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The Anarchist Encyclopedia: William Blake

And Blake awoke. Expanding from the Vale
Of Felpham, his humanity became
A Globe of Self-annihilating flame,
A Bubble searing through the
Mundane Shell . . .

--- Richard Record, "Glad Day"




Major romantic poet, radical, mystic, printer, engraver, subversive. Entertained angels in the garden. Friend of the anarchist writer/philosopher William Godwin & Thomas Paine . . . Born in London, England, November 28, 1757; died August 12, 1827.


. . . Peerless genius of the visionary imagination, Blake was relatively little understood or appreciated during his lifetime, but ever since his work was brought to the attention of the public by W. B. Yeats & E. J. Ellis in 1893, it has been reaching an ever-growing worldwide audience. Blake was largely self-taught. He read widely & made insightful notes on his reading, many of which have survived for our enjoyment.

In his thought he was influenced by the English Bible, by the extraordinary writings of Jacob Boehme, by the working-class dissenting sects that surrounded him in London, especially the Church of the New Jerusalem, and its founder, Emanuel Swedenborg -- see Daily Bleed for January 29. Blake said of Swedenborg,

And lo! Swedenborg is the Angel sitting
at the tomb; his writings are the linen clothes folded
up. Now is the dominion of Edom, & the return of
Adam into Paradise…

Blake was also powerfully influenced by John Milton -- see Daily Bleed for March 15, April 27, August 13 & 27, September 29, November 8, & December 12. He gave Milton's name to one of his major works. Blake's illustrations to Dante & other writers, as well as his illustrations to the Bible, constitute commentaries on the texts as well as beautiful additions to the books.

Among those who befriended Blake during his lifetime were William Godwin (see Daily Bleed for March 3) & William Hayley (see Daily Bleed for October 29. )

Those who have been inspired by Blake since his death include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, other poets & mystics like Yeats -- see Daily Bleed, June 13 -- & Allen Ginsberg -- see Daily Bleed, August 28 -- as well as lots of less well-known readers in every part of the world, several of whom have created web sites to reflect their commitment to Blake.

Composers & performers have been attracted to Blake's Songs of Innocence & Songs of Experience. Among them are Ginsberg (MGM Records, FTS-3083, June-July, 1969) & Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems & Songs, 1949-1993 (rhino WordBeat 4 -CD Set R2 71693{isbn: 1056826-424-0}), copyright 1994; Benjamin Britten, Songs & Proverbs of William Blake, London Records OS 26099 (Decca Record Co., 1969; Greg Brown, Songs of Innocence & Experience, Published by Brown-Feldman Publishing/ASCAP, Red House Records, Inc.; Finn Coren, Oslo, 1993-96; Gregory Forbes, Toronto, 1980, RealAudio September 1998; Edward Kinsimo, William Blake's An Island in the Moon, January, 1976; Mike Westbrook, Bright as Fire, Settings of William Blake, Original Records Ltd, 2 Bloomsbury Place, London WC1; & Ralph Vaughan William, Ten Blake Songs (Desto Records DC-6482.

There is a huge bibliography related to Blake. A good place to begin reading about him is Peter Ackroyd's Blake: A Biography (Knopf, 1996).

One of the most remarkable resources available on the World Wide Web is The Blake Archive, which has plans -- & funding -- to become more & more comprehensive through 2003 & on into the next century. The site is worth 30 thirty minutes for a first visit at

1772 -- On August 4 William Blake was apprenticed to the engraver James Basire of Great Queen Street, Lincolns Inn Fields. Basire was regarded as old-fashioned, but Blake learned from him & always took great pride in the craft & its tools, depicting one in a prominent place in an engraving for his graphic masterpiece, the series of engravings for the Book of Job.

1779 -- William Blake begins his studies at the Royal Academy.

June 6, 1780 -- Rebellious hordes storm & set fire to Newgate Prison in London, while William Blake, inspired by the Declaration of Independence, watches sympathetically.

August 18, 1782 -- William Blake, 24, marries Catherine Sophia Boucher, an illiterate whom he will teach to share his love of literature.

1784-1785 -- William Blake writes a burleque to which Yeats & Ellis gave the title 'An Island in the Moon,' from which he excerpted four lines & three whole poems that became part of Songs of Innocence. In 1976, Edward Kinsimo set to music the three songs, sung by three of the characters in the burlesque -- Quid, Obtuse Angle, & Mrs Nannicantipot.; See

[10b. Following 'An Island in the Moon' -- a separate item:]1787 -- William Blake attends the deathbed of his younger brother Robert, who is buried in Bunhill Fields on February 11. At the moment of death, Blake saw his brother's spirit ascend heavenward 'clapping its hands for joy.' Blake reflected this moment in many images, & attributed his innovations in printing to the inspiration of his dead brother.

1789 -- William Blake prints the first copies of Songs of Innocence, a group of lyrics that has been endlessly interpreted by literary critics and ordinary readers, some of whom realize, & some of whom do not, that the words are only one element in a whole that most empahtically includes the design of the page, the variations in color added by William & Catherine to the various copies, & the ever-changing order of the poems, never the same except for one series printed in 1818.

1790 -- In The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Blake asserts, 'I have also: The Bible of Hell: which the world shall have whether they will or no." Dante Gabriel Rossetti found among Blake's papers, which he was one of the first to examine, a sheet of paper that had a drawing on one side, & on the other a draft title: 'The Bible of Hell, in Nocturnal Visions collected. Vol I Lambeth. This is the origin of what have become known as the Lambeth prophecies, an alternative testament in three volumes.

1792 -- In a notebook inherited from his brother Robert, William Blake reaches the last page, then turns it upside down, & working from the back, writes out drafts of fifty-eight poems, which become Songs of Experience, relating to their counterparts in Songs of Experience in fascinating & various ways. On one page of the notebook the first draft of 'London' is above the first draft of 'The Tyger,' two of Blake's most-admired poems born together on the same piece of paper.

1793 -- Blake publishes America, A Prophecy, which is followed in 1794 by Europe, A Prophecy.

1794 -- Blake issues the first of the Lambeth prophecies, The Book of Urizen, which is on one level a parody of Genesis.

1795 -- Blake issues just two copies (or we know of only two copies that he issued) of the second & third parts of the Lambeth trilogy, The Book of Ahania & The Book of Los. This year he also issues the only copy we know of his miniature philosophical tract All Religions Are One.

1799 -- William Blake writes to John Trusler: "You say that I want somebody to elucidate my ideas, but you ought to know that what is grand is necessarily obscure to weak men."

[12a. Preceding the first quotation from a letter to Hayley:]1800 - 1803 -- William Blake, under the patronage of kindred spirit William Hayley, moves from London to a beautiful little cottage in Felpham, Sussex, where he probably composed the poem Milton, including the four stanzas of the famous lyric now known as "Jerusalem,"

& did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
& was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

& did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
& was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire;
Bring me my Spear; O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green & pleasant Land.

During these years, he begins work on an epic poem, unpublished during his lifetime, called at various times 'VALA,' 'The Four Zoas,' & The Torments of Love & Jealousy . . . Of Albion.'

August 12, 1803 -- Blake loses his temper with a soldier he thinks is trespassing, & is accused of sedition, for which he faces trial in Chichester. During his legal troubles, he writes to Thomas Butts, enclosing the following four lines of complaint:

O why was I born with a different face?
Why was I not born like the rest of my race?
When I look each one starts! When I speak, I offend;
Then I'm silent & passive & lose every Friend.

1804 -- William Blake writes to biographer/poet William Hayley:

"Money flies from me, Profit never ventures upon my threshold."

1804 -- William Blake writes to William Hayley: "Dear Sir,excuse my enthusiasm or rather madness, for I am reallydrunk with intellectual vision whenever I take a pencil orengraver into my hand . . ."

1807 -- William Blake makes trial proofs of some of the pages of Jerusalem, but issues none to the public.

1811 -- William Blake issues the first three surviving copies of Milton, dated "1804" on the title page, printed on paper with an 1808 watermark.

1820 -- William Blake issues the first three surviving copies of his last major hand-printed & hand-colored book, Jerusalem.

1823 -- Agreement with John Linnell, "in the spring," William Blake agrees to engrave the Inventions to the Book of Job. He is paid 5 pounds per plate.

January, 1826 -- William Blake visits young William Upcott, leaving an entry in his autograph album which begins "William Blake one who is very much delighted with being in good Company Born 28 Novr 1757 in London & has died several times since . . ."

1827 -- English romantic poet William Blake dies at 70 in the small room off the Strand where he has spent the last few years.

"I mock thee not, though I by thee am mockéd.

Thou call'st me madman, but I call thee blockhead"

--- William Blake

1968 -- Chicago FBI agents report GINSBERG chanted unintelligiblepoems in Grant Park . . . (the "unintelligible poems" were William Blake's "The Grey Monk.")

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

--- William Blake

List of Additional Blake Images Available on the Web, Which Could Be Added to this page:

[5a, (i-v) Album covers for one or more of the CDs mentioned:] Benjamin Britten

Greg Brown

Finn Coren

Gregory Forbes

Allen Ginsberg/William Blake

Allen Ginsberg, Holy Soul Jelly Roll

Mike Westbrook

Vaughan Williams

[6a (i) A color image from the Job cycle:]Satan Inflicting Boils Upon Job

[10c (i) A black-and-white image from Songs of Innocence:]Infant Joy

[10d (i) A color image from The Book of Urizen:]The Web of Religion

[10e (I) A black-and-white image from Songs of Experience:]London

[11a (i)] A color image from All Religions Are One:]Title page

[12a (i) A color image from Milton:]Blake's cottage at Felpham

[14a (i) First of two images from Jerusalem:]Albion Worshipping Christ, Plate 76

[14c (i) Second of two images from Jerusalem:]The Union of the Soul with God

[16a (i) Blake's autograph, from Upcott's album:Black-and-white authograph, framed in brown & green

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