SOUTH MOLTON STREET. 1804. [ÆT. 47]
THE friendly haven of sweet Felpham was exchanged for the deeper seclusion of the brick-and-mortar desert, in the hope, as I hinted, of more perfect converse there with the Visions, undistracted by appeals from the beauty of the visible world, or by temptations from well-meaning patrons; above all, undisturbed by daily contact with so essentially material and eighteenth century a mind as Hayley’s, which must have had its benumbing influence on the visionary or imaginative faculty, though perhaps unrecognised. Blake did not return to a cottage at Lambeth, but to lodgings in South Molton Street, within a mile of the spot where he was born. There neither garden not tree reminded him of what he had left behind. South Molton Street, less shabby then than now, runs diagonally from Oxford Street into Brook Street. At No. 17 he took a first floor, in which he remained for nearly seventeen years.
The first works issued from South Molton Street were the two engraved books, last mentioned, Jerusalem and Milton. The Jerusalem is prefaced by an ‘Address’ to the public, in a style to which the public is little accustomed:—
To the Public.
After my three years’ slumber on the banks of Ocean, I again display my giant forms to the public: my former giants and fairies having received the highest reward possible; the . . . and . . . of those with whom to
be connected is to be . . . I cannot doubt that this more consolidated and extended work will be . . . as kindly received . . . &c. * * * Reader, what you do not approve, &c, . . . me for this energetic exertion of my talents.
Jerusalem: the Emanation of the Giant Albion, 1804, Printed by W. Blake, South Molton Street, is a large quarto volume, of a hundred engraved pages, writing and design, only one side of each leaf being engraved. Most copies are printed in plain black and white, some with blue ink, some red; a few are tinted. For a tinted copy the price was twenty guineas.
The poem, since poem we are to call it, is mostly written in prose; occasionally in metrical prose; more rarely still it breaks forth into verse. Here is the author’s own account of the matter:—
When this verse was first dictated to me, I considered a monotonous cadence, like that used by Milton, Shakspeare, and all writers of English blank verse, derived from the modern bondage of rhyming, to be a necessary and indispensable part of the verse. But I soon found that, in the mouth of a true orator, such monotony was not only awkward, but as much a bondage as rhyme itself. I, therefore, have produced a variety in every line, both in cadence and number of syllables. Every word and every letter is studied, and put into its place. The terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts, the mild and gentle for the mild and gentle parts, and the prosaic for inferior parts: all are necessary to each other.
The Jerusalem bears little resemblance to the ‘prophetic books’ of earlier date. We hear no longer of the wars, the labours, the sufferings, the laments of Orc, Rintrah, Urizen, or Enitharmon; though some of these names are casually mentioned once or twice. What we do hear of, the reader shall gather for himself from a few extracts. The following lines instance in brief, the devout and earnest spirit in which Blake wrote; the high aims he set before him; and afford also a glimpse of the most strange and unhappy result: dark oracles, words empty of meaning to all but him who uttered them:—
Trembling I sit, day and night. My friends are astonisht at me:
Yet they forgive my wand’rings. I rest not from my great task:
To open the eternal worlds! To open the immortal eyes
Of man inwards; into the worlds of thought: into eternity
Ever expanding in the bosom of God, the human imagination
O Saviour I pour upon me thy spirit of meekness and love.
Annihilate selfhood in me! Be thou all my life!
Guide thou my hand, which trembles exceedingly, upon the Rock of
While I write of the building of Golgonooza and of the terrors of
Of Hand and Hyle, and Coban; of Kwantok, Peachey, Brereton, Slayd,
Of the terrible sons and daughters of Albion and their generations.
Scofield, Kox, Kotope and Bowen revolve most mightily upon
The furnace of Los, before the eastern gate bending their fury.
They war to destroy the furnaces; to desolate Golgonooza,
And to devour the sleeping humanity of Albion in rage and hunger.
Of these names, many never occur again throughout the book; and to the remainder we, to the last, fail to attach any idea whatever. Their owners cannot even be spoken of as shadows, for a shadow has a certain definiteness of form. But these continue mere names. Perhaps abstract qualities, of some kind or other, may be the things signified; for the Jerusalem, so far as I can understand it, is an allegory in which the lapse of the human race from a higher spiritual state, and its struggles towards a return to such, are the main topics. ‘Jerusalem’ is once spoken of as ‘Liberty’; she is also apostrophized as ‘mild shade of man,’ and must perhaps, on the whole, be taken to symbolize this ideal state.
There is sometimes a quaint felicity in the choice of homely, familiar things as symbols, which calls John Bunyan to mind; as in this description of Golgonooza, the ‘spiritual, fourfold London’ (for so it is afterwards called in the Milton):—
The stones are pity, and the bricks well-wrought affections,
Enamelled with love and kindness; and the tiles, engraven gold,
Labour of merciful hands: the beams and rafters are forgiveness;
The mortar and cement of the work, tears of honesty: the nails
And the screws and iron braces are well-wrought blandishments,
And well-contrived words; firm fixing, never forgotten,
Always comforting the remembrance: the floors humility:
The ceilings devotion: the hearths thanksgiving.
Far more curious is the following song, which let who can interpret. It occurs in a portion of the Jerusalem that is addressed
To the Jews.
The fields from Islington to Marybone,
To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood,
Were builded over with pillars of gold;
And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood.
Her little ones ran on the fields,
The Lamb of God among them seen;
And fair Jerusalem, his Bride,
Among the little meadows green.
Pancras and Kentish Town repose
Among her golden pillars high,
Among her golden arches which
Shine upon the starry sky. .
The Jews’-Harp House and the Green Man,
The Ponds where boys to bathe delight,
The fields of cows by Welling’s farm,
Shine in Jerusalem’s pleasant sight.
She walks upon our meadows green,
The Lamb of God walks by her side,
And every English child is seen,
Children of Jesus and His Bride:
Forgiving trespasses and sins,
Lest Babylon, with cruel Og,
With moral and self-righteous Law,
Should crucify in Satan’s synagogue.
What are those golden builders doing,
Near mournful, ever-weeping Paddington?
Standing above that mighty ruin
Where Satan the first victory won?
Where Albion slept beneath the fatal tree,
And the Druid’s golden knife
Rioted in human gore
In offerings of human life?
They groaned aloud on London Stone,
They groaned aloud on Tyburn’s brook:
Albion gave his deadly groan,
And all the Atlantic mountains shook.
Albion’s spectre from his loins
Tore forth in all the pomp of war,
Satan his name: in flames of fire,
He stretched his Druid pillars far.
Jerusalem fell from Lambeth’s vale
Down through Poplar and old Bow,
Through Malden, and across the sea,
In war and howling, death and woe.
The Rhine was red with human blood,
The Danube roll’d a purple tide,
On the Euphrates Satan stood
And over Asia stretch’d his pride.
He wither’d up sweet Zion’s hill
From every nation of the earth,
He wither’d up Jerusalem’s gates,
And in a dark land gave her birth.
He wither’d up the human form
By laws of sacrifice for sin,
Till it became a mortal worm,
But, O! translucent all within!
The Divine Vision still was seen,
Still was the human form divine;
Weeping, in weak and mortal clay,
O Jesus! still the form was Thine!
And Thine the human face; and Thine
The human hands, and feet, and breath,
Entering through the gates of birth
And passing through the gates of death.
And, O! Thou Lamb of God! whom I
Slew in my dark, self-righteous pride,
Art Thou return’d to Albion’s land?
And is Jerusalem Thy Bride?
Come to my arms, and never more
Depart, but dwell for ever here;
Create my spirit to Thy love,
Subdue my spectre to Thy fear.
Spectre of Albion! warlike fiend I
In clouds of blood and ruin roll’d,
I here reclaim Thee as my own,
My selfhood; Satan arm’d in gold.
Is this thy soft family love?
Thy cruel patriarchal pride?
Planting thy family alone,
Destroying all the world beside?
A man’s worst enemies are those
Of his own house and family:
And he who makes his law a curse
By his own law shall surely die.
In my exchanges every land
Shall walk, and mine in every land,
Mutual, shall build Jerusalem,
Both heart in heart and hand in hand.
Many of Blake’s favourite metaphysical and theological tenets are enlarged upon. As, for instance, the antagonism of Reason to Faith:—
And this is the manner of the sons of Albion in their strength:
They take two contraries, which are called qualities, with which
Every substance is clothed: they name them Good and Evil.
From these they make an abstract, which is a negation,
Not only of the substance from which it is derived,—
A murderer of its own body: but also a murderer
Of every divine member:—it is the Reasoning Power,
An abstract, objecting Power, that negatives everything.
This is the spectre of man,—the holy Reasoning Power;
And in its holiness is closed the abomination of desolation.
He who would do good to another, must do it in minute particulars:
General good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer.
For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized particulars,
And not in generalizing demonstrations of the Rational Power.
The Infinite alone resides in definite and determinate identity.
Here is another theme he loved to dwell on:.—.
All that has existed in the space of six thousand years
Permanent and not lost: not lost nor vanish’d; and every little act,
Word, work, and wish that have existed,—all remaining still
In those churches, ever consuming and ever building by the spectres
Of all the inhabitants of earth waiting to be created;
Shadowy to those who dwell not in them—mere possibilities;
But, to those who enter into them, they seem the only realities.
For everything exists; and not one sigh, nor smile, nor tear,
One hair, nor particle of dust—not one can pass away.
* * * * * *
All things acted on earth are seen in the bright sculptures of
Los’s Hall. And every age renews its powers from these works;
With every pathetic story possible to happen from Hate or
Wayward Love. And every sorrow and distress is carved here;
Every affinity of parents, marriages and friendships are here
In all their various combinations; wrought with wondrous art,
All that can happen to man in his pilgrimage of seventy years.
Interesting fragments, surely, if only as being so eminently characteristic of the man. A few more such—mere fragments—I will add before proceeding to speak of the decorative designs with which every page of the original is enriched:—
Imagination [is] the real and eternal world, of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow: and in which we shall live, in our eternal or imaginative bodies, when these vegetable mortal bodies are no more.
It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.
Without forgiveness of sin, Love itself is eternal Death.
O Albion! why did’st thou a female will create?
Negations are not contraries. Contraries mutually exist,
But negations exist not; exceptions, objections, unbelief
Exist not; nor shall they ever be organized for ever and ever.
If I were pure, never could I taste the sweets of the forgiveness of sins,
If I were holy, I never could behold the tears of love:
Of Him who loves me in the midst of His anger.
I heard His voice in my sleep, and His angel in my dream
Saying, Doth Jehovah forgive a debt, only on condition that it shall
Be paid? Doth He forgive pollution only on condition of purity?
That debt is not forgiven! that pollution is not forgiven!
Such is the forgiveness of the gods; the moral virtues of the
Heathen, whose tender mercies are cruelty. But Jehovah’s salvation
Is without money and without price in the continual forgiveness of sins.
The vegetative universe opens like a flower from the earth’s centre,
In which is Eternity. It expands in stars to the mundane shell,
And there it meets Eternity again, both within and without.
What may man be? Who can tell? But what may woman be
To have power over man from cradle to corruptible grave?
He who was an Infant, and whose cradle was a manger,
Knoweth the Infant Sorrow, whence it came and where it goeth,
And who weave it a cradle of the grass that withereth away.
This world is all a cradle for the erred, wandering Phantom,
Rock’d by year, month, day, and hour. And every two moments
Between, dwells a daughter of Beulah, to feed the human vegetable.
Rock the cradle, ah me! of that eternal man!
The magic influences of one of these mysterious ‘daugh¬ters of Beulah’ are thus described:—
She creates at her will a little moony night and silence,
With spaces of sweet gardens and a tent of elegant beauty
Closed in by sandy deserts, and a night of stars shining;
A little tender moon, and hovering angels on the wing.
And the male gives a time and revolution to her space
Till the time of love is passed in ever-varying delights:
For all things exist in the human imagination.
This last line contains what deserves to be called the corner-stone of Blake’s philosophy. For his philosophy had corner-stone and foundation, and was not miraculously suspended in the air, as his readers might sometimes feel tempted to believe. Amid all contradictions, incoherences, wild assertions, this principle—that the conceptions of the mind are the realities of realities, that the human imagina¬tion is an eternal world, ‘ever expanding in the bosom of God’—shines steadily forth: and to readers of a speculative turn, who will be at the pains to examine by its light these erratic writings, the chaos will resolve itself into substance, though not into form and order. It is needless to tell such thinkers that Bishop Berkeley was one on the list of Blake’s favourite authors. But with his fervid, dauntless imagina¬tion, the artist seized hold of the metaphysician’s theory of Idealism, and quickened it into a grand poetic reality.
There is another ‘Song’ in the Jerusalem, addressed To the Deists, beginning—
I saw a monk of Charlemaine,
which follows soon after the one already quoted To the Jews. As it is far less singular and characteristic than its predecessors, however, the concluding beautiful stanza is all that shall here detain us:—
For a tear is an intellectual thing,
And a sigh is the sword of an angel king,
And the bitter groan of a martyr’s woe
Is an arrow from the Almighty’s bow.
It were scarcely honest to call these extracts specimens of the Jerusalem. They are exceptions, rather than specimens; and occur, for the most part, in the midst of such a chaos of words, names, and images, that, as the eye wanders, hopeless and dispirited, up and down the large closely-written pages, the mind cannot choose but busy itself with the question, how a man of Blake’s high gifts ever came to produce such; nay, to consider this, as he really did, his greatest work. It must have been that, conscious of the deaf ear so resolutely turned towards him by the public, ‘charmed he never so wisely,’ he cared no longer to address it; but, casting away all idea of ordering and shaping his thoughts and imaginations in such wise that other minds could lay hold upon them, he followed the less laborious and more exciting pleasure of pouring his conceptions freely forth, all crude and inchoate, in words so vaguely and arbitrarily expressive of his meaning, that to himself alone could they suggest it.
Of the pictorial part of the Jerusalem much might be said which would merely be applicable to all Blake’s works alike. One point, perhaps, somewhat distinctive about it, is an extreme largeness and decorative character in the style of the drawings, which are mostly made up of a few massive forms, thrown together on a grand, equal scale. The beauty of the drawings varies much, according to the
colour in which they are printed. One copy, possessed by Mr. Monckton Milnes, is so incomparably superior, from this cause, to any other I have seen, that no one could know the work properly without having examined this copy. It is printed in a warm, reddish brown, the exact colour of a very fine photograph; and the broken blending of the deeper tones with the more tender shadows,—all sanded over with a sort of golden mist peculiar to Blake’s mode of execution—makes still more striking the resem¬blance to the then undiscovered ‘handling’
of Nature herself. The extreme breadth of the forms throughout, when seen through the medium of this colour, shows sometimes, united with its grandeur, a suavity of line which is almost Venetian.
The subjects are vague and mystic as the poem itself. Female figures lie among waves full of reflected stars: a strange human image, with a swan’s head and wings, floats on water in a kneeling attitude, and drinks: lovers embrace in an open water-lily: an eagle-headed creature sits and contemplates the sun: serpent-women are coiled with serpents: Assyrian-looking human-visaged bulls are seen yoked to the plough or the chariot: rocks swallow or vomit forth human forms, or appear to amalgamate with them: angels cross each other over wheels of flame: and flames and hurrying figures writhe and wind among the lines. Even such slight things as rough intersecting circles, each containing some hint of an angel; even these are made the unmistakable exponents of genius. Here and there some more familiar theme meets us—the creation of Eve, or the Crucifixion; and then the thread is lost again. The whole spirit of the designs might seem well symbolized in one of the finest among them, where we see a triple-headed and triple-crowned figure embedded in rocks, from whose breast is bursting a string of youths,
each in turn born from the other’s breast in one sinuous throe of mingled life, while the life of suns and planets dies and is born and rushes together around them.
Milton: a Poem in Two Books. The Author and Printer, W Blake, 1804, is a small quarto of forty-five engraved pages, coloured by hand in the usual manner. In the frontispiece of the Jerusalem, a man enters at a dark door, carrying a planet. Would we might follow him through those dim passages, and see them by his light! Nor would his company be less serviceable among the mazes of the Milton. As this latter work has no percep¬tible affinity with its title, so the designs it contains seem unconnected with the text. This principle of independence is carried even into Blake’s own portrait of his cottage at Felpham, which bears no accurate resemblance to the real place. In beauty, the drawings do not rank with Blake’s most notable works; the copy at the Museum (as seen by the water-mark of its paper—1808) is not one of the earliest, and others might, probably, be found, surpass¬ing it in point of colour. Two of the designs chiefly arrest attention; each of which shows us a figure falling as if struck by Heaven; one bearing the inscription Robert, and the other William. They embody the sweet remembrance which Blake preserved of his lost brother, throughout the dying life of every day. Of the two figures, Robert, the already dead, is wrapped in the deeper shadow; but, in other respects, they are almost the same.
The poem is very like the Jerusalem in style: it would seem, in fact, to be a sort of continuation; an idea that is borne out by the verses with which its singular Preface concludes:—
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic hills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear: O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
‘Would to God that all the Lord’s people were Prophets!’—NUMBERS ii. 29.
The Milton, as I have hinted, equals its predecessor in obscurity: few are the readers who will ever penetrate beyond the first page or two. There is also the same religious fervour, the same high, devout aim:
I touch the heavens as an instrument to glorify the Lord!
exclaims Blake in one place; and the reader is, with impassioned earnestness, besought to give heed unto him in the following line, which recurs incessantly:—
Mark well my words; they are of your eternal salvation!
About Milton we hear very little, but his name is occasionally mentioned; as in the opening invocation:—
Daughters of Beulah! muses who inspire the poet’s song!
Record the journey of immortal Milton through your realms
Of terror and mild moony lustre!
And afterwards we are told:—
First Milton saw Albion upon the rock of ages,
Deadly pale outstretch’d and snowy cold, storm-cover’d:
A giant form of perfect beauty outstretch’d on the rock
In solemn death: the Sea of Time and Space thunder’d aloud
Against the rock which was inwrapp’d with the weeds of death
Hovering over the cold bosom. In its vortex Milton bent down
To the bosom of death. What was underneath soon seem’d above,
A cloudy heaven mingled with stormy seas in loudest ruin.
But as a wintry globe descends precipitant through Beulah, bursting
With thunders loud and terrible, so Milton’s shadow fell
Precipitant, loud thund’ring into the Sea of Time and Space.
Whither we will not attempt to follow him, but conclude our gleanings from the ‘Prophetic Books’ with the follow¬ing sweet reminiscence of life at Felpham which occurs in the Second Book of Milton; and with the quaint and pretty lines àpropos of which Blake introduces the idealized view of his cottage, given at the end of this chapter.
Thou hearest the nightingale begin the song of spring;
The lark, sitting upon his earthy bed, just as the morn
Appears, listens silent; then, springing from the waving corn-field, loud
He leads the choir of day: trill—trill—trill—trill—
Mounting upon the wings of light into the great expanse,
Re-echoing against the lovely blue and shining heavenly shell.
His little throat labours with inspiration; every feather
On throat, and breast, and wing, vibrate with the effluence divine.
All nature listens to him silent; and the awful Sun
Stands still upon the mountains, looking on this little bird
With eyes of soft humility, and wonder, love, and awe.
Then loud, from their green covert, all the birds begin their song,—
The thrush, the linnet and the goldfinch, robin and the wren,
Awake the Sun from his sweet reverie upon the mountains;
The nightingale again essays his song, and through the day
And through the night warbles luxuriant; every bird of song
Attending his loud harmony with admiration and love.
(This is a vision of the lamentation of Beulah over Ololon.)
Thou perceivest the flowers put forth their precious odours,
And none can tell how from so small a centre come such sweets,
Forgetting that within that centre Eternity expands.
* When Los joined with me, he took me in his fiery whirlwind;
My vegetated portion was hurried from Lambeth’s shades;
He set me down in Felpham’s vale, and prepared a beautiful
Cottage for me, that, in three years, I might write all these visions
To display Nature’s cruel holiness; the deceits of Natural Religion,
Walking in my cottage garden, sudden I beheld
The virgin Ololon, and address’d her as a daughter of Beulah
‘Virgin of Providence! fear not to enter into my cottage!’