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Leibniz, the infinite, and Blake's early metaphysics.

WILLIAM BLARE'S ENGAGEMENT WITH PHILOSOPHICAL DEBATES IS Evident as early as An Island in the Moon (1784), with its cast of characters that includes Suction the Epicurean, Sipsop the Pythagorean, and Quid the Cynic, (1) and his self-conception as a philosopher is apparent in his annotations to the 1788 edition of Johann Kaspar Lavater's Aphorisms on Man: "we who are philosophers ought not to call the Staminal Virtues of Humanity by the same name that we call the omissions of intellect springing from poverty" (E 601). (2) Moreover, his first illuminated books are not poetry, but philosophical tractates that address crucial topics in eighteenth-century metaphysics and epistemology. (3) This paper contends that Blake's critique and emendation of John Locke's atomistic empiricism in those tractates, particularly in There is No Natural Religion (1788), bear striking similarities to Gottfried Leibniz's criticisms of Locke, as articulated in his New Essays on Human Understanding (1765), and the ontology Leibniz presents as a corrective to Locke's Newtonian metaphysics. Both Leibniz and Blake read Locke's philosophy--which presumed the universe to be composed of solid, inert corpuscles--as allied with that of Isaac Newton, with whom Leibniz famously debated via Newton's representative, Samuel Clarke. (4) Beyond their shared rejection of Newton's ontology, I find the metaphysics of Leibniz and Blake to be analogous in several aspects, particularly insofar as both Leibniz's theory of monads and Blake's early work belong in a panpsychist tradition, which posits an infinite mind-like nature to all material beings. (5) Blake does not merely imitate Leibnizian ontology, however, and considering his divergences from Leibniz's system allows for a clearer glimpse of Blake's unique metaphysical position as developed in the tractates and as elaborated in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), wherein he advances not just panpsychism, but a more radical monistic version of pantheism, which denies the existence of transcendent, immaterial beings and conflates God with the material universe. (6)

Just as Blake's artistic vision evolved, so did his metaphysics, and thus my focus here is on Blake's early works, wherein I find the most analogies to Leibniz. I stress the term "analogies," since there is no evidence that Blake read Leibniz directly--I am not claiming the latter as a direct source. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that Blake would have been completely unaware of him, given that the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence was arguably the most famous philosophical exchange of the eighteenth century, as well as the fact that Joseph Priestley and Emanuel Swedenborg--both of whom Blake certainly read--refer to Leibniz in their works. (7) Whatever his awareness may have been, Blake's later prophecies abandon his early pantheistic monism and bear much less similarity to Leibniz's version of panpsychism with its conception of matter as immanently energetic and infinitely divisible. In his late writings Blake's philosophy shifts to a radical version of Christian dualism, which sees the natural world as a degraded obstacle to be cast off in order to access the divine. Such a shift is evident in the contrast between Blake's declaration in the Marriage that "every thing that lives is holy" (E 45) and his address "To the Christians" in Jerusalem, wherein he asserts that "this Vegetable Universe is / but a faint shadow" of the "eternal World" one enters when "these Vegetable Mortal Bodies are no more" (E 231). Here the material universe is a shadowy hindrance to divine vision, and the corporeal, or "Vegetable" body prevents its realization, as Blake asserts in his annotation to Berkeley's Sins: "The Natural Body is an Obstruction to the Soul or Spiritual Body" (E 664). (8) This is not the same philosopher who in the Marriage argues that "Man has no Body distinct from his Soul" (E 34). The details of and reasons for such a radical philosophical shift over the course of Blake's oeuvre are beyond the scope of this essay; rather, by focusing on Blake's relationship to Leibniz, I hope to distinctly characterize the former's artistically conveyed metaphysics as developed in the early illuminated works dating from the late 1780s to the early 1790s, and to situate this metaphysics as emerging from a panpsychist--and not an idealist--intellectual tradition.

Leibniz has gone largely unnamed by readers of Blake who have sought to identify the latter's philosophical allies, as have panpsychism and pantheism; most critics see Blake in the tractates embracing a modified form of George Berkeley's idealism in opposition to the materialist empiricism that Blake disparaged in Newton and Locke. This essay argues, however, that the assertions made in No Natural Religion and All Religions are One are difficult to reconcile with Berkeley's philosophy, which, despite its idealist tenets, betrays a significant kinship with Locke and Newton. Berkeley may well serve as a compelling analogue for Blake's late metaphysics, which, in the passage from Jerusalem quoted above, posits corporeal nature as a shadow and human imagination as "the real & eternal World" (E 231), but I find Blake to be allied much more closely with Leibniz than he is with Berkeley in the early tractates.

Precedent for reading No Natural Religion as an embrace of Berkeley and a rejection of Locke's theory of knowledge and perception as presented in the Essay concerning Human Understanding was established by Northrop Frye, the first chapter of whose seminal Fearful Symmetry is entitled "The Case against Locke." Discussing Locke's famous distinction between real, nonmental primary qualities of objects and merely perceived secondary qualities, Frye links Locke--and Newton--to a corpuscular or atomistic philosophy. In setting Blake in opposition to such metaphysics, Frye locates a precursor in Berkeley, whose principle of esse est percipi--to be is to be perceived--Frye finds to have "some points in common" with Blake. Frye presents the tabula rasa version of Locke, for whom sight involves "an involuntary and haphazard image imprinted on the mind through the eye by the object. In this process the mind remains passive and receives impressions automatically." (9) Contrasted to this account is Berkeley's idealism, which denies the reality of objects outside the mind. On Frye's reading, Blake's tractates adopt elements of Berkeley's thought to present a model of active perception and an immanently creative Poetic Genius. Kathleen Raine elaborates on Frye's interpretation, offering a more detailed reading of the "a" series of No Natural Religion in conjunction with pertinent passages from Locke's Essay, subsequently opposing the philosophy depicted therein to lengthy selections from Berkeley's Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), Three Dialogues (1713), and Siris (1744), which she argues are similar to the philosophy evident in Blake's early tractates. Raine claims that Berkeley "is rooted in the Neoplatonic and Hermetic tradition to which Blake also turned," and it is to Berkeley that Blake owes a central tenet of his philosophy, namely the idealist principle that "[m]atter has no independent existence apart from mind." (10)

However, there are significant problems with a reading that sets up a diametrical opposition between Locke and Berkeley and then places Blake on the side of the latter. For one, such interpretations neglect Berkeley's first major work, Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), which would seem to have the most direct relation to No Natural Religion. After all, "a new theory of vision" is an apt description of what Blake is presenting in opposition to an empirical account of finite sensory perception, as his claim on plate bio of copy L attests: "He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God." (11) But Berkeley's philosophy is a far cry from Blake's insofar as the tractates are concerned. As No Natural Religion and All Religions are One make clear, the ability to see the infinite in the material world is conferred by the Poetic Genius, an innate faculty that allows man to expand beyond the finite organs of sense and to partake in the divinity incarnate in the corporeal universe and in himself. By contrast, Berkeley's theory of vision is as committed as firmly as Locke's to a reliance on the organs of sense.

In his New Theory, Berkeley addresses the empirical problem--that had been raised by Locke--of how to identify objects of sight when individual perceptions of such objects vary drastically depending on the viewer's perspective. For instance, how does one determine the size of a tower that increases in one's sight as one approaches it? Berkeley rejects the explanations offered by Descartes and other "speculative men," (12) who claimed that any object's true size and shape is calculated by measuring the angle formed by the conjunction of the optic axes in the retina. (13) Berkeley argues that one is not consciously aware of making any such calculations, and instead claims, "the estimate we make of the distance of objects considerably remote is rather an act of judgment grounded on experience than of sense" (3:7). There are not separate towers corresponding to each disparate perception, but rather, "the ideas intromitted by each sense are widely different and distinct from each other, but having been observed constantly to go together, they are spoken of as one and the same thing" (46:23). Thus, experience and associative capacities based on past sensations are crucial in perception. Berkeley demonstrates this through the example of a man born blind who is suddenly made to see:
a man born blind and made to see would... make a very different
judgment of the magnitude of objects intromitted by them from what
others do. [He] would judge his thumb, with which he might hide a tower
or hinder its being seen, equal to that tower, or his hand, the
interposition whereof might conceal the firmament from his view, equal
to the firmament. (79:37) (14)

In addition to experiential association, Berkeley argues that the sense of touch is more fundamental to vision than is sight. In section 61, he differentiates between visual magnitude and tangible magnitude, establishing the latter as the basis for perceptual judgment. To sight alone, a yardstick will appear to be various lengths depending on how close one is to it, but it will not vary to one's sense of touch. Although one does not need to touch everything one sees, one's experience with the tangible world informs the judgments made from objects of sight. It is thus perhaps no wonder that Frye and Raine overlook Berkeley's New Theory, given its empiricist implications and its grounding of vision on yet another organ of sense: touch. However, the work does not make for a compelling analogue with Blake's account of perception in the early tractates.

Berkeley's later works present further problems when considered alongside Blake's metaphysics as presented in the four main points of the "b" series of No Natural Religion: 1) man's "perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception" (pl. b3); 2) man's desire, possession, and self are all infinite (pl. b9); 3) God is equated with the infinite that is perceptible in "all things" (pl. b10); 4) in sharing an infinite nature, God and man are the same, having become one another (pl. b12). As for the first point regarding super-sensory perception, we have already seen how Berkeley's New Theory differs in that it makes perception contingent on both the organs of sight and touch. Blake's subsequent points articulate his position that the adjective "infinite" applies equally to man, the material world, and God, but Berkeley explicitly denies this both in Principles Concerning Human Knowledge and in Three Dialogues. In the former work, he writes, "the mind of man being finite, when it treats of things which partake of infinity, it is not to be wondered at, if it run into absurdities and contradictions... it being the nature of infinite not to be comprehended by that which is finite" (2:69). (15) The same distinction holds in the second of the Three Dialogues, in which Berkeley's spokesman, Philonous, differentiates between human "beings of finite powers" and the "infinite spirit" of God (2:201, 197). Given Berkeley's consistent rejection of any similarities between God and man, it is difficult to believe that Blake would find support in Berkeley's argument against Locke; for Berkeley, as for Locke, an infinite God is categorically different from finite man.

Another problem with aligning Blake with Berkeley in the "case against Locke" is that, as noted above, in the early illuminated works Blake does not espouse the idealism that Berkeley elaborates in Principles and Three Dialogues. In this regard, Frye and Raine are not alone in assigning to Blake a Berkeleyan idealism with its entailment of an immaterial universe: Mark Lussier sees a kinship between Blake and Berkeley, the "lone voice of philosophical dissent from within the empiricist enterprise," insofar as nature functioned for both as the "'visual language of God.'" (16) And Andrew Cooper cites Berkeley as a source for Blake's belief "that the body in question is always first and foremost an object in the mind." (17) But the force of Berkeley's argument markedly differs from Lussier's claim that the "interplay of mind and matter, with the subject as nexus... functions as the originary point of the Blakean universe." (18) I agree with this assessment, but it does not describe a Berkleyan universe, since for the latter there is no matter to interplay with the mind, since the entire universe is mind, as Philonous explicitly states in the third of the Three Dialogues: "I have no reason for believing the existence of matter" (3:214). Both Cooper and Lussier link the idealism they find in Berkeley and Blake to quantum relativity. Cooper, for instance, writes, "Blake's approach resembles that of a modern relativity scientist who recognizes that no picture of an object can be complete unless it takes into account the presence of the observer and the instruments used to gather and record the data." (19) However, no relativity scientist would deny the existence of an object altogether. It is one thing to claim, as quantum mechanics does, that perception and measurement change the behavior of an object; it is quite another to claim that no objects exist apart from the perceiving mind. (20)

Moreover, on Berkeley's account, there is no room for Blake's imaginative human agency, since the only active mind is that of a transcendent God--Berkeley's Philonous emphasizes in the third dialogue that humans are "finite created spirits" (3:212, my emphasis), (21) who live, move, and have their being in the mind of God, as the passage from Acts 17:28, often quoted by Berkeley, claims. (22) Berkeley is close to Malebranchean occasionalism here, in which all efficient causality, including human action, is a consequence of the will of a transcendent God: on this view, finite minds are as passive as Newtonian inert matter, capable only of being "affected" by God. Blake's early works, by contrast, emphasize the creative--not created--nature of the human mind, in which the divine Poetic Genius of imagination inheres, and which Blake defines in All Religions are One as "the true Man" from which "the body or outward form of Man is derived" (E 1). As a creative visual artist, Blake surely believed in the existence of his illuminated plates as objects with power to "interplay" with the imaginations of his audience. In this sense, Lussier, despite articulating a dynamic reciprocity "between cosmos and consciousness" in Blake's work, still tends toward Cartesian dualism and a unidirectional causal flow, wherein "the passivity of materiality requires animation by the activities of consciousness. " (23) For true interplay to exist, matter must be allowed more than a "passive" role, and the power of Blake's artistic objects to cause change in the mind of the perceiver--rather than vice versa--is a testament to the immanently energetic infinitude of all material things for which his early philosophy argues. As he declares in the Marriage, "Energy is the only life and is from the Body" (E 34).

Insofar as the active infinitude of material reality and the nature of perception are concerned, the metaphysics of Leibniz aligns with the main points of Blake's "b" series of No Natural Religion more closely than does the philosophy of Berkeley. Leibniz's monad-based theory claims that perception is not limited to the organs of sense, nor is it explained empirically or mechanistically; rather, perception is the fundamental faculty for all monads, which, like Blake's Poetic Genius--"every where call'd the Spirit of Prophecy" (E 1, my emphasis)--are spiritual substances that fundamentally constitute matter. So constituted, all material substances are immanently active and do not require a God to constantly intervene in an atomistic universe in order to "wind up his watch from time to time," as Leibniz famously derided Newton's system (A Collection of Papers, 5). Moreover, in Leibniz's metaphysics, as in Blake's, matter, God, and man all have infinite natures. Before discussing parallels between Leibniz's philosophy and that of Blake, however, it will be helpful to develop a more complete picture of the "a" series argument in No Natural Religion, and its affinities with Locke's theory. Then Leibniz's critique of Locke can be seen to have more similarities with Blake's work than does Berkeley's idealism. After discussing these similarities, I will conclude by examining the manner in which Blake diverges from Leibnizian metaphysics to develop his version of pantheistic monism.


The "a" series of No Natural Religion presents a satirical summary of Lockean atomistic empiricism, and conveys four main points: 1) man can only perceive through "natural" organs of sense (pl. a4); 2) further senses cannot be deduced beyond those we have (pl. a6); 3) reason can only compare and judge of perceptions already acquired in experience (pl. a5); 4) consequently, man's thoughts, desires, and perceptions are "limited to objects of sense" (pls. a7-a9). Commentators have acknowledged the "a" series' affinities with Locke's Essay, in which Locke asserts, "the simple ideas we have are such, as experience teaches them us" (2.4.6, 127) (24) and that the understanding depends on objects of perception in order to perform operations such as comparing and judging (2.1.2-3). Moreover, Blake's "a" series proposition that thoughts, or ideas, are limited to objects of sensation tracks with Locke's conflation of perceptions with ideas in the Essay: "having ideas, and perception being the same thing" (2.1.9, 108).

In Book 2 of the Essay, Locke elaborates on a compositionalist epistemology, whereby the understanding combines simple ideas of sensation and reflection into complex ideas of substance, mode, and relation. Blake, by describing empirical reason as treating perceived objects or ideas as discrete units to be arranged in a "ratio" (pl. b4), hints at the atomistic or corpuscular ontology lurking behind Locke's epistemology. As the full title of Locke's An Essay concerning Human Understanding implies, his subject is the human understanding, and his stated purpose is to "search out the bounds between opinion and knowledge" (1.1.3, 44). Despite these intentions and his repeated declarations of agnosticism concerning the real essences of matter and spirit, Locke often digresses, albeit with apologies, into meta-physical speculation, such that several commentators have identified Locke's commitment to the corpuscular, or atomistic, metaphysics that was being advanced in the natural philosophy of his time. Jonathan Bennett contends that throughout most of the Essay "we find Locke writing like a convinced atomist" who modeled his epistemology on the ontology of his friend, Robert Boyle. (25) And Locke himself admits as much: "I have here instanced in the corpuscularian hypothesis, as that which is thought to go farthest in an intelligible explication of the qualities of bodies" (4.3.16, 547). Locke's latent atomist aligns him not only with Boyle, but with another friend and a profoundly influential atomist: Newton, who in Query 31 of the Opticks writes, "God in the beginning form'd matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles." (26)

Locke's metaphysical assumptions influence his account of perception and epistemology, a phenomenon that Blake repeatedly dramatizes and satirizes in his early illuminated works. (27) The physics of how sensory data is first received in perception is given mechanistically. Locke writes:
I cannot... conceive how bodies without us, can any ways affect our
senses, but by the immediate contact of the sensible bodies themselves,
as in tasting and feeling, or the impulse of some insensible particles
coming from them, as in seeing, hearing, and smelling; by the different
impulse of which parts, caused by their different size, figure, and
motion, the variety of sensations is produced in us. (4.2.11, 536)

From such an account of atomic/corpuscular sensation--via particles colliding with or providing an "impulse" upon our sensory organs--arises all ideas in the understanding, which themselves are arranged atomically for the purposes of comparing and judging. As Blake declares, from such a theory of sensory perception, "none could deduce" another sense or element.

Locke's naturalized account of perception and knowledge is satirized by Blake's overuse of the adjective "naturally" in the "a" series: "Naturally he is only a natural organ subject to sense" (pl. a3) and "Man cannot naturally Perceive, but through his natural or bodily organs" (pl. a4). As Karl Kroeber writes, Blake exploits the deistic definition of "natural," which assumed that "the natural world functioned entirely according to simple rational principles"; for Blake, on Kroeber's reading, in the "b" series of No Natural Religion and in All Religions are One, "capacity for spiritual experience, poetic genius, is what is inherent ('natural') in every individual human being." (28) In Blake's "b" series refutation, however, the "infinite" is the key term employed in moving beyond this natural, limited, empirical philosophy. Locke's own account of knowledge of both the infinite and God is similar to Berkeley's, and contrasts with that of Leibniz, which partakes of the philosophical tradition of panpsychism that Blake draws from to counter Locke's empiricism.


According to Leibniz's critique, a fundamental feature of---and problem with--Locke's account of the infinite is his equation of ideas with images in the mind. This imagism is implied by the metaphor that begins Locke's Essay: "The understanding, like the eye, whilst it makes us see, and perceive all other things, takes no notice of it self" (1.1.1, 43), and it is Locke's great task to turn the eye of the understanding inward, with "art and pains," so that its own operations become visible. (29) Indeed, Locke's chapters on space, duration, and infinity provide a strong case for reading him as an imagist; for Locke, the unbounded immensity of space is demonstrated by the absurdity of imagining a man placed by God "at the extremity of corporeal beings" and unable to extend his arm any further (2.13.21, 175). (30)

By contrast, the "positive idea" of an infinite space is impossible because of its inability to be imagined. Locke writes: "to have actually in the mind the idea of a space infinite, is to suppose the mind already passed over, and actually to have a view of all those repeated ideas of space, which an endless repetition can never totally represent to it, which carries in it a plain contradiction" (2.17.7, 213-14, my emphasis). This inability to see a unified infinite quantity serves as Locke's basis for arguing that our idea of infinity cannot be positive--and thus, for Locke, a "positive idea" is one that can be clearly imagined or "represented." Blake seems to have been well aware of this aspect of Lockean epistemology, as evidenced by Scopprell's punning misnomer, "John Lookye," in An Island in the Moon (E 456).

In keeping with his empiricism and atomism, Locke states that one reaches the idea of infinite space via a process of composition: anyone who has a clear idea of a foot--clear to the extent that it can be imagined--can repeat that idea, doubling the imagined length, which can in turn be increased via the same operation, and so on; thus, "the power of enlarging his idea of space by farther additions, remaining still the same, he hence takes the idea of infinite space" (2.17.3, 211). The same process can be applied to imagined lengths of duration, or time, in order to attain an idea of eternity. The additive process can never be completed, however, in some infinite whole, as the passage quoted in the previous paragraph indicates. This infinite enlarging/compounding of discrete units of space and duration cannot be done with other ideas, like whiteness or sweetness, because these ideas "consist not of parts" (2.17.6, 213). And since for Locke we designate parts of time and duration using number, "of all other ideas, it is number, as I have said, which, I think, furnishes us with the clearest and most distinct idea of infinity, we are capable of" (2.17.9, 215).

Just as number provides us with an idea of infinite magnitude through multiplicity, infinity extends in the other direction as well, for the mind can also divide a unit of length (or duration) "in infinitum" (2.17.12, 216). This is not to suggest that for Locke, an atomist, matter is infinitely divisible. Rather, as indicated in the second passage quoted in note 30 above, there is "no doubt" for Locke that matter is finite. (31) In speaking of its infinite divisibility, Locke is referring to the Aristotelian notion of the potential infinite. Locke recognizes that on his atomistic conception of matter, it would be paradoxical to imagine a finite length composed of an infinite number of parts. Thus, borrowing from Aristotle, Locke claims that the infinite is not an actuality, but only a potentiality. As J. E. McGuire writes, on the Aristotelian account, the infinite is not a thing or actual quantity, but "a well-formed potentiality, the complete nature of which is captured by the mind's capacity to formulate rules which generate iterative procedures." But as McGuire notes, Locke's potential infinity differs from Aristotle's in that the former conceives of the infinite imagistically and as a process, both of which are denied by the latter. (32) Though he seems to allow for an idea of potential infinity here, Locke wavers on the infinite divisibility of matter in various passages in the Essay, however, finally concluding in Book 4, "[w]e are at a loss about the divisibility of matter" (4.17.10, 682). (33) Even in 2.17, Locke's doubts about the potential infinite divisibility of matter are evident, precisely because such an idea is unimaginable. These doubts notwithstanding, Locke explicitly claims that to have an idea of a body infinitely great or infinitely small is not to have a positive idea, but rather a "growing and fugitive" one (2.17.12, 216).

Locke devotes the latter sections of 2.17 to repeating and elaborating on his assertion that there is no positive idea of infinity, proclaiming in 2.17.18 that "[h]e that thinks he has a positive idea of infinite space, will, when he considers it, find that he can no more have a positive idea of the greatest, than he has of the least space" because he cannot imagine such a quantity (2.17.18, 220). The process of multiplication or division can only generate a "fugitive" notion of the potential infinite, and Locke's purpose in the chapter is to show "how even the idea we have of infinity, how remote so-ever it may seem to be from any object of sense, or operation of our mind, has nevertheless, as all our other ideas, its original there" (2.17.22, 223). Thus, infinity is not a quantity at all, though Locke defines it as a mode of quantity and claims to have shown its empirical basis. (34) Locke's perceiver, then, is quite unable to see Blake's "Infinite in all things."

Moreover, human finitude as opposed to God's inconceivable infinitude is a distinction Locke seeks to maintain throughout the Essay, as he writes: "If you do not understand the operations of your own finite mind, that thinking thing within you, do not deem it strange, that you cannot comprehend the operations of the eternal infinite mind" (4.10.19, 630). As we should expect from Locke, the idea of God, like any other idea, is not innate (1.4.8-11). Rather, as he elaborates in Book 2, it is attained in the same compositionalist manner as are the ideas of infinite space and duration. More explicitly, God is commensurate with--or fills--infinite space and time: "God, every one easily allows, fills eternity; and 'tis hard to find a reason, why any one should doubt, that he likewise fills immensity" (2.15.3, 197). (35) Locke begins the chapter on infinity by making the same distinction he later makes at the conclusion of 4.10: "we cannot but be assured, that the great God, of whom, and from whom are all things, is incomprehensibly infinite; but yet, when we apply to that first and supreme being, our idea of infinite, in our weak and narrow thoughts, we do it primarily in respect of his duration and ubiquity; and... more figuratively to his power, wisdom, and goodness" (2.17.1, 210). God is incomprehensible for the same reasons--as Locke goes on to show in this chapter--that infinity is: in our "weak and narrow thoughts," (36) we cannot imagine his positive existence, but can only have a negative and fugitive idea of him. To attain it, we "enlarge those simple ideas" of sensation and reflection by combining them with our negative idea of infinity: "For it is infinity, which, joined to our ideas of existence, power, knowledge, etc. makes that complex idea, whereby we represent to our selves the best we can, the supreme being" (2.23.34-35, 315). This anticipates Berkeley's argument for God in Three Dialogues: "all the notion I have of God is obtained by reflecting on my own soul, heightening its powers, and removing its imperfections" (3:212-13). (37) For Blake, this is the philosophy of the man "who sees himself only" (No Natural Religion, pl. b10).

Leibniz's metaphysics, alluded to but never fully elaborated within the New Essays, (38) is incompatible with the empiricism, atomism, and imagism that both he and Blake find in Locke. For Leibniz, infinity is an innate idea both within the human mind, which can unconsciously perceive it, and a fundamental feature of the material world, which is constituted by an infinite number of spiritual, non-organically perceptive monads that are infinitely divisible. (39) Thus, in contrast to Berkeley's idealism, Leibnizian matter's phenomenal appearance results from the monads, which are real and outside the human mind, which itself is also a monad. The primary role infinity plays in Leibniz's philosophy is evident in the preface to the New Essays, where he writes, regarding the infinite within the human mind: "at every moment there is in us an infinity of perceptions... of which we are unaware because they are either too minute and too numerous, or else too unvarying." (40) These petites perceptions, or "impressions" that "involve the infinite" (55), would seem to concern the infinite in a numerical and spatial sense, but Leibniz reveals that the temporal infinite is involved as well: "It can even be said that by virtue of these minute perceptions the present is big with the future and burdened with the past, that all things harmonize... and that eyes as piercing as God's could read in the lowliest substance the universe's whole sequence of events--'What is, what was, and what will soon be brought in by the future' [Virgil]" (55). Our eyes are not as piercing as God's, and thus we only confusedly know these infinities, but we do know that they are within us (58). As for the extramental universe, Leibniz continues, "we should think of space as full of matter which is initially fluid, capable of every sort of division and indeed actually divided and subdivided to infinity" (60). Glaring contrasts with Locke's concept of infinity are already evident by the conclusion of Leibniz's Preface: not only does the human mind perceive and contain the infinite, but, contra Locke's atomistic proclivities and agnosticism about its essence, matter for Leibniz is fluid and infinitely divisible. (41)

Leibniz brings the ontological claims articulated in his preface to the New Essays to bear on his response to Locke's chapters on space, duration, and infinity, and in his critique the affinities with Blake's non-empirical account of spiritual perception become more evident. To Philalethes--Locke's spokesman in Leibniz's dialogue--whose account of adding lengths of duration to get eternity (from 2.14.27 of the Essay), Theophilus--who represents Leibniz--responds: "But to derive the notion of eternity from this we must also conceive that the same principle applies at every stage.... Thus the senses unaided cannot enable us to form these notions" (154-55, my emphasis). This idea is reiterated in response to Locke's/Philalethes's discussion of adding lengths to attain an idea of infinite space; Theophilus rejoins:
the thought of the infinite comes from the thought of likeness, or of
the same principle [applied when adding each length], and it has the
same origin as do necessary truths. That shows how our ability to carry
through the conception of this idea comes from something within us, and
could not come from sense-experience; just as necessary truths could
not be proved by induction or through the senses. (158)

Blake's argument for super-sensory perception of the infinite is prefigured here. For Leibniz, the source of our idea of infinity is innate, not empirically derived from addition (or division) of numbered units, but rather from the "thought of likeness," our ability to conceive that the same principle applies at every stage. Recognizing this principle, we do not have to empirically carry out the actual process of addition to arrive at the negative idea of infinity, as Locke implies. For Leibniz we do have positive ideas of infinite duration and infinite immensity, provided that each "is conceived not as an infinite whole but rather as an absolute, i.e. as an attribute with no limits" (160); or, as Blake would put it, unbounded.

Noting the "abyss" between Leibniz's and Locke's positions on infinity, Antonio Lamarra reads Leibniz as responding to what he saw as Locke's radical reduction of infinity to a mere quantitative aspect with a "multiplicity of meanings attached to the concept." Specifically, on Lamarra's reading, Leibniz's infinite is threefold: 1) "ontological, by means of which it is possible to speak of an infinity of things in the world," 2) mathematical, "according to which infinity may not be predicated for any quantity in general," and 3) "one may speak of a rigorous metaphysical and logical meaning of the concept thanks to which it is recognized to be deeply rooted in the idea of absolute." (42) Lamarra proceeds to claim that for Leibniz, "the actual infinite is a principal characteristic of physical and metaphysical reality. This contrasts sharply with a line of thought that from Aristotle onwards had dominated Western philosophy, and according to which nature is averse to the infinite. Leibniz indeed, maintains the presence of the actual infinite in the world." (43) Thus, in addition to the mathematical infinite, there is "an infinity of things in the world" on Leibniz's view, and moreover, each of those things is itself infinite. Leibniz develops this more explicitly in the Monadology (1714) and elsewhere, (44) but the ideas developed there emerge in the New Essays as well, despite Leibniz's professed attempt to meet Locke on the latter's own terms.

All material bodies are fluid, Leibniz states in the Preface to the New Essays, and infinitely divisible because each contains a mind-like entelechy or monad. Though not explicitly defined here, in the correspondence with Clarke, Leibniz addresses the immaterial, immanent force or entelechy within all living and non-living matter--the monad--as a spiritual "simple substance," or "soul" (A Collection of Papers, 245); each monad has its own organic body (distinct from the body of which it is the entelechy), which in turn is composed of monads, ad infinitum. In the New Essays, Leibniz uses an analogy to describe the infinite appearance of, in this case, a single animal:
it is as if someone tried to strip Harlequin on the stage but could
never finish the task because he had on so many costumes, one on top of
the other; though the infinity of replications of its organic body
which an animal contains are not as alike as suits of clothes, and nor
are they arranged one on top of another, since nature's artifice is of
an entirely different order of subtlety. (New Essays, 329)

Though he is here describing "animate bodies," Leibniz makes clear in the appendix to the correspondence with Clarke that the infinite regress entailed by his theory of monads holds for all material bodies, living and nonliving: "'tis neither agreeable to the order, nor beauty, nor reason of things, that there should be a vital principle or power of acting immanently, only in a very small part of matter; when it would be an argument of greater perfection, for it to be in all matter" (381). (45) The anti-mechanistic aspects of Leibniz's philosophy are also evident in the appendix, as he writes, "I admit every where in bodies, a principle superior to the [common] notion of matter; a principle active, and (if I may so speak) vital" (379). Such assertions place him in the panpsychist tradition that maintains the presence of spiritual mentality interfused with matter. As Bennett writes, "For various reasons, then, Leibniz espoused a sort of panpyschism--a belief that mentality pervades the universe." (46)

In All Religions are One, Blake echoes this panpsychist idea. Like the spiritual monad, the Poetic Genius is the "Spirit" from which man's "body or outward form is derived," but Blake, like Leibniz, does not confine this relationship to humans: "Likewise... the forms of all things are derived from their Genius, which by the Ancients was call'd an Angel & Spirit & Demon" (E 1, my emphasis). Conflating the Genius in all things with an angel, spirit, and demon, Blake suggests that "all things" are not only immanently active, but have perception and mentality as well.

Leibniz's anti-atomistic claims for the immanently active and infinite nature of particular bodies are echoed in Blake's positing the "Infinite in all things" in Mi Natural Religion, but this analogy is also evident in the Marriage, wherein Blake stresses the inherently energetic nature of the body, and refers on nine separate occasions to the infinite nature of the entire material universe: Ezekiel "discover'd the infinite in every thing" and attempted to raise other men into a perception of it (E 38, 39, my emphasis); the "whole creation" will appear infinite when the cherub leaves "guard at the tree of life" (E 39, my emphasis); the narrator's corrosive "printing in the infernal method" will display the hidden infinite, which will also appear after cleansing the doors of perception (E 39); the inside of the cave in the printing house in hell is infinite (E 40). (47) Each instance involves a revelation, an apocalypse of perception to reveal the infinite nature of the universe. In Leibnizian terms, Blake's perceiver shifts from being unaware of the petites perceptions involving the infinite to being fully and delightfully cognizant of them. If the cave in the last instance listed above is a metaphor for the mind of man--as Eaves, Essick, and Viscomi suggest (48)--then Blake's claim that the inside of the cavern is infinite if man could be raised to see it is consistent with his assertion in No Natural Religion that man himself is infinite. (49)

The argument for the infinitude of man and all material creation is reiterated in Blake's annotations to Swedenborg's Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, the English version of which was published the same year--1788--as Blake etched the plates of his tractates. Swedenborg, like Locke and Berkeley, distinguishes between created man and God's infinite omnipotence, to which Blake objects: "that there is but one Infinite [God] I do not [agree], for if all but God is not Infinite they shall come to an End which God forbid" (E 604). For Blake, as for Leibniz, infinite is not an adjective that is restricted to God; rather, both argue for the eternal infinitude of all material creation.

The incommensurability of Locke's and Leibniz's positions on the subject of infinity entails an incommensurability regarding their claims about God. On Leibniz's view, Locke erroneously equates God with space and time, which for Leibniz are mere phenomena. Thus, Leibniz responds to Locke under the name Theophilus, lover of God, as a means of correcting Locke's account. For Leibniz, "all these ideas, and especially that of God are within us from the outset... all we do is to come to pay heed to them; and... the idea of the infinite, above all, is not formed by extending finite ideas" (New Essays, 226). (50) The idea of God is not one of extension derived from organic perception, and therefore not equated with a numerically derived notion of infinity, as it is for Locke. God is, rather, the source of space and time for Leibniz, and divine attributes are internal to us as the positive idea of the absolute, the "true infinite." Here Leibniz's argument for man containing the attributes of God "internal to" himself is closer to Blake's ultimate claim in No Natural Religion regarding the union of God and man. The affinity Leibniz sees between man and God is made even more explicit in his earlier Discourse on Metaphysics (1686), in which he claims, "our soul expresses God, the universe, and all essences, as well as all existences" (Philosophical Essays, 58). The Discourse also contains a passage that resonates with the conclusion to No Natural Religion, as Leibniz maintains that God "humanizes himself... he is willing to allow anthropomorphism, and... he enters into society with us, as a prince with his subjects" (Philosophical Essays, 67). The same idea is advanced in a 1702 letter to Queen Sophie Charlotte of Prussia, in which Leibniz claims that we "resemble God in a small way, as much through our knowledge of order as through the order we ourselves can give to things within our grasp, in imitation of the order God gives the universe" (Philosophical Essays, 192). (51) The "small" resemblance indicates Leibniz's reluctance to fully identify God with man, as Blake does, marking one of the differences between the two that will be discussed in the next section. However, man is much closer to God in Leibniz's system than he is in Locke's and Berkeley's.

Leibniz's spiritual monad is infinite as well as capable of non-organic perception and desire, which parallels Blake's anti-Lockean assertions concerning perception in the early tractates. In the appendix to the Clarke correspondence, Leibniz makes the panpsychist claim, "Naturally, every simple Substance has Perception" (A Collection of Papers, 377), which posits the same non-organic spiritual nature of perception that Blake argues for in the "b" series of No Natural Religion. The structure of Leibniz's sentence echoes--while conveying the opposite point--Blake's satirical summary of Lockean perception in the "a" series: "Naturally he is only a natural organ subject to sense." Leibniz also has Locke's account in mind when he writes in his Discourse on Metaphysics (1686), "nothing ever enters into our mind naturally from the outside; and we have a bad habit of thinking of our soul as if it received certain species as messengers and as if it has doors and windows" (Philosophical Essays, 58). (52) For Leibniz, as for Blake, ideas are innate--they inhere in the Poetic Genius and as Leibniz writes to Queen Sophie Charlotte, "there is an inborn light within us" (Philosophical Essays, 191). And since the Leibnizian simple substances are spiritual, they resemble the Poetic Genius as defined in All Religions are One, a spiritual substance from which bodies are derived. The energetic and innate Poetic Genius is not a passive repository of external sense impressions, as in Locke's empirical model.

In plate b6 of No Natural Religion, Blake writes that the "same dull round even of a universe would soon become a mill with complicated wheels." In section 17 of the Monadology Leibniz also develops an analogy involving a mill to make an argument for non-organic perception that is analogous to Blake's. Leibniz writes, "perception, and what depends upon it cannot possibly be explained by mechanical reasons." He then instructs the reader to
[s]uppose that there be a machine, the structure of which produces
thinking, feeling, and perceiving; imagine this machine enlarged but
preserving the same proportions, so that you could enter it as if it
were a mill. This being supposed, you might visit its inside; but what
would you observe there? Nothing but parts which push and move each
other, and never anything that could explain perception. This
explanation must therefore be sought in the simple substance, not in
the composite, that is, in the machine. (Philosophical Essays, 215)

The moving parts of the mill resemble the mechanistic and corpuscular account of perception presented in Locke's Essay. No matter the ratio of the parts of the mill, Leibniz argues, perception cannot emerge. It therefore must be a property of the "simple substance," the spiritual monad, which is infinite and does not obey the laws of mechanism. (53) And as Blake's "even of a universe" implies, the philosophical assumptions informing one's account of individual perception are the same assumptions informing one's account of the cosmos at large. (54) For Leibniz and Blake, the machine of organic perception and empirical knowledge cannot reveal the infinite in all things, which characterizes the panpsychist, non-Newtonian universe in both of their metaphysics.


Despite the analogies concerning matter's infinite and immanently energetic properties, God, and non-organic perception, it would be inaccurate to wholly align Blake's early metaphysics with that of Leibniz and oppose it to the philosophy of Locke, Newton, and Berkeley. Not only was Blake unique in the artistic mode of expressing his philosophical positions, he ultimately diverges from Leibniz in several significant ways while developing his version of pantheistic monism as presented in the Marriage. (55) But even in the tractates, crucial differences from Leibniz's metaphysics are worth noting. In All Religions are One, Blake implies a subtle form of dualism by claiming that the Poetic Genius in man--and the Genius in all things--is a "Spirit" from which the "body or outward form is derived." This parallels Leibniz's assertion of a spiritual monad inhering in an organic body, the latter being the appearance of the former. However, Leibniz's famous theory of pre-established harmony does away with causation in his metaphysical system. On his account, the monads do not act upon the bodies that they constitute, although it seems as if they do. Rather, in creating this best of all possible worlds, God fashioned the activity of the monads to correspond exactly with the mechanical activity of organic bodies while not causally interacting with them. "The Soul does not act on things," Leibniz writes in his fourth letter to Clarke, "in any way other than because the Body adapts itself to the Desires of the Soul, by virtue of the Harmony, which God has pre-established between them" (A Collection of Papers, 107-9). (56) Nowhere in Blake's early tractates does he bracket the spiritual activity of the Poetic Genius from the energetic activity of the body, nor does he imply that a causal relationship between the two is impossible.

A more significant difference between Blake and Leibniz in this regard, however, is the "pre" in Leibniz's pre-established harmony. That such a system is "regulated in advance in each substance of the universe" (Philosophical Essays, 144), as Leibniz writes in A New System of the Nature and Communication of Substances, and of the Union of Body and Soul (1695), implies Leibniz's adherence to the tenets of natural religion, which posits God as a transcendent being, a first cause separate from and superior to the material universe he set in motion. Leibniz's position is made explicit in the first sentence of his first letter to Clarke: "Natural Religion it self, seems to decay [in England] very much. Many will have Human Souls to be material: Others make God himself a corporeal Being" (A Collection of Papers, 3). Leibniz here seems to anticipate--and bemoan--Blake's argument against natural religion and, particularly, his ultimate claim in that tractate: "God becomes as we are [Leibniz's 'corporeal Being'], that we may be as he is."

Blake could also be numbered among the "Many" and "Others" who Leibniz complains made the soul material and God corporeal, since those are the two central metaphysical claims of the Marriage: "Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul discrend by the five Senses" (E 34); "God only Acts & Is, in existing beings or Men" (E 40). (57) The former claim is at odds with Leibniz's metaphysics, which draws a firm distinction between the spiritual monad and the organic body of which it is the entelechy, as well as with Blake's implication in All Religions are One that the Poetic Genius is a spiritual or immaterial entity. In the Marriage Blake commits to a monist ontology in which corporeal energy "is the only life... is from the Body [, and] is Eternal Delight" (E 34)--here the body is not a shadowy illusion obstructing access to the divine, as it is in Blake's later work. In this regard Blake's soul-body conflation has affinities with Aristotelian hylomorphism, which posits the soul as a substantial form that provides shape and purpose to the matter from which it cannot be abstracted. (58) Blake retains the concept of the Poetic Genius as the first principle of perception, but in the Marriage its spiritual nature is left out of Ezekiel's characterization (E 39), signaling a divergence from Leibniz's premise that the fundamental constituents of the universe must be immaterial.

If in the tractates perception of the infinite is contingent upon the Poetic Genius and not upon sensory organs as theorized in Locke's epistemology, in the Marriage the organs of perception play a more crucial role. Rather than being unnecessary, the ancient Poets' senses become "enlarged & numerous," and Isaiah explicitly claims that he "saw no God. nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in every thing" (E 38, my emphasis). Two plates later Blake's speaker declares, "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite" (E 39). The "as it is" in the latter quote indicates Blake's metaphysical assertion that the infinitude of the universe is not just an appearance in an idealist or phenomenological sense. In this regard, Blake retains a kinship with Leibniz; the exact process by which the dis-covering of the infinite occurs remains vague, but Isaiah's dismissal of "finite organical perception" echoes Blake's satire of limited Lockean "organic perception" in the "a" series of No Natural Religion. The crucial difference here involves the necessity of the senses--enlarged, numerous, and cleansed though they may be--to perceive the infinite. Isaiah's emphasis on his perceptual apparatus is clearly at odds with Blake's later claim in A Vision of the Last Judgment (1810) that "I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight I look thro it & not with it" (E 566). In the Marriage Isaiah is looking with the eye and his perception of the infinite does not involve some spiritual vision for which the corporeal eye is merely a conduit. This does not resonate with Leibniz's contention that spiritual monads are the only perceiving substances.

Blake's negation of soul/body dualism in the Marriage extends to his characterization of God, who--contra Leibniz's philosophy--is denied a transcendent status. In the previous section, Leibniz's hesitation to fully conflate God and man was evident in his qualification that man resembles God in a "small way." Although in his system man approaches God more so than in the philosophy of Locke, Newton, and Berkeley, Leibniz retains for God the position of transcendent first cause, who in the beginning established the infinitude of his creation and the harmony between the monads and organic bodies. Although in No Natural Religion the claim that God "becomes" man suggests that God and man were initially separate, Blake's early philosophy is largely averse to divorcing God from man and the natural world. The fusion between God and man culminates No Natural Religion, and the Marriage is more radical in arguing that "there is no other God" apart from existing beings or men. The work concludes with the declaration that "every thing that lives is holy," (59) and since on plate 11 we are told that the Ancient Poets--and not a transcendent creator--animated "all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses" (E 38, my emphasis), Blake is thus positing a divine holiness to all material entities, not just humans. The Genius has here become synonymous with God, and not just with angels, spirits, and demons as it is in All Religions are One. (60) Moreover, the Genius/God inheres in all bodies--not just human breasts. Leibniz's creator God has become Blake's creative Ancient Poets. Here Blake elaborates on the pantheism evident in his annotations to Lavater, wherein he adamantly opposes Lavater's claim that "A GOD, an ANIMAL, a PLANT, are not companions of man." To this categorical separation of beings Blake counters, "It is the God in all that is our companion & friend... every thing on earth is the word of God & in its essence is God" (E 599). In the Marriage as well, God is in all, and Blake's pantheistic monism in this work significantly differs from Leibniz's dual-substance universe governed by a transcendent creator God. (61)

Blake's early metaphysics evolves from a position analogous to Leibniz's system--with their shared conceptions of spiritually infused and infinite matter, as well as their rejection of Locke's empirical model of perception--to a pantheistic monism that diverges from several Leibnizian positions, most notably the latter's version of natural religion and his substance dualism. Blake thus moves from a panpsychist to a more radical pantheist ontology in the Marriage, and I contend that despite the differences from Leibniz that such a pantheism entails, he nevertheless remains closer to Leibniz than to Berkeley, insofar as his early metaphysics grows out of the panpsychist tradition, and it is not until his later works that he relinquishes his assertion that mentality--and divinity--are distributed through "all sensible objects," which are real and outside the human mind.

Why is arguing for Blake's position in a panpsychist/pantheist tradition important? Because to hold the metaphysical stance that every thing is alive and divine carries with it a normative set of values--since every thing is a god, every thing is worthy of reverence and is capable of giving and receiving infinite delight. Blake's later continental prophecies and Urizen cycle offer the nightmare vision of not living in accordance with his early pantheistic metaphysics; he dramatizes the disastrous consequences of humans behaving as if God were a transcendent, immaterial, nonhuman demiurge, and as if they were separate from and ontologically superior to the degraded and shadowy material universe. As the narrator of the Marriage argues, Blake's early works suggest that perception, and consequently action, in all its forms, are "owing to" one's metaphysics.


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


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(1.) David Erdman claims that Blake self-identifies as Quid in the work. See Prophet against Empire: A Poet's Interpretation of the History of His Own Times, third ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press: 1977), 95, 97.

(2.) Unless otherwise specified, references to Blake's text are from Erdman's edition of The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake (New York: Anchor, 1988); I use the conventional abbreviation of "E" followed by the page number in the text.

(3.) In later works Blake's philosophical inclinations are signaled by the fact that his famous triumvirate of enemies, Bacon, Newton, and Locke, are not poets or painters.

(4.) The exchange concerning metaphysics between the two men was published in English in 1717 as A Collection of Papers, which Passed between the Late Learned Mr. Leibnitz, and Dr. Clarke, in the Years 1715 and 1716 (London, 1717), Eighteenth Century Collections Online,, accessed 16 December 2013. Subsequent citations to this work are cited in the text by page.

(5.) David Skrbina, who traces the philosophical tradition of panpsychism to the pre-Socratics, writes, "Panpsychism, roughly speaking, is the view that all things have mind or a mind-like quality." See Panpsychism in the West (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005), 2. All objects have a sentient inner experience, according to this definition, and mentality for panpsychists is not necessarily human mentality: "the panpsychist asks us to see the 'mentality' of other objects not in terms of human consciousness but as a subset of a certain universal quality of physical things" (17).

(6.) H. P. Owen defines pantheism as the belief that "God is everything and everything is God... the world is either identical with God or in some way a self-expression of his nature." See Concepts of Deity (London: Macmillan, 1971), 65. Michael P. Levine discusses the difficulties in determining the meaning of pantheism, which, he argues, "interpreted as the doctrine that divine consciousness is in everything, could be interpreted as a kind of panpsychism"; however, he claims that the pantheism "has implications beyond the scope of panpsychism." See Pantheism: A Non-Theistic Concept of Deity (New York: Routledge, 1994), 115, 116.

(7.) Leibniz's theory of pre-established harmony is disapprovingly summarized in Priestley's Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit, which also notes that Leibniz, like Aristotle, "admitted a motive force in matter." See Priestley, Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit (London, 1777), 63, 377, Eighteenth Century Collections Online,, accessed 19 June 2014. Swedenborg's A Theosophic Lucubration concludes with a dialogue between the author and the disciples of Aristotle, Descartes, and Leibniz "concerning the communication and operations of the soul and body." See A Theosophic Lucubration: On the Nature of Influx, As it Respects the Communication and Operations of Soul and Body (London, 1770), 40, Eighteenth Century Collections Online,, accessed 5 April 2012. As might be imagined, all three philosophical schools are persuaded to adopt Swedenborg's influx theory. Christopher Heppner speculates that whether Blake knew anything of Leibniz, he "would certainly have found him interesting, and there are signs of analogous concepts in his writings." See '"A Desire of Being': Identity and The Book of Thel," Colby Library Quarterly 13, no. 2 (1977): 84, though Heppner does not discuss No Natural Religion in this regard.

(8.) Geoffrey Keynes dates this marginalia circa 1820, in The Complete Writings of William Blake, ed. Keynes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 773.

(9.) Frye, Fearful Symmetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), 17, 14, 22.

(10.) Raine, Blake and Tradition, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 2:104-6, 102, 99.

(11.) Copy L of No Natural Religion, printed circa 1795, is the only copy that features all eleven of the "b" series plates--though the plate bearing proposition 3 is missing from all extant copies--and none of the "a" series argument. Although this copy was never bound during Blake's life, it does represent his last printing of the work, and the full, unabridged retutation (minus proposition 3) of the "a" series. As such, copy L presents the fullest positive articulation, together with the companion tractate, All Religions are One (also not printed until 1795), of Blake's early philosophy, and plate numbers in my citations refer to this copy. Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi write that copy L was not numbered consecutively, nor is there evidence that it was bound before 1853. Also, copy L is the only large-paper copy of the work, and as such its creation "may have been motivated by a desire to create an eleven-plate companion to All Religions are One," since both the "b" series and the latter work are "positive statements of Blake's principles" without the ironic "a" series. See Eaves, Essick, and Viscomi, eds., The Early Illuminated Books, vol. 3 of William Blake: The Illuminated Books (Princeton: Princeton University Press/William Blake Trust, 1993), 24.

(12.) Berkeley, Philosophical Writings, ed. Desmond M. Clarke (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 4:7. Subsequent in-text citations of Berkeley's works indicate section number--or dialogue number in the case of Three Dialogues--followed by the page number in Clarke's edition.

(13.) It is in virtue of its rejection of Descartes's theory that Berkeley presents his own as "new."

(14.) Berkeley is drawing from Locke here, who treats of this same situation in his famous reply to Molyneux in 2.9.8 of the Essay. Locke reaches the same conclusion. Cf. Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975). Subsequent in-text citations of Locke's Essay will be to book, chapter, section, and page number in Nidditch's edition.

(15.) Although Berkeley attempts to resolve some of the absurdities and contradictions in the subsequent work, the fundamental distinction between the "infinite perfection of God" (150:146) and the "finite and narrow assemblage of ideas (that] denotes a particular human mind" (148:145) remains.

(16.) Lussier, Romantic Dynamics (New York: St. Martin's, 2000), 49.

(17.) Cooper, William Blake and the Productions of Time (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 83.

(18.) Lussier, Romantic Dynamics, 54.

(19.) Cooper, Blake and Time, 83. Lussier writes that Blake's perspective "has recently received strong support from an unlikely ally, the theoretical physics of our own day" (Romantic Dynamics, 54).

(20.) Both Frye (Fearful Symmetry, 14) and Raine [Blake and Tradition, 2:132) support their argument for Berkeleyan idealism in Blake by appealing to Blake's assertion in A Vision of the Last Judgment that "Mental Things are alone Real" (E 565). But this work is from 1809 and thus not representative of Blake's early metaphysics. Like Blake's, Berkeley's philosophy was not consistent, as evidenced by the absence of idealism in Siris, published over thirty years after Principles and Three Dialogues. For instance, in this late work Berkeley implies a dualist ontology with claims such as "[b]ody is the opposite to spirit or mind" (290:330). Raine acknowledges that, historically speaking, Blake's annotations to Siris have no direct bearing on the 1788 composition of No Natural Religion (2:109), but, like Frye, she is more interested in establishing analogues than presenting evidence for Berkeley as a historical source.

(21.) Philonous refers again to the "finite created mind" of man four pages later (3:216).

(22.) As stated in Berkeley's Principles, it is the existence of God "which continually affect[s] us, on whom we have an absolute and entire dependence" (149:145).

(23.) Lussier, Romantic Dynamics, 49, 54.

(24.) Locke's typography has been selectively modernized.

(25.) Bennett, Learning from Six Philosophers, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 2:74. Michael Ayers makes the same claim: "Locke enjoyed presenting his doctrine as analogous, in the realm of thought, to Epicurean atomism in physics, in particular as atomism was developed by Robert Boyle." See Locke: Volume 1: Epistemology (New York: Routledge, 1991), 17. Nicholas Jolley calls Locke a "corpuscularian follower of Boyle." See Leibniz and Locke: A Study of the New Essays on Human Understanding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 82; and Catherine Wilson describes Locke's atomism as insisting on "a finite minimum size for corpuscles," and she refers to Locke's epistemological theory as "psychological atomism." See "Motion, Sensation, and the Infinite: The Lasting Impression ot Hobbes on Leibniz," British Journal of the History of Philosophy 5, no. 2 (1997): 346. Lisa Downing connects Lockean ontology to mechanism: "Locke's characterizations of the real essences of bodies are mechanist. He envisions them as corpuscularian textures--spatial arrangements of particles possessing size, shape, solidity, and motion." See "Locke's Ontology," in The Cambridge Companion to Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding," ed. Lex Newman (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 352.

(26.) Newton, Opticks (London, 1704), 400. Eighteenth Century Collections Online,, accessed 15 December 2013. Andrew Janiak argues that a more thorough consideration of the body of Newton's writings--much of it unpublished during Blake's time--leads to the conclusion that "Newton appears to be agnostic on the question [of atomism]." See Newton as Philosopher (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 108, but it's clear that Leibniz for one placed Newton in the atomist camp. In his correspondence with Clarke, Leibniz writes that Newton differed from Democritus and Epicurus "only as to the Quantity of Matter" in the universe (A Collection of Papers, 23).

(27.) See for instance plate 19 of the Marriage, in which the satirical and devilish narrator claims that the Swedenborgian angel's misperception of the approaching Leviathan is "owing to your metaphysics" (E 42).

(28.) Kroeber, Blake in a Post-Secular Era: Early Prophecies, Romantic Circles e-book, 2012, pages 43, 44,, accessed 30 June 2014.

(29.) Michael Ayers is the most notable representative of readers who regard Locke as an imagist; see Locke: Volume 1: Epistemology, chapter 5.

(30.) This idea is repeated in 2.17.4, 211: "we are apt to think, that space in it self is actually boundless, to which imagination, the idea of space or expansion of it self naturally leads us" (my emphasis). See also 2.23.27, 310: "For if matter be considered, as no doubt it is, finite, let any one send his contemplation to the extremities of the universe, and there see what conceivable hoops, what bond he can imagine to hold this mass of matter, in so close a pressure together" (my emphasis).

(31.) See also 2.15.4, 198.

(32.) McGuire, Tradition and Innovation: Newton's Metaphysics of Nature (Boston: Kluwer, 1995), 164, 165.

(33.) See Bennett, Learning from Six Philosophers, 2:75, for a discussion of Locke's ambiguity on this subject.

(34.) As McGuire states: "If the infinite is a mode of quantity, and if quantity is essentially capable of increase and decrease, there is no actually infinite quantity. This would be a quantity incapable of increase or decrease, and hence contradictory to the notion of quantity itself" (Tradition and Innovation, 167).

(35.) Blake alters Locke's claim in the Proverb of Hell of the Marriage; for Blake, it is not God but "one thought" that fills immensity (E 36); this is consistent with his equation of God and man in No Natural Religion.

(36.) This is similar to Berkeley's depiction of the human mind as "finite and narrow."

(37.) In a note to his edition of Berkeley's works, Desmond Clarke writes that Locke's and Berkeley's construction of the idea of God "by combining ideas derived from the awareness of ourselves as finite spirits" can be traced to Descartes's argument in the Meditations (Philosophical Writings, 213n20).

(38.) It is elaborated in the appendix of the English edition of the correspondence with Clarke.

(39.) Or, in the words of Bennett: "matter is just the appearance to us of an infinitely nilmerous aggregate ot mind-like monads," though Leibniz often writes of matter in the New Essays as if it were not merely appearance (Learning from Six Philosophers, 1:297).

(40.) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding, eds. Peter Remnant and Jonathan Bennett (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 53. Subsequent references to this edition are cited in the text by page.

(41.) Blake poetically refigures these Leibnizian ideas regarding the spatial and temporal infinitude of the fundamental monads and the human mind in the famous opening of the later "Auguries of Innocence," which posits the world within a grain of sand, infinity in the palm of a hand, and eternity within an hour (E 490).

(42.) Lamarra, "Leibniz on Locke on Infinity," L'infinito in Leibniz: problemi e terminologia (Rome: Edizioni dell'Ateneo), 180.

(43.) Lamarra, "Leibniz on Locke on Infinity," 181.

(44.) See for instance, section 66: "there is a world of creatures, of living beings, of animals, of entelechies, of souls in the least part of matter"; and 70: "each living body has a dominant entelechy... but the limbs of this living body are full of other living beings, plants, animals, each of which also has its entelechy, or its dominant soul," in Leibniz, Philosophical Essays, eds., Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989), 222. See also Primary Truths (1686), in which Leibniz writes, "every particle of the universe contains a world of an infinity of creatures" (Philosophical Essays, 34). Subsequent references to this collection are cited in the text by page.

(45.) Voltaire, in his summary of the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, was scandalized by such metaphysics: "Can you assert that a single drop of urine is made up of an infinite number of monades, each whereof has ideas, altho' obscure ones, of the whole universe?" See The Metaphysics of Sir Isaac Newton: Or, a Comparison between the Opinions of Sir Isaac Newton and Mr. Leibnitz (London: 1747), 64, Eighteenth Century Collections Online,, accessed 16 December 2013.

(46.) Bennett, Learning from Six Philosophers, 1:239. See his vol. 1, chapter 12 for a more complete discussion of Leibniz's monads. For further discussion of the panpsychist aspects of Leibniz's theory of monads, see Skrbina, Panpsychism in the West, 95-99.

(47.) The Abyss above which the angel and narrator hang suspended in plate 18 is also infinite (E 41). Additionally, Blake writes that an infinite number of Swedenborgian works can be produced from the works of Dante and Shakespeare (E 43), and the concluding "Song of Liberty" describes "infinite mountains of light now barr'd out by the atlantic sea" (E 44).

(48.) Blake, The Early Illuminated Books, 137.

(49.) Raine makes an argument to this effect: "It is clear that 'the perception of the infinite' means, quite specifically, the realization that the infinite lies within man himself as the indwelling mind of God" (Blake and Tradition, 2:113).

(50.) Earlier in the same work, Leibniz writes: "The idea of the absolute is internal to us, as is that of being: these absolutes are nothing but the attributes of God; and they may be said to be as much the source of ideas as God himself is the principle of beings" (New Essays, 158).

(51.) See also his A New System of Nature (1695): "every mind is like a world apart, self-sufficient, independent of any other creature, containing infinity, and expressing the universe" (Philosophical Essays, 144).

(52.) Leibniz later claims, unequivocally, "it is always false to say that all our notions come from the external senses" (Philosophical Essays, 59).

(53.) Leibniz makes the same argument in his correspondence with Clarke: "I do not assent to the vulgar notions that the images of things are conveyed by the organs (of sense) to the soul. For it is not conceivable by what passage, or by what means of conveyance, these images can be earned from the organ to the soul.... It cannot be explained how immaterial substance is affected by matter" (237).

(54.) Steve Clark makes the same point, though he is not considering Blake's line in relation to Leibniz: "The dizzying expansion of 'even of a universe' allies planetary orbits, the cosmic predictability of the Newtonian universe, to the microcosm of the psyche." See "'Labouring at the Resolute Anvil': Blake's Response to Locke," in Blake in the Nineties, eds., Clark and David Worrall (New York: St. Martin's, 1999), 142-43.

(55.) Several critics have observed the metaphysical monism evident in the Marriage: Raine calls the work "a manifesto... of the 'one thing' in which contraries are resolved" (Blake and Tradition, 1:100); Martin K. Nurmi contends that Blakean monism is idealist--like Berkeley's--and formulated in opposition to materialist monism. See Blake's Doctrine of Contraries: A Study in Visionary Metaphysics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1954), 58; Harold Bloom writes that Blake's devil "attacks the dualism of Christian tradition." See Bloom, ed., William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (New York: Chelsea House, 1987), 4; and Nicholas M. Williams also claims that dualism is Blake's "main target" in the Marriage and other works, in "'The Sciences of Life': Living Form in William Blake and Aldous Huxley," Romanticism 15 (2009): 45. I wish to stress what I take to be the pantheistic quality of this monism.

(56.) Leibniz elaborates in the appendix: "God created the Soul in such manner at first, as that it produces within it self, and represents in it self successively, what passes in the Body; and that he has made the Body also in such manner, as that it must of it self do what the Soul wills" (A Collection of Papers, 389).

(57.) For variations of this latter claim, see plate 11, "All deities reside in the human Breast" (E 38), and the Memorable Fancy on plate 22: "those who envy or calumniate great men hate God, for there is no other God" (E 43).

(58.) Aristotle defines the soul in Dc Amina as "the principle of animal life," whose affections "are inseparable from the material substratum" of that very life. See The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Modern Library, 2001), 1.402a5-6, 1.403b7-18. Much more could be written concerning Blake's relationship to Aristotle in the Marriage, but such a discussion extends beyond the scope of this present study.

(59.) This claim is repeated in Visions of the Daughters oj Albion (1793, E 51), and America a Prophecy (1793, E 54), as well as in The Four Zoas (c. 1797-1807, E 324).

(60.) The same idea is reiterated in the annotations to Lavater, where Blake refers to "the Poetic Genius which is the Lord" (E 603).

(61.) The Marriage's, pantheistic monism lends itself to comparison with another natural philosopher widely regarded as a pantheistic monist: Spinoza, who claims in his Ethics that "in Nature... there is only one substance, namely, God." See A Spinoza Reader, ed. Edwin Curley (Pnnceton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 1.P30D, 105. As with Aristotle, however, such a comparison is for another study.
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Author:Fletcher, Joseph
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
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Date:Jun 22, 2017
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