again and again one comes on the thing that seems to be neither wholly private nor wholly a poem. It seems not to know what it is or where it belongs, and one suspects that Blake didn't know. What he did know—and know deep down in himself—was that he had no public: he very early gave up publishing in any serious sense. One obvious consequence, or aspect, of this knowledge is the carelessness that is so apparent in the later prophetic books. Blake had ceased to be capable of taking enough trouble. The uncertainty I have just referred to is a more radical and significant form of the same kind of disability. In the absence, we may put it, of adequate social collaboration (the sense, or confident prospect, of a responsive community of minds was the minimum he needed) his powers of attaining in achieved creation to that peculiar impersonal realm to which the work of art belongs and in which minds can meet—it is as little a world of purely private experience as it is the public world of the laboratory—failed to develop as, his native endowment being what it was, they ought to have done.
The inevitable way in which serious literary interest develops towards the sociological is suggested well enough here. What better conditions, one asks, can one imagine for a Blake? Can one imagine him in a tradition that should have nurtured his genius rather than have been something to escape from, and in a society that should have provided him with the best conceivable public? And so one is led on to inquire into the nature and conditions of cultural health and prosperity.
Leavis goes on to say: "Harking back from Blake one notes that the establishment of the Augustan tradition was associated with—indeed, it involved—a separation, new and abrupt, between sophisticated culture and popular."
My grasp on literary history is not firm enough to know if this is true; but—unless proven otherwise—I find it always good policy to give Leavis the benefit of the doubt. He always brings insight into whichever poet he happens to be discussing, even if one does not agree with every proposition. Earlier in the essay, which is titled "Literature and Society," he states clearly and precisely exactly a thing I have fumbled to say numerous times:
I have spoken of the 'Romantic' attitude, and the phrase might be called misleading, since the actual poets of the Romantic period—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats—differ widely among themselves. No general description worth offering will cover them. Though as influences they merge later in a Romantic tradition, they themselves do not exemplify any common Romanticism. What they have in common is that they belong to the same age; and in belonging to the same age they have in common something negative: the absence of anything to replace the very positive tradition (literary, and more than literary—hence its strength) that had prevailed till towards the end of the eighteenth century.