Monday, May 11, 2015


Harvard Art Museums
Angel Michael Binding Satan
Northrop Frye in his introduction to Selected Poetry and Prose of William Blake clarifies the dilemma which Blake explored in his poem Milton:
"At Felpham he went through two crucial experiences one intellectual and artistic, the other physical and social, in the course of which his vision of life took final shape, and by doing so consolidated everything opposed to his vision.

The first experience was the temptation presented by Hayley and the kind of Augustan culture he stood for. This culture had its own standards of beauty and good taste, which was backed by the whole classical tradition and had been dominant in France and England for over a century. In addition, it had the moral virtues which belonged to it, including tact and generosity. Blake had nothing to meet this with but the ungracious defiance of his own tradition, the line of prophets crying in the wilderness. This experience forms the basis for the poem Milton, in which Blake presents himself as a battlefield over which the prophetic vision headed by Milton, defeats the powers of Satan, the spirit of compromise, prudence and hypocrisy. Satan is formidable only when he is disguised - transformed into an angel of light, as the Bible says - as a reasonable and cultivated man who is a sincere personal friend. Blake is not interested in the moral problem of what he did or should have done: he is interested in tracing out the ramifications of the prophetic and worldly attitudes until they reach the apocalypic limits. These limits are represented by the story of Michael and Satan fighting over the body of Moses - i.e., man in this  world."

The struggle of Blake was to withstand the pressures from his friends and supporters to adopt conventional standards of applying his efforts to pleasing the public and gaining economically. He learned that his could not be true to his art and to the prophetic vision given to him, and also fulfill the expectations of Hayley, Johnson and Fuselli.

Letters, To Thomas Butts, (E 724)
"As my dependence is on Engraving at present &
particularly on the Engravings I have in hand for Mr H. & I find
on all hands great objections to my doing any thing but the meer
drudgery of business & intimations that if I do not confine
myself to this I shall not live. this has always pursud me.  You
will understand by this the source of all my uneasiness This from
Johnson & Fuseli brought me down here & this from Mr H will
bring me back again for that I cannot live without doing my duty
to lay up treasures in heaven is Certain & Determined & to this I
have long made up my mind & why this should be made an objection
to Me while Drunkenness Lewdness Gluttony & even Idleness itself
does not hurt other men let Satan himself Explain--The Thing I
have most at Heart! more than life or all that seems to make life
comfortable without.  Is the Interest of True Religion & Science
& whenever any thing appears to affect that Interest.
But if we fear to do the dictates of our
Angels & tremble at the Tasks set before us. if we refuse to do
Spiritual Acts. because of Natural Fears or Natural Desires!  Who
can describe the dismal torments of such a state!"

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