Blake's Grave: A Prophetic Book, Being William Blake's Illustrations for Robert Blair's the Grave, Arranged as Blake Directed

Blake's Grave: A Prophetic Book, Being William Blake's Illustrations for Robert Blair's the Grave, Arranged as Blake Directed

Blake's Grave: A Prophetic Book, Being William Blake's Illustrations for Robert Blair's the Grave, Arranged as Blake Directed

Blake's Grave: A Prophetic Book, Being William Blake's Illustrations for Robert Blair's the Grave, Arranged as Blake Directed

Excerpt

William Blake believed that a great picture should express an idea besides appealing to the senses and the emotions. "Shall Painting be confined to the sordid drudgery of fac-simile representations of merely mortal and perishing substances? . . . No, it shall not be so! Painting . . . exists and exults in immortal thoughts." (A Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures, Poetical and Historical Inventions, Painted by William Blake, 1809, IV). Therefore, the student of Blake's designs should look first and last for the human ideas which they express. With Hogarth, one adds detail to detail to discover the story; with Blake, one adds symbol to symbol to discover the idea.

Blake believed that his pictures could speak for themselves. In 1793 his series of prints The Gates of Paradise was published with a minimum of text; in 1825 he repeated the experiment with his Illustrations to the Book of Job. The Grave of l808, which lies midway between, is a similar series. Though ostensibly an illustrated edition of Robert Blair popular poem The Grave, "these Designs, detached from the Work they embellish", and rearranged as Blake directed, "form of themselves a most interesting Poem". Therefore, by omitting Blair's unnecessary text and rearranging the pictures, we have another of Blake's Prophetic Books.

When Blake left London in 1800 to live by the sea at Felpham under the patronage of the singularly generous and exasperating William Hayley, he had been making a competent living by engraving for the booksellers. When he returned in 1803, other engravers were being hired, and work was hard to find.

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