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In the Fogg Art Museum is now to be seen the biggest collection of William Blake's illuminated books ever brought together. It is virtually the entire collection exhibited at the Grolier. Club of New York, where it attracted a great deal of attention. To it have been added a number of Boston items. All these books belong to private libraries; so the opportunity of seeing such a collection will undoubtedly never be repeated.
William Blake was one of England's greatest poets and painters. He issued his strange visionary books by a process of his own invention, engraving them, then coloring them by hand. He tried to make every copy different in color-scheme, if not in number and order of the pages. As yet, no satisfactory reproductions of them have been made.
These books are extremely rare. In this exhibition is the only "French Revolution," the only "All Religions Are One," one of the two "Ahanias," and one of the three "Miltons." Several copies are shown of all the other books, so that most of the important pages can be seen. "Europe," "The Songs of Experience," "The Book of Urizen," "The Song of Los," "The Gates of Paradise," and the "Illustrations to the Book of Job," can be seen in full.
As a poet Blake was the first Romanticist, printing his "Poetical Sketches" before Byron, Shelly, or Keats were born. In the "Argument" to his "Marriage of Heaven and Hell" (1790--the book which Swinburne called "about the greatest produced by the Eighteenth Century in the line of high poetry and spiritual speculation"--is the first Free Verse in English. At other times Blake attained a sort of "polyphonic prose."
As the artist Blake was equally radical. He invented amazing color-schemes, distorted anatomies; in short, sacrificed all realism to the needs of the design. He contained the devout purity of Fra Angelico, the supernatural neurosis of El Gregco, and something resembling Botticelli's line and Michelangelo's force.
As a religious thinker Blake was the last of the great mystics. He has stated the essential doctrines of Christianity more clearly than any contemporary; and at the same time he contains all the thought of such diverse thinkers as Shelley and Nietzsche.
The opportunity of seeing this collection of the books he wrote and illuminated will end next Monday.
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