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ANON., 'The inventions of William Blake, painter and poet', London University Magazine, 1830
dead,’ as Blake has elegantly expressed it, and pays but small attention
to real genius; or it may be partly accounted for through the want of a
good philosophy, which, Mad. De Stael says, has not as yet been taught
in England. These, perhaps, are a few of the many reasons why Blake
and Flaxman have been buried in obscurity; but we have a confident
hope that Coleridge, Blake, and Flaxman are the forerunners of a
more elevated and purer system, which has even now begun to take
root in the breast of the English nation; they have laid a foundation
for future minds—Coleridge, for the development of a more internal
philosophy—Blake and Flaxman, for a purer and more ennobling
sentiment in works of art.
After having preluded in this manner, let us direct our eyes to the
beauties of Blake’s poems.
THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SONGS OF EXPERIENCE.
Hear the voice of the Bard,
Who present, past, and future sees,
Whose ears have heard
The holy word
That walked among the ancient trees,
Calling the lapsed soul,
And weeping in the evening dew,
That might control
The starry pole,
And fallen, fallen light renew.
O Earth, O Earth, return!
Arise from out the dewy grass!
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumberous mass.
Turn away no more!
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor,
The watry shore,
Is given thee till break of day.
Around these lines the stars are rolling their resplendent orbs, and
in the cloud on which the song floats, a human form is lying, anxiously
surveying their courses: these are a few wild notes struck forth by
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
the hand of a master. But let us continue to look over his notes, bright
both with poetry and forms divine, which demonstrate an intimate
knowledge of the passions and feelings of the human breast.
THE POISON TREE.
I was angry with my friend,
I told my wrath, my wrath did end;
I was angry with my foe,
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
Then I wat’red it in fears,
Night and morning, with my tears,
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft, deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright;
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.
And he into my garden stole,
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.
If Blake had lived in Germany, by this time he would have had
commentators of the highest order upon every one of his effusions;
but here, so little attention is paid to works of the mind, and so
much to natural knowledge, that England, in the eyes of the thinking
world, seems fast sinking into a lethargy, appearing as if the Poison
Tree had poured the soporific distillation over its body, which now
lies under it almost dead and lifeless…. The powers, then, of both
mind and body having been freely exercised, the result is a genius,
who stands forth as a representative of his race; and thus we may
say, Blake in his single person united all the grand combination of
art and mind, poetry, music, and painting; and we may carry the
simile still further, and say, that as England is the least fettered by the
minds of other nations, so Blake poured forth his effusions in his
own grand style, copying no one, (nolumes leges Angliae mutari,)
but breathing spirit and life into his works; and though shaping forms
from the world of his creative and sportive imagination, yet he still
remembered he was a moral as well as intellectual citizen of England,
bound both to love and instruct her. These ought to be the ruling
principles of all artists and poets. Flaxman and Blake thought it a
still higher honour to be celebrated for their innocence and beauty of
sentiment, than for a mere sensual representation of forms. Their
internal esthetic produced a similar external, not by any means inferior
to the mere form-painter, and in this respect superior, that there was
a Promethean fire which glowed in their productions, purifying the
soul from the gross imper-fections of the natural mind….
This grand combination of art succeeded in every particular, painting
being the flesh, poetry the bones, and music the nerves of Blake’s work.
The figures surrounding and enclosing the poems, produce fresh
delight. They are equally tinged by a poetical idea, and though
sometimes it is difficult to understand his wandering flights, yet the
extraordinary power developed in the handling of both arts astonish
[es] as well as delight [s]. Here and there figures are introduced,
which, like the spirits in Macbeth, pass quickly from the sight; yet
they every one of them have been well digested in the brain of a
genius; and we should endeavour rather to unlock the prison-door
in which we are placed, and gain an insight into his powerful mind
than rail and scoff at him as a dreamer and madman.
For instance, Albion, with which the world is very little acquainted,
seems the embodying of Blake’s ideas on the present state of England;
he viewed it, not with the eyes of ordinary men, but contemplated it
rather as a province of one grand man, in which diseases and crimes
are continually engendered, and on this account he poured forth his
poetical effusions somewhat in the style of Novalis, mourning over
the crimes and errors of his dear country: and it is more extraordinary
still that, like Novalis, he contemplated the natural world as the mere
out-birth of the thought, and lived and existed in that world for which
we are created. Horrid forms and visions pervade this Albion, for they
were the only representatives, in his opinion, of the present state of
mankind. No great genius wrote without having a plan, and so in this,
a light is frequently thrown across the pictures, which partly discover
the interior design of the Poet. We are perfectly aware of the present
state of public opinion on this kind of men, but we know at the same
time, that every genius has a certain end to perform, and always runs
before his contemporaries, and for that reason is not generally
understood.—This is our candid opinion with respect to Blake, but
we hope that hereafter his merits will be more generally acknowledged.
We now proceed to the other poems.
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A CRADLE SONG
Sweet dreams form a shade
O’er my lovely infant’s head;
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams
By happy, silent, moony beams.
Sweet sleep, with softest down
Weave thy brows an infant crown;
Sweet sleep, angel mild,
Hover o’er my happy child.
Sweet smiles in the night
Hover over my delight,
Sweet smiles, mother’s smiles,
All the livelong night beguiles.
Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thine eyes!
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.
Sleep, sleep, happy child,
All creation slept and smil’d,
Sleep, sleep, happy sleep,
While o’er thee the mother weep.
Sweet babe, in thy face
Holy image I can trace;
Sweet babe, once like thee
Thy Maker lay and wept for me:
Wept for me, for thee, for all,
When he was an infant small;
Thou his image ever see,
Heav’nly face that smiles on thee:
Smiles on thee, on me, on all,
Who became an infant small,
Infant smiles are his own smiles,
Heav’n and earth to peace beguiles….
[‘The Divine Image’ and ‘The Garden of Love’]
This [‘The Garden of Love’] is a curious and mystical poem, which
as yet can be but partially understood—but at the same time it is
highly poetical. Now approaching a new subject, the elegant dream
of Thel, which seems born in the perfume of the lily, so charming, so
fairy-like, are all its illustrations, there is only one work that we
remember like it in elegance, the Sakontola, for it wears all the
freshness of Indian simplicity and innocence.
The title-page of this mazy dream contains a specimen of his utmost
elegance in design:—two beautiful figures are chasing one another
in gentle sport, and the Peri Thel is looking on the fairy land. A few
specimens of this poem will suffice to show its merit.
A Speech address to Thel by a Cloud.
Virgin, know’st thou not our steeds drink of the golden springs
Where Lovah doth renew his horses? Look’st thou on my youth,
And fearest thou, because I vanish and am seen no more:
Nothing remains? O maid, I tell thee, when I pass away,
It is to tenfold life, to love, to peace, to raptures holy;
Unseen descending, weigh my light wings on balmy flowers,
And court the fair-eyed dew to take me to her shining tent:
The weeping virgin, trembling kneels before the risen sun,
Till we arise linked in a golden band and never part—
But walk united, bearing food to all our tender flowers.
Dost thou, O little cloud? I fear I am not like thee;
For I walk through the vales of Har, and smell the sweetest flowers,
But I feed not the little flowers; I hear the warbling birds,
But I feed not the warbling birds, they fly and seek their food:
But Thel delights in these no more, because I fade away,
And all shall say, without a use this shining woman lived,
Or did she only live to be at death the food of worms?
The cloud reclined upon its airy throne, and answered thus:
Then if thou art the food of worms, O virgin of the skies,
How great thy use, how great thy blessing; every thing that lives,
Lives not alone, nor for itself: Fear not, I will call
The weak worm from its lowly bed, and thou shalt hear its voice:
Come forth, worm of the silent valley, to thy pensive queen!
The helpless worm arose, and sat upon the lily’s leaf,
And the bright cloud sailed on to find his partner in the vale.
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This little work is the fanciful production of a rich imagination,
drawing, colouring, poetry, have united to form a beautiful whole;
all the figures teem with elegance, and convey sentiments which are
noble, though veiled under a fairy tale. With this last extract we
conclude for the present, earnestly recommending the works of our
author to the attention of the English nation, whereby their taste
may be improved in the fine arts, as well as gratification derived
from the perusal of his poetry.*
Why cannot the ear be closed to its own destruction,
Or the glittering eye to the poison of a smile?
Why are the eyelids stored with arrows ready drawn,
When a thousand fighting men in ambush lie?
Or an eye of gifts and graces, showing fruits and coin’d gold,
Why a tongue impressed with honey from every wind,
Why an ear, a whirlpool fierce to draw creations in,
Why a nostril wide, inhaling terror, trembling, and affright?
Why a tender curb upon the youthful burning boy,
Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire!
The virgin started from her seat, and with a shriek, Fled back
unhindered, till she came into the vale of Har.
Blake and Coleridge, when in company, seemed like congenial beings of another sphere, breathing
for a while on our earth; which may easily be perceived from the similarity of thought pervading
their works. [Reviewer’s note.]
41. Anon., ‘The last of the supernaturalists’
Fraser’s Magazine, vol. II (March 1830), pp. 217–35.1
The anonymous essay in Fraser’s Magazine entitled ‘The last
of the supernaturalists’1 is strikingly rambling, derivative, and
un-informed. Of its approximately 14,500 words, over 4,000
are irrelevant to Blake or to supernaturalism; some 6,500 words
are repeated from Cunningham’s biography; and statements
like the one that Blake ‘wanted in early life…a true friend’
simply ignore the facts (such as his early and true friendships
with Flaxman, Stothard, and Cumberland). Blake is simply the
occasion here for some cheap iconoclastic criticism.
The world is, without contradiction, a fitting habitation for spirits of
only a like order. This truth, which is obvious to many, was a secret
to William Blake to the hour of his death: it was a true sibylline leaf
to his uninitiated sense. Happy for him had it been otherwise!
The history of this much-canvassed individual is, indeed, a
‘psychological’ curiosity, according to the favourite term, in writing
as well as speaking, of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. By all the world
Blake was thought a madman: this is the fate of those who differ in
thought, word, or action, from the every-day sillinesses of visible
life. Thus we have heard it said that Jeremy Bentham was a
madman…[as well as] Samuel Taylor Coleridge…Professor
Wilson…De Quincey… Wordsworth…Byron…Thomas Campbell….
Let, then, the sentence which asserts that
‘Great wits to madness are allied,’
be placed amongst the most drivelling pieces of nonsense that have
been uttered by the charnel-fuming lips of the persifleur and scoffer….
On somewhat implausible evidence, the article has been attributed to Carlyle (J.A.S. Barrett,
‘Carlyle on Blake and Vitalis’, TLS, 26 April 1928, p. 313) and to John Abraham Heraud or
William Maginn (T.M.H.Thrall, Rebellious Fraser’s , p. 268).
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And now, having described the only species of madman whom we
are pleased to recognise, that is, those of the inferior order of created
beings, we come to the true subject of our paper—William Blake,
the mystic, the spiritualist, the supernaturalist. Was he a madman?
In our opinion he was not. Did he, then, purchase his exemption by
participating in the fraternity of exalted talent? He had not part or
parcel in that high order. What is, then, our meaning? may well be
demanded by the wondering reader. Have a moment’s patience, very
courteous sir, and you shall hear.
Nature, in her bounty, had done her part generously and nobly by
William Blake—Art had done nothing. (Understand us well, good
reader; by ART we do not mean the art of copperplate engraving, or
painting.) When that combination is perfect, you will have a perfect
man…[like] Göthe. Had the circumstances of life favoured the
formation of nature in William Blake, he, too, would have been a
perfect man, and, yielding in merit to few of his prophetic brethren,
would have been honoured by them and by mankind as a truly
inspired Vates. But, alas! the boy exceeded his condition of life: he
anticipated the generation of his family. The part in him which Nature
had bestowed she sedulously fostered and perfected, and his
imagination grew to its fulness of strength, and was competent to
attain the highest and loftiest landmarks which the most adventurous
and daring of men had ever set for the attainment of their
comprehension. But the part which art and parental anxiety had
taken in his education was trifling in the extreme. Heaven poured on
the tender plant its genial sunshine; but without sufficient moisture
in the soil, the plant could not grow to maturity; and earth—its parent
earth—refused it the waters of the smallest rill or gushing fountain.
When Blake grew up, he felt a secret pain—a gnawing—a sense of
weakness, though indescribable, in his body. His mind prompted
him to action—his limbs collapsed with weakness at the moment of
trial: he was like the chained Titan….
Blake was, in secret longing, like the student Anselmus of Hoffman’s
tale: he felt that the earth, as it is at present peopled, was no fitting
habitation for one of his order; here all was cold selfishness and empty
folly. Had he known of the history of that student of Dresden, he too,
with the fervour of the romance-writer, would have exclaimed:—‘Ah,
happy Anselmus! who hast cast away the burden of weekday life….’
William Blake was a man who stood alone in the world: men
laughed at him, and scoffed him, as they would treat some paltry,