Page:Life of William Blake, Gilchrist.djvu/36

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6
[1765—67.
LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.

portion stands a large, dingy brewery. The street is a shabby miscellany of oddly assorted occupations,—lapidaries, pickle-makers, manufacturing trades of many kinds, furniture-brokers, and nondescript shops, 'Artistes' and artizans live in the upper stories. Almost every house is adorned by its triple or quadruple row of brass bells, bright with the polish of frequent hands, and yearly multiplying themselves. The houses, though often disguised by stucco, and some of them refaced, date mostly from Queen Anne's time; 28, now a 'trimming shop,' is a corner house at the narrower end, a large and substantial old edifice.

The mental training which followed the physical one of swaddling-clothes, go-carts, and head-puddings, was, in our Poet's case, a scanty one, as we have cause to know from Blake's writings. All knowledge beyond that of reading and writing was evidently self-acquired. A 'new kind' of boy was soon sauntering about the quiet neighbouring streets—a boy of strangely more romantic habit of mind than that neighbourhood had ever known in its days of gentility, has ever known in its dingy decadence. Already he passed half his time in dream and imaginative reverie. As he grew older the lad became fond of roving out into the country, a fondness in keeping with the romantic turn. For what written romance can vie with the substantial one of rural sights and sounds to a town-bred boy? Country was not, at that day, beyond reach of a Golden Square lad of nine or ten. On his own legs he could find a green field without the exhaustion of body and mind which now separates such a boy from the alluring haven as rigorously as prison bars. After Westminster Bridge—the 'superb and magnificent structure' now defunct, then a new and admired one—came St. George's Fields, open fields and scene of 'Wilkes and Liberty' riots in Blake's boyhood; next, the pretty village of Newington Butts, undreaming its 19th century bad eminence in the bills of cholera-mortality; and then, unsophisticate green field and hedgerow opened on the