Benjamin Heath Malkin, the author of this book, was a friend of William Blake, and shared the poet’s interest in radical politics. In 1806 Malkin commissioned Blake to design the frontispiece for his book commemorating his eldest son Thomas, a talented child who had died in 1802 aged six. The introduction to the book is the first and the best account of Blake’s early life, and for the first time brought a number of the Songs of Innocence and Experience to the attention of the wider public.
How does Malkin present Blake’s work?
On these pages Malkin contrasts Blake’s ‘Holy Thursday’ from Songs of Innocence with a poem written by Ben Jonson, in praise of a returning ambassador. Malkin states that Blake’s poem ‘expresses with majesty and pathos, the feelings of a benevolent mind, on being present at a sublime display of national munificence and charity’.
Malkin points out references in the Blake poem to the Book of Revelation, particularly as this is referenced in Milton’s Paradise Lost, particularly looking at how the vast noise of a multitude singing is described. But he misses Blake’s irony (the ‘aged men, wise guardians of the poor’ are seated ‘beneath’ the children), and the echoes of ‘London’ in the regimentation of the children’s march ‘like Thames’ waters’ to St Pauls.