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Blake's 'London'.

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Blake's 'London' London: cultural context - religion London was written in 1794, in the aftermath of the French Revolution. This was a time of great political conflict in Britain. Unlike most of the English republicans Blake knew through the publisher Joseph Johnson, he was a deeply religious man. His was not the religion of the established church, but was part of the dissenting tradition going back to the English Civil War. Blake was influenced by mystical groups and sects, such as Emmanuel Swedenborg's New Church, and had personal experience of visions; he believed, for instance, that he had regular conversations with his brother Robert after Robert's death in 1787. Two phrases in the poem show Blake's response to oppression is more than just a political one.And mark in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe. The marks are at one level the marks of suffering and distress. On another level, they are also associated with the 'Mark of the Beast' (or Antichrist) in the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament of the Bible. Many dissenters saw the rule of the rich powerful commercial interests as the rule of the Antichrist. Mind-forged manacles When redrafting the poem, Blake changed the word 'german' (a reference to the German soldiers of the Hanoverian King) to 'mind-forg'd'. ...read more.


This refers to ordinary British soldiers rather than foreign mercenaries, who were often close to mutiny because of their conditions. Britain was at war with France from 1793. There are records of revolutionary slogans being daubed on palace walls, such as 'Damn Pitt' (the Prime Minister), 'Damn the Duke of Richmond!' and 'No King!' in 1792. 'London': biographical context 'London' was written as part of Blake's Songs of Experience, the second part of the songs 'Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul'. They were designed and printed after he had moved to 13 Hercules Buildings in Lambeth, south of the river Thames, in 1794, with his wife Catherine whom he had married in 1782. Some of the poems had probably been written the previous year. 'London' is perhaps the most political of the Songs. Blake was a friend of the bookseller and publisher Joseph Johnson, who had employed him as an engraver. Johnson's circle included such radical thinkers as the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the republican writer Thomas Paine. It was once thought that Blake had warned Paine to escape to France to avoid arrest in 1792, but this is not now believed to be true. Although Blake was a religious man, unlike most of Johnson's circle, he shared many of their radical ideas about the monarchy and the established church. ...read more.


The prints were mainly hand-coloured by Blake and his wife Catherine. In later copies the colouring is much bolder compared to the pastel shades of earlier copies. About two hundred copies of the book were printed in his lifetime. Copyright notice for source of image of London (Copy R, Fizwilliam Museum, Cambridge, etched 1894, printed between 1802 and 1808) 'London': the audience context: The Songs of Innocence were originally thought of as a book of moral songs for children which would be profitable for the print shop that Blake had set up in 1784. However, they were so different from the other songs for children popular at the time that there was no possibility of profitable sales. By the time the Songs of Experience were written and printed Blake's purpose was not to reach a wide audience, but to express ideas which he felt to be true. The way in which the Songs were printed was slow and time consuming (about 200 copies only were printed), and very few people had any understanding of Blake's writing or art during his lifetime. No two copies of the Songs were the same, and the order of the pages was often changed. It was only in the second half of the 19th Century that Blake began to be thought of as an important writer, and editions of his work were published in a conventional way. In the 1890's the poet William Butler Yeats published an edition of Blake's poetry which was particularly successful in creating a larger audience. ...read more.

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