William Blake is a leading visionary of the Romantic Age who explored religion, philosophy, and politics. He was known for his engravings and paintings, as well as his poetry. His widespread influence earned him 38th place in BBC’s poll of 100 Greatest Britons. Behind this brilliant yet misunderstood figure, here are the following facts:
1. Blake claimed to have visions throughout his life.
- These apparitions included God beside a window, a tree full of angels, and the prophet Ezekiel beneath a tree. His works and views contained strong spiritual influences due to these experiences.
- Later, Blake created a series of sketches that depicted imaginary and historical figures whom he claimed to have sat for him. These “Visionary Heads” included Merlin the magician, King Solomon, and Satan.
2. The death of his brother Robert had a profound influence on him.
- Blake reported to have seen his brother’s freed spirit rise from his body and float into the ceiling, “clapping its hands for joy”.
- Robert allegedly appeared to Blake in visions to teach him a new technique that came to be known as illuminated printing. Blake used this method to publish most of his long poems. He combined words and images, creating what were essentially the first graphic novels.
3. Blake had a successful marriage with Catherine Sophia Boucher.
- She was illiterate and signed her marriage contract with an ‘X’. He taught her how to read and write, as well as draw and color his works, making her an invaluable assistant.
- At his deathbed, Blake drew a portrait of a crying Catherine by his side, saying she was an angel to him.
4. He was a radical thinker and often had unpopular opinions.
- Blake supported the American and French revolutions, publishing poems on individual, religious, and political repression. He believed subduing the psyche was the source of institutional tyranny.
- He was also a leading figure in the Free Love Movement. He criticized state interference on marriage, chastity, and birth control. He supported women’s sexual freedom and right to self-fulfillment.
5. Blake’s longest epic, “Jerusalem,” was influenced by his experience at trial.
- He was falsely accused with assault and sedition by a soldier whom Blake needed to forcibly remove from his property. Though he was acquitted, this confirmed his views on the cruelty of society towards the humane genius.
- “Jerusalem” is considered as Britain’s alternative national anthem. It is used as the official hymn by the rugby league and cricket board.
6. He died signing hymns and verses.
- Blake passed away from an undiagnosed illness he referred to as “that sickness to which there is no name.”
- Works he left unfinished included an illuminated manuscript of the Book of Genesis, and watercolor paintings of John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” and Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
Though he was known only to his friends and patrons during his lifetime, William Blake remains to be popular in Britain and the rest of the world. The creative, philosophical, and profound elements in his works continue to awe and inspire many contemporary artists and writers.