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THE GATES OF PARADISE, AMERICA, ETC. 1793. (ÆT. 36.)
IN 1793, Blake quitted Poland Street, after five years' residence there. The now dingy demi-rep street, one in which Shelley lodged in 1810, after his expulsion from Oxford, had witnessed the production of the Songs of Innocence and other Poetry and Design of a genus unknown, before or since, to that permanently foggy district. From the neighbourhood of his birth he removed across Westminster Bridge to Lambeth. There he will remain other seven years, and produce no less an amount of strange and original work. Hercules Buildings is the new abode; a row of houses which had sprung up, since his boyish rambles.
Within easy reach of the centre of London on one side, the favourite Dulwich strolls of early years were at hand on the other. Hercules Buildings, stretching diagonally between the Kennington Road and Lambeth Palace, was then a street of modest irregular sized houses, from one to three stories high, with fore-courts or little gardens in front, in the
7.-ALAS ! suburban style; a street indeed only for half its length, the remainder being a single row, or terrace. No. 13, Blake's, was among the humbler, one-storied houses, on the right hand side as you go from the Bridge to the Palace. It had a wainscoted parlour, pleasant low windows, and a narrow strip of real garden behind, wherein grew a fine vine. A lady, who as a girl used with her elders to call on the artist here, tells me Blake would on no account prune this vine, having a theory it was wrong and unnatural to prune vines : and the affranchised tree consequently bore a luxuriant crop of leaves, and plenty of infinitesimal grapes which never ripened. Open garden ground and field, interspersed with a few lines of clean, newly-built houses, lay all about and near; for brick and mortar was spreading even then. At back, Blake looked out over gardens towards Lambeth Palace, and the Thames, seen between gaps of Stangate Walk,—Etty's home a few years later. The city and towers of Westminster closed the prospect beyond the river, on whose surface sailing hoys were then plying once or twice a day.
Vauxhall Gardens lay half a mile to the left ; Dulwich and Peckham hills within view to the south-west. The street has since been partly rebuilt, partly re-named; the whole become now sordid and dirty. At the back of what was Blake's side has arisen a row of ill-drained, one-storied tenements bestridden by the arches of the SouthWestern Railway ; while the adjacent main roads, grimy and
hopeless looking, stretch out WHAT IS MAN?
their long arms towards further mile on mile of suburb,-Newington, Kennington, Brixton.
In Hercules Buildings Blake engraved and published'-May, 1793, adding at the foot of the title-page Johnson's name to his own—The Gates of Paradise; a singularly beautiful and characteristic volume, pre-eminently marked by significance and simplicity. It is a little foolscap octavo, printed according to his usual method, but not coloured; containing seventeen plates of emblems, accompanied by verse, with a title or motto to each plate. For Children, the title runs, or, as some copies
2.-WATER. have it, For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise—a sort of devout dream, equally wild and lovely,' Allan Cunningham happily terms it. There is little in art which speaks to the mind directly and pregnantly as do these few, simple Designs, emblematic of so much which could never be imprisoned in words, yet of a kind more allied to literature than to art. It is plain, on looking at this little volume alone, from whom Flaxman and
4.-AIR. Stothard borrowed. Hints of more than one design of theirs might
be found in it. And Blake's designs have, I repeat, the look of originals. A shock as of something wholly fresh and new, these typical compositions give us.
The verses at the commencement elucidate, to a certain extent, the intention of the Series, embodying an ever-recurrent canon of Blake's Theology :
Mutual forgiveness of each vice,
O Christians ! Christians! tell me why
What is man?'—the frontispiece significantly inquires.
To the Gates of Paradise their author in some copies added what many another Book of his would have profited by,—the Keys of the Gates, in sundry wild lines of rudest verse, which do not pretend to be poetry, but merely to tag the artist's ideas with
rhyme, and are themselves a little obscure, though they do help one to catch the prevailing motives. For which reason they shall here accompany our samples of the 'emblems.' The numbers prefixed to the lines refer them to the plates which they are severally intended to explain.
The Keys of the Gates.
The Caterpillar on the Leaf
1 My Eternal Man set in Repose,
The Female from his darkness rose;
Of Good and Evil, Virtue, Vice. 2 Doubt self-jealous, Wat’ry folly, 3 Struggling through Earth's Melancholy. 4 Naked in Air, in Shame and Fear, 5 Blind in Fire, with Shield and Spear,
Two Horrid Reasoning Cloven Fictions,
Freezing her Veil, the mundane shell. 6 I rent the veil where the Dead dwell :
When weary Man enters his Cave,
Should grow a devouring Winding-sheet. 7 One Dies! Alas! the living and dead !
One is slain ! and one is fled ! 8 In vainglory hatcht and nurst,
By double spectres, self accurst.
But as I have instructed thee. 9 On the shadows of the Moon,
Climbing thro' night's highest noon : 10 In Time's Ocean falling, drown'd : 11 In Aged Ignorance profound,
Holy and cold, I clipt the Wings
Of all Sublunary Things : 12 And in depths of icy Dungeons
Closed the Father and the Sons. 13 But when once I did descry
14.—THE TRAVELLER HASTETH
IN THE EVENING.
16.- I HAVE SAID TO THE WORM, THOU ART MY MOTHER
AND MY SISTER.