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The Last Trumpet
Michael Bedard, on page 71 of William Blake: The Gates of Paradise, made this concise statement of the frightening regulations established by the government:
"The government instituted programs of intimidation to root out revolutionaries. People were pressured to declare loyalty to the Crown and to name those suspected of holding revolutionary views. Radicals, such as Johnson and his circle, were under increasing suspicion."
In June of 1793 Blake was so concerned about government intimidation that he wrote in his Notebook: "I say I shant live five years And if I live one it will be a Wonder."
Conditions developing in France were contributing to the fears of officials in the British government which responded with repressive measures. When Robespierre rose to power in 1793 the Reign of Terror commenced and tens of thousands lost their lives. Paine too was imprisoned but narrowly escaped death and gained release with the assistance of James Munroe who was serving as American Minister to France. The Age of Reason, part of which Paine completed while in prison, was published in London in 1794 and 1795. Paine's attack on conventional Biblical interpretation, and traditional religious practices and beliefs created widespread outrage in England.
The British government reacted by enacting laws restricting assembly and expanding the definition of treason to include speaking and writing even if no action followed. In order to detain people without evidence, habeaus corpus was suspended by Parliament for a period of months.
Among the publications written at the behest of the government to refute the Age of Reason was Bishop Watson's An Apology for the Bible published in 1796. Blake was not among those who wrote publicly in opposition to Watson's book and in support of Paine's Age of Reason, but he made his views known in his annotations to Watson's book 1798.
Blake's move to Felpham in 1800 was the result of many pressures but the repression of free men in London was surely a factor. Blake's viewpoint was different from the majority and decidedly anti-authority.
Annotations to An Apology for the Bible, (E 611)
by R. Watson, Bishop of Landaff. London, 1797 BACK OF TITLE PAGE "Notes on the B[ishop] of L[andaff]'s Apology for the Bible by William Blake To defend the Bible in this year 1798 would cost a man his life The Beast & the Whore rule without controls It is an easy matter for a Bishop to triumph over Paines attack but it is not so easy for one who loves the Bible The Perversions of Christs words & acts are attackd by Paine & also the perversions of the Bible; Who dare defend either the Acts of Christ or the Bible Unperverted? But to him who sees this mortal pilgrimage in the light that I see it. Duty to country is the first consideration & safety the last Read patiently take not up this Book in all idle hour the consideration of these things is the whole duty of man & the affairs of life & death trifles sports of time But these considerations business of Eternity I have been commanded from Hell not to print this as it is what our Enemies wish"
Blake's reading of the Bible was closer to that of Thomas Paine than to that of Bishop Watson.
Everlasting Gospel, (E 524) "The Vision of Christ that thou dost see Is my Visions Greatest Enemy Thine has a great hook nose like thine Mine has a snub nose like to mine Thine is the Friend of All Mankind Mine speaks in parables to the Blind Thine loves the same world that mine hates Thy Heaven doors are my Hell Gates Socrates taught what Melitus Loathd as a Nations bitterest Curse And Caiphas was in his own Mind A benefactor of Mankind Both read the Bible day & night But thou readst black where I read white"