WILLIAM IT WAS REALLY NOTHING
Last week with Louis on part one of a Blake walk through London. We began at St Mary’ church in Battersea – one of the older and surely most beautifully sited churches in the city and the one where, in 1782 William Blake married Catherine Boucher. It floats in a little garden just above the Thames facing Westward up-river and at low tide on a sunny day is a stunningly romantic (and relatively unknown) rendezvous. I can publish the full itinerary of this walk if anybody fancies it. It begins in this churchyard and ends in the grave yard where William and Catherine were buried. It takes up much of a leisurely day and although most of the buildings associated with the Blakes are gone (sadly, some fairly recently) it is a wonderful way to see the city and takes in much of interest.
Blake only left London once in his life – for a short period at Felpham – and the city figures greatly and mythologically in his work. A little exhibition is just beginning at Tate Britain to recreate his failed exhibition of works of 1809. I think a lot of people who like his work, particularly artists, resonate with the fact that he had little commercial success or recognition but doggedly kept on at it year after year. He seemed to generally have been regarded as loveable but mad, even by his friends, and he was supported by a few devoted followers, by his marriage and by working sporadically as an engraver.
With regard to his ‘madness’, it’s very difficult to know what to think. God at the window of his childhood bedroom, an angel in Peckham, the ghost of a flea. What does one make of such apparitions now? A contemporary reading would perhaps put them down to some sort of mild psychosis and his eccentric temperament to one of manic depression governed by some bi-polar cycle, but who cares when the work is so luminous and passionate? I’ve often thought that being of rather a melancholic, even awkward, disposition is no disadvantage if it can be somehow turned to creative means – one reason why I have never favoured legal pharmacology in that area.
Blake is said to have died singing jubilantly, fired up with a vision of what was to come.
If that’s madness, I’ll have a bit.