Page:Life of William Blake, Gilchrist.djvu/47

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ÆT. 14-16.]
17
ENGRAVER'S APPRENTICE.

'Two years passed over smoothly enough' writes Malkin, 'till two other apprentices were added to the establishment, who completely destroyed its harmony.' Basire said of Blake, 'he was too simple and they too cunning.' He, lending, I suppose, a too credulous ear to their tales, 'declined to take part with his master against his fellow-apprentices;' and was therefore sent out of harm's way into Westminster Abbey and the various old churches in and near London, to make drawings from the monuments and buildings Basire was employed by Gough the antiquary to engrave: 'a circumstance he always mentioned with gratitude to Basire.' The solitary study of authentic English history in stone was far more to the studious lad's mind than the disorderly wrangling of mutinous comrades. It is significant of his character, even at this early date, for zeal, industry, and moral correctness, that he could be trusted month after month, year after year, unwatched, to do his duty by his master in so independent an employment.

The task was singularly adapted to foster the romantic turn of his imagination, and to strengthen his natural affinities for the spiritual in art. It kindled a fervent love of Gothic,—itself an originality then,—which lasted his life, and exerted enduring influences on his habits of feeling and study; forbidding once for all, if such a thing had ever been possible to Blake, the pursuit of fashionable models, modern excellences, technic and superficial, or of any but the antiquated essentials and symbolic language of imaginative art.

From this time forward, from 1773 that is, the then 'neglected works of art called Gothic monuments,' were for years his daily companions. The warmer months were devoted to zealous sketching, from every point of view, of the Tombs in the Abbey; the enthusiastic artist 'frequently standing on the monument and viewing the figures from the top.' Careful drawings were made of the regal forms which for four or five centuries had lain in mute majesty,--