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“Bad” Queens, “Good” Queens, and George III (as His Satanic Majesty)

“Bad” Queens, “Good” Queens,
and George III (as His Satanic Majesty)

Paul Miner ( has written more than fifty studies on Blake.

William Blake All citations of Blake are from The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, newly rev. ed. (New York: Anchor–Random House, 1988). References to the Bible are to the Authorized (King James) Version; those to Paradise Lost are to the edition by Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1935).resorted to the use of allusions with great frequency, for allusions as silent signifiers enabled him to say more than was overtly expressed. They provided the poet with an additional dimension of meaning (and counter-meaning), and my argument explores these protean factors as they relate to Blake’s condemnation of royalty.

During the intensely repressive English political climate of 1792 (and thereafter), it became dangerous to criticize the government and King George III, a condition that culminated in Prime Minister William Pitt’s own “Reign of Terror” in response to the revolutionary tumult in France. Thus, in 1793 any person could be imprisoned without charge or trial, while in 1795 it became a crime to speak or write against government policy.The London Times (6 March 1795) reported that the warrant used in the apprehension of the prophet Richard Brothers charged him with “‘unlawfully, maliciously, and wickedly writing, publishing, and printing various fantastical prophecies, with intent to cause dissentions and other disturbances within this realm, contrary to the Statute.’” Certainly the same claims of sedition could have been applied to the engraved prophecies of Blake. For important additional details, see Michael Phillips, “Blake and the Terror, 1792-93,” Library 16.4 (Dec. 1994): 263-97. Despite such severe restrictions, the libertarian Blake repeatedly attacked the king with clandestine subtlety. Such condemnations are primarily concealed within Miltonic and biblical allusions.Though scholars have universally recognized the influence of the Bible and Milton on Blake’s graphics and poetry, unnoted allusions permeate the texts. For recent studies, see Paul Miner, “Blake: Milton inside Milton,” Studies in Romanticism 51 (summer 2012): 233-76, and “William Blake’s Creative Scripture,” Literature and Theology 27.1 (March 2013): 32-47.

The Annual Register for 1793 (“Chronicle,” p. 4) reported a remarkable incident that occurred on 19 January, when the sun made an “extraordinary appearance”: about noon “a fog arose, by which the sun, as is usual, appeared like a red globe.”The sun as a “red Globe of fire [appears] in Los’s hand / As he walks from Furnace to Furnace” in Jerusalem (85.19-20, E 244). See also Blake’s design for the frontispiece of Jerusalem, portraying Los holding a radiating sphere. “Los” is engraved as “sol” (sun). The sphere enveloped by mist was unusual in that it had a pronounced “oblong opake body nearly on its centre,” and “even when the fog dispersed, and the sun became very luminous, the spot was still visible, although the power of light was so great upon the eye as to dazzle and weaken the sight.” The Gentleman’s Magazine (January 1793, p. 8) further observed that “those whose minds are affected by superstition may be led to believe it a sign of some tremendous event.” Coincidentally, on 21 January Louis XVI was beheaded, and in February France declared war on Britain.Except for short periods of “peace,” the French Revolution extended into the Napoleonic Wars, which lasted until 1815. Marie Antoinette, the queen of France, was guillotined on 16 October 1793.

The Times (12 January 1793) had contrasted England’s secure Queen Charlotte, “surrounded by a numerous progeny, the pledges of connubial love, and the offspring of matrimonial chastity [monogamy],” with the unfortunate Marie Antoinette, confined by revolutionaries and “treated like the veriest street-walker that ever inhabited the walls of a prison.” In a private Notebook poem (c. late 1792), Blake satirically questioned the virtue of “the beautiful Queen of France,” who demanded that “the Brothels of Paris be opened” (E 499-500), a disparagement not unusual for republicans.In 1790 the frontispiece of Les Bordels de Paris, a French pornographic pamphlet attacking royalty, portrayed aristocratic women in an erotic embrace (see Elizabeth Colwill, “Pass as a Woman, Act like a Man: Marie-Antoinette as Tribade in the Pornography of the French Revolution,” Marie-Antoinette: Writings on the Body of a Queen, ed. Dena Goodman [New York: Routledge, 2003] 155). A great deal of sexual slander was associated with the queen of France. She was accused of having lesbian propensities by the Countess de la Motte (of the affair of the necklace), who escaped to England, living only a few paces from Blake’s residence at Hercules Buildings; the countess died on 23 Aug. 1791. See Paul Miner, “Blake’s London: Times and Spaces,” Studies in Romanticism 41 (summer 2002): 306-07. The author of The Greatest of All the Joys of the Père Duchesne, a scurrilous work that violently repudiated the French monarchy, recorded exhilaration as he witnessed the head of Marie Antoinette being separated from the “fucking tart’s neck.” This writer also denounced Louis XVI as a “sham father” and a “fat cuckold.”Quoted from Philippe Huisman and Marguerite Jallut, Marie Antoinette (New York: Viking Press, 1971) 238. A bawdy satire of the period alleged that Cardinal de Rohan was the real father of the queen’s second child. In further ridicule, a new die was smuggled by wags into the royal mint, which in 1785 unknowingly began to issue Louis d’or with the king’s head on the obverse decorated with cuckold’s horns (see Vincent Cronin, Louis and Antoinette [London: Harvill Press, 1996] 257). It was said that a congenital defect of Louis’s sexual organs prevented consummation of the royal marriage (his penis had grown into his thigh). After seven years, however, he presumably underwent a painful operation, thereby permitting Marie Antoinette to become the true queen of France. For the conjectural details, see Dorothy Moulton Mayer, Marie Antoinette: The Tragic Queen (New York: Coward-McCann, 1968) 50.

Jerusalem copy E, pl. 63. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. B1992.8.1(63).

Blake’s continued rejection of royalty may be catalogued in his enigmatic design for Jerusalem plate 63, which depicts a blasting crescent (presumably the beams of the morning star) above a polyp-enwrapped female with exposed breasts.Following Milton’s description in Paradise Lost, Blake represents Sin—breasts exposed—as serpentine below the waist, possessing polyp-like “feet” (see William Blake Archive, Drawings and Paintings, Illustrations to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Butts set, 1808, Satan, Sin, and Death). In 1792 James Gillray portrayed Queen Charlotte as Milton’s Sin (displaying her breasts and serpentine feet), while Pitt is caricatured as Death, the incestuous offspring of Satan and Sin in Paradise Lost. On Gillray’s influence on Blake, see David V. Erdman, Blake: Prophet against Empire, 3rd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977) 221-23. This puzzling iconography finds its parallel, in part, in a caricature of 2 November 1790.See M. Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, vol. 6 (London: British Museum, 1938) #7675. Gleaming rays surround the head of Marie Antoinette, whom Edmund Burke idealized in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) as the morning star or Venus, a planet that briefly presents its crescent near the earth at dawn.Venus, which forms crescents, serves as both morning and evening star. Burke embellished his memory of almost two decades before: “I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning star.”Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Thomas H. D. Mahoney (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1955) 85-86. Burke’s veneration of the French queen became celebrated in its time—see Erdman, Prophet against Empire 183-87. Within a year, ten editions of Reflections were printed in England. George III (though disliking Burke) highly commended the volume, and a French translation was made by Louis XVI himself.His effusive rhetoric had foundation in fact. In a letter to the Countess of Ossory (1 Dec. 1790), Horace Walpole commented that on one occasion he saw Marie Antoinette, when dauphiness, running after the king to chapel: “She … shot through the room like an aerial being, all brightness and grace, and without seeming to touch earth.” Walpole concluded, “Had I Mr. Burke’s powers, I would have described her in his words.”

In ironic derision of Burke’s text, Blake responded with the following quatrain (E 500): “The Queen of France [as Venus, the goddess of love] just touchd this Globe / And the [sexual] Pestilence darted from her robe / But our good Queen quite grows to the ground / And a great many suckers grow all around.” Blake’s crescent of Venus in Jerusalem 63, warping the details of Burke’s description, potentially signifies the genitals of the queen of France, Venus disrobed,Burke concluded that, in the revolutionary world, “all the decent drapery of life is … rudely torn off” (Reflections 87). France’s virtuous queen is now left naked.For varying interpretations of the iconography in Jerusalem 63, see David V. Erdman, ed., The Illuminated Blake (Garden City, NY: Anchor–Doubleday, 1974) and Morton D. Paley, ed., Jerusalem (Princeton: Princeton University Press/William Blake Trust, 1991). while the “great many suckers [that] grow all around” Queen Charlotte on earth suggest her extensive offspring. Charlotte delivered fifteen infants in twenty-two years,Did Blake notice the “harlot” in C[harlot]te’s name? In Swedenborg’s Conjugial Love (London: R. Hindmarsh, 1794), an infernal male (having escaped the “prison” of monogamy) rhetorically asks “with an hissing, … What is a wife but an harlot?” (par. 79, p. 93), while in True Christian Religion (London: J. Phillips, 1781) Swedenborg’s Satan observes, “What is a Wife?” declaring “she is my Harlot” (vol. 1, par. 80, p. 115). Similarly, in Jerusalem (57.8-9, E 207) Blake asks, “What is a Wife & what is a Harlot? … / … are they Two & not One? can they Exist Separate?” and a contemporary witticism concluded that she appeared as if she were bearing all of her children at one pregnancy.See Christopher Hibbert, The Court at Windsor: A Domestic History (London: Longmans, 1964) 134. Blake’s polyp-female in Jerusalem 63 finds her equivalent as a symbol of generation in his designs for Thomas Gray’s “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” (p. 8), where a crowned “queen” of death (Gray’s phrase) possesses pronounced breasts for nursing suckers. Dead bodies (described by Gray as “the painful family of Death,” “a grisly troop”) surround the queen, who is encompassed by a huge polyp-like worm. She has both feet placed on generative polyps (meaning “many feet”) and holds chastising birches (comparable to the symbol of austerity in Night Thoughts 375). See Paul Miner, “The Polyp as a Symbol in the Poetry of William Blake,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 2 (1960): 198-205.

Blake’s context is also addressed in A Vision of the Last Judgment (E 562), where the “good … Queens [of England],” adorned with “Crowns,” are “calld in the Bible … Nursing Mothers.” These “queens” are the “nursing mothers” in Isaiah 49.23, abject royalty who must “bow down … with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet.”In Jerusalem (16.23-26, E 160), “England: nursing Mothers / Gives to the Children of Albion,” for “the whole Creation … groans to be deliverd” in an apocalyptic childbirth. The imagery alludes to Romans 8.21-22, in which newborn man is a “creature … delivered from the bondage of corruption,” for “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Compare Jerusalem 79.24-26 (E 235), “London … / … gave / His children to my [Jerusalem’s] breasts, his sons & daughters to my knees,” which alludes to Isaiah 66.10-12: believers “shall … suck” upon the breasts of Jerusalem “and be dandled upon her knees.” Blake excoriated Queen Charlotte as a polyp-like tree of genealogy that “quite grows to the ground,” for “just such a tree [is] at Java found”—the deadly upas tree.Erdman (E 861) notes that the line “And a great many suckers grow all around” replaced “There is just such a tree at Java found.” Erasmus Darwin mentions the upas (which regrew from its enrooting branches) as a “Hydra-Tree of death” proliferating upon a “blasted heath” among “human skeletons” (The Botanic Garden [1791] 2.3.237-50). A description had appeared in the London Magazine (Dec. 1783): 512. See Heather Glen, Vision and Disenchantment: Blake’s Songs and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) 193, 380n36.

“London” (E 26-27) in Songs of Experience (1794) circumspectly denounces the tyrannical attitude of George III. Though Blake investigates the trepidations of London’s earthly avenues, these thoroughfares also expand upon the heavens in what he later describes as “Londons opening streets” (Jerusalem 34[38].43, E 180).For further details, see Miner, “Blake’s London: Times and Spaces” 279-316. “London,” one of Blake’s most challenging compositions,Donald Ault speaks of the reader-editor’s “urge to homogenize Blake’s heterogeneous texts”; “Blake’s wording clearly permits us to reconstruct a normalized version (by the substitution of punctuation), but that ‘version’ neutralizes or forestalls the reader’s awareness of being engaged in an act of revisionary reading—a reading of a poem that, unless revised, is unreadable, an awareness that requires at least a two-fold vision.” See “Unreading ‘London,’” Approaches to Teaching Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, ed. Robert F. Gleckner and Mark L. Greenberg (New York: Modern Language Association, 1989) 132-33. clearly functions at one level as an astronomical poem.

In relating heaven to earth in the manuscript version (probably written in late 1792, as the Notebook placement tentatively indicates), Blake hearsScholars have called attention to the initial letters (HEAR) of the third stanza, which mentions the smoky cry and the bloody sigh of sweep and soldier, victims of state religion. the “german [Hanoverian] forged links” (see E 796),In part 2 of the Rights of Man (1792), Thomas Paine determined that England’s current problems could be traced to “the Hanoverians” (The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Philip S. Foner [New York: Citadel Press, 1945] 1: 410). See Paul Miner, “Blake, Paine, and Moses,” Notes and Queries 59.3 (Sept. 2012): 355-61. The London Corresponding Society (which was sympathetic to the French Revolution) cautioned in Sept. 1792 that “the King of Great Britain will do well to remember that this country is not Hanover.” See Michael Ferber, “‘London’ and Its Politics,” ELH 48.2 (summer 1981): 321. because the laws initially were cried about the streets of the metropolis. He envisioned these proclamations as rotating laws of the universe, a starry chain of reasonings cast upon the Mundane Shell/brain. (Compare the “Prince of Light bound in chains [stars] of intellect” in The Four Zoas [57.16, E 339].) In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes identified such mental chains as “Artificiall Chains, called Civill Lawes” (2.21).See Nelson Hilton, Literal Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) 269n20. Possibly because of the oppressive political climate of the period, Blake amended “german forged links” to “mind-forg’d manacles.” The thought remained in his imagination, however, for in a poem of September 1800 he speaks of “Rending the manacles of Londons Dungeon dark”; London stands “Ghastly pale,” a “City in fear.”See Robert N. Essick and Morton D. Paley, “‘Dear Generous Cumberland’: A Newly Discovered Letter and Poem by William Blake,” Blake 32.1 (summer 1998): 4-13.

“London” finds additional relevance in Joel Barlow’s Advice to the Privileged Orders, an anti-monarchical work published by Joseph Johnson in early 1792.Note also Barlow’s The Conspiracy of Kings, a poem published in Feb. 1792 by Johnson. For additional information on Blake and Barlow, see Erdman, Blake: Prophet against Empire 23, 154. Note also Michael Phillips, ed., The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, by William Blake (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2011) 13. Recall that Blake was a peripheral figure, operating on the fringes of Johnson’s literary coterie. Barlow remonstrates that in England “the people at large” are “ignorant of the acts of parliament,” for “they are printed by one man only, who is called the king’s printer,—in the old German character, which few men can read.”Joel Barlow, Advice to the Privileged Orders, Part 1, 2nd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1792) 124-26. The Analytical Review 12 (April 1792): 459 (also published by Johnson) found this passage on the “old German character” sufficiently interesting to quote in its entirety. He refers to the fact that English law was traditionally printed in Gothic typeface, known as German blackletter or Old English script. (Gothic typeface was used in Germany until the beginning of the twentieth century.) Barlow protests that if one wishes to have knowledge of English legalities one must “find out the king’s printer, pay a penny a page for the law, and learn the German alphabet.” He cynically concludes that the abstruse Gothic/German “laws of the land” represent a “fathomless abyss,” and thus Blake saw Barlow’s laws of the abyss as a starry chain of words forged in the heavenly dungeon of the mind.In Europe, issued in the same year as Songs of Experience, Lord Thurlow, formerly England’s chief parliamentarian, is described as “Guardian of the secret codes” (12.15, E 64); in An Island in the Moon (c. 1784-85), “Steelyard the lawgiver” stalks in “with an act of parliament in his hand,” objecting that “it was a shameful thing that acts of parliament should be [issued] in a free state” (E 451). These words of law, printed in Gothic typeface, become in the allegory of Blake’s “London” the “german forged” manacles of the mind.

The monarch in “King Edward the Third” from Poetical Sketches (1783) observes that “the enemy fight in chains, invisible chains, but heavy,” for “their minds are fetter’d” (1.13-14, E 424), and Blake’s laws of Hanoverian oppression find their extension in America (1793), where “a heavy iron chain / Descends link by link from Albions cliffs” to bind the minds of the revolutionary “sons of America” (3.7-9, E 52).In “Earth’s Answer” (E 18-19) the Earth, confined in night’s dark “den” (a dungeon kept by “Starry Jealousy”), implores, “Break this heavy chain” surrounding “my bones” (compare the “heavy chains” of “hipocrisy” in The Four Zoas 123.31, E 393). Blake alludes to Lamentations 3.6-9, where God “set me in dark places, as they that be dead,” making “my chain heavy” and enclosing “my ways with hewn stone.” English “Governors,” threatening the American colonists, “Shak[e] their mental chains” (13.1-3, E 56), which relates to the stars as German-forged links encircling the heavens. (Compare the caricature of 1 March 1776, The State Blacksmiths Forging Fetters for the Americans.)See George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, vol. 5 (London: British Museum, 1935) #5328.

In Blakean allegory the divine right of kings is of satanic origin. Hence, the starry typography of God’s statutes, taken from the “brazen Book” of the fallen prince of light (Jehovah, who codified the Ten Commandments), is “copied on Earth” (in Gothic type) by Hanoverian “Kings & Priests” (Europe 11.3-5, E 64).On the laws of priests and kings, see Paul Miner, “Francis Quarles’s Influence on Europe 11,” Blake 47.4 (spring 2014). This “Lawful” deceit “forges fetters for the mind” (E 472), which is applicable to the “mind-forg’d manacles” in “London.”

Blake’s antinomian and heretical Orc in America will “stamp to dust” God’s (that is, the devil’s) “stony [starry] law” of morality (which the poet equates with the decrees issued under George III). In this passage (8.3-9, E 54), Blake envisions the Decalogue as starry words circulating upon the dark voids, the cyclical rote of God’s stony law, allegorically forming a repetitive mill of hell (see There is No Natural Religion, E 2). In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790) a revolutionary “wonder” (later identified as Orc in America) rejects such restriction and “stamps the stony law to dust” (pls. 26-27, E 44-45). He eradicates the fallen heavens of morality by “loosing the eternal horses [of the sun] from the dens of night”; in this context, godly and kingly “Empire is no more! and now the lion [Leo] & wolf [Lupus] shall cease,”Compare “Th’ Infernal Empire, … so near Heav’n’s door” in Paradise Lost (10.389). Blake’s phrasing also utilizes Isaiah 11.6, a passage he illustrated in An Island in the Moon (see William Blake Archive, Manuscripts and Typographic Works, An Island in the Moon, object 18), and 2 Kings 23.11, 14-15, in which “the horses … given to the sun” are taken away, while “images” are broken and the “high place” is “stamped … small to powder” (compare Jerusalem 55.58-59 [E 205] and the language in Daniel 8.10). Starry chains of the mind are stamped “furious to dust” by Los in The Book of Los (3.47-48, 4.19-22, E 91-92). For Blake’s interest in astronomy, see Paul Miner, “Blake and the Night Sky: III, Visionary Astronomy,” Bulletin of Research in the Humanities 84 (1981): 305-36. translating earth to the heavens.

Early on, Blake expressed anti-royal sympathies in Poetical Sketches: “O what have Kings to answer for, / Before that awful throne!” of God (“Gwin, King of Norway,” E 420). In his design “Our End is come,” issued a decade later, he portrayed a crowned king with two nefarious ministers (holding spear and sword respectively); they are subjected to sublime terror and fear, reminiscent of the pitiful state of Zion in Lamentations—“our end is come” (4.18).Matthew (24.14) also speaks of an apocalyptic “gospel … preached … unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” In a letter of 1806 Blake deplores bad art: “But now, I say, now its end is come” (E 768); at the “Last Judgment … Men of Real Art Govern” (A Vision of the Last Judgment, E 561). In “Our End is come” no one can avoid divine judgment: “For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6.17). The question “Who can stand?” appears four times in the prologue to “King Edward the Fourth” from Poetical Sketches (E 439), which speaks of God’s awful wrath to be visited on “The Kings and Nobles of the Land.” In America, Blake writes that “their [kings’ and nobles’] end should come, when France reciev’d the Demons light” (16.15, E 57)—that of fiery Orc, whose flames instigated the French Revolution (engendered by the revolution in America).In “A Song of Liberty” Blake speaks of the defeat of a “jealous king” with “his grey brow’d councellors, thunderous warriors … chariots horses … Falling” through the heavens to perdition (The Marriage pl. 26, E 44; see the horse, chariot, and sword-wielding warrior descending into the voids in the illustration to pl. 5). In The Four Zoas Blake announces that “Mystery [Rahab the whore, who ironically symbolizes moral virtue in Blakean symbolism] … thy end is come” (see Revelation 17.1, 5, 16), for “Kings & Councellors & Giant Warriors / Go down into the depths … / … with horse & Chariots” (134.5, 7-9, E 402). A Vision of the Last Judgment (E 558) also mentions “Kings & Councellors & Warriors” associated with Rahab and her fiery end.

Thus, in Europe, “terrible Orc, when he beheld the morning in the east,” descended with “the light of his fury” “in the vineyards of red France” (14.37, 15.2, E 66).The imagery finds a parallel in Richard Price, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country (London, 1789): “Behold, the light you have struck out, after setting America free, reflected to France, and there kindled into a blaze that lays despotism in ashes, and warms and illuminates Europe!” (50). Paine also noted that liberty, beginning as a “small spark kindled in America,” expanded into a “flame … not to be extinguished” (Rights of Man, part 2 [The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine 1: 398]). Appropriately, the new French calendar was initiated at the moment the sun entered the sign of Libra, and the first month was known as Vendemaire—the vintage month, a time of reaping the harvest (Annual Register for 1793, “Chronicle,” pp. 41-42). The balances or scales of justice weigh the equatorial heavens in plate 5 of America, an equinox where kings presumably will meet their judgment.

“Albions Angel,” first introduced in that plate, may be presumed to be analogous to George III, cunningly converted by Blake into the devil, his satanic majesty. Star-soldiers “must’ring in the eastern sky” (America 13.13-16, 15.4-6, E 56-57) are envisioned as slaves of the king in vocabulary that emulates book 1 of Paradise Lost (657-66), where “Millions” of “Celestial Spirits in Bondage” (slaves to Milton’s vengeful God) draw their “flaming swords” to illuminate the darkness of hell (an ironic simulation of morning). The “num’rous hosts” of the king (see the “numerous Host” of devils that fled through the “deep” in Paradise Lost 2.993-94) number “forty millions”; as stars fading in the light of the rising sun, they throw off “their hammerd mail, / And cast their swords & spears to earth,” seeking liberation in the new dawn as a “naked multitude.” They are naked in part because those who “walk in the flesh … do not war after the flesh,” for the “weapons of our warfare are not carnal” but spiritual, and therefore result in “casting down imaginations [glossed as “reasonings”], and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10.3-5). Blake’s imagery also reflects Romans 13.12-13: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting …, not in chambering and wantonness.” In consequence, Blake’s revolutionary edicts presume sexual satiety.

Blake’s phrasing also mocks Burke’s political perspective. In his Discourse, which commemorated the Glorious Revolution of 1688,A song in An Island in the Moon concerns “William the prince of Orange” becoming king of England (E 465). James Parker, Blake’s former print-shop partner, engraved a plate (1790) after James Northcote of the Prince of Orange’s being offered the crown. Price empathized with the “nations panting for liberty” and noted that he had “lived to see Thirty Millions of people … spurning at slavery,” a number derided by Burke in his Reflections.Burke stressed that the revolutionary tendencies of the times ultimately would reject true knowledge, at which point “learning will be cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude,” an expression that became infamous (see, for example, the Morning Chronicle of 8 July 1796, p. 3). As noted, Blake deliberately increased the number in question to “forty millions” and converted these panting slaves into a “naked multitude.”

In America Orc is the devilish spirit of the revolution, opposing devilish George III: thus devil confronts devil. Aptly, Orc occupies a Miltonic hell where “heat but not light” pervades the “murky atmosphere” (4.11, E 53); this alludes to the furnace-like “Dungeon” in book 1 of Paradise Lost (61-63), in which “on all sides round / … flames / [emit] No light, but rather darkness visible.” (Recall that in Miltonic cosmology, hell is located in the southern hemisphere, abstractly represented on the title page of The Marriage.) As an awful “Wonder” of the revolution, Orc arises in “red clouds” “o’er the Atlantic sea,” and “The King of England looking westward trembles at the vision” (4.7-12, E 53). In the shifting layers of America, Orc is described as a “Devourer of thy parent” (the monarchy) (9.20, E 54), reflecting Milton’s specter-like Death, who “his Parent [Sin] would full soon devour” (Paradise Lost 2.804-05). (Note also Blake’s language in The Four Zoas, in which Orc “Concenterd into Love of Parent Storgous Appetite Craving” [61.10, E 341].) Blake’s genealogy additionally addresses the issue that royal tyranny gave birth to revolution; hence, George III is envisioned as the metaphorical satanic father of fiery Orc,Emblem 8—“My Son! my Son!”—of both versions of The Gates of Paradise (1793 and c. 1825-26) alludes in part to the battle between Death and Satan in Paradise Lost book 2, where Sin remonstrates with Death: “What fury O Son, / Possesses thee to bend that mortal Dart / Against thy Father’s head?” (728-30). Satan twice refers to Death as “my Son” (2.743, 818). In one illustration to Paradise Lost Blake explicitly follows Milton’s “Each at the Head / Levell’d his deadly aim” (2.711-12); in another version he depicts Satan and Death focusing their gaze and leveling their spears toward each other’s genitals (see William Blake Archive, Drawings and Paintings, Illustrations to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Thomas set, 1807, Satan, Sin, and Death, and Butts set, 1808, Satan, Sin, and Death). See Diana Hume George, Blake and Freud (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980) 164. who is associated with Death, a creature born from Milton’s Sin.

Blake’s anti-government posture is further revealed in a cancelled plate for America (b, E 58), where “George the third holds council” with “his Lords”; in view of the relentless severities of the period, Blake possibly rejected this plate because of its implied derogation of the monarch. In the passage privileged lords sit on “Angelic seats” in a “hall of counsel” in which Albion’s angel comes “Shut out from mortal sight.” Unmistakably Blake once more transforms the king into Satan; in Paradise Lost Milton speaks of the “Council” of infernal “Peers” (to Blake the House of Lords) on “golden seats” in a “spacious Hall” of hell (1.755-62, 796), while Satan “exalted sat” on a “Throne of Royal State” (2.1-5). In a later sequence (10.444-46) Satan comes “invisible” to his “Plutonian Hall” and “Ascended his high Throne, which under state / [is] Of richest texture spread.”Recall that the English coronation chair is momentarily canopied during the ceremony. That Blake was familiar with Milton’s passage in book 10 is confirmed in America 16.2-7 (E 57), where Urizen as “Weeping” devil-god protrudes “his leprous head / From out his holy shrine”; in Paradise Lost Satan sits “unseen” until “At last as from a Cloud his fulgent head / … appear’d,” surrounded with “false glitter” (10.447-52).

Blake was obsessed with the “terrors” that appeared in heaven and hell when the “American War began” (lines to John Flaxman, E 707-08), and (as the revolution was ending)The Revolutionary War began in April 1775; though hostilities terminated in 1781, the war was not officially over until the Treaty of Paris was executed in Sept. 1783. The end was celebrated in Oct. 1783 in England; see the London Magazine (Oct. 1783): 364-65 and the European Magazine (Jan. 1784): 32. he approached the subject in “King Edward the Third,” where “war [shall] stain the blue heavens with bloody banners” (5.63, E 437), allegorically reflecting comets and meteors as omens streaming across the darkness. He converts these astronomical events into a declaration against royalty, with George III in mind.

In another cancelled plate for America (pl. a) a large interlinear design depicts a nude (Miltonic?) warrior holding a spear-staff, from which flies a huge banner of war. As discussed above, these banners are, at one level of interpretation, comets or meteors, projectiles often portrayed as “flags” waving in the air. Warlike “terrors” are also seen “at the flapping of the folding banners” in plate b (19-20, E 58). Blake continues to explore the idea in The Four Zoas (91 [second portion].26, E 364), which mentions “the flappings of the folding banners” in the voids. Later, Tharmas speaks of hell’s belligerence, exclaiming, “Lo darkness covers the long pomp of banners on the wind” (134.14, E 402). The phrasing once again alludes to Paradise Lost (1.531-37): a “mighty Standard” from a “glittering Staff [is] unfurl’d,” displaying an “Imperial Ensign” that “Shone like a Meteor streaming to the Wind.”

In America Orc is described as a “terror like a comet, or more like the planet red [Mars] / That once inclos’d the terrible wandering comets in its sphere” (5.2-3, E 53). The allegorical plague-sigh (11.13, E 55) is a royal sigh of blood running down the palace walls of heaven in the form of a comet, a pestilential product of state religion.Compare “the hapless Soldiers sigh / [that] Runs in blood down Palace walls” in “London” (E 27). Blake’s satanic prince of light as Urizen in Night the Fifth of The Four Zoas laments, “O did I close my treasuries with roofs of solid stone / And darken all my Palace walls with envyings & hate” (64.15-16, E 344), presumably fiery comets (see the “Envyings” that represent the fallen “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5.19-21). The “voice of Albions Angel” causes “plagues” to fall upon America as a “blight” (14.3-6, E 56);A caricature of 1784 portrayed the king in the act of expulsing a blast from his buttocks (“R-y-l Inflamable Air”); see George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, vol. 6, #6486. In deleted lines to “The Little Vagabond” Blake speaks of “poor parsons” who “with wind like a blown bladder swell” (E 795). See also the “Plague” in possession of Inflammable Gass in An Island in the Moon (E 451). “then rolld they back with fury / On Albions Angels” (14.20-15.1, E 56), reflecting Milton’s Comus, where “evil on itself shall back recoil” (line 593; see also Paradise Lost 7.56-58 and 4.15-18). In plate 15 (E 56-57), “plagues creep on the burning winds driven by flames of Orc,” with “ensigns sick’ning in the sky” and “banners seard”—fiery comets/meteors as flags or ensigns are viewed as veins cauterized, to stanch the flow of blood.Urizen and his flaming chariot in Night the First of The Four Zoas reflect, in further irony, book 5 of Paradise Lost (588-96), where planetary “Hierarchies” (God’s angels encompassed “Orb within Orb”) raise “Ten thousand thousand Ensigns … / [that] Stream in the Air,” “glittering Tissues” that Blake’s mental eye saw as shining veins of blood waving upon the winds. The flames, associated with comet-like plagues, are characterized by Blake as leprosy (“spotted … plagues”). Orcan fires of war inflict George III with “Pestilence,”In The American Crisis no. 2 (1777), Paine describes “the sword of war … ‘ultima ratio regum’” “cast[ing] a sickly languor over an insulted people” (the American colonists) (The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine 1: 58-59). Thus, in America (3.1-2, E 52), “Sullen fires” belong to the “Prince of Albion” and “glow to America’s shore.” In Common Sense (1776), Paine remarks that “a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy” (Complete Writings 1: 7); in his annotations to Bacon’s Essays Blake says that “A Tyrant is the Worst disease” (E 625). (Compare the reference to the “purple [royal] plague” in The French Revolution [1791] [24, E 287].) Paine describes George III as a “sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England” (Complete Writings 1: 25); in Jerusalem (89.18-19, E 248) Blake speaks of “Pharoh [sic] in his iron Court: / And the Dragon of the River” (Ezekiel 29.3 condemns the “Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers”). “in [comet] streaks of red / Across the limbs of Albions Guardian.”Compare Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 1 (1.1.2-5): “Comets, importing change of times and states, / Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky, / And with them scourge the bad revolting stars, / That have consented unto Henry’s death!” Blake alludes to Shakespeare’s description in his spiritual conversation with Hotspur, who denounces “Prince Hen[r]y,” blaming the malign “Influence” of the “cursd Stars” (E 686). Fires of passion break out in the form of pestilence when nature (macrocosmic Orc) is inhibited, so “Over the hills, the vales, the cities” of Albion “rage the red flames fierce” of the revolutionary fires of Orc (America 16.1, E 57).On these plagues, see also Miner, “Blake’s London: Times and Spaces” 283-84.

Blake continues the idiom near the end of Europe (14.37, 15.2-5, E 66), where Orc appears amid “furious terrors,” among “golden chariots raging,” their “red wheels [as comets] dropping with blood.” (Compare The Four Zoas [75.29-31, E 352], in which Urizen’s “Comets” “with wheel impetuous” are envisioned as orbs “gorgd with blood” surrounding “red Orc.”) In Europe “the voice of Albions Angel” is heard “howling in flames of Orc” (12.12, E 64). The king was renowned for his ruddy complexion; Peter Pindar admonished that one of Benjamin West’s portraits made the monarch “A very Saracen” (Pindar’s emphasis), so much so that he looked as if he had “a fire-ship in his belly.” Pindar concluded that the populace was “anxious for his [George III’s] life.”Peter Pindar, More Lyric Odes, to the Royal Academicians (London, 1783), ode 2. Pindar’s sardonic observation is corroborated in a fashion note in the European Magazine (Jan. 1784) that criticized the “suit of marone velvet” worn by the king at the queen’s birthday celebration (her birthday, on 19 May, was celebrated in winter so as not to conflict with the festivities for the king’s birthday, 4 June, as explained in the Times, 18 Jan. 1785). The “colour was too high for a complexion so florid as his majesty’s”; those in attendance observed that he had never worn “so unbecoming” an attire. (Note that Blake speaks of “visages redd’ning with war” in The French Revolution [111, E 291]; compare The Four Zoas 15.11-12, E 309.)

In America (pl. 11, E 55) a colonial angel, aflame with the fires of Orc, threatens the destruction of George III (for militancy creates counter-militancy) and disingenuously inquires, “What pitying Angel lusts for tears, and fans himself with sighs[?]” Blake again covertly associates the king with Milton’s weeping and sighing Satan in Paradise Lost: “Thus weptAlthough George III fathered numerous offspring, Blake visualizes him as “an aged King in arms of gold” “Who wept” over “his only son” (c.23-27, E 59). In Paradise Lost Satan’s “only Son” (2.728) is Death, an ironic parallel to Christ, God’s only begotten son (John 3.16). the Angel voice & as he wept the terrible blasts [or sighs] / Of trumpets, blew a loud alarm” (10.1-2, E 55).The trumpets echo the sounds of those who “blow an alarm with the trumpets” at the time of war in Numbers (10.9). (See the design in America pl. 3, where the fiery blast from a heavenly trumpet assaults fleeing human forms.) In Paradise Lost, “Thrice [Satan] assay’d” to speak before his “Peers,” but in vain; “Tears such as Angels weep, burst forth: at last / Words interwove with sighs found out their way” (1.612-21).In Samson Agonistes Dalila “Thrice … assay’d with flattering prayers and sighs” (392) to learn the secret of Samson’s strength; in Blake’s “Samson” from Poetical Sketches “Dalila’s fair arts” are “tried in vain; in vain she wept in many a treacherous tear,” since “Thrice” Samson has “mocked” her (E 443-44). Blake follows Milton’s spelling, “Dalila,” rather than the biblical “Delilah.” Blake’s Miltonic phrasing also occurs in “An Imitation of Spencer [sic]” (Poetical Sketches), where Pan “in vain might thee assay” in words of “Sound without sense.” In The French Revolution, the prisoners of the Bastille “assay to shout” (52, E 288) while the French king’s “heart flam’d, and utter’d a / with’ring heat” as “words burst forth” (69, E 289). So Tharmas, representing the bowels of compassion in The Four Zoas, “pitying back withdrew with many a sigh” as “his tears flowd down” (48.23-24, E 332). In further acknowledgment, when Urizen, the degenerate prince of light, questions his beast-formed constellations, his words are “but an inarticulate thunder”;Compare the “myriads of Eternity” that “utter’d / Words articulate, bursting in thunders” (The Book of Urizen 3.44, 4.3-4, E 71) and the last “Trumpet thundering along from heaven to heaven” with a “sound articulate” (The Four Zoas 117.10-12, E 386). no “voice / Of sweet response could he obtain tho [he] oft assayd with tears” (The Four Zoas 70 [first portion].39, 43-44, E 347).Blake also has in mind Milton’s fruit of the tree of knowledge, “Whose taste … at first assay / Gave elocution to the mute,” for the serpent of Eden could speak (see Paradise Lost 9.745-49, 764-65). “In vain the voice / Of Urizen in vain the Eloquent tongue” (71 [first portion].3-4, E 348), for he is afflicted like Satan in Paradise Lost. (Compare Blake’s Tiriel [c. 1789] [4.46, E 281], where “eloquent tongues were dumb.”)

Blake uses related imagery in Europe—Albion’s “red limb’d Angel” attempts to blow “The Trump of the last doom; but he could not blow the iron tube!” though “Thrice he assay’d presumptuous to awake the dead to Judgment” (13.1-3, E 65; compare 12.12-13, E 64).Once more he alludes to Paradise Lost (11.72-77). In On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity Milton speaks of the “wakeful trump of doom [that] must thunder through the deep” (line 156). See also William Blake: The Continental Prophecies, ed. D. W. Dörrbecker (Princeton: Princeton University Press/William Blake Trust, 1995) 276-77 (note on Europe 15[16].2-3 [plate number in this edition; pl. 13 in Erdman]). The guardian “Angel” of England cannot awake those in their graves. Such phrasing ironically relates to 2 Peter 2.9-10: “The Lord knoweth how … to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government [state religion]. Presumptuous are they, … they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.”In Jude 8 “filthy [prurient] dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.” Similar irony is present in America plate 7 (E 53), where “Albions Angel wrathful burnt” in fires punctuating the heavens;Recall 3.13-16 (E 52), where “a terrible blast” proceeds across the heavens, witnessed by “Albions wrathful Prince,” a “dragon form clashing his scales at midnight,” flaming “red meteors round the land of Albion.” Compare b.1 (E 58), where Albion’s guardian angel reveals “the dragon thro’ the human; coursing swift as fire” through the heavens—a meteor, popularly referred to as a dragon. The kings of England took their lineage from Cadwallader, symbolized by a red dragon. This legendary beast supports the tomb of Henry VII and his queen (see B. Lambert, The History and Survey of London and Its Environs [London, 1806] 3: 429), as Blake undoubtedly noticed as an apprentice assigned to sketch monuments in Westminster Abbey. Additionally, Blake did not miss the irony that Satan is a great red dragon in Revelation (12.3; compare the dragon king illustrated in America pl. 4). he denounces Orc as a “Blasphemous Demon, Antichrist, hater of Dignities.” Blake’s imagery establishes that both Albion’s angel (George III) and Orc are warlike creatures, one as an angel-tyrant enforcing repression and the other as a revolutionary energy that rejects any curtailment of liberty. The matter is assessed in “A Song of Liberty” (The Marriage pl. 27, E 45), where no longer will the curse of morality rule mankind, nor the “brethren” whom, erroneously, the tyrant “calls free,” reflecting Galatians 4.31: “So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.”

The king’s sighs and tears of state religion allude, in further irony, to Milton’s “Upon the Circumcision,” where “flaming Powers, and winged Warriors bright” are dejected soldiers whose “fiery essence can distill no tear.” (Note also Blake’s peace-loving Grey Monk, whose “eye was dry no tear could flow / A hollow groan first spoke his woe” [E 489].) Milton’s angel kings (like his weeping Satan) breathe forth upon the wind as they expansively “Burn in [their] sighs, and borrow / Seas wept from … deep sorrow.” These angels are an order of ethereal spirits associated with the planets of heaven, a celestial hierarchy mentioned by Blake in his inscriptions to Dante (E 689). In a constructive sense, Blake deduced that “a Tear is an Intellectual thing” and “a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King” (Jerusalem 52.25-28, E 202)In a variant stanza on the monk of Charlemaine Blake determines that “The Tear shall melt the sword of steel” (E 811). The intellectual tear becomes “The Tear of Love & forgiveness sweet” that “every wound … shall heal.”—hence the ironic association with Albion’s angel, the devil as George III.

Such are Blake’s disparate allusions attacking royalty, the “bad” queen of France (as a beaming crescent of the heavens), the “good” queen of England (quite growing to the ground), and red-flushed George III, his satanic majesty.

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