William Blake, an English artist and poet, born in London, Nov. 28, 1757, died there, Aug. 12, 1827. He was the son of a hosier, and at the age of 14 was apprenticed to an engraver, and when 21 began to make engravings for the booksellers. He also succeeded now and then in finding a purchaser for a drawing. He had written poems from childhood, and in 1781 published a little volume of 70 pages, which was with a single exception the only book of his ever printed regularly during his lifetime; it met with no success. At 25 he married Catharine Boucher. Though she could not read nor write at the time of her marriage, she had grace and talent, and was able to enter into the tastes and fancies of her husband, and in time became a skilful artist. Their union, which lasted 45 years, though childless, was one of unusual happiness. In 1788, having conceived the idea of printing and illustrating his own poems, he invented, or as he believed was spiritually taught, the way to do this. Upon a plate of copper the words and designs were drawn with varnish, and the parts not thus protected were eaten away with an acid, leaving the letters and lines in relief, as in a stereotyped page. Impressions were taken from this, at first by rubbing, afterward by a common printing press.

For ink he used the common colors of the shops, which he ground fine and mixed with diluted glue. The ink was applied to the block by means of a brush, as has always been done by the Chinese. The words were usually printed in red, the design and ornaments in the color which he wished to form the tone of the picture, blue, green, or yellow, usually a mellow brown. The pictures were sometimes sold in that shape, and sometimes tinted like the original drawings. His wife worked off the impressions, aided her husband in tinting them, and bound the sets in thin volumes. A part of the process, which was kept a secret, was, he believed, revealed to him by his deceased brother, the remainder by Joseph of Nazareth. The production of these illustrated poems was for 40 years Blake's chief source of income, although he painted many pictures (those now extant, with his drawings, numbering not less than 500) and executed almost innumerable engravings. The first* series was "The Songs of Innocence," containing 27 pages about 7 inches by 5. The price of a tinted set was 20 guineas; the few perfect copies now extant are of priceless value. The "Inventions for the Book of Job," somewhat larger, executed toward the close of his life, are as a whole the most striking and characteristic of his works.

Among others are the "Books of Prophecies," "Gates of Paradise," "Urizen," and "Visions of the Daughters of Albion and America," the words and illustrations being alike mystical and obscure, though marked with great vigor. His income was always small; but the common assertion that for the greater part of his life he lived in a garret and upon crusts of bread is without foundation. He spent all his life, excepting four years, in London, where he always had comfortable apartments in a respectable street; was decently dressed, and rather fond of the delicacies of the table, which his wife, who was an excellent cook, was able to produce within the limits of their means. He was never in debt; and when he died, although he left little money, his pictures and illustrated poems, sold from time to time, brought enough to maintain his widow in comfort during the four years that she survived him. Though little appreciated during his life, and almost forgotten for a generation after his death, it is now agreed that in force and originality England has not produced his superior. Some of his poems, although faulty in rhyme and rhythm, are exceedingly tender and graceful; others are so weird and mystical as apparently to justify the belief of his contemporaries that he was half mad.

He had visions from childhood to old age, and whatever he imagined was to him as real as though it actually existed. He was thus familiar with primeval Egypt and Assyria, where he saw statues of which the noblest specimens of Greek art were only feeble copies. He could call up almost at will the shades of the dead, and from them draw portraits as if they were before him in the flesh. Many of these portraits remain. Some are strikingly characteristic of the personages; others, like "The Man who built the Pyramids " and " The Ghost of a Flea," are grotesque; and others, like "Nebuchadnezzar Eating Grass," are almost terrible. Yet he possessed, rather than was possessed by, his visions. He knew that their reality was different from that of the actual world. " Where did you see that?" some one inquired respecting one of his visions, which he had been describing as a matter of fact. "Here," was the reply, touching his forehead. He wrote, " I assert for myself that I do not behold the outward creation, and that it is hindrance, not action. 'What!' it will be questioned, ' when the sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a guinea?' Oh! no, no! I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.' I question not my corporeal eye any more than I would question a window concerning a sight.

I look through it, and not with it." Blake retained his faculties to the last. Just before his death he lay softly singing. His wife stopped to listen. Looking upon her, now a faded woman of almost 70 years, he said affectionately, "My beloved, they are not mine; no, they are not mine." These seem to have been his last words. The popular life of Blake by Allan Cunningham, in his "British Painters and Sculptors," is often inaccurate. The life by Alexander Gilchrist (2 vols., London, 1863) contains nearly all of his poems, and exact facsimiles of many of his works, but without the coloring. Flaxman said of him, "The time will come when the finest of Blake's designs will be as much sought for and treasured up as those of Michel Angelo."