Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XVI

LIBERTY AND VISION

We hear of Blake among the Johnson group as calling himself a true “Liberty boy” and son of the “Revolution” (before “ 1792” was become a name for massacre), and we hear of him giving naturalistic reasons for this, making it the result of a personal bodily peculiarity, pointing to the protuberance of his own forehead over the eyes, and saying that here one could see the head of a natural republican. Gilchrist tells us how Blake saved Tom Paine, who had now, in 1792, published the second part of the Rights of Man:

A few months later county and corporation addresses against “seditious publications” were got up. The Government (Pitt's) answered the agreed signal by issuing a proclamation condemnatory of such publications, and commenced an action for libel against the author of the Rights of Man, which was to come off in September, all this helping the book itself into immense circulation. The “Friends of Liberty” (as the society got up among some of those who met Blake at Johnson's was called) held their meetings too, at which strong language was used. In September a French deputation announced to Paine that the Department of Calais had elected him member of the National Convention. Already, as an acknowledged cosmopolitan and friend of man, he had been declared a French citizen by the deceased Assembly. One day in this same month Paine was giving at Johnson's an idea of the inflammatory eloquence he had poured forth at a public

inferred from the tenour of his report that those in power, now eager to lay hold of obnoxious persons, would certainly not let slip such an opportunity. On Paine's rising to leave, Blake laid his hand 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 a French legislator. By

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. New perils awaited him : Reign of Terror and near view of the guillotine, an accidentally open door and a chalk mark on the wrong side of it proving his salvation. But a no less serious one had been narrowly escaped from the English Tories. Those were hanging days! Blake on this occasion showed greater sagacity than Paine, whom, indeed, Fuseli affirmed to be more ignorant of the common affairs of life than himself even. Spite of unworldliness and visionary faculty Blake never wanted prudence and sagacity in ordinary matters.

It is well known as characteristic of the more imaginative men of Irish blood that whether their own lives succeed or fail in a worldly point of view, their practical advice to others is of the best. Blake had the special advantage in coolness that contemptuous courage gives. He could choose the right moment. He knew exactly how much the mob would stand and how much the Government.

Tom Paine was not the only oppressed person whom Blake was now the means of saving from the oppressor, though the other is not known to us by name.

The original edition of the Song of Liberty contains two little figures of horses, capitally drawn, minute in size, wedged into a space among the print. They are walking about on their hind legs, pawing the air like circus horses. They are much better drawn than seems explicable at first, better, for example, than the horses' heads scribbled on the blank leaves of the Island in the Moon. Symbolically, of course, they are the “horses of instruction,” maddened by poetic freedom and excitement, like those described in the story about “ Palamabron” in the first part of the Book of Milton.

There is an explanation of how these horses came to be put here. Blake probably had his press, that press for which he paid £40, in a back room at 28 Poland Street. The windows at this side looked out upon the premises of Mr. Astley, the original proprietor of the wellknown circus that did not change its name for a century. Here Blake used to amuse himself by watching the grooming and exercising of the animals. One day he saw something else. There was a boy limping up and down, dragging painfully at every step a heavy block, to which he was chained by the foot. Blake called his wife to come and look, and asked her what she thought could be the meaning of this. It does not appear to have occurred to either of them that the ineaning was that the boy was a mischievous and lying young rascal who deserved a whipping that Mr. Astley was too good-natured to give him, or had already given without

know"Blake used the animving up an which

folie. There was the animals. Self by watching the century

doing any good by it. Mrs. Blake suggested that the log was a hobble, used to prevent the circus horses straying too far when they were turned out to graze on a common during the summer trips of the circus, and that the boy was fastened to it now as a degrading punishment.

Blake took fire at once, and in a minute was out of his house and down among the circus people, giving them his ideas on liberty with an outburst of eloquence, and appealing cleverly to their sentiment of patriotism by asking them if this was treatment that an English boy ought to suffer when it would be humiliating to a slave. He carried his point, and the boy was let loose. Mr. Astley was out at the time, and when he returned and learned what had happened he flew into a rage and came round at once to Blake's house to give him eloquence for eloquence, and indignation for indignation. His strong point, of course, was the hatefulness of busy bodies who interfered in the affairs of other people.

The interview was rather heated at first, and poor Mrs. Blake, who expected it to come to blows, trembled as she heard the loud voices of the men. But Blake remembered in time that he had a purpose to serve. His object was the protection of a helpless boy, and this could hardly be achieved by putting the boy's master into a towering rage. He set himself to appeal to this master's better feelings, and succeeded so well that before Mr. Astley went back to his circus he was completely won over to Blake's views, and the two men parted civilly, with feelings of cordial respect for one another.

But Blake never forgot the sight of that chain, and we who have seen it so often in the Book of Urizen and the designs to Young's Night Thoughts can never forget it either. It is enough to make memorable in Blake's life the short period of five years between 1788 and 1793 during which he lived in Poland Street.

These two deliveries, that of Tom Paine from the Governinent and that of the circus boy from his master's chain, are the only two incidents that we know of for certain in which Blake is seen as an active defender of liberty, but they are not likely to have stood alone, and they increase our suspicion that he was, quite willingly, something more than a mere spectator of the fall of Newgate in 1780. When, after the September massacres in Paris of 1792, Blake threw off his revolutionary badge, he had another reason for ceasing to appear in public with a red cap on, which had nothing to do with the crimes

There's in the battere copie

of either rulers or rebels. In the first week of this month of September his mother died. She was buried on the 9th in Bunhill Fields, a few days after the massacres ceased.

Blake would have respected her death, though she seems never to have been important to him since early childhood. The punishment she was induced to inflict on him for seeing the vision of Ezekiel seems to have been a permanent source of estrangement. Blake's friends in later life did not remember having heard him speak of her, though he often referred to his favourite brother Robert. Her funeral oration is found, however, in the song To Tirzah among those of Experience.

The Visions of the Daughters of Albion were probably now written, and were the first result of the break-up of the “Friends of Liberty” and Blake's return to solitude. “I must be shut up within myself, or reduced to nothing," he said when he knew himself better.

There are here some passages so closely akin to two struckout lines in the latter pages of Tiriel, that it is even possible that before the copied-out MS. of this book was prepared and, as we have supposed, handed to Johnson, the Visions were already begun. They seem to have absorbed Blake as soon as Tiriel was out of his sight. It is exceedingly probable that passages from the unprinted books of the French Revolution are used here, as Blake issued parts of Vala afterwards in Jerusalem and Milton.

If we take up this book, remembering the Thel and Tiriel, and read it through quickly, reading America next after it, we shall need no commentator to tell us that here we have a pair of utterances that are related to each other very much as Thel and Tiriel are related.

In the Visions of the Daughters of Albion innocent and sweet exuberance of life that hardly yet knows itself to be desire, flowing from the spiritual into the corporeal by what Swedenborg calls“ influx,” becomes passion, and suffers reproach frow jealousy. It cries out now for its own life, denies that its corporeal consequences have permanently stained it, and says that in spiritual realms it still flows straight towards brotherhood, as joy must, and, like each joy, is willing to serve unity by changing into another joy. In the symbols this is related under poetic form, but readers will remember that Blake knew of a happy time, known to mystic tradition, before the three obstructive powers Flesh, Morality, Reason—the Head, Heart, Loins of that portion of the Creator that fixed the limit called “ Adam”-80 influenced or “darkened ” Tharmas, or liquid, overflowing sympathy, as to make him evil. In his luminous condition Tharinas had once vegetated so spiritually that desire developed into friendship, and this into the eternal Unity, without any check from duty, jealousy, or pride (again a Head-HeartLoins group), but now this once innocent “Angel,” or chief propensity of the tongue, ceased to be an inpulse that leads us all outwards every way, and became his own spectre-eternal death. He ceased to propagate eternal sympathy, and became matter-of-fact in language and in feeling, mere fleshly desire, the evil desire that seeks only its own gratification—mortal generation—the worm's family

—and not its own development towards brotherhood by progress. The greatness of the evil of this descent is because the form of life called “Tharmas” is incalculably good, and is as necessary to man as roots are to trees. Only, roots must not be “ brandished in the heavens, and fruits in the earth beneath."

The symbol of Thurmas is therefore in the West, in Water -the region where the sun darkens—the element by which all vegetation is enabled to grow. Theotormon, the hero of the Visions of the Daughters of Albion, represents the sorrow in particular that jealousy brings to the vegetable—the fleshly organs—which in their turn bring it to the spirit. In the passage,

How can I be defiled when I behold thy image pure ?

Blake means to say, how can even sin in the flesh defile the spiritual part of the craving that began it, so long as this be not altered into a selfish nature, but sees in the sorrowful “ West” and “Water” the tendency to "arise from generation free," and go "outwards every way," that alone leads to brotherhood in the risen Christ.

It was what has been called “pantheism ” in Blake to believe that the moods, before they enter the flesh, or before we, in the flesh, enter them, are Beings, each an Identity, struggling as we do each for its destiny and the uses of its life, so that he had a poetic right to call them by fancy names. Oothoon is the virgin that Thel is not the active virgin. Her virginity consists in being, like Thel, as yet unmingled (unmarried) with any portion of life that belongs to a more external (lower) order. Thel, the passive, in right of her beauty is worthy to be the food (the stimulation) of the most passive and infantile or unintellectual

« ZurückWeiter »