This week Felpham has been rather shaken by the news that one of the most popular pubs in the village is going to close down and much has been written about it on Facebook and elsewhere. In the course of the various conversations – a man called Aidan Bappoo quoted what Blake had said about Felpham to one of his London friends:
“The Villagers of Felpham are not meer Rustics; they are polite & modest. Meat is cheaper than in London, but the sweet air & the voices of the winds, trees & birds, & the odours of the happy ground, makes it a dwelling for immortals” William Blake to Thomas Butts, September 23, 1800
Bill Brooks answered by quoting another letter of Blake’s to John Flaxman:
“Felpham is a sweet place for Study, because it is more Spiritual than London. Heaven opens here on all sides her golden Gates, her windows are not obstructed by vapours. Voices of Celestial inhabitants are more distinctly heard & their forms more distinctly seen.”
I was delighted to see Blake being quoted like this and it gave me the chance to add my seven pennyworth in the hope that it would simply be accepted and not criticised as being “political”. Here is what I said:
“They’re such touching descriptions. I expect you already know that his neighbours in Felpham were fond of him because he was such a hard worker. And when he was put on trial for sedition they perjured themselves to get him off.”
I didn’t get scolded this time, which was pleasant, but my comment provoked an answer. A lady came back almost at once to say “So true of Felpham, even now.” It was a kindly and sympathetic observation, but it stopped me in my tracks and made me think. And led to this blog, because it was a perfect example of how easy it is to get hold of the wrong end of the stick. I’m sure it made the lady and her readers feel good about themselves and their opinions, but…
If Blake were suddenly reincarnated in today’s Felpham, he would have a very hard time of it, for he was not a gentle poet who wrote about lambs and England’s green and pleasant land, he was actually what we would now call ‘extremely left wing’ and an outspoken revolutionary. He wore the red cap of liberty around London during the heady days of the French Revolution, which was a daring and dangerous thing to do. And the poem, which has since become our second national anthem, is in fact a plea for a ‘mental fight’ against all the things that were standing in the way of achieving the ideal state, which he called ‘Jerusalem’. He pledged that he would “never cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand” in a promise to keep on fighting for the things he believed in. We pledge ourselves in the same way whenever we sing the hymn, although we might not all know what we are actually singing.
I’m pretty sure this sort of attitude would not go down well in today’s Felpham, where there are people who feel it is too political even to talk about what is currently happening to his cottage. Even if what is said is true. I am now so demoralised that I have almost given up trying to give anyone information about the state of the cottage.
But of course, I could be wrong. Ah “Felpham sweet Felpham”.