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

Thursday, July 17, 2014


An extremely painful episode in Blake's life made him profoundly aware of the pressures suffered by Socrates, Jesus, early Christians, and dissenters from established religions. The means through which Blake personally encountered the accusation, trial and acquittal by the authorities of the King was a altercation with a soldier quartered a short distance from Blake's home in Felpham.
Blake included an account of the incident in a letter to his friend Thomas Butts:  

Letters, (E 732)
[To] Mr Butts, Gr Marlborough St, London
Felpham August 16. 1803
 I am at Present in a Bustle to defend myself against a
very unwarrantable warrant from a justice of Peace in
Chichester. which was taken out against me by a Private in Captn
Leathes's troop of 1st or Royal Dragoons for an assault &
Seditious words.  The wretched Man has terribly Perjurd himself
as has his Comrade for as to Sedition not one Word relating to
the King or Government was spoken by either him or me.  His
Enmity arises from my having turned him out of my Garden into
which he was invited as an assistant by a Gardener at work
therein, without my knowledge that he was so invited.  I desired
him as politely as was possible to go out of the Garden, he made
me an impertinent answer I insisted on his leaving the Garden he
refused I still persisted in desiring his departure he then
threatend to knock out my Eyes with many abominable imprecations
& with some contempt for my Person it affronted my foolish Pride
I therefore took him by the Elbows & pushed him before me till I
had got him out. there I intended to have left him. but he
turning about put himself into a Posture of Defiance threatening
& swearing at me.  I perhaps foolishly & perhaps not, stepped out
at the Gate & putting aside his blows took him again by the
Elbows & keeping his back to me pushed him forwards down the road
about fifty yards he all the while endeavouring to turn round &
strike me & raging & cursing which drew out several
neighbours. at length when I had got him to where he was
Quarterd. which was very quickly done. we were met at the Gate by
the Master of the house.  The Fox Inn, (who is [my] the
proprietor of my Cottage) & his wife & Daughter. & the Mans
Comrade. & several other people My Landlord compelld the Soldiers
to go in doors after many abusive threats [from the]
against me & my wife from the two Soldiers but not one word of
threat on account of Sedition was utterd at that time.  This
method of Revenge was Plann'd between them after they had got
together into the Stable.  This is the whole outline.  I have for
witnesses. The Gardener who is Hostler at the Fox & who Evidences
that to his knowledge no word of the remotest tendency to
Government or Sedition was utterd,--Our next door Neighbour a
Millers wife who saw me turn him before me down the road & saw &
heard all that happend at the Gate of the Inn who Evidences that
no Expression of threatening on account of Sedition was utterd in
the heat of their fury by either of the Dragoons. this was the
womans own remark & does high honour to her good sense as she
observes that whenever a quarrel happens the offence is always
repeated.  The Landlord of the Inn & His Wife & daughter will
Evidence the Same & will evidently prove the Comrade perjurd who
swore that he heard me  at the Gate utter Seditious words
& D--- the K--- without which perjury I could not have been
committed & I had no witness with me before the Justices who
could combat his assertion as the Gardener remaind in my Garden
all the while & he was the only person I thought necessary to
take with me.  I have been before a Bench of Justices at
Chichester this morning. but they as the Lawyer who
wrote down the Accusation told me in private are compelld by the
Military to suffer a prosecution to be enterd into altho they
must know & it is manifest that the whole is a Fabricated
Perjury.  I have been forced to find Bail.  Mr Hayley was kind
enough to come forwards & Mr Seagrave Printer at Chichester.
Mr H. in 100L & Mr S. in 50L & myself am bound in 100L for
my appearance at the Quarter Sessions which is after Michaelmass.
Every one here is my Evidence for Peace & Good Neighbourhood &
yet such is the present state of things this foolish accusation
must be tried in Public.
 This is but too just a Picture of my Present state I pray
God to keep you & all men from it & to deliver me in his own good
Affectionately Yours
Sedition, the crime of which Blake stood accused, was punishable by imprisonment or death. Blake was brought to trial in January 1804. Through the testimony of neighbors who had witnessed the incident he was found not guilty by a jury of having said 'Damn the King.'

David Erdman in Prophet Against Empire devotes several pages to examining the particulars of Blake's encounter with the law. The least that can be said about it is that it was traumatic for William and Catherine Blake:
Page 410
"Whatever we make of the coincidence of some of the dragoon's charges with some of Blake's prophetic opinions, however, the trial was an ordeal for Blake."
Page 411
"Yet the wounds made by the accusation and the inarticulate trial never completely healed."

On Plate 93 of Jerusalem Blake pictured three accusers and labeled them 'Anytus Melitus & Lycon', the names of three men who were involved in the proceedings against Socrates which led to the guilty verdict and his subsequent death. Blake connects the condemnation of Socrates to that of Jesus by pointing out that the accusers of both men thought their victims 'Pernicious' men. Blake puts himself in the category with Socrates and Jesus by picturing in the image an imaginative representation not of men involved in his trial, but the three Hunt brothers, who destroyed his reputation as an artist and imputed insanity to him through their published criticism in the Examiner. The pointing hand, seen six times in the image, was associated with the Hunts, whom Blake personified as 'Hand' in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, Plate 93, (E 253)
"Anytus Melitus & Lycon thought Socrates a
Very Pernicious Man   So Caiphas thought Jesus"

Wikimedia Commons Jerusalem, Plate 93
Detail from top of Plate
The trial of Jesus:
Matthew 26
[57]Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Ca'iaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered.
[58] But Peter followed him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end.
[59] Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,
[60] but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward
[61] and said, "This fellow said, `I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.'"
[62] And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?"
[63] But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."
[64] Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."
[65] Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy.
[66] What is your judgment?" They answered, "He deserves death."

The trial of Socrates:
"The accusers of Socrates proposed the punishment of death.  In proposing death, the accusers might well have expected to counter with a proposal for exile--a punishment that probably would have satisfied both them and the jury.  Instead, Socrates audaciously proposes to the jury that he be rewarded, not punished.  According to Plato, Socrates asks the jury for free meals in the Prytaneum, a public dining hall in the center of Athens.  Socrates must have known that his proposed "punishment" would infuriate the jury.  I. F. Stone noted that "Socrates acts more like a picador trying to enrage a bull than a defendant trying to mollify a jury."  Why, then, propose a punishment guaranteed to be rejected?  The only answer, Stone and others conclude, is that Socrates was ready to die."

Read more about Blake's trial in A New Kind of Man by Michael Davis.


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