William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827)

Poet and artist who gave us illustrations that expressed Swedenborg’s visions

by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807

An early reader of Swedenborg, Blake was present at the first conference of the New Jerusalem Church held at Great East Cheap in the City of London in April 1789. Although he did not stay with the organization and was fiercely critical of Swedenborg in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-1793), Blake was to praise Swedenborg on later occasions and acknowledge his influence, calling him a ‘divine teacher’ in a conversation in 1825 recorded by Henry Crabb Robinson. The influence of Swedenborg’s teachings may be found in many places in his poetry, prose and visual art. One of his oldest and closest friends was the sculptor John Flaxman, a founder member of the Swedenborg Society. Reference: Blake and Swedenborg: Opposition is True Friendship, ed. HF Bellin and D Ruhl (Swedenborg Foundation, West Chester, PA, 1985). The essays by Morton Paley and Kathleen Raine in that book are particularly important in assessing Swedenborg’s influence on Blake.