Sunday, January 01, 2012


Marriage of Heaven & Hell
Plate 21
Library of Congress
Rosenwald Collection

Blake was hungry to assimilate ideas into his ever expanding system of thought as Peter Ackroyd tells us in Blake, A Biography:

"In his eclectic assumption of Taylor's Neoplatonism, in fact, we can observe the movement of Blake's mind; he picked up separate ideas, or fragments of knowledge, as he needed them. He was a synthesiser and a systematiser, like so many of his generation, but it was his own synthesis designed to establish his own system of belief. He was likely to adopt an idea he designed or read in a periodical or pamphlet with the same frequency that he borrowed notions from Swedenborg or Paracelsus. He was, above everything else, an artist and not an orthodox 'thinker': he was attracted to images or phrases as a means of interpretation, and never espoused a complete or coherently organised body of knowledge." (Page 90)

Blake's comments on Swedenborg in Marriage of Heaven & Hell point out the breadth of influences upon him and the critical evaluations he made of his sources.

Marriage of Heaven & Hell, Plate 21, (E 42)
"I have always found that Angels have the vanity to speak of
themselves as the only wise; this they do with a confident
insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning:
Thus Swedenborg boasts that what he writes is new; tho' it
is only the Contents or Index of already publish'd books
A man carried a monkey about for a shew, & because he was a
little wiser than the monkey, grew vain, and conciev'd himself as much
wiser than seven men. It is so with Swedenborg; he shews the
folly of churches & exposes hypocrites, till he imagines that all
are religious. & himself the single
One on earth that ever broke a net.
Now hear a plain fact: Swedenborg has not written one new
truth: Now hear another: he has written all the old falshoods.
And now hear the reason. He conversed with Angels who are
all religious, & conversed not with Devils who all hate religion,
for he was incapable thro' his conceited notions.
Thus Swedenborgs writings are a recapitulation of all
superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime, but no further.
Have now another plain fact: Any man of mechanical talents
may from the writings of Paracelsus or Jacob Behmen, produce ten
thousand volumes of equal value with Swedenborg's.
and from those of Dante or Shakespear, an infinite number.
But when he has done this, let him not say that he knows
better than his master, for he only holds a candle in sunshine."

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