What a wealth of superior poetry would bless us if Blake had enjoyed more friends like Butts, or even better, if the general public had had the opinion of him that Butts had. In the letters to Butts he writes in perfect freedom, freed from the constraints of the world's indifference if not hostility and contempt.
Hayley had tried to be his friend. But proved to be a spiritual as well as a corporeal friend? (impossible of course)
"Being not irritated by insult bearing insulting benevolences
They percieved that corporeal friends are spiritual enemies"
(Jeruselem, plate 44 ; Erdman 193)
(Butts of course was both a corporeal and a spiritual friend. Blake's other (special) friend, Hayley continually imposed on Blake.)
Some Portions of Letter 23 (22 Nov. 1802):
"When my heart knockd against the root of my tongue
With Angels planted in Hawthorn bowers
And God himself in the passing hours
With Silver Angels across my way
And Golden Demons that none can stay
With my Father hovering upon the wind
And my Brother Robert just behind
And my Brother John the evil one
In a black cloud making his mone
Tho dead they appear upon my path
Notwithstanding my terrible wrath
They beg they intreat they drop their tears
Filld full of hopes filld full of fears"
Hey! what's all this? A Vision of course. Three (dead!) family members are there with him. They're making demands on Blake. He's confused; he doesn't know what he's supposed to do.
"A frowning Thistle implores my stay
What to others a trifle appears
Fills me full of smiles or tears
For double the vision my Eyes do see
And a double vision is always with me
With my inward Eye 'tis an old Man grey
With my outward a Thistle across my way"
The thistle represents single vision, the material vision we all use, superstitious or enlightened:
"If thou goest back the Thistle said
Thou art to endless woe betrayd
For here does Theotormon lower
And here is Enitharmons bower
And Los the terrible thus hath sworn
Because thou backward dost return
Poverty Envy old age & fear
Shall bring thy Wife upon a bier
And Butts shall give what Fuseli gave
A dark black Rock & a gloomy Cave."
(Theotormon, you may remember was a fearful man who allowed conventional taboos to keep him from any chance for happiness.
(The man with his head in his arms is Theotormon.)
The thistle is reasoning with Blake: 'If thou goest back', back to where? Back to the Main Chance of course; back to being a commercial artist; back to giving up visions, which is what Hayley wanted him to do. It will lead to endless woe, to Poverty Envy old age & fear, exactly what he was trying to avoid living with Hayley.
I struck the Thistle with my foot
And broke him up from his delving root
"Must the duties of life each other cross"
"Must every joy be dung & dross"
"Must my dear Butts feel cold neglect"
"Because I give Hayley his due respect'
"Must Flaxman look upon me as wild"
"And all my friends be with doubts beguild'
"Must my Wife live in my Sisters bane"
"Or my sister survive on my Loves pain'
"The curses of Los the terrible shade"
"And his dismal terrors make me afraid"
Today we might say that Blake is just whining about the cold (material) realities of his life. Note the last line; remember it because we'll meet these 'terrors' again.
So I spoke & struck in my wrath
The old man weltering upon my path
Then Los appeard in all his power
In the Sun he appeard descending before My face
in fierce flames in my double sight
Twas outward a Sun: inward Los in his might
"My hands are labourd day & night"
"And Ease comes never in my sight"
"My Wife has no indulgence given"
"Except what comes to her from heaven"
"We eat little we drink less"
"This Earth breeds not our happiness"
"Another Sun feeds our lifes streams"
"We are not warmed with thy beams"
"Thou measurest not the Time to me"
"Nor yet the Space that I do see"
"My Mind is not with thy light arrayd"
"Thy terrors shall not make me afraid"
In this mood he's more hopeful; the terrors no longer make him afraid. What that brings to my mind is that the 'terrors of life' have no hold on my life when I'm 'hallowing His name'; it brings the visions of Heaven.