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William Blake was a 19th century writer and artist who is regarded as a seminal figure of the Romantic Age. His writings have influenced countless writers and artists through the ages, and he has been deemed both a major poet and an original thinker.
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Born in 1757 in London, England, William Blake began writing at an early age and claimed to have had his first vision, of a tree full of angels, at age 10. He studied engraving and grew to love Gothic art, which he incorporated into his own unique works. A misunderstood poet, artist and visionary throughout much of his life, Blake found admirers late in life and has been vastly influential since his death in 1827.
"I am under the direction of messengers from Heaven daily and nightly."
"The vision of Christ that thou dost see is my vision's greatest enemy. Both read the Bible day and night, but thou readst black where I read white."
William Blake was born on November 28, 1757, in the Soho district of London, England. He only briefly attended school, being chiefly educated at home by his mother. The Bible had an early, profound influence on Blake, and it would remain a lifetime source of inspiration, coloring his life and works with intense spirituality.
At an early age, Blake began experiencing visions, and his friend and journalist Henry Crabb Robinson wrote that Blake saw God's head appear in a window when Blake was 4 years old. He also allegedly saw the prophet Ezekiel under a tree and had a vision of "a tree filled with angels." Blake's visions would have a lasting effect on the art and writings that he produced.
Blake's artistic ability became evident in his youth, and by age 10, he was enrolled at Henry Pars's drawing school, where he sketched the human figure by copying from plaster casts of ancient statues. At age 14, his apprenticed him to an engraver. Blake's master was the engraver to the London Society of Antiquaries, and Blake was sent to Westminster Abbey to make drawings of tombs and monuments, where his lifelong love of gothic art was seeded.
Also around this time, Blake began collecting prints of artists who had fallen out of vogue at the time, including Durer, Raphael and Michelangelo. In the catalog for an exhibition of his own work in 1809, nearly 40 years later, in fact, Blake would lambast artists "who endeavour to raise up a style against Rafael, Mich. Angelo, and the Antique." He also rejected 18th century literary trends, preferring the Elizabethans (Shakespeare, Jonson and Spenser) and ancient ballads instead.
In 1779, at age 21, Blake completed his seven-year apprenticeship and became a journeyman copy engraver, working on projects for book and print publishers. Also preparing himself for a career as a painter, that same year, he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Art's Schools of Design, where he began exhibiting his own works in 1780. Blake's artistic energies branched out at this point, and he privately published his Poetical Sketches (1783), a collection of poems that he had written over the previous 14 years.
In August 1782, Blake married Catherine Sophia Boucher, who was illiterate. Blake taught her how to read, write, draw and color (his designs and prints). He also helped her to experience visions, as he did. Catherine believed explicitly in her husband's visions and his genius, and supported him in everything he did, right up to his death 45 years later.
One of the most traumatic events of William Blake's life occurred in 1787, when his beloved brother, Robert, died from tuberculosis at age 24. At the moment of Robert's death, Blake allegedly saw his spirit ascend through the ceiling, joyously; the moment, which entered into Blake's psyche, greatly influenced his later poetry.
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