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Blake’s Advent Birthday

After long debate, the dating of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell has been firmly laid to rest by Joseph Viscomi; Marriage can safely be dated 1790.11. “The Evolution of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” Huntington Library Quarterly 58.3-4 (1997): 284, especially note 7. The opening words are well known, and the coincidence, but not accident, of Swedenborg’s proclamation in 1757 of the New Age:

As a new heaven is begun, and it is now thirty-three years since its advent . . .

One detail, I believe, has not been previously noted. Consider the words “now” and “advent.” Advent Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, ranges between 27 November and 3 December. Blake, a lifelong nonconformist, would largely ignore the church year, but there is no reason for him not to notice that, in 1790, it fell on 28 November; his 33rd birthday.

Just another coincidence, this time quite accidental? Blake is already set to associate his own age, Christ’s age, and Swedenborg’s New Age, and to elide nativity and resurrection, in a total inversion of tradition—the marriage of heaven and hell. In his conviction that he was the man to bring all this before a world ready for revolution, why should he not also, in the same cheeky mood, point to the Advent significance of his birthday?

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