This is a hand-coloured facsimile, made in 1868, of William Blake’s original and undated work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, probably created in 1790.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is an innovative and highly personal publication, the design of which is similar to that of Blake’s poems Songs of Innocence and of Experience and his Prophetic Books. The content develops Blake’s view of the spiritual cosmos. Through the voice of the Devil, he comments on the ideas of the Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), who wrote a book with a Latin title meaning Heaven and Hell. Blake takes issue with Swedenborg for conversing more with angels than with devils.
Blake was deeply critical of traditional religion but greatly admired John Milton. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake refers to Paradise Lost (1667), but inverts the power relations between God and Satan. Jesus, the Messiah, becomes the voice of restraint, while Satan is the revolutionary voice of liberty and desire (p. 5). Blake develops the idea that the sensual world can lead to the spiritual, and that the repression of desire destroys the spirit. He says, ‘Man has no Body distinct from his Soul … Energy is the only life, and is from the Body’ (p. 4). Blake also includes a series of Proverbs of Hell with unsettling pearls of wisdom, including ‘The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction’ (p. 9). The book ends with 'A Song of Liberty', which calls for revolt against the tyrannies of church and state.
On page 6, Blake adds a provocative note suggesting that:
The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when he wrote of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it.