Weekend History of. WILLIAM BLAKE

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Byline: Terry Deary

Well, did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England's mountains green? Probably not. But it's a great line from a verse that has inspired thousands. The words were written more than two centuries ago by William Blake (1757-1827), whose 1809 one-man exhibition is being restaged in London 200 years on, as an introduction to one of his most famous poems, Milton. The composer Sir Hubert Parry added the music in 1916 - and the iconic hymn Jerusalem was born.

So was Blake a genius - an artist and a poet with vision and boundless talent? Not according to critics in his time. On seeing his paintings for the first time, fellow poet William Wordsworth declared, 'There was no doubt that this poor man was mad.'

Blake believed in the dawning of a spiritual and artistic new age - an idea that did not make him popular at the time. His work was inspired by the religious visions he claimed to have throughout his life. At the age of four he saw God looking in at him through his window; at eight the trees were filled with angels, and on his death-bed he claimed to see Heaven. These heavenly visitations contributed to the general view that he was a 'great but insane genius'.

Most of us would settle for that on our tombstones, but how would we cope if our work was described as 'a madman's scrawls' and our character that of 'an unfortunate lunatic'? We'd be pretty discouraged. Luckily for us, though, Blake had enough faith in himself to carry on.

Blake lived in London with his eccentric wife Catherine, working together on many of Blake's publications - his first collection of poetry was published in 1783. …