Friday, April 08, 2011

Blake's crisis

You may find repeated posts dwelling on this subject (The Moment of Grace, the Main Chance and many others). Being more interested in Blake the man than Blake's Poetry or Pictures I continual go back to it; when or if it becomes adequately clarified, it may be easier to think of another subject. Meanwhile we might divide Blake's life into these segments:

1. Childhood (1757-72) (0-15)

2. The Young Adult 1772-1800
: a fiery prophet of morality and social justice (a divided person like most of us are or have been. Blake like most of us slipped into economic conventionality.

3. The crisis (1800-04): Blake's letters of that era tell his more about this period than the poetry does. In a few words in these letters Blake revealed that his Enlightenment came when he realized that he didn't have to pursue commercial art to stave off poverty; in fact he and Catherine could starve creatively, which would in the eyes of God be more profitable than anything he might get from his 'corporeal friend', Hayley.

In this letter, (10) 2 July 1800 to Cumberland he gave ample evidence of the false position he had got into through his contract to Hayley:

"I am still Employd in making Designs & little Pictures with
now & then an Engraving & find that in future to live will not be so difficult as it has been.....& I myself remember when I thought my pursuits of Art a kind of Criminal Dissipation & neglect of the main chance which I hid my face for not being able to abandon as a Passion which is forbidden by Law & Religion, but now it appears to be Law & Gospel too, at least I hear so from the few friends I have dared to visit in my stupid Melancholy....."

In 1803 he's still in Felpham obediently following Hayley's instructons to focus on the miniatures (at the expense of the Visions, which Hayley discouraged; here's a portion of Letter 24, Jan. 10, 1803 to his friend and confessor Thomas Butts: (Erdman 724-5)

"As my dependence is on Engraving at present & particularly on the Engravings I have in hand for Mr H. & I find on all hands great objections to my doing any thing but the meer drudgery of business & intimations that if I do not confine myself to this I shall not live; this has always pursud me.... I cannot live without doing my duty....
to lay up treasures in heaven is Certain & Determined &
to this I have long made up my mind & why this should be made an objection to Me while Drunkenness Lewdness Gluttony & even Idleness itself does not hurt other men let Satan himself Explain--

The Thing I have most at Heart! more than life or all that seems to make life comfortable without Is the Interest of True Religion & Science & whenever any thing appears to affect that Interest. (Especially if I myself omit any duty to my [
self] as a Soldier of Christ) It gives me the greatest of torments..., But if we fear to do the dictates of our Angels & tremble at the Tasks set before us. if we refuse to do Spiritual Acts because of Natural Fears or Natural Desires! Who can describe the dismal torments of such a state!--I too well remember the Threats (from his conscience!) I heard!--If you who are organized by Divine Providence for Spiritual communion. Refuse & bury your Talent in the Earth ....."sorrow and desperation pursues you thro life! & after death shame & confusion of face to eternity--Every one in Eternity will leave you aghast at the Man who was crownd with glory & honour by his brethren & betrayd their cause to their enemies. You will be calld the base Judas who betrayd his Friend!--Such words would make any Stout man tremble & how then could I be at ease? But I am now no longer in That State & now go on again with my Task Fearless. and tho my path is difficult. I have no fear of stumbling while I keep it...."

Here Blake indicated that he has finally resolved to ignore Hayley's instructions and prioritize the instructions he gets from God (the Eternal Visions).

In Letter 51 to Hayley, dated 23 October 1804 (Erdman 756-7), describes the event of his enlightenment after "exactly twenty years" of Darkness, but it doesn't really pinpoint the exact time it happened:

"For now! O Glory! and O Delight! I have entirely reduced that spectrous Fiend to his station, whose annoyance has been the ruin of my labours for the last passed twenty years of my life. He is the enemy of conjugal love and is the Jupiter of the Greeks, an iron-hearted tyrant, the ruiner of ancient Greece. I speak with perfect confidence and certainty of the fact which has passed upon me. Nebuchadnezzar had seven times passed over him; I have had twenty; thank God I was not altogether a beast as he was; but I was a slave bound in a mill among beasts and devils; these beasts and these devils are now, together with myself, become children of light and liberty, and my feet and my wife's feet are free from fetters. O lovely Felpham, parent of Immortal Friendship, to thee I am eternally indebted for my three years' rest from perturbation and the strength I now enjoy......

Suddenly, on the day after visiting the Truchsessian Gallery of pictures, I was again enlightened with the light I enjoyed in my youth, and which has for exactly twenty years been closed from me as by a door and by window-shutters. Consequently I can, with confidence, promise you ocular demonstration of my altered stateon the plates I am now engraving after Romney, whose spiritual aid has not a little conduced to my restoration to the light of Art.

O the distress I have undergone, and my poor wife with me. Incessantly labouring and incessantly spoiling what I had done well. Every one of my friends was astonished at my faults, and could not assign a reason; they knew my industry and abstinence from every pleasure for the sake of study, and yet--and yet--and yet there wanted the proofs of industry in my works. I thank God with entire confidence that it shall be so no longer--he is become my servant who domineered over me, he is even as a brother who was my enemy.
Dear Sir, excuse my enthusiasm...."

(This letter deserves a post of it own.)
I take it that "who domineered over me" may perhaps be his personal
Satan (cf "My Spectre") with whom he made friends; evidence of that
might be found somewhere in the poetry, but it would be a hard matter
for me to find).
4. The later years (1804-27)
Freed from dependence on working at commercial art Blake wrote his best and most
monumental works: Milton, Jerusalem, especially Illustrations to the Book of Job.

He died a happy man; would to God we might all do likewise.

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