Tag Archive: Thomas Paine


Religion and Politics

Blake engages with the French revolutionary debates in his “A Song of Liberty.” Thomas Paine, who also engages in those same debates, believes that “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possess of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time’, or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it” (24). Both thinkers understand the connection between religion and government, or religion as political and politics as religious. Blake, through his work, acknowledges the unbreakable link between religion and the political, “20. Spurning through the clouds written with curses, stamps the stony law to dust, loosing the eternal horses from the dens of night, crying ‘Empire is no more! And now the loin & wolf shall cease’” (plate 27).

Both thinkers, while talking about the French Revolution have something to say about religion. Paine alludes to an “end of time” and a “commanding.” Similarly Blake alludes to “stony law.” The Ten Commandments are a reoccurring image in both thinkers’ work, alongside a celebration of moving away from a system that valorizes based on faith.

-Israel Alonso

Advertisements

Blake’s marginalia deeming Paine “either a Devil or an Inspired Man” (456) is indicative of his admiration for Pain because throughout the works of Blake we see him develop the devil as a character that is calling for inquiry on a system that he is advised to not question. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell “the voice of the devil” raises 6 points that expose “the errors of sacred codes”. For Paine to be compared to a devil or an Inspired Man is self-referential to the Poetic Genius.

Blake’s engagement to the French revolution is exemplified by the line: “To what does the Bishop attribute the English Crusade against France, it is not to State Religion, blush for shame” (456). Blake is also against the monarchy and, ultimately, the church.

Several texts we’ve read so far from Blake realign with ideas such as Paine’s. In Paine’s “Common Sense” we encounter a radical thinker that contrasts the “evils” of government with the “blessing” of society. The government he’s referring to is the aristocracy that he refuses to endorse since he does not believe that old generations should impose their will on newer generations because of birth-right. This idea realigns with Blake’s idea that the individual (or society) is not wicked, but the church (or the government) is wicked.

Paine also mentions America in his text as the model for democracy: “What Athens was in miniature, America will be in magnitude: the one was the wonder of the ancient world, the other is becoming the admiration, the model of the present” (27). In Blake’s artwork “America a Prophecy”, he also depicts America in a mystical form, showing his mythological figures, including “Albions Angel”, “Londons Guardian” (forces of the British government), Urizen, and fiery Orc (the spirit of revolt). In his other artwork “Europe a prophecy” he is depicting Europe as treacherous by using the snake, which is a biblical symbol of evil. These illustrations could also align with Paine’s emphasis on a republic in which the people choose the ruler, as depicted in Blake’s artwork where the Europe illustration has only one snake (wearing a crown), and it’s tremendous size prevents room for anyone else.

-Beyanira Bautista

Though William Blake is not anti-religious as Thomas Paine is, they both share a similar distaste for the church and state and how they operate (rule) society.

In Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man Part 1”, he argues against the fallacy of his government: “what is government more than the management of the affairs of a nation? It is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or family…” (3). Evidently, Paine’s views on his government are that no one particular being ought to run the government, but perhaps the society should influence government’s tactics and affairs. A radical thinker, especially for his own time. Though not so estranged from Paine’s beliefs, Blake also sees the fallacies in his own government, as he reflects in his songs, “The Chimney Sweeper” from experience to be exact.

As mentioned before, Blake was not against religious faith, but merely disgusted by the foul practice of formed religions. He expresses his thoughts about churchgoers throughout the poem, especially in lines 3-4: “where are they father & mother? say?/They are both gone up to the church to pray.” (35). The fact that these god-loving parents can abandon their child and leave them to die in the business of sweeping chimneys, buried in soot, is appalling; and Blake offers who is at fault: the church and state. The closing lines 9-12 suggest rulers of society are allowing children to be killed in a disillusion, rather than offering help: “And because I am happy, & dance & sing,/ They think they have done me no injury:/ and are gone to praise God & his Priest & King/ Who make up a heaven of our misery.” (35). Blake places the church and state at fault for the sufferings of the children, as Paine definitely would, while still being a faithful god believer; he does not question the power or will of god, but those who serve him and use his name to rule.

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

So far, what we do know of Blake’s beliefs regarding Swedonborg and the Moravian Church in is that Swedonborg is a false proclaimer; that he claims to have realized certain beliefs before others have. “Now hear a plain fact: Swedonborg has not written one new truth:/ Now hear another: he has written all the old falsehoods” (79). Blake essentially claims that Swedonborg has not discovered anything new, but just regurgitated what has already been said. Now the ideals that Thomas Paine seems to have is that the world will never be under one person or one set of rules forever.

“There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or power binding and controlling posterity to the ‘end of time’, or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it” (24).

In “A Song of Liberty,” Blake makes multiple remarks that ring the same bell as Paine’s belief; that one government/person will never be forever set in stone. “Shadows of Prophecy shiver along by the lakes and the rivers and mutter across the ocean? France rend down thy dungeon” (81). According to the footnotes, the dungeon is the Bastille which was destroyed in 1789, which represented a political change right before the 1790s and represented Blake’s position towards the French Revolution. As if this was not enough, Blake chooses to outright profess his views with “Empire is no more! and now the lion & wolf shall cease” (82).

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 (2/28), 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.

Blake & Paine

For Edmund Burke, the French Revolution represented an inversion and usurpation of natural order (at the very least a dismantling of the benign illusions thereof), a loss of the restraints and checks on mankind’s more bestial drives. However, for Blake, it was genuinely apocalyptic—in the sense it offered revelation, the casting off of fetters and a new way of seeing, not that it necessarily heralded doomsday and the end-times. It was return to something originary, deposing the hierarchies that have separated humanity from the natural—scales falling from eyes finally. He is allied with Thomas Paine in seeing the emancipatory potential in revolution, in realizing that it is outmoded ideologies that perpetuate tyranny. Shackles in the mind always being more effective than those about the ankles or wrists.

For this particular post, I want to elaborate on Anna’s post from last week. In it, she discusses Blake’s use of Moravian themes in the last Memorable Fancy. Anna’s post can be found here: https://williamblakeandenlightenmentmedia.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/blake-zinzendorf-nuns-et-al/

Anna claims that in this Memorable Fancy, “we see a typical motif of Blake’s work by connecting obedience to restricting individual creativity. Living under the unquestioned law is blind obedience, but acting from impulse and displaying this physical devotion is closer to God” (Watt). I believe that this idea of obedience as a restriction of creativity can be expanded further to include restricted liberty, as is found in Paine’s “The Rights of Man.” Paine claims that “man under the monarchical and hereditary systems of government” is found in a “wretched state… dragged from his home by one power, or driven by another, and impoverished by taxes more than by enemies” (25). Much as Anna argues that the last Memorable Fancy demonstrates Blake’s belief that “traditional laws are oppression,” here we see Paine’s argument of traditional monarchy as oppressive. Paine’s comment that “every citizen is a member of the sovereignty, and as such can acknowledge no personal subjugation, and his obedience can be only to the laws” surely resonated with Blake, as it is a Poetic Genius-esque way of thinking about lawmaking (25).

However, just as Anna addresses in her post, we must also consider Blake’s tone and use of satire in all of his works. In his marginal comments, he claims that Paine’s writings are the work of “either a Devil or an inspired man,” and that “Paine is a better Christian than the Bishop” (456, 460). Can we really interpret this as praise for Paine? Blake’s use of satire in all of his works, including the last Memorable Fancy, makes it impossible for us to know exactly what he believes and champions. We can assume that Blake was influenced by the Moravian church based on the imagery found in the last Memorable Fancy, but we cannot begin to presume that Blake subscribed to the beliefs and ideals of the Moravian church because of his heavy use of satire. Likewise, we know that Paine influenced Blake’s thinking, but we are left to wonder if Blake really saw him as an “inspired man” or merely as a Devil.

In his marginal comments to Watson’s An Apology for the Bible, Blake considers 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 (10/2), 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 antinomian-Moravian view of Christianity?  Focus on a particular Blake work/image and please feel free to elaborate on your or other students’ previous posts.  Categorize under “Empire vs. Revolution” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.

 

I’ve included below pictures of the idea map we created collaboratively in class today (the markings are color coded: yellow for Richard Price, blue for Edmund Burke, and red for Thomas Paine).  Use this map as a rough guide to help you position Blake’s political views in preparation for this week’s blog question prompt.

 

274 photo 1

274 photo 3

274 photo 4

274 photo 2

 

Thomas Paine vs. William Blake

Having focused on both the comparable and contrasting perceptions of Blake and Paine in our class session on Monday, I found this video clip to be a succinct portrayal of the two figure’s conceptions of systems and democracy. Paine’s character reinforces his stance that any form of despotic government is disagreeable but that democracy should be sought after. As we have learned, Blake disagreed with any type of enforceable system and, therefore, this subject would serve as a point of contention between the two.