Page:Life of William Blake 2, Gilchrist.djvu/428

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324

ESSAY ON BLAKE.

unqualified admiration for the mass and manner of his thoughts.

Blake's reply to 'Old Moser's' recommendation to study Le Brun and Rubens rather than Michael Angelo and Raffaelle gives us an insight into his temper and the strong combative modes of expression which, delivered in quiet tones, for the most part characterised him through life. 'These things that you call finished are not even begun; how then can they be finished? The man who does not know the beginning cannot know the end of art.' And the view he here took of pictorial appliances explains most of the theory which embraces his highest excellences and his greatest defects. The living model artificially posed, to his sensitive fancy 'smelt of mortality.' 'Practice and opportunity,' he said, 'very soon teach the language of art. Its spirit and poetry centred in the imagination alone never can be taught; and these make the artist.' And again, a still more frank and, to some minds, fatal confession, made in old age, was this: 'Natural objects always did and do weaken, deaden, and obliterate imagination in me.' And yet, lest this should tend to lower the reader's interest in the faculty of the painter, let us indulge ourselves by quoting the motto selected for this biography, to show the magnificent way in which he 'lights his torch at Nature's funeral pile:'—'I assert for myself that I do not behold the outward creation, and that, to me, it is hindrance and not action. "What," it will be questioned, "when the sun rises, do you not see a round disc of fire, somewhat like a guinea?" "Oh no, no! I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty! " I question not my corporeal eye, any more than I would question a window concerning a sight. I look through it and not with it.'

One is reminded, here, of the more solemn adjudication of the relative claims of mystery and understanding given by St. Paul to the Corinthian Church. He does not deny the