William Blake was an English poet, a painter, engraver and a printmaker. He became one of the influential writers and artists in the Romantic Age. He was born in London in the year 1757. He only attended school to learn as much as reading and writing. Apart from the training at the Royal Academy, he was self-educated. His painting and engraving were both related to his literature. He wanted to show the interdependence of painting and poetry as the central principle of all his work. He started to write poetry at the age of 12. He was determined to produce his own poetry by engraving the text itself and accompanying it with illustrations. “Most of his lyrics are in two collections: Songs of Innocence (first engraved in 1789) and Songs of Experience (1794). Others are longer poems, generally called prophecies, which are sequences of plates. The "prophecies" include The Book of Thel (1789), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793), America (1793), Europe (1794), Milton (about 1808, in 50 plates) and Jerusalem (about 1818, in 100 plates)” (William Blake, n.d.).
Development of Blake’s Views
Blake was considered mad by his contemporaries because of his idiosyncratic views. However, later critics praised him for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents contained within his work. Furthermore, he was reverent of the bible but he is hostile to the Church of England. He was influenced greatly by the French and American Revolutions (Blake, 1984).
His earlier works were considered to be rebellious and can be seen as a protestation against dogmatic religion. These assumptions can be observed in his work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, wherein Satan is represented as a hero whois rebelling against an imposter authoritarian god. Furthermore, in his later works such as in Milton and Jerusalem, he describes a characteristic vision of a humanity that is redeemed by self-sacrifice and forgiveness while retaining his outstanding belief against rigid authoritarianism of traditional religion.
Singer (1986) argued that Blake’s works formed a development of ideas that were first introduced in his earlier works which is “the humanitarian goal of achieving personal wholeness of body and spirit”. She explained that Blake’s later works were considered to be the “Bible of Hell” which is promised in his work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. It can be seen in his final poem, Jerusalem: “the promise of the divine in man, made in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, is at last fulfilled.”
Another critic Murry (1933) says otherwise. He argued that there is a discontinuity between The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and his later works. It is seen in the focus of Blake’s ideas such that in his earlier works, which is "sheer negative opposition between Energy and Reason". While the focus of his later works are notions of self-sacrifice and forgiveness as the road to interior wholeness. Murry characterized Blake as having found "mutual understanding" and "mutual forgiveness" .
Blakes Views on Religion
Blake’s rebellious views toward traditional religion are much emphasized in his works. However, his rejection of religion is not a rejection of religion as such. His belief towards orthodoxy is manifested in his work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, wherein a series of texts that were considered to be imitations of Biblical prophecy are contained. In his work, The Everllasting Gospel, he represented Jesus as a supremely creative being, above dogma, logic and even morality and not as a philosopher or traditional messianic figure, which is seen in: “If he had been Antichrist Creeping Jesus, He'd have done anything to please us: Gone sneaking into Synagogues And not usd the Elders & Priests like Dogs, But humble as a Lamb or Ass, Obey'd himself to Caiaphas. God wants not Man to Humble himself” (55-61, E519-20) Furthermore, Blake believes that Jesus represents the vital relationship and unity between divinity and humanity. He said, “All had originally one language, and one religion: this was the religion of Jesus, the everlasting Gospel. Antiquity preaches the Gospel of Jesus ” (Descriptive Catalogue, Plate 39, E543).
One of Blake’s strongest opposition against the orthodox Christianity is that he felt it encouraged the suppression of natural desires and discouraged earthly joy. He said in his work, A Vision of the Last Judgment, “Men are admitted into Heaven not because they have <curbed &> governd their Passions or have No Passions but because they have Cultivated their Understandings. The Treasures of Heaven are not Negations of Passion but Realities of Intellect from which All the Passions Emanate <Uncurbed> in their Eternal Glory. (E564)”
William Blake is a very important artist in history. The ideas that he promoted and introduced created a big impact in the world of religion, art, humanity, and many more. He influenced a lot of important people such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. Even Edward Larrissy asserted that “Blake is the Romantic writer who has exerted the most powerful influence on the twentieth century.”