This thesis relates the visual-verbal art of William Blake (1757-1827) to the history and theory of mapping. From half-sketched London sites to expansive mappings of the entire cosmos, Blake exhibits a persistent, if agonistic, impulse to map the world around him.
Although eccentric, Blake’s cartographic imagination was far from isolated in the culture of his day. In this study, I characterise Blake’s spatial thought as by turns cartographic and anti-cartographic, positioning him as both a participant in and a critic of eighteenth- century mapping practices. Perhaps owing to the idiosyncrasies of Blake’s mythography, neither Blake scholars nor map scholars have sought fully to understand his cartographic imagination. Blakean worldmaking is habitually othered, which has the effect of upholding Blake’s reputation as a Romantic isolationist existing somehow outside of time and space. Attempting to bring Blake back down to earth, I characterise him as a fundamentally networked figure, focusing on his demonstrable connections to the cartographic culture of his day. In doing so, I hope also to open up little-explored literary and artistic byways in the history of cartography.
The cartographic aspects of Blake’s work have arguably survived and thrived to a greater and richer extent in the creative reception of his work than has been acknowledged in Blake scholarship to date. I turn to this reception in the final chapter of this thesis, tracing the afterlives of Blakean mapping within contemporary networks of small-press and independent publishers in London. These individuals and groups have often been highly attuned to the cartographic affordances of Blake’s work, carrying forward Blake’s “golden string” in ever-evolving mappings of an ever-evolving London.