« PrejšnjaNaprej »
Where the second section is the direct answer of "the Lord" to the inquiry of the first two lines. Again p. 24:
Q. Lord, shall I other song achieve?
A. Yea: the next song is BIRTH OF EVE."
And again, p. 37 :—
"Lord, give me spirit-song to-night,
And give the theme I should indite. "Thou shalt sing well, if faith be true, And LIFE the theme is given you."
Certain other themes appear to be really chosen, but whether or not by the writer himself is left indefinite. Thus, p. 8:
"Lord, shew me PATIENCE from the spirit ground:
Where the petition is for Divine inspiration on a specified subject. Again, p. 312:—
"THE BIRTHDAY OF THE HUMAN SOUL.
"Can it be given
In stanzas seven?
Yea, in seven stanzas it shall roll."
By far the greater number of the pieces have no such introduction; several have for motto a Bible
text; while in many cases the themes appear to be the choice of the writer, being concerned with his family and friends, or such as would be naturally suggested by his studies. Thus we have "W. M. W.," beginning, "Brownness of autumn is around thee, brother;" "A little message for my wife" (to whom the volume is dedicated); "M. J. W.: her tenth birthday;" "E. M. N. ; "William S.; "Mary S. ;" and of the latter class, "Hahnemann ;” Mesmer;""Turner: Painter: His State;" "Turner: Painter: His Art ;" "Thorvaldsen;" "Tegnér ; "Immanuel Kant; ""Charles Fourier;" "Dalton ;" "Berzelius: his Laboratory;" "Chatterton;" "Edgar Allan Poe;" "Charlotte Brontë;" "John Flaxman ;" "The tears of Swedenborg." In connection with this last title it may be remarked that several of the pieces, though not entitled "Tears," have verses affixed so specifying them. Thus, at the end of "Patience" :—
At the end of " Sand-Eating":
"It is the sphere
Of Cowper's tear."
At the end of "The Proud hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Mark, The Proud; not The Fool):
"It is the sphere
Secondly, we are not told over what period of time the "about fifty hours" of these writings. from dictation of "the spirit" were scattered. The Note, which serves as Preface, is dated June 3, 1857, and states that the writer (he would not consent to be termed the author) determined to make the experiment "last autumn;" but we are not informed when the poems were finished, how long before the date of the Note. This point is of importance in relation to the question, Does "the spirit" require intervals of repose, like a mere human author, between the efforts of composition ?-though if such intervals were required, it would be quite open to the amanuensis to attribute the need of them to his own weakness and exhaustion, and not to any weariness or fluctuation of power in the dictating "Spirit" itself.
Thirdly, the Note does not tell whether the pieces are printed in the order in which they were written. This point also is of importance, as bearing upon the questions, Does the dictation of "the spirit" tend to more and more sweetness and light, or to more and more wildness and gloom, or does it continue equable? But here again, supposing manifest a lack of progress, or even a steadily progressive deterioration, it is quite competent to the medium to allege his own frailty and fatigue, while refusing to admit either in "the spirit ;" though in this case he is exposed to the fair inference that the longer a man practises self-abnegation and openness to the "Divine influx," the more lucid and lovely and beautiful should become his expression or communication thereof. It appears to me that most of the best pieces, the most
limpid and spontaneous, are in the earlier part of the book, and I incline to think that they were also among the earliest written.
Before proceeding to discuss the writer's account of the genesis of these poems, it may be well, in vindication of my serious and respectful treatment of this volume, to cite the verdict of an eminent and unprejudiced living poet and painter (his poems I can speak of as having read them; his pictures I must take on trust, as unfortunately he will not exhibit). In his supplementary chapter to the then late Alexander Gilchrist's "Life of William Blake" (1863), Mr. Dante Gabriel Rossetti writes thus (vol. i. p. 382):
"A very singular example of the closest and most absolute resemblance to Blake's poetry may be met with (if only one could meet with it), in a phantasmal sort of little book, published, or perhaps not published but only printed [I learn at the office of the Swedenborg Society, 36 Bloomsbury Street, London, that it really was published, as the title-page and the price, 5s., stamped on the back indicate], some years since, and entitled 'Improvisations of [from] the Spirit.' It bears no author's name, but was written by Dr. J. J. Garth Wilkinson, the highly gifted editor of Swedenborg's writings, and author of a 'Life' of him, to whom, as has been before mentioned, we owe a reprint of the poems in Blake's 'Songs of Innocence and Experience.' These improvisations profess to be written under precisely the same kind of spiritual guidance, amounting to abnegation of personal effort in the writer, which Blake supposed to have presided over the production of his 'Jerusalem,' &c. The little book has passed into the general (and in all other cases richly deserved) limbo of the modern 'spiritualist' muse. It is a very thick little book, however unsubstantial its origin, and contains, amid much that is disjointed or hopelessly obscure (but then why be the polisher of poems for which a ghost, and not even your own ghost, is alone responsible?), many passages of a remote and charming beauty, or sometimes of a grotesque figu
rative relation to things of another sphere, which are startlingly akin to Blake's writings-could pass, in fact, for no one's but his. Professing, as they do, the same new kind of authorship, they might afford plenty of material for comparison and bewildered speculation, if such were in any request.
With regard to the last parenthesis in the above passage, it should be observed that both Blake and Wilkinson would scornfully reject the term ghosts in connection with the sources of their inspiration, both holding steadfastly that the spiritual body is as real and in its own sphere as substantial as the natural body, that the spiritual life is far more intensely and profoundly (or supernally) real than the natural. Blake, with all his profusion of visions, saw but one "ghost in his life (the famous "ghost of a flea," drawn for John Varley, water-colour painter and astrologer, was the visionary personification of the creature); and he, who was more familiar with "angels" and "spirits than with his fellow-men, found this one "ghost" so horrible that he fairly fled out of the house from it; and Dr. Wilkinson, as the title of his book and the account of its origin show, claims to be the medium of the Spirit or the Lord; though, indeed, as in "E. B.," "A Wife's Message," "Teddy's Flower," he sometimes believes himself the transmittor of comunications from human spirits; but, as I have said,
* Life, i. 128. "When talking on the subject of ghosts, he was wont to say they did not appear much to imaginative men, but only to common minds, who did not see the finer spirits. A ghost was a thing seen by the gross bodily eye, a vision by the mental (Ibid.). His one ghost appeared thus: 'Standing one evening at his garden door in Lambeth, and chancing to look up, he saw a horrible grim figure, ' scaly, speckled, very awful,' stalking downstairs towards him. More frightened than ever before or after, he took to his heels and ran out of the house."