|New York Public Library |
"How wide the Gulf & Unpassable! between Simplicity & Insipidity
Contraries are Positives A Negation is not a Contrary"
The gulf between simplicity and insipidity is not that of contraries which in Beulah may be equally true. Insipidity is a negation of simplicity. Blake's intends his poetry to be clear and unadorned, not encumbered by superfluous ornamentation. Neither does he choose to direct his poetry to those who concentrate their attention on triviality and frivolity. Simple truth and simple beauty are expressions of inner verities to which he gave his attention.
If complexity is the contrary of simplicity, the two are not mutually exclusive. Discovering the order of a complex pattern elucidates the simplicity which underlies it. What appears to be simple on the surface may depend on intricate, complex execution to produce the final product. But if either the complex or the simple is misunderstood as being reducible to the superficial it becomes insipid, providing false reasoning about its true nature. Often Blake's simplicity hides deep hidden meaning; and his complexity becomes simple truth when it is understood.
In his drawings, paintings and engravings Blake aimed to achieve clarity and simplicity by making his lines firm and definite. The bounding line separated the definite from amorphous undefined exterior. Blots and blurs confused the distinction between truth and falsehood. The certainty which was Blake's aim came from the knowledge of the Presence guiding the hand and eye that shapes the fearful symmetry.
Milton, Plate 30, (E 129) [mirror writing) "How wide the Gulf & Unpassable! between Simplicity & Insipidity Contraries are Positives A Negation is not a Contrary" Descriptive Catalogue, Page 21, (E 536) "The Plowman is simplicity itself, with wisdom and strength for its stamina. Chaucer has divided the ancient character of Hercules between his Miller and his Plowman. Benevolence is the plowman's great characteristic, he is thin with excessive labour, and not with old age, as some have supposed." Letters, To Flaxman, (E 710) "Dear Sculptor of Eternity We are safe arrived at our Cottage which is more beautiful than I thought it. & more convenient. It is a perfect Model for Cottages & I think for Palaces of Magnificence only Enlarging not altering its proportions & adding ornaments & not principals. Nothing can be more Grand than its Simplicity & Usefulness. Simple without Intricacy it seems to be the Spontaneous Effusion of Humanity congenial to the wants of Man. No other formed House can ever please me so well nor shall I ever be perswaded I believe that it can be improved either in Beauty or Use" Letters, To Butts, (E 733) "Dear Sir This perhaps was sufferd to Clear up some doubts & to give opportunity to those whom I doubted to clear themselves of all imputation. If a Man offends me ignorantly & not designedly surely I ought to consider him with favour & affection. Perhaps the simplicity of myself is the origin of all offences committed against me. If I have found this I shall have learned a most valuable thing well worth three years perseverance. I have found it! It is certain! that a too passive manner. inconsistent with my active physiognomy had done me much mischief I must now express to you my conviction that all is come from the spiritual World for Good & not for Evil." Letters, To Trusler, (E 702) "But you ought to know that What is Grand is necessarily obscure to Weak men. That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care. The wisest of the Ancients considerd what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction because it rouzes the faculties to act. I name Moses Solomon Esop Homer Plato" Letters, To Cumberland, (E 703) "I ought long ago to have written to you to thank you for your kind recommendation to Dr Trusler which tho it has faild of success is not the less to be rememberd by me with Gratitude-- I have made him a Drawing in my best manner he has sent it back with a Letter full of Criticisms in which he says it accords not with his Intentions which are to Reject all Fancy from his Work. How far he Expects to please I cannot tell. But as I cannot paint Dirty rags & old Shoes where I ought to place Naked Beauty or simple ornament. I despair of Ever pleasing one Class of Men--Unfortunately our authors of books are among this Class how soon we Shall have a change for the better I cannot Prophecy." Jerusalem, Plate 55, (E 205) "They Plow'd in tears, the trumpets sounded before the golden Plow And the voices of the Living Creatures were heard in the clouds of heaven Crying: Compell the Reasoner to Demonstrate with unhewn Demonstrations Let the Indefinite be explored. and let every Man be judged By his own Works, Let all Indefinites be thrown into Demonstrations To be pounded to dust & melted in the Furnaces of Affliction: He who would do good to another, must do it in Minute Particulars General Good is the plea of the scoundrel hypocrite & flatterer: For Art & Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power. The Infinite alone resides in Definite & Determinate Identity Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falshood continually On Circumcision: not on Virginity, O Reasoners of Albion So cried they at the Plow. Albions Rock frowned above And the Great Voice of Eternity rolled above terrible in clouds Saying Who will go forth for us! & Who shall we send before our face?" Jerusalem, Plate 80, (E 237) "And Rahab like a dismal and indefinite hovering Cloud Refusd to take a definite form. she hoverd over all the Earth Calling the definite, sin: defacing every definite form; Invisible, or Visible, stretch'd out in length or spread in breadth: Over the Temples drinking groans of victims weeping in pity, And joying in the pity, howling over Jerusalems walls." Public Address, (E 576) "I have heard many People say Give me the Ideas. It is no matter what Words you put them into & others say Give me the Design it is no matter for the Execution. These People know Nothing Of Art. Ideas cannot be Given but in their minutely Appropriate Words nor Can a Design be made without its minutely Appropriate Execution. The unorganized Blots & Blurs of Rubens & Titian are not Art nor can their Method ever express Ideas or Imaginations any more than Popes Metaphysical jargon of Rhyming. Unappropriate Execution is the Most nauseous affectation & foppery He who copies does not Execute he only Imitates what is already Executed Execution is only the result of Invention" Annotations to Reynolds, (E 646) "The Man who asserts that there is no Such Thing as Softness in Art & that every thing in Art is Definite & Determinate has not been told this by Practise but by Inspiration & Vision because Vision is Determinate & Perfect & he Copies That without Fatigue Every thing being Definite & determinate Softness is Produced Alone by Comparative Strength & Weakness in the Marking out of the Forms I say These Principles could never be found out by the Study of Nature without Con or Innate Science" Descriptive Catalogue, (E 550) "The great and golden rule of art, as well as of life, is this: That the more distinct, sharp, and wirey the bounding line, the more perfect the work of art; and the less keen and sharp, the greater is the evidence of weak imitation, plagiarism, and bungling. Great inventors, in all ages, knew this: Protogenes and Apelles knew each other by this line. Rafael and Michael Angelo, and Albert Durer, are known by this and this alone. The want of this determinate and bounding form evidences the want of idea in the artist's mind, and the t pretence of the plagiary in all its branches. How do we distinguish the oak from the beech, the horse from the ox, but by the bounding outline? How do we distinguish one face or countenance from another, but by the bounding line and its infinite inflexions and movements? What is it that builds a house and plants a garden, but the definite and determinate? What is it that distinguishes honesty from knavery, but the hard and wirey line of rectitude and certainty in the actions and intentions. Leave out this line and you leave out life itself; all is chaos again, and the line of the almighty must be drawn out upon it before man or beast can exist. Talk no more then of Correggio, or Rembrandt, or any other of those plagiaries of Venice or Flanders. They were but the lame imitators of lines drawn by their predecessors, and their works prove themselves contemptible dis-arranged imitations and blundering misapplied copies." .