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of life and labour. "I don't understand what you mean by the want of a holiday," he said ; “I never stop for anything--I work on whether ill or not : " we may take the lines as applying to, and perhaps suggested by, Blake's dilettante friend and patron, Hayley, the hermit of Eartham, a feeble and profuse poetaster, who mistook the gentlemanly celebrity of a country squire who wrote verses, for the fame of the laborious poet.
A certain lyric, pre-eminently praised by Mr. Swinburne, has a solemn music of its own, but is less what a lyric should be, the flash of a single mood, a passing experience, than the opening of a stately prelude :
Silent, silent night
For possessed of Day,
Why should joys be sweet
There is but one more stanza, and in that, inspiration seems suddenly to flag and falter as if the hand had grown weary. And so it is all through many poems have, especially at the beginning, passages of the rarest lyrical beauty, and then
some lapse of rhyme or
sense that makes the reader feel that the writer either did not know what perfection was, or that he mistook for inspiration the sudden flow and ebb of a mood; many poets must have this experience, that of a mood not lasting quite long enough to stamp the “ thoughts that breathe " on "words that burn; the intellectual faculty fails first-and then succeeds the power which Wordsworth thought so characteristic of the true poet, the power of rendering remembered emotion. Blake seems to have had none of that; the mood flashed without his control, the words flowed, and good or bad there was no mending them. Edward FitzGerald, one of the sanest and surest of critics, lays his finger on this blot : he recognises the genius of Blake, but he says there is not a single poem which retains its inspiration all through
For instance, it seems almost incredible that the same hand can have written, in the Songs of Experience, within a few pages,
The Holy Word
and when we turn the page, in the "Human Vagabond,"
And modest Dame Lurch, who is always at church,
Would not have bandy children, nor fasting, nor birchwhich is gross and unintelligible.
At the same time, treating them strictly as sketches, Blake's poems are seldom without interest, and as we have said, occasionally rise into flights of lyrical beauty. All art is necessarily incomplete, but it is not mere incompleteness that we blame—it is the almost total absence of the critical faculty; the inability to separate what is mediocre and fatuous from what is high and great.
The third period is that of the prophetical books; and into this maze of obscurity and futility we will not venture to enter; they are accompanied with glorious designs, many of them, and, but for that, we must honestly say they would have been long ago consigned to oblivion : Mr. Swinburne has penetrated their deepest abysses, solved their enigmas, materialised their allegories, and extracted from them a system of philosophy; and it must be added that their latest champions, Messrs. Ellis and Yeats, consider that not only did Blake never write a page without distinct meaning, but that the utterances combine into a great mythic system. Mr. Rossetti takes his leave of them with the somewhat ambiguous remark that if a man was cast on a desert island with nothing but Blake's poetical works, and came away with an increased admiration for them, he might have a
right to his opinion, but it would not agree with Mr. Rossetti's. They are written in a rhythm which appears to be irregular, but which Blake assures us was carefully weighed and calculated. Their language is the language of one who is saturated with Biblical models, and the solemn, if tedious, rhapsodies of Ossian, for whom Blake had a strange admiration. The author considered them direct revelations from God. He said of the “Jerusalem" that it was the grandest poem that this world contains; when each was refused by publisher after publisher, he would say with pathetic faith, “Well, well, it is published elsewhere—and beautifully bound; a touching instance of how the visionary clung to the material expression of his work. He wrote to Flaxman the sculptor, saying, “I am more famed in heaven for my works than I could well conceive." There have been no signs, if we except Gilchrist and Mr. Swinburne, of the terrestrial public taking the same view. It reminds us of the satirical Princess who, on being told that her husband's previous morganatic marriage was a marriage in the sight of God, said that she was quite content to leave it so, if she could be assured that it was not one in the sight of men.
It would be easy to make merry over the prophetical books by quoting passages ; but it is a pious duty to refrain from so doing. What value, however, can be attached to writings where three mythical personages, Kox, Kotope,
and Skofeld, spirits of evil, with sway over certain English counties, appear to be nothing more than Messrs. Cox and Courthope, Sussex acquaintances of Blake's, and Scholfield, the drunken soldier who revenged himself on the prophet for a brawl in a public-house, by taking out a summons against him for seditious talk at the Quarter Sessions ?
As to their prophetical value, we are hardly in a position to judge ; we feel with George Eliot that of all the mistakes we commit, prophecy is probably the most gratuitous.
The fact is that what Blake wanted was culture; in literature he is a good type of how ineffective genius may be, if it is too narrow in its republicanism. Blake was self-absorbed and obstinate. His sympathy with certain qualities and aspects of life-simplicity, innocence, natural purity, faith, devotion—was innate and deep; but he had no idea of making himself appreciate what he did not at once understand: he was his own standard.
Consequently, within certain limits, he has left beautiful and refined work, though never with the added charm of elaborateness; the imagination is pleased with Blake's poetry as it may be attracted by an innocent face, a wild flower, a thrush's song ; the heart may hanker after a purity that it has lost or possibly never enjoyed. But Blake can only charm idyllically : he can never satisfy intel