Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

2/1/2004 - 1/31/2005

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

Blake and the Terror: A Biography of William Blake during the Anti-Jacobin Terror in Britain, 1792-1793

FAIN: FA-50154-04

Michael C. Phillips
University of York (York YO10 5NH United Kingdom)

Because there are no letters, diaries, or first hand accounts for this time, the circumstances of Blake's life in Lambeth in the early 1790s have never been explored, at what was the most inventive and productive period in his life. As Britain reacted against the revolution in France, this period also became a critical moment in the history of civil liberty; a moment also, when the poor, the work of children and conditions in the manufactories became an issue of concern. As I have discovered, some of the worst of these conditions existed in Lambeth within quarter of a mile of where Blake was living. At he risk of imprisonment, Blake published poems of protest and prophecy, condemning the conditions of the poor and of the disenfranchised, and advocating freedom and equality for all. Based entirely upon original and innovative research into unexplored sources in Britain and America, I recreate Blake's life in Lambeth as a radical print publisher during the anti-Jacobin Terror in Britain. I show why he was living in fear of his life--the only statement we have for this time is an entry in his Manuscript Notebook: "I say I shant live five years And if I live one it will be a Wonder June 1793."--and the significance these events had for the course of his poetry and his art. By focusing upon Blake at this time, the biography illuminates an era of infamous government repression that, for many, resulted in imprisonment, transportation, even death from "goal fever" (typhus), or escape by emigration to America. For the first time, the biography will establish in detail the social and political context of Blake's life and work in Lambeth in the early 1790s. Revealing a turning point in Blake's life, the biography will contribute to our understanding of the conditions of authorship and freedom of the press in Britain during the era of the French Revolution, to the history of art and literature during a major period of transition, and cast new light on political emigration form Britain to America in the 1790s.