Friday, October 24, 2014

Appendix 7

Plowman was a Christian, and like MacDonald he immediately recognized Blake as one and showed the way for those who came after him. With some difficulty Plowman induced the noted British critic, Middleton Murry, to enter the field of Blake studies. The resulting work, 'William Blake' first published in 1933, stands alone in one important respect. One should note first that Murry began his study of Blake without an explicit Christian perspective. He might therefore more properly belong to the group of critics discussed earlier, the secular writers, except that his study of Blake led to a spiritual experience.

Murry is unique in the existential way in which he entered into Blake's spiritual journey. He responded to Blake more personally than did the other critics of his generation. Murry got Blake's message. As he tells us in his preface, "my aim has been solely to discover and as far as possible, expound the doctrine of William Blake: 'The Everlasting Gospel'. The modern type of an enthusiast, Murry did not focus on the historical setting or other source material or upon aesthetic principles, but simply on the existential impression which Blake's poetry had on him.


Murry felt great admiration for Blake's spiritual vision (See his page 218). He professed a real commitment to Blake's expression of the Christian faith, while denying that it was Christianity (See his page 250). His empathy with Blake led him to sense what Blake had understood, and what Charles Williams had failed to grasp, "that the truest Christians are always heretics" (See my page 251). The inspiration of the 'Moment of Grace, which has played so vital a part in this book, probably came originally from Murry, although he did not call it that. Unfamiliar with the concept of grace, he called it the "eternal moment of creative vision" or the "Felpham moment". Murry could not interpret Blake from the perspective of a mature and informed Christian as his friend Plowman had done. Rather Murry, starting with a rather nebulous faith, caught something of the spirit of Christ from Blake and was honest enough to confess it (See his page 219). In that respect Murry has a rare if not unique place among Blake's literary critics. 

In l948 John Davies wrote The Theology of William Blake, so far as I know the earliest attempt specifically to relate Blake's message to the Christian faith in a systematic way. Davies emphasized the traditional facets of Blake's faith and had little to say about the anti-churchly dimension of Blake's thought, which according to my reading is paramount. Davies book seems to have attracted little notice among the community of Blake scholars. 

In 1964 William Hughes wrote a study of Blake's Jerusalem. Hughes does not present himself specifically as a Christian, but his work shows a rare level of spiritual maturity. When the reader feels ready for Jerusalem, Hughes makes an excellent companion for the adventure. Hughes pointed out the link between Blake and George MacDonald._ See ' his Jerusalem, page 7. 

Thomas Altizer is famous (or notorious?) as a founder of the God is Dead movement, prominent in theological circles in the sixties. Altizer owed a lot to Nietszche, who had announced the death of God a hundred years before. But shortly after he wrote The Gospel of Christian 


Altizer published a work entitled The New Apocalypse: The Radical Christian Vision of William Blake in his introduction he called Blake "the first Christian atheist, the first visionary who chose the kenotic or self emptying path of immersing himself in the profane reality of experience as the way to the God who is all in all in Jesus". 

My own vision of Blake's faith diverges radically from Professor Altizer's. However all Blake scholars are indebted to him for his profound thoughts on the subject. In the last chapter mention was made of Norman Brown, author of Love's Body. Brown commited himself to Blake's structure of thought as Murry had done. 

I read Love's Body with an increasing sense of delight and awe. Brown may be the only person in our generation who  consciously tried to live Blake's doctrine. He understood Blake partially, like everyone else, and the parts which he emphasized are not those that have greatest meaning for me. Nevertheless I have a lot of respect for what Brown tried to do; in Love's Body he tells a fascinating story. "O Why was I born with a different face. I see things that other people don't see". 

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