A Catalogue of William Blake from John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller
By Michael Stillman
He is one of the more difficult figures to describe. Few depict his as a "renaissance man," though he was a poet, artist, engraver, printer, and spiritualist. He was something of an oddball. At least, that is how many of his contemporaries viewed him. Looking back, the description still fits, though he was certainly a most accomplished eccentric. However, he was not particularly appreciated in his time, and is no longer quite as renown as he once was. Perhaps his problem was being very talented in multiple fields, without quite making it to the top of any one.
All that notwithstanding, William Blake has a most devoted set of followers to this day. They appreciate his artistic endeavors, whether visual or literary, and many collect his works. If you are one, John Windle, Antiquarian Bookseller, has a catalogue for you. It is called William Blake and His Circle, catalogue number 40 from Windle. It is not Windle's first Blake catalogue. In fact, it is his sixth, but the San Francisco bookseller notes that this is his largest, maybe the largest such catalogue ever issued by a bookseller. It contains 424 Blake related items. Well, maybe that's 423. We'll get to that later.
Blake was born in 1857, and by a very early age, was already having visions. However, his family did not send him off for religious training. He was first sent to a school for drawing, and at the age of 14, was apprenticed to an engraver for seven years. It was an appropriate choice, as it provided Blake with skills he would use in his printing and engraving avocations, while affording him enough free time to write poetry. So by the 1780s, Blake was writing poetry as well as illustrating and printing his material. And, printing and illustrating for others too. He would continue illustrating to the end of his life, even after the writing slowed.
Meanwhile, Blake would become politically involved. He supported the American Revolution, a stance popular in America but not in Britain. He would become friendly with some of the radical thinkers of his day, including Thomas Paine, and support the French Revolution, at least until it got too far out of hand. Indeed, in 1803 he was tried for saying unpleasant things about the King, but was acquitted. Blake would also be a vocal opponent of slavery, and supported women's rights as well. He opposed all kinds of authority, which is what got him in trouble with the crown in the first place. Blake was also something of a mystic, with belief in a spiritual world. He rejected rationalism, the belief that everything could be learned scientifically. His spiritualism led many of his contemporaries to believe he was "mad," which perhaps he was. He died in 1827, and it is said that his widow continued to talk to him through the remainder of her life. If so, then his belief in a parallel spiritual world must have been correct.