Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century

By Wayne Glausser | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
From Caricature to Conversation

The first chapter of Northrop Frye Fearful Symmetry is called "The Case against Locke." For appreciative interpreters of Blake, Locke has always made a plausible, convenient foil. The two are commonly situated at opposite borders of the Age of Reason. Blake carefully instructed his audience in this strategy. Over and over he named Locke as a principal architect of the fallen world. Locke and a handful of colleagues had degraded consciousness so effectively that people became vulnerable to spiritual failure on many levels. Symptoms included atheism, political and economic exploitation, sexual frustration, bad art, cosmic alienation, and (most generally) a sort of mental dullness: Lockean common sense made humanity less interesting.

Locke lived a century before Blake, of course, and could not literally make "the case against Blake." But the case is plain enough if one reads Locke proleptically. One of the last sections he added to his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, "Of Enthusiasm," delivers a strong warning against excited pseudoprophets. Enthusiasts rely on "the ungrounded Fancies of a Man's own Brain" as a "Foundation both of Opinion and Conduct" ( 4.19.3). Whether their pretensions are caused by weak judgment or simply a "warmed" or "melancholic" brain, they "feel the Hand of GOD moving within, and the impulses of the Spirit, and cannot be mistaken in what they feel" ( 4.19.8). But their claims are pathetically circular. "They are sure, because they are sure"; "It is a revelation, because they firmly believe it, and they believe it, because it is a Revelation" ( 4.19.10). Such people are dangerous to modern, rationally stable societies. Inner light "is a very unsafe ground to proceed on, either in our Tenets, or our Actions . . . The strength of our Perswasions are no Evidence at all of their own rectitude: Crooked things may be as stiff and unflexible as streight" ( 4.19.11).

-1-

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Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter 1 from Caricature to Conversation 1
  • Chapter 2 Mothers, the Matrix, and Marriage 13
  • Chapter 3 Two English Physicians 43
  • Chapter 4 Slavery 62
  • Chapter 5 Seditious Plots 92
  • Chapter 6 Possessions 121
  • Chapter 7 Printing 141
  • Chapter 8 Epitaphs 163
  • Notes 166
  • Bibliography 183
  • Index 191
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