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Title: A visionary among the radicals : William Blake and the circle of Joseph Johnson, 1790-95
Author: Mertz, Jeffrey Barclay
ISNI:       0000 0004 2694 2215
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2010
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Blake’s critics have never attempted to illustrate in a systematic manner how Blake used information he learned from writings published by members of the circle of Joseph Johnson in his own works during the period 1790-95. Although Blake was a peripheral figure in the Johnson circle – known to them through his profession of engraving and marginalized on account of his social position and lack of university education – his works reveal a continuing engagement with topics addressed in the writings of authors associated with Johnson, perhaps signifying Blake’s desire to be recognized as an author participating, like them, in the literary deliberations of the public sphere. Chapter 1, ‘Blake, Priestley and Swedenborg’, examines Blake’s treatment in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell of body and soul, the natures of God and Jesus Christ, and Swedenborgianism in relation to Joseph Priestley’s History of the Corruptions of Christianity (1782) and Letters to the Members of The New Jerusalem Church (1791). Chapter 2, ‘The Voice of a Devil and the Printing House in Hell’, considers The Marriage as an attempt to join the Revolution controversy and compares this work with writings by Richard Price, Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine. Chapter 2 also assesses the relationship between The Marriage and radical diabolism and Blake’s engagement with ‘energy’ as a distinctively radical concept in the work of Erasmus Darwin, Henry Fuseli, William Godwin, Priestley and Mary Wollstonecraft. Chapter 3, ‘Topical Representations in The French Revolution’, considers Blake’s engagement with Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and the Bastille in relation to responses to Reflections by Wollstonecraft, Paine and other authors published by Johnson. Chapter 3 concludes with an analysis of the response The French Revolution might have elicited from the Analytical Review. Chapter 4, ‘The French Revolution and Three Contemporary Discourses’, approaches this poem in terms of the discourses of ancient liberty, nature and the sublime, once again in comparison with responses to Reflections by members of the Johnson circle. My discussion of the sublime considers the possible influence on The French Revolution of Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) and Bishop Robert Lowth’s Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (1787). Chapter 5, ‘The Continental Prophecies: Prophetic Form and Contemporary Prophecy’, examines America, Europe and The Song of Los in relation to writings concerning prophecy published by Johnson (with special emphasis on Lowth’s Lectures and Priestley’s 1793 and 1794 Fast Day sermons). The second part of Chapter 5 compares aspects of the works of Blake and Richard Brothers with Priestley’s Fast Day sermons, suggesting that Priestley and Blake’s works of 1793 and 1794 are rather less dissimilar than traditionally assumed. Chapter 6, ‘Blake’s “Bible of Hell” and Contemporary Critics of the Bible’, discusses Urizen, The Book of Ahania and The Book of Los in light of biblical criticism from the 1780s and 1790s (with particular reference to the Analytical and the writings of Alexander Geddes, Priestley and Paine). The final section of Chapter 6 reads Ahania in terms of the contemporary debate regarding the doctrine of the Atonement. The Conclusion, ‘ “melting apparent surfaces away”: Continuities in the Thought of Priestley and Blake’, revisits my discussion in Chapter 5 of similarities between Priestley and Blake and proposes that they are not so far apart in ideas and the content of their works as modern scholars usually argue.
Supervisor: Shrimpton, Nicholas Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Language and Literature ; William Blake ; Joseph Johnson ; Joseph Priestley