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

Friday, November 28, 2014


British Museum America
Plate 4, Copy H
In Blake's illuminated book America he mentions Paine along with other luminaries of the American Revolution: Washington, Franklin, Warren, Gates, Hancock & Green. America was engraved by Blake in 1794 when Paine was imprisoned in France and writing Age of Reason in his cell. Paine had lived in London in 1774 and become acquainted with Benjamin Franklin who financed his passage to Pennsylvania where his writings were crucial to the success of the American Revolution. He spent time in England as well as in France between 1787 and 1793. Rights of Man was published in England in 1791 and soon aroused opposition from the government. To avoid arrest after the publication of Part II of Rights of Man, Paine escaped to France but was tried and convicted in absentia for seditious libel in England. During his time in London Paine frequented Joseph Johnson's publishing establishment in St. Paul's Churchyard which attracted anti-establishment writers including William Blake. Alexander Gilchrist's biography of Blake indicates that it was Blake's sense of the imminent threat to Paine which facilitated his escape.

On Page 97 of The Life of William Blake By Alexander Gilchrist we read:
"One day in this same month [September 1792], Paine was giving at Johnson's an idea of the inflammatory eloquence he had poured forth at a public meeting of the previous night. Blake, who was present, silently inferred from the tenor of his report that those in power, now eager to lay hold of noxious persons, would certainly not let slip such an opportunity. On Paine's rising to leave, Blake laid his hands on the orator's shoulder, saying, " You must not go home, or you are a dead man!" and hurried him off on his way to France, whither he was now, in any case bound, to take his seat as French legislator. By the time Paine was at Dover, the officers were in his house, or, as his biographer Mr. Cheetham designates it, his " lurking hole in the purlieus of London "; and some twenty minutes after the Custom House officials at Dover had turned over his slender baggage with, as he thought, extra malice, and he had set sail for Calais, an order was received from the Home Office to detain him. England never saw Tom Paine again."

America, Plate 3, (E 52)
                               A PROPHECY
"The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent,
Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America's shore:
Piercing the souls of warlike men, who rise in silent night,
Washington, Franklin, Paine & Warren, Gates, Hancock & Green;
Meet on the coast glowing with blood from Albions fiery Prince.  

Washington spoke; Friends of America look over the Atlantic sea;
A bended bow is lifted in heaven, & a heavy iron chain
Descends link by link from Albions cliffs across the sea to bind
Brothers & sons of America, till our faces pale and yellow;
Heads deprest, voices weak, eyes downcast, hands work-bruis'd, 
Feet bleeding on the sultry sands, and the furrows of the whip 
Descend to generations that in future times forget.----

The strong voice ceas'd; for a terrible blast swept over the heaving sea;
The eastern cloud rent; on his cliffs stood Albions wrathful Prince 
A dragon form clashing his scales at midnight he arose,          
And flam'd red meteors round the land of Albion beneath[.]  
His voice, his locks, his awful shoulders, and his glowing eyes," 

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