Page:Life of William Blake 2, Gilchrist.djvu/228

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170
SELECTIONS FROM BLAKE'S WRITINGS.

care. Now this is contrary to the truth. Woollett did not know how to put so much labour into a head or foot as Basire did; he did not know how to draw the leaf of a tree. All his study was clean strokes and mossy tints; how then should he be able to make use of either labour or care, unless the labour and care of imbecility? The life's labour of mental weakness scarcely equals one hour of the labour of ordinary capacity, like the full gallop of the gouty man to the ordinary walk of youth and health. I allow that there is such a thing as high-finished ignorance, as there may be a fool or a knave in an embroidered coat; but I say that the embroidery of the ignorant finisher is not like a coat made by another, but is an emanation from ignorance itself, and its finishing is like its master—the life's labour of five hundred idiots, for he never does the work himself.

What is called the English style of engraving, such as it proceeded from the toilets of Woollett and Strange (for theirs were Fribble's toilets) can never produce character and expression. I knew the men intimately from their intimacy with Basire, my master, and knew them both to be heavy lumps of cunning and ignorance, as their works show to all the Continent, who laugh at the contemptible pretences of Englishmen to improve art before they even know the first beginnings of art. I hope this print will redeem my country from this coxcomb situation, and show that it is only some Englishmen, and not all, who are thus ridiculous in their pretences. Advertisements in newspapers are no proofs of popular approbation, but often the contrary. A man who pretends to improve fine art does not know what fine art is. Ye English engravers must come down from your high flights; ye must condescend to study Marc Antonio and Albert Dürer; ye must begin before you attempt to finish or improve: and when you have begun, you will know better than to think of improving what cannot be improved. It is very true what you have said for these thirty-two years: I am mad, or else you are so. Both of us cannot be in our