Meeting Blake for the First Time, by Henry Crabb Robinson

Seeing Blake Plain

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Life mask of Blake, taken in 1823

“Of all the records of his latter years,” the poet and critic Swinburne once noted of Blake, “the most valuable, perhaps, are those furnished by Mr. Crabb Robinson, whose cautious and vivid transcription of Blake’s actual speech is worth more than much vague remark, or than any commentary now possible to give.” Others may have understood Blake better than Crabb Robinson – by profession a lawyer and journalist – but no one else was so attentive to his speech, which he carefully recorded in his private diaries (eventually published in 1869 as Diary, Reminiscences, and Correspondence).

The extraordinary accounts of his meetings with Blake help to answer some key questions: What did Blake sound like? How did he engage with others – what was it like to be in Blake’s company? Thanks to Crabbe Robinson’s remarkable and meticulously recorded entries, we can gain entry and access into Blake’s private world – a sense of what it was like to be the same room as Blake. And also to hear his thoughts – “on art, and on poetry, and on religion” as Crabb Robinson summarises it – including Blake’s view of the nature of imagination, the two Suns, having met Socrates, why there is suffering as well as joy in heaven, his criticism of Jesus, the prelapsarian union of the sexes, Wordsworth’s atheism, and why education is the great sin.

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