Page:The poetical works of William Blake, 1906 - Volume 1.djvu/17

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HOW BLAKE'S WORK HAS COME TO US

When Blake died in 1827 at seventy years of age, he left poetic work behind him in three different states. Some of it was still in manuscript; some had been printed in ordinary type, and some had been printed with his own hands from copper and zinc plates on which he had first written in a kind of italic letter with a dark varnish; then, having placed the plates in a bath of acid till all the parts not protected by this varnish were bitten away, he had rolled ordinary printing ink over the lines thus left in high relief, and so had been enabled to obtain copies by simply placing paper over the plates and passing them through a press. This process was his own.

His manuscripts are very inaccurate. The actual words are generally well written and properly spelled, but there are hundreds of lines in which wrong words have been left unerased. Blake had an aversion to going over his work and removing errors. The. mere idea often made him nervous and ill-tempered to such a degree that he became quite unfitted for the task. He was even afraid, when in this state, that he should injure his work in attempting to correct it, and his text is therefore almost as full of slips of the pen as of poetry. He wrote at a great pace, many lines at a time, and in a perfect fever of poetic excitement. His earliest work, the 'Poetical Sketches' was published by his friends. He seems never to have read the proofs. His engraved work has fewest errors and misplaced or redundant words. He could not improvise with the varnish on metal as quickly as with the pen on paper. There is hardly any emendation necessary for these, such as his other work, whether earlier or later, so frequently requires. The paging of the books, however, is not always the same, and he seems to have sometimes forgotten his own intention in this matter.

We must always remember that whatever else Blake was, he was the only man of whom we have any knowledge at all who ever invented what may properly be called a myth. The allegories of the Elizabethan period and 'Pilgrim's Progress' belotig to another order of symbolism. His myth is of value