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Even at an early age, however, his unique mental powers would prove disquieting.
Basire seems to have been a good master, and Blake was a good student of the craft.
At the age of 21, Blake left Basire’s apprenticeship and enrolled for a time in the newly formed Royal Academy. Booksellers employed him to engrave illustrations for publications ranging from novels such as . In June of 1780 riots broke out in London incited by the anti-Catholic preaching of Lord George Gordon and by resistance to continued war against the American colonists.
Only about 50 copies of are known to have been printed.
Blake’s financial enterprises also did not fare well.
Houses, churches, and prisons were burned by uncontrollable mobs bent on destruction.
On one evening, whether by design or by accident, Blake found himself at the front of the mob that burned Newgate prison.
At first his father took him to William Ryland, a highly respected engraver.
William, however, resisted the arrangement telling his father, “I do not like the man’s face: it looks as if he will live to be hanged!
In his (1863) Alexander Gilchrist warned his readers that Blake “neither wrote nor drew for the many, hardly for work’y-day men at all, rather for children and angels; himself ‘a divine child,’ whose playthings were sun, moon, and stars, the heavens and the earth.” Yet Blake himself believed that his writings were of national importance and that they could be understood by a majority of his peers.
Far from being an isolated mystic, Blake lived and worked in the teeming metropolis of London at a time of great social and political change that profoundly influenced his writing.