Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Lamb, etc., being selections from the Remains of Henry Crabb Robinson/Extracts from a Letter from Crabb Robinson to Dorothy Wordsworth referring to Blake
EXTRACTS from LETTER REFERRING to BLAKE
H.C.R. to Dorothy Wordsworth, Post Mark Feb. 1826. No. 142 in Vol. of Letters 1818–1826.
... I have above mentioned Blake. I forget whether I ever mentioned to you this very interesting man, with whom I am now become acquainted. Were the 'memorials' at my hand, I should quote a fine passage in the sonnet on the Cologne Cathedral as applicable to the contemplation of this singular being. I gave your brother some poems in M.S. by him & they interested him—as well they might, for there is an affinity between them as there is between the regulated imagination of a wise poet & the incoherent dreams of a poet. Blake is an engraver by trade—a painter & a poet also whose works have been subject of derision to men in general, but he has a few admirers & some of eminence have eulogised his designs—he has lived in obscurity & poverty, to which the constant hallucinations in which he lives have doomed him. I do not mean to give you a detailed account of him. A few words will serve to inform you of what class he is. He is not so much a disciple of Jacob Bohmen & Swedenborg as a fellow visionary. He lives as they did in a world of his own. Enjoying constant intercourse with the world of spirits, He receives visits from Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Voltaire &c &c & has given me repeatedly their very words in their conversations. His paintings are copies of what he sees in his visions. His books (& his M.S.S. are immense in quantity) are dictated from the Spirits. He told me yesterday that when he writes, it is for the spirits only.—he sees the words fly about the room the moment he has put them on paper & his book is then published. A man so favoured of course has sources of wisdom & truth peculiar to himself—I will not pretend to give you an account of his religious & philosophical opinions. They are a strange compound of Christianity & Spinozaism & Platonism. I must confine myself to what he said ahout your brother's works & I fear this may lead me far enough to fatigue you in following me. After what I have said Mr. W[ordsworth] will not be flattered by knowing that Blake deems him the only poet of the age. Nor much alarmed by hearing that like Muley Moloch Blake thinks that he is often in his works an Atheist. Now according to Blake Atheism consists in worship[p]ing the natural world, which same natural world properly speaking is nothing real, but a mere illusion produced by Satan. Milton was for a great part of his life an Atheist, & therefore has fatal errors in his Paradise Lost which he has often begged Blake to confute. Dante (tho' now with God) lived & died an Atheist He was the slave of the world & time But Dante & Wordsw. in spight of their Atheism were inspired by the Holy Ghost, & Wordsworth's poems, (a large proportion at least) are the work of divine inspiration. Unhappily he is left by God to his own illusions, & then the Atheism is apparent. I had the pleasure of reading to B. in my best style (& you know I am vain on that point & think I read W's poems peculiarly well) the Ode on Immortality. I never witnessed greater delight in any listener & in general B. loves the poems. What appears to have disturbed his mind, on the other hand, is the preface to the Excursion. He told me six months ago that it caused him a bowel complaint which nearly killed him. I have in his hand a copy of the extract & the following note . . . When I first saw B. at Mr. Aders's he very earnestly asked me: 'Is Mr. W. a sincere real Christian?' In reply to my answer he said, 'If so, what does he mean by the worlds to which the heaven of heavens is but a veil & who is he that shall pass Jehovah unalarmed?"
I doubt whether what I have written will excite your & Mr W's curiosity, but there is something so delightful about the Man—tho' in great poverty he is so perfect a gentleman with such genuine dignity & independence, scorning presents & of such native delicacy in words &c &c. that I have not scrupled promising introducing him & Mr. W. together. He expressed his thanks strongly, saying, 'You do me honour. Mr W. is a great man. Besides he may convince me I am wrong about him. I have been wrong before now," &c. Coleridge has visited B. & I am told talks finely about him. That I might not encroach on a 3d. sheet I have compressed what I had to say about Blake. You must see him one of these days & he will interest you at all events, whatever character you give to his mind . .
- [For Blake's autograph copy and annotations of extracts from Wordsworth's Preface to The Excursion and from Bk. 1 of The Recluse see Appendix, pp. 159 et seq.]