Yanagi Muneyoshi To William Blake: Kanryu Suru ‘Kotei No Shiso’ (William Blake and Yanagi Muneyoshi: The Philosophy of Affirmation of Life and its Global Circulation)
In 1914, YANAGI Muneyoshi (1889-1961), a religious philosopher and afterwards a founder of Japan Folk Crafts Museum, published William Blake, the first academic book on Blake in Japanese. He argued that Blake’s unique understanding of Christianity had something in common with ‘Oriental’ philosophy, making reference to The Upanishads translated by Max Müller and published by Oxford University Press in 1879. Did Yanagi misinterpret Blake according to his own interests in Indian philosophy? This book offers an account of the reception of Blake by Yanagi in the 1910s and 1920s, giving portrayals of early Blake enthusiasts, such as Bernard Leach, Augustus John, John Sampson, Rossetti brothers and Laurence Binyon, all of whom had certain influences on Yanagi.
In the latter half of the book the author explores the relationship between Blake and Hinduism. Although Blake wrote in his letter to Thomas Butts that his stay in Felpham was ‘three years Slumber on the banks of the Ocean’, it is highly probable that Blake received inspiration from William Hayley who owned books on Hinduism written by Sir William Jones and Thomas Maurice. Above all Indian motifs are prominently embedded in Designs to a Series of Ballads (1802), an artistic collaboration of Hayley the poet and Blake the engraver. Presumably Hayley wrote it as an elegy for his son, Thomas Alphonso Hayley, who had great interests in Indian culture and who died a premature death in 1800. The author concludes that Blake established his original version of Christianity under the influence of Neoplatonic interpretation of Hinduism according to the books and essays by Jones and Maurice.
The chapters about Blake and Hinduism are based on the author’s PhD thesis, ‘William Blake and Multiculturalism: Between Christianity and Heathen Myths’ (Birkbeck College, University of London, 2008), which is available online via the integrated catalogue of the British Library.
(Written by Hikari Sato, Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences / 2017)