The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

IX. Blake

§ 1. Early Career

WILLIAM BLAKE, born 28 November, 1757, was the son of a London hosier, who is said to have had leanings towards Swedenborgianism. This may explain Blake’s acquaintance with writings that exercised a marked influence upon his later doctrines and symbolism, though he always held that the Swedish mystic failed “by endeavouring to explain to the reason what it could not understand.” The boy never went to school, on account, it is said, of a difficult temper. He “picked up his education as well as he could.” According to one authority, Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, Lucrece and Sonnets, with Jonson’s Underwoods and Miscellanies, were the favourite studies of his early days. To these must be added Shakespeare’s plays, Milton, Chatterton and the Bible, “a work ever at his hand, and which he often assiduously consulted in several languages”; for he acquired, at different times, some knowledge of Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Hebrew. Ossian and Gesnerian prose were less fortunate influences.