Monday, May 30, 2011

Aphorisms on Man by Lavater

We're told that Blake found this book (by Lavater) impressive and had a strong positive opinion of it. Section XII of Erdman's Blake, called The Marginalia (Erdman pages 583ff) contains Blake's Annotations on this Lavater's Aphorisms on Man; for the Blake student it's well worth reading.

You may find evidence of many of these aphorisms as sources for Blake's writings from beginning to end; here are three of them.

Look at aphorism 3: As in looking upward each beholder thinks himself the centre of the sky; so Nature formed her individuals, that each must see himself the centre of being.

Blake said,
The Sky is an immortal tent built by the Sons of Los
And every Space that a Man views around his dwelling-place:

Standing on his own roof, or in his garden on a mount
Of twenty-five cubits in height, such space is his Universe;

And on its verge the Sun rises & sets. the Clouds bow
To meet the flat Earth & the Sea in such an orderd Space:

The Starry heavens reach no further but here bend and set
On all sides & the two Poles turn on their valves of gold:
And if he move his dwelling-place, his heavens also move."
(Milton Plate 29; Erdman 127)

Aphorism 13. joy and grief decide character. What exalts prosperity? what imbitters grief? what leaves us indifferent? what interests us? As the interest of man, so his God--as his God, so he.


Blake said, (Auguries of Innocence)
"Man was made for Joy & Woe
And when this we rightly know
Thro the World we safely go
Joy & Woe are woven fine
A Clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine"

Aphorism 40. Who, under pressing temptations to lie, adheres to truth, nor to the profane betrays aught of a sacred trust, is near the summit of wisdom and virtue.

Excellent! Under the temptation of the Main Chance Blake, at the critical moment, acted exactly as Lavater suggests here.

Although some of these aphorisms appear to serve as source material for Blake's poetic thought, the true worth of 'Lavater' to Blake was more in the moral values that the two men shared. Very negative in his feelings about clergymen in general, Blake obviously had much admiration for Lavater.

At the end of 'The Annotations Blake gave his honest evaluation of Lavater:
"[ [p224] End of Vol. 1. ]

"I hope no one will call what I have written cavilling because he may think my remarks of small consequence For I write from the warmth of my heart. & cannot resist the impulse I feel to rectify what I think false in a book I love so much. & approve so generally:

Man is bad or good. as he unites himself with bad or good spirits. tell me with whom you go & Ill tell you what you do

As we cannot experience pleasure but by means of others who experience either pleasure or pain thro us. And as all of us on earth are united in thought, for it is impossible to think without images of somewhat on earth--So it is impossible to know God or heavenly things without conjunction with those who know God & heavenly things. therefore, all who converse in the spirit, converse with spirits. [& these are either Good or Evil]

For these reasons I say that this Book is written by consultation with Good Spirits because it is Good. & that the name Lavater. is the amulet of those who purify the heart of man.

There is a strong objection to Lavaters principles (as I understand them) & that is He makes every thing originate in its accident he makes the

[Begin Page 601]
vicious propensity a leading feature of the man but the Stamina on which all his virtues grow. But as I understand Vice it is a Negative--It does not signify what the laws of Kings & Priests have calld Vice we who are philosophers ought not to call the Staminal Virtues of Humanity by the same name that we call the omissions of intellect springing from poverty

Every mans propensity ought to be calld his leading Virtue & his good Angel But the Philosophy of Causes & Consequences misled Lavater as it has all his cotemporaries. Each thing is its own cause & its own effect Accident is the omission of act in self & the hindering of act in another, This is Vice but all Act [<from Individual propensity>] is Virtue. To hinder another [P 227, blank] is not an act it is the contrary it is a restraint on action both in ourselves & in the person hinderd. for he who hinders another omits his own duty. at the time

Murder is Hindering Another

Theft is Hindering Another

Backbiting. Undermining C[i]rcumventing & whatever is Negative is Vice

But the or[i]gin of this mistake in Lavater & his cotemporaries, is, They suppose that Womans Love is Sin. in consequence all the Loves & Graces with them are Sin" (Erdman 600-01)"

Blake makes a sharp distinction between Womans Love and Female Love; they are two entirely different things.

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