Page:The poetical works of William Blake; a new and verbatim text from the manuscript engraved and letterpress originals (1905).djvu/18

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General Preface

us, 'is the wise man's aim,' it becomes a task of no little difficulty when such editorial titles as 'Ideas of Good and Evil,' 'Miscellaneous Poems,' or 'Later Poems,' are arbitrarily used to comprehend pieces collected from a number of undefined sources belonging to widely different periods. In one case at least the heading 'Later Poems ' is made to include a song written in Blake's early youth.

The present arrangement conserves the integrity of the various books, whether letterpress, engraved, or in manuscript, 'everyone in its own identity.' In each of these groups the poetical contents are printed in the order in which they occur in the original, a plan which has the advantage of illustrating how poems found in juxtaposition have often been suggested by or grown out of one another. It is also in many cases a valuable aid to the dating of particular pieces.

This arrangement is of course a bibliographical, rather than a purely historical one. While the contents of the Pickering MS. are obviously all of a kind and written about the same time, those of the larger Rossetti MS. extend over a period of more than twenty years and are of the most diverse character. The latter is indeed of the nature of a notebook, the earliest poetic entries in which antedate the publication of the Songs of Experience and the latest postdate most of the Prophetic Books. The three broad sections into which its contents fall are however clearly marked and occasion no confusion. The first of these, written about 1793, consists chiefly of lyrical poems, including the original drafts of many of the Songs of Experience. Between the first and second section intervened a period of about seven years, during which Blake wrote and engraved the shorter Prophetic Books. The earlier pieces in the second section include a few poems written in a strain of more highly developed mysticism, among them first drafts of certain lyrics afterwards transcribed into the Pickering MS., or engraved as part of Jerusalem. Before we reach the epigrams, which were