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Blake and the Hutchinsonians

Albert J. Kuhn was the first and perhaps the only person to notice Blake’s debt to the Hutchinsonians.11 Albert J. Kuhn, “Blake on the Nature and Origins of Pagan Gods and Myths,” Modern Language Notes, 72 (Dec., 1957), 569-72. These “thinkers,” followers of John Hutchinson (1674-1737) were the main school of anti-Newtonians with any claim to scientific method in eighteenth-century England.22 Robert E. Schofield, Mechanism and Materialism: British Natural Philosophy in an Age of Reason (Princeton, 1970), pp. 122-28. Kuhn, whose article is not confined to a study of them, is chiefly concerned with their notion that the “cherubim” had originally represented the Trinity, and that “heathens” had debased those “cherubim” into their gods and idols.33 Kuhn, p. 570. Clearly, such a notion might well have contributed to Blake’s idea that “the Grecian gods were the ancient Cherubim of Phoenicia” (Descriptive Catalogue, E536/K571). But Kuhn’s case is not conclusively made. It is, however, possible to demonstrate quite clearly Blake’s indebtedness to Hutchinsonian ideas, for there are precise verbal echoes as well as general resemblances; nor is this indebtedness confined to the matter of the “cherubim,” for it appears to be evident in a number of Blake’s later ideas.

Hutchinson, like Blake, believed that the original faith was Christian, and that it had been perverted by the Jews, and stolen in a corrupt form by the Greeks begin page 45 | back to top and the Druids. The Trinity had been emblematized in the Cherubim, but were in themselves better thought of as “Elohim” (or “Aleim,” as Hutchinson often spells it). In accordance with his belief in primeval Christianity Hutchinson insisted that the idea of Man was included in the Trinity.

These ideas may be illustrated from the following[e] passage, obscure though it is: 4 Anon., An Abstract from the Works of John Hutchinson (Edinburgh, 1753), p. 221. This work (henceforth Abstract) is cited frequently because there is evidence that Blake had read it. Its formulations are more concise than those of Hutchinson’s unreduced works, and lend themselves more readily to selective quotation. Hebrew script is transliterated in square brackets according to the conventional notation. I am grateful to Richard Judd, recently of Keble College, for helping me with this.

As the . . . cherubim, was a similitude of the Divinity, and of man taken into the Essence, and becoming . . . one Mighty to save; so the supreme [rbym, i.e., “rubim”] are the Great ones, of whom we are allow’d to take ideas from . . . the names, or the heavens. They, ere the world began, became confederates under the band of an oath, and so [alhym, i.e., “Elohim”].4
Compare the passage from the Descriptive Catalogue:
Visions of these eternal principles or characters of human life appear to poets, in all ages; the Grecian gods were the ancient Cherubim of Phoenicia; but the Greeks, and since them the Moderns, have neglected to subdue the gods of Priam. These Gods are visions of the eternal attributes, or divine names, which, when erected into gods, become destructive to humanity. (E536/K571; my emphasis)
Hutchinson held that the cherubim were emblems of aspects of God. These aspects became the objects of idolatrous worship: 5 Abstract, p. 229.
The human head and body, the wings, hands, corona, and other insignia of the Cherubim, appear so frequently among the idolatrous symbols of worship, that a very small attention may serve to convince one, by comparing particulars, that the whole heathen cultus had a plain resemblance to the sacred institutions, from which it was originally stolen.5
In modern times, according to Hutchinson, 6 Abstract, p. 244.
the cause of Christianity is betray’d, revelation disbelieved, and men trust to their own merit, morality, repentance, &c. to intitle them to the joys of another world: youth have their heads early filled with heathen authors, mythology &c. but are never taught to understand them by a comparison with the perfect original from whence they are stolen and perverted. . . . 6 (my emphasis)
Blake, using the same words, stated that “the Poetry of the Heathen” was “Stolen & Perverted from the Bible” (notes on Dante illustrations, E689/K785). As for modern philosophy, Hutchinson says (in what may be an allusion to his hatred of Newton) that it is “made up of senseless Words for Non-Entities, instead of the Agents, their Powers and Actions, described in the Bible.”77 J. H. [John Hutchinson], The Religion of Satan, or Antichrist, Delineated (London, 1736), p. 114.

The “oath” or “covenant” referred to above is that of “JEHOVAH ALEIM” (i.e., Jehovah Elohim).88 Abstract, p. 136. The covenant is that Jehovah Aleim will become a man, Christ, and redeem men by forgiveness of sins. This goes a long way towards explaining certain obscure passages in Blake’s The Ghost of Abel. Thus Hutchinson says: 9 Abstract, p. 124.

The heathens were never so stupid as to think their crimes could be blotted out, unless their ALEIM were propitiated: and so they could listen to our Almighty Saviour without prejudice, when he declared his merciful intentions, that himself was as ready as able to forgive sins. . . .9
This refers to the idea that the heathens, or gentiles, although they made sacrifices, were ready to give up “their” Elohim (i.e., the corrupt forms they worshipped) and listen to Christ; whereas the Jews, according to Hutchinson, were complacent enough to believe they could utterly propitiate their Elohim, and did not feel the need of Christ. Neither heathens nor Jews believed in forgiveness of sins once the original “covenant” of forgiveness was forgotten.

In The Ghost of Abel Satan says:

I will have Human Blood & not the blood of Bulls or Goats
And no Atonement O Jehovah the Elohim live on Sacrifice
Of Men: hence I am God of Men. . . .
But Jehovah says that Satan must go to Eternal Death. And then a chorus of angels enters singing:
The Elohim of the Heathen Swore Vengeance for Sin! Then Thou stoodst
Forth O Elohim Jehovah! in the midst of the darkness of the Oath! All Clothed
In Thy Covenant of the Forgiveness of Sins. . . .
The correspondences are very close, even to the distinction between Elohim Jehovah on the one hand and the “Elohim of the Heathen” on the other.

“The emblem of this grand adjuration [i.e., the covenant] between the ALEIM,” says Hutchinson, “was . . . an oak-tree,” signifying peace. He adds that “This memorial was not lost even among the latter heathens.”1010 Abstract, p. 222. He quotes Homer, where Hector signifies the antagonism between himself and Achilles by saying, “There’s now no way from th’ oak, or from the rock / To hold discourse with him.”1111 Abstract, p. 222. For Hutchinson, the rock is the pillar of a supposed Druid temple. And he adds that “Maximus Tyrius observes of the Druids, that they worshipped Jupiter under the form of a tall oak.”1212 Abstract, pp. 222-23. This is the oak as object of idolatry, where it was once merely an emblem of the covenant. These two types of oak are to be found in Blake. Thus at the introduction to chapter 2 of Jerusalem he addresses the Jews:

Your ancestors derived their origin from Abraham, Heber, Shem, and Noah, who were Druids: as the Druid Temples (which are the Patriarchal Pillars & Oak Groves) over the whole Earth Witness to this day. (E171/K649)
But, on the other hand, in The Ghost of Abel Satan promises to crucify Christ “By the rock & Oak of the Druid” (E272/K781): this refers to that period of fallen Druidism when the Elohim have become externalized gods, and the Divine Humanity is sacrificed on the Tree of Mystery. The Rock and the Oak become the “serpent temple” at Avebury.

Speaking of Avebury, William Cooke (d. 1780), who begin page 46 | back to top was interested in Hutchinson, provides important clues about the nature of that “temple,” and of the religion practiced there, in his Enquiry into the Patriarchal and Druidical Religion. This is an ingeniously eclectic selection of plagiarisms, mostly culled from Stukeley’s pages. Explaining the name “Abury” Cooke maintains that “such as were the ABIRI worshiped in Britain; such also originaly were the CABIRI worshiped in the East.”1313 (London, 1754), p. 53. He agrees with the opinion that “the Cabiri were the Gods of the Phoenicians” (cf. “Cherubim of the Phoenicians”) and claims, arguing from Hebrew and Arabic, that “Cabiri in the plural are THE GREAT or MIGHTY ONES.”1414 Enquiry, p. 54 It will be recalled that Hutchinson referred to his Cherubim as “Great ones.” Cooke uses Hutchinson’s description of the Cherubim to support his own argument.1515 Enquiry, p. 65 n. But what should particularly interest the scholar of Blake is the graphic way in which the decline from “Cherubim” to “Abiri”—a decline of vision—can be illustrated from these sources. The difference between the imagined splendors of the Phoenician temples and the “geometric” crudity of Avebury’s “Druid” rocks is very suggestive.

The fussiness of the Hutchinsonians about the terms “Elohim” and “Jehovah” might also serve to illuminate Blake’s own use of these terms. It should be clear from his writings that the tendency to talk about Urizen as a kind of “Jehovah” is at best a guide to the novice. In fact Blake seems to have regarded Elohim as more normally the evil Demiurge. The distinction between Jehovah as visible and Elohim as invisible God, which was based on the distinction between “Elohim” and “Jehovah Elohim” in the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1-10, was well known. The two were commonly interpreted as God the Father and the Logos respectively. Hutchinson’s claim that “In a special manner CHRIST was JEHOVAH” was not especially radical.1616 Abstract, p. 224. Nor is Blake’s that “after Christs death, he became Jehovah” (Marriage, pl. 6). The novel thing about this passage is the claim that “the Jehovah of the Bible” is “no other than he, who dwells in flaming fire”—that is, Jehovah is Energy. Elohim, the hidden God, is its deprivation.

Blake’s Elohim Creating Adam belongs with his Newton: and the Hutchinsonians had much to say about Sir Isaac. Many of their remarks have a distinctly Blakean ring: 17 Abstract, p. 157.

Prodigious fabricator! who wanted only an air-pump to make a vacuum, and a pendulum or swing to prove it; a loadstone, a bit of amber or jet, to form a philosophy; a spyglass, and a pair of compasses, to find out infinite worlds. . . .17
It will be recalled that the Application of No Natural Religion (series 2) reads: “He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only.” And the illumination for this aphorism shows a bearded man on hands and knees drawing a triangle with the aid of a pair of compasses. The Hutchinsonian description of Newton contains much the same sense of a ludicrous disparity between ends and means. And according to Hutchinson Newton’s God was really “the heathen Jupiter.1818 Abstract, p. 165. He, as we know, was the “iron-hearted tyrant, the ruiner of ancient Greece” mentioned by Blake in his letter to Hayley of 23 October 1804; and whom he seems, with some reason perhaps, to have regarded as the God of the Deists.

It may be that Blake was not alone in including John Hutchinson, along with Paracelsus, Boehme and Swedenborg, among his interests. The Behmenist John Byrom is the source of some of the fascinating information in Désirée Hirst’s Hidden Riches about eighteenth-century English Behmenists.1919 Hidden Riches: Traditional Symbolism from the Renaissance to Blake (London, 1964), pp. 192, 198. He, like Blake, attacked the “Selfhood.”2020 John Byrom, Miscellaneous Poems, 2 vols. (Manchester, 1773), 2: 160-62. And like Blake he was interested in Hutchinson, though he did not like his system.2121 The Private Journal and Literary Remains of John Byrom, ed. Richard Parkinson, D.D., F.S.A., 2 vols. in 2 parts each (being vols. 32, 34, 40 and 44 of Remains Historical and Literary Connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester, published by the Chetham Society [Manchester 1854, 1855, 1856 and 1857]), 2: 23, 26, 131. And he corresponded with the Hutchinsonian William Jones of Nayland.2222 Private Journal, 2: 573-78. Possibly John Wood of Bath had come across Hutchinson’s ideas, but in any case he was concerned to show “the Plagiarism of the Heathens” from the Jews in his work on The Origin of Building.2323 John Wood, The Origin of Building; Or, The Plagiarism of the Heathens Detected (Bath, 1741), p. 11. I am grateful to Morton Paley for reminding me about this work. Wood was also interested in Stonehenge, and believed that Druidism had spread across the world from Britain; Choir Gaure, Vulgarly called Stonehenge (Oxford, 1747), p. 12. Blake had likeminded antecedents and contemporaries: there is still much to discover about their world.

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