The beginning of The Sanity of William Blake" All criticism is based upon some standard of convention. Yet, in spite of the fact that our edu- cation necessarily favours such standard, our instincts are often finely re- bellious in their repudiation of convention. And we secretly honour all who outdare custom, though we openly fear and perhaps deride them. The weakness of convention as a standard of criticism lies in this, that we are able to estimate a given work only so long as it falls within our educational experience ; whereas if it does not, there remains no system that will give it justice. How can one judge, say, of ethics in Mars, when he is entirely ignorant of its condi- tions ? or of habits in Mile End if he do not share its quite reasonable dislike of his own culture ? or of manners in May Fair when he can but envy, not emulate, its comfortable morality ? We publicly pity and even pretend to despise all who are not of the fold ; yet in our hearts we often admire them. It is indeed curious. Though we know our conventions are but dummies of formalism, we cringe like very Pharisees before them and hug it to our hearts that we are as other men. Nevertheless, though the Gentiles defy our Gods, we grant them a right to live as long as they do not question our respectability or marry our daughters. Are they not picturesque, these outlaws, and do they not add to the gaiety of life ? Be they inspired poet or filthy fakir, sour- hearted Diogenes or pearly-toothed nautch girl, we gaze at them from afar and marvel even if we profit nothing by their example. In brief, those who are caged have mighty respect for those who fly ; if only, alas ! until some one shall bring the birds to earth with broken wing. The genius, the prophet, the poet, is necessarily in his work and mode of life outside the law that binds the masses into correct behaviour. Therefore he is beyond understanding, though the ignorant people may follow him from afar. He is beyond understanding, because few have virtue enough to gauge the uncon- ventional virtues. The schools judge only by their standards of examination, and cast out a poet as unfit. The professions measure by the success of their sleekest members ; and, as it is a law of nature that the eccentric shall not survive, they starve him. The academies of Art can judge of nothing that is not so firmly and viciously correct that all fear of its kindling the imagination vanishes.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Blake was in anything unconventional. Here is what Malcom Macdonald had meant by that: