To some people William Blake is just an ordinary man. To others, Blake is an English poet, painter, and engraver. Blake was born on November 28, 1757, in London, where he spent most of his life. He was the third of five children in his family. Blake’s family was Nonconformists Protestant dissenters from the Church of England. They had Blake christened on December 11 at St. James’s Church in Piccadilly. Blake’s mother educated him in mere reading and writing, and he worked in a shop until the age of 14. His family ran this shop, and later his brother and he acquired the store through inheritance.
Despite those misgivings, he taught himself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Italian. His English was to be often strikingly original through other people’s eyes. In 1767, he wanted to become an artist at the young age of 10. In pursuit of this dream, he attended the Henry Pars Engraving School in the Strand. By 1772, he was an apprentice to an engraver, James Basire, who taught him the secrets of the trade very well. Basire sent him to make drawings of the sculptures in Westminster Abbey, which sparked his interest in Gothic art.
Blake’s father was a hosier, and sent him to the Royal Academy in 1779 as an engraving student. While at school, Blake absorbed the religious symbolism and linear design characteristic of Gothic style. While studying there, he rebelled against the academic conventions of Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the academy. Contrary to modern standards, he decided to follow the footsteps of the world-renowned artist Michelangelo and Raphael instead. Throughout his life, Blake made his money engraving things, but lived in mass poverty. On August 18, 1782, Blake married a poor illiterate girl, Catherine Boucher.
Some believe she turned out to be the best companion Blake could have chosen. Blake and Catherine never had children. In 1784, Blakes father passed away after he started his own printing press. He took his brother Robert in to live with him as an assistant pupil to relieve him from the agonies of poverty. In Blake’s eyes, Robert was his son. The establishing of the printing shop helped Blake and Catherine become financially secure for rest of their lives. From that point on, he lived as an engraver and illustrator with the help of his wife and brother Robert.
Once again tragedy struck, and in 1787, only shortly after beginning work, his brother Robert fell ill and passed away. In a dream, Blake said that he saw the soul of his brother rise through the ceiling while he was on his way to heaven. William Blake’s religious faith affected every part of his life. When only a boy in London, he described visions of experiences he had while in the surrounding countryside. He said he saw angels on a tree at Peckman Rye, and the famous prophet Ezekiel in a country field. These occurrences influenced Blake’s writing later.
Similar to his religious beliefs, Blake thought we have war, injustice, and unhappiness because our ways of life are founded on mistaken beliefs. Blake was the starting poet of the Romantic Movement, which had many followers soon afterwards. Blake’s first poems and drawings were called “Songs of Innocence. ” Blake engraved both words and pictures on a copper plate. His wife then made the printing impressions, and hand colored the pictures, and bound the books. His first book sold, but not at a very fast rate, and at only a few shillings each.
Today an original copy is in the range of many thousands of dollars. Blake’s fame as an artist and engraver rests largely on a set of 21 copperplate etchings illustrating the “Book of Job” in the Old Testament. Blake did a lot of work for other artists and engravers, but they took full credit for his pieces. He was a poor businessman, and he preferred to work on subjects of his own choice, rather than on the work that he was assigned in his shop or those that would earn a lot of money. Blake died an old, mostly unhappy man on August 12,1827 at the age of 70.
Although famous today, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Bunhill Fields after spending the end of his life suffering from gallstones and a lack of recognition for his splendid works. Blake’s desire to live a life of humbleness left him neglected and ignored by his society. He chose to live his own way, which coincided with that of poverty in those days, but thankfully his genius has been appreciated fully today. Because his works have been recognized, people are able to see his imaginative gift: the ability to see into the future.