We turn to literature and to art to help us define our world. Great literature and great art live beyond their own day because they answer not only the need and impulse of the days in which they were crafted, but because they continue to speak to a modern audience--perhaps in a different register or tone, but continuing to address a vital human need, filling an emotional void or addressing an inherent aesthetic. Being removed from the time in which a particular work was created presents a multitude of difficulties. One school of critics argues that we cannot hope to understand a work unless we first consider the historical moment in which it was created, looking for historical and biographical clues to the artist in the work. Other critics assert that the only way to approach a work of art--visual or literary--is to take the work solely on its own terms, disregarding its context or the experience of the artist. The poetic and artistic work of William Blake must synthesize both approaches. We can view his illuminations and respond to the imagery with a sense of transcendence. However, we lose a fair amount of import if we fail to look closely at the context in which Blake worked. Blake lived on a "faultline" of "ascendant modernity, along which values can be radically transformed" (Myrone 34). On that faultline is where we find the poet as prophet, as the voice crying in a wilderness, as the teller of truth to power.
The Hanoverian image was one of rationality and moderation (Myrone), but the veneer was cracked. Not far beneath the surface was a seething mass of unrest--intellectual, social, and political. Many of Blake's companions were radical thinkers, like Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine, whom Blake had met through h...
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Eaves, Morris, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, eds. The William Blake Archive. Lib of Cong., 22 June 2010. Web. 25 Aug. 2010.
Fairer, David. “Experience Reading Innocence: Contextualizing Blake’s ‘Holy Thursday’.” Eighteenth-Century Studies Summer 2002: 536-562. JSTOR. Web. 17 Aug. 2010.
"Flour Milling and the port: Milling by steam." PortCities London. Portcities. 27 July 2010. Web.
Myrone, Martin. Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination. London: Tate Publishing. 2006.
Pollen, John Hungerford. "Gordon Riots." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 26 Jul. 2010. Web.
Thompson, E.P. Witnessing Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law. Cambridge UP. 1993.
Wright, Julia M. Blake, Nationalism and the Politics of Alienation. Athens OH: Ohio UP. 2004. eBook.
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