WILLIAM BLAKE by Jack Lindsay


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The visionary Romantic poet and engraver William Blake died poor and little esteemed. Not for over a hundred years did his extraordinary works elicit much scholarship, criticism, or praise. But the cause of Blake's long neglect is not difficult to see. His works defy common experience and understanding, wrapped as they are in a comprehensive mythology of Blake's making and mingling Biblical, political, and philosophical allusions in a language of his own. Every reader of Blake must ask: What is the man talking about? Jack Lindsay, biographer of several artists and Blake devotee, here offers a detailed answer. Concise, clear, and scholarly, Lindsay's biography utilizes recent research--especially David Erdman's--to unearth the sources of Blake's passions and images. Blake's experiences (poverty, political upheaval, religious ferment, and milennial Christianity) gave him a desire for social, political, and spiritual change; philosophy taught him what was metaphysically false (Bacon, Locke, Newton) and true (Paracelsus, Boehme, Swedenborg); and literature supplied a mythological form for his visions of good and evil and transformation. Amid Lindsay's excavations and his nice explications of Blake's works, the narrative incidents of Blake's life can be found. What the biography lacks is a psychological portrait of Blake himself. An artist of obsessive and singular character and unique imagination, Blake is not explained simply through the circumstances of his life and the books and ideas he encountered. More current in its scholarship than the previous biography by Mona Wilson (Rev. ed., 1948), and more expansive than Michael Davis' recent biographical introduction, William Blake: A New Kind of Man (but with fewer and poorer illustrations), Lindsay's book is still not the biography Blake deserves.

Pub Date: April 16th, 1979
Publisher: Braziller