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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bacon, Newton, and Locke

"I consider them [Bacon, Newton, and Locke] as the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception.." (from the pen of Thomas Jefferson in a letter in 1789.
You can see what Blake thought of Bacon by reading his annotations to one of Bacon's books (Erdman pp 620-32). Here's are two examples:
"7. Bacon a Liar
AnnBacon62; E624
8. Bacon has no notion of any thing but Mammon
AnnBacon69; E625"
Re Newton look at the end of a famous letter (23) to Butts in 1802:
"Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always.  May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep" (Erdman 722) 
 Re Locke: the tabula raza was particularly offense to Blake
who thought intelligence and imagination were inherent in us
 In Milton plate 41 Blake dispatches all three with this:
"To cleanse the Face of my Spirit by Self-examination.
To bathe in the Waters of Life; to wash off the Not Human
I come in Self-annihilation & the grandeur of Inspiration
To cast off Rational Demonstration by Faith in the Saviour
To cast off the rotten rags of Memory by Inspiration
To cast off Bacon, Locke & Newton from Albions covering
To take off his filthy garments, & clothe him with
Imagination" (Erdman 142)

Blake felt that these three men (Blake's 'unholy trinity')
had led England into a thoroughly materialistic,
spirit-denying culture dominated by greed.  What he said
about them was largely true although they had a positive
dimension as well. Blake acknowledged the positive dimension
in plate 98 near the end of Jerusalem:
"The Druid Spectre was Annihilate loud thundring rejoicing
terrific vanishing
Fourfold Annihilation & at the clangor of the Arrows of
The innumerable Chariots of the Almighty appeard in Heaven
And Bacon & Newton & Locke, & Milton & Shakspear &
Chaucer"(Erdman 257)
Although he had excoriated them systematically throughout
his works, he realized that they were not negatives, but
contraries.  The essential polarity of the mind means that
the opposites are also true. 

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