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peculiar to Blake's hand. This poem, I may add, was extracted thirty-five years later in a curious little volume (1824), of James Montgomery's editing, as friend of the then unprotected ClimbingBoys. It was entitled The Chimney Sweeper's Friend, and ClimbingBoy's Album: a miscellany of verse and prose, original and borrowed, with illustrations by Robert Cruickshank. Charles Lamb, one of the living authors applied to by the kind-hearted Sheffield poet, while declining the task of rhyming on such a subject, sent a copy of this poem from the Songs of Innocence, communicating it as 'from a very rare and curious little work.” At line five, 'Little Tom Dacre' is transformed by a sly blunder of Lamb's into 'little Tom Toddy.' The poem on the same subject in the Songs of Experience, inferior poetically, but in an accordant key of gloom, would have been the more apposite to Montgomery's volume.
The tender loveliness of these poems will hardly reappear in Blake's subsequent writing. Darker phases of feeling, more sombre colours, profounder meanings, ruder eloquence, characterise the Songs of Experience of five years later.
In 1789, the year in which Blake's hand engraved the Songs of Innocence, Wordsworth was finishing his versified Evening Walk on the Goldsmith model ; Crabbe ('Pope in worsted stockings, as Hazlitt christened him), famous six years before by his Village, was publishing one of his minor quartos, The Newspaper; and Mrs. Charlotte Smith, not undeservedly popular, was accorded a fifth edition within five years, of her Elegiac Sonnets, one or two of which still merit the praise of being good sonnets, among the best in a bad time. In these years, Hayley, Mason, Hannah More, Jago, Downman, Helen Maria Williams, were among the active producers of poetry ; Cumberland, Holcroft, Inchbald, Burgoyne, of the acting drama of the day ; Peter Pindar, and Pasquin Williams, of the satire.
The designs, simultaneous offspring with the poems, which in
the most literal sense illuminate the Songs of Innocence, consist of poetized domestic scenes. The drawing and draperies are grand in style as graceful, though covering few inches' space; the colour pure, delicate, yet in effect rich and full. The mere tinting of the text and of the free ornamental border often makes a refined picture. The costumes of the period are idealized, the landscape given in pastoral and symbolic hints. Sometimes these drawings almost suffer from being looked at as a book and held close, instead of at due distance as pictures, where they become more effective. In composition, colour, pervading feeling, they are lyrical to the eye, as the Songs to the ear.
On the whole, the designs to the Songs of Innocence are finer as well as more pertinent to the poems; more closely interwoven with them, than those which accompany the Songs of Experience. Of these in their place.
BOOKS OF PROPHECY. 1789–90. (ÆT. 32–33.]
In the same year that the Songs of Innocence were published, Blake profited by his new discovery to engrave another illustrated poem. It is in a very different strain, one, however, analogous to that running through nearly all his subsequent writings, or ‘Books, as he called them. The Book of Thel is a strange mystical allegory, full of tender beauty and enigmatic meaning. Thel, youngest of the Daughters of the Seraphim' (personification of humanity, I infer), is afflicted with scepticism, with forebodings of life's brevity and nothingness :
She in paleness sought the secret air
As the poem is printed entire in our Second Part, I will now imply give an Argument of it, by way of indicating its tenor, and to serve as a bridge for the reader across the eddying streamı of abstractions which make up this piece of poetic mysticism.
Argument. Thel laments her transient life—The Lily of the Valley answers herPleads her weakness, yet Heaven's favour—Thel urges her own uselessness-A little cloud descends and taketh shape-Shows how he weds the evening dew and feeds the flowers of earth-Tells of Love and Serviceableness—Thel replies in sorrow still-— The Cloud invokes the lowly worm to answer her—Who appears in the form of a helpless child -A clod of clay pities her wailing cry-And shows how in her lowliness
she blesses and is blessed-She summons Thel into her house–The grave's gates open—Thel, wandering, listens to the voices of the ground -Hears a sorrowing voice from her own grave-plot-Listens, and flees back.
The fault of the poem is the occasional tendency to vagueness of motive, to an expression of abstract emotions, more legitimate for the sister art of music than for poetry, which must be definite, however deep and subtle. The tendency grew in Blake's after writings and overmastered him. But on this occasion the meaning which he is at the pains to define, with the beauty of much of the imagery and of the pervading sentiment, more than counterbalance any excess of the element of the Indefinite, especially when, as in the original, the poem is illumined by its own design, lucidly expository, harmonising with itself and with the verse it illustrates.
The original quarto consists of seven engraved pages, including the title, in size some six inches by four and a quarter. Four are illustrated by vignettes, the other two by ornamental head or tail-piece. The designs—Thel, the virgin sceptic, listening to the lily of the valley in the humble grass; to the golden cloud 'reclining on his airy throne;' to the worm upon her dewy bed; or kneeling over the personified clod of clay, an infant wrapped in lily's leaf; or gazing at the embracing clouds—are of the utmost sweetness ; simple, expressive, grand; the colour slight, but pure and tender. The mere ornamental part of the title-page, of which the sky forms the framework, is a study for spontaneous easy grace and unobtrusive beauty. The effect of the whole, poem and design together, is as of a wise, wondrous, spiritual dream, or angel's reverie. The engraving of the letter-press differs from that of the Songs of Innocence, the text (in colour red as before) being relieved by a white ground, which makes the page more legible if less of a picture. I may mention, in corroboration of a previous assertion of Stothard's obligations as a designer to Blake, that the copy of
Thel, formerly Stothard's, bears evidence of familiar use on his part, in broken edges, and the marks of a painter's oily fingers. These few and simple designs, while plainly original, show all the feeling and grace of Stothard's early manner, with a tinge of sublimity superadded which was never Stothard's.
In the track of the mystical Book of Thel came in 1790 the still more mystical Marriage of Heaven and Hell, an engraved volume, illustrated in colour, to which I have already alluded as perhaps the most curious and significant, while it is certainly the most daring in conception and gorgeous in illustration of all Blake's works. As the title dimly suggests, it is an attempt to sound the depths of the mystery of Evil : to take a stand out of and beyond humanity, and view it, not in its relation to man here and now, but to the eternal purposes of God. Hence old words are wrested to new meanings (angel, devil, &c.), for language breaks down under so bold an enterprise. And we need hardly observe that Blake does not set up as an instructor of youth, or of age either, but rather as one who loves to rouse, perplex, provoke ; to shun safe roads and stand on dizzy brinks; to dare anything and everything, in short, if peradventure he might grasp a truth beyond the common reach, or catch a glimpse “behind the veil' Nor could there well be a harder task than the endeavour to trace out any kind of system, any coherent or consistent philosophy, in this or in any other of Blake's writings. He laid to heart very zealously and practically his favourite doctrine, that the man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.' Hence antagonistic assertions may be found almost side by side.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell opens with an · Argument' in irregular unrhymed verse :
Rintrah roars and shakes his fires in the burdened air ;