Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Bacon, Newton, and Locke

These were three of Blake's pet peeves, one of his "Unholy Trinities". How come?

During Blake's life the British culture was in the throes of the Enlightenment, but his culture went way back before the Enlightenment into the Renaissance, and the Reformation, and the Middle Ages, and yet further and further before any of these passing scenes. People generally tend to feel that their culture is all there is or ever was-- very, very parochial. In contrast Blake was universal.

Bacon (1561–1626) was said to be the father of Empiricism, which meant in effect guided exclusively by sense-based thoughts. His attitude toward reason contributed largely to the advent of the Enlightenment, all of which Blake despised.

If Bacon inaugurated Empiricism, Newton (1642-1727) was an avid practitioner of it. Among other things he was a theologian , but his theology, with its naturalistic bent, had little to do with the theology of William Blake; one was natural; the other was divine. Under Newton's influence early 19th century English religion was dominantly Deism (God wound up the world like a clock and, losing interest in it, left it to unwind on its own).

Finally we have to look at John Locke, (1632-1704), widely known as the Father of Liberalism. Blake might well have endorsed many of Locke's liberal tendencies, but one thing about Locke completely antagonized him: the tabula rasa!

Somehow these three widely different men came to be associated in Blake's mind with what I've called an 'Unholy Trinity'. It appears many times in his writings:

Jerusalem Plate 15 (Erdman 158):

"O Divine Spirit sustain me on thy wings!That
I may awake Albion from His long & cold repose.
For Bacon & Newton sheathd in dismal steel, their terrors hang
Like iron scourges over Albion, Reasonings like vast Serpents
Infold around my limbs, bruising my minute articulations
I turn my eyes to the Schools & Universities of Europe
And there behold the Loom of Locke whose Woof rages dire
Washd by the Water-wheels of Newton. black the cloth
In heavy wreathes folds over every Nation; cruel Works
Of many Wheels I View, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic
Moving by compulsion each other:"

Jerusalem Plate 54: (Erdman 203-4) (This is near the beginning to Chapter Three - To the Deists:
We see a diagram showing the four zoas in This World: Reason, then Luvah and Los, then Tharmas:


Pity....This World....Wrath

............ Desire

But the Spectre like a hoar frost & a Mildew rose over Albion
Saying, I am God O Sons of Men! I am your Rational Power!
Am I not Bacon & Newton & Locke who teach Humility to Man!
Who teach Doubt & Experiment & my two Wings Voltaire: Rousseau.
Where is that Friend of Sinners! that Rebel against my Laws!
Who teaches Belief to the Nations, & an unknown Eternal Life
Come hither into the Desart & turn these stones to bread.
Vain foolish Man! wilt thou believe without Experiment?"


Plate 93 (Erdman 253-4):
"Will you suffer this Satan this Body of Doubt that Seems but Is
Not To occupy the very threshold of Eternal Life. if Bacon, Newton, Locke,
Deny a Conscience in Man & the Communion of Saints & Angels
Contemning the Divine Vision & Fruition, Worshiping the Deus
Of the Heathen, The God of This World, & the Goddess Nature
Mystery Babylon the Great, The Druid Dragon & hidden Harlot
Is it not that Signal of the Morning which was told us in the Beginning"


But writing Plate 98 (Erdman 257) Blake had learned something of forgiveness:
"The Druid Spectre was Annihilate loud thundring rejoicing terrific vanishing
Fourfold Annihilation & at the clangor of the Arrows of Intellect
The innumerable Chariots of the Almighty appeard in Heaven
And Bacon & Newton & Locke, & Milton & Shakspear & Chaucer
A Sun of blood red wrath surrounding heaven on all sides around
Glorious incompreh[en]sible by Mortal Man & each Chariot was Sexual Threefold
And every Man stood Fourfold,"


Milton Plate 40-41:
"That the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slavery
There is a Negation, & there is a Contrary
The Negation must be destroyd to redeem the Contraries
The Negation is the Spectre; the Reasoning Power in Man
This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal Spirit; a Selfhood, which must be put off & annihilated alway
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination.
To bathe in the Waters of Life; to wash off the Not Human
I come in Self-annihilation & the grandeur of Inspiration
To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour
To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration
To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions
covering To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with Imagination
To cast aside from Poetry, all that is not Inspiration"

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