Sunday, November 30, 2014


Yale center for British Art America
Title Plate
Looking at the lives of William Blake and Thomas Paine we find many similarities. Both were born into dissenting families; Blake into Moravians, Paine into Quakers. Both boys had exceptional intellectual abilities which would have set them apart from their milieu. Their fathers were both in trade; Blake's father sold hosiery, Paine's father manufactured stays for corsets. Blake's schooling consisted of a few years of drawing school and apprenticeship to an engraver; Paine went to Grammar school for five years. Each was between the age of thirty and forty before he found the work which would define his life. Both men developed technological skills as well as engaging in intellectual pursuits. Both were childless.

Paine was twenty years Blake's senior. He had influenced the course of the American Revolution with his book Common Sense before his path crossed that of Blake at Joseph Johnson's printing shop. The two men were joined by their desire to change the world. Each had at his command a mighty pen, but Paine had the ear of his contemporaries whereas Blake did not. As it turns out their gifts were complementary; Paine's writing was an intensely burning fire which quickly did its work, Blake's work burns like the embers in a well stoked furnace - releasing its heat and light over a long period. 

Northrup Frye in Fearful Symmetry on pages 66-67 sheds light on the differences between the two men:

"He [Blake] met and liked Tom Paine and respected his honesty as a thinker. Yet Paine could write in his Age of Reason:

'I had some turn, and I believe some talent for poetry; but this I rather repressed than encouraged, as leading too much into the field of imagination.'

The attitude of life implied by such a remark can have no permanent revolutionary vigor, for underlying it is the weary materialism which asserts that the deader a thing is the more trustworthy it is; that a rock is a solid reality and that the vital spirit of a living man is a rarefied and diaphanous ghost. It is no accident that Paine said in the same book that God can be revealed only in mechanics, and that a mill is a microcosm of the universe. A revolution based on such ideas is not an awakening of the spirit of man: if it kills the tyrant it can only replace him with another... 

Revolution is always an attempt to smash the structure of tyranny and create a better world, even when the revolutionaries do not understand what creation implies of what a better world is.

...all we need to say just now is that for Blake the central problem of social and political liberty is the release of the imagination."

Songs and Ballads, Pickering Manuscript
, (E 486)

     The Grey Monk               
"I die I die the Mother said
My Children die for lack of Bread 
What more has the merciless Tyrant said
The Monk sat down on the Stony Bed

The blood red ran from the Grey Monks side 
His hands & feet were wounded wide
His Body bent his arms & knees
Like to the roots of ancient trees

His eye was dry no tear could flow
A hollow groan first spoke his woe 
He trembled & shudderd upon the Bed
At length with a feeble cry he said

When God commanded this hand to write
In the studious hours of deep midnight
He told me the writing I wrote should prove 
The Bane of all that on Earth I lovd        

My Brother starvd between two Walls
His Childrens Cry my Soul appalls
I mockd at the wrack & griding chain        
My bent body mocks their torturing pain     

Thy Father drew his sword in the North
With his thousands strong he marched forth  
Thy Brother has armd himself in Steel       
To avenge the wrongs thy Children feel      

But vain the Sword & vain the Bow 
They never can work Wars overthrow
The Hermits Prayer & the Widows tear
Alone can free the World from fear

For a Tear is an Intellectual Thing         
And a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King 
And the bitter groan of the Martyrs woe     
Is an Arrow from the Almighties Bow

The hand of Vengeance found the Bed         
To which the Purple Tyrant fled
The iron hand crushd the Tyrants head 
And became a Tyrant in his stead" 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Shakespeare 6

Hamlet and his Father's Ghost:

drawing / book
'Hamlet and his Father's Ghost', illustration to 'Hamlet' I, formerly in an extra-illustrated second folio edition of Shakespeare (1632); the ghost in armour, standing at left in the moonlight, Hamlet on his knees at r. 1806 Pen and grey ink, and grey wash, with watercolour

Hamlet and his Father's Ghost
Blake's Drawing
British Museum

This from 'William Blake' by Irene Langridge

During 1806 Blake was moved to make some designs to Shakespeare which were neither commissioned nor engraved. Judging from the one reproduced in the Life,—“Hamlet and the Ghost of his Father,”—they must have been wild and powerful indeed. He had always a profound reverence for, and joy in, Shakespeare, whose works were among his favourite books.
A strange and characteristic collection were those books which fed his fiery imagination. Could we have glanced along the row, we should have seen Shakespeare[Pg 38] cheek by jowl with Lavater and Jacob Boehmen, while Macpherson’s “Ossian,” Chatterton’s “Rowley,” and the “Visions” of Emmanuel Swedenborg helped to fill in the ranks. Milton held perhaps the most honoured place of all, while Ovid, St. Theresa’s works, and De la Motte Fouqué’s “Sintram” were among the heterogeneous collection. Chaucer was also cheerfully conspicuous, and, towards the close of Blake’s life, Dante’s “Divine Comedy” came to join the silent company in the bookshelves.

A Blake Dictionary has a lot of material about Blake and Shakespeare, especially pp 369-70.
Taken from Act I, Scene 5 of Hamlet
Elsinore. The Castle. Another part of the fortifications.
Enter Ghost and Hamlet.
Hamlet. Whither wilt thou lead me? Speak! I'll go no further.
Father's Ghost. Mark me.
Hamlet. I will.735
Father's Ghost. My hour is almost come,
When I to sulph'rous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself.
Hamlet. Alas, poor ghost!
Father's Ghost. Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing 740
To what I shall unfold.
Hamlet. Speak. I am bound to hear.
Father's Ghost. So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.
Hamlet. What?
Father's Ghost. I am thy father's spirit, 745
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confin'd to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purg'd away.  list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love-
Hamlet. O God!760
Father's Ghost. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murther.
Hamlet. Murther?
Father's Ghost. Murther most foul, as in the best it is;
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural.
-----. Now, Hamlet, hear.
'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark
Is by a forged process of my death
Rankly abus'd. But know, thou noble youth, 775
The serpent that did sting thy father's life
Now wears his crown.
Hamlet. O my prophetic soul!
My uncle?
Father's Ghost. Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast,
But soft! methinks I scent the morning air.
Brief let me be. Sleeping within my orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon,
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebona in a vial, 800
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That swift as quicksilver it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body,----
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd;
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhous'led, disappointed, unanel'd, 815
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head.
Hamlet. O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible!
Father's Ghost. If thou hast nature in thee, bear it not.
Let not the royal bed of Denmark be 820
A couch for luxury and damned incest.
O most pernicious woman!
O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables! Meet it is I set it down 845
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
At least I am sure it may be so in Denmark. [Writes.]
So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word:
It is 'Adieu, adieu! Remember me.'
I have sworn't.850
-------- more circumstance at all,
I hold it fit that we shake hands and part;
You, as your business and desires shall point you, 875
For every man hath business and desire,
Such as it is; and for my own poor part,
Look you, I'll go pray.
Come hither, gentlemen, 910
And lay your hands again upon my sword.
Never to speak of this that you have heard:
Nay, come, let's go together.945

Friday, November 28, 2014


British Museum America
Plate 4, Copy H
In Blake's illuminated book America he mentions Paine along with other luminaries of the American Revolution: Washington, Franklin, Warren, Gates, Hancock & Green. America was engraved by Blake in 1794 when Paine was imprisoned in France and writing Age of Reason in his cell. Paine had lived in London in 1774 and become acquainted with Benjamin Franklin who financed his passage to Pennsylvania where his writings were crucial to the success of the American Revolution. He spent time in England as well as in France between 1787 and 1793. Rights of Man was published in England in 1791 and soon aroused opposition from the government. To avoid arrest after the publication of Part II of Rights of Man, Paine escaped to France but was tried and convicted in absentia for seditious libel in England. During his time in London Paine frequented Joseph Johnson's publishing establishment in St. Paul's Churchyard which attracted anti-establishment writers including William Blake. Alexander Gilchrist's biography of Blake indicates that it was Blake's sense of the imminent threat to Paine which facilitated his escape.

On Page 97 of The Life of William Blake By Alexander Gilchrist we read:
"One day in this same month [September 1792], Paine was giving at Johnson's an idea of the inflammatory eloquence he had poured forth at a public meeting of the previous night. Blake, who was present, silently inferred from the tenor of his report that those in power, now eager to lay hold of noxious persons, would certainly not let slip such an opportunity. On Paine's rising to leave, Blake laid his hands on the orator's shoulder, saying, " You must not go home, or you are a dead man!" and hurried him off on his way to France, whither he was now, in any case bound, to take his seat as French legislator. By the time Paine was at Dover, the officers were in his house, or, as his biographer Mr. Cheetham designates it, his " lurking hole in the purlieus of London "; and some twenty minutes after the Custom House officials at Dover had turned over his slender baggage with, as he thought, extra malice, and he had set sail for Calais, an order was received from the Home Office to detain him. England never saw Tom Paine again."

America, Plate 3, (E 52)
                               A PROPHECY
"The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent,
Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America's shore:
Piercing the souls of warlike men, who rise in silent night,
Washington, Franklin, Paine & Warren, Gates, Hancock & Green;
Meet on the coast glowing with blood from Albions fiery Prince.  

Washington spoke; Friends of America look over the Atlantic sea;
A bended bow is lifted in heaven, & a heavy iron chain
Descends link by link from Albions cliffs across the sea to bind
Brothers & sons of America, till our faces pale and yellow;
Heads deprest, voices weak, eyes downcast, hands work-bruis'd, 
Feet bleeding on the sultry sands, and the furrows of the whip 
Descend to generations that in future times forget.----

The strong voice ceas'd; for a terrible blast swept over the heaving sea;
The eastern cloud rent; on his cliffs stood Albions wrathful Prince 
A dragon form clashing his scales at midnight he arose,          
And flam'd red meteors round the land of Albion beneath[.]  
His voice, his locks, his awful shoulders, and his glowing eyes,"

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Shakespeare 5

                                    Queen Mab

There are few words or phrases found in both Blake
and Shakespeare; but here is one in Romeo and Juliet:

"Mercutio's speech (in the adapted prose version)[edit]
"O, then, I see Queen mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men's noses as they lies asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider's web,
The collars of the moonshine's wat'ry beams,
Her whip of cricket's bone; the lash of film;
Her waggoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not half so big as a round little worm
Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid:
Her chariot is an empty hazelnut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court'sies straight,

For Blake time is a creature; look at this picture of a flea:

Blake's Flea
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O’er ladies' lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier's nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig's tail
Tickling a parson's nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier's neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plaits the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she—"
— Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, Act I, scene IV


We also found Queen Mab in Blake

This from Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's
L'Allegro and II Penseroso:

  "Then to the Spicy Nut brown Ale
          With Stories told of many a Treat
          How Fairy Mab the junkets eat
          She was pinchd & pulld she said
          And he by Friars Lantern led
          Tells how the drudging Goblin sweat
          To earn his Cream Bowl duly set
          When in one Night e'er glimpse of Morn
          His shadowy Flail had threshd the Corn
          That ten day labourers could not end
          Then crop-full out of door he flings
          E'er the first Cock his Matin rings</!WB>
The Goblin crop full flings out of doors from his Laborious
task dropping his Flail & Cream bowl. yawning & stretching
vanishes into the Sky. In which is seen Queen Mab Eating the
Junkets.  The Sports of the Fairies are seen thro the Cottage
where "She" lays in Bed "pinchd & pulld" by Fairies as they dance
on the Bed the Cieling & the Floor & a Ghost pulls the Bed
Clothes at her Feet.  "He" is seen following the Friars Lantern
towards the Convent"
(Erdman 683)

Shelly wrote a poem about Queen Mab.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Library of Congress
section of Plate 21
Europe, Copy E
An aspect of understanding Europe which we have not yet touched on is what Blake's psycho/social status may have been when he was writing his prophetic books. J. Bronowski, in William Blake and the Age of Revolution, asks us to think about the author and the circumstances around him as he wrote. Blake was responding to the circumscriptions of his horizons as an artist and as a citizen. There were threats to himself, his friends, and his fellow artists which induced him to travel a fine line between being outspoken and saving his skin. 
Bronowski states on page 86:
"It is not enough to think of Blake's prophetic books without Blake. Neither is it enough to think of them without Blake's world. That world was wider than its censorship. But it was a world of censorship. It was a world of the acts against Seditious Writings, against Seditious Meetings, against Seditious Societies, against Treasonable Practices. It was the world of prosecutions for blasphemy, and the laws against cheap newspapers. It was the world of the Militia Bills and of the Combination Laws. It was Pitt's world. That world did not make Blake but it baffled him, and it cowed him. Blake remained free all his life. But he was once tried for sedition."


Is it any wonder that Blake wrote Europe in such a way that it would not be easily understood if it fell into the hands of the censors where it may land him behind bars?

Europe, Plate 12, (E 64)
"Every house a den, every man bound; the shadows are filld
With spectres, and the windows wove over with curses of iron:
Over the doors Thou shalt not; & over the chimneys Fear is written:
With bands of iron round their necks fasten'd into the walls
The citizens: in leaden gyves the inhabitants of suburbs" 

Here is an oversimplified analysis of the complex book which is Blake's Europe:

Framework - Christian centuries
Setting - Revolutionary times

Characters - Enitharmon
Action - Sleep & awakening

Purpose - Change of perspective
Influences - Prophetic milieu
                     Political situation
                     Transition to influence of Newton
                     Tensions between male and female dominance.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Shakespeare 4

From the Bible and Blake:
He wasn't socialized; he didn't go to school, never birched, he was no donkey!  Instead he poured over Milton, the Bible, Shakespeare.  By 1800 he had been exposed to Paracelsus and Behmen (Boehme).  You might say his socialization came through those wise men. They were also the agencies  that educated him.

When you've been studying Blake for a while, if you also have some acquaintance with the Bible, it may suddenly dawn on you that almost every word of his poetry has a close relationship with something in the Bible.

From Quit Your Meanness

Sam Jones was the most famous preacher in the late nineteenth century. Jones preached one sermon that Dad really liked and put in his sermon notebook; it was called 'Quit your 

St. Paul used more elegant language:
 "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling 
for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" 
(Philippians 2:12-13). 

That verse, prominent in my memory for many years, acquired new poignancy the other day as I was contemplating Blake's Selfhood: annihilate it!

The Selfhood goes in the circular file, but neither Blake nor you and I could do that overnight; oh no! We had to work it out with fear and trembling. The Spectre is the Selfhood, and Blake wrote:
"My spectre around me night and day
Like a wild beast guards my way;"
from the Poem that has been discussed so often in this blog.

Blake had to discover his preconceived notions, his pet peeves, his resentments of everyone from Bacon, Newton, and Locke to Hayley. Once he discovered them and confessed his error, that aspect of his Selfhood was annihilated, and the Last Judgment fell upon him. In Plate 98, near the end of Jerusalem and of his poetry he joined Bacon and Newton and Locke with those he had always loved, Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer. It was the testimony of a happy man.

C.S.Lewis, near the end of his greatest story, Till We Have Faces, shared his Vision of that Eternal 'Moment'. Lewis had issues with Blake because of his own orthodoxy but my vision of him is that Blake's poetry and George MacDonalds's spirit had done their work in the end, enabling Lewis to envision the graduation to Eternity of "turk and jew":
"And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk or jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too"
Blake has said that "."

He must have substantially completed the long drawn procedure of confessing his sins and experiencing forgiveness during mortal life because he 
every death is an improvement in the state of the departeddied a very happy man.

From  Blake's Pity

from Notebook],  (E470):
"I heard an Angel singing
When the day was springing,
"Mercy, Pity, Peace
Is the world's release."
Thus he sung all day
Over the new mown hay,
Till the sun went down
And haycocks looked brown.
I heard a Devil curse
Over the heath and the furze,
"Mercy could be no more,
If there was nobody poor,
And pity no more could be,
If all were as happy as we."
At his curse the sun went down,
And the heavens gave a frown.
Down pour'd the heavy rain
Over the new reap'd grain ...
And Miseries' increase
Is Mercy, Pity, Peace."

(The Tate Collection cites a passage from Shakespeare's Macbeth related to this picture; Blake shows a female cherub leaning down to snatch the baby from its mother. His image refers closely to Shakespeare's text.

And Pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heav'n's cherubim hors'd
Upon the sightless couriers of the air
(Macbeth Act1 Scene 7)

Besides helping me with the picture my dear wife added this to the post:
'the grace of the transcendent God reaches down to us;
in pity that of God in you or me reaches out to those in need (of all sorts)'

Monday, November 24, 2014


The University of Glasgow is fortunate to have Copy B (1794) of Europe in their library. In 2007 to celebrate the 250th Anniversary of Blake's birth they created an online exhibit of the book. We are given the opportunity to see Europe in a form in which the flow of development in text and pictures can be viewed together. 

British Museum
Illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts
There are two copies of Europe in the British Museum: Copies a (proofs) and D. Copy D which has inscriptions attributed to Blake's friend George Cumberland is the copy whose images were used in the recent series of posts on Europe.
The search in the British Museum collection for 'Europe Copy D' produced these results. Extraneous images are included. To locate some of the actual images of Copy D (1794) it is necessary to view the reverse side of some plates since Blake used both sides of the pages. Copy D is the only copy which includes the inscriptions relating Blake's work to that of other poets.

Not included in Copy D or the Glasgow Library copy is a prefix which was added to two late copies of Europe. In it Blake attributes the writing of Europe to the instigation of a fairy, a force which is active in this world but has no existence in Eternity. The fairy is one of the Four Elemental Forces which influence the natural world: the fairy - air; the gnome - earth; the nymph - water; and the genii - energy (fire).

Blake seems to be telling his audience that Europe is about:
"Element against Element, opposed in War Not Mental, as the Wars of Eternity, but a Corporeal Strife"
Europe is an account of the world as seen and created by the mental process which arose when Albion underwent separating into the Four Zoas. The undivided man came under the spacial (length, breadth and height) dimensions which are the province of Enitharmon.
Europe, PLATE iii, (E 60)
"Five windows light the cavern'd Man; thro' one he breathes the air;
Thro' one, hears music of the spheres; thro' one, the eternal vine
Flourishes, that he may recieve the grapes; thro' one can look.
And see small portions of the eternal world that ever groweth;
Thro' one, himself pass out what time he please, but he will not;
For stolen joys are sweet, & bread eaten in secret pleasant.

So sang a Fairy mocking as he sat on a streak'd Tulip,
Thinking none saw him: when he ceas'd I started from the trees!
And caught him in my hat as boys knock down a butterfly.
How know you this said I small Sir? where did you learn this song?  
Seeing himself in my possession thus he answered me:
My master, I am yours. command me, for I must obey.

Then tell me, what is the material world, and is it dead?
He laughing answer'd: I will write a book on leaves of flowers,
If you will feed me on love-thoughts, & give me now and then    
A cup of sparkling poetic fancies; so when I am tipsie,
I'll sing to you to this soft lute; and shew you all alive
The world, when every particle of dust breathes forth its joy.

I took him home in my warm bosom: as we went along
Wild flowers I gatherd; & he shew'd me each eternal flower:      
He laugh'd aloud to see them whimper because they were pluck'd.
They hover'd round me like a cloud of incense: when I came
Into my parlour and sat down, and took my pen to write:
My Fairy sat upon the table, and dictated EUROPE."

Milton, Plate 31 [34], (E 130)
"And all the Living Creatures of the Four Elements, wail'd
With bitter wailing: these in the aggregate are named Satan
And Rahab: they know not of Regeneration, but only of Generation
The Fairies, Nymphs, Gnomes & Genii of the Four Elements         
Unforgiving & unalterable: these cannot be Regenerated
But must be Created, for they know only of Generation
These are the Gods of the Kingdoms of the Earth: in contrarious
And cruel opposition: Element against Element, opposed in War
Not Mental, as the Wars of Eternity, but a Corporeal Strife"  
Jerusalem, Plate 32 [36], (E 178)
"And the Four Zoa's who are the Four Eternal Senses of Man
Became Four Elements separating from the Limbs of Albion
These are their names in the Vegetative Generation
[West Weighing East & North dividing Generation South bounding]   
And Accident & Chance were found hidden in Length Bredth & Highth
And they divided into Four ravening deathlike Forms
Fairies & Genii & Nymphs & Gnomes of the Elements.
These are States Permanently Fixed by the Divine Power"

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shakespeare 3

A mature Blake must have loved Shakespeare about as much as Milton or the Bible. 

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies dancing
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing
wikipedia Commons
Blake let his imagination roam widely as had Shakespeare before him. They both wrote about fairies as if they had a first hand acquaintance. In Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare takes us into the world which awakes while we sleep and dream, ruled by the king and queen of fairies. Blake pictured a joyful image of fairies dancing before their king and queen with Puck who was given the power to alter how individuals perceived one another.
Blake pictured the same pair, Oberon and Titania, on Plate 5 of Song of Los resting comfortably within two adjacent lilies. Titania sleeps while Oberon holds a sceptre.

In his Descriptive Catalogue, Blake introduces the idea that in Shakespeare and Chaucer fairies are rulers of the vegetable world, perhaps indicating that he uses them in the same way.

Descriptive Catalogue, (E 535)
"By way of illustration, I instance Shakspeare's Witches in Macbeth.  Those who dress them for the stage, consider them as wretched old women, and not as Shakspeare intended, the Goddesses of Destiny; 

This shews how Chaucer has been misunderstood in his sublime work.  Shakspeare's Fairies also are the rulers of the vegetable world, and so are Chaucer's; let them be so considered, and then the poet will be understood, and not else."

Letter 44 (Erdman 749) to Hayley:
Blake is telling Hayley what he had done about Flaxman's Homer:
"the price I received for engraving Flaxman's outlines of Homer
is five guineas each."
(The relationships among these three men (Blake, Flaxman, and Hayley is interesting and significant.)

In an Island in the Moon; (E455):
"I think that Homer is bombast & Shakespeare is too wild"

We may find quotations from Shakespeare and allusions to Shakespeare scattered through his works, some obvious and others less so.

In Annotations to Swedenborgs Heaven and Hell he commented disparagingly about a reference he had made to Shakespeare. (Erdman 601)

In Prospectus (E692) he referred to the inability of Milton and Shakespeare to publish their own works.

In letters 32, 36, and 46 (and others):
Fuseli was a friend and fellow artist of Blake's. After Blake had returned from Felpham (and the patronage of Hayley) he was involved in the Shakespeare plates of Fuseli.

Writing to William Hayley (Erdman 742):
"I cannot omit observing that the price Mr. Johnson gives for the plates of Fuseli's Shakespeare (the concluding numbers of which I now send) is twenty-five guineas each."

He told Hayley that he had enclosed "the Numbers of Fuseli's Shakespeare that are out". (Letter 36 Erdman 742)

This quotation places Milton and Shakespeare together as did the letter to Flaxman; in Public Address :

"The Originality of this Production makes it necessary to say a few words While the Works [of Translators] of Pope & Dryden are lookd upon as [in the Same class of] the Same Art with those of Milton & Shakespeare.
Drawn with a firm hand at once [with all its Spots & Blemishes which are beauties & not faults] like Fuseli & Michael Angelo Shakespeare & Milton;"
(Erdman 576)

In Blake's Descriptions to Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro he offered us
"Or Sweetest Shakespeare Fancys Child",
presumably a quotation to Milton, to which Blake added:

"The youthful Poet sleeping on a bank by the Haunted Stream by Sun Set sees in his Dream the more bright Sun of Imagination. under the auspices of Shakespeare & Johnson. in which is Hymen at a Marriage & the Antique Pageantry attending it"

This appears in a recent post, which I've copied bodily:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his sixth illustration to L'Allegro:

Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 682)
"There let Hymen oft appear In Saffron Robe with Taper clear With Mask & Antique Pageantry Such sights as Youthful Poets dream On Summers Eve by haunted Stream Then lo the well trod Stage anon If Johnsons learned Sock be on Or Sweetest Shakespeare Fancys Child Warble his native wood notes wild"

Blake wrote:
"The youthful Poet sleeping on a bank by the Haunted Stream by Sun Set sees in his Dream the more bright Sun of Imagination. under the auspices of Shakespeare & Johnson. in which is Hymen at a Marriage & the Antique Pageantry attending it"

The youthful poet had entered a dream state which offered a pleasant interlude from the cares of the world. He visited with some of the sources of his inspiration: Shakespeare & Johnson are adjacent to the great sun but not within it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Wikimedia Commons
from Plate 17, Copy K
Kathleen Raine in her biography William Blake says this of the prophetic books written by Blake at Lambeth: "Perhaps he was trying to persuade himself that the political violence of the time was a shortcut to spiritual liberation." (Page 64) The dual political and spiritual themes of the Lambeth books led her to state:

"Blake's admirers are divided into those who see him as a political protagonist who regrettably strayed away from direct engagement in the issues of his day into incomprehensible mysticism; and those for whom he was a mystic and visionary who discerned, as did the Hebrew Prophets, the spiritual causes behind history. According to David Erdman and J. Bronowski, Blake's prophetic allegories  were a disguise he was forced to adopt by the danger of speaking openly on political issues at the time of the French Revolution (especially after this country had declared war on France. To others, Blake's spiritual vision seems clearer than his politics.
For Blake, the outward events and circumstances were the expressions of states of mind, ideologies, mentalities, and not, as the determinist-materialist ideologies of the modern world, the cause. 
Blake gradually renounced politics for something more radical: not religion, in the sense of a system of beliefs and observances, but a transformation of the inner life, a rebirth of 'the true man'. Politics and religion alike came to seem to him an evasion of the 'one thing needful'.

This is not to say that Blake's 'prophetic' poems no longer related to current history; rather, that he saw history from within; in the succession of the Prophets of Israel, he addressed the English nation to the levels of spiritual causes, not of day-to-day policy. 'Every Natural Effect has a Spiritual Cause, and Not A Natural; for a Natural Cause only seems.'"
(Page 71)

Just as Blake combined his political and spiritual messages in such a way in his poetry that an individual can focus primarily on a single viewpoint ignoring the other, one can see in the images simultaneously separate spiritual and political implications.The political message of this image is the destructiveness of revolution; the endangerment of women and children in the aftermath of revolutionary outbreaks. The city in flames is a consequence of war wherever and whenever it occurs. The spiritual message begins with the nude male who is not of this world. As Los, he is the activity of imagination who is the 'Vehicular form of strong Urthona', the Zoa whom Frye identifies with 'creative fertility'. He functions here to rescue victims from the transforming fire and lead their ascent to higher ground. That the two females are clothed implies that they are of the temporal not the eternal world. The woman may be seen as Enitharmon whose eighteen hundred years of domination have ended, the child as the reborn female reaching for the eagle of imagination and the acorn of regeneration.
Jerusalem, Plate 53, (E 202) 
"But Los, who is the Vehicular Form of strong Urthona
Wept vehemently over Albion where Thames currents spring
From the rivers of Beulah; pleasant river! soft, mild, parent stream
And the roots of Albions Tree enterd the Soul of Los
As he sat before his Furnaces clothed in sackcloth of hair       
In gnawing pain dividing him from his Emanation;
Inclosing all the Children of Los time after time.
Their Giant forms condensing into Nations & Peoples & Tongues 
Translucent the Furnaces, of Beryll & Emerald immortal:
And Seven-fold each within other: incomprehensible               
To the Vegetated Mortal Eye's perverted & single vision"

Friday, November 21, 2014

Shakespeare 2

Blake's picture (below) which goes both by the names Hecate and The Night of Enitharmon's Joy is one of his Large Color Printed Drawings of 1795. There are reasons why the picture came to be called by different names. Blake would have been familiar with Hecate's role in ancient mythology and with the instances in which she appears in Shakespeare's Macbeth and Midsummer Night's Dream. The central figure is pictured threefold as the goddess Hecate was imagined by the Greeks, but for Blake she includes a young male and a young female with the central woman. She is beautiful as Blake said the the witches in Shakespeare should be represented. 

"By way of illustration, I instance Shakspeare's Witches in

Macbeth. Those who dress them for the stage, consider
them as wretched old women, and not as Shakspeare intended, the
Goddesses of Destiny; this shews how Chaucer has been
misunderstood in his sublime work. Shakspeare's Fairies also
are the rulers of the vegetable world, and so are Chaucer's;
let them be so considered, and then the poet will be understood,
and not else."
(Descriptive Catalogue, p16; E535)


On pages 482-4 Blake wrote "Descriptions to Illustrations to Milton's Allegro and II Penseroso"; it appears that Shakespeare appears incidentally in this
In his manuscript notes accompanying his watercolors Blake singles out these verses from Milton for his sixth illustration to L'Allegro
Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso 
Descriptions of Illustrations to Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso (E 682)
"There let Hymen oft appear
In Saffron Robe with Taper clear
With Mask & Antique Pageantry
Such sights as Youthful Poets dream
On Summers Eve by haunted Stream
Then lo the well trod Stage anon
If Johnsons learned Sock be on
Or Sweetest Shakespeare Fancys Child
Warble his native wood notes wild"

Blake wrote:
"The youthful Poet sleeping on a bank by the Haunted Stream by Sun Set sees in his Dream the more bright Sun of Imagination. under the auspices of Shakespeare & Johnson. in which is Hymen at a Marriage & the Antique Pageantry attending it."
 MiltonMirth6; E684

The youthful poet had entered a dream state which offered a pleasant interlude from the cares of the world. He visited with some of the sources of his inspiration: Shakespeare & Johnson are adjacent to the great sun but not within it. 

The sun of imagination was welcomed by both Milton and Blake when it generated the flow of ideas and words. Enclosed in the Sun of Imagination are pictured two levels. The upper portrays a marriage with Hymen, the god of Marriage, officiating. He wears the 'saffron robe' and carries the the 'candle clear' although it appears to be unlighted. His function is to join the contraries into a new being. 

At the lower fiery level of the great sun are three women, perhaps muses, with lyre, flute and tambourine. The instruments, however, seem to be silenced since there is no movement of the dance pictured. There are other negative indicators pictured including: enclosing trees, a man running away, three women expressing alarm, the setting of the natural sun, and a man and woman in mournful embrace. Nevertheless the youthful poet seems satisfied to have his pen in his hand and his book at the ready for recording his inspired words. 

What Milton has been seeking through mirth in L'Allegro, has been found in a mental state in which he may be 'Married to immortal verse/Such as the meeting soul may pierce.' He turns next to Il'Peneroso to seek a melancholy avenue to achieve his poetic goals. Blake's final illustration to L'Allegro stresses the contributions of the lighthearted, extraverted mental approach to the life of the poet. The final two lines of L'Allegro are 'These delights, it thou canst give, Mirth with thee, I mean to live.' But Blake points out what Milton himself knew: that there are shortcomings to the mirthful approach including perhaps the detatched, dreamlike state experienced by Thel in the beginning of the book that bears her name.  

"Such a cultural revolution would absorb not only the Classical but all other cultures into a single visionary synthesis, deepen and broaden the public response to art, deliver the artist from the bondage of a dingy and nervous naturalism called, in a term which is a little masterpiece of question-begging, 'realism', and restore him to him the catholicity of outlook that Montaigne and Shakespeare possessed. And though that one religion would be, as far as Blake is concerned, Christianity, it would be a Christianity equated with the broadest possible vision of life.'.
(Fearful Symmetry, 420-21).


  1. The Night of Enitharmon's Joy
    Work of art
  2. The Night of Enitharmon's Joy, often referred as The Triple Hecate or simply Hecate, is a 1795 work of art by the English artist and poet William Blake which depicts Enitharmon, a female character in ... Wikipedia
  3. Created1795
  4. MediaWatercolor paint, Ink

  1. Descriptive Catalogue, (E 535)
She is accompanied by the bat, the snake and the owl which are associated with Hecate as a goddess of the night and the underworld. Since the donkey is not generally associated with Hecate its presence is a reference to Titania, Queen of the fairies, who in Midsummer Night's Dream under a spell, falls in love with a man with the appearance of a donkey. This reference would indicate the foolishness of the male submitting to female dominance.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Original in Whitworth Art Gallery
Milton's On the Morning of Christ's Nativity
Illustration 3, "The Old Dragon"
John Middleton Murry's biography and commentary is named simply William Blake. It is written less as a scholarly text than a personal encounter. In his chapter The Female Dream, Murry begins by saying that in Europe many of the same events occur as in America. In Europe he sees the 'subordination of the mundane events to spiritual happenings.' In seeing Europe as an outline of the 'inward revolution' the initial appearance of Jesus as the 'secret child' sets the theme for the poem. The eighteen hundred years of error represented by Enitharmon's dream will come to an end when the original message of Jesus, 'That Eternity is here and now,' is freed from the 'dominion of the Law, the dominion of Religion, the dominion of Sin, the dominion of Woman.' 

Murry, by identifying Jesus with Orc, opens the reader to an enhanced perception of each:   

"We have noticed that beyond and including all the dream happenings of the poem is the moment which is interrupted by the dream. This moment, though divided by eighteen hundred years of history, is continuous. It is the nativity of Christ, continued in the emergence of Orc in the vineyards of France. The clue, for reasons that will be obvious, is fairly well hidden; but once detected it is unmistakable. The prophecy opens:

"The deep of winter came;                                    
What time the secret child,
Descended thro' the orient gates of the eternal day:"

But it ends, two hundred lines after, with a strophe beginning thus: 

"But terrible Orc, when he beheld the morning in the east,
Shot from the heights of Enitharmon;            
And in the vineyards of red France appear'd the light of his fury."

The nativity of Christ and the emergence of Orc are thus the same event: one continuous and eternal moment interrupted by a dream. Los evokes Orc and his other sons at the beginning; Los is calling his sons to follow Orc at the end. Why, it may be asked, does Los summon Orc at the moment of the Nativity? The answer is that Orc and Jesus are one: the eternal rebel of The Marriage. Therefore, it is really Los who evokes Jesus also. Jesus is, in fact, the Poetic  Genius in rebellion; as Orc is and Blake is. But Blake, as the vehicle of the Imagination that understands the essential identity of Jesus and Orc, is by this fact beyond them both. And this is  Los in his supreme character as the 'vehicular form of strong Urthona'.   

The actual occasion of Enitharmon's dream is this emergence of Jesus-Orc. As he arises by the imaginative power of Los, Enitharmon descends into his place. The female sinks into rebellion. This is an act in the eternal Imagination of which Blake is the vehicle. Translated, it means that in the moment that Blake understands the unity of Orc and Jesus, he understands also that  the fatal doctrine that Woman's Love is Sin has been the cause  of the eighteen hundred years of error and illusion, and that this a corruption of the integral message of Jesus. When Jesus-Orc arises, Enitharmon rebels into a false doctrine of Sex and a false doctrine of Eternity."
(Page 106-7)