Tag Archive: Thomas Paine

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.


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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.