To some people William Blake is just an ordinary man. To others, Blake is an English poet, painter, and engraver. Blake was born on November 28, 1757, in London, where he spent most of his life. He was the third of five children in his family. Blake’s family was Nonconformists Protestant dissenters from the Church of England. They had Blake christened on December 11 at St. James’s Church in Piccadilly. Blake’s mother educated him in mere reading and writing, and he worked in a shop until the age of 14. His family ran this shop, and later his brother and he acquired the store through inheritance. Despite those misgivings, he taught himself Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Italian. His English was to be often strikingly original through other people’s eyes. In 1767, he wanted to become an artist at the young age of 10. In pursuit of this dream, he attended the Henry Pars Engraving School in the Strand. By 1772, he was an apprentice to an engraver, James Basire, who taught him the secrets of the trade very well. Basire sent him to make drawings of the sculptures in Westminster Abbey, which sparked his interest in Gothic art. Blake’s father was a hosier, and sent him to the Royal Academy in 1779 as an engraving student. While at school, Blake absorbed the religious symbolism and linear design characteristic of Gothic style. While studying there, he rebelled against the academic conventions of Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the academy. Contrary to modern standards, he decided to follow the footsteps of the world-renowned artist Michelangelo and Raphael instead.
Throughout his life, Blake made his money engraving things, but lived in mass poverty. On August 18, 1782, Blake married a poor illiterate girl, Catherine Boucher. Some believe she turned out to be the best companion Blake could have chosen. Blake and Catherine never had children. In 1784, Blake’s father passed away after he started his own printing press. He took his brother Robert in to live with him as an assistant pupil to relieve him from the agonies of poverty. In Blake’s eyes, Robert was his son. The establishing of the printing shop helped Blake and Catherine become financially secure for rest of their lives. From that point on, he lived as an engraver and illustrator with the help of his wife and brother Robert. Once again tragedy struck, and in 1787, only shortly after beginning work, his brother Robert fell ill and passed away.