Blake, Burke, and the Clanrickard Monument
On the north side of the nave of Westminster Abbey, in the third bay, is a monument that is of interest to Blake scholars for three reasons: it bears a motto that instantly recalls an important line from The Book of Urizen, its inscription associates this motto with the family of Edmund Burke, and its design suggests that it is the model for an illustration in Jerusalem.
The monument is that of Ann, Countess Dowager of Clanrickard, who died in 1732 (illus. 1). It includes the effigy of a reclining woman whose “left hand is around her coronet (the same design as that which surmounts the coat of arms), with her finger slightly curled around it as though holding it.1↤ 1 I am deeply grateful to Miss Christine Reynolds, Assistant Keeper of the Muniments at Westminster Abbey for writing me to supply this characterization of the monument at a time when I was unable to revisit it and for further information concerning its date and heraldic bearings. She adds, “The eyes of the effigy are the quite common ‘dead eyes’; i.e., they are not incised, but I would say she is meant to be looking upwards towards heaven.” Above the figure is the motto UN ROY, UN FOY, UN LOY [One King, One Faith, One Law]. An inscription below the effigy identifies the countess as the wife of “MICHAELL, Earle of CLANRICKARD of the Kingdom of Ireland, the Head of the Antient and Noble Family of the BURKES.” Peter Burke, a Victorian biographer of Edmund Burke, prints an illustration (illus. 2) of “the arms borne by Edmund Burke and his proved progenitors, which were those precisely of the Clanricarde family” (2). Collared and chained cats are common to the monument and the Burke coat of arms.
Blake must have seen this monument. He was apprenticed to James Basire to learn the craft of engraving in 1772 at the age of 14. Starting in 1774, he spent much of the remaining five years of his apprenticeship in Westminster Abbey drawing funerary sculpture for Basire. Clearly he was a frequent and familiar visitor to the Abbey. Tatham’s “Life of Blake” records that when the boys of Westminster School mischievously interfered with Blake’s work in the Abbey, the Dean “kindly ordered that the Door should be closed upon them” (Bentley 512). “The impression the Abbey made upon Blake was profound, and was communicated enthusiastically to his young disciples fifty years later. Samuel Palmer wrote: ‘In Westminster Abbey were his earliest and most sacred recollections’” (Bentley 13).
The motto on the monument is echoed in the final line of a passage from a plate which appears in three of the eight known copies of Blake’s Book of Urizen.2↤ 2 Essick and Viscomi have argued convincingly that Blake’s final intention was to include this plate in Urizen. Viscomi argues that “for a short while [Blake] seems to have meant Urizen to be a twenty-six-plate book, to be read without plates 4, 8, and/or 16” (286) and conjectures that plate 4 was to be excluded because it “portrays Urizen heroically, as a Los-like creator, and is the only plate in which Urizen speaks” (283). Later, however, in an 1818 letter to Dawson Turner, Blake described Urizen as consisting of 28 prints (E 771). Essick cites this letter as evidence that Blake’s final intentions were to include plate 4 as part of the book and argues that while copy G, “the most highly finished and the last printed,” lacks plate 4, a loose impression of this page had been intended for this copy. He surmises that Blake noticed a misalignment of the print on the page only after he had “disposed of his ink, used all available paper, or altered his press” so that reprinting the page became impractical, and that he considered his attempts to realign the image by hand coloring unsuccessful (231-33). Viscomi accepts Essick’s argument that Blake omitted plate 4 from copy G for this reason (413n12). This plate is of particular begin page 77 | interest because it is the only one in which Urizen actually speaks.
7. Lo! I unfold my darkness: and on
This rock, place with strong hand the Book
Of eternal brass written in my solitude.
8. Laws of peace, of love, of unity;
Of pity, compassion, forgiveness,
Let each chuse one habitation;
His ancient infinite mansion;
One command, one joy, one desire,
One curse, one weight, one measure
One King, one God, one Law. (E 72; pl. 4:31-40)
Previous commentators have suggested other plausible sources for the last line of this passage:
The final line . . . initiates the Trinity of loyalist propaganda in the 1790s . . . . A patriotic song printed by John Reeves’s Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers ends with strikingly similar lines:
In peace then and honour may Britons still sing And bless their Good God, their old Laws, their Old King.
David Worrall also connects the “Trinity” of Urizen’s final line with the contemporary debates about political institutions in France and England by reprinting several satirical prints. A 1794 cartoon by Cruikshank places Charles James Fox near a sheet that reads “NO KING/ No Religion/ No LAWS” (121), and a Gillray print of 1795 associates a group of Jacobins with a scroll including the words “No law, No King, No God” (122).
Neither of these analogues, however, quite captures Blake’s pointed attack on the uniformity of Urizen’s laws. The most conspicuous word in the passage describing Urizen’s ideal is “one,” repeated nine times in the three lines.3↤ 3 W. J. T. Mitchell identifies Ephesians 4:3-6 as the “rhetorical model” of Urizen’s declaration: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all” (125). While this passage includes Urizen’s emphasis on uniformity, in other respects its resemblance to Urizen’s declaration is less direct than the Burke motto. Blake might also have regarded the motto as a blasphemous mutation of the biblical verses. The same antipathy to laws uniformly applied appears in the aphorism that sums up The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: “One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression” (E 44; pl. 24). This precept reappears with variations in Tiriel (E 285; pl. 8.9) and Visions of the Daughters of Albion (E 48; pl. 4.22).4↤ 4 See also the illustration to plate 33 of Jerusalem, which shows a ploughman driving two human-faced lions yoked to his plough. The design corresponds with 29 :4-11, where the “Rational Power” of Albion tells him that the “Human Form / You call divine” is merely a “Worm seventy inches long”; “It plows the earth in its own conceit.” This image makes the point visually that a constraint on conduct appropriate to the ox is incongruous when imposed by this Urizenic “Rational Power” on the lion. The lions have human faces because people are the tenor of this visual metaphor.
This emphasis on uniformity is, however, the point of the motto on the Clanrickard monument. The sentiment is one that would have angered Blake at any period of his life, and when he designed The Book of Urizen he may have remembered the motto quite apart from any connection with the Burke family simply as an expression of an ideology deeply and anciently rooted in the privileged classes of British society. But it is more likely that he did register the family connection. Blake wrote in the margin of Reynolds’s Discourses, “Burke’s treatise on the Sublime & Beautiful is founded on the opinions of Newton & Locke . . . . I read Burkes Treatise when very Young . . . . I felt the Same Contempt & Abhorrence then that I do now” (E 660). Blake’s wording here suggests that he read Burke before the end of his apprenticeship to Basire, when he was almost 22 years old. If so, he was in a position to connect the offensive motto in Westminster Abbey with Burke’s offensive aesthetics.
Obviously Blake would not have held any individual responsible for the ideology underlying an inherited motto, but in Burke’s case the motto was peculiarly apposite to a political philosophy that he claimed as his own, and Blake had some sensitivity to emblems that people adopted, such as the Hunt brothers’ pointing hand and Bacon’s Janus (see Paley’s note to J 50). While Blake’s recorded comments about Burke are all from his marginalia to Reynolds’s Discourses and apply chiefly to his treatise on the sublime and the beautiful, William Richey has recently made a strong case that two of Blake’s books from the early 1790s were specifically organized as attacks on the politics of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. He calls Blake’s French Revolution of 1791 “an intricate web of intertextual references artfully designed to refute one of the most persuasive and eloquent voices of the age” (“The French Revolution” 833), and he sees Blake’s central intent in Europe, produced in the same year as The Book of Urizen, as discrediting Burke’s ideals of “the spirit of a gentleman” (or chivalry) and “the spirit of religion” (Altering Aesthetic 49). According to Richey, three of the pictorial designs in Europe have reference to Burke: The “spirit of a gentleman” is personified in Rintrah, the scaled warrior depicted in plate 5, and the “spirit of religion” in Palambron, the mitred, bat-winged priest of plate 11. In plate 1, which shows an begin page 78 | assassin with a dagger hiding in a cave to waylay an unsuspecting pilgrim, Richey follows Erdman in detecting an allusion to Burke’s 1792 dagger speech in the House of Commons (Altering Aesthetic 64-68).
Though Richey says almost nothing about The Book of Urizen, it is at least as resonant as the other two works with echoes of those motifs in the Revolution controversy that are particularly identified with Burke’s Reflections. Burke’s presence in Urizen would make some puzzling aspects of the book more intelligible. First, if the reader is intended to perceive Urizen as seriously misguided, some of the “laws” he promulgates stress surprisingly amiable virtues such as unity, peace, love, pity, compassion, and forgiveness. This anomaly bulks large in the critical debate about Blake’s reasons for excluding plate 4 from some copies of Urizen (see note 1 below) because some critics feel that Urizen’s speech risks presenting him as heroic and creative.
However, in the cultural context of 1794, critics of Burke’s Reflections had already identified the sinister potential of some of these terms, especially peace and unity, as Burke applies them politically. As Urizen lays down “Laws of peace, of love, of unity,” so Burke praises the laws of succession on which “the unity, peace, and tranquillity of this nation doth, under God, wholly depend” (103), though his argument makes clear that not the laws of succession alone, but the whole integrated structure of England’s political and religious institutions is essential to preserving this unity. One problem for Burke’s critics is that this structure involves preserving the hereditary privileges of wealthy land-owners and clergy while the poor and religious dissenters must accept a diminished role in the state. Another problem is that Burke’s vision of peace and unity underestimates and undervalues the extent of political dissent in England. He tells the French correspondent to whom the Reflections are addressed that Britain enjoys greater social consensus than the French have been given to believe through their correspondence with revolutionary societies:
Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine, that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field. (181)
Besides peace and unity, Urizen also establishes laws “of pity, compassion, and forgiveness.” Here his error lies in the belief that these virtues can be legislated. For Blake, true virtue is always spontaneous, never the product of laws: “I tell you no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments. Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules” (E 43; MHH 23-24). Burke and Urizen both favor state religion because, unlike Blake, they believe that moral virtues should be made obligatory, if not through civil statute, then through religious commandment. Urizen,
All other nations have begun the fabric of a new government, or the reformation of an old, by establishing originally, or by enforcing with greater exactness some rites or other of religion. All other people have laid the foundations of civil freedom in severer manners, and a system of a more austere and masculine morality. (124-25)
The virtue of pity in particular is problematic in Blake’s work. The Book of Urizen recounts the birth of Pity when Los looks on Urizen:
He saw Urizen deadly black,begin page 79 |
In his chains bound, & Pity began,
7. In anguish dividing & dividing
(For pity divides the soul) . . .
(E 77; pl. 13:50-53)
Los’s pity for Urizen materializes first into a globe of life blood, then into his emanation, Enitharmon. This process has led some critics to perceive something invariably unhealthy in pity as Blake conceived it. Johnson and Grant in their note on this passage explain, “Love is fraternal, but pity implies condescension” (152n8), and Harold Bloom similarly states in his commentary in the Erdman edition, “Pity, as in ‘The Human Abstract’ of Experience, is a divisive element for Blake, being allied as it is to the fear and selfish possessiveness of the natural heart” (E 907).
While these comments correctly describe a way that pity for Blake is often perverted in the transition from innocence to experience, we should not conclude that pity is wrong per se. Pity and the other two terms of Urizen’s laws, compassion and forgiveness, continue to be valorized in Jerusalem, where they are used with no qualification or irony to express Mary’s thanks and praise:
O Mercy O Divine Humanity!Blake often couples genuine pity with forgiveness directed toward those who have been branded as impure sinners. Los is fundamentally attuned to this divine pity: “O whom / Should I pity if I pity not the sinner who is gone astray!” (J 31 :34-35).
O Forgiveness & Pity & Compassion! If I were Pure I should never
Have known Thee . . .
(J pl. 61:43-45)
For Blake there are two quite distinct ways in which pity can find unhealthy expression, and both of them occur in The Book of Urizen. The first, that which Grant, Johnson, and Bloom describe above, occurs when oppressors or tormenters shed hypocritical tears for those whom they themselves have victimized. In the world of Experience, this hypocritical pity is exemplified, for instance, by those in “Holy Thursday” who, while they feed the children in their care with “cold and usurous hand,” orchestrate an annual event in which the children they have impoverished can thank them for their charity. In Blake’s mythic space, this kind of pity marks accusing figures such as Rahab, who howls, “drinking groans of victims weeping in pity, / And joying in the pity” (J 80:55-56) and Urizen, who “wept, & he called it Pity / And his tears flowed down on the winds” (U 23:2-3). His is a false and hypocritical pity because his own iron laws have caused the distress for which he weeps.
But Los does not belong in a category with Urizen and Rahab, and the pity he feels for Urizen is not the hypocritical pity that oppressors profess to feel for the victims of their own corrupt systems. Los’s error is that he is led to pity the wrong object, for this is the second way in which pity goes wrong in The Book of Urizen. His is a genuine but misdirected pity; it divides his soul because it is extended toward Urizen, whose authoritarian values are fundamentally at odds with his own. Urizen is an accuser rather than one of the accused. Los’s pity operates where its contrary, wrath, would be more appropriate. Blake pursues this same theme in Milton where Los, pitying another accuser, Satan, allows him to drive the Harrow of the Almighty and later repents: “Mine is the fault! I should have remembered that pity divides the soul / And man, unmans” (E 102; pl. 8:19-20). One mark of Satan’s spiritual deprivation is that he does not have “the Science of Wrath, but only of Pity” (E 103; 9:46).
Among critics of Burke’s Reflections, it was exactly this operation of pity where wrath would have been more appropriate that drew heaviest fire. Burke’s widely satirized passage extolling Marie Antoinette led Paine to criticize his total disregard for prisoners in the Bastille, and, like Blake, Paine attributes this failing to the misdirection of his imagination:
Not one glance of compassion, not one commiserating reflection, that I can find throughout his book, has he bestowed on those who lingered out the most wretched of lives, a life without hope, in the most miserable of prisons . . . . He is not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird. (51)begin page 80 |
Mary Wollstonecraft finds that Burke has neglected a different category of French victims:
. . . your tears are reserved, very naturally considering your character, for the declamation of the theatre, or for the downfall of queens, whose rank alters the nature of folly, and throws a graceful veil over vices that degrade humanity; whilst the distress of many industrious mothers, whose helpmates have been torn from them, and the hungry cry of helpless babes, were vulgar sorrows that could not move your commiseration, though they might extort an alms. (27)
By 1794, counterrevolutionary sentiment in Britain manifested itself partly in pity for the memory of the royal family and for the many emigrés arriving in England. Burke’s depiction of Marie Antoinette was the most publicly visible embodiment of pity and admiration for the supposed graces of the ancien régime. In The Book of Urizen Los, whose imagination makes him capable of great empathy, pities Urizen, and that pity consolidates into the image of a beautiful and charming woman (Enitharmon), who is at once the embodiment and the object of pity (“But Los saw the Female & pitied” [U 17:10]).5↤ 5 Johnson and Grant note that “Enitharmon’s characterization [in Europe] as charming tyrant bears considerable resemblance to Wollstonecraft’s portrait of Marie Antoinette in her History of the French Revolution (1793)” (122). Enthralled by her beauty, he fails to remember her link to the authoritarian Urizen; and to keep her for himself, he chains his son Orc, the principle of potential revolutionary energy, to a rock.
A final aspect of Urizen’s speech on plate 4 that becomes clearer if we assume a covert allusion to Burkean ideals is the paradoxical idea that anyone could “chuse” what was already “His ancient infinite mansion.” Burke repeatedly uses the metaphor of an “antient edifice” (106) to characterize the structure of British laws and political institutions. Constitutional documents “claim and assert our liberties, as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity” (119; Burke’s emphasis). In thus adhering to the “principles of our forefathers,” though, we are guided not by the “superstition of antiquarians, but by the spirit of philosophic analogy. In this choice of inheritance we have given to our frame of polity the image of a relation of blood” (120; emphasis mine).
Thus, Urizen, like The French Revolution and Europe, contains internal evidence that Blake is describing in mythopoeic form the origins of a reactionary social consensus whose principal spokesman was Edmund Burke, and does so through motifs that echo Burke’s Reflections as well as Burke’s motto from the Clanrickard monument.
I turn now to the other possible echo of this monument in Blake’s work, the design at the bottom of plate 14 from Jerusalem (illus. 3).6↤ 6 The similarity of posture would have been more evident on the copper plate, where the head would be on the left, the feet on the right. Morton Paley remarks in his note on this design in the Blake Trust edition, “Albion’s posture suggests a tomb effigy, perhaps one by John Flaxman, with an angel at its head and another at its feet” (152). Not only the posture of the figure, but also the general composition of Blake’s design resemble those of the monument. In Jerusalem a rainbow corresponds with the stone arch of the monument, clouds correspond with the cusps of the trefoil, and the winged Jerusalem corresponds with the heraldic device above the reclining figure.
It is notoriously more difficult to establish the significance of a visual quotation than a verbal one. Blake is unmistakably contemptuous of the Clanrickard motto and puts it to a dramatic use as one mark of Urizen’s error. Is he equally scornful of the plastic representations of the monument, or do these somehow seize his imagination as having symbolic or potentially symbolic power? Or is he indifferent to possible meanings, taking away a purely visual memory of a useful spatial composition?
I am not sure that we can answer these questions conclusively, but the transformations he has wrought in the original design illustrate some aspects of his artistic psychology. Blake stated on many occasions, most famously with regard to the guinea sun (E 565-66), that he paints what he sees, but that everyone does not see alike. The image of Albion on his couch of death suggests what Blake saw when he looked at the Clanrickard monument.
The posture of the figure and design of the niche are apt for Blake’s purposes. In the illumination, Albion strikes all commentators as presenting an image of death, and yet his posture suggests that this death is not irredeemable. Above the sleeping Albion Blake envisions a rainbow that opens into starry space. The creation of the rainbow is narrated on plate 48, where Erin, “an Aged pensive Woman,” takes a moment of time and draws it out “Into a Rainbow of jewels and gold, a mild Reflection from / Albions dread Tomb” (J 206; pl. 48:28-36). Paley’s notes to plate 14 call attention to a later passage where
. . . all the Sons of Albion appeard distant stars,
Ascending and descending into Albions sea of death.
And Erins lovely Bow enclos’d the Wheels of Albions Sons.
(J 210, pl. 50:20-22)
But it should be added that a passage on plate 14 itself refers to this same image: “And Los beheld the mild Emanation Jerusalem eastward bending / Her revolutions toward the Starry Wheels in maternal anguish” (J 152, pl. 14:31-32). Minna Doskow explains the relationship between the celestial objects within the rainbow and those outside it. Albion, she says, begin page 81 |
cannot perceive the imaginative promise of his world or self. His universe is represented by the clouds of obscurity, stars of reason, sea of materialism, and moon of the simply natural world, which now holds a red globe within its arms . . . that is Enitharmon or fallen space (17:51). (55)
She contrasts this universe with the “Universe within” of Los’s children, “Starry and glorious” (14:17, 19), represented by the stars and planets near the top of the plate. Thus a design corresponding to the shallow niche of the Clanrickard monument suggests both a fallen space within the arch and an imaginative space surrounding it. Possibly Blake saw a similar contrast between a benighted view of death and of values within the Clanrickard niche and the imaginative space of Westminster Abbey.7↤ 7 I am grateful to Robert N. Essick for calling to my attention to Blake’s pen-and-wash drawing of “A Young Woman Reclining on a Couch, Writing in a Book,” 1780-85 (Butlin #161, Cat. #147). Her left arm rests on a cushion, her left hand holding open a book in which she writes with her right hand. Her expression is pensive, as though reflecting deeply on what she is writing, and she wears a coronet. The subject is unknown. While any connection between this drawing and the Clanrickard monument is entirely conjectural, the young woman’s coronet might provide a link. If Blake, as I have suggested, considered the monument with its motto and badges of rank an expression of false values, he may have intended to signify that even a woman of rank might properly engage in a more creative and imaginative activity than contemplating her coronet.
Taken in isolation, any one of the similarities I have noted between the Clanrickard monument and Blake’s work could be considered coincidental. But since the monument is found at the site where Blake studied funerary sculpture for years, relates to a statesman already known to be of great interest to him at the time an echo of the motto appears in Urizen, and presents a composition so closely matching a Jerusalem illumination for which an original had previously been conjectured, we have substantial grounds for considering the monument the source of both.
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