Page:Life of William Blake, Gilchrist.djvu/48

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
18
[1773—78.
LIFE OF WILLIAM BLAKE.

once amid the daily presence of reverent priest and muttered mass, since in awful solitude,—around the lovely Chapel of the Confessor: the austere sweetness of Queen Eleanor, the dignity of Philippa, the noble grandeur of Edward the Third, the gracious stateliness of Richard the Second and his Queen. Then came drawings of the glorious effigy of Aymer de Valence, and of the beautiful though mutilated figures which surround his altar-tomb; drawings, in fact, of all the mediaeval tombs. He pored over all with a reverent good faith, which in the age of Stuart and Revett, taught the simple student things our Pugins and Scotts had to learn near a century later. 'The heads he considered as portraits,'—not unnaturally, their sculptors showing no overt sign of idiocy;—'and all the ornaments appeared as miracles of art to his gothicized imagination,' as they have appeared to other imaginations since. He discovered for himself then or later, the important part once subserved by Colour in the sculptured building, the living help it had rendered to the once radiant Temple of God,—now a bleached dishonoured skeleton.

Shut up alone with these solemn memorials of far off centuries,—for, during service and in the intervals of visits from strangers, the vergers turned the key on him,—the Spirit of the past became his familiar companion. Sometimes his dreaming eye saw more palpable shapes from the phantom past: once a vision of 'Christ and the Apostles,' as he used to tell; and I doubt not others. For, as we have seen, the visionary tendency, or faculty, as Blake more truly called it, had early shown itself. During the progress of Blake's lonely labours in the Abbey, on a bright day in May, 1774, the Society for which, through Basire, he was working, perpetrated by royal permission, on the very scene of those rapt studies, a highly interesting bit of antiquarian sacrilege: on a more reasonable pretext, and with greater decency, than sometimes distinguish such questionable proceedings. A select