Right Reason and ‘Sense Supernaturall’

  • Matthew J. A. Green


‘The Jewish & Christian Testaments are An original derivation from the Poetic Genius’, reads the sixth principle of All Religions, ‘this is necessary from the confined nature of bodily sensation’ (E1). The confinement of sensation, as we have seen, results from historically specific representations of the body, and of matter in general, which sharply distinguish the material from the spiritual, the human from the divine. The derivative status of the Bible, however, is more difficult to reconcile with Blake’s later description of the First and Second Testaments as ‘the Great Code of Art’ (Laocoön; E274). Though these comments come much later in his life (Bentley suggests a possible dating of 1826),2 the centrality of the biblical text, both conceptually and stylistically, remains consistent across his corpus, even if Blake insists on reading it diabolically. Perhaps we may see a certain anticipation of Paine’s prioritisation of conscience over scripture at work in All Religions, as we find it reverberating throughout the annotations to Watson:

The Bible or <Peculiar> Word of God, Exclusive of Conscience or the Word of God Universal, is that Abomination which like the Jewish ceremonies is for ever removed & henceforth every man may converse with God & be a King & Priest in his own house. (p. 9)


Original Derivation Biblical Text True Interpretation Natural Religion Expanded Vision 
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  1. 1.
    Lodowick Muggleton, A True Interpretation of all the Chief Texts […] of the Revelation of St John (London: the author, 1665; repr. [London(?)]: [n. pub.], 1746), p. v.Google Scholar
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    Joseph Viscomi, ‘The Evolution of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 58 (1997), pp. 281–344 (p. 324). Viscomi is unable to provide a definite position for plate 4 within this series, although he suggests that it appears to be associated with plates 14 and 15 (ibid., p. 333).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Robert F. Gleckner, ‘Priestley and the Chameleon Angel in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, 13 (1979), pp. 37–9. Priestley’s description is from The History and Present State of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light, and Colours. By reversing the order of the colour-changes, Gleckner argues, Blake is suggesting the Angel’s movement from ‘malleability’ to ‘steely self-righteousness’ (p. 38).Google Scholar

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© Matthew JA Green 2005

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  • Matthew J. A. Green

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