William Blake was a born and bred Londoner. Baptised at the beautiful St James’s Church, Piccadilly, he is buried with the other non-conformists at Bunhill Fields opposite Wesley’s Chapel and commemorated with a fine bust by Jacob Epstein in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey. He was an strange, interesting combination of a visionary who had a strong sense of heaven in the everyday world and a down to earth craftsman who illustrated his poems with etchings which he painstakingly crafted in his own workshop.
His most famous poem is Jerusalem which comes from a longer work on the poet John Milton and which became an unofficial English national anthem after being set to music by Hubert Parry a hundred years after Blake wrote it. Both men lived in Sussex villages about ten miles apart, Parry in Rustington (http://diaryofatouristguide.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/the-english-hymn.html) and Blake in Felpham near Bognor Regis. The house in which he lived is now being restored by his admirers and will – eventually – be opened in a few years as a museum and homage to this strong-willed much-loved Englishman.
I always say that Blake was more at home near the sark satanic mills of London than in the green and pleasant land of England’s countryside, both phrases coming from Jerusalem, as does ‘chariots of fire’ which was borrowed by the makers of the Oscar-winning film. He spent three years at Felpham (1800 – 1803) driven there by money troubles and the promise of potentially lucrative commissions from William Hayley who wanted Blake to illustrate poems he had written and would pay for the privilege.
As is often the way, the poet/painter fell out with the patron, the talented but impoverished Blake resentful at being dependent on the wealthy mediocrity Hayley whom he described as “the enemy of my spiritual life as he pretends to be the friend of my corporeal”. Hayley, however, came to the rescue when Blake had an altercation with a soldier called John Schofield who wandered into his garden one day somewhat the worse for wear with drink (and probably urinated there). Britain was at war with France at the time and worried about the possibility of invasion but Blake was not one for unthinking patriotism and was accused of damning the king and siding with the hated Napoleon. Blake was eventually acquitted (with support from Hayley) and promptly went back to smokey London where he lived out his days before he could ascend to the higher realms he already half-lived in.
For more on Blake’s cottage go to: http://www.blakecottage.org