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To: “We apply the term taste to ... like or dislike . . . we give the same name to our judgment on a fancy ... and on unalterable principles. However inconvenient this may be, we are obliged to take words as we find them.”
Blake: This is False. The Fault is not in Words but in Things. Lock's Opinions on words and their Fallaciousness are hurtful opinions and Fallacious also.
To: “The same taste relishes demonstration ... resemblance of a picture . . . and harmony."
Blake: Demonstration, Similitude, and Harmony are Objects of Reasoning Invention. Identity and Melody are Objects of Intuition.
To: “... as true as mathematical demonstration. ..."
Blake : God forbid that Truth should be Confined to Mathematical Demonstration. He who does not know Truth at sight is unworthy of Her Notice.
To: “In proportion as prejudices are . . . long received, ... taste ... approaches certainty ..."
Blake: Here is a great deal to do to Prove that All truth is prejudice, for all that is Valuable in Knowledge is Superior to Demonstrative Science, such as is Weighed and Measured.
To: “As these prejudices become more narrow, this secondary taste becomes more fantastical. ..."
Blake: And so he thinks he has proved that Genius and Inspiration are All a Hum.
To: “Having laid down these propositions I shall proceed with less inethod.”
Blake: He calls the Above, proceeding with Method.
To: “We will take it for granted that reason is something invariable.”
Blake: Reason-or a ratio of all we have known-- is not the same it shall be when we know More. He therefore takes a Falsehood for granted to set out with.
To: “We will conclude that whatever goes under the name of taste which we can fairly bring under the dominion of reason must be considered as equally exempt from change.”
Blake: Now this is supreme Fooling.
To: “The arts would lie open for ever to caprice and casualty if those who are to judge of their excellencies had no settled principles. ..."
Blake: He may as well say that if man does not lay down settled Principles the Sun will not rise in a Morning
To: “My notion of nature comprehends ... the internal fabric ... of the human mind and imagination."
Blake: Here is a plain Confession that he Thinks Mind and Imagination not to be above the Mortal and Perishing Nature. Such is the End of Epicurean or Newtonian Philosophy. It is Atheism.
To: “This (Poussin's Perseus with Medusa's head) is undoubtedly a subject of great bustle and tumult ... the eye finds no repose anywhere . . . I remember turning from it in disgust. ..."
Blake : Reynolds's Eye cannot bear Characteristic Colouring or Light and Shade.
To: “This ... I hold to be improper to imitate. A picture should please at first sight."
Blake : Please whom? Some Men Cannot see a Picture except in a Dark Corner.
To: “No one can deny that violent passions will naturally emit harsh and disagreeable tones."
Blake: Violent Passions emit the Real Good and Perfect Tones.
To: “If it be objected that Rubens judged ill ... to make his work so very ornamental. ..."
Blake: Here it is Called Ornamental that the Roman and Bolognian Schools may be Insinuated not to be Ornamental.
To: “No one will dispute that the Roman or Bolognian Schools would have produced a more learned and more noble work."
Blake: Learned and Noble is Ornamental.
Blake: A fool's Balance is no criterion, because though it goes down on the heaviest side, we ought to look what he puts into it.
To: “If a European who has cut off his beard, put false hair on his head, or tied up his own, and ... with the help of the fat of hogs covered the whole with flour ... issues forth and meets a Cherokee Indian, who has bestowed as much time on his toilet ... laid on his ochre . .. whichever of these two despises the other for this attention to the fashion of his country ... is the barbarian."
Blake : Excellent.
To: "In the midst of the highest flights of the fancy or imagination, reason ought to preside. . .
Blake : If this is True it is a devilish Foolish Thing to be an Artist.
DISCOURSE VIII (On fly-leaf.) Blake: Burke's treatise on the Sublime and Beautiful is founded on the Opinions of Newton and Locke. On this Treatise Reynolds has grounded many of his assertions in all his Discourses. I read Burke's Treatise when very young. At the same time I read Locke on the Human Understandiny, and Bacon's Advancement of Learning. On every one of these Books I wrote my opinion, and, on looking them over, find that my notes on Reynolds in this book are exactly similar. I felt the same Contempt and Abhorrence then that I do now. They mock Inspiration and Vision. Inspiration and Vision was then, and now is, and I hope will always remain, my Element, my Eternal Dwelling-place. How can I then hear it condemned without returning Scorn for Scorn ?
To: “Principles of art ... in their excess become defects."
To: “Artists should learn their profession from endeavouring to form an idea of proportion from the different excellencies which lie dispersed in the various schools of painting.”
Blake: In another discourse he says that we cannot mix the Florentine and Venetian.
To: An instance occurs to me of two painters - Rembrandt and Poussin. ... Rembrandt's manner was absolute unity. ... Poussin has no principal light at all.”
Blake: Rembrandt was a Generaliser ; Poussin a Particulariser.
To: “The works of Poussin are as much distinguished for simplicity as those of Rembrandt for combination."
Blake : Poussin knew better than to make all his pictures have the same light and shade. Any fool may concentrate a light in the Middle.
To: “We may compare ... the portraits of Titian, where dignity, seeming to be natural and inherent, ... has the appearance of an inalienable adjunct. . .
Blake: Dignity an Adjunct.
To: “When a young artist . .. is told ... certain animating words of Spirit, Dignity, Energy, Grace, greatness of Style and brilliancy of Tints . . . he becomes suddenly vain of his newly acquired knowledge."
To: “Art in its infancy, like the first work of a student, was dry, hard, and simple. But this kind of barbarous simplicity would be better named Penury, as it proceeds from mere want; from want of knowledge, want of resources, want of abilities to be otherwise. Their simplicity was the offspring, not of choice, but of necessity.”
Blake: Mocks. A lie.
To: “In the second stage they are sensible of this poverty . . . ran into a contrary extreme. But ... we cannot recommend them to return to that simplicity ... but to deal out their abundance with a more sparing hand. ..."
Blake : Abundance of Stupidity.
To: “... it is not enough that a work be learned ; it must be pleasing."
Blake: If you Endeavour to Please the Worst, you will never Please the Best. To Please all is Impossible.
To: “Again, in the artificial management of figures, it is directed that they shall contrast each other according to the rules generally given. . . . But when students are more advanced, they will find that the greatest beauties of character and expression are produced without contrast. St. Paul preaching at Athens, far from any affected academical contrasts of limbs, stands equally on both legs, and both hands are in the same attitude; add contrast, and the whole energy and unaffected grace of the figure is destroyed. Elymas the Sorcerer stretches both hands forward in the same direction, which gives perfectly the expression intended.”
Blake: Well said.
To: "It may not be improper to give instances where the rule itself, though generally received, is false. . . . It is given as a rule by Fresnoy : That the principal figure of a subject must appear in the midst of a picture, under the principal light, to distinguish it from the rest.” * Blake: What a Devil of a Rule.
To: “... what those proportions are cannot be so well learned by precept as by observation on pictures, and in this knowledge bad pictures will serve as well as good.”
Blake: Bad pictures are always Sir Joshua's friends.
To: “It ought, in my opinion, to be indispensably observed that the masses of light in a picture be always of a warm mellow colouryellow, red, or yellowish white; and that the blue, the grey, or the green colours be kept almost entirely out of these masses, and used only to support and set off these warm colours, and for this purpose a small proportion of cold colours will be sufficient."
Blake : Colouring formed on these Principles is destructive of All Art, because it takes away the possibility of Variety, and only promotes Harmony, or Blending of Colours one with another.
To: “The conduct of Titian in the picture of Bacchus and Ariadne has been much celebrated, and justly, for the harmony of colouring.'
Blake: Such Harmony of Colouring is Destructive of Art. Onc Species of General Hue over all is the Cursed Thing called Harmony. It is like the Smile of a Fool.
To: “The illuminated parts of objects are in nature of a warnier tint than those that are in the shade."
Blake : Shade is always cold, and never, as in Rubens and the colourists, hot, and Yellowy Brown.
To: “... fulness of manner found in perfection in the best works of Correggio and, we may add, of Rembrandt. This effect is produced by melting and losing shadows in a ground still darker than those shadows. ..."
Blake: All this is destructive of Art.
To: “A picture I have of Rubens; it is a representation of moonlight. ... The Moon in this picture does not preserve so great a superiority in regard to the object which it illumines as it does in nature. This is likewise an intended deviation, and for the same reason. If Rubens had preserved the sanie scale of gradation of light between the moon and the objects which is found in nature, the picture must have consisted of one small spot of light only, and at a little distance from the picture nothing but this spot would have been seen.”
Blake: These are Excellent remarks on Proportionate Colour.
To: “Before and above all things it is necessary that the work should be seen, not only without difficulty, but with pleasure and satisfaction."
Blake: If the Picture ought to be Seen with Ease, surely the nobler parts of the Picture, such as the Heads, ought to be Principal. But this is never the case except in the Roman and Florentine Schools, not, I (?) trust the German in the Florentine school.
To: “... Sketches give the pleasure of imagination ... the imagination supplies more than the painter probably could produce."
Blake : What Falsehood !
To: "... Everything shall be carefully and distinctly expressed as if the painter knew with correctness and precision the exact form and character of whatever is introduced into the picture. This is what, with us, is called Science and Learning, which must not be sacrificed and given up for an uncertain and doubtful beauty which, not naturally belonging to our art, will probably be sought for without suc
Blake: Excellent, and contrary to his usual opinion.
To: “Mr. Falconet has observed in a note ... that the circumstance of covering the face of Agamemnon was probably not in consequence of fine imagination of the painter ... he thinks meanly of this trick of concealing. ..."
Blake: I am of Falconet's opinion.
So end the notes on Reynolds. Comparing them with the “Public Address,” the likelihood that they really belong, with it, to 1810 seems so strong that an apology is due to the reader for not printing them nearer to it in this biography, in defiance of Blake's “aged sixty-three.”
VISIONS AND DANTE
THOUGH August 1820 was the year of most of Varley's “visionary heads," Blake continued to do more and more of these. His theory of a permanent mental substance into which he could dip his own mind and find—by the resulting visions—a means of remembering people who had “died from the earth” before he was born is now, of course, easily recognised as one that hardly differs from what is being scientifically proved to be as near to an account of the truth as any other which tries to describe etheric movements and changes in terms of more subtle and more unusual experiences than those that come to us every day through our five senses. These terms have hitherto belonged, in this, as in all sciences not yet scientific, to magicians and occultists. There is one thing of which we need continually to remind ourselves. Myth is the natural language of occultism in the mouth of primitive nature. It lays us open to new and fascinating mistakes, such as are made by children who try to understand poetry. When locomotives were first introduced into Turkey, a delightful science of demonology suited to their explanation grew up. It was a mistake, of course, but the terms of it hardly differ from those in which the most experienced American engine-drivers speak of their machines as if they were persons, attributing to them not only personal names but personal qualities. That there is even a scientific justification for this is seen in that wittiest book of last century, Samuel Butler's Erewhon, and recently we have had an expert in metal work telling us that he is so impressed with the life of iron that when he sees a big bar he takes off his hat to it. Poor Blake has been derided for having been reported to have done this to a vision of St. Paul while he was walking with a corporeal friend in the streets of London. The anecdote is of doubtful authenticity. A mistake is easily made in telling such tales.