Page:Life of William Blake, Gilchrist.djvu/49

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ÆT. 16—21.]
19
ENGRAVER'S APPRENTICE.

company formally and in strict privacy opened the tomb of Edward the First, and found the embalmed body 'in perfect preservation and sumptuously attired,' in 'robes of royalty, his crown on his head, and two sceptres in his hands.' The antiquaries saw face to face the 'dead conqueror of Scotland;' had even a fleeting glimpse—for it was straightway re-inclosed in its cere-cloths—of his very visage: a recognisable likeness of what it must have been in life. I cannot help hoping that Blake may (unseen) have assisted at the ceremony.

In winter the youth helped to engrave selections from these Abbey Studies, in some cases executing the engraving single-handed. During the evenings and at over hours, he made drawings from his already teeming Fancy, and from English History. 'A great number,' it is said, were thrown off in such spare hours. There is a scarce engraving of his, dated so early as 1773, the second year of his apprenticeship, remarkable as already to some extent evincing in style—as yet, however, heavy rather than majestic—still more in choice of subject, the characteristics of later years. In one corner at top we have the inscription (which sufficiently describes the design), 'Joseph of Arimathea among the Rocks of Albion;' and at bottom, 'engraved by W. Blake, 1773, from an old Italian drawing;' 'Michael Angelo, Pinxit.' Between these two lines, according to a custom frequent with Blake, is engraved the following characteristic effusion, which reads like an addition of later years:—'This' (he is venturing a wild theory as to Joseph) 'is One of the Gothic Artists who built the Cathedrals in what we call the Dark Ages, wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins; of whom the World was not worthy. Such were the Christians in all ages.'

The 'prentice work as assistant to Basire of these years (1773-78) may be traced under Basire's name in the Archæologia, in some of the engravings of coins, &c., to the Memoirs of Hollis (1780), and in Gough's Sepulchral Monuments, not