The Mysticism of Blake
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[ 239 The Mysticism of Blake A review of Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. Geoffrey Keynes London: The Nonesuch Press, 1927. Pp. xi + 1152. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, by William Blake Full-colour facsimile edition, with a note by Max Plowman London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1927. Pp. 27. The Life of William Blake, by Mona Wilson London: The Nonesuch Press, 1927. Pp. xv + 397. An Introduction to the Study of Blake, by Max Plowman London: J. M. Dent, 1927. Pp. xv + 183. Pencil Drawings by William Blake, ed. Geoffrey Keynes London: The Nonesuch Press, 1927. Pp. xvi + 82. The Mysticism of William Blake, by Helen C. White Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1927. Pp. 276. The Nation and Athenaeum, 41 (17 Sept 1927) 779 If we have not yet made up our minds about Blake, we have no longer any excuse for not doing so.1 Mr. Keynes has compressed his great edition of 1925 into one volume which is not only of convenient size, but of convenient price.2 The Nonesuch Press has produced it in a form both beautiful and practical; and 1,152 pages of India paper for twelve and six is extremely cheap.3 Variant readings are omitted; but there is no doubt that we now havewhatwillremainthestandardtext.Whatismore,thisvolumewillintroduce many readers to parts of Blake’s work which are almost unknown. In the miscellaneous prose and the marginalia and the correspondence there is much of great interest; and there is the wholly delightful and surprising 1927 240 ] “Peacockian” fragment, “An Island in the Moon.”4 The Nonesuch Press has also made a very fine edition of Blake’s drawings, prepared by Mr. Keynes with explanatory text; and this book also is extremely cheap at thirty-five shillings. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, to which Mr. Max Plowman contributes an essay, may not seem relatively so cheap at a guinea – but it is not only fully illustrated but illuminated.5 It is a book which all libraries, and all individual enthusiasts, ought to possess. For Blake was not only both poet and draughtsman, he was also the producer of his own books. Other men have both painted and written; but with Blake the two activities were almost one. You cannot say that he illustrated his writings, or that he provided texts to his drawings: he did both at once. That is one reason why Blake is so difficult a subject; the critic of Blake should be highly skilled in the technique of verse and prose and the technique of drawing and design andcolour(forwhichreasonIapproachhimwithdiffidence).TheMarriage of Heaven and Hell is one of his most amazing works, a book equal in importance to Also Sprach Zarathustra: and here we have it as nearly as possible in the form in which Blake meant it to be read.6 No one who has read it and looked at it in this new edition will want to read it in any other. The other books are of various interest and unequal value. Miss Wilson’s Life, also beautifully done, with a capital choice of illustrations, by the Non­ esuch Press, is an impressive book.7 It is the most nearly complete Life of Blake yet written; it is well written, and it is scholarly. We may not always agree with Miss Wilson’s criticism, but she knows what she is talking about. She has written a genuine biography, not trying to write history and criticism at once; and in consequence this is a book which will keep its value. Mr. Plowman’s Introduction is a disappointing book. It might better be called, “Preface to an Introduction to an Introduction.” I turned from page to page hungrily, always hoping finally to be introduced, but the introduction never came off. It is not that Mr. Plowman does not know his subject. On the contrary, he knows it very well, and the essay at the end of The MarriageofHeavenandHellisquiteinteresting.NorisitthatMr.Plowman istooenthusiastic;onecannotbetooenthusiastic.Butinthisbooktheenthusiasm itself is the theme, instead of being (as it should be) a kind of steady glow illuminating the merest statement of fact. Enthusiasm should inspire statement; in Mr. Plowman’s book it takes the place of statement. Thus we get wildly sweeping assertions: “Blake freed Western art from slavish adherence to Nature” (19). Not merely English art, observe, but Western art. One [ 241 The Mysticism of Blake would expect such an affirmation to be backed up by some account of influence by Blake upon...