Blake and Newton

Polymath author Peter Ackroyd was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s “Start the Week”, discussing his new biography of Isaac Newton. Ackroyd contrasted Newton to one of his previous biographical subjects, William Blake, who detested Newton and all that he did:

I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Mans
I will not Reason and Compare: my business is to Create.

The visionary Blake saw imagination and creation opposed to science and reason.


Scientists who pin this, Blake’s portrait of Newton, to their walls miss the point, or at least Blake’s intention: the scientist, despite his heroic form, is obsessed with his sterile geometric forms, to the expense of his own imagination and the world around him.

With a few hundred years of hindsight, we, with Ackroyd, can now see the similarities between the pair: both visionaries, both obsessed with their religion — but both borderline heretics (and both, as one of my Professors in graduate school liked to describe Newton, “sick puppies”).