William Blake— “Malevolence”

The watercolor above was executed by William Blake for a Reverend named Dr. Trussler, famous for such books as The Way to be Rich and Respectable, and the popular Luxury not Political Evil. Trussler sent instructions for the design, which Blake ignored— apologizing in a letter “I attempted every morning for a fortnight to follow your Dictate, but when I found my attempts were in vain, resolv’d to shew an independence that will please an Author better than slavishly following the track of another, however admirable that track may be.”

When Trussler refused his design, Blake fired back with perhaps one of the most venomous letters I’ve ever read. Anytime I get angry, I think of this letter. I’m sure it is not the way Blake would want to be remembered:

Revd Sir

I really am sorry that you are falln out with the Spiritual World Especially if I should have to answer for it I feel very sorry that your Ideas & Mine on Moral Painting differ so much as to have made you angry with my method of Study. If I am wrong I am wrong in good company. I had hoped your plan comprehended All Species of this Art & Especially that you would not reject that Species which gives Existence to Every other. namely Visions of Eternity You say that I want somebody to Elucidate my Ideas. But you ought to know that What is Grand is necessarily obscure to Weak men. That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care.

It must be taken into account that Blake was indeed a great teacher—and a teacher of young children at that. He educated the children of Thomas Butts in painting and drawing and was, by all accounts, largely a genial man. That this letter exists shows that even the most patient succumb to fighting back when the subject of their life’s work is under attack. But the mode of instruction they choose is sometimes meant to force the audience to work hard to figure out the core of their idea—to think for themselves, rather than just be spoon fed:

The wisest of the Ancients considerd what is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction because it rouzes the faculties to act. I name Moses Solomon Esop Homer Plato But as you have favord me with your remarks on my Design permit me in return to defend it against a mistaken one, which is. That I have supposed Malevolence without a Cause.–Is not Merit in one a Cause of Envy in another & Serenity & Happiness & Beauty a Cause of Malevolence. But Want of Money & the Distress of A Thief can never be alledged as the Cause of his Thievery. for many honest people endure greater hard ships with Fortitude We must therefore seek the Cause elsewhere than in want of Money for that is the Misers passion, not the Thiefs

Blake saw envy as a motive force, just as Milton did before him. Envy can only happen when one places another above themselves. However, this is also a definition of love—to place another before you. It seems as if these emotions go hand in hand.

Envy seems the contrary of condescension.

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