The VIPER is a poisonous snake which was supposed to kill its mother by eating its way out of the womb. Naturally, Albion’s Angel calls Orc, the spirit of revolution in America, “Eternal Viper, selfrenew’d . . . writhing in pangs of abhorred birth . . . devourer of thy parent . . . those ever-hissing jaws and parched lips drop with fresh gore . . . thy mother lays her length outstretch’d upon the shore beneath” (Am 9:15–25).
Possibly Blake had read John Trumbull’s American best-seller M’Fingal (1782), in which the Tory squire denounces the Whigs: “Ungrateful sons! a factious band, | That rise against your parent land. | Ye viper race, that burst in strife | The welcome womb that gave you life, | Tear with sharp fangs and forked tongue | Th’ indulgent bowels whence you sprung.” Americans were not averse to being symbolized as a poisonous snake. Franklin’s much-copied “Join, or Die”—the first American newspaper cartoon—which represented the Colonies as a disjointed snake, appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette as early as 1754. There was also the Rattlesnake Flag of the Revolution (“Don’t Tread on Me”).
In the third “Memorable Fancy” (MHH 15), the Viper appears as an early stage of creative activity: “In the second chamber was a Viper folding round the rock & the cave, and others adorning it with gold, silver, and precious stones.”