William Blake’s “The School Boy”: British Romantic Views on Childhood and Education
William Blake, both an author and an illustrator, lived from 1757-1827. He created "illuminated books" -- hand printed works combining image and text. Dover published two volumes of Blake’s poems, entitled Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794); Blake’s poem, “The School Boy” is in both. This presents a conundrum, as the volumes are polar opposites of one another. Blake’s reasoning for moving “The School Boy” to his later work, Songs of Experience when he finally published the combined version of Songs of Innocence and of Experience lies at the heart of his developing philosophy. By analyzing the verbal elements of the poem, and the illustration that accompanies it, “The School Boy” may seem to fit in both volumes in that the illustrations, colors, and overall tone of the poem are light but the message of the poem covers darker subject matter, such as a child’s loss of innocence and the flaws of children’s schools in 18th century England. Blake did not have much of a formal education, but if he had problems with the authoritarian education of his day, we can imagine he would have trouble with our own formal system of education – and that is why the poem is finally assigned to the very dark volume of Experience. Blake and other Romantics believed children should have a childhood. It is easy to see why the British Romanticism movement valued childhood so much, as the environment for children in 18th century England was toxic.