Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century

By Wayne Glausser | Go to book overview

Blake would point to this last metaphor as a sure sign of imaginative weakness. Locke sees a world full of crooks and kinks to be straightened out by empowered reasoners. He becomes a model for Urizen in Blake's favorite narrative of the Fall: a perceptive but self-absorbed, insecure character who tries to organize the universe against threats to his stability. A century earlier Locke observed and predicted self-absorbed, insecure enthusiasts like Blake. Feeling inhibited or otherwise victimized by the institutions of modern thinking, they claim divine privilege to challenge sane, rational ideas.

This book is an attempt to move beyond adversarial caricatures of temperament, faculty, ideology, and intention and to open up the lives and works of Locke and Blake for richer conversation. The adversarial caricatures have stayed fairly securely in place, however, and it is not difficult to understand why. Scholars who specialize in Blake tend either to adopt his distaste for Locke or to grant Locke a distantly respectful cameo role. Frye, for example, closes "The Case against Locke" with the following deflection: "Though Blake is an interesting eighteenth-century phenomenon even in philosophy, Locke's reputation can perhaps be left to take care of itself." The disciplinary separation of philosophy from literature may not be fully justified, Frye suggests, but it allows him to send Locke back to the Lockeans and get on with the study of his literary antagonist. Locke and Blake have come to be separated by period as well as by academic discipline. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, for example--certainly a useful index of mainstream literary history-- positions Locke as a "terminus" at the threshold of the eighteenth century and opens the Romantic period with Blake. If confidence in periods has recently ebbed as a result of Foucauldian and associated poststructuralist strategies, 1 Locke and Blake remain influential transitional figures in a history of English letters that many still take for granted.

It would be easy enough to construct a period sufficiently extensive and heterogeneous to include both of them. Indeed, many scholars now like to refer to "the long eighteenth century," roughly 1660-1830. Inviting Locke and Blake into a putative common period is no less artificial than separating them as founders of distinct periods, but it does suspend certain assumptions that might obscure cultural and textual continuities. The problem of disciplinary separation has diminished in recent years as literary scholars have increasingly appropriated texts outside the canon of imaginative literature. Certainly marriages of literary and philosophical texts are common enough to require no special justification. Blake, it should be noted, wanted to keep philosophers duly subordinate to poets: "There are always two classes of learned sages, the poetical and the philosophical . . . Let the Philosopher always be the

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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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