Dark satanic mills  

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"The phrase "dark satanic mills", which entered the English language from the poem "And did those feet in ancient time" (1804), is often interpreted as referring to the early Industrial Revolution and its destruction of nature and human relationships."--Sholem Stein

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The phrase "dark Satanic Mills", which entered the English language from the poem "And did those feet in ancient time", is often interpreted as referring to the early Industrial Revolution and its destruction of nature and human relationships. This view has been linked to the fate of the Albion Flour Mills in Southwark, the first major factory in London. This rotary steam-powered flour mill by Matthew Boulton and James Watt could produce 6,000 bushels of flour per week.

The factory could have driven independent traditional millers out of business, but it was destroyed in 1791 by fire, perhaps deliberately. London's independent millers celebrated with placards reading, "Success to the mills of Albion but no Albion Mills." Opponents referred to the factory as satanic, and accused its owners of adulterating flour and using cheap imports at the expense of British producers. A contemporary illustration of the fire shows a devil squatting on the building. The mills were a short distance from Blake's home.

Blake's phrase resonates with a broader theme in his works, what he envisioned as a physically and spiritually repressive ideology based on a quantified reality. Blake saw the cotton mills and collieries of the period as a mechanism for the enslavement of millions, but the concepts underpinning the works had a wider application:

"And all the Arts of Life they changed into the Arts of Death in Albion./..."--Incipit of citation given in Hall, 1996: <poem>"And all the Arts of Life they changed into the Arts of Death in Albion.

The hour-glass contemned because its simple workmanship Was like the workmanship of the Plowman and the water-wheel

That raises water into cisterns, broken and burned with fire Because its workmanship was like the workmanship of the shepherd; And in their stead intricate wheels invented, wheel without wheel To perplex youth in their outgoings and to bind to labours in Albion."</poem>}}|Jerusalem Chapter 3. William Blake}}

[[File:Milton a Poem, copy C, object 4 (Bentley 4, Erdman 6, Keynes 4) detail-a.jpg|thumb|400px|The first reference to Satan's "mills", next to images of megaliths (Milton: A Poem in Two Books, copy C, object 4)]] Another interpretation, amongst Nonconformists, is that the phrase refers to the established Church of England. This church preached a doctrine of conformity to the established social order and class system, in contrast to Blake. In 2007 the new Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, explicitly recognised this element of English subculture when he acknowledged this alternative view that the "dark satanic mills" refer to the "great churches". In similar vein, the critic F. W. Bateson noted how "the adoption by the Churches and women's organizations of this anti-clerical paean of free love is amusing evidence of the carelessness with which poetry is read".

Stonehenge and other megaliths are featured in Milton, suggesting they may relate to the oppressive power of priestcraft in general; as Peter Porter observed, many scholars argue that the "[mills] are churches and not the factories of the Industrial Revolution everyone else takes them for".

An alternative theory is that Blake is referring to a mystical concept within his own mythology related to the ancient history of England. Satan's "mills" are referred to repeatedly in the main poem, and are first described in words which suggest neither industrialism nor ancient megaliths, but rather something more abstract: "the starry Mills of Satan/ Are built beneath the earth and waters of the Mundane Shell...To Mortals thy Mills seem everything, and the Harrow of Shaddai / A scheme of human conduct invisible and incomprehensible".




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