Page:Life of William Blake, Gilchrist.djvu/37

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
ÆT. 8— 10.]
7
CHILDHOOD.

child's delighted eyes. A mile or two further through the 'large and pleasant village' of Camberwell with its grove (or avenue) and famed prospect, arose the sweet hill and vale and 'sylvan wilds' of rural Dulwich, a 'village' even now retaining some semblance of its former self. Beyond, stretched, to allure the young pedestrian on, yet fairer amenities: southward, hilly Sydenham; eastward, in the purple distance, Blackheath. A favourite day's ramble of later date was to Blackheath, or south-west, over Dulwich and Norwood hills, through the antique rustic town of Croydon, type once of the compact, clean, cheerful Surrey towns of old days, to the fertile verdant meads of Walton-upon-Thames; much of the way by lane and footpath. The beauty of those scenes in his youth was a lifelong reminiscence with Blake, and stored his mind with lifelong pastoral images.

On Peckham Rye (by Dulwich Hill) it is, as he will in after years relate, that while quite a child, of eight or ten perhaps, he has his 'first vision.' Sauntering along, the boy looks up and sees a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars. Returned home he relates the incident, and only through his mother's intercession escapes a thrashing from his honest father, for telling a lie. Another time, one summer morn, he sees the haymakers at work, and amid them angelic figures walking. If these traits of childish years be remembered, they will help to elucidate the visits from the spiritual world of later years, in which the grown man believed as unaffectedly as ever had the boy of ten.

One day, a traveller was telling bright wonders of some foreign city. 'Do you call that splendid?' broke in young Blake; 'I should call a city splendid in which the houses were of gold, the pavement of silver, the gates ornamented with precious stones.' At which outburst, hearers were already disposed to shake the head and pronounce the speaker crazed: a speech natural enough in a child, but not unlikely to have been uttered in maturer years by Blake.