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Vol. 56 no. 4: Spring 2023

Joseph Fletcher, William Blake as Natural Philosopher, 1788–1795

19 April 2023
26 Apr. 2023


Joseph Fletcher’s William Blake as Natural Philosopher, 1788–​1795 dedicates itself to the task of defining Blake’s position on a variety of questions asked by eighteenth-century natural science, which in contemporary terms consisted of a mixture of philosophy of science, philosophy of nature, and empirical study. Because Blake wrote poetry that at times appears simple while being very complex, and that at other times drops all pretenses to simplicity, I believe that this task is doomed to fail. Apart from the inherent difficulties of translating literature into philosophy or science, Blake often presents the added difficulty of juxtaposing a number of highly developed, varying subjectivities and points of view within the same work, so that it’s nearly impossible to identify any one point of view with the author’s own. Does he adopt any one character’s point of view as his own, or does he occupy a third position located outside the text, only observing the interplay of these characters and their ideas, perhaps agreeing with some characters’ ideas but not others? Additionally, Blake writes in a mythological mode. Are his characters even human? Are they anthropomorphic representations of social or psychological forces? Something else? How would we define the natural philosophy of a mythological figure, and what kind of evidence could we present to align that view with Blake’s own?