The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Genius, for Blake, is a matter of truth, inspiration, prophecy, the imagination. It was an essential property of, and born with, the free individual. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell ‘genius’ appears in several of the deliberately provocative ‘aphorisms of Hell’. On one page, shown here, Blake describes the way genius has been used by institutions to subdue individual freedom. In the beginning, the ‘ancient Poets’ imbued the natural world with ‘Gods or Geniuses’, as well as cities and nations. This is illustrated in a headpiece showing spirits arising from the landscape. But then these ‘animations’ are formed into a system, abstracting genius from its original, organic nature and enslaving the vulgar. Such are the outward forms and figures of religion, or ‘priesthood’. Thus, writes Blake, ‘men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast’.

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Hand-coloured copper engravings

Fifteen leaves, 235 x 150 mm

English binding, first half of nineteenth century: half red sheepskin over marbled boards replacing original stab-stitching