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ANON., 'The inventions of William Blake, painter and poet', London University Magazine, 1830

ANON., 'The inventions of William Blake, painter and poet', London University Magazine, 1830

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WILLIAM BLAKE



dead,’ as Blake has elegantly expressed it, and pays but small attention

to real genius; or it may be partly accounted for through the want of a

good philosophy, which, Mad. De Stael says, has not as yet been taught

in England. These, perhaps, are a few of the many reasons why Blake

and Flaxman have been buried in obscurity; but we have a confident

hope that Coleridge, Blake, and Flaxman are the forerunners of a

more elevated and purer system, which has even now begun to take

root in the breast of the English nation; they have laid a foundation

for future minds—Coleridge, for the development of a more internal

philosophy—Blake and Flaxman, for a purer and more ennobling

sentiment in works of art.

After having preluded in this manner, let us direct our eyes to the

beauties of Blake’s poems.

THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SONGS OF EXPERIENCE.



Hear the voice of the Bard,

Who present, past, and future sees,

Whose ears have heard

The holy word

That walked among the ancient trees,

Calling the lapsed soul,

And weeping in the evening dew,

That might control

The starry pole,

And fallen, fallen light renew.

O Earth, O Earth, return!

Arise from out the dewy grass!

Night is worn,

And the morn

Rises from the slumberous mass.

Turn away no more!

Why wilt thou turn away?

The starry floor,

The watry shore,

Is given thee till break of day.

Around these lines the stars are rolling their resplendent orbs, and

in the cloud on which the song floats, a human form is lying, anxiously

surveying their courses: these are a few wild notes struck forth by

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the hand of a master. But let us continue to look over his notes, bright

both with poetry and forms divine, which demonstrate an intimate

knowledge of the passions and feelings of the human breast.

THE POISON TREE.



I was angry with my friend,

I told my wrath, my wrath did end;

I was angry with my foe,

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

Then I wat’red it in fears,

Night and morning, with my tears,

And I sunned it with smiles,

And with soft, deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright;

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine.

And he into my garden stole,

When the night had veiled the pole;

In the morning, glad, I see

My foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.

If Blake had lived in Germany, by this time he would have had

commentators of the highest order upon every one of his effusions;

but here, so little attention is paid to works of the mind, and so

much to natural knowledge, that England, in the eyes of the thinking

world, seems fast sinking into a lethargy, appearing as if the Poison

Tree had poured the soporific distillation over its body, which now

lies under it almost dead and lifeless…. The powers, then, of both

mind and body having been freely exercised, the result is a genius,

who stands forth as a representative of his race; and thus we may

say, Blake in his single person united all the grand combination of

art and mind, poetry, music, and painting; and we may carry the

simile still further, and say, that as England is the least fettered by the

minds of other nations, so Blake poured forth his effusions in his

own grand style, copying no one, (nolumes leges Angliae mutari,)

but breathing spirit and life into his works; and though shaping forms

from the world of his creative and sportive imagination, yet he still

remembered he was a moral as well as intellectual citizen of England,

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bound both to love and instruct her. These ought to be the ruling

principles of all artists and poets. Flaxman and Blake thought it a

still higher honour to be celebrated for their innocence and beauty of

sentiment, than for a mere sensual representation of forms. Their

internal esthetic produced a similar external, not by any means inferior

to the mere form-painter, and in this respect superior, that there was

a Promethean fire which glowed in their productions, purifying the

soul from the gross imper-fections of the natural mind….

This grand combination of art succeeded in every particular, painting

being the flesh, poetry the bones, and music the nerves of Blake’s work.

The figures surrounding and enclosing the poems, produce fresh

delight. They are equally tinged by a poetical idea, and though

sometimes it is difficult to understand his wandering flights, yet the

extraordinary power developed in the handling of both arts astonish

[es] as well as delight [s]. Here and there figures are introduced,

which, like the spirits in Macbeth, pass quickly from the sight; yet

they every one of them have been well digested in the brain of a

genius; and we should endeavour rather to unlock the prison-door

in which we are placed, and gain an insight into his powerful mind

than rail and scoff at him as a dreamer and madman.

For instance, Albion, with which the world is very little acquainted,

seems the embodying of Blake’s ideas on the present state of England;

he viewed it, not with the eyes of ordinary men, but contemplated it

rather as a province of one grand man, in which diseases and crimes

are continually engendered, and on this account he poured forth his

poetical effusions somewhat in the style of Novalis, mourning over

the crimes and errors of his dear country: and it is more extraordinary

still that, like Novalis, he contemplated the natural world as the mere

out-birth of the thought, and lived and existed in that world for which

we are created. Horrid forms and visions pervade this Albion, for they

were the only representatives, in his opinion, of the present state of

mankind. No great genius wrote without having a plan, and so in this,

a light is frequently thrown across the pictures, which partly discover

the interior design of the Poet. We are perfectly aware of the present

state of public opinion on this kind of men, but we know at the same

time, that every genius has a certain end to perform, and always runs

before his contemporaries, and for that reason is not generally

understood.—This is our candid opinion with respect to Blake, but

we hope that hereafter his merits will be more generally acknowledged.

We now proceed to the other poems.

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A CRADLE SONG



Sweet dreams form a shade

O’er my lovely infant’s head;

Sweet dreams of pleasant streams

By happy, silent, moony beams.

Sweet sleep, with softest down

Weave thy brows an infant crown;

Sweet sleep, angel mild,

Hover o’er my happy child.

Sweet smiles in the night

Hover over my delight,

Sweet smiles, mother’s smiles,

All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,

Chase not slumber from thine eyes!

Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,

All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep, sleep, happy child,

All creation slept and smil’d,

Sleep, sleep, happy sleep,

While o’er thee the mother weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face

Holy image I can trace;

Sweet babe, once like thee

Thy Maker lay and wept for me:

Wept for me, for thee, for all,

When he was an infant small;

Thou his image ever see,

Heav’nly face that smiles on thee:

Smiles on thee, on me, on all,

Who became an infant small,

Infant smiles are his own smiles,

Heav’n and earth to peace beguiles….

[‘The Divine Image’ and ‘The Garden of Love’]

This [‘The Garden of Love’] is a curious and mystical poem, which

as yet can be but partially understood—but at the same time it is

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highly poetical. Now approaching a new subject, the elegant dream

of Thel, which seems born in the perfume of the lily, so charming, so

fairy-like, are all its illustrations, there is only one work that we

remember like it in elegance, the Sakontola, for it wears all the

freshness of Indian simplicity and innocence.

THEL.



The title-page of this mazy dream contains a specimen of his utmost

elegance in design:—two beautiful figures are chasing one another

in gentle sport, and the Peri Thel is looking on the fairy land. A few

specimens of this poem will suffice to show its merit.

A Speech address to Thel by a Cloud.

Virgin, know’st thou not our steeds drink of the golden springs

Where Lovah doth renew his horses? Look’st thou on my youth,

And fearest thou, because I vanish and am seen no more:

Nothing remains? O maid, I tell thee, when I pass away,

It is to tenfold life, to love, to peace, to raptures holy;

Unseen descending, weigh my light wings on balmy flowers,

And court the fair-eyed dew to take me to her shining tent:

The weeping virgin, trembling kneels before the risen sun,

Till we arise linked in a golden band and never part—

But walk united, bearing food to all our tender flowers.

Dost thou, O little cloud? I fear I am not like thee;

For I walk through the vales of Har, and smell the sweetest flowers,

But I feed not the little flowers; I hear the warbling birds,

But I feed not the warbling birds, they fly and seek their food:

But Thel delights in these no more, because I fade away,

And all shall say, without a use this shining woman lived,

Or did she only live to be at death the food of worms?

The cloud reclined upon its airy throne, and answered thus:

Then if thou art the food of worms, O virgin of the skies,

How great thy use, how great thy blessing; every thing that lives,

Lives not alone, nor for itself: Fear not, I will call

The weak worm from its lowly bed, and thou shalt hear its voice:

Come forth, worm of the silent valley, to thy pensive queen!

The helpless worm arose, and sat upon the lily’s leaf,

And the bright cloud sailed on to find his partner in the vale.

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This little work is the fanciful production of a rich imagination,

drawing, colouring, poetry, have united to form a beautiful whole;

all the figures teem with elegance, and convey sentiments which are

noble, though veiled under a fairy tale. With this last extract we

conclude for the present, earnestly recommending the works of our

author to the attention of the English nation, whereby their taste

may be improved in the fine arts, as well as gratification derived

from the perusal of his poetry.*

Why cannot the ear be closed to its own destruction,

Or the glittering eye to the poison of a smile?

Why are the eyelids stored with arrows ready drawn,

When a thousand fighting men in ambush lie?

Or an eye of gifts and graces, showing fruits and coin’d gold,

Why a tongue impressed with honey from every wind,

Why an ear, a whirlpool fierce to draw creations in,

Why a nostril wide, inhaling terror, trembling, and affright?

Why a tender curb upon the youthful burning boy,

Why a little curtain of flesh on the bed of our desire!

The virgin started from her seat, and with a shriek, Fled back

unhindered, till she came into the vale of Har.

*



Blake and Coleridge, when in company, seemed like congenial beings of another sphere, breathing

for a while on our earth; which may easily be perceived from the similarity of thought pervading

their works. [Reviewer’s note.]



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41. Anon., ‘The last of the supernaturalists’

1830



Fraser’s Magazine, vol. II (March 1830), pp. 217–35.1

The anonymous essay in Fraser’s Magazine entitled ‘The last

of the supernaturalists’1 is strikingly rambling, derivative, and

un-informed. Of its approximately 14,500 words, over 4,000

are irrelevant to Blake or to supernaturalism; some 6,500 words

are repeated from Cunningham’s biography; and statements

like the one that Blake ‘wanted in early life…a true friend’

simply ignore the facts (such as his early and true friendships

with Flaxman, Stothard, and Cumberland). Blake is simply the

occasion here for some cheap iconoclastic criticism.



The world is, without contradiction, a fitting habitation for spirits of

only a like order. This truth, which is obvious to many, was a secret

to William Blake to the hour of his death: it was a true sibylline leaf

to his uninitiated sense. Happy for him had it been otherwise!

The history of this much-canvassed individual is, indeed, a

‘psychological’ curiosity, according to the favourite term, in writing

as well as speaking, of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. By all the world

Blake was thought a madman: this is the fate of those who differ in

thought, word, or action, from the every-day sillinesses of visible

life. Thus we have heard it said that Jeremy Bentham was a

madman…[as well as] Samuel Taylor Coleridge…Professor

Wilson…De Quincey… Wordsworth…Byron…Thomas Campbell….

Let, then, the sentence which asserts that

‘Great wits to madness are allied,’



be placed amongst the most drivelling pieces of nonsense that have

been uttered by the charnel-fuming lips of the persifleur and scoffer….

1

On somewhat implausible evidence, the article has been attributed to Carlyle (J.A.S. Barrett,

‘Carlyle on Blake and Vitalis’, TLS, 26 April 1928, p. 313) and to John Abraham Heraud or

William Maginn (T.M.H.Thrall, Rebellious Fraser’s [1934], p. 268).



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And now, having described the only species of madman whom we

are pleased to recognise, that is, those of the inferior order of created

beings, we come to the true subject of our paper—William Blake,

the mystic, the spiritualist, the supernaturalist. Was he a madman?

In our opinion he was not. Did he, then, purchase his exemption by

participating in the fraternity of exalted talent? He had not part or

parcel in that high order. What is, then, our meaning? may well be

demanded by the wondering reader. Have a moment’s patience, very

courteous sir, and you shall hear.

Nature, in her bounty, had done her part generously and nobly by

William Blake—Art had done nothing. (Understand us well, good

reader; by ART we do not mean the art of copperplate engraving, or

painting.) When that combination is perfect, you will have a perfect

man…[like] Göthe. Had the circumstances of life favoured the

formation of nature in William Blake, he, too, would have been a

perfect man, and, yielding in merit to few of his prophetic brethren,

would have been honoured by them and by mankind as a truly

inspired Vates. But, alas! the boy exceeded his condition of life: he

anticipated the generation of his family. The part in him which Nature

had bestowed she sedulously fostered and perfected, and his

imagination grew to its fulness of strength, and was competent to

attain the highest and loftiest landmarks which the most adventurous

and daring of men had ever set for the attainment of their

comprehension. But the part which art and parental anxiety had

taken in his education was trifling in the extreme. Heaven poured on

the tender plant its genial sunshine; but without sufficient moisture

in the soil, the plant could not grow to maturity; and earth—its parent

earth—refused it the waters of the smallest rill or gushing fountain.

When Blake grew up, he felt a secret pain—a gnawing—a sense of

weakness, though indescribable, in his body. His mind prompted

him to action—his limbs collapsed with weakness at the moment of

trial: he was like the chained Titan….

Blake was, in secret longing, like the student Anselmus of Hoffman’s

tale: he felt that the earth, as it is at present peopled, was no fitting

habitation for one of his order; here all was cold selfishness and empty

folly. Had he known of the history of that student of Dresden, he too,

with the fervour of the romance-writer, would have exclaimed:—‘Ah,

happy Anselmus! who hast cast away the burden of weekday life….’

William Blake was a man who stood alone in the world: men

laughed at him, and scoffed him, as they would treat some paltry,

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