William Blake (1757-1857) shared with other Romantic poets the belief that nature embodied truths more profound than the rational mind could apprehend, and that humanity's willful dissociation of itself from nature was the cause of most of the world's ills. But Blake embraced an exaltedly visionary view of the world and a mythic form of expression unique to himself. He also sought a means of rendering his works in a print form that might rival the dynamic, organic interplay of text, decoration, and illustration found in the best medieval illuminated manuscripts.
Blake's two "prophetic" books arrived in the New York Public Library's Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature in 1941, as part of the Owen D. Young Collection, one of the two most extensive collections of English and American literary manuscripts and printed books formed during the first half of the twentieth century. The other great collection belonged to W. T. H. Howe, which Albert Berg had bought some months earlier.