Page:Life of William Blake, Gilchrist.djvu/46

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16
[1772—74.
LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.

Coldbath Fields, on the 29th of March, 1772.' This Mr. Allingham pleasantly suggests, in a note to his delightful collection of lyrical poems, Nightingale Valley (1860), in which (at last) occur a specimen or two of Blake's verse. The coincidence is not a trivial one. Of all modern men the engraver's apprentice was to grow up the likest to Emanuel Swedenborg; already by constitutional temperament and endowment was so, in faculty for theosophic dreaming, for the seeing of visions while broad awake, and in matter of fact hold of spiritual things. To savant and to artist alike, while yet on earth, the Heavens were opened. By Swedenborg's theologic writings, the first English editions of some of which appeared during Blake's manhood, he was considerably influenced; but in no slavish spirit. These writings, in common with those of Jacob Boehmen and of the other select mystics of the world, had natural affinities to Blake's mind and were eagerly assimilated. But he hardly became a proselyte or 'Swedenborgian' proper; though his friend Flaxman did. In another twenty years we shall find him freely and—as true believers may think—heretically criticising the Swedish seer from the spiritualist, not the rationalist point of view: as being a Divine Teacher, whose truths however were 'not new,' and whose falsehoods were 'all old.'

Among the leading engravings turned out by Basire, during the early part of Blake's apprenticeship, may be instanced in 1772, one after B. Wilson {not Richard), Lady Stanhope as the Fair Penitent, (her rôle in certain amateur theatricals by the Quality); and in 1774, The Field of the Cloth of Gold and Interview of the two Kings, after a copy for the Society of Antiquaries by 'little Edwards' of Anecdote fame, from the celebrated picture at Windsor. The latter print was celebrated for one thing, if no other, as the largest ever engraved up to that time on one plate—copper, let us remember,—being some 47 inches by 27; and paper had to be made on purpose for it.