William Blake (1757–1827). The Poetical Works. 1908.

Bibliographical Introduction

THE AIM of this new edition of Blake is to present within the compass of a single volume the main body of his poetry, comprehending under this term not only the purely lyrical poems but also those written in irregular unrimed verse or rhythmed prose. Explicitly, the book contains, in addition to the lyrics brought together in my previous edition, the earlier blank verse poems Tiriel, Thel, and the hitherto unprinted French Revolution, the whole of the minor Prophetic Books (including for the sake of completeness the prose Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the so-called ‘Sibylline Leaves’, and the tractates on Natural and Supersensual Religion), together with selections from the three longer Prophecies, The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem. I add also, that the Reader may not be obliged to seek it elsewhere, the notable passage from the Descriptive Catalogue containing Blake’s account of the Canterbury Pilgrims—in Charles Lamb’s view the finest criticism ever written of Chaucer’s poem.

The text of the lyrical poems is in the main identical with that of the Clarendon Press edition of 1905 and smaller unannotated edition of 1906: one or two trifling errors have been discovered and corrected; in a few cases, where the pieces have been left in rough draft and subjected to many successive changes in the MS., I have not, as before, invariably adhered to the later version when the earlier one seemed preferable; a deleted stanza has sometimes been restored, printed within square brackets, where it seemed necessary to the integrity of the poem, while in a single instance (‘My Spectre around me’) I have ventured to insert three unplaced stanzas in the position demanded by the sense. I have also, in the case of the Epigrams and Gnomic Verses, substituted a more convenient classified arrangement of these pieces in place of the strictly paginal sequence of the earlier edition. The additional matter constitutes a new text prepared by me for the present edition from the engraved, letterpress, or MS. originals.

Blake’s spelling, including that of proper names, has been modernized throughout, but with the necessary retention of his use of -d and -ed (here printed -’d and -èd) to distinguish between the elision or accentuation of the final syllable of the preterite, not always obvious on metrical grounds alone. No absolutely consistent practice has been followed with regard to capitalization, though majuscule initials have generally been retained or inserted in the case of symbolic terms, and occasionally, but to a lesser extent, in words or phrases in the lyrics for the sake of emphasis or artistic colour.

Blake’s punctuation, always erratic and sometimes omitted altogether, is not the least of his editor’s difficulties. Though taken into account in dealing with doubtful passages, the pointing of the original—whether his own as in the MS. and engraved books, or that of the typographer, as in The Poetical Sketches and French Revolution—has here been abandoned in favour of a more uniform and intelligible system.

The footnotes in the present edition are restricted to Blake’s own earlier, variant, or cancelled readings, all of which are recorded in full; and, where necessary, to such short explanations of the changes found in the original MS. as may render clear the reasons which have guided me in adopting the version given in the text. I omit here altogether variorum readings—at best a painful necessity in my earlier book—while exegetical notes, even in the form of interpretative passages selected from Blake’s own writings, fall outside the scope of this edition.

Before entering upon a detailed description of Blake’s writings, it may be pertinent to call attention to the poet’s attitude towards publication, since to this cause must be largely attributed his lack of influence upon his own and even the succeeding generation. There is ample evidence that the rare and extraordinary quality of Blake’s poetry, or at least the lyrical part of it, met with due and immediate recognition from those of his contemporaries who had an opportunity of making acquaintance with his poems. That these readers and admirers were so few, and that Blake remained ‘hid’, seems to have been his own choice; and the assumption of Gilchrist, repeated by derivative biographers, that Blake at first sought and failed to obtain a publisher for his works, and was merely restrained by poverty from printing them at his own expense, is unsupported by fact and contrary to anything we know of his aims and ideas. Artist as well as poet, imbued with a contempt for purely mechanical processes, Blake, like Morris, seems from the first to have striven after some more ideal mode of book-production than that afforded by the typography of his day. Of the two volumes of his poems which appeared in ordinary type, one, the Poetical Sketches, was printed at the desire of his friend Flaxman, and seems to have been treated with scant regard by Blake himself, since he omits it from the list of his works offered for sale in 1793, and so far as our knowledge extends made no attempt to place the copies in circulation. The other, The French Revolution, though it bears Johnson’s imprint, did not as I show elsewhere pass the proof stage, and presumably was with-drawn by the author before any copies were printed off.

By far the greater number of Blake’s works were produced by a process of his own discovery, which he terms ‘Illuminated Printing’, a name suggestive of the manner in which, as in a mediaeval MS., text and design are interwoven into a single artistic harmony. ‘The Author’, says Blake, ‘has invented a method of Printing both Letterpress and Engraving in a style more ornamental, uniform and grand than any before discovered, while it produces works at less than one-fourth of the expense. If a method of Printing which combines the Painter and the Poet is a phenomenon worthy of public attention, provided that it exceeds in elegance all former methods, the Author is sure of his reward.’ In this process the text and surrounding pictorial embellishments were executed in reverse in some species of varnish upon copper plates, which were afterwards etched in a bath of acid until the whole design stood in relief as on a stereotype. From these plates impressions were printed in various schemes of monochrome, and afterwards delicately tinted by the artist in washes of water-colour, each copy thus possessing an individuality of its own. We are told by Blake’s biographer, J.T. Smith, that the secret of this new mode of printing was revealed to the artist in a vision by the spirit of his favourite brother Robert. It is clear, however, from a passage in the early MS. known as An Island in the Moon, that, at least five years before his first essay in relief-engraving in 1788, Blake had contemplated some form of artistic printing. Beautiful as the result proved in his hands, the new process must have been an extremely slow and laborious one, as indeed we gather from his last letter to Cumberland, dated 1827. To this fact may perhaps be attributed the interval, sometimes as in the longer Prophecies of several years, that elapsed between the actual completion of the work and the first engraving of the dated title-page, with which it was Blake’s somewhat misleading practice to begin his task. Another drawback consequent upon the use of this mode of relief-engraving is that no subsequent alterations were possible, except such deletions as could be made by chipping out part of the lettering, or by re-engraving and substituting an entirely new plate. Naturally under these circumstances few copies were issued, nor was there an actual edition in the ordinary sense of the term of any of the engraved works; impressions, as in the case of the early fifteenth century block-books, being struck off as required. Of the most widely known of Blake’s publications, the Songs of Innocence and of Experience, hardly more than twenty copies (chiefly produced during his last years) are known to exist; of others like Jerusalem Blake himself perfected but a single example; of The Book of Ahania a solitary copy survives; while another engraved Prophecy, Outhoun, would seem to have entirely disappeared.

Many of Blake’s poems, among them some of his most striking and beautiful lyrics, were left in MS., while others, including ‘epic poems as long as Homer and tragedies as long as Macbeth’, were only ‘published in Eternity’, and hence fall outside the province of the mere mundane bibliographer. It was Blake’s belief, as he tells us in Jerusalem, and as we learn from letters to Butts and conversations with Crabb Robinson, that long passages, or even whole poems, were merely transcribed by him from the dictation of spirits. The evidence of extant MSS., however, shows that he himself saw nothing final or absolute in this verbal inspiration, but submitted these writings like any others to such successive changes as at length satisfied his artistic conscience. All Blake’s holographs, indeed, indicate how little basis there is for the common belief that he was one of those who never blotted a line, almost the sole exception being the fairly written Pickering MS., where the poems are obviously transcripts. Blake’s meticulous care in composition is everywhere apparent in the poems preserved in rough draft—perhaps the most informing illustrations of a poet’s method of writing which have come down to us. There we find the first crude version, or single stanza around which his idea was to take shape, followed by alteration on alteration, re-arrangement after re-arrangement, deletions, additions and inversions, until at last the poem as in the case of ‘The Tiger’ attains its perfect form, or as in ‘My Spectre’ is practically completed, or, on the other hand, like the lines on Lafayette abandoned for the time unachieved. A phrase or even a line, thus hardly won, has a tendency to become converted into a symbol of a mood or idea, and to be repeated when occasion offers. If we compare Blake’s use of the pen and the graver, we see that whereas in his pictorial art there is a constant development from the dry, severe manner and ‘hard wiry outline’ of his old master Basire, to the fully emancipated ‘drawing on copper’ of the Book of Job, his use of words as tools tended increasingly to harden into what he himself calls ‘vast petrific forms’, harsh, opaque and unbeautiful. In the prophetic Books, whether engraved or in MS., this habit of mind and the repeated changes consequent upon the growth of Blake’s symbolism account to some extent, especially in the later works, for the lack of unity and coherence which has been urged against them. Thus in the MS. of The Four Zoas whole sections have been painfully erased and rewritten, while long passages have been excerpted and transferred bodily to the pages of Milton and Jerusalem. In the two latter books plates have been cancelled and, after the lapse of several years, re-engraved in a new form and interpolated in the work without great regard for continuity. Sometimes, as in Milton, they embody a form of the myth not found in the Prophecy itself. The few copies we possess of the rarer engraved writings vary in content as well as in arrangement, and it is often difficult from the subject-matter alone to determine whether or not a poem has reached us in its complete form. We find the same process of disintegration and re-arrangement even in the lyrics of the Rossetti MS., where poems like the untitled ‘Monk of Charlemaine’ have ‘fallen into division’, the Spectral half being engraved as part of Jerusalem, and the Emanative counterpart conserved in ‘The Grey Monk’ of the Pickering MS.

Before turning from the MSS. it may be observed that part of the contents of Blake’s note-books are in the nature of rough jottings, sometimes mere doggerel set down from whim or to relieve a mood, and never probably, any more than our own most casual utterances, intended to see the light in cold print. Such without doubt is the fragment known as An Island in the Moon, and such too are most of the epigrams in the Rossetti MS.

Blake’s earliest poems, written between his twelfth and twentieth year but not printed until 1783, are contained in the rare little volume called Poetical Sketches, a slender demy octavo of 38 leaves, privately issued without publisher’s or printer’s name. The title-page reads: POETICAL &pipe; SKETCHES. &pipe; By W. B. &pipe; London: &pipe; Printed in the Year MDCCLXXXIII. The first quire of two leaves comprises the title and ‘advertisement’, followed by nine quires in fours, signed B—K (K4 blank) and paginated [1]–70. The book is without an index or table of the contents, which are here given in full in the original order. The Poetical Sketches was produced in ordinary typography, obviously from the poet’s own MS., the punctuation being apparently supplied or corrected by the printer, and the stanza-lines indented to indicate the rime instead of being alined in Blake’s usual fashion. A few serious misprints such as ‘cares’ for ‘ears’ in ‘An Imitation of Spenser’, and ‘her’ for ‘his’ in the fourth stanza of the song ‘Love and Harmony combine’, suggest that Blake either had no opportunity of correcting the proofs, or failed to avail himself of it.

These poems, as we learn from Blake’s biographers J. T. Smith and Allan Cunningham, were printed at the suggestion of Flaxman, who shared the expense with his early patron the Rev. Henry Mathew, handing the unbound sheets to the author ‘to dispose of for his own advantage’. The preface to the Poetical Sketches, on the recto of the second leaf, was the composition of Mathew, who, as Smith tells us, ‘not only acquiesced’ in the ‘truly kind offer of defraying the expense of printing them …. but, with his usual urbanity, wrote the … advertisement, which precedes the poems’. Reading between the lines of this composition in the light of Smith’s reference to the artist’s ‘unbending deportment, or what his adherents are pleased to call his manly firmness of opinion’, it seems evident that Mathew must have advised, and Blake refused to make any correction of the ‘irregularities and defects to be found in almost every page’—a kind office undertaken later, when the author was not there to be dealt with, by other worthies who shared this critic’s view. The edition was probably a very small one, and of it Blake seems to have been content with presenting a few copies to his more intimate friends, making no attempt to dispose of the remainder either privately or through the medium of a bookseller.

On the fly-leaves of one of these presentation copies, with the inscription ‘[present del.] from Mrs. Flaxman May 15 1784’, are three poems, undoubtedly by Blake though not in his autograph, with the heading ‘Songs by Mr. Blake’. The first and third of these, entitled respectively ‘Song 1st by a Shepherd’ and ‘Song 3d by an Old Shepherd’, are here printed as an Appendix to the Poetical Sketches. The intermediate poem, ‘Song 2d by a Young Shepherd,’ is an early form of the ‘Laughing Song’ afterwards engraved as one of the Songs of Innocence, in my text of which this variant version of the first and second stanzas is quoted in a foot-note.

To the same period, or perhaps a little later than the pieces in rhythmed prose at the end of the Poetical Sketches, should be assigned the early holograph which I call the Seven-Page MS. The MS., which is incomplete, consists of four leaves of crown 8vo paper, 7 1/2 X 5 inches, the verso of the last leaf being blank. There is no dated watermark. These leaves are now mounted upon rather larger paper, on the outer cover of which is inscribed ‘7 (seven) Pages MS.: The handwriting of William Blake’. This book contains two pieces written straightforwardly as if prose, though actually irregular unrimed verse, the first and longer of which begins: (p. [1]): ‘then She bore Pale desire, father of Curiosity, &pipe; a Virgin ever young. And after Leaden Sloth, &pipe; from whom came Ignorance, who brought forth &pipe; wonder. These are the Gods which came from &pipe; fear—[interpolated for Gods like these nor male nor female are, &pipe; but Single Pregnate; or, if they list, together ming&pipe;ling bring forth mighty powers]—She knew them not; yet they all war with &pipe; Shame, and Strengthen her weak arm.’; ending (p. [5]): ‘Go! see the City—&pipe; friends Join’d Hand in Hand: Go! see the Natu&pipe;ral tie of flesh & blood: Go! see, more strong, &pipe; the ties of marriage love; thou Scarce Shalt &pipe; find but Self love Stands Between.’

The second piece begins (p. [6]): ‘“Woe,” cried the muse, tears started at the Sound, Grief perch’d &pipe; upon my brow, and thought Embrac’d Her. “What does this &pipe; mean”, I cried, “when all around Summer hath spred her &pipe; Plumes, and tunes her Notes? When Buxom Joy &pipe; doth fan his wings, & Golden Pleasures Beam around my &pipe; head, why, Grief, dost thou accost me?”’ and ends (p. [6], 1. 22): ‘“O’er yonder lake &pipe; the winds their Sad Complainings bear for Comrade lost, &pipe; untimely lost, thy Comrade once, When living, thee I &pipe; lov’d even unto Death; now Dead, I’ll guard thee from &pipe; approaching ill. farewell, my time is gone.” it Said &pipe; no more, but vanished ever from my Sight.’

The first fragment has been printed by Mr. W. M. Rossetti, who divides the poem into metrical lines, and entitles it ‘The Passions’. These imperfect and immature compositions, which, in such frigid personifications as ‘pale Desire’, ‘leaden Sloth’, and ‘Hate, meagre hag’, show Blake less happy in the idiom of his own century than in the earlier Elizabethan imitations, are not included in the present edition.

Next in order of Blake’s extant writings is the short satirical sketch commonly called An Island in the Moon, which must have been written after the publication of the Poetical Sketches in 1783, though probably not much later than the end of 1784. This fragment, which can hardly have been intended for publication, was unknown to Blake’s earlier biographers and critics. The original holograph is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, to which it was recently presented by its late owner Mr. Fairfax Murray. In format the MS. is a thin foolscap folio of 16 leaves, lacking two, or perhaps four, leaves through the loss of one or two sheets from the centre of the single quire of which it is composed. The MS. is in Blake’s early hand, and begins at the head of the first page:

‘In the Moon is a certain Island, near by a mighty continent, which small &pipe; island seems to have some affinity to England, & what is more extraordinary the &pipe; people are so much alike, & their language so much the same, that you would &pipe; think you was among your friends. in this Island dwells three Philosophers, &pipe; Suction the Epicurean, Quid the Cynic, and Sipsop the Pythagorean. I call them &pipe; by the names of those sects; tho’ the sects are not ever mention’d there, as being &pipe; quite out of date. however the things still remain, and the vanities are the &pipe; same. the three Philosophers sat together thinking of nothing. in comes &pipe; Etruscan Column, the Antiquarian, & after an abundance of Enquiries to &pipe; no purpose sat himself down & described something that nobody listen’d to. &pipe; so they were employ’d when Mrs. Gimblet came in.’ It ends abruptly, or rather is left unfinished by the author, on line 19 of the recto of the leaf following the lacuna in the text, the remaining pages being blank. There is no internal evidence as to the origin or occasion of this brochure, but whatever the uncouth circle against which its satire was directed, it can assuredly not have been, as some have assumed, the salon of the ‘accomplished Mrs. Mathew’. The chief interest of An Island in the Moon, apart from the passage foreshadowing the invention of Blake’s Illuminated Printing (quoted elsewhere), lies in the songs placed in the mouths of the several characters, which include in rough draft three of the simple idylls of the Songs of Innocence as well as, in another but equally characteristic vein, the strange and savage lines on ‘Surgery’. A few allusions throw light upon Blake’s literary interests at this time. In Chapters V and VII he refers to the Chatterton controversy, which reached its height in 1782, while in Chapter VIII Steelyard the Lawyer quotes ‘My crop of corn is but a field of tares’, a line of Chidiock Tichborne’s, which Blake may have met with in the Reliquiae Wottonianae.

In 1788 Blake, as he tells us in the colophon to the Ghost of Abel, engraved his ‘original stereotype’, and it has been commonly supposed that the plate to which he here refers was one of those forming part of the Songs of Innocence, the first of the series of works in Illuminated Printing advertised in his Prospectus of Oct. 10, 1793. But as I attempt to show later, there seems reason to believe that the undated tracts entitled There is No Natural Religion and All Religions are One and not the Songs of Innocence were Blake’s first experiments in this new art. The Songs, moreover, are dated 1789, presumably the year in which the engraving of the plates was begun, unless we suppose that in this instance Blake had not yet adopted his subsequent practice of commencing with the title-page. In its earliest form the Songs of Innocence, contained 31 plates, printed upon both sides of the leaf, including 5 (‘The Little Girl Lost’ (2 plates), ‘The Little Girl Found’, ‘The Voice of the Ancient Bard’, and ‘The Schoolboy’) afterwards generally transferred to the Songs of Experience, though the two last were occasionally placed among the Songs of Innocence. Some four or five years later, towards the end of 1793, the engraving of the companion volume, the Songs of Experience, written in the interval, was completed by Blake, who advertised the two books in his Prospectus at the price of 5s. apiece. Each is described as containing 25 designs, a collation which would seem to leave out of account the two frontispieces and title-pages, while including one additional plate, perhaps the suppressed song ‘A Divine Image’. There are two slightly varying forms of the title-page to the Songs of Experience, one being without year, and the other bearing the date 1794. Later, Blake added an undated general title-page to both series, which thenceforward were issued by him as a single work, the plates being printed on one side of the leaf only, and numbered consecutively by hand 1–54. The book has no table of contents, and my collation of 22 copies described in the 1905 edition shows that the order in which the songs are arranged varies in almost every instance. The sequence here observed is taken from a MS. index in Blake’s autograph, headed ‘The Order in which the Songs of Innocence and of Experience ought to be paged and placed’, which coincides with that of the Monckton Milnes copy (printed not earlier than 1818) sold at the Crewe sale in 1903. It should be recognized, however, that Blake himself did not adhere to this scheme. Later issues exhibit an entirely different order, five copies, foliated by the artist, placing the plates in identical sequence, and others approximating closely to the same standard. This later arrangement of the Songs is as follows:

1. General Title. 2. Frontispiece. 3. Title-page to Songs of Innocence. 4. Introduction. 5. The Shepherd. 6, 7. The Echoing Green. 8. The Lamb. 9, 10. The Little Black Boy. 11. The Blossom. 12. The Chimney Sweeper. 13. The Little Boy Lost. 14. The Little Boy Found. 15. Laughing Song. 16, 17. Cradle Song. 18. The Divine Image. 19. Holy Thursday. 20, 21. Night. 22, 23. Spring. 24. Nurse’s Song. 25. Infant Joy. 26. A Dream. 27. On Another’s Sorrow. [End of Songs of Innocence.] 28. Frontispiece. 29. Title-page to Songs of Experience. 30. Introduction. 31. Earth’s Answer. 32. The Clod and Pebble. 33. Holy Thursday. 34–6. The Little Girl Lost. The Little Girl Found. 37. The Chimney Sweeper. 38. Nurse’s Song. 39. The Sick Rose. 40. The Fly. 41. The Angel. 42. The Tiger. 43. My pretty Rose Tree. 44. The Garden of Love. 45. The Little Vagabond. 46. London. 47. The Human Abstract. 48. Infant Sorrow. 49. A Poison Tree. 50. A Little Boy Lost. 51. A Little Girl Lost. 52. To Tirzah. 53. The School Boy. 54. The Voice of the Ancient Bard. [End of Songs of Experience.]

In my foot-note to ‘Tirzah’ I draw attention to the recent discovery that this poem, despite its occurrence (with a single exception) in every copy of the Songs of Experience—even in the first issue printed upon both sides of the leaf—is a later substitution for an original illustrated plate without text. From this it would appear that, since the clear and definite symbolism of ‘Tirzah’ (identical with that of the revised form of The Four Zoas, Milton, and Jerusalem) could hardly have been written before the year 1800, every known issue of the Songs of Innocence and of Experience, with the unique exception noted above, must have been produced at least six years later than the date on the title-page, many of them being indeed, as we know from the watermarks, the work of his last years.

Dealing now with the two early dogmatic tractates which have as their theme the contrast between natural and supersensual religion, I have to emend and supplement the bibliographical description given in my previous book (pp. 342–3), when the additional leaves in the possession of Mr. William Muir were unknown to me. Both booklets are engraved in relief upon tiny plates measuring about 2 x 1 1/2 inches, and constitute the smallest examples we possess of Blake’s Illuminated Printing. As these plates were printed upon loose sheets, they were consequently liable to loss and disarrangement, so that the contents of each book are to some extent conjectural, and only to be determined by a study of the subject-matter and minute differences of style and technique in the engraving. The extant impressions known to me are: (1) a series in the Print Room of the British Museum containing eleven plates mounted in an album (perhaps by the previous owner, F. T. Palgrave), where the order is as follows: The Argument (italic script) ‘Man has no notion’ etc.; I (large type) ‘Man’s Perceptions are not bounded’ etc.; II–VI (small type), as in my text of Part I; followed by I (small type) ‘Man cannot naturally perceive’ etc.; II (large type) ‘Reason, or the Ratio’ etc.; the inference (large italic script) ‘Therefore God becomes as we are’ etc.; and the colophon, or quaere frontispiece, in reversed characters ‘The Author & Printer W. Blake’.

(2) An imperfect set of plates in the possession of Mr. Muir, reproduced in his facsimile of 1886. These, besides the title-page: THERE &pipe; IS NO &pipe; NATURAL &pipe; RELIGION, consist of four additional propositions numbered IV–VII (large type); two plates containing respectively the ‘Conclusion’ and the ‘Application’; the title-page: ALL &pipe; RELIGIONS &pipe; ARE &pipe; ONE; and a plate without text representing an upright clothed, and a semi-recumbent nude figure with Gothic background.

(3) A collection of ten plates in the possession of the Linnell family. These impressions, which are printed in monotint upon large quarto paper, consist of the title-page ‘There is No Natural Religion’; the frontispiece ‘The Voice of one crying in the Wilderness’; The Argument; and Principles 1–7 as in my text of the second tractate.

It will be observed that in the British Museum album a title-page is lacking, and that the collection contains two different versions of the first and second propositions, which (unless we assume that one was intended to replace the other) appear to belong to separate series. I agree with Mr. Muir in regarding the new propositions IV–VII as the continuation of the large type I and II in the Print Room copy, both of which are distinguished from the other series by their bolder lettering and simpler ornamentation. I have also followed him in his general reconstruction of the text of There is No Natural Religion from the two sources specified above, treating the little work as a tractate in two parts, the first dealing with the perceptions derived from organic senses only, and the second with those received through imagination or inspiration.

The remaining series of plates, in the possession of the Linnell Trustees, evidently form a separate work. These impressions, as the large paper and absence of colouring would seem to indicate, may have been printed after Blake’s death, perhaps by Tatham, so that, as the theme also suggests, there is some warrant for believing that the wrong title has been prefixed to the plates containing the motto, Argument, and Seven Principles. I have, therefore, restored to this group what must have undoubtedly been its true title-page, All Religions are One, a plate occurring in the collection of Mr. Muir, though by him interpolated somewhat awkwardly between Parts I and II of the first tractate.

Neither booklet bears a date. In my earlier edition of Blake’s Poems I had conjecturally assigned the two tractates to 1790 circa, guided chiefly by their similarity in doctrine and argument to parts of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. I have since, how-ever, come to the conclusion that the tract There is No Natural Religion must have been Blake’s first essay in relief engraving, and consequently should be dated 1788, the companion work All Religions are One being perhaps a little later. Presumptive evidence of this may be found in the minute size of the plates and general roughness of execution, which seem to point to an early experimental stage, coupled with the fact that the imprint on the frontispiece of the first tract ‘The Author & Printer W. Blake’ appears in reversed characters, indicating a want of familiarity in the use of the new process.

Intermediately between the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience Blake began the series of mythological writings, which were to culminate in Jerusalem. The earlier group, dimly foreshadowed by ‘The Passions’, consists of three works, Tiriel, Thel, and the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which, though characterized by little or no symbolism, may be regarded as the precursors of the Prophetic Books proper. The first of these is Tiriel, a poem without date but written circa 1788–9, which remained in MS. until printed by Mr. W. M. Rossetti in 1874. The holograph consists of eight leaves of foolscap quarto, the last page being blank. There is no title-page or heading, but the original blue-grey paper cover bears the inscription in Blake’s autograph ‘TIRIEL &pipe; MS. by Mr. Blake’, obviously a reminder of authorship and ownership intended for some person to whom the MS. had been lent or submitted. It is not improbable that this reader may have been Blake’s friend, the publisher J. Johnson, who two years later set up in type the first book of The French Revolution, and that both poems may have been brought before his notice at the same time, presumably at his own request.

Following Tiriel, and closely connected with it, came a beautiful example of Blake’s Illuminated Printing, with the title THE &pipe; BOOK &pipe; OF &pipe; THEL &pipe; The Author & Printer Willm Blake 1789. The poem, which was advertised in the Prospectus at 3s., is a small quarto containing ‘Thel’s Motto’, title-page, and six plates of text about 6 x 4 1/2 inches. That Thel was a later work than Tiriel, instead of, as some have thought, immediately preceding it, is apparent from the lines of the ‘Motto’:

  • Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod,
  • Or Love in a golden bowl?
  • which are borrowed from the MS. poem. Another proof is found in the opening line:

    The daughters of Mne Seraphim led round their sunny flocks where it is plain that Blake had at first intended to write ‘The daughters of Mnetha’, one of the personages in Tiriel, and afterwards mentally changed this to ‘The daughters of the Seraphim’, while neglecting to erase the meaningless ‘Mne’ from the plate.

    To 1788, or at latest 1789, must be attributed Blake’s marginalia to his copy of Lavater’s Aphorisms on Man and of Swedenborg’s Wisdom of Angels, published in the earlier year. Both series of annotations anticipate in thought and expression the extraordinary work of a year or two later, where Blake’s wit and wisdom run riot in the domain of Emanuel Swedenborg. This book, with the simple title THE &pipe; MARRIAGE &pipe; OF &pipe; HEAVEN &pipe; AND HELL, is without imprint or date, but the opening sentence, ‘As a new heaven is begun, and it is now thir&pipe;ty-three years since its advent, the Eternal Hell &pipe; revives,’ can only refer to the new era of the dispensation of the Spirit, predicted by the Swedish mystic for 1757, synchronous, it will be noted, with the year of Blake’s birth. The work, which is one of the noblest achievements of his press, is advertised in the Prospectus as a ‘Quarto, with 14 designs, price 7s. 6d.,’ a description which ignores the unillustrated plates of text. In all, the book contains 25 plates, 6 x 4 inches, the title-page and the ‘Argument’ occupying one plate each, followed by 22 plates of text. Appended to the Marriage in at least one copy, apparently as issued by the author, we find the 3 plates containing A Song of Liberty, which, however, is certainly a separate and later Prophecy, nearer in style and symbolism to America.

    The text ends: ‘Note! This Angel, who is now become a Devil, is &pipe; my particular friend: we often read the Bible to-&pipe;gether in its infernal or diabolical sense, which &pipe; the world shall have if they behave well. &pipe; I have also The Bible of Hell, which the world &pipe; shall have whether they will or no. &pipe; ’ That Blake actually planned, and perhaps even executed such a work, we know from a draft of a title-page sketched at the back of one of his uncoloured designs, reading ‘THE BIBLE OF HELL, IN NOCTURNAL VISIONS COLLECTED. Vol. I. Lambeth.’ W. M. Rossetti dates this design ‘circa 1791 (?)’, but the title on the verso cannot, of course, be earlier than 1793, the year of Blake’s removal to Lambeth. No MS. or engraved copy exists of the Bible of Hell, which may possibly have formed part of Tatham’s holocaust.

    In 1791 the bookseller Johnson set up in type with a view to publication Blake’s French Revolution, Book I, a work known to us from a single copy only, and here reprinted for the first time. This copy, since lost sight of for half a century, would appear to have been seen by Gilchrist, Swinburne, and the Rossettis, who quote the title-page though no part of the contents. A transcript, partial or complete, made by Palmer about the same time for the Gilchrists, also disappeared; while, as stated in my previous edition, the late Mr. John Linnell, who had been credited with the possession of the original, disclaimed any knowledge of the book. This, however, would seem to have been an oversight, as after the death of Mr. Linnell this work was rediscovered in the family collection, and with great generosity placed at my service by Mr. Herbert Linnell. The book is a demy quarto of 18 pages, 11 1/4 x 8 3/4 inches, printed in ordinary typography. The first quire of two leaves contains the title-page and the ‘Advertisement’ (both with verso blank), followed by two quires, B and C, in fours, paginated at head 1–16 within square brackets. The title-page runs: THE &pipe; FRENCH REVOLUTION &pipe; A Poem, &pipe; in Seven Books. &pipe; Book the First. &pipe; London: &pipe; Printed for J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Paul’s Church-yard. &pipe; MDCCXCI. &pipe; [Price One Shilling.] At the left-hand top corner, in pale black ink, is the inscription, not reproduced in our facsimile, ‘John Linnell. Red Hill, 1860,’ the ascription ‘By Wm. Blake’ between the third and fourth lines of the title being also in the autograph of the original owner. The poem begins on p. [I] with the dropped heading THE &pipe; FRENCH REVOLUTION. &pipe; [line] BOOK THE FIRST [line], and concludes on p. 16, the explicit reading ‘END OF THE FIRST BOOK’.

    There are strong reasons for concluding that though prepared for the press this book was never actually printed off or published. In the first place it is demonstrable that this, the only known copy, was not one of a number issued in any edition, however small, but was merely a page-proof of a work which never saw the light of day, preserved perhaps by Blake in lieu of the original MS. This proof, though ‘perfected,’ i.e. printed on both sides, reveals a defective register, showing that the formes were not made finally ready for printing. Further evidence of this being a proof only is found in the ‘excessive impression’ or heavy pull of the press almost cutting through the thin paper, in the tell-tale thumb-mark of the printer, the grey and uneven colouring and blurriness at ends of lines, the fact that the final line ‘End of the First Book’ is out of centre, and other typographical details. The text, though set with fair accuracy and punctuated to the best of the printer’s ability, has more than one misprint which could hardly have escaped the eye of the proof-reader: e.g. ‘Eeternally’ at the beginning of line 15 of p. 3, ‘were away’ for ‘wear away’ on p. 5 l. 5, and an inverted 8 in the page number, etc. Lastly, the sheets are not stitched through the centre of the quires as in an ordinary pamphlet, but are fastened to the pale-blue paper which forms the cover in Blake’s usual rude mode of binding by a fine cord laced through three punctured holes.

    An advertisement on the recto of A2 states that ‘The remaining Books are finished, and will be published in their order’, and if this statement is to be accepted literally these books would seem to be irretrievably lost. The period dealt with in the First Book, treated of course imaginatively rather than historically, describes the Convocation of the Notables before the summoning of the States General and the fall of the Bastille. Probably this First Book was written in the same year 1789, and, as I have elsewhere conjectured, submitted to the publisher together with Tiriel. The fact that the compositors’ labours occupied a year or two is in accordance with Johnson’s reputation as a slow and dilatory printer. We have no knowledge of the reason which interfered with the regular publication of this work; but it can scarcely have been a rupture with his friend the bookseller, for whom Blake continued to engrave during several years, and who acted as his co-publisher in For Children: The Gates of Paradise, in 1793. Possibly Johnson, who, in spite of his revolutionary sympathies, had in 1791 declined to publish Paine’s Rights of Man, might have thought it prudent not to proceed further with Blake’s work, or the latter, feeling that the book would be out of date before it appeared, may himself have withdrawn it prior to publication.

    We have no work of Blake’s specifically dated 1792, though in all probability to this year should be assigned A Song of Liberty, being, as the symbolism shows, later than The French Revolution and earlier than America. This poem, which, as mentioned above, is sometimes bound up with the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, consists of 3 plates of Illuminated Printing without separate title-page, imprint, or illustrations.

    Before the end of the same year Blake must also have written several of the Songs of Experience and other lyrics transcribed from earlier rough drafts into the Rossetti MS. This precious volume, otherwise known as the MS. Book, now in the possession of Mr. W. A. White of Brooklyn, New York, was acquired by D. G. Rossetti twenty years after Blake’s death, under circumstances noted in a pencilled memorandum on the verso of the fly-leaf, over his earlier signature D. G. C. R.: ‘I purchased this original MS. of Palmer, an attendant in the Antique Gallery at the British Museum, on the 30th April ’47.’ The holograph is a foolscap quarto volume of 58 leaves, composed of one quire of 10 leaves, and four of 16 and 8 leaves alternately. Bound in at the end is a folded sheet of different and smaller paper forming two leaves, upon which are written part of ‘The Everlasting Gospel’, and part of the first draft of Blake’s description of his ‘Canterbury Pilgrims’; as well as 28 additional leaves containing Rossetti’s own transcript of a portion of the contents headed ‘Verse and Prose by William Blake (Natus 1757: obiit 1827). All that is of any value in the foregoing pages has here been copied out. D. G. C. R.’

    The Rossetti MS. covers a period of at least twenty years of Blake’s life, being first used as a sketch-book, and when it had served this purpose converted into a note-book for poetry, and still later for prose. Since the sketches include designs afterwards engraved for the Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), the Gates of Paradise, the Visions of the Daughters of Albion, the Songs of Experience, Urizen, and America (1793–4), but none for Blake’s earlier works, the Songs of Innocence and the Book of Thel, we may conclude that his use of the Sketch-book began not earlier than 1789–90. About 1793, when most of the leaves were partially filled with sketches, Blake commenced to use the book for the transcription of the poems already referred to, reversing the volume and beginning to write on the three blank pages at the end. These poems, which form the first section of the book, must all have been written before the end of the year 1793.

    During the next seven years, while Blake was occupied in the production of the Lambeth Prophecies, he laid aside the Sketchbook altogether, resuming his use of it as a note-book during his stay at Felpham, the poems and prose in this later section (circa 1800–11) being written not as before from the reversed end, but from the original beginning of the volume. The interval of seven years between the writings in the first and in the second sections is emphasized by a clearly marked difference of matter and manner. While the lyrics in the former are either rough drafts or transcripts of the Songs of Experience or contemporaneous poems of the same order, those in the latter, with a few exceptions, embody the symbolism of the greater Prophetic Books. Here (circa 1807–10) we meet with the epigrams and satirical pieces on friends and foes, and art and artists, the latter an overflow from Blake’s marginalia to his copy of Reynolds’ Discourses, written in 1808. Still later are the rough drafts of the Advertisements to Blake’s Canterbury Pilgrims from Chaucer, containing anecdotes of Artists (Rossetti’s ‘Public Address’), and For the year 1810: Additions to Blake’s Catalogue of Pictures, &c. (sometimes called ‘A Vision of the Last Judgement’). Last of all (circa 1810), in a category of its own, stands all that survives of that astounding poem ‘The Everlasting Gospel.’ The earliest dated entry in the MS. Book is the note on p. 10, ‘I say I shan’t live five years. And if I live one it will be a Wonder. June 1793,’ the latest being an extract ‘From Bell’s Weekly Messenger, Aug. 4th, 1811’.

    In 1793, the year that saw the earliest entries in the Rossetti MS., Blake published under his own name coupled with that of Johnson a little work entitled For Children: The Gates of Paradise, described in his Prospectus as ‘a small book of Engravings’, priced at 3s. In this first form, as a picture-book for children, it consisted of 18 plates of emblematic designs, which some fifteen or twenty years afterwards were converted by the artist into an exposition of his maturer symbolism by the alteration of For Children to For the Sexes, the addition of a Prologue on the title-page, and of three supplementary plates containing the explanatory verses entitled ‘The Keys of the Gates’, and the lines ‘To the Accuser’, with other minor changes. There is evidence of Blake’s intention to bring out the first issue ‘For Children’ in its contrary state in a design for a title-page reading For Children: The Gates of Hell, described by Mr. W. M. Rossetti in his ‘Annotated Lists of Blake’s Paintings, Drawings and Engravings’ (Gil. Life, ii. 269, no. 135).

    Here, too, should perhaps be noticed, for any whom it may concern, a companion volume advertised in the same Prospectus, entitled ‘The History of England, a small book of Engravings. Price 3s.’ No copy of this book is known, but the subjects depicted may be conjectured from an entry in the Rossetti MS. to which I have previously drawn attention. This very Blakean list of contents runs as follows, marginal additions being indicated by square brackets: ‘1. Giants ancient inhabitants of England. 2. The Landing of Brutus. 3. Corineus throws Gogmagog the Giant into the sea. 4. King Lear. 5. The Ancient Britons according to Caesar. 6. The Druids. 7. The Landing of Julius Caesar. 8. Boadicea inspiring the Britons against the Romans. [The Britons’ distress & depopulation. Women fleeing from War. Women in a Siege.] 9. Alfred in the countryman’s house. 10. Edwin & Morcar stirring up the Londoners to resist W. the Conqr. 11. W. the Conq crown’d. 12. King John & Mag. Charta. [A Famine occasioned by the Popish interdict.] 13. Edward at Calais. 14. Edward the Black Prince brings his Captives to his father. 15. The Penance of Jane Shore. 16. The Cruelties used by Kings & Priests. 17. The Reformation by H. VIII. 18. Ch. I beheaded. 19. The Plague. 20. The fire of London. 21. A prospect of Liberty. 22. A Cloud.

    With the Visions of the Daughters of Albion begin the Prophetic Books proper, unless indeed there existed a still earlier work Outhoun, which has disappeared. Our sole information regarding this book is contained in a letter from Blake’s widow to an artist named James Ferguson, offering for sale certain works, among them ‘Outhoun 12 plates, 6 inches more or less, Prince £2 2s 0’. It has been conjectured that this may have been a mistitled reference to the Visions of the Daughters of Albion, where ‘Oothoon’ is a principal figure; but it is difficult to suppose that Mrs. Blake, who had been for so many years the artist’s coadjutrix in printing, and even, as we are told, in colouring the various books, should have erred in such exact matters as the title and number of plates. Moreover, ‘Outhoun’ for ‘Oothoon’ (invariably found in the Visions and the later books) does seem to point to an earlier and separate work written before Blake had permanently adopted his final spelling of the name. If, as would appear, the copy of Outhoun remained unsold, it presumably passed into the possession of Tatham after Mrs. Blake’s death, and may perhaps in view of subject or treatment, Oothoon symbolizing feminine revolt against conventional sex-morality, have commended itself to the Irvingite mind as a fit heresy for the stake. On the other hand, as against the existence of such a work, it may be noted that it is not included in the Prospectus of 1793, nor in the lists of works offered for sale in letters to Dawson Turner in 1818, and George Cumberland in 1827.

    The earlier Prophetic Books are seven in number, all produced in Illuminated Printing and all bearing the Lambeth imprint, with the exception of the Visions of the Daughters of Albion, which may have been engraved before Blake’s removal from Poland Street to Hercules Buildings. These seven Prophecies, commonly called the Lambeth Books, are as follows:

    VISIONS &pipe; OF &pipe; THE DAUGHTERS OF &pipe; ALBION &pipe; The Eye sees more than the Heart knows &pipe; Printed by Willm Blake: 1793. Collation: title-page and ‘The Argument’ 1 plate each, ‘Visions’ 8 plates, a full-page design of Bromion’s cave, sometimes placed last and sometimes as frontispiece, 1 plate; in all 11 plates, about 6 3/4 x 4 5/8 inches. The book is advertised in the Prospectus as ‘Folio with 8 designs, price 7s. 6d.’

    AMERICA &pipe; A &pipe; PROPHECY &pipe; Lambeth &pipe; Printed by William Blake in the year 1793. Collation: frontispiece and title-page 1 plate each, ‘Preludium’ 2 plates, ‘A Prophecy’ 14 plates; in all 18 plates, about 9 1/4 x 6 5/8 inches. Advertised in the Prospectus as a ‘Folio with 18 designs, price 10s. 6d.’

    EUROPE &pipe; A&pipe; PROPHECY &pipe; Lambeth &pipe; Printed by Willm Blake 1794. Collation: frontispiece, the ‘Ancient of Days’ and title-page 1 plate each, ‘Preludium’ 2 plates, ‘A Prophecy’ 11 plates, two full-page illustrations without text representing Plague and Fire, variously arranged in different copies, 2 plates; in all 17 plates, about 9 1/4 x 6 5/8 inches.

    THE &pipe; [FIRST] BOOK &pipe; OF &pipe; URIZEN &pipe; Lambeth Printed by Wm Blake 1794, with the colophon: ‘The End of the &pipe; first book of Urizen.’ Collation: title-page and ‘Preludium’ 1 plate each, Chap. I–IX [or rather X] 16 plates, ten full-page illustrations without text, variously arranged in different copies, 10 plates; in all 28 plates, about 6 x 4 inches. The book really contains ten chapters not nine, two consecutive sections being each numbered Chap. IV, instead of IV and V, by an oversight in the engraved original. The British Museum Reading Room copy lacks the plate beginning Chap II, stanza 3, l. 2 ‘Muster around the bleak deserts’, and ending Chap. III, stanza 2, l. 4 ‘And enormous forms of energy’. This plate, which contains some of the finest stanzas in Urizen, has never, so far as I am aware, been previously printed. The word ‘First’ in the title-page, wanting in most copies, must have been purposely erased by Blake from the stereotype, though inadvertently suffered to remain in the colophon. As Swinburne has conjectured, The Book of Ahania may have been originally intended to form the second Book of Urizen.

    THE &pipe; SONG OF &pipe; LOS &pipe; Lambeth Printed by W. Blake 1795, with the colophon: ‘The Song of Los is Ended &pipe; Urizen Wept.’ Collation: title-page 1 plate, ‘Africa’ 2 plates, ‘Asia’ 2 plates, three full-page illustrations variously arranged in different copies, 3 plates; in all 8 plates about 9 x 6 7/8 inches.

    THE &pipe; BOOK OF &pipe; LOS &pipe; Lambeth &pipe; Printed by W. Blake 1795, with the colophon: ‘The End of the &pipe; Book of Los.’ Collation: frontis-piece and title-page 1 plate each, ‘Los’ 3 plates; in all 5 plates.

    THE &pipe; BOOK OF &pipe; AHANIA &pipe; Lambeth &pipe; Printed by W. Blake 1795. Collation: frontispiece and title-page 1 plate each, ‘Ahania’ 4 plates; in all 6 plates about 5 3/8 x 3 7/8 inches.

    Blake’s next work, The Four Zoas, the longest as well as one of the most significant of his writings, forms a valuable link between the earlier and the later Prophetic Books, indicating as it does in his successive revisions and additions the beginning of a new set of mystical ideas and symbols which we find fully developed in Milton and Jerusalem. This MS., illustrated by several pencil full-page and smaller designs, is for the most part carefully written in a formal engraver’s or neat cursive script, and the date on the title-page, 1797, doubtless denotes the year in which Blake began his fair transcript of a poem probably composed a twelvemonth earlier. This work was rehandled at Felpham, and in that period of new spiritual illumination (circa 1800–3) was subjected to many changes, long passages being erased with the knife and laboriously rewritten, while the whole of Night VII was entirely recast in the light of his later tenets.

    The MS, of The Four Zoas consists of 70 separate leaves, 16 1/4 by 12 3/4 inches, together with 4 smaller fragments. These 70 loose sheets are made up as follows: drawing paper with watermark ‘J. Whatman 1794’ 21 sheets, working-proofs of Blake’s illustrations to Young’s Night Thoughts (published 1797) 47 sheets, an old engraving by Blake cut into two and written upon the back only, 2 sheets. Of these 68 sheets, 61 have the text written upon both sides of the paper, that upon the illustrations to Night Thoughts occupying the blank rectangular space in the middle of each sheet reserved for the text of Young’s poem. The Four Zoas is written in ink throughout, the pages, with the exception of the first 14, being unnumbered, though the beginning and end of each ‘Night’ are indicated by Blake. The title in its first form, as written in ink, reads: ‘VALA &pipe; OR &pipe; THE DEATH and &pipe; JUDGEMENT &pipe; OF THE &pipe; ANCIENT MAN &pipe; A Dream &pipe; of Nine Nights &pipe; by William Blake 1797.’ This was afterwards altered in pencil to: ‘THE FOUR ZOAS &pipe; THE TORMENTS OF LOVE & JEALOUSY IN &pipe; THE DEATH AND &pipe; JUDGEMENT &pipe; OF ALBION THE &pipe; ANCIENT MAN &pipe; by William Blake 1797.’ At the head of the second sheet, the page upon which the poem begins, is a motto from the Greek Testament, Ephes. vi. 12, followed in bold script capitals by the heading ‘Vala’, which is not here, as on the title-page, erased in favour of The Four Zoas. There is no evidence that Blake at any time contemplated engraving and publishing this work in the same manner as the other prophetic writings. Indeed, the extreme care and finish with which the greater part of the book is written point rather to an intention to produce a single perfect copy only in MS. form. This conjecture is supported by the fact that Blake afterwards excerpted long passages from the poem and engraved them as part of Milton and Jerusalem.

    Before dealing with the two later Prophetic Books reference should be made to the lyrical poems written during Blake’s stay at the Sussex cottage (1800–3). The earliest of these, in letters to Butts and the Flaxmans, reflect his newly recovered power of joy and vision under the mild influence of ‘lovely Felpham’. To the same period belong the earlier lyrics in the second section of the Rossetti MS. previously mentioned, as well as those found in the separate smaller autograph collection, which I term the Pickering MS. This holograph was known to D. G. Rossetti, who made use of it in preparing his selection of ‘Poems hitherto unpublished’ for the second volume of Gilchrist’s Life. Three years later the MS. was purchased by Basil Montagu Pickering, the publisher, who first printed its contents in their entirety, together with the Songs of Innocence and of Experience, in R. H. Shepherd’s edition of 1866, reprinted 1868 and 1874. After the death of Pickering in 1878 the MS. passed out of the ken of students of Blake, the version printed by Shepherd becoming the standard text. In June 1905, after the lapse of nearly a generation, this unique transcript reappeared in America, having during the interval lain hidden in the Rowfant Library. It now forms part of the collection of Mr. W. A. White. The Pickering MS. is a foolscap quarto of 11 leaves of letter-paper, without watermark, paginated 1–22, a modern binding by Bedford now replacing Blake’s original paper covers. The contents, here given in full, are evidently fair copies of poems already written in approved form, all the pieces having titles, which with Blake were generally afterthoughts. There is not a single alternation in the first seventeen pages, the few corrections found elsewhere being chiefly capitals added for emphasis. As in the Rossetti MS. there is little or no punctuation. The book has no title-page, ascription, or other indication of the circumstances under which, or the person for whom, this special collection was made. The pages are without illustration and contain no prose matter. None of the poems are dated, though there is internal evidence that they must have been composed not later than 1803, though possibly a year or two earlier. ‘Mary’ was certainly written before August 16 of that year, when Blake in one of his letters to Butts introduces two of its lines in a slightly altered form, and in a different sense. The original drafts of ‘The Golden Net’ and ‘The Grey Monk’, which appear in a perfected form in this MS., are found on two leaves of the second section of the Rossetti MS. written probably in 1803, while several of the lyrics contain symbolic terms repeated in Milton and Jerusalem, the engraving of which books was begun in the following year.

    Turning next to these two epics, the greatest of the Prophetic Books, as well as the longest of the works produced by Illuminated Printing, we may first note a passage in a letter to Butts written from Felpham, April 25, 1803:

  • ‘But none can know the spiritual acts of my three years’ slumber on the banks of ocean, unless he has seen them in the spirit, or unless he should read my long poem descriptive of those acts; for I have in these years composed an immense number of verses on one grand theme, similar to Homer’s Iliad or Milton’s Paradise Lost, the persons and machinery entirely new to the inhabitants of earth (some of the persons excepted). I have written this poem from immediate dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without premeditation, and even against my will. The time it has taken in writing was thus rendered non-existent, and an immense poem exists which seems to be the labour of a long life all produced without labour or study. I mention this to show you what I think the grand reason of my being brought down here’.
  • Again, in another letter to the same friend dated July 6, 1803, Blake writes:

  • ‘Thus I hope that all our three years’ trouble ends in good luck at last, and shall be forgot by my affections, and only remembered by my understanding; to be a memento in time to come, and to speak to future generations by a sublime allegory, which is now perfectly completed into a grand poem. I may praise it, since I dare not pretend to be any other than the secretary; the authors are in eternity. I consider it as the grandest poem that this world contains. Allegory addressed to the intellectual powers, while it is altogether hidden from the corporeal understanding, is my definition of the most sublime poetry. It is also somewhat in the same manner defined by Plato. This poem shall, by Divine assistance, by progressively printed and ornamented with prints, and given to the Public. But of this work I take care to say little to Mr. Hayley, since he is as much averse to my poetry as he is to a chapter in the Bible. He knows that I have writ it, for I have shown it to him, and he has read part by his own desire, and has looked with sufficient contempt to enhance my opinion of it.’
  • There is no general agreement as to whether these passages refer to Milton or to Jerusalem. If exclusively to either, it would seem more probable that the latter was intended, for though it is true that Milton deals more directly with Blake’s actual life at Felpham, yet it is clear that it cannot by any stretch of language be called an ‘immense poem’, while the close resemblance of the first-quoted passage with the opening words of the address ‘To the Public’ in Jerusalem, would seem rather to identify the work here described with the latter. There is room however for a third hypothesis which reconciles both theories, namely, that Blake in the words quoted refers to the whole body of visionary verse composed at Felpham as a single great poem; that this original MS. was used, like The Four Zoas, as a common quarrying-ground for the two books; and that Milton and Jerusalem, as we know them, are merely selected portions of a more complete gospel.

    In no case can there be any doubt that Milton is the earlier of the two Prophecies, or that it recounts in all their freshness Blake’s first spiritual experiences at Felpham. The poem is indeed—a thing rare in Blake—redolent of the country-side and its new images, the plough and harrow, insect life, the scent of flowers, the song of birds, and the aspects of the sky, conceived in the same spirit of exaltation which characterizes the letters to Butts and Flaxman. Milton, like Jerusalem, is dated 1804, the title-page reading ‘MIL&pipe;TON a Poem &pipe; in 2 Books &pipe; The Author &pipe; & Printer W. Blake &pipe; 1804 &pipe; To Justify the Ways of God to Men’. A misreading of the words ‘in 2 Books’ as ‘in 12 Books’ has given rise to the view expressed by some writers that Milton was at first intended as a much longer work. In its complete form the book consisted (as we learn from Blake’s letter to Dawson Turner dated June 9, 1818) of 50 plates about 6 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches, which consequently must have contained the title-page and ‘Preface’ I plate each, ‘Book the First’ 26 plates (numbered ff. 3–28), ‘Book the Second’ 17 plates (numbered ff. 29–45), together with the 5 extra leaves (numbered 3* 5* 8* 17* 32*).

    In Jerusalem even more than in Milton, we meet with the complete statement of Blake’s fully developed system of mythology, and although both poems form part of the great Felpham inspiration, the later origin of the former is readily demonstrable on grounds of symbolism alone. The title-page of this book reads: ‘JERUSALEM &pipe; THE &pipe; EMANATION OF &pipe; THE GIANT &pipe; ALBION &pipe; 1804 &pipe; Printed by W. Blake Sth Molton St.’ Jerusalem consists of 100 plates, about 9 x 6 1/2 inches, the collation being as follows: frontispiece, title-page, ‘To the Public’ 1 plate each (ff. 1–3); ‘Chap. 1’ 22 plates (ff. 4–25); frontispiece to Chap. 2 (f. 26), ‘To the Jews’ (f. 27); ‘Chap. 2’ 23 plates (ff. 28–50); frontispiece to Chap. 3 (f. 51), ‘To the Deists’ (f. 52); ‘Chap. 3’ 23 plates (ff. 53–75); frontispiece to Chap. 4 (f. 76), ‘To the Christians’ (f. 77); ‘Chap. 4’ 22 plates (ff. 78–99); full-page end piece (f. 100).

    Blake, as we have seen, began the engraving of both works shortly after his return to London, but when either was finished or published is a matter of inference or conjecture. Probably the engraving of the earlier work Milton was first undertaken and completed in intervals of leisure, instead of both books being proceeded with simultaneously. This would account for the difference between the two poems, since during these years Blake doubtless, according to his usual habit, made many alterations in the manuscript or only partially engraved Jerusalem.

    Between the years 1805 and 1810 we find more than one allusion in Blake’s letters and writings to the forthcoming publication of a work descriptive of his experiences at Felpham, but, as before, it is anything but clear whether these passages refer to the same book, and if so whether Milton or Jerusalem is intended. In a letter to Hayley dated December 11, 1805, Blake says: ‘It will not be long before I shall be able to present the full history of my spiritual sufferings to the dwellers upon earth, and of the spiritual victories obtained for me by my friends.’ In 1809, in the account of his picture of ‘The Ancient Britons’ (Descriptive Catalogue, pp. 41–2) he tells us ‘The Strong Man represents the human sublime; the Beautiful Man represents the human pathetic, which was in the wars of Eden divided into male and female; the Ugly Man represents the human reason. They were originally one man, who was fourfold; he was self-divided, and his real humanity slain on the stems of generation, and the form of the fourth was like the Son of God. How he became divided is a subject of great sublimity and pathos. The Artist has written it under inspiration, and will, if God please, publish it; it is voluminous, and contains the ancient history of Britain, and the world of Satan and of Adam.’ This is the very theme of Jerusalem and certainly can only refer to that work. We may conclude, therefore, that the engraving of the earlier epic had been finished before May 1809, and since the three known copies all bear the watermark 1808, and cannot have been produced earlier, it is evident that Milton was completed either in that year or in the following spring, the extra leaves (ff. 3* 5* 8* 17* 32*) which occur in the Beckford copy now in the Lenox Library being a subsequent addition. It is not, however, until some ten years later that we meet with a definite reference to Milton in the letter to Dawson Turner dated June 9, 1818, where it forms the last of a list of works offered by Blake for sale, being priced at 10 guineas.

    The publication of Jerusalem to which Blake hopefully looked forward in 1809 was delayed or postponed for over a decade. Clearly it was still in the author’s hands when in 1810 in the ‘Public Address’ or Advertisements to Blake’s Canterbury Pilgrims (Rossetti MS., p. 52) he writes: ‘The manner in which my character has been blasted these thirty years, both as an artist and a man, may be seen particularly in a Sunday paper called the Examiner, published in Beaufort’s Buildings; and the manner in which I have rooted out the nest of villains will be seen in a poem concerning my three years’ Herculean labours at Felpham, which I shall soon publish.’ Indeed from Blake himself we hear nothing further of Jerusalem until the year of his death, when in a letter to Cumberland dated April 12, 1827, he says: ‘The last work I produced is a poem entitled Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion, but find that to print it will cost my time the amount of twenty guineas. One I have finished, but it is not likely I shall find a customer for it.’ By ‘finishing’, Blake here undoubtedly means the final process of his Illuminated Printing—i.e. the tinting of the illustrations in water-colour—while his reference to the cost of printing another copy seems to establish the fact that he himself had produced only one complete set of impressions from the plates. This must have been the coloured copy described by ‘Janus Weathercock’ [T. G. Wainwright], which afterwards was acquired or appropriated by Tatham, and now, bound up with the latter’s Life of Blake, is in a private library. In Wainwright’s article contributed to the London Magazine (Sept. 1820) he writes:

  • ‘Talking of articles, my learned friend Dr. Tobias Ruddicombe, M.D., is, at my earnest entreaty, casting a tremendous piece of ordnance, an eighty-eight pounder! which he proposeth to fire off in your next. It is an account of an ancient, newly discovered, illuminated manuscript, which has to name “Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion”. It contains a good deal anent one “Los”, who, it appears, is now and hath been from the Creation, the sole and four-fold dominator of the celebrated city of Golgonooza! The doctor assures me that the redemption of mankind hangs on the universal diffusion of the doctrines broached in this MS.’
  • We may safely assume that this copy was not in existence in June 1818, or the author would have included it in the list supplied to Dawson Turner. It is clear therefore that Jerusalem must have been published (if publication it can be called) between that date and September 1820, and since the watermark bears the latter date, it seems practically certain that it was in this year Blake’s great epic first saw the light.

    With Milton and Jerusalem Blake’s prophetic scriptures draw to a close, though one or two short leaflets of the same character still remain to be noticed. The little book of emblems, For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, written circa 1810, I have already dealt with, the others being the three pieces to which Gilchrist gave the name ‘Sibylline Leaves’. The first of these consists of a series of aphorisms on the identity of art and religion, surrounding a line-engraving of the ‘Laocoon’, 10 1/4 x 8 1/2 inches, with the imprint ‘Drawn & Engraved by William Blake’. On Oct. 1, 1815, Blake had engraved for Rees’ Cyclopaedia a plate in stipple of the same group, and this mystical version, therefore, may be dated a year or two later. We have next a small tract in relief-engraving on a single plate, measuring 4 1/2 x 3 7/8 inches, containing two manifestoes ‘On Homer’s Poetry’ and ‘On Virgil’, which perhaps, as a development of the same theme, may also be assigned to 1817 circa. Latest of these leaflets, addressed or dedicated ‘to Lord Byron in the Wilderness’ and doubtless suggested by the recent appearance of Cain: a Mystery, is the short but noble dramatic poem where, as in the stage direction, ‘the curtain falls’ on Blake’s writings, and the long series of Visions and Prophecies comes to an end not without befitting majesty and solemn beauty. The title of this little work, which is engraved upon two plates about 4 7/8 x 6 9/16; inches, runs: ‘THE GHOST OF ABEL &pipe; A Revelation In the Visions of Jehovah &pipe; Seen by William Blake.’ The colophon is dated 1822, and the artist’s note that ‘W. Blake’s Original Stereo-type was 1788’ seems intended to record the hic jacet of his Illuminated Printing.

    Turning back to the few remaining works written between the inception and completion of Jerusalem, in addition to those previously described in my account of the second section of the Rossetti MS., we come first to one of Blake’s most characteristic writings, the catalogue of his pictures in the exhibition of 1809. This rare book is a duodecimo of vi+66 pages, measuring 7 1/8 x 4 1/4 inches, with title-page reading: ‘A &pipe; DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE &pipe; OF &pipe; PICTURES, &pipe; POETICAL AND HISTORICAL INVENTIONS, &pipe; Painted by &pipe; William Blake, &pipe; in &pipe; Water Colours, &pipe; Being the Ancient Method of &pipe; Fresco Painting Restored: &pipe; and &pipe; Drawings, &pipe; For Public Inspection, &pipe; and for &pipe; Sale by Private Contract. &pipe; London: &pipe; Printed by D. N. Shury, 7, Berwick-Street, Soho, &pipe; for J. Blake, 28, Broad-Street, Golden-Square &pipe; 1809. &pipe; ’ Here, among fierce outbursts against certain repugnant schools of art, we meet, in Rossetti’s phrase, with many ‘sudden great things, greatly said’, as well as with the keen critical insight exemplified in Blake’s account of his ‘Canterbury Pilgrims’, a piece three years later reprinted in pamphlet form by the publisher Harris with the title: The Prologue and Characters of Chaucer’s Pilgrims, 12mo 1812.

    The Catalogue is, without doubt, the work referred to by Blake in a letter to Cumberland dated December 19, 1808. He there writes: ‘I have, however, the satisfaction to inform you that I have myself begun to print an account of my various inventions in Art, for which I have procured a publisher, and am determined to pursue the plan of publishing, that I may get printed without disarranging my time, which in future must alone be designing and painting. When I have got my work printed I will send it you first of anybody.’ That this passage can only allude to the Descriptive Catalogue is further shown in Blake’s printed Prospectus of his intended engraving of the Canterbury Pilgrims, dated May 15, 1809, where, speaking of fresco-painting, he says: ‘The art has been lost: I have recovered it. How this was done, will be told, together with the whole process, in a work on Art, now in the press.’

    Besides the Descriptive Catalogue Blake wrote two additional and somewhat similar addresses on art which deserve further mention. The earlier of these is the piece commonly known as the ‘Public Address’, which may well be that other ‘work on Painting’ mentioned two years earlier in the account of his ‘Spiritual Form of Pitt guiding Behemoth’. This was evidently intended to accompany Blake’s engraving of his picture of the ‘Canterbury Pilgrims’, completed on October 8, 1810. It is not clear that it was ever printed in leaflet form, but that Blake had at least contemplated doing so is seen from the entry on p. 56 of the Rossetti MS.: ‘This day is Publish’d Advertisements to Blake’s Canterbury Pilgrims from Chaucer, containing anecdotes of Artists.’ The other piece called by Gilchrist, or rather by D. G. Rossetti, ‘A Vision of the Last Judgement,’ for which the author’s own title reads For the year 1810: Additions to Blake’s Catalogue of Pictures, & c., was similarly designed to expound the symbolism of Blake’s great painting of this subject. As the picture does not seem to have been publicly exhibited, we may assume that the description itself was never published. Both this and the preceding work are known to us only in the rough draft scattered through the last pages of the Rossetti MS.

    To the same MS. source we owe our sole knowledge of two pieces—Barry: a Poem and the Book of Moonlight—both of which would appear to have been satires upon the English encouragement of art, written circa 1808–9. The incomplete lines on patronage in the MS. Book beginning ‘I askèd my dear friend Orator Prig’ are followed by Blake’s note ‘to come in Barry: a Poem’; and it may have been his intention to unite under this title the various fragments on the same theme and in the same rough measure jotted down in the later section of the Rossetti MS. Allusions to Barry, who died in 1806, occur in Blake’s marginalia to Reynolds’ Discourses and in the Advertisements or ‘Public Address’, where the same views are expressed in prose. Of the Book of Moonlight nothing is known beyond the entry on p. 46 of the MS. Book:

  • ‘Delicate Hands & Heads will never appear
  • While Titian &c—
  • as in the Book of Moonlight, p. 5.’ This poem, therefore, which doubtless presented in a versified form Blake’s contempt for the Venetian school, must, as the ‘&c’ shows, have been transcribed elsewhere, perhaps from lack of space in the Rossetti MS.

    There only remains to be dismissed a work said to be in Blake’s handwriting, though not perhaps of his composition. On these points I can speak with no certainty, not having been afforded an opportunity of seeing the MS., which is the property of Mr. Buxton Forman. The title of this piece, some description of which has been given by Mr. Arthur Symons in his William Blake (pp. 140–143), reads: GENESIS &pipe; THE SEVEN DAYS &pipe; OF THE CREATED WORLD. &pipe; The poem begins:

  • Thou Sire of Heaven & of the Eternal Sire
  • Eternal Son & Offspring Increate
  • Of the unchangeful Mind the only birth’
  • and ends (according to Symons) somewhere about the line 200:
  • Since whatsoe’er benificence supreme
  • Has [May del.] fill’d, his heavenly praise may also fill
  • Adorn the whole & with its radiance gild
  • Thro’ all its midmost & extremest parts.’
  • The hand (for which Mr. Symons seems to vouch) may indeed be the hand of Esau, but the voice is that of some Augustan Jacob, and it is hard to believe that these lines could have been composed by Blake even under the malign influence of Hayley. Nor, on the other hand, can they be readily identified with the ‘Vision of Genesis’ written ‘in a style resembling the Bible’, which the poet read to Crabb Robinson in the year preceding his death.

    In this, as in my former book, I desire to record my great indebtedness to those owners of manuscripts and original editions who have courteously placed them at my service. To Mr. Herbert Linnell, the grandson of Blake’s friend and patron, my gratitude is due not only for his constant interest and friendly assistance in this, and another projected work, but also for the loan of some of the chief treasures in the family collection, and the generous desire of himself and his co-trustee to withhold nothing that would render this edition more accurate and complete. In November 1908 Mr. Linnell hastened to inform me of his rediscovery of the unique copy of Blake’s French Revolution, and with a fine liberality lent me the original, and allowed me to print it here for the first time. I owe also to Mr. Linnell’s kindness the loan of the MS. of The Four Zoas, and of the rare tractate here printed with the title All Religions are One. I have to thank him, moreover, for the text of the proem to Europe, found only in the Linnell copy, for photographs of the title-pages of some of the engraved books here reproduced, as well as for much helpful information in his frequent letters to me.

    To Mr. W. A. White of Brooklyn, New York, to whose exact and careful transcripts of the poems in the Rossetti MS. my former edition owed a great part of any value it possessed, I am again under a further obligation for a photograph of the title-page of his unique copy of The Book of Ahania.

    To Mr. J. P. R. Wallis, himself a learned Blake scholar, and now, in collaboration with Mr. D. J. Sloss, engaged upon an annotated edition of the Prophetic Books and a complete concordance of Blake’s symbolism, I owe the photograph of a page of The Book of Urizen lacking in the British Museum copy, and omitted in all existing texts.

    I am indebted to my friend Mr. A. G. B. Russell, author of the descriptive catalogue of Blake’s Engravings and editor of Blake’s Letters, for an important emendation in the ‘Lines to Mrs. Anna Flaxman’ (l. 10)—the original of which I had before been unable to trace—and for the correction of two misreadings in ‘The Everlasting Gospel’ (γ, l. 43) and ‘The Keys of the Gates’ (l. 13). Mr. Thomas Wright of Olney has likewise drawn my attention to a mistake, here corrected, in the lines beginning: ‘I will tell you what Joseph of Arimathea.’ I have to thank Mr. Geoffrey Keynes for a note respecting the Flaxman copy of the Poetical Sketches, containing valuable information afterwards embodied in his paper contributed to Notes and Queries (II S. 11, Sept. 24, 1910); for the loan of his collations of copies of There is No Natural Religion; and for a transcript of three early cancelled leaves of America, which unfortunately reached me too late for incorporation in the present book.

    Mr. Forman, while holding the view that any external attempt to pronounce an opinion as to the authenticity of the MS. entitled Genesis would be premature, has permitted me to quote his transcript of the opening and closing lines of this fragment.

    I very gladly welcome this opportunity of correcting the error made by me in my previous book in assuming that the emendations of Blake’s editors extended in one instance to the interpolation of a line intended to link together two separate epigrams (Rossetti MS., nos. XCV and XCVI, ed. 1905). This mistake, which did Mr. W. M. Rossetti a grave injustice, was pointed out by him in a most friendly letter, and on a further scrutiny by Mr. White the line in question was found, written obscurely in pencil and upside down among some prose matter, to which unless closely examined it seemed to belong. I hope I make amende by restoring these seven lines to the form in which they were given by Mr. Rossetti in the Aldine Edition.

    Readers of this Introduction who may have been impressed by the weight of typographical technicality in my description of the unique copy of The French Revolution, upon p. xxxii, should accredit the greater part of the detailed evidence there adduced to the expert knowledge of Mr. Horace Hart, to whom Mr. R. W. Chapman kindly submitted my conjecture that the example in question was merely a proof, and not part of an edition.

    In conclusion it is a pleasure to acknowledge the help of Mr. J. S. Munday, Junior Assistant in the University Library, in reading the proofs of the Lyrical Poems, and that of Mr. Wallis in checking my text of the Prophetic Books.

    J. S.

          October 1913.