yielded ; and his was a kind, if firm rule. Surely never had visionary man so loyal and affectionate a wife !
THE SONGS OF EXPERIENCE. 1794. [. 37.]
In the Songs of Experience, put forth in 1794, as complement to the Songs of Innocence, of 1789, we come again on more lucid writing than the Books of Prophecy last noticed, -writing freer from mysticism and abstractions, if partaking of the same colour of thought. Songs of Innocence and Experience, showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul : the author and printer, W. Blake, is the general title now given. The first series, quite in keeping with its name, had been of far the more heavenly temper. The second, produced during an interval of another five years, bears internal evidence of later origin, though in the same rank as to poetic excellence. As the title fitly shadows, it is of grander, sterner calibre, of gloomier wisdom. Strongly contrasted, but harmonious phases of poetic thought are presented by the two series.
One poem in the Songs of Experience happens to have been quoted often enough, (first by Allan Cunningham, in connexion with Blake's name,) to have made its strange old Hebrew-like grandeur, its Oriental latitude yet force of eloquence, comparatively familiar :The Tiger. To it Charles Lamb refers : "I have heard of his poems,' writes he, but have never seen them. There is one to ‘a tiger, beginning,
Tiger ! Tiger! burning bright
'which is glorious!'
Of the prevailing difference of sentiment between these poems and the Songs of Innocence, may be singled out as examples The Clod and the Pebble, and even so slight a piece as The Fly; and in a more sombre mood, The Garden of Love, The Little Boy Lost, Holy Thursday (anti-type to the poem of the same title in Songs of Innocence), The Angel, The Human Abstract, The Poison Tree, and above all, London. One poem, The Little Girl Lost, may startle the literal reader, but has an inverse moral truth and beauty of its own. Another, The Little Girl Lost, and Little Girl Found, is a daringly emblematic anticipation of some future age of gold, and has the picturesqueness of Spenserian allegory, lit with the more ethereal spiritualism of Blake. Touched by
• The light that never was on sea or shore,'
is this story of the carrying off of the sleeping little maid by friendly beasts of prey, who gambol round her as she lies; the kingly lion bowing his mane of gold,' and on her neck dropping ‘from his eyes of flame, ruby tears ; ' who, when her parents seek the child, brings them to his cave; and
They look upon his eyes,
Well might Flaxman exclaim, “Sir, his poems are as grand as his pictures,' Wordsworth read them with delight, and use the words before quoted. Blake himself thought his poems finer than his designs. Hard to say which are the more uncommon in kind. Neither, as I must reiterate, reached his own generation. In Malkin's Memoirs of a Child, specimens from the Poetical Sketches and Songs of Innocence and Experience were given; for these poems struck the well-meaning scholar, into those hands by chance they fell, as somewhat astonishing; as indeed they struck most who stumbled on them. But Malkin's Memoirs was itself a book not destined to circulate very freely; and the poems of Blake, even had they been really known to their generation, were not calculated in their higher qualities to win popular favour,—not if they had been free from technical imperfection. For it was an age of polish, though mostly polish of trifles ; not like the present age, with its slovenliness and licence. Deficient finish was never a characteristic of the innovator Wordsworth himself, who started from the basis of Pope and Goldsmith ; and whose matter, rather than manner, was obnoxious to critics. Defiant carelessness, though Coleridge in his Juvenile Poems was often guilty of it, did not become a characteristic of English verse, until the advent of Keats and Shelley ; poets of imaginative virtue enough to cover a multitude of their own and other people's sins. The length to which it has since run (despite Tennyson), we all know.
Yet in this very inartificiality lies the secret of Blake's rare and wondrous success. Whether in design or in poetry, he does, in very fact, work as a man already practised in one art, beginning anew in another ; expressing himself with virgin freshness of mind in each, and in each realizing, by turns, the idea flung out of that prodigal cornucopia of thought and image, Pippa Passes : If there should ' arise a new painter, will it not be in some such way by a poet, ' now, or a musician (spirits who have conceived and perfected an
ideal through some other channel), transferring it to this, and 'escaping our conventional roads by pure ignorance of them ?' Even Malkin, with real sense, observes of the poet in general,-his mind ‘is too often at leisure for the mechanical prettinesses of 'cadence and epithet, when it ought to be engrossed by higher
thoughts. Words and numbers present themselves unbidden when 'the soul is inspired by sentiment, elevated by enthusiasm, or ravished by devotion.' Yes! ravished by devotion. For in these songs of