‘In the Silent of the Night’

  • Jeremy Tambling


In Thomas Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus (1947), the composer Adrian Leverkühn turns away from setting German texts in favour of those of Verlaine and ‘his particular favourite, William Blake’.1 Mann’s understanding of Blake came from W.H. Auden (who said that ‘the whole of Freud’s teaching may be found in The Marriage of Heaven and HeAdenll’),2 and his choice of poems from the Songs of Experience is created by their subject: night. Leverkühn is writing a Nocturne. Piano pieces called Nocturnes were first written by the composer John Field (1782–1837), influential on Chopin, and they appear around 1812. But in Mann’s Blake, the night is not just part of a mood, but active, troubling, disorganizing.


Grey Hair Paradise Lost German Text Poison Tree Rationalistic Spirit 
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  1. 1.
    Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus trans. John E. Woods (New York: Vintage 1997), p. 176. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    W.H. Auden, ‘Psychology and Art Today’ (1935) reprinted in The English Auden ed. Edward Mendelson (New York: Random House 1977), p. 339. See also ‘The Prolific and the Devourer’ (1939), pp. 394–406. Benjamin Britten has set Blake’s poems, for instance, Songs and Proverbs of William Blake op. 74 (1965), while ‘The Sick Rose’ appears in his nocturne, Serenade for tenor, horn and strings (1943), as the loss of an unquestioned innocence.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil trans. Alastair Hamilton (London: Marion Boyars 1973). Further references in text.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    For Blake and psychoanalytic thought see Morris Dickstein, ‘The Price of Experience: Blake’s Reading of Freud’, in Joseph H. Smith (ed.) The Literary Freud: Mechanisms of Defence and the Poetic Will vol. 4 (New Haven: Yale University Press 1980).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See Martin Bidney, Blake and Goethe: Psychology, Ontology, Imagination (Columbia: University of Missouri Press 1988), p. 67.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    W.J.T. Mitchell, ‘Dangerous Blake’, Studies in Romanticism 21 (1982), 410–16, sees the last two lines forecasting Blake’s tendency towards obscenity.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. E.P. Thompson, Witness Against The Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1993), pp. 171–2, interprets the chapel as the Swedenborgian Church after it had moved politically to the right in 1791 and sees Blake as disenchanted, disgusted, turning away to secular advanced radicalism associated with Thomas Paine, Joel Barlow and Joseph Johnson the dissenting publisher. The group were identified, and they identified themselves, as the ‘swinish multitude’.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See John Brenkman, Culture and Domination (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1987), pp. 111–21 (see also his analysis of ‘London’, 121–38).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Freud, ‘Instincts and their Vicissitudes’, The Penguin Freud: On Metapsychology (Harmodsworth: Penguin 1977), pp. 136–7.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    See Henry Yule and A.C. Burnell, Hobson-Jobson: A Glossay of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases and of Kindred terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographic and Discursive (1886, London: Routledge 1988), entry under ‘upas’. See the reference to Java in E. 499, 861, K. 185 (and note the pun, in the following line, ‘And a great many suckers grow all around’, which makes the tree-image so comprehensive).Google Scholar
  11. For Blake’s tree, see Jon Mee, Dangerous Enthusiasm: William Blake and the Culture of Radicalism in the 1790s (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1992), pp. 7–8, 97–103.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Virgil vol. 1, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1957), p. 563. See also Eclogues 7.62 — the myrtle is ‘most dear to lovely Venus’ ibid., p. 53. The myrtle’s appearances in Paradise Lost 4.262 and 9.431 associate it with Venus; Alastair Fowler notes for the latter that when ‘satyrs surprised Venus bathing, she hid behind a myrtle’ — see Ovid, Fasti, 4.138ff. In Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis 865: John Roe, editing Shakespeare: The Poems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1992), p. 123, says as a tree it was ‘similar in status to the rose among flowers’.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Samuel Richardson, Sir Charles Grandison vol. 3 letter 22. The novel’s heroine, Harriet Byron, for whom this woman is a double, quotes Night Thoughts, calling Young ‘my favourite author’ (vol. 2 letter 7). Sir Charles Grandison ed. Jocelyn Harris (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1986), pp. 298, and pp. 153 and 157. Richardson’s interest in women’s history also appears in Clarissa’s distracted readings of what has happened to her after her rape by Lovelace: Thou pernicious caterpillar, that preyest on the fair leaf of virgin fame, and poisonest those leaves which thou canst not devour! Thou fell blight, thou eastern blast, thou overspreading mildew, that destroyest the early promises of the shining year! that mockest the laborious toil, and blastest the joyful hopes of the painflul husbandman! Thou fretting moth that corruptest the fairest garment! Thou eating canker-worm that preyest upon the opening bud, and turnest the damask rose into livid yellowness!… (Clarissa letter 261, ed. Angus Ross (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1985), p. 892). Clarissa works through images of Ophelia and of the passage in Twelfth Night. Compare Laertes to Ophelia, Hamlet 1. iii. 39–42. For other Shakespeare echoes in ‘The Sick Rose’ see Macbeth on ‘nature’s mischief’ (1. v. 50) for ‘the invisible worm’ and ‘come thick night’.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    The plural nature of secrecy may be expanded on by seeing it politically. Thomas Holcroft (1745–1816), the radical author who knew Blake, makes his hero, Hugh Trevor, become involved in political and religious intrigue: ‘It might well be expected that at this age I should fall into a mistake common to mankind, and consider secrecy as a virtue; yet I think it strange that I did not soon detect the duplicity of my conduct, nor imagine there was any guilt in being the agent of deceit’ — Hugh Trevor ed. Seamus Deane (1794: Oxford: Oxford University Press 1973), p. 137.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    See Stephen C. Behrendt, The Moment of Explosion: Blake and the Illustration of Milton (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 1983) plates 16, 17, discussion pp. 160–1.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    See Bette Charlene Werner, Blake’s Vision of the Poetry of Milton (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press 1986), pp. 86–90. In Blake’s Crucifixion in the Paradise Lost series, the serpent winds round the cross, its bruised head just under the foot (the heel) of Christ: see pp. 94–8.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Freud, ‘The Ego and the Id’, The Penguin Freud: vol. 11: On Metapsychology (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977), p. 387.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    See Philip J. Gallagher, ‘The Word Made Flesh: Blake’s “A Poison Tree” and the Book of Genesis’, Studies in Romanticism 16 (1977), 237–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 23.
    See S.H. Clark, Sordid Images: The Poetry of Masculine Desire (London: Routledge 1994), pp. 160–1.Google Scholar
  20. 26.
    For this poem and King Lear, see John Danby, Shakespeare and the Doctrine of Nature: A Study of King Lear (London: Faber 1948), pp. 117–20.Google Scholar
  21. 27.
    See C.B. MacPherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1962).Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Geoffrey H. Hartman, ‘Envoi: “So Many Things”’, in Nelson Hilton and Thomas A. Vogler (eds) Unnam’d Forms: Blake and Textuality (Berkeley: University of California Press 1986), pp. 242–8.Google Scholar

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© Jeremy Tambling 2005

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  • Jeremy Tambling

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