Essay on William Blake: London From Within

5. William Blake: London From Within

If we want to discover the particularity of eighteenth century London’s appearance or the details of its growth, there are both scholarly and temporary guides to consult. Through the historical background exposed in the previous chapters, in fact, we came across only to the objective point of view of the city, but if we want to discover the feel of London life, its people, its sounds and smells there is a more direct source: literature. Through poems we can understand the way the authors, like many other people, lived this specific experience.

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One of the first writers that comes in our mind when we think about 18th century London and its society is William Blake, with his famous work London, which describes how a Londoner, as Blake was (he was born in London in 1757), could have seen this great city from the inside with its positive but especially negative sides. With this poem we see the “real” London, or what was usually hidden in the picture of this metropolis. Blake has always been very critic of London and this aspect became more evident after he and his wife moved out to Felpham in Surrey in September 1800, where the criticism became more explicit, especially in his correspondence:

“Felpham is a sweet place for Study” he wrote to John Flaxman on September 21 “because it is more spiritual than London. Heaven opens here on all sides her golden Gates; her windows are not obstructed by vapours; voices of Celestial inhabitants are more distinctly heard, and their forms more distinctly seen; and my Cottage is also a Shadow of their houses”.

He was convinced that London was a city of perdition, an earthly Hell, but at the same time possible to be saved1.

But now it is time…

…riting London: The Trace of Urban Text from Blake to Dickens – Vol. 1, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.Roy Porter, London: A Social History, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998.Hugh Sykes Davies, The Poets and Their Critics: Blake to Browning – Vol.2, London: Hutchinson Educational, 1943.Boris Ford, Volume 5 of The Pelican Guide to English Literature: From Blake to Byron, London: Penguin Books, 1957.Hirsch E.D, Innocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1964.E.P. Thomson, Witness Against the Beast – W. Blake and the Moral Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1993.Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.Harold Bloom, William Wordsworth, New York: Chelsea House Publications, 2009.

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