William Blake, 1757-1827: A Descriptive Catalogue of an Exhibition of the Works of William Blake


I have been asked to write a brief introduction to this catalogue: I comply with pleasure:. The exhibition needs no words of praise from me -- it speaks for itseff -- but I may be permitted to say something of the remarkable genius whose position in art and in letters is now firmly established.


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ON AN AUGUST AFTERNOON in the year 1827, a small knot of men, and presumably one woman, stood around a hole in the ground and saw the coffin of a man lowered therein, while a minister of the Church of England mumbled a few words and withdrew: the funeral was that of William Blake, and the brief ceremony took place in Bunhill Fields Burying Ground, a crowded campo santo in which thousands of bodies had been flung during the great plague. It is not of large area but when it was in use, as it is no longer, about fifteen hundred interments took place annually. Only about five thousand graves are marked with stones, most of the graves being leased for a period of fifteen or twenty years upon the payment of a small fee; then the grave was used anew, it being supposed that in that time the reputation of the deceased- like his body -- would have turned to dust. It was not unusual for the slow processes of nature to be accelerated by a bushel of quick-lime. The burying ground is in the heart of London, perhaps ten minutes walk from the Bank of England; John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and other Dissenters are buried in it. Some years ago I spent a morning with an old caretaker exploring the place, thinking that there might be some legendary trace of Blake's grave, but found nothing; within the last few years, however, a simple stone has been erected whereon is inscribed: "Near by lie the remains," etc.

What was Blake's reputation when he died? In 1824 Charles Lamb, writing to Bernard Barton, says: "Blake is a real name, I assure you, and a most extraordinary man if he be still living. He.is the Robert" (it should have been William) "Blake whose wild designs accompany a splendid folio edition of the Night Thoughts, which you may have seen . . . He paints in water colours marvellous strange pictures, visions of his brain . . . his pictures, one in par-

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Philadelphia
Publication year:
  • 1939


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