The poetical works of William Blake; a new and verbatim text from the manuscript engraved and letterpress originals

The poetical works of William Blake  (1905) 
William Blake edited by John Sampson
General preface and table of contents
Full title: The poetical works of William Blake; a new and verbatim text from the manuscript engraved and letterpress originals; With variorum readings and bibliographical notes and prefaces


The literary remains of William Blake fall into three broad and generally recognized divisions, poetry, prose, and the prophetic books. The present work is a complete collection of Blake's poems, including all lyrical and metrical pieces scattered throughout his prose works and visionary writings.

This edition furnishes readers with a new text, literally reproduced from the original manuscript, engraved, and printed sources. The primary object has been to recover and present Blake's own version of his poetry without the customary attempts at emendation. Apart from the natural question whether most editors of Blake are competent to effect improvement in the works of a man of singular and individual genius, it may perhaps be pertinent to recall that no writer would have more strongly resented interference with his own mode of expression than he who held that 'every minute particular is holy' and that 'no one can finish so high as the original inventor.' Even if we assume, with one of these critics, that what he styles a 'disservice' is done to the poet by reprinting his works without correction, there may still be some so curious as to desire to refer to his poems in the form which commended itself to their author.

That such a restoration of text should be necessary at all in the case of a modern writer whose works have passed through many editions may seem to require explanation. The reasons, however, lie on the surface. First should be specified the difficulties encountered in referring to the originals. It should be remembered that during Blake's lifetime few of his poems were either printed or published in the usual manner. His first work, the Poetical Sketches, was indeed produced in ordinary typography, but only a few copies were issued to friends, and the little volume remained so rare, that until its recent acquisition by the British Museum it might be regarded as generally inaccessible. Our great national libraries are still very deficient in first editions of Blake. Most examples of the engraved works are widely scattered in the libraries of private collectors in this country and in America, and since the various impressions of the same book often differ from one another in contents and arrangement, the collation of several copies is necessary if incorrect conclusions are to be avoided. Still greater difficulties exist in the case of poems which Blake himself never engraved or published. The MSS. in which these are found have always been private possessions, and even when the courtesy of owners has permitted them to be made use of, the work of transcription is full of pitfalls for the copyist. Many of the poems are hastily or not over legibly written, and unfamiliarity with Blake's hand accounts for a number of errors which have crept into the published texts. Again several pieces are left by their author in rough draft, and Blake's various changes, additions, and mode of indicating his successive rearrangements of lines and stanzas, exact careful study before his final intention can be accurately determined. A few misreadings must also be attributed to the inability of editors to decipher their own transcripts, originating in this way errors which tend to become fixed. Thus we find Gilchrist, followed by all later editors, misreading 'icy dungeons' for 'my dungeons,' though the latter is clearly engraved in the original impressions of 'The Keys of the Gates.'

A further and more important source of error is to be found in the changes which some of Blake's editors have deliberately introduced. It is comprehensible that Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in his desire to present an almost unknown poet to the public in as favourable a light as possible, should have considered himself justified in making grammatical and other changes in the endeavour to remove what he regarded as blemishes. Yet, even in this case, every lover of Blake must feel that the intended emendations not only are made on no consistent principle, but are often destructive of the happy grace and artless simplicity of the original. No equally valid defence can be made for the perversions of more recent editors, especially if new readings, which can hardly be regarded as improvements, are found in conjunction with professions of scrupulous regard for textual fidelity. Reference to the variorum readings given in the footnotes to the present edition will show the extent to which this passion for emendation has been carried. It will be seen that scarcely a single poem or even epigram has been suffered to remain as Blake wrote it. Words and phrases are changed, stanzas are transposed or omitted, and readings destructive of sense, syntax, and prosody are introduced without obvious reason. Unauthorized titles are added which, as in the case of 'Broken Love,' impart to the poem a meaning undreamt of by its author. Two or more lyrics are printed as one, and vice versa. In one instance a new piece has been created out of three shorter poems welded together by a line which is apparently the composition of the ingenious and modest editor. Blake's text has, in short, become a sort of poor palimpsest where each new owner has overwritten his own poetry. Liberties such as no one would venture on with Burns or Shelley, are everywhere taken with Blake by those who still profess their admiration for his 'exquisite metrical gift and rightness of form.' It is not a little bewildering to find one great poet and critic extolling Blake for the 'glory of metre' and 'sonorous beauty of lyrical work' in the two opening lyrics of the Songs of Experience, while he introduces into the five short stanzas quoted no less than seven emendations of his own, involving additions of syllables and important changes of meaning.

In the present edition Blake's final version is uniformly adopted as the text, while all earlier or cancelled readings are supplied in footnotes. The spelling and capitalization of the original are adhered to throughout. That Blake himself attached some importance to the use of capitals for the sake of emphasis or artistic effect, is apparent from the careful manner in which he has added them as corrections in the revised versions of several of his MS. poems, or in the engraved form of songs found also in rough draft. In my retention of Blake's orthography I have been influenced not only by the desire to preserve as far as possible the colour of the original in such pleasant archaisms as 'desart,' 'tyger,' and 'lilly,' but also by the fact that in some instances his own spelling is a valuable aid to the just reading of lines or stanzas. In all existing editions the melody of many of the songs has been marred by ignoring the fact that Blake's use of '′d' or 'ed,' in the participle or preterite, was never arbitrary, but based on system. Both in his manuscript and engraved books he followed the contemporary practice of using the latter only when he intended the final syllable to be separately pronounced. I have thought it better to prevent any misconception on this point by retaining the 'd in the former case, and, in the latter, by supplying an accent which is not in the original.

In the matter of punctuation the poet has left his editors almost entirely to their own resources. Blake's autograph MSS. are, as a rule, without points of any kind, while those in the engraved books are inserted in such a haphazard manner that, if reproduced, they would only serve to confuse the reader. I have accordingly supplied my own punctuation; though Blake's pointing, where it occurs, has been taken into consideration, and occasionally, as in the third stanza of 'The Tyger,' is an indication of the way in which a particular passage was intended to be read. Blake omitted apostrophes and inverted commas in his engraved as well as in his manuscript writings, and it should be understood that when these are found in the text they have been added at the discretion of the editor. The detail is not a purely trivial one, since Blake's omission of quotation marks contributes to the difficulty of obscure poems by leaving it questionable to whom particular speeches should be assigned. Instances of possible confusion arising from this cause may be noted in 'The Everlasting Gospel,' in which it is sometimes not apparent where quoted speeches end and Blake resumes the discourse in his own person; or in the poem beginning 'My spectre around me night and day,' where the untabulated persons of the drama are the narrator, his 'spectre,' and his 'emanation,'—characters whose respective parts are not immediately obvious to those who will have no dealings with the visionary writings.


The notes to the poems are of several kinds.

1. In the first place, the source of every poem is stated, with precise reference to the page or folio of the printed, engraved, or manuscript book from which each is taken. I add also, where necessary, the names of the editors or commentators by whom the poem has been printed. The phrase 'all editors' must of course be understood to refer to those only who print some version of a particular poem. In the case of the Rossetti MS., for example, it necessarily excludes Wilkinson and Shepherd, who print no part of this MS.

2. All Blake's earlier or cancelled readings are given in footnotes in the order of composition.

3. These are followed by the variant readings of all editors who have not merely reprinted some existing text. Differences are noted in all cases except where they consist only of trivial variations of spelling, capitals, or punctuation.

4. In every case where a poem has been left in rough draft, or has been subjected to repeated alterations, I have endeavoured to explain the author's mode of composition by longer prefatory or appended notes, indicating the successive changes by which he arrived at his final version. Interesting examples of the pains taken by Blake in perfecting his verses will be found in the notes to 'The Tyger,' 'Fayette,' and 'The Everlasting Gospel.' These not only supply the student with data which, were the actual MS. before him, could only be ascertained after considerable study, but enable him to follow for himself the reasons that have led the editor to arrange lines or stanzas in the order in which they appear in the text.

5. Many poems would prove unintelligible were it not for the light thrown upon them by the Prophetic Books, where the key to obscure mystical allusions is generally to be found. Readers of Blake's simpler poetry only who, with Mr. W. M. Rossetti, turn from the visionary writings after a 'hasty and half-shuddering glance,' will be ignorant of the consistency with which his self-invented system of mythology is expounded, and the absolute uniformity with which definite symbolical figures are used to express definite conceptions. While Blake has been at little pains to supply the world with a chart of his mental voyagings, it is impossible to study the prophetical writings without becoming aware of the extreme precision of his mystical terminology. In the books of Euclid such terms as 'radius,' 'pentagon,' 'equal,' or 'parallel' are not more absolutely descriptive of certain mathematical figures or relations, than are such locutions as 'Jerusalem,' 'spectre,' 'emanation,' 'hermaphrodite,' or 'natural religion ' of symbolic meanings in the writings of Blake. I have therefore endeavoured to make the poet his own interpreter by appending to these poems elucidatory passages from the Prophetic Books, coupled occasionally with brief explanations of what I conceive to have been his meaning. The value of these references in the interpretation of difficult poems like 'My spectre around me' in the Rossetti MS. or 'The Mental Traveller' in the Pickering MS. will not pass unnoticed. And even in such comparatively simple lines as the verses to Butts beginning 'With happiness stretch'd across the hills,' the allusion to the 'rock' and 'cave' in l.40 may only be understood through the associations of the same figures in The Four Zoas and Jerusalem. While interpretation is here restricted to passages in the lyrical poems which seem to require explanation, the editor may claim that the parallelisms from the Prophetic Books have been selected after many readings of the visionary writings, and with some knowledge of the chief literature written around them.

6. I have similarly illustrated Blake's epigrams on art and artists by quotations from prose writings where his opinions or prejudices are expressed with his customary energy and conviction.

7. I give also occasional indications of the date or place at which particular poems were written, as well as cross references to lines or passages repeated in different pieces. As these repetitions have been adduced as evidence of Blake's poverty of thought and language in Mr. Henry Gay Hewlett's ingenious article in the Contemporary Review, it may be proper to point out that the writings from which identical expressions are borrowed were not published by their author, nor was it probably contemplated by him that they would ever see the light. In only a single instance, that of the 'Mad Song' (Poetical Sketches) and 'Infant Sorrow' (Songs of Experience), has a line been transferred from one printed work to another, and as I have elsewhere explained, Blake never seems to have regarded the privately printed Poetical Sketches as one of his actual publications.


There is some reason to suppose that most of the existing groupings of Blake's poems would have fallen under the poet's lash for those whose 'chiefest arts' are to 'blend and not define the parts.' If 'to make out the parts,' as he assures us, 'is the wise man's aim,' it becomes a task of no little difficulty when such editorial titles as 'Ideas of Good and Evil,' 'Miscellaneous Poems,' or 'Later Poems,' are arbitrarily used to comprehend pieces collected from a number of undefined sources belonging to widely different periods. In one case at least the heading 'Later Poems ' is made to include a song written in Blake's early youth.

The present arrangement conserves the integrity of the various books, whether letterpress, engraved, or in manuscript, 'everyone in its own identity.' In each of these groups the poetical contents are printed in the order in which they occur in the original, a plan which has the advantage of illustrating how poems found in juxtaposition have often been suggested by or grown out of one another. It is also in many cases a valuable aid to the dating of particular pieces.

This arrangement is of course a bibliographical, rather than a purely historical one. While the contents of the Pickering MS. are obviously all of a kind and written about the same time, those of the larger Rossetti MS. extend over a period of more than twenty years and are of the most diverse character. The latter is indeed of the nature of a notebook, the earliest poetic entries in which antedate the publication of the Songs of Experience and the latest postdate most of the Prophetic Books. The three broad sections into which its contents fall are however clearly marked and occasion no confusion. The first of these, written about 1793, consists chiefly of lyrical poems, including the original drafts of many of the Songs of Experience. Between the first and second section intervened a period of about seven years, during which Blake wrote and engraved the shorter Prophetic Books. The earlier pieces in the second section include a few poems written in a strain of more highly developed mysticism, among them first drafts of certain lyrics afterwards transcribed into the Pickering MS., or engraved as part of Jerusalem. Before we reach the epigrams, which were an overflow from Blake's marginalia to Reynolds' 'Discourses,' the Pickering MS., the letters to Butts, and some portion at least of Jerusalem and Milton had been written. Lastly, as the third section, we have the fragments of 'The Everlasting Gospel'—the latest of Blake's surviving poems with the possible exception of 'The Keys of the Gates.'

In the bibliographical prefaces to the various sections I have tried to give fairly full and accurate accounts of printed books or manuscripts which have hitherto been somewhat slightly or incorrectly described. All accessible copies of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience have been collated, and Blake's successive arrangements tabulated and classified. A complete index of the contents of the Rossetti MS. is given; and the Pickering MS., or 'smaller autograph collection,' is described for the first time. I have also supplied brief bibliographical descriptions of the manuscript and engraved Prophetic Books, and have made some corrections in the dates of their composition or publication. Comparison of a number of copies has established the fact that there were three several editions of The Gates of Paradise, the two later only including the verses which distinguish the issue 'For the Sexes.' In my notes to this book I have drawn attention to a hitherto ignored publication of Blake, his History of England for Children, a companion volume to The Gates of Paradise; and possibly the list of its contents recovered from the MS. Book may be the means of bringing this lost work to light. The attention of the curious bibliophile may also be directed to the entry in the Rossetti MS. (p. 56) that 'This day is Publish'd Advertizements to Blake's Canterbury Pilgrims from Chaucer, containing anecdotes of Artists.' This may of course have been merely an experimental draft of a notice for insertion in the newspapers in case he thought fit to publish as a pamphlet with this title the paragraphs jotted down in his notebook. On the other hand, it is not improbable that it may have been printed for him in the same manner as the Descriptive Catalogue, possibly by the same printer, D. N. Shury, and that a copy may still be discovered, preserved perhaps, as is so often the case, by being bound up with contemporary tracts. Among other lost works of Blake may be mentioned the first book of the French Revolution, said to have been published by Johnson in 1791, and the engraved Book of Outhoon. Works referred to by Blake himself, but of which no trace is known, are The Book of Moonlight, and Barry: a Poem.


It is to Blake's singular mode of publication that we must attribute the scanty recognition accorded to his poetic genius during his own lifetime, as his public was necessarily restricted to the few friends or patrons who had obtained copies of his works from 'the Author and Printer.' The circumstances under which he first conceived the idea of producing his books by his invention of relief engraving possess therefore much more than the merely technical interest attaching to a new and curious art process.

According to the commonly received account it was in consequence of his failure to secure a publisher for the Songs of Innocence in the ordinary way, and of his extreme indigence which prohibited him from bringing out the book in letterpress at his own cost, that Blake was driven to resort to the laborious expedient of engraving and printing the Songs by his own hand. Verisimilitude is added by the picture of the poet's wife 'going out with their last half-crown to buy the necessary materials,' a detail of but little relevance when it is remembered that the engraving, printing, and colouring of the first issue occupied an entire year. I believe this story, which may be traced to a loose statement of Gilchrist's, to be without foundation.

In the first place it may be observed that the supposition that Blake desired to put his Songs into circulation through the medium of a publisher is altogether at variance with that characteristic independence which led him throughout his life to do most things for himself in his own way, regardless of toil which he loved, and disdainful of external assistance. In the case of Blake's earlier work, the Poetical Sketches, the sheets of which, printed in letterpress at the expense of Mathew and Flaxman, were, as Smith tells us, handed to the author to publish or sell privately as he saw fit, he seems to have made no attempt to dispose of the copies through a bookseller or even to sell them personally. While there is no positive evidence that such was the case it is not improbable that he himself may have destroyed the greater part of this small edition. Blake, it must be remembered, was an artist as well as a poet, and the same attitude of mind which caused him on being shown a number of the Mechanic's Magazine to exclaim 'these things we artists HATE!' doubtless led him to regard as unworthy of him a book in which his conceptions were inadequately presented by a merely mechanical and somewhat unlovely process. His deliberate exclusion of the Poetical Sketches from the catalogue of his works offered for sale in 1793—a list which includes books produced by ordinary engraving as well as by 'illuminated printing'—seems to me to support this view.

It is more reasonable to conclude that Blake brought out his books himself by his own process, because no publisher or printer could have produced for him the new kind of illustrated work which he had in his mind. The method then in vogue admitted of artistic embellishments only in the shape of steel or wood engravings, stiffly surrounding or clumsily placed in juxtaposition to the type of the text, while that of Blake interwove text, design, and colouring into one harmonious whole with the happiest and most exquisite effect.

Relating the story of the invention of this process, Blake's biographers have represented it rather in the light of a happy accident than as a deliberate attempt to deal with a clearly realized artistic difficulty. According to the account derived from Smith, this mode of engraving was revealed to him in a vision by the spirit of his favourite brother Robert, and there is no particular reason to doubt that, in a dream or daydream, Blake may have solved a problem which had long occupied his thoughts. Striking confirmation of the fact that at least five years before the publication of the Songs of Innocence he had contemplated—and not entirely, it may be noted, without a view to the superior profits of such a work— some new kind of illuminated printing is found in the early MS. known as An Island in the Moon. This passage begins, imperfectly, at the head of the recto of the ninth leaf: '…"Illuminating the Manuscript"—"Ay," said she, "that would be excellent." "Then," said he, "I would have all the writing Engraved instead of Printed, & at every other leaf a high finished print, all in three Volumes folio, and sell them a hundred pounds a piece. They would Print off two thousand." "Then," said she, "whoever will not have them, will be ignorant fools & will not deserve to live."…"I was at Mrs. Sicknakers, & I was speaking of my abilities, but their nasty hearts, poor devils, are eat up with envy—they envy me my abilities, & all the Women envy your abilities, my dear; they hate people who are of higher abilities than their nasty filthy Selves."'

The unfortunate loss of one or more leaves preceding the last page may have deprived us of a description of the literary contents of the book which the speaker Quid the Cynic (or Blake) designed to bring out in this manner. But since three of the most characteristic of the Songs of Innocence appear in rough draft in this MS., it seems not unlikely that Blake may have had already in view the completion of a series of songs for children; perhaps suggested by Dr. Watts' Divine and Moral Songs for Children. In the preface to that popular book Watts modestly refers to his songs as 'a slight specimen, such as I could wish some happy and condescending genius would undertake for the use of children, and perform much better,' and it is likely enough that Blake may have rightly felt himself to be this destined genius. It has been pointed out by Mr. Hewlett, who, as I find, anticipated me in this conjecture, that 'the subjects of several of Blake's songs are identical with those of Watts,' while it may also be noted that the moral tags with which the 'Chimney Sweeper,' 'Holy Thursday,' and other songs somewhat abruptly conclude, recall the manner of Blake's didactic prototype.

Though nowhere definitely stated by the poet himself, we have no grounds for questioning Smith's statement that the Songs of Innocence was the first of his works engraved in this manner. A colophon to the Ghost of Abel 1822, the last of Blake's Prophetic Books, informs us that 'W. Blake's Original Stereotype was 1788'; but since this statement cannot possibly refer to an earlier issue of the same sibylline leaflet, it probably means that the first plate of the Songs was engraved in the year preceding the publication of the completed book.

In Blake's prospectus 'To the Public' of October, 1793, he styles this process 'illuminated printing,' a phrase evidently suggested by the passage quoted above from the Island in the Moon. 'The Author,' says Blake, 'has invented a method of Printing both Letter-press and Engraving in a style, more ornamental, uniform, and grand, than any before discovered, while it produces works at less than one-fourth of the expense. If a method of Printing which combines the Painter and the Poet is a phenomenon worthy of public attention, provided that it exceeds in elegance all former methods, the Author is sure of his reward.' Blake's observation as to the comparative cheapness of this mode of printing seems to require some explanation, as it cannot be intended to suggest that this illuminated printing was cheaper than ordinary typography. Probably what he meant was that the engraving and printing of lettering and design simultaneously was less expensive than intaglio engraving and letterpress, printed separately by two different processes. The qualification should, of course, be understood, that to produce books in Blake's manner the author must be, as he was, his own artist, engraver, and printer.


Little is known of the life of William Blake, though our ignorance is comfortably veiled from us in several existing biographies. It may be confessed at once that with regard to what Blake called his 'vegetative existence' we are almost wholly in the dark. The slightness of our knowledge of the events of his material career is, however, of little consequence. Blake's real life was a mental and spiritual one. And the only true biography must be that in which his own writings, rather than petty contemporary gossip, are made the foundation of an endeavour to trace this mental and spiritual development. To understand him, some degree of intellectual sympathy with an uncommon mind and temper is desirable, and a larger visionary endowment than that which he esteemed the merely deceptive faculty of 'seeing with, and not through, the eye.' We need too some deeper study than has yet been attempted of the sources from which he received and absorbed his ideas—notably the influence of the Wesleyan revival, his precise debt to Swedenborg, and later, the manner in which the doctrines of the French Revolution affected one who, although the very opposite of reactionary, was antagonistic to the scientific spirit in all its works and ways. Such a task should not be undertaken with slight equipment, or in a spirit of condescension towards 'our good Blake,' the somewhat illiterate, but amiable enthusiast, who, though 'slightly touched,' was capable now and then of happy flights of fancy which are to be sought for as oases in the Sahara of his writings. To some of those who have essayed to follow with more or less success Blake's almost untrodden path, the converse is rather the case,

'And every sand becomes a Gem
Reflected in the beams Divine,
Blown back they blind the mocking eye
But still in Israel's paths they shine.'

That Blake's life was to himself a harmony is undoubted, nor is it less clear that it was also in the fullest sense, borrowing the phrase which Shelley applied to his own, an 'impassioned pursuit of virtue.' To represent this mental, moral, and artistic harmony is the difficult work awaiting him who would present Blake aright, grasping at such pieces of self-revelation as the writings afford, studying the influences which touched him and the degree in which they were modified by a naturally heretical mind; and tracing step by step through the surviving Prophetic Books the evolution of the extraordinary system of mythology created by him for the expression of his philosophical and religious views.

This true line of investigation first apprehended by Wilkinson, and finely expressed with entire insight and sympathy by the author of The City of Dreadful Night, has been carried further by Swinburne in that Essay which, were Blake's remaining works destroyed by a new Tatham, would still remain a sufficing monument to his genius.

The chief sources of our knowledge of Blake's life are particularized below.

1. Autobiographical. Despite the destruction of the greater part of the MSS. much autobiographical material survives in his pictures, MS. Book, letters, marginalia, and published and unpublished writings, delineating Blake in his 'threefold' character of artist, poet, and mystic.

Blake's pictorial art may be studied at first hand from examples preserved in the British Museum or in private collections, as also in his engraved works or in various facsimiles. His views on the province of art, and criticisms of schools of painters, are expounded at length in his Descriptive Catalogue of his exhibition of 1809, in his Advertisement or 'Public Address,' of 1810, in the jottings in his copy of Reynolds' Discourses, and epigrams in the MS. Book, and in the aphorisms in his sibylline leaflet, the Laocoon. Barry: a Poem must unfortunately be numbered among lost works.

In the field of literature Blake's early study, as Malkin tells us, was of the Elizabethans. His attitude to eighteenth-century verse may be noted in his lines 'To the Muses,' or in the contemptuous reference to 'tinkling rhymes and elegances terse' in the youthful Poetical Sketches. We meet here also with the imitations of Macpherson, continued in Tiriel and Thel; but a more lasting and potent influence was that of Milton, to which may be attributed the metrical experiments of the Prophetic Books, the shorter rhythms being evidently suggested by the choruses in Samson, and the preface to Jerusalem showing that in this attempt at a new cadence Blake was deliberately following the example set by the author of Paradise Lost. Even Blake's phrases and subject-matter, which, except in the purely imitative Poetical Sketches, are almost entirely his own, may occasionally be traced to the same source, as in the opening lines of Europe, reminiscent of the 'Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity':—

'The deep of winter came;
What time the secret child
Descended thro' the orient gates of the eternal day.
War ceas'd, & all the troops, like shadows,
fled to their abodes.'

Minor influences may be detected in the epigrams in the manner of Wolcot; in the lyrics from the Prophetic Books which often recall the hymns of Charles Wesley, and in the grotesque Hudibrastic lilt of 'The Everlasting Gospel.'

Blake's Prophetic Books tell us what is known of his mystical religion and philosophy. It is in the message, rather than in the manner of its delivery, that their chief worth lies. As little as S. Paul's Epistle to the Romans can they be regarded as the practice of literature for its own sake. The value of Blake's letters to Butts, obviously written to a friend to whom he could speak without fear of misconception, is enhanced by the fact that they belong to the period when he conceived and in part produced his great works Milton and Jerusalem.

Most of the epigrams in the MS. Book illustrate Blake's relations with his friends and patrons; while certain of them (as perhaps cxiv) throw light upon his private life, of which almost nothing is known.

2. A short but valuable account of Blake's early life and literary and artistic predilections is given by Malkin in his Father's Memoirs of His Child, in an introductory letter to Thomas Johnes, of Hafod, dated January 4, 1806. This was written when Blake was forty-nine years of age, and Doctor Malkin, for whose book Blake designed the frontispiece, twelve years his junior. The facts there given were evidently derived from the poet himself.

3. Hunt's Examiner for Sunday, September 17, 1809, contains a critique of 'Mr. Blake's Exhibition,' impugning the artist's sanity in offensive terms. This attack is indignantly referred to by Blake in several of the epigrams written in the Rossetti MS.

4. John Linnell, portrait and landscape painter, was introduced to Blake by Mr. George Cumberland, of Bristol, in 1818 (not 1813 as stated by Gilchrist), and thenceforward remained Blake's steadfast friend and supporter. To his assistance we owe the great work of Blake's old age, his 'Inventions to the Book of Job,' designs which had been executed for Butts, but were only engraved at the instance of his friend. Mr. Linnell left certain memoranda referring to the poet, while among other entries in his private journal are notes of several transactions made on Blake's behalf. These documents are now in the possession of Mr. John Linnell, junior. 5. Frederick Tatham, sculptor and miniature painter, was the son of Charles Heathcote Tatham, architect, who made Blake's acquaintance through Linnell. About 1825, when a youth of twenty or twenty-one, the younger Tatham met Blake and, unfortunately for the world, became one of the small group of neophytes. On the death of the poet's wife in October, 1831, Tatham acquired, or appropriated, the whole of Blake's literary remains, which he afterwards destroyed, as we are told, on 'religious grounds,' This person wrote a memoir of Blake which he appears to have parted with for purely secular reasons. Lost sight of for some time, and fruitlessly sought by Gilchrist, it reappeared in the Blamire sale in 1863, bound in with an illuminated copy of Jerusalem (see Rossetti Papers, 1862-1870 passim). This MS. life, which no one seems to have thought worth printing in full, has been used and quoted by Swinburne, Ellis and Yeats, and others, though they do not appear to have gleaned from this source any new facts of real importance. Those given, however, presumably possess the interest of having been derived from Catherine Blake, who, for a short time before her death, had been an inmate of the miniature painter's household. Tatham's misstatement of the date of Blake's birth (which misled Swinburne) does not suggest habits of accuracy; and Richard Garnett, who met him later in life, refers to him as a man on whose word no reliance could be placed.

My knowledge of Tatham's Memoir, which I have not been able to see, is limited to the extracts quoted therefrom by Swinburne and others. The copy of Jerusalem with which it is bound up was re-sold at Sotheby's in June, 1887, to a London dealer, and is now the property of an owner who prefers that no description of its contents be given.

6. Henry Crabb Robinson, then in his fiftieth year, first met Blake at the home of Mr. Aders on December 10, 1825. His diary and letters contain accounts of Blake in his last years, interesting and valuable both as to his mystical opinions (not very clearly or sympathetically apprehended by the diarist) and as to his views on the poetry of Wordsworth. These passages are reprinted together in Ellis and Yeats' Memoir (Works, i. 142-150).

7. Blake died August 12, 1827. Short notices of his life and works appeared in the Literary Gazette, the Gentleman's Magazine, and the Annual Register for the same year.

8. In 1828 John Thomas Smith, Keeper of the Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, published his Nollekins and his Times, which has been not inaptly described as the most candid biography written in the English language. The second volume, as the title-page states, comprehends 'Memoirs of several contemporary Artists from the time of Roubiliac, Hogarth, and Reynolds, to that of Fuseli, Flaxman, and Blake.' Scant justice has hitherto been done to this admirable little life, which gives for the first time the greater part of the material upon which Cunningham and Gilchrist based their biographies. Smith's acquaintance with Blake dates from his early days at the Mathews' to the close of the poet's life. This contemporary picture drawn with intelligent sympathy by one who knew him well is of the utmost value; and Smith's tribute to Blake's genius, sanity, and lofty character, coming from the pen of one who was the reverse of a hero-worshipper, is sufficient refutation of the contrary view.

9. In 1830 Allan Cunningham published his Lives of The Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, among which is a biography of Blake. This gaily and rather irreverently written little life is mainly derived from Smith's Nollekins, and while it shows no particular research or regard for accuracy has preserved a few anecdotes of Blake which probably would have otherwise disappeared.

10. About 1860, when Linnell, Tatham, Samuel Palmer, Richmond, and a few other friends and contemporaries of the poet were still living, Alexander Gilchrist began his Life of Blake, "Pictor Ignotuts." Gilchrist, in Rossetti's words, 'lived next door to Carlyle and was as near him in other respects as he could manage,' and his style betrays the influence of his model. There is also a tendency to dwell unduly upon unimportant incidents such as the 'Visionary Heads,' which gives the portrait a lack of proportion. Practically the whole of the first volume had been written, and the first eight chapters printed, when Gilchrist died on the 30th of November, 1861. The book, which was published two years later, was completed by his widow, aided by D. G. and W. M. Rossetti, the former supplying a supplementary chapter to the biography, and editing the 'Selections' from Blake's prose and verse, and the latter contributing a serviceable list of his pictures and engravings. The letters to Butts, 1800-1803, appear here for the first time. A second edition, with some new letters, was published in 1880. This Life, handsomely produced, and embellished with facsimiles of Blake's own glorious designs, achieved its main purpose in popularizing the poet, and in preparing the way for Swinburne's great critical appreciation. Gilchrist incorporates most of the material drawn from the preceding sources, though his manner of writing sometimes leaves it doubtful whether he is supplementing our knowledge or merely embroidering facts more simply narrated by earlier biographers.

11. Ellis and Yeats' Memoir, prefixed to their large edition of the Works, 1893, is especially intended, as the editors state, to supply new facts, or to discuss in greater detail aspects of Blake's life which they consider unsatisfactorily dealt with by Gilchrist. Of much importance, if substantiable on good evidence, is the discovery that Blake was of Irish ancestry, his grandfather, a certain John O'Neill, of Rathmines, Dublin, having assumed the name of Blake borne by his second wife. James O'Neill, his son by a previous union, also took the name of Blake, and settled in London, where he became the father of the poet. This account, however, is at variance with another, first given in Mr. Alfred T. Storey's William Blake, published in the same year, where, on the authority of two ladies, daughters of William John Blake, of Southampton, claiming to be second cousins of the poet, Blake's descent is traced to the Somersetshire family with which the Commonwealth Admiral was connected. Without attempting the difficult task of reconciling these rival claims, it may be pointed out that Blake's father was certainly a Protestant, and that the poet, who in one instance describes himself as 'English Blake,' nowhere claims Irish descent. Messrs. Ellis and Yeats interpret the mysterious reference to Hayley's having 'hired a villain to bereave my life,' in the sense of his having conspired with Flaxman to deprive Blake of his means of livelihood, and identify the hired villain with Hunt, the author of the article in the Examiner. I refer elsewhere to these editors' interpretation of Blake's mystical writings.

12. Biographies of Blake derived from the above sources, but of interest as embodying personal appreciations of Blake's work, will be found in Alfred T. Storey's William Blake, his Life, Character, and Genius, 1893, in Richard Garnett's monograph in the Portfolio, 1895, and in the introductions of W. M. Rossetti, Laurence Housman and W. B. Yeats to their editions of the poems. In pure aesthetic criticism D. G. Rossetti's prefatory notes to the 'Selections' printed in Gilchrist, James Thompson's Essay, and Swinburne's masterpiece hold the first place. Henry G. Hewlett's curious essay in depreciation, entitled 'Imperfect Genius' (Contemporary Review, vol. 28), should also be noticed. An elaborate attempt to expound Blake's symbolic system in detail is contained in Ellis and Yeats' edition of the Works, and, more concisely stated, in Maclagan and Russell's Introduction to their reprint of Jerusalem, 1905.


The following is a list of the editions quoted in the footnotes. I refer to those only where use has been made of the original printed and manuscript sources, and where the readings given might for this reason be understood to possess some authority.

1. Malk. A Father's Memoirs of his Child. By Benj. Heath Malkin, Esq., M.A., F.A.S. Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, London. 1806. 8°.

Contains five songs from Poetical Sketches and Songs of Innocence and of Experience, printed presumably from copies supplied by Blake to the author. Malkin's version of 'The Tyger' contains an interesting variant reading of l. 12.

2. Cunn. The Lives of the most eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, by Allan Cunningham. John Murray, London. 1829-1833. 6 vols. 16°.

Volume ii contains poems from Poetical Sketches and Songs of Innocence and of Experience. To Cunningham's corrupt version of 'The Tyger' may be traced the second or later version 'on MS. authority,' which has deceived so many of Blake's editors.

3. Wilk. Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Shewing the two Contrary States of the Human Soul. (Dedication of the Poem of the Grave.) W. Pickering and W. Newbery, London. 1839. 8°.

The first letterpress edition of the Songs. Edited with a short but excellent preface by J. J. Garth Wilkinson, the translator of Swedenborg. In the Dictionary of National Biography and elsewhere, the text of this edition is described as 'much altered,' but as a matter of fact Wilkinson's emendations are somewhat fewer than those of later editors.

4. R1. Dante Gabriel Rossetti's original transcript of a portion of Blake's MS. Book. See Bibliographical Preface to 'Poems from the Rossetti MS.' This transcript was probably made about 1847, when Rossetti was still a youth.

These readings, furnished me by Mr. White, are here quoted for the first time.

5. Gil. Life of William Blake, 'Pictor Ignotus,' with Selections from his poems and other writings by the late Alexander Gilchrist.… Illustrated from Blake's own works in facsimile by W. J. Linton and in Photolithography; with a few of Blake's original plates. In two volumes. Vol. i. Macmillan, London. 1863. 8°.

Poems quoted by Gilchrist in the first volume of the Life

6. DGR. The same. Volume ii.

Poems printed in the 'Selections' from Blake's works, given by D. G. Rossetti, in the second volume of Gilchrist's Life. Rossetti rejects some of the changes made in his earlier transcript, but retains others, and not infrequently adopts the readings of Wilkinson. With reference to these and other attempts at emendation introduced by him into Blake's text we may note Rossetti's later statement 'that he would not now, if the work were before him to be done, make so many alterations.' (See WMR's Dante Gabriel Rossetti, p. 165.)

7. Swinb. William Blake: A Critical Essay. By Algernon Charles Swinburne. With illustrations from Blake's designs in facsimile, coloured and plain. J. C. Hotten, London. 1868. 8°.

Contains poems quoted by Swinburne from Blake's published works and from the Rossetti MS. Book. From the latter source Swinburne prints several poems omitted by Rossetti, including the greater portion of 'The Everlasting Gospel.'

8. Shep. The Poems of William Blake. Comprising Songs of Innocence and of Experience together with Poetical Sketches, and some copyright poems not in any other edition. Basil Montague Pickering, London. 1874. 8°.

This edition collects in a single volume Richard Herne Shepherd's earlier text of the Songs of Innocence and [of] Experience, with other poems, 1866 (reprinted in 1868); and that of the Poetical Sketches, 1868, all of which were published by B. M. Pickering. Shepherd was not able to print in his edition any of the poems from the Rossetti MS. His text of the poems included is, however, by far the most accurate of any hitherto published.

9. WMR. The Poetical Works of William Blake, Lyrical and Miscellaneous. Edited with a Prefatory Memoir by William Michael Rossetti. [Aldine Edition.] George Bell and Sons, London. 1874. 8°.

This popular edition has been frequently reprinted. The readings quoted in my footnotes are taken from a copy of the fourth edition, 1883.

10. W. Muir's facsim. Mr. William Muir's coloured facsimiles of the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience. In the footnotes to The Gates of Paradise I refer also to Mr. Muir's text of the prologue and of the 'Keys of the Gates' prefixed in ordinary typography to his facsimile of The Gates of Paradise.

Admirable as facsimiles of Blake's coloured illustrations, these reproductions cannot be followed with any certainty for the text of the poems.

11. EY. The Works of William Blake, Poetic, Symbolic, and Critical. Edited with Lithographs of the Illustrated 'Prophetic Books,' and a Memoir and Interpretation by Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats. In three volumes. Bernard Quaritch, London. 1893. Large 8°.

In this edition the somewhat confusing arrangement of the Poems may perhaps be due to the editors' scheme of interpretation. For some of their text apparently Messrs. Ellis and Yeats have trusted to the Aldine edition, while part has been derived from Mr. Ellis' transcripts of the MS. Book and The Four Zoas. These editors, in expounding Blake's system, lay claim to special knowledge 'produced by the evocations of symbolic magic' (i. 288 and passim); and some of their remarks (e.g. ii. 299) would seem to suggest their belief that the possession of these occult powers enables them to produce a text through which Blake's mind is reflected more accurately than in the MSS. left by himself.

12. WBY. The Poems of William Blake. Edited by W. B. Yeats. [The Muses' Library.] Lawrence and Bullen, London. 1893. 8°.

In some respects a more correct text than the preceding. Reprinted by Routledge (1905).

13. LH. Selections from the writings of William Blake with an introductory essay by Lawrence Housman. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, and Co. 1893. 8°.

I quote this edition only for the variant reading in the song taken from An Island in the Moon, since this MS. was in Mr. Housman's hands.

14. Russell and Maclagan. The Prophetic Books of William Blake. Jerusalem. Edited by E. R. D, Maclagan and A. G. B. Russell [on cover A. G. B. Russell and E. R. D. Maclagan]. Bullen, London. 1904. 4°.

Apparently intended as the first of a series of typographical reprints of Blake's Prophetic Books. Purports to be a verbatim and literatim reprint, but contains such misreadings as 'course' for 'race,' and 'By his own hand shall surely die' for 'By his own law shall surely die.'


In a work involving much reference to material not lying ready to hand in any public library an editor is necessarily dependent upon the goodwill and co-operation of the owners of precious books and manuscripts. It is with gratitude that I acknowledge the invaluable aid rendered me in various ways by collectors and students of the works of Blake.

My debt to Mr. W. A. White, of Brooklyn, New York, the owner of the Rossetti MS., the Pickering MS., and other Blake originals, can best be made clear by an explanation of his share in the work. Entering into my desire to produce an accurate and final text of Blake's poems, Mr. White has for the past three years collaborated with me in this endeavour by furnishing me with exact transcripts of the poems in the MS. Book, and answering a very great number of questions of detail. I owe also to Mr. White the correct text of the smaller Pickering MS., which after a disappearance of over thirty years was opportunely rediscovered while this edition was in the press. I should not omit to explain that it was Mr. White's conjecture that The Gates of Paradise belonged to a later date than had been previously supposed, which led me, after a study of the symbolic references in the couplets explanatory of the plates, to form the conclusion that the two issues 'For the Sexes,' in which the poems first appear, must have been produced, not in 1793, but somewhere nearer 1810. Lastly, I am indebted to Mr. White for the two facsimiles of the MS. Book given in this edition.

To Mr. John Linnell, junior, I owe the correct text of the songs, and passages quoted in the footnotes from The Four Zoas, as well as the description of this MS., and details of copies of The Gates of Paradise, The Ghost of Abel, and other Blake originals in the possession of the Linnell family. Mr. Linnell has also furnished me with photographs of obscurely written lines in The Four Zoas, and has replied with great minuteness to several questions of mine relating to different works of Blake. My thanks are also due to Miss Isabelle Linnell and Mr. William Linnell.

I owe to the kindness of Mr. C. Fairfax Murray the loan of the autograph MS. known as An Island in the Moon, since presented by him to the Fitzwilliam Museum, as well as extracts from original letters of Flaxman throwing light upon the cause of Blake's estranged attitude towards his former friend. A hitherto unprinted poem (see p. 218) courteously sent me by Mr. A. G. B. Russell illustrates the earlier and happier relationship between the two artists.

I have to thank Captain Butts for the loan of Blake's letters to his grandfather, Mr. Thomas Butts, the artist's lifelong friend and patron. I am obliged to Mr. Bernard Quaritch for lending me the MS. of Tiriel. To Signora Helen Rossetti Angeli I tender my thanks for her kindness in sending me from Italy the early and curious Blake MS. containing 'The Passions' and another piece.

I have to acknowledge the courtesy of the various owners of copies of the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience enumerated in my Bibliographical Preface (pp. 72-77), for collations and details of the several impressions.

Mr. W. M. Rossetti kindly furnished me with his recollection of the lost book, the French Revolution, and also of the Pickering MS. which has since come to light. Mr. John Pearson in several communications has given me the benefit of his expert knowledge of original issues and reprints of works of Blake, and Mr. John Lawler has been good enough to supply me with information as to Blake originals sold by auction. Mr. Frederick Macmillan has taken great pains to clear up the question of the process by which the plates of the Songs were reproduced in Gilchrist's Life.

I am indebted to Mrs. Beach for research work in the British Museum in the early stages of this book. I am grateful to Mr. Cowley of the Bodleian Library for a courteous response to questions submitted by me, in the first place, to Mr. Madan; to Mr. Fortescue of the British Museum for personal replies to like inquiries; and to Mr. Peter Cowell of the Liverpool Public Library for obtaining for me the loan of certain rare books. To Mr. Wilberforce Eames I owe information regarding the unique example of Blake's Milton in the Astor-Lenox Library.

I have pleasure in acknowledging the help of Mr. T. Harkness Graham, assistant in the University Library, in the reading and correction of the proofs, and the aid in various ways given me by Miss May Allen, Librarian to the Biological Library. The help rendered by the members of my class in bibliography, especially by Miss M. E. Lyster and Miss D. E. Yates, has contributed greatly to the accuracy of this edition.

Professor John Macdonald Mackay has been good enough to read certain of my proofs and prefaces.

In concluding this long list of obligations I desire to add that it was at the suggestion of the late Professor York Powell that I undertook, in a somewhat light-hearted mood, the preparation of a small edition of Blake's Lyrical Poems for the Clarendon Press. A cursory comparison of existing texts showed me the impossibility of giving a reliable version of Blake, even in the form of selections, without preliminary collation of the original engraved and manuscript sources. This view was accepted by the Delegates of the Press, and the present critical edition undertaken besides the smaller work at first proposed. I wish to thank the authorities of the Press, and especially Mr. H. S. Milford, for the care and patience with which they have carried out the 'minute particulars' of this book. The untimely death of Professor York Powell deprived me of advantages of advice and encouragement, given by him so generously at the outset of my task, and robs me now of much of the pleasure with which I bring to completion this edition of one of his favourite poets, which, imperfect though it be, I am fain to dedicate to his memory.

Nov. 20, 1905.


Poems from the Poetical Sketches
Bibliographical Preface 2
To Spring 5
To Summer 5
To Autumn 6
To Winter 7
To the Evening Star 7
To Morning 8
Fair Elenor 8
Song: How sweet I roam'd from field to field 11
Song: My silks and fine array 12
Song: Love and harmony combine 12
Song: I love the jocund dance 13
Song: Memory, hither come 14
Mad Song 14
Song: Fresh from the dewy hill, the merry year 15
Song: When early morn walks forth in sober grey 16
To the Muses 17
Gwin, King of Norway 17
An Imitation of Spencer 21
Blind-man's Buff 23
Appendix I
King Edward the Third 26
Prologue, intended for a Dramatic Piece of King Edward the Fourth 40
Prologue to King John 40
A War Song to Englishmen 41
The Couch of Death 42
Contemplation 43
Samson 44
Appendix II
Song by a Shepherd 47
Song by an old Shepherd 47
Songs from 'An Island in the Moon'
Bibliographical Preface 50
When old corruption first begun 53
The Song of Phebe and Jellicoe 55
Hail Matrimony, made of Love 55
To be or not to be 56
This city and this country 57
Leave, O leave [me] to my sorrows 58
Appendix 59
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Bibliographical Preface 65
Songs of Innocence
Introduction 86
The Ecchoing Green 87
The Lamb 88
Infant Joy 89
The Little Black Boy 90
Laughing Song 91
Spring 91
A Cradle Song 92
Nurse's Song 94
Holy Thursday 95
The Blossom 96
The Chimney Sweeper 97
The Divine Image 98
Night 99
A Dream 100
On Another's Sorrow 101
The Little Boy Lost 102
The Little Boy Found 103
Songs of Experience
Introduction 106
Earth's Answer 107
Nurse's Song 108
The Fly 109
The Tyger 110
The Little Girl Lost 116
The Little Girl Found 117
The Clod and the Pebble 119
The Little Vagabond 120
Holy Thursday 121
A Poison Tree 121
The Angel 122
The Sick Rose 123
To Tirzah 123
The Voice of the Ancient Bard 124
My Pretty Rose Tree 125
Ah! Sun Flower 126
The Lilly
The Garden of Love 127
A Little Boy Lost 128
Infant Sorrow 129
The School Boy 130
London 131
A Little Girl Lost 132
The Chimney Sweeper 133
The Human Abstract 134
A Divine Image 135
Poems from the Rossetti Manuscript
Bibliographical Introduction 138
Earlier Poems 156
Later Poems 183
The Everlasting Gospel 241
The Pickering Manuscript
Preface 264
The Smile 269
The Golden Net 270
The Mental Traveller 273
The Land of Dreams 279
Mary 280
The Crystal Cabinet 282
The Grey Monk 283
Auguries of Innocence 286
Long John Brown and Little Mary Bell 295
William Bond 296
Poems from Letters
Preface 300
To my dear Friend, Mrs. Anna Flaxman 301
To my Friend Butts I write 302
To Mrs. Butts 304
With happiness stretch'd across the hills 305
O why was I born with a different face? 310
A fairy leapt upon my knee 311
Dedication of 'Blake's Illustrations of Blair's Grave'
Preface 314
To the Queen 316
Epigrams from Blake's Annotated Copy of Reynolds' Works
Preface 318
Epigrams 320
Poems from the 'Prophetic Books'
Bibliographical Preface 326
From The Book of Thel: Thel's Motto 344
From The Marriage of Heaven and Hell 344
From Visions of the Daughters of Albion: The Argument 345
From The Four Zoas:
At the first Sound the Golden Sun 345
Ah! how shall Urizen the King 347
Till thou dost [conquer] the distrest 350
From Milton: And did those feet in ancient time 351
From Jerusalem:
To the Public 352
Such visions have appear'd to me 353
To the Jews 353
Each Man is in his Spectre's power 358
To the Deists 359
To the Christians 361
To the Christians 363
Especially to the Female 364
Verses from 'For the Sexes. The Gates of Paradise'
Bibliographical Preface 366
Mutual Forgiveness of each Vice 372
The Keys of the Gates 373
To the Accuser who is The God of this World 377
From the Legends to the Plates 378
Index of First Lines 379


Facsimile of Rossetti MS., p. 109 Frontispiece
Facsimile of Rossetti MS., p. 52 To face p. 242

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.

The author died in 1931, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 90 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.