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his manhood was a ruling power in the poetic world. In the
Prophetic' and too often incoherent rhapsodies of later years this influence increases unhappily, leading the prophet to indulge in vague impalpable personifications, as dim and monotonous as a moor in a mist. To the close of his life, Blake retained his allegiance to Ossian and Rowley. “I believe,' writes he, in a MS. note (1826) on Wordsworth's Supplementary Essay, 'I believe both Macpherson and Chatterton : that what they say is ancient, is so.' And again, when the Lake Poet speaks contemptuously of Macpherson, 'I own 'myself an admirer of Ossian equally with any other poet whatever; of Rowley and Chatterton also.
The longest piece in this volume, the most daring, and perhaps considering a self-taught boy wrote it, the most remarkable, is the Fragment, or single act, of a Play on the high historic subject of King Edward III. : one of the few in old English history accidentally omitted from Shakspere's cycle. In his steps it is, not in those of Addison or Home, the ambitious lad strives as a dramatist to tread; and, despite halting verse, confined knowledge, and the anachronism of a modern tone of thought, not unworthily,—though of course with youthful unsteady stride. The manner and something of the spirit of the Historical Plays is caught, far more nearly than by straining Ireland in his forgeries. Of this performance as of the other contents of the volume, specimens must be deferred till Part II. ; not too much to interrupt the thread of our narrative.
Fully to appreciate such poetry as the lad Blake composed in the years 1768-77, let us call to mind the dates at which first peeped above the horizon, the cardinal lights which people our modern poetic Heavens ; those once more wakening into life the dull corpse of English song. Five years later than the last of these dates was published a small volume of Poems, ‘By William Cowper, of the Middle Temple Nine years later (1786), Poems in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns, appealed to a Kilmarnock public. Sixteen years later (1793), came the poems Wordsworth afterwards named Juvenile, written between the ages of eighteen and twentytwo: The Evening Walk, and the Descriptive Sketches, with their modest pellucid merit, still in the fettered 18th century manner. Not till twenty-one years later (1798), followed the more memorable Lyrical Ballads, including for one thing, the Tintern Abbey of Wordsworth ; for another, The Ancient Mariner of Coleridge.
All these Poems had their influence, prompt or tardy, widening eventually into the universal. All were at any rate published. Some, —those of Burns,-appealed to the feelings of the people, and of all classes ; those of Cowper to the most numerous and influential section of an English community. The unusual notes struck by William Blake, in any case appealing but to one class and a small one, were fated to remain unheard, even by the Student of Poetry, until the process of regeneration had run its course, and, we may say, the Poetic Revival gone to seed again : seeing that the virtues of simplicity and directness the new poets began by bringing once more into the foreground, are those least practised now.
STUDENT AND LOVER. 1778-82. [ÆT. 21–24.]
APPRENTICESHIP to Basire having ended, Blake, now (1778) twentyone, studied for awhile in the newly formed Royal Academy: just then in an uncomfortable chrysalis condition, having had to quit its cramped lodgings in Old Somerset Palace (pulled down in 1775); and awaiting completion of the new building in which more elbow-room was to be provided. He commenced his course of study at the Academy (in the Antique School) ‘under the eye. of Mr. Moser,' its first Keeper, who had conducted the parent Schools in St. Martin's Lane. Moser, like Kauffman and Fuseli, was Swiss by birth: a sixth of our leading artists were still foreigners; as lists of the Original Forty testify. By profession he was a chaser, unrivalled in his generation, medallist—he modelled and chased a great seal of England, afterwards stolen — and enamel-painter, in days when costly watch-cases continued to furnish ample employment for the enamel-painter. He was, in short, a skilled decorative artist during the closing years of Decorative Art's existence as a substantive fact in England, or Europe. The thing itself—the very notion that such art was wanted —was about to expire; and be succeeded, for a dreary generation or two, by a mere blank negation. Miss Moser, afterwards Mrs. Lloyd 'the celebrated flower painter,' another of the original members of the Academy, was George Michael Moser's daughter. Edwards, in his Anecdotes of Painters, obscurely declares of the
honest Switzer, that he was well skilled in the construction of * the human figure, and as an instructor in the Academy, his 'manners, as well as his abilities, rendered him a most respect
able master to the students. A man of plausible address, as well as an ingenious, the quondam chaser and enameller was, evidently : a favourite with the President (Reynolds), a favourite with royalty. On the occasion of one royal visit to the Academy, after 1780 and its instalment in adequate rooms in the recently completed portion of Chambers' “Somerset Place,' Queen Charlotte penetrated to the old man's apartment, and made him sit down and have an hour's quiet chat in German with her. To express his exultation at such 'amiable condescension, the proud Keeper could ever after hardly find broken English and abrupt gestures sufficiently startling and whimsical. He was a favourite, too, with the students; many of whom voluntarily testified their regard around his grave in the burial-ground of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, when the time came to be carried thither in January, 1783.
The specific value of the guidance to be had by an ingenuous art-student from the venerable Moser, now a man of seventy-three, is suggestively indicated by a reminiscence afterwards noted down in Blake's MS. commentary on Reynolds' Discourses. “I was once, he there relates, “looking over the prints from Raffaelle and Michael • Angelo in the Library of the Royal Academy. Moser came to me ' and said, “You should not study these old, hard, stiff and dry,
unfinished works of art : stay a little and I will show you what 'you should study.” He then went and took down Le Brun and * Rubens' Galleries. How did I secretly rage! I also spake my mind! I said to Moser, “These things that you call finished
are not even begun: how then can they be finished ?” The man ' who does not know the beginning cannot know the end of art.' Which observations 'tis to be feared Keeper Moser accounted hardly dutiful. For a well-conducted Student ought, in strict duty, to spend (and in such a case lose) his evening in looking through what his teacher sets before him. It has happened to other Academy students under subsequent Keepers and Librarians, I am told, to find themselves in a similarly awkward dilemma to this of Blake's.
With the Antique, Blake got on well enough, drawing with 'great care all or certainly nearly all the noble antique figures in various views.' From the living figure he also drew a good deal ; but early conceived a distaste for the study, as pursued in Academies of Art. Already life,' in so factitious, monotonous an aspect of it as that presented by a Model artificially posed to enact an artificial partto maintain in painful rigidity some fleeting gesture of spontaneous Nature's—became, as it continued, 'hateful,' looking to him, laden with thick-coming fancies, ‘more like death’ than life; nay (singular to say) 'smelling of mortality'-to an imaginative mind! Practice and opportunity,' he used afterwards to declare, 'very soon teach the language of art :' as much, that is, as Blake ever acquired, not a despicable if imperfect quantum. “Its spirit ' and poetry, centred in the imagination alone, never can be taught; ' and these make the artist :' a truism, the fervid poet already began to hold too exclusively in view. Even at their best—as the vision-seer and instinctive Platonist tells us in one of the very last years of his life (MS. notes to Wordsworth)—mere ‘Natural
Objects always did and do weaken, deaden and obliterate imagina'tion in me!'
The student still continued to throw off drawings and verses for his own delight; out of his numerous store of the former engraving two designs from English history. One of these engravings, King Edward and Queen Eleanor, published' by him at a later date (from Lambeth), I have seen. It is a meritorious but heavy piece of business, in the old-fashioned plodding style of line-engraving, wherein the hand monotonously hatched line after
now struck off by machine. The design itself and the other