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           William Blake
The Portable Blake


  Table of Contents

  THE VIKING PORTABLE LIBRARY

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Acknowledgements

  Introduction

  I. - THE YOUNG BLAKE

  From POETICAL SKETCHES

  II. - THERE IS NO NATURAL RELIGION and ALL RELIGIONS ARE ONE

  THERE IS NO NATURAL RELIGION

  ALL RELIGIONS ARE ONE

  III. - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND OF EXPERIENCE

  SONGS OF INNOCENCE

  SONGS OF EXPERIENCE

  ADDITIONAL POEMS

  IV. - VERSES AND FRAGMENTS FROM THE ROSSETTI AND PICKERING MANUSCRIPTS

  FIRST SERIES

  SECOND SERIES

  V. - SELECTIONS FROM THE LETTERS

  LETTERS

  VI. - THE PROPHETIC BOOKS

  THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL

  FOR THE SEXES: THE GATES OF PARADISE

  THE BOOK OF THEL

  VISIONS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF ALBION

  AMERICA - A PROPHECY

  EUROPE

  THE FIRST BOOK OF URIZEN

  THE BOOK OF AHANIA

  THE BOOK OF LOS

  THE SONG OF LOS

  From THE FOUR ZOAS

  From MILTON

  From JERUSALEM

  VII. - ON ART, MONEY, AND THE AGE

  From THE LAOCOÖN GROUP

  From A DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE OF PICTURES, POETICAL AND HISTORICAL INVENTIONS, ...

  From PUBLIC ADDRESS - [From the Rossetti MS.]

  ON HOMER’S POETRY & ON VIRGIL

  MARGINALIA, I

  EPIGRAMS AND VERSES CONCERNING SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS

  MARGINALIA, II

  EPIGRAMS, VERSES, AND FRAGMENTS

  VIII. - THE OLD BLAKE

  FRAGMENTS - INSCRIPTION IN THE AUTOGRAPH ALBUM OF WILLIAM UPCOTT

  THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL

  A VISION OF THE BOOK OF JOB

  From A VISION OF THE LAST JUDGMENT - [From the Rossetti MS]

  APPENDIX

  BLAKE CHRONOLOGY

  BIBLIOGRAPHY

  INDEX

  THE VIKING PORTABLE LIBRARY

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  THE VIKING PORTABLE LIBRARY

  William Blake

  William Blake was born in Broad Street in 1757, the son of a London hosier. Having attended Henry Parr’s drawing school in the Strand, he was in 1772 apprenticed to Henry Basire, engraver to the Society of Antiquaries, and later was admitted as a student to the Royal Academy, where he exhibited in 1780. He married Catherine Boucher in 1782 and in 1783 published Poetical Sketches. The first expression of his mysticism appears in Songs of Innocence (1789), which, like The Book of Thel (published in the same year), has as its main theme the constant presence and power of divine love even in the midst of evil.

  Blake’s visionary ideas are developed further in his chief prose work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), where he denies the theory of eternal punishment and the reality of matter. His revolt against authority is expressed in much of his subsequent writing, and in Songs of Experience (1794) he protests against restrictive codes and celebrates the spirit of love. The chief works which Blake produced during this decade are mythological and are intended to expose the failings of the moral code. His final symbolic works are ‘Milton’ and ‘Jerusalem’. The minor poems that followed include some exquisite lyrics, notably ‘The Morning’ and ‘The Land of Dreams’.

  Little of Blake’s work was published on conventional form. He combined his vocations as poet and graphic artist to produce books that are visually stunning. He also designed illustrations of works by other poets and devised his own technique for producing large watercolour illustrations and colour-printed drawings. Blake died in 1827, ‘an Old Man feeble & tottering but not in Spirit & Life not in the Real Man The Imagination which Liveth for Ever’.

  Alfred Kazin is Distinguished Professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Hunter College. He is the author of On Native Grounds, New York Jew, and An American Procession, among other books.

  Each volume in The Viking Portable Library either presents a representative selection from the works of a single outstanding writer or offers a comprehensive anthology on a special subject. Averaging 700 pages in length and designed for compactness and readability, these books fill a need not met by other compilations. All are edited by distinguished authorities, who have written introductory essays and included much other helpful material.

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  Published by the Penguin Group

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  First published in the United States of America

  by Viking Penguin Inc. 1946

  Paperbound edition published 1956

  Reprinted 1959,1960, 1961,1962, 1963,1965 (twice),

  1966, 1967 (twice), 1968,1969 (twice), 1970 (twice)

  1971, 1972, 1974 (twice), 1975

  Published in Penguin Books 1976

  Copyright 1946 by Viking Penguin Inc.

  Copyright © Viking Penguin Inc., 1948

  Copyright © renewed Viking Penguin Inc., 1974

  All rights reserved

  LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA

  Blake, William, 1757-1827.

  The Portable Blake.

  Reprint of the 1946 ed. published by The Viking Press, New York.

  Bibliography: p. 700. Includes index.

  I. Kazin, Alfred,1915- II. Title.

  [PR4142.K3 1976] 821’.7 76-47594

  eISBN : 978-1-101-12761-2

  Acknowledgment is made to the edition of Makers complete writings edited by Geoffrey Keynes, issued by the Nonesuch Press, London, and Random House, New York.

  Thanks are due to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, Rosenwald Collection, for permission to reproduce from its set of the engravings for The Book of Job and to the Library of Congress, Rosenwald Collection, for those from The Gates af Paradtse

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

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  A LINE is a line in its minutest subdivisions, straight or crooked. It is itself, not intermeasurable by anything else. Such is Job. But since the French Revolution Englishmen are all intermeasurable by one another: certainly a happy state of agreement, in which I for one do not agree. God keep you and me from the divinity of yes and no too—the yea, nay, creeping Jesus—from supposing up and down to be the same thing, as all ex
perimentalists must suppose.

  BLAKE: April 12, 1827

  EDITOR’S ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  The selections for this volume have been taken almost entirely from the “Nonesuch Press” edition of Blake’s complete writings in poetry and prose, edited by Geoffrey Keynes, (Nonesuch Press, London; Random House, New York). I cannot easily express my indebtedness to Dr. Keynes, who did the real work for this volume, and to his American publishers, Random House, Inc., who have facilitated its publication. The selections from Crabb Robinson’s Reminiscences have been taken from Arthur Symons’s supplement to his William Blake, London, 1907, where the notes on Blake were printed as a separate unit for the first time.

  I should like to express my indebtedness to John Sampson’s edition of Blake’s “Poetical Works” (Oxford University Press), for guidance in making my own selections from The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem, I am equally indebted to D. J. Sloss and J. P. R. Wallis, editors of the Clarendon Press (Oxford, 1926) edition of Blake’s Prophetic Writings in two volumes. Without their editorial analysis, list of variants and unique glossary of Blake’s symbols, my own work would have been far more difficult.

  I owe a great debt to many pioneer scholars in the field of Blake scholarship. In particular I should like to acknowledge, with gratitude and pleasure, the work of Swinburne; Joseph Wicksteed; S. Foster Damon; Max Plowman; Alexander Gilchrist; Mona Wilson; Arthur Symons; William Butler Yeats; John Sampson; Ruthven Todd; Geoffrey Grigson; J. Bronowski.

  I should like to thank Pascal Covici for suggesting this work, and for his friendly encouragement. I am deeply grateful to Dr. Ruth Bunzel for many valuable suggestions. I owe much to John Marshall and David Stevens of the Rockefeller Foundation, and to Louis Wright and the staff of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, for making possible a study of Blake manuscripts. And emphatically not least, I should like to thank here my students and friends at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, with whom I read Blake in the Fall quarter, 1944.

  A. K.

  INTRODUCTION

  The real man, the imagination.

  In 1827 there died, undoubtedly unknown to each other, two plebeian Europeans of supreme originality: Ludwig van Beethoven and William Blake. Had they known of each other, they could still not have known how much of the future they contained and how alike they were in the quality of their personal force, their defiance of the age, and the fierce demands each other had made on the human imagination.

  It is part of the story of Blake’s isolation from the European culture of his time that he could have known of Beethoven, who enjoyed a reputation in the London of the early 1800’s. The Ninth Symphony was in fact commissioned by the London Philharmonic, who made Beethoven’s last days a little easier. The artistic society of the day was appreciative of Beethoven. It ignored the laborious little engraver, shut off by his work and reputed madness, who was known mainly to a few painters, and held by most of them to be a charming crank.

  It is hard to imagine Blake going to concerts or reading accounts of Beethoven’s music. He never traveled. Except for one three-year stay at a cottage in Sussex, he hardly went out of London. Like his father and brothers, he lived the life of a small tradesman—at one time he kept a printshop. He was always very poor, and generally worked in such seclusion that at one period, near the end of his life, he did not leave his house for two years, except to go out for porter. Blake had instinctive musical gifts; in his youth and old age he spontaneously, when in company, sang melodies to his own lyrics. Musicians who heard them set them down; I wish I knew where. Even on his deathbed, where he worked to the last, he composed songs. But he had no formal musical knowledge and apparently no interest in musical thought. Self-educated in every field except engraving, to which he had been apprenticed at fourteen, his only interest in most ideas outside his own was to refute them. He always lived and worked very much alone, with a wife whom he trained to be the mirror of his mind. The world let him alone. He was entirely preoccupied with his designs, his poems, and the burden—which he felt more than any writer whom I know—of the finiteness of man before the whole creation.

  Beethoven’s isolation was different. He was separated from society by his deafness, his pride, his awkward relations with women, relatives, patrons, inadequate musicians. He was isolated, as all original minds are, by the need to develop absolutely in his own way. The isolation was made tragic, against his will, by his deafness and social pride. At the same time he was one of the famous virtuosos of Europe, the heir of Mozart and the pupil of Haydn, and the occasional grumpy favorite of the musical princes of Vienna. His isolation was an involuntary personal tragedy, as it was by necessity a social fact. He did not resign himself to it, and only with the greatest courage learned to submit to it. If he was solitary, it was in a great tradition. As he was influenced by his predecessors, so he became the fountainhead of the principal musical thought that came after him.

  Blake’s isolation was—I sometimes think it still is—absolute. It was the isolation of a mind that sought to make the best of heaven and earth, in the image of neither. It was isolation of a totally different kind of human vision; of an unappeasable longing for the absolute integration of man, in his total nature, with the universe. It was the isolation of a temperament run on fixed ideas; and incidentally, of a craftsman who could not earn a living. There are analogies to Blake’s position in a world which has so many displaced persons as our own; but they are inadequate. Blake’s isolation may be likened to that of the revolutionary who sits in his grubby room writing manifestoes against a society that pays him no attention, with footnotes against other revolutionaries who think him mad. It was that of the author who prints his own books. It was that of the sweetly smiling crank who sits forever in publishers’ offices, with a vast portfolio under his arm, explaining with undiminishable confidence that only through his vision will the world be saved. It was that of the engraver who stopped getting assignments because he turned each one into an act of independent creation. Blake was a lyric poet interested chiefly in ideas, and a painter who did not believe in nature. He was a commercial artist who was a genius in poetry, painting, and religion. He was a libertarian obsessed with God; a mystic who reversed the mystical pattern, for he sought man as the end of his search. He was a Christian who hated the churches; a revolutionary who abhorred the materialism of the radicals. He was a drudge, sometimes living on a dollar a week, who called himself “a mental prince”; and was one.

  There are other points of difference between Blake and Beethoven, important to recognize before we can appreciate their likeness. With Beethoven we are in the stream of modem secular culture. Beethoven, the enduring republican and anti-Bonapartist, the social dramatist of Fidelio, the jealous admirer of Goethe, the celebrant of Schiller’s call to the joyous brotherhood of man, is a central figure in our history, as Blake never has been. We remember Beethoven the moralist, the Beethoven who felt so gratefully at home in the world of Kant that he copied out a sentence, probably at secondhand, and kept it on his work-table—“The starry heavens above us and the moral law within us. Kant!!!” To Blake the “moral law” was a murderous fiction and the stars were in the heavens because man’s imagination saw them there. Beethoven speaks to our modern humanity in tones we have learned to prize as our own and our greatest, as Blake has not yet; he is uneasily religious and spiritually frustrated, in a familiar agnostic way, where Blake is the “immoralist” and “mystic” by turns. Beethoven could not hear the world, but he always believed in it. His struggles to sustain himself in it, on the highest level of his creative self-respect, were vehement because he could never escape the tyranny of the actual. He was against material despotisms, , and knew them to be real. Blake was also against them; but he came to see every hindrance to man’s imaginative self-liberation as a fiction bred by the division in man himself. He was against society in toto: its prisons, churches, money, morals, fashionable opinions; he did not think that the faults of society stemmed from
the faulty organization of society. To him the only restriction over man are always in his own mind—the “mindforg’ d manacles.”

  With Blake, it would seem, we are off the main track of modern secular thought and aspiration. The textbooks label him “mystic,” and that shuts him off from us. Actually he is not off the main track, but simply ahead of it; a peculiarly disturbed and disturbing prophet of the condition of modem man rather than a master-builder. From any conventional point of view he is too different in kind to be related easily to familiar conceptions of the nature of the individual and society. Blake combines, for example, the formal devotional qualities of the English dissenters with the intellectual daring of Nietzsche, the Marquis de Sade, and Freud. No Christian saint ever came to be more adoring of Jesus, and no naturalistic investigator was a more candid opponer. traditional Christian ethics. He was one of the subtlest and most far-reaching figures in the intellectual liberation of Europe that took place at the end of the eighteenth century. But he had no interest in history, and easily relapsed into primitive nationalism. To the end of his life his chief symbol for man, “the eternal man,” was Albion; the origin of “natural religion” he located among the Druids; he hated Newton and despised Voltaire, but painted the apotheosis of Nelson and Pitt. Like so many self-educated men, he was fanatically learned; but he read like a Fundamentalist—to be inspired or to refute. He painted by “intellectual vision” —that is, he painted ideas; his imagination was so original that it carried him to the borders of modern surrealism. Yet he would have been maddened by the intellectual traits of surrealism: the calculated insincerities, the defiant disorder, the autonomous decorative fancy, the intellectual mockery and irreverence. That part of surrealism which is not art is usually insincerity, and to Blake any portion of insincerity was a living death. As he hated church dogma, so he hated scepticism, doubt, experimentalism. He did not believe in sin, only in “intellectual error”; he loathed every dualistic conception of good and evil; the belief that any human being could be punished, here or elsewhere, for “following his energies.” But he thought that unbelief—that is, the admission of uncertainty on the part of any person—was wicked. He understood that man’s vital energies cannot be suppressed or displaced without causing distortion; he saw into the personal motivations of human conflict and the many concealments of it which are called culture. He celebrated in Songs of Innocence with extraordinary inward understanding, the imaginative separateness of the child. He hated scientific investigation. He could say in his old age, when provoked, that he believed the world was flat. He was undoubtedly sincere, but he did not really care what shape it was; he would not have believed any evidence whatsoever that there were many planets and universes. He did not believe in God; under all his artistic labors and intellectual heresies he seems to have thought of nothing else. He is one of the most prophetic and gifted rebels in the history of Western man—a man peculiarly of our time, with the divisions of our time. Some of his ideas were automatically superstitious, and a large part of his writing is rant. There are features of his thought that carry us beyond the subtlest understanding we have of the relations between man and woman, the recesses of the psyche, the meaning of human error, tyranny, and happiness. There are chapters in his private mythology that carry us into a nightmare world of loneliness and fanaticism, like a scream repeated interminably on a record in which a needle is stuck.

 
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