William Blake’s Birthday

Commemorative plaque on the side of a block of high-rise apartments in Broadwick Street, London – William Blake House

Frederick Adcock’s illustration of William Blake’s birthplace and childhood home, published in Famous Houses and Literary Shrines of London by Arthur St John Adcock (1912)

from William Upcott’s  Reliques of My Contemporaries (Album of Autographs and Portraits) – original pen-and-ink sketch, signed and dated “January 16, 1826”

We celebrate the immortal William Blake a good deal here.  We’ve been serializing of late Allen’s 1979 Naropa lectures on the prophetic book, Vala or The Four Zoas and will continue to do so (continuing next week)

Today, we celebrate the anniversary of the birth, born on the 28th of November 1757 at
28 Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) in Soho, London, in the upstairs living quarters of the family hosiery shop. They sold “wool knit stockings, caps, vests, wainscots, and undergarments for both men and women as well as haberdashery items such as ribbons, gloves, scarves, buttons and cosmetics.”

The house was built on the corner of Broad Street and Marshal Street.  The original building, we’re informed, consisted of four floors and a basement with a narrow stairwell leading to the cramped but not-uncomfortable upstairs quarters. The first floor consisted of a low-ceilinged room of twenty square feet with two fireplaces and a window. Three windows faced into Broad Street, and on the other side a window on each floor had been covered with bricks.

Soho then lay on the extreme northern edge of London with nothing but fields and market gardens beyond. So the young Blake (the Blake of his childhood years), on leaving his house was able to roam freely about the countryside.

” How sweet I roamed from field to field..”, he wrote. Here’s Ed Sanders version of that early lyric

He remained there, at 28 Broad Street, seemingly contented, for the first twenty-five years of his life, only moving out, in 1782, to new lodgings in Green Street (23 Green Street, located off the south-east corner of Leicester Square) for the purpose of setting up house with Catherine (Boucher), his new wife.

Gilchrist, Blake’s first biographer, claims Blake’s father, enraged at his marrying an illiterate and uneducated woman actually made continuing to live there impossible (“unacceptable”) and drove him out of the house)

Catherine & William Blake – “From the Pencil Outlines by Blake in the Notebook Belonging to Mr Rossetti – Drawn by Fred J Shields

Following the death of his father, two years later, James the eldest son took over the hosiery business at number 28, and William and Catherine returned to the location, William moving in next-door, to 27, where he set himself up as a print-seller, in partnership with a former fellow apprentice of his teacher, James Basire, James Parker, and with assistance from his younger brother, Robert, whom he took on as his apprentice.


Zephyrus and Flora – after Thomas Stodhard – “Published [illegible] Decr 17th 1784 by Parker & Blake (sic) No 27 Broad St Golden Square” -from the collection in the British Museum

28 Broad Street also features a good many years later. It was, in 1809, the incongruous site of   Blake’s 1809 exhibition (his only solo exhibition). The show was…er.. not a success.

This was the show that was replicated in 2009 and again in the 2019 Tate Britain Blake exhibit

Blake’s Descriptive Catalogue, (a polemic as well as a catalogue), that accompanied the show, can be viewed in its entirety – here

Allen Ginsberg’s 2017 The Complete Songs of Innocence and Experience is, of course, an essential recording

as indeed is Steven Taylor’s Songs of Innocence and Experience  (which compliments the project)

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake here:

Allen’s comments are from a 1995 BBC documentary. For the full documentary (very much worth watching) – see here 

Just one more Ginsberg-on-Blake (what shall we choose?) – how about jubilation?

Two more Allen Ginsberg Blake’s-Birthday Salutes from The Allen Ginsberg Project
here and here

Happy 264th Birthday William Blake!

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