Owen Barfield, a close friend of the Oxford Christians was much closer to Blake in spirit than were Lewis or Williams. Many of his metaphysical constructs closely resemble those of Blake. In all liklihood they came from common sources.
Evelyn Underhill is universally recognized as a primary authority on Christian mysticism. Her many books exhaustively treat the subject. In her largest work, first published in l9ll; she numbered Blake among the leading mystics of the Christian era; she quoted Blake extensively and referred to him a dozen times in the course of her work.
Was Blake a mystic? The question has been debated almost as much as the question of his madness. Frye has the authoritative answer: Blake was a visionary, not a mystic, and Frye explains the difference. See Fearful Symmetry, p. 8. 231
Forty years after Underhill's Mysticism Sheldon Cheney wrote a book called Men Who Have Walked with God:
"Being the story of Mysticism through the ages told in the Biographies of representative seers and saints" (Title page).
Cheney devoted Chapter Ten to William Blake:
On page 309 of Cheney's book:
Of all the later saints, William Blake was the one least limited
by mortal nature. He believed that the soul is, during this time-conditioned life on earth, a wanderer from the realm of pure spirit, from an Eden that exists eternally in a Golden Age.Throughout life he kept contact with the Golden Age, with Eter-nal Childhood, through visions. Death, he said, is no more thant the soul's passage from one room to another.
"Just before he died reported one who was there, "his countenance became fair, his eyes brightened, and he burst into singing of the things he saw in Heaven." Thus William Blake brought down to a dingy room in crowded London, for the thousandth time, some of the light of Paradise. It was apparent not only to his faithful wife, who accepted his visions as reality, but to a neighbour woman who had come in to help Mrs. Blake. Observing how the cramped, dark room had lighted up, she said simply,
"I have been at the death of a saint"
Cheney treated Blake's life as a spiritual journey, though without as complete an understanding as was achieved by later and more intensive scholars.
MacDonald, Bucke, Underhill, and Cheney, all writers on and admirers of Blake, had one comon characteristic as Christians: they were individualists; none wrote under the auspices of an ecclesiastical organization. True, MacDonald served as a. dissenting minister, but his writing was not a part of his role as a clergyman. It was rather a refreshing form of escape, as well as a means of supplementing the financial pittance which he received from the church.
The essay on Blake written by T.S.Eliot and appearing in The Sacred Wood (1920) certainly belongs in any survey of Christian critics. Eliot, a prominent religious poet and practically the arbiter of literary taste in England between the two World Wars, might be expected to have discerned the spiritual dimension of Blake's poetry. Writing at the age of 32 he showed a healthy respect for Blake's greatness. In his essay Eliot expressed some valuable and creative insights about Blake. For example Blake, with some other literary giants, had a "peculiar honesty which, in a world too frightened to be honest, is peculiarly terrifying" and "Blake's poetry has the unpleasantness of great poetry".
A few pages on Blake "was naked and he saw men naked". These and other comments in his essay are incisive in a way that reveals why Eliot's contemporaries held him.in such awe. Unfortunately Eliot failed fully to appreciate Blake's spiritual greatness. Eight years later he tells us in extenuation that when he wrote The Sacred Wood, he had not yet become interested in the relationship between poetry and the realm of the spirit.
However The Sacred Wood was written presumably before Eliot became a Christian.
Still writing as an aesthete. Eliot developed into the kind of high churchman least apt to find Blake's anti-priestly stance attractive. In fact one is tempted to suspect that Blake became more terrifying to him as he went through life.
In his twenties he explained in the clearest possible terms spiritual realities that the secular critics had stumbled over. Only a mature Christian can deal adequately with Blake's Christian iconoclasm, one who readily distinguishes between substance and form in the Christian life.
Those outside the Christian faith rather uniformly equate Christianity with its ecclesiastical expressions. Blake of all people showed the distinction ("the outward ceremony is Antichrist."), but in order to discern this fully one must in some sense share his spiritual perspective; no amount of material knowledge in itself will suffice.