Page:Life of William Blake, Gilchrist.djvu/40

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10
[1767—70.
LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.

mannered generalities, easy to read, hard to verify. The singular biography to which I allude, is Dr. Malkin's Father's Memoirs of his Child {1806), illustrated by a frontispiece of Blake's design. The Child in question was one of those hapless 'prodigies of learning' who,—to quote a good-natured friend and philosopher's consoling words to the poor Doctor,—'commence their career at three, become expert linguists at four, profound philosophers at five, read the Fathers at six, and die of old age at seven. '

'Langford,' writes Malkin, called Blake 'his little connoisseur, and often knocked down a cheap lot with friendly precipitation.' Amiable Langford! The great Italians,—Raffaelle, Michael Angelo, Giulio Romano,—the great Germans,—Albert Dürer, Martin Hemskerk,—with others similar, were the exclusive objects of his choice; a sufficiently remarkable one in days when Guido and the Caracci were the gods of the servile crowd. Such a choice was 'contemned by his youthful companions, who were accustomed to laugh at what they called his mechanical taste!' 'I am happy,' wrote Blake himself in later life (MS. notes to Reynolds), 'I cannot say that Raffaelle ever was from my earliest childhood hidden from me. I saw and I knew immediately the difference between Raffaelle and Rubens.'

Between the ages of eleven and twelve, if not before, Blake had begun to write original irregular verse; a rarer precocity than that of sketching, and rarer still in alliance with the latter tendency. Poems composed in his twelfth year, came to be included in a selection privately printed in his twenty-sixth. Could we but know which they were! One, by Malkin's help, we can identify as written before he was fourteen: the following ethereal piece of sportive Fancy, 'Song' he calls it:—

How sweet I roam'd from field to field,
 And tasted all the summer's pride,
Till I the prince of Love beheld,
 Who in the sunny beams did glide!