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'humanity and of art. Woollett, I know, did not know how to 'grind his graver. I know this. He has often proved his ignorance 'before me at Basire's by laughing at Basire's knife-tools, and ' ridiculing the forms of Basire's other gravers, till Basire was quite * dashed and out of conceit with what he himself knew. But his
impudence had a contrary effect on me.'-West, for whose reputation Woollett's graver did so much, 'asserted' continues Blake, that · Woollett's prints were superior to Basire's, because they had more ·labour and care. Now this is contrary to the truth. Woollett did 'not know how to put so much labour into a hand or a foot as * Basire did; he did not know how to draw the leaf of a tree. All
his study was clean strokes and mossy tints. . . . Woollett's best ' works were etched by Jack Brown; Woollett etched very ill himself. • The Cottagers, and Jocund Peasants, the Views in Kew Gardens, · Foot's Cray, and Diana and Actæon, and, in short, all that are
called Woollett's were etched by Jack Brown. And in Woollett's 'works the etching is all; though even in these a single leaf of a tree ' is never correct. Strange's prints were, when I knew him, all done
by Aliamet and his French journeymen, whose names I forget. • I also knew something of John Cooke, who engraved after Hogarth. • Cooke wished to give Hogarth what he could take from Raffaelle ;
that is, outline, and mass, and colour ; but he could not.' Again, in the same one-sided, trenchant strain :- What is called the
English style of engraving, such as proceeded from the toilettes of · Woollett and Strange (for theirs were Fribble's toilettes) can never produce character and expression.' Drawing— firm, determinate outline'-is in Blake's eyes, all in all :— Engraving is drawing on 'copper and nothing else. But, as Gravelot once said to my master, * Basire, “ De English may be very clever in deir own opinions, but day do not draw.")
Before taking leave of Basire, we will have a look at the house in Great Queen Street, in which Blake passed seven years of his
youth ; whither Gough, Tyson, and many another enthusiastic dignified antiquary, in knee-breeches and powdered wig, so often bent their steps to have a chat with their favourite engraver. Its door has opened to good company in its time, to engravers, painters, men of letters, celebrated men of all kinds. Just now we saw Goldsmith enter. When Blake was an apprentice, the neighbourhood of Lincoln's Inn Fields, though already antique, was a stately and decorous one, through which the tide of fashionable life still swayed on daily errands of pleasure or business. The house can yet be identified as No. 31, one of two occupied by Messrs. Corben and Son, the coach-builders, which firm, or rather their predecessors, in Basire's time occupied only No. 30. It stands on the northern side of the street, opposite—to the west or Drury Lane-ward of, Freemasons' Tavern; almost exactly opposite New Yard and the noticeable ancient house at one side of that yard, with the stately Corinthian pilasters in well wrought brick. Basire's is itself a seventeenth century house refaced early in the Georgian era, the parapet then put up half hiding the old dormar windows of the third story. Originally, it must either have been part of a larger mansion, or one of a uniformly built series, having continuous horizontal brick mouldings; as remnants of the same on its neighbours testify. Outside, it remains “pretty much as it must have looked in Blake's time ; old-fashioned people having (Heaven be praised !) tenanted it ever since the first James Basire and after him his widow ended their days there. With its green paint, old casements, quiet old-fashioned shop-window, and freedom from the abomination of desolation (stucco), it retains an old-world genuine aspect, rare in London's oldest neighbourhoods, and not at war with the memories which cling around the place,
The poetical essays of the years of youth and apprenticeship, are preserved in the thin octavo, Poetical Sketches by W. B., printed by help of friends in 1783, and now so rare, that after some years' vain attempt, I am forced to abandon the idea of myself owning the book. I have had to use a copy borrowed from one of Blake's surviving friends. In such hands alone, linger, I fancy, the dozen copies or so still extant. There is (of course) none where, at any rate, there should be one—in the British Museum.
'Tis hard to believe these poems were written in the author's teens, harder still to realize how some of them, in their unforced simplicity, their bold and careless freedom of sentiment and expression, came to be written at all in the third quarter of the eighteenth century: the age of polished phraseology and subdued thought,'—subdued with a vengeance. It was the generation of Shenstone, Langhorne, Mason, Whitehead, the Wartons ; of obscurer Cunningham, Lloyd, Carter. Volumes of concentrated Beauties of English Poetry, volumes as fugitive often as those of original verse, are literary straws which indicate the set of the popular taste. If we glance into one of this date,-say into that compiled towards the close of the century, by one Mr. Thomas Tompkins, and which purports to be a collection (expressly compiled 'to enforce the practice of Virtue') of ‘Such poems as have been universally esteemed the first ornaments of our language,'—who are the elect? We have in great force the names just enumerated, and among older poets then read and honoured, to the exclusion of Chaucer and the Elizabethans, so imposing a muster-roll as—Parnell, Mallett, Blacklock, Addison, Gay; and, ascending to the highest heaven of the century's Walhalla, Goldsmith, Thomson, Gray, Pope ; with a little of Milton and Shakspere thrown in as make-weight.
Where, beyond the confines of his own most individual mind, did the hosier's son find his model for that lovely web of rainbow fancy already quoted ? I know of none in English literature. For the Song commencing
My silks and fine array,'
(see Part II.), with its shy evanescent tints and aroma as of pressed rose-leaves, parallels may be found among the lyrics of the Elizabethan age: an alien though it be in its own. The influence of contemporary models, unless it be sometimes Collins or Thompson, is nowhere in the volume discernible ; but involuntary emulation of higher ones partially known to him: of the Reliques given to the world by Percy in 1760; of Shakspere, Spenser, and other Elizabethans. For the youth's choice of masters was as unfashionable in Poetry as in Design. Among the few students or readers in that day of Shakspere's Venus and Adonis, Tarquin and Lucrece, and Sonnets, of Ben Jonson's Underwoods and Miscellanies, the boy Blake was, according to Malkin, an assiduous one. The form of such a poem as
* Love and harmony combine,'
is inartificial and negligent; but incloses the like intangible spirit of delicate fancy : a lovely blush of life as it were, suffusing the enigmatic form. Even schoolboy blunders against grammar, and schoolboy complexities of expression, fail to break the musical echo, or mar the naive sweetness of the two concluding stanzas; which, in practised hands, might have been wrought into more artful melody, with little increase of real effect. Again, how many reams of scholastic Pastoral have missed the simple gaiety of one which does not affect to be a “pastoral' at all :
'I love the jocund dance.'
Of the remarkable Mad Song extracted by Southey in his Doctor, who probably valued the thin octavo, as became a great Collector, for its rarity and singularity, that poet has said nothing to show he recognised its dramatic power, the daring expression of things otherwise inarticulate, the unity of sentiment, the singular truth with which the key-note is struck and sustained, or the eloquent, broken music of its rhythm.
The ‘marvellous Boy' that “perished in his pride,' (1770) while certain of these very poems were being written, amid all his luxuriant promise, and memorable displays of Talent produced few so really original as some of them. There are not many more to be instanced of quite such rare quality. But all abound in lavish if sometimes unknit strength. Their faults are such alone as flow from youth, as are inevitable in one whose intellectual activity is not sufficiently logical to reduce his imaginings into sufficiently clear and definite shape. As examples of poetic power and freshness quickening the imperfect, immature form, take his verses To the Evening Star, in which the concluding lines subside into a reminiscence, but not a slavish one, of Puck's Night Song in Midsummer Night's Dream; or the lament To the Muses,—not inapposite surely, when it was written; or again, the full-coloured invocation To Summer.
In a few of the poems, the influence of Blake's contemporary, Chatterton,—of the Poems of Rowley, i.e., is visible. In the Prologue to King John, Couch of Death, Samson, &c., all written in measured prose, the influence is still more conspicuous of Macpherson’s Ossian, which had taken the world by storm in Blake's boyhood, and in