Page:William Blake, painter and poet.djvu/40

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WILLIAM BLAKE

in Linnell's possession in such a state of confusion that it took Messrs. Ellis and Yeats days to arrange the MS., which they fondly deem to be now in proper order. It is printed in the third volume of their work on Blake. Tiriel is undated, but would seem to be nearly contemporary with Thel.

The Gates of Paradise constitutes an exception to the general spirit of the works of this period, the accompanying text, though mystical enough, being lyrical and not epical. The seventeen beautiful designs, emblematical of the incidents necessarily associated with human nature, are well described by Allan Cunningham as "a sort of devout dream, equally wild and lovely."

The merits of this remarkable series of works will always be a matter of controversy. "Whether," as Blake himself says, "whether this is Jerusalem or Babylon, we know not." It must be so, for they are purely subjective, there is no objective criterion; they admit of comparison with nothing, and can be tested by no recognised rules. In the whole compass of human creation there is perhaps hardly anything so distinctively an emanation of the mind that gave it birth. Visions they undoubtedly are, and, as Messrs. Ellis and Yeats well say, they are manifestly not the production of a pretender to visionary powers. Whatever Blake has here put down, pictorially or poetically, is evidently a record of something actually discerned by the inner eye. This, however, leaves the question of their value still open. To the pictorial part, indeed, almost all are agreed in attaching a certain value, though the warmth of appreciation is widely graduated. But literary estimation is not only discrepant but hostile; some deem them revelation, others rhapsody. The one thing certain is the general tendency towards Pantheism which Mr. Swinburne has made the theme of an elaborate essay. To us they seem an exemplification of the truth that no man can serve two masters. Blake had great gifts, both as poet and artist, and he aspired not only to employ both, but to combine both in the same work. At first this was practicable, but soon the artistic faculty grew while the poetical dwindled. Not only did the visible speech of painting become more important to him than the viewless accents of verse, but his poetry became infected with the artistic method. He allowed a latitude to his language which he ought to have reserved for his form and colour, and became as hieroglyphic