Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


British Museum
Illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts
Blake created another picture of Socrates for Young's Night Thoughts long before he drew the visionary head for Varley. He was illustrating this passage in Part II of YOUNG’S NIGHT THOUGHTS: THE INFIDEL RECLAIMED, PART II, CONTAINING THE NATURE, PROOF, AND IMPORTANCE OF IMMORTALITY.

PREFACE, Page 187:
"Of all their heathen worthies, Socrates (it is well known) was the most guarded, dispassionate, and composed: yet this great master of temper was angry; and angry at his last hour; and angry with his friend; and angry for what deserved acknowledgment; angry for a right and tender instance of true friendship towards him. Is not this surprising? What could be the cause? The cause was for his honour; it was a truly noble, though, perhaps, a too punctilious, regard for immortality. For his friend asking him, with such an affectionate concern as became a friend, “where he should deposit his remains,” it was resented by Socrates, as implying a dishonourable supposition, that he could be so mean, as to have a regard for anything, even in himself, that was not immortal. 
This fact well considered, would make our infidels withdraw their admiration from Socrates; or make them endeavour, by their imitation of this illustrious example, to share his glory: and, consequently, it would incline them to peruse the following pages with candour and impartiality; which is all I desire; and that, for their sakes: for I am persuaded, that an unprejudiced infidel must, necessarily, receive some advantageous impressions from them. July 7, 1744."

There was no disagreement among Socrates, Young and Blake on the immortality of the soul. Young's hope was that doubters might be encouraged to perceive the truth of their immortality through his poem. In his illustrations Blake went further than Young in presenting the visionary experience which came to him not through thought or reasoning, or through second hand accounts, but which he perceived through spiritual sensation. Proof of spiritual realities through rational arguments, such as Socrates offered, were worse than useless to Blake because they inclined man to trust his Spectre instead of looking to vision.

The Spectre substitutes morality for a perception of the infinite. Jesus attempted to demonstrate that placing the law above human values did harm and not good. The law became an impediment to achieving the good which was sought. As St Paul said, "The good that I would I do not" (Romans 7:19). Blake's disagreement with Socrates was over the philosopher's affirmation that man being guided by the moral law could achieve goodness. 

Luke 6
[1] On a sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands.
[2] But some of the Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath?"
[3] And Jesus answered, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:
[4] how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?"
[5] And he said to them, "The Son of man is lord of the sabbath."
[6] On another sabbath, when he entered the synagogue and taught, a man was there whose right hand was withered.
[7] And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.
[8] But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come and stand here." And he rose and stood there.
[9] And Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?"
[10] And he looked around on them all, and said to him, "Stretch out your hand." And he did so, and his hand was restored.
[11] But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Songs of Innocence & of Experience, (E 14)
Song 21 
"And there the lions ruddy eyes,
Shall flow with tears of gold:
And pitying the tender cries, 
And walking round the fold:
Saying: wrath by his meekness
And by his health, sickness,
Is driven away,
From our immortal day." 

Milton, Plate 15 [17],(E 109)
"As when a man dreams, he reflects not that his body sleeps,
Else he would wake; so seem'd he entering his Shadow: but
With him the Spirits of the Seven Angels of the Presence
Entering; they gave him still perceptions of his Sleeping Body;
Which now arose and walk'd with them in Eden, as an Eighth   
Image Divine tho' darken'd; and tho walking as one walks
In sleep; and the Seven comforted and supported him.

Like as a Polypus that vegetates beneath the deep!
They saw his Shadow vegetated underneath the Couch
Of death: for when he enterd into his Shadow: Himself:           
His real and immortal Self: was as appeard to those
Who dwell in immortality, as One sleeping on a couch
Of gold; and those in immortality gave forth their Emanations
Like Females of sweet beauty, to guard round him & to feed
His lips with food of Eden in his cold and dim repose!           

But to himself he seemd a wanderer lost in dreary night."

Milton, Plate 40 [46], (E 142)
"All that can be annihilated must be annihilated

That the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slavery
There is a Negation, & there is a Contrary
The Negation must be destroyd to redeem the Contraries
The Negation is the Spectre; the Reasoning Power in Man
This is a false Body: an Incrustation over my Immortal           
Spirit; a Selfhood, which must be put off & annihilated alway
To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination."

Jerusalem, Plate 36 [40], (E 182)
"O! how the torments of Eternal Death, waited on Man:     
And the loud-rending bars of the Creation ready to burst:
That the wide world might fly from its hinges, & the immortal mansion
Of Man, for ever be possess'd by monsters of the deeps:
And Man himself become a Fiend, wrap'd in an endless curse,
Consuming and consum'd for-ever in flames of Moral Justice.      

For had the Body of Albion fall'n down, and from its dreadful ruins
Let loose the enormous Spectre on the darkness of the deep,
At enmity with the Merciful & fill'd with devouring fire,
A nether-world must have recievd the foul enormous spirit,
Under pretence of Moral Virtue, fill'd with Revenge and Law."

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