Saturday, March 03, 2012


The differences between Blake and Milton are striking as well as are the similarities. Although both of their fathers were middle class businessmen, Milton's was more successful and more ambitious for his gifted son. The senior Milton hired tutors for his son John and sent him to the respected, liberal St. Paul's School which continued the training in languages which had started at home. John Milton enrolled at Cambridge at the age of 16 and eventually took a M. A. cum laude at Christ's College, Cambridge in 1632. Blake did not attend school until at ten he was enrolled at Pars Drawing School. At 14 he was apprenticed to an engraver. His apprenticeship was completed seven years later in 1779 when he enrolled in the Royal Academy School as an engraver.

Neither Blake or Milton met with immediate success when his education was completed. Both had been writers of poetry from their youth. Milton was unsure what profession he wanted to enter but his ambition was 'immortality'. Blake had every intention of being an engraver but that was not the limit of his ambition. Each man wanted to influence the world around him but each was uncertain how to bring it about.

Milton became successful in an unexpected way. His language skills were put to use in the position of Secretary for the Foreign Tongues for the Council of State after Charles I was executed following the Civil War. However the end of Cromwell's administration ended Milton's employment, his security, his fortune and threatened to end his life. The reversal of his fortunes was exacerbated by the fact that he had been afflicted with blindness when he was only 44 years of age. Blake never had the degree of success enjoyed by Milton or the misfortune of losing his sight but he experienced a similar reversal of fortune which turned him away from seeking worldly success. Both learned the discipline of frugality when their incomes were reduced or uncertain.

Milton was imprisoned for 2 months following the Restoration because of his service to Cromwell's government and statements against monarchy in his writings. He gained release through intercession by influential friends. Blake was accused of sedition during a time when England was at war with France. He was acquitted after a tense period of fear for his life and liberty during preparations for the trial.

Blake's Visionary Head of
Milton's First Wife

The experience of the two men with women followed different paths. Milton married three times and was widowed twice. He had three surviving daughters whom he was responsible for raising. Milton's wives are not mentioned in his writings nor are his daughters. Public records tell most of what is know about them. Blake married an uneducated woman who bore no children. He speaks of her as his 'sweet Shadow of Delight' and his 'Dear & too careful & over joyous Woman'. She was his spiritual friend and companion for 45 years.

Each man left an intellectual and spiritual legacy through his poetry. Each placed enormous value on liberty: the political liberty of being free from tyranny and corruption, and the religious liberty of being free to practice religion according to one's conscience. Blake is more explicit in emphasising the awareness of the Eternal dimension, the realisation of God Within and understanding that the final consummation occurs when man is able to receive Truth.

Paradise Regained by John Milton
words of Jesus
"I went into the Temple, there to hear
The Teachers of our Law, and to propose
What might improve my knowledge or their own;
And was admir'd by all: yet this not all
To which my Spirit aspir'd; victorious deeds [ 215 ]
Flam'd in my heart, heroic acts; one while
To rescue Israel from the Roman yoke,
Then to subdue and quell o're all the earth
Brute violence and proud Tyrannick pow'r,
Till truth were freed, and equity restor'd: [ 220 ]
Yet held it more humane, more heavenly, first
By winning words to conquer willing hearts,
And make perswasion do the work of fear;
At least to try, and teach the erring Soul
Not wilfully mis-doing, but unware [ 225 ]
Misled; the stubborn only to subdue."

Marriage of Heaven and Hell, PLATE 14,(E 39)
"The ancient tradition that the world will be consumed in fire
at the end of six thousand years is true. as I have heard from
For the cherub with his flaming sword is hereby commanded to
leave his guard at the tree of life, and when he does, the whole
creation will be consumed, and appear infinite. and holy whereas
it now appears finite & corrupt.
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment.
But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his
soul, is to be expunged; this I shall do, by printing in the
infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and
medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the
infinite which was hid.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would
appear to man as it is: infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro'
narrow chinks of his cavern."

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