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'THE ISLAND IN THE MOON'
BLAKE's indignation in 1783 was no longer against Woollett of “the word jocund,” but against the kind people who had attempted to correct him while daring to patronise him. In this mood, and, as we must suppose at this time, though there is no date on the MS. and none on the watermark of the paper, Blake wrote his one attempt at a funny book. Like his one attempt at an historical play, it was never finished. It is now printed for the first time.
Its place here is not as a specimen of his work. It is part of his life-story. No one can hope at this distance of time to give a better account of the general impression Blake received from his introduction to educated, tasteful, and literary society than is to be gathered from this pasquinade. The incidents in it are perhaps imaginary, and there are no recognisable portraits. Blake is even careful to avoid them. He gives the dialogue about Voltaire to male voices, though the subject must have belonged especially to Mrs. Montagu. The sketch seems to have been written with perfect goodnature as well as in a mood of perfect contempt.
That Blake himself was in the wrong about the correcting of the Poetical Sketches, and that he had behaved badly to the friends who had encouraged and helped him, does not seem to have entered his head. In this piece of sarcasm he rolls his patrons about as a big dog might roll half-a-dozen little dogs with his paw, and he thinks himself very good-natured for not breaking their backs with one snap.
As we read The Island in the Moon it is necessary to be at some pains in order not to lose all enjoyment of it, through feeling too much disgust at the offensively conceited ingratitude of the young author who could write such mockery of people at whose house he received his first encouragement in poetry, and from whom he had accepted
the substantial and solid benefit of the payment shared with Flaxman for their publication. But the fault of his character was never of the kind that we usually call conceit. From the moment that the Mathews family had ceased to admire him unreservedly they had actually ceased to be his friends.
In Jerusalem, page 43, lines 56, etc., we read:
It is easy to acknowledge a man to be great and good while we
And we have already heard (page 30, lines 10, 11) of “ Albion's children"
Being not irritated by insult, bearing insulting benevolences
These lines were written more than a quarter of a century after Mr. Mathews wrote the preface to the Poetical Sketches, and so caused all his circle to incur the sarcasm of The Island in the Moon, and they referred to Hayley, but the Blake who wrote them was the same man, and his feeling about his work and what his friends owed to it was the same.
THE ISLAND IN THE MOON In the Moon is a certain Island near by a mighty continent, which small Island seems to have some affinity to England, and, what is more extraordinary, the people are so much alike, and their language so much the same, that you would think you were among your friends. In this Island dwell three Philosophers-Suction the Epicurean, Quid the Cynic, and Sipsop the Pythagorean. I call them by the names of their sects, though the sects are never mentioned there, as being quite out of date. However, the things still remain, and the vanities are the same.
The three Philosophers sat together thinking of nothing. In comes Etruscan Column the Antiquarian, and after an abundance of enquiries to no purpose, sat himself down and described something that nobody listened to. So they were employed when Mrs. Gimblet came in. The corners of her mouth seemed—I don't know how, but very odd, as if she hoped you had not an ill opinion of her,—to be sure, we are all poor creatures! Well, she seated (herself) and seemed to listen with great attention while the Antiquarian seemed to be talking of virtuous cats. But it was not so. She was thinking of the shape of her eyes and mouth, and he was thinking of his eternal fame. The three Philosophers were at this time each endeavouring to conceal his laughter (not at them but) at his own imagination.
This was the situation of this improving company when in a great hurry Inflammable Gas the Wind - finder entered. They seemed to rise and salute each other : their tongues went in question and answer, but their thoughts were otherwise employed. “I don't like his eyes," said Etruscan Column. “He's a foolish puppy,” said Inflammable Gas, smiling on him.
The three Philosophers—the Cynic smiling, the Epicurean seeming studying the flame of the candle, the Pythagorean playing with the cat-listened with open mouths to the edifying discourse.
“Sir," said the Antiquarian, “I have seen these works, and I do affirm that they are no such thing. They seem to me to be the most wretched, paltry, flimsy stuff that ever
“What d'ye say? What d'ye say?" said Inflammable Gas. “Why -why, I wish I could see you write so."
“Sir," said the Antiquarian, “according to my opinion the author is an arrant blockhead.”
“Your reason your reason ?” said Inflammable Gas. “Why-why, I think it very abominable to call a man a blockhead that you know nothing of.”
“Reason, sir ?" said the Antiquarian. “I'll give you an example for your reason. As I was walking along the street I saw a vast number of swallows on the rails of an old Gothic square. They seemed to be going on their passage, as Pliny says. As I was looking up, a little outre fellow, pulling me by the sleeve, said, “Pray, sir, who do they all belong to?' I turned myself about with great contempt. i Said I,
Go along with you, fool!" Fool!' said he, who do you call fool ? I only asked you à civil question.' I had a great mind to have thrashed the fellow, only he was bigger than I."
Here Etruscan Column left off.
Inflammable Gas, recollecting hiniself (said), “Indeed I don't think the man was a fool, for he seems to me to have been desirous of enquiring into the works of nature !”
“ Ha! Ha! Ha!” said the Pythagorean. It was re-echoed by Inflammable Gas to overthrow the argument.
Etruscan Column then, starting up and clenching both his fists, was prepared to give a formal answer to the company. But Obtuse Angle, entering the room, having made a gentle bow, proceeded to empty his pockets of a vast number of papers, turned about and sat down, wiped his face with his pocket-handkerchief, and shutting his eyes, began to scratch his head.
“ Well, gentlemen," said he, “what is the cause of strife ?" The Cynic answered, “They are only quarrelling about Voltaire." “Yes," said the Epicurean, "and having a bit of fun with him.”
“And," said the Pythagorean, “endeavouring to incorporate their souls with their bodies.”
Obtuse Angle, giving a grin, said, “Voltaire understood nothing of the mathematics, and a man must be a fool i'faith not to understand the mathematics."
Inflammable Gas, turning round hastily in his chair, said, “Mathematics! He found out a number of Queries in Philosophy.”
Obtuse Angle, shutting his eyes and saying that he always understood better with his eyes shut (replied), “In the first place, it is of no use for a man to make queries, but to solve them, for a man may be a fool and make queries, but a man must have a good sound sense to solve them. A query and an answer are as different as a straight line and a crooked one. Secondly
“I-I-I-aye! Secondly, Voltaire's a fool,” says the Epicurean.
“Pooh !” says the Mathematician, scratching his head with double violence. “It is not worth quarrelling about."
The Antiquarian here got up, and, hemming twice to show the strength of his lungs, said, “But, my good sir, Voltaire was immersed in matter, and seems to have understood very little but what he saw before his eyes, like the animal upon the Pythagorean's lap, always playing with its own tail.”
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” said Inflammable Gas. “He was the glory of France. I have got a bottle of air that would spread a plague."
Here the Antiquarian shrugged up his shoulders, and was silent while Inflammable Gas talked for half an hour.
When Steelyard the Lawgiver, coming in talking with an Act of Parliament in his hand, said that it was a shameful thing that Acts of Parliament should be in a free state.
It had so engrossed his mind that he did not salute the company. Mrs. Gimblet drew her mouth downwards.
CHAPTER II Tilly Sally the Siptippedist, Aradobo, the Dean of Morocco, Miss Gittipin, Mrs. Nannicantipot, Mrs. Jistagatint, Gibble Gabble the wife of Inflammable Gas, and little Scopprell entered the room.
(If I have not presented you with every character in the piece, call me Ass.)
In the moon, as Phæbus stood over his Oriental Gardening, a “O ay, come, I'll sing you a song," said the Cynic.
61 The trumpeter (spat) in his hat,'" said the Epicurean.
Little Phcbus came strutting in
Mrs. Gimblet looked as if they meant her. Tilly Sally laughed like & cherry clapper. Aradobo asked, "Who was Phæbus, sir ?"
Obtuse Ångle answered quickly, “He was the God of Physic, Painting, Perspective, Geometry, Geography, Astronomy, Cookery, Chemistry, Mechanics, Tactics, Pathology, Ohrascology, Theology, Mythology, Astrology, Osteology, Somatology (sic)-in short, every art and science adorned him as beads round his neck."
Here Aradobo looked astonished and asked if he understood Engraving
Obtuse Angle answered, “Indeed he did.”.
Tilly Sally turned round to Obtuse Angle and asked who it was that was as great as Chatterton.
“Hay! How should I know ?" answered Obtuse Angle. “Who was it, -Aradobo ?”
“Why, sir," said he, “the gentleman that the song was about."
“Ah," said Tilly Sally, “I did not hear it. What was it, Obtuse Angle ?
"Pooh,” said he. “Nonsense !"
Obtuse Angle answered, “The Heathen in the old ages used to have gods that they worshipped, and they used to sacrifice to them. You have read about that in the Bible."
“Ah,” said Aradobo, “I thought I had read of Phæbus in the Bible.”
" Aradobo, you should always think before you speak,” said Obtuse Angle.
“Ha! Ha! Ha! He means Pharaoh,” said Tilly Sally.
“I am ashamed of you,-making use of the names in the Bible," said Mrs. Jistagatint.
“I'll tell you what, Mrs. Imagerine. I don't think there's any harm in it," said Tilly Sally.
"No," said Inflammable Gas. “I have got a camera obscura at home.”
“Law! What has that to do with Pharoe ?” said Tilly Sally
“Pho! Nonsense! Hang Pharoe and all his hosts," said the Pythagorean. “Sing away, Quid." Then the Cynic sang
Honour and Genius is all I ask,
No more, No more, | The three philosophers
No more, No more. S bear chorus. Here Aradobo sucked his under lip.
CHAPTER IV “Hang names !” said the Pythagorean. “What's Pharoh better than Phæbus, or Phæbus than Pharoh ?”.
“Hang them both," said the Cynic.
“I don't think it's profane to say Hang Pharoh and son !'” said Mrs. Sinagain. “I'm sure you ought to hold your tongue, for you never say anything about the Scriptures, and you hinder your husband from going to church.”.
“Ha, ha!” said Inflammable Gas. “Why, don't you like going to church ?”
“No,” said Mrs. Nannicantipot. “I think a person may be as good at home.”
“If I had not a place of profit that forces me to go to church,” said Inflammable Gas, “I'd see the parsons all hanged,-a parcel of lying- "