Page:Life of William Blake 2, Gilchrist.djvu/23

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[Printed in 1783. Written 1768—77. æt. 11—20.]

There is no need for many further critical remarks on these selections from the Poetical Sketches, which have already been spoken of in Chap. VI. of the Life. Among the lyrical pieces here chosen, it would be difficult to award a distinct preference. These Songs are certainly among the small class of modern times which recall the best period of English song writing, whose rarest treasures lie scattered among the plays of our Elizabethan dramatists. They deserve no less than very high admiration in a quite positive sense, which cannot be even qualified by the slight, hasty, or juvenile imperfections of execution to be met with in some of them, though by no means in all. On the other hand, if we view them comparatively; in relation to Blake's youth when he wrote them, or the poetic epoch in which they were produced; it would be hardly possible to over-rate their astonishing merit. The same return to the diction and high feeling of a greater age is to be found in the unfinished play of Edward the Third, from which some fragments are included here. In the original edition, however, these are marred by frequent imperfections in the metre (partly real and partly dependent on careless printing), which I have thought it best to remove, as I found it possible to do so without once, in the slightest degree, affecting the originality of the text. The same has been done in a few similar instances elsewhere. The poem of Blind-man's Buff stands in curious contrast with the rest, as an effort in another manner and, though less excellent, is not without interest. Besides what is here given, there are attempts in the very modern-antique style of ballad prevalent at the time, and in Ossianic prose, but all naturally very inferior, and probably earlier. It is singular that, for formed style and purely literary qualities, Blake, perhaps, never afterwards equalled the best things in this youthful volume, though he often did so in melody and feeling, and more than did so in depth of thought.