He who respects the Infant's faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death.
The Child's Toys & the Old Man's Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two Seasons.
Blake, Auguries of Innocence (c. 1803)
The cycle of poems, called the Songs of Innocence is the most famous early
example of Blake's poetry printed in relief from etched copper plates and
coloured by hand. The poems were first published in 1789 and, by 1794, Blake
began binding them with the Songs of Experience in order to show "the Two
Contrary States of the Human Soul". At this stage he began to shift certain
poems from Innocence into the later cycle. Our copy of the Songs of
Innocence, with its fourteen plates, is one of the smallest collations of
these poems; it is also one of only ten known copies printed before the
addition of Songs of Experience.
The subdued, pastel hand-colouring (by Blake or his wife Catherine) is
characteristic of the monochromatic palette employed by Blake in the late
1780s and 90s. It serves to create a sober mood that parallels the radical
simplicity of the poems and draws out their serious aspect. Later printings
became increasingly strong and bright in colour, creating an effect similar
to a medieval illuminated manuscript (like the plate from Jerusalem included
later in this exhibition). From 1796 Blake printed the poems on one side of
the sheet only, a practice which emphasizes the pictorial nature of the texts.
A more detailed account of the method of printing of Blake's illuminated texts
appears later in this exhibition.