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William Blake Paperback – December 23, 2013
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From the Publisher
COSIMOBOOKS is an innovative publisher of books and publications that inspire, inform and engage readers worldwide. Our titles are drawn from a range of subjects including business & economics, philosophy & history, health & science, and sacred texts. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From the Author
GILBERT KEITH CHESTERTON (1874-1936) was born in London. Though he considered himself a mere "rollicking journalist," he was a prolific and gifted writer in virtually every area of literature. A man of strong opinions, and enormously talented at defending them, he possessed an exuberant personality that nevertheless allowed him to maintain warm friendships with such literary eminences as George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells with whom he often vehemently disagreed. During his life he published nearly 70 books, and at least another ten have been published since his death in 1936. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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It's also clear that the "real" edition of this book was well illustrated. If you want to know what drawings and engravings Chesterton is referring to, the few random images pasted into the middle of the book aren't very helpful. Crack open your other Blake books or fire up Google Image Search for reference.
Anyway, the content itself is awesome -- I've never really seen Blake so plainly as I have since reading Chesterton's review of the man and his work. I'm giving this edition four stars, only because there doesn't seem to be a superior edition in print to compare it to.
It was very much like Mark Twain's joke about the sermon: he was listening to a sermon and thinking this is great, I'm going to give five dollars when the collection plate comes around. After a while, he thinks, well, maybe I'll just give a dollar. The sermon goes on longer. Finally, when the collection plate goes by, Twain steals a dollar out of it.
Chesterton starts off brilliantly, illuminating Blake - his poetic/artistic genius as well as his madness, seeming to capture the essence of the man in a few well constructed paragraphs. He had that extraordinary talent of being able to put into words sentiments you have never been quite able to articulate. But then he goes on. Inevitably, we must hear about the Catholic Church. And Western civilization generally. And oddly enough that discussion of where Blake is in relation to all that marginalized him. From that point of view, from a contribution to civilization point of view, Blake is no where. Fortunately, civilization is not a road we are paving with paving blocks consisting of people's life work. So, you may continue to admire him and love him, if you do.
It's certainly worth reading. As always, there is as much Chesterton as there is biographical subject. But this can be a relief after all the virtual non-entities who write so much biography and art history, prolific non-entities on all subjects! Still, he always gets tiresome, sooner or later.
Years ago I read his book on Dickens, which is superb. I wish that were re-published.
The English used to boast that they had achieved a constitutional revolution,
but every revolution must be a constitutional revolution,
in so far that it must have reference to some antecedent
theory of justice.
It was the age of reason,
and therefore the age of revolt.
Its pet virtue was public spirit,
its pet sin political assassination.
a poem or a picture that did not explain itself
was simply like a gun that did not go off
or a clock that suddenly stopped:
it was simply a failure,
All that we call mysticism they called madness.
One edition printed in Edinburgh without a date has a picture with the caption Har and Heva (1795). It was a small book. The revival of old powers included arts like the idea of enslaving another human soul. Since Blake, writers have shifted to secularization of clashing cosmologies. You might find Blake answering your own microcosm, but hardly footing the bill on us and our children for anything. Chesterton thought Blake knew what every line he was writing meant in his scheme of disruption witnessed like he could see an apocalypse after Milton. I go to eternal death in shock addiction as Chesterton quotes Blake:
The strongest poison ever known
Came from Caesar's iron crown.
Chesterton's views about Blake have been neglected for their audacity and controversy, ironic since Blake was neglected for the same reasons. But after having trudged through Blake scholarship for several years, I just ordered this book and read it twice through and marked it up constantly. Chesterton is a show-off with his cleverness, but he's a very good show-off, and he overflows with insight even if he can outrage with his assertions. So you may find this book maddening, or refreshing. But if you can follow his train of thought and precise-but-highly-developed vocabulary, you'll never find it boring. And I found it the most eye-opening of everything I've read on Blake so far, and by far.
Chesterton had what one of my students called a "healthy dose of common sense" and that when you read him "you're constantly replying, 'Oh, of course!'" Considering that Blake is on the opposite extreme and can confuse his most devoted readers, Chesterton bridges a gap. He also entertains and challenges. So if you care to hear an alternative view, this book is the alternative view worth hearing.