Page:The Library, volume 5, series 3.djvu/249

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237
OF WILLIAM BLAKE.

information on very recent authority. It must suffice to know by way of introduction that he was born in London of parents of moderate means, and early gave himself up to his own guidance, or rather, misguidance. In his tenth year he went to a drawing school, in his fourteenth (as apprentice) to an engraver of the name of Basire, well known by his plates to Stuart's 'Athens' and his engraving of West's 'Orestes and Pylades.' Even as a boy, Blake was distinguished by the singularity of his taste. Possessed with a veritable passion for Gothic architecture, he passed whole days in drawing the monuments in Westminster Abbey. In addition he collected engravings, especially after Raphael and Michael Angelo, and idolised Albert Dürer and Heemskerk.[1]

Although he afterwards worked as a student at the Royal Academy, he had already shown his bent to an art so original that, isolated from his fellow-students, he was far removed from all regular or ordinary occupation. His name is nevertheless to be found under some very commonplace plates to children's books;[2] but while he cherished artistic visions utterly opposed to the taste of connoisseurs, and regarded more recent methods in drawing and engraving as sins against art, he preferred, in his phrase, to be a martyr for his religion—i.e., his art—to debasing his talents by a weak submission

  1. Crabb Robinson must have obtained these facts from the brief but valuable account of Blake in the preface to Malkin's 'Father's Memoirs of his Child,' published in 1805.
  2. This may allude to his own works 'For Children: the Gates of Paradise,' or to his recently recovered 'History of England' (both 1793), or to Mary Wollstonecraft|'s 'Tales for Children' (1791).