The year before he finished adding Songs of Experience to Songs of Innocence Blake published two further works using the word “Albion.” First was America a Prophecy, which was followed up in 1794 by Europe a Prophecy. These “continental prophecies” adapted and repurposed American and European history to talk about revolution in a more absolute sense, exploring Blake’s character of Orc, the furious spirit of revolution who is both the eldest son of Los and Enitharmon and the fallen form of Luvah. In these poems Albion is simply used to describe Britain. While Albion has princes, angels, and guardians, and while it is described at one point as growing sick, it is nevertheless clearly a land possessing a shore and cliffs.
|Figure 340: “Albion Rose,” by William Blake,|
from A Large Book of Designs, 1796.
But in Visions of the Daughters of Albion, also published in 1793, Blake sets up a different relationship. Albion itself does not appear in the poem, which would gesture towards reading Albion as simply a metonym of Britain, with the daughters not being biological offspring so much as British women in general. But the fact that the main character of the poem, Oothoon, is explicitly described as “the soft soul of America” suggests at least some measure of personification, a viewpoint that Blake confirms – while making clear that Visions of the Daughters of Albion is, in his view, an “early, minor work” characterized by his being “too timid to say what he means” while simultaneously “not meaning much of anything anyway,” he admits that Albion is “not entirely passive” within the prophecy. This would suggest that his daughters – whose only real role in the poem is to serve as witnesses to the story of Oothoon – fail to do ever more than “hear her woes, and echo back her sighs” not because of a rejection of Oothoon (who transforms over the course of the poem from traumatized rape victim to a triumphant advocate of freedom who calls for people to “arise, you little glancing wings, and sing your infant joy! Arise, and drink your bliss, for everything that lives is holy,” a transformation that parallels the Songs of Innocence/Songs of Experience dualism, again placing Innocence, not Experience, as the end state) but because of the fundamental difference between her liberated American soul and their British nature. And just three years later he pushed this view further in A Large Book of Designs, which opened with “Albion rose,” an image that clearly depicts Albion as a person and not merely as a land.
|Figure 341: One of two illustrations of|
Ahania, whose unfathomably radiant
beauty provides the justification for life
itself, in Blake’s corpus. (Object 2 of
The Book of Ahania, 1795)
This more personified vision of Albion found fuller expression in Blake’s later, longer prophecies Milton a Poem, The Four Zoas, and, most obviously Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion. In these works Albion is one of the major characters, treated as a primordial giant in a tradition dating back to , who described the island “then called Albion” as “inhabited by none but a few giants.” In The Four Zoas he is described at the opening of the second night, and later in that section it is said that “From Albions Loins fled all Peoples and Nations of the Earth.” It is when Albion turns “his Eyes outward to Self. losing the Divine Vision” that Urizen, Blake’s “shadow of horror” representing Newtonian reason, assumes power. Albion is largely absent from the rest of The Four Zoas, returning only in the ninth and final night where he oversees the resurrection of Urizen’s emanation Ahania, whose restoration finally tempers the demiurge’s madness. Milton a Poem tells a different account of Albion’s redemption from eternal sleep, telling of how “Milton fell thro Albions heart, travelling outside of Humanity Beyond the Stars in Chaos in Caverns of the Mundane Shell.”
But Milton also makes it clear that Albion’s bodily existence does not keep him from being a metonymy of Britain. When he awakens late in Milton, his body is described in terms of Great Britain. “London & Bath & Legions & Edinburgh Are the four pillars of his Throne; his left foot near London Covers the shades of Tyburn; his instep from Windsor to Primrose Hill stretching to Highgate & Holloway London is between his knees: its basements fourfold His right foot stretches to the sea on Dover cliffs, his heel On Canterburys ruins; his right hand covers lofty Wales His left Scotland; his bosom girt with gold involves York, Edinburgh, Durham & Carlisle & on the front Bath, Oxford, Cambridge Norwich; his right elbow Leans on the Rocks of Erins Land, Ireland ancient nation His head bends over London.” There is, in all of this, a clear differentiation between land and giant – Albion is said to have “movd his right foot to Cornwall, his left to the Rocks of Bognor,” but the metonymous nature of the figure is clear.
|Figure 342: Jerusalem is revealed as liberty itself. (Object 26 of|
Jerusalem, Copy E, 1821)
Jerusalem, as its title suggests, focuses even more extensively on the figure of Albion, and specifically the relationship between him and his emanation Jerusalem. The twenty-sixth plate of Jerusalem proclaims baldly that “Jerusalem is Liberty,” a point reiterated later in the poem when Blake writes that “Jerusalem is called Liberty among the Children of Albion,” and that she is the light of Divine Vision incarnated in the individual. Jerusalem opens with Christ calling upon Albion to awaken and return, and, more to the point, to return Jerusalem, who he has hidden away from Jesus, whom she is to wed. Again, the metonymy between Albion the character and the land is made clear. “the ancient porches of Albion are Darken’d!,” Blake writes, “they are drawn thro’ unbounded space, scatter’d upon The Void in incohererent despair! Cambridge & Oxford & London. Are driven among the starry Wheels. rent away and dissipated, In Chasms & Abysses of sorrow, enlarg’d without dimension, terrible Albions mountains run with blood. the cries of war & of tumult Resound into the unbounded night, every Human perfection Of mountain & river & city. are small & wither’d & darken’d Cam is a little stream! Ely is almost swallowd up! Lincoln & Norwich stand trembling on the brink of Udan-Adan! Wales and Scotland shrink themselves to the west and to the north! Mourning for fear of the warriors in the Vale of Entuthon-Benython.” As one might expect, the metonymy continues to Albion’s emanation, Jerusalem, who “is scatterd abroad like a cloud of smoke thro’ non-entity: Moab & Ammon & Amalek & Canaan & Egypt & Aram Recieve her little-ones for sacrifices and the delights of cruelty.”
But while Jerusalem is associated with the geographical regions one would expect, there is a troubling detail in this description, namely that these lands constitute her being “scatterd abroad,” away from her “proper” home in Britain. This is a repeated claim in Blake’s mythology – The Four Zoas describes the confinement of “Jerusalems Children in the dungeons of Babylon,” and Milton clarifies that “Jerusalems foundations began” in Lambeth’s Vale, but that she is now “a wandering Harlot in the streets” who is “bound in chains, in the Dens of Babylon.” When Jerusalem is reunited with Vala, the emanation of Luvah, she becomes Brittannia and rejoins Albion, restoring the proper order of things and restoring Eternity and the undivided, whole nature of all things.
|Figure 343: Urizen is depicted with the|
book in which he has attempted to
fix the very nature of reality. (Object
5 of The Book of Urizen, Copy G, written
1794, printed 1818)
All of this becomes even more problematic in the poem “Jerusalem,” which serves as part of the preface to some versions of Milton a Poem. This poem, made famous by a 20th century musical setting by Richard Parry, calls for the construction of “Jerusalem In Englands green & pleasant Land” as an alternative to the “dark Satanic Mills” that currently blighted it. Framed in terms of the mythic image of Christ visiting an ancient England, the poem calls for a “Mental Fight” to build Jerusalem, a call that is contextualized by the rest of the preface as an attack on “Hirelings in the Camp. the Court. & the University: who would if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War,” and whose “whole delight is in Destroying.” This is visibly the same attack on Urizenic reason that animates most of Blake’s work, but its framing in a fetishized “pastoral” Britain that is the true home of Jerusalem carries an unsettling vein of the same nationalism that animates the imperialist Britain Blake so often railed against. The idea that departing Britain and entering a fallen state were coextensive, or that one serves as a metaphor for the other is a deeply poisonous one that reveals the fundamental inequalities implicit in any Liberty that Jerusalem might offer.
But in succumbing to this temptation Blake was merely falling afoul of a line that has confounded everyone who has gone to Mental War to defend their vision of Albion. This is the same conundrum that Thorpe faced when revamping Captain Britain in 1981 and trying to figure out how to do a Captain Britain comic that avoided any nationalism and the problematic use of the Union Jack by fascist groups. And these are surely tendencies that Moore would have been well aware of and actively eager to avoid falling afoul of.
|Figure 344: The resurrection of Captain|
Britain. (From “A Rag, A Bone, A Hank
of Hair,” written by Alan Moore, art by
Alan Davis, in The Daredevils #1, 1983)
Moore’s first Captain Britain strip for The Daredevils, the memorably titled “A Rag, A Bone, A Hank of Hair,” ultimately avoids the questions of defining Britain and Braddock’s relationship to it, instead taking the sensible decision that defining Brian Braddock was the first priority. Having just penned “A History of Britain,” in which he highlighted the excessively tumultuous creative history of the character, the lack of a satisfying origin for the character was clearly at the forefront of his mind, and is what he opted to tackle first. Moore thus has Merlin and Roma set about reconstructing Captain Britain’s body and mind from the eponymous relics. Merlin wryly admits that Brian Braddock is “a very complex man as humans go,” but sets about retelling his story, framing his earliest adventures in terms of the conflict between his scientific training and the mystic role he embraced as Captain Britain. “It must have been strange for him,” Merlin notes, “a rational and coldly scientific creature, suddenly transmuted by an amulet that was the product of magic.” This tension is then used to explain his leaping out of a plane off the coast of Cornwall, with his Steve Parkhouse-penned adventures with the Black Knight becoming the occasion for healing his mental injuries when “the two opposing halves of his warring sword were at last reconciled into one whole being.” Finally, Dave Thorpe’s brief run is reframed as a “final test” on the part of Merlin “before he could face the task for which he had been created.” His death is thus explained as part of Merlin’s plans, existing to give him hints about the nature of “the greatest battle of Captain Britain’s life,” which is implied to have more than a little to do with the Fury.
|Figure 345: The unexpected|
return of Slaymaster, an
obscure villain from Captain
Britain’s past. (From “Thicker
Than Water,” written by Alan
Moore, art by Alan Davis, in
The Daredevils #3, 1983)
But having completed this necessary mysticism, Moore makes the interesting decision to spend his next three stories revisiting aspects of Captain Britain’s past, further emphasizing the sense of continuity from his earliest Claremont/Trimpe appearances to the present day. First Braddock returns to the seeming ruins of Braddock Manor, where he confronts some hallucinatory visions of his parents before finally determining that the manor’s apparent destruction way back in 1977’s Captain Britain #18 has long since been repaired by the intermittently malevolent supercomputer his dead parents built in the manor’s basement. In the next story, from The Daredevils #3, Moore brings back Captain Britain’s psychic sister, Betsy Braddock, similarly unseen since 1977, with a plot involving the infiltration of S.T.R.I.K.E. (the British equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Betsy’s employer) and the hiring of an assassin to hunt down S.T.R.I.K.E.’s psi division, who were the only people aware of the steady takeover of the organization. That installment ends with the revelation that the assassin is Slaymaster, who in his first appearance in Super Spider-Man and Captain Britain #243 described himself as “the master assassin of our time.” The Daredevils #4’s strip, “Killing Ground,” consists mostly of a fight scene between the two, and in turn ends with a tease suggesting that Arcade, the villain debuted in Claremont’s two-issue arc of Marvel Team-Up, will be accepting a contract on Captain Britain’s life.
This plot never plays out, and the series takes a visible turn in The Daredevils #5, but it is worth highlighting the effect and importance of this three-issue stretch, if only because of how out of step it is with the rest of Moore’s Captain Britain run, which Davis fondly describes as “jettisoning any hint of the political reality and ramping up the cosmic weirdness.” Certainly the death and resurrection of Captain Britain qualifies as cosmic weirdness, but other than the first page of “An Englishman’s Home in The Daredevils #2, which consists of a trio of three-panel prologues setting up Moore’s later arc, The Daredevils #2-4 are thoroughly devoid of any cosmic weirdness. It is also worth stressing that these three installments are based largely around resolving and revisiting plots that had gone utterly unmentioned (and frankly unmourned) for the last six years.
|Figure 346: The death of Miracleman, a thinly-veiled|
clone of Marvelman. (From “Rough Justice,” written by
Alan Moore, art by Alan Davis, in The Daredevils #7, 1983)
This, however, is just an extreme case of a tendency that Moore displays throughout his Captain Britain run. It is not that he doesn’t introduce new characters. But all of them are clear extensions of characters that predated his run. The Fury is a solid enough villain, but he’s also created to explain where the superheroes of the alternate earth went. Captain UK, one of those superheroes, was mentioned in passing by Dave Thorpe back in Marvel Super-Heroes #379, and her husband, Miracleman, is a barely veiled Marvelman. [continued]