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

Thursday, July 3, 2014


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Illustrations to Young's Night Thoughts
In 1830, only three year after the death of William Blake, Allen Cunningham included his biography in The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Volume 2. The chapter on William Blake begins on page 143. Although Cunningham sought to give a sympathetic account of Blake as a poet and painter, he remained skeptical regarding Blake's visionary pursuits.

In the following quote Cunningham described the divergence between Blake's mundane activities and the spirited intensity of his visionary endeavors.

Page 152
"It was wonderful that he could thus, month after month, and year after year, lay down his graver after it had won him his daily wages, and retire from the battle for bread, to disport his fancy amid scenes of more than earthly splendour, and creatures pure as unfallen dew.

 In this lay the weakness and the strength of Blake, and those who desire to feel the character of his compositions, must be familiar with his history and the peculiarities of his mind. He was by nature a poet, a dreamer, and an enthusiast. The eminence which it had been the first ambition of his youth to climb, was visible before him, and he saw on its ascent or on its summit those who had started earlier in the race of fame. He felt conscious of his own merit, but was not aware of the thousand obstacles which were ready to interpose. He thought that he had but to sing songs and draw designs, and become great and famous. The crosses which genius is heir to had been wholly unforeseen - and they befell him early; he wanted the skill of hand, and fine tact of fancy and taste, to impress upon the offspring of his thoughts that popular shape, which gives such productions immediate circulation. His works were looked coldly on by the world, and were only esteemed by men of poetic minds, or those who were fond of things out of the common way. He earned a little fame, but no money by these speculations, and had to depend for bread on the labours of the graver."

Page 153
"All this neither crushed his spirit, nor induced him to work more in the way of the world; but it had a visible influence upon his mind. He became more seriously thoughtful, avoided the company of men, and lived in the manner of a hermit, in that vast wilderness, London. Necessity made him frugal, and honesty and independence prescribed plain clothes, homely fare, and a cheap habitation. He was thus compelled more than ever to retire to worlds of his own creating, and seek solace in visions of paradise for the joys which the earth denied him. By frequent indulgence in these imaginings, he gradually began to believe in the reality of what dreaming fancy painted - the pictured forms which swarmed before his eyes, assumed, in his apprehension, the stability of positive revelations, and he mistook the vivid figures, which his professional imagination shaped, for the poets, and heroes, and princes of old. Amongst his friends, he at length ventured to intimate that the designs on which he was engaged were not from his own mind, but copied from grand works revealed to him in visions; and those who believed that, would readily lend an ear to the assurance that he was commanded to execute his performances by a celestial tongue!"

Cunningham quotes from a letter which Blake wrote upon his arrival in Felpham to demonstrate the flights of imagination which were difficult for acquaintances to fathom:

Page 158
"'And now begins a new life, because another covering of earth is shaken off. I am more famed in heaven for my works than I could well conceive. In my brain are studies and chambers filled with books and pictures of old, which I wrote and painted in ages of eternity before my mortal life, and those works are the delight and study of archangels. Why then should I be anxious about the riches or fame of mortality? You, 0 dear Flaxman, are a sublime archangel, my friend and companion from eternity. Farewell, my dear friend, remember me and my wife in love and friendship to Mrs. Flaxman, whom we ardently desire to entertain beneath our thatched roof of russet gold.'
This letter, written in the year 1800, gives the true twofold image of the author's mind. During the day he was a man of sagacity and sense, who handled his graver wisely, and conversed in a wholesome and pleasant manner; in the evening, when he had done his prescribed task, he gave a loose to his imagination. While employed on those engravings which accompany the works of Cowper, he saw such company as the country where he resided afforded, and talked with Hayley about poetry with a feeling to which the author of the Triumphs of Temper was an utter stranger; but at the close of day away went Blake to the seashore to indulge in his own thoughts and 'High converse with the dead to hold.'"
Page 182
"A work — whether from poet or painter — conceived in the fiery ex-tasy of imagination, lives through every limb; while one elaborated out by skill and taste only will look, in comparison, like a withered and sap less tree beside one green and flourishing. Blake's misfortune was that of possessing this precious gift in excess. His fancy overmastered him — until he at length confounded 'the mind's eye' with the corporeal organ, and dreamed himself out of the sympathies of actual life." 
Letters, (E 710)
"Mr Flaxman, Buckingham Street,
Fitzroy Square, London
Felpham Septr. 21. . 1800  Sunday Morning
Dear Sculptor of Eternity
  Our journey was very pleasant & tho we had a great deal of
Luggage.  No Grumbling all was Chearfulness & Good Humour on the
Road & yet we could not arrive at our Cottage before half past
Eleven at night. owing to the necessary shifting of our Luggage
from one Chaise to another for we had Seven Different Chaises &
as many different drivers   We s[e]t out between Six & Seven in
the Morning of Thursday. with Sixteen heavy boxes & portfolios
full of prints.  And Now Begins a New life. because another
covering of Earth is shaken off.  I am more famed in Heaven for
my works than I could well concieve   In my Brain are studies &
Chambers filld with books & pictures of old which I wrote &
painted in ages of Eternity. before my mortal life & whose works
are the delight & Study of Archangels.  Why then should I be
anxious about the riches or fame of mortality.  The Lord our
father will do for us & with us according to his Divine will for
our Good
     You O Dear Flaxman are a Sublime Archangel My Friend &
Companion from Eternity in the Divine bosom is our Dwelling place
I look back into the regions of Reminiscence & behold our ancient
days before this Earth appeard in its vegetated mortality to my
mortal vegetated Eyes.  I see our houses of Eternity which can
never be separated tho our Mortal vehicles should stand at the
remotest corners of heaven from Each other
     Farewell My Best Friend Remember Me & My Wife in Love &
Friendship to our Dear Mr Flaxman whom we ardently desire to
Entertain beneath our thatched roof of rusted gold & believe me
for ever to remain
Your Grateful & Affectionate

Letters, (E 728)
"Mr Butts, Grt Marlborough Street
Felpham April 25: 1803
  Now I may say to you what perhaps I should not dare to say
to any one else.  That I can alone carry on my visionary studies
in London unannoyd & that I may converse with my friends in
Eternity.  See Visions, Dream Dreams, & prophecy & speak Parables
unobserv'd & at liberty from the Doubts of other Mortals. perhaps
Doubts proceeding from Kindness. but Doubts are always pernicious
Especially when we Doubt our Friends Christ is very decided on
this Point.  "He who is Not With Me is Against Me" There is no
Medium or Middle state & if a Man is the Enemy of my Spiritual
Life while he pretends to be the Friend of my Corporeal. he is a
Real Enemy--but the Man may be the friend of my Spiritual Life
while he seems the Enemy of my Corporeal but Not Vice Versa"

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