William Blake – Lecture
Blake’s Printing and Engraving Methods.
• B called this “illuminated printing”: compare to medieval manuscripts; very small size
volumes and very short print runs; use of engraved copper plates, acid etching, water
colour painting, and hand binding of books.
• Relationship to commercial printing industry: London publishing dominated by cartel
of powerful printers. Very little copyright protection. Cartel keeps prices of new books
very high.Also strict controls on material deemed to be politically or religiously
seditious. This cartel was broken up in the 1770s, but printed books remained expensive
for a long time.
• Relate to other works we have read in class: Alexander Pope was highly successful in
the commercial marketplace. His translations of Homer sold hundreds of thousands of
copies and made him a wealthy man.
• ProfessionalAuthors: Thomson, Gray, and Collins all sold expensive volumes of their
poetry and made a living as professional authors.
• Blake Resists Commercialization of Literature: Blake uses labour intensive, artisanal
engraving and printing process. Very short print runs. Only a handful of Blake’s original
books survive today. Book as craft object intended for devotional use, not as luxury
commodity or mass market consumers good. Blake’s mode of production actively resists
the commercialization of print and literature.
• Tension Between Lit and Marketplace: We see the same tension between poetry and
the marketplace throughout the Romantic period and beyond. How to ascribe value other
than through market mechanisms?
• “The Human Form Divine”: man and God incorporated with one another, not as a
transcendent or supernatural being, but as an immanent, material plenum. Man and God
and everything else in the cosmos bundled together as a single undivided substance.
• The Fall: not an expulsion from a Divine Father, but the division and separation of the
unitary substance of The People. The original sin is the beginning of selfhood, of human
beings as individual entities who pursue individual goals and see the world from
• The Fall into History: the fall from a state of unity sets in train the process of history,
and the long struggle of a divided humanity to piece itself back together and thus restore
the original unity with itself and God and the cosmos as a whole.
1 • The Redeemer: it is through the agency of the Redeemer, usually associated with a poet,
bard, or prophet figure, who uses the creative powers of the human imagination, that
mankind is saved from disunity.
• P. 125: Intro to Songs of Experience: “Hear the voice of the Bard!”
• “Whose ears have heard / The Holy Word”: Sight and Sound. Prophetic knowledge
beyond sensory realm.
• “That walked among the ancient trees”: how does the word “walk”?
• TheApocalypse: Blake is an apocalyptic visionary. It is through some final cataclysm
and dissolution of lived, perceptual reality that mankind will be restored to its original
state of wholeness. Blake’s own visions and trances.
• P. 122: Read The Divine Image:
1) 4 Parts of “Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love” match the 4 parts into which the original
whole are split at the fall.
2) Style and Form: short lines, regular rhythm, borrows from genre of nursery rhyme,
3) L. 15: “The human form divine”
4) : this is the image of the unitary being of man, God, and cosmos
Antithetical Structure of Innocence and Experience.
• Innocence and Experience cannot be read independently of one another: Poems from
the two volumes comment upon, echo, and interact with one another in order to create a
composite effect that is greater than the sum of the two halves.
• Antithesis as Source of Mystic Vision: For Blake, it is the tension or antithesis between
these seemingly opposed concepts/images that leads to the kind of mystic, visionary,
religious knowledge that he is interested in.
• “Innocence” was not equivalent to ignorance, which Enlightenment writers associated
with children, nor did Blake equate “experience” with wisdom.
• Innocence as Boundless Energy; Experience as Limited Vision: Instead, Blake
considered “innocence” to be equivalent to boundless life and energy; “experience,” in
his eyes, could sometimes involve repression, sexual or otherwise; sometimes it entails
2 immersion in the debased world of material reality or the snares of organized religion or
• P. 127: “That free Love with bondage bound”: frequent references to bondage and
• [SLIDE] Newton and Experience: For Blake, Newton epitomized the lifeless, joyless
state of experience, for Newton had attempted to subject the universe to the laws of
mathematics and measurable standards of value.
• Contrast to Thomson, Collins, and Smart: who deploy Newtonian and scientific
empiricism as a means of revealing the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
• Blake uses antithesis, opposition, and contradiction in order to lead the reader/viewer
to a higher kind of knowledge that looks beyond the surfaces of things
• Contradiction leads to break-do