Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century

Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century

Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century

Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century


Locke and Blake is a composite critical biography of two giants of 18th-century culture. Organized by topics of cultural significance for the period, it weaves together two lives, focusing on critical topics as opposed to biographical details, in order to illuminate ideas of Locke and Blake and the cultural contexts and transformations of the "period" they shared.

Glausser begins each chapter by sketching a biographical connection between the two men, which in turn leads to a broader discussion of textual as well as cultural significance. From their shared experience of having had paintings stolen by a friend, for instance, Glausser details the two men's angry responses and then explores the larger social issue of private property at each end of the 18th century. Other points of correspondence include mothers and lovers, charges of sedition, medicine and the body, slavery, and printing.

Glausser's new approach to the lives and ideas of Locke and Blake offers a more balanced treatment of theirrelationship than has been available in the past. Through this juxtaposition and re-thinking of the two traditional "antagonists" of the period, he moves beyond adversarial caricatures of temperament, faculty, ideology, and intention and illuminates both the century and the two intellectual giants who stood at either end of it.


To my knowledge, this book has no obvious model. It might best be described as a composite critical biography, organized by topics of cultural significance for the long eighteenth century. Although the sequence of chapters loosely suggests a progress from cradle to grave, the biographical narratives are neither continuous nor complete, and I am primarily concerned with useful critical topics rather than thorough coverage of either life. My intention is to find a middle ground between biography, with its emphasis on identifying the unique subject, and social history, where details of individual lives are neutralized and absorbed by cultural paradigms.

The project grew from a conference paper about Blake's printing imagery in which Locke was to play a minor (and conventionally oppositional) role. An unexpected lingering over Locke upset the original purposes of that paper. Over time I found it productive to think about a number of topics from the double perspective of Locke and Blake, who have traditionally been positioned as adversaries at the edges of the eighteenth century. In revisiting their lives and works I am trying to discover more complicated patterns of comparison. Each chapter begins with a biographical connection between Locke and Blake. Some of these connections are quite specific--for example, the fact that both had to defend themselves against sedition charges, or (on a smaller scale) their respective angry fits about a picture stolen by a friend. Other connections are more general, as in the chapter about medicine and the body. Each biographical parallel suggests a broader topic of textual as well as contextual importance for Locke and Blake. The topics offered here are by no means the only ones that might come to mind: prominent topics that I tried out but finally dropped include language, education, and fathers. I abandoned these topics not for lack of material but because the symbiotic benefits of the composite analysis seemed less significant.

Blake scholars have produced several comparative books in which Blake is clearly the foreground figure. Within this genre of "Blake and _____" books . . .

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