Marsha Keith Schuchard - Why Mrs Blake Cried Swedenborg Blake And The Sexual Basis Of Spiritual Vision (793.0 Kb)
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When William Blake died in 1827, his widow Catherine appointed Frederick Tatham his literary and artistic executor. No sooner had Tatham accepted the position than he was, in the words of William Michael Rossetti, brother of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "beset" by "Swedenborgians, Irvingites, or other extreme sectaries", and compelled to thrust "a gag into the piteous mouth of Blake's corpse". What these timid souls feared was that Blake's remains would disclose his intense, frequently obsessive and occasionally pornographic int... More >>>
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When William Blake died in 1827, his widow Catherine appointed Frederick Tatham his literary and artistic executor. No sooner had Tatham accepted the position than he was, in the words of William Michael Rossetti, brother of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "beset" by "Swedenborgians, Irvingites, or other extreme sectaries", and compelled to thrust "a gag into the piteous mouth of Blake's corpse". What these timid souls feared was that Blake's remains would disclose his intense, frequently obsessive and occasionally pornographic interest in sex. Tatham's job amounted to a full-scale expurgation of what Blake's less unbuttoned followers considered obscene. Blake had left many drawings and manuscripts containing his most explicit sexual, religious and political expressions - all three were linked for him - and Tatham felt obliged to destroy these. The loss was irreparable, but some of the cover-up - literally - was less extreme.
A similar whitewash sanitised Blake's relationship with his wife. Many biographers repeated the assessment of Blake's long-time friend John Thomas Smith, that the marriage was one of "uninterrupted harmony". A somewhat different picture is uncovered by scholar Marsha Keith Schuchard's exhaustive investigations. Since the ground-breaking Ellis and Yeats 1893 edition of Blake's work, it's been known that at least once, Blake proposed adding a concubine to the household. Catherine responded to this by bursting into tears.
Schuchard reveals a weird esoteric, erotic and apocalyptic counterculture, brewing in what we otherwise consider the "enlightened" 18th century. All of it centred around the insight that "perpetual virile potency" - something of a spiritual Viagra - is the key to visionary consciousness. The cast of characters is dizzying and the settings unlikely. Schuchard starts with the eccentric Count Zinzendorf, leader of the Moravians, who were involved in an "esoteric tradition of Christian Kabbalism, Hermetic alchemy, and Oriental mysticism". Described as both a "creative theologian" and a "sexual pervert", Zinzendorf preached an intense identification with a fully sexualised Christ, whose circumcised penis was a frequent object of meditation. Zinzendorf's Kabbalism was highly sexualised as well: erotic arousal was necessary for "visionary copulation" with the Shekinah, the divine feminine, so aspirants were advised to maintain erections during prayer.
There is, of course, Blake himself, who drew on a number of sources - including an unsuspected familiarity with Eastern Tantra techniques - in order to maintain his own "perpetual potency" well into his later years. It was through these late "Hindoo" meditations, involving greater focus on the feminine, that Catherine came to accept Blake's preoccupations, and even to share in his visions. Through these, the couple apparently reached an equilibrium. Schuchard's detailed book shows why Catherine cried but it also shows how, in the end, the Blakes achieved some harmony after all.
Marsha Keith Schuchard, Ph. D has written extensively on eighteenth-century Cabalistic and "illuminist" Freemasonry and its influence on Swift, Ramsay, Swedenborg, and Blake. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Marsha Keith Schuchard received a Ph.D. in British literature for her explorations into the esoteric-erotic underground traditions of 17th- to 20th-century secret societies and their influence on British and Irish poets and artists. The author of Restoring the Temple of Vision and William Blake's Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Marsha Keith Schuchard Bibliography (not full):
- "William Blake's Sexual Path to Spiritual Vision" (Marsha Schuchard has found that grail of researchers - original documents that confirm suspicions about her subject. In this case they are surviving records of the unworldly Moravian Chapel in Fetter Lane showing how William Blake's family were worshippers at this shrine of eroticism)