Chapter 10 Chapter 8 Contents List

            For enthusiastic Chestertonians like myself one of the most delicious pleasures in life is to come across a work of the great man that you have not read before. There are still quite a number of these for the present author. But receiving a copy of William Blake [1] was particularly exhilarating, seeing as I was engaged in this study of Chesterton's mysticism. My desire to read this book was whetted when I came across an unsigned review of it in Conlon's The Critical Judgments, Part I (256-58). The reviewer claims that:

                                    Blake's commerce with the other world is called `spiritualism,' which is about as far from a comprehension of the truth as anything could be. But it is really Blake the mystic that Mr. Chesterton most completely fails to appreciate, and this in spite of a lot of excellent talk about mysticism in general.  Mr. Chesterton is quite pleased that Blake should have been a mystic, for that gives him something to hit the agnostics with; but he has no notion of a mysticism which requires some pretty close investigation to discover its meaning. And when he calls Blake mad, using the same `incomprehensible' phrase in several places, he is making out Jallaludin-Rumi and every other eastern mystic mad as well.  (258)

            True enough, Chesterton does indeed see a sort of madness in eastern mysticism. But the phrase which initially caught my eye was the reference to "a lot of excellent talk about mysticism." "I just have to get my hands on that book," I thought to myself. 

            As I was coming to the end of my study without having obtained the book yet, I was bemoaning the fact that I probably would not be able to situate its approach to mysticism within the chronology of Chesterton's development, as I had been trying to do with Chesterton's other ideas on the subject. When, however, I finally received the book, I was able to see that it put the capstone on my research and provided me with an excellent framework for a conclusion that complemented my findings and is not out of place as a middle chapter in this study of Chesterton's mysticism.        

            In William Blake, which came out in 1910, very early in Chesterton's career, I found almost all of the ideas about mysticism that he would develop in his subsequent writings. I don't know if our disgruntled reviewer lived to read St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas, but he would have found there the "pretty close investigation" of mysticism that he did not find in William Blake. He did not find it, because Chesterton was just beginning to develop his ideas. But the seeds are all there, as they often are in the youthful work of men of genius.

            "Was Blake mad?": probably many a person who has studied Blake in school, as I have not, has had some such question posed to them in a test. Presently, we shall be examining Chesterton's fine distinctions on this subject of madness. Having seen references to this query often enough, I was tempted to answer it, like Chesterton, with a qualified affirmative and entitle this section Blake: the Mad Mystic. However, after completing the book, I experienced a keen sense of sadness about Blake, akin to the sadness as I felt about historical figures like Savonarola and the Fraticelli who, as we shall see, did not land back on their feet in the real world after all their tumultuous, eccentric tumblings.

            In our culture "mad" means "insane," "out of one's mind," "having hallucinations," "not all there," or, as is sometimes expressed here locally, "having only one oar in the water." According to Chesterton, Blake was not mad in this sense. He does not call him tragic, but that's the word that seems to fit his life and work. Webster says that in tragedy "the leading character is by some passion and limitation brought to a catastrophe, and this excites pity and terror." In my opinion, this definition fits Blake perfectly.

            To "pity" I would add "sadness," sadness that he did not discover, like Chesterton, the Catholic faith to help him understand and control his mysticism. "Terror" may seem like a strong word, but we should indeed be terrified at what can happen to people who are catapulted into the supernatural world without the guidance of the Church. 

            Our dissatisfied critic objected to calling Blake's experiences of the supernatural world (or, as Chesterton sometimes calls it, the unnatural world) "spiritualism." We shall see, however, that, in his study, Chesterton gives a very profound description of spiritualism, situating it in its historical context. In any case, I hope our critic is now himself in the true land of the supernatural, with Christ and the angels, enjoying the opportunity to discuss his criticisms with the key disputants, Chesterton and Blake. As for ourselves, we shall discuss some of these points now.

Blake as Mystic

            It was Chesterton's opinion that Blake was a mystic: "Like so many other starry philosophers and flaming mystics, he came out of a shop." (3) This seems to be an obvious allusion to St. Francis, whose father, with his textile business, was one of the rising bourgeois, one of the first of those who, as Christopher Dawson remarked, "made money," a totally new phenomenon in the Christian world. He asserts that: "...Blake saw the oddest people in his visions, people with whom neither he nor any one else has anything particular to do...  That is one of the facts that makes one fancy that Blake's visions were genuine."(14-15) Further on, he states in rather grand terms that: "Like every great mystic he was also a great rationalist." (83)

            My first observation is that, in a limited sense of the word, one can be a mystic, that is, have powerful experiences of the supernatural world that permeate one's whole life and thinking, without being either orthodox, or holy, or completely sane. The experiences can be authentic, but one can misinterpret them; or they can come from sources other than the Lord; or one can lack the other oar in the water to keep on a straight course. 

            There is a story from Blake's early childhood describing an occasion when "he lingered too long in the fields and came back to tell his mother that he had seen the prophet Ezekiel sitting under a tree. His mother smacked him. Thus ended the first adventure of William Blake in that wonderland of which he was a citizen." (4) There is nothing in Chesterton's book which implies that he did not believe that Blake probably really did see Ezekiel. He even goes so far as to consider him a citizen of that wonderland, by which he means the world of the supernatural in a non-pejorative sense.

            On another occasion, still as a child, Blake saw a tree filled with angels, which he depicts in one of his drawings. The Encyclopedia Britannica (2) explains these visions by saying that Blake had a rare psychological capacity, the eidic sense, whereby the images in the imagination take on a solidity as if seen outside the mind. Maybe so. But this still does not explain Blake's seeing things he did not know about or was not capable of imagining. What, for instance, does a little boy know about the prophet Ezekiel?

            Although we will find in Chesterton's Blake some deep insights into the true nature of mysticism, Chesterton's mature reflections are found, as we shall see, in St. Francis and St. Thomas. In Blake rather we find an in-depth treatment of what makes mystics go off-base, especially mystics of the modern world who are without the guidance of the Church. For this reason, being rudderless, they lack some of the fundamental virtues of genuine mysticism. Blake is an outstanding example of the truly mystic soul trying to grow up in a period of rationalism and decadent Christianity. 

            At the end of the book Chesterton said that "William Blake was frequently reproached for his tenderness towards Catholicism; but it would have surprised him very much to be told that he would join it. But he would have joined it -- if he had lived a thousand years, or even perhaps a hundred." (208-09) Unfortunately, Blake only lived 70 years (1757-1827). And what if he had lived in the ages of faith? Yeats makes the following acutely perceptive observation: "He was a man crying out for a mythology, and trying to make one because he could not find one to his hand. Had he been born a Catholic of Dante's time he would have been well content with Mary and the angels...." (Essays and Introductions, 114). 

            The rationalistic and highly Protestant age in which he actually lived did not offer him much help to understand his visions. Chesterton says, at the very outset, that anybody's biography ought to begin with the words, `In the beginning God created heaven and earth.' For the sake of brevity, however, all books have to be begun in the wrong way. So Chesterton, too, starts in the wrong way, considering the spiritual atmosphere of the 18th century. The abbreviated account of the tragedy of William Blake, the mystic, begins with the historical period in which he was born.

The Three Strands [2]

            "Every man of us today is three men. There is in every modern European three powers so distinct as to be almost personal, `the trinity of our earthly destiny.'" (106) They are "the Christian, the man of the historic Church, of the creed...; the Roman... that makes straight roads and clear laws, and for whom good sense is good enough. The third man -- he is harder to speak of. He is the origins -- he is the man of the forest." (106-07)

            The pagan gods were dead long before Christianity. They were replaced by the deified Emperor, who was called "Divus Caesar". In one sense, because Christianity revived belief in the spiritual world, there was a "kind of clamorous resurrection of all the old supernatural instincts of the forest and the hill. But it put upon this occult chaos the Roman idea of balance and sanity." (108)

                                    In short, Christianity (merely historically seen) can best be understood as an attempt to combine the reason of the market-place with the mysticism of the forest. It was an attempt to accept all the superstitions that are necessary to man and to be philosophical at the end of them. Pagan Rome has sought to bring order or reason among men. Christian Rome sought to bring order and reason among the gods. (108)

            Much has been written about the rise of the so-called Enlightenment in the 18th century. If any "virile mind" of that century expressed anything that could not be rationally explained, they were labelled "enthusiast as a term of scorn. All that we call mysticism they called madness." (112-13) 

            Max Plowman, a contemporary writer, is not a good guide for us as regards Blake's significance and orthodoxy. But nonetheless he gives an accurate description, in similar terms, of the world in which Blake the mystic grew up:

                                    The child of religious parents, he was born into an age when considerations for the external order of man had become so gross a bondage, the human soul was, as it were, consigned to the clerical department as that property of a man which chiefly required attention at the hour of death. Those who rejoiced in its evidence at other times were called Enthusiasts, and put into a category, much as we now put Bolsheviks.

                                    A philosophy based upon so material a foundation gave little scope to a youth who had already celebrated a beauty not bounded by self-love on the one hand, or reason on the other.  (Introduction to William Blake, Poems and Prophecies, xii)

            These three men, which Chesterton says each one of us is comprised of, are not like strata of a rock, but the strands of a rope. Since they have come into existence, no one strand of the three can be unravelled from the rope without the other two also being untwined and becoming limp and weak. The first unravelling of the Christian strand in the 18th century resulted in humanitarianism, or compassion for the individual. "This personal humanitarianism is the relic of Christianity -- perhaps (if I may say so) the dregs of Christianity. Of this humanitarianism or sentimentalism, or whatever it can best be called, Blake was the enthusiastic inheritor." (117) "This irrational individual pity is the purely Christian element in the eighteenth century. This irrational individual pity is the purely Christian element in William Blake." (118)

            At the same time, in the 18th century, the Roman strand of reason and order was being detached from the Church and reshaped into a grotesque parody of enlightenment. This left the "man of the forest", who was also set loose and unravelled, as it were, from his companions, the Christian and the Roman. The occult residues of this element, which consisted of paganism and pagan magic, were never completely absent or eradicated by the tempering forces of Christianity. Now they were going to resurge with a vengeance. "Christianity, rightly or wrongly, always discouraged it on the grounds that it was, or tended to be, black magic." (120) In all the literature on the Enlightenment, I have not come across as incisive a treatment of this other aspect of the age, the release of the old gods, so important for understanding the spiritualism which accompanied that age, as well as the "New Age" movements of our time:

                                    Now the eighteenth century was primarily the release (as its leaders held) of reason from the control of the Church. But when the Church was once really weakened, it was the release of many other things. It was not the release of reason only, but of a more ancient unreason. It was not the release of the natural, but also of the supernatural, and also, alas! of the unnatural. The heathen mystics hidden for two thousand years came out of their caverns....

                                    Of this particular kind of supernaturalism, Blake is particularly the heir. Mysticism marks an effort to escape from or even to forget the historic Christian, and especially the Catholic Church.  (123-24)

            This era marks the waxing strength of secret theosophical societies, such as the Masons. Blake did not belong to these societies, "for, to tell the truth, he had some difficulty in belonging to any society," but he did develop his own secret language much of which, to this day, scholars admit remains quite undecipherable. Blake was deficient in his education. Also, he stood at the beginning of a new era. Without Catholicism to guide the "forest man" in him, he "really had to begin at the beginning, because it was a different beginning." (126) 

The Mystic Who Makes Mysteries

            Beginning, then, at the beginning, Blake trusted and followed no tradition. He proceeded, therefore, to make up his own unseen world -- a true gnostic. This led him to obscurity and mystification. He often used words with meanings known only to him. This fact of Blake's mysteriousness, in the negative sense, which all the commentators agree upon, prompted Chesterton to elaborate one of the fundamental trademarks of true mysticism: it illuminates, it does not obscure. As he explains:

                                    A verbal accident has confused the mystical with the mysterious. Mysticism is generally felt vaguely to be itself vague -- a thing of clouds and curtains, of darkness or concealing vapours, of bewildering conspiracies or impenetrable symbols. Some quacks have indeed dealt in such things: but no true mystic ever loved darkness rather than light. No pure mystic ever loved mere mystery.  The mystic does not bring doubts or riddles: the doubts and riddles exist already.

                                    The mystic is not the man who makes mysteries but the man who destroys them. The mystic may be true or false, but which is always comprehensible -- by which I mean, not that it is always comprehended, but it always can be comprehended, because there is always something to comprehend. The man whose meaning remains mysterious fails, I think, as a mystic: and Blake did... often fail in this way.  (131-32)

            When you read the works of genuine mystics such as St. Catherine of Siena, St.Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, you are struck by this quality of luminous clarity. Reading them is like having your mind washed with truth as in a warm bath. Some passages are very deep and profound and may require several readings. But this lack of comprehension is due to one's own ignorance or lack of spiritual insight, not the intractability of the material. "Profound" does not mean "obscure" or "incomprehensible." This is what Chesterton means by: "there is always something to be comprehended." As you grow in your own spiritual life, or if you spend some time studying the background of certain passages, reading commentators, etc., you can come to an understanding of these works. They are ultimately understandable.

            On the other hand, the Church sometimes issues a caution, a monitum, concerning the writings of certain authors precisely because She herself doesn't quite know what they mean, has never been able to understand them, and is afraid they may lead to error.  As far as I know, this is still the case with the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, for example. In many instances he creates his own language, and the Church is not clear what he means. He is obscure. He may have been a mystic. Indeed, he may have been quite holy. I knew a priest who had lived with him, and he claimed Teilhard was the most charitable man he had ever met. Nevertheless mysticism, understood as powerful experiences of the supernatural world, does not guarantee clarity or orthodoxy, even when it is coupled with attractive personal qualities.

            Evidently a certain clergyman, a Rev. Dr. Trusler, had difficulties with Blake's ideas. Blake wrote to him:

                                    You say that I want somebody to Elucidate my Ideas. But you ought to know that What is Grand is necessarily obscure to Weak men.  That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care. The wisest of the Ancients consider'd what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction, because it rouzes the faculties to act. I name Moses, Solomon, Esop, Homer, Plato.", (William Blake, The Penguin Poets, 220)

            This stands as a perfect illustration of what Chesterton means when he says that the false mystic is one who loves mysteries.

            Powerful experiences, precisely because they are powerful, carry along with them a conviction of their authenticity. But the sincerity of the recipient is no guarantee of the genuineness of the experiences. One can be sincerely mistaken and deluded. Blake always expressed himself with great assurance and certainty: "We always feel that he is saying something very plain and emphatic, even when we have not the wildest notion of what it is." (132)

Mary, Symbol of Law

            Blake's powerful but confused visions, his lack of formal education, and his isolation led him to a very unorthodox view of Christianity. The Church, dogma, civil authority, laws, morality, philosophy -- these were the enemy for Blake. Sadly, without such guidance, one is cast adrift in the spiritual world. Though Blake illustrated Dante, the latter's world was very uncongenial:

                                    As Blake bent over the great drawing-book, in which he made his designs to the Divine Comedy, he was very certain that he and Dante represented spiritual states which face one another in an eternal enmity. Dante, because he was a great poet, was `inspired by the Holy Ghost': but his inspiration was mingled with a certain philosophy, blown up out of his age, which Blake held for mortal and the enemy of immortal things, and which from the earliest times has sat in high places and ruled the world. This philosophy was the philosophy of soldiers, of men of the world, of priests busy with government, of all who, because of the absorption in active life, have been persuaded to judge and to punish, and partly also, he admitted, the philosophy of Christ, who as descending into the world had to take on the world; who, in being born of Mary, a symbol of the law in Blake's symbolic language, had to `take after his mother,' and drive the money-changers out of the Temple.

                                    Opposed to this was another philosophy, not made by men of action, drudges of time and space, but by Christ when wrapped in the divine essence, and by artists and poets, who are taught by the same nature of their craft to sympathise with all living things, and who, the more pure and fragrant is their lamp, pass the further from all limitations, to come at last to forget good and evil in an absorbing vision of the happy and the unhappy. (W.B.Yeats, "Blake's Illustrations to Dante, Essays and Introductions, 128-29)

            Another authority on Blake, J. Bronowski, puts it this way:

                                    [Blake's) personality and subject are always the same. The subject is the distortion of man by the rigid frame of law and society and the conventional systems; and the triumph is always the liberation of man by his own energies. The subject is war, tyranny, and poverty; the triumph is of human freedom.  Under all the strangling proliferations of Blake's mythology this is the single theme, and it is expressed in two opposing characters. One is the jealous and fearful God of the Old Testament, oppressive in State and Church, whom Blake calls Urizen. The other is the perpetually young figure of Christ without the sword, overpowering the established orders and bringing danger and liberty. (Introduction to The Penguin Poets, 11-12)

            Blake was a true gnostic in every sense of the word. Like Marcion, he claimed that there was a good god of the New Testament and a bad god of the Old; like Valentinus he concocted his own mythology of the spiritual world, with obscure and mysterious beings; like practically all the gnostics, he divided men into a spiritual church and a carnal or pagan church. Blake was 47 years old when Feuerbach was born in 1804. The latter, in his The Essence of Christianity, was to make theology a function merely of anthropology in an ingenious feat of intellectual acrobatics. Blake was a forerunner of Feuerbach in that he reduced Christ to the Imaginative Genius of the human person.

            I give this general picture of Blake's unorthodox Christian views, which could easily be documented, simply as a framework in which to consider Chesterton's own evaluation of him. I am especially interested in Chesterton's ideas about mysticism, and what characteristics and tendencies in a mystic of Blake's stamp led to falsehood, obscurity, and mystification. Chesterton, to be sure, found in Blake what he called the "dregs of Christianity." But even dregs, I suppose, contain something of the substance, though often the worst part. 

            Before looking more closely at the spiritual and mental distortions which caused Blake's false gnostic world, it may be helpful to leap forward and review Chesterton's conclusions about him. At the end of his book he tried to sort out the wheat from the chaff in Blake. When Chesterton is contrasting Buddhism and Christianity, the differences are quite clear and very marked.  Blake is another matter altogether. All throughout the poet's mythological world are these "dregs of Christianity," which means that Chesterton has to do some very fine discerning, in order to bring to light his own understanding of true Christian mysticism.              In the following passage, perhaps none of these positive elements in Blake's vision are unmixed with tares. Yet even so, Chesterton does see him as not succumbing to Tibet. He is a truly tragic figure in having been exposed to a rather decadent Christianity and in having tried to salvage what he thought was authentic. His salvage operation was not successful. Here's how Chesterton tried to sort it out at the end of his study:

                                    He was on the side of historic Christianity on the fundamental question on which it confronts the East; the idea that personality is the glory of the universe and not its shame; that creation is higher than evolution, because it is more personal; that pardon is higher than Nemesis, because it is more personal; that the forgiveness of sins is essential to the communion of saints; and the resurrection of the body to the life everlasting.

                                    Against all emasculate mysticism Blake like a Titan rears his colossal figure and his earthquake voice. Through all the cloud and chaos of his stubborn symbolism and his perverse theories, through the tempest of exaggeration and the full midnight of madness, he reiterates with passionate precision that only that which is lovable can be adorable, that deity is either a person or a puff of wind, that the more we know of higher things the more palpable and incarnate we shall find them; that the form filling the heavens is the likeness of the appearance of a man.  (209-10)

            The first great lesson we might draw from these remarks for any would-be mystic is this: don't be a mystic on your own. A mark of the true mystic, as noted above, is an absolute orthodoxy. The genuine mystic is deeply imbedded in -- and trusts -- the tradition in which he lives and moves and has his being. Blake had no tradition, trusted no Church, was a loner in his thinking, and sought to map out the unseen world completely on his own. We do not judge him morally, although one suspects there must be a frightening hubris in anyone who would attempt to do this.

"Was Blake Mad?"

            We have now established that, in Chesterton's view, Blake, even though he was not an orthodox Christian, was a mystic and that the larger, historical causes of his bizarre mythology can be traced to his having being born in an age of weakened Christianity, which witnessed the rise of science and a new paganism. What, though, were some of the more personal spiritual and psychological causes of Blake's distorted mythology? This brings us to a consideration of his mental condition.

            Blake was not mad in the sense that he was unable to function practically. He was a citizen, managed property, and was generally quite business-like. Nor was he mad in the sense of being a depressed person and melancholic: "He was in contact with all the songs and smells of the universe, and he was entirely guiltless of that one evil element which is almost universal in the character of the morbidly insane -- I mean secrecy." (71-72)

            Nor was he mad in the sense that he was unreasonable or inconsistent in his thinking: "Blake was one of the most consistent men that ever lived, both in theory and practice. Blake may have been quite wrong, but he was not in the least unreasonable." (72)  Nor can he be called mad because he claimed to have visions, except by dogmatic sceptics who deny the reality or possibility of visions.

            What was it then that lay at the root of Blake's mental condition? If I understand Chesterton correctly, he would say that if Blake had taken a modern psychological test, the experts would not have found that his mental faculties were impaired. But if the question, "Do you ever have visions?", had been posed to Blake by these same modern psychologists, he would have answered, "But of course". In that case, they would have labelled him as mentally unbalanced, relying, as mentioned above, on the dogmatic scepticism of their profession, which holds that "sane men do not have visions". Chesterton, for his part, while eschewing the scepticism of the psychologists, attributes Blake's mental imbalance to the spiritual disorder inherent in his visions rather than the visions as such. He claims that it was precisely the nature of his visions which was the cause of something in Blake's reason that "had been broken (or cracked) by something but what there was of it was reasonable." (83) Here are Chesterton's conclusions about Blake's madness:

                                    I firmly believe that what did hurt Blake's brain was the reality of his spiritual communications. It will generally be found, I think, with some important exceptions, that whenever Blake talked most about inspiration, he was actually least inspired. That is, he was least inspired by whatever spirit presides over good poetry and good thinking. He was abundantly inspired by whatever spirit presides over bad poetry or bad thinking.  Whatever god specialises in unreadable and almost unpronounceable verse was certainly present when he invented the extraordinary history of `William Bond' or the maddening metre of the lines `To Mr. Butts.' Whatever archangel rules over utter intellectual error had certainly spread his wings of darkness over Blake when he came to the conclusion that a man ought to be bad in order to be pardoned.  I really believe that this was not from Blake, but from his spirits. It is all very well for great men, like Mr. Reset and Mr. Swinburne, to trust utterly to the seraphim of Blake.  They may naturally trust angels -- they do not believe in them. But I do believe in angels, and incidentally in fallen angels.  (96-97)

            Could Chesterton say any more clearly that he thought Blake's visions were either inspired by or distorted by evil spirits?  Blake's certainty came from the reality of his visions, whereas his preposterous mythology came from their content and/or his interpretation of them. Catholicism entered the world to bring order into the gods. Without that order, visions are dangerous.  There is no such thing as neutrality in the supernatural world. It is not just a morally indifferent matrix. Spirits, good and evil, inhabit it. Evil spirits were mixed up with Blake's visions. That is Chesterton's conclusion.

            The critic quoted at the beginning objected to Chesterton reducing Blake's vision to "spiritualism," but that is exactly what it is, as Chesterton argues. He goes on to describe the difference between the genuine mystical world of the Christian and the world of spiritualism:

                                    There is no danger to health in being a mystic: but there may be some danger to health in being a spiritualist. It would be a very poor pun to say that a taste for spirits is bad for the health; nevertheless, oddly enough, though a poor pun it is a perfectly correct philosophical parallel. The difference between having a real religion and having a mere curiosity about religion and having a mere curiosity about psychic marvels is really very like the difference between drinking beer and drinking brandy, between drinking wine and drinking gin. Beer is a food as well as a stimulant; so a positive religion is a comfort as well as an adventure. A man drinks his wine because it is his favorite wine, the pleasure of his palate or the vintage of his valley. A man drinks alcohol merely because it is alcohol. So a man calls upon his gods because they are good or at any rate good to him, because they are the idols that protect his tribe or the saints that have blessed his birthday. But spiritualists call upon spirits merely because they are spirits; they ask for ghosts merely because they are ghosts.

                                    A taste for spiritualism is very like a taste for spirits. The man who drinks gin or methylated spirit does it only because it makes him super-normal; so the man who with tables or planchettes invokes supernatural beings invokes them only because they are supernatural. He does not know that they are good or wise or helpful. He knows he desires the deity, but he does not even know that he likes him. He attempts to invoke the god without adoring him. He is interested in whatever he can find out touching supernatural existence; but he is not really filled with joy as by the face of a divine friend, any more than anyone actually likes the taste of methylated spirit. In such psychic investigations, in a word, there is excitement, but not affectional satisfaction; there is brandy but no food.  (98-100)

            Pace our reviewer who disagreed that Blake was a spiritualist, Chesterton gives here some profound discernment between a spiritualist and a genuine mystic. First of all, genuine mystics do not seek spiritual experiences or visions. Our whole tradition is against it. But if they do find themselves being gifted with such visions, their attitude is altogether different from those who seek such experiences in ignorance, out of curiosity, and without being sure, or interested in, whom exactly they will be in communication with. 

            Spiritualism is still among us, and the New Age movement is simply a modern term for it. Modern people are hungering for something more than the material world; they are seeking the super-natural or, we might say, the unnatural world. They do so without knowing whom they will meet in this world. There is no love on their part, since they have no knowledge of the gods they seek to contact. And their biggest and most dangerous error is the mere fact that they are seeking at all to get into this world. Hankering after visions and engaging in channelling to get in contact with spiritual beings have become scarcely more than a game, like the spiritualist parlor games of the early part of the century. Curiosity of this kind is certainly fraught with danger. It is Chesterton's opinion that Blake, even granted the reality of his visions, was a spiritualist in the sense described above. His visions were intoxicating, and he did not know to whom he was speaking or whom he was watching. He said naively to a friend, Crabb Robinson, "Dante saw devils where I saw none. I see good only." (Yeats, 131) Evidently, therefore, he was under the illusion that he saw only good angels in his visions, an assertion that Chesterton disputes:

                                    Now Blake was in the most reckless, and sometimes even in the most vulgar, sense a spiritualist. He threw the doors of his mind open to what the late George Macdonald called in a fine phrase `the canaille of the other world.' I think it is impossible to look at some of the pictures which Blake drew, under what he considered direct spiritual dictation, without feeling that he was from time to time under influences that were not only evil but even foolishly evil. (100)

            "Canaille" was a new word for me. Webster defines it thus: "(F., fr., It. canaglia, orig. a pack of dogs, fr. L. canis dog.) The lowest class of people; the rabble; the riffraff." When people try to enter the supernatural world out of curiosity, or without knowing what god they will encounter, they encounter not the hounds of Heaven, but a pack of wild dogs, the dregs, the riffraff of the world of spiritual beings. In this way, these sinister spirits are literally given an opening to sport with us and tease us with their shifting demeanor. They can be openly malevolent, or else put on a good show as angels of light, or even be impishly foolish. Without the guidance of the Church or of a spiritual director or guide, people become the playthings of evil spirits.

            Chesterton mentions a bizarre drawing that Blake made, claiming that it came in a vision. The drawing, which Blake called The Man Who Built the Pyramids, is described by Chesterton as portraying:

                                    ...the face of an idiot. Nay, we behold even the face of an evil idiot, a leering, half-witted face with no chin and the protuberant nose of a pig. Blake declared that he drew this face from a real spirit, and I see no reason to doubt that he did. [But] that vision of swinish silliness was really a bad vision to have, it left a smell of demoniac silliness behind it. (101)

            An orthodox Christian knows and loves the Lord without seeing him. Should he be granted a vision, he will recognize him whom he has not seen. Also, he will recognize if it is not the Lord, because he knows by faith who the Lord is.

            Also, humility is the great protector here. There is a relevant story from one of the desert fathers who had a vision of an angel, who said to him: "The Lord has sent me to you."  The humble little father answered: "I don't know any reason why the Lord would visit me."  And the devil left him.

            And, paradoxically, a genuine love for God will also be a protection to our spirit, if we are granted a vision of him:

                                    The tragedy of the spiritualist simply is that he has to know his gods before he loves them. But a man ought to love his gods before he is sure that there are any. The sublime words of St. John's Gospel permit of a sympathetic parody; if a man love not God whom he has not seen, how shall he love God whom he has seen? (102)

            Blake, the lonely sceptic, did not believe in the gods until he saw them. But what gods did he see, not having any tradition to help him know and discern? Like the New Agers who were to follow in his wake, he simply opened his mind to whoever was there, as Chesterton points out: "But a mystic like Blake simply puts up a placard for the whole universe, like an old woman letting lodgings. The mansion of his mind was indeed a magnificent one; but no one must be surprised if the first man that walked into it was `the man who built the pyramids.'"  (102)

            For pure delight, by way of a whimsical aside, I would like to furnish a further passage from the section that I quoted in part above, which dealt with the drinking of alcohol and spiritualism. It is not really completely necessary for this topic, but it will give my readers a handy Chestertonian criterion for detecting the religion of imbibers according to their beverage of choice; or, if not their religion, at least the tendency in their spirituality:

                                    I have often been haunted with a fancy that the creeds of men might be paralleled and represented in their beverages. Wine might stand for genuine Catholicism and ale for genuine Protestantism; for these at least are real religions with comfort and strength in them. Clean cold Agnosticism would be clean cold water, an excellent thing, if you can get it. Most modern ethical and idealistic movements might well be represented by soda-water -- which is a fuss about nothing. Mr. Bernard Shaw's philosophy is exactly like black coffee -- it awakens but it does not really inspire. Modern hygienic materialism is very like cocoa; it would be impossible to express one's contempt for it in stronger terms than that. Sometimes, very rarely, one may come across something that may honestly be compared to milk, an ancient and heathen mildness, an earthly yet sustaining mercy -- the milk of human kindness. You can find it in a few pagan poets and a few old fables; but it is everywhere dying out. (99)

Blake as a Faddist

            It has been noted that the necessity for the mind to have fixed points of truth is one of Chesterton's great themes. It is here that Blake fails egregiously. Certainly the Catholic Church would see him as unorthodox and heretical. In this context of the false mysticism of Blake, Chesterton develops the splendid notion of heresy as a fad, arguing that: 

                                    In either case the definition of the fad or heresy is not so very difficult. A fad or heresy is the exaltation of something which, even if true, is secondary or temporary in its nature against those things which are essential and eternal, those things which always prove themselves true in the long run.  In short, it is the setting up of the mood against the mind.  (167-68)

            Chesterton then enumerates a number of things, some of which would not be in the category of a doctrine of the faith, but nonetheless are among those aberrations which ascetics and mystics are prone to raise to the status of a dogma. As has already been noted, Chesterton is not against the wild asceticism of the desert, nor is he opposed to the Simons of the spiritual Olympics sitting on top of pillars to their hearts' content. Rather he is on guard lest their asceticism and mysticism so overwhelm their minds that their powerful experiences are trumpeted to the world as the way everyone should be, or the way the world should go. In this way, they risk mistaking their personal inspiration for eternal truths that everyone else should embrace.

            Most of us have wild and ecstatic moments when we want to do things like run around naked, scream out loud in church in protest at the hypocrisy of the liturgy, smash croziers, kick clergymen down the stairs, or beat up the Lord Mayor, as Chesterton puts it (one wonders if he is speaking from personal experience when he cites this latter instance of unfettered reticence!). Even if we cannot identify with any of these examples, we each certainly have our own personal wild fads and moods. The heretical and manic dimension is to want to do these things all the time - which could become a real nuisance; or to say that they should be done all the time. The result, to take up the refrain of our examples, would be: nudism -- one of the fads today; the abolition of all clergy -- one of the fads today; the denudation of the liturgy and going to pray in the forest -- one of the fads today. 

            But the common sense of mankind is against the adoption of any such fads. Blake, on the other hand, thought his fads should be adopted:

                                    But he had the mental attitudes which were really fads and eccentricities, in this essential sense, that they were not exaggerations of a general human feeling but definite denials of it. He did not lead humanity, but attacked and obstructed it. The essential of all the cases is, however, that when he went wrong it was as an intellectual and not as a poet. (173-74)

Christ As Artistic Imagination

            Of the many heresies and fads in Blake none is more devastating than the reduction of the Divine Trinity to human attributes and notions. As a result, personified art, quite apart even from morality or reason, becomes for him the supreme quality. Again, in the incomparable English of Yeats:

                                    Blake upon the other hand cried scorn upon the whole spectacle of external things, a vision to pass away in a moment, and preached the cultivated life, the internal Church which has no laws but beauty, rapture and labour. `I know of no other Christianity, and of no other gospel, than the liberty, both of body and mind....  The Apostles knew of no other gospel. What were all their spiritual gifts?  Is the Holy Spirit any other than an intellectual fountain? Is God a spirit who must be worshipped in spirit and truth?' The historical Christ was indeed no more than the supreme symbol of the artistic imagination. `The worship of God is honouring his gifts in other men & loving the greatest men best, each according to his Genius which is the Holy Ghost in Man; there is no other God than that God who is the intellectual fountain of Humanity.' (135-37)

            Blake, it is clear, criticizes and reshapes the biblical, historical Christ. Transformed into the Personified Artistic Imagination, the traditional Christ must be judged according to artistic norms -- Blake's artistic norms, of course. This is the crux of Chesterton's criticism of Blake's Christ, who must be a perfect gnostic Christ, not subject to the weaknesses portrayed in the gospel and preached by the Church:

                                    Thus he imbibed the idea common among early Gnostics... that it was a confession of weakness in Christ to be crucified at all... he ought to have attained eternal life; he ought to have lived for ever upon the earth.  With an excess of what can only be called impudence, he even turned Gethsemane into a sort of moral breakdown; the sudden weakness which accepted death.

                                    In holding that Christ was weakened by being crucified he is certainly a pedant, and certainly not a poet. If there is one point on which the spirit of the poets and the poetic soul in all peoples is on the side of Christianity, it is exactly this one point on which Blake is against Christianity -- `was crucified, dead and buried.'

                                    There is more real mysticism in nailing down a coffin lid than in pretending, in mere rhetoric, to throw open the doors of death. (178-80)

            He only notes in passing here, without developing the idea, that false mysticism of the gnostic variety takes the tragedy and pain out of human existence under the pretext of sublimating it.  The gnostic blasphemy "consists in regarding in a commonplace manner something which other and happier people regard in a rapturous and imaginative manner." And, "to talk... about death being nothing, the mere walking into another room, to talk like this is not only prosaic and profoundly un-Christian; it is decidedly vulgar. It is against the whole trend of the secret emotions of humanity." (178-79)

            You can read this kind of blasphemy in much New Age literature today. There is no sin, which means that the titanic struggle attested to by all the saints and the psalmists really is not necessary. Sin is merely an illusion that comes from construing morality and law and order too explicitly. Nor, by New Age reckoning, is God distant. There is no need to experience the absence of God, since we are God. Neither is there any need to fear death. The great gulf which Jesus spoke about in the parable about Lazarus does not exist. We are already in heaven. We shall merely slide over into eternity. The terror sometimes connected with death is considered to be without objective foundation, a mere misunderstanding. 

            Thus the "secret human emotions" are emasculated and robbed of their reality. This is the gnostic way. The Christian saints and mystics, on the other hand, have travelled the real road to holiness. One has only to read their accounts to see that the journey is not an illusion, nor is it made without a great struggle.

The War of the Mystics

            Chesterton was a fighter, engaged in battle. What was he fighting for? Many things: truth in Christian doctrine; the rights of the common man; a poetic and adventuresome approach to life; the restoration of wonder. But in the context of this tentative exploration of his mysticism, I came across a pronouncement which gives yet another dimension to his order of battle.

            It is a pronouncement that arises out of his consideration, in due course, of what was positive in Blake's vision of reality. As he makes clear: "When we have fairly stated this doubtful and even false element in Blake's philosophy, we can go on with greater ease and thoroughness to state where the solid and genuine value of that philosophy lay." (183) He does, however, preface his treatment of Blake's genuine value with this remark about false mystics, situating them in a broader frame of reference within the history of ideas:

                                    It is not unnatural that they should have fallen into many errors, employed dangerous fallacies, and even ruined the earth for the sake of the cloudland. But the war in which they were engaged has been none the less the noblest and most important effort of human history, and in their whole army there was no greater warrior than Blake. (183)

            Chesterton goes on to say that the fundamental question involved in mysticism "is so enormous and so important, that it is difficult to state even by reason of its reality." (196) He makes ready to treat, at a very profound level, a question he considers, in some way, fundamental to all else. In this final discussion, Blake, generally speaking, comes out on the right side, so long as we keep his fads and heresies in view. 

            People who really understand the human condition consider true mystics as having the final word about reality. They are the elite of the human race, those who have contacted the Presence. This is why, as I mentioned above, some thinkers look to the mystics as having the ultimate vision. 

            The point here is that the mystics are engaged in a war that is extremely "noble and important"; indeed, Chesterton states that it is "the most important." Mystics are considered the full flowering of the human race, people who have entered the bright darkness and the cloud of unknowing and returned to tell us of the nature of reality. The war they are engaged in is one of the highest importance.     

            Their field of action is described in martial terms as a war, precisely because different visions of God and reality are competing for the great palm of ultimate truth. It is quite a prize to have the last word about human existence. In this battle of the mystics, "there are two types of mysticism, that of Christendom and that of Orientalism." (201) In this battle, moreover, Blake is on the right side. We start out in life being aware of details; then the mind seeks to discover the grand design of reality, as Chesterton explains, using his martial metaphor: 

                                    It is the design that we only see very slowly; and some men die never having seen it at all. We all wake up on a battlefield. Wait until you know what the battle is broadly about before you rush roaring after any advancing regiment. For a battle is a complicated thing; each army contains coats of different colour; each section of each army advances at a different angle. (197-98)

            It is at this point that we encounter some of Chesterton's most profound reflections on the challenges of the human condition. He proceeds now to tell us what the main mystical battle is all about, after declaring that Blake, in some essential areas, wears the colors of Christendom: "There is an everlasting battle in which Blake is on the side of the angels, and what is much more difficult and dangerous, on the side of all the sensible men." (196)

The Solidity of God

            It is helpful, in approaching this key stage of Chesterton's argument, to call to mind his definition of a mystic: someone who believes that two worlds are better than one. Since this is so, both the world we see and the world we cannot see are real and clear, with definite designs, as well as luminous. The true mystic, moreover, does not conceal mysteries, but rather reveals them. Nor does the true mystic communicate things no one else can understand. What is more, he does not deny one world in favor of the other. Basically, Chesterton sets out to say that Blake was essentially right about the reality and solidity of the unseen world (though he has false interpretations of it), but that he was less than clear and enthusiastic about the world that he could see. In other words, he was a mystic with his feet in only one world. 

            In addition, Blake had these essential elements of a true mystic: brightness of colour and clearness of shape. His drawings are clear, even if their significance is doubtful.

                                    But in the work of a real mystic the triangle is a hard mathematical triangle not to be mistaken for a cone or a polygon. 

                        The Christian decorators, being true mystics, were chiefly concerned to maintain the reality of objects. For the highest dogma of the spiritual is to affirm the material.

                        This decision of tint and outline belongs not only to Blake's pictures, but even to his poetry. Even in his descriptions there is no darkness, and practically, in the modern sense, no distance. All his animals are as absolute as the animals on a shield of heraldry. (135-36)

            This leads Chesterton into a discussion about realism, in which he points out where Blake is in agreement with the platonic and scholastic tradition. Modern realists begin at the outside of things; medieval realists began at the inside. They were keenly concerned with the original idea of things, the quidditas, the thingness of a thing, as they would say, delving into the essences of things, of elephants, for instance. Blake mirrored them with a similar interest in thingness and essences:

                                    When you have quite realised this ancient sense in the reality of an elephant, go back and read William Blake's poems about animals, as, for instance, about the lamb and about the tiger. You will see quite clearly that he is talking of an eternal tiger, who rages and rejoices for ever in the sight of God. You will see that he is talking of an eternal and supernatural lamb, who can only feed happily in the fields of heaven. (137)

            It may be recalled from an earlier chapter that Chesterton as a young man had a skirmish with impressionism in art, and how it nearly drove him mad. He was led to doubt whether the world outside of him really existed, so that he was tempted to suppose it existed only in his mind. He returns to those memories here, using them as a springboard for his discussion of Blake. 

            Impressionism is a form of scepticism, inasmuch as it tends to the belief that one's impressions of reality are more real than the essence that one cannot see. "It means believing one's immediate impressions at the expense of one's more permanent and positive generalisations. It puts what one notices above what one knows. It means the monstrous heresy that seeing is believing." (137-38)

            The following passages are essential to Chesterton's understanding of Blake as an anti-Impressionist realist: "On this point he is at one with all the mystics and with all the saints." (141) Blake is not drawing mere symbols or allegories. When Blake made the lamb the symbol of innocence:

                                    ... he meant that there really is behind the universe an eternal image called the Lamb, of which all living lambs are merely the copies or the approximations. He held that eternal innocence to be an actual and even an awful thing. It is merely that Blake did not mean that meekness was true and the lamb only a pretty fable. If anything he meant that meekness was a mere shadow of the everlasting lamb. The distinction is essential to anyone at all concerned for this rooted spirituality which is the only enduring sanity of mankind.  The personal is not a mere figure for the impersonal; rather the impersonal is a clumsy term for something more personal than common personality. God is not a symbol of goodness.  Goodness is a symbol of God.  (141-42)

            The Impressionists, for their part, believe that the appearances are more real than the essence:

                                    A white cow at one particular instant of the evening light may be gold on one side and violet on the other. The whole point of Impressionism is to say that there is no white cow at all. But the essence of Mysticism is to insist that there is a white cow, however veiled with shadow or painted with sunset gold. Blessed are they who have seen the violet cow and who yet believe in the white cow. To the mystic a white cow had a sort of solid whiteness, as if the cow were made out of frozen milk. (138)

            Chesterton now applies this understanding of realism to Blake's concept of God. To illustrate his point, he first quotes these lines from "The Auguries of Innocence":

                        God appears and God is light, to those poor souls that dwell in night. But does a human form display to those that dwell in realms of clay.

            In reading the following explication of these lines by Chesterton, keep in mind his revulsion at the Eastern impersonal All, to which he gave the pejorative epithet, Tibet:

                                    But those last two lines express all that is best in Blake and all that is best in all the tradition of the mystics. This is the point about Blake that must be understood if nothing else is understood. God for him was not more and more vague and diaphanous as one came near to Him. God was more and more solid as one came near. When one was far off one might fancy Him to be impersonal. When one came into personal relation one knew that He was a person. The personal God was a fact.  The impersonal God of the Pantheists was a kind of condescending symbol. (147-48)

            Blake's idea of God is certainly not orthodox. He does not believe in a Pure Spirit penetrating creation, but distinct from it. Nonetheless, he is on the side of the angels in that his God is personal, and he can relate to him as a person. Thus he is to be numbered among those who champion "the idea that personality is the glory of the universe and not its shame." (209) Accordingly:

                                    God was not to him a hazy light breaking through the tangle of the evolutionary undergrowth, nor a blinding brilliancy in the highest place of the heavens. God was to him the magnificent old man depicted in his dark and extraordinary illustrations of `Job,' the old man with the monstrous muscles, the mild stern eyebrows, the long smooth silver hair and beard.  (149)

            Many years ago, when reading C.S. Lewis, I came across the idea that spirit is more solid than what we see and touch and call matter. Lewis was speaking about Christ entering the room after his resurrection, "the doors being closed." He argued that this was possible because now his spiritual body was more solid than the wall. We think of spirit as some kind of gaseous substance, like a cloud or mist. It is just the opposite: spirit is more solid than matter. 

            The main point that Chesterton wants us to understand is that: "Blake held that Deity is more solid than humanity. He held that what we call the ideal is not only more beautiful but more actual than the real."  (149)

            Think of the most solid substance you can: iron, stone, or steel. The God who surrounds us is infinitely more solid than any of those substances. What we often call the absence of God is really his gentleness. He is protecting us from experiencing too much of his reality. If he is the Essence of fire, strength, power, etc., and this Essence is surrounding us at every moment, we need his protection even from himself. We could not stand too much reality. Remember as children how gently we held a soap bubble in our hands, to keep it from breaking. That's how gently God must hold us, lest we break.

            This solidity of the ideal, of spirit, is "the idea of ideas" (156) in Blake. And because he encompasses this kernel of truth, Chesterton has some very high praise for him, for all the convolutions of his thinking: "No man had harder dogmas; no one insisted more that religion must have theology. The Everlasting Gospel was far from being a simple gospel. Blake had succeeded in inventing in the course of about ten years as tangled and interdependent a system of theology as the Catholic Church has accumulated in two thousand." (156) 

            Chesterton sums up for us the position espoused by Blake "and all such mystics":

                                    ...this school especially denied the authority of nature. [He] considered it as a shadow or illusion, a sort of joke of the Almighty. Against Nature he set a certain entity which he called Imagination... that is, he meant images; the eternal images of things.  Blake's philosophy, in brief, was primarily the assertion that the ideal is more actual than the real. (159-60)

            Besides his heterodoxy and deficiencies in Christian doctrine, where Blake went off the rails here is in not taking what is seen seriously enough. True enough, what is seen is on a lower scale of being than the spiritual. But his problem was that he saw nature and the things of this world as more or less diffuse and unreal. "Nature has no outline," he said. But then this observation applies even more cogently to other facets of life: law, church, state, and tradition, for example. By Blake's reckoning, all these things are not only less actual, but somehow not actual at all, a kind of joke on the part of the Almighty. Thus, his mysticism lacks the balance of having its other foot solidly in this world.

            In his account of Blake's mythology David Bindman mentions two other closely connected characteristics of the man which it would be helpful to note: an earnest sense of mission and the conviction that he was possessed of an Inner Light.

            As Bindman explains, "Blake was undeniably a man in earnest in the Carlylean sense, conceiving of a God-given mission to communicate the higher truth to his fellow men." [3]   Great people who have a sense of mission really need to be humble, which was a doubtful attribute in the case of Blake. Thank God Chesterton had this humility and considered it the foundation of all genuine mysticism.

            Pride also tends to think it has discovered secrets never before known to the human race -- quite a feat! Christianity is a religion for the masses. It is not and never has been a sect for sophisticated, gnostic specialists. Chesterton remarked on the impenetrable elements of Blake's mysticism, pointing out that the Christian mysteries are for all God's children, the learned and the unlearned:

                                    I mean the element of oligarchy and fastidiousness in the mystics and masonries of that epoch. They were all founded in an atmosphere of degrees and initiations. The chief difference between Christianity and the thousand transcendental schools of today is substantially the same as the difference nearly two thousand years ago between Christianity and the thousand sacred rites and secret societies of the Pagan Empire. The deepest difference is this: that all the heathen mysteries are so far aristocratic, that they are understood by some, and not understood by others. The Christian mysteries are so far democratic that nobody understands them at all. (182-83)

            We saw above that, in his reply to Rev. Trusler, Blake spoke disparagingly of the weak men, the idiots, who need to have their faculties "rouzed." Genuine mystics do not divide mankind into the learned and the idiots. Incidentally, the topic of the painting which Rev. Trusler commissioned Blake to paint, and which, in his opinion, needed some Elucidation, concerned the theme of "Malevolence."

            "While theologians would have argued that it [the meaning of the Bible] could only be reached by the accumulated wisdom invested in a church, Blake and other millenarians saw the true meaning of the Bible as being within the reach of those few privileged individuals throughout the ages who were guided by an inner light."  (Bindman, 22) Blake stands as one of the exemplary purveyors of this Inner Light, which orthodox Christianity has always been obliged to denounce. Otherwise, the traditional faith would ever be in jeopardy, always in thrall to gnostic illuminati.

            When considering the unorthodox thinkers of history, we often concentrate on their errors. Chesterton says that historians need to exercise their imagination in order to consider "what might have been." What if gnostics such as Marcion, Arius, Voltaire, and Blake had been converted to the orthodox Church? What an intellectual enrichment they would have provided to the faithful. On the other hand, it might be pointed out, what if we had lost Augustine, Bernard, Catherine of Siena, and Theresa of Avila to false mysticism! 

            What, indeed, if we had lost Chesterton to the spiritualism and gnosticism of the early part of this century! I am sure that he, aware of his human frailty, would have heartily endorsed the sentiment that "there, but for the grace of God, go I." Thank God for giving Chesterton the humility to believe more in the light of the Church than in his own inner light. Imagine his great mind and mystical gifts turned against the Church!

            Blake, then, was a tragic mystic, when all is said and done. He was, for all that, sincere and courageous, a talented poet and artist. Some of his early visions were probably from the Holy Spirit. The tragedy was that he did not ask the Catholic Church about them. She could have told him about Ezechiel and angels in the trees. But he was cut off from this great tradition. Being uneducated in philosophy or theology, he was easily deluded and misguided. Blake is the prime modern exponent of "a return of mysticism without the Christianity. Mysticism itself [in the false sense] has returned, with all its moons and twilights, its talismans and spells... and brought with it seven devils worse that itself." (G.K.Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 177) The problem, Chesterton remarks pointedly, is that now we have the devils without the Redeemer. (Ibid. 170) Now, too, we have visions without a Church to interpret them.

            Nevertheless, for all his gnosticism, Blake retained some important scraps of the Western mystical tradition. Especially did he believe that forgiveness was at the heart of Christ's heart. We have every reason to hope that he himself obtained it.

            We can have private opinions about people being in heaven. I am sure he is there. He loved the little lamb and believed in the Everlasting Lamb with a tender poignancy:

                                    Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? Little Lamb, I'll tell thee, Little Lamb, I'll tell thee. He is called by thy name, for he calls himself a Lamb. He is meek, & he is mild; He became a little child. I, a child, & thou a lamb, we are called by his name.

            Blake believed, as well, in the book of Revelation, where the Lamb is the temple of the New Jerusalem and its lamp. 

                                    Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.  On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servant will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Rev. 22,1-4)

            All the mystics of all ages and traditions had some experience of the Presence, desired to see his face, and tried to communicate what they saw. We have every reason to hope that now they see what they longed for. The Buddha and John of the Cross and Blake and Chesterton will one day be at the Lamb's feast, enjoying ecstatic conversations about the Presence they behold. They will not have their bodies for a while, but their solid spirits will be communicating.

            Towards the end of his life, on a BBC talk, Chesterton quoted Blake favorably: "Blake said very truly, a tear is an intellectual thing." When men are gathered around the heavenly wedding table between the Bride and the Lamb, "[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes." (Rev. 21,4) Only joy will be there, and it will be the most solid reality of all.

Chapter 10 Chapter 9 Contents List


[1](London: Duckworth & Co., New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1910). Subsequent page references to Blake refer to this book.

[2] (Unless otherwise noted, the page references henceforth are to Chesterton's William Blake (London: Duckworth & Co, 1910)

[3]William Blake, His Art and Times,22.


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