Visionary physics

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Visionary physics Blake's response to Newton Donald D. Ault
Ault, Donald D
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xv, 229 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.


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Bibliography : p. 217-222.
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Includes index.

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Visionary Physics

Visionary Physics

.* p -

William Blake's Newron [1795].
The Tate Gallery, London

Donald D.Ault

Visionary Physics
Blake's Response to Newton

The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637
The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London

1974 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 1974. Midway Reprint 1975
Printed in the United States of America

International Standard Book Number: 0-226-03226-4
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 73-77128

For Lynda and Lara


Abbreviations ix
Preface xi

1. Coherence and Identity in Newton
and Descartes 1

2. Blake's Visionary Response: Science as
System and Metaphor 24

3. Usurpation of Universality 57

4. Usurpation of Activity 96

5. Expanded and Contracted Vision: Physical
Optics, The Void, and the Vortex 141

6. Conclusion: The Crisis of Significant
Unity in Blake and Newton 161

Notes 197
Bibliography 217
Index 223


E Erdman edition of Blake's writings
K Keynes edition of Blake's writings
BU The Book of Urizen
BL The Book of Los
FZ The Four Zoas
Mil. Milton
Jer. Jerusalem
VLJ A Vision of the Last Judgment
GP The Gates of Paradise
JHI Journal of the History of Ideas

In references to Blake's writings, plate or page numbers always
precede the line numbers. For example, in the citing, E, pp. 363-64,
FZ 104:25; 105:11-13, the reference is to the Erdman edition, pages
363 and 364; the specific lines are on manuscript page 104 of The
Four Zoas, line 25, and page 105, lines 11 through 13.


That these Moments are not chimerical, visionary or merely
imaginary things, but have an existence sui generis, at
least Mathematically and in the Understanding, is a necessary
consequence from the infinite Divisibility of Quantity.
John Colson, Newton's Treatise on the Fluxions (1736)
For every Space larger than a Globule of Mans blood.
Is visionary: and is created by the Hammer of Los
And every Space smaller than a Globule of Mans blood, opens
Into Eternity of which this vegetable earth is but a shadow
William Blake, Milton (1804)

William Blake and Sir Isaac Newton both saw things
few men see. Newton's vision was directly responsible for his im-
mense fame and popularity as a national hero in eighteenth-century
England. Blake's vision was responsible for his relative obscurity
and poverty during his life. When Blake referred to himself as a
"visionary" he was consciously flying in the face of a whole network
of traditions thoroughly submerged in the point of view he called
"Single vision & Newtons sleep." As a visionary Blake was siding
with a point of view commonly associated in the eighteenth century
with madness, eccentricity, or impracticality. In this stance he op-
posed Newton's system of the world, even though Newton, too, was
charged with having concocted a visionary model of the world. John
Colson's defense of Newton's "Moments" in a text published almost
ten years after Newton's death attests to the lingering weirdness in-
herent in Newton's mathematics and physics, despite the fact that
the amazing consistency and predictive power of Newton's system
had technically leveled all competitors. Newton's vision, however
esoteric, complex, and obscure it might be, seemed ultimately to
make sense in its general implications and images since, ultimately,
it tended to reinforce a commonsense view of the world. Blake's

xii Preface

vision, on the other hand, still presents manifold problems even in a
superficial encounter with his poetry and art. For Blake's language
and vision turns the commonsense world of naive sense-data inside
out; it radically and uncompromisingly opposes the way we normally
experience language and the world.
A study, therefore, of Blake's "visionary physics" in terms of a
metaphoric response to Newton is an attempt to make quite precise
sense of one limited though central aspect of Blake's and Newton's
crises of vision as they grappled with problems of bodily and "ex-
ternal" experience embedded in what was then thought of as the
"corporeal" or physical world. The writings of both Blake and New-
ton are riddled with complexities, apparent self-contradictions, and
shifts in tones of belief. I have interpreted these opposition and
complexities as the manifestation of dialectical (Blake would have
preferred "visionary") tensions which directly resulted from their
own problem-situations. I am using problem-situation in its
broadest sense-the convergence of the whole complex of pressures
to which these imaginative giants responded in works which have (in
very different ways) changed the world. Out of this confused welter
of cross-purposes I am isolating one set of admittedly abstract
problems whose solutions, because they are concrete, lay bare the
differences in the quality of experience of these two men: problems
of space and time, of change and motion, of the solidity, opacity, and
permanence of external objects, of the nature of physical seeing.
Throughout this study I have attempted to keep at least a twofold
vision-to step inside the systems of Newton, Descartes, Locke, and
others in order to convey the experience of submerged crisis in each,
and at the same time to treat these crises of vision as Blake reinter-
preted them. I have emphasized Blake's point of view, sided with
Blake so to speak, partly because it is much more of a challenge to
do so, Blake's way of thinking and experiencing being so unique and
complex. But mostly I have sided with Blake because what he said
makes more sense to me ultimately than what Newton said. New-
ton's centuries of triumph were the eighteenth and (in a fuzzier way)
the nineteenth. Blake's century is the twentieth, if not the twenty-
first; and I hope in this book to reveal in a limited way the profound,
imaginatively human relevance Blake has for us today.
Since the problem with which this book deals is somewhat unique
in its difficulty and complexity, perhaps some mention should be

xiii Preface

made of the methodology employed. I have approached the problem
both historically (diachronically or in terms of intentional relations
between Blake and Newton) and simultaneously (synchronically or in
terms of abstract model construction). The historical conception of
the relationships involved in this study as requiring a "response" by
Blake point by point to Newtonian doctrines is, at most, a surface
metaphor for the fundamental simultaneous abstract relationships
which are really the focus of the study. At times it does seem as
though Blake is responding to Newtonian ideas, but, in the final
analysis, all that is important is that it is possible to construct a
historically viable model or intellectual framework from the per-
spective of which Blake's relationships to Newton make sense.
It is quite important that the reader of this book experience the
argument sequentially, from beginning to end, for the structure of
the book requires such for understanding. The temptation to isolate
segments in order to find out what Blake believed about "vortexes,"
for example. could render the individual sections unintelligible to
the reader not steeped in the lore of both Blake's cosmology and the
philosophy of science. The book will at times, 1 suspect, appear to be
a puzzle whose parts begin to fit; and then a piece of the puzzle will
emerge which seems to make the previous pieces not fit together or,
perhaps, tit together in an entirely different way. A central principle
involved here is a kind of imitation of Blake's own technique: he
makes us reevaluate, in light of our present experience, the ex-
periences we have just had in his poetry. Part of the intention in this
book is to give the reader a version of Blake in discursive language
which will approximate (within a quite restricted framework) the
same kind of experience Blake's poetry affords. As such, the struc-
ture tends to parody itself throughout, to fold back on itself. In
counterpoint with this technique, I have tried to maintain an argu-
ment which develops dialectically from beginning to end. Chapter 1
develops a model of Newton's system which allows a revelation of
aspects of the intellectual crisis in Newton's system and the cultural
crisis which developed from the contrast between Newton's and Des-
cartes' systems. Chapter 2 centers on Blake's interpretation of these
crises from the perspective of the morphology of his own system,
which is analyzed in the conceptual terms introduced in chapter 1.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 develop direct connections between elements of
Blake's and Newton's systems. Chapter 3 focuses on Blake's re-

xiv Preface

sponse to the lure of consciousness toward abstract terms and con-
cepts which are projected in spatial imagery. Chapter 4, on the other
hand, deals with the lure toward dynamic physical process and its
absorption by the mathematics of Newton's fluxionss": here the
fundamental projection is in terms of "process-myth" rather than,
as in chapter 3, "concept-image." Chapter 5 uncovers those ele-
ments which move toward a synthesis of spatial and temporal pro-
jections and of mathematical and physical processes. Finally,
chapter 6 superimposes the techniques of analysis developed in
chapters 1 and 2 onto the details of analysis developed in chapters 3,
4. and 5. The result is a polemical preliminary for an analysis of
Blake's poetry in terms of a principle of perspective ontology.
The initial impetus for this study emerged out of a graduate semi-
nar on Blake at Kent State University with Martin Nurmi. As Profes-
sor Nurmi and I had similar backgrounds in engineering and mathe-
matics, it was only natural that I would be attracted to his interest in
Blake's relation to eighteenth-century science. I owe Professor Leo-
nard Krieger of Columbia University a deep debt of gratitude for his
permission to adopt, and thereby distort, his suggestive framework
of "coherence," "identity," and "process of integration." Without
his lectures at the University of Chicago in 1966-67 this study would
have a very different shape. In addition, I am indebted to professors
Stuart Tave and Sheldon Sacks for their continued interest in and
support of this somewhat unorthodox manuscript. Among those who
have encouraged me to continue with this project over the past
couple of years. Paul Alkon, Julian Boyd, David Erdman, Norman
Grabo, Andrew Griffin, Ulrich Knoepflamacher, Gwin Kolb,
Sydney Krause, Jerome McGann, Leonard Michaels, Morton Paley,
and Mark Schorer have been the most helpful. Friends and students
who have provided their own brand of invaluable help include Carl
and Gar6 Barks, Murray Cohen, Anthony Gallagher, and Joseph
I want to thank the Tate Gallery of London for their kind permis-
sion to reproduce Blake's "Newton" as the frontispiece of this book. I
also would like to thank Grace O'Connell for her careful typing of
the manuscript. For the indispensable aid of annual research grants
and a Humanities Research appointment from the University of Ca-
lifornia, Berkeley, I am grateful to the Committee on Research and
the Chancellor of the Berkeley campus, and to the Regents of the

xv Preface

Special thanks go to Jamie Danhi, whose help in proofreading and
indexing has been invaluable, and to Bill Wright, who imaginatively
rendered the graphics for figures 1, 2, and 3.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge my deepest gratitude to my family,
especially my brother-in-law James D. Switzer, and my parents,
Arthur and Lillian Ault, for their continued support through the
years. As for my wife and daughter, the dedication speaks for itself.
D. D. A.

1. Coherence and Identity in Newton
and Descartes

Because William Blake made Sir Isaac Newton the
central figure of his most dreaded enemy, the philosophical
Cerberus "Bacon & Newton & Locke." every major critic of Blake
has fell bound to refer to Blake's vehement rejection of Newton. Few
critics, however, have attempted to find specific and detailed rela-
tionships between Blake and Newton.' Jacob Bronowski, a notable
exception to the rule, has remarked that Blake attributed specific
topological properties to his "Mundane Shell" and his "Vortex" in
response to the "worst of abstractions." the "infinite and con-
strained" universe of Newton. Bronowski means by this that, while
in NewNton's system absolute space is itself infinite, planets and
comets move in tinite, closed orbits by the law of universal attrac-
tion; in response to this world Blake constructed a "finite" world
with "no bounding surfaces."' Bronowski's insight is central to an
understanding of the kinds of relationships which obtain between
the universes of Blake and Newton. This insight can, however, be
made more precise and more general by developing a coherent view
of the structural relationships which obtain between the worlds of
Blake and Newton, of which the particular aspect Bronowski men-
lions is a coherent reflection.
Blake's response to Newton was no simple matter: Blake was
desperately aware of the imaginative appeal of Newton's world
system: and the increasing complexity of Blake's mythology and
poetic technique in part derives from the increasing threat the New-
tonian perspective posed to Blake's own imaginative powers. The
central thesis of this work is that there is an inverse homology be-
tw en the slucture of Newton's mathematical physics and the struc-
lure of Blake's "human imagination" or "divine body." That is.
Blake interprets Newton's system as uniting, in the form of demonic
parody or disguise, the powerful drives which unite in the "human

Chapter One

imagination." Blake, therefore, visualizes Newton's system as pro-
viding a usurpation of and substitution for the very vision he himself
is trying to communicate. A central thrust of Blake's response to
Newton, then is to reveal how the forces which lure knowledge,
consciousness, and perception away from total imaginative fulfill-
ment consolidate in Newton's system.
Blake's print of "Newton" 117951 (see frontispiece), unveils in
stark visual form Blake's grasp of the extent to which New-
ton's vision had the power to provide substitute satisfaction for the
powerful contrary drives of the imagination. One of the most obvious
visual features of this drawing is the dominance of a tension between
(a) triangular (or rectilinear) and curved forms, (b) symmetrical and
asymmetrical forms, and (c) definite and indefinite forms. The in-
credibly powerful and muscular body of the human form in the New-
ton drawing is rolling itself into the very shape which that figure is
measuring with dividers. The curve of the figure's back matches the
arc inscribed in the triangle; the triangular shape of the figure's right
leg, facial features (especially eyebrows, eyes and nose), and posi-
tion of both hands matches the descending triangles of the dividers
and the drawn triangle. As the compass becomes an extension of the
figure's hand, so the drawing becomes an extension or projection of
the figure's whole body onto a two-dimensional surface. (Of course
Blake's drawing itself is two-dimensional, and part of the power here
resides in the contrast between the imaginative power of the whole
drawing and the hollow feeling of the drawing within a drawing.) It
also seems likely that the triangle the figure has drawn is equilateral,
since the figure seems to be measuring the equality of the sides
of the triangle; but the limitations of spatial perspective force us
to see one triangle inside the other, the plane of the compass being
perpendicular to the plane of the drawn triangle. The drawn triangle
is thus congruent with the triangle formed by the legs of the compass
and the base of the drawn triangle-or at least nearly so. The legs of
the compass themselves seem to be beginning to bend into a curve un-
der the immense pressure of the powerful hand of the human figure.
Blake is thus forcing us to contrast the geometrical property of con-
gruence with the aesthetic property of spatial perspective (the triangle
within a triangle) and to contrast the perfect form of the triangle with
the slightly imperfect existential triangles of the drawing as a whole.
The real contrast, however, is that between the human figure and the
parody of himself he has drawn: and yet the very act of drawing the

Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

triangular figure is what has bent him into the almost serpentine form
which makes the body conform to the drawing. The two aspects are
simultaneous and inseparable. Further, the descending pair of
triangles includes a curve and a straight line. Blake is here visualizing
Newtonian "limits." The arc is, in a sense, the curvilinear limit of the
rectilinear shapes: the ratio of the sides of the triangle to the base and
the arc is finally a limit of equality if the lengths of all are diminished
infinitely. The human figure, however, projects a reverse version of
this doctrine of limits. The further the figure rolls himself into a
globe, the closer the arc of his back approaches the limit of the
triangular sharp corners of the rest of his body.
These two points conspire to reveal the extent to which the power-
ful imaginative body of the figure has been lured into a mathe-
matical parody of itself. Even the symmetrical rippling of the
muscles along the human figure's back, in addition to suggesting the
scales of a serpent, are beginning to look like the little parallelo-
grams Newton used to open his discussion of limits and vanishing
ratios in the Principia. But the contrast between the human and
mathematical figures is intensified by the rest of the drawing. The
sharp outline of the human body is parodied by the sharp outlines of
the mathematical figures: this reveals how mathematical definite-
ness. completeness, and clarity attempt to usurp the "outline" of
Blake's "divine body," the image of the "imagination." Yet the rest
of the drawing is of quite a different order. The rest of the drawing
sharply contrasts to the crystal clarity of these figures. There is an
ambiguity, a kind of optical illusory quality to the incredible detail
of the background. It is extremely difficult to determine the spatial
context of the action. Is the figure sitting under water on a rock? Or
is he in an outer-space void (perhaps dotted with the particulate
aetherr")? Does the rock form the haunch or foot of a giant animal
whose two claws extend in a direction opposite to the human figure's
feet? Are those ambiguous shapes simply vegetation or are the sug-
gestions of faces in the rock intended? The background becomes an
enigma in contrast to the central action. In one sense Blake has ef-
ficiently polarized the aspects of Newton's system he most fears: the
aesthetic lures toward definiteness, completeness and outline, on the
one hand,and toward flowing, indefinite "fluctuation" of perception,
on the other. Yet Blake's critique is more radical than this. For while
he contrasts these two lures he reveals their identity. The outline of
the human figure's left foot sharply contrasts to the fuzzy outline of

Chapter One

lie rock out ot which it emerges. Clearly Blake's suggestion is that
the figure's toot is part of the rock or vice versa: that is. the rock is
crystalli/ing into the hmiian form or the human form is dissolving
into the indefinite form of the rock. Both analyses are identical. For
it is the whole composition and not simply the human figure which is
Blake's "New ton." It is the complexity of contrast in identity which
makes the drawing so powerful. The fantastic intensity of the face.
especially the eyes. and the energy of the powerful body are dwarfed
b\ the beautifully luring yet indefinite "outer" world of the drawing
whichh I believe. Blake wants us to interpret as a central motivation
lor constructing the arc within the triangle. The human figure is
constructing a limited, tixed, and unchanging model of his fun-
danmental bodily experiences to stave off the sense of the dissolving
quality of the outer world. Yet-and this is the most crucial point of
all-it is the very act of constructing the model that separates the
world into inner and outer, definite and indefinite, action and back-
ground. symmetry and asymmetry. The background is both the
cause and the effect of the central action.
As the human countenance depicted in "Newton" is not com-
pletely unlike Blake's own. we find in the drawing the shape of the
threat Blake felt from Newton's vision. The Newtonian component
of Blake's own consciousness is the perspective we must assume if we
are to grasp the nature of the conflict within Blake concerning
New ton. If a man of the uncompromising vision of Blake could be
lured toward the Newtonian vision, then it was no wonder that men
of less vision had been worshiping Newton as a god. We cannot
fullyI understand the threat which Newton's system posed to ima-
ginative freedom without understanding with considerable precision
lie dialectical struggle within Newton's own system. And so, before
w\e can turn to Blake's response to Newton, we must try to map out
the labyrinth of Newton's own system.

It is a commonplace in the history of science that New-
ton's intellectual character is traceable in his attempt to synthesize
the mathematical emphasis of Plato and the atomistic philosophies
of Boyle and others.' Newton was, of course, not alone in his at-
tempt. for the model of Descartes stood before him as an achieved
intellectual synthesis of the mathematical and the atomic, a model
which was to control the imaginations of intellectuals in England

Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

and on the Continent long after Newton had published his Prin-
cipia. The imaginative attractiveness of the Cartesian system lay in
its intellectual consistency and completeness; the appeal of Newton's
system was its impressive predictive power and capacity for em-
pirical verification. It is evident that Descartes' system has come to
be viewed as a profound failure: it became recognized as almost
laughably inaccurate and pretentious as empirical science. The
failure of Newton's system is of a more subtle sort: it failed to
achieve a full imaginative synthesis which could satisfy him and his
disciples intellectually. The intellectual content of the systems of
New ton and Descartes is precisely opposite., which points to the in-
teresting fact that, although their methods of verification were op-
posite. the data they were trying to account for were the same. New-
ton chose external nature as the arbiter of his concepts, while Des-
cartes chose the internal phenomena of his mind to serve this same
function. The problem common to both was that of uniting a theory
of celestial motion with a theory of terrestrial gravitation." Both were
mathematicians; both were atomists. Thus their choice of opposite
psprspectives supported extremely similar drives toward intellectual
synthesis and generated, for all practical purposes, externalized and
internalized versions of the same logical empirical model.
Rather than turning at this point to naive parallels and opposi-
tions between the systems of Descartes and Newton. we can more
fruitfully analyze the relationships between these two systems into
components of "coherence," "identity," and "process of integra-
tion." Each of these components can in turn be analyzed into static
and dynamic functions. This set of concepts will later prove funda-
mental to Blake's whole cognitive scheme." Newton's drive toward a
synthesis of the atomic and the mathematical is fraught with prob-
lems at the imaginative level. "Atoms" (and their corollary "void")
constitute the "identity" of Newton's reality, the ultimate fabric out
of which all real things are made. The mathematical laws of motion.
specifically the central organizing law of nature; the law of inverse
squares, or the law of universal attraction, together with the other
great absolutes in Newton's system-space and time-form the "co-
herence" of Newton's reality, the continuous connecting shape of the
system as a whole. Emerging from Newton's analysis of nature into
these components, however, is the inescapable conclusion that both
the coherence and the identity of reality are static.
First, with regard to identity. Newton's atoms are fixed.

6 Chapter One

unchangeable, immutable. Whereas Boyle's copuscles could be di-
vided, trimmed, and reshaped, Newton's atoms are truly immutable
primary particles, arranged in hierarchical architectural design.' In
the Opticks Newton argues that only God could bring about any
change in these fundamental particles, since He had made them
indestructible in the Creation.'" Thus, as far as is possible within the
physical realm, these particles (the identity of reality) possess the
property of endurance or permanence; their essence is static. In
rectilinear motion they are indiffi'rent to motion and rest, which are
only states of the unchanging particles, and these states can be dif-
ferentiated from one another only in a relative sense." Motion in a
straight line is. for Newton, no absolute motion at all, but merely a
relative one. For Newton the clearest examples of "absolute" motion
are cases of circular motion, though it seems clear that various
modes of accelerated motion would also be absolute.'2 Even absolute
motion, however, does not apparently affect the static essence of the
atoms. It seems as though atoms are absolutely movable, though
how that motion is possible is highly vexing to Newton, as we shall
see. Newton could demonstrate the difference between absolute and
relative motion experimentally, and his fluxionall" calculus could
describe the distinction precisely."
The problem of what makes particles move and the analysis of
motion by Newton's calculus brings us directly into the context of
the "coherence" of Newton's system, which derives from the flux-
ional calculus. It is fairly clear that Newton confirmed his law of
attraction by means of the fluxionss" if. indeed, he did not derive his
laws from the fluxions. Although, as Alexandre Koyr6 has pointed
out," Newton's fluxional calculus brought mathematics closer to the
dynamic flux of change, the calculus points just as clearly, as Koyre
admits, to a "changeless change" and a "timeless time."'" The flux
of motion is stopped; or, in Morris Klein's terms, Newton's fluxions
allow one to "grasp the fleeting instant."" The fluxions provide a
wealth of ambiguity and paradox," but the upshot of Newton's ma-
thematical analysis is that the "laws" of nature are continuous
mathematical functions which are immutable, static, and un-
changing. Furthermore, the great physical "containers" of exis-
tence, space and time, share the property of continuous immuta-
bility with the laws of nature.'"
At the same time that the coherence of reality is rendered static,
the- identity, consisting of the atoms and the void, remains constant

Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

and static, as noted before. The problem which emerges most clearly
from this analysis is how the underlying constituents (solid and void)
are integrated into the coherence (laws) of the system. What is the
process of integration? At first glance it might seem that the mathe-
matical laws themselves could function as the connecting medium
for the solid and void, and at times Newton tried to make the mathe-
matical laws serve the dual purpose of coherence and process of inte-
gration, but, intellectually, these attempts failed for reasons to be
discussed shortly. This particular problem-situation bequeathed
by Newton was critical enough to force a thinker of the stature of
Kant. who revered Newton highly, to reconceive the identity of phe-
nomena: to replace the void and atoms with repulsive and attractive
forces which provide the basis ftr the possibility of our perception of
matter.'" Instead of forces between particles. Kant (following Bos-
covitch) conceived of the "particles" as being constituted by forces.
Some such radical solution was necessary if, in fact, both the identity
and coherence of reality were static and the process of integration
were intellectually ad hoc. as in Newton's case.
In order to see how critical the problem of the process of inte-
gration in Newton's system is, it is necessary to grasp fully that the
mathematical and the atomic (the two aspects of Newton's achieve-
ment which are most often brought to bear in studies of Blake's
reaction against Newton) form only one pole of a larger dialectical
struggle in Newton's system. There is a tension between these ele-
ments, which are extraordinarily stable in Newton's system, and the
shadowy process of integration, which in several senses is quite in-
constant and unstable. It is this element which rescues Newton's
system from being truly mechanical, and it is, as we shall see, this
element which renders Newton's system, from Blake's point of view,
imaginatively more dangerous.
If the mathematical and the atomistic were the only aspects of
Newton's system, Newton would in fact be a pure mechanistt," a
modified Descartes or Boyle, who conceived of action only by con-
tact between bodies in a plenum,2" and who, it would seem, believed
the universe to be a self-sustained scheme. This is, of course a posi-
tion often attributed to Newton-especially through Voltaire's
metaphor of God as a universal "clockmaker."2' If this were actually
the case, Newton's God would be Blake's "Nobodaddy," a deus ab-
sconditus of the Cartesian and Leibnizian world-systems. Of course,
Blake could argue that it was Newton's fault that such a conception

Chapter One

of God could become so widespread in the eighteenth century, as
more and more universality of Newton's laws was discovered, and
God needed less and less to interfere directly in the regulation of the
world scheme.
It is important to note. however, that Newton placed himself
squarely in opposition to the Cartesian "mechanists," who assumed
that the world was sufficiently stable not to require the constant
intervention of God. The correspondence between Leibniz and
Clarke, Newton's disciple, is especially revealing of the strength of
Newton's opposition to a self-sufficient mechanical scheme as the
explanation of the operations of the universe.2' Stephen Toulmin
and June Goodfield agree that Newton's rejection of such a self-
sufficient system was central to the development of his philosophy:
"Newton began from the same point as the Stoics: namely, from the
inadequacy of a purely mechanical atomism."2' Similarly, Koyr6
argues that Newton's "unique greatness" was not only in his union
of mathematics and experiment, but rather in a much broader view
of reality: "besides religion and mysticism... [Newton had] a deep
intuition for the limits of the purely mechanical interpretation of
nature."'' The key to Newton's transcendence of the purely physico-
mechanical lies in an interconnected pair of concepts, the myste-
rious attractive force (and its corollary repulsive forces) and the hy-
pothetical elastic "ether," each of which is an alternative solution to
the problem of how the primary elements are integrated into the
unchanging mathematical laws.
Quite the opposite view from that of Newton as mechanist can be
seen in at least three literary critics who treat Newton in relation to
Romantic poets. These critics focus on what we have been calling the
elusive process of integration in Newton's system. F. E. L. Priestley,
a literary critic who, though not primarily interested in Blake, takes
Newton and his relation to the Romantic concept of nature seriously,
has also argued convincingly (possibly following Burtt) that the New-
tonian universe is not a "self-sufficient scheme."" Laplace's attempt
to show the mechanical stability of the universe, although carried on
in Newton's name, is, in Priestley's terms, an anti-Newtonian
effort.26 Priestley says that the "pantheism" of Romantics such as
Wordsworth is in a direct line from three of Newton's doctrines: (1)
that matter is "passive"; (2) that God is the immediate regulator of
motion through the force of attraction; and (3) that matter is no

Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

more "real" than ideas of the mind.2 Newton did not argue that
God regulates motion as the immediate cause of attraction, because
he repeatedly said that he did not know the cause of gravity, or
whether that cause was material or "immaterial."'" Yet it seems
certain that Newton believed that certain celestial irregularities
needed to be "repaired" by God from time to time; and several state-
ments in the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence might lead one to be-
lieve that God is not only the immediate cause of attraction but
everything else in the universe also. Joseph Warren Beach. also in-
terested in Newton and the Romantic concept of nature, would agree
at least with Priestley's conclusions (although Beach's book is earlier
than Priestley's essay), for Beach argues a direct connection between
Wordsworth's responsive nature and Newton's description in the
Opticks of "active forces" in nature.2" These "active principles" in-
clude both attractive and the repulsive forces, rather than just the
attractive force that Priestley mentions. These active principles cor-
respond again to the relatively unstable feature of process in New-
ton's system.
The originator of the tradition of criticism connecting Newton
with the Romantic poets. Carl Grabo, interprets Newton's theory of
matter and his cosmology as "Neo-Platonic" and even "mystical" in
his classic study, A Newton Among Poets: Shelley's Use oflScience in
Priimnethe us Unbound:

Newton's ultimate philosophy reduces itself to some such belief as
this: Permeating the universe, and self-renewed without loss. is
energy infinitely tenuous and diffused, the primal something out of
which the whole of the cosmos comes into being. This infinite energy
is manifested variously in the activities and forces of light, heat, at-
traction, magnetism, electricity, and animation. The ether, the name
by which the mysterious energy is called, either is transformed into
these various forces or these forces are functions of its being...
Newton seems to regard matter as, so to speak, the sediment of
energy at the lowest stage of its cycle of transformation.... If. in
Ne ton's philosophy, motion is conceived of as the attribute of the
mind in contradistinction with the lifelessness of matter, the impli-
cations of his theory resolve this dualism into a monism. For matter
itself, in Newton's hypothesis, is but a lower form of energy, energy
relatively quiescent and capable of reconversion into its original

10 Chapter One

form. The whole of the universe is but energy in various manifes-
tations, and the sum of this energy is God.... There are neo-Platonic
notes in this philosophy of Newton's. Matter, to Plotinus, is on the
verge of reality, the something most remote from the central source
of all life, the mind of God.... Both philosophies [Newton's and the
neo-Platonists'] are immaterial in their emphasis, and troublesome
matter takes a subservient place.'"

These assertions focus on the dynamic aspect of process in Newton's
system which in Grabo's interpretation is nearly confused with the
structure of matter or identity.
I have quoted these passages from Grabo at some length because
they reveal in a cogent form a general aspect of Newton's philosophy
which is rarely mentioned in connection with Blake's "anti-
Newtonianism." Even George Mills Harper, who has made a defini-
tive study of neo-Platonic parallels in Blake's poetry, opposes New-
ton's "mechanical" doctrines to neo-Platonic ideas." Harper says
that "Bacon, Newton, and Locke [were] symbols of the mechanical
epistemology to both Blake and Taylor," the neo-Platonist. 2 This is,
of course, because Harper wishes to show that neo-Platonic thought,
and especially Thomas Taylor's brand of neo-Platonism, was con-
genial to Blake, while it is evident that Newton's ideas were ana-
thema to Blake. If there are neo-Platonic elements in Newton's
system, should we draw the conclusion that Blake, insofar as he
adopted neo-Platonism, was really a "Newtonian" in this respect; or
should we perhaps argue that Blake's neo-Platonism. like his New-
tonianism, was essentially a critical one? Although this question is
somewhat out of the range of this study, perhaps some light can be
shed on its answer in the following brief discussion of the "neo-
Platonic" and even so-called (by Grabo) "mystical" elements of
Newton's system.
Newton's commitment to basic aspects of the corpuscular philos-
ophy qualifies his neo-Platonism in radical ways. Rupert and Marie
Boas Hall, for example, argue in a recent article that the central
aspect of Newton's theory of matter was "that phenomena result
from the motions of material particles and that these motions are the
result of the interplay of forces between the particles."" Off and on
throughout his life Newton considered the possibility of accounting
for phenomena by the "forces between the aetherial particles, which
in turn acted on the material particles," but he never committed

11 Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

himself to the ether except in the hypothetical statements of his op-
tical "Queries.""' Although, in an early letter to his friend Olden-
burg. Newton postulates an ether which is very close to Grabo's ether
as "energy" and out of which, Newton argues, solid bodies could
have been condensed," Newton's ether in the Opticks is not really
"energy," for the ether is itself corpuscular in character, while
energy or force is continuous." The ether is posited only as a kind of
"carrier" or "bearer" of the active principles in nature, not as the
active principles themselves.' Further, the inert and virtually im-
mutable character of Newton's corpuscles themselves tends to call
into question Grabo's statement that the underlying atomic ele-
ments of matter can be transformed into the active principles of
nature. Of course, since the ether is corpuscular, it is not clear in
exactly what ways it is qualitatively different from the corpuscles of
solid matter; yet even if by conceivable transformations ether could
condense into solid bodies, such transformations would not imply a
conversion of active principles into solid matter.
It is important to make clear, however, that despite these cor-
puscular qualifications, Newton's flirtation with a truly active
process of integration introduces genuine neo-Platonic elements in
Newton's system. These elements are not, however, exactly those
which Grabo and Priestley outline. Priestley argues with Grabo that
Newton should be aligned with Henry More and the Cambridge Pla-
tonists against the Epicureans, or Hobbesists, and the Cartesians'"
because of Newton's implied "spiritual" attractive force. Priestley
says. "The choice he (Newton | leaves the readers is between a theory
of an immaterial force operating in a void, or of a material force
operating in a plh'num." Since Newton argued for the necessary ex-
istence of a void in order to explain the physical property of different
weight in the same size bodies and to account for the lack of re-
sistance which planets seemed to meet in their revolutions, Priestley
concludes that the "most reasonable explanation" of attraction is
the "spiritual" one. The choice which Priestley presents is not, how-
ever, between two interpretations of Newton's system, but between
one interpretation of Newton's system and an interpretation of the
Cartesian system, since the hypothesis of a plenum never enters
Newton's system. An alternate interpretation of Newton's attraction.
and the one which his disciples in fact usually employed, was that it
was a physical force acting through a void space. Koyr6 remarks,

Chapter One

"The very first generation of his pupils (Cotes. Keill. Pemberton)
accepted the force of attraction as a real, physical, and even primary
property of matter and it was their doctrine which swept over Europe
and which was so strongly and persistently opposed by Newton's
Continental contemporaries."" Thus. Priestley's interpretation of
Newton's attraction is only one interpretation, the one most often
utilized by theologians, and the one least common among scientists.
However, the fact of the possibility of interpreting the universal at-
traction in this immaterial or "spiritual" way indicates the latent
neo-Platonic elements in Newton's philosophy. Further. Newton's
suggestion in the Principil and later in the Opticks that all pheno-
mena might be caused by attractive and repulsive forces, analogous
to gravitational attraction, tends to strengthen Grabo's. Beach's, and
Priestley's arguments for such neo-Platonic elements being essential
to the intellectual character of Newton's theory.
In fact, the deceptive similarity between Newton's process of inte-
gration and "mystical" theories is underscored by the fact that Jacob
Boehme, often acknowledged as a primary influence on Blake, was
characterized by one of Boehme's most vehement supporters, Wil-
liam Law, as the source for Newton's theory of nature. The famous
letter from William Law, the English "mystic" and interpreter of
Jacob Boehme (or Behemen). to the Newtonian theologian Dr. Cheyne
reveals this quite clearly. This letter was later published in the
Gentleman.u's Magauzine in 1782."' The controversy raised over this
letter became a commonplace in "occult" circles and has continued
to the present day. Relevant here is Law's contention that Newton
derived his idea of attraction and three laws of nature from Boehme:

It is evidently plain that all that Sir I. has said of the universality,
nature and effects of attraction [and] of the first three laws of nature,
\as not only said but proved in its true and deepest ground by J. B.
in his Three Properties of Eternal Nature, and from thence they are
derived into this Temporal Outbirth.... It was my conjecture that
Sir Isaac declared so openly at first his total ignorance of the source,
or cause, of attraction, to prevent all suspicion of his being led into it
from Behemen's doctrine. It is plain he knew the deep ground which
B. had given of it. No one from Behemen can know anything of the
Iincture, or the means or possibility of coming at it, without
knowing and believing, as Behemen does, the ground of universal

Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

La\\'s interpretation points to final cosmic stability arising out of
dynamic instability: Boehme's three "Forms" of the "Lower Trinity"
-attraction (contraction), repulsion (expansion), and whirling
tension-are the grounds, respectively, for Newton's centripetal and
centrifugal forces, and the balance of the planets in their orbits.
These are. of course, not Newton's three laws of motion at all, al-
though they bear an analogy to them; and, furthermore, the likeli-
hood of Newton's actually having derived such forces from Boehme
in the first place has been called into serious question recently by
Stephen Hobhouse and Max Jammer. The fact remains, however,
that such an interpretation, correct or incorrect, is possible because
the paradoxical dynamic aspect of Newton's system lends itself
rather readily to such an interpretation. Such a fact illustrates, as do
the interpretations of Grabo, Beach, and Priestley, that Newton's
system has a strongly dynamic and unstable aspect in the constant
decay and replenishment of force in the universe, which can be easily
associated, by those who wish to do so. with neo-Platonic or even
mystical" cosmology. The facile similarity between energy relations
in New ton's system and Boehme's is our first obvious introduction to
the power of Newton's scientific system to assimilate (even if only by
analogy) the whole sweep of relations contained in Blake's imagina-
tive cosmology. Though it is arguable whether Boehme influenced
either Blake or Newton, the fact that critics of each have perceived
similarities between Blake and Boehme and Newton and Boehme
while Blake and Newton oppose each other points to a paradox
whose solution will become clearer in the chapter to follow.
Newton never fully united the two opposing interpretations
(physico-mathematical and "mystical") which have been outlined.
Rather. Newton's system merely contained them in latent form. For
Newton did not synthesize both of these interpretations into a co-
herent system of the universe, but rather rejected both as "hypo-
theses." Newton, himself, as a matter of historical fact, adopted
neither the "physical" nor the "spiritual" interpretation of at-
tractive force and said that he did not know the cause." Newton
realized that gravitational attraction and the other attractive and
repulsive forces in nature could not be "physical" in the same sense
that the corpuscles were; this did not mean, however, that they were
necessarily "spiritual." In the Opticks, Newton argued that these
forces are the opposite of the corpuscles and as such they operate as

14 Chapter One

the process of integrating the physical corpuscles into the mathe-
matical laws:
Thus Nature will be very conformable to her self and very simple,
performing all the great Motions of the heavenly Bodies, by the At-
traction of Gravity which intercedes those Bodies, and almost
all of the small ones [motions] of their Particles by some other at-
tractive and repelling Powers which intercede the Particles. The Vis
inertiae is a passive Principle by which Bodies persist in their Motion
or Rest. receive Motion in proportion to the Force impressing it, and
resist as much as they are resisted. By this Principle alone there never
could have been any Motion in the World. Some other Principle was
necessary for putting Bodies into Motion; and now they are in Mo-
tion, some other Principle is necessary for conserving the Motion.
For from the various Composition of two Motions, 'tis very certain
that there is not always the same quantity of Motion in the
World.... Seeing therefore the variety of Motion which we find in
the world is always decreasing, there is a necessity of conserving and
recruiting it by active Principles, such as are the cause of Gravity, by
which Planets and Comets keep their Motions in their Orbs, and
Bodies acquire great Motion in falling [etc.]."
Further, a central difference between the corpuscles and the forces
which integrate them into the physical world system is that the
corpuscles are discontinuous entities while the forces are continuous.
Universal macroscopic attraction is a continuous function which
varies with the distance in absolute geometrical space; the micro-
scopic attractions have a "zero-point" beyond which they become
repulsions." The forces, then, in contradistinction to the corpuscles
have the mathematical property of continuity; this explains why
Newton never refrained from calling such forces "mathematical"
rather than "physical" or "spiritual." For Newton this was an in-
disputable fact: it was the only interpretation of these forces which
he applied without question. He did not consider calling the forces
"mathematical" as entailing any hypothesis at all about the
"cause." Koyr6 says, "Time and again he [Newton] said, and re-
peated, that it [universal attraction] was only 'mathematical force,'
that it was perfectly impossible-not only for matter but even for
God to act at a distance, that is, to exert action where the agent
was not present." '
"Mathematical forces" thus attempt to synthesize the static and

Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

the dynamic through the property of continuity. Though mathe-
matical laws of coherence are static and unchanging, the "ma-
thematical forces" are themselves dynamic. To most of Newton's
contemporaries-and even to Newton himself-such a solution (that
is, a mathematical force having physical consequences, while at the
same time mathematical and physical entities were to be separated)
was unsatisfactory. Thus his disciples polarized into opposing
camps: those who interpreted active force physically and those who
interpreted it spiritually. The solution did not wholly satisfy Newton,
as evidenced by his encouragement of future scientists to find a
"cause" for active forces, thereby implying that the purely "ma-
thematical" description was not an explanation, and by his postu-
lation off and on throughout his life of the highly elastic aetherr," as
bearer or carrier of the attractive and repulsive forces. The ether is
elastic (that is, highly repulsive forces exist between its particles) be-
cause the etherial particles are so small as not to be able to pass the
zero-point where the repulsive forces would become attractive and
the ether would cohere into a solid object.'" Newton's postulation of
the ether in corpuscular form is a symptom of his dissatisfaction
with "mathematical forces" as an explanation of reality. The cor-
puscular character of matter is not taken into account in the concept
of mathematical forces. In the ether it is reintroduced.
Newton's postulation of the ether as corpuscular may be seen as
an attempt to synthesize the static and the dynamic through the
property of discontinuity. The ether could not be purely mathe-
matical, since it was corpuscular and the mathematical laws which
Newton developed were continuous." The ether, nevertheless, in-
corporated the aspect of reality which the mathematical forces
omitted, the underlying unchanging particles, somehow impreg-
nated with dynamic powers. For many, such as David Hartley,s" this
solution was more intuitively satisfying than Newton's purely mathe-
matical forces which have physical consequences, or than any of
Newton's disciples' "physical" or "spiritual" interpretations of such
forces. Stephen Toulmin and June Goodfield have pointed out that
Newton's ether failed as carrier of attractive and repulsive forces
because it was postulated as consisting of corpuscles which are in
turn acted upon in some way by the forces which are to be ex-
plained." This could, of course, lead to an infinite regress of

16 Chaptecr One'

"ethers." each to account for the one preceding; this is a major
reason why Newton always set the ether forth as hypothetical. The
tact that Newton did postulate his ether as corpuscular indicates
that inutlli'ctully the idea of continuous mathematical forces was
unsatisfactory because they eliminated the discontinuous nature of
matter, which cannot itself be described mathematically. Without
some kind of substructure of "field" to provide an intuitive basis for
the continuous forces, Newton could not be satisfied with the purely
"mathematical" description of the active aspect of nature. Further-
more. the ether, by being nonmathematical and therefore less pre-
dictable, involved a model more analogous to the unstable waxing
and waning forces and motions on the dynamic side of Newton's dia-
Both the ether and the mathematical forces provide a synthesis of
the static and the dynamic and thus form the unresolved poles of the
ultimate opposition in Newton's system. The ether as process of inte-
gration presents a synthesis of the active forces with the static and
passive particles, yielding a dynamic, discontinuous reality which
tails to incorporate intellectually the purely mathematical laws
which form the coherence of reality. The mathematical forces, on the
other hand, fail to account for the discontinuity of matter but syn-
thesize the static mathematical laws and the dynamic principles
of integration. The ultimate intellectual solution, if Newton had
worked one out. would have involved a synthesis of the ether with the
mathematical forces in some higher entity (such as a "field"). But as
these two solutions stand, they each fail to incorporate one aspect of
the overall reality-either the "coherence" in the mathematical
forms. or the "'dentity" of the underlying particles. Both entities
fulfill the process of integration, the dynamic aspect of reality, which
is linked, in the ether, with atomic matter, and in the mathematical
forces, w ith the mathematical forms. But the process of integration
does not fulfill its required purpose in either case, which is to con-
nect' atomic matter to mathematical laws.
There is no real resolution of the tension in Newton's system. In
the case of the mathematical forces, the resolution is purely theo-
retical. and because it does not take into account the corpuscular
structure of matter, the underlying particles of reality. Newton was
led to assume there must be some other cause besides a purely "ma-
thematical" necessity which could explain it. In the case of the ether,

Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

the resolution excludes the purely mathematical nature of the forces
by attempting to reduce them to corpuscular form. The mathe-
matical force was a solution without an explanation; it was, in the
final analysis, incomprehensible, a situation which Newton's con-
temporaries-and Newton himself-found intuitively intolerable.
The ether was, on the other hand, an explanation without a solution;
it was, -in the final analysis, nonmathematical because noncon-
tinuous"2 and purely physical. Koyr6 argues that Newton's intro-
duction of the void and attraction, which was a highly imaginative
act, reallyv" synthesized the continuity of space (mathematical) and
the discontinuity of matter (physical)." It made such synthesis for
analytical purposes only, however; it is clear that it did not provide a
completely satisfactory intellectual synthesis. Newton saw the
problematic aspects of both his solutions to the structure of reality;
and this allowed him to reject both the physical and spiritual inter-
preparations of active forces and retain the mathematical interpreta-
tion, while at the same time postulating a hypothetical ether which
he hoped would resolve the intellectual structure of his system. A
complex of crises developed out of these unresolved poles of New-
ton's thought, to which crises Blake's poetry is, in part, a critical

As is commonly known, and as was noted earlier, the
systems of Descartes and Newton oppose each other in almost every
detail. Such striking categorical opposition of two systems is not, of
course, fortuitous. This opposition results from a metaphysical ne-
cessity built into the systems. Descartes himself admitted his system
was a priori and deductive in character: all the details of his physical
system could be traced back by logically necessary steps to the ori-
ginal "clear and distinct" ideas from which they were derived.54
Supposedly, anyone beginning with the same ideas and working out
their deductive implications would necessarily arrive at the same
world system. It would seem to be implied in the underlying as-
sumptions of Descartes' method that if any one of the higher-level
ideas were denied and its logical opposite put in its place, a world
system, of opposite characteristics would be the result. Since all the
implications are necessary deductions from the prior principles, the
introduction of a polar opposite idea at a high level in the deduction

Chapter One

would produce logically opposite results. Newton, beginning, as it
were, from the other end, by attempting to account for the pheno-
mena, with clear and distinct laws as the product rather than the
source of the system, would seem to have confirmed this underlying
implication of Descartes' system. The categorical opposition of the
Newtonian and Cartesian systems results from the deductive and
logically connected nature of Descartes' system. Once Newton
questioned any of the high level elements of Descartes' system and
proved it false, all the results from that point on were necessarily
reversed-if, indeed, the phenomena conform to a logically con-
nected scheme at all. Since Newton's system did in fact result in the
kind of categorical denial of the Cartesian system which the under-
lying implications of Descartes's method predicted, the eighteenth-
century thinkers could take as much pride in the complete inac-
curacy of the Cartesian system as in the accuracy of the Newtonian:
in a sense they implied each other; if one was right, the other was
wrong, for they were logical contradictories. Ironically, then,
Newton's victory over the details of the Cartesian system fulfilled an
implicit prediction of the Cartesian method.
Let us recall, briefly, some of the details of the opposition in order
to see in what ways this irony manifests itself and to see how New-
ton's system is more specifically opposed to the Cartesian than to
other deductive world systems because of the way in which Des-
cartes' system provided important aspects of Newton's own problem-
situation. The basic components of Cartesian physical reality are
matter and motion." These elements correspond to the identity and
coherence of Newton's system. Both matter and motion are quanti-
tatively constant, that is, there is always the same amount of matter
and motion in the universe. Both, however, are constantly changing
qualitatively, matter in size and shape, motion in direction. For Des-
cartes the cosmos was formed out of the motion of qualitatively
indistinguishable particles whirling in huge vortices." These par-
ticles are formed by friction into three qualitatively different kinds
of "elements.""7 This cosmic grinding of underlying particles (iden-
tity) is sharply in contrast to Newton's characterization of his
particles formed in the creation as "so very hard as never to wear or
break in pieces.""5 The Cartesian particles are mutable and not
unchanging as are the Newtonian. Further, while the Cartesian
motion is quantitatively constant, Newtonian motion (a feature of
the process of integration) is mufable and is always waxing and
waning. Thus we can say that matter and motion are diametrically

Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

opposed in Newton and Descartes: whereas in Newton's system mo-
tion is constantly undergoing quantitative change, decaying, and be-
ing replenished, and the particles are qualitatively immutable and
stable; in Descartes' system motion is quantitatively constant and
stable and the particles are constantly undergoing change. In terms
of our analysis, the function of identity in the Cartesian system ap-
proximates the function of process in Newton's and vice versa.
The opposing characteristics of matter and motion in Newtonian
and Cartesian world systems indicate a more basic and deeply rooted
opposition. For Newton, mathematics does not extend into the cor-
puscular structure of matter. Thus, although motion itself is con-
tinuous, matter is atomic, and insofar as it is atomic, is non-
mathematical. Descartes, on the other hand, says in the Principles of
Philosophy, "I do not accept or desire any other principle in Physics
than in Geometry or abstract Mathematics, because all the pheno-
mena of nature may be explained by their means, and a sure
demonstration can be given of them."5" This statement reflects Des-
cartes' assumption of a one-to-one correspondence between physical
and mathematical entities; his analytical geometry had made pos-
sible a one-to-one correspondence between the realm of numbers
and the realm of geometry,"0 and he extended this to the physical
world as well. Because of this assumed isomorphism between geo-
metry and physical reality, Cartesian "matter" is nothing more than
extension in space; a void space is a contradiction in terms, since
space and matter are both identified with extension. Consequently,
matter, though particulate, is infinitely divisible, by analogy with
the geometrical continuum. By this means, Descartes was careful to
avoid the aspects of atomism, vacuum, and indivisible particles,
which his contemporaries associated with ancient atomism.' The
purely geometrical character of physics implies its mechanism;
matter and motion are both continuous and quantitatively constant.
Only qualitative changes within these constants can account for the
phenomena of nature. The infinite divisibility of matter, like the
absolute fullness of the universe, is corollary of the isomorphism
between mathematical and physical reality. If there can be no dis-
continuities in matter by analogy with the mathematical continuum,
then matter is identified with extension. "Void space," then, again is
self-contradictory: matter means extension; extension means space;
matter means space. Newton, on the other hand, by separating the
mathematical and the physical necessarily postulates discontinuous
atomic matter, between whose particles is nothing but void space.

20 Chapter One

The identity of Descartes' reality is therefore ultimately monolithic,
while Newton's is dialectical.
Thus, we can see that when Newton and Descartes both postulate
an "ether," they do it for opposing purposes and motives. For Des-
cartes, the matter of the "second element," the bouless," spherically
shaped particles, has the express function of filling all void space.62
This "matibre celeste. though perfectly dense, not only is supposed
to allow free passage of bodies without resistance, but actually
propels them." In addition, it is the "pressure" of the boules which
accounts for the instantaneous transmission of light."4 For Newton,
on the other hand, as we have seen above, the ether is postulated to
maintain the integrity of the void itself. Rather than filling all space,
it causes the heavens to be more empty by the repulsive power of the
particles. It is a quasi-pressurized fluid which, at the same time, is
almost perfectly void. For Newton, only such a material medium
could allow free passage of celestial bodies and still retain the
characteristics which could solve such problems as the cause of
gravity and the transmission of light in finite time. Thus, again, the
ether functions as part of identity in Descartes and as part of process
in Newton. Only the coherence remains constant and consistent in
From looking briefly at these details of the Newtonian and
Cartesian systems, it should be evident that there was in fact
categorical opposition between them, from the most fundamental
assumptions about the underlying identity and the process of
integrating particles into continuous mathematical coherence, to the
most particular and hypothetical postulations, the ether and the
matiere cbste. The reason for this categorical opposition can be
partially seen in the nature of the problem which the Cartesian
system set out to solve. Although the Cartesian physics in general
and the vortex theory in particular were the weakest points in the
Cartesian system, Descartes' theory of vortices was, as noted earlier,
the first real attempt to unite celestial motion and terrestrial gravi-
tation."5 The strong imaginative appeal of the imagery of his system,
as well as Descartes' reputation, was powerful enough to maintain
the popularity of Cartesian physics well into the eighteenth cen-
tury." Because Newton was also attempting to unite terrestrial and
celestial gravitation into one theory, it was the mathematical ex-
planatory power of the Cartesian vortices with which Newton had to

Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

grapple in order to create his own system. If we look briefly at
Newton's handling of the vortices in the Principia, we can see how
rejection of one idea of the Cartesian system entailed rejection of the
whole system.
At the end of the second book of the Principia, Newton sets out to
determine the laws governing the motion of a sphere revolving in an
infinite continuous fluid, thus reconstructing as much as Newton
could Descartes' cosmological situation." Newton's conclusion is
that if the planets were carried around in vortices, their periodic
times would be proportional to the square of the distances from the
center of motion; but the planets revolve in proportion to the 3/2
power of the distances from the center of motion; and, therefore, the
planets cannot be carried around in vortices."' In the process of
making this determination, however, several necessary corollaries
occur. The matter of the vortex at the point at which the planet
revolved would have to be the same density as the planet, since all
the same densities tend to congregate at the same distance from the
center. This is, of course, completely inconsistent with Descartes'
plenitude, in which density is a function of extension, that is, is
constant." Further, because of the nature of the transmission of
motion from the center of revolution to the circumference of the
fluid, the central motion would eventually die down and stop unless
replenished by some external force. Newton says, "In order to con-
tinue a vortex in the same state of motion, some active principle is
required, from which the globe may receive continually the same
quantity of motion which it is always communicating to the matter
of the vortex."' Thus, in falsifying the mathematical efficacy of the
vortex theory, Newton is forced, as corollary results, to deny two
high-level assumptions of Cartesian physics: the constancy of motion
and the doctrine of plenitude. These in turn ultimately entail the
denial of the continuity and qualitative mutability of matter. The
whole of the Cartesian system was logically linked; and if the uni-
verse was to be grounded in logical connection, the denial of any
details of the Cartesian system meant necessary denial of them all. It
is clear that the logical coherence of Newton's system confirmed the
belief that reality had a logical structure. The fact that Newton's
system opposed the Cartesian system point by point, however, gave
even greater emphasis to the logical structure of reality. Had New-
ton's findings disagreed with Descartes' system only in minor

22 Chapter One

details, these disagreements would have been mere anomalies, and
Newton would have attempted to assimilate them to the Cartesian
system through ad hoc hypotheses, as did many eighteenth-century
"Cartesians."' But the details which Newton found inadequate
were so deeply embedded in the logical structure of Cartesian
physics-such as the indistinctness and self-contradiction of the idea
of the void space-that such denials required replacement of
all of Descartes' basic ideas with their logical opposites. Even a
seemingly unrelated idea in Descartes' system, the discontinuity of
time, which Descartes posited for purely metaphysical reasons in
the Principles, was destroyed by the absolute flow of Newton's time
and the continuous moments of his fluxioial calculus. Such an
incidental opposition is perfectly illustrative of the seeming meta-
physically necessary connection between these two world systems. It
is no wonder that Newton and Descartes became symbolic figures in
the eighteenth century.
Before we turn to the significance this connection has for Blake as
poet, it is important to note that Blake never mentioned Descartes
by name, although he used at least one Cartesian term, the vortex, at
several important points in his poetry and employed several Car-
tesian doctrines such as the principle of doubt and the concept of
discontinuity of time. Why did Blake use Cartesian ideas, usually in
a negative way, without indicating Descartes by name in the same
way as he does Newton, whose ideas are much more submerged
under transformations even of terms? One of the reasons is, of
course, that by the late eighteenth century Descartes had ceased to
be the active threat to imaginative vision that Newton was. Because
of his victory in the war of the world systems, Newton formed a much
clearer target for negative invectives, since he had effectually cast
out the Cartesian system by his own. Descartes was considered
wrong: to attack him openly would be pointless, or rather, readers
might think that Blake was attacking him for the wrong reason, an
implicit acceptance of aspects of Newton's system. Further, Newton
was an Englishman, a true son of Albion, and thus fit better in the
Although Descartes and Newton were intellectual enemies, Blake
saw them as co-conspirators against the imaginative vision of reality.
It took a transcendent imagination for an eighteenth-century man to
unite Descartes and Newton on the same side of an intellectual

23 Coherence and Identity in Newton and Descartes

battle; but Blake did it, not by linking their names together ex-
plicitly but by connecting imagery from their systems in such a way
as to imply that Descartes' system made Newton's possible, or,
perhaps more accurately, that Descartes and Newton symbolize
polar aspects of one mode of error, the purely logical. This last state-
ment trespasses on the focus of the next chapter, in which I hope to
indicate why Blake felt called upon as poet to deal with material
such as this-material which is, in the final analysis, alien to his

2. Blake's Visionary Response: Science
as System and Metaphor

Although to most enlightened eighteenth-century
intellectuals Newton's scientific system became opposed to Des-
cartes' system as truth opposed to error, Blake conceived of the
systems of both Newton and Descartes as symbolizing common char-
acteristics which Blake could identify as "error." Because they re-
presented a deceptive polarity, a polar opposition only within a logi-
cal framework, their systems revealed a fundamental feature of all
mental activity rooted in traditional logic and directed toward the
physical world-it must of necessity be exclusive: every affirmation
in traditional logic entails a negation of its opposite. The fact that
two logically consistent and apparently complete models of the world
could be generated and yet be categorically opposed strengthened the
power of the "physical" world as arbiter between contending world
systems. The emergence of an external physical world as the
mediator to which all disputes about system were to be referred is
grounded, as was suggested in the first chapter, in the Cartesian
system and Newton's reaction to it.
Illustrative of the way in which Newton's system compounds the
error of the Cartesian system is the connection Blake makes between
the Cartesian first principle of cognition and Newton's experimental
method. Descartes bases all certain knowledge on the act of bringing
everything into doubt.' It is commonly acknowledged that for
Descartes the process of doubting intuitively presupposes the ex-
istence of a doubter, and the very next most certain idea must be the
truth of God's necessary existence.2 In such a cognitive scheme,
external appearances are rather far down the hierarchy of "certain"
ideas: they are certain only insofar as our senses are reliable and
God is no deceiver of man.' It is crucial that Descartes glimpsed the
critical state of all knowledge if God is a deceiver. For Blake, Des-
cartes simply did not follow his intuition of God's deceptive power to

Blake's Visionary Response

its imaginative conclusion. It would seem that Newton's argument
assumes the reverse order: we cannot know God a priori, but only
through contemplation of sensory appearances. Rather than be-
ginning with principles of knowledge, through which God's ex-
istence and reliability must be certain and cognitively prior to
appearances. Newton argues in his "General Scholium" to the Prin-
cipia that God's existence is certain only if one looks at appearances
first and moves to God through them: discussion of God "from the
appearances of things, does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy."
It is crucial that Newton never really explicitly deals with the
problem of God's potential deception of human consciousness. Since
he begins with "appearances," the evidence they give must not be
deception or his whole schema collapses. Newton, therefore, could
not explicitly emphasize "doubt" as the basic principle of cognition
as does Descartes, with whom this principle is always associated. A
basic distrust of mental activity (not at the outset but at a relatively
late stage of philosophical inquiry) analogous to doubt is implicit,
however, as Blake says, in Newton's testing procedure, which calls
tor no statements in natural philosophy which cannot be "deduced
from the phenomena."4 Newton assimilated, in a quite submerged
way, the Cartesian principle of doubt, but rather than making
"clear and distinct ideas" of the mind the arbiter of truth, Newton
instituted phenomena as the ground of valid ideas.
Blake grasped the connection between Descartes' principle of
doubting and Newton's experimental method. In one of Blake's sa-
tiric verses on Newton, Descartes' name is conspicuously absent.
although his principle of doubt looms in the foreground:

Sleep on Sleep on while in your pleasant dreams
Of Reason you may drink of Lifes clear streams
Reason and Newton they are quite two things
For so the Swallow & the Sparrow sings
Reason says Miracle. Newton says Doubt
Aye that's the way to make all Nature out
Doubt Doubt & don't believe without experiment
That is the very thing that Jesus meant
When he said Only Believe Believe & try
Try Try & never mind the Reason why
(E, p. 492)

Chapter Two

Blake can leave Descartes' name out because Newton has implicitly
subsumed the Cartesian principle of doubt and compounded the
error by denying the Cartesian provision that the idea of which we
are most certain after our own existence is the nondeceptive per-
fection of God. On the one hand, Newton must assume God is no
deceiver of man, and, on the other, he uses the evidence of pheno-
mena to deduce God's existence. Newton replaces internal doubt
with external experiment as the testing procedure for all ideas. The
implication is that the conspiracy which Descartes began has re-
sulted in an ambiguous God whose existence is provable from ap-
pearances or not provable at all. In the process of the poem, Blake
turns "Reason" against itself. For "proof," either in terms of clear
concepts or in terms of experiment, is the opposite of true reason,
which, for Blake, is belief. In the last two lines of the poem, Blake
shifts perspective ironically to the Newtonian-Cartesian definition of
reason and to the Christian conception of "trying" (as opposed to
testing, experimenting) in order to sharpen his focus on the way in
which the meaning of the term reason has been subverted and
usurped by the enemies of true reason. At the beginning of the
poem, "Reason" is positive and is opposed to Newtonian experi-
ment; at the end reason is opposed to Jesus' doctrine of "trying."
The subtle usurpation of "Reason" reveals the extent to which de-
ception has taken place. The reader himself is almost caught up in
the deception, but Blake controls the context thoroughly enough so
that the reader can perceive the deception ironically.
What Blake is interested in, then, about Descartes and Newton is
not their apparent opposition which casts Newton's system in even
better light but rather the underlying elements of both systems
which encroach on and usurp the true drives of the imagination by
providing convincing "Satanic" parodies of imaginative vision.
Blake's intellectual analysis of Newton focuses on (1) his power to
generate a compellingly attractive system which consolidates all
preceding anti-imaginative forces and, at the same time, effectively
neutralizes imaginative or critical insights by turning them outward
into experiment; and (2) his almost subconscious drive to provide
intuitively satisfying and even "visualizable" metaphorical bases for
his systematic account of reality. Blake's analysis of science as
"system" reveals how the apparently opposing (a priori and a
posteriori) structures of the Cartesian and Newtonian systems are

Blake's Visionary Response

merely poles within a logical framework. This analysis triggered
Blake's attempt to have his prophetic spokesman Los construct a
"system" which embodies the whole range of possible systems: it
makes the systems of Newton and Descartes possible, it makes their
consolidation possible, and it makes necessary the end of all systems,
including itself. This analysis forced Blake to cast Los's system in a
poetic rather than logical or dialectical form, and to make Los's
system an ironic subphase of his poetry as a whole. Blake's analysis
of the intuitive and metaphorical substructure of Newton's system
reveals how the Newton-Descartes complex attempts to satisfy ima-
ginative drives not only .ormallv but materially as well.
Ernst Cassirer has argued that one of the basic
differences between seventeenth- and eighteenth-century intel-
lectuals is their professed attitude toward "system."
The goal and basic presupposition of Newtonian research is univer-
sal order and law in the material world. Such regularity means that
facts as such are not mere matter, they are not a jumble of discrete
elements; on the contrary, facts exhibit an all-pervasive form.
This form appears in mathematical determinations and in arrange-
ments according to measure and number. But such arrangements
cannot be foreseen in the mere concept; they must rather be shown to
exist in the facts themselves. The procedure is thus not from con-
cepts and axioms to phenomena, but vice versa. Observation pro-
duces the datum of science; the principle and law are the object of
the investigation. This new methodological order characterizes all
eighteenth century thought. The value of system, the "esprit svstema-
tique," is neither underestimated nor neglected; but it is sharply
distinguished from the love of system for its own sake, the "esprit de
systeme." The whole theory of knowledge of the eighteenth century
strives to confirm this distinction.'

Voltaire, for example, in his sympathetic explication of Newton's
philosophy, constantly attacked Newton's intellectual enemies, such
as Descartes and Leibniz, for being more concerned with erecting a
system than with explaining the "facts."' What set Newton apart, it
was usually argued, was not only that his system explained so much
but also that he recognized the empirical limitations of his own
system and thus did not attempt to make it explain things it was not

Chapter Two

equipped to explain. Newton, nevertheless, just like Descartes, pre-
sented an essentially logical representation of the world. Such a
representation was, of course, grounded in the assumption which
was taken for granted by a large number of eighteenth-century intel-
lectuals, that the world is constituted in such a way as to be logically
describable. To most Newtonians there was no question whether a
logical system could explain the whole of the world; the only
question was, which system could best characterize nature's inherent
logical structure. It is important to keep in mind that Locke and
Hume, on the other hand, argued that our knowledge of the world
does not conform to a logical paradigm-for logical knowledge
belongs to pure relations only-but more closely to a "probability"
paradigm. Because the assumption of an inherent logic in nature
was so deeply rooted in the scientific tradition, the arguments of
Locke and Hume did not really affect the course of normal science in
the eighteenth century; these arguments did, however, affect the
intellectual history of the period. If all knowledge must begin with
sense perception, and if the organizational principles of ap-
pearances-in space for Locke, in time for Hume-are ultimately
unknowable, then the whole scientific activity of conforming
appearances to a logical paradigm becomes meaningless." It is to the
intellectual failure of the Newtonian tradition and the scientific
failure of the tradition of Locke and Hume that Kant reacted with
his own system of reality. And it was to this same intellectual crisis
that Blake responded by having Los create his comprehensive
system. Here we are interested in the way in which Blake's system
accounted for the scientific or "Newtonian" aspect of the crisis. In
the next chapter I hope to show that the second half of the crisis, the
failure of the tradition of Locke and Hume, is also derivable from
the "Newtonian" aspect.
Blake's Los. not Blake as narrator, utters the famous dictum:

I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Mans
I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create
(E, p. 151,Jer. 10:20-21)
Los's statement can be read in such a way that causes Blake to
conform to the typical eighteenth-century mental habit of retaining
esprit systematique while rejecting the esprit de system; it might
even be argued that Blake's attempt to create a system at all places

Blake's Visionary Response

him squarely in the eighteenth-century intellectual tradition. Blake's
treatment of Los's system, however, is not without irony. Blake's
reaction was against all systems, not only the Cartesian (symbol of
esprit de system) and the Newtonian (symbol of the esprit systema-
tiqu'). but also against Los's system which makes these possible.
The difference for Blake between Los's and Newton's systems lay in
their opposing conceptions of the function of a system. For Blake the
sharp distinction was to be made not between systems constructed
on a posteriori as opposed to a priori principles (as these are only
logical opposites) but rather between systems which only perpetuate
systems in a linear fashion (as the Cartesian system made the New-
tonian system possible) and the comprehensive visionary system
which functions dually to allow logical systems to consolidate in time
and to bring about the end of all systems by revealing this con-
solidation as "Satanic." This revelation is one phase of what Blake
calls the "Last Judgment" in the perceiver. Los's system, insofar as it
provides the bases for the physical world and for systems which
claim to be models of the physical world, is, to that extent, self-
destructive, for it too will be burned up in the Last Judgment which
it makes possible.
I have suggested that Blake's "system" is poetic or visionary
rather than logical.' Some kind of coherent poetics is necessary,
then, in which the terms "vision" and "logic" take on meaning and
in which "system" itself assumes a special function. Since poetry has
been defined in many ways, it seems fairest to call Blake's system
poetic, or, more accurately, visionary, by using these terms in the
senses Blake meant them rather than by sifting through all possible
meanings poetry could have or by exerting some privileged hypothe-
sis about the "true" nature of poetry. Blake's final conception of
poetry requires that poetry necessarily include system, although
systems need not and usually do not imply poetry. What I wish to
suggest about Blake's poetics is that although it was not formed
merely as a response to the great conceptual systems of the
eighteenth century, it does provide an explanation for them by
means of a rather simple aesthetic principle: the artistic imagination
is not an imitation or reflection of an external nature, as it was
widely conceived to be in the eighteenth century; but rather external
nature, in all its complexity, is a distorted imitation or usurpation of,
and demonic substitution for, artistic imagination. "Imagination,"

Chapter Two

then, takes on a special meaning; for Blake it is equivalent to the
structure of "Eternity," that is, the primary structural reality by
analogy to which the fallen world of nature takes its shape. Yet, as
we shall see, Blake's "Imagination" bears only superficial re-
semblance to a Platonic a priori world of forms which have a shadow
existence in the world of time and space. In chapters 3 and 4 I hope
to show how Blake's analysis develops a vision of nature, and of
scientific models of nature, as striving toward ever-increasing levels
of complexity in order to satisfy the true drives of the Imagination.
Science, then, for Blake, is least dangerous when it is obviously
partial and reductive, and most dangerous when it most closely ap-
proximates the complete and definite structure of the Imagination
itself. At such a point apocalypse must take place. Such is the case
with Blake's vision of Newton's system.
By means of the principle that nature is a usurpation of or de-
monic substitution for art, Blake can argue that only through Los's
visionary system, which forms the basis for all other systems, can
logical system be destroyed. The consequence of this principle is that
Blake's system is structured primarily in order to preserve the in-
tegrity of individuals rather than the systems by which individuals
organize their perceptions. For Blake, the redemption of the indi-
vidual is possible, as we shall see, only if nature parodies the Imagi-
nation; further, such redemption is necessary because the con-
ceptual systems which Los's system makes possible have imposed
themselves on individuals. This whole redemptive scheme and its
relations to the systems of Newton and Descartes can be most easily
seen by examining the structure of Blake's "Eternity" and its con-
nections with Los's two creations, "The Vegetable Universe" and
"Golgonooza," the world of art. As in the case of Newton's system in
chapter 1, the structure of Blake's Eternity can be treated with con-
siderable explanatory power in terms of coherence, identity, and
process of integration.
Blake calls the coherence of his Eternity the "Divine Body" or the
"Human Imagination."'0 Blake's desire to use these traditionally
diverse terms interchangeably exemplifies his perception of the
analogy (and, at the highest level, the identity) between human
bodily organization and artistic organization. The very choice of
terms suggests a "dynamic" system, an organic living body in which
each member is constitutive of the whole body: for one member al-
tered alters the structural meaning of the whole body. At the same

Blake's Visionary Response

time the total bodily structure pervades the meaning of all its
members so that the bodily coherence is also a principle of perma-
nence. By means of this kind of organic principle an infinite variety
of "human" elements can be organized in Eternity. Though Blake is
rather cryptic about the technical mechanism of the bodily cor-
respondences in Eternity, his primary metaphor for these relation-
ships is one of expansion and contraction:

Then those in Great Eternity met in the Council of God
As one Man for contracting their Exalted Senses
They behold Multitude or Expanding they behold as one
As One Man all the Universal family & that one Man
They call Jesus the Christ & they in him & he in them
Live in Perfect harmony in Eden the land of life.
(E, p. 306, FZ 21:1-6)

The above quotation contains the latent form not only of the prin-
ciple of coherence but also that of identity, for these principles inter-
penetrate one another.
The "identity" of Blake's Eternity consists in a principle of
contrariety, of opposition and tension. The underlying constituents
of Blake's Eternity, the "Minute Particulars" which Jesus, "the Only
General and Universal Form" "protects," "every one in their own
identity" (E. p. 183, Jer. 38 [K, 43]: 20-23) are cells of energy in
tension with one another. While, in terms of bodily preservation and
cooperation, these cells live in "Perfect Harmony," their drive
toward individuation and differentiation is characterized by Blake
as "Mental War." The "Eternal Great Humanity," the principle of

Walks among all his awful Family seen in every face
As the breath of the Almighty. such are the words of man to man
In the great Wars of Eternity, in fury of Poetic Inspiration,
To build the Universe stupendous: Mental forms Creating.
(E, p. 128, Mil. 30:17-20)
These members of Christ's body are the "Contraries," the principles
of individuality which have meaning only in terms of their opposites.
This principle of Contraries creating their identities constantly in
terms of their opposites may be found as early as Blake's discussion
of the Prolific and the Devouring in The Marriage of Heaven and

32 Chapter Two

The principle of tensive opposition of Mental War-that is, the
principle of identity in Blake's Eternity- is, at the highest level, the
contrary of the principle of coherence, the drive toward harmony
and cooperation. Identities must be construed as actions and pas-
sions, as imaginative analogues (and in part the source) of temporal
process." The principle of coherence, the Body of Christ, is the total
created form, the structure of permanence and endurance, the very
shape of organic unity and completeness. It is easy to see why this
principle is easily construed as static. Both the coherence and the
identity of Blake's Eternity must construe themselves, however, as
static and enduring, while they view their opposite as dynamic. It is
this requirement of Eternity which makes possible Urizen's ab-
straction of stasis, an action which we will examine further in the
next chapter. From the point of view of the pervading bodily pattern,
the Contraries are dynamic forces while the body is static. From the
point of view of the contraries or identities, however, the total bodily
pattern in which they find themselves involved is constantly in a state
of adjustment to the process of interacting contraries, while iden-
tities themselves remain eternal and unchangeable.'' Therefore,
static and dynamic components and perspectives are predictable and
constitutive of both the coherence and identity of Blake's Eternity.
There is, then, both in perspective and in basic drives, an opposition
between the principle of coherence and the principle of identity in
Blake's Eternity.
The process of integration which binds these tensions together
and yet provides a means of keeping them fully distinct is the pro-
cess Blake calls "Emanation." In its simplest Eternal form from
the point of view of the identities, Blake calls this principle "Jeru-
salem": "Man is adjoined to Man by his Emanative portion:
/Who is Jerusalem in every individual Man" (E, p. 185, Jer. 39
[K, 44]:38-39). This process is characterized as an internal one:

When in Eternity Man converses with Man they enter
Into each others Bosom (which are Universes of delight)
In mutual interchange, and first their Emanations meet
Surrounded by their Children. if they embrace & comingle
The Human Four-fold Forms mingle also in thunders of Intellect
But if the Emanations mingle not; with storms & agitations
Of earthquakes & consuming fires they roll apart in fear

Blake's Visionary Response

For Man cannot unite with Man but by their Emanations
Which stand both Male & Female at the Gates of each Humanity
(E, p. 244,Jer. 88:3-11)

In this characterization we find clear indications that the crisis in
Blake's vision, as in Newton's, centers around the process of inte-
gration. It seems as though sometimes the process works and some-
times it does not. The identities and the coherence of Eternity are
"Human," while the Emanations are divided into Male and Female.
The function of the emanative portion is to assume simultaneously
the dynamic aspects of both coherence and identity, the perspective
not of "self" but of "other." The Emanations therefore should ope-
rate to fill up (as it were) the interstices of Eternity, to keep exciting
the world of opposition between the principles of unification and
differentiation and to keep fulfilling this opposition so that the
complete perfection of the "Men" may be preserved. Whereas both
the coherence and identity of Eternity view themselves as per-
manent, while their opposite is involved in dynamic process, the
Emanative portion sees things in the opposite way; Emanation
perceives itself as a state of fluid process in order to hold both co-
herence and identity in a stable relationship.
This brief account, of course, assumes the analytic separability of
the interlocked components under consideration. Blake certainly
never makes all of these features explicit and obvious in his poetry.
Yet these deduced formal principles of Eternity are reflected in
Blake's conceptions of the operational principles of poetic con-
struction and in the phenomenological principles of normal per-
ception. Thus a complex set of relationships may be developed
between the way Eternity is constructed, the way the fallen world is
constructed and perceived, and the poetic techniques necessary to
disengage the reader from the fallen world. As we have said, the
general form of this relationship is one of imitative response or
usurpation. Thus the way Blake views the world that Newton's
system characterizes is a kind of topological mapping of the struc-
ture of Eternity onto three-dimensional space and onto the space of
Golgonooza. Newton's system thus embodies the characteristics of
Eternity in a dangerously distorted way.
Given the nature of the connections we will be talking about, it is
quite appropriate that the connections between art, nature and

Chapter Two

Eternity in Blake are tied up with some complex "spatial" relation-
ships in Blake's poetry which, although purposely complex, convey a
straightforward meaning. It is necessary to keep in mind that the
often confusing and even apparently self-contradictory "spatial"
relationships in Blake's poetry are really mythic or symbolic rela-
tions which can be most efficiently represented by analogy with
spatial relations: they are a kind of symbolic shorthand and are not
themselves spatial in a Euclidian sense." Much of the complexity
and confusion of terms and relationships vanishes when we stop
trying to fix a mental set of Cartesian coordinates over the "spaces"
Blake talks about. Calling a space such as Golgonooza "four-
dimensional" is not very helpful either." The fact that Blake chooses
metaphors which are in some ways confusing to our three-
dimensionally oriented minds indicates that Blake's construction of
spaces is intended to illuminate the self-contradictory nature of our
normal perception.
Blake casts the connections between art, nature, and Eternity into
a system of analogues and spatial metaphors. These metaphors sug-
gest two alternative ways of characterizing the function of Los's vi-
sionary system in Blake's poetry. The first organization suggests that
Newton's system lies between Eternity and Los's imaginative
countersystem. This relation diagrams roughly as:
Eternity Newton's system -- Los's countersystem
This organization approximates a historical progression in that it
visualizes Blake's interpretation that Newton's system is a topo-
logical distortion of the structure of Eternity and, therefore, that
Los's countersystem is a response to the imaginative crisis be-
queathed by Newton. The alternative mode of organization suggests
the ways in which Los's countersystem is in fact responsible for the
existence of fallen systems. Los's system comprehends within itself
the basis for the Newtonian system.
These alternative organizations are projected by Blake in Los's
emerging task of creating two worlds which are intimately con-
nected. These two worlds are the city of "Golgonooza," or the city of
art, and the "Vegetable Universe," which itself has two interrelated
parts: "Generation," which is analogous to "the Vegetable Earth"
and "Ulro," which is analogous to the "Mundane Shell."" The
Vegetable Earth, like Generation, is alive although "shadowy"; the

Blake's Visionary Response

Mundane Shell, like Ulro, is a "hardened Shadow" of Vegetable
Earth. As such, the Mundane Shell is analogous to the dead
"Hermaphroditic Satanic World of Rocky Destiny," or Ulro, out of
which Los creates the living world of Generation by dividing the
sexes." The Mundane Shell is, then, a shadow of earth as the earth
is a shadow of Eternity. These two aspects of the fallen world-the
Mundane Shell with its void "chasms" which stretch to the Vegetable
Earth, and the Vegetable Earth itself-make up the "Vegetable
Universe," or the "Mundane Egg." The city of Golgonooza, on the
other hand, contains all phases of reality as potentially realized
forms; it is, nevertheless, not really a part of Eternity, for, although
it is structured by analogy with Eternity, it does not organize the four
Eternal worlds, the "Four Zoas," Urthona, Luvah, Urizen, and
Tharmas. These four universes therefore remain "chaotic" around
the Mundane Shell.'" Golgonooza provides an organization of
Blake's four fallen worlds, Eden, Beulah, Generation, and Ulro, by
analogy with the four human worlds of Eternity. Eden and Beulah
are of course not fallen in the same sense as Ulro and Generation,
for Eden and Beulah provide the gates back to Eternity and jointly
symbolize the structure of Eternity. This organization suggests the
sense in which Los's Golgonooza is responsible for the possibility of
fallen logical systems.
The four compass points of Golgonooza provide the symbolic
organization of the fallen worlds by analogy with the compass-point
organization of the Four Zoas in Eternity. This organization thus
links Eternity and the Vegetable Universe. The four fallen worlds
are given an alternative organization, however, spread out in the
Vegetable Universe not by the compass points but from center to
circumference. The gates of these four worlds in Golgonooza do not,
then, open into the four fallen worlds in a direct spatial sense. For
example, Beulah's gate is located at one of the compass points of
Golgonooza, but in the Vegetable Universe Beulah is located at
"Earths central joint" (E, p. 194, Jer. 48:13), and this is confirmed
by the fact that Luban, whose gate is toward Beulah (E, p. 207, Jer.
59:22), actually lies at the center of Golgonooza, at the "Limit of
Translucence," opening into Eternity (E, p.333, FZ 60:4-5). 20 Simi-
larly, Eden lies at the circumference of the Vegetable Universe
and also expands into Eternity (E, p. 221, Jer. 69:41-42). These re-
lations are all a matter of perspective, however, and from the point

Chapter Two

of view of Eden, Beulah surrounds Eden (E, p. 128, Mil. 30:8-12).
The point of this reversal is to show how the meaning of center and
circumference is reversed in the falling world. Both of these worlds,
although directly connected to the fallen world through Golgonooza,
lie outside of normal day-to-day consciousness and are related to
remembered and unremembered dreams. Generation and Ulro,
which make up the central aspects of the fallen world itself, are re-
lated to the Mundane Shell. The Vegetable Earth, the living re-
flection of Eternity through Golgonooza, is located around the
center. Ulro stretches from the Vegetable Earth to the Mundane
Shell, whose chasms make up the "Satanic void":
Around Golgonooza lies the land of death eternal; a Land
Of pain and misery and despair and ever brooding melancholy:
In all the Twenty-seven Heavens, number from Adam to Luther;
From the blue Mundane Shell, reaching to the Vegetative Earth.
The Vegetative Universe, opens like a flower from the Earths center:
In which is Eternity. It expands in Stars to the Mundane Shell
And there it meets Eternity again, both within and without.
And the abstract Voids between the Stars are the Satanic Wheels.
(E, pp. 155-56,Jer. 13:30-37)
Eden lies symbolically at the circumference of the Mundane Shell,
and Beulah lies at the center of both Golgonooza and the Vegetative
Universe which surrounds Golgonooza. The analogy between Gene-
ration and the Vegetative Earth and between the Mundane Shell
and Ulro may be more accurately characterized by saying that Gene-
ration is the symbolic function of the Vegetative Earth and that Ulro
is the symbolic function of the Mundane Shell. Thus, this second
organization yields the circular diagram seen in figure 1. There-
fore, the Mundane Shell, the spatial location of Newton's cosmol-
ogy, "the abstract voids between the stars" lies between Eden
and the Generative world of nature. It is out of the rocky and void
Ulro world that Los energizes the sexes to create the world of Gene-
ration.2' Thus, Los performs a redemptive act on the Ulro (New-
tonian) world which presupposes imaginatively the existence of Ulro.
Thus, though in both accounts Los is directly responsible for the
Ulro world of the Mundane Shell, in the former organization Golgo-
nooza functions as comprehensive base for Newton's (and all other)
systems, whereas in this second organization Los utilizes the poten-
tial energy of Golgonooza to transform the dead world of Ulro into

Blake's Visionarv Response

Fig. 1

the living world of Generation. In the former case Golgonooza sur-
rounds the four fallen worlds; in the second, Golgonooza lies within
Generation and is constructed and utilized as a redemptive response
to the state of Ulro.
Golgonooza, as the symbolic projection of the artistic organiza-
tion, is the basis of all possible organizations of the fallen world,
while the system of reflected shadow worlds reveals Golgonooza to
be a visionary response to the imagination-usurping structure of
Ulro systems. Golgonooza in both analyses is the source of life in
Generation, for it is symbolically prior to all activities on the earth
and as such embodies the archetypal energy which makes fallen
activity possible:

Chapter Two

All things acted on Earth are seen in the bright Sculptures of
Los's Halls & every Age renews its powers from these Works
With every pathetic story possible to happen from Hate or
Wayward Love & every sorrow & distress is carved here
(E, p. 159,Jer. 16:61-64)
Because Golgonooza contains the archetypes of all human activity, it
is the link by which the Vegetable Earth is a shadow of Eternity.
Further, because it contains these dynamic principles of action
(Eden) in a permanent or static form (Beulah), Golgonooza is a
redemptive reconstruction of the shape of Eternity and allows real
activity in permanent form to be transferred to the fallen world. In
other words, Golgonooza is an embodiment of fallen activity from an
Eternal point of view. By linking the fallen and Eternal worlds,
Golgonooza has a redemptive function: it makes Generation pos-
sible; and through Generation, "regeneration" is possible."
In addition to providing a gate into Generation, Golgonooza also
contains a gate into Ulro, the Newtonian world, and thus possesses
the power to reveal this dead Satanic world for what it really is. I
suggest above that Blake's poetics is inversely analogous to Aristo-
telian poetics, in which "natural" objects have their own internal
principle of generation and life, while "artistic" objects have to be
formed by an external principle of generation and can never be truly
alive. Blake, on the other hand, makes the world of nature a dead
"Hermaphroditic" unprolific world in which generation is impos-
sible because only external relations are possible in Newton's world
model. Into the dead world of Ulro the visionary poetic power (Los)
infuses life and motion through the internal archetypal energy of
Golgonooza. It is, furthermore, no accident that this Satanic world
of Ulro turns out to be precisely the opposite of Newton's character-
ization of the physical world. Where Newton postulated passive dead
and inert matter in conjunction with active principles of integration
to account for the forms of things in the physical world, Blake sees
both the active and the passive principles of Newton as projecting a
static, inert, natural world. For in Newton's scheme of nature, the
"active" principles are "mathematical forces," and Blake explicitly
opposes all mathematical forms to "Living Form."" For Blake,
mathematical forms cannot be, contrary to Newton's argument,
active at all--or even passive, for that matter-but rather, lifeless
forms which aptly symbolize the underlying inert formless matter.

Blake's Visionary Response

Again it is no accident that Blake consistently uses imagery of
freezing and solidification to represent the Spectrous world of New-
tonian mechanics. For, although Ulro turns out to be only the
spectrous half of the world Newton thought he was characterizing,
Blake turns Newton against himself by using imagery which Newton
used to describe the dead half of the world and making it describe
the whole of the Newtonian world vision. In the Opticks, Newton
says. "If it were not for these [Active] Principles, the Bodies of the
Earth, Planets, Comets, Sun, and all things in them, would grow
cold and freeze, and become inactive Masses; and all Putrefaction,
Generation, Vegetation and Life would cease."" Since, for Blake,
these active principles do not in fact exist in the Newtonian world
because Newton makes them mathematical forces, it is only just that
Blake should show how Newton's prediction about the world can be
turned against Newton himself.
That the gate into Ulro opens into the Mundane Shell of the
Vegetative Universe can be seen rather straightforwardly in the fol-
lowing lines from "The Gates of Paradise":

Two Horn'd Reasoning Cloven Fiction
In Doubt which is Self contradiction
A dark Hermaphrodite We stood
Rational Truth Root of Evil & Good
Round me flew the Flaming Sword
Round her snowy Whirlwinds roard
Freezing her Veil the Mundane Shell
I rent the Veil where the Dead dwell
(E, p. 265, GP 13-20)

Blake has telescoped several of the ideas we have been talking about
into a cogent, concrete form. The two-valued (true-false) logic of the
Cartesian-Newtonian world view is transformed into "Two Horn'd
Reasoning," a clearly Satanic image (as is "Cloven Fiction"); and
this purely logical structure imposes itself into a two-valued ethic
(good and evil). Doubt, as noted before, is central to Newton's power
to neutralize the critical insights of Descartes. The Hermaphroditic
world of the Mundane Shell is the frozen world of Ulro. It is clear
that the Mundane Shell, although spatially located in the Vegetative
Universe in the "Astronomical Telescopic Heavens,"2" extends itself
symbolically into the dead nature of the Vegetative Earth, which Los

Chapter Two

quickens into life by poetic energy. Thus the spatial location of the
Mundane Shell in Blake's Vegetative Universe symbolizes efficiently
the Newtonian world view of nature as a lifeless inert entity because
it is rather obviously associated with the "Voids between the Stars,"
or Newtonian astronomy, and yet functions as Vala's frozen Veil of
nature, which, though "beautiful,"2" is the dwelling place of the
dead." Blake further transforms the conceptual nature of the New-
tonian context, however, by rendering the situation violently dra-
matic and apocalyptic. The male speaker separates himself from his
"hermaphroditic" fusion with the female image of nature, Vala, by
rending her "Veil." by consummating the sexual act with her. In
consummating this sexual union of male and female-thus trans-
valuing the "Root of Evil & Good"-the speaker achieves a sexual
separation from the fused contradiction of truth and falsehood
projected into the images of heat and cold. The speaker in the poem
thus is a source and victim of the two-valued system (by identifying
with the "Flaming Sword," a male phallic image) and is simul-
taneously responsible for overthrowing the self-contradiction of the
drama by sexually rending Vala's Veil. Dramatically, then, Blake
subverts the generally accepted eighteenth-century concept of the
relation between art and nature and gives us a twofold perspective on
his own crisis of vision. On the one hand, Los's system is respon-
sible for the power of Newton's system to consolidate into a coherent
whole; on the other hand, Los's system is in fact a response to the
already existing critical state of Ulro.
Further, as I mentioned above, Golgonooza provides the arche-
typal basis not only for Generation and Ulro, the visible aspects of
the Vegetable Universe, but also for Eden and Beulah, the higher
forms of those two lower worlds of Generation and Ulro; and Eden
and Beulah each embody one aspect of Eternity. As Eden symbolizes
the dynamic aspect of Eternity, the form of creation through war of
Contraries, so Beulah symbolizes the stable or static aspect of Eter-
nity, the form of contrariety without dialectical warfare, the "place
where Contrarieties are equally True" (E, p. 128, Mil. 30:1). Beulah
parodies the Newtonian-Cartesian world of Ulro, a static world beset
with logical warfare in which opposites, instead of being equally
true, cancel each other out by contradiction, the negating power of
logic. The shape that Ulro assumes may even spring from the fact
that Urizen, the original form of the Newtonian perspective, "grew

Blake's Visionary Response

up in the plains of Beulah" (E, p. 351, FZ 83:19), because the logical
world of "Negations" and self-contradiction that Urizen forms is
intimately connected to the static structure of Beulah. Eden, on the
other hand, forms a striking contrast to Generation. Activity per-
vades both Generation and Eden; but the central feature of Genera-
tion is its cyclic repetition of natural forms,28 while Eden's basic
property is continual creation of new and unique "Mental Forms."20
Golgonooza's ontologically unique position, deriving from its
participation in both the fallen world and Eternity, yields yet
another related function: due to its Eternal perspective, it is instru-
mental in bringing about what Blake calls the Last Judgment by
clearing his reader's "doors of perception." When Blake says that
"obscurity" is necessary in poetry,' he means that his reader's per-
ception must be obscured by the "Corporeal Understanding" for his
poetry to serve its purpose. The function of visionary poetry, Blake
makes quite clear, is to repair his reader's distorted and obscured
perceptions by addressing his poetry to the "Intellectual Powers"
rather than to the "Corporeal Understanding."" Once the reader's
doors of perception have been cleansed, visionary poetry no longer
seems obscure, for the artist himself must be absolutely clear in his
conception and articulation, down to the most minute particulars. It
is against obscurity in the mind of the artist that Blake strikes when
he says, in his annotations to Reynolds, "Obscurity is Neither the
Source of the Sublime nor of any Thing Else.""2 Blake's visionary
poetry which includes the articulation of Los's comprehensive form
of Golgonooza must clear the reader's perception by taking into
itself all the organizations of the fallen world and transforming them
from an Eternal perspective, then the reader must see that Golgo-
nooza is itself a tool which has manipulated him, a tool which he
must cast off. Poetry, which is inclusive, must even take into itself
that which is alien to it, the logical world of Ulro which is exclusive
and negating. If poetry neglects or fails to account for and reveal the
true status of any aspect of fallen reality, then poetry itself assumes
the negating character of logic.
Blake's assertions that the physical world and "Negations" are
unreal or do not exist" only confirm this contention about Blake's
vision. Blake's statements that "mental Things are alone Real" and
that "Negations Exist not" have logical force in somewhat the fol-
lowing way: from the point of view of Eternity, the corporeal world is

Chapter Two

unreal, although it has an existence in most men's minds; "Nega-
tions," however, do not exist because their logical character-with-
out any physical or corporeal world to mediate between opposites-
causes them to cancel each other out. This construction, nevertheless,
is itself logical and therefore does not justify the rejection of such enti-
ties from poetry as comprehensive basis for reality and existence.
Rather than rejecting the corporeal world and negations from his
poetry, although from an Eternal perspective both are unreal, Blake
devotes much of his poetry to these unreal entities. It might seem,
nevertheless, that there is some kind of dialectical trick going on
here. How can Blake characterize the corporeal world and negations
as "unreal" and even as "falsehood" and "error," thus retaining an
aspect of the negating power of logic, while at the same time he
incorporates these very entities into his poetry by explaining in detail
all the aspects of the fall from Eternity and by systematizing all the
ways the fallen world can be organized? The solution to this ap-
parent problem will move us to the relation between the system and
the individual.
There must be a distinction made between what Blake calls the
Last Judgment and the poetic system which makes the Last
Judgment possible. Falsehood-that is, the corporeal world,
negations, and all the other apparatus connected with the
Newtonian universe-is cast out in the Last Judgment; in this
way the apocalypse is the imaginative act which is analogous to the
logical act of judging between opposites. But poetry, which shares
both in Eternity and in the fallen world, whose individuals it must
redeem, by definition has to embrace falsehood in such a way as to
expose it for what it really is, as a demonic substitution for the true
drives of the Imagination. Poetry does not reject the corporeal world
in the way in which logical systems reject their opposites; poetry
transforms falsehood, the Newtonian world, so that the reader can
achieve the correct perspective on it and the Last Judgment can take
place within the reader. It should be evident that what Blake means
by the Last Judgment is intimately connected with his idea of a re-
demptive poetic system. For Blake, the Last Judgment, because it is
cosmic in nature, is grounded in individual perception: "whenever
any Individual Rejects Error & Embraces Truth a Last Judgment
passes upon that Individual" (E, p. 551, VLJ). The function of
Blake's poetry is to bring each individual to the point of making this

Blake's Visionary Response

imaginative judgment: it is imaginative rather than logical because
the process by which the judgment is made involves a shift in per-
spective, a cleansing away of the corporeal understanding, not by'
logical analysis, which only deepens our dependence on fallen per-
ception, but by a synoptic view of the totality of existence in which
truth and error are seen to coexist on different levels of reality. Such
a transformation of perception in the individual is possible only
through poetry, which contains within itself the archetypes of all
levels of reality. It is toward the individual reader that Blake's poetry
is directed; the poetic system makes possible the imaginative Last
Judgment and, in the process, destroys that aspect of itself which
makes the Judgment possible-its existence as appearance and as
organizer of appearances. Blake's emphasis on the redemption of
the individual at the expense of system achieves its central con-
ceptual form in the doctrine of symbolic "States" which preserve the
integrity of the individual identity yet which "abolish" systems."
The salvation of the individual through the instrumental aspect of
poetry can be accomplished most efficiently, as we shall see, if there
is a conceptual system handy in which falsehood is embodied in a
cogent form. The reason this is so, if I may continue the inverse
Aristotelian analogy begun above, is that falsehood embodied in a
system provides the formless material, as it were, out of which the
poetic spirit can form its critique. As Ulro makes up the formless
material out of which Generation is created by Los, so a system such
as Newton's, which embodies Ulro in a striking way, provides the
material out of which Blake as visionary can forge that part of his
poetry which exposes Ulro as falsehood and thus causes the Last
Judgment. In this ironic way, Newton can blow the trumpet of the
Last Judgment in Blake's Europe."
Blake's case against the systematic aspect of Newton's world
scheme is, perhaps, even stronger than I have suggested. The Spec-
tre's "system" forms a central part of his identity, for it is only in his
system, Blake argues, that Satan's identity becomes knowable to
fallen man. The Satanic system obscures the identity of its author,
and it is the visionary whose job it is to pierce Satan's secret identity
and reveal him for what he is. In Jerusalem the "Divine Voice" says:

The Reactor [Spectre] hath hid himself thro envy. I behold him.
But you cannot behold him till he be revealed in his System

44 Chapter Two

Albions Reactor must have a Place prepared: Albion must Sleep
The Sleep of Death, till the Man of Sin & Repentance be revealed.
Hidden in Albion's Forests he lurks: he admits of no Reply
From Albion: but hath founded his Reaction into a Law
Of Action, for Obedience to destroy the Contraries of Man.
(E, p. 189, Jer. 43 [K, 29]:9-15)

In these lines, Blake gives an example of how Satan has tricked
fallen man and in the process tells us whose system permits thf
identification of Satan. Blake obliquely identifies the Reactot
(Spectre) as Newton by virtue of the Reactor's formation of his "Re-
action" into a "Law / Of Action." This, of course, echoes Newton's
Third Law. "To every Action there is always opposed an equal Re-
action: Or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are
always equal, and directed to contrary parts."" By particularizing
and inverting Newton's statement, Blake hints at the subversion and
usurpation of the concept of "action" in the Newtonian system and
its ethical counterparts. In Blake's myth of Contraries in Milton, as
Martin Nurmi has pointed out," Satan-Urizen usurps the function
of the passive Contrary, Palamabron, and, by a further confusion of
the Contraries, Satan becomes identified as the active Contrary:
Rintrah, or energy. In this confusion and usurpation of the Contra-
ries. energy, and action in general, is identified as evil and re-
straint is identified as good. This pattern of subversion and re-
versal of the true functions of the Contraries is the symbolic source
of the Spectre's reaction, which he in turn solidifies into a "Law" of
action which in reality is a law which represses all action. It is a
"Law" of action and no real action itself which Satan founds, for
what turns out to be active in Newtonian physics are the "mathe-
matical forces" and "laws of motion" and, in post-Newtonian ethics,
the "laws" of moral virtue and action which, like the mathematical
forces, predetermine and predefine which actions are good and bad,
which perceptions are possible and impossible. An inversion of the
Newtonian scheme of action and reaction functions as an apt symbol
for the inversion of action and repression. For Blake, Newton's
doctrine of action-symbolized by "Mathematic Forms"-is
actually repression of action, a constraining of action within finite
boundaries, the "hindering" principle Blake mentions in his an-
notations to Lavater." In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Blake
says that even "One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression" (E, p. 43,

45 Blake's Visionary Response

MHH 24). The reason this Law of Action destroys the Contraries of
man is twofold. First, it confuses the identities of the active and
passive Contraries; in the process it destroys the active Contrary and
represses the "positive" function of the passive Contrary." Second,
it extends its foundation in traditional logic by replacing truth and
falsehood with their ethical projections, good and evil.
Blake's countersystem, then, displays characteristics quite op-
posite to those of his intellectual enemies. Blake's poetics makes
"system" essential to poetry, for poetry embodies the archetypal
forms of all organizational principles of the world. The purpose of
poetic system is to destroy its own temporal aspect by revealing to
individuals the Satanic aspects of enemy systems through its own
comprehensiveness. Satanic systems, on the other hand, submerge
the individual in laws which deny human active energy. This war
between underlying conceptions of systems and the relation of system
to individuals is a significant part of the "Intellectual Battle" of the
opening lines of The Four Zoas and the "Mental Fight" of the Pre-
face to Milton."' This war of world systems could take place in
Blake's poetry because of the historical period in which he found
himself, a period from whose vantage point Blake could assess the
consequences of the Newtonian world scheme and the systems which
had made it possible.

Whether we take Blake at his own word that he had
direct perception of ultimate reality, or whether we merely assume
hypothetically that Blake's poetry is, in part, the working out of a
visionary solution to the problem of system-specifically Newton's
system-and its relation to the individual perception, is a matter of
practical emphasis. Framing the problem of Blake's relation to New-
ton in hypothetical terms, however, allows us to observe that Blake's
apparent concern for problems which Newton's system solved in
ways anathema to Blake's vision often brought Blake into direct op-
position to scientific doctrines. Whether Blake knew these scientific
doctrines in detail or not, relating these doctrines to Blake's often
offers striking contrasts to and usually illumination of Blake's own
imagery and doctrines. Often, indeed, it would seem that Blake did
have some firsthand information about Newton's ideas because of
the specific ways in which Blake chooses terms with Newtonian

Chapter Two

echoes, terms which Blake uses in ways often opposite to Newton's
own use of the terms. Let us now turn to the way in which science
functions as metaphoric material for Blake as poetic revealer of the
Satanic aspects of Newton's system.
Thomas S. Kuhn has argued that all scientific revolutions entail a
shift of world view, analogous to a shift of visual gestalt in such
phenomena as optical illusions." While scientific paradigms allow
perception of things which were before unnoticed," they also ex-
clude much from perception which before seemed relevant.4 Before
a scientific paradigm like Newton's mechanics has been accepted,
normal research is much more random and undirected than after-
wards: in the pre-paradigm period, virtually everything in nature is
relevant to science. After the ascendency of a paradigm, scientific
inquiry is necessarily restricted to a certain group of phenomena and
a certain set of problems which the paradigm has displayed as being
especially revealing of the nature of things.44 Newton's system, then,
as scientific paradigm, not only permitted prediction of natural phe-
nomena which was before impossible, but also it focused scientific
attention on a limited range of images or models in terms of which
underlying operations of phenomena were conceived. The range of
the problems scientists tackled was circumscribed by the range of
imagery which made the problems make sense. If I may make an
extension of Kuhn's hypothesis, in the years following the emergence
of Newton's paradigm, almost every philosophical problem was ap-
proached in terms of Newtonian imagery and doctrines. In this way,
Newton's system insinuated itself into a vast range of intellectual
disciplines. And it is in reference to the theological aspect of this
insinuation that Perry Miller has said that Newton himself was not
quite a "Newtonian.""
As we discussed in the previous chapter, the dominance of
Newton's paradigm was preceded by the dominance of the Cartesian
paradigm. Perhaps one' of the most significant aspects of the
Newton-Descartes debate is that both systems-the Newtonian and
the Cartesian-were structured to account for and explain the same
phenomena. To a considerable extent Newton's attempt to as-
similate observational facts to Descartes' paradigm brought on the
"crisis" which in turn led to Newton's own paradigm. Because New-
ton's paradigm dealt with and solved essentially the same problems
of phenomena as the Cartesian paradigm, and since it did it better
and with more simplicity, Newton's world system became the obvious

Blake's Visionary Response

intellectual enemy of the Cartesian. As Florian Cajori has pointed
out, Newton's system did not receive the welcome one might have
expected for a doctrine as powerful as Newton's precisely because of
the reputation of Descartes.4" As we have noted earlier, the powerful
imaginative attraction of Descartes' system played an important role
in its continued acceptance.
The similarities which underlie the apparent differences between
the motives of the Newtonian and Cartesian systems have been the
subject of our discussion of science as system and Los's counter-
system. It is in the details of opposition that the function of science
as metaphor emerges. In most "Newtonian" literature of the
eighteenth century one finds again and again a recourse to "the
facts" or to "the phenomena." In "Cartesian" literature, on the
other hand, the most common rhetorical device was a reference to
the "clearness and disctinctness" of the concepts which explain the
facts.'4 The opposition between Newton and Descartes became an
opposition between two divergent ways of conceiving of the nature of
explanatory concepts. The Cartesians consistently argued that basic
aspects of Newton's paradigm-for example, an invisible force im-
pressed over a void space, or even a void space itself-were in-
conceivable; any system which rested on such assumptions must, a
priori, be incorrect. The Newtonians, on the contrary, argued that
their paradigm must be the correct one, no matter how incon-
ceivable some of the ideas might seem, for the Newtonian scheme
could account for the "facts" of nature, which, it became obvious,
the Cartesian system could not. With the victory of Newton's system
by mid-century, the debate had reversed its poles. Now it was the
Cartesian system which entailed intuitive absurdities. Why should
the void be intuitively impossible as Descartes had argued? Was not
in fact the reverse the actual case? For example, since two objects of
the same size can have different weight, must not the difference
reside in the density of the matter, that is, in inverse proportion to
the amount of void space in the object? Of course, those who set
forth such arguments had already implicitly assimilated a whole host
of Newtonian assumptions about the atomic structure of matter and
the possibility of attractive and repulsive forces acting at a distance.
The image of matter was analogous to a handful of sand tossed into
the air: the grains of sand represented the atoms, the air represented
the void space.48
The insinuation of the Cartesian doctrine of the necessary clarity

Chapter Two

and distinctness of ideas which explain phenomena became evident
almost immediately as Newton's followers polarized into the two
camps of interpretation of universal attraction, each camp clinging
to an intuitively satisfying interpretation, one to the "spiritual" the
other to the "physical" interpretation. Newton himself, as we noted
in the last chapter, kept groping for an empirically and at the same
time intuitively satisfying solution to the problem of the active forces
in nature. Newton had proved that a void space was necessary; the
"Newtonians" took satisfaction in proving that all physical objects
are mostly void space." Thus they prided themselves in proving that
nature, although grounded in perfectly clear ideas, was quite the
opposite from what the common man might think it was."' To New-
ton's followers, the unwillingness of the Cartesians to accept New-
tonian explanations was based on the Cartesians' prior commitment
to a definition of clearness and distinctness which did not square
with the "facts." Voltaire's popularizations of Newton, for example,
relied greatly on the "simplicity" of the Newtonian explanations,
which became even more miraculous when they turned out to prove
that nature is quite the reverse of what one might expect it to be.5 In
this way the Newtonians turned Descartes himself against the Car-
Marie Boas and Rupert Hall have said that the Newtonian
corpuscles were just as imaginary as the "substantial forms" and
"qualities" which they were to replace: corpuscles could only be il-
lustrated by experiment, they could not be proved.52 These solid
little chunks of matter became increasingly important throughout
the eighteenth century as Newton's system, which employed these
"atoms" as part of its intuitive substructure, gained acceptance. In
this light we can see that the paradigmatic function of Newton's
system-and of its intuitive and logical opposite, the Cartesian
system-was not only to provide laws and rules for performing ex-
periments and mathematical operations, but also to supply a set of
underlying images and conceptual patterns which would render the
intuitively questionable laws palatable. Thus the Newtonian and
Cartesian systems could be called logically articulated metaphors for
formal operations of the visible world. Today we might prefer to call
them "models" and hide behind a name the essential fact that these
systems of "forces" and "vortices" were equally imaginary. Granted,
these systems, and Newton's system especially, are two important

Blake's Visionary Response

steps beyond "purely" imaginary accounts of nature, by virtue of
their logical articulation and their predictive power, they retain
many of the metaphoric and animistic characteristics of primitive
The capacity of a scientific system such as Newton's to satisfy the
intuitive drives for a clearly conceivable and even visualizable sub-
structure to a logically articulated system reveals, for Blake, the deep
imaginative danger of scientific systems. Whereas Blake sees the
inescapable assimilation of metaphorical thought to scientific logic,
that is, the actual disguising of metaphor as logic, this is seen from
precisely the opposite point of view by the modern scientific logician
Hans Reichenbach. The emphasis on intuitive grasp, rather than on
logical articulation is what Reichenbach has characterized as the
fundamental retarding factor in the development of scientific

The legitimate search for explanation in terms of generality is
offered a pseudosatisfaction through picture language. Such an in-
trusion of poetry into knowledge is abetted by an urge for the
construction of an imaginary world of pictures, which can become
stronger than the quest for truth. The urge for picture-thinking
may be called an extralogical motive because it does not represent a
form of logical analysis but originates from mental needs outside the
realm of logic.5"

Thus, for Reichenbach, metaphor usurps the true ground of logic
and offers a substitute satisfaction for knowledge in intuitively
palatable images. For Blake, on the other hand, the inclusion of
metaphor in logic in scientific systems reveals the power of scientific
logic to absorb its own opposite, the data of immediate intuition
rather than abstract concepts of the understanding. Reichenbach
sees the tendency to lapse into "picturelanguage" when explanation
has failed, rather than to admit the explanation has failed, as the
basis of all metaphysics:

It seems to be an irresistible temptation to a philosopher, when he
sees questions which he is unable to answer, to offer picture lan-
guage in place of explanation. If Plato had studied the problem of
the origin of geometrical knowledge with the attitude of a scientist,
his answer would have consisted in the candid admission, "I do not

50 Chapter Two

The metaphysician disregards logical necessity at the most critical
points in order to satisfy his intuitive understanding of the explana-
tory model he is constructing:

Where scientific explanation failed because the knowledge of the
time was insufficient to provide the right generalizations, imagina-
tion took its place and supplied a kind of explanation which ap-
pealed to the urge for generality by satisfying it with naive paral-
lelisms. Superficial analogies, particularly analogies with human
experiences, were confused with generalizations and taken to
be explanations. The search for generality was appeased by a pseudo
explanation. It is from this ground that philosophy sprang."

The picture-language quality of Newton's system was absorbed by
the logically necessary system for which the images provided only an
intuitive substructure; it was the imagistic aspect which appealed to
eighteenth-century poets."7 Partly because of this appeal, and partly
because of the impressive predictability of Newton's equations, most
eighteenth-century poets (Christopher Smart was an exception)"
saw Newton's system as "true," the only conceivable way of con-
struing the world. In turn, the assumption of the truth of Newton's
system and the consequent falsity of the Cartesian system made the
postulated, imaginary entities such as the void, attractions, and
atoms, the underlying "realities" of nature; it made these existences
more real than the observed phenomena they were created to explain.
Because Newton's system, and Descartes' before him, submerged
such powerful metaphors under a logically consistent structure of
reality, it is no accident that Blake, looking at them as a "visionary,"
could appreciate the threat these powerful images posed to the
human imagination. It was incumbent on him, then, to appropriate
many details from these systems and transform these supposedly
"visualizable" concepts into images in his poetry to operate sym-
bolically, deriving their critical aspect from their oblique references
to scientific doctrines and their positive aspects from their inde-
pendent operation in the poetry as metaphors. These two functions
of "scientific imagery" in Blake's poetry are, of course, intimately
connected. The fact that Blake assimilated such imagery and ideas
into his poetry had a profound effect upon the kind of poetry he
wrote. At the same time, Blake's powerful intellectual and imagina-
tive independence caused him to transform the materials in such a

Blake's Visionary Response

way as to shed considerable light on the intuitive bases of the scien-
tific doctrines themselves.
Blake seems to have grasped the fundamental qualities of
"normal science" which Kuhn enumerates: first, a restriction of
questions asked to those only which can be answered profitably by
the dominant scientific paradigm; and, second, a tendency to cast
solutions to problems into the metaphoric imagery of the paradigm,
which entails a consequent reduction of the scientist's perceptual
field." In order to correct such a reduced, or in Blake's terms, "con-
tracted," perception, Blake uses scientific terms and images in ways
which would be particularly vexing to the eighteenth-century
scientist-intellectual if he encountered them in Blake's poetry. Blake
directed a significant portion of his attempt to "clear the doors of
perception" toward the victims of scientific metaphors whose per-
ception had been contracted beyond the limits of fallen sense-
perception. Blake even uses such fundamental mathematical terms
as center and circumference in ways which would seem para-
doxical to the typical eighteenth-century mathematician (and would
perhaps be perplexing even to "occult" readers since Blake also
inverts their expectations for the "mystical" use of center and
circumference)."' Thus Blake's use of terms in such transformed
ways is meant to be corrective in the most fundamental sense: it is to
give the reader (especially the "scientific" and the "mystical"
reader) a new and expanded view of the terms and doctrines they
take for granted as fixed and univocal. Blake's whole poetic tech-
nique is antiscientific in Kuhn's sense, for rather than causing the
reader to focus on a closed set of solvable problems which can be
explained in terms of a closed set of images, Blake's poetry requires
the reader to be constantly shifting his perspective and never to be
willing to settle on a finite solution to a problem. The basic form of
Eternity for Blake is a constant expansion;" no scientific research
could be carried on in Blake's Eternity, however, for all knowledge
and being are essentially perfect; the only "progression" in Eternity
is that of a continual realization of this perfection." In the fallen
world science presents a real threat to Eternity not only because of
its capacity to usurp imaginative drives toward organization and
image but also because it seems to pose the finite problems through
which "progress" is possible; for Blake such progress is only move-
ment into deeper delusion. Blake can call as witnesses to this fact the

Chapter Two

contemporary social conditions which he so vehemently attacked.
For Blake these social conditions were the necessary result of the
focus on a scientific paradigm which was taken to solve the central
problems of the world.
Blake's assimilation of "scientific imagery," then, involves both
critical and positive functions. The critical function always involves a
revelation of the ways in which concepts and images in Newton at-
tempt to lure the drives of the imagination into substitute fulfill-
ment. This function assumes different forms. In chapter 3 we shall
be dealing with the lure of the spatializing drive toward reification
of abstract conceptual language, divorced from the vitality of image
and drama. In this context we can call Blake's technique of revela-
tion the creation of "concept-images." Blake draws on terms which
make direct or oblique references to concepts he wishes to reveal as
attempting to fulfill the imagination's urges for definite form and
permanence. A good example of a concept-image is that of "Li-
mits,""' which had a powerful association with Newtonian mathe-
matics in the eighteenth century. Although Blake chose this term for
several reasons, one of the reasons was a critical one; that is, by the
very use of the term he could draw attention to the doctrine he was
attempting to reveal as a Satanic usurpation of definite form. In each
concept-image he drew upon what might be called a "core meaning
element" of the terms in their original context, which he then utilized
for his own purposes. From "limits," for example, he drew the basic
meaning of "fixed and definite" (as Newton characterized them in
the Principia,"4 and as Berkeley, Newton's enemy, characterized
them in the Analyst)"s in the environment of quantitative indefinite-
ness: the limits of vanishing ratios have the paradoxical quality of
existing only at the very point at which the quantities of the ratios va-
nish." By coupling this idea of "limits" with other conceptual terms,
such as opacity and contraction, Blake makes limits into concrete
tangible and visible entities. By connecting limits with contraction
and opacity in this way, Blake reveals how Newton's concept of li-
mits is imaginatively dangerous in its appeal to the human desire for
definiteness at the heart of process."7 Blake effects the revelation of
the seductive nature of Newton's limits indirectly, by showing the ef-
ficacy of limits as redemptive features of his own cosmology. This
positive side of Blake's response to limits is possible precisely be-
cause of their mathematicc power" to render permanent and de-
finite the boundaries of fallen man. That Blake should have wanted to

Blake's Visionary Response

make such a twofold statement in such a compressed way is a direct
implicate of Blake's conception of poetry which was outlined in the
first section of this chapter.
In chapter 4, on the other hand, where the lure of temporalizing
process as a usurpation of imaginative activity is emphasized,
terminological connections (such as "limits") are minimal and are
involved in a very different way. Since the thrust of chapter 4 is on
the experience of time-like relations, the analysis focuses on dynamic
and functional concepts in Newton (such as the fluxionss") as they
relate to processes of action. The emphasis is thus on the developing
story of Blake's myth. In this context we can call Blake's technique
of revelation and transformation the creation of "concept-myth" or,
perhaps, "process-myth." Blake constructs dramas in which mythic
characters and events perform the functions of Newtonian concepts.
Again, in the fifth chapter we move toward a synthesis of these tech-
niques, in that here terminological connections ("concept-images")
develop toward embodiment in story form ("concept-myth"). Of
course there must be some intermingling of themes throughout as
Blake's techniques are not simply and absolutely separable.
Blake was quite clearly attempting a comprehensive account of
the mode of existence of the corporeal world from an Eternal per-
spective and usually developed his imagery and myth in such a way
as to fulfill several symbolic functions at the same time. One way to
think about Blake's poetry as embodiment of solutions to philo-
sophical problems, therefore, is to treat Blake's poetry as a complex
system of images, actions, and perspectives with analogues in va-
rious intellectual disciplines, historical events, and emotional and
psychological functions. This conception restates analytically the
schema of reflected and parodied worlds discussed earlier in this
chapter. Blake's archetypes, as Frye calls them, operate in several
ways at the same time, and can be projected not only onto psycho-
logy or literature, but also onto other intellectual disciplines such as
physical science and mathematics. Blake's doctrines of symbolic
"States" and "Classes" have practical consequences in his poetry, as
suggested by Blake's own statements in "The Descriptive Ca-
talogue" and "The Vision of the Last Judgment." The poet clears
the doors of his reader's perception by, as it were, eternalizingg" the
apparent peculiarities of his own historical epoch through the as-
similation of events, doctrines, and individuals to their "Eternal
Forms.""8 "Imaginative" Eternal Forms are repeated by the "seed

54 Chapter Two

of Contemplative Thought," as opposed to "Vegetative" Eternal
Forms, which return according to their "natural" seed, and to "Ma-
thematic Forms," which have no generative power at all." Both the
"Imaginative" and the "Vegetative" Forms (and all natural forms,
for that matter) have a "Human" existence in Eternity, but
"Mathematical Forms" have only an ironic permanent status in the
fallen world: through the function of memory they give permanent
form to error so that it can be cast off in the Last Judgment. All
three kinds of "permanent" forms, it should be noted, are repeated
in each generation, the first by thought, the second by seed, and the
third, the mathematical, by ironic "Hermaphroditic" recurrence; all
three have archetypal analogues in Blake's poetry.
As I hope to show in the next chapter, Blake conceives of New-
tonian mathematical forms as extending into the nature of things
"corporeal," and thus all of physical science is connected with
mathematics. In one sense, Blake sees the whole history of science
and mathematics converging in Newton's system, in which all pre-
vious error is compounded into a unified body of error in which
mathematics and science are brought together. It becomes possible
in this way to see how Blake can make the underlying metaphors ot
Newton's system and its logical contradictory, the Cartesian system.
archetypal analogues for falsehood in general; that is, for the sym-
bolic embodiment of the recurrent pattern in history of the de-
ception and absorption of imaginative vision by logical analysis. 01
course, in doing so Blake is exerting his peculiar archetypal vision ot
history and implying that Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius,
and Newton were all asking the same questions and that their so-
lutions are merely historically conditioned recurrences of the same
"Satanic" doctrines. In one of Blake's most famous satires on New-
ton, the whole sweep of scientific history is focused in an inter-
connected set of images:
Mock on Mock on Voltaire Rousseau
Mock on Mock on tis all in vain
You throw the sand against the wind
And the wind blows it back again

And every sand becomes a Gem
Reflected in the beams divine
Blown back they blind the mocking Eye
But still in Israels paths they shine

Blake's Visionary Response

The Atoms of Democritus
And Newtons Particles of light
Are sands upon the Red sea shore
Where Israels tents do shine so bright
(E, pp. 468-69)

The first stanza of the poem can be read as another straightforward
parody of Newton's doctrine of action and reaction mentioned
earlier in this chapter. Voltaire-Rousseau's mocking is analogous to
throwing sand against the wind; the sand blowing back is analogous
to the mocking being in vain. Clearly, however, the sand is not a
vague commonplace image, for in the second stanza the grains
undergo a transformation which gives the sand grains a twofold
function. There is an imaginative redemptive function (the grains of
sand shining in Israel's paths to lead through the wilderness) and a
critical function (the grains blinding the mocking eye, rather than
lighting the way and thus providing a way of seeing). The trans-
formation of the grains of sand can be consistently construed
in this poem as the activity of the imagination in its transforma-
tion of scientific concepts, and the truly sinister character and
the seductive imaginative appeal of Newton's Particles of Light
emerges much more clearly in this context. Democritus' atoms
clearly bear an imaginative resemblance to grains of sand, the
implication being that derivative philosophers such as Voltaire and
Rousseau can activate dead philosophies and render them de-
ceptively appealing to the imagination. In addition, and more sig-
nificantly, however, there is clearly an analogy between Newton's
Particles of Light and the imaginatively reflected "Gems" of the
second stanza. Blake reveals, however, that this analogy is Satanic,
for both the Atoms of Democritus and Newton's Particles of Light
are identified as ammunition of anti-imaginative philosophies. The
extent to which Newton's particles seductively resemble imaginative
gems reveals the extent to which Newton's system is a Satanic
advance over the Epicurean system. This short poem reveals a com-
plete submerged mythic struggle: imaginative beams provide a re-
demptive transformation of dead Ulro matter into light-giving gems;
the Newtonian response is to absorb the imagery of imaginative
light-giving by creating a Satanic analogue or parody in light
particles; finally Blake reveals the Satanic equivalence of atoms and
light particles in the larger context of imaginative perception.

56 Blake's Visionary Response

Blake's critical and redemptive uses of metaphor reflect his con-
cept of the cognitive function of metaphor in organizing aspects of
the world. Colin Murray Turbayne has said that "the victim of
metaphor accepts one way of sorting or bundling or allocating the
facts as the only way to sort, bundle, or allocate them. The victim not
only has a special view of the world but regards it as the only view, or
rather, he confuses a special view of the world with the world.'""
Blake's own attitude toward the reductive and usurping powers of
metaphors is similar to Turbayne's and is, of course, connected with
his idea of system, which the metaphors support, as usurping and
reducing imaginative seeing into Newtonian "single-vision," the as-
sumption that there is only one way to look at the world. Science as
system, then, meshes with science as metaphor to complete the ima-
ginative framework in terms of which Blake's critical response to
Newton can be grasped.

The Usurpation of Universality

It has been a commonplace in philosophy since Plato
that universalss" and not perceptual "particulars" are the objects of
"knowledge."' According to this philosophical tradition, particular
occurrences or actions are the objects of "probability" or "opinion."
The true objects of knowledge have been called universalss," that is,
the elements of experience which transcend particular occurrences.
These elements include especially the relations among particulars,
the classes of particulars, or the elements common to a complex of
particular entities or occurrences. Despite the whole range of reality
which has been attributed to each of these two supposedly exclusive
realms of mental experience, their functions in cognitive schemes
have remained surprisingly consistent. Nowhere is this consistency
more striking than in the way John Locke treats the problems of our
knowledge of particulars and universals. In Blake, as may be ex-
pected because of his fierce intellectual independence, we find a re-
versal of the whole network of assumptions underlying the realist,
nominalist, conceptualist, and imagist doctrines of relations between
particulars and knowledge. This complex reversal, whose broad out-
lines it is part of the function of this chapter to sketch, is rooted in
the specific shape that this traditional problem of philosophy as-
sumed in the eighteenth-century clash of Locke's epistemology with
Newton's physics. Locke's theory of knowledge, however, only made
explicit the crisis that was implicit in Newton's own polarization of
mathematical and physical entities. True objects of knowledge, or
"Eternal Forms," are for Blake (in opposition to the thrust of the
Western intellectual tradition, including Lockean empiricism) "Mi-
nute Particulars," rather than traditional abstract universalss."
These Eternal objects (Minute Particulars) are apprehensible "not
by deduction but Immediate by Perception or Sense at once" (E, p.
653). Blake's terminology is, of course, quite slippery here, and we

Chapter Three

must uncover what he means by "particular," "perception,"
"sense," and so on. But the thrust of our argument is that Blake's
choice of terminology which radically identifies "Eternal Forms"
with "Minute Particulars" as the proper objects of knowledge is
prompted not only by Locke's conceptualist doctrines of abstrac-
tion but also by the crisis implicit in Newton's own system.
In chapter 2 we saw that, from one point of view,
Newton's physical system lies between the structure of Eternity and
Los's redemptive countersystem. On the one hand, Blake interprets
Newton's system as the consolidated form of Satan, and, as such, as
a demonic parody of the structure of Eternity. More specifically,
Blake views the imaginative shape of Newton's system as consoli-
dating the features of normal perception which usurp and substitute
for the true drives of the Imagination, in Blake's technical sense of
that term2 (that is, the complex of drives which organize Eternity
itself). It is central to Blake's function as poet, then, to expose New-
ton's system as the most striking form in his own time of Satan's
usurpation of the drives of the Imagination, and thereby to reveal
Satan's secret identity in its most salient form, "in his system."' On
the other hand, Newton's system functions as a focus of Blake's own
intellectual problem-situation. Given the state of human conscious-
ness which Newton's system reveals (the takeover of the Imagination
by Satan), Blake must respond by countermethod and doctrine to
Newton's Imagination-usurping system. The account of the intellec-
tual location of Newton's system in Blake's larger scheme of reality
we are interested in here, then, is the one we mapped directionally in
chapter 2:

Structure of --o Newton's system Los's counter-
Eternity (true (substitute fulfillment system (response
drives of of fundamental drives) to intellectual
Imagination) crises embedded in
Newton's system)

Again, as we noted in chapter 2, the analysis of Eternity into
elements of coherence, identity, and process of integration re-
veals an operational tension in Blake's poetry between static
and dynamic perspectives which attach to both the coherence

Usurpation of Universality

and the identity of Eternity. That is, the contraries (underlying iden-
tities) perceive themselves as Eternal, while they perceive the Body of
Christ (principle of coherence) as in a constant state of adjustment.
The perspective from the point of view of coherence is precisely the
opposite: the body is stable and Eternal, while the underlying con-
traries of identity are in constant dynamic adjustment and flux.
These tensions, as noted before, are resolved through the process of
integration called Emanation, which perceives itself in a constant
state of flux. Blake is equally interested in static and dynamic
aspects and in the principles of coherence, identity, and process of
integration as fundamental constituents of human perception and
poetic structure. A superficial analysis of his poetry may lead to the
conclusion that Blake oscillates between emphasis on one or another
element, thereby producing an apparent intellectual inconsistency.
It is not, of course, the purpose of these essays to solve all the tech-
nical problems resulting from Blake's imaginative drives toward
these complex principles but only to solve those which bring Blake
into direct conflict with Newton's system and the solutions it gives to
similar, but inverse, drives. The central purpose of these chapters
will be to map out the intellectual context of certain of Blake's ima-
ges and doctrines and indicate how they may be seen, at least hypo-
thetically, as solutions to many of the intellectual problems em-
bedded in Newton's mechanics.
In chapter 1 it was argued that continuous mathematical laws
form the coherence of Newton's conception of reality and that im-
mutable discontinuous particles make up its identity. The as-
sumptions lying behind such a structure involve a belief that the
basic nature of reality is knowable, that it is ordered and that it is
mathematical, at least in the connectedness of phenomena. It is a
historical fact, however, that at the same time Newton's scheme of
the world was rendering the "coherence" of the universe completely
continuous, mathematical and, thus, necessary and absolutely de-
termined, Locke instigated an intellectual movement which
rendered every system like Newton's highly suspect. Locke's ar-
gument, which ultimately renders the coherence of all particulars
unknowable, depends to a great extent on the degree to which our
knowledge of each particular existence is blocked. Although Locke's
establishment of the limits of human knowledge begins with a cri-
tique of the knowability of substance, coexistent necessary

Chapter Three

connections in space, it paves the way for Hume's critique of causality,
necessary connection in time. Although Locke takes it on faith that
"it is past doubt that there must be some real constitution on which
any collection of simple ideas co-existing must depend,"' he argues
that this constitution can never be known. For Locke, as for Plato,
individuals can never be "known" distinctly. In fact, Locke con-
stantly hovers in the twilight zone of doubt concerning the reality of
our "knowledge" that the outer world exists:

The notice we have by our senses of the existing of things without us,
though it be not altogether so certain as our intuitive knowledge, or
the deductions of our reason employed about the clear abstract ideas
of our minds; yet it is an assurance that deserves the name of
Here we find a typical example of Locke's need to affirm that at best,
we have knowledge that external particulars exist. Locke's radical
division between "real" and "nominal" essence, further, requires
that we cannot have knowledge of the constitution of external parti-
culars. The knowledge we have of the existence of external things
Locke calls "sensitive" knowledge. It is at this critical point that
Locke, like Descartes, sidesteps the problem of individual per-
ception being imposed upon by a deep-seated mental delusion. But,
unlike Plato, Locke proposed that only particular existences have
real existence. The general and universal concepts of the mind, in
which all true "knowledge" resides, are only "fictitious" entities,
created arbitrarily by the mind to satisfy the desire for fixed and
definite forms in nature.7 Locke's abstract forms participate in the
traditions of conceptualism, nominalism, and imagism-and in a
very complicated way, in the realist tradition of conceiving uni-
versals. Just as Locke denies that fixed abstractons in the mind are
in any way necessarily connected with shifting particulars (as the
Platonic Ideas are), so he denies (through the influence of the "cor-
puscular" philosophy of Robert Boyle)" "substantial forms" in na-
ture, the quasi-Aristotelian "forms or moulds, wherein all natural
things that exist are cast, and do equally partake."' In raising un-
knowable particular existences to the realm of the only existing
reality, Locke robs real existence of its definite knowability; by lo-
wering the realm of unchanging relations to the level of merely
arbitrary or "conventional" reality, he robs knowledge of its

Usurpation of Universality

reference to real existence. At the same time (and this reveals Locke's
complex intellectual motives) universal forms, such as triangles or
even relations such as "in" are particular existing ideas in the
mind.'" Since only particular things can exist, and since ideas exist
in the mind by analogy to external things, whenever any idea ap-
pears in the mind it must be particular, even if, as an aspect of
knowledge, it is universal. As can be easily seen, these epistemo-
logical positions are running a cognitive collision course. Thus a color
is a particular whether it is considered as an ingredient in a parti-
cular event or whether it is a "universal" which transcends a par-
ticular event and is thus capable of being abstracted from any
particular occurrence. Though particular perceptions are com-
pletely definite and distinct for Locke (if the organ is proper),
yet there is no knowable correspondence between what is per-
ceived and what is known. This lack of correspondence is equi-
valent to inexact perception of real existence, for it is the ultimate
hindrance, for Locke, to our ability to penetrate to the underlying
"necessary" coherence of reality; although there may be some
definite and necessary connection between the abstract unchang-
ing relations in our minds and the underlying structure of re-
ality, we can never know if there is or not." For Newton, however, it
can be argued, the inexactness of perception is the mediate mode
through which we can determine the underlying structure of reality,
and this structure can be symbolized by mathematics, even if it
cannot be immediately grasped in perception.
Mathematical forms are often cited by Locke as the prototypes of
all abstraction from particularity; that is, they are no more than
highly adequate empirical generalizations. Although they perform
quite a different function in relation to the physical world than do
Plato's, Locke's mathematical forms share the same internal
characteristics as Plato's mathematical forms: universality or
generality; exactness or complete definiteness; permanence and un-
changeability; and absolute internal necessity. For Locke, mathe-
matics is the perfect form of knowledge, and, he argues, it can be
made the prototype for ethics also.'2 Because they are construed to
be abstractions from nature, however, Locke's mathematical forms
share the quality of arbitrariness and fictitiousness with all of Locke's
other abstractions. Locke himself at times seems to forget the purely
fictitious nature of mathematical relations because they appear to

Chapter Three

have an especially powerful quality of internal necessary connection
not evident in other kinds of abstractions.
A complex idea can not be the real essence of any substance; for
then the properties we discover in that body would depend on that
complex idea, and be deducible from it, and their necessary con-
nection with it be known; as all properties of a triangle depend on,
and, as far as they are discoverable, are deducible from the complex
idea of three lines, including a space.'
It is by analogy with mathematical forms that Locke has confidence
in the "improvement" in the quality of mental abstraction, for
mathematical forms merely have their parts most clearly defined,'
though Locke does not believe that abstractions concerning co-
existence can be brought to the same degree of perfection as mathe-
matical forms. The critical status of Locke's position, however, is
clearly illustrated by his alternative treatment of mathematical
forms in another context;
When we nicely reflect upon them, we shall find that general ideas
are fictions and contrivances of the mind, that carry difficulty with
them, and do not so easily offer themselves as we are apt to imagine.
For example does it not require some pains and skill to form the
general idea of a triangle, (which is yet none of the most abstract,
comprehensive, and difficult,) for it must be neither oblique nor
rectangle, neither equilateral, equicrural, nor scalenon; but all and
none of these at once. In effect, it is something imperfect, that can-
not exist [my italics]; an idea wherein some parts of several different
and inconsistent ideas are put together. It is true, the mind, in this
imperfect state, has need of such ideas, and makes all the haste to
them it can [my italics], for the conveniency of communication and
enlargement of knowledge."
Thus at the very heart of the most perfect and clear mode of ab-
straction lies impossibility, self-contradiction. The mind's imper-
fection reveals itself in its construction of mathematical forms to
assuage its inability to know. It was Hume who extended the con-
ventionality of abstract forms (which have internal necessary
connection) into a critique of causality,'b as Locke had used it to
attack "co-existence." For Hume, Locke's conventional nominal es-
sence of substances is transferred to the "habitual" form of cause
and effect in temporal succession. Locke's recognition of the es-
sentially arbitrary nature of abstractions and the way they can easily

Usurpation o' Universality

be confused with a knowledge of the constitutive principles of nature
itself brought an intellectual strain against Newton's world system,
although Locke did not seem to realize it."'
The brief introduction to the crisis of the status of form in nature
and in abstract relations provides an ample context for viewing
Blake's forging of his doctrine of "Eternal Forms" as "Minute Par-
ticulars." For both Locke and Newton, perceptual particulars share
a kind of indefiniteness or inexactness: for Locke this inexactness of
knowable correspondence sets up a barrier between knowledge and
reality; for Newton it provides a way of relating knowledge to
reality. Yet both Locke and Newton (along with Plato, Aristotle, and
most thinkers in Western intellectual history) agree about the
characteristics of the unchanging, definite relations of the mind, and
mathematical forms in particular. The root of Blake's critique of
mathematics, which utilizes Locke against Newton, is grounded in
what he sees as the usurpation of both universality and particularity
by "abstraction." Abstraction, in its true Lockean sense, the "draw-
ing out" of "common" characteristics of particulars, destroys what is
peculiar to each of the particulars; the result is a "universal" form,
which seems to subsume the particulars from which it was ab-
stracted. Mathematical forms, which, as we have said, form the
prototypes of all abstraction, seem to possess this absorbing power of
universality to the greatest degree. For Blake, however, the univer-
sality of mathematics is a deceptive one, constructed by Satan to
choke out the Imagination's drive for a true universality which is
compatible with the dynamic aspects of his "Eternity." For Blake,
Christ. the symbolic "One Man," who forms the solution to Blake's
problem of the coherence of Eternity, is "the Only General and Uni-
versal Form / To which all Lineaments tend & seek with love &
sympathy" (E, p. 183, Jer. 38 [K, 43]:20-21). This one universal form
"protects minute particulars, every one in their own identity" (line
23), rather than destroying their individuality. All individuals have
the imaginative desire to penetrate to this universal form of Jesus;
mathematical forms present a delusive satisfaction of this desire for
universality. The ultimate Satanic nature of restrictive mathematical
forms can be revealed, however, by exposing the status of the neces-
sary "corollaries," as it were, of mathematical universality-perma-
nence, definiteness, and necessity. Although the universal form of
Jesus entails elements of structure which bear a superficial parallel

Chapter Three

to those of mathematics, Jesus embodies these features in such a way
as to be compatible with the preservation of particularity, activity,
flexibility, and freedom. The Satanic nature of mathematics is
knowable, then, by the revelation of the incompatibility of the im-
plications of mathematics with the active half of life.
Locke revealed the essentially fictitious or, as Blake would have it,
"mocking,"'" nature of mathematical forms: for Locke they assuage
our intellectual dissatisfaction with the ultimate unknowability of
external reality; thus for Blake they mock our ignorance and lead
us astray into the "wilds" of Newton and Locke." Again, we may
recall the depression of Locke's conclusion when he finds self-
contradiction at the pinnacle of mathematical abstraction. Blake's
emphasis on particulars, however, could be misconstrued if we as-
sume that he is merely saying that the perceptual particulars of time
and space which abstractions "murder" (in Blake's metaphor) in the
process of absorbing their individuality are or should be the prime
focus of imaginative perception. Blake agrees with Plato, Newton,
and Locke that particulars in flux "outside" us are "shadowy" and
"indefinite." On the one hand, these particulars are the constantly
escaping indefinite forms of fallen "nature," the delusive principle
which usurps the function of Emanation, the process of integration
in Eternity. On the other hand, external particular entities are
actually abstractions of chaos out of the fullness of organized Mi-
nute Particulars; their deceptive absorption of hardened, restrictive
"solidity" bears an analogy, through its exclusiveness, with logical
negation. This world of fluctuating perceptual particulars which yet
approaches a delusive definiteness as a limit clearly attempts to
satisfy the synthetic drive of the Imagination to unite activity and
freedom with definiteness and permanence. Therefore the flux of
particulars is in a perpetual struggle against the abstraction of particu-
larform from the perceptual field. The flux of vanishing particulars is
projected by Blake as Vala, the Veil of nature, the "Emanation" of
the Zoa Luvah, whose fallen form Ore, the underlying primitive ac-
tivity of the mind (and therefore of the substance of nature) which
bursts out periodically in revolutions, is likewise delusive form to lure
individuals away from creative, essentially imaginative, activity. Thus
the blurry particular forms which merge into consciousness in
normal perception are the product of a similar process of "ab-
straction." Where Vala lures our feelings of causality, the murky
feelings of anticipation and memory, Urizen lures us to "draw out"

Usurpation of Universality

boundaries in the perceptual field, independent of causal con-
nections. The usurpation of activity through usurped Emanation will
be the focus of the next chapter. It is necessary to mention it here,
however, because it is easy to confuse Blake's "infinite particulars"
with the chaotic, shadowy, and indefinite particulars of external
nature. These "particulars" are themselves abstractions from the
totality of potential perceptual conditions.
What, then, does Blake mean by particulars and how are they
connected with knowledge? Blake says, "[Strictly Speaking] All
Knowledge is Particular" (E. p. 637, Ann. to Reynolds); and
"Knowledge is not by deduction but Immediate by Perception or
Sense at once" (E, p. 653, Ann. to Siris). In these statements, Blake
reverses the assumption of a large portion of the Western intel-
lectual tradition. But he is not talking about the inexact particulars
of time and space, which, as we have seen, are shadowy and
indefinite, and in a real sense abstractions themselves. When Blake
talks about minute particulars, he is also talking about "Eternal
Forms." (It should be kept in mind that even Locke does not mean
the same thing by the term "particularity" each time he uses it.) The
point Blake insists on is that his "Eternal Forms," in contradis-
tinction to Plato's Ideas, Aristotle's substantial forms, and Locke's
abstractions, can, like the particulars of space and time, be assimi-
lated with and integrated into activity, flexibility, and freedom.2
Blake can also refer to his particulars as "universals,"2' because they
retain the true imaginative forms of permanence, definiteness, and
necessity. Blake's identification of perception and knowledge,
further, entails a transformation of the meaning of perception,
which, as we shall see in chapter 5, has its imagistic roots in
eighteenth-century doctrines of sense perception. That Blake is not
talking about the fleeting and indefinite abstracted perceptual par-
ticulars is evident from his most famous doctrinal statement of his
response to eighteenth-century theories of knowledge:

Art & Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars
And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power.
The Infinite alone resides in Definite & Determinate Identity.
(E, p. 203,Jer. 55:62-64)

These definite particulars have an ironic counterpart in the "hard-
ened" "grains of sand," the solids which Newton and Locke assume
make up the indefinite perceptual particulars outside man's mind.2

Chapter Three

In this form they assume the characteristics of the abstractions
which have subsumed them:

You accumulate Particulars, & murder by analyzing, that you
May take the aggregate; & you call the aggregate Moral Law:
And you call that Swelld & bloated Form; a Minute Particular.
But General Forms have their vitality in Particulars: & every
Particular is a Man; a Divine Member of the Divine Jesus.
(E, p. 249, Jer. 91:26-30)

Blake is using the term "Particular" in at least three ways here.
First, in lines 26 and 29, he is referring to the chaotic particulars, the
only really existent entities in Locke's world, which are destroyed by
the logical negation of abstraction, analogous to the exclusion of
particulars in such mathematical forms as triangles, in which
virtually every peculiarity is eliminated.23 These chaotic particulars
lend themselves readily to abstraction because the rational Satanic
power (in the guise of the imaginative drive toward universality) is
not satisfied with the indefiniteness of perceptual particulars.
Second, in line 28, he is referring to Locke's insistence that all
abstract ideas must be particular ideas,24 a doctrine which has its
imagistic analogue in the particulars hardening into grains of sand
or solids, the physical perceptual counterpart of abstraction.
Further, Blake reveals that the "particulars" of time and space are
really abstractions. Third, in line 30, Blake is using the term "Parti-
cular" in its Eternal sense, as a "Human Form." The shift of
perspective enters at line 29, where Blake injects the term "vitality."
This refers to the activity which on the one hand is the basis of the
indefinite flux of particulars of space and time and which on the
other hand is the mode of connection or analogy between fallen and
Eternal particulars.2
The peculiarly critical status of the components of experience
called particulars as they emerge from Locke's implicit critique
of Newtonian science-that is, in the external world they are the
only reality, yet they are unknowable, and they have nothing know-
able to support or connect them except the mind's own functions-
focuses on the operations the mind performs on its perceptions,
thus making knowledge not only mediate but, by Locke's own
admission, fictitious. Blake sees mathematical abstraction-as
the model of all other abstraction-as a false and quite imaginatively

Usurpation of Universality

dangerous solution to the problem of perceptual indefiniteness.
He also sees both the Platonic and the Aristotelian solutions as
inadequate, and even Locke exposes both of these solutions as
fictitious. One of the peculiar paradoxes of Locke's critique of
knowledge is that abstractions or universals can exist only as parti-
cular ideas in the mind-insofar as they exist at all. Thus, for Locke,
universals in the Platonic sense of ideas existing independent of
particular occasions of human knowledge are completely ruled out.
"Substantial forms," on the other hand, are inseparable from mat-
ter and thus from indefiniteness. Although substantial forms ground
eternal form only in particulars, they separate knowledge from
particularity, while they render the realized form, from the point of
view of perception, indefinite. Locke's theory of knowledge forms an
ideal focus for Blake's problem-situation because he squarely faces
the question of the disjunction between Platonic and Aristotelian
Eternal Forms (both of which are ontological doctrines) from the
perspective of a critique of knowledge. In the process, Locke reveals
to Blake that much of the debate over the status of universals and
particulars has been misconceived. In a very real sense a prime result
of Locke's extensive discussion of abstraction and particularity is
that, in the final analysis, one cannot fully distinguish a universal
from a particular in the realm of ideas. They can be distinguished
only in the sense that Locke denies the existence of universality
outside the mind, whereas he does require particularity of occasion
of ideas (both of "particular existences" and of "abstractions")
within the mind. It seems to me that Blake grasped the radical
implications of Locke's doctrine of abstraction, then reversed them.
Blake says that in normal perception chaotic particular form is
extracted from the fullness of intertwined energetic Minute Parti-
culars by an act of the same kind but of different degree from the
process Locke calls abstraction. Blake finds ample proof of this
agreement in kind (and simultaneous evidence of its illusory nature)
in the fact that Newton had emphasized the nonexistence of any
"outline" of definiteness in the perceptual field: only color and
shade exist. Blake attacks "Light & Shades, opposed to Outline /
And... Abstraction opposed to the Visions of the Imagination" (E,
p. 227, Jer. 74:25-26). In opposition to the kind of abstraction the
mind performs in its delusive attempt to rescue form out of shifting
phenomena, Blake forges his doctrine of "outline" or "bounding
line" in art. Any outline we see in the external world is put there by

Chapter Three

the mind, like an abstraction, in order to render perception more
definite; but the line of the artist is placed consciously to reveal the
indefiniteness of physical seeing by contrast. "Nature has no Out-
line: but Imagination has" (E, p. 268, The Ghost of Abel, p. 1). By
yoking these components of knowledge and reality together, Blake
can use the terms "Eternal Form" and "Minute Particular" inter-
changeably, because each shares the same characteristics-complete
definiteness and complete life. Thus, for Locke, we perceive contin-
uously novel aspects of a reality "perpetually perishing" and for-
ever hidden from us. We know a phantasmagoric realm of purely
ideal concepts which are disconnected from objects of perception by
a mysterious process called "abstraction." Locke's analysis projects
the implicit crisis in Newton's system onto the plane of normal
experience of process. Blake, however, interprets those elements of
experience which Locke calls "particulars" as simply abstractions of
a less sophisticated degree than, though the same in kind as, mathe-
matical forms from which they are supposedly disconnected. By
choosing the term "particular" to express his meaning of the object
of knowledge, Blake is insisting on the active, novel-like core of
knowledge, its concreteness, its color, life, and energy. But by
making particulars objects of "knowledge," he denies the loss, the
instant-by-instant death of particulars of process. The thrust of
Blake's inversion of traditional terminology is to deny loss and
affirm novelty.

Universality or generality, usurped by Satan's
abstraction or "drawing out" of common characteristics of parti-
culars, can be construed as the source of the other three components
of abstract mathematical forms-permanence, exactness or definite-
ness, and necessity. Christ, as the "One Man" and "Universal
Form," maintains the integrity of each of his particular members in
their every peculiarity; yet Christ also embodies the characteristics of
permanence, definiteness, and necessity, although in quite a dif-
ferent form from their Satanic counterparts in mathematics.
Especially, Christ's "necessity" is not a negating or excluding
necessity, except as his form excludes that which is itself exclusive-
mathematical negations. Christ's "necessity" implies, among other
things, an inclusion of "all that lives." The deceptive similarity

Usurpation of Universality

between the Imaginative aspects of Christ and the Rational aspects
of Satan, however, allows Satan to have considerable power in
choking out not only true universality, but also the active side of life.
Locke's realm of abstractions, including mathematical forms,
although radically disconnected from externally perceived reality,
retains the characteristic of permanence and even eternality. Locke
calls this realm of unchanging (but only constructed) abstractions
the world of "eternal verities."
Such propositions are therefore called eternal truths, not because
they are eternal propositions actually formed, and antecedent to the
understanding that at any time makes them; nor because they are
imprinted on the mind from any patterns that are anywhere out of
the mind, and existed before; but because, being once made about
abstract ideas, so as to be true, they will, whenever they can be
supposed to be made again at any time, past or to come, by a mind
having these ideas, always actually be true. For names being sup-
posed to stand perpetually for the same ideas, and the same ideas
having immutably the same habitudes one to another, propositions
concerning any abstract ideas that are once true must needs be
eternal verities.26
Newton's continuous mathematical laws, on the other hand, which
are "universal" by virtue of their theoretically being predictable
throughout the universe,27 share this characteristic of "immuta-
bility" and permanence; yet they function not as merely arbitrary
rules to unite essentially unknowable phenomena but rather as the
real "coherence" of physical existence. These laws of knowledge are
intimately connected to reality, and are not, as Locke's, onto-
logically disconnected from reality. For Newton the indefiniteness of
perception arises from the discontinuous contents of reality. The
permanent and unchanging status of Newton's laws as they are
embedded in purely continuous mathematical time and space pro-
vides a static framework in terms of which change can be inter-
preted. "As the order of the parts of Time is immutable, so also is
the order of the parts of Space.""2 This permanence becomes in
Blake's myth the aspect of Satanic universality which renders Satan
Since the permanence of mathematical forms derives from their
usurped universality, the permanence they have is not Imaginative
as is Christ's but is ironic. Newton's laws are permanent by virtue of

Chapter Three

their destruction of temporal peculiarities: they operate through
what could be called the "ideally isolatable point in motion." The
law of inverse squares, for example, is independent of the particular
bodies which are in motion or are in relation to each other, for it
operates on their ideal mathematically isolatable "centers of
gravity," which as Newton points out are not physical but mathe-
matical.2" Ironically, although Newton's mathematical laws "ex-
plain" motion, they are themselves unchanging; they are abstracted
from the flow of time in order to render relations fixed, yet, again
ironically, they are grounded in the continuity of mathematical
time.30 Seen from Locke's critical point of view, in addition, these
laws, as pure fictions, are no more than elaborate constructions of
the memory and form a highly sophisticated yet arbitrary connection
between analogous phenomena. This particular context gives added
power to Blake's comment that "Mathematic Form is Eternal in the
Reasoning Memory. Living Form is Eternal Existence" (E, p. 267,
"On Virgil"). As much as mathematical forms are an attempt to get
outside temporal flow, they are ultimately grounded in time and
memory; and, at the same time, destructive of the fallen activity
implicit in time.
The permanence and eternality of mathematical forms, while they
give a delusive satisfaction to the Imaginations's drive for perma-
nence, through giving way to the Rational power, become a poetic
tool. They constantly force Satan to assume a more and more
permanent form in order to satisfy the Imagination, temporarily
taken over by the Rational power, which is also attracted to the
delusive beauty of the fluctuating nature of Vala's Veil of nature in
its drive for activity. Seen from this point of view, Newton's system is
an inexorable result of the compounding of error through the pro-
cess of time. Christ has, as it were, built into the usurped form of
universality a whole host of redemptive features, one of which is the
undeniable permanence of mathematics, which can satisfy the Ima-
gination for only a time: it has built within it the elements of its own
destruction. Blake, then, as poet owes a clear though inverse debt to
Newton; for unlike Milton, who did not have the advantage of
Newton's Satanic system as a focus of attack, Blake can reveal Satan
in his true existence. Blake obliquely acknowledges this debt in the
first chapter of Jerusalem where he has Los say:

Usurpation of Universaliin

Yet why despair! I saw the finger of God go forth
Upon my Furnaces, from within the Wheels of Albions Sons:
Fixing their Systems, permanent: by mathematic power
Giving a body to Falshood that it may be cast off for ever.
With Demonstrative Science piercing Apollyon with his own bow!
God is within, & without! he is even in the depths of Hell!
(E, p. 153, Jer. 12:10-15)
The ironic body of permanence which mathematical form gives to
the systems of the "Wheels of Albions Sons" is quite the reverse of
the form that the eighteenth-century scientists themselves must
have felt they had given to the paths of the stars. Albion's Sons,
symbolic of the Satanic forces behind Newton's intellectual disciples,
also have different purposes from the conscious goals of eighteenth-
century scientists themselves. For Albion's Sons, their constructed
systems of the turning heavens are destructive weapons aimed
against the integrating forces of Imagination; for the eighteenth-
century scientists, their systems reveal the true nature of the perma-
nent laws of astronomy and in this way their systems are the farthest
limits of the human imagination tempered by reason. Blake sees the
scientists as victims of these Satanic principles. The attempt to
erect a constrained closed system which defines the order in the
infinite void and to find in such interplay of closed and open systems
certain proof of God's existence and goodness (as the rhetoric of
eighteenth-century texts implies) is a prime example for Blake of the
seductive Satanic forces working as demonic parody of the Imagina-
tion's expansive permanence. The mathematical coherence of New-
ton's system itself, symbolized by the turning wheels "fixed perma-
nent." however, entails redemption and constructs the snare in
which Satan will be caught and his secret identity revealed.
In opposition to the ironically redemptive function of usurped
mathematical permanence, Blake forges a whole complex of
counterdoctrines or supplementary doctrines, which also functions
as redemptive in the fallen world. These permanent forms, however,
in contrast to the ironic permanence of mathematics, are products of
Los's Imaginative power. These doctrines of permanence and eter-
nality, I wish to stress, although they do not achieve their final shape
until Blake's last two epics, Milton and Jerusalem, and the mar-
ginalia, letters, and prose contemporary with them, reflect Blake's

Chapter Three

concern throughout his poetic career for rescuing the permanence of
the Imagination from being absorbed by Satanic mathematical
forms. This concern dates back at least as early as his speculations
on the multiplicity of eternal "Identities" in his annotations to
Swedenborg's Divine Love and Divine Wisdom (ca. 1788).31 Three
doctrines which I wish to mention briefly here as the Imaginative
counterparts to the ironic permanence of mathematical forms are (1)
the permanent form of the fleeting events of time; (2) permanent
States; and (3) permanent Classes. These will be discussed from
another perspective when we look at the "necessary" aspect of
As we noted above, the shadowy particulars of perceptual nature
are themselves indefinite from the perspective we have been con-
sidering because of their constant change; in this Blake agrees with
the Western intellectual tradition that particulars of time cannot be
distinctly known. To the fallen fluctuating consciousness, sections of
the world come to life and vanish as fleeting images in space which
constantly change in time. Through a redemptive act of Los, how-
ever, there is a special space prepared in which the world of Gene-
ration has spacelike simultaneous existence. Blake says that "All
that has existed in the space of six thousand years: / Permanent, &
not lost not lost nor vanished .../ For everything exists & not one
sigh nor smile nor tear, / One hair nor particle of dust, not one can
pass away" (E, p. 156, Jer. 13:59-60, 66, and 14:1). Blake's repe-
tition of "not lost" emphasizes the pathos of his desire to redeem the
events of time. Again, Blake states this doctrine in the third chapter
of Jerusalem: "For Los in Six Thousand Years walks up & down
continually / That not one Moment of Time be lost & every revolu-
tion / Of Space he makes permanent in Bowlahoola & Cathedron"
(E, p. 228, Jer. 75:7-9). It is significant to note that it is Los's activity
which renders fallen events permanent; this is in striking contrast to
the static abstracted laws of motion, the mathematical forms which
have only a passive existence as functions of memory. It is also im-
portant that it is a world of events that is rescued from perishing and
not a world of fixed objects or entities. Los's world of permanent
events is not a cosmic memory either, for Blake separates imagina-
tion from memory," and Los's retaining every fleeting particular is a
redemptive act, not grounded in the "Reasoning Memory" but in
the Imagination. This doctrine is quite striking, and the closest

Usurpation of Universality

analogue to this conception with which I am familiar occurs in
Whitehead's doctrine of the "objective immortality" of all events of
space and time." Though it seems clear that Whitehead had not
read Blake, his language echoes Blake's, implying, perhaps, a com-
mon prior "source," though I doubt it. In both cases the doctrine
emerges as a metaphysical requirement of their systems. For White-
head, "The image under which this operative growth of God's
nature is best conceived, is that of a tender care that nothing be
lost.""3 Yet Blake's conception seems to have superseded White-
head's. for Whitehead connects objective immortality of past events
with the principle of causation in an interlocked community, which
he explicitly argues springs from the same source as memory.
Memory is conscious, while causal feelings are unconscious.3 Objec-
tive immortality is connected with causation in the principle of the
"conformation" of the present to the past: the past exerts its influ-
ence on the present event by forcing any future event to be consistent
with its having occurred at a particular point in the past." Finally,
these particulars which are rendered permanent by Los are not
identical with the "Minute Particulars" which function as Eternal
Forms; for, although they are permanent, they have a finite, fallen
status with an additional redeemed status in Los's Bowlahoola and
Cathedron.They are not "infinite" and simultaneously particular
and universal as are the purely Imaginative Minute Particulars.
Further, the existence of Bowlahoola also assures the feeling of
definiteness of appearances in the present moment.
The memory of events is the Satanic counterpart of this structure;
and while Los's worlds make memory possible. Satanic memory
operates in such a way as to cause the individual to deny the possibility
of the real and prime existence of the realms which make its own
functions possible. Another way to conceive this relation between the
ironic function of memory and the redemptive function of the per-
manent form of the events of space and time is to refer to our
discussion of abstraction in perception and in mental construction.
From this point of view, memory is an abstraction from the "ob-
jective immortality" of events (to use Whitehead's phrase). What is
abstracted from is the total visceral feelings associated with the past
event; the event returns in memory as its own shadow. In the highest
form of abstraction, mathematics, emotion and feeling are decep-
tively absent. Yet Blake makes clear (both by his choice of terms

Chapter Three

which refer obliquely to the bowels and stomach where our visceral
feelings are "located" and his choice of events such as sighs and
tears) that his redemptive forms of permanence retain the illness of
particularity in a way that memory does not. In this sense, then,
memory is the operation of the Satanic principle of abstraction on
the imaginative realms of Bowlahoola and Cathedron. It is signi-
ficant in this connection that elsewhere Bowlahoola is identified with
"Law" by fallen perception. That is, fallen perception construes
Bowlahoola as the structure of conformation which is identified with
natural and human law.
The second counterdoctrine to the ironically redemptive function
of mathematical permanence is that of the positively redemptive
function of permanent "States." Just as the permanent and definite
form of fallen events is given a redemptive space to protect it from
the vanishing form of nature which constantly refuses definite form,
so Blake's created "States" are redemptive from the repressive "Law
of Action" mentioned in the previous chapter. The laws of morality,
ideally formed in Locke's analysis, by analogy with the permanence
of mathematical laws, and especially by analogy with Newton's law
of action and reaction, assume the identical relation to indivi-
duals as abstractions do to particulars. Blake's States determine the
point of view of the individual who enters the State, and the indi-
vidual seems to assume all the characteristics of the State. States are
the ethical counterparts to the Eternal Forms, for they retain the
integrity of the individual as the Forms retain the integrity of the
particulars. In Jerusalem, as Albion enters the State Satan, the
Divine Voice cries out:
Albion hath entered the State Satan! Be permanent O State!
And be thou for ever accursed! that Albion may arise again:
And be thou created into a State! I go forth to Create
States: to deliver Individuals evermore!
(E, p. 176, Jer. 31 [K, 35]:13-16)
The doctrine of States redeems individuals because it allows the
particular human to retain his integral identity even though he may
participate in the State of evil. All of this is rather obvious as
doctrine, and it is emphasized here only in order to show how States
function as the Imaginative ethical counterpart to Blake's doctrine
of Forms, which as we recall are structured to reveal a rejection of
mathematical permanence as anti-Imaginative. Imagistically, the

Usurpation of Universality

doctrine of States is represented, like the doctrine of permanent
events, by analogy with spatial coexistence:

These States Exist now Man Passes on but States remain for Ever
he passes through them like a traveller who may as well suppose
that the places he has passed thro exist no more as a Man may
suppose that the States he has passed thro Exist no more Every
Thing is Eternal
(E, p. 546, VLJ)
Blake uses this same image in Jerusalem: "As the Pilgrim passes
while the Country Permanent remains / So Men pass on: but States
remain permanent for ever" (E, p. 227, Jer. 73:44-45). Rather ob-
viously, the doctrine of States is intimately connected with the ironic
permanence of mathematical form. Through the ironic mathe-
matical permanence, Satan is rendered capable of being cast out;
through the doctrine of States, Satan is rendered harmless. Further-
more, the doctrine of States most nearly approximates an imagina-
tive re-creation in the fallen world of the permanent component of
the principle of coherence in Eternity.
Finally, Blake's doctrine of "Classes" offers still a third counter-
part to the ironic redemptive form of mathematics. The main reason
I am introducing this doctrine here (it has more importance in
connection with "necessity") is that it might seem to contra-
dict what has been said about Blake's minute particulars. In his
"Desciptive Catalogue," Blake says. "Nor can a child be born.
who is not one of these characters of Chaucer .... Chaucer makes
every one of his characters perfect in his kind. every one is
an Antique Statue; the image of a class, not of an imperfect
individual" (E, p. 527). We must recall here the distinction which
was made at the end of chapter 2 between Imaginative Images
or Forms and Vegetative Forms. Imaginative Images (the mi-
nute particulars) are the images or symbols of eternal classes
(or Identities) of men and the States through which they pass
in the world of Generation, whereas the Eternal Images of Genera-
tion (Vegetative Forms) are the identities of all that appears
to be outside of man in the fallen world.37 These are both identified
as "human" in Eternity and members of the body of Christ, the one
universal form.38 If, however, these classes have the common
characteristics of a group of individuals (which are called imperfect),
does this not imply a subsumptive form, much as Plato's Ideas

Chapter Three

(which Blake rejects as prime examples of the unimaginative usur-
pation by abstraction) transferred to the idea of kinds of men? All of
this is, however, perfectly consistent with what we have said about
particulars as Eternal Forms. The "imperfect" individuals are re-
deemed from their indefinite and perishing form by their perma-
nent form in Los's spatial world of events; the imperfect individuals
are the shadowy particulars which, if grouped in such a way as their
peculiarities are destroyed, become assimilated to abstract forms.
Blake's classes, however, are not abstractions from a group of indi-
viduals, nor are they simply a priori Ideas which make the imperfect
individuals possible when they are assimilated to becoming as
Plato's Ideas are. Rather, we must not forget these classes are
Imaginative Images, which operate analogously, though inversely, to
mathematical functions, the determinate forms of Golgonooza
which allow the individual to retain his eternal Identity while passing
through different States; they are the principles of permanence
embedded in Identity which makes Identity Eternal." Perhaps
Blake's choice of the term "class" is unfortunate, for it seems to
resemble all the kinds of things he so violently rejects.

In The Philosophy of Mathematics: An Introduction,
Stephen Korner argues that the contrast we have been insisting on
between the exactness of mathematics and the indefiniteness of
perception reveals a disconnection between mathematics and per-
ception: "Since all mathematical concepts are purely exact and all
perceptual characteristics [are] internally inexact, it follows that no
mathematical concept includes, or is included in, (is entailed by or
entails, is logically implied or logically implies, etc.) any perceptual
characteristic. We shall say that mathematical concepts and percep-
tual characteristics are deductivelyy) unconnected. "4 This essential
distinguishing aspect of mathematical as opposed to perceptual
relations. Korner notes, was "clearly seen by Plato,"4' and has
formed, as we have mentioned above, an important aspect of the
controversies over the nature of mathematical relations in the history
of philosophy. Although for Newton, as for Plato, mathematical
forms are not perfectly realized in matter, for Newton this indefinite-
ness derives from the physical contents of reality, the nonmathe-
matical nature of matter itself, its atomicity or discontinuity. For

Usurpation of Universality

Plato the distinction between mathematical and perceptual relations
is purely metaphysical, since Plato's "atoms" are themselves mathe-
matical, constructed out of the four regular solids, which are in turn
composed of the two plane triangles, the isosceles and the equi-
lateral; these mathematical forms, however, enter the world of
change in imperfect and inexact forms because they have been as-
similated to the process of becoming." In addition to this basic
difference between Newton's and Plato's interpretation of the reali-
zability of mathematical forms in nature, mathematical forms-in
the shape of continuous functions rather than geometrical figures-
are, in a real sense for Newton, isomorphic, if not identical, with the
connectedness of phenomena in space and time (which are them-
selves continuous). Physical atoms, the nonmathematical stuff out of
which phenomena are constructed, account for the perceptual in-
exactness of forms, qualities, and causal processes in nature.4
Newton betrays his desires about the theoretical relation between
mathematical and physical exactness in his famous discussion of the
relation between "geometry" and "mechanics" in the Preface of the
first edition of the Principia:
The ancients considered Mechanics in a twofold respect; as rational,
which proceeds accurately by demonstration, and practical. To
practical Mechanics all the manual arts belong, from which Mecha-
nics took its name. But as artificers do not work with perfect ac-
curacy, it comes to pass that Mechanics is so distinguished from
Geometry, that what is perfectly accurate is called Geometrical,
what is less so is called Mechanical. But the errors are not in the art,
but in the artificers. He that works with less accuracy, is an im-
perfect Mechanic, and if any could work with perfect accuracy, he
would be the most perfect Mechanic of all. For the description of
right lines and circles, upon which Geometry is founded, belongs to
Mechanics.... Therefore Geometry is founded in mechanical prac-
tice, and is nothing but that part of universal Mechanics which ac-
curately proposes and demonstrates the art of measuring."
Newton seems to have been attracted more strongly to the "perfect"
than the "if" of this statement. But since Newton's measuring rods
themselves must be constructed of discontinuous atomic particles
such perfect measurement must forever elude Newton. Newton's de-
sire for a hypothetical "perfect mechanic" implies, however, his
hope of the theoretical possibility of exact measurement in abso-

Chapter Three

lutely homogeneous, isotropic space, and this hint reveals Newton's
desire to render perceptual relations, like mathematical relations,
purely exact and definite. Newton's concern for absolute exactness
in mathematical concepts and functions prompted him to forge his
calculus in terms of "flowing quantities" rather than "differentials"
or "infinitesimals," because, as Newton says, "the very smallest er-
rors in mathematical matters [infinitesimals] are not to be neg-
lected."4' Newton's grounding of exactness in continuous motion,
whose "Geneses really take Place in the Nature of Things,""4 not
only confirms the idea that perceptual inexactness resides in dis-
continuity, but exposes the way in which Newton's idea of the re-
lation of mathematics to the physical world reverses Plato's con-
ception. For Plato the assimilation to change or "becoming" renders
appearances in the perceptual field indefinite; for Newton, the
process of becoming is itself isomorphic with exact mathematical
relations. It is, then, the "flowing," fleeting character of motion and
time which is exact for Newton, and the solid contents introduce
the indefinite, nonmathematical nature of physical reality.
Blake reverses this rather complex situation. As we shall see in the
next chapter, Blake attacks the definiteness of Newton's fluxions
and reveals all such concepts as destructive of "measurement."
Measurement is in itself bad-for, as I hope to show in chapter 4, it
depends on rigidity and the introduction of the idea of standard
"unit" rules (which are analogous to repressive moral and physical
laws)--and Blake's Eternity is structured so that it is indifferent to
measurement. Though the basic requirements of measurement are
embedded in the structure of Eternity, measurement could never
become a knowable concept unless certain further limiting con-
ditions were imposed on Eternity's structure. Because Eternity is
potentially measurable though unmeasured, in the fallen world lack
of measurability is the source of all indefiniteness, and measurability
puts a definite form on Satan so that he can be cast out. What I wish
to show here is how Blake takes the mathematical concept of "lim-
its" (also associated, as Martin Nurmi has pointed out,4 with
Newton's fluxions) and combines it with two other ideas with strong
Newtonian echoes in order to render definite that which is the source
of the indefinite in Newton.
Carl B. Boyer argues that despite the fact that Newton's formu-
lation of the calculus in terms of fluxions appealed most to Newton's

Usurpation of Universality

imagination, it was in his doctrine of prime and ultimate ratios or
"limits" that Newton felt he had given the most rigorous-that is,
definite and exact-account of his method of analysis.48 First of all,
"limit," as it is used in modern introductions to the calculus (the
standard epsilon-delta definition) bears only an intuitive resem-
blance to the idea of limits in the eighteenth century.49 As Newton
used limits, they were grounded in both "synthetic geometry" and
the ancient method of "exhaustion."so Although Newton used the
concept of limit in connection with ratios to derive his calculus,
limits were not exclusively associated with the calculus in the
eighteenth century. This can be seen rather readily even in Charles
Hutton's Mathematical Dictionary (1795), published long after New-
ton's death, in which fluxions are dealt with without reference to
limits, and the term limit is defined without reference to fluxions:
"LIMIT, is a term used by mathematicians, for some determinate
quantity, to which a variable one continually approaches, and may
come nearer to it than by any given difference, but never go beyond
it; in which sense a circle may be said to be the Limit of all its
inscribed and circumscribed polygons."5 Newton adopts the generic
meaning characterized above by Hutton and applies it to ratios in
the Principia:

There is a... limit in all quantities and proportions that begin and
cease to be. And since such limits are certain and definite, to de-
termine the same is a problem strictly geometrical.... Those ulti-
mate ratio's with which quantities vanish, are not truly the ratio's of
ultimate quantities, but limits towards which the ratio's of quantities,
decreasing without limit, do always converge; and to which they ap-
proach nearer than by any given difference, but never go beyond, nor
in effect attain to, till the quantities are diminished in infinitum.52

Although in one sense limits are intuitively clear, they have the para-
doxical quality that, although both members of the ratio vanish into
nonexistence (or augment into infinity),s3 the limit itself exists and is
certain and definite only at the point at which the imagination be-
comes infinitely confused (at the infinitely small and the infinitely
large). It is clear that such a concept would be appropriate for Blake
to use to stem the fall of man indefinitely into nonexistence; and, it
would seem, since Blake names his two "Limits" Satan and Adam,
and since these Limits are said to be formed "by Los's Mathematic

Chapter Three

power" (E, p. 126, Mil. 29:38), that the doctrine of Limits is ironic
in much the same way as the permanence of the Satanic systems
through mathematic power. That Blake's Limits are particulari-
zations of the doctrine of permanent Satanic systems can be seen in
the following passage from Jerusalem:
Voltaire insinuates that these Limits are the cruel work of God
Mocking the Remover of Limits & the Resurrection of the Dead
Setting up Kings in wrath: in holiness of Natural Religion
Which Los with his mighty Hammer demolishes time on time
In miracles & wonders in the Four-fold Desart of Albion
Permanently Creating to be in Time Reveald & Demolished
(E, p. 226, Jer. 73:29-34)
In fact, Blake's "Limits" really are the permanent boundaries of the
"States" created to make redemption of the individual possible.5
States shall be cast out in the Last Judgment, and Limits mark their
definite boundaries.
What we are mainly concerned with here, however, is the "defi-
niteness" of the Limits and the specific physical analogues they bear
to other Newtonian doctrines. In Blake's myth, Limits first enter in
the Fourth Night of the FourZoas, where the Saviour sets the Limits
of "Contraction" and "Opacity" in order to keep man from falling
any farther." Tharmas, the "Body" Zoa, has already lost his "Ema-
nation" Enion, who has fallen into Non-Entity,56 and thus she is
separated from him until the Last Judgment, causing the fallen
world to be, at best, threefold and sexual. Mythically, the twin Li-
mits are set to keep the other Emanations from falling into the "In-
definite," by giving a definite form to Adam and Satan.s5 Blake's
decision as poet to make an analogy between Satan and Opacity and
Adam and Contraction reveals a more complex way in which the
doctrine of Limits functions to be simultaneously critical of Newton
and redemptive of the fallen world. In Milton, the Limit of Contrac-
tion is identified as the "Solid";"5 the "Opake," however, is never
given any other explicit physical counterpart. I wish to argue that
Opacity (Satan) is associated with both the "Void" and the discon-
tinuous nature of matter in Newton's physics and that this associa-
tion, along with the identification of solidity with contraction and
Adam, serves to protect a highly symbolic account of spatial physical
appearance. Further, I wish to show how although from the per-
spective of time, perception is constantly rendered infinite by Vala
or delusive nature, it is saved from spatial indefiniteness by the doc-

Usurpation of Universality

trine of limits. To explain this, we must construe Blake as trans-
ferring the function of definiteness (which characterizes Newton's
limits) to the cause of indefiniteness of perception in Newton's
system-the structure of matter.
All of this is clearly a quite complicated process of relationship. I
hope merely to sketch the outlines of these implications and point to
the central thrust of Blake's use of such transformations of scientific
doctrines. Let us first establish the Newtonian context of each of
those ideas-opacity and its connection with the void and disconti-
nuity, contraction and its connection with solidity. The problem of
the cause of opacity in bodies had caused scientists trouble for a long
time until Newton stated what soon became the definitive expla-
nation for opacity.5" In the Opticks (bk. 2, pt. 3, prop. 2), Newton
says: "The least parts of almost all natural Bodies are in some mea-
sure transparent: And the Opacity of those Bodies ariseth from the
multitude of Reflexions caused in their internal Parts."'o For New-
ton, opacity is not produced by the "solid" parts of bodies which are
in "some measure transparent," but rather by the existence of the
void spaces between the solid particles:
That this discontinuity of parts is the principal Cause of the opacity
of Bodies, will appear by considering, that opake Substances become
transparent by filling their Pores with any Substance of equal or
almost equal density with their parts.... So, on the contrary, the
most transparent Substances, may, by evacuating their Pores, or se-
parating their parts, be render'd sufficiently opake."
Voltaire, whose popular exposition of Newton's system was one of
the most widely read in England, and whose name is connected with
Limits in the quotation given above (p. 80), interpreted Newton's
explanation of opacity to mean that opacity is caused by the void

It is therefore from the Vacuum that Light is reflected.... Light is
not reflected from the Back of a Looking-glass by the solid Surface
of the Quicksilver, but from the very Pores of the Looking-glass and
the Qucksilver.... The Secret [therefore] of rendering a Body
opaque, is often to enlarge its Pores, and that the Means to make it
transparent, is to make them small. The Order of Nature appears
entirely changed: what seemed the necessary cause of opacity [that
is, the solid parts], is directly the Cause of Transparence; and what
appeared to render Bodies transparent, is become what makes them

Chapter Three

Whether or not Blake was directly familiar with these particular ac-
counts of the cause of opacity in bodies, he certainly forged his doc-
trine of the Limit of Opacity as Satan implicitly in terms of such
As we have noted above, the difference between the definiteness of
mathematics and the indefiniteness of perception for Newton must
reside in the difference between the continuity of mathematical
functions and the discontinuity of matter. Since this discontinuity is
also the source of opacity, there is (at least analogically) a connection
between indefiniteness and opacity in Newton's physics and optics.
Further, we noted above that the concept of "limit" puts a definite
bound to quantitative indefiniteness. Limit, however, is a mathe-
matical concept, not a physical one, and is grounded in continuity,
not discontinuity. Blake telescopes all of these ideas and, while criti-
cizing Newton's own doctrines, transforms the ideas in such a way
that the indefinite becomes both definite and redemptive of the
"physical" world:
Accident being formed
Into Substance & Principle, by the cruelties of Demonstration
It became Opake & Indefinite; but the Divine Saviour,
Formed it into a Solid by Los's Mathematic power.
He named the Opake Satan: he named the Solid Adam
(E, p. 126, Mil. 29:35-39)
These are the two limits of the fallen world which give a definite
form to error so it can be cast out in the Last Judgment. In this pas-
sage there is an obvious dependence on the Newtonian distinction
between solid, impenetrable particles and the perceptual opacity
arising from the void space between the particles. Satan is often as-
sociated with the void; and the implicit connection of opacity itself
with the void and with discontinuity of particles is evident in several
critical passages in Blake's poetry. The "abstract Voids between the
Stars" and "the Newtonian Voids between the Substances of Crea-
tion" are characterized as "spectrous" or "Satanic,"" and Urizen,
who is identified as a central aspect of Satan in Milton, created the
void himself." Luvah's "World" is the "Eastern vacuity the empty
world" (E, p. 341, FZ 71 [second portion]:24), rendered a vacuum by
the generation of Luvah into his fallen form, Ore, who assumes
Urizen's original position in the south. This leaves Luvah's world
empty, and Urizen appropriates it to himself as Satan to form the
Ulro void of the east. This void becomes the Limit of Opacity:

Usurpation of Universality

"Where Luvahs World of Opakeness grew to a period: It / Became a
Limit, a Rocky hardness without form & void" (E, p. 226, Jer.
73:22-23). The connection between the void, hardness or solidity,
and opacity can best be seen, it seems to me, as Blake's redemptive
transformation of Newton's doctrine of opacity as deriving from void
spaces between solid particles, coupled with Voltaire's identi-
fication of the void with opacity, with the whole construct assimi-
lated to the "definite" mathematical and Newtonian doctrine of
This connection between the void, discontinuity, and opacity is
not simply fortuitous but is central to much of the imagery of Blake's
poetry; and it might be good to look at a few more examples of their
connection. In Milton at the trial of Palamabron,
Satan rag'd amidst the Assembly! and his bosom grew
Opake against the Divine Vision: the paved terraces of
His bosom inwards shone with fires, but the stones becoming opake!
Hid him from sight, in an extreme blackness and darkness,
And there a World of deeper Ulro was open'd, in the midst
Of the Assembly. In Satans bosom a vast unfathomable Abyss.
(E, p. 102, Mil. 9:30-35)
The association of opacity with the void, the "vast unfathomable
abyss." is strengthened even more as Satan stands "opake immea-
surable / Covering the east with solid blackness"(E, p. 103, Mil.
9:39-40). At another critical moment in Blake's myth, when the Four
Zoas are trying to pull Albion back from the fall into Non-Entity,
the association of opacity with the void and discontinuity figures as
the central idea behind the plausibility of the imagery:
Their Wings waving over the bottomless Immense: to bear
Their awful charge back to his native home: but Albion dark,
Repugnant; rolld his Wheels backward into Non-Entity
Loud roll the Starry Wheels of Albion into the World of Death
And all the Gate of Los, clouded with clouds redounding from
Albions dread Wheels, stretching out spaces immense between
That every little particle of light & air, became Opake
Black & immense.
(E, p. 184, Jer. 39 [K, 44]:4-12)
Albion confuses the Zoas' perception by causing his wheels to
"stretch out spaces immense between" the Newtonian "particles of
light,""' thus causing Newtonian opacity. The Gate of Los here is
associated with the image just two plates earlier: the "Grain of Sand

Chapter Three

in Lambeth that Satan cannot find / Nor can his Watch Fiends find
it: tis translucent & has many Angles" (E, p. 181, Jer. 37 [K, 41]:
15-16) in that Newtonian opacity is caused by the internal reflections
from the "many Angles" of material objects. But Blake begins with
a redemptive reversal of Newton's image of opacity: translucence
results from the internal angles of the "Grain of Sand" which seems
opaque from the outside. The radical reversal that occurs when Los's
Gate is clouded over subtly transforms the redemptive image into a
Satanic one: for now we are in a world which no longer opposes
Newtonian expectations but one which precisely obeys Newton's laws
of opacity. We have, as it were, moved from the inside of the Grain
to the outside. This confusion, indefiniteness and immeasurability
must have a limit set to it so that it can become knowable. We may
argue, then, that by extending the mathematical concept of limits
into the very nature of Newtonian physical reality itself, thus re-
versing Newton's own conceptions, Blake negatively criticizes New-
ton's doctrines, reveals them as Satanic, and transforms them
into concept-images capable of making Satan knowable and
thereby making the redemption of the world possible.
The idea of "solidity" has already turned up in our discussion of
Blake's transformation of Newtonian opacity by coupling it with li-
mits and identifying it with Satan. The limit of contraction, solidity,
is not itself opaque; it is only through coupling the void with solid
particles that opacity arises. The complex result of this union of solid
and void is itself Satanic, and it becomes mythologically a "herma-
phroditic" union:"6 Satan is "a Shadowy hermaphrodite black &
opake" (E, p. 359, -Z 101 [second portion]:34). This union produces
an opacity which has the characteristic of "hardness," a character-
istic not implicit in the Satanic void itself; and the presence of the
void introduces the characteristic of opacity into the solid, which is
not itself opaque. The principle of solidity itself, the physical ana-
logue for logical exclusion, is not indefinite, although its definiteness
is ironic; it is the void which renders this definiteness indefinite and
opaque. It is thus that Satan, the creator of "petrific hardness"
through "Hermaphroditic Condensations," is the "destroyer of De-
finite Form" (E, p. 204, Jer. 56:17).67 This is a direct attack on New-
ton's implicit assumption that discontinuity is the cause of both
opacity and indefiniteness in perception. In this particular version of
hermaphroditism in Blake, we find Satan as a relational character

Usurpation of Universality

essentially assuming a role analogous to the female role (space, the
void) in conjunction with petrified Adam as male (the solid). This
union, it must be emphasized, is itself Satanic in a broader sense, the
hermaphroditic sense, while the character Satan at this point ope-
rates in the more restricted sense. Further, however, the function of
"condensation" and "contraction" in producing solid bodies, and
the need for Blake to set a "Limit" to contraction in the principle of
impenetrability, can be seen by other Newtonian doctrines to which
Blake's imagery bears a striking resemblance.
Locke distinguishes "solidity" from "hardness": "Solidity con-
sists in repletion, and so an utter exclusion of other bodies out of the
space it possesses: but hardness, in a firm cohesion of the parts of
matter, making up masses of a sensible bulk, so that the whole does
not easily change its figure.""8 Blake retains this distinction in his
poetry in criticizing the Satanic aspects of Newton's and Locke's
systems, although he refers to fixed, hardened figures as "solid
rocks" on a few occasions. This is, however, perfectly consistent with
eighteenth-century usage of the term solid-it could be used to
refer to bodies of a "fixed" nature and to the principle of solidity
itself."' The important thing for Blake is the aspect of hardness
which solidity introduces into the indefinite void, for the combina-
tion of hardness and opacity generates virtually all appearances of
material coexistence in physical space: Blake grounds both of these
in Satan's void, which has the power of condensation,7' and also
gives them an ironic redemptive function. Blake seems to derive his
idea that the void shrinks and condenses things which enter it from
the physical conception that heat cannot pass through a void, since
there is nothing to conduct it. Blake could have got an idea like this
from Bacon's discussions of condensation and hardening by cold in
his Sylva Sylvarum," but the essential thrust of Blake's idea is
against the older doctrine that objects expand to fill a void and, very
possibly, against Newton's doctrine of solid bodies deriving from
condensation of aetherr." In his early letter to Oldenburg, Newton

Perhaps the whole frame of nature may be nothing but various
contextures of some certain etherial spirits or vapours, condensed as
it were by precipitation, much after the manner that vapours are
condensed into water, or exhalations into grosser substances, though
not so easily condensable; and after condensation wrought into

Chapter Three

various forms, at first by the immediate hand of the Creator, and
ever since by the power of nature, which, by virtue of the command,
increase and multiply, became a complete imitator of the copy set
her by the Protoplast.72
This achieves its final revised formulation in the attractive and re-
pulsive (contractive and expansive) powers in the Opticks. Newton
describes the reverse activity to contraction, the expansion of gross
bodies into vaporous bodies: "The Particles when they are shaken
off from Bodies by Heat or Fermentation, so soon as they are beyond
the reach of the Attraction of the Body, receding from it, and also
from one another with great Strength, and keeping at a distance, so
as sometimes to take up above a Million of Times more space than
they did before in the form of a dense Body. Which vast Contraction
and Expansion seems unintelligible... by any means other than a
repulsive Power."73
Urizen's creation of his "solid without fluctuation" in the Book of
Urizen utilizes all of these concepts: the creation of the void, which
allows Urizen to condense the elements from fire down to solid
earth, and the repulsive power Urizen uses to "repel the vast waves"
and raise his "wide world of solid obstruction."74 This act is the
prototype of all the later Satanic condensations and contractions of
Eternal flexibility into "solid rocks" and "petrified surfaces."'5
Especially, Urizen's act anticipates Albion's act at the beginning of
chapter 2 of Jerusalem, as Albion falls into Satan's hands:
I therefore condense them into solid rocks, steadfast!
A foundation and certainty and demonstrative truth:
That Man may be separate from Man.
(E, p. 172, Jer. 28:10-12)

The illusory definiteness in solidity's principle of exclusion becomes
Satanic hardness which thereby becomes the symbolic analogue for
the separation of individuals in the fallen world. Adam, the first
separate man, becomes the limit of separability, a limit which is
necessary so that Satan will not contract the flexibility of Eternity into
nonexistence. Christ has built into the principle of exclusion in
solidity a satisfaction for Satan's desire to combine the indefiniteness
of the void with the negating definiteness of abstraction, which, at the
same time, makes possible an ironic definite limit to the fall and
separation of individuals. In this radical transformation of phys-

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