Report to St James’s Church, Parochial Church Council, 2009
The Blake Society
The Society is a set of people who love Blake – poet, artist and visionary. Our activities are a union of exegesis and inspiration – we search for the provenance of his imagination and we try to act with creativity and vision. There are over 300 members in 16 countries across the globe including America, Australia, Canada, China, Europe, Japan, Russia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
This audience is reached by our new website where we are publishing reports of our events to share with members who live beyond the remit of Blake’s city (‘I behold London; a Human awful wonder of God!’)
As a gift to our members the Society again published a large poster of one of Blake’s great images – the frontispiece to Milton – and economically printed the Programme of Events for the year on the reverse.
At this year’s summer gathering in Bunhill Fields we discussed the progress of our efforts to mark Blake’s grave. After 5 years of patient pressure on the City of London, we have now obtained permission to mark the exact place of burial and wind a poem through the graveyard carved into the stepping stones ‘I give you the end of a golden string, Only wind it into a ball: It will lead you in at Heavens gate, Built in Jerusalems wall.’
Continuing in our series of occasional outings we visited Stationers’ Hall in the City of London where the indenture were signed for the 14 year old Blake to begin his apprenticeship as an Engraver.
Dr David Whitmarsh-Knight gave a lecture on Jerusalem (in poor health he bravely brought an oxygen cylinder with him). Blake described Jerusalem as ‘the Grandest Poem that This World Contains’ while our speaker argued that this profoundly difficult poem had a plot as clear as an Agatha Christie novel.
Barbara Vellacott led an interactive workshop – a form that is rare to us – offering many new insights into Blake and Milton, a man who both inspired and provoked Blake ( ‘he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it’)
In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the birth of Milton the Blake Society and the Temenos Academy jointly sponsored a beautiful performance of Blake’s Milton interpreted through theatre & music and performed in the Church of St Giles Cripplegate where Milton is buried.
At the first Lambeth Festival Tim Heath (in 18th Century costume) led a walk through the private gardens of Lambeth Palace describing how they were redesigned in 1790s in the new Landscape style where the garden dissolves into the landscape. In consequence many of the images Blake created thereafter may be better viewed as icons you look through rather than paintings you look at.
At the end of 2008 our Patron Adrian Mitchell died. Adrian engaged with the world in a beautiful way. A poet, dramatist and pacifist, he last spoke to the Society at the launch of Blake’s 250th anniversary year (the previous night Adrian had spent in a police cell after protesting outside the Nuclear Submarine Base at Faslane in Scotland).
Members of the Society were present at memorial services for two of our members: Jim Brown, a composer who among much else set a number of Blake’s poems to music as well as poems by our late patron, Kathleen Raine; and Peter Cadogan, a chairman of the Blake Society from the days when the Society set out to change the world. Peter was a member of the Committee of a 100 in the 1960s and was one of the most arresting and arrested members of that generation – the radical root of the Society.
The Society also has roots in academia and was represented at the Conference (Becoming Blake) that accompanied the year’s major Blake exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.
After 3 successful Annual Lectures, this year we invited a distinguished panel to discuss how to formulate a Blake Prize (in such a way that a present day Blake might be a contender). A Nobel Prize Winner, a Templeton Prize Winner, an Oscar and a Booker … Alas our Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter became ill and died before this could take place; he was a man with an imagination as fierce and beautiful as Blake’s.
Tim Heath Chairman