Our amazing William Blake was never recognised as a genius when he was alive, which has always seemed the saddest thing to me because he had a towering talent, or to be more accurate, several towering talents. He was at least 250 years ahead of his time. We haven’t caught up with a lot of his ideas even now. I am as you can see, a great admirer so it troubles me to see plays and read novels which take appalling liberties with the facts of his life. Let me give you a few ghastly examples.
One novelist, told by her editor that she had to ‘beef up’ the story, decided to give Blake’s wife Kate a lover and make him a french soldier! What? Any reading of any standard work about the two of them would reveal that they were a devoted and loving couple.
But if the novelists are dire – with a splendid exception of Peter Ackroyd whose work on Blake is superb – the latest crop of dramatists are worse, particularly when they’re dealing with his three year stay in Felpham. I’ve seen a group of local girls dancing in the Fox Inn – I beg your pardon!? – and the soldiers who were billeted in the village playing cricket!! Another young man has decided to write a play about Blake’s death which is inaccurate from start to finish and ends on such a ludicrous note, I could not believe what I was hearing. William Hayley, the man who encouraged Blake to come to Felpham and work for him as an engraver, rushes on stage while Blake is dying to yell at Kate that she must call a doctor because ‘he needs a blood transfusion’. In 1827!??? 1827 was 7 years after William Hayley died so the poor man would have had a job to be present at the event. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
But then Blake understood how different we all are and how different our understanding of things. “The tree which moves some to tears of joy” he said “Is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
But now, just when I was giving up hope of meeting anyone who knew what they were doing when writing about Blake, a young man called Matt Wilmshurst found me on social media and he is, I kid you not, superb. He is planning to make a film of Blake’s three year stay in Felpham and he not only knows his subject inside out but is a careful, meticulous artist who checks all his facts and wants to get as close to the truth as he possibly can. He came to visit me on Monday to talk Blake, bringing me flowers, and we talked for hours. I enjoyed every second of them and mean to help him in anyway I can. Truth is now more necessary to us all then ever and Blake knew a lot about truth – and lies.
“A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent” he said and:
“Truth can never be told so as to be understood and not be believed.”