Wednesday, December 18, 2013


British Museum
Illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts

A contemporary of William Blake made the first translation of the Bhagavad Gita from Sanskrit into English. Charles Wilkins was an accomplished linguist and printer whose interest in India began with his employment in India as a manufacturer with the East India Company. His facility with learning languages and creating typefaces for foreign scripts led to an influential career in introducing the Indian culture to Europe.

The influence which Wilkins had on Blake is intimated by a reference Blake made to a picture (now lost) which he included in his exhibition of 1809. We can assume that Blake read Wilkins translation of the 'Geeta' and absorbed from it insights into Eastern religious thought and practice. He was open to receiving truth from multiple sources and integrating fresh ideas into the encompassing myth through which he transmitted his vision.

Northrop Frye on page 110 of Fearful Symmetry comments on the relationship of the Bible to other religious writings:
"However, while 'The Old & New Testaments are the Great Code of Art,' to regard them as forming a peculiar or exclusive Word of God is a sectarian error, the same one that the Jews made which proved such a disaster to them. All myths and rituals hint darkly and allegorically at the same visions that we find in the Bible, which is why they have such a strong resemblance to Christian myths and rituals...There are many great visions outside the range of the Bible, such as the Icelandic Eddas  and the Bhagavadgita, almost equally faithful to the central form of the Word of God, and the Bible no less than Classical legends comes from older and more authentic sources."   

Laocoon, (E 274)
"The Old & New Testaments are the Great Code of Art"

Descriptive Catalog, (E 548)
           "NUMBER X.      
    The Bramins.--A Drawing.  
The subject is, Mr. Wilkin, translating the Geeta; an ideal
design, suggested by the first publication of that part of the
Hindoo Scriptures, translated by Mr. Wilkin.  I understand that
my Costume is incorrect, but in this I plead the authority of the
ancients, who often deviated from the Habits, to preserve the
Manners, as in the instance of Laocoon, who, though a priest, is
represented naked."

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 551)
                INDEX TO THE CATALOGUE.
   I.  The Spiritual Form of Nelson Leviathan           PAGE 1 
  II.  The Spiritual Form of Pitt guiding Behemoth              2
 III.  The Canterbury Pilgrims, from Chaucer                      7 
  IV.  The Bard, from Gray                                                 35
   V.  The Ancient Britons                                                   39 
  VI.  A Subject from Shakspeare                                      51 
 VII.  The Goats                                                                 52 
VIII.  The Spiritual Preceptor                                ib.
  IX.  Satan calling up his Legions, from Milton                 54
   X.  The Bramins--A Drawing                                       59
  XI.  The Body of Abel found by Adam and Eve, Cain fleeing
       away--A Drawing                                                        60 
 XII.  Soldiers casting Lots for Christ's Garment--A Drawing  ib.  
XIII.  Jacob's Ladder--A Drawing                              ib.
 XIV.  Angels hovering over the Body of Jesus in the 
        Sepulchre--A  Drawing                                  ib.  
  XV.  Ruth--A Drawing                                                        61 
 XVI.  The Penance of Jane Shore--A Drawing                  65"

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 544)
"Poetry as it exists
now on earth, in the various remains of ancient authors, Music as
it exists in old tunes or melodies, Painting and Sculpture as it
exists in the remains of Antiquity and in the works of more
modern genius, is Inspiration, and cannot be surpassed; it is
perfect and eternal.  Milton, Shakspeare, Michael Angelo, Rafael,
the finest specimens of Ancient Sculpture and Painting, and
Architecture, Gothic, Grecian, Hindoo and Egyptian, are the
extent of the human mind.  The human mind cannot go beyond the
gift of God, the Holy Ghost.  To suppose that Art can go beyond
the finest specimens of Art that are now in the world, is not
knowing what Art is; it is being blind to the gifts of the

Bhagvat-geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon
Translated by Charles Wilkins, 1785

From Translator's Preface
"It seems as if the principal design of these dialogues was to unite all the prevailing modes of worship of those days; and, by setting up the doctrine of the unity of the Godhead, in opposition to idolatrous sacrifices, and the worship of images, to undermine the tenets inculcated by the Feds; for although the author dared not make a direct attack, either upon the prevailing prejudices of the people, or the divine authority of those ancient books; yet, by offering eternal happiness to such as worship Brahm, the Almighty, whilst he declares the reward of such as follow other Gods shall be but a temporary enjoyment of an inferior heaven, for a period measured by the extent of their virtues, his design was to bring about the downfall of Polytheism; or, at least, to induce men to believe God present in every image before which they bent, and the object of all their ceremonies and sacrifices."
Quotes from The Bhagavad Gita:

“He is the source of light in all luminous objects. He is beyond the 
darkness of matter and is unmanifested. He is knowledge, He is the 
object of knowledge, and He is the goal of knowledge. He is situated in 
everyone's heart.”
“The man who sees me in everything
and everything within me
will not be lost to me, nor
will I ever be lost to him.

He who is rooted in oneness
realizes that I am
in every being; wherever
he goes, he remains in me.

When he sees all being as equal
in suffering or in joy
because they are like himself,
that man has grown perfect in yoga.”
“The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. There 
was never a time when you and I and all the kings gathered here have not
existed and nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist.”

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