Is “the Holy Innocent of Art” to Be the Pontiff of a New Dispensation?
The Sun, Oct. 22, 1907, p. 6
To the Editor of The Sun—Sir: The writer of the article on William Blake in today’s Sun asks whether Blake in ten years from now will not be the pontiff of a new spiritual dispensation. Whether or not the new dispensation is brought about by the influence of William Blake, the interest that has been aroused in the man himself is significant of that “renascence of wonder”—as Watts-Dunton calls it—which will characterize the next fifty years.
Blake was indeed the protagonist of this great movement. His was a simple nature. Simplicity is akin to madness, because it is nearer unity; it sees further and deeper and drinks directly at the founts of world mystery. Life is completely and, it would seem at times, irretrievably lost in the concrete—we have so carefully moulded of the secondary and incidental characteristics of creation a world within a world—that a poet who speaks directly of things as they are perceived by the mind not yet overlaid with the painted illusions of sight and not affected by the deadly automatism of routine is believed to have a touch of insanity. All absolute simplicity startles, when in reality it is merely the reservation of the mind in the bogs of matter, the perception of unity, mystery and supernal beauty through the blinding fogs of this multiplied absurdity called practical life.
Blake’s soul was a winged wonder. He was the Holy Innocent of Art, and we must become as he to enter into the now fugitive Kingdom of Peace. His mind seemed made up of particles of illuminated matter. Death to the familiar, he seemed to shout all his life. Only the inconceivable and impossible and unattainable exalt. Blake’s soul was intelligent light. The objects of the external world came to that brain winged, etherealized—and, indeed, what are all things but wonder shapes in our brains?
Anatole France has given us for judges of life irony and pity. Rather let us put upon the throne of wonder and mystery, giving into their hands for everlasting keep the golden scepter of awe. The coming paganism will be intellectual, with wonder and the sense of mystery as the dominating state of consciousness. The smithies of wonder are within us all; therein are being forged the poets and dramatists and artists and philosophers of this coming spiritual attitude. Blake, Yeats, Rodin, Maeterlinck are the forerunners of this wonder time, this newer paganism. In that ascension and abiding in the wonder mood we shall have left the rags and tatters of old faiths and customs behind us—even the belief in good and evil. At one step we may, each of us, return to the primal day—have not Blake and Yeats achieved the step? Why not all of us? Man will then be seen as the epic of wonder, and time itself but an incident of brain method. Men have stood on that height and, unlike Halvard Solness, have not fallen mangled back into the morasses of the commonplace.
The brain that stands astare with wonder is the first and last word in rational cosmic attitude. And whether we find this ecstasy in the skull of a Spinoza or it seethes in stupendous vortices of rhapsody behind the foreheads of a Wagner or a Liszt or burns with a “hard gemlike flame” in the cerebral cells of a Walter Pater, cleanses and makes sane a Blake or startles into a ravished immobility the mind of a Walt Whitman when he contemplated the hair on the back of his hand—it is all one; it is the return to the “primal day,” the perception and celebration of the unutterable mystery of things.
Benjamin De Casseres.
New York, October 20.
The above letter to the editor is a response to a letter about William Blake in the Oct. 20, 1907, issue of The Sun (p. 8). The original letter did not mention De Casseres, but it did make a comparison between Blake and Nietzsche, which may have drawn De Casseres’s attention.