Letter to Charles Augustus Tulk, 12 February 1818

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Highate, Thursday evening, 1818

I return you Blake's poesies, metrical and graphic, with thanks. With this and the Book I have sent a rude scrawl as to the order in which I was pleased by the several poems....

I begin with my Dyspathies that I may forget them: and have uninterrupted space for Loves and Sympathies. Title page and the following emblem contain all the faults of the Drawings with as few beauties as could be in the compositions of a man who was capable of such faults+such beauties. — The faults — despotism in symbols, amounting in the Title-page to the μισητὀν[2], and occasionally, irregular unmodified Lines of the Inanimate, sometimes as the effect of rigidity and sometimes of exossation — like a wet tendon. So likewise the ambiguity of the Drapery. Is it a garment — or the body incised and scored out? The Limpness (= the effect of Vinegar on an egg) in the upper one of the two prostrate figures in the Title page, and the eye-likeness of the twig posteriorly on the second — and the straight line down the waist-coat of pinky gold-beater's skin in the next drawing, with the I don't know whatness of the countenance, as if the mouth had been formed by the habit of placing the tongue, not contemptuously, but stupidly, between the lower gums and the lower jaw — these are the only repulsive faults I have noticed. The figure, however, of the second leaf (abstracted from the expression of the countenance given it by something about the mouth, and the interspace from the lower lip to the chin), is such as only a Master learned in his art could produce.

N.B. I signifies, It gave me great pleasure. H, still greater — Ĥ, and greater still. Θ, in the highest degree, o in the lowest.*[3]

[Songs of Innocence:]
Shepherd I.
Spring I (last stanza, H).
Holy Thursday Ĥ.
Laughing Song H.
Nurse's Song I.
The Divine Image Θ.
The Lamb H.
The little Black Boy Θ: yea Θ+Θ*!
Infant Joy H. (N.b. for the 3 last lines I should wish — When wilt thou smile, or — O smile, O smile! I'll sing the while — For a Babe two days old does not, cannot smile, and innocence and the very truth of Nature must go together. Infancy is too holy a thing to be ornamented.) —
Echoing Green I (the figures H, and of the second leaf Ĥ).
The Cradle Song I.
The School Boy[4] Ĥ.
Night Θ
On another's Sorrow I.
A Dream ?
The little Boy lost I (the drawing H).
The little boy found I.
The Blossom o.
The Chimney Sweeper o.
The Voice of the Ancient Bard[5] o.

[Songs of Experience:]
Introduction H.
Earth's Answer H.
Infant Sorrow I.
The Clod and the Pebble I.
The Garden of Love H.
The Fly I.
The Tyger H.
A little boy lost H.
Holy Thursday I.
P. 13, o.[6]
Nurse's Song o
The little girl lost and found (the ornaments most exquisite! the poem I).
Chimney Sweeper in the Snow o.
To Tirzah — and The Poison Tree I and yet o.
A little Girl lost o (I would have had it omitted — not for the want of innocence in the poem, but from the too probable want of it in many readers).
London I.
The Sick Rose I
The little Vagabond — Tho' I cannot approve altogether of this last poem, and have been inclined to think that the error which is most likely to beset the scholars of Em.[manuel] Sw[edenborg] is that of utterly demerging the tremendous incompatibilities with an evil will that arise out of the essential Holiness of the abysmal Aseity in the Love of the eternal Person — and thus giving temptation to weak minds to sink this Love itself into good nature, & yet still I disapprove the mood of mind in this wild poem so much less than I do the servile blind worm, wrap-rascal Scurf-coat of FEAR of the modern Saints (whose whole Being is a Lie, to themselves as well as to their Brethren), that I should laugh with good conscience in watching a Saint of the new stamp, one of the Fixt Stars of our eleemosynary Advertisements, groaning in wind-pipe! and with the whites of his Eyes upraised at the audacity of this Poem! — Anything rather than this degradation†[7] of Humanity, and therein of the Incarnate Divinity!

S. T. C.


  1. Charles Augustus Tulk (1786-1849) was a leading early English Swedenborgian and a founder member and chairman for many years of the Swedenborg Society; a friend and patron of John Flaxman, another founder member of the Society and also of William Blake, whose Songs of Innocence and Experience he was the first to introduce to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His essay on Blake in the London University Magazine (1830) is one of the earliest appreciations of Blake's genius. A close friend of Coleridge, he was deeply read in Spinoza, Berkeley, Kant and Schelling and developed an Idealist interpretation of Swedenborg which found little favour with some of his fellow Swedenborgians. In later life he became acquainted with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning and introduced them to Swedenborg's Conjugial Love. He was a Member of Parliament and a reforming magistrate. Reference: Richard Lines, 'Charles Augustus Tulk: Swedenborgian Extraordinary' in Arcana, Vol.III. No.4 (1997).
  2. Greek, odious.
  3. * o means that I am perplexed and have no opinion. (The note by Coleridge)
  4. Later moved into the Songs of Experience
  5. Later moved into the Songs of Experience
  6. P. 13 — My Pretty Rose Tree, Ah! Sun-Flower, The Lily — three poems on one plate.
  7. † with which how can we utter 'Our Father'? (The note by Coleridge)