William Blake: The Poet and Artist
William Blake: poet, painter, engraver and visionary. 1757-1827
Born in London, the son of a hosier and haberdasher.
Apprenticed as an engraver at 14.
Attended the Royal Academy from 1778, but found the intellectual attitudes to be at odds with his creative imagination.
Married Catherine Boucher in 1782. An advocate of sexual and racial equality, he also supported revolution in America and France, but was horrified by the 'Reign of Terror'.
William Blake first published his 'Songs of Innocence' in 1789. The 'Songs of Innocence and of Experience' were first published together in a joint edition in 1794. Together, he intended the poems to show 'the two Contrary States of the Human Soul'. At first sight, this creates one collection of poems from a somewhat naive perspective, and one collection which is bitter, ironic and possibly even cynical. However, Blake did not offer either perspective as essentially 'right' or 'wrong'. The two collections need to be seen in conjunction with each other.
In Blake's own lifetime, the poems were only ever published, as he intended, in illuminated editions. These were produced by a laborious process devised by Blake himself, involving the engraving of individual plates, mostly combining poems and illustrations, by means of 'relief etching'. Individual copies were printed from the etched copper-plate then hand-painted by Blake himself, or by his wife, Catherine. Only twenty-seven such copies are known to exist, not all of them containing a complete set of plates.