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The reaction of the Eternals to the creation of the “first female form now separate” (Urizen, pl. 18), is to close off the fallen Los and Enitharmon in a tent:

“Spread a Tent, with strong curtains around them
“Let cords & stakes bind in the Void
That Eternals may no more behold them”

They began to weave curtains of darkness
They erected large pillars round the Void
With golden hooks fasten’d in the pillars
With infinite labour the Eternals
A woof wove, and called it Science
(Urizen, pl. 19, 11.2-9)

Although Blake was possibly thinking here of a traditional Biblical image—the tents of the wandering Jews—it is perhaps more than a coincidence that we find the following description of a tent and darkness in A. Geddes’ The Holy Bible (Vol. 1, 20 June 1792), published two years before the printing of Blake’s poem: begin page 94 | back to top

And St Basil ascribes the darkness that covered the earth, before the appearance of light, to the interposition of an opaque body between it and heavens. This he illustrates by an example that excludes all ambiguity. “Place around you”, says he, “at high mid-day, a tent, composed of dense and opaque materials: the temporary darkness which, by shutting yourself up in it, you will procure, may give you an idea of that darkness, which covered the deep, and which did not antecedently subsist, but was the consequence of other things.”
(Preface, p. V)

The closeness in imagery is striking: Blake’s “strong curtains” and “curtains of darkness” remind us of the “dense and opaque materials” in Geddes; both tents are interposed between the fallen earth and the heavens. Finally, the Geddes description states that the darkness “was the consequence of other things,” which readily invokes the reason for the Eternals’ action:

Wonder, awe, fear, astonishment,
Petrify the eternal myriads;
At the first female form now separate
(Urizen, pl. 18, 11. 13-15)

Of course, Blake’s fiery imagination has transmuted and refined this source. The labor of the Eternals is “infinite,” the adjective “golden” in “golden hooks” promises brightness and light to come, and the word “woof” will become an integral image in Blake’s developing mythology.

However, it is not unlikely that Blake had read this description in the Geddes Bible, sold as it was by the bookseller with whom Blake had the closest contact in this period, Joseph Johnson.11 An article on Blake’s relationship to the London booksellers, “Blake and the Booksellers,” has been accepted for a forthcoming issue of Blake Studies, and contains detailed remarks on the Blake-Johnson relationship. Blake had engraved plates for Johnson as early as 1780, visited his shop frequently and would hardly have failed to notice an important new edition of his beloved Bible among the immense volume of scriptural criticism, writings on prophecy, and sermons that stocked Johnson’s premises in St. Paul’s Churchyard.22 There were over eighty works on Prophecy and Revelation alone (excluding sermons and editions of the Bible) published in the period 1792-1818, and Joseph Johnson published nearly half—thirty-nine—of them. See article in note 1, above.

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