Cultural And Political Differences Between Blake's "London" And Addison's "The Royal Exchange"

1217 words - 5 pages

William Blake’s poem “London” focuses on the sufferings and trials of the lowest social class in London society. In contrast, Joseph Addison’s essay “The Royal Exchange” explores the benefits of trade for merchants and other wealthy benefactors in English society. These two texts share one similarity – they both are set in London. However, this is where their similarities end. Both texts showcase distinct aspects of London culture – one highlights the lives of the impoverished, and the other focuses on the wealthy tradesmen of London.
Whereas Blake’s poem focuses on universal suffering, Addison’s essay proves that Addison has a limited view of London society – he only revels in things that advantage the wealthy. When Blake wrote his poem in 1794, he did not have the formal education possessed by most of his contemporaries, which is reflected in his writing. Blake often focused on spiritual issues; he had an obsession of sorts with prophesying through poetry. In contrast, Addison’s essay was published in 1711. This essay was published at a time when foreign trade was just beginning. One might argue that Addison’s essay takes on a more materialistic stance than Blake’s poem. The two share few similarities, so where is the purpose in placing them in conversation with each other? I would argue that these texts are compared in order to gain a better understanding of London. There is no one way to study the city itself. These texts are crucial because they show the lowest and highest people in London society. Here are a few central propositions to illuminate my argument: Blake’s poem and Addison’s essay reveal different cultural and political views. To begin, these cultural differences appear through a few choice words in each text, such as Blake’s use of “every” throughout his poem in contrast to Addison’s references to merchants and trade overall. Blake makes sure to apply a word that works for “every” man. However, Addison only writes about one type of man – merchants. Furthermore, their opposing political outlooks are presented in two specific places – through Blake’s third stanza, in which he references the failures of church and the monarchy, readers can ascertain that Blake was against major political structures. Here, he presents them as a means to highlight their failures in aiding the poor or the military. In Addison’s essay, readers learn that Addison was an avid supporter of foreign trade as evidenced through his excitement in the essay. Addison and Blake have differing views about what works and what does not work in London, and their views express the diverse nature of the city.
The contrasting cultural ideals appear through choice words and sentences in each text. Blake illustrates the universality of suffering through his use of the word “every” in his poem. Contrarily, Addison reveals his limited cultural view by writing solely about merchants and tradesmen. Blake writes “in every face I meet / marks of weakness, marks of...

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