Friday, October 17, 2014


British Museum
Europe, Plate 1
Frontispiece with inscription
David Erdman on page 220 of Prophet Against Empire gives information on the inscriptions found on Copy D of Europe, a Prophecy which is in the British Museum. This copy was owned by Blake's friend Ozias Humphery, but the inscription are thought to have been written by another of Blake's friends and fellow artists, George Cumberland. Erdman states, "Either because he understood Europe very well, or because he was coached by Blake himself, his friend George Cumberland added explanatory glosses to a copy now in the British Museum, mostly in the form of quotations from Blake's household volume, Bysshe's anthology."

We are acquainted with 'Bysshe's anthology' as noted in the post Enjoyment.

Written on the Frontispiece are words from Paradise Lost. Here is a longer section of Milton's poem with the inscription in bold.

Paradise Lost, Book VII

"On heav’nly ground they stood, and from the shore
They view’d the vast immeasurable Abyss
Outrageous as a Sea, dark, wasteful, wilde,
Up from the bottom turn’d by furious windes
And surging waves, as Mountains to assault
Heav’ns highth, and with the Center mix the Pole.

Silence, ye troubl’d waves, and thou Deep, peace,
Said then th’ Omnific Word, your discord end:

Nor staid, but on the Wings of Cherubim
Uplifted, in Paternal Glorie rode
Farr into Chaos, and the World unborn;
For Chaos heard his voice: him all his Traine
Follow’d in bright procession to behold
Creation, and the wonders of his might.
Then staid the fervid Wheeles, and in his hand
He took the golden Compasses, prepar’d
In Gods Eternal store, to circumscribe
This Universe, and all created things:
One foot he center’d, and the other turn’d
Round through the vast profunditie obscure,
And said, thus farr extend, thus farr thy bounds,
This be thy just Circumference, O World."

John Milton

In his chapter in Blake's Visionary Forms Dramatic, Michael J Tolley comments on the Frontispiece to Europe:

"Rich in allusion, simple in outline, grand in sublime tradition of painting, the frontispiece, envisioning the creator as a windswept old man who kneels in a sun that breaks through clouds to set his compasses on the void beneath, expresses a fundamental protest against the theodicy of Blake's time. While the design stands independent of Europe in conception, it is fittingly placed to introduce this poem, and may even have germinated its basic idea. To the right of the pencil sketch on page 96 of the Notebook are the words 'who shall bind / the Infinite,' a crucial phrase in the Europe Preludium. This Notebook sketch is in close association with others used in Europe; it is dated by Keynes as pre-1793. Whether or not Blake had Europe already in mind when he drew the sketch, his application to it of a key question from the poem shows how ironically he viewed the creator's attempted circumscription of the unbounded abyss.
Blake's way of showing men that the Miltonic-Newtonic creator their reason accepts as God is only a projection of their guilty fears[,] was to labor with loving care [on] a definitive image of this creator as Urizen. Once clearly seen, he believed, this image must be rejected as blasphemous error."

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