“It has to be remembered that Blake was almost completely forgotten at the time of his death in a tiny two-room apartment in Fountain Court, a narrow alley off the Strand in London, in 1827,” writes Richard Holmes for the New York Review of Books. “He had sold less than thirty copies of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794). Of the great illuminated Prophetic Books, The French Revolution (1791) had never been published for fear of prosecution, only four copies of Milton (1804/1810) were printed in his lifetime, and only five of his tortured, apocalyptic masterwork Jerusalem (1810/1820), of which just two fully colored originals now remain.”
Here are several controversial aspects about Blake’s sexual views and spiritual life that you might not know, and that scholars have reconsidered since his time.
Blake experienced mystical visions throughout his lifetime
The Bible had an early, profound influence on Blake, and it would remain a lifetime source of inspiration, coloring his life and works with intense spirituality. At an early age, Blake began experiencing visions, and his friend and journalist Henry Crabb Robinson wrote that Blake saw God’s head appear in a window when Blake was 4 years old. He also allegedly saw the prophet Ezekiel under a tree and had a vision of “a tree filled with angels.” Blake’s visions would have a lasting effect on the art and writings that he produced.
Blake also claimed he encountered Satan on the staircase of his South Molton Street home in London.