Wednesday, September 12, 2012


One series of Blake's illustrations to the poems of John Milton includes the unusual feature of commentary by Blake himself. Blake's watercolor illustration to L'Allegro and Il Penseroso created after 1816 for Thomas Butts is now in the collection of the Morgan Library & Museum. Martin Butlin in the Tate Publication William Blake, states that Blake used the series to 'illustrate the whole development of Milton's poetic life from the early state of Innocence inspired by mirth, through the Experience of Melancholy to the final maturity that produced Paradise Lost.'(Page 118) Perhaps as well as seeing Milton's life reflected in the images, one can find passages in Blake's writings to associate with the images created for L'Allegro and Il Penseroso.

In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his first illustration to L'Allegro:

Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, (E 682)  
1         "Heart easing Mirth.
          Haste thee Nymph & bring with thee
          Jest & Youthful Jollity
          Quips & Cranks & Wanton Wiles
          Nods & Becks & wreathed smiles
          Sport that wrinkled Care derides
          And Laughter holding both his Sides
          Come & trip it as you go
          On the light phantastic toe
          And in thy right hand lead with thee
          The Mountain Nymph Sweet Liberty" 
Blake states: "These Personifications are all brought together in the First Design. Surrounding the Principal Figure which is Mirth herself"

  In his comment Blake makes it clear that his images in this illustration are personification of states; each figure represents a state that Milton mentioned.
Of particular interest is Liberty since Blake says:        
       AMONG THE SONS OF ALBION" (Jerusalem, Plate 26, (E 171)) 

Miscellaneous Poems, Song, (E 414)
"I love the laughing vale,     
  I love the echoing hill,
Where mirth does never fail,
  And the jolly swain laughs his fill."

Satiric Verses and Epigrams, (E 502)
"The Angel that presided oer my birth
Said Little creature formd of Joy & Mirth    
Go love without the help of any King on Earth"

Letters, To Trusler,(E 702)
 "Fun I love
but too much Fun is of all things the most loathsom.  Mirth is
better than Fun & Happiness is better than Mirth--I feel that a
Man may be happy in This World." 
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