[David Simpson on Paolozzi’s Newton]begin page 24 |
with intellectual spears & long winged arrows of thought
David Simpson’s suggestion that the bending figure in Blake’s color print Newton may be a conflation of Sir Isaac Newton and the Rev. John Newton, the reformed slave-trader, is indeed interesting. It leads by an almost irresistible imaginative progression to the further surmise that the “mighty Spirit . . . Nam’d Newton” who “leap’d from the land of Albion” and seized from Orc the “Trump of the last doom” begin page 25 | in Europe: a Prophecy (13:1-5) may likewise be a conflation of those two (in many ways) seeming opposites. I have always been uneasy with Northrop Frye’s explanation of what he refers to as “that curious passage in Europe” as representing Blake’s doctrine that “the mental attitude represented by [Isaac] Newton moves toward a consolidation of error which could provoke an apocalypse” (Fearful Symmetry 254) and have felt that there must be still another way of interpreting the allusion. The passage seems to have a contemporaneous quality, with the preceding plate (which also mentions “the trump of the last doom”) referring to Albion’s Angel, “Great George street,” Enitharmon’s triumph, and so on. And of course the impromptu trumpet lesson the “mighty Spirit . . . Nam’d Newton” gives the feckless Orc is followed by Enitharmon’s awakening and the information that “eighteen hundred years were fled” (12:12-13:10), which sounds fairly specific.
If Blake is referring, at least in part, to the Rev. John Newton here, he would seem to be anticipating the shift of emphasis in his evolving myth from Orc to Los, writ large in The Book of Los and The Song of Los, of which John Newton’s famous conversion, evangelical fervor and anti-slavery work would be suitable, if partial, symbols, all of which find counterparts elsewhere in Blake’s poetry.
As for Professor Simpson’s reference to Martin Butlin’s account of the recent controversy over Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s sculpture adapted from Blake’s Newton intended for the British Library, no doubt Butlin is right to warn us against imposing “too strictly a Blakean interpretation” on a different work of art; but judging from his description and the accompanying photograph (admittedly a risky business), I would have to say that Paolozzi’s Newton looks very nearly the antithesis of Blake’s, wherein[e] the lightness and delicacy of the medium is artfully contrasted to the heaviness of the design, enhancing the satirical effect. To my bad eye, Paolozzi’s Newton resembles nothing so much as a defecating armadillo. Cast in bronze twelve feet high, and mounted on a podium of similar height, it could only represent (if taken in the way Butlin warns us against) a perversion of Blake’s design into a travesty of unutterable ugliness and monumental stupidity. One can only hope that it isn’t as bad as it looks.