Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Original in Manchester Galleries
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Portrait of John Milton painted by William Blake for William Hayley's library in his home near Felpham

That Blake was an admirer of Milton is undisputed. Blake was born 63 years after Milton's death, 70 years after the first publication of Paradise Lost. Blake was a solitary learner and Milton was his teacher from childhood on. At a spiritual level Blake felt a bond of love with Milton; of knowing and being known by him.

Letters, 11, To Flaxman, (E 708)
"Now my lot in the Heavens is this; Milton lovd me in childhood & shewd me his face
Ezra came with Isaiah the Prophet, but Shakespeare in riper years gave me his hand
Paracelsus & Behmen appeard to me."

Blake shared with Milton common experiences in the outer as well as the inner world. Both men lived through turbulent times in which their country underwent hardships and threats of the breakdown of order. They shared a commitment to non-conformist religion which recognised each man's personal involvement with God. Both placed their loyalty on the side of republicanism and against monarchy. Milton and Blake pursued the life of the intellect as the structure which defined their activities. Seeing themselves as prophets to their nation they selected poetry as the vehicle to present their ideas and educate men in the value and costs of liberty.

On the back of the title page of Blake's annoted copy of Reynolds' Discourse III, Blake wrote a quote from Milton's The Reason of Church Government:

Annotations to Reynolds, (E 646)
"A Work of Genius is a Work 'Not to be obtaind by the
Invocation of Memory & her Syren Daughters. but by Devout prayer
to that Eternal Spirit. who can enrich with all utterance &
knowledge & sends out his Seraphim with the hallowed fire of his
Altar to touch & purify the lips of whom he pleases.' Milton"

In a letter to a less than supportive potential patron, Blake states explicitly that he shares Milton's receiving of illumination from outside of his own creative control.

Letters, To Truxler, (E 701)
"But I
hope that none of my Designs will be destitute of Infinite
Particulars which will present themselves to the Contemplator.
And tho I call them Mine I know that they are not Mine being of
the same opinion with Milton when he says That the Muse visits
his Slumbers & awakes & governs his Song when Morn purples The
East. & being also in the predicament of that prophet who says I
cannot go beyond the command of the Lord to speak good or bad"

1 comment:

Larry said...

Excellent post, Ellie.
The passage from Reynolds Discourse of course contains an obvious reference to Isaiah 6, verses 6 and 7:
"sends out his Seraphim with the hallowed fire of his
Altar to touch & purify the lips of whom he pleases.'

Isaiah was about as big with Blake as Milton was.