Blake included an account of the incident in a letter to his friend Thomas Butts:
Letters, (E 732) [To] Mr Butts, Gr Marlborough St, London Felpham August 16. 1803 ... I am at Present in a Bustle to defend myself against a very unwarrantable warrant from a justice of Peace in Chichester. which was taken out against me by a Private in Captn Leathes's troop of 1st or Royal Dragoons for an assault & Seditious words. The wretched Man has terribly Perjurd himself as has his Comrade for as to Sedition not one Word relating to the King or Government was spoken by either him or me. His Enmity arises from my having turned him out of my Garden into which he was invited as an assistant by a Gardener at work therein, without my knowledge that he was so invited. I desired him as politely as was possible to go out of the Garden, he made me an impertinent answer I insisted on his leaving the Garden he refused I still persisted in desiring his departure he then threatend to knock out my Eyes with many abominable imprecations & with some contempt for my Person it affronted my foolish Pride I therefore took him by the Elbows & pushed him before me till I had got him out. there I intended to have left him. but he turning about put himself into a Posture of Defiance threatening & swearing at me. I perhaps foolishly & perhaps not, stepped out at the Gate & putting aside his blows took him again by the Elbows & keeping his back to me pushed him forwards down the road about fifty yards he all the while endeavouring to turn round & strike me & raging & cursing which drew out several neighbours. at length when I had got him to where he was Quarterd. which was very quickly done. we were met at the Gate by the Master of the house. The Fox Inn, (who is [my] the proprietor of my Cottage) & his wife & Daughter. & the Mans Comrade. & several other people My Landlord compelld the Soldiers to go in doors after many abusive threats [from the] against me & my wife from the two Soldiers but not one word of threat on account of Sedition was utterd at that time. This method of Revenge was Plann'd between them after they had got together into the Stable. This is the whole outline. I have for witnesses. The Gardener who is Hostler at the Fox & who Evidences that to his knowledge no word of the remotest tendency to Government or Sedition was utterd,--Our next door Neighbour a Millers wife who saw me turn him before me down the road & saw & heard all that happend at the Gate of the Inn who Evidences that no Expression of threatening on account of Sedition was utterd in the heat of their fury by either of the Dragoons. this was the womans own remark & does high honour to her good sense as she observes that whenever a quarrel happens the offence is always repeated. The Landlord of the Inn & His Wife & daughter will Evidence the Same & will evidently prove the Comrade perjurd who swore that he heard meSedition, the crime of which Blake stood accused, was punishable by imprisonment or death. Blake was brought to trial in January 1804. Through the testimony of neighbors who had witnessed the incident he was found not guilty by a jury of having said 'Damn the King.'
at the Gate utter Seditious words & D--- the K--- without which perjury I could not have been committed & I had no witness with me before the Justices who could combat his assertion as the Gardener remaind in my Garden all the while & he was the only person I thought necessary to take with me. I have been before a Bench of Justices at Chichester this morning. but they as the Lawyer who wrote down the Accusation told me in private are compelld by the Military to suffer a prosecution to be enterd into altho they must know & it is manifest that the whole is a Fabricated Perjury. I have been forced to find Bail. Mr Hayley was kind enough to come forwards & Mr Seagrave Printer at Chichester. Mr H. in 100L & Mr S. in 50L & myself am bound in 100L for my appearance at the Quarter Sessions which is after Michaelmass. ... Every one here is my Evidence for Peace & Good Neighbourhood & yet such is the present state of things this foolish accusation must be tried in Public. ... This is but too just a Picture of my Present state I pray God to keep you & all men from it & to deliver me in his own good time. ... Affectionately Yours WILLIAM BLAKE"
David Erdman in Prophet Against Empire devotes several pages to examining the particulars of Blake's encounter with the law. The least that can be said about it is that it was traumatic for William and Catherine Blake:
"Whatever we make of the coincidence of some of the dragoon's charges with some of Blake's prophetic opinions, however, the trial was an ordeal for Blake."
"Yet the wounds made by the accusation and the inarticulate trial never completely healed."
On Plate 93 of Jerusalem Blake pictured three accusers and labeled them 'Anytus Melitus & Lycon', the names of three men who were involved in the proceedings against Socrates which led to the guilty verdict and his subsequent death. Blake connects the condemnation of Socrates to that of Jesus by pointing out that the accusers of both men thought their victims 'Pernicious' men. Blake puts himself in the category with Socrates and Jesus by picturing in the image an imaginative representation not of men involved in his trial, but the three Hunt brothers, who destroyed his reputation as an artist and imputed insanity to him through their published criticism in the Examiner. The pointing hand, seen six times in the image, was associated with the Hunts, whom Blake personified as 'Hand' in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, Plate 93, (E 253) "Anytus Melitus & Lycon thought Socrates a Very Pernicious Man So Caiphas thought Jesus"
|Wikimedia Commons |
Jerusalem, Plate 93
Detail from top of Plate
The trial of Jesus:
Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Ca'iaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.
 But Peter followed him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.
 Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,
 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward
 and said, "This fellow said, `I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.'"
 And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?"
 But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."
 Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."
 Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy.
 What is your judgment?" They answered, "He deserves death."
The trial of Socrates:
"The accusers of Socrates proposed the punishment of death. In proposing death, the accusers might well have expected to counter with a proposal for exile--a punishment that probably would have satisfied both them and the jury. Instead, Socrates audaciously proposes to the jury that he be rewarded, not punished. According to Plato, Socrates asks the jury for free meals in the Prytaneum, a public dining hall in the center of Athens. Socrates must have known that his proposed "punishment" would infuriate the jury. I. F. Stone noted that "Socrates acts more like a picador trying to enrage a bull than a defendant trying to mollify a jury." Why, then, propose a punishment guaranteed to be rejected? The only answer, Stone and others conclude, is that Socrates was ready to die."
Read more about Blake's trial in A New Kind of Man by Michael Davis.