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William Blake

WILLIAM BLAKE WAS BORN on November 28, 1757, to a middleclass family in London. His father was a hosier, and his mother took primary responsibility for Blake's education. The Blakes were Dissenters and may have belonged to either the Moravian sect or the Muggletonians. Both were Protestant sects that focused more on an individual's right to read and interpret the scripture than on the need of a priest to instruct the faithful. The Bible was a strong early influence on Blake and would continue to be so throughout his life.

Like the founders of the Muggletonian sect, Blake claimed to see visions. His first was when he was eight or ten years old, and he reported seeing a tree filled with angels “bespangling every bough like stars.” This visionary and mystical aspect of religion would become a significant element in Blake's art and poetry.

As a young man, Blake was apprenticed to learn the engraver's trade, and he would forever combine his engraving, printing, and poetic arts into a single form, claiming that the text was incomplete without the illustration and vice versa.

In 1782, after a refused proposal of marriage, Blake met and married Catherine Boucher, who would become his most powerful ally and assistant for the rest of his life.

As a writer during this period of revolution (the American Revolution began in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789), Blake became friends with William Wordsworth and William and Mary (Wollstonecraft) Godwin (parents of Mary Shelley). Blake abhorred slavery and believed in racial and sexual equality. He had great hopes for the revolutions in the United States and France and was extremely disillusioned by the Reign of Terror and the rise of Napoleon.

Following her husband's death on August 12, 1827, Catherine claimed that Blake would come and sit with her for two or three hours every day. She continued selling his paintings and illuminated poems, but would transact no business without first consulting her late husband. On the day of her own death, in October 1831, she was calm and cheerful, and called out to him “as if he were only in the next room, to say she was coming to him, and it would not be long now.”

Blake was an important proponent of imagination. He believed that the creative force would allow humanity to overcome the limitations of its five senses. In addition to being regarded an early Romantic poet, Blake is celebrated as a forerunner of the “expanded consciousness” movement of the twentieth century. Aldous Huxley took the name of one of his most famous works, The Doors of Perception, from one of Blake's most famous works, and the rock group The Doors took their name from Huxley's work.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite”

—William Blake
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell