The William Blake 1460 (via Dr. Martens)
Mantles of despair girdles of bitter compunction shoes of indolence
Veils of ignorance covering from head to feet with a cold web
—William Blake, Vala, or the Four Zoas
Aw, nuts. I put on my brand-new mantle of despair, my vintage girdle of bitter compunction, and my $139 veil of ignorance with the Swarovski crystals in it, and here I am without any shoes of indolence to complete my ensemble. Like a schmuck! Like a sad, sorry schmuck.
That’s the kind of thing I used to find myself saying before Dr. Martens partnered with the Tate to print William Blake illustrations on their footwear. Now I have my choice of gnostic kicks for a night out.
The William Blake 1461 (via Dr. Martens)
There’s the demure three-holed shoe covered in “The House of Death,” which depicts Adam’s vision in Paradise Lost of every postlapsarian condition of suffering and disease. Or, if it’s more of a “Borstal Breakout” kind of evening, I can lace up the eight-holed boot of “Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils,” perfect for stomping poseurs outside the public house. Oooh, they’ll wish for a case of Old Nick’s sore boils when I’m finished!
I’m just kidding; I would never wear these. But I do love William Blake. As you probably know, the poet, artist and engraver was not a braces-wearing bootboy, but a gentle visionary who advocated “mental fight” instead of scraps. One day in 1803, when Blake was living in a cottage in Felpham, he ejected a loutish soldier named John Schofield from his garden. Schofield responded by cooking up a story with his friend and reporting Blake to the authorities. It was no joke: they accused him of high treason. This was the unlikely screed Schofield said he heard from the author of “The Lamb”:
Damn the king, damn all his subjects, damn his soldiers, they are all slaves; when Bonaparte comes, it will be cut-throat for cut-throat, and the weakest must go the wall; I will help him.
Blake was acquitted—the local paper said the verdict so pleased the audience at the trial “that the court was, in defiance of all decency, thrown into uproar by their noisy exultations”—and he put the soldier in his epic Jerusalem as “Skofeld” or “Scofield,” a downcast, manacled figure engulfed in flames. Note how Skofeld, on the far right in plate 51 of Jerusalem, resembles the poor sucker on the far right of “The House of Death,” who is similarly deluded by his own mean, miserable thoughts.