Illustrated with 16 drawings by William Blake with wrap-around text.
An excerpt from the beginning:
I. HIS OPINIONS UPON ART
THE recoil from scientific naturalism has created in our day the movement the French call symboliste, which, beginning with the memorable " Axel," by Villiers de l'Isle Adam, has added to drama a new kind of romance, at once ecstatic and picturesque, in the works of M. Maeterlinck; and beginning with certain pictures of the pre-Raphaelites, and of Mr. Watts and Mr. Burne-Jones, has brought into art a new and subtle inspiration. This movement, and in art more especially, has proved so consonant with a change in the times, in the desires of our hearts grown weary with material circumstance, that it has begun to touch even the great public; the ladies of fashion and men of the world who move so slowly; and has shown such copious signs of being a movement, perhaps the movement of the opening century, that one of the best known of French picture dealers will store none but the inventions of a passionate symbolism. It has no sufficient philosophy and criticism, unless indeed it has them hidden in the writings of M. Mallarme, which I have not French enough to understand, but if it cared it might find enough of both philosophy and criticism in the writings of William Blake to protect it from its opponents, and what is perhaps of greater importance, from its own mistakes, for he was certainly the first great symboliste of modern times, and the first of any time to preach the indissoluble marriage of all great art with symbol. There had , been allegorists and teachers of allegory in plenty, but the symbolic imagination, or as Blake preferred to call it, "Vision," is not allegory, being "a representation of what actually exists really and unchangeably": a symbol is indeed the only possible expression of some invisible essence, a transparent lamp about a spiritual flame, while allegory is one of many possible representations of an embodied thing, or familiar principle, and belongs to fancy and not to imagination; the one is a revelation, the other an amusement. It is happily no part of my purpose to expound in detail the relations he believed to exist between symbol and mind; for in doing so I should come upon not a few doctrines which, though they have not been difficult to many simple persons, ascetics wrapped in skins, women who had cast away all common knowledge, peasants dreaming by their sheep-folds upon the hills, are full of obscurity to the man of modern culture; but it is necessary to just touch upon these relations, because in them was the fountain of much of the practice and of all the precept of his artistic life.
If a man would enter into " Noah's rainbow," he has written, and " make a friend" of one of " the images of wonder" which dwell there, and which always entreat him "to leave mortal things," "then would he arise from the grave and meet the Lord in the air ;" and by this rainbow; this sign of a covenant granted to him who is with Shem and Japhet, "painting, poetry and music," "the three powers in man of conversing with Paradise which the flood 'of time and space' did not sweep away"; Blake represented the shapes of beauty haunting our moments of inspiration: shapes held by most for the frailest of ephemera, but by him for a people older than the world, citizens of eternity, appearing and reappearing in the minds of artists and of poets, creating all we touch and see by casting distorted images of themselves upon "the vegetable glass of nature"; and because beings, none the less symbols; blossoms, as it were, growing from invisible immortal roots; hands, as it were, pointing the way into some divine labyrinth. If "the world of imagination" was "the world of eternity" as this doctrine implied, it was of less importance to know men and nature than to distinguish the beings and substances of imagination from those of a more perishable kind, created by the fantasy, in uninspired moments, out of memory and whim; and this could best be done by purifying one's mind, as with a flame, in study of the works of the great masters, who were great because they had been granted by divine favour a vision of the unfallen world, from which others are kept apart by the flaming sword that turns every way; and by flying from the painters who studied " the vegetable glass" for its own sake, and not to discover there the shadows of imperishable beings and substances, and who entered into their own minds, not to make the unfallen world a test of all they saw and heard and felt with the senses, but to cover the naked spirit with " the rotten rags of memory "of older sensations. To distinguish between these two schools, and to cleave always to the Florentine, and so to escape the fascination of those who seemed to him to offer a spirit, weary with the labours of inspiration, the sleep of nature, had been the struggle of the first half of his life...