GARDNER ON THE SONGS
On 30 July 1980 Dr. Stanley Gardner of Colchester, England, addressed a group of students and teachers at York University’s Atkinson College on the subject of a fresh look at the designs of Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Dr. Gardner’s approach has been colored by his discovery of a documented link between Blake’s family and the school for destitute children in Blake’s parish of St. James, Westminster. Gardner believes critics have been misrepresenting Blake’s attitude to organized charity and formal education in the mid-1700’s, and that there are new things to be said about the illustrations, and the relationship between Innocence and Experience. Gardner’s talk was based on his forthcoming book, Blake’s Innocence and Experience Retraced.
Gardner’s approach to the illustrations focuses on the communal nature of adults and children in the Innocence designs, and sees the figure of the Nurse (as on the title page, or “Nurses Song”) as positive. Some designs he believes must be based on Blake’s own experience of seeing the charity children and the nurses holidaying on Wimbledon Common. In Experience designs, Gardner notes the visual themes of absence of family, and rejection of children by adults. In his remarks, Dr. Gardner mentioned many[e] interesting details of the necessary and benevolent practices of charity schools, carrying out the work of Captain Coram with foundlings.