Page:Life of William Blake, Gilchrist.djvu/32

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LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.

Blake, as 'undoubtedly the production of insane genius,' (which adjective we shall, I hope, see cause to qualify,) but as to him more significant than the works of many a famous poet. 'There is something in the madness of this man,' declared he (to Mr. Crabb Robinson), 'which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott.'

Of his Designs, Fuseli and Flaxman, men not to be imposed on in such matters, but themselves sensitive—as Original Genius must always be—to Original Genius in others, were in the habit of declaring with unwonted emphasis, that 'the time would come' when the finest 'would be as much sought after and treasured in the portfolios' of men discerning in art, 'as those of Michael Angelo now.' 'And ah! Sir,' Flaxman would sometimes add, to an admirer of the designs, 'his poems are as grand as his pictures.'

Of the books and designs of Blake, the world may well be ignorant. For in an age rigorous in its requirement of publicity, these were in the most literal sense of the words, never published at all: not published even in the mediæval sense, when writings were confided to learned keeping, and works of art not unseldom restricted to cloister-wall or coffer-lid. Blake's poems were, with one exception, not even printed in his life-time; simply engraved by his own laborious hand. His drawings, when they issued further than his own desk, were bought as a kind of charity, to be stowed away again in rarely opened portfolios. The very copper-plates on which he engraved, were often used again after a few impressions had been struck off; one design making way for another, to save the cost of new copper. At the present moment, Blake drawings, Blake prints, fetch prices which would have solaced a life of penury, had their producer received them. They are thus collected, chiefly because they are (naturally enough) already 'RARE,' and 'VERY RARE.' Still hiding in private portfolios, his drawings are there prized or known by perhaps a score of individuals, enthusiastic appreciators,—some of their singularity and rarity, a few of their intrinsic quality.