William Blake (Symons)/Extracts from the Diary, Letters, and Reminiscences of Henry Crabb Robinson
RECORDS FROM CONTEMPORARY SOURCES
(I.) EXTRACTS FROM THE DIARY, LETTERS, AND REMINISCENCES OF HENRY CRABB ROBINSON, transcribed from the Original MSS. in Dr. Williams's Library. 1810-1852.
'Of all the records of these his latter years,' says Mr. Swinburne in his book on Blake, 'the most valuable, perhaps, are those furnished by Mr. Crabb Robinson, whose cautious and vivid transcription of Blake's actual speech is worth more than much vague remark, or than any commentary now possible to give.' Through the kind permission of the Librarian of Dr. Williams's Library, where the Crabb Robinson MSS. are preserved, I am able to give, for the first time, an accurate and complete text of every reference to Blake in the Diary, Letters, and Reminiscences, which have hitherto been printed only in part, and with changes as well as omissions. In an entry in his Diary for May 13, 1848, Crabb Robinson says: 'It is strange that I, who have no imagination, nor any power beyond that of a logical understanding, should yet have great respect for the mystics.' This respect for the mystics, to which we owe the notes on Blake, was part of an inexhaustible curiosity in human things, and in things of the mind, which made of Crabb Robinson the most searching and significant reporter of the nineteenth century. Others may have understood Blake better than he did, but no one else was so attentive to his speech, and thus so faithful an interpreter of his meaning.
In copying from the MS. I have followed the spelling, not however preserving abbreviations such as 'Bl:' for 'Blake,' due merely to haste, and I have modified the punctuation and added commas of quotation only when the writer's carelessness in these matters was likely to be confusing. Otherwise the transcript is literal and verbatim, and I have added in footnotes any readings of possible interest which have been crossed out in the manuscript.
(1) FROM CRABB ROBINSON'S DIARY
10 ... Dined with Aders. A very remarkable and interesting evening. The party Blake the painter and Linnell—also a painter and engraver—to dinner. In the evening came Miss Denman and Miss Flaxman.
10th December 1825
I will put down as they occur to me without method all I can recollect of the conversation of this remarkable man. Shall I call him Artist or Genius—or Mystic—or Madman? Probably he is all. He has a most interesting appearance. He is now old—pale with a Socratic countenance, and an expression of great sweetness, but bordering on weakness—except when his features are animated by expression, and then he has an air of inspiration about him. The conversation was on art, and on poetry, and on religion; but it was my object, and I was successful, in drawing him out, and in so getting from him an avowal of his peculiar sentiments. I was aware before of the nature of his impressions, or I should at times have been at a loss to understand him. He was shewn soon after he entered the room some compositions of Mrs. Aders which he cordially praised. And he brought with him an engraving of his Canterbury Pilgrims for Aders. One of the figures ressembled one in one of Aders's pictures. 'They say I stole it from this picture, but I did it 20 years before I knew of the picture—however, in my youth I was always studying this kind of paintings. No wonder there is a resemblence.' In this he seemed to explain humanly what he had done, but he at another time spoke of his paintings as being what he had seen in his visions. And when he said my visions it was in the ordinary unemphatic tone in which we speak of trivial matters that every one understands and cares nothing about. In the same tone he said repeatedly, the 'Spirit told me.' I took occasion to say—You use the same word as Socrates used. What resemblance do you suppose is there between your spirit and the spirit of Socrates?' The same as between our countenance.' He paused and added—'I was Socrates.' And then, as if correcting himself, 'A sort of brother. I must have had conversations with him. So I had with Jesus Christ. I have an obscure recollection of having been with both of them.'
It was before this, that I had suggested on very obvious philosophical grounds the impossibility of supposing an immortal being created—an eternity a parte post without an eternity a parte ante. This is an obvious truth I have been many (perhaps 30) years fully aware of. His eye brightened on my saying this, and he eagerly concurred—'To be sure it is impossible. We are all co-existent with God—members of the Divine body. We are all partakers of the Divine nature.' In this, by the bye, Blake has but adopted an ancient Greek idea—query of Plato? As connected with this idea I will mention here (though it formed part of our talk, walking homeward) that on my asking in what light he viewed the great question concerning the Divinity of Jesus Christ, he said 'He is the only God' But then he added—'And so am I and so are you.' Now he had just before (and this occasioned my question) been speaking of the errors of Jesus Christ—He was wrong in suffering Himself to be crucified. He should not have attacked the Government. He had no business with such matters. On my inquiring how he reconciled this with the sanctity and divine qualities of Jesus, he said He was not then become the Father. Connecting as well as one can these fragmentary sentiments, it would be hard to give Blake's station between Christianity, Platonism, and Spinosism. Yet he professes to be very hostile to Plato, and reproaches Wordsworth with being not a Christian but a Platonist.
It is one of the subtle remarks of Hume on certain religious speculations that the tendency of them is to make men indifferent to whatever takes place by destroying all ideas of good and evil. I took occasion to apply this remark to something Blake said. If so, I said, there is no use in discipline or education, no difference between good and evil. He hastily broke in on me—'There is no use in education. I hold it wrong. It is the great sin. It is eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That was the fault of Plato—he knew of nothing but of the virtues and vices and good and evil. There is nothing in all that. Every thing is good in God's eyes.' On my putting the obvious question—Is there nothing absolutely evil in what men do? 'I am no judge of that. Perhaps not in God's Eyes.' Though on this and other occasions he spoke as if he denied altogether the existence of evil, and as if we had nothing to do with right and wrong. It being sufficient to consider all things as alike the work of God. [I interposed with the German word objectively, which he approved of.] Yet at other times he spoke of error as being in heaven. I asked about the moral character of Dante in writing his Vision: was he pure?' 'Pure' said Blake. 'Do you think there is any purity in God's eyes? The angels in heaven are no more so than we—"he chargeth his angels with folly."' He afterwards extended this to the Supreme Being—he is liable to error too. Did he not repent him that he had made Nineveh?
It is easier to repeat the personal remarks of Blake than these metaphysical speculations so nearly allied to the most opposite systems. He spoke with seeming complacency of himself—said he acted by command. The spirit said to him, 'Blake, be an artist and nothing else.' In this there is felicity. His eye glistened while he spoke of the joy of devoting himself solely to divine art. 'Art is inspiration. When Michael Angelo or Raphael or Mr. Flaxman does any of his fine things, he does them in the spirit.' Blake said, 'I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame, for whatever natural glory a man has is so much detracted from his spiritual glory. I wish to do nothing for profit. I wish to live for art. I want nothing whatever. I am quite happy.'
Among the unintelligible sentiments which he was continually expressing is his distinction between the natural and the spiritual world. The natural world must be consumed. Incidentally Swedenborg was spoken of. He was a divine teacher—he has done much good, and will do much good—he has corrected many errors of Popery, and also of Luther and Calvin. Yet he also said that Swedenborg was wrong in endeavouring to explain to the rational faculty what the reason cannot comprehend: he should have left that. As Blake mentioned Swedenborg and Dante together I wished to know whether he considered their visions of the same kind. As far as I could collect, he does. Dante he said was the greater poet. He had political objects. Yet this, though wrong, does not appear in Blake's mind to affect the truth of the vision. Strangely inconsistent with this was the language of Blake about Wordsworth. Wordsworth he thinks is no Christian but a Platonist. He asked me, 'Does he believe in the Scriptures?' On my answering in the affirmative he said he had been much pained by reading the introduction to the Excursion. It brought on a fit of illness. The passage was produced and read:
'Jehovah—with his thunder, and the choir
This pass them unalarmed greatly offended Blake. 'Does Mr. Wordsworth think his mind can surpass Jehovah? ' I tried to twist this passage into a sense corresponding with Blake's own theories, but filled [sic = failed], and Wordsworth was finally set down as a pagan. But still with great praise as the greatest poet of the age.
Jacob Boehmen was spoken of as a divinely inspired man. Blake praised, too, the figures in Law's translation as being very beautiful. Michael Angelo could not have done better. Though he spoke of his happiness, he spoke of past sufferings, and of sufferings as necessary. 'There is suffering in heaven, for where there is the capacity of enjoyment, there is the capacity of pain.'
I have been interrupted by a call from Talfourd in writing this account—and I can not now recollect any distinct remarks—but as Blake has invited me to go and see him I shall possibly have an opportunity again of noting what he says, and I may be able hereafter to throw connection, if not system, into what I have written above.
I feel great admiration and respect for him—he is certainly a most amiable man—a good creature —and of his poetical and pictorial genius there is no doubt, I believe, in the minds of judges. Wordsworth and Lamb like his poems, and the Aders his paintings.
A few other detached thoughts occur to me.
Bacon, Locke, and Newton are the three great teachers of Atheism or of Satan's doctrine.
Every thing is Atheism which assumes the reality of the natural and unspiritual world.
Irving. He is a highly gifted man—he is a sent man—but they who are sent sometimes go further than they ought.
Dante saw Devils where I see none. I see only good. I saw nothing but good in Calvin's house—better than in Luther's; he had harlots.
Swedenborg. Parts of his scheme are dangerous. His sexual religion is dangerous.
I do not believe that the world is round. I believe it is quite flat. I objected the circumnavigation. We were called to dinner at the moment, and I lost the reply.
The Sun. 'I have conversed with the Spiritual Sun—I saw him on Primrose-hill. He said, "Do you take me for the Greek Apollo?" "No," I said, "that" [and Blake pointed to the sky] "that is the Greek Apollo. He is Satan."'
'I know what is true by internal conviction. A doctrine is told me—my heart says it must be true.' I corroborated this by remarking on the impossibility of the unlearned man judging of what are called the external evidences of religion, in which he heartily concurred.
I regret that I have been unable to do more than set down these seeming idle and rambling sentences. The tone and manner are incommunicable. There is a natural sweetness and gentility about Blake which are delightful. And when he is not referring to his Visions he talks sensibly and acutely.
His friend Linnel seems a great admirer.
Perhaps the best thing he said was his comparison of moral with natural evil. 'Who shall say what God thinks evil? That is a wise tale of the Mahometans—of the Angel of the Lord that murdered the infant' [alluding to the Hermit of Parnel, I suppose]. 'Is not every infant that dies of disease in effect murdered by an angel?'
17th December. For the sake of connection I will here insert a minute of a short call I this morning made on Blake. He dwells in Fountain Court in the Strand. I found him in a small room, which seems to be both a working-room and a bedroom. Nothing could exceed the squalid air both of the apartment and his dress, but in spite of dirt—I might say filth—an air of natural gentility is diffused over him. And his wife, notwithstanding the same offensive character of her dress and appearance, has a good expression of countenance, so that I shall have a pleasure in calling on and conversing with these worthy people.
But I fear I shall not make any progress in ascertaining his opinions and feelings—that there being really no system or connection in his mind, all his future conversation will be but varieties of wildness and incongruity.
I found [sic] at work on Dante. The book (Cary) and his sketches both before him. He shewed me his designs, of which I have nothing to say but that they evince a power of grouping and of throwing grace and interest over conceptions most monstrous and disgusting, which I should not have anticipated.
Our conversation began about Dante. 'He was an "Atheist," a mere politician busied about this world as Milton was, till in his old age he returned back to God whom he had had in his childhood.'
I tried to get out from Blake that he meant this charge only in a higher sense, and not using the word Atheism in its popular meaning. But he would not allow this. Though when he in like manner charged Locke with Atheism and I remarked that Locke wrote on the evidences of piety and lived a virtuous life, he had nothing to reply to me nor reiterated the charge of wilful deception. I admitted that Locke's doctrine leads to Atheism, and this seemed to satisfy him. From this subject we passed over to that of good and evil, in which he repeated his former assertions more decidedly. He allowed, indeed, that there is error, mistake, etc., and if these be evil—then there is evil, but these are only negations. Nor would he admit that any education should be attempted except that of cultivation of the imagination and fine arts. 'What are called the vices in the natural world are the highest sublimities in the spiritual world.' When I asked whether if he had been a father he would not have grieved if his child had become vicious or a great criminal, he answered, 'I must not regard when I am endeavouring to think rightly my own any more than other people's weaknesses.' And when I again remarked that this doctrine puts an end to all exertion or even wish to change anything, he had no reply. We spoke of the Devil, and I observed that when a child I thought the Manichæan doctrine or that of the two principles a rational one. He assented to this, and in confirmation asserted that he did not believe in the omnipotence of God. 'The language of the Bible on that subject is only poetical or allegorical.' Yet soon after he denied that the natural world is anything. 'It is all nothing, and Satan's empire is the empire of nothing.'
He reverted soon to his favourite expression, my Visions. 'I saw Milton in imagination, and he told me to beware of being misled by his Paradise Lost. In particular he wished me to show the falsehood of his doctrine that the pleasures of sex arose from the fall. The fall could not produce any pleasure.' I answered, the fall produced a state of evil in which there was a mixture of good or pleasure. And in that sense the fall may be said to produce the pleasure. But he replied that the fall produced only generation and death. And then he went off upon a rambling state of a union of sexes in man as in Ovid, an androgynous state, in which I could not follow him.
As he spoke of Milton's appearing to him, I asked whether he resembled the prints of him. He answered, 'All.' Of what age did he appear to be? 'Various ages—sometimes a very old man.' He spoke of Milton as being at one time a sort of classical Atheist, and of Dante as being now with God.
Of the faculty of Vision, he spoke as one he has had from early infancy. He thinks all men partake of it, but it is lost by not being cultivated. And he eagerly assented to a remark I made, that all men have all faculties to a greater or less degree. I am to renew my visits, and to read Wordsworth to him, of whom he seems to entertain a high idea.
[Here R. has added vide p. 174, i.e. Dec. 24, below.]
Sunday 11th. The greater part of the forenoon was spent in writing the preceding account of my interview with Blake in which I was interrupted by a call from Talfourd. . . .
17th. Made a visit to Blake of which I have written fully in a preceding page.
20th. . . . Hundleby took coffee with me tête à tête. We talked of his personal concerns, of Wordsworth, whom I can't make him properly enjoy; of Blake, whose peculiarities he can as little relish. . . .
Saturday 24th. A call on Blake. My third interview. I read him Wordsworth's incomparable ode, which he heartily enjoyed. The same half crazy crotchets about the two worlds—the eternal repetition of what must in time become tiresome. Again he repeated to day, 'I fear Wordsworth loves Nature—and Nature is the work of the Devil. The Devil is in us, as far as we are Nature.' On my enquiring whether the Devil would not be destroyed by God as being of less power, he denied that God has any power—asserted that the Devil is eternally created not by God, but by God's permission. And when I objected that permission implies power to prevent, he did not seem to understand me. It was remarked that the parts of Wordworth's ode which he most enjoyed were the most obscure and those I the least like and comprehend. . . .
6th. A call on Blake. I hardly feel it worth while to write down his conversation, it is so much a repetition of his former talk. He was very cordial to-day. I had procured him two subscriptions for his Job from Geo. Procter and Bas. Montague. I paid £1 on each. This, probably, put him in spirits, more than he was aware of—he spoke of his being richer than ever on having learned to know me, and he told Mrs. A. he and I were nearly of an opinion. Yet I have practised no deception intentionally, unless silence be so. He renewed his complaints, blended with his admiration of Wordsworth. The oddest thing he said was that he had been commanded to do certain things, that is, to write about Milton, and that he was applauded for refusing—he struggled with the Angels and was victor. His wife joined in the conversation. . . .
8th. . . . Then took tea with Basil Montague, Mrs. M. there. A short chat about Coleridge, Irving, etc. She admires Blake—Encore une excellence là, de plus. . . .
18th. Jos. Wedd breakfasted with me. Then called on Blake. An amusing chat with him, but still no novelty. The same round of extravagant and mad doctrines, which I shall not now repeat, but merely notice their application.
He gave me, copied out by himself, Wordsworth's preface to his Excursion. At the end he has added this note:—
'Solomon, when he married Pharaoh's daughter, became a convert to the Heathen Mythology, talked exactly in this way of Jehovah as a very inferior object of man's contemplations; he also passed him by unalarmed, and was permitted. Jehovah dropped a tear and followed him by his Spirit into the abstract void. It is called the divine Mercy. Satan dwells in it, but mercy does not dwell in him.'
Of Wordsworth he talked as before. Some of his writings proceed from the Holy Ghost, but then others are the work of the Devil. However, I found on this subject Blake's language more in conformity with Orthodox Christianity than before. He talked of the being under the direction of Self; and of Reason as the creature of man and opposed to God's grace. And warmly declared that all he knew was in the Bible, but then he understands by the Bible the spiritual sense. For as to the natural sense, that Voltaire was commissioned by God to expose. 'I have had much intercourse with Voltaire, and he said to me I blasphemed the Son of Man, and it shall be forgiven me. But they (the enemies of Voltaire) blasphemed the Holy Ghost in me, and it shall not be forgiven them.' I asked in what language Voltaire spoke—he gave an ingenious answer. 'To my sensation it was English. It was like the touch of a musical key. He touched it probably French, but to my ear it became English.' I spoke again of the form of the persons who appear to him. Asked why he did not draw them, 'It is not worth while. There are so many, the labour would be too great. Besides there would be no use. As to Shakespeare, he is exactly like the old engraving—which is called a bad one. I think it very good.'
I enquired about his writings. 'I have written more than Voltaire or Rousseau—six or seven epic poems as long as Homer, and 20 tragedies as long as Macbeth.' He showed me his Vision (for so it may be called) of Genesis—'as understood by a Christian Visionary,' in which in a style resembling the Bible the spirit is given. He read a passage at random. It was striking. He will not print any more. 'I write,' he says, 'when commanded by the spirits, and the moment I have written I see the words fly about the room in all directions. It is then published, and the spirits can read. My MSS. of no further use. I have been tempted to burn my MSS., but my wife won't let me.' She is right, said I—and you have written these, not from yourself, but by a higher order. The MSS. are theirs and your property. You cannot tell what purpose they may answer unforeseen to you. He liked this, and said he would not destroy them. His philosophy he repeated—denying causation, asserting everything to be the work of God or the Devil—that there is a constant falling off from God—angels becoming devils. Every man has a devil in him, and the conflict is eternal between a man's self and God, etc. etc. etc. He told me my copy of his songs would be 5 guineas, and was pleased by my manner of receiving this information. He spoke of his horror of money—of his turning pale when money had been offered him, etc. etc. etc.
Thursday 11th. Calls this morning on Blake, on Thornton [etc.]. . .
12th. . . Tea and supper at home. The Flaxmans, Masqueriers (a Miss Forbes), Blake, and Sutton Sharpe.
On the whole the evening went off tolerably. Masquerier not precisely the man to enjoy Blake, who was, however, not in an exalted state. Allusions only to his particular notions while Masquerier commented on his opinions as if they were those of a man of ordinary notions. Blake asserted that the oldest painter poets were the best. Do you deny all progression? says Masquerier. 'Oh yes!' I doubt whether Flaxman sufficiently tolerates Blake. But Blake appreciates Flaxman as he ought. Blake relished my Stone drawings. They staid till eleven.
Blake is more and more convinced that Wordsworth worships nature and is not a Bible Christian. I have sent him the Sketches. We shall see whether they convert him.
13th. Another idle day. Called early on Blake. He was as wild as ever, with no great novelty, except that he confessed a practical notion which would do him more injury than any other I have heard from him. He says that from the Bible he has learned that eine Gemeinschaft der Frauen statt finden sollte. When I objected that Ehestand seems to be a divine institution, he referred to the Bible—'that from the beginning it was not so.' He talked as usual of the spirits, asserted that he had committed many murders, that reason is the only evil or sin, and that careless, gay people are better than those who think, etc. etc. etc.
Thursday 7th. I sent Britt. to enquire after Mr. Flaxman's health, etc., and was engaged looking over the Term Reports while he was gone. On his return, he brought the melancholy intelligence of his death early in the morning!!! The country has lost one of its greatest and best of men. As an artist he has spread the fame of the country beyond any others of his age. As a man he exhibited a rare specimen of Christian and moral excellence.
I walked out and called at Mr. Soane's. He was from home. I then called on Blake, desirous to see how, with his peculiar feelings and opinions, he would receive the intelligence. It was much as I expected—he had himself been very ill during the summer, and his first observation was with a smile—'I thought I should have gone first.' He then said, 'I cannot consider death as anything but a removing from one room to another.' One thing led to another, and he fell into his wild rambling way of talk. 'Men are born with a devil and an angel,' but this he himself interpreted body and soul. Of the Old Testament he seemed to think not favourably. 'Christ,' said he, 'took much after his mother (the law), and in that respect was one of the worst of men.' On my requiring an explanation, he said, 'There was his turning the money changers out of the Temple. He had no right to do that.' Blake then declared against those who sat in judgement on others. 'I have never known a very bad man who had not something very good about him.' He spoke of the Atonement. Said, 'It is a horrible doctrine. If another man pay your debt, I do not forgive it,' etc. etc. etc. He produced Sintram by Fouqué—' This is better than my things.'
Friday, 2nd. Götzenberger, the young painter from Germany, called on me, and I accompanied him to Blake. We looked over Blake's Dante. Götzenberger seemed highly gratified by the designs, and Mrs. Aders says Götzenberger considers Blake as the first and Flaxman as the second man he had seen in England. The conversation was slight—I was interpreter between them. And nothing remarkable was said by Blake—he was interested apparently by Götzenberger. . . .
8th. Breakfasted with Shott—Talfourd and B. Field there. Walked with Field to Mrs. Blake. The poor old lady was more affected than I expected, yet she spoke of her husband as dying like an angel. She is the housekeeper of Linnell the painter and engraver, and at present her services might well pay for her board. A few of her husband's works are all her property. We found that the Job is Linnell's property, and the print of Chaucer's pilgrimage hers. Therefore Field bought a proof and I two prints at 2 guineas each. I mean one for Lamb. Mrs. Blake is to look out some engravings for me hereafter. . . .
(2) FROM A LETTER OF CRABB ROBINSON TO DOROTHY WORDSWORTH
In a letter to Dorothy Wordsworth, not dated, but bearing the postmark of February 20, 1826, there is the following reference to Blake. No earlier reference to him occurs in the letter, in spite of the sentence which follows:—
'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 MS. by him, and 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 and the incoherent dreams of a poet. Blake is an engraver by trade, a painter and a poet also, whose works have been subject of derision to men in general; but he has a few admirers, and some of eminence have eulogised his designs. He has lived in obscurity and 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 suffice to inform you of what class he is. He is not so much a disciple of Jacob Böhmen and 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, etc. etc. etc., and has given me repeatedly their very words in their conversations. His paintings are copies of what he saw in his Visions. His books (and his MSS. are immense in quantity) are dictations 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, and his book is then published. A man so favoured, of course, has sources of wisdom and truth peculiar to himself. I will not pretend to give you an account of his religious and philosophical opinions. They are a strange compound of Christianity, Spinozism, and Platonism. I must confine myself to what he has said about your brother's works, and I fear this may lead me far enough to fatigue you in following me. After what I have said, Mr. W. 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 worshipping 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, and therefore has fatal errors in his Paradise Lost, which he has often begged Blake to confute. Dante (though now with God) lived and died an Atheist. He was the slave of the world and time. But Dante and Wordsworth, in spite of their Atheism, were inspired by the Holy Ghost. Indeed, all real poetry is the work of the Holy Ghost, and Wordsworth's poems (a large proportion, at least) are the work of divine inspiration. Unhappily he is left by God to his own illusions, and then the Atheism is apparent. I had the pleasure of reading to Blake in my best style (and you know I am vain on that point, and think I read W.'s poems particularly well) the Ode on Immortality. I never witnessed greater delight in any listener; and in general Blake 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 [with the] following note at the end: "Solomon, when he married Pharaoh's daughter and became a convert to the Heathen Mythology, talked exactly in this way of Jehovah as a very inferior object of man's contemplation; he also passed him by unalarmed, and was permitted. Jehovah dropped a tear, and followed him by his Spirit into the abstract void. It is called the divine mercy. Satan dwells in it, but Mercy does not dwell in him, he knows not to forgive." When I first saw Blake at Mrs. 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,' and who is he that shall 'pass Jehovah unalarmed'?" It is since then that I have lent Blake all the works which he but imperfectly knew. I doubt whether what I have written will excite your and Mr. W.'s curiosity; but there is something so delightful about the man—though in great poverty, he is so perfect a gentleman, with such genuine dignity and independence, scorning presents, and of such native delicacy in words, etc. etc. etc., that I have not scrupled promising introducing him and 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," etc. Coleridge has visited Blake, and, I am told, talks finely about him. That I might not encroach on a third sheet I have compressed what I had to say about Blake. You must see him one of these days and he will interest you at all events, whatever character you give to his mind.'
The main part of the letter is concerned with Wordsworth's arrangement of his poems, which Crabb Robinson says that he agrees with Lamb in disliking. He then says: 'It is a sort of intellectual suicide in your brother not to have continued his admirable series of poems "dedicated to liberty," he might add, "and public virtue." I assure you it gives me real pain when I think that some future commentator may possibly hereafter write, "This great poet survived to the fifth decennary of the nineteenth century, but he appears to have dyed in the year 1814 as far as life consisted in an active sympathy with the temporary welfare of his fellow-creatures. . . ."
[More follows, and then] 'I had no intention, I assure you, to make so long a parenthesis or indeed to advert to such a subject. And I wish you not to read any part of this letter which might be thought impertinent. . . . In favour of my affectionate attachment to your brother's fame, do forgive me this digression, and, as I said above, keep it to yourself.'
[At the end he says] 'My best remembrances to Mr. W. And recollect again that you are not to read all this letter to any one if it will offend, and you are yourself to forgive it as coming from one who is affly. your friend, H. C. R.'
On April 6, Wordsworth answers the letter from Rydal Mount, saying: 'My sister had taken flight for Herefordshire when your letter, for such we guessed it to be, arrived—it was broken open—(pray forgive the offense) and your charges of concealment and reserve frustrated. We are all, at all times, so glad to hear from you that we could not resist the temptation to purchase the pleasure at the expense of the peccadillo, for which we beg pardon with united voices. You are kind enough to mention my poems.'
[All the rest of the letter is taken up with them, and it ends, with no mention of Blake] 'I can write no more. T. Clarkson is going. Your supposed Biography entertained me much. I could give you the other side. Farewell.'
[There is no signature.]
(3)—FROM CRABB ROBINSON'S REMINISCENCES
I was amusing myself this spring by writing an account of the insane poet, painter, and engraver, Blake. Perthes of Hamburg had written to me asking me to send him an article for a new German magazine, entitled Vaterländische Annalen, which he was about to set up, and Dr. Malkin having in his Memoirs of his son given an account of this extraordinary genius with specimens of his poems, I resolved out of these to compile a paper. And this I did, and the paper was translated by Dr. Julius, who, many years afterwards, introduced himself to me as my translator. It appears in the single number of the second volume of the Vaterländische Annalen. For it was at this time that Buonaparte united Hamburg to the French Empire, on which Perthes manfully gave up the magazine, saying, as he had no longer a Vaterland, there could be no Vaterländische Annalen. But before I drew up the paper, I went to see a gallery of Blake's paintings, which were exhibited by his brother, a hosier in Carnaby Market. The entrance was 2s. 6d., catalogue included. I was deeply interested by the catalogue as well as the pictures. I took 4—telling the brother I hoped he would let me come in again. He said, 'Oh! as often as you please.' I dare say such a thing had never happened before or did afterwards. I afterwards became acquainted with Blake, and will postpone till hereafter what I have to say of this extraordinary character, whose life has since been written very inadequately by Allan Cunningham in his Lives of the English Artists.
[At the side is written]—N.B. What I have written about Blake will appear at the end of the year 1825.
It was at the latter end of the year 1825 that I put in writing my recollections of this most remarkable man. The larger portions are under the date of the 18th of December. He died in the year 1827. I have therefore now revised what I wrote on the 10th of December and afterwards, and without any attempt to reduce to order, or make consistent the wild and strange rhapsodies uttered by this insane man of genius, thinking it better to put down what I find as it occurs, though I am aware of the objection that may justly be made to the recording the ravings of insanity in which it may be said there can be found no principle, as there is no ascertainable law of mental association which is obeyed; and from which therefore nothing can be learned.
This would be perfectly true of mere madness—but does not apply to that form of insanity ordinarily called monomania, and may be disregarded in a case like the present in which the subject of the remark was unquestionably what a German would call a Verunglückter Genie, whose theosophic dreams bear a close resemblance to those of Swedenborg—whose genius as an artist was praised by no less men than Flaxman and Fuseli—and whose poems were thought worthy republication by the biographer of Swedenborg (Wilkinson), and of which Wordsworth said after reading a number—they were the 'Songs of Innocence and Experience showing the two opposite sides of the human soul'—'There is no doubt this poor man was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter Scott!' The German painter Götzenberger (a man indeed who ought not to be named after the others as an authority for my writing about Blake) said, on his returning to Germany about the time at which I am now arrived, 'I saw in England many men of talents, but only three men of genius, Coleridge, Flaxman, and Blake, and of these Blake was the greatest.' I do not mean to intimate my assent to this opinion, nor to do more than supply such materials as my intercourse with him furnish to an uncritical narative to which I shall confine myself. I have written a few sentences in these reminiscences already, those of the year 1810. I had not then begun the regular journal which I afterwards kept. I will therefore go over the ground again and introduce these recollections of 1825 by a reference to the slight knowledge I had of him before, and what occasioned my taking an interest in him, not caring to repeat what Cunningham has recorded of him in the volume of his Lives of the British Painters, etc. etc., except thus much. It appears that he was born
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Dr. Malkin, our Bury Grammar School Headmaster, published in the year 1806 a Memoir of a very precocious child who died . . . years old, and he prefixed to the Memoir an account of Blake, and in the volume he gave an account of Blake as a painter and poet, and printed some specimens of his poems, viz. 'The Tyger,' and ballads and mystical lyrical poems, all of a wild character, and M. gave an account of Visions which Blake related to his acquaintance. I knew that Flaxman thought highly of him, and though he did not venture to extol him as a genuine seer, yet he did not join in the ordinary derision of him as a madman. Without having seen him, yet I had already conceived a high opinion of him, and thought he would furnish matter for a paper interesting to Germans, and therefore when Fred. Perthes, the patriotic publisher at Hamburg, wrote to me in 1810 requesting me to give him an article for his Patriotische Annalen, I thought I could do no better than send him a paper on Blake, which was translated into German by Dr. Julius, filling, with a few small poems copied and translated, 24 pages. These appeared in the first and last No. of volume 2 of the Annals. The high-minded editor boldly declared that as the Emperor of France had annexed Hamburg to France he had no longer a country, and there could no longer be any patriotical Annals ! ! ! Perthes' Life has been written since, which I have not seen. I am told there is in it a civil mention of me. This Dr. Julius introduced himself to me as such translator a few years ago. He travelled as an Inspector of Prisons for the Prussian Government into the United States of America. In order to enable me to write this paper, which, by the bye, has nothing in it of the least value, I went to see an exhibition of Blake's original paintings in Carnaby Market, at a hosier's, Blake's brother. These paintings filled several rooms of an ordinary dwelling-house, and for the sight a half-crown was demanded of the visitor, for which he had a catalogue. This catalogue I possess, and it is a very curious exposure of the state of the artist's mind. I wished to send it to Germany and to give a copy to Lamb and others, so I took four, and giving 10s., bargained that I should be at liberty to go again. 'Free! as long as you live,' said the brother, astonished at such a liberality, which he had never experienced before, nor I dare say did afterwards. Lamb was delighted with the catalogue, especially with the description of a painting afterwards engraved, and connected with which is an anecdote that, unexplained, would reflect discredit on a most amiable and excellent man, but which Flaxman considered to have been not the wilful act of Stodart. It was after the friends of Blake had circulated a subscription paper for an engraving of his Canterbury Pilgrims, that Stodart was made a party to an engraving of a painting of the same subject by himself. Stodart's work is well known, Blake's is known by very few. Lamb preferred it greatly to Stodart's, and declared that Blake's description was the finest criticism he had ever read of Chaucer's poem.
In this catalogue Blake writes of himself in the most outrageous language—says, 'This artist defies all competition in colouring'—that none can beat him, for none can beat the Holy Ghost—that he and Raphael and Michael Angelo were under divine influence—while Corregio and Titian worshipped a lascivious and therefore cruel deity—Reubens a proud devil, etc. etc. He declared, speaking of colour, Titian's men to be of leather and his women of chalk, and ascribed his own perfection in colouring to the advantage he enjoyed in seeing daily the primitive men walking in their native nakedness in the mountains of Wales. There were about thirty oil-paintings, the colouring excessively dark and high, the veins black, and the colour of the primitive men very like that of the Red Indians. In his estimation they would probably be the primitive men. Many of his designs were unconscious imitations. This appears also in his published works—the designs of Blair's Grave, which Fuseli and Schiavonetti highly extolled—and in his designs to illustrate Job, published after his death for the benefit of his widow.
To this catalogue and in the printed poems, the small pamphlet which appeared in 1783, the edition put forth by Wilkinson of 'The Songs of Innocence,' and other works already mentioned, to which I have to add the first four books of Young's Night Thoughts, and Allan Cunningham's Life of him, I now refer, and will confine myself to the memorandums I took of his conversation. I had heard of him from Flaxman, and for the first time dined in his company at the Aders'. Linnell the painter also was there—an artist of considerable talent, and who professed to take a deep interest in Blake and his work, whether of a perfectly disinterested character may be doubtful, as will appear hereafter. This was on the 10th of December.
I was aware of his idiosyncracies and therefore to a great degree prepared for the sort of conversation which took place at and after dinner, an altogether unmethodical rhapsody on art, poetry, and religion—he saying the most strange things in the most unemphatic manner, speaking of his Visions as any man would of the most ordinary occurrence. He was then 68 years of age. He had a broad, pale face, a large full eye with a benignant expression—at the same time a look of languor, except when excited, and then he had an air of inspiration. But not such as without a previous acquaintance with him, or attending to what he said, would suggest the notion that he was insane. There was nothing wild about his look, and though very ready to be drawn out to the assertion of his favourite ideas, yet with no warmth as if he wanted to make proselytes. Indeed one of the peculiar features of his scheme, as far as it was consistent, was indifference and a very extraordinary degree of tolerance and satisfaction with what had taken place. A sort of pious and humble optimism, not the scornful optimism of Candide. But at the same time that he was very ready to praise he seemed incapable of envy, as he was of discontent. He warmly praised some composition of Mrs. Aders, and having brought for Aders an engraving of his Canterbury Pilgrims, he remarked that one of the figures resembled a figure in one of the works then in Aders's room, so that he had been accused of having stolen from it. But he added that he had drawn the figure in question 20 years before he had seen the original picture. However, there is 'no wonder in the resemblance, as in my youth I was always studying that class of painting.' I have forgotten what it was, but his taste was in close conformity with the old German school.
This was somewhat at variance with what he said both this day and afterwards—implying that he copies his Visions. And it was on this first day that, in answer to a question from me, he said, 'The Spirits told me.' This lead me to say: Socrates used pretty much the same language. He spoke of his Genius. Now, what affinity or resemblance do you suppose was there between the Genius which inspired Socrates and your Spirits? He smiled, and for once it seemed to me as if he had a feeling of vanity gratified. 'The same as in our countenances.' He paused and said, 'I was Socrates'—and then as if he had gone too far in that—'or a sort of brother. I must have had conversations with him. So I had with Jesus Christ. I have an obscure recollection of having been with both of them.' As I had for many years been familiar with the idea that an eternity a parte post was inconceivable without an eternity a parte ante, I was naturally led to express that thought on this occasion. His eye brightened on my saying this. He eagerly assented: 'To be sure. We are all coexistent with God; members of the Divine body, and partakers of the Divine nature.' Blake's having adopted this Platonic idea led me on our tête-à-tête walk home at night to put the popular question to him, concerning the imputed Divinity of Jesus Christ. He answered: 'He is the only God'—but then he added— 'And so am I and so are you.' He had before said—and that led me to put the question—that Christ ought not to have suffered himself to be crucified.' 'He should not have attacked the Government. He had no business with such matters.' On my representing this to be inconsistent with the sanctity of divine qualities, he said Christ was not yet become the Father. It is hard on bringing together these fragmentary recollections to fix Blake's position in relation to Christianity, Platonism, and Spinozism.
It is one of the subtle remarks of Hume on the tendency of certain religious notions to reconcile us to whatever occurs, as God's will. And apply-this to something Blake said, and drawing the inference that there is no use in education, he hastily rejoined: 'There is no use in education. I hold it wrong. It is the great Sin. It is eating of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. That was the fault of Plato: he knew of nothing but the Virtues and Vices. There is nothing in all that. Everything is good in God's eyes.' On my asking whether there is nothing absolutely evil in what man does, he answered: 'I am no judge of that—perhaps not in God's eyes.' Notwithstanding this, he, however, at the same time spoke of error as being in heaven; for on my asking whether Dante was pure in writing his Vision, 'Pure,' said Blake. 'Is there any purity in God's eyes? No. "He chargeth his angels with folly."' He even extended this liability to error to the Supreme Being. 'Did he not repent him that he had made Nineveh?' My journal here has the remark that it is easier to retail his personal remarks than to reconcile those which seemed to be in conformity with the most opposed abstract systems. He spoke with seeming complacency of his own life in connection with Art. In becoming an artist he 'acted by command.' The Spirits said to him, 'Blake, be an artist.' His eye glistened while he spoke of the joy of devoting himself to divine art alone. 'Art is inspiration. When Mich. Angelo or Raphael, in their day, or Mr. Flaxman, does any of his fine things, he does them in the Spirit.' Of fame he said: 'I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame, for whatever natural glory a man has is so much detracted from his spiritual glory. I wish to do nothing for profit. I want nothing—I am quite happy.' This was confirmed to me on my subsequent interviews with him. His distinction between the Natural and Spiritual worlds was very confused. Incidentally, Swedenborg was mentioned—he declared him to be a Divine Teacher. He had done, and would do, much good. Yet he did wrong in endeavouring to explain to the reason what it could not comprehend. He seemed to consider, but that was not clear, the visions of Swedenborg and Dante as of the same kind. Dante was the greater poet. He too was wrong in occupying his mind about political objects. Yet this did not appear to affect his estimation of Dante's genius, or his opinion of the truth of Dante's visions. Indeed, when he even declared Dante to be an Atheist, it was accompanied by expression of the highest admiration; though, said he, Dante saw Devils where I saw none.
I put down in my journal the following insulated remarks. Jacob Böhmen was placed among the divinely inspired men. He praised also the designs to Law's translation of Böhmen. Michael Angelo could not have surpassed them.
'Bacon, Locke, and Newton are the three great teachers of Atheism, or Satan's Doctrine,' he asserted.
'Irving is a highly gifted man—he is a sent man; but they who are sent sometimes go further than they ought.'
Calvin. I saw nothing but good in Calvin's house. In Luther's there were Harlots. He declared his opinion that the earth is flat, not round, and just as I had objected the circumnavigation dinner was announced. But objections were seldom of any use. The wildest of his assertions was made with the veriest indifference of tone, as if altogether insignificant. It respected the natural and spiritual worlds. By way of example of the difference between them, he said, 'You never saw the spiritual Sun. I have. I saw him on Primrose Hill.' He said, 'Do you take me for the Greek Apollo?' 'No!' I said. 'That (pointing to the sky) that is the Greek Apollo, He is Satan.'
Not everything was thus absurd. There were glimpses and flashes of truth and beauty: as when he compared moral with physical evil. 'Who shall say what God thinks evil? That is a wise tale of the Mahometans—of the Angel of the Lord who murdered the Infant.'—The Hermit of Parnell, I suppose. 'Is not every infant that dies of a natural death in reality slain by an Angel?'
And when he joined to the assurance of his happiness, that of his having suffered, and that it was necessary, he added, 'There is suffering in Heaven; for where there is the capacity of enjoyment, there is the capacity of pain.
I include among the glimpses of truth this assertion, 'I know what is true by internal conviction. A doctrine is stated. My heart tells me It must be true.' I remarked, in confirmation of it, that, to an unlearned man, what are called the external evidences of religion can carry no conviction with them; and this he assented to.
After my first evening with him at Aders's, I made the remark in my journal, that his observations, apart from his Visions and references to the spiritual world, were sensible and acute. In the sweetness of his countenance and gentility of his manner he added an indescribable grace to his conversation. I added my regret, which I must now repeat, at my inability to give more than incoherent thoughts. Not altogether my fault perhaps.
On the 17th I called on him in his house in Fountain's Court in the Strand. The interview was a short one, and what I saw was more remarkable than what I heard. He was at work engraving in a small bedroom, light, and looking out on a mean yard. Everything in the room squalid and indicating poverty, except himself. And there was a natural gentility about him, and an insensibility to the seeming poverty, which quite removed the impression. Besides, his linen was clean, his hand white, and his air quite unembarrassed when he begged me to sit down as if he were in a palace. There was but one chair in the room besides that on which he sat. On my putting my hand to it, I found that it would have fallen to pieces if I had lifted it, so, as if I had been a Sybarite, I said with a smile, 'Will you let me indulge myself?' and I sat on the bed, and near him, and during my short stay there was nothing in him that betrayed that he was aware of what to other persons might have been even offensive, not in his person, but in all about him.
His wife I saw at this time, and she seemed to be the very woman to make him happy. She had been formed by him. Indeed, otherwise, she could not have lived with him. Notwithstanding her dress, which was poor and dirty, she had a good expression in her countenance, and, with a dark eye, had remains of beauty in her youth. She had that virtue of virtues in a wife, an implicit reverence of her husband. It is quite certain that she believed in all his visions. And on one occasion, not this day, speaking of his Visions, she said, ' You know, dear, the first time you saw God was when you were four years old, and he put his head to the window and set you a-screaming.' In a word, she was formed on the Miltonic model, and like the first Wife Eve worshipped God in her husband. He being to her what God was to him. Vide Milton's Paradise Lost—passim.
He was making designs or engravings, I forget which. Carey's Dante was before [sic]. He showed me some of his designs from Dante, of which I do not presume to speak. They were too much above me. But Götzenberger, whom I afterwards took to see them, expressed the highest admiration of them. They are in the hands of Linnell the painter, and, it has been suggested, are reserved by him for publication when Blake may have become an object of interest to a greater number than he could be at this age. Dante was again the subject of our conversation. And Blake declared him a mere politician and atheist, busied about this world's affairs; as Milton was till, in his (M.'s) old age, he returned back to the God he had abandoned in childhood. I in vain endeavoured to obtain from him a qualification of the term atheist, so as not to include him in the ordinary reproach. And yet he afterwards spoke of Dante's being then with God. I was more successful when he also called Locke an atheist, and imputed to him wilful deception, and seemed satisfied with my admission, that Locke's philosophy led to the Atheism of the French school. He reiterated his former strange notions on morals—would allow of no other education than what lies in the cultivation of the fine arts and the imagination. 'What are called the Vices in the natural world, are the highest sublimities in the spiritual world.' And when I supposed the case of his being the father of a vicious son and asked him how he would feel, he evaded the question by saying that in trying to think correctly he must not regard his own weaknesses any more than other people's. And he was silent to the observation that his doctrine denied evil. He seemed not unwilling to admit the Manichæan doctrine of two principles, as far as it is found in the idea of the Devil. And said expressly said [sic] he did not believe in the omnipotence of God. The language of the Bible is only poetical or allegorical on the subject, yet he at the same time denied the reality of the natural world. Satan's empire is the empire of nothing.
As he spoke of frequently seeing Milton, I ventured to ask, half ashamed at the time, which of the three or four portraits in Hollis's Memoirs (vols. in 4to) is the most like. He answered, 'They are all like, at different ages. I have seen him as a youth and as an old man with a long flowing beard. He came lately as an old man—he said he came to ask a favour of me. He said he had committed an error in his Paradise Lost, which he wanted me to correct, in a poem or picture; but I declined. I said I had my own duties to perform.' It is a presumptuous question, I replied—might I venture to ask—what that could be. 'He wished me to expose the falsehood of his doctrine, taught in the Paradise Lost, that sexual intercourse arose out of the Fall. Now that cannot be, for no good can spring out of evil.' But, I replied, if the consequence were evil, mixed with good, then the good might be ascribed to the common cause. To this he answered by a reference to the androgynous state, in which I could not possibly follow him. At the time that he asserted his own possession of this gift of Vision, he did not boast of it as peculiar to himself; all men might have it if they would.
On the 24th I called a second time on him. And on this occasion it was that I read to him Wordsworth's Ode on the supposed pre-existent State, and the subject of Wordsworth's religious character was discussed when we met on the 18th of Feb., and the 12th of May. I will here bring together Blake's declarations concerning Wordsworth, and set down his marginalia in the 8vo. edit. A.D. 1815, vol. i. I had been in the habit, when reading this marvellous Ode to friends, to omit one or two passages, especially that beginning:
'But there's a Tree, of many one,'
lest I should be rendered ridiculous, being unable to explain precisely what I admired. Not that I acknowledged this to be a fair test. But with Blake I could fear nothing of the kind. And it was this very stanza which threw him almost into a hysterical rapture. His delight in Wordsworth's poetry was intense. Nor did it seem less, notwithstanding the reproaches he continually cast on Wordsworth for his imputed worship of nature; which in the mind of Blake constituted Atheism [p. 46].
The combination of the warmest praise with imputations which from another would assume the most serious character, and the liberty he took to interpret as he pleased, rendered it as difficult to be offended as to reason with him. The eloquent descriptions of Nature in Wordsworth's poems were conclusive proofs of atheism, for whoever believes in Nature, said Blake, disbelieves in God. For Nature is the work of the Devil. On my obtaining from him the declaration that the Bible was the Word of God, I referred to the commencement of Genesis—In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth. But I gained nothing by this, for I was triumphantly told that this God was not Jehovah, but the Elohim; and the doctrine of the Gnostics repeated with sufficient consistency to silence one so unlearned as myself.
The Preface to the Excursion, especially the verses quoted from book i. of the Recluse, so troubled him as to bring on a fit of illness. These lines he singled out:
Jehovah with his thunder, and the Choir
Does Mr. Wordsworth think he can surpass Jehovah? There was a copy of the whole passage in his own hand, in the volume of Wordsworth's poems sent to my chambers after his death. There was this note at the end: 'Solomon, when he married Pharaoh's daughter, and became a convert to the Heathen Mythology, talked exactly in this way of Jehovah, as a very inferior object of Man's contemplations; he also passed him unalarmed, and was permitted. Jehovah dropped a tear and followed him by his Spirit into the abstract void. It is called the Divine Mercy. Sarah dwells in it, but Mercy does not dwell in Him.'
Some of Wordsworth's poems he maintained were from the Holy Ghost, others from the Devil. I lent him the 8vo edition, two vols., of Wordsworth's poems, which he had in his possession at the time of his death. They were sent me then. I did not recognise the pencil notes he made in them to be his for some time, and was on the point of rubbing them out under that impression, when I made the discovery.
The following are found in the 3rd vol., in the fly-leaf under the words: Poems referring to the Period of Childhood.
'I see in Wordsworth the Natural man rising up against the Spiritual man continually, and then he is no poet, but a Heathen Philosopher at Enmity against all true poetry or inspiration.'
Under the first poem:
'And I could wish my days to be
he had written, 'There is no such thing as natural piety, because the natural man is at enmity with God.' P. 43, under the Verses 'To H. C., six years old'—'This is all in the highest degree imaginative and equal to any poet, but not superior. I cannot think that real poets have any competition. None are greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It is so in poetry.' P. 44, 'On the Influence of Natural Objects,' at the bottom of the page. 'Natural objects always did and now do weaken, deaden, and obliterate imagination in me. Wordsworth must know that what he writes valuable is not to be found in Nature. Read Michael Angelo's sonnet, vol. iv. p. 179.' That is, the one beginning
'No mortal object did these eyes behold
It is remarkable that Blake, whose judgements were on most points so very singular, on one subject closely connected with Wordsworth's poetical reputation should have taken a very commonplace view. Over the heading of the 'Essay Supplementary to the Preface' at the end of the vol. he wrote, 'I do not know who wrote these Prefaces; they are very mischievous, and direct contrary to Wordsworth's own practice' (p. 341). This is not the defence of his own style in opposition to what is called Poetic Diction, but a sort of historic vindication of the unpopular poets. On Macpherson, p. 364, Wordsworth wrote with the severity with which all great writers have written of him. Blake's comment below was, 'I believe both Macpherson and Chatterton, that what they say is ancient is so.' And in the following page, 'I own myself an admirer of Ossian equally with any other poet whatever. Rowley and Chatterton also.' And at the end of this Essay he wrote, 'It appears to me as if the last paragraph beginning "Is it the spirit of the whole," etc., was written by another hand and mind from the rest of these Prefaces; they are the opinions of [ ] landscape-painter. Imagination is the divine vision not of the world, nor of man, nor from man as he is a natural man, but only as he is a spiritual man. Imagination has nothing to do with memory.'
19th Feb. It was this day in connection with the assertion that the Bible is the Word of God and all truth is to be found in it, he using language concerning man's reason being opposed to grace very like that used by the Orthodox Christian, that he qualified, and as the same Orthodox would say utterly nullified all he said by declaring that he understood the Bible in a Spiritual sense. As to the natural sense, he said Voltaire was commissioned by God to expose that. 'I have had,' he said, 'much intercourse with Voltaire, and he said to me, "I blasphemed the Son of Man, and it shall be forgiven me, but they (the enemies of Voltaire) blasphemed the Holy Ghost in me, and it shall not be forgiven to them." 'I ask him in what language Voltaire spoke. His answer was ingenious and gave no encouragement to cross-questioning: 'To my sensations it was English. It was like the touch of a musical key; he touched it probably French, but to my ear it became English.' I also enquired as I had before about the form of the persons who appeared to him, and asked why he did not draw them. 'It is not worth while,' he said. 'Besides there are so many that the labour would be too great. And there would be no use in it.' In answer to an enquiry about Shakespeare, 'he is exactly like the old engraving—which is said to be a bad one. I think it very good.' I enquired about his own writings. 'I have written,' he answered, 'more than Rousseau or Voltaire—six or seven Epic poems as long as Homer and 20 Tragedies as long as Macbeth.' He shewed me his 'Version of Genesis,' for so it may be called, as understood by a Christian Visionary. He read a wild passage in a sort of Bible style. 'I shall print no more,' he said. 'When I am commanded by the Spirits, then I write, and the moment I have written, I see the words fly about the room in all directions. It is then published. The Spirits can read, and my MS. is of no further use. I have been tempted to burn my MS., but my wife won't let me.' She is right, I answered; you write not from yourself but from higher order. The MSS. are their property, not yours. You cannot tell what purpose they may answer. This was addressed ad hominem. And it indeed amounted only to a deduction from his own principles. He incidentally denied causation, every thing being the work of God or Devil. Every man has a Devil in himself, and the conflict between his Self and God is perpetually going on. I ordered of him to-day a copy of his songs for 5 guineas. My manner of receiving his mention of price pleased him. He spoke of his horror of money and of turning pale when it was offered him, and this was certainly unfeigned.
In the No. of the Gents. Magazine for last Jan. there is a letter by Cromek to Blake printed in order to convict Blake of selfishness. It cannot possibly be substantially true. I may elsewhere notice it.
13th June. I saw him again in June. He was as wild as ever, says my journal, but he was led to-day to make assertions more palpably mischievous, if capable of influencing other minds, and immoral, supposing them to express the will of a responsible agent, than anything he had said before. As, for instance, that he had learned from the Bible that Wives should be in common. And when I objected that marriage was a Divine institution, he referred to the Bible—'that from the beginning it was not so.' He affirmed that he had committed many murders, and repeated his doctrine, that reason is the only sin, and that careless, gay people are better than those who think, etc. etc.
It was, I believe, on the 7th of December that I saw him last. I had just heard of the death of Flaxman, a man whom he professed to admire, and was curious to know how he would receive the intelligence. It was as I expected. He had been ill during the summer, and he said with a smile, 'I thought I should have gone first.' He then said, 'I cannot think of death as more than the going out of one room into another.' And Flaxman was no longer thought of. He relapsed into his ordinary train of thinking. Indeed I had by this time learned that there was nothing to be gained by frequent intercourse. And therefore it was that after this interview I was not anxious to be frequent in my visits. This day he said, 'Men are born with an Angel and a Devil.' This he himself interpreted as Soul and Body, and as I have long since said of the strange sayings of a man who enjoys a high reputation, 'it is more in the language than the thought that this singularity is to be looked for.' And this day he spoke of the Old Testament as if [sic] were the evil element. Christ, he said, took much after his mother, and in so far was one of the worst of men. On my asking him for an instance, he referred to his turning the money-changers out of the Temple—he had no right to do that. He digressed into a condemnation of those who sit in judgement on others. 'I have never known a very bad man who had not something very good about him.'
Speaking of the Atonement in the ordinary Calvinistic sense, he said, 'It is a horrible doctrine; if another pay your debt, I do not forgive it.'
I have no account of any other call—but there is probably an omission. I took Götzenberger to see him, and he met the Masqueriers in my chambers. Masquerier was not the man to meet him. He could not humour Blake nor understand the peculiar sense in which he was to be received.
My journal of this year contains nothing about Blake. But in January 1828 Barron Field and myself called on Mrs. Blake. The poor old lady was more affected than I expected she would be at the sight of me. She spoke of her husband as dying like an angel. She informed me that she was going to live with Linnell as his housekeeper. And we understood that she would live with him, and he, as it were, to farm her services and take all she had. The engravings of Job were his already. Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims were hers. I took two copies—one I gave to C. Lamb. Barron Field took a proof.
Mrs. Blake died within a few years, and since Blake's death Linnell has not found the market I took for granted he would seek for Blake's works. Wilkinson printed a small edition of his poems, including the 'Songs of Innocence and Experience,' a few years ago, and Monkton Mylne talks of printing an edition. I have a few coloured engravings—but Blake is still an object of interest exclusively to men of imaginative taste and psychological curiosity. I doubt much whether these mems. will be of any use to this small class. I have been reading since the Life of Blake by Allan Cuningham, vol. ii. p. 143 of his Lives of the Painters. It recognises more perhaps of Blake's merit than might be expected of a Scotch realist.
- 'Any' crossed out.
- 'By which evil' crossed out.
- 'More remarkable' crossed out.
- 'Exceed their commission' crossed out.
- 'For the writer' crossed out.
- 'A passage from' crossed out.
- 'And as I am requested to copy what he has written for the purpose' crossed out.
- The MS. is here torn.
- The article appeared under the title: 'William Blake, Künstler, Dichter und religiöser Schwärmer '(aus dem Englischen) on pp. 107-131 of the Vaterländisches Museum, Zweiter Band, Erstes Heft. Hamburg, bey Friedrich Perthes. 1811.' It has the motto:
- 'Like' is first written, and replaced by 'live.'
- 'Took' crossed out.
- 'With an air of feebleness' crossed out.
- After 'indifference and' 'the entire absence of anything like blame ['reproach' crossed out], and I do not think that I ever heard him blame anything, then or afterwards' crossed out.
- 'Pretty much' crossed out.
- 'Comparing these fragmentary memoranda' crossed out.
- Crossed out: 'Yet this did not appear to] affect the truth of his Visions. I could not reconcile this with his blaming Wordsworth for being a Platonist not a Christian. He asked whether Wordsworth acknowledged the Scriptures as Divine, and declared on my answering in the affirmative that the Introduction to the Excursion had troubled him so as to bring on a fit of illness. The passage that offended Blake was
'Jehovah with his thunder and the choir
Of shouting Angels and the empyreal throne,
I pass them unalarmed.
'"Does Mr. Wordsworth," said Blake, "think his mind can surpass Jehovah's." I tried in vain to rescue Wordsworth from the imputation of being a Pagan or perhaps an Atheist, but this did not rob him of the character of being the great poet. Indeed Atheism meant but little in Blake's mind as will hereafter appear. Therefore when he declared [Dante to be an Atheist, etc."
In the margin: See of Wordsworth as Blake judged of him, p. 46 et seq. (i.e. p. 296 below).
- 'Dante saw Devils where I saw none' crossed out.
- 'Most unconscious simplicity' crossed out.
- 'It was after my first interview with him that I expressed what I must repeat now—my regret' crossed out.
- 'He smiled' omitted.
- 'Marks' crossed out.
- 'More' crossed out.
- 'And yet he afterwards said that he was then with God' crossed out.
- 'The plea' crossed out.
- 'And seemingly undisturbed by the' crossed out.
- 'Which I have anticipated, and which he characterised as Atheism, that is, in worshipping Nature. See page' crossed out.
- 'He gave me a copy of these lines in his hand, with this note at the end' crossed out.
- 'An admirable assertion of the ideal' crossed out.
- 'Some of Wordsworth's' crossed out.
- 'Spirits' crossed out.
- 'Vision of Genesis' crossed out.
- 'Write' crossed out.
- 'Immediate' crossed out.
- 'Character' crossed out.
- 'As might have been expected' crossed out.
- 'Understood' crossed out.
- 'And some other poems' crossed out.