In the Caves of Heaven and Hell: Swedenborg and Printmaking in Blake’s Marriage

  • Joseph Viscomi


The present essay is the third of three on the evolution of William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Viscomi 1997, 1998). The first argues that the Marriage evolved through 4–6 distinct printmaking sessions in the following plate order: 21–4; 12–13; 1–3, 5–6, 11, 6–10; 14–15, ?4; 16–20; and 25–7. From the chronology of plate production, we can infer that Blake began the Marriage without a completed manuscript, a hypothesis supported by the technical exigencies of illuminated printing. We can also infer that the Marriage’s disjointed structure resulted at least in part from its production history. While literary models, such as Menippean satire or the Higher Criticism’s theory that the Old Testament was a gathering of redacted fragments, may also have influenced the structure, they appear to have come into play only after plates 21–4 were written and executed. These four plates constitute an autonomous text expressing almost exclusively Blake’s criticism of Emanuel Swedenborg. The text’s autonomy and the fact that its four plates were quarters cut from the same sheet of copper (the first of seven sheets eventually cut) support the hypothesis that it was written as an independent, anti-Swedenborgian pamphlet, as does the fact that plates 21–4 were first printed in black ink on a conjoined sheet of paper folded in half.1


Creative Process Copper Plate Open Mind Textual Unit Present Essay 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Joseph Viscomi

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