[Milton-L] Passing this along... -Carl

Carter Kaplan antinomian2 at hotmail.com
Sun Jan 12 21:03:58 EST 2014

Dear Colleagues,

I am following this thread with interest.  I suppose I am a sort of "Blakean," and I think sharing my perspective and my experience might be instructive.

Let me preface this by what I mean by "Blakean."  I do not mean that I am a Blake scholar, though I have published on Blake in academic books and journals, and I delivered a paper on Blake in Horace Walpole's library in Strawberry Hill (of all places).  No.  When I say I used to be a Blakean, I mean that I was at one time a young poet who was responding to Blake's call to artists to build a New Jerusalem, precisely as he says in the the following "trumpet blast" that prefaces his poem Milton:

  The stolen and perverted writings of Homer and Ovid, of Plato and 
Cicero, which all men ought to contemn, are set up by artifice against 
the Sublime of the Bible; but when the New Age is at leisure to 
pronounce, all will be set right, and those grand works of the more 
ancient, and consciously and professedly Inspired men will hold their 
proper rank, and the Daughters of Memory shall become the Daughters of 
Inspiration. Shakspeare and Milton were both curb’d by the general 
malady and infection from the silly Greek and Latin slaves of the sword.

 up, O Young Men of the New Age! Set your foreheads against the ignorant
 hirelings! For we have hirelings in the Camp, the Court, and the 
University, who would, if they could, for ever depress mental, and 
prolong corporeal war. Painters! on you I call. Sculptors! Architects! 
suffer not the fashionable fools to depress your powers by the prices 
they pretend to give for contemptible works, or the expensive 
advertising boasts that they make of such works: believe Christ and His 
Apostles that there is a class of men whose whole delight is in 
destroying. We do not want either Greek or Roman models if we are but 
just and true to our own Imaginations, those Worlds of Eternity in which
 we shall live for ever, in Jesus our Lord.

What follows of course is the lyric "Jerusalem" and then Bake's idiosyncratic epic.

Now, when I answered Blake's charge I was a young man with more sensibility than sense.  I wrote a novel that sought to redress the forces of destruction Blake saw in the university, so to speak...  As I began writing, however, I found myself satirizing my own project; that is, in trying to take Blake seriously some sense did manage to exert itself.  Nevertheless, Blake remained a "hero" to me.   In retrospect, I got caught up in the hype--I lacked sufficient experience and education to see Blake fully.

My enthusiasm for Blake endured as I worked through a PhD on the subject of satire and philosophy.  I quietly went through the academic motions, meanwhile believing that my beloved Blake was above the sordid motions of petty academics.  Afterwards, however, I met a "counterpart" of sorts who was finishing his baccalaureate at Oxbridge, and who like me did work in satire and who also championed a fondness for Blake--early on he was considering doing a PhD thesis on Blake.  When he went on to do his PhD, however, his mentors persuaded him to drop Blake and look into Milton.  My antenna picked up on this, and I took at look at Milton as well. As I read I was surprised to see that Milton was a better poet than Blake. Then I noticed that he was also a better philosopher.  Indeed, Milton was a better theologian, a better political philosopher, a better historian, a better story-teller, a better visionary, a better wit.  Indeed, the deeper I read the more I learned that Milton was in every measure superior to Blake.   Very rapidly Blake feel in my estimation. Mind you, this was all a bit of a surprise to me.  Not too many years before I was a Blake devotee, as I have explained.

I noticed, too, that the way Blake reads Reynolds is not altogether fair to Reynolds.  I noticed, too, that Thomas Gainsborough was a greater talent than Blake, and moreover in terms of being a "revolutionary artist" Gainsborough's late-18th century paintings of common people represent objects of a greater human sympathy than Blake could ever conceive, much less describe or effectively (and "effectively" is the key word) convey to the culture at large. Meanwhile, for me Blake's figures began to take on the aspect of comic book cliches... muscle bound, twee, effete, precious, and vulgar.

And then I read several biographies of Blake.  It came home.  Blake's contemporaries were quite properly amused by Blake--he was an outlandish self-promoter, and not a sympathetic one. Perhaps the most damning material were the over-the-top advertisements Blake himself wrote to promote his productions, with all sorts of enthusiastic and exaggerated claims about his art, his theology and his political importance...  And then add to this his claims that Milton was in error...  It was a bit of a jolt--but I could no longer bring myself to dismiss various figures in the 18th century English art scene who properly saw that Blake was an uneducated bumpkin, a blowhard, and a prole.  

Have a look at the "Locke" article in S. Foster Daimon (A Blake Dictionary).  While Blake did at one time condemn Locke, at other times he agreed with what Locke had to say.  This, in fact, characterizes a lot of Blake's "philosophy,"  so-called.  Along these lines, somewhere Blake says he is more interested in aesthetic consistency than he is in being right about things. So on one side there are his outlandish claims about being a prophet for "Albion" tra la, while on the other Blake from time to time shows his hand, stating quite candidly that he is mostly interested in producing a unique art product to sell to collectors.

One final note:  Blake's claims that Satan was a heroic figure (see for example Marriage and Heaven and Hell) were mitigated by the effects of late 18th century history.  As a Blakean told me at that Blake conference I attended at Strawberrry Hill,  in the wake of the French revolution Blake excised some of the enthuesatic "Satanisms" from later print runs of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  

Carter Kaplan

International Authors

Date: Sat, 28 Dec 2013 13:25:45 -0500
From: alanshorn at gmail.com
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Passing this along... -Carl

Thanks for that informed commentary, Jim.

On Sat, Dec 28, 2013 at 1:00 PM, James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com> wrote:

Thanks for sharing, Carl. It's a decent enough article with a thoroughly annoying headline. As the article observes, Blake's illustrations are, if anything, tame compared to Milton's descriptions. Blake's biggest change is not to the character of Sin, but to the character of Death, who in Milton is a formless mass but who in Blake is -- quite deliberately -- given definite form.

. . . The other shape,If shape it might be call'd that shape had noneDistinguishable in member, joynt, or limb,Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd,

For each seem'd either; black it stood as Night, [ 670 ]Fierce as ten Furies, terrible as Hell,And shook a dreadful Dart; what seem'd his headThe likeness of a Kingly Crown had on. 

Blake gives his version of Death a crown and a Dart, but also form. I think that he means to define the embodiment of Death for his readers, which in the Thomas set (second image on the webpage) is definitely Urizenic, so associated with Britain's church/state complex, while in the Butts set (first image on the webpage) is beardless. The beardless version of Death reminds me of Orc, so may be associated with the forces of revolution. Death appears three or four times in Blake's illustrations but is only beardless in this one relatively early image. 

Jim R

On Sat, Dec 28, 2013 at 12:32 PM, JCarl Bellinger <dionhalic at gmail.com> wrote:



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Dr. James RoviraAssociate Professor of English
Tiffin Universityhttp://www.jamesrovira.comBlake and Kierkegaard: Creation and AnxietyContinuum 2010http://jamesrovira.com/blake-and-kierkegaard-creation-and-anxiety/

Text, Identity, Subjectivityhttp://scalar.usc.edu/works/text-identity-subjectivity/index


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