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Robert's Plan

Dreamed late 1788 by William Blake

Page from Blake's 'Songs of Experience': the illustrated poem 'The Tyger'. Click to enlarge.

By the end of 1788, the first portion of that singularly original... series of Poems, by which... Blake established a claim... on the attention of his own and after generations, had been written; and the illustrative designs in colour to which he wedded them in inseparable loveliness, had been executed. The Songs of Innocence form the first section of the series he afterwards, when grouping the two together, suggestively named Songs of Innocence and of Experience. But how publish? for standing with the public, or credit with the trade, he had none.... He had not the wherewithal to publish on his own account, and though he could be his own engraver, he could scarcely be his own compositor [typesetter]...

The subject of anxious daily thought passed--as anxious meditation does with us all--into the domain of dreams and (in his case) of visions. In one of these a happy inspiration befell, not, of course, without supernatural agency. After intensely thinking by day and dreaming by night, during long weeks and months, of his cherished object, the image of the vanished pupil and brother at last blended with it.

In a vision of the night, the form of Robert stood before him, and revealed the wished-for secret, directing him to the technical mode by which could be produced a facsimile of song and design. On his rising in the morning Mrs. Blake went out with half-a-crown, all the money they had in the world, and of that laid out 1s. 10d. [22 pence, perhaps $20 today] on the simple materials necessary for setting in practice the new revelation. Upon that investment of 1s. 10d. he started what was to prove the principal means of support of his future life--the series of poems and writings illustrated by coloured plates, often highly finished afterwards by hand--which became the most efficient and durable means of revealing Blake's genius to the world.

from Alexander Gilchrist's Life of Blake, 1863, quoted in The Oxford Book of Dreams (ed. Stephen Brook)

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