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PRODUCTIVE YEARS. 1794—95. (ÆT. 37–38.]
To the Songs of Experience succeeded from Lambeth the same year (1794) volumes of mystic verse and design, in the track of the Visions of the Daughters of Albion, and the America. One of them is a sequel to the America, and generally occurs bound up with it, sometimes coloured, sometimes plain. It is entitled Europe, a Prophecy : Lambeth, printed by William Blake, 1794 ; and consists of seventeen quarto pages, with designs of a larger size than those of America, occupying the whole page often. The frontispiece represents the ‘Ancient of Days, as shadowed forth in Proverbs viii. 27:
when he set a compass upon the face of the earth ;' and again, as described in Paradise Lost, Book vii. line 236 : a grand figure, 'in an orb of light surrounded by dark clouds, is stooping down, with ‘an enormous pair of compasses, to describe the world's destined 'orb;' Blake adopting with child-like fidelity, but in a truly sublime spirit, the image of the Hebrew and English poets. This composition was an especial favourite with its designer. When colouring it by hand, he always bestowed more time,' says Smith, "and enjoyed greater pleasure in the task, than from anything else he produced.' The process of colouring his designs was never to him, however, a mechanical or irksome one. Very different feelings were his from those of a mere copyist. Throughout life, whenever for his few patrons filling in the colour to his engraved books, he lived anew the first fresh, happy experiences of conception, as in the high hour of inspiration.
Smith tells us that Blake 'was inspired with the splendid * grandeur of this figure,“ The Ancient of Days,” by the vision which
he declared hovered over his head at the top of his staircase 'in No. 13, Hercules Buildings, and that he has been frequently heard ' to say that it made a more powerful impression upon his mind than * all he had ever been visited by.' On that same staircase it was Blake, for the only time in his life, saw a ghost. When talking on the subject of ghosts, he was wont to say they did not appear much to imaginative men, but only to common minds, who did not see the finer spirits. A ghost was a thing seen by the gross bodily eye, a vision, by the mental. Did you ever see a ghost ?' asked a friend. • Never but once,' was the reply. And it befel thus. Standing one evening at his garden-door in Lambeth, and chancing to look up, he saw a horrible grim figure, 'scaly, speckled, very awful,' stalking downstairs towards him. More frightened than ever before or after, he took to his heels, and ran out of the house.
It is hard to describe poems wherein the dramatis personce are giant shadows, gloomy phantoms; the scene, the realms of space; the time, of such corresponding vastness, that eighteen hundred years pass as a dream :--
More apart from humanity even than the America, we are baffled in the endeavour to trace out any distinct subject, any plan or purpose, in the Europe, or to determine whether it mainly relate to the past, present, or to come. And yet, though the natural impulse is to close such a book in despair, we can testify to the reader, that were it his lot, as it has been ours, to read and re-read many times this and other of the 'prophetic' volumes, he would do so with a deepening conviction that their incoherence has a grandeur about