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Blake and Paine: Reason is Evil

William Blake constantly tries to deconstruct the binaries formed in our society by proposing radical ideas and using religion. In addition, Thomas Paine rejects reason as the source of good in his work, from The Rights of Man (1791). Blake’s “The voice of the Devil” (1790) realigns the radical ideas proposed by Paine with the poet-artist’s Swedenborgian- Moravian view of Christianity. For example, in the “The voice of the Devil” it states “1.That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul. 2. That Energy, calld Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, calld Good, is alone from the Soul…”(70). Here, Blake impersonates the voice of the devil as to demonstrate the separation of the soul and the body as rightful. Yet, both Paine and Blake reject this phenomena because it doesn’t include God nor the bible. In addition, the Moravians interestingly fetishize the idea of humans birthing from God and all parts of the human body are essential to mankind.  Blake ultimately uses this Moravian perspective to  respond to this misinterpretation as contraries that are true, which supports his phrase “Opposition is True Friendship.” He responds back to the devil by stating “ 1. Man has no body distinct from his soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses… 2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body, and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy” (70). Blake’s response demonstrates that the body and soul are essential to each other and cannot be separated, while Reason is an energy that is developed outside the body and soul. Here, Blake argues that the soul and the body don’t function for different reasons because God didn’t separate both the soul or the body. Relatively, Paine’s The Rights of Man proposes “The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can any individual or any body of men be entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it” (26). Here, Paine discusses how the nation is under control by the government and the people cannot exercise their own liberty. Only those who have power, reason, and knowledge could be allow to use authority against common people. Yet, Paine rejects this idea because he acknowledges that God gave everyone a body and a soul to be exercised freely. He claims that reason is a an opinion formed by those in power and power is given to those who abide by political systematic rules. Does Paine and Blake allude reason or knowledge as the real evil in humanity ?

-Priscilla Ortega


Through my interpretation of The Little Black Boy, there are multiple similarities that realign between Blakes message and Paine’s radical ideals via his Swedenborgian-Moravian view of Christianity. There were a few points Paine made that stood out to me, that of which in themselves detest the social norm of slavery at that time. The first being that “Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness,” (24) revealing the wicked ideals that form the laws we are forced to follow. Because “whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure [security] to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others,” (24) the little black boys mother tries to justify the treatment of which they are experiencing to her child, in the easiest way of helping him understand, through a Christian perspective. Blake explains that “there is a vast difference between an accident brought on by a mans own carelessness & a destruction from the designs of another”, insinuating that triumphs of which the oppressed experience are often times brought upon them by the powers that be, such as the creation of the idea that being born in a body with darker skin pigmentation deems that body inhumane, savage, and barbaric. Another point Paine made seeming to directly address slavery was his point that “Man has no property in man, neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow” (25), for which it is understood that slavery was not only a personal setback, but also a generational setback for black people, such as the little black boy and his mother. Therefore, proving that Blake agrees with Paine’s idea that “Men are born and always continue free and equal in respect to their rights” (26), considering that Blake created this poem to express his radical ideas on matters such as slavery. Blake notes that “no man can take darkness for light” (457), conveying that the oppressed are aware of their oppression and aware that they represent “the wretched condition of man under the monarchal and hereditary systems of government, dragged from [their] home by one power, or driven by another,” (25). All in all, Blake and Paine contain similar radical ideas, which Blake supports through the creation of his poem The Little Black Boy.

As we discussed last week, Blake was inspired by Moravian beliefs in his art and writing. When talking about revolution and fighting back, you would think that is one of the most anti-christian things that a person could do. I think in a weird way, the Moravian beliefs almost encourage Revolution, but through peace and dialogue. It is very clear that Blake was against the inequalities that were occurring around the world (France, America, England…ect.) Blake seems to be a fan of Thomas Paine’s call for change, and even says he is either inspired or a devil. Either way, Blake agrees with Paine. When we consider the ideas of the wounds of Christ, we have agreed that Moravians believed in a rebirth of soul through the violent section of the spear penetrating Christ. What is interesting to me is that Blake wrote The French Revolution, calling for a peaceful and pacifist revolution to overthrow the Fascist French Monarchy and the Bastile. That being said, I also think that Blake knew that a revolution would not occur without bloodshed, at least the monarchy resisting revolution, and responding violently. Not to mention the death that has already occurred due to the maltreatment of the people, which has led to the call for revolution. In this poem, Blake writes “let the Nation’s Assembly thence learn That this army of terrors, that prison of horrors, are the bands of the murmuring kingdom.” Blake was calling earlier for peaceful revolution among the people “Bastille, depart! and take thy shadowy course; Overstep the dark river, thou terrible tower, and get thee up into the country ten miles. And thou black southern prison, move along the dusky road to Versailles; there Frown on the gardens”—and, if it obey and depart, then the King will disband This war-breathing army.” The people are calling for peace and for the monarchy to leave.

A pacifist approach is a very Christian ideal to follow. Blake was inspired in many of his other works to show the plight of others. In London, Blake shows the plight that is facing the people of London on the streets. This is a definite call to help the helpless. To help those in need. This is fully in the vain of what Moravians believe as well, charity and helping others, not so different from most Christian beliefs. In The Chimney Sweeper (Songs of Innocence) we again see people in plight, only it is children. Blake is pointing out that children are dying, and are needing to be helped. Change needs to happen. What is another word for change? REVOLUTION. Blake is calling for revolution, but as he said in The French Revolution, it needs to be peaceful. There may be bloodshed from those in power, and those martyrs fro the cause could be comparable to the sacrifice Christ made, thus new souls born from blood, the same idea the Moravians gave us. But change can happen through kindness, charity, and peaceful protest, all things the Moravians would agree with.  (The French Revolution by Blake.)

When looking at the history of Blake and his founded distrust towards the French Monarchy, and taking into account his general nuance towards the subject of the Enlightenment of France, you’d be pretty hard pressed to find any literature that shows any true resentment. I think that there are some parallels to be found within his works, however, that show how he had developed such strong feelings that were not originally easy to see before; the works that best exemplify this claim are “All Religions are One” and “There is No Natural Religion.”


When examining “All Religions are One,” we are put in to understanding about the true nature of the world’s religions and how they are all derivatives of the same source. At a glance, this seems very much just a piece that seeks to find common ground among people so that they can meet eye-to-eye or at least to create understanding that there are similarities in all religions. However, there is also a case to be made that this had an allegorical meaning when you substitute “religion” for “government.” Through this lens, we can see something that shows all power comes from the same pool of understanding that creates the concept of command. Looking at Blake’s history, we see that he understand the power that government can have and how it can have very negative effects (see the Gordon Riots and American Revolution), so when applying the power lens to the “Religion” piece, we can see a mildly disgruntled understanding that can transfer the knowledge of revolution with the proper context.


It is also important to look at the work “There is No Natural Religion,” which goes on to declare a sense of coming to terms with the idea of no real certain idea for the religious debates. He does come to the conclusion that all spirituality is relatively the same within individuals; however, when applying the political power lens to the piece, we can better get an idea that this piece, if not properly understood before, can create a better meaning against the ideas found within the Enlightenment during the French Revolution. This a nuanced take that Blake stands on in this case; although he can be seen as critical in some cases of the Enlightenment ideals, he takes it in strides and finds the good and bad. However, in this hot take, he does not do it with a grain of salt and can apply a sense of fighting the “natural idea” of power and values that ascertain power in some forms or others (i.e. “freedom, equality, and brotherhood”) as they can be used in forms that further build up power instead of redistributing it (i.e. it can create new legislature that creates classifications and divisions). Although there was inherent good in the actions taken in order to bring a better age, the use of religion in this context can be seen as just another way in order to expand empire and the negatives that can be found within.

When William Blake refers to Thomas Paine as ““either a Devil or an Inspired Man” in Watson’s Apology for a Bible, he is further accepting and emphasizing not only the potential genius in Evil itself, but also the necessity of a faith that is between Christianity and Satanism (456). He strongly displays these radical beliefs on revealed religion in the “Argument” portion of his work The Marriage Between Heaven and Hell in which he firmly states that “without contraries is no progression,” with it being “necessary to Human existence”(69). Blake believes that even Evil has valuable contributions to society as it explores possibilities and reveals truths of life that Good alone cannot, such as when he suggests in his final “A Memorable Fancy” that Jesus, widely thought to be the embodiment of Good, had actually “acted from impulses, not rules” and concludes that “no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments” (80). He proves even the most Good must utilize some form of Evil to progress society in some way, a notion that only an “Inspired Man” like Paine could understand. Though his ideas were blasphemous, this new outlook and freedom of religion greatly serves to help humanity make the most out of life utilizing both Good and Evil to live through its unpredictable nature.

–Jose Ramirez

Thus, far we have read various passages of Blake’s works, noting interpretations and meaning of such works. Interestingly enough, Blake has presented his distaste in binaries either from ideologies like right &  wrong, just & unjust, female & male, etc. Including, radical ideas like getting rid of institutionalized ideologies the evade within our social spheres. Why is where he expresses the contrary states of realism, imagery, and the critical mind.

Turbulent times, such as the French Revolution brought among critics like Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke, and Richard Price. Much of the critique was founded on the grounds of the cause of revolution. Including, Blake is not limited to the critique seeing he has commented on Paine’s argument the Age of Reason, “Tom Paine is a better Christian than the Bishop” (460). Religion is a great factor within the 20th century, and ideologies follow within each societal sphere. Yet, Blake is often someone who deconstructs the notion of institutions like religions and critiques specific grounded questions.  In other words, he critiques the monarch, the establishment, and questions taking the role of the Poetic Genius.

We can see these critical aspects despite Blake being religious in , “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” where the lines of good and evil are not so binary as they appear to be. From these excerpts, Blake argues for the need of perspective is there is none, change is non-existent, “The man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind” (A Memorable Fancy, p. 77). In other words, never shifting or perceiving different views becomes a corruption of the mind. Therefore, it also offers a critique of religions as institutions like the case for Swedenborg in, “Opposition is True Friendship” (p.78-79). In addition, the last memorable fancy encases a scenario of which a devil explains Jesus’s actions in contrast to the institutions of his time. From this, the French Revolution in Blake’s eyes is something of a worthy cause because it allows for the poetic genius to take place, and question/critique the “mill” (monarchy) that has been pervading France.

  • Karla Garcia

Thomas Paine employed his literature that empowers a spark inside the English circles that his work has been either ridiculed or praised by readers for centuries. Contrary to popular belief, Paine was driven to express his admiration and faith in God, and just like Newtonians, he avows the Deistic for the pursuit of happiness in another world that isn’t our own. While he does admire the implementation of the new scientific idea of his age, he still uses the bible as his weapon to be able to distill the human belief of anything that isn’t God. Paine insinuates that humanity is so imperfect due to what they’ve learned within the bible, and that makes humans a more tolerable species to understand.

“It is from the Bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder; for the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man” (Payne, 17).

Blake reaffirms this assertion within A Memorable Fancy, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. He states, 

“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern” (Blake 75).

Unlike Calvinistic doctrines. Blake undertones that civilization handles the existence of God more delicately in comparison to what occurred during the French Revolution. Although they share this thought within their work, Paine never had any criticism towards Jesus and noted that he was nothing but an amiable man. The mission of churches was to deceive and prevail to the people. And Paine despised their ability for deceitfulness with the community around him, for the lack of understanding of the unknown. This restrains these revelations to be accepted because its backlash from the ridicule can stir a further problem to an already complex discussion.

– Stephen Munoz

The contrasting levels of power presented harmoniously in “Holy Thursday” from Songs of Innocence, like the children, beadles, and God in St. Paul’s Cathedral, illustrates the exertion of false power Thomas Paine and William Blake’s Moravian beliefs rejected. This civility with which the scene in “Holy Thursday” is conducted with demonstrates the way chivalric ideals preserve social hierarchies and restrain those in the lowest ranks.

Despite there being established social ranks where each must subject themselves to the orders of those above them, starting with the children at the bottom and God at the peak, there is peace. Nevertheless, injustice is still present in this procession to the church in the form of manners, which is preserves the hierarchy. In Common Sense, Paine expresses:

“The romantic and barbarous distinction of men into kings and subjects, though it may suit the condition of courtiers, cannot that of citizens– and is exploded by the principle upon which governments are now founded. Every citizen is a member of the sovereignty, and as such can acknowledge no personal subjection, and his obedience can be only to the laws” (Paine 25).

Paine is referring to the code of chivalry Edmund Burke laments over and advocates for in his Reflections on the Revolution in France. This code romanticized civility and obedience to the aristocracy, whose rank and elegance, like that of Marie Antoinette, characterized them as the epitome of what was proper and respected. In essence, chivalry preached the philosophy of respecting the more respectable in the form of subjugation. Civil order is not only kept by this approach but also social, since the power of the aristocracy remained unthreatened and the most lower ranks can gain is the title of a good citizen, instead of equals as Paine argues everyone is. Thus, the procession of the children, or “flowers of London” (Line 5), going to exercise Christian values in “Holy Thursday” is revealed to be a visual representation of how civility makes people blindly stay in line behind beadles and other superiors who “[walk] before with wands as white as snow” (Line 3) and dictate their paths.


Blake extends Paine’s view beyond the political Moravian views in his marginalia of Watson’s An Apology for the Bible where he states, “the Bible of Peculiar Word of God, Exclusive of Conscience of the Word of God Universal, is that Abomination which like the Jewish ceremonies is for ever removed & henceforth every man may converse with God & be a King & Priest in his own house” (Blake 457). Moravians believe their religion, like all other faiths, is not the absolute singular truth, rather one of many and man’s ability to believe in a system is enough to validate it. As a result, believers hold as much power as religious superiors just as citizens hold as much power as their political leaders. It only takes realizing this and breaking the politeness of the hierarchies that oppresses them into constructed positions, such as occurred during the French Revolution with the Third Estates’ uprising.

-Wendy Gutierrez

Blake is being satirical in his comments about Paine being “a better Christian than the Bishop [and being] either a Devil or an inspired Man” (460, 456). The poem The Little Black Boyrealigns the radical ideas proposed by Paine with the poet-artist’s Swedenborgian-Moravian view of Christianity and shows the contradictions and satire Blake demonstrates. In Blake’s engagement with his notes on Apology for the Bible, he states that, “Opinion is one Thing. Principle another. No Man can change his Principles Every Man changes his opinions.” (456). Within the poem, the little boy wants to change the mind of the slave owner to make him love him, but never does it seem he does change his principle although he believes God can change his opinion. Blake goes on to comment, “no man can take darkness for light.” (457). The color black literally means the absence of light; with Blake’s poem the little boy states that “[he] is black, but O! [his] soul is white,” tearing the notion resembled in the comments (16, (l.2)). When Paine states that, “Every citizen is a member of the sovereignty, and as such can acknowledge no personal subjection, and his obedience can be only to the laws,” it goes against what Blake raises in the poem when he allows the little black boy to be obedient to the slave master (25). This poem goes against the views and the mother is in a way looking for the justification of racial inequalities. Blake asserts, “there is a vast difference between an accident brought on by a mans own carelessness & a destruction from the designs of another,” where the little black boy was more than an accident brought on from rape and was “put on earth… to bear the beams of love; which goes along with Paine’s view that “Jesus could not do miracles where unbelief hinderd” since the mother taught her son to believe in God and learn about religion (Paine, 458) (Blake, 16 (ll.13-14), 457). Paine states that, “Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it” (25). The realignment of this idea is shown in Blake’s poem where it is stated, “My mother taught me beneath a tree…” (16, (l.5)). Blake contradicts what Paine has to say about how, “Men are born and always continue free and equal in respect to their rights” with his entire poem which is about in my opinion, how a slave woman was raped by her white master and produced a child where he couldn’t love the child due to his skin color; he revolted his child and because of this his mother taught him to rely on God and in turn go against Paine’s view that people should be obedient to laws only, and that Jesus only loves those who are believers (26). As found in Paine’s the Rights of Man, “man under the monarchical and hereditary systems of government” are found in a “wretched state… dragged from his home by one power, or driven by another, and impoverished by taxes more than by enemies” (Paine 25). I believe this to be wrong because I don’t believe the little boy in Blake’s poem is driven by power or revenge, he is driven by emotion and love.

-Alina Cantero


Prophets against Empire

In his marginal comments to Watson’s An Apology for the Bible, Blake considers Thomas Paine’s secular enlightenment assault on revealed religion to be the work of “either a Devil or an Inspired Man” (456).  He also notes that “Paine is a better Christian than the Bishop” (460).  For next Wednesday (10/9), write a post that reflects on Blake’s engagement with the French revolutionary debates of the turbulent 1790s.  How do any of the Blake works we’ve read thus far realign the radical ideals proposed by Paine with the poet-artist’s Swedenborgian-Moravian view of Christianity?  Focus on a particular Blake work/image and please feel free to elaborate on your or other students’ previous posts.

Please categorize under “Empire vs. Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.  The blog post is due by this Wednesday (10/9) 9:30am.