Monday, October 20, 2014

Appendix 5

 Of the critics, interpreters and scholars we have discussed, none to my knowledge wrote primarily as a Christian. However a few Blakeans did. Side by side with the secular stream of Blake criticism exists a smaller and less known group of writers whose interest in Blake was primarily spiritual. 

A member of the narrow band of Christian Blakeans was Kathleen Raine, who got the term from the poet, Yeats.  This survey has omitted many worthwhile Blake studies. 

Two other scholars who contributed appreciably to my own understanding were Harold Bloom, author of Blake's Apocalypse, and Bernard Blackstone, who wrote English Blake

George MacDonald

Among the most notable was a Scottish minister and novelist named George MacDonald, born three years before Blake's death. MacDonald's reputation rests largely with his children's stories and two imaginative works entitled Phantastes and Lilith. MacDonald recognized Blake's visions as belonging to the mainstream of Christian thought. He translated some of them into his own fairy tales and visionary novels. The Blakean eternal pervades all of MacDonald's works; they abound with spiritual identities in many ways comparable to Blake's fantastic cast of characters. 

One can trace Blake's influence through MacDonald to the writings of his two famous disciples, C.S.Lewis and Charles Williams. Like Blake and MacDonald, Lewis and Williams conceived of the real as residing in the nonmaterial. With The Screwtape Letters Lewis gave us the most formidable literary devil since Urizen. 

Williams' metaphysical thrillers partake of the same transcendent dimension. The two men's visions broke like a new sunrise over the darkened positivistic face of English culture near the outbreak of the Second World War. Strangely enough these two Christian thinkers gave little evidence of awareness of their debt to Blake. Lewis did mention MHH in the preface of his most Blakean work, a vision of the hereafter called The Great Divorce, but he seems not to have fully realized that he had ingested Blakean values through his spiritual father, George MacDonald. 

Williams, in a little known work entitled The Forgiveness of Sins, made extended reference to Blake's vision of forgiveness as the central doctrine of Christianity. Nevertheless he categorized Blake's work as heretical. In another work Williams rated Wordsworth as the only powerful spiritual poet in English since Milton. I find it puzzling how truly Blakean the two great Oxford Christians were without acknowledging the debt. Evidently both Lewis and Williams were too threatened by Blake's anarchism, and especially by his attack on the established Church, to open themselves consciously to Blake's ideas.

The "flat sided steep" of MHH appears in Lewis' spiritual geography at The Great Divorce


 MacDonald  was secure enough in his own faith to feel no threat from Blake's immoderate 
language. He was also pure enough to find Blake pure. All four writers have in common a focus on the eternal. MacDonald learned to write about the eternal from Blake, Lewis and Williams from MacDonald. The three later men all understood art in the same sense that Blake did, what we might call art for God's sake. 

Richard Bucke, like MacDonald, was a solitary spiritual luminary of the late 19th Century. A psychiatrist, commited to 'Bacon, Newton & Locke' he nevertheless recognized Blake's spiritual genius. In his famous book, 'Cosmic Consciousness' Bucke named Blake in a group of fourteen who he believed had experienced this psychic mutation. With Blake he included Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Boehme, Walt Whitman, and appropriately enough Francis Bacon. Cosmic Consciousness is a strange mixture of science and faith, which today has little credence in the citadel of either camp. Blake would probably have deplored it; however he would have enjoyed the recognition which he never received during his lifetime.richard bucke

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