Above is “The Temptation and Fall of Eve”by William Blake, 1808. As we know, there’s a lot of discussion about what kind of fruit was hanging on the Tree of Knowledge. The Bible doesn’t specify the apple by name, and certainly whatever’s on that tree of Blake’s looks like no fruit I’ve ever seen.
There’s a lot to know about William Blake and I don’t pretend to know very much of it, although I have known for a long time that there’s a “Blake Lived Here” plaque on the wall of his former home in South Moulton Street. When I first saw it there was a burger bar in the premises, though there currently seems to be an eyebrow waxing joint.
And then just this weekend I found out a couple of new things I never knew about Blake’s eating and drinking habits, though I can’t pretend they’re “discoveries” since both these facts are recorded in The Life of William Blake, "Pictor Ignotus," Blake’s first biography, by Alexander Gilchrist, two volumes, 1863.
The first fact is that when Blake's wife Catherine wanted to hammer home to him just how desperate they were for funds, she’d place an empty plate in front of him at dinner time. This supposedly concentrated his mind and he'd go off to do some engraving, which earned him money.
The other thing I learned, that although Blake wasn’t much of a wine drinker he had strong feelings about how it should be drunk – from a tumbler, and according to Gilchrist he “thought the wine glass system absurd: a very heretical opinion in the eyes of your true wine drinker.”
Well, of course, we all know that different wines are served in different kinds of glass, but I never thought of it as a system exactly. Although of course Blake did say, "I must Create a System or be enslaved by another Man's," and maybe he thought this applied to drinking vessels too. And maybe that was his joke. Or Gilchrist's.
Above are some “typical” 18thcentury wine glasses. They do look a bit fussy, and of course you do get a lot more in a tumbler, such as these, decorated with Blake's Great Red Dragon.