Dan Sandman

26: Blake by Peter Ackroyd

In Biography, Books, Literature, Non-Fiction, Poetry on 24/06/2016 at 12:00 pm

Blake by Peter AckroydEighteenth century London is the setting for this excellent biography. It traces the steps of the visionary poet and engraver William Blake. We see Blake walking across the pavements of Lambeth, sketching tombs in Westminster Abbey, and composing poetry in the notebook of his tragically departed brother. In the midst of great political change, with the French Revolution and the American Civil War looming behind him, Blake elevates his vision of London to mythological status; late in his career, giving us the lyrics for what has become a second British national anthem: And did those feet in ancient time.

But despite being famous today, Blake was relatively unknown during his own lifetime. This was partly due to his fiery temperament, which made him difficult to work with. He could also become lost in his own creative visions. As Peter Ackroyd points out, on one occasion he agreed to a September deadline for a piece of engraving work for a book front-cover, but did not hand it until April — the book having already been published by that date. He also self-published most of his poetical works by demand, making it difficult for him to sell them on any large scale; and as if to make matters worse, each beautifully drawn design, on each separate book, was separately and painstakingly created next to the printed words. Such complicated production methods were essentially bad for business.

Peter Ackroyd wrote this biography in 1995 and it has since been at the top of many reading lists (his name beginning with has helped). The writing is steeped in detail: retracing the footsteps of Blake and his circle with a secure knowledge of London history. We are given an insight into the dissenting religious beliefs of Georgian England; tutored on the precise techniques of copper engraving; and asked to rethink the poetry and artworks from a biographical perspective. This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in William Blake or the inner workings of the creative mind.

Outstanding.

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