I see London blind & age-bent begging thro the Streets
Of Babylon, led by a child. his tears run down his beard
The ever-present genius of William Blake will be the subject of a series of literary walks this summer in London. Following the pandemic hiatus, Niall McDevitt returns with ‘Five August Blake Walks’ to take place on the five consecutive Sundays of August 2021. McDevitt, an Irish poet resident in London for 30 years, believes that the best way of getting to know Blake is by going out into the streets that he lived, studied, worked and died in, and which he wrote and painted into his mystical works. This series explores new Blakean subject matter and new sites in-depth, from Thomas Paine to the River Tyburn, Emmanuel Swedenborg to Bedlam. The final walk will compare and contrast William Blake and Francis Bacon as Britain’s two greatest painters, albeit with opposing visions. The ‘poetopographical’ walking lectures will also continue to focus on Blake’s prophetic books and their idiosyncratic mapping of London esp. Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion. As Fortress Britain incarcerates its subjects in a Brexit-Covid pincer movement, this immersive series of walks will provide a unique escape route for ‘mental travellers’.
“Niall McDevitt’s Blake walks are excellent. Highly recommended.” –John Higgs (author of William Blake Vs The World)
WILLIAM BLAKE AND THOMAS PAINE
Though most biographers accept there was an acquaintanceship between the political philosopher Paine and the poet-painter Blake, there has been little attempt to imagine the massive impact the connection might have had on the younger man. The 50-something firebrand must have been the most exciting person Blake had ever met. Did Paine radicalise Blake? To what extent did Blake homage Paine in the character Orc, and rebuke Paine in the character Urizen?
McDevitt’s walk progresses from Angel to Soho locating the disappeared streets where Paine held court to literary London in 1791-2 and where Catherine Blake died a lonely widow on 18 Oct 1831.
Sun 1 August meeting outside Angel tube. 2pm(approx. 2 hours ending at Oxford Circus tube)
Washington, Franklin, Paine, and Warren, Gates, Hancock, and Green
Meet on the coast glowing with blood from Albion’s fiery Prince.
WILLIAM BLAKE AND BEDLAM
When William Blake died in 1827 a spate of posthumous articles appeared in various magazines questioning his sanity. One hoax article even claimed to have interviewed Blake in Bethlehem Hospital where he had supposedly been an inmate for twenty years. In Blake’s own writings, though Jerusalem is namechecked countless times, Bethlehem is only mentioned once, disparagingly.
McDevitt’s walk takes in the site of London’s three historic Bethlehem Hospitals, and follows Los’s route in Jerusalem from the Tower of London to the ‘Dens of despair in the house of bread’ aka Bedlam.
Sun 8 August meeting on Liverpool Street itself outside Liverpool Street tube. 2pm (approx three hours ending North Lambeth tube).
thence to Bethlehem where was builded
Dens of despair in the house of bread:
WILLIAM BLAKE AND THE RIVER TYBURN
In 1803 William Blake returned to London, but he was still facing a sedition trial in Sussex in early 1804. Finding himself in Mayfair living within view of the disused site of Tyburn and on a street where the River Tyburn was flowing directly underneath, he developed a new humanitarian symbol for the final phase of his spiritual polemic.
McDevitt’s walk joins the course of the River Tyburn at Baker Street, finds the site of the lost medieval Tyburn Church, and tries to locate the mysterious ‘Tyburn Brook’.
Sun 15 August meeting outside Baker Street tube by the statue of Sherlock Holmes. 2pm (approx two hours ending at Marble Arch tube).
They groan’d aloud on London Stone
They groan’d aloud on Tyburns Brook
WILLIAM BLAKE AND SWEDENBORG
As Swedenborg was the mystical teacher who later ‘turned on’ great Europeans such Balzac, Baudelaire and Strindberg, so he had performed a similar service for Blake at the time of the French Revolution. For some, Swedenborg seems to prophesy Blake. For others, he is a figure of fun, who has never fully recovered from Blake’s satirical portrait in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The two seem to appear together in Blake’s recurring image of London as an old man led by a child.
McDevitt’s walk begins at the site of Swedenborg’s burial, ends at the site of his final London dwelling-place and death in 1772, and will try to locate the site of the Church of the New Jerusalem where Blake and Catherine attended a weeklong conference in 1789.
Sunday 22 August meeting outside Shadwell DLR. 2pm (approx three hours ending at Farringdon tube).
As a new heaven is begun, and it is now thirty-three years
since its advent, the Eternal Hell revives. And lo! Swedenborg
is the angel sitting at the tomb: his writings are the linen clothes
BLAKE AND BACON: TWO SOHO ARTISTS
It’s hard to think of two English artists who seem more diametrically opposed than William Blake and Francis Bacon. While one is renowned as England’s greatest religious artist, the other is equally renowned for the godlessness of his oeuvre. Though Bacon hated Blake’s art, he was still fascinated by the man. Bacon had a copy of Blake’s life-mask in his Reece Mews studio, and – working from a b/w photo – painted a series of six unnerving studies.
McDevitt’s walk begins in Mayfair where Blake lived in obscurity and Bacon first exhibited Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. It then explores the 18th century Soho that was Blake’s birthplace alongside the 20th century Soho that was Bacon’s playground.
Sunday 29 August meeting at 17 South Molton Street near Bond Street tube. 2pm (approx two hours ending in Soho).
The furious terrors flew around
(N.B. Walks are £12 each and can be booked individually. If you book four, the fifth is free).