Gilchrist on Blake: The Life of William Blake by Alexander Gilchrist (Flamingo Classic Biographies)
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LIVES THAT NEVER GROW OLD Part of a radical new series - edited by Richard Holmes - that recovers the great classical tradition of English biography. Gilchrist's 'The Life of William Blake' is a biographical masterpiece, still thrilling to read and vividly alive. This was the first biography of William Blake ever written, at a time when the great visionary poet and painter was generally forgotten, ridiculed or dismissed as insane. Wonderfully vivid and outspoken (one chapter is entitled 'Mad or Not Mad'), it was based on revealing interviews with many of Blake's surviving friends. Blake conversed with spirits, saw angels in trees, and sunbathed naked with his wife 'like Adam and Eve'. Gilchrist adds detailed descriptions of Blake's beliefs and working methods, an account of his trial for high treason and fascinating evocations of the places in London, Kent and Sussex where he lived. The book ultimately transformed and enhanced Blake's reputation.
century, among other things, and a sincere one; earnesdy practising judicial Astrology as an Art, and taking his regular fees of those who consulted him. He was the author of more than one memorable nativity and prediction; memorable, that is, for having come true in the sequel. And strange stories are told on this head; such as that of Collins the artist, whose death came, to the day, as the stars had appointed. One man, to avoid his fate, lay in bed the whole day on which an accident had been
could not comprehend. He seemed to consider – but that was not clear – the visions of Swedenborg and Dante as of the same kind. Dante was the greater poet. He, too, was wrong, – in occupying his mind about political objects. Yet this did not appear to affect his estimation of Dante’s genius, or his opinion of the truth of Dante’s visions. Indeed, when he even declared Dante to be an atheist, it was accompanied by expression of the highest admiration; “though,” said he, “Dante saw devils where I
transform his reputation, however long it took him, and whatever it cost him. 2 Who was Blake’s unexpected champion? Born in the year after Blake’s death in 1828, Alexander Gilchrist had trained as a barrister in the Middle Temple. Restless in his profession, bookish and not physically strong, but with great determination and independence of mind, Gilchrist sought freedom in magazine journalism and freelance art criticism. From 1849, when he was just twenty-one, he began to write regularly for
relentless archival research, an almost forensic gift for tracking down rare books and documents. Carlyle was working, with many groans, on his multi-volume Life of Frederick the Great, and soon found Gilchrist bringing him numerous rare bibliographic finds. ‘Beyond doubt you are one of the successfullest hunters up of Old Books now living,’ beamed Carlyle, ‘and one of the politest of obliging men!’ The bookish Gilchrist also took great delight in pursing his open-air researches. With Anne he
Canterbury Pilgrimage, with the view of ‘appealing to the public,’ – the wrong kind of tribunal for him. To this end, also, he painted or finished some other ‘frescos’ and drawings. The completion of the Pilgrimage was attended by adverse influences of the supernatural kind – as Blake construed them. He had hung his original design over a door in his sitting-room, where, for a year perhaps it remained. When, on the appearance of Stothard’s picture, he went to take down his drawing, he found it