Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Blake's Sex II

A review of Blake's early life suggests the most normal and ordinary psychosexual development, to which the biographers testify. Through his refusal of formal education (See CHAPTER ONE ) Blake appears to have escaped many of the common pathologies of sex that afflicted his age as ours. In fact he systematically held some of them up to ridicule.

Blake never tired of painting the human form, and he usually refused to hide it with clothes. His primary models appear to have been his wife and himself. We read that a friend once found them naked in the garden of their home. In all probability they were planning poses and postures for his illustrations of Paradise Lost.

In his early twenties Blake formed an emotional attachment to a young woman named Polly Wood. Unfortunately Polly had other interests, and when he showed jealousy, she asked him if he were a fool. The experience seems to have cured him of jealousy; in fact the foolishness of jealousy became a life long motif; his false God received the name (among others) of Father of Jealousy.

On the rebound he met a beautiful girl named Catherine Boucher, a gardener's daughter. He told Catherine his mournful story, and when she pitied him, he promptly transfered his affection to her. A year later they were married, a relationship that according to all the evidence seems to have been made in heaven.

Illiterate at her marriage, Catherine Blake must have been a gifted and rare person; she had a great deal to do with Blake's enormous creativity. Her high and continuous level of affirmation released Blake from the drain of domestic preoccupations. She affirmed and encouraged his gift of vision even when it meant long hours of wakefulness while he communed with heaven. She provided the appreciative audience that the world in general denied Blake and made him a happy creative artist in the same way that J.S.Bach was happy.

One important influence on Blake's ideology of sex came from certain left wing religious dissenters. The ranters and other antinomians deeply affected Blake's world of thought. They considered marriage a part of the law which they wanted to abolish. They claimed the right, living above the law, to cohabitate with whomever, whenever and wherever they felt led. We find evidence of similar excesses among fringe groups both in the New Testament and in the 20th Century:

    Remove away that black'ning church:
    Remove away that marriage hearse:
    Remove away that ..... blood:
    You'll quite remove the ancient curse.
    (An Ancient Proverb; in Songs and Ballards; Erdman p. 475)

Blake found these ideas attractive as a young man, but no one believes that he carried them very far in practice. Libertines and hedonists have at times made Blake their hero, but they simply don't know their man. All the evidence suggests that Blake lived as a faithful and loving husband for some forty five years--and a happy one as well (This is spite of a recent fanciful 'biography' of Catherine Blake).

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