William Blake - Historical Background
Blake lived through a crucial phase of Western history. Among the major events with which he grapples is the American revolution of 1776, which secured American independence from British rule. Blake reads this, in
He was, we might say, an instinctive radical, with a natural opposition to tyranny wherever he found it and a distrust of authority whether it be represented in kings, priests or even in the very idea of a monolithic deity who rules human affairs. Perhaps the best-known episode of his life was the occasion when he was put on trial for treason, on an apparently trumped up charge caused by his swearing at a soldier who had strayed into his garden; unimportant as this event may sound (he was not convicted), nevertheless it played a decisive part both in confirming his opposition to the forces of order and also in convincing him that ideas such as his could only in the end be put forth in cryptic, symbolic form.
It is also important to bear in mind that the years in which Blake was writing were ones of enormous change in
He saw this, like many other tendencies of his time, as an attempt to restrict human capacity and the freedom of the imagination, and saw his role as contributing to the reinstatement of the imagination as the guiding principle of human affairs. To that extent, certainly, we may see him in terms of the larger movement we refer to as Romanticism; but his class background and his immersion in the