A Significant New Blakean Fragment
Though Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience are familiar to all students above the age at which they first visit the zoo, his fragmentary Songs of Education—not yet found in the collected editions of Blake’s works—are less well known. I have known respected Blake scholars, in fact, who were appallingly ignorant of this seminal work.
Originally intended for a volume in William and Mary Jane Godwin’s Juvenile Library, Songs of Education was left unfinished when Blake became afflicted by extreme gastric indigestion while reading at the British Museum. His only comment on the work occurs in Barron Field’s report of the conversation between Blake and Leigh Hunt at Horsemonger Lane Gaol. When asked by either Hunt or Thomas Massa Alsager (Field is uncertain which) what place Songs of Education would have occupied in his oeuvre, Blake replied: “I cannot tell how the whole might have developed; certain I am, however, that Education, while not consonant with Experience, destroys Innocence.”
Heretofore scholars have been handicapped by having available only brief, disconnected fragments of Songs of Education—couplets and quatrains that Blake composed on the letter-covers of Godwin’s appeals for money. Recently, however, there has come into my possession an extended passage from the work that incorporates some of the earlier fragments and suggests the tone and purpose, if not the full scope and shape, of the projected volume. While browsing in a bookshop near Exit 10 of the New York State Thruway, I was fortunate enough to discover (and purchase for thirty-five cents) a copy of Swedenborg’s Proverbs of Pisgah, the excessively rare London edition of 1801 printed by W. E. Inkell for the New Church. Imagine my joy when I discovered that its title page bore the inscription, in a clearly identifiable hand, “Wm Blake/ Poet and Painter/ 1807” and that between the otherwise-unrecorded half-title and the title page was a leaf—artistically sewn in with pastel thread—containing the following lines from Blake’s Songs of Education:1↤ 1 I have edited the fragment heuristically according to the following principles: (1) all substantive features of the text have been transcribed literally; (2) all accidental features have been emended to conform to my notion of what constitutes communicative English.
Then woke the spirit of bald William Blake—begin page 45 | ↑ back to top ↤ * Another MS reads “PERCIVALue”
Word-lover, foe of orthodoxies’ kind;
He swept across two school-infested lands
To chastise all self-satisfied of mind.
Not one to FOSTER DAMONs for a fee,
With rusty KROE BER thumping their stout KEYNES
He drove them to the SHOR; ERe they could flee,
A voice boomed out, inflicting deeper pains:
“I GRANT that publishers who mind the PURSE
SEE VALue* in the books these scholars write.
I’d rather hear a HAG STRUM on a HARP
ER watch RAINE beating down yon blasted BLOOM
Than, with back BENT, LEYn reading through the night,
Conning their jargon by the PALEY light.
“ADAM’S a GARDNER who has lost his place
Through sad neGLECK, NER do I find it odd
That when aN URMI of the pedants’ race
ROSE up, our father left that sacred sod.
“He could not TAYLER to their sketches Gray
Eden’s bright scenes, and so he fled away.
From that day on, the CUR RAN wild, small FRYE
Anatomized each WITT REICH merrily.”
The prophetic thunder ceased. Another spoke:
“I tells yer, gov’ner, this, an’ no mistake—
That last loud chap ain’t none of Billy Blake.
‘Aven’t yer ‘ERD, MAN? ‘e’s a Cockney bloke.’”