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Title: William Blake - The Man
Author: Gardner, Charles
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: THE BURIAL OF MOSES.




  "The men that were with me saw not the vision"




This book is an attempt to trace the mental and spiritual growth of
William Blake as disclosed in his works. After meditating on these for
some years an image of the man has risen in my mind. This I have tried to
present with the aid of such biographical details as are to be found in
Gilchrist's _Life_. My warm thanks are due to Mr and Mrs Sydney Morse for
permission to reproduce their beautiful _Prayer of the Infant Jesus_, and
_The Burial of Moses_. The photographs were taken by Mr Albert Hester.
Also I must thank Mr J. M. Dent for the two designs from an original and
invaluable _Job_ series in his possession. The rest of the illustrations
are from the Print Room of the British Museum.

C. G.



  TITLE-PAGE                                               3

  DEDICATION                                               5

  PREFACE                                                  7

  CONTENTS                                                 9

  ILLUSTRATIONS                                           10


     I. CHILDHOOD AND APPRENTICESHIP                      11

    II. COMING OF AGE AND MARRIAGE                        21

   III. THE BLUE-STOCKINGS                                26

    IV. EARLY MARRIED LIFE AND EARLY WORK                 37


    VI. THE REBELS                                        81

   VII. ACTION AND REACTION                              102

  VIII. WILLIAM HAYLEY                                   114

    IX. THE BIG PROPHETIC BOOKS                          131


    XI. THE SUPREME VISION                               165

   XII. DECLINING YEARS AND DEATH                        169

  XIII. EPILOGUE                                         189

  INDEX                                                  195


  THE BURIAL OF MOSES                         _Frontispiece_

                                                 FACING PAGE

  GLAD DAY                                                24

  LAVATER                                                 50

  THE ANCIENT OF DAYS                                    100

  URIZEN IN CHAINS                                       106

  LOS                                                    108

  MIRTH AND HER COMPANIONS                               124

  ALBION                                                 144

  THE PRAYER OF THE INFANT JESUS                         166

  JOB SERIES, DESIGN V                                   182

  JOB SERIES, DESIGN XIV                                 184

  FROM DANTE SERIES                                      186




William Blake was born on November 28th, 1757, at 28 Broad Street, Carnaby
Market, Golden Square.

To-day a large house stands in Broad Street numbered 28, to which is
attached a blue disk announcing that William Blake, Poet and Artist, was
born there. The house looks old and shabby, and may well have stood a
hundred years; but on inquiry one finds that it is a recent erection, and
that of Blake's actual house not one stone has been left upon another. One
walks through Broad Street and its neighbouring streets hoping to see at
least one group of buildings as Blake saw them. But all has changed, and
except for a block of houses on one side of Golden Square, there is
nothing to remind one of the sharp transitions that a few years can
effect. Even the sounds have changed. From the doors and windows of Number
28 is heard day and night the whir of machinery ceaselessly at work to
supply the inhabitants of Pall Mall and St James's with electric light.
Carnaby Market has vanished, and its glowing colours have reappeared in
Berwick Street, where fruits are displayed on public stalls, and where
from time to time titled ladies are known to explore in search of a pair
of boots, or some other indispensable article of clothing. Great ugly
buildings--a brewery, an infirmary given up during the war to Belgian
refugees, warehouses--afflict the eye at every turn; and through the open
windows of the upper stories the social regenerator may detect the
countless bent backs and expert fingers of tailor hands turning out
perfect equipments for noblemen all over the country who come to Regent
Street, Maddox Street, and Conduit Street to be measured and fitted and

In Blake's day the transitions in Broad Street were more clearly defined.
It had been a fashionable quarter, and still retained a vivid memory of
its past glory. The new buildings were shops of a good solid kind, which
struck the eye like vivid green paint as they sprang up side by side with
the older private houses that time had softened and mellowed.

Blake's father was a hosier. His name was James, he was married to
Catherine, and they had five children, William being the second. James was
a dissenter, but, like so many dissenters, he liked such important
functions as baptism, marriage, and burial to be performed by the Church
of England, that there might be no mistake about them. Accordingly,
William was taken on December 11th, when he was a fortnight old, to be
christened at St James's Church in a Grinling Gibbons font, the highly
ornate character of which was fortunately not observed by the tender
recipient of baptismal grace.

William was a solitary, imaginative boy. His imagination was first
stimulated and nourished by town. His father's home, in sharp contrast
with the older houses in the neighbourhood, made him perceive that there
was a meaning Past as well as a so-far unmeaning Present: and the moment
his imagination escaped into the past it tended to abstraction, but knew
no bounds.

Very soon in his solitary walks he found his way into the country,
emerging from London on the south side and exploring as far as Peckham
Rye, Dulwich, Streatham, and Sydenham. His first glimpse of the country
was to him as our first trip abroad to us. The trees, the hills, the grass
and the cattle spoke obliquely to an imagination that already had a bias.
He loved them--with discretion. To him London was older than the country.
Nature has a way of disguising her great age in an ever renewed youthful
present. London's present drives one to the past. Nature bewitches her
children and will not allow them to transcend her. A great city with its
pulsing life carries the exuberant spirit in its mighty rhythm, and yet
drives it back to the ancient primeval sources concealed in the eternal
kingdom of the imagination. Wordsworth, Nature's lover, soothes and lulls
our restlessness and pain, but fails to carry us into the promised land.
Blake, the inspired citizen, pierces with his sword through Nature, and
will not rest until in England's green and pleasant land he has built
Jerusalem, wherein we may feast as comrades and be satisfied with the wine
of eternity.

Little William Blake was not like other children, or he might have romped
with his three brothers, John, James, and Robert, and his sister,
Catherine. But from the first he was peculiar, sensitive, and liable to
visions. His first recorded vision was in Peckham Rye. There he saw a tree
filled with angels. He was neither startled nor surprised. It seemed
entirely natural, and, childlike, he told his vision to his parents when
he reached home. Visions were not in his father's line of business. In the
dark days of popish supremacy there had been idle monks who thrashed and
starved themselves till they saw visions. Even the reformed Church of
England knew better than that, and a dissenter of the eighteenth century
who spent his spare hours from the shop in reading knew precisely what
were the things from which he dissented. He must nip William's visions in
the bud, and he would thrash him. Happily, Mrs. Blake stepped between. It
was a jarring shock to an over-sensitive child that a heavy penalty
awaited the mention of visions. He continued to see them, but he kept them
to himself. His brothers and sister were like his father. Robert, who in
after years would have understood, was in the middle of his teething, and
it did not yet appear what he would be. Hence all things worked together
to separate William from his family and to thrust him into the world of

At this time--he was about nine years old--he became a devourer of books.
His mental bias was sufficiently strong to draw to him the books that
would nourish him. Percy's _Reliques_, which was sure to be among his
father's books, was entirely congenial to him, as later to little Walter
Scott. Also Shakespeare and some of the Elizabethans, of whom Ben Jonson
was certainly one, were absorbed into his being. Spencer's _Faery Queen_
and later poets of his own time--Rowley, Thomson, Chatterton--were his
daily companions: and above all he adored with passionate idolatry the
then famous _Ossian_ of Macpherson.

Swinburne has expressed astonishment that the child Blake could admire
such "lank and lamentable counterfeits of the poetical style" as
Macpherson supplied to an undiscerning generation. We must remember that
in spite of the Highland Society, then meeting in London, Blake had no
easy access to the times of Fingal and Ossian, such as we have to-day.
There was something in his genius which made him crave for the society of
the Celtic heroes and gods. If Macpherson's poetic stream was muddy,
Blake's thirst was too consuming to allow of criticism. What is
disconcerting is that the mature Blake should retain his admiration of
Macpherson and bracket him with the greatest poets of any age. We can only
say that what we have loved with our whole heart in childhood, and has
entered for better or worse into the very tissue of our being, we cannot
criticize; and simple, trustful Blake to the end of his days would have
reckoned himself guilty of impious disloyalty if he had admitted even to
himself that there were spots in his sun.

Blake's reading had effected an invaluable service for him--it peopled his
world of imagination. There was terror in his first approach on the
threshold, a terror never forgotten and often reproduced in his designs.
But when he was pushed beyond the threshold and its covering shadow, he
gradually grew accustomed to the changed lights, and he began to discern
its forms and its outlines and its colours. These in their turn reacted on
the outer world until he saw it not as a hard unsurpassable fact, but a
mirror of the inner things which in reality were the substance, the form,
and the foundation. Henceforth he valued the forms and outlines of things
because they were a sign and pledge to him of the inner resplendent City
which was not only built on an eternal foundation but was actually the
home of his spirit. As soon as he apprehended the significance of outline
he developed an ardent desire to draw.

This impulse was quickly observed by his father and encouraged by him.
William was sent to learn drawing from a Mr Pars, who kept a
drawing-school in the Strand. Here he copied plaster casts and odd-and-end
plaster bits of the human body, the body itself being left severely alone.
A certain amount of technical facility was thus acquired, but his
education in art advanced more surely from his desultory wanderings in
sale-rooms and in the private galleries of munificent noblemen. At the
sale-rooms he bought prints often for a few pence, and his little store of
prints was added to by gifts from his father, who also presented him with
models of the Gladiator, Hercules, Venus of Medici. In this way he gained
his first enthusiastic knowledge of Raphael, Michael Angelo, Martin
Hemskerck, Albert Dürer and Julio Romano, who were exactly the right
teachers for him. Michael Angelo and the Florentine School believed that
drawing was the foundation of all great art. Albert Dürer and his great
German successors were of the same opinion. William Blake, the little
citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, had known the horror of indefiniteness,
and worked through his apprenticeship to joy only when he discovered that
the blessed City stood four-square, and was bounded by great walls on its
four sides. Hence his selection of prints was instinctive. He knew without
being told what helped him to find himself, and he escaped once for all,
while still a child, the seductive elegance of his own age.

These were happy years. His mind was already stored with unfashionable
knowledge, gleaned chiefly from the robust Elizabethan age, and his
spirit, like a mirror, reflected the things he saw with his spiritual eye.
His happiness was creative, and he burst into song when he was only eleven
in strains that savoured of Ben Jonson, but were wholly fresh and
captivating because they were inspired by the first fresh vision of his
childhood. There is surely nothing in any language written by a boy of
eleven to touch the song: _How sweet I roam'd from field to field_. It is
a sudden spring of sparkling water that can never lose its purity.

Blake remained four years with Pars, and then his father, willing that his
son should become an artist, apprenticed him in 1771 to Basire in Great
Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields.

We who stand far apart from Blake's day can see that this was the best
thing that could have happened. Had his father been a rich man, able to
pay a heavy premium that his son might be taught by one of the popular
engravers of the day, we should have had the distressing picture of Blake
moulded different and moulded wrong by a Woollett, a Bartolozzi, or an
Angelica Kaufmann, and his whole soul in rebellious and ineffectual
protest. As it was, Basire was master of the technical part of his craft,
he believed in accurate, definite outline, and not being a man of genius,
did not think it necessary that his pupils should turn out servile copies
of himself. Blake learnt to handle his tools, to lay a good foundation,
and technical proficiency. In after years, when engraving was to be a
chief means of expressing his own original vision, he was saved from the
painful necessity of having to unlearn much or all of his master's

After two quiet years with Basire a providential thing happened. Two more
apprentices were taken on by him. These were wholly products of the time,
and Blake found himself in violent collision with them in aims, methods,
and tastes. To keep the peace, Blake was separated from them and sent to
draw in Westminster Abbey.

Gothic architecture was as intoxicating a revelation to Blake as the
discovery of Michael Angelo and Albert Dürer in the sale-rooms of Christie
and Langford. The Chapel of Edward the Confessor, recently piled up with
sand-bags to protect it from the desecration of German bombs, became to
Blake a little sanctuary. Here his thoughts travelled without fatigue many
hundred years back, and the dim background of the Chapel became a fit
setting for his bright visions of the past. He copied with silent
intensity the monuments of the Confessor, Henry III, Queen Elinor,
Philippa, and the beautiful work of Aymer de Valence. These days were
decisive for his lifetime. Gothic architecture was germane to his own
soul. Its spirit sank inwards and appeared again and again in the
architectural fragments of his own designs. There remained for him one
more great formative heritage from the past, and then, with his roots well
set, he was to reach forward to the future and prophesy in rhythmic words
that are meat and drink to us in the twentieth century.

Blake remained with Basire for seven years. During these years he had
glimpses of a world different from the one in which his family moved.
Oliver Goldsmith, with his fine head, came as a shining messenger, and
actually walked into Basire's. Oh! that he might grow up to have such a
head! Woollett was a visitor, and a sufficiently frequent one to cease to
be dazzling even to an overtrustful and enthusiastic apprentice. "One of
the most ignorant fellows I ever met," he wrote of him who never at any
time could have been congenial to his spirit. Many others appeared there
also--silently marked and measured in a way that would have astonished
them had they been worthy to know.

Blake's time was not wholly spent in copying the works of others. In his
spare hours he threw off songs and designs of his own. These latter were
sometimes partly copies of a much-loved master. Thus, _Joseph of Arimathea
among the Rocks of Albion_ was suggested by Michael Angelo's Crucifixion
of St Peter in the Vatican, and the figure of Joseph is a copy.[1] Blake
himself had written "engraved by W. Blake, 1773, from an old Italian
Drawing"; "Michael Angelo, Pinxit." But already there is more of Blake in
this design than of his master. He wrote between the lines, "This is one
of the Gothic Artists who built the Cathedrals in what we call the Dark
Ages, wandering about in sheep-skins and goat-skins; of whom the World was
not worthy. Such were the Christians in all ages." From which we may
gather that Blake was fully conscious that his being a Christian--and his
Art was inseparable from his Christianity--had already consigned him to a
solitary life in which he might expect persecutions, but certainly not a

Blake's apprenticeship with Basire came to a peaceful end in 1778, when he
was twenty-one years old. He was now a man, peering forward into a dim and
cloudy future, looking backward on a childhood of clearest visions that
were already passing, and as it was, according to all precedent, had
overstayed their time. One thing was entirely clear--he must earn his own
living. Another thing he was conscious of was that he was slowly and
surely leaving the past behind. Yet so far, seated amidst the ruins of the
Old World, he knew not whither his religious aspirations would lead him.
He had fine memories, he had religious and art instincts that refused to
be separated, he was finding himself daily in opposition to the admired
religionists and artists of his time, and he felt within the strength of
immense passion which would surely drive him to the building of the
heavenly Jerusalem if he could but get his vision clear again, and know
the path which God had before marked out for him to walk in. His vision
was to clear after many years. Meanwhile there were tempests and storms to
be endured that would reduce still more effectually to wreckage the last
remains of the Old World. That World had spoken with dignity and power
through the lips of Dr Johnson, who was himself breaking up and died in
1784. With the death of Johnson the Old World died, to reappear only in a
kind of after-mirage; and young Blake was struggling through the
tempestuous years of his passionate youth, turning with pain his eyes from
the Past to the Future, and wistfully hoping that the mighty creative
power that was already astir in him might fashion a new order in which he
and his fellows could live at peace.



The Royal Academy is a British Institution which we all patronize once a
year, and then abuse that we may keep our self-respect. We go, impelled by
a sense of high duty; but we presently relax and take our pleasure in Bond
Street. In 1778 Bond Street did not lay itself out to encourage
revolutionary artists, and Burlington House was not yet finished. The
Royal Academy was turned out of Somerset Palace and was still waiting to
turn into its new quarters.

Blake, on leaving Basire, immediately joined the Academy and studied in
the Antique School under Mr Moser. This was not an auspicious beginning.
Moser had scant respect for Michael Angelo and Raphael, while he extolled
to the skies the more fleshly works of Le Brun and Rubens. Some of us may
wish that Moser had taught Blake to admire Rubens. But an angel from
Heaven could not have done that. Clear outline was a necessity to keep him
sane; blurred outline always gave him nightmare. Only the mystic who loves
the flesh can rejoice in the roly-poly curves and tints of Rubens' fat
Venuses. Moser did his best, and being an old man of seventy-three, felt
he might advise a young man in his art studies. But Blake had now known
for some years what he really liked, and his impetuosity led him to speak
to Moser as if their positions were reversed.

Blake drew at the Academy not only from the antique but from living
models. This was distasteful to him, because it was never his aim to
reproduce exact portraits of outward things. Always his imagination must
pierce through and illumine the object before him, and he found the posed
model baffled him in this attempt, and made him scent death rather than

These were crowded days for Blake. He could not continue to live under his
father's roof in Broad Street without contributing towards the household
expenses, and therefore he must do work of marketable value. To this end
he received orders for engraving from Johnson and other booksellers. It
was drudging work, and Blake was not without his full share of drudgery.
To engrave after Stothard was to set a lion to speak in a monstrous little
voice. But Stothard had his uses for Blake. Through a fellow-engraver
Blake was introduced to Stothard, who, still young, was making a guinea a
piece for his contributions to the _Novelist's Magazine_. Broad Street was
in the thick of the Artists and Royal Academicians. Once Blake had pierced
the magic circle and could meet them on equal terms, instead of merely
watching their exits and their entrances through the doors of Broad
Street, Poland Street, and Golden Square, they might prove of value to
him, not by teaching him to paint as they painted, but by helping him to
get customers for his own productions. Stothard had lately made the
acquaintance of Flaxman, who had sought him out, and he introduced Blake
to Flaxman, who in 1781 took a house at 27 Wardour Street and became
Blake's close friend and neighbour.

At this time, in 1780, Blake threw off one of his very own magnificent
designs known as _Morning, or Glad Day_. It is the real Blake with only
one foot on earth, his head in a flood of light, and the symbols of his
grub state--caterpillar and moth--at his feet. The rays of the light are
darting north and south and east and west. Blake had weary years before
him to work out his salvation to Glad Day. This design makes it certain
that he already had had his glimpse of the end, and we shall find that he
was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.

London was not without its excitements. Lord George Gordon headed the
No-Popery Riots in 1780, and through the unruly violence of the mob,
London was in a panic for a week. Lord George was arrested and imprisoned
in the Tower, where he was visited by the ubiquitous John Wesley, who
found him well instructed in the Bible and not disposed to complain.

It is impossible to trace accurately what books Blake read at this time.
It is evident that he observed Wesley and Whitefield and admired much that
he saw in them. But his own religious genius was far removed from theirs,
and sought nourishment elsewhere. It is probable that he read Boehme,
Paracelsus, Fludd, Madame Guyon, and St Theresa in his spare hours.

But there were other imperious needs surging up in him. The creative
passion of love was driving him hither and thither. With his tendency to
view all things in the light of eternity, he was passionately in love with
the eternal feminine, into which any pair of bright eyes would serve as
windows. The particular pair of eyes that captivated him belonged to "a
lively little girl" called Polly Wood, with whom he kept company for a
while. Polly's conversation was probably no more suitable as a permanent
entertainment to Blake than that of a modern flapper. Fortunately, she
understood little affairs of the heart much better than he did, not taking
them more seriously than they deserved; and when she saw symptoms of
tremendously earnest love-making threatening to engulf her, she quickly
shook him off with a sharp stroke, "Are you a fool?" and left him feeling
very lacerated and sorry for himself.

Blake had not long to wait for another manifestation of the eternal
feminine. Recovering from an illness at Kew, where he was staying at the
house of a market-gardener named Boucher, he told his grief to the
gardener's daughter Catherine, who declared that she pitied him from the
heart. There was the authentic voice of the eternal feminine. "Do you pity
me?" he gasped. "Yes! I do most sincerely" the voice continued. "Then I
love you!" and his fate was sealed. William Blake and Catherine Boucher
were married quietly at St Mary's Church, Battersea, on August 18th, 1782,
and the happy pair, leaving their parental nests, made their first little
home together in lodgings at 23 Green Street, Leicester Fields.

Blake's worldly goods with all of which he endowed his bride were not
plentiful. A portfolio of prints which had been growing in bulk during
fifteen years was his darling treasure. Money he had none. But he had
immense capacity for sustained application and work. His engravings made
small but sure returns, and for the last four years he had turned his
attention to water-colour, and in 1780 had even exhibited in the Royal
Academy. And he was making friends. Friend Flaxman lived near in Wardour
Street, friend Fuseli in Broad Street. Stothard was kind. A young man with
sanguine temperament like Blake might expect anything to turn up.

His wife brought no gold with her; but she brought a faithful maternal
heart, unlimited faith in her husband, a teachable spirit, and a
willingness to turn her hand to all that was necessary to make and keep a
little home for the man-child of her heart. She had made her mark in
the marriage register of St Mary's Church. A woman with such endowments,
unspoilt by education, was virgin soil that would yield whatever her
husband willed. It was no long time before she learnt of him to write,
draw, and engrave, all of which acquirements she placed in perfect loyalty
at his disposal.

[Illustration: GLAD DAY.]

We have seen that Blake's circle of acquaintances widened much from the
day he became a student at the Royal Academy. But artists are not
necessarily in Society, and if one can believe what everyone says they are
apt to be bohemian. Now that Blake was a married man, he could not be
indifferent to the grades of the social ladder; and when Flaxman
introduced him to the elegant and cultured Mrs Mathew at 27 Rathbone
Place, he not only had hopes of a useful patron for himself, but also that
the accomplished lady might be a kind friend to his wife. She had been
truly kind to Flaxman for many years, and it is reasonable to suppose that
while benefiting him she had herself benefited by his pure classicism and
romanticism combined. Thus equipped, she needed only to extend her
sympathies towards mysticism, and then she might include even Blake
himself among her good works. But she and her sister Blue-stockings
deserve a chapter to themselves.



Posterity is spiteful towards those who do not make good their claim to
immortality; and for a long time the Blue-stockings have been the butt of
the superior modern. Yet they were remarkable women, and by their dash to
capture for themselves some of the treasures of man's learning they helped
to open up a new way for the modern woman.

We can dispense no doubt with Mrs Montagu's _Essay_, in which she defends
Shakespeare against the rash onslaught of Voltaire. We may even forget her
three _Dialogues of the Dead_, although Mrs Modish speaks with the genuine
accent of the polite world: "Indeed, Mr Mercury, I cannot have the
pleasure of waiting upon you now, I am engaged, absolutely engaged."
(There was a fourth Dialogue returned to her by Lord Lyttelton in which
Cleopatra tells Berenice only what every woman knows.) But we cannot forgo
without loss to ourselves her letters to the Duchess of Portland and many
other friends, which are lively, witty, and entertaining, and second in
her time only to those of that prince of letter-writers, Horace Walpole.

Mrs Montagu's friends did their best to turn her head. Mrs Carter writes
to her of "the elegant brilliancy of my dearest Mrs Montagu," and not
content with prose as a medium of praise, sends her an ode which leads up
by a strong crescendo to these two verses:

  "O blest with ev'ry talent, ev'ry Grace
  Which native Fire, or happy Art supplies,
  How short a Period, how confined a Space,
  Must bound thy shining Course below the Skies!

  For wider Glories, for immortal Fame,
  Were all those talents, all those Graces given:
  And may thy life pursue that noblest aim,
  The final plaudit of approving Heav'n."

Mrs Carter thought that Dr Johnson's preface to Shakespeare was "very
defective," and she adds to Mrs Montagu, certain that her Latin will be
understood without the aid of a dictionary: "Res integra tibi reservatur."
Elsewhere she writes: "you, who have proved yourself the most accurate and
judicious of all his commentators." This opinion was shared by the entire
circle of Blue-stockings, and even outside that charmed circle the
Reverend Montagu Pennington, nephew of Mrs Carter and godson of Mrs
Montagu, felt that she was guilty of something like mortal sin in omitting
to defend the British Public against the pernicious influence of Lord
Chesterfield's _Letters to his Son_.

Mrs Carter, loaded with languages, and much addicted to snuff and green
tea, was scarcely inferior to Mrs Montagu. She was modest and almost
apologetic for her much learning. She and the rest of the heady sisterhood
were not without misgivings that in pursuing man's studies they might
become manly, and therefore they never ceased to express in season and out
of season pious female sentiments. Indeed, Mrs Carter protested against
being thought of as a walking tripod, and was what used to be called "a
sweet woman." Thus she writes of "the infernal composition of deadly weeds
made up by Voltaire." _Candide_ was "so horrid in all respects." _Werther_
she detested. She is relieved to hear that Pascal is "very respectable,"
for she considered him "a dangerous author to all kinds of readers."
Rousseau "quite sunk her spirits." Of course her spirits were liable to
the same shock during her extensive readings among the ancients, and,
indeed, she said that Quintilian's impiety was "quite shocking"; but very
justly she considered that they were to be excused because they had not
the light of revelation, while Voltaire and Rousseau were sinning against
that light.

Mrs Carter and Mrs Montagu fully agreed in their admiration for Mrs Vesey,
whom they familiarly called "our Sylph." Hannah More in her _Bas Bleu_
seems to reckon her the first of the Blues, and specially commends her for
the skill she displayed in breaking the formidable circle that Mrs
Montagu's guests were forced to make. Her lively Irish nature was
refreshing to Mrs Carter, her head full and aching after a strenuous
tussle with Aristotle's _Ethics_. She wrote to Mrs Montagu: "As little of
the turbulent as there is in her (our Sylph's) composition, the uproar of
a mighty sea is as much adapted to the sublime of her imagination, as the
soft murmurs of a gliding stream to the gentleness of her temper."

The conversaziones of the Blue-stockings were as successful as might be.
There was always a difficulty in procuring men. Dr Johnson could be baited
from time to time. Horace Walpole, driven by curiosity, appeared and
disappeared. At Mrs Ord's, 35 Queen Anne Street, where Fanny Burney met
"everything delectable in the Blue way," one catches a glimpse of Mr
Smelt, Captain Phillips, Dr Burney, Lord Mulgrave, Sir Lucas Pepys, and
the Bishop of London. The kindness and patronage of Lord Bath and Lord
Lyttelton could always be relied upon. Yet there was no full and easy
interchange of ideas with men. The time had not yet come. In France it had
been accomplished by the ladies who were willing to step beyond the bounds
of strict propriety, but the pious English Blues were the last to wish to
follow the example of their French sisters. And so their best chance of
getting a man was to catch one young and struggling whom they might
patronize and be kind to.

In this way all the luck fell to Mrs Mathew, of 27 Rathbone Place. If Mrs
Montagu had the advantage of a rich and indulgent husband, Mrs Mathew
excelled all in the respectability of hers. The Reverend Henry Mathew was
incumbent of Percy Chapel, Charlotte Street, and afternoon preacher at St
Martin's-in-the-Fields. The latter church alone is sufficient to make a
man's reputation; but Mr Mathew had already made his both by his piety and
his taste.

No one has such opportunities as one of the priesthood for discovering
promising young men. Mr Mathew's first find was little Flaxman struggling
with a Latin book. Learning the nature of the book, he promised him a
better and invited him to his house. Mrs Mathew herself was well read in
Latin and Greek, and here was a boy of genius thrown into her very lap.
Rising to the great occasion, she taught him, read to him while he
sketched, and by her treatment of him alone made more than amends for
being a Blue.

When Flaxman was full grown he did all in his power to show his gratitude.
Mrs Mathew was desirous to turn her back parlour into a Gothic chamber.
Here was an opportunity. Flaxman modelled little figures of sand and
putty and placed them in niches. Another protégé, Oram, son of old Oram
and Loutherbourg's assistant, painted the windows, and between them they
made the book-cases, tables, and chairs to match. With such a room, Mrs
Mathew might ask whom she would and not be ashamed. To her tea parties
came Mrs Montagu, Mrs Carter when staying in Clarges Street, Mrs Barbauld,
Mrs Chapone, Mrs Brooke, and many others.

Blake and Flaxman first met in 1780 and soon became friends. Flaxman, by
native bent and Mrs Mathew's teaching, was steeped in Greek. By this time
he had shown himself wonderful alike in his designs and sculptures, and
already held a high place in what has been called the Second Renaissance.

Blake was a romantic rather than a Greek, but as a later Greek, Goethe,
has assured us that there is no antagonism between a true romantic and a
true Greek, it is not surprising that the two men found a deep
congeniality of spirit. There was an even deeper fellowship, which became
explicit later on when both concurred in admiring Swedenborg.

Flaxman, generously anxious that his friend should get on, introduced him,
in 1782, to Mr and Mrs Mathew, who asked him and Mrs Blake to their
evenings. And so at last we see rebel Blake and his illiterate wife in the
midst of a charmed circle of Blues who were mistresses of everything that
was learned, cultured, elegant, decorous, and _du bon ton_.

Our first glimpse of Blake in Society we owe to John Thomas Smith, Keeper
of the Prints at the British Museum and frequent visitor at Mrs Mathew's.
He says in his _Book for a Rainy Day_: "At Mrs Mathew's most agreeable
conversaziones I first met the late William Blake, the artist, to whom she
and Mr Flaxman had been truly kind. There I have often heard him read and
sing several of his poems. He was listened to by the company with profound
silence, and allowed by most of the visitors to possess original and
extraordinary merit."

That is a pleasant picture. Would that we had been there! But as time went
on several things became clear to Blake and likewise to the company, only
their interpretation of the situation differed. Mrs Blake proved a
touchstone to the other ladies. They of course could see at once that she
was not a lady, but that they must be kind to her. She, not having read
Mrs Chapone on the improvement of the mind or practised the elegancies,
was quite unable to imitate their manners and catch their tone. She was
throughout a simple, direct, noble woman set down in the midst of an
artificial society, and she was made to suffer accordingly. These things
sank deep into Blake, to reappear again as poems in his _Ideas of Good and
Evil_. Many times he himself felt the same discomfort both at Mrs Mathew's
and later at Mr Hayley's. The words he puts into Mary's (Catherine's) lips
he speaks in his own person in lines that he afterwards addressed to

  "Oh, why was I born with a different face?
  Why was I not born like this envious race?
  Why did Heaven adorn me with bountiful hand,
  And then set me down in an envious land?"

Still Blake was "allowed by most of the visitors to possess original and
extraordinary merit." The songs he sang were inspired by his reading of
the Elizabethans, whom the Blues could appreciate. The _Poetical Sketches_
came within the purview of professed admirers of Ben Jonson and Spenser;
and therefore Mrs Mathew could genuinely agree with Flaxman that it was
worth helping Blake to get them published. The _Poetical Sketches_ were
gathered together and printed at the expense of Flaxman and the Mathews,
Mr Mathew himself writing an apologetic _Advertisement_ which would save
his skin and lack of discernment if the pieces were unapproved by the
great Public. Since it is short, I will quote it entire:

"The following sketches were the production of untutored youth, commenced
in his twelfth, and occasionally resumed by the author till his twentieth
year; since which time, his talents having been wholly directed to the
attainment of excellence in his profession, he has been deprived of the
leisure requisite to such a revisal of these sheets as might have rendered
them less unfit to meet the public eye. Conscious of the irregularities
and defects to be found in almost every page, his friends have still
believed that they possessed a poetical originality, which merited some
respite from oblivion. These their opinions remain, however, to be now
reproved or confirmed by a less partial public."

It was hardly want of leisure that had prevented Blake from polishing his
verses. Mr Mathew had argued with him on the necessity, and he had proved
tiresomely obstinate, and, what is worse, remained of the same opinion
eight years afterwards when he wrote in _The Marriage of Heaven and Hell_:
"Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement
are roads of Genius."

Mr Mathew was but one of those Bunglers that "can never see perfection,
but in the journeyman's labour." However, he saved his name for his
generation and lost it for posterity.

Blake's _Poetical Sketches_ were printed but not published. The copies
were handed over to him to give or sell, but they brought him neither fame
nor money.

It is long since anyone doubted the worth of the _Poetical Sketches_. The
twentieth century wholly endorses the glowing and just criticism that
Swinburne wrote fifty years ago. It must have startled the stolid bookish
people of the 'sixties to be told that the best of Blake's _Poetical
Sketches_--_To Spring_, _To Memory_, _To the Muses_, _To the Evening
Star_--were comparable to the world's best in any age. Swinburne
frequently exaggerated in his excitement; but here was no exaggeration,
and the poems which were once thought by a partial friend "to merit some
respite from oblivion" are now reckoned among the chief pearls of great
price in England's rich treasury of Songs.

There remains little more for the critic to say, but the biographer turns
to these _Sketches_ for any intimation of Blake's spiritual and mental

We must not be misled by the "scent and sound of Elizabethan times" that
is upon them. It is of course interesting to the literary mind to discover
Ben Jonson in _How sweet I roamed_, Beaumont and Fletcher in _My Silks and
fine Array_, Webster in the _Mad Song_, and Shakespeare in _King Edward
the Third_; but these intimations of kinship are only such as are found in
original geniuses of the same age. That which gives life and immortality
and irresistible sweetness to the songs is Blake's own child-spirit seeing
with wide-eyed simplicity the simple commonplace things of this world that
God made, and that are to the pure in heart the immediate revelation of
Him. If in fashioning into Song the things that he saw Blake refuses the
artifice of his time and catches the scent and sound of a more robust age,
yet the prime inspiration was entirely his own; and we can only wonder
that such inspiration should have come to him while still a mere boy.

The other pieces in the collection, though of much less importance, have
their interest. _Fair Elinor_ with the "silent tower," the "castle gate,"
the "dreary vaults," and "sickly smells," like Horace Walpole's
_Mysterious Mother_ and _Castle of Otranto_, is not of the time but
anticipatory of the romantic horrors that Mrs Radcliffe was to make
entirely her own. _Gwen King of Norway_ and _King Edward the Third_ are
remarkable for their martial language. This was no accident. Blake was a
born fighter. The heroic side of War stirred his spirit, even though

  "The God of War is drunk with blood;
  The Earth doth faint and fail:
  The stench of blood makes sick the Heav'ns;
  Ghosts glut the throat of Hell!"

His feeling for England recalls old John of Gaunt's speech:

  "Lord Percy cannot mean that we should suffer
  This disgrace: if so, we are not sovereigns
  Of the sea--our right, that Heaven gave
  To England, when at the birth of nature
  She was seated in the deep; the Ocean ceas'd
  His mighty roar, and fawning play'd around
  Her snowy feet, and own'd his awful Queen."

Grim War is a means to glorious liberty:

  "Then let the clarion of War begin;
  I'll fight and weep, 'tis in my country's cause;
  I'll weep and shout for glorious liberty.
  Grim War shall laugh and shout, decked in tears,
  And blood shall flow like streams across the meadows,
  That murmur down their pebbly channels, and
  Spend their sweet lives to do their country service:
  Then shall England's verdure shoot, her fields shall smile,
  Her ships shall sing across the foaming sea,
  Her mariners shall use the flute and viol,
  And rattling guns, and black and dreary war,
  Shall be no more."

Later on the War spirit in him, without diminishing, underwent a change.
It is still England's green and pleasant fields that he loves, and he
still longs for glorious liberty. This shall be effected by the building
of Jerusalem. But as the root of the evil is in man, the weapons of his
warfare become spiritual. Casting aside the rattling guns, he shouts:

  "Bring me my bow of burning gold,
  Bring me my arrows of desire;
  Bring me my spear; O clouds unfold!
  Bring me my chariot of fire!

  I will not cease from mental fight
  Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
  Till we have built Jerusalem
  In England's green and pleasant land."

For War breeds hate and every evil thing. Until we arouse ourselves and
fight like warriors the evil that is in ourselves, there can be no
glorious liberty, whether for England or any other nation of the world.

The _Poetical Sketches_ were a failure. Mrs Mathew had generously tried to
help, but her influence was not wide.

A magnificent opportunity had come to the Blue-stockings, and to Mrs
Montagu in particular, who with all her money and wide influence, which
she was always ready to use for her needy friends, might have helped quite
incalculably when Blake most needed it, and earned our undying gratitude.
Yet we must be just and not blame them for their lost opportunity. Their
significance lies in the fact that they objected to being perfect dunces
like the rest of their English sisters, and so they made a bold dash to
understand the things that men understand. They were not the first learned
women the world had seen. The ladies of the Italian Renaissance could have
given them points all round. Their work was that of restoration and not
revolution, and that was more than sufficient to occupy their thoughts and
energies without their peering into the new world that was at work in
Blake. When whiffs of the new spirit blew on them from Voltaire, Rousseau,
Goethe, and Hume, they were chilled and shocked, and thanked Heaven that
in Dr Johnson there was a champion who knew all about the new and stoutly
maintained the old. That was sufficient for them. Unfortunately they lived
at a time when Society was more than usually artificial and woman
suppressed, and the odd contrast between them and their sisters made them
appear to men somewhat as monsters, like singing mice or performing pigs.
The charge of being a Blue-stocking must always brand with a stigma, but
happily now that women are establishing their right to meet men on an
equality, the charge need never be made again.



We saw that William and Catherine Blake after their marriage settled at 23
Green Street, Leicester Fields. This was in 1782. Here they remained for
two years, learning, not without pain, to adjust themselves to each other.
Mrs Blake's love was maternal and whole-hearted. Hers was not a nature to
question why love should involve the accepting of immeasurable cares. The
cares came one by one and not always singly, and she meekly and bravely
accepted them, contented to live her life in her husband's life, and happy
when she perceived that she could smooth his path and shelter him from
rough blasts.

Blake at this time was an extraordinarily difficult man to live with. He
was by turns vehement, passionate, wildly self-assertive and submissive to
others far inferior to himself. His visions were less bright than they had
been, and his mind was choked with theories about the elemental things of
life that every woman understands by instinct. He was conscious of his own
genius and of the shortcomings of his successful contemporaries. His
rampant egotism sowed his consciousness with resentments that poisoned his
blood and bred bitterness. He made frantic efforts to grasp the liberty he
had seen from afar, but he only succeeded in confounding liberty with
licence, and peremptorily demanding the latter with his wife in a way that
was bound to give her pain. I will not attempt to lift further the veil
of their early married life. We have no right to pry. Mr Ellis has
constructed this period as far as is possible from the poems of Blake, and
to his _Real Blake_ I must refer the curious reader; but for my own part I
am content to note the signs of trouble in the various poems and not to
probe deeper into the secret things which no right-minded person can ever
wish to be proclaimed on the house-top. Suffice it to say that Mrs Blake's
self-forgetful love won the day, and when the early storms had passed, and
the adjustments been made, they were united by a bond which, untouched by
the fickleness of the flesh, could defy all shocks and changes because it
was founded on the enduring reality of the spirit.

In the early years of married life Blake continued with his wife's company
the long walks which had been an early habit. Nothing could have been
better for him. Walking till he was tired, rhythmic swing of his arms,
unchecked sweating, did more than all else to cleanse his whole being and
to cause that uprise of the spirit which was eventually to bring unity and
peace to his chaotic and divided self.

His marriage had disturbed another elemental relationship of life. His
father disapproved of it, and this led to an estrangement. We must admit
that the father had not acquitted himself badly of his paternal duties. It
is true he had foolishly wished to thrash him for reporting his visions,
believing that the boy lied; but he had helped him to be an artist, and
had never really opposed him when a boy. No one can reasonably demand more
of a father. Nature has no superstitions about parent birds when their
young have left the home nest. Gratitude and reverence to parents is still
a beautiful thing, and would doubtless be given spontaneously to them if
they could learn not to interfere when their children have grown up.

It has often been affirmed that the old man was a student of Swedenborg.
If so, there had been at once a bond of sympathy between father and son.
But the truth is that he had not read much of Swedenborg for the simple
reason that he died four years before any theological work of importance
by Swedenborg was translated into English. Everything shows that the
father could not understand the son, who must have appeared to him
eccentric, headlong, and obstinate. When William heard on July 4th, 1784,
of his father's death, he paid all due respect to his memory, but he was
not moved by any violent grief.

We do not suppose that Mr Blake made his fortune by hosiery, but he left a
little money which was divided among the sons. James took on the business
and the mother lived with him. William, assisted by Mrs Mathew (if we may
trust the testimony of J. T. Smith), took the house Number 27, next door
to his brother, and there he opened a print shop in partnership with
Parker, who had been a fellow-pupil at Basire's. Robert, who was teething
when we last saw him, was now grown up and proved understanding and
sympathetic of William's visionary point of view. It was agreed that
Robert should live with William at Number 27 and become his apprentice.

Once more Blake was all mixed up with his immediate kith and kin. When one
remembers that he had no illusions about fathers and saw clearly that the
father of one's flesh might be the enemy of one's spirit, it seems
incredible that he should have planted himself and his wife next door to a
brother who was, he knew, an enemy to his spirit, and to a mother who
would hardly approve of the young wife, and who would not be behindhand
with her advice; but Blake was not strong in common sense, nor could he
keep his neck out of a noose until it had first nearly strangled him.

Robert was a comfort to him, but he can only have added to Mrs Blake's
cares. For at this time William was passionately devoted to Robert, and
his feeling to his wife had not yet quite resolved itself into that
enduring comradeship which was to be his priceless treasure to the end of
his days. The oft-repeated tale of Mrs Blake's obedience when her husband
said peremptorily: "Kneel down and beg Robert's pardon directly, or you
will never see my face again," throws a searchlight on the whole
situation. One sees William's peril and Catherine's care, and how her
self-forgetful love was the one thing that could bring these discordant
elements into a lasting harmony.

This arrangement lasted for two and a half years, when Robert fell
desperately ill. William nursed him tenderly, and during the last
fortnight sat with him day and night. At the end he saw Robert's soul rise
from his body, clapping its hands for joy as it ascended to its perfect
life of liberty. Then William, tired out, went to sleep, and did not wake
up till after three days and three nights.

The print shop was not successful. Blake lacked the necessary business
quality, and the failure was aggravated by disagreements with Parker. The
partnership was dissolved, Parker going his own way, and engraving chiefly
after Stothard, and Blake closing the shop and retiring with his wife to
the other end of Poland Street, which joins Broad Street with Oxford
Street. There at Number 28 (now pulled down and replaced) the two, having
lost everything, set about in a nearer fellowship to retrieve their
fortunes and face the unknown future with as much courage as might be.

Here it is necessary to review briefly Blake's works in engraving and
design. We have seen that his instinct when a boy led him directly to the
Masters of the Past who could guide him best until he came to himself. The
greatest of these were Michael Angelo and Albert Dürer. He did not at
first study these demigods and then adopt their principles. He formulated
his principles from his immediate experience of Reality, and then rejoiced
to find that the men he worshipped produced splendid examples of his
principles. First among these was the value of outline. His spiritual eye
being opened at a very early age, it was always self-evident to him that
the outer world was a vegetable mirror of the inner, and corresponded with
it even in the minutest details. If he saw in the outer colour and form,
he immediately looked at the inner for the reality of both; and to his
inexpressible joy he not only found what he sought, but also that they so
far transcended the outer things that he who saw only the outer could have
only the dimmest idea of the wondrous beauty and glory of the archetypes.
Hence, with his eye on the eternal outline, he declared consistently all
his life that the essence of a body is in its form, and that no man can be
a great artist who does not build up his art on the foundation of good
drawing. Oil as a medium blurred the outline, and therefore he preferred
to work in water-colour. But engraving even better than water-colour,
enabled him to apply his principle. It was simply incredible to him that
any engraver could undervalue drawing. If engraving lost drawing, it lost
all character and expression, and therefore his indignation was aroused
with the Woolletts and Bartolozzis, who in this respect were mortal
sinners. We can see that such a principle was a necessity for Blake with
his peculiar mind, and was even a safeguard to its sanity; but we have a
perfect right to observe that whatever obscures the outlines of things, as
twilight, also removes the barriers that hinder our approach to the
unseen, and therefore we may enunciate another principle, that one
property of a body is its contribution to atmosphere, with its power to
evoke our subjective selves. Holding this as a correlative to Blake's
axiom, we can do full justice not only to Michael Angelo, Albert Dürer,
Raphael, and Blake, but also to Titian, Rubens, and Rembrandt, whom Blake
despised. Unfortunately, Blake held to his principle so rigidly that it
was apt to lead him into false admirations. We have seen how unduly he
admired Macpherson, and here we have to note further that whomsoever of
his contemporaries drew the human figure correctly he immediately extolled
to the skies, and always with oblique reference of disdain to others whom
we have come to think were intrinsically better artists. Hence he admired
Mortimer, whom we just remember as the illustrator of Fanny Burney's
_Evelina_, whose substantial immortality gives him vicarious and ghostly
existence. He also admired Hamilton. In the violent alternations of his
mood we have seen how submissive and meek he could be. In such a mood he
allowed Mortimer and Hamilton to influence him to such a degree that he
actually distrusted the genius in himself which could inspire _Glad Day_,
and produced such lifeless imitations of Mortimer's historical style as
the _Penance of Jane Shore_ (1778), _King Edward and Queen Elinor_ (1780),
and _Earl Godwin_ (1780).

Blake's deferences were not always thus unfortunate. He appreciated
Hogarth for his intrinsic value at a time when respectable people
patronized him for pictured moralities. We cannot imagine a greater
contrast than Blake the frugal seer and Hogarth "the typical carnivorous
Englishman." Outline was their meeting-ground. Hogarth saw, we may say
detected, in the scenes that marked the progresses of the Rake and the
Harlot, a full pulsing life and an unexpected beauty. When he would
express what he saw, with a mighty stretch he shook off all foreign
influences and set about to express himself naturally and in his own way.
His hand appropriated to its use the power of the line, more particularly
the vitality of the curved line, with the amazing result that the moment
we forget his "moralities," we see in him an exuberant artist of the
beautiful. Blake was wholly with him in all this. We rejoice for the
seeing eye that Blake and Hogarth cast on the shady side of life, but our
wonder and amazement pass into worship when we perceive that this was
included in the vision of Him who was called in derision the Friend of
Publicans and Sinners, but was contented to speak of Himself as the Son of

Blake affirmed that Hogarth's execution could not be copied or improved.
He borrowed from his _Satan, Sin and Death at Hell's Gate_, which is
hardly one of Hogarth's masterpieces, for a water-colour of the same
subject, and he engraved, after Hogarth, _When my Hero in Court Appears_
in the Beggar's Opera (1790).

Blake produced two water-colours in 1784 which show that his thoughts on
war were already undergoing a change. These are _War unchained by an
Angel--Fire, Pestilence and Famine following_, and _A Breach in a
City--the Morning after a Battle_.

Blake had been watching closely the course of affairs on the other side of
the Atlantic. While men's minds were becoming more and more inflamed with
the thought of war, he was criticizing it with the searching rays of his
spiritual vision and finding himself compelled to revise his ideas, which
he had taken without question from Shakespeare, and had expressed in the
_Poetical Sketches_. Then, in spite of seas of blood, he glorified war;
now, as he began to consider the abominations that it lets loose on
overburdened mankind--Fire, Pestilence and Famine--he included it in the
abominations as a thing altogether useless and despicable. He felt a
peculiar joy when peace was this year signed with the North American

During these years (1773-84) Blake accomplished an immense amount of
engraving, chiefly after Stothard. These engravings must come as a
surprise to those who only know his own sublime designs, that reveal
might, power, terror, and immense energy, and not the softer things that
we associate with grace. It is sufficient to mention those plates that
Blake engraved after Stothard in Ritson's _English Songs_ to show that he,
like Michael Angelo and Milton, could do not only the works that call for
massive power, but also the graceful and lovely things that can be done by
genius not quite so rare. But I must leave the consideration of Blake's
relation, personal and artistic, to Stothard to a later chapter, when I
come to speak about the _Canterbury Pilgrims_.

Blake's songs, poems, and designs came to birth side by side. Where the
engravings were not after his own designs, but after other artists, he
knew exactly what to do with them. But sooner or later, as his own
productions of wedded poem and design grew under his hands, the anxious
question of publication arose, and by this time it was perplexingly clear
to him that his spiritual productions were not for every taste, and that
it would be difficult to find anyone who would run the risk of being his
publisher. His _Poetical Sketches_ were printed, though not published,
through the kindness of Mrs Mathew, but there was no likelihood that any
of the Blue-stockings would be kind in a helpful way to him again.

While pondering this difficulty day and night, and increasingly urged by
poverty, his brother Robert came to him and directed him what he was to
do. He told him to write his poems and designs on copper with an
ineffaceable liquid, and with aquafortis to eat away the remainder of the
plate until the writing and designs were left in clear relief. Then he
might take as many copies as he liked, and just touch them up by hand.

According to Gilchrist, Mr and Mrs Blake possessed just half-a-crown, with
which Mrs Blake went out and bought the necessary materials, returning
with eightpence change in her pocket. At once they set to work, the wife
proving an apt pupil, and thus, with the exception of _The French
Revolution_, Blake engraved and published his own creations, experiencing
the rare joy of being at once both the creator and the handicraftsman of
his works.

Robert visited William continually to the end of his life, bringing him
consolation and encouragement during times of anxiety and stress.

These supernatural happenings in the life of Blake read as simply and
naturally as the beautiful stories of St Francis converting brother Wolf
or receiving the sacred stigmata. There was nothing of the modern
spiritualist's paraphernalia--no medium, no trance, no tappings. Blake was
born with his inner spiritual eye open, his outer bodily eye, contrary to
general custom, proving sluggish. Hence he was able to keep a natural
simplicity amidst things which are too apt to stir only the thaumaturgic
appetite of other people.



Blake's manifold nature lacked, so far, a co-ordinating principle. From
his earliest years religion had been a reality to him, and so had art,
music, literature, but not one of these was so dominant over the rest as
to make them subservient. Each lived its separate life and was likely to
continue to do so, unless his religion could become forceful and definite
enough to penetrate the others and bind them into a higher unity.

His religion had been fed by vision. His visions came to him so naturally
that it never occurred to him that others might regard them as symptoms of
abnormality or insanity. The thrashing that his father gave him when he
told at home what he had seen at Peckham Rye was a memorable occasion,
like conversion to some people, only it opened his outer eye and not his

The visions made several things clear to his understanding. He early
distinguished between inner and outer vision, supernatural and natural
religion. Religion was never a matter of opinion, always of experience.
Christ's language was also his own, "We speak that we do know, and testify
that we have seen." He felt the same mild surprise at hearing religion
denied as he would at the denial of the sun by a blind man. But the reason
of such blindness was also quite clear to him. Spiritual things are
spiritually discerned. The spiritual man sought no other evidence than
that of his spiritual discernment. If the natural man were ever to arrive
at spiritual vision, it must be by a new birth of the Spirit. Thus Blake
knew from the beginning the inward meaning of Christ's words to Nicodemus,
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see
the Kingdom of Heaven.... That which is born of the flesh is flesh, that
which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Blake was never in danger at any
time in his life of becoming enmeshed in natural religion. His escape was
more instinctive if less effectual than that of his philosophical
contemporary who sought to combat his difficulties by working out an
elaborate analogy between natural and revealed religion.

The man who knows by experience what it is to be born again knows also how
clamorous the new life within is for nourishment. Blake was driven to the
mystics for food. We know by his repeated references in his long poems
that St Theresa, Madame Guyon, Paracelsus and Jacob Boehme fed his
supersensual life. But besides appealing to the past, he looked around to
listen to what his contemporaries had to say to him. It is evident that he
would listen only to those who were as clear as himself on the experience
of the new birth.

It is not surprising that the high church divines of the eighteenth
century had little to say for him. They were more eager to show to the
leaders of the enthusiastic methodist party that regeneration took place
in Holy Baptism than to make sure that they had exhausted its meaning in
their experience. Their views might be extremely correct; but anything
more dull and uninspiring than their sermons and collected works could
hardly be found. Blake had no need to examine them particularly, for the
best high churchman of the time was Dr Johnson, and he already had his eye
on him.

Dr Johnson to the end was a particular kind of grand schoolmaster. He
believed in the Christian revelation fervently, and he believed, also with
fervour, in the rod, in Latin, in scholarship, and in the drastic
repression of the young. He who declared that he would never disgrace the
walls of the Abbey by writing for it an epitaph in English, could hardly
have seen anything worth his notice in the ignorant Blake and his still
more ignorant wife; and Blake in his turn, unnoticed and unknown, living a
severely abstemious life, was too apt to ruminate on Johnson's gluttony
and pension, and to conclude that the latter was a reward for barren

It is as well that Johnson and Blake never met. Neither could have worked
through his prejudices. They lived in a different world, and moved from a
different centre. Johnson viewed the wreckage of the Old World, and then
with undaunted courage and indomitable will set himself to build out of
the wreckage a covering for himself and his friends. Blake, conscious that
dawn was stirring on the wreckage of the dark night, was straining his
vision to catch the outline of the new emerging world. Johnson's was a
superb mind working within too narrow bounds. Blake's was so far the
promise of an unimagined type. We who look backward over the lapse of a
hundred years can reverence both men, but it is Blake who is the more
inspiring and fruitful.

One other high church divine, William Law, Blake should have read, but
strangely makes no mention of. Law's _Serious Call to a Devout and Holy
Life_ and his _Christian Perfection_ were more likely to appeal to Johnson
than to Blake, but the later books, _The Spirit of Prayer_ and _The Spirit
of Love_, written after he had come under the influence of Boehme, while
estranging him from Johnson and Wesley, might have brought him and Blake
face to face. Both books are more beautiful than anything written by
Wesley, Whitefield, or Swedenborg. Perhaps, as Blake already had read
something of Boehme, he found that Law had nothing to add to his

There is ample evidence that Blake turned his full attention on to Wesley,
Whitefield, and Hervey, and watched them with sympathy. These men were
proclaiming everywhere the need of being born again. No one met Blake so
definitely on what he had always seen clearly, with large, childlike
vision. When Samuel Foote, representative of a thousand others, carelessly
threw the epithet "hypocrite" at Whitefield's head, Blake was indignant,
and accurately designated the actor as the hypocrite. With perfect justice
he pointed out that if Whitefield confessed his sins before all the world,
and never pretended to be free from the passions that burn in other men,
he was certainly an honest and sincere man. To pounce on a Christian who
inadvertently falls, and call him a hypocrite, is as usual now as in
Blake's day, but it comes with astonishing gracelessness from the lips of
those who have spent their youthful passions in wanton waste, and, wearied
and bored, are bidding for a respectable middle age.

Whitefield had pungent things to say to respectable moralists. He had no
milder term than "filthy rags" for their dull moralities. If he sought to
cover his nakedness with the garment of Christ's righteousness, Blake,
while using a different phrase, perfectly understood him and sympathized.
But then came the divergence. Whitefield's doctrine of the new birth was
inextricably bound up with crude doctrines of Christ's substitutionary
death and imputed righteousness, and Blake, who had experienced the new
birth quite apart from faith in these particular Calvinist dogmas, felt no
need to cling to what his instinctive feeling rejected; and, what with
him was final, he found that Whitefield not only left his æsthetic
faculties starved, but actually believed that as the arts came from Tubal
and Tubal-cain, and they were descended from Cain, who had been cursed,
they must necessarily have their origin from hell.

Hervey carried Blake as far as Whitefield, and no farther. Some years
later, when Blake had diverged widely from Whitefield and Hervey, he still
remembered them with tenderness and affection; and placing them with
Fénelon, Madame Guyon, St Theresa (an odd assortment!), saw them at Los'
South Gate, "with all the gentle souls who guide the great Wine-press of

Blake found that he could keep company with Wesley for a longer time.
Wesley had no rigid Calvinism, and he was not content unless imputed
righteousness should pass by a second blessing into imparted holiness.
Here also Blake's language was wholly different from Wesley's, but the
thing he arrived at--the unification of all his powers under the
inspiration and creative force of his imagination--led him along a path
very like that trodden by Wesley and his methodists as they pressed
towards the goal of entire sanctification. It is important to go behind
words to things, but it is equally important to come back to a form of
sound words. The methodists have been imprisoned by their wordy formulæ,
while Blake by his vision of the things behind words not only preserved
his freedom, but also, by freeing his imagination, was enabled to create
beautiful rhythmic words which invoke instead of imprison.


_Engraved by Blake._]

Among his contemporaries Blake discovered a deeper kinship with Lavater
than with any of these. Whitefield and Wesley had succeeded in reviving
in themselves the first glow and enthusiasm of protestantism. Lavater is
once removed from his zealous protestant forefathers, and the things that
they had repressed were making their reappearance in him. Among these was
the feeling for the beautiful, which, as he welcomed and nourished it,
deepened his sympathies and enlarged his outlook. What he lost in fiery
zeal he gained in geniality. He had a constant perception of the truth
that outward things are an index to inner conditions and correspond with
them. This prompted him to observe the faces of his fellow-creatures and
to attempt a system of physiognomy. His instinctive reading of faces was
often astonishingly correct; but his makeshift system has no value. More
to the point are his aphorisms, which were read and annotated by Blake,
and these are sufficient both to reveal Lavater and bring certain lasting
convictions of Blake's into a clear light. I will take a few of the more

_Sin and destruction of order are the same._

Blake comments: "A golden sentence." He had felt for many years that all
repression was futile. What is repressed comes out again in the wrong
place. The last state of the repressed man is worse than his first. Blake
was not yet quite clear about what was the alternative to repression, but
he was sure that sin was disorder. How he resolved the disorder we shall
see later on.

_As the interest of man, so his God. As his God, so he._

Blake: "All gold."

He preferred the word "will" to "interest." "Will" is identical with
Swedenborg's "affection" and Boehme's "desire." No one has worked out the
correspondence of the "heart" with the "will" so effectually as
Swedenborg. Blake knew that to discover the will was to discover the man.
A man can change only as he changes the object of his will. When his will
is towards God, his powers fall into order and he becomes a saint.

_The greatest of characters no doubt would be he who, free of all trifling
accidental helps, could see objects through one grand immutable medium
always at hand and proof against illusion and time, reflecting every
object in its true shape and colour, through all the fluctuation of

Blake: "This was Christ."

He knew both as an artist and a mystic that the appearance of objects is
according to the state of the beholder. This is true of the objects not
only of the outer world but also of the inner, and therefore only the
witness of a perfect man is trustworthy. The visions of all others must be
corrected by the vision of the Christ.

_Who has witnessed one free and unrestrained act of yours has witnessed

Underlined by Blake.

Strained action was an abhorrence to Blake. Only those acts are beautiful
that are impulsive, and they are they that reveal the man.

_Between the best and the worst there are, you say, innumerable
degrees--and you are right. But admit that I am right too in saying that
the best and the worst differ only in one thing--in the object of their

Blake: "Would to God that every one would consider this."

It was considered and maintained by Swedenborg, Boehme, Fénelon, and
constantly by St Catherine of Siena, who to the "God is Love" of St John
added "Man is love also."

_Keep him at least three paces distant who hates bread, music, and the
laugh of a child._

Blake: "The best in the book."

_He who adores an impersonal God has none, and without guide or rudder
launches on an immense abyss that first absorbs his powers and next

Blake: "Most superlatively beautiful, and most affectionately holy and
pure. Would to God that all men would consider it."

His faith in a personal God was his lifelong inspiration in religion and
art. This must guard him against the charge of pantheism made against him
by the Swedenborgian Garth Wilkinson and our fleshly poet Swinburne. Yet
he never thought out his position clear of pantheism. Swedenborg
worshipped a personal God and regarded man and nature as emanations from
God removed by varying degrees. But no matter how many degrees, continuous
or discrete, one removes ultimates from God, yet if they are essentially
emanations from Him, they must be of the same substance, and this is
pantheism. Catholic theology has grappled far more effectually with this
ancient difficulty than either Swedenborg or Blake.

_All abstraction is temporary folly._

Blake: "I once thought otherwise, but now I know it is truth." Let those
who confound mysticism with abstraction note this.

Blake perceived in Lavater the innocence of a child, and loved him
accordingly; but he had already surpassed him, and thus was able to
criticize him with true discernment. He said that Lavater made "everything
originate in its accident." But a man's sins are accidents and not a part
of his real nature. They are a denial of his real man, and therefore are
negative. Hence he says: "Vice is a great negation. Every man's leading
propensity ought to be called his leading Virtue and his good Angel." This
last sentence contains Nietzsche. Every positive act is virtue. Murder,
theft, backbiting, undermining, circumventing, are vicious because they
are not positive acts, but prevent them in the perpetrator and the victim.
He put his finger on Lavater's other mistake, which was also shared by his
contemporaries. "They suppose that Woman's Love is Sin. In consequence,
all the loves and graces, with them, are sins." Blake not only here
outstrips his contemporaries, but at a leap reaches what are the
conclusions of the twentieth century. In the nineteenth, men and women
racked their brains over the irreconcilable dualism of art and religion,
and they chose one or the other, with baneful results. Blake reconciled
the two when he saw that the new man in us, unveiled by regeneration,
worked by direct vision (religion), and that the new man's prime quality
was imagination (art). Once he grasped this, the problem ceased for him.

Here we get at the reason why Lavater has ever failed to keep his lovers.
Moses Mendelssohn, disciplined in the severe scholastic methods of
Maimonides, easily vanquished him in religious controversy; but men who
were less directly concerned with his religion, like Goethe, began by
exaggerating his qualities and ended by quietly dropping him. It is clear
to us that Lavater could keep our allegiance only if he had taken a big
step forward in the same direction as Blake. This was impossible, and so
we find ourselves obliged to follow Goethe's example.

Swedenborg's influence was the greatest and most lasting on Blake's mind.

It is not clear when Blake first took to reading Swedenborg. There is no
trace of his influence until _The Songs of Innocence and Experience_. Some
of Swedenborg's early scientific works had been translated into English.
But of his theological works only one volume out of twelve of the _Arcana
Celestia_ was published in English; and, for the rest, those who could not
read Latin had to be content with samples. Since Swedenborg bulked so
largely in Blake's life, it is necessary to give here some details of his
mental and spiritual development.

Swedenborg's father was a Lutheran Bishop. Thus the son, in his most
impressionable years, was thrown among Lutherans, who maintained a
strenuous protest against the errors of the papacy, and fed or starved
their souls with dreary doctrines of justification by faith only, imputed
righteousness, and other forensic privileges that came to them through the
substitutionary death and merits of Christ. In all these dogmas the young
Swedenborg was well drilled. But his first bent was in quite another
direction. While still a boy he manifested a scientific mind of immense
energy and curiosity that peered searchingly into all the sciences of his
time, and won for himself a wonderful knowledge of anatomy, astronomy,
mathematics, mechanics, chemistry, mineralogy, and led him to make
interesting experiments in invention, such as water-clocks and flying
machines. He wrote many books on these subjects, the best known of which
in England is _The Animal Kingdom_. Here his interest is greatly stirred
by things physical and psychological, and he is fired with the ambition to
unite the two. Not, however, till he was fifty-four did his first interest
pass over to the things of the soul. When this transition took place, he
peered with the same intense scrutiny into supersensual things, and
brought to bear on them a mind formed and informed by science and
scientific methods.

He took up the Lutheran tenets precisely where he had left them, but, no
longer a child, he was forced to criticize what he had once felt, and he
set himself to rationalize Lutheran theology and such elements of catholic
theology as had survived through Luther. In this he was not always so
successful as he imagined. His doctrine of the Trinity, that Jesus Christ
is the One God and that the Trinity is in Him, gets over an arithmetical
difficulty, but finally leaves the imagination baffled, trying to make out
how Jesus carried on the government of the universe while He lay a
helpless infant in the manger or His mother's arms. His reaction against
all outside views of Christ's death, imputed righteousness, and faith
only, was more successful, but not new, since in this the quakers in
England and Jacob Boehme were before him. Nor was his contention that love
was the supreme good new to those who had read through the New Testament.
His doctrine of uses was merely a theological variation of that
utilitarianism which is inseparable from rationalism, and which casts over
everything a drab veil that only the artist can remove. He is really at
his best when he expatiates on love and wisdom. Love corresponds with the
heart, wisdom with the lungs. As the heart sends the blood to the lungs,
where it is purified by the oxygen, so love feeds the understanding, and
is in turn purified by it. Swedenborg's perception of wisdom begotten of
love inspired his best passages and gave them their authentic import.

Swedenborg gazed inwards so intently that after an initial period of
unrest, terrors, and nightmares his inner eye opened, and he saw into the
realities of the inner world. For the moment I take his word for it, and
will question later on. His open eye saw into heaven and hell, gazed into
the faces of angels and of God, and his opened ear heard the angels
speaking things he could understand and utter. At once he rationalized. He
stripped even the celestial angels of all mystery as well as of garments,
and traced them back to an earthly pedigree. Angels are men, and when they
talk they are no more interesting than the elders of a Lutheran
congregation. God also is a man--not, be it observed, the Man of a crude
anthropomorphism, but infinite, omnipotent Man, from Whom each man,
created in His image (will) and likeness (understanding), draws his real
manhood. He carried this doctrine into his rationalized version of the
Incarnation. Christ assumed human nature in the womb of the Virgin, and by
His conquering life put it off, replacing it by the Divine Humanity. The
last phrase has accomplished yeasty work in modern religious thought. How
many are aware of its origin?

Swedenborg throws out many suggestive remarks about hell. Certainly it was
high time that it was looked into, for the protestant hell was as horrible
and revolting as the catholic. He began by lifting himself out of space
and time. He was soon brought by necessity to perceive that when these no
longer exist, then all appearances depend upon a man's state, and
therefore state governs the perceptions whether of the angels in heaven or
the devils in hell. Hell, like heaven, is peopled entirely from earth. No
one goes there but by his own choice, and he chooses because he finds
there exactly what is congenial to his own condition. Swedenborg
eliminated anything arbitrary in man's destiny. Fitness decides by an
inexorable law that God could evade only by ceasing to be God.
Swedenborg's hell is a filthy and insanitary place, but the filthy
inhabitants are no more disturbed by that than rats in a sewer. He
further declared that heaven and hell were born together, and that they
are contraries necessary to each other's existence. Blake underlined and
commented on this in his copy of the _Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine
Love_. How the suggestion worked in him we shall see later on.

Swedenborg's hell is filthy and his heaven dull. There are further
surprises when we through his mediumship glimpse their inhabitants. The
angels, of course, are all sound Swedenborgians, and are attractive or
repellent according to Swedenborg's attraction or repulsion for us. But
the devils, not being Swedenborgians, can command an audience of the
majority of Christians who agree with them in their non-allegiance. What
Blake discovered in them was a wonderful energy and exuberance which made
them not only more attractive than the angels, but also, except for the
stenches, might almost have transformed their hell into heaven.

By this time Swedenborg had explored many kingdoms--mineral, vegetable,
animal, human, divine, hellish; and his knowledge of the kingdoms informed
him of universal correspondences, the law of which came to him thus
freshly from his own observation. It was probably this which made him
assert so often that he was announcing something new, for with his culture
he must have known that Paracelsus had perceived the same law like
hundreds before him, and that Boehme wrote a treatise on the _Signatures_
of all things.

Perhaps Swedenborg's most fruitful apprehension was that of the Divine
Influx. All creatures live as they receive out of the Divine fullness.
They have no inherent or self-existent life of their own. The Lord alone
is self-existent, and they live by a derived life. This happens to be
catholic theology too, and it kept Swedenborg away from a misty pantheism.
Men and angels live, move, and have their being in God. They are immersed
in an ocean of life and light which pours forth from the Lord of the
Universe. The moment they feel their need and are humble enough to turn to
the Lord they become receptive. Filled with the spirit of life and light,
they love and understand, and remain full so long as they humbly abide in
Him. Perhaps no modern has grasped this truth so completely as Swedenborg.
It almost made him a mystic. Almost, yet not quite, for his fundamental
desire was to bring all the mysteries of the faith down to the level of
man's understanding. He eschewed a faith that rested on what could not be
understood. He did not see that in tearing away veil after veil he turned
heaven along with earth into a laboratory. The true mystic loves to know
that all things, including his faith, run up into mystery; and if an angel
succeeded in laying bare the last mystery, the mystic would find himself
in hell.

Swedenborg attempted to bring reason and order into things spiritual, and
he believed that he had succeeded; but what really happened was that he
confounded the workings of his own subliminal mind with the action of the
Lord's, and in 1775, when he had effected reason and order in the
intermediate world of spirits to his own satisfaction, he declared that
the last judgment had taken place, that the New Jerusalem had descended
down out of Heaven, and that he was the divinely appointed prophet of the
New Church.

He was not long publishing the doctrine of the New Church concerning the
Sacred Scriptures. He knew as well as any modern critic what are the
difficulties in the way of accepting the doctrine of verbal inspiration,
yet he affirmed it. There is a further difficulty that we feel more
acutely than he in the protestant dogma "the Bible and the Bible only."
If we are cut off from memory or tradition, and are obliged to form our
image of the historical Jesus from the Bible only, it is next to
impossible to make that image shine forth with clear, sharp outlines. The
difficulty is still further increased when protestantism, pushed to its
logical extreme, eliminates the supernatural element, and tries to piece
together the character of Jesus from the fragments that remain.

The Bible imperiously demands a theory that shall make its heterogeneous
contents cohere. The four evangelists presuppose a knowledge of Jesus that
they aim at making more perfect. These are difficulties that protestantism
was destined to feel acutely from the day it proudly rejected tradition.
No doubt, if Providence had so intended, the portrait of Jesus would have
been drawn so completely that without the aid of memory we could have
gained a knowledge of Him such as we have of no other man that ever lived.
But the fact remains that Jesus wrote no book and no letters, and He
founded nothing but a handful of illiterate disciples to preach His gospel
and perpetuate His memory. These were so confident that Israel would
repent and believe the Gospel, and so make possible the immediate return
of their Lord, that they never thought of taking to their pens; and it was
only when they grew alarmed at the increasing thinness of the apostolic
ranks that they committed their memories to wise scribes or to parchment.
Thus we owe the Gospel accounts not to the express commands of Jesus, but
to the first bitter disappointment of the apostolic band.

The simple truth, of course, is that the New Testament Scriptures cannot
be understood apart from the Catholic Faith that gave them birth, and
therefore when the faith is not confessed a theory must be found to take
its place.

The history of higher criticism is the history of a succession of
theories. Dr Paulus, forgotten father of German critics, supplied a
rational one, for which he was obliged to make a super-historical use of
the Essenes. It has reappeared in George Moore's _Brook Kerith_.

Renan, pantheist, artist and sceptic, tried to supply a subjective
artistic explanation which soothed the subject, but turned the Object into
a Frenchman. Strauss, Keim and Bousset, learned and painstaking, with
hardly less success made Him into a dreamy cosmopolitan German of a now
obsolete type. Schweitzer, better informed of the apocalyptic and
eschatological medium through which the mind of Jesus worked, comes nearer
to the apostolic mind that drew the picture of Jesus, yet, for want of the
key, portrays Jesus as the tragic victim of the illusory time-spirit.

Swedenborg never gave any serious consideration to the catholic theory,
but supplied its place out of the store of his supersensual revelations.
Loaded with these, and with a vague memory of the gnostic teaching of the
threefold meaning of the Scriptures, he was able to evade every literal
difficulty by turning to the spiritual meaning, and if need be to the
celestial, which could be reached only through his own specific
revelation. It is true that he tried to bring a steadying factor into his
subjective interpretation by introducing his doctrine of correspondences;
but as he has never been able to convince any but his elect followers that
his correspondences, beyond some obvious ones, are other than arbitrary,
he has succeeded only in making his commentaries on Genesis, Exodus, and
the Apocalypse unreadable to the vast majority of Christians.

I have said enough about Swedenborg to make it clear that there was some
affinity between him and Blake.

Blake's imperfect knowledge of him was much deepened in 1788, when he read
his _Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine Love and concerning the Divine
Wisdom_. This he marked and annotated, and so we are able to trace the
affinity in considerable detail.

On the whole Blake gives almost passionate approval to _The Angelic
Wisdom_. Only in rare instances does he differ. Swedenborg's doctrine of
state made explicit what Blake had vaguely perceived all his life. It also
helped him to formulate a theoretic explanation of his own supersensual
vision. This is so important that I must quote an entire paragraph from
_The Angelic Wisdom_, for the sake of Blake's comment and the reader's

_There are two things proper to nature,_ SPACE _and_ TIME. _Out of these
man in the natural world forms the ideas of his thought and therefore his
understanding. If he remains in these ideas and does not raise his mind
above them he is nowise able to perceive anything spiritual and Divine,
for he involves them in ideas which derive from space and time; and in
proportion as he does this, the light--the lumen--of his understanding
becomes merely natural. To think from the lumen in reasoning about
spiritual and Divine things, is like thinking from the thick darkness of
night concerning the things which appear only in the light of day. This is
the origin of naturalism. But he who knows how to raise his mind above the
ideas of thought which derive from space and time, passes from thick
darkness into light, and apprehends spiritual and Divine things, and, at
last, sees those things which are in them and from them, and then by
virtue of that light he disperses the thick darkness of the natural lumen,
and relegates its fallacies from the middle to the sides. Every man with
an understanding is able to think, and actually does think, above those
properties of nature; and then he affirms and sees that the Divine, being
omnipresent, is not in space. He is also able to affirm and to see those
things which have been adduced above. But if he denies the Divine
Omnipresence and ascribes all things to nature, then he is not willing to
be elevated, although he is able._

In the above Blake changed the word _middle_ into _centre_, and _sides_
into _circumference_, commenting: "When the fallacies of darkness are in
the circumference they cast a bound about the infinite." In paragraph 70,
Swedenborg adds what is a corollary to the above: _Angels do not
comprehend when we say that the divine fills spaces, for they do not know
what spaces are, but they understand when we say that the divine fills all
things._ On this Blake makes the comment "Excellent."

Since the inhabitants of heaven have no idea of space and time, their
perceptions and modes of thought are entirely governed by their state.
This is true also of the visionary, and it decides what he reports of the
other world. Everyone will easily perceive from this of what paramount
importance his state is in assigning the right value to his visions. As
Swedenborg says: "Spaces and times in spiritual life have relation to
states of love and are mutable with these."

Blake fully approved of Swedenborg's doctrine that the heart and lungs
correspond to the will and understanding. Those who would understand Blake
must remember this while reading the prophetic books.

But there are signs of disagreements that deepened with time.

Swedenborg wrote (237): _Man at birth comes first into the natural degree,
and this increases in him by continuity, according to his various
knowledge ... until he reaches the highest point of the understanding
which is called the rational. But still the second degree, which is the
spiritual, is not opened by this means. This is opened by love towards the
neighbour ... the third degree by love towards the Lord._

With all Blake's devout admiration for Swedenborg this was too much for
him. A child born solely into the natural degree! That! after all Blake
knew, and all Christ had said about little children! Heaven save us all,
especially Swedenborg! Blake's comment is important. Note that even when
he is differing from his teacher, his language is Swedenborgian. He says:

"Study science till you are blind. Study intellectuals until you are cold.
Yet science cannot teach intellect. Much less can intellect teach
affection. How foolish it is then to assert that man is born in only one
degree, when that one degree is receptive of the three degrees: two of
which he must destroy or close up or they will descend. If he closes up
the two superior, then he is not truly in the third but descends out of it
into mere Nature or Hell. Is it not also evident that one degree will not
open the other, and that science will not open intellect, but that they
are discrete and not continuous so as to explain each other, except by
correspondence, which has nothing to do with demonstration, for you cannot
demonstrate one degree by the other, for how can science be brought to
demonstrate intellect without making them continuous and not discrete?"

There are three comments in which Blake introduces an element lacking in
the voluminous writings of Swedenborg. On Swedenborg's statement: "A
spiritual idea does not derive anything from space, but it derives its
all from state," he remarks: "_Poetic_ idea"; on paragraph 10, Blake
comments: "He who loves feels love descend into him, and if he is wise,
may perceive it from the _Poetic Genius_, which is the Lord"; on
Swedenborg's phrase: "The negation of God constitutes hell," he remarks:
"The negation of the _Poetic Genius_."

Here we get a hint of a small seed of difference which when fully grown
was to sever Blake from Swedenborg for ever.

I must give one more, very pregnant, passage from _The Angelic Wisdom_.

68. _Man out of his hereditary evil reacts against God. But if he believes
that all his life is from God, and all good of life from the action of
God, and all evil of life from the reaction of man, then reaction becomes
the offspring of action, and man acts with God as from himself. The
equilibrium of all things is from action and joint reaction, and
everything must be in equilibrium._

The last sentence makes hell an eternal necessity to preserve the
equilibrium of heaven. Strictly it makes also the devil an eternal
counterweight to God, and what else follows we may learn by studying
Zoroastrian dualism. Blake's comment was:

"God and evil are here both good, and the two contraries married."

Blake was early occupied with the marriage of contraries. Swedenborg's
word was a sanguine seed in prepared soil, and when it brought forth fruit
a hundredfold, the rich return was not the logical outcome of Swedenborg's
dualism, but a marriage of heaven and hell, of religion and art, which is
showing a fertile capacity for endless reproduction.

So far, then, Swedenborg's attraction for Blake far exceeded his
repulsion, and he embraced him with impetuous affection. Here was a
teacher who could understand by experience both the new birth and vision.
By his help he disentangled himself from the particular explanation and
theory of the atonement as given by Whitefield and Wesley. Here was a
visionary who could not only understand his own visions, but who could
give a reasonable explanation of the working of the visionary faculty.
Swedenborg brought order, reason, and system into Blake's chaotic mind.
Isolated from the churches, yet ardently desiring fellowship as the
substance of his faith and wisdom, it appeared to him that there was
nothing else to do but join the New Church of Swedenborg, and accordingly,
in 1788, he and Catherine signed their names in token of membership and
assent to the distinctive doctrines of the New Church. The curious may
find this reported in the Minutes of the first Seven Sessions of the
General Conference of the New Church, published by James Speirs, 36
Bloomsbury Street, 1885.

Let us turn to Blake's two poems, _Tiriel_, 1788, and _Thel_, 1789, which
have special interest as they were written about this time that he
subscribed to the Swedenborgian Church and Swedenborg's influence was

Tiriel--old, bald, and blind--is related to Urizen, but Urizen in Blake's
completed mythology is the symbol not only of the law with its prohibitive
commandments, but of the reason formed by the five senses, and therefore
ever ready to stamp out imagination and inspiration, which derive their
source from beyond the senses. Tiriel is the product of the law, and is
the antithesis of love. Swedenborg's natural man was justified and saved
by love, Luther's faith not being sufficient, and so in Blake's Tiriel
there is besides St Paul's law the Lutheran's pharisaism, and just a
suggestion of that contempt for the beautiful which was to make Urizen
such a terrible figure, and was eventually to lead to Blake's estrangement
from Swedenborg.

Tiriel at the hour of his death realized why his paradise was fallen, and
he had found nought but the drear sandy plain. His description of his own
upbringing, shocking as it is, is that of the great bulk of mankind. The
instant a child is born, the dull, blind father stands ready to form the
infant head; and if the child, like Blake, has vision, the father, like Mr
Blake, uses the whip to rouse the sluggish senses to act and to scourge
off all youthful fancies.

  "Then walks the weak infant in sorrow, compelled to number footsteps
  Upon the sand. And when the drone has reached his crawling length,
  Black berries appear that poison all round him. Such was Tiriel
  Compelled to pray repugnant, and to humble the immortal spirit;
  Till I am subtle as a serpent in a paradise,
  Consuming all, both flowers and fruits, insects and warbling birds."

Blake was thinking of his father and his own early whippings. But really
fathers are not absolutely necessary, for the mother, the nurse, the elder
sister, and the public school, can do the job a great deal more
effectually. The other poem, _The Book of Thel_, 1789, is Swedenborgian
throughout. Thel, youngest daughter of the Seraphim, bewails the
transitoriness of life and all beautiful things, herself included. Then
the _humble_ Lily of the Valley, a little Cloud, a Worm, and a Clod of
Clay, all in their respective ways preach to her that "Everything that
lives, lives not alone nor for itself." When she has reached the utter
selflessness of a Clod of Clay, then only will she be able to behold
steadfastly the seeming transitoriness of youth and beautiful things;
seeming, for like the lowly lily they melt to flourish in eternal vales.

Here Blake endorses the Swedenborgian selflessness, and extols the
Swedenborgian lowliness, modesty, and humility. Swedenborg believed in no
doctrine of self-realization. To him the self was always an evil till lost
in the Lord. It was the remains in him of German mysticism. Blake slowly
and surely came to set a high value on the true self. But unlike the more
modern preacher of self-realization, he believed that a man found his real
self only after he had given himself passionately to Jesus the eternal
life and the eternal imagination. Then he was no longer to value the
humility and modesty attached to selflessness. Their place was to be taken
by a new kind of humility and a new kind of modesty of such flaming
quality, that he wished to drop the old names and find others that more
nearly described their sovereign reality.

Thel is finally invited by the matron Clay to enter her house, with the
assurance that she may return. Immediately the terrific Porter of the
Eternal Gates lifted the _northern_ bar.

This is a well-known gate, among Swedenborgians, into the unseen world.
But it is very terrible. According to Garth Wilkinson it was the only gate
that Blake knew, and he accounts by this means for Blake's apotheosis of
the self and the passions. At this time Blake saw through this gate what
Swedenborg saw; but later, when he had shaken him off and changed his
state, his vision changed accordingly, and the objects were stripped of
their horror. He was also to know all the four gates leading into the

Thel, entering, "wandered in the land of clouds through valleys dark,
list'ning dolours and lamentations" till she came even to her own
grave-plot. Through such a gate it matters not whether one views this
world or the other. Both must appear sad and joyless in the extreme, and
enmesh the beholder in blackest pessimism. Thel, hearing a voice wailing
like the ecclesiastic dirge of the disillusioned King, shrieked with
terror, and fled back unhindered into the vales of Har.

_Thel_ is sweet, even heavenly in the Swedenborgian sense. But its
sweetness cloys. Christ, like the Law before Him, made a sparing use of
honey, preferring the more indispensable salt, which He enjoined His
disciples to have in themselves at all times. Blake was to recover
plentiful salt, but not until he had drawn Swedenborg's line between
heaven and hell in a wholly different place.

Swedenborg's influence is pleasantly found at work in the _Songs of
Innocence_. Innocence was a favourite word, and Swedenborg saw the
celestial angels both innocent and naked. There is nothing more innocent
than a lamb, and therefore Blake by a sure instinct and in childlike joy
piped his song about the lamb, satisfying at once his feeling for the
lamb, the child, and the Maker of the lamb who was called the Lamb of God.

The song called _The Divine Image_ shows Swedenborg's influence at its
best. So many men with Blake's mystic proclivities rush into vague
abstractions. To-day we hear of Infinite Love and Infinite Wisdom,
Infinite Life, and all personality denied to God. Yet these are mere
high-sounding abstractions, and are quite meaningless apart from concrete
personality. Swedenborg was clear as day here, and it was he who taught
Blake the pure wisdom contained in his verses:

  "For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
  Is God, our Father dear,
  And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
  Is man, His child and care.

  For Mercy has a human heart,
  Pity a human face,
  And Love, the human form divine,
  And Peace, the human dress."

Swedenborg's teaching continues in _The Songs of Experience_, but with a
question mark.

Blake sings to the Fly:

  "Am not I
  A fly like thee?
  Or art not thou
  A man like me?"

To see humanity in a fly is Swedenborgian; and Blake answered his question
in the affirmative.

In the next song there are many questions; and it cannot be doubted that
Blake's answers would have been the exact contrary to Swedenborg's.

Swedenborg, like his theosophical predecessors, had a way of denying that
God created the particular animals that man finds inconvenient. Tigers,
wolves, rats, bats, and moths are so obnoxious, that it soothes man's
vanity to suppose that they are embodiments of evil exhaled from hell.
They have served as restful homes for vampires and other creations of Old
Night. And so Swedenborg, governed by mental habits of reason and use as
measured by man, drew a sharp line between animals of a heavenly and
hellish origin. When Blake saw the tiger he saw differently. His æsthetic
eye instantly marvelled at its "fearful symmetry," the fire of its eyes,
the sinews of its heart; and he cried, "Did He who made the Lamb make
thee?" He gives no answer. But there was no need. "In what distant _deeps_
or _skies_" the tiger had his origin had no further perplexity for him
once he had married hell to heaven.

_The Little Vagabond_, though hardly within the ken of Swedenborg,
contains what every vagabond knows. Blake was able to rescue vagabonds as
well as tigers from an exclusively hellish origin.

Blake remained an orthodox Swedenborgian for nearly two years, and then
came reaction and rebellion, not without resentment and bitterness. What
was the cause of Blake's permanent repudiation of Swedenborg? Various
reasons are given by Swedenborgians to prove that Blake was wholly in the
wrong. Mr Morris gives a beautifully simple explanation. Quoting Blake's
saying that he had two different states, one in which he liked
Swedenborg's writings and one in which he disliked them, he says, "The
latter was a state of pride in himself, and then they were distasteful to
him, but afterwards he knew that he had not been wise and sane." That is
the way that we all at some time in our life account for the obstinacy of
those who will not worship at our altar.

Mr Garth Wilkinson, who of Swedenborgians most deserves to be heard, wrote
in the preface of his edition of _The Songs of Innocence and Experience_,
1839, that Blake entered the "invisible world through the terrific porter
of its northern gate." Like Shelley, he verged towards pantheism, not a
spiritual pantheism, but a "natural spiritualism" or "ego-theism." His
genius "entered into and inhabited the Egyptian and Asiatic perversions of
an ancient and true religion," and thus "found a home in the ruins of
Ancient and consummated Churches." Wilkinson discovered a great deal of
the ego and of hell in Blake. All of this criticism, which is ingenious, I
cannot accept. To begin with the ego. Swedenborg believed that every man
in his own _proprium_ was consumed with self-love, and that only love to
the Lord could enable him entirely to overcome his love of self. Blake
believed that the real self was made in the image of God, and therefore it
must be loved, reverenced, and obeyed. The recognition of the same divine
principle in others enables one to love one's neighbour as oneself. All
German mystical talk of hatred to self and death to self was repudiated by
Blake as artificial and unreal.

It is true that Blake came nearer to pantheism than Swedenborg did. He had
come, through his teacher, to regard the universe as an emanation from
God, and in working from this doctrine to its logical outcome in pantheism
he was more consistent than Swedenborg, who tried to evade the
consequences of his own theory.

That Blake found a home in an ancient and consummated Church is true only
if Swedenborg's New Church is really the New Jerusalem predicted by St
John! For the rest, we hail with joy the element of "hell" in Blake.

Blake himself makes some short incisive remarks on Swedenborg, which will
carry us a little farther to an understanding. "Swedenborg has not written
one new truth." "He has written all the old falsehoods." Blake had
ardently welcomed Swedenborg as a new teacher with a new message. In these
sentences he betrays disappointment, anger, and resentment. "Any man of
mechanical talents may, from the writings of Paracelsus or Jacob Behmen,
produce ten thousand volumes of equal value with Swedenborg's, and from
those of Dante or Shakespeare an infinite number." If Blake had had a
wider culture, he would have known this when a boy, and blown off his
fumes at the proper season. We shall encounter again and again his lack of
grace when dealing with his successful contemporaries.

We see, so far, that Blake reckoned that Swedenborg had failed him, and
that anything of value he found in him, he could find in the old masters.
But there was something he could find in them--a spirit of beauty and a
beauty of form--that was wholly lacking in Swedenborg, and an energy and
exuberance that appeared only in Swedenborg's hell. That this should be
the net result of Blake's expectations and Swedenborg's pretensions was
too much for Blake's patience; hence the violence of his reaction.

Blake must have felt vaguely all along the lack of the æsthetic faculty in
Swedenborg. It was Swedenborg who helped him finally to understand the
exact value of his visions and thus to place him.

We have seen that Swedenborg, by abstraction from space and time, arrived
at a doctrine of state which takes their place in heaven and hell. From
this it follows that man's vision is wholly dependent on his state, and
also that a man's visions cannot be trusted unless he has a perfect organ
of vision resting on a sound state. It is always fatuous for a religious
teacher to appeal to his visions to enforce his doctrines, since they
depend on the man himself, and we must form our judgment of him apart from
his visions. To appeal to a vision for the truth of a doctrine, and to the
doctrine for the truth of a vision, is merely to whirl oneself round in a
vicious circle; and therefore Swedenborg's whole make-up--will and
understanding--must be laid bare and measured by some standard with which
we may try the spirits and the prophets before we can begin to approach
his visions and gauge their value.

Swedenborg's state was a state of reason, whether he viewed this world or
the other. His early scientific studies, unbalanced by any real
appreciation of art, moulded his mind into a rigid state which was
impervious to any outside stimulus. When he turned to religion, he made
the barren attempt to trim the mysteries of the Faith until they came
wholly within the grasp of the understanding. This is a rationalizing
process. Swedenborgians may object to hear their master called a
rationalist. It is true that that term is usually applied to those who
have no supersensual vision, and even deny its existence. Swedenborg is,
of course, sharply distinguished from all such, but he has with them the
same fundamental trust of reason, which in their case is used to gauge the
things of this world, in his the things of the other. Hence when he has
raised our expectations to a dizzy height, as he is about to report on
things seen and heard in heaven and hell, there is a ludicrous anticlimax
when we find that the angels are simply religious and talk theology
everlastingly, that heaven is like a well arranged Dutch tulip field, and
excepting one or two phases of hell the whole is just as exciting as a
problem in Euclid and as dull as a sanitary report. Hell alone stirred
some interest because its inmates had energy and blood. And therefore one
sympathizes with those spirits who, allowed to peep into heaven,
immediately chose to plunge themselves head-first into hell.

Now Blake, being a visionary, knew that vision depended on will, and he
learnt further from Swedenborg that it depended also on state, and so, as
a man's state changed, his vision changed also. Blake's state was the
imagination of the poetic genius (Los), Swedenborg's the dry logical
faculty of the unassisted reason (Urizen), and as Blake looked at
Swedenborg's heaven and hell, he saw them approaching one to the other and
finally with an impetuous rush locked in a marital embrace.

This is the most significant vision of modern times, after which it is
easy to judge Swedenborg. He had given for life, theology; for beauty,
ashes; and instead of emancipating the modern world he condemned it to the
appalling tedium of an everlasting Sunday School. The doctrine of the New
Jerusalem was not half so beautiful as that of the Old Jerusalem. Christ
come again in Glory was stripped of that beauty that men had perceived in
His first lowly coming. Blake's indictment of Swedenborg was severe. It
was also an indictment of the whole of protestant theology. The
magnificent fruit of Swedenborg's action and reaction, attraction and
repulsion for Blake was _The Marriage of Heaven and Hell_. Blake was fresh
from reading Swedenborg's _Heaven and Hell_, and this and not the
ecclesiastical was continually in his thought as he wrote. At the same
time it is necessary to remember that Blake was not merely criticizing
Swedenborg. Swedenborg gave a rationalized version of the Lutheran
doctrine, and therefore to reject him involved a rejection of much of
Luther's teaching and of the protestantism that has flowed from him.

Heaven, then, consists of the passive obeyers of reason, the religious,
the good; hell of the active obeyers of Energy, the irreligious, the evil.
Here let it be well marked and remembered that by the religious Blake
always meant those who repress their energies or passions until they
become passive enough for them to obey reason.

Hell's prime quality is passion or energy or desire. This in itself is
neither good nor evil in the abstract sense in which these words are
generally understood, but considered absolutely it is good, for it is the
native energy of the man made in God's image and likeness. Energy works
according to the object of desire. If a man's object is the flesh, he
becomes an adulterer; if things of beauty and delight, an artist; if God,
a saint. Religious people, frightened and mistrustful of their desires,
restrain them until they are passive, and in doing so they are destroying
the motive power of their lives. They are wholly successful when they
become dead souls, and it is then, strictly speaking, that they are fit,
not for heaven, but for hell. The stronger the desire, the greater the
man. Once direct the energy by fixing its desire on God, it will drive the
man to greatness. Thus the typical restrainer or devil is the priest, the
typical man of passion or energy is the artist. Those who restrain their
energies in the name of Christ have identified Him with the reason, and
they have never caught so much as a glimpse of Him as He is. Swedenborg
and Milton worshipped a rational Christ, and therefore in Blake's eyes, as
also in the catholic's, they were heretics. The Book of Job and
Shakespeare see inspiration and imagination working with energy as the
highest good. The restrainer in the Book of Job is called Satan. Blake
alone in his time saw Christ as the supreme symbol of the
passionate-imaginative life.

Those who have followed Blake thus far will at once understand the
Proverbs of Hell, and perceive in them the glorification of energy and all
things belonging to it. Excess, pride, lust and wrath are evidences of
great energy. Therefore "the road of _excess_ leads to the palace of
wisdom," "the _pride_ of the peacock is the glory of God," "the _lust_ of
the goat is the bounty of God" "the _wrath_ of the lion is the wisdom of
God." Generosity, prodigality, open-handedness, impulse, show a rich full
nature. Prudence, number, measure, weight, betray poverty and are fit "in
a year of death." The animals of abounding energy are the noblest, like
the lion, tiger, eagle. The animals lacking great energy take refuge in
cunning, like the fox and the crow. (Blake no longer questions who made
the tiger.) Blake extols fountains, not cisterns or standing water,
courage not cunning, exuberance not reason-broken passion. Even an
energetic "damn" braces, while a pious blessing induces a flabby

Man's most valuable gift of God is passion. What a man makes of his life
will depend on how he regards his passion, and into what channels he
directs its course.

Thus Blake unites contraries. But just as all is going merry as a marriage
bell, he suddenly declares that there are some contraries that can never
be married. The modern immanentist world is trying to unite good and evil,
beauty and ugliness, with baneful results. We are told that there is
nothing ugly to the discerning eye, and one wonders why one should take
pains to improve ones crude daubs. Blake says that religious people are
always trying to make these false matches. He gives as a typical example
the prolific and devourer--the active and passive. Each is necessary to
the other's existence. Union destroys both. It is easy to multiply
examples. Black and white produce grey, beautiful in art, but depressing
in life. Dark and light, twilight, beautiful, but sad and lowering. Cold
and heat, lukewarmness, which is hateful. Hard and soft, slush, which
abounds in modern thought. Hate and love, unctuousness or slime, which is
particularly obnoxious in some religious people.

Blake hated these mashes. He had no faith in the love that could not hate.
Just as he seemed on the brink of sweeping away hell like an amiable
modern, he discovered that though he had made quick work of the
Swedenborgian and protestant hell, yet hell as Christ thought of it
remained and must remain. "Note.--Jesus Christ did not wish to unite, but
to separate them, as in the Parable of sheep and goats. And He says, 'I
come not to send Peace, but a Sword.'" Thus Blake kept his perception
clear and sharp. In following his own mental energy he was able to shake
off all pantheistic distortions of good and evil, and to see that though
with the majority these are mere abstractions, yet there is ultimately an
eternal distinction between them, and therefore heaven and earth may pass
away, but Jesus Christ's word concerning heaven and hell will abide for

Christians have thought of heaven and hell too much as of future places.
Blake thought of them primarily as present states. Here a man's state is
obscured by its intermingling with conditions of space and time. Hereafter
the state creates the environment. The man in a state of hell, and
therefore in hell, is the one whose energy or vital fire is dead. The man
in a state of Heaven is the one who lives the more abundant life in which
his religion, art, and philosophy have become one. The real hell and the
real heaven can never be married, for any attempt to marry them results in
moral loss. But a man can pass from a state of hell into a state of
heaven, and the way to do it is the old way of repentance and
faith--repentance which changes heart and mind by giving them a new
object, and faith that takes and receives the glad tidings of the Kingdom
of God.

Blake gave a curious illustration of his doctrine of state. A
Swedenborgian angel came to him, and condoled with him because of the
hot, burning dungeon that he was preparing for himself to all eternity.
The angel at his request undertook to show him his place in hell. Truly it
was horrible, and Blake describes the ideal Swedenborgian hell with a
power and vividness to which Swedenborg could never attain. The angel, not
enjoying the sight, decamped; but no sooner was Blake alone than the
horrible vision vanished, and he found himself "on a pleasant bank beside
a river, by moonlight, hearing a harper, who sung to the harp." The angel
had drawn him into his state, and he saw what the angel saw. When he
regained his real state, the vision was pleasant enough. Afterwards he
rejoined the angel and undertook to show him his lot. An angel is
necessarily above the modes of space and time. This one being religious,
and therefore repressed to passivity, was shown a timeless, spaceless
void, which was an eternal nightmare more unutterably fearful than
anything in Swedenborg's filthy sewer.

Finally Blake overheard a marvellously rich and splendid bit of
conversation between a devil in a flame of fire and an angel seated on a

The devil pointed out how Jesus Christ was obedient to impulse, and how
His obedience to His passionate energies--to the Voice of God within
Him--made Him the Great Rebel and Law Breaker, mocking the sabbath and the
sabbath's God, guilty of the blood of His martyrs, exonerating the woman
taken in adultery, living on the labour and sweat of wage-slaves,
acquiescing in a false witness by His silence, coveting the best gifts for
His disciples. It was a Pharisee who said, "All these laws have I kept
from my youth," and he became a dead soul. Jesus on the cross looked back
on a pathway strewn with the corpses of the religious people He had killed
in His fiery impetuous course, and instead of a death-repentance, He
uttered the audacious word, "Father, into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit."

The angel was converted. Embracing the flame of fire he was consumed, and
rose again as Elijah--the prophet of spirit and fire.

And thus Blake took his leave of Swedenborg. He had expected too much of
him and was disappointed. It was more than enough to hear his name on the
lips of his pious, commonplace brother. He was indignant that he had not
fulfilled his high-sounding pretensions, and "the voice of honest
indignation," he wrote, "is the voice of God." But we who calmly look on
can detect the voice of resentment too, which robs his departure of grace.
But for Swedenborg _The Marriage of Heaven and Hell_ had never been
written. Swedenborg was the Goliath, strong in reason, logic, system,
science, intellect, slain by the stone from David's sling. Blake and not
Swedenborg was "the true Samson shorn by the Churches."



Blake was thirty-three when in 1790 he wrote _The Marriage of Heaven and

It marked a crisis in his life. Hitherto, with all the generous exuberance
of youth, he was striving to leave the past behind, and reach forth to
something new that by sheer glory and beauty should sweep up in its course
the youth of the ages to come.

For a time he believed that Swedenborg could supply him with the fire to
fashion and direct his own genius; but after poring long over his pages,
he began reluctantly to discover that the fire of his imagination had
either never been kindled or it was long since extinct. Whatever else
remained in Swedenborg--and there were undeniably many good things--was
impotent for the supreme task of supplying the creative spark.

Blake was disappointed and disillusioned. Never again did he make an
impetuous rush to embrace any man, however dazzling his gifts. But not yet
had he learnt the vital value of the past. If no new prophet arrived,
there was still himself, and if he trusted himself with passionate faith,
he might yet accomplish the desired thing.

In 1791 the outer events of his life ran a new course. Some time
previously, Fuseli had introduced him to a bookseller and publisher named
Johnson, living at 72 St Paul's Churchyard.

This Johnson was a remarkable man. His sympathies were with rebels, whom
he detected, welcomed, and encouraged. But he had none of the hard
narrowness of advanced liberals, and his eye and heart were quick also to
discover and cheer such a shy, diffident, conservative genius as Cowper.
He was a friend to the authors whose works he published; and in a little
upper chamber he gave weekly dinner parties, to which were bidden William
Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Tom Paine, Dr Price and Dr Priestley, and now
Blake himself. In the 'eighties Blake had moved among elegant
Blue-stockings who were above all things anxious to show themselves true
daughters of Sarah: now in the 'nineties he was one of a party of rebels
who despised the past, and were hailing the French Revolution, believing
that after a few more of such upheavals a millennium would surely come in
which man would be perfected.

Foremost among the rebels was William Godwin. Ten years younger, Blake
might have been captivated by Godwin, as later on Shelley, Coleridge, and
Bulwer Lytton were to be. There was always something clean and fresh about
Godwin, and his hopes and aspirations for mankind were generous. Brought
up in the narrowest sect of Calvinism, and believing while still a boy
that he was assuredly one of the elect, he rebounded in later life to a
liberal humanism, and retained little of his Calvinism except an unshaken
belief in his own election. The first edition of his _Enquiry concerning
Political Justice_ appeared in 1793, which he stated all his first
principles. These can be summarized briefly:

The characters of men originate in their external circumstances, and
therefore man has no innate ideas or principles, and no instincts of right
action apart from reasoning. Heredity counts for almost nothing. It is
impression makes the man. The voluntary actions of men originate in their

Man is perfectible.

Man has negative rights but no positive rights.

Nothing further is requisite, but the improvement of his reasoning
faculty, to make him virtuous and happy. Freedom of will is a curse. It is
not free or independent of understanding, and therefore it follows
understanding, and fortunately is not free to resist it. Man becomes free
as he obeys it. It follows that our disapprobation of vice will be of the
same nature as our disapprobation of an infectious distemper.

A scheme of self-love is incompatible with virtue.

The only means by which truth enters is through the inlet of the senses.

Intellect is the creature of sensation, we have no other inlet of

Government is in all cases an evil, and it ought to be introduced as
sparingly as possible.

Give a state but liberty enough, and it is impossible that vice should
exist in it.

Thus Godwin was rationalist, altruist, anarchist, and non-resister. It is
not probable that Blake ever read _Political Justice_, his patience not
being equal to the task. While ardently desiring political justice and
liberty, it was soon plain to him from his personal knowledge of Godwin
that all his first principles were false. It was not true that man's
character originates in his external circumstances, although these do act
on him. The differences between men are traceable to a fundamental
inequality. One man turns everything he touches into dross, another into
gold. Why? Blake had no need to argue. Being a mystic, he knew that man's
innate principles, ideas, and instincts differed, that heredity could not
be ignored, that beyond the five inlets of the senses which reason alone
recognizes, there are a thousand inlets for the man whose spiritual
understanding is awakened.

He shivered at the thought of what the world would become if the
rationalist had his way; for though he would sweep away superstitions,
injustices, cruelties, yet from his invariable lack of discrimination he
would crush with these the flowers and fruits of imagination, intuition,
and inspiration. Besides, whether State or no State, what sort of life
would man's be when his fundamental instincts and passions were allowed no
expression? Blake had not the statesman's power of looking at men in the
mass, but he knew that the individual was of extreme importance in any
community, and also that the individual's value lay in his power of
passion, and therefore Godwin's calm, reasoned, _doctrinaire_ scheme for
bringing the Millennium made no appeal to him whatever, and the two men
went their separate courses.

It is interesting to note later that Shelley attained to liberty and song
just so far as he shook off Godwin. When he talked with exaggerated
nonsense about kings and priests, he was but repeating what he imbibed
from Godwin in his early undiscriminating youth.

Mary Wollstonecraft was something quite new in the feminine way. Suffering
in youth all the torments of a repressed and restricted woman-child, and
possessing a full, passionate nature, she rebelled. Everywhere she turned
she saw woman set in an utterly false position, and, as a consequence,
silly, affected, degraded. Even those who made a bid for some solid
knowledge simpered, and too often, like Mrs Piozzi, repeated by rote, and
in Johnsonian periods, what they did not understand. Mary never doubted
for a moment that woman enfranchised economically would rise to great
things. Unerringly, she detected the true cause of woman's failure. "It is
vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent
of men." "Women must have a civil existence in the State." Poor Mary was
terribly alone, and had to work out her new faith in woman without any
human assistance. Fearlessly she exposed the delicate immorality of Dr
Gregory's _Legacy to his Daughters_, the "most sentimental rant" of Dr
George Fordyce, the oriental despotism of Rousseau; and not content with
such small game, she entered the lists against the arch-conservator Edmund
Burke, for which Walpole named her "a hyena in petticoats," and Burke
himself reckoned her with the viragoes and _poissardes_. Mary's wide
sympathies were not only for women. Her knowledge of children had
convinced her that they too had rights, and she had an irresistible faith
that with tyranny put down and political liberty won, the oppressed
peoples of the world would prove themselves capable of the highest things.
And therefore she flung herself into the cause of the French Revolution,
and made that her bone of contention with Burke.

There is no finer contrast than Fanny Burney for bringing into relief the
special characteristics of Mary Wollstonecraft as a type of new woman.
Fanny welcomed with breathless interest the French emigrants as they
arrived one by one at Juniper Hall, and listened with horror as
Talleyrand, M. d'Arblay, M. de Narbonne recounted the atrocities of the
people. Mary took a room in Paris and watched their progress through her
window. Fanny was completely overcome at the news of Louis XVI's
martyrdom. Mary watched him go to his death, and would not allow a
momentary pity to make her forget the down-trodden poor.

Fanny was a slave to conventions. Mary followed her own nature. Fanny
refused to correspond with Madame de Genlis, and asked Queen Charlotte
whether she had not done right, and at her father's bidding dropped Madame
de Staël, to whom she was attracted. Mary consulted no one about her
friendships, and in defiance of legal bonds was willing to be the mother
of Charles Imlay's child because she loved him.

Alas! Charles Imlay was faithless; and when Mary returned to England with
little Fanny Imlay, alone and broken in spirit, it was bookseller Johnson
who befriended her as he had our lonely Blake. Obviously there was much in
common between her and Blake. He was with her in her hope for women, and
children, and the poor. She had found herself in spite of mistakes, and
her character and her works were informed with vital passion. Had Blake
been single, and she drawn into friendship with him, she would have become
the perfect type of new woman, imaginative, understanding, impassioned,
inspired; as it happened, it was into Godwin's arms she fell, and not
Blake's, and while Godwin took her in like a wandering dove, and gave her
shelter and sympathy, yet the slight chill of his marital deportment and
reasoned ways would have hindered her, had she lived, from bringing her
fine character to full fruition.

Tom Paine presents another type of rebel with whom Blake came into
contact. He had already made for himself fast friends and bitter enemies
by aiding and abetting the American Rebellion. The thirteen colonies,
though irritated by the Stamp Act, were not at once inclined to rebel, and
even after Charles Townshend's proposal of tea-duty, South Carolina,
Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware still held back. Paine could wield a
powerful pen, and by this means he kept the flame of discontent alive, and
urged the States on till Jefferson composed a Declaration of Independence
to which the four backward States were brought reluctantly to agree, and
on July 4th, 1776, the American United Colonies declared themselves Free
and Independent States.

After this success Paine felt that his pen was equal to any task. Having
returned to England and fallen in with the Godwin set, he of course shared
with them in their sympathies for the French Revolution, and in addition
declared himself a deist, and set himself, in his _Age of Reason_, to
discredit the Bible. It was all very well when he was doing the rough work
of fanning rebellion, but he was ludicrously unfit for the fine work of
criticizing the Bible. Its poetry and mysticism and manifold wisdom were
not even suspected by him. He stolidly read through the sublime chapters
of Isaiah, and thought them worse than the production of a schoolboy; and
when he came to the stories of the Nativity, which, whether fact or
poetry, are marvellously beautiful, he became so grossly indecent that one
is bound to relegate him to the vulgarest order of Bible-smashers.

His deism was a symptom of the times. Dr Priestley, who also attended
Johnson's dinners, was a polished ornament of the sect. They persuaded
themselves that God, having set the universe agog, remained Himself wholly
outside of it. It was well that Blake should come into personal touch with
these rebel deists. They could never appeal to him even for a moment, for
he was penetrated all his life with the belief that God dwelt inside of
His creation; and since all theological rebellion tended more and more in
the direction of a mechanical deism, he began to suspect that he must
look elsewhere to discover the wisdom that should crown his years.

Yet there was something in Paine that appealed to Blake. They were both
worshippers of liberty, and while they could not meet on theological
ground, they were stirred alike by the portentous and successive crises on
the other side of the Channel. Paine felt that he still had work to do. He
had served his apprenticeship in America, he would now put forth his whole
strength in his _Rights of Man_, and help forward the sacred cause of
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

There were other rebels--Holcroft, playwright and translator, friend of
Godwin, afterwards to be sent to Newgate; Hardy and Thelwall; Horne Tooke,
who raised subscriptions for the relief of Americans and spoke of the
transactions at Lexington and Concord as "inhuman murders." He was to be
tried along with Holcroft and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment.

Now Blake sympathized with all these rebels in their political
aspirations; but whereas their watchword was reason, and their revolt was
in the name of reason, he believed that reason carried one very little
way, and that the elemental deeps of life and passion that lie far under
reason must be stirred and aroused if the work of rebellion was to bring
forth lasting fruit. In any case, the reason-bound men had little to teach
him. He had looked to Swedenborg, he had taken knowledge of his advanced
contemporaries. Godwin rebelled for political liberty, Mary Wollstonecraft
for liberty of women and children, Tom Paine for liberty of man. What was
left for Blake? The sex question had never been dragged out into the
light. The subject was unclean. Sexual morality consisted in repression.
Nowhere as here does repression breed such poisonous fruits. Was not sex
a part of that vital fire and passion in which Blake believed with his
whole heart? Was it not true that whatsoever lives is holy? Must not there
be liberty for the sexual instinct if it was to be kept clean? For the
next ten years Blake became the advocate of bodily liberty,
indistinguishable from free-love. This was to be the recurring theme again
and again in his prophetic books. This was to be his contribution towards
the new kind of man or superman for whom he was groping. Afterwards, when
he had given substance and form in his prophecies to the vague and
indefinite thoughts that lay in him, he was to learn how to estimate and
place them. Not until he had walked the road of mental excess was he to
arrive at the palace of wisdom. Once there, he was to revise even his
ideas on rebellion.

Keeping these persons and things steadily in view, let us now follow in
order and detail the works of Blake's most rebellious period.

As was fitting, Blake sounded the note of rebellion in a poem on the
French Revolution.

At this stage--1790-91--the Revolution had not advanced far. The Reign of
Terror and the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were still in
the future. But the Bastille had fallen, and the noise of its fall set the
nerves of the overstrung English liberals vibrating. The battle in prose
was waged by Paine, Mackintosh, and Mary Wollstonecraft against Burke, and
their names came at once into notoriety. Blake was as outspoken, and even
more fearless, for he wore publicly the _bonnet rouge_ as the outward and
visible sign of his faith, but fortunately for him, his natural medium of
expression was poetry, and that of a kind hitherto unknown, and so, say
what he would, no one paid him the smallest attention. What came
doubtlessly as a surprise to himself was that his poem found a publisher;
and the first Book, with the promise that the remaining Books of the Poem,
which were finished, should be published in their order, was announced to
the world by bookseller Johnson in 1791, at the modest price of one

Blake has a strange allegorical method of dealing with the Revolution
which can only irritate those who are not accustomed to his ways. Thus he
speaks of the seven dark and sickly towers of the Bastille. To these he
gives the descriptive names of Horror, Darkness, Bloody, Religion, Order,
Destiny, the Tower of God, and he gives descriptions of the prisoners in
the towers corresponding to their names. All these were imprisoned because
in some form or other they had bidden for liberty. One was the author of
"a writing prophetic"; another, a woman, "refused to be whore to the
Minister and with a knife smote him"; another had raised a pulpit in the
city of Paris and "taught wonders to darkened souls." The horror of their
condition is described with great power, although with too congested an
accumulation of baneful images. Thus: "In the tower named Darkness was a
man pinioned down to the stone floor, his strong bones scarce covered with
sinews; _the iron rings were forged smaller as the flesh decayed_." That
is a Dantesque touch. But when one reads farther down of "an old man,
whose white beard covered the stone floor like weeds on margin of the sea,
shrivelled up by heat of day and cold of night; his den was short and
narrow as a grave dug for a child, with spiders' webs wove and with slime
of ancient horrors covered, for snakes and scorpions are his companions,"
then the piled-up details prevent a clear image, and detract from the
value of what has gone before. In contrast to the wretched inhabitants of
the Bastille, we are presented with the King and his nobles. Here are
names, but no portraits. The King stands for the spirit of kingship in all
ages and his nobles are those who uphold "this marble-built heaven," and
"all this great starry harvest of six thousand years." They must resist to
the death the crooked sickle stretched out over fertile France "till our
purple and crimson is faded to russet, and the Kingdoms of earth bound in
sheaves, and the ancient forests of chivalry hewn, and the joys of the
combat burnt for fuel." (As Blake penned these fine words something of his
early Elizabethan passion must have stirred in him.) The King, through
whom the spirits of ancient Kings speak, peers through the darkness and
clouds, and involuntarily sees the truth: "We are not numbered among the
living." Life is with the prisoners who have burst their dens. Let Kings
"shivering over their bleached bones hide in the dust! and plague and
wrath and tempest shall cease."

The Archbishop of Paris, symbol of traditional religion, arises and
addresses the King. For him revolution can only mean atheism. "God so long
worshipped departs as a lamp without oil.... The sound of prayer fails
from lips of flesh, and the holy hymn from thickened tongues."

Clergy as well as nobles vanish, mitre as well as crown. "The sound of the
bell, and voice of the sabbath, and singing of the holy choir is turned
into songs of the harlot in day, and cries of the virgin in night. They
shall drop at the plough and faint at the harrow, unredeemed, unconfessed,
unpardoned; the priest rot in his surplice by the lawless lover, the holy
beside the accursed, the King, frowning in purple, beside the grey
ploughman, and their worms embrace together."

This, fine as it is, calls out a still finer speech from Orleans. "Can
nobles be bound when the people are free, or God weep when His children
are happy?" Then to the Archbishop he cries: "Go, thou cold recluse, into
the fires of another's high flaming rich bosom, and return unconsumed, and
write laws. If thou canst not do this, doubt thy theories, learn to
consider all men as thy equals, thy brethren, and not as thy foot or thy
hand, unless thou first fearest to hurt them."

Finally the voice of the people is heard rising from valley and hill. What
though "the husbandman weeps at blights of the fife, and blastings of
trumpets consume the souls of mild France, and the pale mother nourishes
her child to deadly slaughter, yet when the will of the people is
accomplished, then shall the soldier throw down his sword and musket and
run and embrace the meek peasant ... the saw and the hammer, the chisel,
the pencil, the pen, and the instruments of heavenly song sound in the
wilds once forbidden ... and the happy earth sing in its course, the mild
peaceable nations be opened to heaven, and men walk with their fathers in

This and much more is what the capture of the Bastille symbolized for
Blake. We see that his hopes ran high. The Revolution was to rectify no
temporary disorder. It was to set the people free for the first time in
the world's history, and so effect a Kingdom of God on earth which had
been the passionate yearning of imprisoned souls in all ages. The Kingdom
was to come by passion and not intellect, by fire and not snow. And so to
cold _doctrinaire_ Godwin and such-like, he would have said as Orleans to
the Archbishop in the poem: "Go, thou cold recluse, into the fires of
another's high flaming rich bosom." Godwin was to go, as we know, into
Mary's flaming rich bosom, and to warm as he chilled her; but even Mary
could not bring him to the flaming point which burned in the bosom of
William Blake as it had in the bosom of Jesus Christ.

Blake's obscurity protected him from the persecution that was pursuing its
victims in the Johnson circle.

On July 14th, 1790, Dr Priestley had arranged a dinner party in Birmingham
to commemorate the capture of the Bastille, for which he was mobbed, and
his house, containing a fine library, philosophical instruments, and
laborious manuscripts, was destroyed. In 1792 Tom Paine was marked out by
the Home Office as another victim; but while he was reporting at Johnson's
his public speech of the preceding evening, Blake advised him to decamp at
once to France or he was a dead man; and he, taking the hint, escaped
safely to Calais, and was ready to take his part in the National
Convention, to which the Department of Calais had appointed him. Paine
never returned to England, but he was to encounter many perils during the
Reign of Terror, and to write the _Age of Reason_, in which he attacked at
once the Bible and French atheism.

Blake, still fired by liberty, wrote his _Song of Liberty_ according to Dr
Sampson about 1792.

Liberty was the new-born terror, fire, and wonder, brought forth by the
eternal Female. Under its inspiration England was to be healed, America
renewed, Spain to burst the barriers of old Rome, and Rome herself to cast
her keys deep down into eternity. But liberty has a dire conflict with
Urizen, here called the jealous King and the gloomy King, who with his
grey-browed counsellors, thunderous warriors, curled veterans, and ten
commands, makes a fight for life. Liberty stamps the stony law to dust
till Empire is no more, and is confident that the lion and wolf shall
cease. The sons of liberty are sons of joy, and counting that everything
that lives is holy, proceed to act whenever they will.

Thus Blake stumbles again on the vexed subject of sex, and it was to
remain something of an obsession with him for many years.

His main thoughts can be gathered from _The Visions of the Daughters of
Albion_, which he engraved and printed in 1793. The heroine Oothoon, a
Blakean Tess, loves and is beloved by Theotormon. But Bromion, forcibly
conveying her to his stormy bed, tears her virgin mantle in twain.
Satiated, he cries to Theotormon: "Now thou mayst marry Bromion's harlot,
and protect the child of Bromion's rage, that Oothoon shall put forth in
nine moons' time."

Theotormon refused. Consumed with jealousy, and reckoning Oothoon a
defiled thing, he cannot receive her, and the two, loving, remain apart,
consuming their days in misery and tears.

Oothoon calls on Theotormon's eagles to rend away her defiled bosom, that
she may reflect the image of Theotormon on her pure transparent breast.
The eagles rend their bleeding prey, at which Theotormon, considering that
Oothoon suffers what she deserves, severely smiles. She, with no touch of
resentment at his self-righteous cruelty, which in truth she is too
self-effacing to perceive, reflects the smile, "and as the clear spring,
muddied with feet of beasts, grows pure and smiles." It is plain that,
whatever her past acts, she is a pure living soul, and Theotormon with his
conventional morality is neither clean nor alive. She is "a new-washed
lamb tinged with the village smoke," or "a bright swan by the red earth of
our immortal river," but she has only to bathe her wings, and she is white
and pure to hover round Theotormon's breast.

With the cleansing of her breast comes the clearing of her vision. She is
no longer enclosed by her five senses, nor her infinite brain into a
narrow circle, but she sees through nature, and comes to see Theotormon as
he really is. He was only a selfish devourer. But she cries:

  "Can that be Love, that drinks another as a sponge drinks water,
  That clouds with jealousy his nights, with weepings all the day,
  To spin a web of age around him, grey and hoary and dark;
  Till his eyes sicken at the fruit that hangs before his sight?"

Then she names it aright:

  "Such is _self-love_ that envies all, a creeping skeleton,
  With lamplike eyes watching around the frozen marriage bed!"

Her own love has risen far above such selfishness. She will even lie by
his side on a bank, and view him without jealousy as he takes his delight
with "girls of mild silver, or of furious gold," and into the heaven of
generous love she will bring no selfish blightings. Then with these lovely
words she concludes her golden speech:

  "Arise, you little glancing wings, and sing your infant joy!
  Arise, and drink your bliss, for everything that lives is holy."

Here we get in poetry, as later in the _Epipsychidion_ of Shelley, a
beautiful conception of love and sexual morality. It is what all with any
touch of poetical feeling have at times felt since the days of Shelley,
and it has appeared in many modern novels and plays. But we must keep in
mind that man's deepest feelings and thoughts are revealed by his acts and
not his words, however beautiful they may be. Blake was to push his
mental liberty to its utmost extent, and advocate a freedom that should
satisfy the exorbitant demands of the most modern eroto-maniac; but the
fact remains that in his own life he fulfilled to the letter the
requirements of traditional morality, not because his wandering fancy was
inactive, but because, things being as they are, it is not always possible
to translate poetry into act, and the old morality is the only thing that
reckons with the disabilities of this tiresome old world.

In this same year Blake wrote and engraved _America, A Prophecy_.

We have already seen his interest in the French Revolution, and his
excited hope that it would lead to the regeneration of Europe and the
world. He now works backwards to the American War of Independence, and
considers that the Demon's (Orc's) light that France received had first
been kindled when the thirteen States of North America struck for liberty.

He expected much from America. Believing at this period that rebellion was
the direct road to liberty and wisdom, his expectation of America was
great because, being farther removed from tradition, her position
predisposed her to rebel.

England's boast of colonies was to him a vain boast, and her watchword
"Empire" had no magic for him. While the thirteen States of North America
were possessions of England, and were ruled by thirteen governors of
England's choosing, he believed that America must remain enslaved and
unfruitful, and therefore Earth must lose another portion of the Infinite.
To lose a portion, however small, of the Infinite is unutterable loss, and
so Blake's fiery impetuous sympathies burned towards those
men--Washington, Franklin, Paine, Warren--who had stirred the States to
insurrection and revolt. His imagination leapt to an ensuing liberty in
which social evils should be left far behind.

  "Let the enchainèd soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing,
  Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,
  Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open;
  And let his wife and children return from the oppressor's scourge.
  They look behind at every step, and believe it is a dream,
  Singing: 'The sun has left his blackness, and has found a fresher
  And the fair moon rejoices in the clear and cloudless night;
  For Empire is no more, and now the Lion and Wolf shall cease.'"

Then all the things that religion has repressed spring up and flourish.
The pristine fiery joy, once perverted to ten commands, burns through all
obstructions, and, as a flame of life, leaps to life, rejoicing in all
living things, even in the harlot who remains undefiled, "though ravished
in her cradle night and morn." And man walks amidst the lustful fires
unconsumed. The fires serve to make his feet "become like brass, his knees
and thighs like silver, and his breast and head like gold."

Blake exulted in his vision and proclaimed it in unfaltering tones because
he knew that "the soul of sweet delight can never be defiled." Here he
adds a touch or two to his vision of sex in _The Vision of the Daughters
of Albion_, and he reaches its heart. The _soul_ of sweet delight is
eternally clean. Once a man has grasped this truth, and it may cost him
much mental fight to reach it, then he is able to think and speak cleanly
of the passion of love, he can go naked, like Adam in Eden, and the angels
of the highest heaven, and know no touch of shame.

There is much in modern literature and art that Blake would have detested,
but he would have loved the soul of Sonia the undefiled harlot that
Dostoieffski has revealed with such wonderful power in his _Crime and

Blake followed the American conflict until "the British soldiers through
the Thirteen States sent up a howl of anguish" and threw their swords and
muskets to the earth. They were unable to stand before the flames of Orc;
and since those flames had now reached to France, Blake dreamed that
nothing could withstand their hungry course till the regeneration of the
world should come.

All this and much more is said in Blake's symbolical way. Here, as in _The
French Revolution_, there are no portraits. The rebels of the States, and
even Paine, are mere names, and much less real than the angels of the
States who carry on the real business. These angels lived in an ancient
palace built on the Atlantean hills between America and England. It is
interesting to note these things, because the angels of the States are
suggested by the angels of the Kingdoms in the apocalyptic book of Daniel,
which Blake loved and instinctively understood, and the Atlanteans have
always had an irresistible attraction for men of a theosophical turn of
mind. Blake was a close student of the apocalyptic books of the Bible all
his life; his knowledge of the Atlanteans probably came to him through his
Rosicrucian readings.

_America_ lets us see the profound admiration Blake felt towards Paine for
his action in the American War. Later on we shall find him criticizing
with some asperity the deism that his friend confessed.

I must pass over Blake's other writings of this year, and merely recount
that he again changed his residence, and went to live in Lambeth at 13
Hercules Buildings. Dr Samson says that it is now numbered 23, but
authorities cannot agree whether it was this house or the next.

In 1794 Blake engraved his _Europe: A Prophecy_, which is the last of his
poems dealing with contemporaneous political events.

Europe stood for Blake in his rebellious mood as the symbol of tradition,
authority, science, religion. It was the dead past. "Enitharmon slept
eighteen hundred years. Man was a dream, the night of Nature and their
harps unstrung." Europe, during this long sleep, was without vision,
inspiration, art, and true nature. Her religion, divorced from art, was
repressive, and existed by trading on men's fears. Falling under the
tyranny of the five senses, she believed only so much as the senses could
testify of; hence she was rational, utilitarian, unimaginative, and
joyless. She squinted so abominably with such eyes as she had that she saw
nothing as it was. God, man, nature, became creations of man's perverted
reason, and God was used as an efficient policeman to keep insurrectionary
nations in subjection and vital men in order.

But Blake believed that he had already seen the morning star that heralded
the full blaze of the Sun. Already the invisible powers who control
nations and men were stirring and preparing for their last fearful
conflict, which should result in new heavens and a new earth. The angels
were at war. Urizen and his many sons were tightening their sinews for the
last life-and-death grip; against them was Orc, the horrent demon,
"already a kindled and quenchless fire, Los, the spirit of inspiration far
more nearly allied with fiery passion (Orc) than with cold intellectual
reason (Urizen), Los' wife Enitharmon and their many sons and daughters,
Rintrah, Palamabron, Elynittria and Ocalythron. These Ossianic and
Miltonic principalities and powers were waging huge and terrific war in
the heavenly places, and already on earth was kindled in France the
earthly counterpart and shadow of the invisible horrible conflict.

The work of regeneration, once begun, could not be arrested. Passion,
fire, energy, all the irresistible things pent up in hell, were let loose;
and they would involve Europe and the world in an ocean of blood. The
whole cosmos, inward in the heavens, outward in the sun, moon, stars, and
earth, was dyed in crimson, until the tribulation such as was not since
the world began should work up to the grinding pains of labour, and in
infinite pain there should come to the birth the new age of which the
prophets and poets had dreamed in all ages.

  "The Sun glow'd fiery red!
  The furious Terrors flew around
  On golden chariots, raging with red wheels, dropping with blood!
  The Lions lash their wrathful tails!
  The Tigers couch upon the prey and suck the ruddy tide;
  And Enitharmon groans and cries in anguish and dismay.

  Then Los arose: his head he reared, in snaky thunders clad;
  And with a cry that shook all Nature to the utmost pole,
  Called all his sons to the strife of blood."

Blake was very sanguine. He had endured the rude shock of the Reign of
Terror, and though he had thrown aside the red cap, he was determined to
see in these horrors nothing but the grim accompaniments of every
regenerating process. Enitharmon, once awake after her long sleep, would
call together the sweet ministers of melodious songs. Ethinthus, Queen of
Waters, Manatha-Varcyon on her golden wings, Leutha, soft soul of
flowers, Antamon, Prince of the Pearly Dew, "all were forth at sport
beneath the solemn moon, waking the stars of Urizen with their immortal
songs; that Nature felt thro' all her pores the enormous revelry, till
Morning opened the eastern gates."

[Illustration: THE ANCIENT OF DAYS.

_Frontispiece to Europe._]

_Europe_ has for frontispiece one of Blake's most famous designs--_The
Ancient of Days_. The vision was seen against the dark gloom of the upper
story of his Lambeth house. Its real ground lay in the Book of Proverbs.
Wisdom says: "When He prepared the heavens, I was there: when He set a
compass upon the face of the depth ... then I was by Him, as one brought
up with Him."[3]

The author of the Proverbs looks back to the first creation, which God saw
to be very good. Blake looks forward to the new. What if all around are
dark clouds? Yet the Ancient of Days is in an orb of light, and He is
stooping down and measuring the deep with His compasses. Nothing can stay
His hand. The upheaval of Europe, involving the world, is the prelude to
the new creation when the Almighty's vision for His universe shall be

_Europe_ touches the limit of Blake's rebellion. During the next thirty
years history was to comment on the French Revolution in a way that was
not his in his impetuous prophetic books. He was to learn that rebellion
is a road to wisdom because it is a species of excess. Excess teaches a
man to know what is enough, and when Blake knew the exact value of
rebellion he was prepared to read the Past afresh, and find that its
treasury contained priceless jewels that he never even suspected, while he
was passionately searching for some new thing.



In _Europe_ Blake reached the boundary of his rebellious mood. The impetus
of his rebellion might by its own strength have carried him further down
the stream; but the Reign of Terror was a rude check, and among other
things it enabled him to climb on to the bank and view the course of
events with some degree of detachment.

He found that he could no longer refuse to listen to another voice that
had been sounding more or less loudly for some years--the voice of his own
experience, and, that which inevitably follows, the voice of the
experience of mankind. His thought flew backwards and forwards, backwards
to Eden and innocent Adam, followed by the wilderness and the curse,
forwards to some more years of travail, and then the crimson dawn glowing
on the gathered fruits of experience.

Would experience eventually restore the innocence that was lost with Eden?
Were they even things of the same kind? No; Blake was sure that they were
contraries, contrary as Swedenborg's heaven and hell, contrary states of
the human soul. But many contraries can be married. Innocence married to
experience must vanish as innocence, but rise again in a new form in the
more fruitful married relation. It appears that with most men innocence
lost never returns. Blake never lost his. It is seen in all its infantine
simplicity in _The Songs of Innocence_, and it could show itself at any
time during his long life. But this divine element is sadly rare even in
the poets, and it is its irresistible presence in Blake that makes him
wellnigh unique. In ourselves we find from experience knowledge of good
and evil, complicated views on philosophy and theology, puzzled brains,
and a frightfully murky atmosphere, and it seems Utopian to imagine that
it will ever be otherwise.

Blake maintained, and so had the Saints, that when experience had effected
its work and disposed of its dirt, smoke, and mud, a glorious something
would emerge which innocence could never know, but which will include the
innocence that we see in lambs and babies and buttercups and saints.
Between what we are and what we shall be is a sandy desert; and, since
Eden is lost, all, even the Christ, have to pass through the desert to
gain the promised land. The words of Christ are not the words of one who
has lived only in Eden. They are crystalline clear, flaming, simple, deep,
and infinitely wise, we should almost say innocent, but as to "create a
flower is the labour of ages," so when we look behind the words of Christ,
and seize their implications, we discover not only the sorrow and joy,
labour and triumph of His own experience, but that of the past labouring
ages; and until we know something of present living experience added to
that of the past, we shall never have an inkling of even the simplest
words that lie on the face of the gospel.

It was fitting that in 1794, when Blake uttered his prophecy of things to
come in _Europe_, he should also gather together his _Songs of
Experience_, and engrave them for the joy of posterity.

_The Little Girl Lost_ and _The Little Girl Found_ bring together better
than any perhaps the two contrary states of innocence and experience.

Lyca, being innocent and only seven summers old, wandered, allured by the
wild birds' song. She is lost but not dismayed. Falling asleep, the beasts
of prey come around her and minister to her, and finally convey her
tenderly to a cave.

Then her parents, experienced but not innocent, arise and seek her. They
pass through all the sufferings, sorrows, sighings, of this waste howling
wilderness, buying the experience that almost kills them, till in terror
they find Lyca among the wild beasts. But beholding Lyca they learn her
secret, and

  "To this day they dwell
  In a lonely dell:
  Nor fear the wolfish howl
  Nor the lion's growl."

_The Clod and the Pebble_ give the two contrary states of love. The clod
proclaims the love that forgets itself in ministering to others; the
pebble the love that would bind and devour all others, making them
contribute to its own delight.

_A Poison Tree_ shows how repressed things secrete poison.

  "I was angry with my friend:
  I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
  I was angry with my foe:
  I told it not, my wrath did grow."

The repressed anger ended in murder. Blake was sure that any passion
repressed was equally fatal.

_The Schoolboy_ gives the miserable experience that is thrust upon us all
through the blind cruelty of those who would educate us. This experience
is so contrary that nothing could be more calculated to crush native
innocence, joy, and spring.

  "O! father and mother, if buds are nipped
  And blossoms blown away,
  And if the tender plants are stripped
  Of their joy in the springing day,
  By sorrow and care's dismay,
  How shall the summer arise in joy,
  Or the summer fruits appear?
  Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
  Or bless the mellowing year,
  When the blasts of winter appear?"

How indeed? The question is to parents, schoolmasters, professors,
priests. The conditions for young lives are created by those who would
strangle life. Yet when experience has been its most contrary, even
nailing its victim to a cross, just there is deliverance.

  "Whate'er is born of mortal birth
  Must be consumed with the earth,
  To rise from generation free."

It was Blake's supreme experience that he had been set free from
generation. It was by a re-generation, and that had come to him through
the death of Jesus.

  "The death of Jesus set me free."

The same year 1794 saw Blake spinning fast the special mythological web
with which he was to clothe or strangle his vision. He had separated from
all his spiritual teachers; but Swedenborg lived on in him much more than
he owned or even recognized, and Ossian and Milton still governed his
imagination. Milton's huge figures were imitated in the mythological
figures which were to stalk about his universe to the end; Ossian's
fantastic names, which always fascinated him, provoked others still more
fantastic. By means of these uncouth dæmons he determined to set forth his
own particular view of the cosmos, which, starting with eternity, was to
fall into creation, and finally, after lightning, thunder, rolling clouds,
and a sea of blood, accompanied by roarings, shrieks, and howlings, was to
attain to salvation by a return to the divine order.

The "return" is treated of with great fullness in the _Jerusalem_: the
"fall" is hardly more than sketched in the fragmentary Books of _Urizen_,
_Los_, and _Ahania_. But as the process of return is the exact reverse to
that of the fall, an understanding of the one enables one to fill in the
gaps of the other. If there were other books dealing with the fall more in
detail, I for one can contemplate the loss with equanimity.

_The Book of Urizen_ is supposed to be the account of the creation, and
those who endorse this view proceed to identify Urizen with the Jehovah of
the Old Testament, which is as false as to identify him with the Jesus of
the New, although it is only too true that scores of Christians worship
Urizen under the names of Jehovah and Jesus.

In strict truth, Blake gives no account of the creation at all. To create
can only mean that which the Catholic Church affirms that it does mean, to
make something out of nothing. To reject this leaves two
alternatives--either that God made the universe out of something outside
of Himself, which is dualism, or out of something inside of Himself, which
is pantheism. Blake, like Swedenborg, adopted the last, but whereas
Swedenborg tried to evade the pantheistic conclusion by his doctrine of
discrete degrees, Blake swam in the pantheistic sea, and was saved from
drowning by clinging to the rocks which he discerned standing out in
bold outline, and a perception of the ultimate irreconcilable antinomy of
good and evil, of sheep and goats, which is a direct contradiction of
pantheism, and fits in only with the catholic doctrine. There are other
such contradictions in Blake, which did not in the least trouble him. With
his passion for contraries he harboured them all, marrying them when he
could, and just leaving them when they absolutely refused to unite. He had
not the requisite talent for building a coherent system.

[Illustration: URIZEN IN CHAINS.

_From The First Book of Urizen._]

What is called, then, Blake's account of the creation is really his
account of the fall of the universe out of eternity into time and space,
and the consequent appearance of man in his contracted and sense-bound
condition. Urizen is the agent in the fall; but he must not be identified
with Satan any more than with Jehovah. He, as nearly as possible,
represents reason. When he stands in the eternal order working on those
things supplied him by Los (imagination), he is a fountain of light,
intellect, and joy; when he is rent from Los' side, he becomes
self-closed, all repelling, shut up in an abominable void and
soul-shuddering vacuum, and his intellect becomes dark and cold because
his reason has nothing to work upon except what is supplied by the narrow
inlet of the senses.

Thus shut in the deep, he broods until his thoughts take outward shape and
form, and there arises "a wide World of solid obstruction." He then
proceeds to write his books of wisdom. But his vision being quenched, he
is confined to that which his still all-flexible senses provide. He knows
much about the terrible monsters that inhabit the bosoms of all--the seven
deadly sins of the soul. From his prolonged fightings and conflicts with
them there is distilled a kind of wisdom, which he gathers into his books;
but it is joyless wisdom, negative rather than positive, restrictive,
retributive, censorious, jealous, cruel, penal, and is best solidified in
the decalogue with its reiterated "Thou shalt not."

Eternity, which is present and within, rolled wide apart, "leaving ruinous
fragments of life." Rent from eternity, Urizen becomes a clod of clay, and
Los, beholding him, becomes like him, and is compelled to continue the
work of creation in constricted forms. With his hammer he forges links of
hours, days, and years. Man with his head, spine, heart, appears; then are
formed his eyes, ears, nostrils, throat, tongue, feet--little members that
hide from him eternity, and cause him to see the things that are within as
though they were without, like the stars of night seen through a great

After the man the woman appears, whom the Eternal myriads named Pity. She
is an emanation from Los, and is named by Blake Enitharmon. Los embraces
her, and she begets a child in her own image--a Human Shadow, who is named
Orc (passion).

Thus grows up a world of men, women, children, with their various hungers
and needs. The Eternals try to provide for these needs by science and
religion; but as they can build their science and religion only from their
experience and observation of the contracted universe, the science is
sand, and religion a web, and earth's wretched children remain under the
cruel rule and curse of Urizen and his sons, calling his laws of Prudence
the Eternal Laws of God.

_The Song of Los_ (engraved 1795) adds many interesting particulars of the
process by which the world, with its philosophies and religions, has
become what it is.

Los, the Eternal Prophet, is the father of all systems of thought, but it
does not follow that all are equally true. For Los is out of the divine
order, and therefore the systems inspired by him and his many sons, while
containing streaks of the eternal truths, are all out of focus.

[Illustration: LOS.

_From The First Book of Urizen._]

Thus Rintrah gave Abstract Philosophy to Brahma in the East, and it is
defective because it is abstract. The same applies to all modern
theosophical revivals of Hindoo religion. An abstraction for Blake was a
falling away from concrete reality, and he found his deliverance in the
Christian doctrine of God.

Palamabron, another son of Los, gave abstract Law to Trismegistus,
Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato. Abstract Law is also negative, and
therefore Orc (passion) finds himself chained down with the chain of
Jealousy, and howls in impotent rage.

Sotho teaches Odin a Code of War which at any time may become the
philosophy of a nation.

All these, abstract philosophy, abstract law, the Mahometan Bible, Codes
of War, with the Churches, Hospitals, Castles, Palaces, which they
involve, while seeking to catch the joys of eternity, serve in reality to
obliterate and erase eternity altogether, and the children of men schooled
in these philosophies behold the vast of Nature shrunk before their
shrunken eyes. After the shrinkage there can only arise a philosophy of
the five senses, and then Newton and Locke, especially Locke, Rousseau and
Voltaire, have it all their own way.

From all this Blake looked for deliverance to the thought-creating fires
of Orc, which had flared up in France, and might be expected to spread
over Europe, and set even Asia in a conflagration. The Kings of Asia, snug
in their ancient woven dens, are startled into self-exertion, and emerging
uneasily from their dens, call on kings, priests, counsellors and privy
admonishers of men to use their immemorial rights to teach the Mortal
Worms, and keep them in the paths of slavery. Happily, Orc's fires are
insatiable. Raging in European darkness, he arose like a pillar of fire
above the Alps, and, while "milk and blood and glandous wine in rivers
rush," led the wild dance on mountain, dale, and plain, till the sullen
earth shrunk away, and there dawned the eternal day.

_The Book of Los_ (engraved 1795) begins with the lament of Eno, aged
Mother, as she recalls the "Times remote, when love and joy were adoration
and none impure were deemed." For now, alas! Los, who alone could teach
joy and liberty, is bound "in a chain and compelled to watch Urizen's
shadow." Yet he cannot be bound for ever. Maddened by hard bondage, he
rends asunder the vast Solid that has bound him, only to fall through the
horrible void of error--"Truth has bounds, Error none"--till his
contemplative thoughts arise and throw out some sort of standing-ground
amidst the dire vacuity. Urizen by his contemplative thoughts, it will be
remembered, had created "a wide World of solid obstruction." Now the two
dæmons become rivals, and the grim conflict of the ages is waged
incessantly. Los with hammer and tongs organizes lungs (understanding, see
Swedenborg), and some Light even appears; but the book closes with no sign
of the ultimate triumph of Los, for Los and Urizen are here rivals: there
can be no victory until they cease to be rivals, and re-enter into the
union of the eternal order.

_The Book of Ahania_ (engraved 1795) gives the story of Fuzon, Urizen's
most fiery son, and therefore the one most obnoxious to his curse. He is
mortally wounded by a poisoned rock hurled at his bosom from his father's
bow, and his corse is nailed to the topmost stem of the Tree of Mystery,
which is religion. Then follows the sad and beautiful lament of
Ahania--the wife and emanation of Urizen, and mother of the murdered
Fuzon. She recalls, like Eno, the former days, when Urizen stood in the
divine order, and she, his lover and wife, joyed in the transports of
love, when her heart leaped at the lovely sound of his footsteps, and she
kissed the place whereon his bright feet had trod; when she knew the
thrilling joys of motherhood, and nursed her Babes of bliss on her full
breasts. These things were now but a memory. Urizen with stern jealous
cruelty had put her away, compelling her to walk weeping over rocks and
dens, through valleys of death, a shadow upon the void, and on the verge
of nonentity, a deep Abyss dividing her from her eternal love. Thus she
weeps and laments, wearing a sorrow's crown of sorrows, the remembering
happier things.

These short prophetic books, though entirely congenial to the author, were
written in a tongue unknown to the public, general or particular. There
was every sign that Blake would continue to produce more works, and even
on a much larger scale, in this particular kind of composition, and the
signs were equally clear that he must look to something else to procure
the wherewithal that would enable him and his wife to live.

This something was, of course, engraving, but even the demand for _his_
engraving was growing less, and the grim spectre of poverty made his
unwelcomed and uncalled-for appearance along with the spectres whom Blake
could command. Over this oppressive and grinding spectre he had no command
at all.

In 1796 he was asked by Miller, a publisher in Old Bond Street, to make
three illustrations to be engraved by Perry for Stanley's English
paraphrase of Bürger's _Lenore_. The elements of romance and weird horror
in Bürger's work were quite in keeping with a side of Blake's nature that
had shown itself in _Elinor_, and so the illustrations were accomplished
with marked power and success.

The same year he was engaged on designs for Young's _Night Thoughts_,
intended to illustrate a new and expensive edition of what was then
considered one of England's great classics. The work was to be published
by Edwards, of New Bond Street.

Blake was less free and happy illustrating Young than Bürger. Young has
since been slain by George Eliot, but even if she had not killed him, his
popularity must have waned in another generation or two. For there was
very little healthy human blood in his veins. He was other-worldly, and so
was Blake; but whereas Blake saw in the other world a world of
transcendent beauty of which this world was the vegetable mirror, Young
saw in it only a reflection of his own particular world. Hence Blake was a
mystic, and Young an egotist. Blake forgot himself in the magnificence of
eternity, Young's religion was "egotism turned heavenwards."

This is probably the reason why Blake's designs for Young were among the
least powerful and interesting things that he did. Give him the Book of
Job, or Dante, and he transcends himself, but with Young or Blair to work
upon, though he does remarkable work, yet it somehow falls short of his

Mr Frederick Shields, who covered the walls of the Chapel of the Ascension
with strange pinks and ten thousand hands, has analysed all the more
important of Blake's designs, which amounted to five hundred and
thirty-seven. Of these only forty-three were published. _The Night
Thoughts_ was to appear in parts: only one part was published, and Young
was handed over to Stothard in 1802 before he was to be, in an elaborate
dress, a complete success.

The following year (1797) Blake was at work on _The Four Zoas, or The
Death and Judgment of the Ancient Man_. He revised this work a few years
later at the time he was planning the _Milton_ and _Jerusalem_. I shall
have something to say about it when dealing with _Jerusalem_. I will only
say just now that the minor prophetic books were preliminary trials to his
big flights, and when here, as in _Jerusalem_, a big flight is made, it is
found that Blake's mythology has received its completion, and that all the
things fermenting in him and striving for utterance do, in these long
poems, come to the surface. Anyone who would know him intimately must not
be discouraged by their extraordinary appearance, but struggle with them,
as with a foreign language, until they yield the last secrets of their
mystic author.



William Hayley, "the poet," as he delighted to call himself, enjoyed a
wide reputation as the author of _The Triumphs of Temper_, which appeared
in 1780 and was intended as a poetical and pleasing guide to young ladies
how to behave under the provocation of testy fathers and sour aunts, with
the promise of a peerless husband if their tempers were triumphant.

For us the poem is pleasantly incongruous and stirs to laughter in the
wrong places. The perfect heroine Serena, set down in the midst of
artificial society by day, is transported to infernal and supernal regions
by night. In the Inferno she sees all the wicked vices in action, and in
the Paradise the graces attending on their queen Sensibility. Hayley
humbly hoped to emulate Pope's satire in treating of Serena's days, and
Dante's sublimities in her nights. He was singularly fortunate in the
artists he found to embellish his darling offspring. Stothard and Maria
Flaxman, in turn, supplied charming designs, and even Romney was induced
to present the divine Emma as Sensibility with her pot of mimosa, to whom
Stothard had already done more than justice.

Hayley had been a close student all his life, having mastered Greek and
Latin and the more important modern languages. He had read extensively the
world's best literature. Taught by Meyer, he had taken up miniature
portrait painting till he excelled his master and his eyes failed. He
wrote plays which Garrick nearly liked, but which the undiscerning public
never liked at all. He reckoned himself not merely a connoisseur in art,
music, architecture, and sculpture, but also as one who might have
distinguished himself in any one of these difficult arts had envious time
permitted. Confident that Heaven had bestowed on him her best gift of
poetry, he felt it his duty to renounce his opportunity to excel in so
many arts and devote himself to that which all discerning people
acknowledged to be the highest.

_The Triumphs of Temper_ was his first great success, and the many highly
flattering things said to him by artists and famous literary men confirmed
him in the faith, though he had never really doubted, that he was a man of
genius. That was the opinion of elegant Mrs Opie, feeling Anna Seward,
diffident Romney, copious Hannah More, and portentously learned Edward
Gibbon. Yet time has been pitiless with the bard of Sussex, and instead of
discovering a steady or even a flickering light shining in the gross
darkness of his times, we of the twentieth century can see in him, if we
take the trouble to see at all, nothing but an amusingly solemn specimen
of a male Blue-stocking.

With so assured a position and never a shadow of self-doubt, he was able
to live with himself on most cordial terms of good temper and serenity,
and, like others of his type, extend his self-esteem to his fellows,
particularly if they were publicly admired. To these he generally effected
an acquaintance by a polite little letter of self-introduction.

His most important catch was Romney, to whom he was introduced by Meyer in
the autumn of 1776. Hayley possessed accidental advantages over Romney in
good birth and education. Romney was sufficiently impressed through
self-conscious lack of these, and when in addition he found that his
diffidence was met by Hayley's confidence, his depression by serenity, he
allowed him to gain that ascendancy over him which was out of all
proportion to his intrinsic merit, and which has irritated all biographers
of the artist against the poet. Yet if Hayley contrived to get possession
of Romney and his pictures, he also helped him for a considerable time to
fight against his melancholy. Let us in fairness remember that.

Another important friend was Cowper, whom Hayley caught considerably later
in life. Visits were exchanged, and Hayley set himself with much good will
to combat the ghastly melancholia that was getting its death-grip on him.
After Cowper's death there was some friendly wrangling between Hayley and
Lady Hesketh about who should write his Life. Hayley was easily persuaded
to undertake it, and by its accomplishment won for himself a latter rain
of gratifying applause just when his popularity seemed to be on the

Hayley lived till 1820, which was actually long enough to outlive his
public. His _Life of Romney_ was not a success. He and his works would
have died together but for his unfortunate habit of fastening himself on
to great men. His cancerian grip of them has given him vicarious
immortality, and made him obnoxious to the kicks of those who write the
lives of Romney, or Cowper, or Blake.

The particular friend of Hayley who most concerns us here was Flaxman. He
introduced Blake to Hayley from motives of pure kindness, knowing Blake's
struggle to live, and believing that Hayley was just the man to help him.

Flaxman had drawn Hayley's attention to Blake in a letter written as early
as 1784, in which he quotes Romney as saying that Blake's historical
drawings rank with those of Michael Angelo. But not until 1800 did the two
men meet. Early in that year--May 6th--Blake wrote to Hayley to condole
with him on the loss of his son Thomas Alphonso, who had been studying
sculpture with Flaxman. By September it was settled that Mr and Mrs Blake
should leave Lambeth and go and settle at Felpham, where Blake would be
only a stone's-throw from Hayley, and ready to help him in his poetical
and biographical works by engraving for them suitable designs.

Blake was destined to stay three years at Felpham, and he always regarded
this period as marking a most important crisis in his life. Since the
publication of his _Poetical Sketches_ in 1783 he was conscious of being
under a cloud. His visions that had been so bright and inspired him to
songs of such divine simplicity had not vanished, but they had lost their
crystalline clearness. His cloudy vision appeared in uncertain art. It is
true that his allegiance to the linear schools never wavered, and Michael
Angelo remained the supreme master in his eyes, but for a time he was
fascinated by the luscious ornament and colour of the Venetian school, and
with his passion for uniting contraries believed that he might marry
Florence and Venice. The same uncertainty appeared in his spiritual life.
We have followed him through various stages of rebellion, and seen how his
faith in rebellion received a rude shock from the Reign of Terror. Since
then he was learning more and more to explore the riches of the past, but
he had not gone far enough to place his rebellion and to see it and that
of his rebel contemporaries in its proper historical perspective. He was
disturbed also by a restless ambition of worldly success. Many men whose
gifts were much inferior to his own were famous and rich. Sir Joshua did
all that a spiritually blind man could do, and was reckoned with the
giants. Romney, whose art Blake much preferred to Reynolds's (he was
decidedly of the Romney faction), on account of its greater simplicity and
more scrupulous regard to outline, was sufficiently famous and
remunerated; but Blake, whose gifts were rarer than any, had scant
recognition and scant money, and he still hoped that with an influential
patron he might take his place in contemporary fame, and incidentally make
enough money to relieve him of all anxiety for the future. For he was
being ground by poverty. His wants were simple enough--food, clothing,
materials of work--but when the supply falls even a little below the want,
then the grinding process begins and carries on its inexorable work until
the spirit breaks. But now friend Flaxman had introduced him to poet
Hayley, who was not only famous for his literary work, but also for a
remarkable and untiring zeal in the service of those he reckoned his

Blake's hopes rose high, and his spirits overflowed. He wrote an
enthusiastic letter to Flaxman attributing to him all his present
happiness, and enclosing lines in which he recalls his successive friends
"in the heavens"--Milton, Ezra, Isaiah, Shakespeare, Paracelsus,
Boehme--and concludes by affirming that he has seen such visions of the
American War and the French Revolution that he "could not subsist on the
earth, but by conjunction with Flaxman, who knows to forgive nervous
fear." Flaxman had studied Swedenborg, and could perfectly understand such

On September 21st, 1800, Sunday morning, he writes to the "dear Sculptor
of Eternity" that he has arrived at their cottage with Mrs Blake and his
sister Catherine, and that Mr Hayley has received them with his usual
brotherly affection.

He found Felpham "a sweet place for study." The quiet, cleanness,
sweetness, and spiritual atmosphere of the place stirred his cosmic
consciousness and gave him quick access to the great memory reaching back
far beyond his mortal life, and enabled him to recall his works in
eternity that were yet to be produced in time.

And Hayley was excessively kind. Still under a cloud, shaken in
self-confidence, Blake's consequent diffidence united with his instinctive
trust of men, and for a month he believed that Hayley was a prince.

Hayley was busy decorating his "marine villa," to which he had lately come
from Eartham. Flaxman had already been drawn in to help, much as Mrs
Mathew had used him at an earlier date; and now Blake was bidden to paint
a set of heads of the poets which were to form a frieze to Hayley's
library. Hayley was at work on some ballads, _Little Tom the Sailor_ and
others, to which Blake was to contribute designs. _Little Tom_ was for the
benefit of a Widow Spicer at Folkestone and her orphans, as Blake
understood, and also for the emolument of Blake, as we learn from a letter
of Hayley's to the Reverend John Johnson.

Hayley always loved to teach his friends. He had been anxious to improve
Romney's epistolary style; and now it occurred to him that he might teach
Blake miniature portrait painting. As usual, his purpose was thoroughly
kind. He did not think that Blake's work had much marketable value; but he
believed that if he proved an apt pupil he could procure him plenty of
sitters from among his neighbours who would pay well, and thus Blake would
become a real success.

In this Hayley showed himself a wise child of this world, but hardly a
child of light. Blake's genius did not lie in drawing portraits. A face
for him immediately became a symbol, and lost its time traits as it gained
in eternal significance. It is often said that Enitharmon was Mrs Blake;
but if this were so, she was Mrs Blake as no one but Blake could ever see
her. In reality he possessed the faculty which was pre-eminent in the
authors of the Book of Genesis and St John's Gospel. As the characters of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Peter, James, and John were seen and
portrayed in an eternal light, so likewise Blake would have striven to
present his opulent sitters, but the result would not have been that for
which they would have been willing to pay their money.

Blake took kindly and without question to the new task. "Miniature," he
says, "has become a goddess in my eyes.... I have a great many orders, and
they multiply." Hayley was glowing with satisfaction. But Blake, in one
little month, after repeated efforts of self-deception, could no longer
hide from himself that he saw Hayley as he really was. He was learned, of
course, and genteel, and kind, and admired with gush what it was correct
to admire. But of insight there was none. He was born under a watery sign
and not a fiery. He was really a crab ambling around his enclosed garden
with his lame leg, and getting his claws into the tender skin of those
who, he had been told, were really men of fire.

Blake's disappointment was bitter. His patron was blind to his real
genius, to which he must at all costs be faithful. Hayley was, and
continued to be, very much a corporeal friend, but he was a spiritual
enemy. Blake's fond hopes were dashed. He tottered on the verge of a
horror of great darkness, and escaped the darkness only by falling into a
mild and pleasant slumber, lulled by Hayley's amazing amiability,
mildness, and crooning serenity. From this slumber he might--who
knows?--never have awakened, but for the discernment of his real
friends--Flaxman and Butts--whose faith finally aroused him and drew him
away from the enchanted ground.

But though he saw, he said nothing. His spiritual friends (on the other
side) commanded him "to bear all and be silent, and to go through all
without murmuring, and, in fine, hope, till his three years shall be
accomplished." When Hayley was more than usually exasperating, Blake
vented himself in an epigram, and, much relieved, went on quietly.

Thus, when Blake was convinced that Providence did not mean him to paint
miniatures, he wrote:

  "When Hayley finds out what you cannot do,
  That is the very thing he'll set you to do."

Again, Blake discovered that Hayley's virtues and faults were both of the
feminine order. It was a feminine instinct that had prompted him to write
_The Triumphs of Temper_ and the _Essay on Old Maids_. A brilliant epigram
of Blake's accounts for this odd psychic twist, and flashes Hayley before

  "Of Hayley's birth this was the happy lot:
  His mother on his father him begot."

That was the true state of affairs. But Blake obeyed his spiritual
friends, and for a long time no sign appeared in his letters that there
was anything the matter.

Hayley was also anxious to teach Blake Greek. Like most men of his times,
he believed that no man could attain to the highest degree of excellence
who had not mastered Greek and Latin. He probably thought that a knowledge
of Greek would at least correct some of Blake's vagaries. Blake was quick
at languages, and soon Hayley was able to write to Johnson: "Blake is just
become a Grecian, and literally learning the language.... The new Grecian
greets you affectionately."

Blake, however, never attained to his teacher's proficiency; he learnt
just enough to be able to formulate to himself the nature of the Greek
genius, and to see it in relation to his own. "The Muses were the
Daughters of Memory." The inspiration of the Bible was from a higher
source than Memory. Memory is the indelible record of experience.
Inspiration is always a breaking into experience to the creation of
something new. Then only is the new creation handed over to Memory. Thus
Inspiration feeds Memory, but is not its fruit. Imagination is the true
instrument of Inspiration. When Blake saw all this clearly, he wrote in
the Preface to _Milton_: "We do not want either Greek or Roman Models if
we are just and true to our own Imaginations." Greek and Latin have their
abiding place in Memory, and Blake was about to write fine things about
Memory, which he calls the Halls of Los; but for himself they did not
stimulate his imagination. To master them would add to his culture; but
mere culture is always barren.

Hayley's last attempt to teach Blake was in March 1805, the month in which
Klopstock died. He translated parts of Klopstock's _Messiah_ aloud for
Blake's benefit. Certain lines by Blake with big gaps have been preserved,
which are hard for us to understand. The only thing we are quite sure
about them is that they were written "after _too much_ Klopstock."

There was one great name that held Hayley and Blake alike at this time. We
know that Blake had always admired Milton's superb gifts, while he
disliked his theology. Blake's special friends had also been preoccupied
with Milton. Fuseli, for example, not only disagreed with Dr Johnson's
strictures on the poet, but he had been inspired by his ardent imagination
to paint a series of pictures illustrating the poet's works, and these had
been on public view at a Milton Gallery opened on May 20th, 1799, and
reopened March 21st, 1800.

While Blake was with Hayley he naturally heard much of Milton from his
latest biographer; and again their united interest in Cowper led them back
to Milton, because of Cowper's cherished desire to edit Milton, with notes
and translations.

In 1790, when Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery was a success, "bookseller"
Johnson was fired with the idea of bringing out a magnificent Milton
Gallery, "surpassing any work that had appeared in England." It was to
contain Cowper's notes and translations and Fuseli's illustrations, for
which the best engravers were to be found. The services of Sharpe and
Bartolozzi were enlisted, and Blake was asked to engrave _Adam and Eve
observed by Satan_. The project fell through owing to Cowper's mental
indisposition; but when Hayley was engaged on the _Life of Cowper_ and
Blake on its engravings, Cowper's _Milton_ came uppermost again in their
minds, and it occurred to Hayley that it would be a good plan to bring out
a fine edition of the delayed work, with engravings after designs by
Romney, Flaxman, and Blake. The profits of the work were "to be
appropriated to erect a monument to the memory of Cowper in St Paul's or
Westminster Abbey." To this work was to be added Hayley's _Life of
Milton_, so that the whole necessarily would spread out to three quarto
volumes. The project was abandoned. Instead of the three volumes, one
volume with Cowper's notes finally appeared in 1808, and instead of the
proceeds going to a monument in St Paul's, they were given for the
emolument of an orphan godson of the Sussex Bard.

Thus Blake's thought and time were fully occupied. Besides the designs for
Hayley's ballads, engravings were required for the Cowper _Life_. Butts
was to be kept supplied with a fresh picture as fast as Blake could paint
it; and his own more secret thought was ruminating over Milton, and his
stay at Felpham, and his dreams for the future. These were to take form in
his longest poetical works--_Milton_, _The Four Zoas_, and _Jerusalem_;
but as they are of extreme importance for understanding Blake, they must
be kept over to another chapter.

Blake was thoroughly interested in this work, for he admired Cowper, and
considered that his letters were "the very best letters that were ever
published." It is necessary to remember his reverence for Cowper, as also
for Wesley and Whitefield, because in the poems there are many vigorous
attacks made on religion, and some of Blake's modern imitators follow him
in the attack. The moderns for the most part are irreligious, but Blake
professed to love true religion and true science. What he hated above all
things was religion divorced from life and art. Such religion becomes very
intense, as in the Pharisees, and when great decisions are called for, as
in the trial of Christ, it invariably utters its voice on the wrong side.

Blake's engravings for the Cowper _Life_ were after designs by other
artists, the most important being the head of Cowper by Romney. To engrave
after another is irksome, and there was further irritation when he
found that Hayley was as ready to instruct him how to engrave as to paint


Since Hayley could never disguise his inmost thoughts, Blake soon
perceived that he intended to keep him strictly to the graver, as he had
no opinion of his original works, whether in poetry or design. Blake found
relief in painting for Thomas Butts, who was his friend and patron for
over thirty years, and to whom he sent exquisite pictures, and some
letters priceless for their revelation of the writer.

From these we learn the nature of Blake's spiritual crisis at Felpham.

Miniature portrait painting drove home to him the vast difference between
historical designing and portrait painting. Portrait requires nature
before the painter's eye, historical designing depends on imagination.
Nature and imagination were as antithetical in Blake's eye as nature and
grace in the theologian's, and just here he kept as far away from
pantheism as he could in his obstinate determination to keep nature and
imagination as separate as the sheep and the goats. While agreeing with
Blake in keeping them apart, I suppose most of us would say that the
finest portrait painting depended on imagination no less than historical

The atmosphere of Felpham induced in Blake long fits of abstraction and
brooding, and he pushed his thoughts on miniature forwards to the
recollecting of all his scattered thoughts on art. He determined to
discontinue all attempts at eclecticism. Venetian _finesse_ and Flemish
_picturesque_ were "excellencies of an inferior order" and "incompatible
with the grand style." He was convinced that the reverse of
this--uniformity of colour and long continuation of lines--produces
grandeur. So said Sir Joshua, who did not always practise what he
preached in his discourses; so said Michael Angelo, whose profession and
practice were one; so said Blake, who was decided, while adhering to the
principles of the great Florentine, to be true to his own genius, so that
his work should be as distinct from Michael Angelo's as Caracci's from
Correggio's, or Correggio's from Raphael's.

Here was strength for Blake in knowing his own mind about his art and
methods, and following it. It helped him out of his paralysing diffidence,
which Hayley fostered, and made more clear the real issue between him and
his patron. He strove to see the situation in the largest light possible.
The old question of God's providence exercised him. Did God bring him to
Felpham? Did God keep him there? If so, it must be because it was not fit
for him at present to be employed in greater things. That thought kept him
patient. When it is proper his talents will be properly exercised in
public. But God guides by cleansing man's understanding and pushing him
forwards to a decision. He understood his art, yet Hayley objected to his
doing anything but the mere drudgery of business. He trusted his art, and
he saw how he must work. Let him trust himself, and then? He saw all
clearly now, as he had seen it in the first month, although he had stifled
his apprehensions. God had given him a great talent. It would be affected
humility to deny it. If he stayed with Hayley he would paint miniatures,
make money, and make his beloved Kate comfortable for life; but he would
sell his divine birthright. If he obeyed God by following the gifts He had
bestowed on him, then farewell to Hayley and lovely Felpham: he must
return without delay to London, and once more he and Kate together must
face the grinding life of poverty. Anyone who knows Blake must know what
decision he would make. He made it silently, irrevocably. By the
beginning of October 1803 he and Kate were back again in London, lodging
in South Molton Street, with a sense of escape and liberty which more than
compensated for the uncertain prospect of the future.

Blake had not quite finished with Felpham. Before leaving he had had a
disagreeable affair with a private in Captain Leathe's troop of 1st or
Royal Dragoons. From a letter of Blake's to Mr Butts, dated August 16th,
1803, we learn that this man was found by him in the garden, invited to
assist by the gardener without his knowledge. He desired him politely to
go away; and on his refusal, again repeated his request. The man then
threatened to knock out his eyes, and made some contemptuous remarks about
his person. Blake thereupon, his pride being affronted, took the man by
the elbows and pushed him before him down the road for about fifty yards.
In revenge, the soldier charged Blake with uttering sedition and damning
the King. Blake had no difficulties in gathering witnesses for his
defence. He was summoned before a bench of justices at Chichester and
forced to find bail. Hayley kindly came forward with £50, Mr Seagrave,
printer at Chichester, and protégé of Hayley's, with another £50, and
himself bound in £100 for his appearance at the Quarter Sessions after
Michaelmas. The trial came off at Chichester on January 11th, 1804. The
Duke of Richmond presided as magistrate. Hayley had procured for the
defence Samuel Rose (Cowper's friend), and between them they had no
difficulty in releasing Blake.

There would have been no need to repeat this story, except that the event
made a deep impression on Blake. Skofield, the soldier's name, became in
his mind an abiding symbol, and the soldier's contempt for his person
decided him to change his deportment.

Blake's humble birth and childlike trust of his fellows had united to
produce in him a too passive and docile manner. There was plenty of fire
within, and the lamb knew how to roar; but he judged that his roar need
not be provoked if his appearance somehow warded people off from taking a
liberty with him. Diffidence is not a virtue. Blake's too passive
deportment changed as he gradually became more self-confident. Hence the
Skofield episode left a lasting mark on both his mind and body.

Blake's decisive step in leaving Hayley and following his own will
immediately preceded the noonday glory of his genius. Hayley must have
thought that Blake was extremely ungrateful after the invariable kindness
that he had shown him; and if Hayley liked to call his neighbouring
friends around him and put his case to them, probably all, without a
single dissentient voice, would have agreed that he had shown himself a
Christian and a gentleman, and that charity itself could not demand of him
to trouble himself any further about such a crazed visionary as Blake.
Blake not only thought otherwise, but turning to the Gospel as he was wont
to do, he found a word of Christ that convinced him that Christ was on his
side. "He who is not with me is against me." There were a thousand
evidences that Hayley was not with the real Blake that was striving to
manifest himself in time, and therefore he was against him, and an enemy
to his genius. Blake went to Felpham shaken in himself and diffident. When
there is diffidence (dispersal of faith) there is a lamentable waste of
precious energy. Blake left Felpham reassured that the light he had seen
in his youth was the true light, and confident (confidence is
concentration of faith) that if he remained faithful to his real self, he
would also be found on the side of Christ, and that this true
self-confidence must result in beautiful work of the creative order. That
was the supreme hour in his life. The full vision must come. Like
Habakkuk, he was on his tower, assured that though it tarry it would come
and not tarry. He was not impatient. "The just shall live by his faith."
Blake had faith, and he asked no more; but he gained a thousandfold more,
and the full vision came to him in a way that must seem odd to a child of
the world, but wonderfully appropriate to one who understands what is the
nature of the fire that sustains and consumes the artist's soul.

During the months of 1803-4 a certain Count Truchsess, who owned a
valuable collection of pictures, exhibited them at a gallery in the New
Road, opposite Portland Place, London. The pictures were by German, Dutch,
Flemish, Italian, Spanish, and French masters. The masters included Albert
Dürer, Hans Holbein senior, Breughel, Vandyck, Michael Angelo, Leonardo da
Vinci, Bourdon, Watteau.

Blake went to see the pictures, and must have been unusually excited and
thrilled at seeing works by Michael Angelo and Albert Dürer directly, and
not through the blurred medium of poor engravings. The divine frenzy
stirred in his soul. The next day, suddenly, he was enlightened with the
light he enjoyed in his youth. The cloud that had hung over him for twenty
years vanished, the grim spectre (reason) who had haunted his ways and
checked his inspiration fled with the cloud. Blake was drunk with
intellectual vision, and in his drunken hilarity came to himself, knew
what was his proper work, and once for all gave himself with passionate
surrender to that which his whole and undivided being saw to be good.

It will take us the rest of our time gathering some of the fruits of
Blake's richly matured genius.

Blake wrote an enthusiastic account of his mystic experience to Hayley, of
all men--Hayley who had so exasperated him, and made him sore, and, in his
soreness, say biting things. Now he was thoroughly at peace with himself,
and could regard Hayley with the kindness and tolerance that before had
been impossible. For a while he continued to correspond with him while he
was occupied with his _Life of Romney_. Blake engraved a portrait of the
artist for the frontispiece which never appeared, and a fine engraving of
Romney's _Shipwreck_, which appeared along with the other engravings by
Caroline Watson. The _Life of Romney_ was a dreary performance. Like the
_Life of Cowper_, it revealed its subject only when it gave his letters.
For the rest, it abounds in a welter of elegant eighteenth-century words
and phrases which assure us that "the poet" never saw even Romney and
Cowper as they really were, and therefore it is not surprising that he saw
in Blake merely a mild and harmless visionary who might do paying work if
only he would listen to the wise counsel that he was always ready to give.

Peace be with Hayley! Among those that appear before Peter's Gate, we
cannot help thinking that he will be more readily admitted than the vast
crowd of eighteenth-century squires who will knock at the gate, and stamp
and fume if it is not opened to them on the instant.



Blake's "three years' slumber," as he called it, hypnotized, I presume, by
Hayley's lulling kindness, were amongst the most important in his life. If
he slumbered, yet his dreams were unusually active; and, since feelings
are more intense in dreams than when wide-awake, it is not surprising that
Blake's inner life was in a violent commotion. Any stirring of his feeling
immediately set his supersensual faculty vigorously to work. Visible
persons and things were tracked back to invisible principalities and
powers, his cosmic consciousness quickened, the need to create possessed
him, and he found relief only in giving rhythmic expression to his
spiritual reading of mundane things.

This was the mental process that we saw at work in his _French Revolution_
and _America_. Now it was moving among the persons and things connected
with his own life; but it is not less important, for the same mighty
agencies govern individuals and nations alike, and link them up together,
so that they are interchangeable manifestations of eternal laws and

The practical outcome was _Milton_, _Jerusalem_, and a revision of _The
Four Zoas_, begun some time about 1795. These claim our close attention,
for they contain, for those who have patience to probe their forbidding
exterior, the treasure of one who had run the road of excess, not of
profligacy but rebellion, and now reached the palace of wisdom.

On April 25th, 1803, Blake wrote to Thomas Butts: "I have written this
poem (_Milton_) from immediate dictation." Later in the same year (July
6th), he writes: "I can praise it, since I dare not pretend to be any
other than the secretary; the authors are in Eternity. I consider it the
grandest Poem that this world contains. Allegory addressed to the
intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the corporeal
understanding, is my definition of the most sublime Poetry." In the
Preface to _Milton_ Blake asserts, in effect, that Shakespeare and Milton
were shackled by the Daughters of Memory, who must become the Daughters of
Inspiration before work of the highest creative order can be produced.
Here he regards Memory as a hindrance, and comparing the Preface with the
above quotations, we learn that he strove to put Memory aside while the
authors in Eternity were dictating to him.

But in the _Jerusalem_ there are, scattered throughout, references to what
he calls the Halls of Los, familiar to readers of mystical literature as
the Akashic or Etheric records, and called by Yeats the great Memory.

"All things acted on Earth are seen in the bright Sculptures of Los's
Halls, and every Age renews its powers from these Works."[4]

Here Memory serves to renew an age, and then becomes the recipient of the
age's inspired works.

These passages, taken together, open up again the great questions of
Inspiration, Memory, Creation, Mechanism, and since each one of these
words is now made to stand for differing conceptions, they are ambiguous,
and we may not use them without first defining sharply what we mean. We
speak of the true poet like Shakespeare, the true mystic like Blake, the
true saint like Catherine of Siena, and the true Book like the Bible as
all being inspired, yet in each case the inspiration is of a different
order. The common element which justifies the one word is originality.
Shakespeare's inspiration depends on the great Memory, on his own complex
nature, and his consuming spirit of observation; but at the moment of his
inspiration, all these things seem in abeyance, and the words well up as
if a spirit not himself had given them to him. His originality consists in
the unique impression that his rich understanding gives of the elements
supplied by the Past and Present, but not in the creation of a new
element. The same may be said of Dante, Milton, Shelley.

The inspiration of the Bible contains all these elements, which constitute
its purely human side, but there is something else which has given it its
supreme power in all ages. The writers of the Bible remember and observe
and think, but they also utter themselves as they are moved by the Holy
Ghost. It is this last mysterious happening that inspires the creative
element. The inspired poet has aided his observation and experience by
drawing on the great Memory, the inspired Bible has added to the great
Memory something that was not in it before. The poet can renew us, yet
keeps us within the circle of the cosmic consciousness. The Bible can
inspire us and lift us out of the circle far above the seven heavens of
the cosmos. And that is our rescue from that nightmare of eternal
recurrence which set Nietzsche's fine brain tottering down to its

The inspiration of the poet is general, and that of the Bible unique; but
there still remains a special kind to which Blake, like many other
mystics, laid claim.

When Blake was perplexed at Felpham, he referred to his spiritual guides,
who were in their turn subject to God. They, according to him, were the
real authors and inspirers of his prophetic books. This sort of language
was rare in the eighteenth century, but is quite familiar to readers of
theosophical books, ancient or modern.

They teach that there are seven planes of consciousness from the physical
to the mahaparanirvanic, which together make up the cosmos. The two
highest planes are beyond the reach of human conception; but there are not
a few to-day who claim to have attained to the fifth nirvanic plane. Here
the consciousness is so finely developed, and its vibrations respond so
readily, that the subject comes into touch with other intelligences, and
often submits to them entirely for guidance.

In St Paul's day this teaching was familiar at Ephesus in the form of
gnosticism. He did not disbelieve in the reality of the seven planes, but
he disagreed with the gnostics in their blind faith in the trustworthiness
of the guides. He believed that many of them were so evil that when
Christians became conscious of them, they needed the whole armour of God
to protect them against their wiles. Here is the difference between the
Christian and pantheistic teaching. The pantheist thinks that because a
thing is spiritual it is therefore holy and good; Christianity believes in
fallen spiritual beings. The pantheist believes that to reach the nirvanic
plane is to attain to holiness; Christianity says that all the planes of
the cosmos are tainted, and if one reached even the seventh, one would
still have need of cleansing. Theosophy keeps one for ever within the
cosmic circle; Christianity lifts one beyond the circle into the ascended
Christ, and teaches that one is safe on the different subtle planes of
consciousness only while one abides in Him. Doubtless there are good
guides, but the danger is great because it is so difficult to try the

Blake here as elsewhere wavers between the two views. With certain
reservations he dips on the Christian side. He travels round the cosmos,
but in a spiral; and the top of his spiral--his Jacob's Ladder--reaches
not to the seventh plane but to the Throne of God, which is far above the
charmed circle. Hence man is able to climb beyond the defiled cosmos into
the pure heaven of God. That is his redemption.

Blake's vision, then, ranging freely among the planes of consciousness,
gives him access to the great Memory which is within the cosmos; and at
rare moments he goes beyond the cosmos, and then his words proceed from
the highest inspiration.

In appraising the value of Blake's defamation of the Greeks' inspiration,
one must remember that he was not a profound Grecian. His studies with
Hayley cannot have carried him into the heart of the Greek genius. When he
limits its inspiration to Memory, there is no scholar, I imagine, that
would agree with him. The Greeks did make an invaluable contribution to
the world's memory; and while one source of their inspiration came from
the past, we must further admit that it was the past wedded to the present
which actually produced something new, that is, of the creative order.

Blake's own inspiration when it came from his spiritual guides is not of
such a high order as the Greek's at his highest. The so-called guides, if
we may trust St Paul, are inside of the cosmos, like the great Memory, and
their source of wisdom is from this world, which is the arena of the
Church in her militant course. It is only by watching her that they are
able to get glimpses of the manifold wisdom of God. Hence to place oneself
under their guidance is a hindrance to receiving that highest inspiration
that comes direct from the Spirit of God.

Blake was wrong, too, in his efforts to shut off Memory. Of course he
could not succeed. Every page of _Jerusalem_ shows that Memory was at work
though shackled. Memory alone could have made it coherent and a luminous
whole, as it had made _Paradise Lost_; but it was not free enough to keep
its different scenes, often very beautiful, from flying far apart, and the
imagination grows weary in trying to capture the complete picture.

The one thing in these poems that we can positively affirm to be new is
their symbolism, and that cannot be defended. Symbolism is beautiful only
as it is universal, or can become so. It should be one language against
many tongues. But Blake's is not even the tongue of a nation or a tribe.
It is his own private invention, and, incidentally, uncouth, forbidding,
unintelligible, and in actual fact a little insane. It is true that we can
learn his symbolism after much labour; but a beautiful and catholic
symbolism is the one thing that we have a right to understand, without
learning, through the imagination, which Blake always affirmed to be

Blake could not afford to indulge these idiosyncrasies. Like all mystics,
he found it difficult to adjust the inner things that were real to him to
the outer that were but a shadow. Since most people find the outer things
are the substantial reality, they are not only moving in a different world
from that of the mystic, but they are puzzled to know when the letter of
his statements is to be taken.

Ezekiel says that he ate his meat baked with cow's dung; Blake, that
Hayley, when he could not act upon his wife, hired a villain to bereave
his life. We know sufficient of Blake's relation to Hayley to understand
that Hayley's murderous purpose was towards Blake's spiritual life, not
his corporeal, and that he tried to prevail on Blake through his wife. We
may hope also that Ezekiel did not really eat "abominable flesh," or lie
for a preposterously long time on his left side. We mention the mystic's
hazy treatment of external actions, to explain Blake; but we hope the
mystic of the future will be more considerate of what his words are likely
to convey to others, and then clear them of all ambiguity.

Blake should have guarded himself perpetually here, but was too proud or
wilful to do so. Hence with his merging of inward and outward things, and
using the same language for both, added to his private symbolism, what
should have been his greatest poems have become submerged continents in
which you may discover endless treasures only if you dare to dive, and can
hold your breath under water.

Let us dive for the sake of understanding the growth of Blake's mind.

I will take _Milton_ separately, and _The Four Zoas_ and _Jerusalem_

Blake's feelings towards Milton had always been divided. He saw in him the
highest order of poetic genius, but also, ominously present, the spirit of
reason (Urizen) enthroned in the wrong place, and a servile love of the
classics that placed him under the heel of the Daughters of Memory. To
change the metaphor, Milton's Pegasus was ridden by Urizen.

Blake's final criticism of Swedenborg was that he drew the line in the
wrong place between heaven and hell; and his amendment was to take his two
contraries and marry them. From that time forward his first question in
trying a man's religion was, Where do you draw the line? Popular religion
always draws it in the wrong place. Good things are reckoned evil and evil
things good. But as Blake continued to put his question to the world's
great spirits, he counted twenty-seven different answers that had produced
twenty-seven different churches, each church having its own particular
heaven and corresponding hell. He had hoped to unite all these contraries
as successfully as he had Swedenborg's; but when he came to Christ's
division, finding that nothing would unite His sheep and goats, and His
wheat and tares, he henceforth took Christ's dividing line as absolute,
and the line of any other as right only when it coincided with Christ's.

Applying this test to Milton, Blake saw that he wrongly divided heaven and
hell, and that this fatal mistake necessarily affected the characters of
his Messiah and Satan. Messiah, who should have stood for the supreme
poetic genius, was the embodiment of restrictive reason, and Satan, who by
immemorial tradition is absolute evil, was endowed with a marvellous
imagination that inevitably brought with it certain virtues. When Blake
inquired for the root cause of this perversion in Milton, he traced it to
the fact that Reason had largely usurped the place of Imagination. He then
took one more customary step. He set Milton in his imagination in the
light of the eternal order. Seen in this perspective, the prime fact about
him appeared that he had fallen in his encounter with Urizen and come
under his dominion, and the last was that his redemption would be effected
only by going down into self-annihilation and death with Christ, and then
rising again with the life of pure imagination. Once imagination (Los) is
supreme, then reason (Urizen) falls into his proper place, and the return
into the eternal order is accomplished.

During Blake's stay at Felpham, Milton was continually present in the
minds of both himself and Hayley. Hence he was for Blake an actual person
in the Felpham drama, Mr and Mrs Blake and Hayley being with him the chief
characters, and Skofield and his confederates the rabble. Then passing, as
in _The French Revolution_, from actual persons and events to the unseen
things of which they were the temporal manifestation, Blake saw each
person in his eternal state, and as a symbol of that state, and he lost
sight of the earthly puppets, as they were merged into their monstrous and
eternal counterparts. The transition made, the poem is no longer
intelligible to the corporeal understanding, and Hayley might read it a
hundred times without suspecting that he was the villain of the piece.

The characters are Los, Urizen, Palamabron and Rintrah, sons of Los,
Satan, and Skofield, who keeps his own name. Satan for a time is Hayley,
Palamabron by turns Blake and Wesley, Rintrah, Whitefield. This is a
seemingly harsh judgment of poor Hayley, akin to Michael Angelo's
treatment of Biagio da Cesena; but the harshness is humorously softened
when Satan is discovered decked with half the graces. He is kind, meek,
humble, and complains gently when his kindness fails to call forth
gratitude. He is the personification of Hayley's virtues, which together
make up (hypocritic) holiness.

Blake had made the startling discovery, which Nietzsche has popularized in
our time, that the graces in wrong places are vices. Nietzsche went on to
make the absurd assertions that humility and pity are the virtues of the
herd and are never right in any place. Blake believed that the graces
coupled with insight and understanding took on a new quality which made
them divine.

To give examples: Blake, while submissive to Hayley, was humble, but at
the risk of his birthright.

Hayley, exerting himself to find rich neighbours to sit for Blake to paint
in miniature, was kind, but he was suffocating his genius.

To the scribes and Pharisees, Christ meek would have been Christ weak.

Modesty in one who does not know that all things that live are holy is

To pity oneself or another for the troubles that come through slackness is
effeminacy. The true virtue here is to damn. Hence the right place for a
man clothed from head to foot in hypocritic graces is hell, his right name
is Satan.

But when a man has stripped himself of his virtues, and annihilating
himself goes down with Christ into death, then he rises again into newness
of life and vision, and the graces of the new life, still called by their
old names, but now in their right places, are flaming, beautiful,

Once Blake saw his man in his setting in eternity, he escaped from his
initial resentment, and he could write calmly to Hayley and subscribe
himself, "Your devoted Will Blake."

I may remark that Blake did not think he had invented new values, like
Nietzsche, in his indictment of the virtues. His language was his own, but
his conclusions were precisely the same as those of Wesley, Whitefield,
Bunyan, St Paul, when they, in effect, speak of man's righteousness as
filthy rags, and of his need to be clothed with the _living_ righteousness
of Christ before his garment can be reckoned beautiful and clean.

A few quotations from _Milton_ may be given as Blake's final word on
Hayley. I will write Hayley for Satan, and Blake for Palamabron.

  "Blake, reddening like the Moon in an eclipse,
  Spoke, saying, You know Hayley's mildness and his self-imposition;
  Seeming a brother, being a tyrant, even thinking himself a brother
  While he is murdering the just."

  "How should Hayley know the duties of another?"

  "Hayley wept,
  And mildly cursing Blake, him accused of crimes himself had wrought."

  "So Los said: Henceforth, Blake, let each his own station
  Keep; nor in pity false, nor in officious brotherhood, where
  None needs be active."

  "But Hayley, returning to his Mills (for Blake had served
  The Mills of Hayley as the easier task), found all confusion,
  And back returned to Los, not filled with vengeance, but with tears.
  Himself convinced of Blake's turpitude."

  "Blake prayed:
  O God protect me from my friends."

  "For Hayley, flaming with Rintrah's fury hidden beneath his own mildness,
  Accused Blake before the Assembly of ingratitude and malice."

  "When Hayley, making to himself Laws from his own identity,
  Compelled others to serve him in moral gratitude and submission."

  "Leutha said: 'Entering the doors of Hayley's brain night after night,
  Like sweet perfumes, I stupefied the masculine perceptions,
  And kept only the feminine awake; hence rose his soft
  Delusory love to Blake.'"

  "The Gnomes cursed
  Hayley bitterly,
  To do unkind thinks in kindness, with power armed; to say
  The most irritating things in the midst of tears and love--
  These are the stings of the Serpent!"

These are enough to show Blake's method, and his remorseless understanding
of Hayley. There is present an irresistible touch of humour which
preserves them from being too bitter.

For the rest, the poem narrates Milton's encounter with Urizen; his going
down into self-annihilation and death; his judgment, and final redemption
as he ascends to the heaven of the imagination. Milton's heaven is then
the heaven of Jesus, and his hell remains its irreconcilable contrary.

In this poem Blake's full-grown mythology appears. The mythical persons,
places, states are ominously present; but since they appear with much more
particularity in _The Four Zoas_ and _Jerusalem_, I may pass to them to
extract what is necessary for understanding the mature Blake.

_Jerusalem_ and _The Four Zoas_ should be studied together. The latter was
begun about 1795, and rewritten at Felpham. The early prophetic
books--_Urizen_, _Los_--stand as preliminary sketches to this large poem.
They are woven into it with scarcely a change of word.

Blake's great scheme is mainly in line with historical Christianity, which
of course is catholicism. He starts with the eternal order and unity.
Without attempting to explain the origin of evil, he narrates the fall out
of unity and order into diversity and disorder, and how as a consequence
of the fall creation appears. He is obliged to use the word "creation,"
but there is no real creation in his cosmogony. There are only three
possible theories of creation. Creation from within God, which is
pantheism, and makes the universe an emanation; creation from something
outside of God, which is dualism, and not likely to be accepted in the
West; and creation out of nothing, which is catholicism. Blake learnt from
Swedenborg the emanative theory. Swedenborg tried to avoid the pantheistic
conclusion of his foundation principle, and believed that he had
succeeded. His doctrine of the human God was certainly fine, and nearly
catholic. Blake sways between the two. His doctrine of creation is
pantheistic, but his affirmation that "God doth a human form display to
those that dwell in realms of day" is splendidly catholic, and so, on the
whole, is his doctrine of the fall. Since Blake's day the problem has
become enormously complicated, because we have to take account of the
vestiges in man's body of an animal ancestry, and the still more
infallible signs in his soul of a divine origin. Perhaps we shall
eventually all come to believe in both evolution and a special creation to
account for man's unique place in the universe. At any rate a denial of
the fall involves a definite departure from historical Christianity, and
it is important to see that it was an integral part of Blake's scheme and
without it that scheme falls to pieces. Not that he pressed the letter of
the Adam and Eve story. It stood for him as a divinely simple witness of
an ancient simplicity and unity from which man has departed by
disobedience and the assertion of a life and a self independent of God.
His way back into unity is by the cross of Jesus Christ, where the
self-hood dies, and the day of judgment, which finally separates in him
the gold from the dross, and presents him in his divine humanity perfect
before the human-divine God.

Between these two stupendous facts--the fall and the redemption--Blake
finds a place to say all that he wishes about the manifold things of
heaven and earth and hell.

The unity from which man departs is made up of four mighty ones--the Four
Zoas--who are the four beasts of the Apocalypse, taken from the four
beasts of Ezekiel, who probably appropriated four of the many monstrous
symbolical beasts of Assyria.

Blake invented names for them. Of these--Urizen, Urthona-Los, Luvah, and
Tharmas--Urizen and Los are by far the clearest conceived figures. Perfect
unity is maintained so long as Los is supreme. Reason is important in its
right place. It becomes an evil when it usurps the place of imagination
and thinks it can see as far. The essence of the fall is disorder.
Redemption restores order, which is unity. Science alone breaks down
because it is built up on observation and induction. Its observation is
insufficient, for it is the observation of a shrunk universe. It gathers
its materials through the five senses. But there are other avenues in
regenerated man. If science were built up on the observation or vision of
the whole instead of a very small part, it would become divine science and
coincident with religion.

Religion breaks down whether built on nature or experience. If on nature,
it is nature only as seen through limited vision; if on experience, it is
the experience of fallen man, and therefore it is of vital force only when
it transcends nature and becomes super-natural, and rests on a revelation
not from man's experience, however deep, but from God.

[Illustration: ALBION.

_From Jerusalem._]

Deism was the particular time-heresy of Blake's day. He came into direct
contact with it through his friend Tom Paine. Deistic religion, to be
adequate for man's need, must rest on perfect nature and perfect
experience. Paine, Voltaire, and Rousseau, in order to provide these
conditions which they saw to be necessary, were driven to make the wild
statement, contrary to all experience, that man is naturally holy and
good, and if he is not so as we know him, it is because he is everywhere
perverted by artificial civilization. Having swallowed this baseless
assumption, the rest was easy. They had only like Godwin to manufacture
some scheme of political justice, or like Rousseau to arrange a social
contract, and then the Millennium would come.

Against all this Blake protested, but without personal heat. He was well
aware of Paine's deism, when he helped him to escape to France; and of
Voltaire he wrote justly: "He has sinned against the Son of man, and it
shall be forgiven him." He protested and he affirmed: "Man is born a
Spectre, or Satan, and is altogether an Evil." In this uncompromising
affirmation, taken out of the heart of _Jerusalem_, written at the mature
age of forty-seven, he cuts himself off sharply, not only from the
humanitarian deism of his time, but from the pantheism that invaded so
many phases of his thought; he goes beyond the kindly catholic dogma which
allows a residuum of original righteousness in fallen man; and, with
Whitefield and the Calvinists, denies that he has any righteousness left
at all. Hence the utter failure of all empiricism, and the absolute need
of Revelation and a supernatural religion. How near he was getting to Dr
Johnson! Super-nature, of course, presupposes nature. Blake was obliged to
contemplate Nature, and meditate on the ancient difficulties that she
still presents.

There are many passages in _The Four Zoas_ to show how alive he was to
Nature's loveliness and cruelty. Her cruelty alone convinced him that she
could not be taken as a basis for religion. A natural man building his
character on a natural religion must be as cruel as his mother. The
cruelty finds periodic vent in the lust of war.

Yet why there is so much cruelty in Nature remains a mystery, even to the
man who has been driven by her to supernaturalism. Blake maintained that
there were two ways of regarding Nature. The natural man, with only five
senses to inform him, looks at her and sees a very small portion of the
infinite, without ever suspecting the infinite. If he sees her loveliness
it will arrest him and hold him fast. The spiritual man, on the contrary,
looks not at but through Nature, to the spiritual world of which it is a
vegetable mirror.

Here a difficulty presents itself. If Nature be a vegetable mirror of the
eternal world, then her cruelties must reflect eternal cruelties. The
spiritual man may see Nature far differently from the natural man, but
that does not mean that she is merely the picture thrown by man's
subjective self on the great abyss. If man were altogether exterminated
her cruelties would still continue. Since Blake did not deny all existence
to Nature, he was finally obliged to accept the old Christian explanation
so finely summed up by St Paul in the eighth chapter of his Epistle to the
Romans. Sin and disorder originate in the unseen heavens of the cosmos,
where the principalities and powers dwell. Man repeats their sins, and
Nature reflects the disorder of their cosmos. Hence there is no redemption
in the cosmic heavens. Man enters on his redemption only when he bows the
knee to Him who was raised above all heavens. And though "the whole
creation groaneth and travaileth together until now," yet at the great
manifestation of the sons of God she also "shall be delivered from the
bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."

If the fall be denied, then the sufferings of nature and man must be
referred to evolution, which taken alone solves something, but not the
whole, of the ancient and baffling mystery.

All this explains finally why the great Memory to which Blake refers so
often in _Jerusalem_ cannot redeem a man. It is shut up in the cosmos.
Memory would keep man in the cosmos even though he were reincarnated a
million times. Memory's real work, whether for creative art or man's
redemption, is in the fact that she gives man standing ground amid the
horrors of infinity, until he takes strong hold of Him who overcame the
world, and is lifted by Him into His ascension glory beyond the maddening
whir of the cosmic wheels.

In these poems we get Blake's final attitude towards sex and passion.

Passion is always fire, and as such it is energy. To-day we are apt to use
the word only for sex. In the eighteenth century passion was of any kind,
and appetite stood for sex. With Blake, passion is man's vital worth. It
may flame along many forbidden avenues, but once it has mounted to the
imagination, and is controlled by spirit, then it is the driving force
that makes man's works beautiful and his character spontaneous.

The passion of sex is, no doubt, the strongest of all. In the early
prophetic books, when Blake was in a fever of rebellion, he affirmed that
the sex passion was holy and should be free. Now in these later
"prophecies" he still maintains, without wavering, the holiness of sex,
but he no longer insists on free-love. He has no place for perversions. He
steadily contemplates the normal impulse, and sees it as the principle of
life impelling to love and children.

Each man has to solve his own sex problem. Blake's nature was
exceptionally full and passionate. We caught a glimpse of him in his early
married life panting in the whirlwind of sexual desire. It is probably
true that he even contemplated following the patriarchal custom. But
inconveniently for man's theories he has it brought home to him sooner or
later that no man can live to himself alone. Mrs Blake had her feelings;
and though she was the most submissive and loyal of wives, yet she had the
instinctive and normal objection to sharing her husband with others. Blake
might argue that her objection was unreasonable, and that a truly
unselfish woman should rise above such appropriation. But the stubborn
fact remains that the woman who does so rise is either indifferent to her
husband or abnormal, and Mrs. Blake, at any rate, both loving and
unselfish to a heroic degree, was just here inflexible. King Solomon has
sung the praises of a virtuous wife. We may take it as granted that her
price is far above rubies. But the man who imperils his treasure by
putting into practice some theory of free-love, however good that theory
may seem in his own eyes, is worse than a fool; and if he cannot endure
some inconvenience for the sake of keeping the best gift that Heaven can
bestow, he is unworthy to receive it.

Besides these facts, which must have forced their full attention on Blake
as the years went by, time was modifying his early notions in other ways.
He was an indefatigable worker. When one realizes the immense energy
expended in creative work, and that Blake carried this on day after day,
one sees that much of the sex energy must pass into another channel to
supply the necessary power.

And lastly Blake's own spiritual life worked the change. As he learnt to
see through Nature to her antetype, so he learnt to see through physical
beauty. A beautiful face was a very transitory manifestation of eternal
beauty. When Blake with Plato had pierced through to the unseen fount of
beauty, then he was no longer a slave to externals. The passion remained,
but transmuted, and legitimate relief was found in the continuous creation
of beautiful things. Doubtless many will be disappointed that Blake's
experience brought him back to traditional morality; but after all the
terms on which he held it--a clean conception of sex, and faithfulness to
a woman worthy of all faith--were not so very narrow and rigorous. They
are terms that every man ought at once to accept, if ever he should be so
fortunate as to have them proposed to him.

The above ideas are culled from _The Four Zoas_ and _Jerusalem_. I do not
propose any detailed analysis here. This I have done at some length in
_Vision and Vesture_. I will merely point out in conclusion that although
these poems seem to ramble all over the universe inside and outside
without plan or order, there is, in fact, a connecting link in the figure
of Albion.

Albion is the personification of the divine humanity; but regarded
individually he is fallen man, bound with "the pale limbs of his Eternal
Individuality upon the Rock of Ages." His inward eyes are closed from the
Divine Vision, and so he may be reckoned dead in trespasses and sin. Blake
pronounced the natural man altogether an evil. But Albion is not an image
of total depravity. Within him are all the divine faculties in addition to
the five senses without, but they are closed. If he is to be redeemed,
there is no need to create new spiritual faculties, but to re-create and
make operative those that are already there. Hence Blake drives back of
regeneration to the first generation, when man was made in the image and
likeness of God. Regeneration is the renewal of the ancient image and
likeness through the cross of Christ and the breath of the Divine Spirit.

Albion, like Lazarus, is sick. "He whom Thou lovest is sick. He wanders
from his house of Eternity." His "exteriors are become indefinite, opened
to pain, in a fierce, hungry void, and none can visit his regions."

Pained and impotent, he laments like Job:

  "Oh I am nothing if I enter into judgment with Thee.
  If Thou withdraw Thy breath I die, and vanish into Hades;
  If Thou dost lay Thy hand upon me, behold I am silent;
  If Thou withhold Thy hand I perish like a leaf;
  Oh I am nothing, and to nothing must return again.
  If Thou withdraw Thy breath, behold I am oblivion."

  "Eternal death haunts all my expectations. Rent from Eternal Brotherhood
  we die and are no more."

And so Man like a corse

       "lay on the Rock. The Sea of Time and Space
  Beat round the rocks in mighty waves."

Even his limbs "vegetated in monstrous forms of death."

He is opaque and contracted. Yet mercifully there is a limit to his
opacity and contraction, named by Blake Satan and Adam; else he would
sleep eternally. The capacity remains to hear the Voice of the Son of God
and live, and until that moment he is guarded in tender care by the "mild
and gentle" Saviour.

It is Heaven's purpose to awake him.

  "Then all in great Eternity, which is called the Council of God,
  Met as one Man, even Jesus--to awake the fallen Man.
  The fallen Man stretched like a corse upon the oozy rock,
  Washed with the tide, pale, overgrown with the waves,
  Just moved with horrible dreams."

Albion like Milton must tread the difficult way of self-annihilation and

His Day of Judgment is given with marvellous wealth of detail in _The Four
Zoas_, Night IX. But there are still finer passages in _Jerusalem_ which
lead Albion to his final beatitude.

  "Albion said: O Lord, what can I do? my selfhood cruel
  Marches against Thee ...
  I behold the visions of my deadly sleep of six thousand years,
  Dazzling around Thy skirts like a serpent of precious stones and gold;
  I know it is my self, O my Divine Creator and Redeemer.

  Jesus replied: Fear not, Albion; unless I die thou canst not live,
  But if I die I shall arise again and thou with Me.
  This is Friendship and Brotherhood, without it Man Is Not.

  Jesus said: Thus do Men in Eternity,
  One for another, to put off by forgiveness every sin.

  Albion replied: Cannot Man exist without mysterious
  Offering of Self for Another? is this Friendship and Brotherhood?

  Jesus said: Wouldest thou love one who never died
  For thee, or ever die for one who had not died for thee?
  And if God dieth not for Man, and giveth not Himself
  Eternally for Man, Man could not exist, for Man is Love
  As God is Love; every kindness to another is a little Death
  In the Divine Image, nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood.

  So saying, the Cloud overshadowing divided them asunder;
  Albion stood in terror, not for himself but for his Friend
  Divine, and Self was lost in the contemplation of faith
  And wonder at the Divine Mercy, and at Los's sublime honour."

Thus Blake leads man back into his ancient simplicity and unity. Order is
restored; and the four mighty ones that warred within to man's
distraction, led captive by Los, are content each to perform his proper
function, and so to prevent any further disturbance of the peace.

That is a fine consummation, but it is not Blake's last word. Perfect man
must have a perfect City to dwell in. Albion redeemed must build
Jerusalem. Blake began _Milton_ with the fond contemplation of England's
fields and meadows that he had loved in his youth. Calling for his weapons
of war, he sang:

  "I will not cease from Mental Fight,
  Nor shall my Sword sleep in my Hand,
  Till we have built Jerusalem
  In England's green and pleasant Land."

That vision may seem as far off as the vision of the prophet who declared,
"The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters
cover the sea." But the world's master-spirits have never been content
that a man here and there should save his soul.

Plato imagined his Republic, Christ His Kingdom of God on earth, St John
his Holy City, St Augustine his City of God. And Blake, whose first dreams
had been in London's great city, still dreamed that man would return to
his ancient simplicity, and build Jerusalem in England's green and
pleasant land.



Blake had left Hayley to face poverty again in September 1803. He lodged
at 17 South Molton Street, and from there he continued till December 11th,
1805, to write to the patron who had caused him so much inward
disturbance. As long as he had thought it was possible to be on terms of
complete friendship with Hayley he had quarrelled with him. Now he knew
that such friendship was impossible. He saw Hayley as he was, and after
years of self-conflict he saw himself as he was, and he recognized that
there was no fundamental agreement to bridge over their differences. The
effect of this discovery was to put him at peace with Hayley, and also to
lower his sanguine expectations of a wide fellowship in this world.

The letters to Hayley are courteous and almost affectionate in tone.
Hayley was occupied with his _Life of Romney_, Blake was hard at work on a
_Head of Romney_ and an engraving of the _Shipwreck_, after Romney. Hence
there are many references to the artist from which we learn how genuine
was Blake's admiration for the classic simplicity and the skilful massing
of the lights and shades of Sir Joshua's great rival. Mr and Mrs Blake
regularly send their love to Hayley and solicitations for his health till
the correspondence gradually lessens, and Hayley, having no further use
for Blake, gently closes it, and takes himself away out of his sight for
ever. The severance was inevitable, and Blake could not be surprised. He
jotted in his note-book:

  "I write the rascal thanks till he and I
  With thanks and compliments are both drawn dry."

And so the patron passes. The artist who has faced poverty is tasting its
bitterness, stirred with the faint hope that he may find another patron
who will be a corporeal friend and not a spiritual enemy. The patron in
due time appeared. Robert Hartley Cromek was his name, print-jobber,
book-maker, publisher, also an engraver who had studied under Bartolozzi.

This last fact was not auspicious. Blake, we know, had no regard for
Bartolozzi's work, and a pupil of his might prove as little understanding
of Blake's severe art as the Bard of Sussex. Still, there was hope. Cromek
had an admirable business capacity. He understood how to advertise, to
puff, to work the artist, and, what is still more materially important, to
work the public. He had, in a word, all the practical qualities that Blake
lacked. Blake with his love for uniting contraries believed that his art
married to Cromek's practice might produce fame and money, and he was
sorely in need of both.

At this time Blake was making designs for Blair's _Grave_, which he
intended himself to engrave and publish. These were seen by Cromek, who
admired them, and whose business instinct detected money in them.
Immediately he proposed to publish a new edition of _The Grave_, and made
a verbal agreement with Blake that he should contribute twelve engravings
from his own designs. But, inspired by the same business instinct, it
occurred to him that Blake's designs would sell much better if they were
engraved by one who was known to be able to meet the popular taste.
Accordingly he went off to Schiavonetti, who had been a fellow-pupil of
Bartolozzi, and proposed to him to do the engravings.

The result was satisfactory to everyone except Blake. His illustrations
appeared in the summer of 1808, and he received twenty guineas for his
designs, but he was naturally furious and resentful against Cromek for
playing him such a trick.

Cromek was quite right in his judgment that the Blake designs for _The
Grave_ would be popular. Yet this did not arise from any affinity between
Blake and the then famous author of _The Grave_. Blair had been dead for
fifty years. His poem expressed the strict orthodoxy of his day. Its fine
passages are scarcely able to give vitality to the whole. Blake can have
had no sympathy with the long-drawn-out description of the damask-cheeked
maiden lying in her grave, the food of worms. The real genius of
Christianity does not permit of such nauseous details of the
charnel-house. We know how sensitive Blake was to the damask cheek of a
maiden; but we also know that he had come to regard it as the very
transitory manifestation of the eternal beauty, and with his spiritual eye
continually on the "Inviolable Rose" he did not need to remind himself of
the mouldering relics in the grave.

He selected for what proved to be one of his finest designs Blair's
description of the reunion of soul and body on the Day of Judgment. The
poem repeats the doctrine of the resuscitation of the body that has long
since returned to dust. Blake, of course, repudiated this dogma. He
believed that the spiritual body is already present in one who has been
born again of the spirit; and, therefore, death is the bursting of the
mortal shell that the spiritual body may pass on into its spiritual
environment. Yet with his love of marriages he depicted the rending of
the tomb and the passionate reunion of soul and body, not because he
believed in such a future event, but because that reunion taken
symbolically was marvellously expressive of the rapturous marriage of many
pairs of contraries that man in his day persisted in keeping apart.

For the rest, Blair's poem was sufficiently universal in its treatment of
death to enable Blake to illustrate him, and yet read his own opinions
into the words he selected.

Blake's indignation was hot against Cromek, as we can all understand. But
unfortunately his soul was torn with the kindred passion of resentment,
which he was inclined to nurse rather than exterminate. Here a little
reason might have helped him; but his distrust of reason, and his own
passivity, led him to give vent to his resentments against successful men
that strike us as captious and rude. He might plead the example of Christ
in His treatment of the Pharisees, and he did jot down in his note-book
words that I cannot help thinking he applied to himself:

  "Sir Joshua praises Michael Angelo.
  'Tis Christian mildness when knaves praise a foe;
  But 'twould be madness, all the world would say,
  Should Michael Angelo praise Sir Joshua--
  Christ used the Pharisees in a rougher way."

In answer to this we can but say that Sir Joshua was not a Pharisee, and
that Blake was not Christ.

Blake's resentment against Sir Joshua seems to have begun at an interview
when, a very young man, he had shown him some designs, and had been
"recommended to work with less extravagance and more simplicity, and to
correct his drawings." That was the sort of advice that he never would
take at any time. One would have thought that if Sir Joshua was so
palpably a Pharisee, Blake would not have troubled to ask his advice.

As the years passed, the significant facts about Sir Joshua and Blake were
that the one was famous and rich, the other was unrecognized and poor.
Blake's vision, sharpened just here by the injustice of fame, was
preternaturally quick to discover that Sir Joshua was earthy and of the
earth, while his own aim was the so much loftier one of piercing to the
heavenly reality, and then expressing it by clear, definite, and "sweet
outlines," and making the colours, lights, and shades serve to emphasize
the heaven-revealing lines.

Sir Joshua died February 23rd, 1792. His coffin was carried to St Paul's
followed by ninety coaches, and the most eloquent man of the day, Burke,
was bidden to sing his praises. In 1808, when everyone was reading the
collected _Discourses_ of Reynolds, Blake too read, and as his custom was,
made copious marginal notes. With the help of these we are able to relate
Blake to Reynolds with a dispassionateness to which Blake could never

What must strike any impartial reader of the _Discourses_ is the
extraordinary similarity of the aims of art there set forth with Blake's
own cherished views. Both give the supreme place to Michael Angelo and
extol Raphael. Both depreciate the Venetian and Flemish Schools. Both
reckon good drawing the foundation of great art. The difference between
them is mainly one of emphasis. Blake believed in impulse and instinct,
and Sir Joshua in theoretical and reasoned deliberation. Yet the
reasonable man writes: "If we were obliged to enter into a theoretical
deliberation on every occasion, before we act, life would be at a stand,
and art would be impracticable." And again: "I mean to caution you
against ... an unfounded distrust of the imagination and feeling in favour
of narrow, partial, confined, argumentative theories." Both extol the
grand style--with a difference. Reynolds's conception of the grand style
is derived from the laborious study of the excellencies of many masters.
When he attains to it, he is an epitome of those excellencies.

He reaches by this means his ideal, his heaven, and its contrary
immediately bounds into view, which he is too urbane to call hell, and
contents himself to designate as the real. Blake's ideal came to him with
overmastering force from his direct vision of the inward reality. Hence he
had no need of the false antithesis of the ideal and the real. Reynolds
extols Michael Angelo and degrades Hogarth. Blake loves both. In
conclusion we say, with only the _Discourses_[5] before us, the
differences between the two men are negligible in a world where two men
can never quite see eye to eye. It is when we turn from the _Discourses_
to Sir Joshua's accomplished works that we begin to understand what was
reasonable in Blake's furious resentment and attack.

Sir Joshua preached one thing and practised another. He sang the praises
of the Florentine, Roman, and Bolognese Schools, and painted for all the
world as if Rembrandt were his chief master.

  "Instead of 'Michael Angelo'
  Read 'Rembrandt,' for it is fit
  To make mere common honesty
  In all that he has writ."

Sir Joshua, after years of toil, painted Nelly O'Brien's petticoat, and we
marvel at the consummate workmanship. Blake, in spite of his faulty
technique and impatience of criticism, lifted the veil that hides the
heavens, and inspires us. We thank those who make us wonder: we owe
something deeper than thanks to those who inspire us. Blake was well aware
that his art was of a loftier kind than that of the President of the Royal
Academy. The one was reckoned the foremost painter of his age, the other
was pitied as a madman. And Blake felt he did right to be angry.

Let us return to Cromek.

While Blake was at work on his designs for Blair's _Grave_, he drew a
pencil sketch of _Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims_, which had always
attracted him. Cromek, hopping in and out to see how the Blair designs
were progressing, saw the sketch, and his brain immediately swarmed with
fertile ideas. He proposed that Blake should engrave his design, and he
would push it. But on second thoughts it occurred to him that the subject
was admirably suited to Stothard's genius. Leaving Blake with nothing but
a verbal agreement, he went straight off to Stothard, and proposed that he
should make a design on the subject, for which he would pay him sixty
guineas. Cromek undertook to find an engraver. Blake, who had been a
friend of Stothard for many years, went to visit him, and found him at
work on the _Canterbury Pilgrims_. Unsuspecting, he praised the work.
Afterwards he discovered the part that Cromek had played in the seeming
coincidence. At once he concluded that Stothard was privy to the deceit,
and he included him in his vehement indignation against Cromek, and the
lamb roared. With note-book at hand he jotted:

  "A petty sneaking knave I knew--
  O! Mr. Cromek, how do ye do?"

Stothard and Blake had been young together. It was he who had introduced
him to Flaxman. The friendship, of course, was not of the closest, for
they followed a very different track in art.

Flaxman and Blake had a common interest in Swedenborg as well as a supreme
regard for outline, but Stothard's was always an outward eye, never
inward. With a wife and many children, and everlastingly busy producing
his thousands of designs, it was not to be expected that he should dive
into inner causes. His contemporaries were content, and we too, that he
should see the effects in a graceful and poetic glow, and reproduce them
in soothing and graceful compositions. He peered into many times and many
countries, but he was happier when illustrating his contemporaries,
happiest when depicting the chequered career of Clarissa Harlowe.

Cromek was not wrong in thinking that Stothard would make a successful
picture of the _Canterbury Pilgrims_. He was famous at grouping, had an
eye for horses, and was willing to drudge at the British Museum to clothe
his figures correctly. There was some difficulty about the engraving,
which Cromek had first intended to entrust to Bromley. It passed
successively through the hands of Lewis Schiavonetti, Engleheart, Niccolo
Schiavonetti, and was finally done by James Heath. The result justified
Cromek's calculations. The _Pilgrimage to Canterbury_ was exhibited in all
the great towns of England, and also in Edinburgh and Dublin. It had the
most extensive sale of anything of the kind published within a hundred
years. Everyone bought it and exhibited it, according to Mrs Bray, in
their front parlour. It was reckoned Stothard's masterpiece. And when
Harlow painted Stothard's portrait, he placed in the background a curtain
just sufficiently drawn back to show the finest group of a picture in
which the whole grouping was excellent.

Meanwhile Blake, determined to dispense with a professional advertiser,
engraved his own design, and put it up for sale at 28 Broad Street, the
house of his birth where his brother James carried on the business. But it
was not to stand alone. It was exhibited together with sixteen historical
inventions, eleven frescoes, seven drawings. Blake wrote a prospectus to
the _Canterbury Pilgrims_ and a _Descriptive Catalogue_ to the whole
collection. One or two people, notably Crabb Robinson, found their way to
the room; and while the praises of Stothard were being sung throughout the
land for a design that had originated from Blake, Blake was tasting the
bitter mortification of knowing that his attempt at self-advertisement and
appeal to the public had failed.

Although comparisons are odious, we may give ourselves the luxury of
comparing these two rival treatments of a fine subject.

Stothard's task was the easier of the two. His respect for and knowledge
of Chaucer were much less than Blake's, and from the outset he had no mind
to burden himself by attempting a servile copy of the poet. If the wife of
Bath was just enjoying her fifth husband, then obviously she was no longer
a pictorial subject, and Stothard took off as many years as the lady
herself could have wished.

His treatment of the religious types was even less faithful. The
protestantism of the eighteenth century regarded monks, friars, abbesses,
and nuns merely as odd curiosities of an odd past. Stothard had religious
feeling, as is evident in his picture _Confirmation_, which Landseer
admired so much, but for him a friar was the type of laziness, and the
monk of gluttony, and his only idea in portraying them was to make the
lines of their chins and stomachs as rotund as possible.

The idea of a pilgrimage was equally as remote from his mind. It was a
foolishness to be pardoned only because it afforded the artist such
excellent material for form and colour. But if Stothard had no wish to
understand Chaucer's types and point of view, he was overjoyed at the
chance of introducing so many horses, whose evolution from the Middle Ages
was negligible. He had an eye for a horse, and could not resist the
temptation of mounting his pilgrims on much finer horses than Chaucer
provided, or they, for the most part, could afford. Finally he painted a
pleasing background which Mrs Bray says was the Surrey Hills, and Blake
the Dulwich Hills, but in either case were not passed by the Pilgrims in
their journey from the Tabard Inn to Canterbury.

The picture, as Hoppner said, is a modern one--charming, even captivating,
and if it is not Chaucer, yet Stothard only took the liberty which Blake
was ready to take himself when it suited his purpose.

Blake, for his part, was enormously attracted by Chaucer. He saw in him a
first-rate example of the poetic genius that can pierce through to the
underlying reality of every kind of man, and embrace him with genial
warmth. He was observer and contemplator, and there was present just that
element of imagination which always produces something original and

The first happy result of Blake's capture by Chaucer was that he forgot
for a time his horrid symbolism. When he illustrated his own poems, he
drew his monstrous beasts without check, but now that there was no
possibility of mounting Urizen and Los with the rest of the Pilgrims, he
was driven to use Chaucer's symbolism, which time has proved to be

Blake's sympathy here equals that of the elder poet. Like him he sees the
fleshly weakness of the monks and friars, but he sees also, as Stothard
could not, their strength and significance. The cook, the manciple, and
the pardoner are low and coarse types affording the shade, but the parson,
the knight, the squire, the abbess, the Oxford student, and the yeoman are
bright types of human excellence that appear at all times, even in the
eighteenth century, as Blake knew, though in a different dress.

The host on his good stout horse rightly holds the central place. The
knight and squire lead the party as they ought. The religious types--monk,
friar, abbess, nun, three priests--are grouped together. The most
dignified figure is the parson--the person--seated on a wretched cob, for
he cannot afford a better; and near him, happy in his company, are the man
of law and the yeoman. The wife of Bath, the miller, and the cook are
different studies in sensuality. In the rear are the clerk of Oxenford and
Chaucer himself, the philosopher and the poet, the poet being more
prominent, since he with his poetic genius means more to us finally than
the philosopher. Last of all comes the reeve, whose position accords with
his office as steward.

Hence there is a spiritual significance in the picture. The pilgrims are
real Chaucerian people on a real pilgrimage, grouped by a compelling
spiritual kinship. The artist and poet are wedded. Yet the artist never
loses his individuality, because the poet is so universal that he allows
the artist to read his private experience into his own. The picture may
not at first be so attractive as that of Stothard, but when one has grown
accustomed to the exterior charms of the two pictures, there still remains
in Blake's a rich field for fertile gleaning, while when the eye has
become satiated with Stothard's sweetness there remains nothing else as
food for the spirit.



Blake did well to be angry--so he believed. The years were slipping by,
and the gleams of light that had promised a glad day now seldom came.
Hayley had passed out of his life. Cromek could make the money out of him
that he could not make for himself. Stothard, he believed, had acted with
his eyes open. As he brooded on these things, anger and resentment took
possession of him. His courage was failing. His resentments secreted
poison that was surely spreading through his entire being and threatening
to turn the once overtrustful Blake into a disillusioned and bitter old

Then he turned to the gospel, not like tens of thousands to find comfort,
but to justify himself in his attitude of defiance, and to assure himself
that his anger was godlike. He fixed his eyes on to the figure of Jesus,
and essayed the difficult task of seeing Him as He was.

There was not much help coming even from those contemporaries whom he

Wesley and Whitefield proclaimed incessantly the death of Jesus as the one
availing sacrifice for sin, but they appeared to contemplate the life of
Jesus as little as the great Apostle of the Gentiles. William Law, in a
sweat of excitement at his finding of Boehme, devoted all his powers to
discovering the riches of the mystical indwelling Christ.

Since Blake's day the higher critics have given their whole lives to
carving out a human Jesus from the mass of myth, legend, and tradition.
After this wholesale rejection of the supernatural, it strikes one as
comic to hear Samuel Butler solemnly assuring us that there are many gaps
in the character of Jesus that we may fill up, as we like, from our own
ideals. The old dilemma was, Either Jesus was divine or He was not good:
to-day it is, Either Jesus was falsely reported or He was mad.

To the old orthodoxy Jesus was all gentleness, meekness, and mildness. To
the new heterodoxy He was afraid of reality and life, and in His manners
vehement, impatient, and rude. Some see in Him the pattern of obedience:
others the flaunter of all authority.

Blake, as we saw, had reckoned himself among the rebels. He pitted the
future against the past. This was in his youth. Since then he had been
learning that the past held endless treasures, and now he was forced to
consider that it held Jesus. Rebellion must go beyond Jesus. Blake tried,
but he could not pass Him. He gazed at Him until he was seized by Him.
Passionately he contemplated Him. He perceived the energy and force of His
anger and wrath, which like lightning struck the strongholds of evil and
levelled them. He saw Him, His furious ire bursting forth until it became
a chariot of fire. Then driving His course throughout the land, cursing
the scribe and Pharisee, trampling down hypocrisy, breaking the Gates of
Death till they let in day, with bright scourge in hand scourging the
merchant Canaanite until:

  "With wrath He did subdue
  The serpent bulk of Nature's dross
  Till He had nailed it to the Cross."


_Reproduced by kind permission of Mr Sydney Morse._]

Here was what Blake wanted--an anger and fury only greater than his own.
He proceeded impatiently to tear to pieces the conventional Jesus.

Was Jesus obedient, or gentle, or humble? There is no simple answer. His
life was dual--Godward and manward. To God He was obedient and humble: to
man disobedient and proud. His life cannot be explained in terms of law,
just because it was a life, and life is greater than law or logic. It was
no more possible for Him to keep the letter of the ten commandments than
for us. He set aside the Sabbath, He exposed His disciples to murder, He
turned the law from harlots, He lived a vagrant life on other people's
hard-won gains; He coveted the best gifts for His friends; He lived, not
by laws and rules, but by an all-compelling instinct and impulse. He
became in the eyes of His contemporaries a criminal only deserving of
capital punishment.

Blake read on breathlessly.

A woman, a sinner taken in the act, was brought to this terrible Jesus.
Instantly He became a lamb. With exquisite gentleness, sweetness, and
tact, He spoke words chosen not to wound or shame her, and then sent her
away forgiven and blest. This was no isolated event. His kindness to
outcasts never failed. He was angry with Pharisees, yet even to them
strangely without resentment. There was in Him a marvellously tender
compassion, united with a hot hatred of meanness and hypocrisy. All fierce
extremes met in Him. Here was what Blake had been seeking all his
life--that for which he had been a rebel. Just here, in the old gospel,
looming out of the past, he gained his supreme vision of One who satisfied
his utmost need. He gazed, and worshipped Him in His immense energy and
strength, His lowliness and meekness, Who had deserved all that His
chosen people could give Him, yet had borne no resentment when they
despised and rejected Him. Slowly Blake saw his life as a mere blot by the
side of that resplendent life. Then all resentment died in him. The child
spirit returned. He accepted his earthly lot, henceforth content to do his
work with all his might, careless whether his generation paid the wages
due to him or not.



Blake, like the Patriarch, wrestled through his dark night till the day
dawned. He had wrenched the secret out of the angel messenger. Henceforth
he was an Israelite indeed--a guileless Prince with God, with a word of
God on his lips for such as had ears to hear. Doubtless if we could
arrange the details of human experience we would decree that after such a
contact with the Divine a man should for the rest of his days sail on a
halcyon sea into a haven of rest. But though the giants are slain, their
ghosts return; and Blake, like Jacob, was still haunted by spectres which
only did not deter him because he had painfully learnt to discern between
the shadow and the substance.

The day dawned, but not in the way that most would choose. Worldly success
was farther from him than ever. Instead of himself arising like a blaze of
light on the England that he loved, it was his spirit that was secretly
illumined by the spiritual sun; and while he could live by the memory of
his resplendent vision of Christ, yet as he moved among men he was merely
observed to halt on his thigh, or in other words to be touched with that
frenzy or madness which marks those who have rashly gazed on the sun.

For the next ten years--years of rich spiritual maturity--Blake worked
incessantly; but his life was so obscure that his biographers have been
able to glean but a handful of facts.

Immense changes were taking place in European literature and art. The new
spirit and the old spirit were energetically at work side by side. At
home, Jane Austen brought the novel as understood and treated by Fanny
Burney to consummate perfection. Sir Walter Scott cast a magic glow of
romance over the past. Wordsworth was piercing through the sacramental
significance of nature. Coleridge was dreaming weird mystical dreams in
the open daylight. Abroad, Goethe was exploring the riches of man's fallen
nature. Beethoven, bursting away from Haydn, was introducing a world of
passion into his music. Napoleon was a new kind of man.

Did Blake read the signs of the times? And what did he think of them? We
know that he admired Wordsworth, but feared lest nature should ensnare
him. The rest is guess-work. Blake could hardly have known how to place
himself among the great moderns. It is we, looking back over the lapse of
a century, who can see his deep affinity with many that came after him. I
would say more. He had anticipated much of the better side of Nietzsche's
teaching, but had seen it still more clearly in the character and teaching
of Christ. He is strictly the Evangelist to the modern world enamoured of
art, strength, and spontaneity, to bring it back to Christ.

Amidst these changes we can just discern a change in Blake's spiritual
life which is common to all original geniuses. The Psalmist sang: "Instead
of thy fathers thou shalt have children whom thou mayst make princes."
Blake had hardly had a father, but he had had friends or brothers that
were too apt to play the part of the heavy father. These were passing one
by one, and their places were being taken by young men, sons who sat at
the feet of the wise man and gave him the reverence that was his due.

We cannot say that Blake had a genius for friendship. With none of his old
friends had he been really intimate. He was always uncompromising on his
convictions, and these were so peculiar that not even Swedenborgian
Flaxman could always understand him. His feeling for Flaxman survived with
difficulty. What might have grown to a close friendship for Hayley died
the moment he saw him as he was. Stothard had refused his offered hand
after their quarrel. There remained Fuseli, of whom he wrote:

  "The only man that e'er I knew
  Who did not make me almost spew
  Was Fuseli."

Fuseli was a learned man who could scamper about the world's history with
breathless speed. He lectured on the different ages of art with all the
fluency of a Swiss polyglot waiter. Out of the copious flow of his
eloquence one can, with long patience, fish up such fine things as this on
Michael Angelo: "A beggar rose from his hand the patriarch of poverty," or
this on Rembrandt's Crucifixion: "Rembrandt concentrated the tremendous
moment in one flash of pallid light. It breaks on the body of Christ,
shivers down His limbs, and vanishes on the armour of a crucifix; the rest
is gloom."

Fuseli had shared with Blake an admiration for Lavater. In an age of crude
scepticism he openly confessed his faith in Christ. With Blake he reckoned
outline the foundation of great art. Here was much on which the two men
could meet. But Fuseli never quite dug down to fundamental principles.

He declared again and again that "our ideas are the offspring of our
senses," and Blake regarded such damnable Lockian heresy as rank atheism;
and among his other heresies, also damnable in Blake's eyes, was an
enthusiasm for Titian and Correggio, and a summary denial that Albert
Dürer was a man of genius. Hence, Fuseli and Blake, with regard for one
another, were never intimate friends. It was about the year 1818 that
Blake found himself in the midst of a new and younger circle. George
Cumberland, himself young and orthodox on outline, introduced him to John
Linnell and John Varley.

John Varley moved from 2 Harris Place to 5 Broad Street, Golden Square,
about 1806. His house was shared with William Mulready, who married his
sister. His wife, Esther, was sister of John Gisborne, who moved in the
Shelley and Godwin set. Another sister married Copley Fielding. Here was a
group of artists connected by marriage.

Varley helped to found the Water Colour Society in 1804, and drew to
himself many young men who were more or less his pupils. Among these,
besides Mulready, were W. H. Hunt, John Linnell, Samuel Palmer, James

With the big, fat, genial Varley Blake soon became friends. Varley was a
typical once-born man, and his clean earthiness made its irresistible
appeal to the twice-born Blake with his head in the skies. Besides his
water-colours he pursued with equal ardour and success the study of

Minds of Blake's order have been apt to believe in astrology, like Jacob
Boehme and Paracelsus; but Varley failed to convert Blake because, no
doubt, of the extremely materialistic explanation that he could only give
of his science. The stars, according to the astrology that the Western
mind scoffs at, are supposed to exert a direct influence on the destinies
and characters of men. But there is an Oriental doctrine that dispenses
with such a crude theory, considering that the stars have no more direct
influence on character than the hands of a clock on time. Like all
mysticism, East and West, it regards the universe as the macrocosm and man
the microcosm. Between the two there is a correspondence, and therefore
the state of the microcosm can be read by the starry indications of the
macrocosm as the time can be known by the hands of an exact clock or

Varley understood nothing of all this, and so failed to convince Blake.
But he gave him what he needed far more, hearty good will and
unpatronizing faith and reverence. Blake could pursue his visions and
report on them, certain that his companion would believe in his marvels
with that perfect credulity which so many are ready to give who have
rejected the marvels of Christianity. At his bidding he evoked visions of
past worthies, and sketched them while they waited. From 1819 to, 1820
Blake executed no less than fifty heads, including his famous _Ghost of a

Those of us who were thrilled in our boyhood by the tales of Lord Lytton
like to know that Varley was consulted by him before writing his
fascinating _Zanoni_ and _Strange Story_.

A still greater comfort and help to Blake was John Linnell.

John Linnell began by copying George Morland, passed under the influence
of Sir Benjamin West, and then became a pupil of Varley, who sent him
straight to nature. Varley's brother Cornelius attended a baptist chapel,
and he induced Linnell to go with him and listen to the sermons of its
pastor, the Reverend John Martin. He was convicted of sin, converted, duly
immersed, and regularly enrolled. Henceforth religion of a puritanic kind
ruled his life, and made him easy to dissenters of the different sects,
but stiff and uncompromising towards the Church of England and the
clergy. At one time he had thoughts of joining the quakers, whose position
is far different from that of the baptists; but he was deterred by Bernard
Barton, who, though fond of art himself, warned him that the Friends as a
whole looked with extreme suspicion on anyone addicted to such a
questionable pursuit as that of making pictures.

Blake was introduced to Linnell by George Cumberland in 1818 at Linnell's
house in Rathbone Place. They soon became intimate. Their religious
conception of art united them, and Linnell much relished Blake's tirades
against kings and priests. It was only when Blake spoke with equal licence
of the sex passion that Linnell felt an adverse tug at their friendship.

Linnell took over for his country house Collins' Farm, North End,
Hampstead, and there Blake became a regular visitor on Sunday afternoons
until sickness and death put an end to his visits.

North End, now in the County of London, is still a village on the Heath.
On Saturdays, Sundays, and Bank Holidays it is overlaid with trippers,
orange-peel, and paper bags. But no sooner do the holiday-makers return to
work than North End and its marvellous portion of heath resumes its
mystery, and the dreamer can dream undisturbed till the next people's

It is pleasant to think of Blake arriving at Collins' Farm, then after the
friendly greetings emerging by the Bull and Bush, sacred meeting-house of
many artists, crossing the road to Rotten Row, mounting the hillock and
viewing the fir-trees which still stand in all their mysterious beauty. If
only North End had been south instead of north! Blake declared with
seeming perverseness that the North upset his stomach. Varley would have
explained to him that his ruling sign being Leo, he required like all
lions the warm sunny south.

Linnell introduced him to many of his young friends, who, catching the
infection, hailed Blake as a master and sat at his feet to learn. We note
this deference because it is what Blake so richly deserved; but even among
his new young friends there was nothing like complete discipleship.
Blake's art was an inseparable part of his whole passionate, chequered
spiritual life. No one whose inner life does not repeat the same broad
outlines can really approach near to him as an artist. James Holmes, with
his easy, superficial, courtly life, might teach Blake to brighten his
water-colours, but he was completely outside of his spiritual travail, and
could only wonder mildly why young idealists like Calvert, Palmer, and
Richmond could be so preoccupied with Blake's half-crazed thoughts.

Even among those chosen three, there were no sons of thunder.

Edward Calvert caught Blake's spirit in his lovely and simple woodcuts,
but quite rightly followed his own bent, which led him ultimately along a
different path from Blake's zigzag lightning tract. The master always
transpierced Nature, and lived in a transcendental region: Calvert, serene
and calm, detected the heart of the Divine beating equally in Nature, and
reproduced what he heard and saw in musical and sweet landscapes, where
storms never come, and which modern artists would probably prefer to see
disturbed by an earthquake.

Samuel Palmer, with youthful impulse and generosity, gave himself to
Blake, and, rendered receptive by his love and enthusiasm, soon
assimilated all the master's principles. Palmer's rich nature allowed of
much reverence for Linnell too, and in his early work it is easy to find
examples first of Blake's influence and then of Linnell's. Like Calvert,
he was deeply and equably devout. He did not demand that austerity which
drew Linnell to the baptist, John Martin; nor that passion for which Blake
went to hell. The gentler elements of his soul led him away from harsh
sects to the more temperate Church of England, which can, among other
things, still nourish those souls that require the kind of diet that
George Herbert could provide so bountifully.

We look with extreme interest to see how Blake's professed disciples set
about to unite their religion and art. They did it as many other Christian
artists have done it, as Fra Angelico did supremely well; yet they missed
Blake's daemonic energy, and so have failed to meet that demand of our own
age which will at all cost have passion for the driving force of religion
if it is to have religion at all. Samuel Palmer painted and etched some
exquisite pictures; but he was in after years gently apologetic for
Blake's _Marriage of Heaven and Hell_, and he left the problem of the
synthesis of religion and art in the light of Christianity precisely where
it was left by the best Italian Christian artists.

George Richmond completed the little inner circle of three disciples. He
was only sixteen when he met Blake at John Linnell's, North End, and then
walked with him back to Fountain Court, Strand, thrilling with a unique
impression as if he were verily walking with the prophet Isaiah. For a
while he was plastic clay in the hands of Blake, revealing the master's
influence in _Abel the Shepherd_ and _Christ and the Woman of Samaria_,
but like his friends, Calvert and Palmer, he had sufficient native energy
to follow his own instinct, and when he found himself in portrait painting
there is nothing to remind us even remotely of Blake. His sitters appear a
noble family. Cardinal Newman, Bishop Wilberforce, Charlotte Brontë, Mrs
Gaskell, and many others are extraordinarily beautiful, and might all be
taken for brothers and sisters. Richmond's religious feelings brought him
into fellowship with the tractarian movement, which of all recent
religious movements in England allows most standing-ground for one devoted
to religion and art. He did not paint Titans, but he puts us in love with
his beautiful family, and that surely is no mean achievement.

Among Blake's friends must be mentioned Crabb Robinson and Frederick
Tatham, not because of their intrinsic importance to Blake, but their use
to us. Robinson was often sorely perplexed by the vehement paradoxes that
Blake wilfully poured into his ears; but at the same time, he thought it
worth while to jot them down in his diary.

Tatham came near enough to Blake to enable him to fulfil several of the
indispensable qualifications of the biographer. Afterwards he became an
Irvingite, and, conscience-ridden, destroyed many of Blake's works that
had come into his hands because he reckoned them unsound.

One other very curious friendship stands out, that with Thomas Griffiths

Wainewright was born out of due season. He might have avoided the
unpleasant and ugly things that befell him if he had been a contemporary
of the Borgias. He was an artist, and art is no respecter of persons. We
are tempted to say that art is fallen man's supreme consolation. It is
assuredly the meeting-place between a certain kind of saint and a certain
kind of sinner. The highest artist-saint, like Jesus Christ, appears to
create himself rather than works of art, and such always makes an
irresistible appeal to the artist-sinner, as we see that Christ did to
Oscar Wilde in his _De Profundis_ and to George Moore in his _Brook
Kerith_. The latter seems to be as far as the artist can reach without
religion, and it could teach most Christians something about their Master.
When Blake discovered that the Real Man in each one of us has imagination
for his chief and working faculty, he overcame once for all the provoking
dualism of art and religion, and at the same time he became an attraction
to those who live an imaginative life, especially among sinners.
Wainewright was drawn to Blake for precisely the same reason that many
modern enthusiasts are who could hardly be reckoned religious. He is
permanently interesting to the psychologist as to the artist, and hence he
could not escape the notice of Lord Lytton, who introduced him into his
_Lucretia_, and above all of Oscar Wilde, who darted upon him, and who,
with such a subject, was loosened to write in his most witty, brilliant,
and characteristic style.

Here I must mention, in order, Blake's chief works from 1810 to the end.

In 1793 was published a small book of engravings _For Children, The Gates
of Paradise_. Blake re-issued this in 1810, changing the _For Children_ to
_For the Sexes_. The changes do not throw fresh light on Blake. Rather,
what is important to know, we see, in spite of the changes, that Blake's
deepest thoughts were the same in 1795 and 1810. I will quote only the
first two lines:

  "Mutual Forgiveness of each vice,
  Such are the Gates of Paradise."

Forgiveness of sins, so impossible for the Pharisee, so easy for the
artist, is the heart of Christ's gospel. Blake leaned to that form of
Christianity which best understood forgiveness. At this time he was
inclined to think that the Church of Rome came nearest to Christ.

Blake reprinted _The Prologue and Characters of Chaucer's Pilgrims_ in
1812. Then followed five years of indefatigable production, but the works
are lost for this world, though Blake would probably say that they were
published in the other, and read, and remembered.

About 1817 he engraved leaflets, _Laocoon_, and _On Homer's Poetry_, and
_On Virgil_.

The first is covered with small writing, fresh proverbs of hell, which are
the same in substance as the earlier proverbs, but less provocative. The
_Laocoon_ perfectly expressed his own experience during years of obscure
struggle. He found the same mighty conflict described from cover to cover
of the Bible. Christians have been accustomed to see there the history of
their sin, conviction, struggle, and victory. Blake had nothing to say
against all this, but he named that which was striving for the victory the
spirit of art, and all the things that accompany the conflict--prayer,
praise, fasting--he explained in terms of art. Protestantism had made
necessary such a vehement vindication of the beautiful. To-day, I suppose,
we accept naturally Blake's aphorisms, but need to rediscover some of
those other things that protestantism and catholicism alike have insisted
on so uncompromisingly in the past.

From _On Homer's Poetry_ I quote the following:

"Unity and Morality are secondary considerations and belong to Philosophy
and not to Poetry, to Exception and not to Rule, to Accident and not to
Substance. The Ancients called it eating of the Tree of Good and Evil."

In other words, poetry, like life and love and other instinctive things,
goes deeper and before our fine-spun distinctions of number and morality.
Philosophers have sprung up since Blake's day who are wonderfully agreed
with him.

This on the cause of European wars is striking: "The Classics! it is the
Classics, and not Goths nor Monks, that desolate Europe with Wars."

From _On Virgil_ I gather this, which needs no comment: "A warlike State
never can produce Art. It will rob and plunder and accumulate into one
place, and translate and copy and buy and sell and criticize, but not

During Blake's last year in South Molton Street he executed seventeen
woodcuts for Dr Thornton's _Pastorals of Virgil_. These are very simple
and childlike or childish, according to our state when we look at Blake's
work. They seem to me of very unequal merit; but the best of them are
invaluable, for they show that Blake at the age of sixty-three had not
lost that childlike innocence, the parody of which is all that most men
attain to in their second childhood.

In 1821 Blake removed to 3 Fountain Court, Strand, where he had the
plainest of neutral rooms, not without value as a background for his
visions. Here relief was at hand, but he knew it not. Harassed by poverty,
he must raise money somehow. His collection of engravings, which had
steadily grown since the day that he had endowed his bride with it as his
sole treasure, was marketable, and with as little fuss as need be he sold
it to Messrs Colnaghi and Company. It was the final self-stripping.
Humbled and disciplined by the inexorable years, having surrendered
himself and his last precious possession, he was ready to bring forth the
rich fruit of his mature genius. His old friend and patron Butts gave him
a commission to paint twenty-one water-colour designs illustrating the
Book of Job. He was allowed to show them, and they drew forth from his
friend Linnell a further commission to execute and engrave a duplicate
set, with the written agreement that he should receive £100 for the
designs and copyright and another £100 out of the profits. There were no
profits forthcoming; but Linnell paid him in instalments £50 besides the
first £100. We may note here that the Royal Academy in 1822 made him a
grant of £25. And so, at last, Blake had sufficient means to enable him to
devote himself to his joyous work without the gnawing distraction of
poverty and want.

There is no book in the world better suited for Blake's genius than the
Book of Job. It has been in itself a complete Bible to the mystic in all
ages. In it is given a marvellous description in dramatic form of that
mysterious and awful self-stripping which the saint experiences after his
conversion and not before. It is an expansion of the text that even here
death is the gate of life. The same truth is insisted on by all the
prophets, especially by the prophets to the nations like Ezekiel and
Jonah; by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; by the
personal experience of St Paul; and recently by Hegel, till it has become
a commonplace both in religion and philosophy.

Blake was troubled by no modern criticism of the Book of Job, which by
post-dating it several hundred years has robbed it of much of its literary
interest. To him it was the porch of the Sanctuary, the oldest book in the
Bible, at once the most ancient and most modern of books. Job, after his
dark night of testing and judgment, emerged simple and guileless, a
Patriarch who served God solely because that was the supremely right thing
to do. Who was Job? The Book gives no hint of his parentage. Who wrote
the wonderful prologue? Who could write it? Again the Book is silent.
Tradition says Moses; and if tradition speak truly, then several very
interesting things follow. Job was probably the son of Issachar,[6] and as
such went down with his father into Egypt when Joseph had been advanced in
that land. He would then remove to Uz in Chaldæa, carrying within
treasures of Egyptian learning. In later years, Moses, fleeing from Egypt
into the desert of Midian, would become his neighbour. Moses is admittedly
one of the world's greatest initiates. As such he could certainly have
written the prologue and the epilogue. And how lofty a level the drama
maintains throughout! Even Job's friends, who pour out pithy things in
rich poetical language surpassing that attained by all laureates, are
rebuked for uttering only what everybody knows. Yet so universal is the
Book in its symbolism that it can afford, if need be, to dispense with
picturesque details of its authorship and date, and stand simply on its
merits as an inspired dramatic epic of Man's passage from his
consciousness of degradation as a worm, and his stubbornness as a wild
ass's colt, to the dignity and power of a son of God.

Blake had already traced the course of man's day of judgment in Night IX
of _The Four Zoas_, and had painted a fresco of the subject in 1820. In
the poem he had used his own peculiar mythology, and closed his poem to
nearly all readers. The Book of Job obliged him to drop his own symbolism
and use the simple and universal symbols that the drama itself supplies. A
brief reference to each design in order will make his purpose clear.

[Illustration: Then went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord]

_Design I._--Job and his wife and family, like true Israelites, are at
prayer under a spreading fig-tree. The shepherd sons have for the time
left their flocks at rest and hanged their musical instruments on the
tree. At first sight the picture presents a scene of idyllic peace. But
there are ominous signs. The sun is setting, night is fast coming, and the
fig-tree suggests the immemorial symbol of Israel's wrestling during the
dark night.

_Design II._--An illustration of the prologue of the Book. It is a
marvellous representation of what an initiate only--a Moses, a
Blake--could have imagined of the cosmos, with its heavenly portion
peopled with the angelic sons of God in the middle, the earth and its
inhabitants below, and above and beyond all God in His Heaven.

Satan, a magnificent figure, comes with the Sons of God to present himself
before God. In his fiery aura are two shadowy figures making with him a
trinity of evil.

_Design III._--The crash of Job's family. He has built his house, and
prospered regardless of those who made it possible for him to build it;
and in the sudden turn of events it has become a mere ruin.

_Design IV._--Job and his wife are under the fig-tree, the man bearing
with noble and unbroken fortitude the arrival of bad news.

_Design V._--Once more the cosmos. Satan is rushing headlong towards earth
to wreak his full power on Job in the midst of his charities, yet
forbidden to touch the one thing that Job would so gladly surrender, his
life. Heaven cannot remain impassive at suffering on earth. Its sun is
darkened and the Almighty on His Throne is grieved at His heart.

_Design VI._--Satan's last malice on Job. He is reduced to sheer nakedness
and wretchedness. Nothing of his former life that gave him comfort remains
to him. He is "wrecked on God." "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken
away, Blessed be the name of the Lord." With such faith and resignation
his sun has not quite set.

_Design VII._--The friends arrive. Once more Blake felt at home from his
personal experience. He had never had beyond Catherine and Robert a
perfect spiritual friend. He had never lacked corporeal ones. The
remembrance of them gave zest and spirit to the portrayal of Eliphaz the
Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.

_Design VIII._--Job's corporeal friends have done their worst. They and
his wife have quenched his last hope. His sun has gone down. Naked and
covered with boils from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, he
lifts up both hands and curses the day that saw his birth.

_Design IX._--The vision of Eliphaz, and his terror, for which Blake
recalled his own terror on the threshold.

_Design X._--The corporeal friends stripped of their wordy disguise. They
are spiritual enemies that point the finger of scorn at the just, upright
man. There is a glimmer of light on the horizon, for Job can still say,
"Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."

_Design XI._--A worse stage of misery. Hitherto Job had held fast his
faith in God. Now he no longer sees God as He is. In the terrors of his
dreams and visions he cannot discern between God and Satan. Satan
stretches over him with a face reminiscent of God's. As Job turns away his
head in horror, it becomes impossible for him to detect the cloven hoof;
and so he touches that horror of great darkness, worse than all
physical suffering, where not only man but God has turned His face, and in
Its place loom the commandments of stone, which recall the darkness and
thunders of Sinai.

[Illustration: When the morning Stars sang together, & all the Sons of God
shouted for joy]

_Design XII._--The horror of darkness has passed. The stars are shining,
and the youthful Elihu essays to utter the wisdom that the old men have
lacked. Blake could recall the ministry of his young friends, who had come
so recently into his life, and by their love had caused the stars to
appear. Elihu does not utter perfect wisdom, for that cannot be reached
from human experience.

_Design XIII._--The source of perfect wisdom. "The Lord answered Job out
of the Whirlwind." Job sees Him as He is in His true lineaments, and
listens as the Almighty speaks. Blake, too, reads breathlessly the
marvellous description of creation till his spirit flames up, and the
creative fire gives birth to his next most glorious design.

_Design XIV._--The creation and the immense joy of it. There is the
creation of the whole cosmos, when the morning Stars sang together, and
all the Sons of God shouted for joy. Never was such joy again till the
beginning of the New Creation, when the Son of God was born in Bethlehem,
as Luke, artist and saint, narrates with such artless simplicity and
beauty. The Scriptures assure us of a time when that joy shall be eternal.
Meanwhile it is the artists who in true creation have a foretaste of the
joy. It is Blake who has presented it in its most spiritual and universal

_Design XV._--A grotesque. I presume that Blake, like Leonardo da Vinci,
discovered something grotesque as he explored the universe.

_Design XVI._--The universe once more. It is the consummation of the
judgment. Satan and his shadowy companions who dwell in man have taken
definite form and substance. The man who has walked the way of excess has
brought all his latent evil out, and has given it substance, so that he
can arise in his strength and cast it out for ever.

_Design XVII._--Job's beatific vision. He is blessed and his house, now
only his wife, but through her and God's blessing he may be fruitful and
multiply, and build his house in the divine order. His sun has risen and
will no more set.

_Design XVIII._--Job stands before an altar of burnt-offering. Like Jacob
he has prevailed, and God accepts him and his prayers for his friends.

_Design XIX._--Job and his wife once more under the fig-tree, whose fruit
has ripened. He is the recipient of friendly gifts and offerings from his

_Design XX._--Job, with memories engraven on the chambers of his imagery,
stretching forth his hands over his new family of beautiful daughters.

_Design XXI._--A return to the first scene. But the sun is rising, and Job
and his family, taking their instruments of art, are worshipping God in
the beauty of holiness.

Blake completed his engravings for Job in March 1825, and they were
published March 1826.

They might well have been the crowning work of his life, and followed by
his _Nunc dimittis_, but there was boundless mental energy in the old man,
though his body was failing.

[Illustration: FROM THE DANTE SERIES.]

It was in 1825 that Blake met Crabb Robinson at the house of Mr Aders,
where Mrs Aders, daughter of Raphael Smith, was in the habit of
entertaining many interesting people.

Crabb Robinson was a most excellent man--well accoutred, steady on his
legs, with well-set head, without superstition, and just enough prejudice
to starch his mind.

He knew Blake at the time that he was learning Italian for the sake of
Dante that he might execute Dante designs for Linnell. From Robinson's
reminiscences, we do just get a glimpse of Blake struggling with Dante,
and delighting to mystify his respectable friend. Unfortunately, the
reported references in their conversations to Dante are few, though enough
perhaps to indicate Blake's attitude. He was not one of Dante's elect. But
with closer study he was beginning to fall under his spell, and we may
safely surmise that if Dante had come into Blake's life in his youth,
instead of Swedenborg, Blake would have become the greatest catholic
mystic artist of the age.

Little more remains to be told.

Blake in great pain of body--stomach trouble and shivering fits--was
driven to his bed. When he knew the end was near, he said to his wife: "I
have no grief but in leaving you, Catherine. We have lived happy, we have
lived long, we have been ever together, but we shall be divided soon. Why
should I fear death? Nor do I fear it. I have endeavoured to live as
Christ commanded, and I have sought to worship God truly in my own home,
when I was not seen of men."

While the wife ministered to him he exclaimed suddenly, "You have ever
been an angel to me, I will draw you." And he did. In answer to her, he
expressed a wish to be buried at Bunhill Fields by the Church of England.

At midday on August 12th, 1827, he burst into strong joyous song, and then
corrected his previous word about parting by assuring Catherine that he
would always be there to take care of her. Then he remained quite quiet
till his spirit passed away.


Life is a voyage of discovery or rediscovery. Those, like Blake, born in a
Christian land make the same voyage. The Christian tradition is handed on
to us in our tender infancy, and most people take what their immediate
teachers tell them, and live on that dry stock for the rest of their days.
But the sinner and the genius, like Blake, early throw their inheritance
overboard, and driven by native energy go in adventurous quest of new
lands. The first half of Blake's life was spent thus. He would rebel at
all costs, he would above all protest against what he hated--the religion
of repression.

For many years Christianity and repression were for him synonymous terms.
His craving was for expression. Parents, teachers, priests, kings,
governments, were enemies to spontaneous self-expression. Then they must
go. His youthful exuberance admitted of no half-measures. Like Ezekiel and
Christ, he poured out his invective against hireling shepherds: unlike
them, he ceased for a time to believe in good shepherds. One and all they
were out to repress men's instincts and passions, until, driven in, the
pent-up passion poisoned their whole nature, or in the weaker sort was
rendered passive. Blake proclaimed his doctrine with vehemence, but no one
regarded him.

Pursuing this course for many years, he perceived some wonderful things.
Art is expression; and he made an application of all the glories of art to
human character. Teach men to express themselves, and then instead of
their being as dull and similar as a flock of sheep governed by the herd
instinct, they would grow into a beautiful variety. Man would create
himself as an artist creates his works. The same law governed both.
Repression when successful induced a nerveless, sapless type. Man became
an overwhipped dog. Expression produced a strong, beautiful character
above all petty and tiresome rules of conduct. The conduct of such is
carelessly right.

It was by Blake's frank proclamation of the _ego_ that he anticipated so
much of what the modern apostles of the superman have made us all familiar
with. From Ibsen's _Doll's House_ to Nietzsche's _Thus spake Zarathustra_,
confidence in the _ego_ has been proclaimed as the means to liberty,
beauty, and sovereignty; and this has been accompanied by revivals on a
large scale of those ancient mystery religions that turn on the culture of
the divine _ego_.

This was a road of excess which Blake pursued as far as an individual
might. In the nineteenth century the law of the _ego_, the struggle for
life, the survival of the fittest, brute force, were regarded as all one,
and transferred from the individual to the State, till in a few years the
world was plunged into war.

Blake's voyage of rediscovery began during the Reign of Terror. The new
teachers, like Swedenborg and Godwin, Tom Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft,
failed to satisfy his own craving for expression. The Reign of Terror
appalled him when it showed him his principle at work in the proletariat.
Then it was that turning again to the Evangelists he made the wonderful
discovery, which later apostles of the _ego_ have not made, that Jesus
Christ was the perfect example and embodiment of his vision. He had
pictured to himself a man, impelled by a creative passion, whose
character in every part should be manifestly the outcome of fiery energy.
And there was the Man in the Subject of the Gospels. But he saw that Jesus
Christ could not be labelled or classed. There was egoistic
self-expression in Him, and there was self-renunciation. Somehow He had
altogether escaped the modern dilemma of self-expression or
self-sacrifice. Both were magnificently present in Him and united, because
His self-expression was resting on His self-surrender to God. Give up God,
and man swings perpetually between duty to neighbour and duty to self.
Believe in and surrender to God, and each falls into its proper place.
This was not the only synthesis in the character of Jesus. He was a union
of all possible contraries. Gentleness and fierceness; non-resistance and
aggressive force; non-resentment and fiery invective; forgiveness and
severe justice, haughty pride and lowliness; self-confidence and utter
dependence upon God, all were in Jesus. Henceforth Blake could keep his
vision of Jesus and his vision of art, for they were one.

The next stage in rediscovery was to find out what the great body of
dogmatic truth had affirmed about Jesus down the Christian centuries. Here
he made little progress. He probably felt, as we all do at times, that the
simplicity of the gospel was lost in the maze of dogmatic subtleties. The
negative aspect of dogma, that it rules out all that would infringe on
that simplicity, never occurred to him. His mind was governed and
distracted by Hindoo pantheism, and catholic anthropomorphism filtered and
diluted through Swedenborg. Even after he had repudiated Swedenborg the
distraction remained. His new understanding of Christ taught him that he
must accept the ultimate antinomy of good and evil, and that therefore
Christ's heaven and hell must remain; but the pantheism never abated its
watery flood, and the emphatic catholic teaching of transcendence and
immanence gained no sufficient hold to deliver his mind.

The truth is that Blake was not a great thinker, still less a
system-builder. He ought to have found the best Christian system while
young and kept to it. Then he could have lived his life of vision within
coherent bounds. Clear, sharp dogma, like outline in art, would have given
rest to his mind, substance to his visions, and saved him from the waste
of pouring out a torrent of incoherent sayings containing scraps of
gnosticism, theosophy, rosicrucianism, and almost every heresy under the

The master-mind in his youth who could have given him a sound system was
Dr Johnson, and he would not listen to him. How should the arch-rebel pay
any attention to the arch-conservator? Dr Johnson said many foolish things
about things of no great importance: he was wise in great matters. An
ounce of folly, like a dead fly in the ointment, suffices to put off the
fastidious rebel, who will seize hold of any excuse. Eventually Blake
subscribed to the same creed as Dr Johnson. That surely is a marvellous
unanimity for such diverse minds.

The master-mind in his age who could have given him a better system than
his own, and to whom he was beginning to listen, was Dante. His
catholicism may have been of a medieval pattern, but it was very little
infected with the time-spirit; it is even now finer than Swedenborg's
fabrication, and modern compared with the gnosticism that bulked so
largely in Blake's mind.

Blake makes no disciples, and no school can claim him, but he speaks to
all who have any mental equipment. His vision of Christ, if we can make it
our own and fill out its defects, will put us beyond the modern worship
of the superman, and take us out of that sectarianism which gains
ascendancy for a little while because of its lightness and

The confusion in Blake's mental life affects his art. He declared
consistently in times of clear vision that outline, form, and foundation
are the essence of spiritual things. This is beyond anything to be found
in Sir Joshua's _Discourses_, and anticipates Benedetto Croce when he says
that art is an ultimate, that "form is constant and is spiritual
activity," while "matter is changeable," yet he accomplished many designs
that Reynolds could have taught him to correct.

His later poems suffer still more. The energy in them is terrific, and
they are filled with flashes of inspiration; but their atmosphere is
murky, and never clears for more than fifty lines at a time. They are
storehouses, but the one who would get anything out of them must bring his
taper with him.

The early short poems, on the contrary, shine with their own light. _The
Tiger_ and _The Emmet_ are written before his mind has time to plunge into
the penumbra of his disorderly system.

Blake was still young in spirit when he died. One feels with him, as with
Tolstoi, that he had far from come to the end of his tether. He was one of
the few to whose years another threescore might have been added with
advantage. Where would he have arrived? I think when we remember that for
more than twenty years before his death he was on the voyage of
rediscovery, we may hazard the guess that he would have reached the
catholic form of Christianity, having thrown overboard his private
symbolism on the way; and that then he would have produced great, long
poems of crystalline clearness, which would have placed him by the side of
the master-poets of the ages.

Yet it is idle work guessing at what might have been. We blame a man's
times, or birth, or church, or what not for his failures, when we should
look for some fundamental lack in his own equipment. That Blake was not
quite one of our conquerors, then, we will not attribute to the eighteenth
century or to Swedenborg's predominant influence in his early life, but
simply to the fact that he lacked the strong, virile reason that could
keep pace with the on-rush of his visions. He was all Los: Urizen, whom he
repudiated with such scorn, alone could have balanced his nature and led
him to the supreme achievement.


  _Abel the Shepherd_, 176

  Abstract Philosophy, 109

  _Adam and Eve observed by Satan_, 123

  Aders, Mr and Mrs, 187

  _Age of Reason_, 87, 93

  Ahania, 111

  Akashic Records, 132

  Albion, 149-50

  _America: A Prophecy_, 96-7, 98

  American Independence, War of, 86, 87, 98

  _Ancient of Days_, 101

  _Angelic Wisdom_, 58

  Angelico, Fra, 176

  Arblay, M. d', 85

  Asia, 109

  Astrology, 172-3

  Augustine, St, 152

  Austen, Jane, 170

  Barbauld, Mrs, 30

  Bartolozzi, 17, 123, 154

  Barton, Bernard, 174

  _Bas Bleu_, 28

  Basire, 17, 18

  Bastille, the, 89, 90, 92

  Bath, Lord, 29

  Beaumont and Fletcher, 33

  Beethoven, 170

  Bible, the, 122, 133

  Bildad, 184

  Blair's _Grave_, 154-9

  Blake, Catherine, 30, 31, 37, 38, 40, 66, 148

  Blake, James (Sen.), 12, 39

  Blake, James (Jun.), 39

  Blake, Robert, 14, 39, 40, 45

  Blake, William, born, 11;
    baptized, 12;
    vision at Peckham Rye, 13;
    books read, 14;
    learns drawing from Mr Pars, 15;
    apprenticed to Basire, 17;
    joins the Academy under Moser, 21;
    designs _Morning_, or _Glad Day_, 22;
    falls in love with Polly Wood, 23;
    marries Catherine Boucher, 24;
    meets Flaxman, 30;
    goes to Mrs Mathew's parties, 30;
    on war, 34-5;
    lodges at 23 Green Street, 37;
    moves to 27 Broad Street, 39;
    nurses Robert, 40;
    moves to 28 Poland Street, 40;
    engraves after Stothard, 44;
    Robert imparts method of engraving, 45;
    comments on Lavater's Aphorisms, 51;
      and Swedenborg, 55-80;
    reads and annotates _Angelic Wisdom_, 62-5;
    subscribes his name to tenets of the New Church, 66;
    on Swedenborg, 72;
    takes leave of Swedenborg, 80;
    among the rebels, 89;
    wears the _bonnet rouge_, 89;
    on sex, 94-6;
    moves to 13 Hercules Buildings, 98;
    engraves _Europe: A Prophecy_, 99, 101;
    illustrates Bürger's _Lenore_, 111;
    goes to Felpham, 117;
    paints miniatures, 119-21;
    learns Greek from Hayley, 121;
    returns to London, 127;
    South Molton Street, 127;
    vision clears after visit to Truchsess gallery, 129;
    and Sir J. Reynolds, 156-9;
    writes descriptive catalogue, 161;
    and Chaucer, 162-3;
    vision of Jesus Christ, 165-8;
    new friends, 172;
    and Varley, 172-3;
    removes to 3 Fountain Court, Strand, 180;
    sells his collection of engravings, 180;
    and Book of Job, 182-86;
    and Dante, 187;
    illness, 187;
    death, 188

  Blue-stockings, the, 26-36

  Boehme, Jacob, 23, 47, 49, 51, 56, 58, 72, 118, 165, 172

  Bond Street, 21

  _Book for a Rainy Day_, 30

  _Book of Ahania_, 110

  _Book of Job_, 181-2

  _Book of Los_, 110

  _Book of Urizen_, 106

  Boucher, Catherine, 24

  Bourdon, 129

  Bousset, 61

  Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery, 123

  Brahma, 109

  Bray, Mrs, 160, 162

  Breughel, 129

  Brontë, Charlotte, 177

  _Brook Kerith_, 178

  Brooke, Mrs, 30

  Bull and Bush, North End, Hampstead, 174

  Bunyan, John, 140

  Bürger, 111, 112

  Burke, Edmund, 85, 89

  Burney, Dr, 29

  Burney, Fanny, 28, 42, 85, 86, 170

  Butler, Samuel, 166

  Butts, Thomas, 121, 124, 125, 127, 132

  Calvert, Edward, 175, 176

  _Candide_, 28

  Caracci, 126

  Carter, Mrs, 26, 27, 28, 30

  _Castle of Otranto_, 34

  Catherine of Siena, St, 53, 133

  Chapone, Mrs, 30, 31

  Chatterton, 14

  Chaucer, 161, 162, 163

  Chaucer's _Canterbury Pilgrims_, 159

  Chesterfield, Lord, _Letters to his Son_, 27

  Christ, 152

  _Christ and the Woman of Samaria_, 176

  _Clod, the_, 104

  Coleridge, S. T., 82, 170

  Collins' Farm, North End, Hampstead, 174

  Correggio, 126, 172

  Cosmos, the, 134, 147, 183, 185

  Cowper, W., 82, 116, 123, 124, 130

  _Cowper, Life of_, 130

  _Crime and Punishment_, 98

  Croce, Benedetto, 193

  Cromek, Robert Hartley, 154-6, 159, 160, 165

  Cumberland, George, 172

  Dante, 73, 114, 133, 187, 192

  Deism, 144-5

  _De Profundis_, 178

  Designs for Job, 183-6

  _Dialogues of the Dead_, 26

  Dogma, 192

  Dostoieffski, 98

  Dualism, 143

  Dürer, Albert, 16, 17, 41, 42, 129, 172

  _Earl Godwin_, 42

  Ego-theism, 71

  Elihu, 185

  _Elinor_, 112

  Eliot, George, 112

  Eliphaz, 184

  Elizabethan age, 16

  _Emmet, the_, 193

  Engleheart, 160

  Enitharmon, 99, 100, 108

  Eno, 111

  _Enquiry concerning Political Justice_, 82

  _Epipsychidion_, 95

  _Essay on Old Maids_, 121

  Essenes, the, 61

  Europe, 109

  _Europe: A Prophecy_, 99-101

  _Evelina_, 42

  Ezekiel, 137, 144, 181, 189

  Ezra, 118

  _Fair Elinor_, 34

  Felpham, 117, 119, 125, 126

  Fénelon, 50, 53

  Fielding, Copley, 172

  Fingal, 14

  Flaxman, 22, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 123, 159, 160,

  Flaxman, Maria, 114

  Flemish _picturesque_, 125

  Florentine School of Art, 16

  Fludd, 23

  Foote, Samuel, 49

  Fordyce, Dr, 85

  France, 109

  Francis of Assisi, St, 45

  Franklin, 96

  French Revolution, 85, 87, 89, 90-2, 101, 118

  Fuseli, 24, 81, 171-2

  Fuzon, 110, 111

  Garrick, 115

  Gaskell, Mrs, 177

  _Gates of Paradise_, 178

  Genlis, Madame de, 86

  _Ghost of a Flea_, 173

  Gibbon, Edward, 115

  Gilchrist, 45

  _Glad Day_, 42

  Gnosticism, 134

  Godwin, W., 82-4, 86, 87, 88, 92, 145, 172, 190

  Goethe, 30, 36, 54, 170

  Goldsmith, Oliver, 18

  Gordon, Lord George, 23

  Gothic architecture, 17

  Grand Style, 125

  Gregory, Dr, 85

  Guyon, Madame, 23, 47, 50

  _Gwen, King of Norway_, 34

  Habakkuk, 129

  Halls of Los, 122

  Hamilton, 42

  Hardy, 88

  Harlow, 160

  Haydn, 170

  Hayley, William, 114-130, 137, 139-42, 153-4, 165, 171

  _Head of Romney_, 153

  Heath, James, 160

  Heaven and Hell, 78

  Hegel, 181

  Hell, 57

  Hemskerck, Martin, 16

  Herbert, George, 176

  Hervey, 49, 50

  Hesketh, Lady, 116

  Highland Society, 14

  Hogarth, 42, 43, 158

  Holbein, Hans, 129

  Holcroft, 88

  Holmes, James, 172, 175

  Hoppner, 162

  _How sweet I roam'd_, 16, 33

  Hume, 36

  Hunt, W. H., 172

  Ibsen, 190

  Imagination, 122, 125

  Imlay, Charles, 86

  Immanence, 192

  Inspiration, 122, 132, 133

  Isaiah, 118

  Jacob, 169

  Jefferson, 87

  _Jerusalem_, 113, 131, 132, 142, 149, 151

  Jesus Christ, 165-8, 189, 190-1

  Job, Book of, 76

  John, Saint, 152

  Johnson, bookseller, 22, 81, 82, 86, 90, 123

  Johnson, Dr, 20, 27, 28, 36, 47, 48, 145, 192

  Johnson, Rev. John, 119, 122

  Jonah, 181

  Jonson, Ben, 14, 16, 31, 33

  _Joseph of Arimathea_, 18

  Juniper Hall, 85

  Kaufmann, Angelica, 17

  Keim, 61

  _King Edward the Third_, 33

  _King Edward and Queen Elinor_, 42

  Klopstock's _Messiah_, 122

  Landseer, 161

  _Laocoon_, 179

  Lavater, 50-4, 171

  Law, William, 48, 165

  Le Brun, 21

  _Lenore_, Bürger's, 111

  Linnell, John, 172, 173-5, 181

  _Little Girl Found_, 103

  _Little Girl Lost_, 103

  _Little Tom the Sailor_, 119

  Locke, John, 109

  London, Bishop of, 29

  Los, 75, 107, 108, 109, 139, 144, 194

  Luke, St, 185

  Luvah, 144

  Lyca, 104

  Lyttelton, Lord, 26, 29

  Lytton, Bulwer, 82, 173, 178

  Mackintosh, 89

  Macpherson, 14, 15, 42

  _Mad Song_, 33

  Maimonides, 54

  _Marriage of Heaven and Hell_, 75, 81, 176

  Martin, Rev. John, 173, 176

  Mathew, Mrs, 25, 29, 30, 31, 32, 35, 39, 44, 119

  Mathew, Rev. Henry, 29, 30, 32

  Memory, 122, 132, 133, 135, 136, 137, 147

  Mendelssohn, Moses, 54

  Meyer, 115

  Michael Angelo, 16, 17, 18, 21, 42, 44, 117, 126, 129, 139, 157, 158, 171

  Milton, John, 44, 76, 105, 118, 123-4, 132, 133, 137, 138, 139, 151

  _Milton_, 122, 124, 131, 132, 137-142, 152

  Miniature Painting, 119, 120, 121, 125

  Montagu, Mrs, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 35

  Moore, George, 61, 178

  More, Hannah, 28, 115

  Morland, George, 173

  _Morning_, or _Glad Day_, 22

  Morris, Mr, 71

  Mortimer, 42

  Moses, 182, 183

  Mulgrave, Lord, 29

  Mulready, W., 172

  Muses, the, 122

  _My Silks and Fine Array_, 33

  _Mysterious Mother_, 34

  Mysticism, German, 68

  Napoleon, 170

  Narbonne, M. de, 85

  Nature, 13, 125, 146, 149

  _Nelly O'Brien_, 158

  Newman, Cardinal, 176

  Newton, Sir Isaac, 109

  Nietzsche, 54, 133, 139, 140, 170, 190

  _Night Thoughts_, Young's, 112

  No Popery Riots, 23

  North American States, 44

  North End, Hampstead, 174, 176

  Odin, 109

  _On Homer's Poetry_, 179

  _On Virgil_, 179, 180

  Oothoon, 94-5

  Opie, Mrs, 115

  Oram, 30

  Orc, 99, 100, 109, 110

  Ord, Mrs, 28

  _Ossian_, 14

  Ossian, 105

  Paine, Tom, 82, 86-8, 89, 93, 96, 98, 144, 145, 190

  Palamabron, 109

  Palmer, Samuel, 172, 175-6

  Pantheism, 71, 72, 106, 107, 143

  Pantheism, Hindoo, 191

  Paracelsus, 23, 47, 58, 118, 172

  _Paradise Lost_, 136

  Parker, 39, 40

  Pars, Mr, 15

  Pascal, 28

  Passion, 76, 77, 147-8

  _Pastorals of Virgil_, 180

  Paul, St, 134, 135, 140, 146, 181

  Paulus, Dr, 61

  _Pebble, the_, 154

  _Penance of Jane Shore_, 42

  Pepys, Sir Lucas, 29

  Percy's _Reliques_, 14

  Phillips, Captain, 29

  Pilgrimage to Canterbury, 160-1

  Piozzi, Mrs, 84

  Plato, 109, 149, 152

  _Poetical Sketches_, 33, 44

  _Poison Tree_, 104

  Pope, A., 114

  Portland, Duchess of, 26

  Price, Dr, 82

  Priestley, Dr, 82, 87, 93

  Proverbs of Hell, 76

  Pythagoras, 109

  Quakers, 174

  Quintilian, 28

  Radcliffe, Mrs, 34

  Raphael, 16, 21, 42, 126, 157

  Reign of Terror, 89, 100, 102, 117, 190

  Rembrandt, 42, 158, 171

  Renan, 61

  Repression, 189-90, 191

  Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 118, 126, 156-9, 193

  Reynolds' _Discourses_, 157-8, 193

  Richmond, George, 176-7

  _Rights of Man_, 88

  Rintrah, 109

  Ritson's _English Songs_, 44

  Robinson, Crabb, 161, 177, 187

  Romano, Julio, 16

  Romney, 115, 116, 118, 119, 123, 124, 130

  _Romney, Life of_, 130

  Rose, Samuel, 127

  Rotten Row, Hampstead, 174

  Rousseau, 28, 36, 109, 145

  Rowley, 14

  Royal Academy, 21, 25

  Rubens, 21, 42

  Samson, Dr, 99

  Satan, 76, 139, 183, 184, 186

  Schiavonetti, Lewis, 155, 160

  Schiavonetti, Niccolo, 160

  _Schoolboy, the_, 104

  Schweitzer, 61

  Scott, Sir W., 14, 170

  Seven Planes, 134

  Seward, Anna, 115

  Sex, 147-8

  Shakespeare, 14, 26, 27, 33, 44, 76, 118, 132, 133

  Sharpe, 123

  Shelley, 71, 84, 95, 133, 172

  Shields, F., 112

  _Shipwreck_, after Romney, 130, 153

  Skofield, 127

  Smelt, Mr, 29

  Smith, J. T., 30, 39

  Socrates, 109

  _Song of Liberty_, 93

  _Song of Los_, 108

  _Songs of Experience_, 70

  _Songs of Innocence_, 69, 102, 103

  Sotho, 109

  Spencer, 31

  Spencer's _Faery Queen_, 14

  Staël, Madame de, 86

  Stothard, 22, 24, 44, 112, 114, 159, 160, 161, 162, 164, 165, 171

  _Strange Story_, 173

  Strauss, 61

  Swedenborg, 30, 39, 49, 51, 52, 53, 55-80, 58, 59, 105, 110, 118, 137,
      138, 143, 160, 187, 190, 191, 192, 194

  Swinburne, 14, 33, 53

  Symbolism, 136

  Tabard Inn, 162

  Talleyrand, 85

  Tatham, F., 177

  Tharmas, 144

  _The Divine Image_, 69

  _The Little Vagabond_, 71

  _Thel_, 66-9

  Thelwall, 86

  Theosophy, 134

  Theotormon, 94-5

  Theresa, St, 23, 47, 50

  Thomson, 14

  Thornton, Dr, 180

  _Thus Spake Zarathustra_, 190

  _Tiger, the_, 193

  Tiriel, 66, 67

  Titian, 42, 172

  Tolstoï, 193

  Tooke, Horne, 86

  Townshend, Charles, 87

  Transcendence, 192

  Trismegistus, 109

  _Triumphs of Temper_, 114, 115, 121

  Truchsess, Count, 129

  Urizen, 66, 67, 75, 93, 99, 106, 107, 108, 110, 111, 139, 142, 144, 194

  Varley, Cornelius, 173

  Varley, John, 172-3, 174

  Venetian art, 117

  Venetian _finesse_, 125

  Vesey, Mrs, 28

  Vinci, Leonardo da, 129, 185

  _Visions of the Daughters of Albion_, 94-5, 97

  Voltaire, 28, 36, 109, 145

  Wainewright, T. G., 177-8

  Walpole, Horace, 26, 28, 34, 85

  War, 34, 35, 43, 44

  Warren, 96

  Washington, 96

  Water Colour Society, 172

  Watson, Caroline, 130

  Watteau, 129

  Webster, 33

  _Werther_, 28

  Wesley, John, 23, 48, 49, 50, 66, 139, 140, 165

  West, Sir Benjamin, 173

  Whitefield, 23, 49, 50, 66, 139, 140, 145, 165

  Wilberforce, 177

  Wilde, Oscar, 178

  Wilkinson, Garth, 53, 68, 71, 72

  Wollstonecraft, Mary, 82, 84-6, 88, 89, 92, 190

  Wood, Polly, 23

  Woollett, 17, 18

  Wordsworth, 13, 170

  Yeats, W. B., 112, 132

  Young, Edward, 112

  _Zanoni_, 173

  _Zoas, the Four_, 113, 124, 131, 142, 145, 182

  Zophar, 184

_Printed in Great Britain by_




[1] This fact was first pointed out by Mr Laurence Binyon.

[2] _Jerusalem_, 72. 50-52.

[3] Prov. viii. 27-31.

[4] _Jerusalem_, 15. 61-69.

[5] Thirteenth Discourse.

[6] Genesis xlvi. 13.

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

Some quotes are opened with marks but are not closed. Obvious errors
have been silently closed while those requiring interpretation have
been left open.

The following misprints have been corrected:
  "no" corrected to "not" (page 42)
  "correponds" corrected to "corresponds" (page 56)
  "Hesbeth" corrected to "Hesketh" (page 116)

Other than the corrections listed above, inconsistencies in spelling,
hyphenation, and period usage after abbreviations have been retained
from the original.

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