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'A man must first deceive himself before he is thus superstitious, and 'so he is a hypocrite. No man was ever truly superstitious who was 'not as truly religious as far as he knew. True superstition is ignorant
honesty, and this is beloved of God and man. Hypocrisy is as dif* ferent from superstition as the wolf from the lamb.' And similarly when Lavater, with a shudder, alludes to 'the gloomy rock, on either side of which superstition and incredulity their dark abysses spread, Blake says, ' Superstition has been long a bug-bear, by reason of its 'having been united with hypocrisy. But let them be fairly separated, ' and then superstition will be honest feeling, and God, who loves all honest men, will lead the poor enthusiast in the path of holiness. This was a cardinal thought with Blake, and almost a unique one in his century.
The two are generally of better accord. The since often-quoted warning, “ Keep him at least three paces distant who hates bread, music, and the laugh of a child !' is endorsed as the Best in the book.' Another, ' Avoid like a serpent him who speaks politely, yet writes impertinently,' elicits the ejaculation, ' A dog ! get a stick to him!' And the reiteration, `Avoid him who speaks softly and writes sharply,' is enforced with, 'Ah, rogue, I would be thy hangman ! The assertion that ‘A woman, whose ruling passion is not vanity, is superior to any man of equal faculties,' begets the enthusiastic comment, ' Such a woman I adore !' At the foot of another, on woman, ' A great woman not imperious, a fair woman not vain, a woman of
common talents not jealous, an accomplished woman who scorns to 'shine, are four wonders just great enough to be divided among the 'four corners of the globe,' Blake appends, 'Let the men do their duty • and the women will be such wonders : the female life lives from the * life of the male. See a great many female dependents and you know the man.'
In a higher key, when Lavater justly affirms that He only who has enjoyed immortal moments can reproduce them,' Blake exclaims, Oh that men would seek immortal moments that men would converse with God!' as he, it may be added, was ever seeking, ever conversing, in one sense. In another place Lavater declares, that 'He 'who adores an impersonal God, has none; and without guide or ' rudder launches on an immense abyss, that first absorbs his powers ' and next himself.' To which warm assent from the fervently religious Blake : “ Most superlatively beautiful, and most affectionately holy and pure. Would to God all men would consider it!' Religious, I
say, but far from orthodox; for in one place he would show sin to be ' negative not positive evil;' lying, theft, &c. ' mere privation of good ;' a favourite idea with him, which, whatever its merit as an abstract position, practical people would not like written in letters of gold on their temples, for fear of consequences.
One of the most prolix of these aphorisms runs, “Take from 'Luther his roughness and fiery courage, from this man one quality, ' from another that, from Raffaelle his dryness and nearly hard pre
cision, and from Rubens his supernatural luxury of colours ; detach ' his oppressive exuberance from each, and you will have something 'very correct and flat instead, as it required no conjuror to tell us.' Whereon Blake, whom I here condense : 'Deduct from a rose its red, from a lily its whiteness, from a diamond hardness, from an oaktree height, from a daisy lowliness, rectify everything in nature, 'as the philosophers do, and then we shall return to chaos, and God ' * will be compelled to be eccentric in His creation. Oh! happy phi* losophers! Variety does not necessarily suppose deformity. Beauty ‘is exuberant, but if ugliness is adjoined, it is not the exuberance of . beauty. So if Raffaelle is hard and dry, it is not from genius, but an ' accident acquired. How can substance and accident be predicated of ' the same essence? Aphorism 47th speaks of the “heterogeneous in works of Art and Literature, which all extravagance is ; but exuberance is not. But,' adds Blake, “the substance gives tincture to the accident, and makes it physiognomic.'
In the course of another lengthy aphorism, the 'knave' is said to be only an enthusiast, or momentary fool. Upon which Mr. Blake breaks out still more characteristically : 'Man is the ark of God : the
mercy seat is above upon the ark; cherubim guard it on either side, • and in the midst is the holy law. Man is either the ark of God or
a phantom of the earth and water. If thou seekest by human policy ' to guide this ark, remember Uzzah. 2d Sam. 6th ch. Knaveries are not human nature; knaveries are knaveries. This aphorism
seems to lack discrimination.' In a similar tone, on Aphorism 630, commencing, 'A God, an animal, a plant, are not companions of man ; nor is the faultless,—then judge with lenity of all,' Blake writes, “ It is the God in all that is our companion and friend. For 'our God Himself says, “ You are my brother, my sister, and my mother;" and St. John, “ Whoso dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Such an one cannot judge of any but in love, ' and his feelings will be attractions or repulsions. God is in the • lowest effects as well as in the highest causes. He is become 'a worm that he may nourish the weak. For let it be remembered " that creation is God descending according to the weakness of man :
our Lord is the Word of God, and everything on earth is the Word • of God, and in its essence is God.'
Surely gold-dust may be descried in these notes; and when we remember it is a painter, not a metaphysician, who is writing, we can afford to judge them less critically. Another characteristic gleaning or two, ere we conclude. An ironical maxim, such as · Take here • the grand secret if not of pleasing all yet of displeasing none : court
mediocrity, avoid originality, and sacrifice to fashion,' meets with the hearty response from an unfashionable painter, · And go to hell.' When the Swiss tells him that Men carry their character not seldom • in their pockets : you might decide on more than half your acquaint‘ance had you will or right to turn their pockets inside out;' the artist candidly acknowledges that he 'seldom carries money in his
pockets : they are generally full of paper,' which we readily believe. Towards the close, Lavater drops a doubt that he may have 'perhaps already offended his readers ;' which elicits from Blake a final note of sympathy. “Those who are offended with anything in this book, ' would be offended with the innocence of a child, and for the same reason, because it reproaches him with the errors of acquired folly.'
Enough of the Annotations on Lavater, which, in fulfilment of biographic duty, I have thus copiously quoted ; too copiously, the reader may think, for their intrinsic merit. To me they seem mentally physiognomic, giving a near view of Blake in his ordinary moments at this period. We, as through a casually open window, glance into the artist's room, and see him meditating at his work,
graver in hand
Lavater's Aphorisms not only elicited these comments from Blake, but set him composing aphorisms on his own account, of a far more original and startling character. In Lavater's book I trace the external accident to which the form is attributable of a remarkable portioncertain ‘Proverbs of Hell,' as they were waywardly styled—of an altogether remarkable book, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, engraved two years later; the most curious and significant book, perhaps, out of many, which ever issued from the unique man's press.
Turning from the Annotations on Lavater to higher, less approachable phases of this original Mind, the indubitably INSPIRED aspects of it, it is time to note that the practice of verse had, as we saw in 1784, been once more resumed, in a higher key and clearer tones than he had yet sounded. Design more original and more mature than any he had before realized; at once grand, lovely, comprehensible, was in course of production. It must have been during the
years 1784-88, the Songs and Designs sprang from his creative brain, of which another chapter must speak.
POEMS OF MANHOOD. 1788–89. [ÆT. 31–32.]
Though Blake's brother Robert had ceased to be with him in the body, he was seldom far absent from the faithful visionary in spirit. Down to late age the survivor talked much and often of that dear brother; and in hours of solitude and inspiration his form would appear and speak to the poet in consolatory dream, in warning or helpful vision. By the end of 1788, the first portion of that singularly original and significant series of Poems, by which of themselves, Blake established a claim, however unrecognised, on the attention of his own and after generations, had been written ; and the illustrative designs in colour, to which he wedded them in inseparable loveliness, had been executed. The Songs of Innocence form the first section of the series he afterwards, when grouping the two together, suggestively named Songs of Innocence and of Experience. But how publish ? for standing with the public, or credit with the trade, he had none. Friendly Flaxman was in Italy; the good offices of patronising blue-stockings were exhausted. He had not the wherewithal to publish on his own account; and though he could be his own engraver, he could scarcely be his own com positor. Long and deeply he meditated. How solve this difficulty with his own industrious hands? How be his own printer and publisher ?
The subject of anxious daily thought passed—as anxious meditation does with us all—into the domain of dreams and (in his case)